Clean

feet

It was the evening meal. Often a raucous event, tonight it was uncharacteristically  quiet. The events of the past week were being replayed in the minds of each of the men at the table, especially in that of Simon Peter. The mood had shifted from the beginning of the week when their teacher and leader had been hailed as the King of Israel among shouts of Hosanna, to when Jesus took a whip to the money changers in the temple, causing anger and suspicion in the minds of many of the Pharisees. Peter worried that more violence was to come and while his trade was primarily peaceful and solitary, his mouth often got him in trouble. He was no stranger to a swinging fist on the docks.

And Jesus was talking about death a lot these days. Often in the shadowy stories that he told, but more than once he said it outright. One day Peter couldn’t stand to hear it, and he had, in typical Peter fashion, declared that it would never happen, not on his watch. The response from Jesus was somewhat shocking. One of his dearest friends turned to him and said, “Get behind me, Satan.” He called him an offense. He told him that he was not mindful of the things of God. The rebuke had been stern and left Peter speechless. It reminded him that he was not enough, that he could never be enough.

Jesus broke the silence by standing and taking off his robe. He went and found the foot washing basin, filling it with water from the nearby pitcher. He wrapped a towel around his waist and began moving around the table washing his disciples feet.

Peter was aghast. The man who he had followed for years, the one he called Rabbai, the one he believed was God’s own son, was coming to him not as his leader, but as his servant. This could not happen.

Peter was dirty. Days of walking along the roads, following Jesus all over the countryside left him consistently covered in a film of sweat and dust. The smell of the fish that signaled his position lingered on him no matter what he did. But it was more than just his physical appearance that was covered in grime. He knew that spiritually he was unclean as well. Years of religious upbringing had taught him this. There were those who were priests and those who were fishermen and only one of those groups was clean enough to speak to God. Peter was not among the chosen.

Jesus approached Peter, beginning to kneel at his feet. In a panic, Peter shouted, “You shall never wash my feet!”

That cry was more than just a denial that Jesus should touch something as filthy, as shit-stained, as rank as his feet. It was a cry that said, “I’m not good enough.”

Jesus looked up at him gently and said, “I must wash you so that you may be a part of me.”

Peter wanted that. He wanted to belong, to know the mind of this man he loved, the man that he followed. But he knew that his feet were not the only part that were dirty. He knew that the rituals of cleansing to be good enough weren’t limited to the lowest parts. No, he had to be completely cleansed, from head to toe. Maybe that would be enough. Maybe then he would be enough.

“Wash all of me. Not just my feet, but my hands. My head!”

Jesus put down the basin, rubbed his hands on the towel. He looked Peter square in the eye. He wanted the words to be heard. He wanted the words to be understood. He wanted the words to erase the shame, and fear, and rejection that Peter was carrying. He wanted the words to be the start of a new way of thinking.

He wanted Peter to know that he was accepted, that he was loved, that he was enough.

“You are clean.”

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Autumn Afghan

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autumn afghan

It’s been years since I’ve crocheted an afghan.

I learned to crochet from my grandmother. She had been crocheting my whole life, but it wasn’t until I was an adult that I decided to approach her about learning that craft. One afternoon, we sat down together, she gave me an extra hook and skein of yarn, and she showed me her technique. Learning how to read patterns and how to make the stitches wasn’t that difficult for me, but it took me a long time to figure out how to hold the yarn in my hand, finding that sweet spot between too much slack and too much tension. My first project turned into a doll blanket for my daughter that was more triangular than rectangle due to the learning curve I needed to figure out how to hold the yarn in a way that allowed my stitches to be even.

Eventually, I improved. I was able to churn out hats and dishcloths at about the same pace that my grandmother did. I had access to the internet and she did not, so I would print off new patterns for her to try. One time, I was able to teach her a trick she hadn’t seen before. For Christmas, I crocheted her one of my first truly ambitious afghans. She kept it over the back of her couch until she moved out of the house a few years ago.

