seattle two: not about seattle

I don’t grow as fast as I want to. Ten weeks is shorter than it sounds. I have low output and a low capacity, and I hate myself for it sometimes. But I’m learning to understand and set realistic expectations. All that said because I had hoped to be on approximately “seattle ten” by now. Hah. Here goes.

One morning last week, I woke up and talked on the phone with my friend. We talked about the day and the week and the difficulty of processing what’s in our hearts. I told her about this book I’d just finished reading: The Pursuit of God, by A.W. Tozer. I said it was the most convicting book I have read for awhile. She asked what was convicting about it.

I appreciate being able to talk with friends who respond to my somewhat faltering, intermittent way of speaking with patience. I appreciate reciprocity. I have such a hard time sharing what’s really going on in my head because it’s kind of crazy sometimes, and because you never know who’s going to stay. It takes awhile. Friendship is a long road, but it’s so rewarding when you walk far enough together that you can be unfazed by what you hear. I’m hard to faze anyway…but I assume that others are easily driven away. The best way to put it is a lyric from one of Nick’s songs about me… “If you know her half as well as she knows you, then you know you’re gettin’ there.” It’s usually true. It feels nice to be known by him in that way, but it’s also a line that I suppose makes me disappointed with myself. I’ve read about the enneagram 4 (me, as far as I know: 4 with a 5 wing…if that means anything to ya) that we’ll tend that way. I desperately want to be close to people – closer than most people want to go – but I can’t go there without knowing that those people are going to be forever-friends. So I have to be okay with only having such closeness with a few people. I might not have a group of friends that all know and love each other this way because my closest friends tend to be those who also don’t fit with a group – who just have a few besties, too. Friend is such a unique and serious role to play in someone else’s life…it should be.

So I tell my friend that I’m so convicted because I’m so lacking. I don’t pursue God like I should; I don’t pray like I should; I don’t expect God to be present with me; I choose to do other things when I could spend time seeking him. We talked about uncertainty and that process of doubting God’s existence and then responding to ourselves with the Bible, which we believe to be true. What a funny thing to do, and proof of some faith that still lives. It can be scary and disorienting…can seem unspeakable to have any such thoughts/feelings because you’re supposed to be a church member, a seminary student, a ministry leader. But if no one ever talks about it, no one ever will, right? I talked with my friend about human insanity. It turned out to be something she understood, something she felt in her own way.

When I pray, something happens. When I pray for things people talk to me about, those prayers often are directly answered. When I pray for Nick – in a circumstance or emotion – I see the changes happen, without telling him about the prayer or the change. When I pray for clarity or peace or my own circumstances, my prayers are answered in some way that is clear to me. It’s pretty crazy, and I know that God is not a wish-granter or a vending machine. I think that was hammered into me so hard that I stopped expecting him to answer prayers at all. I stopped thinking he could really hear me. So when he began to respond to me that way…it was like he was saying, “I hear you.” I may never have heard God’s audible speaking voice…but he has been listening to me. This is how he’s teaching me that he’s here, that he’s real – that he’s in the details and the big picture.

So why don’t I pray all the time? What am I doing when I sit down to read the Bible and have some spiritual time, but I close it and move on without a word in God’s direction? What am I afraid of? That he won’t answer, or that he will? That if he’s in my life and in this world, I might have to change something? That I might be committed to following him forever and doing things that are scary and uncomfortable? I’m sure I would rather dictate my own life and make choices based on my own will. This tension is nothing new in the Christian life. And yet, there is something so much more comforting about knowing he is taking care and making ways for me to live despite my fear/baggage/inattentiveness. He’s loving me, the unloving, undeserving recipient.

I worry and wonder what God’s doing and what I’m supposed to be doing. But I don’t talk to him about it? What even is that? I laughed over the absurdity with my friend. We noted the ways that we ebb and flow in spirituality. The times Nick has had to sustain our evening prayer life without my input. When all I could muster was “amen” at the end. This not because of anything terrible going on in my life, just for the periodic darkness or the weakness of my heart. It was the first time I had talked to a friend about the fear that we might fall out of this faith and the strange way that God uses what we’re not sure we believe to assure us that we do.

There was about one year when I felt joy and gratitude acutely…and for the rest of my life, I struggle. It’s nice to talk to others who aren’t naturally happy people. Other people who can do melancholy and not be sad or uncomfortable, but find it natural. Yet because I believe that God loves me…isn’t joy/hope/gratitude/happiness the most appropriate, necessary response? And why can’t I muster it the way some can? And does that mean there’s something wrong with me, or something missing in my faith? OR does it mean that I’m well-suited to see the needs, the things to pray for, the people who need love and don’t have it? To be with people who are struggling without blinding them with: BE GRATEFUL LOOK AT ALL THIS JOY! I think this is true. But I know where I need to grow. What to pray for and seek: restore to me the joy of your salvation. Psalm 51 is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible.

I wanted to write about this Tozer book, though. Man, it brought me around. I have been feeling out of touch – exiled from my internal world. I guess theologians forever have been right about that connection between knowing God and knowing self. Imagine that. As I seek God, it gets easier to see myself. Mystery. Please continue to bear with this scatterbrained post: your patience is appreciated.

At the end of each short chapter, Tozer writes a prayer that deals with the themes he’s just talked about. I need to ask God to, “Begin in mercy a new work of love within me.”

Tozer believed in the need to wake up and remember what we’re here for, and who brought us here. Everything I’m writing about now…just assume that Tozer said it, and I’m processing.

Do I ever experience God’s REAL presence? Why don’t I feel him with me? Have I ever asked for him to show himself, to be here in a special way, to reveal his presence to me? I really haven’t asked, and I haven’t had a great big experience. But why not? People are afraid of giving up whatever fulfills us instead of God. Our “toys” are God’s rivals. I’ve dealt with this before, so I’m good, right? Then what is keeping me from coming close to God and expecting him to be close to me?

Is God more of an inference from accepted evidence, or a person who is real to me?
I need the ability to perceive spiritually. “He is manifest only when and as we are aware of His presence.” (64) “Our pursuit of God is successful just because He is forever seeking to manifest Himself to us.” (65) We might use “near” and “far” to describe our proximity to God, and these are relational terms. I can actually cultivate a spiritual awareness and receptivity – in order to gain the perception I need.

