It’s Thursday. And This is What I’m Reading: Take This Bread

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“Conversion isn’t, after all, a moment: It’s a process, and it keeps happening, with cycles of acceptance and resistance, epiphany and doubt.”


Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion, by Sara Miles 

Raised an atheist, Sara Miles is a left-wing lesbian who traveled the world as a journalist, covering world revolutions. Early one morning, on what felt like a whim, she wandered into St. George’s Episcopalian Church in San Francisco, participated in their “Open Communion” service, and as she received the sacraments, had an outrageous life-altering encounter with Jesus– a Jesus she had thus far scorned and rejected. What happened in the years that followed left me equal parts fascinated, convicted and inspired.

“As I struggled with bread and wine and belief over the following year at St. Gregory’s, it stayed hard. I began to understand why so many people chose to be “born-again” and follow strict rules that would tell them what to do, once and for all. It was tempting to rely on a formula– “accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and savior,” for example– that became itself a form of idolatry and kept you from experiencing God in your flesh, in the complicated flesh of others. It was tempting to proclaim yourself “saved” and go back to sleep. The faith I was finding was jagged and more difficult… It was about action…My first, questioning year at church ended with a question whose urgency would propel me into work I’d never imagined: Now that you’ve taken the bread, what are you going to do?”

Miles had an answer to that. She went on a mission to start and run a weekly food pantry serving the poor and gritty community surrounding the church. Through it, she continually comes face to face with the best and worst of people, within the church walls and outside of them; daily wrestling with what it means to love, to serve, to co-exist and to know God.

“I was going to keep giving food away. What I glimpsed in the projects was the last thing I’d expected growing up: that because God was about feeding and being fed, religion could be a way not to separate people but to unite them…The sharing of food was an actual sacrament, one that resonated beyond the church and its regulations, and into a real experience of the divine. I wanted more.”

Page after page, chapter after chapter, as I read of her hunger to know God and her hunger to serve people, I slunk lower and lower into my seat. This woman. A few years ago, before my own faith shift, I would not have been able to read this book and see this woman for the inspiration and role model that she is to me now. I am embarrassed to say I would’ve judged her. I would’ve said no. Not her. Her lifestyle. Her history. (As if mine is so exemplary) The totally unorthodox and untraditional way she lives in every sense, relative to my White, suburban cage. Ouch. And now. I like her. More than I like myself. She’s going and doing. And I admire that.


“So many of the arguments between left- and right-wing Christians, fundamentalists and Episcopalians, Roman Catholics and Pentecostals, seemed to hinge on the idea that their own sect had the correct practice, “the secret code,” that would save the followers and make God reward them. That was idolatry, as I saw it: magical thinking, pagan religion. I didn’t think God needed humans to practice religion at all: God didn’t need to be appeased by sacrifices or offerings or perfectly memorized quotations from the Bible spoken in the right order. God was not manageable.”

The idea that God is not manageable, not to be tamed; That perhaps there is no exact science to faith and belief… Well, I think I sighed audibly after reading that. I think the relief I have felt at discovering this was…is…palpable.

As I turned the last page of Take This Bread~

This is what I thought:

If you’re doing more judging than loving–

If you’re doing more talking than walking–

If you’re not somehow doing SOMETHING that makes a generous, soulful contribution into other people’s lives–

No one really gives a shit what you think about pre-destination and election. About post-trib or pre-trib. About free will. And quite frankly, I don’t think God does either.

“You have been greatly loved,” said a piece of the Gospel that had stuck with me. Go and do likewise. That seemed pretty damn clear. My only sense of “mission” now was to show others that they, too, could feed and touch and heal and love, without fear.”

Love people and do something about it. Period.

This is what I felt:

A little overwhelmed and embarrassed– a little silly– by how white, suburban, Evangelically, I have viewed God. I mean, really. There is a whole world out there whose experience with God is just as valid and real and authentic. I felt guilty and kinda dumb for thinking that the way I previously believed and lived was somehow better than Sara Miles and everything she represents.

