Relief

It’s strange how sometimes the human brain (or perhaps the human spirit) is able to cordon off the darkest of our fears, creating a pen for them so that we can function. They’re still there with us, never far off – but there are times when we can forget them, if only long enough to get a job done, tuck the kids into bed or be present for a loved one who has needs and fears of her own.

Sometimes, the pen works so well that we forget just how dark our fears actually are – until they erupt, a maelstrom of tears, shouts, pain and violence. And sometimes, there’s a day like today.

For several months I’d worried over the knot in her little abdomen, alternating between quick furtive touches and thoughtful caresses, like someone probing a new cold sore with her tongue. Each time I felt it under her skin, the nerves in my fingers screamed a single fear throughout my consciousness: cancer. Then the memories would flood in: finding the lump on Bartleby for the first time; hearing the vet speak my fear into reality; watching him waste away; after the final decision was made, watching him seize as the drugs worked death through his body; the mournful cries of his playmate as she grieved him each night once he was gone.. Would our Shelby, our fur-child, go out this way too? It hurt too much to think about, so all that fear, all those memories were slowly herded into the pen. Without realizing it, I became numb.

Today, at her annual check up, I finally mustered the guts to ask about the knot. The vet probed the spot, his expression darkening. A few hinges on the pen began to twist and complain. He examined her from multiple angles, following the knot to where it originated on her belly. The pen’s crossbeams splintered. Then, with a smile, he announced two surprisingly beautiful words: umbilical hernia. Like rainwater tearing through a drought-cracked creek bed, relief ripped through the pen, washing all the stored up emotional debris out into the light. With a very confused dog in the passenger seat, I cried most of the way home.

Shelby doesn’t have cancer, she has the canine equivalent of an outie belly button. As I smile about that almost whimsical revelation, I’m also stunned by how much this blessed relief hurts. How numb had I forced myself to become if good news is this painful? At the same time, I marvel at the strength of the spirit within us – that we are able to cope with things like this and things far worse. And in this recuperative wonder, I sit with a sleeping Westie curled beside me, thanking God for every breath she has left.

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Words that Reveal – Words that Conceal

Words have always fascinated me – just as much for what they cover up as for what they reveal.

For example, there are lots of words that some Christian folk use for ideas and people who challenge their traditions or beliefs.  I’ve read some of these words recently in the comments left on Amazon about the books of the Where’s the Faith? series as well as in the comments section of friends’ and colleagues’ blogs.  Words like “unChristian” and “unBiblical”.  Phrases like “slippery slope” and “lukewarm”.  In a comment about our Oh God! book, one “reader” (I use scare quotes primarily because I am skeptical about whether or not the commentator actually read more than the introduction to the book) went as far as to state that we had produced a “good handbook for incurring the wrath of God.”

Well, damn.

Statements like that hurt, and for a time I found myself grieving the fact that anyone would rub the wrath of God in our faces – we who had come together to write a book that was honest and real and raw and faithful.  I mean, we knew that our approach to sexuality would tick some people off, but comments like that wounded nonetheless. Yet, now that the hurt has worn off a bit, I find myself wondering what those comments are really about.  Are they words that reveal?  Or, are they words that conceal?

I’m inclined to think that they are the latter.

If this is indeed the case, what in the world could such hateful and hurtful statements be hiding?  On the face, they seem designed for the primary purpose of revealing our sinfulness (with a secondary purpose: hurting the god-less authors and putting us in our place).  But as I have sat with these words, listening to them echo off the surfaces of my mind, I’ve noticed something at work that is akin to sonar: as the words bounce and reverberate, they provide valuable information about what exists hidden in the darkness (both within ourselves/myself and within our accusers).

If we listen carefully, these words betray the presence of the very things they are designed to conceal:  fear and pride.

This is not to say that any one of us (myself very much included) isn’t periodically off course  and in need of someone to help us find our way back.  Sometimes we are blazing a new trail that seems inconceivable to those who have come before us (or who cannot see beyond their own context), and other times we are simply wrong.  But regardless of which position we may find ourselves, the fact remains that someone who wants to help us back on track doesn’t do so by insulting or hurting us.

