The Safe House

When I was visiting the BroFam the other week, TheBro and I went to see The Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Avengers.

We were, as were so many, disappointed. Still, one detail in the movie, to tell you about which will not constitute a spoiler, kind of stuck with me as a “thinking point” as soon as it appeared: At one point, the Avengers retreat to what they call a “safe house.” They need to regroup. They are battle-weary and conflict-ridden and they need a place to be, well, safe, and work these things out.

While they were retreating, I thought, “I want to host a safe house.”

Then I thought, “Except that in the shows, the safe houses are always compromised, so maybe that’s asking for trouble.” My Paul and I watch a lot of movies and television shows with people fighting for causes (whether worthy or believable or not) where their lives are at risk. At least once in the storyline of probably the majority of these shows, some character or group of characters flees to a safe house … and then their cover is blown and bad things happen but still, ever since I heard of it, I’ve been drawn to the concept.

I realise this is pretty similar to the way-station idea I blogged about before, but I think there’s a subtle difference. A way-station is maybe a broader term that could encompass safe houses, but it seems to me to imply a place to take a load off your feet as you go along life’s journey. A safe house–well, that’s for people who are going through the wars. And there are a lot of people I know who are, on some metaphorical level, going through the wars. And surely even more people I don’t know. I wouldn’t want to turn anyone away who thought I could be genuinely spiritually helpful to them, but, as safe houses in the movies generally serve one branch of a mission or one side of a battle, there is one segment of the population I’m particularly keen to serve.

The group of people about which I am increasingly fascinated–and learning–is what one notable blogger calls “The Dones.” These are (at least some of) the people the recent Pew Research Study was about. Contrary to popular belief, the Dones aren’t relinquishing their Christian faith. They also aren’t “nominal” Christians (Christians in name only) or people who never got involved in their church ministries, or even, really, people who got mad at the church and walked out. They have been burned by the church before, but that’s not why they’re leaving. They just feel, apparently, that the church as traditionally envisioned is not allowing them to follow the callings God has put on their lives, and so they’re moving out so they can follow God better.

I am not Done with the traditional church model, but if recent research I heard about on a podcast is to be believed, I fit pretty squarely–descriptively at least–into the demographic that makes up this movement. What’s more, I suddenly have  a significant number of friends who, like me, are starting to ask the questions and are teetering right on the edge. So, The Readership, I think I know what I want my Nebulous Nonprofit to be about now. I want it to be a “safe house” (in an ideal world, it will one day become a physical place for people to come and retreat, but I think it can be a virtual one, too, at least for a while) for people who have–or had–a Christian faith that is under fire. I want it to be a refuge for people whose faith isn’t working the way they thought it was supposed to and they need a place to be safely honest about that, and to figure out what needs to happen to their faith for them to go on. I want to host a haven for those having a difficult time with their church or who might be discovering that maybe church isn’t what they thought, and they want to figure out what it is instead.

I don’t really think we need more churches, and I wouldn’t make this a condition of The Safe House, but I hope the upshot of all this maybe virtual but also communal soul-care would be to equip each other to go back into the fray, not for the purpose of “fraying,” but because life is a battle sometimes, whether we like it or not, and maybe, strengthened together, we can each move back into a local manifestation of church, better able to sustain each other regardless of what we find there, and better able to support and defend that crazy institution which has been called both Christ’s Bride and His own Body.

Not Dr Watson

You know when you come upon something, or it comes upon you, and you’ve never seen it before, but you immediately think it must be that thing you read about in a book?

You don’t? Well, let me give an example. When I was fourteen, my family and I went to Europe together for the first time. During the last week of our trip, we went to London. To my fourteen-year-old, baptised-in-Narnia-and-Masterpiece-Theatre imagination, real 1980’s London was a little bit of a shock and disappointment, although at least it prepared me to relocate there quite happily a decade later. On that first visit, I kept looking for things I had read about in old books, and fortunately on pretty much the first day, I saw a large crow-like bird, except it wasn’t a crow, because it was black and white. I had an Elsa Beskow book with illustrations featuring a bird that looked like that, and Grandma (who translated Elsa Beskow books for me before they were available in English translations at all) had always translated it as crow. But for some reason when I saw one on the London pavement outside our holiday garden flat, I thought, magpie. “Is that a magpie?” I asked my parents. I’m not sure they knew, but it was okay, because I did. It was definitely a magpie.

And so it was.

And so it was.

