Getting your Hands Dirty

getting your hands dirty

Bearing good fruit into the world demands that we get our hands dirty. Creating something from nothing, or building on something to make it better, paving a new road, establishing a novel idea, are never easy or smooth…because life isn’t supposed to be easy or smooth. The dirt under our nails, whether it is metaphorical or actual grime, is a testament to what we are willing to sacrifice to bring something to fruition. When ministry became my chosen profession, God gifted me with many opportunities to get my hands dirty in ways that were humbling and well, sometimes even gross, like unwanted interaction with bodily fluids. Serving Christ demanded I roll up my sleeves and get messy. More than anything, I learned that bearing fruit in a sterile environment is impossible.

I know I’ve said this before in different ways, but you can’t skip the middle of cultivating any dream by bypassing the dirty work. Too much of the final product is predicated on the will, imagination and effort necessary to struggle through mire in order to achieve success. While frustrating, it is perfectly normal for people who are in the middle of any pursuit to wonder if the difficulty will ever end, if it is worth it, if the fruits of labor match the effort and expectation. The road yet traveled can be a daunting proposition. For me, that is why faith is so important to the process. We don’t have to be alone in our pursuits. God is the ultimate safety net, and is ever present even in the muck. And, it is often amidst the muckiest of muck where true revelation lies. Always keeping your hands clean, or the process sterile, kills growth and can mean you miss the best lessons life has to show you. The best fertilizer for the greatest fruit is sometimes noxious. It’s a testament to God’s great sense of humor that shit is one of the greatest ingredients for growth…both literally and figuratively.

So, I say, life is not sterile. Some of the greatest fruits come from mud, even seeing more clearly.

John 9:1-11

“As he passed by he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him. We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes, and said to him, “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed, and came back able to see. His neighbors and those who had seen him earlier as a beggar said, “Isn’t this the one who used to sit and beg?” Some said, “It is,” but others said, “No, he just looks like him.” He said, “I am.” So they said to him, “(So) how were your eyes opened?” He replied, “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and told me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went there and washed and was able to see.”

Truth…Bringing Sexy Back

bringing sexy back

Today’s post is somewhat tawdry, and deals with some antiquated ideas perhaps, but in this new era where truth is false and falsehood true, I’ve chosen to get a little down and dirty. My intent is to shed a different light and a little humor to point out something about power. And we all know how powerful sex is, right? It sells things, draws attention, allures us and awakens desires. It compels behavior in both good and bad ways. Most importantly, what would the world be like without it? Yet the same goes for truth, what would our world be without it? While studying World Literature, I will always remember the play “Lysistrata” by Aristophanes, the plot of which centers on a woman, Lysistrata who, fed up with the constant fighting and poor decisions of the men in Greece convince the women to withhold sex as leverage to negotiate a peace to the Peloponnesian war. It was one of the few Greek plays that literally made me laugh out loud (especially at a Catholic University)…and yet gave me great pause knowing full well the power of sex in a male dominated culture. (This is not to say the culpability falls on men alone or in general…OK, that’s bullshit, for my purpose here, I am saying exactly that). My friends, wouldn’t it be great if we could connect sex and truth together and harness that same carnal power to force the present culture to negotiate a peace to the war on Truth?

Here is one of my favorite exchanges from the play:

Lysistrata: “Here goes, then; no need to beat around the bush. Ladies, if we’re going to force the men to make peace, we’re going to have to give up—”

Calonice: “Give up what? Tell us.”

Lysistrata: “You’ll do it, then?”

Calonice: “We’ll do it, even if it means our death!”

Lysistrata: “All right. We’re going to have to give up—the prick. Why are you turning away from me? Where are you going? Why are you all pursing your lips and shaking your heads? What means your altered color and tearful droppings? Will you do it or not? What are you waiting for?”

