tension tamer and hard hats

I’m just now recovering from the injustice of two days ago when the internet ate my blogpost.

I wrote the blog on my phone and I felt good about the productivity of my commuter inspiration… until I looked at it later and saw that only half of the post got published. The other half is in the belly of the internet somewhere, gurgling and hopefully making a big indigestive scene.

I am aware my frustration is ironic, given the content of the post – that it was about whimsy and surprise and the unexpected. But what do you do when all of the above feels more like a series of unfortunate events and less like a fairytale – when city commuting and daylight savings darkness and spilt pumpkin bread feel a little more like failure?

There is adventure inside those places, too, I know. But my belief has to be big enough to swallow up the doubt that it is not so. Or at least my belief has to be big enough to wrestle my doubt into submission. And sometimes that sized belief is hard to come by, hard to pray for, and hard to keep.

Tonight, tension tamer is my tea of choice.

It was in the birthday package from my mom, shipped from Iowa with other useful things like measuring cups, Grandma’s homemade hot pads, and the angel food cake pan that carried all the spongey goodness of my childhood. How she knew that my tension would need taming on this day in early November, I’m not sure. I think it’s probably a “mom” thing and I hope it’s hereditary.

I do know that one of my loaves of pumpkin bread came out like this tonight. It’s more mangled in person, and for good reason: it somersaulted onto the oven window.

pumpkin bread crumble

I actually think it recovered well, all things considered. I think my roomie will find a way to convert it into morning deliciousness. She’s kind of a sucker for redeeming messes.

Maybe this is what it really means to worship with a hard hat – maybe it means headaches and heartaches and haphazard nights in the kitchen. Maybe the worship adventure is something that is always redemptive because this life is always broken.

Maybe the kind of posture Dillard thinks proper for worship in the Christian life is one that prepares for danger and doubt as much as it prepares for joy and song.

I am usually the joy-song type. Mostly.

I mostly love new things and crowded schedules and mishaps and detours. Mostly. Then, there are those days, those series of unfortunate events that remind me that my worship must be made of harder stuff. Anxiety isn’t believed away with joy-songs. They factor in, sure, along with tension tamer tea and well-timed laughter.

But there is a reason Dillard suggests a hard hat under the steeple on Sundays. I think it might be because worship can sometimes look like a demolition. It is not comfortable or pleasant, but it is right and it is good work.

My joy-songs are of a different kind when debris is flying overhead. The adventure is inside the danger and inside the belief that God’s identity has not changed. He is not less God and I am not less His child. My future is no less secure.

When your life so closely resembles Amelia Bedelia, you might remember every ingredient for vegetable beef soup except the beef. You might also forget the butter on the stovetop (in an effort to soften it for a cookie recipe when you do not have a microwave). In typical Amelia flare, you might somersault your pumpkin creation onto the oven window and then shove it back in the pan to bake the salvaged parts. You might miss the train that beat the daylight to the horizon and you might make one errand into seven.

And you might need to wear a hard hat if you plan to worship.

Because your heart will only respond to surprises with joy-songs if you are prepared for things to get messy. The only proper preparation is the Word taking root and establishing inside your heart and inside the series of unfortunate events. There is not a single curveball my Amelia Bedelia nature can throw in this life that the Word is not prepared for – not a single unfortunate event in this life that the Lord isn’t already planning to use for His glory.

Last weekend, I heard a message from Hebrews 12:18-23,

“For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect,”

“Does anyone know the power we so blithely invoke?” Dillard asks.

Well, I’m learning at least. I’m learning that the power we invoke requires hard hats and a supernatural amount of perseverance. There are joy-songs, but they are not empty. They are hard wrought and wrestled from the grip of failures.

when you are a regular wanderer

Everyone has a “lost in Manhattan” story… That’s what they tell me, anyway, and it’s meant to be some consolation.

I wasn’t exactly lost last night, but I don’t exactly mind when I am. Most people regard wandering as accidental and unfortunate – because accidents shouldn’t happen on the regular unless your life is Amelia Bedelia (ahem).

I am a regular wanderer and last night my wandering footsteps were chasing the colors in the leaves and the warm light hidden on the horizon. After work, I blitzkrieged my friends to see if anyone wanted to suck the marrow out of the autumn day and several responded. So, I said yes to plans in Manhattan and yes to plans in Brooklyn with more optimism than is New York appropriate.

