Monday, February 13, 2012

A rare treasure, dazzling in delicate beauty

I started to read out loud Sarah Young's entry this morning in "Jesus Calling," but was truly overcome with tears. As much as I paused to choke back the tears, they came anyway and I handed the book over to my husband to read to our two children and me. I tripped on the words "those who yearn for me." They got stuck in my throat. And while I am somewhat embarrassed to tell you why, I think I must this morning because it has so profoundly impacted me today. 

Before getting out of bed this morning, I watched and re-watched a struggling, desperate woman who hugged her friend in that way that says more than I missed you, more than I'm glad your here. She hugged her long, and hard and I imagined that in that moment something about the desperation of life was exchanged... because one of them did not want to let go ... And then in front of a club full of people, the desperate one took the microphone and began singing quietly at first, "Yes, Jesus loves me... Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes Jesus loves me - the bible" - and she more loudly repeated while looking deep in her friend's eyes, "the bible ... the bible tells me so." And in that club somewhere in Hollywood, the crowd went crazy. And I believe that woman was hanging on, you see, hanging on with all that she had to the only truth that remained in her life - when all was said and done, when all the fame came and went, when all the drugs stole everything from her, she rose to her feet and sang the only thing that brought any sense of stability in her life, "Yes, Jesus loves me." Confidently, hopefully, soul-strongfully ... fearfully.

And that less-than-two minute, unfinished song was all as she left that stage and humbly waved off the cheering crowd because her voice was not what it once was. And she knew it. And she knew the crowd knew it. But she had to sing it that night, the night before she died. The very next day we would learn of her untimely death and the world would stop and think of all that she had been through. And our hearts would break because it seemed the demons won.

Sarah's words this morning, "It is a rare treasure, dazzling in delicate beauty yet strong enough to withstand all onslaughts. Wear My Peace with regal dignity. It will keep your heart and mind close to Mine." And I thought of the regal dignity of Whitney the night before her death singing that childlike song, "Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible - the bible - tells me so." And I thought of my own times of quiet desperation when all I could do was repeat that thought, hoping that what the bible said was true - and putting everything I had on that one single belief. And while others may describe Whitney's last public performance differently, I saw desperation - and I get desperation. I know what it feels like to be that desperate, where the only thing you have is, "Yes, Jesus love me." And clinging to friends that care.

"A rare treasure, dazzling in delicate beauty yet strong enough to withstand all onslaughts." 

Lord, may it be.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Ron Paul and me at Flint's Tim Hortons

Hey, I'm trying to steer clear of politics these days! I have decided there are too many people I love who claim to be from one party or the other. It's hard to keep my thoughts pure when I discover just who they are supporting for President -- and we're a long, long way from the finish line, folks! 

Truthfully, I consider myself apolitical. And I have publicly declared to several different groups of people that my intention is to never again have a discussion about politics. I have privately been thrilled with the idea that I never again have to have such discussions - and that all judgments are off when I discover a person's loyalties. And I'm never going to again say for whom I am going to vote. The thought feels so amazing. So peaceful. 

But I ran into Ron Paul this morning at the Tim Hortons at the corner of Ballenger and Flushing roads. Go figure. 
Well, truth be told, a friend has been urging me to read his book Liberty Defined. The book has moved from room to room in my house - and finally out the door with me today as I determined I better take a look at the guy behind this third-place groundswell of Iowa Caucus support, an objective look into what makes this guy interesting - at minimum to my neighbor who proudly has a sign posted in his yard.
Because I am determined this year to write more often about the ideas that otherwise rattle around in my brain, here is my apolitical, objective reaction to Ron Paul's book. For what it is worth. This is what I have determined this book reveals about a guy who could maybe be the next President of the United States. I may or may not vote for him. But I wouldn't tell you now would I?
By the way, it's hard to get past the subtitle, 50 Essential Issues That Affect Our Freedom? 50?? And I did find it interesting - or strange - that envy is listed as an issue but none of other seven deadly sins!
The issues, by the way, are in alphabetical order. I skimmed abortion not wanting to talk about it because it is far too difficult to discuss without getting emotional. It's an issue that drives the vote of too many people on both sides of the aisle. I have friendships that have nearly been destroyed based on this one topic. Not going there.
I do agree with Paul's position on bipartisanship: Too few things the two parties agree on that would be good for country.

