Time to come clean…

writing notesIt’s time to come clean.

I’ve kicked around explanations and excuses for weeks, and I just have to admit it.

I got lazy.

I haven’t gone this long without publishing something here on the blog for almost two years. Even when I was in a dry spell, I was trying to find interesting content to link, or at least pull something out of the archives to re-post.

But since about the end of July, I’ve found precious little time to update my little corner of the interwebs. Wait. Strike that. I’ve had time. I just haven’t been motivated.

I’ve been writing long enough to know that these extended bouts of unproductiveness happen from time to time. But to be honest, this time has been different.

Every time I’ve tried to sit down to write something, I’ve allowed distractions to creep in and steal my attention & focus.

It has been a busy and eventful few months. I got to spend the summer working as a ministry intern at a traditionally African-American church in the heart of one of the whitest cultural areas of the country. I learned and grew a lot during my time there.

About the time that gig was wrapping up, I accepted a part-time job as the director of youth & children’s ministry at another church in my area. I never really saw myself going back into youth ministry, but it seems like a good fit and, even though I’ve only been at it a few weeks, I feel a genuine connection with the students, families and congregation.

I also busted my hump by loading up on extra hours during the summer term so I can finish my master’s degree in December. The heavier-than-usual workload took some adjusting on my part, but hopefully it will be worth it to finish things up a semester ahead of schedule.

But even with all the work that has gone into those endeavors I still have to admit that my failure to keep the blog updated is due less to busyness than to laziness. And so, not for the first time, I’m trying to jump-start and get things rolling again.

I think part of the problem is that I sort of lost focus. I had begun to drift into what can be a dangerous area for writers. I had started to think I needed to write about things people wanted to read.

If I’ve learned anything from my time in the blogosphere, it’s that writing to your perceived audience is almost always ultimately a dead-end road. It causes you to over-think and makes you hypercritical. And it rarely has the desired effect.

What experience tells me (and conversations with other writer friends bears this out), is that I’m at my best when I just write what I need to write, whether I believe anyone else wants to read it or not. The best I can do is invite you along for the ride and hope you find something that connects, that inspires, that breathes life into something you, too, may be wrestling with.

So that’s my goal. I hope my rants and rambles will find a place in your imagination and help you give voice to your own thoughts and dreams.

Let’s conspire together again.

Peace,
Joe

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Worship or warfare? A tale of pens and swords.

Feather sword and letter

You may have noticed that I’ve been in a bit of a rut lately.

As a writer I’ve learned that sometimes we go through these dry spells. Times when it’s just really hard to process and coalesce any thoughts that seem worth articulating.

It’s not that there haven’t been things I’ve wanted to write about. In fact, I have about a dozen rough drafts saved in a folder on my laptop. Stories I’ve started to write but couldn’t figure out how to end. Most of them were responses to occurrences where it seems the church is failing to seek justice and act mercifully in light of current events.

But somewhere in my effort to write pieces that try to critique in a helpful way, I crossed a line.

When I read through those rough drafts, I don’t find the voice of someone searching for truth and justice. I find the voice of a self-righteous jerk.

I find myself becoming exactly the kind of Christian I was criticizing.

And so I had to try to step back and take an honest look at what I was doing.

And in reading back through all those unfinished, unpolished, discarded drafts, I started to see a pattern.

And behind the pattern I found the problem.

Somewhere along the line, my writing stopped being an act of worship.

One of the scary things that happens when your creative work starts to get noticed is that, well, it gets noticed. And getting noticed carries the weight of expectations…those you perceive from your audience, and those you place on yourself in response to that perception.

My best writing, or at least what I consider to be my best writing, is the stuff I write that comes out as an expression of how I’m experiencing something of the divine. It’s the stuff that articulates a deep relationship with Jesus…whether that comes through a day on a trout stream or a season of wrestling with difficult scriptural texts or a conversation with another human struggling to navigate life on planet earth.

It’s the stuff that takes a hard and honest look at what we’ve become as a church and tries to find a way back to The Way of The One.

And that’s worship. When we pour ourselves out in love and awe as a result of how we experience the reality of Jesus.

