Archives For abiding

Poets of People

August 26, 2014

A friend told me that he and I are farmers at heart, driven by seasons and weather, but that right now we’re called to cultivate people instead of earth. I cried when he said that because people are made of earth too, but it’s hard to tell with all the concrete around.

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A few weeks ago I met with one of my pastors who stared incredulously at me when I listed all the things I’m doing and how spent by it all I am.

“Lore,” he said, “that’s because you’re a poet. You need time for reflection and perfection. And all this doesn’t seem conductive to that. You need time to sow.”

I nearly wept right there. It has been a long time since someone said those words to me and I had forgotten.

“You are a poet.”

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Mondays are roommate nights in our house. We finish whatever chores are in our envelopes, cook dinner, set the table, sit in our respective chairs, and spend the next few hours being together. There is no agenda apart from that. We sow into one another with laughter, knowledge, prayer, questions.

The candles drip wax on our tablecloth, proof that dinner goes long and we are in no rush.

After the meal is finished we read the bible aloud. Last night we add some poetry (Walt Whitman) and the birth of Cain as told by Madeleine L’Engle. Then one pulls out her guitar and we sing. Not spiritual songs and hymns, but whatever comes to mind. We end the night going to separate rooms, but not before saying, “I love you,” to every one. Because in this home we are working the ground of Already and Not Yet.

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I’ve been reading in Genesis this week, the creation account. Thinking about design and flaw, disobedience and animal skin, craftiness and provision. God gave his people what they needed, even after they chose exactly what they didn’t need. But before all that, he blessed them and gave them something to cultivate.

And God blessed them.

And God said to them,
“Be fruitful
multiply

fill the earth
subdue it,
have dominion
over the fish of the sea
over the birds of the heavens

over every living thing
that moves on the earth.”

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It was Friedrich Nietzsche who said, “The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is that there should be a long obedience in the same direction,” and I think of rows of tilled soil whenever I think of that quote. Eugene Peterson used it as a title for his book on discipleship. What is discipleship if not cultivating the earth by cultivating people? And how do we cultivate people if we do not do the slow work of farming, working in proper seasons and times? Perhaps discipleship is the work of poets, those “holding onto the mystery of faith with clear consciences?” Poets are the the seers, the nuance holders, and the farmers.

“God, make me a poet of people.”

longobedience

The Questions God Asks

August 24, 2014

I can’t shake the heaviness. It’s been there for weeks, months, a year. A funeral shroud. “Where, oh death, is your sting?” Oh, it’s here. All here.

I’ve been thinking of Mary in the garden these days, weeping by the tomb, the empty tomb. Standing by the evidence that her Lord had risen and she didn’t even recognize the man who asked, “Why are you crying? And whom do you seek?”

But he knew.

And that’s what I’m stumbling around all these days. He knew and he still asked. She sought him dead in a tomb and found him raised in newness of life, and still mourned. Couldn’t help but mourn because what she wanted most in the world was gone.

Foresight is the luxury of the hopeful.

Tonight one of my pastors said the same word for steadfastness in Titus 2 is the word for hope. How often is my steadfastness directed toward lesser hopes though? I set my face like steel, my heart like stone, and will accept nothing less (or more) than my savior exactly where I saw Him last.

Why are you crying and whom do you seek?

And then:

Why do you seek the living among the dead?

When I look at the sprawl of this past year, the death of hopes and dreams and plans, every thwarted hope, I’m trying to sort through all the loss and find one living thing. One shred of life among the dead. Like Lot’s wife, I take one more longing look at the loss. Hoping for what? Steadfastly searching tombs for a savior who will always be seven steps ahead of me?

Where are you and why aren’t you where I saw you last?

Today I read, “In the new age of the resurrection, the Lord’s first words to an individual person were to ask, ‘Why are you crying?’” And then I wept. Because all I have felt like is faithless Mary at the empty tomb for weeks, months, a year. Begging my eyes to be playing tricks on me. But never have I noticed the first words Christ spoke were words of acknowledgement, “Why are you crying?”

Because he sees.

It was Mary who did not see and it is me who does not see. But he sees. His steadfast (hope-filled) love endures forever. And he sees.

