Deconstruct:Reconstruct – The Summum Bonum

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When Ben and I first drove up to Milwaukee from West Virginia six years ago, we missed one tiny split on the highway around Chicago –  it was one small lane change. Unfamiliar with the landscape of the midwest, we drove for an hour before we realized we were getting deeper and deeper into rural Illinois and were nowhere near Wisconsin.

We’ve all gotten off track before, right? A little lost when we’re trying to go somewhere new?

As Christians, our whole tradition is the practice of striking out in a new direction:
God called Abraham to leave his home and family to go to a new land.

God led the Israelites out of captivity in Egypt to a new land.

John the Baptist took his rabbinical teachings out of the Temple where his father served and into the desert.

Jesus took his teachings to the outcasts of society – the tax collectors, lepers, prostitutes and Samaritans – breaking with the tradition and the holiness laws.

Paul took his teachings to the gentiles and to the people whom he would have long assumed completely outside of God’s capacity to work in and through.

And so on and so forth.

Our tradition is to set out for the unknown, going to the “ends of the earth,” so as we’re on this journey it’s prudent to stop and ask ourselves honestly, in our own lives and contexts:
Are we on track?

And perhaps we exercise the discipline of looking within ourselves, rather than taking the much-frequented route of pointing fingers and plucking splinters out of others. Let us look deeply into the mirror and search for the planks in our own eyes which blind us.

I, for one, lost the plot somewhere along the line. You know, the plot we read and study and preach and meditate on and honor in art pieces and such?

God creates the world and humanity.
Humanity chooses a path that tears apart and destroys the world and other humans.
God patiently and painstakingly draws humanity to Godself, and to a love for God and other humans.
Humanity doesn’t get it, so God becomes human to help us understand.
And when God-in-flesh is asked what is most essential rule of #alltherules,
he says this:

“Love God with all your heart and soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Love God.
Love others.
Love yourself.

Could it really be that simple?

A couple weeks ago my friend Tim was talking about the philosophical concept of summum bonum – or “the greatest good.”

Tim explained it this way: the summum bonum defines the whole system for a given philosophy. It is the goal, but it also defines the means by which you get to the goal. It is the most essential thing, and if at any point you lose the summum bonum the whole system is for naught.

Different philosophers throughout the ages have identified different summum bonum.  For some the greatest good is beauty, for others law and order. Utilitarians would say the summum bonum is productivity, and rational deontologists would say it is duty.

For those of us who identify a Christians, our summum bonum seems to be love.

We look to the accounts of Jesus’ life to inform our definition of what love is:

Love goes to the outskirts, to those discredited for their lack of social capital and to those despised for their unjust gain in the system.

Love goes to weep with and heal broken and the sick, and love interrupts the life as usual of those who are well and at the top of their game.

Love feeds the masses in the field, and love accepts the invitation to the exclusive dinner with the elite.

The thing I find most beautiful (and annoying) about the love demonstrated by Christ is that it was a spacious, generous love. A love that insisted on and instead of either.

When the community in Corinth was wrestling with how to live a life of love, Paul described it like this:

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.  

(1 Corinthians 13, The Message)

But when I look at my life, can I say those things about myself?

Is the defining characteristic of my life and practice of the things I say I believe on target?

I never give up.
I care more for others than I do for myself.
I don’t want what I don’t have.
I don’t strut.
I don’t have a swelled head.
I don’t force myself on others.
I don’t demand to be first.
I don’t fly off the handle.
I don’t keep score of the sins of others.
I don’t revel when others grovel.
I take pleasure when truth flowers.
I put up with anything.
I trust God always.
I always look for the best.
I never look back, but keep going till the end.

We live lives inspired by the God who became Flesh and Bone to demonstrate this love, and empowered by the Spirit of God – nothing is impossible – yet we settle for so much less.

We look for evidences of God at work in miraculous, unexpected healing; in large arenas with smoke and lights and loud music.

We look for God in the interruptions, the breaks from life as usual, all the while claiming to follow God Emmanuel – God Who is With Us.

Paul starts off his statement on love with this reflection:

 If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.

If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.

If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

 

There must be love. Above and below and overarching everything else: love.

All of the law and the prophets are summed up in this- the summum bonum of our tradition. Love.

While we look for bigger crowds, brighter lights, and more astonishing signs, consider this:

In this fractured and hemorrhaging world, what could be more miraculous than love?

