Black Sheep

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Jesus told them to lift their eyes.

When you walk through a forest do you curl your face downward and watch your feet flip into vision on the pathway?  Someone I listen to reminded me of that last week, so I forced myself to look up today, and my breath ballooned in my lungs.  It is worth looking up.

I walked the wood in the early afternoon with glinting, gushing flashes of sunlight cascading over everything.  Tree roots spread under my feet as I passed century-old oaks.  Two deer looked me in the eye through the bamboo before they erupted and scattered.  I picked up dry, fallen leaves and rubbed them with my fingers before tearing them apart down to the stem.  I usually do this, use my hands to feel something tangible while I’m drinking in something with my eyes, because it makes it feel like I’m touching what is untouchable, unspeakable.  It was Tolkien who reminded us of the soul of creation, the souls of trees.

Mrs. Uminn, are you a ghost come out of the wood?  My students rush me as I emerge.

Perhaps.

The Man spit in his hands and mixed it with earth to stroke his fingers over trembling, sightless eyes like I do with dead leaves.  Those ghost eyes were the eyes of all of us.  Mine blind to the ways in which I willingly harbor sin. Except I can’t make dead, ghostly leaves come back to life the way this Man can.

“Take a harp,

go about the city,

O forgotten prostitute!

Make sweet melody;

Sing many songs,

that you may be remembered.”

And she did prostitute herself, Isaiah says, with all kingdoms of the world, but was bound to the Holy One, the LORD. (Is. 23:16-17).

That is how I feel, frame wasted, prostituted by my own ambition to the world and its comforts and glory, reveling in the adoring crowd, the applause and murmur of the audience, the petting of the ego, and liquid, flattering words to match the riches and wealth pushed at me.  My inward sins multiply while my eyes are being washed, all at the same time.  But my hope and desire is to walk pure and chaste of heart in heaven after fighting the gauntlet, bound to the Holy One.

It was John Owen who spoke of the death, the mortification of sin, in 1684.  When I read his powerful words on the printed page, this human back in time spearing and protecting my soul today, my sin looms large through my arms as if I am holding them in buckets, like guts bleeding out over my arms.  I want to fall on my knees to the weight of history, to the weight of the dying earth and its cursed people.

How is it, Owens asks, that a man should incline himself, ready himself to dissolution? To lose and gain himself back in the face of death? Singularly to Christ.

To that Man’s face that wept under the crushing weight, but still gave his body over to be whipped, extinguished, and buried. I must consider him, I must walk close for him to see me, and I must kneel down with my soul exposed and naked; I am Eve in the garden all over again.

My throat catches because there is a wall between me and this Man, Christ. He reaches over the breach to me, but I cannot reach over to Him yet.  I cannot touch His hands yet, though He has created mine.  But I can walk with Him in the cool of the day, because he has conquered death and become the priest.

He has prayed for me to the Father, and He has bathed me in his blood; He has stamped the devil beneath Him, but I still wait to touch His hands as if I was that dead leaf ripped apart, but brought back to life and grafted to the tree once again.

This bulletproof self I like to assert is melting.

Lay down, soul, lay down

Restless, searching, scratching,

Back to the soil, chest lifted to the sky in one last satisfying breath

The ebony, rich compost covers over–smell it

Alluvium crust hardens as hands spread out in front

bits and pieces falling to your face and scratching underneath your nails

Before your body grows roots and grips the gravebed like knuckles crying out against

dust and ash goes the blemished shell before rising anew

His hands touch your blind eyes and brings you back

That battled sin wasted away, crushed, and no more.

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Let Us Use Them

As morning classes came to an end, students flipped their large math volumes shut, notebook paper filled with stick figure drawings and formulas crunched under the page weight.  The modular trailer door opened and shut with bangs in succession as students filed in and out, pulling out paper bag lunches, decks of cards, and usually one student dribbled a basketball or tossed a tennis ball on the carpeted floor.  The teacher joined in the conversation of the students, taking a seat at the long, rectangular table near the door crowded with chairs, books, papers, mittens, and backpacks.  One student reclined in the beat-up leather rocking chair; another charged a dollar for each can of soda out of their locker. Someone pressed play on the boombox near the door, half of the group groaning for someone to change the CD from yesterday.

