Each of the Other

Me: What’s the hardest spiritual thing I’m ever going to have to do?

Old Woman: To see every person as a gift.

Me: What kind of gift?

Old Woman: The best kind.  Based on the way you receive them.

Me: I don’t get it.

Old Woman: I know. But you will.  If you receive others as worthy, lovable, spiritual creations–perfect just the way they are–you get to see the highest possible version of who you are.  You get to be that.  Experience that.  And you become a gift to the world.

Me: Sounds hard.

Old Woman: The longer you think that, the harder it gets.

****

The funny thing is, she was right.

–by Richard Wagamese, from a collection of his writings, “Embers: One Ojibway’s Meditations (2017).

As we’ve been talking about community, living in community and the curvy path community creates for us, I am realizing more and more how intertwined our spiritual heart is with our heart towards others.  Of course it is, my brain says, for we were all made, all created, all loved and our wholeness depends on all of our wholeness.  This makes sense.  And yet living it out requires everything  that the life with God requires – TRUST that we don’t have to make it work out, but we just have to do what we are invited to; TURNING from a life focused on one to a life oriented towards the whole, God and the love of his long life which is all of us, all of this of course; RECEIVING the gift of grace that being with others gives us; HUMILITY, we do not make any of this life happen, we receive by turning and trusting and seeing so much more than we could imagine.

And all this in the grocery line, at the exhausting family bbq, at the town halls.  All of this at the PTA meetings, at church, in the Facebook feeds.  All of this happens (or doesn’t happen) in the way we orient ourselves towards our neighbours.  And knowing my own heart and my own ways of dismissing others, this is the biggest opportunity for growth, for change, for transformation into something that starts to hint at the person of Jesus.

 

 

Idealism

Here is another of our community readings, this one from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together.  It was originally published in 1939, in Germany, in the midst of the fever rise of Nazism and the Christian Community’s deep lack of response to the manufactured divide of human against human running through their nation.  He’s got a few things to say to a group of people called by love to embody love….

“Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had spring from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it.  But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.”

“By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world.  He does not abandon us to those rapturous experiences and lofty moods that come over us like a dream…Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it.  The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community the better for both.  A community which cannot bear and cannot survive such a crisis, which insists on keeping its illusion when it should be shattered, permanently loses in that moment the promise of Christian community.  Sooner or later it will collapse. Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive.  He who loves his dream of community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.”

“God hates visionary dreaming: it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious.  The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself.  He enters the community of Christians with demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God himself accordingly.  He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren.  He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds people together.  When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure.  When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to pot.  So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, than an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.”

“Because God has already laid the only foundation of our fellowship, because God has bound us together in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ, long before we entered into common life with them, we entered into common life not as demanders but as thankful recipients.  We thank God for what he has done for us.  We thank God for giving us brethren who live by his call, by his forgiveness and his promise.  We do not complain of what God does not give us; we rather thank God for what he does give us daily.  And is not what has been given us enough: brothers (and sisters) who will go on living with us through brokenness and need under the blessing of his grace?  Is  the divine gift of Christian fellowship anything less than this, any day, even the most difficult and distressing day?  Even when sin and misunderstanding burden the communal life, is not the hurtful brother still a brother, with whom I, too, stand under the Word of Christ? Will not his sin be a constant occasion for me to give thanks that both of us may live in the forgiving love of God in Jesus Christ?  Thus the very hour of disillusionment with my brother becomes incomparably salutary, because it so thoroughly teaches me that neither of us can ever live by our own words and deeds, but only by the one Word and Deed which really binds us together–the forgiveness in Jesus.  When the morning mists of dreams vanish, then dawns the bright day of *actual* Christian fellowship.”

“Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.  The more clearly we learn to recognize that the ground and strength and promise of all our fellowship is in Jesus Christ alone, the more serenely shall we think of our fellowship and pray and hope for it.”

(This excerpt, like a lot of these community readings, was taken from a compilation of writings on community Called to Community: The Life Jesus Wants for His People, edited by Charles E. Moore.  You can find it at www.plough.com )

Leading Community

I came across this poem by Madeleine L’Engle as I was flipping through my bookshelf this week.  I’d never read it before but I needed it.  You could read it from a number of different circumstances and it could speak to you no matter where you are or how life is changing for you, but for me this week, as I’ve been thinking about community, it spoke to the leader in community – It spoke to what it is to try to guide…or is it listen… or is it lead…. or is it serve….. or is it all those things and you have to hold it so intensely loose.  Here, with Madeleine, Moses is the perfect point to contemplate for those leading community, especially leading through change.

 

Moses by Madeleine L’Engle 

Come.

When?

Now. This way. I will guide you.

Wait! Not so fast.

Hurry. You. I said you.

Who am I?

Certainly I will be with thee.

Is nothing, then, what it is? I had rather the rod had

stayed a rod and not become a serpent.

Come. Quickly. While the blast of my breath opens the sea.

Stop. I’m thirsty.

Drink water from this rock.

But the rock moves on before us.

Go with it and drink.

I’m tired. Can’t you stop for a while?

You have already tarried too long.

But if I am to follow you I must know your name.

I will be that I will be.

You have set the mountain on fire.

Come. Climb.

I will be lost in the terror of your cloud.