Do we confine God’s word to what we can read in the Bible, or do we recognize that he can still speak to our hearts?
I don’t leave space for God to speak. I move from one word to the next, down the page, close the book, stand up, and move on. We need to be still. Find a way to be still and wait on God: be alone, and bring the Bible. “Then if we will we may draw near to God and begin to hear Him speak to us in our hearts.” The Bible speaks continually for God. Can I breathe in between passages, or sentences, and pause long enough to learn something?

We don’t get much toward a definition of faith in the Bible as a whole – just what Hebrews 11:1 has to say: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Tozer describes faith as “the gaze of a soul upon a saving God.” The faithful heart is bent by its intention to look on Jesus forever, and it forms the habit. Faith is focused on the object, not on itself. It’s not self-consciously examining and questioning. It’s seeking something beyond itself. My faith can be pretty self-conscious at times…no surprise.

On believing: “It would be like God to make the most vital thing easy and place it within the range of possibility for the weakest and poorest of us.” (94) Real faith looks pretty simple. It requires nothing fancy. What do we need to do? Pray, meditate on God’s word, serve others, participate in the life of the church…behold God. Anyone can do this, but I like to make things complicated by over-thinking and wondering – could this really be possible for me?

On church: “Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other?” (96)

It’s important for us to see that salvation is “…not a judicial change merely, but a conscious and experienced change affecting the sinner’s whole nature.” (100) It can be so easy in my denomination to stop with the language of legal change. In talking about justification, we use legal language because it is appropriate to do so. Yet it can sound somewhat cold or sanitized.

Bible teacher: “God took your record of wrongs and applied it to Jesus. He took Jesus’ record of rights and applied it to you.”

Me: *shakes Jesus’ hand* “Thanks, that was unbelievably kind of you.”

Also me: “Jesus died for my sins, and he gave me his righteousness. I’m going to heaven, yay!”

It can’t stop there, given that there’s probably a lot of time between now and that future, so what happens in the meantime?

One of the main questions I had to answer satisfactorily when I interviewed for a ministry position was: “What are justification and sanctification – and how are they different?” One of the main objectives in a class called “Sin, Christ, and Salvation” was to answer this question. These are wonderful things – it’s so important to understand God’s work and how it applies to us. Yet I can define these words so perfectly without feeling myself changed and without living in the presence of God. It’s not enough to watch the courtroom scene and read the sentence we’ve been given (not guilty) if we don’t walk out understanding everything that means for our future.

One of my favorite seminars/sermons I’ve ever heard was about glorification. I’ve listened to this two-part talk about four times. No one in my church background had ever pointed so clearly, so earnestly, and so matter-of-factly to what the future holds if we believe. Contrary to what some might think, this didn’t make me sit back dissatisfied with life, set to wait for that time after death. It didn’t make me wish for everything to look like heaven immediately. It made me want to live in such a way that other people could hear about this…to live in a way that might point toward glory in a world where things really don’t. That doesn’t mean making our houses look like castles. It means exhibiting a knowing joy. Reminds me of yet another favorite passage, 1 Corinthians 15:51-55:

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’
‘O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?'”

 

If we’re going to believe…we have to realize that we owe God everything. We’ll use everything we have to glorify him. We don’t lose our dignity by offering everything up this way – he has dignified us innately. Any desire for human honor gets squarely in the way of our desire for God. He wants all of us: our heads, hearts, and hands (to borrow a seminary phrase). We can pray that he would have us, that he would be exalted over our possessions, friendships, comforts, reputation, ambitions, preferences, family, health, and life…that we wouldn’t value these things more highly than we value him. If we walk out into the world and feel free from the burden of sin but don’t feel any gratitude or obligation to Jesus for what he did…we don’t really get it, do we?

Rest in Christ is the release from burdens. We’re burdened by pride, pretense, artificiality, competition, posing. We need to stop being fooled about ourselves, as Tozer puts it. We are really weak and helpless, but God gives us tremendous significance. Let God defend you – don’t be defensive. I am so sensitive…SO sensitive. Some people are so defensive – like, defensive before anyone has been on the offensive. We can’t rest until we “…accept ourselves for what we are and cease to pretend.” (116)

“The meek man is not a human mouse afflicted with a sense of his own inferiority. Rather…he has stopped being fooled about himself…He knows well that the world will never see him as God sees him and he has stopped caring.” (113) Meekness brings peace. This is what I mean by “I don’t really care what people think,” on my very best days. Or at least I mean I’m trying for this. I don’t mean that I disregard people’s feelings or thoughts. I don’t mean that I’m above caring about opinions. I just mean that we have to put those things in their proper place, knowing and being concerned primarily with what God has told us to be true. In a sense, we are looking above the general human murmur because we answer to someone greater.

Everything we do can be done to God’s glory. This is the goal – not to gain approval, success, personal fulfillment, status, wealth, or any kind of personal glory you can think of. The goal is to work at something that will bring God glory, or to do the work set before you in a way that he would approve. Jesus’ life wasn’t divided into sacred/secular categories. There was no spiritual/natural dichotomy for him to navigate. The only dilemma here is one that humans have created. Tozer uses the example of the body to explain this: “God created our bodies, and we do not offend Him by placing the responsibility where it belongs.” (120) So modesty is biblical, but prudery and shame are not. (All these nuggets are from Tozer, not me. I’m just your friendly blogging paraphraser.) I’m grateful to go to a seminary that understands the body this way and encourages us to stop seeing our bodies (and the physical and the world as a whole) negatively. Instead, we interrogate their nature, the way they reflect God, their purpose in his kingdom.

Everything we do can be given up to the kingdom of God, turning life into a sacramental act of worship. This should be “the complexion of our thoughts” and what we practice, meditate, pray…leading to a “restful unity of life.” But it requires “aggressive faith.” (122-123) “Let us believe that God is in all our simple deeds and learn to find Him there.” Then nothing we do can be called common. This is something I need to hear… I can affirm this so easily when someone else posts about it on Instagram. I can look at people doing work that the world (or my heart) might not count as Meaningful, and I can see that God makes it meaningful…I can see their commitment to it as sacred. But when it comes to doing the menial tasks of my day…to serving others in small ways…to sacrificing the time I want to spend on Purposeful, Inspiring tasks…I will grumble inside. I have a long way to go.

