Category Archives: cultivating theology

this is a place for expressions of my faith journey. things i’m wrestling with, reflections on where i’ve been, and more.

insecurity

[I keep going back and forth on whether I want this post to be password protected. For now, it is public. That may change.]

this week, i read this article (ignore how many times he uses the word “gift”), and it has me thinking a lot about insecurity. articles, when combined with real life situations, result in blog posts.

i have learned the hard way that my level of anxiety is a pretty good indicator that something in my life needs to be examined, evaluated, checked for fruitfulness. this week, i have felt my anxiety level rising. thankfully, i am a fairly self-aware person, so to say that my anxiety level is rising simply means that it is slightly higher than next to nothing, because i have somehow managed to cultivate a life where i can hold things loosely (even when, perhaps, i shouldn’t).

anyhow, my anxiety level has been rising. so i have begun to ask myself why. and here’s what i’ve got:

i feel really good about where i am right now. things are looking up. things that were hard to walk through are not so hard, because at least now i feel like i have others beside me. i consider my life six months ago, and it was full of uncertainty, full of hurt, full of lament. today, i see hope, i see relationship, and i feel known.

but here’s the thing…

amidst this sense that life is really good, i am anxious. i feel so incredibly insecure. i find myself reflecting on interactions with others wishing i could take back some of my words, or wondering what would have happened if i had said what i really wanted to say in a particular moment.

i. feel. so. vulnerable. i feel as though i have laid myself bare, that i have put myself on the line, and that i have allowed myself to push into something. and i am terrified. i am so afraid that at any moment people will discover just how annoying i am, just how much of a loser i am, or just how much they only tolerate my presence. i am waiting for the other shoe to drop, because now i have something to lose. six months ago, i could take a risk. i could say all i wanted about young adults at UPC because i had nothing else to lose. things are different now.

the thing about being known by others is that it necessarily gives them the opportunity to reject you…to your face. see, if someone we don’t know dislikes us, we can say its because they don’t really know us. but when someone who knows you, who knows your hopes, your fears, your dreams decides they don’t like you, there’s no way of reasoning our way around that.

and this is where my current insecurity lies. it lies in the fear that one day i will wake up and realize that what i have is gone. or even worse, that what i thought i have was never there to begin with, and that i was deceiving myself the whole time.

where is the gift in my insecurity? i don’t see a gift right now. i only see the pieces of myself that i am afraid will push people away, and i fear there is nothing i can do to stop that from happening. this makes me anxious, and thus, makes me reflect on how i can handle this better. how i can understand better where my security lies and how to live out of that place rather than this place of fear.

still thinking.

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perpetual tension

i am so exhausted.

but i feel more full than i have in a really long time.

here’s what i mean. i have spent much of the last one-two years feeling a sense of distance from God, more specifically from the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life. i have felt sustained, held up somehow in this absence, by the intellectual pursuit of God and by participation in the liturgical life of my church. and this has been good. i recognize the value and the lesson that came along with experiencing that time of life.

what has changed in the last few weeks is that this sense of presence has returned. i know that God never left me, and i understood and could see that God was working in my life despite what i felt. but something is different now. i can feel the Holy Spirit drawing near. i feel more than sustained, i feel full.

perhaps it is the result of the integration of all that i have been learning in this first year of seminary. perhaps it is the attention i have paid to the practice of grieving in the last six months. perhaps i am beginning to cultivate a stronger sensitivity to the movement of the Spirit. regardless of the cause, i am growing as a disciple of Jesus and pressing into those places that i feel movement.

exhaustion has set in, though. i will put most of the blame on the brief but meaningful trip to Philadelphia last week, the homework overload that preceded it, and the theological reflection that inevitably has followed it. this trip is a large part of why i feel full, but i walked away from that experience with a profound sense of simultaneous joy and grief. i have also been reflecting on the work God has been doing in my life, and i have realized something. it is not just today, in response to this conference, that i am sitting in the tension of joy and grief. this is a theme that has categorized my existence, the life of my faith, for years. learning to live in this place of tension – particularly between joy and grief – has been my task more times that i can count.

i live perpetually in a state of balancing on a tightrope. holding in my hands both grief and hope. sometimes i sway one way or the other, but somehow i manage to never lose a grip on either. this is the primary aspect of my character that has been developing during this time: the ability to hold these things together. i am coming to see that the ability to maintain this tension is what characterizes my involvement with my church as well as what characterizes the kind of therapist that i want to be.

