Monday, October 25, 2010


As is my custom on Mondays, I read the upcoming Gospel lesson for next Sunday. I like to let it soak in a bit before Sunday rolls around. The week generally passes so quickly, that I don't really feel that gives me enough time...but I try.

This lesson is the one that kids at Vacation Bible School have been singing about since the beginning of time...the story of the "wee little man" - Zaccheus. As I re-read the story this week, it occurred to me, that Zaccheus's transformation is exactly what Peter Rollins has been talking about with some of his recent blogs. ( Transformation brings about change. If we are truly transformed, change is imminent for us.

We aren't told what happened at Zaccheus's house between him and Jesus. Jesus gets him out of the tree, they head out, and then we hear about the end result - Zaccheus's entire way of doing "life" is changed in an instant. He goes from sinner to sanctified, just like that.

More than ever I'm curious what the intervening day/evening looked like. Did Jesus just have such a presence, that he swayed Zaccheus without even really saying a word? Or did Jesus ask him about his life and they get to know one another over some bread and wine? Did Jesus move him with beautiful, powerful words? I'm left wondering. How did it go? What did it look like?

Sometimes life happens like an instant we feel alive, the connection between ourselves and another person is overwhelming. It's as if we are set on fire about some thing or someone. It's inexplicable really, that moment of *knowing.*

Today I was in court with a woman who was losing her rights to her two small daughters. I have found myself very moved by her situation from the beginning. I cannot imagine the pain she had to face today. Her addiction has landed her in a number of messes, but this one had to have been the worse. Not only is she in prison for her drug problem, but heap on the insults...she loses her parental rights to the children she carried in her womb, delivered and loved. Despite her addiction, or perhaps in addition to being an addict, she was a mother. And no one would have testified today that she didn't love those girls. She and I met today in a tiny jail cell prior to her hearing. She was shackled and looked like a child herself. I sat next to her. As she cried, and I fumbled for words and fought my own tears, I finally looked her dead in the eye and said, "You will always and forever be their mother. No court proceedings will change how you feel about them. They were yours from the day you knew of their existence, and they always will be in your heart." She stopped crying for a minute and met my gaze. She understood. I wasn't her lawyer anymore, I was another woman who knew what it was to carry, deliver and love my own children, imperfectly. There was a moment of transformation for her, for me. My life has been altered by hers, by the intersection of our lives. As my son sleeps softly next to me, I am thinking about her and her daughters, and hoping for their futures.

Try as we might to turn over a rock and find it somewhere else, the message, the Good News is always there, just at or below the surface of where we live. We find it always in relationship to another.

I still wonder about Zaccheus. I wonder what Jesus said or did (or perhaps what he didn't say or didn't do) to usher in transformation for Zaccheus. I wonder how Jesus was changed by Zaccheus. Because we can't relate to another and not be changed/transformed/altered in some fundamental way. I suppose it's another question I don't have an answer to. But all the same, I know the result. And it's a beautiful thing.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Home Free

Every so often I go through a phase of looking up songs I listened to years and years ago to see what I think about the thoughts expressed in them now. (Thank you very much iTunes) Mostly the songs I look up are from the contemporary christian stuff I used to like in high school and somewhat in my college years. This past week I recalled a lovely song called "Home Free" by Wayne Watson. I don't know whatever happened to Wayne, but I used to love this song.

It is basically a "sweet by and by" kind of tune. It's a song that talks about the yearning for what he calls "ultimate healing." I find myself still liking the song, but of course for vastly different reasons today.

When I was younger, late teens/early 20's - I subscribed to the idea that someday we would understand it all. When we got to heaven we would have some sort of list of explanations handed to us. A sort of conference where God would say, "This is why I caused/allowed the tsunami, here was the reason behind HIV/AIDS, this is why I allowed all the bad things that happened in the lives of everyone I knew". And I also assumed that whatever the explanations were, they would all make perfect sense. I would have arrived home to my Father's house, and I would have a room and everything would all add up just the way it should. Even better, I would get to see all those people I knew who had died before me, and they also would be able to explain to me the stuff that I didn't "get" in this life.

