God Says Yes to Me

It’s been a while since I have blogged. It has been a meantime for me – a time of letting the field lie fallow for a season, a time of in-betweens. Somewhere in the muddied middle of the past, somewhere in between the now and the not yet. It has been a season of profound joy and some of the deepest sadness and loss I have ever known. But it has been a journey. We are all on a journey.

Over the past few days I have had the opportunity to think about conflict as a spiritual practice. That may seem like an oxymoron to some or anathema to others, but I am learning that it can be both and neither. Where two or three are gathered, Jesus said, my spirit will be in the midst of them; not only in their joys but in their conflicts.

Seeing conflict as spiritual practice, giving thanks for all the messiness that conflict brings – these can lead us out of the valley of despair into a land of hope. A land that flows with the creativity and possibility and potentialities of all that can be. A place of the ultimate yes, where God says yes to me.

Yes, I have called you to coach and to write and to provide spiritual direction to those who are seeking to know Me more deeply. Yes, you are the good and whole and grace-filled woman I created you to be. Yes, I will lead you on your journey with others along the way to support you. Yes, I will be with you always.

A dear colleague and friend, Deidre Combs taught me this eternal truth that comes out of the wisdom of all the major religious traditions. It says, “When conflict comes, be grateful.” I’ve had a tough time believing the truth of this. But conflict provides disruption to our otherwise peaceful lives. If we are willing to live through it and let it have it’s way with us, we can move from disruption through the messiness of chaos and hopelessness to a place of creativity and potential to a new cosmic “Yes!” from our creator.

What do you need God to affirm in you? What is God saying YES to in your life?

I share this poem because it says more eloquently than I can my experience of God’s cosmic YES.

God Says Yes To Me by Kaylin Haught

 I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic

and she said yes

I asked her if it was okay to be short

and she said it sure is

I asked her if I could wear nail polish

or not wear nail polish

and she said honey

she calls me that sometimes

she said you can do just exactly

what you want to

Thanks God I said

And is it even okay if I don’t paragraph

my letters

Sweetcakes God said

who knows where she picked that up

what I’m telling you is

Yes Yes Yes

“God Says Yes To Me” by Kaylin Haught, from The Palm of Your Hand. © Tilbury House Publishers, 1995.
Advertisements

Change That Doesn’t Jingle in Your Pocket

“If you can’t change your fate, change your attitude.” (Amy Tan)

Life is change. Change is a fact of life. No, change is life.

This week things changed at my yoga studio. Not my studio, but the studio where I practice. Many people have not been happy with the change. Why? Because basically nobody likes change.

Mark Twain has been attributed as saying something to the effect that the only thing that likes change is a wet baby. True enough.I90BFnYh

The members at my yoga studio don’t like change. The people I have worked with in the church don’t like it. People think that Gavin and I are crazy because we physically move everything we own every couple of years to follow his call to do interim ministry. I’ve often said that the only constant in our lives is change.

Maybe it’s the one thing about which I’m really an expert.

Or not. Not really. I may experience more self-imposed change than the average person, but I know that I can be just as bad at accepting change as the next person. My frame of reference is just a little different.

I don’t like it when my stuff gets moved. (Primarily, I don’t like when my spouse puts my things away without my knowledge or permission.) I don’t like feeling rushed from one thing to the next, especially when that happens because an appointment got moved – something that was beyond my control. I don’t like any change that makes me feel like I am less in control.

I think that’s why most of us don’t like change. It’s been said that we don’t dislike change, as much as we grieve the loss that comes with that change. For me, it’s control. I at least like the illusion of being in control of my life and my schedule and my work.

But the key word there is illusion. Any control I have, or I think I have is really just an illusion, albeit one that brings me great comfort.

That’s what I’m working on through my yoga practice. Giving up control of what happens next by focusing on what is happening right now. Breathing, right now. Holding down dog for what might seem like an eternity – for right now.

