Transmitters

When Christians try to encourage other people in the practice of journal keeping (a practice I highly recommend, by the way) they often cite as one of the reasons it’s a good idea the fact that a journal gives you a record of where you’ve been and what God’s done in your life. I can affirm this, but I can also tell you that I haven’t gone back and reread a journal in years, if not decades, because I tend to be verbose (I know–you’re shocked) and it kind of feels like really time-consuming self-absorption to me.

But apparently you can get similar benefits from going to your Facebook wall and clicking on a year in the sidebar that happened more than five years ago, and scrolling through all the posts. They’re shorter, they involve other people, and if you were a regular with the status updates like I used to be, they trigger a whole lot of memories and realisations and hopefully gratitude, in a much shorter period of time.

I say this from the experience of about five minutes ago. Earlier this evening I posted the following:

Someone asked me yesterday about all the hats I've worn at this job, but this one hat seems to me to analogise my roles better: one hat, lots of points.

Someone asked me yesterday about all the hats I’ve worn at this job, but this one hat seems to me to analogise my roles better: one hat, lots of points.

Two Thousand Eight was a pretty significant year for a number of reasons, but two of the reasons were that it was the year I was diagnosed with and treated for cancer (surgically–other treatment came later) and the year I began working at Now Church–which is about to stop being Now Church and just be Church, I guess. After I posted that picture, I thought, I wonder what else is on Facebook from that year. A lot, it turns out. I have, and have always had, it seems, a very supportive network of friends and family. Life moves people around and you lose touch with some of them. There were people supporting me through my cancer diagnosis whom I rarely if ever see now, but I’m grateful for them to this day, and I’m grateful for the friends I’ve made in the meantime. My overwhelming impression right now is of God’s constant, active, personal presence in life, both in the joyful and the painful times. The other impression, if my Facebook wall from 2008–or any other year, for that matter–is any indication, is that He most frequently makes His presence known through other people.

So thanks, past, present, and future friends, for transmitting God’s presence in my life, whether you know it or not.

So Long, Farewell

I had a really hard time adjusting to being a nanny. The kid was an infant, and had the worst case of reflux I’ve ever experienced or heard about, so all he did was scream and poop and puke. At least once, he did all three of those things at the same time, and added a sneeze and a whizz. He was not wearing a diaper at the time. It was at that point that I burst out laughing, decided that if this were the worst of it, I could stop being bitter that I was no longer at college and was not caring for older children with whom I had more experience, and start to try to love this baby. By the time I was nearly done being a nanny, the child and I had bonded to such an extent that even though he was just two, we could talk about Jesus and give each other lots of hugs and kisses, and he could make up poems about cats while we sat together on the front steps.

When I started to explain to him that I was going to leave because I needed to go help people in London, he began getting up from his naps and turning his back to me when I came into his room. “Not like Jenn,” he would say emphatically and sulkily. (People think that small children and domestic animals don’t know what they’re talking about, but I contend that if the relationship is close enough, they can at least get the basic gist.) I knew that that simply meant this small child did like me–and he was angry at me for leaving. Even though I still knew it the day I left for the last time and he wouldn’t even say goodbye to me, his refusal kind of hurt. But it kind of meant a lot, too, that a little child cared whether I was there or not. It also made me feel like I should probably never work with children again because saying goodbye was too wrenching.

We can see how that turned out.

I guess saying goodbye to my little charge in the 90’s (who, by the way, is the same age as my stepdaughter who is now halfway through college) might have been when I figured out that people, and maybe especially younger people, have ways of saying goodbye and that they’re going to miss you, without actually saying it. Girls might be better at using the actual words. The Fashionable Nine-Year-Old, who updates me on the minutiae of her life every Sunday and occasionally draws me pictures, gave me a hug the day my resignation was announced and said glumly, “I’m going to miss you.” A couple of the teenage girls bought me a gift bag full of trinkets which somehow perfectly captured their senses of humour, their senses of spirituality, and our teen/leader relationship. But in the card one of them wrote how much she’d miss me, and the other made puns, and both were equally indicative of our youth-group-forged bond.

But the boys can indicate sadness at goodbyes, too. One of them said when I got just the faintest bit teary, “Don’t you cry, Miss Jenn! Just don’t do it! You’re gonna make me … !” And another said, “Are you ever going to come back?” And the last one said seriously, “I hope you’ve made the right decision.” Which I’m pretty sure means he’s going to miss me, too.

