Tag Archives: Christian

Day 39: I missed another day.

I did. I failed yesterday. I was “round two” sick. It seems I jumped back into my normal routine too quickly after Monday and Tuesday’s horror show, and I paid for it by sleeping horribly on Thursday night and spending most of Friday on my couch. Every time I got up to do something or try going to work, I had to sit back down sixty seconds later because I was light-headed and fatigued. Awful.

So I apologize. My wits were absent and I didn’t have it in me to write, I guess.

Today, however, I was back to normal! I guess all I needed was a full day of true rest and recovery, because today I spent an hour and a half at the animal shelter and ran eighteen (!) miles before taking the train downtown for coffee and conversation with a dear friend and her other friend.

And what a blessing! My friend, Lindsey, brought me and Karen together because of our mutual interest in environmental ministry. Karen is working to buy space for a community garden and hopes to involve children and local churches in the process, and Lindsey hoped my plans to write a youth creation care curriculum for my seminary project would benefit her. She could be a test site and also a source of inspiration for me: what did she need or want from a curriculum? What would be useful to her? What could I give her? What feedback could she give me? Perfect.

For two hours we talked and laughed over soy chai teas (so yummy I may dream about them tonight) and very expensive dark chocolate (supporting small farms in Honduras is worth it). It certainly wasn’t fancy or exotic or wild, but goodness, what a good time! I learned, I laughed. I loved spending time with Lindsey, whom I always enjoy, and I loved meeting Karen. What a cool woman! She’s so honest and down to earth and genuine, yet so impassioned and so optimistic about her goals. Amazing.

God is sending people my way in droves as I think more about this project. And it’s beautiful. What a great God.

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Day 31: the need for hope.

These few days of class have opened my eyes to just how much work needs to be done in order to save the planet.

Let me tell you: a lot of work needs to be done.

It’s overwhelming. It’s scary. It’s discouraging. There is so much healing, so much changing, so much patience needed to reverse the damage we’ve done. How can we rewrite so much of our cultural and ethical codes? How can we convince our fellow human beings to radically change their habits? How can we possibly do this on our own?

One of my professors quoted John Cobb, a process theologian:

“Without God’s initiative, I have no hope.”

God is the answer. God is the one upon whom we lean. God is the catalyst, the guide, the hope.

So many times today, I felt crushed by the enormity of our task. Until I recalled those words and remembered: God will see us through.

Katie Davis is a missionary in Uganda whom I admire deeply. Her book holds as much inspiration for me as the bible. She writes of a time when she left Uganda for a stint in the states, and how during that time she lost touch with God. She was surrounded with counterfeit gods that fulfilled her basic needs and thus did not rely on God and on prayer to get food on the table and heal the sick. It was not until she returned to Uganda that her relationship with God was restored, when she had to rely on him every single day.

This is us. We are hurtling toward our own destruction, moving so quickly that we cannot save ourselves unless we act now. Unless we rely on God.

Remember yesterday? Turn to God. Be in his image. Lean on him, rely on him, have faith in him. If we do our part, he will do his. He will give us hope.

Amen.

Day 30: the image of God.

Human beings are made in the image of God.

This is one of the most familiar notions of Christian thought, something we’re taught as children. God made you in his image. God made you to be like him.

One of my professors offered a really beautiful way to look at this: think of it like a mirror. We are a mirror image of God, but only when we are turned toward him. The minute we turn away, we are no longer in his image. In the language of Genesis, God makes everything to flourish. God sees that it was good. God nourishes, sustains, loves. We are his appointed stewards of the earth, the ones he delegated to rule over it. If by our behavior we are eliminating species of animals, we are no longer in the image of God. Because God makes everything to flourish, and our behavior makes everything to die.

What’s more is that our arrogance isn’t even biblically rooted. We were indeed given God’s decree to care and perhaps rule, but we weren’t spun from the divine. One of my professor’s was the primary Genesis translator for the Common English Bible, a new translation, and explained Genesis 2:7 thus:

Here’s the NRSV translation: “Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.”

