8

On Pilgrimage

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I promised myself for Lent I’d write.

But what to write?

The Urban Monastic is on pilgrimage.  Okay, yes, but technically????

I’m homeless.  And have been.  Since the beginning of February.

Roving from shelter site to shelter site (literally a different site every night of the week) while the shelters last (we have no year-round shelters, so only ’til the end of March) is a pilgrimage right enough.  Granted it seems a bit like the kind of pilgrimage Pooh and Piglet took around a tree — following their own tracks in the snow and looking for what made them — but time is moving in a forward and linear direction, whether I seem to be moving in anything but circles or not.

Circumstances are complicated, nuanced, and more than I really want to get into on so many levels.  2013 broke me, plain-and-simple.  It is what it is, but the question remains how to find something of a phoenix in the ashes.

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“Dad, you don’t choose a life, you live one.” — Daniel Avery, The Way

This journey is a pilgrimage.

It’s not a marathon, it’s not a happy little hill-walk for leisurely enjoying the wildflowers.  It’s not a thing to be rushed, sped through, escaped as fast as humanly possible.

That would be…

…that would be like arriving at a busy transit hub and getting on the first bus or train to leave — regardless of destination — merely to escape the location of the transit hub.

That would be stupid.

At the same time, you can’t take up residence in the transit hub and never leave — that would be equally stupid.

This journey is a pilgrimage — the only way out is through, it has a beginning and an end, but it is a journey of deliberation and contemplation as much as it is a journey of destination.

I have a passion for urban ministries.  A friend of mine joked that this journey is like an urban missions internship.

It is what it is, and what it is…is a pilgrimage.

¡Buen camino!

I forgot to credit my source for the shell image — http://tatianasbowl.wordpress.com/

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10

Uncertain

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Psalm 59:16

I fell silent in my sorrow but the sorow has been long.  I am at an uncertain crossroads and am watching the last threads that connect me to life and this world slowly unravelling.  All is not quite lost, but it’s getting there.  There is little hope left, but I want to try.  It may be too late.

I painted this last week on a day with only darkness and no words, painted on a notecard to encourage a friend.

I am not singing any more.  2013 broke me.

VKS

3

For dear friends who are dear saints

I posted this as my gratitude for yesterday on my Gratitude page.  I have a Gratitude page, did you notice this?  I update it daily, even when I’m not writing elsewhere.  I thought this thought deserved its own post.  Love you C & D!

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Gratitude entry for 22 NOV 2013

I am grateful for dear friends who are dear saints

There is a great grace in the gentle and quiet love of abiding friendship, among the communion if saints, amid a rising storm (that exact sentiment being exactly why there is a communion of saints).  There is so much grace in: “We will not try to fix you, to force you, we very much wish to just love you, please just be.”

But that can be a very difficult grace to embrace at times.

I’m getting better at it.

It is those quiet moments of love that Christ’s love is best reflected in us, by us, and through us.
— VKS

9

Forgetting my first love

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Photo credit: Alison Batley©, source http://shetalkswithgod.wordpress.com/tag/prayer-vigil/

I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have perservered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.

Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. — Revelation 2:2-5b (NIV)

Friday was a rough day. A friend of mine has been very ill with something very serious. I helped her decide to skive off work Friday and go to the ER. She was waffling, and I told her not to waffle. She left Friday morning, and I didn’t have much information until after I got home Friday evening.

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Image Credit: Marie Ellenrieder, Kniendes betendes Mädchen, http://commons.wikimedia.org

Thursday night I was waffling on whether or not to come to an open prayer time scheduled before another event at church on Friday night; my friend was so sick I wasn’t waffling Friday morning.

So, there I sat in the church sanctuary.  I decided to begin with a few praise songs to empty myself and calm myself down, then I put on Hildegard von Bingen.  I wanted to read something before I started praying.  I decided on The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, not for any particular reason other than its topical nature.  Thomas à Kempis: practical mysticism at its best.

