Charlottesville: No Words — SheLoves, August, 2017

Do you find yourself at the limit of things right now? I do. Here are my reflections for SheLovesMagazine this month — you can begin this essay here, then click over to join the conversation there. I hope you will!

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I like to think of myself as a person of words. I love to read, talk, preach and write — all of which require some facility with language. I even had a dear friend whisper in my ear a week or so ago, “You know what I love about you? Your vocabulary!” My what?? Well, okay, I’ll take it!

But at this particular moment in time, in the aftermath of the horrors of Charlottesville this past weekend, I find myself at a complete loss. I discover very few words anywhere within my usually active brain. I feel unmoored, uncertain, frightened and deeply, truly sad.

I am a person who does not understand cruelty. So deep is this lack of comprehension that I often feel powerless and rudderless in the face of it. I’ve known a few people in my lifetime whose currency is cruelty. Blunt, thoughtless, critical remarks are their stock-in-trade, and every time one of those remarks is directed toward me, I stutter and stumble around, trying to find a comeback, a simple sentence that will stop the flood of vitriol.

Nada. Nothing. No words.

What is with that??

It’s not that I want to be cruel back. Honest and true, it is not. It’s that I simply do not know what to do in the face of it. If it’s directed at someone else in the circle, I can sometimes muster an objection or a clarification, but I never make it as far as a firm, clear, push-back that stops the ugliness. More often than not, I beat a retreat as quickly as I can and then ponder it all for days and days. What could I have said? What could I have done? What should I do next time?

Today, I am past pondering. I am done. And the one word that keeps coming back to me, over and over again is this one: ENOUGH. Stop. Just stop. Put away your swastikas, burn them all. You may have a legal right to your misguided opinion, but you do not have the right to name-call, bully, harass, or drive your automobile into a crowd of folks who disagree with you, and are brave enough to stand up and say so.

There are no more cheeks to be turned, my friends. None. And I refer you to the fine work of Walter Wink, written decades ago, about the subversive nature of the words of Jesus that have been so abused in the centuries since they were uttered. Turning the other cheek and walking the extra mile were acts of resistance to an intolerable government and they are beautiful things when rightly understood. They are not useful as tokens, bromides, or any other sugar-coating of evil words and deeds. Evil demands resistance. Full stop.

And what we witnessed this past weekend, what we’ve seen over and over and over again in the systematic killing of people of color, is evil. It is an evil that has its roots in fear, the ‘elephant in the room’ I wrote about last month, but it is evil, nonetheless.

Continue reading at SheLoves today, friends. I’d love to hear how you’re doing and, even more importantly, what you’re doing about our national sin and need for repentance. And if you are not a resident of the USA, your comments and insights are always welcome — we clearly need help. Just click right here.

And Then . . . There Is Light

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And it looks like music and laughter.

My mama’s neurologist has slowly been re-introducing her to Aricept since the new year. Initially, her caregivers and I were not at all sure about this. She was easily frightened, tearful and terribly, terribly confused for several weeks. At the same time, we also began to notice slight cognitive improvements here and there. So we hung in there, letting her hole-y brain slowly catch on to the new med.

I am so glad we did.

About two weeks ago, we began to see noticeable signs of improvement and my mom became a much happier and more restful person to be with, generally happy to be alive, delighted to see the sunshine, enjoying the taste of good food.

And she started to sing again. Praises be.
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When I arrived to pick her up for lunch today, she was seated in her chair in the corner, with sunlight streaming through the window behind her. On her lap was one of her small menagerie of stuffed animals, this one a teddy bear, and she was speak-singing something to him.

“Hi, Mom! How are you today? Watcha doing?” I sang to her from the doorway.

“Oh, I’m just telling my friend here about the cross, that old rugged cross.”

“Great idea,” said I, “no better thing to talk about.”

And she began to sing in her quavery alto a few lines from that old hymn.

As we drove south through the hazy sunlight, she sang it off and on, until I found one on YouTube and played it for her to sing along with on my iPhone. I sang in my own quavery alto (!!), and she was delighted.

