- “Don’t hold back in authentic truth telling – or truth listening – in your relationships.”
- “Don’t hold back in remembering God loves you, even if you are telling a truth that’s uneasy to say (or listening to someone else’s raw but truthful viewpoint).
- Don’t hold back from seeing Christ in the unhoused neighbor, the sick, or the hungry;
- Don’t hold back in seeking God’s voice; it is all around us but often we do not recognize it;
- Don’t hold back to transformation ourselves through ministry with others (it’s not just ministering TO others; greater authenticity is enabled by our openness to be transformed when we are engaged in ministry truly WITH others);
- Don’t hold back your pain, your peace or joy, your torment, or your experience of resisting evils.
Have a great weekend!
Written version of the video-prayer is just below:
I pray for strength to grow your justice
for neighbors hungry and denied… Oh God trust us /
we need you, we need your liberating hand
to free our minds from self-addicted strands /
Oh God pride, it’s our pride high-5ing in endless selfie thumps
Lord transform, God transform our ego-echoes with your Holy Fist Bump /
And expand our doubting squints toward our lost, lone neighbor
to a wide-eyed willingness to lift her labor /
Now compel oh compel any privileged toward acts of sacrifice
so deprived neighbors thrive on — more than beggar’s lice /
Please freeze our greed & melt it away with merciful justness
God seam anew all ego-separations to grow your justice /
I pray for strength to grow your justice.
Roughly five thousand years ago (…it seems that long sometimes!), some friends including a philosopher named Sean Stickle agreed to help prepare me for a speech contest called Table Topics. Each friend wrote up a handful of surprise questions to ask in front of the group. One by one a buddy would pose a question my way while the rest of the folks stayed quiet and observed. Then for the next 2 minutes after each one, I’d stand in the middle of the seated circle of listeners and offer an impromptu response (aiming for any degree of cohesion!).
The speech contest would eventually be conducted in a similar format as with these friends, but in front of a crowd of strangers at a district-level Toastmasters‘ competition. I remember feeling really grateful to these supportive hobbits for their help. Then it came time for that Seán Stickle to pitch his question:
Two things happened within seconds of hearing his question…as in huge rushes of heat burst in my heart on two different levels.
First my crush on this man went over the moon in that instant. He delivered that question with such an unforgettable, intense meteor of eye contact. He expressed himself with a distinct expectation of response too. Which granted, the whole goal of this friendly gathering was to jolt my brain into lots of improv-yet-still-clear responses. The depth though, and confident willfulness in Sean’s ask came as an unexpected wake up call on what primal vulnerability can feel like.
There was a layer to this vulnerable feeling that was lathered in urgent self-confrontation and morality. Sean presented in that moment a common sense purity as if any-and-all newspapers worldwide were confronting the very same question. The man had turned an informal speech prep session with friends into an arena for moral growth and assertion. It really was one of the hottest things I’d ever encountered.
…The other simultaneously occurring rush of heat in my heart resonated something like ‘Holy Cow how’my gonna answer this in under two hours let alone under two minutes?!’
Words and phrases exited my vocal cords eventually (specifics though escape current memory). But years later as Sean and I celebrate 17 years of marriage, the core of Sean’s past question still engages inner ponderings between logic, humility, and human value. But what leaps out from that whole exchange with him during those young-days-of-a-crush, was his willingness consciously or not to jump into the arena of inquiry and growth. He didn’t shy away from that arena — he just went for it! There is a type of life lens for me that this has inspired over the years with him:
- Spiritual (and emotional) growth requires the taking of what may feel like vulnerable risk, and investing trust in these inner acts of courage.
- Love enables growth for individual hearts, for coupled hearts, and healing throughout partnership.
- Love does not mean side-stepping reality, or the uneasy or uncomfortable truths life can present. To side-step such truth is to short circuit capacities to heal, forgive, grow.
All the so-familiar-they-are-like-wallpaper features of my morning neighborhood scene were, I thought at the time, about to appear as expected:
-the neighborhood coffee shop was on the left…yes.
-the two clothing stores on the right…yes.
