Archive for July, 2009

So anyone who reads my blog on a regular basis knows that I’m not shy about admitting my shortcomings. And tonight will be no different. I’m struggling right now in a major way to break a family cycle of dysfunction. I want to be a good parent, but my best efforts are not good enough to overcome the behavioral patterns established by my childhood experience. My parents did the best they could with the emotional and spiritual resources they had at the time, but like everyone else in the world I’m still left with a few painful scars. Unlike most other 30-something adults, I’m blessed to have had miraculous reconciliation with my parents and as a result some of my scars have begun to fade. But not all of them.

In the past few months I’ve become the type of parent that I swore I’d never be. I’ve had violent urges, I’ve screamed and chastized. I’ve blamed, guilted, and fallen into the “do as I say not as I do” conundrum since I start throwing a temper tantrum in the midst of trying to end their whining. And none of my resolve seems to make it stop. It’s very similar to my struggle with alcoholism: I feel awful afterwards (if it’s an especially emotional night I even feel hung-over the next morning), I swear it will be different next time around, that I won’t do that again. I make promises I can’t keep, because I’m powerless over the energy of the rage that wells up inside me.

Here’s the beautiful thing: because I live in community people noticed what was going on. And because I live in a loving, Christian community the people around me stepped in and offered to help. So next week, I’ll be receiving a gift. I’m going on a retreat all by myself while the community takes care of my children. I don’t know if I’ve done anything like this ever before in my life, and it’s been at least 7 years since I had a whole week with nothing to do but get spiritual. I’m planning on spending lots of time in prayer and meditation. I’m going to bring some art supplies and some books, my Bible. And I’m going to get down to business.

I know God’s been calling me to spend more time with him for a couple of years now. I’ve been sporadic about it. But this week the gloves come off, and I’m planning on doing a three day fast. I have no idea what to expect, other than a vague sense of foreboding. Not that it’s going to be bad, but deep down I know it’s going to be majorly intense. I’ll be at Jubilee Partners, a commuity in Northeast GA, so I won’t be completely isolated from people. But I think I’ll be pretty much alone as I go through whatever it is that God has in store.

I’m not sharing this on my blog to make a huge deal of it. In Isaiah 58, there’s a warning about fasting just to get attention with the guise of humility. But I’m sharing here because I know that, as much as I need to face what’s in store for me alone, I can’t get through it without anyone’s help. So if  you think of me next week, especially Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, please pray for my fast. Pray that I come through it more connected to God, more able to love those around me, and that I would recognize whatever gifts there are on the other side of this darkness.

To close, here’s the passage from Isaiah 58, the Message version:

1-3 “Shout! A full-throated shout! Hold nothing back—a trumpet-blast shout!
Tell my people what’s wrong with their lives,
face my family Jacob with their sins!
They’re busy, busy, busy at worship,
and love studying all about me.
To all appearances they’re a nation of right-living people—
law-abiding, God-honoring.
They ask me, ‘What’s the right thing to do?’
and love having me on their side.
But they also complain,
‘Why do we fast and you don’t look our way?
Why do we humble ourselves and you don’t even notice?’

3-5“Well, here’s why:”The bottom line on your ‘fast days’ is profit.
You drive your employees much too hard.
You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight.
You fast, but you swing a mean fist.
The kind of fasting you do
won’t get your prayers off the ground.
Do you think this is the kind of fast day I’m after:
a day to show off humility?
To put on a pious long face
and parade around solemnly in black?
Do you call that fasting,
a fast day that I, God, would like?

6-9“This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
to break the chains of injustice,
get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
free the oppressed,
cancel debts.
What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
sharing your food with the hungry,
inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on,
and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’


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My husband Brendan and I used to have our own business doing home remodeling. One day we were trying to come up with slogans to go on business cards, and we were discussing the quality of work that Brendan aspired to. He is attentive to detail, and would often go above and beyond the expectations of his clients. He said, with great gusto, “I like to go the extra inch!”

