Category Archives: religion

Were You There When They Crucified My Girl

A spin on an old spiritual. Often in holy week we focus on the history of the story. I wanted to contextualize and feminize the modern idea of crucifixion. Also to bring to light the fact that the female experience and the Divine Feminine are still excluded from mainstream Christian worship. Maybe the modern crucified Christ is the feminine form of God that is devalued and raped every day. Maybe it is time for Her to rise from the shadows of our unconsciousness.
#RiseWithHer

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Advent Reflections: Pain is Determined to Be Heard, by guest blogger Kate Green

This is the first reflection offered in our advent series on our experiences of incarnation.  To submit a piece for consideration please email Jessica at jessicajcreech@gmail.com and see the guidelines here.

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Back in May, when my job involved being surrounded by little ones who were not my own, I hurt my neck. I assumed I slept on it wrong and pinched a nerve, but the sports med doctor I saw two months later assured me that, no, pain like I had doesn’t come about by sleeping, but by moving. It’s in the resting for hours later that my body had time and space to register the pain. And with that comment, a journey began in which God spoke clearly and distinctly to me, through me. Or rather through my body.

I started physical therapy a little nervous. I am in no way, and have never been (even when I played softball that one year in high school just because my sister did) athletic. I was feeling guilty and ashamed and sure the therapist would blame me for the pain I was in, due to my lack of caring for myself. I waited with trepidation until she called me back and we began. And she, well, she was amazing. She spoke words of life and encouragement and I knew, I just knew, that this was something way beyond becoming pain-free. This was something sacred.

“Don’t invalidate your pain. Don’t brush it off or think it isn’t a big deal. Don’t dismiss it by comparing it to others whose pain is worse.”

Yep. First session and she had me pegged as she spoke those words to me. A month later when the pain flared up again as I did some work in my son’s classroom, she reminded me that

“With movement, comes pain, and life involves movement.”

Life. Movement. Pain. There was something there and I needed to listen. I needed to start listening to my pain. It was telling me something, telling me that I was alive and that as one alive, there was pain. Pain that I was trying hard to brush away, to fix, to get rid off as fast as I possibly could. Deep emotional pain that was forcing itself on my body, determined to be heard.

I was thinking this morning of how I feel things so intensely in my body. How emotions move through me with power and force. When I am afraid, I am gut-wrenchingly sick-to-my-stomach afraid. When I am sad, each ragged breath is almost too much to bear. When someone I love is hurting, my heart literally aches for them. When my children valiantly walk their way through hurtful situations, I feel it deep in me. Pain is a felt thing for me.

I am learning that healing needs to be a felt thing for me. Many a day I’ve sat at my piano crying out to God with every movement of my fingers, feeling the release as they move along the keys. Too few mornings, I follow my PT regiment with purpose, feeling the release as each muscle pulls and relaxes. In quiet moments before the after-school rush, I breath deep, full breaths, feeling the release as my heartbeat slows and space for God to move opens up.

Having this body that moves and feels pain and breathes life, I am speechless when I remember

“And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke 22:44)

I close my eyes and try to fathom this Man feeling pain in His flesh. This Man walking, touching, laughing, crying, sleeping. This Man breathing life, one ragged breath after another. I think of how His Spirit moved through His body with passion, and at times with anguish, as the NIV says. I think of Him taking into Himself the pain of the world and really living that pain. Feeling that pain.

To live advent, to know Christmas, for me this year, is to let the Spirit have free reign in my body. I don’t know what God is birthing in me but I know that the same Spirit who hovered over Mary is doing something. When each step forward feels wrought with anxiety… when my soul burns within me… when my heart is stretched and pulled, I think of my therapist gently cradling my head in her arms, enfolding me with care, twisting and turning, not to inflict more pain, but to bring release, and I remember to surrender to the movement. I walked out of physical therapy pain-free but with the knowledge that staying pain-free was a precarious thing dependent in great part on listening to my body, leaning into what it is saying, and letting myself be fully alive in it.