You are stiff-necked and of a stiff-necked people.

YOUR people, Lord.

Indubitably.

Your wrath waxes hot. I burn.

Thus to become great.

Show me, then, thy glory.

No man may see my face and live. But I will cover you with

my hand while I pass by.

My people turn away and cry because the skin of my

face shines.

Did you not expect this?

I cannot enter the tent of the congregation while your

cloud covers it and your glory fills the tabernacle. Look,

it moves before us again. Can you not stay still?

Come. Follow.

But this river is death. The waters are dark and deep.

Swim.

Now will I see your face? Where are you taking me now?

Up the mountain with me before I die.

But death

Bursts into light.

The death is

What it will be.

These men: They want to keep us here in three tabernacles.

But the cloud moves. The water springs from a rock that journeys on.

You are contained in me.

But how can we contain you in ark or tabernacle or

You cannot.

Where, then?

In your heart. Come.

Still?

I will be with thee.

Who am I?

You are that I will be. Come.

 

Communion

Jean Vanier wrote this next reading which are excerpts from a few different places.  As always they are beautiful and kind and you just want to live within that world they create.  And we can.

“To be in communion means to be with someone and to discover that we actually belong together.  Communion means accepting people just as they are, with all their limits and inner pain, but also with their gifts and their beauty and their capacity to grow: to see the beauty inside all the pain.  To love someone is not first of al to do things for them, but to reveal to them their beauty and value, to say to them through our attitude: “You are beautiful.  You are important.  I trust you.  You can trust yourself.”  We all know well that we can do things for others and in the process crush them, making them feel that they are incapable of doing things by themselves.  To love someone is to reveal to them their capacities for life, the light that is shining in them.

To be in communion with someone also means to walk with them.  Those of you who have had the privilege of accompanying people in distress and inner pain know that it is not easy to walk with them, without having any answers to their problems or solutions for their pain. For many people in pain there is no solution: For a mother who has just lost her child or for a woman who has just been abandoned by her husband, there is no answer, there is just the pain. What they need is a friend willing to walk with them in all that pain. They do not need someone to tell them to try to forget the pain, because they won’t.  It is too deep.

But this communion is not fusion. Fusion leads to confusion.  In a relationship of communion, you are you and I am I; I have my identity and you have yours. I must be myself and you must be yourself.  We are called to grow together, each one becoming more fully himself or herself.  Communion, in fact, gives the freedom to grow.  Is is not possessiveness. It entails a deep listening to others, helping them to become more fully themselves…

When I was in the navy, I was taught to give orders to others.  That came quite naturally to me!  All my life I had been taught to climb the ladder, to seek promotion, to compete, to be the best, to win prizes.  This is what society teaches us.  In doing so we lose community and communion.  It was not natural or easy for me to live in communion with people, just to be with them. how much more difficult it was for me to be in communion with people who could hardly speak or had little to seek about.

Communion did not come easily to me. I had to change and to change quite radically.  When you have been taught from an early age to be first, to win, and then suddenly you sense that you are being called by Jesus to go down the ladder and to share your life with those who have little culture, who are poor and marginalized, a real struggle breaks out within oneself.  As I began living with people like Raphael and Philippe (two men with intellectual disabilities), I began to see all the harness of my heart.  It is painful to discover the hardness in one’s heart.  Raphael and the others were crying out simply for friendship and I did not quite know how to respond because of the other forces within me, pulling me to go up the ladder.  But over the years, the people I live with in L’Arche have been teaching and healing me.

They have been teaching me that behind the need for me to win, there are my own fears and anguish, the fear of being devalued or pushed aside, the fear of opening up my heart and of being vulnerable or of feeling helpless in front of others in pain; there is the pain and brokenness of my own heart.

I discovered something that I had never confronted before, that there were immense forces of darkness and hatred within my own heart.  At particular moment of fatigue or stress, I saw forces of hate rising up inside me, and the capacity to hurt someone who was weak and was provoking me!  That, I think, was what cause me the most pain:  to discover who I really am, and to realize that maybe I did not want to know who I really was!  I did not want to admit to all the garbage inside me.  And then I had to decide whether I would just continue to pretend that I was okay and throw myself into hyperactivity, projects where I could forget all the garbage and prove to others how good I was.  Elitism is the sickness of us all.  We all want to be on the winning team.  That is at the heart of apartheid and every form of racism.  The important thing is to become conscious of those forces in us and to work at being liberated from them and to discover that the worst enemy is inside our own hearts, not outside.

Communion is very different from collaboration or cooperation.  When people collaborate, they work together toward the same end, in sports, in the navy, or in a commercial venture, for example.  They are brought together by a common goal, but there is not necessarily communion between them.  They are not personally vulnerable one to another.  When there is communion between people, they sometimes work together, but what matters to them is not that they succeed in achieving some target,  but simply that they are together, that they find their joy in one another and care for one another.  Raphael and Philippe really led me into this world of communion.

