Angry Tides

Anger is a great motivator, driving us to rant, agitate, and wake up in the morning – and too often in the night.

But writing is also pushed along by anger’s focus. Wanting your voice to be heard makes adults and toddlers alike do audacious things, screaming from the backseat of the car, hoping the driver will hear of your injustice and recalculate the car’s GPS.

When I’m upset about something – but don’t want to hurt those around me – my brainwaves spin up a nuclear power plant to analyze the thing, working down the levels of what bothers me, who is to blame (me?), and the likelihood of change.

My pastor recently told me that when hard things come along, people are invariably angry, and usually turn that on their spouse.  Fortunately for my marriage, that wasn’t the case – because the anger was focused elsewhere:  the church. Not necessarily MY church, but THE church. But certainly we’re all a part of the whole.

How could the church be so sure about everything?

How could the church be so sure about everything – her teachings so consequential in people’s lives, at times denying, insisting, shaming towards the narrow way? And now look what’s come from it: this one hurt, that one hiding, the other has left it all behind. Anger.

It’s ok:  the church can take it.

People have been mad at the church since it first began and everywhere in between.

And the church is used to it, even expects it, because its visionary founder said there would be trouble in this world.

Quick word though:  trouble comes in many forms and needs to be heard – is this constructive criticism or just criticsm?  When fresh wind blows in, the hatches may need battening down, but sometimes the windows need opening up.

To push the analogy: with the windows only half-open to start with and the issues of the day blowing about, too often the church’s first reaction is to slam the window shut, then crack the window slightly, cautiously, wait about a decade too long to follow the world’s lead and inch the window up (“ok, maybe, but you can’t be in leadership”), and in the end discover its core message of grace survived the whole episode. Each generation has had its issue, so there’s a track record here to learn from.

Why wouldn’t our gut reaction be to throw the windows open and share that grace?

If we’re in touch with the grace we are living in, why wouldn’t our gut reaction be to throw the windows open and share that grace?  To first of all pull closer and declare, “I’m with you” (Moving Inward) and then go find out what that means.

Recently though, the anger fog has been rolling back a bit.  It seems the anger and the pain finally drew their guns and said to each other, “there aint enough room in here for the both of us.” The anger lost, though it’s still wriggling in a severed lizards’ tail sort of way.  Maybe re-organizing itself for a grow-back, who knows.

GlassBeachTideRecedingAnger may dominate for awhile, but then it finally pulls back from the shore and reveals other emotional tidepools to be explored.

When this point came, well, we headed into church – where else did we have?  When we feel hurt by or angry at God or the church, the friends who have carried us through it have largely been from the church. (not ironic: by design)

Though church history, doctrines, and institutions may challenge us, in the end it is full of regular people, who are sometimes willing to be honest about life’s complexities.  For us, those people have been our community, including many long-term, for-better-or-for-worse friends. The depth of conversation, the willingness for and relief of confession, the readiness to wrestle with God’s big story.

Maybe the left hand knows best how to heal the damage caused by the right hand, I don’t know, but the body analogy sure works. I didn’t come up with that one.  Each part playing its role to keep the whole thing moving toward wholeness?  It’s been said before:  “If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.”¹

♦ weekendswell ♦

For another sequence asking if the church is late to the party, see Ulysses Pact

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¹ Eugene Peterson’s phrasing of Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 12:26

Alone-ness

The elephant discovered by a group of blind men, each feeling a different part and being sure of their description, crosses my mind a lot.  The first man touches the elephant’s huge leg and convinces the others he has found a strong pillar, the second finds the tail and describes it as a rope, and so on, until they begin arguing about who is correct.

Each of them is right of course, about their part, but wrong in concluding their part is the whole.

It’s easy to relate this to our disagreements about God, but perhaps it also illustrates how blind-spottedly we see each other.  I talk to that friend about soccer, this friend about work, the other about his kids.  But I never really know the whole of someone’s experience.  Even if we are close friends – even if we live in the same room – I didn’t live their childhood, I don’t live inside their thoughts.

Uniqueness: We are all in the river, but the river is never the same twice.

It follows then that no one else truly knows me, and realizing this can make me feel alone.

I remember bonding moments, times we were “all on the same page”, like a close sports team or camp experience, when we may have come together for that experience but didn’t know the guts of how each arrived there or what each returned to.  We may have shared a cause, uniting in protest or praise; we were a part of a larger movement and it invigorated our sense of direction.  But when it runs its course, when I didn’t get what I fought for – or worse, when I do – what then?

Why is everyone around me moving on with their own causes when I’m still stuck here with mine?

If I’m surrounded by friends but still feel alone, are my friends flawed?

When you think about that part of you that no one understands, how it makes you feel alone, know this:  I feel it too.

And so does everyone else.

Which means it’s something we have in common.

Which means we’re not alone.

I had a deep and moving conversation recently with long-term friends about the challenges they have faced caring for a loved one with hidden disabilities.  The classroom struggles, what people say and don’t say, having to guide others through this while also guiding yourself:  Alone-ness.  And all along we have been friends chatting on about life, with no real – REAL – understanding of what it’s like for them to walk forward making decisions without a roadmap.

