01 March, 2017

I'm Not Giving Up Facebook for Lent

This morning I woke up to multiple facebook posts announcing
people were giving up facebook for 
Lent. They reminded people to stay in touch by email or text (interesting I didn't see any that said by snail mail or phone calls) I'm not giving up facebook for Lent.

I do understand facebook can be a total time sucker; I do understand that particularly lately there has been (and probably will continue to be) some nastiness.  I do understand there are many people who overshare. (and I do understand I may be one of them...) I understand all that, and I considered giving it up for some of those very good reasons, but I'm not.

This Lent I am really focusing on relationship restoration and relationship building with God and others. God calls us to love God with our whole hearts and to love others as ourselves. Facebook allows me a glimpse (sometimes through cloudy windows or rose colored glasses) into the lives of others. Facebook allows me to rejoice with those who are celebrating and to mourn with those who are feeling down for any reason. Facebook allows me to respond to needs when I am able and to to pray for people when I am not (okay really I pray in addition to responding, but you get the point.)

And possibly most importantly facebook allows me the opportunity to practice my faith. I believe my love for God is shown most clearly through my love for others. Not the Hallmark mushy kind of love but the really hard getting down and dirty, wanting to walk away, wanting to disengage but staying put kind of love. Through others posts I get to practice seeking and serving Christ in all persons--those with whom I agree and those with whom I don't. I get to hear others' perspectives and consider how they are trying to live faith filled lives even if the way they do differs vastly from the way live mine. I get to practice proclaiming by the words I write on my own posts as well as the words I use when I respond to others the Good News of God in Christ. Facebook gives me a platform to strive for justice and peace among all. And facebook allows me to respect the dignity of every human being in how I respond or perhaps sometimes by not responding.

I do understand why people give facebook up for Lent, but I'm not. (my family would probably appreciate if I worked on the oversharing part....)

27 February, 2017

Lent and National Eating Disorder Awareness Week---BOOM!

In two days it will be Ash Wednesday; yep Lent is upon us. For
how many years have I tried to keep a "Holy Lent"? There have been so many years I've said I'm going to give up snacking between meals or alcohol or cussing--and I can honestly say I have never made it all 40 days (unless of course you count the Lents I was pregnant...) Last year I decided to follow my good friend's plan and get rid of 40 bags of "stuff" in 40 days. I did succeed--yeah me!! It's a good practice, and I'll probably do it again, but if I really think about the meaning of Lent it's low on my totem pole.

Lent--as defined in numerous places is "a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter. It is a time of self-examination and reflection." But what does that mean? When am I going to learn to leave well enough alone?!?!?!

I started reading and studying and praying and talking and writing...repentance is not just saying you're sorry and moving on with life. Theologically repentance is about turning back, changing--recognizing where you are on the wrong path and fixing it. Often when we are on the "wrong path" we know it because it disrupts our relationships with ourselves, God and others. And remember God says the greatest commandment is you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind and the second is you shall love your neighbor as yourself Matthew 22:36-40. So Lent isn't just about giving up something for 40 days or taking on a practice for 40 days and then being finished. Lent is about giving up what gets in the way or adding something that assists relationship. In theory it seems pretty clear to me...

Now for that dang blasted self examination and reflection...what I ask myself is keeping me from right relationship with myself, God and others? I asked myself that question last week on retreat; I figured it would eventually come to me. LIKE A TON OF BRICKS!!!!

I was preparing my Ash Wednesday sermon and thinking about why we put ashes on our foreheads. Many people believe it's to proclaim our sinfulness and the fleeting bodily lives we live. There is some truth in that--there are quite a few places in the Bible that use ashes to signify grief and mourning, and not being in right relationship does bring about grief and mourning although sometimes it is buried quite deep. But the sign of the cross--that is a sign of belonging to Christ. I've started thinking about it in some ways as a sign that I belong to Christ even in my darkest places; the places I most want to keep hidden but most likely the places that most get in the way of relationships.

