Brother Thomas

“Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.”
                                                                                                                       – John 20:24

I don’t know where Thomas was when Jesus first appeared to the disciples after the resurrection, but he wasn’t with the others. The disciples had all assembled, doors locked in fear of the religious leaders…and probably of Rome, too. Crucifixions were common, and often it wasn’t just the leader of a movement who went down. Rome would crucify thousands of people at a time to put down revolts. It’s no wonder they were hiding. It’s no wonder Thomas wasn’t around. We aren’t told where he was, but I can imagine.

Maybe Thomas went home. Head hung low in shame for abandoning the family and their livelihood a few years back to follow the young, upstart Rabbi from Nazareth. Others had dropped fishing nets and left tax booths, broken open priceless bottles of ointment just to sit at Jesus’ feet.

What had Thomas left behind?

Did he try going back to that place, to those people when it all fell apart with Jesus?

Maybe Thomas was hiding. We’re told that when Jesus was arrested that the disciples scattered. Maybe Thomas wandered out into the wilderness somewhere, ducking the Roman soldiers and the temple elites. Devastated. Alone. Terrified.

What now?

We aren’t told where Thomas was, but we know he wasn’t there when Mary brought the news of the unthinkable and unimaginable. We know he wasn’t there when Peter rushed to the tomb to see for himself. We know he wasn’t there on the first day of the week when Jesus appeared to the disciples assembled in the house.

He wasn’t there.

I’ve always looked down on Thomas a little bit. Why wouldn’t you be there? Why wouldn’t you trust your closest friends when they told you that the thing you couldn’t even hope for had happened?  He was painted as some sort of bumbling idiot in Sunday school, “that doubting Thomas, don’t be like him. Trust the words of Jesus, He is risen! Risen indeed!”

I’m starting to understand Thomas.

I understand declining the invitation to sit in the dark house, doors locked, praying that they don’t come and arrest you too.

No, thanks. I’ll pass.

Where was Thomas?
I don’t know, but I probably would have been with him.

I’m the type of person who has contingency plans for my contingency plans. The crucifixion didn’t catch the disciples totally off-guard. You couldn’t say the things Jesus said, do the things Jesus did, bring together the people Jesus brought together and survive the empire.  As the writing on the wall started to become clear, I probably would have made some sort of exit strategy. When Jesus gets arrested, where do I hide? Who do is safe to turn to for help? Who can I trust not to turn me over to the empire, too?

We all want to believe we would have stayed by Jesus’ side till the end, but I’m fairly certain I would have been right there with the rest of his followers fleeing the scene.

I paint myself as an idealist, but I’m really more of a cynic with an affinity for sunshine.
I understand why Thomas wasn’t there.

But then, Thomas also came back.

Maybe those who had stayed sent word to him.
Maybe Mary found him somewhere and talked to him.
Maybe there were murmurs spreading and he caught wind somehow.
Maybe they all knew where he was the whole time, and it just took him awhile to make his way back to the house.

He found his way back somehow.

And the news was unbelievable. Literally.

“Unless I see the wounds, unless I touch them myself, I won’t believe it.”

It’s not like resurrection was such an improbable reality for Thomas. He had been there when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. He had seen resurrection with his own eyes, embraced new life with his very arms. But this was closer to home. This loss was more costly. Lazarus was a friend, but he died from illness. Jesus was his teacher, his leader, and he was executed by the state.

Thomas had seen life spring up from death.

Was it worth the risk this time?

Hope is birthed from a vulnerable place, it costs us something.  Thomas had already lost a lot. He had given up home, family and livelihood. He had already done the work of reimagining his life, of letting old dreams die, of dreaming something new. And now even the new dreams were dashed.

Are you seriously asking me to hope again?

I wasn’t ready for Easter this year.
For new life, new hope, resurrection.

I’m still sitting in the unknown of Holy Saturday. The tense, aching place between the shadow of a cross and the weight of the tomb.

