Friday, December 6, 2013

Ambition

Ambition
noun
1. an earnest desire for some type of achievement or distinction, as power, honor, fame, or wealth, and the willingness to strive for its attainment: Too much ambition caused him to be disliked by his colleagues.
2. the object, state, or result desired or sought after: The crown was his ambition.
3. desire for work or activity; energy: I awoke feeling tired and utterly lacking in ambition.

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others- Philippians 2:4

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. James 4:1-2

Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Matthew 23:12

I know I have an especially high dose of it- that drive, that hunger- for better or for worse I got a heavy dose of adrenaline coursing ambition. I work very hard to be successful, to dive into whatever I do; I am a passionista- 100 percent at 100 miles per hour for as long as I can sustain it.

Saying no to things is my Achilles heel. Being bored is my biggest fear. Holding still is not possible. John commented to me that if I lay down when we are hanging out I am usually asleep within 30 seconds because I have been running around all day without stopping. I tried to convince John I have been doing better, cramming less into my schedule, taking more time for taking care of myself. He tested me and asked- how many things do you have scheduled this weekend- only 5! He laughed at me.

John and I met with our pastor chad for our first premarital counseling meeting last night. Chad was coming up with examples of things he thought might divide us or cause us to struggle. His first example was how driven and ambitious I am compared to John’s cool and calm easy-going nature.

Ambition is celebrated in American culture. It is celebrated in both of my extended families. It is correlated with a strong work ethic, persistence and courage. I have a long family history of personal fulfillment through always being on the move and generating big ideas and results.

I am seeing however the pitfalls of my ambition. The restlessness and discontent it can generate, the separation it can generate between me and others if I hyper focus on myself, the potential it has to divide me with John or others I care about. My ambition seems like a large train barreling forward- lots of energy and unstoppable momentum- however it is key that the tracks are built on the right course, the train is barreling in the right direction.

Of course, if my ambition is pointed towards earnestly seeking God, or loving others, or virtuous contributions to those around me- than maybe it is not so misplaced. Maybe, like other talents and natural tendencies it is something that can be used for good or bad.

Lately though, I have been uneasy because I think I have been too hyper-focused on it, letting ambition for ambitions sake consume me, without tending to my humility and patience. I think an interruption, an intervention is needed, for I am restlessly unresolved.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Thank you At Another Level

Last Wednesday I was at work, finishing up some last minute things before leaving to join my family for a road trip down to Illinois. An unknown number was calling me on my cell and I picked up thinking it was a recent acquaintance of mine- A woman I had briefly met in Atlanta several weekends before. She called and was excited, short of breath asking if I could spare a minute, flustered that she had called during work hours.

 I asked her if she needed anything and she admitted she had called to just say thank you. She said- “I just want you to know that I believe you are very powerful and beautiful and are a leader that leads with genuine humility.” We had shared a large group interaction together, and she commended me for being great throughout that interaction, and making a difference for her and others we were interacting with. I was dumfounded- what a call, a surprise.

I stammered out a thank you and quickly told her that was so generous of her and that her call made my day. She never said- “I am thankful for you”, but in her appreciation and compliment the message more than came across. In fact, she didn’t need to say it. Thanksgiving is a national holiday, though its theme is so very spiritual in my eyes. Its about being in community with others- or communing. And it is about pausing to recognize all of the people and things you are blessed with around you. It is easy for each of us to go around and tell family members and friends we are thankful for them, or shoot across a “Happy Thanksgiving” text.
This Thanksgiving was especially delightful for me, spending time with the Brust family But that thank you that I received on Wednesday, that is the type of recognition that really makes a difference. It leaves you with more than just warm fuzzies- highlighted by the unexpectedness and surprise, I was left knowing myself as greater than I thought I was before the interaction. As we jump into the holiday season- I wonder on ways to make a similarly profound difference with others. Yes I picked out the perfect Christmas gift for my mom yesterday, and I want all of my family members to know in a fresh and alive way how much I love them.

But the exploration, the generosity of the season I think exists in the difference we can make with our loose ties. The people we don’t usually talk to, who would never expect us to reach out to them and tell them we love them. That is where the magic is. I challenge every person reading this to be uncannily generous with 3 people you usually wouldn’t this December. To make people around you bigger than they thought themselves to be, to make them burn a little brighter.

Today is the first real snow. I am typing this as I look out my window at the darkening sky and thick, dusty snow flecks. Impenetrable and enchanting snow- makes me think of magic, of purity, of pristine natural elegance.

Monday, November 25, 2013

God's Sanctuary

This weekend my family spent the weekend up at two harbors, examining wedding venues. We stayed at our top choice, Superior Shores to see if it would suite everything we envisioned. When we arrived late on Friday, I was tired and irritable. I walked into the lobby and was slightly discomforted by the numerous stuffed foxes, wolves and bears. Cheesy advertisements cluttered the walls, and the room we were in was filled with kitchy decorations. At first blush this lodge clashed with the ideals in my head and the 5 getaway wedding resorts that were covering the bridal magazines I purchased. I went to bed frustrated, John being his usual wonderful self- comforting me, telling me I was worrying too much and to give the place a chance and to have some faith everything would work itself out.

Despite how tired I had been, I woke up for very early on Saturday morning, 7:00am. Not being able to fall back asleep, I got up and decided to go for a walk outside. The room we were in opened up to a big lawn. And then the pathway from our room led to a wooden covered bridge that opened into a pebble beach. I took sharp breaths in the cool November air as I walked along the frost-crunchy grass. I walked up a small hill after the bridge to get to the top of the beach (which slops downwards) and was immediately taken by the mist and the daybreak over lake superior. The thought whispered through my hair into my ear- “This is the place”.
Enveloped by the beauty and freshness of the lake, any residual concerns and annoyances from the previous night washed away. The appreciation and awe for my surroundings quickly clouded out worry and selfish preoccupations. God was the lake. He was in every wave, every wind current, in the mist rising from the water, the soaked and smooth black rocks on the shore. He was there and I couldn’t help but drink him in. It was a similar experience to sitting in an empty church for me. But instead of focusing on a cross, it was Lake Superior sprawled out in front of me -breathtakingly blue. Nothing I could plan, orchestrate or come up with myself would ever compare the grandeur of the lake and the divine swirling within it.

The day that unfolded after that walk was filled with ease. My whole family as we walked around the lodge was pleasantly surprised by the service and the set-up of the lodge, and many of the rooms in the lodge (most individually owned) were more modern and well-decorated than the one we happened to be in. But truly, if that had not been the case, it would have been ok- I laughed at myself for how right john was and how easily I had been focusing on what didn’t matter.

You hear and witness all sorts of wedding horror stories. With so much hyper-focus and excitement that goes into it, it is no wonder all the stress, concern and ups and downs that come with it in our culture. I am blessed with generous parents, loving in-laws and an unbeatable and easygoing fiancé. But I also see the temptation to go down the rabbit hole, the bridal fascination with the details and planning the event and everything else. The bridal magazines are have to be somewhat akin to female porn, drooling over the decorations and the dresses and all the other material items that piece together a wedding. It is tempting and easy to turn to being self-focused; selfish. That is after all what all the worry and stress point to- this is/isn’t what I want.

