Granny bought a Polaroid camera somewhere around 1978 or 1979. We thought it a magical experience, to take a photo and have the image slide out and come to life as we watched. They said that it developed faster (or was it more evenly?) by waving it back and forth like a paper fan. Granny called each family unit together to sit in and around the orange and brown striped velour recliner. Every Christmas, each group took their turn, and then all of the grandkids sat on the green sofa and spent another sheet of the film. Two packs captured the whole gathering time–present opening, family photos, and a few extra images because one of the cousins took a turn without permission. 20 images.

Because of those photos, I can scan the room outside of the white frame and see the orange bulbs on Granny’s plastic window candelabras and her tree with the same ornaments she used every year. I see my cousins and their parents. I hear them. My grandfather’s voice, my aunt’s specific laugh, the rise and fall of conversation at the farm table in the kitchen. The smell of cigarette smoke sneaking into the familiar and singularly distinct smell of Granny’s green beans simmering on the stove, and turkey and mashed potatoes and corn and the celery and onion in the stuffing.

Because of photos from the Kodak Instamatic we used at Nannie’s, I remember who sat around the dining room table in her tiny house. I can hear the porcelain bell ringing, calling us to the breakfast feast. Angel biscuits, sausage, bacon, scrambled eggs. On Dad’s side of the family, lots of older cousins provided me with people to look up to and emulate. I watched how they dressed, how the older girls wore their hair, how they talked to one another and to us younger ones. I remember them like that, how the photos in old boxes show me.

663b49e1-4202-4fe4-8f59-0ca92de74d3aA few years back, maybe six or seven years ago, I realized that my Polaroid and Kodak images likely didn’t match the memories and photographs of my immediate or extended family. Or my school mates in grade school and high school and college. Or in the churches we’ve served. Or how my children took in their childhood.

Standing there in a therapist’s office and grasping this truth was both liberating and sad. Sad, because I had not known or understood that any shared memories weren’t experienced in the same magical way. Liberating, because I was able to release the persons in my memories to be who they are as growing and evolving humans, as individuals with their own photographs.

My daughter bought a newer version of the Polaroid last month. I look at her photos and recognize in a fresh way that it’s just a piece of the whole, like any photograph.We take photos to remember, to mark the time so we don’t forget. We pull them out later. We laugh, perhaps mock our fashion sense. Or we cry and make note of a gift that was and is no more. I pray for a wide grace for photos I keep close. May I hold a grace wider still for the people in them, for the ways they perceive things, for the memories inside the frame, for the realities outside the frame, and for the host of things provoked at the sight of the images.


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I took the lid off the belt box that my grandmother used to store her nativity set. The scents of Nannie’s house still live in the box. Every year when I open it, I wonder if it will be the year that her house is replaced by our own house smells. With every movement of the tissues, a gentleness from my grandmother and all of the memories of her and her home rose up to my olfactory sensors.

A melancholy washed over me. I found myself tearful, though not fully crying, while I dug in the old papers to find each piece. The globe on my buffet served as the imaginary cave-turned-stable. In my mind, I carried on a conversation.

The first order of discussion was to acknowledge that the wise men were out of place, technically speaking. Historical documents place the arrival of the magi from the East nearer to the two-year old Jesus. I don’t have a ceramic rendition of toddler Jesus.

I positioned the three kings alongside the shepherd and his sheep, because, I reasoned, isn’t that like God to mix the wise and learned with what society and culture labels ordinary and outcast? My makeshift stable-place was getting crowded. All of the dirty animals and the unclean shepherds and the robed wise guys would have to lay aside any concerns about class distinctions.

Yes, I know that the baby Jesus nestled in the ceramic straw doesn’t make his entrance until December 25. Oh wait. I mean, later in the story, Jesus is born. But I placed him there anyway, right under the globe, an offering maybe. Or a prayer.

I gave the angel a post behind the animals, a quiet overseer and centurion to the sacred things unfolding in the world. Behind her, two doves hover on and over the communion chalice. img_4400

These placements mean something, I said. To myself, of course, and inside my mind. And I prayed for the world as I turned the globe so that Africa and Asia faced me. It’s all so fragile and full and broken and rich and tired and sad and frightening, I thought.

