Singing For Our Lives…

“If you are mesmerized by televised stupidity, and don’t get to hear or read stories about your world, you can be fooled into thinking that the world isn’t miraculous– and it is.” –Anne Lamott in Grace Eventually: Thoughts on Faith

Earlier this winter, Pete Seeger died. Pete was a folk music legend and a protester. The kind of man who sang stories of relentless optimism and agitation….of workers uniting, of Central American Freedom movement struggles, of nonviolent resistance and international disarmament, of caring for the environment, of his love for America and dream for what we could be as a country if we realized our interconnectedness.

Pete’s songs were songs of protest. Songs which refused to get into bed with the status quo. Songs which prophesied of a better way. Pete was prolific songwriter; he believed that folk music was the music of the people and it was meant to be shared and sung together. For him, singing was the way to stand in the moment and say: “here we are, standing here, fully human, fully alive, and demanding better, singing for our lives.”

For me, the space of optimism that Pete held in the face of injustice and oppression was what drew me to him. Much like Lamott’s quote, Pete saw the miracle in life because he was fully engaged in it. I’m afraid sometimes that all of our gadgets fool us into thinking that we are living, but really, we are experiencing a screen at best, and televised stupidity at worst.

Sometimes we have to remind ourselves to wake up. The old kick-in-the-pants routine. Wake up. Take control. Sing.

The busyness of life can lead to fatigue and a rote routine of daily decompressing by turning on the TV, scrolling through facebook, or watching the latest must-see You Tube video. We can end up consuming so much more than we create and this doesn’t work for the human spirit. It doesn’t ask us to be our best selves. We lose passion and purpose. And sometimes, our voices.

Have we lost the miracle of a sunset? Have we lost the miracle of the complex biochemical processes that must occur for an apple to be digested in our bodies? Have we lost the miracle of living in a community of people who know each others names, stories, and dreams? Have we lost the miracle of helping each other or working for a cause that is greater than ourselves? Have we lost the miracle of eating a fresh tomato from a garden that our hands toiled in? Have we lost the miracle of confessing our joys and concerns to each other? Have we lost the miracle of crying together? Have we lost the miracle of aching for our significant other? Have we lost the miracle of a drenching rain seeping into a scorched earth?

Have we become so disconnected with the earth and each other that we cannot feel anymore?

Being a human is a miracle. But if we forget that, we can one of the most destructive forces ever.

It’s easy to do with all of the notifications to keep up with. Sometimes, it’s easier not to feel, or examine our belief systems thoroughly, or wonder who are best selves really are. It’s easier to consume music than to create it. It’s easier to consume ideas rather than create them. It’s easier to ignore our dissimilar neighbor than to love her. It’s easier to live carelessly than to live consciously. It’s easier to keep tearing down trees as if we own this earth, than it is to plant them and work to help ecosystems thrive. It’s easier to ungraciously read biblical texts than it is to actually research them. It’s easier to criticize than to innovate. Its easier to turn on the TV instead of engaging in vulnerable conversation.

It’s easier, but it’s not better….because we are fooled into thinking that life isn’t miraculous.

And, it is.

A Post of the New Year (2014)

Here we are in 2013, I mean, 2014.

I’ve seen several reflective posts. Was 2013 a good year? Did it bring achieved goals or greater evolution of self? Did it hurt? Is it a year that will always been remembered for one reason or another? I’m happy to read reflection. I’m not sure that I reflect enough. And reflecting, at its most basic level, provides an opportunity for me to stop and remember what it means for me to be human. But reflection takes solitude and focus, and frankly, who has time for that?

I’ve also seen several resolution posts. What was not accomplished in 2013 that absolutely must be in 2014? What lingering pieces of one’s self or lifestyle does one not want to carry into the next 365 days? Our scarcity and perfectionistic culture certainly lets us know loud and clear the things in which we are lacking.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a little tired of being told what I’m lacking. Are you? Little by little one’s self-esteem gets chipped away by the thoughts of what one should have, what one should be able to give, or how one presents oneself to the world.

Maybe a good healthy moment of reflection can deflect the messages that ask us to become something we are not. I’ll never be who you want me to be. I’ll be me. A woman who sincerely believes that love is it. Love is the jam. And I’m not scared to love past the fear around this place. I’m not scared to love through absolutism and disagreement, through ignorance and belittlement, through the Hollywood-ized version of self, through my own prejudice and fear. I’m not afraid to admit that I am not there yet, but I’m working towards what equality, grace, and interconnectedness mean and trying to base my ethics on such a place. I’m not really interested in the abstract. How am I living my ethics today?