It doesn’t just happen in gilded buildings on Sunday mornings. It happens when we hand a homeless man a dollar or a cup of coffee. It happens when we give up a Saturday afternoon to help a mom & daughter move out of an abusive household. It happens when we fix meals or build houses or buy toilet paper for people who, for whatever the reason, can’t do it for themselves.

It also happens when we stop to hear the morning songs of the birds in the trees, when we listen to grandparents’ stories of their youth, and when we watch four-year-olds eat ice cream.

And for some of us, it happens when we make music or mold sculptures or paint images or even write sentences and paragraphs that express a reality we can’t explain any other way.

If the pen is indeed mightier than the sword, it can’t simply become a sword. It must serve a higher purpose.

So that’s what I’m trying to get back to.

Writing is a gift, and with it comes a responsibility. It’s not a weapon to wield in the destruction of opposing ideas, but—hopefully, at least—a conduit by which I can help you connect to your own unspoken realities.

Yes, at times that requires honest critique. If the church is to be a vehicle for justice and mercy in this world, it must be open to regular and constant self-assessment and adjustment. Our abuses usually come out of sincere desires to help, but sometimes we get in our own way by putting the wrong things first.

And this is where you come in. I need you, my readers, to keep me accountable. To keep the right things first.

It’s easy to get on a bandwagon when you connect emotionally with a particular argument or issue. It takes deep discernment to find the most helpful, loving, transformative ways to create dialogue.

Our goal should be communication, not condemnation.

Worship, not warfare.

Sometimes the bar, why, he eats you…

A snippet from my latest piece over at The EcoTheo Review, and the iconic clip that inspired it:

emptycreelNobody wants to read about my bruised toes from hiking too many miles with untrimmed nails, or the times I’ve busted my ass on snot-covered rocks, or the hours of sweating through nettle-filled underbrush that goes along with getting off the so-called beaten path in order to experience those transcendent moments.

But sometimes, “sometimes the bar, why, he eats you.”

The truth is, those moments when everything comes together, the ones which fill our memories and the ones we tell stories about, those moments are the exception rather than the rule.

Sometimes, you just get skunked.

Most of us, when that happens, find a way to wax philosophical about the whole thing.

Our power to rationalize is indeed formidable.

But mostly, it’s bullshit.

Read the whole article here.

But first, a word from The Dude (insert obligatory language warning here):

 

 

Here is the church, here is the steeple…

steeplefingers

istockphoto.com

“…Open it up, and see all the people. … Hey! They look just like me!”

I’m in the middle of a seminary class this week on leading change. “Change” is a big word in church circles these days. It seems like everyone is either dying for it or dying to avoid it.

I’ve been part of church change conversations in a variety of contexts over the past several years. I’ve been part of internal change movements and have tried to help others either facilitate or manage change.

There are a few things I’ve noticed about change in churches:

1) Almost everybody seems to know they need to change. The alternative to changing is to fade into non-existence.

2) Almost everybody is terrified to actually implement change. They understand the consequences but simply can’t bring themselves to endure the uncertainty that comes along with it. By doing so, they essentially choose a slow but sure diminution into non-existence.

3) Those who want change generally want something specific. And what they want is for the church to change to be more like them.

It’s that third thing I want to focus on.

When I was part of a change movement in my church several years ago, I had a vision. At the time, I thought that vision was for a more vibrant, more lively, more “relevant” expression of the church.

In hindsight, what I now realize is that what I wanted was a church made in my own image. One to suit my wants and desires and perceived needs.

I arrogantly assumed that everyone would (or at least should) want the same thing. And even if they didn’t know it yet, that was the kind of church that they really desired to be part of. Once they could experience it, they’d surely come around.

Now that I’ve spent some time seriously studying the church in its various expressions and various movements, both historically and contemporarily, I’m coming to the realization that that’s pretty much what everyone wants.

The best church, we assume, is the one that’s most like us.

And so we embark on these Quixotic change missions, trying to make the church what we want it to be, laboring under the assumption that what we want is really what everyone wants. More hip. More traditional. More welcoming. More stable. More conservative. More progressive. More evangelical. More missional. More straight. More gay. More “biblical.” More “spiriti-led.” More diverse. More homey. More young. More multi-generational.

What you seldom see or hear in these conversations is probably the one thing that maybe we should all be striving for.

