Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Give Us the Vision

Hello Friends. The blog series has been on hold as I'm drawing some new boundaries in my own life -- practicing before I preach, I hope. I will return to the series as things settle. In the meantime, this is the sermon I preached from the Lectionary this Sunday, on Genesis 28:10-19a -- better known as Jacob's Ladder.
So … Jacob. Human, flawed, Jacob. 

To recap: Jacob is on the run because he stole his brother’s inheritance and blessing. His family is fractured because of his actions.

I’m really tempted to distance myself from this guy. He’s a thief. A con artist. A backstabber. His life, boiled down to a few pages of text, leaves an ugly trail (although, if our lives were reduced to the same literary fate, I suspect it wouldn’t be too flattering, either). While culturally, Jacob’s life is light years away from my own, from our society, I can’t honestly separate us too much from him.

Let’s update the culture a bit. Imagine if the story of Jacob’s ladder were instead the story of Jacob’s corporate ladder, we’d have the makings of a great corporate success. In this context, he’s scrappy. He’s innovative. He’s intelligent and seizes opportunities. He takes action.

There are other ways Jacob’s experiences track with my own. The consequences of my actions, and others’ actions have pushed me into the wilderness. I’ve lived godlessly, looking out primarily for “number one.”

If I indulge the urge to clinically view Jacob’s life as history, or myth, but regardless, utterly separate from my reality, I miss out on something truly beautiful and hopeful that happens when God presents Jacob with the vision at Beth-el.

From the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem
It turns out, I’m desperately in need of this vision. My world is in need of this vision. It’s my prayer that we’ll receive the vision God unfolds. Because here, for a moment, in a complicated, and sometimes dark narrative, God’s being grabs center stage with clarity.

We lose God in the Old Testament – at least the God Jesus manifested at the Incarnation. My own faith and faithlessness hits a brick wall with some of its passages. I think moments like this vision suggest God has always been God. That Jesus isn’t some fluke expression of the Trinity that just evolved a couple thousand years ago. Jesus himself says “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the father."

This text clearly reminds us there is more happening in the Old Testament. In this space God pierces the darkness of the human tale.

I see continuity between the God revealed in the passage, and the incarnated Jesus in four of God’s actions here (Side note: It’s important we don’t try to read Jesus INTO the original texts of people who had no concept of him. Rather we honor the reality that we read the texts THROUGH the lens of our experience with Jesus):

God pierces Jacob’s darkness and joins to the godless. Unbidden. Jacob’s shown no signs of spiritual awareness at all. He’s alone in the wilderness, on the run, SLEEPING. Not begging for signs or protection (as I would be). God just shows up, piercing into a godless life, and instead of standing above Jacob, demanding signs of repentance, stands beside him, promising unconditional protection.

God comforts Jacob and speaks to his present need. Promising to keep Jacob safe, and return him to the land. Relationship with God isn’t just about the cold and distant future – the present is changed as well.

God redeems Jacob’s reality. Jacob, the taker of blessings, the destroyer of family, will give blessing to all the families of the earth.

And then the overall context of the dream itself: this revelation that the spheres of earth and heaven intersect and interact – in the incarnation, Jesus clearly brought heaven to earth – but here we find that had been happening unseen from the beginning of time.

As Christians, we recognize God here because we’ve met Jesus. We can also see ourselves as actors in the dialogue between heaven and earth. So this vision carried to full meaning for us can be about God. In Jesus. In us. In the world.

That’s why we need this vision. Because, we are both Jacob, and reaching out to a world of Jacobs. 

Like Jacob we are primarily motivated to protect ourselves.

I had to confront this reality very intimately this week. I read an article about a woman who at one time was the type of angry, self-destructive teenager who, for many reasons, has entered my life. She now owns a nonprofit organization designed to grant the wishes of foster children, and bring the humanity back to these little people often relegated to a statistic. Reading of her success I had to face the fact that I’ve lost faith in so many of the children who have crossed my path. I’ve reduced a person to a label, overwhelmed in the immediacy of their problems, and lost the sense of their God-image, their potential, and love-worthiness. It’s about protecting the real estate of my heart -- as if my heart had a limited number of allotments.

But, if the vision is God in Jesus, in me, in the world, I can’t hide my heart and my resources. I’m a part of the ladder piercing hope into hopeless lives.

When starting my studies, I was tempted to write Jacob off as a hopeless cause. God merely sees him as a human cause, which is the prime motivation of all God’s grandest actions. When I write off a person, or a group of persons, I move exactly counter to God’s greatest desire. 

Like Jacob, I’ve also been running in darkness and godlessness. After seminary, I lost my faith. In my wilderness, I wandered into this church, which became my Beth’el. God used our church to pierce hope and light and God back into my life. I walked in, asking only to be respected in my faithlessness, and the Spirit of God in this place woke me up to God’s constant action in the world -- in my world.

