"Dan! The phone's for you. It's our beloved Anne."
I am basking in someone calling me beloved. I am thinking about how that sounded, like a harp strumming the chords of my soul. May God give me beautiful and true words to speak into others hearts.
Christians have a tendency to get wrapped up in sexual sin. Obviously this movie has carried plenty of it to grab our attention. Homosexuality, promiscuity, adultery. In the midst of our focus on two men loving each other, the reviewers missed an important, moral trait that Ennis possessed; he was a good father. As a twice-divorced mother who saw two dads walk away from their children's lives, I saw the gentleness and love that Ennis gave his girls. I took note after the divorce when Ennis talked to his daughters about when he'd see them again. When Jack heard about his lover's separation and showed up unannounced at his doorstep, I remember the reason Ennis gave him for not being able to spend time with him. He had his girls that weekend, he told Jack, and he only got them once a month, and he'd missed the month before. The lover that he saw infrequently and loved so passionately didn't come before his kids.
Ennis wouldn't quit his job and leave his girls to go live with Jack. But at the end of the movie he tells his daughter that he'll quit his job to be at her wedding. He is left with relics of those he loves - his shirt and Jack's together on a hanger, the sweater his daughter forgot when she left. Material reminders of what mattered most in the fabric of Ennis' life; those he loved. In the end he gave his daughter what he couldn't give Jack - his time and his presence.
I don't have to look very far to find grown men and women who have been scarred by the abandonment of their fathers (or mothers), as my children have been. If we only see the sexual elements in Brokeback and not the fathering that Ennis gave his children, what does that say? What matters most to us?
At the moment when he arrived half-dead, and people waded out to bring him ashore and hold him up and walk with him and embrace him, I thought, Christ. Christ. I am seeing Christ. And it doesn't matter to me if they're Christian, or if I'm Christian, or if anyone ever talks about being Christian. It's handing the cup of water to someone - there is Jesus. It's holding out my hand, it's sharing my morsel of food, it's love flowing from my heart into their Christ eyes. It's there, right there. Every moment of love. Every kindness done. Every gentle word spoken. I see the Son in all of that...and if they don't see that love and compassion in me....then I have not immersed myself in him enough yet. I pray to be a conduit of that Love, no matter what name others give it. I pray I will see Christ in each face I meet.
The Edge of Culture
Christ, his followers, and how we perceive ourselves relating to culture has been a topic of heated debate for the last 2000 years. H. Richard Niehbuhr's book, Christ and Culture, suggests that all our varied perspectives are actually creating the tensions that will lead us in the right direction.
"...Christ as Lord is answering the question in the totality of history and life in a fashion which transcends the wisdom of all his interpreters yet employs their partial insights and their necessary conflicts."
In my estimation, the Church is born and bred and culture, and finds its home within it; yet we are also a transcendent community, a little bit of earth's green and heaven's blue in our eyes, and we live both within and hopefully beyond culture.
A personal story that may generate some fresh discussion. A few years ago, I had a unique experience at the edge of a cliff in New Zealand. Our guide had taken us to see one of the highest sea cliffs in the country, on a blustery day. Seeing the possible view that awaited me, I desperately wanted to snap a picture looking straight down over the precipice. Mingled with my sense of adventure was a clear call for wisdom - windy days and sharp overhangs do not a safe combination make!
Sensing my lack of confidence, a wise friend suggested, "Why don't you crawl to the edge?" With this advice, I could see the vista I so wanted to capture, yet do so in a way that protected me from potential harm. It was humbling, but I went to the edge tethered to my friends and grounded on the soil beneath me. I captured the view, but in the humblest of postures.
In many ways, we as the Church variously respond to "the edge" as well. Some of us have heard there is a beautiful view to be seen where Christ and culture work meet head on - and redemption wins the day. Others of us choose the safety of community, tradition and familiarity, over the temptation to see a fresh view. Still others of us attempt the edge with boldness and even arrogance, and have found the edge to be a precarious place of death and destruction. The challenge for the contemporary Church is to see the revelatory vista waiting for us, and yet to do so in humility, tethered to the historic Church community and the theological anchor of the scriptures.
The edge is a tenuous and unforgiving place, but it seems to be the place where Jesus and His disciples lived. This edge of engagement with culture requires discernment, and is a necessary part of impacting the world with the good news of the Kingdom of God. Contemporary worship expression has chosen to live on that edge, and is galvanizing the Church increasingly as it reforms itself.
