Assumptions, Hope, and “The Walking Dead”

I am a huge fan of The Walking Dead, a television show that follows a group of people living in a zombie apocalypse. It is fascinating to watch. All the assumptions have been taken away from these characters, and they are left with the task of figuring out what it means to be human without any social normatives. Who do you trust? How do you survive? How do you retain your humanity when “survival of the fittest” has become the new norm? The show does a great job of examining the different ways people navigate life under constant duress. I find myself wondering how I would do in this kind of situation. What would I do in the chaos? Would I be able to maintain my humanity? If so, how?

Thankfully we do not currently live in a zombie apocalypse. Instead we live with plenty of assumptions. You know the saying – assume makes an “ass” out of “u” and “me”. And yet we all have them. Lots of them. It’s not that assumptions are inherently bad. But assumptions can prevent us from learning, growing, and moving forward. We assume that we know what is best. We assume that what we believe is true. We assume that we know people’s stories. We assume that our “normal” is everyone’s “normal”. We assume that what we want is what we should have. It is easy to spot someone else’s assumptions. But it takes a lot of work to discover your own assumptions. They are so ingrained into your thinking that they seem normal, right, and true.

My faith is full of assumptions. And I built my faith on many of these assumptions. For example, I assume that the bible teaches me about God, so I read it with the assumption that the bible is helpful and good. God has yet to confirm this with me directly, and yet I still utilize the bible as a resource for my faith. My assumptions didn’t come from out of thin air. They came about as I spent time reading the bible and learning what others had to say about it. But they were still assumptions. When I encounter someone who doesn’t view the bible in the same way, instead of seeing myself as “knowing” what that person hasn’t yet realized, I recognize that this person simply doesn’t hold the same assumptions that I do. If I focus on the assumption of what the bible is, I miss the opportunity to talk about what the bible has meant to me. And I miss the opportunity to learn what the other person thinks.

I think this is a critical point for a life of faith in the 21st century. We used to have the luxury in western civilization of believing that we were the epicenter of truth, that we had somehow uncovered the right questions to ask and reached the answers to those questions. We saw our responsibility then to share our knowledge with the rest of the world, or at least wait for everyone to catch up. But science, sociology, anthropology, psychology, philosophy, and even religion are exposing that we, westerners, are shaped and impacted by our power structures and social normatives just like everyone else. We cannot be entirely objective. Our perspectives, beliefs, and convictions are all filled with assumptions. When we are not aware of them, we are prone to arrogance.

We are seeing a crisis of the Christian faith in the 21st century. Churches are closing. Society is changing. Morality is increasingly fluid. And truth seems to be relative. I talk with a lot of Christians who find these times to be scary and daunting. But I disagree. This an opportunity to shift one’s faith from a foundation of assumptions to a foundation of hope. We are invited to become less focused on what we think we know, and more in tune to what we hope for through faith. We recognize that to a large extent God is beyond all of our understanding and perhaps we might be able to learn from each other regardless of the assumptions we have. And whereas knowledge is limited, hope is immeasurable.

Think about the characters of The Walking Dead. They are struggling to stay safe, to find food and water, to learn a new way of living. They know virtually nothing. They are disconnected from everyone, except those they encounter along the way. They don’t know if they’ll live another day. They don’t know who to trust outside of their own group. Assumptions are exposed with every episode. What seems to keep the group going is not any knowledge that tomorrow will be better, but a hope that it might be. It is a tough fight to keep that hope, but without it they know they will never do more than just survive. And merely surviving, particularly as loved ones are lost and life gets harder, does not inspire the group onward. But hope does.

