Saturday, October 30, 2010

grace packaging

I asked for a glass of ice and she handed it to me in a hot, freshly washed coffee mug. The ice was quickly melting, giving me something to drink while chomp chomp chomping. I love ice.

I sat down to write and every time I reached for my mug it would warm my hand so that the ice cold water would surprise my lips and teeth.

(I know. I know. You just never know what I might talk about when you come here...bear with me...I kind of know where this is going. Sort of.)

The contrast of the cup and the ice got me thinking about how two things can be really different and both be good, maybe for different reasons to different people. For the longest time I've been fighting to believe that certain things make me uncomfortable because they should. Like I'm a warm glass and they are ice cubes packed up high to my top, cooling me down when I don't want to be cooled, changing me from the very thing I am and its out of my control. I mean, if you're all warm and cozy, the last thing you need is a bunch of get the idea.


Let me give you an example. I'm a Christian, right? But I feel like I'm constantly explaining, to people (who are new to my life anyway), that I'm not very stereotypical in my faith. I don't have a Jesus fish on my car, I've never owned a WWJD bracelet, and overall I'm not very conservative. My entire life, the Christian bubbles I floated through were places that felt pretty foreign to me, and over time I took that to mean there was something wrong with me. What I've come to learn over the years is that it isn't about me being wrong or that particular "brand" of Christianity being wrong, but rather, maybe I'm just simply not all that Evangelical.

The foundation of my beliefs at their core are definitely Christian, and for that I'm not the least bit ashamed. It's just that I continue to try to reconcile those beliefs with how things are in the Evangelical Christian world of today and I can never do it. So often, not much of it makes sense to me. So often, Christians create their own version of something good by adding or subtracting
to align their religion with their opinions. I've never been good at swallowing that, and I've even been known to rant on and on and on about how much I don't like it.

There are still many many things to get angry about. I guess I'm just finally ready to not take on those things like it's entirely up to me to scream until it's fixed. I don't like it one bit that large Christian events like the one I attended last weekend are overly commercialized, filled with excess beyond t-shirts and coffee mugs and into "get your own platinum card with our logo!" I don't like it that the speakers at this Christian event had "a person," each of them, "a person," to follow them and take care of them and parade them to their seats for security's sake. And I don't have to like that there was a garbage between each of their chairs, just two or three feet from the next one, the chairs and the garbages all in a row facing a flat screen television that sat directly in front of the stage where what could be seen on the TV could be seen in real life, simultaneously, one right on top of the other.

There were so many flat screen televisions, surrounding the base of the center-of-the-arena-circular stage, up high, down low, off to the sides, next to the beautiful glass panes that made a fence-like structure for the speakers with its glowing logo on every pane. A glowing logo that changed colors on a timer, mesmerizing my already easily distracted self.

It was done up big, yo.

And it made me itchy. Because I know far too well the places that money could go, if this event were stripped down and simplified. I know how much money would be left for those places where it's needed most if at least some of the excess was stripped away. For me, so often, sitting in the midst of all of it felt like ice in a hot cup.

I was trying to reconcile the good things of grace that I was experiencing with the logo and the products and the TV's. It was like I could feel the clashing of opposites in my soul and in the air.

Feed the hungry! Get your platinum credit card!
God's grace is for you and he loves you! Get your tote or coffee mug!

And then it hit me, as I sat right there in that chair feeling overstimulated and confused. I remembered the comment I received on the EO recently, the one that expressed frustration at watching my journey turn into what it has. How I'm traveling so much and having all of these opportunities come up and I thought Is this what I look like now? Am I doing it up big? Are my readers sitting there trying to read my heart and feeling blinded by my speaking and traveling and the writing of a book?

It hurt to think that, to not know what to do or to have all the answers for how to do this right. Because the last thing I want is to ask you to apply for a platinum card with EO on it, so to speak.

I never imagined any of the things that are happening, you know? I didn't sign up for this, and still it just happened at the same time as I guess I made it happen, by putting myself out there so...much.