Instead of a church that’s more like us, maybe we should be seeking a church that looks more like Jesus.

Of course, our immediate response to that is to say, “That is what I want! JESUS WANTS EXACTLY WHAT I WANT!!”

Really?

Here’s the thing: The church of Jesus almost never looks like what we think we want.

Because Jesus is dangerous.

Jesus calls us into those places that make us uncomfortable, that challenge our preconceptions, that stretch our imaginations. The church we think we want, the one that looks and thinks and acts just like we do, does none of those things.

And do you know why?

Because Jesus is all about LOVE.

Sound oversimplified? Think about it. Really think about it.

Love is anything but simple.

Love makes us uncomfortable. Love challenges our preconceptions. Love stretches our imaginations.

Love—real, authentic, unconditional, life-giving love—is the hardest thing we can do.

Love calls us to die so that it can rise up in our place.

We cannot continue to box ourselves into our labels and categories and preconceptions and preferences, and love like Jesus loves. It’s not until we abandon all of those things that we can even begin to glimpse what that kind of love is like.

It’s only in utter surrender that we can find true freedom.

In Wesleyan theology we talk about the idea of “Christian Perfection.” That’s a pretty hard concept to get your head around. We all know instinctively that we can never be “perfect.” But because of that instinct, we never really give the idea an honest try.

What John Wesley meant by “perfection” wasn’t an error-free existence. What he meant was that we could—at least conceivably—actually love other people and the world around us the way Jesus does.

Bob Tuttle, one of the most brilliant professors I’ve had the privilege to study under, defined it like this:

“Love devoid of self-interest.”

The love of Jesus, the love he calls us to as individuals and as his church, is a love that does nothing for its own benefit and everything for the sake of others.

Everything.

So whatever our agendas are and as noble as they may be, unless they are founded on that kind of utterly self-sacrificing, thoroughly generative love, they fall short of the best life Jesus calls us to.

So what kind of church do you want. Really want?

If you want one that’s just like you, I guarantee you’ll find it.

I hope we can choose the riskier path.

Where moth and rust consume

Moth

istockphoto.com

Nobody ever believed in Jesus because they lost an argument.”

I wish I could remember the name of my seminary colleague who said that in class one day. I’d gladly pay him royalties for the number of times I’ve quoted him.

In today’s contentious church environment, I think it’s a salient reminder.

It seems everywhere we turn, church people are fighting. Not just with non-Christians but, even more frequently, with one another. Don’t believe it? Google “Christian blogs,” pick one, and go to the comment section.

In fact, let me save you some trouble. Just go check out one of my favorites, Rachel Held Evans’ blog. Pick any post. You won’t have to scroll down far before you see the vitriolic responses starting to fly.

Who’s selling out to who?

In a recent post, Evans notes that the most frequent argument levied against liberal/progressives from the conservative/evangelical camp is that we are “selling out” to the culture around us. We compromise the truth of scripture in order to win friends from the “world” so that we can appear to be “relevant” or even “cool.”

But, Evans pointedly notes, the very same people who voice those accusations are also very often the first to “sell out” to the “worldly” notions of retributive violence, economic elitism, racism, sexism, and secular class warfare:

“And I am concerned that the Church is indeed conforming to the world—every time it preaches violence as a way to achieve justice, every time it glorifies celebrity and success, every time it reduces womanhood to subordination and manhood to power, every time it justifies cruelty or unkindness in the name of proving a point.”

Treasures in heaven

Not surprisingly, Jesus has something to say about all of this. In addition to the rather obvious issue of splinters and planks (Matt. 7:4-5), there is a somewhat obscure and almost universally misunderstood passage wherein our favorite itinerant Galilean rabbi challenges his followers to a radically different perspective:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. […] No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

—Matthew 6:19-20, 24 (NASB)

Contrary to popular belief, Jesus really isn’t talking about money in this passage. Nor is he advocating some kind of pious “investment” in a distant, post-mortem future. Those interpretations take the passage out of its context as the climactic words of what we now refer to as the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7).

In the buildup to this statement, Jesus is encouraging the marginalized amongst his followers and admonishing the religious watchdogs of his day. He tells the oppressed and disenfranchised that, contrary to social convention, they are blessed. He tells the religious leaders that their scrupulous adherence to the law falls far short of its intent.