The other side of this heavenly coin was the idea that magically all of our shortcomings would be healed. Finally, I would stop overeating, and be magnificently thin. All of the scars I got from living in this world would be magically erased as if the wounds never occurred. What a lovely thing: to die as if I had never lived the bad parts of life...

The song's chorus goes like this: Home free, eventually. At the ultimate healing, we will be home free. Home free, oh I want to be there, at the ultimate healing, we will be home free.

I'm pretty sure what Wayne meant by the "utlimate healing" was death/heaven/the afterlife. And that is a lovely thought. But what about now?

Is our only real hope in the afterlife? Is that really what Jesus meant? If so, it seems pretty hopeless down here on earth, doesn't it?

More and more I see the message of Jesus, truly the Good News, as something that is happening all around us. When my child learns to be loving, when I learn to forgive, when my heart is healed after feeling torn apart...these things are the here and now of faith. And thank God for her grace. It's not that I don't wonder about all the terrible things that happen, and that I don't try and figure out some solutions that are woefully inadequate to fix the problem, but still healing is here and now - and perhaps faith really does allow for the "ultimate healing" Wayne sings about. Only because the healing comes in community.

In a similar vein, I saw a sign this week that I have read and chuckled about for a few weeks, but didn't think about its significance until today, it reads, "Free Seeking the Truth self-study DVD's." Really? Seeking the truth can be done through self study? I can't imagine that's true. It seems to me the only way to find the truth (not that it's a one-time mission so much as journey with lots of pit stops)is in community. It is only with my sister's journey in my heart that I can discover where I am supposed to go and where my journey fits into the tapestry of faith. It is only when I take my brother's hand that I have the strength to continue, the courage to see what it is that lies before me. Without the context of community, healing seems like an event that must happen in some other time and some other place. Within the context of community we can see healing as sure as one can see a wound scab over.

In some meditation time yesterday a strange image popped into my mind...a large wound that had developed an equally large scab. Out of the scab, flowers grew. All in and around the wound were blooms of pink and yellow and purple. So much so that the scab was barely visible. However if you looked carefully, it was still there. When this thought occurred to me, I knew nothing else to do but to thank God immediately for all of those scabs that have become beautiful in some way. I don't thank God for the wound that caused the scab...that seems almost masochistic to me. But I am so thankful that in the healing I have been able to see the beauty that is there and that grows wildly all around. It is only in community, in the context of another's hurt, that I become incredibly aware of the healing I have already received. It is only in the moment of loving the other, that the healing becomes complete in my own life.

In the end, I don't think I'm awaiting the "ultimate healing" to come so much as I am blessed to receive it on a daily basis now. Still love the song.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Luke 18:9 (NRSV) He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10 "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Phar'isee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Phar'isee, standing by himself, was praying thus, "God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.' 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted."

This is the gospel lesson for Sunday...and as usual it seems especially poignant today. I was having a conversation with a friend this week. It started innocently enough, but soon it turned into a free for all. I inquired about another friend and asked how the two were getting on these days. I didn't realize the land mine I had stepped on. Before I could respond, she began to categorize all of the things she believed this other person was doing that were inappropriate, foolish or downright wrong. I think my jaw dropped open slightly at some point. I wasn't sure how to respond to her criticisms. I mostly listened interjecting to defend the other person on occasion. Perhaps some of the criticisms were valid, but mostly they seemed petty and insignficant to me. Though clearly they were serious concerns for her. Her message seemed to be, "Thank God I'm not like HIM."

I'm not certain what we do when our ability to convey a message becomes hindered. When we simply cannot reach the other with our intentions/our heart. Whether it's because of his or her baggage or our own, sometimes we lose the ability to effectively communicate with another person.

I think back to a time when my ex-husband and I really enjoyed one another. We would talk for hours. Politics, religion, life, love, all matter of things. In the beginning when I was still a student, I would drive to his flat on the weekends, and we would lie in bed for hours. Besides the sex there was always a commonality of ideas. We were gentle with one another, and we could disagree without it being dramatic.

Somewhere along the line life got in the way. We stopped really seeing one another. The fact that we had a history together seemed to almost complicate matters even more. Our conversations became stilted, forced. Our disagreements became occasions for silence or bitterness. I don't know what day things changed. Or what even precipitated it, I just know things changed.