Now, “dust of the ground” permeates our church language. You are dust, and to dust you shall return. But my professor explained that the Hebrew words in this passage are used in agricultural contexts in the rest of the bible and thus better translate to “topsoil of the fertile land.”

God didn’t make us from dust or dirt. God made us from soil, fertile and abundant soil, the very substance from which earth gives life. We are of the earth and we are grounds for growth, for nourishment, for feeding and sustaining the rest of creation. Isn’t that beautiful?

Let me take it a step further. My professor also offered Genesis 2:19, where the man, Adam, calls the animals to him.

A segment from NRSV: “whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was its name.”

The same segment from CEB: “The human gave each living being its name.”

Now let me explain this translation. In Genesis 2:7, man becomes a “living being” when God breathes life into his nostrils. The Hebrew word in that verse, the one that becomes “living being,” is the same word as Genesis 2:19 that we commonly translate to living creature. In the original Hebrew, human beings and animals are described using the exact same word in these two verses of the creation story. We are living beings. This previous translation set us above the animals with a different word, essentially tricking us into difference (at least from my rather bitter perspective). Isn’t that… kind of annoying?

So we come from the soil, the earth. We are living beings much like the animals. But we are in the image of God when we face him, when we look toward him, when we see that the natural world is good and we make it to flourish. That’s what sets us apart, it seems: the intention. Turning deliberately toward God and taking his values into our hands, spreading his love to the four-legged and green-leaved alike.

But we pollute the earth. We make our meals from animals who were battered and tortured and disrespected. We generate more garbage than the earth can hold. We bulldoze acres of rainforest to make room for our own interests. We consume consume consume and turn a blind eye as the earth suffers for it. We have turned away from God’s image. We are no longer facing him.

I am no longer facing him. I am convicted.

What do you think about this?

Days 21 & 22: room in the inn.

I didn’t write yesterday. Let me tell you why.

Snowstorm Saturn hit Chicago with a vengeance yesterday, and my work building closed at 2:00 p.m. I assumed I’d spend the entire evening snuggled up at home with books and movies, maybe cook myself a nice dinner, catch up on bible study readings.

And then my phone rang around 6:00.

The storm was still rip-roaring away as my boyfriend Jackson explained that his friend from college, Laura, was stranded at the airport due to a canceled flight. She had called him in search of help and, hopefully, somewhere to stay other than an expensive hotel or – worse – the airport floor. Jackson lives 45 minutes away from the airport in good weather, so his hands were tied, but could she possibly stay the night at my place?

I live a hop, a skip, and a jump from the airport and have driven through over half a dozen Minnesota winters, so I was a perfect candidate for the job. I got dressed, shoved the growing snow pile off my car, and drove slooowly to the airport to fetch her.

It never really occurred to me that I was doing something a little crazy. Looking back, I see I knew nothing about Laura other than some fast facts from Jackson, and now I was going to let her sleep on my couch, which isn’t even separated from my bed by a locked door since I live in a studio apartment. She could’ve turned up her nose at my vegan kitchen. She could’ve complained nonstop. She could’ve spent the whole night texting or facebooking on her phone. She could’ve been all manner of awful.

But she was Jackson’s friend, so off I went. And let me tell you, what a blessing!

Laura was a fun, easy guest. She was an adventurous eater and picked risotto from the list of dinner options I rattled off because she’d never had it before, giving me the gift of speaking in my love language. She was interesting and friendly and a very enjoyable conversation partner. She left absolutely no trace in the bathroom other than a perfectly folded towel. She was totally game to Skype with Jackson while we had dessert so he could “hang out” with her too. She slept under a fleece tie blanket on my couch without complaint. She was a good sport about our 4:00 a.m. wake-up call (so she would beat the airport rush). She was, in a nutshell, a fun, unexpected blessing.

The bible is full of stories about taking in the weary traveler, opening your home to others, sharing what you have with those in need. In this culture, we don’t have much opportunity to show this kind of hospitality. Hotels and express travel remove the need for stops along the way, robbing us of the joy of caring for someone this way.

