Jamie The Very Worst Missionary

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inappropriate remarks, embarrassing antics, and generally lame observations from an American Missionary.
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Guilt vs Shame, part 1: Can Guilt Be Good?

Tue, 01/27/2015 - 17:52

I know this is weird, but not all of the brilliant people in the world write and post blogs from which we may glean wisdom and inspiration. Crazy, right?! I know! But it's true - some awesome people can only be found in real life. I love it when I get to introduce you to one of my awesome real life people, and today is one of those days. I cannot even begin to tell you what this woman's friendship has meant to me over the last couple of years, but I will say that when the stars align and we both have, like, a whole entire hour free for coffee, Libby breathes life into me. Every time I see her, I wish I could share her with you. You'll see why...
Can Guilt Be Good?
A while back - and by a while I mean 2 years ago - Jamie and I were having coffee and she said "will you guest post on my blog?"  I nodded my head nonchalantly and said "yeah, definitely."  And then I hoped she would forget. In my head I thought 'no way. I can't write for your blog. Jamie , YOU are a blogger. I'm...' I didn't even know what I was-I was just NOT a blogger. But she didn't forget and I got over my insecurity (almost).  I'm ready to blog and I want to blog on shame. Why shame? I think shame is one of the biggest tools if not THE biggest tool in the arsenal of the devil and the topic doesn't get discussed much in churches. And, I  have been learning a lot about the topic over the past two years -- as in first hand. The idea of shame isn't new to me, but sometimes you know about something (i.e. intellectual knowing) and other times you KNOW something (i.e. in your bones/gut knowing). It is almost as if I had to have a face to face with my own shame to realize how powerful and destructive shame is to all of us.
If we are going to understand shame, we have to distinguish between it and its close cousin, guilt.  Here's a working definition of guilt:
1. The fact or state of having committed an offense, crime, violation, or wrong, esp. against moral or penal law;
2. A feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined. Thank you dictionary. Guilt is like a two sided coin: one side has an imprint of an offense and the other side, an imprint of our feelings about said event; we think or do or say something that falls outside of the parameters of a moral law to which we ascribe, and we have feelings about it. Within this rudimentary definition of guilt there is an important distinction between unhealthy and healthy guilt. My personal definition of  unhealthy guilt is  "blaming someone else for not getting what you want."  We have feelings (usually those that make us uncomfortable or we don't like) and we would rather not discuss them openly and honestly, so we shroud them in unhealthy guilt messages like: "you never call me" or "everyone else is going to the family reunion..." Unhealthy guilt points and blames; healthy guilt acknowledges and restores.
From God's perspective guilt is ultimately about broken relationship. It isn't just a Law that is broken or a specific sin, it's a connection to the divine that is torn and fractured. And while a system of offerings was set up to restore and maintain connection with God in the Old Testament, it is in Christ that we are relieved of the consequences of messing with our relationship with God. 
With this information in mind, there are a couple of ways guilt can be our friend. First, guilt can remind us we are created in the image of God (imago dei). We experience this connection between guilt and the imago dei through conscience. Conscience is part of what makes us unique as humans: we contemplate our actions and make moral self-evaluations. Conscience is not perfectly the voice of God within us but it does point to God's image in us.  
Second, guilt reveals the importance of relationship and reconciliation. When we are guilty, we are called to make things right and so we ask forgiveness, we make some kind of amends and we model what reconciliation looks like. Guilts' innate connection to relationship is the tool that enables us to re-establish relationship with God and with one another.  We show each other and the world God's model for how relationship works.
Guilt has a purpose. Guilt, when viewed appropriately, is good. Where things go awry is when guilt becomes confused with shame - and if you don't read the next post I guess you are ...oh sorry - I was just about to shame you...
Libby Vincent became a follower of Jesus in the middle of her college years. Knowing that she was being called by God to full time professional ministry, she pursued her education which led her to Pasadena, CA, Edinburgh, Scotland, and Berlin, Germany. She currently teaches for Fuller Seminary Northern California in the area of Systemic Theology and Theology and Film. Libby resides in Folsom with her husband of 22 years, Dan, and her two teenagers, Maggie and Trent. 

Be sure to come back on Thursday for part 2, Libby's take on Shame. ( I... *ahem*.. I mean, you, YOU seriously need to hear this one.)

Ok. What about it - Do you think guilt is a good thing? 

Depression Is Not A Scandal

Wed, 01/07/2015 - 18:44
For the second time in a month my big, beige, suburban community is mourning the loss of a life to suicide.
A few short weeks ago, we despaired to learn we'd lost 12 year old Ronin Shimizu.
Last weekend we lost another friend, a 46 year old father of two, to the vice-like grip of depression.
In the aftermath of these two tragedies, a lot of people are asking themselves what they could have done differently. There's so much regret to carry, and the tendency is to wish we'd paid better attention, that we'd been more attentive to one who was clearly suffering in our midst. It's hard not to shoulder the blame or harbor guilt for not having been there – for not stopping it.
But sometimes there is no stopping it.
Sometimes there's nothing anyone could have done, because, like many other chemically treatable illnesses, sometimes depression can be fatal.
My husband just talked to this friend on Christmas Eve and says everything seemed fine. “He seemed happy.” These are the words we hear all too often after someone we love succumbs to the crushing weight of depression.
Total Wednesday Addams.
 ...But, like, if Wednesday Addams was from California.I've struggled with depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember. Like, even as a small child.
I had performance anxiety so bad that every day during 3rd grade math I broke out in hives. Now I like to joke that I am literallyallergic to math, but the truth is I was just an incredibly troubled little kid. Recurring nightmares of being chased, abducted, and buried alive plagued my dreams, and I fretted constantly about my Mom dying or one of my siblings taken by cancer or something - there was a definite Wednesday Addams vibe to my childhood. I appeared to be a normal kid, the only outward sign of my inner turmoil were the sunken eyes and dark circles earned by long, sleepless nights of worry and fear.
But I seemed happy.
I played the role of happywell enough to not call too much attention to my state of mental health. As long as a person seemsreasonably happy, usually no one around them will stop long enough to notice if they're not. The thing about life is that everybody's doing it all at once. Everyone is working really hard to navigate the rough waters of their own lives, and that makes it kind of easy for people who are battling depression to fly under the radar. I mean, as long as you're not doing anything really batshit, like talking to a fire hydrant or eating the couch cushions, mental illness can be fairly easy to sweep under the rug. It's just one of those things that everyone knows is there, but no one has to look at or acknowledge unless they've really got the time and energy to lift the cover. As a child, I seemed happy, or at least happy enough to stay safely swept under the rug.

That's the scary thing about depression. It lies. We know it lies to it's victims, but it also lies to everyone around them.
Depression is a real tricky son of a bitch.
And that's why we've got to get better at telling the truth about it and exposing it for what it really is.
I take an antidepressant every single day. I also take thyroid medication every single day.
I need both to function, I need both to feel well, I need both to survive.
No one has ever suggested that if I only prayed harder, my thyroid disease would be cured. No one has ever suggested that I'm clinging to sin which is causing my thyroid to malfunction. No one has ever suggested that I need to get right with Jesus to heal my thyroid.No one has ever grown uncomfortable or gone silent when I've mentioned my thyroid disorder.
Do you know how much stigma is attached to having a thyroid that misfires? ZERO STIGMA. I can talk about it at church. I can pick up my meds without getting sideways glances from old ladies. I can sleep aaaaaall daaaaay looooong because my Tsh levels are off - no one bats an eyelash. But, apparently, I'm supposed to stay quiet about depression because, apparently, the chemical imbalance that causes depression makes other people uncomfortable.
What is this, like, 1935? Should I be shipped off “to my aunts house for the summer” while I get my shit together through electric shock therapy? I don't get it. What brand of hypocrisy consents to the use of medication to treat one hormone imbalance but not another? And why are we so afraid to talk about it???
People are dying and we want to keep their problems swept under the rug.
Well, it's time to pull back the cover. It's time to give people the space and freedom to talk openly about depression without stigma, without shame, and without embarrassment. This is not a sin issue, this is not a prayer issue, this is not a faith issue – it's a medical issue and it should be treated like any other medical issue, with medication and/or therapy.
It's time for the Church to remove the stigma it has largely created around depression and other mental illness by acknowledging the truth that mental illness is a real thing and can oftentimes be treated by modern medicine. Then we can quit skirting our responsibility as prayer warriors, and peace makers, and care givers, by extending our hands to the hurting and the vulnerable among us and walking with them toward true health and wellbeing. Even if it makes us uncomfortable. Even if we never receive their gratitude. Even if we don't understand their pain. And even if, in the end, we fail to relieve them of their torment and lose them.
No matter how hard we try, or how present we are, we won't always win this battle for the people we love. Sometimes depression is a fatal disease... and that is not your fault. It's complicated, I know. But sometimes the best you can do when you Love someone who is slipping away is point them toward hope and healing, and then be there to pick up the pieces. 
Whether you are afflicted yourself, our you have a friend or loved one who struggles with it, depression is nothing to be ashamed of. For me, most of the time, it's honestly no big deal (because PILLS). I'm just so grateful that God created humans with brains that can get kind of screwy but that are also smart enough to figure out how to set them straight. How cool is that?!
As we reflect on these lives lost to suicide as a result of depression, we can resolve to do something different. Sadly, it won't bring back the dead, but it might save someone else from the pain of having to say goodbye too soon.
It's crucial that we open up the line of communication on this weirdly taboo subject. It's time for those of us who struggle with mental illness to quit hiding it, and those of us who don't to quit acting scandalized by it. 
People are in desperate need of help and they shouldn't be afraid to reach out and get it.
Just talk about it...  End the stigma of depression and save lives. 

