2.18.2014

On Loving While Angry

The Synchroblog topic this month is  on loving our enemies.  I look forward to the reflections and stories on such a key part of our calling as follower's of Jesus!  Join me in reading through the list of posts this month, which I have included at the bottom of this post, my own contribution.

If you backtrack through my blog posts, you will find many posts about Jesus' commands and parables instructing us to love each otherthe stranger, and our enemiesHe instructs us to do this through actual actions that meet the specific needs of the people we encounter, and not just through expressing an ideology that talks about doing that.  He says that we have eternal consequences based on how effectively we actually do what we claim we do, rather than just saying the right things about it.

Unfortunately, we all build up our own ideas about the best way to live so that we feel safe and righteous or at least self-justified in our selfishness, and withdraw into that ideology and feel kinship with those who show in their words and actions that they are "with us" in that.  This is as true for progressives as it is for conservatives.  It is as true for the politically disengaged as it is for political activists.  And it is especially true for those who have found loving groups of friends, family, and members of a faith community.  We take comfort in knowing that we believe the right things and have aligned ourselves with the right people for our own spiritual well-being and for the future of humanity as God brings God's kingdom ... although we may express that in much more secular terms.

The deliberate practice of  "loving while angry" is an antidote to the ways our different ideological and sociological alliances can blind us to real love of our enemies.  If I watch my own emotions and actions for signs of anger, hurt, contempt, or even just the tendency to see people as their role rather than as real persons (whether "the grocery clerk "or "my mom"), I can use those signs as a spur to find a way to both really listen and to take real action on behalf of that person's well-being.

In practice for me this involves less introspection than it sounds like it might, and more awareness of others than "random acts of kindness" encourages.  It is a cultivation of the habit of responding to each twinge of dislike or pain or anger or frustration with the question "What might that person need from me?"  It is the cultivation of prayer in asking God what that person needs from me.  It is the cultivation of margins in my own time and attention and money so that I can afford to pay attention and give time or other resources.  And it is the practice of actual empathetic conversation, in which I let my own dislike or pain or disagreement be the very trigger that let's me remember to bracket that reaction, pray for understanding of both my reaction and of  that of the other, and then reach out to converse and listen and maybe even be changed.

This practice is not comforting.  It pushes me out of safety into war zones regularly, and it breaks the artificial bonds of alignment with others through relationship or sociological circumstance or ideology.  Much of our shared life is built on the unwritten rules of any subculture.

But this practice does give me the spiritual workout I need to grow strong and to stay strong, and it does allow me to cultivate a practice of the presence of God.

My exhortation to you is this:  resolve to practice "loving while angry", and start developing the habit of approaching all your negative emotions head-on as opportunities for prayer and service and healing. You will be amazed at the way you also learn to love and care for the real person God created in YOU as you become an agent of love to your enemies and your friends and to the stranger.

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This month's posts in  the February Synchroblog are:

  • Todi Adu – Love is War, War in Love
  • Todi Adu – Love is Your Weapon; Fight for Love
  • Carol Kuniholm – Circles of Love
  • K. W. Leslie – Love Your Enemies
  • Doreen A Mannion – Easy to Love
  • Liz Dyer – Uncomfortable Love
  • Mike Donahoe – Love Your Enemies Really
  • EmKay Anderson – On Loving While Angry
  • Glenn Hager – The Opposite of Love is Not Hate
  • Josie Anna – On Love Because I am Loved
  • Edwin Aldrich – Loving All of Our Neighbors
  • Jeremy Myers – How do you heap burning coals on the heads of your enemies?

  • 12.17.2013

    Homemaking

    This month's list of posts submitted for this month's synchroblog is out! I have added it to the end of this post. Please take time to read the other posts listed below?

    And here's mine:

    *******************************************************************************

    Earlier today I typed out a very long post about my last few years, and where I disappeared to.  The main thing that drove my timing in that was my desire to participate in this month's synchroblog, and a sense that I had to bring my friends up to date for them to fully get what I have to say next.

    There has always has been that essential human longing that drives me, as it drives you, and drove our parents ... and that is why I am joining the voices this  month writing about HOME and HOMECOMING in this month's synchroblog

    Freud wrote that all other energies are really sexual energy that we "sublimate" to fuel nonsexual passions.  My belief is perpendicular to his:  I think we all long for HOME, and that all of our other passions - including our sexual passions - are either a sublimation of that longing or a means to anesthetize our pain at no longer believing we can meet that longing.  Our deepest longings point to a desire for home that lets us rest and rejoice and dream, and that gives us the strength and resources to push out into wider territory.

    We see the longing for home from early in the Bible, for instance.  Adam and Eve are cast out of their home, and long to return, but the return is forbidden and the boundaries are patrolled.  Abraham leaves home for a better home, and that drives much of his story and the story of his children. Later we see Naomi - a Hebrew woman in a foreign land - has done such a good job of making a home for herself, her husband, and her sons and their wives that when her husband and sons die and she tries to send away her daughters-in-law to their father's houses, she cannot talk Ruth into leaving her.  Ruth's words of loyalty to Naomi in Ruth 1:16-17  show just how well her mother-in-law made a home for Ruth.

    We see the same theme in the exile and return from exile, and in the Zealots' desire to wrest political power back from Rome at the time Jesus was born and lived.  Jesus recognized this so-basic desire when he responded to would-be followers by saying: "Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.”

    Jesus understood how easy it is for us to make the passionate profession of life-long loyalty to the person or religion or community or calling that we think will give us that true home that will soothe us and equip us for the life we want, and also how easy it is to find that even the right person or right faith or right calling is unable to provide us with that home that we need and so deeply long after.

    Christmas stirs up intense emotions in this drama for people at every stage of life and in every position (in terms of their feeling as to whether they have created home where they are, or whether they can ever return home, or whether the whole concept of home is a sick joke).  That is why suicide rates are so high at that time of the year, and it is also why we put so much energy into our traditions and gift-giving.  We want to create home or go home or at least remember home and believe that home is possible.

    If you take the time to read through my last post, you will see the way I served my own desire to create home in the last 3 years, and if you read my blog up to that point you will see much of my own journey in seeking home and in seeking to create home.  If you know my story prior to starting this blog you know the ways I chased after my desire for home, and the ways I destroyed my homes myself because of that drive.

    (Please read the following knowing that I am still a Christian who adheres to the tenets of the Apostle's Creed as literally true, and that that sets the context for all the rest of what I say.) What I have learned is this:  good religion give us a map of reality that lets us plot a way home, and also gives us legs to walk there, and arms to carry others there with us for a ways.  Good faith lets us forgive ourselves and others for the ways we have destroyed our own homes and have blocked access to home for both those we love and those we do not.  And God is the teacher who helps us internalize a map that is true and cultivate the skills we need to walk and to build, and also the parent who quenches our deepest needs for connection and for understanding and approval so that we will be free to offer and accept that kind of connection and approval and understanding to others.

    I have become a feminist and a progressive mainly because I no longer believe that I can enjoy my own ability to create home for myself and for those I love within a bubble.  Oppression and poverty hurts my home whether I can ignore it successfully or not, and will invade my world eventually if I don't keep the whole of reality in view.

    I cannot change poverty or inequality myself, of course, or right the many injustices of the world.  But I can be a voice that speaks to the reality of the whole and of my own little view of that reality, and my own experience of that ... and in so doing can have an impact hand-in-hand with others. 

    I have had many conversations over the past few years about culture wars and about the divisions within the world-wide church and within my own denomination, and I really think that the issue of homemaking is at the root of all the issues we have discussed.  We are in a finite world within the bounds of the present moment and within the bounds of our present resources and emotional and spiritual and physical energy . . . and we must make a home for ourselves here and now, together. 

    Those who are driven by fear think they can preserve their own worldview and their own control of their own resources at the expense of the evil masses outside their doors, and that that is righteous.

