Honesty Isn’t Easy

A close friend recently said to me, “Some people will say something like, ‘It’s going to be okay.’ You on the other hand are more likely to say, ‘I don’t know if it’s going to be okay, but we are going to get through it together.'” Initially I was surprised by what she said. As I continued to think about it, I realized this was an insightful observation.

Some people – maybe many people – don’t want to deal with the reality that life is fragile and unfair. Instead we want to believe the age-old adage that if we do the right things, it will all work out in the end. I am not pessimistic or overly cynical. I have simply learned that life doesn’t often work that way. People die prematurely. Bad people sometimes win. Health-conscious people develop cancer. Some are born into great families while others are born into terrible families. Poor decisions can sometimes have no negative consequences and good decisions can sometimes lead to trouble. And on and on and on. You can imagine how popular I must be, especially at parties.

The downside to being honest is that one then has to face the implications of this honesty. And this is why I believe many people prefer the easier-in-the-short-term answer of “It’s going to be okay.” They can keep doing what they have been doing and believe at some point that the outcome will be different. But what if the outcome never changes? What if you wake up tomorrow and things are exactly the same?

Believing everything is going to work out alright is really just a procrastination. Acknowledging everything might not be okay invokes decision-making. Instead of waiting for change, one seeks to change what one is able to change. We see this in nearly every survivor story, nearly every heroic story: letting go of the outcome and do what one can do in the here-and-now is often how we see a person make a difference for the better. But that takes work, painful work often.

I imagine all of us from time to time are too tired to really be honest, especially with ourselves. But if we avoid honesty altogether, we will find ourselves living superficial lives. And the superficiality is the first thing to go when life throws us a curveball. Maybe this is why I have found it helpful to be honest when things are relatively calm in my life. What do I like about my life? What is missing? These questions help me to see how I might reprioritize or what I would like to change. That begins with an honest look at how things are actually going. No bullshit. No excuses. What is working and what isn’t working? In this process, I am exercising the mental, emotional and spiritual muscles needed when tragedy does hit. Tragedy is still incredibly hard and painful. And it is a lot of work. But I have begun the conditioning that will help me through.

I don’t fault those who walk away from honesty. Perhaps if I could believe everything will always be okay, I would choose that too. But I have noticed that those who walk away take their pain with them. I have also noticed that the folks who espouse everything will all be okay rarely get their hands dirty, so-to-speak. They are supportive from the sidelines. I have been left behind by “supportive” people. I want people in my life who will stay beside me no matter how uncomfortable that space is. Hopefully you know what I am talking about: The friend who will sit with you as you ask the unanswerable questions. The partner who will hold you even when you are inconsolable. The family member who doesn’t take it personally when you lash out in your darkest moment. These are the people who will inhabit that difficult space with you. These are the people who provide love and hope when it is most desperately needed. I suppose that is why my mantra is twofold: I don’t know if it’s going to be okay and we will get through it together.

Yeah, I believe my friend was right in her observation. This has been a guiding principle of mine for most of my life, and I couldn’t really name it until she stated it so simply and matter-of-factly. I am so grateful for her honesty, which she has demonstrated time and time again. May we all have at least one person who chooses honesty over ease. Or better yet, may we be surrounded by many who do.

Mind, Matter & Hurricanes

This summer, a good friend of mine took me out for a day hike on the Appalachian Trail. The experience was somewhat challenging and totally exhilarating. In the midst of a very busy time in my life, I was reminded of how time spent outside was so good for my mind, body and soul. What normally takes effort – recalibrating the mind to a sustainable pace; broadening my perspective beyond my problems; connecting with something larger than myself – seems to occur naturally and without mental effort when out in nature. It’s like the physical challenge of navigating a natural environment helps reset my mind to what is healthy and natural and sustainable. Maybe that is because the environments we build tend to be unrealistic, unsustainable, and unhealthy…

