Not unto the Critics…

Holiday break affords much needed introvert reflection time for me and as I dive into my thoughts/ feelings/ dreams, my gratitude increases by exponential leaps and bounds. I recall who I am at my most basic, yet ironically complex, self. The layers of deadlines and to-do lists make cloudy the image that I have of who I am. Then technological gadgets make it so that I can go throughout the day with literally not a second of alone time.

So space to come back to myself is needed like the sun is needed after weeks of clouds.

The space that this 2015 holiday has provided has been both difficult and productive. It’s necessary space, but it often requires one to pick up those things that one has pushed aside in one’s spirit because of how hard they might be to think and talk about.

It’s a kind of “re-collection space.” Space to recollect that which I know is true about myself and to center my mind, body, and spirit around that, as well as a time to re-collect my priorities, my work, relationships that I have neglected, etc.

One guide whose work I trust to accompany me through this recollection space is someone who is not new to the blog, but whom I’ve written about before, here and here. During this break, I have been reacquainted with Dr. Brené Brown’s sociological work on shame and vulnerability. She has centered her most recent work on a quote which she came across years ago by Theodore Roosevelt. Before sharing the quote and elucidating my thoughts on it, I want to first say that while I believe this quote to be extraordinarily significant to the truth of her work, I have major issues of much of what Teddy did as President and do not support his actions by posting this quote.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.

This quote has been poignant to me in my reflection on what is to come in 2016 and the manner by which I plan to carry myself. The main point of this quote and of my writing today is the vulnerability that it takes to be in the arena: to put yourself “out there” and expose yourself to the weathered elements of criticism. Being vulnerable almost always involves creating something, be it poetry, a blog or book, or beginning a program of study, getting out of an unhealthy relationship or getting into a new one, using your privilege creatively to dis-mantle unjust systems, allying with folks who are doing the work from their communities, doing the work from your community, forming new skill sets, pushing your body into something healthier, and so many more ways of creating vulnerably.

Though this list of activities varies widely in scope, two common themes unite it: creating and vulnerability. Creating means bringing something new into the world instead of solely consuming. You know, like consuming social media, TV, Netflix, magazines, people, sports games, and the list goes on. Rather than consuming practices, these activities of creation require one to stand in the arena surrounded by many critics who are quite comfortable sitting on their butts critiquing you. And it can hurt incredibly because you are so exposed. This is where Brené’s work comes in (see video below) because it is at this point of vulnerability that she suggests acknowledging the critics (both human and your own self doubt) and even reserving their seats, and then she suggests: “Tell them, I see you, I hear you, but I’m going to do this anyway.”

Some critics are trolls whose sole purpose is to inflict doubt and criticism because of their own lack, but some are family and friends who, for whatever reason, cannot get on board with this growth, change, and creativity in your life.

“Tell them, I see you, I hear you, but I’m going to do this anyway.”

Because it doesn’t really matter who you are, if you aren’t also in the arena getting your butt kicked as hard as I am, and creating something in this world instead of consuming all the things, then while I respect your opinion, it is irrelevant to me.

I’m going to do this anyway.

*******************************

You can see the full video of Brené Brown’s: Why Your Critics Aren’t the Ones Who Count, here. I highly recommend it!

Our Longings of Advent: Part 4, Contemplation with Community

Continued blessings during this Advent! My prayer is that it has been a rich and meaningful time thus far. We’ll have one more post later this week as we near Christmas-tide!

IMG_2027

In this last week of Advent, we include in our focus of contemplation of self and land, the contemplation of community. We know that we cannot do life alone. Many of us are beginning new seasons of life with school, career, and family and it is temping to try to do this alone, but it is unwise; we draw strength and exhortation from the resonance of a community. Our faith grows as we wait for the Lord together; we know the Lord’s love better because we know the love of each other.

This week, let us focus on each other’s stories. If you are able, create space for time with a friend, making a point to hear his/her/their story and share yours in return. Stories from this year or from years past. These stories need not necessarily all be positive or negative, but it should be your story to share.