“Treasures on earth” doesn’t necessarily refer to wealth itself, but to the the trappings of power, influence and status. Because those things often accompany wealth, it becomes an apt metaphor for anything other than Jesus to which we attach value.

“Treasures in heaven,” similarly, are not good deeds which we store up in some sort of religious bank account to cash in when we…well…cash in. Instead, it is a call to treasure Jesus himself and to embrace his way of being.

Righteousness of the Pharisees

Early on in his sermon, Jesus informs his listeners that their righteousness must surpass “that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law” (Matt. 5:20, NIV). A bit later, he tells them to “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48).

Jesus is not laying down a new, more stringent legal code to follow. He is challenging his followers to integrate his life into theirs. In doing so, he directly contrasts that kind of life to that of the “Pharisees and teachers of the law.” The religious elite. The self-appointed gatekeepers.

The Pharisees were not evil people. They were convinced they were doing what God had commanded of them. They were adamant that legalistic morality, even at the expense of those who were thoroughly unable to achieve it, was the path to realizing the kingdom of heaven.

Unfortunately, they were missing the big picture.

Radical reorientation

Throughout his discourse, Jesus’ whole point is not for his followers to try to obey some set of behavioral mandates. It’s to reorient their lives around him and the kind of radical, unconditional, thoroughly inclusive love he displays…especially to those who seem to deserve it the least.

The “treasures on earth” Jesus rebukes are the systems and structures that oppress, objectify and dehumanize others at the altar of self-righteousness, exclusivity and superiority. Systems which, incidentally, the Pharisees had embraced in their behavior-management-based righteousness.

“Treasures in heaven,” then, are not deposits on some cosmic ledger, but an orientation toward love as the highest universal value. Not just love as a touchy-feely emotion, but as a radical, forgiving, inclusive force that rejects all manner of self-interest for the benefit of others.

For Jesus, the kingdom of heaven is not a place or even a way of life. It is the ultimate reality, where love reigns and rules, and which he embodies.

Moths and rust

The Pharisees were sincerely trying to do what they thought was right. The problem was, they were misunderstanding the story God was telling. In their zeal to be holy, they had sold out to the worldly systems and structures of status and power.

And Jesus’ message to them is that their earthly treasure—as noble as they believed it to be—was ultimately unsustainable. In fact, he tells them, it will consume and destroy them.

The church should pay attention.

When we obsess over our arguments and the defense of our particular beliefs, we are falling into the same trap. And eventually, it will consume us. And we’ll miss the kingdom reality Jesus is offering.

Sorry ’bout your cornflakes…

istockphoto.com

istockphoto.com

So this was one of those weeks.

I don’t mean one of those weeks. The ones where things fall apart all around you and make you wonder why you bother getting out of bed in the morning.

It was just one of those weeks. A week when things were going along reasonably well, when I was managing to be fairly productive for what felt like the first time in a long time, and when a few pieces started falling into place for some things I’ve been working toward. Not one of those stellar shout-it-from-the-highest-hilltop kind of weeks, but decent enough.

Unfortunately, true to Mr. Murphy’s prediction, there’s always someone who wants to piss in your cornflakes.

(For you non-hillbillies out there, that’s one of our quaint little Appalachian sayings for someone trying to ruin your day. We have quite a way with words here in the hills.)

And so at the end of what was otherwise a reasonably good week, I found myself having to deal with something I really didn’t want to deal with. Not a crisis or any kind of emergency, just one of those pain-in-the-ass situations that distracts you from the other things, the productive things, the enjoyable things.

It happens. We all know it.

The question is, what do we do with it?

We basically have a couple of choices in that kind of situation. We can let the distraction disrupt all of the good things that are going on. We can worry about it, fret over it, complain about it, and focus all of our time and energy on it. We can devote entirely more attention to it than it deserves.

Or, we can see it for what it is, deal with it, and then dispense with it.

In the past, I’ve chosen the first option way too often. This week, I decided to go with the second.

Sometimes there is no amount of focus or energy that we can pour into a situation to make it any better. There is no amount of worrying or hand-wringing that is going to bring about a resolution of any kind.