    The Bible tells me that that is a lie.  We are called to lay down our safety, and lay down our worldview, and lay down our control of our own resources, all in service to the HOME we are called to inhabit together.

    Jesus said  "There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.”

    In His great commission, Jesus commanded us to be about this business exactly:  bringing HOME to the masses by teaching them to live as Jesus taught His disciples to live, which was to love each other, and love the stranger, and love our enemies, and above all to love God and the reality of the world God created.

    When pastors or writers or mothers or politicians or lovers or marketers or investors invest themselves in any little aspect of life as though they can amass points there (in members or dollars or distribution records or votes or donations or orgasms or hits or any other kind of number) they are just playing a game of sorts.  That game can be good or neutral if it does not detract from homebuilding for themselves and for all of us.  But when it is done at the expense of  God's goals for all in view of God's kingdom, it is an evil game.

    Just as we must pour out our lives in service to the Triune God in order to live in the salvation and healing that Jesus was born to bring to us through His life, death, and resurrection, we must not pour our lives out in service to any job or calling or lover or ideology at the expense of home for all those whom the Triune God calls "Beloved".  To do so is to step over to "the other team".

    Jesus' best illustration of what we need to do to live in His kingdom instead of being on "the other team" is found in His parable of the division of the sheep from the goats.

    Whether female or male, whether clergy or laity or disenfranchised from any faith community, whether old or young, your primary objective should be to become a homemaker in the context of real life, not leaving out anyone or anything.  There is room for disagreement over what is loving and what is effective, and what is true (as real "love covers a multitude of sins") but there is not room to make life into a competition with "winners" and "losers" for points that feed nothing but your ego or your bank account or your balance sheet or your resume.

    Repentance has a bad rep among most circles these days, but sometimes the only way to go home for Christmas is to turn around and go home.

    Are you making a home, or are you trying hard to be one of the "winners" instead of one of the "losers"?

    Right here, right now . . .  that's all any of us ever have, even in eternity.  Use this minute to build a home instead of to "win".

    ********************************************************************************
    other bloggers writing so far about “coming home” this advent:

    My Last 26 Months: Anderson Bat Company LLC

    In the "all about me" theme of this blog of mine, let me bring you up to date finally, after having been very vague about the last few years.  This, of course, is my version of events, and not necessarily the way Steven or any other person perceived things ... but it is accurate and complete to the best of my ability.  Steven did not read this before I published it (and has not yet, to my knowledge) and did not give me his permission to do so.  Nevertheless, I disappeared from my own life into an abyss in October of 2011, and I finally give myself permission to tell my own story here:

    Steven, my husband, had a bat company with a group of friends.  He brought the bat company experience in engineering aluminum bats (Louisville Slugger and more) and they brought many other skills and enthusiasm.  They made the first Nike bats, and moved from a tiny industrial rental to a very large facility and bought new equipment and materials to fulfill a huge PO from Nike.  Nike pulled the order after they already had made their commitments, and so that enterprise went bankrupt in 1999.

    Out of the ashes of Paragon Sports Products, LLC (the name of the above business) the primary investor suggested to Steven that he would back him in a new enterprise if Steven put his name on it.  They used the same lawyer to represent them in their new LLC and gave birth to Anderson Bat Company LLC.  Steven and his employees grew it exponentially, and that partner was able to make a good profit until 2007, although the partner felt it could do much better. 

    Meanwhile, Steven discovered that what was advantageous to that partner was disastrous to him:  the LLC was flow-through for taxes, there was no way to grow the business without leaving the huge profits undispersed, and taxes were due on those profits from Steven as well as his partner whether the monies were dispersed or not.  What that looks like for a growing manufacturing business is this:  If this year's profit was $500K and next year's could be $1 million if there was enough inventory on hand, but it would cost $500K to build that inventory, then all that profit would be invested in building such inventory, and the money to pay the taxes on the $500K would be taken from the personal resources of the partners to the LLC and paid with their own tax returns.  That works for millionaires, but Steven started Anderson Bat Company LLC on a salary that was less than half of what he previously made as a tooling engineer in an aerospace company, and had used all of his personal savings in his attempt to fund Paragon Sports Products prior to finding an investor.  Steven had no personal resources to pay taxes on booked-but-not-disbursed-profit on a multimillion-dollar company.

    Steven found himself in a position of owing taxes for several years that nearly equaled the money he actually took home, and potentially owing taxes if things kept growing that were many times what his partner would permit him to take home.  And his partner was amused that Steven had been ignorant enough to enter into a situation in that catch-22.  (I think he thought Steven was irresponsible to not know what he didn't know and take steps to cover an obligation he didn't know he would have, and that he couldn't conceive of someone not having the ability to at least borrow the money to cover such taxes.  I also think he thought Steven was getting the lesson his "irresponsibility" deserved. But that is all just speculation.  The bottom line is that Steven found himself trapped financially, and short of a willingness to change the LLC structure to one that was taxed as a C-corp or a willingness/ability to always keep on hand the funds to disperse to cover taxes due, there was no way for the financial partner to be kind in the long run.  Steven didn't have the financial control to be able to protect part of the cash-flow from being reinvested rather than dispersed to pay taxes due; so he borrowed money personally from his partner to cover taxes on profits that were never dispersed to him and that disappeared into the losses of the following years.  So, despite Steven's talent displayed in growing a multimillion dollar company from nothing in just 4 years, even the profitable years of Anderson Bat Company LLC left Steven financially and emotionally spent.)

    Meanwhile, enter recession and internal problems to both the industry and the company:  the partner wanted ever-increasing sales and was unhappy with the sales management, and so forced changes there.  Sales fell.  In-fighting ensued over several years.  Changes in the industry forced expensive research and development work just as the financial partner called for layoffs, forcing long hours on unhappy engineers.  Changes in the industry and increasing costs for aluminum caused increasingly high cost of goods sold, and movement offshore of the manufacturing efforts of competitors forced the sellable price lower, killing gross margin.  Turnover in engineers caused big issues. The investor put increasing capital into the company in hopes of bringing it back to its former profitability, and became angry when Steven resisted doing things the way the investor wanted him to do them.  Steven's initial posture of compliance changed to a resolve to do things the way he thought would save his company, which was very at odds with the investor's convictions.  The investor shored up his claim on the company with a lien on the assets of the company, in effect making it 100% his even though Steven would still have to personally pay 50% of any taxes due on theoretical profit.  The investor, however, was due 100% of the loss; leaving Steven really just an employee at this point ... an employee who was trapped by a non-compete agreement that made it impossible to quit.  The investor made this impossible to not acknowledge by forcing Steven to sign over the managing member role to the investor. 

    All this came to a climax in October of 2011.  The investor stopped funding his own strategy, and walked away in anger.  This left Steven with a huge staff that sales did not provide cash flow to cover, purchase agreements that he also did not have cash flow to cover, payables that were huge, nonexistent cash reserves, paltry receivables with terms that were as much as 180 days, and no ability to borrow money because of the lien on the assets of the business.

    Steven asked me to help, and so that is why I stopped my involvement at that time in all my other endeavors.  We laid off virtually everyone, grateful that the financial partner had covered one last payroll before he walked away and so we only had to cover 4 days of that huge payroll from the limited receivables.  We kept a tiny core of employees (Russell Wagers and Danny Gutierrez never left, and Juan and Aaron Rodriguez and Skyler Hardegree were gone only a few days)  -- mostly long-term employees who had shown themselves loyal to Steven rather than others in the infighting of the 3 years prior to October 2011, and the engineer (Warren Faber) who was crucial to Steven in his hopes of future success.  Steven's former sales manager, Ed McIntosh, donated his time, and his wife, Natalie, worked as a consultant to help us wrap our heads around the portions of customer contact that had developed outside Steven's purview.  We worked out deals with vendors for repayment schedules.  We collected receivables.  We paid back-royalties to the certifying bodies.  We did short- and long-term planning based on the current economic realities.  And we called back a few employees who Steven saw as key to his attempt to save the company:  Dan Blick, Dave Anderson, Cindy Hardegree, and Edward Garcia.

