Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Theology Mama Has Moved!

Due to the release of my book, Global Soccer Mom, Theology Mama and my blog have moved over to www.GlobalSoccerMom.com.

Join the conversation at my You Can Make a Difference Blog and keep up with the lastest blog posts and all my fantastic guest mom bloggers.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Standing on the Ground

Labor Day weekend has brought the very last days of summer and it has me panicked. Since 1946, when my grandparents built a one-season cottage on the shores of Lake Michigan, my family has been blessed to spend summer months out of the city and suburbs of Chicago. Over the years repairs and home improvements have occurred, but mostly we all still live and move and have our being in the bones of this old house.

When my grandparents built the cottage they built it for themselves and their two daughters. Now the cottage makes room for a set of grandparents, my family, and the families of my two brothers. We squeeze in when we can cooking in the tiny galley kitchen, lining up outside the one functioning bathroom, and forever negotiating who is sleeping where.

And for the most part we love it. We all keep coming back summer after summer.

I suppose some people have their ancestral land – a village in Germany where they can trace back generations. However, I am a true American mutt. A blend of English, Dutch, German, French. . .I have no idea where everyone came from besides central Indiana. The cottage has become, in a quirky way, our ancestral home.

My grandfather, Strat, took his last breath in this old building. He was having dinner at the cottage next door with lifelong friends. The story goes he finished his supper and was offered dessert. He declined saying to my grandmother, “Margie, it is time to go home.” He walked the short trail through the dunegrass to our cottage, and as my grandmother helped him to bed, he sneezed and he died. Strat had been sick with cancer. It seems his body gave one last ditch effort to get rid of it with the sneeze and then he did indeed go home.

My grandmother swam in Lake Michigan almost every day of every summer until she was in her late 80’s. She would drag an old black inner tube down the dune with a rope and an anchor attached to it. She would bob on the waves of Lake Michigan tucked in her tube all day. When she passed away at the age of 93 we had a family reunion and a service. My mother and aunt spread Gramma Margie’s ashes on the shore and in the waves of Lake Michigan.

I’m 40 years old. My three kids now run the dunes freely and swim and surf all day in the white caps. While I grew up and played with second generation cottagers, my kids now are growing up with third generation. Everyone knows each other and which kid goes with which family. This quirky ancestral land, this uncommon small town that gathers for three months every year, this blessed and coveted sense of community and belonging is mine.

And it is coming to an end for this summer. Re-entry back into suburbia is hard. I find myself irritated and distracted. Crabby and ungrateful. I don’t want to be boxed in by houses and cement. My soul balks and makes it known that it misses nature and sand and water and sunsets.

So, how to combat this suburbia discontentment? I believe it is a spiritual discipline to keep discontentment and depression at bay. I am blessed. It seems selfish and immature to complain to God about living in a safe, beautiful, and prosperous suburban town. As I have been preparing myself to brace for a long winter in suburbia I have been struggling with this creeping discontentment.

I think I got a clue today. In West Michigan my radio choices are somewhat limited and while driving a tried and true Eagles tune began to play…I got a peaceful, easy feeling...and I know you won’t let me down…cuz I’m already standing on the ground.

Most summer nights I stand at the shore, on the ground, and watch the sunset. Sunset watching was always an event with my grandparents. One simply did not miss the sunset. A bowl of vanilla ice cream with some kind of fruit on top was also usually a requirement.

Tonight is my last sunset of the summer. I don’t have ice cream. I don’t have my grandparents. My kids are running around somewhere. But still I watch as the colors take over the sky and I hear the waves crash. I can’t take it all with me, yet tonight I understand I don’t have to leave here and lose my inner grounding. I can hold this with me until next summer. Cuz I’m still here. Still standing on the ground.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Divine Pursuit

Happy to welcome guest blogger, Nicole Unice on her new book, The Divine Pursuit.

Becoming a counselor is a weird sort of schooling. What other graduate program teaches you how to listen, ask good questions, and read interpersonal dynamics? Who but future counselors study nonverbal cues, birth order, and “solution-focused questions?” Counseling techniques easily transform into entertaining party tricks: “Let me guess,” I imagine saying to my unsuspecting acquaintance while swirling my drink, “your deepest fear is turning into your mother, whom you find yourself resembling more each day?”

There’s another side to studying therapist techniques. Developing questions that pry back even the hardest shell takes practice. And there’s only one person that accompanies me to sleep, to the bathroom, to work—other than my toddler. It’s me. I am the unwilling recipient of my own therapy.

