The Life of the World to Come

The Life of the World to Come

We said it in church this morning – that last line of the Nicene Creed. The one that reads, “We look for…the life of the world to come.”

For years that meant the life after death to me, and it held deep personal significance. In “the life of the world to come,” I’d see my daddy again. But it was more than that.

When my grandmother was in the last few years of her life, missing the friends and family who were gone, never quite happy, always wanting more of her only grandchild and unable to enjoy me for who I was, I learned to love her beyond what chafed and hurt by believing that in the life to come, she would finally be everything she was meant to be, full of joy and understanding. When I met her then our relationship would be everything it could be, everything it was meant to be.

That same hope got me through several break ups and many bouts of unrequited love. And as I began to realize that so many of the mentors and teachers who have given me the most cannot understand or approve of where their gifts have taken me, I have hoped that in that “life to come,” they will see their way clear to be proud of who I am.

But alongside the comfort, there was also a kind of stuckness. Hope was out there, not here. The great reconciliation, true healing, and abundant life were all beyond the scope of this world.

And sometimes they are.

That’s the first line of the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” It’s important, that bit. The whole prayer is named for it, after all.

But that’s pretty much where it stopped for me. God was sovereign, in control of all things and working them all together for good. What could I possibly do in light of that other than show my trust in him by waiting as faithfully as I knew how?

But there’s more to the prayer than serenity. There’s courage. And wisdom. And when it comes to it, serenity isn’t worth much without her sisters.

In the past year, I’ve also learned to hear those words in the Creed another way.

The “life of the world to come” starts tomorrow. And tomorrow is what we are making it today.

This life to come is the second part of the prayer – “the courage to change the things I can.” To change the things we can.

“We look for the life of the world to come.”

If the “arc of the universe bends towards justice,” it does so through us. Because we bend it that way. Because the life of the world to come is not yesterday, and tomorrow does not need to use the road maps of the past.

We look for the life of the world to come because we know there is more than this. More than death, yes. But also more than this, more than today. More than what we find ourselves with. There can be more, we can do more. We can make changes. We can take a step in the direction of justice, in the direction of Love.

And it’s never wasted. That’s what the concept of karma is really about. It’s not just that what you put out there will come back to you. It’s that what you put out there contributes to something greater than you. We are shaping the “arc of the universe” every day. We are making “the life of the world to come” – a life and world we will share.

So I have begun to look for life in this life. I look for life in each step, in each choice I make: what will bring life in the world to come? What will bring life to the world tomorrow?

And there’s always something. Something that in the midst of all the things I can’t change, that I can. It is wisdom that helps me do what I can rather than camp out at the door of all I can’t.

I lived there too long. It’s time to begin moving into the life of the world to come. Today.

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Walking the Wild Goose

Walking the Wild Goose

When I think back on my years attending the Wild Goose Festival, I think of walking.

The first year I attended, I came to speak with a friend. I was still a somewhat conservative but curious evangelical, recovering from my hardcore fundamentalist roots. My friend and I participated in a pre-festival retreat for the speakers, and I remember sitting and listening to Frank Schaeffer, a fellow recovering fundamentalist, speak (or more accurately, rant) and wondering what I’d gotten myself into. Frank felt angry to me, and wherever I was going, I didn’t want it to be an angry place. I was troubled.

Later that evening, long past dark, the retreat ended with a prayer walk through Shakori Hills (where the festival spent its first two years). Gareth Higgins handed me a flashlight, and we all began to slowly venture into the night, a flashlight here and there to help us along. It was hard to see much of anything, but as we walked, silent except the scuff of shoes on the dirt path, my eyes began to adjust. I realized that Frank and Genie Schaeffer were walking beside me, following the light of my flashlight.

And I knew in that moment that we were walking the same path in a much larger sense. My journey would not look quite like theirs, nor theirs like mine. But we had found ourselves here, walking alongside one another and doing our best to find our way forward.

Our paths crossed several times that weekend, and I began to know the whirlwind that is Frank and the calm that is Genie. I heard Frank talk about struggling with the anger he’d brought with him from his fundamentalism, of not wanting his granddaughter to know him as that “angry man.” I sat with Genie in the heat of an afternoon as we talked of transitions and changes and grace.