We had a great laugh over his mistake, but it’s got me thinking today. I just learned that the saying “Go the extra mile” originated from Jesus’ teachings:

If someone sues you for your shirt, give up your coat as well. If a soldier forces you to carry his pack one mile, carry it two miles. When people ask you for something, give it to them. When they want to borrow money, lend it to them.
Matthew 5:40-42

This concept is central to the practice of non-violence. What are we to do when treated unjustly? Jesus says we should give even more generously, and be even more willing to show compassion. It’s so counterintuitive to the way American culture teaches us to behave. We learn to demand our share, and then try to get a little extra if we can. We want our dollar’s worth. As I’ve mentioned before, we seem to think we are entitled to things that are actually privileges.

I was talking with my friend Matthew the other day about the idea of ownership and entitlement. Our conversation began simply. Both of us were thirsty, and we ran into each other getting a drink of water in the Koinonia dining hall. The dining hall is always open, and throughout the day and evening people stop in to grab a snack or get a cold drink of water. And of course, because we are humans with many different standards of cleanliness, far too often there is a mess left behind for people to clean up the next morning. And far too often dishes find a temporary location in someone’s home, or on a picnic table, or at the playground, or in the office…

So for about a month preceding the day that Matthew and I were quenching our afternoon thirst together, there have hardly been any large water glasses in the dining hall. We started out with two full trays of glasses, but it had dwindled to less than half of one tray of full-sized glasses. We have hundreds of coffee mugs and plenty of teeny 4-ounce cups, but who wants to sip ice water out of a coffee mug or a cup that’s too small even for my two-year-old? Anyways, Matthew and I stood there enjoying our ice water out of two of the tall glasses and I made a casual observation about the missing drinking receptacles.

We wound up talking for over an hour about all sorts of things, but what stands out for me is the conundrum of ownership. See, we are living in an intentional Christian community that embraces “radical sharing” and we strive for less private ownership of things like houses and cars. But sometimes this means that no one takes care of certain parts of the farm, that no one cleans up certain messes because, well, it’s not mine. And it’s not yours. I guess that would make it ours…sort of.

The dining hall scenario can serve as a metaphor for all the elements of our life together. We want the space to be inviting, for people to feel welcome to make themselves at home there. This means that food and water are available at any time of day. It also means that someone might venture in at midnight, retrieve a leftover bowl of soup and a glass of water, taking both the bowl and the glass back to his apartment.

Now, this person is not taking the bowl and glass as a deliberate attempt to prevent others the opportunity of eating from that bowl and drinking from that glass the next day when we gather for lunch. Likely he was hungry and tired and had every intention of returning the bowl and glass upon waking the next day. But let’s say he wakes up late for morning chapel, has to rush, and in his rush he neglects to return the bowl. Later that same day his roommate washes the bowl and glass and puts it in their kitchen cupboard. And there it stays, for days, weeks, maybe even months.

So you might be thinking, what’s the big deal? It’s only a crappy plastic bowl and a dollar-store tumbler. There are plenty of other bowls in the dining hall, right? And plenty of…oh wait, there really aren’t many glasses at all! How did that happen? Did someone come and take all of the glasses? Is there a stash of them in the garden, or hidden in a corner of the pecan plant? I know, it was old so-and-so, all the missing dishes must be at his house!!

Here’s what has really happened to all the glasses: It’s not any one person taking them. And it has nothing to do with malicious intent. Actually, they probably left the building one at a time, and I believe that every single time the person intended to bring her glass back. And it just didn’t happen. So if one or two people take a glass from the dining hall, it’s no big deal. But if each one of the 30 people who eat in the dining hall every day takes a glass at some point over the span of a month, we suddenly have no glasses left. And it’s everyone’s fault.

The way this ties in with the scripture is this: when another community member needs a glass of water, instead of whining that I can’t serve him from the right-sized glass, I should probably be willing to give him two. And then offer to wash the glasses and put them away for him. The thing that prevents me from behaving this way is my sense of entitlement. I get tired of cleaning up after messy people and drinking from small cups. So then I preach about it, and somehow think that people will bring their dishes back because it’s so important to me. Then I get cranky and take it personally when people still don’t live up to my standards.