Crocheting afghans is something that I rarely do. I like small projects, things that I can finish in an evening or two. When my children were young, every day was a vast ocean of unending tasks. No matter how caught up I was on any number of chores, there would always be the same ones waiting for me the next day. Finishing a hat or scarf was nice because I could say, “Look. I did that. It had a beginning and an end.”

When I’ve made blankets in the past, they have primarily been for a special occasion. A new baby coming. A Christmas gift. When I started writing in earnest, I stopped knitting and crocheting almost altogether. All of my free time went into working pitching agents, working on book proposals, writing up sample chapters. Taking on a project as large as an afghan seemed like a waste of time.

Right now, writing is not my primary concern. The dream of writing a book is not dead, but it’s certainly on hold for this season. And while it feels right now like many of my goals are of the long-term sort, I wanted to make an afghan.

I’ve inherited most of Gram’s yarn over the years. I’ve gone through and found colors that match speak of autumn to me. I found a new pattern that I know she would have wanted me to print out so she could try it.

So I’ve started working on an autumn afghan. Something that brings warmth. Something I can cover a child with when they fall asleep on the couch. Something my husband and I can cuddle under when the temperatures turn cold. Something I can wrap around my shoulders when I want to sit out on the porch on a Sunday morning, watching the fall creep across the landscape. Something that adds a bit of comfort and beauty to our home.

It won’t finish quickly. I don’t even know if I’ll have it done before this season slips into the next. But with each stitch I am making something that will last not just for this autumn, but for many to come.

3 Reasons Why I Think John Piper is Wrong About Lust Being Worse Than Nuclear Holocaust

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Not as bad as lust

A few weeks ago, the Ask Pastor John podcast posted a link called Lust: More Dangerous Than Nuclear Holocaust.

I thought that surely had to be some click bait and it probably wasn’t quite so bold a statement in the greater context of the podcast. Because really, let’s not get carried away here. But no, the context doesn’t dilute it at all. At one point in the clip, Piper says, “I think I can say with the complete authority of the Bible, the consequences of lust are ten million times greater than the consequences of nuclear holocaust. The only reason for denying that would be unbelief in eternity.”

He bases this statement on 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8. In this passage, it talks about God as a punisher of those who commit sexual sins. Nuclear holocaust “only” kills bodies, so no big deal. Piper’s God wipes out whole nations of people, so apparently that’s of no concern. But lust will send you to hell, therefore it’s all of the bad. So yes, we absolutely need to spend time making sure that people who commit sexual sin get piled on extra hard. Otherwise we don’t care about their eternal salvation, because clearly they already don’t care about it.

Perhaps because I’ve succumbed to lust I don’t get to have an opinion about this, but I am going to go ahead and say that I disagree with John Piper. Pretty strongly, even.

1. This makes a pretty strong assumption that Avenger God works only in the eternal. But the truth is, when I had an affair, what I felt from God wasn’t anger, but rather a loving embrace. That didn’t mean that there were no consequences, and perhaps that could be interpreted as a kind of punishment. There has certainly been guilt that has come up, but I would suggest that most of that is related to reading or listening to statements like this that put an affair on equal footing with, or even worse than mass genocide.

2. Getting into the business of others is specifically mentioned a mere three verses later. In verses 11 and 12 of the same chapter, Paul writes, “that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, that you may walk properly toward those who are outside, and that you may lack nothing.” The very passage Piper uses as a reason to explain why it’s important to talk about the sexual proclivities of others almost immediately says that people shouldn’t talk about the sexual proclivities of others.

3. It diminishes the value of human life. When we treat genocide in such a flippant manner, we ignore the beauty of the lives lost, and the agony of those who are left. And while I do agree that we should not fear those who can kill the body, I don’t think that lack of fear automatically translates into lack of action. The scripture speaks to the importance of doing justice numerous times, so to speak of that desire as though it was no real Christian would pursue, strikes me as missing at least a part of Jesus’s comment that loving our neighbors as ourselves is part of the greatest commandment.

I think any time we try to rank sins, we’re going to start picking things that seem most vile to us, and there’s a good chance we’re going to say something that just is monstrously stupid. And when we say something monstrously stupid like that, there’s a good chance that we’re going to inhibit those who need grace and forgiveness from having access to those things because we have created a hell of shame so great that they will never seek it.

