Thursday, September 25, 2008

No Man's Land

A Quaker gay man and an Evangelical full-time mother and wife make strange bed fellows. I’ve know Brad for a long time. We have worked together, on and off since 2002, raising awareness in the Western Suburbs of Chicago in the fight against HIV and AIDS. On paper Brad and I really should not be friends.

Yet, this hot September morning found us walking in stride together along the lakefront. Last Saturday was the annual AIDS Foundation of Chicago AIDS Walk/Run. This was the first year I participated in the walk and I was struck by the diversity in the crowd. Over 7000 people gathered in Grant Park and either ran or walked the 5K around the Field Museum campus and lakefront.

While pinning on my number I observed many walks of life; from the respected South Side Pastor and his congregation, to the pack of Loyola students complete with cheerleader and megaphone, to the gay and lesbian couples, to the families with strollers. All ages. All races. All lifestyles.

I hadn’t seen Brad in a long time and I was interested to catch up with him and his life. We settled into a nice stride with Lake Michigan on our right and the sun beating down. Recently, we had both gone through transitions in our lives around our efforts at raising awareness of HIV and AIDS.

As we talked, I reflected, “I often feel like I’m in No Man’s Land. My faith community--well, nobody really knows what to do with me. I’m an evangelical and suburban mom. Liberals would laugh if I considered myself liberal and Conservatives won’t own me either. I’m just sort of out here on my own.”

Brad reflected a similar sentiment. You see, Brad is a truth-teller. I have always respected that about Brad. The fight against HIV and AIDS should not be polarizing or part of political games, and ever since I’ve known Brad he has been willing to be in No Man’s Land. Working gracefully with all different kinds of people; even people who disagree with his lifestyle. Speaking against both sides, any side, where ignorance, irresponsibility and injustice loom; especially into his own communities of friends and faith.

Brad is planning a prayer breakfast in Dupage County on December 1st in honor of World AIDS Day. He is building the content of the morning around the idea we all tend to put ourselves in buckets. We separate from one another based on many things. Brad’s vision is to see all people, all faith communities, dump out their buckets into one big pile and start working together to eradicate the spread of HIV and AIDS.

I found our walk and talk very encouraging; a divine appointment if I may be so bold. Sometimes it’s lonely and confusing to be in No Man’s Land; to not be firmly situated in a bucket of ideology and opinion. But maybe free-agents are needed after all? To wander around and push on buckets, expand understanding, ask honest questions, and seek real answers.

Because in the long run, the fight against HIV and AIDS is not a 5K on a lovely morning, rather, it’s a grueling global Marathon and we have all just started.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

A Bouquet Named Mercy

It’s scary to be transparent. We all have our reasons why. Some of us—we simply have never been transparent. It was not modeled and therefore we have never tried it. It is not in the repertoire of human relating. Some of us—we were modeled over-exposure. TMI, too much information. And we have left situations feeling too vulnerable and as if relationships are not mutual.

Occasionally, however, if the stars are aligned just right, this delicate balance between our authentic selves being shut away too deep and our authentic selves bleeding all over the room is accomplished.

I have a dear friend going through a significant life change and we have flirted with the transparency dance for years. Just the other day, however, those stars aligned and the false walls we build between one another came down. Our authentic selves showed their faces.

And we were both crying. And we were both scared. And we risked it. We talked on the phone that day, we listened and we loved.

…then I went to the grocery store. I was digging around trying to find Lipton bottled tea Unsweetened (they NEVER have it) when a song on the store’s Musak caught my attention. It was a cheesy 70’s love ballad, you know it, “We’re in this love together, the kind that lasts forever…” And that line repeats and repeats and repeats, “We’re in this love together, the kind that lasts forever…”

I teared up in aisle 5 knowing God was affirming me, calling me, to love my friend. I was humbled and challenged at the same time. I am honored to be in this loving of others with Him. I am also required to be in this loving of others with Him.

My spirit submitted right then and there and He told me to go and get her some flowers, and to name them Mercy. I admit, I thought, “What an awesome idea!” knowing it was not mine.

I went to Whole Foods and bought two of the biggest bouquets I could find and had the flower lady make them into one-- with a big pink ribbon around the stems. I prayed as I drove to my friend’s home. If she was there it was meant to be. If not, I would simply leave them on her stoop.

Heading up her walkway I was very self aware of my suitor-like behavior. I rang the doorbell and waited. I nervously shifted back and forth on my feet. She opened the door and the look on her face told me His idea was obviously the correct one.