For those of us who profess some kind of faith, shouldn’t it be similar? Shouldn’t our faith exist for the purpose of bringing hope? Not to prove that we are right or better or “in” with God, but to offer hope for a better day, hope that God cares, hope that the sun will rise again? I have had many assumptions exposed, disproven, replaced by better assumptions. And if I continued to build my faith on any of these assumptions, I’m not sure if I would have much faith left. With hope as my reason for faith, I am compelled to carry on. I still have my assumptions and always will. But they fail me from time to time. With hope, I am able to face the dark days, the tough questions, the irreconcilable issues. With hope, I can leave behind fear and anxiety. With hope, I can find a reason to smile and laugh. With hope, faith matters.

Friday Favorite, 2.20.15

“Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you’ll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room.”

Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar


Hot Yoga and a Schmear of Ashes


Shortly before the New Year, a friend asked me to go to yoga with her. “One month – all the classes we want to take – $40 total.” I had been interested in yoga for awhile because of its benefits, namely flexibility, stability and core strengthening. This opportunity seemed like a great and affordable way to jump start my yoga regimen. “Oh, and it’s hot yoga,” she added. “105 degrees and 90 minutes long.” Wait, what?? I sweat. I don’t mean that I get little beads of perspiration on my upper lip. I sweat buckets-worth. I probably lose a couple pounds of water weight with every strenuous form of exercise. I could not imagine what 90 minutes of exercise in a room that hot would mean.

Being the sucker that I am, I signed on and began my month of yoga fun. The first time was hard, but manageable. I did sweat, a lot. Every bit of me was perspiring for nearly the full 90 minutes. In spite of that I felt good and proud of what I had accomplished. Until the next day when I woke up with the most horrendous dehydration headache I have ever had. It took me two days to recalibrate my system and lose the headache entirely. In my second class, three days later, I could see improvement in my balance and flexibility. But I also found the amount of sweating to be annoying. Really annoying. I had a difficult time holding some of the poses because of how much I was sweating. But I got through another class.  And another. I learned to drink plenty of water before and after class, and include a sports drink of some kind for better replenishment. I wasn’t getting used to the sweating though.

About a week and a half into my month of yoga, I started to feel sick. I woke up feeling hung over, even though I hadn’t been drinking the night before. I was concerned that hot yoga would make me feel worse, so I took a few days off. My friend was patient but as I neared the day I would have to go back, I found myself ruing it. It was hot and long and difficult and required work before and after class. Why was I putting myself through it? Why couldn’t the room be 95 degrees instead of 105 degrees? I went anyway, again, finally. It was hot. And long. And it was 15 degrees outside. But I did it and I have to admit, it felt good.

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season for Christians. I grew up in a church that had few rituals. We celebrated communion/Lord’s supper/eucharist. We lifted up Christmas and Holy Week (Palm Sunday to Easter and all the events in between). Other things were mentioned as they occurred, such as Epiphany, Pentecost, and Advent. But we largely seemed to avoid the rituals that have long been associated with the christian faith. This was not uncommon among protestants who were determined to not look at all like catholics. A thousand years of history replaced with crappy, “contemporary” worship songs.

As I became increasingly frustrated with my ritual-less church, I sought out churches that still incorporated them. Although some denominations had certainly kept the rites and rituals in place, they had not done the work of updating its context. God was always “He” and the hierarchy remained: God -> pastor/priest -> parishioner. I longed for the rituals, but I needed them to be offered with relevance by way of acknowledging the difficulties, issues, and realities of today, not of days gone by.

So back to Ash Wednesday. The day marks the beginning of Lent, which is 40 days plus Sundays leading up to Easter. For the Christian, Easter is the event that reminds us that God is at work in and around and through us, in spite of what we might see/think/feel, and that death does not have the final say. Most scholars believe that the idea of Lent developed in the first few hundred years after the church began. The church rightly saw the need to prepare for Easter, and Lent could provide the opportunity to do so. Time and wounds and quite frankly, everyday life can make it difficult to see how God is at work, and how we might be getting in the way of that work. And so we spend time learning how to hear and see again, how to make more room for God. We reflect by asking questions such as, “How am I really doing?” “Do my values match my priorities?” “Where could I use some improvement?” “How might I strengthen my faith?” “How are my relationships?” We can easily fill 40 days of reflecting, particularly if we aren’t doing much of it in the remaining 325 days.

