Tag Archives: journey

Askant, askew, and coddiwompling about

13680953_1027987870648820_7995306893618230585_n

A friend posted this to Facebook this morning.

And this week  (and probably all weeks), I’ve been teaching my students about the power of words–especially the ways in which words are coded with hidden cultural meanings, with gender, class, and race.  There is always more than meets the eye, metaphor dripping and resonating with import, value and privilege connoted in simple turns of phrase.

What’s funny to me about coddiwomple is that it doesn’t sound the least bit purposeful; it sounds more the stuff of vague wanderings, trodding, trudging, even.  For me it comes too close to the catawampus or the cattywampus, the awkward, askew positioning that some prefer to catty-cornered.

Over the past few days, we’ve discovered that things are a bit cattywampus in a 200+ year old house.  Stairs, floors, windows, closets, joints, gutters–give it 200 years and everything is a bit askant, askew, and disheveled.

And so are we.  

There’s been the stress of moving from place to place for months and finally into this home, and then the rains from this weekend flooded our department, some offices, and classrooms, and so even at work now I feel a bit aimless and displaced.  These are small inconveniences, ones that have lended much needed perspective for me to the challenges many in this world face on a much grander scale.

But they’ve also reminded me that we human beings need purpose.

When all else fails, even when we press on toward a vague destination, we crave clarity, connection, conviction.  What I thought this house might yield along those lines, though, I realize now, is only the beginning.  When we purchased this house, I prayed that it would be a gathering place for family, friends, and strangers, that it would be a place that blessed many and not just us.

But that purpose is still unfolding, amidst boxes and all that is askew, and I’m often impatient to discern the future.  What I’m recognizing and perhaps disappointed by is that although we seem to be home finally, we’re still traveling, always traveling, making our way though the way now be paved with local negotiations, leaky faucets, and neighborhoods.

When it comes to words, coddiwomple might be a nice mantra, a beginning, rather than end point, in order that I don’t lose sight that purpose, in so many ways in my own life and probably yours, is also still unfolding.  What I’m won’t to do in moments like these, is harvest the simple purposes in the everyday–in the fact that this area is crawling with amazing butterflies, in the serene walks atop the cemetery, in the union of struggle and working together that has to happen but also can and does happen when we meet challenges with patience.  

Maybe it’s possible to live purposefully even when you’re a bit disheveled, or at least I’d like to think so.  I’d like to be a bit coddiwomple in a world that is often askew.  I’d like to glean purpose, like a forager, a harvester, a woman who doesn’t let a little rains or floods or follies deter her…

But we’ll see, won’t we?

Advertisements

Finding your discomfort

Yesterday as I drove to church I heard the news that a gunman had opened fire in a nightclub in Orlando; it was a beautiful, breezy morning here in New Jersey, and on our way into worship we joked that it was the kind of weather we might find in the Florida Keys.

The sermon this Sunday was on Genesis 12, the call of Abram, and my colleague invited us to see how Abram builds altars along his journey to an unknown land, and to stop and notice what God is doing and what God has done with our lives.  We made a list of the adjectives that come to mind when we think of our own church community, recognizing, as she said, that we were different last year and that we would be different a year from now.

427210_3001879458108_961133086_n
Camels and Cairo on the horizon.  Photo by Evan Schneider.

But I couldn’t help being drawn, as she spoke, to a slightly different message.

As she remarked that Abram was near 75 years old when the Lord asked him to up and move to an unknown land, and that he didn’t know where he was going, I was struck, as I have been so many times before, by how being Christian does not have anything to do with being comfortable.  Flipping back through the pages of Genesis to the flood just a few chapters before or forward to the epic journey in the wilderness in Exodus, we find a God whose challenges far exceed his comforts.

What I find so powerful about this message is that while God is always instructing us to get up, to go, to go do something, or greet someone, or explore something, God does promise to go with us.  God often promises to go before us, but it’s pretty clear from scripture that we can’t experience the grace and the goodness of God just on our couches.

I think this message was so poignant to me, because I have been someone who has traveled to faraway lands many times in my life, and I’ve often associated my purpose or calling in ministry with that type of journey.  But for those of you who have been reading my blog, these past few years since we returned from China certainly smack of a more stationary season, and I’m not sure I realized until yesterday how important it is to find our wilderness even if we’re close to home.  In Abram’s story and the countless other narratives of transformation in the Bible, I see God reminding us that while some journeys take place closer to home, all journeys toward God involve some discomfort, some wilderness, and a lot of disruption.

comfort-zone

So my question to you (and my question to myself) this morning is where is God leading you, disrupting you, pushing you, and prodding you?  Where, like Abram, is your unknown land, the journey that will be long, involving pit stops and altars, and probably fear and regret?  But where will you go, not because you want to and not because it’s fitting, but because God is leading you there, and you want to be transformed?

When I turned on the radio after church, there was special programming from NPR about the shooting confirming that over 50 had died and now this is the worst shooting in our sordid national history.  On social media, my peers cried out for answers, mourned in solidarity, and wondered how things might ever change.  This morning, I’m rather certain that things won’t change swiftly, comfortably, or easily for any of us, but that real change, as it does in the Bible, will require uneasy, disruptive, totalizing transformation, that our country has clearly resisted since my childhood.

