Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Revisiting World Vision

Yesterday, the internet buzzed with the Human Resources policy change at World Vision. I read plenty about it, from the announcement in Christianity Today to various bloggers, but this post really hit home.

When Evangelicals Turn Against Children to Spite Me by Benjamin Moburg at Registered Runaway

Please read it.

I am already a World Vision sponsor. (I posted about my process in deciding last year.) I am planning to make an additional donation to help offset those dropped sponsorships, but I'm praying that folks won't actually go through with it and will think of the child they committed to helping.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Why Somebody Else Giving Up Mirrors For Lent Means I Don't Have to Give Up Mine...

Mirrors have been coming up a lot lately and in two opposing viewpoints.

The first that came to my awareness was during the 8-week course I recently completed, Coming Home to the Body (from Abbey of the Arts), which was all about getting out of my head and to start listening and trusting my body. One of the exercises involved standing in front of a full length mirror naked. (In the privacy of my home, thanks.)

The second came about at the start of Lent when Jennifer Dukes Lee gave up mirrors for Lent. You can read all her reasons at her blog, but this spun out of her writing her just released book Love Idols. Her appearance was an idol and she's giving it up for Lent in order to see herself as a reflection of God.

Having just done the course on dwelling in my body, I baulked at this denial of self. (I know, I'm of the monastic bent, but self-denial isn't really my bag.)

But maybe this stemmed from my lack of understanding. I look in the mirror to see if I absolutely must floss my teeth (yeah yeah I know), to see if the colors of my outfit actually work, and to comb my hair. I don't wear makeup so there is really no lingering in the mirror.

I kept reading posts, one by Elisa Pulliam about taking on the "no mirrors" challenge and giving up that one last mirror, another by Claudia about looking in the mirror at this strange older person who is her.

And I started thinking about what I'm doing when I look in the mirror, and maybe that's all it takes. That nudge to think about what it is I'm doing, why I am doing it and who I am doing it for. Being intentional.

The longest I spend in front of the mirror, every day, is combing my hair. It's naturally curly so it should just be scrunch and go. But it is thinning, especially along my part and so the hair is combed this way and that and forward ... and well, let's just say that opening scene with Christian Bale in American Hustle really resonated with me.

I remember wanting to shave my head to be in solidarity with a gal whose rare cancer had come back again. But I didn't. I was afraid. What if it didn't grow back? (How stupid is that?)

I miss her.

My one vanity and if I'm honest it isn't my only one. So, Jennifer Dukes Lee, I understand now.



This is the body that God knit and formed in the womb. To deny it exists, is to deny God's work.

At my church's quiet day, there was an exercise where we were asked to believe we are how God created us:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. -- Philippians 4:8 (NIV)
We were asked to go look at one of the many mirrors that were on and around the altar, and to look, really look at ourselves even when it became uncomfortable.

And on each mirror was a word:




(etc etc)

Could we hold the word on the mirror and our own reflection and trust ... and believe ... that God believes, no, God knows, that we are:




(etc etc)

I won't lie. Really looking at myself was hard. Really looking at myself with the word on the mirror was hard. But I made myself look, really look, in that mirror.

To deny my body is to deny God. And to fret over wrinkles, bald spots, hair growing where it shouldn't, curves too great, skinny too straight, that also is to deny God.

So let's stop denying. Let's start accepting, start loving. That this is me and I am loved by God. I am whole in God's eyes.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

When Unplugging Makes a Miracle

"When Unplugging Makes a Miracle" is a great headline, but honestly, I had forgotten I had already signed up for this particular activity when I chose my Lenten discipline of unplugging from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown, so I would've been doing it anyway. 

But it also caused some first world problems like: I'm unplugging, how on earth can I call you if the pickup plans change? (answer, use somebody else's phone...) I decided a happy husband who wasn't waiting for me at the wrong place would be better than keeping the fast.

A miracle did happen though ... both through hard work and opened eyes.

Where to start the story? Let's start with a handful of youth group kids who went to an Indian reservation one summer and came back transformed, energized to start making a difference. Two of the youth and their parents found a non-profit that builds houses (among other things) in Tijuana, Mexico. They presented this idea to my church's vestry (basically, a governing board), who gave them some funds, and they raised the rest.

And then we went to Mexico for three days spread out over a month. I could only go on the last trip, which was a hot day because apparently winters no longer happen in Southern California. I spent time working on a mural and hand mixing concrete.

Here's a photo I nabbed from my church's e-bulletin. The yellow arrow is where I was hiding out in the photo, you can just make out the top of my hat. The family we built the house for is front and center.

The new house is the green building behind. The youth raised enough money to build it and furnish it, and then one of the moms opened up a house warming registry at Bed, Bath and Beyond. It was quite a sight to see all those bags being walked across the border!