Ash Wednesday is traditionally commemorated with a schmear of ashes and the saying, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” I know it might sound depressing. But for Christians, it is just the beginning of the journey, not its end. We begin by feeling the somberness of who we are (human), and consequently who we are not (God). We are invited to experience the weight of the world being taken off of our shoulders and to be okay with what we cannot do on our own. And we embark on the 40+ days to ponder this reality knowing Easter is just up the road.

I think Lent is a lot like hot yoga. The benefits are pretty clear. But it is a big pain in the ass. It is hard work. It requires the sacrifice of time and resources. It takes planning and commitment. It needs doses of faith and hope. And if I didn’t have my friend waiting for me, I might just wimp out with a thousand possible excuses. We should take this journey not because the church and religious leaders say so, but because it is good for the mind, body, and soul. I hope you will consider to take a Lenten journey yourself. Don’t forget to find a friend to go with you. Namaste.

Friday Favorite, 2.13.15

I’ve been thinking for awhile about doing an additional post for the blog each week, something that has caught my attention by challenging or encouraging me. Something that I thought might be meaningful to others too. Today is the day to begin, because I came across this gem, written by Richard Rohr and posted through his daily meditations. This will be one to sift through for awhile, again and again. To discover one’s soul…

The writings of the Hebrew Scriptures show an evolutionary development, a gradual coming to see how God acts in human life. God is not changing; it is our comprehension of God that is changing. As we go through the Scriptures, what we see in Israel’s growth as a people is a pattern of what happens to every person and to every people who set out on the journey of faith. They go through stages and gradually come to see how God loves them and what God’s liberation does for them. But they come kicking and screaming and denying.

In the first stage, people start to experience the reality of God and God’s love as more than abstract concepts. At the same time, however, they tend to believe that God’s love is limited to just themselves, a select few such as a chosen people or the one true Church.

In the second stage, people begin to respond to God’s love, but they perceive God’s love as rather totally dependent on their ideal response. They believe that grace is a conditional gift, that God will love them if they are good, that God will save or reward them if they keep the commandments.

In the third stage, people begin to see God’s love as unlimited and unconditional, but they do not see further than that. They acknowledge that God loves them whether they are good or bad, and that God is gracious to the just and the unjust alike. But they still think that God is doing that from afar, from up in heaven somewhere. They do not yet see themselves as inherently participating in the process. Frankly, they have not discovered their own soul yet.

Finally, in the fourth stage, they make the breakthrough to seeing that God’s grace and love is present within them, through them, with them, and even as them! The mystery of incarnation has come full circle. They can now enjoy God’s temple within their own body, as Paul loves to teach, and can love themselves and others and God by the same one flow. It is all one stream of Love! They now fully realize that it is God who is doing the loving, and they surrender themselves to being channels and instruments of that Divine Flow into the world.

Four-Letter Words

I hardly ever used profanity until I became a church elder. Why the change? Because I realized how subtly dangerous personal piety could be. As an elder I thought I should look the part and so I thought it best to hide what didn’t fit the part. I watched my words and my actions in an effort to be a mature person of faith. The problem is that when you start covering up the rough edges, you actually start believing you don’t have them anymore. I still had the doubts and fears. I had unkind thoughts. I could be impatient or judgmental. And in my effort to be a spiritual leader, I hid all of them.

It is important to distinguish discernment from authenticity. Certainly situations warrant keeping thoughts to oneself. The woman whose outfit I found atrocious didn’t need to know that I thought so. Not saying something to her was an act of good discernment on my part. But hiding my cattiness to everyone meant I wouldn’t be held accountable for it. If I was to be an effective spiritual leader, my fellow leaders needed to know who I was and how I was doing, cattiness and all.  And so I decided to trust that the people who had asked me to do the job were already aware of at least some of my imperfections.