This is A Traumatic New Years Eve Awakening

Wed, 12/31/2014 - 22:12
So. It's New Years Eve and I don't do resolutions, like ever, but today when I was getting dressed at noon, something awful happened...something truly terrible...and it forced me take a long, hard look in the mirror. What I saw in my own reflection made me take stock of my entire life, my choices, my habits, my behaviors, my desires for the future. It made me ask myself deep philosophical questions about my own existence.
I stood there for a long time, stunned, confronted with a reality I wasn't sure I could handle, but that I certainly couldn't deny.
I gazed from this angle and that, squinting my eyes, bringing the truth into focus – and I was desperate to convince myself that I couldn't possibly be seeing what I was seeing...it just couldn't be true... but the mirror does not lie, my friends.
I suppose I already knew the truth, even before I faced it. I heard the noise. I felt the breeze. Moments before, as I pulled on my jeans, freshly washed and snug fitting, I was aware of the distinct “POP” and the jarring “RiiiiiiP”. I was cognizant of an unusual rush of cool air where no draft belongs.
The mirror only confirmed what, in my heart, I already knew...
I split my pants.

Let that sink in for a minute... I... SPLIT...MY...PANTS. …As in, the strain of holding my ass inside of my jeans became too great, and they just gave way. They broke like a denim dam, letting their contents spill freely into the world.
I was completely exposed.
I mean, like, literally and figuratively exposed. Obviously, I was exposed to the harsh elements of winter by jeans that could no longer carry an unbearable load. But I was also exposed as a person of little discipline, an over-indulger, a glutton, an excuse maker, a woman who in the feasting month of December may have falsely claimed a solid 15 days of insatiable PMS hunger and declared Holiday Parties fair game for non-stop noshing.
Scholars may disagree, but I think that if you split your jeans on New Years Eve it's practically a sign from God that change is necessary.
Just the other day, I was commiserating with a friend about the little layer of fluff I've managed to add between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I said to her, “You know, self-control is a fruit of the Spirit.” and we shared a guilty laugh and then I ate a cheesecake.
So today, when MY PANTS BURST OPEN, I feel like maybe it was a teeny tiny bit of the wrath of God, saying, “I will not be mocked.”
Lesson learned.
In fear and trembling, and with sincere repentance, I did the only thing I could think of; I texted my hero/friend/DietBet buddy, Roo!

Because DUH!!

A few months ago, Roo and I invited our communities to join us in a fun little bet to shed a few pounds and together we all lost 4,300lbs (!!!) and we split a $23,000 pot (!!!). So fun!
Oh. And the best part is that at the end of the DietBet, MY FREAKING PANTS FIT!!!!
So here we go again – Roo and I are hosting the Adios 2014, Sup 2015 Dietbet – Add $35 to the pot and join us for fun and encouragement and as we practice the art of Self-Control. (This just accidentally on purpose turned into a sponsored post.)
So, today, for the first time in a very long time I'm making a New Years Resolution: In 2015, I resolve to have a butt that fits in my pants.... but mostly, to build a character of self-control. 

Christmas, exactly.

Wed, 12/17/2014 - 17:42
You know that song, "The First Noel?" The one where an angel appears and tells some chilly field hands to get up and follow a totally obvious star to Jesus?... Every time I hear it, it makes me wanna kick a shepherd.

I'm telling you, those shepherds didn't know what a sweet deal they were getting when they got sucked in to the first Noel! They had it so easy. According to the song, it was just like, “Hey, check out that star! Now follow it 'til you find a baby king in a barn - and boom! You're done. Christmas is over, see ya next year.”
Those lucky bastards didn't have to deal with anything like the list of crap we have to do to pull off Christmas. They didn't have to think about teacher gifts and white elephant parties and pesky little things, like credit limits. There were no lights to hang, no trees to decorate, no cookies to bake, and none of them had to find coordinating outfits for a family picture that match, but aren't too, like, matchy-matchyY'know?All they had to do was go find Jesus. And they had a star to show them the way!

Christmas was just so simple.

The first noel sounds like a cakewalk compared to this Noel. Can you imagine if someone wrote a song about this Christmas?
It would go like “La La La. An angel came to the folks fighting for a spot in the Target parking lot at 10 p.m., and sang, 'Merry Christmas! Born is the King of... retail shopping.”, and then there would be a verse about throwing your back out while you pull eleven bins of Christmas shit out of the garage.
Ok. It wouldn't be a pretty song. But it would be pretty accurate.

Seriously though. When did Christmas turn into this? Thisrace to the finish line?

It's like I start on full throttle the day after Thanksgiving, and I keep running, as fast as I can, until I come to a screeching halt on Christmas Eve, when my bank account is too empty and my belt is too tight, and I can finally sit back in a chair at church for a Christmas Eve Service and breathe a sigh of relief, because ~ by the Grace of God ~ it's almost over. Thank you, baby Jesus! 
During the "candle light" service, I will hold my glow stick high, and I will sing all of those beautiful but historically inaccurate Christmas songs loud, and my Joy will be complete - because I did it. I made it to the final stretch. That night, I will close my eyes and pray in earnest thanksgiving, because at home Santa Claus is poised and ready for attack and a Honey Baked ham is waiting for the oven. 
Our holiday celebration will last a few hours, and in a matter of days I'll be sweeping Christmas out of my house along with a mountain of torn wrapping paper and broken ribbons, and pile of dead pine needles. The gifts will have been given, the feast will have been eaten, the food coma will be wearing off to the special kind of quiet that settles over a house filled with brand new hand-held electronics. And that's when I will tie up Christmas with a neat little bow and shove it back in the garage until next year.
Oh, how I envy the shepherds in that stupid song! I envy the simplicity of the first Noel. I envy how the way to worship was marked clearly in the sky. I mean, I don't know about you, but I could really use an Angel to appear out of nowhere and tell me where to find Jesus in all of this, to show me the way, to point out the star. 
I mean, I know the purpose of Christmas is to celebrate the birth of a Savior - and I know He's here somewhere, in the mess I've created - but I feel like maybe I'm running too fast to see Him. Maybe my view of the New Born King has been obscured by so many boxes of Christmas junk. And maybe all these twinkly lights are only serving as a distraction from The One Light I should be looking for.
Maybe I'm doing it wrong.
...But I don't really know how to do it right. 
To be honest, I'm a Christian and I'm not even sure what Christmas should look like, exactly.
I just have a feeling it's not supposed to look like this.

Just for funzies, here's my favorite meaningless Christmas carol - by The Pentatonix, because WHO ELSE?!

Remember Ronin.

Wed, 12/10/2014 - 19:26
When my two younger sons walked in after school that day, I could see it in their glassy eyes, their sagging shoulders and low hung heads, I could hear it in hitched breaths and stuttered sniffles; they already knew.

Their young friend and teammate was dead.