The lines of that old hymn kept reoccurring to her throughout our lunch on the wharf, showing up whenever the space between us was not filled with conversation. It has always pleased and astonished me that so many old song lyrics are still in there, somehow conserved through all the jumbled mess of her synapses. I am so pleased to hear them again. So pleased.

Always when we meet, it is happening-for-the-first-time-all-over-again. Always, she is delighted to take an adventure outside. Always, she loves driving in the car. 

Always.

There is seldom any memory of our many previous visits to the same place, especially as we are on our way. “We come out here every few days, Mom,” I tell her with a smile. 

“Are you sure it was me you took?” she asks sincerely.

“Yeah, I’m sure,” I tell her. 

“Oh, well,” she says, “My brain is kinda weird, isn’t it?”

“Yup, Mama, it is. It is.”

Today there was a large cruise ship in port. This always means many, MANY more people in the waterfront area, and more people in all the local restaurants. The wait staff at our favorite place to sit and savor the view was hard-pressed to keep up with today’s onslaught. And while we were looking out the window, talking about how many children I have and how old they are (at least five times in the space of fifteen minutes), this sweet and funny thing happened:

The words to that old hymn came out of my mama’s mouth, though this time they were spoken rather than sung. That, in itself, is a small miracle, as the tune is usually required to spark that space in her diminishing memory bank. 

“So I’ll cling to that old rugged cross,” she said.

Pause.

“And exchange it some day for a crown.”

Pause.

“And sometime in between there, it would be really good if I could have a little something to eat!”

I tell you, I guffawed. And so did she. What a delightful moment that was. A brilliant flash of the mom I have known most of my life — quick witted, deadpan delivery, followed by riotous laughter.

That was much more satisfying to me than any single piece of the meal we enjoyed together today.

With the possible exception of a phenomenal scoop of vanilla ice cream which we shared, courtesy of the kitchen, in apology for the extended wait time today.

Now that, my friends, is a very good day. Very good, indeed.

Dearest Addie . . . (a letter, a book review and a synchroblog)

DSC02442 Addie's gift box

Do you remember this lovely box, exploding with sunshine?

I surely do. It arrived on my doorstep in the earliest days of my recovery from nasty foot surgery, in mid-June, 2014. I’d injured myself and then discovered there was a whole lot more goin’ on in that dang foot than what I’d done to it. I was facing into a long recovery (much longer than we knew back then) and I was feeling L O W.

And then a lot of my internet friends did some remarkable things, and YOU were among the first. YOU sent me this box of yellow love. Every bright and lovely piece of this glory broke right through my sadness, my loneliness, my pain (both physical and emotional), and helped me to hang on during a long and difficult time in my life.

Now, sweetheart — look again at that date up there, okay? 2 0 1 4. Just a few short months after the journey you took with your boys, that long trek to Florida and back, the one you’ve written about so magnificently well in this new book of yours:

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I had no idea you had struggled so earlier in that year. But somehow, it seemed important, as I write this strange epistle/review/blog post, it seemed important for me to remind you of how good, kind, thoughtful, insightful, intuitive and gifted you are even when you’re in the middle of a long, dark season in your own spiritual journey.

BTW, that cover? One of the best depictions of what’s actually inside the book that I’ve about ever seen. Genius! Not all of this tender journal was easy to read. I hate that you do battle with depression, that you sometimes have such a low view of your own, wonderful self. So some of this was painful to read. 

But all of it was so good to read. Because what you come to, where you arrive, as you drive through the cold and the dark, as you deal with two pre-schoolers caged inside a small space for hours at a time, as you read your first book aloud in small town libraries and book stores and church basements, as you stay with friends and family, as you struggle to get those boys to sleep, as you eat at way too many MacDonald’s, and do a little bit (a very little bit) of sight-seeing — what you come to, in the end, is yourself. 

And that, my dear, is the point. The goal. The reward. In this second book, you continue to do the good work started in “When We Were on Fire,” the good work of jettisoning the crap gathered in way too many rah-rah, emotion-heavy, guilt-inducing, misguided youth events. And you begin to see the light. The LIGHT. The truth that the Jesus walk is not so much about ‘re-discovering’ the emotional highs of adolescence, but about the steady, day-by-day commitment to putting one foot in front of the other.