And then he calls her name: Mary.

Hemingway said, “The world breaks everyone, and afterward we are strong at the broken places.” I wrote that quote on an index card when I read it in high school and didn’t know how prophetic it would prove to be in my life.

Who has believed our report?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant,
And as a root out of dry ground.
He has no form or comeliness;
And when we see Him,
There is no beauty that we should desire Him.
He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

Someone said, a few years ago, “Teach your kids they’re broken, deeply broken,” and the internet swarmed and stung in response. No one wants to believe deep inside the horrible, awful, no good truth. That the gears inside of me will keep getting stuck and rusty, jamming up in inopportune places and too small spaces. No one wants to believe the brokenness on the outside points a terrible truth about the inside.

Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

It’s not a prosperity gospel to believe that the brokenness on the inside of us results in wars and rumors of wars, gunned down black boys on city streets, cancer, and genocide. It is not a transactional brokenness: you broke me, so I’ll break you. Or, more honestly, I broke me, so He breaks me more. But it is a cause and effect of sorts. Deeply broken people don’t turn the other cheek, not only in war, but also at home when the floor doesn’t get swept and it’s his turn to do the dishes and someone was uncaring or uncouth. It starts with the small fractures and leads to the tremors and quakes until we are all shattered pieces and wondering how we got here.

He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He opened not His mouth;
He was led as a lamb to the slaughter,
And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.
He was taken from prison and from judgment,
And who will declare His generation?
For He was cut off from the land of the living;
For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.
And they made His grave with the wicked—
But with the rich at His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was any deceit in His mouth.

The world does break everyone and it is not for nothing to say we are stronger at the broken places. I heard it said recently that good eschatology says “The bad gets worse, the good gets better, and the mushy middle is done away with.” I groan for that and so do we all.

The mushy middle is what breaks us, that pliable and soft already/not yet we live in. We groan for the culmination of the kingdom, the new heaven, the new earth, but we’re still here, where missiles fall every four minutes and Christians claw their way into a helicopter from an Iraq hilltop, and journalists are tear-gassed and officers act hastily, and my friend has a tumor and it’s cancerous, and where the tears won’t stop falling this morning because we are broken, yes, it is true. We are deeply broken.

But, on our behalf, so was he.

Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him;
He has put Him to grief.
When You make His soul an offering for sin,
He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days,
And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.
He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.
By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many,
For He shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great,
And He shall divide the spoil with the strong,
Because He poured out His soul unto death,
And He was numbered with the transgressors,
And He bore the sin of many,
And made intercession for the transgressors.

dillard

Jared Wilson taught me that writing about God and theology doesn’t mean being pedantic and dogmatic.

Tony Woodlief taught me that writing about the deepest angsts of life doesn’t mean being gratuitous and salacious.

Madeleine L’Engle taught me that writing to children doesn’t mean writing down to them, but writing up to everyone.

Annie Dillard taught me to collect stones and tree branches, and write about the ordinary things. That the whole earth groans.

Frederick Buechner taught me to write things as they are and sort through them after.

Andree Seu taught me to write the bible into everything and that we are written into the narrative before the foundations of the earth.

Lauren Winner taught me to write about the wrestling and not just the wrestled.

Wendell Berry taught me about peace in the wild things.

Donald Miller taught me that every church kid has a story, a lens through which we see the church, and a choice about what to do with both.

Flannery O’Connor taught me to be a student of all people, their stories and surroundings.

As I look over this list, I do not see the names of people who will go down in history for their theological correctness, their practiced wisdom, or even their verbal acuity. They are not men and women for whom the Christian life came/comes easily, seamlessly, or without glaring sins and sufferings. They are men and women not unlike those we see in the Bible—broken sinners using what was or is in their hands to navigate faith in a world that groans for its maker. These are the writers and thinkers who did not teach me what to think, but how to think, and I pray I am better for it.

I write this because if you want to be a better thinker (and writer), don’t read the ones who have their thoughts all thought out, bound in leather with gold inset; read the ones who are still thinking out loud as they write. Learn to fish, as the old adage goes, instead of feeding on another’s catch.