This is what I’ll do:

Ok. The last few years have been rough. And I needed a break– from church, from service, from community, in many ways and on many levels. But as I move ahead in this new season of my life, this book has inspired me to find church again, to engage in community again, to be of service again.

“What happened once I started distributing communion was the truly disturbing, dreadful realization about Christianity: You can’t be a Christian by yourself.”

“Unity is a gospel imperative when we recognize that it opens us to change, to conversion: when we realize how our life with Christ is somehow bound up with our willingness to abide with those we think are sinful, and those we think are stupid.”

I want to give back. I want to get involved again. I want to take up a cause. Be a part of social justice in some way. And this time, with my eyes and heart fully open and aware that the cost of relationships– of community– is part of the rent we pay for living here. And it’s worth it.

 “Christianity wasn’t an argument I could win, or even resolve. It wasn’t a thesis. It was a mystery that I was finally willing to swallow. I was loved by a big love. In the midst of suffering, of hunger, even of death. Alleluia. What was, finally, so hard about accepting that?”

Read this book. Even if you don’t connect with Christianity- or any faith at all, for that matter. Sara Miles has written a challenging and engaging story that has continued to help me redefine what I want my journey here on this earth, as a human being, to look like. I am loved by a big love. What’s so hard about that?

The Art of Offense and Apologies

Photo on 2014-08-11 at 15.45 #3The years before I got divorced, the year I got divorced and the year following my divorce, as you can seriously only imagine, have been rich with offense and apology. Constantly. Continuously. Exhaustingly so. And not just with the obvious principal players, but with lots of people in my tribe. And on the real, possibly more offense than apology. 

But isn’t this about how it goes for everyone? Relationships. Gah. Seriously. I love ’em and hate ’em all at the same time. There are a few people in my life that frustrate the hell out of me and I want to throw them off a cliff and then run to the bottom to catch them. Because I love them. But for whatever reason, we can’t seem to get an easy vibe going. Which means miscommunication. Misunderstood feelings. Unmet expectations. And Mexican stand-offs. (Sorry to the Mexicans. Sorry. It’s just an expression, yes?)

And so the offense/apology circle is a pitted and well-traveled path. But there are bits and pieces to it that get sort of muddy at times. And so this is what I’d like to offer:

The person who has done the offending

REGARDLESS OF INTENTION

Does not get to judge whether or not the offended person should be offended


 You should probably reread that. It might take a second or third look

{Feel free to sub out the word “offended” for whatever flies your kite: insulted, hurt, degraded, humiliated. We run an equal opportunity shit show here}

 And before anyone gets crazy, I’m strictly referring to one-on-one personal relationships here; Not to social media/political correctness/Merry Christmas and rainbow-flag-waving type of “offenses”. Those are a totally different type of headache. Like a migraine. 

The thing is this– If I’ve hurt you, whether or not I intended to, if I value our relationship and am seeking to live at peace with others as much as possible, then I need to apologize. Period. You get to feel what you feel and I don’t get to decide if it’s valid or not. Because truthfully, the thickness of our skin is as varied as the colors of it. Totally. Completely. Different. 

And how I see it

Is not necessarily how it is

It’s only how I see it

We, each one of us, are masterful lawyers at defending our own feelings and intentions, but incredibly tough judges when it comes to measuring someone else’s.

SorrySaying you’re sorry doesn’t have to mean you were wrong; Saying you’re sorry means that you want to take tender care of another person’s heart and feelings. Being an attentive, mindful caretaker is an important part of growing healthy, soulful, connected relationships.

And so if we can learn to live with this as a core value– to cause as little harm to others as possible– and apologize quickly and easily if and when we do cause hurt or harm, no matter how right we think we are, it will change the atmosphere we live in. And changing the atmosphere changes the world. And at the end of the day, I want to be a world-changer more than I want to be right. Do it with me?