It’s about seeing the light in small things, like the sun shining on your son’s hair, or smelling the first real cup of coffee after too many cups of tea, (or, if you’re a tea-drinker like I am, savoring the spicy scent of chai after too many stale coffee-breath greetings from friends!). It’s about accepting the truth that ‘success’ and ‘failure’ are pretty much meaningless terms when we’re talking about real life. It’s about letting go of the lists — you know the lists! Those things we’re ‘supposed’ to do to be ‘good’ Christians, the things we’re supposed to feel, or even believe, in order to pass muster.

It’s about letting go of all of that, and leaning hard into the truth of grace. It’s about learning to trust that there is not one thing we can do or not do that will make God love us any less or any more than God already does. It’s about breathing in and breathing out and saying the name of Jesus when we do. It’s about seeing and being seen. It’s about really, really, living. Not ‘living it up,’ not living on an emotional high forever, not even ‘living for Jesus,’ whatever the heck that means.

It’s about living real. Because I’m here to tell  you, there is NOTHING more real than God, even when God seems absent, even when you’re driving in the dark of night, even when you’re struggling hard to re-create old experiences that simply are no longer possible or even desirable. You put it beautifully on page 225 (and a lot of other places, too, but this one’s the shortest:

“It’s not up to me to flip on the lights. the Light is already here.”

YES, Addie!! Yes, yes, yes. The Light is already here.

Thank you for writing this searingly honest book, for owning your own weaknesses, for showing us the shadow side. And here’s why I thank  you — because with  your exceptional writing grace, your skill, you illustrate this powerful truth: the shadow side is our teacher. Yes, there are parts of the shadow that we need to shine a bright, harsh light on, that we need to clean up and clear out. BUT . . . those shadow parts of us are also primary avenues through which God can show us more about grace, more about love, more about the human condition, more about truth than anywhere else. Like Barbara Brown Taylor (another one of my FAVES) in “Learning to Walk in the Dark,” you have shown us more about the light than any 1000 titles about sunshine-theology. 

So, I thank you. I thank you for the box of sunshine at a dark time in my own journey. And I thank you for this beautiful book. May you be blessed beyond measure by the way people respond to it.

Much, much love,

Diana

Oh! Before I go, I wanted to share with  you a couple of quotes that landed in my inbox today from a journal I subscribed to for many years, one that I used frequently in sermon prep and for devotional reading. It’s called “Weavings,” and if you don’t know it, I highly recommend it. These were in a monthly devo kinda thing, but each of them spoke to some of what “Night Driving” deals with, so I thought maybe you might enjoy them:

As people of faith, we need to remember that the resurrection tosses out all standard expectations and measurements of failure and success. Neither failure nor success is good or evil; both can result in growth, stagnation, or regression. In our struggle with failure and success, we may find a hidden strength as we commend our spirits to our Creator and seek to yield our lives to love. Our challenge is to have faith—in failure, in success, in whatever life brings. The unexpected turns, the painful endings, the precarious beginnings are all part of the path of faith, where we are reminded with each step that the resurrection did not happen only once long ago—it happens each day of our lives.  — Jean M. Blomquist, “Weavings”

Pure faith hears the full silence of God, and believes—for the absence of God touches one’s thirst more than the presence of everything else. “In the desert we go on serving the God whom we do not see, loving [the God] whom we do not feel, adoring [the God] whom we do not understand, and thanking [the God] who has taken from us everything but [God’s self]” (Charles Cummings,Spirituality and Desert Experience). In time, the search becomes the goal, the longing becomes sufficient unto itself, and the perseverance transforms the meaning of success. Then some quiet evening, perhaps by full moon, it becomes strangely self-evident that we would not be searching had we not already been found. And the desert blooms when we find ourselves willing to be last—not because the last may become first, but because the game of “firsts” and “lasts” is no longer of interest.” — W. Paul Turner, “Weavings.” 

“Praying and Believing” — a re-post for Michelle DeRusha

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I am not writing online about my journey with my mom these days. I’m trying to gather it all into something approaching a book, so after the new year, much of my time and energy will be devoted to that particular kind of gathering. 