Upper Natoma Rowing Club (photo courtesy of Facebook)
We all got in the car and drove to the lake, where, in place of practice, our little UNRC crew team and coaches and a few parents gathered around picnic tables in shock and mourning. The youngest boy on the team was gone, and the group desperately wanted to understand the tragedy that took him. He was simply too vibrant and too precious and too young to be dead. How could this have happened?
It couldn't be real. How could we lose a twelve year old to suicide?

I stood nearby, heartbroken by proxy, trying unsuccessfully to hold back tears as the group of teens took in this shocking news. At first they could only cry. Gratefully, an adult stepped forward and said, “Hey, I didn't know him very well, can you guys tell me about him?” Then, alternating between laughter and tears, they would tell a silly story about the quirky, sweet, funny kid who joined the team at the beginning of the season, and then quietly fall back into their grief over his absence. They talked about his favorite song, the green shirt he wore to every single practice, his knack for losing unusual things and then finding them again, how he always had food in his bag, his love of youtube, and how he gave the very best hugs. They quoted his words and imitated his ways and listed hilarious nick names he'd bestowed upon teammates. They smiled when they recalled how his team sweatshirt was so huge on him, and then they cried at that same image in their head. It seemed like everyone had something positive to say about the little coxswain/Jr. Rower/unofficial Kid Brother to a team full of teenagers.
But no one said his name.

No one could.

His name was caught in their mouths like a secret, yet to be told. It clung to their lips, too precious to be spoken. With the last few minutes of dusky light, as the air grew cold and the sun dipped low over the lake, it was almost as if his name, his memory, his lifewas a treasure from which the team had been privileged to receive a small share. They sat together, near the water, silently guarding this special gift until the sun set on the horizon, the world went dark, and the universe stepped in to take over the rest of the story.  Ronin's story.
#riproninBy the time we arrived at a candle light vigil in front of his house that night, there were network news vans, reporters, and cameramen all over the place. And by the time we got back home, Ronin's death had become a feature story.
Over the next few days, my boys watched their young friend's face go viral -- his full life and tragic death summarized again and again in just two words; cheerleading and bullying. Overnight, they saw his name turned into a #hashtag and his picture become fodder for armchair activists and purveyors of grief porn around the globe. They were rowing with Ronin on Monday, and on Friday they were watching his death be appropriated by the Internet and used as glorified click-bait, in sensational headlines, to push agendas, and as a source of dramatic flair for social media “like” whores.
When my youngest saw himself in a newscast using footage from the candlelight vigil, he was furious and he asked if he could sue to have his image removed. He wanted no part in the media circus, no part in what he saw as the digital desecration of his friend's memory. He thought Ronin should be remembered as more than a hashtag, more than a cheerleader, more than the poster child for anti-bullying, because he was, indeed, more than those things. So I promised my boy we could take back the internet on Ronin's behalf, and I believe that's true.

I think we need to share Ronin's story, but only if we're willing to let it change our lives. Otherwise, we're just part of the circus capitalizing on his death.

But, in truth, everyone should be talking about Ronin Shimizu. The whole world should know his name. I want everyone to have his precious face burned into their minds, because when a 12 year old takes his own life after being bullied and picked on and harassed simply for who he was, we have a responsibility to remember him. My hope is that we can and will continue to share Ronin's story, not as fear-mongers or tear-jerkers, but out of our desire to make the world a better place, to make our children better people, and to create a positive legacy after the death of a boy who deserved better from us in life. 

Statement from Ronin's parents.
We may never be privy to exactly what led to his death - those are sacred details for the people who knew him best and loved him most – but we do know that Ronin was the victim of bullying throughout his childhood. We also know his parents did an amazing job giving Ronin the freedom to be Ronin, while doing their best to shield him from cruelty. Moving forward, we know we can honor Ronin's life by actively caring for and protecting other kids like him, by recognizing their specialness, by loving them and valuing them for it, and by tellingshowing all of our children to do the same.
Some of the kids on the crew team, mine included, are struggling with feelings of guilt and remorse over their friend's suicide. They can't stop recounting the details of every interaction they'd ever had with him, and recalling their last words to him. They wish they'd said more, done more, seen more; They wish they'd loved Ronin better in the brief time they had with him. As his face continues to pop up in their news feeds, I can see their hurt and frustration mounting. They were his community, and they feel like they failed him. Now, with a great twist of the knife, the internet is overflowing with tributes of friendship and devotion to a boy who died (at least in part) as a result of cruelty, loneliness, and isolation. Oh, the #irony.
Jamison and Ronin
Head of the Lagoon 2014We've been assured our little crew team was a source of joy for young Ronin, but still, I think everyone with even the slightest proximity to him has regrets. They certainly weren't his antagonists, but when our crew kids read some of the stuff they find online, they can't help but feel an ache of remorse and flash of anger, because it's so easy to hear a story like Ronin's and imagine you'd have been the one to notice his anguish, or you'd have been his best friend, or his greatest encourager. It's easy to hashtag a picture of his smiling face and declare your anti-bully rage. It's easy to click “share” on his sad story. 

...But in real life, loving people is hard, being selfless is hard, recognizing the hidden pain of others is hard. In real life, we often pick safe and silent over brave, anti-bully sentiments. In real life, we tend to pick the in-crowd over the outcast.
In real life, we knew a small boy with a bright smile and a big, blue sweatshirt, and we never perceived his pain. 
Ronin changed my real life. 

He changed my sons' lives. He changed our family. He challenged our community and he shook our Church. 
Ronin is teaching us to recognize and uphold the specialness of others. He's teaching us that compassion isn't a choice, it's a necessity. Like air. We need to live and breathe it. He's asking us to open our eyes; to seek the wounded, to shelter the weak, to reach for the hurting. He's telling us that "kids will be kids" and that sometimes kids are vulnerable, so adults need to be adults and teach the kids who are being assholes to be nice.
Our communities will, undoubtedly, become better places through the things we learn from Ronin.  
...But it shouldn't take the death of a tormented 12 year old to teach us a lesson in how to treat each other. This should never happen again. And I believe that it if we remember him, if we honor his life and his story, if we let him, Ronin will change the world.  

Remember Ronin... 

You are a world changer, Ronin. Rest in peace, baby boy. 

To make a contribution to the Ronin Shimizu Memorial Fund, click HERE. Thank you!

The Fall of Christmas

Thu, 12/04/2014 - 17:09
(Today a terrible tragedy hit my community, and I'm reminded that some people wake to Christmas mourning. A timely #TBT post from December 2013. )

So. Our Christmas tree fell over. 
It had been leaning for a while (like, since the second we put it up) and then, finally, after a few days, it succumbed to gravity and crashed to the ground amid the sounds of creaking branches and breaking glass and my giant fur-faced husband shouting, “YOU GOTTA BE KIDDING!”
I knew it was going to fall over -- I wasn't surprised at all when it did. Not even an hour before it made its big dramatic flop to the floor, I took pictures of it tilting off to one side, star drooping like a spent balloon. I kept asking no one in particular, “Do you think that tree is okay? Does that look right?” I knew it was all going to fall apart eventually, but I didn't know how to fix it and I knew I couldn't shore it up on my own, so I backed away, fingers crossed that it would last until Christmas. But it didn't. It couldn't. So we were all just waiting for it to go down. 
Trees fall over sometimes. They just do. Sometimes it's unexpected and other times it's not, sometimes there are good reasons and other times there are not. But it doesn't really matter, because it always makes a mess. And it always sucks.