But, I went on, it’s Advent. This week carries Hope. I choose hope, I said. I choose the reality of the womb of a singular woman carrying the hope of the world. It’s ridiculous, I sighed. Joseph’s hand belongs on Mary’s shoulder, and I nudged him as close to her as possible to let him be a part of the mystery.

I imagined my grandmother’s hands handling the same pieces of the nativity. I imagined something holy being held together in the box and under the globe, something holy held together within me. In hope, I prayed out from Palestine and around the world.

Come, Lord Jesus.

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Two Steps

Popular culture presents us with a list, anywhere from three to ten steps/ways/things/equations/fractions/measurements/gluten-free/paleo/vegetarian recipes. Fix your marriage, know he’s/she’s the one, kick the sugar habit, train your dog, sell your house. Simple, just follow the click-bait formula. A yearning exists within us to step up on top of something and say we conquered it, to arrive somewhere and then be content.

I love it when patterns show me how to produce a specific outcome. I like a good list. I keep a notebook for fresh ideas and maybe even a new plan for making things happen. Marking off completed chores  gives me immense satisfaction. It works in business models and financial plans, in calculus and architecture, in gardening and baking.

Everyday life didn’t get the memo. There is no reasonable level to which it agrees.

Some days, boy, we know the names to take and kicking butt comes natural. We are brave and true, Steve Rogers fashion, all gallant and noble and just. We stand up tall as the beloved ones, filled up in our skin with the fullness of Christ wrapped around our bones. We don’t cuss, don’t chew, don’t date the ones that do–and just because we feel the rightness of it all, not because we are minding some confounded rule to avoid guilt and shame. We are killin’ it, we’re in the zone. We check boxes off like we ate some Wheaties and took a spoonful of sugar.

But some days. Man. The serotonin isn’t trekking through the wires. Junk settles in the lungs. Another person barrels over everything without asking. It’s budget day. The grip you had on the handle of this or that slips out of reach. Someone’s kid–yours, mine, and ours–acts like a punk. A diagnosis. A failed test. An argument. An accident. Miscommunication. No communication.

What then? No formula or list or set of steps contains enough magic eraser to Mr. Clean that shtuff. I’ve tried, and forgive me if I’ve offered a fix for you at one time or another. Lord, have mercy.

On a soul level, I believe with the core of my being that ancient practices–which fit the bill as lists or steps–center a soul in the crappiest of days and seasons. My breathing regulates in returning to tried habits:  practicing disciplines of feeding on the truth from God’s heart to mine, of meditating in stillness, of putting my hands to service and plain manual labor, of fasting, of confession, of doing the hard work of community. No matter what, I don’t think I can afford to relinquish these particular steps, these liturgies. Not to fix myself, but perhaps of far greater and longer lasting value, to walk into a mending.

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My dad used to say, “Every day is a good day.” He said it as a capper, like the pieces of bread to his sandwiches, like some salve on the top of a scrape, like a ribbon to hold the thing together. He said it with specific cadence I can repeat for you if you wish. He said it, and I think he prayed it to be true. He counted it faith for one such as himself who didn’t see and yet believed. I never asked him, though I wish I had and could, what prompted him to keep repeating it.

Maybe, as in his then-nouveau idea of iced coffee, he preceded the pop culture list makers with a two-step process of his own. Step 1–look for the good, in spite of it all. Step 2–live in gratitude. I’ll add it to the ancient liturgies that help me breathe again.


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Now: Post-Election 2016

This time one week ago, I found myself wandering about, making my chores happen, giving myself to my responsibilities. My eyes were glazed over. A heaviness rested on my chest, like my collection of elephants had come to life and gathered to roost right there. Before I even put my feet on the floor that morning, my phone alerted me of texts coming from friends. They asked for prayers of peace as they headed out into the chaos–chaos that they had known and felt at gut levels just by one tiny peek at social media, which revealed hateful language firing in volley fashion back and forth across the nets of division we have crafted in these days.

I felt like we had entered a twilight zone, a non-reality reality. All that day, tears stayed near the surface, threatening to spill out. The only time they peaked was when I voiced, in text form, to my immediate family that I was proud of them. My heart swelled and beat a little faster when I typed an exhortation, that the work of their hands must not be silenced by naysayers. I told them that it can’t be minimized how needful is the hope of the good news which they carry in their beings and which pours forth wherever they place their feet.