Perhaps a counterintuitive idea to consider in light of recent events. Two major hurricanes devastated parts of the US, putting nature’s power on full display. People lost their homes and all of their belongings. Some are without food and water. Others lost their lives. Maybe what differs between physical challenges and the mental ones is that the physical challenges are straightforward. The line between life and death is clear. But when we delve into our minds, the line between life and death blurs. What aids in our wellbeing can be ignored. What kills us – mentally, emotionally, spiritually – does so slowly, and without notice at first. And by the time we do notice, we might be too numb to change anything. Or too deep in denial. Or too entrenched in what we have always done and perhaps will always do. To help someone devastated by a hurricane is much easier to navigate than to help a person who is overcome with anxiety or depression. Identifying excess in nature is not debated, while we rarely agree on how much is too much when it comes to our own excesses. Physical malnourishment is significantly easier to recognize and address than spiritual malnourishment. The mind cannot cover up signs of under eating. But the mind can be quite good at hiding the signs of a dying soul. As human beings we rise to the occasion in the wake of a natural disaster. And on a daily basis we cause great destruction to ourselves and others through our thoughts, attitudes, and opinions.

I know not everyone responds to nature as I do. And I don’t believe that being outside equals healthiness. But there is something about the natural world, however that might be experienced, that differs from the world we tend to create.  And that might be worth pondering for awhile. Maybe we have taken the expression “mind over matter” too far. In our admiration for the power of one’s mind, have we forgotten the limits and sometimes the destructiveness it also holds? I am beginning to see, deeply see, what it means to find the answer beyond my own self. The mind is a wonderful gift. And the mind has its limits. Finding that space where mind and matter intersect seems to be where I find my whole self.

Gently Woke

After four days at the beach, my husband, daughter and two dogs were heading home. I have the luxury and privilege of staying behind for a few more days all by myself. My husband wanted to get on the road early in hopes of avoiding as much holiday traffic as possible. Before my daughter got in the car, we hugged and said our goodbyes. She then added, “You may as well stay up and watch the sunrise.” I watched them leave and waved, then headed back into the house looking forward to a few more hours of sleep. I am not a morning person and in the nearly 30 years I have been coming to my mom’s beach house, I don’t remember ever getting up to watch the sunrise. I think what my daughter was trying to say was, “The only way you are ever going to see the sun rise is if you are already up. So stay up and watch it.”

I went into the house and checked my phone. It was just after 6 and the sun was supposed to rise at 6:44. That felt like a long time away. I filled my cup with coffee and checked the view from the deck. I wasn’t 100% sure where the sun would first appear, but I have seen plenty of sunsets here and assumed it was 180 degrees away from that point. That means I would not be able to see the sun from the deck due to shrubs and trees. I would have to venture to the dunes. I put on some shoes and headed down the path. It was dark, but not pitch black. I got to the walkway which goes over the dunes, and stood with the house behind me and the ocean in front of me. Crickets were still chirping. My coffee tasted good.

Slowly light began to appear.

As it did, birds began to chirp. Dragonflies began to flit about. The light was soothing. I was grateful for being eased into its presence. I thought of how often waking up is rarely a gentle process. Waking feels more often startling with my mind trying to rationalize how to get out of my morning obligations and my eyes squinting, longing for the darkness to return.

The light continued to grow, slowly and softly.

Birds began moving to the waters edge, looking for their breakfast. The crickets were beginning to quiet down. I noticed a few people on their deck a few houses away. I looked in the other direction and saw a man on his deck with a camera. “Do people get up every morning to watch this?” I wondered. I found my heart beating a little faster as I began to anticipate the arrival of the sun.

And then it appeared.

What beauty! It was magnificent and bold and stunning. No wonder ancient civilizations worshipped this big ball of burning gas. Its appearance was a religious experience. My eyes teared up. This actually happens every morning? Of course people get up to watch! Perfectly orchestrated in every way imaginable.