The e-book on my e-reader opened to the last thing I read, which was the following (Book 2, Chapter 5):

On the Wonderful Effect of the Love of God

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DISCIPLE: May You be blessed, O Heavenly Father, Father of my Lord Jesus Christ, because You have consented to be mindful of me, poor sinner that I am. O Father of mercies and God of all comfort, I thank You that sometimes You are pleased to console me with Your gracious presence, though I am unworthy of such consolation.

I bless You and glorify You always, together with Your Son and the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, forever and ever. O my Lord, God, most faithful Lover, when You come into my heart, my whole being is filled with joy. You are my glory and the joy of my heart; my hope and refuge in the time of tribulation (Ps 59:17).

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You know how weak in love and imperfect in virtue I am and how much I stand in need of Your strength and comfort. Please, Lord, visit me often and instruct me in Your holy teachings.

Deliver me from evil passions and heal my heart from all disorderly affections, so that being healed inwardly and well purified, I may become ready to love You, strong to suffer for You, and firm to persevere.

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Love is a strong force — a great good in every way; it alone can make our burdens light, and alone it bears in equal balance what is pleasing and displeasing. It carries a burden and does not feel it; it makes all that is bitter taste sweet.

The noble love of Jesus urges us to do great things and spurs us on to desire perfection. Love tends upward to God and is not occupied with the things of earth. Love also will be free from all worldly affections, so that its inner vision does not become dimmed, nor does it let itself be trapped by any temporal interest or downcast by misfortune.

Nothing is sweeter than love, nothing higher, nothing stronger, nothing larger, nothing more joyful, nothing fuller, nothing better in heaven or on earth; for love is born of God and can find its rest only in God above all He has created.

Such lovers fly high, run swiftly and rejoice. Their souls are free; they give all for all and have all in all. For they rest in One Supreme Goodness above all things, from Whom all other good flows and proceeds. They look not only at the gifts, but at the Giver, Who is above all gifts.

Love knows no limits, but is fervent above all measure. It feels no burden, makes light of labor, desiring to do more than it is able. Nothing is impossible to love, for it thinks that it can and may do all things for the Beloved.

Therefore it does and effects many things, while those who do not love falter and fail.

Love is ever watchful; it rests, but does not sleep; though weary, it is not tired; restricted, yet not hindered. Although it sees reason to fear, it is not dismayed, but like a spark of fire or a burning flame, it blazes upward to God by the fervor of its love, and through the help of his grace is delivered from all dangers.

Those who love thus know well what their voices mean when they cry out to God with all the ardor of their soul: You, Lord God, are my whole love and all my desire. You are all mine and I am all Yours.

Let my heart expand in Your love. Let me learn to know how sweet it is to serve You, how joyful it is to praise You, and to be dissolved in Your love. Oh, I am possessed by love and rise above myself because of the great fervor I feel through Your infinite goodness.

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I will sing the canticle of love to You and will follow You, my Beloved, wherever You go, and may my soul never weary of praising You, rejoicing in Your love. I will love You more than myself and myself only for Your sake; I will love all others in You and for You, as Your law of love commands.

Love is swift, sincere, pious, joyful and glad; it is strong, patient, faithful, wise, forbearing, courageous, and is never self-seeking; for when people seek themselves, they cease to love.

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Love is cautious, humble and upright; not weak, not flighty, nor concerned with trifles. It is sober, chaste, firm, quiet, and keeps guard over the senses.

Love is submissive and obedient to authority, mean and despicable in its own sight, devout and thankful to God. Love always trusts and hopes in God, even when it lacks fervor; for there is no living in love without some sorrow or pain.

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Pietà, St. Martin of Tours Church,.Brentwood, CA. 19 AUG 2013.

Those who are not always ready to suffer and to stand disposed to the will of their Beloved are not worthy to be called lovers; for lovers must gladly embrace all hardship and bitter things for their Beloved, and never allow themselves to turn away from him by adversity.