I need to continue to remember to look outward. To look outward at the other people this is really about (Johns family, my family, those who are important to us). To look outward towards the lake, towards the beauty of the journey and the process, towards the marriage. And of course, to look outward for God, and to remember this is ultimately a celebration to honor him and the absolutely necessary role he will play in our marriage day in and day out. And that is one of many reasons I look forward to getting married on lake superior, and spending extra time up there this upcoming year planning and orchestrating the event. Because if I am on that lake, it will be much harder to forget what is really important.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Trust and Judgement


One of my weaknesses in faith came up and stared at me in the face this past week quite unexpectedly. After a series of conversations with a variety of people in my life around faith, I found myself in a place of discomfort. I realized I was stuck between a rock and a hard place because I like to be a Christian diplomat. To me what this means is being an individual who can align themselves, at least somewhat, with most any christian, and even many of varying faiths.

I believe this is a strength in that I am able to be open and accepting of many others varying perspectives on faith. I can see truth being communicated in a variety of ways. I also can relate and genuinely connect to people of varying demoninations, faith backgrounds and belief sets. I can go to a variety of different church services and get a lot out of each one- be catholic, evangelical, baptist or something entirely different. Being open and accepting is a value of mine, and I believe this is one way I live out that value.

The sacrifice I can pay when I take this diplomacy too far sometimes is working under the concern that others will evaluate and judge me for my faith and how I live it out. The truth that hit me this week is just how scared I can be of being judged, of being thought less of. Of not being fundamental enough or being too fundamental. Of doing christianity different from how I am supposed to. I believe this mindset is part of why I have in the past had trouble connecting closely to a church body- I am worried about being evaluated by them, by having them diminish my faith because it is not enough like theirs.

This can make me a bit non-commital and tentative I believe. Furthermore it allows for doubt and being unsure to come into my experience of faith. I distinguished this weekend through a conversation with a Lutheran pastor and friend of mine part of what this stems from. When I was a kid and in middle school/high school I loved going to church and being a part of my church in particular. I was always an animated part of bible studies as I loved the discussion and perspective. Pulling out the deeper meaning of verses and the big picture of the bible is something I relished and enjoyed. One confirmation meeting, I got into an animated conversation with my small group leaders about believers of other faiths and if God loves them. I shared excitedly that it made sense to me that everyone went to heaven no matter what because God loved them and Jesus saved them. My small group leaders argued differently, pointing to versus in the bible that communicated how only believers of Christianity got to go to heaven and everyone else went to hell. They even called the pastor over and he confirmed that I was indeed mistaken. In that moment I was crushed. I was sad and felt like if I agreed with them I was condemning my buddhist thailand host family, or my athiest friend at school... not to mention the billions apon billions of other people in the world. What about northern africa? Asia? Most of the country of India? The loving, pure God that pulsed through my veins and sang amidst the stars did not seem to fit with their description.

The great thing was my relationship with God never wavered. But I lost faith in my relationship with the church and with the bible for awhile as a result.

I went on a walk with my future mother-in-law and she told me a compelling story about her husband that made me think. There was an interaction at their church where a unmarried couple living together wanted to host a bible study at their house. It was against the churches beliefs for an unmarried couple to live together, however the invitations went out and people planned to attend regardless. The husband in this instance approached the pastor of this church and made a stand to not hold the bible study at their house given that the couple was violating something that they and others knew was a principle of the church. The pastor agreed- and explained to the couple such and then the bible study was held elsewhere. This particular story/confrontation had a happy ending, as the couple proceeded to get married 2 months later- and likely as a result of the reaction of the church.

On the one hand this example is very neat because it demonstrates resolve. Standing up for what you believe is right even in the face of discomfort. And holding integrity with your beliefs and not tolerating behavior you/your church body believes demonstrates a lack of value. It also makes me slightly uncomfortable and I can't pinpoint why. Maybe it makes me wonder about the couple feeling rejected by the church. Maybe because I am not sure I would go have such a conversation with my pastor in this situation. Maybe because I am not sure if that is what Jesus would have done in that situation, but maybe he would have! I can see the honor this series of actions demonstrates.

I have a lot of resolve when it comes to sticking up for others. If someone or something is hurting a person- even if I am not close to them- I have no trouble speaking out no matter how uncomfortable. And I also am not usually shy of being challenged, in so many areas of my life I welcome it. Maybe my discomfort around faith and being judged caters to the intimacy, the vulnerability and the preciousness I tie with faith.

I prayed a lot this weekend about this matter and decided in faith the best thing to do is to be more trusting and less concerned. To continue to have faith in God, but also maybe a little more in myself and the beliefs I have worked years to hone, challenge and developed. I am not in danger of living an unexamined life or faith- thats for sure. And also trusting that God has led me to the right places, people and values. And I need to trust myself to be able to not only discern for myself but also trust my connection with God and my ability to listen to his direction. And ultimately, remember we all are human, and that no matter how strong my conviction or anyone else's, there are things that we just will never know in this lifetime. And that mystery and unclarity is worth embracing and accepting.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

This is It

One of the leaders of the small group I attend at church asks us every week if we had any 'god sightings'. This struck me teh first time I heard it because I had never heard the expression before. He explained these were times where we saw glimpses of God's presence around us, whether playing a part in an uncanny event, bringing grace/kindness to an interaction or surprising us in some other miraculous way.

For a skeptic, this (along with many other notions around faith) must seem a bit ludicrious. It all boils down to your underlying assumption: Is God there or is he not? If you assume that he is (as I do), then it makes sense to look for him in your day to day, to watch for him. Kind of like Einstein's quote: "There are two ways to see the world- one is as if nothing is a miracle, the other as if everything is." For me I work under the assumption that God is in fact the color to our world, the energy in and behind everything. I assume that the experiences of awe and wonder and appreciation for beauty are usually good clues to his presence. The experience of love or loving (not infatuation, happiness, etc. but selfless love for something or someone- an appreciation that makes you feel as if you are vibrating at a higher frequency) is a good clue God is in the air as well. And sometimes I experience being more attuned to god than other times. Im comfortable with the notion of him appearing in my life through others and events- though it is rarely a bang! boom! pow! sort of encounter.

This sunday however was different. This Sunday I had a vivid, striking, slightly uncomfortable 'God Sighting'. Felt like walking out of a cave or seeing the color blue for the first time in 6 months.

Sunday was a Sunny, Windy day. My favorite type of weather, especially in the fall. John left to go up north and I threw on some clothes for church. I was driving to the service at the Urban Refuge, and 2 blocks away from my house I got this uneasy, resistant feeling. "don't go" crossed my thoughts. I tried to shake it- reasoning not feeling like going to church was not a good reason not to. Plus, I rationalized, I love going to church... But I couldn't shake the notion and a block later I turned around and drove around the block a couple times- thinking furiously and slightly befuddled at this unexpected intuition. I pulled over to the side of the road, took a deep breath, gave in and went home. I sat in front of my house in my car- 'now what?' Should I clean? Go for a walk? hmph...

I noticed the beauty of the fall day, the red and yellow trees glittering in the wind, the sunshine warming everything. The air was fresh, vibrant, sharp. I then focused on the church next to my house, a brick lutheran church with an old fashioned billboard out front announcing service times. I noticed the services for the day were over- and I had not been inside the church so I was drawn to go in. I walked in the front doors- unlocked, and easily found my way to the sanctuary. A usher gave me permission to go sit in the sanctuary- so I entered into the sunlit, glowing room of stain glass and dark wood. I went and sat in the front pew and just breathed and listened.

