What I Learned in June

I can’t believe it’s been exactly 4 weeks since school let out.  I’m grateful for more than 4 weeks left of summer.  Here’s what I learned in June… the silly, the serious, and everywhere in between.

1. Doing massive purging in my closet is empowering. I heard about the capsule wardrobe a month before school let out, and I’ve been working to sort through all the items that I’ve held onto needlessly since then. The aim was to create less stress. And it worked. Here’s a picture of all of my clothes, summer, winter, and in between.  It feels wonderful to have it in one non-crammed closet!
capsulewardrobe
2. Summer allows for discoveries, big and small. Frozen cherries in granola? Yes, please.
granola
3. There is an awesome dog-sitting site (rover.com among others) that matches your dog with a rated, qualified dog-sitter instead of leaving them in a kennel! We are pumped about Lucy’s vacation when we head over to Hungary for Christmas. Oh yeah, we’re spending Christmas in Hungary this year. Currently looking for some good snow boots.

4. Prayer is less about eyes closed and meditation, and more about daily rhythms, acknowledging God’s presence as I fold laundry and feel the sun on my arms and sit next to JD at church. I recently read Pray All Ways by Edward Hays, and it has made me think about prayer in the ordinary movements of my day (chewing my food, laughing, etc.).

5. I grew up in and out of the houses of my extended family, and I used to be sad about growing up because I was afraid that I wouldn’t have good relationships with my family as I got older. When my mom told me that she didn’t talk to her cousins very much, as a 10-year-old looking forward to a sleepover with my own cousin, I was devastated. I knew adulthood would be the end of all fun. But that hasn’t been the case. While we’ve grown up and moved all over the map, it’s been wonderful getting to know my cousins as adults and having grown-up conversations with my aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Relationships don’t have to end when they change.
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6. In the heated political climate and the violence all around us, I’m grateful for big picture people like this pastor, the loving work of Jeremy and others at Preemptive Love, hard yet needed words by Rachel, and the people closest to me that speaks words of life not just on Facebook but also in person.

June has been a historic, rainy, full month.  What have you learned?

On Questions

JD and I recently led class at church during our study of James. We got the excerpt from James 4 that talks about the danger of making plans without taking into consideration what could happen between now and tomorrow. At first, it seems a little doomsday considering making plans about tomorrow is good business sense, but it taps into the fickleness of life–the anything could happen at the slight swerve of a steering wheel, a trip to the emergency room late into the night, a downsizing decision in your company, etc.

This seemed pretty standard to what I had read about this passage anyway. But then James asks a question:

“Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (TLV).

What kind of question is that? What is your life?

It reminded me of a poem I teach in British Literature, one of my favorite poems of all time because I identify so much with the speaker, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot.

Prufrock asks a lot of questions in this poem. He alludes to an “overwhelming question” that he never gets around to asking, but he asks other questions, that don’t seem so overwhelming, except for overwhelmingly tedious. He asks things like “Do I dare disturb the universe? Do I dare to each a peach? Shall I part my hair behind? How should I presume? Would it have been worth it?”

These questions tell us a lot about Prufrock, even though we don’t get his answers. They tell us he’s extremely self-conscious. He’s paralyzed. All of the questions are passive, pre-action questions. They’re not questions like, ‘Why did I do that?” or “What was I thinking?” They are questions from the sidelines.

This question in James, “What is your life?”, functions in the same way. Just asking this existential question shapes our identity because it forces us to confront the brevity and unpredictability of life. It forces us to consider the meaning of life, of our life.

How we answer the question informs our actions, our plans (such as going to the market tomorrow), and our worldview. What is life? What is the purpose? Why am I here? Who am I in relation to life?

But we have to ask it first. We have to look in the mirror and see the vapor reflected back at us, and ask, “What is my life?”

Encountering this reality of the brevity of life, of the fickleness of the world can seem stifling, paralyzing (I’m telling you, we’re all Prufrock), and perhaps at first it is. But it’s liberating as well. The pretenses are off, the masks are put aside. The levies and bluffs are broken down. In this state, we can move into the open-handed surrender that James goes onto to describe as the logical course of action.

Because the Spirit is like the wind, and she moves where she wishes, and you don’t soar on the wind with tightly-clenched fists or holding onto things. You have to relax your body and open your hands, and be picked up. This open-handed surrender is not giving up, it’s a transferal of power. It means we don’t worship the plan or the pretenses or the image.

We throw caution to the wind because the Spirit is the wind.  What is my life?

Ode to My Parents: Adventure

My youngest brother recently moved out of my parents’ house and into his own apartment. We were all very proud of him.

So my parents were left with a big, beautiful house, an empty nest. They had moved around the DFW area for years, housing their kids and pups, hosting family celebrations, creating family movie night extravaganzas (like the weekend that we watched all the Harry Potter movies), preparing a bed for JD and me when we returned home.

Once the last kid was out the door, they moved to a downtown apartment up the street from some of the best food and entertainment venues. Mad respect.

