The Sticking Point

July 29, 2010

If a Sticking Point is defined as a point beyond which someone or something will not budge; a point or issue that causes action, negotiations, etc. to come to a standstill; or a point, issue, or situation that causes or is likely to cause an impasse, it occurred in Marietta night before last. You may have heard it.

Actually, I am employing poetic license to try and ‘hook’ you in–did I?— for there was really no screaming or even a raised voice. However, a low voice is often even more emphatic. Such was the tenor–or should I say the bass–of mine on Tuesday.

I don’t have many sticking points. Chalk that up to age or personality or my experience as a minister. I’m not sure which is the greatest factor in my acceptance of others and their position on most anything. Age has taught me that I am very fallible and have, not only a name, but also feet of clay. It has tempered me as the refiners’ fire to help me better understand where people are coming from and how they got there. It has shown me that often I have been wrong or judgmental or critical or insensitive when encountering people with differing opinions and ideas. We learn so much about ourselves and life through those we rub up against.

Take yesterday as an example: A man came into the bakery, an older man who is wealthy and British and a Messianic Jew, who flat out told me when it came up in conversation that I should never have been a minister because I am a woman. The scripture–to him–was clear. Ok..so do I debate or press my reasons for being a clergywoman for 23 years.. or offer alternative texts and biblical stories of women’s roles? I did a bit of that but I could see I was getting nowhere and so I blessed him in my heart, served him a pie, and we went our separate ways.

Age shows us the nuances and shadows and light of the gray. If we only see in black and white, we miss so much.

Then, there is personality which contributes to a low inventory of ‘sticking points’. I can’t help it, I am flexible. My boundaries are sometimes permeable and shift around, even if I have worked on clearer ones. Ask my children. They will tell you I would set one limit and then, after a conversation, might be willing to extend the limit or withdraw it altogether, if it seemed reasonable. Case in point: curfews. The time they needed to be home depended on what they were doing, who they were with, and was based on how responsible, truthful, and trustworthy they had been in the past. Even though the current thinking-so different from Spock- is that parents should not be ‘friends’ with their children and remain stalwart in unyielding firmness, my sons knew something different and they turned out fine. Ask anyone.

But being a minister was undoubtedly the most significant influence on the liberal nature of my ‘sticking points.’ You just can’t hear people’s stories, visit in their homes, hold their confidences, know their family and their children and the sacred details of their marriages and struggles, see their pain, and not be broad-minded and accepting. At least, that is my opinion and experience. I believe to be any different as pastor and preacher in the local church and as one who is active in the community would be a grave mistake and sell the Gospel and Jesus’ Love way short.

So, I embraced and dialogued with many gays and lesbians about scripture, the Church, the nature of love and intimacy, and commitment, grace, and what it means to be made in the image of God. I heard the struggle of an eighty year old man whose middle-aged son, a Presbyterian clergyman, had become a daughter. I watched the pain and the love in his face as he cried.

I sipped a beer passed around at a memorial service in Mayor’s Park by bikers. This act is not one I thought I would ever do or one I especially wanted to do–drinking after people I didn’t really even know and two blocks from the church I served outdoors in view of everyone in broad daylight. It was not taught to me in a class on evangelism or posed as an option for outreach in theology school. But I knew if I refused, another nail in the coffin would have been set in these ‘unchurched’ souls’ opinion that the Church, and thus God, was dead. They missed their brother and it was a way to honor him. I was honored by their request to lead the service and would not have missed the opportunity to offer them a small taste, as I tasted the Budweiser, of the vastness of God’s grace.

I didn’t see the many who came to the church for help to keep the power on or buy wood, to have food on the table or gas in the car or medicine as ones from whom I could not learn a deeper meaning of suffering and of existence, of justice and humility, and of a strong, complex and lived faith.

Not that I have always been so loving or patient or gracious in every situation in the church. I have had my moments of digging my heels in, even of anger, and imposing my role as Pastor-in-Charge when, for instance, the altar guild attempted to switch some watered-down store brand of grape drink for Welch’s in the communion cup. I know this doesn’t seem important but have you tried the store brand?! Or when a worship committee wanted to ‘axe’ the children’s sermon or do away with the ‘Peace.’ Or when the DOT attempted to take property from the church’s and our neighbors’ front lawns, when there was nothing on the other side of the road except scrub pines and I knew one of the County Commisioners owned the property on the corner and would directly benefit from the transaction. Or when a project was almost halted midstream through an architect’s negligence and a college president and had to be ‘woman-handled’ straight through the obstructions.

As I reflect more on the nature of being broad-minded and dogmatism’s antithesis, and the few sticking points I still have, I know gender also plays a role. Men tend to think more linearally and women, more circular–some would say more creatively, others would call it ‘weak’. Study the famous ethical argument about the man stealing medicine for his wife from the pharmacy and you will understand the different ways the sexes approach many situations in life. Also, even though women have been ordained in the United Methodist Church since 1955, I was the first woman pastor in every community and church where I served. So..for that particular group pf folks, it was something new and different and to some, not biblically sound or desirable. It behooved me for a multitude of reasons to seldom enter into debate but teach by example and win over believers by fruit. I had to learn not only to be a little more thick-skinned but also to discern people’s true intentions and what motivated them. (I know I am rambling and could write a book here as well, but I will add the following: People used to sometimes say in their discussion on gender and why women should not be ministers, “Don’t take it personally,” as if gender and being female were not an integral part of my personhood).

The stories I could tell… but the point is this: I am prone to listen without argument or heated debate to many views on life, faith, and values without being reactive or reaching an impasse or with the perceived need or desire to set someone straight. I have few, if any, conversations and relationships which now reach an impasse.

So..at long last, I am back to Tuesday night and what happened at Johnny McCrackins. I had gone with a young friend I have previously mentioned who is an artist and believes in God and considers herself a Christian. She does not attend church and has rather unorthodox views on many things. We ate fish and chips (yummy, by the way), drank a Guiness (or two) and sat in the patio out back for five hours talking. I know this seems like a long time–is a long time–but when you are discussing matters of the heart and deep spiritual and theological questions and beliefs, time passes quickly and is vital to a mutual understanding.

So, we discussed the nature of God; Christology; the inspiration and role of scripture; the Holy Spirit and angels and demons; whether Satan and hell exist; if the difficulties and suffering in life come from God as gift or oppose God’s plan for our lives; the philisophical question about the three O’s–God’s omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence: Could God create a boulder too big for Him(sic) to move?–and more.

