Monday, July 21, 2014

Feministic Creations

I think one of the most beautiful and meaningful thing that people can do is to create. When we do, we become united with some sort of divine imperative. If you are religious, it has the effect of bringing your heart and mind close to God's as creator. If you are not religious, creation represents the epitome of human achievement.

People create constantly. They create everything from the physical (scientific advances) to theoretical (a better world). As an artist and an occasional craft enthusiast, creation means a lot to me. Sometimes it means telling my own story. Sometimes it means telling the story of those more vulnerable than myself. Sometimes it means showing beauty in the mundane.

My current creative outlet is largely focused on womanhood, a story that is often hushed, despite its prominence.

I was googling some pro-feminine (for those who are repulsed at the word "feminist" - which probably doesn't mean what you think it means) ideas and creations when I ran across a website called Feby, which creates and educates through the use of the "Female Empowerment Bracelet". These bracelets are made with charms and beads to represent a woman's menstrual cycle. They don't intend for the jewelry to be worn, but for it to be used to teach young girls about their transition to biological womanhood (just one small aspect of womanhood).

Why was this important to me? Because a girl's first transition to womanhood is surrounded by mystery, fear, horror stories, and disgust. Gender is one of peoples' primary categories of understanding the Self. How tragic that this conception of the evolving self is met by such negativity.

It's reinforced by religious traditions (in the Old Testament, the Law proclaimed that women on their periods were to be considered "unclean", as well as any who touched her or anything she touched while she was menstruating), by health classes which teaches about menstruation in a clinical way (right alongside other scarier topics), by tampon commercials which teach women to be embarrassed and/or disgusted by their periods, etc. It goes on and on.

I decided to make some of my own Feby-esque jewelry. Jewelry that has more to it than dollar-store plastic beads. Every woman's journey and experience is unique. I wanted to make unique pieces. Pieces that coupled menstruation and womanhood with beauty and sophistication. Something tangible that celebrates womanhood - even under appreciated aspects such as a woman's cycle.

This is one of three pieces I designed:




This is an anklet. I also made a bracelet and a necklace, each of which is paired with a removable charm which can be used to signify a woman's position in her cycle, or one to keep centered to give the appearance of a "regular" piece of jewelry.

I don't plan on making an Etsy store about this or anything, but this has been a fun/empowering activity for me. I encourage other women to make similar pieces. If you have questions about how to go about it, you can contact me. And I'm not against making a custom piece for someone who really wants to buy one from me.

Right now my creation is taking a feminist form. What a fun ride! Happy creating in whatever you choose to create.

Monday, February 10, 2014

When God Leads You Wrong...

Boy, I sure like provocative titles, don't I? But haven't you felt that way before?

One of the most disheartening things to me is when I am certain that God is leading me a specific way and it fails. The blame must fall squarely in one of two areas. Either the blame falls on me (e.g. "I wasn't faithful enough", or "If I had only done X-Y-Z, then..." or "I must have misunderstood God's leading", etc.), or the blame falls on God.

I have reacted by placing blame in each place depending on the specifics of different situations. Sometimes I waiver back and forth, staging a mental debate trying to figure out where to place the blame. I never feel settled in my decision either. In the end, I feel hurt, confused, dissatisfied, and utterly alone.

When I was a young teen, I was at a church where I felt that the youth (kids my age and older) didn't have much direction or attention at the church. I felt as though more needed to happen, and I was bursting with passion and ideas. I wrote out a long email to the pastor explaining my vision and asking for permission to use the church building to host what I envisioned. I was going to lead it. I thought about it for weeks. I talked about it, I made flyers, I prayed about it, it seemed like the fulfillment of the use of my gifts, talents and passions in meeting a very specific, felt need.

The night of the event, a handful of the teens showed up. We gathered together and I tried to get everyone to quiet down so they could listen to my hope for the group, and for us to begin in the planned activities. That didn't happen. Just as quickly as this vision had built up, I saw it slipping from me. My words weren't heard. I was talked over. Before I knew it, all the teens were playing "Hide and Seek in the Dark" at the church building. I was crushed. I felt invalidated. I felt worse about myself, hopeless to the hope that I was certain God put in me. Obviously God would want a group like the one I envisioned to exist, I thought.

