Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I heart Jay Bakker and Peter Rollins...all at the same time.

I traveled east this past week to attend the Wild Goose Festival. I had heard about the Goose some time ago, and knew I wanted to be there for this first-time event. I coerced (gently) my best friend from college to go with me. I picked her up in Nashville, and we had a good time laughing and talking all the way to North Carolina. I was longing for something...a connection to something bigger. A renewal of hope and of love. The schedule was jam-packed with all sorts of folks I have read about, friended on Facebook and admired from a distance. Shane Claiborne, Tony Campolo, Brian McLaren, Ashley Cleveland and the list goes on and on.

I must confess something. I have a minor crush on Peter Rollins. It may be the Irish accent or the fact that he gestures even more than I do when he talks - or that he's brilliant...I'm not sure. Regardless, one of the things I looked forward to was listening to some new ideas of his that he was going to present at the Wild Goose.

My second confession...I also have a thing for Jay Bakker. I came upon his first book some six months ago, and have followed his sermon-writing and second book closely. For entirely different reasons, I like Jay. He's the adorable bad boy with the tattoos and loud music. He seems to wear his broken heart on his sleeve. He and Peter and I are members of the same generation. One man appeals to my emotions - my desire for grace above all. The other appeals to my thoughts - and challenges my ways of looking at faith, doubt and the complexity of both.

The weekend was fun - it was good to listen to voices I've heard and read before - like Nadia Bolz-Weber, Shane Claiborne, Becca Stevens and Richard Rohr. It was maybe even more fun to meet new voices that I had not heard before like Ian Cron (what a fantastic storyteller!) and Karyn Wiseman (she's a smart cookie).

Ultimately though, I awaited the talks/sermons/ruminations of...Pete and Jay. I had already heard Pete speak in Springfield, Missouri in an academic setting back in October. I've listened to some of Jay's sermons online, but I had never seen Jay in person or heard him speak.

Ultimately I can only say this about my experience with my favorites. For as different as these two fellows may be in their approaches to speaking...they represent the best of emergent church, faith, grace and life for me. Pete is my inner mind talking - things are not always as they seem - or perhaps they are...but they may not exist at all. Jay is my heart speaking what I only dare hope at times -that there is a love and grace big enough to hold me and ultimately us all.

I'm so grateful to have been there for the first of what I hope will be many more Wild Goose Festivals. And I hope that the message that I received is the same one that gets communicated year after year, decade upon decade to each new generation of geese lovers - God loves us with a ferocity that seems impossible and that we in turn are able to love one another and our world with a wild and mystical love.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Faith of my father

Today is Father's Day. I did the obligatory thing. I bought my dad a gift card and his favorite pie from the bakery. I had my kids color some stuff and we took it all down to him. On the ride to his home, I thought about my ambivalence about today. My dad and I have never been close. In fact, we have been sort of the opposite of close and loving. We have spent months alienated entirely. We have argued. We have disagreed. I have never felt I was what my dad wanted. And of course I'm fairly certain that in my own ways I have made him feel he was not what I wanted.

As I thought about it some more, I realized that I've never really had a warm, fuzzy relationship with any man in my biological family. My brother and I have been distant since we were kids. Separated by nearly five years and what seemed like a million miles in the way we thought about life, love, faith, whatever. He has spent the past 4 years incarcerated. I write him occasionally. I've traveled to see him. But, we haven't really bridged the distance that has been there since we were small children.

My mother's father was a quiet man. I remember him vaguely. We spent time on the floor playing with toys when I was very small. He was neither affectionate, nor effusive. He was quiet, seemingly in his own world...a world that I didn't understand. My father's father (his biological father died when he was a small child, but he was adopted)was also a quiet, seemingly cold man. The only distinct memory I have of him as a child was being confronted by him when I had eaten some candy I wasn't supposed to eat. He reprimanded me. I apologized. He walked away. After that I was fearful of him. I felt some strange sense of shame around him.

None of these men were abusive to me in the most visible sense of the word. That is, no one was physically harmful. But, I also never felt really bonded to any of them. And perhaps that is the greater harm in many ways. I've never understood my father entirely (or either of my grandfathers). I've wanted to. But, still I must admit I don't. I've spent a good part of my adult life making excuses for his bad behavior. The lesson I've learned is that while I've never really stood up to my father when he has been hurtful to me, I have no tolerance for his behavior when it is directed at my children.

Today the kids and I were eating dinner with my father, my mother and my niece and nephew. I have watched my father berate my nephew occasionally about his weight. My nephew is not a fat kid by any stretch of the imagination. There are times of the year when he gains a bit of weight, still he is an active 14 year old boy. He plays sports and bikes everywhere. I have expressed frustration with my father on occasion over this. Tonight my father took aim at my 7 year old daughter and began chastising her. To put it simply, I lost it. I recognize some of my angry words have been stuck in my throat since I was my daughter's age. Suffice to say dinner was eaten in silence after my tirade. My father didn't react in the way I would have anticipated. He was fairly quiet. He said a few extra things that he knew would be hurtful, but then he was silent. As I was leaving his house, he said he wouldn't bring up the subject with my daughter again. Of course I don't believe him, I recall him saying the same thing about various subjects over and over when I was a child. Still, I was surprised at how quiet he was.

