mary: they did not believe her

History has elevated Mary, the mother of Jesus, to a place of honor and reverence. The holy mother who bore the Son of God. However, this is not the same Mary we encounter in the hour of the angel Gabriel’s arrival. Rather, we encounter a young girl, given a holy promise without any proof of the miracle foretold.

We encounter a young woman of great faith who endures scorn and shame from a society that did not believe her account of events. And I wonder if, perhaps, this Mary has something to say to us all. 

As Mary’s body began to change – as it stretched and grew with child – her friends and family presumed her to be nothing more than a cheating harlot who brought shame to her family, her town, and the man to whom she was pledged to be married. Everyone expected her betrothed, Joseph, to denounce Mary as his wife, marking her as untouchable and damning her to a life of shame and struggle. In her culture, Mary had no social merit or value without a man to vouch for her.

And yet, Yahweh – the God of Abraham – spoke a new destiny over her with the announcement that she would carry within her the divine made flesh. Even in her own uncertainty of how events would play out, Mary praised the Lord, calling him “blessed” and “exalted” and “merciful.” Mary carried within her a quiet knowing that neither required proof nor the validation of others to make it true. 

Not only did the angel Gabriel explain to Mary how it was to be that she would carry a child, though she was a virgin; he also gave her the name of a trusted confidante in whom a miracle was also growing. In her wisdom, Mary left her hometown to seek out her distant cousin – perhaps whom she had never met – so that she could celebrate this miracle with someone who shared her deep and abiding faith: Elizabeth.

Somehow, Mary was not overcome by doubt or disbelief in the face of those who disbelieved her and perhaps shunned her during her pregnancy. Rather, Mary tethered herself to the Lord and to his promise and sought out a friend in whom she could confide and find spiritual shelter amidst her days of expectancy. 

How beautiful. How profound.

That the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob would entrust this miracle to two women. That Joseph and other men would only later be let in on the divine secret of Jesus’ prophetic birth. That it would not be up to Mary to prove herself, but rather up to the Lord to intercede on her behalf.

Mary was not the subservient picture of a woman that society had come to expect. She did not keep her head down and she did not apologize for her account of events. Mary clung to what she knew to be true – even in the face of shame and blame and a society that attempted to make her the scapegoat. 

Fortunately, the Lord looped Joseph in and gave Mary an advocate in her husband. But the validity of God’s promise and Mary’s innocence never rested in the approval or understanding of Joseph. Joseph became Mary’s help-mate. Her trusted companion. Joseph took the journey alongside Mary, perhaps also becoming entangled in the scandal surrounding Jesus’ birth. He, too, was of great faith. But the nativity story centers on Mary and her unwavering faith and trust in the Lord – with or without the validation of man.

I wonder if perhaps Mary contemplated all that she might lose – all that could be at stake – if she received Gabriel’s news with a trusting and faithful heart. I wonder if she felt the sorrow of being shunned, the anger at being scandalized, the hurt at being scorned, the helplessness at being disbelieved.

Perhaps her trust in the Lord and his faithfulness outweighed every risk, every loss, every ache. Perhaps the Lord’s provision of Elizabeth was the anchor she needed to hold her head high and stand in her truth. Perhaps the faith of her childhood was the hope she needed to sustain her in the loneliness.

Perhaps her quiet and unrelenting courage has always been and always will be too profound, too holy for words.

 

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the baby behind Christmas

I have a confession to make. I don’t really love the Jesus I grew up believing in. In fact, I don’t even really like him. Sure, my understanding was skewed. Even though he was an outcast, I still managed to view him as the holier-than-thou symbol of religiosity who spoke eloquently yet was an unapproachable leader. Marked by those mantle-framed blue eyes, pale skin, and long, flowing golden brown hair, my image of Jesus was skewed in nearly every way.
However, my own broken journey of being misunderstood, alienated, and in search of justice amidst a culture of religiosity left me aching for a more tangible spiritual leader. And wouldn’t you know it…in all of my searching, I found that ragamuffin Jesus on the margins as well. I recently stumbled on a love letter I wrote to Jesus – the actual Jesus – and wondered if perhaps, as we enter the Christmas season, more of us need to be reminded of who we are celebrating and why.
Remember…
  
If you are celebrating Christmas, you are celebrating a refugee child born into humanity’s leftovers. We didn’t make room for him then, and we hardly make room for him now.
 