Calonice: “Count me out; let the war drag on.”

and after some convincing…

Calonice: “Well, what if we did abstain from, uh, what you say, which heaven forbid: would peace be likelier to come on that account?”

Lysistrata: “Absolutely, by the Two Goddesses. If we sat around at home all made up, and walked past them wearing only our diaphanous underwear, with our pubes all plucked in a neat triangle, and our husbands got hard and hankered to ball us, but we didn’t go near them and kept away, they’d sue for peace, and pretty quick, you can count on that!”

Lampito: “Like Menelaus! As soon as he peeked at bare Helen’s melons, he threw his sword away, I reckon.

In a modern twist, wouldn’t it be great to have a campaign to make truth as tantalizing as sex? Wouldn’t that be fantastic? Just think, instead of People magazine coming out with the Sexiest Man/Woman alive issue, they could have the Most Veracious Man/Woman alive. I can see it now, a centerfold of (feel free to pick your favorite flavor, there are plenty of truthful women out there too) Jake Tapper or Chuck Todd stripping away illusion like a well-worn suit, taunting us with tantalizing factual information rooted in multiple and verifiable sources. I had to stop writing for a moment, my blood pressure just skyrocketed. If truth were as powerful as sex, our news programs could begin with seductive, low lights and music…Baum chiki baum, baum…”Good evening I’m Wolf Blitzer (a perfect name for news porn), for tonight’s top story, only new objective and concrete evidence will be discussed and our esteemed panel, suited with lie detector machines will weigh in and get shocked whenever they spin (I had to throw a little 50 shades of Gray thrown in there). Like in Lysistrata, we would recognize the lying liars who lie because of how deprived they behaved. That deprivation, in the play, meant all the men of Greece and Athens suffered from constant chaffing because of, well, you know what rubbing against…let me just say we wouldn’t see Putin riding a horse for any time soon.

The un-augmented would be the fashion, truth tellers the new celebrity. Not hiding behind all the subterfuge would obliterate stress. Sex and truth would be desired equally. When we turned on cable news, we would simply be informed, there would be no need for endless panel discussion any longer unless the focus was pure problem solving. Of course that may mean some may lose their jobs, but running the world would be a whole lot easier. The truth has brought sexy back and made us free, and with freedom comes much responsibility (but a lot more fun). I will leave you with the last line of the play:

Lysistrata: “Come now, since everything has turned out well, take these women back with you, you Spartans. And, you Athenians, these ones are yours. Let each man stand beside his wife, each wife beside her man, and then to celebrate good times let’s dance in honor of the gods. And for all future time, let’s never make the same mistake again.”

Lydia’s Fruit

 

lydia

A woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth, from the city of Thyatira, a worshiper of God, listened, and the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what Paul was saying. After she and her household had been baptized, she offered us an invitation, “If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my home,” and she prevailed on us.

After Paul and Silas were beaten and imprisoned for freeing a girl of a demon, the jailer was converted when after fervent prayer an earthquake felled the walls of the jail, but they refused escape to protect the jailer. Overwhelmed, he asked what he needed to do to be saved, they told him of Jesus, witnessed and baptized his whole family and he bathed and addressed their wounds. After refusing to leave quietly, because they were falsely detained without trial as Roman citizens, they walked proudly out the front door and went directly back to Lydia’s house where they saw and encouraged the brothers and then left.

It took me a long while in my study and ministry to understand the power and gift of Lydia. Imagine the difficulty of traveling all these territories spreading the gospel. Foreign places full of strangers with nothing really to travel with. Those few lines in Acts bring it home. She offered them a safe haven, a generous hospitality that enabled them to face hardship, yet continue their ministry. I wrote a paper about Lydia in graduate school, using her simple, yet powerful gesture as an example of environmental leadership. What Paul and his entourage did was extremely difficult, and because of people like Lydia, they could stop, refuel, take a moment to regenerate to begin the journey anew.

