Finding the Art in Everything

29 March, 2013

40 Day Bare Face: Day 37 - Wounded and Scarred

When You came back, Jesus, they recognized You by the marks. Those of us who didn’t believe it’s You knew it was when You the held up Your hands, and when You turned around and revealed the lattice pane of lacerations on Your back.

The thing is, You had wounds that made scars long before the studded whips went to work on Your body. Maybe Your deepest wounds didn’t come from the side-piercing spear, the nails, or the thorn punctures whose white remains freckle Your forehead.

The wounds that made the scars by which we recognize You were made on Thursday, too.

And while, in my days, I’m unlikely to be struck by a soldier or be put to death at the hands of the state, Your Thursday wounds are the ones I know really well. It’s the scars from my Thursday wounds that I search for on Your body, so that I can see for myself that there is life where that flesh died.

On Thursday, Your friends and family broke Your heart like You broke the bread when You were with them.

On Thursday, Your closest relationships were broken by fear, confusion, fatigue, goodbyes, and betrayal.

On Thursday morning, You left Bethany, saying goodbye to Your closest friends. You entered a city that never welcomed You, never understood You, and within 24 hours, would cry for the freedom of a murderer at Your expense.

Neither Nazareth nor Jerusalem was Your home, but You went anyway.

On Thursday afternoon, You ate Your final meal with Your most beloved friends—friends who couldn’t love You back. You knew it. You loved them and washed them and taught them and prayed for them, and You knew—You knew—they would flee, deny, and betray You. And You arranged their sacred meal and brought them along with You into Your darkness anyway.

You took them to the Garden, and when You needed them most—when You needed them to pray for and watch over and be present with You, they slept. They slept.

You knew we’d fail You, and You still begged us to be with You.

In that Garden, You let the one who betrayed You—the one who gave up on You and sold You out—You let him kiss Your cheek. You let him close when You should have held him at arm’s length. Or never gone anywhere near him.

You knew this would hurt—hurt with unspeakable viciousness—and You embraced us.

Despite all Your work and teaching with Peter, He still flew off the handle and attacked the soldier. That soldier was there to arrest You, and You restored his ear. Later, You helped Peter exchange his sword for the keys to Your church.

This is the Peter You warned. The Peter who didn’t know his own limitations—who, when foretold that he’d fall apart and deny Your friendship—dismissed Your warning and then still disowned You. After walking with You for three years, he disowned You three times.

There. There. I see the scars made by the rash and the careless. I see the scars made by someone who should have known better. By someone who had great promise and couldn’t keep his promises. I see the scars made by one of Your favorites.

On Your body I see the scars of false accusation. Of injustice. Of having Your voice taken from You. Scars of the wounds that come from Your right to defend Yourself. Of rejection and humiliation. Of being misunderstood and mocked for being who You are. Who You’ve always been.

These Thursday wounds were only the beginning.

These Thursday wounds made Sunday scars, but they were part of Friday's plan that made new life possible every Monday thereafter.

It's crazy to me that You chose to keep Your scars on Your after-Sunday body.
How does that count as making all things new

When we see your scars, our scars, we are reminded of wounds we both made and witnessed.

But perhaps when You see our scars, your scars, you are reminded of wounds you have both healed and reconciled.

Perhaps these new scars are part of our newness in You. Maybe they are part of Your mark that identifies Your people.

Perhaps they are how we'll identify each other. Perhaps as we return to each other as You returned to Peter, in an upper room like the one where you broke bread with a broken heart, we'll know you're real and we're real. We'll know it because we can see everyone's scars.

We'll look at each other and see the wounds we made and sustained as we broke each other's heart.  And as we survey the scars, we'll remember that you held out a pierced hand to Peter as you, in three different ways, assured him You knew he loved You. As You restored him in love unto Yourself.

Dear Jesus, make us new.

Let us see our Thursday wounds as Sunday marks of healing.

And let us begin our restoration work in your name on Monday.

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28 March, 2013

40-Day Bare Face: Day 36 - Beautiful

"The most beautiful makeup of a woman is passion. But cosmetics are easier to buy." - Yves Saint Laurent

Holy Week. Wednesday. 
Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14, John 12

I  can  hear Martha telling Mary to take the figs and honey out to the table and come back with the empty plates.

I can see the anguish on Mary's face when she returns and puts the plates in the sink. Tears spilling over she tells Martha that He's talking about leaving again, about how His time has come.

And she doesn't know what it means, but she's known it all along.