What went wrong?

Well, "If I was more assertive", I first thought. "I just need to persevere - isn't that what the Bible says?"

But I didn't try it again. I was crushed. As much as I felt my faith wanted me to martyr myself, I didn't have it in me. It failed. Plain and simple. Could it have gone differently? More than a decade years later as I reflect, I can say, "No." I don't think that a group of kids, mostly older than me, mostly male, mostly far less mature than I, would ever care about the idea that I, a pre-teen quiet little girl, envisioned. And even if they could, I couldn't make them.

But what about God's direction? What about the certainty I felt that God was leading me?

I still believe that God would have wanted what I envisioned. Sure! It was a beautiful picture. Such beauty and hope comes from God's heart. But maybe God's leading isn't always as we've imagined it.

This is one of many scenarios where I felt that God put His own hopes in me, just for them to be dashed before my face. I have grown tired of placing blame. There have been times where I have bypassed the question of blame altogether to ask the bigger question, "Where is God in all this? Does he even lead me or is this all in my head? Does he care about his own dreams for the world? Does he care about my struggle? Why would God dangle this hope in front of me to just snatch it away?" I realized that placing blame on myself led me to always feel guilty. I never felt like I did enough. I felt like I failed everything that God specifically led me to. I felt like a horrible Christian and like a horrible person.

Again, over the years my faith has changed. Guilt isn't so much a factor. It's still default more than I care for it to be. But now, I try not to assume the blame. I allow the feeling of the need to blame to lead me to ask questions, even of God. Questions that years ago I would have felt made me unfaithful. These days, I don't think there are any questions that are "off the table" where God is concerned. And I think he himself would have it that way.

So what about these instances where "God leads us wrong"?

Where I'm settling for now is maybe too simplified, and many of you may disagree with it. That's fine. But my take is simply this:

God has created us beautifully with different passions. These passions lead us different places. And if we are the kind of people that are inclined to consider God's desires, we tend to share the same hopes he does. The hopes we have because of our faith and the passions that we've either been born with or have grown into, lead us to new places. This pairing (which often feels like very direct divine leading) leads us to make decisions and to take risks. And like the parable of the three men who are given sums of money, I believe God (the master in the parable) is pleased by our taking risks, regardless of whether the world, the church, anyone around us, or even we ourselves are ready for it.

And in failure or success, we grow. The challenge is to not let your hopes be dashed and your passions squandered for lack of trying. Even when faced with the same seeming "failures" over and over again. But really, aren't you better for trying? I trust that the anyone watching us is too.

I recognize that this isn't perhaps the answer you were looking for. Maybe it's not really an answer at all. But this conclusion has brought me great peace and is beginning to bring some closure to all kinds of situations like this in my past. And I think my self-image and faith are healthier for it. And maybe, just maybe, I wouldn't have reached this result without encountering so many "failures" over my life. How about that?

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Communal Liturgy



Transitions are an interesting time, full of expectations – some met and others grossly unmet, full of hope for unimagined possibilities, full of change with the hope of stability and a semblance of familiarity.

This time is a particularly strange transition – one involving more than just a change to the new year. This year, I am transitioning to a different place in the band, involving more leadership as far as direction and goals are concerned. With every transition comes to a chance to re-evaluate goal, purpose, and hopes. One thing I feel really convicted about in the flow of quote-unquote worship is reflecting the cries of the community.

With the recent transition, I’ve had an idea. A simple idea with implications that capture my heart for the church and hopefully, if well-received, could have a great impact on how we view ourselves, each other, and our place in the community of faith.

In the past several months, the band had begun doing scripture readings as a part of worship. Those scriptures have informed the way we chose songs, how we prayed for the community, and the direction we desired to walk with the church community. I have enjoyed going through the Psalms as a church, but my constant struggle has been that the Psalms may or may not capture the specific needs of our community, our collective soul’s cry.

I am proposing that as we transition to another year, that as a community we evaluate what we wish to be. I wish for our community to be more united. I wish for our communal praise to reflect the deepest cries of those who make up our congregation. I wish for us to be more enabled to walk into places of deep pain and deep joy with one another. I have seen this happen in the community through individual relationships. I want to see it reflected in our praise and our communal time together. I want our praise to encourage us to build even deeper relationships and to truly walk in solidarity with one another.

