Vulnerability

I went on a camping trip with some friends a couple weeks ago, which I wrote about at that time. I wanted to dive a little deeper into part of that trip; to be vulnerable regarding what I experienced in that moment now that I have processed it more fully.

A few days leading up to the trip God was REALLY driving home being vulnerable and I was feeling so frustrated because I felt like I had grown a lot in that space. For a little background, I’d also been having some lung problems because of my allergies for about a month. All this happened leading up to me on a hike in Hocking hills. We were going to do a 3 mile loop but some of my friends wanted to add another loop (ultimately around 7 miles). I tried to dissuade them but I didn’t want to look weak in front of people I really admired so ahead I plowed, not mentioning to them that it already hurt to breathe. My lungs felt like fists clenching tighter and tighter, and this continued for maybe two hours. I got to the point where I’d lean my body forward and force my legs to respond by catching me. I continue to try to act like everything is okay. Mask the pain. I told myself, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Then, suddenly, no more air. I see my friend beckoning to me and I can’t speak. I gasp and still, no air. A young couple passes me by and I make eye contact with the woman and wonder if she can see my panic.

This is the first time during the entire hike I actually begin to pray. It’s suddenly so quiet. I look up in awe at the tall trees surrounding me and I see spots of light dancing around me and I ask God, “Is this really my time? Will I really die from lack of oxygen surrounded by the very things you created that make oxygen? My God, where is your breathe of life now? I don’t have it. Help me, Abba. I need you.” Tears swell in my eyes and I’m torn between my plea to God and my desire, still, to hide my struggle so that my friends don’t see my weakness.

Suddenly, there is a woman in front of me, the one who had walked by before. She says something about also getting asthma attacks and my brain responds, “Yes! Asthma attack! I’m not dying.” I imitate what she does, following her instructions and slowly, deliciously, air begins to fill my lungs. And as I breathed in I felt not judgment but love from God, paired with what could maybe be described as a mildly disapproving sigh.

After a short rest and a very slow final climb, we made it to the parking lot. As I reached the car all I wanted to do was cry. To break down. To acknowledge the moment and all that came with it. But I locked it down, pulled it together. I laughed and ate Mexican, occasionally wondering if my friends now saw me differently because of this experience and if they would like me less because of it.

As I prayed about it later I felt how silly God thought it was that I would rather LITERALLY run out of air than tell my friends my lungs hurt. That we had talked about this and because I put my fear of rejection ahead of God’s call to be vulnerable with my community, I had to suffer and he had to send someone to teach me how to breath. Later I was talking to someone and they remarked at how lucky I was; that they had known of several people who had died from these kinds of attacks. That they were dangerous and should be taken seriously. It was at that moment I remembered a text someone had sent me at the end of May describing a picture they’d received for me:

…a picture of you rowing a boat with these really wide oars that were like fish fins so you had to do a lot of work to row but when you did you went far. He felt the Lord was saying you were in a season for the next eight weeks of heavy work but it would propel you far. Then on the oars he saw 1) 2) and 3), like there are three areas of focus and a small 4), like maybe you could do a little in 4) but 1.2.3 were the focus. The words behind those were self, health and safety…

I realized how much I had endangered my safety with my unwillingness to be vulnerable. After the trip I went and got allergy medicine and an inhaler and it was amazing the difference this made to my health and even my attitude! And so a big area that God has impacted through this is my health and safety, in learning to listen to my body better and to take care of it. But the third that came with it is my ongoing struggle with rejection.

I shared this struggle with my small group as well as with my co-workers, a moment of sharing my current “mess” that felt both exhausting and encouraging. I have known for a while that my greatest desire is to feel known, and not just known but to still be loved when I am known. This is also the thing I most fear, and the thing God has been working with me to overcome these last few months. Because of my background (particularly with my two longest running relationships), I have this undercurrent in my heart that whispers, “If they really know you, they won’t love you. People don’t stay for people like you.”

