Being Rescued by an Ark

What to do when one doesn’t know what to do? For me, the answer often is to read, process, pray, read, pray, listen, read, respond, pray, read… You get the idea. I try to both find my footing and discover my next steps. The more overwhelmed I feel, the heavier my feet feel. Today I turned to a sermon by Frederick Buechner, who writes more like a poet than a pastor, titled A Sprig of Hope.

In it, Buechner talks about humanity’s insatiable lust for doom. “Despair and destruction and death are the ancient enemies, and yet we are always so helplessly drawn to them that it is as if we are more than half in love with our enemies.” While reading, I affirmed that this certainly seems to be true as I thought of people who embody this lust. (If you are thinking that I am pointing fingers rather than looking within, you are correct.)

Woven in his sermon is the tale of Noah’s Ark, the dark and foreboding story of the destruction of virtually all of the earth. With our penchant for doom, Buechner poses the hypothesis: Perhaps the story of Noah isn’t about how God destroyed the earth with the exception of those on the ark, but the story of our own destruction. Maybe it is not that God doomed the people, but that the people had already doomed themselves. In other words, the flood was not God destroying the wicked, but cleansing what had already been destroyed. It is a subtle but significant theological difference.

Buechner doesn’t gloss over the destruction, but neither does he pretend to understand it. He sees the ark as God’s small provision in the midst of significant despair. “God knows the ark is not much…” I stopped reading with these words and said out loud, “It is not enough, God.” I sat at my kitchen table feeling overwhelmed by the lust for doom these days, and I found God’s offering of an ark to be unacceptable. You must do more, I thought. There are women, children, refugees, immigrants, wildlife at risk… Do more, God. An ark is not enough.

Then I returned to the sermon. “But the ark was enough, is enough.” I stopped and wept. I wept for my lack of faith. I wept for my own lust for doom. I discounted the ark, whatever that ark might be. I was so busy focusing on the doom, I nearly missed the opportunity for hope.

After a good cry, I went back once again to the sermon.

“The ark is wherever human beings come together as human beings in such a way that the differences between them stop being barriers…”

“The ark is wherever people come together because this is a stormy world where nothing stays put for long among the crazy waves and where at the end of every voyage there is a burial at sea.”

“The ark is where, just because it is such a world, we really need each other and know very well that we do.”

“The ark is wherever human beings come together because in their heart of hearts all of them dream the same dream, which is a dream of peace… and thus ultimately a dream of love. Love is not as an excuse for the mushy or innocuous, but love as a summons to battle against all that is unlovely and unloving in the world. The ark, in other words, is where we have each other and where we have hope.”

Thank God I went back to the sermon.

My lust for doom wasn’t in my desire for it. My lust for doom is giving in to it through a lack of faith. The ark isn’t for someone else to choose or reject, with me to live out that choice’s consequence. The ark is my choice. Every day.

What may not feel much like good news should not be surprising news at all. Of course we choose self-preservation. Of course we choose fear. Of course we choose to close our eyes to what seems to be beyond our control because ignorance feels easier in the moment. This is the story of humanity, time and time again. But in the midst of this narrative is an ark. We have a choice: to drift in the water of doom, or to jump on that ark and choose hope, to choose life, to choose peace, to choose love. Even when we have jumped back into the water again and again and again, the ark is there.

May we who seek peace, find each other. May those of us who feel summoned “to battle against all that is unlovely and unloving in the world” keep doing that work. May we not grow weary. And may the sea be filled with arks.

(Note: To read this sermon in its entirety, check out Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons by Frederick Buechner.)

Why I Will March

I am not much of a fan for large gatherings. I do not trust the mob mentality. I hate porta-potties. I don’t like shouting or long periods of standing. I don’t own a “Nasty Woman” t-shirt or a pussy hat. I don’t like abortion. I have voted conservatively far more often than not. I consider myself a serious Christian in that I take my faith seriously, apply it to my life vigorously, and have devoted my life’s work to advancing faith holistically. I am a heterosexual, middle class, white woman. And on Saturday, I will go to Washington DC along with many others to march in the Women’s March on Washington while men and women all over the world will march too, in solidarity of one another, for one another.