In one of my favorite verses where Paul talks about the flow of worship. In 1 Corinthians 14:26b, Paul says,  "When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up."  Everyone has something to bring to the table. I want what the band does on Sunday to be more inclusive than it has been. I want it to reflect the offerings of others.

Romans 12:15 talks about rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep. Many of us may know some details of what one another is going through. The picture I envision is one where those who are hurting are lifted up. Their tearful prayers and cries are echoed throughout the community and embodied through our acts of praise and worship in a way that validates that pain and suffering is real, but also reminds each of us of our identity through the pain and how to support one another even better. Likewise I desire that any joy that is so strong in a person that it cannot be contained, to be reflected, that it escapes and floods the community, spilling into our praise and our walk as a church.

I have seen this among many relationships at the church. I want to see it more. I want it to be seen and felt not just through individual relationships, but even more through the communal acts of praise. I have ideas growing, but the first is this…

For our scriptural reading each week, I would love for different people in the community to share passages of scripture to be read. The songs we choose already relate in some ways to the scripture we are reading. I would love for our communal praise to capture the essence of what the community and its members are experiencing. I would love for individual members to share scripture for our weekly reading. If those people would like to come up and read the scripture and even share its significance, I would love for them to do so. If they do not prefer to read it, but would like the scripture shared, I would love for one of us in the band to read the scripture. If they would even prefer it to be anonymous, it would still provide scripture and direction for the songs that would reflect someone’s heart in the community and I would love to see it happen.

The idea is simply this – for our time of praise to:
1.       Reflect the inherent value of and individual walks of the members.
2.       Encourage greater understanding of what the community feels and needs at any given time
3.       Capture our heart as a community.
4.       Unite us closer to one another.
5.       Allow us to express to God through song that which cannot be expressed well any other way.
6.       Allow our songs to be sung over members in times of trouble, reminding them of God’s love and who they are in Christ.
7.       To remind us of who we are, individually and communally, acknowledging the importance of both aspects.

In the next few weeks, look for a shoebox and slips of paper at the coffee bar. If you would like to, write on a slip of paper a verse or a passage (it can vary in length from one verse to something about the length of a Psalm) that means something to you in your walk with God or life or whatever. Write your name if you would like. If you would be interested in reading it (which is perhaps a long-term goal – a lack of anonymity in the church), check the “Yes” box, or check the “No” box if you aren’t. In this way, the band will allow your walk, your prayers, your chosen scripture, and your heart to influence how we approach each Sunday.

I hope y’all will stand with me and that this desire I have is shared among many of you. I hope that we can take this opportunity of transition, painful as it is, to consider what God may be doing in this season. If you stand with me in this and share my heart for what I’ve posted here, please share a scripture in the box in the next few weeks! Share multiples as you see fit!

I am honored to be a part of this church. I am hopeful for what is to come.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Mission Year.

This post has probably been a long time coming. I still have this deep-down urge to write a book - a memoir about my year in Mission Year (www.missionyear.org).

I recently encouraged a friend of mine to do Mission Year. I still haven't decided if I helped in some small way to contribute to growth and life or to his isolation and metaphorical death. It's been 5 years since I started Mission Year. Five years to the day. And I haven't talked about it nearly as much as I should have.

The most powerful moment of recollection happened in a class I took in college: Performance of Literature. The last performance we did was a multi-media presentation, in which we were allowed to perform one of our own pieces, so long as it had a multi-media outlet. During my performance, I re-entered my experience in such a visceral way that by the end of the performance, my body was shaking from anger and adrenaline. At least two of my classmates were in tears. And I was on the brink.

I cry when I'm sad. I cry when I'm enraged. I cry when I feel powerless. When I feel powerless. When I recognize that with white privilege I'm still never as powerless as I feel. When I realize my friends suffer. When I realize that if I were to suffer in similar ways, that my needs would be met more immediately, that the general population would be concerned and that I would probably be justified in the end. I cry when I stop to think of my friends who have lost loved ones, ended up in jail, been involved in gangs or intimidated by gangs, who have never had anyone shed a tear or even blink over their predicament.

