Seeing Hillary

Seeing Hillary

Today a woman, Hillary Clinton, accepts the nomination of a major party for President of the United States.

That night in June when I heard the AP report that she had clinched the nomination, I surprised myself and cried.

I never expected it to feel so personal.

I can’t remember a time I didn’t believe a woman could be anything – even president. I was raised by a (mostly) single mother who is one of the most intelligent and capable human beings I’ve ever known.

But knowing a woman could become president in the abstract turns out to be different than seeing the concrete reality. And I cried.

To say that Hillary represents so much more than herself in this moment does not negate her personal accomplishments or responsibility. Presidential candidates always represent more than themselves. And this time, for the first time, we have one that represents being a woman in this country built on the tensions of liberty and oppression.

I believe many of the attacks on Hillary are exaggerated, and some are unfounded altogether. At a time when I adamantly disagreed with her politics, I came to deeply respect her dignity and endurance in the face of the most personal and embarrassing of betrayals. I was raised to believe that with enough grace and strength, a person could forgive such betrayal and rebuild a relationship. Hillary did just that, and under a level of public scrutiny and criticism few of us can imagine. I respected her for it then, and I respect her for it now.

We have nominated scoundrels and complicated heroes for president. We have nominated warriors and even a few peacemakers. We have nominated the brilliant and the not so brilliant. We have nominated outright liars and those who told us more of the truth than we wanted. And most of those we have nominated have been at least a little of all of those things rolled into one.

But we have never before nominated a woman.

I cried because our children are seeing this. Our girls and, just as importantly, our boys. I want no little girl to ever question her abilities because she doesn’t see our world value them in a woman. And I want no little boy to ever again hear the word “girl” or anything else related to being female as an insult.

We’ve learned to see each other – men and women, and maybe even more so, liberals and conservatives – as caricatures. Something none of us are.

Not even Hillary.

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Serving Love

Serving Love

Jesus and his friends were taking a shortcut through a wheat field one Saturday, and as they walked they pulled some of the ripe grain off the stalks to munch on.

We wouldn’t think twice about it – unless we think it was stealing, since they didn’t own that particular field and hadn’t planted that wheat (which should tell us something about our values).

But it wasn’t stealing that concerned the religious leaders who called them out – it was working on the Sabbath.

The Sabbath. Honoring the Sabbath is right up there towards the top of the Ten Commandments. This wasn’t just a technicality; it’s a central piece of what it meant for a Jew to be faithful.

But Jesus didn’t see it that way.

“The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath.”[i]

I always wondered what that meant (though I wasn’t sure how relevant it was, since no one I knew actually “kept the Sabbath”).

What does it mean to be “made for”? One way of putting that would be, “The Sabbath was made to serve people, not people to serve the Sabbath.”

But still, how does (did) the Sabbath serve people? We can try to break that down (rest; time for family; time to worship, to focus on God), but I think Jesus is applying a larger principle to the Sabbath. That principle is about the law, all of it – the law was made for people, not people for the law. So how is the law supposed to serve us?

When he was asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”[ii]

It’s that last sentence that tells us what it’s all about – relationships. The law serves people by helping us have loving relationships with God and each other.

And when the law hinders rather than promotes loving relationships, it is no longer serving us, we are serving it.

It is love that fulfills the purpose of the law. It is love that sees when the principles of a loving relationship the law is based on are not being served by following it. It is love that covers a multitude of sins. And it is God’s love we are called to imitate – to be perfect in as he is perfect.

As surely as the finger of God wrote the Ten Commandments – the very foundation of the law, the finger of Jesus overwrote them with the law of love in the dirt beside a woman caught in adultery.

Jesus didn’t limit himself to the law as it had been handed down, and I have a hard time believing he intended us to limit ourselves (his body) to his words as they have been handed down. He gave us the Spirit to guide us into “greater things” than what he did. He taught us how to dance with Scripture, not to serve it. It is living, and living means growing. Nothing that’s alive stays the same.

And yet we define the limits of the Spirit’s work by the law. We define the limits of what God will do by what is recorded in Scripture. We say scripture doesn’t change. And while that may be true in some sense of the words we’ve been given, that’s not how Jesus used Scripture. He overwrote the words with deeper meaning. (“You have heard it said…but I say.”[iii]) He pushed for a standard both higher and more rooted in the realities of life and relationships.

