Only Different Now (Mindful of JD)

I don’t know what I’d do without my litter mate, my soul sister, the one who sees me and loves me in a relationship that makes no sense outside of there being a very real and loving and involved God who made us aware of each other at just the right time. Any sooner and we wouldn’t have recognized each other. Any later? I shudder to think.

Charissa's Grace Notes

Be yourself only
different now
somehow
with all
that
grief.tumblr_mubepqA5O41qznczoo1_500In case you ever
thought that
you were just
a being, just
a humble
presencetumblr_lx4e3kosSN1qzwaddo1_1280you are not just
anything, you
mean something,
more than that
you mean
everything,tumblr_mplmt2mrm41rfp1lho1_r2_500because everything that
means something
beats inside
of you.Image 003

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Dreams of Rejection

My dearest silly little Love, why are you crying now that you are solidly on the path with Me with both feet? I was totally up front with you that this is the straight and narrow road so many ignore in favor of the wide and glitzy one. Why do you grieve and mourn that you were rejected and maligned and abandoned for pointing to and following Me? This has always been exactly the gig I call anyone who can and will to accept…and you did! I’m overjoyed and ridiculously proud of you.

Rejoice, you darling girl! Dance, sing, celebrate on this road together with Me! You are swimming in more gorgeous fruit and abundant life than you’ll ever know what to do with.

Dreams of Rejection

All The Way

Go all the way…

That’s all They’ve given me – this Invitation to Die.

Be careful what you ask for in earnest, Child.

They will give you the desires of your heart. They’ve always made Good on Their Word.

Will I even recognize it?

Maybe the falling is all there is on this side of life.

What I mistook for arrival was a series of ledges.

Just enough time to catch my breath after having the wind knocked out of me.

Then…another free fall into intangible.

I’ve flinched and flailed in the darkness, losing my grip on ALL THE THINGS.

Now?

I anticipate nothing.

Done grasping.

Done fighting.

Done blaming.

Done explaining.

Done asking.

Done.

There is only nothing.

Falling.

Release.

There’s no way back, Child.

You crossed that threshold long ago when you asked for this.

Don’t try to resurrect yourself. You’ve come this far.

Now go all the way.

Winter is Coming

Winter is coming. Those damn Starks have been telling us so forever, but we grew tired of hearing it and dismissed them as crying wolf (insert GOT fan groan).

But winter is coming, and it’s coming for me, so I might as well go out with all the drama and flare of a butchered Jon Snow…bleeding out, lying motionless, fading to black.

In my physical world, it is autumn, which in central California means this morning was the first time my kids and I broke out a light sweater to walk to school with a predicted high temp of 79…may the gods, old and new, sustain us.

Autumn, however muted in this part of the country, still retains an element of anticipation and haunting beauty as a prelude to death; a transitional season leading us out of one extreme and into another. There’s a whisper in the (ever so slightly chilled) air saying, “Winter is coming.

Surely I hail from the House of Stark as I’ve known winter was coming for me for a long time. It is now right on my doorstep and there is nothing left but to welcome it in.

THE BEGINNING OF THE END

For once I can’t blame my swollen red eyes on seasonal allergies. I’ve been sobbing intermittently and quite uncontrollably for 3 days. I finally crashed hard last night, dropping at 8:30 and sleeping like a dead person until 6 a.m. I woke up feeling refreshed for a nice change. I had a pleasant morning together with the Banshees, and as we stepped outside to begin our walk to school I thought, “It’s going to be alright. Your life is so good. You’ve got this.”

Then Joseph, our little Random Man, blurted out for no good reason, “I can’t wait for church. How many days until Sunday?” The instant lump in my throat kept me from answering. Liberty did the math for him and said, “Yeah, I love church.”

With that, an icy blast of arctic air just about knocked my spirit on its ass. Winter is coming.

“Guys, would you be really sad if I told you that we were going to have to stop doing church?”

“YES!” they both wailed in unison. JoJo saw a roly poly and immediately lost interest, but Libby honed in, “Why do we have to stop going to church?”

“Well honey, not enough people want to come and we don’t have any more money left.”

Without skipping a beat, “We can just go to another church. How about that big one we’ve gone to before? There’s lots of people there.”

I would have preferred being punched hard in the face at that moment rather than answer her.

BLEEDING OUT

My babies have absolutely no concept of the conflict and hardship we’ve endured, as it should be. Our own church had very little idea as it just wasn’t appropriate for us to burden them that way. That’s why I turned to writing. It was my one and only release to keep me from drowning in the bitterness and resentment.