I never underestimate the power of hospitality, especially in terms of leadership…because being a good leader is hard. But when welcomed in and nurtured in a safe haven, they can become their best selves, and that in and of itself can be the the greatest gift to the world, bringing out our best selves to build the Kingdom of God. Face it, the world can be a scary place and we as individuals and faith communities can be a powerful source of love and safety for those on their life’s difficult journey. Never underestimate the power of hospitality, even if it means just sitting next to someone who appears afraid, or standing up for someone who is being bullied or oppressed. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, but compounded together these simple gestures can be beautifully transforming. Go ahead, be Lydia.

In My Shoes

my shoes

I think this will be my last post detailing my year of clarity. I feel complete, for now anyway, and want to enter into the season of light focused only on that. It seems funny that showing you the context of all my previous posts this year will be the subject of my last. I think it’s because I needed to do the journey first, before I open up my coat and share life in my shoes. Perhaps then you can understand why I believe as I do and maybe take something away that you can use on your own journey. The bottom line, is that I can never unhear, all I’ve heard; I can’t unsee all I’ve seen; and most importantly I can’t unknow all I’ve learned. I am who I am because of it.

Also, I needed to have the strength to say to those who are reading this just to be judgmental or to find fuel for your dislike, to say stop reading, or better yet, go ahead, keep reading…because I don’t give a shit anymore. I don’t wish you ill, but I certainly don’t wish you well. Harsh, it’s true. But I think I’ve spent too much time parsing words and feelings not to offend anyone, or try to be my best Solomon in all my posts. While being fair and balanced and living as a disciple of Christ is still my main objective, this election cycle has brought out the true character of many who I just won’t waste my time or breath on anymore. I embrace that is who you are, I just don’t have to listen to you anymore. Make no mistake, I am not talking about those who have a polar opinion from mine, there are still plenty of you in my posse…I’m talking about those who judge before they listen, embrace fear, refuse to look for truth, or only enough to justify their world view and those who only associate with people who are just like them. While the number I disassociate from may be few, it is something I have never done before but need to because of the impact it was having in my life. What’s funny, is I’m sure those people will never know it because they stopped really seeing or listening to me a long time ago.

No axiom, truth or ideology ever comes to me lightly, except the love of God and the call to be a disciple of Christ. While I may be a good student, I am not an easy one. I’ve pissed and moaned and thrown many a tantrum learning valuable lessons. So let me highlight just a few of those instrumental ports of call on my journey of faith. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be like one of those infernal slide shows that go on forever…just a few tidbits. Know that there are some givens: I have a great family, I’m blessed with privilege and a great deal of comfort. The experience that follows are in addition to, or in spite of.

When I was in college, I used a January term to live in a contemplative monastery in the desert of New Mexico. During my stay at Christ in the Desert, we began our day at 2:30 in the morning to pray according to the divine office of the Rule of St Benedict, an order that balances prayer and work. Without going into depth, I understand why Jesus began his ministry in the desert, in prayer and silence. It was the hardest (and not just because I wasn’t allowed to talk) and most transforming experience of my life. I fought with and conquered many internal demons over that month. It was the foundation for everything that what was to come.

The next January term, I chose to work with the United Farm workers (UFW) movement in La Paz California. There, I saw what solidarity behind a spiritual and nonviolent leader, Caesar Chavez, could do for the powerless and disenfranchised. I was also witness to racism for the first time in my life, and how protesters gallantly withstood all the horrible words and actions taken against them, all just because they desired to be treated fairly, with dignity and pride. I worked as a laborer that month, it was hard, humbling and it refined and polished me in ways I never could have predicted.

After I started working in ministry, I received the chance to travel with the National Council of Churches to then Soviet Russia. It was a terrifying, mind boggling, heart wrenching, uplifting, life transforming experience. It was during that trip at the ripe age of 24 when I saw the impact and effects of raw political power. It was there that I learned to recognize its lizard qualities that slithered and slimed their way into the world. I was no longer the naive, altruistic girl that I once was living in a global world.  I went back four years later to see how it had progressed, doubting that democracy could ever work there efficiently…I was right, it couldn’t. Not that its people aren’t marvelous, they are…there were actually more Christians there than members of the communist party. Politics, though, are another story. It is also why I despise Putin so much.