Icy air curled in through the windows, but many bodies warmed the space, making up for the struggling heater.  Boots and shoes were stamped out on the decking before entering, the heavy metal door squeaking open again and again as gloves and hats were donned in the middle of eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  The trailer was a bustling commotion of life: shouting, laughter, rough-housing, animated discussion.  One minute there were ten simultaneous conversations occurring, the next they would all be in sync as spokes around a hub before they would reverberate and split again, seesawing in and out over and over and over.  Heavy, weighted thuds could be heard outside every few moments and the creaking of the ceiling overhead.  It was the administrator shoveling the wet snow off of the flat roof the second time that morning, crossing back and forth with his snow shovel in passes and calling out to the boys below to watch the ice.  His tie flapped in the wind and his glasses were foggy.

The lunch hour was still early.  Students converged on the outdoor basketball court next to the parking lot with hockey sticks wrapped in athletic tape.  January street hockey in the parking lot found them on a game day–all the basketball boys and the volleyball girls were dressed up–ties and dress pants, skirts and dress shoes, but it didn’t stop them from crashing and shoving their way through to pass the puck and slap the hard plastic sticks for a goal before tumbling back into the classroom with shouts, rosy red faces, drippy noses, and accounts of perfect deliveries or hilarious misses, trips, and falls. Then they read lines from Hamlet before moving on to discussions on iniquity, propitiation, redemption, and justification.

A few hours after lunch they all piled into vehicles together, no matter the blizzard, to the volleyball and basketball games an hour away to the south.  Those who were not on the teams would go to be a part of the evening and cheer on their mates.  Parents left work and filled the stands. Those who played early would stay for the later games.  Teachers were coaches and were also the drivers, so of course, they were there, too.  Everyone was there, all the time, supporting one another, drilling during warm-ups, grabbing water bottles, and screaming until throats were hoarse.  They piled into the vans again, half of them sleeping, some finishing homework because the English teacher, in the passenger seat, told them to turn it in on time tomorrow, others chattering away the hour home.  It would happen all over again in two days at the next game.

In between all this activity, there were students with burdens and hurts, wishes and goals, anxieties and insecurities, frustrations and anger that spilled out messy all around one another.

“We are all one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.  Having gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them (Rom. 12),” Coach would recite to them.

If there was jealousy, strife, anger, it was worked out among pencil scribblings and between classes, through harsh, open tears over a week, or after days of icy silence, or perhaps in an outburst of anger or gossiped whisperings.  It was worked out in the locker room and on the court, in the church pew and at evening meals.  It was worked out pelting snowballs at one another and then sitting in detention, out driving back roads, swimming the lake together, and summer overnights.  If they said that they couldn’t forgive, couldn’t love, couldn’t put away their selfishness even though they wanted to, perhaps they wanted to harbor it just a bit longer, teachers would nod and say gently, but it can be done.  Will you do it?

Beauty, it seems, doesn’t just come through perfection, but as a flickering brilliance of hope and desire in the shadows.  It breaks forth where Truth lies, like the breathtaking sunrise over the frosty dawn after the cold, deathly night, piercing the heart to awake, Awake!  And then there is Goodness, which is the sharing of Truth that illuminates Beauty among friends who hold hands with one another, who pray huddled together, and fight with one another but then alongside one another.  All the harsh words and hiding, sadness and exploitation. In these bumps and bruisings, these deep cuts and lashings, strangers and enemies become our friends.

We, these differing parts, members of one another through Christ, have gifts we have been given.  Let us use them, let us comfort and embrace, let us share and pray, let us forgive.  “The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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The Shelter of Dying Time

It’s turning on us.

Those long, listless, forever days of sunshine and water are disappearing, lavender fields and hydrangea perfuming the air, playing time with our bare feet pounding over dusty, worn out crosscuts, floating like bubbles that will soon pop.

Those days were warm with heavy rain and deafening thunder that swirled ominous clouds as I gripped the oar handle to throw it to the steel bottom, spread my arms out, and lay back on the canoe as big, fat drops soaked my clothes through and smeared my hair against my forehead, dripped from my darkened skin, pelted my eyelids, and left the scent of

washing,

rinse,

and rebirth.