She knew all  along that this man--this extraordinary man--was her treasure. She knew that any time she could get with Him was precious. She knew He couldn't stay.

Part of that was His coming and going from their house. He didn't stay long and was often surrounded by people. His visits were too short.  But when it was just the four of them--and because of Him it got to be four again--oh, how they laughed. The air in the room rang with His laughter for days after He left.

And when He taught all those people, it didn't matter what else was happening. It didn't matter if there were chores or if no one else at His feet was a woman.  Her heart and spirit rang with that truth until He came back--like He was near her the whole time. She couldn't bear to miss a moment.

But this time something's different. Something's off. His burden is heavier. He's more urgent. He's saying a lot of goodbyes. He's giving final instructions. There are fewer stories and more pleas.

He hardly touched His dinner.

And there the figs sit. He loves figs. He was just here last week and He and her brother ate the whole jar. They joked about how her brother came back just for the figs. Her sister had to buy more just for tonight.

Why doesn't He want the figs? 

This is when Martha sees there is something seriously wrong, too.

Simon's dozing. Peter's all riled up with James; they aren't even listening. John's talking to Him and the others are sort of in and out. She catches her brother's eye through the doorway, and he sees her concern. He turns his palms up and shakes his head; he doesn't know what this is about, either.

As she listens to Him, she feels her stomach tighten and a knot form in her throat. She can't bear to see Him like this.

John leans his head back and closes his eyes.

What if this is it? 
What if this is the last time they'll see Him? 

He looks up and see her standing there, His sigh slides into a smile. She grips the doorframe as a wave of love and then grief threatens to topple her. She has to do something. 

She goes to her room and gets the jar from her dresser. With both hands,  she carries it to the table. It makes a loud crack when she snaps it open and immediately the scent fills the room. 

Just like His laugh. 

That got everyone's attention.  Suddenly she's standing there, with broken alabaster, and all the men are staring at her. She looks to them and then back to Him, and His eyes are welled up and He nods and smiles at her again. 

She tips the oil over His head and it runs down the sides of His face and into His beard. It starts to drip onto His tunic. 

"What is she doing??" 
"If that were my daughter..." 
 "How inappropriate..." 

He puts His hand on her shoulder as she kneels. She empties the rest of the jar on His feet. 
All she can smell--all anyone can smell--is that perfume. 

Her brother doesn't say anything, but scratches the back of his head. He's used to her by now.  But the hair? She's using her hair to wipe His feet. 

Now He and she are both crying. Tears and oil darken both tunics and both faces. 

I can hear Judas saying "Enough. This is enough. She is out of line." The rest chime in with claims of waste and shame. 

And then He shoves the tears away with the back of His hand, and looks right at Judas: "No. THAT'S enough. YOU'RE out of line. In her beauty, she has done a beautiful thing. She heard My heart and answered Me in the only way she could. With everything she could. Back off. You can deal with the 'poor' another day."

He brushes the tears from her cheek and says, "Thank you, Beautiful one. Thank you." 

As He stands up to go, He lifts His arm to smell His sleeve. He chuckles. "Thank you, again. I'm going to smell like this all week."

25 March, 2013

40-Day Bare Face: Day 34 - Loosed

I am doing everything I know how to fully enter Holy week this year. I am tracking Jesus, reading the different Gospel accounts, using my imagination to put myself in the events of the final week of a Man who knows it’s His final week as one.

I keep reading all these posts and articles about Jesus clearing the temple on Holy Monday. They range from reckoning with the force atypical of Jesus’ ministry demeanor (Was He angry? Was He urgent? What was that about?)  to standing triumphantly in “cleared” temple courts, thankful that Jesus loved us enough to expel all the profiteers.

I just really saw that going differently. Those money-changing businesses had likely been there for years. There were sophisticated connections and systems in place that benefit more than each table owner. This random Guy from out of town (and most people in that courtyard were from out of town) enters and with some rant about prayer and thieves, tosses the place. Then He leaves.

At which point, the tables are righted and business resumes as usual—only now they have to redouble their efforts to make up for lost profit.

Sure, after the difficulty of the last few weeks I wan to claim total victory. Temple thieves are smashed! They are never coming back!
 It’s tempting to congratulate myself on spending the season “clearing out my temple with Jesus.”

It would be tempting to call this “bare face” a “cleared temple” (instead of another whitewashed tomb).

To take comfort in all my “progress”.

