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On Patience and Waiting

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First prayer of Advent – “Please don’t let this holy candle burn my house down.”

“For the greatest, most profound, tenderest things in the world, we must wait.”

 My immediate reaction to reading Bonhoeffer’s words on the second day’s devotional in God is in the Manger was “Ick,” followed closely by the hashtags #badatadvent and #waitingcanbiteme on Instagram.

 It’s going to be an interesting Advent this year.

 It’s not that I disagree. Almost every moment of my life’s experience corroborates the truth of that statement.

 But that doesn’t mean I always like it.

 I used to think that waiting takes a lot of patience, but that’s not really true. Everything I’ve ever had to wait for, everything I’m still waiting for, seems to take as long as it takes, whether I’m patient about it or not. My level of patience seems to have very little impact on the timeline of things coming to pass.

 The tidy Sunday School answer here is that, as long as waiting is going to take its dear, sweet time, I might as well be pleasant about it. If I can choose happy, after all, shouldn’t I? This is probably good advice for many things. Things like a budget that is less tight, a husband that is less imaginary – things I could live well (dare I even say happily?) without. Being impatient about such things never did me any favors anyway.

 But there are some justices so vital to a world that’s any kind of suitable place to live that they deserve some impatience. There are some prayers that I have to pray a little wild to keep from going a lot crazy. The best things – the true things – can’t be forced. But neither should they be awaited with a sugarcoated demeanor. It is improper to have a good attitude about injustice.

 Sometimes hope is a fire, and there are things worth getting downright feral over.

 I am not okay with praying every week, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” and not seeing it happen. I will not let go, dear God, until it does. You can’t say I’m not persistent.

 Fortunately, the God who listed patience as a fruit of the Spirit is the same God who gave us the “how long, Oh Lord?!” psalms as examples of how to pray. God is not afraid of the wild. In fact, sometimes I think God waits for it. To see if the church wants liberty and justice for all badly enough to get uncomfortable and say harsh things and get riled up about it. To see if we actually give a damn.

 I wonder what would happen if we did – if we called down heaven like we expected it to show up this very day and refused to wait for it. Or if we did the justice for which we cry out.

Would we have to be patient? Or would heaven come?

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So…thanks

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My tree is up and slowly being decorated. I haven’t seen this weird little ornament that I made during childhood in years. Thankful, step 1.

Many of my friends are talking about how hard it is to be thankful this year with so much going on that is not good.

Part of me is sympathetic – pain does make thankfulness more challenging. Another part of me is whistling to the tune of “Welcome to my world…” This is how life feels all the time when one keeps up with the news – when one chooses not to shut out the brokenness of the world to protect oneself.

After a while, you get used to holding all of it. You get used to the both/and of opposing realities. It helps to have someone to talk to (a professional, that is). It helps to actually do the things that someone suggests. It helps if you are not as stubborn as I am.

At first, you might have to take thankfulness in steps. They don’t take a lot of time, so you don’t have to ignore the ongoing developments in the DAPL protests or Trump’s bad administration choices. You don’t have to sacrifice the time it takes make calls and meet needs.

You need ten minutes. Ten minutes to list what makes the world worth saving.

Your list will look different from everyone else’s list, and no one gets to tell you what should be on your list. In fact, just throw that word “should” out the window. You won’t be needing it here.

Your list does not have to be for public consumption. Only the highlights of mine are usually public. The apartment. The space. The relative peace and quiet of a neighborhood with an older-than-college-student demographic. Friends. Family. The specifics are personal.

My readers are on my list. I’m thankful for you. So…thanks.

Feel free to share any highlights from your list in the comments.

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Night-Driving-Synchroblog

“You can’t be The Lone Ranger. Christianity can only be done in community.”

Then why is faith such a lonely place sometimes? How do I explain the seasons when the more I engage, the more people I seek out, the more people I pray with, the more isolated I feel?

I used to think that getting married would obliterate my loneliness. I don’t think that anymore. Getting to know people and being around them hasn’t gotten rid of it, so maybe that’s too much of an expectation to heap upon my future spouse.

[Having said that, I’m still more than willing to give marriage the old college try, Jesus. I’m just sayin’.]

Did I choose my dark places, or have they chosen me?

Probably a bit of both.

If you look only at the facts of my early life, I probably shouldn’t (ick…speaking of unreasonable expectations. Can we just ban this word from the English language already?) be so worried about being abandoned. I had an enviable childhood. My parents are good role models. They’re responsible, faithful people who are still together, just like they’ve been since they were practically teenagers. They have always had high expectations, but they’re fair expectations. And they love their children – oh, how they love us.