-that little jewelry place up a few meters past the coffee shop…there.
-tons of honking northbound traffic on the east side….yes, honks abound.
It’s all there.
Then I turn the corner, and there stand twogigantic twenty-foot reindeer made out of metallic twigs.
The artistic splash; that zing of larger than life magic; the towering delight of height all gurgled up in an instant. In my belly there swirled a freshly carved capacity to be energized by surprise!
The sight evoked such a special air of odd and twiggy beauty. And my internal radar went from the normal moderating hum to what felt like pure spiritual aliveness. What an awesome inner charge. Then an existential question did a mental jumping jack:
Why after this encounter does my heart somehow feel more open to God and strangely…feel more awake and in the moment?
A theory: the huge-a-mongo proportions of the reindeer themselves really struck a cord. I think that’s a key factor to what felt like a distinct inner clearing in which God seemed to say: “Hi!” The visual contrast of simply seeing wee little humans engulfed by soaring mythic reindeer was super stimulating. But that proportional thrill stimulated something else. It emerged a form of inner sensitivity (alertness?) to expecting what was not previously visible to appear — and not only appear but expect it to be knowable. This inner sensitivity lasted for a good few minutes.
This all brings to mind a time when I spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually did not expect God to exist. I held no conscious expectation that a relationship with God was viable or knowable. It just wasn’t apart of understood possibilities in my heart or mind.
But then different experiences and conversations and “what ifs” shaped a new spiritual curiosity. Eventually a changed inner life made way for a capacity to not only expect God, but relate to God. Even as my intellectual cues still expressed doubt …my transformed spiritual terrain had already opened up to fellowship with a higher power. It was so proportionally different than previous reality. The heft of which remains so beautiful and strange. Even with persisting doubt, this new reality could not be ignored.
Thanks to the creators of these towering reindeer! …and this chance to encounter fruits of lopsided proportions for things visible and unseen.
“There is no exquisite beauty without some strangeness in the proportion.”
Creamy caffeine magic joins the day’s new sunshine and me most mornings. It’s a liquorless frothy coffee drink that smoothly glides in a glass as if it was beer on tap; but it’s simply swirled coffee, espresso, and milk combined: the Black & Tan drink.
I used to think coffee was coffee was coffee whether it came from Bucks n Stars or grounds or whole bean or Grandma’s cupboard of microwave instant. But a place near home in DC’s Chinatown has inspired a ton of gratefulness for a particular coffee experience, hospitality, & education.
Tackling bucket lists & craving comfort
So here sits early days of November, and National Novel Writing Month is in full throttle. You may know of NaNoWriMo already, as an inspiring nonprofit that years ago designated this month to everyone and anyone across the world who sought to write a novel — at least 50,000 words — in the month of November. The group offers an online community, write-ins, and tons of resources to enable any eager-writing brain to commit to and write a novel in 30 days.
It’s been a holy-cow-love-that-concept entry on my bucket list for years.
It’s happening now.
Got 4,400 words on paper with about 46k to go ahhhhhhhhhhhh.
It’s good & intimidating & thrilling.
….and grueling in the self-discipline, try-not-to-suffocate-this-creative-opportunity type of way.
In light of this goal, my inner self craves comfort these days. Writing that out loud sounds a little indulgent. When creative risk though intersects with a deadline and sense of vulnerability – a fragile (fun too!) inner collision can unfold right? …is anyone else thinking “right…?!”
Somehow this neighborhood coffee place, La Colombe, eases the push to Get. It. All. On. Paper. by 11:59pm 11/30th. It does this with that delicious Black & Tan and other creative caffeine things. It does this by offering friendly, confident hospitality, education.
The crossroads of these factors create an inviting sense of welcome for those seeking good coffee or some mental reprieve & a little architectural beauty too (with that alluring internal red brick they have).
Each factor engages with the others to shape a reliable experience of caffeinated comfort that this brain is grateful for (…while seizing arty hopes and word counts this month!).
Ongoing gratefulness to this place and team for being such a neighborly, spiritually rejuvenating (& so tasty) destination.
