Tuesday, January 26, 2016

More than a year since they're gone

It has been more than a year since our fathers died. The other day when I was in town I met a friend who said final goodbyes to both of her parents within a couple of weeks last year. This has been her first holiday season without them. Talking together in the back of the local store was healing for me, as much as it can be. I guess I don’t really know what healing is or what it should look like.


We talked about the things we tell ourselves and the things people tell us. Sentences that start out with “at least…” or “we can be glad…” are sentences we have heard, and sometimes used ourselves. They are expressions of trying to find blessing in our grief, and they are true. We did not want our parents to suffer longer. We did not wish for them to linger in a state of confusion or pain or disability that diminished their ability to enjoy their lives. Those things are true.

But those things are also beside the point.

We miss them.



We miss the conversations we wanted to have with them, and we wish for their companionship...not their confusion or their pain or their limitations from being older, but we wish for them at their best. We miss their essence, the goodness of their humor, the quiet sense of having parents who had been there for us and would still be there for us. We miss being children, in a sense.

I told my friend that even though it is true that I did not want for my dad to live longer with cancer and the other health issues that made life impossible, that does not change that I wish I still had a dad to talk to and joke with and hang out with. I wish I had my daddy back.


But the year has gone by and the sharpness of that longing has eased. It is confusing now, because there is a sense that I should hold on to it. Losing the pain also seems like a loss. I don’t really want to stop missing our dads. Crazy, isn’t it? Letting go of it somehow makes the reality of our dads' lives seem less. Is that possible? Now that I don’t cry often anymore, does that mean something?


I’m holding on to eternity, I think. I want the significance of our dad’s lives to last. I want the memory of them to last. But even I know that is impossible. Someday they, and I, will be part of that host of those who lived before. So many people.

Recently I enjoyed a concert of music written by J. Harold Moyer. He was the father of my sister-in-law, and was one of my profs at Bethel College. His name will be in hymnbooks for a very long time, but the singers won’t know his smile or quiet dry humor. It doesn’t matter. His contribution will stand, and so will the contributions of all who have gone before.

Wanting loved ones to be remembered is normal, a manifestation of wanting our own lives to have made a difference in the world somehow. But it is also impossible. Future generations must live their own lives, love the persons who fill them, make their own differences, rather than be encumbered with keeping alive the memories of all who have lived before them. Carrie Newcomer has a phrase in a song that I often ponder, “the curious promise of limited time”. Our time is limited. And that is good. It is also good that I don’t have to keep in my mind and heart every single person who has gone before me. And it is good that there are people I have loved who will always be in my heart and mind.

We carry our loved ones with us and they become part of who we are, and that is passed on to those who know us whether they have memories of those loved ones or not. Maybe Dad’s jokes will be retold by people who have no idea where they got them. Maybe Edwin's love for music will be passed on to people who have no idea who Edwin ever was. Maybe both of their values will be held by people who would never have had an opportunity to meet them. And maybe they got those jokes and that music and those values from the nameless people in their pasts as well.

I’m guessing that this is just another normal step along the way. 






Friday, January 01, 2016

Chaff

Matthew 3:1-12 was one of the advent readings in the devotional book I'm using. This is the story of John the Baptist and his ministry before Jesus came to him for baptism. When I read it this year several things caught my attention.

John's main message was repentance in preparation for coming judgement.

Separating wheat from chaff is one of the ways John describes judgement.

John also uses the imagery of unquenchable fire.

The last two verses read like this:
"I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

On first reading, I saw the separating of wheat from chaff as analogous to separating good people from bad. I know that image is in other places in scripture, and it is even in the verses right before these ones I quoted. I fight with that image of some being good and others being bad, and with the idea that God is eager to throw the bad into an unquenchable fire. That sense of eagerness to get rid of bad people is abhorrent to me, perhaps because I've been forced to see my own failures. I don't want God to be eager to send me into that fire. 

As I pondered the wheat and chaff and the winnowing and the fire, I began to see this passage as one of mercy and hope more than a passage of condemnation.