My thoughts quickly went from a torrent of rapids to a meandering current. I remembered a quote from the movie I had watched the night before "It is hard to fill a cup that is already full", and allowed my mind to empty and quiet. To let go of as many assumptions as possible. Peace, calm and solace washed through me. Sometimes when I pray the first question I voice in my head is "God where are you?" and then I allow myself to be open to experiencing him. That question wasn't necessary- as I was swimming in his midst- to me he was so obviously right there in front of me. The sanctuary was filled with the divine, he was in the fern leaves glowing in the morning sunlight. In the grains of wood on the pew in front of me. I was struck by magic, by orchestrated and wild beauty everywhere I looked. I experienced reverence, respect, wonder and joy.

I spent an hour in the church (though while there I lost track of time)- drinking in the divine. At one point someone came and sat in the back and played the guitar softly. The sunlight continued to flicker in the windows, highlighting the life in the room. As I sat I felt as if I was a cup being filled with clear, pure and life-giving water. And as I sat there silently and immobile- God and I danced. I experienced several unarticulated inspirations and take-aways- most of the experience was blissfully wordless. Perhaps the most important take-away being the reminder/hyperfocus on my calling to share the magic and the beauty of the world with others. To bring community and joy to everyone around me as much as possible. And the very present, potent conclusion of 'this is it'. This is our one life and it is to be lived out loud and relished with as much courage and grace as possible right now, and moment to moment onward.

Someone from the church had to come up and gently ask me to leave as they had to lock up the church. She asked me if I wanted to get coffee or needed anything- I always find it amusing that people assume something is wrong if you are sitting in a church alone. She asked me what brought me to the church and I stumbled over articulating something- what words do you say? I just felt randomly that I should skip church to come hang out here alone? Doesn't make a lot of sense to me much less to an observer. Yet it was such a perfect morning- it was exactly what I was supposed to do. So I felt compelled to share that very precious experience from this weekend. I feel so lucky to be where I am in life right now- and even better as the year ahead looms with joy, busy-ness, change and stress- to be in touch with the bigger picture. Who knows what else is to come...

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Engaged!


Dock on Lake Harriet John Proposed

Well discovered what one of the adventures for the next year is going to be this Saturday! John and I- after an elaborate and thoughtful day filled with puzzle pieces, good friends, special places and a love note- got engaged. It was everything I could have ever dreamed up for a proposal and more- and by the time John got down on one knee- saying yes was the intuitive, right and only answer. It was one of my favorite days of being alive so far. I was able to relish and enjoy it moment by moment by moment. Magical doesn’t quite capture it.

And my daily experience since Saturday morning has been one of just pure, simple, fulfilled happiness. So much to look forward to, so much to appreciate and be thankful for- with no catch in sight. There is this small question happily singing in the back of my head- now what? Now what with God? With the future? With life? What are John and I going to do together? To be together? To accomplish together? I do not know but I have renewed faith it is going to be good. What is possible has newly expanded.

I want this season to be focused on giving to John, on him and I becoming closer to God and orienting our relationship around faith. I want our engagement season to function as a lighthouse lens- amplifying and reflecting light and joy and love to those around us. I want the “I” in my life to be more and more replaced by we and us. I want the year to be dictated by generosity- By affinity and authenticity- By community and being in concert with those around us.



I think back to a year ago- the struggles of the temporary breakup with John, the loneliness, the searching. All of it was to lead us successfully to the present. It was no coincidence to me that the friends and family members involved with Saturday’s proposal were those very people who supported me the most during our short and painful separation- Matt, Mike, Katherine, Lisa, Jenny, Erika and family, on and on. My cousin Erika reminded me how fitting even my last blog post was- the scavenger hunt John designed was so much like noticing lantern after lantern along the path of life.

One of the coolest parts of Saturday was an impromptu stop at my Grandfathers grave. The cemetery was aglow with fall- and my cousin Jenny and I searched and searched for David Dalquist’s leaf-covered plaque. The wind whispered its location and I finally gravitated towards the marker. We brushed it off and sat- thinking of all that was and is and is to come. It was fitting he was a part of the day’s journey. I left feeling blessed.

I am sure the potential content for this blog has become much richer. Now more than ever in the upcoming excitement and season of change (not like my life has been stagnant over the last year- let’s be honest) I see the importance of having a strong faith. Amidst a time where I think it would be easy to focus on myself- to instead be sure to focus on God and others. On growth, humility and appreciation.

New Chapter here we come! 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Do Dogs Go to Heaven?

We have certain things in our life that serve as symbols- tokens, people, animals, belongings. Whether we recognize it or not- these things trigger reassurances or provide us with small glimmers of happiness, hope or guidance. Each symbol is like a small white light along our long, sometimes dark pathway one year to the next.

One easy example of such a symbol for me is my stuffed animal horsey. Whenever I see horsey, I am reminded of comfort, family, childhood, a good nights rest etc. etc. There is an instinctual, gut reaction. Horsey triggers these reassurances every time my fingertips touch his coat.

 This week one of my symbols passed away. The beloved Tiempolo- regularly seen with Professor Taliaferro on St. Olaf’s campus- 13 year old well-loved and well-lived Border collie. He wisely sat in on so many of my favorite and most memorable classes- quietly reassuring all of us with his calm and kind demeanor.

Last December I went on a short walk with P. Taliaferro in his neighborhood. I remember thick snow falling on our grey trench coats and blending with Tiempolo’s grey and white fur. Even though we were in Minneapolis, mentally I went back to being a student on campus- the surroundings didn’t matter- only the familiar dog, professor, rich conversation and snow.

There is not much that forces pause more in life than a death. It is the passing of one of our symbols- suddenly along our road one of our lights has gone out, causing us to halt to reorient. Before Tiempolo died, I did not realize he was one of my lanterns along my road- now I do. And here I pause, noticing more carefully the other lanterns around me- they stand out more.

I don’t know if the above title is the correct title for this blog. It is not really a question I have, as it seems to me animals are the kindest and most genuine of spirits, and if they don’t get to go to heaven I don’t know if any human has a fighting chance. And personally, as great as it will be to see family members and friends in heaven, the individual I am almost most excited to reencounter is my dog Skipper when I die.

 So here is dedicated to life, to death, to our mortality, and to all of our own little guiding lights- And of course to a wonderful, memorable border collie. May we all pause more often.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Not Enough!

I have not answered all the emails I am supposed to answer, gotten together with all the people I want to get together with, written all the thank you notes that I owe, called all the people I’m supposed to call, cleaned all the spaces I need to clean- and I’m beginning to feel like life will ALWAYS be this way. The words that constantly drum in between my ears are ‘Kelsie! You are falling short! You are not doing enough!’