Looking back, I can see that when I was in the navy I was preoccupied with success and with trying to win the admiration of my superiors.  I loved the spirit and power that came with naval life.  Efficiency, not people, was my first concern. Similarly, when I left the navy, it was not primarily people who interested me. I wanted to devote myself to an ideal of peace and Christian life, and to the study of philosophy and theology.  Certainly, I wanted to follow Jesus, to know him and love him, but more out of idealism than because I wanted to live in communion. It took me some time to discover all my inner brokenness, which provoked difficulties in relationships and a fear of others.  I was happy to command, teach, obey and learn; but entering into communion with others, making myself vulnerable by forming relationships with them, was far more difficult.  I avoided people by throwing my energy into doing good things, praying and studying.  But maybe that was a necessary time of growth for me.  I needed the spiritual and intellectual formation which would gradually give me the inner strength to be able to enter into real relationships, to learn to listen to people and love them, and to become really myself.”

Excerpts from Jean Vanier’s “From Brokenness to Community,”  and “Our Journey Home: Rediscovering our Common Humanity Beyond our Differences.”    Compiled in “Called To Community,” edited by Charles E. Moore, 2016

A Visible Reality

 

“A truth, a doctrine, or a religion needs no space for itself.  They are disembodied entities. They are heard, learned, and apprehended, and that is all.  But, the incarnate Son of God needs not only ears or hearts, but living people who will follow him.  That is why he called his disciples into a literal, bodily following, and thus made his fellowship with them a visible reality.”                                                      Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“The daily practice of incarnation–of being in the body with full confidence that God speaks the language of the flesh–is to discover a pedagogy that is as old as the gospels.  Why else did Jesus spend his last night on earth teaching his disciples to wash feet and share supper?  With all the conceptual truths in the universe at his disposal, he did not give them something to think about together when he was gone.  Instead, he gave them concrete things to do–specific ways of being together in their bodies–that would go on teaching them what they needed to know when he was no longer around to teach them himself.

After he was gone, they would still have God’s Word, but that Word had some new flesh. The disciples were going to need something warm and near that they could bump into on  a regular basis, something so real that they would not be able to intellectualize it and so essentially untidy that there was no way they could ever gain control over it.  So Jesus gave them things they could get their hands on, things that would require them to get close enough to touch one another. In the case of the meal, he gave them things they could smell and taste and swallow and share. In the case of the feet, he gave them things to wash that were attached to real human beings, so that they could not bend over them without being drawn into one another’s lives.”                          Barbara Brown Taylor

“Now you are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it.”  Romans 12:27

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  There is one body.” Ephesians 4:2-4

Dear Momma

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Dear Momma,

 

You died. A year ago today I was holding your dead hand. For hours I sat with your body as it blanched, as it grew cold. Your fingers were starting to not look like your fingers. I couldn’t stop crying. They came for you, to take you and I wailed. Because I knew I would never see your body again. Never feel the way your skin was so light, so soft, so loosely lovely on you, like petals.   Your hair was still warm where it was nestled in the pillows so I buried my face there for a long time. The panic was rising and I was trying to keep it down but I knew they were on their way, strangers coming to take you.

 

You died. I know you know that. I don’t know what you know, but I can’t keep going unless I think that you know now, know more than you were able to before. You are not here and I miss you. Like an ache, like a bruise, like a break—somewhere in my body, everywhere in my body. Momma, you were my mommy. You were all that a child looks to. You held my hand, you brushed my hair.  You stomped your foot when I did cause it just made you so mad. You listened when I told you I was scared. You held my head in your lap on the night you told me you would die, soon.

When I was 7 you told me to find a picture that made me peaceful and hold that in my mind when the scary thoughts wouldn’t go away. I thought of clouds in the sky floating by and I have always gone back to that place when I am afraid.

You told me your dreams and I told you mine. Once we had an almost identical dream on the same night about violence against someone we knew. Turns out that person was mugged that night. Strange, so strange, but that was us. Both of us knew things before we knew them. That was from you. You grew and you grew and you grew as I grew. You were a different person when I was 37 than when I was 14. I loved you then and now. You made me so mad sometimes. Remember the time I refused to eat dinner with you because you made me so mad? I think I was 20. I was such a ….. I was it all, wasn’t I?

 

You died, momma. You aren’t here. I think I’m just starting to let that sink in. It takes me awhile. It didn’t feel real for a long time. But you aren’t here. I’ve had so many things to tell you. E is doing so good this year. She’s still E but, mom, you would be so proud. She has settled into her little self – we found out more about how her little (big) brain works. It explains a lot. We started listening to her more and she started listening right back. Funny how that happens. And little e, she’s had a harder year. She cries all the time about things not being right, about how she can’t go back in time and make things “true” once they’ve already happened in a way she didn’t want. I am at a loss about this. I don’t know how to help her. She’s strong but she’s also sad sometimes. I know you see her. I know you see her more than I do. They love you so much. They talk about you. They miss you. Both of them cried in Moana when her Grandma comes back to remind Moana of who she really is. Both of them told me that’s what you do. Keep reminding them. Keep reminding them of who they are and always have been. Its hard for me to remember sometimes because they are…well, they are really loud. Remind me too.

