Thursday, February 28, 2008

The yellow line

It's snowing. The air temperature is in the high 20s, and it's rush hour here in other words, excellent conditions for wretched driving. I've never been happier to get home and hug my wife. I could easily have died about 30 minutes ago, or at least had my life changed in a Very Big Way.

I didn't. It wasn't. And I'm feeling very much like the guy in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" who, at the approach of the undertaker's wooden cart, hollers "I'm not dead yet!"

Of course, he then gets it in the back of the head with a frying pan...

I was on a busy street. I wasn't going very fast, but I hit a patch of ice. I'm a cautious, experienced driver with a healthy respect for the weather, but I'm not sure any of that mattered at all, in the moment. It was pretty much out of my hands. I have to say, it's unnerving to look directly into the grilles of oncoming cars. I turned the wheel, ever so slightly, intuiting that even being broadsided by the folks on my side of the dotted line would be preferable to running into opposing traffic face-first. There were cars behind me, but they were in the other lane, which apparently was not as icy. After swirling around a bit, I ended up perpendicular to traffic, with both of my front tires kissing the curb. There was a queue of rather surprised drivers on either side of me, waiting for me to right myself, and my mortality was giving me a gleeful raspberry from the passenger seat.

And now, I'm awed.

At how much could have changed for me and mine in the space of 10 heartbeats.
At the richness of being in this world.
At how deeply grateful I am to still be here.

We spend a lot of time defining what side of the "line" we're on...politically, theologically, in any number of ways. I could easily have been wiped out today by someone on either side of the yellow line. And everyone involved seemed to cooperate in the moment of crisis, conspiring to keep all of us as safe (!) and whole as we'd been before our almost-incident. Maybe, just maybe, at the bottom of it all, we're better at being a human family, more instinctively inclined to look out for each other, than Conventional Wisdom would have us believe.

Was self-preservation involved here, on the part of all the drivers? Undoubtedly. But tonight was also an illustration of the premise that we all do better when we all do better. And that, without more than a fraction of a second to react, we do try to look out for one another when it really matters.

Boundaries are necessary. They help us to locate ourselves and one another, keep us from most collisions, and help to point us in the right direction when we need it. But I'm sure not seeing boundaries right now; instead of what separates us, I see what we hold in common. Instead of the terror I'd have expected, considering how close that really was (and my propensity for hyperbole), I'm weirdly calm and even a bit joyful. Actually, I was sort of amazed not to have that "omigodomigodomigod" adrenaline rush that often accompanies situations like that, despite the fact that The Big Unknown got (literally) all up in my grille tonight.

I'm just grateful for the other drivers on the road (which I'll earnestly try to remember at tomorrow's rush hour when I want to swear at them again). I'm grateful to be looking out my kitchen window at the snow, smelling dinner cooking, looking forward to a mundane "snuggle on the couch and watch TV" evening with my lovely wife. I'm grateful for all the love in my life.

I'm grateful that, even though I really crossed the line in the most basic way today, I'll get to see what tomorrow has in store.

Got to go now. I'm home, and I'm so glad to be here tonight.

Peace, friends. Take care of each other.

P.S. Got to give a shout-out to my friend Milton for a particularly wonderful post today. Go & see. :-)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A vision of grace, or poopy pants?

The only grace we can experience is the grace we can imagine.
--Toni Morrison, Beloved

Yep. I'll buy that. Though I believe I'm saved by grace through faith, there's another dimension to relationship with God in which my experience of that grace is dependent upon me. Which is a little bit of a problem today. Grumpy days, in my little world, diminish my vision in regard to the Big Picture and increase the likelihood that I'll either retreat to the corner to suck my thumb, or behave as if I have poopy pants. :-) I'm guessing that's true for other folks, too.

I wonder what God sees, looking at us. I mean, God would look through the eyes of love, right? (forgive me for the earworm potential there, any of you who lived through weddings in the '70s--ha ha ha) I imagine that God sees not just what we do, but what we intend, for better or worse. Loves us anyway, but there must be a number of dismayed forehead slaps involved, anthropomorphically speaking. "Jeez, kids, do you really have to learn this lesson again?"

