Ministry at the thin places

I’m called to the thin places, the holes, the edges.  I’m called to those moments where people are at the edges of life and don’t even know it.  They are at risk of death, due to overdose, or suicide, or both.  They’ve wandered too close to the limit.  One more step and they are gone. 

It took me a while to see this pattern.  I kept meeting people at these edges. 

I went walking in downtown Chattanooga with friends many years back at night, and saw a young man, thin, dark hair, alone at a water fountain that had been turned off for the winter.  I left my friends and walked up to this stranger and began to talk with him.  It was a month later that he admitted to me that he was going to kill himself that night.  It was the fact that I started talking to him that distracted him, that turned him away from the edge. 

I’ve had several boyfriends who drank too much, not trying to kill themselves but trying to enjoy life more, in their opinion.  I was there to keep them alive in those moments when the body starts to react badly to that abuse. 

I’ve dated two people who had attempted suicide before I met them.

My father tried to commit suicide when I was two.  My great-grandfather, his grandfather, did commit suicide.  They say that someone was “successful” at suicide, but is it really a success? 

I feel suicide and addiction and overdosing are all related.  We walk too far into territory that we don’t know, and it pulls us in with its own gravity, its own magnetism.  Before we know it, we are sucked in much further than we meant.  We didn’t know where that dark alley led to.  We didn’t know – or we thought we were strong enough to walk away.  These forces are older than us, and hungrier.  They will have what they will have and there is no arguing with them.  The only real way to survive is to never get too close. 

And that is where I come in.  I show up.  I happen to be there.  I’m called to it.  This isn’t something you can schedule.  There isn’t an app for this. 

I stand in the way, with death behind me, so they can’t see that doorway. 

This isn’t something you train for, not really. This isn’t something that people even talk about.  We don’t talk about death.  We certainly don’t talk about suicide. 

(Written 11/8/2015, updated 5/14/20)

Story-time church

So many church leaders wonder why folks are leaving the church – they think it is because they haven’t heard the Gospel.  Little do they realize they have heard the Gospel, and they aren’t seeing it lived out in the Church.  

Church should be more like Second Harvest or the Red Cross, rather than a sing-a-long and storytime.  Church has been infantilized. Church is more like preschool than preparation for work. 

Let’s look at how church is done currently with new eyes.  Currently, this is what happens –

You sing hymns.  The choir has practiced and leads the way, and you fumble along.  You’ve all got the words in the book in front of you, or up on a screen if you are in a modern church.  The songs are designed to cheer you up, but also to wake you up.  You have to stand to sing them in many churches.  So you are getting a little stretching in too. 

They read stories to you from the Bible, telling you about all the things that happened way back when to everyone else.  You’ve never told how to be in those stories – how to make them come alive for you, or to recognize them happening to you right now. Over a thousand years ago, you’d not even be allowed to read the Word for yourself – you’d be expected to just listen.  Also – you probably couldn’t even understand it – it was in Latin, which nobody spoke.  The stories weren’t meant for you to hear and understand.  Somehow the words were supposed to have some sort of magic power, just the syllables were enough.  Even though the words are in the local language now, you still aren’t taught how to live them out. 

You aren’t allowed to discuss the stories.  Your participation is not required – and in many cases it is not allowed.  It certainly isn’t encouraged. You can read them for yourself on your own time if you want, but sharing your own interpretation is not OK.  You aren’t ordained.  You haven’t been to graduate school to get a degree in ministry – so you aren’t worthy of an opinion.  The interpretation of God’s message is for the minister – not the people in the pews.  This is just like pre-school – the teacher runs the class, not the students. 

You get to play dress up – you wear your best clothes, and if you go to a liturgical church, the choir, altar party, and minister put on robes.  You wear clothes you don’t wear any other time or in any other place. You can’t dress like you normally do.  This furthers the idea that what happens in church stays in church, and that God doesn’t show up at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday while you are at work. 