Then, the sticking point occured.  My friend stated a commonly used expression: God helps those who help themselves. This sentiment seems reasonable and benign enough and is certainly cultural (the old boot-strap theory) but is anathema to my ideas and experience of God and what I believe is the message of the Gospel.

So I said, in my low, serious, unwavering and untypical voice: No. God’s very business is the exact opposite. God helps those who cannot help themselves. And of course, that is all of us.

This belief of mine is shared by centuries of Christian theology, by scripture, tradition, and experience.  It is the heart of the Gospel, the Good News at its core.

God is most interested in those who are flat on the floor, at the end of their tether of self-will and determination and resource, whose spirits have sagged to ground zero and whose hearts, minds, and bodies are prone. But God is also interested in those upright and soaring on their own like whirlygigs, oblivious in the wind and sunshine. We all have the need of a Saviour, a Shepherd, a Comforter, a Friend.

The theology of Grace, of Paul and the Church, is just this very truth: that we are not and cannot be ‘saved’ from ourselves or others or a flawed and imperfect world with all of the ‘sins’ of commision and ommision, the myriad of breakers which separate us from the sea of God’s love, by any merit or strength or wisdom or virtue or ingenuity or talent or intelligence or works– or even any goodness– on our own.  

We cannot keep the commandments or live even the Greatest Two for twenty-four hours perfectly and will screw up again and again. It is the state of humanity–not so much ‘depraved’ as vulnerable and frail and too beautiful–which harms us and others and the earth in ways which are more often self-abnegating than selfish, destructive and damaging without awareness, consent, or intention. We so easily are prone to wander off cliffs of our own creation, or pound our fists against oppressive systems too powerful for us to change. Our attempts to do justice and show mercy are often ineffective or weak. We grope in minds which are limited for universal meaning and purpose. We easily grow confused and distracted about why we were created in the first place: to simply enjoy a relationship with God and thus, with others, all creation, and ourselves.

Salvation, soteriology, is not a four-step plan or a doctrine but the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection–the Amazing Grace of God’s Love.

So, I guess I am back to preaching and sounding rather Baptist. But the cultural maxim, which many mistakenly think is in our Bible, has nothing to do with the Gospel at all.

God helps those who help themselves, yes, if you mean everyone. But the implicit meaning in the statement is that God only helps those who help themselves. And this is bullshit and just plain wrong.

That’s my point and I’m sticking to it.

I can’t remember when that bright yellow face began appearing. The round shape was frozen in a permanent position, exactly the same no matter the conditions. We would learn to call it the Smiley Face. It would often be paired with the imperative, Have a good day. It was really annoying.

Now it appears on computer screens in texts and has a new form: a colon and a parenthesis. I still find it annoying:)

For the longest time, apparently I made the sign backwards like this(: until my son straightened me out. He said it would be easy to mistake my symbol for a sad face:( I guess he was right.

I think other faces now exist in the universal electronic world–puzzled expressions, ones which blow kisses, ones which wink…you probably know better than I. I am still learning.

I learned yesterday of another new punctuation symbol. It has nothing to do with a face yet still expresses an emotion, that of questioning exclamation. It is called an interrobang. It is a question mark with an exclamation point through it. I find this symbol intriguing. Possibly because the sign’s meaning is the one with which I am most familiar; that of a curious unknowing combined with strong feeling. I am so glad to know of its existence although I have no clue how to create it on the screen. I also like its name. It could be the punctuation of my life.

Today I am thinking about faces, the ones I encounter everyday, yours across the internet. I wonder how your face and mine reveal our emotions, our lips curved like a parenthesis, up or down. 

It is hard to hide our emotions. They simply show on our face. We may attempt to mask them through a forced smile, a deadpan expression, or stiff upper lip; however, even to the inobservant, true camouflage of our heart is hard.

Recently I was sold a night cream which claims to reduce wrinkles around the eyes. Imagine my surprise when it worked (another interrobang). But the more I study my eyes in the mirror, the more I relaize I don’t like the change. There is something false about a fifty-five year old woman who has weathered so much, including tears and laughter, to not show it around the eyes. I don’t think the cream is a miracle worker but it has erased some of the finer lines. I just don’t like it. I am going to throw the jar away or sell it on ebay.

I like my wrinkles. I like my old eyes. I even like the parentheses around my mouth at the bottom of my cheeks. All reveal to me a lifetime of emotion–the ups and downs, the happy and sad and worried and perplexed and angry faces of my life. They are my history, like a well-worn map.

For many of us, emotions are scary. They can be so strong and have a life of their own which cannot be controlled even if we try. They tell us what is going on inside, for the body, the nerves, even the brain knows the heart.

To embrace our emotions and learn from them with neither distain nor dismissal, is paramount to being fully human.  We are more than cerebral beings. Our creation is wholistic as the image of God.

Can we recall Jesus’ emotion as he swung whips in the Temple, chasing out the monerchangers who were crooks? Or his sadness at Lazarus’ tomb when one of his closest friends died? Or his tired relief as he finally got away from the crowds with his buddies and relaxed by the sea? Can we imagine the frustration on his face, the roll of his eyes when he was shaken from his power nap during the storm?

I like to think of his animation as Mary sat crosslegged with theological questions, the interested look he gave the wanton woman at the well, his smile and the flush in his cheeks as his feet were anointed with perfume and dried with long sensual hair.

I see him kneeling before his disciples with a basin and a towel, tenderness revealed in his eyes. I envison Jesus’ face white with fear when he falls to his knees in the Garden, sweating great drops of blood. It is impossible not to imagine which direction his lips were turned as he carried the wood of his own execution through the crowded streets of Jerusalem.

Surely his brow is furrowed in worry and concern for his mother as he speaks to John from a helpless position on the cross.  And then with arms outstretched–blood dripping from his hands, his feet, his side, caked in his hair–it is impossible to fully envision the anguished passion on his entire face, as he cries out to God with one final request.

I guess what I want to say is this: If we believe Jesus of Nazareth is God Incarnate and He dealt with and expressed strong and deep emotion in his life which must have shown on his face, that we should be any different. Jesus was fully human and also fully divine and really, are we less so, as God’s creation made in God’s image, when we refer to the Christian as Little Christs?