This vision teaches us about our God and our human position in relation to God. Reminding us God reaches out to us, regardless of our condition. Showing us God’s intimate knowledge of our needs, and purpose for our lives. Revealing God’s constant interaction in our world.

Are you running? Are you in darkness? Do you know God can pierce that darkness? Perhaps, like me and like Jacob, even when you’re not looking or asking for it?

Are we as a Christian community prepared to take inventory of the way we put demands and limitations on other humans? Or the ways, large or small, we engage in the selfishness and violence of our world? Do we need our vision renewed, so we may participate in bringing God’s hope instead? Small success here, you’ve done that in my life.

May we receive the vision, and be motivated to take it to the world, bringing Kingdom and God’s will to earth.

In the name of the Father, The Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Thick Line in the Sand (Part 1)

This post is the second in a series on self-care for care-givers. Physicians, nurses, mommas, pastors, teachers and unsung care-givers of every stripe, I hope you find something restorative here. Post 1, Caregiver, Love Thyself

The guy was dying in agony. An ill-informed physician and his lengthy drug history added up to inadequate pain medication. He'd scream and curse and spread filth everywhere. Some days his wife was sober. Some days she wove down the hall like someone slowly dodging bullets.

I became one with this family. I was the only nurse who would care for them repeatedly. Shift in, shift out. I read his wife's mood changes fairly well (although she yelled at me plenty). I spent all the patience I had at his bedside, tending the wounds he made worse.

I called to check on them after my shift, asking the current nurse about labs, or subtle changes. And nightmares -- I heard his screams in my sleep. I dreaded caring for them, and feeling guilty for that, tried harder and harder to be more and more, until his wife yelled at me for addressing her intoxication and kicked me out of the room. I realized I was in too deep and with tears streaming down my face, and great gasps for air, informed my manager I could not care for them any more.

He died several days later. I never worked far enough away to not hear his screams.

I wish I could talk to that young, passionate, and utterly broken nurse and tell her leaving this family in other hands was just that -- letting other people do their job. It wasn't a moral failing. And it was utterly brave to do something so counter to her culture.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Blog Hop: Not the Same as Sock Hop

I'm excited to be included in a blog hop by the intriguing Karissa. She writes at karissaknoxsorrell.com about gender, and god, and love, and Eastern Orthodoxy (particularly interesting to me!), and many other things.

I'll be honest, I spent time on the interwebz figuring out a blog hop (thus the title), but now I'm glad to take part in a bunch of bloggers recognizing each other, and sharing their story and process.

The approved questions, followed by my answers:

What am I writing or working on?
I'm in one of those in between places. The spaces between identifiable roles, or expectations, or jobs, or... (I peter out because I'm in between). I was faithless, now I feel faith stirring. I was in a job, now I'm leaving it. I was firmly planning on not having children, until I decidedly wanted one, and now I'm a mom trying to figure out how all that happened so fast. I write about the things I learn as I gain distance from certainty.

But, writing blog stuff isn't the only thing I'm working on. My dream is to be a public speaker. So a lot of this in between mulling is fodder for the message I want to share with whoever will listen -- You Only Have Today. (That's the message, not some dire warning, or psychic insight, dear reader.) It's a message about living your life, aware of is limited nature, not paralyzed by it -- rather, motivated to truly learn what makes life worth living to you.

How does my work differ from others in its genre (commingled with Why do I write what I do)?
Well, I suppose I'd have to have a genre to answer that in a meaningful way. But, I'm a person infatuated with words. Why should I let a little thing like meaning stop me from communicating?

I write to discover my strengths and weaknesses as a communicator. I blog because at the very core of me I thirst for connectedness. I write because I can't not share (my passion, my experiences, my lessons learned). I blog because so many people don't talk about their existence, and this quirky journey has needed the little band of quirksters I meet in the other blogs. I suspect this doesn't make me different. It may actually be the common blood of the writing community.

How does my writing process work?
Coffee. And Mr. Mori. (No deer were harmed for my writing process. Husband found this guy as-is while out doing archaeology.)

Also, outside = better. Need a computer AND a Pilot Precise Extra Fine Rolling Ball pen (not a plug, just a habit going back to high school) and preferably a personally designed notebook. Coffee...

Logistics, with a 10 month old, are of course crucial. I can't write on days I work. I haven't the calories left. On home days, I make a mad dash to write during naps, or leave the husband and the baby to create a cute apocalypse while I dream on the front porch.

Ever seen a toddler excited to get to a toy across the room? That's kinda the phase of development I'm in. I write excitedly, and in fits and starts, and may occasionally throw tantrums if I don't get where I thought I wanted to go. It's actually quite a lot of fun. I'm learning more discipline and thoughtfulness -- even putting intention and research and planning into my first series, going on right now (first post on self-care here)!

What other writers would I like to introduce you to?