Really, it's not the Christmas tree falling that hurts, it's the collateral damage that wants to break your tiny heart. 
After our tree fell, my husband and I got down on our knees to pick out all the memories we could salvage and to sweep the broken pieces into the palm of our hands, like little shards of Christmas past to be carried off to the trash. I learned a long time ago to hold loosely to the things of this world, possessions and people both, to the degree that I honestly worry it's too easy for me to let go of the things I love. But when the Christmas tree fell, “aloof” is the tool I pulled out of my back pocket. For me, pretending not to be sad is easier than being sad. Old habit, I guess... old... unhealthy... habit.
It's funny, isn't it? How you can know something is going down - you can see it falling - but you can't always stop it, you can't fix it, you can only watch. And then maybe pick up the pieces. And pretend to not be sad (if you're me. Or, actually be sad, if you are a reasonably well-adjusted adult who is not me). 
Before the tree fell, I was fighting to find joy this year. I was struggling to make a place for the delight of Christmas because I was wrapped up tight in the pain of loss. When it fell, I was like, “Perfect. That is just effing perfect.” Because this Christmas was already well on its way to Sucksville and an unwilling Christmas tree was just the icing on the Birthday Cake For Baby Jesus. *rolling my eyes*
It's been a rough one for me and for some of the people I love. Frankly, this is not the most wonderful time of the year for us, at least not this time around.
I've noticed this year (probably because I'm having a super lame horrible dumb stupid stupid stupid Christmas) that there doesn't seem to be a lot of space in our lives for hurting people during the Holidays. But, man, there are a lot of hurting people. There are a lot of people for whom this time of year is sad or bitter, hollow or lonely, or just plain painful. 
While some of us are celebrating, others are aching.
While some of us are toasting long lives, others are mourning life lost.
While some of us feast on family time, others are starving for love.
The bustle of activity and togetherness in December only serves to make some houses feel all the more empty. 
Loneliness is the quiet enemy of Joy. 
When my Christmas tree fell, it was like Christmas fell with it. The surviving ornaments stayed in a pile on the floor, and the tree, now wrenched upright and properly secured, sat untouched with bare spots and bushy places and branches all tweaked out of order. Ugly. It was ugly and sad, and it felt just like Christmas to me... it felt right. 
So I left it like that until yesterday, when I decided it was too depressing to look at anymore and I set about fluffing and fixing it, rearranging it, and putting it back together. It will never return to its former glory, that is certain. This poor tree is just gonna have to be a little shabby and a little wonky and a little bit lonely looking with so few ornaments left on it this year. But, to be honest, it warmed my own shabby, crooked soul to see it there, waiting for me this morning. That dinged and droopy star calling my name, whispering a truth that I needed badly to remember...

Jesus didn't come to fix it all.  He came to be with us in it all.

God with us. 
Blessed are the poor, the mourning, the meek, and the hungry... for The Lord is with us
Merry sad Christmas, Beloved.   You. Are Not. Alone.

The Very Worst T-Shirts Are Here

Tue, 12/02/2014 - 20:11
 If you follow along on Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram, or Pinterest (Seriously. What the hell, you guys. Why are there so many things???), then you already know about this...

Seriously. This is a thing.And so is this. *ahem* Gentlemen.

...I don't even know what to say.
Except that, yes, I have one. And yes, I wear it. And yes, I think you should get one and wear it, too, or if you're really brave, you could get one for someone else. You can take a closer look, read about them, and then order one for all your friends and family members by clicking anywhere on this entire huge long run on sentence, or by clicking: HERE

Because there's THIS...
Knives hates Mens/Unisex shirts

He also hates women's fitted tees.


Nothing says "I love you" like a shirt that says
"Knives hates you."


Christmas will be here in like 5 minutes, so these shirts are ready just in time for the dreaded Holiday Season, but they're only available for purchase until Tuesday, December 9th -- THAT'S ONE WEEK ONLY -- If you want one, don't wait!

(Guess what every person I've ever met in my entire life is getting from me for Christmas... That's right! PIE.)

Actually, the Thought Doesn't Count

Thu, 11/27/2014 - 05:23

It's Thanksgiving. Can you believe it?!

Thanksgiving day means the Holiday Season is upon us... and that makes everything inside of me want to run away and live in a cave for the next month. 
I know I should be excited because it's THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR and all that crap, but I kind of hate the holidays. And by kind of, I mean completely.
“The Holidays” will swoop in today on the carcass of a fat, dead turkey and there's nothing anybody can do about it. I'm already gearing up to emerge from the bliss of my annual Thanksgiving food coma, only to careen into a state of perpetual anxiety over all the stuff that follows our national day of gorging and gratitude.
By 5am tomorrow the world will have been launched into the madness we call Christmastime, and I am guaranteed to lay awake at night for the next 4 weeks obsessing over food, sweating over money, and burning with shame at my inability to give presents that people actually like or want. I know it sounds crazy, but the Holiday Season just isn't that fun when what you don't have is any money, and what you do have is a history of eating disorders and a proven track record of lame gift giving. 
It's like a trifecta of month long misery for a person like me. It's so stressful, it just makes me wanna poop.
And can we talk about the gift-giving thing for a sec? I know that some people are really good at choosing, making, buying, wrapping, and giving awesome presents, but I am not one of those people. For me, the annual tradition of everyone giving everyone else gifts is stressful, uncomfortable, embarrassing, and awkward. I'm not a planner, I'm not all that creative, I'm not particularly intuitive, and I have NO money, so when it comes to gift giving, I don't enjoy the process and nobody enjoys the results.

Fun, right?!
I think people who are good at this kind of thing have a moment when they see the joy and surprise and gratitude on the face of the person opening their gift, and I'm guessing that that moment makes the time and money they invested feel worthwhile. But, imagine the opposite. Imagine a gift being opened to a glimmer of disappointment, a glance of disinterest, or a genuine look of W.T.F. …Even if the words that follow are the same (Thank you! That's so sweet! I've always wanted a walrus hide belt.You shouldn't have. No, really, I mean it...You shouldn't have.), the tone is a dead giveaway – if that “thank you” lilts like a sad trombone, sorry, but your gift bites.

The choral *womp-womp* of disingenuous "thank you's" upon the ears of the gift-giving-challenged can make the Holiday Season a sort of personal hell. While all the normal people are writing their lists and checking them twice, bad gift givers are aimlessly scrolling through Amazon's holiday deals and clicking through gift-guides on Pinterest, desperate to find everyone we love the perfect thing ...or really anything. Because what we're really desperate for is to get this whole damn thing over with.

It's just so much pressure!
And, I swear, if you try to pacify me by saying it's the thought that counts or that we're not required to give gifts and should only do it if we really want to, I will pull my Thanksgiving Cranberry-Pear Crostata out of the oven right now and stick my head in there. DO NOT EVEN. Because, first of all? It's not the thought that counts, it's the gift that counts. Otherwise we would all just say, “I thought about getting you a nice gift” and everybody would be happy. Besides, the gifts I give aren't awful because they're thoughtless, they're awful because I'm a poor, forgetful, relationally-shallow procrastinator. So last Christmas, when I thought about what to get you - and I did - I didn't have enough money for a decent gift card and I couldn't remember what you need and I wasn't sure what you like and I waited too long to figure all that out, so all I could do was walk up to the clearance rack at Target, close my eyes, and grab the first thing I touched. And that's why you got a XXL zippered fleece with Snoopy surfing a wave that said "Life's a Beach".
You're welcome. 

I know.

I shouldn't have.
But seriously, let's just admit the thought doesn't count. I've received good gifts, and it's awesome, and I've received bad gifts, and it sucks. Let's just be honest and say we'd really prefer to get presents we like or need or want, so that we can also acknowledge that some people just naturally suck at giving presents. 
While we're at it, we can also quit pretending like opting out of the gift exchange madness is a reasonable thing to do. The suggestion that no one has to give gifts unless they feel like it defies everything we know about society and culture and the nature of community. Telling me I can simply abstain from reciprocal gift giving in Suburbia is like saying if I don't feel like using a fork, I should just eat with my hands. Who cares what everyone else is doing, right?! Do what works for you! Go ahead and eat mashed potatoes with your hands at the staff Christmas party and the PTA Brunch and the in-laws Holiday Celebration – I mean, yeah, it will make everyone super uncomfortable, and they'll call you rude behind your back, and no one will want to eat with you next year – but WHO CARES?! It's your life! You are not obligated to use a fork. Or to give a gift. 
You don't have to participate. Riiiiiiiiight. That sounds like it'll work out well. 
The thought does not count and you cannot opt out! 

These are gift-giving truths every holiday shopper must face. So I guess I should just accept my fate as the very worst gift giver, and focus instead on what I can bring to this month of crazy we call the Holiday Season. ...Pie. 