Dori Grinenko Baker writes, “theological reflection happens when we look for the place where our stories meet up with God’s story.1” Theology is done everyday, especially in community. In Mighty Stories and Dangerous Rituals, Anderson and Foley write, “Stories are privileged and imaginative acts of self-interpretation. We tell stories of a life in order to establish meaning and to integrate our remembered past with what we perceive to be happening in the present and what we anticipate in the future.”2 As we spend time in reflection of Advent, we would be remiss if we did not focus on stories because they make meaning out of life and help us remember who we are, where we have been, how we have been hurt, or perhaps what/who we are waiting on.

Sometimes stories own us. But I’ll digress as this is a whole other blog post to explore.

May your journey during this sacred time of Advent be rich this week as you do it alongside community.

**Scriptural contemplation for the week: Philippians 4:4-7

1 Dori G. Baker, The Barefoot Way: A Faith Guide for Youth, Young Adults, and the People Who Walk With Them (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 11.

2 Herbert Anderson and Edward Foley, Mighty Stories, Dangerous Rituals (San Francisco, CA: Josey Bass Imprinting, 1998), 5.

 

Our Longings of Advent: Part 3, Contemplation with Land

Welcome to the third week of Advent! During this time, we are focused on creating space for reflection with the Holy and we are actively sitting with the expectation that the Lord is coming but the Lord has not come yet (at least in the lectionary calendar).

IMG_2188

As we enter into this third week of Advent, we continue to focus on our own contemplation with self and add to it a focus on contemplation with Land. As we are members of creation, it becomes necessary to our selfhood that we reflect on what it means to be in right relation with all of creation. When we are disconnected from the rest of creation (human and nonhuman), we are disconnected from our Creator, because it is only through relationships that we are fully ourselves.

Thus, this week, consider finding the time and space to de-center yourself by focusing on how connected you are to all of creation, especially nonhuman creation. Think about the connections that you have with the Land on which you live; as you sit down to eat a meal, reflect on how long it took to grow that food and how many miles it took to bring it to you; think about the species that dwelled on the Land before it was taken up by buildings; think about land practices that consider all of creation and not just humans; think about the season of winter and how it provides rest to the Land.

Let us reflect on the words of ecofeminist writer, Diann Neu,

Winter brings sweet darkness and chilling cold. We see the stark trees and barren lands, hear the quiet and silence, smell fires burning, touch the snow, feel the blustery wind, and taste steaming soup to warm us inside. This is a time to lie fallow. The spirits of the ancestors knew the power of the darkness and hibernation, the sacredness of death and rebirth. The darkness, dormancy, and silent beauty of winter offer time for another vision. It is time to examine mortality. Mysteries lie in darkness. Solitude brings new dreams from the silence, the waiting, the time apart. Winter invites a long journey inward to draw on natural resources and strength. The starkness of the environment can bring clarity. The structure of the tree and the shape of the land are revealed as they are freed from vegetation. We participate with the Earth in the sacred cycle: death preparing for rebirth, emptying to make space for the new. We rest and hibernate.1

As you reflect the given scripture this week, which talks about in God, “we live, move, and have our being,” think about what it means to live in God. As the culture speeds up, eagerly consuming as Christmas approaches, what does it mean to live and move and have your being in the Creator? Does this change how you live in the world and the ecological footprint that you leave on the earth?

**Scriptural contemplation for the week: Acts 17:22-34

1 Diann Neu, Return Blessings: Ecofeminist Liturgies Renewing the Earth, (Cleveland, Ohio: The Pilgrim Press, 2002), 173.

Our Longings of Advent: Part 2, Contemplation with Self

On the long darkness that greets us each winter day, consider creating a daily space of reflection.
IMG_2270-1Advent looks pretty different for the diversity of folks who observe it. Some folks are more comfortable adding something to their routines/ lives to focus on God, while other folks remove routine items/ practices so that they may better focus on God. Either way, the idea is to prepare yourself spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically for the high Holy day of Christmas and enter the season of Christmastide.

Practically, Advent can be a structured time (four weeks) that one brings a level of reflection to one’s life which, oddly enough, can bring liberation. I use liberation here to mean a time where one is freed from the rat race that one’s life can snowball into in pursuit of the completion of the eternal Christmas to-do list, the pursuit of self-affirmation through external sources (especially other people), or even the pursuit of service to others. In naming these things, it is easy to see that though they may not necessarily be harmful, the identity-making pursuit of them necessarily detracts from the pursuit of their opposites (ie. stillness with the Creator; self-affirmation through internal/ spiritual means; self-care; scriptural reflection). These lists may not be entirely fair, but I suspect they are plausible enough that they sound familiar.