As much discipline and energy that we invest in studying the Word, pursuing justice, crafting apologetics, planning services, writing songs, baking casseroles and however we work out our faith – should we not also invest so much more in cultivating and experiencing the one thing that remains before and behind and beneath it all?

So the brilliant theologians will one day stop writing,
the inspiring preachers will fall silent,
the worship leaders with their lights and guitars will be stilled and this will remain:

Only Love.

 

 

 

Mandatory Labeling

 

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“Mom, what is wonder?” my daughter asks one morning, jumping off of the song lyrics playing on our way to school.

I’m distracted. Traffic is bad, we’re running late. I’ve only drank half of my cup of coffee.

Wonder. 

I start tossing words around to craft a definition within the reach of her ever concrete four-year-old mind.

“Wonder is when you’re excited and curious and nervous and happy all at the same time…sort of…”

I wanted to say, You, child, you are wonder. She peppers our days with questions:

How does the electricity work?
Why do our ears make earwax?

Where do we go when we die?
What does God look like?
What does ‘reality’ mean?

And for every time I get annoyed at yet another question, I try to allow her questions to instruct me, to remind me how extraordinary the world is.

Electricity and earwax and other people in other places.
Magic is everywhere.  

Wonder.

She wholly embodies a word she doesn’t even understand.

***

We are people who live by the label. Ever concerned about efficiency and productivity, labels help us make the most of each moment and interaction.

We label packages to show what’s inside, how it works, how it could hurt us, where it came from and how to dispose of it.

We label people by their gender, class, ethnicity, political affiliation, job status, and education level for many of the same reasons: how do you work? How could you hurt me? Where did you come from? Are you worth my time?

It’s as if all of life were a cosmic high school cafeteria. We need to know who sits where, which people belong at which table and who we need to exclude to keep those sitting with us safe.

In the book of Matthew, Jesus addresses a huge crowd in this iconic message known as “The Sermon on the Mount.”  Toward the end of this message, Jesus instructs the crowd:

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye?”
(Matthew 7:1-4)

Jesus says we are judged by the same measure we judge others by, which may have less to do with how God views us and more to do with how we view ourselves. I believe God is far more benevolent and gracious and loving than our brains can begin to comprehend, and that God’s nature is not so easily influenced to be shifted by whether or not I think kind things of my neighbors and friends. Rather, when I look on others with harshness or condemnation I often find myself using those lenses to examine my own life as well. On another occasion Jesus puts it this way: “The inner self overflows with words that are spoken” (Luke 6:45).

When we judge we take matters of value and dignity into our own hands – both the dignity or others and of ourselves. For some this judgement is a generous one:  “worthy” or “valuable” or “beautiful” or “good. “  For others, our judgements are miserly and rooted in fear and exclusion: “broken”  or “weird”  or “toxic” or “false.” 

Life is a series of conflicts (both internal and external), and what determines success is not your ability to live in a way that is free of conflict (because that’s impossible) but that you live in such a way the conflicts are healthy and ultimately beneficial.  Often what happens when we’re at odds with ourselves or with another is we dismiss that which we do not like or agree with as invalid, and try to “kill off” the viewpoint or behavior. This style of judgement is unproductive at best, and damaging at worst.

Labels and judgements are helpful, and necessary at times, but labels and judgements also fall terribly short.

It’s like when you meet someone for the first time, and you don’t know anything about them but there’s this thing that radiates off of them.  It’s almost as though they were a fish swimming in the water of that thing, inescapably bound to that reality in such a way that the thing is true of them regardless of their station in life or career path.

That thing, that essence defies the labels of society – and it is also more true than the label.

Perhaps this is why Jesus warned us against judging and labeling. There are things about all of us that transcend and defy and run deeper than the labels we thrust on one another or that we hide behind. The labels can help us organize ourselves and our thoughts, but the labels can also blind and limit us if we ascribe ultimate truth to them.

There are things that are true about ourselves (and about everyone else) that are beyond what we can think of or label. Like my daughter – who is “wonder” but doesn’t understand what that word means.  Maybe this is another way in which humans are imprinted with the Image of God, we are what we are – but we’re more than those things as well.

The more I let my snap judgements and water-resistant, dishwasher safe labels fade away, the more I’m learning to see that while – yes – we all are those things we are known for we also exist beyond the boxes. In fact, the best parts often lie outside the boxes – and that’s okay.