If you are celebrating Christmas, you are celebrating the Limitless Universe (read: God) appearing in our midst for the first time – as a helpless child – to show us how to be fully human and how to see and know and love one another.
 
If you are celebrating Christmas, you are celebrating the overthrow of an empire – the meekest and mildest baby upsetting the entire rule of a wealthy king.
 
If you are celebrating Christmas, you are celebrating the divine purpose entrusted to a young woman, named Mary, who was chosen by the the God of Abraham to carry a deep and secret miracle (that was only explained to her betrothed husband, and other men, later on in the story).
 
If you are celebrating Christmas, you are celebrating the truth that it is often the humble and the unsuspecting that shake up the culture and make a way for the oppressed when it seems as if there is no way.
 
If you are celebrating Christmas, you are celebrating the beauty of belonging to something other than yourself; Mary knew it, Joseph came to know it, the shepherds knew it, the wise men knew it. Something compelled them all to be a part of this great and divine mystery, that mere words could not explain.
 
If you are celebrating Christmas, you are celebrating the turning of the tides – religiosity being flipped over like tables in a temple as the new temple of faithful spirituality rises in its place.
 
If you are celebrating Christmas, you are celebrating the gift of Love offered to ALL – without exception.
 
If you are celebrating Christmas, you are celebrating the miracle of new beginnings, new hope, and prophetic fulfillment.
 
If you are celebrating Christmas, you are celebrating light quietly rising, amidst the darkness, and calmly growing up and into a tiny revolution of remarkable faith that pierces through every injustice, oppression, sorrow, and ailment.
 
If these truths seem new or unfamiliar to you, I challenge you to enter this Advent season with an openness to who Jesus really is and all that his birth really represents.
 
Chances are, these new revelations will make an astonishing difference in your life and in how you interact with your own faith story – no matter what chapter you are in.
 
So what would you add?
 
If you, dear reader, are celebrating Christmas…what are you celebrating?
 
May light and hope find you this Advent season,
 
-s

beyond my own dying, resurrection

Four years ago today, I loaded up my shiny new Subaru with all that would fit, and made the long drive from Nashville to Denver.

I was a scared, shell of myself and I felt so alone. But I could taste the sweet freedom that God had waiting for me in the land of the Rockies.

After living in Africa for 6 months, I returned to Tennessee – rocked by reverse culture shock – with a seeming inability to relate to the world I had left before. My faith had been stretched, my theology of doctrine above all else had been eroded by the movement of the Spirit that I had no tidy explanation for. My understanding of Church and my place in it had been shaken and my entire worldview was uprooted.

I came back changed. And resolved to lean into a season of brutal honesty, whatever that might look like.

Four years ago today, I never could have imagined the loneliness, heartbreak, devastation, or agony that awaited me. I never would have imagined that I would barely talk to my family for a year after coming out and living half my life in secret, afraid of being completely cast off.

But I also never would have imagined how much my honesty with myself would completely transform life as I knew it. I never knew how deep friendships could go and how steadfast they would remain, even in the most brutal of storms.

Four years ago today, I didn’t know that I would despair of life completely in 2014. That I almost wouldn’t make it through a year of living in Colorado. That I almost wouldn’t make it at all.

But I also didn’t know that my love for Jesus would grow as my faith in institutionalized religion would fade. And I didn’t know that friends could become so much like family and that family could grow back to a place of love and reconciliation, even if not built on a foundation of agreement.