I hope this morning that we could all lovingly embrace the wide range of our emotions and when we can, integrate them into beautiful and authentic expression in our face. I pray we will not be ashamed of this aspect of what it means to be human and attempt to camouflage the deepest and truest joys, longing, and even sadness of the heart. I pray we never view feelings as inferior to intellect.   

🙂 😦 ? !

Charlie Martin

July 26, 2010

His wife called him Big Ole Charlie and for good reason.

He was well over six feet and broad, plus had some mid-life spread where men usually get it–in the belly.

I loved Charlie Martin and want to tell you about him. He was my friend and I believe he is now one of my angels, which makes me feel very safe.

Charlie died in 2003. Our family came back one day early from our vacation in New York and Maine for me to be with his wife and preach his funeral and eulogize. I was one of about three preachers who spoke that day in a little country church way out in Tusquitee, North Carolina, tucked up on the side of a mountain.

He was buried in the church’s cemetary and had no marker for about a year except stones, stones and flowers. The church and friends in the community paid for the funeral. Afterwards, as is typical many places, we all gathered in the fellowship hall for an incredible dinner with two long tables of food. Ham and casseroles, vegetables from gardens, sweet tea, and desserts–along with laughter and conversation–helped to ease our loss. It’s amazing how hungry grief makes us.

It would be easy for me to stereotype Charlie and his world, or allow you to as you sift through this blog. I pray to God I won’t let that happen, for he deserves so much more. We all do.

However, in spite of that, he was as ‘mountain’ as you can get in that area where North Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee meet. He grew up in Hayesville, between Hayesville and Young Harris, in Mathis Cove. He was a Mathis. I don’t know how long his family ( you could call it the Mathis clan–cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents) has lived on that mountain road off of Highway 17, but I bet it has been a long time.

Diane, his wife and now widow, told stories of how the Mathis boys were wild as hell and used to get drunk and drive up and down the mountain, screeching tires on the dirt road, making lots of racket. But they also played beautiful music, country and bluegrass and gospel, and would stand out under the trees in the yard and sing and pick (and drink beer, and probably some moonshine–it is still brewed and drunk from a mason jar).

So, is this stereotyping when it is true? My fear is that you will write Charlie off as a hillbilly without realizing the complexity of the situation and the beauty of his person–or simply assume this is the lifestyle and heritage of all mounatin people, when it is not. I know judges and senators and a governor and college professors and authors of books and famous musicians and incredibly fancy builders and rich landowners and developers and bankers who started very succesful local banks (one of which is the third largest holding company bank in Georgia and has survived the recession intact, while still giving away tomato plants and hotdogs to the community each spring)– all from that region where our family lived for thirteen years. I have known well-educated, pious, open-minded people who travel the world and vote and have an extraordinary large quantity of gray matter, who have long and loyal roots in that tiny corner of Northeast Georgia and NC. They do not sleep with their siblings or run a still. So, please forgive me Charlie and all my mountain friends if I do anything to add to the Lil’ Abner image. I guess I should have more faith, not in my ability to communicate so much, but in my readers.

When I met Charlie, he was in his early forties. i only knew him a few years before he died. He died outside a church meeting in the parking lot from a stroke. He had high blood pressure but no insurance and could not afford either a doctor or meds. His death was preventable. Which makes me very sad.

How many other Charlies are there in the world? In our own USA? How will Obama’s insurance plan work and will it help people like Charlie, and now me?

I no longer have insurance. I drive a car with over 350,000 miles with paint that is missing and a dent. I do not have air conditioning, a dryer, a dishwasher, cable, or garbage service..and this is not by conscious choice. It is a matter of pure economics. I am a lot like Charlie now..and never guessed when I was growing up on St. Mary’s Lane, going to the Country Club to swim or take tennis lessons, my ‘status’ at age fifty-five would be what it is.

But I am not complaining–well, maybe a little bit–but mostly I just feel thankful to be living more simply and to have a garden and a washing machine and food in the fridge. I am thankful my husband has a job after being unemployed for one year. I am thankful I can work in a bakery and for our son’s scholarship at the University of Georgia. I am thankful for my good health.

I think about the women I met in Juarez on four mission trips who washed their clothes by hand and had to buy drinking water and used an outhouse. I think about my friend from Kenya who showed me photos of the straw huts in his village. He didn’t want his American friends at college to learn his mother still cooks their dinner over an open fire.

Life is fascinating in its dynamics. We never know what will change next. To that extent it is an adventure.

Today, I remember Big Ole Charlie with such fondness and respect. I remember his brown eyes, earnest and a little bit scared. I know that feeling. He worked hard all his life but remained poor. Still, he had a roof over his head and could put food on the table, though it was dried beans more than fresh produce.

Charlie was converted as a grown man at a funeral. He loved Jesus and once when I was dealing with something difficult in the church, he said: Jesus’ll fix it. I believe Jesus did and continues to in the Dynamic Mystery of Life which never ends.

Alot of folk who grew up in the mountains still use a very old expression for second person plural–youuns. I love that expression. I love the humility and strength of many folk in the area where I was blessed to raise my children. I love that they give spaghettit dinners and put jars by cash registers to help each other out when there’s a funeral to pay for or a major medical expense. I love the earnest look in their unflinching gaze. And even if they wear overalls and cut cane in September, even if their children are on free lunch, they have taught me so much about human dignity in the midst of trials which has nothing to do with the size of our paycheck or house.

I wish Obama’s plan was in place before Charlie died. I wish I could see him again and talk about Jesus. I wish I could hear him refer to my family as youuns.

Keys

July 24, 2010

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

                                                  –Matthew 16.19

The Kingdom of God is within you.

                                                 –Luke 17.21b

Would you like to hear something funny?

I have fourteen keys on my key chain. I know, I just counted. Would you like to know how many I need? Two. Two keys–one to get in my house and one for my car.

Why, you may ask, and I wonder too. I don’t even know what most of them fit. They are remnants of a former life when I had many doors to unlock, and gates, and rooms, even though I did hand over my keys to my successor when I left the local church.

I just can’t figure it out. There are tiny ones and large brass ones and what look to be many house keys. Yet, I only have one house.

Today, I will rid myself of them, trim down the weight of my key chain considerably and the complication when I go to unlock the door.