This morning, I finally managed to carry contentedness away from the mirror.  I even noticed it as I walked out the door. An hour after I got to work, a co-worker made a comment about my bare face that suggested there was something wrong. In my head,  I went right to: “This is why I wear makeup. So people don’t have to see me like this.”
Don’t I know better yet?

Let’s be honest. There is a big part of me that is just waiting for the Maniac with the homemade whip to leave so I can go back to doing what I do best: vying for my security by profits from my own schemes and efforts;  and brokering my own grace with God and others in the currency of approval.   Clearly, everyone’s still in business. Why shouldn’t they be? They’ve been there for years. I’m tied up in their elaborate exchange rules, unable to find my way to the inner courts of God or people without them. I continue to pay them tribute in habitual ways I can’t even recognize.

Yet,  there’s an even bigger part of me that yearns to be free from all that.

That knows these extortionists don’t belong there.

That has hope Someone else is in charge around here.

And then I glimpse it.

I survey the mess after the temple thrashing and I see that some of the booths—the booths where I secure my success and broker my approval—were actually badly damaged. I am going to have to work hard to reinstall them. And I don’t think I’m going to do that.

No, my temple courts aren’t clear. But this bare-faced season, this temple thrashing, has made its mark. Cords that bound me have been loosed and I think some of them might have even been broken in these short weeks.

 Because every ferocious act of righteousness undertaken by Jesus on our behalf makes its permanent mark.

And on Friday, we anticipate a ferocious act of Love.

This ferocious act of Love  has already snapped the cords that bind us to our brokers of power, approval, and security. In fact, it gave us a New Temple.  One without inner courts and outer courts and taxes and the need to pay our way and earn our rights. We don’t have to go back.  Because of Friday—because of that Maniac display of Love and Ransom—we  live in an eternity with no money changers and no need for them.

And we walk through our days on this earth with a God who is so outraged by the idols and enemies that rob us of our joy and closeness to Him, He’ll never leave them alone. The ferocity of that Love and Righteousness means He’ll come back to the courtyard and throw them out again when we ask Him to.

And even when we don’t.

24 March, 2013

40 Day Bare Face: Day 33 - Expectant

Today is Palm Sunday, and I don't get it.

I don't really get what we're celebrating, really, or why we're following the example of the people who didn't get it. As we read the account of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, we see that the people waving palm branches and singing to celebrate Jesus' coming had no clue what they were actually cheering for.

Those people, that day, understood nothing but were right about everything.

They celebrated the reign of a new king.
They celebrated the arrival of the messiah, as prophesied.
They celebrated, because, from that day on, everything would be different.

And everything was.

But it was also no different from any other Sunday before or since.

They were still oppressed by the Romans.
They were still waiting to be made whole.
They still slogged through days suffocated by desert heat, driven by hunger and thirst, and capped by the bedtime knowledge that tomorrow would be exactly the same.

Its hard to put myself in that moment of triumph when Jesus comes through the gate.  I'm not falling for it. I can't play along because I know how the rest of the week is going to play out for the Guy on that little donkey.

All the singing and all the cheering doesn't change that 
there is still a lot of dying to do this week. 

They, the cheering ones, don't know that they're banking on someone whose death-row ticket has been fast-tracked. They don't know that come Friday, they're going to be left bereft and bewildered. 

But on that day, they will get everything they ever wanted.
And most of them will have missed it. 

Forget it. Hand me a palm frond.   Let me join in.   I am just like these people.

I sit at the gate and watch for God and wave my giant frond--each blade an expectation for who God will be, how He'll look, and what He'll do for me. I wave my expectations boldly, like I know what I'm doing. I know what I'm seeing. 

And in part, I'm right. I do see God on the move. 

But I'm cheering for the wrong reasons. I'm not cheering because I have seen a hope-restoring reminder of things to come. I'm cheering because I think I've finally gotten what I wanted. I am cheering because I think I know how the rest of the week will play out.

I know that there are promises--plans, even, to give me hope and a future, and I have that right. 

The problem is that I have filled in my own fine print. You see, the promise of a good plan, the promise of a real savior, the promises of Love, Peace, and Freedom weren't enough for me. They didn't feel real unless they had details. So I deduced my own. I drew conclusions based on my inventory of my broken places and my circumstances. I did the "math" on what kind of "fruit" my "obedience" was supposed to produce.

When God comes, He will look like this. And He'll do this.

Not four days after I feel like I've gotten a handle on things am I, too, left bereft and bewildered at how it all actually turned out. My Hope gets denied, betrayed, and arrested. My hope, the one built on those details, gets sentenced to death in the middle of the night.