I pray desperately that we as people of faith may not just sit on our couches any longer but leap toward our zones of discomfort, following God and not our complacency, seeking disruptive love rather than cheap and easy respite–we can’t wall ourselves off from parts of our country or parts of our history that are dark.  We need to go toward them, scrutinize them, and even embrace them, in order to change.  

These were the words from a prayer in our bulletin this weekend:

 

Turn over the tables in our hearts, minds, and churches, and make room for your grace to dwell.  We pray in the name of the One who disrupts the world with love, Jesus the Christ.

Amen.

Forgoing security for faith

253347_10200582342833132_2045833360_n
Inside Notre Dame, Paris. Photo by Evan Schneider.

A few months ago I stood in the sanctuary of our church on Good Friday and held a rock in my hand on which I had scrawled the word, “security.”  In my adult life, I have found it consistently difficult to live amidst uncertainty, but I don’t know what in that particular moment compelled me to pray to let go in that holy season of Lent of my preoccupation with security.

But I did.  And the journey forth from that point has been anything but smooth.

In March I was offered a very good tenure-track job at an elite Christian institution–a dream job on paper–but one I ended up turning down because the social services in the Midwest couldn’t accommodate my daughter with special needs, there’d be no job for my husband there, and I couldn’t imagine leaving behind my church ministry for a full time academic job.  Then in the following months as we began to look for houses in New Jersey, we lost a bid on a particularly promising house.  When our offer was finally accepted on another, the negotiation proved so arduous that the deal looked to be off any second.  Even now as we are poised to close on the house, the date has been so far shifted back due to repairs that we find ourselves with a month and a half gap in housing, with a special needs baby and a slew of nurses in tow!

As it looked less and less likely that we’d settle with the sellers on this house, my usually dogged, meticulous husband became strangely calm.  At first I mistook his stoicism for resignation, fearing him despondent, assuming he’d given up.  Perhaps he had given up in  a way, but as he described his feelings I realized he’d found solace in either outcome–he wasn’t complacent but rather his perspective had been remarkably altered by our circumstances.  He’d given up on the ideal of the house, but in so doing he’d found a certain measure of security.

A week or so later, knowing we had very little money for his birthday presents this year, I looked at him with tears in my eyes and told him that I’d discovered that a house would be lovely, but he and Lucia are my real home.

Facing a few months of being a nomad is relatively moderate when we are seeing some of the greatest refugee crises unfold around the world.  In fact, just a few prior, I preached on the trite act of tidying up amidst such forced evacuations.  But I also have rather wanted to shake God for so dramatically “answering” my prayer these past few months.  What do you want me to learn here, Lord, I find myself puzzling.  Why must it all be such a struggle, I wonder, exasperated.

And then I wonder how I would have arrived at these conclusions, this notion of home, without wandering a bit in the wilderness, and I realize that I, like my husband, am also dogged and obstinate.  Sure, I am deeply intellectual, thought-filled, and intricate, yet, even I could not think myself through these insecurities, but rather had to ultimately feel my way to faith.  In the poverty of my thoughts, my own excruciating inability to provide for myself and my family I have found, perhaps, the greatest provisions–the gifts of family that God has so graciously given.  I have found in God not comfort but a depth of security that though practically confounding is deeply needed.  I am learning, I think, how to struggle less and live a bit more, to hold life’s riches close to and let the rest fall away.  

I am learning, I think, to live by faith.

13173688_10154108360431153_7631922841176347560_n
Lucia on the porch enjoying the sun.  My photo.

10 Things I Learned from 2013

I admit that I sometimes go back and read my blog posts.

I don’t think it’s because I’m a narcissist(?), but more because I’m woefully forgetful!

Rolling hills over Merrill Creek Reservoir, NJ.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
Rolling hills over Merrill Creek Reservoir, NJ. Photo by Evan Schneider.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned this year, it’s that I often have to revisit the same lessons many times to make sense of who God is and where God is calling me, and thank God, God stays faithfully the same.  So with November waning, December looming, and 2014 on the horizon, I wanted to take a moment to revisit some of those lessons.  

Perhaps you’re like me, and it takes a few times for something to stick.  Perhaps you’re like me, and reminders of God’s grace and provision, can never be too frequent or too poignant.  So I invite you to revisit some of these posts from 2013, and share your lessons in the comments.  What have you learned?  Where are you growing?  And where are you headed?

1.  “Called to this life.”  Jan. 25, 2013.

I’m reminded that it is in God that the multifaceted call I’ve received finds its unity.  This gives me confidence and reassurance when others question, or I begin to question the integration or the practicalness of my own call.  It is we who often put limits on God, not the other way around!

2.  “Cracks are all there is.”  Feb. 1, 2013.

I’m reminded that there are really only two ways to live in this world–the one in which we try to prevent others from seeing our imperfections, and the other in which we lay them bare and resolve to love others and ourselves just as God made us.  How liberating it is to live into the second truth and to let God shine through the cracks.

