Category Archives: faith

Ash Wednesday

“In many cultures there is an ancient custom of giving a tenth of each year’s income to some holy use. For Christians, to observe forty days of Lent is to do the same thing with roughly a tenth of each year’s days. After being baptized by John in the River Jordan, Jesus went off alone into the wilderness where he spent forty days asking himself the question what it meant to be Jesus. During Lent, Christians are supposed to ask one way or another what it means to be themselves.

If you had to bet everything you have on whether there is a God or whether there isn’t, which side would get your money and why?

When you look at your face in the mirror, what do you see in it that you most like and what do you see in it that you most deplore?

If you had only one last message to leave to the handful of people who are most important to you, what would it be in twenty-five words or less?

Of all the things you have done in your life, which is the one you would most like to undo? Which is the one that makes you happiest to remember?

Is there any person in the world, or any cause, that, if circumstances called for it, you would be willing to die for?

If this were your last day of your life, what would you do with it?

To hear yourself try to answer questions like these is to begin to hear something not only of who you are but of both what you are becoming and what you are failing to become. It can be a pretty depressing business all in all, but if sackcloth and ashes are at the start of it, something like Easter may be at the end.”

— Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark: An ABC Theologized

Touring Reality Check

It’s like any other tour day. I wake up as the bus rolls to a stop, the engine changing to a subtle rumble. I check my iTouch maps to make sure we are where we are supposed to be. I try to find my glasses in the dark. I keep them hanging from a cable that jets from the side of an old DVD player that acts more as an obstacle than an actual form of bus entertainment. I click on the light over my head and it cuts through the darkness like a spotlight. It could be sunny outside. It could be raining. Our bunks have no windows so there is never a sense of time. I lay there, wondering if we’re back in Central time or on Mountain time.

I complete my morning ritual with a quick read of Oswald Chambers and then I contort myself into many odd shapes to change clothes in my bunk, which I’m guessing is about 4 feet wide by 3 feet tall and 7 feet long. “So glad I have taken all those yoga classes” runs across my mind, and with pass and sharpies in hand, I crawl out of my bunk, grab my radio and a cup of coffee and then hop off the bus to start another day.

For this month, I’m helping my friend Lisa sell t-shirts for a tour, and so we’ve traveled the country on a bus full of smelly stage teach boys, handling all of the merchandising needs of the bands. My main job – managing a small army of volunteers each night, which honestly is more frustrating than helpful on some days.

In other tour posts, I’m sure I’ll talk about that, but today, I’m sort of struggling with why I’m here. I hurt my foot and so the constant walking on cement arena floors 15 hours a day isn’t helping. 10:00 arrives along with 12 volunteers. As we empty out the semi and set up the tables, the conversation consists of the normal questions: “How do you get this job?” “You do this EVERY DAY?” “Wait, you don’t live here?” “Why don’t you have kids?” and my favorite several-times-a-day-every-day question: “Do you know TobyMac?” We set up fairly quickly and it’s only a couple of hours before I send the first team on their way, and take a little break before the second.

Today is filled with visits from old friends, my favorite reason for taking these jobs. But I’m again hearing the voice from the little red cartoon character that sits on my shoulder and prods my neck with a small red pitchfork. The jabs don’t hurt, so much as sting, or just annoy. Today’s is annoying. I remember clients that are probably angry that I’m behind on all my “real” work. Catering is bad. There are roaches in our dressing room. The internet in the bus is being weird.

And as God likes to do in times like this, he whispers a little glimpse of truth when I least expect it.

The show is in full swing, and in search of a short cut to replenish t-shirts during the show, I cut through the back of the house. And I see it.

A row of probably 50 people with extreme needs. In wheel chairs. Handicapped. Mentally unstable. Physically broken. And they are visibly being undeniably fed by the music. The happiness is overwhelming. The show has reached out and put some joy in their life. I can’t help but focus on a teenage boy, handsome and athletic, who is wheelchair bound. His legs are locked in, and I wonder how long he’s been a captive to that chair. But this moment, he’s fixated. Singing praises, forgetting his hindrance and unified with the masses on their feet just below his row.

Many others are severely challenged. They have trouble keeping their head up. They are forever attached to an oxygen tank. Palsies. Mental illness. Broken bodies.