“I long to live in restful sincerity of heart.” (127) This is from another of Tozer’s prayers. And it’s like…exactly right. I cannot think of a better summary of what I long for and what I find so elusive. I long to live in restful sincerity of heart. Those are words my soul can adopt. It’s a mantra I can get behind. It’s what I will be praying for, as I clear away the distractions and enter a space that will hopefully grow larger forever as God fills it with himself.

There is so much more I could say…so much about the Holy Spirit. So much from a paper I wrote last semester about the kingdom of God. But this is a blog, and it has already taken me three days to write this post. I’m going to let it be.

Music while writing this: The Avett Brothers (Emotionalism) and Horse Feathers (So It Is With Us) – Gonna see Horse Feathers open for Blind Pilot this weekend with another dear friend. EXCITEMENT

Recommendations: The Lowland (book) by Jhumpa Lahiri – my first book-cry of the summer.
And of course, The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer

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respect

On Thursday night, Nick (my husband) played (his original music) at a legit venue for the first time since we’ve lived in St. Louis. He has played at a coffee shop a couple of times, but never as a performer recognized as such. There was a simple stage, a sound check, and an opener. We got to the venue about an hour early to set up and get a vibe. We chatted with the bartender before people started to arrive. A friend (from the seminary we attend) played a set of his own music to open up. Friends (mostly from the seminary as well) trickled in over the course of the next hour. When it was time for Nick to start playing, someone who worked at the venue came onstage and gave a short, seemingly out-of-the-blue speech about the fact that during the show with an obviously largely Christian-seminary-crowd, the bar was making the least money in tips than it ever had before on similar nights. He addressed the idea of generosity and basically spoke against us for a little while. And then Nick had to start playing (for his own CD release show) in the midst of the subsequent atmosphere.

At first, it made me feel super unwelcome, like we were almost being asked to wrap things up and leave (before the main act had started). At the same time, I started to feel terrible. So terrible. Such a sinking feeling in my stomach. Nick and I were each given two tickets for free drinks since he was an artist and I was taking cover charges at the door. I hadn’t had the opportunity to tip or buy my own drink. But I have known for a long time that in the restaurant industry, Christians have the worst reputation as customers and specifically as being terrible tippers. That has always informed the way that Nick and I try to extend generosity when we tip (besides the fact that it’s a decent and normal way to behave, no matter who you are). Nick has also worked at three or four restaurants in his life, and he understands what it’s like to rely on tips on your shift.

The speech we should want people to give when a group of Christians comes into a neutral space is quite the opposite from the one this man had to give last night. It should be, “You Christians have been the best-tipping crowd we’ve ever had, and that wasn’t what we were expecting! Thank you for living up to the standard of generosity that you’re supposed to have!” We should be living in a way that shows people who don’t share our beliefs that we actually let our faith inform our way of being in the world, everywhere we go. As I sat and listened to Nick play his set (very graciously and positively and addressing the bar in a congenial way, seemingly unfazed by the speech) I started to get pissed. We invited this crowd to a bar we had never been to before, and they were representing us, our school, our faith, and ultimately our God. I wish they had thought about that when they decided not to leave a tip (those of them who didn’t leave a tip…probably better just not to buy a drink in the first place). I had used my drink tickets, so I went ahead and bought a beer.

After Nick was finished, he wanted to buy a drink as well, and a couple of our friends stayed back with us as we sat at the bar and chatted with the two people who had been working that night. We addressed the issue right away – we apologized for the way they had been stiffed, and made it clear that we weren’t on board with that. The lady that we had talked to early in the evening told us a couple of comments she’d overheard from the guests. One person commented to another that they hadn’t tipped and that their friend shouldn’t feel bad about not tipping either. One person questioned the bartender’s sexuality based on her short hair. I was horrified!! We personally knew all but three of the people who’d walked through the door – albeit we don’t know all of them as close friends. I couldn’t believe that some of my friends/acquaintances had behaved so poorly, especially in light of the speech from a person who directly said that he had grown up in the church. What a terrible impression we confirmed for him.

Our conversation – the six of us – after everyone else had left was really helpful and hopefully healing to the employees. They had gotten a terrible view of Christianity from our group that night. They expressed their gratitude for all the music, and for the four of us who stayed and tried to make amends and just talk as people. We listened to their thoughts about faith – some direct challenges and even really offensive accusations…but we didn’t argue or belittle. We tried to listen and be honest when we were asked questions. The guys exchanged phone numbers. We gave them most of the money we’d made at the door as our tip (something we weren’t necessarily guaranteed from Nick doing a show, and something that Nick does anyway when the tip jar is low). It was my favorite part of the night. And I was so proud of Nick for playing his really evidently Christian music without shame after being ripped, and for treating the staff so well, and for acknowledging with honesty the need to make up for the animosity they felt that night. I was grateful to have friends who stayed behind with us – I think it was really important for the staff to see that we weren’t the only people who could be kind to them and act normal. There are more than just two Christians who know how to love.

As I read that, it seems like I’m ranting and tooting my own horn here…but I am not trying to make us look good…I’m really trying to process being appalled and heartbroken…

When someone says to you that they were starting to heal and think about the Christian faith again, but your audience made them question whether they wanted to do that anymore, it is a big deal. Our behavior has consequences, and I want people to know that they leave an impact. Whatever your intentions, and whatever you think about your own money…Christians have to be the perfect example of human beings – we have to be extra generous and extra loving, because there is a stigma attached to us when we walk into the room. I think people are still used to the privilege of being accepted everywhere and having the freedom to behave how they like.

I’m not accusing anyone in particular of wrongdoing…but I was so embarrassed and so upset…and I wasn’t even on the receiving end of any comments or carelessness. The guys and the bartenders did one round of shots together to finish off the night, and we all hugged it out. I’m so glad that they were generous-spirited people, open to talking to us even though they didn’t have to trust us. I’m so glad we were able to have an open conversation about how they felt and what they saw and heard. I’m so sorry that Christians are so culturally clueless and blind to the way they affect others. I’m so glad that Nick’s music was still beautiful to them. It really was the kind of night that Nick wants his music to facilitate…just not in the way we expected.

