Roots and Sky: Book Giveaway and Reflecting on Home

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There are a handful of books I’m reading simultaneously – I do that because I’m impatient and want to digest everything at once. Drew Hart’s Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism, Jen Hatmaker’s For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards, and Diana Butler Bass’s Grounded: Finding God in the World-A Spiritual Revolution. It’s very random but they all hit various points of need for me right now and in usual fashion, I’m devouring them, which means I am in essence skimming and writing/underlining the parts that slap me in the face.

But, Christie Purifoy‘s book – I’m reading this book by ever so slowly. Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons is a journal of sorts, in which “Christie slowly unveils the trials and triumphs of that first year at Maplehurst [her new home in Pennsylvania] – from summer’s intense heat and autumn’s glorious canopy to winter’s quiet grief and spring’s unexpected mercies. Through stories of planting and preserving, of opening the gates wide to neighbors, and of learning to speak the language of a place, Christie invites you into the heartache and joy of small beginnings and the wonder of a God who would make his home with us.” (From the back cover of the book)

Besides being wowed by her pedigree (degrees in English from University of Chicago – I’m still shallow this way, it’s the Korean in me that’s overly-impressed by people who get their doctorates), I was moved by the depth of theological articulation interwoven in these pages – heartfelt and beautiful, and definitely anything but shallow. It’s providing so much for me right now – perspective, possibility, and joy. Because it’s a sanctuary. It’s a space that is allowing me to come back to myself and one that encourages me to simply pay attention to what is happening around me. There’s something about the genuine and honest way she engages the tension between the ordinary and holy because occupying that space in-between is not easy. But the way Christie writes about this sense of wandering and home, I see that this beautiful struggle is necessary. It’s food for our souls. We need this way of being and seeing not only to survive the everyday but periodically revel in the glory of God’s grace.

'We must learn to walk with God on the ground of our own lives.'Click To Tweet

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Somehow I got two copies of this incredible book in the mail. A few of us did and that’s such a sweet surprise because since I love it so much I’m going to have to give it away. I love sending mail and will include a couple of extra little treats with it.

If you’d like to enter to win Christie’s new book each thing you do below will give you a single entry:
1. Drop me a line in the comments section here,
2. Tweet at me on Twitter
3. Like/Follow my Facebook page because though I do post my content there I also post a shitton of other people I read and follow and likely good stuff for you to read, too.

I’ll do the drawing on Tuesday 2/2 (release day!) Consider, seriously, buying it anyway as a gift for anyone who loves beautiful and encouraging stories.

Tiny Revolution: Crossing Over 

Road

It’s a busy street. Walnut Street.

Where I have to cross to get to the Shalom Community Center. I pause, waiting for the crowd of cars to dissipate a little so I can quickly scootch across, hands in my jacket pockets. Looking across the way I see many of the struggling and displaced clients are milling around outside. Some are laughing raucously at some joke while playfully shoving each other. Some are standing and staring off into the distance. The weather is frigid so I can see their breath making wisps of clouds around them. It’s cigarette smoke, too. Some are walking into the building hunched over carrying huge packs and old grocery bags on their backs and in their arms.

I take a deep breath and cross. Squeak out a “Good Morning” at some people outside and walk to the door. When I enter the building my glasses steam up. Some folks look up at me, curious and inquisitive. One of them says, “Hey, sweetheart,” with a tone of voice that makes me think I’m in college again. I quickly shuffle to the kitchen and sign in where the kitchen supervisor, Ron, greets me with a huge grin and welcomes me with an apron. After I wash my hands I begin chopping lettuce and strawberries. People start to line up long before lunch will be served at 12 noon. They ask what’s on the menu and make jokes with one of the regular workers, Chief. Ron tells me about his new puppy and how she stands on her hind legs and is already house-trained. While making small talk with the other volunteers I smile at the clients as I hand them their food trays. Usually it’s met with a thank-you “honey” or “princess.”

Other mornings I head to the desk to help field all manner of requests.

“I need to put something in daytime storage.”
“I need to sign up for a shower.”
“I need to make a long distance phone call.”
“I need to check my mail.”
“I need a cup of laundry detergent.”
“I need to talk to a caseworker.”

Anything and everything from needing diapers to dog food to winter coats to jobs to bus passes. I’m piled-on by this lack, and if there is an abundance of anything it is urgency and stress.