We don’t talk about it often, but there’s grace for this space, too. For those of us who are stuck on Saturday. Our brother, Thomas, is familiar with the place in which we find ourselves.

We like to say “You’ve just got to have faith – even the size of a mustard seed!” 
But what we neglect to say is that even mustard seeds must be covered in earth before they spring to life. Even mustard seeds must wonder as they come undone in the dark if anything good will come from their burial.

 

“F*ck this” and Farandolae – 2016 in Review

I started 2016 off the way I start every January – full of drive and optimism with a carefully color-coded planner and a pile of books to read. I know I’m not unique in this, almost everyone I know becomes more ambitious, dedicated and idealistic as January 1 draws near.

 

I went to Florida last January for a training retreat with a direct sales company I was working for at the time. I was only working the business on the side with no intentions to try to grow it to a full-time income, but I live in Wisconsin and it was an opportunity to go to Florida in January. Reason enough for me.

There were lots of encouraging and empowering talks, mostly about how to grow your business and be more intentional with structuring your time. My biggest takeaway though was finally feeling determined and confident enough to finish filling out my applications for seminary – which I had been halfway kicking around in a Word document for about three years. Being away for the weekend also meant I had time to devote my undivided attention to completing the essay portion of the applications.

My fingers trembled as I wrote.  Once again, I felt myself get swept up in that all to familiar wave of self-doubt and uncertainty. Who am I to think I can do this anyway? 

Lots of people talk about following your dreams; some will even tell you about how much work it takes to achieve them, but I’ve found it’s rare for people to talk about how pursuing your dreams can unleash all kinds of ghosts from your past and skeletons long since buried in your closet.

In A Wrinkle in Time (which I read for the first time in June of 2016, I know.) Madeleine L’Engle compares our lives to sonnets: “You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself. What you say is completely up to you.”

I know myself well enough to know the general form my life has always bent toward, but I struggle sometimes to pick up the pen and write it. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I often operate in such a way that it’s as if the things which are supposed to happen in my life just will – without any effort or alignment on my part at all.

It’s silly to think this, of course, but opening yourself up and actually working to shape your life the way you want it – “writing your sonnet” – requires some level of vulnerability.
If I never actually say what I want out of life; if I never spend the time and energy and work for my dream, then I can’t be broken if (when) I fail.

Again, from A Wrinkle in Time, L’Engle writes: “To love is to be vulnerable; and it is only in vulnerability and risk—not safety and security—that we overcome darkness.” I have long approached life with a degree of care to not open myself up to too much unknown (or at least, to make sure that God and the universe understands that I am very displeased when my “unknown” quota has been breached).

What if loving yourself and loving this life you’ve been given comes about only through living life with authenticity and vulnerability?

What if self-preservation and image management isn’t the answer, and – in fact – is actually the biggest threat to you living a fulfilled and happy life?

My fear of failure, or of things just turning out differently or less than I imagine them to be will always be present, but that fear doesn’t get to drive my life – or write my sonnet. In 2016 I learned to put fear in the backseat (to borrow from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic), and to embrace the unknowing of opening yourself up.

Over the summer I had the opportunity to practice this openness to unknowing again, when both of my paternal grandparents passed away. I grew up next door to them, and their presence is almost as much a backdrop for my childhood as that of my parents.

Losing my grandparents opened up all kinds of questions about who I am and what kind of legacy I want to leave. If my fear of failure pushed me to answer “what kind of sonnet am I writing?” the loss of my grandparents pushed me to ask “am I writing my sonnet fast enough?” and “is it worth writing at all?”

Grief is often the gateway to the parts of ourselves we had otherwise forgotten. Like a child stumbling into a long-lost secret garden, what we do once we find ourselves thrust through the gateway of grief is crucial.

I chose to dig deep. I started seeing a therapist again. I started writing more, and writing things that it will be a long time before they ever grace the internet – if ever.  I learned that perhaps I hadn’t made as much progress as I’d hoped in my personal growth.

It has been a sobering journey to say the least.