Because now is the only reality that any of us ever gets. Our past is memory – and we pray that our memories are sweet and good and inform our present. Our future is not yet here – and despite our best efforts, the future will always be just beyond our grasp. Today is the present, the gift of now.

Time to go to yoga.

On laundry and pottery and small towns

IMG_7008First let me say, I do not know how two people can generate the massive amount of laundry that needed to be done. I don’t. And even though we rarely buy clothes and clean out our closets whenever we move, we have a lot of clothes. Or at least it felt like it this morning.

So because we had these mountains of dirty clothes, I decided to take them to the local laundromat in the next town over, rather than try to do 6+ loads in the three washers in our apartment complex. So off I went, quarters in hand, with laundry detergent and bleach and dryer sheets, laundry mountains in tow.

After parking, I noticed that the dry cleaner/wash ‘n’ fold (for those of you non-New Yorkers, these are dry cleaners that also wash and fold your laundry) also had a sign for self-laundry. So I opted for this rather than the coin-op laundry a couple of doors down that just felt depressing and whose washers had seen better days.

There is something healthy and humbling about doing your laundry in public — airing your dirty laundry in a very real sense. The women who work at the laundry — doing the wash and fold loads for those who dropped them off — were friendly and delightful. Within minutes, I was conversing as an old friend, chatting with them about everything and nothing all at the same time.

Just down the street is the pottery studio where I took my first pottery class last Saturday. I stopped by the studio after the laundry mountains had been conquered, with the few minutes left on my meter. My intent was two-fold; to drop off a check for the classes I was taking, and to take a look at the pieces I made last Saturday.

I love the feel of this small river town and Marian’s smile as I walk through the door of the pottery studio that has been there for generations. And there’s nothing better than a sunny spring day, the smell of fresh laundry and taking a look at my first pinch pot creation.

Day 237: Deciding to be different

“And that is how change happens. One gesture. One person. One moment at a time.”
― Libba BrayThe Sweet Far Thing

Last evening, I was a part of an interesting conversation on my Blog Talk Radio show on the Life Coach Radio Network about race, racism, police militarization, Michael Brown and Ferguson. It was a moment in time when it seemed important not to just go about our normal calendar, but put things off for now, converse with people who have skin in the game — literally and figuratively — and think about how whites and blacks can use this as a moment to open up the sometimes uncomfortable conversation (primarily for white folks) about race, and the sin of racism that oppresses both the majority and minority culture, both black and white.

IMG_20140517_034244

We do not live in a society that treats everyone the same. We want to. Many of us wish we did. Some of us who lived through the Civil Rights Movement and saw us elect this country’s first President of African descent believed that perhaps we had become post-racial. But we haven’t. Brown and black bodies are not of equal value as white bodies. White deaths still take precedence over black deaths. People of color and whites are treated unequally by local police and all branches of law enforcement. People of color know that they have to teach their children survival techniques when dealing with those who have sworn an oath to protect them. Too many incidents in recent days have clearly shown that police officers all too often do not have the same regard for the lives of people of color as they do for the lives of white folks.

Not all police officers are bad — many are good — just like not all black teens are thugs — many are good. We paint our world in broad strokes and we react out of fear in circumstances when trust has been broken. Trust between police and black/brown communities has been broken for far too long. When I was growing up, I knew that if I had a problem, I could go to a police officer and they would help me. They were there to serve and protect. But too often police protection in communities of color has been non-existent at best and harassing at worst. Many children in these communities have been told that they need to fear the police, and have been taught to shout to them, “Hands up, don’t shoot!” rather than be the next victim.

Things have to change, and we need to help that happen. All of us, doing what we can when we can. I blog, I host a radio show that folks listen to, and I pray that what I do will make a difference somehow, some way. I can’t make it all happen at once, none of us can — but if we do what we can when we can, one day at a time, one gesture, one small thing, and if each of us do just one small thing, we can change the world. We can decide in our circle of friends and family to be different. We can decide to hold our police and law enforcement authorities accountable. We can change what we can when we can, and things will change. They must.