“Alone-ness” here, if a word at all, is less about how many people hang out with you and more about how many people understand you.

I am thankful that a friendship can mature to the point where we can acknowledge that we are not the solution to each other’s alone-ness.  I am not the one who can say to them, “This disability that challenges your loved one, I understand exactly what it’s like.”  I will try, and I do well to encourage them to keep looking for those people who can say it, or as close as exists.

But I can surely say, I know what it’s like to feel alone.  It’s something we all share.

Connection: The river is never the same twice, but we are all in the river.

♦ weekendswell ♦

For another take on understanding others, see Cover Songs
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Gathering Humanity

The following Good Friday reading is from Henri J.M. Nouwen and has, nearly every year for the last twenty, given my imagination an image to fix onto approaching Easter:  Christ’s body stretched across the sea of humanity, calling the wounded together.  This post is entirely a re-posting of Nouwen’s writing.  It is by far worth re-typing and re-reading and realizing:


“During the liturgy at Trosly [at L’Arche in France], Père Thomas and Père Gilbert…took the huge cross that hangs behind the altar from the wall and held it so that the whole community could come and kiss the dead body of Christ.  They all came, more than four hundred people – handicapped men and women and their assistants and friends.  larcheEverybody seemed to know Continue reading “Gathering Humanity”

Cover Songs

In my songwriting group, we sometimes assign ourselves to “cover” a song – creating a new expression of another artist’s song – and in the process I find myself understanding both the work and the artist in a deeper way.  Listening to the song can be moving enough, but to write out, play, and sing it, is to enter in to another person’s experience, to take it on and take it in.  What were they seeing when they wrote this song?  Were they writing what they were feeling or what they wanted to feel?

When trying to create original music, covering a song might feel like a step backward, a waste of time.  But in doing so, our creative process is pushed forward:  first we duplicate (cover songs), then we imitate (write something that sounds like…), and then we create.  As we get behind the artist’s eyes, we begin to see not only their canvas but also their decision-making process.

First we duplicate, then we imitate, and then we create.

A writer I would like to imitate is Henri J.M. Nouwen, but he immediately points me to “cover” someone else.  Show me the Way, a book of Nouwen readings for the 40 days of Lent, has been in our family for over two decades, inspiring me year after year.  During  holy week, Nouwen recounts Jesus washing the feet of his disciples with the words, “I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done for you.”

ShowMeTheWayWhen we hear Jesus tell us to love and serve, not just each other but the hurting and oppressed, we may resist – that would be an interruption to my life, my studies, my learning about God, for heaven’s sake.  Perhaps we could instead spend our religious efforts in doctrinal classes trying to understand more of God’s qualities.

But this would be like only listening to the song.

Listening to the song might have some effect on us, but we haven’t truly known the songwriter until we have sung their song.  To more deeply know Jesus, Nouwen says, we must follow in his steps by living a compassionate life.  Going beyond listening, we begin to serve others by looking into their eyes and allowing God’s whisper – “I accept and love you” – to speak itself into action.  Entering into the life of Jesus means entering into the life of his creation.

In other words, as we draw closer to the downtrodden, we discover Jesus there; as we draw closer to Jesus, we are drawn to the hurting around us.

In other words, the deeper we know the song, the deeper we know the songwriter; the more we know the songwriter, the more he encourages us to sing his song.

Nouwen himself lived this out – giving up his prestigious academic life to live and serve at the L’Arche Daybreak community for the intellectually and physically disabled.  Since I am currently writing from the comfort of my life, I will now (at last) hand the pen to Nouwen:

“Prayer and action, therefore, can never be seen as contradictory or mutually exclusive.  Prayer without action grows into powerless pietism, and action without prayer degenerates into questionable manipulation.

If prayer leads us into a deeper unity with the compassionate Christ, it will always give rise to concrete acts of service.  And if concrete acts of service do indeed lead us to a deeper solidarity with the poor, the hungry, the sick, the dying, and the oppressed, they will always give rise to prayer.  In prayer we meet Christ, and in him all human suffering.  In service we meet people, and in them the suffering Christ.” ¹

♦ weekendswell ♦

For another view of understanding each other, see Alone-ness.
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¹Nouwen, Henri J.M. (1994). Show me the way: readings for each day of Lent. New York, NY: The Crossroads Publishing Company

Stained Glass Followers

Note: these notes build on the image of seeing God through stained glass from a prior post.

If we have been talking as though we had direct access to the “sunlight”, it can be shocking when we become aware of how our worldview refracted that light.  My worldview is the stained glass through which I see the world outside my cathedral but also God.  Art, music, my DNA, science, experiences, friendships, parents, leaders, and increasingly news sources contribute to and sustain a worldview.  It’s important to note that it’s not the experiences themselves, but how I interpret them – or who I let interpret for me – that form the worldview.  Becoming aware that we are interpreting at all has felt like a crisis. Continue reading “Stained Glass Followers”

Stained Glass Communities

Note: this post is building on the image of seeing God through stained glass and will make more sense if you read Stained Glass first.  But here is the key part, “we must take our art, our DNA, our human experience, and hold them up to the light.  Imagining them projected onto an empty wall of a cathedral, we could glaze them into stained glass and let the sunlight shine through, casting images onto the concrete floor. It becomes a double projection:  We are projected up into the form of stained glass, then God projects back through the stained glass.”stainglassreflection2

Well here we are, down on the cathedral floor of life, with that pure and holy light seen through the stained glass of our human experience.  This is beautiful, but not without its challenges, which center around how that pure and holy light can be seen only *through* the stained glasses of human experience.