But what to tell my daughter who was asking me why we couldn’t just go back to what she calls “fun church”? Her only real memory of that place was using the facilities for training groups a few Sunday nights a couple years ago. It was big and had stuff and she got to play (as opposed to small and has stuff and she gets to play at Four Creeks).

How do you tell your child that the pastor who took her and each of her siblings as infants into his arms to pray over and dedicate them to God had disparaged and disowned her parents? How do you tell her that the congregation who had promised that day to nurture and support her and us as a family had done the same?

All I could think to say was, “Oh no sweetie, I would never go back there. They didn’t like us. They didn’t want us.”

My mind raced ahead trying to think of how I would answer what I thought would be the inevitable next question – why?

Instead, after mulling this new information over for a few seconds, she said, “Well, at least there wasn’t a war.”

My freakishly wise and wonderful 8-year-old made an important observation. There was conflict, but there was no war. We had been purposeful in that from the beginning. We’d initially gone silently like lambs to slaughter. When I eventually did start talking it was in an attempt to salvage relationships and my own sanity. I was spectacularly unsuccessful on both counts.

We’d declined a war out of love for both churches by sacrificing ourselves as the only casualties, and I’ve been severely walking wounded ever since

“You’re so right Libby. There was no war, but I was very hurt and I still hurt very much.”

“What?! Someone hit you?!”

“No, honey. My feelings were hurt.”

“Oh. Well then let’s go find another church that’s fun and doesn’t hurt.”

And I lost it. Done. Stick a fork in me (or a half dozen daggers). Finito. Roll credits.

WINTER HAS COME

With the exception of my college prodigal years (I was wiser than I knew then), for the first time in my life I’m going to be without a church, and I’m not going to try to find one – not as long as we live in this town, anyway. I just can’t fathom any church, as Libby said, that is “fun and doesn’t hurt.” Four Creeks was the type of church that I would have given my right arm to be a part of…and I ended up losing much more than that. I understand why so few would even touch or acknowledge it/us, and it’s OK. It really is. This is a good death and I go into it willingly and without a fight. This part of my life needs to completely die. I’ve been in this process for such a long time, and I’m so very tired and ready for the release.

I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels–a plentiful harvest of new lives.

Winter has come for me. I have no idea what the duration of this season will be, and it really doesn’t matter. It will be what it will be. Spring will come when it comes. New life will come as it is God-breathed. My only task for right now is to die for a little while.

From the beginning, it was always leading up to this –

Father, forgive us because we just don’t understand what we’re doing.

Into your hands I commit my spirit.

It is finished.

Any Which Way But Jesus – Live From Israel

So first things first – TECHNOLOGY!! I don’t know ’bout the rest of ya’ll, but I’m old enough to remember life without the internet. As a kid I remember thinking how cool it would be if we could talk to people remotely with video screens like they did on the Jetsons (and pretty much anything set in the future). I’m ready for teleportation now, please…that and I want to go back and experience college with internet, cellphones, apps and laptops.
As my oldest two children have been off rockin’ their first years of college out in Nashville, I’ve talked to them more regularly (and intimately) and have literally seen more of what goes on in their lives than when we were all under the same roof thanks to texting, Snapchat, Instagram and video chat. We even have our own private family Facebook group on which they occasionally post to humor their old mom and dad.So you can imagine my delight yesterday morning being able to video chat with my daughter who is half way around the world studying abroad in Israel, Turkey and Greece.I knew she was headed for a monumental broadening of her perception, and I was even pretty sure at what point it would happen. What I didn’t expect was the gift of being right there with her in it as it happened. Thank you, technology, for allowing me to be with my girl as she processed an intense spiritual/life epiphany…and thank you, God, for a daughter who wanted/needed her mother to be with her in that moment.

Us Dickensons are weird like that. We dig the profound and personal and often turn to each other when the rest of life seems determined to stay solidly entrenched in the cheap and artificial. That’s how we’ve always functioned and survived as a family of faith in ministry.

WALKING IN JESUS’ FOOTSTEPS…MAYBE

When my daugher’s lovely face magically appeared on the device I held in my hand (seriously people, where is my flying car?), it was instantly obvious to me as her mother; she was diving deep into something that was going to take some work to be able to articulate.

“So…*sigh*” our conversation began, “we’re on what…day 5 of this trip? It feels like it’s been 5 weeks.”

Kathryn went on to say how much she loved her new friends and traveling companions, the leaders and the tour guides and what a great time she was having…but…she was realizing an accelerated shift in her understanding was happening and she would never again be the same from this point going forward.

