this online thing [or why i am still here, with you].

We spread a leopard-print blanket across the table for the still-life art project Erica will teach the kids from the local mission later that afternoon. She asks me about the pinched forehead, what is wrong.

Oh, the internet, I say, dropping buzzwords from Impromptu Sex Week and the Superbowl Beyoncé Flare-up and so on. I’m not explaining well, I’m fumbling and frustrated and can’t decide how I feel about anything. My gut-reactions don’t translate to formulated thoughts until much later and sometimes I want the noise, inside and outside, to just stop.

You know, you don’t have to do this, she says, her eyes all honesty and looking to the deep like always.

The afternoon sun flecks through high windows above a wall with hand-me-down paint onto hand-me-down chairs that sit in this room that was handed down to Erica to make a bit of beauty and a bit of difference in a city whose poverty and violence is downright ugly and shocking. The context of her words isn’t lost on me.

I am standing in the middle of as-real-as-it-gets Waco, talking about what to most is only a virtual reality.

And I know what she means, at the heart of it–there is a danger in spending your life and love online completely. And maybe there is a temptation to construct an online reading and writing life as a venue to simply “make a lovely little speech to yourself,” as a beloved professor once quoted.

This I understand, struggle with some days. Do I talk a good talk and trample my neighbor? If I debate and spin poetry and retweet and  and have not love, caritas, agape, the kind of love that acts and habits and moves and shakes: sharing blessedness and wills the Good to my neighbor (both on- and offline), then I am only a gong or a cymbal; I am nothing, I gain nothing.

You don’t have to do this.

This online thing. I know.

—————————————————————–

But I do.

Because first of all, this isn’t virtual reality, a veneer, pontificating. The stuff I read and the stuff I hope to be writing is the stuff that composes your real life and mine, and it matters.

It matters.

Feminism, spiritual practices, abuse, relationships, parenting, growing up, sexual ethics, justice, racism, prayer and all of it. All of it affects and informs the way I live and love in that caritasagape way. It is the perhaps the matter itself of that living and loving.

Because here is another beautiful and difficult thing about this online business:

we come with our bad and good rhetoric as well as our bad and good stories;

with our tempers and with our grace;

with our education and experience and sometimes without it;

with numbered lists and paragraphs and randomly bolded words;

we come with our best theology and our deepest hang-ups;

with our passion and with our reason;

with typos and flare-ups and words we didn’t mean;

with a dash of sacred profanity and the temptation to make the sacred profane;

with our heresy and our holiness;

with our arbitrary semi-colons and run-on sentences like this one.

It’s kindof a mess but isn’t that how life is?

So that means it takes a bit of bravery to navigate these waters at times for one reason or another, and I’m not the only one who thinks about giving it up sometimes. But I guess I’ll just say I’m not altogether afraid to get my heart a little too involved with my patience, my prayers, my compass and the stars to guide me.

Because like I said, these things matter, and with the humility, tenderness, care, and whole-hearted truth-seeking I have witnessed in my blogroll, I think these things can matter and manifest in a holy and faithful way, to lead us to the good work that needs to be done.

On- and offline.

I’ve seen a bit of magic and a lot of Church here, and I want to join the effort to pass the peace with the person sitting in this pixelated pew with me.

—————————————————————–

when it all goes quiet behind my eyes, I see everything that made me flying around in invisible pieces.

–Beasts of the Southern Wild

The rest of the story is that I keep reading you people because there’s a whole mess of URLs  undeniably threaded into this growth-history and future of mine and a big part of why I brush my teeth every morning next to the same God.

[and sometimes, every once in a while, online friends are real friends, too.]

So, cheers, Deeper Story and Prodigal and She Loves and Sarah and Suzannah and Micha and Rachel and Emily M. and Emily W. and Joy  and Alise and Alece and Nish and Dianna and Leigh and Seth and Amber and Hilary  and Margaret and Annie and Amy and Elora  and Addie and Elizabeth and Alyssa and Shaney and Kiefer and of course Preston and the other lovely, ragged, brave, hollering, gentle, hella smart, pastoral, preachy, comforting ones that I haven’t named or known yet.

Thank you and keep going–keep changing my life.

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twenty-twelve debrief: part three.

The third installment of a debriefing of this past year. You can read part one here and part two here. I mean, really. I know this is getting long. 

