Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Winners and Losers, Revised

This is a post that I published yesterday, but then reconsidered and took down last night.  I am reworking it today . . . 

As we have been visiting different churches lately the thing that I am struck by is how smooth and, well, perfect, it all appears.  Your first impression is a huge, perfectly smooth parking lot and perfectly landscaped exterior.  You are greeted by happy, perfect looking people who seem to be saying, "we're winners!  you can be a winner too!"  The childrens' ministry is staffed by volunteers who are happy winners and all the other children look like perfectly coordinated baby Gap winners.  If it's a good church you'll find a place to get a good cup of coffee because church should be a lot like Starbucks but better.  Worship is always led by the cool artsy winners, and then the Pastor stands up and he's the big WINNER . . . 

When I discussed this with my husband later he reminded me that the fact that this type of environment is comfortable for most people in this country isn't a bad thing.  There is nothing wrong with wanting a church to look and feel nice.  I, too, look forward to a good cup of coffee and cool worship.  And, I realized that the tone I used here is way more condemning than how I feel . . . there is nothing wrong with being a winner, looking like a winner, or being friendly to visitors.  Nothing.  

And I'm struck by this contrast with what I have learned about ministry, and the people I have known well enough to learn from their depth of spirituality.  Ministry is messy.  Spirituality is messy.  

The part that is repulsive to me about "winner" spirituality is the way we focus all our energy on appearances . . . and this visual message we communicate about our perfection is often the unspoken message of our spirituality . . . in the type of environment where appearing spiritual is equally important or more important than being spiritual, that appearance becomes something we cling to, fight over, pound our chests about . . . like a hole in the parking lot or stain on your shirt, there is not room here for questions, mystery, healthy debate, open communication, honest evaluation, or organic growth.  There are only winners or heretics.

When I think about the ministries that I have known or been a part of, there was nothing smooth, or perfect, or even attractive about the great majority of it.  The people I have known who have given their lives to ministry- true ministry- have long since given up on the idea of it ever being easy, or, dare I say, really successful.  Programs fail.  Budgets shrink.  Donors evaporate.  Volunteers turn on you.  Personalities clash.  Strategies sink.  Unanswered questions abound.  Mission statements written on paper fall forever short of the glory of the story of God written on human hearts.

 We don't want to think that our faith commitment is defined by easy, pretty Christianity.  But as soon as it's not easy or pretty, we wonder where God is.  

Jesus wasn't pretty (Is.53.2), and he wasn't a winner(Is.53.3).  His disciples weren't winners (Acts 4.13).  Jesus' ministry was a huge failure, (John 19.14,15) from the world's perspective.   The mission that we have been called to is humiliation (Acts5.41),  persecution (2Tim3,12), constant failure (Ro7.15-25), and death (Luke9.23).   

I wonder if what we perceive as an absence of God, when life is muddy, complicated, difficult . . .  is actually evidence that He is at work?

I received this forward from a friend who has given her life to the chaos of faith and ministry . . .
Enter the Chaos
Patrice Vecchione

To be alive is not primarily a linear experience. It's a mix of dreaming and running to the store for a quart of milk. Our lives have depth, in part, because we can't make sense of everything. Life doesn't make sense; it's more complicated than our linear way of knowing. Mystery and spirit run through our days like rivers and sustain us. Life is a blend of possibility and impossibility.... From chaos comes clarity. It was there all along. You just couldn't see it. To come to clarity, you have to enter the chaos. Dive in or enter inch by inch. Confusion is not a bad thing.

Source: Writing and the Spiritual Life

"for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me." Is.49.23

Monday, September 29, 2008


I am still totally undecided about this election.  Every time I think I have my mind made up, I read something to change it . . . I think the only solution to this is for Jim and I to both vote for opposite parties, and therefore cancel each other out but still have exercised our right to vote.

Here are two things I have come across that have the potential to sway my vote:

Friday, September 26, 2008

Letter to myself when I was fifteen

I had to walk past my old High School today, and I even made it the entire way without bursting into tears.  This must be a record for me.  I graduated thirteen years ago, and I still get a pit in my stomach and zits when I have to see that place.  So today I was thinking of all the things I wish I had known back then, or that I will try to teach my girls when they are fifteen though I know they probably won't be able to understand it until they're thirty.

Letter to my teenage self:

There will be a day when you will walk out of this small world and into a new one.  The doors will open and your eyes will need to adjust because the light is so bright out here and you didn't realize how dim it was in there.  

You aren't as weak as you think you are, or as sad as you allow yourself to be.  But joy is a decision you will make after you just cannot bear to be sad any longer and it is o.k. to feel weak because even now you are learning true strength.

