Un/Sheltered

I grew up sheltered.  I grew up with the shelter of a house and home.  I grew up sheltered in a neighborhood of care and protection where almost everybody knew your name.  I grew up sheltered in a religious community that sought to enrich and nurture me in safety and solace.  I grew up sheltered by educators who cultivated an environment of learning and growth that presented challenges but at a “rate I could handle” with all the abundant resources of a high property value school district.

But I also grew up sheltered… buffered. Insulated. Because all these people and things that loved me and wanted to protect me and my childhood buffered me from realities of the world I wasn’t “ready” to experience or weren’t considered “safe”. I was buffered from racial diversity.  I was buffered from poverty.  I was buffered from almost everything that didn’t conform to the norms of my safe world. I was buffered so well that I find myself at times a resident alien to the world – an anomaly poorly trained at a fundamental level to engage and connect emotionally with the broad diversity of life.

I don’t fault anyone for that – who doesn’t want to protect our children?  Who doesn’t choose to live in comfort?  Who doesn’t secure abundance if that choice is available to them and the resources required to make it happen are given to you?  And if to do that we shelter our children from the wider world, where is the harm in that?  Is that not the job of a parent? There was no intent to harm here… but harm did happen.  I was raised to care.  But I was insulated enough that my circle of care was very small and occurred at very little cost to myself.  A little hyperbole that is in fact closer to the truth than we want to admit: at best I took field trips to a different world (resident alien that I am) so that I could do some safe caring for a moment and then go back to my haven feeling better about myself.  And because of this, I have come to believe that I grew up in the modern-day equivalent of the Tower of Babel: a place crafted by well-meaning people to secure an unchanging posterity-revering life of prosperity with high strong walls to keep the insiders safe from all that was outside. 

What happens when the outsiders come in? 

The larger Boise community has been caught in a deep and revealing conflict for the last year. A beloved institution broke an unwritten rule: they brought outsiders to our front door.  Interfaith Sanctuary has been a valuable and highly lauded member of the Boise community for years.  It is our city’s only no-barrier shelter for people experiencing homelessness.  It provides shelter for people who have none.  It is hard work. It has not always gone well. But loving and dedicated servant-leaders made sure to create an environment of dignity and health for those who too often were only shunned. And their work was recognized, and they were a respected leader in our city… and I think now I recognized that part of that was because it existed outside our walls.  It was in a place where many of us never go… and it kept people there who we would rather not encounter on a daily basis.  I didn’t realize that – I’m not sure Interfaith realized that – until they tried to move to a new location. A location INSIDE our walls.  And then the community erupted.

picture of a house with the name of the agency on it: Interfaith Sanctuary.  The tagline is, You are welcome here.
Interfaith Sanctuary provides Boise’s only no-barrier shelter to ensure all our residents have access to a place to sleep.

I have friends and congregation members who do not approve of the Interfaith’s move proposal.  They are still my friends and I’m still their pastor.  I understand their reasons and sometimes I’m inclined to share them.  I have friends and colleagues who are part of planning and supporting the move.  I think they made some missteps and assumptions along the way, and I think the process has been obscure and poorly handled by various parties on all sides (and there are many sides to this one)… but I don’t think it means it’s not the right idea, nor do I doubt any of the motives to create well-being for all the residents of Boise. All the residents.

This conversation is a volcanic whirlwind and since we cannot go backward, we have to move forward from where we are… and the only way we can even begin to do that is if we first all put down our stones we are slinging at each other.  The most hurtful part of this whole process for me, other than the stripping of dignity and worth of my neighbors who already have been stripped of house and home, is the way we have treated and characterized and bullied each other in the process.  I realize that the neighborhood I live in now, like the neighborhoods of my childhood, is a construct, a house of cards – and I know now that I do not like what I see when the cards all get thrown on the table.  We are harming each other by exclusion, by name-calling, by celebrating the dehumanizing of our neighbors, and by making it clear that some people are only welcome if they stay outside our walls… in other words, they aren’t welcome at all.  The excuses we tell ourselves and each other are poor covers for the truth and I do not think any of us like the truths we are learning in this process.  But a core value of my life is putting myself in places to grow and expand my worldview and to let go of the curtains I have used to hide the more shameful truth claims I cling to.