Did Jesus live? And did he really say
The burning words that banish mortal fear?
And are they true? Just this is central, here
The Church must stand or fall. It's Christ we weigh.
All else is off the point: the Flood, the Day
Of Eden, or the Virgin Birth - Have done!
The Question is, did God send us the Son
Incarnate crying Love! Love is the Way!
Between the probable and proved there yawns
A gap. Afraid to jump, we stand absurd,
Then see behind us sink the ground and, worse,
Our very standpoint crumbling. Desperate dawns
Our only hope: to leap into the Word
That opens up the shuttered universe.
Sheldon VanAuken, A Severe Mercy
I know that Lee knew what I was going to talk about. In the Protestant tradition there is not much space for believing that some can be called to singleness. Not only is it usually greeted with skepticism, it is not normally viewed as a healthy way of life, really. Lee (bless him) immediately chimed in with Paul's take on how people should stay single...if they were able.
Anyway, I also talked about how age can change your focus, your hormones, your desires to be paired with another. Then I'm going off on this little passionate soliloquy about priests and nuns and a calling to celibacy and devotion to God, and why didn't we have Emergent nuns, I wonder? Jessica immediately said she could so see me as an emergent nun. (I'm immediately picturing myself in a forest green habit with a cloth band of metallic bronze Celtic crosses lining my wimple.) More brainstorming. Maybe people could ask questions during our gathering about singleness. Maybe Anne (huh?) could be available to pray with other singles who would like prayer about being single. Uh oh. The thing is - I don't know that I'm called to lifelong singleness, though I think I've convinced my pastor and our team that I am. Even though I have been divorced for 11 years now, I'm not sure I want to commit myself to being celibate the rest of my life. Probably a 20-year-old reading this would think those feelings of passion are way behind me by my age, but they're not.
Yesterday a friend at the Ooze posted an article by Capon, and part of it said this:
"One of the difficulties in our thinking about the will of
God has been caused by the crisis of change in the church.
Everyone agrees, of course, that what we need most is To Do
The Will Of God. The trouble is that very few people, unless
they are faking it, know what the will of God for them is.
There is a lot of pious talk about finding out about whether
it is the will of God for you to marry Irving, or become a
priest, or take the veil; but in all honesty, what you are
really going to find out is what your will on the subject is,
and whether you have enough nerve to go through with it."
I've been musing this over. Am I finding God's will by what falls away? My desires for intimacy as a woman may still be intact, but my desire to go out and purposely try to meet someone is nonexistent. Feelings of loneliness surface occasionally, but the bereft feelings of desolation I had when younger have dissipated. Most times I am content with my life, my friends, my God. My Rick, the man I spent a number of years with as a friend, business partner and lover are now gone since his memory of me was mostly wiped away after extensive shock therapy treatments. (I have to pause for a moment here. My gratitude to God for allowing me to have one relationship in my life with a man of fine and noble character.)
"We have, you see, been forced by change into a situation in
which we are either going to have to stop talking about doing
the will of God, or else find a way of seeing it in a new
light. Specifically, we are going to have to find a way of
seeing our now almost inevitable independence as the heart of
our calling - of discovering that our present condition of
flying by the seat of our pants may well be Doing The Will Of
Emergent nun? If there were such a creature, I'm not sure yet. I should call Toni, the young woman I know who has just become a Third Order Religious, and taken a vow of celibacy, though it's not required for laymen or laywomen. Not because I am looking for direction - perhaps my direction lies in things falling away. But because her passion for Christ consumes her so, and has led her to this calling. And I want to taste, even vicariously, the kind of passion that makes someone feel they are not giving up anything when they make this vow, but are walking towards the greatest intimacy of all.
And I should write Lee and tell him I don't want to mislead him. I'm not sure yet that I'm ready to become the first-ever Emergent Church nun. (Though "Sister Anne Marie" has a nice ring to it...)
In a week's time since Carman got his driver's license my prayer has been whittled down. I love you, God bless you, may angels surround your car...
The wind sounds hollow, the late night lonely. I will wrap myself in warm prayers until he returns.
Almost as soon as I finished typing that, I hear his key in the door. What a lovely sound it makes. I fancy it sounds like the whispers of angels.
