Thursday, April 25, 2013

Breaking Bread

Some of you know that Jill and I open our home every Thursday night. Through this painfully long winter season, the weekly coming together to share soup, break bread together, and connect with whoever shows up has been an incredible experience. It sounds simple and we have tried to keep it at that, but before we meet tonight, I wanted to address a few things for those wondering about it.

What unspoken pretenses do we have with our Thursdays? I want to spell out that there are none. It's not an attempt to replace someone's Sunday church-going experience (for those who attend), just as it is not a covert operation that welcomes all to let their guard down only to be brought into a surprise Bible study. This is no bait and switch going on. 

We feel that this is just one intentional opportunity (to go along with the many unintentional ones) during our week for us to share our lives with others. Communio is a Latin word that looks a lot like community or communion in English and it means "coming together".  While I feel that this is something that Jesus spoke often about, I also honor the fact that others who come might be hungry for Jill's delicious food, eager for a chance to be heard, and looking for an unscripted occasion to be themselves around others who wish the same.

While the menu might eventually migrate towards a more Summer-friendly dish, we hope to continue to 'come together' throughout the year. As always, you are welcome. Just as you are encouraged to speak with Jill or I anytime about any questions that you might have - be it what can you bring or where we stand on a particular topic.  Thanks for the opportunity to share and for those who show up or have visited our place in the past, thank YOU for your part...we are always equally encouraged and challenged by you as well.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Who would follow this Jesus?

I am tired, but not the kind requiring more sleep. Maybe weary is a better word for this feeling I have had lately.  In the not-so-distant past, I have angered and frustrated people close to me, which honestly has taken a lot out of me (and I am truly sorry for the hurt feelings, but equally thankful for the loving common ground we eventually found). Granted, much of it has come via Facebook, stemming from a growing desire that begs me to ask questions...not so much out of doubt or a lack of faith, because I also desperately love the Church...but BECAUSE of my faith.  My journey has sent me searching - not so much for concrete answers, but for the opportunity for the right questions.

Today, I feel as though I have more of an idea what faith, love, and hope look like than during any time regularly attending church in the traditional Sunday morning sense. That used to sound horrible to even consider, but as my family has taken a sabbatical from Sunday morning, generations of Puritanical guilt have washed away to show some bedrock beneath.  I still love Jesus.  I love my family. I am still capable of loving and serving others.  I pray.  I gather with others and share the love and hospitality that I feel called to. 

This morning, whether you are one who considers yourself a follower of Jesus or not, I encourage you to think about who He truly is...and maybe more about who He isn't.

“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.” (Is. 53:2)

No other place in the Bible gives a glimpse at the physical description of Jesus. Yet just this one passage when held up to the body of work depicting Christ is puzzling to me.  Why a beautiful (sometimes frighteningly scary), white, blue-eyed Savior?  Is that what we have needed?  Isaiah isn't saying he was grotesque, but he was not an attractive man.  The closest depiction I could find of a Middle Eastern Jesus was this one:

Olive skin, shaggy beard, brown eyes... if THIS Jesus returns today, would more people be liable to call him in as a terrorist?  Why do we easily embrace 'Jim Caviezel Jesus' (from Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ), instead of one who more accurately looked like Osama Bin Laden?  I do not need a handsome redeemer. His life, His words, and the Story are enough. 

Today, I challenge you to clear your mind of the images that you have of perfect, beautiful Jesus. Resonate on the things He did. The words He said.  Reflect on the truth that He preached through word and deed - 'Love your neighbor as yourself'.  For some, this will require you to look in the mirror and love yourself first...or perhaps you will need to find yourself by stepping outside your comfort zone and loving others.  The challenge for each of us is to love.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A marriage story

There's been a lot of commotion on Facebook these days about the upcoming election - especially with polarizing topics like the marriage amendment on the ballot.  I even had a friend of mine post today that she had just deleted all of her friends who had "liked" Mitt Romney's page! I can't say that I haven't considered hiding all of my friends who post so passionately about he or Pres. Obama, but I've got another direction I'd like to go.

Since most days I don't have the time or energy to battle over Facebook, I choose to tell you all about a couple friends of mine who decided to break the rules and get married instead. 