It’s easier to follow clear rules. It’s much harder to discern loving well. We know how far we are from loving, and it’s much safer to follow straightforward guidelines that always apply in every circumstance.

Serving the law of love means knowing you’re going to mess up, knowing you’re going to get it wrong. And still serving love anyway. It takes trusting grace, and trusting grace can feel like living without a net. It can take the breath out of you.

The question confronts us every day – will we serve love, or something else? Will we lean out into the wind of the Spirit of love, or stay safely back from the edge?

 

[i] Mark 2:27

[ii] Matthew 22:27-40

[iii] Matthew 5

Goodbye and Hello

Goodbye and Hello

When I was 25, like so many other young evangelicals in the ’90s, I kissed dating goodbye.

Of course, it was a bit easier since I’d never been on a date.

I was a late bloomer to put it gently. From elementary school on I was a social pariah with my peers. By Jr. High, I was spending my free time with college students (fundamentalist Baptist theater majors, to be more precise), and by the time I was actually in college and at a reasonable dateable age, I was firmly ensconced as the kid sister.

When I was 25, I struck up a conversation with a guy I knew slightly at an outing for my singles group from church. We ended up talking that whole evening, and after spending several more group outings in a similar fashion, we had a conversation. He’d been married before and divorced, and he wanted to do things differently — he wanted to do courtship instead of dating.

Courtship meant you didn’t do things one-on-one unless marriage was in the offing. The man asked the girl’s parents for permission to court her. And nothing physical — not even a kiss.

I was all in. The idea that one should take these things seriously appealed to me. I had been explicitly taught, “Don’t go on a first date with anyone you wouldn’t marry — then you won’t have to break their heart and yours down the line.” My parents have lots of wisdom, and maintaining a conversation with them as a part of the process made sense.

And other than telling him that, no way was my first kiss going to be the public one on my wedding day! (a compromise he agreed to), I was content to honor the physical boundaries.

(In retrospect, most people miss how bone-melting holding hands can be when you’re not wondering how far you can get away with — or he will try — going.)

We courted for an intense three months until he showed up for our Valentine’s date and broke up with me, glad “things hadn’t gone too far.”

For him maybe.

I was blindsided. When he showed up for the date and asked if we could go for a walk, I was honestly thinking, “Well, I know we’ve covered money and kids and all the important stuff, but it’s really too soon for him to propose!”

A few years later and a second relationship ended, I did some counseling with a pastor who told me, “I can’t believe I’m actually saying this, but you really need to learn how to casual date.”

It was so true. While the courtship model was intended to honor men and women and help them take romantic relationships seriously, for me it gave a first date the weight of near-engagement. I had to be fully invested from the start, just getting to know someone, and the results were devastating me.

It took well over a decade for me to find a context where I could learn to “casual date.” Evangelical churches and seminary contexts are so messed up on dating that approaching it casually is nigh to impossible. And it was particularly so for me — it’s hard to take a first date lightly when you’re only being asked out once every couple of years. Maybe.

I now realize that may have been because while I certainly belonged, I just as certainly didn’t fit the conservative evangelical contexts I was in.

I made my own chance a few years ago when, after being affectionately bullied into it by a friend, I dove into online dating. There’s nothing like ten first dates in three weeks to help you learn to take a first date lightly!

I decided to say yes to meeting anyone whose profile didn’t scream (or whisper) “Absolutely not!” and give myself the chance to be surprised. I found I could take the person seriously while taking the date lightly. And I found that men who hadn’t been raised in an evangelical culture tended to be more emotionally and relationally mature (though there are always exceptions going both directions).

I kissed dating hello, and I began to understand how to enter a story without needing to know what the ending could or should be.

For more stories about “Life After I Kissed Dating Goodbye” see http://www.lifeafterikdg.com/

Abandoning the Shoes that Brought Me Here

Abandoning the Shoes that Brought Me Here

There’s a poem I’ve been living with for the last couple of months. Written by David Whyte, it’s about a pilgrimage in Spain, Camino de Santiago or The Way of St. James, and the traditions that have arisen at its end at Finisterre:

The road in the end taking the path the sun had taken,
into the western sea,

and the moon rising behind you
as you stood where ground turned to ocean:

no way
to your future now but the way your shadow could take,
walking before you across water, going where shadows go,

no way to make sense of a world that wouldn’t let you pass
except to call an end to the way you had come,
to take out each frayed letter you brought
and light their illumined corners, and to read
them as they drifted through the western light;
to empty your bags; to sort this and to leave that;

to promise what you needed to promise all along,

and to abandon the shoes that had brought you here
right at the water’s edge, not because you had given up
but because now, you would find a different way to tread,
and because, through it all, part of you could still walk on,
no matter how, over the waves.

from Pilgrim, copyright 2012 Many Rivers Press

My family is hardcore fundamentalist. I often tell people that they believe Jerry Falwell started to compromise along the way. It’s funny (not to them), but true. They didn’t jump on the anti-gay bandwagon in the 90s; my step-father built it in the 80s.

