Saturday, March 19, 2011


The past few weeks have felt stressful to me. Work has been incredibly busy, combined with kids who have been at each other's throats continuously and add in a relatively minor conflict in my church community and has been chaotic to say the least. And for me, chaos typically means I feel stressed.

The kids and I ventured to Chicago this last week and for part of the weekend. It was a fun trip, even if too short to do all the things I would've liked to do. We went to the large aquarium in Chicago first thing Saturday morning. After a few hours of taking in all the sights and sounds and smells, we got a lemonade to share and sat together on a bench overlooking Lake Michigan. It was an awe-inspiring moment, one where you draw your breath in and then release it slowly. A moment where I realized yet again how amazing life is and how abundantly blessed I feel. And as young as my children are, they sat quietly staring at the lake, sipping lemonade, snuggled into me, one on each side. Their feet dangled over the side of the bench, and every few minutes one of them would speak...almost in a whisper. As if they might disrupt the moment being created around us. After a few minutes, we finished our lemonade and walked to the car. Rudy returned to his normal busy self - running ahead. The wonder I saw on their faces and in their voices won't soon leave me. I have to believe life is meant to be lived in such a state of wonder.

On the drive home, I was thinking aloud with God about why things seem to turn out the way they do. My community has been shaken up recently with what I would call a disruption of sorts. The leader of our community made public a decision of his. I'm fairly certain he had no idea what would ensue. When I first learned of his decision (which wasn't even an earth-shattering sort of decision in my opinion), I didn't see the tidal wave coming. When the wave knocked me over, I was still rather stunned by the developments that came quickly behind that initial wave. At some point, I commented to a friend that I keep thinking I am able to read people well, and then I find out differently...again. I never cease to be surprised by the rest of the human beings on earth with me.

And I suppose that's part of wonder, too. Sometimes I'm disappointed by others' actions. Other times, I am amazed and not just a little thrilled with them. Regardless, that sense of wonder that accompanies what I didn't know would come about is pretty awesome. I think that's why I enjoy being around children so much. They never cease to be amazed and awed by the world around them. Of course there are moments that frighten them or cause them upset...but that thrill at seeing a dolphin jump out of the water for the first time...or the simple joy of a first kiss...or the taste and texture of an ice cream cone on a hot day. There is so much in this life that is wonder-filled.

I sometimes wonder about the idea of heaven because of this. Is this world crazy and mixed up and violent and tragic? Absolutely. Is it at the same time beautiful and amazing and incredible and sweet? Yes, I think so. I can do without streets of gold, if I could hear my son giggle one more time. I don't need angels singing if I can hear my daughter tell me she loves me. The wonder of the world I live in is all around me.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Giving Up God

For some time now I have read (and appreciated) the writing of Peter Rollins. But, tonight was the first time I think his ideas really permeated my own thinking and feelings about God, and finally something he talks about with regularity made perfect sense to me.

Today is Ash Wednesday. One of those holy days that I've been observing since I was a child. I've always felt like it was a day of beginnings, not endings. That is - it has ordinarily signaled the beginning of Lent - a time of deeper reflection, righting the things that need righted and a time to figure out how I've gotten off track. While the day is about recalling that "from dust we come, and to dust we shall return" - it also marks a change in seasons and is full of not just a little anticipation of the main event for Christians - the resurrection of Jesus.

As I sat in church this evening, I felt something shift in my thinking. For quite awhile (probably most of my life), I have grappled with two fundamental questions. The first - why do bad things happen to people? And the second - when bad things happen to people, where exactly is God in the midst of it all? Or in other words, why doesn't God step in and stop it/fix it/heal it?

My questions are something I wonder for those around me - for all of the children (and adults for that matter) I see who continually suffer and have suffered the worst indignities. But, the questions are also deeply personal and painful for me. In those times when I come undone remembering my own trauma vividly, I still question God why? And where were you? And why didn't you save me?

Over the years of my life, I've felt and held different answers to these questions in my heart.