It was a very Waco summer.

[Ok, before that, I had to pack up my whole life–dorm room and Dallas room–and move back down to Waco, bumming around with my now-roommate until we found an apartment. In the blazing Texas heat.]

I worked in the same office that started my college career–proselytizing for a program in the Honors College (with the number of the Great Texts department chair in my back pocket all the while.) Alright, other people call it recruitment.  My office-mate and longtime bud Maggie and I worked long hours, decided margarita happy hour was a definite benefit of postgrad life, and listened to One Direction on the sly when our bosses weren’t listening. Yeah. The freedom was intoxicating. We were so adult.

[Also maybe I wasn’t trying to think of the fact that Erica was in France for a month, and that a cluster of other good friends were in Houston.]

I turned 22 on the 19th of June. My roommate asked me what I was looking forward to in my twenty-second year, and I couldn’t give her an answer.

But that same week contained the sudden upswing highlight of the summer: my dear wonderful friend Jenni got married to her pyromaniac partner-in-crime.  [We are a blind Facebook friendship success story, ya’ll.] She made the most lovely bride. I alternated between squealing (pretty sure that’s why I was in the wedding party) and crying. It was a beautiful beginning to witness.

The next day, I got a midmorning call, a tragic report that one of my favorite professors died far too young. I carried the grief around.

In July, my job slowed down, my parents finally moved to New Mexico. I started to feel a little lost, a little lonely, a little bit unsure. Scrambling for Grace that was there all along.

Erica came back (I told her Duke Divinity was a thought. She said that sounded about right.) I got to see my family in NM (and say goodbye all over again.) Not one, but two jobs for the rest of the school year landed in my lap, right after I found out my mom finally got a job after a three-year forced hiatus. I took lots of lovely weekend trips. Freedom. Adulthood.

Jerry got into the MBA program at Baylor–he would be staying in Waco after all. I cried.

I said goodbye to Preston the day before he jumped oceans. I cried.

Waco was flooded with students all over again, and I saw shadows of my student self, my student life walking around beside me as I ran errands for my campus job and punched numbers at that favorite coffeeshop that practically defined my college experience.

As I kept telling people, I was circling the same places but with a different function.

And then I think one day I looked around and realized everything was alright. Somehow, He kept me afloat even when I felt floundering, thrashing about in all my panic and irrational darkness. Somehow, I found myself surrounded by the most amazing Waco circle, even amidst all the change. I woke up and went to work every day and didn’t fall apart (with no small thanks to that circle. and a lot of grace.)

I audited a Dante class (as anyone who pays attention to anything I do online certainly knows.) We talked theology and poetry and somehow Duke Divinity kept pounding in my ears. (It had been a long time coming.) A few choice divinely appointed coffeeshop conversations and a whirlwind trip to North Carolina later, it felt right. And I’m running with it. (I’ll let you know in February, OK?)

November happened, and then December happened. But you already knew that.

I know it sounds like I spent most of the year crying in my yoga pants, but would you believe me if I said I look back over 2012 quite fondly? That despite all the discomfort and growing pains…I’ve grown? It was the best year on the books bar none for friendships (like I said, I’ve already gushed about some of them here and here. Don’t make me get weepy. Again.) I moved off-campus, cooked a few meals, learned what a paycheck feels like. (And what bills feel like.) I have a glimmer of a next step, and maybe even the trust to make it even if it falls through.

For I am His. And He is Good. And that alone is worth celebrating.

Cheers.

Happy 2013, friends!

Thanks for bearing with me through way more words than I bargained for.

What are you anticipating in the new year? Drop a line in the comments!

i cannot write about sandy hook.

Because what would I tell you?

I guess I can tell you that true to form, it took three days for the grief to hit. That it wasn’t until I stood with my congregation to say the Nicene Creed that I realized I was weeping, because I had to fight my way through it, because I meant all the I believes. I could tell you about the woman who had to stop in the middle of the prayers of the people because her own tears had taken over, that phrases like the congress and the courts and those in trouble, sorrow, sickness, need, or any other adversity were punctuation in themselves. We passed peace around as a prayer. I received the Eucharist in desperation, thinking of the Sacrifice in and out of time, of Pascal writing Christ will be in agony until the end of the world.

God with us.