I had been operating under the assumption that I as I worked toward self-knowledge and development, that as I grew spiritually and became more mature that life would somehow get easier and less confusing. The events of 2016 convinced me otherwise.

I found myself thinking over and over again of Farandolae. In L’Engle’s A Wind in the Door these fictitious creatures are beyond microscopic, and yet the fate of the universe rides on their survival. The Farandolae are distracted though, enchanted by the ease and fun of a life skimming above the surface. It is imperative, for the survival of all things, that the Farandolae settle down and “Deepen” but this is the more difficult choice for the tiny creatures. It requires stillness and time, and virtually everything that is not fun or sexy.

I’m coming to realize that growth is less like a flight plan with a determined place of arrival, and more like a Farandolae Deepening – a still, silent, slow journey downward and inward…then outward again.

I’m learning that to grow roots mean that sometimes you have to dig up the hard ground in which you’ve been planted, and that sometimes that process is painful.

I’m learning that leaning in to the wholeness and healing God offers also means becoming acutely aware of where all the missing and wounded pieces are in your life – and that part sucks.

I’m learning that Jesus wasn’t kidding about the denial of self, the carrying of a cross, the losing of life to find it.

It’s all so much less “up and to the right” than I expected grown-up life to be, but somehow that’s still okay.

2016 had many moments that left me swearing under my breath (or not so much under my breath) but it also had so many moments that took my breath away, and pulled me deeper spiritually, mentally, intellectually, emotionally and relationally than I’ve ever been before.

So here’s to both:
The “f*ck its” and the Farandolae,
The discouragement and the Deepening,
and the life that is present in all these things.

Thank you, 2016.

Finding God in the Waves: A Book Review

I hated listening to people talk on the radio or recordings for a very long time.
I blame my Mother’s love of listening to talk radio when I was a child.
(Can’t we just listen to music please???)

My husband, Ben, on the other hand, puts on a podcast whenever he’s doing any sort of menial task. Dishes, folding laundry, driving home from work, waiting for the microwave popcorn to pop.

About a year ago he finally convinced me that podcasts were a great way to learn things or be entertained, that they really weren’t all about sports or economics and that I could definitely find some that focused on theology or art or storytelling.

It didn’t take very long before I had a steady rotation of 6-10 podcasts I would listen to each morning while running.

One of the podcasts that quickly made its way into my rotation was The Liturgists. 

I had followed Michael Gungor’s work as a musician for years, but the other co-host – Science Mike – was new to me.

Like Science Mike, I also grew up in the south and the lions share of my church experience had been spent in the Southern Baptist Convention. I too had undergone a sizable shift in my faith in recent years.

Unlike Science Mike I have never considered myself an atheist and I can’t talk about quantum physics in casual conversation.

I was intrigued by the way science seemed to make Mike’s faith richer and more nuanced, and soon his other podcast Ask Science Mike was in steady rotation during my morning runs as well.

I’ve always enjoyed science, even though it didn’t fit with my conservative, evangelical upbringing. I never bothered to try to reconcile faith and science though. For a long time, I just accepted that science made fact claims that contradicted what the Bible said, and I was okay living with the knowledge of the mystery and tension. It was the elephant in the room of my consciousness, but I just moved a big armoire in front of the tension and called it a day.  Science Mike helped me unpack some of those unreconciled pieces of faith and science and  bring a whole new level of richness to my faith.

I’d believed in a Creator God for most of my life, but learning to see the science of life not as a contradiction but the means in which God was at work took my vision of Creator from one who colored-by-number to one more along the lines of Picasso.

“The heavens declare the glory of God”
….and the neuroscience proclaims God’s handiwork.

So when Mike announced he was writing a book, I knew it would be at the top of my never-ending list.  As expected, Finding God in the Waves combines vivid, compelling narrative with deep-dives into scientific facts in a way only Science Mike could combine them.

It’s irresistibly fresh and comfortingly familiar, kind of like when salted caramel burst on to the flavor scene. Your pallet for ways we talk about the spiritual will never be the same again.

