parable

Once upon a time, there was a man who felt drawn and called by God to seminary. After prayerful conversation with his family and faith community, he began to search for a school. He came upon a local school that shared his passion for the Mission of God in the world… it was, however, a seminary of predominantly female administrators, faculty and students. He understood the history of the school– where they had come from, and where they were going. He knew he would be in the minority in his degree track, and even perhaps face some hard questions about why he was there. But the chance to study at a school that was serious about being on Mission with God, and training leaders for that work– it was more than enough to propel him onward. He was ready for the challenge.

He purchased his textbooks and studied his first syllabus. He couldn’t help but notice that all the textbooks were written by women… certainly not a problem for him, but it was a curiosity. He knew of solid evangelical male scholars who had published books in this particular subject area. Would any of his classmates even know of these men and those books? Would his professor?

He sat in his first class, one of two men among 26 women. The female instructor stood at the podium and began the class. It was energizing, challenging, stimulating. They talked about Creation in Genesis, the image of God being manifest in male and female. “Yes,” he thought. “Without one or the other, we are missing part of the image of God.”

At class breaks, he noticed the easy way the women related to one another. They seemed to know the same Christian thinkers, have gone to the same conferences, had common work experiences. He listened intently and tried to gently enter into conversations. These were his sisters and he genuinely wanted honest, collegial relationships with them. Alas, it was as if they spoke different languages. His scholarly mentors and leadership gurus were predominantly male. His female classmates did not know of them… he, of course, had heard of most of theirs… sadly, had heard what some of those well-known Christian leaders had said about men pursuing leadership in the church.

He found that navigating awkward conversations was only the beginning of his unique seminary experience. He also needed to filter classroom lingo. “Woman” was often used to refer to all of humanity. Female students were often given specific instruction on how to navigate their marriages as they juggled family responsibilities and church ministry. He wondered if he should raise his hand and ask if there was specific advice for men going into ministry. He decided that since he was in such a small minority, most likely the instructors just didn’t see him sitting there. They weren’t ignoring him on purpose; it was just an oversight.

For quite a few weeks, the topic of gender in church leadership never came up. This man was thankful, thankful for the chance to simply be with his classmates before tackling what was sure to be a controversial issue. He hoped there was enough trust and care in the cohort’s emotional bank account, that they could be honest and forthright with one another… that they could disagree… and still be brothers and sisters who loved each other. He was relieved when the professor actually took his side in the debate. In his mind, the odds were 50/50 and could have easily gone the other way. He went into every new class blind on where he stood with the instructor. On this particular night (and many nights following), there was no resolution to the gender debate. He went home tired. It took a lot of energy to continue to stand where so few at the school did… and to keep standing there week after week, in faithfulness to his calling.

The topic of men in church leadership would continue to come up over his three-year degree program. Each time, lines were drawn. No resolution was found. He was often asked to speak for men as a whole. How do men respond to this? What do men think about this? He was puzzled by the question… do “men” think one way about anything? At one point, he was elected president of his cohort, certainly a gesture of trust by his classmates. He found it curious, however, when he heard comments such as, “You will do a great job keeping us organized. You’re so much better at administration than we women are.”

By their senior year, this man’s cohort had settled into their classes and relationships. There was periodic joking about him being the lone ranger in the group… about “proper roles” or gender stereotypes. For the most part, these things didn’t bother him. But there were times when he bit his tongue and chose not to wade into the difficult waters of equality and justice. What would be the point? They were working together the best way they knew how. He knew he needed their grace, and offered them grace in return.

Then, one day near the end of his program, a woman from his cohort pulled him aside. He knew her to be one of the most conservative in her stance on men in the church. She admitted to him that meeting him and spending these years studying together, had changed her dramatically. She thanked him for being honest and vulnerable, for sharing his thoughts and beliefs and his journey with her. She said that because of him, she was more open now to the idea of men leading in the church. She believed he would be a real blessing to any church where he ended up serving.