Those purling clouds came again, churning the deep sea waves in and around and over themselves, belching up black seaweed, broken bits of shell, and rotten fish as I roved the beach with my daughters who are as tall as I am, down to the pier at high tide.  The storm wind-whipped our shirts up around our waists as we hurried back and the humid, oppressive rain started falling in sheets.  We stamped puddles in the elevator and crashed on smooth, white linen beds with the windows thrown open and the ceiling fans whirring as we listen to the pelting summer storm in July.

There was one last swim in September.

It was with my friends on the lake; we were rushing before we faded and the summer dissipated like fog the weekend before the equinox.  We hauled up wooden ladders to corrugated plastic slides fitted with garden hoses and took turns flying down them, ricocheting against the lake water before submerging ourselves in the inky depths as we all hooted and cheered and belly laughed at one another.  We slipped and rolled through the calm underneath, over and under, coming up slowly for air.  We conversed as our arms pushed H2O atoms aside and kicked until we reached the opposite bank of the lake and found bearing with our feet in the sand. I had swum in my clothes and I stood there with my shorts dripping, my shirt plastered, and my hand shielding squinting eyes.  The sun shone warm in these dying days of summer.  That evening it cooled, and we arched our necks to trace the Milky Way, thousands of stars popping out like 3D against the onyx night sky while my friend pointed at constellations with a laser, giving a lesson to our students about planets and supernovas.

The next morning we woke early and gulped thin coffee in the camp cafeteria as I rubbed sleep from my eyes, pushed my clear plastic frames against my nose, and listened to the sound of my male colleagues talk, missing my dad and my brother.  As they shared stories I wrestled my blonde tangles into a messy bun, still sneezing from the water up my nose from the slide run.  My right ear was plugged.  We have a skit to perform in a couple hours I told myself, but my throat is scratchy and my headache is unyielding.  I wouldn’t trade camp life at all.

Those sheltering stars in dotted waves of enveloping galaxy remind me of Sukkot, the feast of tabernacles, as we hunker down into tiny cabins for the night.  The feast commemorates safety given in vulnerability.  We have all been naked and exposed, but Sukkot reminds us we are covered over, sheltered in the wilderness by the mercy of a God who raises the poor from the suffocating dust, carries the slave out of captivity to give them a place, a home of their very own.  In September the Hallel is recited, the psalms that ask why the seas are churned up, swirling, fleeing.

What ails you, O sea? Why do you tremble, looking behind you?

I AM has come.

It is the presence of God that the hurricane waters fear, and they rage.  It is the presence and mercy of God that shelters and covers His people in the wilderness, when the dying time comes.

After those joy days, when twilight races in quickly and the evening chill bites through, leaves start to loose their grip on their lifeblood then crinkle and fall to the grave of earth in finality.  In this wilderness of the dying time, life is sawed away, and we are reminded of the brevity, the fragility, the joy of life, and our shelter can be the Lord only and not we ourselves.

Those leaves are gathered and burned like carcasses, their smoky substance rising like sacrifice to the hovering stars.  Impeding winter comes, but not before we give thanks in rich, blessed fields of harvest that are colored gold and dripping in wealth.

 

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Mercy

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Oh, golden, fragile summer of promise
Settle down into my
organs and marrow
Teach me before you go.
Melt and sink and crash your heat and salt wave into my
bronzed skin and ribcage
Your breezy, brilliant fragrance whipping over my
sunkissed blonde and firmly wash every crevice of my heart.

Oh, God,
Meet me there at the edge of that green mountain,
on the precipice of that pearl-ash water,
at the height of the rolling country road,
and I will meet You if You’ll wait for me.
Your fingers grasping my shoulders and my knuckled palms,
Oh, good God,
Your voice whispering loudly but gently into my ear to let go,
Pulsing breath flicking against my amber freckles and armour plating,
Let it all go and You’ll carry it for me.

These wilting, heavy, and deadening utterances in my mind
Decay and heartache
Crippled and disabled
All these expectations I fight against but embrace
Tug of war in the bowels that
Silence and shout.