Just because I know all the prophecies and promises doesn't mean I have a clue what is going on.

He has also set eternity in the human heart; 
yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

So I set this Palm frond on the ground. I let the Guy on the little donkey--the Guy who's weeping for the City that still doesn't get it, the guy who brought Lazarus back to life yesterday--I lay out the expectations so He and his donkey can trample the leaves.

So that nothing blocks my view and I can see Him in all his Glory.
So that I can see His Glory for the mystery that it is. 
So that I can see that the Guy on the little donkey is a King--a King who is come to do exactly what He said He would do, only in His time, and in His way. 

And so that I have my hands free to receive
more than I could have ever asked or imagined.

18 March, 2013

40-Day Bare Face: Day 30 - Barer Still

“Then what is it that you want??” my friend pleaded, a little exasperated. 

“I don’t know. I want to matter. I want my work to matter. I want to feel like I’m free to do the work that brings me joy and life--work that is based in my strengths--and not feel like I have to fight for the ability or permission to do so. 

I want a place here.” 

And then I felt sucker punched. I know better.

The combination of my friend’s next words and a stirring in my spirit knocked a reminder back into my senses: 

I do matter.
And I have a place here.
But not because of anything I do or have done. 

I know better, but lately that isn’t enough. 

It’s hard to remember that I matter in the absence of the affirmation and acknowledgement that I crave. When someone else hears “Well done” for work I thought was “mine”. 

Then I’m embarrassed because I’ve been told that I’m not supposed to need those things to be happy. The Christian life is one that’s supposed to be fulfilling when we “fix our eyes on the unseen” and when we “work for God not for men.”  

But it’s hard to remember when all that work is riddled with failures  and actually worsens insecurities. When I get stuck on feeling overlooked and I forget I wasn’t doing that work for recognition’s or perfection’s sake in the first place. 

It’s hard to remember I matter when I don’t fit in. When the pattern of my life doesn’t match other people in my gender, in my age group, in my profession, in my lack of “real” profession, in my denomination, in my lack of denomination…When I don’t fit the mold that other people seem to fit and they seem happy. When my natural sensibilities seem to be at odds with what’s expected of me. When it feels like I’m the only one who loves what I love with the fire that I do, and loves the way I love. When all that loving barely dents the loneliness. 

It’s hard to remember I matter when it seems like my questions go unheard. When it seems like I’m the only one asking them. When I’m the only one who fears we’re blindly accepting practices and values we don’t have to. When I see a problem coming and it’s dismissed like I’m crazy.  When it feels like I’m the only one who’s concerned we’re not asking enough questions. Or even the right ones. When all those questions don’t bring any solutions or me any peace. 

Go ahead. Point out the 50 counter examples that came to mind about how my assessment of worth is flawed. Fire away with the Christian platitudes and verses that answer all this Point out any successes, or better, chastise me for not giving the family and community that loves me enough credit. Even if you’re right, and you probably are, we still have a problem. 

I still couldn’t see it. And even if I can see it after you explain it to me, I won’t remember it tomorrow. I know a lot of verses, and I’m fluent in platitudes. I even got an “A” in Theology. (really.) 

 Correct thinking won’t save me. All that “truth” still hasn’t set me free. 

How can I forget that in Christ I have been made complete

How can I forget in light of the Cross? 

Nothing. Else. Matters.
It doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter because in a week from Friday, Someone hung Himself on that gruesome Cross and made a final declaration of whom and all that matters.
 And I am His Beloved. 

And I can run back to that cross for answers. I can see that the Man who hung there, saying what He did, doing what He did, is Lord of my days. It’s for His glory that I work. It’s by His provision I have what I need, it’s with my hand in His that I walk through these painful places. 

And that shall be enough for me today. 

40 Day Bare Face: Day 31- March Madness

My Lenten contemplation is in serious jeopardy. 

I am getting a lot of weird looks today. And it's not because I have a bare face. 

It's because I've been running around all morning evangelizing NCAA basketball and handing out March madness brackets like they're copies of The Watchtower.

This is my favorite time of year. 

And if you know me in any other sport in any other season of the year, that makes no sense. I am the poster child for the anti-sports people.

But a couple years ago, to the amazement of everyone around me, I learned to follow a sport.


It's no secret that I am a stranger to the sports world, and this didn't change that. It's also no secret that I didn't pay attention to basketball for the love of the game. I had no idea what was going on.