Photo Credit: The Official CTBTO Photostream

Beauty in the Blurry

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Wheat-Fields-at-Auvers-Under-Clouded-Sky

I stood in front of Vincent Van Gogh’s Wheat Fields at Auvers Under Clouded Sky in the Carnegie Museum of Art, and couldn’t stop myself from crying. Here I was, just inches away from a piece of history painted by one of the world’s foremost artists. I couldn’t contain myself. The tears would not be held back.

I walked among the impressionist artists that I love so well. Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, Renoir. Pastels with occasional bursts of bolder colors. Up close it is just a mess of color and odd brushstrokes. A dot here. A swirl here. Nothing particularly discernible. But when you step back and see the full picture, it becomes clearer. Pictures of waterlilies on a pond, or of two men chatting in a garden, or of a field waiting for harvest. Seemingly insignificant things, but wondrous nonetheless. These artists didn’t need momentous occasions to convey value. They didn’t need exactness to show beauty. Through the use of color and shape, they showed us the worth of the ordinary.

We limited ourself to just a few minutes in each section of the art museum, but truth be told, I could have spent my entire afternoon examining the paintings in that one corridor.

Will you join me today over at A Deeper Story?

The Desperate Woman

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desperate

The man kissed the woman, and she kissed back. She was promised to someone else and so was he, but she wasn’t thinking about the other people right then, not really. She wasn’t thinking about long-term consequences, not really. She knew that with that kiss everything changed, but the full weight of that didn’t matter right then. They were two people who had found their way to one another. Friendship had birthed intimacy, intimacy had given way to love, and that love carried with it a hint of lust. The friendship, intimacy, and love were still present, but that night, the lust won out. The need to connect with the man who had held her hand through countless difficulties and joys was so great that it consumed her. She was lonely, she longed to be desired. She knew that what she was doing was reckless, but she was desperate, and desperate people do desperate things.

+++++

She hadn’t taken a pregnancy test yet, but after four babies, she knew. She was tired in the way that she only felt when someone else was leeching off of her body. Her breasts ached, her hair was fuller, her period was late. But the father was still married. She was barely divorced. Between them, they already had six kids who were struggling to understand this new family dynamic. She was approaching forty.

But more than that, she felt alone. The man she planned to marry was an amazing support, but when a baby comes, a woman wants her tribe of females to surround her, and right then, she had no tribe. Her mother was desperately ill, and if she was still alive when this new baby came, she would certainly be in no position to help. Her sisters were far away, pushed away by her – by her shame and embarrassment. She had no church women to cook her casseroles or to laugh about birth stories or talk about sore nipples. Loneliness consumed her thoughts.

Her whole life she had been staunchly pro-life, but her search history contained information about RU-486 and directions to nearest clinic where she could terminate this pregnancy. She knew that this went against everything that she believed, but she was desperate, and desperate people do desperate things.

+++++

She was married to the man who had kissed her. The baby she had considered aborting became a cherished dream that was lost to pre-eclampsia. Relationships with her family were healing. Relationships with her children were improving. Relationships with her friends were starting to mend.

But her relationship with God still felt distant. Sometimes she couldn’t shake the feeling that she was still an adulteress. Sometimes she wondered if her hesitancy in accepting her pregnancy and the circumstances surrounding his conception angered God and made him take her baby from her. The shame that she was slowly dismantling in her earthly relationships seemed much harder to tear down with her God.

She knew that it started with the Church. Past rejections made it hard to make herself vulnerable again. Could she risk another escort to the back pew where she should sit quietly? Would acceptance really be full or would it come with terms and conditions that she could never meet?

She steeled herself, put on her favorite dress, and held her husband’s hand as she walked through the door. She was afraid, but she was desperate to connect to God, and desperate people do desperate things.

Abandoning the Sanctuary

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sanctuary

I’ve been attending various non-denominational churches for most of my adult life and when the church has had a denomination, they have still leaned heavily toward modern in the modern vs. traditional continuum. Modern music, modern dress, and a modern area set up for worship. Gone are the pews and pulpits and altars. Now we have plush seats, stages, smart lights.