The morning I attended this very large event in the very large place with the very many people and very many lights and TVs and myriad of things for sale, I went to Target, hurriedly and over-tired. It was early and I'd been up most of the night and I wanted me a Dr. Pepper. I was very focused on the Dr. Pepper. The store had just opened recently and I was the only person walking in, very few cars in the parking lot. A young man came through the automatic door as I walked up and he seemed to be walking directly for me, so I looked up to meet his eyes, his eyes with a little glint in them. He asked me how I was and I said fine and asked him how he was. He reached out his hand and I knew this was the moment when I was supposed to question what he wanted and whether or not I would say yes or no, to help without suspicion or to sheepishly decline with an excuse because my gut was telling me no. But none of that was happening, I just felt peaceful. I reached out and felt the shape of a card, one that had a receipt wrapped around it, one that was being handed to me. He was saying I got what I needed and there's a little bit left on that gift card so I thought I would give it to's not much, but maybe you can use it toward your purchase.

I walked away calling thank yous over my shoulder and fighting back over-tired and touched with emotion tears.

What a guy.

It was simple. No one was around to see it. He was fighting back a very proud smile. He was humble about all of it and this small thing changed me.

There was $2.02 on that card. More than enough for a Dr. Pepper fountain soda with lots of ice for chomping.

This experience was completely stripped of excess and just as powerful as the changing lights and booming sounds and big names of the conference I was about to attend. A conference that would end up leaving me changed just as the man in the parking lot had. Because people stood up on that stage and they told their truths, their stories, and especially when adoption was spoken of, I was rocked to my core.

So. I guess I'm more comfortable with the small things, the extraordinary things that happen in my small day-to-day life. They fit me. And yet there is something God can do with anything, anything, even things that can feel a bit inauthentic on the surface, overdone and commercialized. I don't know how this particular popular Christian event took this course. I can't judge its journey to survive and thrive. I don't know if all the money that's made is going to help the poor and the hungry, the fatherless and the widow, and maybe it is. I don't know. All I know is that it made me care more deeply about the orphans of this world, because of its fine choices for musical guests and speakers, people who are not thinking of themselves as people who need their own "person" to escort them everywhere, but people who adopt and serve and love and talk about it.

I could be wrong, but I highly doubt that the intention of creators of this event is to get rich quick. Most likely they just want to help, like my friend in the Target lot, and like me.

I don't know what's going to happen next, but I do know that I'm more of a warm cup than an ice cube. And when ice cubes make me uncomfortable, maybe it's not so bad to endure the clashing I feel inside to experience something I may not fully understand but God is certainly always using. He's much bigger than opposite clashing temperatures, in my opinion. He will use me big or small because it's true what they say...he does not send those who are equipped...he equips those he sends.

I guess what I'm saying is that sometimes I may think it's horrible to add ice, but maybe I need to realize that as it melts, I can get at least one drink out of it. A drink from a place I wouldn't expect to find quenching. Those are everywhere and in every form.

Grace is a mysterious and tricky chameleon, and I love it.


This post is a part of 31 Days of Grace at Chatting at the Sky.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Life Without Church - Part 3

Sometimes I wonder if the longing for something that looks like "church" isn't sort of the same longing that we homeschooling parents sometimes have for those "school" type things. I know that I look back and think of the good times I had at school, and I get all nostalgic, and I wonder if I'm cheating Mane out of something, some experience she isn't getting to have. Then I remember that I'm homeschooling to give her a different kind of experience, one that I hope will be equally positive (or more) and that she'll have plenty of nostalgia about someday. It just won't be the same nostalgia I feel for my school days.

I know I feel that same nostalgia about church. I remember the Bible verses and the Sunday School songs and the people who loved me. Then I want those things for Mane, and I wonder why we aren't going to church. It could be, though, that it's just the same as homeschooling. Mane isn't having the same experiences I had. She's having different ones. Maybe she's having some better ones. And, hopefully, she'll be able to look back fondly someday on the things we did together as a family, the people we met along the way on this faith journey, and the experiences we had.

It's a fine line, a balancing act, a bit of a blur to distinguish: What am I wanting because I really need it, and what am I wanting just for the familiarity and safety. How do I trust my intuition when my intuition is so connected to my emotion? How do I trust my own decisions when they fall so outside the mainstream?


