Tag Archives: Light of the World

Lent Day 17: Nearing the Death of Little Blue

Today on my way to Anderson to meet my brother, I noticed that the temperature gauge on my dashboard was way up at the red line above the H. This compounds the problem that Little Blue’s engine has had recently. When I idle at a stop light or sign, the engine revs and slows, revs and slows, and I worry that my little car may just decide to stop right then and there, leaving me stranded wherever I am. I’m not afraid to have my car die in the street and have to walk, but for some reason I have become afraid of the idea of being car-less.

I forget that having a car is a privilege for me, not a necessity. I live less than two miles from my place of employment, and there are three different bus routes that go within a quarter of a mile of my house. Not having a car is not a hardship for me, but over the past couple of years, I have become accustomed to being able to go on small trips at my own will. I know I will get used to having no car again, but I also just bought my super cool Indiana Youth Group license plate, so having my car break down is a little heartbreaking.

On my way home from Anderson, I had to pull over at a gas station to let my car cool down before I could continue the trip home. I was sitting there feeling pretty sorry for myself about my car, when I decided to listen to my voice mails. A friend of mine had called to tell me that these reflections were meaningful for her this Lent, and I immediately began to think about how blessed I am, and about how for the first time in a while, I actually feel as if I am allowing God to use all of my gifts and talents. I am teaching English, which I love, and I am spending a considerable amount of time thinking about spirituality and theology, which fills me.

I live under no delusions, though. Just because my spiritual life has taken a drastic turn for the better within the past few weeks, I know that doesn’t mean that everything is coming up roses all the time. I know it doesn’t mean that every time I feel sad or doubtful, God will send an affirmation that I’m doing the right things. And, it doesn’t mean that everything will always work out the right way. But I know it does mean that I have a much better perspective about how to deal with adversity, or at least I am in a better head space. Being in this better place helps me have an assurance that God is with me.

I feel like Asaph in Psalm 73:

When my heart was grieved
and my spirit embittered,

I was senseless and ignorant;
I was a brute beast before you.

Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.

You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.

Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.

My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.

This Psalm resonates with me in so many ways. I want to be continually in a place where I think the “earth has nothing I desire besides [God].” I want to be confident that “God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” This sort of goes along with what I was saying yesterday, but it’s a bit different. This struggle of knowing I should desire God constantly is bound by my ability to do so, because I am human. I am bound by my body, by my place in culture, by the necessity to live in the world. My desire should be for the best for my neighbor and the best for my God. I mean, there’s a reason that Jesus said there are only really two commandments: “To love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and to love your neighbor as yourself.” And, of course, these two commandments sum up my every struggle, everything I’ve ever written about here or anywhere else. How can we, bound by our earthly bodies, focus so heavily on entities outside of ourselves? To love God with our whole heart and to still have love left over for our neighbors as much as ourselves? Honestly, it wears me out. Sometimes it wears me out even to think about it, let alone do it. Peace.

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This is how I woke up today with a cat in my face:

Spazabella: The Disgruntled Cat

After morning prayer, I went downstairs for breakfast:

Bacon, Eggs, Strawberries, and Rooibos Tea with Raw Honey

I spent the rest of the day with my super-amazing little brother:

At BD's Mongolian Grill

We went shopping at Old Navy (again with the unethical practices), and I bought some smaller-size clothes, down two sizes from the last time I bought clothes there. We also went to TJ Maxx and Whole Foods. I can’t help myself. I love Whole Foods.

Lent Day 11: A Lesson in Love and Humility

Without giving too many details, I will just say I have learned a lesson in humility and love this weekend at AWP. To make a long story short, my insomnia didn’t, in fact, go away. It only got slightly less ferocious, allowing me five hours of of sleep for one night instead of three. When I don’t sleep, I get mean, curt, short-tongued. I have been all of those things this week, which led to quite a large eruption of misunderstandings last night between a friend and myself. The quarrel led to me moving down to the lobby of the hotel for quite some time, so I could recompose myself and not put my fist through the mirror in our room. See I told you I have some anger management issues, and I felt as if I could beat my way with small, tight fists through the thickest, heaviest punching bag on the market. I didn’t.