Yet I distinctly remember in the church I grew up in, when we watched that terrible 70s film about the last days, as the song’s line repeated, “You’ve been left behind,” my fear of being left didn’t have anything to do with the apocalypse. It was very much a then-and-there fear.

It’s a fear that’s stuck around.

I didn’t sleep a lot that week. I don’t sleep a lot many weeks of the year.

Adult life has had more examples of people going away, and oddly, that’s a comfort. A see-how-I’m-not-totally-crazy consolation. I’ve been through church splits and dissolutions, and that’s been hurtful, especially when it means we don’t see each other anymore, indicating that our bond was not as strong as it appeared. Friends come and go, show up and then get married or have children or move or all of the above, and my heart’s not built to be a pit stop. Maybe most people’s hearts are. Maybe that’s my problem. I can’t make my heart do what it’s supposed to do. I can’t make my heart let go; a part of it always goes with them.

I don’t bond easily, but when I do, it’s forever. Even when the other person goes away. And I’m afraid that they all will go away eventually.

In my darkest times, I get angry about it. In my darkest times, I imagine pouring my heart out and being told, “Excellent sharing. Really top notch. Thanks for telling us. Okay, goodbye now. Have a nice life. Good luck!” And that makes me so mad. I argue with these imaginary people in my head who say things like that, who would be cavalier enough about my heart to walk away from it.

This is not a plea to tell me how you’ll stay. Please don’t promise that. You don’t know what tomorrow brings. I want you to do what you need to do, and I don’t want you to feel bad about it. Guilt is not welcome here. For any of us.

And I’m thankful that I’ve seen fewer of these darkest days recently. I think spending more time with my sister has helped. And I think my church – specifically, joining the choir – has helped.

They feed me. They listen to me. They surround me with song.

These are the things I cling to when it’s dark. It doesn’t always drive the darkness away, but it’s a bit of light to see by.

I have learned not to be so scared of the dark places.  I have learned precious things that my stubbornness would not have allowed me to learn any other way. I have grown more confident in my navigation skills. It has made me more self-sufficient but also more willing to be interdependent. It has made me stronger…and also weaker. It teaches me how to hold opposing forces in the same hand.

Addie Zierman’s new book, Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark, releases on Tuesday, March 15, and she’s invited her readers to link up to her synchroblog. Come back after the release date to read more stories of faith in the dark.

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On Fasting

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Tomorrow we enter into Lent, which in many traditions is a season of fasting. I’m not sure Lutheran is one of those traditions, but I tend to fast during Lent anyway. I started doing so to support an early college roommate who was Episcopalian, and I’ve done it ever since. I’ve become less communicative about it over the years, not only because it’s become more of a private reflection, but also because I’ve found that fasting is one of those things people are either willing to understand or wanting to argue about.

This post is for the willing crowd. Arguing crowd – save your breath. I’m still going to do it, because I find it beneficial. You don’t have to if you don’t want to. You do you.

First, these are not reasons that I fast:

  1. To test my willpower or prove that I can accomplish it. Fasting is an intensely personal experience for me, but that doesn’t mean that it’s just about me and what I can do. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that if this is the only reason one fasts, then what one is doing is not so much fasting as it is dieting.
  1. To rid myself of vices. If I notice something I’m doing is harmful to myself or others, I don’t need to wait until Lent to get rid of it. Nor do I need to use the calendar’s announcement that it’s Easter as an excuse to pick it back up. It just needs to go. What needs to happen there is a full turning away, not a temporary doing without.

Reasons I fast:

  1. To induce gratitude. Doing without something for a season that is a regular, enjoyable part of my life, makes me ten times more grateful for life and more aware of a purpose outside myself in general, and that gratitude feeds right into the joy of Easter.
  1. To make room. Abstaining from a regular activity frees up that time (and head space) for more contemplation, meditation, and prayer.
  1. To lay down privilege. This is humbling and paves the way for that experience to change me into someone who acts more fairly.

The year I went vegan for Lent, I learned a lot. What I expected to get out of it was an immense joy when I could have cheese (if Jesus were a food…) again and a little time for reflection that I saved by preparing and eating simpler meals.

Then, like a fool, I told people what I was doing.

This announcement inspired a lot of opposition. It wasn’t like I was asking anyone to join me, but they were still upset about it. This confused me until I realized that when people rise up against something that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with them, it’s usually a justice issue. They or someone they love or support would lose power – usually over other people – or money, which is just tangible power, if everyone started behaving or believing that way. So they don’t like it.

When I see something as a justice issue, however, whether or not they like it becomes kind of irrelevant. If it is strictly a difference of opinion, I’m pretty live-and-let-live about it. Sure, I will tease you. You think Uggs are pretty? Fine. I might, tongue fully in cheek, tell you that your taste is wrong, but really? Live your life; wear your hideous boots. What do I care?