And tax-payer financed elections; financing goes underground. Yup I agree with Paul on this one too. Campaign laws won't solve the problems.

And I do like Paul's stand against capital punishment and empire building and aggressive wars. Abortion position? Not so much. (See?? I'm weak! Why must I even comment on abortion??)

Paul's CIA position - I have to say, "Preach it brother." We would probably all be safer without it and every other clandestine operation. How can anything be successful if it thrives on secrecy and lies?
Gheesh! I actually agree with Paul's thoughts on civil disobedience. We both think it is legitimate and an effective way to resist violence perpetuated by state. 
OK, I'm now thinking Paul is not in the right party. He is SO Independent. Why would Ron Paul choose to align himself with the GOP? It seems inconsistent with his independent thoughts. 
But I'm still reading.

Oops! Paul & I disagree on discrimination. And education! Local control by school boards? The thought is bone-chilling to me! Maybe good in Malibu but Flint, MI?? C'mon!

Oooo, I DO like his thought that the American Empire is an enemy of American freedom. Yup I'm with him on that one. He says it is every bit an enemy of American citizens as it is to the victims of world. Let us be reminded that leadership is so critical!
And so I ask, why would this person align himself with the Republicans when their system only seems to dilute his arguments. He seems to stand against necessary evils. Yet, why do what he must to get attention or elected? And yes, the system IS against him! I'm just confused about him injecting himself into that system. They don't like him there. It would seem more fitting for him to play at a different playground.

I like Paul's stance on the deadly sin of envy: In a true free market economy, gain does not come at any one's expense. I just wish we could trust one another!
Paul's argument regarding evolution vs creation seems opposing to his argument regarding education. Again he talks about local power deciding but admits it might cause problems. Ya think?? How does a blue collar, largely high school educated-only town even stand a chance in competing with the academic giants of Ann Arbor's school board? It wouldn't. It couldn't. Local power dictating the future? Gotta say, that sounds frightening - even as I am trying to relax as I sip my Tim Hortons coffee!

I like Paul on this though: Any disagreement with government is considered unshared love of freedom. He says, "And that is exactly how fear works." Word! WORD!
Paul quotes CS Lewis in his section on Insurance. Interesting.
Ok, now I get it. Ron Paul likes liberty and/or freedom. He really REALLY thinks it is foundational to our government - and I cannot argue that it isn't indeed a constitutional right but, BUT his steely-gazed focus on liberty raises some red flags for me. It's like one of those airhorns that people obnoxiously blare at an indoor sporting event - and they have the freedom to do that! But for me, and this is my rub with Ron Paul when all is said and done (I may or may not vote for him remember), one man's liberty can and I gotta say, DOES infringe on my other constitutional and unalienable rights of life and the pursuit of happiness endowed by the Creator. And while I do LOVE Ron Paul's position on war, America's empire building, and Executive Power, some of his other ideas seem a bit idealistic for a 21st century America. I do not share his confidence in the goodness of people or corporations or government to step up and do the right thing.

I hear more and more people say they are supporting Ron Paul. He and his thoughts are compelling no doubt!! I WISH many of Paul's ideas would work, but the American political system seems too far gone to me. He carries with him ideas that would seem much more effective for rebuilding after a collapse!
There is no doubt, however, no doubt at all that Ron Paul makes this race far more interesting!
But hey, what do I know? I'm apolitical!

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Living lawlessly in Flint, MI

So get this: the folks in my neighborhood have started writing about the infidels in the neighborhood that drive too fast. They are beginning to flood the listserve with alt means of stopping the "growing problem." The first post I ignored, though a little sheepishly.

You see, they are talking about me.

Some have even written about those who do not stop at stop signs or blow through red lights. And while that is not EXACTLY me, I HAVE joked that all laws have been suspended in Flint due to the budget cutting our enforcers. The truth is, I rarely see a police car any more. When I do, I automatically think it is serious trouble in this wild-western town, that they are chasing after some cattle-rustlers or bank robbers.