I know this probably sounds like a super depressing place to be but it isn’t, it’s just hard. I can continually remind myself that I am already known and loved by a King who adores me, and that if I remain authentic to my God and myself, then the rejection or acceptance by others will not influence the love I have for myself. And so, I am in this eight week season of working on the self, health and safety. Self, that I would become even more free of rejection and the ways that it influences me, making me an emotionally healthier person and leader. Health, in that I am learning to listen and respond to my body and what it is telling me. And safety, not that I would begin operating out of fear but rather that I would truly appreciate how fragile life is and what a blessing it is to be able to experience the moments I do. Lastly, within all these things I need to seek God and listen rather than believe that I can do this on my own.

We’re all Blind

“A Conversion,” by Martin Buber, was a difficult read. Within his writing, I struggle to discern exactly what his intention is with providing such a vague description of a moment in which he is having a rare experience with Mystery. He says at the start that “In the early years the ‘religious’ was for me the exception.” (Buber 84) However, what I believe we ultimately hear described is a conversion: Buber changes from one perspective to another. Where before Mystery was the exception, at the end of his work he says that, “I possess nothing but the everyday out of which I am never taken. The mystery is no longer disclosed, it has escaped or it has made its dwelling here where everything happens as it happens.” (Buber 84)

It is much easier to understand the difference between an “I-It” relationship (relating to another as an object, like viewing the world through the “arrogant eye” discussed previously) and an “I-Thou” relationship (relating to the other as a thou, like viewing the world through the “loving eye) when we examine it through the Raymond Carver’s “The Cathedral.” In the story, a man writes about his wife who has been friends with a blind man for around ten years. The man, this woman’s husband, doesn’t really want the blind man to come. To her husband, the blind man is summed up in his disability. At one point, while reflecting on the death of the blind man’s wife, he says, “And then to slip off into death, the blind man’s hand on her hand, his blind eyes streaming tears—I’m imagining now—her last thought maybe this: that he never even knew what she looked like, and she on an express to the grave.” (Carver 4) His understanding of the blind man is entirely constrained by the “It” of his blindness. He imagines how miserable the man’s wife must have been at not being seen by her husband, never considering all the ways we see each other without our eyes.

It isn’t until he sees the blind man as a thou that he begins to understand that this truly and fully a man, a person with depth and capacity similar to his own. After his wife fell asleep on the couch, they began watching a show together on cathedrals. At times where it wasn’t narrated, the man attempted to describe what he was seeing to the blind man. He says, “Something has occurred to me. Do you have any idea what a cathedral is? What they look like, that is? Do you follow me? If somebody says cathedral to you, do you have any notion what they’re talking about? Do you the difference between that and a Baptist church, say?” (Carver 10) The blind man answers in contexts that likely did not occur to the man: he speaks of the number of workers it took, the amount of years, the generations of investment. He shared that he understood that men would start a project knowing that they wouldn’t see it completed. Eventually, the blind man asks the man to draw a cathedral for him, and places his hand on the mans so that he might “see” what the man is drawing though the movements. This is really the point where the man truly begins to see the blind man as a thou. He put all his energy into trying to describe through these movements what a cathedral was.

At the very end, the blind man asked the man who was drawing to close his eyes, but to keep drawing. Finally, at the end, the blind man asks him to look at his drawing and tell him what he thinks. The man, now, is not quite ready to open his eyes. I think this is an expression of solidarity with the blind man, of really seeing the man in his wholeness. We witness the woman’s husband shift from viewing the blind man as an “it” to a “thou,” and the weird and beautiful things that can come out of that transition.

 

Works Cited

Buber, Martin. “A Conversion.” Meetings. London: Routledge, 2002. Excerpt.

Carver, Raymond. “Cathedral.” Carver, Raymond. Collected Stories. New York: Library of America, 2009. Short Story.

 

The Arrogant Eye and the Loving Eye

My favorite read this week was “Dialogue with a Rock.” It begins in examining a state that I remember distinctly struggling with in my teenage years: “As a self I am a cosmic center from which all lines radiate, I am the nexus where all dimensions of reality meet. To get in touch with my sensations and perceptions is, therefore, to know the whole world of which I am the center.” (Keen 28) This speaks in particular to that moment in youth where we are most aware of ourselves and often least aware of others and particularly how we affect them. I spent what felt like ages toying with the idea that everything I knew was based solely on how I perceived things; what if that was the sum of reality?

