Thursday, February 21, 2013

I believe in dinner not influence

Something about the word influence makes my toes curl.

In Florida I spent some time with old friends, and as we sat talking I said, Lonnie, you and Phil were such an influence on my life. She challenged me, now find the people who you will influence.

I thought on this and decided it could be a good thing to focus on for Lent, influence, but the more I thought about it the more uncomfortable I became. I don't really think I'm the influencer-type.

Now if this were a conversation and not a blog post (I wish it were), and the subject of influence came up I would put on another pot of coffee because this is when the conversation gets good.

I would ask you to tell me your influences because I love nothing more than to hear how two stories can collide sometimes and the way we spend the rest of our lives startled and picking up the space rocks.

In my mind there are at least a dozen, maybe more, people who have had this kind of holy influence on me. I wish you could see them the way I do in my mind, these friends of mine, they are otherworldly. They glow. (Not that they are perfect. Who ever does Perfection influence?)

But the thing I am almost certain of, every single one, is that they weren't really trying to influence me.

That's the thing about influence.
It's such a heavy word, and there is so much harmful happening in the name of influence. The word reeks of things like persuasion, condescension, control. I don't know many people waiting in line to be influenced.

This morning I read John 15 and it's like Jesus is saying, okay listen, let me be perfectly clear, this is what I want you to do: Love one another. And we're like, Oh influence. No love. Lead? Love. Okay then I think I will form a group or organize a something and Jesus is like, Let's just go get dinner.

This is where influence happens. Around tables.

I assume it is called the Last Supper because it was the final of a long series of suppers, meals shared together and I imagine them lasting long into the night. I bet they loved these meals together, the disciples, I imagine them impatient to get the miracles and healings over so they could go have dinner again with Jesus. I bet they laughed a lot, and ate really good food, too much, like Jesus was always wanting to splurge on that great take-out place- again- even though it was the middle of the week and everybody was on a diet. I imagine somebody always drank too much and I bet they never wanted to leave.

I was influenced most around tables. Always when I wasn't looking, unaware of being influenced because it happened so subtly as friendship. I thought then and I still do, that these were first of all my friends, that they were with me because they wanted to be, not because I was assigned to their group but that they liked me even.

It was over cafeteria trays or sunny picnic tables, my grandparents' table on the farm, worn wooden tables in kitchens with the windows thrown open, mismatched tables drug from pockets of the house and shoved together to make room for more and it usually wasn't until later, much later, that the subtlest question, an offhand remark, a few unexpected words carried on the air of affection . . . or mostly just their person- their character, their perspective, their story- would come to mind- (they still do) and I would think on it, and keep thinking and turning it over in my mind and slowly, gently, I was influenced. 

Jesus looked at him and loved him. 
Mark 10:21

(p.s. I'm not saying that things like preaching and teaching aren't necessary, I have been influenced by both. Only that love reaches deepest by people who are willing to open their lives to us.)
Isn't a meal together the most beautiful expression of our desire to be given to each other in our brokenness? The table, the food, the drinks, the words, the stories: Are they not the most intimate ways in which we do not only express the desire to give our lives to each other, but also to do this in actuality? . . . When we eat together we are vulnerable to one another. Around the table we can't wear weapons of any sort. Eating from the same bread and drinking from the same cup call us to live in unity and peace .. . a really peaceful and joyful meal together belongs to the greatest moments of life. 
-Henri J.M. Nouwen, Life of the Beloved

Thursday, February 14, 2013

sunshine soup

This week's soup is brought to you by the Sunshine State, and a first rainy day suitable for blogging.

It seems quite un-Lenten of me to begin a season of Lent with my feet propped up on a beach chair, in the land of well-dressed pets and eternal youth. (It is disconcerting to observe a teenager on a bike, and as she comes near discover she is closer to seventy- no?) 

But here we are, staying with my parents and loving every minute of sunshine and remembering again another benefit of homeschool- wink.