For those unfamiliar with Mike and his podcast, the first half of the book is memoir. Mike recounts his story of growing up in the church, coming to faith, and then of losing his faith in God and becoming an “undercover atheist” while still attending (and teaching Sunday School) at his Southern Baptist church.

In the second half of the book, Mike dives deep and unpacks the science behind what he calls his “Axioms About Christian Faith.”

Science Mike borrow the term “axiom” from philosophy. In brief, his axioms are “ideas that can be accepted without further inquiry” about the Christian faith. He has axioms for major tenants of the Christian such as  God, prayer, Jesus, sin, the Church, and the Bible – among others.

During the last five chapters of the book, Science Mike walks the reader through the question and the science behind the formation of each of these axioms.  The result is a whirlwind trip through the basics of cosmology, neuroscience, and anthropology with splashes of fine art tossed in for good measure.

Mike describes his axioms as “woefully short” of Christian orthodoxy, but he’s okay with that. Instead of seeking to home in on or prove orthodoxy, he says his axioms are “a life raft for people who can’t get on board with the supernatural claims about God yet still want to be close to God.”

I’ve never been quite in need of a life raft personally, but there have been significant seasons in which I’ve felt as though my boat were dead in the water. Science Mike’s axioms are more like fresh wind in my sails, pushing the bounds on the ways I think about, talk about and view God.

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If you grew up with a faith in God that now seems too small or out of touch with the world you find yourself in now – this book is for you.

If you believed in God at one point, but have long since stopped believing – this book is for you.

If you’ve never believed, but you’re curious about why someone would believe in God – this book is for you.

…Or if you’d just like to know the neuroscience behind why prayer makes you feel more at peace.

I cannot recommend Finding God in the Waves highly enough.

You can find a copy of your own on Amazon, at Barnes and Noble, or wherever books are sold.

 

Justice in Education for All

Evangelical Christians often champion the ‘sanctity of life.’ This phrase typically refers only to abortion. Many Evangelicals argue that a culture that allows legal abortion does not truly value human life. While many Evangelicals have fought against abortion for decades, we have yet to see a movement that expands the idea of ‘sanctity of life’ to fighting for the ‘quality of life.’ If we truly believe that all life is sacred, then the logical conclusion is that once a life is born we continue to fight for that life to have equal opportunities to live up to its potential.* – Nicole Baker Fulgham

When I think about the disparities in the education system, I don’t just think about how some schools succeed and others fail, I think about the ways that our perceptions skew which schools are capable of success or failure. How the way we perceive certain students or certain neighborhoods determines whether or not we ascribe value and sacredness to their lives…

Read the rest at A Sista’s Journey.

Riding in on a donkey

“It just all seems so…divided.”
The descant rolls on and on from so many of my friends and peers; believers from all walks of life.
The words are paced with shocking consistency. They are set to a meter like a metronome, the rise and fall undifferentiated.

And it’s true, I can’t remember a time in my short life when things seemed this hotly debated and starkly contrasted in the “big C,” universal Church.  We can barely even break bread with one another any more, and you can just forget about even suggesting we discuss some topic of significance while we feast on the bread and wine.

But maybe, just maybe, Jesus knew it was going to be like this all along.

Perhaps this is why He took the time to pray that we would be one and He and the Father are one.

Perhaps we need only to look to the coronation procession of our King to see what kind of march His kingdom would have.

Look, your king is coming to you, humble and riding on a donkey…”
Declares the prophet Zechariah as quoted in the book of Matthew.


Image

Photo: Sea Turtle via Flickr

Have you ever seen anyone try to ride a donkey?

Or just watched someone try to lead or direct a donkey to a certain location?

It’s comparable to herding cats or catching chickens or getting small children to stand in a straight line, only it’s slower, smellier, more awkward and you may get kicked.

Can you imagine how long it would have taken for Jesus to parade into Jerusalem?

Did the donkey balk at the crowds, stubbornly refusing to budge in any direction?