I’m just fine with that. I grew up in a traditional, main-line church, and while there are many things about that that I appreciate about the churches of my youth, I still gravitate toward services that wear their emotions a bit more on their sleeves.

One part of the modern experience that I am less enamored with is the abandonment of the word “sanctuary.” Now we go into the theater or the auditorium for the worship service. And I get it. Those aren’t church-y words, so it might feel less threatening to someone who has had a negative experience in the church.

But sanctuary is a beautiful word. It’s a sacred place. A resting place. A safe place.

A sanctuary is a place where rescue happens.

I don’t like that we have abandoned the use of the word sanctuary in the context of our church buildings, but I fear we lost the concept of sanctuary far before that.

Negative church experiences pile up all around us. People who want nothing to do with the church because they have been abused by those with power. People who want to attend church, but who are turned away because of their past. People who are told that God sees them as an abomination because of their sexual orientation. People who are mocked because of their political beliefs. People who are told they’re not good enough, not clean enough, not beautiful enough, not young enough, not old enough.

We have stopped using terms that might trigger negative associations with the Church, but if we are still continuing the same behaviors that hinder safety, the language doesn’t make much difference. When we put limits on who can really be Christian, by excluding LGBTQ people, or divorced people, or conservative people, or liberal people, the Church isn’t a sanctuary no matter what we call the meeting area. When we demand that people be pristine before they enter, we cease to be a place of rescue.

I still like the term sanctuary, and I will probably use it to describe the place where we gather to sing and read and listen, no matter where I attend. But even more, I want to see the church as a whole, and my own local congregation, become places of safety.

I want to see us reach out to those who are hurting, to those who are oppressed, to those who are marginalized and say, “Come. Lay your burdens down. Rest for a while. Come and find sanctuary.”

Photo by: Antony Oliver

Sanctuary

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front porch

We’ll head to church in a few hours,
but first, I visit my sanctuary.

The pews are dew soaked lawn chairs,
bought used from Craigslist.
(We made sure we had enough for everyone,
but most of our monkeys prefer
carefully picking their way
along the tight rope railing,
the daring ones leaping into the grass nets below.)

The hymns are heard in the rumbling
of trucks on the interstate,
burning not incense,
but the remnants of dinosaurs.
They’re heard in the songs of the birds
calling out to one another their melodies
of survival, of hunger, of love.

My fellow congregants include the father
pulling his two young children in a wagon
while walking the family dog.
It’s the young man throwing Sunday papers
onto porches,
perhaps imagining they’re something more exciting
than opinions and advertisements.

The adornments in this place are less
stained glass and ornate carvings
and more
gossamer spider webs,
leaves in their final weeks of green,
final blooms on the neighbor’s rose bushes.

It’s not a church,
but it’s a sanctuary.

Stuff I’ve Been Reading #12

Happy weekend! Here are some of my favorite reads from this week. I hope there’s something here that sparks some discussion for you.

  • If you haven’t had a chance to pick up Matthew Paul Turner’s newest book, you need to do that right away. But in the meantime you can read a great summary of 5 ways that America has changed God that he wrote for CNN.
  • I thought this post by Abi Bechtel about learning to love her own body without guilt is absolutely beautiful.
  • Sarah Bessey wrote a stunning piece about the miracle baby who she is pregnant with right now. I bawled reading this, but it’s just straight up gorgeous.
  • Zack Hunt wrote an interesting piece about some recent controversial comments made about church service and growth. I’m not sure where I stand on all of that (I have lots of Big Thoughts about some of these things, but that often means that they’re not very coherent), but I think his final take-away is a good one.
  • You may have seen the video of the gay teen who was abused by his step-mother, grandmother, and father and banned from their home. It’s appalling and sickening and heart-breaking. There were accounts set up for Daniel Pierce to help him get on his feet after being disowned, and as they quickly grew, this young man asked that donations be made to a home being built for homeless LGBTQ teens. I love that someone who had every right to be selfish chose generosity instead.
  • Yesterday we made this Italian Cream cake. It is delicious and if you’re looking for about a perfect cake, have at. (I used cake flour, which made it lighter, and halved the powdered sugar for the icing.)
  • I missed posting this last week, so it’s going up today. I ADORED this video with Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus for the Emmys. When Breaking Bad and Seinfeld are in the same space, my brain just overloads with favorite.