One morning I watch an older Black woman holding a five month old baby in one arm and in the other hand she clasps the hand of a little girl the age of the twins, maybe a little younger, maybe 3 or 4. They’re sitting in chairs half falling asleep. The woman nudges the little girl and hands her the baby. The little girl scoots back in the chair to make room for the baby to sit between her legs clutching him around the middle. They both stare quietly at the floor while the grandmother dozes off. I want so much to scoop up the baby in my arms and bounce him around. A few minutes later they approach the desk and I coo at the 5 month old with his big brown eyes and tufts of black hair, and compliment the little girl’s winter hat – it’s Minnie Mouse. She beams at me twirling her two braids. I tell her she is a great big sister, and her grandmother agrees. She beams some more. I’m overcome because I want to do something. But I don’t know their story. 

It’s only been a month. Three times a week in this community – at the Shalom Community Center and at the Interfaith Winter Shelter. Such a short time, and yet I have seen and felt so much.

But each time I’ve gone there’s a moment where I seize up a little. Every single time. When someone screams something obscene and it sounds like a fight is about break out. Or when someone walks up in the lunch line and is clearly drunk or high, and a little more than belligerent. Or even the small things – the bad teeth, the matted hair, the mismatched and dirty clothes.

I think, Do I really want to do community with these people?Click To Tweet

I catch myself – my feet pointed to the door and my hand on my jacket. Something in me wants to bolt and forget this whole thing. Because these needs – they’re so unfamiliar to me. And not just unfamiliar in the “unknown” sense but in the foreign sense. Not only do I not understand but I don’t see it so clearly. I see their problems, yes. Their issues, and even potential “solutions,” to their lives. I see what I’ve been conditioned to see and this means I see people who are homeless and jobless. Maybe this translates to faithless, too – untrustworthy or lazy or weak. In other words, I see people I normally would ignore and avoid on a regular basis. I have trouble seeing beyond the borders of their clothing and the fringes of their unraveling shirts or Salvation Army and Goodwill sweatshirts.

So, why am I here?

As the lunch shift closes up one day a mother and a young boy, maybe 7 or 8 years old, comes in at the last minute. We fill up two plates heaping over with tamales, rice and cheese, and extra fruit for them. I watch her try to figure out where to go – there are tables nearby where a group of people lounge and digest their food – a coma setting in. So, she sets down her bags but she looks uncertain. She tells the boy to use two hands to carry his plate much in the same I do with my kids when they have a glass full of milk that’s swishing around in there threatening to spill out. As I make a move to run around to the other side to help her another woman I’ve often seen at the shelter named Heather walks up to her and asks if she needs help and wants any more food. Heather says there’s a family room in the back, where it’s a little quieter, and she picks up her things and leads the mother and boy back.

I watch this thinking about all the ways it is difficult for me to cross over in so many scenarios. How it’s hard for me to enter into this space and community even though I’ve served in soup kitchens and shelters in various places before. Why does this feel so significant? Why am I making it such a big deal? There’s something more for me to see here, and it’s just starting to shimmer on the surface. 

For me to be in community with the people in front of me means taking in all of who they are - even as I expect people to take in all of who I am, too. The good and the bad. The ideals and judgments. The hopes and flaws.Click To Tweet

But, it’s not just about me. I see how hard it is for these people around me to cross over, too. And maybe not because it is hard for them but because of all the ways we – I mean, I put up blocks – mentally, socially, physically – that prevent anyone of them from crossing over and shattering all our presuming and conditioning. It’s those like Heather that have crossed over easily in my mind – I’ve watched her take care of people like this in so many ways, but I know, like any of us, she’s not perfect. That’s not ultimately the point, though, right? Isn’t this redeemed life about love and grace not in spite of but through our imperfections?

What keeps happening now is not just an affirmation of their humanity but my humanity. For now, this is why I keep showing up. I need to be regularly and blatantly impressed with the miracle of humanity all around me. To realize the people in front of me are my people and not those people. Because I’m choosing it and showing up. Imperfectly, with all my judgmental thoughts that I have to squish down out of my brain. To see the possibility that I am not human because of what I wear or how I smell or what I think or see but because of the imago dei as I experience it always in radical connection to those around me. To cross over again and again to that reality always just beyond my peripheral vision where the incarnate God is present even in the people and places I least expect, and least of all in me. 