I handed the enormous bouquet to her and said, “I got you these flowers. I named them Mercy. Put them on your kitchen counter so every time you come in you are reminded of His unconditional love and mercy for you.”

She responded with an, "Ohh"--the kind that comes from the bottom of your soul.

We hugged. We wept. She put the flowers in a vase.

I didn’t stay long. Even authentic transparency hits a point where everyone needs a break to regroup and find inner safety. As I got in my car and drove away, the song on the radio echoed the song in the store. We’re in this loving of each other with Him. We are his Mercy Bouquet.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Music Builds in Chicago

I am a child of the 70's. Admittedly, not a Woodstock- going-hippie-child. I was born in 1970. Which means it was my senior year in high school when U2’s historic Joshua Tree Tour permanently indented into my rock & roll psyche.

Last night in Chicago at the Charter ONE Pavilion Jars of Clay, Robert Randolph and the Family Band, Switchfoot and Third Day also revealed the pervasive influence U2 has had on us all, ending the concert with members of every band on stage, rocking Rattle and Hum’s “When Love Comes to Town.” I was delighted when Switchfoot ended their set leaving the stage one at a time, with the crowd singing, modeling the memorable “40” exit from Joshua Tree Tour. And I was right there with Switchfoot when Jon Foreman did an impressive rift echoing one of U2’s biggest songs, ONE.

Maybe it is because I am a Joshua-Tree-child and have come to have certain expectations of my icons, but I couldn't help but think, “This is how it’s supposed to be done.” Great music. Great venue. Great Cause. One dollar of every ticket for the Music Builds Concert goes to Habitat For Humanity and the ONE Campaign sponsored the event.

I was inspired see all the ONE videos on the screens, encouraging people to get involved, join the campaign, Vote ’08 and Change the Debate. I was able to meet the band members before the show. My family was with me, and my 12 year son—well, I think he was a little shell shocked and star struck! The band members were gracious and sincere. I found it very rewarding to thank the guys in person for all their efforts on behalf of the ONE Campaign.

I have been a member of ONE since its inception. And it was a music super star who humbly came to my home town in 2003, in a bus, with a guitar and a boom box, and started this wave, this movement of ONE. We are all ONE. We all make a difference.

I have a good friend who says, “ONE is America at its best.” It’s all different kinds of people, from different walks of life, political leanings, and faith affiliations coming together to build a movement solely to help those who need it.

The wave continues to build and last night in Chicago demonstrated ONE is also music at its best!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Campfire and Conversation; The Gift of Story

I was 13 when my family spent our first summer in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. My father was a professor by school-year and a camp director by summer. Each summer we packed up our summer things, loaded the car, and all piled in (including the cat), and drove the 8 hours straight north to our little neck of the woods on Long Lake.

On the grounds of this camp I ran free, like I could never do in the suburbs back home. I would wave to my parents as I occasionally passed them on my way to catch bullfrogs in the cove, jump in the lake to layout on the swim raft, or bribe the boat driver to take me water skiing after hours.

At camp I did every job imaginable. Mostly I was on teen staff, where in theory we were to clean the cabins and the other buildings, however reality found us messing around and joy-riding in camp vehicles. I ran the craft shop one summer, another I painted, another I was a counselor, worked in the kitchen, and went on wilderness trips.

Camp was a place apart. My summers were a delightful giant pause in the regular flow of life where everything simplified and slowed down. In this slower pace of life relationship had the space to grow. A single symbolism of this phenomenon was the campfire with its quiet conversation.

With no TV or radio or distraction the campfire is just what we did. Evening would fall, and we would gather around the fire. As we sang praise songs to God I felt His warm presence envelope me like the darkness and smoke around. We gazed into the jumping, dancing flames and we talked.

Around these campfires we told our stories. The stories matured and grew more complex as I aged, but the theme remained the same; with the sharing of ourselves in this intimate circle of safety we learned about ourselves and our world. I heard many of the same stories told over and over, yet without fail new ideas would be presented. Whether it was a group of strangers on a wilderness trip, a group of 7th grade campers, or a bunch of friends sneaking off for the night, we would listen to one another, poke at the embers, and join in each other’s journey.

In the telling of our stories around campfires I learned the gift of conversation. I began to understand, even before I could put words on it, that to know and be known happens in the telling of our stories. In authentic conversation.