this is why i am exhausted. my hands are as full of grief and joy as my heart is full of the Spirit. not only am i holding both of these things, but i am feeling both of these things…tremendously and intensely. i am allowing myself to feel the fullness of the grief that i carry. grief for things that are changing, for relationships that have been lost, for letting go of future expectations, for things beyond my control, for the brokenness that plagues each of us. and i am allowing myself to feel the fullness of the joy that i carry. joy for the places that i see hope in the midst of this grief, for the new and deepening friendships that i am building, for the way i see God forming the hearts and lives of those around me, and for the things that i am proud to be a part of.

and while i am exhausted, i can’t help but also desire to push further. to continue to ruminate on these things, to continue to reflect on what God is teaching me, to continue to engage my mind in the topics that i love, to continue to enjoy the deep and encouraging relationships that God has built up around me, to continue to grieve and hope.

This is what God is doing in me.

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Philadelphia

thus endeth the longest week.

bright and early monday morning i was picked up by my dear friends and shuttled to the airport for a 3(ish)-day conference in Philadelphia. i signed up for this conference even though it was in the middle of the quarter and i missed two classes and had two papers due this week. i signed up for this conference because i knew it was going to be challenging and good, but i wasn’t sure how.

sure enough, God is good.

i could feel a crescendo rolling up within me for about a week leading up to the conference and i had a sense that the things i was studying were starting to coalesce into a spiritual preparation.

i was blessed to have attended this conference with some of my best friends, some relatively new friends, and some friends who i met for the first time on monday morning. the sense that i got from all of these people, though, was that we were ready. we were ready to hear what God had for us during these days, and we were excited to be there to experience it together.

i wont go into specifics of what was said and what was taught on…mostly because i am still processing at this point. but i will say this: i was struck by the simultaneously occurring and deeply indwelling feelings of joy and grief that i experienced. but then again, maybe i shouldn’t be struck by this. after all, this tension of joy and grief has been the lens through which i have experienced life for much of my adulthood.

grief + joy

destruction + hope

inextricable, one eternally enriching the experience of the other.

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The State of Our Souls

Below is a brief poem that I composed with reference to my current study of Lamentations as well as reflecting on the state of our society and relationships in light of current tragedies. Please don’t steal my work.

 

 

The State of Our Souls

We live in a world that
       makes us numb
       and strikes us dumb
In the face of unbelievable tragedy
Our first reaction is to judge
       to place blame
       and to shame
Rather than join hands and cry
We have forgotten what it means
       to belong
       and to whom
And why it matters what we say and do
Because we live in a world that divides
       right down party lines
       and by nation and tribe
All the way down to our homes and our souls

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the big questions

i started my journey into lamentations this week. first, i read some background on the book, and then i read through the book in one go, making some initial observations. as i begin this journey, i want to start by thinking about what i want to get out of this. what are some of the big questions that i want answers to? what questions came up in my first reading of the book? etc.

so, here are some questions:

– what is lament?

– why is lament important?

– what does the book of lamentations (and lament itself) mean for being a follower of Christ?

– what does this book teach me about the character of God?

– what does this book teach me about how i relate to God?

– what is the balance between lament and hope? is there any balance?

– what is the role of judgment and restoration in the life of the chosen?

– what does lamentations teach Christians about Jesus?

 

here we go.

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lament

duh.

it seems like i should have seen this coming, that i could have anticipated this point in my journey if i was only paying better attention. two years ago i took a class on the prophets and was confronted with the idea of lament. and i began to think about grief, mourning, letting go…and how horrible we tend to be at it.

lament is the practice of the prophet. prophecy, i learned as an intern, is a gift and a call that i have on my life…so there’s that. if you read through the prophets in the Bible, lament is a very clear theme. the prophets lament at the state of the sin of Israel, they lament over the exile and broken relationship with God. this is not the sole job of the prophet, other key elements include warning of judgment and proclaiming hope. lament is just a chapter in the story.

but it is an important chapter, especially when you consider the so very many things we have in our lives to grieve over. it is a chapter that we really cannot afford to skip over.