Was the animal braying loudly as the people cried “Hosanna!” nearly drowning their praise with its own contribution to the chorus?

I’ve heard people talk about the significance of the donkey multiple times, how the donkey was a sign that Jesus was coming in peace, not with the political, militaristic take over they expected the Messiah to have.  That the donkey shows us Christ’s humility.  And these things are true.

But as Christ marches into the city, a royal procession to ring in the new and yet coming kingdom, He chooses to ride in on the most awkward, misstepping, stubborn creature possible. (Which sounds incredibly liken to another creature I know of that has been commissioned to carry Christ to the masses.)

Maybe as He rides in on a donkey, Jesus isn’t just making a statement of peace or humility, maybe He is once more poetically, prophetically declaring “The Kingdom of God is like…”  as He did so many times before.

The Kingdom of God moves painfully slow…
Like a kingly procession mounted on donkeys.

The Kingdom of God is awkward and wayward…
Like a colt not yet ridden.

I imagine the entry into Jerusalem looked less triumphant and more gauche.
The Word that called the donkey into being now coaxing it one deliberate step forward at a time.

Isn’t this what the Kingdom of God is like?

That Jesus coaxes us forward, one step at a time?  Slowly, graciously, with heart wrenching patience.

This Kingdom does not come swiftly with domineering power and prestige, but slowly, with obstinance binding each move.  The King gently nudging us along.

As we step into a week of remembrance, I think back on the things I would rather forget in the history, and deny in the present, of the global Church.

The oppression and violence of the Inquisition.

The Crusades.

The Salem Witch Trials.

Culpability with slavery and genocide on several occasions.

Our affinity for segregation of many kinds.

Yet, even in remembering the seemingly irreconcilable mess of misguided worship and injurious evangelism of my Kingdom, I find hope.

Because the King is riding in on a donkey.

This slow, awkward, reluctant gait is how Jesus chose to usher in the Kingdom in the first place.

So we live in anticipation of the coming King and His beautiful, terrifying, upside-down Kingdom.

The lament of division and tension rolls on while we cut down our brothers and sisters as though they were palm branches to wave on high, creating a spectacle. But even now, in the midst of all this, we join in the ancient chorus “Hosanna! God save us! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”

We raise a ruckus and lay down the very clothes off our back because we can see in a distance the King is coming.

…But He is riding on a donkey.

That Time I Gave Away Half of My Clothes (and other ideas on how to practice simplicity during Lent)

Photo: beccaberry via Flickr

Photo: beccaberry via Flickr

It was over a year ago now (but it seems like just last week) when I noticed it.  Piles everywhere. Clean clothes, dirty clothes, outfits tried on and off and discarded for a more preferable option before leaving for a morning meeting.

Piles and piles and piles.

And at once, I was over it.

Enough was enough, and I had too much.

It was on that day I legitimately took half of the clothes I owned and put them into garbage bags.
Many of the items I still wore.  Many of the items I still liked.  In fact, I intentionally gave away a few favorites, just to show myself I could – in fact – live without those things.

I stashed the bags in my attic, a little afraid of getting rid of half of my wardrobe flat out.
But after a week or so, I didn’t miss it any more.  In fact, I kind of enjoyed having less laundry to do and more motivation to actually fold it and put it away.

Ben noticed the change and axed half of his wardrobe too.  After a couple months we worked up the guts to fully let go and take our bags of clothing down to the Rescue Mission.

After that, we implemented a “one in one out” rule for clothing.  If we buy a new (which usually means new-to-us) article of clothing, it means either:
A) the one we had was worn beyond being wearable or
B) we are choosing just to update something, so we give the other one away.

We try to only buy what we need, and we buy consignment, vintage or fair trade whenever possible.

Our clothing choices are one of the ways we practice simplicity in our every day lives.

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This week during Lent I’m focusing on the discipline of simplicity, and how I can further practice it in my day to day living.  One idea I saw the other day is to give a small amount of money (quarter or dime) to a church or charity each time you see a commercial on television.  Wow!