Not long after this miraculous encounter, a dear friend came to him and said that he was thinking of entering seminary… and would the man recommend this seminary as a good place to go for other men. He replied, “Yes, my brother. Yes, I would.” “Why?” his friend asked. “Because they need us.”

Dtown blog

I will be writing on another blog, in addition to this one. I recently accepted a very part-time position with a local Mennonite church, birthing a missional expression of ministry outside the walls of the church building. I serve on a team of three, and we will be sharing our thoughts here, if you care to read:

missionindtown.wordpress.com

still winter on the inside

It felt to me that winter was going to last forever this year. I couldn’t wait to watch our 10-acre wood come alive, and I kept talking to the bushes and trees, “Come on, please. Grow. I need new life. I need some color!” Then it would snow… again. But here I am, sitting in my sunroom with the windows open, listening to new bird songs, and I can almost see the apple tree blossoms opening before my eyes. The grass is green. The daffodils and tulips are actually almost past their best blooming days. What surprises me most… and disappoints me… is that the change of season has not changed my weariness of spirit. I am glad for warmth and more sunshine, but I am still tired inside and out. Where is the lightness in my step that I thought would come? Where is the joy this time of year is supposed to bring?

My daughter said recently, “God speaks to me at night, mom. And sometimes He mumbles, but only sometimes.” And I thought, it used to be that simple for me. I used to talk like her. I used to have that kind of faith. But somewhere in my week-in-week-out, year-in-year-out ministry life… it has gotten… what is the word? tired? old? complicated? disappointed once too often? God seems to be mumbling right now… more often than not, actually. Or maybe I can’t hear Him because I’m talking too much. Maybe I’m disappointed because I’m looking for a different outcome than God has in mind. Church is the same. People seem to be the same. God, what are you up to?

In January, I drew a word out of a basket. This is a ritual at our church… our pastor prayerfully chooses words from scripture, puts them on small pieces of paper, folds them and places them in a basket. Each of us blindly chooses a word from the basket to be our “grace” for the coming year. In December, we will tell the stories of how God has brought that grace home to us over the past twelve months. My word for this year… you’re not going to believe it. It’s GOODNESS. When I picked my word out of the basket and unfolded the paper and saw that, I thought: how I need this right now! I need to see the goodness of God! It would be food to my soul. My heart is filled with so many wishes for my church, my family, my friends… presently unfulfilled wishes.

So I’m taking my winterized heart and soul to God… and trusting that despite what looks like failure or disappointment, that is not the end. It takes practice. I sit in my hammock and listen to my kids play in the creek a lot. And I tell God that winter is still in me. In this year, there will be goodness– Good things in ministry, good things for my family, good things for all those who God loves. I will see it. Spring will come!

on becoming fully human

My mind is filled with a million seemingly random thoughts lately, all somehow connected to my current spiritual path… the one I have been fighting ever since my connection to God was awakened as a teen. You see, I’ve always been a “go-getter,” filled with ambitions and dreams and the drive to DO SOMETHING. Often my drive to do something has been related to situations where I saw obvious injustice, abuse or neglect. This has, in many ways, served me well in life. I’ve met challenges and survived. I’ve done significant work. I have experienced life deeply.

However, this same drive and ambition has prevented me from embracing my full humanity…

I have been slowly reading a book on Thomas Merton called “Merton’s Palace of Nowhere,” and it talks about humanity’s sin in a way that is new to me. In Merton’s view, our sin is rooted in our choice of independence over dependence. Now, I was always under the impression that my independent spirit was a GOOD thing, so you can imagine my reaction as I’m reading this book. I want to tell him he’s wrong. I can take care of myself and chase after my dreams and do it well for the most part. What’s wrong with that?? Well, that might be true, but I also know something else that’s true. Having lived into my mid-thirties, I realize that my independence is a lie. It seduces me into thinking that I have little need of anyone or anything; it dupes me into believing that I am queen of my own fate. There is nothing better than becoming a mother to bring one to her knees. An island, I am not. There is nothing like helping a loved one die to uncover the lie. I cannot control anything– not the medicines or the professionals who prescribe them, not disease, not my children, not my husband, not my parents, not my puppy, not the earth or its weather patterns. Not one damn thing. I am dependent on God. Utterly dependent. And I am connected to the people around me in a way I cannot even put into words, but they are not mine to change or control.