 

The girls are like you. I am like you. I’m speaking now more. Using the voice that is so much like yours. I preached at church. Preached. I was so scared that I almost threw up in the car. But then I also loved it.   It’s the weirdest thing. I have no idea where that leaves me, but I get to keep doing it and that’s good. I wish you were there. It was such a big moment for me. Sometimes I felt like you wished you could do the things I got to do – study, talk, help make decisions at church. Do this with me? This preaching thing? This studying, reading, praying, writing, exhorting, teaching, encouraging, pointing in a way that helps clear the fog, maybe, thing. In so many ways it’s a culmination of everything my life has been about so far—its blowing my mind a bit. But then its just preaching – its just talking in front of a small group of people I know about what I know and mostly what I don’t know about Jesus. But I’m a woman. And I’m preaching. I wish you were here. Sometimes I want to stick it to the men who told you to be quiet so bad. But I know I have to move forward past that too – they are just little humans after all. But I’ll keep preaching and pointing beyond myself, out past my own arm, and that will be our answer.

 

We miss you like we would miss our legs, like we would miss our eyes, like we would miss food – there’s never a minute we are not aware of it. Dad misses you. I can’t even speak to that – it hurts on a whole other level. I’ll let Dad write to you. But you were the love of his life. I know you knew that. The whole world saw it. What happens to that kind of love when it’s sawn in two. Where does it go?

 

C misses you. He’s a good brother, he calls me to check in. Oh and guess what? He’s getting married. Him and J got engaged in Greece. You would have been sufficiently jealous and happy, in that way you could be both. Who am I kidding, me too. We love J. She sat with me and you when your body was cooling. She came in, no hesitation and sat across the bed from me and watched you. She’s not afraid of being-with and she’s not selfish and it’s a good thing. She’s good for C. She reads a lot and pushes him and rolls her eyes while laughing in all the right ways at him. Her and B love sci-fi shows and books, not in the nerdy way but in the this-is-actually-deeply-true-way and she’s got it together.   I think C will be fine. Stevie is still the cutest dog.

 

Ok, that reminds me – Henry. He cried all morning, that morning one year ago. We were getting all your stuff ready to go to hospice and Henry was whining all morning and trotting between your bed and us as we moved around the house. Then you left and he knew it. He stayed close. He did growl at Stevie later that day when she came into your room, but we let it go that once. Henry has been good for Dad. Gives him a push to look up maybe. Henry has been good for us. He lets the girls pet him and doesn’t bark at everyone who walks in the door—who would have ever thought?

Oh, and also, we got a bunny. I know, I know! You’re horrified. They don’t smell quite as much as you used to always say. Maybe I’m just used to it….But he’s litter trained! And he jumps so cute! And he’s so incredibly soft and I needed something small to love. I think you’d love him deep down. He’s black with tiny bits of silver – like you! Heh heh heh heh…The whole thing makes me laugh and feel quite pleased with myself.

 

We are all good, even now in the midst of it all. In some ways the roads our lives are on opened up for us. Maybe because living became clearer when death was forced into it. There’s not a lot of room left to dink around and be afraid. What’s the point? Maybe…. Still wish with my whole heart you were here to talk to about it all.

 

 

This past week has felt like I was reliving last year. I was reliving what it was like to hear the news about how radiation didn’t work. Your resignation, dad’s lost and quiet voice. Reliving what it was like to have it suggested that you go to hospice right away. Reliving shifting you in your bed, reliving walking around the oxygen cord. Reliving what it was like to be in the grocery store and have dad call me to come right away – you were in a coma. You were winding down. Your life – all that life you had– closing in on itself, like a flower shuttering for the night. Shuttering down only to be opened by something it didn’t even know could be possible – more than you could even imagine. Reliving the hours of holding your hand, crushing all that morphine into yogurt, reliving holding you in the washroom, reliving you waking up, smiling at me for the last time with your eyes when you couldn’t move anything else. Green, gray – solid eyes. Perfectly sculpted brows I was always jealous of. Lines like living lace around your eyes. Your freckles showing. You were so beautiful and I’m not sure you ever let yourself in on that truth. But you were. And you saw me, one year ago, your girl.

 

I relived it all this week. It made me so tired. I could barely move the day we put the rest of you in the ground on Friday. I hope nobody thought I was rude – I could barely move.

 

And all this has made me so sad about other losses that I would have shrugged off. Grief is good. It makes us actually account for the life in our hands. Friendships that have shifted and are changing are making me cry. Which means they were meaningful, which means I was living, which is what God calls good, right? It hurts though. Sometimes I don’t know how we all keep living, us humans. All this hurt. It doesn’t surprise me all that much that people lash out against other people. I hate it but I’m not surprised any more. You should see what is going on in the world right now. Oh mom, its incredible. The pain is intolerable and we are just making it worse.

But.

But.

And yet….. I’ve taught myself to say.

 

The gift of death, if you choose to call it that, is the woke-ness to life. If you let it be, I suppose. I suppose there is always the choice. But here, in your house, the house of us that you built, momma, there is a woke-ness. We are trying to honor death and what it does to us while at the same time honoring life, living life. Today I wept at your grave, like a baby, lying in the grass. I needed to be close to dirt and earth and what is left of you here. And then I had to go watch little e get her preschool certificate and sing a song about a slippery fish and then we went and ate ikea meatballs and bought organizers and I had more ideas for a piece on truth and public life that I’m working on and now I really need a nap …. Life.