It's been a drastic shift to move from Chicago, where social justice issues are at least widely known (though often ignored), to a smallish city in the South, where there might not even be the recognition of white privilege. Where I have been warned about "the minorities", called by names more derogatory than "the minorities". Blah. Fair or not fair, that has been my experience.

I still ache to share stories of the people I love in Englewood. But I fear the judgement that will almost inevitably pour forth from those listening. Not of me, but of the friends I care about so dearly who have dealt with circumstances that I have only witnessed and tasted. Judge me. Judge me for being "too liberal". Judge me for caring about people who "didn't have a real job". Judge me for loving and walking with mothers who turned tricks. Judge me for loving "dead-beat" fathers who ended up in jail because of bad decisions. Judge me for not blaming them for their "predicaments".

Unless you have either walked in their shoes or walked alongside them, your judgements are invalid to me. You can talk about policies. You can talk about ideas. I can talk about people. I can talk about systemic racism and injustice. Maybe I'm wrong on a lot. Maybe I am "too liberal". I'd rather err on the side of grace and walk alongside, even if it costs me everything rather than fight to maintain a tight grasp on my own while castigating others who haven't had access to the same privileges I have had.

I have a hard time talking about my experiences in Mission Year. I still struggle with guilt over privileges I was born with. I still struggle with what it means to be a Christian and to have these values, and to desire to live like Jesus whose sole mission was to "proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor." I don't like telling stories about Mission Year because I don't like sharing stories of vulnerability of my friends to others just to have to defend them because people think I'm taking some "political stance". Damn it, just listen to the story. Listen. Stop talking. Stop assuming. Stop planning what you will say in repsonse to my story to invalidate the entire lives of people I care deeply about. 

I've kept quiet because I want to protect those I love. Either I do a disservice to them by sharing about their lives to people who will disregard their lives to the same extent that they disregard their stories, or I do a disservice to people like me, who simply didn't know the full story, simply because we've been privileged enough to not have to care. 

It's easy not to know. It's easier not to care. I hope for a world where we love and care about "the Other". Where we see the "Other" as just "another me". Where we regard them and treat them in that way, both interpersonally and in government policies. If you are a Christian and have a problem with that, take it up with Jesus, who looked down on those literally killing him and said, "Forgive them. They don't know what they're doing" when every indication (you know, like gambling over his underwear) seemed to show that they knew exactly what they were doing. 

As a young white American, I contribute to oppression almost daily. How dare I blame those that I have oppressed for "acting like" they have had a tough life. How dare us. Forgive us. We know not what we do. Help us to care. Help us to see the Other as "another me", like Adam to Eve, Ish to Ish-sha. God, like you to us. You humbled yourself, not using your own Godness to your own advantage. How dare us use any stupid characteristic we deem ourselves worthy of having in order to put ourselves over any other people group, any other person, any other story. 

Stories aren't meant to compete. They are meant to complete the grand narrative. Stop invalidating the stories of others. We do it with our lives, we do it with our ears, we do it with our mouths. Let's stop. Our stories aren't at stake if we listen to others. They all have credence if we have mutual respect. And until respect is a universal value, some of us will have to sacrifice and take the fall to give credence to others when our own stories haven't been validated. That's sacrifice. That's love. I hope to always be the person that does that. I hope to trust that others will validate my story - regardless of whether they do or not. I hope to give preference to the Other. Only by each of us doing this will the Story be complete. Only in this way can respect be universal. Only in this way can individuals not feel threatened or not take offense. Only when others take precedence. 

Yeah, Mission Year messed me up. It showed me that such an ideal should be strived for. It gave me hope that such an ideal is possible. Yet I know it's not likely in my lifetime or until the Kingdom comes, should such a Kingdom exist. Thus, it means that my life is, in essence, a sacrifice. I think *that* is THE message of Jesus, and of unadulterated Christianity. It also means this is my journey. Ever since Mission Year I have felt an isolation because of the stories, because of this realization. The hope is that I am not alone. That a community values these things. I hope and think that's the Church's call. I am grateful for those who walk with me. I hope for more of those. I hope for less isolation. And I hope that I remain true to my convictions regardless of the sacrifice and the isolation it seems to bring. 