We sang,

He comes, the broken heart to bind,

the bleeding soul to cure…

It all brings into sharp focus the fact that sometimes I need that I need to stand in the words of others to make my prayers more true, to mouth words alongside while all my heart can say is yes.

So. I am offering the words of others to you today, who have written in response to the tragedy of last Friday. Some I know, some I don’t, all I think you should read in light of your questions and heartbreak. And in light of the fact that you don’t know how to respond.

  • An Advent Response to Newtown, Connecticut: “And the most honest – the most faithful — utterance in your soul is, “No way.”  There’s no way this can be right.  There’s no way this is true.  There’s no way we can keep nodding along while children die. That is the real moment of your conversion.” [Thank you, Craig Nash, for sharing this.]
  • God Can’t Be Kept Out, by Rachel Held Evans; calling bullshit and breathing such hope in the same post: “If the incarnation tells us anything, it’s that God can’t be kept out.”
  • Tonight I’m Praying, by Emily Maynard: “I pray especially for the [weird] kids who are picked out because someone can link them in some cruel way to the kid who destroyed so many lives on Friday.”
  • when i am a slow prophet, by Preston Yancey; weaving poetry, prayers, and wisdom: “I am thinking of mother arms. I am thinking of empty mother arms. Christ, our Lord.”
  • a short, but necessary post about the way we’ve been talking about mental illness in the wake of all this: “When we talk about “the mentally ill” in a way that takes for granted the connection between illness and violence, we actually contribute to the systemic problems that prevent people from getting adequate mental health care.” [Thank you, Dianna Anderson, for sharing].

added 12/20:

  • Anger and Advent, by Kristin Tennant: “Facing tragedy in the midst of Advent highlights that conflict. I can’t express both joy and sadness at once. I don’t know how to feel both defeated and triumphant. I can’t seem to marry anger and peace. So I am left feeling numb. Nothing.”
  • Immanuel, by Alise Wright: “When we who claim belief in this story say that God is beholden to our laws regarding teacher-led prayer (because let’s not kid ourselves into believing the lie that God has been completely banned from the public school), we cheapen his presence”

Christ have mercy.

If I find more posts/resources around the web that I think should be included here, I will add them.

If you have read any especially helpful posts/articles, feel free to add them in the comments below.

so others can sing.

Like many before, this post begins in a pew.

I’m alone at church, and today I’m OK with it. It is good, even.

[Somehow today the Table feels shared with everyone in this old place, not just those warming the cushion beside me. I feast today with the man who insists on saying Shalom as we pass Peace, the couple celebrating 65 years of marriage, the young priest who seems to paint the congregation with her larger-than-life sign of the cross.]

The opening hymn strikes me as wonderfully out of place, as I learned it in quite a different context: Come Thou Fount. It is a blessing to join in without studying my hymnal and scraping to remember what my 5th grade music teacher taught us about reading music when she wasn’t busy teaching us about reading the Will of God.

The first hymn for the Eucharist is another like this: Take my Life. I’m sitting, waiting for the nervous acolyte to usher me to the altar, with my palm held open and up, the same way I do when we pray together: “And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves…” and when we say “We lift [our hearts] up unto the Lord.” I notice that the elderly lady sitting in front of me does the same; I laugh soft and wonder if she has a past like mine. But then, she might not; there’s nothing new under the sun.

[Like when I thought it original to fast before Eucharist. Brothers and sisters have been doing this for years. I think He laughs at me a lot.]

Fr. Chuck told us last week that church is about who He is, not what we need, and I realized my vocabulary needs shifting. I join the throng of voices here and beyond the veil, throat free, eyes closed.

[Therefore, with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven]

Right before the last song, the lady whose lifted palm had been in sync with mine turned and said, “I want to sit in front of you every week for the hymns.”

I blush and laugh it off. I’ve stood next to my vocally grand grandmother enough times in church to have heard this before.

“I just forget to turn down my voice, I guess.” Here and everywhere, I add silently.

“Oh no, dear. We need it desperately. When you sing, I can sing.”

 [Dante comes to mind here, too. He renders singing as the property of the redeemed: those who can hope and those with hope fulfilled.]

 Once again, I am reminded that I need you. I need to join my voice to your voice, my joy to your joy. Please don’t hesitate to sing His faithfulness, His goodness, to openly offer yourself, your heart and life to Him. Because of who He is.