That's all I got. Bad gifts and good pies. Let the dreaded Holiday Season commence

Choose well. Invest wisely. (Reimagining Short-Term Missions)

Fri, 11/21/2014 - 00:55
It's possible you already know of my distaste for short-term missions. I haven't really been shy about it, and if you've been around here for more than like five minutes, you know I think they're often more harm than good. If you've read any of the series I wrote about short-term missions, then you know I believe if they aren't done well, they can be a terrible waste of resources, a gross misrepresentation of God's #Blessing, an unbalanced act of mutual exploitation, and a dependency creating, dignity killing, Western Colonial clusterfluck. Among other things.
This weekend? My church is sending a short-term team to Cambodia.
I'm dead serious, you guys.
We're sending seven upper-middle class suburbanites half way across the world to do like four days of work with a ministry focused on the prevention, rescue, and restoration of victims of sex-trafficking. And, oh, it's going to cost around $30,000.
I don't know about you, but I think that's more than a hell of a lot of money. That's like ten hells of a lot of money. Honestly, that is so much freaking money to send seven freaking people overseas for a freaking handful of days to work in an area and a culture and language they don't know a freaking thing about.
It sounds just like the kind of short-term mission I love to hate, and if you were to stand up and shout, “BUT YOUR HUSBAND IS THE MISSIONS PASTOR! HOW COULD YOU LET THIS HAPPEN?!” at your computer screen, that would seem totally fair.
I've spent a lot of time and energy and words talking about how messed up I think short-term missions are, but I haven't shared much about ways we could do them better. That's kind of not cool and I'm sorry. But the team we're sending off to Cambodia this weekend? Well, I actually think they're a pretty great example of a better way of doing this thing. So, yes, we are spending 30 grand to send seven white people overseas, and, yes, I do approve whole heartedly (not that my approval matters, but you know what I mean). I will be cheering every second of this trip on so hard, and here's why:

First of all? We're not sending a single volunteer. NOT ONE.

This is huuuuge. I haven't quite figured out why we're so afraid to tell people "no" when it comes to missions. We have no problem choosing our leaders and representatives in other areas of the Church, but in missions we'll take pretty much anybody who can raise their own hand and their own support, pat them on the back, put them on a plane, and call them “Called”.

Isn't that kind of... I don't know... weird? ...Seriously. Isn't it?
I hate to break it to you, but it's kind of the Church's job to appoint and direct leaders and missionaries, like, it's in the Bible.
Jesus chose.
The apostles chose.
The disciples chose.
And we choose all the time.
That's why I think it's so weird that if I so much as hint at the idea that maybe we shouldn't let just anybody who feels led become a missionary, people go all caps on my ass - “HOW DARE YOU, YOU WHORE OF SATAN, GOD CAN USE ANYONE TO DO ANYTHING AND WHO ARE YOU TO DECIDE WHO CAN DO WHAT?!” And then they levitate off the floor and their head spins.
But... We already do this all the time. Most of usdon't go to churches who let anybody who feels like it get up and preach on Sunday morning. We don't let the first guy to jump on stage with a tambourine lead us in worship. We don't let every volunteer who walks through the door feeling “called” hold our babies on their lap, or - God forbid - count our money! We are constantly making decisions about who should do what within the framework of the church, but we balk at the idea of choosing our missionaries.
Jesus appointed those he sent.  And I think maybe He did that on purpose. 
In the midst of looking to replace the familiar model of sending short-term missionaries to far away places where ministries have created (often unnecessary) opportunities to accommodate well-meaning volunteers, my Missions Pastor Husband learned that our partner in Cambodia had multiple couples whose marriages were suffering under the strain of their work, so he asked if a marriage retreat could be beneficial. When the answer was “YES!!! PLEASE, OH, PLEASE. WE NEED A MARRIAGE RETREAT!”, he didn't make an announcement or post a sign up sheet on our website. Instead, he wentabout choosing a team. Nobody was forced into becoming a short-term missionary, they were simply invited to be part of the team, and they were told why they'd been invited. Not everyone was eager to join, and not everyone accepted, but in the end, he appointed an experienced couples retreat planner, two Marriage and Family Therapists (one specializing in trauma and PTSD, the other in Men's issues), a Pastoral couple, a leadership development expert, a child care provider, and a few other leaders from our marriage ministry. There are 11 people total, but only the 7 bodies essential to the event itself will be traveling to Cambodia -- because round trip airfare to SE Asia is hella expensive. 
Which brings me to my second thing.
The second thing I love about this team is that $30,000 is a crapload of dough, but not so much when you consider what it's bringing to the spiritual, emotional, and marital lives of the 35 people who will be served through this event.
That's about $860 per person to bring professional mental healthcare, personalized written materials, pastoral care and guidance, a kids program, and a desperately needed long weekend away for this group of Cambodian and North American couples and their children. $860 to empower the people best suited and equipped to do the hard work of rescue and aftercare in SE Asia. $860 to refresh their weary souls and to build up their marriages to withstand the mind-boggling demands of their work in the weeks, months, and, hopefully, years to come. 
As far as I'm concerned, that's a pretty meaningful and significant use of funds. And it's a damn good reason to send 7 suburbanites to the other side of the world for a weeks work. 
To top it off, our short-term team took care of almost all the preparation and administrative elements from here to avoid creating work for the people they aim to serve. They booked the hotel rooms and conference space, they planned and prepped the kids activities, and they had all the materials professionally translated and printed in Khmer and English, so all the attendees have to do is show up and be cared for. I love it.
It all just makes so much sense, you guys!!
Part of why I'm so excited about this team is that we came off the mission field after cinco años in Costa Rica with a passion for God's mission to the world, a heavy sadness for the scope of brokenness in the missional movement, and a big dream of leading the Church we love in a different direction; one that honors God, and empowers people, and makes sense - all at the same time. So, from day one in his role as a missions pastor, El Chupacabra has been intent on finding better, smarter, healthier ways to fulfill the Great Commission, pursue Justice, and help our church community engage in the Gospel with depth and meaning, both locally and globally.
Sending this team out into the world feels like a little step toward realizing that dream. 
Short-term missions can actually be done well!
...I hope. 
We'll see. I'll let you know if it ends up being a total disaster... but I really don't think it will. 
God speed, Lakeside!