    My goal had been to pay off the vendors and close it down at the end of the sales season of 2012, and we did indeed pay off almost all the vendors by June of 2012, and could have made final payments to the two we did not pay off if we had shut things down at that point instead of continuing production.  (We SO should have just shut it down and walked away at that point, but hindsight is 20-20.)  I had not been involved enough previously to understand the sales cycle, and that we would see no real revenue again until January of 2013.  We had a plan on paper that looked workable, but it assumed sales through the next half-year that should never have been assumed if history and inventory on hand were weighed properly in the plan.  As I struggled with cash-flow over the next few months, I realized my mistake and mourned the loss of the opportunity to shut things down without hurting vendors or employees.  I tried to convince everyone else to just shut it down and walk away, convinced myself that there was no way forward that gave long-term profit to any of us. 

    But Steven had invested himself into a new strategy:  sell our bats through our own website using a company called "Shopatron", which would allow our retailers who had the item in stock to fulfill the orders themselves but allow us to fulfill orders left by them . . . giving us more sales to our retailers and giving us the retail margin ourselves if our retailers were not active.  This gave him the confidence to approach his vendors once again and ask for terms through the next year that were a real stretch for many of them.  He sold them, and he sold me enough to be willing to approach the investor again as well.

    The investor said he was willing to subjugate his lien to another lender if we could find anyone willing to put in the cash we needed to make it through the non-sales period while building enough inventory so that our sales in the coming sales season would make borrowing the following year unnecessary to continued growth.  So we found a company willing to do that.  And that was the undoing of it all. 

    The company that took on the position of primary lienholder put in a portion of the money necessary for the plan to work, but then made money by serving as the agent for high-dollar leaseback deals that took too long to fund to actually allow us to build what we needed on the schedule we needed it.  Then they worked to formalize a deal between themselves and the original investor and Steven that was not part of the deal we thought we were making -- and all this after their delays in funding had already made our ability to work the plan we had made not only tenuous but unlikely, particularly with high-dollar interest on the leaseback deals that was not part of the original plan.

    The final straw for me personally was while I was away for Christmas at my parents' home in late December 2012 and I had responded to the new and old investors by asking for the plan that they had to compensate for the unworkable portions of our plan because of the delay and the increased interest cost.  Instead of responding with something I saw as workable, they worked to cut me from the picture and reduce compensation to Steven, all other employees, and our vendors.  Since I knew the work that I did (and that they were not providing new people who would do those particular tasks in this company that had been cut from a high of 60+ employees to one that had only a handful to handle a still-big-company workload) and since I knew we had already cut things for our employees and vendors to the point where they could not sustain it for even a year without economic hardship of their own . . . there was no point in arguing.  I was out.  I couldn't save it, and they would sink it with or without me.  It was a mercy that they didn't realize that I'd been the one doing so many jobs but thought that I was just one more way that Steven was mismanaging his business.  It saved me from more months of the responsibility I'd taken on at Steven's request the previous year.

    Over this year, things played out as I had known they would.  There was not enough inventory on hand during the times it would have sold to sustain another year . . . not even enough to sustain things for the few months past the spring sales season.  Steven and the financial partner fought.  Steven and the new investor fought.  Steven did his best to satisfy his ethical obligations to his employees and vendors and customers, but there was not a way forward that saved things.  In the end, he was able to pay off most of the vendors, and he never failed to pay his employees even when he laid them off permanently; so I think he succeeded in what really mattered.  But the new investor foreclosed on the primary lien and took all assets in early September, and negotiated a deal with a man named Vern Hildebrandt to sell him the assets of Anderson Bat Company LLC.  The new investor got his money back, the financial partner got pennies on the dollar for what he was owed, and Steven got zip.  (Well . . . he got no money, nothing of financial value, and no ownership interest or employment.   But he did get freedom from the original LLC's non-compete requirement, which was dissolved since it had no assets after the foreclosure.  And by then, freedom to go on and make a living elsewhere was sweeter than millions would have been.)  The new owner registered "Anderson Bat Company" as a dba under his existing businesses, and is continuing the business as if it were the dissolved LLC, with many of the old employees, old products, and in the same location using the same equipment.  Steven is not involved in any way in that business.

    In my own life in 2013, I had been trying to build a clientele for my own little 4-year-old IT company when it became obvious that I needed to shift focus so that our family could survive once we were post-Anderson-Bat-Company-LLC.  I virtually shut down my business and looked for a job and worked on our family's budget to figure out what our best life could look like as we moved forward.  We took the two youngest kids out of the private school they had been in since preschool.  Steven stopped paying for most expenses for his 21-year-old and 23-year-old.  We made all the other cuts that we could make.  Steven started looking for a job too.

    We now have our house for sale and will move to Minnesota when it sells, building new businesses there on the foundations of our old ones.  My parents are older and are 3 hours away from my brother; and my sister lives in the Atlanta Georgia area.  I have wanted to relocate near them for some time, and that urgency has increased as my parents have gone through the events of their lives these last 3 years.  The high cost of living in urban areas world-wide is counterbalanced by an availability of jobs and infrastructure that doesn't exist where houses cost less, but at this point I believe that Steven has the equivalent of an MBA from his entrepreneurial experience, and that I do as well . . . and the idea of starting over on a shoestring doesn't scare me.  The idea of working long hours for people who know less than we know in order to sustain a budget for a life that I really don't want anymore . . . yeah, that scares me.  Life is wasted moment by moment and not in one fell swoop, usually . . . and I know too much to volunteer to pour my moments down someone else's toilet at this point. 

    (We all do "lose our lives", of course . . . and if we are wise, we can choose to save the part of us that matters in the long run by deliberately choosing to pour our lives out to fertilize stuff we value.  My whole blog muses on what I value.)

    So that is the story to now.  But The Real Journey of my life is not over, and more than ever before, I feel energized at the blank slate in front of me, even with a bigger knowledge than ever before of all that is outside my own control.  God was in control, is in control, and will be in control . . . and God has been making me richer fertilizer for the stuff I hope forms the lives of people centuries from now.

    So now onto my next post, directly about THAT.

    8.15.2013

    Blessed!

    There is much in my life that I can't share with the world yet, but it's just the same old stuff that my friends could predict from what they've known of our lives for years.  When one sets out on a certain trajectory, one ends up that direction and not some other.  Same old, same old.

    But some of that is really really satisfying!  My boys - Mike, Josh, Noah & Brooks - are SO precious to me!  There is all the "bragging" stuff we moms do to each other, but that's not what I mean here.  I mean that my main goals in parenting are accomplished now, and much of what remains is just to enjoy the relationships and to enjoy the show.  Whether anyone else approves of them or not, I DO approve of each of my boys, and I'm grateful to God and to them and to the others who cared for them and shaped them to here.

    So I'm in my 50th year on this planet, and life is good!  I have been given the things I wanted the most:  responsible, generous, and kind children; daughters-in-law who add real beauty to being equally responsible, generous, and kind; parents who are great role models for "doing life" with joy and motivation; a growing sense of actually seeing Jesus' face next to me whether in contemplative prayer or on the phone with someone who is angry at me; and a growing sense of genuine shalom and joy and real attachment to community even as I have backed away from many of my old ideas about community involvement.

    Tomorrow I fly to see Josh & Julie.  I know Steven and Brooks and Noah will be fine here while I'm gone.  I know my responsibilities will be here waiting for me when I get back.  And I know I'm at a stage where I can trust God with all the possibilities of healing or of unhealed brokenness and sorrow in all the dramas of our lives.

    I am acutely aware of the relationships that encircle me these days ... from those I've already mentioned in the little community of my own children and parents, to the wider circle that includes Dan & Laura and their families, to each precious member of my extended family, to childhood friends, to college friends, to coworkers who accepted and helped me, to church friends and twitter friends and Second-Life friends, to even my neighbors who continue to be friendly despite our years of failure to give them any real time or attention.