Kate Green is a Jesus follower, mom, friend and neighbor who enjoys contemplative prayer, Coldplay, and the Detroit Tigers. She cares deeply about lgbtq inclusion and autism acceptance, and really can’t live without a constant supply of grace and coffee.  You can follow her on Twitter @cgmama.  

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Are Men’s Bible Studies Killing the Church?

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The church’s cancer is insidious.  But we know it’s here, growing, consuming all that is sacred and if we don’t do something to stop it now, the fabric of our society and our world will be torn beyond repair and we will lose everything that is holy to us.  But let’s thank the Lord that we have the tools we need to direct the radiation and begin the treatment.

We know the feminists really messed up the God ordained structures of our society.  Our men were emasculated and our children were abandoned.  Suddenly men thought we really needed one another.  We thought that talking to others like ourselves would help us understand our unexpressed thoughts and feelings.  We needed the reassurance of our faith.  We needed to build up our trust in an all powerful God.  We needed more hugs and we began to call one another brother.  We needed family ministries because our families were falling apart.  The church doubled down and courageously survived the waves of feminism.  Thank the Lord, no one started praying to Sophia on Sunday or radically changed our time worn liturgies and languages to reflect that anything but the ancient belief that only the male sex can hold divine qualities.  Yes, some of us allowed girls to become pastors and priests–but only if these girls were able to support the powerful God-ordained patriarchal top down order of the church.  Sustaining this order is certainly the key to the church’s survival.  But here we are, having won the battle of the sexes and still: our churches are dying.  And it is with this understanding that I have come to realize how men’s bible studies have become the cancer that is infecting us all.  And because we can take it:  you can begin directing the radiation here.

Kate Murphey recently claimed that Youth Ministry is killing the church.  But let’s man up a little bit.  Children are an easy target.   Do we really want to send our kids to the front lines of this cancerous battle?  Maybe.  I’ll be the first to say it:  If we are going to cut youth ministry, then it’s time to surrender our men’s bible studies too.  We too have become our own sort of mickey-mouse eared church.  We are like a clique that lives to serve it’s own selfish purpose.   We have deep conversations that are meaningful together that no one else would understand.  Damn, we have even cried together.  But it’s time to grow up now and be a role model for our youth.  It’s time to get thicker skin.  I know that this will be difficult for us to do, and that’s when it hit me:  a radically reinvention of church is necessary.

I mean, we really can’t afford to hire a youth minister anyway, so let’s just be honest about why we think it’s youth ministry that is killing the church.  That certainly alleviates a lot of pressure.  After all it’s nearly impossible to find someone who is willing to work at such a low wage with no insurance, who actually has a theological education, who has been trained in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd or Godly Play and understands the spirituality of the child anyways.  Besides, even if we found someone willing to do this work, it would require the parish to embrace this spirituality of the child and we may have to radically change church in ways we can’t control.  Honestly, and let’s admit what we only post on other blogs anonymously: youth ministers are really just immature people who don’t really deserve our respect.  I mean, they work with children after all, children who are not even fully human and put very little into our offering plates on Sunday mornings anyways.

Whatever Jesus said about becoming like a little child to understand the heart of Christian spirituality is forgetting how much fun it is to practice a religion filled with masochistic guilt.  Our graying congregations have already figured out the secret to building a vibrant community and it’s not by self-serving anyone but our inner curmudgeon.  What little children need to understand is how to worship like grown ups.  They need to put down their iPhones and come rake my leaves.

It’s time to put a stop to all the tender feel good ministries of the church and get everyone back in their uncomfortable pews on Sunday morning.  It’s time to stop asking questions, stop having meaningful conversations with our peers.  We all should be forced into a community with people and that’s why no one is going to be allowed to pick their own seat anymore.  We’ll assign pews so everyone must sit by strangers because the most important thing about church isn’t being comfortable or welcoming, but perfecting the liturgy and keeping our bills paid.  (In fact, lets all invite our rich friends because the poor have become such a drain on us in this economy).  Let’s cut all the fluff ministries. No more kids programs.  No more men’s bible studies or women’s groups.  No more home visitations (what have they done for us lately?)  And yes, no more youth ministry.