After keeping their love largely a secret (for fear of persecution and judgment in their small town) they chose to make the biggest commitment by getting married.  Even the few friends and family who knew about their relationship tried to talk them out of it, because of the ramifications it would have.  You see, their home state was one of those old rarities that not only didn't recognize their union, but maintained that it was a criminal act.

One day they went on a road trip to a different state and came back with rings and had their proudest achievement under their arm to hang on their bedroom wall - a legal certificate of marriage.  At no time did they triumphantly stick their relationship in people's faces who disapproved, nor did they judge those who used the Bible to tell them that they were an abomination.  In their eyes they were meant to be together and didn't see why a law or others opinions had anything to do with it.

Fast forward seven months to 2am at their home.  A brief knock on the front door was quickly followed by a group of police officers entering their room.  Acting on an anonymous tip, they had come to arrest them.  Knowing this day might come, they pointed to their marriage certificate and were then led out like thieves in handcuffs - not even allowed to share the same squad car to jail.  Their day in court eventually found them guilty, but the judge allowed them to waive their sentence if they moved out of the state.

After leaving their home and families behind, they moved to Washington D.C., the only place where they felt they could fight their fight and be heard by their home state.  Six years after their arrest, a  petition was heard by the court of appeals, but to their dismay the ruling was upheld.  A year later, the Presbyterian Church heard about their struggles and publicly stated that the church found "no theological grounds for condemning or prohibiting marriage between consenting adults..." This set about a chain of conversations that eventually resulted in their case going to the Supreme Court, who a year later said that "Marriage is one of the "basic civil rights of man," fundamental to our very existence and survival...."

Oh wait, you didn't hear about this case?  It's probably because Mildred and Richard Loving had this monumental court case decided against the state of Virginia in 1966.  You see, Mildred was of American Indian and African heritage and her husband Richard was white, which was against the law there.  There were many God-fearing people at the time who believed what they did was against their faith and would lead to Armageddon and a host of problems, but the courts of our great country eventually saw those reasons as not nearly as important as a basic citizen's rights.

Many see this upcoming vote as one that must include one's personal comfort level or religious convictions.  I argue that to maintain the very freedoms that were fought and died over, we must give those very freedoms to all - including those who you may disagree with morally or otherwise.  If not for constitutional rights (which we all should hold to) for the common courtesy of allowing two consenting American adults to do as they choose.  There does not have to be a gay agenda. Just a human one.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Can I beg the question?

I was challenged last night to write an hour a day and I am going to see what comes of that here.  Thanks for hanging in there with me as I continue to sift through life, my questions, and each day's blank page.

I have never been afraid of controversy.  In the heyday of my youth and immaturity I partnered  this with my sarcasm and antagonistic side just to feel smart. There was something deeply powerful about being able to corner others in conversation and take jabs that eventually could lead to me feeling like the funniest (if not also the most intelligent) person in the room.  Truth be told, a lot of this came from my early years in church...where within the safe circle of "Christian Minnesota Nice" you can say just about anything you want as long as you do it with a smile and a little humor.  My friends in the South have a similar out when they follow up with "Bless his heart". 

A poignant moment happened to me in a Sunday School class that quickly turned from Q&A to an open dig session on why every other church/youth group in town wasn't up to our level.  It wasn't until my family quit attending that I began to realize how elitist and weird much of what I thought being a "good person of faith" entailed.  Did my faith have to be more than what I felt it needed to be?  Who writes the rules?  My course has been forever changed by these thoughts and instead of being frustrated I now am thankful for the wandering feelings and general lack of direction.  I have learned that the trap game in life (and certainly religion) is believing that you not only know best, but your "right" is righter than all others.

Instead of debating to win, I have begun to choose my moments when I want to beg the question.  Sometimes I can't help but stir the pot and I do so knowingly, but other times I am awestruck by the emotion that comes of a seemingly simple thought or question.  I can say with 100% certainty that my words do not come from a lack of faith...nor out of doubt...or even from a bored need to rile things up.  Frankly, I am afraid of those who do not question anything anymore. There is a  false sense of security that comes from being closed off to unspoken conversations, believing in a misguided elitism based on their interpretation of faith.  We all have witnessed the pendulum swing back and forth during this political season, but where those debates can reach a stalemate, religion has an unfair trump card that can change any conversation.