Beach read: The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

Lenten read: Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen


Why Ash Wednesday Matters- Relevant
All this captured in one smudge—one smear of the ashen cross on my forehead that serves as a symbol of a most poignant paradox of our faith: God brings life out of the sin and suffering. It signifies that He did this with every heavy step Jesus took toward the cross and that He does this with us, with every burdened and broken step we take in this life.On Ash Wednesday and throughout Lent, we’re invited to a time to look at our missteps and our regrets, our longings and our losses, and offer them all to God, who not only accepts them but transforms them.
I really Rachel Held Evans 40 Ideas for Lent 2013  and this  thorn wreath is a great idea to do with kids during Lent.

The Mirror and the Periscope- Seth Godin

I am so thankful for this time away to think and relax and enjoy the kids and a change of pace and scenery.

One of the best parts of this trip has been to spend time with some old friends who were a huge influence on my life, and I am thinking a lot about influence and friendship and what they mean. Looking forward to writing more on that soon.

Later, Alligator . . . 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Observing Lent With Children

This is a re-post from last year, the ways that we observe Lent as a family.

This year the season of Lent begins on Wednesday, February 13 and ends on Saturday, March 30.

Kids love symbols, and Lent is a good time to use symbols to teach our kids spiritual truth.  Being reluctant to practice any kind of religious observance that will cause dread or fear in my kids, I am careful how we approach Lent, and I do not ask them to give anything up or fast, but try to focus on what we do for Lent. 

I removed many of the decorations from our home and replaced them with purple cloth and bare branches, and a pot of aloe on the mantel which is the language for grief or sorrow.  On Easter morning the bare branches bloom with bright bouquets of flowers.

A dark, wintery painting hangs in our living room throughout Lent, which on Easter morning is  replaced with a painting of vibrant color. Last year I had the girls paint it.

On Ash Wednesday we make crosses with ash on paper and go around the table and each name something that is sad or heavy in the world.  For each problem named we add a stone to a box, and then along with the stones is placed a paper with the word “Hallelujah”.  We explained that even with all of these problems and sadness in the world, we still can say Hallelujah, Praise God.  Then we bury the box in the backyard.  On Easter morning we unearth our Hallelujah, and the stones have “turned into” sparkly gems or butterflies.  One day all shall be made well.

I printed out a calendar for the 40 days of Lent for the kids to color each day.  Each day we pray for a specific thing: our President, pastors, school, etc.  We talk about ways that we can bless others.

During Lent we will be on the look-out for signs of spring (resurrection!).  We will bring them home to display on our nature table, or to color in a "spring-sightings" journal.

In the weeks leading up to Easter we will be spring cleaning; sorting out, washing up, giving away.

One of our favorite Easter traditions is to make Resurrection Rolls on the Saturday before Easter, to serve with our Easter dinner.  Very simple and memorable way to explain the resurrection to young children.

Of course all of this is only a tangible reminder, an outward work to turn us to the real work of Lent which is self-examination, self-denial, repentance: a clean heart. Now we are truly ready to celebrate the resurrection.

Great post by Rachel Held Evans: 40 Ideas for Lent.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

all we needed

Oh, January.
Forget everything I said about the calmest weeks of midwinter because although yes the children are calmer and content, January does no such thing for their mother. After being housebound with the kids for these many weeks I began to feel it's effects . . . which is a nice way of saying that the end of January left me hanging from it's icy ragged edge.

Here are some things that helped put me back together this week:

13 Things Not to do When You Have PMS- My Life and Kids

Longing for Grace Toward Ourselves- Practical Theology for Women

I so love this kitchen- Flower Patch Farmgirl

What is Self-Righteousness and Why is it Annoying- Don Miller

Christian communities are loaded with these people because, well, we’ve got lots of rules. And not only do we have lots of rules, they’re rules established by God. That’s like crack for a person who is given to comparing themselves to others.

Kingdom Come- Thoughts on the Wait- The RunaMuck

Don’t we all have tax-collector souls? Aren’t we just begging that a friend would come over and pop the cork, hear our hearts and send us in the unwavering direction of truth? We keep finding ourselves begging forgiveness and screwing up at the same things over and over again. Is Jesus still my friend? I see so many eyes ask that question. If He were hearing me, why am I not acting better or why haven’t I found healing? And with these questions, the problem is then what to do with all the guilt and shame.
To the list of endangered species could we
please add the language of kindness?