It's easy to let God's love for us be a sentimental thing, as if each of us was God's firstborn 4-year-old dressed as a pumpkin in our first Thanksgiving pageant, but that's not what I mean. I think that God sees us in toto. God doesn't have the same egocentric position that we do, but rather can take in all angles of a situation instead of having to wed to one point of view. Some days, I really envy that perspective, 'cause the only one I can truly sustain is my own little one. to broaden the scope of our imaginations on the grumpy days? Gentle Reader, I open the floor to you...what works for you?


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Spent light

When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He returning chide;
"Doth God exact day-labor, light denied?"
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, "God doth not need
Either man's work or His own gifts. Who best
Bear His mild yoke, they serve Him best. His state
Is kingly: thousands at His bidding speed,
And post o'er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait.
--John Milton

Someone I love is grieving tonight. She is an articulate soul, with
a wonderfully observant heart. And she mused that it seems that
even those closest to her seem uncomfortable with her grief.

I think it's true that most of us generally are uncomfortable with
genuine cries of pain, especially when they are the result of
circumstances over which we have no control. If we can hug it
away, or dispense some wisdom that will "improve" the situation,
or even write a check to some cause that tangentially addresses
the gulf of sadness/anger/hurt with which we are confronted, we
feel better...and can, by extension, be justified in becoming
impatient when the grieving person doesn't oblige our largess by
getting "fixed" when we want them to, for whatever kind or
selfish reasons. In the end, it comes down to this:

It's frightening to recognize that we don't totally control our lives.

The Milton poem I started with here is one that took me a long time to
appreciate. Stand and wait? What for? When we could be working the

I'm a do-er, you see. I try to reflect God's light (on bad days, I
forget about that in favor of generating my "own" light). I like to
feel that I've Made A Difference. Especially when someone I love is
in pain––man, I just hate that. But I think it's a bit naive to try
to save people from their lives; sometimes, all we can do is say,
"Yup, I see the monster, too," and stand quietly beside the one who's
facing it down. Or maybe to put a shoulder under our sister's yoke
and help her to bear it for a while.

Life really is bigger than we are. God is vast...which is sometimes
terrifying, but mostly comforting to me, depending upon where in God's
court I'm standing on a given day. Mostly, it's just good to know that
God's understanding and power and love are so much greater than mine.

We serve by standing and waiting, in the face of the abyss, for the
unfolding of God's purposes. We serve by not entwining someone else's
difficulties with our own discomfort on the edge of the chasm.
We serve
by pulling up our socks and getting on with it...but also by sitting
next to the one who's waiting to get her breath back after being punched
in the solar plexus.

We also serve when we only stand and wait.

Friday, February 22, 2008


In case you're wondering, that's the word for when the sun, earth and moon lie in a straight line, as they did on Wednesday night with our beautiful lunar eclipse (shout-out to Guillermo Oyhenart, Patagonia, for the stunning photo). It's also a STUPENDOUS Scrabble word. :-)

Sometimes, things align in a way that makes a person sit up and take notice.

My good friend Robin Bragge died two years ago today. I recognize that it's easy to idealize those who have gone on ahead to join the Great Cloud of Witnesses, but I'd like to take a minute today to remember what an exceptional person she was. Robin was one of those rare souls who managed to stay in touch with both raucous joy and gentle wisdom in the face of even the most difficult situations. She had a smile like a beacon; it drew all of us to her and lit up our dark places. She spent her life working on peace and understanding on both micro- and macro- levels. Robin was a fierce drummer (all hail CongaGal!), and her New Years' game parties are the stuff of legend. She was an absolute Scrabble FIEND (that's 27 points on a triple-word-score space).

Robin, we still miss you and love you. Thank you for your warm and sustaining friendship, and for the flock of fledgling peacemakers you left here. I really hope they have a djembe or a set of congas for you up there.