Those who hurl epithets and judgment like bricks, those who almost gleefully lash out and brand others with a searing “H” for heresy, those who post scathing blog comments or send sanctimonious letters have no desire for the wholeness of the other – those of us who do this to one another are mostly trying to hide our own uncertainty, our own fear that we might not be as thoroughly right (or righteous) as we pretend to be.

Instead of engaging the ideas and the people who challenge us, so often we give in to the temptation to lash out.  It is far easier to boldly pronounce “blasphemy” than it is to enter into that vulnerable, risky space where dialogue happens.  Dialogue is sometimes perceived as “dangerous” because it always contains the possibility for change.  The other folks in the conversation might give us new insights or help us to see that we’ve been holding onto a faulty assumption.  They might sway us with their logic or convince us that we don’t yet have it all figured out.  Rather than take this chance, sometimes we reject dialogue outright and insist that our way is the only way (and then commence with destroying those who are different from us).

That may very well be pride at its worst.  When we look down our noses and wish damnation on our neighbors or enemies (or when we revel in our certainty that they are hell-bound, ignorant, unenlightened, etc.) our own pride has pushed us so far from all things Christlike that the ways we are “right” no longer amount to much.  For even though we may be correct on the finer points of doctrine or the meaning of a portion of Scripture, when we prance about without humility or love for neighbor and enemy, we have missed the point.

I’m still working out what all this means.   I don’t have all the answers by any means.  But I want to shed my fear and my pride.  I want to be in dialogue with you, even if you think I am lukewarm, unBiblical and unChristian.  I want to be in dialogue with you, even if I think you are ignorant and mean-spirited.  Chances are good that we are far more (and far better) than our biased opinions of one another.  We may never change each others’ minds, but we can love each other and pray together that God will make us whole.  And part of that relationship, part of that process requires using words that reveal instead of conceal.

May the light of Christ shine upon and within us as we learn to love each other more deeply, differences and all.

Failure & Fear…

A few months ago I set what I thought was a reasonable, attainable goal.  I wanted to blog at least once a week, every week.

As it turns out, I haven’t been very good at that.  In fact, I’ve failed outright.  My last post was at the end of April – four months ago!  If it’s possible to have an epic blog fail, this is probably one of them.

So, what happened?

It’s definitely not that I haven’t had things to say.  I’ve had several “blog worthy” ideas fermenting in my head, as well as numerous encounters/experiences that have helped me to see or experience the Divine in new ways.  I’ve seen Jesus walking around all over the place, so there’s been plenty to write about!

I could easily explain this away with the phrase: “I’ve been busy.”  But that’s a cop out.  While I have indeed had a full plate – camps and mission trips and retreats and meetings and vacations and planning sessions – I’ve still had plenty of time that I could have used to write.  And I squandered it…or ignored it.  Whichever it was, in the end it is all the same:  I didn’t get it done.

Some friends would hasten to my defense, but this isn’t about beating myself up.  Rather, it reflects some serious soul-searching that has taken place amidst the no-blog-writing and full-plate-having of the last four months.  In past years I’ve noticed some things about myself, and this blogging thing (or not-blogging thing, as it were) is really just an example of a larger pattern.

What’s really going on is this:  I’m afraid.

I am afraid of what I want most:  being a “real” writer.  I fear I don’t have the chops for it, don’t have anything worthwhile to say, don’t have the discipline or mettle to do the hard work required to get it done.  And, counter-intuitive though it may be, having two books published this year is what really brought these fears up out of the depths of my self.  There was definitely a swelling of joy when the Oh God! book came out, but that initial joy was quickly replaced by panic as speaking requests started to trickle in.

In that wave of panic, I just… stopped.

But my whole self is tired of this self-imposed holding pattern.  Simpler though it may be to avoid my fears, even my body seems to know that I’m not the best Lara I can be if I’m not reading and researching and writing.

So, this is me ripping off the bandaid.  In the weeks to come, I think I’ll be writing about “biblical origami” and some musings on the imago dei.  They are the two topics I’ve been thinking about the most as of late, though I’m certain other things will come up as well.  What I’m really hoping for is some accountability as I try to learn some discipline.  If you haven’t “heard” from me in a few days or weeks, shoot an email my direction and remind me that I need to write.

Because I do.