Also the tarp to the right? That's part of a wall of their original house. You can see examples of other homes that have been replaced by newer ones at Build a Miracle's website. The week before it had rained and the water had rushed through their tiny home and destroyed one of the two mattresses the family of five slept on. They'd been sleeping all on one mattress all week.

And now they have a roof and walls that doesn't leak, new bedding to sleep in... I'm so glad we were able to help.

This is the mural I helped with. That tall cement block wall is their view out their kitchen window. So one of the Good Sam artists was enlisted to help. She planned out the painting and I was one of her two helpers to speed it along. It also helped that it was in the shade and that the narrow walkway we worked in also created a bit of a breeze.

We worked by guessing the view as the windows were all covered up with paper to protect the glass from the inside and outside painting scheduled to be done that day, so we didn't quite succeed in covering up the entire view....

I've visited Mexico twice, once on a cruise and one brief visit to a border town across from Arizona. This trip, while other folks on the bus around me chatted about their lives, I stared out the window. 

The huge contrast between the haves and have-nots is gigantic. Every house is a fortress, whether it was iron gates or pieces of broken palettes. Even the modern homes, small units really, seemed purely functional in their cube shapes and were barricaded by high walls.

My eyes gravitated toward the light: 
  • dusty, weed-ridden lots between factories, where men improvised games of soccer; 
  • the farmer's market, a ribbon of blue and red tent covers spanning several streets. (We drove through one: they sell everything from fresh meat to television sets); 
  • the stream that flowed down the hillside and through an impoverished village at once both a gift and a danger for the earth was cut out broadly on either side of it from earlier flash floods; 
  • the churches, built like warehouses broadcasting their names with big white letters: "Jesu Christos Te Ama";
  • the children playing soccer at the community center (built by Build A Miracle), and the teens gathering to strum guitars, not one head bowed over a screen or a computer game.
I'm not sure how all these observations will meld together yet. I've been holding and honoring it off and on in the weeks since then.

Everyone from the family, to the Norths who run Build A Miracle, to we volunteers were deeply touched as the family walked into their home and saw everything.

This was an Extreme Home Makeover worth watching and participating in.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Photobiography ... or, what I've been up to recently

Before I get started, there was one video I forgot to include in Sunday's list of God's Stories. I'm going to edit it and put it in there, but in case that doesn't show up on blog readers, etc. Here it is. It's really very moving (and I'm not even CatholicSuspect my Mum will be about the only one interested in this post.

First, Disneyland, which was at the end of February. The hat I did not buy (but kind of wish I did), with my brother-in-law in the Mad Hatter Shop:

The next day getting soaking wet on the Rapids ride at California Adventure (first time through stayed pretty dry, got soaked the second time):

My hubby's creation at our "Legos for Lent", happening every Sunday after church this Lent:

The scene is the temptations of Jesus from Matthew. That's an Ewok Jesus holding off the Lizard-Man-devil, with an angel watching on. The grey thing to the right is a solar collector (to help signify this started out in the desert wilderness). The flesh colored blob on the red brick is the head of John the Baptist. As Revbecca commented on that last bit, "That's creepy!"

So that's a little bit of what I've been up to, how about you?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

God's Love Stories ... or I have too many tabs open in my browser

In order to reduce the clutter, I thought I should start saving some of these stories and videos that I wanted to save for the next God's Love Stories.
I've a couple of posts to write yet, so stay tuned for posts that'll include a brief photographic review of the past month.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Chanting brings community

[This article was originally printed in the San Diego Diocesan Messenger this year. I made some edits]

Chanting brings community. Yet it might seem dull to some people. After all, it’s saying a lot of words on one note, right? Well, technically, yes, but chanting unearths a simple beauty, an extra dimension to prayer.

I came to chanting through the monastics. Sure, I knew about Anglican chant but I’d never been part of a congregation that did it in such a way that we all knew what note we were supposed to be singing. Either because it was too complicated, or none of us had really been properly taught.

The first time I participated monastic chanting of the psalms, I got completely lost, so it’s not like I was initially excited by the idea of chanting. But then I rediscovered it during a retreat to Mt. Calvary monastery in Santa Barbara (which, coincidentally was the first place that I'd participated - but at their old location in the hills behind Santa Barbara).

The new book was easier to follow. The chants morning, evening and night created sacred boundaries and balance. Suddenly, I was hooked. Who doesn’t want more balance in life?

It was like I heard the psalms in a whole new way. I would find myself humming throughout the day, a little phrase from one of the psalms, that met me in the space of my daily life. Kind of like a spiritual earworm. But in a good way.