Jesus told Peter he was a rock, called him Cephas–the Aramaic equivalent to the Greek Petros– which means rock, instead of Simon and told him: Upon this rock I will build my Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matthew 17.18).

God, what a responsibility. Especially for one who was so passionate and impetuous. Most Church administators and leaders are very pragmatic and savvy, even political, in their attempts to grow the church. They study statistics about church growth, visit large churches with burgeoning membership to try and get a handle on their “success”, attend workshops and trainings on the ‘how-to’s’ of evangelism and define it by increased numbers. They even compare reports in meetings and are ‘promoted’ to larger congregations by the hierarchy because of their numerical growth.

I know. I was one. Even though I resisted the concept that bigger is better in the church and thus meant I was more effective, even gifted, I still bought in to the religious culture, or sold out, depending on one’s perspective.

Yet Peter was none of those.

Alfed Loisy wrote, Jesus preached the Kingdom and what came was the church. I don’t believe he meant this as a positive statement but rather as indictment of our failings to get it right, to remember the purpose of the Body of Christ–to be about our Father’s business. A young Jesus reminded his parents of this truth when they went back to Jerusalem to find him. He had gone missing after his Bar Mitzvah-which does make me question Mary and Joseph’s parenting a bit. Although come to think of it, I did lose one of my sons once in a shopping plaza…

When they rushed back to the city, I can imagine their panic. They finally found him in the Temple, sitting down with the elders conversing. I bet they were outdone.

But Jesus tried to set ’em straight with his comment, I paraphrase: Where the hell did you think I’d be? With all due respect, my dear but misguided parents, this is what I came for–to be about my Father’s business. This is my passion. This is what’s important. He was gutzy and self-assured even then.

We may notice, Jesus started his ministry–at least in Luke’s Gospel–with religious leaders, the teachers and keepers of the tradition and faith. I am sure he was respectful and a worthy colleague to banter about the nuances of scripture–every jot and tittle–with those so knowledgeable who also loved God and the sacred text. They, too, sought to get it right and to focus on the important through study and discourse.

Don’t we all try and ‘get it right’? And aren’t most religious leaders, pastors, and teachers well-intentioned? I think so. But for many, I feel, we have lost the point.

And the point is the Kingdom–the reign of God–where only Love prevails. The Kingdom is within you Jesus told Peter. He often spoke that it was near. He compared it to a child or a mustard seed. He said it was like a net.

Love God and love neighbor is what it’s about in a nutshell. They are the first and second in the lineup of commandements.  A chorus we used to sing on retreats goes like this: Love Love Love Love. The Gospel in a word is Love. Love your neighbor as your brother (or sister). Love Love Love. To love God and neighbor is Kingdom work.

And I mean work. But also gift. We cannot love God with utter abandonment and passion like Peter, and certainly not others, unless we get some help. That help is offered through God’s Spirit, through teaching in scripture, and the wisdom of elders. But is also offered through a little child, a fisherman’s net, a mustard seed.

Peter had to be a rock to preach and convert thousands as they simply heard the Gospel–no long-range plans or strategies here; to wrestle over many vital decisions and conflicts; to hang upside down on a cross. Another chorus which breaks my heart when I hear it is Peter Peter. The last verse goes like this:

Peter Peter what are you doin’
hangin upside down?
Peter Peter you know your dyin’
you’re dyin’ for your Lord.

Well you think about the way things mght have been
if you’d remained at sea.
You’d still be a fisherman.
Peter, you’re such a fool.

The song ends: And O how I long to be, such a fool.

Today I will rid myself of keys one by one. And as I do, I will reflect on Peter and his passion. And what it means to be such a fool.

  

Yesterday, I’m afraid I was rude to my coworker. I couldn’t help it–the laugh just escaped.

He was telling a customer about the bakery’s catering options and mentioned a party platter of pies and pastries-which by the way is quite artistic and good. Then he said: You can impress your friends. My laugh was involuntary.

That’s the whole point of friendship, isn’t it, that we don’t have to impress. Thank the Lord.

If friendship involves ‘making an impression’, then I have miserably failed. Unless one considers tears, angst, foibles, and uncertainty impressive. I remember in seminary how I was suffering from extreme anxiety and felt so inadequate to control or hide it. My best friend there shared his perspective which entirely altered my own: I find the anxiety attractive. He has since died from AIDS. I preached his funeral and learned from him what it means to be gay. I will never forget what he said and what a gift it was and is. I really miss him.

I have been blessed with many friends in my life–young, old, and my age. They have listened to me when I was forlorn, have kicked my butt when I needed it, and have held my heart like a hand. I have done the same for them because this is the nature of friendship. We don’t have to make ‘good’ impressions. Instead, we make lasting ones.

I think of impression as imprint—like pressing a fern into wet clay, then gently removing it. The shape of the leaflets make intricate patterns and form an indention. The pot is then fired and the fern’s memory lives on, forever embedded in the pottery’s face.

When I was a young professional in my first job, a friend and mentor to the organization talked about a book which had just been published: Dress for Success. Apparently, it was her diplomatic way to say I wasn’t.

All my life, I have resisted the notion of ‘first impressions’ even if I know it is true. When we first meet others, we can’t help but size them up. See what they’re wearing, how they carry themselves. Notice their teeth, their grammar, the content of their conversation. Or maybe the beautiful lines in their face or their sad eyes.

I just hope for my sake and for others, we are all willing to look again because first impressions can fool. We make think a peroxide blonde is a ‘floozy’ when she is a single mother struggling to pay the rent with a Master’s degree in art history. We might think a man in overalls is a ‘hillbilly’ who has never ventured over the mountains when he has a second home in Italy ( this really happened to me in Hiawassee), plays the mandolin so sweet you want to cry, and can quote poetry. We might think a homeless person is ‘lazy’ or uneducated when he prays more than a monk and was a CEO who lost his job–and his family–in the recession or is schizophrenic. We might think a well-coiffed, ‘snooty’ woman who spends her days playing tennis and wears a large diamond ring has it made, when she suffers from the trauma of being abused as a child and her husband is having an affair and she drinks in secret just to cope.

We just never know about people and their stories. We are all so complex and so wonderfully made and we all deserve a second or third or fourth look and opportunity to continue the impression, the lasting imprint we make.