As my heart rate returned to normal, I continued to process what I had just witnessed. I was struck by the lack of fanfare leading up to the sun’s appearance. It was gentle and sweet. I could have missed it if I was lulled back to sleep, which was my first instinct. But I stayed, waited and watched. I was moved by how simple it was to witness an event that felt nothing short of miraculous. I found myself feeling particularly hopeful that each day begins this way, whether or not we are awake to bear witness.

These days, very little seems subtle. In our efforts to be heard or validated, we scream and cry. Sometimes we bully or dismiss or ignore those who are different or who disagree. Even our piety and humility are feeling larger than life lately, in a way that seems to counter these qualities. I hope I have the fortitude to get up for a few more sunrises while I am here this week. I think there is a lot more to learn about being gently woke.

Messy Relationships

I am frequently reminded of the fragility of life. I am often reminded of the fragility of relationships too. I came to a crossroads with a friend, someone who didn’t like what I had to say about how it felt being his friend. My words had been carefully chosen because I cared deeply for him and for our friendship. It was because of my care for him and the hurt I had experienced from him that I felt I had to say what I was seeing and feeling, and what was causing me concern. He didn’t want to hear my words.

A few weeks after that incident, I wrote the following about my work as a pastor:

My dream of a church came from my desire to be part of a community that goes deep. It is in the depths that relationships are forged that can last a lifetime and withstand the storms that can come with life. I also believe that it is in this depth God is most profoundly experienced. The heart of The Other Church’s vision is connection. Connection is fun, but in ways it can feel painful too at times, because in the depths we are most vulnerable, most human. Our flaws are laid bare along with our hopes and dreams and disappointments and hurts. I have felt this pain, along with great joy in these last few years as I have done a lot of my own work as a pastor, spouse, mother, chaplain, friend.

I wrote these words because maybe I needed to remind myself. To be deep, it will be messy. And painful. But it will also be healing and hopeful and sustaining. This is the kind of community I have been called to serve. This is the kind of person I am called to be.

Sometimes when we stumble upon a wound, we touch it and feel pain. I realize now that this is what I did to my friend. I didn’t look for a wound. I didn’t know I was touching it. I didn’t intend to cause him pain. But in my passion of connecting deeply, I did just that. We have a choice whether or not we want to tend to our wounds. My friend had a right to walk away, and he did.

I know the pain because I have felt it frequently in my own work of healing. And I will feel it again. I am thankful to have some people in my life who, when they touch my wounds, stay with me as I work towards my healing. All relationships are messy. But not all relationships are healthy. It is worth the work to find those who will take this journey with us. Jesus is quoted several times saying, “Follow me.” But he didn’t walk ahead of people like the leader of a parade. He journeyed with people. He ate with people. He got to know people. And he touched their wounds. He didn’t judge those wounds or shame the wounded. He offered healing. I think this is why I have so profoundly experienced God in this work. It is about connecting honestly, deeply, meaningfully, sometimes painfully, certainly safely and joyfully too.

I hope my friend is doing okay. I still sometimes feel my own tinge of pain when I think of him. But the pain is my reminder that I connected with him.

Good Isn’t Good Enough

If you are ever looking to have the last bit of hope sucked out from you, just read the comments section on nearly any article, post, or picture that has been largely circulated. You will find some dialogue of differing opinions and perspectives. And you will find a lot of mean, angry, name-calling responses. When I make the mistake of reading comments, usually under the guise of thinking “How could anyone have anything to say about this that isn’t nice?” I am quickly reminded that there are plenty of people out there who are always ready to insult, verbally assault, and destroy my faith in humanity. These exchanges don’t fuel an introvert, at least not this introvert. It makes me want to take my family and move far away from all of civilization. M Night Shyamalan’s idea of The Village begins to sound like a good idea, monster and all, because that monster seems manageable.