Instead, for a change, I left the room to recompose myself elsewhere. By this morning, after a conversation with my beautiful and sensible wife, some coffee, a session on queer YA fiction, and some prayer, walking, and meditation, I was able to calmly and rationally initiate a discussion of the events of last night. And, of course, we came out on the other side with love and grace, because I am learning that’s how things work out when you practice humility and love.

Here is the photographic chronology of my day:

Walking North on Michigan Avenue

Walking North on Michigan Avenue

A Coffee Shop I've Always Wanted to Try and Finally Did

A Little Morning Reading and a Mexican Mocha

Buildings Dating from the Mid-1800s

Do You Need Some Art Supplies?

Capitalism Block on State Street

I decided to go to church tonight, but I wasn’t sure where to go, so I literally typed the address of the Palmer House in the first blank of the “Get Directions” feature in Google Maps, followed by the word Methodist in the second blank. I figured I couldn’t lose since I live four hours away, and I’d never see any of the people again. I mean, it’s always a crap shoot when you’re a lady-boy lesbian and looking for a church in a different city. Each time I risk rejection from the body to which I’ve belonged since the age of four when I “gave my life to Jesus,” a form of rejection that breaks my heart again and again.

I walked to Temple Church (a.k.a. First United Methodist of Chicago) with low expectations and hoping that I wasn’t dressed too shabbily. I can never accurately anticipate the dress code at a “First United Methodist,” because they are usually the big, old churches that are trying to stand guard and keep from dying out. But that guard-standing usually comes outfitted in whatever is the latest fashion.  I always assume that the dress code is on the upper end of the spectrum, not jeans and the sweater I was wearing. But, as I mentioned, I’d never see any of these people again, so I pressed on.

Temple Church's History in Stained Glass

Destroyed by the Great Chicago Fire

As I walked past the beautiful arts garden, pictured above, I looked to my right and got a glimpse of the Chicago Picasso. I could feel that this hour of my life was going to be an adventure. Electric Jesus was in the air. I strolled through the revolving door and up to the security guard. Yes, you read correctly, I walked confidently over to the security guard, and said, “Can you please tell me where the church service is meeting tonight?” She pointed me up the stairs and through some double doors.

I was a bit disoriented as I walked through the thick wooden doors, because I was released into a space that looked like a storage closet, only without anything in it, too big to be a closet, too small to be a respectable hallway. The space was a hallway nonetheless, and I began to search for what I was sure would be a large stone chapel or sanctuary. Instead I found the small, intimate chapel pictured here. In fact, I had to ask the lovely man in the picture if I was in the right place.

A Tiny Church Service in a Huge Church's Small Chapel

By the time the service started with a greeting and then a hymn that none of us really knew, I realized I was experiencing the Body of Christ in a very real way. The mix of people was diverse: various ethnicities, social classes, sexual orientations, gender identities, and abilities. There were people there with children of varying ages, and older people who were there alone. The bulletin specifically spelled out that we were all welcome.

The service followed the liturgy while still being personal: we confessed as a group and then offered silent meditations of our own. When it came time for the prayer requests, the congregants shared intimately and without reservation, and then we prayed for those concerns. We passed the peace! Finally, we collected tithes and offerings and shared the Eucharist together. We stood together around the communion table and celebrated the Great Thanksgiving as we looked each other in the eyes. I could feel the Holy Spirit hovering there in our midst, like the soft breeze that blows off Lake Michigan in the summertime, and as refreshing.

Jesus’ body was broken, His blood was shed, and we were redeemed yet again. A glorious miracle.

Several times the intimacy and the beauty of it all overwhelmed me to the point of tears. Here, four hours away, is the type of community I long for each Sunday. Here, in a church I assumed would be too uppity for my jeans and sweater, I met my Jesus in the realest way I have experienced in years. Here.

Today was a beautiful mess. Peace.

Lent Day 7: A Day of Busy

Today I was busy from 5AM until, well, right now. I had so much to do before I leave for Chicago in the morning, I wasn’t sure I would get it all finished. And, actually, I didn’t quite. I still have to get up early and go make copies of things for the substitute. I also need to finish filling out my student teachers’ evaluations, which will be easy because they are amazing this time around.

Spiritually, I am not sure there is anything I can think of to write about. I prayed, I read, I loved, I ate, I celebrated life. Simple things I do each day. I did get a little crazy and eat ice cream for dinner.

It was a toss up between this and Chunky Monkey.