Tiny Revolution: First Steps

Baby Steps

Every day this week since I wrote that last blog post about bearing a churchbaby I have vacillated between wanting to crawl into bed to panic in the darkness to a deranged and hyperactive excitement erupting into way too many emails in the span of 5 minutes to one graphic designer friend. In many ways this feels like a kind of fertilization, one that is reminiscent of both my pregnancies. It’s always a mixed bag. Anticipation and terror. I can’t wait to meet the baby but I’m not ready for this baby. Elation and aversion. This baby is a beautiful miracle. Get this baby out of me!! Vivacity and total, sheer exhaustion. Though I felt like in the beginning I was able to live on just a handful of hours of sleep I felt simultaneously ready to collapse at any moment. I still do, sometimes.

But, now that I’ve put it out there, even though I did put the qualifier in at the end, “This may not turn into anything at all – I’m totally aware of that possibility,” I still feel like I have to do this now. Because you readers are holding me accountable. I know that no one – well, maybe a few – may be thinking, “Oh, it’s another one of her crazy ideas because she’s bored,” or “If she doesn’t follow through with this to some measure of visible success then it’s just evidence that she’s a serious 7 (Enneagram) and can’t stay focused on anything.”

Yet, I still feel that since it’s been verbalized there’s a pseudo-covenant being formed here. And, it’s not that I fear failure so much, (although, I totally do fear that, of course) but more the inevitable insane giving of oneself over to the roller coaster ride of work – the emotions, the challenges, the people. That’s where the analogy to parenting is helpful to me. It’s a world of pain and hurt – this giving of oneself to another little creature. And why do we do it? I can think of a myriad of reasons, but for now, the one that compels me the most is to be changed myself.

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With anything new I know we do a little at a time. So, these are the baby steps I’ve taken so far.
1. I volunteer at the Shalom Community Center now 1-2 times a week in the kitchen and the hospitality desk.
2. I volunteer with the Interfaith Winter Shelter on Thursday nights for set up and registration until the last day of the season which is March 31st. The point of these commitments is to simply show up and be present in the homeless community.
3. I have had lovely encouraging and inspiring conversations with other churchy types – church planter, Catholic Worker types, and mainliners.
4. I continue to spend time with students and making plans with other student campus groups to lay the groundwork for hosting a possible Dinner Church with the homeless starting in April. Just need to find a space.
5. I’ve been talking with numerous people about starting a mobile food business called Kup Bop to make this churchbaby financially sustainable. More on that later, including a Kickstarter if I get the balls. And figure out where to store a food cart.

I’m not looking to be one of those huge church plants. That’s not appealing at all to me. But I do want to do something meaningful. It seems fitting on the MLK Jr Day that I think really seriously about local community and impact, and how important it is to be a part of something that is meaningful right in our neighborhood. When people have often lamented to me about how overwhelming and huge #blacklivesmatter and mass incarceration and the immigration and refugee crisis seems and “what can we do?” I hold onto the advice that scholar-theologian-lawyer Andrea Smith gave a group of us about revolution: “We need to execute numerous direct actions. Do what you can in your neighborhood, community, town, and city. We need everyone.”

That’s how change happens. Baby steps.

Thanks for journeying with me.

#OneWord2016: Dream

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There’s a sermon that I often heard during the summers of 2002 and 2003.

At the time I was a backpacking guide for a ministry for high school students called Wilderness Ranch. It was my seminary internship for one summer, and an excuse to be in Colorado again for another one. I needed to get out of New Jersey for a few months. For seven days two guides would take a group of high school students from all over – Texas, Georgia, weirdly, New Jersey – through the Rocky Mountains. At the end of the week back at base camp the director, Skeet Tingle, would always do the same talk using the scripture from the Transfiguration.

I remember this as I sit at a table looking out at the lovely Blue Ridge surrounding Montreat, a Presbyterian conference center that hosts college students every year for a few days. How it’s easier to see at a height. How some things begin to make a little more sense up here. How you feel braver and truer when you are surrounded by trees and your Creator. How the air is clearer and you can breathe better.

The topography of a space has to include peaks and valleys, bright sunlight and a large sky, and a nibble of winter for me to come back to myself. Good preaching and the sound of 1100 college students singing Come Thou Fount and the Canticle of Turning helps, too. The epiphanies come like breaking waves and rolling clouds, and like Peter, I am eager to pitch numerous tents to hold onto those revelations. Reality begins to blur a little, and I see signs in the poetry being read on stage, paintings, a still lake, and even my dreams become undeniable.