It could happen!

What has the listserve jumping is a pretty serious accident occurred yesterday along the main drag. In fact, it was an entrapment that involved kids that were apparently just picked up from the neighborhood school. I saw the two little ones who looked a bit confused. I took the liberty to fill in the gaps on information and assumed that their mom was in the ambulance. That had to be confusing for those two kids...

Life can change so quickly.

Good Lord, now they are talking about installing speed bumps on the listserve!

So my guilt is getting the best of me here. The funny thing is I thought no one noticed how I drive! It's not like I have a memorable car - or do I? Could it truly be that as these folks are posting their passionate thoughts on this listserve they are envisioning ME nearly missing them as I pulled out of the neighborhood?

Dear God!

And so I am thinking about this principle I have long held with a fair amount of self-righteous pride. If left to their own accord, will people do the right thing? If suddenly there were no laws, would the goodness of people instead reign civilly and therefore create a safe, hospitable environment? After all, the law of our hearts is stronger than any law of the land! I mean, right?


Oh great, now I'm thinking about that Edmund Burke line, ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph [of evil] is for good men to do nothing.’

I think I've been playing for the wrong team...

And so how in the world do we apply this concept to the greater problems of Flint, MI? Can we? Is this now tested and failed personal principle indicative of an impending collapse as our hired enforcers become fewer and fewer? Do we even stand a chance with civility?

I'm turning myself in to the listserve! We may not be needing those speed bumps after all...

Tuesday, September 06, 2011


There was a time in my life when I did not experience emotion. A person never would have known it by looking at me. I am sure that I seemed "happy." I smiled, chatted, could hold a fairly reasonable conversation, but honestly, I didn't feel anything.

I didn't realize it until one day, after removing myself from that which robbed me of my emotions, I suddenly felt something - in my heart - and I was struck by the power of the emotion that was suddenly there. It almost took my breath away.

I recall being in a church service some years later, after my emotions returned to me, when a beautiful woman stood to her feet and shared with the 50-some people there that she was grateful because that day she had experienced her own thought. She told the crowd that it had been quite some time that she actually had her own thought.

I cried. I cried maybe because I remembered my own joy when the ability to feel emotion returned to me - and I didn't have the courage to stand up and tell anyone - in fact I told no one - yet this woman rose to her feet and told a large group of people that she had her own thought that day. There were plenty of people who looked confused; I went and hugged her.

And I don't know why I am thinking of this today, right now. Maybe because it has been a particularly emotional week and I have had many emotional conversations - and I have cried more than I normally do over hard things - and good things.

This world can feel so overwhelming, so confusing, filling us with many emotions and thoughts. We can wake up and our circumstances seem exactly the same as they did yesterday - or our days are radically and painfully the opposite. And we rise to try and stand in the face of it all, without falling back ... or down. There are days this week when merely rising was a victory.

And I wrestled. 
And I tossed and turned. 
And I paced. 
What is it that was churning in my soul??

And then I read this: "A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don't function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick." 

We numb? Do we pace? Do we toss and turn when we should be sleeping?

And then I read this: "The root of the word courage is cor -- the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage had a very different definition than it does today. Courage originally meant to speak one's mind by telling all one's heart." 

The words of Brene Brown suddenly spoke to my churning soul. Brene is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past 10 years studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. Brene spent the first five years of her decade-long study focusing on shame and empathy, and is now using that work to explore a concept that she calls Whole-heartedness.



Brene writes that the word courage today is more synonymous with being heroic ... And heroics are often about putting our life on the line. "Courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line. If we want to live and love with our whole hearts ... our first step is practicing the courage it takes to own our stories and tell the truth about who we are. It doesn't get braver than that."

When I read those words I thought of the woman who shared with the congregation that she experienced her own thought - and the courage it must have taken - and her bravery... 

And I thought of my own unwillingness to be vulnerable yet this strong, pounding desire to live whole-heartedly. Her words pierced my heart as I considered one of the latest books I read on connectedness and my failures to live out the principles. 