Helena and I don't chant in our robes :)
I also discovered that chanting brought community. It sneaks up on you. Not in the obvious way, which led to me becoming an Associate of the Order of Holy Cross, which is the order of monks at Mt. Calvary, but in the way chanting is sung together. Yes, one voice leads and the other echoes but it’s more complicated than that. Chanting can sound like the angels if all the persons are in harmony together -- not musically, but in relationship. 

Monastics have this unique community of living together and praying together and it becomes all one. A disruption in the house brings disruption into the chanting. What flowed seamlessly is now ragged, off-key. A monastic house finding healing and the music stops dragging, and even if the voices aren’t perfect, the chanting is beautiful, reverent, holy. 

This effect doesn’t only occur in monasteries.

We echo this in worshiping in our churches. Often the hymn singing sounds like mush, because how connected are we to each other really these days? But then I have experienced moments when the Holy Spirit enters in, usually during a well-beloved hymn, and my skin tingles and comes alive.

Chanting might seem stodgy, but give it a try: you might find balance, calming meditation and community.

I usually chant at St. Paul's Cathedral (San Diego) on the third Saturday of the month, with Helena (pictured above) and Verdery but due to varying schedules, on March 15 we are chanting at Good Samaritan Episcopal Church as part of the kick-off to a Quiet Day (well, morning-ish, technically).

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The whole point of Lent

This should read "I unplug to Build a Miracle"
I'm already unplugging this Saturday ... it turns out that I'll be unplugged anyway as I'm heading down to Tijuana to Build a Miracle.

Lent can be a time for giving up something or taking on something, an offering up was how I heard it beautifully expressed today on Facebook by Christianne Squires.

Also this morning, I followed a link from Facebook or Feedly, don't remember which, where the blogger (don't remember who, I was on the go at the time and didn't think to save until it came back into my mind and resonated later) said that the goal of Lent is to remember God.

Last year, I wrote:
"The whole point of Lent, I am finally coming around to understanding, is not giving something up or taking something on, but pausing in the headlong rush of our days to make time for God, the one who is supposed to be our number one priority but so often gets relegated to "after I check Facebook" or "after I do X productive thing" or "I'd rather watch television." (These are all me.) It's not an obligation but a remembering of the gift that each of us has through being in relationship with God. It's an astonishing thing, and I think because God's not there physically in front of us, we tend to take God for granted and not enjoy God now."
Hmm, not a lot has changed since last year.

I usually do one thing for Lent, whether it's to drink only water (and donate the proceeds of liquids I didn't buy) or read a particular book (link shows my 2012's options).

This is my plan (coming just under the wire as it's Ash Wednesday tomorrow):
  1. unplug every Shabbat (Friday sundown to Saturday sundown) during Lent. Yes, I know, I'm mixing faiths, but tough $%!*! (Clearly, I am not giving up cursing for Lent.)
  2. say the Sh'ma (and V'ahavta (chanted) -- is that a given usually? the two together?) every day. This is almost a bit of a cheat, because I already do this regularly, although not daily. It also encapsulates the point of remembering God. The whole point of the V'ahavta, I maintain, is that God really, really, really doesn't want us to forget Godself.
  3. dance daily.  Hey, it was good enough for David to offer to the Lord.
  4. Lent Madness. I've even got a booklet reserved for me (which I would've picked up on Sunday but I didn't go to church, so I'll pick it up tomorrow night at the Ash Wednesday service or at choir practice) but I'm in it for the fun, the snark, and the kitsch round later in Lent.
This might be a bit of stretch, but the way I see it I've given myself three things to do on a Saturday when I'm "unplugged". Will keep you posted as to how I go. Hopefully your plans aren't nearly as ambitious.

What's your plan for Lent?

Sunday, March 2, 2014

National Day of Unplugging

So I stumbled across this event, a National Day of Unplugging. It's on March 5-6 (following the Jewish Sabbath).

Here's another bonus to unplugging -- UNICEF is donating one day of water (through a sponsor) for every 10 minutes you don't touch your phone, although, technically, my iPhone is on with little messages from the sponsor so my eye still gets drawn to it. I'm trying it so we'll see how it depletes the battery as this phone isn't going to sleep either. [Edit: yeah, it does eat up the battery some and my iPhone's quite warm after 25 minutes.]

At time of writing (Friday night), I haven't really decided what I'm going to do for Lent, but maybe it's keeping the Sabbath (Jewish or Christian, but not both) for that period of time. Maybe the first thing I do in the morning isn't to sit down in front of the computer.... but there are other possibilities too, coming out of the class (Coming Home the Body: A Women's Journey toward Contemplative Embodiment) that finished on Sunday.

Maybe resting in butterfly pose for five minutes every morning.

Or stopping to take a breath between each task instead of crossing it off my to-do list and charging onward.

Maybe incorporating just one new practice from that class which would also result in unplugging more?

I have a couple of days to decide -- Lent starts with Ash Wednesday this week.

What are you doing for Lent?