It honestly pains me to even type it out, so I will just give you an example about what I am referring to. Person A says something about their faith that Person B disagrees with . Person A raises their questions to Person B's methodology.  Person B can't come to grips with the differences and the doubt ("I thought this person thought the same as I did"), so in an attempt to protect themselves, they play "the card" in their mind. A subtle switch quickly takes place. Person A must no longer be one of "us", but "them" and can be subjugated to the lost pile with all the crazies, mystics, and left socks.  In environments such as these by raising questions, Person A somehow broke an unspoken rule of faith.  To question is to doubt. To doubt is to not truly believe. This "weakness" cannot be encouraged.

I say all these things to show you where my heart and head are going. Not into a lost world of faithless chasing, but with love...with hopeful certainty.  By embracing questions (and those who have been placed outside of society's various circles), I know that I am getting ever closer to the heart of who I must become.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Burning Crosses...

A little over a week ago in Bemidji, a mother of biracial children walked out her front door to see an eight foot high burning cross in her yard.  Instantly polarizing and garnering widespread media coverage, the local police force were forced to address this as a hate crime (they went on record as saying that this was more than likely teenagers who don't understand the deep implications of something like this).  This is Northern Minnesota after all, not deep south clansmen could someone do something to disturbing and hateful? 

The masses who need "in your face moments" like these to jolt them from their daily lives are deeply unsettled to say the least.  Others pass it off quickly, believing it's just an overblown prank.  I have had a few people locally and beyond Bemidji ask me my perspective and I think it's about time I gave it in written word.  About this act, I think that it's a terrible, hateful, and horribly misguided act.  To invoke images of cloaked bigots who not only burn the most recognizable symbol, but degrade entire races to subhuman ranks is something that will have a ripple effect forever.  How does a family sleep soundly knowing someone who knows where they live isn't just racist, but could take it this far?  What would stop them from throwing bricks through their windows or burning their house down as they slept?  Is it really that far fetched?

The part that I have gotten a little flack for already is that I am not shocked that this happened.  Don't hear me incorrectly.  I am outraged, disgusted, and saddened by this eventt  To assume that I might be immune to these feelings or calloused, simply because I don't act surprised is false.  "After all, Matt...I thought that YOU, more than most people would be upset by what was done...being that you do what you do and all..." Sidenote: Even though I always take that question as a compliment, I have never found an appropriate response to convey my disgust with that genuine, but poorly thought out question. Choosing to work or serve the way I do isn't about having a rare genetic heart condition that lets me love unlovable people or wear special glasses that open my eyes to the daily problems of others.  It's a daily choice to see others not just as a fellow human being in my community, but as someone on my level who has just as much to share and teach me about life and love. Once your heart is wide open, the blinders and stipulations have to go away or it isn't love.

So...away from the sidebar moment and back to what brought me out of my blog hiatus.  The burning cross. Hate.  I went on Bemidji craigslist's rants/raves section to see what the anonymous ranters were saying about it, since they are never one to hold back.  Although there was a lot of banter about their assorted viewpoints on the welfare system and those they saw in the community who were abusing EBT, not one mentioned the burning cross.  I expected to see some outrage at best or even some support of it at worst, but nothing.  Know what I DID find though?

hangouts lgbtq (any place)

Date: 2012-05-17, 7:25PM CDT
Reply to:

Just want to know if there is a place where lgbtq peple can hang.

A fair question, right?  For those who don't know, LGBTQ is the acronym for Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender, and Queer.  It's not a secret homosexual underground codeword for perverse parties.  It's a simple way for the marginalized to find community.  Here was the only response...and one of the (many) reasons why burning crosses are not at the top of my disgust list.

Re: hangouts lgbtq (any place)

Date: 2012-05-18, 4:33PM CDT
Reply to:

Ideally they could hang from the trees within the State Park, but the rafters of BSU would probably be strong enough too.

Seriously?!!?  Sure, this is an anonymous response to an anonymous question, but man...hateful.

