Taste and see

466My beloved and I have given up meat for lent.  This is not a simple matter of sacrifice but of sustainability.

I have gone through periods of being vegetarian/pescetarian, as has my beloved.  What queer woman/dyke hasn’t, right?

I keep hearing and reading disparaging remarks about dietary restrictions related to lent but, to me, this is a healing and deeply spiritual process.

I have had issues with food my whole life- literally since before I was born when I was being poisoned by my mother’s blood because of Rh factor.  I was allergic to my mother’s milk and to most formula.   I have been overweight my entire life.  I have had periods of crippling illness that resolved with changes in food habits.  I have dieted and I have recycled the same 40-80 lbs time and again.  I have starved myself.  I have eaten myself into a tearful stupor.  To put it simply,  I have a love-hate relationship with food.  I have a love-hate relationship with myself.  Any opportunity for healing and sacred trust is one I welcome with open arms.

I am not experiencing giving up meat as deprivation. I am experiencing it as liberation and exploration.

I appreciate the ways in which I am more conscious of my choices through the period of lent.  I forgot I had given up meat a few days ago and accidentally ordered my usual omelette with ham in it.  Oops!  Even then, it wasn’t a big deal.  I laughed it off and moved on.  That is a major thing: no beating myself up, no shame, no fear of not being perfect.  Thank you God that in the years I’ve been working, praying, longing to learn your truth: that I AM good enough, I am finally living into the lessons!

Thanks to this period of focus, we’ve discovered new delicious flavors. We had never tried Filipino coconut curry- a new favorite.  I have realized that eating meat is not only unsustainable for our personal health and for the planet’s health, it’s also not something either of us particularly misses on a daily basis.  It’s been more a matter of habit than of taste, need, or consciousness. Which leads me to celebrate the fact that habits can change. I don’t have to be bound by who I have been.  None of us do! God is still speaking after all.  Drawing near to God is the ultimate sustenance.

I rejoice with the Psalmist: “Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in God.” Psalm 34:8

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The Big Sin Post

My first experience with sin and repentance came in the 3/4th grade. I grew up in an anti-religious household so I had limited experience with these concepts.  I had a little Gideon I’d read on my own and a little book of children’s Bible stories, probably smuggled to me by my grandmother who was Catholic.  Sin was not really my biggest takeaway.

2075Then I spent a year in a Mennonite school in a rural town in Puerto Rico.

I think most of the teachers were actually Catholic which might account for some of the odd theological dissonance.  This town had a Mennonite church and Mennonite Hospital and a Mennonite School.  It’s a rural town in the center of the island where Mennonite missionaries had made quite an impact on the community, particularly around healthcare.  They were the only white people in this area and they had a long history of involvement and earnest efforts.  My feelings about being a subject of mission are still complicated.

This was my first year being in school in Puerto Rico and the Mennonite school was a bilingual private school which was expected to help ease my transition into the educational system. My parents were willing to overlook the mandatory Religion class and chapel attendance.  I memorized a few unremarkable scriptures and participated in silly skits as required. I colored pictures of Jesus.  I mostly enjoyed chapel: the singing and the praying were fun.

Then came sin.

It was sometime during Lent, which now in hindsight seems odd since the Mennonite church hasn’t traditionally been big on Lent.  Nonetheless, we plunged into darkness so to speak.  The 3rd and 4th graders were being led to a classroom where they went in to speak with one of the teachers and then came out crying 9 out of 10 times.  I was perplexed.  I had no idea what was going on.  What on earth are they doing to kids in there!? I know it’s not shots because we have to have signed permission for that. Why is everybody crying?!

Finally one of my friends had the answer.  It’s because of sin.

That answer left me even more perplexed.

What?  Sin? Hunh?

My friend proceeded to explain to me how sin is when you do these bad things and then you have to repent and tell God you are sorry because you have been so very bad.

My innocent response was, “but I haven’t been bad!”

My friend thought about this and said yeah, you probably haven’t sinned because you are so good.

I remained confused.

My friends were all good too.  Why were they crying?! They hadn’t murdered or coveted or any of those other commandments.  I guess it was bit mean of  my one friend not to share her crayons with me but she wasn’t BAD.

The tears were followed by sincere apologies from classmates all around.  Everybody had something to repent of.  I’m sorry I pulled your hair.  I’m sorry I called you a bad name. I’m sorry I didn’t share my cookies with you.

I was still really confused by this odd love and snot fest.