But let’s be honest about why we’re doing this.  It’s because our overworked priest really gives us all that we need for one hour on Sunday.  The rest of us already know that we are not worthy and could never live up to our priest’s spiritual standards and that’s why we’d rather not get involved anyway.  And frankly, we’re quite happy to carry the burden of guilt because we enjoy suffering silently.  And besides, being passive aggressive is actually kind of an exciting way to live one’s life when you’ve got nothing better to live for.

It’s time to cut the crap and get our churches back on track.  And I’m willing to give up the ministries that feed my soul in order to do that.

–J. Creech  was an immature Youth Minister in the Episcopal Church for ten years,  who unwittingly helped kill the church by creating sacred spaces for children of all ages to respond to God at age appropriate levels.  

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My Fig Leaf Dress

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So it’s time to share some of my memoir.  I can’t believe how hard this is after ten years of working on this project and having written the rough draft over a year ago.  But it is.  But I also believe that stories can heal.  I know that writing helped me heal.  And it is my hope that my story will encourage other girls and women to voice their stories and heal from their past too.  
 
I have begun the process of submitting it to publishing houses and agents.  One thing that I am learning is in the changing landscape of publishing I need to build a strong platform.  So I’m pouring the concrete here and inviting you all to carve your initials in before it dries.  ​You can support this project by recommending it your friends, following me on Twitter and liking my Facebook page. Thank you so much!  
 
*In my memoir I have made my best attempt at telling my story as I remember.  Much of it includes my emotional landscape and subjective experiences as I processed traumatic events.  In some instances I have changed names  to protect people’s privacy and merged time to honor the structure of a story arch.  I researched  the land in many places in order to describe some scenery more accurately.  The music I have added to the text was popular around the time the events occurred and it reminds me most of those moments now.
 
 
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent 
about things that matter.”
-Martin Luther King, Jr
In the beginning darkness covers everything. 
Not light, but sound first breaks the void—Shhh. Leave it alone.
There is a voice crying in the wilderness, 
“Prepare the way of the Lord!”  
If all are silent rocks will cry, 
“Prepare the way of the Lord!”  
Rocks that sit at the edge of the cliff, 
Rocks that kiss the great abyss, 
“Prepare the way of the Lord!”  
Rocks that live in the pit of my stomach?  
Be Quiet. Leave it alone.
Silent night, holy night,
The little Lord Jesus no crying he makes.
Silent night? 
Yeah right. 
No crying?  
Baby’s dying!  
Shut up and leave it alone! 
In the beginning darkness covers everything.
Until I speak,
And then— 
There is light.
 