I’ve spent so much of my life bemoaning the fact that I don’t fit the boxes super well, but the truth is none of us do. We’re all beyond and deeper and wider and more true than even the most meticulously crafted label. I can tell my daughter she is a child of wonder till I’m blue in the face, but the words will never be as true as she is. Likewise, whatever label I’ve chosen for myself or whatever label has been cast upon me; whatever judgements you pass on yourself and whatever judgements others heap upon you – they will never be as true as you are. 

Live today aware of both the box you built from the pieces you were handed, and equally aware that there is so much more that will never be contained by the box…and that both are good and both belong.

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Deconstruct:Reconstruct -Reach Inside

Few things make me feel as confident, comfortable and relaxed as a well laid plan.
I crave structure. I do everything within my power to achieve control over my circumstances and environment –  and I consume more post-it notes than one human being reasonably should.

Inevitably though, it doesn’t always work.

When things spiral off of my carefully crafted course – and it can be anything from shifting what I had planned to cook for dinner to shifting a ontological/theological/philosophical belief – I immediately get super stressed. Stress is followed in quick succession by either angry tears or the most fantastic version of “Resting Bitch Face” you can imagine.

I love the art of a well crafted plan. Experience tells me, though, that the good stuff is often hidden in the diversions…and even (especially?) in the train wrecks.

I think back to my first few years out of college.

I found myself unexplainably and undeniably drawn to, “called” to pastoral ministry – which is not something I had planned to do on a vocational level at any point in my life.

I took a job at a church in WISCONSIN of all places – which is about 400 miles further north (and 75 degrees COLDER) than I ever planned to live.

About a year in to this job-I-never-planned-to-have in this place-I-never-planned-to-live, Ben and I found out we were expecting a baby-we-hadn’t-planned-to-have (or at least hadn’t planned to have for about four more years).

And if I’m honest, those few years rocked me to the core. You know, when you’re shook up so much you don’t even actually know that you’re out of sorts because not only are you in limbo, but all of your reference points are as well?

It was months and months of small (and a few big) decisions, daily interactions, and unexpected circumstances that culminated in a moment when I didn’t know who I was or what to think any more.

Very few things made sense during those years, and even the things that did were warped and muddled as though I was observing them through a fun house mirror.

I asked questions I’d never asked before.

I dug through memories I’d chosen to bury.

I allowed myself to wonder “what if?” about things I’d once decided were open and shut cases.

“The Almighty Plan” fell through and it stressed me out and broke me down, and “The  Almighty Plan” fell through and in doing so I was set free.

For many of us, faith and spirituality were presented as the ultimate plan:
Say this prayer.
Do these things.
Don’t do these other things.
Follow these rules.
And you will go to heaven when you die.

That worked for some of us for months or years or even decades of our lives. Then, for whatever reason, it stopped working.
The prayers felt hollow.
We kept doing the things, but couldn’t remember why we did them, or why we shouldn’t do the other things.
The black and white rules became more like a coloring book, and we couldn’t ignore the vibrancy breaking out between our well crafted lines.
And while we waited for heaven, life felt like hell. 

What I’m learning is that the tradition we were handed is much bigger than the box we received it in. At first, asking the questions (that we’ve all had, the whole time) may feel like opening Pandora’s Box, but actually asking the questions is more like opening Hermione’s purse (or Mary Poppins’ bag, if you prefer.)

The questions open us up, and the vacuum created can suck you in and swallow you up, or it can be the space you reach inside to find exactly what you need in that moment.

I’m learning that the questions, the dark places,  and the unknown are often the places in which I find God in new ways. The places I least want to go end up being the greatest sources of life in the long run.  Richard Rohr (Franciscan Friar, writer and teacher) says it this way:

“We all remain who we are. But on the way to healing or liberation we have to do what the Romans called agere contra: we have to act against the grain of our natural compulsions. This requires clear decisions. Because it does not happen by itself, it is in a way ‘unnatural’ or ‘supernatural’ . . . (we) simply have to cut loose now and then, and in the process . . . make mistakes.”

It goes against everything within me – things I was taught to believe and things which are the core of who I am myself – to embrace ambiguity and wondering. I hate making mistakes. I hate not knowing. Yet, the most confident thing I can say on many days is “I don’t know”

I don’t know how to explain suffering…
I don’t know how we move forward through intense violence and hatred…
I don’t know how we reconcile in light of such division…
I don’t know why things happen this way…

But I know there is a God; that God is Love. I know that God is the Ground of all of this, even my questions, and that if I feel like I’m asking a question that God can’t handle, then chances are that god isn’t real anyway.