Hating President Obama (in Jesus's name)

These are the same people who believe the "The Left" to be void of God, Jesus, faith, religion, and morals (and that's not true) AND YET, they still hold these "godless liberal good-for-nothing voters" to the same values that Christ called them too. How can you expect a group of people who are supposedly "godless" to be kind and diplomatic when you, "The God-Fearing-and-Loving Evangelical Right" have zero ability to showcase your frustration with sanity and spellcheck?

Outside it is snowing snowing snowing, and I have a hot cup of tea, and more writing to do.  
I wish that I "could come over, and pop the cork, and hear your heart". .. until then, I'm here wishing you a good cup of tea today, or whatever it is you need to be put back together.

Friday, February 1, 2013

pay attention: setting boundaries and building community through technology

The new year came and I resolved to pay attention.

So far, this has been my favorite resolution to keep.

At the same time I am reading the book Boundaries.

Boundaries change everything.

They definitely affect my ability to pay attention.

I hadn't thought of myself as a boundary-less person . . .
the book has been around forever but I didn't think I needed to read it.
Somehow I had developed the perception that boundaries are selfish.
They're not.

I probably won't be writing any more about the book-
but I encourage anyone-
unable to say No . ..
to read this book.
Then, if you are a parent read Boundaries with Kids.

One of the places difficult for me to set boundaries is in (of course) technology.

If you have read this blog at all you are familiar with my continual grappling in this area.
Maybe I feel so frustrated by technology because it can end up controlling me.
(I actually feel guilty when I do not engage with friends' status on fb- which is so many levels of ridiculous.)

Wendell Berry said he is not anti-technology, he is pro-community.

(I read this somewhere and now I cannot find it- I hope it is true and that I attribute this to him correctly, it seems like a statement he would make.)

This has been my goal in January, to pay attention by setting boundaries with technology and, if possible, to seek community through technology.

I started by unsubscribing to any and every newsletter that was filling up my inbox.
So long, JCrew, Land's End, Eddie Bauer.
Good-bye Today's Christian Woman, I never read you anyway.

Next, it's blogs.
Anything too snarky, mean-spirited, anything leaving me insecure or anxious, with more pressure to do, be, perform. We only have so many minutes of this one wild and precious life and I refuse to spend any of them comparing myself to others. I am paying attention after all, and that means right here and now, this beautiful messy ordinary. Many blogs do just the opposite- rooting me deeper, shining light, and these I will always follow.

And of course, there is facebook.
Oh, why can't I just bring myself to delete my account completely?
(and why, facebook, must you have such an inelegant name? You would annoy me less if you weren't called facebook).

One would think that facebook is a way to build community, and it can, but after five years I do not necessarily feel closer to most of my friends, and often it seems to do the opposite.

There are exceptions. This is why I am still on fb:
1. My friends in other parts of the world or the country who I do not get to see and want to stay connected with.
2. I have some really intelligent friends and I enjoy their links and thoughts on things.
3. I sincerely love to be able to rejoice with and weep with my friends, and unfortunately fb seems to be the best way to do that.
4. The Onion.

I am in general remaining logged off, but for the times when I do log on I am once again guiltlessly, ruthlessly unsubscribing. This is the best way for me to build community on facebook- because I want to still like these friends, and that may be best protected if I am blissfully unaware of all of their opinions.

Some ways to build community with technology:

1. Our small group at church has been unable to work out a time that suits everyone to meet, and so we used Google+ for a hangout one night. It definitely doesn't take the place of meeting IRL, but it's a nice way to connect with a group of people.

2. I am liking Google+ more and more

2. Facebook threads; personal, thoughtful email; Skype

3. I have a friend who sends beautiful handwritten letters, I need to be better about sending mail.

4. I still find blogs to be my favorite online form of connection. Blogs can offer more than a detached thought or opinion; they are stories and journeys and can be vulnerable and honest and open, inviting thoughtful discussion and building community, even among people I have never met.

5. The very best way to build community through technology is still by turning it off.

How do you build community through technology?