Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Flying with the Goose

I just returned from The Wild Goose Festival at Shakori Hills, NC.  It was an amazing experience.   I am still pondering and processing all that I saw and heard.  It was a fusion of justice and Jesus!  It was a place where anyone and everyone was invited to walk together in faith.  The website for the festival states that “the Wild Goose is a Celtic metaphor for the Holy Spirit. We are followers of Jesus creating a festival of justice, spirituality, music and the arts. The festival is rooted in the Christian tradition and therefore open to all regardless of belief, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, denomination or religious affiliation.”  (http://www.wildgoosefestival.org/intro).  That says a lot and it was all that + a bag of chips.   It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

I came home with renewed faith in the power of a community of believers.  I came home with a new sense of the spread of progressive Christianity – not just in typical Progressive circles, but also into Evangelical circles as well as into numerous denominations and faith traditions.  I came home with a sense that our collective stories of faith are more similar than different.  I came home with a belief that together we can envision a world where we can overcome the differences in our theology.  I also came home with chigger bites and a sore back from sleeping in a tent, but those inconveniences were far outweighed by the blessings of being there at the first ever Wild Goose.

I heard music by Michelle Shocked, Over the Rhine, Beth Nielson Chapman, and many others.  One of the highlights was talking with Vincent Harding who worked with MLK in the Freedom Movement (he believes the name Civil Rights Movement limits it too much).  I heard Jay Bakker talking about grace, Jim Wallis talk about the mess in Washington, Brian McLaren talk about the future and the church, Tony Jones talk about sexuality, and so many others.  I was part of a panel on Church Planting with Nadia Bolz-Webber and Cheri Holdridge.  It was held in a geodesic dome in the woods.  It was a blessing to be there, but there were too many people to hear and too little time.

Little kids were running around playing Duck, Duck, Goose with painted faces.  Families were camping out and cooking on camp stoves.  Conversations about faith and life were taking place all around the festival.  There were 20-somethings covered in tattoos and 60+ folks in their Dockers and bow ties sitting on the ground and on camp chairs enjoying the festivities together.  Folks painted each other with water and mud and brought yarn to unite in a beautiful prayer tree.  The Goose – the Holy Spirit – was everywhere.  The Spirit was in the trees, the camp tents, the contributors and participants, the face painted little kids, the breeze blowing through the fields, and the s’mores offered by tent neighbors. 

I am glad I went the Goose.  I was blessed by the Goose.  And I will return to the Goose.  In the meanwhile – I will fly with the Goose in all I do.  The Goose is with me always.  And also with you!!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

On Being from Lubbock, Texas

I was born in Slaton, Texas in June of 1962 in a little community hospital.  Slaton is a small farming community outside of Lubbock, Texas – an area with lots of cotton farming, oil pump jacks, and cattle ranching in the surrounding area.  Lubbock is mostly remembered as the home of Buddy Holly, the location of Texas Tech University, and as the topic of Mac Davis’ song, “Texas in my Rearview Mirror.”  It is part of the Llano Estacado in the northwestern part of the state.  It is known for cattle – lots of cattle.  There is even a story floating around that Lubbock’s City Council once hung little green scented car freshener trees all around the cattle pens in answer to complaints about the smell.

Lubbock is also known for the 1951 Life Magazine publication of photos of “The Lubbock Lights,” a series of photos showing a V-shaped unexplained light configuration in the night sky.  And it is known for chuck-wagon cook-offs, Old West celebrations, great Tex-Mex food, fantastic football, and wonderful views of the plains of Texas.  It is the birthplace of Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks, Joe Ely, Chace Crawford, and Delbert McClinton, among others. 

We were living in Lubbock during the 1971 F5 tornado that took the lives of 26 persons and did $125 million in damage.  I remember my parents were out that night and neighbors took us into their storm shelter to survive the storm.   The city was rebuilt then and is a thriving community now.  Today there are windmill farms and wineries sprinkling the landscape along with the farms and ranches that are the norm.  It is flat as the eye can see – so the sunsets and vistas are spectacular.

But it can also seem monotonous driving through the region for the uninitiated.  When I took a roommate home once from graduate school in Kansas, as we drove from Amarillo to Lubbock she screamed with glee after an hour on the road, “We’re turning, we’re turning!”  Ok, the road is pretty straight.