Reality begins to blur a little, and I see signs in the poetry being read on stage, paintings, a still lake, and even my dreams become undeniable.Click To Tweet

And so that’s going to be the word for 2016. Dream.

I had toyed with “breathe” or “simplify” or wistfully, “sleep,” but a tribe of clergy and preacherwomen who are surrounding me with prayer sparked this one. It’s of course no coincidence that we are in Epiphany, and in the Matthew 2 passage where seasons and journey, and dreams shimmer on the surface of the pages. But it isn’t the star or the roads, or even the angels in Matthew 2 that compel me – it’s the dreams of the Magi and Joseph that lead them to move and live and be. So, dream. Dream because my Korean ancestors don’t take dreams lightly – they believe that dreams can tell you everything from the biological sex of the baby in your belly to when someone is nearing their death. Dream because dreams though they are strange and peripheral to our lives, they are often the instrument of revolution. Dream because our desires and hopes for our lives are usually barely articulated but cannot be bottled up and will find their way to the surface of our consciousness. Dream because they lead us to risk and change, and to grasp the possbility of a different reality. Dream because they are for the fools and desperados and the hopemongers.

Dream because I need to keep paying attention in fresh ways.Click To Tweet

I go back to CS Lewis’ Aslan during these times:

“First, remember the signs. Say them to yourself when you awake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs. And secondly, I give you a warning. Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly: I will not often do so down in Narnia. Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind. And the signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearances.

Remember the signs and believe the signs. Nothing else matters.” (From The Chronicles of Narnia: The Silver Chair)

Skeet would often say something similar. Something about not staying on the mountain top because we aren’t made to live at the elevation. That even though we are able to see more clearly and feel more deeply, we are meant to have those moments in glimpses and glimmerings. We are made to live in the valleys. Jesus led his disciples back down, too. But, I’m reminded over and over – it’s the long run down and back with college students, it’s the now traditional catch-up over coffee with a friend, it’s being squeezed into a pew with 10 others during worship – we don’t go it alone, we have the people around us, we have our tribes and communities, and we always, always have those signs, we carry those dreams, to lead us.

Thank God.

Deeper Story: Orcas, Theology, Gynecology, and a Baptism

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An old post:

It’s the fourth Sunday of Advent.

My mind is spinning. Is Christmas really this week? As in, 4 days from now. As in, somehow a whole month has flown by. As in, this year is almost over.

Howhowhowhowhowhowhowhowhowhowhowhowhowhow is this possible…?

Ok. Breathe. I need to come to terms with this reality. And, it’s fine. It’s really fine. Seriously.

We paused for a moment that night, Andy and I. We watched Blackfish – story of killer whales and how they are exploited. Maybe an odd choice for this season. First movie in a while so we’re a little rusty at choosing movies. Kids were all down. I was folding laundry – willingly – because there was an unusual but welcome peace in the house.  The movie was really compelling and informative, but still…Good God. I mean, please, Jesus help us. I posted on Facebook:

Just finished watching Blackfish. I’m so incredibly depressed. I hate everyone and everything. #humanssuck #allgodscreatures

What felt really the most horrible was watching orca calves be stripped from their mothers. These are creatures that are highly social and have complex family systems – their “languages” are even different for each clan. When the main killer whale in the documentary, Tilikum, was taken from his mother in the Northwestern wild oceans the female orcas stayed nearby wailing their protestation and helplessness. Likewise when calves (remember Shamu?) were taken from their mothers in captivity (like for Seaworld) they recorded the sounds of the mother orca in the pool for 24 hours. The caretakers had never heard that particular sound before and brought in analysts who explained they were doing long range vocals that were truly unique. One of the trainers explained pretty pointedly: “It makes sense. They were grieving.” These orcas were trying to make their voices heard so that the calves would know how to get back to the mothers. But, even in their persistent song, I wonder if they despaired knowing it was futile.

A song of mourning.

...O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear...Click To Tweet

I can’t get those orca sounds out of my head.

II

Today’s text in church was from Isaiah again but this time with the explicit words about a young woman bearing a child called Immanuel. God-With-Us. Even if it might be exegetically off to totally tie these words to Jesus (a hard lesson in OT101) one can’t help but think of Mary the virgin, and God’s radical proximity to us in that little bundle – the precious bun in the oven. Andy’s sermon was really lovely, and all about what I needed to hear in terms of paying attention – how children and babies demand our attention constantly, whether there’s a pressing need (food, water/milk, dirty diaper, sleep) or simply for cuddles and skin-to-skin contact. 