Love unregretfully and fully and with a rebel heart against that
deadending speech
Love wildly and lavishly with revolutionary generosity
Serve with riotous abandon
Even when walls threaten to shut us in and hold us down
Fight.

Chase the forever sunset,
Meet the rising mountain,
Drive over those eternal, rolling parkways,
Be folded over in a reverent gospel washing,
Face the fears that imobilize
Saying yes when it is hard to change.

Especially when it is hard to change.
Bury and cover over that which dies so that it can
Emerge and birth life.

And as the seasons turn and the years run and cascade swiftly
Help me to hold it all loosely, with open hands on my knees
and my face
Uplifted.
Each goodbye a lightning charge across a blackened, cloudy sky,
Breathing in the drenching rainwater like a damaging
Thunderstorm in the summer evening.
Breathtaking and beautiful, dangerous and formidable all at once.

Linger awhile longer after the sunset
Stay five minutes more to contemplate beauty
Cling to truth that builds the bones
Declare and embrace love when it is present
Say what needs to be said when your heart wants to run
Sit in the questions and the uncomfortable, deafeaning unknown

Have mercy upon us
Have mercy upon us
Have mercy upon us, miserable offenders
As You hover over us in a posture of protection.

Oh, golden, fragile summer of promise
Settle down into my
organs and marrow
Teach me before you go.
Melt and sink and crash your heat and salt wave into my
bronzed skin and ribcage
Your breezy, brilliant fragrance whipping over my
sunkissed blonde and firmly wash every crevice of my heart.

…………………..

I read Van Auken again.

And I drove to the little brick church on Perrowville from a century before, five minutes from my home, looking for the IHS on the cross in the graveyard at St. Stephen’s where the man and his young wife were scattered in severe mercy. My hand traced over that smooth, white stone surface where the tree line grew. It was twilight, the golden summer sun piercing through the veins of green, translucent leaves against the backdrop of the rolling, blue-ridged horizon. I pulled my husband’s hand with me to that solemn earth. My body lay over that grass as I breathed in tellurion space and my palms held form, trying to hold loosely and to walk under the mercy.

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Letters

Well, I wrote you a letter, with my words pouring out all over that paper and dripping with loopy pen scrawl.

It’s funny how much my handwriting has changed in twenty years as I sit here and look at it, like going through a time machine.

I did that often, loose-leaf paper and bound to a book because that’s what I always did, always writing to the people around me. And I still write about the same things that I did back then. Joy and comfort, pain and hurt, friendship and love, challenge and courage, death and life.

I am always sharing it, then second guessing it, then wrestling with it, then denying it any existence, then suffocating with words in my chest, then spilling them out on the page all over again. Language is like a deep scar, like a proud battle wound that is also breath and life, mashed and rolled up together, ink scrawled into reality.

Last week I was talking with friends about tattoos, why people get them, that is. Something that someone wants to say, and say it permanently, like a signal or a display—a banner and symbol. My problem is that I have too many signals to display. Too many words to put into the world. I have zero tattoos and never have thought about getting one because my words often change and there are endless words and more paper than skin.

The words are a restless burn, a domino chain that falls interminably.
So I wrote you a letter, breathing out onto the page in exhale and you read it, and then I got you to write back and use your words, and I inhaled. And that letter is still being written, ceaselessly.

We could just sit quietly next to one another and the sunset reached out and touched us.

I’m living my life forward and backward and outside of myself, looking down on it while within it and pulling it through my mind, as if I am zooming out over Google maps and seeing the whole thing from beginning to end in one long arch to find my bearings and head due north. All those words and symbols and banners on hundreds of sheets of paper over the decades.

And here I sit with the sunshine on me, clicking on my keyboard and screen, these little symbols that mean something inside of my head and tug on my heart. This morning I read aloud to my students about the concentration camp, disease and suffering, and hope that is deeper than despair. Black typeset on a clean white page that can horrify, or make eyes tear up and spill. And I’m struck again at the thought of language that can cut deeply but can also heal and soothe.

Today I have more words, more than I did back then. Words that waterfall faster and faster, like melting mountain snow flash-flooding the springs coming in a rush of urgency, little gifts that fall onto me like rain showers in the afternoon sun and form rainbow prisms I can walk through and touch. Have you ever touched words?

