We’re all speaking in tongues…

“Denominationally, we have chosen to be at war with one another. We use our words as weapons…words central to our faith.” – Charlie Kaufman

“I’m looking for couples who express the fullness of God’s gifting in their lives to walk along side me in a new work.”

I cocked my head to the side and looked hard at him for a second.  It’s taken me years to learn to say these next words….

“Tell me, exactly, what you mean by that…what does that look like in real life?”

He began again in simple words, but strung together in way that sounded more like poetry than the mathematics I was looking for, and I had to stop him.

“I’m not sure you’re speaking a language that I understand.”

It was his turn to cock his head and look at me quizzically.  We had been serving together in ministry for years, and, I think, misunderstanding each other for about that long.  I watched as that realization broke like dawn over his face.

“I need some couples who are mature and secure enough in their faith to pray with me, to serve in church with me and, most of all, to tell me when I don’t make sense.”

This conversation got me thinking…as a person who began her religious education as a practitioner of Wicca, converted to Christianity and practiced as a Southern Baptist, and now finds herself as an ordained minister in a non-denominational church plant while working on staff at a Lutheran (liturgical) church- I have a fairly ecumenical vocabulary.  But I have noticed that we, the  people of the church, often use the same words to mean vastly different things…or perhaps at times incrementally different things…and either way we use those differences to draw a line in the sand and create a deep sense of disunity.

Some of my most frustrating conversations find their source in these misunderstood words.  I generally have no problem asking about words I have never heard before.  This is a good thing- my work in the Lutheran church has forced me to rub up against a whole new Christian vocabulary, but I do find myself wondering if the words my friends, pastors and other Christians are using mean what I think they mean.

Surely, I am not the only one…so I asked my Facebook community to share with me words they found were commonly misunderstood, particularly across denominations. I found the replies very interesting.  I guess I was fairly certain we would misunderstand the larger theological concepts between denominations (and we do, largely)…but the words folks struggled with the most were words like:

God

Saved

Jesus

Gospel

Holy Spirit

Grace

Words formative to our identity as Christian.  Words that are central to our religion as a whole….these are the words that, by and large, Christians are unsure of in a general ecumenical context. Or, worse yet, we think we are all speaking the same language, but in reality have very different understandings of the these words that we interact with every day as Christians.

Turns out…we are all speaking in tongues…and most of us don’t even realize it…

Perhaps what we need is more folks with the gift of interpreting….

Or religious dictionaries that strictly define these words…

Or better yet, lots of coffee and tea and open discussions about faith, belief and the foundations that form our traditions…

That’s scary business and requires a disciplined insight into your own language and the ability to step into the fire of the question, “what does this word mean to me?”

It’s time though…

to stop drawing lines in the sand and start pulling chairs up to the table…

Coffee, anyone?

Remember You Are Dust…

It has been forever since I’ve occupied this space with current thoughts and words from my pen.  A year to be exact…I have missed this quiet corner of the multiverse.  As a part of my Lenten journey this year, I have committed to sharing thoughts and reflections each day…bear with me…there are many bad habits to break. My life is so different now than when I first started this blog and I find myself with little time to write thoughts (I am so often sharing them through spoken word) and far too many “to do” piles on my desk.  So here we go…

“Remember you are dust…and to dust you shall return…”ash wed

The pastor speaks with hushed tones as he reaches toward me.  He brushes away wisps of hair that refuse to be confined by the barrette at my temple.  His hand sweeps warm across my forehead as the acrid scent of palm ash and musky smell of frankincense and myrrh mingle in my nostrils.

My Grandma always told me that prayers are a sweet aroma in heaven and I wonder if this is what it will smell like- life consumed completely by age and fire and the sweet perfume of holy gifts well spent.

The ashes feel strange on my forehead- not sticky, but not dry either. I ponder the words as the pastor speaks them over and over.

Over my head- middle aged and graying beneath vibrant hair color…

Over an elderly woman in a wheelchair, breath of life whirring from a portable green tank slung over the back of her chair…

Over the young mother with twin Tasmanian devils dashing between her legs and bumping off people like bumper cars…

Over the precious baby…just a few months old…crossing her eyes as the pastor crosses her forehead.