This broke me, brought me to tears.  My silence has been the result of so much despair, so much sadness, so much lonely solitude, so much pain — deep, deep, deep pain.  I have no answers, and most of the time I have no words for questions either.  I feel lost, drifting, breathlessly screaming into the wind, enveloped to death by great darkness.  A dark night of the soul, indeed.  On a good day, I get out of bed.  On a great day I take a shower.  On a rare day I brush my teeth and leave the house.  Taking care is too much work, I am too tired.  I’ve been drifting very close to the “giving up” place, yet desperate to hide this — a wounded animal concealing her weakness…or trying.

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I walked into the church sanctuary not sure if I have any fight left (and to be fair, I’m still not sure).  Living life is hard, and so often without rest.  And yet, while I am not certain if I have the strength to fight on, what is clear to me — so much of what has been missing, broken, crumbled, shattered, dirty, and lost — is simply that, somewhere along the line, I forgot my first love.

8

*KNOCK! KNOCK!*…ooooh, nevermind

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Trunk-or-treat, taken -- obviously -- in the church kitchen last Sunday night

First of all, this is to say that I do clean up well, and generally offer a touch of class to my Halloween attire.  I don’t do scary, I do classy, historic, period, clever, or literary.  I used to ride horses, I keep the helmet around for just such occasions, and I was dressed and pressed in four layers of clothing to suggest fox hunting.

Because that’s how I roll.

And again, I clean up well…but I don’t roll out of bed in perfectly pressed clothing, shapewear, hair product, and make-up.

So…that said…

Laundry day.  Home with the Ridiculous Creature (new roommates’ not-that-bright Papillion), sorting laundry upstairs, he’s downstairs.

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The Ridiculous Creature, photo swiped from my friend's Facebook feed

Door.  Bell.  Rings.

The Ridiculous Creature takes off barking, with all ferocity, up the stairs to me:

“INTRUDERS!!! DO SOMETHING!!!”

I mentioned laundry day, right?

So I go downstairs in what I have on: white flannel conversation heart print pajama bottoms, a brown and tan striped shelf tank, black flip flops, hair sticking up everywhere, obviously needing a shower.

I open the door *just* as a woman is trying to shove a tract through the crack in the front door (Note: this house needs better weather-stripping because it was working!). There were two of them — middle aged hispanic women, well-dressed, long and straight black hair neat down their backs.

And me: standing before them, looking like I rolled out of bed at the local psychiatric ward, Ridiculous Creature barking — fit to kill — on the stairs beside me.

The woman with the tract takes one look at me and says: “Hi, can we give you this?” as they both start leaving…quickly.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, a tract on life after death on All Saints/All Souls weekend. Nice.

I read it, I always read tracts. I don’t hold that tracts are particularly effective as evangelism tools, but I always read everyone’s tracts.

I giggled up the stairs, but then as I thought about what just happened, it occurred to me: these are people who (wrongly) think they have a message and method for salvation, but they left me. Without going into it, suffice it to say the works-based, grace-free model of salvation is just the tip of the iceberg for Jehovah’s Witnesses, as they are a modern rehash of the Arian heresy (Christ not divine but created). Now, as my mother will tell you, I go out of my way to be irritatingly kind and welcoming to Jehovah’s Witnesses, because they think they get “extra credit” for mean people. I’m an evangelist, let’s go. Eventually they stop coming around, and I never seem to make headway (I did unconvert a Mormon once though).
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But seriously, it disturbs me — a value judgment was made on my doorstep by people who think they have the gospel of salvation not to share it with me.

Let that sink in.

It doesn’t matter that Jehovah’s Witness is a cult, I get that. What bothers me is that I opened the door and they decided: nope, next house.