To anyone who knows me this likely sounds crazy, as I am regularly razzed for being busy and/or too busy ALL THE TIME. My parents have tried in vain to get me to push less and relax/take care of myself more. How many times has my mom told me “you are over doing it! You are too busy…”

I mitigate my anxiety about not getting to things by making extraordinary lists. At least it gets the items swirling out of my head. When I accomplish something I have this aha! feeling, and then I strike it off my list- and temporarily worry less about me adding up. It’s slightly addictive, the feeling of completing something and having it be done- only problem is it is only a temporary solution for the angst. The list gets longer and as it does you get more and more anxious. So in this swirl- I wonder where is the opportunity for freedom? I also recognize the drive above, although sometimes a great thing given how much I accomplish, can also be very detrimental in my relationships with others and with God. See- being preoccupied with what I am NOT doing has me focusing too much on the future or dwelling internally rather than being present and focusing on who I am with and what I am doing NOW. Poor John has listened to me worry over and over again out loud about the things that need to happen or get done in my life that are not. Here is a text he sent me yesterday that made my day- reassuring me once again (made my day).
I think the bigger issue at hand is that I am working under the assumption that I am not enough- or am lacking. To mitigate this assumption, I know I attempt to do a lot of self-diagnosis. And then if I can’t come up with a solution to something I am worried about- I ask for help/insight. Recently it has gotten to the point where I feel like a doctor always attempting to heal myself from an unnamed chronic illness.

So there is no strong resolution for me in this topic yet- just an admittance of how much it consumes my day to day thinking and how removed from the world I sometimes feel because of it. And how this is definitely is an area I can grow in- being intentional with my time and designing my life and thoughts so that they are not hyper focused on what I am NOT doing- and rather attentive to the life-bringing aspects of living: fellowship with others, time exercising, time praying and plenty of sleep and music.

Maybe there is something to be said for not attaching so much significance to the DOING and accomplishing of things... Thoughts on the topic are welcome-

Thursday, October 10, 2013

And We are Back

Here is what I wrote on the plane ride back from Israel in my journal:

"My journal has been strangely quiet over the last 10 days- but it is for no lack of magical experiences. I have been absorbing, breathing, sponging in every part of this trip. I feel, I am feeling everything. So many thoughts are swirling unarticulated... bouncing off the walls of my scull like excited electrons.

If I were to recount this trip, I could tell you about many wondrous things. I can tell you of the waves crashing on the Andromeda rocks in Tel Aviv, I can tell you of great generosity, of hospitality in the West Bank, in a flat in Tel Aviv with a wall open to the hot air of the city. I can tell you about the oasis of a summer camp, of dancing under soccer flood lights to American music while Frisbees fly through the air and hebrew, english, arabic and laughter all swirl up in the air together. I can tell you of dark stories told in a buried Ethiopian restaurant in the wrong neighborhood, of trains full of soldiers and antique shops drowning in treasures- including Victorian paintings of Lilacs. I can tell you about rafting down the Jordan, swimming in waterfalls with fish nibbling on my toes. I can speak of hot nights and friendly stray cats and warm breezes sucking the air out of the landscape around you.


But mostly, after all the interaction and walking and conversing and playing- after the dinner on the rooftop of Tel aviv drinking wine, eating goat cheese and watching the sunset cool everything in a light white light. After this moment right now- flying over Tel Aviv and Israel along the blinking coast at night- what I am left with is a sense of place and a sense of wonder. My purpose? I do not know. But my fate is intertwined with this country. And I am in love with it. With the hope and resignations, and atrocity and community it encapsulates. I am one hundred percent enchanted. And there are few places I have travelled- few experiences in which everything seemed to so obviously fit into a dance- a perfect symmetry. Israel breathed in in and guided me with ease and grace day in and day out.


This is not the end. This is the beginning."

....And then Slam! Life happened. Or maybe better articulated, it didn't. Came back to Minnesota with a summer filled with more ultimate, a all-consuming career switch to the Medtronic Communications department, a upheaval of all of my things moving to a new home, time spent up north with family and continuing work with Landmark and Orrery. I've been so busy its hard for me to even articulate with what- but I have been working real hard. Israel seems some distant magical world I visited in a dream- I look back on what I wrote and think- what does that even mean? What was I thinking? 

And I wish I could give you a great reason why I didn't keep writing my blog. Maybe it was that whispering doubt: "Does God really have an intention in all of this for me after all?" Maybe it was because I just wasn't intentional about making the time. Maybe because I thought my journey to Israel was going to provide all the answers. WRONG- had no answers to come home and write about. Regardless I didn't write a single post after Israel- and did not fulfill on my commitment do write once a week for a year. And if I put the guilt and the inadequacy i feel about that aside, here is what I am left with:

photo.JPGHere I am, 3 1/2 months after my trip- and I'm admittedly at a loss. A great build up- and a immensely moving experience- a stronger faith- but don't know where to turn to next. I feel like a pressurized room that just had its doors open and all the air rushed out of it. And if I look at my life- it is still filled with wonderful people and magical experiences and daily joy, but its just... well... altogether too comfortable. And God? Not feeling quite as omnipresent in my life as he could be.

And I have a whole new set of concerns, along with some persistent ones. Where am I going in my career? What should I invest my time into that makes a difference in this world? That fulfills me? What is my vocation? What is the next adventure? Am I missing something? And what about this whole potential marriage thing- that's terrifying!

I think it was a mistake this summer to assume that after developing my faith and spiritual inquiry it was ok to not pay attention to it for awhile- kind of like "Great, handled that! Now onto the next thing." Turns out it doesn't work that way.

So! All of this is building up to my humbling admittance that no- indeed I do not have my life, vocation much less the next week figured out and I feel pulled to continue this intentional exploration. So I am recommitting! One year. Once a week. Let's see if I can finish this one out- or rather we can- this is something I couldn't do alone as I found last year. Join me in this journey if you feel compelled. Doors are open- air is out. Room for new life, new people and God to come in all over again- and who knows what else.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Where to start

How to articulate an experience beyond words? Here I am, in Israel- just finished a whirlwind week of camp. 2 days left. Still a lot unclear for me on why I am here- what I should take away, what I need to know and remember. Where should I go and what should I focus on. I don't feel like I am fully clear on why god wanted me here or what he wants from me.

What I do know is that I feel great. I am happy here. I feel right being here. I am watching something/contributing to something good happening around me. I feel oddly at home. This camp and organization brews magic. It brings out the best in people. 

And! Instead of being restless with the questions- of being scared that I don't know or have any answers- I am just happy to be in the inquiry and wondering of them. 

Maybe all of what I have typed above is vague and seemingly non-concrete. Every day here has been filled with important work and more important play. I have played so hard here- longer than I have in a long time.

More stories for later, but that is what I have for now.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