So here’s my semi-obligatory New Years post, for whatever it’s worth. I’m here, ready to dust the cobwebs that need to be dusted, ready to smile at new opportunities, ready to hold a hand, ready to face my fears of false inadequacy, ready to nurture community with life-giving folks. My reflections elucidate my resolutions; they coalesce with a little sadness, a lot of gratitude, and a massive amount of excitement.

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If you have resolutions or reflections, I’m happy to read them here. Let me know what is informing your beginning of 2014.

Dance With Me

Dance with me,
Under the stars,
Across the plains,
Through the sequoias,
Hold me tightly,
when I just can’t.

Come with me,
to the edges,
edges of who we are,
who we want to be,
our best selves.

Take a chance with me,
for the rest of our lives,
smile with me in joy,
pray with me in uncertainty,
and miss me in separation.

Work with me,
to illicit change,
to grieve injustice,
to sit at the table
of the full menu,
of human rights.

Do life with me,
let’s find out,
about the mystery
of grace, and mercy,
and love.

Walk with me,
through my fears,
and hesitancy,
show me what
vulnerability means.

Dance with me,
Through the shadows of
what we might be,
if we, as humans,
would realize our
interconnectedness.

Asceticism: Past & Present (And what that has to do with John Piper)

Wearing a chain around one’s neck to remember the weight of one’s sin. Or leading a life of complete celibacy in order to focus more on the divine.

What is asceticism, and how are the ancient practices of asceticism relevant to 21st Century theological conversation and praxis? In other words, what purpose did asceticism serve for early Christians and is asceticism still relevant today? Popular evangelical theologian, John Piper, seems to think it is as relevant today as it was for the early Desert Fathers and Mothers and has used it to support his idea of “Christian Hedonism.” I suggest that Piper’s version of asceticism and his view of its role in modern Christian discipleship are skewed and misdirected; further, I suggest that asceticism is useful today in Christian theology and praxis but only insofar as it is practiced for the sake of our neighbors and not for avoiding idolatry.  … more on that to come.

What is asceticism, exactly?

Asceticism in early Christianity was defined by devotees renouncing worldly pleasures (sexual, familial, monetary, social, etc.) for the sake of spiritual ascent. The Desert Fathers and Mothers are oft referred as “ascetics,” they lived around 300-500 CE in remote desert areas of solitude. Some of their practices were literal and extreme, such as one wearing a weighty chain around one’s neck to be consistently reminded of the weight of one’s sin, or fasting from sleeping and eating for days to focus on prayer. Richard Finn on Oxford Bibliographies offers a helpful general definition of asceticism here. Asceticism grew during a time in which the Roman political authority was imperializing Christianity. You see, Christianity was evolving from a subversive, persecution-filled experience to a state religion under the Roman Emperor, Constantine. A martyr’s death at the hands of Roman officials for one’s faith was not necessarily an empire-wide reality any longer, rather, it was but a memory for these early Christians. Martyrdom was held as one of the highest Christian acts; it was an ultimate act of inversion as persecutors sought to degrade and stamp out Christians. It achieved the opposite, giving martyrs a high honor in the faith. It was a literal manner of giving up one’s earthly, sinful body to emulate Christ in his sacrifice; in other words, it was a way of spiritual ascent. Many of the martyrs are still venerated in church traditions today.1, 2  So, if persecution was no longer a widespread threat, how did Christians achieve spiritual ascension?

The church?

Maybe.

But what if the church was too close for comfort to the Roman government? What if the ideals of the faith had been watered down? What if bishops were controlled by the emperor? Better yet, what if the emperor was venerated as a deity?

Moving away from church and state authority, ascetics chose to reside in the solitude of the desert, finding spiritual ascent in self-denial of worldly pleasures. Their teachings began subsuming anti-empire sentiments during a time when the debate of authority was rampant. There is no doubt that ascetic teaching was a valuable theological practice for early Nov. 2013 038Christians, but it also could very well have been a subversion of church authority with the intent to place that authority in the hands of those who were willing to adopt lives of renunciation.

So is asceticism relevant today?

Rev. Dr. John Piper thinks so.

