Day #34: Risk taking

They came into Jerusalem. After entering the temple, Jesus threw out those who were selling and buying there. He pushed over the tables used for currency exchange and the chairs of those who sold doves.
Mark 11:15

 

Some days, you do flip the tables. The day after Jesus shows patience in the temple, he returns and commits this drastic protest art/social movement, inviting the temple visitors to radically rethink their relationship to God. Jesus throws out those who market salvation via consumption (of the currency exchange for tithes; the purchase of doves for sacrifice). Jesus invites the temple visitors to bring their whole, bare, vulnerable selves to God and that that will be enough to save them, whatever it is they need saving from. It is this moment that cues all the dominoes that will fall until Jesus hangs on a cross. And yet Jesus takes the risk. Resilient people have been burned, threatened, lost friends—they know what’s at stake in their actions. And sometimes, they take the risk anyway.

Ruth, a perennial personality in these last 33 days, also chooses risk when she approaches Boaz late one night and essentially says, “thanks for your donations but I deserve to be more than a charity case to assuage this community’s guilt that so get it together and marry me.” And her honest, unconventional proposal works (but that’s another story). The point is that this is a real risk for Ruth: she’s a widow; she knows marriage isn’t as secure as it appears. She knows, better than anyone, the heartbreak she’s risking and, for all that she is a charity case, she’s pretty stable at the moment. She could continue with the status quo, gleaning for survival, for a long time. But she decides to risk connection and risk the possibility of new, healed community.

Takeaway: Resilient people have walked through the fire; they know it burns. And they know it warms. They’ve experienced pain, but they’ve realized if they spend their whole life avoiding pain, they’ll also avoid joy, love, belonging, hope. Tomorrow, Palm Sunday, marks the beginning of the last week of this practice. What do you want to hold in this last week of thinking intentionally about resilience? Are there risks you’re weighing, and are you trying to rig the scales in favor of the decision that scares you less? Try to hold that risk not in terms of how scary it is but in terms of the possibility of healing, for yourself and your community.

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).

Day #25: Being with God

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.
Mark 1:35

 

If being alone cultivates resilience, it’s also a sign of resilience to know when to cut off the meandering, insecure trails of your mind and go and be with God. It is a skill to be alone. And it is a skill to bring yourself into the presence of Divine Love and let yourself be Loved. Invite yourself to Holiness and fill up with the sacred. Let yourself give up solving all the problems of your daily anxieties. Call out to God intentionally when your mind is too unsettled or too overwhelmed to calm itself.

God is Love, the Bible says, over and over. Calling out to God is calling out to Love. In the Bible, Jesus usually takes some time to be alone—followed by a time of being with God. In Mark 1, Jesus wakes up early to place himself before Divine Love, to rest and be present in all that is greater than him in the universe. In between two big days of healing and preaching, Jesus centers on the fact that he is loved beyond human dimensions. When the sun comes up and his friend finds him, Jesus has a calmness and a sense of purpose, and tells Simon, “let’s head in the other direction.” Jesus returns to prayer, to presence with God, again and again so that everything he does is grounded in love and purpose.

 Takeaway: Mary Oliver writes,

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed.

Find a moment to be idle and blessed today. When you have a quiet moment, settle yourself; take a few deep breaths. Invite yourself to Holiness. Feel the Holy all through your body, around and in you. Breathe in love. Breathe out love. Be near to the love that is the source of the universe. Be loved.

 

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).

Day #24: Being Alone

Right then, Jesus made his disciples get into a boat and go ahead to the other side of the lake, toward Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After saying good-bye to them, Jesus went up onto a mountain to pray.
-Mark 6:45-46

This is not a reflection against extroverts. “Being alone” doesn’t mean “to avoid recharging through relationships.” Extroverts recharge their emotional batteries by being with others, and introverts recharge their emotional batteries by stepping away from others, but we all learn something by being alone. By “being alone,” I mean learning to sit with what is going on in your body and your emotional landscape. Letting emotions soak in instead of skimming the first emotion off the top and responding only to it. Notice what’s under that emotion, what’s under your sense of anger or fear or pleasure: this first emotion may not actually be rooted in your anger at your parents, but your worry that you will become like your parents in the worst ways. Resilience requires you to be alone with your baggage—your uncomfortable, awkward baggage. To take the time to practice emotional honesty, to sit with emotions that scare you without numbing or cutting them off. Numbing is just a way to ensure you’re never uncomfortable. But discomfort is not always bad. We have to be willing to do our emotional homework without requiring someone else to make our homework into their homework. I know. It hurts.