Grace & One-Way Love

grace-circus-letters-web-940x400I had a difficult conversation with someone this morning. Not difficult as in confrontational; Difficult as in emotionally raw. Vulnerable. Tender…Difficult. This person was needing and asking me to extend a measure of grace and without hesitation, although perhaps (and then again, maybe not) against all reason, or odds or…I don’t quite know…history? I freely gave it. I didn’t have to think twice. They did not specifically ask for grace– but that was the tone of our conversation. And I did not specifically say, “Here is grace. Please have it.” That is not usually how grace is exchanged. But there is a moment when one person has a need or weakness and another person simultaneously has the terrifying power to so easily and unnecessarily hurt or cause suffering…and chooses not to. And it is so soothing and tenuous and frightening. And I am not acting as a self-proclaimed Grace-Giver here– spouting off about it would be the antithesis to graceful. I almost feel as though I am observing it objectively– because let’s be honest and clear– I do not always give grace. And I do not always give grace freely. In our base humanity, there are times each one of us gives “grace” with many many spoken or unspoken conditions attached. And this is not grace at all.

And so all day long I have ruminated about the nature of grace. About what it means. What it feels like to give grace and receive grace. About unmerited favor. Undeserving mercy. And it has kept the tears close to the surface. There is something achingly beautiful and fragile and fervent about the nature of grace that is undoing me today.

6cc889098349daf806f65245c9d0af4fAnd perhaps that is why this morning’s conversation is affecting the landscape of my heart so deeply today. Because life is hard. And grace makes hard things easier.

What, exactly, do I mean by grace?

“Grace is love that seeks you out when you have nothing to give in return. Grace is love coming at you that has nothing to do with you. Grace is being loved when you are unlovable…. The cliché definition of grace is “unconditional love.” It is a true cliché, for it is a good description of the thing. Let’s go a little further, though. Grace is a love that has nothing to do with you, the beloved. It has everything and only to do with the lover. Grace is irrational in the sense that it has nothing to do with weights and measures. It has nothing to do with my intrinsic qualities or so-called “gifts” (whatever they may be). It reflects a decision on the part of the giver, the one who loves, in relation to the receiver, the one who is loved, that negates any qualifications the receiver may personally hold…. Grace is one-way love.” – Paul Zahl, as quoted in William Tullian’s book, One -Way Love.

And so may we–more often these days–find ourselves on both ends of such love and grace. Because in the end, we are all just walking each other home. (Ram Dass)

 

5 Things (it’s okay) to Tell a Struggling Friend

images-17When people we care about are struggling, it can be so hard knowing the right thing to say or do. And even though pain, grief and loss are such a universal part of the human experience, for some reason we suddenly feel so awkward on how to handle it. There are lots of WRONG things to say and you can find those here or here. But to be honest, the worst thing to say is NOTHING. To ignore it altogether. To pretend it didn’t happen or that you don’t know about it. That. is. the. worst. For the love. Don’t be that person– use one of these instead:

1.  I‘m so sorry you’re going through this.”

“I’m so sorry you have to walk through this.”

“I’m so sorry this happened to you.”

“I’m so sad for you.”

Any variation of “I’m sorry” is a good place to start. C’mon. You can say that. It’s not that hard. This is the universal sympathy phrase for a reason. It’s easy to get out of your mouth. You should use it. And please don’t ever qualify this with a “But…” As in, “But I don’t agree with your divorce.” (That must be so hard for you. Because I lose sleep at night over whether or not you agree with my situation.” Smile. I’m kidding. Obviously.) “But you deserve it.” or “But I told you so.” No. Stop. Don’t do it.

2. “That must be so hard.”

“That must be awful.”

“That would be so hurtful.”

Validation is a gift. People who are struggling often keep apologizing for all of their emotions when it’s probably all very normal. In the midst of chaos and pain, it’s a wonderful thing to be told, “It’s okay that you feel this way.” When you tell someone, “That sounds horrible”, it’s not a sudden revelation to them. They already KNOW it’s horrible. But what you’re really saying is, “I see what you’re going through and I can see why it’s so hard.” Do this.