Words touched me today, like a stream from one person to another, when a friend told me words that made me sad, like a cup, an object that passes from one person to another, to be held onto or let go. The most bitter and the most joyous words we clutch with tight fists and, at times, release.

We want words to go away sometimes. We want words to water us in others. And I feel both deep in me, the suppression and welcoming of words, just like I did when I wrote you letters all those years ago.

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Devil Calls

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Devil calls.

The click and hiss flick.

Pulsing through the city with the concentrated horde gathering over him, hailing him with their hearts and fingernails scraping, shoveling him into their dry and dusty throats with shouts and pushing, their flesh in decadent decay.

Lazarus’ rotting lungs expanded and burst with jagged gasps when a clear, strong Voice called him, burning oxygen deep in the cavern of his wasting ribs and his heart clutched and released again full of blood, like in the Beginning except this was the in-between after agony had already erupted in Christ’s boundless chest and He had wept in strangling grief, lamentation mingled in the choking dust because He dearly loved him. And He loved Martha.  And He loved Mary.

That Devil calls.

The click and hiss flick tongue.

Jesus rose and discarded His outer garments, descended, and sopped that aggregate dust from their mortal feet with a rag and water, cleansing their hearts in a stroke of tenderness, Voice gentle, eyes lustrous as a mirror, and then told them to love one another.

“Do you know what I have just done?”, and they stare, breathless.

“One of you will betray me.”   It was night.  “I am going where you cannot come with me, but I am not alone.”

The suffocating dust of the earth, we collective, and I, gulping, swig. The dust of the good, fertile earth tainted. Judas abandoned the heavy room with brazen insolence and accumulated his obscene, contaminated silver, ready to simper with that sinister Devil hiss and kiss Jesus in an embrace of betrayal, dredging the grimy pit for sustenance.

That seductive, elusive, Devil calls.

His ratchet click and piquant hiss flick tongue thrust like riven shards.

He accumulated the soil as He prayed in the garden, His hands thrust to the filth and ash, bathing in it, pulling in sorrow and the anticipation of agony, cradling it to His body, and it sunk into Him. He sucked their pain into His tissue,

like doubt.

like torment.

like utter anguish.

like foul hopelessness.

Peter retaliated when they came for Him, but Jesus uttered in hushed tone, “no. no, Peter” and healed the man Peter had mangled.  He was seized and taken where a man would ask Him what Truth was, but did not listen.  First, He was beaten. First, He was tortured for staying silent against no crime other than giving unbelievable promise to the dying.

Blessed are the poor, whose spirits have been crushed and emptied, the mourning, whose lives have been overturned, those who hunger, who have been spat upon and lied about, those who make peace always, the pure in heart who see the coming of heaven when others cannot. Throw sin away, love those who do not deserve.  Be that stirring, distant light that touches and strikes close among that bitter, utter, and salty blindness.

The Devil hisses, slithering as he watched the ripping of Jesus’ skin from His soft back by those laughing evil in their bosom, spewing madness that Jesus’ own blood be rained over them in a washing and spilled out upon their children after them, cursing generations with callous darkness.  Peter was no longer there.

He dragged in oxygen, rasping, absorbing each one before Him with His mirror eyes. Skin forceably ripped from His ribs; He held tight. These people of dust and despair who had merely touched His garment and mending power flowed out of Him, and into them, to heal their dust.  The grit grinding down into His open wounds.

This Man.

Naked, bleeding, stripped and raw, with His strong arms, hands flexed in grip, His erect back now slunk forward, shuffling the stained beam to the hill where smoldering death rose like incense. This after feeding and healing the desperate, telling a mob of men to step away from a woman they surrounded with stones clenched in their fists, correcting them when they sought to banish children, and invited the most hated and infected to walk beside Him.

That seductive, elusive, arrogant, evil Devil laughs.

Open mouth like a sepulcher, teeth like rounded tombstones, waiting while the Son of Man’s hands and feet, bound to the cross beam, were punctured with nails and driven, and Jesus cried out at the tears that stained horrified faces and disbelief curtained the onlooker’s reason.  The cross was lifted and sunk into the shaft that held it fast, with two others on Jesus’ right and left, hell on display as the nails ripped forward.