It’s time to pray that we’ll have further interactions, conversations, positive experiences, friendships, with this place and the people who work there. It’s time to pray that they remember the way they were treated and respected at the beginning and end of the night. To pray that they know they are loved by God, and that their hearts might be opened. This should be our prayer for everyone we encounter, and I thought that Christians understood that…at least the ones who go to our seminary…perhaps I am just naïve. I’m usually cynical, and this whole incident isn’t helping with that. It is our actions that show who we truly our, not merely our words. Dumbledore says it. The Bible says it. We’ll be known by what we do.

Like I said, there were plenty of our friends there who were being perfectly kind and normal. And like I said, the speech was pretty brutal…it hit people the wrong way in general. The bartender made a caveat that the women were doing great (once the women started to arrive, she said, the tips started rolling in generously). We were a group of graduate students who generally look like we have it together but actually can’t really afford to spend money on drinks. Perhaps we shouldn’t have invited people to an event where they had to pay a cover as well as purchase drinks. It’s complicated, right? But in another way, it’s not complicated at all. Not to the two people we should have been most conscious about in that space.

I wanted a space to process this, so thanks for reading. Here are some quotes from a book we read at this seminary about living as Christians in a world where Christianity turns people off.

“Respect and graciousness are to flow from a heart that is being changed by the way God has come to meet me in Christ; they must arise from genuine love and a proper regard for my neighbor’s true dignity.” – The Heart of Evangelism, page 195

“Christians, above all people, should be aware that we need to earn respect from unbelievers by our life of service to the community.” – The Heart of Evangelism, page 144

practice

[Creepily, this thing I wrote a few years ago showed up as an unpublished post – WITH THE TITLE THAT LATER BECAME THE TITLE OF MY BLOG GO FIGURE – that I had saved and then never got up the courage (or never remembered) to publish. I don’t feel all of these things exactly anymore, but a lot of it is the same, which is kind of disappointing given that years have passed, but also comforting in the sense that my own writing spoke to me… So, since I now feel somewhat removed from it and can honestly say that I don’t exactly remember what I was thinking and feeling about when I first wrote it, I’m feeling confident enough to post it. It is also much better than anything I have written thus far this summer, and it makes me feel good about myself to publish something personal and deeper and such. Ok, preface over.]

It feels like every time I sit down to write something to potentially turn into a blog post, it doesn’t come out honestly anymore. It comes out like a perfectly manufactured parcel of writing that I know could be “successful” with the few people who read it and enjoy it, and maybe even helpful.

But how do I write genuinely about positive things, about faith, when I’ve been feeling like a completely inadequate heap of trash, like…most of the time?
How do I climb out of this self-pity pile?
How do I get back to the place of loving and not feeling shame at every turn?
Why is the hardest thing to feel God’s love? To feel that he approves, accepts, and even loves…even likes me? It makes no sense, and so I choose not to live in the truth. I live under the rule of the lie of insufficiency. I live in the darkness of his disapproval, of his hatred of me. The disbelief in even the possibility of being loved by a being so completely good. An absence of peace in my heart, and the impossibility of joy because I’m in a place so devoid of light.

This is the trap filled with mirrors. This is the quintessential fun house. The name betrays, and the mirrors distort, and it is impossible to escape, as the shrill laughter becomes shrieking and you can’t see yourself clearly, and running is stumbling and the maze only leads you deeper in.
This is not reality. This is just the fun house at the circus, where you begin to feel you’ll never get home, and all you can see is warped. Evil is real, but instead of the truth, it holds a fun house mirror up to your soul.

It is so detrimental, so so dangerous to live in the darkness of those lies. We must be compelled by the story of our loving, kind, generous, and saving God, whose power reigns over our lives. Our faith must look like complete trust, total abandonment of everything that could keep us from the truth. We have to overcome doubts about ourselves, and see through lies about our God. He sees our hearts, but he sees through them to Jesus, to his Holy Spirit living there. And how can we not sigh and laugh and bubble up with joyous relief. And how can we keep from sharing?

It really is as simple…and simultaneously difficult…as practice, isn’t it? Practice. Doing the same thing over and over and over until you know what you’re doing. But here, practice never makes perfect. Practice makes person. ha. [hahaha]
Growth doesn’t mean always learning something different. It means actually internalizing and living what I have learned and believed. God’s commands have not changed, and they aren’t going to. So what can we do but keep believing in him? Keep following, keep practicing this faith. It starts again every day – in the morning when his mercies are new.

Rejoice and be thankful! As you walk with me through this day, practice trusting and thanking Me all along the way. Trust is the channel through which My Peace flows into you. Thankfulness lifts you up above your circumstances. I do My greatest works through people with grateful, trusting hearts. Rather than planning and evaluating, practice trusting and thanking Me continually. This is a paradigm shift that will revolutionize your life.”  – from Jesus Calling

I have so much in my life to be thankful for, all the time. Last night, I went to see the Silver Pages play in Lincoln (the fact that I even got to do that!) and some of the best lyrics stuck with me… (hopefully I get them right)

“Night will turn to day,
and your church will say,
‘Take your bride away,’
when your kingdom comes!

Sorrow will be erased,
pain will wash away,
and we will see your face,
when your kingdom comes!”

Filled me up with layers of hope. When we were driving away, Hanna reminded me of the transformative power of music. It really can change my attitude and my mind. He can use it to renew my heart. Singing is mysterious and compelling. I always sing with the feeling that I have the absolute worst singing skills, and that self-consciousness inhibits true worship. I have been trying so hard to forget about myself and just sing to Jesus, and when that happens, I can stop hearing my voice, and hear his instead.

These are the lyrics to one of my favorite worship songs, “How Can I Keep From Singing.” Just seems fitting now:

“My life flows on in endless song
Above earth’s lamentation
I hear the sweet though far off hymn
That hails a new creation
Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing
It finds an echo in my soul—
How can I keep from singing?

What though my joys and comforts die
The Lord my Savior liveth
What though the darkness gather round
Songs in the night He giveth
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that refuge clinging
Since Christ is Lord of Heav’n and earth
How can I keep from singing?