Piper, a reformed, Calvinist, popular theologian, believes that asceticism as self-denial is necessary to American faith because of the lack of persecution experienced in America the Comfortable. In the 1990s, Piper revived the language of asceticism as he believed it was an essential element to his theological scheme of “Christian Hedonism.” He drew widespread criticism when he wrote a post entitled:  We Want You to Be a Christian Hedonist!.” Piper asserted that a human is made to pursue pleasure, and the chief end of a human is for him/her to find pleasure in God. In fact, he stated that this pleasure is salvific. In his book, Desiring God, he wrote:

The pursuit of joy in God is not optional. It is not an extra that a person might grow into after he comes to faith. Until your heart has hit upon this pursuit, your faith cannot please God. It is not saving faith” (Desiring God, p. 73). 3

Given his belief that a saving faith is one which finds ultimate pleasure in God and not idols, Piper finds asceticism to be an essential faith practice. In a video interview at a Desiring God conference, Piper stated:

“I’m more inclined today at age 58 watching my life and its ease… I’m more convinced than ever that I need asceticism in my life with all of its risks and dangers because I think, in my experience, I am more likely to be deceived right now that I am leaning on God, when I’m leaning on a retirement, or my wife, or successful pastorate, than any other danger. Therefore, I feel like I need some conscious self denials to put myself to the test and see if I get angry, or irritable, or fretful by not having something I want so bad every day or every week…might be sex, might be food, might be approval… wherever I am leaning for pleasure. …when really it’s idolatry. So how do you find out which it is? One of the ways is asceticism.”

So Piper finds that full pleasure in God leaves no room for other idols; he sees asceticism as a litmus test for determining the presence of idols. The denial of self in order to achieve spiritual ascension. Sound familiar?

Perhaps asceticism is relevant today, but not Piper’s version. 

Spiritual discipline and self-denial is valuable to one’s faith, and honestly, one’s sanity. I suspect a deep and profound experience can be found in prolonged solitude and prayer. But in a society of gross economic, sexual, and social injustice, Piper chooses to focus on denying self, not because one’s neighbor is in need, but because denial helps avoid idolatry. And then he calls it saving faith. It takes a fairly privileged view to maintain this theology. Such a theology seems to have not considered hunger, marginalization, or economic despair. To say that the highest calling of a human is to find pleasure in God is to assume an entirely heavenly vision, but what if one does not have the privilege of looking up because one cannot see past the hell?

Racism.

Genocide.

Female mutilation.

Rape.

Cycles of Poverty.

There is a place for self-denial in Christian faith BUT it is needed because of our neighbor’s lack and not because it is the way to avoid idolatry or a way for our salvation.

A sole focus on Christian hedonism clouds the church with a focus on inward, ascetic worship while there is much to be done outside the church in the ways of justice making. I suggest that we get back to the basics of believing that if we can even possibly know how to glorify God, that God is most glorified when we love God and when we tend to the imago Deo in our neighbors by our love for them. I suggest that the self-denial of asceticism is important in our theological praxis, but only insofar as it stems from our neighbor’s lack. I suggest that if we have a highest calling, it must be to love, living ethically in that love.

The way of choosing love is salvific.

So in summary, does asceticism have merit in 2013? Yes, I believe it does. So let us practice self-denial and renunciation. Let us renounce the pressure we are under to achieve the American Dream at the cost of other’s lack. Let us renounce the willful ignorance that we become comfortable in. Let us renounce our fear of those who we think are not like us. Let us give up what we think is ours so that we may share it with our neighbors.

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Citations:

1. Wilken, Robert Louis. The First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012.

2. Harmless, William. Desert Christians: An Introduction to the Literature of Early Monasticism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

3. Piper, John. Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2011.

A Hair Evolution…

In light of heavy personal and national news, I thought I’d share a fun, absolutely meaningless post about the evolution of my hair AND where I’m going with it henceforth. If you know me personally, you’ve experienced the craziness. And for all of this, I must give a shoutout to the Jennifer Mudd! Appreciate all the creativity you bring to the art of hair because we both know none of this was my doing! 480992_4479636472192_637368239_n

2006

2006

2008

2008

2010

2010

Later 2010

Later 2010

Winter 2011

Winter 2011

Spring 2011

Spring 2011

Fall 2011

Fall 2011

Never Enough: Thoughts on the Art of Scarcity

Fall 2012 with Anne Lamott

Caymen Islands & 1st year Anniversary- June 2012 042

It’s pink!