Recently I have met several people on the square in our little ‘artists’colony’. We sit and drink coffee and smoke cigarettes after work and we talk. Sometimes we cry and we sigh. Often we laugh. I have met a young man who is a waiter and grew up in a nudist colony near Helen (as in Georgia, I never even knew existed, did you?!) where his parents still live. He said he was very popular in seventh grade when his friends all wanted to visit him. I bet he was. I have met a talented artist, writer, and musician who I just learned is also an actress. She went to Governor’s Honors and won scholarships because of her performances and then employed them as an exotic dancer named Jezebel. I have met an overweight highschool student who is an intern in a non-profit and used to have extemely long hair. She told me yesterday she cut it when she had a ‘nervous breakdown.’ God, the things we go through, the layers.

What has been most interesting to me is an experience which has recently occurred three times.  I have met and enjoyed a  conversation with three different homeless men on the square. When we parted ways, they each stuck out their hand to shake mine and only then did they tell me their name. Not that I am so virtuous mind you, but remember I was a pastor for twenty years and often worked with the poor, plus my husband started the first night shelter in Marietta, so my exposure to the homeless is considerable. These men have made lasting impressions–imprints on my life.

Our names, our handshakes, our narratives reveal persons of immense worth and interest. None of us is ‘boring’. We each have a story to tell. And the telling of it is vital to our survival. We may tell it through music or through a blog, we may whisper it in bed at night, or recite it over a glass of wine in a restaurant or even from a bench on the square, but the telling–and the listening–somehow confirm the value of our existence and give us hope for the future. We need to learn and relearn that what we do and who we are matter immensely to others and to the world.

When exactly did our culture switch to the external-the virtual reality which reduces humans to a dimension which is ‘skin-deep’ ? Even as our society offers up plenty of ‘skin’ and exposure, it does disservice to the human within. Our focus is on even tans and defined muscles and glossed lips and fashion, when our souls are stuffed underneath, struggling to stay alive and be noticed.

It hasn’t always been this way. There was a time not so very long ago when character and person were valued more than looks. I remember a conversation I had with an eighty-year-old parishioner in his hospital room. I had asked for him to tell me about his wife who had died years before. He began to share a little and then I asked, “Was she pretty?” He replied with great tenderness,  “She was pretty on the inside” as if that was all that ever mattered to him. I felt chagrined and was gently chastised by my own superficial question.

You can’t judge a book by its cover goes the old adage and yet how often we do. And how short we sell ourselves and others when we focus on first impressions and that is where we stop.

I am thankful this morning for my new community on the square. For our little artist colony made up of intriguing people, even if we do smoke cigarettes. And I pray if you walk past us on the sidewalk, you will turn around to give us a second look and to offer us one of you.

Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue. And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.

   —from the Wizard of Oz, Somewhere Over the Rainbow (just in case you were wondering)

 Aren’t dreams the funniest?

They can be so bizarre and frightful and just plain ole weird. And yet, they offer insight into our lives, reveal the unconscious or that we ate too much pizza the night before.

Sometimes we are with people who have died, loved ones, and the encounter seems so real when we wake, it is as if we really have been. Sometimes we dream about animals–bears or snakes. These dreams are scary. Sometimes in our dreams, we solve math problems or find solutions to a dilemma at work. Sometimes we dream about sex and when we wake, we reach for a cigarette. Sometimes our dreams point us in a new direction and remind us of what we desire.

When I was in eighth grade, I did a science project on dreams and kept a dream journal. What was I thinking? My research included reading Freud which I understood about as much as mechanical engineering. What was of interest to me then and now was the subject of the unconscious and its potency in our lives.

Although much of Freud’s work has been disputed in modern psychology, his theories on the layering of the human mind (remember id, ego, superego?) and the role of the unconscious, which he claims can only be plumbed by psychoanalysis; repression as a defense mechanism; and varying Greek complexes have contributed much to the young science of psychology. Jung builds on and diverges from Freud through his work on the collective unconscious and the unintegrated parts of ourselves lodged in our unconscious–the shadow and anima/animus. Cognitive behavorists reject the levels of the mind and focus on behavior, not the unconscious or subconscious, and claim our behavior reveals our core value system and the thoughts and ideas which truly drive us.

Actually, I don’t know what the heck I am talking about or why. Psychology is not my field. But I do wonder if postmodern theories of the human psyche embrace and/or explore a mysticism. In my area–theology–this move from modern  systematics with its insistence on the rational to a postmodern period which at least recognizes the ‘mystical’ has been life-giving for me, personally.

So, today I want to explore the mystical nature of dreams. Dreams and imagination. Are they so very different?

When I returned to theology school at age fifty, this is what drove me and the area I focused on in my coursework and thesis. I had read some of the historic mystical theologians like Teresa of Avila, kept the Sayings of the Desert Fathers (and Mothers) beside my bed just under my Bible. But what compelled me in my academic work was where these writings and teachings–particularly those of medieval women mystical theologians– merged with the sayings, teaching, and experience of a few of my Christian brothers and sisters who had no knowledge of their texts. The intersection caused me to stand at attention and say Aha. I had hopes of making a serious, if small, intellectual contribution to systematic theology through research which would compare and contrast the two.

It seemed to me, then and now, that mystical theology is intimately tied with Pneumatology–or the theology of the Holy Spirit. My work was located at the point where theology, experience, and religious practice meet. A triage of sorts, where I hoped to make sense of how these areas interrelate and are dependent on one another. There is no chicken and no egg. They cycle around and through us in our faith, whether we are cognizant of them or not. It was a large task and one at which I didn’t fully succeed, nor one which propelled me into a PhD program. However, the intersection at that very point still intrigues me and I think is worthy of thought and research. 

My work led me back to the Trinity and to prayer. I think there is the contemporary need of the Church–at least in the mainstream Protestant tradition of which I am most familiar–to embrace a more robust and true Trinitarian theology and religious practice of contemplative prayer and worship which naturally give way to what I term pneumatic experience.

My thesis was on Julian of Norwich’s Showings and was titled (God, I forgot the exact title) something like this: The Relationship between Pneumatology, Religious Practice, and Pneumatic Experience in the Showings of Julian of Norwich. If you haven’t read her–this fourteenth century woman who lived as an anchoress in England during the days of the Black Death and yet still writes All shall be well–you are in for a treat, but a rich one. I had to read her in small pieces, sometimes a paragraph at a time it was so rich, like eating fudge. In Showings, she relays and theologizes about her mystical experience of sixteen divine revelations. Most books have both the short and the long versions, written at the insistence of her priest and some twenty years apart.  She is recognized today as a great and complex theologian. Thomas Merton is quoted as saying something like this: that he would rather curl up with Julian’s book than any other theologian he knew. (If I unpacked my library, I would be able to give accurate titles and quotes–a good motivation to continue moving in).