I've come a long way in 5 years. I hope I never stop.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Power of Story (pt 1?)

I know I've written some true-to-life stories in part of a series I wrote on this very blog. But tonight I'm in a place where I find it imperative to share why Story is important.

Honestly right now, in this moment today, I have been planning to drink a beer or two, watch some episodes of Friends, and go to bed really early. But here I am. Because somehow this seized me today. Today it started with a youtube video. A powerful spoken-word performance. It moved to me youtubing a man who I had the pleasure of meeting once. He heads up a few prominent storytelling groups in Chicago. His name is Scott Whitehair (I recommend you youtube him, and if you're in Chicago, please google him and please take the opportunity to see him in person). This man illustrated to me in an incredible way, the power of Story.

For myself as a Christian, this should be an easy concept to grasp. Isn't my entire faith founded on the concept of a Grand Narrative? A Story?

I youtubed Scott and watched his most recent performance. One I hadn't yet seen. As usual, his performance was mesmerizing. For those who don't know about the storytelling community, it is a community that is bustling in Chicago and probably other big cities I don't have as much invested in. I stumbled upon it shortly before I left Chicago. Had I stumbled upon it sooner, I might yet be in Chicago. But my story brought me here.

The storytelling community is a group of people that gather at venues (usually bars), to hear 5-6 people tell 10ish minute true stories from their lives. I had the opportunity and delight to go to three events. I think that in all three I was moved to tears by the tragedy. I also think that in all three I cried because I was laughing so hard. I have never witnessed something so beautiful.

People gathering as strangers and sharing their most vulnerable, most self-deprecating stories. It was the most sincere affirmation of "this is what it is to be human". Everyone connected with each story. Each one of us felt connected with another. Each one of us felt our own humanity and vulnerabilities laid bare to one another. And we were compelled to share in that with one another. I'm sure the alcohol didn't hurt in that realm. But even so, the connections weren't forged. They were real. Even if connections weren't made with another individual there, something in the heart changed just for hearing and witnessing to others' stories.

I could use this to talk about the story of Jesus. I could. And if I write a part 2, that will be the focus, because I believe it is astoundingly important. But this is part 1. My focus here is just this:

Your story is valuable. Your collection of stories is a treasury, useful for connecting to, disarming, loving, suffering with, and consoling others. I believe in creating space to tell stories. I believe in a place to share without expectation, without fear, without ramifications, who you are. I believe in telling the truth when it means risking everything. I believe in sharing who you are, hoping for acceptance, but knowing that whether or not it's extended, people relate. People relating to your story may cause defensiveness, fear, acceptance, denial, rejection, love, sorrow, woundedness, healing, restoration... It has power. If we all share our stories, I think the defensiveness, fear, rejection, and woundedness fall away.

I think what remains is love and its effects. I hope for transformation of communities through Story. Some part of me feels that such transformation is impossible without Story. It requires commitment. It requires a willingness to listen. It requires a willingness to share intimate, vulnerable parts of yourself. It requires a sometimes-naive belief that your story is worth sharing even if no one has seemed to value it before. It requires laying aside your judgements in order to see, truly see, the person standing before you.

I yearn for the church to be such a place. I think by definition, when this happens, it is the Church. Whether it happens in the church or not, among people that follow Jesus or not, I want to be a part of it. I want to foster that community. I want that to be a place of hope and transformation, of healing and acceptance. I want to see this come to pass. I want to be a leader in this movement here.

I don't know what that means. But I want to be in it.

Scott took the time to meet with me one day at a nice Mediterranean restaurant. He shared with me his passion for storytelling. I echoed it and echoed the hopes of starting one someday. I hope this still happens. I feel a growing desire to initiate this, now that I've lived here in this place for almost a year. I want this to come to fruition. Do others believe in this too? Do others value this? Are others willing to join in and be a part?

You don't need a stage to tell your story. You don't need a venue. I encourage this in day-to-day life. I, personally, am more apt to share my stories from a stage. But I want to see this everywhere. For those living here, I hope that this is something you can buy into. Even a group that meets bi-weekly or monthly. I hope this is something you'd be willing to join with me on. I might change my mind tomorrow, but this is something I want to move forward on.Right now, tonight, it feels valuable, urgent, and worth investing the little free time I have left into.