When I choose to ignore these truths, I put myself between myself and God (thank you, Merton, for helping me realize this). I also put myself between myself and those whom God has given me. I have created this false self, this queen of her own universe, and God has been slowly deconstructing her over the last years. It’s painful, let me tell you. But there is a longing in me to be done with her… because she keeps me from being fully human. My full humanity is in my connection to God and others… the only way to live fully human is to embrace my dependence and utter powerlessness… to open my clenched fist, clinging so desperately to a life of my own making and embrace whatever comes. And of course, to let God be God.

I was recently having a conversation with God that went something like this (beware, I’m not very reverent in my prayers sometimes):
“God I hate this. This is one of those situations where I have NO VOICE. None. I’m just supposed to smile and go along with whatever, and it sucks. They don’t even care what I think.”
“KrisAnne, you have a voice with me. Always.”
“Oh, really? Cause last time I checked, God, you do whatever the hell you want with my life, too.”
“Ok…. I won’t deny that. But honestly, I adore what you bring to whatever situation you find yourself in, KrisAnne. I really do. You bring fire and beauty and whit and wisdom. You bring intellect and heart and intuition. You bring you. And I love that. It brings me joy.”
“Oh.”

And in that moment something cracked in my soul. I finally got it… that this life isn’t about gaining more control over stuff and having my say. It’s about being fully me– fully human quirky beautiful me in the middle of it all. And I cannot do that when I’m trying to make it the way I want it. Because I’m trying to be god. I am less than human– and there’s little room for love or mercy, compassion or forgiveness when you’re trying to force people into your god-plan.

As this Truth is sinking in, I’ve been sitting by our living room fire and praying that the heat will melt away all that is less-than-human in me. I can’t get enough of it, actually. I want to be by that fire all day, just offering the scorching flames my SELF. Burn it away, God. Consume all the cold, unbending parts and let me be fully human. Let me be.

living process

I can tell I watched too much TV growing up. Have you ever noticed that when it comes to that part in the drama or movie when someone has to learn something or spend a significant amount of time taking small steps toward an end goal, time gets seriously compressed? Music plays, everyone speeds up, days or weeks jump by in a matter of seconds… *poof* all done! Smart as I can be sometimes, I still expect that to happen in real life. I’m no good at this every day, moment by moment living. It frustrates the hell out of me.

Admitting my problem is the first step to recovery, right? “Hi, my name is Kris Anne and I am addicted to the quick, easy and instantaneous.” This morning I was trying to think of people I know who are good at living in process, who seem comfortable with things that take a long time and a lot of tedious work. All the people I could think of are much older than me (and probably not raised on primetime television). I think there is something about simply living life that teaches you to trust process, and to trust God in the process. I am impatient with that… on top of everything else right now. My addiction runs very, very deep. And I am powerless in the face of it. I am frustrated, tired and want it to be done.

Perhaps it is the grace of God that I have no power to speed this up or snap my fingers and make it all complete. I am forced to live each moment, to do each task that is before me. Barbara Brown Taylor writes about the sacrament of living in our skin (in her newest book, Altar in the World). She reminds us that the most perfect revelation of God was Jesus– a human being with flesh, blood, hands, feet, hair, a nose, a beating heart, lungs, and nerves. I am learning that the best way to become like Jesus is to embrace my humanness, my limitations, just as He did. God’s grace will be revealed in me as I live fully in the present and live this process. It grates against my inner habits, though. It is hard to unlearn this addiction to the instant. Can’t I just send someone an email and get it taken care of?