When I have dinner Saturday night with Dan and his wife, Kerri said she's looking forward to hearing my story. In another church there is so much of my story I probably wouldn't tell. But in this place, with these people, what story couldn't I tell? Jesus embraced the misfits, sat down and ate lasagna with the riffraff. So many of us plunged screamingly into life with wild abandon, and found something missing until we plunged headlong into life in Christ. May his Spirit grow larger and more present in my life, but may I always have the heart of a misfit.
You would be 84-years-old today. Each passing year the photograph of you on my living room wall looks younger. I have now lived more years on this planet than you were given. How crazy is that.
I remember when I smashed Mom's car when I was 16-years-old, tore a hole in the side of it, and burst through the door sobbing hysterically. I know you couldn't even understand me at first because I was crying so hard. I finally managed to blurt out the details between my deep gasping sobs, and cried, You have to come out! You have to see what I did!
But you just sat there calmly and said, No. I'm not going to. That stunned me. You told me that it was more important to you that I calm myself down then for you to go look at the car, and when I was feeling better then we would go look at it together.
Dad, that was a remarkable thing for a father to do. You, who didn't know how to tell people you loved them, showed me how much value I had to you in that brief moment. You showed me too all those days when I was in the hospital and you canceled business trips to be at my side everyday. I didn't know right then what a gift from God my illness was, and how he was blessing me by giving me time with you right before there was no time left. Dad, it was your death that led me to God; life made absolutely no sense to me unless I embraced him. Dad, it was your life that led me to God, because despite the hardships, the alcohol, the pain all that caused - I loved you so ferociously, I looked up to you and idolized you and thought you were the most brilliant and wonderful man on this planet.
Dad, life is so crazy. I only had you for 17 short years, and you've been gone for almost 34, and many memories of you grow dim. Yet as I type this the grief wells up once more, the tears still flow, the love - the magnificent, incredible, amazing love I have for you is just as present. Forever and forever, Dad.
My love to you. My love to Mom. My love. My love. My love.
Before our creative collaborative team meets this Sunday night to help plan music and experiential worship elements I like to read his brief outline, the accompanying scripture. I like to soak in it a bit, reflect and pray. Our group is a good combo - some shoot from the hip - wild, wacky, crazy ideas that are wonderful. I usually end up coming in like some Emergent nun with the quiet thoughts. (Not that I can't be wacky - I did compose new lyrics to the Addams family song we sang one Halloween and Photoshop-morphed Lee and Kristi into Gomez and Morticia.)
Anyway, so far there is just a list of titles for the weekly spiritual talks:
The Power of Love
One: The Loneliest Number
Temptation: Start Me Up
Dating: I Want To Hold Your Hand
Marriage: Light My Fire
Dirty Laundry: Finding Forgiveness
I hope I have the time to be reflective with scripture verses and Lee's metaphors and descriptions because I'll be the only single one in the group. The only twice divorced one on the team. I don't know what it's like to be married to your best friend. I've been a single mother longer in adulthood then I've been married. What can God use me for in this? It'll be interesting to see. He often surprises me.
Early morning working on a logo for my son's girlfriend's 60's/garage sounding band. They were featured in a big spread in our local paper as one of the up and coming sounds around town. But they're logoless; such a crime to a graphic designer. It took me forever to get the lettering right - the right shade of grey, distortion arc, filters for chrome and silver just didn't work. Think elsewhere...don't look in the obvious places...try glass, try mirror, add lens flare, a touch of satin filtering, a light touch on the inner bevel....try exploring design like faith....open wider, wider, farther, deeper. Not to say I've created the ultimate garage band logo for Metal Teeth. Not to say that I've plunged the depths of faith yet that my heart desires. God and Rock n' Roll on a Saturday morning.
In my dream I was afraid because I knew the men who had broken in before and hurt me would come again. I went to the front door to check the locks and when I turned around my daughter was there, very tiny again, riding a tricycle. She asked where my friend Michael was, said that he would protect us, and I told her that he wasn't there because he has his own family. She didn't know he had a family and I explained that he was still a part of our lives too, and I said, "That's because God planned for all of us to be here on this planet at the same time to help one another."
I still have this lingering sense from my dream of how remarkable that is. Each person I have met in person or online is here in this tiny blip on the map of time for a reason, for a purpose, and each relationship I have is a strand that weaves its vibrant color into the fabric of my life. So many of you, weaving yourself into my life, have strengthened the threads of my soul, made the tapestry of life so much richer in hue and dimension. I'm so glad that God chose us to all travel here in this tiny increment of time. Bless all you brave ones journeying on this earth, who courageously open, loosen and unravel yourselves and lovingly weave others in.