My connection to my mother is deep and important and our time together is complicated, lovely, difficult and an ongoing part of my daily life. She is still a heroine to me, even in the throes of dementia. Why? Because what remains of my mother is beautiful. Quite stunning, actually. And that is a gift. Yes, I wish she had her memory. Yes, I wish we could enjoy the kinds of deep conversation and belly laughter that we once did. But as we walk this path, I am struck by the ferociously glorious light that shines out of her face and her spirit. 

As I said, what remains is beautiful.

So when my friend, Michelle DeRusha, wrote and asked if she could re-post my contribution to her “Faith Heroine” series, I said yes. Because sometimes it’s good to remember what was.

You can find that piece by clicking here.

An Advent Journey: When God Became Small — Day Two

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1 Thessalonians 4:1-18, The Message

One final word, friends. We ask you—urge is more like it—that you keep on doing what we told you to do to please God, not in a dogged religious plod, but in a living, spirited dance. You know the guidelines we laid out for you from the Master Jesus. God wants you to live a pure life.

Keep yourselves from sexual promiscuity.

Learn to appreciate and give dignity to your body, not abusing it, as is so common among those who know nothing of God.

Don’t run roughshod over the concerns of your brothers and sisters. Their concerns are God’s concerns, and he will take care of them. We’ve warned you about this before. God hasn’t invited us into a disorderly, unkempt life but into something holy and beautiful—as beautiful on the inside as the outside.

If you disregard this advice, you’re not offending your neighbors; you’re rejecting God, who is making you a gift of his Holy Spirit.

Regarding life together and getting along with each other, you don’t need me to tell you what to do. You’re God-taught in these matters. Just love one another! You’re already good at it; your friends all over the province of Macedonia are the evidence. Keep it up; get better and better at it.

Stay calm; mind your own business; do your own job. You’ve heard all this from us before, but a reminder never hurts. We want you living in a way that will command the respect of outsiders, not lying around sponging off your friends.

And regarding the question, friends, that has come up about what happens to those already dead and buried, we don’t want you in the dark any longer. First off, you must not carry on over them like people who have nothing to look forward to, as if the grave were the last word. Since Jesus died and broke loose from the grave, God will most certainly bring back to life those who died in Jesus.

And then this: We can tell you with complete confidence—we have the Master’s word on it—that when the Master comes again to get us, those of us who are still alive will not get a jump on the dead and leave them behind. In actual fact, they’ll be ahead of us. The Master himself will give the command. Archangel thunder! God’s trumpet blast! He’ll come down from heaven and the dead in Christ will rise—they’ll go first. Then the rest of us who are still alive at the time will be caught up with them into the clouds to meet the Master. Oh, we’ll be walking on air! And then there will be one huge family reunion with the Master. So reassure one another with these words.

 

It’s just a small phrase, a few words carefully chosen by Eugene Peterson when he was doing his wonderful paraphrase (based on real knowledge of the languages) – a living spirited dance.

And what is he talking about with that fine phrase? Working together with God to bring God (and ourselves) pleasure — true pleasure. He’s talking about the life of faith. 

As a dance. 

My fundamentalist grandmother would roll over in her grave!

I, however, think it’s an absolutely perfect description of what God invites us to do when we turn our faces in God’s direction: to partner with God in this dance of life, to dance the kingdom in!

One of the most graceful kinds of dancing I know is the hula. About three years ago, I had the privilege of watching a lovely Benedictine nun do a hula of her own creation, set to a song of praise to God; I wept at the beauty of it.

It was the perfect picture of what this life of ours can look like — worship and work, faithfulness and beauty, offered in a spirited dance to the God who made us. 

Oh, Lord, help me to dance with you, to follow your lead and to enjoy the process. As I wait in this season of Advent, looking forward to celebrating that wee baby, give my feet extra measures of grace and freedom. Give my heart a new sense of commitment. Forgive me when I make our life together into a ‘dogged religious plod,’ trapped by expectations and guilt. Help me to inhabit your presence with joy and thanksgiving. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

And the Light Went Out . . .