I know that I am on a journey, that it’s okay that I don’t have it all together, and that I do have this moment and this day. I know that these moments matter in some way – even if it’s only that I’m patient with my daughter, loving toward my husband, friendly with my neighbors and gracious to the coffee shop barista.

And somehow just those simple and few things feels more true and tangible than so many well-crafted answers and rules I held fiercely for years.

 

 

Of Protest and Praise

I am a child of the early 2000’s worship boom.

In big arenas and tricked-out sanctuaries we sang loud, hands lifted and eyes closed softly:
“Blessed be your name when the sun’s shining down on me, blessed be your name…”
“Savior He can move the mountains, my God is mighty to save…”
“I could sing of Your love forever…”
(And we did sing for a very, very long time.)

Somewhere along the line though, those songs got harder to sing, the words stopped making sense with what I was experiencing in the world outside the arena and the sanctuary.

How do I sing, “blessed be your name” when so much violence and injustice and oppression exist?

How do I declare “God is mighty to save” when God so clearly has not completed that work? (And what the hell is God waiting for, anyway?)

As the questions mounted, I dove deep into the book of Lamentations, into the practice of lament and into songs which were more reflective and wrestling in nature.  I traded a posture of lifted hands and upward gaze for a downturned face, and knees pressing into the earth.

There were still moments, of course, when I would need a song which expressed boundless joy and gratitude, but the big-arena songs often fell short of what I was trying to express. Like last year, when I found out last year my daughter’s name had come up on the wait list to get into our first choice of school. Hillsong’s “Oceans” just wasn’t going to cut it that day.  I got in my car that day, rolled down the windows and turned up Hezekiah Walker:

“Every praise is to our God, every word of worship with one accord, sing hallelujah…”
“Faithful, faithful, faithful is our God. I’m reaping the harvest God promised me…”
“I’ve come through the fire I’ve come through the rain, but God he never left my side…”

There was just something about the music that connected with me, and reached into the depths of my gratitude and awe and pulled them out in song.

I stumbled in to Gospel music by chance in college. I was first introduced to it by coworkers at a nonprofit. They taught me “Faithful is Our God” and “I Need You To Survive” and that Mary Mary sang more than just “Shackles.” 

I started to learn that you don’t just memorize words and melodies and sing the songs. You live the music, you feel the music, you drag it up from your guts and pour it out, it moves you so deep that your whole body has to move with it, and it doesn’t matter what you’re going through or what you’ve been through – you lift up the praise.

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Image: The Howard Gospel Choir, US Embassy Sweden

This week I was listening to songs, choosing selections for church on Sunday when Israel Houghton’s “You Are Good” came on.

I smirked, and reached to skip the song. This week has not been a week that leaves me wanting to sing “You are good, all the time, all the time, you are good.” 

There has been too much paper work,
not enough money,
not enough resources,
too many questions
and not enough answers.

There have been too many cops and too many ambulances on my street – and summer isn’t even here yet.

My grandmother, who has been battling cancer for a year now, received a very sobering report, and I can’t be as present as I would like to be as she nears the end of her life.

Everything in me wants to fall into a heap of sack cloth and ashes and cry.
Give me Lamentations and The Goo Goo Dolls, black eyeliner, Ben & Jerry’s and flannel shirts.

Almost as quickly as the impulse to skip the song arose, came another feeling. Knocking the wind out of my chest:  This is how you fight against it. 

The stress, the sadness, the grief, the anger and anxiety.
There’s a time to lament, and a time to dance.

My mind wandered to the end of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, where the heroine of the story squares up against an unmatched and terrifying evil, and the only way to overcome the evil and save the day is to scream declarations of her love for her brother over and over into the very face of that evil.

You are good, all the time

Even in the face of cancer and death and mourning.

All the time, You are good

Even in the midst of crime and destruction in my neighborhood.