This move represents so much: joy, hope, a newness of life. A willingness to embrace the season they’re in. My parents get to have a whole new life together (they married as infants). Something I’ve always admired about my parents, and something I hope to inherit, is their ability to reinvent themselves, to start over, to forge a different path.

ParentsRafting

My dad has had successful careers as a salesman, a football coach, and now a real estate agent. My mom has been finishing her college degree the past couple of years, and she genuinely loves school. On the way to dinner the other night, she had class notes in her lap to review, and I heard her say, “Why is supply and demand so hard?” She was studying economics on the way to Tex-Mex food! Who does that?

Mom and Dad take what has been given to them, and they do something whimsical with it.

My parents are cool and strong and brave. They’re adventurers, and I hope to be like them.

MyCuteParents

The Problem with Putting God First

Put God first. It’s a refrain that echoes in my memories of youth groups, retreats, safe-for-the-whole-family radio, pulpit rantings, and my journal entries repenting of placing God second.

You would think that if God wanted to be first place in our lives, He would be a fiercer competitor. You would think that if God wanted to hear, “Congratulations, you win! You get first place!” that He would be better at this competition. I mean, He’s God. We shouldn’t have to shove Him into the lead or give Him an advantage.

While this phrase is well-intentioned, meant to encourage people to evaluate their values and how they spend their time and money, it’s damaging the way we think about how God interacts with us.

The problem with putting God first is that it puts God in a ranking system. It puts Him in a system where He has to get ahead somehow–the God who said the first shall be last. We are saying that God–the one whose son washed grime and donkey feces off his friends’ feet, ate with the lowest ranking members of society, remained friends with the very man who would bring about his death, and bled out on a piece of wood–wants to win our human systems and be number one.

It’s understandable for us to think of God in this way. We live in a capitalist culture. We see honor in and give respect to those in first place. First placers are winners. Second placers are the best losers. So trying to place God in our systems of thinking is the natural result of living in a culture where the consumer has the power, the advertisements bombard consumers daily to influence their purchases, the one with the most money is the best, the nature of competition is that it drives up the standards of products, and the fittest survive. But this is not Kingdom thinking.

In the Kingdom, those who bully their way into deals do not win. Consumption is not mindless or a passive accumulation. Those in competition do not become better–they actually die of exhaustion and psychopathy. The least fit–the children, the orphans, the widows, the homeless, the mentally ill, the outcasts–are the ones who survive.

God doesn’t operate in the world’s systems. He is not a capitalist or a socialist or a libertarian. He is a subversive hippie, an anarchic leader, a paradox. He doesn’t play Caesar’s games or jump through Pharisaical hoops. He doesn’t demand that we follow Him. He doesn’t demand first place because He doesn’t compete.

The consequence of placing God first is that we become neurotic, paranoid statisticians, constantly evaluating our decisions to make sure they reflect that God is in first place of our lives, and beating ourselves up that He’s not, unaware that He is not anyone’s first place. Because what does that even mean.

God is the King of an upside down Kingdom, one that doesn’t make sense in the systems and governments we know. God cannot be found on the winner’s pedestal because He is in Creation filling the fields with flowers and blowing like the wind. He is in the flavors of the food at our table and the laughter of those around our table. He meets us in the mirror in the mornings, in our flowerbeds, in our bedtime stories, in our standstill traffic.

Though achievement and productivity are the stimulants that keep us running for worthiness, we have to set those ideas aside when it comes to the Sovereign God interacting with us. God’s story is not a linear ascent to the top.

He doesn’t want to be first. He wants to be with us.

Communion Thoughts: The Original Prodigal Son

Every once in awhile, JD and I are asked to give some thoughts before the Lord’s Supper at church. They typically have something to do with the table as a liturgical practice, but they also recognize the function of the table as a communion outside of the church building. I want to record them on the blog because they are something that JD and I have worked on together to put into words. And words go on the blog.
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“Do this in remembrance of me.”

Jesus said these words at a table the night before his death.

A few chapters before, Luke recounts a story that Jesus told of the Prodigal Son. Though “prodigal” is often used synonymously with “wayward”, it actually means “wastefully extravagant; having or giving something on a lavish scale.”

In the story, the Prodigal Son is a man who deserts his home to spend his inheritance wastefully and extravagantly, bringing shame on his family. But when he returns home, to his humble surprise, he is welcomed, celebrated, and given a place at the table.

Ironically, Jesus, too, is the Prodigal Son–he has given lavishly, he could be considered wastefully extravagant, giving his life and dignity to us, for us.

He did this in the hope that we, too, would come home, that we would sit at the table in the place left for us.

So this charge by Jesus, “Do this in remembrance of me,” is twofold:
1. We are remembering the place at the table for the original Prodigal Son, Jesus.
2. We are remembering the places left open for those who we hope will come home, who have a place at the table. There will always be room here for you, for me, for Jesus, for our brothers and sisters returning home.

Table