I have a vase of cut wheat decorating my home. The wheat still looks the same as it did in the field. It is beautiful, but cannot be planted or used for food in its current form. It must be threshed, the chaff disposed of, and the wheat gathered.



Every kernel on every stalk is surrounded by chaff. The wheat is the essential wholesome part, the part that holds life and hope and promise. Only as the chaff falls away does the life and hope and promise find expression. 

Even though I collected this wheat years ago, none of the chaff has fallen off the wheat on its own. Without some process of separation, the wheat remains in the chaff.

Like the wheat, each of us is a creation of God with the potential for life and growth and nourishment. The wheat is our essence, our truest self, which is hidden by chaff. Like wheat, we must be freed from chaff in order to be gathered to be used for planting or for food. John says that the one who comes after him will gather his wheat into the barn, and the chaff he will burn.



I chose this single head of wheat to see what it would take to separate the chaff from the wheat. Rubbing it gently between my hands caused the head to release all of the chaff and grain. Most of the grain was now freed of chaff, and I pulled it away to one side. Then I sorted through the chaff, pressing each hull to see if it was empty. Some still held on to grain and I used more force, even prying some chaff off with my fingernails.  Now I had an empty stalk, a pile of loose chaff, and twenty-eight grains of wheat.



Chaff may symbolize many things. Chaff is whatever clings to us and keeps us from being life and hope and nourishment to the world. So many things can do that. 

Certainly our ability to be or do wrong is one of them.  Things as small as unwarranted harshness to things as great as racism all hinder the hope and promise of the grain. 

Then there are the hurts we carry. Some of us carry the pain and anxiety we live with as a result of traumas we've lived through. 

We may have addictions which have become more entrenched from being shrouded in shame. 

We have attitudes and biases we don't even recognize. 

All of this and more is the chaff, from which we desire release. None of us wants to continue to be bound by these things. We want to be free and whole.  John says the one who comes after him will release us from the chaff and gather us into the granary.

There is still more imagery that I wonder about.

When looking at the beauty of a ripe wheat field it is the chaff that draws my eyes. The vase of wheat is much more beautiful than a bowl full of grain. The chaff has a vital role in protecting the grain while it forms and matures. Is there any lesson here? Is there chaff in our lives that once served an essential purpose but now must be left behind?

Most of the chaff on my stalk of wheat fell away easily but some required firm pressure and persistent agitation to loosen it. So with my life some things seem relatively easy to change while others stubbornly cling.

The wheat does not choose the time of the threshing. 

Sometimes our threshing is hard. Maybe we are unaware of what needs to be released, or maybe we are too ashamed, or maybe unwilling. We can deny that we have chaff, pretend we have things together, fear letting people in to the truth that we do have messes in our lives. We can hide that truth even from ourselves.

It isn't coincidental that John preached repentance, or that the people who came to be baptized also offered confession. The more we hide our failures, the more powerful and devastating they become. Truth telling and turning away from our chaff toward God is essential in freeing the life and hope that God has placed within us.

The wheat is not threshed grain by grain, but together. The threshing stone rolls over all of it.  So often as one person is honest about the parts of their lives that feel most lonely or vulnerable, others hear themselves in the story. The wholeness can be found as we discover we are not alone. As we are released from our chaff, it also releases others from theirs. There is a relief in being understood, in knowing that others carry hurt too, that healing is found in working through it together. Maybe confession is less about shame and sin and more about truth telling and wholeness. Because it is the truth that sets us free, isn't it?

Won't it be grand to be released from those things, released as completely as the wheat is freed from chaff that has been burned in unquenchable fire!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

This morning,

This week is the anniversary of our last week with Dad. Today is the anniversary of the day Harvey ran out into the road and to his death. My mind is filled with images of Dad, both of the months and years before his death, and of that intense week of holding each other while we cared for him. And even though it seems silly and trivial in comparison and in impact, I also miss the way Harvey leaned his bulk against me every morning as he greeted me for the day.

Yesterday was the terrorist attacks in Paris. This last week had the protests at Missouri University. Every day contains news of death, of fleeing homelands, of human trafficking, of racism. There are so many people hurting in so many ways.  