I have one Sunday left at Now Church, and on it, some of these kids will be getting confirmed. Confirmed already, confirmed that day, or not confirmed at all, I will give them a hug and I will bless them. What is confirmed is our regard for each other. And that I will miss them a whole lot.

That's a Jenn Story

“Miss Jenn” by the Fashionable Nine-Year-Old (when she was eight) at last year’s Confirmation service.

Confirming the Vision

I started reading a book for the spiritual direction training course I’m hoping to start this autumn, after I finish the chaplaincy training (CPE for those of you in the biz) I’m starting in May. The book is called Holy Listening, by Margaret Guenther, and I already love it. It doesn’t hurt that it’s short and she doesn’t use complicated words. But she also does a great job of describing how hard it is to describe what spiritual direction even is. Then she describes it (at least in chapter one) as hospitality.

I kept thinking, Hey! That’s like what I was talking about in my last blogpost! Then I felt sheepish about the fact that that last blogpost was kind of a while ago, and in it I claimed I had other imagery besides a Spiritually Hospitable Place for my still Nebulous NonProfit. Thing is, after I said that, I started having trouble describing, even to myself, what that “other imagery” actually was, and then life got complicated, and then, as I frequently do with blogs when life gets complicated, I gave up.

But today when I was reading, I was so excited to discover that I am on the right track, both about how hard spiritual direction is to describe, and also about its being a form of hospitality, that I just had to share it with you. And I guess I’ll share you a few quotes from the book, too, just to show you what I mean.

First she describes the human condition:

Since the expulsion from Eden, we have been a people on the move, despite attempts at self-delusion that we have somehow arrived. We follow in the footsteps of our peripatetic Lord, always on the way, our faces turned resolutely or reluctantly toward Jerusalem (p. 9).

Then she begins to describe what we need spiritual directors for:

… travelers cannot survive in comfort without hospitality … Even the most self-sufficient cannot escape this need … (p. 9).

The spiritual director is a host who gives to her guests … in the truest and deepest sense, reflecting the abundant hospitality shown by the host at the heavenly banquet (p. 10).

I’m not sure that’s me, but I would really like it to be someday. In preparation for I-Want-To-Be-THAT-When-I-Grow-Up, I can certainly recognise the need for some serious housecleaning–and housekeeping.

The first task is one of housecleaning, of creating our own inner order … Literal housecleaning is tiresome but straightforward work … [with] results that we can see and admire. Spiritual housecleaning is more subtle and cannot be done alone (p 11).

That’s for sure. I seem to be going through a phase of inner housecleaning at the moment. I keep thinking I’ll be done soon, but you know how when you pick up the pile of papers you left on the table you might find a half-eaten sandwich under there, and then when you pick that up there are ants? Maybe we never are done soul-cleaning, when we get serious about being a hospitable person–for other people, and especially for Jesus. In light of this, I went to see my spiritual director this week. I spent probably half of the session sobbing, but somehow, with very few words, he helped me open up, not so much to him, but to Jesus there in the room with us. When that happened, Jesus and I together were able to uncover some metaphorical laundry I had shoved down into some hampers in the corner of my soul, and begin some cleaning up. The discovery and the results were almost startling, although it seems like laundry, either literal or metaphorical, had best not be startling.

Hospitality is an occasion for storytelling with both laughter and tears, and then the guest moves on, perhaps with some extra provisions or a roadmap for the next stage of the journey (p 14).

Or some clean laundry. Which, let’s face it, is a pretty big deal when you’re on the road.

That's a Jenn Story

On the Search for Home

I am having a little trouble landing on a name, a theme, a focal point for this as yet nebulous nonprofit idea we’ve been discussing here the last few weeks. There needs to be one, clearly, for reasons like the previous sentence. Trouble is, even though (thanks in part to some of you) I now have a better idea of what I want to do with this aforementioned nebulous nonprofit idea (NNI), I’m still having a hard time narrowing it down in such a way that I can name it, and furthermore, pitch it.

So, since it turns out The Readership makes a helpful sounding board, I am going to pitch some of my thoughts at you, and maybe you can help me figure out how to wrap the thing up nicely for easier conversation. (Also to help my lawyer friend with the whole pursuit-of-nonprofit-status thing. It turns out government entities like to know what your company is doing when you hope not to have to pay taxes on it.)

