searching for sunday.

This week’s past Gospel, we call Thomas the “doubter”-he wants the evidence of things unseen to prove the resurrection of Jesus. I’m not going to debate the word doubt and Thomas’ need for tangible proof in the risen Lord. However, I find the timing of this Gospel perfect as I wrap my head around the brilliance that is Rachel Held Evans’ new work, searching for sunday: loving, leaving and finding the church.

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In the vein of Barbara Brown Taylor’s Leaving ChurchRachel guides us through her crisis of faith with stories that will challenge us to consider our own doubt. Her authentic tale of evangelical upbringing, running away, and returning to the table is accessible to both the cradle believers and those who still seek. She walks us through this journey through the sacred sacraments of Baptism, Confession, Holy Orders, Communion, Confirmation, Anointing the Sick, and Marriage.

We are challenged to think–is everything I’ve been taught or I’ve thought I believed true? Is it real? Is there room at the table for all? Are our churches limiting the scope and reach of Jesus by making judgments on people, places, and things? Are we losing the millennial generation because making church a rock concert or serving hipster coffee isn’t making the great commandment relevant for us?

As a cradle Episcopalian, I am lucky I didn’t have to answer a lot of the questions with which Rachel has grappled. I grew up in a home and church that preached inclusion. I never knew a life without women in leadership at the highest level. I never heard anti-LGBT speech from my pulpit. I grew up steeped in liturgical tradition that honored reason as a part of one’s faith formation. However, as a college student in the Midwest, I gained an eye-opening baptism of my own in the world of evangelicalism. (Or as my Mom liked to call it “fundamentalism”—aka, Republican and Baptist.) This was a gift to me in a sense as it opened up scripture in a way that I hadn’t seen in my upbringing. It taught me the phrase “personal relationship with Jesus” and opened my mind to see the myriad of ways people worship and perceive God, Jesus, the Bible, and the Church. It made me appreciate my moderate, intellect loving background, but also respect the traditions and beliefs of others. It made me appreciate that doubt was an integral part of the journey.

To write a review of this book is hard. It is a “nugget” book for me. A book filled with so many quotables, that I found myself splicing the larger ideas into tastes. By doing so, I don’t want to undercut the message of inclusion that I think is at the heart of this book. Yet at the same time, I want YOU to read it, so I will offer you a few tastes with an encouragement to join our conversation.

Dawn

“We want to bring our whole selves through the church doors, without leaving our hearts and minds behind, without wearing a mask.”

Baptism

“The Spirit that once hovered over the waters had inhabited them. Now every drop is holy.”

“It was the 80’s, so all my earliest memories of Jesus smell like hairspray.”

“The good news is you are a beloved child of God; the bad news is you don’t get to choose your siblings.”

“Grace has been out of hand for more than two thousand years now. We best get used to it.”

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Confession

“But no one really teaches you how to grieve the loss of your faith. You’re on your own for that.”

“I wanted to believe with my intellectual integrity and intuition intact, with both my head and heart fully engaged.”

“In the company of these friends, questions and doubts were met with sympathy, not fear. No one felt the need to correct or understand or approve. We just listened, and it was sacred.”

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Holy Orders
“Ultimately, we are all commissioned. All are called. All belong to the holy order of God’s beloved.”

“…go first, to volunteer the truth about their sins, their dreams, their failures, and their fears in order to free others to do the same.”

“When Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, he was showing them what leadership in the upside-down kingdom of God looks like.”

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Communion

“clamorous manducation.”

“Something about communion triggers our memory and helps us see things as they really are. Something about communion opens our eyes to see Jesus at the table.”

“Communion doesn’t answer every question, nor does it keep my stomach from rumbling from time to time, but I have found that it is enough. It is always and ever enough.”

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Confirmation

“I didn’t know how to tell them this was exactly the sort of thing that made me doubt.”

“The journey comes with baggage, yes. And heartbreak. But there are also many gifts. In a sense, we’re all cobblers. We’re all a bit like Brother Joseph, piecing together our faith, one shard of broken glass at a time.”

“And the notion that a single tradition owns the lockbox on truth is laughable, especially when the truth we’re talking is God.”

“My Mother always said you don’t have to believe much to be Episcopalian” (this one made me laugh so so hard.)

Anointing of the Sick

“The annoying thing about being human is that to be fully engaged with the world, we must be vulnerable. And the annoying thing about being vulnerable is that sometimes it means we get hurt.”

“The thing about healing, as opposed to curing, is that it is relational. It takes time, It is inefficient, like a meandering river…..Walking with someone through grief, or the process of reconciliation, requires patience, presence, and a willingness to wander, to take the scenic route.” (This was the most meaningful chapter for me entitled Healing. A stunning connection to grief and loss.)

anointing the sick SFS

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Marriage

“We must be careful, then, of idolizing the institution of marriage on the one hand and discounting its kingdom-reflecting potential on the other.”