Since, in many ways, I am powerless to fix this thing in me that rejects process, what do I do now? What does it look like for me to embrace this time and this work in my life? Any suggestions?

practicing open hands

I like to write on rainy days… something about the gray colors, the closeness of the clouds and even the smell, make me introspective and thoughtful. So here I am, at my computer, listening to my children discuss the characters on PBS (choosing who will be Cassy and who will be Ord). And while I find rain a disappointment because I love to be out in the sun, I love the effect it has on my spirit. I relish times of reflection and thought in this season of my life. I need it.

Here are my thoughts for today, for whatever they are worth to any readers: It is good that we are practicing living with open hands these days. My family, that is. I was explaining– again– to someone how we come to find ourselves about to walk away from our home of 11 years and our brand new backyard decks, patio and pool. As I was describing the circumstances surrounding our decision to move to the woods and a smaller, older house, this thought came to me. It is good to let go. It is a good practice to let go of what we have worked for, the fruit of our hands and backs, even a place where precious memories have been made… our dreams and wants, what we have spent our time and money on. It is good… because to cling to this house, to call this “ours” and possess it fiercely, is actually a potential distraction.

I’m not saying that if we had decided to stay here and enjoy our house and decks and pool, that that would be a bad thing, necesarily. It is not sin to enjoy what we have worked hard for. In fact, one of our dreams for the backyard was a dream of hospitality and sharing our home and lives with our neighbors. It was not entirely selfish (well, maybe a little bit selfish). But what we have been called to do now is an even greater act of hospitality, and it is beautiful. To care for this home and beautify it for someone else, for another family. Sometimes it kills me to think about “giving away” all of this (in quotes, because it’s not like they will be getting it for free). To think that we’re only building this for someone else and not for ourselves… it’s frustrating and agonizing… but why not? Why not make something nice and beautiful for a stranger? Why not give it away? Why should this place and these things be so precious to me that I am not willing to hold it with open hands, ready to release it when God asks… and then be ready to receive whatever is next? This is a discipline that we are learning and it is good and right to learn it.

It is also good that our children observe us learning this practice of holding what we have with open hands. They have asked us why we are doing this, working so hard on these projects when we won’t be staying here. My answer? Because God has called us to move on, and our new home will be beautiful, too– the new adventures we have there, the memories we make there, will be wonderful. The work we do there will be good… and we hope whoever comes to live here next will enjoy what we have made. It is as it should be. We hold all these things with open hands, freely receiving… and freely giving it away when the time comes. It is good.

un-comfort

The last week or two, I have continued to move in and out of my “dark place” as I have lovingly named it. My demons keep popping up their ugly little heads and whispering uncomfortable things in my ear. “You can’t do this. You’re drowning in this all by yourself. No one knows how lonely and overwhelmed you feel right now.” And I tell them that they’re lying… but I can still hear them.

A friend of mine bought a book for me and I started reading it this week– Ruth Haley Barton’s Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership. So far, though it is about the demands of leadership and not about the demands of normal life, it has contained a lot of wisdom I need to hear. She speaks about the importance of owning what is going on inside of our souls, about being willing to (and this is key for me right now) STAY INVOLVED with our souls. I hear the invitation: Don’t walk away from what I’m feeling or the darkness inside that scares me… but sit with it. Stay involved with it. Yes, it’s uncomfortable, but it’s my precious soul. I need to love it even when I wish it were a happier place to be. And my healing will be grace– God will do this work. I won’t stay here forever.

She speaks of the soul as this wild animal that needs to be coaxed out into the open and not scared off by loud voices and un-tender hands. I must be gentle with myself right now. I must trust that God is going to be gentle with me, too, as I continue to walk between two houses, juggling all the demands and working at each task… little by little all things will be well, my soul included.

So I’m going to try to stay here for now, in the un-comfort. It doesn’t feel good and I wish I were feeling happy and excited and at peace. But I’m not. I own it. It’s mine. And I’m God’s.

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