I was blessed that year to have nearly the entire  varsity team in class. They truly were a group of extraordinary men. In class and out of it, they were smart, challenging, funny, and considerate men who made my classes more interesting and enjoyable. I appreciated them as students so much, that appreciation overflowed into one for them as athletes--sort of.

The Junior class fundraisers more or less mandated me to be at every home game--which is fine because I loved cheering for these guys. I just didn't know what I was doing. I loved them, but I had no idea if these guys were playing well or poorly. I could deduce the basics of basketball, sure, but that's not enough to connect with them in, for many of them, their most important place of performance. It felt so strange to care so much about something I knew so little about!

So I did what all teachers (not really) would do in my situation: I made a class project out of my NCAA March Madness brackets. These basketball guys helped me with my bracket picks, and we did a debrief about the previous night's games in the morning. I watched the games with a notebook and would bring in my commentary and questions. Five weeks of this, and I am a basketball Jedi. ( Ok. Maybe not. But I can now give a decent play-by-play using the right terminology.)

It's true that I live to learn and Basketball gave me a new subject to explore. It is true that I have an uncommon affection for my students, and that I would have cheered for these terrific guys if they had chosen to be mimes in boxes. And it is true that it's very easy to cheer for a team that enjoyed the success and exposure that ours did that year.

But more than all this, Basketball for me was part of my Missio Dei. To develop some basketball expertise was to become indigenous to my student culture. I maintain a Facebook and send text-messages like my life depends on it for the same reason. I even adapt my playlists and learn to love the music they love in order to love my students better.

Basketball became crucial to my scheme of what's called Missional Living.

According to Floyd McClung, former director for Youth with a Mission,

"Missional living is about investing in the lives of other people. It is not a program. It is certainly more than organized outreach activities. Being a missional person means intentionally building bridges to other people – for the sake of them knowing Jesus and discovering what it means to be a fully alive, free human being. It is an attitude that says, "I will invest my life in others for the sake of Christ and his purposes on earth." It means I will live that way in every sphere of life and every day of the week."

And according to Dr. Ed Stetzer and Phillip Nation in their book Compelled by Love,

In an alliterated sense, missional living is an incarnational (being the presence of Christ in community), indigenous (of the people and culture) and intentional (planning our lives around God's agenda) focus on the power of the Gospel to bring the reign of God into people's lives."

Nation and Stetzer also directed me toward 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 & 18:

"For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; 15and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer C)">live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf... 18Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation."

I started attending a bible study (of sorts) with my basketball players, and we had open and important conversations about faith and reason and even race and culture (Did I mention most of them were West African?) --the kind of where Jesus shows up and we see a glimpse of eternity. The kind where true reconciliation of race and gender and culture and age and lost and found really begins. I had the privilege of exploring the truth of the Gospel as it applies to all things--even basketball.

For me, I saw there is church and basketball because there is Mission.

And--as a surprise blessing--I am amazed by the power and art of this sport. I can't believe those jump shots go in from 40 feet away. It's exhilarating to see the ball run up the court so fast, and when they catch those passes from half a court away and drive in to the basket with precision and agility--fireworks!

This year, there are 6 former students from my old school playing in the tournament.

That loud cheering you'll hear this week from the cubicle in the back or the lobby during church on Sunday? It's not me.

 I swear. ;)

*Much of this originally appeared in a post called
B is for Basketball  16 June, 2010

14 March, 2013

40-Day Bare Face: Day 29 - Unfiltered

 I am a master of special effects.

 Until you see it, you wouldn't believe what I can accomplish with tricks and tools in my makeup bag.

I've been lamenting the loss of the pretty things, like the mascara and red lipstick, but there's one daily monster that comes with a bare face. I have to work pretty hard to keep it from eating me a live.

Without makeup, there's no editing. No concealing. No power over the things about my face and my skin I don't like. Which, let's face it, is the tip of the insecurities iceberg. 

Very often when people hear about my Lent project, they offer encouragement on how nice I look without makeup, how real, how clean, etc. I am grateful for all the encouragement, but I don't know what to do with it. I simply can't believe that things are ok--more than ok, good--if they haven't been cleaned up, polished, put in line with a set of standards.

 But I know I can never meet the standards.
I'm already defeated. 
I can never appease the god that demands perfection in exchange for love. 
Forget perfection. 
I can't even appease the god that just demands "more."

