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In which these are the unforced rhythms of grace

Travis has sent along another video from our time together for The Work of the People. This one is called “Living Loved” and we were chatting about learning the unforced rhythms of grace, about relaxing into the arms of our good God, and walking with our Jesus.

You can watch the first one called “You Are Not Forgotten” here.

P.S. Meyers-Briggs nerds, could I be anymore of an INFJ?

 

Continue Reading · faith, jesus, video · 29

In which you are not forgotten

A few weeks ago, Travis Reed from The Work of the People came to visit us here in Abbotsford. The time we spent together was a gift to our family, we all loved him. It felt like … holy ground. For many reasons. I think I might write a separate post about it, in fact. Our conversations on and off camera were rich, moving easily from laughter to tears, silly to profound. Travis is a whirlwind of grace, leaving you breathless for the beauty of life.

Now he is at work, creating beautiful videos out of our visit. This is the first one: You are Not Forgotten. I wanted to share it with you all.

I’ve loved The Work of the People for many years now. Make sure you spend time there – you won’t be the same.

Continue Reading · faith, video · 40

In which I am learning to obey the sadness

“Not only preachers…but anyone who tries to express the Gospel in words, even if only to himself, has much to learn here. The weight of these sad times we must obey and must obey just because they are sad times, sad and bewildering times for people who try to hold on to the Gospel and witness to it somehow when in so many ways the weight of our sadness all but crushes the life out of it.  

One wonders if there is anything more crucial for the preacher to do than to obey the sadness of our times by taking it into account without equivocation or subterfuge, by speaking out of our times and into our times not just what we ought to say about the Gospel, not just what it would appear to be in the interests of the Gospel for us to say, but what we have ourselves felt about it, experienced of it. It is possible to think of the Gospel and our preaching of it as, above all and at no matter what risk, a speaking of the truth about the way things are.” – Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale

***

My mother-in-law is a hospice chaplain. Every day of her work week, she abides with those who are sick or dying or injured, she sits with their families and friends. Most of us run from sadness and pain, but she went back to school after her children were raised precisely because she felt called to sit in those thin places with the hope of Christ, bearing the ministry of simple presence and comfort. She carries sadness that isn’t hers to carry because most of us cannot carry these moments alone and yet there are so few who will make peace with our despair.

***

I’m learning to obey the sadness – not only of our times, as Buechner wrote above, but the sadness in my own heart and the sadness of our community – and this is hard for me.

Our culture makes little space for the mess, I know. We are expected to have it all together. Don’t let them see you sweat, keep your dirty laundry and un-sanitized stories to yourself, thank you very much. Be successful, look good, feel good.

 

I never know if it’s a nature or nurture aspect of myself but I’m very good at compartmentalizing. I can put things into boxes in my mind and simply leave them there. When I worked full-time, I never brought my work stress home with me, it simply stayed at work. When things were rough in one relationship, I was able to still engage in the rest of life by simply putting it into the proper box in my mind and leaving it there until it was time to address it. I have been able to bear great stress and grief while still engaging in my life, still taking care of my children, still getting up and functioning in my life. I could be in the midst of great darkness or grief, but most people would never have known it. I took pride in my self-possession, counting it as righteousness that no one knew my heart was breaking.

But when I began my major spiritual awakening in my twenties, it was precisely because of those boxes. They were too full. Too full of questions and doubts, too full of criticisms and bitterness, grief and anger and frustrations. I had crammed too much of my very real self into these inadequate compartments in my mind.  The crash was real because the compartmentalizing was real.

Secrets make us sick, I’ve heard. I made secrets out of my questions and doubts and sadness because I didn’t know how to simply sit with them. Even now, I fight against the urge to explain or pretend or ignore away the darkness. It’s uncomfortable to lean into the pain, to find God there in the pain and the questions, the doubt and despair.

I’m too good at pretending. I’m too good at compartmentalizing. I do not obey my sadness. 

