The Lure of the Dragon Hoard

One cannot collect all the beautiful shells on the beach. One can collect only a few, and they are more beautiful if they are few.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea. p. 106
A collection of sea shells drying on a countertop.

When we went on family trips to the beach, one of our least favorite tasks (besides leaving!) was choosing only the very best shells to take home. It meant going over each one, one by one. Which edge was perfect? Which colors were the most striking? Which bivalve had a full hinge? Each of us had to weed down until we only had the perfect ones. Then we had to repeat the process until we filled our allotted containers.

I am sure by the time I was old enough to collect shells, my family had already accumulated buckets of them. Mom patiently waited while we sorted and agonized over the bits of shell and sharks’ teeth. Couldn’t we take them all??? No… Just this much. It was a lesson in appreciating the best we could find. On setting limits. On not making acquisition of stuff a goal in life.

It struck me recently, as I have weeded out books, materials, and other resources to consolidate my church office into my home office, that I was re-learning this lesson of sorting shells. I gave away books. I recycled boxes full of old print-outs, bulletins, and teaching materials. (Perhaps it is a sign of my generation, but keeping paper copies is like a security blanket. I don’t really need them. But I want them.)

a box of yarn

While sometimes I joke about my dragon hoard of craft materials, the truth is, I will probably spend the rest of my life using up the supplies that I have! (Of course, it does not help when someone offers me some yarn, or fabric, or other tempting items, and I respond, “Yes! Sure!” I’m still learning this lesson, apparently!)

What is enough? What is too much? What can I give away, give back, pay forward… the questions have been on my mind for several weeks. I realized where I am stuck. Because when I feel the “keep it!!” feeling come over me, much like that young girl sorting shells so many years ago, it is that anxiety that I don’t have enough. I might “need” more!

Perhaps the clue is going back to the teachings of Christ.

27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. 30 For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

Luke 12:27-31, NRSV

What drives this desire to keep everything??? Anxiousness. Fear. Insecurity. What makes me want to keep everything the same, to be so resistant to change?? What makes me want to be controlling and not roll with life’s latest crises? Distrust. Uncertainty. Worry. And… if I’m honest… Greed. Lust. Pride.

In a time of great unrest, perhaps being willing to let go of one small thing makes it easier to cope with the bigger challenges we humans face. Perhaps not striving to hold on to power or wealth or STUFF would result in less conflict, less angst, less unrest… less war… less abuse… less violence… Isn’t that what Christ is asking us?

So as you chew on that, I offer this beautiful piece of music. It helps me focus and remember it’s what we do for Eternity that really matters.

Blessed be. sdg

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Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini. Hosanna in excelsis!

The Benedictus from The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace by Sir Karl Jenkins

Seek the beautiful

Photo Credit: “Grumpy cat”, © 2013 WXRob, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

I’m so tired of ugly words and mean people. Really ugly words. And really mean people. And I’m using vague and trite-sounding words because I can’t write the string of profanities that would flow from my mouth and melt my keyboard.

I’m not kidding. That ugly. That @#*$!!! is mean.

Here’s reality: hard things come into our lives.
Here’s hope: these hard things don’t have to define you.

I’ve seen it over and over… from my work in hospice and in hospitals, in churches, in schools, in non-profits, and in corporations. Some people define themselves by the worst days of their lives. And others use those experiences to sharpen their goals and trudge on, trying again. It is so easy to be negative and complain. It’s hard to try again when you’ve failed… (Especially with the nay-sayers commenting, “Well you can try, but you know, it’s really not going to work.”)

That’s what I call “concretized thinking.” A mindset that is so determined that nothing will change, and the end result is inescapable. All possible alternatives are dismissed. Admitting you are struggling is a sign that you either “aren’t really trying” or “are a whiner.” Serious questions are ignored.

Enough!

Most of what we bitch about is small potatoes. It’s inconsequential. It is not life-threatening. I confess I get caught up in this… and that I have to reboot now and then… like I did this evening.

Tonight I focused on a piece of music, with its haunting melody and lush harmonies… I listened to it with my headphones on and soaked in the beauty. I invite you to do the same!

There is tension in our world. There are unanswered questions. But… there is a way through the discord, the dissonance, the unresolvable. There is a way to breathe, dream, persevere and join with others on the same path.

And there is… at the very end… peace.

In the wild unknown of the Spirit


It’s an adventure… walking by faith and saying to the Divine, “Ok, I am willing.”

Part of me tenses up in fear. I wonder, “Is this like praying for patience, and then getting a boatload of opportunities to practice BEING patient?”

No, I know I’m on a journey. At times, it’s a wilderness wandering, full of sacrifice and drudgery. At times, it’s impossible to know if I’m right/wrong/deceived/inspired. And at times,  it is being willing to step into a role that no one else wants. It’s being willing to take on the task that is so full of the unknown that it is anxiety-producing, a place where God has tasked ME with doing the hard work of living out Love, Joy and Peace where others have failed.

Walking in the wild unknown of the Spirit is terrifying. It’s much easier to find a version of Christianity that sets me in lockstep, with black and white lines. But that’s not the contemporary culture we work, play and minister in, is it? For as I read and pray, I acknowledge that I don’t worship a demagogue. I don’t expect a “holy ZAP!” at any moment. That’s not the image of the Divine I know. That’s not the relational, covenantal God of Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah. That’s not the  One who called me to ministry and care of others, in the Church and outside it. That’s absolutely not the God who welcomes, affirms, nurtures and empowers.

The problem is, the picture of the Creator most people know is  a familiar, transactional Patriarch. The “3-strikes-and-you’re-out” expectation that is impossible to please. The Divine image that is yelled about by ultra-conservative folks who preach an inaccessible Person, One that only chastises and lists rules. The Holy One who is broken down into 3 easy steps and a book with a video teaching series for your Adult/Youth/Children’s ministries.

