Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: boston marathon, emmanuel, resident seminarian, the incarnation
Wednesday was a hot and sunny day, the kind that makes you remember that spring actually does come after these brutal Boston winters, the kind of day that reminds you that you have toes that haven’t seen the sun in months, the kind that makes you want to stay outside just a little bit longer.
The sun also meant that the flowers that folks were leaving out on Marsh Plaza in memorial of Lingzi Lu, the Boston University grad student who was killed in the bombings, didn’t stand much of a chance. When the reporters who saw me bringing vases of water up from the chapel’s basement took pictures of me tending to those flowers, I knew they were just trying to tell the story of the way the city deals with our grief. When, getting my basic information, they found out that I was getting my Masters in Divinity, they somehow decided it was appropriate to ask me about the suspect that had just been arrested by the police: “so, as someone who’s studying theology, tell me, do you think this suspect is going to hell?”
The question, of course, is unanswerable, and wildly besides the point.
Here’s what I think the reporters were getting at: we’re all grasping for some sort of sense, we’re all trying to figure this out. We’re trying to find God in this and we don’t know how and so we turn to the people who spend their time reading and thinking and asking questions about God.
Asking things like “why did God let this happen?” and “is the suspect going to hell?” and “how do we find the point of all this suffering?” make me feel confused and small and unproductive.
But there is a question that makes me feel big, and hopeful, and grounded, a question that I’ve been holding, which is, “where is God?”
And, folks, because I think part of my work in life right now is answering this sort of question, here’s what I know:
God was at the marathon on Monday.
God was in our voices while we cheered and screamed and chanted names.
God was in the legs of runners who pushed in wheelchairs their sons who felt more alive, less disabled, when their fathers were wheeling them in races.
God was in the hands of every person who pulled off their belts and wrapped them around the bloody stumps of limbs to stem the bleeding.
God was in the calm minds of the police officers and the marathon officials and the random bystanders who somehow kept their heads and worked to contain the trauma and the chaos.
God was sitting on the couch wrapping her arms around us when the news reports came in and we needed to feel another person’s body next to us.
God was in the facebook pages and the text messages and the tweets to check in on everyone we loved and hadn’t heard from while the phone lines were jammed.
God was in the google spreadsheets of people offering their homes to stranded runners.
God was in the kitchen Monday night cooking casseroles and hot dishes so that we could feed comfort food to the people in our living rooms.
God was slipping needles into median cubital veins to draw blood from donors and was threading suture needles with silk to stitch closed the victims’ wounds.
And God is still with us:
God is checking in on us in the lunchroom, in the boardroom, in the bathroom, in the hallway when we slump down on benches because we just can’t do it anymore.
God is holding vigil at the barricades down on Boylston Street.
God is talking to the daffodils along the river and telling them to bloom, and the daffodils are listening.
God is showing up with chalk under the cover of night to write messages on the river’s running path: “Don’t give up, Boston” and “we are strong” and “you are loved” and “keep running, Boston.”
God is in every bit of gentleness we’ve been extending to each other.
God is planning surprises, and telling jokes,
God is sitting across from us in coffeeshops when we need to talk about the boy we’re just starting to love because, holy shit, we can’t always be thinking about pain and sadness and sometimes we need to flirt.
God is in Boston, and God is in South Korea, and God is in Syria and Palestine and Afghanistan and Texas, God is in Kansas and Washington and Newton and Norway and Cambridge,
feeling every wound, every injustice, every sadness and every pain,
God has never left any one of us,
and as we keep reaching out to this bleeding, broken, healing world with our hands and our words and our actions and our hopes, God will keep speaking through us the only word that makes sense,
God will stay right here, speaking—through us—“love.”
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I spent yesterday reading about martyrdom with a tiny earless donkey perched on the table next to me. The first Saturday of every month at school is the Reading Retreat, a time for people with too much work to do to get together, eat some free food, pray a little bit, and hold each other accountable to get things done. It’s a good, calm, productive time, and for me usually involves sitting in a room with other and people being eerily quiet except for those moments when someone feels a need to read a quote about, say, child sacrifice, or strange metaphors about genetalia (both of which came up in my reading yesterday).