And then this whole body thing....we worship an incarnational God--a God who came to us IN THE FLESH! If that doesn't proclaim the goodness and holiness of the body I don't know what does. God looked upon Jesus and God looks upon us and says, "You are my beloved with whom I am well pleased." All of you, heart, mind, soul and body---bricks are now falling on my head and burying me...

I have a really hard time accepting that body thing. I tried to rationalize with myself, "So what I'll do is give up unhealthy snacks, cut back on drinking and exercise regularly. This dreary winter has kept me from doing that." Then I got a stupid email reminding me it's National Eating Disorder Week, and I read a stupid article about people who don't participate in it (The Stupid Article (it's really not...), and then I remembered the stupid blog post I wrote two years ago (Stupid Blog Post).  I thought about how I wrote about relationships are affected and I was particularly was haunted by the words that never leave my mind, "When I look in a mirror if I can't see my head I think to myself, "That body (yes I don't use the first person) looks pretty good." but the minute I see my face attached to the body I switch to the first person and see not the decent looking athletic body of a middle aged woman, but every single one of my flaws."

I want to have a healthy body, so yes during Lent I will try to eat better, drink less and exercise more, but I want to not just have a healthy body but I want a healthy mind and so I know what I must do. Every morning I will  stand in front of a mirror--a mirror that shows all of my body from my head to my toes and repeat the words, "This is your body beloved by God, and with you God is well pleased."

This may be my hardest Lent ever....

26 February, 2017

The Holiness of Snug Hollow--A Eucharistic Table

I should have been breathing and relaxing, you know eating bonbons and sipping wine. It was the end of July and after 3 plus years of living in a constant state of crisis mode things were settled and even keeled. It was bliss, but it was then I suddenly fell apart.

I couldn't stop crying; I couldn't sleep; I couldn't think straight. I was a text book example of the psychological theory (the name which I can't remember) that says when living in crisis mode all your reserved energy is utilized and it's not until it's over that you fall apart. (And really I've been a textbook example of this for years--through all the medical traumas...) But this time I was totally lost and so FINALLY I took the advice of my therapist and booked a getaway just for myself. I planned a time of personal retreat, journaling and trying to figure out how to live as a normal person (y'all can stop laughing now...) I couldn't wait. But then....

Three days before I was to leave Chris was downsized.

Perhaps I shouldn't admit this, but I struggled. I wanted this time for myself, but I also knew Chris needed to get away and to process--I was feeling selfish and I was feeling loyal--oh good, back into the living I understand--being torn and scared and on high alert. But this high alert I didn't understand--what was my role? I knew how to be the wife that says, "you want to buy a business, let's do it; you want to sell the business and get your MBA with 4 children under 4, let's do it; you want to move to Pittsburgh, Virginia, England, Louisville, let's do it." I knew how to be the wife that takes every ounce of support her husband gives her as she follows her call. But I didn't know how to be the wife whose husband through no fault of his own was downsized. (I interrupt this blog for a public service announcement--suggesting to said husband there are a number of household projects he could begin working on during this time of unemployment is most definitely not the answer....) What I did know how to do was to say, "Come with me."

On a Sunday afternoon Chris and I set off for Snug Hollow, for time alone and time together, for quiet and refuge.

Monday morning we went to breakfast and sat on the porch with the other visitors. One was a couple from Indiana. He walked with a cane and had trouble cutting his food. Sometimes it took him a moment to find the words he wanted to say. We lingered over breakfast, and the couple told us how this was their anniversary trip--I can't remember the number but over 40 years. They told us how they knew this was the last trip they would probably be able to take. And we shared stories about children, and their grandchildren. They didn't sugar coat their years--they talked about hard times, scarce times, trouble with children, and fears about the future. And they talked about love and getting through it together. I had no idea then those stories would help carry me through the next 6 months....