But the thing I love about being from Texas – despite the fact that we just do things BIG down there – is the pride of the folks who live there.  They love their Cowboys or Texans, Mavericks or Rockets, and their Big 12 sports – Tech, UT, OU, K-State, KU or whatever team they follow.  They love their music and culture, their art and just being from Texas.  They have big hair, big stories, big mouths, and big pride (not everyone has equal big hair or mouths but I am speaking in generalizations here).

To be honest, though, there have been times when I have not enjoyed being from Texas.  The Redneck sexism that still is a part of Texas drives me crazy.  The racism that is still part of Texas makes me sad (it is everywhere else too – unfortunately).  The political changes that have turned it from a Blue state to a Red one have me perplexed.  And the remarkable variety of places and things to do is mind-boggling in diversity and sheer number. 

There was a time in my life when, like Mac Davis, I wanted nothing more than to leave Texas.  The song, “Texas in My Rearview Mirror,” came out in 1980, the year I graduated from High School in Andrews, Texas.  Like the song, however, I have learned to appreciate my Texas heritage and miss it deeply.  This part of the song means a lot to me.

I guess happiness was Lubbock, Texas
In my rearview mirror
But now happiness is Lubbock, Texas
Growin' nearer and dearer 
And the vision is gettin' clearer in my dreams
And I think I fin'lly know just what it means
And when I die, you can bury me in Lubbock, Texas'in my jeans
-          Texas In My Rearview Mirror, Mac Davis

I have lived away from Texas since 1993 when I left to go to graduate school.  I think of it often, visit when I can, and live with my longings to be there almost every day.  The bulk of my family – birth and extended – live there and I wish I could see them more often.  Leaving at that time in my life was the best for me and my future, but someday I hope to move back to my native state.  I love Texas – despite its flaws.  I wear my accent proudly.  There are very few times that I can open my mouth and not get asked, “Where is that accent from?”  So I get to claim my birth state almost every day living here in the Northeast. 

So, yes happiness is Lubbock, Texas growing nearer and dearer.  I love where I am from.  And I am proud to be a Texan – through and through.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

My iPod Gives Me Whiplash

Music is something that has always fed me.  Music just makes me happy.  I remember singing with my parents as a kid, singing in church from an old hymn book, singing in my basement bedroom to music my parents hated, and singing lullabies with my son in a Russian orphanage when we went to adopt him.  Music has been a part of my life from my earliest memories.  I love pop, rock-in-roll, classical, country, jazz, Broadway musicals, Christian rock, blues, and more.  I love listening to music as we drive on trips.  I love listening to Christmas music as we decorate the house.  I love listening to jazz while I write.  I love listening to musicals and remembering being there in the audience in New York City.

Someone borrowed my iPod the other day and gave it back with this comment, “your tastes are certainly … ummm, eclectic.”  It sounded like a slam but I took it as a huge compliment!  However, I have to admit that here are times when my iPod gives me whiplash.  I had it on shuffle once (a mode that just randomly plays songs by various artists) and my head almost spun off my body.   First Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful Word” comes on – then Melissa Etheridge’s “I Run For Life” – then Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” – then The Benedictine Monk’s “Puer Natus In Bethlehem” – then KT Tunstall’s “Black Horse and a Cherry Tree” – and finally Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust.”  Whoa.  It was like having extreme fluctuations of emotions and psychological reactions.  Music takes us places – in our heads, our hearts, and our memories.  Mine was taking me too many places at once though.

When I think of music, I am reminded of falling in love with my spouse at an outdoor Peter, Paul and Mary concert (that I went to despite really, seriously not liking PPM at all).  I am reminded of the begging for countless renditions of “You Are My Sunshine” from my toddler son before bedtime. And I am reminded of the moments of my life that music has been a vital part.

Nearly everyone I know has a soundtrack for their lives, for their faith, for their kids, for their relationships, etc.  Music speaks to us in ways that transcend easy explanations.  Some folks like music that I am not attracted to – like Hip-Hop or Rap – but it speaks to them.  Some have strong negative feelings about Country – while it brings me back to my Texas roots.  Different strokes for different folks, but sometimes debates ensue.

