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Thursday, January 24, 2019

Necessary Possibilities

For a variety of reasons that would be difficult to explain (since I’m not entirely sure how to explain it even to myself), I have had two concepts/phrases competing for my attention this week.  They are, “what counts as necessary,” and, “as much as possible.”  Weirdly, these thoughts were at war within me until I sat down to write, at which point I realized they might be synonymous.  Perhaps what is necessary is for us to engage in doing things in such a way that they are done as well (or as much) as possible.

Often, I think the word necessary contains connotations that lead toward doing the bare minimum to get by, but if you think long and hard about how we use this word in real life, it is usually attached to radical, uncomfortable situations.  We use it apologetically.  “I’m so sorry, but this is necessary.”  I can over think for weeks at a time about what counts as necessary, to the extent that it would have been better to just risk it in the first place, because it would be less consuming.  But most of the time, the “necessary” is painful in some way.  It is used to describe things we would not otherwise choose.  We are doing this… saying this… being this… because for some reason or another, we have to. 

I have recently been reading James K.A. Smith’s book, “Imagining the Kingdom,” which does not undermine the concept of free will but also presents a realistic understanding of what it is to be inclined toward one choice or another, to be persuaded by the very world we conceptualize as the real world, to act habitually and without deep thought in the vast majority of circumstances.  He articulates things I have agreed with, without knowing it (probably thus proving his point) for a very long time… maybe even my entire life.  Attention is given to the importance of living into regular ritual and routine which forms and transforms us into the people we desire to be, given our understanding of what is good in the world.  I appreciate this considerably (see: liturgist), but I also believe we will still encounter extraordinary circumstances that cause us to take pause, sometimes veering from our culturally ingrained habits as we meticulously consider whether or not we must resist the norm in order to take necessary action.

But again, what is necessary if not “as much as possible”?  And perhaps the question that follows on the heels of this one is: What is possible?  I’m not sure it means merely what can be done.  In fact, I’m pretty sure our desires play into this in more ways than we would often like to admit (sometimes for good, and sometimes… well… not).  For, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should, and just because you should do something doesn’t mean you will.

I’ve come to realize that the most difficult decisions require us to rank our loves.  They are the decisions that will benefit someone… or something… or some circumstance while taking away from another.  They are the decisions that must be made and that have no win-win outcome.  I should be clear that I don’t think most decisions fall into this category.  I think most of the time we can do things that (at the very least) cause no harm and much of the time we can even find creative solutions in which all parties are (again, at least minimally) satisfied.  But sometimes… rarely… we just can’t.  And when that’s the case, the words “as much as possible” don’t bring any comfort at all to hurting people.  Sometimes, “as much as possible” isn’t enough.  And that sucks.

Smith would argue that what we love defines us.  I think he’s right.  And most of the time, I think that works out pretty well.  But sometimes it hurts.  Still… may we love things (people… places… experiences…) that matter and may we love things that love us back.  I’m not sure that’s solid theology, but I don’t mean that we should only do what’s right or good to those who love us…  of course I don’t mean that!  But may we have enough requited love in our lives that we can make the hard choices and be (at our core) the very most good we are capable of being.


Thursday, January 10, 2019

Fake It Till You Make It and Other Lies We Tell Ourselves

I have recently been preoccupied by the concept of imposter syndrome.  Well, if I’m honest I think I may have always been preoccupied by this concept, but I didn’t know it had a name until last spring.  I also didn’t know it was something that other people felt… lots of other people.  I want to ask a lot of why questions, but I’m not sure there will ever be an adequate answer to why qualified… and loved… people often feel as if they are not enough or as if they do not belong in whatever good circumstances in which they find themselves.  It’s a quandary, to be sure.  It actually doesn’t make sense.  But I wonder if there are underlying things we tell ourselves that lead to this dilemma.

This got me thinking about the phrase, “Fake it Till You Make It.”  I have uttered these words far too many times and attempted to live into them more than that, and I do not think I am alone in this (see: masses of people suffering from imposter syndrome).  I think we have this idea stuck in our minds that if we work hard and push toward our goals that we are somehow pretending to be people we are not until we finally attain those dreams, which might account for at least part of why we feel we do not belong when we get there.  But how does (or should) this change if the plans we are pursuing are not our own?

Solomon lays out the human predicament rather poetically in Ecclesiastes (the whole book, but this phrase, specifically, for today): “for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil.” (2:11b, NRSV).  Perhaps the wisest mere human being of all time, and certainly accomplished beyond what most anyone could possibly imagine, Solomon was arguably tortured by imposter syndrome and an endless search for meaning, particularly in relationship to self-indulgent disillusionment regarding what actually matters. 

But it was the apostle Paul who stopped me in my tracks, this week, with these words to the Ephesians: “Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children” (5:1, NRSV).  Imitators.  So, hold the phone, did Paul just say, “fake it till you make it”?  Maybe, but probably not, because context matters, and Paul encourages the Ephesians (and dare I say, also us) to imitate God, as beloved children, and I think that makes all the difference.  Beloved children belong.  They (we) are not imposters but impressionable, deeply loved and wanted people who may be transformed day by day into something resembling who they (we) were always intended to be, by following the example given to them (us) in Jesus. 

Oh.  Faking it will never do.  This stuff is real.

Beloved friends, life is hard enough when we find ourselves in painful circumstances.  If you happen to be in a good place, don’t make it any more difficult.  You belong. 


Thursday, January 3, 2019

What Should We Be Talking About?