I didn’t know that I would go to a bunch of faith-based LGBT conferences in 2015, embark on a three week silent retreat in 2016, or launch my coaching business in 2017.

I didn’t know that I would one day feel at home in myself – no longer a stranger to my deepest fears and deepest desires. I didn’t know that one day I would feel free. That my wholeheartedness would sometimes feel devastating, because I was finally allowing myself to feel all my honesty for the first time.

Just as I could not comprehend the agony of my own dying, I could not begin to imagine the beauty and life of my own resurrection.

More and more, I believe there is really something to that radical Jesus. And I’m so grateful that, in my darkest and brightest of days, I never had to walk through it alone.

So here’s to growth. To being brutally honest with yourself. To learning to live in pure authenticity with others. To embracing the hard, the messy, the heartbreaking, the divine, the beautiful.

I hope you find your way out of death and into resurrection.

Those tomb days feel as if they will never end.

But they will. And they do.

Hold onto hoping.

dear one

oh dear one,

you there with the burden of memory and the longing to be soothed and safe and seen – come lay down that back-breaking load.

has no one held your face in their hands, eyes laid upon soul-bearing eyes, and told you that you are a walking miracle?

has no one taken your troubles into the chambers of their well-worn heart and watered the ground under your feet with an ocean of empathy?

has no one reminded you how brave and beautiful you are? or that the cracks running through you like seams – your fragile places – are where the light gets in?

has no one held your hand in theirs and kissed your scars and told you that you are beloved? that your life is a brilliant flame – an enchanting wonder all of its own – that is even more captivating in the darkness?

oh dear heart…take these words in like water for the barren desert that has surely become of your tender heart – seeking moment by moment for an oasis.

you are the treasure.
you are the brilliance.
you are the beauty of the earth.

and you are loved
loved, loved.

you are loved.
you are loved.
you are loved.

for death must have its day

A couple of months ago, I packed up all of my belongings into boxes and suitcases, shoved the ones that would fit into my Subaru, and road tripped from Denver to Seattle to dive into a terrifying experience of silence and solitude and soul-wrenching vulnerability.

A few months before I set out, all I knew was that I was supposed to go SOMEWHERE in January to “walk backwards so I could move forward.” As I began to take baby steps that looked a lot like a leap of faith, everything fell into place (because SOVEREIGNTY), and I found myself, once again, leaning into the stirrings within me and setting off into the much anticipated, yet feared, unknown.

Going to Seattle for a three-week intensive – by myself and without any books or music or contact with anyone other than a therapist (whom I had not yet met) for a little over an hour a day – seemed to line up with the other daring and adventurous experiences that have so marked and transformed my life up to this point.

So I went to face my demons and reconcile with my child self and release the things that I had carried for far too many sunsets. I spent my days speaking aloud and giving voice to pent-up pain that spanned more than a decade of my life. My body pulsed beneath the weight of the trauma being lifted out of my being as I raged and wept and buried my face in the carpet of a strange home in the woods on an island far away from anything and everything that was familiar.

I learned, in the absolute agony of my separation from every familiar face and physical comfort, that the only way to peace is through the pain. And we cannot heal if we do not allow our wounds to bleed out completely and wash the toxic fragments from our fragile souls.

We live in a culture of pretenders. Americans, in particular, play the role of the self-sufficient, self-made, resilient and determined dreamers. Too often, demonstrating vulnerability is seen as weakness; in fact, this vulnerability is even seen as social, political, and occupational suicide. We fear pain and sorrow and unpleasant seasons because they render us broken and incapacitated to “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.”

But I learned something there in that lonely cabin, where I only had the whispers of the wind and the silence of empty rooms and the warmth of my own salty tears. Somewhere, at the bottom of our sorrow, is a doorway to a peace that surpasses all understanding. Somehow, once our anger has exhausted its energy and grief has given way to quiet tears and sorrow has overcome our body with shaking sobs, there is a light in the deep and enduring abyss of our suffering.