Because, you know what? I’m an Evangelical Christian who would absolutely claim to have the gospel of salvation. Maybe I’m not most people, because I’m willing to drop everything and talk to people for hours. Does it do any good always? I don’t know, but I can try to bring hope and love, right?
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I was reading In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership by Henri J.M. Nouwen this morning. In the chapter titled “The Question: ‘Do You Love Me?'” Nouwen reflects:

Look at Jesus. The world did not pay any attention to him. He was crucified and put away. His message of love was rejected by a world in search of power, efficiency, and control. But there he was, appearing with wounds in his glorified body to a few friends who had eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to understand. This rejected, unknown, wounded Jesus simply asked, “Do you love me, do you really love me?” He whose only concern had been to announce the unconditional love of God had only one question to ask, “Do you love me?”

The question is not: How many people take you seriously? How much are you going to accomplish? Can you show some results? But: Are you in love with Jesus? Perhaps another way of putting the question would be: Do you know the incarnate God?

I like to — hope to — think the answer with respect to myself is: yes.

Based on nothing but professed allegiance to a theological and cosmological worldview that excludes the incarnate God (as Christ was not God, according to what Jehovah’s Witnesses believe and teach), the answer for the two women on my doorstep this morning was probably: no.

Nouwen continues:

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Image source: the wonderful Keeping Company blog

In our world of loneliness and despair, there is an enormous need for men and women who know the heart of God, a heart that forgives, cares, reaches out and wants to heal. In that heart there is no suspicion, no vindictiveness, no resentment, and not a tinge of hatred. It is a heart that wants only to give love and receive love in response. It is a heart that suffers immensely because it sees the magnitude of human pain and the great resistance to trusting the heart of God who wants to offer consolation and hope.

But here’s the deal…

A value judgment was made on my doorstep by two women who believe they have the answer and the gospel of salvation that I wasn’t worth the effort. That disturbed me then and still disturbs me.

They walked away…and I shut the door.

Because this is where it gets tough: I shut the door.

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I would argue, as an Evangelical Christian, that I have the answer and the gospel of salvation. If I really believe what I say I believe, and that the Holy Spirit is mixed up in this too, shouldn’t I be always willing to share this news with every human who crosses my path always?

Always?!

Always.

Because maybe a value judgment about me was made when those two women — confronted with a woman dressed like a three year-old and a creepy yipping dog — decided to leave my doorstep, but what I now realize? The second I started closing the door, I made the reciprocal value judgment about them.

And, okay, maybe me chasing them down would have made a terrible impression, maybe they wouldn’t have stopped to talk, maybe they wouldn’t have listened, maybe they wouldn’t have been receptive, maybe nothing would have changed.

Maybe…maybe not.

But the trouble is? I’ll never know, I never gave them — or the Holy Spirit — a chance.

The hound of heaven does not relent — if God is after those two nameless women on my doorstep, he will find them. The trouble is, I denied the Holy Spirit the opportunity to use me. And why? That’s the worst part: essentially because my jeans were dirty and I wanted clean sheets. That…is like the worst excuse note ever.

Dear Jesus:

I am very, very sorry I did not keep my divine appointment today. I forgot to look for it. But, see, I was distracted by the fact that my sheets were stinky and I didn’t have any clean jeans. I’m sorry I failed to recognize the two women on my doorstep were precious in your sight, loved by you, and made in the image of God. But really, who has time? I mean the washing machine takes over an hour to wash a load that big, and about two hours to dry, that’s a long time to go without clean pants! Yeah, okay, eternity without you is longer, but it’s not like I knew them or we had anything in common. And anyway, even if I screwed this up, you can use someone else, right? So really, it’s all good.

Glad we cleared that up.

See you Sunday!

Val

(To be clear — satire!!!)

But isn’t that — essentially — the attitude my actions reflected, apathy?

Lesson for today (which I hope to be able to remember next time): We are all precious, loved, and made in the image of God. Look for — and notice — divine appointments.

0

Gratitude and looking toward my lesson this Sunday

From my sister blog, I originally meant to post this here. Hannah and Samuel, the story that never stops challenging my faith.