Editing, for me, is an act of worship. I compulsively bow to the god that demands I  do things, say things, or look the "right" way if I am going to be blessed with affirmation, affection, stability, and security.

And so I edit everything. Everything.

Until Lent, only people who lived with me saw my unedited face. I'm not joking. I could count the people on my fingers in California who hadn't seen me put together in some way.

The trouble is that I'm discovering the obsession with editing didn't live alone in my makeup kit. The need for control and approval is a virus that's infected every capillary of every tissue of my being.

At one point,  Tiffany, in Silver Linings Playbook says, “There’s always going to be a part of me that’s sloppy and dirty, but I like that. With all the other parts of myself.”
 I was so jealous of her right then. 
And she's supposed to be the crazy one.

When I edit, I'm doing whatever I can to cover up that I'm not smooth enough, cool enough, graceful enough
 young enough, old enough, thin enough, pretty enough quiet enough to belong here. To belong with whomever I'm facing right then.

Or when I edit, I'm doing whatever I can so you don't see that I'm too passionate, too messy, too disorganized, too slow, too smart, too wordy, too intense, too affectionate, too frustrated, too artsy, too intellectual.... If I edit right, if I follow the rules, I won't be too much.

We lay our sacrifices at the feet of our gods. This god's pyre demands some of my best things.

Yesterday, I made a case for manners and soft words. I questioned the virtue of  "keeping it real", of unfiltered speech.

But I want to offer a defense for that.

As a culture, we are so hungry for unfiltered speech. For someone to speak plainly. I think about how people liked Jennifer Lawrence more at the Oscars because she talked about how she was starving on the red carpet and tripped on her way up to get her Oscar. She got a pass for her awkwardness and  blunders because she was being “real”. Her backstage interview is a real gem. And she wasn't even operating in her mentally-ill role.

This obsession with editing and filtering is the real crazy.

How can I possibly testify that for Freedom I have been set free if live I'm slave to my filters?

The God that I worship--the one, true God--doesn't require that of me. It's true that things are not ok as they are, but His work isn't concealing or removing.

It's Refining. Purifying. Unveiling
We can participate in this work by keeping it real. 
And we encourage others to do the same by going first. Especially if we have a microphone.

12 March, 2013

40-day Bare Face: Day 27 - Real

You’d think that knocking makeup out of my routine would help me get out the door a lot faster.

I thought so anyway.


I still flew out the door 12 minutes late, shoes in hand, coffee spilling everywhere.

It turns out  more than makeup separates my pajama self from my public self.

It's not that my pajama self is anything to be ashamed of. 

Trust me: I rock my princess pajama pants, humongous basketball sweatshirt, bunny slippers, and tower of blond hair piled atop my head like Mulan’s. I could leave the house that way,  but everyone would agree: That’s insane. I’d. look. insane. Unprofessional. Unemployable.

Putting on my public self still takes real effort and time.  And it's important.

No makeup has me thinking a lot about our public faces.

In California, I’m finding a strange cultural contrast with how I grew up: people like it when you “keep it real” here. Old social rules are arbitrary. Formalities trap you in insincerity. Real people are who they are. They say what they want, when they want, and irreverence gets applause.  

Other places I have lived, thinking of a certain England or the South, come with elaborate codes of manners. There is a rule for any social situation. There is a pattern for how to treat people, and it's offensive when you don't comply. Often, working knowledge of the rules determines a person's social place. There is a lot of saying what you don't mean because you're supposed to.

I want to offer a defense for that.

It's not all about performance for approval and power, the thing that "keeping it real" is supposed to remedy.  When it's done right, it's about attending to the people around you, putting others before yourself, and caring for them well.

I understand that if you're my age, you might not have been raised with etiquette and manners training. I get that the 60s taught our parents to hate that stuff. I get that it's never really been a thing out here in California.

But "keeping it real" can make things rough. We shove our sentences, delivering them with unnecessary roughness. It often makes more room for selfishness and self-absorption than it does for other people's needs. The loudest and most powerful are the ones that get heard and get their way.

What you do for the least of these, you do for Me.

I also get that if you don't, from your deepest heart, live by the command "Love your Neighbor" and follow the Person who said it, you don't have any motivation other than power and approval to follow the code.

But if you are such a follower, then you should welcome any help you can get in knowing how to care well for people. You should be thankful for the rules that remind you to pay attention to other people when it doesn't come naturally to you. You should be mindful of the turns of phrase and civilities that systematically allow us to honor the personhood of strangers. We need help knowing how to love our neighbor.