One day you will be able to laugh about this, the really funny parts, and what you can't laugh about is only because you won't remember.

You're proudest moments will be the ones when you went against the crowd.  Your greatest humiliations will come trying to fit in.

They aren't looking.  They don't matter.  Who is They anyway?

One day, They will still be wishing life were as it was and you will say Life only gets better.

Allow God to do his work in you now . . . the painful, awful work of stripping your false selves, permitting your loneliness and fears and heart to break.  He is drawing you to Himself.     

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Random: the Fair, Palin, Sam cut her hair . . . that pretty much sums it up may not want to bother reading this one

I've been wanting to blog but schedules and naptimes are all out of wack right now . . . my mind is all jumbled-up now too.  This will be pretty random . . .

Fair Week.  Never thought I would still look forward to the fair so much but now with kids anything that (gets us out of the house) is educational and community-oriented is something to squeal about.  And the girls like it too.  I felt rather Sarah Palin-ish as I pushed the stroller around our small-town fair, imagining how in my VP speech I will say that I've been a lifelong supporter of . . . cows . . . and all the farmers and dairy world will have rallies for me and our county 4H will make me an honorary member, and I'll say that the only difference between a 4H mom and a pit bull is a well-decorated booth.  Because 4H moms don't seem to wear lipstick.  
Speaking of Sarah Palin, I am having second thoughts about her.  As I admitted before, it was the fact that she is a mother of five, with a newborn, that attracted me to her.  And now it's the mom in me wondering if she really should be running for Vice President . . . this really is not a sexist issue . . . I believe that children need their mother.  The idealist in me wants to think that she really can pull it all off, can manage to be an involved mother and Vice President of the United States.  But really . . . I can't even find time to shave my legs.  She may be a better multi-tasker than me, but how much is one woman really capable of?  I don't know if it is fair to her tiny baby and other children to have to share their mother with the rest of the free world.   

Sami cut her hair.  Wacked it right off.  Whose job is it to keep scissors away from the children anyway? 

We took her to get it fixed-up, and she was SO excited which was so much fun that it was almost worth her chopping her hair off.  But not.
Dad and Peanut had fun, too.

Sami this morning with her new do.  I happened to catch her nursing her baby which she likes to do and is so beautiful and sweet and wonderful.  I only wish she wouldn't call it "milking."   

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Tortilla Curtain, T.C.Boyle

I just finished a good book:  The Tortilla Curtain.  Like, literally I JUST finished it, for book club tonight, and thought I'd write a few thoughts while it's still fresh and before my girls wake up . . .

Summary:  can't find it, no time girls are awake . . . general subject has to do with illegal immigrants 

So this is the thought I'm left with:  the whole world hangs by the thread of mercy.  God's mercy, yes, but I'm speaking of human mercy.  And mercy is a choice, it's unnatural, it can only flow out of basic respect for one another, a common acknowledgment of the greatness, the god-image, in every person.  Understanding one another, our pain, our deepest needs, our deepest fears . . . extending faith where understanding gaps . . .  believing that every one of the us six billion people have aches and hopes and loves that take our breath away, that we're all meeting here, on this planet, at this point in time in the universe, with the same startled cry, all still wondering what it's all about, searching for comfort and love and then meaning in the midst of it . . . . Mercy so easily denied, so quickly quenched when our comforts are threatened, when we don't understand and don't try to.  Understanding, this is the thing.  This is why we all need to read more, and ask more questions.  Understanding must continue, it has to be cultivated or mercy dies; judgment and fear reign.  How fragile are our societies, our civilizations . . . we only live together, we only survive so long as mercy survives.

The book ends with a mother and father and newborn child . . . we are all at our deepest core as primal and divine as this.  This is the reason why we must to make room for one another, offer shade to one another . . . .  

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

blue pajamas

i threw away tonight
blue pajamas
not just blue
the color of postcards
or the deepest part of the sky
a day in may

it was still winter
the first time you wore
new watery blue
a mermaid on top
we said oh what a beautiful mermaid
you are
mothers heart
she's no baby

still in a diaper
a bottle tucked in one arm
time to cuddle one story more
we rocked to sleep
one hand propped against my chest
all those many nights

a big girl bed
much too big
for such a
tiny mermaid
no more rocking
just singing
night night
one drink more
forgot the bear
the other bear
and the other one
go to sleep sami
sami . . .