To Trust in Men

August 13, 2014

A few months ago I sat across from a pastor who took my shameful history and held up his own, point for point. It wasn’t a competition, it was a “You too? Me too.” I am grateful for men like him who do not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but stand on the level ground before the cross and say, “There’s room here. There’s room here.”

Have you been disappointed by leadership? Are you of Jesus and not the Church because pastors modeled for you less of Christ and more of self? Do you press against authority because it has failed you again and again? You are in the company of many, including myself.

In the evangelical world there are so many reasons to be disappointed by leaders, men and women who fail us, whom we fear or find fault with, who do not take seriously the responsibility to care for our souls, or who allow wolves to run rampant among the sheep. If you have felt that searing disappointment of broken trust, you are not alone.

Recent weeks have brought a deep sadness to my heart as I view the expanse of Christian leadership. Blog wars, tit for tat, volleying back and forth, exposing, naming, calling out, “standing for truth.” I feel like Elijah standing on the edge of the wilderness saying, “The people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left.”

Do you feel alone? Do you know the bible says to obey your leaders, submit to them, but do you just feel the betrayal of life and all it holds. Do you want, like Elijah, to find the nearest cave and create for yourself a monastery (1 Kings 19)?

You are not alone.

You suffer from the same plight that attached itself to Adam and Eve in the garden, and the enemy before them, and every one of us born after: the inability to trust authority.

When the rebellion in me, innate as my blue eyes and proclivity to melancholy, rises and makes itself known once again, I know one thing to be true in those moments.

It is not that my earthly authorities can be trusted. It is not that all things will work together. It is not even that my rebellion is idolatrous witchcraft (1 Samuel 15:23). The one thing I know is God is the author of all systems and order. He set lights in the sky and seas on the earth and grass on the fields and called it good. He ordained these times and these days for me, and I can trust him. Not because all things work together, but because even when they all fall down around me, He does not.

What I Pray For My Pastors

August 11, 2014

Every few weeks I tweet this: “People, pray for your pastors.

I do it because I need reminders that the men who lead my local church are faithful and godly, but still human and fallible. They hurt just like we do. They struggle to build systems just like we do. They need to repent just like we do. They aren’t superhuman. They’re fully human. So I pray for my pastors often. Not just my lead pastors (although I recognize they are more in the public eye more often), but for my groups pastors, our recovery pastors, our resource pastors, etc. I love the men who shoulder the pastoral responsibilty for my church. I respect them. I entrust myself to them. And because of that, I want to be invested in their fruitfulness. One way I can do that is through prayer.

Here are some things I pray for my pastors:

Pray they would love God above wife, wife above children, children above church, and church above their own life.
Pray they would mourn over their sin, instead of getting lost in busyness.
Pray their mourning over sin would lead to repentance and not death.
Pray they would set a watchman over their time, words, and family.
Pray they would not buckle under culture’s sway.
Pray they would lead with humility and gentleness, boldness and wisdom.
Pray they would ask for help when they need it and that we would give it quickly.
Pray they would rest.
Pray they would work hard.
Pray they would play.
Pray they would have minds that sharply divide the word of truth, and hearts that vulnerably discern the hearts of men.

Pray they would seek only God’s glory and not their own.

Here’s one more important thing I pray for them.

A Prayer for a New Home

August 1, 2014

I hand over the keys to our old house today, a final walk-through, the shades drawn, the wood floors shined and bare. I am not sad to leave, do not need one final wistful look behind me. The door closes and I pray the new occupants would banish every ghost we left behind.

It was a hard year in that home, one sweeping, rushing, crashing wave after another. Every time relief seemed near, another wave broke, and I couldn’t wait to leave.

I pray one prayer for our new home. Turning the words over in my mouth like communion bread, I let them dissolve on my tongue until I believe the truth they offer.

“Please, God, let our home be a place of peace. Please, God, let our home be marked by kindness and humility, gentleness and quiet, yes, quiet. Let it be a haven to the stranger, but even more, let it be a haven to those who live within.”

God answers prayer, I know this to be true because I have seen him do so. But I also know this to be true because he says he hears and comes and answers. Jesus said, “if you cannot believe in me, believe on the evidence of me,” but I think we know what his preferences would be.