And remember...if you get to play Scrabble with the Big Guy: SYZYGY. 'Cause I think that, even in heaven, we can't help but hope that things will line up just right, even if we are in the dark about it for a little while.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Location, location, location

Love the way someone else's point of view can teach you to see.

I especially like the St. Paul Cathedral one; I've been in there many times, and invariably, my head swivels on my neck just like Ed's camera seems to! But seriously, what if, just for today, everyone tried to see the world through one other person's lens? Especially if we chose someone with whom we don't get along. With a nod, of course, to Master Yoda: "Luke, you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly upon our own point of view."

May the force be with you.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The world is stuffed with beauty

Take a look.

It's all there, waiting for us to notice. In my favorite scene from "The Color Purple," Celie and Shug are walking in a field and talking about Faith and The Way Things Are. Shug, talking about God's wish to be in relationship with us, says, "I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it." So Celie asks what God does in the face of our heedlessness, and Shug answers that God makes something else people will see, because "It just want to be loved, like us."

What's purple to you today?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

What are you made of?

There are three people on my staff at church (I'm the music director): one is organist, the other two nurture our youth and children's worship program. I'm grateful for them all today, as well as our lovely preacher; worship was full of grace. The kids' choir sang all the verses of "Children of the Heavenly Father" as their anthem and there was not a dry eye in the house. It's not the sentimental aspect that's most important here (though it's impossible to ignore the way music functions as connective tissue with our dearly departed), but that those kids will have this idea in their heads for the rest of their lives:

Children of the heavenly Father
safely in his bosom gather
nestling bird nor star in heaven
such a refuge ne'er was given.

It's been a difficult week; many of my loved ones have been in dark moods--a lot of hurt feelings and anger in the aftermath of one person's unkindness and rather bad behavior. Weirdly, that's the story of both my workplaces this week. People are upset and sort of shocked, I think, at a surprisingly deep level. There is a way in which each situation suggests that something is acutely wrong in our shared orbits. Unnerving. It's easy, at that point, to want God to intervene and just, well, fix it, which leads to a very short slide into theodicy--"Why doesn't God DO something about this? People are getting hurt here, and it's so unjust--how can a loving, just God STAND it?"

Actually, I don't believe God can stand injustice. And I think that God feels the pain along with us whenever we hurt one another. But that doesn't mean that God just jumps in and rearranges the furniture of our lives; that's for us to do. And so we're given the chance to participate in God's grace.

Though he giveth or he taketh
God his children ne'er forsaketh;
his the loving purpose solely
to preserve them, pure and holy.

My thanks to the furniture movers in both of these places, who have acted with grace and good sense in the face of the attempted unmaking of grace. Blessed are you who create peace in your midst (thank you, Velveteen Rabbi, for that translation from the Hebrew!). It's a mark of God's grace that the peacemakers are present with us even as we have to work through our own very human cycles of grief, anger, and hurt...into the place from which it's possible to move back into the light.

In the children's sermon today, the kids were asked what they'd like to ask Jesus if he were standing in front of them. My favorite question became the title for this post--it's delicious! A little girl wanted to ask Jesus, "What are you made of?" What indeed...if this weekend's experiences (deep conversation with a wise friend on Friday, a hilarious dinner with new friends last night, and this morning's worship service) are representative of Christ, I know the answer, or at least part of it.

Neither life nor death shall ever
from the Lord his children sever;
unto them his grace he showeth,
and their sorrows all he knoweth.

What is Jesus made of?
Grace made human...again and again and again.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

All God's children

“At least one of the purposes of church is to remind us that God has other children, easily as precious as we. Baptism and narcissism cancel each other out.” --Barbara Brown Taylor

I know and love a number of people who have Church Issues. They've been badly used or disenfranchised by the church in a variety of ways:
  • declared or brushed off as unwelcome, due to their homosexuality/politics/family status/ insert-your-random-circumstance-here
  • burned out by deep involvement, or generally smacked around by church politics and infighting
  • were only loosely connected to begin with, and are Seriously Turned Off by the press coverage, heavily focused on polarizing social issues
Many of these friends have expressed open wonderment at my desire for engagement with the church. And I don't necessarily have any all-encompassing answer for them, except that I'm a baptized member of the body of Christ. For me, this means that these are my people, for better or worse.