Austin – an entrepreneur, podcaster, and possessor of great energy. He was the first associate to offer welcome when my husband and I moved to the area this summer. I’m grateful.
Patrick – opened this particular coffee store & taught me unique elements and tastes within coffee crops.
Hope – Sharp wit, great hair, hearts the cats
Troy – kind introvert with gifted humor
….observed Troy once dancing with coffee in one hand and pondering aloud how good it would be if Siri could engage spiritual questions like: “What would Jesus do?”
Kelsey – Wonderful hospitality & headed to Peace Corps next year.
Chelsea – Extends reliable kindness no matter how crazy busy the shop is.
…Here’s to inspired caffeine and manifested dreams on (and off) the page for all of us!
P.S. Do you have a favorite place that inspires your creative wanderings, and helps you surmount your version of storytelling angst?
Conversations with two different neighbors unfolded within a few days of each other. They keep floating in my head for further reflection. During a front hospitality shift at church (my workplace too back then), I met both of these guests as their initial point of welcome to the church’s campus.
The first encounter was with a younger gentleman in his twenties. He was spirited and articulated his words with a little punch….not with a disrespectful tone at all, but with an audible beat of precision.
He proceeded to offer his thanks for the church helping him replace his birth certificate a while ago, which was neat to hear! It was motivating to meet him and receive his sentiment on behalf of the team.
His speech pattern then began to accelerate.
He said: “They erased my memory because they inject serum in my eyeballs each night up in Baltimore.”
I wasn’t sure what to say beyond some quiet eye contact.
His speaking rate continued to accelerate then slow back down, then speed back up as he described his memory loss and eye ball injections. It was clear he deserved compassion, and sincere regard. The guest repeated expressions of appreciation for the church’s volunteer team again that had helped him secure his birth certificate. He mentally bounced in between the contexts of injections, memory loss, & gratefulness.
He seemed to want his gratefulness for the church community to be honored in a certain way but I wasn’t sure what to do. It was a sense in my gut that I was trying to interpret. Then mental fatigue really kicked in. I just wanted the exchange to end but wanted to offer some sort of resourcefulness. I asked if he’d like a mini directory about the church and nearby health providers too; I offered my own thanks to him for visiting while directing him to the door.
I’m still analyzing this guest engagement from a hospitality perspective. Sometimes providing attentiveness while ignoring some inner bewilderment is apart of extending hospitality.
I’m grateful to him for that learning. Something else about the exchange though made an impact that I did not realize until later.
The next week
A local neighbor arrived at the church asking for a clean pair of jeans. He was in his 40s, had lived on the street a while, conversational (and I recall very warm too). As he shared about his clothing needs, the inner bewilderment from the recent guest last week cropped up. That instantly provoked internal fatigue that in that moment with this new guest, I just didn’t want to feel again.
So I interrupted the guest in mid-sentence with the hope to end the conversation.
I instantly felt guilt & regret sprout up inside. It was an impatient move to interrupt (and inhospitable to say the least). The man went silent.
He then replied with beautiful self-control & dignity: “Ma’am I’m poor and am preparing for the colder season. I don’t mean to take up unnecessary time. But when you’re poor you need to see asking for help as an asset. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
I felt like such an ass.
I apologized, thanking him for his forgiving patience and clarity of mind. After we found some suitable clothes that fit, we had a strong, brief discussion about his entry to living on the street in multiple states. His wisdom opened my mind on many levels. For starters – he brought to a more conscious level how being homeless does not mean your self-knowledge or capacity for wisdom is less than other neighbors who are perceived as ‘more integrated or relevant in society.’
Conversation with him revealed how I’d held this social bias yet was not conscious of it.
Our exchange underscored how delivering hospitality does not simply demand empathetic communications but also unconditional patience even when inner resources may be stretched.
It occurred to me later that me being a wee bit mindful of self-care would be goooooooood & prudent.
These encounters bring to mind now a devotional excerpt from Sarah Young’s enriching book Jesus Calling.
She wrote from her October 31 entry:
Learn to listen to (God) even while you are listening to other people. As they open their souls to your scrutiny, you are on holy ground.