I slowly moved to the point of questioning how reliable my perception was and if it was possible that each living thing was as profoundly real and complex as I was, and we were all spinning with each other in this wild dance of perceiving and interacting. McFague wrote of this perspective: “The loving eye, on the other hand, acknowledges complexity, mystery, and difference. It recognizes that boundaries exist between the self and the other, that the interests of other persons (and the natural world) are not identical with one’s own, that knowing another takes time and attention.” (McFague 34) My wonder grew as I began to see, within the same universe, each life’s unique distinctness of being while we were all simultaneously interconnected with one another. When I leaned too far into this “eye,” I would find myself disabled, afraid to live for fear of how I might end up unknowingly effecting things. Thus, the conversation between the rock and the author didn’t seem so very far-fetched to me.

The rock (in the obviously imagined dialogue) questioned the author, challenged him to move from being an aggressor to being a creature of wonder. The end results was this response: “SK: When I take the time to look at you from different perspectives to welcome your strangeness into my consciousness I am confused. I see your beauty now and not merely your usefulness. But I still have a wall to build. Any suggestions?” (Keen 29) Finding a balance between these two eyes allows me to continue to rest in the wondrous and bewildering while also being able to act based on what I know.  I think this is a necessary tension that we must sit in. To use the eye analogy from McFague, we must see with both the loving eye as well as our arrogant eye. By seeing the world with both eyes, we create a field of depth. Trying to live using only one of these eyes would have us missing out on the beautiful complexity of life and causing irreparable harm not only to ourselves but others as well. Through the depth of seeing life through ourselves as well as the other, we can begin to live lives that embrace and appreciate not only our differentness but our interdependence.

Works Cited

Keen, Sam. “Dialogue with a Rock.” To A Dancing God. New York: Harper and Row, 1970. .pdf.

McFague, Sallie. “A New Sensibility.” Models of God. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987. pdf.

Encountering Mystery

I had spent a very, very long time trapped in a space mentally and emotionally which felt like complete hopelessness and loneliness, clinging to a tiny shred of hope. It was like the glow of a single, twinkling Christmas light in what felt like an otherwise black abyss. I had started going to Crossroads about 10 months before, and a series of events had made me curious enough to begin asking, “Is there a God? And if there is, is God good? Who am I to God?” This ended up with me landing in India, going to some of the darkest places I could imagine, and challenging this God to show up.

I experienced a moment there that I will never forget. Crossroads partners with several homes in Mumbai and Kolkata, India, that rescue girls and women from sex trafficking. I was in the first group that went to Kolkata and we spent one of our days there putting on a day camp for the girls. We sang, we danced, we played, we taught each other songs and we also did some crafts. One of the crafts was to make a beaded bracelet or necklace. The different colored beads stood for things that were important to us or things we wanted. Examples would include hope, friendship, love, wisdom, etc. I was making a bracelet with one of the girls when she noticed the beads I had chosen to use. “No, no, no. More love.” I was confused, and asked her what she meant and she smiled and laughed at me. “You!” She pointed. “More love,” she said as she pointed at my bracelet, which barely included that color at all. She then proceeded to dismantle my entire bracelet and fill it with the color of love.

My heart broke in the most wonderful way possible in that moment, like walls around it were crumbling. It was as if all the darkness I felt like I was covered in turned into a liquid and puddled at the bottom of me and suddenly, the world seemed to be made of color. Of light. This child who had been through so much could see the very thing I felt I lacked but that I so desperately longed for and she piled it on, unabashedly. She taught me to worship as we sung, “Rejoice in the Lord, always, and again I say, Rejoice!” I was overwhelmed, I was baffled, I was in the process of becoming. If this young girl who had experienced the true darkness of mankind so fully could worship God, could call out for love with a hungry heart, than certainly there was something special happening here. Some kind of extraordinary goodness that could say, “Even in this place I will give you joy. Even in your suffering, you will know love. Loneliness is a lie because there is a God that loves you and is always with you.”