It is like God is a special toy.  God is pulled out to play with once a week, and not even for a full day.  Then God is put back into the box, to be forgotten for another week. 

You get a snack too – communion. It isn’t a meal – just a sip of wine (or grape juice) and a wafer or a cracker.  It isn’t a meal by any stretch of the imagination.  It is just a little tiny thing, a symbol.

What is evil?

How interesting that the Hebrew word for demon

שד

Is related to the word for fallow land

שדה בור

And battlefield, and minefield

And related to looted, robbed

שדדו

Evil is not using resources properly,

potential fruitfulness wasted,

through human means.  It isn’t an accident.

It is

intentional or unintentional

mis-use of a gift from God.

Unintentionally

wasting your life

has the same result

as intentionally wasting it.

Not choosing

to be mindful,

to be a good steward

is to choose evil,

to allow it in.

Tastes change

I’m trying to do what my spiritual director said and invite Jesus into this feeling.  I’m trying to let him be the gold that glues the pieces back together. 

Sometimes I don’t even want the old pieces anymore.  Sometimes I want it all to crumble away and have it all be filled again, new – a new pot or plate, or bowl.  To burn it all away in a refinery fire.  To have the good separated from the bad by the refining fire of God.  I want to be harvested and reaped and burn away and reborn and not be broken.  To not build on my past and my emptiness. 

I know God made me the way he made me because he needs me this way but now I feel that it is time to start anew.  (But it isn’t about what I feel)  I want to have a fire in my soul.  Start fresh, with new-to-me dishes and towels.  I’d probably buy new sheets.  But otherwise I’m OK with Goodwill.  I think there is a lot of God to be found in Goodwill.  But I digress. 

I am reshaping myself.  Or, I am allowing myself to be reshaped.  I am feeling my way into this new life and trying to see it as a child – that everything is new and worthy of testing.  Try it, you might like it.  I’m open to trying all the things that I tried in the past to see if I’ve changed.  Kale?  I like it.  Anything more than half a bar of chocolate – I’m a PMS monster.  What a surprise!

Tastes change and that isn’t just about your tongue.  This is for and against.  It is good to be open.  Don’t go with what has always been just because it has always been.  It might be holding you back.  It might be a crutch.  You might be allergic.  Treat every experience as a new thing.  Lean into it.  Feel it out.  Touch it, smell, it taste with new senses.  And be thankful.  It is good to be thankful for what you are about to receive, rather than what you just got. 

Everything is a gift. 

This is backwards and yet it is the Way.

I haven’t heard God in a while but I also haven’t been journaling or reading the Bible or any other religious book.  It is hard to hear when you are talking so much. 

(started 3/3/2013, updated 5/11/20)

Why God?

Why believe in God?


I had a friend who I decided was God blind.  Like color blind but for God.
He couldn’t see any reason to believe in God.  This blew my mind.
I’ve always known of God.

The time when I was a baby in the crib
The rescuing by an angel when I was flying too high on the swings.
It is like being a fish and not believing in water.

Some people are color blind.
My dad couldn’t see purple. We were in the car together and he saw
another car.  He asked what color it was.  That made no sense to me.
How could you not see this?  It is such a simple question.  But he had
an inability to see reds and greens. I’d forgotten, and to be honest
I’d never really understood.  How can I understand something so basic
as an inability to see color?

The same with God.

I have Buddhist neighbors.  The mom was sick with kidney disease and it was
really worrying the son.  He cried to tell me how concerned he was for
her health. I know a little about Buddhism but couldn’t remember if
praying was part of it.  Buddhism informs my Christianity.

I asked him if he could pray for his Mom.  No.  So I did.
I don’t pray with the idea that God is my waiter.  I ask and I
receive.  Yes, sometimes it is like that.  But I pray because I know
there is someone on the other end of the line who is listening and who
cares.

Sometimes I think of God as standing at the top of a pit I’ve fallen
in.  He isn’t in sight, but if I call to him, he can point out a hand
hold that I can’t see from my angle.