Throughout my ministry, I worked with the poor and homeless, did respite for the mentally disabled, worked in a nursing home, a drug treatment center for adolescents, was part of a team who worked with modern media and the gospel message. I got to teach, write curriculum and preach the good new of Christ. It wasn’t always easy, but I learned so much and was graced with interacting with so many incredible people. I’ve worked with prisoners and laborers, met rock stars, politicians in Washington and media moguls. I’ve eaten on clay floors and dined on Italian marble. In every one of these experiences people are often the same with varying levels of brokenness. Every one of them needed love beyond the basic dignities of life.

I’ve had the pleasure of having many gay friends who have shown me great sacrifice and commitment in being able to love who their heart chooses. When I was teaching, I was blessed to live in a wonderful neighborhood far beyond my pay grade when I was rented a room in a house from an incredible lesbian woman and her daughter, also gay, and who is now an incredibly powerful pastor in Minneapolis. I will attest to the beauty and strength of all my gay friends and their families and children, and am happy to have them in my life and the life of my family and children too. It is so natural and easy to love them and support them, I cannot fathom why anyone would not (which is a bit sarcastic because traditional religion is the true culprit for all the hate).

I’ve learned to understand sexual abuse, mental illness, suicide and PTSD, all first hand from students, friends and family. I’ve had to live with structural and physical maladies that have greatly altered and challenged my life. Yet in all these times, that in spite of these challenges I was always aware of and felt God’s presence. In fact, all these challenges gave root to all of Jesus teachings for me. The Gospel doesn’t make sense in a perfect hardship free life. Personally, I’ve endured misogyny and abuse, and also great and deep love and support. It’s true, that when you most need them, in the darkest of times special people enter your life to be what you need, and then are on their way.

My latest destination on my journey is to this small little hamlet on the St Croix river. It is insular and safe, uncomplicated and many times without the challenges of the greater world. It was a good place to raise my children except I could never let them be part of the bubble that can exist here. I had walked too far for that. I left my church here, and found another that had a more open world view. And to my boys, I know I forced you to give your Christmas to a poor family, invite the fringe to all your birthday parties, serve on mission trips and study  the bible, and challenge every assumption or stereotype you threw in my face. I demanded you research and listen and be open to others, and dad, more than me made you put only good things in your bodies. Hopefully you will thank me for it some day, cause I am sure proud of how you turned out. We have a wonderful business that brings health to our community and our patients are some of the best people I have ever known.

So after all these steps, this is why I refuse to stand for bigotry and hate. This is why I stand for all my LBGTQ brothers and sisters. This is why I will fight for people of all ethnicities, religious beliefs, and political ideologies. This is why I stand for truth and will never shy away from pointing out inaccuracies that so deeply penetrate our media today. This is why I try so hard to root the Gospel in the most subtle of actions and behaviors. I am who I am, never to be pigeon holed into a left or right column, or belittled by any limiting moniker. My path is one of power and love, because I am a child of God and these are MY shoes. And as a servant of Christ I will fight for your shoes too.