So on our journey through Advent, what if we replaced a hour of doing, with an hour of contemplating? But what do I mean by contemplation?

To want God.

To intentionally create spaces where we are “vulnerable to God.”

In this, we prepare ourselves for the observance of the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Eternal Word, the Son, the second person of the Triune God, Christ Jesus. We slow ourselves so that we may open ourselves to the mystery of grace, mercy, and love that the Creator God, the first person of the Triune, gifted creation with in the act of the Incarnation. Because of this act, God, Emmanuel is coming to us.

To guide us through the second week of Advent, let us dwell on the words of an Anglican systematic theologian, Sarah Coakley. For Coakley, contemplation (which she classifies as an ascetic discipline) must be a serious endeavor in a Christian’s life. She defines contemplation as particular kind of prayer, wherein one repeatedly waits on God in silence. This practice cultivates the work of the Spirit, the third person of the Triune, who is often reduced to fluff, but who is actually a fierce subverter of powerful and evil institutions. Further, contemplation is a vulnerable act as one sits and receives the divine gifts that God gives, but in this process, the self is expanded. When one is quiet and open, one can see much more about oneself and the world than one could in the midst performing a series of tasks.

I foresee this practice of contemplation (along with the removal of activities which preclude one from contemplation), as being a dear companion through the journey of Lent. We want God. We want to be opened, filled, humbled, and challenged by the Creator who first prepared this journey for us.

In closing, I’ll leave you with a last quote from Coakley, which can be easily re-written into a prayer:
“Contemplation makes great ethical demands– to lose one’s life in order to gain it, to turn the other cheek, to love one’s enemies. It is not a form of disengagement, but of passionate reordered engagement.”

May we sustain ourselves through this Lenten season with the richness of God’s mercy, God’s justice-making, and God’s Love. May it ever be so.

********************

Sarah Coakley, God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity,’ (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 340-344.

Longings of Advent: Part 1 (Hope)

**This Advent, I will be writing a five-part blog series on Advent and today’s blog is the first, which gives an introduction to the season of Advent.

IMG_5751
So what is this Advent deal all about? Are you currently observing it? If so, how?

As we journey together and commit ourselves to reflective practices during this sacred season, know that I am praying for you and learning with you! It is an honor to do this together.
Let me suggest that, as you read this post, you open up the instrumental version of “O Come, O Come Immanuel” and listen to this Advent song while reading this post.

Advent begins four Sundays before 25 December each year, and for us liturgical types, it begins the church year, hence the name Advent, which means “beginning” or “coming.” In Advent, we wait with longing for the arrival of the Christ child on 25 December. We know that this expected day is coming, but it has not yet arrived. We wait and we are nourished with the hope of what is to come, but is not here yet.

I’m fascinated with the idea of Advent because I have only been celebrating it for three years; this year I am taking time to feel everything that this time has to give. It’s almost a misnomer to say “celebrate” Advent because what I have found thus far is a sad season… one of longing and expectation for the day that is Christ’s birth. It’s a season that does not leave room for cheery Christmas carols or green- red sugar cookies. I’m finding that it’s requiring me to slow down, to stop… stop consuming, stop talking, stop worrying, stop making idols, stop running around… a time to stop.

In our fast-paced, minute-to-win-it culture, the idea of longing for something can be a bit foreign. Everything’s got to happen now. Pronto!… as it should have been completed ten minutes ago. We don’t long for things nearly as much because, well, we can have them right now. We speed up relationships. We speed up acquiring possessions. We speed up worship services. We speed up conversations. I think we’ve forgotten what it means to yearn… to long…. to ache for something deep within. Something that is surely coming but is not here yet.
It’s odd to have to actually plan to slow down, to set a date on the calendar in which you block out time to stop and turn off the gizmos and gadgets. To be quiet. To just be. Without this time, we, as creatures of busyness, become unsettled. Where is the space to meditate, to reflect, to pray? Where is a contemplative time which is required for us to arrive at thoughts that will be necessary for our future?