The attention God gives us is likewise relentless, and undeniably much like a mother that positions herself - literally orients herself - towards her newborn.Click To Tweet

Of course, there’s mention of the virgin birth, and I can’t help but stumble over it again. But, Andy read this great Frederick Buechner quote:

The earliest of the four Gospels makes no reference to it, and neither does Paul, who wrote earlier still. On later evidence, however, many Christians have made it an article of faith that it was the Holy Spirit rather than Joseph who got Mary pregnant. If you believe God was somehow in Christ, it shouldn’t make much difference to you how he got there. If you don’t believe, it should make less difference still. In either case, life is complicated enough without confusing theology and gynecology.

In one sense anyway the doctrine of the Virgin Birth is demonstrably true. Whereas the villains of history can always be seen as the products of heredity and environment, the saints always seem to arrive under their own steam. Evil evolves. Holiness happens.

Man. Buechner both kills me (in terms of humor…for some reason I laughed out loud – it felt loud since I was the only one in the pews around me – after hearing the words “theology and gynecology”) and wrecks me (in terms of feeling something that’s buried so deep come rushing to the surface like a whale that breaches the ocean waves and with a splash disappears beneath leaving a little frothiness behind).

Holiness happens. Whether we like it or agree with it or are confused by it.Click To Tweet

And I thought I’d want to write something about how much we’ve confused theology and gynecology in terms of limiting women, silencing women, oppressing women throughout the ages, and how this meant the emphasis on the virginity of Mary was more important than her courage or obedience, and how if we really think about it and parse it out it would mean the Holy Spirit – who is God – had sex with Mary – and she somehow gave birth to Jesus, who is also God and one with the Holy Spirit, so God gave birth to God…? It doesn’t make much sense to go there, and it really doesn’t help either way. Whatever.  The emphasis on something that is pretty moot in my book takes away from the point of it all – that God came into this world and joined us. And for what reason…? It blows my mind. Because seriously, the human race pretty much sucks, and documentaries like Blackfish remind me just how much.

III

And then, my son, Desmond. He strikes again! is what I’m thinking as I watch him trip slow motion backwards into the stand holding the blue pitcher of water for the baptismal font. I gasp and mouth the word Nooooooooooooooooo dramatically as it topples off into the lap of an unsuspecting girl. I flinch like I got hit with a water balloon even though it doesn’t come near me. Somehow this girl manages to keep it from hitting the chancel stairs too hard, so it doesn’t break – Thank. God. – but the water spills everywhere.

Lord Jesus, why??? Pastor Rachel says something to lighten the tension but I just want to crawl under the pews until the service is over and everyone has gone home. What am I doing wrong??? As I hold him squirming in my lap and then pass him off to his dad so that I can grab Ozzie who is power crawling towards that same font I watch Maddie, another little girl older than the twins but whose mother and I share knowing glances all throughout the service. We often commiserate after service about whose children were worse. Maddie goes up to the baptismal font and…sticks her whole hand in there. And drinks the water in her hand. While Pastor Rachel is still doing her children’s sermon. She’s unfazed by it. Maddie even licks her fingers. I’m thinking, “Oh God!” kind of gross – surely that ain’t no holy water – but kind of wondrous and I’m laughing to myself.

I forget sometimes that the baptismal font is not just symbolic of cleansing but also for quenching that eternal thirst. I loved seeing Maddie do it so blatantly and … joyously. 

Right on, Maddie! You drink from the font, girl. Drink it to the dregs. Drink it up, drink up the love of God, the promise of God’s seal upon our lives, the water that never ceases to flow, drink it all up. 

It all seems so bleak and futile – our small lives – and all the destruction and ugliness feels like it is constantly winning. But it’s not.

People gather to protest and resist the darkness and to call for freedom, and huddle together around the small spring of water that gives life to the multitudes,Click To Tweet

It is a baby once again that reminds me of God, baby Eli being baptized today, reminded me of God on high drawing near to us, and always in the most unexpected places, holiness happens.

O come, Thou Dayspring from on high,
and cheer us by thy drawing nigh;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night
and death’s dark shadow put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!