PART I 
THE TREE OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOOD AND EVIL
Chapter 1
Whore
“The great tragedy in our lives is often the ground from which a good life can be built.”
-Dr. Rachael Naomi Rennen
Yellow corn stalks line the horizon ready for harvest.  
In the Northeastern corner of Arkansas just beyond the Ozarks, flowers turn outside my bedroom window. The dandelion weeds, the Queen Anne’s lace. In the month of August of 1989, around the time of year when the Mother of God annually falls asleep, I receive a call.
“Jessica! It’s for you,” my mother hands me the phone. “It’s Christian.”
“I’ll take it in my bedroom,” I run down the hall and lock the door. I have just turned fourteen. I am still all arms and legs and the tallest girl in my class. My hair is streaked with blonde and my olive skin glows from summer sun. I hate myself. I cannot clearly see who I am.
You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart and soul of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.  
-Exodus 23:9
“Hey! What’s up?” his voice sounds deep and sexy. He’s sixteen or seventeen—I can’t remember. He’s one of the first guys in my life to pay me any attention. He makes me believe I am more than just a giant nerd.
“Nothing,” I giggle. “Just helping mom unpack another box—my life is soooo exciting.” I’m the new girl in the small town of Blytheville, Arkansas. With the southern accent it is actually pronounced Blah-ville.
“Tell me how a beautiful girl like you just shows up in my world one day?”  
My heart pounds. He thinks I’m beautiful? What the heck? No one has ever called me that before. Nerd, prude, dork—that’s what people call me—not beautiful.
“You know, when you talk about me, it doesn’t really sound like me,” I say.
“So tell me all about the real you,” I can hear him smiling. I wrap the curly mauve telephone wire around my index finger and think it over. Obviously he has figured out how to be popular. Everyone loves Christian. Even my parents. My mother entrusted us into his care the first day we showed up at the Youth Center on base. He works there. I guess he’s like a Youth Leader or something. He has the keys to a world I want to be inside of. The one thing I want in life is to belong—not on the fringes, not in the shadows, but in the center, near the sun and the bright smiles of my peers. I want to be protected from the people who make fun of me. I want to become a whole new person, one that is likable, even lovable. My fantasy is that Christian will take me under his wings and shelter me from any further assaults, train me in the ways of cool. Me, his little Padawon.
“Okay, Christian, but you have to promise not to tell anyone. I meant it, NO ONE.”
“Jessie, I will never tell a soul your secret. What you tell me tonight will be our secret. I promise.”
He is so good at making me feel comfortable. How can I resist? “Okay,” I swallow down the lump in my throat. My hands begin to sweat. Will he still like me when I tell him who I really am?
Here goes. “Christian, I’ve never been popular.”
“What do you mean?” He chuckles, “You’re so beautiful. I can’t imagine that.”
 “I used to wear glasses.”
“So?”
“No, these huge blue glasses that covered up half my face. I just got contacts last year.”
“You think a pair of glasses could hide those big blue eyes from the world? They’re so pretty. I love your eyes.”
I can’t stop the smile from spreading across my face.
“And I wear generic shoes.”
“So?”
“From Payless!”
“So what?! You are probably the hottest girl in the world with your big blue glasses and generic shoes!”
“Shut up!” I laugh. “Everyone used to make fun of me.”
Christian is silent. The phone keeps sliding through my hand. I press the number pad closer to my cheek and wait for all of eternity to hear his reply. Finally his voice breaks through the void as if he is commanding an answer from the dead, “Who made fun of you, Jessie?” The question echoes across a black universe of pain.
“Lots of people…my whole life,” I whisper, suddenly finding it difficult to talk.
“Oh, Jessie…how could anyone be mean to you?”
“I dunno,” I try to hold back the child-like sobs, but the force is too strong and the dam breaks anyway.
“I’ve just never figured out why I don’t fit in! I think it has something to do with my parents’ religion!” Snot falls out of my nose and drips off my chin.
“Jessie, shhhhhh, don’t cry. Try to calm down, okay? I don’t like hearing you so upset when I can’t be there to give you a hug. Is your bedroom door closed?”
“Yes.”
“Good. You don’t want your parents to hear you.”
“I know.”
“Jessie, you know I care about you, right?”
Relieved, I croak out, “Yeah…”
I can hardly believe it. Suddenly, my soul swells with hope. It’s a new feeling.
Maybe everything will finally be all right. I will learn the ways of Christian Roberts. He will take care of me. I breathe deeply, into something I have never known, like I have come home to a place that has never been mine.
“Jessie?”
“Yeah?”
“I can help you. Do you believe me?”
“Yes.”
“All we have to do is initiate you,” says Christian.
“Initiate?” I ask. “What’s that?”
“Jessie, do you know what sex is?”
“Yes,” I blush. “It’s something married people do.”
Christian laughs. “Is that what your parents told you?”
“Yes,” I say.
“Well, there’s your problem!” he says. “All the popular people have sex together.”
“They do?” I say, truly amazed.
“Yes! Even friends have sex with each other. You don’t have to be boyfriend and girlfriend or anything—or even in love to do it.”
“Really?”
“Yes! Don’t you watch TV or read magazines?”
“Yes, well, kind of…”  Actually not much.  I live a pretty secluded life.  
“Everyone has sex, Jessie, it’s what human beings do.”
I think of Madonna steaming up the TV with her hot music videos. I think of all the sexy girls sprawled out on the covers of magazines with their half open eyes and parted glossy lips. Suddenly the veil is torn in two. Of course they do, I think. How could I not see it before? This must be the missing piece of my life. Sex is the secret to connecting with others and making friends and being popular—which is sinful—which is why my parents don’t want me to know about it! Oh! I feel so silly. All this time everyone has been sneaking off and having sex together and I’ve had no idea! How naïve I have been!
“Tomorrow,” he says. “We initiate you tomorrow.”
I remember the warmth that appears between my legs and rises into my heart exploding like a million butterflies inside of me. This is what I want. All those butterflies in my chest. Someone to hold me and love me. And maybe this is my part in the crime: I am naïve and curious about sex without knowing how dangerous a woman’s sexuality or curiosity can possibly be. My mouth turns dry. My body begins to tremble. “You’ll finally belong,” I tell myself. “It will be okay.” But something inside of me knows otherwise.  
~
For years I turn to boys and men to save me from myself. This is the awful start to it all. Or maybe it isn’t the start. Maybe it begins when I am five, when God enchants me and pulls me into his dark world. Or maybe it goes further back, deep into the annals of history, towards theologies of original sin, dichotomies of flesh and spirit, and ancient fears of women and what they know in their bones.
 