Small drops come out of the side of a woman’s mouth, and a kind patient caregiver quickly dabs her face. The caregiver then takes the woman’s hand and raises it in the air, and together they sing along “there is no one like our God.” The woman in the wheelchair was singing without making real words, with a giant smile taking over her entire face. The caregiver wasn’t in an arena. Her spirit was obviously somewhere else as she soaked in every little bit of the moment so she can go on day after day, doing the dirty work of holding the hand of someone so in need.

Throughout the night, I kept coming back to this row, and while I know there was a great spirit of God in the room, there were little miracles happening all along the wheelchair row. Miracles that give strength to many who’s lives are so much more challenging than my own. I remembered the power that music has had in my life, and I had to remind myself that to all 4000 people in the room, that power was alive and well.

And I knew why I was there that night. It takes a lot of bodies to make a tour like this happen, and if in some way my little corner allowed these people to enjoy a moment of peace, of music, of joy, then it was completely worth it.

And tomorrow, I’ll happily wrap my foot, and jump on the bus for a 14 hour drive to Iowa, ready to hit the concourse. Reminding myself that many times, what God calls me to do may have nothing to do with me at all.

Strippers Protest Church…

Oh wow. A church has been protesting a strip bar. Now the strip bar is protesting the church.

http://www.dispatch.com/live/content/local_news/stories/2010/08/09/of-ire-and-brimstone.html

I think there’s a lot to be said about the situation.

Here’s the deal. I’m a Christian, so my comment has to be directed to the church, not to the strippers. I have never had to make the decision of how to feed my kids. If I didn’t have a job and my kids were hungry, I would do anything in my power to give them what they need. I would hope I could find other work, but if not…who knows.

What bothered me about this story was the tactics of the people from the church: Every weekend for the last four years, Dunfee and members of his ministry have stood watch over George’s joint, taking up residence in the right of way with signs, video cameras and bullhorns in hand. They videotape customers’ license plates and post them online, and they try to save the souls of anyone who comes and goes.

Bullhorns? Videotaping license plates?

Somehow I’m really desperately trying to find the grace and mercy in this story.

In the piece, the pastor said that they have offered to pay the bills of the strippers to stop them from working there. Which is great, but not if you’re offering it with a bullhorn. Not if you’re tracking their license numbers. Not if you’re passing judgment and not leading with love.

I beg the people of the New Beginnings Church to look at their name. You say you’re about “new beginnings” but without love, without mercy, without grace, why would anyone be interested in the new beginnings that you’re offering?

I am thankful to the one church member, Stan Braxton, who actually went out and talked to and prayed with a protester.

It’s easy to attack people who are living on the fringe. Who are living a lifestyle that, I doubt many would question, as being not the most moral. But here’s the deal – all of us are sinners. All of us have struggles. I’m sure there are people in that congregation that struggle with lust, with porn, with food, with adultry, with pride… maybe instead of bullhorns, a better idea might be to admit their trials, and their own struggles and hurts, but suggest that there might be a better way.

It’s funny. In my life, I’ve always had much more luck with a soft spoken conversation, where I actually get to share my life’s story with someone else.

So New Beginnings Church, I offer you an idea. How about you throw a BBQ in the parking lot of the Foxhole, instead of the girls BBQing at your church. And instead of videotaping the patrons, offer them a hamburger. Instead of learning license numbers, why don’t you learn names. Instead of yelling into bullhorns, how about sitting down, share a cup of coffee and listen to the lives of these women, these patrons. That’s how Jesus interacted with tax collectors, prostitutes, thieves, saints and sinners. Somehow I think that could have a much better effect on your community.

“No one ever converted to Christianity because they lost the argument.” – Phillip Yancey. Rumors of Another World.

Sunday Song

It’s Sunday. And I give back my voice.

Magnificent
Songwriters: Clayton, Adam; Eno, Brian; Evans, David; Hewson, Paul; Lanois, Daniel Roland; Mullen, Laurence;

Magnificent
Oh, oh, magnificent

I was born, I was born
To be with you in this space and time
After that and ever after
I haven’t had a clue only to break rhyme
This foolishness can leave a heart black and blue, oh, oh

Only love, only love can leave such a mark
But only love, only love can heal such a scar

I was born, I was born to sing for you
I didn’t have a choice but to lift you up
And sing whatever song you wanted me to
I give you back my voice from the womb
My first cry, it was a joyful noise, oh, oh

Only love, only love can leave such a mark
But only love, only love can heal such a scar
Justified, till we die you and I will magnify, oh, oh
Magnificent, magnificent, oh, oh

Only love, only love can leave such a mark
But only love, only love unites our hearts
Justified, till we die you and I will magnify, oh, oh
Magnificent, magnificent, magnificent

Good Saturday Sabbath

Good Friday…so little to say is good about it.  Hope is gone.  A friend and savior has died.  There was a terrible storm, and something happened to the curtain in the temple.