If you live elsewhere, I hope the idea touches you deeply. Whether there is a group or not, I hope some part of you recognizes the value of story.

I hope this blog encourages you to share more openly and listen more intently. That is the kind of love that changes the world.

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Other Me

Somehow I have managed to write this blog without disclosing my name, and I will continue to do so. My first name is Emily. That's probably pretty common. My last name, however, is not. Which I take great pride in. My last name somehow means a lot to me. Weird in this day and age, I know.

In any case, there is one other girl in the U.S. that has my same first and last name. Just one. She's a handful of years younger than me. I think 7 years younger. A few years ago I was in a volunteer program (Mission Year: missionyear.org), which I am almost certain I have mentioned multiple times. During that time, we were encouraged to blog. Ironically back then, I hated blogging and it felt forced and unnatural. Regardless, I posted a few blogs - and by a few I probably mean 3 over the course of one long year that certainly warranted many more.

Anyway, the ONE other girl in the U.S. who shares my name commented on my Mission Year blog. She told me that she was 11, that her name was my name too, and that she was also a Christian. It was cute and sweet. At 11, I totally would have posted the same thing on someone's blog. Or now. Shoot, my name is THAT freaking uncommon. I can't say I have thought a lot about her. But I also can't say I haven't thought about her at all.

A few months ago, I watched this documentary called "Google Me". Self-centered though it (and possibly my own very blog entry) may be, I was hooked. The concept of identity grabs hold of my deepest, pondering self. Yes Shakespeare, what is in a name? And what is in the name you create for yourself? And the name others create for you?

That's another blog for another time (thank goodness - my mental capacities are not quite there right now), but this girl reached out to me. And I haven't forgotten, even as it has been on the backburner of my mind. Of course, there is this realization that there is literally no one in the U.S. with my last name that is not related to me distantly somehorw. I recognize this isn't the case for the Smiths and the Johnsons... But it is so true for me, for us, for my "clan". And being the secret neo-post-modernist that I am, I cling to that.

So I googled myself today. I've done it before. But this time something new came up. Of course I went through the list. Art stuff? Me. Mission Year? Me. Athletic league? Yeah, that other girl that shares my name. Debate team? Me. Youtube videos? Pamela? Who is that?

I am 7 or 8 years older than my "other me". I am familiar with her existence. I know what high school she went to, because Google is not so good at the whole "let's be discrete" thing. Tonight I found out a lot more that I wasn't prepared for. And because I am who I am, caused me distress.

Emily. Pamela. In the other me's life, Pamela is her mother. Emily is 15. Or possibly 16 by now, I'm not a total stalker. Youtube videos came up with Pamela, her mother. Her mother was diagnosed with cancer. Melanoma. Which is something that I see at my work as a medical assistant in a dermatology office. She was giving her testimony at church about God's healing and miraculous touch. This was in March of 2013. Just 5 months ago. How she had asked for prayers and God answered them.

I honestly didn't watch the video. I am skeptical about God's healing, how God interacts with the world, and how He works through us. I think he works through us primarily. I don't believe that miracles don't happen. But I know that there a huge risk in ascribing anything to God. Not to Him. But to us. To what it does to us (again, possibly another blog coming up in the future, dare I be so bold). In any case, I watched 2 minutes. Just long enough for Pamela to introduce herself. Just long enough to hear her say my last name and her last name correctly. And to hear her speak with a Minnesotan accent (because I miss those). She must be one of us, because only one of us says my last name the way she did, and she did it beautifully.

She spoke about her miraculous healing. I didn't watch it. I watch her say her name. I wondered about Emily. I pondered the words "melanoma" and "miracle". And I shuddered when I saw a video linked under youtube's "related videos". It had Pamela's name and church listed. It was the video for her memorial service. A mere 2 months after her supposed miracle.