Still no answers. But this is what came to me after Part 2. And, I realize that Part 2 sounds a bit too much like an easy answer following Part 1. I was just so amazed at how miraculously that prayer book seemed to have dropped into our laps when we needed it the most.  It seemed, in some ways, a confirmation that we could really do some of this at home, that we don't need a church building and a church service to develop a practice of prayer, even some liturgy and tradition. It seems like that's something we could all learn, whether we attend church or not. For us, it filled a desperate need.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Life Without Church - Part 2

Disclaimer: This is not an answer to my previous post: Life Without Church - Part 1. It is simply another piece of the journey.  


I was left with a longing in my heart and spirit when I left the baptism that day in August, and as the new school year began (we homeschool) I was searching for just the right thing to fill the longing for something more structured in our spiritual lives. My eyes landed on a little green book on my bookcase. I pulled it down. It had been a garage sale find - a Celtic prayer book. I picked it up because Mango's ancestors came from Scotland and because I have a certain affinity toward things that add tradition and ritual to daily life, though I find those things much more difficult to carry out in practice.
Over the years I have discovered something important about myself with regard to beginning a daily practice of anything. I know this may sound counter-intuitive, but I have to give myself permission to not actually do it every single day, to miss a day now and then. And I have to introduce it to Mane that way, too. Because Mane is 8 years old and still thinking in a mostly concrete way, I can't tell her this is something we're going to do every single day or she'll go crazy if we miss a day. So, I tell her, "We'll do this whenever we can, as often as possible. It might not be every day. We might miss a day, and that's ok."

When I'm talking to her, I'm talking to myself. It's ok to not be perfect, to make mistakes, to be flexible. My problem isn't that I'm too concrete. It's that I'm too much of a rule follower, having grown up in a rule following kind of family and a rule following kind of church. When I can't follow through, even when it's just my own rules, I feel defeated, a failure. So, I gave myself permission, from the get-go, to be flexible, to do what works, to make this our own prayer practice, not a rote, rule-following practice. And, we began.

Within a week I realized that we were meeting this need, filling this empty space. We need the [flexible] structure that that this little prayer book helps to provide. And we need the tradition and ritual that we're missing by not attending a church. Something about praying The Lord's Prayer with Mane every night helps me feel connected with other pilgrims on this journey everywhere, and I can relax knowing that she will know this prayer, too. And when she visits churches here or in Scotland or Russia or Mexico or some other unknown place where other believers join together in The Lord's Prayer, she will know it, too. I want her to have that.

We also say the Magnificat each night, which is the prayer or song of Mary, as recorded in the book of Luke. After hearing me read it for a week, Mane declared that she wanted to learn it. After hearing it for 3 weeks, she could recite it alone with no prompts. Two weeks later, I've learned it, too. I've written before about the power of repetition, how we move things from our right brain to our left brain and into our bodies through repetition (and, thus, memorization), and so I am delighted that Mane is learning such beautiful passages of scripture, prayers for her to cling to when she doesn't know what to pray for herself, prayers that she will believe in her mind and her body as she has learned them inside out.

Morning prayers include a time for us to pray over our own intentions for the day. Midday prayers have a space for congratulating ourselves for something. Evening prayers leave an opening for expressing gratitude and for petitions. I love that there is both structure and openness, liturgy and spontaneous prayer. I find that Mane appreciates the liturgical because she doesn't always know what to say in her own prayers. And I appreciate the prompt to speak my spontaneous prayers aloud, allowing Mane to "eavesdrop." I often keep my prayer life cloistered, though I have desperately wanted to teach her what it is to know and follow God. That seems a bit contradictory. So, using this prayer book pushes me to move out of my prayer closet and lead by example.

We don't want our lack of church attendance to mean that we raise a child who doesn't know scripture or understand prayer. Our intention has actually been the opposite - that she's understands authentic prayer and true Christianity better without the buzz of religiosity and legalism in her ears. It requires so much intentionality, though, to do that outside the structure of church-going. It requires us to build our own structure. This new practice of prayer (because it's actually pretty new for me, too, being a somewhat Catholic prayer book) is a piece of that structure. It isn't other pilgrims on the journey or the community we long for, but it's a connection to them, a link to all the generations of Christians who have gone before us and who walk beside us unawares.


Stay tuned...because I think parts 3 & 4 are coming. (If I tell you this, it will hold me accountable to actually writing those things...)
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