Since my childhood I have spent time in the rural Philippines learning and being taught by many wonderful people to see the world from other eyes, I worked as a chaplain in an inner-city hospital in Atlanta rapidly expanding my experience of diversity on all the spectrums.  I have been a church pastor, a legislative advocate on behalf of the underrepresented, and become deeply involved in the work of trying to end homelessness – a goal that is laudable, and I believe achievable, but is long and hard which means in the meantime we NEED no barrier shelters that are working to maintain the dignity and health of our neighbors, friends, and family.  I have learned a lot since my childhood… but that kid is still in me.  I still fear.  I still feel like a resident alien.  I still yearn secretly for an insulated and buffered life. And I still have a temptation to “other” people who don’t look, speak, and act like me.  I’m not proud of it – but it happens.  I am not done learning to be more than that… I have a lot of growing and experiencing still to do.

I want to build a world where children do not carry the trauma of homelessness in their bones for the rest of their lives.   I want to build a world where children do not learn to fear people who aren’t like themselves.  I want to build a world of bridges and a diverse community.  I want to tear down all the walls… even my own.  I hope that Boise can be that kind of place.  We have a lot of work to do.  It will be hard.  It will be scary.  And that is why we have to do it together.  And together starts when we all lay down our stones, come out of our glasshouses… and welcome one another in vulnerability and grace.  Let’s build that Boise together.

Generous Interpretation

In our Bible Study on Paul’s letter to the Church at Philippi, you get a window into Paul’s pastoral heart – and it’s filled with joy, generosity, and yearning for the well-being of the people of Philippi.  In fact, it stands in stark contrast to the opinion so many people have of Paul.  Paul gets accused of much, and I’m one of those people who has done it.  Much of our accusations are based on a very small picture of his character: big ego, manipulative, high-level circular rhetoric… confusing as can be.  We are grossly unfair to him.  He didn’t know we would be reading these letters.  He wasn’t writing them to us for sure, and yet we are prepared to judge him based on a view of a few poorly transcribed handwritten letters from 2,000 years ago. 

I am guilty as charged.  And yet… I feel very drawn to Paul.  I am an easily frustrated person who is bad at hiding my frustration.  I spent much of my early years “playing from behind” in sports and academics, it has created in me a natural defensiveness that is often harmful. I easily fall into hyper-critical mode and can be more than a jerk, and more than a little intellectually condescending.  I also make intuitive leaps and regularly must remind myself, “let them tell me their truth – don’t assume it on their behalf or pretend you know better.” And I’m rightly judged on those faults often enough to feel some kinship with quick assessments of Paul’s character. 

However, I’m more than those faults.  I am good at assessing data and making jumps and correlations that others don’t always see – taking disparate building blocks and turning them into something never intended.  I move from slow methodical planning to quick agile responsiveness with some ease.  I have a gift for putting into words another person’s feelings or experience in ways they are grateful for – the place this comes up the most is in memorial services.  Failed humility moment: I’m good at them. Because I am good at hearing the story of a person beneath the stories that get told and giving that larger story voice.  And these traits are all ALSO true… alongside my jerkiness… my quick leaps to critical opinions… and my defensiveness.

We are more than our worst moments, and we are less than our best.  We are a convoluted mess of gifts and challenges.  All of us are – no matter how enlightened one may appear to be.  It is easy to worship a person who you never drew close enough to be annoyed by… it’s also easy to demonize them.  Because unless we get close enough – we will never learn the all. 

We did some work as a staff with Brené Brown’s BRAVING acronym at the end of last year and one insight has stuck with me.  It’s the G which stands for generosity – but maybe not how you think.  “Extending the most generous interpretation to the intentions, words, and actions of others.”