(updated 5/11/20)

We are Daughters and Sons of God.

We are all created by God – but more importantly, we are God’s daughters and sons if we do God’s will. This is not to be taken lightly.  Do you think of yourself as God’s child – really?

Any person who chooses to serve God – and does it, is a “Chosen” person. It isn’t a birthright, but something that is available to people of all nationalities.

Exodus 19:3-6

Moses went up the mountain to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain: “This is what you must say to the house of Jacob, and explain to the Israelites: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Me. Now if you will listen to Me and carefully keep My covenant, you will be My own possession out of all the peoples, although all the earth is Mine, and you will be My kingdom of priests and My holy nation.’ These are the words that you are to say to the Israelites.”

Note the conditional “if”.  If you listen to the Lord and follow the covenant, then you will be unique among all people of the Earth. The corollary to that is that if you don’t follow the Lord’s commandments, then you will not be special. Your commitment to doing what the Lord commands is what distinguishes you.

John 1:11-13

11 He came to His own,
and His own peopledid not receive Him.
12 But to all who did receive Him,
He gave them the right to bechildren of God,
to those who believe in His name,
13 who were born,
not of blood,
or of the will of the flesh,
or of the will of man,
but of God.

Note that we can become children of God, namely daughters and sons of God.

Notice the Lord’s Prayer, to be found in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:1-4. This is the Condensed Gospel rendition, which blends them together –

Jesus was praying, and when he was through, one of his disciples said to him “Lord, teach us how to pray, just like John taught his disciples.”

He said “You should pray like this:

Heavenly Father, we give honor to your holy name.

May your kingdom come soon.

May your will be done here on earth just like it is done in heaven.

Give us our bread for tomorrow,
and forgive our faults in the same way that we forgive the faults of others.

Do not cause us to be tempted, but instead rescue us from evil.

The kingdom and power and glory are all yours eternally. Amen.”

It starts with us saying that God is our Father. This is a bold statement. God is directly approachable by us. If God is our Father, we are daughters and sons of God.

Matthew 12:46-50

46 He was still speaking to the crowds when suddenly His mother and brothers were standing outside wanting to speak to Him. 47 Someone told Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to You.” 48 But He replied to the one who told Him, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” 49 And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven, that person is My brother and sister and mother.”

If you do God’s will, you are the brother or sister to Jesus.  If you are his brother or sister – you are a son or daughter of God.

Hebrews 2:11-12

11 For the One who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father.That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers, 12 saying:

I will proclaim Your name to My brothers;
I will sing hymns to You in the congregation.

Jesus says he is directly related to his followers. 

See Psalm 51:16-17, 1 Samuel 15:22-23, Hebrews 13:16, Micah 6:6-8, Isaiah 58:3-11 for examples of what God wants. 

God isn’t interested in sacrifices.  All the detailed rules in Leviticus are about what kinds of offerings were appropriate in the time of the Temple.  But what God really wants is for us to take care of people. Who cares if you keep kosher or you cover your head if you ignore the needs of your neighbor who is hungry or homeless?

I’ve read before that atheists serve God better than many religious people.  They don’t think there is a divine being who will take care of people, so they know it is up to them. Actions speak louder than words.

Idola-tree – poem

Strange fruit comes from
the Idola-tree. 
This tree grows tall and strong 
fed with fear and desire
sometimes pretending to be
love. But love doesn’t feed
this tree. It is a strange love
that looks like greed 
that looks like hunger 
that looks like jealousy. 
It is not a giving kind of love.
It is not an open kind of love
that is filled with 
joy and compassion and care 
for your fellow human kind.
No, there is no kindness 
in this tree. 
Fruit of this tree is bitter,
small, and it chokes 
as it goes down. 
The fruit of this tree will not
fill you up will not 
nourish you. 
The fruit of this tree 
never ripens into anything
other than disappointment,
never creates anything more 
than a sick feeling in your stomach.