So I paid attention when I got all emotional about the story of Jonah. Do you know him? The bible Jonah, the telling-God-N-O Jonah, the swallowed-by-a-fish Jonah? Think way back to Vacation Bible School. You probably sang a song about him or maybe smoothed him up on a feltboard next to a smiling whale.

Jonah disobeys and isn’t loving, or at least, that’s the point when we tell the VBS version. But when I prepared a teaching series for a women’s group on the book of Jonah, I found myself stirred up, almost resentful, of what Jonah had become in those children’s stories. Like Jonah is a flat caricature painted by a heavenly hand to make us feel good about ourselves. Hey, at least I didn’t have to be swallowed by a big fish to listen to God. At least I wouldn’t defy God like that.

I got emotional because I thought Jonah could have had some reasons for running. That maybe following God’s orders and going to Nineveh was something excruciatingly hard for Jonah, something that felt impossible to do.

And then the therapist in me listened closely and asked a piercing question: “Hmmm….interesting. What are your Ninevehs?”

Hmmm is right.

I pondered my own Ninevehs and the Ninevehs of those I’ve counseled. I thought about the pattern of fleeing, obeying and resisting God found in Jonah—and found in me. I considered the things in life that would make me want to lob a fat N-O in God’s face, modern-Day Ninevehs like:

Living joyfully in difficult relationships.

Struggling through a hard marriage (or waiting on a good one).

Fighting with addictions.

Battling fear.

Making peace with the past. Wrestling with unforgiveness. Learning to wait. Embracing uncertainity. Raising difficult children. Choosing to care for aging parents. Going back to work when you want to stay home. Having children. Not having children. And the list goes on….

Holy Spirit calling: Jonah is me.

Jonah is you, too, if you’ve ever wanted space from God. If you’ve ever escaped from Him in heart or in action. Jonah is you if you’ve ever wondered how or why God would talk to you—and if you would obey. I know one thing: Jonah’s not a platitude to mount on a cross-stitch and hang in the bathroom. It’s raw, real life. It’s one of the many things I love about God--the way He enters our disheveled reality. The way He knows our crazy souls. And the way He shows us His soul for us, and for all his creation.

If you can relate, take heart, and take another look at Jonah. You might just find a friend.

Nicole Unice is a counselor and blogger working in family ministry at Hope Church in Richmond, VA. Her six-week guided study of Jonah, The Divine Pursuit, is available as a printed version or free download on her website. An online community using The Divine Pursuit begins 9/15.

To visit Nicole's Web site, click the title of this blog post or visit wwww.thestubbornservant.com

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Bruised Apples and Local Character

Our local farmer's market is a hub of activity every week. Lettuce, jelly, strawberries, nuns who bake bread. The old Greek guy selling olives is definitely my favorite. He takes plump, oval, gorgeous olives and crams them with soft bleu cheese. I don't even like bleu cheese but his olives have made me a devotee.

The family that hauls heirloom apples up from the southern part of my state is another treasure. By late summer they truck in over two dozen varieties of apples. Brown Snout, Adina, Prairie Spy, Akane, Pink Pearl, Chisel Jersey. Did you know apples had these names? My apple exposure comes from the pile at my local grocer. Granny Smith and Golden Delicious. Maybe on a daring day I dabble in a Jonathan Gold.

Grocery store apples are perfectly smooth, no bruises and quite hard. I arrive home and they don't taste as stellar as they looked. Mealy and lackluster. These apples come from fabulously far away places like Washington State or New Zealand. I find this odd given the multiple apple orchards near my home. None of the apples in our stores actually come from these orchards (a common occurrence in food life).

Commercial apples are often plucked from the trees long before they are ripe, stealing their sweetness and color. A green apple at your grocer might actually, if left on the tree, become a yellow apple! And sweeter than the one in your cart.

On a recent trip to the farmer’s market my two youngest children were running from bin to bin picking their apples by yanking whatever looked tasty from the heirloom varieties.

Then they scurried over the the stroller where a canvas bag received their selections. At first they gently set the apples into the bag. It was perfectly idyllic. I was the uber eco-mom with the gentle kids and the awesome apples. But the moment quickly changed as competition and adrenaline suddenly took over.

They began racing back and forth, grabbing armloads of apples and throwing them into my bag. Beautiful apples bouncing around and bruising one another. I managed to stop the chaos for a moment so my 2.5 year old said "Okay mommy, then let's go buy our apples."