Religions centered on the worship of a male God create “moods” and “motivations” that keep women in a state of psychological dependence on men and male authority, while at the same time legitimating the political and social authority of fathers and sons in the institutions of society.
-Carol P. Christ
 “Are you sure you want to stay home?” My aunt Mary Kay, my mother’s youngest sister sits on our couch drinking coffee with her wet white-blonde hair smelling fresh. She’s just ten years older than me and I think she’s cool. But hanging with my family is definitely not.
I roll my eyes. “If it was just me and you,” I smile. “Besides I’ve got plans,” I say. I convince my parents that it’s more important for me to stay in town and make friends today.
The doorbell rings around 10 a.m. Christian stands in the doorway, the light behind him makes him glow, like he is Jesus, come here to save me. His broad chest fills out his white t-shirt and his cologne snakes through the air and makes my heart pound. I hope my parents don’t sniff us out. His wavy red hair feathers back, his fair freckled skin is clear, his teeth are perfectly straight. He shows them off with an easy smile. A black belt wraps around his waist, holding tight his tapered stonewashed jeans.
“Hi,” I say as my heart melts like warm butter.
“Well, hi,” he laughs and makes small talk with my parents. I look past him; afraid I might stare too long. Watch the dandelions dodder in the dry grass behind him. I pluck one from the ground on the way to his car.
“Have a good time!” My mother and father stand on the threshold of home and world and wave goodbye.
Christian puts his hand on my shoulder and directs me to his old black mustang. I pretend that I am more woman than child. I smile and throw my head back like the beautiful girls on TV. He turns up the radio and Don Henley sings, I know a place where we can go that’s still untouched by men. We’ll sit and watch the clouds roll by and the tall grass wave in the wind. You can lay your head back on the ground and let your hair fall all around me offer up your best defense, but this is the end, this is the end of the innocence.
We race down Chickasawba, the old road named after an Indian Chief who is remembered for offering honey to all who crossed his path. This road connects Blytheville to Gosnell and our pain to our balm. As the cotton and the soy beans sway, as each of us looks to the horizon dreaming of the hope we’ll find when we get there.  
~
 “Dammit!” Christian bangs his hand on the steering wheel.
“What’s wrong?” I hide my alarm and try to be nice and sweet. That’s what boys like.
“I forgot to tell you, I promised to pick up a few of my friends soon. You won’t mind if they come and watch will you?”
“Um…” I didn’t know what to say, but I start to have an awful feeling in the pit in my stomach. I press the yellow flower into my arm so it bleeds on my skin.
“Actually, in any sort of initiation there has to be witnesses,” he adds.
“But I thought it was just going to be me and you.”
“Jessie, you want to be popular, don’t you?”
“Yes, but—”
“So, you won’t mind if my friends join us will you?” His tone grows harsh and forceful. I know how to fight with my parents. I have no idea how to fight with someone older and cooler than me.
I look at the yellow streaks on my arm and try to ignore my feelings. I am so close to the dream I have always wanted. I know it won’t come easily. There are sacrifices involved in life. Christianity has taught me that much.
~
When the drought comes, the Native Americans ask De Soto to pray to his God and give them rain. They admire his shiny armor and his advanced weaponry. They bring two blind men to De Soto and ask him to heal them. Agreeing, De Soto builds a fifty foot cross and places it on top of the peoples’ holy hill—maybe it was the Chickasawba mound, the one discovered between Gosnell and Blytheville. And like that the natives surrender their sacred religion to a stranger who possesses more material power. 
~
“Like who?” I ask finally.
“Like Matt, you’ve met him before. The skater with the long dark hair.”
Yeah, I remember meeting Matt. He did seem like a pretty cool guy. And I do have a thing for skaters, especially the one’s that have flops—that long hair that covers up one eye—so mysterious. But I just want to be with Christian for now. Maybe initiations aren’t for being romantic. Maybe that comes after.
“I guess,” I fall back into the seat and let the familiar haze fill my head. I zone out and follow orders. He turns up the radio, My head is full of magic baby and I can share this with you…I’m alive, oh, oh, so alive.
~ ~ ~
 