And it says in Luke that Joseph of Arimathea – a rich follower of Jesus – went to Pilate and asked to give Jesus a proper resting place.  He, Nicodemus and the women, including Mary and Martha, gathered the body and with the military guards buried Jesus in the tomb, and then they all went to their homes.

Continuing on Mary and Martha…Luke 23:56 “Then they went home and prepared spices ad perfumes.  But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.” (TNIV)  The Message Bible says “Then they went back to prepare burial spices and perfumes.  They rested quietly on the Sabbath as commanded.”

Quietly?

I realize this is a different time and a different culture, but it’s hard for me to wrap my head around the discipline that states that even though your future is suddenly in turmoil, all that you thought was true might not be as you believed, this personal – spiritual – political power that you had dedicated your heart to has suddenly been taken away.  You were along to watch as the body was placed in the tomb, the stone rolled in front of the doorway, and the guards were standing in their formation.   Even though all of this just occurred…

For the next 30 hours, you are commanded to be quiet – Sabbath.

Though the world is in upheaval – Sabbath.

Though you may not have prepared food for the day, as the day was spent burying your friend – Sabbath.

Though you want to scream and hit something – Sabbath.

I like to think I’m a modern woman.  And thanks to some circumstances, I do have to be in control of my own life.  I have to own my issues, my faults.  I don’t have a partner in this whole thing.  So when my world falls apart, I have had to become wired to learn to fix it.  To take matters into my own hands.  To stay up all night working and striving and re-planning my next steps.  I also get off on endorphins, so when the world starts caving in, I go for a jog, or to the gym, or I kick the crap out of a pillow.

But no.  Sabbath.  It’s not about you.  When the world is caving in and it looks as if all you strived for, all you believed in, all you needed is gone.  Sabbath.

When I want to scream, “it’s not fair” or “this isn’t what I signed up for” or “what the hell was that all about.”  Sabbath.

When I most feel compelled to let my adrenaline kick in and go take on the world Braveheart (or I guess more Joan of Arc) style.  Sabbath.

This concept is so foreign to me. The essential of quiet, of realizing that I’m not in control.  It’s so against my American mindset.  All my friends know that for me to disconnect from my MacBook, Blackberry and iPod is virtually impossible.  I use the excuse that I’m self-employed and need to stay connected.  But if I truly believe that God is in control and I need to listen and trust and hear his heart, then I have to Sabbath.

If I don’t turn off the noise, how am I supposed to hear?

What did the women do on this particular Sabbath?  Sit in stunned silence?  Pray?  Sleep?  Listen to their heartbeat as the seconds turn into minutes and a day feels like eternity?  I would think they might have hoped that Sabbath would last forever so they wouldn’t have to face the unknown days to come.

But if I listen hard enough on the Sabbath for a still small voice to lead me, I think it would take me on Sunday at daybreak to see an empty tomb and hope rising again.  And I did nothing to earn this hope, I just had to believe his path is true.

Shabbat Shalom.

Ash Wednesday

Preface:  I am stealing this idea from my dad.   He forwarded me the article and told me that he was going to do his Ash Wednesday service on this concept.  I love it.  So great job to my dad for coming up with the concept…I wish I could hear his sermon tomorrow – but here’s the idea…

Last September, the island of Samoa – with its 180,000 inhabitants, decided to change from an American style of driving (cars on the right) to a British style (cars on the left.)  This was to make it easier for people in Australia and New Zealand to export cars into their country.  How does one completely change an entire country’s driving habits?

Preparation.

The country widened roads.  There were large media campaigns.  And the country declared a two day national holiday starting the day of the switch to reduce traffic.  No alcohol was sold in the country for the 3 days before, and the day prior (a Sunday) churches had organized prayers for driver’s safety.  Speed limits were temporarily reduced.  A few speed bumps were added.  People’s minds were changed, and thus, their habits were able to change as well.  This was a well thought out process.