I'm still building relationships in the blogging world, but some writers whose minds and work I enjoy are:

M. Kircher (YA author extraordinaire) at mkircher.com
Rob Carmack at robcarmackwords.com
Alissa at alissabc.com

How would you guys answer these questions?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Caregiver, Love Thyself

Self is a stranger to many people who never met a stranger in their life -- people who sense another's needs across the airport, but have no understanding of their own inner struggles.

These people are experts in the Other. They bore secrets, tended wounds, and ran to rescue starting in childhood. They gravitate toward helping professions like nursing, teaching, pastoring, counseling, mothering etc. So, obviously, I'm one of the people I'm talking about.

I coached a group of nurses on self-care yesterday. I always open the session asking "Why nursing?" so we hear why each chose this profession. Invariably, someone tells how they started caring for others as a kid. This time, to make the group aware of that common bond, I asked them to raise their hands if they had been secret-bearer, soother, bandage-applier, or other caregiver in childhood. Twenty-three nurses in the room -- 18 hands raised (mine too).

When you start doing something as early as childhood, your identity gets all wrapped up in it. Many caregivers don't know themselves without other people to care for. I didn't know who I was, because I built my identity to suit the needs of others.  It seemed natural to go into a profession where my daily work turns on expressions of compassion.

Not knowing myself, I couldn't create boundaries around my identity, capacity, and responsibilities. I never responded "no." I never turned off.

It still hurts to look back at how deeply this type of living wounded me and impacted my family. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Reblog: M. Kircher's "Failure Isn't"

While in Laguna Beach, at Rob Bell's Craft Lab, I met Melissa, a Young Adult fiction author, who writes as M. Kircher. We walked a mile back to our hotel, in the dark, and had one of those conversations that just bubbles up and over itself -- immediate connection. We also "learned" to surf together, which she perfectly captured below (I'm the solitary learner on the far left of the surfing photo).

At Craft Lab, Melissa posed a question to Rob about failure, and his answer helped revolutionize my thinking. I planned on blogging about it, but the work has already been done so much better by Melissa! With her permission, I'm reblogging her entire post, titled "Failure Isn't." Fear of failure has haunted me my whole life, and I can point directly to moments where that fear kept me from pursuing dreams. If you can identify, you need the humor and clarity below. If something resonates, please comment on her blog, here.

You can find Melissa's website at www.mkircher.com. Look after the post for information on purchasing her books.

Failure is a word we all fear. No matter your age, your stage in life, your gender or personality, a sense of failure is something we try to avoid at all costs.

I’ve been grappling with failure a lot over the past six years or so (maybe even my whole life)—what it means, what it looks like and if this nebulous ball of crap actually defines me or not.

I’ve decided not, but it’s taken me a while to arrive at this conclusion.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Doubt as Hope

Crisis of faith. Time in the desert. Struggling. Doubt.

I worked hard for a long time to find language and metaphors for my loss of faith. I left a religious culture cemented in certainty to drift, untethered, in a wide ocean of possibilities and fear.

The thing about leaving that culture is, you act exactly the way they tell you you'll act when you're backslidden. Sermons don't move you, and worse, irritate you. You read attempts at proselytizing as an insult to your intelligence and right to self-determination. You forget your religious language fluency, and scrunch your nose in concentration to understand what others mean when they say, "It's my heart to..." or, "The Lord told me..." or, you know, "backslidden." So, I constantly felt one foot in the accusations of the old world, while the toes of the other stretched to pull me toward new thoughts and truths.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

El Shaddai & Gender

A couple weeks ago, I posted here about my transformation after learning of God's use of feminine language to describe God's self. I mentioned as a side note a possible translation of God's name, El Shaddai, as "the breasted one." Now, I've got the goods on that, for those of you who like good resources (I know I do).

Reading Rachel Held Evans' Sunday Superlatives (a great source of quality posts and endless new blogs to follow... le sigh), I saw this amazing piece by Susan Pigot titled "El Shaddai and the Gender of God." Susan takes a scholarly approach into the original Hebrew to contextually and linguistically reveal the meaning of "the breasted one."

So often, we live limited lives. More abominably, we enforce limitations on others' lives. In my experience, the use of purely masculine language to discuss God, and the priority placed on male leadership, cut my sex, my story, and my talents out of the narrative. I felt I was left holding a bag with potential that could never be realized.

Now, this language resonates more than ever. I already tore down the walls keeping me from living my whole, gendered life and capacity. But as a mother, I live the power of this imagery every time I breastfeed my daughter.

This name of God weaves with the other names of God. I don't want to take it out of context and prioritize it above the others. When we elevate it INTO context we see how God teaches us about God, how we consequently learn about ourselves, and paradoxically, how that in turn teaches us more about God.

If I ever I think of a pithy title for this cycle, I'll feel like a true wordsmith. Anyone ever heard of one?