He speaks mortality over us as a blessing. The cross writ on our foreheads as a reminder to die to self and sin and to count our numbered minutes precious.

This is my first time receiving ashes on Ash Wednesday…coming new to experience a tradition not my own and I find the service profound and deeply moving.  I bear my commitment like a brand and sit in my car letting solemn moments pass as I seek God’s heart with my own… and confess that I have been struggling with my faith these last months. This is my mortal moment of reckoning and it  steals my breath and steels my heart and I find in surrender to Christ the freedom to be okay.

I think you are supposed to confess BEFORE you receive this ashy symbol, but I came to this place as a student, with a purely academic motive.  Not seeking God, but seeking an understanding of a faith tradition that has long felt shrouded in mystery.  I researched before I came. I knew the ashes were made from the burnt remains of last years’ palm fronds.  I knew that they are mixed with fragrant oils to dilute the acidity of the ash. I knew the phrases that would be spoken over me. I knew that this tradition has rich symbolism that draws people close to their own mortality and sinfulness. I knew this was the way many enter into the waiting of Lent. I knew everything there was to know and nothing at all…all at once.

I, being ever the student, had reached out to my friends in the clergy in the weeks leading up to this day.  I asked what Ash Wednesday meant to them and how it affected them. I planned a purely journalistic report based on history, research, their answers and my would be experience.  Their answers stunned me, awed me and, yet, in no way prepared me for the beauty of the imposition of ashes. Overwhelmingly, my friends spoke of the beauty of speaking out loud human mortality and the impact of repeating that process over people from all walks of life.

My new friend, Pastor Clint Schnekloth, tells me:  “As a pastor the most powerful part of the imposition of ashes is writing them on all the different foreheads, from heads at death’s door, to heads recently emerged from the womb. The range and texture of our mortality is a powerful, tangible thing.”

And my blog sister and fellow writer, Sara Miles, whose book, City of God, a friend gave me last year says, “Almost invariably, the people I give ashes to– parents, old ladies, gang kids, hipsters, day laborers, drunks– say “thank you.” I say it, too: touching strangers with such intimacy in public, admitting what we share (our mortality), feels like a gift, one that turns the lies of our culture upside down.”

My Yoda and spiritual director, Judy Turner of Christview Ministries, tells me that she believes “at the beginning of Lent, the imposition of ashes can be a meaningful, tangible way of expressing our commitment to die to sin so the Savior can live more fully in us.  It is a powerful reminder of our mortality to help us focus our lives on what is eternally significant.”

They were beautiful sentiments, really.  An indication that  serving a community as Pastor through these rituals comes with its own equally charged graces.  They gave me insight into their lives as leaders of church communities…but they didn’t prepare me for the moment ash touched head and contrition settled into soul. Neither for the sensation of solidarity as I glanced around at the 30 or so foreheads marked as mine…infant, child, adult and elder…all bearing the blessing of our death to sin. It was stunning, and powerful and I am forever changed by it.

Merciful Father,
we have sinned against heaven and before you.
We do not fully live as your sons and daughters.
We use your gifts to our own ends.
Forgive us and restore us,
that we may resist all that draws us away from you,
and be at peace with one another. Amen.

Memoir Writing Prompt…a little test for you :)

Grade A

Every now and again in Old Friend from Far Away, Natalie Goldberg throws in a little test.  These are multiple writing prompts that you write on for two or three minutes each.  It is a fun experiment to flex your writing muscles.  Let’s do one today! 

Here’s what she says about the test:

Here is a test.  The good thing about it is all answers are correct.  Right off the top you receive an ‘A”.

You have two or three minutes to answer each question.  Make sure you are specific.  Nothing vague.  You might want to begin each answer with ‘I remember.’

Ready? I’m going to share all the prompts with you, but only some of my writing responses cause…well…cause it’s my blog and I can! Don’t skip any though…you can do it! Here we go!