This is why I’m all the more thankful for the opportunity to share my home with Laura for even a short time. What a rare gift to welcome a fellow sister in Christ into the inn when so often we have no room! And what a blessing to drive away from the train station this morning with a new friend and a renewed sense of the way God brings his people together to care for each other.

So… I didn’t write yesterday. But I think my excuse is valid.

Has God given you a surprise opportunity to care for others recently? Tell me about it!

 

Day 20: my thoughts on this book

Today is the first day of assigned reading from this book I wrote about the other day. It’s a “soul fast” over forty days. Except it’s actually 56 days: eight weeks with the weekends off for… soul gorging? Soul gluttony? I don’t know.

Anyway. I left the computer open while I read and recorded my thoughts. Here they are. Enjoy.

The book says this is my first day of my “journey to a more authentic life.” Authentic by whose definition? Mine? God’s? The author’s so I buy more of her stuff? And is that her real hair?

Stop being so cynical, Maggie.

First step is self-awareness. That’s actually good. Very zen. I admire that and am working on cultivating that.

Grammatical error. Strike one.

On to the action steps! This looks promising!

First “action step” is a declarative sentence with a question mark at the end. Strike two.

I’m supposed to describe “outstanding” characteristics about myself. Do I have to think big picture, like, “I love animals so much that I eat a vegan diet and voluntarily scrub out kitty litterboxes on Saturday morning”? Or can it be, “I make really good cookies”? Does God appreciate little things like cookie mastery? I’ve always wondered.

“How have you capitalized on those [outstanding characteristics] and harnessed the inherent power of you?” What the hell does that even mean? Like, okay, I know what the words mean, but what is she saying? Do you see why that video made me so mad?!

She wants me to listen to what God is saying to me. Can I get some instruction on listening to God? I still suck at that. Majorly suck. Please, just give me a little how-to. That would be a great action step. One I desperately need.

Wait a second, this is the first time this chapter has mentioned God other than the little epitaph bible verse on the top of the first page! Isn’t this supposed to be God-centered? Where’s God in this? Why is it all about me me me?

Maybe if she mentioned God more I would be reminded to not be so cynical about this book.

…no, I can’t blame her. My attitude is my problem, not hers. Sigh.

Hey! Look! Self awareness!

I’m really hoping I can have a good attitude about this book (or at least keep my attitude in check). I need to get over the empty chatter factor, I think. My love for clear, no-BS God-talk is getting in the way of my appreciating this book. There are some good things in here, I think… just gotta dig to find them.

Which is a disgustingly accurate metaphor for life, am I right?

Day 19: is it wrong to miss the classics?

I go to a contemporary church service here in Chicago. You know the drill: worship is led by plaid-wearing guys in their twenties and their guitars, communion bread is homemade, people volunteer to run the slideshow during the sermon.

I really enjoy it, actually. The music is uplifting and engaging. Worship requires enough hands that even we non-musical folk can be involved. The communion bread is delicious. And yeah, one of the aforementioned guitar-playing plaid-bearers happens to be my boyfriend. 90% of the time, I love the contemporary style. It suits me and my generation and my relationship with God.

But sometimes… I miss the old school. Very specific things about the old school.

One of the songs we sang in worship today was an old favorite: “How can I keep from singing?” What a beautiful, beautiful song. The singer places total faith in God, clinging to him in spite of it all. And what greater celebration is there than this? What is greater than the joy of knowing you can depend on him, hold onto him, fall into him in face of any trial and trust that he will fill your heart with his light and his hope?

Pretty much nothing. Which is why we cannot keep from singing.

The tune is equally beautiful, and yet… we didn’t sing it today. We sang a new alternative tune. A different tune. And it felt weird.

I liked the new tune well enough, but as a tune in general, not as the tune to my beloved hymn. I was off-kilter the whole time, trying to match this unfamiliar set of notes with the lyrics I knew by heart.

And then they weren’t even the same lyrics anymore! They were new and different and certainly not the song I was promised by that title. I was suddenly in the position of fumbling through a new tune, mumbling new lyrics, and puzzling over why my darling song was now completely different.