But.

I will remove that tongue from my cheek and seriously urge you to investigate where and how they’re manufactured. Because it matters. Morally and ethically – it matters. Issues of justice cannot be brushed off with a flippant agreement to disagree.

So the year I went vegan, and people started hurling their statistics and medical studies at me, I didn’t tell them they had a right to their opinion and let it go. I, ever the argumentative academic, read their statistics and studies. Then I read most of the works cited at the bottom of those sources to get a larger picture of their viewpoint. I analyzed the credibility of their sources, and I studied equally credible sources (and in quite a few cases, more credible sources because wow, people will believe really shoddy work from really shady places if it allows them to resist changing their mind) that came to a different conclusion.

[As an aside, if you are looking for a socio-political rabbit hole to fall into, I recommend a compound search of food systems and justice. It’s fascinating.]

Through reading all this research, I came to some conclusions of my own. For the record, I didn’t stay vegan, although if you are, I highly support your decision. There are a lot of good reasons to do so.  There are also good reasons not to, and those reasons are more in line with my values. I did, however, radically change the way I view and buy food. After my experience and the domino effect of education on the subject, I could not in good conscience know what I had learned and remain unchanged.

Fasting is not always such a life-changing experience for me, but it does always manage to find a new way to shift my focus away from myself and onto the needs of others. That’s a lesson that extends far beyond the fasting season.

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Advent Poem

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As is the way of Advent, I’ve done some slowing down.

I’ve finished the semester and have helped with room checks; today is actually my last day at work for two and a half weeks!

I’ve finished the introductory revision course with Joan Dempsey. If you have a manuscript that you need to revise, and you don’t know where to start, she is the person to help you. Her next course  – Revise with Confidence – starts on January 26, 2016, and $99 is a steal of a price.

Now I’m soaking in Beth Morey’s Poetry Is course (which you can still sign up for!). I like it because you work at your own pace. That’s good, since I signed up three weeks ago and haven’t even finished Week 1. But Week 1 is found poetry, so I might be dragging my heels a little, because I love it.

The picture above was my first poem that I art-journaled for the course.

How could it be?

To know without kiss of spoil

To receive you whole among us.

That pretty much sums up Advent to me. Wonder, expecting, knowing, receiving.

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In Your Mercy

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For our country – our current leaders and leaders-to-be – to seek justice and mercy and freedom and to lead us into being the country we once meant to be.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For honorable discourse and the ability to discern when to listen in order to understand and not just argue, when to speak clearly and with informed conviction, and when to flip tables because racism and social depravity and oppression are not things to be polite about.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For the voices of wisdom that are speaking to rise up and be heard above the noises of sound bites and bumper sticker theology and political identity. Let the chaff be blown away by the blustery wind of its own lungs.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

How long will it be until we learn the consequences of “inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me?” When will we have to answer for clinging to privileges and luxuries and discounts gleaned from the lashes on the backs of people created in your image? When we cheer for degradation, exclusion, and war crimes to be committed against ones you love, do those cheers ring “crucify” to your ears?

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Is it too late to do better? Do we even dare ask you to come? Do we have any right to expect you anymore?

Will you come anyway?

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I am still a toddler at following the liturgical calendar, and I’m not very good at it yet. This year, about mid-October, I thought to myself, “Self, Advent starts soon. You should start early – make your calendar, find your books, buy your candles. That way you won’t feel rushed.” And I did. I made this:

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And the finished product:

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It looks a little baby shower-ish, but we’re expecting the Christ child here, so I felt that was appropriate. I felt good about my progress.

Then time sped up.

So now it’s the first week of Advent, which is my favorite season because I know what longing is and usually have a lot to say about it. I’m reading the things and lighting the candles (which are the wrong color – because it’s actually pretty hard to find Advent candles here. War on Christmas, my ass. Christmas is fricking everywhere.), and going to the services (which has kept me sane this week). And I’m fighting not to settle for autopilot because it would be so easy to check out mentally and emotionally and barrel through, waiting until it is over to be human again. I’m just barely making it.

But I have had a little help from a few places this week.

  1. Annie Leibovitz is the photographer for the 2016 Pirelli calendar.  And it’s going to be amazing. I need to become royalty so I can get this calendar.
  2. The #BodiesMatter hashtag and Suzannah Paul’s piece on Faith Feminisms.
  3. Jamaal May’s poem The Gun Joke could have been written yesterday, but it wasn’t. Ponder.
  4. Ten great books by women that were overlooked in 2015. My reading list just gets longer and longer.
  5. And thank you Abby and Amy. I needed this so bad – ten ways to be unproductive and stay sane this season.

What’s helping you today?

 

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