What have you read/written/watched/listened to this week that moved you? Link it up in the comments!

What I’m Supposed To Feel

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guilt

I can’t sleep. I’ve been doing all of the things that I know to calm my mind, but it refuses to be at rest.

I know what is keeping me awake. In a few hours, I’m heading to visit to the doctor to take steps to ensure that I don’t get pregnant again. And the conflicting emotions about this have me here on my couch at four in the morning.

My pregnancy took me completely by surprise. I was in a brand new relationship, the old, barely behind me. I was pushing forty. I already had four children of my own and two other boys I was getting to know. It was the absolute worst time to bring a new baby into our lives. I worried that I was supposed to feel guilt, so I did.

But he grew in me, and I grew in my excitement about him. Every week we would check to see what size fruit he was then. We would place our hands on my stomach and feel the kicks and turns and hiccups. We would talk about how how crazy it was going be to have a child nearing college graduation at the same time we had a child entering kindergarten and we would laugh at the absurdity of it all. I felt excited. But I worried that I was supposed to still feel guilt, so I did.

Then, in a moment, it was all gone. The countdown was over. The movements stilled. The calculations of age differences momentarily behind until milestone moments hit and they are remembered. I was supposed to feel grief, so I did. But I worried that I was still supposed to feel guilt, so I did.

Now we’re taking steps to avoid pregnancy again. Rich has lost two infant sons. My health was in peril. All of the things that were true when I got pregnant with Elliott are still largely true – we are newly married, we are still in the process of becoming a blended family, we are still healing from the wounds of the past year. I am confident that this is the right decision for us in every way.

But I worry that I should feel guilt over this decision as well.

Does my lack of interest in trying to conceive again mean that I’m less of a woman? Does wanting to have time to ourselves to build a healthy marriage and family indicate selfishness? Does excitement about being able to pursue goals that would be hard to do with a newborn mean that I never really loved our son?

I don’t think the answer to any of these questions is yes, but when a thin layer of guilt has covered every part of this process, it can be hard to see that clearly.

What I can see clearly is that the guilt that has plagued me has kept me from fully enjoying some beautiful moments. It didn’t destroy them, but it has stolen some of the happiness that I could have experience. The more I’m consumed with what I’m supposed to feel, the less I actually feel.

So today I will focus on the things that I know. That I have a husband who loves me and a marriage that I am working on every day. I have children who need me in their lives. I have the memories of a son who I treasured.

What I am supposed to feel today is loved.

 

Photo by: Hartwig HKD

Your Marriage Doesn’t Have To Be Hard Work

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wedding bands

For years I scoffed when people would talk about how much work marriage was. Marriage wasn’t hard work. People who considered their marriages hard work clearly were dealing with something defective.

And I was right. My marriage wasn’t hard work.

It’s not hard work to tolerate your spouse’s dreams.

It’s not hard work to sit on opposite sides of the living room, retreating from a hard day.

It’s not hard work to half-listen to your spouse while you wait for your turn to talk.

It’s not hard work to let common interests fall by the wayside.

It’s not hard work to allow television and social media fill up the empty spaces.

It’s not hard work to ignore the cracks that show up.

It’s not hard work to be a co-worker.

This time, I’m seeing what people meant about the hard work of marriage.

It’s hard work to look for creative ways to support your spouse’s goals and dreams.

It’s hard work to sit and engage with your spouse when you’re tired after a long day.

It’s hard work to listen, not just to what your spouse is saying, but to what they’re not saying as well.

It’s hard work to immerse yourself in your spouse’s interests and figure out how they mesh with your own interests.

It’s hard work to turn off the television and close the laptop and sit quietly on the porch, hand in hand.

It’s hard work to acknowledge places where there is misunderstanding or hurt.

It’s hard work to be a partner.

It’s hard work. And it’s beautiful.

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