As year followed year, I’ve walked with many different people at the Goose, renewing friendships and adding them. As I moved farther from traditional evangelicalism, I found new “elders” for my life when the old ones could no longer understand the path ahead of me. I can’t count the times I’ve greeted someone and heard the reply, “Where are you headed? Can you walk with me?” And wherever I was headed, my answer is almost always yes.

I walked alongside Vince Harding one hot afternoon, and was left with an embrace and blessing I will always remember. I’ve walked many times now with my friend Nathan, a young man who I saw come out publicly for the first time during the Q & A of a Goose session, and who the next year told me about his new boyfriend and plans to start seminary. I’ve walked the Goose with Paula Stone Williams, a fellow recovering fundamentalist and one of the bravest people I know. I’ve walked with a newly-out and newly-single father and helped wrangle his two young children.

These days, it’s the first thing I do once I’ve settled in – begin walking the paths looking for friends. Looking to learn what the Goose will have to teach me this year. As the years have gone by, I attend fewer and fewer sessions, my time filled more and more with conversations along the way.

I’ve walked with heroes and strangers. I’ve hugged friends as we’ve passed, and had the joy of introducing and connecting people. This year, I look forward to walking with friends I’ve yet to meet in person, as well as an old friend of my parents who I haven’t seen in around thirty years. I’m eager to see friends from around the country whose faces are dear to me and too rarely seen.

The Wild Goose is far more than a destination; it’s a journey each one of us walks in our own way. And for a few days in July, we have the gift of walking together.

 

I’m thrilled to be speaking at this year’s Goose July 13-16! Join me and save 25% off weekend pass with the code BEMYGUEST.

No Story Without Leaving Home

No Story Without Leaving Home

It’s there in the beginning – Adam and Eve left the Garden. Noah left. Abraham left. Jacob. Joseph. David. Daniel. Jonah. Joseph and Mary. Jesus. They all left.

There is no story without leaving home.

It means grieving. Even good change includes loss that needs to be grieved. Things will never be quite the same again, and it’s important to acknowledge that.

Love isn’t strong because it doesn’t change. Love is strong because it bears change, even embraces it.

Grief is a funny thing. It means both letting go and holding close. Pausing to sit, or getting a move on. Anger and peace. Hope and release.

Whatever it looks like, grief is part of stepping over the threshold to leave. Or realizing that’s what we already did without knowing it.

Leaving home also means a journey. An adventure. The unknown.

It’s risk and opportunity interwoven – you can’t get one without the other. Which is why sometimes people choose not to go, to live with the smaller story. They are afraid of the risks, and the opportunities don’t feel worth it.

But we’ll never have a capacity for love and joy greater than our capacity to risk pain and loss.

You can’t get one without the other.

The one that would save – protect – their life? They will lose it.

But in accepting the risk and the loss, we can also find life we never imagined. That’s the opportunity – to grow beyond home. To meet people, encounter ideas, face challenges we never would have known at home. And in discovering the world beyond, we will also discover ourselves, finding healing and strength and ability in ourselves we never recognized or needed at home.

There’s no story without leaving home.

It can look like so many things, from moving out to changing paradigms. The thing is, it’s never really done. We know what it looks like for teenagers and young adults to begin to find their own way and discover who they are apart from their family. But so many of us carry home with us without even realizing, like a turtle shell we just assume is part of our very being.

Assumptions we learned from family and community when we were young just look like reality to us, and that shell of home feels like safety and security. But there are places it keeps us from going, life it keeps us from living.

There is no story without leaving home.

And it’s the journey of a lifetime.

Nothing to Prove

Nothing to Prove

I used to run because I didn’t know I could.

This year I ran because I knew – I could.

When I was growing up in North Carolina and East Tennessee humidity, my doctors wrote notes to excuse me from running in PE classes. When I ran for any distance, I’d start to wheeze like I had asthma. I didn’t, but the combination of the exertion and the air I was breathing created an allergic reaction that made me miserable.

It wasn’t until I was in my mid-thirties that I started to run at all. In the middle of a snowy Chicago winter, my seminary boyfriend (who had run the Chicago Marathon) took me to get fitted with running shoes and coaxed me into trying.

At first, I couldn’t make it more than a few blocks. We’d walk a couple of blocks and then he’d start me running again. In the biting, dry winter air, even when I started breathing hard from the exertion, I could always breathe freely. It wasn’t long before I had worked up to running a whole mile at a time, and then two.

The relationship didn’t last, but the running did (and I’ll always be grateful to him for introducing me to one of the healthiest habits of my life).