“Aaaaaand…I have to somehow write my experience down in this.” she said as she held up the daily journal the students are required to write in for the course. I smiled and nodded and gave her the space to try and verbalize it.

The first few days had been spent hitting all the main touristy “holy” sites. Though it’s absolutely impossible to say with any certainty, here’s where Jesus may have actually walked. Here’s the spot where St. Peter may have lived. Here’s the spot where Jesus may have performed such and such a miracle. Here is the traditional spot where it’s said the angel Gabriel visited the virgin Mary. What is certain is that there are ornate churches and gift shops built on each and every one of those traditional sites that are a source of major tourism revenue for the country. You can eat what Jesus probably ate, buy souvenirs made from the wood from the types of trees Jesus talked about and vials of Jordan river water and anointing oils to bring back home and pour over the heads of the devout as a special blessing (i.e. God will surely answer our prayers because we’re using authentic Holy Land bling). Jesus, the tourist attraction, is very, very popular and lucrative.

It was while visiting the Jordan River that Kathryn really wrestled. There’s a traditional baptismal site complete with steps and guardrails where annually thousands of Christian pilgrims go to be immersed in the same waters in which Jesus was baptized. Though many of her companions took the plunge, Kathryn ultimately opted not to.  She did post this pic though which clued me in to what she was thinking and feeling even before she called to talk to me.

Look Mom, I’m standing in the Jordan River

“Everywhere we’ve gone has been historically fascinating, but not particularly spiritually significant for me. At all these traditional holy sites, the group seems to be having these emotionally-charged, spiritually cathartic moments…or maybe everybody’s pretending…I don’t know…I just know I’m not.”

*fist pump*      THAT’S OUR GIRL!
Where she did find spiritual and even a physical connection to Jesus via her 5 senses was away from the crowds and the tradition in a quiet and pristine spot on the banks of the Sea of Galilee in Capernaum.

In all likelihood, Kathryn was indeed seeing what Jesus saw as she participated in his regular practice of retreating in silence and solitude in an area where he was known to have spent a lot of time building significant relationships.

WWJS?

I think the most significant question we could possibly ask ourselves in terms of what it means to be like Christ is –

What would Jesus see?…or more accurately, but doing away with the WWJ (and can we agree that just needs to die anyway?) – HOW would Jesus see the world, my world, my experiences, my life right now?

What would his take be on the relationships in my family? What would his attitude be towards the myriad of interconnected and clashing cultures and their politics today? What would his attitude be toward my neighbor? What would his attitude be toward my enemy? Who would he see as “the least of these” today? What would Jesus think about the booming tourism business bearing his name? What would Jesus think about the church and modern religious traditions also bearing his name? How would Jesus see the present Israeli/Palestinian conflict?

BURSTING THE BUBBLE

Kathryn was fully aware she’d been born and raised within an American Christianity bubble, and she knew it was going to burst in cataclysmic fashion on this trip. I not only knew it would happen, but upon looking at the trip itinerary, I knew exactly when – day 5, when they would cross the security border into the Palestinian-controlled West Bank. Oh sure, there was yet another “traditional” site to visit in Bethlehem, the Church of the Nativity, that was absolutely not maybe the exact location of Jesus’ birth. Ornate church – check. Gift shop with an assortment of Virgin Mary and sweet baby Jesus tchotchkes –check. 

But that certainly wasn’t the part of day 5 that rocked my girl’s world into another dimension. No. All it took was to simply cross the checkpoint. Once you cross over to the other side of the wall, all the preconceived notions and indoctrination from your American Evangelical Christian culture about “those people” and what they believe and represent evaporates as does whatever narrative you’ve been led to believe from the American media.

Well, I suppose it doesn’t for everybody…but for those with eyes to see…and my girl has always had gorgeous eyes, sharply focused on lovely and mysterious things.  She saw very clearly for the first time in her 20 years what life looked like outside the tarnished bubble, and it was –

Gut wrenchingly beautiful, heartbreaking, joyful, impossible, inspiring, frustrating beyond all description, hopeful beyond all description.

What was being birthed in her that day was unadulterated and unencumbered compassion…she was seeing exactly as Jesus does. This was a baptism of Spirit that a dunk in the Jordan couldn’t have begun to touch.

“Mom, I knew I was going to be changed on this trip. I knew being exposed to other cultures and seeing things for myself outside of books and what others have told me was going to expand my perceptions…but…but…”  She trailed off not being able to find adequate words.