If I think back on some of the other relationships that I've had, I can see the same pattern. And if I'm honest, I can see my own participation. Whether it be that I withdrew from the relationship because it became hard. Or that I struggled with my own feelings of inadequacy or my fear of intimacy. I'm not certain. Regardless the pulling apart happened. And oftentimes I stood, in my self-righteousness, and thought to myself, "at least I'm not like that person." At least I'm smart or liberal or open to new ideas or saavy or rooted in faith or... And of course I should be able to trace these thoughts to the beginning of the end. When the beloved becomes an "it" or an "other" it becomes easier to be critical. I know for myself that I become condescending, dismissive and distant. And at some point down the road, I seem confused about how I got there.

Therein lies the lesson. I'm fairly certain the gospel's tax collector didn't feel glorious when he walked away after baring his soul to God in the temple. He wasn't smug or self-righteous or even particularly pleased with himself. Rather, it says he "could not even look up to heaven." When we are our most vulnerable with others, our most honest, it often is hard to look the other person in the eye. But that moment is where true relationship begins. Suddenly someone's faults, whatever they may be, seem to be less serious and certainly can be overlooked in favor of love you feel for him or her.

I have found myself saying often in the past year that if we could just start with the premise that people mean well, that we could get much, much further down the road in our conflict resolution. Whether it's in my mediation practice or my life. If I can push aside what I think I know about someone in favor of simply believing for at least a few minutes that he or she has the best of intentions, I can really hear the other. And when I can hear him or her, I can love the person, for the person that he or she is.

And so what is the good news? That we can start anew each day with one another. No, I think it's better than that. I think the good news is that despite our differences, we can love one another anew each day. And that love means forgiving what we think is wrong or mistaken about the other person. Whether that person is a sinner who knows full well his or her shortcomings or a pharisee who will never admit wrongdoing - both of these are the beloved.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Absence of God

I took some much needed respite this weekend from my ordinary life. I set out with some lofty goals of figuring out why I've been so troubled by my job lately and what all this theology/discernment means for me. Though I won't claim to have caught sight of any burning bushes, I was confronted with some real truth.

This weekend I heard a lot about the theological/conceptual idea of the death of God. I haven't read much about this, although I have followed some of the debate over time. Still, this concept of the absence of God sparked something in me that I can't fully articulate. (Although apparently here I am, trying).

Peter Rollins talks a lot about doubt - and the almost sacred nature of doubt. When Peter talked about the crucifixion as an experience of Jesus being abandoned by God, it shook me up. And it resonated somewhere deep within me.

I have struggled in the past months with my own past, and that part of my past I have kept hidden - from God, from others. I have struggled with the abuse I see on a daily basis with the kids I work with. By and large, I have kept my sadness and anger at their situations hidden - from God, from others. I have struggled to remain silent and objective lately in the face of the suffering of these kids. It bothers me. And I can't seem to get control of myself and my feelings. I vacillate from being mad as hell and crying out for some mercy. It is a strange out of control kind of space, and I'm not particularly comfortable occupying it.

The idea of the absence of God is a terrifying thing for me. Peter Rollins is right when he says for some of us belief is easy, but doubt is terribly hard. Suddenly, sitting there listening to the concept that God could or would abandon Jesus/me/anyone else struck me with some force. This, of course, is what I have believed for some time. But, I don't say that out loud to anyone, not even to myself. After all I'm a believer, and have been my whole life. What would it sound like/look like/feel like to admit that I have felt, in the moments I needed God most, that I was left behind by God. That He turned and walked away from me without so much as a backward glance.

And therein the connection to what has made working in juvenile court so hard for me lately. Part of me believes God has also abandoned the kids I work with. Why else or how else would these things happen to them? And so my wound, the wound I've carried all these years becomes more painful, like someone is picking at a scab on my soul.

Now if I were feeling particularly evangelical today I would write that obviously Jesus is and was with me in the most painful moments of my life. Unfortunately I can't say that I believe that. Not today, and if I am to be painfully honest, I have never believed that. Not really. Not completely.

