Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Advent Practice: Sobriety

I don’t want to be the girl who has to fill the silence;
The quiet scares me, ‘cause it screams the truth.
~ Pink, Sober

Simplicity and sobriety are hand-in-glove.

I, being a lover of fun and silliness, am using a less stale & serious definition of sober, choosing the following qualities: practicing moderation or self-restraint; refraining from excess or overindulgence; calm, quiet, composed; rational, realistic; free from exaggeration or speculation.

When you practice sobriety, it’s not that you never indulge, but rather that you exercise restraint – knowing your limits and the effects on others.

When you practice sobriety, it’s not that you are never boisterous, but you also do not fear silence and solitude, recognizing that quiet moments can feed the soul.

When you practice sobriety, it’s not that you never contemplate the what-ifs in life, but you don’t allow those prospects to anxiously control your present experience.

We all have our strengths, our preferences, but just as introverts need community, extroverts need solitude. It may take a bit more effort if it is not the environment that energizes you, but it is necessary to keep your spirit in balance.

Sobriety is recognizing when you are isolating and need to get around people, to practice community.

Sobriety is also recognizing when you are spending too much time in the company of others because you don’t want to have to sit with your thoughts – to listen to yourself, to listen to God.

Sobriety is recognizing when you are dragging your feet and it is time to act, to take a chance.

Sobriety is also recognizing when you are rushing around doing everything you can to keep from being still and abiding in the Spirit.

Sobriety is living in reality – reality of your situation, reality of your resources, reality of your life.

When we practice sobriety, we are freed to practice simplicity because we are not trying to bury reality under piles of material, emotional and spiritual stuff.

When we practice simplicity, we are freed to practice sobriety because we are throwing aside those things that keep us from seeing the path we’re on as it actually exists.

It’s a chicken-and-egg scenario, really.

So, as we inch closer toward the celebration of Christmas, as the winter solstice ushers us into the path that leans day by day toward light, in the waning twilight of Advent, may we take an honest look at our lives, a deep breath, and a heartfelt prayer, and may we step forward in the joy that each day is enough.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Advent Practice: Simplicity

Originally shared December 18th as part of Eikon Church’s Advent service:

A few weeks ago, I was snuggled up on the couch with my Mom watching a Hallmark Christmas movie starring Kristie Swanson, the ORIGINAL Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Swanson portrayed a single mother at the end of her rope, doing the best she could to provide for her children and keep some joy in the midst of their less-than-meager holiday season. Early in the movie she was in a rush to get to her job and get the children ready for their babysitter when one of the kids asked for something to eat – I can’t remember, maybe a pizza or something delectable. What I do remember is Swanson reaching into the cabinet, pulling something out, and exclaiming joyfully & wide-eyed: “We’ve got ramen!”

My mom and I lost it with laughter, tears rolling out of our eyes, breathless from the humor of it all. My stepdad stared at us in justified confusion. The children in the movie were not impressed. They groaned. Seriously? Ramen? Could life get any worse?

My mom and I laughed because we knew there was truly life after ramen. That there was even, hard as it was to be believed, life WITH ramen. Even ramen back when it was 12 for a dollar. Even ramen when it had to be split three ways because pay day was still a day away. Even ramen when the DOG didn’t want to eat ramen anymore.

Now, the reason I was watching this movie with my parents is that I am back living at home, diligently paying down my debts. Somewhere between ramen, student loans and financial independence, I lost track of what it looks like to live within my means.

Not that I was living extravagantly, mind you, but a month would get tight and I’d put some necessities on my credit card. Clothes wear out, and a modest shopping spree would go on my credit card. A well deserved vacation to visit a friend who lived far away? You guessed it, on my credit card. An unexpected vehicle expense, an unexpected move, an unexpected fill-in-the-blank… on the credit card.

As I was living in community, I didn’t quite notice how much I had become a slave to the credit cards and their debt interest until I was faced with the need to live on my own again, and I realized, while possible, it would not be very practical. So, here in my 30’s, I returned home to free myself from debt’s chains and learn once again what living in simplicity looks like.

