Old Tyme Year – January

“Give me that old time religion, it’s good enough for me”

As I began this 2018, I realized it was hard to believe that we are 18 years into the new millennium. They call me a millennial, but my soul can’t quite rest in that category box. For it is older and seeks to know a prior way of living… where the land mattered and the weather mattered because the land mattered. A time when the senses were sharper and there was less of a cloud around everything. Not to idealize this, I think it must have been a hard way of survival, but what I relish is the deeper intentionality of living.

So, this year, as a way of letting my spirit speak, I am learning something of the old way each month. Thus, with the advent of each new month, I will seek to spend time expanding my knowledge of old tyme life. I come from the land near Appalachia, formerly the land of the Cherokees and Shawnee, so my filter runs through this.

January is the month for old-tyme music. Late last year, I began learning the fiddle! It’s the same instrument as the violin, but is played differently to create a fiddle sound. So far, I’m not great at it, but I sure am having fun learning! My extensive repertoire includes, Wildwood Flower, You Are My Sunshine, and Old Joe Clark. Oh and I learned O Come O Come Emmanuel for my mom for Christmas. That’s about it for now, but I’m learning the slants of the songs so that they sound like mountain music.IMG_5150 I think it’s pretty cool how oral the mountain culture used to be, and to some degree, still is. Stories were passed down through folk songs. Many songs are not uncomplicated or innocent (have you ever listened to Down on The Banks of the Ohio?), but rather, they tell generations of stories that would have been lost had they not been preserved through the lyrics and notes of mountain ballads.

So here’s to learning an old-tyme way of passing down stories!


Comparison Fatigue

Comparison is the death of joy.

Mark Twain

As the days of 2017 are coming to a close, the wisdom of Twain accompanies me. Like an I-phone reminder which continues to ring an alert if not tended to, so too is this quote moving in and out of my consciousness. Now I must tend to it.

It is unwise to negate the tenacity that comparison possesses in our lives, especially given social media platforms that one can consume from one’s armchair in practically an instant. It’s downright easy to view the successes of friends in life and love from the screen, but cognitive dissonance comes into play because “through the screen” is not tangible. While it’s super real for the folks who are experiencing the life moments that they post, it isn’t necessarily real for the viewers insofar as it being visceral, or even reality. There is a disconnect from the pains and joys, the boredom and adventure, the trust and mistrust, the hesitation and elation, the static and change, the passion and numbness of all that is behind that life moment posted. The depth through a screen can never be a deep as the living of the moment.

And so, we know this, yes. And yet… we allow comparison to creep in, even though we can feel it coming, like a dreaded attack of gout. We compare ourselves, our lives/successes/pains/shortcomings/anxieties to the thing on the screen or the thing our pal is going through or the points that others we know are at in life. And because of the disconnect, the comparison always, always leaves us feeling less than good enough. Surely no one else experiences this or that, we convince ourselves. Instead, life is super fly for them.

And slowly comparison fatigue sets in and our joy fades into something akin to jealously laced with greed or listless regret. Which is to say, we watch life happen rather than live it. And that is like the shell of the turtle without the turtle living in it.

I wished to live deep and suck the marrow out of life. The mass of [humans] lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with a song still in them.

Henry David Thoreau

Put the Good in the Good Life

The more I live, the more I realize that if we wait for the good life to happen, it’ll pass us right by. And “the good life” is, I guess, contingent upon what is defined by “good.” After the basic needs are met, what constitutes good for me is paying attention. It is a paying attention to the nuances of life and people in my life that make it so rich.

This does not necessarily come easily for me as I am not a person who is inclined to pay attention to details. In this way, I’ve missed prime opportunities to complement people’s newly-acquired hair-cuts or perhaps notice that the bag of chocolate chips I just bought are of the mini-chocolate chip variety, rather than the full size… thus leaving me with regular size cookies with miniature size chocolate chips. I also recall purchasing garbanzo bean flour in a haste, rather than oat flour, then neglecting to read the label when baking; thus, the final product culminating with cookies that tasted like hummus rather than — you know– cookies.

Details are not my specialty.

Rather, I am inspired by the big picture stuff — you know– the new year’s resolutions type things. Dreaming big and so on.

But, as Ani Difranco sings in her song “As Is”,

When I look around
I think this, this is good enough
And I try to laugh
At whatever life brings
’cause when I look down
I just miss all the good stuff
And when I look up
I just trip over things

Tripping — ass-over-teakettle — is a tendency of mine.