Lighting my candle and repeating my prayers seems so small.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

My grandchildren were here yesterday. We went outside to play. The boys saw a rabbit run across the yard in front of the barn and went to investigate.

Chuck keeps the A-houses that need repairs in a row in front of the barn. For those of you unfamiliar with our farm, the A-houses are the right size for one sow and her litter. During the seasons when their litters are being born, the A-houses are arranged in yards surrounded by dirt and divided by hot wires. The sows are given straw for nesting and their babies are born and raised there until it is time for weaning...about 2 months.

Luke, the 7 year old, climbed up on top of the first A-house to try to see where the rabbit had gone. Aaron, who is tall for a 4 year old but not quite tall enough, tried and failed to climb up beside his brother. Luke called to Aaron and reached out his hands. Aaron reached up. Between the pulling from the older and the scrambling from the younger, Aaron easily made it up.

The search for the rabbit was soon abandoned, but that row of A-houses was now an obstacle course to be conquered. The boys would jump down from one. Luke would climb up the next one, stop and turn, and reach down his hands to his brother. Aaron would reach up and scramble, and then they would both be up on top just for a moment before repeating the process on the next one over.

I wish I had pictures of them grasping hands and pulling up.

Sometime during the second or third trip back and forth through the row, Aaron scrambled up by himself alongside Luke. He'd watched enough and figured out how to use speed and leverage, and done something he could not do before. His face at that moment showed a mix of surprise, joy, and pride in his accomplishment. The game changed at that moment to a game of equals rather than helping.

I wish I had a picture of him in that moment, hands outspread, joy and awe on his face.

I'm not sure what the lesson is in this but it helps me somehow on this day of horrible news events to keep those mental pictures in my mind. 

The hands grasping hands to help one another. 

The delight in becoming able to fend for oneself without help. 

The joy of playing hard as equals.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Living Life or Documenting It? Yes

One of my quirks is that I have a flat perception of time. I see things as they are now and forget that they were different before or may be different in the future. The season I'm in now will last forever. The age I am now is the age I've always been, and may or may not be my actual chronological age.

Of course that is a generalization. I know I wasn't always this age. I remember being a child, being single, having children in my house, all of those things. But all those times are still an integral part of me...I still am all those ages.

This is how it is, was, will be.

When I prepared to go to the Walnut Valley Bluegrass Festival a couple of weeks ago, I packed all the same rain ponchos that I have always packed and rarely needed. Rain was in the forecast.

On Friday at Stage 2, it began to rain. I had placed a rain poncho in my bag with Ben's name on it. Ben is 33. I got the poncho out of its bag and quickly realized that Ben owned this poncho when he was much much younger than 33. Maybe he owned it when he was eight. It was long enough that if I was sitting low to the ground on my Winfield chair I could just cover my knees with it. I could barely push my head through the neck opening. The tiny hood would definitely not fit. My straw hat took care of protecting my head.

How did I forget that an old rain poncho would likely have been purchased for a child?

For me the essence of Ben is the person I know now. He was always smart, thoughtful, funny, interested in details, a deep thinker. He still is. Size is peripheral in my perception of Ben. I can see it if I look for it, but I don't necessarily notice it. What I notice is that he is my son, that I enjoy him, that it would be fun to wear something he left behind. In some sense, when I am with Ben, I am with all the ages of Ben.

This evening I read a blog post from the On Being blog about capturing our lives in pictures for Facebook and Instagram. The writer talked about the value of having photographs of the memories. She wondered about the value of living out the experiences without withdrawing emotionally in order to snap and post pictures. What would happen if we chose to be completely present in the moment, and then let it pass without recording it?

It is a lot to think about.

If I want to remember what one of my children looked like at any given age, I have to remember a photograph that I have stored somewhere in a drawer or a hard drive. I don't need to see the photo. It is fixed in my memory. Laura at the age of six months is the sleepy baby just waking up with a smile, the warm yellow light from the morning sun on her face as she welcomed the day. Becca at one is reveling in a mud puddle as she escaped the grasp of my hand and quickly made for her favorite form of play that spring.  Ron at two is playing with a small red tractor on his high chair tray. James at five is wearing a new sweater and standing up straight in a Christmas program. Ben at four is holding a plastic snake and smiling a mischievous smile in a Colorado campground. Wes at two wears a navy shirt and smiles so hard it looks like it could hurt. Six or seven year old Tim flexes his biceps in front of my parents' house. Those are a few of the images.