A magical life

Tuesday morning- putting on my makeup and driving at the same time- pull up to a light and stop behind a school bus of blond 8 year old boys who immediately started smiling and waving. Couldn't help it- my work face cracked and I smiled and waved back. 11:30am- business partner emails me confirmation of our first client who is interested in working with us long term. After work we sit in the heartland- celebrating over a goat cheese salad and a glass of wine. End of the day- pick up the mail to find a check for a $500 dollar donation enclosed and a heartfelt letter from my grandma reassuring me to boldly take on life's challenges. Tuesday night- after ultimate frisbee practice with my team- meet with friends and go lounge on a rooftop in uptown- warm night with lights dotting the rooftops. we sit laughing and celebrating our successful bid for peace event. We discover we raised about $1500, and agree the event overall provided a fantastic evening of ultimate frisbee. With hushed excitement we discussed how to make it bigger and better next year. Wednesday morning last day at work- while closing up all the loose ends in legal and taking apart my cube- 10:30am called down to the Medtronic corporate communications office and offered a high-opportunity job. Experience feeling valued and wanted by a company I have invested so much into. Spent the rest of the day completing my litigation work and thanking my coworkers for all that they taught me and supported me in. One mentor cleared his schedule to have lunch with me. Some of my coworkers gave me flowers and good luck cards and food that fits within my sugar free diet. Many expressed excitement i would be coming back to the company in a different capacity. After work call my dad- he tells me how proud of me he is. Wednesday night- sit on the front steps of matt's house, waiting to drop of a thank you gift and enjoying the smells of his street-side garden. Later, at home with my roommates joking. I write my last rent check and close the door on that financial responsibility. The place is filled with the smell of clean laundry. John brings over "whatever I most want to eat for dinner"- which happened to be Indian. Pack for Israel- wake up at 4:30am and arrive more than an hour ahead of my flight- enjoyed an omelette for breakfast at the French meadow bakery while texting Lydia in china. Chicago- 9:30 am- buy gifts for the host family I am staying with in Jerusalem- so reassured by the notion of being picked up from the airport in tel aviv. Recommend the book "proof of heaven" to a fellow customer. Take out my camera and tri-pod and capture some stunner shots of the O'Hare's underground tunnel- a tunnel I historically have always wanted to take pictures of but in the past didn't have the time or the camera. My mom texts me and congratulates me for fulfilling a dream come true. She's right- this trip is. This whole life is. And now I am sitting on the plane next to a very sunny window- blue sky and blue water above and below me. 

And amidst all of the experiences detailed above- I was stressed. I was worried and anxious and experienced guilt. There is so much left to do and be done- so many things I am not tending to. I worry about letting people down, about my finances and how i am chronically late. I get scared in the face of uncertainty. Maybe I am totally crazy? 

And yet hear I am- on a romantic quest I dreamed up this winter and now with a community of support around me I am fulfilling on. Who would ever have thought it would actually morph into reality? I fly alone yet I feel loved from all angles. My thoughts are dissolving into something along the lines of- maybe everything is intended to work out in the end. Even if its in a messy, unexpected sort if way.

It would be disingenuous for me to say anything else: I am actively living a life that I love. I have the richest and most wonderful of relationships with my friends, family and boyfriend. I have several impending -and exciting career prospects. I am on a wild adventure- fulfilling on a calling and doing something I love, going back to a country I love. I have no idea what is in store for me but I am open to the possibility. 

God has no doubt been at work in my life. Through change and challenge over the last year I have been inspired, humbled, thought new thoughts and dreamed new dreams. I have let go of addictions and inadequacies, only to be faced with new ones. He has brought palatable joy into my life- fulfillment. He has blessed me with the best of people. There is no way I can give back to him all he has given me, so I just hope to continue to make my life sing and dance along the way as a tribute. I do know I am in ardent search of living this life out to a threadbare state of a well-loved stuffed animal. And therefore I bring my rigorous inquiry abroad of how best to contribute to A humanity created in God's image. If we are at all a reflection he is a beautiful being indeed.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Out of Control

I have discovered my worst side often comes out when I feel like a situation is out of my control. I cannot rationalize or move a set of situations the way I want them to. I feel like a uprooted tumbleweed in a 20 mile per hour wind desperately looking for something to root myself to. I get indignant, scared, upset, pessimistic.
I have written about this theme of being disempowered before from different perspectives- turning things over to God, Faith in the face of uncertainty. Yet the feeling of fear, paralyzes, and sinking doubt never gets any better when experienced at its height.  I feel like such an overly emotional 13 year old. I have been having all of these extreme highs and lows-  over the last 2 weeks with seemingly little ability to redirect and contain my emotions. And I think I could chalk most of that experience up to feeling out of control of my life. I could give you a long laundry list of reasons of why I feel especially uncertain these days- though I’m not sure if the solutions are really to be found by resolving those uncertainties.
I did a case interview today with a consulting firm I am considering working for. Although the consultant working with me was generous in guiding me through the problem, I found myself feeling sick at the end and feeling like the problem I had been presented was way out of my reach. I fumbled with the math, got lost in the answer. My usual confidence and poise slipped to garbled words and um pauses of uncertainty. It was painful emotionally to watch myself go through such a performance. Memories of failed LSAT questions came to mind.
Why was this practice interview a tough experience for me? Why was stumbling and failing such an uncomfortable experience? I mean really, it was such a silly little thing, it wasn’t even the REAL interview. And it still left me in a significant slump. And that opened up the pandora's box of everything else. I'm not going to amount to much, Im never going to get a job, Im never going to make much money.... yada yada yada. When I am trying to be in control of my situation, my life, my future- I find the darker sides of my humanity come out. I focus on my image, status, how impressive I am/am not. I fret and worry. I try to get others to affirm and pay attention to me. All the while none of these actions dissipating myself doubt.
The process of being humbled never ends!!!!!
I think all of this indicates it is time for me to get grounded again. To pray, to refocus that everything is not all about me.  Maybe to get out of my head a bit. And yes, that it is ok to LET GO… somehow (like going from a white knuckle grip on the bar of a rollercoaster to putting your hands in the air). To remember to trust that a divine force is working in my life and is providing guidance and love and protection.
God, please lead my life towards the fulfilling, the good, the true. And please give me the wisdom and courage and observation to be able to follow your guidance. Sometimes all I can do is pray, and then face my reality- moment by moment with courage. I will do my best not to judge too harshly what requires me to muster courage and what does not. I look to grow in my ability of being willing and able to embrace my own discomfort.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Faith and Ultimate Frisbee