    We focus so much on our limits and our problems, but today I'm focusing very squarely upon all that's right and all that satisfies ...

    Whether we talk about Jesus or the Triune God, God's best gift to any of us (which salvation & sanctification made once again possible when we were enmeshed in all that kept us separated from the things we were made to be and to enjoy) is to bring us to a place where we can actually SEE and enjoy what we have.

    Today I see it all in a way that makes me feel like I've had what I most wanted whether life ends tomorrow or in 70 years.

    May you feel that deep Shalom as well, even if your life doesn't look that way on the surface.

    5.01.2013

    Call me "MK" (pronounced "EmKay") please?

    As my family knows, the name on my birth certificate is "Maria Karen Kettleson", which my parents chose because "Maria" was a name they liked in the musical West Side Story and also a name with familial connections in Sweden, "Karen" is my mom's first name, and "Kettleson" is my dad's surname which my mom also took when they married.  It is a pretty name that I like objectively, but it just isn't the name that fits me at 49, and I finally have the courage to ask people to please STOP CALLING ME "MARIA".  Please call me "MK"?  (And thanks SO MUCH to those of you who actually listened to me as I've explained this to you, and who have been calling me "MK" for years now!)

    One of my favorite stories about C.S. Lewis is how, at the wise old age of 4 years old, he announced "I Jack!" and was from then on called "Jack" by family and friends, despite his legal name being "Clyde Staples Lewis" and his pen name being "CS Lewis".  He knew who he WAS, and I love that his family and friends didn't question it, but simply complied.

    My youngest son's legal name is "Parker Brooks Anderson", but you all know him as "Brooks".  It fits, doesn't it?

    My husband, Steven, was called "Steve" by his family and friends growing up, but by the time I met him he was called "Steven" by anyone who had regular contact with him.  This didn't just happen and doesn't just happen, of course . . . He had to decide both that he preferred "Steven" to "Steve" and that he preferred it enough to ask for the change and then to keep making it an issue with people who chose to keep calling him "Steve".  This is still a regular part of his life, and of mine as well, because many people think it is just nicer to call him "Steve" than "Steven", and it takes a while to have them actually hear and remember that it is nicer to call someone the name he prefers than the name that they prefer, for whatever reason.

    In my case, my reason is this:  "Maria" is who I was as a child, when I believed things I no longer believe and therefore acted in ways I no longer choose to act and made choices that no longer have any logic to me.  "MK" is the person who lives in this 49-year-old body and mind and who is trying to live out the remainder of my life in a way that witnesses to the things that I hope will inform and direct my children and grandchildren and anyone else who considers my life.

    None of that is a rejection of my family or of the friends I had in childhood!  And none of that is a rejection of the values or beliefs of my family or of the friends I had in childhood.  If anything, it is finally growing into the legacy I have been given, and for which I am grateful.

    A name change is very Biblical, of course:  Abram became Abraham, Sarai became Sarah, Jacob became Israel, Simon became Peter, Saul became Paul, and many other biblical characters where given or took new names as an illustration of something profound.  In my case, I am not illustrating anything nearly that profound.  I think my choice is more like that of CS Lewis preferring "Jack" or like Steven preferring "Steven".

    Still, the bottom line in our culture is this:  We let people choose what they want to be called.  The name on their birth certificate can be legally changed if they desire, or they can still use it as their legal name and socially use a nickname.  We should understand that when we insist on calling someone a name that is different from the name they have requested, we are being rude.  It is as if we reject their right to define themselves in even something as basic as the name they go by.

    So, please, call me "MK".



    4.29.2013

    Friendships

    I was really surprised by all the feedback I got on my last post.  It was actually such a surprise that it took me this long to be willing to write a follow-up post.  When I was writing about lgbtq ordination, I stopped writing because I concluded that those who were open to what I was saying could find the same information elsewhere and those who were not didn't need more of an excuse to "x" me out of their lives; but in this case my writing was shut down because I was honestly surprised by the huge emotion in responses to the post from women friends and also by the many men friends who were moved to try to pick up a friendship again.

    I don't have a lot to say here, I guess . . . really just one main point:  The kind of friendship I was talking about is the main kind I value, which is NOT "let's go to coffee and chat for hours" nor "let's go hiking or work out together" nor "let's go to a movie" nor "let's chat online about our lives".  The kind of friendship I was talking about is what I consider "real" friendship:  two or more people who are working toward a goal which they mutually consider worth working toward, and in which they mutually have resources and time invested.

    So I was surprised by the idea that my "cross-gender friendship" post would be taken by my women friends as if I wanted to do dating activities alone with men who are not my husband, and was surprised by the idea that my "cross-gender friendship" post would be taken by male friends as an invitation to spend time talking one-on-one in FaceBook chat or on the phone or in person.  I have more people in my life to chat with than I can keep up with, honestly . . . and I'm a relatively introverted kind of person. (That doesn't mean that I don't miss lunches with Trevecca Okholm and Alix Riley and Leah Stout and Lydia Sarandan and Barb Church and Heather Best and other women friends, and wouldn't try to make time for those again if I were invited by them or by other dear friends like Elizabeth Steele and Anita Coleman . . . but it does mean that I do not have a felt need for THAT kind of intimacy.  I have a husband and two kids at home still, and am still closely connected to my mom and dad, and my sister and brother and their families, and my two adult sons and their wives . . . and have many many cousins and uncles and aunts . . . who fill me up to overflowing as far as my need for human intimacy, and for whom I never have the time that I wish I had.)

    (Social media is a wonderful way to keep up with the lives and activities of all the circles of people I know from so many times of my life, and I truly DO love seeing the pictures and hearing the views of all those individuals, for whom I genuinely DO feel affection and love.  In a life where I never get everything done, it allows me to remain connected despite my limited time and attention, and I am very grateful for that!  I feel that way toward childhood friends, college friends, friends from each job I've had, friends from each church I've been at, and many current friends who I do see in person but not for long enough to really know the details of their lives these days.  It is a blessing to live today!)

    But the kind of friendship that I was arguing FOR in my post about cross-gender friendship is the kind of friendship that my small group of world-christian-fellowship friends had at Wheaton as we met at lunch to pray.  It is a friendship based in DOING TOGETHER the things to which WE ARE CALLED, and it has nothing to do with gender or sexuality except to the extent it has to do with recognizing each other as the particular people God has created each person to be and to rejoice in those characteristics as we rejoice in our varied talents and perspectives.

    So I want to be "one of the guys" not in that I deny anything about our differences, but in that I have no barriers to full inclusion in the roles in which I am gifted to help the group move forward toward our mutual goals.  This is something I want to see for each one of us . . . that each of us can become passionate about our individual and mutual callings and that gender roles and sexuality are not barriers or even speed bumps as we push forward steadily under the leadership of God.

    If in Christ there is no Jew or gentile, no male or female, no slave or freeman . . . If in Christ we are called to "consider it all rubbish" in light of the high call of Christ . . . If in Christ we are to, when in Rome, do as the Romans do, that I might by all means save some . . .

    then for God's sake let's recognize all our rules about friendship between genders as NOT in the interest of actual purity, because purity in our new lives is not about keeping safe from sin (sin is already dealt with!) but about actually LIVING the lives for which we were saved from sin. 

    (I'm NOT arguing for "freedom" to live lives of sexual sin or screwed up marriages or time wasted on emotional entanglements that also do not accomplish FULL LIFE in Christ.

    I am arguing for real freedom, to live passionately with that passion mutually focused on the values and priorities of the kingdom, and everything else (including our rules about cross-gender friendships) put in submission to that pursuit of all that will actually satisfy.

