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Monday, July 30, 2018

Boston in the Fall…

Short Story: This girl is going to Boston University in the fall!  I will be a PhD student, pursuing a degree in Liturgical Studies, and I will be a teaching fellow. 

Long Story: Hang on, it’s pretty good…

Just over a year ago, I found myself staring down a string of ‘closed doors’ that made absolutely no sense and were impossible to process.  It wasn’t a new story; and the truth is, I was sick of telling it.  Some of you have heard this part already, but after being soundly rejected by the only doctoral program to which I had applied, I had spent several months chasing down multiple possibilities for the elusive co-pastorate in an inner city (any inner city), which would allow me to re-frame my educational plans while living into the passions in my heart that include teaching and practicing social justice through compassionate ministry.  At the end of a very long day, I fell asleep in a puddle of tears when I realized every lead had come to an abrupt end.  I woke up the next morning and accepted a position as the director of family ministries at a UMC (not my tribe), in a small, rural town.  I literally moved my family to a farmhouse in the middle of a pig and chicken farm.  I then proceeded to do stuff that felt mutually exclusive for my life, like participating in a nationwide book tour, speaking about the uncontrolling nature of God’s love and the validity of the free agency of humanity, while wondering whose free agency was screwing over my life.

It has actually been a fabulous year in so many ways, and as I launch into this narrative, I want to be exceedingly clear that even though this was not, in fact, what I would have chosen; I never do anything halfway, so I threw myself wholeheartedly into this community and church, and the response was that of a village built on love.  If your whole life is going to be ‘ruined,’ let me suggest a wonderful place such as this one for the ruining.  It is the jackpot of small towns, and I have been very happy.

This winter, I sent out three applications for PhD programs.  I opted not to re-take the GRE (my score was solid but not stellar), and honesty requires me to confess that I did not really think I would get in.  I was OK with that.  My plan was to eventually give the GRE another shot, if necessary, and to just keep trying in future years.  I got into two of the three programs to which I applied.  As a side note, my kids have taken to calling the other program, “That dumb school that didn’t want Mom.”  I think this is hysterical and endearing.

The energy that went into my decision to choose BU was painfully draining.  Both schools offered me 100% funding for tuition.  Only BU offered a fellowship.  My prospective advisor looked into my face and spoke the following words: “You are loved and you are wanted here.”  That was huge, since I was still trying to decide whether or not they had made a mistake in sending me an acceptance letter!  The other school was close enough to commute, which would allow me to keep my job, and it was also pretty much in the backyard of the college my two oldest children intend to attend next fall.   
Boston presented unique challenges, such as the exorbitant cost of living, but when I looked at the options side-by-side, I knew intrinsically that it was the best choice.  Still, I wrestled with this right down to the deadline.  I almost begged friends familiar with the other option to tell me to go there.   Although they were positive and supportive of either choice, it seemed that no one could bring themselves to steer me away from BU. 

Since Boston was not financially feasible for us, our family began to explore options that would allow them to stay put, while I would move to Boston and book a whole lot of flights.  Our local church was supportive of this possibility, which would include job sharing.  And finally, through some more hot, angry tears, sitting in my driveway with Matthew 19:29-30[i] running though my head in the background, I threw my hands up in the air and said, “Fine God!  I will go do this thing (that I really want to do, anyway), but if I lose my kids over this, I’m done, and we are through.”   Let’s chalk this up as the worst affirmative answer to a calling, ever…

Given a full understanding of what this decision meant, friends and family started coming out of the woodwork, questioning whether or not I had made the right decision.  This was not particularly helpful (where were you when I was begging for a reason to say no and before the deadline had passed), and I was especially distraught that these sentiments came most often from the same people who had seen my previous rejection and distress as an opportunity to “just trust in God’s plan .”  Can God’s plan not include joy, as well? And how is it that God is limited to working only in suffering?   I’ve done a fair share of theological deconstruction and reconstruction over the years, and I’m going to share something that is far less than popular:  In the end, I’m not certain that the God I have come to recognize as very real is entirely the God I hoped God would be.  That’s raw.  It sucks!  And yet, God is good, God is present, and God is love. 