“Perhaps she would talk about being underestimated, about surprising people and surprising herself. Or about how there are moments when her own strength startles her, and moments when her weakness–her forgetfulness, her fear, her exhaustion–unnerve her.”

“Sometimes I think the biggest challenge in talking about the church is telling ourselves the truth about it–acknowledging the scars, staring down the ugly bits, marveling at its resiliency, and believing that this flawed and magnificent body is enough, for now, to carry us through the world and into the arms of Christ.”

***

Hopefully, something in those words triggered your desire to dig deeply with RHE, as she is often called in our Launch Team circle. She is not a super-hero, she is not selling snake oil. She is opening our hearts and minds to the possibility of what the church can/could be. This book has encouraged my walk and I can’t recommend it to you enough.

Come to the table, you are welcome here.

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opening day

Mid day today, the gates will open up.

Fans with hats and gloves rush to catch a glimpse of #2 or #25 as they stretch and stride.

The smell of green grass, the breeze, the bright sun.

The bustle of vendors heavy laden with cotton candy, hot dogs, and beer.

The child’s wide eyes as she sees the field for the first time.

The father taking her hand amid the crowd.

The long walk to the upper deck provides a sensory overload.

Hands on hearts, everyone sings, a moment of pride.

The charge of the field, the wind up, and crack of the bat.

And so begins a new season sure to delight and thrill, madden and sadden.

For the stalwart and the fair weather, today marks the start.

Play Ball.

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authentic reality.

It has been five months since my beloved left our Earthly home. In that time, I have continued to experience the ups and downs of the new reality. In the midst of my continued grief process, I am making plans for a new adventure in Alabama, renewing my love affair with Pure Barre, and coaching track. I must go forward and grow, even if it feels like burrowing into the hollow would be the better choice.

There have been words and voices around me that make me feel confident in this growth. Two weeks ago, my amazing Rector, Sari, spoke of re-birth. If we want to experience being truly re-born and experience God, we must go through a passage from one reality to another and we cannot go back. This is terrifying and true and amazing and horrible. It is real. Yesterday, his sermon focused on vulnerability and love. True love exists when we demonstrate that which is our inside on the outside–with another person. When we open our hearts and souls to allow someone in, it is then we experience God. And this, too, can be a wounding experience.

I would not give up this experience of having been vulnerable and experiencing love with Ken for anything, despite the current wounds that may never fully heal. I rejoice in this passage that has been given to me, even if it is the most difficult passage of my life thus far. I choose to live this passage with great vulnerability on the outside, so that others around me know that it is ok to be real. In our society, we view vulnerability as weakness, but I see it as a chance to be honest.  Super-hero Brené Brown writes: “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” (The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You AreIn this time of trial, change, and renewal, I can be nothing but authentic. For anything else would be something and someone that I am not.

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a new regard for poetry

I read this article tonight in the nytimes: Bringing a Daughter Back From the Brink with Poems. It is an incredible essay by Betsy Macwhinney about her subversive use of poetry to open her daughter to mental and physical healing. It is amazing. It is an incredible example of maternal love that is only matched by that of my own mother. (And I’m sure yours too, but really, mine is the best.)

I would encourage you to read the article and the poems to which she links. But…this says it all for me:

“At some point, I knew she had come out of a long dark tunnel. I also knew it wouldn’t be her last tunnel.”

I’ve never been one for poetry. My connection to Tennyson came less from his works and more from the way Megan Follows recited them as Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables. I am not a Shakespeare girl, much to my mothers chagrin. The words of Frost and Teasedale have been appealing but only when they have been set to music. e.e. cummings and Emily Dickinson have some appeal but have not typically captured my mind and soul in the way of prose authors.

But, I am the daughter of an exquisite poet and my respect for words is immense. So I’m not terribly surprised that poetry has turned a new light for me. Emerson, Rilke, now Neruda, are helping me to walk out of the tunnel of the dark and into the light. The gifts of words of those more wise than I provide a balm to my tumultuous spirit.

I leave you with this one for your heart. peace.

If Death is Kind

Perhaps if death is kind, and there can be returning,
We will come back to earth some fragrant night,
And take these lanes to find the sea, and bending
Breathe the same honeysuckle, low and white.

We will come down at night to these resounding beaches
And the long gentle thunder of the sea,
Here for a single hour in the wide starlight
We shall be happy, for the dead are free.

Sara Teasdale

All the things he will not see

I’m on page 10 of Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See and I just read a blog post called This is 39 by the amazing Allison Slater Tate. Both of these things made me think of Kenny. Not at all because of their content but, like many things, my thoughts were turned to a life unfulfilled. He was 39 and I continue to mourn not only his death, but also all the things he (we) will not do or see.

He will not walk down the aisle at the end of his wedding with a smokin’ hot new wife. He will not hold a first born child. He will not get revenge on the Lake Placid Ironman course. He will not see peace in Gaza. He will not see Boko Haram, ISIS, and Al Qaeda brought to justice. He will not learn Arabic. He will not buy a house. He will not finally get lasik. He will not turn 40. He will never see the Grand Canyon or Mount Rushmore or the Great Pyramids.

