Category: Spiritual Practices

The Bible in 90 Days…

A couple of my friends committed this week to reading the entire Bible in 90 days, and I decided to join them.

I’ll be honest … I’ve never been very great at sticking with Bible reading plans, but I do like the idea of getting through the whole expanse of the Bible in three months.

We’ll see how it goes … I’m also trying to meditate daily, do exercises daily to heal from a hip injury, and get back to my guitar. So it’s a pretty sure thing that I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. But at the moment, I’m enjoying the challenge.

I just finished Day 5, which means I’ve read all of Genesis and 15 chapters of Exodus … it’s hard to dwell deeply much on all that happens (and there are a lot of incredible stories in these first 65 chapters!!!).

But several things struck me.

— So many blessings given. I wonder what it would be like if we were more intentional about offering blessing? (One of my favorite compliments given me by a friend was that I seem like someone that would just naturally offer a blessing in the course of a hike, bike ride, etc.)

— Women don’t play a large role, but it makes it more noticeable when they DO — Zipporah saving Moses’ life. The Hebrew midwives Shiprah and Puah saving Hebrew baby boys. Hagar, long one of my favorite Biblical women. Tamar’s craftiness in finding a way to eventually bear her twins, Perez and Zerah.

— The reminder that “Israel” means “One who strives with God,” the new name given to Jacob after he spends the night wrestling with an angel (God), and also the name given the Hebrew people.

— There is a LOT of marrying going on between close relatives — cousins, aunt-nephew, half-siblings… nothing like those Biblical family values! Also, for a culture that really lifts up eldest sons, God sure seems to favor younger brothers — Abel, Jacob, Moses…

— The steady thread of being a foreigner: Abraham saying “I am a stranger and an alien residing among you” (Gen. 24:4), Moses “I have been an alien residing in a foreign land” (as he names his son “Gershon”) (Ex. 2:24), “There shall be one law for the native and for the alien who resides among you” (Ex. 12:49).

— The resilience shown in Joseph’s story — despite being sold into slavery by his brothers, apart from his family in a strange land for more than a decade (including years in prison), he says afterward to his brothers, “And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life … God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.” (Gen. 45:5, 7)

What do you think? Wanna join us? What are you noticing?

Advertisements

Guatemalan joy

I think what I want to remember most about this last week in Guatemala was all the laughter, and the smiles.

At Parque Cerro de la Cruz, Antigua, Guatemala

Unselfconscious, genuine laughter, in all kinds of circumstances.


I love that I caught Candelaria in this moment of laughter, holding her sweet daughter Gabriela.

I loved that while we were hauling aluminum gutters from the church to the bus, a group of mothers and daughters and I smiled at each other and giggled, with them pointing and laughing and shyly looking away … it didn’t matter whether we spoke English, Spanish or Pokomchi. The laughter was universal. 

And our team recalled several times that during our first water system installation, when we had to figure out how to make the gutters and PVC pipe slope down into the water tank that was in fact at a higher level than the house, the response of the masons working with us wasn’t frustration, wasn’t anger, wasn’t blaming or giving up. They laughed, and tried different things, listened to others’ ideas, and kept working. Ingenuity won the day, with the help of laughter. The solution? Raising the roof.


I still can’t wrap my head around the poverty we witnessed. Can’t imagine what it would be like to live in a place with no water source — no well or stream or lake or community water system. What it would be like to live on $2 a day or less. To have the experience of the death of a child — or children — be more common than not. 

But the laughter is a sign of resilience, and a sign of hope. I see it at the hospital too, sitting with a family after a death, sharing stories, and unfathomably laughing. Not in denial or with bitterness, but because the human spirit is strong, and perhaps inclined toward joy.


And so I want to remember the laughter. Of teammates who began as strangers and ended up as friends. Gladis, whose laugh is like a bubbling stream, tumbling over itself. Romeo, whose laugh is somewhere between a giggle and a chuckle, and an utterly genuine sound. Edy, whose laugh is gentle and kind and makes me smile. Trying to describe laughter to Isaias at dinner, when we couldn’t remember the word in Spanish (it’s “reirse,” to laugh) … until he started laughing.

I want to remember that, and so much more about this journey. The laughter is a good place to start.