One of the places where music disagreements occur on a regular basis is the church.  These musical arguments are actually part of what are called – The Worship Wars.  Some traditional church members who love classical music and organs turn their noses up at the use of secular music in worship.  While other church folks who embrace secular and contemporary Christian music in their worship services cringe at the 18th and 19th century classics of their counterparts.  Some churches try to ride the middle of the road and employ a strategy called Blended Worship.  Often blended worship does nothing but make both music style’s proponents mad.  But some churches have still made this work for them.  They honor traditional hymnody and also introduce their congregants to new music on a regular basis. 

The Worship Wars are a testy thing.  They are about one group of folks basically saying to another, “Your worship, your music, your way of expressing your faith is wrong and ours is right.”  In my opinion, it is a very privileged and ego driven position to take.  It also assumes that all folks in one community of faith are attracted to the same type of music.  I do not find that to be true generally.

Like my eclectic iPod – there are a number of music styles that feed people.  I do not want to only listen to classical music any more than I want to just listen to Queen.  I want to have a diversity of music genres at my fingertips, in my worship, and in my life.  The churches that attract younger folks, typically, (not always, but typically) embrace newer music, different musical instruments, and more contemporary styles of music.  The Church needs to embrace this.  Diversity is a gift – in people, in worship, in music, and in life. 

No wars for me.  Diversity rules in my music world.  And I hope it does in the church of the future as well.  Give me a musical whiplash any day of the week.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Vaca Memories

I am off for the summer and am lucky that I am part of a profession that gets a few months each year when we are not in classes.  I like the extra time to write, read, do a few workshops and conferences, and prepare for fall classes.  But I also love the time I get to play with my kid, go to a few movies, and relax a bit.  (And yes, I realize that I am lucky and that many folks have very little time off throughout the year.  I also realize that some have the time but no money to go anywhere.)  Folks give me a hard time about my summers off.   My spouse reminds me all the time that having this time off means “I don’t have a real job.”  But I do – I love my job and also enjoy my time off.  With this time I hope I am making memories with my family like I have from my childhood.

I remember summers at my Grandparents’ house in Dumas, Texas.  We would ride horses, work in my Grandma Wiseman’s garden, ride the tractor with my Grandpa, and eat amazing food from their farm.  We had some wonderful times.  We also spent time with my Nanny, my Mom’s mother, in Slaton, Texas.  We walked to the local 5 and Dime, listened to creative “stories” by my Aunt Edna, went to the park to swing, ate chicken spaghetti and red Jello with fruit in it, and played with our cousins.  What great times!  My mind is full of memories of these extended family visits.

Some of my most vivid vacation memories, though, come from my Mom, Dad, sisters, and me on family vacations as I was growing up.  I remember my dad surfing in California and losing his glasses when he wiped out.  I remember having a snow ball fight with my sisters in Canada in June.  I remember my Mom sitting in the boat when we went water skiing terrified because she did not know how to swim.  I remember walking in the woods and playing in creeks in New Mexico and Colorado.  I remember my sister, Kim, getting so sunburned that she had four inch blisters on her shoulders.  I remember playing board games and cards in the evenings with my family during summer thunderstorms.  I remember going to see Old Faithful as a family in Yellowstone.  I remember 6 of us driving from Texas to Florida to see my sister after her family moved there—and stopping at the Battleship Alabama on the way.  What great times we had … most of the time.  These memories will stay with me always.

But more recent memories as a mom are precious to me as well.  I remember the first time my son saw Disney World and jumped up and down looking for Pooh and Tigger.  I remember taking my parents to see the Statue of Liberty when we lived in New Jersey and seeing the awe in their eyes.  I remember watching my nieces riding rollercoasters and water rides with my young son at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri.  I remember hand feeding sting rays in the Bahamas with Shelby when he was about 6.  I remember seeing New York City’s Times Square through a little boy’s eyes.  I remember taking my spouse to a few Broadway plays and feeling like it was THE place I was meant to be.  I remember watching with my best friend of 30 years as our kids built sand castles together in Delaware at the beach.  And I remember walking across the Royal Gorge Bridge in Colorado and thinking it was the most beautifully scary place I had ever been.   I have some amazing memories and am working on making more this summer.