you learned to sleep
we napped every day
for nine months

and then it wasn't just us
a new sister
you were the saddest color of blue
i have ever seen
but we made it
me and you

waking in the night
crying for someone to cuddle
blue mornings
under covers
lets talk about our plan
just a reason
to cuddle
a little more

a new house
asleep next to your sister
no rocking
or singing
a story
or four
off to bed
my little mermaid

now in september
faded to water
blue jamas
today we bought grey and pink
cuddle monster
it says
and we say
that's you
mothers heart
promise you'll always be
our cuddle monster
my little

under the remnant
of dinner
i retrieve those

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Angry this morning.  (No, it has nothing to do with my latest post or my friend Anonymous.  I (really try to- here's how) refuse to give people like that my anger).  I admit that I was grumbling a bit already this morning when my Little Miss Sunshine woke up too early and interrupted my morning quiet time.  We've had an exceptionally busy few days and I have not had any alone time in nearly a week.  I. Needed. My. Quiet time. . . . Anyway, I was already grumpy and then I read this

One of the greatest privileges of my life was the opportunity to live and work for two years in Haiti.  I cannot adequately describe those two years without using every mission-trip cliche and boring you to tears.  I fell in love with Haiti, I still dream of her, I know of beautiful amazing people who are giving their lives to care for her . . . and I can't help but ask, why?  Why Haiti?  Why again?  She is like a crippled kid who keeps getting beat up and can't defend herself or even crawl away to safety.  But worse than that.  I just keep wondering why and sit here feeling so helpless and powerless to do anything, ashamed of my wealth, ashamed of America that is this gigantic Mega-Church on a hill while her neighbor Haiti thrashes to survive.  There must be an answer to all of this, some hope somewhere . . . the only sense I can make in questions like these is the answer my husband always gives me, maybe God is asking Where is My Church?

So I had a nice happy Wise Women Wednesday post all ready, but I'm too angry.  Be angry with me.  Christians are great at being angry, if only we would be angry at the right things, and let our anger fuel our motivation to do something . . . . Here are some other posts that really ticked me off this morning:

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Thanks, Anonymous

Received this lovely comment on my last post:  (my husband, Jim, was a missionary and pastor at the church that Anonymous is referring to for nine years.  Jim resigned as a pastor and we decided to leave said church). 

So Jim and You are liars?  I thought Jim said "First Baptist will be your church home".  Well I knew all along that you and Jim were liars, I just wish somebody would have spoken out against your hypocrisy & heresy.

So don't come back.  The church will function better off without either one of you.  Hope you have fun running from the church.

September 6, 2008  11:17 PM  Anonymous

So, I wonder why we don't go to church there anymore?

To anyone out there who may be struggling with their own questions and doubts regarding the church (I speak of the Church as in Christianity, not any one particular church), who may have unfortunately run into a person like this along the way in your faith journey, I beg you to cling to that fading light of hope still in you that can find the faith to believe that people like this do not represent in any way anything that the church was ever meant to be.   

Friday, September 5, 2008

march on

I feel like my doubts and questions and frustrations regarding the church are spilling over on this blog.  Forgive me.  That is just where I am right now.  I do not want this to be some sort of passive-aggressive way of taking shots at anyone, and Heaven Forbid I do not want to hurt anyone or anything.  I began this blog as a way of communicating with family when I believed we were moving away, and it has evolved into a fun way for me to work out my thoughts and beliefs in a form of a journal with the added intrigue of not knowing who may be reading it.  

After leaving the ministry and our church in June, some time to rest has been so good for our family.  God provided a job and the perfect place for us to live, and for the first time in our marriage Jim has a predictable schedule allowing our family to function in more of a routine.  I hate routines. But this one is good for us.  The girls are thriving in predictability.  Jim is thriving in his new career as an engineer, enjoying the freedom to be the introvert that he is and not feel guilty for it, and the simplicity of leaving work at work.  I am happy in our new home, realizing that small and simple just works for us.  The girls are sleeping, most days even napping together so I get some time to myself.  Because our weekends are free we are enjoying abundant relaxed time together as a family which I can't remember having time or feeling relaxed in our family's recent history.  God has blessed us with friendships here that we are actually able to enjoy now that everything is so much simpler.  Life is good.  

But as we have taken time to step back and not commit ourselves fully to any one local church for a season, as we are taking time to heal and reflect and examine ourselves, these questions and doubts are surfacing.  We can only be honest before God, honest with each other with where we are, what we are feeling.  Jim and I are on different journeys.  Somedays our paths cross, most days we are working out in our own interiors the hows and whys and now whats.  I have been here before, we all have. I am not afraid of this place, I do not run from my questions or find my faith shaken by the messiness of it.  