Today I am blessed to have a cabin across the lake from the camp of my childhood. My children now have this sacred place as their summer playground. This past week a girlhood friend has been up enjoying the Northwoods. In the evenings we have built our campfire and settled in for conversation. Our circle has been small. Just the two of us. Yet, despite our age, our kids running amok around us, and the complications of life and love we find ourselves in today, the format is the same. As we give the gift of our unique stories to one another, we find how similar we are. Just as the fire organically moves and dances with ease, so does our conversation, and without even realizing exactly when it happened, we find that we received an even greater gift; we are known.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

From an Ancient Well; the Center of the Soul

I woke with the contents of my soul breaking-through into the day. With eyes open and staring, I was still and replayed the dream several times over in my head before climbing out of bed.

I dreamt I was coming over a rise. Someone who knew me was calling to me, “Posies, Posies! It’s drawing! It’s coming! It’s ancient!” I looked toward where I was directed and saw a hole or a crevice in the ground. I saw a well.

Recently, the metaphor of a blossoming flower as self has burst into my life. From seemingly incidental conversation, to quotes randomly sent on Facebook, to dreams. Could He be calling to me with the pet name of a bouquet of flowers?

I opened my Bible. I appropriately chose the version The Message for the task at hand. It opened to Genesis 26. Dreams are messengers. What was the message of this dream? I had opened my Bible to the story of Isaac camping in the valley of Gerar. The ancient story goes that there were a bunch of wells in this valley that Isaac’s father, Abraham, had dug. The Philistine’s envied Isaac and they got back at him by throwing dirt and debris into all the wells, clogging them up.

Isaac decides to redig these old wells. He digs three and with each well he finds spring water. With the first the shepherds of Gerar quarrel with Isaac’s men, so Isaac names this well Esek (Quarrel). They dig a second well and find spring water, but there is a fight over this one too. So he names it Sitnah (Accusation).

Isaac digs a third well. There is no quarreling or accusation attached to this well and so he names it Rehoboth (Wide-Open Spaces) saying, “Now God has given us plenty of space to spread out in the land.” God appeared to him that very night and said, “I am the God of Abraham your father; don’t fear a thing because I am with you. I’ll bless you and make your children flourish because of Abraham my servant.”

Could I have dreamt of an ancient, interior well named Wide-Open Spaces? A place of no quarreling or accusation. A place of no fear. A place of promise and blessing and happiness.

Teresa of Avila wonders about this place as well. She observes, “I do not think happiness has its source in the heart at all. It arises in a much more interior part, like something of which the springs are very deep; I think this must be the center of the soul.” (Interior Castles)

He is the Ancient of Days. He is my Abba who loves me. He dwells at the center of my soul. He is the Living Water and He draws this Living Water out in my life. In the center of my soul I find a deep spring from which I am able to quench my spiritual thirst.

My dream was loaded. Yet the biggest impact, despite all this ruminating, was the sense of great anticipation and joy with which I burst into the day.

It is coming! It is Ancient!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

People Live Their Theology

It was during a flurry of discontented emails when I first wrote, “People live their theology.” I was in deep debate with a childhood friend. We grew up in the same town. We went to the same schools and churches and our father’s taught at the same institution of higher learning. We were college roommates. And then, as does happen, we found our friendship in crisis and we began to hotly debate it.

Now, I need no scolding on the merits of email as a reconciliation tool. Hindsight is 20/20, thank you. Besides, what I am speaking to here is how my thoughts finally dumped all the words, confusion, accusations and decisions into the phrase, “People live their theology.”

Theology. “The study of religious faith, practice and experience; the study of God and His relation to the world; a theory or system; a distinctive body of theological opinion.” (Webster)

We are both Christians, raised in Christian homes, in the same town and community. I assumed we had the same theology of reconciliation, grace and forgiveness. It was like cold water being poured over my head and shot directly into my veins to discover my error. And it was during the death of this friendship that I took into me deeply the reality that people say many things regarding what they believe about God and the world, but in the end, people live what they really believe.

I recently finished my first unit of CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education). It’s like being a medical intern only I was a pastor intern at a local hospital. As part of the education process we write verbatims, or case studies. We have lectures and class time and some written work. We also have a final evaluation. My final evaluation came back to me this week where my pastoral skills were discussed and dissected. It was encouraging to read what I already had come to know. That I am good at being a hospital chaplain, that I have an easy authority and effective rapport with patients and families. One observation from my supervisor around theory and practice was “Shayne seems to be working from instinct, rather than intent.” I paused when I read this. I read it again. And I smiled.