Summer 2013 (yes, it's purple)

Summer 2013 (yes, it’s purple)

This is what's next! (minus the red part)

This is what’s next! (minus the red part and mud part) Photo from: dreadlockssite. com

Ani+DiFranco

Or maybe this! (minus the Ani Difranco part) From lastfm. com

For Eston…

This weekend has been a sad one indeed; the cold, consistent rain appropriates the spirit with which I write this post. Saturday morning a dear family friend left us. Eston Adcock was an exceptional man…a man who quietly worked to show his neighbors that he loved them; I owe him a great deal for all that he did to assist my grandmother after my grandfather left us in 2012. After knowing him for decades, my grandmother commented that she didn’t believe that she’d ever heard a remark of ill will from him. I’m writing this post because I believe that we should honor folks who show unwavering, unsolicited, sustained compassion over a lifetime.

For the suddenness of his passing and for the gaping hole that he left, I offer the Adcock family, this prayer:

For the compassionate spirit of Eston Adcock, Lord we give you thanks and praise.

For the love that he had for his Maker, Lord we give you thanks and praise.

For the way in which he cared for the earth through gardening and farming, Lord we give you thanks and praise.

For the generosity with which he extended his time, talents, and treasures, Lord we give you thanks and praise.

For the work he did which blistered his hands and tired his back, Lord we give you thanks and praise.

For the manner in which he loved Ann, his children, and his many grandchildren, Lord we give you thanks and praise.

For the friendship he extended to my grandparents, Lord we give you thanks and praise.

For his family who grieves tonight the loss of a cornerstone, Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For the hard work of planning a funeral and burial, Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For peace to flow down as plentifully as tears, Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For recalling the years of memories which bring smiles and pain alike, Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For the forthcoming difficult weeks and holiday season, Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For the beautiful Adcock, Brooks, and Hager families, Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

GE DIGITAL CAMERA The late Eston Adcock (Left) and the late Don Davis (right)
GE DIGITAL CAMERA Eston, Ann, Kathy Fields, Ann Davis, and Kate Fields 
GE DIGITAL CAMERA Eston and Ann Adcock

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To know Eston was to love Eston. If you have memories of him, leave a comment here. Let’s honor Eston’s legacy of service for God and for humanity.

This Country You

My good friend SaraBeth Geoghegan has been singing me through the years since we met in 2004. A few moons ago, I was able to make it to a concert where she introduced a new song, which now entitles this blog post. Browing and Davis IL-- Sept 2012 052Beautifully written, the song speaks to her ability to write music that puts into words many emotions which are difficult to otherwise verbalize.  You can check out SaraBeth’s site, here and I’d highly recommend it!

Here are a few selected lyrics from “This Country You,” which guide my post:

My train takes me into this country you,
to see the sprawling hills of people and places.
The face of your mother there in the field of irises
and in the aspen trees, your father smiles at me.
And I ride through, this country you.
I love the people here who take my hand, invite me in.
They speak to me with fire about living.
And I ride through, this country you,
I close my eyes and ride through, this country you.
And I never stop feeling wonder for the land, the people, the creatures in you.
I am Columbus in a brand new world,
the world that feels a lot like home.
And I ride through… this country you.
And I love this country you.

People, in and of themselves, are foreign countries. They are lands which house abyssal complexities, mysteries which are layered like Mother Earth’s crust. They are deep, for good reason, for it should not be easy to learn all of the roads in another’s country.

Relationships, whether they be romantic, platonic, familial, or friendships, connect with an unspoken covenant to allow the other to ride through you. To allow the other party admission into your soul, the country that you have created, is a large task and honor indeed. What will they see? And will they identify; will they approve? We allow them in and we hope that they come in peace and treat us with tenderness.

A modern English word for this is the dreaded “v” word…

Vulnerability.

It can be frightening to let down those maximum-security walls you have constructed for the express purpose of emotional, spiritual, mental protection. We have those for good reason; some folks cannot be entrusted with entrance into all things you. But some can and are not given the chance.

It’s hard to remember how beautiful, and I do mean beautiful, it can be to know someone. For them to have invited you and you to have gently accepted. To explore everything that makes them who they are with awe and wonder: the roads, the twists, the sunsets, the thunderstorms, the mountains: the good things, like joy, passions, knowledge, inspirations, hobbies, grace, kindness, and spirituality and the bad, like prejudice, fear, shame, malice, and loneliness.

If someone in your life has given you that privilege, please, don’t take it lightly. It’s a beautiful thing, a rare thing, a necessary thing, to be let into someone. It’s what humans deeply long to have. It’s the stuff that gets remembered, much more than the tangible things of this earth.

And the funny thing is, when we do this, even though we feel like foreigners, we often find that we are home.

So today, I close my eyes, and I ride through this country you.

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Where have your travels taken you and what stories do you have to tell?