We can’t sit idly by in communities like mine and say that Ferguson doesn’t matter, or that Staten Island doesn’t matter, or the Chicago doesn’t matter. Black and brown lives matter. They matter to God and they need to matter to us. Love our neighbors as we love ourselves, Christ taught us. We have to widen our definition of who our neighbor is.

So I challenge you to do something today, just one thing that will change you. Decide to show up differently. Decide to stretch yourself outside your comfort zone. Read more and become educated on the issues. A good place to start is Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. Keep an open mind. Challenge your assumptions of how the way the world is. Decide to be different.

If we have learned anything in the past two weeks it’s that we cannot do this work alone. We need to work together — not with white folks leading — but following and taking cues from our black and brown brothers and sisters who know what they need, and what their communities need. As whites we don’t need to speak as much as listen — listen to the pain that is coming from these communities, and allow it to seep into your bones. Accept your part of the blame for perpetuating the status quo. Show up and shut up. Follow. Stand in solidarity. Pray. And the world will change.

But first we have to decide to be different.

Day 236: Taking the Road Less Traveled By

“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road—the one “less traveled by”—offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.” 
— Rachel Carson

I won’t win any popularity contests among folks who for whatever reason want things to stay the same as they are right now by saying that something big has got to change. But it does. This country has to be willing to take a long hard look in the mirror and question whether or not when we say we live in a “free country” that means freedom for all or freedom for some.

These folks don’t consciously want freedom for some — and will say that they want freedom for all. But to create that society where all have equal freedom (and yes, where all have equal responsibility that this freedom brings) might come at a cost for those in our society who have benefitted from the system as it stands right now.

And those are folks like me — folks of European ancestry — who settled this country by force, displacing and slaughtering those who were here when they “discovered” the land, brought enslaved Africans here to live in captivity, and have believed for centuries that the “American Dream” is possible for anyone. These are the folks who “live in the bubble” as I called it in my last blog post.

I want to believe in the power of our ability to be self-reflective and learn from the mistakes of the past, but I don’t. I wanted to believe that Columbine and Newtown would change our view on guns and it didn’t. And while I desperately want to believe that the killing of unarmed and seemingly non-threatening black men and women by armed and threatened white police officers will call us to rethink what we do in the name of law enforcement and, perhaps most importantly, how we do it — I don’t believe it will change anything unless people of faith and conscience refuse to be placated by explanations that just don’t add up.

We have to demand that we do better. We have to acknowledge the sin of racism and the ways in which it devalues each of us. We need to see one another as holy and beloved children of God. If we cannot see each other as our brother or sister, we will never be able to love them in the way that we have been commanded in scripture. What is the greatest commandment? Jesus was asked.  How did he respond?

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength. And the second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Therein lies all the law and the prophets.”

If we are going to call ourselves Christians, we need to love as Christ loved. And perfect love, the epistle writer James said, casts out fear. You can’t love and fear at the same time. And we are called to love. And love calls us to change — change how we see one another and how we interact with one another.

A week ago, John Oliver on “Last Week Tonight” did an amazing piece on Ferguson. I think everyone should watch it. (Click here to go to the video.) It speaks to the ways in which we as a society are contributing to situations like Ferguson.

I don’t want to see another Ferguson, another Michael Brown or Trayvon Martin or Eric Garner. I don’t want to see another Antonio Smith — the 9 year old boy who was shot multiple times just blocks from home on the south side of Chicago. I’m tired of the killing, and the violent society in which we live. When we give police officers military weapons we make our streets a war zone.

Let’s go down the road less traveled by — let’s decide today, right now that enough is enough. Let’s stand together, show up, speak out, work harder to make our communities, our homes and our churches places of peace and sanctuary. Let’s pray for our communities, and for those who work hard every day to keep them safe; and let us pray for everyone and for every encounter with law enforcement. Let us strive to dismantle racism in all its forms and to make positive changes in communities most affected by violence.