Me being who I am, I watched a few minutes of the hour-long memorial, and tried to skip around, hoping that her daughter Emily said something. Desperately hoping for some connection other than the name. But she never came up. However, in the memorial service, a song I heard once was played as one of "Pamela's favorite songs". It has emotional ramifications for me too. Not ones of peace, but ones of wrestling with my deepest doubts. And not knowing whether I was winning or losing.

It's not a common song. It's straight up a Christian song. And it's a "charismatic" Christian song. By Misty Edwards. You do not know it if you have not been a part of that circle at one point. But I know. And I saw Misty sing it herself. In person. 2011? 2012? One of those years, in a deep place of doubt and pain.

What does it mean? I don't have a clue. Maybe it means nothing. Maybe it means my family is unilaterally messed up, questioning, confused, and hurt. Maybe it means we are human. Maybe it means we are all connected.

Whatever the case, a 15 year old girl with my name, who has grown up Christian (as I did for many years), lost her mother to a stroke while she was winning the battle of melanoma. Which I am certain feels like a divine scam or trick. How can it feel like anything but that? I felt that and I only watched part of each video after Pamela had passed. It feels cruel, bitter and painful. The one girl that shares my name, has experienced an incredible loss. And for some weird reason, I am connected to her by name, to her mother by song and faith...

Emily is "another me" by name. But I am so struck by how deeply each of us are connected. It kills me that we fight so hard to prove how we are SO damn different from other people. It seems to justify hatred, judgement, and all the things that the Jesus I follow stood so actively against. 

The things this Emily and I have in common? We both grew up (more or less) in the same faith. Her mom and I both loved the same rare song. I now work in the field that studies the condition that seemed most life-threatening to her mother. I understand loss to some degree (though a lesser degree than this Emily does). I understand situations that feel like a divine joke for a sadistic deity. I get that.

We probably don't have much actually in common. But I see her as "another me". Maybe it doesn't make sense. Maybe it causes us to justify things for people that we always felt so noble about judging them for. Maybe it means letting things go. Maybe it means holding painful and "arbitrary" things close to our hearts. But... I think that loving God means seeing people as "another me".

Adam was called "ish". Eve was "isha".  "One like me, but different". God, how I wish we saw each other that way. How much suffering would be understood, sorrow shared, love actualized, forgiveness actually given, and freedom finally granted. How the Kingdom would finally be lived out.

I want to be a part of that dream. I truly believe that is how Jesus treats us, how God has regarded us, how God bestows love upon us, and how God makes his love visible through us to people who have never known love. Stop trying to see how people "aren't like you" because of A, B, and C. Who are you? Who am I? Why do I feel entitled to that distinction when my God didn't take that distinction upon himself, not seeking equality with God as something to be grasped? God, forgive us for lording ourselves over other that are just life us, but different.

I hope and pray that we would regard others in that way.

1 Corinthians 5:16 - So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.

May we no longer do so for Christ or for the ones He loves. Which, by the way, is everyone.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Cloak of Invisibility


I had this awesome opportunity recently to go to this really upscale restaurant this evening for a work event. By upscale I mean, multiple courses were served, wine, beer, the works, and yes. They even came in with a “crumb swiper” (what I cleverly named this particular device I never knew even existed) between each course.

I’d been looking forward to it all week and I was not let down. I knew that it’d be better than I imagined, and boy, was it! There was a point though, when I realized that even more than most waiters and waitresses, the jobs of these waiters and waitresses was to be invisible. They attempted to disappear. The effect that we were supposed to notice was glasses never being empty, food magically appearing before us, and wow – crumbs from our own sloppiness suddenly being gone. The sign that the job was well done was people not noticing you and not  thanking you.

I can see the appeal. It feeds an illusion that “I am the center of everything”, which most people appreciate once and again, especially if they don’t feel they matter in the rest of their lives. But for the people whose job it is to be invisible, I felt sorrow.

As I thought on it more, I recognized how much similarity that bore to my experience in the faith. Being invisible was a good thing. I thought being “emptied of myself” was necessary to being “filled with God”. I thought being myself was inherently sinful because if I lived for God, I no longer existed. I mourn for my grave misinterpretation here. But I feel like that idea is bolstered through faith communities. And even moreso for women. That issue aside, invisibility itself seemed virtuous. In fact, it sounded a lot like humility.