Important side story~

When I lost my first husband, everyone thought it would be helpful if I attended some sort of support group. Except there weren’t any support groups for 26 year-old widows. (What I really needed was a support group for 26 year-olds who had to attend a support group) Ultimately I ended up attending a group filled with– wait for it– people over 65. I was mortified. It only continued to point out the rarity and devastatingly “bad luck” of my situation. Except for one unforgettable moment that night. Everyone had to tell their story; Who they had lost and why they were there. As I listened to tale after tale of people who had been married for 50 years, people who had to discontinue life support and feeding tubes, people who had needed Hospice, it was my turn. And as I told of my husband being killed in a car accident and leaving behind myself and our two small children, the elderly gentlemen sitting next to me grabbed my hand, looked in my eyes, and said, “You must be in hell.” I wept with relief.

Finally. Finally someone was acknowledging exactly what it felt like. How bad it was. How hard it was. Naming it for me. To finally NOT hear that God must have needed another angel (more than my kids needed their dad??) To NOT hear that I was so young– I would surely find someone else (as if the true problem was the vacancy and filling of the position of husband and father). To NOT hear that everything happens for a reason (because there is no reason thorough enough that would justify this loss). Finally. Validation of the hell I could not escape. I never went back to that support group. But I also never forgot the words of that man. It was a healing moment in my grief.

3. “I may not completely understand, but I can sit here and listen.”

Most struggling or grieving people have a need to talk. And talk. And talk. If not right away, eventually. External processing is a powerful way of understanding and sorting out the jumbled mess of emotions locked up inside. No one is looking for you to have any answers or come up with solutions. And really, don’t. All you need to do is sit and listen. And then get used to responding with simple phrases such as, “That’s awful.” or “That sounds so hard.” Or even, “Mmmmm.” There are very few requirements to be a good listener– a little bit of time, a compassionate heart, and gentleness. Lots of gentleness.

4.  “What would be helpful right now?”…And then offer something specific. Or just do it.

Most of the time, people will add, “Is there anything I can do?” And in the middle of grief, it can be very hard to answer. Ideally, if YOU can think of something thoughtful and helpful (as long as it doesn’t cross any major boundaries), just do it. Or offer something specific that requires a yes or no response. “Can I drop off dinner on Tuesday night?”, “Can I do all the driving for baseball this week?” If none of that seems right, stop by for 5 minutes with a coffee, muffins, beer, a new purse, shoes, anything with a bow on it…Wait. Sorry. That’s maybe only what I would like. But. You get the point.

Another important side note~

Sometimes when my girls are struggling or sad, I say to them, “What would make you feel taken care of right now?” The answer can be as simple as a cup of hot chocolate, a nap, snuggle time with me or a quick date somewhere. I especially like that this teaches them to recognize what they’re feeling and then ask for what they need. And it teaches me, too. I think women, especially, are bad at this. Or maybe it’s just me. I’m bad at this. But my girls won’t be. They will know how to ask for what they need.

5. “You are not alone.”

Grief and loss. Pain and struggle. It’s all very isolating. The rest of the world is moving on while yours has stopped. It’s a very lonely place to be. Depending on your relationship,  it’s such a relief to hear someone say, “You’re not alone. I’m with you in this. Text me or call me 24/7.” And then, even if you have to set a reminder in your phone, YOU text THEM every few days with some love and encouragement. A friend and I stumbled upon a little code– when one of us is feeling really low, or thinking about the other one, and we don’t really want to talk or don’t really know what to say, we will text  ” …” And it just means “I have no words. I’m here. I’m with you.”

And believe it or not, it helps. Easy. Small. Simple. Gentle. Kind. You can do it.

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Another Round of “What Not to Say to Your Struggling Friend”

e4fdff0a1508f0c5e69dcbc04de02a21But wait! There’s more! In my aggravated haste, I missed some of the BIGGEST offending phrases! BIG as in WAY too awful to be left out! If you missed the first list, check it out here. And listen, we’ve all been guilty of being in a tender spot with a struggling friend and not known what to say– myself included– but there are still some things better left unsaid.

So  please…Join me for another round of “What Not to Say to Your Struggling Friend!”

God has a better plan

Sighhhh. Of course He does. That would be just like him, wouldn’t it? How sweet. And maybe next week or next month, or next year, I will see that and find peace in that. But today, right now, I wanted THIS plan. MY plan. And I’m sad and disappointed that my plan did not work out.