Brene writes: "... Connection is why we're here. It's what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. This is what it's all about. It doesn't matter whether you talk to people who work in social justice and mental health and abuse and neglect, what we know is that connection, the ability to feel connected, is -- neurobiologically that's how we're wired -- it's why we're here."
Brene said through her measured research of collecting data, she began wrestling with how they, the whole-hearted, were making choices in their lives - and what they did with vulnerability. And why do those of the rest of us struggle with it so much.

"So this is what I learned," she writes (check out her blog "We numb vulnerability ... And we live in a vulnerable world. And one of the ways we deal with it is we numb vulnerability."

Honestly, my heart sank as her words whispered to my soul because I KNOW numbness and what it means to shut off emotions and to be afraid -- and to want connection more than anything else on any given day.

"We are the most in-debt, obese, addicted and medicated adult cohort in U.S. history," she writes. "The problem is -- and I learned this from the research -- that you cannot selectively numb emotion. You can't say, here's the bad stuff. Here's vulnerability, here's grief, here's shame, here's fear, here's disappointment, I don't want to feel these. I'm going to have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin. I don't want to feel these.

"You can't numb those hard feelings without numbing the affects, our emotions. You cannot selectively numb. So when we numb those, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness. And then we are miserable, and we are looking for purpose and meaning, and then we feel vulnerable, so then we have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin. And it becomes this dangerous cycle."

But then, THEN, Brene starts meddling.

"One of the things that I think we need to think about is why and how we numb. And it doesn't just have to be addiction. The other thing we do is we make everything that's uncertain certain. Religion has gone from a belief in faith and mystery to certainty. I'm right, you're wrong. Shut up. That's it. Just certain. The more afraid we are, the more vulnerable we are, the more afraid we are. This is what politics looks like today. There's no discourse anymore. There's no conversation. There's just blame. You know how blame is described in the research? A way to discharge pain and discomfort."

I read those words over and over again. And over and over again.

Her 10 years of research found that whole-hearted people, very simply, experienced connection as a result of authenticity - they were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were.

And her research found that whole-hearted people fully embraced vulnerability. "They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful. They didn't talk about vulnerability being comfortable, nor did they talk about it being excruciating ... They just talked about it being necessary. They talked about the willingness to say 'I love you' first, the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees, the willingness to breathe through waiting for the doctor to call after your mammogram. They're willing to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out. They thought this was fundamental."

The impact her research had on her own life was life altering - and how could it not be? "And you know how there are people that, when they realize that vulnerability and tenderness are important, that they surrender and walk into it? A: that's not me," she said. "And B: I don't even hang out with people like that. For me, it was a yearlong street fight. It was a slugfest. Vulnerability pushed, I pushed back. I lost the fight, but probably won my life back.
"We pretend that what we do doesn't have an effect on people. We do that in our personal lives. We do that corporate -- whether it's a bailout, an oil spill, a recall -- we pretend like what we're doing doesn't have a huge impact on other people. I would say to companies, this is not our first rodeo people. We just need you to be authentic and real and say, "We're sorry. We'll fix it. 
Brene points to the data, the 10 years of research that just might be a key to life: "We need to let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen; to love with our whole hearts, even though there's no guarantee -- and that's really hard ... to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, when we're wondering, 'Can I love you this much? Can I believe in this this passionately? Can I be this fierce about this?' just to be able to stop and, instead of catastrophizing what might happen, to say, 'I'm just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I'm alive.' " 

I sat down and wrote to my new friend Brene Brown with gratitude overflowing, with a thawing numbness, and a growing amount of courage to live whole-heartedly, against the odds that there will be some great payoff - a payoff any greater than living life as it was meant to be. 

Whole-hearted ...  

Whole-heartedly ...

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Help, my brain won't shut off!

So when my mind is not otherwise occupied with the demands of my tenant who rents just a wee bit of space up there (jobs are like that, aren't they? Our bosses rent our brain space for their purposes?)