As it’s the start of Advent, the prayer services that bookend the reading retreat focused on nativity scenes: six or seven of them, set up all around the prayer chapel. Robin invited each of us to pick a figure from one of them and have it “travel with us” through the day, and to reflect on how this character embodied hope, our participation in the waiting that defines the season, or whatever else (seminarians are great at making meaning out of things, so she was banking on our efforts). I picked this humble little donkey without thinking much, but, true to form, by the end of the day, it had become a Meaningful Thing.
Here’s why: this week, after several conversations about all my heart sparkles (my full-time job is having heart sparkles for people; everything else is a secondary occupation), my participation in conflict-mediation processes at my collective house, and the way I get my self-definition from helping other people (this particular conversation happened around 1 AM in a noisy club directly before I went up to sing karaoke to Taylor Swift), I’ve been thinking. Sitting in a bar on Thursday night, working through a pitcher of beer with seminarians and sharing–as usual–maybe too many of my feelings, a friend responded, “you know, you’re deserving of love, too, Lindsay.”
And it’s sat with me, that thought.
On Wednesday, the chapel speaker, preaching on that lovely part where Jesus quotes the Old Testament law in reminding us to love our neighbors as ourselves, pointed out that most of us can’t actually love our neighbors well because we don’t love ourselves well. Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to be really excellent at something; the preacher said that maybe we need to devote 10,000 hours to working on loving ourselves, on seeing ourselves the way God sees us, on staying in full view of our flaws and wounds and realizing that we are loved through and beyond them.
So I had this yard-sale creche donkey with the broken ears, and I got to thinking about what a donkey would be doing at the nativity. The sheep are there just being sheep, but a donkey is a working animal. He was there because someone had ridden him, or would ride him; maybe Mary, everyone’s favorite unwed pregnant teenager, had been laboring on top of this animal’s back when they were going from inn to inn. But the doneky I had didn’t have anyone or anything on him. And it was nice, to see a burden-bearing animal free from his burdens, to remember that he exists outside of his usefulness.
That’s what I want for myself. That’s what I’m trying to remember: that it’s good for a donkey to carry things, that it’s good for a girl to write papers and bake bread and listen to people’s problems and care really deeply about the folks she spends her time with, but those things don’t define the donkey, and they don’t define the girl. What’s more, they don’t determine whether or not the donkey or the girl deserve love, or a home, or a place in the community. They don’t determine their worth. They don’t determine their value.
We come into places with our own wounds, and sometimes we have to stand stripped of all the things that we use to give ourselves identity and meaning. This advent season, what I’m hoping for and what I’m working to prepare a place for is this knowledge that we’re loved, all of us, just as we are, however much we do or don’t do. Even me. Even you.
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We’re stormed in up here in Boston, but even if the hurricane takes our power–which looks probable, given that several dead-looking branches are hanging over our power lines just outside my window–we’ve got a gas stove. My day is being marked off in meals that punctuate the hundreds of pages of reading I’m catching up on: tea and broth before anyone got up, a giant pot of macaroni and cheese for lunch from Susanna, and an afternoon snack of pear cobbler (also from Sus, who I think is feeling a little stir-crazy). In a couple of hours, my two loaves of sourdough bread will be done rising, so I can bake those, although we may well be enjoying them by headlamp-light.
Writing has been eclipsed by reading, bike rides, the incessant memorization of Hebrew vocab words, and attempts to put down roots in the city that I was born in and am only just coming back to, but I’m trying to take advantage of this storm’s interruption of life as usual.
What I am thinking about today–and what I have been thinking about since Friday night–is something that Father Greg Boyle. He’s a Catholic priest who started and maintains Homeboy Industries, a collection of businesses in Los Angeles that employs gang members and ex-offenders. He came to speak in Boston, and as he was telling stories of his work, he recounted a time when a reporter asked him, “what does it feel like to have saved 3000 lives?”
“I had no idea what he was talking about,” Greg said. He explained how he wasn’t better than any of the people he worked with, and how he wasn’t in the business of saving people. “They’re just holy, and I want to be around that holiness.”