They taught me many things.

They taught me that God’s love was great and that he had committed himself to working certain ways, within certain boundaries.

That’s the thing about fundamentalism (and much of Christianity that wouldn’t describe itself as such) — it’s not just people that are inside or outside those boundaries. God’s work is inside them, too, and his only work outside those boundaries is to call people to come inside them to him.

They also introduced me to Jesus and taught me to do what he wanted me to do no matter what they or anybody else thought.

And I followed Jesus to places that stretched them. I went to seminary and got an MDiv at a scary “neo-evangelical” school. I started preaching a little. And they rolled with it.

But then I saw Jesus dancing on the other side of the boundary line, and I knew what it would mean to cross that line, to follow him there. In the end, it was no choice really — of course I would follow him.

But I didn’t know how. The shoes that had brought me here weren’t made to dance, much less walk on across the water.

I didn’t begin to know how to walk across that line.

So with the help of a friend, I began to walk along it — to get to know a community of LGBTQ followers of Jesus who were trying to figure things out themselves. I listened, for months. Some of them came to trust me enough to honor me with the gift of their stories and struggles. They grew to be family to me.

They gave me space to learn to take off my shoes, to learn to walk without them. To let old ways of understanding and believing and relating die, and new ones be born and grow.

And one day, after about a year, I looked around and realized I’d left the line far in the distance. I’d taken off my shoes to find the ground on which I was standing was holy.

That moment was beautiful and terrifying.

I knew what it would mean. I knew that for many of my family and friends, crossing that line meant they would rewrite the story of Jesus in my life as a delusion — if the path had led me here, it had to be false.

And that meant that so many people I love, whose fingerprints I’m proud are on my life, who gave me the shoes that brought me here, would no longer be home for me. Elders whose voices brought deep wisdom to my life would not advise me going forward.

I’d found a new family, new elders, but they will never be replacements.

The shoes that brought me here still mark the water’s edge. They are well worn to the shape of my feet and journey. And they stand empty there in testimony that there is yet more beyond.

…to abandon the shoes that had brought you here
right at the water’s edge, not because you had given up
but because now, you would find a different way to tread,
and because, through it all, part of you could still walk on,
no matter how, over the waves.

An Open Door 99 Floors Up

An Open Door 99 Floors Up

It was a first date. We’d never met, but I recognized him from his picture as he waited for me across the street from the L station. It was early December, before sunset, and we were meeting downtown to look at Christmas lights after he finished his shift.

The streets were crowded with shoppers, the Christmas decorations sparkled and twinkled, and we were hitting it off. I liked his deep, resonant voice and we talked in an easy rhythm. He was tall, black Irish with broad shoulders, and there was a spark in his eye I liked.

When he offered to show me the skyscraper where he worked as a building engineer, I was game.

I love these buildings that hold up the sky — I always have. When I walk the city canyons at their feet, they make me breathe deep and feel tall (all 5’2″ of me). I’ll probably never get over walking around like a tourist downtown with my head turned to the sky.

We got in one elevator to take us up to the building management office, and after he picked up some keys, another took us higher.

The 99th floor was filled with machinery bigger than my apartment — all the guts of the building, rumbling away. As we walked around the huge space, he guided me to an ordinary door, turned the key in its lock, and opened a door to the glory of the city at dusk.

The sky was pink and dark purple, and the city glittered with lights. As I leaned out into the view, I could feel a surprisingly warm breeze embrace me. There was nothing between me and the city and sky but the wind.

It was a door to nowhere that opened into maybe the biggest view I’d ever seen. In the end, there were four of them, one on each outer wall of the building, each of them with a completely different but equally spectacular view.

