Saturday, April 18, 2015

In Light (and Dark) of the Murrah Bombing

Taken on one of my many trips to the Bombing Memorial
Tomorrow Oklahoma pauses to reflect on a searing, scarring day for all of us. The day sin tried to win. The day murder and violence tried to steal our joy and purpose and routine. The day Timothy McVeigh pulled a truck loaded with explosives, parked it in front of a building filled with children and adults, and walked away as his anger blew up.

I sat in a basement room in my algebra class, seventh grade, 13 miles away. Several guys playing checkers said they watched the pieces rattle across the board. I didn't notice a thing. But within a couple of hours, we were all gathered, watching a television, worrying -- and, in a moment, aware of living in a much scarier world.

Most of us didn't leave the television for days. Some incredible people rushed to the site and jumped in. I remember watching as men and women scaled the gaping wound of the building, debris bleeding out, looking for survivors... and remains. I knew one victim, remotely, through a dear family member. I know one responder, one of the very first on the scene, who still carries the immutable, unspeakable horror. All of us do, to one degree or another.

Let's not pretend sin isn't real. My new found faith is soft, and warm, and joyful, and loving, but groundless if I can't acknowledge that in big and little ways we are capable of destroying each other.

This isn't a diatribe, or a rant against the evils of the world. This is a lament. And, a moment of clarity for me. Even 20 years later, I still approach this day with a familiar, deep ache.

I've been thinking a lot about sin lately. Such an ugly word. One I react to like a blow from a bat, before I even hear the context in which it's spoken. One I've heard used to create an impenetrable line between God's (self-selected) beloved, and whoever they can't imagine living life next to.

A concept I'm finally unafraid to address, because I can't pretend that even my "good enough" life doesn't cause, and participate in, harm.

Sin could have been the most unifying concept in the Christian faith (and possibly between faiths), if we hadn't used it to define and reject the other. We ALL break communion between each other, we all break communion with God. We all participate in power structures that abuse, whether overtly or not (think of choices to buy cheaper goods that come at a cost to the animals or humans at the bottom of the supply chain, tolerating corruption in our leaders, politically protecting our wallets instead of our fellows, refusing to acknowledge our privilege).

The ugliness of 20 years ago is extreme, and feels unforgivable. I'm not conflating the hidden sins of every day "good enough" lives with the instantaneous destruction of that one. Nor am I neglecting the shared brokenness of each. Each need the grace of a big God, and the effort of big-hearted humans to replace destruction for healing. Empathy for anger. Genuineness for cattiness. Prayer for vitriol. Imagination for scars.

These words don't remove the ache of the Murrah Bombing for me. But, in a strange sense, they give it motion. They remind me of the work to be done, bringing Kingdom Come. They cause me to make meaning of the reality that the peaceful, upside-down Kingdom of Jesus already existed that day.

They remind me to shine the light of a perfect, human-god life into my own, and examine the deep places where I don't root out the subtle and not-so-subtle sins that break me and break my relationships.

I hope I never lose the ache. I never stop grieving the lives lost. I never stop working against the brokenness that creates the vacuum filled with this violence. May we mourn tomorrow -- deeply, honestly, and filled with awareness.

May we mourn the lives. Mourn the lost sense of safety. Mourn the depth of human brokenness.

I pray, that by confronting the darkness head on like that, we will more clearly see the grace God fills us with, and express that grace with renewed hope and motivation.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Resurrected Ritual (delayed reflection on Good Friday)

Photo by  Rev. Amy Rogers:
We're interested in your reaction to how the cross frames the word Division.
I wore a cross around my neck for the first time in years this Holy Week. I wore it sincerely, honestly, and reflectively -- using it to remember how intertwined my living and breathing is with the Jesus story.

On Good Friday, I joined with several local clergy and a friend to walk the "stations of the cross" in our little downtown. We carried a birch cross with a crown of barbed wire before us, and each had a masonry nail, hot in our hands. Stopping at every cross-walk, we read a prayer, and reflected on Jesus' final steps toward death.

We looked like religious fanatics, I think. Which is funny, because I know how committed these clergy are to wide, inclusive grace, and how the most rigidly religious have excluded them from acceptance. I felt uncertain, and embarrassed by our appearance. Then, I remembered, "I believe this story. I believe in this man-god and his lonely, broken, disgraceful walk with the cross. I believe in his subversive way of living, and believe it led directly to this long walk." And, I asked if I could bear our little birch-wood, to remove more of the barriers my heart built between his journey and mine. 