For some time, particularly when I was a teenager, I felt that if perhaps I had been better or done better or been more...whatever...that God would have intervened. That in fact all the evil we see done to others is the result of someone's sin. If I could just get "clean enough" God would make things better for me - for all of us. Getting clean really was a matter of faith - if I believed the right things, said the right prayers, did the things I knew I should, God would bless my efforts with His love and healing.

Later on, as I got older, and rejected such an arbitrary God, I started to think that while God didn't cause the horrible things to happen to people, there still had to be some intervention by God. Surely, a loving God couldn't stand by when his children were raped or abused or harmed. It still had to come down to some logic, right?

Still fast forwarding, at some point I began to believe that God really did weep for the terrible things that we humans do to one another. But I still clung to the notion that God, being God, would exact some revenge on those who harmed His children. And that after all "what goes around comes around." Or in the words I have said to my own children, "that's what you get." Still, I wasn't quite comfortable with this sort of judgment, probably because I feared I would be judged just as harshly as I judged others.

At some point in my recent history, I began to understand my faith as entirely relational. That is - that faith to me is not really an individual pursuit so much as a communal thing. I only understand God in community and through community. If we are to be united to God - not in an afterlife, but here and now - then the kingdom of God must begin now - in all of us - together. While this faith doesn't provide any easy answers to my questions, it has led me to a place of: Shit happens. We don't know why. And trying to figure out why is an exercise in futility. Together though we can dig ourselves and one another out of the shit. And God is found in the digging out. Right in the middle of the pile, God (through each of us) picks up a shovel and steps right into the dung heap to get us through the mess.

So, where does this leave me? I think it means I'm giving up God for Lent. That is - I'm giving up all of my limited ideas of God, faith, relationship, forgiveness, even resurrection. I don't have answers to my two fundamental questions. And for once I actually feel that while I don't have the answers, I'm closer to the fire that is faith than I've been before. I think Lent is less about burning off that which needs burning off and more about getting our hands dirty, both figuratively and literally. It's about giving up our fear of the questions, doubts and conflicts faith (and God) naturally bring us, and rather seeking to hold them in the same space we hold those deeply held beliefs that have sustained us in the past. Faith isn't about a fidelity to ideals and truths we have clung to out of fear or bitterness or a need for justice. The only truth I know is one can only be found if one has been lost. And getting found sometimes involves giving up entirely on the notion that someone else will find us.

If I can give up on God for Lent, then I am free to step ever closer to the all-consuming fire that is God.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

How can I keep from singing?

As life rolls forward, sometimes it seems so quickly, I realize that I spend a lot of time thinking about, worrying about, concerning myself with...things that really have little to do with life as I experience it. I get caught up. And before long, a week, a month, a year has passed, and I've forgotten just how *good* life is.

As I drove home from work tonight, I began humming an Enya song I used to listen to here and there called "How can I keep from singing?" Today wasn't a particularly fun day. My work has seemed increasingly hard lately. And still, I find myself in a place of gratitude, how can I keep from singing?

Tomorrow morning, God willing, I will wake up. I will rise from my bed and have clean water to bathe in. I will wake up two sleepy children, and cuddle, cajole and prod them to get ready for the day. After we play, I will drop them off in the care of people I know love them and want what's best for them. I will drive a running car to my office. People, both adults and children, I barely know will trust me to help them. They will tell me their stories, and I will have the privilege of guiding them through the turmoil they face right now. I will get to each lunch with my friends. We will laugh and laugh. They will care for me, in small ways and I will care for them. After I finish my day at work, I will pick up my kids. Melena will read to me. Rudy will recount what he did at school and ask me funny questions. We will eat dinner together, and we will say our prayers, asking God to take care of our friends and family.

Each day I am gifted with so much. I have the most amazing people in my life. They are a hodge podge of incredibly talented and loving individuals that form the net of safety I can fall into if I need to.

My children are healthy and happy. They are funny, inquisitive, smart and loving. I get to watch them grow and change and learn how to navigate this crazy world.

I can read and write. I can think and understand. I can laugh. Often and loudly. I feel. I've known and loved a man with all my strength.

For all of my angst and stuck-ness at moments, I really can't be sad. Or angry. Or bitter. Life is too damn good. How can I keep from singing?