 

Living Without Permission

 

book of kells

A wise teacher once told me that to truly live, you must do so without permission. Seeing myself as a free spirit and natural rebel, I couldn’t imagine he didn’t see that I had already mastered the concept. “Think about it for a moment”, he then said, “to whom or what do you seek permission?” I just looked at him blankly, wondering what the infernal hell he was talking about. “Total up all the, ‘Don’t think that’, ‘Don’t say that’, ‘Don’t Be that’, or ‘A good Christian says or does’, ‘An attractive woman is’, ‘A successful person is’ and don’t forget all the ‘You have too’s’, and ‘you can’t do that’s’, and you can see that your life is more restrictive than need be. Except no one can define you, restrict you…without your permission. You have all the power to decide, no one else. You decide who or what enhances your life. And it isn’t always easy…because we can’t always choose who the people and circumstances are that surround us and fill our heads. But personal survival depends on those you choose to submit to.” He then gave us an assignment to list what permissions must be extended, and those that must be denied. I cried for a long time while doing that assignment. When challenged to do so, I felt the terrible weight of the shackles that I had the key to unlock all along, and that meant letting go of some people and ideas and learning to see others in a new light. Change sucks, and I certainly understand why people talk themselves into staying in a situation that is toxic, and they are bound, because once the shackles are off…you have to walk on your own.

The reason I bring this lesson to light has much to do with my year of clarity. When I get lost in the business of living it’s easy to hand over your life in pieces without even being aware of it until suddenly, voila, my journey is weighted down by those shackles again. Except this time, no tears, just resolve. I choose, once again, to live without permission. I’m not talking about anarchy here. There will be always be rules and laws that I submit to because I understand that in the long run they will be as much a service to me as to those that I love, live, work and play with. But to those voices, people and structures who try and rewrite the blueprint that is me because it serves their purpose, I respectfully decline. I know my heart and with clarity I can see who is helping me become and who is keeping me from becoming all that I can be. I decide.

I also know that when I live without permission, I must extend to others the same accord. I must let them live according to their rhythm too. That means dancing a careful dance between support and control, and between fear and love. I am as guilty as any person of treading too far, of overpowering instead of graciously offering, and yet I won’t let myself be punished for trying too hard, even if I am sorry I overstep. And to those who have grown and expanded under my tutelage, I know that is because they have also brought out the best in me too. Because when you live without permission and allow others to live with out permission, everyone benefits. We all get to be our bigger and better selves.

So let me now extend a request. In the comment section on wordpress, share with me one way you would like to live without permission, and I would gladly pray for that to be extended to you. If you wish your comment to remain unpublished, I will submit to that too, (but I will still pray for you). The benefit of throwing it out there for all to see though, is that you will have many more wonderful people out there praying for you too.

What Prince Did For Me

The eighties was an era of tremendous growth for me. I worked for the Catholic Church in the capacity of both a Youth Director and a Teacher. In order to effectively do my job well, I turned to many influences of the day to bring in young people to a church that I believe, at the time, was losing its grip on anyone under 30. Of course, so much of what I did was often labeled offensive and threatening to the souls of the very group I was commissioned to save. I always thought if I could just get the hierarchy to listen for a moment, they might see that what I was trying to do was exactly the opposite: using modern media to spread the Good News, and that the Church could be a place that could connect to them too. Regardless of my enthusiasm, I realized that I was simply too small and insignificant to impact so many on my own. So I utilized those who already had influence: musicians, actors, athletes…anyone who stood as a good example in the many bad ones of the day.

In the fall of 1987, I did a series on utilizing modern music as a tool to spread the Gospel.
I had hired a “DJ” priest from California to lead a week of workshops and other events. I used much of my budget to sponsor it, confident of its great success. We had a spot on a show called Twin Cities Live, with Bob Bruce to discuss rock and roll and its potential for good, but turned into just the opposite, how it was the devil’s influence in the modern world. As a result, I was interviewed by the Pioneer Press the following day, and was hopeful to turn things around. I had planned to end our series with a rock and roll mass, with a live rock band celebrating an Advent theme: from darkness to light. I had planned to begin the service with Prince’s “Sign O the Times” and also incorporate his song, “The Cross”. The reporter, in order to have his story garner attention, only focused on the fact that we were using Prince’s music in a Catholic mass. I cannot tell you how bad the fall out was, the horrible things people said. I had already gotten the rock mass approved, and agreed to only use “Sign O the Times” before the mass began, and remove “The Cross” from the list of music (that included, U2 and the Beatles). Still, on the day of the service, the Archbishop called my pastor, and told him to cancel the service, because the Catholic Church didn’t do “theme” masses. When I told my pastor that yes, indeed they did, (referencing a popular polka padre) he reluctantly said we could go ahead (with pressure from our DJ priest too). I know he was nervous, but the mass was a spectacular success, with people dancing in the aisles at the end. We even made the evening news. I always wondered if Prince ever followed the story, and if he would have been pleased by this little rebel in his home town.