I didn’t quite grasp the concept of sin as it was being presented to me for years to come.  Not that I thought I was without faults.  I had plenty of reminders that I was far from perfect: I had a smart mouth, my hair had a way of getting messy within minutes of getting put up, my handwriting was a disaster, I didn’t help enough around the house… the list goes on. But I had in me a sense that, despite all the mixed messages, when it came to God, I was Good.  I loved people. I was usually kind.  I was nice to animals.  I was nice to my little cousins even when they broke my stuff.  I was smart.  I always did my homework.  And I wanted to know God.  Wasn’t that enough?

I am grateful for my bewilderment.  I managed to escape a theology of sin even with my participation in Catholic youth retreats that I won’t even get into right now! I managed to sidestep the whole guilt and shame theology somehow.

In my time as a hospital Chaplain, I ran into a number of patients whose main concerns were sin and salvation- two areas where I am far to the theological left.  I had one patient who was facing a potentially terminal diagnosis angsting over the biblical implications of organ donation.  I had another patient who was a frequent visitor to the hospital call me for an urgent visit because she’d been cranky with the nurse who was hurting her by cleaning an open wound and had even said a bad word.  I prayed with people who wanted to make sure they would be washed of their sins. I anointed foreheads with oil and I blessed.  And my heart broke for people.

My heart breaks that we have put such a focus on sin that we leave grace out of the picture.  We seem to swing to far either direction because that sweet spot in the center is so hard to sustain.

I have come to understand sin as incongruence or separation.  Repentance leads to restoration and to reconnection.  Not to guilt, condemnation or shame.  If it doesn’t free us up to be in loving relationship with God and each other, then it’s not a spiritually healthy practice.  Jesus came that we should have LIFE abundantly, not guilt, not shame, and not self-righteousness.

I pray that we be guided by the Holy Spirit to examine those parts of our lives where we feel disconnection, and to bring Her light and wisdom to bear that we may be more loving of God, of ourselves, and of others!

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Ashes and Shame

“Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3:19

TheaThe imposition of ashes is for me a great reminder that we are all made of the same stuff- Godstuff.

There is clarity in the dust and ashes.

The imposition of ashes is a reminder of our mortality but also of our oneness.  It is a sign of mourning but there is freedom in the ritual as well.

It is an invitation to repentance and repentance is a practice we seldom embark on.  It is uncomfortable.  It can be painful to sit with our shortcomings.  It can be painful to remember all the ways in which we fall short of our own expectations, much less the standard of the creator.  Lent is a chance to practice repentance from the things that separate us from God and a reminder that although death is certain, we are not yet there, this breath and this moment count: we can make them count! And so the call to “Repent, and believe the Gospel.” Mark 1:15 Is an invitation more than an accusation.  Repent from your incessant worry and believe the Good News that you are loved.  Repent from your worship of busyness and believe the Good News that we are God’s people and we are meant to live in community.  Repent from unkindness and believe the Good News that we were meant to love ourselves and others in ways that are countercultural and challenging.  Repent from shame and believe that you are gloriously loved by the creator of the Universe who delights in you, even when you feel the weight of your shortcomings.

The ashes are a reminder that we don’t need to live in shame.  The visible mark on each of us gathered as community of believers is a reminder that we are in this together, that this season we walk through is one of connection and not only of introspection.

We are invited to consider how we are living into this season in our practices as community, not only as individuals.  What practice will create more space and bring us closer to God as a church, as  a community of worship?  How are we fasting as community? Can we fast from waste and do away with disposable cups during coffee hour?  Can we fast from carbon and have a ‘carpool or walk to church” day? Can we fast from criticism or gossip? Can we make a commitment to call other members we aren’t already close with and pray together?

I pray that we find bold ways of living into our days as we contemplate the dust from which we came and the dust to which we all return.

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Prayers for Shaima

As I watched the footage of Shaima Alawadi’s daughter Fatima expressing her sorrow and outrage over her mother’s brutal murder, one of her statements stayed with me.  Speaking to the unknown person who savagely beat her mother with a tire iron, leaving next to her a note saying “go back to your country terrorists” Fatima says:
“you are not Christian, you are not Muslim, you are not Jewish. You are someone without a religion because if you know God, you know God would not accept that.”

As I watch the story unfold, watch the reactions and the pain I am aware of my own reactions.

After 9/11 I have heard many Muslim sisters and brothers say that as they watched the footage of that horrible day, before it was known who had been responsible for the attacks, I have heard over and again of that sinking feeling in people’s stomachs and the silent prayer, please let it not have been a Muslim.

As I watch Shaima’s tragic story unfold, my heart breaks for many reasons, including the sinking feeling in my stomach.

 
Please God, let it not be a Christian.

Because the islamophobic rhetoric is so pervasive, so unconscious, so damaging, I fear that these attacks are so often caused by an indecent and immoral distortion of the God I know and love.  