Jesus spends a lot of time trying to be alone. Arguably, his whole ministry is getting sidetracked on his way to be alone. In the above verse, after Feeding the Five Thousand, Jesus intentionally creates space to be alone. To sit with all the emotions that the day brought up for him, and to release them before going on to the next day’s work. We don’t always get a chance to do this sitting and releasing between days, but it’s an important practice. Being alone in this way gives us space to do our own healing work as we try to extend healing to others.

Takeaway: Would it be awesome if we all spent one hour before bed sitting alone with our thoughts? Awesome, and terrifying. And a logistical mess. If you don’t have the space to sit alone for a long time today, use your transition spaces to be alone. When you’re in the car, turn off the radio. When your hand flicks toward your phone, pull it back. Use the few minutes of waiting or driving or in-between-ness to be alone with yourself, to notice what’s going on inside you.

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).

Day #3: Community

One of them struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. 51 Jesus responded, “Stop! No more of this!” He touched the slave’s ear and healed him.
-Luke 22:50-51

Okay, I promised one verse per day, but it’s Day 3 and I’m already sneaking in an extra verse. But in this case, you can’t have one verse without the other. The way you can’t have resilience without community. In the U.S., we prize independence and rugged individualism–only to find these national treasures are a recipe for social isolation and invulnerability. No one can do resilience alone. Resilience is the skill to maintain relationships when times get tough. We need community. We need people to catch us when we begin to lash out at the world, to walk us back into kindness. Jesus reminds his friend that vengeance is not resilience. And then Jesus heals the damage done, calling both the injured party and the injurer back into healing relationship with each other.

Takeaway: Whose ear have you tried to cut off? And who was there to put the ear back together when you were too angry to repair it? Reach out to one of the folks who has helped you repair damage, in yourself or in a relationship with someone else. Share some love with them today. Root into your community and connect with someone who nurtures your resilience.

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflecting on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).

Lent is Not about Guilt, it’s about Resilience

The week before Ash Wednesday, my internal clock blasts a grating alarm, demanding that I search out something adequately worth giving up. (I wasn’t raised in a very Lent-observant family, but I always found anything self-minimizing to be impressionable.) It’s like last-minute Christmas shopping in reverse: return all the happinesses and cash in on austerity. Give up something! Lent is the season of repentance and reflection in the church calendar, but for many it’s more of a season of deprivation—giving up chocolate, alcohol, social media, meat, those small indulgences we know we “should” be moderating the rest of the year. It’s the restarting of New Year’s Resolutions with all the pep talks, guilt trips, and resignation contained in January.

And when you get to the first week of March, no one wants to repeat January. Continue reading

The Beatitudes are Like Yogurt

[This is adapted from a sermon I preached Jan. 29]

There is an awful lot that needs to be said about Donald Trump, but I don’t want to begin there. I want to approach American politics via Jesus. And yogurt. So I begin with the Beatitudes. Many Christians think of the Beatitudes as “the New Testament Ten Commandments,” but I prefer to think of them more like “yogurt.” The Ten Commandments are, as it happens, commands. What the Beatitudes and yogurt have in common is that they are both not commands. Continue reading

Our Generation Didn’t Ruin the Institution of Marriage

I considered titling this post “Everything I Know about Marriage I Learned from Beyonce”–but I don’t even have space to explain how true that is.

Last week, I fell into a conversation with several seniors in the church about how the younger generation–my generation–had ruined the institution of marriage: cohabitation, quick divorces, and promiscuity had eroded an important and valuable way of life. With none too much politeness, but perhaps the most politeness you will see in the next 800 words, I cut the conversation: “We didn’t ruin marriage. We have a deep respect for it. And that’s why we’re not doing it as often or as quickly as your generation did.”

It’s easy, in our cultural environment, to stay generationally segregated–in college dorms, retirement communities, day care centers. It’s equally easy to create a generational echo chamber around particular issues. But the idea that my generation–or the one before it–ruined the institution of marriage is shortsighted and destructive. Continue reading