I love the thought behind this one. Advertisements are always feeding us the lie that we need more, more, more!  That we are, at our very core, meant to consume.  The discipline of giving something for each commercial reminds us that we are something more than a consumer, it reminds us of the bigger Story – the true Story to which we all belong.

What about you?  What are some ways your practice simplicity in your everyday life?
How can you deepen your practice of simplicity during Lent?

Owned (A Lenten Meditation on Excess and Simplicity)

fashion

Photo: 28 Dreams via Flickr

I’ve found myself altogether discontent lately.

Maybe it’s just that I’m tired of wearing snow boots and my sub-zero parka every day.

Maybe it’s just that the sunlight never seems to come bright enough, for long enough.

Maybe it’s that as I pound out miles on the treadmill, unattainable images of which to measure beauty by flash on the TV in front of me.

I turn it off and toss my sweatshirt over the display, but the images still play through my mind.

Nothing is right.

My clothes seem stained or outdated.  The sole on the toe of my boot is coming undone.  The circles under my eyes hang heavy, despite the amount of sleep I get.  The curve of my body seems altogether not right.

My first thought is to update.

What new product can I buy?  What piece of clothing is my wardrobe missing?  How can I cover and change and contort the curves of my body and lines of my face?

How can I hide?

I am told, over and over as my feet pound on and on that this or that or some other thing will fill the hole, will make it okay.

The treadmill hums beneath me while an immaculate blonde woman explains the trends for this spring.  How eight simple pieces can carry you through the season.

I take mental notes.

hummmmmm. hummmmmm. hummmmmm.

Discontent and dull.

Like the snow stuck on the side of the road for too many months now.

I click and browse after putting Cadence to bed.

New lines, new fits, new colors, all promising what I’m lacking.

I find myself in a store.

I go through and try on shirt after shirt, a dress and new jeans.  I check the stickers and can’t justify it.

Pesky numbers.  I know how many children that sum would feed.  I know that the price would help a woman my age anywhere else start her own business, or send her child to school.

I check the tags and know the way laborers are treated in those factories.  Bangladesh. India. Thailand.  I think of the women and men and children who likely won’t see a cent from the sale of these articles of clothing they – quite literally – slaved over.

I put the items back and leave the store.

Going home, I empty my closet.

Shoes and skirts and pants tossed into paper grocery bags.

I head to the mission immediately, before I can reconsider.

Before I can talk myself back in to “maybe wearing that sweater someday.”

Before I think of an excuse to keep those shoes around “just in case.”

Dropping the bags, the sun seems brighter.  My own parka and snow boots don’t seem so bad.

I find myself thankful for their warmth and protection from the biting wind in late February.

It make me wonder…

If I’m told a million ways each day that what I wear and look like, what I paint my face with and what fills my closet, that these are the things that bring me happiness.  Yet, they leave me empty and only wanting more.  If I’m told that I am worth what I purchase and ultimately what I own, yet feel lost with these things, then who, really, is the owner?

It’s a constant battle.  I work continuously at convincing myself that the discipline it takes to live simply is worth it.  Keeping up with the Jones’s would be much easier in some many respects.

I know this though, that I am worth – we are all worth – more than sparrows and fields of flowers, more than any splendor in nature or made by the hands of humanity.  We have been bought with the highest, greatest price and ascribed worth beyond measure.

Why would I settle to be owned by anything less that the Creator and Sustainer of my very being?

A slightly more empty closet, and a few less knick-knacks about the house, and I find myself seeing things through a mirror slightly less dim.

I realize I am owned by the things I think belong to me.  That more often than not, I am possessed by my possessions.

But this is, of course, what Lent is for; it’s why we are called and commanded to live simply.

And like so many things in this life following the servant Messiah, the way out seems awkward and against every intuition.

Contentment lies not in finally obtaining that which I long for, but in seeing unveiled all I truly have and perhaps (more often than not) sharing much of what has been entrusted to my care.

Because I am the owner of nothing, and it’s only in realizing this that I find freedom from being owned.