Up to this point, I would periodically use profanity in my thinking process but rarely said those words aloud. Perhaps I didn’t because I wasn’t allowed to while growing up. But it became clear to me that in my head, profanity had a place and a purpose. And so in my desire to be authentic I decided to share my thoughts without attempting to sanitize them.  I quickly learned that I like this kind of honesty. If I thought something was shitty it felt good to say so rather than substitute a more socially acceptable word. The experience was empowering. I liked that I could gather my neighbors, friends, and fellow elders into the same room and didn’t have to decide which version of me to be. My honesty gave my co-workers a real look at who I was and the opportunity to hold me accountable. I took my job seriously as an elder, and my authenticity seemed like the right thing to do.

My use of profanity increased when I began classes at seminary. I think the increase occurred as my way to offset the christian-speak I encountered daily.  What is christian-speak, you ask? It is the use of theology in everyday language that has seemingly nothing to do with everyday life. For example, I might be greeted with “God bless you, sister-in-Christ.” Or when I would ask, “How are you?” the response might be something like, “God is good all the time.” I love a good theological conversation, but this kind of talking feels very disconnected from real life. Theology is meant to be practical in everyday life. God is meant to be accessible. A life of faith is not meant to be a list of words and phrases that make no sense outside its circle of followers. Your biggest secrets? Your worst fears? Your most embarrassing mistakes? God already knows. A life of faith is about learning to live with what is true without being held back by what is true. For example an elder who uses the word shitty might actually be an effective spiritual leader.

It is important to also distinguish authenticity from effort of doing better. I am not addressing the part of faith that causes one to strive towards being a better person. Of course I want to be more disciplined, kind, gentle, patient, and I need to practice those things into being. What I am referring to is a life of faith that appears sterile, void of what is difficult or real. People have become good at sterilizing even their blemishes. It’s all a facade, a bubble of sorts, that families and communities perpetuate through an intolerance of the undeniable messiness of life and people. If we don’t deal with what we are struggling with in self or others, we think maybe it will go away. And perhaps most tragic of all, the sterilization replaces the work of good, hardworking theology – the theology of a God that meets us right where we are.

So back to profanity. Here are my rules for its use:

  1. You must be 16 or older. If you are younger, you lack both the vocabulary you should have and the discernment you need.
  2. You should not use profanity in anger towards another.
  3. Profanity is best used when serving a purpose. If you cannot articulate its purpose, then you should reconsider its use.
  4. Words only hold the power that you give to them.
  5. If profanity offends you, I will do my best to not use it around you. But I think there are much greater tragedies in the world by which to be offended.

I am not sure what my fellow elders thought of my honesty. By their frequent deer-caught-in-headlights looks, I assume they often didn’t know what to say in response. I frequently asked for accountability, but was never challenged or corrected. I think it is easier to ignore what makes us uncomfortable. We don’t want to be reminded that life is sometimes profane, as are people. We would rather believe that somehow the bubble we have created really does exist, and that if we do and say the right things, life will be good and God will be predictable.

In reality, we are surrounded by what is profane, and I am not referring to four-letter words.  Words, thoughts, and deeds that hurt or divide are profane. When I am selfish, I am profane. When I am catty, I am profane. When I lack love or grace, I am profane. And what I believe to the core of my being is that my use of four-letter words is actually the least profane part of me. Maybe someday God will convict me to clean up my language. But for now, four-letter words are a declaration of sorts that life isn’t neat and tidy, that sometimes being uncomfortable is good, and that in spite of all that I might accomplish I am still flawed. 

Happy Birthday to Me!

Later this week I will turn 46. It is not a particularly exciting birthday, but what is note-worthy is having your child turn 21, which also happens this week. How did this guy…


become this guy?