  • The first one:  give me a memory of your mother, aunt, or grandmother.  If it’s an aunt say her name, for example, “I remember my aunt Gladys…” Be detailed. Here’s mine for example:

My aunt Margaret was a brash drunk of a woman.  Her wealth made her lack trust for anyone around her, especially young children and she yelled about as if we were all servants.  She loved roses.  Her roses were the most beautiful bushes I’ve ever seen and like her, screamed the warning, “Behold my beauty! Beware my thorns!”

  • Give me a memory of the color red.  Do not write the word “red” but use words that engender the color red when you hear them.  For example, ruby, tomato, fire, blood.

His Chuck Taylor’s waited at the end of his feet begging for notice-signature shoes that shared his name and shouted Arkansas school spirit.  He wore them always with matching Umbro soccer shorts, even when it was cold. They matched his nose when the sun would bake it or the cold wind would chap it.

  • Give me a memory of a sound.  Again, try not to use the word “sound” in your writing. Here’s an example:

The hum of the generators was a lullaby at 2 am, especially when the fate of the world rested on my alertness. The low rumble of it vibrated the seat I was in and made everything else feel quiet and peaceful. While watching for the end of the world, I leaned my head against the padded wall and thought, “I will just rest it here for a while.”

  • Give me a picture of a teacher you had in elementary school. Two minutes..
  • Tell me about a meal you loved. Where were you when you ate it? What was the weather like out the window? How old were you? Who were you with? Two minutes…go!
  • Last one, tell me about a time you remember rain. Rain might not be the main focus of the memory, but write about a time when it was there with you.

He offered me his umbrella as we climbed the hill to our next class.  I was reveling in the feel of summer as it dropped on my skin I told him.  He looked at me as if I was a walking poem- desire lighting his eyes and closed the umbrella.  He turned his face to the sky, but he couldn’t be free so he opened the umbrella and continued to walk beside me.  It was the beginning of the end of our relationship.

So what’s the point here?  What are we trying to learn?  Nicole is teaching us to use our senses when we write.  We didn’t write about smell, so right now, list ten smells you remember. Be specific. For example:

  1. Wet dog
  2. sage and onions
  3. Charlie’s sweat
  4. buttercream frosting
  5. spring after rain
  6. Aunt Lora’s house
  7. old books
  8. White Shoulders perfume
  9. baby poop
  10. perm solution

 

This is what Nicole says about using your senses when you write…I love it:

Naturally, you are not going to cover every sense every time you write a scene. But doing this “I Remember” test is like acupuncture pricks alerting your mind when you write.  You go along describing something and then-ah yes, Snow was falling wet as my heart when I asked her to marry me. The word becomes bigger. Your love includes weather now- and feeling.

Memoir Writing Prompt…and thoughts on memory..

Memory is a funny thing.  I sometimes think my experience with it is exceptional because I know first hand what it is to be without one (I lost my mine once when I had a traumatic brain injury.) Sometimes I don’t trust the memories I have because I simply don’t know which ones are mine and which I have created based on stories I have heard.  In the end, it doesn’t matter….we all have exceptionally creative brains that fill gaps and rewrite stories all the time….can anyone really trust their memory?  No, I don’t think so…which is why I write at times….because at least then there is a record of what I believed when I believed it.  Memoir is an exercise in memory recall.

Did you write on our last prompt?  My friend who was so excited I was starting this series was disappointed that it was something so mundane…But Natalie Goldberg suggests that there are four prompts we should flex writing muscles with all the time: “I’m thinking of../I’m looking at../I remember../I don’t remember.”  So we continue with lifting the ten pound weights before we transition to the 25 lb ones.

I want to share a bit of what Natalie shares with those beginning this practice:

“Don’t cross out. Don’t worry about punctuation, spelling or grammar.  Be specific. Not car, but Cadillac. Not tree, but sycamore.  But don’t worry, if you write “bird” instead of woodpecker, you can figure out what kind it was two weeks later when you reread it. The important thing is to keep your hand moving. If you get stuck go back and write the prompt again…

Say what you want to say, not what you think you should say. Trust what you put down, even if the editor or critic inside you says it’s wrong or you made a mistake…feel free to write the worst junk in America.”