This is why my serious thought about Lent or spirituality actually came this morning, during the morning prayer in the words of Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche communities, which are featured in some of Henri Nouwen‘s works:

Almost everyone finds their early days in a community ideal. It all seems perfect. They feel they are surrounded by saints, heroes, or at the least, most exceptional -people who are everything they want to be themselves. And then comes the let-down. The greater their idealization of the community at the start, the greater the disenchantment. If -people manage to get through this second period, they come to a third phase — that of realism and of true commitment. They no longer see other members of the community as saints or devils, but as -people — each with a mixture of good and bad, darkness and light, each growing and each with their own hope. The community is neither heaven nor hell, but planted firmly on earth, and they are ready to walk in it, and with it. They accept the community and the other members as they are; they are confident that together they can grow towards something more beautiful.

More than any other quote I’ve encountered, this one exemplifies my relationship with Burris Laboratory School. I am (finally) in the stage where I think I can recognize that my colleagues aren’t “saints or devils,” but I can see them as people who walk the earth much in the same way I do. I know Vanier’s thoughts were written/uttered about spiritual communities, but in many ways I need to see my workplace as a spiritual place, not in the creepy “I want God back in schools” kind of way, but in the way Matt talked about on Sunday. I have been placed by God at Burris and I need to put my whole heart into my work, which for me means I need to see the spiritual relevance of the place. And what is more spiritual than shaping and forming the intellectual development and curiosity of our fellow humans? Thinking in this fashion helps hold me much more accountable.

Peace.

Ash Wednesday 2012

For Lent this year, I am going to try to post something here each day. Maybe I will post a blessing that I have experienced for the day, maybe it will be a bit of Scripture I read that day, or maybe it will simply be an anecdote or story. No matter what, though, my goal is to post for 46 days straight, from now until Easter.

Today, I just want to acknowledge that it’s Ash Wednesday, and I missed going to a service. Last year, I was in Florida and went to Sebring’s nice Methodist Church. This year, I was going to go this morning to St. Mary’s, but I wasn’t sure if a sort of Protestant, kind of Buddhist woman could attend a Catholic Ash Wednesday service. I guess it’s only the Eucharist that they’re insular about, and other ceremonies are not so important as that. It’s okay, Catholic folks, I believe in transubstantiation too.

As I was walking from my free parking space by St. Mary’s into school this morning, I started thinking about Lent, because if there is one traditional thing I hold onto about Christianity, it’s the Church calendar. I love the way the seasons ebb and flow, and I love that it marks up the year into manageable pieces. The Christian calendar is like the seasonal calendar, reminding me about who I am and who God is. For example, Lent for me is a time of penance and so is winter. Advent is a time of anticipation and rebirth, so is spring. You see, the same, but different.

But I digress, as I was walking into school this morning, I thought about whether or not I’d do anything for Lent this year. By “do anything,” I mean give up something, or the new version of that, which is to add something, and I decided that I’d try to write here every day, and I’d start celebrating the liturgy through Common Prayer. My friend Sarah had heard Shane Claiborne speak and purchased the book, and I’d heard about it, but hadn’t purchased it, so I thought I’d give it a try. I ordered it, but it wasn’t supposed to be delivered until the 23-28 of February. So, as I walked this morning, I thought to myself, well, when that book gets here, I’ll get started with my spiritual practice for Lent. I figured it would be here when I got back from Chicago next weekend, so I’d be a bit behind. Sure enough, Common Prayer was delivered in today’s mail.

Tonight I’m reading the introduction. Peace.

More Things I’ve Eaten, and Some Cider. Sports. The Light of the World. Opening Day.

More Things I’ve Eaten

I don’t want to turn into one of those people who only posts pictures of the food they eat, writing endlessly about how amazing their cooking is and about how fantastic the food they eat is, but I love food, I love cooking it, and I love eating it, so it only seems right to post pictures of my first love. Lots of pictures. I promise, though, that I won’t brag (too much) about my cooking skills.

Along with my love of food, my second love used to be beer, but it doesn’t make much sense to me to avoid grain products all week long, just to inundate my body with them on weekends. In fact, many people who follow a paleo or primal lifestyle eschew alcohol all together. Instead of completely abstaining, I’ve switched to ciders, but the sad part of this scenario is that there aren’t nearly as many ciders available to try as there are beers, especially in the Midwest. My brother and I are hoping to visit some cider breweries this summer, so I’ll make sure to keep you in the loop about that.