Michael J. Fox told that story in an interview I watched. He was different, his Parkinson's disease is more obvious now, though some symptoms subsided a bit when he excused himself for a few minutes to take another pill. His face is less animated, his smile is only a reflection of what it used to be, and the involuntary twitching of his limbs cannot be completely controlled as they were when I saw him on television a couple of years ago. He said that sometimes now he has facial contortions that will freeze his face in a twisted grimace for half an hour or more, and how he has to put his mind in a different place and wait out the paralysis and the pain it causes. But then he said this:
"Having this disease is a gift." He said that it's a gift because when you have lost something, you see just how much you have gained in life and how much you still have. He talked about how grateful he was to have been able to do the work he loved, and for all the relationships he's had in life that mean so much to him.
"We all have a bag of hammers," Michael Fox said. God, may I always see how light my bag has been compared to many, may I see the gift in the ones I have, and may I always be concerned about the hammers all your children carry.
When we are overly fascinated with ourselves, our heart is diminished, our compassion is stunted, our interaction with the whole of human existence is lessened. When we cast our glance away from self and etch the lives of others on our heart, our heart expands. We come to understand ourselves better. We find that our thoughts, feelings, hopes, and dreams deepen until they are as textured and rich as the thick wool of an oriental carpet.
Consider what it might mean in your life if you began to etch others on your heart. Instead of praying episodically, you would keep your heart always open to heaven, silently asking God to read the carvings you had scratched there.
O God, when I am pre-occupied with myself, wake me up and give me the heart of heaven.
If I were not in church, I would never read those words from Isaiah probably, or if I did, it would be a quick scan, not something I would contemplate much, certainly not a brief phrase that I would imagine using for a spiritual talk. Good thing I'm in a church. Good thing I have a pastor whose eyes don't speed read through the Old Testament.
Lee, bless him, always paints a picture for we visual-minded folks with our TV brains. Lake Michigan is 300 miles across at its widest, and about 1,000 feet deep at its deepest. (That's over 3 football fields, which is the only way I can visualize distance, which is odd because I'm not a big football fan.) Anyway, it's a lot of water, and if you throw in lakes Huron, Ontario, Erie and Superior it's a lot to put in a measuring cup, which Lee held up for another visual aid, bless him. And then we add all the other inland lakes and the rivers, seas and oceans and imagine that in the hollow of God's hand. Suddenly God gets quite gargantuan.
As a side benefit, I immediately have this really fond feeling for God, this Spirit who uses a human anatomy word picture to try and describe himself in human terms so we can get just a tiny inkling of his ubiquitousness.
And then Lee talked about the heavens, and asked for statistics. I'm so glad I belong to a church where questions are asked and answers are called out from the Body, a church where we don't sit passively and run the risk of having our minds wander to what's on sale at Wal-Mart or how long it will take for the pot roast to cook in the crock pot. I'm also impressed by the statistical knowledge of many of these lovely people, who know so much more than I do about the speed of light and the nearest constellations and how long it would take to travel there. If Lee could have broken space travel down into football field measurements, I might have been able to wrap my brain around it a bit better.
Then he talked the heavens and being a guide in the mountains of Colorado, and making a base camp at 10,000 feet. After all the young men helped set up camp at dusk in record time, they took each boy outside of camp about 100 yards, which, when I think of a football field, is pretty far when you're high up in the mountains with night crawling in. The guides also took their sleeping bags and went out 100 yards individually, so that everyone was arranged in a spoke around the base camp. So there they were, a connected circle, but separate in their own Rocky Mountain world. I can almost hear the silence. And I could almost see the stars when Lee described lying there and looking up at a heaven so vast and so deep that it felt as if you could reach up your hand and touch it, and that it could swallow you in its immensity and dimension.
Then I thought of God measuring the vastness of space stretched out between his thumb and pinky finger. When I think of a God that big, I see a glimpse of why the sight of a dandelion poking through a crack in the sidewalk can bring me to tears. I begin to understand how I can stand in line at the bank and see these invisible threads between each and everyone of us there, and be filled with such love for strangers. God's girth is so enormous that he touches every thing, and every one. And occasionally when I am very lucky I feel the universe wrapped in his arms and saturated in Love.