In 2017, I launched the Flip Flops, Glitter, and Theology Podcast, and I had an incredible time conversing with all kinds of amazing people.  It was life giving for me.  I have taken a break from podcasting for the past several months, because things have been crazy, and I figured it was probably better to break than to put out content of subpar quality.  Life is still crazy (let’s be real, that never changes), but I would like to re-boot the FGT podcast with 30 episodes called, “What Should We Be Talking About in the Church?”  My hope is that the transcripts from these episodes might eventually become a book, as well.  Now is your chance to chime in!  If there is a specific topic to which you think we need to give attention, send me a quick message with your proposal, because I have some ideas, but I also know I need to hear from you!  This is certainly open to people who have been on the podcast in the past and people who have not.  And, it doesn’t all have to be controversial (but, let’s face it… it’s me… so a lot of it probably will be…)  


Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Cue 2019

If you need to be reminded of all the ways in which time keeps turning and you are loved and called by name, maybe read the whole daily office, today.

I was struck anew by what must have seemed like a “tag” at the end of the traditional Hebrew blessing from Numbers, which hangs prominently in my home, which I pray over my children, and which I often use as the benediction when I preach.  Seems I never get to verse 27, which is weird, because naming is important enough to me that you would think this would have captured my attention at some point:

Numbers 6:24-27 The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.  So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them” (NRSV). 

I have been caught in what might be a perpetual identity crisis for so long I’m not even certain when it began.  To be sure, there is some imposter syndrome going on, as my life has taken some crazy twists and turns in recent years, and I often find myself in places and wonder how the heck I got there (figuratively, not literally… there’s GPS for that).  Maybe I am averse to the whole “I may not know who I am, but I know whose I am,” cliché.  I mean, it’s a cliché, so I probably am averse to it.  But what I mean is, maybe this is why I’ve missed the sliver of truth that lies therein (that’s the problem with clichés, after all…  there is some reason people keep using them, but it can be painstaking work to ferret it out).  Being named by God, though… that’s not cliché.  And being God’s people?  We should take that seriously.

So, my MO for Flip Flops, Glitter, and Theology has been to not write about my family too often.  I have a super (not) secret Mommy blog for that, so this space can be reserved for theological inquiry and discourse.  But I just have to tell you, the coming of this new year is hitting me hard, because it’s the first year I will graduate kids from high school, and if there is one thing I have never questioned, even in the midst of the complete deconstruction and reconstruction of who I am (multiple times over), it’s my role as their mom.  Many things have changed, but they are what I always wanted.  I think I’m going to avoid a full-fledged mid-life crisis (although some people would argue I’m already having one), because I’ll still have three non-adult humans at home when #1 and #2 take off, and I anticipate I will be far too exhausted for a crisis by the time #5 grows up.  But still, I do suck at transitions and this one that’s looming over me feels ominous.  

Cue Mary: 

Luke 2:19 “But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” (NRSV).

Clearly, I’ve been thinking a lot about all these words (or as the NIV puts it all these things) that were first foreshadowing and then began to take on flesh as my children have grown.  Sometimes the things we dream turn out exactly the way we imagined and sometimes they don’t.  Overall, though, I have been blessed with a lot of wonderful moments to treasure and ponder, and there is a part of me that looks forward to the future, even though letting go can be rough, because I see every day, in the present, just how incredible these people are and how blessed the world is to have them in it.  Which brings me in a roundabout way to Ecclesiastes… the time for everything… but also the struggle to understand time as it is (cue: Landslide, Dixie Chicks version):

Ecclesiastes 3:1-13 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.  What gain have the workers from their toil? I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil” (NRSV).

A sense of past and future in our minds, yet an impossible quest to discern how it all fits together, leads to the only reasonable conclusion… be happy while you live in the moment you have right now.  If I am anything, I’m a thinker and a planner, so this is a very difficult direction for me to follow.  I take snapshots of moments, precisely because I do not want to lose them and then lose moments, taking snapshots.  Vicious cycle…

But if we wonder what it is that we should actually occupy ourselves with in the ordinary flow of our lives, this is it:  

Matthew 25:34b-40 (NRSV) “‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me’” (NRSV). 

If we belong to God… if God’s name is written on our hearts… then these are the words… these are the things to treasure.  And, you know what?  Sometimes we really screw it up.  In fact, I think we might screw it up more often than we don’t (at least it seems so from my own personal experience, but yours might be different).  Maybe that’s part of why we’re so obsessed with new beginnings, with chances to start over.  Maybe it’s why we reinvent ourselves.  Maybe it’s even why we sometimes resort to throwing stuff up against the wall and hoping it might stick strong enough and long enough to mark our identities as something worthwhile.     

Undoubtedly, in all of it, God is near, and God seems to understand something of the need for creative beginnings and ends: 

Revelation 21:3a-6a “’See, the home of God is among mortals.  He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes.  Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’  And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ Then he said to me, ‘It is done!’” (NRSV). 

For the past several years, my mantra (with a hashtag, of course, because it is the age of social media) has centered around words and concepts like #LessFear and #Fearless.  It has been exhausting; there have been many moments when I have wondered whether or not I am broken beyond repair.  Most recently, I have even felt as if my very spirit might be crushed (see: PhD work has been brutal to my humanity and my current GPA makes me cry on and off… nobody panic or consider not hiring me, though… it’s still very acceptable, just impossible for this perfectionist to square).  This year, I’m aiming for #Resilience.  May we all stand up and bounce back (cue: weebles… now those things make for good childhood stories).

Happy New Year!