Day 232: Why Things Won’t Just Settle Down

I’ve recently learned how easy it would be for me, a white woman married to a white man and living in the Midwest, to live my life blissfully ignorant of the world around me. I moved just over a week ago, and despite my attempts to get service connected when expected or even sooner, the cable installer has yet to come – meaning that I have not had access to television or the internet (except on my phone and iPad) for over a week. And if I wasn’t on Facebook, I wouldn’t even be aware of the events taking place in Ferguson, Missouri.

I’m somewhat disconcerted by that. I’ve moved into life in “the bubble” – the bubble of comfortable white middle class life where no one has to talk about Ferguson and no one has to talk about race; in fact, no one has to do anything. No one has to be uncomfortable. No one.

I’ve not always lived in that bubble, so I can at least see the bubble for what it is, and appreciate the privilege that I have to live therein. But it’s discomforting to me — downright disconcerting. Is anybody out there with me on that?

There was a time, earlier in my life, where my everyday life bore witness to the realities of racism. I was helping to raise a young black man – a teenager when he lived with his father and I – and I remember what it felt like in the pit of my stomach every time he walked out the door. I knew that he would be treated differently than I would by the police and I prayed a thousand prayers for his safety.

I would have thought that in the nearly twenty years since that young black man lived with me that things would be better – that things should be getting better, not getting worse. But I think they are worse, perhaps even 100 times worse. I did not have to school him to say the words, “Hands up, don’t shoot!” While his father regularly reminded him that if he had any contact with the police he was to be respectful and do as he was told, we all knew it would only be worse for him if he didn’t. But I didn’t fear that the police would shoot him — perhaps that was naïve on my part — but our overriding fear was that he might be in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people.

Ferguson has brought all these memories – these feelings – back to me with a vengeance. I’m so sorry for Michael Brown’s mother and for all the mothers of black and brown male children who have become all too easy target by the police – those whose names we don’t know, in communities we don’t want to know. From NYC’s policy of “Stop and Frisk” to the teargasing of innocent and peaceful protestors and neighborhoods in Ferguson, to the shooting of an unarmed young man with 6 police bullets, the culture of violence that is allowing these things to happen has got to change. But from what I can see, it won’t be changing any time soon. As long as civilians can roam the streets with concealed weapons, and the police can hide from public scrutiny and prosecution – even when they are in the wrong – nothing will change. It will take more than retraining our police officers to be more even-handed. The mistrust is palpable and it runs deep. I don’t have any answers. I’m not even sure that I am raising the right questions.

But for all of my friends and all the mothers I don’t know who live in fear that their children might walk out the front door and never return. I am sorry. And I am culpable. I live in the bubble, in the house in the suburbs, in the quiet neighborhood in what seems like a place so far removed from the violence of the streets of our cities and towns — towns like Ferguson. And while I may be far removed, I am not far away; I live less than 30 miles from the city limits of Chicago. This is the city that I love, and the city that has been plagued with seemingly uncontrollable violence and death – particularly during these summer months.

So I will testify to the realities of racism — both as I experienced them and the structural racism that pervades our culture. Perhaps I can speak to some who live in my bubble and don’t understand why things don’t just settle down in Ferguson. It’s not about settling down, I’ll say. It’s life and death and fear and intimidation and systemic racism and racial prejudice and…without justice, there can be no peace. There must be justice – for Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin and all the other young men whose only crime was WWB (walking while black). And I will continue to listen to my brothers and sisters who never get to walk away from this fight, and when invited, stand with them in solidarity. And I will tell my story, for what it’s worth, and hopefully help someone in the bubble think a bit more deeply about why things won’t just settle down.

Day 188: In the company of wise women

Today, I am going to be in the company of wise women. As I grow older, it is becoming more and more important that I make time for such activities.

