The Psalm Project #5

Bible Open to PsalmsBut I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation (Psalm 13:5 NIV)

Dear God, I love being part of a congregation who honors You.
I love worshipping You with a crowd of believers.
Thank You for giving us each other.
Thank You for showing us how to take care of each other.
Amen.

To read more about The Psalm Project, click here.

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The Psalm Project #4

Bible Open to Psalms

O Lord, you will keep us safe
and protect us from such people forever (Psalm 12:7 NIV).

Dear God, I put myself in the shelter of Your hands.
All around me I see people whose sole motive is to hurt me,
but I trust You will keep me safe.
Amen.

To read more about The Psalm Project, click here.

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Two Years After Leaving My Church: Honest Reflections

I quit the worship band at my lifelong church a little more than two years ago.

I typed the phrase “easily the most difficult and painful decision I’ve made” in that first sentence, and its sterility taunted me so I took it out. Likewise, the sentence, “Drumming in worship was the most important part of my life for approximately half of my life,” does not capture the poetry of a snare and tom in newly imagined combinations, nor the open hi-hat in the moment of precision that opens transport to another world like a meditating traveler in Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle (or at least the TV series based on the novel). There is no sensation like curling my fingers around drumsticks, knowing the action simultaneously positions me as beggar and benefactress.

Beggar because regardless of how much I put into facilitating congregational worship, I come expecting to receive the biggest benefit from my playing, more fully and simply myself in communion with the One who created me this way. Benefactress for more than just the role of a drummer in worship. Growing up in the evangelical world (church, school, camps, conferences, etc) with an analyzer type of personality means I have long been aware of specific systemic practices and mindsets that lead to specific systemic un-Christ-like results. I have always done my best to chip away at these systemic deficiencies in my corner of the world with whatever gifts I have, learning from my mistakes along the way. It never crossed my mind that I would one day have to choose between contributing to the health of the church and drumming in the worship ministry. But when that day came, I stepped down.

I’ve ridden shotgun in a tow truck through an Arizona haboob, with eyesight blocked and motive power empty, surrounded by air full of everything that used to be on the ground. Deciding to step down from the band I had loved without measure for 15 years and navigating life after that decision was walking through a haboob. Trying to figure out my new direction and life structure, and then communicating that to others in a way that made some quantum of sense, is something I can look back on and laugh about. But even in a haboob, what’s immediately in front of your face is still perceptible, and without the endorphins of drumming, what pulled up two inches in front of my face was my perception of the futility of a church service. I gratefully played occasionally at another church, but the question kept gnawing at me no matter where I went.

What is the purpose of a church service, actually? Not “What should the purpose of church be?” But “What is the purpose of church the way we actually do it?” I know the knee-jerk response is “fellowship.” In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve told people that before. And maybe there is fellowship that goes on before and after the service – I did consider showing up early and staying late like normal, and just reading a book or something outside during the service. If I had been in a healthier emotional place, I probably would have done exactly that. But once I was on the receiving end of that knee-jerk answer instead of the giving end, I realized it’s an improper burden to put on the parishioner if it does not accompany a serious re-examination of the service.

“Corporate worship” is another purpose I hear a lot, and I’m sure I’ve repeated it to others. My concern is that both the content and the structure of much of what I see in how churches worship increases our immaturity. I want to be very careful here, because I believe God can be (and is) praised even through the most immature offerings, and it is neither my place nor my desire to diminish any sincere “joyful noise,” including my own. If freedom from immaturity were required to worship, not a single one of us could ever do it. Nevertheless, there are specific unhealthy tendencies within the church that seem to me to be exacerbated by the leading of corporate worship as it most widely manifests itself today.

With contemporary worship songs below the 101-level and at best 5 minutes of “fellowship,” many church and church-like services I’ve attended boil down to a message aimed at newcomers. If this feeds anyone, I certainly do not begrudge them that. I have always been totally on board with the idea that I am here to serve the church, not the other way around. But again, without the endorphins of drumming, I began to wonder if we all had adopted this mindset. And if we had, what if no one was actually getting fed because no one had the mindset that church was a place for them to get fed? What if everyone had the mindset that they were there only to do the feeding? Is it possible this contributes to an environment where we really love telling each other what to do, and if we want a relationship with Christ with depth greater than the underbelly of a cruise ship, we have to seek that growth outside of the church?

So I elevated my hand into my metaphorical haboob and one of the scraps of paper I caught out of the dust said, “What feeds you?” I would really like to say that was the only scrap of paper I caught, and it provided direction and purpose on my new quest. But that’s not at all what happened. It was still a haboob.

But it was a haboob with Mother Teresa, at least for awhile. I listened to a book about her on audio so I could remove the hardcopy from my bookshelf (I’m allergic to dust). I listened to another book, and another, and another because I just wanted to be around her demonstrated love in whatever way was possible posthumously on another continent.