Also, if I just shrug off what's wrong with the church, I cede that part of it to those with whom I disagree, and nothing ever changes. Sometimes we have to learn to live together within the space between two disparate points of view or modes of behavior.

More importantly, though, I recognize what's right with the church--this is my family, and I love them. They have offered me care and connection and a context in which to do the work that I so love to do. Also, I can't remember who said this originally, but "you can develop everything you ever need all by yourself... except for character." We need each other on a very basic level.

Today, I'm angry with one of my brothers in my congregation, but he is my brother. We disagree about a number of things, but I'm working hard to remember that he is my brother. Once I'm calm enough to talk with him, it's my hope that we'll both be better for having to work out our differences in the context of the community. Humility is absolutely necessary in order to live together faithfully; narcissism is an impossible modus operandi for the baptized.

For now, as I'm living inside the tension, I'll keep on praying for the wits and grace to live in a way that honors this belief. :-)

A loving heart is the beginning of all knowledge

That's from Thomas Carlyle, and seems a lovely place to rest on Valentine's Day.

It's been a challenging couple of days; two of my "circles" are fairly-to-partly toxic, for a variety of reasons. I'm madly playing reveille in the dormitory where sleep the better angels of my nature. They seem not to want to report for duty today. Up, little angels, wake up...

On to better things: this is a day in which we celebrate love, and I am blessed beyond belief. I have a wife who loves and cares for me in many and various ways, always surprising me with some new way to look at things or to make our house (and lives) run more smoothly. This last couple of weeks, she very kindly gathered together and organized all our tax information--for each of us, our house, and the choir we helped to start. I had to do virtually nothing, and it's a task I really dislike. This is emblematic of the "feet on the street" kind of love she offers me every day. She is kind and patient, a great listener, and can make me laugh from the bottoms of my feet. I'm humbled and grateful...and just smitten with her. That is a great gift. Thanks, babe, for sharing your life with me.

Hmmm...I think I just heard the rustle of wings. Onward and upward...

Happy Valentine's Day! :-)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

What you get

I just got Melissa Etheridge's new CD, "The Awakening." It's a very personal release for her, which chronicles her spiritual journey from young adulthood, through career-building and coming out and loving her family and surviving cancer...and comments a bit on the State of Things. I'm enjoying it very much, and was particularly struck by the track "Message to Myself."

It's funny how you find just what you seek
Love is what you get when love is what you speak
I made every choice along the way
Each day I spent in hell I chose to stay
It's funny what you fear can make you weak
And truth is what you get when truth is what you speak

I've had on my mind several dear ones who are in the midst of meeting large challenges in various ways: perseverance, honesty, risk...any of them could spend a lot of time in hell, given their circumstances, but not one of them so chooses. They hang on to the determination to be loving, brave, generous and truthful about their lives, and each of them has been transformed in really beautiful ways. Each of them inspires me, and each of them has (in her own way) bloomed in her reaching toward the light. It's an honor to bear witness to the struggle and the growth.

It gets me thinking about why some people seem so much better equipped than others to deal with the challenges life throws at them; in the midst of the fire, some turn to ash and some are refined. I think it must have some connection to humility--and by that I do NOT mean self-criticism, but rather the ability to understand and accept your own place on your journey, coupled with openness to what comes next. The ability to bend when others would break. Finding new, deeper springs of love and truth within yourself when the messages from the outside do not serve as such. Finally, connectedness to other pilgrims, which also makes the trip worth taking.

In the final analysis, (and here's Melissa again):

All we can really do is love one another

Friends, you know who you are. Thank you for speaking love and truth. You are fiercely beautiful.