My child had begun to cry at the table, and I took her inside and washed her face and held her as she cried. I told her that her grandfather was wrong for saying what he had, and that I loved her very much. As I drove my nephew home, he finally said, "I remember you tried to stick up for me when I was younger. At least you stick up for your kids. Grandpa is just mean sometimes."

My own inner armchair theologian would say that my father's faith and my own are as different as they can be. My father was raised attending church on Sundays with his adopted parents. My grandparents were pillars of their church community. My grandfather was an elder in the church, my grandmother taught Sunday school and was part of every part of the life of the church women could be part of. My grandmother would be the first woman to acknowledge that my grandfather was the head of their household, and that this was God's will. She waited on my grandfather, cooking and cleaning for him. When they would pray at dinner, everyone would wait for my grandfather to lift his head after praying silently, and take the first food on his plate before beginning to serve themselves.

My father was a bit of the prodigal son. He left home at his first opportunity by joining the military. He was then sent to Korea to fight in a war. He was barely 18 years old. When he returned home, he continued to avoid living anywhere near his parents, staying in the big city, St. Louis, and working any number of odd jobs. He has told me he was mad at God in those years, completely avoiding church of any sort. Eventually, after 2 failed marriages and 5 children, he met my mother - 19 years his junior and married her after 3 months of dating. She compelled him to return to church because for her, it was the responsible thing to do. Because she had never had a church affiliation, they returned to my father's Lutheran roots in a town 20 miles away from my grandparents. Over the next several years, up until I was a teenager, my father rarely darkened the church's door. He did enjoy throwing around a random Bible verse here and there..."spare the rod, spoil the child" or "an eye for an eye." But, mostly religion, faith, God was seemingly absent from his thought process.

In the years since I was teen, 20 or so now, my father has returned to the Lutheran church, taking his place as an elder, usher and in various other capacities. And his daughter has wandered around, mostly aligning with the Episcopal church in a loose, non-conformist way. I've had phases of being mad at God...but the church is always where I end up, sometimes surprising myself.

Ultimately I suppose what we share is a gnawing sense that God is there and that we can't really figure it all out. My father seems to think God is waiting to strike someone (anyone perhaps) down for their misdoings. And I seem to wonder if God is hiding from me. I still cling to a mainline, traditional denomination that I largely don't identify with anymore and that lacks the authenticity I crave. My dad continues to show up each week despite the fact that he can't hear the service and doesn't much care to anymore. While I have always sought to distance myself from my father in many ways, in some ways we remain linked. As always, I wonder where my children will land. Will I judge them in the way that my father judges me? Will they judge me the way I have judged my father?

I hope my kids get the awe and they mystery that is God. I hope that they find a community that loves them and that they can love. I hope that whatever touches them is available to them, whether it's a ritual, music, art. I hope that they see the Spirit in everything.

Thursday, June 9, 2011


Lately I've thought a lot about what I would say to my younger self. There's an entire book on the subject - women who have written letters to themselves at younger ages. It's had me thinking.

I realized recently that I have finally reached a point - now nearly 2 years post-divorce where I look back and see good intermixed with the bad. For some amount of time, the vast majority of my memories of my dating/marriage life were focused (incredibly so) on all of the bad stuff. Those times when we fought, or times where I felt abandoned or unhappy. In the past few months I've started to remember the good things too. It's taken awhile. And it's a welcome moment for me. It's been awhile.

There are so many things I know now that I wish my younger self would've known. I think about how much easier life could have been. So I've started to work on my own letter written to my 23 year old self.

Dear Michele-

You are so young. Slow down. Stop wishing the years away. Life is wonderful and full and so are you. You are complete on your own. Stop looking for a man, a job, a degree, whatever... that's going to fix you or complete you. There's no such thing.

Continue to love the man you've chosen to spend your life with. Don't take him for granted. Trust him, love him...do the things that are your instinct to do. But don't expect him to always be who you want. He has his own history. His story. The only way you can love him better is to recognize your own story - Her story. You have your own complicated and rich story. Don't deny it. While some of it is painful, it is yours. And you have done such a great job in surviving the bad and enjoying the good. Still, the time has come to face up to the rough stuff. Trying to push it down with food or addictive behaviors isn't going to make it go away.

Most of all, please know that those things that happened that have made life hard weren't your fault. You were a child. You never chose that. It was a decision made by someone else. You are brave. And you have survived unthinkable things. You must believe that God has been with you. That She never wanted these things for you. Still, She is with you. Hoping for your healing, knowing it will come in the time it takes to heal - which sometimes seems a long, long while.

Life is going to take twists and turns. Some of them are going to be beyond your wildest dreams - and you will get to experience things, people and love that you never imagined. Some of it will be hard and not make sense. Try not to make decisions based upon your fears. Keep the faith. The faith that sustained you through some rough years remains, and it is what makes you who you are.

Enjoy every moment. Laugh. Out loud. And love. Out loud. In your finest moments, that is who you are.