It matters because they will know Whom we follow by our Love. 

The code creates a consistent system of care. That consistency offers security in relationships which is counter-cultural.  It offers peace through stability of people knowing what to expect. Politeness offers us a cushion of grace around our interactions.

We were told to do this a long time ago.

"Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience."

That grace makes room and a soft landing for those who come into your heart, or open their heart to you. 

It gives TWO people the space to keep it real. 

40 day Bare Face: Days 18-26 - Celebrated

"I am a new day rising
I'm a brand new sky
To hang the stars upon tonight
- Foo Fighters, "Times Like These"

"It is healing and refreshing to cultivate a wide appreciation for life. Celebration brings joy to life, and joy makes us strong. It is the posture of thanksgiving."  - Richard Foster, The Celebration of Discipline
I had dinner with a friend tonight where I recounted the celebrations of the last week or so:

  • My baby sister came into town. We welcomed her with a bonfire and a lot of coffee.  I see my sisters so little, that the spirit of celebration reigns when we're together. If you're with us, it's very difficult to tell if you've caught the spirit of celebration or if you're suffering from a contact caffeine buzz--a side-effect of standing so close to us. When the sisters are in San Rafael, we toast with a drink affectionately called "Iced Rocket Fuel."

  • A good friend, who's Hawaiian,  was ordained at his church on Sunday. This man has been a very important pastor, mentor, and friend to me. It was an honor to be with his church and his family as they came around him to affirm his Calling. Hawaiian BBQ followed the service. Who knows how to celebrate like Hawaiians? I'm pretty sure God will put them in charge of Family Dinner when we all get to heaven.

  • Monday night we had our own Family Dinner. My tribe here celebrated my little sister "home" to California with pasta and puns.  Hospitality is a holy thing, and the gift is two-fold: Not only do we get the gift of the visitor, but the occasion to come together is a gift, too. We gain strength and cohesion as chosen-family when we are provided with a reason to pause our routines and be present with one another--warmth, joy, and power that outlasts the visitor.

  • Tuesday night, we sent my sister off well. I had prayed before she came that I would be able to bless her with love and adventure. Adventure we found, but love showed up in an amazing way. My lovely housemate took us for a great dinner, and then another friend surprised all of us with a decadent desert outing. Few nights have beheld an experience of God's presence and extravagant Love like that one. I started to get so overwhelmed by it all, I found myself fidgeting. Ordinarily, I would have collected myself by putting on my lipstick--my version of splashing water on my face in the bathroom the way people do in the movies. Something to remind myself that I am still awake, this is real, and that I'm still here. Not following the makeup ritual ushered in a new, holy ritual.  The bare face became like bare feet: just like the ancients who would take off their shoes to walk on holy ground. Without my lipstick to fidget with, I bore the presence of that blessing entirely differently.

  • Saturday, we celebrated a birthday with all our might. Birthdays are holy, and deserve to be celebrated with all that we have to use. I believe Birthdays are an important part of our liturgy in the Family of God. They are our yearly feast opportunity to thank God for the gift of that person to our tribe. Never knowing how many chances we'll get to do that, I believe we owe it to God to celebrate people and the time we have with them with a certain gusto. It's a kind of praise and worship that brings God glory and great delight. Pull no punches. With Christ in us, we must make much of our time together. 
This last week has been a true oasis. I'm practicing the 40 days of Lent this year so that I could walk with Christ through the desert.

So that the radiating heat from the sand, which I hit with bare feet, can refine me.

So that my sun-burnt, freckled, bare face and chapped lips would still be called Beautiful by the one whose Beloved I am, who gives me reminders of His extravagant Love.
Do This In Remembrance of Me. 

In this desert, I have encountered hunger, poverty, thirst, weariness. My heart has often been heavy with overwork.

But there has been grace! Worked into the liturgy of Lent are the Feast Days, where we are forbidden to fast. We are to feast in commemoration of the Resurrection. For two of those celebration days, I wore my lipstick and put on my celebration clothes (new black boots!). Birthdays and sister visits are no time for grim, bare-faced liturgical statements.

Red lipstick makes a statement. So much of one, I think I'll re-name that favorite of mine "Resurrection Red"

01 March, 2013

40-day Bare Face - Day 16: Mirrored

I'm getting used to it, I think.

A little bit.

I'm getting used to the bare face. It's been two weeks, and I'm no longer startled by my reflection. I've adjusted my morning routine to include more coffee and reading, two things I love just as much as red lipstick.