Forgive them, Father. They do not know.

The clouded darkness spread ominously over them as Divine Man exhaled, with His heartsick mother wailing there and John held her.  The Voice cried out, because He was then all alone, rain discharging in a torrent, cooling the hot and dusty hill, the temple curtain ruptured and split, the veil between man and God forever removed while the Devil slithered over Jesus’ expired body in triumph, shadows pouring forth as the Voice hung silent.

Devil calls.

The click and hiss flick.

And that despairing dust settled and sunk into the dormant tomb as Jesus’ hand choked and rung that slithering Serpent trolling His body and went to war with the Devil, descending to Hades with a thunderous outcry, wrestling Death with effectual words: finished.  And Jesus judged Devil abhorrent, ugly, vanquished. The sun called life back out to grow and the Voice raised Himself.

He appeared to those black sheep He had wandered out for, they touched His wounded hands, and Thomas put his fingers to Jesus’ pierced side, eyes aghast, drinking mystic glory.

“Do you love me? Then go love.”

The Voice drown-thrashed that tawdry, pimping Devil’s call, crushing it with golden sunrise and freedom that drenched the atmosphere with absolute victory.

 

green trees under blue and orange sky during sunset
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Conversion

For me, church was wood paneling and white brick, tall narrow windows and pews with crosses etched into them.  I can still smell the expanse of that place as if it lived in me for my almost 40 years. Church was familiar faces, choir robes, signing the blue guest booklet, being asked to sing ‘Living for Jesus’ with my cousin Autumn, stacking little plastic communion cups of grape juice, singing out of the hymnal, and drawing a picture of my grandpa while he preached.  And, miracurously, I am an early millennial who owns these things deep down, incredibly deep and protected in my soul.

Of course, I didn’t know I was millenial.  I was just a kid born at the end of 1981 who was raised on Steve Green and Great is Thy Faithfulness, the earliest generation of children who grew up with computers, Star Wars, and Inspector Gadget but with a grasp on the old way of life…a foot in two separate worlds as a child. I can very tangibly feel the old life versus the progressive.  I am a container of these two normalities of culture into one anomaly.

Forming me into a child who loved my histories and classics with abandon, connecting me to the greats, but utilizing the future, a nostalgic user of social media.

Again, church was wandering up to the balcony and opening the door to the tiny closet of a sound room where the services were recorded and my dad would let me sit with him to record if I didn’t touch anything.   It was touching the covers of all the books in Alice Smith’s church library across from Grandpa’s office and checking several out every week.

Church was my mom telling us to quiet down and my dad rubbing my arm, humming to the sound of the organ.  It was my dad being the last one to leave after shutting off every light and locking every door while my grandpa shook everyone’s hands with his soft, tender smile of compassion.

Most of the cassette tapes of my grandpa’s decades of sermons are lost.

It was hearing about my grandpa’s plane crash in Papua New Guinea, or his belongings stolen out of the trunk of a car in Paris, or wondering if he was safe in the jungles of Togo.  It was hearing his tender stories of the people in those places, touching the 5×7 print pictures of natives in those countries and feeling like it was so very far away.  It was begging God He wouldn’t send me far, far away.

It was living up to the suffocating expectations of a pastor’s family, even when the pastor and the family are more grace filled and forgiving. It was caving under the pressure and begging to be let out and then being welcomed back in and embracing every difficulty, every sadness, every pressure, every memory.

Church was eating my grandma’s pot roast after morning service some Sundays, tramping through the treeline that bordered my grandparent’s backyard, playing wiffle ball, and peeking into the den to find my uncle Paul napping while the baseball game flickered on the television.  The Sundays we didn’t go to grandma and grandpa’s we pulled up to the HotnNow drive-thru on Westnedge next to the Putt-Putt, ordering twelve cheeseburgers to take home. It was every Sunday, all day, every Wednesday, every weekend, every summer full of VBS day camp, sleep away camp up North, youth group road trips and missions trips and evangelism.  It was all around me and through me.