Before I could harness his ambition he darted over to the stroller, grabbed the handle on our bag and yanked it with such force that the bag tipped and apples flew then bounced across the market lot. "Oops. Mommy?"

As we tucked them back into the bag I noticed, beyond our bruises, that each apple had such character. Traits you don't see in stores. Odd colors, lumps, freckles and spots. Each had a story to tell. An heirloom apple's worth of history, seeds from France, family secrets from Germany, local color from Illinois. These apples were ripe with more than flavor.

We relaxed enough to pay the farmer (who smiled and kindly said "happens all the time") and I felt embarrassed of course. But, I also felt joy and history swelling through my little suburban veins. A small moment of triumph over the commercial food industry, victory for my kitchen.

I had a bag of odd shaped character and it felt a little bit like my life. Freckled, bruised and filled with stories. Like the lives of my children as well.

So I beg you to get in touch with your local growers this summer. Not as an act of hatred against grocery chains but a way learning and of growing. To put your hands on freckled apples is to realize that you are connected to the same bizarre, bruised world as our farmers and our food.

A way of living into the reality that we are all connected to our land, God’s land. Our food and ultimately to one another. May you find an odd shaped apple this summer that fills your heart and your stomach with a glimpse of God’s love and grace for this world and for your very soul.

Tracey Bianchi is the author of “Green Mama: The Guilt Free Guide to Helping You and Your Kids Save the Planet.” She is the mother of three and an author, speaker, and women’s ministry director. You can find more of her musings on life, faith and sustainability at http://traceybianchi.com. You can find her new book at www.Amazon.com or click the title of this blog post.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Creating In the Same Direction

I recently attended a conference in Chicago called Q.

Q is a leadership summit and describes itself as “a place where leaders from every sphere of society come together to learn, reflect, collaborate and take action to renew culture. We have in common a commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and an appreciation for our Christian calling to partner with God in his work to redeem both individuals and entire cultures.”

This was my first time to attend Q and I found it amazing and valuable, thought-provoking and a phenomenal networking opportunity. Not to sound star-struck, but I found myself proud of Q, proud of my faith tradition and these incredible days spent at the Civic Opera House. That said, it has taken me awhile to write this post because what I am about to say has been said before. Again and again and again.

One more time from the top:

Evangelical protestant men I ask you with a heavy heart, not a militant temper tantrum scream, “Where are the women?”

The creators of Q have a vision to transform culture and they target seven channels of cultural influence. Each presenter fit into one of these channels; media, business, arts and entertainment, church, education, government and social sector.

I sat in the darkened theater and listened to all the presentations. I sat at the round tables and discussed. Often I was the only woman at the table. Very valuable things were communicated, but what was said to me loud and clear was this:

“Women, mothers, and home are not considered a channel of cultural influence to us. We are the lead pastors, the publishers, the businessmen. We run the Christian conferences, radio stations and ministries and we do not recognize you as a fellow leader for our generation.”

I am not the first person to notice this. So at some point, this oversight of female speakers, this oversight of home as a valuable channel of cultural influence, is no longer simply an oversight but is intentional. I do not believe well-spoken, intelligent, female Christian leaders are so allusive.

Richard Florida, the author of The Rise of the Creative Class, was one of the keynote speakers. He is a sociologist who first started putting words on how our generation has begun to work and live the way creative people such as artists and scientists always have. He explains that today nearly 38 million Americans in many diverse fields create for a living and he named us The Creative Class.

Q clearly embraces this concept and is a direct reflection of The Creative Class. As I listened to man after man give his presentation, I kept thinking, “All these men who are living and creating and taking risks in life are married to women who are also a part of this Creative Class. We are embracing motherhood and family with the same values. Just as they are not going to work for 30 years for Sears and retiring with a gold watch like their fathers, we are not doing motherhood the same as our moms, either. Chances are these men are married to women who cheer them on, are excited about the risks they take, and enter into the creative process fully with their husbands. Chances are these women have advanced degrees as well and have their own avenues of creativity and influence apart from their husbands.”

I am sobered that in the year 2010 with such huge shifts in culture the feminine voice is not equally represented in the church.

A friend recently asked me what I considered to be my calling. I sat. I thought. I said finally, “I feel called to create in the same direction God is creating for His purposes in my generation.”

I would love to partner with my brothers on this.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Warrior Pose

The no you hear,
When wounded soul is leaking,
Is Spirit speaking or is it fear?

The no stopping action,
When bridges bring peace,
Who takes the beach, ego or Son?