    And all I can conclude from the many responses I got to that post is that most people never have even conceived of that kind of freedom, or of that kind of satisfaction.  All I can conclude is that most of those who reacted are hungry for intimacy and so assume that my plea was to allow me to satisfy those hungers of my own in ways that would invade the real needs of others.)

    May the Church be a place where we experience actual friendship, where we value what actually satisfies, and where we pursue that together in ways that allow for the full utilization of the talents and passions of every individual regardless of gender or other defining attributes.

    If that is beyond us now, may it not be beyond the church of my grandchildren's generation.

    2.12.2013

    Myth and Reality: Cross-Gender Friendships

    This post is part of the February Synchroblog “Cross Gender Friendships”.  The other contributions to this Synchroblog are listed at the bottom of this post, and some of them are amazing!  I invite you to read through the whole list!

    **********************************************************************************

    I find that my posts over time have mostly served the purpose of allowing ME to process my analysis of whatever I was working through at the time, and then find I don't have a lot to say about the subject once I have worked through my own cognitive dissonance to a place where I can live.  Then the issue is a non-issue to me, and I am content to listen and love as others do the same processing.  So I didn't plan to post in this month's Synchroblog, but here I am, because I found myself preaching in my head this morning to all those who were finishing up their own posts.

    To quote from one of my favorite movies My Cousin Vinny: "It's a bullshit question!"

    A few years ago I put a lot of energy into this question, because -- like most of you -- I was coming from the perspective of a deeply patriarchal culture, and from the perspective of a culture that sees sexual purity as the primary evidence of a faith that works.

    Today I understand this question to reflect a culture and not the deeper realities.  So I will answer the question first, and then I will speak to the deeper realities.

    Answer 1:  Are cross-gender friendships possible for adults when one or both are married and when one or both are part of the old cultural paradigms of evangelicalism?  No, not without deep problems.

    Answer 2: Are cross-gender friendships possible for adults when one or both are married and when both have adopted a worldview that explicitly rejects patriarchy and explicitly accepts as its primary evidence of faith that works the commands of Jesus?  Yes, most definitely.

    I guess here is the place that it will show up that I have already internalized my own resolution:  I am not going to try to walk you through this step by step.  You'll have to do that work yourself.

    But I am here to testify that it does not matter if two friends are mutually attracted if they are also mutually committed to agape toward each other and toward their spouses and if they are mutually committed to living lives that are wrapped around chasing Jesus, as long as they have both truly gotten over the myth that women exist to please men and men exist to care for women, as we were taught in our patriarchal upbringing.

    The spouse who clings jealously to his/her spouse is not really that different from the "homewrecker" who seeks to enter into a committed relationship with someone who already made those commitments to another.  Both have missed the point about where their security comes from, and both have believed cultural myths that don't hold the weight of real life.

    So what does this mean for me?

    1) I can be friends with men who treat me like their equal, and not like a potential sexual partner or like a maiden in distress who needs saving or like a "helpmeet" who will potentially be the wife who helps them or some other man achieve all he was called to achieve.

    2) I cannot be friends with men who say that they believe I am their equal and not a potential sexual partner or "helpmeet" but then give out all kinds of clues that show that their true underlying belief is different than what is healthy and true.  Whether that comes across as "sexual vibes" or "sweet condescension", both are sad indicators that that man isn't friendship material for me.  (In the past I tried to "convert" some of those "friends" to friendship material, but I have since then accepted that only life can do that; I must wait until they reapproach me and share that that has happened.)

    3) I cannot actively be friends with men who could otherwise be my friends but who have wives who are threatened by the friendship of their husband with me.  This is part of real friendship, by the way: We honor the ethical responsibilities and real situations of those we love.

    And what does this mean for some of my female friends who are processing this question?

    1) If your husband is friends with other women and you think it isn't healthy, try to discipline yourself to let it be whatever it IS and to let your own emotional energy go toward your own healthy community of many healthy friendships of your own (of all ages and genders and roles in your life) and toward your own walk with God in pursuing all God is calling YOU to be.  Your husband will bear the consequences of his own choices, and you will wean yourself from your own dependency that is unhealthy.  (You will find yourself more satisfied with life than if you were able control his actions, because what you are really after won't be found in his faithfulness to you and won't be lost in his lack thereof.)

    2)  If your friend that you thought was platonic gives you vibes that you don't think are healthy, respond appropriately to the relationship and situation.  Sometimes that means anger and boundaries as you realize that you are being manipulated or used; sometimes it means an affirming reassurance that they don't need to be embarrassed or worried that they hurt your friendship because you love them as a friend and you understand that you both can just "forget he ever said that" and be fine; and sometimes it means detachment and space that is fueled by wisdom rather than anger.

    3) If you find that you are "falling in love" when it isn't appropriate for you to do so, you need to do the interior and exterior work on your person and your life to know your deep desires and to know how to chase them in a way that will actually get them met.  It is a myth that any single relationship can do that for you or for anyone else, but there is much that you can learn as you examine your own emotions and conflicts.  They can be the key to the life you want, but not through getting the unhealthy relationship you crave.  They can point you toward the traits you need to develop, the lifestyle that you need to cultivate, the career that you may be satisfied in doing, and the kind of friendships you need to build into a healthy network of friends.

    That's all a lot of answer to a "bullshit question", isn't it?

    The deeper answer to the deeper question is this:

    We do have gender identities and sexual identities, and they matter.  They are part of the fabric of the life we each must build, for ourselves and our families and our communities and our world.  The ethical questions we ask "on top" of a culture that has deeply embedded flaws in its ways of assigning identities and establishing security for individuals and groups can often only have answers that miss the point.

    The bottom-line point that we need to get at is this:  If we acknowledge that security and love and righteousness come from building a culture together that works in the context of reality lived out, and not just in theory, then we can't discuss cross-gender friendships without working out a better understanding of gender and a better understanding of sexuality and a better understanding of friendships than we currently possess . . . and that all requires diving down even deeper and working out a better understanding of security and a better understanding of identity and a better understanding of health/purity/righteousness/the goal.  (For those of us that love the Bible, we actually have a lot of help in that already, if we will apply a consistent method of exegesis and hermeneutics there rather than worshipping recent early-20th-century evangelicalism.)

    Who's in for that ride?!!

    *********************************************************************************
    Chris Jefferies – Best of both
    Jeremy Myers – Are Cross-Gender Friendships Possible
    Lynne Tait – Little Boxes
    Dan Brennan – Cross-Gender Friendship: Jesus and the Post-Romantic Age
    Glenn Hager – Sluts and Horndogs
    Jennifer Ellen – A Different Kind of Valentine
    Alise Wright - What I get from my cross-gender friend
    Liz Dyer – Cross-Gender Friendships and the Church
    Paul Sims – Navigating the murky water of cross-gender friendships
    Jonalyn Fincher – Why I Don’t Give out Sex like Gold Star Stickers
    Amy Martin – Friendship: The most powerful force against patriarchy, sexism, and other misunderstands about people who happen to not be us, in this case, between men & women
    Bram Cools - Nothing More Natural Than Cross-Gender Friendships?
    Hugo Schwyzer – Feelings Aren’t Facts: Living Out Friendship Between Men and Women
    Marta Layton – True Friendship: Two Bodies, One Soul
    Kathy Escobar – The Road To Equality Is Paved With Friendship
    Karl Wheeler – Friends at First Sight
    Doreen Mannion - Hetereosexual, Platonic Cross-Gender Friendships–Learning from Gay & Lesbian Christians
    Jim Henderson – Jesus Had A Thing for Women and So Do I
    Elizabeth Chapin – 50 Shades of Friendship

    2.01.2013

    Journaling My Journey Once More . . .

    Today marks a new stage of my journey for me . . . and it is my intention to go back to using this blog to journal my journey again.

    From October 13, 2011 to December 28, 2012 big pieces of my story are not just MY story, and I cannot really tell the part that is my own without giving up pieces that truly aren't mine to make available to strangers via a weblog.  So bear with me as I jump from the summer of 2011 to now without really giving all the details.  I do think an overview of my faith journey is in order though, since it is THAT that this blog records.