This morning, I am sitting with my coffee and my notebook and my computer by the upstairs window, looking out over the pond. About half an hour ago now (because it took me forever to find just the right magpie picture) I happened to glance out and see another bird, much larger than a magpie, flapping slowly across the pond. We get lots of unusual birds around here, and I didn’t recognise it as any of the usual unusual customers.It wasn’t the Bald Eagle (who we seem to have missed this season) because it was the wrong colour and shape, and the flapping was wrong. It was built, and moved, much more like a water bird, but it wasn’t any water bird I have seen here before. It wasn’t the Blue Heron, because it was still the wrong colour and didn’t have those long legs and neck. It wasn’t the Kingfisher because it was much too large and slow, and not at all colourful. It wasn’t a Pelican, which we’ve never had here but I’ve seen before. It was all white, but it wasn’t the Swan, because–well, I already mentioned the short neck thing. The bird I’ve seen that it looked most like was a seagull, and we do get the occasional lost seagull around here, but it seemed to be larger and slower than one of those, too, and the first thing my brain said when I saw it was Albatross. 

I have never seen an albatross before, so I looked up “images of albatross in flight.” None of the images were as pure white as that bird I saw this morning, but the profile was pretty similar.

Like a seagull, but not a seagull. Know what I mean?

Like a seagull, but not a seagull. Know what I mean?

Then I watched a video of an albatross in flight and … I guess the bird I saw wasn’t an albatross. I know albatrosses (like magpies) have kind of negative connotations, but The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is seriously one of my favourite works of literature, so I really kind of wanted it to be one. Plus I like being right, especially when it is solely on the basis of intuition.

In fact, though, I probably wasn’t even right about this thing being a water bird. And to be honest, I wasn’t close enough to see a beak. Perhaps it was just a Snowy Owl, out too late partying on the weekend, and returning home to sleep. Snowy owls are pretty cool, too, I guess …

Although, I'm still not convinced that's what it was, either.

Although, I’m still not convinced that’s what it was, either.

Facing Reality

Warning: this will be a whingy post. If you’re not into reading other people’s whinges, I won’t hold it against you if you skip this one.

That's a Jenn Story

But I’ll bet because I just posted a classic illustration from the Wizard of Oz, you won’t.

I wasn’t ever supposed to look old.

In fact, I think I might have subconsciously anticipated a sort of Benjamin Button-like existence (except that I’ve never seen that movie so I don’t really know what I’m talking about). When I was in Junior High I was so tall that new students occasionally thought I was a teacher. In my 20’s in London, people frequently assumed I was in my early 30’s. But when I moved back to Our Fair City and started working with other actually 20-year-olds in my 30’s, I was constantly assumed to be somewhere in the 25-27 age range.

I know. You’re thinking, but are too polite to say, that everyone in my 30’s was also being too polite to let on that they knew I was in my 30’s. And I suppose there must have been a few of those. But genuine astonishment is sometimes discernible and it happened so often back then that I have to think that for the most part, I looked younger than I was. My hair was greying, and I’ve had a crease between my eyes at the bridge of my nose forever because I squint, but I imagined that somehow I would continue to have this otherwise youthful face, which would just make the grey hair kind of cool.

Now I am … no longer in my 30’s. Although there have been some “life hiccups” in recent times, overall I am happier than I ever was during that decade, so I feel like I should look younger than ever. But this week I started my CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) program and we had to get badges made for the hospital. I sat down in the chair, tried to smile at the camera, and what came out was … a picture of this typical middle aged New England woman, not quite smiling, with the beginnings of jowls. No. Not okay! I was finally starting to get rid of my double chin through my workouts and Shakeology, and the acne I’ve had since I was 13 has never fully gone away, so I feel that Jowls should have to wait a decade or two. And why the heck isn’t P90X3 helping with them??

I had actually already noticed these to my horror in a few other recent, less official photos, but now every day I have to wear this thing that looks like me, except I’m not willing to acknowledge that I look like that. I want my new colleagues, and maybe the patients I’m going to meet next week, to be mystified as to how old I am … which probably definitely has nothing to do with being a good chaplain. Now that I think about it. Okay, I’ll shut up now. Off to have some warm milk or whatever old people do on Friday nights …

Actually, I've liked warm milk my whole life. What if that's the reason I have jowls?

Actually, I’ve liked warm milk my whole life. What if that’s the reason I have jowls?

Learning the Part

About a week before Confirmation I met with the kids individually to talk about their statements of faith. Most of them genuinely wanted to get confirmed, but almost all of them also had some concerns about making the commitment for the long haul–what if they believed differently when they grew up? One of the teens in particular was more than a little bit hung up on this, so I tried helping her envision Confirmation as the first step on the journey with God. The journey metaphor is, as we have already implied, kind of standard for talking about spiritual growth and development. I thought maybe it would make sense to her because, you know, on a journey, you don’t stay in the same place. But something did not compute, and although she reiterated that she wanted to get confirmed, something still felt a little uncertain.