It wasn’t until more than five years later that I even thought about running more than the approximately three miles of a 5k.

An enthusiastic new friend talked me into signing up for a half marathon. That’s thirteen miles. The third weekend of July in downtown Chicago. The one time of the year the humidity approaches southern levels.

I knew it was impossible. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it. The idea was ridiculous. But trying the training at least would be good for me.

So I started in the spring. Every weekday morning I ran three miles, and then one weekend day I did my “long” run. The first week it was three miles, then four, adding one mile each weekend. Five miles, then six – those felt challenging but doable. But once I hit seven, it felt impossible.

And each week, as I finished another impossible distance, I was doing something I couldn’t believe I was doing. I started to wonder, what other impossible things might I be able to do? What inconceivable things could I venture to attempt?

I finished that first half-marathon – ran every bit of it. I’ve run three more since. And as I proved to myself that the first year of training was no fluke, I began to discover depths of determination in myself and a comfort in my own skin I’d never known.

I’m the energizer turtle – I’m slow, but I just keep going.

Every year, as winter ends and I hit the sidewalks each morning to see what the Lake looks like at dawn, I’ve wondered, Can I really do this? I’ve run to prove to myself that yes, I can.

But this year was different. As spring came to the city, and I started to run in March, I knew I could do it. I ran because I could. I could find my feet, my rhythm, my pace. I could stretch myself, and I could go farther.

It’s a difference that’s about more than running. It’s about living, unafraid to fall because I can get back up again and keep going.

As a teenager in the middle of chaotic circumstances, my mother found herself largely on her own. She never wanted me to feel that way, so she made sure I knew that as long as I was single, I had a place at home and I didn’t have to be on my own.

That gift unintentionally left me in a place of never really trusting my ability to take care of myself. It was only after years of paying my own way and taking care of my own bills and car repairs and obligations that it finally sank in that I really could do what I’d been doing all along. Somewhere inside I could finally stop trying to prove that I could take care of myself.

I could just do it and get on with living.

Every morning as I lace up my running shoes and head out to find a path to the Lake, I’m not doing it to prove to myself that I can any more. I’m doing it because I can and I know it.

And it’s time to just get on with the living.

Engaging Transition

Engaging Transition

I’ve been engaging major transitions for over three years now.

Just this calendar year, I got a new boss, said goodbye to roommates and moved into the city, adopted a cat, started blogging, and changed jobs. Before that there were huge transitions at work, and even more in my personal life as I wrestled with my faith, changed communities, started online dating, and dealt with the reactions of friends and family to all those decisions.

A lot of those changes I chose, but many of them were thrust upon me. With both combined, it’s been quite the season of transition.

I’m grateful for the support I found and that found me in the middle of it all. As hard as it’s been – and it’s been hard – it’s called things out of me I didn’t know I had.

It’s not that I’m that different. I recognize every part of me that’s been called upon.

But I’m different. I’m actually comfortable in my skin for maybe the first time. I know the boundaries of me – where empathy and differentiation meet, where my stuff ends and someone else’s stuff begins.

Not that I think I’ve got any of that nailed down. I’m still learning and growing, still surprising myself. But I’m the best me I’ve ever been, and I’m still learning and growing, still surprising myself!

I’ve just finished three months of a new job full of major events, and as I look ahead, with all I still have to learn at work, I realized this weekend there are no new transitions in view.

I’m not sure what life looks like if I’m not managing transitions.
(That in itself feels like a major transition.)

But not a bad one. I have a lot to learn yet about stillness, but this doesn’t feel like stuckness, and that’s good.

Turning forty triggered a lot for me. It got me moving in ways I didn’t even understand and had no idea where would take me. I don’t shrink from calling it a “mid-life crisis,” but I knew from the outset I wanted it to be productive and constructive. A positive mid-life crisis, if you will, even though I’ve done a whole lot of grieving along the way.

It has been positive, thanks mostly to two components: a good therapist and the Serenity Prayer.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

I expect it’s those same things that will help me continue to learn and grow in this new season of relative stillness. Seeking wise help, and discerning what I can do and what I can’t. What I can do, and what to let go of doing.

And preparing for the transitions that will come again, sooner or later.

There’s still plenty to do.

Through the Back Door

Through the Back Door

Fundamentalism is the house I was raised in. It sheltered me and kept me warm. I was fed there and, most importantly, I was loved and learned to love there.