He’s talking about gang members, y’all. He’s talking about people who have stabbed other people through the soft parts of their ribcage. He’s talking about people most mothers wouldn’t dream of letting their children get anywhere near. And I love it. And I know exactly what he means.
Here’s the thing: the night before I went to go see Father Boyle, me and a few friends from seminary wandered through Boston at midnight until we got to the gay bar where Johnny assured us there would be karaoke. And sure enough, in the basement, there was a ragtag bunch of people gathered around bar tables, singing badly to Taylor Swift and Janet Jackson and, of course, Melissa Etheridge. We showed up to late to make it on the list, so we just stood in the background dancing and enjoying. When I ran out of breath and propped myself up on the pool table, I looked around, and I thought about the way that all people are made in the image of God, the way that God is present in all times and all places.
I don’t know what that means, exactly, in the basement of Machine with Miley Cyrus blaring. I don’t know what that means in the context of a very sweet man telling a very straight Sam that “when I was little, all I wished was that I was straight; now all I wish is that you were gay.” I don’t know.
I do know that I felt a strange, warm sort of kinship when I belted out P!NK’s “Perfect”, arms wrapped around total strangers for the last song of the night, and that Greg Boyle named it better than I could have imagined when he was talking about the homies the next night, and that if we’re only looking for God behind altars or in certain texts and robes and buildings, we’re not so much getting it wrong as we’re missing the whole smorgasbord of holiness that the world has to offer.
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Today, I am feeling human. I mean, OK, I am always a human: I always have the requisite number and combination of chromosomes, I have a name, a social security number, a pulse. But what I’ve been noticing the past few months, through leaving Florida and spending a summer at camp and coming down to Boston, is that I’ve felt strangely, well, inhuman. No, that’s not exactly it. Maybe this explains it better: there’s a bit in the book of Ezekiel where the prophet is speaking to the people, and one of the things he says is that God will remove from them their hearts of stone and give them hearts of flesh.
What was hard and closed off and well-defended, what had sharp edges, what was solid and unchanging–all of that would get traded out for a heart made of flesh. Hearts made of flesh are designed to be receptive (they take the blood in) and also to release (they pump out oxygenated blood to all the many miles of blood vessels). Hearts made of flesh are, in some ways, really quite delicate and vulnerable. Still, they are resilient: each individual cell of cardiac muscle will continue to beat on its own, and cause other cardiac cells to beat, even if the signals from the brain cease. The heart will beat indefinitely, even outside the body, so long as there are oxygen and other nutrients present. And a heart of flesh–which has no brain of its own–still somehow manages to slow or speed up its beating to match another heart that is pressed close enough.
And today, after spending so many weeks thinking about what it means to have my own rough-edged, unyielding, fearful and willful heart of stone transformed into a heart of flesh, I stared to feel it.
It might have been when I was biking to Jamaica Plain and found myself hopelessly lost and a man pointed me in the right direction. It might have been when I handed my debit card over at the bike shop and the employee looked at me and said, “you’re from Tallahassee, too?” and we got to share some reminiscing about shared places and people and credit union employees, and the connection made it easier to hear the news that my current bike is so badly out of shape that I really should just buy a new one. I certainly felt it at the farmer’s market, picking out apples and winter squash, discussing the difference in northern and southern growing seasons, talking to the Stonyfield Farms people about the joys of a job that requires only giving away free samples of a product you believe it. I certainly was feeling it when the man who came up to claim a vanilla yogurt recognized me from a different bike shop last week, and asked after my bike.
Perhaps I really felt it clearest this morning, when I was the only one awake in the house, kneading bread dough on the counter in my pink night gown: slamming the bread down again and again, pushing it with the heel of my hand, working in until it was smooth and elastic.
Or, it might have started a while ago, this process replacing that part of me that was hardened and weary with a soft, beating, receptive, fleshy hear, but regardless, I am relieved to realize that I am feeling so much more human today.