So here are the rules:

  1. No editing.  Write what you write.
  2. You may choose to share your post- just post the link in the comments.  Or you don’t have to.  I sat on some of these writings for a year before I was brave enough to post them.  Let them be true…without thought of audience AND then choose what you will share with the world at large.  If you choose not to share, will you share some thoughts about your experience writing this prompt?
  3. Write for ten minutes….at the end of your ten minutes, wrap up with a final thought and end your piece.

That’s it! Easy-peasy, right?  So let’s go!

Write for ten minutes on the prompt- “I remember.”

n-WOMAN-CHALKBOARD-large570

I remember the year we left the Christmas tree up until March.  It was after my sister, Lora’s, birthday before we took it down.  I think Lora thought it was something special we did in honor of her in that way only young children can imagine that the most mundane of things is a gift to them.

I remember my mother was filled with shame at the thought of it.  I wonder if she felt it was an outward reflection of an inner failure on her part that the tree was still up and glistening with icicles and homemade ornaments. We never turned the lights on after Christmas.   Those lights were great blinking beacons to her failure and a lighthouse alerting all who would come near that this home did not have it all together. 

I remember the day that she admitted truth….that we didn’t have it all together and that, in fact, that made us a stronger family not a weaker one.

I remember my grandmother was dying that year and my baby sister, Alexis, was young, celebrating her second year on earth- or perhaps she wasn’t born yet- perhaps I don’t remember that part at all.  I simply remember that there were good reasons for our delayed response to removing the tree at a socially acceptable time.  I remember that life had intruded with busy schedules and more important priorities and had stolen from us any of the moments we might have taken to stow away our Christmas memories.

 

 

 

And it begins….A Writing Prompt from “Old Friend from Far Away”

 

This is not the first prompt from Natalie Goldberg’s book Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir, but it is the first prompt that unveiled the magic of simply beginning to write.  As I was writing this piece I realized that where I started with nothing…I ended with a story I had forgotten.  It was a wonder to me.  So let’s begin there…I want to share a bit of what Natalie shares with those beginning this practice:

“Don’t cross out. Don’t worry about punctuation, spelling or grammar.  Be specific. Not car, but Cadillac. Not tree, but sycamore.  But don’t worry, if you write “bird” instead of woodpecker, you can figure out what kind it was two weeks later when you reread it. The important thing is to keep your hand moving. If you get stuck go back and write the prompt again…

Say what you want to say, not what you think you should say. Trust what you put down, even if the editor or critic inside you says it’s wrong or you made a mistake…feel free to write the worst junk in America.”

So here are the rules:

  1. No editing.  Write what you write.
  2. You may choose to share your post- just post the link in the comments.  Or you don’t have to.  I sat on some of these writings for a year before I was brave enough to post them.  Let them be true…without thought of audience AND then choose what you will share with the world at large.  If you choose not to share, will you share some thoughts about your experience writing this prompt?
  3. Write for ten minutes….at the end of your ten minutes, wrap up with a final thought and end your piece.

That’s it! Easy-peasy, right?  So let’s go!

Write for ten minutes on the prompt- “I’m thinking of.”

child-raising-hand

I’m thinking of nothing really.  I’m thinking of a million tiny threads of thoughts that are jumbled in a ball of wire.  The wire was not rolled “over-under” and is knotted and frayed.  It doesn’t connect thoughts to source as it should and this writing jumps from place to place like a Mexican jumping bean.  I’m thinking of all the things I want..no have…no need…no feel like getting done today and how I sit here writing. What I really want to do is flex this muscle all day, but I know the quiet won’t last long and soon there will be cries of “Mom! I’m hungry!” and “I don’t have any clean underwear.”  And since I never left my jammies yesterday, I’m not sure I should indulge in the same sluggish, non-activity again.

I’m thinking these free-writing activities in this TMNT notebook remind me of the fifth grade, where we first started free-writing. I hated fifth grade, but I loved writing and it is interesting to me that both coincide.  My fifth grade teacher was an awful woman (or at least I thought she was) who wanted to “squelch” my “drive to succeed.”