I march because I believe in the dignity of all people. I march because I stand for the voices that are ignored, silenced, and trampled upon. I march because kindness matters. I march because my Christian faith compels me to. I march because I do not believe we should legislate a morality that conveniently fits us and ignores the reality others face. I march for my daughter, my son’s girlfriend, my niece, and all the other young women I know. I march for my friends who are gay, people of color, Muslim, transgender, refugees, immigrants.

I want them to know that I stand with them. I want them to know that it is not okay to be objectified. I want them to know that they are not disposable. I want them to know that our country is better with their being part of it and that their voices should be heard. I want them to know that while wealth might hold significant power, it is important to stand up and insist upon the dignity and respect for all because it is an essential part of our being human.

How easily we pick causes to be passionate about yet cost us very little. We hold our convictions with righteous indignation yet we live our lives relatively unchanged. As we point fingers we miss opportunities to listen, to be kind, to love, and to help. But convictions are meant to be transformative of the one who holds them, not accusatory of others. Some of the most passionate people I know are some of the most unloving people I know.

I am not a fan of pulling scripture out of its context and applying it to a current situation. That is lazy work, biblically speaking. But in my studies, there are a few passages that have a transcending quality. One of those is Galatians 5:22-24:

But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified.

The description Paul, the author of this passage, gives is not about what a person does, but rather the way in which a person does it. I often use these words as a litmus test as I attempt to live out my convictions of faith. This process is what has helped convict me and transform me, when I have been willing. It is far easier to see another as the problem though, isn’t it?

I will march because I want us to do better in being respectful, kind, loving, accepting, and attentive. This is my way of contributing to that work. I expect God to be there and at work as well, in me and through that experience.

Dear 2017

First you should know that I am feeling a bit vulnerable from 2016. While some claim that a year can have no power in and of itself, it still felt like a proverbial punch in the face. Critical thinking and common sense were in short supply, two traits I rely heavily upon and probably more so than I should. Progress turned out to not be quite so progressive. And self-preservation seemed to be the order of the day. Shame on me for not seeing the divides in full. Perhaps I did not want to see them until I was forced to. Maybe I am still not seeing them in full now. I am trying though in spite of my limitations, and I hope that I am learning from my mistakes.

So, 2017, please be gentle.

Second, I am tired. Figuring out what is real and what is contrived has required substantial effort. In 2016 I found myself regularly pinching my arm to see if, in fact, I was awake or rather stuck in a Christopher Nolan script. Facing the question of “What the hell is actually going on?” can be quite entertaining while watching a film but I DO NOT enjoy the experience in real life. Recalibration has been required regularly, and I am resisting the urge to disappear for awhile. Some days can feel like a lot of work – too much work. And some days I question whether the work is worth the effort. I wonder if I am doing the right kind of work, if I am even helping.

So, 2017, please be kind.

Third, I am busy. In light of all of the above, along with some assumptions exposed, hope has dimmed into the distance and I am working hard to reconfigure what hope looks like for 2017. Thankfully it has not dissipated, though there were days I was hard pressed to find it. As a “new normal” sets in, so does the work of discovering how hope works now, today, in light of what is. This is good work to do, keeping hope current, relevant, and active. But it is hard work. I cannot just proclaim hope as a theological concept. Jesus did not heal people theologically. He healed them physically which pointed to the theological. Proclaiming hope isn’t the same as living out hope. To live it out means to integrate it into what I know, understand, and experience in the darkest corners of life.

So, 2017, please be patient.

Finally, I am broken. I have navigated some personal difficulties this past year : shit that was just plain shitty. Life is always challenging, so I cannot really blame 2016. But nonetheless some things came to a head that required a lot of time, energy and difficult decision-making this past year. The decisions were often a matter of choosing the least shittiest possibility. Hurt could not be avoided for any who were involved. I try to live and love well, the best that I am able. But this can be excruciatingly difficult, namely because we, all humans, are imperfect and not always good at living and loving well.

So, 2017, please be loving.

All of this is to say, I know you, 2017, cannot be gentle, kind, patient or loving. I know that I, however, need to keep trying. And I need to be aware of the times when I am not strong enough, taking precautions to not do the opposite. I want to believe in the goodness of people. I want to see the goodness in people. And I want to be that bearer of goodness to others. But somedays it feels like impossible work.

So, 2017, whatever you can do to help would be greatly appreciated.