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I love the Episcopal Church because it’s kinda like Starbucks.

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Maybe it’s because a cold front came through the Fargo area last week and I went into our front hall closet and started ripping open the boxes labeled: Winter Clothes. I completely panicked. It was a bad time for the next thought to enter my mind: And the closest Trader Joe’s is over 100 miles away! I wanted to cry but I had already put on my mascara (which I later found half way down the stairs and decorated all over the walls by my almost 4 year old). I’ve been shopping at places called Cash Wise and Sydney’s. And I actually had to try a Dairy Queen ice cream cone to understand why people around here stand in line and wait to get one IN THE WINTER. (I think I get it. I may have to eat some more to satisfy that curiosity.) “Oh for fun!” I don’t know if it was the fact that I never found my favorite hat or the sudden ache in my heart for my friends and my life in Chicago that made me grab my cell phone and call a local church.

After getting lost in a whole new area of Fargo (and finding a toll bridge and a nice man who let me drive on it without paying since I had just spent all my change at Dairy Queen) I found the beautiful red Episcopal church.

st. stephens

An elderly man rushed to put a bulletin in my hand and I began to say the words I knew so well. Something shifted in the room. Maybe it was the white gentle light of the setting sun pouring in from all the windows. Or the incense that filled the air and hung on my clothes. The liturgy suddenly became poetry. Like an old rhyme I knew as a child. (I’m not a cradle, but I guess after 10 years this stuff seeps in.) I didn’t know how much I missed it. I knew when to sit. I knew when to stand. My body was moving to the rhythm of a worshipful dance (we call it pew aerobics). It was an Alleluia! moment, like finding a Starbucks in some foreign land like China–or Fargo. I knew the customs, the menu, the song in the background. I knew that feeling of being in a place so welcoming that a lost part of yourself returns home.

labyrinth Father Jamie actually invites the congregation out for dinner following the Wednesday service. I joined them for Thai food and lively conversation. Everyone was so warm. So Minnesota Nice. A part of me was ready to dive in and get to work. Another part was discerning. I stood in front of the stone labyrinth in the church yard and thought of the yoga concept of non-attachment. I remembered that I can let go of my attachments to the outcomes in my life. It is enough to be fully present in this moment of the journey I am on. I can let it unfold. I can take the next step without assuming all that may or may not follow. I can be open to the Spirit.

I am grateful for this journey, and this taste of familiar grace.