I was taught two foundational things in Fundamentalism that remain with me today. I was taught to love truth – “Truth never fears a challenge.” And I was taught to love Scripture – the Bible itself holds authority over any ideas we may have about it.

Those two things took me out Fundamentalism’s back door and into a world filled with the goodness and beauty of the presence of God.

The pursuit of truth taught me not to be afraid of other perspectives, of hearing other voices, other experiences, other lives. And the fruit of those lives – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control – showed me God at work in the world far beyond our house.

And as I sought to understand Scripture ever more on its own terms, I found there was more there, too.

The Bible is God’s gift to us, and I want to know it for the gift it is rather than something I think it should be. Like the preeminent Word, Christ himself, it is not only divine, but thoroughly human.

It’s that thorough humanity that makes both Christ and the Bible even comprehensible to us. God in frail and vulnerable flesh and words, subject to violence and misunderstanding. It’s a thing of stunning beauty and power.

The Bible always speaks with a human voice – stories told and songs sung over and over again through generations, each speaking making them discernible to a new context.

It gives us what God intended to give, which isn’t always what we think God gave (or should have given) us. It gives us a conversation that crosses millennia. Sometimes that conversation is an argument, with different understandings of who God is and what he wants expressed. Sometimes that’s a conversation of poetry and song. It often gives us just what we would not expect.

I never rebelled. I didn’t have to blow the house up. I simply found it wasn’t big enough to contain the goodness and glory of God.

I discovered the foundations of the house I was raised in extend well beyond its walls. It’s the path of Jesus – the walls of this temple are too small, and its particulars are not what is truly important.

There’s a back door. A screen door that bounces and bangs behind you. Worship and life doesn’t have to stay inside – it can be transformed in spirit and in truth. Grace and joy and love are there to be found. And the foundation fills the whole earth.

Unclobbering and Shared Stories 

Unclobbering and Shared Stories 

A friend of mine, Colby Martin, has written a book that’s about to be released. I’m proud of him, not just because of the enormous work such a project means, and not even because it’s a brave and beautiful book.

I’m proud of him most because of the life he has engaged and shaped in himself – it’s a brave and beautiful journey he has walked to be able to write this book.

Unclobber is part memoir and part exploration of the Bible’s “clobber” passages – those verses that convince believers that God condemns same sex desires and acts. When Colby came to understand those passages differently, he lost friends and the position as pastor he was called to in a conservative evangelical church.

It’s not the book about affirming my LGBTQ+ sisters and brothers that I would write, and I’m glad. While there is strong resonance between our journeys, Colby’s story is uniquely his and uniquely valuable for that.

For me, his story is most powerful in a place where it both deeply connects with and departs from my own.

Colby changed his mind and heart because of his deep commitment to be faithful to Scripture and following Jesus. He had no questions about his own sexuality, no friends or family members who were gay.

Like me, Colby didn’t come to see things differently because he had a stake in the game. I would say that we both began to look deeper because we saw that Jesus has a stake in the game.

It’s not an easy path. While there is, as Colby expresses so well, a deep peace that comes with living in alignment – mind, heart, spirit, and outward behavior all in harmony; that peace can come with deep loss.

I am fortunate that, unlike Colby, my own journey did not jeopardize my calling or the ability to support a family. But there are deep losses nonetheless. When what it looks like to be faithful changes for you, to those for whom it hasn’t changed, you appear to be unfaithful.

Following Jesus can take us down different paths, paths that can seem confusing (and worse) to those who love us. But once seen, the vision cannot be unseen. Once known, new understanding cannot be unknown.

I’m reminded of the parable Jesus told of the Pearl of Great Price. A merchant sells everything in order to gain one thing that matters most to him (a thing that would look absurdly impractical to the parable’s audience – he can’t eat it or shelter under it, and it would be difficult to sell, if he even intends that).

It’s a parable that challenges us to know what it is that we value most. That will not look the same for all of us, even those of us who follow Jesus, and that’s hard sometimes.

I’m grateful for Colby and his journey. I’m grateful for friends who have counted and paid the cost, and continue to follow as faithfully as they know how.

And as we share our stories, I’m hopeful. I’m hopeful that we can continue to challenge our fears and blindspots, that we can embrace a faith that is ever more just and generous.

That together we can create a world that overflows with the shalom, beauty, and love of God to all.