Richard Rohr says this about denying our pain:

“By denying [our] pain, avoiding the necessary falling, many have kept themselves from their own spiritual depths – and therefore have been kept from their own spiritual heights.”

The paradox of this reality is not lost on me, even after having endured three eternal weeks of silence and solitude and enlightenment on an island I have no plans to return to. Somehow, when we are broken open and the pain is finally allowed to have its voice and free itself from our body, we are left with the capacity to carry wholeness and peace and love and hope unlike ever before.

But the only way to peace is through the pain. And while we live in a culture that rewards shortcuts that “get the job done,” there is no shortcut to healing. We must traverse the broken road of anguish and suffering and sadness and heartbreak and remorse and dying in order to get to the place of inner resurrection. 

Look at the seasons of the earth…death and dying are all around us. Trees and flowers must die and winter must have its way so that spring may come in all its glory. There is no hope of resurrection without first observing the agony of death and grieving all that has been lost. Something must be lost in order to be gained.

It is Holy Week. And tonight, we remember the death of Jesus and mourn the agony and sorrow of the one who claimed to be the Messiah breathing his last in front of his followers, family, and friends. It is devastating and heart-wrenching. It felt, to the disciples, like a defeat. Like all hope was lost. Like every hope they had before had suddenly been swallowed up in death.

But Sunday. We know it is coming. We know that it came. We live on the other side of the Resurrection story.

However, we live in this continual cycle of death and resurrection – in the physical realm and also within our spiritual selves.

So tonight, since we are reflecting on the death of the promised Messiah, I challenge you to also reflect on what places within have died or need to die off. It will ache to let go and let it die – be it a relationship, a dream, a way of life, and understanding of the world, etc. And the sorrow should shake you to your core. Tears should blind your vision and pain should well up within your heart. That is the only way to purge the pain from within and give death its due of mourning.

But one day, perhaps not too long from now, you will begin to feel the warmth of Resurrection building in the depths of your very being. For everything that dies gives way to new life.

And Sunday is coming. 

Our Apathy Bled Out: on Paris

I was shocked and devastated to hear of the bombings in Paris. And today, as I reflect on the tragic events and the overwhelming worldwide reaction of shock, grief, and a show of support, I cannot help but notice our collective silence surrounding similar events in other parts of the world.

I do wonder why I and many others were not as shocked and devastated by the bombings in Lebanon and Turkey. Why did world leaders not hold press conferences or Facebook turn our pictures into the flags of each country in shambles? Why did we not amplify our shock and anger and grief through every channel of social media available to us? Why did we not stand in solidarity when faced with the reality that other countries have also been bathed in the blood of those targeted in similar acts of terror?

Surely, among ourselves we can get to the bottom of this inconsistency within the human spirit. Certainly it is not mere ignorance which has dictated our passive response to other events of equally startling and horrific proportions.

Could it be that we are weary of headlines from war torn countries and have, thus, become calloused to the grievous acts of violence inflicted upon our brothers and sisters in the Middle East? Or perhaps we are so caught up in our own nation’s entangled history – so accustomed to justifying the violence our own people have inflicted – that we do not even identify the victims of attacks in the Middle East as our “brothers and sisters” and therefore, no longer mourn the atrocity of a rising death toll in countries like Lebanon and Turkey.

Maybe we have grown so comfortable with gross generalizations of people groups that we have, therefore, pinned all of our nation’s trauma on one pocket of the world and adopted an “eye for an eye” mentality which makes us numb to any tragedy that transpires in that region of the world. Maybe we have muted shades of grey and instead, filtered the world into lenses of black and white in which some people groups are inherently “good” and others are inherently “bad.” And in doing so, we have carefully measured our internal reactions to gross miscarriages of justice and blatant terrorism on soil other than our own because we have pre-determined who is worthy of our compassion and who must categorically remain an “enemy,” lest our view of the world break down.