But, oh what he did see and do. He traveled Europe. He played his tootles  in France. He finished Ironman, four times. He read so many books. He made thousands of people laugh. He inspired children and adults. He watched his Dad kick cancer’s a**. He became #7 in his Mom’s second grade classroom. He went to college and grad school and loved playing the clarinet even when he hated it. He loved his sister with a ferocity beyond measure. He was a patriot. And he tried on a wedding ring and it made him that much more handsome.

And, he will see so much more. For if we truly believe in the promise of the resurrection, we know how he is spending his days. Listening to Nana’s stories. Playing fetch with Parker and Juddy. Talking war stuff with lots of people include Murph and Erik. Cracking wise with Robin Williams. And playing duets with Gigliotti and Mozart. And he gets to do all of this free of pain, anxiety, fear of the future, and full of love. And this, for a least a moment, gives me peace.

reading in 2015

(taking an aside from all the heavy posts of the last few months…)

I saw this graphic on facebook and was super excited about it. I love to read. I love to share what I read and I love getting new ideas for what should be on my current stack. This provides a great challenge.

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This looks right up my alley to diversify my reading list and, perhaps, keep me focused. So based the categories above, I have created my list:

  • A book I’ve been meaning to read: Daring Greatly-Brene Brown
  • A book published this year: The Teenage Brain-Frances E. Jensen, MD
  • A book from a genre you don’t usually read: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy-Douglas Adams
  • A book from your childhood: The Hobbit-JRR Tolkien  (I’ve actually never read it.)
  • A book your mom loves: Return of the Native-Thomas Hardy
  • A book originally published in a different language: The Odyssey-Homer (oy.)
  • A book that everyone has read but you: The Lowland-Jhumpa Lahiri (I’m totally cheating, I really want to read this and I’m late to the party.)
  • A book you chose because of the cover: No Mud, No Lotus-Thich Nhat Hanh
  • A book by your favorite author: The Sandcastle Girls-Chris Bohjalian
  • A book recommended by someone with great taste (Virginia M!): The Secret History-Donna Tarte
  • A book you should have read in high school: Their Eyes Were Watching God-Zora Neale Hurston
  • A book that’s currently on the bestseller list: All the Light We Cannot See-Anthony Doerr

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I tried to build this entire list with books I already had on my to-read shelves at home. I only needed to buy two!! (Yes, Mom, I have a library card….but I like to touch the books forever!)

What would be on your list? Want to do a virtual book club? (Or if you’re local, a wine based one?)

#allthebooks15

ashes to ashes

In his message to the congregation this week, the rector of All Souls Memorial Church in Woodley Park, Father John Beddingfield, spoke of our own ashes for the year. He said, “mediating on the ashes of my expectations and assumptions might invite me to recall that God is in charge, and God alone.” Within this sentence he makes plain the need for us to connect to our own “things” and lay them upon the altar for ashes.

I have a set of ashes on my mantle. The small thimble full of ashes of my beloved who await their final resting place. And I will have a second set of ashes soon too, that of my sweet pup Parker. The third member of our Thomuto team, who joined his Dad today and will have his final resting place with him some day. In these ashes lay the loss not only of my two loves and my family, but in the loss of expectations and plans for the future.

So I might wallow a bit in metaphorical sackcloth and ashes but I realize that this will not draw me nearer to God. It is these deep, horrible, painful losses that I see plain that I do not have control. My own plans, expectations, and goals may not be in line with God’s plan and purpose for my life. While I probably could have sufficed with a loss of job or a broken bone, God needed me my heart to be broken in order to truly reveal himself to me. And so, God does, daily revealing wisdom through friends, words, sunsets, compassionate gestures, endless boxes of kleenex, strong coffee, television characters, and the laughter of children.

These ashes remain with me, not as a punishment, but as a reminder that the promise of God, through the resurrection, is the greatest gift. Henri Nouwen, in his book Turn My Mourning into Dancing, quotes Thomas Merton, “the real hope is not in something we think we can do, but in God, who is making something good out of it in some way we cannot see.” My hope remains in the Lord—whose ashes I bear as witness to his sacrifice and salvation.

As we approach the season of Lent, I seek to honor these ashes. I seek to reach a place of gratitude that allows me to celebrate the past, honor it, and move forward on the path that God is building ahead of me. Ken and I used the word forward a lot. We talked about how, in the midst of job struggles, dog struggles, motivation struggles, that we needed to keep moving forward. We needed to keep up the pursuit of our goals. I still want to move forward. And I want to move forward with the knowledge that my goals and expectations may not fall into God’s wide net for my life. I will be corrected and I will be grateful.

May this season of Lent allow you to examine your own need to create ashes. Your own place for renewal. May you be graced with clarity, simplicity, and peace.

annvoskampat all times

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