God must have something really special in store for you

I am totally calling bullshit on this one. I have heard this line for 20 years. Maybe He does, maybe He doesn’t.  Because maybe–just maybe–this is just how life goes. Sometimes, really crappy things just happen. And the only reward for living through it is…living through it. (Which, you know, IS a big deal, but still…)

Don’t Cry

Don’t tell me what to do. K. Thanks. Because I am crying. And when you say “Don’t cry”, now I feel like I have to fake my behavior because you’re uncomfortable. People cry. We all survive. Trust me. I would’ve drowned by now.

Someday this will all make sense

Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. Today, it doesn’t. Today it sucks. Can we please just acknowledge the suck of today?

And finally…(but certainly still NOT a conclusive round-up!)

Things could be worse

SIGH……(I’m yelling now) WELL OF COURSE THEY COULD BE WORSE! Let’s now list all of the ways things could be worse. I don’t even know where to start. It’s long and involved and ranging from the house burning down to starving children in Africa. The only way you can use this phrase– THE ONLY WAY– is if you look at your very, very close friend and say it JUST LIKE THIS, “Shit could be worse. I mean, you could have bad hair. Or ugly feet. Or no style. On top of everything else you’re going through.” And then, after that, buy her a beer. Because you both know you’re kidding. Period.

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{A perfect example of what NOT to say to your friend.}

I loved hearing YOUR input on the first list! If you’ve got more, lemme have ’em!

And I promise– A list of helpful, validating, gentle things to say is on its way…

 

 

5 Things You Should Not Tell Your Struggling Friend

images-151. Cheer Up

Really? Cheer up? Thanks. Because I never thought of just “cheering up”.

2. You shouldn’t feel that way

That’s so weird. Because I DO. So. One of us is wrong. Feelings are NOT wrong or right. They just are. It’s what we do with them and what actions they illicit or inspire that give them dynamics. You are allowed to feel what you feel. You have wide and varied reasons for feeling what you feel. You do not need to defend them or explain them. Period.

3. Here’s what you should do…

Big. Heavy. Sigh. Thanks. I know you mean well. Really. But your suggestions for fixing my life are unsolicited and not helpful. And, whether or not I’ve already considered your solution, it’s usually not that simple. And if you’re a Christian and you proceed to tell me what the Bible says when I am smack in the middle of my pain and my process…Lose my number. There might be a delicate time and place for that– this is not it.

4. You think THAT’S bad….

I know. I KNOW what you went through. I get it. I get that your situation is/was/will be ten times worse than mine. But pain is relative. Your pain doesn’t make mine better or worse and vice versa. Pain is pain. And it hurts.

5. I thought you were over this.

Great. Now I’m not even struggling right. My timing’s all off. Well I’m not over it.  And I wish I was more than YOU wish I was.  Sooooo….when I get over it, I guess that’s when we can be friends. If you don’t hear your phone ringing, that will be me. Not calling.

Believe it or not, I’m smiling as I type this. There’s no resting bitch face, there’s no animosity or bitterness regardless of how snarky I sound. (Um. Okay. Maybe just a teeny bit. Working on that…) I have been guilty of ALL of these and I hate myself for it– but I’m human. We all are. It’s just that I know so many people struggling right now who just get railroaded and corrected and shamed for their personal process of grief and recovery. Which is kinda like pouring salt in the wound. It hurts.

What would YOU add to this list?

Next Up: 5 Helpful Things to Tell a Struggling Friend

 

Scenes From a [temporary] Break Up with Jesus

images-14As I was bustling about my prep work one morning, a co-worker whom I adore asked if I wanted to hear a horrible joke. Assuming it was a sex joke, which, you know, I’m always down for because I’m a terrible person– I said yes. But it wasn’t. It was actually a Jesus joke– and had I known that, I would’ve said no thanks. Sex jokes are funny and naughty and even if they turn out to cross every boundary you have, you can easily forget about them. Not so much with Jesus jokes. The joke was short and to the point and as soon as it was over, I gave a fake laugh and a half-smile and said, “Sorry- nope. Can’t do that one. Not funny.” I didn’t want her to feel too bad about it because the truth is, this person really has no idea about Jesus-y things. If I can be so presumptuous and naive to say this– she doesn’t know better. But as I turned back to my work, my heart was heavy and tears pricked my eyes.