So, it got me thinking.  How do we begin to make a change for the better?  We can't just punish the isolated incidents.  Social justice work and tolerance education in the school systems isn't cutting it either.  Years ago, I adopted "Be the change you want to see in the world" as one of my life quotes...and even THAT doesn't solve much.  Want to know what jumped out at me when I begged for some insight?  We all burn crosses, daily.  Before you dismiss this thought, stick with me for a few minutes. 

Our local Wal Mart is one of the highest selling stores within their organization. Bemidji, Minnesota!  Is that because we are a booming metropolis?  Nope.  Maybe because there are not other shopping options nearby?  No, again.  Perhaps it's because cash-strapped people within a hundred mile radius are funneled into the biggest of big box stores to make their money (including EBT) stretch the furthest.  It should be noted that included in that hundred mile circle are the three largest American Indian Reservations in the state, even though their dollars help bring in much-needed revenue.  I hear more people complain about "all the Indians in there" and I see even their most minimal purchases being checked at the door by staff, while I can roll through with a wave and a "have a nice day".  That's a burning cross moment.  I can't let that fly.  I vow to no longer allow myself to walk through unchecked and when I have my bags checked, I will voice who I typically see them stop and ask if they know what profiling is.

Burning crosses can be subtle, uncomfortable words or actions.  You know it's wrong and that "something" should be said or done, but you know that if you wait a few seconds the moment will pass and you can move on. We can walk away from that friend who just lumped all of a people group into one "lazy" designation.  Any time we hear the words "those people" being mentioned, we can stay silent or even nod and change the subject.  Our circles can continue to be influenced more by our comfort level and maintain (with some exceptions perhaps) an acceptable minimum level of diversity in color, sexual orientation, religion, or economic standing.  It's all easier.  Call it Minnesota Nice.  Blame it on your Scandinavian roots.  Some of us can even bring Jesus into it, as if a follower of Christ should actually keep their mouth shut when they see injustice!  I am not immune.  I voice words I shouldn't.  I slight my brothers and sisters or avoid them entirely. 

My community. My friends. My family.  Let's open our eyes to these things. Stop feeling guilty that these things happen.  Don't use isolated incidents as coffee conversations, where the emotion fades as quickly as the cup cools.  The next hot topic thing will surely come and distract you just before you ever did anything about the last one.  Let's train ourselves and each other to do something. Anything. Always in love, but in the moment and with an objective perspective that comes with honest reflection.

Friday, April 22, 2011


Today is Earth Day. I am humbled.

The root word of humble and human is the same: humus: earth. We are dust. We are the created.

But today is also Good Friday- the remembrance of God taking on human form, limiting Himself even  in His unlimitedness. He put on the flesh of mortality over His immortality and accepted all the pain and grief of humanity. He submitted to betrayal and was killed by it, labeled a total failure (in our terms) on a common cross between two thieves.

That is a humility and love beyond what my finite mind can comprehend.

I find comfort in remembering that even Jesus, knowing His great purpose, asked that He might be spared all of this. And the answer He got was NO. But what seems a NO  from man’s point of view is often the essential prelude to a far greater YES. The Resurrection, the healing, the promise of life is God’s YES to a broken humanity and groaning earth.

The earth really is groaning, isn’t it? We have leeched its precious resources, consumed ruthlessly, not just for the good of humanity, but for despicably gluttonous purposes. We do not share with all  God’s children. Many are starving or thirsting to death while we feast, while we waste. Shouldn’t  environmental stewardship be the natural response to the love God has shown us? Shouldn’t it be a celebration of the bountiful gifts we are given?

Maybe Earth Day and Good Friday are different expressions of the same thing: remembering who we are, being humbled by the greatness of the gifts we are given, the dirt beneath our feet, the promise of wholeness  Jesus offered that day.

I’m planning my own garden. I can hardly contain my excitement for all things green and alive after such a long winter. In some small way I am taking on the charge to co-create with my God. It’s my art- my expression of thankfulness that out of  such brokenness, out of mere dust, springs Life.

Today might be steeped in death and pain, but it is only the prelude. It is Good because we know the rest of the story.

Friday, February 25, 2011

My beloved wife speaks...

I heave. Startled. Eyes burst, but the night’s dark still covers the room, like a sheet protecting it from dust, those bits of grit and earth and all signs of death and life that settle heavy on our surface. And in my eyes. Burning eyes.