Botticelli, Lamentation Over the Dead Christ with St Jerome, St Paul and St Peter, 1490

Botticelli, Lamentation Over the Dead Christ with St Jerome, St Paul and St Peter, 1490

so…a couple weeks ago i was on the women’s retreat that my church hosted (planned, organized and executed via a grassroots movement that makes me proud to call this church home). we talked about places where we have experienced  great abiding, joy and fruitfulness. what comes to mind for me is UPC. i have been a member for 3 years and attending for almost 5, and it is in this place that i have found a home, a community, deep and sustaining relationships, opportunity to participate in the life of the church and serve in ministry in many capacities. i think of the mission trips i have been on to kenya, new orleans and haiti. i think of all the service projects i helped organize for convergence. i think of the community groups that i participated in launching. i think of the year i spent interning. i think of the leaders and friends along the way who have shaped the person that i am now, in seminary and graduate school, following a bigger call on my life. i think back on these things and i feel great joy.

then we were asked to reflect on a place where we feel a sense of grief, barrenness, and exile. lo and behold (i was just as shocked as you will be in reading this) this place is also UPC for me. because today at UPC, amidst a whirlwind of change in the last couple years, i don’t have a deep and sustaining community of relationships. many of my friends have left the church because convergence and the sunday service we participated in have ended and there just isn’t the opportunity for fellowship anymore. there is the very real possibility of walking into church on a sunday and not seeing anyone i know. the leaders who knew me and who were invested in my growth have all moved on to pursue other calls. i am not serving or participating in any capacity beyond stephen ministry training, which is great but is not your traditional sort of ministry.

to sum: my place of deep abiding joy and fruitfulness has become for me a place of exilic despair and barrenness. and there is much to lament.

my dear friend nicki, in response to my sharing this revelation with her, said that this sounded a lot like the Israelites who, during the Babylonian exile, were stuck in Jerusalem. see, not all of the Israelites were cast out to Babylon during the exile, as we tend to think. in actuality, there were many who were left in Jerusalem and the rest of Judah, left to look at the wreckage of their former idyllic life, the ruins of the temple, everyday reminders of just how far they fell. BAM! nicki, what a shot to the heart, a word from the Lord.

since then, i have had a desire to learn more, to explore this biblically and to find something in Scripture that i can identify with. i wondered…was there Scripture about the exile from the perspective of Jews in Jerusalem? what? there is? turns out, lamentations is the place to turn.

so i have decided that i am going to study lamentations. i’m going to read commentaries, articles, dictionaries, what have you, and i’m going to learn about Israel’s lament. because i think lament is important.

lament is also the space into which we enter on good friday. when Jesus is killed, crucified, when he assumes our death as his own, we lament. it is important to sit in this space, because without good friday, without lament, there is no glory of the resurrection, no hope of easter. to be sure, the lament is not the final word, but it is part of the experience.

lamentations. i’m going to read it, and read it well. and i’m going to share some of my thoughts here. interaction is welcome, we can’t do this alone.

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telling a good story

last quarter, one of my classes required me to do some research into members of my family. when i began digging, i was surprised by what i started to find out, and i decided to continue to dig deeper. here are a few of the very interesting things that i learned about my family:

*danish and czech are the two cultures that run richest in my blood, but there is also a smattering of english, irish, scottish, french, german and dutch.
*i have blood ties to an all-but extinct native american tribe called the chetco, who were located at the mouth of the rogue river on the oregon/california border in the 1800s
*my paternal grandfather (and thus my last name) can be traced all the way back to the mid 17th century in france. my ancestors were huguenots who fled to the US to escape persecution by the catholic church
*one of my ancestors was an activist in the temperance movement in new england in the 18th century. his essays have been compiled into a book which i now proudly own
*another one of my ancestors successfully traveled from michigan to california during the gold rush, and wrote letters back to his hometown during the process. these have since been compiled as well
*much of my family has been in the united states since its founding, or shortly thereafter

aside from these interesting facts about distant generations, part of what i was struck by was the vastness of it all. i saw all these lives that had to unfold exactly the way they did in order for me to come into existence. i was also struck by the individual stories of those around me. for example, i learned a lot about the lives that my grandparents lived – details that i was not privy to as a child, or just didn’t think to ask about.

the most important thing that i learned from my family is that we each have a story that we are living out. this is something that i’ve thought about before, so its not entirely new, but i began to look at my story from an entirely different perspective. as i began to learn about the lives of individuals within my family i began to wonder what kind of story would be told about me two, three, or even more generations from now. i learned things about my grandparents and other family members that i had known before but hadn’t understood the full scope of, or hadn’t seen from this angle before. i began to understand that the way we articulate our stories is important. the language we use, the attitudes we have, are often just as important as our actions or the choices we make.

finally, i’ve learned that every story is just as important as the next. my goal in the next couple months, before beginning seminary and grad school, is to catch up on as many stories that i can. i want to know the stories i haven’t heard from people who are closest to me, like my brother, my dad and my grandmother. i want to catch up with friends that i haven’t have time or energy to invest in while finishing my undergrad. and i want to hear new stories – preferably those that share a different perspective than i’m used to, or might challenge me to reevaluate my assumptions about life, God or the world.

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