A good life – real and normal and good and called. And death – the ache that remains always. All at the same time.   I’m trying to honor life in what I put out there, what I say, how I say it. I’m trying to let your death be the ground that life comes out of – I’m trying to live out what you always said…

 

“God doesn’t bring anything good out of us, except by love.”

 

My anger, my disappointment, my bitterness – about your death, about losing you and your skin and your eyes, and about so many other things, about so many people and responses and blindnesses – most of all mine—all of that is only answered by love. Ever.

If I read how you taught me to read, if I pay attention the way you taught me to pay attention, if I forgive like you had to teach me through your very being, then all I have left is the answer of love. Not pillows and candles and cutesy mugs love – but forgiving, forbearing, sacrificing, listening, blind corner but believing the best, holding the ache kind of love. I’ve dipped one toe in. I truly have no idea, I know that. And I’m terrified at what embracing THAT kind of love means for the kind of loss I will hold in this body.

 

But. But.

And yet…..I, we, all of us who loved you, we are not alone.

 

Today, one year ago, momma you died. Dad will write to you. C too, I’m sure. The girls made you necklaces yesterday. I can’t stop crying and my head is pounding. Missing you like this is really scary. But I’m living and I’m trying to choose life and trying to raise the living-ness of this bit of world around me. I wish you were here for it, though, I wish you were here.

 

Dear momma, I love you. You made me so much more than you or I could ever even know. Well, maybe you know now. Dad said on Friday that you were so much more than you knew, so much more than the parts of your life.  That’s what you did for so many people. It must be obvious somewhere on that crown of yours….

Oh mom, I want to write more soon but I should go talk to our little e.  She is colouring and jumping on couch cushions and poking the bunny all at once.  But for today, the day you died one year ago, I just need you to know that I just miss you so much.

 

Love, your baby girl,

J

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Community – The Vision and the Call

Its been a fair while since I’ve posted on the blog.  Things have come up!  Unexpectedly, I’ve been preaching more.  So much has come up inside of me because of this process but mostly its been an eye-opening to see the astonishing amount of energy and focus that such a thing requires.  And I’ve loved it.

Here are links to two sermons on Ephesians if anyone is interested.

Ephesians: The Vision Imagined

Ephesians: Living a Life Worthy of the Call

 

Dwelling within these Ephesians words, for me, has everything to do with what we do at church.   As we’ve asked questions on the nature of church within my own community, these words held open a door into a transforming way to enter community for me.  If they hold a door open for you as well, bonus!

This little church I’ve found a home in is changing.  As things tend to do.  Leadership changes, name changes, identity changes rock communities and it takes a lot of maturity and letting go and listening to others to weather them.  And it takes a choice to start to see community for what it is and what it is not.  It is a group of humans, trying to live together.  It is not a product for consumers to pay for.  It is imperfect, because humans are imperfect.  It is a visible expression of the presence of Jesus. It is diverse because the WHOLE of  WHO God is is diverse.  It is not a group of friends and people who all think the same (although it can have elements of that within it, of course) but if that is what you are aiming for, you will never grow into something whole.  Something nice maybe–for the people who fit–but not whole.  It is hard work to build cohesion through difference.  Especially in a culture that idolizes ideology and “the latest, best idea!!!” over a recognition of each other’s messy, changing humanity.   It will require a whole lot of listening and a whole lot of putting your own voice aside for awhile to let another’s come through.   That’s painful sometimes.  It takes a lot of time.

Church is an ongoing discovery, ongoing treasure. Growth is not measurable by numbers in church but in the movement towards health and wholeness of its parts.  Health and wholeness of individuals, of relationships, of persons and a mysteriously present God.  And it requires each person to contribute.  When we strip away the bells and whistles, church community, for it to represent the Person of Christ and for it to feed its own sheep, must require each of us contribute.  Leadership does not sustain community – it stewards it, but if there is someone waiting for community to be given to them, they will not experience it.  Community always is sustained from an inner movement from in to out, not something from outside shaping in.  We have bought a lie that we go to church to be given to.  We go to church because we ARE.  We ARE, by God capturing our hearts, a person who lives out a piece of God’s body in this world.  We go to church to bring who we are.  BEING is the essential truth of church as BEING is the essential truth about a God who says things like “I AM.”

And there will be times for rest, receiving and times for action and contributing.  Like in a family there are times when members of that family are to be cared for, provided for, fed – but they do not exist to be fed by others and others don’t exist to feed them.  They all exist to BE and to contribute their BEING.   There are times for self care, and boundaries are necessary to any body.  But the goal is always the WHOLE BEING, not the triumph of one part at the expense of the others.

There will not be church where there are programs for consuming and customers for appeasing.  It might bring numbers, and I’d even say that it WILL bring numbers, but it will not bring church.  It will not bloom into the living presence of the living Christ.

Community has way more to do with HOW than with WHAT.  HOW do we do life together as opposed to WHAT we stand for as a group is what will bring transformation to groups, transformation that might actually stand up for something in the end, something like a whole humanity.

And not every community is the end for every person.  There are times to move on, times to stay.  Usually depending on where one is in their own cycle of healing and maturing, which is good and necessary and unavoidable.