Excerpt from Richard Foster’s Freedom of Simplicity:

Contemporary culture is plagued by the passion to possess. The unreasoned boast abounds that the good life is found in accumulation, that “more is better.” Indeed, we often accept this notion without question, with the result that the lust for affluence in contemporary society has become psychotic: it has completely lost touch with reality. Furthermore, the pace of the modern world accentuates our sense of being fractured and fragmented. We feel strained, hurried, breathless. The complexity of rushing to achieve and accumulate more and more frequently threatens to overwhelm us; it seems there is no escape from the rat race.

Christian simplicity frees us from this modern mania. It brings sanity to our compulsive extravagance, and peace to our frantic spirit. It liberates us from what William Penn called “cumber.” It allows us to see material things for what they are – goods to enhance life, not to oppress life. People once again become more important than possessions. Simplicity enables us to live lives of integrity in the face of the terrible realities of our global village.


If simplicity were merely a matter of externals, things would be quite easy. We would then need only to formulate the system (no small trick to be sure) that defines the boundaries – Christian faithfulness would allow us to live in this income bracket but not that one, to purchase this house but not that one. We would have a clearly definable arrangement, even if it would need periodic adjustment to keep abreast of inflation. It would be clear who is in and who is out, who is faithful and who is not. Presto, a new pharisaism. Very fine, thank you.

Sometimes I genuinely wish it were that way. And I have no desire to speak disparagingly of the many groups who have developed such systems. In fact, I envy them at times, because the clarity of that approach has immense power to motivate and change behavior. But as we all know, its end result is bondage and death. The letter always kills; the Spirit alone gives life. Gospel simplicity gives freedom and liberation.

The outer expression of simplicity must flow from the inner resources. It is learning to walk in the Spirit that builds the life of purity, unity, and grace. There is an inwardness that is central to our task; without it all is lost. We delude ourselves, however if we think we can possess the inner reality of simplicity without its having a profound effect upon the way we live…

Life is a journey, and we are often not at the wheel of control.

Mary certainly did not anticipate the sudden changes that came into her life, and the journey that laid ahead.

The more stuff we have cluttering up our lives, the less ready we are to keep moving along the journey – especially when change and chaos and transition come on the scene.

Old blog post from Dave Bruno, 3 Consumer Justifications That End in Crap:

There are at least three excuses those of us with too much stuff use to justify our excess.

It would be wasteful to get rid of it. Uh, no. It was wasteful to get it in the first place. Now it’s just plain stupid to allow it to keep cluttering up your life. What’s wasteful is the mental and physical space that the stuff you don’t need and don’t even want is taking up. Stop wasting your life. Get rid of the crap.

I might need it someday. The moment this justification passes your lips you know it’s not true. Seriously. Here, try this experiment. Go into your garage, find that box you haven’t opened in a decade, dig inside of it, and pull out that graphing calculator. Now go stand in front of a mirror and, speaking out loud, convince yourself that you might need it someday. Liar, liar, pants on fire. Get rid of the crap.

It has sentimental value. Then why did you bury it in the closet? Besides, you don’t even like the uncle who gave it to you. The nostalgia you’re really missing out on are all the good times you could be having if you weren’t constantly reshuffling stuff inside your garage and closets. Get rid of the crap.

One thing is for sure. If you use these three justifications to keep loads of stuff, at the end of your days you are going to have, well, loads of stuff. Do you want the end to be filled with crap? Purge the things that are messing up your house and dominating your material and spiritual space. Then go live a joyful life that blesses others.

We are all at different places in our journeys, and we all have different amounts of stuff. Some of us are good at keeping the clutter at bay. Some of us are drowning in projects. Others of us can fit our possessions on our backs.

As Foster alluded to, the “crap” in our lives that we need to get rid of, is often internal.

Maybe we’re holding on to or storing up material stuff because it is filling an internal need we have not addressed.

But even if our internal struggles are not linked to external indulgence, they can still weigh us down.

What are you storing up?

What is weighing you down?

What is holding you back?

What do you need to release for your heart to be open to change, to transition, to the unexpected?

Is there hurt, bitterness or resentment for which you need to offer forgiveness?