***

This might be a dark side of growing up in the whole faith-movement of charismatic tradition. We over-realized the very real truth that “our words matter.” Of course they matter: speaking life matters. I still teach my children this lesson and strive to remember the power of my tongue. But as a tribe, we over-realized that truth until we didn’t know how to feel our feelings.

Only our most over-zealous preached it but it was an unwritten expectation running through a lot of our theology: don’t give in to the darkness, don’t name it, don’t give it power, don’t acknowledge it, don’t confess it, don’t be sad, don’t be mad, don’t be despairing. We believed our feelings and our circumstances had to obey our carefully curated version of the Word of God: we are more than overcomers, the joy of the Lord is our strength, death has no sting. So don’t grieve when death comes calling: they are now with Jesus. Don’t be sick: come down with a healing. Don’t be sad: the joy of the Lord is your strength.

And I can’t tell you the grief I carry still over the people that were caught in the crossfire consequences of that teaching, believing that their darkness or grief or sadness or despair or sickness was their own fault because they simply lacked faith.

What bullshit.

When their stories didn’t line up with our narrative, they felt shame and eventually disappeared.

I understand how we got there now. I do. I know it was one-part ignorance, one-part hope. I am still charismatic, I still believe in signs and wonders, I still believe that God is for us and that we were meant for shalom.

But also, there’s this: when I was sad, when I had real legitimate reasons for grief or despair or anger or any emotion that was perceived as negative or dark, I had nowhere to go with it. I didn’t know how to feel my feelings. And by refusing to name it or acknowledge it, sometimes the darkness simply grew. As my worldview has expanded to include more stories than simply my own, as I woke up to the world outside of my own experiences, I saw this even more clearly. Look at the real darkness around us: don’t pretend it’s not real.

***

I’ve been thinking of our Jesus. How he took the bread and tore it with his own hands: this is my body broken for you. How he poured out the wine: this is my blood poured out for you.

First the death, then the resurrection. We like to skip that first part. We like to think we can have the resurrection without the death.

“Abide with me,” the Spirit whispers to us. Can we abide in what is real?

***

I think this is why I was so quick to pick up Barbara Brown Taylor’s new book, Learning to Walk in the Dark. I read it while on my way to Haiti a month ago. She writes about “solar Christianity” – bright and full of light and happy – in comparison to the lunar Christians among us who find God often in the darkness. And I realised that I have often found God in both places. I’m not one or the other, I’m both-and. But I‘ve been slow to make peace with my lunar spirituality, unaccustomed to walking in the dark with patience. I’m still in the early days of holding space for the lament to deepen the joy.

***

This isn’t an merely an intellectual discussion for us right now.  I’m writing this right now because this is what is happening. It’s not a puzzle to be pieced together, it’s a full immersion baptism.

Bear with me.

***

We are in deep grief with dear friends in these days. They are in a thin place, we are bearing witness. We have borne witness with each other in the joys and sorrows of our lives over fifteen years of true friendship: now an end is nearing.

There is nothing to say now. There is only what is happening. This is life sometimes, don’t pretend or compartmentalize or ignore or placate. Simply obey the sadness. Speak the truth of what is happening. Not the truth you wish were real. Not the truth that ought to be. Not the platitudes or time-worn cliches to minimize grief.

Of course, it’s wrong, we weren’t meant for this. This isn’t shalom.

But this is what is happening – whether it’s right in our own homes or halfway around the world in Nigeria – and so we learn to obey the sadness and live into the Gospel in the midst of it, to speak the truth.

I’m not walking in the dark, not yet, but I’m learning to abide with it.

***

One night, my broken-hearted husband called his mother: what do we say? what do we do? what will fix this? there is nothing else to do. You do this every day, Mom, what do I do?

Sit with them, she said. There is nothing to say, stop thinking there is something to say to make it go away. It won’t go away. Sit in the sadness.

 

Continue Reading · faith · 112

In which my naturopath shows me how to be more like Jesus

I’m not someone who goes to the doctor. I don’t have a big trauma story, just a steady aversion and disinclination. Even when I had my babies, I was reluctant to go to the doctor, preferring home-based midwifery care – which was amazing. I’m fortunate to be very healthy overall and so I can indulge my petty avoidances quite nicely: I hardly ever subject myself to over-the-counter meds. I tend to think that most of my ills can be cured by a good sleep and a bit of time outside (and usually I’m right).