Yesterday, on a rainy afternoon after a gloomy and stressful day at work I sat on the wet grass, put on my Nike cleats, and began to throw with my teammates. Practice continued, and as the drills, games and conditioning progressed, my focus on the task at hand increased and the concern for the rest of my mental worries decreased. I soon got lost in the catching and throwing of the disc, and slowly stopped focusing on myself as an individual and rather as myself as a teammate. How could I contribute? What could I do to make us collectively succeed? Practice ended and I walked off the field with sweat, rainwater and mud plastered to my skin and unfurrowed eyebrows. Practice left me fulfilled, physically tired- and easily was the best part of my day.
Lately it seems so much of what I am doing in my life that is worthwhile has something to do with my favorite sport and hobby: Ultimate Frisbee. This stereotypically hippy, not commonly known sport may leave people wondering, so what’s the big deal? It is played with something similar to football receiving, Soccer field awareness and Basketball defense. Here is a basic summary of the game and how it works:
To all appearances Ultimate is just another team field sport. And sure, all sports have the ability to teach people good values and practices. Yet in my experience as an athlete- I maintain that Ultimate is something very special in comparison, and is unlike any other sport I have encountered.
What makes this sport stand out from the rest I believe are two things- 1) the culture and community around the sport and 2) the spirit in which the game is played.
On the latter point- Ultimate is a self-officiated sport, requiring players to be responsible for referring the game. The rules have a check and balances system built into it that requires players to call and reconcile illegal plays on the field. This rule system ties into a bigger value set dubbed “Spirit of the game” – and teammates are either “spirited” or “not-spirited” depending on how much respect, integrity and humility they demonstrate on and off the field. Ultimate therefore takes “sportsmanship” to a whole new level in through the structure of how it is played.
This “spirit” I believe creates the compelling culture of Ultimate Frisbee. Tournaments include highly competitive play and athleticism during the game, but also incorporate cheers and social events that have all the teams naturally mingling and hanging out with one another. It is natural to arrive at a tournament and have more friends on other teams you are playing than on the team you are affiliated with. Therefore, players have a strong love and loyalty for the sport, along with a strong sense of camaraderie for everyone who is involved with the game. Ultimate to many represents not only a sport, but a culture, a community and a lifestyle in which people play fair, have fun, respect each other and work together. Ultimate at its core is a value set, and a big metaphor for how to live your life.
So given the above explanation, I hope it is becoming obvious why I see Ultimate not only as a great sport to play and coach, but also as an expression of my faith. The sport provides an arena for me to express and fulfill on what I believe God is directing me to do: treat others with love and respect, bring people together in community and fellowship, be generous, inspire others… the list goes on. That is why it is such a perfect fit for me you see to go to Israel to coach Ultimate, because I see the service I am doing over there as a direct correlate to serving God and living out my faith. What more could I ask for, an opportunity to go abroad and teach people something I love as a conduit for teaching values I believe in wholeheartedly.
And the upcoming event this Saturday a group of us have been planning for the last couple months- Bid for Peace- www.bidforpeace.com was such a natural and fun event to create for our community inside and outside the sport. I see the event as celebrating the core of what the sport is about, and is allowing those in the Ultimate community to celebrate all that the sport stands for; by contributing to a cause that uses Ultimate Frisbee to teach people how to treat each other well in struggling communities. And the great thing is, really the event would have never happened if I didn’t have 7 good friends jump on board with me to make it happen. So all the work continues to be highly collaborative, just like how Ultimate is played at its finest.
For you reader, it may be something else. It may be your church, your work, some volunteer organization or hobby- that you hold with the reverence I hold Ultimate Frisbee. If you have something like that in your life, you believe that if there was just more of it, that whatever “it” was is the secret sauce to life, is the thing that can and will change the world for the better. I hope whatever it is for you, you are able to fully participate in it, to spread it, to share its values with others inside and outside the community. And if you do not have something in your life like this, I suggest you go join a pick-up game of ultimate Frisbee.

Monday, June 3, 2013

We are Tragically Flawed

I am on the plane ride home and just finished watching 'perks of being
a wallflower' for the first time. 5 hours to go until I am home in
Minneapolis.

What have I learned from this trip? Or maybe better said- reminded of?
The importance of not doing this life alone. The necessity of kindness
and grace and compassion. Why humans are such beautiful and other
times desolate creatures. The kindness of a cab driver, a bellman, a
sister. The courage and sweetness of street performers. How we some of
us pay a lot to walk the same walk as someone elses daily commute to
work. How the entire world exists in our relationships with others.

Our worst enemy and our best friend is our mind. We give it so much
power over ourselves sometimes without bothering to train it. I can
walk through paris in awe, i can see the eiffel tower as nothing
extraordinary and focus on my headache instead. Our minds can filter
the light of the past into the present world and color our days black.
Our minds also can ignore the predicaments of pain or numbness by
noticing the beauty of the few on the grass.

Humans are all tragically flawed- like the heroes I used to read about
in Greek mythology and Shakespeare for my English classes. We are
great, well meaning people who yearn to do good and have often at
least one thing that can really take us away from that. And if left to
our own devices we can let that tragic flaw consume us- or at least
stop us. The world is needed- God is required to save us from
ourselves. My tragic flaws I know at least include: focusing on what I
don't accomplish, trying to impress others, worrying about the future.

I write when I feel. I feel sad right now because of how much I and
others can relate to the hero in 'perks of being a wallflower'. How We
know how isolating sadness and loneliness can be. Jonathan would have
loved that movie. i think one of the best parts of that movie was that
the hero never once saw himself as a victim.

And then I think about my friends and family members who have suffered
much more than I have. And then we let what we have suffered dictate
who we say we are. And then how we only accept the love we think we
deserve as the movie says.

That is one reason the story of Jesus is such a unusual phenomena-
because if it is true that his death was a demonstration of his love
to each of us- it leaves us in a conundrum. None of us believe we
deserve someone dying for us- the love that such an act requires. And
yet there it is- and all we can do is hope to embrace that idea- that
gift. What does it take to allow someone to love us? An
acknowledgement that we are at least in some small way worthy.

 I guess what I took away from my trip is that one of the things that
unites people from different cultures and places and backgrounds is
that we all want to love and be loved. I listened this weekend to
people speak in hebrew and french and english- it didnt matter the
words they were saying it was written all over their faces. We all
want to belong, to be valued and respected and appreciated. We all
want a family, a group of friends, a community to serve. We crave to
be heroes but only so far as we are positively impacting our
surrounding world somehow. And many of us fight valiantly against our
shortcomings- doing our best to be better people.

Today- I ask you to do something. To thank someone who loves you more
than you feel you deserve. And then turn around and go love someone
more than you think they deserve.

For in the puzzles of the day to day exploration of what to do and
what is right and who we are and what is good- I think the above acts,
while not necessarily providing all the answers- are assuredly
worthwhile.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

London: Surrender to Adventure

For me I feel closest to God when I travel. This is what I wrote in my journal on the tube the other day and I think it gets at why this is the case for me.

"On the tube- as I get older travelling has become easier and harder. Easier because I know the system better, I can navigate and get myself to the necessities- food, shelter, transportation. Harder, because there is more for me to succumb to- to surrender to. My to-do list from home is hard to tear away from- my identity is too soaked in all I am trying to accomplish. Time to escape from my self-obsessed narrative and let in the world. I felt a bit pitiful arriving at the airport- I was not at ease until I was virtually reconnected. Breakfast - and then wi-fi. The blessing and the curse of being a part of my generation I guess. I am at the point in my life where I am less sure than ever what life has in store for me. Change is electric in the air, like the build up of a pending lightning strike. I feel like a whirling dervish forgetting why he is spinning.
       The london tube map makes much more sense to me than the trajectory of my life. London- Grey Sky, Green Trees and little red brick town homes with Mary-Poppin chimneys. How in the world did I end up here. I should be pleased I have a full day in London to be spontanious - I have nowhere to be until 5PM and it is 9:00am. Instead I find the unknown slightly frustrating/irritating. I am more concerned with my broken suitcase wheel. How petty of me.
       The signs I am in Europe are becoming more apparent- the iron fencing, the smaller cars with yellow liscense plates, the rain jackets and the fonts on the street signs. Am I glaringly American? Perhaps. I think the frustration I feel is the part of my identity I had wrapped up in my day to day places. In London, I still exist as a body, but suddenly as a foreigner- a grappling, slightly awkward stranger whose lack of direction is much more apparent than it is at home. Not a part of a community.
       There are lilacs blooming here too. Reminds me of John's and my recent walk in the rain- my tears blending with the moist air- induced by my obsession with my own stress and inadequacies - and John picking me a small lilac flower to make me feel better. He is genuinely sweet and eager to please. I wonder sometimes if I am too hard on him- I think I am hard on him because I am hard on myself. I asked him what he wanted to take away from my trip to London and he said "I need you to find contentment." He can profound at the most surprising times- so easily humbles me. I think I am still scared of him dying suddenly or leaving.
          Where am I going to work next? Where am I going to live? Where am I going to go to school and when? These are the worries I let the tube swish away as it travels to the heart of london. My worries blur and fade away into the blending of the tree leaves out the window. I feel like a wound up rag just being untwisted. Still damp to the bone- it is raining hard here. There- as I focus more on my surroundings rather than my inner musings- he starts to appear. First in the glints in the water on bicycle tires or in the sound of the tube clinking over the tracks. In peoples eyes and the the rust on the sign post. God is here as he is everywhere. I just haven't been willing to open up to him. Thank goodness for a new context where I am jostled up a bit. As I become increasingly aware and connected, contentment starts its osmosis into my being. In recognizing the divine around me, I start to feel more at home in London than I have in Minnesota for months. The beauty is apparent, the drumming in my head has slowed, and I- on two hours of sleep have finally started to wake up."