    As I review all I wrote from the beginning of this blog, almost every post still rings true.  I am still a follower of Jesus who believes in the literal bodily resurrection of Jesus, and affirms the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, and most of the tenets of a reformed evangelical Christianity, as affirmed by the churches who are leaving the PCUSA to form their new denomination.   I am also still a daily practitioner of prayer and meditation and regular practitioner of the other spiritual disciplines a la Foster and Willard (and Ignatius of Loyola), and also still surround myself with a community that affirms the same beliefs and practices the same practices as I do.  (In as much as our faith is not JUST a social construct, it is indeed a social construct which is why the Bible gives so much instruction on how we live it out together.)

    I am also a Christian who is not willing to build walls around my own narrow community in order to protect its sanctity or purity.  On the contrary, I believe that REALITY trumps any map of reality, and if our map works and we follow it, our light will invade everything we touch, and the darkness has no equivalent power.  So I'm not worried about stamping out heresy or about protecting my children from ideas that won't bear the weight of real life.  I'm much more afraid of being that Christian who stands at a dry-erase board and teaches truth, and then goes away and lives like it doesn't really matter.  (As Jesus said, if our salt loses its saltiness, we're &^%$'d.)

    I also still affirm that it is a lot easier to center your life around an authentic chase after the Triune God if you don't pay your bills through a job about that chase.  It is tough to worship the real "Father, Son, and Holy Ghost" if you are paid to give lip service to the little icons of each printed in the corner of the official map of the group that pays you to reassure them that they can avoid the hard work of changing their map by just learning a better logical and political strategy to protect it.  And it is hard to form the community of faith that we are called to form if we don't have fully-committed followers modeling how to be a fully-committed fully-educated follower of Jesus from the position of "the normal Christian life."

    (None of that is to say that all of you who are my friends and who are paid to lead congregations or denominations in a way that is faithful and true are not just as sincere and much more educated than am I!  But each of you know the reality about your own process, and it is many of those conversations with many of you that led me to choose a different path.)

    We need each other, whether we think alike or whether we see things very differently.  I need you to challenge the places that I project my expectations or analysis even though I have never actually walked on that part of the landscape but have only seen maps and pictures.  And I need to do the same to you when you speak to what the land under my feet is actually like even though you are sadly mistaken and I know it.

    But we need to challenge each other out of joy and peace and love, and not out of contentiousness.  You need me to tell you that you are AMAZING (and each of you IS amazing, truly!!) and that it would be a tragedy to not give all you can give to our generation and to future generations, and that you bring me JOY just in observing you and knowing you (and each of you DO!).  And I need you to keep creating me as you have been, through our friendships and through your prayers, for I am a social creature.  We are social creatures.  We were meant to be social creatures.

    Most of all, I affirm that the mystery of our lives is the reality of our lives, more than is our definition or our analysis the reality of our lives.  We come together in the woods between the worlds and each of us is one of the pools that leads to a whole world of its own . . . and we were made to explore world after world after world, even as we homestead in just a single world and nurture all those given to us in that intimacy.

    And it is THAT journey that I am back to journaling here.

    8.20.2012

    My Political Stances

    1) I will not take unemployment payments unless I truly am actively looking for a new job.

    2) I will pay my taxes.

    3) I will vote after considering carefully the issues and candidates.

    4) I will realize my actions in how I live my life and impact others have a bigger impact than my vote, and that our shared actions have the ability to "save" us or "destroy us", and that the President and House and Senate are not a big enough rudder to change our course much in the long run.

    5) I will feed and educate my own children, and will not object to contributing toward doing the same for all other children even after my own are grown, for some of them will change my diapers when I am old, and all of them will create the world we must inhabit.

    6) I will care for those who cannot care for themselves properly -- through existing private, State, and Federal programs and through new efforts -- rather than expecting others to do the work & pay the bills.

    6) I will provide incentive for those who can care for themselves but feel entitled not to do so to learn how wonderful it feels to live into a calling and contribute to us all, rather than being leeches. I will not do this by being nasty and hurtful, but rather by rewarding work and making laziness obviously less joyful. Personally I can do this in my own family and workplaces, and nationally I can do this in how I communicate and in how I vote.

    7) I will now shut up and work. :)

    7.22.2012

    Haiku

    Haiku constricts words
    As life constrains our options
    Forcing new beauty

    5.09.2012

    The Art of Passionately Lightening Up

    This month's Synchroblog topic is Lighten Up: The Art of Laughter, Joy, and Letting Go, and it hits home with me! I love that the Synchroblog coordinators chose the phrase "the art of" as part of their title, because I think that is exactly what is called for here: an artistic approach!

    Humor and entertainment, or alcohol, or time with friends, or any of the other ways we each choose to "lighten up" can be healthy or can be a distraction from doing the things we each need to do and from facing the things we each need to face in order to have a satisfying life. "Healthy" ways of lightening up help us to more effectively see the big picture and to make the big and little choices we each need to make to pursue what we will each wish we had pursued when we get to the end of our lives. "Unhealthy" ways of lightening up cause us to forget (or never see to begin with) the way things really are and what we really want, and cause us to passively choose to neglect the things we could do to pursue the life we each really want. I will leave the negative side of that for a post that is supposed to be serious, and focus the rest of this post on how wonderful life can be if we lighten up without ignoring the things that matter!

    When we fall newly in love, life is instantly brighter. The visions we had for our future and the ways we wanted to see ourselves are clearer and we have huge hope of them being realized fully. Then, as we move deeper into intimacy and make our commitments and consummate our relationship, we learn the art of lightening up in the clearest instance of any of our lives: we learn how to be lovers that don't pursue just our own orgasm, but pursue mutual orgasm. And there is no formula for that! It is an art of intensity where the goal is most easily achieved when we are fully present and fully alive but not obsessively focused on either lover's actual climax.

    Life is like THAT. We are most full of joy and most fulfilled and most useful when we are focused outside of ourselves and not quite on those goals, and when we are fully present in the moment.

    So there is no formula to living well! It is indeed an ART. But as we live it out, we learn how to be passionate, and how to lighten up. We learn how to know what is true and right and to live them out fully, and we DO lighten up as we do that, because we learn that it is not all about me and it is not all about my goals, and it is not even all about my experience of life.

    Real joy is not something I pursue head-on, but is something that catches me unaware when I was practicing the art of living as best as I could.

    Idolatry is something that calls me to focus on an end I am determined to achieve, through the means that I inwardly believe will get me to that end.

    God is the One Who calls me to RIDE.

    And I cannot lighten up, because I am too intense to do that. But God teases me and cajoles me into seeing reality as God sees it and as God wants me to see it, and then God surprises me with my own being's response to that reality!

    Reality is GOOD, and I was made to climax regularly!

    Leaving aside the metaphor of God as the Lover (which I first saw in scripture, with a whole book of the Bible dedicated to the metaphor, by the way!) and life as love-making, our faith is meant to be experienced in the reality of the moment, and not as a cocoon to protect us from real life.  God wants to give us each the tools to enjoy fully the experience of REALITY as we walk it out in each moment, and to train us to be adults who walk it out in intimate communication with the Triune God.  God's own presence to us and for us and through us is the sweetest and deepest experience of life, and -- for many of those who practice it for years -- becomes a much richer and more ecstatic experience than anything merely sexual could ever be.  The metaphor breaks down as inadequate, not as profane nor as exaggeration!

    So -- if you will relax into the passionate pursuit of the things that really matter, on the track of the real world you live in, with the Triune God as your perfect coach -- you WILL lighten up, and you will speed up, and you will slow down, and you will experience fully the life YOU were made to experience!

    ********************************************************************************

    Here’s the link list for this month’s synchroblog.  Have fun reading through the list!