At the same time, as much as we’d like to, we can’t simply ignore those things either. That’s a recipe for disaster. It’s like the roof leak you don’t get around to fixing. It may just be a little drip for awhile but eventually your ceiling will cave in.

But we can just deal with things. Assess them for what they are, do what we can, and then let it go.

We can choose struggle and conflict, or we can choose shalom.

That doesn’t necessarily make the thing go away, whatever the thing is…in fact, it may come back at some point with even fiercer urgency. But more often than not there’s nothing you can do about that in the moment.

So I had to throw away a bowl of cornflakes. It was disappointing, but I didn’t let it ruin an otherwise pretty okay week. I’ll just wash up the dishes and start over again. Maybe I’ll add some strawberries to make it a bit sweeter.

That, after all, is the path to awesomeness.

Breakfast, anyone?

Confessions…an excerpt

fencerow

A few weeks ago my friend Darren Bouwmeester posted here at The Awesomeness Conspiracy as part of a blog exchange project. Today, my article, “Confessions of a non-sustainable carnivore” appears on Darren’s site, Composting FaithHere’s an excerpt…

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I don’t garden. I shop at Wal-Mart. I drive an 8-cylinder Jeep. I only recycle about a third of what I should. I eat a LOT of meat. And I like it.

In fact, for all my talk about conservation and protecting wild places, I’m not really very “green” in my own home.

I don’t say those things pridefully. In fact, there’s a good bit in those statements that I’m not at all proud of. Some of them I even feel a little guilty about. Except the meat part. I do like meat.

So why would I tell you all of this? And why, of all places, would I write these statements for a blog devoted to practices I’m admittedly not good at following?

Because it is what it is. I’m human. I mess up. I’m lazy. I’m stuck in a lot of patterns and habits.

But also because I care. I care about our planet and our society and our cultures.

I care that my impact means something. That the things I do (or don’t do) don’t happen in isolation.

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You can view the full post here, and while you’re there I encourage you to check out some of the other awesome content and conversations going on at Composting Faith.

The Path of Most Resistance

tangledpathI confess, I’m a bit irritated with myself for taking so long between blog posts.

Actually, I could have ended that sentence about seven words earlier.

I’m a bit irritated with myself.

Come to think of it, that’s still too much.

I’m a bit irritated.

For the past two-and-a-half years I’ve been working toward a Master’s Degree in Christian Ministry at Asbury Theological Seminary. Up until now I was taking a limited part-time course load, trying to balance work and life and school without unnecessary overload.

But I added an extra class this spring in hopes of finishing by December, slightly ahead of my pre-determined, self-imposed schedule. Half of my 60 hours’ worth of classes are online; the remainder must be completed on campus in the tiny rural village of Wilmore, Kentucky, about 25 miles south of downtown Lexington.

So, yeah, things are a little busier than usual. Juggling course assignments with work, family and church life can be hectic. Add to that a series of four-hour drives to Wilmore for weekend classes on campus, toss in some additional duties I’ve taken on in ministry, and there just hasn’t been any time to write.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. There’s time to write. There’s just no time to think. To concentrate. To focus. To process ideas.

And I find it all a bit irritating.

When I can’t concentrate, when I can’t focus, when I feel like I don’t even have time to think or sort or process ideas, I get stressed. It’s one of the few and very rare instances when it sucks to be me. Sure, things get done, but it’s just an exercise of pinballing from one priority to the next, waiting to hit the flapper and get flung up into the game again, bouncing aimlessly from bumper to bumper.

But I’m starting to think all of this irritation, this lack of focus, this inability to concentrate, is actually a symptom of something else.

When I enrolled at Asbury for the Fall 2011 semester, I had no idea exactly what I was going to do with a seminary degree. I was certain I was being called into some type of vocational ministry. I had been preaching for about six years as a lay speaker, filling in for pastors who were on vacation or accepting invitations to appear as a guest speaker at various church functions, and I was receiving a ton of encouragement and affirmation from people that it was something for which I had a gift.

So while I was sure I was doing what I was supposed to do, I never really had a clear picture of where it was all going.

And now, with the end in sight, I still don’t know.

To be honest, I’m a little anxious about it.