When I am not responding to our rental agreement, my mind this week has almost immediately gone back time and again to a spiritual wrestling about truth. And I consider myself a seeker of truth. I can never shake this gut feeling that there is something more, something deeper, some innate drive, an inner impulse.

I have to be honest, I have not found this truth in the church - or at least not that often. While I regularly attend, I often leave feeling as if I had a spiritual snack that doesn't always even taste good. The promise is always there, but for me, very rarely delivers. The hunger for truth remains - and I keep seeking.

This week I began reading a 21st century biography about Jesus - He was a person after all. No one denies that the guy lived and walked on earth. The author said this: Jesus was a revolutionary who tranformed the entire Judiac religious scheme into an affair of the heart and an adventure of the spirit. He did not exactly repudiate the law. What he did was to extract its moral code and ignore the rest. Instead of the law he spoke of the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom or Heaven. A faithful soul was not one who obeyed the law but one who, by transforming his spirit, "entered" the Kingdom.

And then I thought, why do we get this so wrong?
Maybe it's just me who gets it wrong...

And then I came across an article - because my brain won't shut off - Quitting Christianity to Follow Jesus. The same kinds of revolutionary thoughts were there: "Instead of living out the value of a Christian life, we cling to theology and short catchphrases on what it means to be a Christian ... We wear our Christian t-shirts, listen to Christian music and attend Christian concerts, where we have a true experience of emotion, and thus we buy a lot of Christian-themed shirts.  We go on retreats and return on spiritual highs. We buy devotional books that do nothing but gather dust.  We support Republican candidates because they’re fighting to save the family and to protect us from the evil that is homosexuality.  We abhor everything that doesn’t fit in our “Christian box” because of course it’s evil, and of course we’re supposed to flee from it, never mind that the actual person is a person.  When hard times come along, we cite verses that people normally cite and we say that God’s testing us, or we’re just going through a trial and we remind ourselves that if we just have faith, we’ll get through it all.

But get this. The author then writes: "Seems like we’re putting it all in a perspective that just makes us feel good.  It just makes us feel better about things.  Gives us warm and fuzzy feelings without breaking a sweat and putting on a fur coat.  We orient everything so that we don't have to change our way of life.  And we pursue what we want because it's our God-given desires.  We distance ourselves from the reality of Christ's call because that's comfortable."

Wow! I did not learn THAT in Sunday School!

"I quit Christianity," the author wrote.  "I'm no longer a Christian.  I just wanna follow Jesus.  I don't want the demands and the politics of being a Christian anymore.  I don't wanna follow the church.  The church could be great, but it's so uninspiring.  There's no longer any room for imagination, but there's plenty of room for theology and doctrine.  There's not enough space to be limitless and to believe in a limitless God, but there's plenty of time to chain God down into a series of statements and responsive readings.  

The reason that we chain God down and we no longer imagine the possibilities, is because we like to think that we can control God and we can control what the statements of Jesus say.  We can control the message of dilution.  But when we encounter something real, something mystical that defies theological and doctrinal beliefs, we realize that we can't answer things with our prepared cliche statements.  It's not enough."

Gandhi says:  "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

It's true isn't it? We don't look, feel, speak, smell like Jesus.

But I want to.

Honestly, so much of Christianity today seems foreign to me - at least this 21st century Christianity. I don't understand the language that Christians seem to use with fluency but feels isolating. I don't understand the judgment and condemnation. I don't understand the "bootstraps" we are suppose to use to help ourselves not one another. 

As I read about Jesus, I don't think he would either.

Is this part of that inner impulse, that drive for something more?

Seriously?? The tenant is calling with yet another demand. What time is it anyway??

Friday, August 19, 2011

Climbing out of the stormy sea

And so I struggle in this world … in this moment in time … with William Booth’s “dark and stormy ocean” and the mighty rock that rose up high above the clouds (  It’s the platform that gets to me actually and those individuals who were able to climb out of the stormy ocean to its safety.

Booth describes how some, from the safety of the platform, industriously worked with make-shift ladders, ropes, boats and “other means more effective,” to help others still in the angry sea.