Fishing Lessons and Refugees

Four walls and a cross, a font and a table might be important, but they aren’t much if we aren’t bringing God’s good news to where people are, to where it is desperately needed. And I think especially right now, we need to remember the many ways Jesus went to the people. He went to the people who were suffering. People who were sick in need of healing. People who were outcast, who were untouchable. He provided food for the hungry. Good news for the poor. Setting the oppressed free. If we are to take seriously what it means to be Christian, to follow Christ, we need to take these words very seriously.

On Anger and the Pitfalls of Being Nice

I do “nice” really well.

I have friends who are pretty sure there’s not a mean bone in my body.

And once I dated a woman who told me she just wanted to see me finally get angry. I’m pretty sure she could tell that I bottle up my anger. But then, when I did finally dare show my anger, just a little, we ended up breaking up just days later.

So much for positive reinforcement.

I’m a hospital chaplain. I can witness anger and grief and despair and rage, and generally stay pretty calm and grounded. But I don’t have a clue what to do with my own anger … often I can’t even quite identify it, and usually it comes out in tears.

Sometimes it also comes out in cursing. Usually to myself, and to God.

And for the last couple days I’ve been thinking a lot about anger and language and expression, and how I manage the tension between not wanting to offend, wanting to keep spaces of discourse open so that as many voices can hear and be heard as possible, and yet also recognizing that sometimes the offensive language IS the language to express deep frustration, anger, despair, grief.

Far too often those of us who prefer to stay comfortable have shut down the voices of those who have needed to speak a very real, very important message of grief, injustice, righteous anger. And when I shut down that anger, it’s a way of distancing my self and “othering” someone else, keeping myself apart — insulated — from their pain and anger in a way that also can dishonor their pain.

The Lutheran Church tends to do a pretty spectacular job of this kind of nice that avoids all conflict. Even my (Catholic) hospital system has a culture of “Providence nice.” Jesus, however, didn’t operate that way.

As I write this, the second day of the season of Advent is coming to a close. This is my favorite season of the church year, the four weeks preceding Christmas, a time of preparation, of waiting, of sitting in the darkness watching for signs of hope. This is a season of trying to comprehend the insanity of God loving the world so much as to show up in our midst as a fragile infant, born to a poor, young, unmarried mom, and leaping into all the messiness and brokenness of people and politics and relationships.

This Advent, I’m following a devotion series on the theme #FuckThisShit.

You’ll find Day 2, by Alisha Gordon, here.

Rev. Tuhina Rasche, one of the pastors who conceptualized this series of devotions, says this:

There is a deep need to express one’s self on a visceral level. After a tremendous experience such as the death of a loved one, an act of betrayal, an experience of righteous anger, or a sense that something is not right with the world, there are many people who yearn for a way to communicate something they feel deep within their souls. Communicating such a deep emotion cannot be accompanied by flowery and polite language; if anything, the language that accompanies such emotions communicates a rawness and a sense of being both literally and figuratively torn open. There is a desire for God to rend the heavens, to have things torn open to enter into the world. Like the heavens being torn open in Mark’s Gospel at Jesus’ baptism. Or like Christ’s flesh being torn at the crucifixion… and bearing those scars in the resurrection, giving validity to our hopes, yearnings, and anguish.

We are not using #FuckThisShit to be edgy or radical. We are not using this to be “cool.” We are using these words because they are troubling. They are unsettling. They are being used to move us from places of complacency. If anything, we are using these words to reflect the brokenness of the humanity in which we live. We are using these words to reflect a deep sense of heartbreak and yearning to be in restored relationship with one another, and to be in restored relationship with God. We are using these words to call out for Christ to come again …

To be very clear, this choice of language is not a response to the inconsequential — a scratched car, not getting concert tickets, finding sausage on your vegetarian pizza. It is a response to waking up again this morning to news of an active shooter on the Ohio State campus. To the long litany of names of African American men and women who have been killed in what should be routine traffic stops. To the reality that we have a president-elect who has said vile, offensive things to and about women, Muslims, immigrants … and if I were a Muslim immigrant woman (and I work with many of them), whether I would actually say it or not, I would want to say #FuckThisShit.

I will be forever grateful to feminist Christian ethicist Beverly Wildung Harrison  for all I learned from her essay, “The Power of Anger in the Work of Love.” She writes,

“Anger is not the opposite of love. It is better understood as a feeling-signal that all is not well in our relation to other persons or groups or to the world around us. Anger is a mode of connectedness to others and it is always a vivid form of caring.” She goes on to write, “Where anger rises, there the energy to act is present.”