I grew up in a home of theologians. I have a Master of Arts in theology. I’ve put in my time in stuffy classrooms (with mostly men) and kept up with the allow-me-demonstrate-how-much-more-I-know-than-you game. I have written the 50+ pages on Holiness in the book of Leviticus and discussed German theologians adnauseam. I have debated, written, edited, taken notes, and participated in theological reflection until I couldn’t take it anymore.

I smiled reading my evaluation because if only my supervisor knew my pastoral intent is so integrated with my instinct it goes unnoticed. I know what I believe about faith, practice, experience, God and how He works in the world. Maybe I’m over needing to justify why I do what I do. Maybe I’m still burned from putting it out there and it getting rejected. What I do know is, like everyone else, I’m simply living my theology.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Divine Dwells in the Heart

Today is my birthday.

I decided today was also the day to go back to yoga. The last yoga class I attended was after some stressful events at the hospital. I overdid it, and I paid for it. Today I decided to return with a more moderate view of what I can and cannot physically do—and to take it easy and enjoy myself.

Immediately upon entered the studio I was glad I came. The music, the smell of incense, the quiet chatter of woman all different ages, shapes and sizes. These are my people. Woman in community--coming together, yet separate. We share the energy of the room. Our practices interact and mingle, yet each in her own space, on her own mat, doing her own hard work.

I started taking the discipline, the path, of yoga seriously about two years ago. I had been going for years. I have asthma and will never be a big runner. It fit my fitness level and my body and I enjoyed it. Then it started to happen. As my body adjusted to the discipline of yoga my mind started to follow.

Yoga opened up an expansive and deep way of looking at the world. I was depressed and white-knuckling my worldview. Yoga seeped in between the cracks and gave me permission to let go and shed things that were not serving me anymore. My time on the mat was a guide, as strongly as if a person were sitting there telling me where to go, only more so. I found the freedom to quiet the monkey chatter in my mind, to throw off the judgment. So much judgment! I had never been modeled anything but judgment, criticism, overanalyzing, generalizing, minimizing…surrounded by people, faith and politics that judged and then moved people and situations into the appropriate boxes.

Yoga was my dirty little secret. My world considered yoga a tool of the devil…sort of like a gateway drug. If I did yoga I would soon throw off all my faith and start worshiping the thousands of Hindu gods. I knew this was hogwash. Yoga was intensely strengthening my faith, my understanding of God and of myself, and supporting my Biblical view of the cosmos. Yoga was expanding it all; until I thought my mind and soul might explode! My practices and meditations brought me to the very foot of the throne of grace and to the tips of the universe.

And on my birthday I decided to give myself this gift.

We started the practice sitting comfortably in meditation and we were encouraged to set an intention for our practice. I smiled inside and set the intention to love myself. I set the intention to shed any reason to explain or defend my physical performance or how well I controlled the monkey chatter in my mind. I set the intention of non-judgment as an act of self-love.

As I flowed from Warrior Two, to Triangle, to Airplane to Plow…my mind flowed to my birthday, even picturing myself as a baby coming into the world, all bloody and crying, as if saying, “A precious soul has arrived!” I felt the joy of my parents. I breathed deep. I exhaled with purpose.

When it was time for meditation I was relaxed and open. The teacher led a chant. She mentioned they had done this mantra before, so she didn’t translate the Sanskrit to English. I decided not to chant, because I didn’t know what I was saying. Instead I sat, perfectly still, so a bird could land on me, breathing deep and easy.

And my heart began to fill. Throughout my practice I had been hearing, “I am your God and you will be my people.” I didn’t judge it or analyze it. I submitted to it. I heard it over and over throughout the practice, sometimes almost bringing me to tears. As I sat in lotus, taking in the chant, my heart began to fill with intense warmth. It was tangible and wonderful.

Finally, the teacher repeated a line from the mantra in English, “The Divine dwells in the heart.”

I let it wash over me and fill me. I had set the intention to love myself. Love is centered in the heart. God in his mercy reminded me it is on the path to self-love where I find my God and where I become His people. When I practice “vairagya,” the elimination of whatever hinders progress and refinement, when I throw off all the judgment, when I throw off all that entangles, that is when I am able to truly love myself. And in that place of self-love and acceptance I enter my heart and find the Divine.

Friday, April 11, 2008

May I Walk With You?

