Thursday, January 28, 2016

on "being fed"

There is a phrase tossed around by church people these days, and it sort of just slays me.  I hear it often when people decide to leave my church, or, alternatively, when they are discussing what they like so much about our church.  "I left City Road because I just wasn't being fed."  "I love my church because I'm really fed by what happens there."

I think the concept of spiritual nourishment is vital to a church, and we experience it in a number of ways (most dramatically in the sacraments, but also in preaching, praising, fellowship, liturgy, and more).  Anytime we receive a fresh infusion of God's grace in our lives, our parched souls perk up.  So, this idea of "being fed" makes sense to me.  But I also object to the way the phrase is thrown around, for a couple of reasons.  I use my experience with my children as a way of explaining my objections:

1)  Only infants need to be fed.  At one time, we were all spiritual infants.  Paul has a lot to say about this (check out I Corinthians 3).  However, at a certain point, human development demands that we begin feeding ourselves.  In fact, each of my children was EAGER to begin feeding themselves.  They wanted to control what they ate, how much, when, and all the other factors related to eating.  Self-feeding is a developmental milestone - something the doctor asks you about at your baby's checkups.  Likewise, after we have "been fed" briefly, as spiritual infants, we take on the task of feeding ourselves.  This means that we practice the means of grace.  We immerse ourselves in scripture.  We fellowship with believers.  We become missional, having been sent out into the world.  We understand that God is the source of all spiritual nourishment, but it is up to us, as maturing followers, to feed ourselves from that bounty.

2)  If my children got to pick what was on the menu, they would eat craisins and chunks of butter for every meal.  Maybe with the odd bowl of plain powdered Parmesan cheese thrown in.  My job, as their parent, is to create well-balanced meals that offer a variety of nutrients.  However, I cannot force them to eat anything.  Point being, sometimes God puts things on the menu that are not particularly appealing to us.  This does not mean that they aren't nourishing and necessary.  My mom was a big fan of liver and onions, which is one of the most nourishing meals there is.  When it was on the menu, I regularly went hungry.  (Mom wasn't into making multiple meals for picky eaters.)  So, perhaps it's not that you aren't "being fed."  Maybe it's that you can't stomach what you need to eat.

That last phrase has become my retort when I hear that people "aren't being fed."  Consider this:  maybe it's not that you aren't being fed.  Maybe you just don't like what's on the menu.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

for vicki jo

have you seen her dressed in blue?

see the sky in front of you

and her face is like a sail,

speck of white so fair and pale,

have you seen a lady fairer?


Although I'm certainly not philosophically opposed to tattoos, never in my thirty years did I feel compelled to get one.  I couldn't imagine an image or word or idea I would want on my body forever. I'm also not typically a conservative or especially cautious person . . . But I didn't want something stupid, and I didn't want something modish.

When I studied Greek in seminary (now eight years ago!), there was a word I fell in love with.  It's a word that is used commonly in the Gospels to describe a situation in which Jesus feels strongly moved with compassion.  It is almost always inadequately translated.  You may see it as "moved with pity," "felt compassion," or "felt strongly."  But this word, splagchnizomai, is really a much more visceral word than that.  (Forgive my lack of diacritical markings.)

Within splagchnizomai, you see the word splagchna, the Koine Greek word for "guts."  You can kind of see our word "spleen" in there.  It was a word that had to do with your inner organs.  Perhaps splagchnizomai could most accurately be translated as "gutted."  As in "Jesus felt gutted for the people he saw suffering."

Haven't you ever had that feeling?  Just an absolute roiling in your guts when you see the misery or suffering of another person?  Something beyond just looking at them and thinking, "How sad"?  If you haven't ever had that feeling, I hope that you do at some point.  Because it's what we were created to feel for one another.

I have loved this word for long enough that I decided it was time for a tattoo.  So, last October, a dear friend and I went to the tattoo parlor of another old friend, and I did the deed.  It didn't hurt.  It was like something between burning and irritation.  I got the word tattooed in Greek, as close to my spleen as I could.  (I actually did some anatomical investigating and found that your spleen is closer to your back than to your front.)