In a couple words, it is surrendering to wonder, and the beauty in the world- and then that as a reflection of God. In the course I was in today this was the quote that vibrated true with me:

"When we do what God wants we discover him inside of doing it. He wants all of us to discover his plan for unity for all people in him." -Jewish Participant

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Irresponsibility

Do you ever have that feeling that the things you rely on in life are crumbling down around you? That you have failed miserably at prioritizing what is truly important? That is my experience currently. And! My life is going really great! But my lifestyle is not sustainable.

I have had wild successes in my life recently. I have thrown myself into my current job, getting to work on some really cool projects and initiatives. I also got to go to TEDMED, which was a wild and crazy adventure I will never forget. With the help of many loved ones and friends I have raised $3000 dollars to go to Israel, with a huge fundraiser this summer upcoming to raise more. I am coaching my High School frisbee team and am succeeding at that- or at least investing lots of energy in it (which I love). I am flying to London in a week and a half which is beyond exciting. My relationship with John is going very well and we are on the same page and having a lot of fun together.

On the other hand! I feel I have let down my start-up and am not putting enough time into it, I am barely doing enough to support and love my immediate family, along with barely doing enough to satisfy my roomates around the house. I have definitely not been keeping up on this blog (for the first time this whole year! I have fallen behind this last month after doing it so religiously for 9 months!). And I am terrified because I still do not have a job to step into starting in July. I have not been in communication with or really taken the time to hang out with my close friends much. I have a seemingly insurmountable to-do list that I worry constantly misses some of the things I am responsible for. And I am not prioritizing my health lately either! And then- of course- what about God?

I met with a female business leader I admire greatly who shared this thought with me: "Do not strive for a balanced life. Strive for an integrated life." I loved that message, because I don't see balance as something even remotely possible. But integrated, maybe. How do I integrate prioritizing what is important- daily responsibilities, love for others, love for God- while striving for all of my big plans? Ambitions? How do I transition my feelings of being overwhelmed into dancing through life with a sense of ease, accomplishment and unity with the divine?

And I have nothing to complain about- really. Life is going really well for all outward appearances. I am just not following through on all I have committed to. I am not managing my time or money effectively. And I am realizing that when I do not feel on top of the multitude of things I am looking to prioritize I experience being disenchanted.

So that is where I am right now- and my experience. My eyes are open and watching to Miracles, and I am curious about what God has in store for me and is looking to teach me right now in my life.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Follow Me


"And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men"
Matthew 4:19

 These twelve Jesus sent forth and commanded them, saying, “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying, ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.' Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils. Freely ye have received; freely give.
Matthew 10:5-8


This Past Sunday I had lunch with one of my favorite professors and his wife- how lucky am I to be welcomed into my professors home to discuss philosophy and travel and culture on a sunday afternoon almost two years after graduating. One of the questions I was asked was- "Why is the younger generation of America straying away from Christianity?" I actually didn't have a great answer- I stammered something to the effect of "Its Inconvenient, its laborious, it deviates strongly from American culture, it is outdated..." I then realize those didn't seem to be adequate or viable reasons- much less was really in touch with the religious feelings of my generation. I have plenty of athiest and agnostic friends, as well as many devout Christian friends and even friends from other religions: tho I don't know how representative my friends are of the national tendency.

I continued to ponder this question as the day went on, and the best answer I came up with was this: Maybe my generation has lost touch with the mission, the vision of Christianity. When people hear the word "Christianity", they jump to all the biases and stereotypes of the church- rigid, outdated, righteously, judgmental  domineering or maybe even slight confusing- "Christianity is that 'thing' where people go to church on holidays and get baptized and pray." When people hear the world "Christianity", are they even in touch with what that really means? Maybe they know the story, the cliche's, the tradition, but are they in touch with the inspiration behind it all?

My pastor today gave a wonderful sermon that sparked for me an idea about the 'big picture' of the church. Chad is a fantastic orator, if you want the full sermon (which covers a wide variety of themes mainly focused on child rearing) click here:
 http://www.evergreenchurchmedia.com/uploads/audio/2013-04-21-Urban-Refuge-Chad.mp3

Chad at one point mentions how Jesus in the bible says to "follow me". I have heard this line before, but rarely considered it beyond its literal meaning in the bible. Jesus is asking men to become his disciples, to leave their jobs as fishermen and carpenters and rather come help him spread a message to people about a new way of relating to God and each other. I have historically heard conversations in the church about being called to "follow jesus". However this never really resonated, as I didn't find it communicated anything especially profound. This is just the way that Christians tell others to become Christians, right?

Chad also quotes this line: "We need 1% vision and 99% alignment". He uses this as what he thinks is required for a family to be united, successful and ultimately expanding together towards a vision. I think this statement can be taken a step further- this is what our communities, our religion, our world needs. A vision we can all get behind, and then from there we spend our time uniting and directing ourselves towards it. On an aside, I have seen this at work in my daily life. One of the things that Medtronic is famous for is having a mission that regularly inspires and unites the 43,000 Medtronic employees. I see how much this makes a difference for people who work here- to be in touch with the company's cause and ultimate purpose. Chad shared the mission of our church the Urban Refuge: Do Justice, Love Mercy and Walk Humbly". He then shared the newly created vision of the evergreen churches (larger community of churches): "Building Compassion Filled Urban Churches for the next generation of believers". Really simple, really profound, and ultimately two missions I am inspired to be a part of.

What is the vision of Christianity for us? For the world? I do not pretend to fully know this answer, but I will take a stab at it.

A vision of a perfect, enchanting world fully embraced by and partnered with humanity. A world where everything is stripped away and all that remains is breathtaking joy and gentle, awesome beauty. A world where people prioritize their communities, each other and the spiritual before themselves. A world where love is law, and each person has the opportunity to express their most genuine selves through the living of it.

When Jesus said "Follow Me"- he did not just mean 'become a christian' or 'follow the rules'. In fact, when he said that line-follow me-Christianity didn't even exist yet. What I believe he was evoking was calling the disciples, and us- to become a part of a bigger picture, to live a life in service of not just ourselves and those immediately around us, but rather humanity as a whole. To behave in an unprecedented way towards each other, that involved personal responsibility, integrity, generosity and ultimately love and compassion.To set a totally new example for what it means to be in touch with and paying homage to the divine.

And the rules in the bible and the morals behind Christianity are just the lessons in place to break down every behavior and thought that gets in between us and that vision. The rules so to speak seem to be in place to ultimately dissolve selfishness, manipulation, apathy and bitterness.
Overall, this might be one of the most important questions we Christians should be answering, should be living out and communicating. "What is God's vision for us and for our world? What is the ultimate vision of a Christian world?" If we can begin to articulate this bigger picture clearly, in a grounded, jargon-free way- I believe people may become more interested. and, I believe we will each become better stewards of this lifestyle that is so important to so many of us.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Christian Sexuality and Purity?