I lift mine eyes; the cloud grows thin
I see the blue above it
And day by day this pathway smoothes
Since first I learned to love it
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
A fountain ever springing
All things are mine since I am His—
How can I keep from singing?”

Life is not supposed to be pancakes all the time, and even good things bring hard decisions, but God is always with us. Just because things get murky and the way is a little dark up ahead, we can’t forget that we are being protected, and we are loved, and that that changes everything. The way I live has to reflect that knowledge if I really believe it.

Goodness, all of these song lyrics coming to my brain today…I hope they are equally moving to you:

“Let no one caught in sin remain
inside the lie of inward shame.
We fix our eyes upon the cross
and run to him who showed great love
and bled for us.

Freely you bled for us.

Christ is risen from the dead
trampling over death by death.
Come awake, come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave.”

Yes!

On an entirely different note, I am thinking about experimenting with some different kinds of writing in the next few blog posts. I have had more time to post over the past couple months, and I think I could try some new things. I love writing, and I write fiction sometimes, but I never post any of that. I’ve posted a couple random poems that just encompassed the same thoughts I talked about in the accompanying posts, but that has only happened twice, to be exact. So, just expect some different things hopefully soon. I’m saying this now so that I have to do it. 🙂 I can’t go back on my word. [LOL OH PAST EMILY YOU HAVE NO IDEA]

[Yeah, that fun house mirror thing – so real. Also, my favorite version of “How Can I Keep from Singing” is by Ike Ndolo – check it out. My next post will be about that book I said I was still reading last time. Sometime this week, still. Trying to get that sweet content out there. Nope. Nevermind. I will figure out how to write again. I’m vexed by having all the time in the world and ideas that won’t form themselves into coherent sentences.]

every breath that comes before (with lots of parentheses)

It’s a crazy week. It has been a crazy week. It’s the end and the beginning of another one (so not really crazy just normal) and I don’t know if I’ll be able to pay attention. Life is a lot about paying attention. PAY ATTENTION is what I yell at other drivers. It’s what I mutter to myself as I hear news about the country. It’s what I think when I hear a question that has already been answered. I’m usually paying scrupulous attention to everything. Hyper-observant. Can’t stand it when I have to slow down a conversation for tedious explanations of what I think you should know. This is my presumption and arrogance, I know.

But sometimes I zone out. It’s when I get overwhelmed and I can’t engage anymore. My brain shuts off. It’s all or nothing. If I can’t pay full attention, I can’t even. And I’m at that point right now when I’m in danger of zoning out of life for a day or two, unless I write it out.

So many different waves crossing through my mind, which current to jump into? Are they the same river? Goodness gracious.
At least it isn’t dry anymore.

There’s a song by The Oh Hellos that begins, “No, I am not afraid to die / It’s every breath that comes before,” and that is pretty much my life. That’s my struggle. Fear is maybe my fatal flaw? It clouds everything I do, every interaction with other humans, every thought about the future, every idea about how I should live and what I should do with the living I’m given. I’m not afraid to die (generally), but I am afraid to live.

On Thursday night, my Intercultural City Ministry class visited the president of Latinos en Axion at one of the churches where the group meets. His story was incredible, from living on the U.S./Mexico border to escaping an endangered life there to helping immigrants from Latin American countries make a life here in the U.S. He has so many stories to tell, and many of them just made me feel a sense of hopelessness. But his attitude was one I’m coming to recognize. It shows up in people who have seen some of the darkest parts of life in this world, and it’s the sense of inexplicable hope and enduring joy that sustains their continued work for justice.

After visiting with him for awhile, we walked over to a coffee shop to talk more with our professor. He asked for our thoughts on the idea of being a “chaplain to the powerful,” a concept from one of the books we are reading. I’ve been around enough conversations with people doing work or ministry in different areas of social justice to know that someone will inevitably ask them the question, “What can I do? How can I get involved? What does that mean for me?” These are good questions that reflect a positive response and a desire to contribute. But sometimes they just reveal that we want to be told exactly what to do, rather than letting the ambiguity motivate us toward creative action. Anyway, when someone asked the director of Latinos en Axion a question along these lines, his response began with talk to other people in places of power, and talk to your representatives. This is a common response as well – go back to where you came from, and change people’s minds. Go talk to your family and see what they think, and tell them what you’ve discovered. Once you get woke, stay woke. Spread it around.

I talked later about how this idea of speaking truth to power is usually the last thing I want to hear in these scenarios. I see the people with their boots-on-the-ground and their passion and their relationships, and I think that seems amazing. I want to know how to get from where I am (A) to where they are (B). But what I keep hearing is that I have a responsibility to those people with less power, privilege, and opportunity, who suffer injustice and oppression. Those people I care so much about. If I really care, won’t I advocate for them with people I know hold harmful beliefs? Won’t I try to change some minds? What do I have privilege for?

The phrase the director repeated over and over that night was, “Every head is a different world.” Our minds are tricky and sly. They like to think for themselves and about themselves, and they’re stubborn. Our hearts can be softened, and we can learn to be sensitive toward one another as we come to understand each other. We might know the truth, but “every head is a different world,” and surely some people come to mind.

The following night, my group for the same class (which consists of me and a married couple in the program) went to do part of our project together. We went to the “feeding ministry” of the church we are working to get to know. It’s a meal-serving ministry to the community on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings. The church is an African American Baptist church with two locations in St. Louis. We met some lovely people, and afterward met with the director of a nonprofit that runs out of the church. This man (Rev. and probably Dr.) was a wealth of knowledge and stories. We barely got a question in edgewise in this “interview.” And we left after about two hours with a few answers and brains full of unknown names, places, and tendrils of stories trying to hang on to memory. (It was awesome.)

One of the most convicting and true things he said was…well, I’ll have to paraphrase: You’ll have to put yourself in harm’s way to help people. It’s going to happen. You cannot be afraid and help people at the same time.

((( You cannot be afraid and help people at the same time. )))

It just rang in my ears.