Luke 24

I recently heard first-hand the story of an 11 year old girl who was stabbed 11 times, raped, left for dead, and yet survived. I saw the MSNBC story of the Taylor University families who suffered the trauma of having their daughters’ identities mixed up at an accident scene. One family thought they had buried their daughter yet she was alive and being nursed back to life by another family who had really lost their daughter. And the horrible news of a colleague’s daughter’s untimely death while serving in Afghanistan just came last week.

These stories of trauma, of lives interrupted, of deep loss, touch us. The biblical story of Jesus meeting his disciples on the Road to Emmaus has stirred the hearts of Christians since it was first told. These men had just seen the bloody, brutal and heartless killing of their best friend, their hope, and their teacher. They had experienced real loss and deep trauma.

I’ve been wondering lately how these stories touch us? How often have we heard these deeply troubling events, cringe away and say, “I don’t know what to do with this. It’s too much. How can life be good with all this happening?” I can’t shake the idea maybe what we are really saying is, “If I let myself ‘go there’ with this situation, I may ‘go there’ in myself. If I interact with this trauma, I may find myself interacting with my own trauma. And if I do that then my life may not be good.”

Our minds so quickly fall on either/or thinking. Life is good or it’s bad.

What if it is both/and. Our life is good and our trauma, our losses are real?

What if destiny, joy and healing are found deep inside trauma, fear, and failure?

That would require we go deep into trauma and fear and stand in it. Shake hands with every negative and overwhelming emotion. Feel the waves of pain and anguish hit-- and continue to stand.

This is what Jesus encouraged his friends to do that day going to Emmaus. Jesus came along side them and simply said, “Tell me what happened.” For hours he facilitated authentic interaction with their trauma.

Jesus could have showed up and gone into protection mode. He could have revealed himself right away and glossed over the past week to protect his friends from deeply experiencing the reality of their pain. But he didn’t. He went there with them. Jesus never modeled skipping any of life’s authentic experiences for the sake of protection—of ourselves or others. Rather Jesus respected the pain for what it was, and then mercifully revealed the destiny and purpose of the pain.

When we accept the both/and of trauma in our own lives; that life is full of joy and healing and life is full of loss, we no longer cringe away from our neighbor’s pain. We have learned to stand in pain, to ride the waves of pain, because it is taking us somewhere.

When we come to deep understanding of this, we are now real in the face of our neighbor’s trauma. We can say, “May I walk with you?”

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Wounded Healer

I just started this new gig as a hospital chaplain here in the Chicagoland area. I am an intern, which means I am still a student, but my learning is not in a classroom. It's in getting thrown in and sinking or swimming--learning from success and failure.

Last Thursday our hospital took three of the Northern Illinois shooting victims. This was baptism by fire as they say. I stood in the swirling activity of the ER waiting for the helicopters to arrive with the victims. As I waited I imagined what I might see or be asked to do. And I started reflecting...

As I reflect on my learning from last week I am struck by the repetitive nature of my learning. The past week has been a time of revisiting my woundedness. I suppose there are things in everyone’s lives that despite our best efforts at self-knowledge and self-awareness, still rise up and sting us.

I had one of those weeks. Feeling like I had fallen back into negative patterns of thinking and acting. This was incredibly discouraging for me. I have achieved so much healing. It was strange. Things were bugging me, but it all felt superficial. Like I was “acting” at being bugged--cognitively I knew it was not how I was really thinking or feeling. Once again I was in a wrestling match with myself, having to free myself and throw off all that entangles.

I found myself revisiting my woundedness, failures and humiliations. And once again I was reminding myself there is no shame in the journey--despite the opinions of others. I talked and processed a great deal this week. It was a week of being tired. Tired of these same issues. Tired of talking about it. Tired of the same lessons. It was a week of feeling vulnerable and exposed. A week of re-accepting this is our proper stance before God.

God is merciful. Today, when He speaks to me, I bounce back in days instead of years. Today when He tries to stop me, I hear Him. He says to me, “I have chosen a better road for you. Do not deviate. Stay on the one I have for you.”

And Thursday night, when the NIU victims came into our doors, I stood calmly and confidently outside that trauma room. I knew there was no coincidence with what I had been through the past week and what was about to transpire that evening. I thought about Nouwen's classic book, The Wounded Healer, and I got it. God needed me acutely aware of my weakness and vulnerability so I could minister to others out of that place deep within me.