I love Julian. She is one of the people I can’t wait to meet in heaven. I don’t think she ever imagined she would be considered and touted(finally!) as a great mystical theologian. I just think she loved God and she enjoyed spending time with Him/Her (she refers to God as both Father and Mother, and naturally is an important reference and voice in contemporary feminist theology).

Which is where I want to come down:  I believe we can all be mystical theologians–or mystics if you prefer. All it takes is Love. Divine experience and revelation, in what we refer to as Union, are not reserved for a few ‘special’ people. When we love God and spend time with God in prayer and worship and contemplation, we ‘see’ God and we are mystically joined. The two become one flesh in some kind of transcendent and incarnational union. I and Thou disappear. There is only ‘we’ and ‘we’ are One.

So…back to dreams. Dreams and imagination. I believe they are the stuff of God. They are gifts of the Spirit like teaching, exhortation, prophecy, or even ‘tongues.’  They are one way God speaks in and through us. Like creativity, the Muse, and intuition, dreams and imagination are vital to our humanity. And we best pay attention.

Last night I dreamed I was in a monastery. I dream about monasteries often–in part because I want to be a monk, although I think, like many of us outside the cloister, I already am in a sort of ‘mystical’ manner. In the dream I wasn’t supposed to be there but somehow had gotten in. It was not typical of monasteries for there were both women and men, as well as children all living together, although religious communities like these do exist. One of the Trappist sisters I befriended in Norway was there and kept checking on me to reassure me and tell me she loved me. There was a group of children in bright jewel-colored sweaters circling a Christmas tree in the shape of a star.

There was a man monk who left the scene to be by himself and check his computer and who later dressed up in knickers and a nice dress shirt, looking very dapper. There was an abbot who was doing a lot of teaching and talking. And there were people waiting outside the cloister wall for those who would come out, and then embraced and kissed passionately like you might view in a scene from a WWII movie when sailors return to home port and are greeted by wives and lovers.

The problem was I couldn’t get out. The gate was locked and I finally convinced the policeman to unlock it. But I kept going back in, as if I was looking for something important or lost.

Ok, so what does this mean? Did I eat too much pizza last night? No, dinner was Special K and peanut butter-a great mix and balance between my conscience and my daily requirement of fat grams. I think this dream could have some interesting interpretations and lessons.

One factor I have learned about dream interpretation is that the one who dreams needs to do the interpreting and pay attention to the language used when describing the dream, for often language becomes a metaphor and a key to deeper truths and understanding.

So…maybe the dream is about a monastery as family, where men, women, and children live together. Maybe it is about going and coming to places we don’t belong but still make an attempt. Maybe it is about losing something of value and trying to find it. Maybe it is about those people in our lives who reassure us or men who decide to take off religious robes to don street clothes as symbol, even if the choice is a bit unusual. Maybe it is about the ones who wait for us outside our cloistered worlds to shower us with passionate love and kisses.

I don’t really know. But I do know the dream is still with me this morning. The edges between wake and sleep are blurred. The dream was a bit disturbing and I want to pay attention.

John Lennon wrote about the power of imagination:

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

Was Lennon talking about union, the union of Julian and mystical theologians? I think he was. Even if he didn’t know it. I think it is the union God intends where we are indeed all one–one with each other, one with God, one with creation, and one with ourselves.

I, too, imagine and hope one day there will be no cloister. No inside and out. No walls to separate us or a gate which locks us within.

I hope one day we all will live as one.

 

Yesterday I went to the High Museum.

For those of you who don’t live in Georgia or know it, the ‘High’ is Atlanta’s art museum. Just in case you ever wondered about the source of its name, here is a bit of history: Originally founded in 1905 as the Atlanta Art Association, the High Museum of Art received its first permanent home in 1926 when Mrs. Joseph M. High donated her family’s residence on Peachtree Street. In 1955, the Museum moved to a new brick structure adjacent to the original High house. When the Memorial Arts Center opened in 1968, the High Museum of Art was at its center (High Museum web site). So ‘high’ doesn’t refer to an erudite or highbrow nature of art, but is a person’s name.

I remember when the new museum was built. It was avant garde architecture–stark white with an imposing ramp, exposed beams and internal structure, and an abundance of glass. It had an ‘industrial’ feel, but this was tempered by all the white, which served as a canvas for its collection. It was controversial.

The architect was Richard Meier. For some reason, I had it in my head that the architect was John Portman. We used to love to drive by Portman’s home on Sea Island to view its structure–also controversial for the staid old wealth of the island. The design is not dissimilar to the High. Recently, the High hosted an exhibit on John Portman and his influence on the Atlanta skyline and other skylines and cities around the world like Shanghai and Brussels. Portman is a native Georgian and a graduate of Georgia Tech.  I wish I could have seen the show. There’s a dramatic UTube video you may want to google which reveals the magnitude of his contributions to what we now know as Atlanta. One day I will be able to upload videos to this blog, but haven’t figure it out yet.

The Atlanta Memorial Arts Center had its birth from a tragedy–one of Atlanta’s worst. Probably not anything close to the tragedy of being burned by Sherman, but still one which had a profound impact on Atlanta’s psyche:

On June 3, 1962, 106 Atlanta arts patrons died in an airplane crash at Orly Airport in Paris, France, while on a museum-sponsored trip. Including crew and other passengers, 130 people were killed in what was, at the time, the worst single plane aviation disaster in history.[1] Members of Atlanta’s prominent families were lost including members of the Berry family who founded Berry College. During their visit to Paris, the Atlanta arts patrons had seen Whistler’s Mother at the Louvre.[2] In the fall of 1962, the Louvre, as a gesture of good will to the people of Atlanta, sent Whistler’s Mother to Atlanta to be exhibited at the Atlanta Art Association museum on Peachtree Street.[3]

To honor those killed in the June 3, 1962 crash, the Atlanta Memorial Arts Center was built for the High. The French government donated a Rodin sculpture “The Shade” to the High in memory of the victims of the crash.[4] 

( I apologize for the small print of these next paragraphs. I am experiencing ‘technical difficulties’)

Like a mythological Phoenix, Atlanta is tenacious and keeps reinventing herself,  emerging as something beautiful out of ashes and crashes. No, she is not a New York or Paris, but she is young and vibrant and keeps on trying.