Yes, anger can be destructive and lead to harm. But it also can push us to work for change and justice and a more loving world where all are welcome.

And as I work as a hospital chaplain, and look around at the state of the world, I am increasingly convinced that one of the most important growing edges for us is to increase our ability to tolerate discomfort.

The more comfortable we are, the more we need to get used to discomfort, learn how we respond to it, learn how to stay grounded and loving even when we’re in the midst of chaos, pain, uncertainty.

Not long ago I sat in the family room of our Emergency Department, with a woman who had just learned her husband had died. When she found out I was a chaplain, she immediately said “I don’t want to talk religion.” We didn’t. What she did do, over the following hours, was grieve, curse, and tell stories about a man who “If he loved you, you knew it,” and who used “fuck” as both noun and verb, “as fuck” as his most common adjective, and so on. And that was time was absolutely sacred ground.

There’s no question that this series of Advent devotions won’t be for everyone. That’s fine. But as I watch it spread over Facebook and notice the responses, I’m noticing it reaching a lot of people. Many of whom are not, and will not be the churched.

The woman in the ER wanted nothing to do with religion or church. But I’d also bet she lives with an assumption that “Church” wants nothing to do with her.

And that is where my fears lie for the church … not that we’ll become a place where “fuck” and “shit” have a regular place in our litanies or preaching, but that we’ll (continue to) be a place where those who are hungry for some hope or some love in the midst of violence, poverty, abuse, despair will never feel they can bring their whole selves. A place where those who bring their whole selves, in vulnerability, rawness, brokenness, will be told they need to change to keep us comfortable, rather than be welcomed, and chance that we all may be transformed.

It is my hope that there will be more places where we can be honest about our anger, regardless of the language, and truly be heard. That change may come, along with balm for the wounded places we carry.

I expect to be uncomfortable this Advent season. Hell, I’ve been uncomfortable all year for a variety of reasons. I hope that discomfort will also push my creativity, my prayers, my writing, and whoever it is that God is currently calling forth from me. I’m grateful for this opportunity to engage the discomfort.

Meanwhile, I’m still pondering how I’ll write about and talk about this on Facebook. I’d rather have you read it than turn away because of the language. And, the language matters. For the record, there’s also a profanity-free version of the prompts titled #RendTheHeavens.

“Oh, that the Christmas miracle of God-in-a-manger wouldn’t be

just a one-time magic trick.

Because god we could use a Christmas miracle these days

because by now the ice and the snow and the darkness are

already old friends but we haven’t even

reached the darkest day yet.

And I’m scared. And I am bleeding. And I am tired.

Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down…”

You can read the rest of Micah Martin’s Advent Psalm of Lament (inspiration for the devotion series) here.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep writing. Might tag it #FuckThisShit. Might tag it #RendTheHeavens. Maybe #FTS/#RTH. But however I tag it, may my writing be honest and vulnerable and Spirit-led.

May we be blessed with discomfort in these darkest days, and also be surprised by hope, by connection, by the unexpected.

Trees, poetry, beauty, sitting

Aspen Trees, Matanuska Glacier

Feeling my way through these days, I’m grateful for trees, for wisdom, for beauty, for listening, for poetry.

Today, that wisdom comes from Wendell Berry.

I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
where I left them, asleep like cattle.

Then what is afraid of me comes
and lives a while in my sight.
What it fears in me leaves me,
and the fear of me leaves it.
It sings, and I hear its song.

Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight./What I fear in it leaves it,
and the fear of it leaves me.
It sings, and I hear its song.

After days of labor,
mute in my consternations,
I hear my song at last,
and I sing it. As we sing,
the day turns, the trees move.

May we find a way beyond fear. May we continue our labor for a just world where all are welcome. May we hear our song and sing it. May we take the time to go among trees and sit still.

And tomorrow I’ll return to the beautifully diverse hospital where I work. Where I’ll stand ready to listen, to companion and comfort the suffering. Where we’ll work together at healing, caring particularly for the poor and vulnerable. Where I’ll continue to speak justice and hope. And I’ll stay close to the trees, and find ways to be still.