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Contemporary Gnostic Churches Leave Incarnational Theology to Yoga & Meditation

meditating woman

I stared at the cobwebs in the corner of the church nursery this morning and wondered how many years of dust bunnies and bugs were burrowed inside of them.  The nursery was in the basement of the church, three levels down, closer to the underworld than the sun.  Many church nurseries are located in such distant places, far away from the adult activities which are usually located in much more lavish spaces.  This is a dead give away of how the church really feels about children, regardless of what they say.  This Lutheran church had two services happening in two lavish spaces at the same time!  And here we were, the visitors, stuck in the nursery with cobwebs and three kids–two who would much prefer to run rather than sit in church.  My husband flopped his dressed up self  into  a rocking chair and said, “It was HARD to get here.  And now I get to sit in the nursery and watch my own kids?  I could do that at home, in my underwear!”  I picked up a board book titled, Anger, Understanding Your Feelings and offered to read to him.

We watched a part of the service on the small screen TV hung in the corner with glitchy sound.  A handful of kids came up for the children’s message which involved the pastor making exaggerated movements with his hands, talking louder than usual, and making the parents laugh.

I wondered why so often children are used as adult props.  Tucked away.  Seen and not heard.  Or not seen at all.  Why children’s spirituality is still relegated to chucking marshmallows at Goliath or making some corn-syrupy snack that will send them home ready to bounce off the walls all afternoon.  

Despairing, we left.  And my husband got to watch the kids in his PJ’s at home (while I took a nap!  YES!)

Tonight I went to a different sort of holy gathering.  I went to a yoga studio and practiced my first guided meditation.  There were no bulletins handed out.  Just blankets and pillows. The studio was on the third floor of an old building with windows that looked out over the city of Fargo.  The sun was just beginning to set and the sheer white curtains softened the light.  We sat for the first five minutes and just breathed.  I listened to my heart beat slow down.  I let go of tension in my eyebrows and shoulders.  Then the teacher said, “Meditating may make your family, friends and coworkers upset with you.  Here you will learn to listen with your heart.  The heart doesn’t always go with the flow.  It doesn’t promote someone else’s agenda or business or family value.  Meditation is hard.  So many have used spirituality to escape their lives.  But we are going back into our lives and into our bodies.  Meditation is going into the places of pain so that our life can be released back into the world.”  I wanted to shout, “Amen!”

I listened to our teacher talk about the wisdom of the body.  “The body knows,” he said.  “And sometimes it’s easier not to know the things that the body knows.” I thought of my children.  I thought of the freedom they have in their bodies.  How the little ones love to run around naked with wide smiles on their faces.  How they have not yet learned shame or much pain in their bodies yet.  My eldest is on the cusp of puberty and growing more clumsy, like I did.  I didn’t know how to live in a grown up body.  Some days I still don’t.  I thought of how us adults have learned to wear masks.  Sometimes we forget that we are even wearing them.  Sometimes we become the mask.  Sometimes we have no idea what we really feel.  Sometimes we rather be told what to do so we don’t have to deal with the unknown.  And then I realized that this is why children’s spirituality (and my own) isn’t thriving in the church.  My hunch is that the church is generally afraid of the body’s wisdom (we go for the traditional).  It is afraid of sexuality (many are still arguing over whether or not to welcome LGBTQ, an easy target for our shadows).  We keep the embodied children far away (where moth and dust does destroy.)

In meditation I practiced scanning my body and allowing my breath to enter all the nooks and crannies.  I found pain in my stomach and lots of guilt for beginning to paving my own spiritual path outside of the church institution and my family’s values.  I sat with it  for longer than I am usually allowed to confess my sins in the liturgy.  I prayed.  I breathed.  I became aware of it, acknowledged it and it dissipated.  It was an in the flesh transformation.

After meditation no one stayed for coffee.  (They probably all went home and juiced kale.)  The whole experience was very private.  And wonderful.  And missing the community and relationships and children that are vital for spirituality too.  What I really want is this:  I want it all.  I want a spiritual community that values the body, children, women, LGBTQ, men, the old and the young and everything in between.  I had a seminary professor who used to say that the church today is Gnostic.  I never got it until recently.  Gnostics thought the body was bad.  They were more interested in the ideas and their secret wisdom.  And even after all the anathematizing and killing and Nicene Creeding, we still forget how important the body is.  People are going to yoga on Sunday mornings (or staying home to sleep or watch their kids in their underwear) because something essential is missing from church.  Something embodied.  It’s going to be hard to guilt us back into church.  Our lives are filled with guilt, anxiety and stress.  What we really need is a sip of living water, a taste of eternal (and gluten free) bread.  