A friend recommended the podcast On Being, and I began to understand better the depths of what feeds me. I should pause here – I probably should have paused earlier – to say that to an extent, I already knew what fed me. Beyond playing music, I also love lying on the floor and letting my soul breathe in time with the Divine as I listen to a Jars of Clay, Margaret Becker, or Peter Bradley Adams album from start to finish. I love deep conversations filled with long silences with whoever will have these kinds of conversations with me. I know I am connected to Love and loved by Love in the mundane moments of life when I am alone. I am centered in Love when I participate in the focus of yoga. I love the new worlds that have opened to me by studying ancient Hebrew and reading the Hebrew Scriptures in their original language. Math has always been my language of prayer, and more recently, I had also found unparalleled worship in studying quantum physics. But I wanted more. (To be fair, I still want more.) In On Being, I found deep conversations with scientists, religious leaders, poets, and scholars who unearthed many new thoughts and ways of being wise that I had never been exposed to before, and I let the conversations change me as I drank them in. My favorite part of the podcast is when the guest says something beautiful and the hostess is silent, followed by a resonant “Mmm.”

I listen to everything by Brené Brown that I can get my hands on, and I have a new relationship with health, honesty, friendship, and vulnerability.

I also got back into creation care. I had never known environmentalism by that name, but when I was in elementary school, I cared a lot about recycling as a form of the doing the right thing. Very soon after leaving the church, I recognized that I had been selfish in the way I had harmed the earth for my own convenience, in part using disposable plastic like… well, disposable plastic. I set myself to putting my selfish ways behind me and instead work towards sustainability in its many facets.

And the rest is hard to describe. It frustrates me that the deepest aspects of life always seem to lie beyond linguistic explanation. I am just surrendering to the process.

I know what you’re thinking, or at least what I would be thinking if I were reading this three years ago: “You didn’t need to leave the church to do any of this.” And maybe that would be true for some. But I did need to leave. In order to see more of the fullness of Christ, I needed to stop being bombarded with the partialness of Christ. If that doesn’t make sense, here’s what’s going to make you even more nervous. I set aside the Bible for a time. I know, I must be becoming a heathen! In all honesty, I probably would have thought myself foolish if I had been on the outside looking in, but I didn’t want to read it with my old eyes. I knew I wanted to change and see God’s crush depth reality, not the church’s sea level reality. I knew that when I got deeper, I would want to pick up the Bible again and read it with new eyes that God had given me.

The journey is not what I would have previously labeled as beautiful. It has been lonely and unclear. I hate when things are unclear. But I am extremely fortunate that those I kept closest don’t think I’m crazy when I say, “I don’t really know why, but I think I’m supposed to be doing [fill in the blank].”

And finally after two years, I’m far enough into the journey that I can put some small amount of clarity on what has changed in me so far. I think I am starting to experience life more holistically. I have always seen the external world as integrated, and now I am starting to become integrated too.

I see creation care less as a battle of selfishness versus the right thing to do, and more as an extension of who I was made to be as a created being. I see bushes on the side of the freeway as joyful life made by One who loves them, and I lean more deeply and peacefully into what it means to be a joyful life made by One who loves me. By grocery shopping less and gardening more, by driving less and walking more, by making less trash and composting more, by taking other steps that some would consider “granola,” I am more grounded in the divinity of my own humanity.

I find myself looking more for the image of God in others. And simultaneously, perhaps ironically, I care less what others think. Probably that latter part would happen in my thirties anyway, but it still feels good. I still really suck at judging others – that’s a beast of a weakness.

And I hate that no matter how much I describe it, this all still sounds really shallow. And I have no way to wrap it in a nice, neat bow, as a blog post perhaps should be wrapped. I did try a church a couple weeks ago run by someone who earned a doctorate studying the connection between liturgy and spiritual formation, and I think I may attend for a season. Some would probably see that as a bow, but I don’t because it’s not a full circle type of journey. In all honesty, I can’t even say I’m excited for what’s ahead. But I do know I’m hungry for it. I must have it; there is no alternative for me. And maybe this reflection will provide resonance with those who feel similarly, and comfort to those whose loved ones have left the church. I have seen Christ outside church buildings even more than I have seen him inside, and wherever he is, he is loving. Perhaps instead of a bow, I’ll wrap it up with a poem:

All my socks are hanging to dry
I hate flip flops but I will wear them to yoga
Where I can take them off

I’d like to go barefoot
If it weren’t for germs
And society

But to have feet that know the soil
One day I may dance
And my feet won’t be raw on the wood

Feet that build more layers of skin for the joy of expressing
And experiencing and existing
A walker in deeper dreams of reality

Undeterred by broken seashells or concrete in the desert
But the polite will say smooth
Is better for lovers, for company

For the fragile, sterile stock photo
That has become reality
But not mine

Come aware with me
You who walk in challenges
That build more layers of life

And more layers of life
And more layers of life

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The Psalm Project #3

Bible Open to Psalms

 

O Lord my God, I take refuge in you;
save and deliver me from all who pursue me,
or they will tear me like a lion
and rip me to pieces with no one to rescue me (Psalm 7:1-2 NIV).