I tried to sing along, I really did, but in the end, I wasn’t really singing my song the right way. I wasn’t worshipping, I was just trying to keep up!

Is it so wrong for me to miss the classics? Contemporary service is wonderful, and new songs are a gift, but can’t we still sing old favorites? Can we leave them the way they are, timeless and beautiful?

I hope so.

No storm can shake my inmost calm

while to this rock I’m clinging

since Christ is lord of heav’n and earth

how can I keep from singing?

Day 18: an errant thought.

I’m not feeling very wordy tonight, but I’ve been thinking a lot about doing God’s work. My true passion lies in environmental conservation and animal care, which I already honor in my everyday life. I eat a vegan diet, I bring my own bags to the grocery store, I recycle obsessively, I never use disposable kitchenware, etc. Creation care is my calling, my joy, my mission.

But I wonder:

If I really, truly surrendered everything and said to God, “I want to go where your creation needs me most,” where would he send me?

Day 17: empty words.

You know how sometimes people talk and talk and talk but they’re really not saying anything?

Yeah. That.

One of my bible groups is starting a new book, and we watched the intro video tonight. It was very cozy, snuggled up on the couch together, eating vegan peach sherbet and drooling a little. And then this… video started.

It was just jabber. Just catchphrases like “capacity building” and “soul cleansing” and “living authentically,” all buzzwords that look catchy and inspiring but essentially mean nothing unless they’re surrounded by action and purpose. And trust me, in this video, they were not.

Suffice to say, it kinda ruined the moment. I mean, here I was, spending my Friday night at bible study, cocooned in the love of God and my sisters in Christ, and this video just killed it. Babble that turned the pursuit of right relationship with God into a cheap self-help quick-fix. I was disappointed.

However, as with all bad things, a lesson came from it. I watched that video and thought, “Maggie, don’t ever let yourself talk like that. No fancy words that resonate only because they’re completely hollow. Be real, Maggie.”

I took a technical writing class in college, and my professor talked about the status and power of language. She talked about how high-powered companies use superfluously complex language in their manuals and documents to give an air of importance, when really the souped-up lingo leave their employees befuddled. It’s an attempt to make pretty that which needn’t be pretty, and it winds up being a detriment to the companies since their employees can’t find in common ground in these words that are supposed to bring them together.

Do we lose God this way? Do we try to dress him up in thesaurus gems when really he just wants to be Dad or friend or teacher or, you know, GOD? I think it’s okay to step back from theology texts and fiery sermons and just talk about God with the same frankness that you discuss what you had for lunch. Is it fancy? No. But… is it real? If you strip the superfluous, yes.

So that’s my mini-pledge to myself as I bang out this post at 10:30 p.m. on a Friday (yeah, I party like a rock star): cut the crap. Skip the fancypants lingo. Just talk to and about God with common words that ground the people rather than divide them by how many English classes they’ve taken. Be plain. Be accessible. Be real.

Day 15: simple solutions.

I’m not a cranky person. I’m actually a very happy person. But today, I was just cranky.

I was cranky about a book we’re starting in my bible study that I don’t really want to do. I was cranky about some depressing news articles I read. I was cranky about one of my regular lunchtime companions making comments that upset me. I was cranky about the gross slushy weather. I was just major crankypants.

I was cranky enough to consider not making the twenty minute drive down to the animal shelter where I normally volunteer on Wednesdays. I thought, “Ugh, the weather is gross. It’s probably not safe to drive down there in this weather. And I don’t feel like going, I just wanna be at home. I’ll skip.”

I was about to leave work to go home, just waiting for the elevator, when suddenly it was like a switch flipped and suddenly I was going to the shelter again.

It was like someone else was controlling my body as I changed into my boots and flannel and grabbed a Clif bar and grabbed my bag and climbed into my car and made the drive. As usual, I checked in and put on my nametag and apron and greeted my favorite cats. I tracked down a staff person and asked what needed doing. She asked me to walk the dogs, all of whom were stir-crazy after two days of bad weather keeping them inside. I pulled my jacket back on, leashed up Junior the beagle mix, and took him out into the cold.