So how do we live in an embodied spiritual community that truly values being transformed by love, where our spirits are nurtured and our flesh is healed in sacred spaces cleared of cobwebs?  This is a question I will continue to pursue both in and outside of the church.  I hope you will explore it with me too.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Living the Tension

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My last post Goodbye Church, Hello God received the most traffic of any of my blog posts. As the day went on and I watched the stats climb, I read through many helpful replies, and then I started to panic.

While many of the notes sent to me were encouraging, I know my audience is diverse. I thought of all my colleagues that I had worked alongside to help grow the church for the past ten years. I thought of the confirmation and youth group kids I have encouraged in their commitment to Christian community. I thought of my family, my deep Lutheran roots, all those Lutheran pastors who tended the vines on the tree on which I bloom.  And then one ordained Lutheran pastor sent me a note that has continued to gnaw at me.

Let me first say this is what I love about the church: it’s one of the few places where people engage with all of the living generations. At my former parish we gathered for the Eucharist in the round, all of us came together with our different perspectives to receive nourishment. I love the living saints, those who love to give, those who serve, those who listen, those who love, those who pray, those that journey with friends and family through the valley of the shadow of death, those who can find the words that need to be said, those who know how to let silence speak. I could go on. The church is not perfect, but neither is it too broken to let God in the cracks.

Here is a part of the note: “Unfortunately, the church of the Holy Comforter isn’t offering the Divine this morning, only more helpings of self service. Sorry for your struggle, Jess, but when Xers and Millennials continue to shop around looking for just the right church that fits their agenda, they end up with the Comforter Church. If I had a nickel for every one that has offered up your thoughts, I’d be a rich man. I am not saying this to discredit your search, nor your frustrations, but while Yoga offers very good things to body and soul, it does not offer the sacrament nor absolution.”

A lot has been said already on the tensions between the Traditionalists, the Boomers, Gen X and the Millennials.  As an Xer I have spent most of my life alone in the church.   My colleagues and church community were composed of people mostly my parents’ age or older.  I kept hearing how the church wanted my generation in church, but then as one of the few there, I was rarely asked why I was there and why so few of my friends were not.  It seemed to me that the overall values that the church held onto reflected those of the Traditionalists and Boomers:  loyalty, social order, conflict avoidance, and a workaholic professional life. With much of my generation missing from the church, in my experience as a young woman it’s been difficult to find my place and voice among my parent’s generation.

I often shared this wisdom from Frederick Buechner with my confirmation students: Search for that place where your great joy meets the world’s deep need, then you will be on your way to discovering what you are created to do and be in this world.  I loved sharing this with people because I believe that when we work out of our gifts we avoid burnout.  We actually get energy from what we do.  (And I have witnessed a lot of burned out folks in the church.)  When Traditionalists and Boomers hold values of loyalty and duty above all, they can miss the joy that comes with discerning gifts and exploring creative ways to be church.  I don’t think this discernment process is selfish. Rather, it is a practice of caring for self that honors and helps us discover how we are created to thrive in God’s image.  

After ten years of ministry, I felt that I was unable to be the change the church needed.  I assessed my gifts and found myself lacking in many areas, especially political savvy and boundaries (see how I over share on my blog all the time??).  After serving on the COM for many years and working with our bishop, it seems the church is looking to raise up CEOs and highly organized managers.  And I am an artist who loves working in the chaos.    And so I’m searching… (God I hate to quote Michael W. Smith, but this song still makes me cry) I’m still searching for my place in this world.  Maybe it’s in the pews.  Maybe it’s beyond the church walls.  I just don’t know yet.  But I just love what one new twitter friend said to me:  May God’s will be done in heaven as well as in the yoga studio.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about the generation gaps and about your struggles and triumphs in finding a spiritual community of your own.

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Filed under american society, christianity, church, culture, episcopal, religion, spirituality