Put the Bible Back in Schools

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 14:17
A million years ago my real-life, non-blogger, probably-not-even-addicted-to-the-internet friend, Jenna Kemp, rocked this little corner of the WorldWideWeb with her words, and I've been begging pleading nagging asking her to write us another post ever since. AND NOW SHE HAS! AND OMG.----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Sometimes I hate talking to new people at parties. There comes a point in most conversations when we ask each other the question, “So, what do you do?” I’m still trying to figure out a way that I can answer this question without launching into a religious discussion, and, to be honest, I feel ambivalent about the fact that answering this question leads to such a discussion.
Here’s the thing: I study the Bible (the Hebrew Bible, or the Christian Old Testament). I study the Bible in its historical context and the community who produced it. I study its literary qualities, its politics, its ambiguities, its story-telling strategies, and the multiple identities embedded in this ancient text. I am interested in what a text is, what the Bible is, the role and process of literary production in the ancient world, how each part of the Bible came to be, and how they all got put together. I am interested in tuning my ear to the Bible’s own voices and exposing those voices to others. I love that moment when study folds time and I can actually approach the ancient world through this tiny, intricate, fragile rabbit hole of a text.
So when I go to parties and tell someone that I’m doing my Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible, and they look at me totally confused and say, “Do you want to be… a… pastor?” or, “So – are you, like, religious?” or, “So do all the prophecies about what will happen in the future scare you?” (true story, really happened – and btw, no), I get frustrated.
It’s not that I get frustrated at this person in front of me asking, perhaps, the only question that they know how to ask (some people literally just walk away, so god bless the soul that has no idea what I’m talking about and tries anyway). It’s not that I get frustrated that a complete stranger is asking me super personal questions. The thing that really frustrates me is that our culture has created a space for the Bible that allows for only these kinds of questions to be asked. In our popular imagination, the Bible is a religious book for religious people who want to find answers in it, answers that they can then use to smack people with.
Now, I’m not saying that this is what everyone actually does. I belong to a wonderful religious community that treats the Bible critically, wrestles with its ambiguities, and seeks out its wisdom. I am not against this approach. What I am saying is that more often than not in our Western culture, the dominant conversation about the Bible is steeped in the context of the culture wars that have been waged for quite some time.
Our loudest voices on the Bible have used it to fight evolution, fight homosexuals, control women’s bodies, keep prayer in schools, put God on our money, keep our guns loaded and available for children to shoot each other with, go to war, commit genocide, keep our gas tanks full, and on and on and on. And so much – SO MUCH – of this conversation is centered on whether or not the Bible is “True,” the meaning of which continues to be uncertain for me. Whether or not it is “true” seems to be the most complex question about the Bible that our culture is capable of asking because that’s all that we’ve been hearing about, for like, ever.
We need to contribute to a culture that approaches the Bible critically for two reasons: 1. We can steer the conversation away from whether or not the Bible is true to what the Bible actually is; and 2. People for whom the Bible is not a religious book, but who live in, or interact with, Western culture need to have access to a text that has shaped their cultural inheritance.
1. Moving away from whether or not the Bible is true and towards understanding what the Bible is:
So what is the Bible? The Bible is so many things! Here is one way that I like to think about it: The Bible is an ancient text, situated in the ancient Near East, responding to a variety of social, political, and religious stimuli. It’s arguing with voices contemporary to its own about what humanity is and what the divine world is. It’s arguing with voices within its own community about who is in charge politically, whose ideas about religion should be favored, and who can legitimately be considered part of the community (and we can find remnants of these arguments within the text!). It’s trying to construct a narrative of empowerment for a people group who just keep getting pushed around.
But when we don’t listen to the Bible, when we only ask it what it can do for us, when we look in its pages for God’s lesson to us, we miss out on the Bible’s actual voice. As spiritual communities claiming some sort of affiliation with the Bible, how can we really understand its wisdom without understanding the context in which it was produced? We need to understand what the Bible is responding to in order to understand what it’s actually trying to communicate. And from this point we can begin to determine whether or how those thoughts are helpful for our lives. Otherwise we are misappropriating it and making it say things it never intended to say.
2. Allowing everyone access to the text:
Studying the humanities tells us who we are and from where we have come. Our art, literature, history, religious traditions, music, and poetry make up our cultural inheritance, providing us with our sense of identity and connection. And while there are so many texts that have contributed to our cultural repertoire, the Bible is probably one of the most significant because subsequent texts have had to confront it in some way. The Bible finds its way into everything from Steinbeck to Shakespeare, and texts from which it is absent ring loudly with this fact. If we have any hope for engaging deeply with our entire field of humanities, we need to read the Bible.
And we need to read it in this context so that we, as a culture, can get in touch with our own roots, our past, and our ancestors. If we have no idea where we came from, there is little hope that we can come to a deep understanding of who we are. And without understanding who we are, real systemic change is nothing but a dream. Why is the Bible so separate from the humanities? Why do we not read it in school along with Homer and Beowulf? How are we to confront our societal ills without reading the Bible, and reading it well?
We need to create a space within our popular culture in which it is possible to read the Bible outside of a religious tradition, reading it instead as one of the great works foundational to Western Culture, and allowing for conversation that doesn’t respond to modern religious ideas. This does not mean that we have to take the Bible away from religious communities, but it does mean that religious communities need to be secure enough not just to allow, but to empower other people who don’t find God in its pages to have a seat at the reading table. ___________________
If you are interested into delving into the world of critical thought about the Bible, I have a few suggestions listed below. Most of these works are fairly accessible and have been written for both scholars and laypeople. Obviously this list reflects my own interests, but, nonetheless, I hope it’s helpful!

Amazon.com Widgets


"Jenna is a Ph.D. student in Hebrew Bible at UC Berkeley. She is interested in all the things she listed above, but is especially biblical narrative and its social function. She lives in Oakland with her partner, Malka, and their dog, Leviathan. They all love Jamie the VWM very much."
She doesn't have a blog, or a twitter, or a Facebook fan page for you to stalk. Weird, I know! But she'll be checking comments on this post, so feel free to communicate with her here, or you can email me and I'd be happy to forward your correspondence.

Thanks, Jenna, for sharing your thoughts so beautifully and for, once again, challenging the crap out of me. I love you! 

Fire Bones.

Thu, 11/13/2014 - 17:12
(A #TBT repost from Jan/2011)

He said, “There’s a fire in my bones!” And he said it like he meant it...

We were talking about the Church and the world, and where we see God moving in them, and when the conversation turned to art and writing and music, he got very excited. He stretched his arms out wide and kind of bounced up and down a couple of times, the way someone does at a concert when the bass drops or something. He stood there for a second, swaying to the tune of some unheard song, then he clapped his hands together and that’s when he said it, the thing about having fire in his bones.

I wanted to stay, but I had to get out of there. I felt weird. I felt sort of... envious. I was thinking, “I want that. I want fire bones.

And then I thought, “If you write about this, don’t say ‘fire bones’ because it sounds like some kind of venereal disease.”

And then I was like, “Of course, if it was an STD, it would be a whole lot easier to get. ...But then for sure you couldn’t write about it.

Because that's how my brain works. So anyway.

I sat in the car for a few minutes wondering about the disparity between my friend and me. Here he was, lit up for the things of God -- and I stood right next to him, holding a barely burning ember in the sweaty palm of my hand, hoping that no one else could see the difference between us.

A few nights later, we sat outside with some new friends, drinking craft beer and White Russians and talking Jesus. We huddled around a fire pit, keeping the cold night to our backs as we laughed, telling stories and exploring the strengths and failings of our beloved Church together. It was a good night. And one of the things I took away from it (aside from a mild but lingering hangover and that achy feeling you get in your cheeks from smiling too much) was that a fire doesn’t keep burning unless it’s fueled and stoked. You can’t just light a fire and expect it to stay lit indefinitely. 

While were hanging out, the fire we sat around inevitably shrank. But only until our host would grab a log, use it to stir up the glowing char and then toss it in on top, and the fire would come back to life. Sometimes it would start to wane and someone would lean in close and simply blow on the red-rimmed embers, and they would bloom into flames. It didn’t take much really, but the fire wouldn’t have lasted if it hadn’t been tended to.

And then I clearly saw the difference between my friend with the fire bones and me.

See, I haven’t really been tending to my spirit very well. The fire that once licked the air around me with flames of Hope and Grace and Peace has grown cold because I haven’t been adding the fuel it needs to stay alight. I haven’t really been diving into the Bible very much lately. I haven’t been engaging with God in prayer much. I haven’t been seeking Him with any sort of passion or excitement - this God that I claim to love. I haven’t been listening for Him.

Even though I know… I mean, like, I really know….

...His Word brings me to life.

...His presence is a burning light to my spirit.

...His breath ignites my soul. 

My bones are glowing embers, longing to burst into flames once again.

I think it’s time to stoke the fire.

.......    ............    .......

How's your fire?


Tue, 11/04/2014 - 22:56
If there's one thing Christians love, it's being blessed.
Our blessings usually come in the form of material goods or cold, hard cash. But if you do a quick search of hashtag/blessed, you'll find we also enjoy blessings of health, abundance of any form, good weather, good grades, good food, work promotions, winning games, sleeping babies, coffee, wine, narrowly averted disasters, and, better yet, other people's disasters -which remind us our lives aren't as nearly bad as that poor bastard over there. Other blessings include date night, gym time, nap time, quiet time, fishin' time, and any other time known as “His timing”.
What can I say? We are just so #blessed.
If you truly need something and then you get it? Congratulations, you've been #blessed! If you want something frivolous and it shows up? You're #blessed! If you achieve any sort of success, whether by effort or accident? #Blessed. If you experience something truly miraculous, like you survive a plane crash, or your Mom's advanced cancer disappears? Obviously, that's a huge #blessing! But if something super ordinary happens to you, like you give birth to a plain old healthy baby, or you're in a teeny tiny fender-bender where no one got hurt, or you hit every green light on your way to work? You're also very #blessed.
We get off on a good blessing! And because we aren't total a-holes, we love to pass our blessings along to others.
We actually go on mission trips specifically for the purpose of "blessing" other people. We gather our teenagers and soccer moms and we send them to third world countries to build shitty houses to bless the poor, and when the poor people ask why we've flown across the planet to visit for a week, we tell them it's because God loves them and wants us to bless them. When we get home from blessing 'the least of these' with a freshly painted whatever and an acknowledgement of their blighted human existence, the blessings abound evermore, as we say things like, “I think they blessed me even more than I blessed them.”
There are about 50 words and phrases I'd like to banish from the vocabulary of the North American Church forever and ever - 'missions/missional/missionary' and 'it's a God thing' among them - but way up there at the top of my list is the term “blessed”.
Bless. Blessed. Blessing... In the infamous words of the not-so-left-handed sword fighter, Inigo Montoya,
You keep using this word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
I learned this the hard way (the day a gecko almost touched my lady business), but Blessed doesn't really mean what we think it means, because most of the time when we use the word blessed what we really mean is pleased.
“Dear internet, something pleasant has occurred which pleases me. #Blessed”