She is a model to me of life which cycles through the seasons, the deaths and burials, and eventually comes ’round to spring again.

I remember the words of a writer I read last fall which went something like this: Truth may not be pretty, but it is beautiful.  He was speaking– in part–about a photographer who is famous for his black and white photographs of Harlem during a different time, one which was painfully bleak and impoverished. The photographs are described as “haunting.” But they are true. And thus, beautiful.

The exhibit I wanted to see, written up in the Atlanta-Journal Constitution,  and viewed at the High yesterday was of another photographer with a very similar style, content, and truth. His name is Peter Sekaer. He worked for different government agencies during the 1930s and was commissioned (and paid!) by the government for his incredible art–so hard to believe in this day and age. 

Granted, the government had an agenda with FDR’s New Deal policies to bring electricity into every home, farm, and community, to improve living conditions for the poor (again, what a concept), to understand the plight and source of problems within Native American communities. and to promote social programs. Sekaer traveled from Pittsburg to D.C., Nashville to New Orleans with stops in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and other places particularly in the South. He photographed many of the slums and housing, the utter poverty and destitution of so many living conditions.

And yet, he did it without pity or display or oversimplification. He was known, not only for his well developed social consciousness, knowledge, and photographic expertise, but also for his ability to put people at ease and build their trust. Thus, he was invited into homes, shacks with newspaper on the walls, cracks in floors and filthy conditions, one-room houses with wood stoves and outhouses. But he captured a beauty and dignity in the people and their often small attempts to alter their conditions–a woman slopping suds and water mopping a porch, a pinup and picture of Jesus, a whitewashing of rocks by two little girls in dresses.

In sum, I enjoyed the hell out of the show and you will too. Afterwards, I sat in the cafe savoring a glass of wine and gazpacho. It was such a good afternoon.

We need art and fine architecture. We need art patrons and a cultural renaissance of how vital art is to our lives. We need the truth of the artist’s eye and revelation. We need to see ourselves. For truth may not be pretty, but it is quite beautiful.

Symbiosis and Lichen

July 20, 2010

Last night, we gathered–like we do every year on July 19th–to celebrate my nephew Gary’s life and to remember.

We meet in a Mexican restaurant where Gary used to hang out with his friends over eleven years ago. They have a photo of Gary hanging on the wall and are always so kind to us.

By ‘us’ I mean a big group of extended family and friends, most of them Gary’s age, although some of the parents of his friends come too.  The gathering helps ease the pain of loss, but at some level also makes it more difficult.

Over the eleven years since his death, we have witnessed many changes, especially in his friends. They have gone from being twenty to a new decade. They have married and a few have gotten divorced. They have had babies who are now in second grade.

They drink less, smoke less, are more sedate, yet just as interesting and impressive as they were in the passion of their youth with all its creativity and pushing of the ‘edges’. They now file taxes for others, teach school, are pharmacists or graduate students or have moved to San Francisco or New York. They sculpt with wire and still play music and–they all love and miss my nephew too.

To some extent, they are family.

What is family? Is it genes and marriage licenses, siblings and cousins? Or is it something deeper and more transcendent?

Today, I am thinking it is the latter, for we all share a common bond which links us in time and forever.

My mother shared a poem someone had given her after her brother died earlier this year:

To the outside world, we all grow old. But not to our brothers and sisters. We know each other as we always were. We know each others hearts. We share private family jokes. We remember family feuds and secret family griefs and joys. We live outside the touch of time.                                                                                 

                                                                –Clara Ortega

My mother was 82 and her brother was 79, yet to one another they were still kids–going to school, taking piano lessons, occasionally fighting.

I think, somehow, that sentiment is true for Gary’s friends as well. For they were brothers and sisters to Gary and one another in a bond which was—and is–very strong.

This morning as I drink my coffee on the deck, I notice a piece of lichen which fell down from a tree in the rain. It is many shades of green and sort of a rubbery texture. I stare at it and think.

Lichen is made up of two different organisms—an algae and a fungus–which hang out together in a mutually beneficial way. They are the poster child for symbiosis. The algae provides the food and the fungus, the support. Together they can hang out on tree limbs without being a parasite; they can colonize rocks, and survive in harsh environments.

Naturally, they provide a great metaphor for what it means to be human and a part of family.

I’m not sure where any of us would be without it—this symbiosis where we are interdependent. Some of us provide food, like tacos and burritos, some of us offer comfort and lend support through prayers and hugs, and together we can survive in harsh environments.

Gary designed a tattoo which many of his friends also wear, including his little brother. It is a cross with a line going up and down across it. The line ends on the upswing. Below it are two dots which are the eyes of God.

We are never outside God’s range of vision and passion, and life—for all its pain and sorrow—does end on the upswing, our faith proclaims.

The trick is the in-between, when the line sinks low with our spirits. We know God’s eyes are crying too and close, but we struggle as humans to know we will one day rise, not just in the hereafter, but in the now.

Thank God for human family. For friends who might as well be family. For symbiosis and the beautiful lesson of the lichen.

Samson and His Hair

July 19, 2010

After this, he fell in love with a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah….So he told her his whole secret, and said to her, “A razor has never come upon my head; for I have been a nazirite to God from my mother’s womb. If my head were shaved, then my strength would leave me; I would become weak, and be like anyone else.”…She let him fall asleep on her lap; and she called a man, and had him shave off the seven locks of his head. He began to weaken and his strength left him…But the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaved.

                                        —Judges 16.4,17,19,22

If you are looking for intrigue, suspense, and a captivating story, I suggest reading chapters 13-16 in the Book of Judges. The story has everything: mystery, romance, adventure, even a mystical element, ..and the ancient tale of betrayal. It is about strength and weakness and the battle between the two. It begins like this..

There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. Manoah had a wife who was barren. Sound familiar? You can probably guess what happens next. Yep, an angel appears to them and shares the good news that soon they will be parents. The child will be a nazirite—one consecrated to the Lord. They name him Samson.