Those are words I’m writing on my heart… and my doorpost and I commend them to you as well. We are a mess (in so many ways), we deserve to give ourselves and each other the most generous read possible. 

New Year Values Audit

I typically like to send out a reflection device for the new year to members of my congregation. Sometimes it’s a worksheet, one year we wrote “letters to the new year”, sometimes it’s just some thoughts to ponder.  As I mentioned in my sermon last Sunday this year I was thinking “values audit”.  What does it look like to evaluate how well our life is being lived by our core values?  For some of us, that may mean even needing to identify, “what are my core values?”  I think you will find we have many, and not all of them are as fundamental to our identity as others… I typically group my values into three categories:

Central

These are things that are so important to me that to betray these values is to betray myself.  These may be about family, faith, politics, personal and public economics.  Regardless these are life-long enculturated and nurtured truth claims.  When I find myself in a heated argument with someone it is likely because one of these values is “at stake” in the argument.

Important
These are values I cling to but have some more give than central, core, or fundamental values.  Many of these I will think of as essential values until they rub up against those core values and then they always take a back seat.

“It’s Nice”

These are things you like and want to be… but they are major motivators of your actual priorities.  Again, for me, what sets each tier of value apart is which ones win out (most often) when they come into conflict.

When you are “too busy” you will choose which values win. 

When “money is tight” you will choose which values you put your money towards. 

The Gospel of Matthew makes an important point when it says “where your treasure is, there your heart is also,” no values audit is complete without opening your checkbook or your online banking records, and seeing where your money actually goes… a budget is a values statement.  So too is our family calendar because it measures the time we are willing to give to different things… and the time we are willing to give is a demonstration of values.

The point of a values audit in short is to say… does it turn out that things I would claim are central values regularly lose out in actual practice to things I claim are not?  If so… I’m deceiving myself about the importance of those values or I have allowed myself to lose track of my priorities.  I have lots more to say on the subject… but I think the point here is to offer you a chance to do the talking, to yourself.  So, I invite you to engage yourself in your own values audit.  Be honest and be open to learning things you aren’t proud of and celebrate things you haven’t given yourself credit for, and then figure out – what do I want to change here.  Through it all, be grace-filled – honest interrogation can also be done gently and with care…self-care.  And most likely this is also a conversation you will need to have with people in your life for whom those changes will matter because it will affect them, or you will need them to help hold you to the changes you wish to make.  We cannot do it alone (central value alert!)

For further conversation about conducting your own values audit, here is a way to frame the conversation that may prove helpful: https://medium.com/the-ascent/why-i-gave-myself-a-values-audit-c1ade51af6a

And I hope this exercise proves insightful and fruitful for you.

The Bleakness

There are many ways I’m feeling the bleakness. Directly or through shared pain…. Uncaring neighborhoods. Raging pandemic. All too many deaths of friends and congregation members and family. Challenging diagnosis. Lack of resolve to remove toxic patterns. The cold wet mud sucking reality that this is a hard world.

This image is holding my center however.

Shared to me by a friend and coworker, this is happened late afternoon today. The manger is still on our chancel for Christmastide before it gets replaced by baptismal font for the Baptism of Jesus Sunday this weekend. And it’s being bathed in the yellow glow of one of our stained glass windows. But it’s not just any window. All the windows on that side are red and blue.. except one. One bright window of whites and yellows on a wall of deep reds and blues. That window? It’s the “I am the Resurrection” window. That’s right… like the star in the sky for the magi of old that light is shining into the bleakness to remind me that hope is born anew, and joy comes with the morning.

Epiphany may be Thursday… by mine was today. And I’m humbled and warmed, worshipful and empowered to keep trying to be light and warmth in the bleak midwinter.