The tempest rises and circumstances swirl around us, leaving us in tailspins: what went wrong and how? But one thing we know for certain, He does not change, he cannot change. He cannot deny himself—so even if I feel denied what I want and what I think I need, even if I am not comforted by the ways he has been faithful to me, I know he is being faithful to himself.

That may not comfort you, if following a God who is jealous for his own glory seems distasteful. But I cannot help but be comforted by it because I know all the ways I want his faithfulness to me to come would not be for my good, not really, not in the way I want them to be.

Please, God, let this home be a place of peace, of gentleness, of service to you and others. Please let it be a home where you prove your faithfulness to you. And when we cannot believe you are who you say you are, please give us evidence because we are made of earth and breath and are so fragile still.

earth

A Two-Part Invention

July 29, 2014

I have forgotten how to imagine. This year snuffed out my belief in the possible, brought me face to face with reality and it stung, over and over and over again.

I believe, help my unbelief.

I wake this morning in our new home, my bedroom at the back of the house cool, still dark, and quiet. The sound of a closing door, feet padding across carpet, the smell of coffee. These will be our morning rhythms now, the same, but different.

I believe.

Plans have changed and I find myself planted for another year in Texas. I’m grateful to have people wiser than I, and with better counsel, in my life, but cannot deny the panic I woke with yesterday, on moving day. I think I love our new home already, but want to imagine that imagination hasn’t gone the way of hope this year.

Help my unbelief.

Jesus is better than we imagine, but if we imagine nothing, then what is He better than? I feel soul-sucked and dry, that is the honest truth. Lonely and thirsting for things I love that he hasn’t promised me, not ever. But I want to imagine he’s better than all the mountains and seasons and people and clear air I ache for.

I believe.

The thing about mountains I love the most is not standing on top of them, though it is beautiful, to see so far, so deep. What I love more is standing beneath them. When the clouds part and the peaks show and I gasp. Who can imagine the time and folding and faulting that brings them to their full glory? I cannot. There is scope on the mountain top, bringing with it a grandeur. Here at the bottom, though, I am only small and inconsequential. Unimportant.

Help my unbelief.

He must increase, I must decrease.

I believe.

mountain

Liberty for All

July 23, 2014

My family isn’t from America. We’re Scotch-Irish. Family crests tattooed on flesh, bagpipes at weddings, hot tempers, strong drinks, and my older brother wore a kilt to his wedding: that kind of Scotch-Irish. I expect my ancestors were the sort coppers in the 19th century had their eyes on. We had the sort of Scotch-Irish lore that birthed a quiet pride in us all. We are Ferguson-Bradys, through and through.

I grew up outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, though, where we watched reenactments of Washington crossing the Delaware on Christmas, toured Valley Forge more times than I can remember, and the Liberty Bell was a familiar sight. We were Americana Americans. But as much as I felt like an American, I also knew I wasn’t this kind of American.

I am not of the colonial Americans; I am of the immigrant kind.

When this realization came upon me, I began to feel a somewhat deeper kinship with places like Ellis Island than I did with the statue of William Penn peeking above the rooftops in downtown Philly. Whether my ancestors came through Ellis Island didn’t matter to me, the reality was that I was of another place. William Penn was not mine in the same way those bedraggled masses filing through ports in New York City were mine.

Whenever I read the words of Emma Lazarus in her poem, The New Colossus, affixed to the Statue of Liberty, a small sob catches in my throat and an overwhelming gratitude fills my heart.

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I am more of Lady Liberty than I will ever be of William Penn. I am a sojourner in a country that is not my home. But even more than that, I am a spiritual sojourner in a land not my own, I am tired and poor, yearning to breath free, tempest-tossed, and more. My haven is secure and the same invitation is to everyone.

Right now we have thousands of children crossing into our borders. Escaping poverty, violence, corruption, and danger in their homeland. They are six and seven years old, some are sixteen and seventeen. They seek a haven and we all want to pull out our constitution, talk about borders and control, and how many of us have read the book of Exodus recently? Or Hebrews? Or, goodness gracious, Revelation?