We were at a coffee shop, and so eventually the conversation turned more casual and she started talking about a play that she had been in earlier that year. She talked about what it was like being in her drama group at school and about all the practices and about how sometimes even when you practice for most of a semester, one show might go fantastically and in another, you might forget your lines or something. I had already been mulling over NT Wright’s article for a few weeks, and so I guess I was already thinking of plays as another spiritual metaphor, and suddenly, even though it wasn’t exactly the same metaphor Wright had drawn, the spotlight clicked on or something.

“Hey!” I said, “What if you thought about Confirmation as a commitment to be in the play?”

“What?” asked my teen-aged friend.

“Like, when you commit to being in a play, you probably have an idea about the basic plotline, but you don’t necessarily know which character you’re going to be, or how the play develops, or any of your lines. But you try out for it and get chosen and then you commit to learning it. And you do it over and over and over, and sometimes you still don’t get it right, but you stick with it because you’ve committed to the play. What if you thought about Confirmation and the beginning of the Christian life like that?”

“Oh!” she said. “Yeah, that makes a lot more sense.”

The more I think about it, the more it makes sense to me, too. Maybe the Holy Spirit is the Director of the play, but it seems that the life of faith is a lot about practice, a lot about discipline, and that through that discipline and practice, we become more and more a part of the Story, and the Story becomes more and more a part of us. The more we allow the Holy Spirit to direct us, the more we move into our individual parts in the play–in concert with each other–and in that way, the freer we are to become ourselves.

Cruikshank_Pierce_Egans_Real_Life_-_Drury_Lane_Theatre_1821

Travel Skills

I have been traveling intermittently since I was two, and I like to think I’m pretty good at it.

I got especially good at it after my five week trip to India in college. I went with a group of nine people through an organisation that arranges trips like that one, and before we left, said organisation gave us a list of things to pack. This was in the early ’90’s, so let’s acknowledge that luggage technology was not as advanced as it is now. As far as I’m aware, the fact that my American Tourister suitcase (which had been purchased for me as a high school graduation present and sported my then-favourite-colour, “Dusty Rose”) had a pair of disproportionately tiny wheels, and a handle for dragging it on them, was a relative novelty and considered quite an asset. Unfortunately, it was hard-sided and already weighed plenty when there was nothing in it. The up side was that I guess if we ran into any ill-behaved simians in the jungles of the subcontinent, they wouldn’t be able to break into it. (We did see some monkeys in the trees, but they left our luggage alone. We didn’t see the tigers we were looking for at all.)

After I packed every item on the Recommended Items to Pack list, however (including a travel iron, because I had a travel iron and had never had a reason to travel with it before–and still didn’t, let’s be honest), the suitcase weighed so much that it crushed the wheel bearings and the wheels never rolled again. Which was a problem when trying to rush with eight other people across the length and breadth, as well as up and down the stairs, of a New Delhi train station in an attempt to get to the Indian state of Maharashtra. We ended up in Mumbai (when it was still called Bombay) at the end of the trip, and I guess, if the more recent commercial is any indication, even a soft-sided American Tourister suitcase would’ve sufficed. Bummer.

Anyway, after that I decided to up my travel game, which proved to be a good thing when I moved to London and spent the next five and a half years gallivanting around Europe. One of the things that I learned pretty early on was the importance of informing myself on the upcoming weather of whatever location I was headed for. I developed certain techniques for packing light, no matter the weather, but since cold weather clothes are usually bulkier than warm weather ones, it was important for the success of all the rest of my travel hacks that I have some idea what sort of meteorological state I was about to enter. It used to be trickier to find this out; often I had to make a phone call to a person living in my destination, particularly during the days when I couldn’t afford an internet connection that actually allowed me to search the internet, but only one that allowed me to quickly send and receive emails. But I was always able to find out the information I needed to know. Now it’s so much easier.

All this to say that I really have no excuse for the fact that I’ve been wearing the same sweatshirt and jeans, and borrowing TheBro’s socks, for the last five days. My first day as a non-employee of My Old Church, I got on a plane bright and early to spend a few days with The BroFam. The BroFam lives in a northerly state which is known for cold winters, but since last year New England’s winter lasted about three months longer than theirs and it was hot there when my Paul and I visited them around this same time, and this year New England got more snow than anyone else in the country including Alaska, I guess I just figured I’d be wearing shorts the whole time. I mean, I did figure that. It’s what I packed. It’s been downright hot in New England lately, and in spite of the fact I had a brief glimmer of a thought, as I dragged my soft-sided suitcase with functioning wheels out of its spot in the closet, that maybe I should check the weather, I … didn’t. The only reason I have a sweatshirt and a pair of jeans with me at all is that I find airplanes chilly.

As with most Jenn Stories (of which this is a quintessential one), please feel free to consider this a public service announcement, meaning: Check the weather before you travel. You’re welcome.

I guess if I had traveled here this coming weekend, I would've been okay ...