I can deny gravity’s impact on my body. I can ignore the aches and pains. I can allow my increasingly faulty vision to blur the crow’s feet around my eyes. But I cannot deny that my little boy will soon be able to legally buy alcohol. And that is a strange feeling. I don’t feel old enough to have a 21 year old, and yet I have watched him grow up. I don’t feel old enough to have a child who is a junior in college, and yet I have seen the tuition bills. I don’t feel old enough to go out with my son for a beer, and yet that is exactly what we will be doing soon to celebrate his birthday.

I used to think of 46 as quite old. I remember in 8th grade discussing the year 2000. It was 1982 and I was 13. I did the math to figure out how old I would be at the momentous occasion. 30? Wow. Life would practically be over, I thought. When I was 18, my mom told me that she and my dad were separating. She was 41 at the time. My thought was, “Why divorce at this stage of your life?” I wondered what she could possibly want that would cause her to make such a radical change. At 18 I was still thinking of people in their 30’s and 40’s as old. Coasting through life. Boring. Maybe even stagnant.

Of course I would learn that those decades are anything but boring. They are ripe with opportunities to learn and grow. My 30’s was a decade of self-discovery. I explored interests and discovered talents I didn’t know I had. I carved out the life I wanted as I raised my children, and I lived it with great pleasure. I became increasingly less interested in what I was supposed to do and instead focused on what I wanted to do. I took on leadership roles in volunteer positions and studied areas of interest including a foreign language. One of the best opportunities was a weekly visit my daughter and I made to my grandparents, who lived about an hour away. The stories I heard while we ran errands, the recipes I learned while we prepared lunches, the affection I received as they faced their mortality, these were priceless gifts. The visits started off as social in nature. As my grandparents aged and their abilities lessened, the visits became a lifeline for them. It was a humbling transition for all of us I think. And it was a time that was rich and full and sacred. Those weekly visits that lasted almost a decade still shape the person I am today.

As I neared 40, I began intensive counseling to understand myself on a deeper level. I wanted to face my demons and battle them. I learned how patterns that had developed early in my life were still impacting the way I handle stress, conflict, and disappointment. I became empowered to be the person I want to be. My demons weren’t nearly as complex as I had assumed. It was hard and sometimes painful work. It wasn’t up to others to change. I could change. And I did change. I strove to be healthier physically. Having always abhorred exercise in the past, I was now playing recreational soccer frequently and I loved it. I was eating better. I was stronger mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I felt better at 40 than I had at 25.

My 40’s is proving to be a decade of personal accomplishments. I began full time work again. After a few years in a job that was not my passion, I went back to school. Three years of full time schooling followed and I graduated. I don’t typically put much stock in degrees or credentials because, well, let’s be honest, a piece of paper does not guarantee much of anything. I have known people with impressive resumes who turned out to be completely ineffective, and I have known people with virtually no resume at all who amazed and inspired me. But I worked hard for my degree and I am proud of it.

In the midst of these wonderful accomplishments, it should be noted that there has been plenty of shit too. There are days that I seem to forget everything I have learned. There are challenges I don’t feel prepared to face. There are disappointments and hurts and fears. I have days where I don’t want to get out of bed. And I still manage to make plenty of mistakes. But because it’s nearly my birthday, I am celebrating the good today. My life is far from perfect, but it is my life. And I am grateful for all of the years in it thus far. My grandparents lived into their 90’s. Maybe I have recently entered my life’s second half. If that is the case, I still have so much to live, learn, and enjoy. I am still young. And yet I am not.

There are things about aging that I don’t like. I don’t like having wrinkles deepen to the point of where they never fully disappear. I don’t like needing a longer recovery time after my soccer games. I don’t like having to be more intentional about what I eat so that my clothes continue to fit. But I do love how I’ve gotten to know who I am and what I want. I love that I’ve become gentler toward myself and others. I love that I know what I am looking for in relationships. And I love that my streaks of white hair look like “blonde” highlights. To being 46 and to my boy, of whom I couldn’t be more proud, here’s to the both of us – CHEERS!