Brothers and sisters, we cannot look too far behind us before we come against a father or mother in our lineage who came to America looking for a better life. Did they get one right away? I don’t know. They might have been Irish immigrants, like mine, angry and drunkards. But those immigrants fathered me and they might have fathered you. Even if you can trace your lineage to colonial America, think of what they escaped and why the Declaration of Independence and Constitution was written?

Think, then, of looking toward your heavenly country, the better kingdom. This world, this new world, America, land of opportunity and middle class and welfare and democracy, it isn’t home, so do not treat it as such. Not for you immigrant, son of Heaven.

liberty

The Loser’s Circle

July 9, 2014

art-846692376-620x349

We’ve known each other since high-school. She the pretty and popular one, I the frumpy and foolish one. She laughs large and lives large and everything she does is punctuated by drama and publicity. We were opposites and friends. Our friendship ebbed and flowed through the years; we have never been close, but we’ve always had a pulse on the other’s life, known a bit of their struggles and joys. We’ve wept and laughed together and occasionally been angry with one another. I love her.

We’ve shared something, too, that united us in more ways than one. There was a pattern that every time I liked a guy, she liked him too. The difference between us was that the guys liked her back. As soon as I knew I would have to compete with her for their attention, I stepped back, gave up. I knew I couldn’t win. And indeed haven’t. She dated the guys I liked, and eventually married one, while I just watched, my heart mourning in silent.

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My name means Laurel Crowned, or Victor, so you would think competition would be normal and natural to me. I am built of candoitiveness and a serious determination to never fail. But whenever countered, I become a palms-up, shrugged-shoulders, give-over sort of loser. The victor who is happy to come in last.

For a long time I thought this was because The First Shall Be Last and other proof-texts we use to make the good guys still feel good, but I’m coming to see it for what it is: pride. The girl who doesn’t mind coming in last doesn’t mind as long as someone crowns her Victor of Coming in Last.

But there is a kind of losing that can put you in the winner’s circle too.

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There’s a new ad circulating called Like a Girl. Whatever you think about the ad or a culture that encourages girls to be like boys, there’s one line in it that gives me chills: “I run like a girl because I am a girl,” and then she knocks it out of the park.

What she is saying is not that she loses to what she is, but that she relinquishes the demand on her to be like something she is not. She is a girl and so she runs like one—and she runs fast and free, unbridled by stereotypes and caricatures. She is herself.

The other night a group of friends and I stayed up too late for a bunch of 30 somethings. We talked about personality types and calling, and one commented that too often we want to be something we are not: the introvert wants to be the extrovert and the thinker wants to be the funny one, and so on. That wasn’t me though. I have never wanted to be the opposite of me. I just want all these knots and knolls in my heart to be better, faster, stronger. For most of my life that meant I competed against myself, but within the gospel’s context, I simply want to be conformed to the likeness of Christ—to proclaim Him just as He made me.

Christ didn’t make me my high-school friend and he didn’t make me a fast runner or an extrovert. He knit me together with these gifts and proclivities, these inclinations and drives, this body and these ideas. Those were his gifts to me and it’s not losing to be them, fully and wholly conforming to him as I embody his image.

When I lose to the world’s expectations of me, I win to Christ’s design for me.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
I Corinthians 9:24-27

fruitI caught of a whiff of longing this morning. I’d almost forgotten what it feels like. I stood in the parking lot and let the Texas breeze wash over me—and I felt a burst of hope inside of me: I’m going home!

I am sitting at the table with two dear friends the other day, an elder from my church and his wife, one of my first friends in Texas. They are New Yorkers, upstaters like me, and they have loved me well in my time here. This year has been one long shove, I said, a pushing away from all the reasons I would have to stay here. But are you running? they ask. Is it still running if you’re going home?

New York is a big state, divided into sections. The City, Upstate, the North Country, the Adirondack Region, the Finger Lakes Region, the Thousand Island Seaway, the Catskills. It’s all New York, but so much more than just The City. I’m not moving to the same region from which I hail, but I’m moving to the state I call home. Is it still running if you’re going home?