After sitting in safe places to speak, circles where people allowed me to cuss and express my concerns without judging me; after inviting to sink into my own skin the reality of fresh waves of hurt, questions, and confusion washing over some of my friends; after giving space for the lament of people who exist in experiences different from my own; after grieving the un-Christ-like ways in which we behave, all in the name of the Christ we profess to follow—after all of this, I continue to return to the ache I felt on the day after. I return to it.

I am listening and leaning into it. I don’t want to hold the sting and nurse it like a wound that serves as a weapon of manipulation for distorted purposes. But I will hold onto the sting, keep my chest cranked open with my heart exposed.

I want to be available to the humans behind the issues that galvanize us.

I want to pull up a chair and sit at the table, to listen and seek to understand the narratives of another.

I am no longer allowed to be quiet in the presence of subversive racism, bigotry, misogyny, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia; nor can I stand silent in the noise of overt versions of the same.

I am called to usher in shalom where there is a lack of understanding and where fear has the first and loudest voice, to help disseminate the fear and get to the root so that mended and tended and fortified green and vital beauty can grow.

Above all, I believe God longs for the fight in me to be in a forward gear. No longer can it be a burning in my bones for some coming glorious day when I (finally) find courage to care less about the approval of people and give the most damns about the work of reconciliation.

This time a week ago, I experienced a stunning, a jolt, and a grief. Not because of who won and who lost, not at the core anyway. It runs much deeper and stretches out further than that; the fractious tones and tensions in all of the rooms tell us so. But above the chaos and hateful rhetoric from both sides, I heard and continue to hear something else.

If I believe that the Kingdom of God arrived when the waters of Mary’s womb rushed to seep into the soil of Palestine, if I believe that the Kingdom is here and now, that it exists in me and around me and seeps up out of the dirt where I live right now at such a time as this, then my call is as clear today as it was before the ballots gave their shout. Now is the time. Now is the time to engage like I’m spending my last dime, bleeding my last drops, extending any grace or love or mercy I have received and extending it like the one receiving it will die without it.

Processed with VSCO with a6 presetmy purpose statement written in the front of every new journal, for Now

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No more of this

When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?”  And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.  (Luke 22:49-50)

How often do we do this?  Do I do this?  Ask the question, sword drawn, and in my eagerness, I don’t wait for the answer. I swing the blade and slice off someone’s ear. I wonder how often I stand near Jesus as something unfolds. My eyes and heart take in a limited portion of the scene. My hand itches to pull my knife and take matters into my control.

I don’t pretend to knoimg_4253w the best answers to the questions facing our nation in these days.  Entering the dialogue about politics means risking a drawn sword from broader culture and, worse, from fellow church people. It’s damning. This mars the witness of the Body of Christ more than the laws set in place by our government on any given day or year.

We often fear the wounds outside of the church doors, but the arrows flying among our own provide wounds enough. It proves difficult to stand shoulder to shoulder for the sake and centrality of the Gospel when our swords are drawn about political differences or doctrinal stances. Dividing lines across denominations and within our members keep us indeed divided.

I am not suggesting that we forfeit our convictions, nor set aside the desire to maintain religious freedoms in our country, nor relinquish our hopes of a great nation. There is no call to acquiesce our firm convictions about a doctrinal bent or a political bent.

But my heart’s deepest cry begs for something more, something better. In light of the tensions here, and in light of the horrendous actuality of wars and bloodshed elsewhere in the world, I believe we can do better than lashing out and maiming. I believe we are better than surrendering to impetuous sword slinging. When the general atmosphere is charged with hypersensitivity, fear, anxiety, apocalyptic dread, we can still pray radical prayers, still offer a love that changes people, still move at the impulse of God’s love.

To treat each other with dignity and respect in light of (maybe even in spite of) our differences speaks a better word to world that watches how we live out the faith we claim. To love as Jesus loves requires a strength beyond what it takes to draw a sword on a fellow human formed in the image of God. The love of Christ takes precedence, and this–this ridiculous, scandalous, unrelenting love–drives us and shapes us and purifies us.  And it is what heals us.

But Jesus answered, “No more of this!”  And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.  Luke 22:51





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