This Sunday morning (today), we were planning to visit the church. The service times are 8:00 and 11:00, and I needed to go early, but my partners were planning to go at 11:00, so I went by myself. My church background consists of going pretty much every Sunday of my life to a Presbyterian, Methodist, or Lutheran church with a primarily white congregation and pretty mellow-liturgical-everything. This was a primarily black church (mine was truly the only white face I saw) with a more responsive and active congregation. It was lovely, and everyone there was so kind. (I even have a privileged experience as a minority amongst people who probably know exactly what it feels like to be the only one with their skin in a sea of people and are often treated worse for it.) Digress, Emily.

Suffice it to say I’m a little relationally spent. All of my people energy is gone, and I’m not ready for the week.

My devotional book on the Psalms had me in numbers 42 and 43 this week – two of my absolute favorites, especially 42.

“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (42:5 & 11 and 43:5)

This back and forth is the turn that I have to force my heart to make every day. Yes, you get downcast and disturbed. But ask yourself why. You have almighty God, so you have hope, and you have a reason to be thankful every day. I’m not so good at this, which is why I need to hear it. What can I say to my soul in those downcast moments? How can I praise with a sense of true delight – not just out of the duty and imperative: praise him! It’s always a task to stop merely listening to the running monologue of my heart’s discouragement and to start speaking truth. You have to know the truth by heart to speak it on impact.

I breathe in (fear) I breathe out (downcast)
Quickly and my heart keeping time
You can’t help anyone let alone yourself
Hope in God hope in God why can’t you

I breathe in (truth) I breathe out (death)

I breathe in (hope) I breathe out (praise)

[Nod to national poetry month (I heard?), haven’t done that in at least a year, clearly.]
These instances, these conversations, and these thoughts are swirling and making me wonder what’s about to happen. There is a sense of impending decision, like maybe I’m on the cusp of figuring something out. But no epiphanies today.

See past the recommendations to listen to the Oh Hellos song.

Recommendations:
Ok, guys. Since I don’t blog super often, I’m making up for lost time here. 🙂

Podcast: “Missing Richard Simmons” (I’ve heard the whole thing, 6 episodes.) Yeah I know he’s fine and all that jazz, so if you’re cynical and think this podcast is stupid then I don’t want you to listen to it anyway. JK maybe you should give it a chance.
Podcast: “S-town” (I’ve only heard the first one, but I’ll be finishing it.)
(I listen to podcasts whenever I’m in the car now, because I’m in the car for about an hour a day. Makes it easy to burn through episodes.)
Album: Listen to the River, by The Collection (And their first album if you haven’t heard it!)
Book: The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic, by Emily Croy Barker (FIRST IN A SERIES which is very important information that I did not have at time of reading LOL)

justice = social concern

Lots of things I feel like I need to write about. That’s always the case. It’s how I most accurately process, because the words don’t come out of my mouth right. It really does feel like everyone’s a writer. It feels like they’re all posing. And it really feels like I am because really all I have to my name is a lifetime of teachers telling me I’m really good, and a bachelor’s degree in English. But I don’t have any material to show you right now. I don’t have a record of writing in my spare time. I’m pretty neurotic and kind of the worst and I can’t make myself do things. Stubborn, let’s say.

There is so much going on politically. I do feel like I’m in an echo chamber…though maybe not – it’s just that I’m not in regular contact with people who feel very differently about all that is going on…at least, not the kind of contact that includes talking about politics. It’s difficult.

All of my interactions are fraught with insecurity and the idea that I’m not interesting. I was at a gathering of (really cool) (friendly) (nice) (fun) people from school and some of their spouses. In general it was pretty cool. They don’t really know me, and signs show they’re not trying to. I asked one of them how she was doing and she basically said pretty good and turned the conversation. That’s that. Am I just not interesting to talk to with? No good conversation, no good personality? That’s generally how other people make me feel.

Trump supporters say that his actions targeted at keeping out refugees/immigrants/ANYONE from seven majority-Muslim countries are there to keep out the bad people and let in only the good people. (I know it’s been blocked, but gosh look at what’s happened.) That is completely arbitrary and terrible. It also ignores the FACTS (the actual facts, not the alternative ones) that terrorist attacks in the United States are SO rare, and not perpetrated by people who are in this country as refugees or immigrants. The idea that everyone from seven countries is just “BAD” assumes quite a lot. The idea that there’s not an “extreme vetting” process in existence is ludicrous. It is NOT easy for people to come to this country, as immigrants or refugees. Not to mention…can you IMAGINE walking into a refugee camp? Just visualize for a second. Go to the internet if you need some help. It’s not a mystery what life looks like there. Imagine walking in and telling a family they pose too great a threat to American life to be allowed, and they’re just going to have to make it work somewhere else, like maybe in the camp? Mmm. Yeah. Sounds great. I’m pretty sure that would go fine.

People don’t take the time to imagine what it’s like to be someone else. It’s SO SIMPLE. Like, how many times in life did teachers and parents tell us to imagine ourselves in someone else’s shoes? Did anyone else ever hear that? That’s like…my favorite thing about life. I LIKE imagining other people complexly, as John Green always says.

Recommendation #1: “Dear Hank and John” podcast episode #79: “Tiny Useless Pelvises (That Are Still There)”

I’ve possibly taken in more information than I can process and write about. That is probable, actually. From endless podcasts to unlimited NPR news to class lectures to reading all of the things.

Currently listening to Auld Lang Syne in a coffee shop watching a girl and guy press their palms together in the air in what is maybe a more affectionate version of a high-five. It’s a great song…

One of my classes this semester is called Intercultural City Ministry. It’s somewhere between urban ministry-urban planning-racial reconciliation-ministering to the poor-issues of justice in the city-how does social justice work in/with the church. It’s all the reasons I’m studying in this program. The first day of classes was a Thursday, which is the day this class happens (from 6:15-9:00). The Wednesday night before, our professor emailed us to let us know the class would be meeting at a church on the other side of town from the seminary (about 30 mins.)…probably something everyone should have known several weeks earlier…or at least whenever registration happened. I was pretty upset to find out about the change of location with such short notice because it interfered with all of my plans. Even though it is much closer to my house and allows me to go home in the afternoon, and to have a short drive home when I’ll be tired. In the moment, I was angry.