Community is at once way smaller than we thought, way more ordinary than we thought and also way huger than we can imagine with a truth to it that will blow our minds with its pervasiveness, its comprehensiveness, its wholeness and witness to the work of God in the reconciling of this earth.    It is at once all that even while it is simply eating together and constantly adding more chairs to the table.

 

This little church.  A gift in the laundry pile of real life.  A bunch of normal people with normal issues that are at once life-altering and tedious.  There is nothing magical about a church community.  But in so much as there is an intersection of our deepest, transcendent, best hopes with real, dirty, actual life, there is a power.  A power that comes as a gift into that intentional space.  A power given to us to know love and keep after it even when it defies measuring.   A treasure in jars of clay indeed.  We’ve been sitting with words around community in this summer season and will continue to do so.

If you want to join in examining, contemplating, sitting with community, you are so welcome.  I will post quotes on community for reflection over the summer, ideas and experiences that challenge me and make me move.  And hopefully you have a real live place and real live people that you can put these words into action within.    And if you are looking, you are always, ALWAYS welcome on The Road.

 

 

Risen

IMG_7679

For Easter Day

If you are looking

for a blessing,

do not linger

here.

 

Here

is only

emptiness,

a hollow,

a husk

where a blessing

used to be.

 

This blessing

was not content

in its confinement.

 

It could not abide

its isolation,

the unrelenting silence,

the pressing stench

of death.

 

So if it is

a blessing

you seek,

open your own

mouth.

 

Fill your lungs

with the air

this new

morning brings

 

and then

release it

with a cry.

 

Here how the blessing

breaks forth

in your own voice,

 

how your own lips

form every word

you never dreamed

to say.

 

See how the blessing

circles back again,

wanting you to

repeat it,

but louder,

 

how it draws you,

pulls you,

sends you

to proclaim

its only word.

 

Risen.

Risen.

Risen.

 

By Jan Richardson

 

 

ps….I’m incredibly in love with Jan Richardson’s book of blessings, Circle of Grace.  I want to write every one of them out for everyone to read.

 

 

Lest we forget what God can do with mud

What can God do with brokenness, with everything we wish didn’t happen, couldn’t happen, but does and leaves a huge mess. What possibly could God do.

 

Friends of mine asked me to pray. There’s a conflict. The words they used were “there’s so much brokenness.”       There always is. We try to forget that though.  When we are on a winning streak.

I have been thinking about this poem all week – because what is dirt other than the bits of life that have broken down, packed down and wait under everything we do all day.

He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” John 9:15

Blessing of Mud

Lest we think

The blessing

Is not

In the dirt.

 

Lest we think

The blessing

Is not

In the earth

Beneath our feet.

 

Lest we think

The blessing

Is not

In the dust,

 

Like the dust

That God scooped up at the beginning

And formed

With God’s

Two hands

And breathed into

With God’s own

Breath.

 

Lest we think

The blessing

Is not

In the spit.

 

Lest we think

The blessing

Is not

In the mud.

 

Lest we think

The blessing

Is not

In the mire,

The grime,

The muck.

 

Lest we think

God cannot reach

Deep into the things

Of earth,

Cannot bring forth

The blessing

That shimmers

Within the sludge,

Cannot anoint us

With a tender

And grimy grace.

 

Lest we think

God will not use

The ground

To give us

Life again,

To cleanse us

Of our unseeing,

To open our eyes upon

This ordinary

And stunning world.

 

–Jan Richardson

 

 

When there is brokenness, especially personal, interpersonal brokenness, our instinct is to run. Because brokenness collaterally damages everyone. Shards of ourselves hit those closest to us—when we are broken….broken open.

 

We get angry when things aren’t perfect. Because we need them to be. To accomplish all the important things we have to accomplish, we need things to flow and click and not get stuck and not freeze up and not have issues. We need our leaders to do this. We need our volunteers to do this. We need our systems to do this. We need our spouses to do this, we need our parent to do this, we need our children to do this. We need ourselves to do this.

But they don’t. We don’t. They (and we) can go on for awhile, personally and systemically, and then they (and we)  break. Break down. Break apart. Break open. That’s the nature of time and space and growth and need. That’s the nature of being a human – it stands to reason then, that anything humans create has this inherent within it. Churches, communities, city councils, constitutions, programs, governments—they break.   Breaks happen in our marriages, our friendships, our neighborliness, our parenting.   Breaks happen deep in our own selves. We don’t trust ourselves, we second guess everything. We call ourselves failures—because we break. We call others weak and get so frustrated, because they break.  We aim for doing all the right things, with all the latest ideas, with all the knowledge we have. But that’s not enough. If I do all things perfectly and in line with what I’m supposed to but have not the capacity to love through the broken……its not enough.

 

The curious thing about this faith…the most curious, upside-down thing is that God seems to know this. And  it is, in fact, the prerequisite for understanding anything that He is doing, for understanding anything in that old book.

 

Blessed are the weak, blessed are the broken, blessed are the mourning, the lost, the hungry and those whose voice is lost in the loud, loud world.  Blessed are those who try to make peace amidst all our brokenness. These are the ones who will get THIS, get this KINGDOM thing more than anyone doing all the work, all the right things will ever, ever, ever get. Because they, the broken, have no capacity to make it happen on their own merits……

 

Abraham, (old, so old), Moses (murderer, coward), Naomi (old and irrelevant), David (adulterer, murderer, show-off), Jonah (coward, angry). Peter (arrogant know-it-all with big blind spots), Paul (arrogant know-it-all with big blind spots, then sick, then in prison without any power).