St. Val the Eccentric

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I was looking at the church newsletter Wednesday morning. I knew I was teaching this weekend, but had forgotten which story.

Hannah and Samuel.

I wrote this earlier this year. I won’t be teaching this lesson this way to the preschoolers and kindergarteners on Sunday, but Hannah’s is a story that gives me chills and pause:

Could you pray to God to give you the one thing you want most, and in the same breath offer it back to him?

Day 3 — Gratitude (Monday, 18 February – Monday, 4 March, 2013)

And sorry for the silence, but my move has been — in a lot of ways — a tough transition. Grace and peace to you. — VKS

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3

Looking ahead?

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I’m sitting in my new place, home alone tonight, thinking and studying for my lesson tomorrow: I’m teaching “Joseph’s Later Life” to the 3-to-5 set.

I could tell you the story of Joseph upside-down, inside-out and backwards, as I’ve — oddly — taught it almost every single year since I’ve been teaching Sunday School at all.  Joseph’s story (see Genesis 37-50) is the story in the Bible on providence (apart from, of course, Christ’s story).

I have a lot to be thankful for this week, but I’m afraid my life has just been a muddle of disordered affections in recent days.

The life of a man like Joseph is easier to read when you know how the story ends.  Uncertainty is harder to deal with in day-to-day pieces.

In so many ways life overwhelms me right now (not the least of them being crazy Santa Ana winds that have sucked me dry).  I’m not sure what God is doing with my life or where we’re going, but here I am, LORD.

Blessings for your Sunday, prayers to work out the kinks in my new life appreciated. — VKS

5

Lasts and goodbyes

I have to move soon.  Within a week.  The whys are ugly and complicated on some level.  I have a lot to say about it, but can’t really.  I know I can’t stay, but I’ve been on assignment here for over two years.  I’m moving twenty miles away, back to my hometown.  Urban Monastic, off to the suburbs.  Bus service sucks there, so it will cut me off from my mother, my sister, my adorable niece.  I am going to stay with a dear friend and her husband.  It’s a good thing, and will put me closer to church as well.

Still…

Saying goodbye to life here, even grim and hard-scrabble life scratched from nothing, is hard.  I’ve gotten used to being able to easily get to my family.  I’ve had a few “last” adventures in the city in the past few weeks.

School is still impossible, but hopefully I can find meaningful work soon and put the pieces of my life together into something that feels like a meaningful life.

I try to find God in all things, and I know where he is in parts of this, but I do despair at all I leave behind.  I trust in the promise that he is working beyond what horizon I can see to prepare things.  Moving on, per the norm in my crazy nomadic life.

Blessings — VKS

Oh, and GOOOOOOOOOOOOO Red Sox!!!!!!

20

It’s not about “social” it’s about eternity

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The thing about sticking your neck out, is that it can get cut off.

I wrote the following very thoughtfully in response to this post — Millennials, the Church, Psychoanalysis, and the Prayer of Jesus.

I have no idea how it will be received — perhaps badly, as my words are not gentle ones — but I believe these words to the core of my being.

I’m sick of overtures — eternity is at stake.

I’m sick of people playing church.

I’m sick of the marketing campaigns for “cool” church.

I’m sick of all of it. I understand well that human traditions and cultural can bring a lot of good things to worship, but they are also responsible for a lot of the garbage pouring into “the church” (and for resistance to putting out the garbage).

I am here to worship the Lord my God and serve him only.

Those will be the words on my lips as I am either martyred or hit by a bus.

This isn’t my rant on all things of all churches, it is intended as a response to the post cited above (a post I viewed to be more fluffy than useful with respect to this issue — there was a perspective missing in the post; it’s now in the comments).

So…thoughts?