I guess if I had traveled here this coming weekend, I would’ve been okay …

Anime Good-Byes

One of the girls in the youth group drew this amazing piece of art. Then everyone signed it. Then they had it framed.

That's a Jenn Story

(c) Rachel E. Lindfors
I might have cried when I got this. Maybe a little …

The Fashionable Nine-Year-Old also went all anime with her farewell:

That's a Jenn Story

So the question is, do any animes EXIST? And therefore, will they really miss me?

That's a Jenn Story

I think I see now …

Another favourite farewell drawing, by a lovely and artistic 10-year-old, is the one below, and with it (even though there were so many other great drawings) I conclude this post.

That's a Jenn Story

I confess–part of why I love this so much is that that female figure there is actually discernible as me. Also, the artist spells “Jenn” right–four times! And who doesn’t like having children tell you they love you?

It occurs to me that really, kids are usually better at the good-bye thing than adults.

The Play’s the Thing

A few months ago now, before I turned in my resignation at Now Church, a friend of mine shared the link to a 1989 Laing lecture by N.T. Wright. It’s about whether and how the Bible can be authoritative, and I thought it was fascinating because I like to think about things like that. I regret that I haven’t read enough of his stuff to be able to tell you with any certainty whether his views on the topic have shifted since 1989, although I can say that my views on nearly everything have changed since then, so it’s probably somewhat likely. Regardless, I really liked his play analogy.

In the lecture, Wright suggests that the Bible is authoritative, but not in the way a rule book might be considered by some to be authoritative. That is, not in such a way that rules need to be extrapolated out of every word of it and then slavishly followed. He posits that it is authoritative in the way that a work of art by a master is authoritative. Wright imagines a scenario where a Shakespeare play is written through three or four (I forget which and I’m too lazy to look it back up) acts, and contains some notes for the final act but that last act hasn’t been written. Shakespeare is no longer with us (at least not in this plane of reality), and so if some actors felt compelled to perform and finish this play, they would have to know the already-written bits intimately in order to finish it up in such a way for it to reflect the true playwright. They would have to know the already written part so intimately that its ethos, worldview, language, essentially became a part of them.

It would be glaringly tasteless for them to dismiss everything that had gone before and make something up off the tops of their heads. In fact, what would be the point of performing the play in the first place, if they didn’t respect the existent work well enough to take any account of it at the end? It would be equally useless, however, for these actors to simply re-perform one of the existing acts at the end of the play because they were terrified of “doing it wrong.”

I’m still pondering this analogy, but I think it’s kind of a good one for the way I approach and understand the Bible–way better than to say that I “take the Bible literally,” for example. I do take a lot if not all of even the more fantastical stories pretty literally. That is to say, I believe they actually happened. I really do. But I don’t feel like I “apply” them to life or understand them or read them, the way that “people who take the Bible literally” are supposed to. The unfinished (or still-being-written) play keeps God the Writer of the Bible and even history, particularly if the “actors” in it who are trying to keep to the “authority” of what’s gone before are actually imbued with the Spirit of the Author, which I believe we are. This final act isn’t in the canonical Bible, and I don’t believe it will be or should be. But thinking of life as a play that is, at least from one perspective, still being written, allows for the Bible to remain authoritative, for God still to be the ultimate Author, and also takes into account human agency and the need to immerse in the word and story and connection to God. Like any analogy, it isn’t perfect, but it’s kind of my favourite way to think about this stuff right now.

This is another piece of my nebulous non-profit puzzle–another one of the images and concepts I’m playing with. And this is why I can’t settle only on journey or hospitality imagery to describe what it is I want to do. I’d love to provide space for … what? People to learn their lines? People to get to know the foregoing script in ways that helps them live out their part of the rest of it?

I love the Bible. I have a lot of favourite books but it tops the list, not because I’m religious and I “have” to say that, but because it’s magnificent and unique (and, as it says itself, “living and active“) and it allows people to be a part of its story–a real, integrated part of it. But I’m increasingly aware of the difficulty Christians (at least American ones) across the full spectrum of the Church Universal have with getting into the life of the Bible, and getting the life of the Bible into us. I’m not foolish enough to think I can “make” people encounter God and themselves through the Bible the way they’re “supposed to.” The Holy Spirit is the real Director, not me. But I know I have experienced God through His Book (and I do still wholeheartedly believe it is His Book), and that I am learning more and more by practice and prayer, not how to “apply” its “principles,” but to be transformed to live its story in this part of the history of the world that I inhabit. And so I guess sometimes I wonder if there’s a part I can play that involves bringing some of the actors together in a way that fosters this kind of transforming encounter with God and each other through the Bible.

metz-france-opera-theatre-interior-stage-seats

We could call the NNP “The Fifth Act,” except that’s a phrase Wright coins himself, and I feel like it might be plagiarism. Or “The Troupe.” What are your ideas?