And, as it turns out, God is also still working in and through people, because at the eleventh hour there was a plot twist.  Through an introduction made by my advisor, followed by a very simple appointment process, Phil was offered a pastorate at the UMC in South Walpole, MA (a suburb of Boston).  And it includes a parsonage.  And maybe, just maybe, it turns out that our faith is not misplaced after all and that God can work in ways we did not expect when we know our gut-wrenching decisions have been choices made with integrity.

So here’s to public transportation, lobstah, tea parties at the ocean, and maybe a class or two at Harvard (are you kidding me?) as the Michaels’ take to the east coast. 

Please wait patiently for the Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything Spoof…



[i] And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Season Finales

I have a confession to make.  I didn’t watch popular TV for a couple of decades, but then I did again.

Why do we invest our time in fictional narratives?  Perhaps the reasons are as diverse as the number of us who exist and continue to circle around the sun.  My honest answer is that there was this moment when I said to myself, “I need to sit down and binge watch something that has characters with more complicated lives than mine.” 

I chose Grey’s Anatomy.  If I legitimately wanted characters with ridiculously complex lives, I struck gold.  I watched 12 seasons in three months.  That’s 269 episodes.  I have yet to decide if I am proud of this or irrevocably ashamed.  After years upon years of being an entertainment media purist, I felt like I was flipping off the world, rebel me, watching all that off screen sex… and blood related to medical procedures… and bad language…   I was angry.  But this was three years ago.

Most days, I don’t wake up angry anymore.  Honestly, most days I wake up super exhausted and hope somebody has hit the power button on the Keurig, as I grapple for my glasses and consider how I can best balance the writing of children’s sermons and academic papers… being mom in sweatpants and jet-setting in business suits… being who I am and who I hope to be… and most days, I’m fairly amazed that I have the opportunity.

But I’m thinking a lot about season finales, right now, because it’s that time of year (and one does not surrender thirteen full days of one’s life to follow characters and then fail to turn the final page…  it can’t go on forever, right?).  I’m thinking about how season finales have the power to bring us to tears or even make us throw things (that might just be me).  I’m thinking about how they are almost always cliffhangers, keeping us on the edge of our seats, causing us to set the DVR for fall… watching… waiting…  And, I’m thinking about how I am living a season finale, right now.

Some finales are more epic than others.  Undoubtedly, the most difficult ones are those in which we say good-bye to beloved characters.  If you know anything at all about living in Shondaland, you also know she is more than willing to kill off major characters… like… all of them, without apology…   Equally tragic, however, are the characters that choose to leave, and it really plays with our emotions when these characters make guest appearances, showing up on the scene again… 

Honestly, this can feel a lot like real life…  “Oh crap, there you are…  I forgot you weren’t dead…”

It sounds brutal, but I think it hurts more when people decide we aren’t worth their time or walk away to protect their own interests, leaving ours in a heap of disarray that can, at best, be gathered and sorted and sobbed over, but that, at worst, is so damaged it can never be fixed… or even properly dealt with or grieved.

I mean, come on…  How can you actually grieve something to its end when there are constant (or even intermittent, see: I’m really not angry every day) reminders that it could still exist, if every star aligned just right?  Even if you don’t want that to be the case, there can still be too many “what ifs” and “if onlys” to permanently put it to rest.

There have occasionally been times in my life when I have uttered the words, “I would give anything for…”

It’s actually a really dumb thing to say, because there are few things in the world that any of us would actually give anything… let alone everything… for.  But stay with me.  This is all going to connect.  The mending of broken relationship might come closest, with just not hurting over broken relationship taking a tight second.

As I’ve processed (and, admittedly, maybe even over-processed) some things along these lines, I have run across a couple of well-meaning friends who have suggested the potential for reframing the stories and changing the narratives we tell.  Apparently, this works well for many people… alleviates anxiety… minimizes triggers… results in a happy ending…  But I just can’t buy it!