Here’s the thing…

Whether one generation feels the absence of another or not, it can sometimes not particularly matter in an insular congregation not par-tic-u-lar-ly fond of change, when the only “young people” in a congregation “belong” to people who already go there. There are plenty of churches — but if you’re reading this, you probably don’t go to one because you actually know how to use a computer and are advanced enough in social networking to know how and where to find the blogosphere — that operate as the “Happy Jesus People Country Club,” are as exclusive as hell, and have no room for people who don’t “fit.”

I am not the type of person who is a “Church starts at 9:15 AM, I’m peeling rubber out of the parking lot at 10:16 AM… before the entire benediction has even been finished” kind of person (that’s several members of my family, but not me — I’m a “there and helping all morning” kind of person). As such, when I was twenty-six I started going to a local church that was THE historic “steeple church” for the city (and also happened to be the more dynamic of the two churches of my denomination in town). A lot happened in the life of the church and in the leadership of that church in the 5½ years when I was a member there, but by the time I left? I was on staff as one of the receptionists and the database goddess, the leader (and sometimes teacher) of the young adults group, a huge part of the teaching team for Pre-K Sunday School, one of the main childcare workers for the morning Women’s Bible Study and the MOPS equivalent.

In-short?

I wasn’t on the fringe, I was a leader.

But as things changed and more and more and more young families left the church because of a service time change (evening to day), because youth pastors left, because a long-time (and much-loved) associate pastor was pushed out on financial grounds (taking his wife who was a big part of the care ministry with him), church leaders got grumpier and more insular.

And set their sights on the outlier groups.

The “Single Adults” (50+ divorcees or never-marrieds) were the first to be pushed out, either integrated into other groups or disappeared to other churches.

Then…the young adults (with me as their leadership). I fought every level all the way up the chain for a solid year, but they won. It had become an “us/them” thing at that point. 100% ministry involvement in our demographic did not matter to Adult Ed., we were an inconvenient use of “resources” and classroom space. They pushed us out.

So I left.

In the part of Los Angeles where my sister and I live, there exist literally no Protestant churches where accommodations even exist for young people or young families. She was pushed out of two churches for this reason — the latest where she and the pastor’s daughter were the token young people. Service time and lack of a cry room meant she took church every Sunday out in the parking lot with my baby niece — what was the point? The local church where I attend Bible Study with a group that is composed of people my age (33) doubled plus ten (or more) is stuck in a late 1960s/early 1970s time warp. There are NO young people there — and why would there be? There is nothing to support young families or the discipleship of young people. I don’t even think they HAVE a youth pastor. There is a sign on the nursery that says “Welcome Baby.” I thought it was a weird typo (this is a pretty ESL neighborhood) until I worshiped with them one Sunday and realized that, yes, it was accurate: the singular “baby” in the congregation is the pastors’ young son.

Millennials are the second generation of people who have better things to do on Sunday. I have much better things to do with my time on Sunday than spend it with people who have no room for me (so I worship elsewhere from where I live in a congregation where there is a place for a person like me, a person who doesn’t “belong” in more insular church congregations, because in addition to being a young person, I am a total outlier because I am not married and don’t have kids). I go to church because I love Jesus, not because “church is what good people do on Sundays.”

I don’t want to be “a good person,” I want to be a disciple of Christ.

In insular churches, I honestly don’t think older generations care — much. I’ve talked to many friends, and have found this a problem in every single church I’ve attended to greater and lesser degrees (my present church least of all). When churches get insular, they stop caring about this.

Millennials — as a whole — don’t notice their absence from church much because Christian Millennials are a huge minority. And why would anyone want to be one of those freaks anyway when the face the church puts to the media is the extremists like the Westboro Baptist Church? I am not that, the majority of Christians are not that, but in so many ways the church has been asleep at the wheel for so long (the best evidence is the level to which we’ve ceded social justice to the state), that the extremist view so often has to be the starting point for dialogue because that is the only face of the church they see.