If no other time of the year, Advent is a time for this. To sweep away the busyness and commercialization of Christmas from our days. To reflect and remember who I am… what is my ethos? What is my purpose here on earth? What have I done with this year? Am I doing that which makes me come alive and working to create space for others to do the same?

Advent is a time to long for what we don’t yet have. To expect. To be caught in the parenthesis of the past and what is surely to come.

The day is coming when we will celebrate, but it is not this day.

This day we long for what is to come. And when it comes, we know it will come with intentionality and significance.

Sometimes at the Communion table on the first day of Advent, before serving the bread and wine, pastors will pray that this bread would sustain the congregation through this time of longing and stillness.

I pray that you too would be sustained during this time of longing. That you would be sustained with the bread of contemplation and reflection. And if this is a sad time for you, let it be. Embrace the pain and make it a part of you.

We will celebrate soon. But for now, we long.

The Sustained Work of a Centennial: The Fellowship Of Reconciliation USA

Tomorrow begins the Centennial celebration, that’s right, the 100 year celebration of the sustained peace, nonviolence, and freedom work of the Fellowship of Reconciliation USA. Upon this Centennial’s advent, FOR is the oldest interfaith peace and justice organization in the United States. Since its inception in 1915, FOR has worked diligently for peace and justice through nonviolence; we have worked for alternative solutions to war, as well as worked on systemic institutional injustices which create conditions of marginalization and violence.

It is appropriate that this celebration begin on the heels of All Saints Day, as we remember the saints of many faiths who had callused hands and sore backs from the faithfulness with which they dedicated themselves to this work.

We celebrate them, we celebrate those currently working, and who are to come.

Regarding the Centennial, to quote from our FOR website,
“Now holds all the power of 100 years of hope, dreams, courage, sweat, toil, victories, joy, and tears; and it is the fusion of this century of memories, the strength and inspiration of our forbearers, and the fortitude of our convictions that will propel FOR’s mission into the future.”

So I invite you to join us in this celebration! Though the main events are in New York City this weekend, we will be celebrating on into 2016. Soon, our documentary will be finished and I will be hosting a viewing in Nashville. Details to follow.

Click here for a list of all of the events.

On: Death and Dying

I write on the heels of Halloween, of a day where the veil between the living and dead is especially thin. Halloween is not really about costumes for me, though I do not mean to negate how fun (though, at times, problematic) they can be. For me, Halloween is a time to dedicate to the honoring of that thin veil and to observe All Souls/ All Saints Day in remembrance of those who have passed on. It’s a communal memory of public losses in society to injustices, but it is also a personal memory of the folks whom you knew and loved who passed along through the veil this past year.

As a society, we do not talk about death very much, at least insofar as the act of death. Often the subject of death is immediately subsumed by conversations about Heaven or the afterlife. I am not immune to this as I will admit that death is not a topic that I am comfortable talking about over dinner. I mean, do we all want to be bequeathed with indigestion?

Because I don’t like talking about death, I forced myself to enroll in a class called, “Death and Dying” this semester. Go figure. (I often subject myself to these sorts of things when I know they especially address/poke/prod a weakness of mine).

I am positive, though, that I am not alone and that this is a communal/societal experience. I know this because I see how hard we try to avoid death –we separate ourselves from the animals that had to die so that we may eat them and we sanitize death in impersonal funeral homes rather than house wakes. Thinking about death generally brings anxiety, uncertainly, and fear to many folks, and this should not be denied or covered up by one’s view(s) of the afterlife. Uncertainty often brings natural anxiety for us. Let’s face it, if you are reading this, you have not died and know not what the experience of death feels/ sounds/ smells/ tastes/ looks like for you personally. One’s view of the afterlife does not negate the uncertainty of the experience of death.

The fact remains that we do not know what it is like to die. And in the un-knowing [the un-known] a space is created for fear, or anxiety, or hope, or maybe especially faith.

No matter how sure you are about the afterlife or lack thereof, faith always must be just that. Faith. The knowing amidst the un-knowing; the trust that even through the un-knowing about the experience/ process of death, there will be a way. Thanks be to God.

    Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1, NRSV)