Maybe even a bit irritated.

Now, I know I still need to be patient. I’m as convinced as ever that God placed me on this path for a purpose, and that at the right time the right opportunity will come along and it will all make sense. I’ve been down that road before. That’s the great thing about faith. The more you experience it being rewarded, the more confident you become in it.

But the closer I get, and as I start entering into the “system” of United Methodist ministry, and the more I see that I don’t really fit into any of the boxes that exist in that system, the more I find myself pushing for an answer. And the less I find myself able to really focus. On anything.

And the more irritating it becomes.

Of course, it doesn’t help that perfectly well-meaning people, folks who are genuinely interested in me, keep asking those questions: “How long do you have left?” “What is your degree in?” “Are you going to be a pastor?”

“What are you going to do?”

It also doesn’t help that the UM ministry hierarchy is a fairly tangled and complex one which is difficult to explain. Most people who have been Methodists their entire life don’t understand it. Which makes it that much harder to relate to someone from a different faith background.

And so when I try to answer these good, interested, well-meaning people, it takes me half an hour to just explain the difference between an elder and a deacon and a local pastor, and how all of those different options play out, and how you need an M.Div. for this and an M.A. for that, and how none of them really seem to fit what it is I sense God calling me toward.

They say the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

My line is anything but straight. I have chosen the path of most resistance.

And while I’m absolutely convinced it’s the right path, and while the end of it is in sight, the destination is still unclear. The trail is obscured.

So I hope you’ll excuse my infrequent posts and my self-indulgent little rant. But at least I’ve written something.

And even if nobody reads it, at least I’m a little bit less irritated.

Living, Breathing, Sad, and Happy Things

annaBy Anna Webb, Poet Laureate

Last semester, I had the stressful (yet surprisingly enjoyable) task of writing my Senior Capstone for my Undergraduate Degree at West Virginia Wesleyan College. Since I’m an English Major on the tract of Creative Writing, I had a lot of opportunity to find my own creative space, and to write something that would mean a lot to me and would hopefully point to where I’d like my writing to go in the future. I’ve always been drawn primarily to writing poetry. Throughout my college career, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some excellent writers and to be taught by amazing poets. These people have helped me to find my voice as a writer.

For my Capstone project, I decided to write a collection of poems that would focus on the issues of depression, anxiety, and recovery. When I presented these poems, one of the teachers in my department asked me why I chose to write about these topics. My answer was this: There is a stigma in our culture surrounding mental illness. We are told to hide our depression and our anxiety, because it makes Normal People feel uncomfortable. Those of us who deal with mental illness are seen as the “Other”. Our problems are not always taken seriously, because it is difficult for us to describe our problems to people who have not experienced what we go through. I wanted to write a collection of poems that would show how people with mental illness experience their issues. I wanted to prove that depression and anxiety manifest themselves in different ways, for different people.

As I’m currently in my last semester of college, and the pressure of the Real World is getting closer and closer to me, my personal anxiety has been manifesting in new (and very annoying) ways.

This is a poem that was written as a part of my collection. I want to note that the character in this particular poem is experiencing a particular type of anxiety in a particular way. It is not this way for all people. My hope is that this poem will open some eyes, and maybe even speak to some hearts. If you are going through your own depression or anxiety, be aware that there is a way to cope. You’re not always going to feel good, and you’re not always going to feel like the pain is going to end. But it will. We are all living, breathing, sad, and happy things. You are not alone.

istockphoto.com

istockphoto.com

For Andrea

Andrea says her wrists are bullseyes,
and she shoots an arrow at them every day.
She braces herself, pulls back, deep breath, lets go.
Waits for impact
of point to skin, hard and sharp.
As soon as the red drips out,
she can breathe again.

She says she takes three showers a day,
four on weekends,
but she never feels clean.
She can’t get the dust from the mouths
of angry men out of her hair, can’t get the smell
of her own blood off of her hands.
She scrubs and scrubs
until her arms look like sandpaper,
feel as dry as the inside of her mouth.

Andrea says the psychiatrist thinks
she’ll find a good man someday.
And that would be nice if she weren’t so in love
with the woman who does her dry-cleaning.