Please God, help us to be agents of peace instead of reacting with such senseless hatred.  

Whether it be hoodie or hijab; kippah or a dodgers baseball cap, we are going to have to find ways as peacemakers to stop these attacks on people for no reason other than assumptions coming from fear and hatred.

Why are we afraid of a young black man in a hoodie?

Why are we afraid of a young Iraqi mother of five?

Why are we so scared of those we identify as other?

Are they really other? 

Last night I attended the screening of a film on sex trafficking in the Philippines and joined in discussion about ways to carry this message further, ways to do the work of prevention and of justice and restoration.  

At the root of all of these things is this terrifying ability to dehumanize each other. It’s terrifying the ease with which we assign labels and base assumptions and hatred on them.  

The label Muslim has come to mean terrorist.  And the Christian has come to mean bigot.  

I pray for the day that we may realize neither are true and live lovingly into that truth.

I pray that Shaima’s killer not be using religion to justify murder.

I pray that he not be a Christian.

But more than anything I pray for peace, because even when my heart is broken I can pray and sing and work for peace.

Salām

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Fear of (over)commitment: burnout prevention measures

I have been used to working in non-profits.  I know burn-out and I’d like to avoid it.  It is not pretty.  I remember all too well the feelings of despair and cynicism that bombarded me, the resentment that made me seethe and storm because I felt sooooo unappreciated, overworked, stretched too thin.

I don’t want to experience that in ministry.  

So, I keep in mind the things I learned from my previous work.  And one of the lessons is now one of my goals for ministry.

I would like to avoid overcommitment.

I’ll take a minute while you laugh at my naivete, but I mean it!

I see way too many really good pastors running way too ragged and missing out on life because they are just spread way too thin.  Our churches are set up that way–they require too much of us in what we give, when we give it, and what we sacrifice in our own lives. 

I have a tendency to overcommit, as many of us do in this field.  But I worry because not only is it a recipe for burnout for ME, but I think it makes us less effective in ministry if we are dispersed all over the place saying too many yeses to stop and focus, stop and reflect… stop and pray.

Already as a seminarian commitments are tugging at me and it’s hard to step back long enough to make my commitments part of my discernment process.

Now, instead of saying yes, I am trying to learn how to reflect first, take it to prayer first, and ask God to show me if this is how she wants me to spend my time.  It’s hard for me to do this but I have a great chance to learn right now and hone in on some of my areas of weakness.  

So, anyone willing to commit to giving me advice or keeping me accountable on this should feel free to let me know! 

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Pace

I have been learning to run for the first time EVER.

I am on week six of a 12 week program to learn how to run and I’ve been surprised to discover that not only will I NOT die from running (who knew!?) but, I actually really love it.

It has become part of my self-care and of my spiritual practice.  It has been reshaping the way I understand myself, my embodied reality, my limits  and my abilities.

I have never been particularly athletic and growing up with health issues meant that I couldn’t participate in a lot of team sports or activities.  It also meant that I would be teased about it when I did try to do things, a fact that my sensitive little soul reacted to by retreating.  I have since had quite a few gym memberships and even used them regularly but never felt comfortable in my body. I would avoid eye contact or slink away from the locker room as if my body’s presence in the temple of fitness was somehow shameful or obscene.

Last year around my birthday I got myself a bicycle.  I love riding my bike.  It allowed me to experience some of the joy of falling in love with movement, with simply going!  It was a feeling I had only really had with swimming which is like prayer itself to me.

Now this experiment in running is opening me up to all kinds of possibilities.  What if, in fact, I am a fit and active person and I just never knew it? What if physical activity is not something to be ashamed of but something to relish? What if it’s okay to delight in my body and its movement, no matter its size or speed?  What if running is a new and different way for me to experience the world around me? What if it teaches me new ways to pray? What if I even end up looking forward to it!?

One of the lessons I’m learning from my adventures in running is about pace.  Because, when I say running it’s about the movement, not about the speed.  You could dash past me with a walker.  I am not fast at all.  But I am still flying!  The awesome moment in running when you are in the air is still happening, it’s just happening super slow.  And it has taken me some time to be okay with being slow.  Fortunately this running program emphasizes being slow as necessary while learning this new skill.  At first I would end up speeding up, especially around people, not wanting to seem as slow as I am.  I didn’t want to be seen as somehow incompetent at this whole running thing. But the thing I learned, and this is a huge revelation, is that you have to PACE YOURSELF! I could go fast for a quick burst of energy but then I wouldn’t have the stamina to complete my running segments.  I would feel miserable and not enjoy the rest because I would feel like maybe running IS going to kill me after all.  But when I remember to listen to my own body and go at the pace my body dictates, I enjoy my run, I SMILE while I’m doing it, even when I’m a little out of breath, even when I’m getting tired, it feels good to be moving.  I can’t go at anyone else’s pace. I can’t let my fears dictate my pace. I can’t let what others might think set my pace. I can’t let the fact that someone is passing me and they are just walking set my pace. I can’t even let my frustration at not being able to go faster set my pace.  I know how much I can push myself and if I go further it’s not good.  I had never realized that.