And what exactly was responsible for such radical transformation and epiphany? Seeing and hearing people and their reality and touching it for herself. That’s entirely it. Their stories, their experiences, their families, their hopes, their dreams, their despair, their fears, their anger, their joy, their culture and individual expression.

Holy crap! (surely that too must be for sale, if you find it, Kafafrin, you know I want need). Contrary to everything she’d been led to believe, Kathryn found Jesus hanging out on the Palestinian side of the graffiti-plastered barrier.  Who woulda thunk it? (well, besides me…I totally called it).

“I mean, I know that discrimination, distrust and dehumanizing exists everywhere, but it’s so concentrated in this place.”

Oh it most certainly is…every bit as much as when Jesus walked in all those places where you are now.  You, my girl, are truly seeing. Now to start walking into those undesirable places where you see love leads…into messy lives, holding nothing of yourself back, with no personal agenda or expectation…only open invitation.  Love leads you to simply BE Jesus in the moment in connection with other broken humans, shedding the indoctrination and tradition in order to see them (and very much yourself) as Jesus sees.

I thought I couldn’t be any more proud of this woman or marvel any deeper that I had anything to do with her being in this world. Now I know better. I will never cease to be amazed, inspired, and encouraged by her. The only thing I will ever want for any of my children is for them to have eyes to see and ears to hear and the courage to follow where love leads. Falling on my face tonight in tears and awe that I got to “see” her baptism live from Israel.

Mixed Messages

I’m sure everyone can relate to parts of this regardless of gender. It’s not about any specific people or situations, just a composite of mixed messages I’ve received over my lifetime as a female. It’s been quite the task to undo a lifetime of conditioning and learn to listen to the only voice that gets to tell me who I AM. God declares that I am inherently very good.  But in the eyes of most humans (many times myself included), I have to attain and maintain these things in order to be acceptable:

BE PRETTY. No, be prettier. Whatever you have to do at all times to be prettier…unless we feel intimidated and want to justify indulging our own insecurities or we’re just not in the mood to exercise self-control or basic kindness. Then it’s on you for showing off too much pretty. Be just attractive enough to where you are effortlessly pleasing to look at and a fine prop to make US look and feel good.

BE SMART, but don’t you dare think. Always work to be smarter, but DO NOT show us just how smart you are, cuz ya know…that intimidation thing again. You want to be liked, don’t you?  Use your smarts to figure out how to show just enough smarts without being too smart and you’ll be fine. Don’t ever expect us to work to understand you. Dumb it down for us without making it look like you’re dumbing it down for us. Here, we’ll help you by putting you down. Then, as you’re scraping yourself off the floor, everyone can see you having to come up to our level. There’s a smart girl now.

BE STRONG. Come on honey, don’t play the victim. Show us whatcha got…except when it challenges us in any way, then you’re a mean bitch.

BE HONEST. We applaud this wonderful virtue, but not when you expose parts of yourself that aren’t pretty or are (again) too smart or too vulnerable. Some of that spotlight might accidentally get on the rest of us, threatening to expose our dark and messy places. We can’t have that now, darlin’. Yes, be honest, but learn to recognize when that shit becomes an inconvenience and threat to our agenda, and then be a good girl and shut the fuck up.

WORK HARD. We’re perfectly happy to take every last drop of your soul. Just start pouring and don’t ever stop. We’ll dictate to you exactly what and exactly how, and when we dump a shovelful of shit on your head we expect you to smile and accept our criticism like a shower of rose petals. We’ll think you’re wonderful (if we think of you at all) as long as you remain that steady, quiet, compliant worker bee and keep producing for us. But the minute you trip or fall or die and can’t anymore? Well, that’s on you, stupid girl. Shame on you for not being enough to meet our expectations or having what it takes to stand up under the weight of all we projected on you.

Make us uncomfortable in any way and we can instantly paint you into the insane, ugly, stupid, arrogant, ungrateful bitch we need you to be. One word. One second. That’s all we need. Remember that.

Now, go be the pretty, smart, courageous, industrious woman of integrity God intended you to be!

Or else.

Dropping Keys for the Beautiful Rowdy Prisoners

Hello, and welcome to the very first installment of Cage-Free Christian!

aIf you’ve followed me over from The Gospel of Snark, a double welcome and thank you! That anyone reads anything I blog barf is astounding to me. I originally began blogging strictly as personal therapy, having been plunged into an emotional/spiritual undoing that stripped 40+ years worth of everything I thought I knew down to a bare foundation.