All of these memories are important to me – whether they are new memories or older ones from my childhood.  But it is not the places we went, the sights we saw or the trinkets we brought back with us that are important.  What was and is important is the time we spent together.  I live too far from my extended family to see them more than once or twice a year, but the memories we share are a constant reminder of how we have lived, laughed and loved together in good times and in bad.  My summers off mean spending time with the people I love.  So this summer we are heading to North Carolina, Ohio and Chicago for some down time.  We will be in the car too much and will not eat the healthiest of foods.  We will ask repeatedly for our son to turn down his music and may argue over what to listen to on the iPod.  We will pack too much and still get there without stuff we need.  We may even get a bit tired of being away from home even when we are gone for just a short visit.  But the point is that we are planning time together—intentionally. 

We are going to make memories—good ones and maybe a few not so good ones (hopefully not too many bad ones but some oops are bound to happen).  We are going to tell stories and create some new ones.  That’s the point of summer vacation.  And I will cherish those memories forever.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Tattoo Theology

Jay Bakker, Preacher and Emerging Church Leader

A few weeks ago we attended an emerging church in downtown Philadelphia.  The music was amazingly fresh, the message was timely and relevant, the worship stations around the room were spiritually inviting, and the multi-generational audience was a blessing.  At one point in the service, my spouse leaned over and said, “I think I am the only one in the room over 18 without a tattoo.”  It was that kind of crowd.  Lots of folks with art on them – on their bodies, in their jewelry, on their clothing, and in the ways they expressed themselves physically in creative manners.

I hate to admit it but some of these folks would have a hard time fitting in as “normal” in most mainstream/main street churches in America.  I have pastored some of those churches and attended many where folks living counter-cultural in how they express themselves would likely feel out of place.  And I have watched some of those same creative folks try anyway – just because they were so desperate to find a community of faith where they could connect to others on the journey and with God.  I have also seen folks cover their tats, take off their piercings, and hide who they are as much as possible to “fit in.”  Most are not willing to do it – and they should not be asked to.

Younger generations in America – and many older folks as well – express themselves through their bodies.  They ought to feel at home in church.  Unfortunately many churches turn up their noses to this generation by frowning at their clothing, their piercings, and their tats-and even their theology.  Many churches claim an inclusive attitude but still frown at folks who are being “too expressive.” 

However, faith communities are popping up across the country and from a variety of denominational and non-denominational roots where just about anyone could be at home.  Many of them are trying new and exciting things that are attracting younger generations – through music, missional experiences, use of technology, and being places of inclusion and grace.  Churches that refuse to make room at the table and in their hearts and lives for a variety of different people who are expressing their understanding of who they are in artistic and creative ways will find themselves diminishing in numbers. 

Tattoos are more and more common.  One in four adults from age 18-50 has body art today.  Many of those have multiple tattoos—many covering large portions of their bodies.  Some express their faith, others their family situations, some their love lives, and still others display significant transitions or occasions in their lives.

Up until last year, I was employed in a seminary that was a tough place to be.  I was “downsized” and began looking for a new position.  When I found a new job I wanted to celebrate this huge transition out of a place where I was not valued and was even treated badly.  I searched for ways to show my joy at leaving a bad situation and finding a place where my gifts were being valued and my worth was being celebrated.  My decision – I got a tattoo.  It is a rainbow peace frog on my ankle.  I was 48 and got my first and only tattoo.  It expresses my joy, my love of self, and my celebration of a new phase in my life.

But the first time my parents saw it they were – to say the least—surprised.   They did not understand, even though several of my younger family members already had tats.  I do go places where I definitely might not flash my tat around, but I am proud of it.  It means a lot to me.  My best friend took me to her tattoo artist to get it done.  It was an amazing experience and says a lot about how I feel about myself.  But at the same time, I know there are places where and times when showing off my tat might make others uncomfortable.  There are even some tats I have seen on others that made me a bit uneasy, however I understood their desire to express themselves.  I also knew that some might question my professionalism by having a tat, but it is part of me. 

I am a beloved child of God.  I am a person of faith.  I am a lover of justice.  I am a person who loves the radical inclusivity of Jesus.  And my tat is all about that—it is about peace, justice, grace and inclusion.  My theology and my tat are in sync.  And the church should welcome both.