The Oklahoma wind blew the red dirt between my teeth and into my eyes. And the workaday hum of life on brick streets kept us from communicating. With each step, and each new (nominal) discomfort, I buried myself a little deeper into his ultimate protest and victory against greed and sin and pride and corruption: the most loving act, the most deliberate walk, the truest self-giving in the history of godkind and mankind. I was uneasily conscious of living between my modern, busy, material day, and this powerful, but painful day when the hope of a few died, but set himself up to live forever as the hope of the world.   

My husband remarked today how striking it is that I'm engaging in so many religious behaviors, like wearing a cross, accepting ashes on my forehead, completing the Stations of the Cross, preaching, doing special observances. But, he said, he knows it's because for the first time, these stories and rituals mean something life and perspective changing for me.

He's right.

I'm so grateful for every painful step of this walk from darkness to doubt-infused-hope, or hope-infused-doubt -- regardless, a place where I have the life and love of Jesus to show me how to live in and love my world.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Upending Grace

She was so old. And lovely. Her skin had that ivory, crepe paper transparency of very old and frail white women. Articulate. Intelligent. And, no longer in control of life's most personal functions. I spent about 20 minutes cleaning her, changing her gown and linens. She was mortified. "I am so sorry you have to do this," she said. I told her, "I know you don't want this. If Jesus could wash the feet of the disciples, it's my privilege to care for you." It seemed to calm her.

Jesus stripped off his robe, clothed himself with a towel, and crouched down to wash the road weary feet of the disciples. Peter, perhaps used to the facelessness of a servant performing this function, found this too great an intimacy from the man he called master. Reading the passage through my biases and filters, his reaction feels like more than just attempted politeness. He seems truly uncomfortable with how this reverses roles, and upends norms. But Jesus tells him, "If you don't let me do this, you don't have a part of me."

We went without steady, or much of any, income for nearly four months. We lost our savings, and my silly, but loved, little car. Needing the care of others in broken and vulnerable moments makes me intensely uncomfortable. I want to protest, and apologize, or worse, hide the mess in my heart, and pretend nothing hurts. I remember the night I made a conscious decision with my small group from church (aka the best group of friends I've ever known) to tear down the walls of pretense, share my tears, and practice lamentation. The woman sitting next to me lifted sad eyes to mine, reached over, and gave me a hug. The group joined in our suffering. They held together my messy heart, and for the first time in my life, I knew the full capacity of human grace.

Recently, a dear friend received a gift in a sum she cannot hope to reciprocate. An amount that makes you question yourself, to be certain you never abuse the position you hold, or the words you share. A form of grace that upends roles and norms. The type of gift one will never find adequate thanks for. It struck me, in trying to help her experience this as an offering of love; sometimes humans deliver such a grace to us that we can never repay. One that mirrors the great, wide, incomparable grace God offers us. When our pride keeps us from experiencing the fullness of human grace, we miss the chance to see an earthy presentation of God's grace, and perhaps, we miss the opportunity to be spurred into such grace-giving to our human folk.

These graces all required an overwhelming intimacy. Jesus, on Holy Thursday, washing dirty feet, cleaning between dusty toes, demonstrates a collision point of supremely human and divinely godly action.

I was surprised to discover how uncomfortable others are with the idea of a foot-washing service at church. Perhaps, because intimacy has been such a key theme as I put our last few months into perspective, and because it characterizes the work that healthcare workers give every day. But then, I remembered how much work it took for me, just to talk about the depth of my confusion and emotional suffering with our closest friends.

I believe I absorbed a message at some point telling me I must appear whole, saved, in control. I internalized a notion that need undermined my lovableness, and ruined my exterior show of completeness, knowledge, and Christian privilege (in words of my former days, my "testimony"). I got so good at denying my humanity that I emotionally abandoned it. I locked it behind multiple doors in the house of my soul, and sealed myself off, not only from self-awareness, but from the ministering presence of other humans.

I was Peter, denying Jesus, or anyone, a chance to get close enough to leave a part of themselves on me, or take a part of me with them. 

It took years of therapy, and the last two years of un-learning god, and re-learning God, and the last year of learning about glorious, glorious humans, to jettison the pride and falsehood and sheer burden of being needless.