I wish silence was an option. I know many people are choosing silence these days. And I don’t blame you. Really. I get it. The problem is, staying silent is as much of a problem as bullying. Neutrality is a lie because being neutral just gives more space for the bullies. You cannot watch someone being beaten up and say, “It’s not my place. They need to work it out.” Good people regularly look the other way. But good people don’t change the world. They maintain status quo. We need courageous people who are loving and invested. We need thoughtful people who will step into the tension and attempt to navigate it. Those are the people who help bring healing. Those are the people who bridge the divides.

I suspect part of the problem is that many of us had the luxury of not getting involved in anything too messy, up until now. Many of us got by with being good people. We found little ways to make a difference. We were surrounded by people who got along and were on the same page. But today, being good isn’t enough. If we are going to see and be and experience healing, we need to do more. I wonder how many of us are simply stuck because we don’t know where to go. We have inhabited the Land of Good for so long. We don’t want to go to the Land of the Divided or the Land of Lost Hope. And so we don’t go anywhere.

Maybe you believe “this too shall pass.” You stay put and hope for the best. I have two problems with that. First, who gets hurt while you opt out? Second, what will be the collective cost? Jesus never opted out of the difficult. Jesus never ignored the problem. Jesus never chose superficial bullshit over substance. Jesus never turned away from what needed to be done. Jesus entered right into the fray with conviction and compassion, depth and substance.

We need a lot less people to be followers of Jesus in their comfortable way and people who will follow Jesus right into the thick of this mess. We need people to stand not for a party or ideology, but to stand for and with and alongside those in need. We need people who don’t support causes but support people. Where are the people whose faith costs them something? Where are the people who not only believe God will one day bring peace but are willing to advocate for and live in that peace now? Where are the people who have the audacity to believe that the Kingdom of God is at hand, which doesn’t mean “Hey you folks who’ve got your home, car, 401k, and health coverage: Welcome to the Kingdom of God! Now live it and enjoy it!” “The Kingdom of God is at hand” means that we have the guts to believe that every person has value, that every person deserves respect, that every person should be fed and clothed and cared for. Every person. And so we live it, breathe it, work towards it.

That is our work, yours and mine. And there is much work to be done. I don’t know what it is going to take or how we are going to get there. I imagine lots of mistakes will be made along the way. Many people are needed for this work – people who will roll up their sleeves, take risks, have the difficult conversations, face their own assumptions and fears, listen to and know and maybe even love someone who is different. And why, you ask, would anyone agree to this? Because this is where God is already at work. This is where life and meaning and purpose are found. This is the Kingdom of God.

Oswald Chambers says it beautifully:

The greatest enemy of the life of faith in God is not sin, but good choices which are not quite good enough.

May we who have been lulled into comfort become dissatisfied.

May we who know God be shaken by the Unknowable.

May we who dismiss those who are different from us see Jesus in those faces.

May we be brought to our knees by our own self-centeredness.

May we truly believe that the kingdom of God is at hand, and then live as if it is true.

 

 

Foot Pins and Ultimatums

Three and a half years ago, I had foot surgery which left me with some hardware in that foot. For the past several months, I have had increased pain in that same foot, specifically in my big toe joint. Today I learned why: the pin in my big toe has come loose and is protruding from my toe joint. I could either live with the periodic pain and exchange all my shoes for large-toe-box varieties. Or I could have the pin removed.  Surgery isn’t to be underplayed. There are always risks. It won’t be inexpensive. I will miss some work. “It’s not going to get better?” I asked the doctor. “No,” she said. “So I am looking at 40+ years (I’m being optimistic of my lifespan) of babying this foot with what shoes I wear and avoiding contact where that pin is protruding?” “Yes,” she responded. I don’t know about you, but the answer seems pretty clear to me. I’m going to do the work, get the pin removed, and get this resolved.

While the decision is easy, it is not without sacrifice. I didn’t budget for the surgery. I’ve got a list of things to do that will take time in the midst of my very busy life. But the ultimatum is crystal clear. If I don’t have this surgery, I may as well give away at least half of my shoes. I will have to watch my activity level. I will continue to experience pain. And I might never be able to enjoy a Frye’s shoe sale again. I am 48 years old. I am too young to live with the side effects of a protruding pin.