We've created a culture in which we measure God's “blessings” in terms of dollars and cents, comfort and pleasure, wealth and well-being. So, if we're happy and healthy and have everything we need, then we're blessed, and we should thank God on social media. We tend to ignore the secondary message this sends to those who are unhappy or unhealthy, or for whom things are just generally crappy. Too bad, so sad, if your life sucks, you're #NotBlessed. The third unintended takeaway we get when we slap the word "blessed" on every aspect of our own upward mobility is that God's blessings obviously belongs to the rich, and must be doled out to the poor as the rich see fit. The richer, the #Blesseder. 
If you read the gospel of Facebook, you might be lead to think the blessed people among us are fulfilled, happy, whole, and satisfied. But according to Jesus, the opposite is true. The people Jesus calls blessed actually sound kind of miserable. And sad. And needy. Honestly? By today's standards, it sounds like the people Jesus tells us are blessed by God are more like cursed, and they definitely don't sound like they'd be hash-tagging their stuff #blessed.
You would never come across a status update that says, “Feeling lost and alone. I wonder if God is even listening. #PoorInSpirit #Blessed.”
Or like, “Terrible accident killed half my family. Funeral is Monday. #mourning #SoBlessed”
“Wish I could kick this effing porn habit. I want nothing more than to live a life that honors my spouse and my God and my covenant with them both. #Blessed and #desperateforrighteoussness.”
Maybe Jesus had no idea how uncomfortable it would make us to equate conditions like poor and meek and starving to being blessed. Or maybe he absolutely knew how hard it would be for us to grasp, because thousands of years ago the people who gathered on a hillside to hear him teach the beatitudes had already twisted God's blessing into material advancement and opportunities for personal gain. So Jesus, the very incarnation of God among us, was like, “Um. You keep saying this word, 'blessed'. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Because blessed does not mean pleased. Blessed does not mean happy. Blessed does not mean fulfilled. It doesn't even mean fed or clothed or housed or healthy...
What it really means is that you are not alone, for God is with you.
God's blessing is His presence.
Nothing more. Nothing less. …Just the Creator of the Universe, the artist and architect of Heaven and Earth, the Bringer of Light, the Weaver of Life, the One who knows you and loves you best of all, finding you in life's most broken places and breathing into your weary soul, “I am that I am, and I am with you.”
Contrary to popular belief, the Blessing of God is not what he gives us, the Blessing of God is that He is with us.
God's blessing is not beyond the reach of the poor, nor is it dependent on the generosity of the rich, it has not been withheld from the sick, and it is not departed from the lost or the hurting. In fact, it may be the only good and fair thing that exists in this world, an equal share granted to all; no matter our circumstance, no matter our sickness, no matter our sin, we are each the recipient of God's full and undivided attention, his blessing, for He is with us. 
Every last one of us...
“The Lord bless youand keep you;the Lord make his face shine upon youand be gracious to you;the Lord turn his face toward youand give you peace.”
He holds you. He sees you. He loves you. And He is with you. For you, indeed, are #blessed.

Is it even possible to shop ethically on a tight budget without looking like a smelly hippie?

Tue, 10/28/2014 - 18:08

When it comes to making sure the things we buy are ethically sourced - meaning it's not made by small children, or paid for in slave wages, or created in unconscionable factory conditions - it seems like there's one thing nobody wants to say out loud. It goes like this: 
"I want to be a conscientious consumer! BUT. I also want to dress like I own a smart car, sip whisky, and smoke the occasional American Sprit around a hammered copper fire pit with my friends whose apparel is also perfectly on trend. The thing is, I don't have a lot of money (in part, because I like $95 whiskey and the most expensive cigarettes at the gas station), and a lot of the stuff I find when I search for ethical, sustainable, slave-free merchandise is either really expensive or... really ugly. This would be so much easier if we could pay people all over the world fair wages to make cheap clothes that I love."
I have thoughts like this. I really do. And I know that makes me kind of a douche, but I also know that a lot of people are completely ignoring this conversation because they want to live/look a certain way and they don't think they can do both; they don't think they can dress cool and buy responsibly. So they skip articles like this one and instead they go read The Onion, which is funny and true but doesn't make you hate yourself.

Most people (*raising my hand*) would simply prefer to ignore where their stuff comes from and who makes it, because if they don't they'll be forced to make the uncomfortable distinction between what they're willing to pay for a t-shirt and what they're willing to pay for the one who made it. Thinking of our purchases in terms of who and not what changes everything! You can hardly blame anyone for not being super excited to scrutinize their closet and their wallet and their role in the state of modern day slavery, because, let's be honest, it sucks.

Admittedly, I am a total cheapskate. Not so much by nature, more by circumstance. When you have growing kids on a static budget you tend to become an expert on how to get the most payout from the least possible expenditure. Every month we find ourselves looking for ways to stretch our puny paycheck to fit over our giant kids and their relentless appetites and skyward stature. If you saw the stack of sandwiches I made this morning, I swear you'd think I was sending my kids into the wilderness for a month, not packing two school lunches - it's ridiculous and we manage, but just barely. So when I think about spending more money on clothes, shoes, coffee, gifts, household goods, cleaning products, cosmetics, food, furniture, chocolate... Ugh! It just gives me diarrhea...

I'm not gonna lie, I was starting to regret having ever written about ethical shopping in the first place because, while I totally believe in the cause, I was beginning to think it was impossible to find anything that I would actually wear and that I could actually afford AND that I could actually guarantee wasn't sewn for a penny by an aged and toothless Vietnamese grandma with advanced TB and a baby on her back. I guess you could say I wanted to have my cake and eat it, too -- All I ask is that my cake to be made from organic, slave-free chocolate in a safe, sanitary bakery, by a hardworking person who is fairly paid and reasonably treated, and I want it to cost the same as all the other cakes. Why is that so impossible?!
It's easy to get discouraged. But, last week, just as I became convinced doing the right thing meant dressing like a smelly hippy for the rest of my life, something wonderful happened. 
I took a shower and I got dressed!
...Ok. While that in itself is a minor miracle, that's not what I'm talking about. What happened is that I got dressed in an entire outfit that A) I could afford, because duh, I already owned it, B) I wasn't embarrassed to be seen in in public, and C) was, top to bottom, ethically sourced. 
WHAT?? I KNOW!! How exciting! 
Stupid dogs. Smart outfit.
I tried to snap a pic to show you, but my derpy dogs were like, "Oh! You're trying to do something that has nothing to do with us? We're here to help!" Anyway. It's not exactly haute couture, but it is me, and I'm stoked to be able to look in the mirror and say, "I am not a slave driver!...Or a smelly hippy."
Here's how I did it, even if it was an accident

Reclaimed million year old denim shirt, like $1. 

Thrift stores are full of the stuff! 

White v-neck tee from Everlane, $15.

I am seriously obsessed with these super soft, super affordable basic Tees, and I'm in love with Everlane's incredible commitment to transparency and integrity. Plus? $15 YOU GUYS!!!

Black Skinny Jeans from Target, $20.

Technically, these jeans are like $27, but I got them on sale. (And Target gets generally high marks for ethical sourcing and global responsibility. Thank you, 8lb baby Jesus!)

Lace-up wedges from Toms, $75. 
If you're like me, that's kind of a lot of money to spend on a pair of shoes - and to be honest, I'm not a huge fan of Tom's "buy a pair, give a pair" handout model - but I am a fan of the high standards of corporate responsibility, environmental strategy, and supply chain auditing which they embrace. 
                                                                                                                Gold infinity bracelet from Beautiful and Beloved, $25. I mean, come on... you gotta live a little. 
There you have it, Ladies and Gentleman. It can be done! I believe it is entirely possible to honor our personal style while we honor the people who make it possible.
Have cake. Eat cake. Life is good. 
*ahem* ...Especially if you're not a slave. 
Seriously though, do you think it's even possible to shop 100% ethically without turning your whole life/look upside down? ...And, if that's our goal, are we missing the point? 