You are good and your mercy endures forever 

Even when I cannot see that mercy at work

We worship you, hallelujah

I’m learning that there is a defiant nature about worship that I missed altogether growing up white and largely insulated from a lot of the grievances in the world.
It’s something I’m slowly learning from my neighbors, from the community I am a part of.
When the Grandma down the street sings“Have you got good religion? Do you love everybody? Certainly Lord!”   it’s not because the wind is at her back and all her relationships and interactions with people are encouraging and helpful – it’s in spite of and in the face of challenges within her family and with her landlord and with so many others.
When she sings:  “Give me that old time religion, it’ll bring you out of bondage and it’s good enough for me” it’s not because she’s been delivered from the ailments in her body, she sings it in spite of and in the face of illness.

I grew up in church praising God when I was happy, and standing in silent indignation when I was angry or sad. Eventually the rubber meets the road, all the shit hits all the fans and those of us who grew up like I did (white, insulated and relatively easy) find ourselves in a place where worship doesn’t make sense any more.

So we stop.
We stand in the midst of our grief and our questions and shake our fists at the heavens instead of lifting our hands in praise.

I think there’s a place for those things, for taking time to grieve and lament, but I also think we miss something if we stay in that place.

It’s a mistake to deny the existance of pain and questioning in the face of God, but it’s equally mistaken set pain and questioning up as our gods.

I will likely never understand why God allows things to happen the way they do,
pain and suffering will always plague the conscience of humanity,
but perhaps our response should be less about performing great acts of philosophical or theological gymnastics to explain the “why” of suffering.
Perhaps evil and suffering are overcome first from within, crying out love in desperate defiance like Meg in A Wrinkle in Time, or calling out like Kirk Franklin before his choir: “You can’t take my joy, devil!”

Defiance and protest may look like disruption, burning down, shutting down and tearing apart, there is a time for this.

Acknowleding grief may look like lament, ashes, black eyeliner and – yes- even The Goo Goo Dolls, there is a time for this.

But protest and grief may also sometimes look like standing in the face of suffering and pain and daring to declare:
Even still, there is Good.
Even still, there is Love.
Even still, there is Peace.

And those things can never be taken from us.

 

The Mill

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Image: Shinichi Higashi

“Often times, what is good is the enemy of what is best.”

The step mill hums underneath me. Feet moving in time, working against gravity to keep myself moving upward.

Step. 
Step.
Step. 

I listen to podcasts while I exercise in the morning. I’m religious about it.
Time for my body and brain to wake up and expand.
This morning, it’s The RobCast.*

“You can look at your calendar, and every day is packed full of a bunch of B minuses…It is better to be fully present in a few things, than distracted in many.”

I laugh under my deep breaths, lungs already taxed from climbing unending flights of stairs.

Always another step.
Round and round it goes.

And I think, where are the B minuses in my life?

I try to sift through my schedule in my mind.
I still keep my schedule in paper form . It is meticulously kept, color coded, annotated, and down to the minute most days.

Step.
Step.
Step. 

Sure, there are things in life that aren’t my favorite, that would easily qualify as a solid “B minus” way to fill my time, but it’s called “responsibility” right?
I can’t just stop that thing, can I?

On a different morning, not so unlike this one as I was working out, the step mill began to move faster and faster under my feet. Panicked, I pressed the “Slow Down” button repeatedly, but even as the display showed the speed going down the stairs regenerated under my feet faster and faster until, in desperation, I jumped off the mill, landing solidly a few feet below on the ground.

It was a terrifying way to end a workout, but if I’m honest it’s the way I end most things in my life.
Caught up, going faster and faster – by my own volition or caught in the flow of the machine around me.

STEPSTEPSTEPSTEP!
STEPSTEPSTEPSTEP!
STEPSTEPSTEPSTEP!

I fly off. I lose my temper. I lose my mind.
I pray I land on my feet and the pieces settle in large enough chunks I can still rebuild.

***

“I’m working on my lifelong task of learning how to chill the heck out,” I confess to my friend.

It’s lunchtime.
Six hours since listening to deep thoughts with Rob Bell on the step mill.
But I’m still climbing the endless stairs.
I carry them with me.

Always another thing.
Always another task.
Another goal.
One.
More.
Step.

The whole of who I am screams under the unrelenting task of it all.
Legs barking, lungs burning, eyes heavy, my mind at once racing and foggy.
Could I stop it though?
Could I step off the mill?

I think back to the question I posed in a sermon about grace awhile back:
“What if instead of telling people we are ‘good and busy’ we told them we are ‘rested and happy’?”**

I robotically reply to the “how are you” niceties offered up by people with “good and busy”-  but I’m working on severing the link between the two.

