Top Books of 2016

I’ll say one thing about being home sick for four days … there’s been lots of time for reading by the fire. And reflecting on the books I’ve read. I was inspired by my reading friend Julia’s photo and reviews of her top nine books, so thought I’d add mine:

img_3996Jimmy Bluefeather by Kim Heacox was a beautifully written story set in SE Alaska about a master canoe carver, about relationships between the young and old, about life and death, loss and transformation. I look forward to reading it again.

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk was one of the most interesting books I’ve every read, about the relationships between trauma and health, but even more about our incredible resilience. It was an intense read, and made me both sad and hopeful.

I was inspired to read The Wild Edge of Sorrow after reading an incredible interview with Francis Weller in The Sun magazine. His perspective on grief gave voice to so much I’ve witnessed and more that simply intuitively feels true. He is very clear about the importance of the work of metabolizing our grief and gives lots of suggestions for that process.

Fablehaven was a fantastic YA fantasy read, a series of five great books that I probably could have read more quickly except that I just didn’t want them to end. BUT … there’s a new story coming out in March…

To The Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey is set in Alaska at the end of the nineteenth century, told through a series of letters and journal entries between Colonel Allen Forrester as he explores the fictional Wolverine River, and his wife as she remains behind at the military barracks. Creatively written, authentically Alaskan. I hated to see this book end.

I listened to The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson as an audiobook. Incredible depth and breadth of research, braided through the stories of three particular African Americans who migrated to New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, respectively. Much of it was tough to listen to, and so important. I learned a lot, and highly recommend this book.

The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at it by Kelly McGonigal was mind-blowing. Her thesis is that the general consensus that stress is bad for us isn’t correct — rather, how we perceive our stress shapes how it impacts us. Stress can trigger our growth, increase our compassion and empathy, challenge us to new learning, build our resilience, push us to connect with others. Really important book, with lots of research, exercises, suggestions for putting her research into practice for healthier, happier living.

Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons by Jan Richardson is a beautifully-written book. I’ve loved and been moved, encouraged, inspired by everything she’s written, and this book is no different.

Comfortable With Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion by Pema Chodron. The Buddhist nun and teacher Pema Chodron has taught me so much about embracing the present moment, trusting in the wisdom that’s available in every circumstance. She’s also very clear that when things are uncomfortable, that’s part of being human. Not a failure, not a disaster, not something to be judged. Simply another moment.

My number ten book would be Underground Airlines by Ben Winters — imagine a world where slavery wasn’t abolished in the Civil War, and there are still four states where slavery is enshirined in the Constitution. Fascinating, disturbing, thought-provoking read.

Here’s to more reading in 2017!

 

Into a New Year

Tender and Fierce.

I long to begin this new year fierce 

with intention 

outdoors, active, playful, bold.

Instead 

prickly skin and chills 

lock me on the couch, 

some comfort in the fire, 

the snow and sunlight mocking me.

So, tender.

Mary, Do You Know La Malinche? – Sarah Degner Riveros — We Talk. We Listen.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is hands-down one of the most fascinating people in all history. Praised and doubted, her integrity questioned not only in her own life time (Matthew 1:19) but also in ours, Christmas is the time of year when the Church ponders her the most. However, in a special pre-Christmas post, Sarah Degner Riveros shares with […]

via Mary, Do You Know La Malinche? – Sarah Degner Riveros — We Talk. We Listen.

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.