No really, she said that to my parents once.  She told them that I raised my hand too much in class and always knew the right answer and it was disruptive because no one else would ever answer questions.  She banned me from wearing black patent shoes because they clicked when I walked and sent me to the principal for touching a girl’s necklace when we were in the lunch line.  She hated me and I never understood why.

Now, as an adult, I think perhaps I was one of those overly precocious, know-it-all children who was clueless to the fifth grade misfit rebellion she was leading.  At my ten year class reunion, there were three classmates who told me that year was formative.  One said, “Watching you quietly thwart her every move helped me know that I could be who I wanted no matter who didn’t want me to.”

I had no idea.

I just wanted to wear my black patent shoes again and go out to recess and not be afraid to raise my hand with the right answer because my teacher wouldn’t like me. I tried to be sweet. I brought apples, but she was allergic. I cleaned chalkboards, but got the chalk dust on the floor. I helped put up her bulletin board, but I didn’t hang the pictures in the right order and she “would have to do it again anyway..” and “just wished I would pay better attention to instructions.”

She kept me in from recess and made me sit under her desk in front of the room for the rest of the day.  My fifth grade crush (who happened to be her teacher’s pet) snuck me a piece of chocolate and asked “Why is she mad at you this time?”  I shrugged my shoulders and continued reading Brave New World.

Everything changed at parent-teacher conferences when my parents realized that my tears and stories about her continued mistreatment of me were less the tears of a dramatic ten year old and more the truth of a young child who didn’t understand how to follow the rules of the game she was supposed to play.  When they met, she began to tell them of all my many issues.

“She always answers the questions in class. Other students don’t get a chance.”

“Does she blurt them out?” My dad asked.

“No, she raises her hand.”

“Then don’t call on her.”

“Well, she is the only one who raises her hand.”

“That doesn’t mean you have to call on her.”

I sat with my ear pressed against a tiny crack in the door hoping to get a clue of how to be.

Rule #1:  Don’t answer questions.

“She finishes her work too quickly and spends way too much time reading fiction books,” she continued with her list.

“Is she disturbing the class?” My mom asked.

“No. She is quiet, but the other kids feel bad because she finishes so quickly.”

She was getting frustrated now, and a defensive whine was creeping into her voice.

“Is she doing sloppy or inaccurate work?” There was a steely edge in my mother’s voice. One I hadn’t heard before.

“No. It is right and acceptable.”

Rule #2:  Pretend you are slow.  BE AVERAGE.

“She just has this drive to succeed and be right all the time.  She seems to be driven to be the best at what she does.  At everything.”  The whine had completely taken over my teacher’s normally abrupt and commanding tone.

“Well, that’s Cari.  She’s a very driven young lady,” my dad said proudly.

“We need to squelch her drive to succeed so she can better fit into my classroom.”

I heard the scrape of the chair across the floor as my mother stood up.  Daddy shifted and leaned forward in his chair.  Waves of energy poured from them both so strong I nearly recoiled from the force of it.  My mother put her hands on my teacher’s desk and leaned in close to her.  My mother’s voice was the quiet ice of tightly controlled anger. I had to strain to hear her words.

“You may choose to point that drive in any direction you want, but you WILL NOT squelch anything!”

I smiled.  I didn’t know exactly what squelching was, but it didn’t sound fun. Daddy’s chair scraped against the floor as he stood next to my mother.

“It sounds to me, ma’am, like the problem is not with our daughter.  If you have some suggestions that don’t require ‘squelching’ then we are happy to ask Cari to implement them. In the meantime, I expect her days to be spent at her own desk and not sitting under yours being shamed for no reason. Is that something we can agree on or shall we stop by the principal’s office on our way out of school?”

Rule #3  #1:  Be yourself.  The people who  love you have your back.

 

 

 

Inspiration from an “Old Friend from Far Away” (aka an effort to return to writing)

Hello my friends in the blogosphere! Have you missed me? I have missed you all so much…or maybe I haven’t missed these nights here at the computer nearly enough to return to them…or maybe, as I told a friend the other day, I am speaking so much now and I just only have a finite amount of words in me and it leaves me with nothing to write.  (She reminded me that I was created in the image of an infinite God and thus there was nothing ‘finite’ about me…including my words, but perhaps I was releasing them through the outlet of speaking rather than writing and simply didn’t need the writing as much these days.) Or perhaps I have simply become a slave to my busy schedule and make no place for this platform.  Whatever the reason, I am limping back this way complete with shiny good intentions to be here on a regular basis.  