It wasn’t the first time or the last time that I encountered the Mystery of God, but it planted a seed of faith so deep inside of me that it successfully took root. I began a steadfast pursuit of this God that comes close, who moves in our lives today. While I’ll never fully know or understand God, I feel called into this Mystery that is. I get a sense that not only am I welcome to explore the character and nature of my God but that my desire to know God brings joy. When I begin feeling alone or discouraged, I look back on this moment and I remember how God used the ordinary to speak about the extraordinary and I rejoice.

Starling Murmuration (Catalyst Notes)

Starlings are startling in their ability to create these beautiful formations. Scientist truly couldn’t begin to understand them until they had the high-tech capabilities to analyze their movements in computers. What they discovered was amazing: the flock transcends biology. Every single starlings movement is influenced by every other starlings movement. Known as scale-free correlation, it can be best understood (although not perfectly) through looking at things like avalanches or crystal formations – on the verge of instantaneous change.

Because there is no LEADER of the formation, any starling has the ability to change the path of all starlings in the flock. Regardless of the size of the flock they remain equally responsive to all other starlings: velocity and orientation remain consistent regardless of the number of birds participating. We still cannot understand how they are able to process and respond to signals of the surrounding birds so quickly.

The most fascinating thing of all, perhaps, is that this is all in response to a predator, and the greater the threat, the more phenomenal the synchronicity. The all have and share the same goal of survival, and this singular goal allows them to create and perform at unfathomable levels.

Steady Heart

I am constantly in the process of being humbled and amazed, and it is wonderful.

Do you know how much, in my journey from my life before God to a life lived with God, I petitioned him to know the end game? To reveal to me the places where we were going together? And I was given hints but the majority of the time it was one step at a time. Infuriating, frustrating, and aggravating.

But so, so good. It revealed God’s faithfulness. It deepened our relationship. I was shown my vast capacity to trust in God and to rest in love. I found myself as I was seeking God and discovered what I was made of: love, compassion, empathy and hope. I found freedom in becoming the person I was designed to be and found healing and restoration in my body, heart and soul. I discovered faith is less a destination than a journey, and the beauty in it is astounding.

 

Reflection: Power, My Hope and My Fear

My hope, with regards to power, is that I might use what power I have to transform our society into a place that is a greater reflection of what we are called to as followers of Christ. Proverbs 14:31 (ESV) reminds us of what that calls does, and doesn’t, look like: “Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.” There is verse after verse that calls us to stand against oppression and injustice if we are God’s people and so that is what I must use my power to do. The challenge in this hope is specificity: rather than speaking in generalities and taking no action I had to look for tangible ways by which I might become part of God’s redemptive nature, to effectively help bring about change for generations of people. Some of our most vulnerable people are actually our children. In Cincinnati, we are second in the nation for the highest child poverty rate of 53.1%, just behind Detroit’s staggering 59%. (2012 American Community Survey) I couldn’t help but ask myself what hope one could have in the future if, as a small child, you must fight pangs of hunger while facing insecurity in house and struggle to be clothed properly. In order to transform my city, we were going to have to transform the experience of our city’s youth. And so that became my hope, that I would be able to use my talents and power alongside others who hoped to transform the path of Cincinnati’s children and thus, transform their lives.

There is a certain amount of fear that comes up around this. How do I help in ways that don’t further victimize those we are coming alongside? How do I make sure we are working with people to help break us all free from an oppressive system that disables their self-sufficiency and sense of purpose rather than reaffirming that their salvation lies in the good will of affluent, mostly white people? Psalm 3:2-6 (NIV) is a reminder of where my hope lies even when I feel like we are coming against unchangeable things: “Many are saying of me, ‘God will not deliver him.’ But you, LORD, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high. I call out to the LORD, and he answers me from his holy mountain. I lie down to sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me. I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side.’” And so I equip myself as much as possible with the knowledge available from those who have come before us as well as studies from the sciences. I also rely on the Spirit to lead us in way that is fruitful and abundant.