Evan and I buying lamps in old Cairo.
Evan and I buying lamps in old Cairo. Photo by Ben Robinson.

3.  “I’m not busy.”  Mar. 15, 2013.

I think this may have been one of the greatest revelations of my year, and I’m so glad it came relatively early!  I find myself repeating these words to others and myself when I am tempted to let the competitive, swimming upstream tendencies in my career or my life to get the best of me.  And I find deep wisdom and comfort in never being too busy to listen to those in front of me.

4.  “Holy everything”  April 6, 2013.

Thanks to yet another excellent sermon at my church, I began to reflect on what it means to be Easter people, to undergo profound internal change, and yet to still experience great brokenness, pain, and death in this world.  For me, holy everything amounts to witnessing and testifying to the holiness of the cross, and the holiness in you and me, in the triumphant and the everyday.

5.  “Outside the walls” May 9, 2013.

Yong River. Guangxi, Nanning.
Yong River. Guangxi, Nanning.

I wrote: “Perhaps this is where my anthropology meets my theology so nearly, neatly, and dearly–in the enmeshing of the sacred and the profane in the everyday lives of people in culture, relationship, and meaning-making.  Real salvation is transcendent in that it seeps out of our pores to touch everyone we meet and everything we do.  And so I think theological education has to change to respond to not only this reality, but this Truth.  It has to equip all these people who are going to be outside the walls of the Church institution, and who will be ambassadors of faith and hope and love in this world.”

6.  “On community” June 4, 2013.

I reflected on how deeply our new church community had ministered to me despite the lines I’d been trying to draw between experiences of God in China and back in the United States during our transition.  

7.  “Each other’s miracles” July 13, 2013.

I wrote: “What if instead of contemplating the origins of disease, asking how the bus driver got lung cancer, or quibbling with the details of disaster, wondering why people bother to live in Oklahoma which is so prone to tornados, we contemplated the length that Christ went for us on the cross, the underservedness of our own grace, and the abundance of grace in a world that’s often so graceless?  And then what if we committed to being not the one who speaks, but the one who prays, not the one who solves or fixes or even heals, but the one who recognizes, beholds, and reveres deep need?  What if we found a way to acknowledge great hurt, but live with great hope?  What if we were one another’s comfort, one another’s grace, each other’s miracles?”

8.  “The God of all of us” Aug. 3, 2013.

A mosque in Cairo, Egypt.  Photo by Ben Robinson.
A mosque in Cairo, Egypt. Photo by Ben Robinson.

I realized that I often give up on those closest to me, friends and family who have been burned by the church and believe that God is not for them.  If I believe that God truly is the God of all of us and doesn’t give up on any of us, how do I reflect that with my life?

9.  “Learning contentment” Sept. 10, 2013.

I reflected on what it truly means to be content in all circumstances, to find a deep acceptance of what God has given and an even deeper praise for all that God has gone, no matter the ups, downs, or delays in life.

The D & R Canal in Princeton at the height of summer.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
The D & R Canal in Princeton at the height of summer. Photo by Evan Schneider.

10.  “Redefining Success” Oct. 17, 2013.

Along those lines of learning contentment, I thought about how empowering, meaningful, and important it is to redefine success in a world in which its often bound up with pride, trampling others, and being number one.  I believe that even in academia, it’s possible to live with the sense that being a child of God and doing one’s best constitute the ultimate contentment and satisfaction.

 

 

Journeywoman

I have had a rough couple of days, a roller coaster of ups and downs, but last Sunday evening I had a glimpse of inspiration and encouragement during my prayer time that has kept me going.

It was not easy, but definitely illuminating to stumble across the notion that the security that I have been craving is a luxury and even a bit of distraction when I consider that it is God, not things or circumstances, who is my security. In other words, I am the type who often worries over the destination, forgetting to enjoy the journey.

But if we believe God really gives us all the tools to meet all of life’s challenges, it is the journey, not the destination, which we are meant to enjoy.

On a particular day recently when I was struggling with being faithful and enjoying the journey, God brought another young Christian Anthropologist into my life who shared her own struggles with me, and I was able to put aside my worries, listening to her struggle, which was oddly cathartic. Ruminating on it, though, I don’t think it’s so odd, really, that God provides us with companions upon the journey, and when we receive their humanity, abiding with one another in this otherwise restless world, we feel the intimacy and the closeness of God’s peace in a tangible way.

That moment was a helpful reminder to me of the intimacy I desire which is paramount and perhaps countercultural, but only in the sense that the pace of the world often doesn’t halt for healing, wholeness, and human connection.

At the same time, what is good and true about culture, much as what is good and true about our God, is the richness of human relationships in all their beauty and brokenness. I guess what I’m getting at it is when I make God and intimacy with other human beings my destination, which is truly returning to my life purpose as a pastor and an anthropologist, I can only revel in what joy there is on the journey and chuckle at my own blindness and anxiety.

Those humbling moments bring tears to my eyes, deep breaths to my chest, and great awe at the goodness and carefulness of all God’s plans which I had doubted.

I pray that I might continue to grow into this type of security, this rootedness in God that brings peace and joy no matter how bumpy the road.  Amen.