Part of me is bothered by this revelation and part of me feels startlingly free to write the words. As I chatted with God on my drive home today, I explained my anger, my sadness in the best way I knew. Haltingly, but finally truthfully. I asked God in some sort of strange, Jacob-like wrestling match to give me faith. I want to be convinced that God never abandons us - his/her beloved. I want to understand a God of compassion above all else. Or as John Caputo would say hope against hope that such a God is possible even if the face of the impossibility of faith. It is only in the absence of faith that authentic faith is realized fully.

The irony I suppose is that the presence of God is only truly known after the absence of God is truly felt. I cannot have one without the other. I have lived for a very long time with the absence of God as a reality. I have refused to admit it, but I have lived it. It has been somewhat of a schizophrenic life really. To on one hand see and believe in the grace and love of God in my life and those around me, and on the other hand feel as if God could not permeate the worst part of my life and the worst parts of the lives of others. I cannot help but feel hopeful in this moment. My doubts are opening up my heart again, anew to the possibility of the divine. The hope of it all is enough for today. A new day.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The "I" word

For the past few months my weight has been accelerating upward with some speed. It makes me nervous and self-conscious. While I am somewhat aware of what I'm doing and not doing...still I seem to be gaining quickly. Yesterday as I was driving to work, the truth of it all came crashing down on me as I recalled a recent conversation with a good friend. He was trying to coach me through a divorce issue I've been having. He's been there, done that - having divorced from his wife when his children were small and being much further down the road than I am now. I felt vulnerable in the discussion, like he could see right through my facade. I could feel that creeping uneasiness coming over me. I felt exposed in that moment. As if my friend, a person I've developed a very good relationship with in the past 6 months was seeing too much, getting too close.

I get nervous and uptight when I start getting too close to people. Whether it's a boy or a friend or a group of friends...I'm not good with intimacy. Hell, I don't even like the word. Over the past year I have found myself drawn into 2 communities more deeply than before. In addition to that, I have forged a few new relationships with men in my life as well as renewed an old friendship with a girlfriend that had fallen away years ago. The natural reaction, for me, is to pour on weight.

I'm not sure how this started for me...but I know myself well enough to recognize the pattern. I meet someone, whether it's a boyfriend sort of thing or just a close friendship, and the relationship begins to develop. I find myself enjoying the time I'm spending with this person or group of people, and I start feeling some level of reciprocity in the friendship. Then, out of nowhere it seems, part of me feels invaded. To try and protect myself, I gain weight. It sounds simple really, but it's not. Most of the time it takes years and a hundred pounds for me to even recognize what I'm doing. This time I seem to be a little quicker on my game. I've gained 50 or so in the past year. And it is startling to me how clear it is right now what I'm doing. I can even see it happening. While on one hand I long for closeness to others, I still feel threatened by the relationships somehow. Logically I can say that this isn't sensible. But my heart seems oblivious to what my brain knows.

About 18 months ago I started attending a new church as well as meeting regularly with a priest about some of the turmoil and transition in my life. At about the same time I started hanging out with a new group of attorneys. I've grown close to both the church community as well as the lawyer community. And so when stress comes up I struggle with how to gloss over it or act as if everything is wonderful. It's easier to pull off the act with people I don't know very well. And so I eat crap and become sedentary. It's as if the stress has to go somewhere...and the only place I know to put it is in my mouth.

Now that I finally see this pattern clearly, the question remains whether I can reverse it. A few years ago when I dropped significant weight it was as a result of a singular focus on weight loss. I became obsessive. I thought about it all the time, and I ignored all of the areas of stress or concern in my life at the time. It became easy over time, to have one focus. It was simple in many ways. At the time my marriage was crumbling, my son was sick and I was in a job I hated. Why not focus on weight loss? I could avoid thinking about all the other terrible stuff in my life.

This time around, I feel like it has a lot to do with balance. I can't climb back into the cocoon, that's surely not the answer. But still, there has to be a way for me to get more at ease with intimacy. To not take a step forward in a relationship by being honest about what I'm thinking and then quickly retreat by destroying my physical self.

My size and weight is upsetting to me right now. And embarrassing. I don't like being this size. All I know to do is to try and be conscious of what I'm doing. To live in the now as opposed to the past or the not yet. I do hope that the lessons are more easily learned the second, third or fourth time around. I don't want to lose the relationships I've begun to develop. I think there is room for both my fear and my openness in intimate relationships I have.