I remember to breathe again. Funny that I could forget, the covers all drenched in sweat. And I remember, through dust in eyes and clammy skin, that I am awake. Dreams are such strange things, really, if they can be called ‘things’ at all. Reality in layers, in and out of time, hopes and fears become mind pictures, colors, flashes. Stories not bound to laws of nature. Finally, untethered, I have a moment, in sleep or not I don’t care much, to consider the invisible, to rearrange the stars, to awaken, terrified of the unthinkable or stare into the face of an unknown beauty… only to be thrust back into pillow next to clock. I despise that clock.

From the depths of me, something shouts, “Awake, O sleeper!” and here I am, eyes a little wider to let in even the smallest reflection of light. Three little bodies sleep silently. Thank goodness. Their chests rise and fall to a steady rhythm of grace…

Whatever grace is. I want to know. Not a definition, but a state of being I can somehow enter into, receive, drink so it becomes a part of me. I have been a grace thief lately, seeking beauty instead of pain, blurry-eyed I gasp, inhale, crumple to earth. Repeat. I’m looking for sanctuary in moments of awareness, those moments where the sun streams in and transforms the dish suds into domes of light, so full of brightness they wobble, about to burst, colors magnified like an entire rainbow full of the promise of life… All of this and the breakfast dishes, too.

I am seeking the fullest life that births out of the darkest emptiness. You know, THAT emptiness. My comrade in all my wandering. The thing (or lack of) that drives me to keep looking. And the looking always comes first. The looking before the finding. Like Moses, who "kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible." (Hebrews 11:27) I only recognize my places of emptiness after tasting God's fullness.

I am trying to practice looking at life differently. I notice, now that my camera has become an extension of my own two eyes, the significance of small details. Focus and click…Details. Little graces. The ones I miss in all my impatience. Like right now,  children arguing, nonsense songs piercing ears. Please! Just five quiet minutes! I guess grace isn’t quiet today. I sigh.  I’m looking for a sanctuary in a moment like the one when I actually take notice of the rainbows floating in the sink. Oh, did  I have you fooled into believing I am an ever graceful person who sees beauty in scrubbing the toilet, too?  Hardly. I wear my ungracefulness loudly in my tense shoulders and sharp words.  I can’t seem to hold onto the grace-filled moments long enough.  I live my life in those dream layers, in circles, discovering, entering into, forgetting and losing, finding my way round again to another layer, peeling it away, and then, startled awake (or back to sleep), it is gone. I empty of truth and need refilling. Another crumple to earth. 

I have ‘chronic soul amnesia’. I didn’t make that up. I’m reading a book called ‘One Thousand Gifts’ by Ann Voskamp and it is kicking my lazy, ungrateful butt. She named her disease and I have claimed it as my own. 

Hand to chest, pounding wildly. But the house is silent. I wonder if God is trying to get my attention.  I convince myself during the chaotic day that if I could just find time to be quiet before my Maker, I could maybe hear his voice. I didn’t really have the middle of the night in mind… but here I am.  Stars poking holes in the dark so the truth God painted in the galaxies can seep down in moonlight on my window pane.

Life comes out of the dark places. 

I feel like a wanderer. I know my husband, deep in sleep next to me, feels it. I am so thankful we’re on this journey together. I don’t deserve the love he gives me every day. There it is again- grace.  But now I feel it dripping down from the heavens in drops of beauty.  It soaks through to my soul and I sit in it. I’m painfully aware that I need to pay attention to the details during the day, when the kids are pulling at my leg and jumping off the kitchen counter and I want to pull out my hair. I miss too many moments, too many graces. And I resonate with a question in this book-  how long do I have to figure out how to live full of grace, full of joy, before my children fly the coop and these mothering days fold up quiet?

So I will focus, and click.

Because I cannot live in only those picturesque moments- I am no Walden recluse, or Alexander Supertramp- I am going back to those little bodies. Back to the world full of broken and suffering people, the world that is loud and busy and whirring round and round- orbits full, blurring. All these things lean hard into me all day. Me with chronic soul amnesia. Me who is too easily distracted from the fierce beauty that rages clear and powerful and loud as a thunderclap. 

I lay back down and close my eyes, thankful...for these moments...and all of the messy ones in between.