“Busy” doesn’t often mean “good”.

We call busyness “good,” but remember “good is often the enemy of best”.

What is best is choosing to embrace what is beautiful, true, life-giving.

What is best is relinquishing the elusive idea of “perfect.”

What is best is settling into deep rest at the end of the day or the week.

What is best is actually doing what makes you happy, to step off the mill of misery before we go flying off the back-end of it.

This isn’t to say we live ignorant to the pain and suffering around us, or that we refuse to take responsibility for the mundane and the boring (hello, laundry and family budgets).

It is to say that each of us is lavishly gifted with 24 precious hours, and that we are invited in those hours
to rest
and create
and care
and invent
and confront
and enjoy
and
…the possibilities go on and on
so why carry on in half-hearted ‘good’ when you could choose the best? 

Sure, fill out the spreadsheet…but then take a walk in the sun.

Eat your vegetables…but then turn off your TV and really savor that piece of chocolate.

Go to the job that pays your bills but takes the life out of you…but then turn off your phone and cook a meal for your friends. Break bread and pour wine.

The mill is necessary, there will always be things we do and days we live that are simply a grind. But may we never forget that the good and the necessary can quickly become the enemy of what is best.

A good week can be filled to the brim, busy with B minuses, and you can go months without ever knowing what your A game feels like.

Run the mill, but then take your rest.
Life is a gift, poured out in extravagant benevolence.

And one day, I may slow down enough to receive it.

 

*I was listening to RobCast Episode 1: One Thing during my workout. You can listen to it here.

** The sermon I wrote and preached at Transformation City Church (honstely, mostly to myself) is called An Audacious Identity. You can listen to it here

 

 

“Getting Healthy”

I’m a runner.

I don’t run fast, but I run often.  Four or five days each week, hitting the pavement for two to four miles at a time. I do it for my health – both physical and mental.

There’s something about the pounding of feet against pavement, and all that matters in one foot after another that allows the stresses and problems of life up enough space to settle like a snow globe.

It wouldn’t do me any good whatsoever, physically or otherwise, if I decided to run only when I needed to “feel” healthy.   If I chose to lace up my shoes in the same way some would swipe their credit card: an attempt to acquire something to satisfy a need. Quick and easy.

We use the same language though, for the pursuit of health and the pursuit of a new car or pair of shoes.

We’re trying to “get” something.

Get a new car.
Get some new shoes.
Get healthy.

We’re wired by culture to consume rather than create, to passively take things in rather than intentionally choose them – whether it’s cars, shoes or our own health.

 ***************************************************************

I went to counseling for the first time four years ago this month.

Shortly after my daughter was born, I found myself struggling to cope with being a new parent
and “how do I reconcile the dreams still yet inside of me and also give myself and my all to the raising of this child?”
and “heaven help me if I strap my child with the baggage I refuse to deal with.”
and just life, generally
so, I went to counseling.

(Actually, it was more like my husband and friends strongly suggested I try counseling. I went begrudgingly, but it’s one of the best decisions I ever made. Listen to your people – often they love you more than you love yourself.) 

I went to counseling with the same intention people have when they randomly buy kale or drop sign up for a couch-to-5K: I went to “get healthy.”

I laced up my sneakers and began to pound my way through my memories, my growing up experiences, the griefs that had formed me, the fears that haunted me, the shame that kept me bound up in knots.

I dug around in places I’d packed down too tightly and dusted out corners of my life long since forgotten with my counselor.

It was good.  Really good.

And I thought, like the good consumer I am, that I had acquired health.

I “got healthy,” with the help of a licensed family therapist and put my mental and emotional health on the shelf  as though it were an ornamental status symbol – like fine china sitting admired behind glass.

I’m learning, though, that health is not some commodity we acquire and moving forward possess, it’s a constant process of choosing to be in a way of wholeness.

I know this to be true about the physical. My body is healthy not because of my occasional choices or because I bought kale from Whole Foods one time, four years ago. My body is healthy because of the small, boring, every day choices I make
to go to sleep at a reasonable time,
to exercise,
to eat vegetables,
to limit the chemicals and toxins I expose myself to,
to drink more water,
and so on.

But for some reason, I have a disconnect with some of these other areas.
I went to counseling once, so I should be good – right?