    3.01.2012

    The State of the State (of the Kingdom of Me)

    Those who walked with me at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church will get "the Kingdom of Me" reference without explanation, but for everyone else, I better explain: Dallas Willard in The Divine Conspiracy talks about the Kingdom of God and the smaller kingdoms we all live within, and so we each have our own little world that is our own life and our own perception of reality, and that, for each of us, is "the Kingdom of Me". Today is a great day to reflect on that for me!

    In 12-step groups like AA or Alanon or any of the many other iterations, during open share time, each person sits and listens to each who chooses to share, and "no crosstalk" means that no one is supposed to comment on another's share, but simply share their own story of the week or of life. In social media and in blogging, we have lots of "crosstalk" in our comments and in our posts responding to each other, but we also have a lot of time speaking our own piece and enjoying the love that others show as they "listen" by taking the time to read a post. I have come to realize the huge love that is given me by anyone who takes the time to read one of my posts with real attention, even if it seems that I wouldn't have any way of knowing they did so. We are all so interconnected, and the love that flows from those who give me that consideration is what creates anything good going forward. I am bound to you!

    So, after those rambling disclaimers/explanations, here goes this "share":

    I am now old enough to know that life is a mystery, and I can't dissect it and examine it and compile my notes and write them up and file them away and control life by knowing. I am old enough to have had a little of my innate narcissism kicked out of me, and old enough to realize that I don't have to be ashamed of my narcissism because it is human and natural. I am old enough to understand what makes life sweet is relationships, and that one of those relationships is between me and me, and that I can forgive myself and love myself and nurture myself with the same grace and kindness that I want to have toward anyone else I love. And I am old enough to have lived, and to be grateful for that life, and to be ready to die even while I am ready to live until 106. I'm also old enough to know that music and fiction and art express reality better than words do!

    For the last week I have been hearing words from all of the different songs on the old U2 Album All That You Can't Leave Behind playing over and over in my head, and I realize it is because I am finally old enough to not just like that album but to live that album. It is the track to this part of this journey. I am grateful! So if you are curious, pull it out and listen to it, and you will learn more about this day in my life than I can write in a blog post!

    I am grateful for my companions on my journey, and while this blog has been all about church and all about my life here and now, it is many early childhood friends and friends from young adulthood that come to mind now as having MADE me. I am so grateful for each! My family and extended family, of course, and Steve Sullivan and his family and friends, and Don . . . but the ones that jump out at me today in my memory and gratitude are:

    The Sarbins (Adam, Sara, Debby)
    Alan Maline
    Joe Loftschulz
    Chris Blake
    Michell Martin
    Mike Martin
    Jean Watt
    Stephanie Harlan
    Jenny Harned
    Nancy Jessen
    Brian Borchers
    Scott Turnbull
    Dave Larson
    Irma Jimenez
    Wanda Dayvault
    Kevin and Keith
    Brett Westbrook

    and the mental list goes on and on . . .

    Many painful memories are just as significant as loving friendships! It's important to WANT to be friends with the people you are attracted to and rejected by, and important to learn to be friends with the people that love you in real ways, and important to learn to forgive ourselves and others for the realities in life that weren't what we wanted them to be. All these lessons have been the lessons I most needed!

    So the "State of the State" (of the Kingdom of Me) today is GRATEFUL! Grateful for Omaha, and Burke High School, and Wheaton College. Grateful for my family -- expecially my nuclear family and amazing uncles and aunts and cousins who have given me a rich loving world that I took for granted until I moved so far away. Grateful for God's Grace, which I no longer need to understand to bathe in!

    But most of all, the "State of the State" (of the Kingdom of Me) is amazed at what is in my cup and what is pouring out of this tiny little cup that is my own tiny little world. I am grateful that the Kingdom of God is available fully, right here and right now, and see that the Kingdom of God is coming . . .

    Even when I am dead and in the ground, the Kingdom of God will be at work to bring beauty out of darkness and despair, whether my burial day is in less than a week or in 60 years from today. Life is good, and today I am alive and aware and grateful for eyes to see!

    I AM just a blip on the computer screen, but while I'm here, I get to see each of YOU . . . and THAT is beauty and joy!

    12.28.2011

    December Synchroblog: Following the Baby We Just Celebrated

    This month's synchroblog topic is explained here:  http://synchroblog.wordpress.com/2011/12/

    So Jesus came . . . Did you get what you expected? How has following Jesus led you into strange places and turned your life upside down? Or has it?

    I don't have anything new to say on this that I haven't shared with many groups in person, but it bears repeating the story at least once on this blog.

    I was born to conservative Christian parents who grew up themselves in Christian families. My dad grew up in a United Presbyterian church in the Twin Cities (Macalester), attended Macalester College (a Presbyterian-affiliated school), and was ordained as a deacon and then an elder early in his adult life.  My mom grew up in a rural Evangelical Covenant church, attended North Park College (a Evangelical Covenant school), and joined Macalaster when she married Dad, also becoming a deacon and then elder in young adulthood.  As they moved, they attended other churches, and ended up spending most of mid-life at the church that was my home church:  Church of the Cross (PCUSA) in Omaha, Nebraska, where they were both active in lay leadership.  They were (and are) very loving and ethical people, have rich prayer lives, a very deep knowledge and understanding of Scripture, and have always had a heart for those in need as well, donating time and money generously.

    I grew up believing -- like most kids do -- that my experience was normal, and that my parents' reality WAS reality.  I was very committed to following the Jesus that I'd been led to pray to nightly when I was first able to talk, and wanted to be a missionary (since full-time ministry stateside wasn't within our world-view in terms of my gender.)  I grew up conservative politically and ethically, and was definitely a "good girl' as well as a committed Christian through my teens.  I "followed Jesus" to Wheaton College, and had a rich experience there exploring community with my missions-minded friends as well as learning all I could learn.

    I would bore most of you to tears if I gave you a blow-by-blow of the next 20 years, but the short story is that real life with real people led me to rework my theology and world-view in many places.  I abandoned conservative gender roles (the idea of playing the "right" role for my gender in exchange for being protected in ways that men were not) only after trying that path over and over.  I abandoned the idea that capitalism and conservative politics were synonymous with my faith only after trying very hard to reconcile them in the places I found dissonance.  I moved from conservative evangelical toward progressive contemplative with great difficulty socially, because I always assumed that the people around me could see the same holes in our theology and practice that became clear to me, and so I had to suffer a lot of very deliberate active rejection (certainly not by all conservative friends and family, though) before I could let go of the idea that others were also looking for better ways to live the way Jesus taught us to live.

    The truth is that most Christians are sincere about following Jesus, but also sincere in believing that those in leadership and teaching positions know and are teaching them the things that will really result in the lives -- individually and in community -- that Jesus was and is calling us to live.  They persist in trusting that leadership and the status quo of the current church culture because they equate unquestioning submission with obedience to Jesus.  This isn't new, of course -- for we are often taught about how the religious people of Jesus day tried to follow the scribes and pharisees in the same way and for the same purpose.  Most adults -- even to death in their 90s -- never question the justice or rightness of what they have been taught since they were little by people they respected and still respect.  That is the reality of community and faith.  (Indeed, if those in leadership themselves question the status quo, they often find themselves no longer in leadership!)

    I began my life thinking that following Jesus would make me like my parents, whom I still respect deeply, and would help me resist the parts of me that don't fit the ethic and culture of the conservative churches and families that surrounded me.  Following Jesus would heal me of the "sin" that made it hard to fit the status quo or fulfill my ethical obligations under it. (Following Jesus is healing me of the sin that is actually rebellion against God in my selfishness and fear, as He teaches me His law of love.)

    I never stopped following Jesus, even through really brutal times of paying the consequences for not being like my parents, for not fitting the ethic and culture that I thought was based on a good interpretation of Scripture, and for not fulfilling my ethical obligations under all that (meaning the gender- and conservative-culture-specific mores, not the universal truths that most cultures have recognized).  Following Jesus led me to great grief and loss -- especially the loss of my self-image as a "true believer".