When I first visited New York I was 18 years old, a sullen teenager whose parents wanted to buy an old farmhouse and homestead it, growing organic vegetables and raising animals. I was born and bred in an affluent county north of Philadelphia. The earthiness of our new home didn’t bother me, but the humbleness of it did. It was a bigger, grander house than the one we’d left, but the life we now lived was simpler. I never felt at home there.

New York took from me, from beginning to end, it seemed. The timeline of my time there is dotted with its thievery. Home, life, family, security, finances, faith. By the time I left, my small car packed with every earthly belonging, I would have been glad to never return.

I tell one of my girls this morning that it was the lonely, poor, and rejected times where I now see the providence of God. It was not New York that stole from me, it was God who pruned from me. Cutting off what didn’t bear fruit. My first three years in Texas I felt strong and tall and healthy, free of the dead branches. But new branches grew and they have to be pruned too. That is the truth I am learning: to bear healthy fruit, even new branches have to be pruned.

One of the most painful lessons God’s children must learn is that we are not God, and our strength is only as strong as our dependence on Him. He is our strength. That which bears fruit in us, is born of Him. He is the producer, not us. He is also the farmer and the vine-keeper. He decides what is not best, what is not fit to produce.

I have some fears about moving back to New York, going home to a state that took from me, a place where my faith withered and died. I have fears that feel paramount today. Fear that some will think I am running away. That some will think I will never settle down. That I am making a mistake. That there, where I am known, I will slip into old patterns and ways of thinking. Deadly things.

But at the bottom of those fears, I land on one solid truth: He prunes. He takes away and gives something better. And he does it over and over and over and over again until we are his likeness. Because He is the vine and the vine-keeper, and truest fruit-bearer.

c2261c8246316ed0dfea405f565551e8A few weeks ago I tweeted, “In my home we don’t shout. This is our home & the rules are No Shouting. If you want to shout, you can, but not in my home.” It was said in reference (and perhaps defense) of blogs which do not have open comments. I removed comments two years ago and have only looked back wistfully a time or two. All it takes is a quick glance at some other blogs with similar content, though, for me to remember it was the right decision for me.

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I think of Sayable in much the same way as I think of my home. My home has four outside walls, keeping out the wind and elements, a front door which is often open to passers-by, and often closed to afford us some time home as a family. In our home we do not yell at one another and if there is some disagreement it is talked out in quiet, gracious voices. There have been occasions where words have been flung carelessly and trust has been broken, but that is not the modus operandi of our home. That is not the norm.

I grew up in a home with a good amount of yelling. Excuses for it were common, as well as prefaces or follow-ups. What I learned early on is there are levels of yelling, there is also tone of voice, there is not enough coffee, too much Irish in our bloodline, and too short a fuse. I learned yelling was the expected response and apologies came later, if at all. And I learned, most of all, that what is yelling to me, was not the universal decibel level of yelling.

Everyone has their own barometer of what constitutes yelling and when it is appropriate. 

Because I’m a sinner and we’re not in the new earth yet, I still find myself sensitive to the tones of voices around me, to how words are phrased and flung, and what excuses are given for anger. I am rarely offended, but if you yell at me, I’ll be looking for the nearest closet. Fear of man is alive and well in this soul on this issue.

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What does this have to do with blog comments? In our day to day life, we’re face to face, tone of voice is heard, body language is seen. On the web, though, and social media, we are left without those necessary cues. If a person uses coarse or aggressive language in a post/comment, and defends their words with, “I just want to have a conversation,” they should understand words that sound conversational to them may sound abusive to someone else. And likewise, someone like me who feels any slight pushback is a personal affront to my character, my spirituality, my soul, and my personhood needs to take a step back and assume a charitable posture.

The longer it’s been since I lived in a home with yelling, the more I realize yelling or raising your voice in anger is not functional, not ever. If you are a parent, there is no excuse for yelling at your child. Ever. If you are a child, there is no excuse for yelling at your parent. Ever. If you are a friend, you should never yell at another friend. And the same goes for blog and blog comments. If you find yourself typing furiously using a tone of voice in your head that you reserve for moments of anger, frustration, or even defensiveness, stop typing and step away.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I got spanked more than any child in my home, sometimes multiple times a day (mostly for being the resident smart-aleck), so many times that I have no recollection of any time save one when I was about nine or ten. I had disobeyed one of my parents after them repeated telling me to stop, they were getting angry and I could see it. Just one last time I pushed the envelope and it sent them over the edge. But, for the only time I can remember, they looked right at me, took a deep breath, told me they were going to spank me, but needed to go calm down first. In those twenty minutes of waiting for the coming walloping, I had a few minutes to think about my actions and my disobedience, and they had a few minutes to calm down. I’ll never forget that spanking. It may have the first time I was actually repentant before they put me over their knee.