What is humility? Humility, to me at one time, was: not drawing attention to yourself, not accepting compliments, not allowing others to see you shine, not shining. Not standing out. I heard lessons on it. People often described me as humble. I wonder sometimes if they were praising a wrong attribute.

At the time I equally despised and embraced invisibility, thinking it was humility. Thinking it was noble and virtuous, all while demeaning myself, God’s creation. Acting as though I was embarrassed by it. Perhaps even being embarrassed by it.

Philippians talks about humility. About Jesus not seeing equality with God as something to be “grasped” or “used to his advantage”, or whatever your translation says. If Jesus is the image of humility, holy crap, we have got to redefine it. I can’t think of many people more visible than Jesus. He did things that were weird, that brought attention to himself, that would naturally lead people to praise him. Did he do it for the attention and praise? That’s debatable, I suppose, depending of definitions and interpretations; regardless he didn’t shy away from doing things that brought attention to himself or caused himself to stand out.

Likewise, we are God’s creation. Don’t we think that what he creates is good? Don’t we think that if Jesus was so visible that we can be too? This isn’t justification for us to act as though we have all the answers. But it is reason to question why we so seek invisibility.

I think we seek invisibility for one reason. We are ashamed. We are ashamed of what God created when he made us. We are ashamed of what we have become. And we are afraid others will see us and think the same awful things of us that we think of ourselves.

That’s why our culture is obsessed with anonymity. The internet seems to have been invented for crap like that. We love to hide behind our usernames and say things we wouldn’t have the boldness to say elsewhere. Even “in person”, we love the freedom of interacting with people we know we will never ever see again, knowing that they probably won’t judge us and that even if they do, it won’t have the power to affect us the next day. We love anonymity. We love things that isolate us, all while simultaneously hating to be lonely. We love the mystery that we are while fearing that no one would love us if they truly knew us and fearing that we will never be known (ultimately my biggest fear).

Or we embrace the spotlight… At least insofar as we are projecting the values we admire and think others might too. I have received a handful of awards in my lifetime. I am simultaneously ashamed and proud of them. I don’t want people to know because I don’t want to be reduced to what the awards say about me. But I want people to know because, man, I want people to recognize that I am officially worth something, not just subjectively. I am a huge words-of-affirmation person. I need it to feel like I matter, to feel like life is worth living. Yet, I’m terrified of standing out because I feel it is ungodly.

Ironically, I don’t think standing out is. Being recognized isn’t. Being blessed by it isn’t. Yet, embracing the spotlight as affirmation of where I stand because of shame I inherently feel? Embracing anonymity because of the shame I inherently feel? That demonstrates a lack of security in my understanding of God’s love for me. That’s not meant to bring on more shame or more expectations. It’s meant to bring further reason to rest in God and to seek his vision and his love for us.

Over the past several months, prayer has become terrifying to me. Because more than ever I have desired anonymity, even with God. Sometimes it’s hard to serve a God who “knows my name”, as the song says. It’s easier to serve a faceless God who doesn’t care about names. I get that. It’s how I think. It’s how the world operates. More risk is involved when it includes me. All of me. And prayer is impossible when anonymity is involved. Prayer is the central place where the cloak of invisibility is removed and where I am forced to come to grips with who I am truly. With all my good traits and bad. And to know that all of me is accepted by God. Or to trust it, even when my fear doesn’t allow for that sort of love to even be imaginable.

I pray to be a presence that doesn’t drive people to seek anonymity or the spotlight. I pray to be a presence that truly sees people and affirms who they are. Man, forget that. Even my language shows my strive for anonymity. I don’t pray to be a “presence”. I pray to be a person, man. I pray to be that kind of person. One that accepts fully in a way that doesn’t cause people to pull back in fear or shame of revealing themselves and one that accepts so fully that people don’t feel the need to exonerate their best qualities to make up for where they lack. And God, I hope one day I trust that I’m accepted fully and that maybe, just maybe, I can appreciate myself in the same way.

EDIT: Totally meant to close with this quote from Marianne Williamson. I know many people who take offense to it and think it's a horrible, self-exalting stance. But given the thrust of this blog entry, I hope we can all appreciate this quote in a new way (even if, like me, you already loved it):

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.