Let’s start with the Displacement idea. I guess this is still a pretty major factor in my thinking, and if I sat and thought about it long enough, I could probably say that almost everything of significance I’ve ever done in my life has had at least a kernel of the impulse to help people (including myself) face and make meaning and even transformation out of whatever was going on in our lives that left us feeling displaced. In my experience, most humans have a sense of disconnect, of not quite being Home. I guess I think that’s because we’re not, and I hope that the NNI (yep–I guess that’s what we’re calling it until it has another name by which to “smell more sweet”) will be a safe place for people who are conscious enough of feeling displaced to want to do something about it. I don’t expect (nor want) the NNI to be Home–I think Home is Jesus, to be honest–but I guess I would like it to be a safe way station for those on quest to stop and refresh themselves, to get to know other travelers, to come back to from time to time, or to stay as long as they like. I imagine something like Elrond’s home in The Hobbit–the Last Homely House. (If my Paul and I ever do start up a retreat centre of our own, I call dibs on that name, okay? But I’m not sure that’s the right name for a ministry that doesn’t have a fixed physical location. Or is it? What do you think?)

Rivendell, as painted by its creator, JRR Tolkien

Rivendell, as painted by its creator, JRR Tolkien

I don’t see the NNI as the goal of the quest or the restoration of Home, and I certainly hope it doesn’t turn into yet another “comfort zone” for people to get stuck in. But life is tough and I know I’ve needed–at various points in mine–places to take a breather, or regain my bearings, or touch base with other travelers to know I wasn’t alone, or even to stock up on tools, supplies, resources to go the next few steps. Maybe other people could use that, too. And maybe, even though I’m not at the end of my pilgrimage either, at this point along it, I have some things to offer, by and in the grace of God.

Such is the first image I associate with this gradually forming plan. But it isn’t the only one. I’ll tell you about the others in the next few posts.

Lent90X

Let me say right now that I do not know how (even though I believe He did it) Jesus managed not to cave into any temptation even once in his physical life as a human being on earth. Because in the 40 days of Lent that just happened, commemorating His 40 days and not-giving-into-temptation in the desert, I have had a very hard time giving up what I decided to give up for Lent. By which I mean it was impossible.

Riviere, "The temptation in the wilderness," 1898. (Thanks to my cousin Dave for making me aware of this painting's existence.)

Riviere, “The temptation in the wilderness,” 1898. (Thanks to my cousin Dave for making me aware of this painting’s existence.)

Let’s be honest here. Most of the time, if I’m giving up something for Lent, I pick something that doesn’t actually matter all that much in the grand scheme of things. Giving up coffee while working at Starbucks? Is kind of a drag, but it’s almost more like a dare than a spiritual discipline, and if I got up at 3.45 a.m. for an opening shift and sucked down a tall Pike Place one morning, well, I might be miffed at myself for not accomplishing what I’d set out to do, but I’d also know that God was going to forgive me for this lapse of coffee, and so I could forgive myself.

It’s when you pick something that’s actually about real character formation (or, as may happen, it picks you) and you actually fail–multiple times and somewhat glaringly–and not only that, but it happens while you’re in the process of imagining a nonprofit where you’re going to help people deepen their connexion to God (or you really hope you are) … Well, that’s at least one of the times when you find out if you really believe all that stuff you say about your own self being a sinner and Jesus dying for your sins and those sins actually being annihilated by His perfection being strung up on that cross.

I don’t think I could actually be more specific about this if I tried, and anyway, it doesn’t really matter what I was trying unsuccessfully to accomplish during this intense spiritual workout of a Lent. The point is, after the dust cleared of mostly having failed, I realised that maybe that failure–much as I hate ever to admit to having failed at anything–makes the message of Lent, of the Crucifixion, and ultimately of Easter, all the more poignant and all the more essential–as if to let go of it would be to give up on life. The discipline I chose (or which chose me) was not something I could accomplish. I just couldn’t. And it was important. It was about who I am–in relation to God, to God’s people, to myself. But the message of Lent, of the Crucifixion, and ultimately of Easter is that of course I couldn’t. And of course I can’t. That’s the whole reason I need this spiritual character formation in the first place–but I can’t change myself.

Thing is, God can. And God does. And He came down here that Friday those millennia ago, and hoisted my failures and rebellions on His back, and died for them. And then He kicked Death to the curb and sent His Holy Spirit to work with me on the transformation.

There’s probably not too much about this post that makes any sense. I guess I’m just saying I’m grateful for what Jesus did on that cross today, because I needed it, much as it hurts my pride to admit it. And it’s enough, and more than enough, to get me moving into tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that, knowing that He wants to make me better–and He will.