Chris and I left the table and hiked through the woods talking about the future, sharing our fears, our hopes and our dreams. Being together as we faced our new normal.

Two months later I returned to Snug Hollow, this time alone. I was there for retreat and to plan Advent. During this stay I asked Barbara, the owner, how Snug Hollow came to be. We sat on the porch overlooking the holler and she told me the whole story--the good, the bad, and the ugly. She shared how there were times of tears and anger (even some yelling and cussing); there were times she didn't think she would make it, but she kept moving forward. She learned how to ask for what she needed and to say thank you and accept help when people offered. She learned how to maintain her vision and her dream when all signs indicated she should throw in the towel. And she learned the path she thought would lead her to the end wasn't necessarily the path she would have to take (and it certainly wasn't straight) but she never lost sight of her dream.

I again left Snug Hollow carrying someone's story that would strengthen me in the days and weeks to come as Chris continued to job search and I continued to discern my ministry. I learned how to be open to possibilities I hadn't considered and to remain steadfast. I learned to open myself to others and to say "yes thank you" and to accept help.  And yes, I learned that it was okay for there to be tears and anger along the way....

I just returned from 4 glorious days--again personal retreat and preparation this time for Lent and the Easter season. I again met fascinating people from all over; I again sat at the table being physically nourished by the most amazing food and emotionally and spiritually nourished by the stories we shared. It amazes me; Barbara doesn't plan or orchestrate the guests making sure they'll get along or have something in common. And yet each time I'm there, the people who gather are exactly the people I need to be with, exactly the people whose stories I need to hear.

Snug Hollow is about being open and vulnerable and sharing--not
withholding. It's about wanting everyone to flourish. It's about telling Barbara I can never get her biscuits right at home and her saying, "Well let's practice that while you're here. Here's what you're probably doing wrong." Or asking Olivia how she prepared a dish and her sitting down and telling you exactly, telling you it's in the cookbook but she makes a few changes and here's what they are--there is no hoarding information, no secret recipes. It's about empowering others to take the gifts of food and friendship we receive while we are there back into the world.

On my last day as I was walking it became very clear. Snug Hollow is a Eucharistic table in the world. In the Eucharist we say we are taken, blessed, broken and given. God takes us; God chooses us. There is no question in my mind God as we each understand God is present in the gatherings at Snug Hollow. The people that come are from varied walks of life, people you may not encounter anywhere else, sometimes people you wouldn't speak to anywhere else, and yet at Snug Hollow everyone is valued, equal and offers something of his or herself to those around the table. We are each blessed by the other. We leave after having needs met--sometimes needs we didn't even know we had.

Each of us comes with our own stories, our own brokenness. And some of it we share. Through one another's brokenness we also are nourished--nourishment that sustains us in times we had yet to know would be coming. Through our blessings and brokenness we give to each other. And then just like at the end of the Eucharist having been strengthened, nourished and refreshed we are sent back into the world to share the gifts we have received--to create Eucharistic tables wherever we are.

22 February, 2017

Experience Over Accuracy

I really don’t like being misunderstood. I really don’t like conflict. You put those two things together and you can get a really good picture of what my therapist and I talk about every week or two. When we lived in England I usually started a conversation asking about culture with the phrase, “I’m not trying to be offensive or question the way y’all do it. I’m just wondering….” Before long my British friends would interrupt me with, “WE KNOW!!! JUST ASK!” (Okay they’re British so they probably said it much more quietly and politely…)

Those who know me really well know I often finish a conversation with, “Does that make sense?” I want to be sure I’m understood; I want to be sure I’m not offensive; I don’t want any conflict, so….

Yesterday’s post was a true test of my unease, but I think an important one. I wrote about an incident that happened almost 2 months ago. (Accurately Accurate) Obviously since it happened 2 months ago and I'm now writing about it, the incident has stayed with me. As I was writing I thought to myself, “I’m not going to publish this until I fact check—re read emails, listen to podcast and look up dates so I can make sure what I remember is accurate and not just seen through my lens and my less than stellar memory.”