About a year ago, a friend and I talked about our experiences as women clergy — both good and bad — but mostly about how isolating it can be. We work in solo pastorates, or in campus ministries, or in entrepreneurial ministries — and we rarely have colleagues. If we do have colleagues, they are rarely other women in ministry. We wanted to change that. We wanted to create a space to be together, to share, to love one another, to uphold each other, to be companions for each other on our respective journeys. We started by gathering monthly virtually on ‘GoToMeeting’, and are for the first time gathering together in person. I can’t wait to be in the company of wise women.photo

There is something very special about women’s wisdom that is often forged out of our experience of community. Women, I believe, are more communal creatures than men — we have a much more profound sense of ‘ubuntu’ (the Swahili word which means, “I am, because we are.’) Women have a sense of needing to be in the company of other women with whom we can share our joys and our struggles. We need to know that we are not alone, that the struggles we share are not new, that this too shall pass. When we come together in this way to share our hopes, our fears, our dreams and our struggles, something beautiful happens. We forge community. We are community.

If you need a community like this one, find one — or start the conversation. We need each other, and we need to remember that we are not in this life alone. We need to experience ‘ubuntu’ in the here and now. We need to be in the company of wise women.

 

Day 183: Holding hands with a new friend.

By now many of you have heard about the storms that went through Chicagoland and much of the Great Lakes this week. Well, we were in the air on Monday night when it happened.

I’m not mad about that. I wanted to be in the air. We were flying to Chicago to look for a place to live and I had multiple appointments set up for Tuesday — starting at 9:30 am. It would have been stressful if we had not gotten here. So the stress of flying around and then landing in its wake was less stressful than having our flight cancelled. Thank you, United.

Well, to say that the flight had it’s ups and downs would be an understatement. It was bumpy. Ok, more than bumpy. We had turbulence from the time we took off until we landed.

But it gave us an occasion to make a new friend. She traded seats with a man so that he and his wife could sit together. I think it was providential.

We had a lovely visit with her — and hopefully our chat helped to keep her mind off the bumps. As we made our final approach into O’Hare however, it went from bad to worse. Lightening was flashing all around us, and I began to feel like we were on a roller coaster at Six Flags. It was not fun. I prayed. The woman next to me was shaking. I sat between her and my husband, holding both of their hands, and working at being appropriately reassuring.

I was going to entitle this post, “Holding Hands with a Stranger” but that didn’t feel quite right. We made a new friend that night. I knew that in my heart of hearts we were going to be fine — that we never would have taken off if the airline didn’t think we would be able to land safely. And our new friend found it comforting to be sitting with two pastors. The more nervous she got, the more I tried to reassure her that it was going to be fine and the harder I prayed that it would. I prayed for the pilots and the flight crew — remembering that it was Jesus who calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee.

So today I’m thankful for many things — for arriving in Chicago, for finding a new place to live, and for making a new friend. (We’re already friends on Facebook so that settles it, right?) I’m thankful for the skill of experienced airline pilots and crew, and for a faith that helps me to stay calm in the midst of storms (literally and figuratively.) And I’m thankful for stories to tell and for those who read them. Life is a journey, and I’m grateful for those with whom I get to share the ride.

 

Day 169: God loves me more (or not.)

Have you seen the blog posts about the “one thing” that Christians should not say? While I don’t wholly disagree with the sentiments, it does bring to mind the emails that I get about the “one thing” that you should not eat if you are trying to lose weight, or the “one thing” you should do if you really are. (OK, so yeah, I get those emails…) I’ve decided to try and not write a “ten best” or “five thing” blog post regardless of their popularity on Huff Post (and I’ve read plenty of them, so please don’t be offended if you have written one.) I’ll readily admit that I have hopped on plenty of bandwagons in my life and this is just one that I have decided to let pass me by.

So back to the “one thing” that Christians shouldn’t say. First off, I hope I have forgotten more things that Christians shouldn’t say than most people can think of. I’m full of them. If you haven’t read these posts and you don’t know what I’m referring to, there have been a number of posts recently saying that Christians should not say that they are blessed. The reasoning behind this is that it is bad theology (which I don’t disagree with, by the way) and when we say we are blessed, we are in reality saying that somehow, some way, God chose to bless me – and not others. In essence, God loves me more.file000834482034

Ok, ok, I get it. I’ve been lucky more than blessed. I was lucky enough to be born to good people in a good neighborhood in a time when you didn’t have to mortgage your future to get a college education. I was born white and straight in the US at a time when there was significant advantages to being born white and straight. I was lucky that I was able to get my post-secondary and graduate degrees on scholarship, and the most college debt I ever incurred was for one ill-fated year at Cornell in a PhD program. If it hadn’t been for that, I would have always been “education debt-free.”