I didn’t have to go up those elevators with him on our first date, and I surely didn’t have to lean out each of those doors. There was obvious risk. But I did go up, and I did lean out, and I saw things I’d never seen before, and I saw familiar things from an entirely new perspective. I felt a wind that I’ll never feel again – the warm wind that embraces the highest floors of that building.

I’ll never forget what it felt like to stand in an open door 99 floors up with nothing between me and the world but the wind.

I’ll never forget what it felt like to lean out into the risk and the beauty. To breathe it all in and feel my world expand to fill it. To hold the impossible fullness of it all.

We talked for over eight hours of walking and eating and more walking that night, but I’m not sure I ever really stopped leaning out into that wind.

Wading into the Wild Goose

Wading into the Wild Goose

Tomorrow I’ll head out for the hills of western North Carolina and the Wild Goose Festival (named for the Celtic symbol of the Holy Spirit).

Five years ago, when I went to the Goose for the first time, I had no real idea what I was getting into. I realized pretty quickly that I was one of the most conservative people there.

That’s not true this year — hasn’t been true for the past few years.

Wild Goose did not begin the journey for me — that happened something like 15 years ago in North Carolina when I picked up a new non-fiction at the library called A New Kind of Christian.

Or 20 years ago when I first became friends with some Presbyterians and learned that there’s not just one “right” way to read Scripture.

Or nearly 30 years ago when fundamentalist missionaries I was visiting in France explained how culture contextualized their understanding of the morality of wine.

Or 35 years ago when I stumbled onto Madeleine L’Engle’s A Circle of Quiet and first encountered a woman who loved Jesus and looked nothing like Christians I knew.

Or when I first learned to read and enter others’ stories and lives and see a world of endless perspectives.

I’m not sure our journeys ever “begin,” but there are moments that shift something, that change something. That take all the things that came before and reorder them into new realizations and new ways of seeing.

Wild Goose gave me a space, for four days each summer, to dive into that. To live beside and walk with and listen to and share beauty and grief and pain and joy with people who lived very different lives and fought very different battles than I had.

And, it turned out, some from remarkably similar places.

Wild Goose is a spiritual refugee camp for a motley collection of people who, for a host of reasons, find themselves outside the lines traditional Christianity has drawn.

Having that space each summer opened me up. It gave me the space to ask questions, of myself as much as others. And it prepared me to dive into a different kind of community at home and be changed by it.

Wild Goose showed me Jesus obliterating the lines, loving and walking with people in all sorts of journeys, just wading in.

And I waded in after him. I’m looking forward to wading in deeper this year!

(That’s the back of my head in the picture!)

Risking the Bet

Risking the Bet

I made a big change today. It’s become a bit of a thing for me in the past couple of years — making changes.

If I want my life to be different, but I’m not willing to change anything, nothing’s very like to change.

But the thing is, change means risk. The bigger the change the bigger the risk.

Today, I left my job of seven years and a lot of people I love.

When you let something go in order to pick up something different, that something different may end up being a bust. It could blow up in your face. And even if it’s good change, there’s loss to grieve.

Opening yourself up to something new is a risky bet. Whether it’s a new job, a new home, a new relationship, or new territory in a friendship , there’s a lot to lose.

And we develop defenses around these things. My emotional brain spends a good amount of time telling me things like, “We’re doing WHAT?!?!? What the heck are you thinking??? Don’t you know what could happen here?”

That’s really the kicker — what could happen. The way life has gone before and the way that has taught me, consciously and not, that it will always or at least usually go.

My emotional self doesn’t trust me. Sometimes so much that it tries to take the wheel, even fights me for it.

But my rational and spiritual self has learned (is still learning) that every day really is new. That I can make different choices and impact the way things go. That would could happen isn’t what has to happen.

And so much is on the line. Joy is on the line. And life. Beauty and growth and possibility. Love is on the line.

We will never be more open to love and joy and life than we are open to pain and loss. You can’t guard against loss without also guarding against all the good things.

New life is there for us, but we always have to open our hands and let go of something we know to receive it.

In two weeks I start a new job. I don’t know where it might take me, how it might challenge and change me. But I’m excited for the possibilities, for the room to grow further into who I’m made to be. For good things I haven’t imagined.

The more I let go to reach out for something new, the more my emotional self learns there are more possibilities. She’s learning to relax, at least a little. To trust me and trust the good things. She’s learning that on the other side of loss, there’s always the possibility of new life. That while the unknown is still scary, it’s also full of beautiful surprises.

She’s learning to risk the bet.