oh, dear

Friends, this is one of those posts on one of those days. But I probably don’t mean what you think. Nothing dreadful happened and I am not hormonal.

Beauty got weaved in among other things – into the rearranged plans and the winter traipsing and the new basil plant in our little kitchen windowsill. Beauty got weaved in and now I’m writing by a candle my roommate lit to keep me company in the rest of these night hours. Just me and my chai tea + honey + coconut almond milk, candlelit and tucked inside this Brooklyn winter night – inside the beauty that got weaved in among other threads.

I am not quite sure what makes a beautiful day seem heavy or hard. Maybe I imagine sadness into open spaces or maybe that giant glass sculpture we walked through in the meatpacking district really did have a deeper effect than I thought.

I guess I think there is a way to experience beauty in the negative. It looks like sadness over sketchbooks that stay closed and sadness over craft boxes that stay hidden under beds. It looks like doodled inspiration for home improvement projects and the keyboard leaning in the corner of the living room.

And maybe that is the sadness that makes Saturdays feel heavy, because beauty needs space.

Beauty needs to be breathed in without a city metronome. Beauty needs to hear us say “Yes” when it isn’t convenient or instantly beneficial and sometimes my voice gets garbled up in my throat. Sometimes it is hard to know what is beautiful and life feels too crowded to do anything slowly.

That’s probably why I ended up sprawled out on my neighbor’s floor, looking at photographs of America in the 1900s. Photographs were different then – few were taken an arm’s length away. I turned the black and white pages slowly, reading captions and imagining the stories that unfolded after the moments were captured.

This is some of the beauty that got weaved in, but it made me aware of the beauty that got left out. How can I get more of the discernment to know which is which? And is it okay to be sad that I’m not better at choosing?

We’re in the middle of fashion week in this fine city. I know this mostly because I’ve seen more 6+ foot beauties working the sidewalks like runways. I don’t know how the wind follows them so it always blows their manicured hair in the right direction, but it is impressive. They look the right amount of tussled and flustered, with the cold concrete city as a backdrop.

And we’re all just trying to make space for beauty.

We are all trying to choose what is beautiful even when life feels too crowded to enjoy anything slowly. There is both nothing and too much to do on our lists of lovely things. Maybe I’ve imagined this weight and we do not need to be brave about beauty. But maybe not.

Maybe it is okay to feel like days have weight.

Maybe it is okay to be sad about beauty that never gets used or loved or held. Maybe it is okay that a sculpture sunk your spirit and it is okay that the feeling followed you all day.

Maybe beauty has weight and needs space.

this ain’t no kind of religion

If it was, I’d be doomed.

If this life is about religion, I’d be zonked, smothered, shriveled, beat up, dried out, and downcast. If yesterday was about measuring up and looking good and doing right, I failed.

I thought a run would cure my sour rhythm, but right before I left I opted for the rollerblades. I wanted to feel the wind faster in my face, I guess. Halfway around Gray’s Lake, after picking up speed on the perfect slope, a very large and very deep pool of water stretched over the path. I made a last minute decision to go off-roading on the grass, which ended as quickly as it started – with me on my back.

I jumped up and blade ran (sideways with arms pumping) across the rest of the grass until the path was clear. I’m not really sure why I did this because blade running is not a thing. No one runs on rollerblades in the grass.

But when I picked up speed again on the other side of that pool of water, I thought about a conversation I had with a colleague recently. She said, “Yeah, I just get sick of some Christians in my life saying they want to do more Christian stuff. I’m like, ‘Why don’t you just stop talking about it and live it?’ I mean, I’m not much into religion, but I do it 40 hours a week. It’s my job.”

This colleague is my favorite, but I couldn’t make any sense of her statements. I think she was saying that she does what Christians talk about every work week – it’s her day job. Apparently, there are “Christians” in her life who have less humanitarian jobs and they feel guilty about their efforts to better humanity. She’s not a fan of religion, but she does it pretty well anyway.

In any case, I was thinking about this conversation when I was rollerblading (faster now to escape the humiliation of my fall) when night was settling on the city.

And I knew that every doomed day would stay doomed if it was about religion. Even if we all worked in the social services field all day, every day… even if we helped a thousand zillion people because of our efforts… even then we would be doomed if it was about religion.

THIS IS LOVE.

Christ breaks through every day that we fail to “do religion” perfectly (and that’s every day). He sets us free from human measurements and standards. He invites us to dance unashamed because our freedom was purchased by His love.