I can't remember their faces without the photographs we took. I can remember words we spoke, feelings we experienced, the smell of my babies pressed up against my face, the feeling of small arms around my neck, the concern I felt when they were sick, the fear during emergency room visits, the wonder I experienced as I observed them develop skills and talents and interests.

That is true of Chuck as well. Sometimes I look at him and try to visualize what he looked like when we were dating. We have changed so much from 16 to 60. Except for the pictures we took, I would not be able to remember what he looked like when we were younger.

I can remember what my parents looked like even before I was born because of photographs. But my actual memories of them without photographs are primarily of conversations, emotions, events, locations. The faces are missing from the memories. What is most present to me is the essence of them, the reality of them, which comes from all of our relationship.

It reminds me of a scene from the movie, "Corina, Corina", about a father and a little girl coping with the death of their wife/mother. In the scene the little girl is frantic because she is losing the memory of what her mother looked like. Maybe that visual fades quickly for all of us, but we retain the essential memory of that person we love. In the movie, even at the end where they have moved beyond the depths of grief into joy again, they still retain the essence of the delight they had in their relationship with her.

So I wonder about this concern whether documenting our lives takes us too much out of the actual living of our lives.

Clearly the continuous documenting of our lives on facebook or instagram or twitter is a modern concept, but documenting our lives in other ways is not modern. There are prehistoric paintings in caves. As soon as there was written language, there were also historians. Before written language there were oral histories. It is human to document our lives, to believe in the significance of events, to hope to enjoy memories, and to strive to learn from mistakes.

Some people do most of their documenting through pictures. Scrapbooks also often add words and descriptions to fill out memories. I'm glad for the friends and relatives who do this. I'm so grateful for the photographs and memories.

Writing in my journals is probably my most common form of documenting life. If I open one from years ago, the intensity of the emotions of those days is instantly accessible. My writing is less a record of events and more an attempt to make sense of them. I don't know when it rained, or when we started harvest in any given year. I do know some of the things I pondered. My anger with God as well as my amazement at God are both well represented as I worked to understand God's workings in my life. Present also are more mundane and unworthy rants and drivel. My journals are proof of both my desire for God and my ability to fall so very short of who I wish to be.

Unfortunately, journals are much less shareable than photographs, because the content is so raw and personal. Ann Morrow Lindbergh chose to edit her journals and collections of correspondence so that they could be shared. I won't be doing that.

I think we are created with a need for our stories. We are created in the image of God, who also documented, or led people to document God's actions in the world, complete with stories and poetry and correspondence. Maybe documenting isn't stepping away from life as much as it is just another part of life.

The trick is to balance. We must live fully our parts of the story, and also document it in our own ways. There is no balance that is the same for everyone.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Rambling thoughts on time, loss, memory, and being present

Beginning in late spring, we fixed up our extra downstairs bedroom, repairing some water damage to the ceiling, adding a new ceiling fan, and changing the furniture to create a comfortable guest room. It is good to have a guest room on main floor for summer guests because we have only one air conditioning vent on our second floor. Upstairs guests are subject to the whims of summer weather.

Into that room went a rug purchased from my niece, a quilt bought several years ago from the MCC sale, and the bedroom furniture that was given to my Schmidt grandparents upon their wedding. The room could still use some wall decor, but I love its simplicity.

I also love remembering my grandparents every time I walk past the door of that room.

One morning about a month ago, I sat at the edge of that bed, freshly made with sheets smelling of summer sunshine. How can it be that my grandparents' bed has more permanence than my grandparents themselves? We talk so often about how we over value our possessions. People are so much more important than things, we affirm, and rightly so. But things outlast generations. If I care for those pieces of furniture well, my grandchildren could use them someday, although without any memories of the two people who used them first.