The no in your eyes,
Despite chatter and smiles,
A fertile field for me to believe the lies.

The no in a scream,
When garden gates are stormed,
And the tender and treasured are harmed.

The no in the night,
and past trespasses remembered,
entangled finding grace is a fight.

The no in my soul,
When defeat creeps a voice,
Face toward the sky, my ultimate goal.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

God With Us

“That sounds about right.” She said walking together in the first warmth of spring.
A big sky.
A bright sun and the expanse of outside after a winter of the same four walls.
This expanse an audience.

“That sounds about right.” She said over coffee in the din of a busy cafĂ©.
Small tribes gather.
A man prattles about local politics and every table a world.
The din listens in.

“That sounds about right.” She moans bitterly, retreating to her room to center.
A moment of defeat.
An endless sea of tears with unanswered petitions threatening life.
The questions bear witness.

“That sounds about right.” She said after daring to say what screams in the soul.
A new old friend.
A sense of being known outside time, effort, and expectation.
Destiny turns an ear.

“That sounds about right.” She said driving in her car with Bright Eyes.
Alone in the taxi.
The Washington Monument towers and a silent back seat feels crowded by Presence.
God with us.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Our Small Daily Choices Make a Difference

Theology Mama on Green Mama; The Guilt-Free Guide to Helping You and Your Kids Save the Planet.

A helpful and needed book just released entitled Green Mama by Tracey Bianchi. Tracey is the director of women's ministries for Christ Church of Oak Brook in Illinois. She is a smart cookie with her master of divinity from Denver Seminary and she is an editorial advisor for Christianity Today's Gifted for Leadership newsletter and for FullFill magazine.

Tracey is a friend and a committed woman who wrote a book about going green from her deep convictions and her deep faith. Tracey is also a mama who lives in the suburbs and who struggles, like the rest of us, to make wise choices regarding the environment in a world that seems to not care too much about it.

What I love about Bianchi's Green Mama is it makes going green more than a "trend" or an unattainable guilt-ridden idea. Green Mama is an enjoyable read which inspired me and gave me practical ways as a busy mom to be an example for my children and how, as a family, we can make a difference. Green Mama put power into my hands and made me aware my small, daily choices make a difference.

In Green Mama, Tracey offers tips and spiritual inspiration and motivation to make wise choices for the environment. Tracey is not out to guilt the busy mom, but rather reminds us that green living is an invitation to creative partnership with God in caring for His Creation.

Pick up a copy of Tracey's book at Amazon.

Also, check out Tracey's awesome blog: http://traceybianchi.com.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Remember That You are Dust

Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. . .

All I can think about is Nancy.

Nancy. So brash. So confident. So fragile and vulnerable all at the same time. All the things that make the female so appealing to me.

It was a crowded flight to Johannesburg, South Africa. I scanned the seats and looked for someone who might fit the description of yogi, spiritually-centered, freedom, older chick—Nancy. We accosted several innocent travelers with no success until she finally found me.

She enthusiastically hugged me and handed me a cloth bound journal she hand-made just for our team headed to Africa--a team of women traveling to learn about the conditions of life for other women who struggle with the realities of extreme poverty, disease, and inequality in the developing world. We were working with World Vision and World Bicycle Relief.

I had not met Nancy before our trip and she quickly became a foundational member of the team. Asking real and penetrating questions and always ready with a smile, a joke, an opinion, or an argument. She won my heart and the hearts of all the women on the team and 10 days of traveling in Africa with her gave us a special glimpse into her soul. A sweet lady. A funny lady. A hurting and searching lady. A wise women with a desire for harmony, peace and light.

One of the last nights in Africa we all sat outside and spontaneously began to sing praise songs to God. Nancy stayed for a bit listening to our concert to the bush elephants, the baboons and antelopes but at some point excused herself and retired.

Yet, I was aware of her curled up in her safari bed listening to us sing and I can’t stop thinking of Nancy... And that night... And the echoing sound of our song as it carried over the the wild wilderness of Africa and over Nancy’s sweet soul. Every word sincere to the God of Creation. Every praise a recognition of His mercy and love.

A few weeks after returning from Africa Nancy suffered a massive stroke and a terminal brain tumor was discovered.

And I can’t stop thinking of Nancy. So full of life. So gloriously imperfect, yet striving. And suddenly her time is done.