Some of you have long known this, and others will disagree and say we can know things for sure without the coloring of our own view.  But I am in the middle of the transition from one to the other and so I will write to understand.

“Most people do not see things as they are, rather, they see things as they are.”¹

Our faith communities are formed around common projections

When our human experience changes, it can change our view of God and relationship to the faith community.  We may be in a comfy situation, sitting on the cathedral floor centered around an image of God, appreciating the varying colors shining through our shared stained glass.  We have something new to hold up to the light, but others around us may be content looking at the reflection they already see on the floor.  Why do we have to stir things up?

Think about what holds your faith community together.  Is it shared faith, or shared humanity?  Faith seems the answer, but when we lose or change a few of our faith chromosomes, so to speak, do we still fit in the community?

In that time of change we may feel alone, wondering where we fit.

But why should our faith communities lose the wanderer in all this?  Aren’t churches also filled with humans?  If we share our humanity AND our faith, then when faith wavers we can continue in community.  (And, paradoxically this has greater potential to bring us back to faith.)   We might wonder aloud,

“What if we were united by our questions instead of our answers?” 

If I think of the church as a family of faith into which many children are born or adopted, I candanworktripnyccitrix-098 imagine the immense and unconditional love poured into each kid well before knowing how they will turn out.  What they believe is not a pre-condition for family membership – in fact they have done nothing to earn it.

Now for some good news: If we’ve lived cloistered in a faith community it can be freeing to discover how much we have in common with once-perceived “others.”  We can toss some of our fears into the communal bonfire and throw our arms around the others (like the random lady next to me at last summer’s Coldplay concert, draping her arm over my shoulder and full-voice belting out “Para-para-paradise“).   I remember the dread of certain situations where I might be asked what I believe or why my morals were a certain way and need to have a succinct answer.  Ironically it was also my secret ambition to live such a life that would cause others to ask me this.  Now I’ve wrestled with so many core questions, I look forward to conversations with fellow questioners and am even more willing to explain the few answers I do have.

The thankfulness remains – we didn’t get here without our community – but we may flow through many communities in this life to do all the growing required of our garden.  And we work to make our existing communities among those which accept the questions our shared humanity asks of faith.

♦ weekendswell ♦

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This is Stained Glass part 2, see also Stained Glass and  Stained Glass Leadership


¹From Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life

Stained Glass

Knowing about ourselves and our Creator are intertwined.

My favorite corner downtown has within its reach art, music, books, coffee, and food.  If I could afford to, I’d live there and never leave the block, while a rotation of artists, musicians, and writers filled each venue, illuminating truth.  Could I find the Creator on this creative corner?

Art illuminates the truth.

It shows us who we are, paints our humanity, bypasses the entanglement of words to bring our soul to understanding.  When we see Picasso’s, Blind Man’s Meal, we can feel his loneliness and thus better accept our own. BlindMansMeal The joy, the memory, of discovery is ours when we spend a minute with Renoir’s Gabriel et Jean (top of blog image).  When art sheds healing light onto each wound of life, we inch closer to making peace with the many insults pockmarking our memory.

Then science shows us a strand of DNA and we feel wonder even before we understand it. (skip forward if you’re not in the mood to geek out)  DNA is amazing:  it stores blueprints for every short-lived cell in my body, and yet the DNA itself can last hundreds of thousands of years.dna1  It is small enough to be seen only with an electron microscope but somehow contains over 700 Megabytes of data, leading computer hardware designers to copy its design.   Data scientists are building databases of unusual size (D-O-U-S’s for Princess Bride fans?) to unravel the mysterious coding sequences which make me – me.

But images of eternity are not themselves eternity.

We must take our art, our DNA, our human experience, and hold it up to the light.  Instead of being squished between microscope slides, we might imagine them printed onto old square Kodak slides and projected onto an empty wall of a cathedral.  We could glaze these into stained-glass and leave them up for the sunlight to shine through, casting images onto the concrete floor.

stainglassreflection2

It becomes a double projection:  We are projected up into the form of stained glass, then God projects back through the stained glass. With each projection, each painting, each well-crafted song, each scientific discovery:  the less foggy is our mirror.

If art can know the soul and science can know the body and music can know the heart, then we – miraculous combinations of these and more – can surely know the Divine.

The breathing bashful bloody human can know the Creator. Next post will bring out some of the problems with this God-through-the-stained-glass model, but for now, sit back and let the light shine in.

♦ weekendswell ♦

This is Stained Glass part 1, see also Stained Glass Communities and Stained Glass Leadership

 

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