The words from Ash Wednesday seem appropriate. "From dust you came and to dust you shall return."

When we were on vacation I saw a book about how to behave when you are older than dirt. No one gets to be older than dirt. As much as I wish for another conversation or joke or song together with those whom I miss, what I have instead is their stuff, their photographs, their memories.

I got my hair cut short recently and one of the remarks I remember was that the haircut reminded that person of Cookie. And even though our lives have moved around and shifted since Cookie's death, wouldn't it be fun to have a walk with her again? Where do I find the wisdom that resided in her?

Our vacation was planned around a main event---a Colorado camp out with as many of Chuck's family as could attend at one of his father's favorite camp grounds.

Chalk Lake


Devotions together

On vacation, the sweetest part of each evening was the time when uncles and cousins brought out their guitars, mandolins, banjos, fiddles and basses. I hated the ten o'clock quiet rule because I could have listened all night. I wished for Chuck's dad to be there among us, leading in his favorites, showcasing the talents of the grandchildren, making sure each person had a time to shine. Of course those things still happened. The grandchildren were still showcased. Each person's individual solos and parts were celebrated and enjoyed. He taught us well.

Impromptu afternoon music (I didn't take any pics of the evening jam sessions)

We visited the Sand Dunes after the Regier family ended their campout.


It was a fun day of unexpected cool weather and hiking, As we came down from the dunes we passed a family that had a dog who looked like Harvey. I caught my breath.

The next morning, after an amazing breakfast with Tim and Michelle at Patio Pancakes, I had some time alone. I realized that woven throughout all these experiences is the reality that my Dad is also gone. It was quite a soggy morning.

At the end of that morning, when I was trying through my tears to tell Chuck my thoughts, he showed me a devotional that his mother had highlighted years ago from a book she often took along to Colorado for family trips. The devotional is too long to reprint here but I'll try to get the main points.

The writer was telling about a long float trip he had taken down a river with a guide and group. Each day they made progress down the river and then set up camp quickly, leaving time to explore the beauty, learn the history, find the treasures. There was never enough time. Each day some things were left unexplored, some history left untold, some beauty left unseen. Always there was a sense of loss as darkness ended the day's activities. Couldn't they stay just a little bit longer? Surely the time allotted was too brief.

And...always there was a sense of anticipation for what lay ahead. More river. More beauty. More history. More conversations. More experiences.

This year the shortness of time and the losses have taken a more prominent place. I'm at the evening part of the day where I wish I'd had a little more daylight to do more of what I loved. It is a discipline to continue to remind myself of the adventures ahead, the beauty yet to see, the stories I've not yet experienced. In some sense, I fight it.

I'm reading a book called "The Power of Now" by Eckhart Tolle. Tolle writes convincingly of how we circumvent our own well-being by insisting on spending most of our thought lives on the past or the future. We relive the past or fear the future instead of being fully present in the current moment. Of course, living in the present moment includes acknowledging the emotions that accompany loss. It also includes noticing the blessing of a quiet house, the cool smoothness of the wood floors under my feet, the beauty of a sleeping dog four feet away from me, the comforting regularity of my noisy wall clock marking the passing of each second, the tang and sweetness of yogurt mixed with sliced peaches for breakfast, the self care of freshly brewed coffee in my mug next to me. Being present in now also means letting the tears fall when they come, allowing the emotions to come and then fade without denying their reality or intensity, and without prolonging them beyond their natural beginnings and endings.

There are good things and hard things both to remember and to look forward to, and what I have is now. I have the goodness of now as it has been shaped by the past and as it shapes the future. I have my Grandma's bed to nap in with my grandchildren.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Can Church Be a Safe Space???

Our church has begun conversations together about gender differences, the goal being to begin to see the church as a safe place to talk about our beliefs and questions and dreams and fears, even when we may not agree. This is a hard process. We come to the meetings with a whole spectrum of emotions.

There are those of us who fear being judged for being completely ready and impatient to affirm and welcome persons of all gender expressions.