In every way we fall short, His grace extends far enough.

Can you feel it? It’s like rain, this love. It falls on the mighty and the weak, the smart and the simple, the famous and the obscure. His love falls on those who wrestle in doubt, cower in fear, and push back in anger. It’s like a downpour, this love.

His love accepts our incomplete efforts because the only measurement is Christ. He accomplished everything so I could accomplish anything at all.

Thursday is a good day to get soaked.

how many daisies?

Lake Michigan, 2012

“Natalie. Build. Castle!”

“Oh, are we building a castle?”

“Uh-huh! Yep! Build castle!”

“Wow, look at that ca–”

“Natalie step on it!”

“Yep, you sure did. Now what are we going to do?”

“Natalie. Build. Castle!”

And so it went this past week – back and forth from the water to the shore and back again. Dig, rinse, scoop, pour, stomp. Repeat.

There’s a beauty in a child’s monotony that big people miss. We want our actions to produce something that wasn’t there before we started. We want results that make sense.

And we are annoyed when rhythms appear (to us) to move without purpose. We don’t delight in doing simple things over and over again. There’s nothing delightful about laboring for underwhelming results.

We’ve lost our awe of little things.

But, oh, I wish you could have seen Natalie’s face! She got so industrious with that shovel and had such purpose with the big red bucket. She kept beautiful busy – building or destroying – and every once in a while she would invite someone else to join her. Try explaining to great, big  2-year-old blue eyes that digging, rinsing, scooping, pouring, stomping and repeating isn’t a good use of her time. Just try it.

Albert Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I wonder what he would say to my 2-year-old niece who does the same thing over and over again and watches the result like it’s the first time she’s ever seen it.

She isn’t expecting something different (she knows full well what is coming), but when “it” happens, she blooms with joy. Every time, like it’s the first time.

G. K. Chesterton wrote in Orthodoxy Chapter 4:

“A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

I love it.

love how Natalie could have the same amount of joy every time she built up the sand and every time the water washed it away… Every time I hid under the blankets and every time I appeared from underneath… Every time she said, “Natalie go outside, please” and every time she convinced someone to follow her.

Most of all, I love that “God is strong enough to exult in monotony.” Every once in a while we stop and admire the way the water comes in to the shore and splashes the beach, but God makes the water work in rhythm every day with crazy, consistent joy. I love to think that God “has the eternal appetite of infancy.”

Because how many times have we succumbed to sin, “growing old” with maturity marking our progress? How many times have we decided we don’t have time for monotony or aren’t interested or amazed by it anymore?

And how many daisies did God make today, delighting the same in the monotonous beauty of every one?

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

teach them to obey

“… and teach them to obey all that I have commanded you.”

As I sat soaking up the the last minutes of lecture in Perspectives today, I almost didn’t hear these words, “We don’t teach to learn, we teach to obey.” My mind rewound and replayed and something clicked.

I don’t think obsessive is too strong a word to describe the fascination the West has with education. We are greedy about our learning. I’m smack dab in the thick of things, too. I want more in my brain, sometimes just so I can come up with something in conversation to trump the thing someone else said. It’s ugly, really. If you’ve ever seen that clip from Portlandia, it’s something like this and I’m not a bit proud of it.

We want knowledge because there’s something elite about it, something powerful.

and this was never how God intended knowledge

It was not a bad thing for Adam and Eve to know things about the Lord, about the garden, about their place in it. In fact, It delighted God for humans to grow in understanding because it produced praise – the lifestyle kind – where their knowledge resulted in actions full of love. The more they knew of God, the more they wanted to know of Him and please Him. We all know that came to a bad end, but it’s important to remember that our pursuit of knowledge hasn’t always been bittersweet. It was once only beautiful.

“… and teach them to obey all that I commanded you.” These are Jesus’ well-known words from Matthew 28. He is not asking the disciples to go out and form institutions where they teach people to learn. Learning for the sake of learning is a lame movement. The only thing contagious about it is our own greed for more. Learning to obey means letting knowledge sink down deep where it won’t grow stale – where it turns into obedient actions full of love.

When we learn to obey, we know our Master in such a way that our greatest delight is to please Him. When we teach to obey we are teaching that following Christ means conforming to His image (not knowing about conforming to His image).

How dismal the Gospel would be if it was only about knowing. How glorious that, through our obedience, God sanctifies us. I don’t want to just learn the Gospel and I don’t want to teach others to just learn the Gospel.