As I was walking through the early morning in the most peaceful place, I was struck so suddenly I had to stop—(so it wasn’t exactly St. Paul’s conversion, but it was a conversion nonetheless.) The incident I wrote about has stayed with me because it impacted me; it has stayed with me because it has become part of my experience; and as I relive it over and over in my mind I am both shaped by it and it has been shaped and reconstructed in my mind. Whether or not I can quote people correctly or explain their statements with 100% accuracy; whether or not I can remember names and dates is irrelevant to how I take the experience into the world. The experience lives in my memory.

Over these past weeks I have had other interactions with people and this particular incident has journeyed with me; it has been a part of what has informed me; it has challenged me. I have tried to make meaning of it, and it has changed some of my perception of the world.

Yesterday I wrote about the need for relationship and conversation; I wrote about misunderstandings and lack of trust. I wrote about my deep desire for the world to interact assuming trust and good intentions. Today while I still have that desire, I am more acutely aware of what prevents us from doing so. Today I realize as we approach others we come with our own experiences, our own memories, our own stories, our own values, our own morals, our own faith, and we hear others through those lenses. We take experiences, conversations and we try to sort them and mold them to fit with what we already know about ourselves or others or perhaps believe we know about ourselves or others. We do this regardless of the accuracy of our memories.

One of my favorite prayers by Thomas Merton that I pray often when in discernement is

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
And the fact that I think I am following your will
Does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
Though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore will I trust you always
Though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
And you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Today this is my prayer for the world….desire, pleasing, good intentions.

Accurately Accurate

As I boarded the plane in Dallas, excitement still pulsated through my body. The plane was full of people wearing purple and gold. JMU had just won the national championship, and I was there. I was there supporting my brother in his first season coaching—and he was a national champion! I was so proud of him.

I found my seat—a middle seat—and got comfortable. The window seat was already taken by a woman who was either already sleeping or realized I was primed to talk so quickly pretended she was. As I was buckling my seatbelt a young man sat down in the aisle seat. He was clearly an athlete—not only was he in extremely good shape, but he also had on U of L athletic gear (and not the kind just anyone can buy), and if that hadn’t been a give away, he was also carrying a duffle bag with the bowl emblem on it. I’m quite the detective.

This poor young man didn’t know he was doomed—he just got comfortable in a seat next to a middle aged woman who loves to talk football, and probably (read most likely) thinks she knows more than she does, who had just left a National Championship football game and who had three hours of flying time. Before he could get his earphones in I blurted out, “Do you go to U of L?” He said, “Yes m’am” and that opened the floodgates.

For the next hour and a half we talked about what position he played; he replayed several plays from his bowl game for me; he listened to me talk about the JMU game; and he empathized with me about UVA football. I asked him how he wound up choosing U of L and why he was in Dallas. And I listened to him as he told me his mother had never missed one of his games in high school but now it was harder and she didn’t make many.

After the first hour and a half I heard my sons’ voices in my head saying, “Okay Mama leave him alone now. You don’t want to be arrested for stalking.” Which actually should have stopped me from doing the next thing I did—I snuck a picture of him!

The next day I posted said picture on facebook with the something to the effect that I had been able to sit next to a kind, articulate young man, and I admitted I snuck his picture—something Boss said was akin to stalking. Other than a few people agreeing with Boss that I could quite possibly be the most creepy person ever, there was little conversation, until a week later…

I received a private message from a seminary friend. My friend is African American and during seminary we bonded over our love for sports as women as well as theological issues. Several times we had long conversations about gender and race equality over wine and dinners out. We shared stories of growing up and of mother/daughter relationships. I love this friend of mine and admire her passion.

Her message was not what I expected. She challenged me on my use of the word “articulate” to describe my young friend on the plane. She asked me if I was surprised an African American young man could be articulate? I must admit I was taken aback—didn’t she know me? Where was this coming from? I felt attacked and misunderstood. After taking a long walk and processing I responded to her message.