I love it.  I think I will continue to love it for the rest of my life.  I love this daily reminder, when I catch a glimpse of my tattoo in the mirror, that I am called to recognize the ways my heart is breaking and that I am gutted for the world.

Thursday, January 14, 2016


It's time to move on, time to get going.

What lies ahead, I have no way of knowing.

But under my feet, baby, grass is growing.

It's time to move on, time to get going.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Seeing all the colors

I think a lot about what it means to be risen with healing.  Every Christmas we sing the quintessential Wesley carol:  "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," which contains the curious line "ris'n with healing in his wings" - referring to the Christ who will be born to die, and then rise from that death.

Once a month, also, we affirm our common faith through the Apostles Creed.  We state, along with Christians since the fourth century, that we believe in the "resurrection of the body."  This is classic Pauline theology, which emphasizes the fact that God created every bit of us (body, soul, everything) and the whole cosmos, and that everything will be resurrected.  We are not perfect souls placed in imperfect bodies.  The ENTIRE CREATION will be made new.

So what does this mean for someone born with a disability?  What does this mean for someone whose illness has become an integral part of their experience of creation?  What does this mean for Shirley Baker, created by God without eyes?  What does it mean for her to be risen with healing, as Christ was and promised for each of us?

Our brilliant teacher last week, Dr. Carla Works, told a story that reminded me of something else I suspect about the afterlife.  I believe that the distorted experience we have of this creation has limited our ability to understand what God will be able to do with us and the creation.  Like, now we have five senses - maybe then we will have ten?  Now we see "through a glass darkly," but then we will see clearly.

Dr. Works told a story from Radiolab (which is a fantastic public radio program) about how certain people have additional cones in our eyes that enable us to see more colors than others.  She also mentioned how in the ancient world, the color blue was not a concept.  Last week I saw the musical Matilda with my aunt and uncle, and the lead character sings something like, "what if what I see as red is not what someone else sees as red at all?"

The mantis shrimp has 12 sets of cones in their eyes, enabling them to see four times as many colors as the average human.

What if being risen with healing is like having the capacity to see every single color, when now we only see a few?  How can we even imagine what it could be like?  We have little bitty glimpses, every now and again, of what God's Kingdom looks like.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Kill your darlings

I'm in the midst of writing a very important, emotional letter.  I actually don't know if this letter will ever be read by anyone but me, but that's sort of beside the point right now.  It's one of those painful, liberating pieces of writing that really lays out my emotional landscape.  I'm lucky that the person to whom this letter is addressed is someone who knows me well, and feels safe.

But what keeps coming back to me, as I write a little and then draft (creative writing workshop habits die hard!), is that pithy phrase tossed around in my workshop days:  "kill your darlings," said William Faulkner (of all people!!  He had some pretty intense darlings.  Remind me to tell you sometime how I feel like I married into a family from a Faulkner novel).

"Kill your darlings," meaning:  if you are too attached to a phrase, too infatuated with your choice of words, too sweet on your syntax - it's become too precious, and it must be killed.  "Kill your darlings":  get right to the heart of what you love, and see what that love says about you, rather than about your object of love.

We are in a week-long class about God's redemption of the fallen nature of the world, with Walter Wink as a basis.  I feel like we could study Wink for a year, just on his own.  What a man.  But one thing I love is that Wink insists that we must resist the lure of mimetic rivalry.  This is just a super-fancy way of saying:  I shoudnl't react with violence just because the world may be violent to me.  Rather, he says that evil in the world may actually have value for us, because it shows us what parts of ourselves are still in need of redemption and resurrection.

"Kill your darlings":  if you feel especially hurt by someone's actions or words, think about what this says about you, rather than about them.  If some part of you has become too precious, if you're holding on to it too tightly, it probably means that it must be surrendered to the redemptive power of God.

So, who even knows about my letter?  At this point, the whole thing is basically a darling and it may just have to be burned in its entirety.  But perhaps the process of writing it was the really valuable exercise for me.