At the appointed time, 6:00am on Monday morning, the police minister went on the radio and told all drivers to pull over wherever they were.  After a few minutes, he explained how to make the switch to the other side, step-by-step, inch-by-inch, and as scores of onlookers cheered, drivers moved to the other lane.

And the first day, not a single accident occurred.

Isn’t that a little of what Lent is?  As we were chatting about it, my dad said, “It’s not about changing your direction, it’s about changing your lane.”

Easter requires preparation.  I have to get my mind reset.  My heart.  I have to declare a holiday from things in my life that clutter up my path.  I’m still going in the same direction – but if changing lanes helps me better understand the miracle – the mystery – that is Easter, then I need to do whatever I can to be ready to receive.  And, still moving forward, still running the race set before me, I bet the road will look a little different, and hopefully a little clearer from the other side of the road.

“Create in me a pure heart oh God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me…” Psalm 51:10 (TNIV)

For more on Samoa’s driving change:

http://english.aljazeera.net/news/asia-pacific/2009/09/200997231022247340.html

http://article.wn.com/view/2009/09/08/No_glitch_in_Samoa_driving_switch/

Gardening 101

I’ve never been much of a gardener, but I enjoy believing that I, in fact, have that amazing gift where anything that I plant in the ground will grow into the most amazingly beautiful, large, colorful plant that anyone has seen.

This could be partially because I never have more than a window box or a few containers and brightly colored flower pots to make the horticulture attempt.  This year began with a few interesting looking flowers, some basil, sage and cilantro.  Much to my surprise, I learned that cilantro doesn’t particularly like the hot summers of Nashville, so that particular model died and fast, crispy death.

The sage followed suit, but I’m not sure what I was thinking planting sage in the summer, because I don’t really make anything during the summer that warrants sage as an ingredient.

(My dad is a teeny bit obsessed with cooking during the holidays, and he taught me how to make his age old, tried-and-true stuffing.  It starts the night before with the ceremonial drying of the bread, followed by a morning filled with chopping celery and onions, a heap of sage and lots and lots of butter.   Seriously, this sage stuffing can kick your stuffing’s ass…just being honest.)

At some point during the summer, I was at the Home Depot and noticed a sale on a few plants.  One being some sort of a vine-like plant with purple flowers that appeared to have had a hard childhood.   My nurturing nature was in full gear and I bought the little plant for $3, bound and determined to bring it back to it’s glorious early self.  I wanted it to awaken its little plant soul and have it become confident enough to explode into a wave of color.

Well, it didn’t.

I need to give my little porchmate credit – I travel a lot.  I don’t really know how to do things like “pruning” and I’m a little bit sketchy on the “watering” part as well.

A few other plants have died and started over on their own, and often I think that I should replant them in a larger container – the obvious choice being the home of this purple plant.

However I just can’t bring myself to do it, for even in it’s dried out desert, there is still little glimmers of life.  Take today for example.  Amidst all of the branches that have been dormant all summer, consistently there are one or two beautiful, colorful blooms that adorn my porch.  And these little glimpses are just enough to make me want to cheer on that little plant just a week or two longer.

exhibit a.

exhibit a.

Maybe I can just relate.  Maybe this plant is showing me that there is always hope, always life in the world around me.    No matter how dire the situation, there’s always the chance to see life start anew.

No matter how messed up someone’s life may seem, I am still required to look for the best, to cheer on the positive in their lives.

Maybe it’s a show that even a little bit of color can change your whole outlook.

Maybe this is a reminder to me of days past where I felt like my situation was broken and beyond the help of God, but in the end, his promises are always honest, and his mercy is great.

Maybe it’s a metaphor for the state of our world today, a reminder of the positive work that is happening when it comes to the world’s atrocities like genocide and trafficking.

Or maybe it’s just proof that I’m simply a really bad gardener and this makes me feel better about not fostering this poor plant out to some loving, green thumber at a local plant rescue.

No matter what, I’m still keeping the plant, and maybe giving it a little more attention, some plant food and some extra love.    Maybe over the next few days I’ll see a few people or situations that look a little like this plant as well, and I’ll take the time to give them a little nurturing as well.