My plan is to post regularly again in the “Ministry Resources” category (once every other week) and to hopefully share some words from you that I have been working on in my free writing exercises.  This second experiment terrifies me as these are some of the truest, rawest words I have written.  I have been hiding them in a “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle” notebook for over a year now and I think I am ready to share some.  But cause I am all scared and stuff and hate to do this authenticity thing alone- wanna play along?showyourheart

Here’s what I’ll do:  

I will post a prompt from my memoir writing book by Natalie Goldberg, Old Friend From Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir, and other books every now and again.  I will commit to writing on this prompt for ten minutes and share my writing with you…and you share with me?  Post a response to the prompt and share your link in the comments?  What do you say?  If yes…super cool! Let’s do this thang! If no, well…then…I will share what I write anyway…So to start, just a quick story about how I came by this treasure of a book by Natalie Goldberg.

I was undone by her gift.  When I unwrapped it, it seemed…well…typical….of my sister- of her habits, of her life and loves…that she would gift me with a book for Christmas.  It is what she always gives- a tradition begun in her grad school days when money was tight and knowledge premium.

A sweet gift for a bibliophile like myself, but…well…expected.  I almost didn’t even flip through the pages….but I am so glad I did.

The book itself was one chosen specifically for me- Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir by Natalie Goldberg- a treasure for a storyteller and writer like myself.  It was a book I had longed for for several months and I was excited she’d chosen it for me.

“I just bought this for my Kindle!” I said and watched her face fall a bit.

“You can take it back if you want,” she offered, “but you should check inside first.”

I opened to the introduction and began skimming when out slipped a slip of cut looseleaf notebook paper.  Scrawled in blue magic marker in my sister’s handwriting was a quote:

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face…You must do the thing you cannot do.”- Eleanor Roosevelt

Her letters formed straight up and down, started neatly and ran off the lines at the end of the quote. The slip of paper was torn cleanly from it’s sheet. I stared in wonder at this gift.

She’d stolen moments to write these words and tuck them in this book for me to run across at just the perfect time.  She’d searched and saved and thought of me when she saw them…and then she’d pulled the cap off of a blue Cars magic marker and written them down for me late at night or during nap time or when she could have been showering in peace.  Moments her busy-mom-of-two-with-a-newly-adopted-special-needs-chld-life just could not afford….but she spent them anyway.

As I flipped through, I found other slips of paper and had to fight the urge to read them all. I knew her intent was for me to unwrap these tiny gifts all year long- to dole out bits of encouragement over time…so I waited….and sat in awe at her gift.

I have loved working through this book over the last year….so now I am ready to share SOME of this writing with you…maybe these prompts will be as beautiful a gift to you as they have been to me.  Stay tuned…I’ll be back soon!

Excuses, Excuses…or why I haven’t been around much…

I am still alive.  Strings Attached Ministries is still thriving and moving and grooving.  We are still speaking to groups all around the nation and teaching that relationships are meant to be deep and connected.  I am still writing, but in a notebook that doesn’t plug into the wall.  My friend, Holley Gerth, says that I am still weaving words prolifically, but they are spoken and not written and my clever words are finite.

Life has taken over.  I am struggling with all the demands of being a working mother and wife, a ministry leader, and a daughter. And in the midst of that, I am working on writing my fears….the true stuff, the hard stuff, the stuff I shove under rugs and try to forget, and well, I am just not ready to share that yet.

I say all that to say this.

I miss you guys.🙂 I miss sharing thoughts and words here, and hope to do it again soon. I sense an opening margin on the horizon, but I must climb this looming mountain first.  I will return to regular posting, soon, I hope.

If you’ve come here for the first time- stay a while…look around…there’s some great stuff here (even if I do say so myself!).

Grace and Peace,