Filed under: Uncategorized
It’s right about noon, and I just stepped outside for the first time today. The porch on Mark’s house is shady this time of day, and I can see the street only through a jungle of marigolds, strawberries, tomato vines, and dill flower. There’s one cat nuzzling around my legs, and another one gazing at me through the window. I haven’t gotten dressed yet today, and haven’t really talked to anyone, and have spent the morning lazily organizing my jumbled possessions and sipping a banana peanut smoothie that Mark left for me in the fridge after I solidly slept through his whole leaving-for-work process. I think, soon, I might change out of my pajamas and write letters down by Jamaica Pond.
For all the gentle laziness, though, I keep getting these little twinges of anxiety: these nudges saying, “hey, shouldn’t you be doing something?”
As I was cleaning out my things from the summer, I came upon pages of to-do lists: schedules for check-ins with staff, reminders to photocopy paperwork, notes towards discipline talks, outlines of lessons to teach. I always write my to-do lists with little check-boxes next to each item so that I can check it off when I complete it, but I always just want to draw full, thick lines through things once they’re done. On each of the to-do lists I uncovered this morning, about two-thirds of the items were crossed off, and the others are things that I didn’t quite get to. For the last eleven weeks, I have been consistently behind. More than that, though, I’ve gotten used to my life being ridiculously scheduled, to always having things I needed to do, to planning a day based on a triage of what needed to get done.
And now, here I am, with a whole week in Boston before I have to show up to orientation at BU, and the main thing on my to-do list is to settle in.
As I work on settling in, I keep thinking about a workshop I went to about soil, and how if you want to determine what your soil type is–your mix of silt, sand and clay–what you can do is scoop up some of it, put it in a jar with some water, shake it up, and then put it somewhere where it won’t be disturbed. After long enough, all of the mixed-up bits will layer out: you’ll get a layer of sand, a layer of silt, a layer of clay. Once it all settles out, you can see what you’ve got, and you’ll know what you’re working with.
This is what I keep trying to remind myself of, and what I keep trying to tell the twinges of anxiety that sneak in while I’m balancing tea on my knee and listening to Mark’s housemates talk about the Delta Blues: that in the laziness and the solitude and the resting, some important sorting-out and settling will happen, and I can start to make sense of things.
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I take the babies to Lake Ella park whenever I get the chance, and we walk the half-mile sidewalk around the small pond, where they pass time getting in the way of runners, counting the turtles sunning on the floating turtle-rafts, getting licked in the face by dogs whose mouths are precisely at toddler eye-level, and getting frighteningly close to hugging the viscious and disease-ridden muscovy ducks. The past couple of months, I’ve learned how to read the body language of the mama geese when my babies get to close to theirs: the fluffing of the feathers, straightening of the neck, the lunge-and-hiss that says “don’t even think about taking a step closer.” My reflexes for swooping down and herding the toddlers away from the goslings has improved mightily.
It was those fluffy, lanky, yellow-gray adolescents that I was thinking of yesterday when my pastor was preaching the last sermon I’d hear from her before I head north to camp and seminary. It’s not that I was daydreaming (although, for a hopeful future pastor, I am remarkable prone to zoning off in the middle of sermons). It’s that Nancy was talking about geese.
When I walked into church, there were these snazzy red banner with doves on them hanging from the rafters: a perfect match for my red skirt, and a visible reminder that it’s Pentecost, the day we remember the Holy Spirit coming down as God with us, in us, and all around us. Doves are pretty standard when the church talks about the Holy Spirit, but I’m not exactly sure why, and it’s not a metaphor that has ever been really meaningful to me.
The good news for me and my metaphor-driven self is that there are a bunch of folks–Celtic Christians, for one–who choose, instead, to picture the Holy Spirit as a wild goose.
Here’s the thing about geese: they’re loud and racous and you can’t boss them around. They’re boisterous. They seem, in their goosey way, pretty opinionated.
When you get too close to their babies, they’re fiercely protective: they leave no room for interpretation when they say, “this thing I made, this thing I love, is not something you can mess with.”