This got me thinking about how much of our lives are filled with protruding pins. It happens slowly. We have adjusted due to the discomfort. We even settle for something less. If we took the time to identify that protruding pin and determine what it would take to have it removed, we would be freed from the handicap the pin created. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had someone in our lives to help diagnose our pins? Wouldn’t it be helpful if we increased our self-awareness? Doesn’t it make sense to listen to those we love and trust in order to better see ourselves? Wouldn’t it be wise to pay attention to the patterns in our lives regarding our work, quality of relationships, and the way we manage our ups and downs? Why don’t we take several steps back to look at the whole of our lives to see what is working and more importantly, what isn’t working?

Instead we change our shoes. We walk differently. We medicate to lessen the symptoms. We ice to numb the pain. In essence we fuss all around the protruding pin without ever dealing with the pin itself. We baby the pin while we live a life that is less than what it could be. If only it was as simple as scheduling an appointment and having someone identify the problem and then discuss what options we have. Or maybe it is, and we are not interested in learning what really ails us. Perhaps what we want to do is nothing at all.

 

“Magic Mirror on the Wall, Who is the Fairest One of All?”

I imagine Lent for you and for me as a great departure from the greedy, anxious antineighborliness of our economy, a great departure from our exclusionary politics that fears the others, a great departure from self-indulgent consumerism that devours creation. And then an arrival in a new neighborhood, because it is a gift to be simple, it is a gift to be free; it is a gift to come down where we ought to be.

 

“Oh,” I thought, “So-and-So could really benefit from these words. If only (s)he could read them and let them really sink in…” And then began my strategic thinking of how to get these “helpful” words into the minds of those who, in my humble opinion, needed to hear them. Perhaps I could share on Facebook as “words that meant so much to me this morning.” I went from feeling inspired to convicting others within seconds, and without giving much thought to my own learning or shortcomings.

And therein lies a significant problem in the Christian faith today – the desire to use my convictions to convict others. It is not a new concept. And in fact it plagues probably all religions for as long as those religions have existed. “I know what is right/best/true/needed, and you need to follow me/my understanding on how to live that out.” Even those religions that claim not to tell others what to believe spend ample time complaining about those that do. It’s inevitable. It’s human nature. And I think it can kill a life of faith that is meaningful and transformative. Or at least seriously maim it.

I started thinking about Snow White’s stepmother who regularly consulted a magic mirror to confirm her wonderfulness. Or her fairishness. She wanted affirmation of what she thought was fabulous about her. And when the mirror gives an answer that contradicted what she sought, she plots to destroy who is in her way of being the fairest of all. She doesn’t seek to learn why Snow White is more fair. Instead she assumes that by killing Snow White the stepmother will once again be on top. Blame. Destroy. Discredit. Remove. Discount. Distance. Pointing fingers does that, doesn’t it? It makes me feel better because at least I’m not like her. It affirms me because I’m not part of the problem like he is. 

Looking in the mirror to see how I am part of the problem? That takes time. That is painful. Yet that is exactly where change begins. Real change. Lasting change. And not just the change within me but the change around me.  So back to that initial quote. If I’m going to take it seriously and really give it its due, that means I’ll need to read it, digest it, and ask myself how I am greedy, how I can be antineighborly or exclusionary or fearful or self-indulgent. If I actually want to experience a better world, I need to live better in it. It means not  moving past those questions too quickly or passing them on to others for their edification. It means assuming that there are probably a number of areas where I can learn and grow and do better. Be better. Ugh. Not comfortable questions. And yet if I begin to figure out how to truly live simply, freely, lovingly and generously, that just might begin to change the world – the world for me and those around me.