I’m gonna be honest– over a year ago or so, I told Jesus I was breaking up with Him. Maybe not forever, but I needed a break. I even used “It’s not you, it’s me.” (Although He and I both sort of knew…it kind of WAS Him.) And since then, I have struggled and wrestled with Him. I have cried and said mean things to Him and shook my proverbial fist in misunderstanding and hurt feelings and unmet expectations. I have cried into my pillow at night and whispered worries and gratitudes and short prayers for loved ones. But we both knew things had changed. I have heard Him whisper, “Please come closer–” and I have held my arms tight across my chest like the passive aggressive girl that I am and turned my head, all the while silently hoping He wouldn’t leave. That He would ask again. And again. I needed space. I needed time. I never wanted to see other people. I just didn’t know if I wanted to keep seeing Him. Or how He and I were going to bridge the gap that now felt like the Grand Canyon.

And you see as of late, my faith has been questioned. My love for God. My devotion to Jesus. And maybe rightly so. There was a collision of sorts happening all at once– the final undoing of my marriage intersected with the most profound spiritual awakening and insights I’ve ever experienced as an adult. And while some of these were good, necessary things, they were messy. Painful. Confusing. It’s sort of been an ongoing thing to wrestle with the deeper questions of love and faith. Of God and His somewhat unknowable ways. I have, at times, screamed in my heart, “Is this a game to you?! THIS IS MY LIFE!” And yet, like the girlfriend who just can’t let go, I’d always come back around, feeling shy and a little guilty for my bad behavior. “It’s not that I don’t love you,” I’d timidly point out. “I just don’t know what to do with you.” So feeling those tears– having hurt feelings and a heavy heart– on behalf of Jesus– was a beautiful, bizarre gift to me. Because hearing that joke was like hearing something rude about one of my kids or any person I love. The kind of thing where you think to yourself, “If you really knew them, you’d never say that. Because it’s so not true.” And though I wished I could un-hear it, I’ve come to see that it’s because I love Jesus so much. That’s why it hurts. And though I don’t need to prove that to anyone else (because I never really could anyway),  maybe I needed to prove it to myself.

90% Good, 10% Under Construction

This weekend I heard popular speaker and author Max Lucado say that most people are 90% good and 10% under construction. His obvious point being that despite the sometimes seemingly overwhelming flaws in people, the good by far outweighs the bad.  Now, I know right out of the gate, some of you disagree with these numbers. You’re thinking that you know a lot of people who need a high-five. In the face. With a chair. And there’s another category worse yet–the people to whom you’d like to channel Bruno Mars and say, “Tell the devil I said Hey when you get back to where you’re from.” Ah yes.  We’ve all got a few in our lives.  But the reality is, “bad” people really are few and far between.

Sometimes when we have difficult relationships in our lives, whether it be family members, in-laws, our kids, spouse, or the people we work with, we can easily become micro-focused on their flaws and forget about all of the positive qualities that make up their majority. Instead of seeing the person as a whole and appreciating all of their gifts, talents and amazing, God-given personality traits, we end up like a laser beam, focusing in on the few negatives and forgetting the positives all together. We start thinking in terms of extremes– as in “they ALWAYS…” or they “NEVER”… and our perspective becomes skewed. In fact, we start to think that some people are actually 90% bad and only a measly 10% good. God help us.

We’ve all got our blind spots. We’ve all got our issues and the areas of our lives that are under construction. That’s just the way it is. And yes, it’s true. Maybe some people are a little closer to 80/20 or 60/40 –but that still means that they are largely good. That they are mostly made up of positives. That they can enrich our lives if we would use a little more grace and a little less tunnel vision. And if it’s our kids, our spouse, or family member, it especially means that they are by far, worthy of our love and the investment of our hearts.

And if not. If you have people in your life who really are that bad, then take the high road. Be kinder than necessary. Chances are you have no idea of the battle they’re fighting and they need your 90%.