Soul Cave

A refreshing wave of cool, even sweet air filled her longs. A welcome respite from the oppressive heat outside. And yet, she wasn’t in a cave at all. It was a church, but it wasn’t a building. It was carved out from living rock, a sanctuary in stone.

And yet, it wasn’t. She was at work. From the outside all was the same as it has always been. It was inside that was different. She had done the work, using a spiritual pick-ax to hew out the limestone of her soul, removing the rubble handful by handful. It was the only way. There were no shortcuts with this work. It was slow going, but the other option was not at all. Only by doing this slow private work could anyone attain sanctuary. It couldn’t be found outside, not among the liars and charlatans, the shell games and shysters. Everybody who tried to sell others on their brand of salvation was a false Messiah, no matter how well intentioned.

She was lucky her stone was limestone. Some started with quartz, or marble, or even diamond. Too hard a core was very hard work. Most stopped too soon, barely making an alcove, barely enough to lean in from the rains. Homeless people sleeping in doorways had it better.

Yet others had caves of softer stuff – coal, or even chalk. Softer rock was certainly easier to work, but you ran the risk of the entire structure collapsing in on you. You had to plan ahead, taking out only some, not too much. You had to leave supports, like how stalactites met stalagmites. The best starting material was something strong yet also pliable.

Her soul rock used to be of denser stuff, but living water had softened it.

She thought back to that day when she had finally given up, finally relinquished her vain attempt at controlling her life and the actions of others around her. She gave over control to the still small voice she heard inside her, the voice that was breathed into every person when they were born.

Along with that breath, the first breath, was the quiet voice of the Creator. Outsiders (those who saw only the outside) thought that the child took her first breath, like it was something active, like it was something she did. Insiders knew that God breathed life into everyone, not just Adam. Every single person alive had been jump-started by God. This is why smoking was bad – it polluted that divine gift. This is why carefully regulating your breath was good – you were reconnecting with that gift. In rhythmically breathing in and out, you fell into God’s rhythm, God‘s embrace. You were calm because you had put your trust in the only One who had all the answers – even to questions that hadn’t been asked yet.

She sat inside her cave, just big enough for her, and looked out at the world. From here the light wasn’t so bright, the sounds weren’t so loud. She could experience it all with detachment, not anxiety.

Fear of love – poem

Soon we will know
what it is to be free
really free
of our fear.
But not yet.
We aren’t ready
while we still teach
fear of God
in our churches.
Maybe that is why
so many people have left the church
or never joined.
Maybe that is why so many people
suffer from
addictions or compulsions or perversions,
interacting too much or too little
with the world and people that God created
for us to love.
Lack of love is a terrible thing.
Misplaced love is possibly worse.


For God is love, after all.
God is or should be
our first and last love
and everything in between.


That word “fear” isn’t the original.
The word that the Christian church
translated as fear
means something more like
awe, or respect, or reverence.
But not fear.
Because “perfect love casts out all fear.”
Because how many times did Angels say “fear not” (once for every day).
Fear never healed anybody
but love will do the trick
every time.

The Church chose “fear”
because it leads to control.
Forgive them for they were mistaken.
It isn’t that “they know not what they do”
– they knew.
It was fear of love that made them do it.
Lovers are illogical.
Lovers of God even more so.

Jesus didn’t come to control people
– but to love them so much
that they were healed,
were whole
again.

Imagine

I

Imagine:
The Church no longer has a “worship service”. 
Instead, service to people is its worship.

Imagine all that money and time spent on feeding the hungry, healing the sick, housing the homeless – instead of hymnals, a band, a podcast, a live-streaming service, etc.

Imagine:
a world where we are 
no longer divided by money, 
where all people are seen as equal.

Imagine:
Keeping Christmas in your heart all year long.
Not the commercial Christmas, but the real one.

Imagine:
If Christians were known for their love. 
We must be the change we wish to see in the world.

And I don’t mean any of that “love the sinner, hate the sin” business because Jesus never said anything like that. Just love people, and let God take care of the rest. Love heals people.