For me, the big pictures keep me inspired and help me get out of bed each day, but it is the details that make life rich. It’s noticing the folklore behind a place that I have always lived near and only know for the gas station that is close to it. It is paying attention to the people around me, and taking time to sit on the front porch and hear stories that make up their lives that we had not shared before. It is actually taking space to be okay with not achieving for a while- and instead, resting into the rhythm of the day. It is watching for the nuances of a movie that often contain more meaning than the plot itself. It is stopping to watch a sunset for its uniqueness because I know that particular sunset will never happen again. It is learning the fiddle because I love how Appalachian folklore is carried through its notes. It is writing a blog post instead of a sermon because writing keeps me alive.

Life is rich when I pay attention. This, I am learning.


The State of Having 32 Flavors

Some of my favorite lines of one of my favorite songs of all times:

Squint your eyes and look closer
I’m not between you and your ambition
I am a poster girl with no poster
I am thirty-two flavors and then some
And I’m beyond your peripheral vision
So you might wanna turn your head
-Ani Difranco, 32 Flavors
I’ve had a lotta years to think about why these lyrics resonate with me and I with them. And in various iterations of my life, known as seasons to me, I think they resonate differently. But one thing that I can consistently count on resonating about these lyrics is that they speak to the complexity of the human mind, body, and spirit. And it’s this complexity that attracts my curiosity and wonder, which is why vulnerability works for me. Usually vulnerability [in the appropriate context] provides a window into someone’s complexity. They aren’t just one, two, or even three flavors. They are 32 flavors and THEN SOME!
It’s this capacity for mystery and depth in the human spirit that gives me hope. Hope that our complexity will be nurtured to health by love, and that this will lend itself to creative and compassionate responses to systems that want to keep us simple and un-thinking.
I’ll evade your definition of me every time it’s placed on me. I hope you will too.

Liturgy of the New Year 17

As I write, 2017 has taken off in good form here in Milwaukee with so much sunshine that the snow, which has become small mountains of frozen grey goop, is melting. My faith community began the New Year where we took Communion as the first meal of the year. We spoke together a Call to Worship, and held each other up during Prayers of the People, we sang hymns and folk music, and pronounced a Unison Benediction together.

In other words, we created liturgy on this first day of 2017.

Liturgy means “the work of the people” — as Baptists we are particularly inclined to lean into the work of liturgy– the work of public worship in rituals of faith. Liturgy is so full of grace because we take the work of our hands and see that it becomes infused with the mystery of the grace of God. We do this every week, over and over, because in doing it, we develop faithfulness like calluses on our hands. The hands become strong and they remember, especially in the most difficult of times, who God is and what God has done.

The work of liturgy does not belong solely to the pastor. It belongs to the Church.

And it is in this frame of mind, that I think of 2017.

The work of justice-making and peace-building does not belong to any institution as a whole. Like liturgy, it is the work of the people. When the power is grass-rooted in diverse ways, it cannot be controlled by an elected leader of any kind. The power is in the people.

And because it is the work of the people, it is beautifully complex, grass-rooted, and also fraught with pain, misunderstanding, blame throwing, shaming, and burn-out. Growing edges are so often jagged and grace so often needed.

But the work is ours to hold.

May 2017 bring new calluses for our hands so that they aren’t so blistered anymore. And maybe a little Bengay for the sore backs…

This makes me infinitely hopeful for this year. I cannot wait to do this work together.


On a personal note: The work of my own evolution and growth in faith and life does not belong to anyone else, but myself. The work of forgiveness is mine to do. The work of power-sharing and ally-building starts with how I engage in these practices in my daily navigation of the world. Though the work of the people is done in community, it has to start within me.

A Post-Election Prayer

Oh God, on long, weary, and troublesome days,
we remember that you do not grow faint, you do not grow weary,

Your otherness is necessary for our strength,
and yet your vulnerability in creating us is
the most intimate connection to be experienced.

On days when clouds loom, fears persist, and exhaustion from the injustice and relentlessness of life sets in, we are reminded to wait. 

To wait on the strength that you will give.
To wait on the renewal that you will give.
We turn our eyes to the hills.
We turn our eyes to each other.
And wait.

We wait with hope. We wait in community. We wait in Sabbath.
We wait with impatience. We wait with gratitude.
We wait knowing that nothing can separate us from Your love. Not angels, nor demons, nor death, nor life, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor scary medical diagnoses, nor exclusive theology, nor financial worries, nothing can separate us from your love.

For where does our help come from?
It comes From You, the Creator, the Source of all that is.
From You, the God who cares for lilies and sparrows,
From You, the God who is love and loves all creation with fierce peacefulness.
We cannot and will not be separated from this love.

Hear our prayers, O God, as we wait in Your love.