Here are the deliciously luxurious food photos:

Coconut Crusted Catfish; Dandelion Green and Spinach Salad

Beef Stir Fry with Srirachi; Woodchuck Spring Cider

Grass Fed Sirloin; Mixed Green Salad; Samuel Smith's Organic Cider

Charcoal-Grilled Sockeye Salmon; Mixed Green Salad; Strongbow Cider

 Sports: Racquetball, Swimming, Barefoot Running

The more time I spend playing or participating in other sports, the more I agree with the idea that physical conditioning just prepares us to play more and better. I know myself well enough to know that I will never be a fast runner. In fact, I’ll probably never finish in the top two thirds of any race I run. Likely, I’ll finish in the last quarter, if not in last place, but I don’t care. I don’t care because I don’t run to be competitive; I run for the fun of it. I don’t swim to be competitive; I swim for the fun of it. I love the sports that require lots of stamina and that make my body sore and achy the next day because I’ve worked hard to have fun and to finish. I consider swimming and running to be the building blocks for every other sport. (I’d consider cycling to fill this purpose, too, but it’s not summer and I don’t generally ride my bike when it freezes my face.) These sports exist to prepare our bodies for more.

For example, I realized last night that I signed up for two races that I probably won’t finish, because they’ll cut the race off before I will make it around the course the second time. I don’t care. I’ll just keep running and cross the line after the awards ceremony, but at least I will have finished. I didn’t look at the times before I signed up and they didn’t list a cutoff time, but last years times are posted now, and I will run it in about 15 to 20 minutes longer than the longest time listed. I assume this is because lolly-gagging, fat, barefoot or Vibram-clad, pushing-40s, running-for-fun women don’t generally sign up for 15K trail runs. I just hope my time doesn’t go down as a DNF because it took me too long to cross the line. I’ll just have to time myself with my watch and be unofficially proud of myself for finishing.

You see swimming and running are sports I play to finish, but racquetball, disc golf, basketball and those types of games are sports I play to be competitive. I don’t by any stretch of the imagination mean that I am exceptionally good at any of these sports, but I love to be competitive in them. I play hard. I win hard. Or, I lose hard, but I always have fun. I played racquetball with my friends Celeste and Sarah yesterday and had a blast! To me, the grueling workouts of running and swimming serve only to prepare my body for playing hard and having fun, not that I don’t have fun swimming or running—if I didn’t, I wouldn’t do them—but I don’t swim or run to play or compete. On second thought, maybe that’s why I am so drawn to trail running, because it’s fun, and so much more like playing than road racing could ever be?!?

Opening Day

Speaking of playing, baseball’s opening day is just around the corner! Go REDS! Their home opener is April 5 against the Florida Marlins. I hope to make it to several games this year, but we’ll see how the funding works out. If anyone wants to donate Red’s season tickets to my summer fun basket, let me know. I’d appreciate the dugout box, or the infield box seats. They’re reasonably priced. Ha!

The Light of the World

Today at church, Matt spoke about being the light of the world. He mentioned that we are “set,” or systematically placed to be the light of the world. Matthew 5:14-16 says, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (TNIV). We are intentionally built as a city on a hill. We have God’s light inside us. We are to share that light in intentional ways.

St. Paul Cathedral at Night from MPR News

I have forgotten that I am supposed to be the light of the world. Instead, I’ve been spending a lot of time being the opposite of the light, repeatedly putting myself under a bowl. I’ve been the harbinger of pessimism, sadness, and anger. Lots of anger. How can I be the light while I am being angry? Matt showed us a video about Bob Goff, and in it, Goff said you can’t be angry if you keep your palms up. It’s easy to get angry when your fists are clenched or your hands are facing down, but it’s very difficult to get angry when your palms are facing up. Yet another example of the ways in which God designs our bodies to worship and not to harm: the physicality of our bodies guides the emotionality. I need to remember that.

My challenge to myself is to remember that I am where I am for a purpose. I need to ask myself everyday, “How is it that you are going to let God use you today?” And I need to make sure I face my palms up when I am meeting with colleagues. Does this mean I will do it all right? No. I am sure it doesn’t. But does it mean I will be a little more intentional about trying to be the light of the world, about trying to show God’s love to others? Yes. I certainly hope it does.