I made an appointment to talk to an advisor about dropping the class. I strongly considered boycotting on that first night. But I went. I sucked it up and gave it a chance. And I got over my anger pretty much right away. It’s a small class. It’s in a less intimidating room than any place on campus. The content is tailor-made for my heart. The professors are passionate, and they want us to care deeply. I was almost in tears by the time I left, because it was the first time in any class since we’ve been here that I felt the tug in my heart saying, “Yes, this is it.” I was almost in tears when I got home because I realized the devil was all over the place trying to prevent me from going that night, or at all. People have talked about feeling spiritually attacked, and professors remind us of the reality that the enemy does not want us to be studying theology to go out on mission. But I hadn’t felt anything that real or that clear until that night.

We have been reading a book called The Great Reversal, by David O. Moberg, and if I could quote all five chapters I’ve read, I would just do that. Its subtitle is Reconciling Evangelism and Social Concern. It was written in the seventies, but it’s uncannily timely. Moberg speaks to the issue of Christians who want to remain politically uninvolved or “neutral,” which is a ridiculous impossibility. They inevitably get over-involved when it comes to issues they see as particularly moral. All signs point to the reality that once you meet people with an experience different from your own, you will understand something about life that only they can teach you. You will understand the need for things you previously saw as unnecessary or stupid, because you know someone who can’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps, or has tried but because of injustices inherent in the system has been pushed back down.

There are some distinct and tragic divides along essentially conservative/liberal lines. Personal/social. Spiritual/Secular. What have you. “Each group reads different parts of the Bible; when it stumbled into the other’s domain, it provided a different interpretive schema…Christians became either evangelistic or socially involved, not both” (page 34). Evangelicals really do lack social concern – concern for justice, which is ALL OVER the Bible. The whole Bible. The Old Testament law shows us God’s heart for the vulnerable. The New Testament shows Jesus’ radical commitment to the poor. There are people who leave the church because they see it as inward-focused, with justice as an optional ministry. This is incredibly wrong. As our professor put it…people leaving the church because it isn’t concerned about justice is about the same as people leaving the church because it’s not preaching the Bible anymore. People should be leaving the church only if they no longer believe in God.

The last chapter I read was so helpful in articulating so much of why I’m angry with right-wing conservative Christians who so identify when it comes to politics. “Actually it is impossible not to take sides in a democratic society; neutrality supports the side of whoever wins in the struggle for power. Sometimes that side may be consistent with Christian values; more often it will support vested interests sustained by wealth, power, and privileged position. ‘Neutral’ Christians thereby indirectly communicate that they believe those vested interests are morally right in social controversies” (Moberg, 87). “No vote on positive efforts to bring about reforms in society constitutes a ‘No’ vote; no vote on candidates for public office is the equivalent of casting a ballot for the winner, whoever he may be. The aphorism, ‘All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing,’ clearly applies to the question of alleged neutrality on political issues. To be neutral usually is to give one’s support to evil” (88).

I have a lot more processing to do (and more reading!) but when I write my paper on the place of social justice in the church, I’ll put it out here. Right now, just thinking so much and appreciating this book SO much.

And feeling anxious to just write, and I just wrote, and still feeling like it’s not enough. Feeling like I just want a friend who just wants a friend. Who has time and space and not ten thousand other friends and doesn’t care if I’m married and wants to talk about real things. Too much too soon? (lol opposite of too little too late).

ALL over the place, y’all.

Recommendation #2: that book.

summer beginning – an end to the first year

This is my most recent email update on my first year as an intern with a campus ministry –

The most common question that I’ve been asked recently is, “So, how does it feel to be off for the summer?”

My first thought is, “I don’t know, how does it feel to be off for the summer?”
I don’t have the summer off. 😉

But, as you know, the regular rhythms of the school year are gone. There are many students in and around Tulsa for the summer, and we are kicking off the first of many summer cookouts tonight! We’re excited for the chance to foster community with students during a time when they have a slightly less demanding workload – many are working or doing research here for the summer.

The week after final exams, we hopped on a charter bus and went to Florida for the annual national Summer Conference. Our students spent the week attending seminars on topics like Justification, Faithful Sexuality, Cross-Cultural Community, Glorification, and Friendship, to name just a few. Each day, we had lots of free time to spend on the beach, playing in various tournaments, or napping by one of the many pools.

At the end of the week, we circled up to talk about what we learned and would take away from the week. More than one student cried as they talked about the meaningful ways the other students on the trip made them feel welcome and loved. Summer Conference really is an intensive week of community, and it was beautiful to hear wise words from our students and to witness new friendships as we prepared to leave.

I’m grateful for this first year of the internship. There have been days when I felt useless, exhausted, or depressed. I’ve had a weary spirit. I miss my close friends and family dearly. But I am captivated by the work God is doing at this university. Summer Conference was a refreshing time personally, as I was reminded of the extent of RUF’s ministry and spent time talking with those from other campuses about the impact of Christ in their students’ lives.

This past week, I was able to visit Lincoln, to see a cousin graduate and to celebrate a wedding. There, I felt God’s kindness to me more tangibly than I have in a long time. Despite my ungrateful, weary attitude toward life where I am as of late, he provided a time of refreshment almost beyond my emotional capacity to process. I felt so loved and cared for, and I felt the true weight of support from everyone I visited.

what a dear friend + someone that challenges me to dig in + experience life with vulnerability and open hands + meeting that challenge herself
what a dear friend + someone that challenges me to dig in + experience life with vulnerability and open hands + meeting that challenge herself
sweet, funny, can't help but be happy around her kinda gal.
sweet, funny, can’t help but be happy around her kinda gal.
Oasis Bluegrass Band: AKA the father in law and bonus mom in law strut their stuff.
Oasis Bluegrass Band: AKA the father in law and bonus mom in law strut their stuff.
where I like to go
where I like to go
kindred spirits that beat to the tune of different drummers. ideation. longing. never settling.  she spreads joy in my heart & affection that's mutual is a fun thing to experience together = true friendship.
kindred spirits that beat to the tune of different drummers. ideation. longing. never settling. she spreads joy in my heart & affection that’s mutual is a fun thing to experience together = true friendship.
functional
functional
real love
real love
There it is. :)
There it is.
In all reality, I miss her dearly.
In all reality, I miss her dearly.
Best homemade ice cream around town / around most towns. Clearly the best shop. In the best building. :)
Best homemade ice cream around town / around most towns. Clearly the best shop. In the best building.
Evening in Lincoln
Evening in Lincoln
And the original reason for going to Lincoln. Collin & Alicia. Collin chose Nick as his Best Man, and I think so too.
And the original reason for going to Lincoln. Collin & Alicia. Collin chose Nick as his Best Man, and I think so too.

siberia is a tundra of sound

I have been reading a lot. And listening to an overwhelming amount of music – both wonderful goals I’ve reached since graduation a year ago. A YEAR AGO. I graduated a year ago? ha, who am I?