I'll concede it's made my day less complicated. I didn't really think about how many little checks and fixes it takes to keep everything in place for my long days, but I don't have to do it now. I just leave for the next thing without asking for permission from the Mirror.

With a mirror check, the real question is not whether my eyeliner strayed, or if my powder is uneven or if my lipstick has worn off.

The real question is will the next person I see be able to see me, or will they only see my mistakes? Will the first things they notice be all the ways I don't measure up? Isn't there anything I can do about that?

I already know the answer to that. 

There is not enough lipstick in the world to cover over the ugly things I said. There is not enough mascara to open up my eyes so that I don't overlook someone. I can't pencil in unselfishness. Acceptance. Forgiveness. There is no purse with room enough to carry all the things I dropped when I wasn't paying attention. No cover-up for dark circles  takes away the need or grief that caused the sleeplessness.

I hadn't realized how much I begged the mirror for permission.

How much time I spend begging the wrong people and the wrong things for the permission to be the person God made me to be--the passionate, absent-minded, wordy, people-chasing, curious, beauty-stalking, methodical mess of a person who is desperate for Grace. 

I hadn't realized how many things I turned into a mirror. 

How many relationships, magazine pages, blogs, books, conversations, casual interactions I look at to check if I'm doing it right. If I'm enough.  If I'm living right.
How often I let the distortions in those mirrors define my view of what something God made is worth. How the most obvious features in those mirrors must be the ones at fault for why things just. aren't. working. If I just fix that bulging --whatever-- in my life, then I'll have peace. Then I'll have all the love I need to be ok.

But I already know, on Good Friday, someone threw a Rock and smashed all my mirrors. 
Someone who calls me "Beloved". 
Someone who will spit at the dirt and smear mud on my eyes so I can see for the first time. 

It's not makeup on my face this season, but ashes and now mud.  And it seems it may be a while before it's time to wash it off. 

But when my it is, I'll behold His face. 
And I won't have to ask any more questions. 

40- Day Bare Face: Day 15 - Love & Words

  • Last night, I had dinner with an incredible family. It was a feast for my weary heart.  I laughed with little kids, talked about books, philosophy, and family. I watched that beautiful family at work in ministry to each other and to me. I heard stories about being a Christian in the 60s and 70s here in San Francisco and what it meant to minister in the counter-culture. I needed the reminder that I moved here to do that very work. I am inspired.  And I'm filled with even greater urgency to love my neighbors here better.

  • A friend marked me with a new defining sentence last night. In our "tribe", each of us has earned a tagline that identifies something unique about who we are to the rest of the group. For a long time, my tagline was "I'm not sure what day it is." I more than earned that. But he was also right to point out that it doesn't take long for the humor to drain out of the self-deprecation. He took a game I initially started and added a new rule: all taglines need to be encouraging ones. In fact, it spoke to something that has been on my heart for a while. We could often do a lot to love each other better with our words. That the greater the familiarity in a group of people, the more frequent the punchlines. That's part of the fun, indeed, but I'm reminded that the greater joy is in holding a mirror to each other that reveals the Christ in us, and His love on us--in fact, that is our holy task in community. We can laugh, but we need to take that seriously.

  • My new tagline is, "I'm writing that down." My friend identified my tendency to do that as more than a quirky compulsion. By making a record of a phrase or moment, even just for myself, I mark that which transpired as important, and I force other people to take note. I explained that I don't suffer from not knowing what I had until it's gone. I have the opposite problem:  I always know that this moment is precious and the only one like it. Sometimes I'm overwhelmed by the magnitude of the moment; I well up and I'm frustrated when I can't explain it. I am grieved that the moment is passing, and grieved that anyone might be missing it. He suggested that grief comes from the "writer" in me. I want other people to see this moment for what it is. Non-writers might get the weight of the moment, but they don't necessarily care if anyone else does. Perhaps part of loving well for me is not only being present, but persevering in the task of bringing other people present as well.

  • My theology professor brought me to tears more than once tonight.  He used some lines that will stay with me for a while: 
    • "To by like Jesus is to never break the chain of teaching. He taught what He learned from the Father, and so you must teach whatever word it was that Jesus gave you."
    • "I like coincidences. I find that the coincidences increase when my prayer does."
    • "It's ok to have partial models and partial understanding and limited explanations for our theology. We do what we can. It isn't blasphemy until we say we have the whole thing." Loving well means reducing sorrow and confusion by whatever means we have available to us.