Your words are good words, but most of the Millennials I know are sick of the vapidity of church being *coolified* and *hipsterized* as a marketing campaign, they don’t want “cool” they want “real” and “home.” All those Sunday School stories you take for granted people know? They don’t, not if their family never went to church. Christian education, Bible Study and small group opportunities, practical study options for parents, childcare at women’s ministries events, programs like MOPS — it’s a package deal. Your words are good (mostly), but they are similar to rhetoric I’ve heard for years.

The heart of this is not about “church”, this isn’t about “programs,” this isn’t about attendance numbers and butts in the seats, it’s not about community involvement, it isn’t even about being social.

It really, really, really, really, really, really is NOT about being social.

This is about eternity.

Seriously.

Sometimes I wonder how many people “get” that, remember that, miss that.

I recently attended the funeral of my childhood best friend who lived life on a cosmological level that a ticket to heaven is attained by living a good moral life. Our mutual best friend goes to church with me but is a fairly new Christian. I’m still trying to figure out how to have the conversation that, um, guess what? The whole Christianity thing you signed on for? Jesus? Well, this isn’t a theological worldview that supports our very good, very kind, very moral, now dead friend having a place in heaven. I don’t even want to talk about cutting through the Hollywood mire of what heaven is to have the discussion for why our friend isn’t visiting us from beyond the grave every time we see a lizard. Some or all of that may sound crazy, but I will have to live the rest of my life on this planet almost entirely certain (must have hope) that my dear friend of 20+ years is in hell. That may be theoretical to you, but it’s real when it’s the reality of your own life. It’s anything but theoretical to me.

Eternity matters, and what we as Christians DO with that matters.

Because so much of the rhetoric I’ve heard in the many years I’ve been actively involved in church is about how to make life better for the people who are already AT church. And to some degree, I suppose, it is an important consideration — Christian education, for example — but I also think that people tend to forget that one of the biggest reasons the church exists is because of people who are not at church — not at your church, not at any church.

This matters now. This matters TO-DAY. This isn’t a “gee, what should we do to make our church more attractive to young people, let’s develop a committee to discuss this” kind of deal. I’ve heard excuses about young people not being “out there” — sure they are, they just don’t happen to be going to your church or any other, you have to actually go find them in the community.

And almost above all things, we Millennials are a suspicious group. The American Dream blew up in our face and is now running backwards. Why should we believe what you say about this “Jesus”? Why should we care about this “Jesus”? The biggest question, though, is not “Why God?” but “God who?” Seriously. You know that bit about your life being the only gospel some people will ever read? It may be truer now than it has been in a long time.

What about your life reflects the Christ you serve? Do we, as Christians, live our lives just the same as everyone else, or is there something…different? Is what is “different” as attractive as true living water should be?

We may be social creatures — truly it was not good for man to be alone — but before we were social creatures, we were created to be loved by God and to be in relationship to him. May our drive to be social with each other — whatever that means in a church setting — never get in the way of the truth of our created purpose in relationship to God. “The Happy Jesus People Country Club” (we’re all full-up, thanks) is NOT the Body of Christ.


(I couldn’t find a version of this song I liked as well as the one our drama team did, but this one works better than some)

1

Finding goodness in ruined plans

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Fra. Angelico, The Death and Assumption of the Virgin, ca. 1432. © Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston. Photo: Thomas Lingner.

Thursday didn’t work out as planned.

It was the Feast Day of the Assumption, and I had these grand plans to go downtown to the Cathedral for mass, spend the day, maybe hit the Hollywood Bowl for the second performance of the Verdi Requiem on Thursday night. I realize to any who realize that I am very much not Roman Catholic, that probably sounds a bit batty (especially since I neither hold to saints as intercessors nor to the doctrine of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary).

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HEADACHES: Only productive if you're Hildegard von Bingen

Well, best-laid plans were laid-low by a roaring headache (thank you wonky monsoon weather!).

I didn’t sleep well Wednesday night, woke up in a fit state of nasty nausea, and knew I wasn’t in any shape for a day out in the City of Angels (actually, the City of the Queen of the Angels — the name of my city is cribbed from the Litany of Loreto).