It is never in our favor to dash off responses, use the internet equivalent of raising our voices, or react in anger. And, which is more, it is never in the favor of anyone else. It is not loving or long-suffering, kind or hopeful.

Questions for personal consideration: What is your tone online? What are you known for? Do those who may disagree with you find you approachable and generous? Are you aware that what is simply aggressive conversation to you may be abusive to someone else?

You fancy yourself a prophet, a priest, or a king, but the Bible says you are all three, not just one.

Prophet, you ride high, calling the world to repentance. Priests, you lay low, taking confessions like coins. Kings, you rule lofty, making decrees with your mind and hands. But the Bible says you are all three, so will you be?

Will you be the prophet who points the ever-loving way to the Lord, never exposing sin to ridicule, tear down, or bully. But to peel away the layers of grave-clothes, the years of sin and shame, exposing deadened flesh to the hand of a skilled surgeon?

And will you be the priest, who takes and handles confessions dearly as the costly thing they are? Not as one who publishes pages of confessions on the street corners for all the callers and peddlers to market. But as one who covers the confessor and the broken with the manifold grace of a Living God?

And will you be the king who rules with gentleness, graciousness, and weight? Who disciplines his fellow kings and receives discipline in the same way? A king who does not put himself above others in the kingdom, but who lays his life down for his friends?

Some rule with a heavy and hidden hand. Some nail confessions to the doors of their churches, stoning the sinners and the saints all the same. Some cry out in the wilderness to prepare ye the way of the Lord.

But I want to be like Mary, pouring everything dear on the worship of One who has already come.

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Holding the Mystery

June 11, 2014

mystery

I live in a neighborhood where all the houses look the same. Our floorplans are swapped or switched a bit, but generally, we are like a row of Japanese diplomats, all bowing our heads to the Suburban Man.

The names of the roads are Springaire and Winter Park and Summerwind and Autumn Breeze—a nod, perhaps, to what the city planners wish would be instead of what is. People keep warning me about the Long Winter (they say, with capitalized letters) up north. I keep reminding them of their long summer, but neither of us can agree which is better. We always want what we can’t have, right?

I live on Summerwind in a house just like my neighbors. We express our individuality with paint colors and shrubbery. A yellow wreath on my door, a terracotta pot with flowers that cannot withstand the heat. As they say, if you can’t stand the heat, something, something.

I stop mid-run tonight in a rare open space of sky. The sky here is lavender at night, clouded or clear. The city lights create a cover of light that covers the light. I can’t stop thinking about how manufactured light crowds out natural light.

We’ve been on a steady diet of Vermeer this week at my house so we are obsessed with color and light and mirrors and mysteries. I can’t stop thinking about how betrayed I feel by recent discoveries on Vermeer and simultaneously how wonderful it seems to know he was more than an artist, but a genius.

The poet Levertov said, “Days pass when I forget the mystery,” and I think of this line often in these neighborhoods and days that pass so seamlessly into one another. I forget the mystery of nuance and life, of curiosity and wonder. It becomes only a perpetual plod toward tomorrow.

But tomorrow is a gift, and the only one of its kind, and God help me to remember that in our matching houses and macchiatos and yoga pants and yearning.

I am reading in 1 Timothy this morning, the qualifications of an overseer, and nestled there in verse 9 these words: “They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.”

How we love and laud the matching, the simple, the clear, the found-out, the known. But how we must hold the mystery of the faith with our consciences clear: the gift of mystery. The gift of the unplanned. The gift of the unknown.

Do you have an unknown before you? A path not clearly defined? A choice which seems impossible? A God you do not fully understand? That is a gift, friend. You can trust the mystery of it all with a complete clear conscience.