However, my mum has been after me to go to her naturopath for no less than two years. She sang her praises to the rafters, swore it would change my life, and I shrugged it off. I’m fine, we’re fine, everything’s fine. But over the past few months, I’ve had a few health issues – nothing serious but enough that I knew it was time to not only make practical changes but also seek a bit of help and direction. And so I made the appointment reluctantly, contemplating cancelling it right up until I got in the minivan to show up.

A short time later, I was reaching for the tissues and apologising for the sudden rush of tears in her office. I think it was when she said, “Let’s take an hour and just talk it all through” with such patience and love in her voice. I can’t remember the last time a professional said something like that to me.

So often when we go to the doctor, we are apologetic for even showing up. “I’m so sorry I’m sick and taking up your valuable time.” We feel like the inconvenience when we are supposed to be the point of it all. And most of the time, no one makes eye contact with us, answers come before our questions are fully voiced, we skate on the surface of what ails by summarizing symptoms, the appointment is done in less than ten minutes, and then we walk out with another scrawl for an antibiotic and the profound sense that no one actually cared.

My experience with my naturopath was so different. She was kind. Yes, she was kind! Imagine this. She listened. She asked questions. She pressed past the symptoms to have a conversation with me about my sleep and my food, my work and my pace, my family and my faith. She wanted to know about how I spend my time, about my fingernails, about my moods. She wanted to know about my feelings and the thin places in my life. She wanted to know about my weight and my appetites, my energy and my joys. We talked and sometimes I cried because it was such a relief to talk it out. She didn’t rush me, she didn’t coach me. Instead, when I fell silent, she let me be silent until I wanted to continue. She let me find the words on my own and then – wonders! - she believed me

When she began to make recommendations to me, she took the time to explain them. Instead of just shoving a piece of paper at me with the terse instruction, she drew pictures and used metaphors I understood to explain the complex workings of my body. She wanted me to know what she knew. She loved her work, you could see it in her eyes. She was wise but she never made me feel stupid. She showed me the connections I had missed, the symptoms-behind-the-symptoms and the cause of them all. It turned out that some minor things could be adjusted or fixed. There was no shame.

When I left, I was filled with hope. I felt empowered. I understood myself better and felt reoriented around a new path that would hopefully lead me to a more holistic healing. 

And being me, the chronic theological over-thinker, it made me think of our Church and how we encounter one another in the Kingdom. I have no idea if my naturopath is a Christian but she acted more like Jesus in our time together than a lot of Christians I know.

Don’t we need our fellow pilgrims or leaders to be gentle with our hurts and with our healing?

Maybe instead of learning best practices for marketing, we could begin to learn best practices of listening, best practices of seeing, best practices of silence or encouragement or patience.

Of course there is a path forward, wisdom to receive, healing to seek, but we never walk alone.

Perhaps we need to stop giving answers before the question is fully asked. Or maybe we need to sit in the silences and wait for someone else to speak first. I pray we give the gift of holding the despair or wounds of another with validation and grace. We need to educate without patronizing or blaming. We need to stop fixing the symptoms and start looking towards the full story, the connections behind it all.

No one gets where they are in their journey in a cosmic jump: we walked a path, however circuitous or complex. I wonder if we knew the path that lay behind each of us, if we would be so quick to prescribe quick fixes and rhyming couplets. The physical symptoms are only one aspect of ourselves: there is our mind, our histories, our dreams, our souls, all of it, so connected and so necessary for our full healing. I wonder if started with love, if it would show up in the way we talk about our Jesus, the way we talk about our beautiful-and-broken Church, and each other.  I want to move on Kingdom time, not hustle time, with eyes to see, ears to hear, a heart to understand.

My naturopath is setting me on a path of healing and wholeness, sure, but she just might also be teaching me live more fully as a disciple of Jesus.

Continue Reading · faith, health · 21