I love you, Nancy. I respect your journey, your life and your searching. May you find what your heart desires. You called several times to tell me you did not feel well. I thought it was jet lag not a terminal brain tumor. Forgive my hurried existence. Know that you are loved. That the Creator of the Universe knows you intimately; you are dust and to dust you shall return. Believe in Him. Believe in you as His Creation.

This Lent I am intensly struck by the reality that we are dust yet eternal. Nancy, your spark in the world is not in vain and it will not be forgotten.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Give God your Forty Days

Seasons come and go.

Today I find myself in a season which is requiring trust and acceptance. I was not raised in a church which recognized the church calendar. As a child we recognized Palm Sunday, Easter and Christmas—with communion thrown in every six weeks.

As an adult I have found comfort, nourishment and grounding in the Episcopal Church. The ritual, the repetition, and the seasons of the year ring true in my inner spiritual self.

I do not believe in coincidence nor do I think my challenging season of trust and acceptance coinciding with Lent is by chance. Lent is the period of 40 days which begins on Ash Wednesday and concludes on Easter. It is a time of personal examination and collective transformation through spiritual practices such as prayer, self-examination, study, personal retreat, and fasting. Lent is a contemplative time built in to the church calendar. A season of reflection designed for personal change. On Ash Wednesday I received a Lenten Journal. This week’s reflections remind me:

“It rained for forty days and forty nights as Noah waited out the flood, trusting in Gods’ word.

Moses was on the mountain with God for forty days, returning with the Law and the reminder of gratitude for all that God provided.

Jesus fasted for forty days in the wilderness, and facing Satan with faith and knowledge to worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.

As we enter this season of Lent, our forty days, we have the opportunity to intentionally choose to stand against that to which we are tempted, against that to which we place our false faith, against that to which distracts us from our efforts to serve God.

Consider devoting this Lenten season, your forty days, not to resisting temptations created by denial, but to trusting and thanking God. Trust God and thank God by serving Him as he serves you: unannounced and unconditionally.”

This Lenten season I hope to keep walking forward--head up, eyes open, heart receiving. I hope to choose gratitude over pity, kindness over spite, and trust over cynicism. I hope to fast from negative thoughts which do not serve me, others, or God and hold every thought captive to Christ. I hope to give Him my forty days.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Mercy is in the Rite, the Symbol, the Friend

It was three years ago today I entered the Labyrinth. While deeply lost in self-made angst and depression I walked the spiraling path unconvinced but hopeful.

They say the devil is the author of confusion. I was certainly confused in my soul and my heart the day I wandered in circles within the Labyrinth. I was weary and carrying a heavy load of self-doubt, self-pity, and wounds. They say the devil is the author of confusion, but I am sure I gave him plenty of help back then.

Three years ago I had a friend along for the journey. She called me the morning of Ash Wednesday and casually asked if we were going to find a church and receive ashes. My friend and I did not grow up in a church which recognized Ash Wednesday but ever since college she and I have found a comfort and a transformational grounding in attending this solemn service.

That morning she picked me up, drove me to St. Mark’s, and sat next to me on the hundred year old church pew. A sparsely attended noon service gave us our own row. We recited the Collect. Our voices melded together as we chanted the Psalm and said the Lord’s Prayer. Three years ago it was Juleen who hugged me to offer the Peace of the Lord. A peace I did not have nor did I believe any was out there for me.

After the service, it was Juleen who followed me through the Labyrinth. Sometimes the path took us to opposite ridges of the circle, but I could see her or sense her out of the corner of my eye. Sometimes the path had us pass so close shoulders brushed, eyes met, and a kind and knowing smile just for me whispered past.

Juleen knelt with me in the center as I put my forehead on the ground and wept. She silently prayed with her head bowed and it all dumped out. Right there. In the center. I felt it and so did she. We both saw it, experienced it, and we left it there. Right there. In the center. I walked out of the Labyrinth lighter. With each step I felt the burdens physically lifting from my being. It was my healing, my deliverance, if you will.

Today is Ash Wednesday—a day to recognize our weaknesses and God’s compassion and mercy for His creation--a day to offer sincere hearts to the Lord.

This morning Juleen and I casually agreed to go to the noon service at St. Mark’s to receive ashes. We chit chatted about surface life in the car on the way. She apologized for being so sluggish--a bad night’s sleep and commented how she liked my hair. It was the familiar, intimate conversation of close friends. But when we entered the church we both knew there was nothing casual about this day or us being together.

Today when Juleen hugged me to offer the Peace it was real and true. The God of all mercy expresses Himself in many ways but one of my favorites is through the soul of a friend.