My Life As a Painting

Thu, 10/16/2014 - 15:04
I'm telling you, that guest post giveaway did not disappoint! Today, I'm excited to share this post from winner, Julia Frey. I hope you love it as much as I do. Welcome, Julia!>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>|<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<My Life As a PaintingOne of my most favourite places in the world is The National Gallery in London. I try to make a quick stop there as often as my life allows. Although it contains an astoundingly large collection of European art I am always drawn to the Impressionists. Every time I walk up to that section I get so overcome with emotion that I am sure everyone else can see my visible goosebumps. There is something special about the Impressionists that sets them apart in my mind and in the world of art.
For one thing, the paintings don’t look realistic. Early Impressionists faced criticism not only because the paintings looked blurry, childlike, unskilled and undignified but also because they seemed to be interested in the sort of common, almost mundane subjects that were beneath the attention of traditional painters. Like many others I particularly love their depiction of light: soft, dreamy, and life-giving. But rather than recognizing the incredible beauty of this new style the majority of early onlookers described their work as a BIG MESS. When at age 14 I first learned about the Impressionist movement, I also learned that to appreciate paintings done in that style, you have to step back, quiet your soul and allow the painting speak to you. From the first time I’d done that I became a committed fan.Monet's Impression, sunriseEver so often I feel that my life is very much like a blurry, moody and prosaic impressionist painting, with the only thing that is clear being the Light always present within it. I am often the poor soul standing too close to a Monet in the National Gallery, unable to discern beauty and purpose in the chaos. I am peering impatiently in the present, struggling to work out what is the purpose and meaning of it all while demanding the Artist to explain himself and bring things into focus. A few years back I was living through time of chaos and uncertainty, one of those wonderful times where what could go wrong, did. The beauty in it all was not easily found. Although in my better moments I could catch glimpses of something special, all too often they ended up buried in the mess. My family had moved to a new country, the rules of which seemed unfamiliar and harsh. We came as missionaries and even as I type the word I wince because all kinds of misconceptions that are built into it through the centuries of Christendom. Our world is changing which should impact how we do missions - especially in Europe - but we were learning quickly and painfully that not everyone back home was “in sync” with that idea. To make matters worse, while my husband fit in nicely by a sheer virtue of being a man I was desperately searching for my place. In the end I had to walk away empty-handed. Disappointment was one ugly word that hung over my life. Frustration and bitterness were starting to fester, mixed in with normal life things like paying rent in one of the world’s most outrageously expensive cities. You might guess why, with the ‘big mess’ my life appeared to be, I doubted everything. What shook me out of that funk was a quick stop at the National Gallery, an “aha moment” that clarity was not at all what the Impressionist artists set out to achieve. Their goal was to jolt you, make you think and stir you.  All I had to do was to step back from the action, allow my soul to rest quietly with Jesus and suddenly I was able to perceive his faithful and loving hand at work, even in the midst of my mess. I still didn’t see his purpose but I was able to trust him again. If you are in a similar place, studying your life far too closely in an attempt to figure out what is in front of you, try to remember the cardinal rules of enjoying art:1. Step away from the painting.2. Quiet your soul.3. Allow it to move you.After all, the meaning of our life is not in the fine details but in the overall impression we leave on the people around us, and in the beauty that the Father draws out from the greatest chaos of our own lives.>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>|<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<     About Julia: 
"Moving to England as a missionary along with my husband Brad and our two children didn’t seem like a big life changing event. After all, I’ve called Russia, US, Philippines, Canada and now UK my home for the last 15 years, so adjusting to a new culture was going to be a breeze, right? But different countries present different challenges and opportunities and through my blog I share bits of mine cooked into delicious food on my blog Vikalinka, at least whenever I have free time away from my day job as an English teacher.”

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>|<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<Do the details of your life ever distract you from the big picture? 

Did You Say *Shorts*?

Wed, 10/08/2014 - 13:04
While I've never met her in real life, our paths cross with frequency in internet land, so I can't even tell you how happy I was when my little raffle generator randomly chose Diana Trautwein's name as the winner of a guest spot here. When she admitted a little trepidation about writing for you people, "What do they possibly want to hear from a nearly 70-year-old retired pastor-at-mid-life with a passel of grandkids and a creaky body?", I replied, "The world has a lot to learn from a nearly 70-year-old retired pastor-at-mid-life with a passel of grandkids and a creaky body. We're listening!" Welcome, Diane! And thank you.
Did You Say Shorts?Getting old is ripe with indignities. Go ahead, ask me how I know. I watch my 93-year-old mom take daily steps further into the haze of dementia, and I fear for the future. And then I realize -- the future is here. Yowza.
In four months, I will be 70 years old. 7-0. I remember struggling a bit with 35, taking a deep breath at 40, sort of reveling in 50 and feeling resolute about 60. But 70?
The word that comes to mind is sobering.

More than a little bit humiliating.Case in point. About a year ago, I injured my left foot while taking a morning walk -- on vacation, no less. That led to a couple of months of physical therapy, which led to a different injury, same foot, which led to three months of tests, boots, ice packs, and assorted piles of pillows. Ultimately, a new set of x-rays revealed a congenitally crooked heel bone, which had likely led to the two tendon insults in the first place, one of which proved to be a nearly irreparable tear.
And that meant surgery -- to break and reset (with two titanium screws) that gnarly bone problem and to clean-up and re-connect the bashed tendon. Which meant, NO weight-bearing for a minimum of two months.
And? Ta-da. MORE physical therapy. I am happy to report that I am now walking, in two shoes, and trying to re-learn how to move this elderly ankle of mine. And just last week, I was invited to try out a brand, spankin’ new, space-age treadmill called the Super G.

Super G.
What they did not tell me is that to use this machine, I had to wriggle myself into a pair of strangely shaped walking shorts made of neoprene. Listen to me now -- I have not worn shorts of any kind in over twenty years. Twenty years. Even when I was younger, stronger, and more shapely, getting into this particular pair of shorts would have been a good trick. Now? Holy Toledo, it is . . . well, humiliating.
In a good way, of course. Yeah, that is pretty much the oxymoron of the century, I know. But what this strange, gravity-defying machine is teaching me is that sometimes humiliation can be a very good thing.
And the humiliation does not stop with the ugly shorts. Oh, no. The plastic bubble, that encases the treadmill and is zipped to the shorts into which I have stuffed myself, comes equipped with two cameras, one of which shows the backs of these nearly 70-year-old legs as I re-learn how to walk in a gravity-controlled environment. Yup, every varicose vein, every age spot, every scar shows up on an over-sized TV screen mounted in front of my face as I walk.
But. I am walking! And at 50% gravity, I am walking normally, with no pain, no limp, no stiffness. So I am learning to put up with the view, in fact in a small corner of my heart, I am celebrating the view, and thanking God for the gifts that come with technology and human inventiveness.
These ugly old legs have served me well over this life of mine. They’ve walked me through a great education, they caught the eye of the man who would become my remarkable husband, walked the red-dirt roads of central Africa for a couple of years, helped to push out three of the planet’s finest human creatures, took me to school concerts, choir practice, four years of seminary classes, seventeen years of pastoral ministry. They’ve walked me right into grandparenting a fine crew of people, the eldest of whom is now the age I was when his mom was born, and the youngest, still small enough to gather up in a big hug.
Yes, these legs are old. They are scarred, they are imperfect, and right now, they need a little help to walk well. But they’re still strong, still take me where I need to go, still let me offer my gifts and tell my stories to all kinds of people in all kinds of places.
So when I squeeze myself into those shorts later this afternoon, I’m going to try and concentrate on how this particular humiliation is opening the door to healing. I’m sure I’ll blush, make self-deprecating remarks and wish like crazy I could find an easier way to do this! But in the end, I am praying for the grace to recognize that a step toward healing is a step toward healing, no matter what indignities I may have to endure to get there.


Diana is "a retired-part-time-pastor-learning-to-be-a-spiritual-director with a family I adore sensing an increasingly urgent call to write-my-life-down, to preserve my sanity and create some space to breath."

Read more on her blog, www.dianatrautwein.com, and be sure to follow along with her on Facebook and Twitter


What are the indignities of life be teaching you? 
And also. When was the last time you wore shorts?.... (I cannot even remember.)