But my husband and I live a life that requires our complete reliance on God and belief that God will provide. Gavin is an interim pastor in the Presbyterian Church, and so is looking for a job every 2-3 years – and his work is, in essence, to put himself out of a job. But he works with these congregations to help put them in the best place possible to call their next installed pastor.

In my work as a spiritual life and leadership coach, I have to rely on God that those who need my services will find me – one way or another. I do what I can and then rely on God for the rest. There has always been a steady stream of clients — which has indicated to me that I am to keep on this path, knowing that this is what God has for me to do.

It’s not always easy to live into that trust in the midst of so much transition. But we have been blessed. Not because God loves us more, but because when we have relied on God, God has not let us down. In many ways, for us to call that “luck” rather than God’s blessing or God’s faithfulness dishonors the way that God has continued to show up in our lives, reminding us that we are where we need to be to further God’s work in the world.

So rather than debating whether saying, “I’m blessed” translates to “God loves me more,” can we talk about other things that Christians shouldn’t say – like “it’s God’s will” when a parent, child or spouse dies tragically, or telling anyone whose sexuality and gender expression are outside the “norm” of heterosexuality and traditional gender expressions that they are going to go to hell?

These are things that a Christian should never say.

 

Day 161: Yes…all women.

know women who never reported being assaulted because they didn’t have overwhelming evidence to prove it.  — Chelsea Pitcher (@Chelsea_Pitcher on Twitter.)

I’m a little late jumping on the  bandwagon, but I’ve been letting it settle into my soul a bit before I write on this blog and share all my stuff, but it is time. I know it is time.

The power of the  hashtag is that there is so much “stuff” around sexual assault and sexual harassment and unwanted sexual attention and rape and near-rape and unreported rape that all women just know on an instinctual level — yes, all women — that we could fill a library with stories. Stories from all women.

file6861302726234

My story is this. I was raped in college by a man who I then had to spend the next 4 years seeing around campus because that’s how small our college was. And if you don’t think it happens everywhere, think again. I don’t believe it was premeditated, and to be honest, I don’t even think he considered his actions to be rape. But I said no, I said I didn’t want it to go further, and I was unable to stop it. And no, I didn’t report it. I was the one dealing with shame, and I knew that it would come straight back on me. I even chided myself saying, “What’s wrong with me? Why did I let this happen?” But it’s been 30 years, and so many strong and courageous women have come forward that I feel that it’s time to break my silence.

Not all women have been raped. The ones that haven’t consider themselves to be the lucky ones. That’s telling, don’t you think? Rape has become so prevalent, so pervasive that if you haven’t been the victim of sexual assault that you feel like you are one of the lucky ones. I agree.

It took me years to come to terms with the fact that the rape had happened, and even longer to heal from the wounds that it left. Rape is about power, but it’s also about vulnerability — and that’s what it makes it so damaging. You were vulnerable once, and you never want to let yourself be vulnerable again. Be strong, be aware, watch who you are with, be slow to trust, be suspicious of anyone who pays attention to you.

This conversation has needed to happen for a long time. It’s been 30 years and I can still get in touch with the pain and the shame and the anger of that night. We need to change how we are raising our boys. We need to change what we are teaching our girls. Video games that involve rape and degradation of women by men should be as difficult to get as pornography.

So  know women for whom the pain of sexual assault and rape are all too real. We are the ones who are working out our issues through kickboxing and martial arts and self-defense classes. We are the ones who are still working at being vulnerable with our spouses, but not too vulnerable with the rest of the world. We are the ones who know that there are more of us than we will ever know.