I  pack my schedule so full that my only time for reflection and contemplation is in the shower in the morning (maybe) and then I wonder why my emotional health is wavering.

I bow to the great cultural force of workaholism and plow through my weeks without even a thought toward taking a day off, and then I wonder why I feel drained and distant from God and my husband and every other friend I have.

My “health” is on the shelf though, behind the glass protected from scratching and chipping.

Set to be admired,
but also collecting dust.

 

 

 

Shut Up and Dance

The season is finally beginning to change. Day after day after day of grey, sunless light bleeding through clouds is at long last giving way to bright rays streaming in their full splendor, calling to life the grass and trees and flowers.

It comes so slowly sometimes, but spring never fails to arrive.

I listen to music seasonally. Not just certain songs at Christmastime (like most people) I have songs for all seasons. I can’t get enough of Alanis Morisette, Caedmon’s Call and The Spill Canvas in the fall, nostalgic and emotional, but outside of that season their songs rarely grace my playlists.

Spring is about life and joy and FOR THE LOVE OF EVERYTHING IT’S WARM AGAIN!
The playlist for this season stretches from intricate, light notes picked out on acoustic guitars, to raucous dance anthems fit for beachfront parties and sorority spring breaks.

I was blasting the latter on my way to work on Monday morning.

“Oh don’t you dare look back
Just keep your eyes on me
I said you’re holding back
She said SHUT UP AND DANCE WITH ME!

And like waves washing over me, I was struck with the unshakable impression:
“it’s like this.”

Are we really doing this right now? Are we having a moment to “Shut Up and Dance With Me?”

(It wouldn’t have been the first time God had shown up in a pop song, but I’ll never stop being surprised by it.)

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Image Credit: Duc

For as long as I can remember, I have found myself in the midst of the Christian faith tradition. I grew up trying to understand and learning to love God, but only recently have I begun to explore how God’s very nature and essence – as Triune God (God Three-in-One) changes so many of the ways I approach life and being.

I grew up learning metaphors like “God is like water, which exists in liquid, solid and gas.” or “God is like an egg, with a shell, yolk and white.” The problem with all of the analogies though, is they inevitably fall short (at best) and slip into ancient heresies, misrepresenting the beauty and mystery of God (at worst).

When the early church fathers and mothers were trying to communicate what the Trinity is, they used the analogy a dance. The term they came up with was perichoresis . The Greek word peri is where we get modern English words like “perimeter”, and chorea words like “choreography.”  Perichoresis in the Greek means “the dance around.”

God, in very essence, is a Divine Dance. The weaving in and out, giving and taking, loving and serving, of God Father, Son and Spirit.

And not only is God dancing, but I also – as someone submitted to the authority of this Triune God –  am bound up in this never-ending Divine Dance. Imprinted with the image of Creator, wrapped in the gracious wounds of the Son, and indwelled by the Spirit.

And not only am I bound up in this dance, but so are you.
And so is anyone who wishes to join the dance.
The veil is torn.
The doors are open.
And the party has started.

So often we get caught up in the dialogue, the wrestling out and working through of ideas. While there is certainly a space and a place for that, we can also get caught inside our own heads and hearts and Church buildings arguing over who’s right and who’s wrong, and what this passage means given the history and context, and what color the carpet should be.

On Monday, God broke in to my own brain-full-of-thoughts and yelled:
SHUT UP AND DANCE WITH ME! 

Don’t look back.
Sure, the ways you failed yesterday are still there. The problems of the past don’t just go away, but if you’re constantly looking over your shoulder you miss the beauty happening in front of you.

Keep your eyes on me.
Because no, God didn’t leave an instruction manual. God put on flesh and drew close to show us the way to live and love.  God in the very human form of Jesus Christ gave us a face and hands and arms and feet and scars and confrontations to help us see and know what this Divine Dance looks like with skin on – because He (in fact) has skin on.

Shut up and Dance!

Just for today. What if we stopped “contending” for words and started dancing with the Divine – the dance we’ve been invited to all along!

I wonder if God looks on the whole of creation and sees a scene much like a middle school dance. A beautiful space, good music, everything prepared and set; yet so many of us are standing in the corner, paralyzed by our own concerns for our own image and bound up in the fear of rejection…

…and missing the whole point.

So shut up.
Keep your eyes on the Divine who is and was and will always be dancing.
Then, whether cautiously or with abandon,
join in the dance.