I dressed in black,
ate my dinner earlier than usual
and drove one canyon over to rehearse.

DSC01442The sanctuary was filled
with evening light when I walked in,
heightening the lavenders and blues,
those deeply colored pieces
that fit inside the clerestory windows.
DSC01437 Musicians and readers met in the balcony,
our home as the sun made its way down,
down behind the hills and the sea.
No paper trail this night,
only the dark light of the screens
to guide us from scripture to painting, to silence.
Then to poem, to song,
to the loss of
one more layer of light. DSC01438 There is a sober feel to this night,
a quietness that invades our spirits

and guides our tongues.
Nothing is wasted.
No breath, no sigh, no syllable.
DSC01439 It is crowded and cramped where we sit,
bound by chair legs and mic stands,
script pages and surreptitious, hooded lamps.
DSC01440 The chandeliers,
hand-pounded
by an artist-blacksmith
in the valley,
remind me of crowns tonight.
Crowns fit for a king —
or one falsely accused. DSC01443 We begin with full brightness,
streaming in through the windows,

and shining out
from every light
in the house.  DSC01444 From my perch,
high above the worshippers,
I watch the space darken,
and feel the weight of it
settle into my bones.
My foot is aching this night,
tired from too much joyful standing,
baking and decorating,
standing beside my tall grandgirl,
who loves to try new things.
DSC01445And I’m glad that it hurts.
Not in a strange or masochistic way,

no. Rather, I am grateful to identify,
even in a small way, with
the pain of this day.
With the darkness,
the good and necessary darkness.
The darkness which brought us 
everlasting light;
the darkness in which the Good
was splayed out before us all,
absorbing our fallenness,
our brokenness,
our sinfulness,
our shame. IMG_4098 I am reading poetry tonight,
my partner a retired English prof

from a nearby college,
a wise and kind man,
who answers my queries
about
meaning and inflection,
about rhythm and pace.
DSC01446We hear the story,
the old story,
the true story.
We look at etchings,
beautiful, old etchings.
And we sing.
Sweetly, reverently, we sing. 
IMG_4097Seven times, a candle is snuffed out.
Seven words from John.
Seven songs are sung.

But only six poems.

For, in the end,
at the end,
there are no words.

Only the blessed darkness.

And then,
the Christ candle begins to move,

lifted high, cradled,
down the steps,

into the night.

And this time,
this time as I watch it go by
into the darkest space of all,
the one directly below my chair,

I weep.

This is a space where I cannot  be,
where I cannot see

the gleaming of His light.

And it hits me,
as if for the first time,
that this light went out.

The Light of the world willingly
went out,

was laid deep in the earth,
and did not shine.

How did any of us survive that darkness?

And yet . . . that very darkness
birthed
RESURRECTION.

Perhaps, I need to rethink
the meaning of the word,
the reality,
the gift
of darkness.

My deep thanks to Jon Lemmond for his wonderful script, to him and to Don Johnson for their masterful reading of the scripture, to Bob Gross, Jon Martin and Janet Spencer for such lovely musical leadership, to Tanner Gross for managing powerpoint and light level, and to my reading partner, John Sider. And special thanks for and to the poets – Richard Crashaw, John Byrom, Gerald Manley Hopkins, George Herbert, Christina Rosetti and Tania Runyon whose words graced this event with power, and with invitation.

An Advent Journey, 2013: Looking for the Light – Day Twenty-Four

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Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.

For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Lift up your eyes and look around;
they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from far away,
and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.
Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and rejoice,
because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you,
the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
A multitude of camels shall cover you,
the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.

Isaiah 60:1-6-NRSV

And the light shines in the darkness . . .


Only a tiny beam,

is all that is required.
And the darkness is pierced,
unable to blanket us all
with it’s ebony closeness.

Tiny and vulnerable,
subject to wind and weather,
illness and suffering,
pain and despair.
Still, the light shines,
guttering bright.

Who knew
that the whole of creation
could become so small?
That the winding of history
would pivot in that
dark, small space,
attended only by
exhausted parents,
lowly shepherds,
and an angel or two?

God knew.

God knew.

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