She says Heaven is so far away,
but the clouds seem pretty close,
so maybe if she just climbed up to the roof of her building
she could hang out with them for a while,
watch them break apart in the air.
Things might feel a little better.

Andrea tells me the last thing she’d ever do is die,
cause, hell, it will be the last thing she does.
But she’s scared of death,
of what happens after, because she’s afraid
she’ll end up in a place just like this,
feeling just as sad as she did before.

She doesn’t care if anyone else feels like she does
cause sometimes, she needs to feel like she does.
And it can’t be my pain,
cause she’s the one who couldn’t get out of bed this morning.
The chain that ties her to the bedpost
pulled her back to the sheets.

She can’t believe that “it gets better”,
cause today, it can’t get better. Today,
air keeps finding its way into her lungs
no matter how hard she tries to keep it out.
Today, she feels the pressure of the air building up
in the empty space around her. She says
it feels like when she was in the fourth grade
and the fat kid sat on her chest
telling her to suck it up, queer, or he’d squash
the breath right out of her.

Andrea says she misses her father

and the way he used to rock her

when she was a child.

She says she wishes she could fall asleep,
and that she didn’t always feel like she
just woke up.

Andrea says she’s okay.

Tomorrow she’ll feel better.

She says I shouldn’t worry.

Cabin Fever and the Struggle for Awesomeness

emptyviseWe’re in the midst of an extended cold snap here in the Mid-Ohio Valley. For the second straight week (without much of a break in-between) our highs have been in the single digits and lows have been below zero, with wind chills in the double-digit negatives. Our kids have been out of school more days in January than they’ve been in.

If you’re from Minnesota or North Dakota you’re probably having a good laugh at my expense right now. My Russian friends would call this a mild winter. But for us here in West Virginia, it’s unusual. Not that we don’t have our share of cold weather, but for it to be this cold for this long is out of the ordinary.

Usually I can distract myself during a cold spell by doing something to prepare for warmer weather. Tying flies, cleaning and organizing fishing and camping gear, re-arranging fly boxes, working on articles for the various websites I write for, even watching Montana fishing videos on YouTube can generally provide a little respite.

But for some reason this time I have about as bad a case of cabin fever as I can ever remember. Nothing seems to help. I can’t get motivated to sit down at the tying desk, even though I know I need to stock up for spring. My gear stares at me from its appointed corner of the basement, pleading with me to sort through and replenish supplies of various accessories. Ideas for writing assignments can’t seem to settle in my brain long enough to develop.

I used to be able to tolerate cold weather better, too. In my younger days, I could suit up and find something productive to do outside…even if it was just a walk in the woods…no matter how low the mercury dipped on the thermometer. A little fresh air and exercise is an amazing antidote to mental lethargy.

All I’ve managed during the past couple of weeks, though, has been to spend some time cleaning snow off the neighborhood sidewalks as a succession of clippers left us a couple of fresh inches about every other day.

Even working from home, usually a blessing I wouldn’t trade for anything, becomes a bit of a burden when the claustrophobia of the winter willies sets in. Dozens of little jobs need done around the house, any of which would provide at least a momentary diversion. But somehow I lack both the mental and physical energy to engage in any of them.

So mostly I find myself kicking around the house, taking care of the few work-related projects which demand my attention, reading some texts for upcoming seminary courses, checking my Facebook and Twitter feeds every few minutes, staring out my back door at the snowy hillside and frozen creek, and feeling decidedly apathetic about nearly everything.

If this cold snap would have hit us in February, it might have been easier. The days are a little bit longer and spring is a little bit closer. Cold February days are made for dreaming of March & April in the mountains.

Cold January days are just cold. All we have to look forward to in January is … February.

Hopefully, this weather pattern will break soon and with it the boredom and restlessness of this year’s bout of cabin fever. Like everything, it is temporary.

Meanwhile, I’ll brew a little extra coffee, coerce myself into a few minutes a day on the elliptical, and look for bits of inspiration wherever I can find them.

And I’ll take heart in the knowledge that, some days, you just have to work a little harder to be awesome.