When geese fly in those wonderful Vs to cut down wind resistance, the lead goose–the one at the point of the V–does a huge amount of work. She gets tired easily, and the geese are good at sharing the work and relieving each other. But the really charming thing, which I learned from my friend Michelle after she got a goose tattoo on her ankle, is that what we’re hearing when we hear the geese honking loudly and incessantly as they fly over us, is encouragement. Every single honk is a goose telling the lead goose, “come on” or “you got this” or “hey, I know this is hard but we’re with you” or “just let us know if you need help.”
And if a goose gets sick or hurt or can’t fly, two geese will always stay on the ground with it while it heals, so that it doesn’t have to finish the flight alone, and so that, even if the sick goose dies, the other two still have a buddy.
And I think that’s what we’re dealing with when we talk about God’s presence in our lives and our selves: something that is wild, and loud, and fiercely protective, something that goes in front of us to break up all the wind resistance and flies behind us honking encouragment when things are hard, something that sits with us when we’re sick and wounded so that we know we don’t have to face any of this mess alone.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: blog posts written while I procrastinate on important tasks, feelings, hoarders
I have this intense, complicated relationship with the TV show “Hoarders,” the one where they videotape people who are very, very broken living in houses that are very, very full of junk. Sometimes the junk is old antiques, or bizarre collectibles, or stacks and stacks of newspapers; sometimes it is things–dozens of cooking pans! hundreds of binders full of notes!–that the owners say will be useful in the future; sometimes it is flat-out trash. Usually there are lots of bugs; rarely can you see the floor. More often than not, the folks featured on the show have these truly tragic stories: their child died in a car crash, diabetes debilitated them to the point where they can hardly move, their husband left them suddenly and they lost track of daily life maintenance things and all of a sudden they look around themselves and their house is full enough of stuff that the fire department has told them it is a genuine hazard and if they don’t get it cleaned up, the house will be condemned.
It is always edited to have a nice redemptive ending, which usually features the family sitting down to eat around a table that is markedly free of rusting car parts. Babies usually roll around on the floor, unafraid that a pile of seven years of salsa-jar-lids will avalanche over them. Things are simple, and they are clean, and mostly everyone’s hair has been washed recently.
But if you have seen the show, you will know that there is always this part in the middle where the owner of the house is in tears, collapsing in a chair or threatening to drive away or just standing, arms slack at their sides, staring blankly at the whole process while tears roll down their cheeks.
This is where someone comes in–maybe the daughter, or maybe the psychologist who somehow has made a practice dealing exclusively with people with hoarding processes–and offers a gentle, plaintive sort of pep talk.
I am thinking about those pep talks right now.
I am a messy person. When I watch “Hoarders,” I think about what might happen in my life to get me to that point, and sometimes it takes eerily little imagination to see myself barricaded into a house with thousands of National Geographics (great for collaging!) and empty tea boxes (I swear I’ll use them to make sweet little mini-care-packages for people!) and every single letter or card or note I’ve ever received.
My flight north is 4 days away, and though I’ve sent a box of books and a box of old letters on ahead of me, I’m still facing a whole room full of clothes and trinkets and notebooks and papers, knowing full well that I can only check one bag when I board my airplane. And so, I’ve been patently avoiding packing, choosing instead to distract myself with other things. Every time I manage to make my way back to sorting and folding and stuffing and tossing, I get overwhelmed, and want to go back to whatever mindless task (facebook! reading online advice columns!) that will keep me from having to deal with all of my feelings about moving, flying head-first into several years of unknowns while I leave behind a community that have become really very sweet and supportive.
What the folks in those pep talks say to the hoarders varies, but they do a lot of reminding people to feel their feelings. They acknowledge that it’s hard, that the cleaning isn’t just cleaning: it’s something big and powerful that is stirring up all sorts of emotions that would be easier ignored. In the end, though, they know that the only way any progress will be made is if everyone keeps their head in the game, keeps their eyes open, and lets all of the feelings–the fear, the sadness, the confusion, the self-hatred, the unresolved dreams and hopes and disappointments–come, because the only way to move on from something is to move through it.
And with that, I’ve got piles and piles of art supplies, post-it notes, old skirts, jellybeans, and flannel shirts lying on the ground, right next to all my piles of thoughts and worries and what-ifs, just waiting to be sorted through, and I think it’s time to face them.