We slept in today, which was awesome. Slept in until 9:30. It was glorious. Didn’t have my coffee until 1:00, so you know I’m restin’. One goal I’ve failed abysmally is the writing goal – the scariest, most important, most make-or-brake-my-identity (I know not really because I’m a child of God, but it’s where I seek my identity most often). This post is something I wrote a couple weeks ago, about the music that has been flowing through my veins lately. As I listen to Alt-J because you can’t help but feel legit while you do.

I’ve been reading so much about God’s faithfulness to his people, and reminding myself of the importance of memory. Remembering this great story and the blessings of God along the way. He provides and he follows through on his promises. I can trust him to be there. I can even trust him to care and to uphold me. I don’t have to carry 90% of our relationship. He carries it, actually. He can be trusted, and I need to remember the proof of that in my life. Or else nothing will change.

I got really happy when everything about gratitude clicked for me (at the same time that everything in my life aligned to allow gratitude to blossom pretty effortlessly). And I realized that you have to do the work to produce contentment – the work of humility and gratefulness – joy doesn’t just happen. Peace doesn’t come from trying to be peaceful and quiet and calm. It comes through Jesus, repentance, forgiveness, the realization of grace.

Jesus humbled himself to the point of death on a cross.
“Not too proud to wear our skin, to know this weary world we’re in – humble, humble, Jesus. Not too proud to bear our sin, to feel this brokenness we’re in – humble, humble, Jesus. Not too proud to dwell with us, to live in us, to die for us – humble, humble, Jesus. We bow our knees; we must decrease; you must increase; we lift you high…”

That’s from Audrey Assad’s song “Humble,” which has been playing a lot lately. Remember who Jesus was on earth – who he still is for us. I don’t know why I love this next one so much…I just keep going back to it. I think the images and the feel of it – it connects, especially these words:

“And through it all, I stood and stumbled, waded through my thoughts and heart / Yeah through it all, I fooled and fumbled, lost to the poet’s frown. I fought the wolves of patience just to let it lie down / See these waters they’ll pull you up, Oh if you’re bolder than the darkness / My, my, let these songs be an instrument to cut, Oh spaces ’tween the happiness and the hardness / / Strong hands to hold good friends that I never lost / / What we found down these roads that wander as lost as the heart, is a chance to breathe again, a chance for a fresh start…”
(“These Waters” / Ben Howard)

There is a chance to breathe again if the waters pull me up and I’m bolder than the darkness and the poet’s frown turns into a believer’s joyful grin. There is that to get over – and to accept – that standing-stumbling, fooling-fumbling stuff. There is happiness and hardness, but I get stuck in between.

“I’m too proud to ask, too broke to eat, too weak to bow, too strong to bleed…

Can you sing over me…words of comfort?
Can you satisfy me…sweet honey?
Can you break through me…strong hands?
Can you undo me…enough to heal me?

You take the weight…from my shoulders
My hands were clenched…now they’re open
I’ll take your goodness…poured from the sky
Food from the ravens…water from the dry…well”
(“Too Proud” / Enter the Worship Circle)

This is just how I am – too proud. The opposite of everything in that Audrey Assad song. I want words of comfort, satisfaction in God. I want him to break through my heart and undo me enough to heal me – I just wonder if he even can – if there’s not too much rubble and scab there to be fixed – but he has the almighty balm. I always forget. My hands were/are clinched – I clench my teeth and my face and my shoulders. Take the weight – palms up – I am the dry well really…

That has been the most astounding part of the internship. How dry I always feel, and how good things still happen and I feel like God still uses my presence sometimes. But I’m literally the least of these – the broken vessel – the bruised reed. I’m so out of it when it comes to my spirituality. And you would think that this job would require more than that – and it does, and I do fine, but I feel like a fake.

I have felt so unsure – abandoned – unacknowledged – forgotten – depressed – anxious. I prayed so much for growth – for hard humility and to be taken away from my comfort zone. Why don’t I remember those prayers right away when these things start to happen? I know that God will give us trials and strengthen our faith – if we trust him, if I’m one that perseveres.

“’Lord, why is this?’ I trembling cried. Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death? ‘Tis in this way,’ the Lord replied, ‘I answer prayer for grace and faith. These inward trials I employ, from self and pride to set thee free, and break thy schemes of earthly joy that thou mayest seek thy all in me.’”
– I Asked the Lord – John Newton (Laura Taylor, Emily Deloach)

I just feel that so big – this entire hymn. The Lord answers those prayers for faith and trust and growth and grace and humility by making us humble ourselves and by trials – mainly inward, especially for me. He does make us humble, and we’re then faced with the question of whether we really want what we asked for – if we wanted it in the first place. And the answer is yes, but only when I consciously notice – on the regular, I don’t want that. I’m too proud.

I’ll leave off with the lyrics of the first song from Josh Garrels’ new album that struck me, and after that, the video of the one that I’m crying about right now because it’s painfully beautiful, and I can’t stop listening to it…

one –
“Lift up your shoulders child – breathe in – Carry the weight of love you’ve been given.
Storm is passing by – light breaks in, as you learn to sing.
Every color can be unwound, woven into a wave of beautiful sound.
Open the heavenlies and shake the ground, and change the world.
So let all the creatures sing praises over everything – colors are meant to bring glory to the light.
Voices might fade away and begin – become a tapestry we all are in.
No one will ever be forgotten – there’s a place for us.
So let all the creatures sing praises over everything – colors are meant to bring glory to the light – glory to the throne.
This is our story, this is our song – we’re telling it slowly all life long –
of a Savior and what He’s done. It’s a mystery…”
(Colors / Josh Garrels)

shades