[And I am praying to discover, to train this kind of voice, too. I cannot always be singing sad songs.]

We were made to harmonize.

 Sing loud, friend, so others can sing.

color, cacophony, communion.

My colors are loud today.

At least, they seem so in the quiet of the chapel bathed in neutrals. In here, there is no stained glass to add to the banter, to wash everyone else in jewel tones, too.

I’ve already wiped off my coral lipstick as I made my way through the church. It’s the kind thing to do with a shared Cup, I think. But I cannot subdue the turquoise shoes, the canary clutch wallet. And then there’s the siren of a neon-orange manicure that I cannot hide as I pass the peace, or cup one palm in the other, waiting for bread.

And to think, I was just giving eucharisteo thanks for all those tones and shades.

Now, here, they are blaring. And I am being arrogantly self-conscious about it, but it feels like a sign of something else. I know I should instead drink in the grace in Amma Jo’s eyes as she meets mine, beginning in perfect meter, “the Body of Christ…” I know I should instead soak in our peace-passing as it become onomatopoeic, our soft “c’s” brushing against each other’s faces and echoing in this little place.

But I am tired of feeling loud and new and out of rhythm here. I want to skip all the steps of learning how to be in a place and with a people, how to “do” church. I am not willing to see the little things as they come as beginnings. I want the house to be built, but I do not want to build it. And mostly, I do not want to admit the fear.

I am impatient.

And here, at this midweek service, I am waiting for Eucharist to not only be communion with Him in mystery and beauty, but also an enactment of Faith and Life in community, unabstracted. I want to know names and stories, to know for whom this Body breaks, for whom this Blood pours out.

And really,  if I’m honest, I’m the one who wants to be known—well, at least by a different name than the girl with coral lipstick on the back of her hand. 

————

————

two links about communion that are worth clicking:

* Holly Ordway’s wonderful podcast, weaving in truth and beauty of her own: “The Gift of Love: the Eucharist in Poetry by Malcolm Guite and George Herbert.”

and

* “Bread and Wine” by Josh Garrels, new to me. 

Life: Unmasked

i need you.

I don’t remember when she said it. We could have been skipping class to run for Thai food, or illustrating scripture with color pastels, surrounded by coffee mugs and books—it was our last year of high school, and that is all I know. But we were talking about the future and what it all would look like, and her voice got quiet. With eyes peering over my shoulder at some imaginary focal point, she mused,

I think I will have to learn what it means to do faith when it is just the two of us–God and I–sitting at the table.

[The funny part of this, of course, is that this came at a time before the word “table” would ring a little differently for both of us as we separately wandered a bit from our Charismatic home base, she to be confirmed in the Catholic church a few years later, and I to find a home in liturgy a few years after that.]

And it’s stuck with me all this time. I find myself examining, asking, if the table was set for two, would it be enough?

And it is an important question to ask. At some point, we all must wonder whether or not our faith utterly depends on our friends, our family, our favorite authors and speakers. At some point, it will come down to rock or shifting sand.

And there have been stretches where He and I just sit, after everyone has left, as I pass the time by pushing the peas around my plate, not lifting my eyes, not really knowing what to say. Slowly, I learned how to open my mouth.

But can I also say the simple, even trite thing?

I still need people. I need you.

I need you to tell me that you hear Him., that you weep uncontrollably during Mass, that you see that Christ plays in ten thousand places, that there is beauty in the broken moments, that you are surprised by the sacred in the everyday, but that you know it in the prayers and psalms as well.

And I need you to tell me you are angry with Him, that your fists and tears both meet the earth, that you can’t see past the injury, that you wish it was universalism but it isn’t, that you’re not always OK, that He seems far, you seem far, the stars seem meaningless.

And I do not need to hear these things simply for the sake of self-justification, so that I feel more “normal,” or even to keep loneliness at bay.

Well, maybe a little bit. I do need to know that it is all the same story, but it also helps me to flip between the pages. When you sing those things over me, I know that I will one day sing again, that joy comes with the morning. When you whisper them shakily in the dark, I know that we have fallen, that I will fall and fail again and again; so I pray Christ have mercy, and know that He carries us still.

It is good to learn how to sit with Him alone, but it is also good to extend the invitation, to know that the communion of the saints is here, that we can and should gather ‘round—to eat and to drink, to weep and love and sing.