    These days I know that Jesus loves me enough to want me to know what is true and to want me to live transparently with Him and my community of faith.  He's not afraid of conflict or anger or rejection, and has been teaching me that I don't need to be, either.  He has been teaching me to sort out the voices of family and friends and self, and to live with my focus on the wisdom in the community of faith that He shows me is more closely aligned with His intent and His words and the REALITY that He created and is creating.

    The bottom line?:  I followed Jesus because of my deep needs for community and acceptance and affirmation, and found that obedience made me an outcast . . . but that that was the deeper fulfillment of those deep needs.  (I did find community with other followers, of course . . . but only after letting go of the narrower communities that I pursued acceptance from.)

    AND there will be a new bottom line as life moves forward, of course.  Because I'm not done, and neither is He.

    ***********************************************************************************

    Here’s the list of links for this month’s synchroblog. 
    Glenn Hager – Underwear For Christmas
    Jeremy Myers – The Unexpected Gift From Jesus
    Tammy Carter - Unstuck
    Jeff Goins - The Day After Christmas: A Lament
    Wendy McCaig – Unwanted Gifts: You Can Run But You Can Not Hide
    Christine Sine – The Wait Is Over – What Did I Get?
    Maria Kettleson Anderson – Following The Baby We Just Celebrated
    Leah – Still Waiting For Redemption
    Kathy Escobar – Pain Relief Not Pain Removal

    10.11.2011

    Down

    This month's sychroblog topic is Down We Go, and is not a book review of Kathy Escobar's book of the same name, but is about our experience of following after Jesus into the crowd who listened to Him introduce the sermon on the mount with the beatitudes, and thus about our experience of breaking with a life of upward mobility.

    I do want to recommend Kathy's book!  She does a beautiful job of articulating a wonderful view of faith, church, and ministry!  If you are a regular reader here, you are likely to love her book and her blog.

    My perspective is similar to hers, and probably similar to others who will post this month, but I have been led by life to a place that has some twists in the views I held even a year ago, let alone 3 or 5 or 10 years ago. 

    I still believe in community and in the bigger community of the CHURCH in the world, and still support my denomination in its polity and local congregations, but I no longer see any of that as being at the center of the action.  Nor do I see wonderful communities like Kathy's, nor our larger communities like Emergent Village, nor our conferences or unconferences or virtual communities as central to what God is doing.

    I support my women friends in ministry, and I support the wonderful women theologians and authors and speakers that have finally started to approach real leadership.  I support other groups who have been marginalized as they finally start to get tiny bits of justice and real leadership roles as well.  So I need to qualify everything I write next by saying that it should be practiced first by the WHITE STRAIGHT MEN and isn't intended to be a call to those from marginalized groups to give up newly acquired leadership roles and power.  We each need to hear and follow real wisdom that applies not only to our own situation but to our impact on the larger systems!

    But this is the thing:  being able to read and write publicly is a mark of power.  Having a computer and smartphone is a mark of power and privilege.  Being able to use twitter and facebook and attend evangelical and emergent and progressive and denominational conferences is a mark of power and privilege.  Being able to connect to those who organize a synchroblog and interact with other bloggers on a topic each month is a mark of extra time and energy and the ability to connect with that community . . . thus a mark of power and privilege.

    Pursuing power and assuming power has its place (when it is done out of a life of prayer and submission in response to the call of God and others), but our ideas of church and ministry are more about career goals and a pursuit of the American Dream than they are about real service.  God and the church and society need most of us to go get jobs where we are not paid for the books we write or the church role we fill or the speaking opportunities we can get, or even for the community of faith we can build from scratch.  We need more people to actually live out a life of service and love in the midst of the daily reality most of America experiences . . . while holding down a job and getting the kids to school in the morning and to bed at night . . . and fewer people to start new churches or try to re energize the old ones.

    There are many people looking for a savior, and they aren't going to find the REAL SAVIOR in any of our local expressions of ministry.  That isn't to say that Kathy's church isn't as amazing as she feels it to be, or that I was not ministered to by St. Andrew's in my need, or that St. Mark isn't an amazing community of faith-with-feet.  I wouldn't have just joined St. Mark again last weekend if I wasn't convinced that congregational life still has an indispensable role in discipleship and worship.  But salvation isn't centered there!  Individual, relational, and corporate healing and restoration and worship is not primarily led by those who make their living at it.  God's primary means of grace in sharing the real gospel and infusing it into the lives of real people is through the lives and words and love of those who center their life around the gospel without assuming the role of minister or leader.

    I love my friends who have been educated as pastors and preachers and scholars/professors/writers/teachers of theology and ministry and biblical studies, but I have watched the "job market" for them and the church and institutional politics in which they live.  I have watched the competition and the stars and the losers in the game.  And I have watched the economics of it all.

    I love my friends who are laypeople and who love our congregations and seminaries and colleges, and support them financially and by many hours of volunteer time.  Many of them have education and giftings on a par with those who earn their living through the church and the schools, but have done what they needed to do economically to be the support to a whole industry of faithful ministry to our generation.  I see their hearts, and know God's love for them!

    But to both I have the same message:

    Let the church fail.  Let the seminaries close.  Let the denominations die.  Let the old shell of God's power pass into antiquity.

    We are called to all the old ideals.  I still love the Book of Order and Book of Confessions of my denomination, and still am passionate about that vision of the CHURCH.  But that's not my primary calling, nor is your primary calling to your ordination or to your vision of the church or of ministry.

    Our calling IS down.  We are called out of a pursuit of "the kingdom of heaven" the ways we thought we saw it or knew it, and called IN to a pursuit of loving action in the reality of our lives today.  That means we get to translate a real faith to footsteps and words and hugs in our real homes and real workplaces, and on the streetcorner of the part of town that scares us, and with that guy sitting on the sidewalk by the Del Taco you go to each week.

    Kathy has great points to make in her book about inclusion of those on the margins, and that has been a big theme in my life too . . . but we don't have to go to her church to experience that, and it isn't primarily in church that we MUST experience it.  We are called to be people who make friends and who SEE people . . . the invisible people. 

    We should be engaging the people waiting for the bus as we jog by.  We should be people who consider the mood we perceive tonight from the checkout clerk at Stater Brothers, and be able to compare it to her mood three days ago.  We should be in prayer for the coworker that everyone hates and wishes would quit.  But none of this should flow from that word I used in each of these sentences . . . that "should" word.  All of this should flow from real transformation, real power.

    Following Jesus in an incarnational demonstration of real spiritual power will usually come to us when we are filling the same kinds of roles in society that nonchristians fill.  Following Jesus in a mystical experience of the Triune God will usually come to us when we fit our time of prayer and study into the same daily routines and pressures that our non-religious neighbors live daily.  And following Jesus in fulfilling the great commission will usually be at its most powerful and effective point in our lives when we have learned to live what He taught us to do instead of writing about it, speaking about it, or marketing it effectively.

    Anyone else down with me on this?

    ********************************************************************************

    The other posts in this month's synchroblog are here:

  • Alan Knox – How Low Can You Go

  • Jeremy Myers – Seeking The Next Demotion

  • Glenn Hager – Pretty People

  • David Derbershire – Reaching The Inner City

  • Tammy Carter – Flight Plan

  • Leah Randall – Jacked Up

  • Leah Randall (her other voice) – How Low Can We Go

  • Liz Dyer – Beautiful Mess

  • Maria Kettleson Anderson – Down

  • Christine Sine – There Is No Failure In The Kingdom of God

  • Leah Sophia – Down We Go

  • Hugh Hollowell – Downward

  • Kathy Escobar – We May Look Like Losers – Redux

  • Anthony Ehrhardt – Slumming It For Jesus

  • Sonja Andrews – Diversion and Distraction

  • Marta Layton – Down The Up Staircase