Oh what a lenten season this will be…

(The quote is from Walter Brueggemann’s A Way other than Our Own, page 5 of the 2016 paperback edition.)

 

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.

Suffering

There is so much suffering.

We don’t have to look far to find it, and we will find it all over the world.

One paradox of the Christian faith is that one finds his/her salvation in suffering. “Take up your cross” Jesus said. I never quite understood or liked this sentiment. I have witnessed too many people playing the martyr in efforts to live out this paradox – be a doormat; stay in a destructive relationship; alienate oneself from others; turn faith into war… I could go on and on. It is exhausting to watch people remain in a suffering state that is entirely of their own doing. And this dysfunction is what I used to equate with the Christian principle of picking up one’s cross.

I don’t think Jesus meant for his followers to choose suffering over healing. If we have a choice, is it even something we can call suffering?

Then today happened…

Today, I might be wrapping my head around what it means to take up my cross.

Today, I saw this:

A friend added these words:

Psalm 44: All day long my disgrace is before me. For our soul has been humiliated in the dust; our belly is pressed to the earth.

Pray and act for Syria.

My disgrace is before me…

My inaction is before me…

My looking away is before me, and it is my disgrace…

The picture is hard to look at, just like so many that have come before it. Syria has stayed on my radar, but more often on the periphery. Mostly because I do not know what to do. I hate how this situation is being handled (or not handled) by governments all over the world. I hate to consider the large scale of suffering. I hate to think about what life must be like for those trapped in this hell on earth.

Enough!

Today, I am picking up my cross.

Today, I am moving towards this monstrosity.

Today, I gave away a percentage of what we normally spend on Christmas gifts to organizations that are providing life-saving relief efforts.

But wait. A few less gifts under our tree? Is that really picking up my cross? It sounds fucking ridiculous as I write it. And yet, I don’t really know. It just might be the one step I need to take today. One step towards the suffering. I am going to keep asking. I am going to keep wrestling with what I can do. And not just for Aleppo.

I think we end up acting less because we fear we cannot do enough. We put down our crosses and ignore suffering because it becomes seemingly impossible to fix. But there is a cost when we do, and it just might be our salvation.

Maybe Jesus meant that picking up my cross is moving towards suffering. One step at a time, slowly – painfully slowly- moving towards the suffering. In this sense, the analogy resonates. It is a long and arduous journey that defies explanation. It is choosing to be burdened. This is what my journey will appear to be, to me at times and to most others indefinitely. People will not understand. It will feel and be difficult. And yet, God will become more real in the process. This is how I will know. My salvation will become more and more real, tangible, and practical as I carry my cross. God will become more real.

Let’s pause though, to address the need and value for self-care. If I am to walk towards suffering, I want to be able to walk that walk for as long as I am able. I must take care of myself. Self-care might seem trite in the wake of the suffering of others. But is it? Do we help others by denying our own needs? The passage that immediately follows the teaching of picking up ones cross is Jesus’ transfiguration. “If you are to follow me, take up your cross.” Then the text says in the next chapter that “Jesus was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.” Suffering and beauty. This is what the text offers, back to back. The text itself seems to affirm a certain tension.

The tension is pursing both life’s difficulties and life’s joys. Taking up my cross isn’t about denying joy. I don’t have to choose one or the other. I move towards suffering. I move towards joy. The more I make peace with the presence of both, the deeper I am able to move towards both. So maybe, just maybe, my salvation is found in suffering. And maybe my salvation is also found in joy.

Today, I donated to four quality organizations that provide practical help to those suffering in Aleppo. I also purchased two tickets for an upcoming concert that my husband and I will attend in celebration of 27 years of marriage. While these two acts done hours apart feels strange, it also feels right. I sensed God’s presence in both acts. I pray that God will lead me towards more paradoxical situations like these.

There is so much suffering in the world. We don’t have to look hard to find it. Will you look away next time you see it? Or will you walk towards it?

May your path bring you both towards suffering and joy so that in that space, you will meet God.