I ended up at Madison Square Garden on quite the transit detour on the A (where I sat beside a tired looking middle-aged cosmetic surgeon who had obviously had work done on his cheekbones). I heard about his 14 hour work day and his second home in Conneticut and his 3 day work week. After a few loop-de-loops and train hops, I successfully toasted Oktoberfest beers with Ashley on the High Line, where we giggled at the people gathered for stargazing. We wanted to say, “We’ll save you the trouble: you can see about five, but there is a star-studded blanket beyond these city lights that is very visible from Iowa.”

From there, I navigated another underground maze to catch a train back to Brooklyn. Except I didn’t look at the sign on the train I ran down the stairs to catch.

After I sat down in a huff, a curly haired hipster smiled and said, “Well, that’s the most graceful near-miss if I’ve ever seen one.” I kind of just sighed and said, “Yeah… now to head home.” But as I said it, I looked up to realize I was on the wrong train headed in the wrong direction.

“This train isn’t going to Brooklyn, is it?”
I could tell he wished he had better news, “Nope.”

So, I scooted out and caught another flying metal bullet to meet up with group number two in Brooklyn at Alice’s Arbor, where the wine was already poured and a girls night was underway. After the right amount of laughter and story swapping and dessert devouring, we parted ways and I waited for yet another train to see Patrick and marvel, blurry-eyed, at the thoughtful gifts he brought back from Europe.

And THAT, friends, is how you stretch a day from 5:30 am – 2:00 am. Start unnecessarily early to catch the Autumn waking up on Eastern Parkway and then let the day roll out in front of you until you’ve tucked it in on the other end.

That is how it’s done in NYC, at least by this Amelia Bedelia character. Say yes to things, chase autumn to pieces, sit on park benches, wait for trains, take the wrong trains, laugh at misfortune, and always be willing to toast.

That’s how yesterday went down for this regular wanderer.
Today, I’ll turn in early.

when He said, “walk with me”

The walls of my heart were near bursting in the middle of the evening service last night. If ever there was a sermon that hit the home I’m coming from as much as the home I’m headed to, it was this sermon.

The passage came from Matthew 9, when Jesus called Matthew to be a part of his motley crew. Jesus was just passing by Matthew’s shameful tax stand when he simply said, “Follow me.”

It was an invitation and a command and a whole bundle of things all rolled into one. Matthew didn’t have the luxury of reading over Jesus’ words to examine their meaning. He had only the moments flashing in front of his money-dirtied table to decide what to do. This man in front of him looked him in the eye and he didn’t just say “Follow me.”

He did, but Jesus said something else, too.

The invitation is much more than a cold command to walk behind a dictator. The invitation is nothing like that. The Greek word, akoloutheó, means not just to follow but to “accompany, attend” or literally, “to go the same way with.”

I squirmed in my pew when my pastor explained, “Jesus wasn’t just saying, ‘Walk with me.’ He was also saying, ‘I want to walk with you.'”

The invitation to follow Jesus is an invitation to accompany Him on the kingdom mission of heaven.

This invitation to follow Him means that He wants to walk in the same direction as me – that He is pleased to be going the same way. It is His perfect sovereignty that guides and directs our steps on the path, but He is not embarrassed to be seen at my side. He knows about my lopsided steps – about my clumsy, Amelia Bedelia ways. He knows that I’ve got baggage and that I get distracted.

He knows ALL these things and still He is pleased to invite me to walk with Him. And inside that invitation I know He wants to walk with me.

And do you know the first thing Matthew did as he walked alongside Jesus? He threw a party. He invited all the vagabonds and wanderers and outcasts and unlikely party guests to his house for the feast of all feasts and Jesus was at the center.

And there they walked together – Jesus and Matthew – hosting a beautiful gathering where more people could view the result of Matthew’s unlikely invitation to be a follower.

I’m still giddy with all this. Vito went on to preach a “party culture” into his congregation – a message of accountability that Christians should be hosting the craziest parties. Christians should be inviting the rich and poor and awkward and smooth into their homes to break bread and drink wine and give thanks to the Lord because we have been invited to accompany Him along the way.

We should be doing what Matthew did when Jesus called him to walk along the same path. This kind of thing is in my bones. I want to invite my car dealership/drug dealing neighbors and the owners of the cutest pizza place on Rogers Street and my co-workers and the young runner couple that lives on 2nd floor… I want to invite them all over for a party in honor of the Lord who has invited me to follow Him!

I know, I know – all my dear, safe Iowan friends are worried. I won’t go doing anything crazy until Patrick gets back in town and can make sure my ideas aren’t too dangerous. For now, I’ll just be giddy with the idea that Jesus called me to walk with Him, which means He is pleased to walk with me.

It’s good to be giddy about such things.