And I am so bored with me.

And there is so much more that is interesting, more compelling, more inspirational, more real in the dark and stormy ocean.

The stories of others reaching in to rescue another move me because in their darkness, those adrift in the sea often don’t see the hand reaching out to save them. Those being tossed to and fro are focusing instead on the waves – big huge waves. Pounding waves. Cold waves. Waves that crash over their heads and they wonder if perhaps this time they will drown.

Some almost did drown.

But a hand rescued them.
That so brings a tear to my eye still and I have been thinking about this for a ridiculously long time. Why does it still move me so?

But a hand reached down and rescued them. Someone – maybe God, maybe a friend, maybe a stranger, maybe an angel – someone reached down and grabbed their hand and rescued them. From the dark and stormy ocean.

I heard yesterday of yet another amazing rescue, from the dark, stormy, angry sea. As the story goes – in fact for many of us – in one horrific moment my friend’s world crashed. And broke into a million tiny pieces. And laid askew in those million tiny pieces before her. Suddenly, nothing was familiar. Or safe. Or comfortable. Disbelief morphed into denial into sadness into anger into disbelief again and again. And the waves of grief crashed over her head. And she wondered, I have to believe, if she would ultimately drown in those horribly cold and raging waters.

But she didn’t. She made it up onto the platform – a platform she wasn’t even aware was there. The darkness had hid it from view. Her sheer and fading grit helped keep her body from going under, even if just her head bobbed above it just enough to suck in some desperately needed air.

And a hand reached down and rescued her.

And I marvel really because every logical indication said her story couldn’t be so. Every data driven piece of evidence said such a story was impossible.

But a hand reaching down to rescue us from a dark and stormy sea isn’t impossible.

My struggle in this moment is what to do with those who have no need, those who have already been rescued, those who stand squarely on the platform with dry clothes, combed hair, full bellies. How do I fit in with people who seemingly have no need? How do I interact with those who have only answers and no questions?

And should I?

Should I?

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Detroit News gets it right with identifying Flint's aura

She's so mean but I don't care
I love her eyes and her wild wild hair
Dance to the beat that we love best
Heading for the nineties
Living in the wild wild west
The wild wild west
         -Escape Club

Well, so it isn't the nineties, but I am telling you I SAW the mean chick and "her wild, wild hair" as I drove down Grand Traverse the other day. I'm telling you, she was packing heat! 

Heck, we ALL are! 

The Detroit News got it right today with their piece, "Rampant crime gives Flint aura of wild West." My only quibble - and I mean quibble - is what took them so long??

Francis X. Donnelly opened her the insightful piece with "Nine abandoned homes were torched Monday and Tuesday, and a dozen burned in a four-hour period last month. The week before, a civil rights pioneer was killed in his upper-income neighborhood. Two weeks earlier, one of the police mini-stations erected as a solution to rising crime was burglarized. 

"Once upon a time, these things shocked residents," Donnelly said.

She got that right!

Yippee ki yea!

We're not shocked any more - most people I know are locked and loaded, no longer waiting for our 124 police officers to respond to our 911 calls for help. Yup, that's 1.2 officers per 1,000 residents.

"Vehicle City, the nickname given Flint as the birthplace of General Motors, has become the state's version of Dodge City," Donnelly writes.

DODGE CITY!! Is that GREAT writing or what??

Donnelly's piece noted, "With all of the other troubles faced by Flint, manhole covers have been disappearing. Some 80 covers have been stolen in the past few months, probably for scrap, police said. For residents, the lowly metal objects are an example of how nothing is safe from thieves. 

"A feeling of lawlessness has seeped into the city's psyche, they said."

It's the seeping that has likely led residents to take matters into their own hands. The Detroit News piece described one man who bought two Magnums, calibers .22 and .44; and owns FOUR pit bulls.

Listen, he's not the only one!

Mandy's in the backroom handing out Valium
Sheriff's on the airwaves talking to the D.J.'s
Forty-seven heartbeats beating like a drum
Got to live it up live it up
Ronnie's got a new gun.

Living in the wild wild west
The wild wild west