Maybe it's not a foot-washing at church for you. Maybe it's accepting charity. Maybe it's taking a meal. Or sharing a sin. Or an agony. Or a secret that undermines you every day. Or, maybe for you, opening up yourself to true human contact means receiving a compliment, or a condolence, without brushing it aside. Maybe, it's asking others to rejoice with you over the kind of thing that may seem mundane, but just makes your heart sing.

I'm convinced we see the face of God most fully, not in buildings, or nature, or religious experiences, but in the face of our fellow humans. I pray we open ourselves up, not just as givers as grace -- a lop-sided, power-sustaining notion of living, I think -- but as people in need of grace.

May you see God this week. May you open yourself to receive a grace you can't repay, and rather than it humiliating you, may you know, know, know, you're loved.

Friday, April 3, 2015

All the Lovely Shoes - and the last of this metaphor...

A Jason & Chesha Collaborative Production

The little pickup that could on its 1st archaeology adventure.
For those of you in agony over the cliff-hanger of our dramatic story lately (told in depth here & here), here's closure.

I got a job. Not just any job. The bestest, hardest work I've ever done. A job that allows me to synthesize my 13 years in the medical field, my training, my masters degree, my interests and passions into a new form of action and leadership. A job that surrounds me with men and women from whom I am already learning tremendously.

Jason stays home with Valentine -- taking over the shaping of her brilliant, adventurous mind. He hopes to keep up his archaeology skills, primarily through helping a good friend get his archy company off the ground.

We got a pickup to replace my beloved MINI. And, while I'm still warming up to it (Jason hasn't told me the gender yet), it has actually been very useful for our little family.

Today, we received our first paycheck in months (yay!), and we are both finding great satisfaction in our new roles.

Let me tell you what we've learned (this conversation is actually happening as the post unfolds, which is pretty cool to me):
  1. Both of us (worded by Jessica): People love is divine. Not in the sense of "Your coat is so diviiine, Dahling." In the sense that god shines and expresses god's self through the love of people. Needing that love and support at this undeniable level made us acutely aware of the gift that our favorite humans are to us.
  2. Jessica: While I still don't see God in every breath of wind, or turning leaf, or open parking spot, I can't deny the power of unusually aligned circumstances. We moved to our town in December. Jason lost his job in January. My position opened up, in our town (just 2 miles away), in January. The person who hired me for the job is the same person who hired me into healthcare in 2003. There are other occurrences and mysteries that I won't tell, because it feels like it cheapens them. But, even I can find a divine possibility in all this.
  3. Jason: Pride is a stumbling block that can keep us away from our resources. It was really difficult to sign up for unemployment, because of the stigmas. I thought I'd get work in no time, but it didn't pan out. Counting on a future that wasn't assured cost us a great deal of financial support we could have had if I'd been more honest with myself about our actual circumstances.
  4. Jessica's take on that: Same thing applies to relationships. When we are too proud to own our grief in front of our friends, we lose out on the benefit of the depth of their love.
  5. Jason: Endurance is key. It's not like a movie, where the difficulties are a short montage immediately followed by a heartwarming resolution in the next scene. It's a long slog with a much longer downward slope than you prepare for before you ever get to the slow upward climb.
  6. Jessica's take on that: This was one of those things that helped us find true friendship in our chaos. Some individuals were willing to wear sackcloth with us as long as it took. The human reaction to the suffering of others often skips to the happy ending. Some truly brave souls just joined with us, patiently watching this unfold over all these long weeks.
  7. Both of us: Oh. That's what those years of savings were for. :( We'd have been in the street without it, but it just hurts to say goodbye to all of that money.
  8. Jason: It could always be worse. It may be easier for me to accept that reality because I have family who have been in oppressive situations like invasion by foreign armies, ethnic cleansing by their own government. That helped me keep things in perspective. I still had days when I was really beaten up by it all, but it was easier for me to just keep on doing what was necessary to keep the lights on and heat running when I had that perspective in mind.
  9. Jessica: My husband's family is pretty kick-butt. You should read his grandpa's book. And meet his grandmother. And settle in for long, amazing stories.
Of course, all of this is still swirling in my head -- connecting to grace, and Holy Thursday, and the awesomeness of humanity, and learning to find hope, and myriad other things. Some posts are planned to deal with that, but hopefully, I've settled your curiosity. And, with luck, exhausted that silly shoe metaphor...

In the meantime: thank you all for your prayers, love, emails, texts, gifts, thoughts, presence, and general wonderfulness. You made this journey one of the most meaningful I've ever walked, and because of getting to learn you and your capacity to love better, I wouldn't take back a single moment of it.