I explained my comments came from an entirely different place—I am the mother of two sons 18 and 19—this young man’s age—and I was impressed with his kindness, his willingness to be in conversation and how he conversed with me maintaining eye contact and being genuinely engaged. I came from the place of hoping my sons would be able to do the same and knowing there are many young men this age who only grunt and look down when engaging with adults—and those are the ones they know! 

Her response was, “That’s what I thought.” And then she explained to me the word “articulate” is a trigger word in the African American culture. I must admit for the next few days I was still uneasy. I would never hurt my friend and I was horrified I had done something that could be misconstrued to be racist. There was also a part of me that felt afraid—afraid of what else I don’t know that I say or do that is offensive or could hurt someone. I admit I was also still somewhat defensive…

As I worked through these thoughts and feelings, I gradually found a peace. First, what I did was unintentional and from a place of ignorance. What my friend did was kind—she didn’t blast me in the public sphere—she privately challenged me, and she affirmed my intention while still educating me. And I believe she heard me. I came to the understanding that this could not have happened if we didn’t have a relationship—a respect and love for one another that was developed over wine and sports talk, sharing our lives and watching one another live into our own ministries. I gave thanks for our friendship and our ability to have difficult conversations.

Not two weeks later I was part of a group gathered to talk about race and to work on partnership between predominately African American and predominately white churches. I shared my story as, I thought, an example of the need for us to start with building relationships through fellowship before we start having hard conversations, conversations that can be misunderstood. As I told my story people were quiet and there were several nodding heads, but the quiet was interrupted as a women looked at me and almost shouted, “Are you kidding? You said ‘articulate?’ That is absolutely offensive and racist.” And then she physically turned her back on me.

I felt my face flame with embarrassment, and then I became angry. Who was she to call me out? She doesn’t even know me or know anything about me! And she’s WHITE I sputtered in my head. How dare she blast me in a public sphere without knowing my intentions?!?! I stayed angry, and I certainly had no desire to talk to her further—“judgmental jerk,” I thought, “holier than thou.”

As the days passed I continued to think about both of these encounters and I see them as examples of the need for relationship. In the first we already had a relationship and that helped the conversation from the beginning. In the second encounter, I was so angry as I’m fairly certain the other woman was, that we both shut down any potential relationship. What would have happened if I’d reached out and asked, “How did you know ‘articulate’ was an offensive word? Tell me your story.”

Around this time I also heard an On Being podcast with Eula Biss; it was titled “On Whiteness.” In the podcast Eula Biss challenges the power of words. She says we give words power when we spend so much energy being offended by them. She quickly adds that doesn’t give us free rein to say whatever we want, to be intentionally offensive. But she wonders if conversations are shut down before they begin because people are so worried about being offensive they just choose not to talk. And if we don’t talk, we don’t think, and if we don’t think we can’t get to the systemic roots of racism. (or probably any other ism…)

I’m still trying to put all these things together. I’m still trying to make some sense of what I can learn from these things. I am trying to find a way to be a part of conversations about race, to be a part of the solution. What I do know is that I wish for a society where trust and good intentions were assumed until they were broken. I’m not sure that is the norm any more, and that makes me sad. It makes me sad, but it also leads me to consider what actions I can take, to consider how I can be a part.

I can continue to talk and write bumbling my way through and remain open to being critiqued. I can try to hear and not be defensive even when the delivery is challenging. I can ask for clarification. I can try to live a life of trust and good intentions and risk taking. And when I fail, I can ask for forgiveness.  I can confess, “I have sinned again you in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done and by what I have left undone.” (BCP, p.66) and through my sins known and unknown.

*Disclaimer: I intentionally did not go back and look up the specific facebook post or the messages between my friend and me. I did not relisten to the podcast or look up the transcript. To understand why—see tomorrow’s blog.