In life I tend to go full throttle, all out, balls to the wall and then collapse.  I have a tendency to get right to the precarious edge of burn-out before remembering to prioritize self-care and reel myself back, at which point I’m naturally going to be tired and less effective.  I tend to overcommit or multitask in ways that dilute my energy.

Pacing.

Or, I get too caught up in perfectionism and I freeze—doing nothing can be a great alternative to messing up!

Pacing myself is now a new skill I can use.

Pacing myself tells me that I need to drop one class this semester because 5 classes and a conference paper and a publication deadline and two jobs might be too much for one semester.

Pacing myself tells me that I can’t always do all the things I want to do, go to all the events I want to go to, accept all the speaking engagements extended to me… I need to pace myself so that I can ultimately hit my goals and targets and ENJOY IT!

I want to enjoy my life and this moment, this space between classes, this breath is my life. I want to enjoy it and not endure it.  I want to enjoy it and not struggle to cram more minutes into every hour. I want to enjoy it and if things don’t get done because my pace is incompatible with my deadlines, I am willing to take that risk.  I want to learn to put self-care as a spiritual practice in a place of high priority.  I need to be healthy and whole in order to serve God with my life.  I need to love myself to love my neighbor.
Running is one way I am loving myself.  Running is one of the ways I pray.

So if you see me smiling like a fool, possibly mouthing the words to some obnoxious club song, and trotting along at my happy pace, would you please offer me a blessing as you go on your way? A smile will do.

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First semester of Seminary… Check!

I survived my first semester in seminary.

This is an amazing journey.

My first semester was a difficult transition.  Settling into the identity of religious scholarship and leadership was not an easy transition for me.   I was still kicking and screaming and wrestling with the loss of power and identity that this process entails. I struggle with the responsibility, with the misconceptions, with the newness… I struggle with surrender!

I moved to a new place that I have found less culturally warm than I had wished and has often left me longing for a sense of community.  It is also a beautiful place.  I am lulled to sleep by the yipping and howling of the coyotes and the melodic hooting of the owls—a welcome change from the incessant noise of the freeway I’ve lived with elsewhere.  I have a wonderful little apartment and I have the chance to live alone for the first time in many years.  I have been blessed with gifts of furniture and housewares and have a home for me and my Romeow kitteh that is warm and welcoming, where friends join us for meals, fellowship, and study groups.

I dealt with some health issues that were frustrating and scary as I am still navigating new place, new relationships.  But, I found caring and compassionate professionals who have been an important asset and instruments of healing in my life.

I dealt with a major depressive episode and it has been one of the best things that could have happened to me.  I have been able to receive counseling and support services and have started doing some really important healing work with professionals I trust.  I am finally taking care of myself instead of focusing all my care outward.  It has been a blessing to be able to make space for my own healing and growth.

I experienced the loss of a relationship that was important to me and in which I had invested a great deal of care and attention.  I also experienced the loss of my church denomination as I came to realize that in order to fully embrace my call I would need to leave the United Methodist Church.

And yet, with all these challenges, I managed to have a great semester.  I earned As and A minuses in all my classes.  I submitted a few conference proposals, one of which was accepted.  I found a new denomination that has been wonderful in affirming, embracing, and nurturing my call and my need for full inclusion and acceptance.

I made some new friends I am looking forward to growing with as this journey continues.

This past semester was, in the words of a dear friend, ‘emotionally rich.’

I have learned more than I ever expected.  Some of it academic (ask me about the Hebrew Bible!) but mostly I learned a lot about myself: my radiance, my resilience, and my courage.  Most importantly I have come to the realization that I may never understand how truly expansive, encompassing, and amazing God’s love is.  Each time I think I have a grasp on it, each time I think I’m safe and steady, I realize that there’s more of God, more than I can ever hope to articulate, to express, or to understand.  I expect that my process of discernment and exploration will, God willing, last the rest of my life.  I pray that I may never be so complacent or arrogant as to think I have arrived, that I have the answers. I pray that I may be emboldened in my surrender, empowered in my openness to love, and blessed with the ability to share the magnificent grace, love, and power, the healing and the mercy I experience daily in my walk with God.

As I head into my second semester I feel like I’m ready to be stretched and surprised.  Bring it on!

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