Daring to Love — A Guest Post by Darren Bouwmeester

2013-10-30 19.01.18Dear Conspirators for Awesomeness: Allow me to introduce Darren Bouwmeester. Darren and I met through our common space in the blogosphere when I discovered his site, Momentary Delight, and at about the same time he landed here at The Awesomeness Conspiracy. I’ve invited Darren to share some thoughts here with you faithful readers.

In addition to being a husband and father of two girls, Darren is co-editing a newly-launched e-magazine called Composting Faith on following Jesus and living sustainably. You can check it out at www.compostingfaith.com.

I hope you’ll enjoy Darren’s thoughtful contribution. Please visit and support his sites.

By Darren Bouwmeester

I grew up in a conservative Christian home and attended an evangelical Christian school for much of my youth. In High School, I wasn’t the most masculine guy. At one point, the high school gym teacher called me out and ridiculed me in front of my classmates, questioning my sexuality. He didn’t really need an excuse, since he was our football coach and I was an awkward undersized sophomore. That said, when one of your teachers bullies you in front of your classmates, it’s pretty much open season. In the end, it didn’t really matter that I wasn’t gay. My coping strategy was to withdraw and do my best to disappear in plain sight.

Throughout my twenties, as someone who was still insecure about his sexuality, I felt like I had to prove myself and my manliness. In retrospect, I can’t say enough about the hurt that is caused by insecure people like me, who act out of fear and loathing (for themselves) and feel they need to project an image. You want to show that you’re okay and show your bona fides. As a result, I said and wrote things twenty years ago about LGBT people which I deeply regret and which mortify me.

Still later in my thirties, I was part of a Southern Baptist Church. We had a don’t ask, don’t tell approach to sexuality. To the best of my knowledge, every child at that church was immaculately conceived. During this season of life, one of my best friends at my workplace was gay. I knew he was gay. He knew that I knew he was gay. But we never talked about it. Yes, this was the South, and this was probably his defense mechanism. You don’t talk about these things. Moreover, he knew I was a Southern Baptist, and didn’t want to make me uncomfortable, or rock the boat. So, we worked together for two years and we talked about my wife, my kids, our hobbies and workplace politics, but we never talked about the fact that he was gay. I can’t imagine what he probably thought of me. If I could speak to him today, I’d apologize to him. Clearly, he felt that it was not safe for him to speak to me about his life.  It’s ironic, isn’t it? As a follower of Jesus, shouldn’t people feel safe around me? Shouldn’t people feel like I’m approachable and accepting, much in the way that people felt around Jesus?

Now in my forties, I’m married with two young daughters. I confess that much like our nation, my attitude toward LGBT people is evolving. Having lived in religious settings, where it seems like we were always condemning people for various reasons, I don’t feel like I want to condemn anyone anymore. In many respects, I feel that LGBT people have a lot to teach me. As someone who has had his own sexuality questioned, I know the hurt and pain of being marginalized and the pain of being made to feel “less than.”

If I could say anything to LGBT people, it would be Jesus loves you. I would also ask them to be patient with me. I have a lot of hang-ups and I’m still figuring things out. I would also apologize for whatever hurt they’ve experienced from me and from my fellow Christians.

When we look back on our life, we might question God about our life experiences. Why God? Why God did you let this happen? Why did I have this past experiences? Sometimes, with the questioning comes anger. As I grow older, instead of simply getting angry, I’ve tried to see my experiences as gifts.

How do you teach a person empathy and compassion? I suppose there are people out there who might be naturally empathetic and compassionate. I’m not one of them. I’d like to think that through my own life experiences and even the pain I’ve experienced, that God is teaching me compassion, humility, kindness and empathy. If there’s a purpose or meaning to be found in my past experiences, this is a pretty good one.

As someone who lived in a very legalistic Southern Baptist Church (and I’m not saying that every Southern Baptist is a legalist), I’ve known the weight of condemnation and guilt. The Jesus I follow is not about condemnation or guilt. My reading of the gospel shows a Jesus who welcomed sinners, the broken and the hurting to his table. Overjoyed that Jesus would let me sit with him, how can I refuse anyone else a place at this table.

The highest law in the New Testament is love, to love God and to love people (Matthew 22:36-40). While I admit that I’m likely totally wrong on any number of topics, including matters of faith, I’m nonetheless resolved that if I’m to be wrong, I’d rather err on the side of love.

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8)