Me (tired, tired, tired, lethargic, tired, in mourning all the time, lazy, angry, judgemental, sensitive, suspicious, needy, tired, tired, tired).

The kingdom of God is like the tiny seed of a weed. The Kingdom of God is like the son who takes all his money and completely blows it in the most selfish of ways. And then comes home and gets all he’s ever wanted. The Kingdom of God is like when the workers who work the most get the same pay as the workers who work the least.

The kingdom of God is when the least deserving and least likable of your community is welcomed and given all that you’ve been working for. The Kingdom of God is when the prisoner doing his deserved time for taking another’s life and voice is visited, honored, heard. The kingdom is when someone who has nothing and definitely nothing to give you in return is brought to the table and given what they need. The kingdom of God is completely not set up in the same way that we would define as the way things should work. But it is completely set up to hold our broken, broken selves.  It is completely set up to hold us in our humanity, to hold within its wholeness our whole brokenness.

 

If you would have new life, you must fall to the ground and die – like a seed, in the dark, in the dirt.

Lest we think that God is not in the mud. The mud, the dirt, the spit, the stuff you scrape off your shoe after the dogpark, that He puts on your eyes, that HE fills your vision with, that he uses to answer the deepest heartache you’ve ever had. This is the way He does it. And boy oh boy, do we, who like to see progress and all things shiny and new and perfect, hate this.

Again, that’s why the broken get it. They know the mud is the truth of the matter and the only way through to the truth of the God who grows everything from the dirt.

 

My pastor talks about God’s signature moves…..I have this sneaking suspicion that this is the signature of signature moves….

 

I’ve got to learn to stop praying for God to show me how HE sees things, to stop praying to be broken for what breaks him, to stop praying for His will to be done. Because it means that the literal shitstorm is about to fly in my face and grow something new, something I’ve always wanted, something I was created to long for, something like the Very presence of the Very God.

But holy effing flip, its messy in the meantime. And the clean up is a bitch.

 

The Active Pose of Reverence

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to be a part of an Inter-faith event at Mount Royal University. The interfaith chaplaincy office invited students of different religious faiths to speak about these faiths, how they personally came to them, how they understood them and what their faith means in their everyday lives. Sikh, Christian and Jewish students spoke to the group. Afterwards, we ate subway and talked in a big circle about any questions anyone had for anyone else.

I loved it. I love hearing people talk about what’s meaningful to them. I love how hearing about the details of what’s important to people from faiths not like mine sounds both foreign and also familiar at the same time. I love hearing about different practices that bring meaning and depth to lives, even when they aren’t completely understood yet.  I love hearing how intertwined one’s childhood, one’s parents, one’s community or lack thereof – all the parts of a life’s story– has everything to do with the shape of one’s faith.

What stood out for me, in all the discussions, was something the young Sikh student said. She stood at the front , hair wrapped in a beautiful peach turban, wearing a Kelly green sweater and talked softly, with a smile the whole time, but unwaveringly about how her faith showed her a way to observe a reverence for every human life. Even her own; even her own as a woman.

It was the word reverence that caught me. Reverence for every life. All life.

Seems like a nice idea. A nice idea we entertain…..sometimes. Until that other life starts getting in the way of our own…..

I was still mulling over reverence and what that looked like in my world when I got back in the car and started driving. The radio came on and I heard the news of Stuart McLean’s death. This made me really, really sad. More sad than I anticipated. Could be because of my own experience this past year but more, I think it had to do with what McLean offered to the world – a way of seeing its quirky truth and being kind and also really funny about it.

The interviewer had one of McLean’s long time producers on the show and asked,

“What was he like to work with?” And in her answer she said,

“What made him such a good performer and such a good storyteller wasn’t that he was naturally like that. He became that way because he was an incredibly good listener. I want to say he was a mirror, and he reflected the stories back to those who told them. But mirror’s not quite right. It’s almost like he was a conduit for other people’s stories. He listened and observed and did this incredible job of just sort of passing the stories along to others.”

I heard that and I immediately thought of the reverence that girl was speaking about again. And reverence went from being a nice idea (that I can sometimes afford others when it doesn’t cost myself too much) to being an action. I thought of reverence being an action, or even just an active posture , that has its dna,its root, its force and importance, in the practice of listening.  The active posture of reverence.

What does listening do for reverence. How would actual listening change the way in which I “revere” someone, the way in which I understand them, understand their importance.  How would the quality of listening change the way real people’s lives are given to the world.  Could this be possible?

About a week after this night, I was off trying to finish my preparations for a 3 day retreat I was leading for the women at church. The theme was “Practicing Prayer.” I was at a local coffee shop, coffee, my laptop, some books and a bottle of water in hand.     I just sat down at the window ledge, where the serious coffee shop work gets done, and before I had a chance to take of my coat, not even fully seated on the raised chair yet, a hand pushed a piece of paper into my view.   The white paper had a drawing of a pipe, with smoke rising from it and in the smoke an eagle, some feathers, a cross and a face.  The drawing was pen, with long, continuous, unhesitant lines.  It was titled “Prayer” and signed at the bottom. I looked up at the paper pusher and saw a man. I was obvious quickly that he was without a home. Ragged with no teeth. A clean sweater and a dirty-in-a-Calgary-chinook-way coat.  His shoes falling apart where the toes met the soles. He had a backpack and a mountain dew in his hands.