When Jim and I got married, I marked Psalm 48:12-14 in my Bible:
Walk about Zion, and go round about her: tell the towers thereof.  Mark ye well her bulwarks, consider her palaces; that ye may tell it to the generation following.  For this God is our God for ever and ever:  he will be our guide even unto death.
We are walking around Zion.  We always will be.  We have left the places we've been, the view is different from here.  But we are still seeing the towers, sill considering her palaces.  We so desperately want to tell the generation following what we have seen and experienced, the beauty of it.  This God is our God for ever and ever.  He is still revealing himself in startling, joyous ways.  He is still our guide on this journey, and will always be. . . it's all about Zion, yes.  But it's so much about the journey.  It's so much about this God who is ours forever and ever.  Knowing Him, learning Him, walking with Him.  

We are attempting in this season to honestly wrestle with our questions, and to reclaim some of our lost innocence as well.   I found Luke 9 just perfect today.  It reassures me that yes, we all get it all wrong.  But we always have . . . 

First, the good stuff:  Jesus asks his disciples who people say that he is . . . but whom say YE that I am?  Peter:  the Christ of God.

After that, it's one failure after another . . . the entire chapter!   I counted nine times someone says something and Jesus is like, No, you still don't get it . . . major mistakes, like:  in verse 33 Peter feels like he ought to give some instructions - in the middle of the TRANSFIGURATION.   Then the disciples failed to cast out a spirit; they didn't get it when Jesus told them he would be crucified; and after all these failures the most important question in their minds was still which of them was the greatest?  Unbelievable to me, until I think about the fact that we still do it, we still want to measure ourselves against each other and feel better than somebody . . . then they try to shut-down someone's ministry because they don't think he's as spiritual as they are.  Next, after being rejected in a village they ask Jesus if they can't just send fire on them (Ha!  I've wished that myself a few times) . . . three more questions at the end of the chapter related to "I will follow you . . . " and each time Jesus says, you don't know what you are saying. 

So in a strange way this comforts me.  Every single time the disciples think they are spiritual, Jesus shows them they are not.  Every time the disciples think they have figured Jesus out, he shows them that they still don't get it.  BUT.  In the entire chapter, they did get one question right.  Jesus asks them who they say that he is, and Peter knows that he is the Christ.  

Maybe . . . what if, like the disciples, 90% of what we do we get wrong, or fail at, or have horribly arrogant or selfish motives mixed in . . . what if we didn't interpret that old testament passage correctly, what if we did misjudge that person and thoroughly discourage him, what if we think we have all the spiritual fervor in the world to follow Christ and he says, You are not who you think you are?  What if I get to the end of my life and see that a great majority of it was a failure . . . will the 10% that I did get right be, My Jesus you are the Christ.  I have stumbled and fallen and miserably failed in following you.  But my heart is wrapped around Zion.  I know her well.  I have seen her palaces.  My God you are my God for ever and ever.  You have been my guide all this way, I have found you in every place.  Every step I hear you saying to me, My Child, march on.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Politics from the diaper pail

I am the voter America should fear.  I know just enough about both sides to feel informed though I am not, I agree just enough with both parties to consider myself one of them, and disagree just enough with both parties not to.  I am pro-life, but think that means that I am pro-everyone's life including the unwed mother and her disadvantaged unborn child and I have no idea how you can be pro-life and pro-war.  I believe in socialized healthcare, but I also have a father whose small business cannot afford higher taxes.  I don't like what has happened under Bush's leadership, but I am the worst combination of mercy and naivete . . . I kinda feel sorry for him, and I like his wife.  

It gets worse.  

A week ago, I'd have said that I am undecided but really I thought that I'd vote for Obama.   My fluency on the issues or agendas came down to:  McCain, tired and old; Obama, fresh and new.  And I like his wife.

As early as last night, as I sit watching the RNC, I'm thinking, old old old.  Stuffy old rich mean guys.  

And then, the mom in me . . . yes, I fell hook line and sinker like an Alaskan salmon into the Republican party convention.  I am the game that a bunch of old rich mean men on an NRA hunting expedition were hoping for.  The trap?  A confidant, intelligent, well-spoken hockey mom with great hair.  I humbly admit that it has nothing to do with her policies.  I am all but clueless when it comes to her experience.  I have no basis for claiming that she is the right choice for Vice President.  I am, quite simply, a stay at home mom with a secret wish to be a mom who can still take on the world.  And have a great body and great hair.  It is a shallow and image-driven as that.

So I have to give it to the Republican party.  You knew there were tired, gullible moms like me out there who haven't had a haircut in six months, and that all we needed was  someone with a baby in a sling to sway us.  I like you, Sarah Palin.  I don't like much about your party, but I would LOVE to see someone with a breastpump in the White House.