And to be blunt, what happened in Paris fucked up our worldview.

Our sub-categorizations of humanity have cost us our empathy. And our seats of privilege have weakened our compassion. We have numbed our senses and in turn, our sensibilities, and continue to exist as if the earth is not running with the blood of innocent and unsuspecting sacrifices on the altar of human hatred.

We thought we could casually ignore the devastation of mass murders around the world. We thought that under the guise of warfare, those killings somehow were to be expected. And in the midst of our mind-numbing expectation of death and dying, we were completely blindsided by the blood which spilled in the streets of Paris.

Maybe we do not have words for the heaviness we perpetually feel as we read headlines of brutality from all over the world. It is possible that our minds and bodies and hearts can no longer contain the trauma or death and dying – of the hatred running rampant in the world in which we live. Perhaps we are a peoples who long for justice and yet grow weary with each new wave of darkness which threatens to extinguish the light of hope we so cautiously carry within ourselves.

But something broke our collective resolve. Something got through to our numb and calloused approach to much of the devastation throughout the world.

Paris – “the city of love” – is a place which represented an idealistic and peaceful state of being. To many, the city is confined only to images of the Eiffel Tower and the whimsy of imagination. Paris is a city that has been romanticized in countless forms of literature and art.

And amidst a world ravaged by war, Paris stood as an icon of endurance and innocence – a beacon of hope and cultural preservation within a world of ruins. And now Paris is running in blood.

We are shocked. We are devastated. And our worldview is being peeled back in layers. Someone didn’t play by the rules. Someone didn’t care about our safe and sacred spaces. And in confronting that brutality, we also have to confront the notion that we sanctioned off some places where violence was acceptable to our fragile minds and designated other spaces as sanctuaries of the earth.

We must consider the injustices within ourselves that contribute to a world where a bombing in Paris shocks us but a bombing in Beirut goes unnoticed by mass media. We must search within ourselves to see which ideas of humanity have incapacitated us to mourn for atrocities in all parts of the world. 

A friend shared this quote with me today:

This is what terrorism is occupied with as well: making real, palpable violence surface in opposition to the invisible violence of security.” – Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation

So perhaps now, we must allow ourselves to merely sit in the heaviness and darkness of this single tragedy – recognizing that this is not just an isolated event. Perhaps now is the time to consider our own passivity and grieve our role in the perilous divides within the human spirit. How do our experiences of security contribute to our lack of empathy for those who are attacked in spaces which appear to be less “safe” and “secure” than Paris? And why does an attack in Paris trigger so much more fear and empathy from us than an attack in the Middle East?

These are heavy questions. Death is devastating. Our worldview is fractured. And we are at a loss. But we have not lost our resolve. So even as we sit with these heavy questions, in the face of such darkness, may our hope and love outweigh our apathy and hatred. And in our tears and prayers for Paris, may we also weep and pray for those whose city name was never shouted in remembrance. 

diamonds in the desert


For the one who I feel I’ve known since before the foundation of time…I’m always cheering you on. Love you, Luke-aa.

—————————-

Light dweller,

you reside in the light

and you cannot leave it.
you are the poetry of the earth

rising like rays

which warm each living thing.
there is strength in your heart

and love in your breath

and every gentle sigh

is a cascading of wisdom,

of healing

falling from your holy lips.
man of dust and clay

rising from generations

sojourning on to the nations

with a promise

a hope

a reckoning,
do not grow weary –

for water will be sent to refresh

your parched spirit

bread to fill up the hunger

of your majestic soul
and your beautiful mind

will feast on the visions

of angels

as you rest by quiet waters.
oh know

even Jacob and all his dreaming

couldn’t light a candle

to all the waking from within

all the dreaming into life

inside your chest.
sing, oh Bethlehem

oh star brightly shining 

for Love is here

falling out of your eyes

like diamonds in the desert;
hush now, restless dreamer

your trail is marked

by miracles.