It feels overwhelming to walk this authentically wild and unknown road. But yet… I am called to it, in places and way that I don’t yet fully know for sure, but there is no doubt that I do not walk it alone. God is with me. And I have full confidence that nothing is out of God’s touch and God’s help.

I’m challenged by the words of Mary Oliver, longing to live out my “one wild and precious life” in that wild unknown of the Spirit. 

I heard TobyMac’s song Beyond Me this afternoon while running errands…  And it encouraged me. Perhaps it will help you, too, on your journey. You can listen to it here…
Call it a reason to retreat
I got some dreams that are bigger than me
I might be outmatched outsized the underdog in the fight of my life
Is it so crazy to believe…
That you gave me the stars put them out of my reach
Call me to waters a little too deep
Oh I’ve never been so aware of my need
You keep on making me see
It’s way beyond me…

Songwriters: David Arthur Garcia / Toby Mc Keehan
Beyond Me lyrics © Capitol Christian Music Group

There IS still hope.

I’m pressed but not crushed…  – Paul of Tarsus

Here’s my self-care when I’m sad and stressed:

  • Cooking good food. Comfort food.
  • Curbing my work hours.
  • A nice blush wine (For medicinal purposes. Of course.)
  • Petting a cat.
  • Being with family and close friends.
  • And watching a little Lord of the Rings…

Tolkien has a way of reminding me about the real and not real parts of life, particularly the reality of Good and Evil. We didn’t get to The Two Towers (again/yet/for the gazillionth time) but what came to mind the other night was the scene between Elrond and Arlen when he was pressuring her to leave with the other elves for Valinor…


Elrond:
Why do you linger here when there is no Hope?
Arlen: There is still hope.

 I don’t hold out hope that the Leopard will change his spots and be able to govern well. I don’t expect that lawmakers who seem to “piddle, twiddle and resolve” will get anything done. (Cynical Me believes that they might of course remove health insurance from the working class, legislate who you can love, and attempt yet again to make family planning decisions for all Americans… but I digress…)

But I cling to Hope.

Hope in finding simple ways to express that I AM an ally and proud feminist. That I care about the environment and the serious burden of higher education. That I want to see all children have access to safe water sources and a good education. That racism and prejudice are wrong… and eradicating them begins with me…

I look around and see our daughters who care about their fellow humans. And I know many of their friends who are genuine, thoughtful and caring. They give me hope. 

I watch my coworkers who do everything they can to bring comfort and compassion to someone’s last days on this earth. 

I cling to Hope.

I am still angry. I am still frustrated with white women, “Christian” women in particular, who supported a man who used misogyny, bullying, mockery and profanity to win an election. But then I have to let that anger go and get back to what I must do…

Do justice

Love mercy

Walk humbly

Amen. So be it.

I don’t speak for you

I don’t speak for you.

There. I said it.

I also don’t speak for people who look like me, dress like me, work with me, worship with me, or live near me. And, most importantly, I most definitely do not speak for someone who is nothing like me!

I am just… me. A wife and mom. A hospice chaplain. A progressive Baptist. A pastor. An LGBTQ+ally (and yes — I asked and was told that I am. If that matters.)

I look like women who voted for Trump in large numbers, and that pisses me off. (White, middle class, Christian.) I supported Hillary and contributed to her campaign. I tried to influence the hearts and minds of people around me to vote for her. And apparently, I was not very good at it.

Election night, I had tears in my eyes and felt frustrated. I had no words for those closest to me who were also devastated. I heard their fears. I was distressed with them. I am deeply worried about them because of the rhetoric and abuse we all heard from Trump during the campaign. They are vulnerable because of who they are.

Here’s what I have learned in the last few days…  (Sorry it’s in bullet points. I don’t have time to create fantastic, in-depth prose.)

  • By accident of birth, education and economic status, I could fade into the Great Beyond of white suburbia. But my Calling, my conscience and my faith do not allow that.
  • Those who know me already, know that when I wear a safety pin* or a rainbow bracelet, that I am visibly trying to signal what I believe and will do. And that I want them to be treated fairly, kindly, respectfully as I want to be treated.
  • Those who don’t know me personally might think I’m posturing.
  • The dying patients I serve, as well as their families, need my focus and care. Many of them are marginalized by their race, religion or gender identity.
  • My coworkers who care for the dying with me every day are sad, stressed and discouraged.
  • My family, friends, and parishioners have real fears, hurts and anxieties because of this election season.
  • I don’t have enough money, time or energy to respond to every need around me. That means I have to pick and choose, and I try to do that wisely.
  • I am praying — fiercely — for the projected new President.** (As of this date, the Electoral College has not met.)

 

I am trying to make a difference where I am. Today. Tomorrow. Next week. Next year. In my context. Wherever God takes me.

I will do this imperfectly. Incompletely. Ignorantly. But I will keep trying.

I will  continue speak up against hate speech whenever I witness it.

I will keep learning. Growing. Praying. Reading. Listening. Serving. I’ll wear a safety pin and a rainbow bracelet. And sometimes, a cross. And I’ll try to do a better job of being an example of Christ in the world.

soli deo gloria

 

*It used to be that when someone wore a cross, they were expected to act “Christianly”. But today, the cross has been co-opted by political entities within American politics. It seems that a safety pin might better express my effort to be a welcoming, affirming and listening presence, without the trappings of a particular religious group.

**[edited to add] This does not mean he has my approval or my trust. (Bless his heart.) It means I am fulfilling a Scriptural admonishment to pray for those in authority.