There are those of us who fear being judged for being completely convinced it is wrong to affirm and welcome those practicing any other than committed heterosexual relationships.

There are those of us (who probably have not attended the conversations) who are of differing gender identities who fear being judged for being honest about their identities and their questions and their relationship to God.

There are those of us who have friends, relatives, loved ones who have been excluded or have chosen to leave church because of the possibility of being judged for having a different gender identity.

There are those of us who have no close relationships (that we know of) with those of other than heterosexual gender identity, who have questioned the assumptions they grew up with, but have no safe place to talk about those questions in a church setting because of fear of being judged.

And now we come together to try just to talk around tables in the same room and show love to each other, making the assumption that each person at the table, no matter what their position on this issue,

  • loves Jesus
  • wants wholeheartedly to follow Jesus
  • is loved by Jesus
  • is on a journey together with all the rest of the people in the room to love each other and love God as well as we possibly can.
  • believes that the Bible is our truth.

There is holiness when we meet, but also fear. Will this discussion split our church? Are people still not coming to the conversations because they do not feel safe even in this place that we have tried to make safe?

I don't have a lot of answers.

In my own life, the tendency to be like the Pharisees is a huge temptation.

As a child I dedicated my life to Jesus many times, mostly to stay out of hell. I was afraid of a God who was waiting for me to make a mistake. I wanted to have said the right words, prayed the right prayer, done the right things, avoided the wrong things, in order to be saved. I did all of those things. And still, on days when the house was very very quiet, I would go to check on my younger brothers as they slept. I'd been taught that when Jesus comes again the sinners would be left behind, but I knew God would not leave a child behind, so if my brothers were still there, I was safe. That is a miserable way to live, and a false way to see God.

I was not able to feel safe in my relationship with God until sometime in high school when I discovered that God absolutely loved me. God was not out there waiting for me to fail so that he could catch me at it and let me have the consequences for all eternity. God was in love with me, saw good in me, was cheering me on, wanted me to be my best self. That kind of love was something I wanted. Knowing the God who offered it, knowing Jesus who made it flesh, was something I wanted in this life, regardless of eternity.

But throughout my life I have still managed to slip back to the Pharisee side of things.

What is the Pharisee side of things? To my way of thinking, the Pharisee was someone who placed a very high value on worshiping God and on righteous living as a result of that worship. The Pharisee wanted every part of their life to line up with God's values, and so they took the things they knew about God, and then set out rules for themselves in order to stay inside the lines they saw as God's boundaries. Their intention was to honor God. Their practice ended up being a litmus test for who was in and who was out. Keeping the Sabbath is such a good thing that can nurture faith, but it is easy to slide away from keeping the Sabbath until bit by bit there is no Sabbath left. So the Pharisees made rules to help them know. You can walk this far but no farther. You can do this much but no more. It is easy to see if I'm OK or not. It is easy for me to see if you are OK or not.

As a child, I subscribed to this by wanting to say the right words, pray the right prayer, and then to be 'in'. Throughout my life I continue to slip back into it. I want to have a prescription that lines out for me what will keep me in good standing with God and what will edge me out into "condemned" territory. Must I have devotions every day? What if I miss a day? or a week? Does my tithe have to be exactly 10 percent. Am I holier if I give more? Am I still OK if I give less? Does time count as part of the tithe? 

Throughout my life, God continues to challenge this way of looking at life and at faith. 

The apostle Paul was one who spent  his early life doing everything out of a desire for holy living. He followed all the laws and took them more seriously than the average Hebrew. After he met Jesus on the road to Damascus, he wrote of his 'resume' for following the law and his rigorous desire to be a righteous Jew as being worthless. Seeing faith this way is something to repent from, for it isn't faith. It is a contract. 

The Pharisees (and I) wanted to know the definition of being in the kingdom so that they (and I) could be sure to be on the right side. But the thing that happens when we use these prescriptions for right living to order our lives is judgement and self-righteousness. We judge ourselves to have followed or not followed the rules. We judge others as to whether they follow the rules. Then we rest on these assessments instead of realizing we can never do enough to become perfect. 