I was blessed to spend part of the day in the company of my mother and my beloved baby niece. My niece actually slept decently Thursday, so she wasn’t Royal Princess Grump Butt (she was actually quite a delight). She’s getting better at balancing when she’s pulled herself to a standing position, is thoroughly determined that she will eat the rivets out of my jeans, and thought that me lifting my calf like a scissors from my knee was hilarious (we joke that when she is older we will hit her with all these absurd things she used to love to do when she whines about being bored, e.g., “You used to like to chew on your dirty socks, isn’t that exciting enough for you now?”).

There really is a children’s sermon buried somewhere in “I’m bored.” vs. all the absurd things babies do to keep themselves busy.

Life at home is difficult and stressful, but perhaps not always as daily toxic as it was in June. Still looking for work and not finding it. Still needing to move and feeling like a time bomb is ticking there.

Still also surrounded by guinea pig adorableness (really a saving grace on so many levels). The little ones are now fourteen weeks old. They are firmly paired off as Wentworth/Benwick, Annie/Sophie, and Frederick/Harville. They are mostly good, though there is definitely some mischief. Annie and Sophie can — amazingly — reduce a giant pile of hay to nothing and drink twelve ounces of water in twelve hours. I continue to marvel and delight at these dear little creatures God has given over to my care.

Sleep was not my friend Thursday night. I was out to dinner with my mother, and as we left the restaurant, from the parking lot we saw five helicopters. The story involves a motorcycle chase by police that started with a cruiser and finished with a helicopter at a location basically four major city blocks from my house. I guess the one who led the chase was a guy on parole who was suspected of being armed. The police went door-to-door (apparently frightening children as they did so — understandable, as it’s not every day when police show up to search your house). I left to go walk the dog about an hour after we first noticed all of this — the line of hovering/waiting helicopters had moved much closer to my house, so I walked the mile in the opposite direction. On my way back, I heard a sudden burst of sirens to the east and watched the helicopters move away.

Whatever that meant, they had him.

He apparently committed suicide when they found him.

I know nothing of this man, I know nothing of his crime, I know nothing of the circumstances of the chase, but what I do know is that he was a man made in the image of the God I love and serve. However corrupted an image from a reflection of Christ that image may or may not have been, his life was still created and precious. On that level, it makes me sad. No one is “born” into crime and suicide. This is a beautiful and wonderful world, but it is still a very broken world. What was this man’s story? What was the story no one knew? Heaven or hell? It’s hard to ask or consider that question, especially in a case where all evidence points to “hell.” It really is always impossible to know the answer to that question with absolute certainty, but eternity does matter, and the admission criteria for adoption into the family of God are pretty specific.

The helicopters were still flying through the night, even at 3:00 AM. It was a long night.

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Additionally, Thursday night I was still reeling from a long-time-finally-answered prayer. I can’t really say too much about it, it isn’t about me anyway, but it’s one of those prayers prayed in hopes that someone I love would make a certain decision in a certain direction that seemed most favorable for the sake of all involved. One of those decisions that can be agony, but ultimately a decision over which I have no control. I am blessed that this small grace was granted, because on some level? Eternity was at stake.

One less thing to weep over on Friday.

I’m still so very, very, very, very, very numb over the death of my dear friend. I’m not particularly functional, and I don’t have words. I have a lot of half-finished posts, but not much energy.

Something needs to give, and it can’t be my sanity.

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Whatever.

I think about those who are so flip about life, or else just trudge through merely to make it through another day, just to survive. Maybe I am guilty of this apathetic sloth some days, but the truth remains: life is beautiful. However difficult or terrible or challenging life might otherwise be, it is precious and worthy of living with intentionality.

Even though my day Thursday did not go according to plan, there were still those who were blessed by it…including me. I cannot know what might’ve been for the fun and adventure, but surely no day spent in the company of those I love best was wasted.