Samson grows, as well as his hair, and like all young men is checking things out when he spies a Philistine woman. He asks his parents to get her for him as his wife, to which his dad responds (I am paraphrasing): What, our women aren’t good enough that you have to go out and take a foreign woman?! To which young Samson, a very demanding young man I might add, who is quite possibly spoiled, insists: Get her for me, because she pleases me. Men, yeah, they are always thinking with their ‘other’ brain. Why on earth did we ever believe the myth that men are more rational and logical than women?! With the exception of my two sons, of course:)

So, the story continues, you can read it yourself to get the juicy details. There’s a lion, a swarm of bees and honey. There’s a feast and a riddle. There’s the first betrayal of his wife and a separation. There’s an odd story of foxes whose tails are tied together to carry torches into the fields of grain and set them on fire. Then, Samson’s wife and father-in-law are set on fire.

If this isn’t enough to grab you, hang on, for next comes the slaying of the Philistines for the first time by Samson, his retreat and hide-out in a rock like Rudolph in North Carolina. Then, there’s a raid. And the second betrayal from Samson’s own kin.

There’s a mass slaying with a donkey’s jawbone, after which Samson is, not surprisingly, thirsty. A mysterious spring appears from the earth and a revived young man becomes a judge of Israel for twenty years. And we wonder about the prudence of some of our judicial appointments. I’m just saying, God.. Ok, then we move to the heart of the story about which songs have been written—after Samson’s quick stopover at a whorehouse and the first time he pulls down city gates, posts, and pillars–the love story of Samson and Delilah. He fell in love with a woman (16.4). Perhaps that was his biggest mistake.

I bet you know the story fairly well..how the Philistines, Delilah’s ‘people’, want to kill Samson and the lords come to Delilah to make a deal. Coax him, and find out what makes his strength so great…and we will give you eleven hundred pieces of silver (16.5). Heck, I might have done it for eleven hundred pieces of silver; that can buy a lot of jewelry, pomegranates, goat roasters, and who knows what else…makeup, clothes, oriental rugs?

So, three times she asks Samson what makes his strength so great. Three times he lies. Three times the Philistines fail to restrain him. You would think by now Delilah and Samson would have a bit of a strained relationship and need a marriage counselor.

But then, she gets him with these words, How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when your heart is not with me? You have mocked me three times..(16.15). So, you know what happens next. Samson, tired of her ‘nagging’ and ‘pestering’ relents and tells her his secret—that his strength lies in his hair. Women’s best strategy is nagging which we are prone to do to get what we want, which is often attention and love and an occasional conversation in-between quarters or  innings, work, and a focus on the remote. But Delilah has a different goal in mind. And she wins, I think..

And so it goes: the betrayal of a husband by his wife, the betrayal of a man to himself. Lies, love, and the cutting of hair while we sleep. A people partying while a person gathers strength. The house tumbling down and a man who dies with those he kills.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes, the author of Women Who Run with the Wolves, employs fairy tales to teach about women and their innate strength and mystery. I have heard her on tape recount many of these enchanting tales with her alluring voice. One tale, I don’t remember which, is about women’s hair and how it represents our ideas.

Women’s hair is described in the Bible as our ‘glory’. Paul insists that women should wear their hair long. Recently a man told me—along with my friend who was with me and also has long hair—he finds long hair on a woman exotic. Who knew? I just like it.

I have another friend named Karen. Karen is passionate about everything she does, her life. And politics. And her country, the USA. She promised in 2003 that if we went to war in Iraq, she would shave her head. She did. It was a way of mourning and of protest.

I don’t know about what all hair means, but I know it is deeply personal. It is part of who we are, our DNA. And it represents something important, even for men who go bald. Did you know that it is a healthy dose of testosterone which makes a man go bald?—Just an aside, since I am married to one

I do know that there is something powerful about it, not just for Samson, but for all of us. When we grow it long, when we shave it, when we pay small fortunes to color and set it, for many women on a weekly basis, when it becomes a symbol of rebellion, when school boards and police and parents chime in on its importance and set ‘hair’ codes as happened in Marietta High School in 1972, when a musical is written about it and Paul preaches on it, and a man’s strength leaves his body when it is cut, then hair is more than just hair.

This morning, I think of my nephew Gary who died this day eleven years ago. His hair was red, like my sons’. He grew it long and he shaved his head and he even wore a hairband.

I love my nephew. I love the stories in our Bible. I love my friend Karen and her silent protest. I love my husband’s bald head. And I love my hair.

I also love that Samson’s hair grew back. Even though he felt the strength go out of him when it was cut in a weak moment, he regained it again.

And so the story ends but is retold again and again:

Gimme head with hair
Long beautiful hair
Shining, gleaming,
Streaming, flaxen, waxen

Saviour, like a shepherd lead us, much we need Thy tender care.

I don’t know about you, but I need a Saviour. And especially one who leads.

Like a good dance partner, I need that hand on my back to gently pressure me into the right position. Ginger Rogers, who did everything that Fred Astair did, but backwards..and in high heels, was able to gracefully glide across the floor, in part, because of Fred Astair. He was an expert dance partner, one she could trust.  Together they made it look easy.

I will settle for an occasional twirl, a two-step, even improvisation. I don’t need to be Ginger Rogers, but I do need a Fred Astair. And I don’t mean a man.

Too many of us–both women and men–choose the wrong dance partner. We want it to be a husband, wife, or lover, a friend or coworker, a counselor or the stranger we stumble upon. Yet no human being has the skill and expertise necessary to guide us in the Great Dance of Life.  There is only one who is able and capable of such a magnanimous role. And for me…his name is Jesus.

Of course we can benefit from the wisdom and knowledge of those close to us, but when it comes right down to it, no one really knows what we should do, our singular path. It is mystery where we are going and how we will get there and most of the time, we are turned around backwards, stumbling as a little girl wearing her mother’s highheels. We simply need a Savious to lead us.

And we need the tender care written about by the hymnist, sung in the Psalms. We need the green pastures and the still waters. We need to be restored.

The restoration project is lifelong, like work on an old Victorian home.  We are constantly being reshaped and planed, reworked and sanded smooth, and once we think we are finished, we start all over again.

I don’t know why God made us this way. It seems to me it would have been more expedient to make perfect humans, ones who do the right thing and know where they are going. Ones who can lead themselves.

And yet, I know God has a good reason for wanting to dance with us and be our partner, to gently press a hand in the small of our back. To turn us and to spin. And occasionally, make a dip.