Yes, going the extra mile takes on a whole new meaning in community. It’s easy to show kindness to a stranger. It’s a no-brainer that when we have guests here, we clean up after them and invite them to be first in the lunch line. Much more challenging is to be gracious and kind to the people we sit with every day. I find that if I’m only doing things to please the people around me, it’s much more difficult to go about my day with a sense of joy. People are hard to please, and we constantly disappoint one another no matter how hard we try. So, don’t bring your cup back to the dining hall just because I want you to do it. You’ll probably wind up resenting me for it. Instead, let’s try to figure out how to please God together. I’m willing to bet that if we take that approach, we’ll just be grateful to have anything to drink at all, and we’ll offer to refill each other’s teeny glasses and coffee mugs, and everyone will have a wonderful time as we walk the extra mile together.

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On Yahoo questions, someone asked the ages-old classic:

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

with the explanation:

There is an exact source and factual answer that most people overlook. While the question is intresting philisophically, its a moot question with an answer. Can you find it?

After choosing the best answer, the asker elaborated on his question to say that he was looking for the “factual” creation explanation. I’m a Christian, but my philosophy on the creation story is somewhat of a hybrid, as I believe the very nature of time could have been different way back then so maybe “seven days” was more like several billion years. But I’ll stop the digression and elaborate on that idea in some future post.

By insinuating that there is one factual answer, the asker implies that all other assumptions are wrong. It makes me love the best answer even more, because every time I think I know something and I want to prove it to others, I find that God sneaks in some humbling circumstance so I can’t help but allow my ego to be broken down even further and to allow the Spirit to take hold in new areas of my life. The chosen answer follows:

Close scrutiny does not remove the fact that all answers to this question are speculation that rely on some system of methodical cognition.
Whether it is deemed rational or irrational is a matter of subjectivity.
The nature of the question as a philosophical inquiry is that it reveals something about human nature.
The need to have information, so as to satisfy the egos desire for control.


common sense
You can read the rest of the responses here.
And I’ll leave you with one of my favorite fortune cookie pieces of wisdom:
It is better to have a hen tomorrow than an egg today.

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As a parent, when I imagine what it must be like for God, it makes me feel a little crazy. How can he be so patient with all of us all the time? It’s like watching my two-year-old daughter try to put her flip flops on the wrong feet earlier this evening. The first shoe just wouldn’t go on right, and so she started to scream and kick her feet in the struggle. I could have intervened and done it for her, but then how would she learn how to do it herself? And so I observed. And waited, not giving advice or assistance until she asked me to help her.

It seems so insignificant. What would have been the difference if I had stepped in to help her half a minute sooner than she requested? Anyone who has lived with a feisty two-year-old knows that if she wants to do it herself, you darn well had better let her do it even if she’s failing miserably. To intervene too soon is to rob her of the opportunity to learn not independence, but interdependence. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t get it perfect all the time. And I want my kids to know how to put on their own shoes, how to dress themselves, how to cook and clean up after themselves. But I also want them to know their limits, and to know how to accept help from others.

I picture myself like a two-year-old in my walk with God. How can he stand it to watch me flail and whine, cry and fidget rather than ask him to help me? I imagine he is very sad sometimes as he watches me, so close to me with the solutions to all my problems yet he will wait patiently for me to call on him before sending his legions of angels to assist me in ending the struggle.

I experienced just such a miracle tonight, while trying to put my kids to bed. I wanted to inflict all sorts of bodily harm because it was past 9pm, Kellan had already been in a screaming tantrum for an hour, and Ida, who had just returned from playing with some of the other kids, was just getting started on her antics. Very often I have to leave the house when that happens, lest I begin to rant and rave, to make threats and break small non-valuable items. But instead of losing it completely (though I did raise my voice and cry a little), I remembered to pray for help. You see, no concern is too small for God’s omnipotent, omniscient unconditional love.

And just as suddenly as it began, the impending squall lifted and the girls and I laid together in the tranquil twilight, their breathing slow and steady. Both of them drifted peacefully to sleep in a matter of minutes. I held my breath. You see, even when everyday miracles occur and I recognize them as such in the moment, I’m still afraid that God’s goodness will not prevail. I’m like Peter walking on water, then plunging into the waves from my lack of faith. But Jesus still extends his hand to me, beckoning me to meet him across the depths. When I listen to his voice above the din, I am filled with gratitude and everything seems possible.

I may not even have noticed the depth of grace that I experienced tonigh, but when I logged into my computer and Romans 12:3 showed up as the verse of the day, the lesson came full circle:

I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him. –Romans 12:3 The Message translation

What have you let God do for you today?

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