Photo: husband patiently “listening” to the kitten.
our eyes once bordered with auburn-oak whiskers and tresses now speak through grayer thickets.
the smiles express from more than they did 131,400 hours before now.
it’s not that your younger grin inspired less or mine felt less.
it’s that our inner rungs have wrestled a lot since – a healthy stretching of emotive taffy.
so now intrinsic muscles flex these grins
upward with fuller comprehension.
understanding is a strange tenet of companionship.
because half the time it’s an exercise lassoed to self-realization:
do i see him as he is? or do i see him as projected interpretation?
(please, please have me see his uniqueness as it really lives
…the massive integrity of which deserves a cheering stadium of response).
in this particular hour, we join as we individuate
as love keeps renovating relational space.
while i search the trinity, and you the reach of euclid,
we diverge a little
expand a little
and through daily moments, we commune in progressive depth.
What’s identified here?
Shadows of force once deployed to desert lands now cascade as metal art.
A memorial reveals soldiered policing and rigor.
Rows of valor dip in sunlight and commitment; each extends the other in endless sway of clinks.
They breathe in subtle chimes despite breathless sacrifice.
A father’s eyes consume the swooping chains of identity, gazing from dot to dot to dot.
Up a little his lids climb each strand
then they skate back down the dots of shimmer,
then back up, down (pause) down more,
as if scrutinized knots and swoops can
make every tagged price more comprehendible.
Can you hear it?
A breeze floats up with symphonic consequence. Ripples of tinny, coordinated sound express memories of risk.
Loyalty, well-tested, flows like sandy heated air in an unseen flute of mourning.
A friend asserted today that “Adulthood means to vote.”
Other people in the conversation said political candidates were a turn-off and “…why can’t they get better people to run for office?”
Needless to say, our discussion pivoted around this year’s campaign season. The whole combative carnival that is this presidential race does not make for an obvious segue to greater spiritual understanding. But the above passionate assertions brought to mind a thought that’s not quite finessed in my brain, yet it’s led to some unanticipated views to spiritual commitment and community.
Starting with this:
The average citizen, myself included, passes the buck on achieving answers & real change in our country.
Maybe I’ve been online too much lately grappling with political and racial turmoil; but this election more so than others has triggered my theory that average voters don’t want to be inconvenienced in regularly exercising their voice and regularly working to improve the ills of community or the nation as a whole.
So when the presidential elections come around — all that dormant, unused activism explodes into a frustrated, screaming citizenry who wants immediate action, for things to change “ASAP” and for the “revolution” to get “someone out there to listen.”
Who do we really really want to own the poop storm we are in right now as a democracy? Who is the proverbial they (referenced in above exchange) that should drum up presumably better candidates on which voters should pass judgment?
….a galant knight?
….or progressive-conservative-libertarian-poor-but-self-sufficient-multi-racial candidate miracle worker?
It’s not the (always fictional) knight’s responsibility.
It’s not the (always fictional) perfect candidate’s responsibility, no matter who we elect.
Absolutely I have political preference on how this election pans out, and believe in the value of our vote. But that act of empowered adulthood in no way replaces the daily empowerment of investing ourselves, even to the point of it being inconvenient, to improve this nation one community at a time.
I believe each voter’s sense of ownership (me too) needs to step into the proverbial arena of commitment like these candidates have. Trump’s ethos scares the hooey out of me but dang he got into one of the most inconvenient marathons in the world i.e. putting his hat in the presidential ring. I admire that courage – in Clinton even more so – even if they are immersed in imperfection themselves.
What’s the spiritual relevance of community and political contenders? There’s a ton of nuance but right now, Jesus comes to mind. He fully committed to his community and his city as his life. As Henry Drummond wrote: “He (Jesus) looked at the city. Then He wept over it. Then He died for it.”
Jesus asserted the inconvenient habit of commitment. It seems a timely decision to reflect upon when investing efforts in between the presidential votes we cast.
Resource on Christ and community:
The City Without a Church by Henry Drummond (as referenced on Facebook by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli of Foundry UMC in July, 2016).