Proverbs 4: 7, 13, 25-27a, “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding…  Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life. Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you… Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left…”

I think I’d rather feel it.  I think someday it will hurt less, because it already hurts less often, but I do not want to forget (I’ve heard that might be my problem).  I think I’d rather cry forever, but I also know I’m not crying nearly as much.   I think revisionist history is dangerous, because although it may allow us to forget the tragedy, it also causes us to forget the joy. 

And… see Psalm 6:8-9, “for the Lord has heard my weeping. The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer.” 

I’m just not willing to wipe that out.

Is it easy?  Yeah.  Some days it is.  Is it difficult?  Ditto.  Is it unbearable?  Yep, at times, that too.  Welcome back to ordinary days...  Welcome back to what it is to be human.  And just in case you didn’t catch it, this is also a cliff hanger…  Stay tuned in to find out which characters make this cut…


PS Don’t even get me started on series finales...

Thursday, May 17, 2018

To No Fanfare

I have too many potential ideas for posts running around in my head, today, and I also have an incredibly quiet office…  This is either going to end well or not…

I woke up to a pageview ticker that informed me Flip Flops, Glitter, and Theology had flipped 50,000 pageviews, while I slept.  I thought I would watch this happen (like I did as I neared the 10,000 mark), but life is incredibly different now than it was then… and it hasn’t really been that long. 

I was deep in thought about small things and big things and how sometimes small things seem big (either in positive or negative ways), but then you live a little bit more, and perspective is so fluid. 

I spent last week thinking a lot about big fish in small ponds and how the ponds I once thought were lakes now look more like puddles to me, and also about how I have absolutely no desire to flop around in them like an oxygen deprived fish.  I was thinking about how I used to be so desperate to be seen and heard in circles that no longer matter to me, because I am being seen and heard in bigger bodies of water… like the ocean.  I really like the ocean.  And I had a brief moment of panic when someone suggested I might be gaining enough traction to become a big fish there, and I don’t want that!  I mean, I honestly don’t!  I have this new, bigger dream than I ever imagined was possible, and I’m OK if it continues to change and grow, but I legitimately don’t want to be blown out of the water.  I’m getting kind of old for that!

Interestingly, the daily office related well to the stuff I was already thinking, which continues to blow my mind, year after year after year… 

So, shout out to the minor prophet Zechariah who was brave enough to pen these words,  “For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice” (4:10a, NRSV).

I sure have lived that—the despising of the day of small things.  The Psalmist also writes about days, “When they were of little account” (see Psalm 105), and it’s interesting how it doesn’t stay that way, even when it seems the small stuff is never-ending. 

Every once in awhile, I actually wish I could return to a simpler time.  But then I remember how much I love what God is doing in the world, and I’m not willing to miss out on my part, whatever it may be!


Tuesday, May 15, 2018

We Can Have Both

I sometimes struggle with knowing exactly how to pray.  It’s not that there is any one right way, but the evolution of my theology can make for some interesting conversations with God.

Ephesians 3:14-21:For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.  I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.  I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.  Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

This is mind blowing stuff.  Paul prays that the Ephesians might be able to comprehend that which is incomprehensible.  He prays for the impossible, and then he acts as if this is completely reasonable, since the God we can’t fully comprehend can do more than we can imagine.  It’s as if Paul is asking God to help us understand what cannot be understood, and he expects that might actually happen, even though he can’t possibly expect it.  This is often how I pray.

But I think we have to take a step back for a moment, because I don’t want to miss the part where we are strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit, which allows us to be rooted and grounded in love.  I don’t want to miss that part, because I think we can all have that.  And, I also think it’s the most important part, particularly when comprehension and knowledge are elusive.

I really like to know stuff.  A lot.  In fact, I admit the quest for knowledge can be overwhelming and consuming, at times, and I am far more unapologetic than Solomon (see Ecclesiastes).  I wholeheartedly believe this thirst is a part of who we are and who we were created to be.  But I also have to remember that we were first created to love, and the measure of that love is infinite in nature.  

It's not a binary choice, though... this non-existent knowledge vs. love dichotomy.  Love is the greatest, but we can have both.