As we walked around the block, I realized I hadn’t actually played a part in my change of heart. I simply became aware that I was, in fact, going to the shelter. Like I said, a switch flipped in my brain. And now I was squatting in the slush in my ugliest boots and my oldest jeans, scooping Junior’s less-than-healthy-looking poop out of the snow. A task devoid of any dignity whatsoever.

And I realized God sent me here.

God flipped the switch in my brain. God dressed me and gave me a snack and drove me down to the shelter. God basically said, “Maggie, get off your high horse and go clean up some dog crap.” He reminded me that wallowing in my own bad mood was a waste of the strong hands and able body he gave me to do his work. He got me out of my head because his world and his plan and his love is so much bigger than what’s inside my head.

It was tough love at first, since poor Junior got the runs three times on our walk and I had to scoop up every bit of it. But once I stopped thinking about my own moodiness and started focusing on the dogs, it turned into something else. A thank you for loving the least of these. It turned into twenty minutes of holding a sleeping puppy in my lap, just letting her soak up a warm body and soft hands and some companionship in a lonely place.

It’s such a simple solution, really. When we get caught up in our own issues, God boots us out by reminding us that we aren’t alone on this planet. We are perfectly capable of giving our gifts to others rather than wallowing in what we don’t have. Stop crabbing, God says, and start caring. Go shine God’s love on someone else until you start to feel it yourself. Dwell in him, and invite others to dwell with you, be they people or puppies.

I left the shelter in time to make lenten worship at church. Still wearing my ugly boots and my dude flannel, I sang the Holden Evening Prayer. I dwelled in his word, and the crankiness was gone. I was whole again. I was God’s.

Day eight: Ash Wednesday, take two.

I woke up sick as a dog on Ash Wednesday.

Shaky and achey, I went back and forth between shivering and sweating, curled in a miserable ball on my clammy sheets. My head throbbed, my mouth tasted like asphalt, and my throat was parched. It was unpleasant.

I was heartbroken that I missed the Ash Wednesday chapel service at work. However, my body tends to fight off sickness pretty quickly, so I was well enough to attend Ash Wednesday service that night at my own church. “Thank goodness,” I thought. “Now it’ll really feel like lent has begun.”

It… didn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, it was lovely. We sang songs and said prayers and I left with an ash cross on my forehead. But it didn’t really feel like Ash Wednesday. My church, which I began attending several months ago when I moved to Chicago, prefers a pretty contemporary worship style. Most of the time, I love it. But for lent, I wanted something different.

Tonight was Holden Evening Prayer.

Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced a Holden evening prayer service, but my word, if it isn’t the most beautiful thing inside the four walls of a church. The music is beautiful, the words are beautiful, the simple ritual is beautiful. I can’t even explain why I love it, but I do. And it resonated more with me tonight than it ever has before.

A few months ago, the Magnificat of Mary was sung to me by a woman I very much admire. Listening to her sing, I was floored. Mary came alive in this woman, became a real flesh-and-blood person who had swollen ankles and morning sickness and carried the messiah. She became so real to me, more than just a character. Advent itself became so real, and I spent the remaining weeks leading up to Christmas with a new and amazing sense of longing. Which, as they say, is what Advent is all about. Finally, it was real.

I didn’t go to church much (or at all) in college, so I hadn’t heard the Holden evening prayer in a number of years. When I heard it tonight, it was like everything came back. The reverent evening services, the candles, my mother’s voice leading the call-and-response part of the evening, the congregation’s single voice responding, the way the music made me feel. I didn’t understand at the time that I was feeling God’s presence.

Now I do.

I felt it tonight. I felt it in the people around me, in my two friends who led service, in the beautiful, simple music of the Holden evening prayer.

Come and light our hearts anew.

Let my prayer rise up like incense before you.

God of mercy, hold us in love.

It stops my heart.

The calendar Ash Wednesday didn’t feel like much to me.

Today, my real Ash Wednesday, felt like everything.