In that brief moment, I was annoyed and aware that everyone in the coffee shop was also aware of us. That’s the (unfortunate) nature of these things deep in the suburbs.  I had one day to finish my very-important-prayer-retreat-preparations. I was under the weather and feeling pressed. I didn’t want to be interrupted. But then I read the title of the picture again. I can’t very well ignore that can I?

I looked at the picture and said, “It’s beautiful.   What does it mean?”   He said I could have it for $10. I smiled. “I don’t have any cash on me. But I do really like it. I really like how you did the eagle-its really beautiful. What does it mean to you?”

And he told me. He outlined all the thoughts he had put on that page.  And then he talked.   And then he talked for almost 90 minutes. I didn’t say much at all. He talked. Quietly, sometimes mumbling, sometimes raising his voice. He told me story after story, one story rambling into another. He told stories in conversations–he told the stories all the way through by voicing the different actors in the different conversations that made these stories up. A story about a man trying to give him money on the street. A story about what people say about his pictures. A story about how Jesus talks to him. A story about what atheists say to him when he tells them about Jesus.   A story about when his braids got cut off when he went to jail when he was young. A story about being accosted on the c-train. A story about giving himself a tattoo with a pin. A story about the Blood reserve, where he was from. A story about the RCMP coming to his wife’s home and taking him away after a fight. A story about sleeping last night in the cemetery across the street from the coffee shop we were in. A story about his two daughters. Here he stopped.   He looked outside for a good 10 minutes. I didn’t say anything. We had been there for over an hour by this point. I didn’t have to.   One tear came down from each eye, just wetting the crease beneath his eyelid, travelling down the lines of his face, seeping into the deep lines of his cheeks.   He wiped one away. “I wish I could see them.” he said. “It’s so hard…….I’m really struggling…….it feels very dark……So dark……it’s really hard.”

He was quiet again for a few minutes. Then he started telling me about how God talks to him. How he could almost feel when God directs him. How when last night, he was going to try to break into the cars at the C-train station to see if he could get change for some food but that he felt a hand on his shoulder, almost pushing him to the side. And he turned to see who it was but there was no one there and he knew it was Jesus telling him to wait. And so he waited in the cemetery and heard voices all night – kids voices, he felt eyes looking at him over the fence and he was scared. And in the morning he started walking again and found a 5 dollar bill. And came here to get a mountain dew.   He looked at me at this point and said, “Usually nice people don’t let me talk this long. Its like you’re a priest and I’m in confession.”   I laughed.

I didn’t say much, really, at all.   I affirmed that God was with him. I said I hoped that God was with us all. And that the world did seem pretty dark sometimes. And I nodded at his question “ why do we all have to get so angry?” I didn’t know.

I bought him two sandwiches. I offered my water but he said that I needed it. He could get water. He gave me the picture for free but asked me if I could send it on to France. He heard that the French really like native art.

My friend told me that a man gave her a picture in the parking lot of another coffee shop along a different part of the C-train tracks.   Perhaps it was the same man.   I think about how he might do his days and I think about what today is like for him.   And truly I am praying that its not so dark, not so dark that he can’t see You, God. And I am aware that I have a privilege and responsibility of being able to think through, read well, and devote resources to ways that could, in real life, change the rules that actively do not help him be who He was created to be. So I am doing that too.

But in those fleeting moments when I realized that my day was going to be different than what I had thought, when I realized that I was being approached by someone who makes people, and me, sometimes really uncomfortable, I thought, “What should I do?”   When being faced with someone who doesn’t live, or doesn’t have the chance to live, by the same rules I do, I don’t always know what to do. I asked that question but then an overwhelming feeling of –“wow, that’s so not the right question” came over me. It was not “What should I do” but “How am I to be to this person?” that I needed to be asking that morning.

And the young Sikh girl in her peach turban and green sweater saying the word “reverence” came up. Stuart McLean’s listening so as to be a conduit for people’s stories, for their lives, came up. And I just decided in that moment to not shut it down, not to give him money and be on my way, but to just sit and listen. I knew we were getting stared at. I knew I wouldn’t get the work done I had thought I would do that morning. But the active pose of listening was what the Spirit-that-Draws-Everything-Back-to-Himself was apparently at work with that morning. I don’t always listen to that spirit – in fact, I don’t more often than I do.   But for whatever reason, I was ok with listening that day.  And not listening with half my brain trying to figure out what to say, what to do, what the people working at the coffee shop were thinking, but actually just entering into a real conversation with a real person.  Not listening in such a way as to add this person as a character to the action of my life but listening to hear his life because he was a real person right in front of me.  And that should be enough to make us stop in our tracks.  Reverence.  Listening.  A real life that adds real life to everything around it not because of its net worth, but because of its presence.

I’m glad he pushed that paper in front of me. I hope he wasn’t sorry either.

His name was Bernard. And his life held a lot of stories.