In many ways the GOS was a documentary of the death of me…and it wasn’t pretty or sanitized or safe. I let you see it all.  Raw vulnerability is a piercing sword that divides and disrupts. My story was simultaneously the stench of fear and doom to some and a sweet aroma of life and freedom for others.

Just like my parable-preaching Jesus, I luvs me some word picture metaphor. The metaphor theme for Cage-Free Christian comes from a decidedly un-Christian source – the 14th century Persian poet Hafez, who, according to the ever-trustworthy Wikipedia, “lauded the joys of love and wine but also targeted religious hypocrisy.” My kinda guy.

The small man builds cages for everyone he knows

While the sage, who has to duck his head when the moon is low

Keeps dropping keys all night long for the

Beautiful

Rowdy

Prisoners

cf0f8-heartThe cage in which I was born and raised has been institutionalized church culture; not the institution itself or any individual persons, but the enforcement of the idea that God can be explained and understood and caged within the “right” human traditions and doctrines. Those keys might very well have been genuine implements of freedom and revolution in certain points of history and revelation, but we have a way of turning them into museum display pieces to be revered, not used for their purpose in opening doors to get us moving out and onward in step and in intimate communion with whatever God there is and Their workings in the world.

There will always be misguided museum curators/gatekeepers/jailers who honestly believe their service to God is to protect specific “right” keys for display purposes only, never to be handled by individuals or god forbid used  to see if in reality they actually fit. Because the concept of God lives exclusively within a particular cage of understanding and tradition, everything on the outside is suspect – dangerous – a threat to caged certainty. Anyone who dares request access to the keys or so much as presses up against the bars to view what lies outside will be harshly shamed and knuckle slapped back into submission. keys

We’re all born into cages of cultural “right” thinking and behaving, not all of them religious. Some of us escape from one only to be recruited into another advertising as the keeper of absolute rightness. There are many who are quite content there, or at least completely sold on the age-old notion that the highest calling in life is to be an aggressive defender of your cage.

But there are a few who are uneasy in their discontent, even a little rowdy, constantly sneaking glimpses of the outside with a secret longing. Those are my Peeps.

Alone-Boy-Sad-Girl-Sitting-In-Farm-HD-Desktop-WallpapersMy transition from beautiful rowdy prisoner to free-roaming sage was wild and messy. It was noisy. It was awkward. I lived through my greatest fear in standing up to and tussling with the gatekeepers (something I’d desperately avoided my entire life). I was left wounded, angry and depleted. New life outside the cage, completely on my own and away from everything I’d ever known and depended on, was even harder. I sat paralyzed just outside the door of my lifelong prison for a long time, afraid to move…not having any clue what to do next or where to go.

Then came the sages – beautiful, strong, free, healers who bore the exact same scars as me. Those scars from which they so generously led and taught were road maps of trails they’d blazed and traveling tips and encouragement. They showed me that I myself had keys that fit, keys that work, keys that unlock various doors to freedom that are formed within those very wounds of experience and struggle.

As I began to work out my feeble legs and explore farther out from the cage, I found traveling companions and fellow former rowdy prisoners walking the same roads. We’re having an absolute blast together and are always on the lookout for whoever can and will to join us as we run and jump and roam, taste, see and smell – experience abundant life and freedom and love – the reality outside the cage.

kids-playing-1

I decided it was time for a fundamental shift in focus when I realized I was truly free from all cages and the influence of gatekeepers. Cage-Free Christian is my life after death and resurrection. I’m sure you still recognize my voice, my sarcasm and dry humor. I’m still me, but my purpose in speaking has changed. I’m no longer fighting to break out. I’m certainly not trying to replace one cage of definitive understanding for another.

Dancing-in-the-NightI lived my great escape out loud and I’m dancing free out in the open like a total dork if you care to look. I’m not confronting any gatekeepers or trying to destroy cages, but I will continue to visit the ones with which I am all too familiar to drop keys all night long for the beautiful rowdy prisoners who somehow instinctively know  the cage is not life, the cage is not God.

The lock turns from the inside, Peeps. It’s up to you. Me and a host of other sages are waiting just outside for you to join us. I’m particularly skilled at helping those who need a lot of time and encouragement to figure out how to take those first few tentative steps out into the open. I was just there and know exactly how hard it is. I’d love nothing more than to train and walk with you on those first trails of freedom and discovery.

There’s nowhere you can escape from the love of God. It’s there in the cage of certainty too. But I gotta tell ya, Whatever God There Is is roaming everywhere outside. You really should come see for yourself and hit some trails with us.

aa