 

Lord, if it weren’t for You,
I know this world would have eaten me up and spit me out by now.
How many times have I imagined myself climbing into my Father’s arms,
encircled, comforted, protected.
Thank You for being with me always. Amen.

To read more about The Psalm Project, click here.

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The Psalm Project #2

Bible Open to Psalms

Many are asking, “Who can show us any good?”
Let the light of your face shine upon us, O Lord (Psalm 4:6 NIV)

 

Lord, I love to kneel before Your throne.
I feel Your blessings shower down upon me.
Every good thing originates in You.
You are the source of life and love. Amen.

 

To read more about The Psalm Project, click here.

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The Psalm Project #1

My Bible study group is studying Psalms, and one of our members challenged us to write our own psalms. This assignment has been an excellent exercise for me because it has taken me into the heart of the Psalms.

The Book of Psalms, part of the Holy Bible, is a collection of poems by different authors. They were used as texts for songs of praise to the God of Israel. They are still used in Jewish and Christian worship today.

My process for writing my own psalms is to read three chapters from Psalms, identify a verse or passage that resonates with me, meditate on the passage, and write a response to it. Mine are not nearly as beautiful as the ones in the Bible, but they are my heartfelt thoughts to God about what I’ve read in His Word.

Each Friday, I will share with you a verse from Psalms and the psalm I wrote from it.

Bible Open to Psalms

I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, because the Lord sustains me (Psalm 3:5 NIV).

 

Dear God, I suffered pain for a long time,
but just when I thought I couldn’t last another day,
You gave me relief.
Lord, please continue to heal me.
I thank You for the comfort You give.
Amen.

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Book Review: Old Broads Waxing Poetic

This review appeared previously on ARHtistic License.

A few years ago, Julie Kemp Pick, inspired by a poem by Susan Flett Swiderski, came up with the idea to create an anthology of poetry written by women of a certain age. Together, they compiled Old Broads Waxing Poetic from their own verses and the work of six other poets.

I don’t remember how I heard about it, but I bought a copy, compelled by the wonderful cover image. It sat in my study for a couple of years, forgotten until I recently came across it again.

old broads

The poems range in quality from okay to delightful. Here are a couple of my favorites:

Lilacs and Love
by Connie Biltz

“Nothing says spring like a lilac breeze,”
Mom closed her eyes, smiled, and sighed.
The scent would come drifting in,
with curtains billowing and windows wide.

My mother gathered them by the armful,
bunches of lilac blooms with a fragrance that was heaven sent.
She took them to my grandma every Mother’s Day,
sharing her love, showing her gratitude, knowing how much it meant.

She loved lilacs too, my mother did,
and she was glad we had plenty to spare.
It doubled her joy for them, I think,
knowing she was able to share.

Grandma would bury her nose in the lilacs,
and breathe in the heady scent too.
She arranged them carefully in a milk glass vase,
and there was one thing I always knew.

Grandma loved me, and my mom did too,
so fierce and wide and deep.
Remembering those lilacs they shared
is a memory I’ll always keep.

Forever the sight of a lilac bush,
or the hint of its fragrance in the air,
will remind me of those two ladies before me,
who had lilacs and love to spare.

lilacs-close-up-600x400That poem hits me right in the memories. A huge lilac bush grew just outside the kitchen window of the house I grew up in. On May evenings, as my mother washed dishes and I dried them, the breeze coming through the open screen carried the fragrance of lilacs, which we both loved. Though my parents didn’t particularly care for cut flowers (they felt flowers belonged in the garden), on Mother’s Day there was usually a large vase of lilac blooms on the kitchen table.

GOODBYE, LEFT BREAST
(ODE TO A MASTECTOMY)
by Fran Fischer

I just thought I’d like to say goodbye
As you go to that medical waste disposal in the sky.
Say hi to my tonsils and have no fears.
We’ll all get back together in a few years.

You’ve know me the seventy-nine years of my life.
You saw me as a teen, and then a wife.
Your first job was attracting men
And next you were a breastaurant for my children.
When the doors of the milkbar finally closed
You went back to a purely decorative mode.
Which was fine, until last week
When you (and other parts) became antique.
I no longer attract young men of twenty,
But that’s all right, because I’ve had plenty.
And as for that other use, well, we all know
The odds of me nursing again are low.
But it’s in my nature to be a little sappy,
And with or without you I’ll keep on being happy.
Most would count this a loss when it comes to my score.
Will I miss you? A little. Do I need you? No more!
I will be losing some symmetry,
On this I think we can both agree.
I may tilt to one side as I walk through town
But I’ll try to adjust and not fall down.

Yet I’m not through having fun
And lifting my face to the warmth of the sun.
And being friends and laughing (I’ll show you)
So ta ta, left ta-ta, it was nice to know you!

old broadsI’d never thought it was possible to make cancer surgery humorous.

Is this book worth buying? Yes. Not every poem will resonate with you, but these sweet ladies are not trying to get rich or famous. They are donating all the proceeds from this book to CARE International. Go ahead and buy it already. It’s only $9.99 for the paperback on Amazon, only $2.99 for the Kindle edition.

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