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh[a]; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[b] 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever[c] you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
-Galatians 5:13-25
Other Bible verses on “Sexual Purity”http://www.openbible.info/topics/sexual_purity
pu·ri·ty
n.
1. The quality or condition of being pure.
2. A quantitative assessment of homogeneity or uniformity.
3. Freedom from sin or guilt; innocence; chastity: "Teach your children . . . the belief in purity of body, mind and soul" (Emmeline Pankhurst).
4. The absence in speech or writing of slang or other elements deemed inappropriate to good style.
5. The degree to which a color is free from being mixed with other colors.

I almost feel I need to add an ‘author’s note’ or word of caution when starting in on this topic to cushion me as I dance around this sensitive topic. I will say when I say “sexual intimacy” in this article; I mean all physical actions with another encouraging arousal and leading up to and including sexual intercourse. Also, note that “sexual purity” is a term in the bible and often used by certain groups of Christians to symbolize a Godly and often chaste relationship to sexual intimacy- though I struggled to find a literal definition of the term online.
I consider myself fairly conservative and maybe even prude, in my daily life I don’t talk about, make jokes about or really want much to with the topic of sex. I think it is in part of a conditioning thing- I remained blissfully naïve about sexual interaction for my early childhood, and then avoided the topic later in life as I grew up. I remember in 5th grade being on the playground and being laughed at by fellow students because I did not know what the word ‘sex’ meant.  
Therefore, if I had been asked if I would EVER write or voice opinions on Christian morality and perspectives around Sex I would have said NO WAY! Do I want to develop a voiced opinion on the issue publicly? Not at all. And unfortunately it has been a topic dominating my field of view around faith this week (Just as soon as I feel I am on the right path in life and being a 'Good Christian'- Bam! Something else comes up and I am challenged/humbled again). And I am committed in this blog to write about Christianity as I am experiencing it- so in the face of that here we go. I will do my best to be articulate and open.
The topic of sexual intimacy was first broached over a homework section John and I were doing for a class we are in at the Urban Refuge. Let’s just say I went in assuming we would agree on most of the talking points, and turns out we didn’t at all. We discovered we have very different relationships and perspectives on the ideal route to follow regarding physical intimacy. And man! Was that uncomfortable for me! As I mentioned earlier, I consider myself fairly sexually conservative, but I discovered John’s views make mine look like a strip club would if built next to a church.

This movie- The new Pride and Prejiduce,
captures romance in a nutshell for me

I discovered one of the things that made physical intimacy a hard thing for me to talk about was all the emotions and assumptions I have it collapsed with. Physical intimacy is the reassurance of someone loving me, appreciating me, needing me, expressing I am beautiful. Furthermore, I must admit I am also a product of my culture, and have discovered I have sexual expression symbolizing love, romance, and/or an exciting relationship. A relationship without physical intimacy is boring, loveless, loses its spice… Right?
I have done some reading and research on the topic to do my best to mature and broaden my relationship to the topic (had to be very careful with my word searches, let me tell you!) The stuff you find online about “sexual purity or chastity” I found mostly very unhelpful. I have found several veins of strong Evangelical/Baptist articles condemning sex and throwing in the devil for emphasis. Some I found particularly uncomfortable given the jargon they used or the practices they sited. One which made me uncomfortable was a father talking about how he wouldn’t let any of his daughters out of the house until their date had been given a chastity lecture. There were some helpful resources however after some sifting. I discovered that although articulated with different levels of vehemence and with different language, most Christian denominations agree on the place for sex in a relationship. Here is one article I found that is convincingly articulate and compelling regarding maintaining Christian Chastity and gaming for sexual relations only in a marriage:
I always have resented Christian conversations about sex as they struck me as particularly naïve. Door open and no dancing policies drive me crazy at stricter Christian colleges. When I think of the Christian relationship to sex, my mind immediately goes to some of the 1700 English literature I read in my English major glorifying young females for dying young as virgins. Or the 1980s Footloose movie- where the pastor in the town will not allow for loud music or dancing for fear of the sin it would inspire in high school students. Compare that to the American culture of glorified sex- pretty big discrepancy.
I do think that Christianity in some ways struggles with the topic of physical intimacy because they have not articulated their views in a way that enrolls the public and helps people see the value they represent through their beliefs. The Christian teaching I have often heard on sex and sexuality seems to be legalistic, limiting and unwilling to admit to the natural human draw towards physical interaction. Furthermore, the bible verses used to support Christian chastity are often filled with terms like "sexual immorality" or "sexual impurity" or "temple for christ" which do not have clear definitions/meanings for the unfamiliar bible reader.
However I also do think Christianity has gotten a bit of an unfair wrap from modern critics, and the more I read about what is at the core of the Christian belief set and commitments about marital and pre-marital sex the more respect I have for their stance. Furthermore, the bad stereotypes around Christian chastity are widespread, and not totally accurate. As humans we sometimes jump at the opportunity to point out hypocrisy within institutions- whether big private businesses or the catholic church. And although just as humans large entities often go against their missions, they also are often not recognized for all they do to act on their beliefs.
Christians do generally cherish and value sexual relations and intimacy. The common Christian cliché is to cite how Sex is God’s creation, and therefore should be saved for marriage as recognition of that (easy to say when you are married…). Or I have heard this line in the church often: “The devil tries to get you to have as much sex as possible before marriage and as little as possible during marriage.” And there are several books in the bible, including the most stereotypical songs of Solomon, with raunchy and provocative language sharing about the divine aspects of sexual interactions between spouses.
Where does this leave me? Well I will be the first to say I do not have total resolution on what I should think and believe. Overall, I do think there is something to be said for the Christian approach to the topic of sexual intimacy. To refresh/enhance that perspective, here is a quote I especially appreciate from a blog post I was reading on the topic of chastity from a Catholic point of view:
“The main point I am trying to make in this entire article is that being a good Catholic does not mean that we do not enjoy life. God gifts us with great sex, the pleasure of good wine, and the thrill of a good beat. We do not need to live in constant fear wondering if the devil is lurking under every cultural rock.”
This quote ties into Martin Luther’s stance- “If you are going to sin, sin boldly” :). Yet I also believe being sexually smart- and exercising sexual control seems to be something that holds a lot of value. Even within a serious, dating relationship. Now does that mean I believe Sex and physical intimacy is a bad and sinful thing? No. I see physical desire as powerful and amoral- similar to money. Can be used for extreme good and leveraged for extreme evil- and then all other things in between. And I am the first to admit those lines are blurry to me. The important thing as a Christian I believe is that God is the first priority, not sex and romance.
Overall, I believe the conversation about sexual intimacy and behaviors needs to continue. Christianity and Cultures' currently have so much disparity on their approach to sexual intimacy- and I look forward to more ways where the relationship isn't so vastly disjointed. For the sake of our culture, for the sake of the next generation- an understanding and practice needs to be reached that empowers individuals to cultivate love, partnership and self-respect in the physical aspects of their romantic relationships. I do know that I am lucky to be with a boyfriend who not only respects and loves me greatly, but physically conducts himself in a way that reflects his commitment to me and to his faith. I wish that caliber of mate for all others too.