Certainly many of these practices are very helpful to faith. But when we use them to measure ourselves as to being fit for the kingdom or fit for destruction, we are looking to see who is in and who is out. And sadly, that is what the church in the United States seems to be known for these days. 

The church is already split.

We come to our conversations together afraid that people will leave because we are having this conversation. The thing is, people already have left. They left because we have not had the conversation, or because they could not be welcomed here, or because their friends/family members could not be welcomed here. They have left because we are too liberal and they have left because we are too conservative and they have left because our worship is different than the worship they find meaningful. They left because someone said hurtful things, or they left because no one really made them welcome.They disappeared quietly and they will not be back because they have found faith communities elsewhere, or because they have given up on faith communities.

There are others who stand on the cusp of leaving, sure that God will not be honored if the conversation goes one way or another. The church has become so used to being a litmus test that we can't conceive of being church together if we disagree. This is me too. I have had those thoughts as well, that I can't continue with this or that group of believers if we continue to do this or that expression of belief. I'm guilty too.

Why are we so prone to leaving?

How do we become the kind of church where it is safe and good to bring our hardest questions about life and faith without fear?

How do we become the kind of church that demonstrates the kind of love and acceptance from God that brought me head over heels into the arms of Jesus when I was a teenager?

How do we become the kind of church where we are committed to staying and working through the hard questions together in love so that we can bring up the questions and struggle with the answers without losing our fellowship?

If I tell you that I need you in my church even though we disagree, that I need you perhaps precisely because we disagree, will my needing you here be enough to make it worth it for you to stay? Will you needing me be enough to make me stay? Can we be church together even if we see things very very differently?

Can we talk about our disagreements but also talk about the ways we see God working in each other? Can we value each other's gifts even as we wrestle with our questions? Can we see our love for each other and the goodness in each other every bit as clearly as we see the differences between us? Can we refuse to put each other in a box labeled 'right' or 'wrong' that conveniently allows us to stop listening or caring?

Is there ever a good time to give up on finding answers together and leave to find more like-minded, or more true understandings of faith? Should we bless each other to go and trust each other with that decision and not see it as a failure?

Is it possible to have a church that includes everyone who wants to follow Jesus regardless of every other difference, trusting that we are all on a journey, that we all do not fully understand, that we all need grace, that we are all chosen and loved by God?

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

I think I need to get better at living with the questions. If there were answers to the questions, those answers would probably be the kinds of answers we Pharisees would like.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Lenten Practice

As we move through the Lenten season, I'm glad for the thoughts of others on the meaning and practice of celebrating Lent. Paul Schrag wrote for Mennonite World Review about repentance and these words especially caught my attention:

"In a time when disagreements are escalating among Christians and conflict is dividing our churches, what are the sins we need to confess? In our zeal to keep other people's sins always before us, do we fail to see those others as children of God? How might putting our own sins first in our mind improve our ability to get along?"

Since reading this, I've decided to make a daily practice of looking at my day for my own sins. Paul is right and it is too easy to keep the sins of others before us.

Another practice I have been adding to my days during Lent, and hopefully longer, is to be writing at least a little bit that is thoughtful or seeking insight. It can be a journal entry or an email or a thank you note or a blog post or just general writing practice.

And the third practice that isn't necessarily Lenten but seems to be needed during this particular Lent is to be practicing mindfulness regularly. Breathing in and out, aware of the feeling of air moving. Observing my thoughts objectively rather than subjectively living inside them. Letting them go and returning my focus back to my breath. Sometimes repeating a short prayer with each in and out breath. This practice seems to be the best treatment for worry and anxiety, and has eased me back to sleep in spite of many middle of the night worried thoughts.

I am aware that we are moving toward the first Easter without our dads. Just yesterday I was thinking about how it was time to assemble the ingredients for paska, and then had sadness. I make paska for Dad more than for myself. It was his mother who made it long before I did. I found it important every year to get a loaf to their house before Easter morning so that their breakfast could be paska. This year he will not be there to eat it.

I rearranged a table in the living room yesterday, removing clutter and deciding what things are important to be displayed right now. This is how it looks.