Although I may have won the battle, I did lose the war. That was my last year in parish ministry and I left to begin my life as a teacher. I was embittered, told that I was a bad influence, and “allowed” to resign. A depiction that couldn’t have been farther from the truth. But Prince as an artist, gave me tools to reach out to young people and influence them in a much more powerful way than I could have ever done on my own. For this, and so much more, I will be eternally grateful. He was a bridge for me…from darkness to the light.

The Decline of American Civilization, Part II: The Truth Will Set You Free

the truth

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” Jesus

“Truth never hurts the teller” Robert Browning

“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it” Flannery O’Connor

“Better a cruel truth than a comfortable delusion” Edward Abbey

“The truth hurts. Maybe not as much as jumping on a bicycle with the seat missing, but it hurts” Leslie Nielsen, Naked Gun 2 1/2

Truth is a tough thing to talk about. So much of it weighs on our life experience and perspective. But our country was founded on certain truths, if maintained, should guarantee our success and survival. Simply stated they are, 1) That all persons are created equal, 2) and that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. So lets just start there.

The word unalienable means impossible to give up or take away. So it is a truth, one not only that should be self evident, but IMPOSSIBLE to take away. Unless and until this fundamental tenet becomes central to any presidential discussion, everything else is a lie. Because a qualified presidential candidate has to understand that they will represent every individual in this country, whose pursuits for happiness must weigh into the whole. A qualified presidential candidate cannot deride or devalue or demonize any citizen so as to diminish the truth of their right to happiness to seem alienable. It goes against everything the founders dreamed of for our country. A qualified presidential candidate should know that this may not sit well with a large part of the citizenry who only want what they want, and care not for the needs of others. But a qualified candidate should be better than those who live with blinders on…that’s what a true leader does, fight for the truth even when it isn’t popular.

The truths we face today are often cruel. Our planet is suffering for lack of sufficient care. Violence is escalating in the world. People are starving and illness is epidemic. Fear reigns where level heads should prevail. A qualified candidate must face these truths head on knowing that any answer won’t appease everyone, and may anger more than a few. A qualified candidate won’t be daunted by this because they know that it is the central job of the chief executive of this country to first and foremost protect those unalienable rights, which in this time of grave crisis will demand sacrifices from all of us. A qualified candidate won’t base their campaign on pointing the finger and placing blame. A qualified candidate should never rely on the love of the masses, only that they love the masses enough to do what is necessary.

Saying something is true over and over will never make it true. A qualified candidate won’t state lies as truths and truths as lies to fit their agenda. Nothing stirs up the masses and creates a mob faster than a lie that is presented as the truth. It is our responsibility as citizens to check the statements that are made before we tie any emotion to them. There has been so much turmoil as a result of an irresponsible electorate. While I hope any candidate would base their platform on the truth, I certainly don’t expect it anymore. The responsibility of jumping on a platform is my own, and I can chose the route of a fool, or do my due diligence and find the truth first. Inevitably, I am the one responsible for standing with those who will better fight for truth or live in a lie.

Most importantly is that fact that while the truth may often hurt, it is the one thing that will save us. A qualified candidate should radiate that with all their being, then there is no cause for fear because they will inspire the confidence necessary to face whatever is coming. So look at the candidates out there and ask yourself if they are qualified to fight for those truths that define our nation. If not, we face an even sadder truth.