I want to obey and teach others to obey, that God would be glorified and that our supreme delight would be in Him.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

lost in translation

"Luke", mixed media on canvas (Makoto Fujimura)

As I sat listening to Nancy Pearcey, my pen wavered, scribbled, wavered, and surrendered. Her masterful articulation put my pen strokes to shame. I won’t try to summarize or capture her description of Francis Schaeffer‘s two story dichotomy in our society today. For that, I will wait to dive into the pages of Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning.

For now, I want to mention one thought: lost in translation.

When Pearcey was asked, “How can we bring this message to our culture today – what do we do practically to get this message out?” at the end of her seminar, she lamented a dreadful linguistic loss. She sighed, “Well, we talk about it.”

Sadly, it’s hard to find words and harder to find conversants. As we rush into “progress” and grow out of our too-small, sacred shoes, the Gospel gets lost in translation. As Makoto Fujimura, prominent NYC artist, describes it,

“We, today, have a language to celebrate waywardness, but we do not have a cultural language to bring people back home.”

Tonight, I watched the film 50/50 with some friends. I was struck by all the ways language broke down around the main character diagnosed with cancer.
His friend fails to communicate love as he follows the haphazard advice of a book.
His girlfriend can’t find words to describe her guilt.
His therapist can only speak textbook and theory.
His father speaks the language of forget and his mother, worry.
And he, the main character, tries hard to speak no language at all.

Today, we have all sorts of language to walk people out to the ledge, but (in all our progress) we struggle to give a living translation of the Gospel in a way that brings people to the only safe Refuge.

God designed us for relationship – a right relationship with Him and Creation. So far, we’ve used great word wizardry to narrate – even glorify – the ways these relationships are wrong. We flood the cinemas with the drama and doom of this language. We overwhelm bookshelves with this unsettling lexicon.

So where is the Gospel in the language of this culture?

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

Occupy Life: This Day Happened

This is another in a series of posts called Occupy Life. Read here or here or here or the original post here for more.

The sun sets on another night and the rusty colors fading ripe in the night sky fill my heart with … wonder.

Today, I didn’t uncover any philosophical gems or scientifically disprove gravity. I didn’t speak to hundreds with a riveting account of the Gospel or sacrifice all of my North American excess.

This morning, I wrestled myself free from my many blanketed cocoon to meet the day with haphazard hair and a neutral temperament. Most days, cheeriness escapes before I can even take a breath (which makes for verrrry interesting encounters when I spend nights with my sister, who requires an hour at the least before conversation – not to mention my incoherent, cheery ramblings).

Today, I ambled around … folding laundry and showering and getting ready in a somewhat alien morning stupor. And then the day happened – every last waning moment of it, filled with ribbon tying, table decorating, record-keeping, and averting the small catastrophe that would have been the tablecloths.

That’s it.

Nothing spectacular – just walking with the rhythm of life and being available to respond to oh-so-practical needs in oh-so-unromantic ways.

And sometimes – precious MANY times – this is what is required of us. No, not ribbon tying – living. But, really, really living where life is the most mundane things, not the exception to those things. If I had held my breath, waiting for this Friday to spark with out-of-the-ordinary light, I would have made the Guinness Book of World Records (or be dead).

Humming some tunes while I finish my time at my temp job; climbing into “my own little world” while I sort and organize and live.

I’ve always got a song on my heart – a soundtrack for living alive. Today, that soundtrack is this song by Sojourn, “Lead Us Back.”

Today, this is the sound of life in the ordinary and extraordinary leading to the place where we must return to see its true glory.

Lead Us Back
Falling down upon our knees
Sharing now in common shame
We have sought security
Not the cross that bears Your name
Fences guard our hearts and homes
Comfort sings a siren tune
Weʼre a valley of dry bones
Lead us back to life in You
Lord we fall upon our knees
We have shunned the weak poor
Worshipped beauty courted kings
And the things their gold affords
Prayed for those weʼd like to know
Favor sings a siren tune
Weʼve become a talent show
Lead us back to life in You

Lord Youʼve caused the blind to see
We have blinded them again
With our manmade laws and creeds
Eager ready to condemn
Now we plead before Your throne
Power sings a siren tune
Weʼve been throwing heavy stones
Lead us back to life in You.

Weʼre a valley of dry bones
Lead us back to life in You.
Weʼve become a talent show
Lead us back to life in You
Weʼve been throwing heavy stones
Lead us back to life in You.