I don’t ask that lightly, because I know it is a difficult process – but it is one I have walked through and would be willing to talk with any of you about. When we refuse to forgive – when we refuse to release the hold another person has on our life because of the pain they have caused us – we are the ones who carry the burden.

Are there unrealistic expectations you have for your life or someone else’s that you need to let go of?

Life has to be lived in the here and now, as it exists. That doesn’t mean we have to give up hopes or working toward dreams – but we can’t live in that place – in how life should be or how life was. Simplicity asks us to live life in the reality of now.

Are there anxious thoughts you’re storing up because they give you some level of control? Let them go, and be willing to take your journey one step at a time.

What are you storing up?

What is weighing you down?

What is holding you back?

What do you need to release for your heart to be open to change, to transition, to the unexpected?


(click through to listen to Madison Greene's Departure)


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Jolly Old St. Nick, patron saint of prostitutes

The story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is one of the most disturbing in all of scripture.

In short, two angels come to the city of Sodom to warn a man named Lot that God is going to destroy the place, and that he and his family need to leave. Lot shows them hospitality & invites them into his home to stay the night. All the men of the city show up in a mob outside of Lot’s home and demand he send the visitors out so they can rape them.

Then, one of the most disturbing speeches in all of scripture:

“No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.” (Genesis 19:7-8)

Look, angry mob, I have two virgin daughters – you can do what you like with them…

In my last blog post, I highlighted how women who may not have been up to “True Love Waits” sexual purity standards played a significant and integral role in the incarnation story.

In this post, I’m mourning how little value has been placed on women through history, and specifically their ownership of their bodies and their sexuality.

But the story of Saint Nicholas tells a vastly different tale.

It is said that St. Nicholas, an orphan to whom was left much wealth, used some of his inheritance to save three women from a life of slavery to prostitution. Their father was poor, he had no money for a dowry, so the women would be unable to marry. If they could not marry, they would be sold. The legend goes that St. Nick tossed bags of gold through the window of the home until each woman was assured in marriage.

Sure, it is still a story of women being bought and sold, but in this case - a dowry for marriage places greater honor on the woman than being sold into sex slavery.

These days, women are still being bought and sold – pieces of property of little worth to society. It’s not just in other countries, it’s not just in bigger cities, it is happening in our own backyards.

As we celebrate St. Nicholas on his feast day, may we lift up prayers for victims of sexual abuse and human trafficking. May we explore ways we may have a hand in supporting organizations that work to alleviate sex slavery. And may we look at ways that we can speak worth and love and joy and peace into the lives of individuals we encounter every day. May we take the time to remind them they are wonderfully made in the image of our Creator, and no one has the right to do with them what they please.

(IMAGE: Masaccio - St. Nicholas Saving Three Sisters from Prostitution)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Lay Lady Lay

"Every woman learns to bleed from the womb, and we bleed to renew life every time it's cut down... It ain't no hassle, no, it ain't no mess, right now it's the only power I possess; These businessmen got the money, they got the instruments of death, but I can make life, I can make breath!"
~ Ani DiFranco, Blood in the Boardroom

This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:

Abraham was the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar,
Perez the father of Hezron,
Hezron the father of Ram,
Ram the father of Amminadab,
Amminadab the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,
Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,
Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,
Obed the father of Jesse,
and Jesse the father of King David.

David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife,
Solomon the father of Rehoboam,
Rehoboam the father of Abijah,
Abijah the father of Asa,
Asa the father of Jehoshaphat,
Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram,
Jehoram the father of Uzziah,
Uzziah the father of Jotham,
Jotham the father of Ahaz,
Ahaz the father of Hezekiah,
Hezekiah the father of Manasseh,
Manasseh the father of Amon,
Amon the father of Josiah,
and Josiah the father of Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon.

After the exile to Babylon:
Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel,
Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,
Zerubbabel the father of Abihud,
Abihud the father of Eliakim,
Eliakim the father of Azor,
Azor the father of Zadok,
Zadok the father of Akim,
Akim the father of Elihud,
Elihud the father of Eleazar,
Eleazar the father of Matthan,
Matthan the father of Jacob,
and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.

Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.

(Matthew 1:1-17)