It was being everything for all people, as the Apostle Paul says.

Church was sitting with my cousins, being dunked in a bathtub full of warm water, wandering potluck tables, and knowing very deeply in my subconscious that my family was collectively rooted down into church community like the brick foundation of the building, like being chained down into Michigan Avenue and the city my family was planted in a hundred years before.  When I was fifteen I wanted to run far away from it.  Two years later, I embraced the Father as the prodigal.

We talk of our places of being, such as being American, or a Texan, a Virginian, an Alaskan, or a graduate of our alma mater.  A firefighter, a librarian, a teacher, a stockbroker, a lawyer, a doctor, a clerk.  I can list many things that I am or was, but if I go back far enough and deep enough, I was born Christian, in a household of faith as we call it.  I knew deep in my rebellious soul all those years ago that I could never escape it.

He has not lost one of those given to Him.

So while church was all of these tangible things, it was more than them, too.

It has been many years since I’ve stepped foot back into the church where I was born, baptized, raised, graduated, married, brought my children, and remembered my grandfather at his passing and the people came to see him.  There is something about that building that makes me feel like I recognize myself when I’m there.

I recited Bible verses and played my oboe there, I sang Pachelbel’s Cannon in D and Lo How a Rose Er Blooming. I sat in the prayer rooms behind the baptismal and pushed on the footpedals of the organ and sat under my grandpa’s desk and smelled diesel while cleaning out the blue bus.  It’s probably been almost fifteen years since I’ve sat through a Baptist service there.  And why?

Well.

The church I grew up in is gone.

And that’s painful.

Jesus tells us to love people, and my grandpa joked once that feeding His sheep was difficult at times, because sheep can be stinky.  People hurt one another and disagree, and then they pray together and can shake hands and live through the years of life side by side.

But I am a person of place and tradition.

I can remember sitting on the lakeshore sand in my early twenties, shifting it through my fingers to remember every July of my childhood wash over me as it slipped from my palm and I looked out over the clear water of Lake Michigan from Whitefish Bay.  I carry the smell of the cottage as if I was walking through the door right now.  I can feel my thighs shifting against eachother with grit from that lakeshore sand and jumping to the rocks and crashing into the waves with my brother and my cousins, the same way my dad and my uncles and their cousins did before us.  My grandmother walked through that cottage and her presence filled that space.   I remember the summer my uncles took us hiking through the Door peninsula picking wild strawberries and teaching us songs.

I ran my hands over the brick of the church that was built up around me, and I left it after 20 years.  Dana Arledge sat dumbfounded when my husband and I came to him asking to join, at 23 years old, the even older Bethel Baptist…the church that founded Berean.  We were looking for something familiar and solid under our feet that we could remember.

And I read Steinbeck and Dostyevstky and Lewis and Hemingway and Tolstoy and Dickens and Austen and so many.  So Many.  There, that was comfort to remember place.

When I stepped into a liturgical service for the first time ten years later, I cried.

I was washed and I wept. My emotion and heart finally erupted, something I was seeking, missing, and knew deep within my spirit, but no longer existed in modern America.

Yet, there it was, solace in the midst. It is why I am now Anglican and kneeled before a priest for confirmation. It is why my son was baptised as an infant.

Only this past Sunday, in that stained glass chapel, we sang from the hymnal and I inhaled ‘He Leadeth Me’ on cello, violin, and piano.  A lamentation of my short years that I breathe deeply and know astutely.

Now I understand my grandpa was truly half Baptist, half Anglican. He married us all from the Book of Common Prayer.  He read the Eucharist from 1 Corinthians.  It is why I feel so completely at home in both.

I took my upbringing for granted, really.  While many of my Baptist contemporaries remember their childhoods laced with large doses of legalism, what I remember is people trying to make sense of life with God.

The way of a pastor’s family is that of prayer, and understanding, and above all, taking on other’s cares into their being.

Months ago I told my grandmother this….I am thankful for the church I was purposed to grow in, for it has birthed me into revival. It gave me a compass for what to stay true to.

There is Word and Truth.

There is the Creed.

There is the Baptism.

There are the hymns.

There is the stained glass beauty of the chapel.

There are the people.

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