Kukla Christmas Letter 2021

Dear Friends and Family,

(Note: Caroline, a good court jester to me (that will make sense later), says you won’t read this whole letter – so if that is you, and you know who you are, skip to the bold “start here” comment about halfway down.)

I hope this Christmas letter finds you well – even if it comes under the shadow of another COVID variant. I can recall March of 2020 thinking, “we may not be in the Sanctuary by Easter…” without realizing we would miss two YEARS of Easter Sundays in the Sanctuary. I can recall the optimism of June 2021 when vaccines were being dispersed and it felt like the fall would bring “normal routines” when in fact it brought spiking Delta waves of new cases. I think of those memories and say, “how cute were we – all full of optimism, hope, and naivete?”

Yes… yes… this IS a Christmas letter… I haven’t forgotten. You came here expecting a bit of witty commentary on another year past and the accomplishments of our children with the survival stories of their parents. It was much what it would be if it was years past… and I will tell those stories, but first I’d like to share the preachy part… vocational hazard, ya know? COVID has become one more individualizing force in our lives (one among MANY). How do I isolate, withdraw, take care of myself is the question we have asked… maybe the better version where we do so to protect our neighbor. Some of that is necessary – but like all things, we are challenged in moderation. And pandemics can make us myopic – we only see this most pressing of all challenges. We can forget that all the old problems are still there. People still die of other things… and systems-level justice issues must still be addressed. By all means, be COVID safe, but avoid the temptation to stop helping others because it endangers ourselves.

And while I was thinking this, it struck me that if I record the story of our year past as what we accomplished – I miss that those accomplishments are largely empty and vain if we have not also done anything to empower our neighbor’s accomplishments and promote the well-being of our larger community. The impulse to self-preservation without regard for community preservation is a lonely end game – and ultimately it is far too often counterproductive: we can’t survive alone for long. It’s not simply theological, it’s evolutionary: it is in our drive towards each other and cooperative work towards shared values and goals that promotes the well-being not simply of the whole but of each individual within the system.

START HERE 🙂

Which is what makes the infectious joy with which Danielle lives every day such a gift. She is a hugger and cuddler (my personal struggle… some space please?) and she is drawn to people with a sense of rejoicing in their presence.. you can’t help but have a better day when she is around. It’s a gift I take no credit for but am proud of all the same. From the soccer field to the classroom she sheds joy on everyone. And she brings that joy no matter how “good” she is at whatever she is doing (she is now trying volleyball and that should be… interesting! But she will make it joyful!) Shared joy: you cannot eat it, and it won’t keep you dry or warm on a rainy night. But it will get you going in the morning when nothing else will. We all need cheerleaders!

Meredith snarls, glares, and rebukes like nobody’s business. But she has flourished into a natural leader that also mentors, teaches, and defends. Little did I know an old story of her early childhood would so define her: she used to get bitten a lot in preschool and I asked the teachers if she was provoking kids. They said, “oh no! We have a bitter in the classroom and no one will play with him.. except Meredith. She just doesn’t mind getting bitten and still plays with him… thus all the reports that come home.” And this year we have seen that same trait flourish in so many other ways… she is too stubborn to give up on anyone (except her little sister… but no one is perfect!).

Elizabeth is one of those withdrawing types – COVID has expanded E’s desire for their own space, privacy, and avoidance of anything like the limelight. And yet Elizabeth has gladly taken up working the food pantry at church every Monday from 3:30 to 7:30. E walks the stairs up and down hauling boxes made for families of 3… 5… 7. And it was one thing Elizabeth never questions or never fights doing. Sure the parents in us would love to see E desire to be at youth group, cross country practice, or taking part in all the family activities (not just the ones we make ‘em do)… but E is E and charting their own course: but never without regard for others – and I’ll take it!

Warren had another up and down year. Our kid most disillusioned with what COVID caused and trying his best to make it through AP classes, soccer, band, philharmonic, and all the things (not to mention video games, video games, and more video games)… he is a quintessential jack of all trades but that has included helping to run A/V in worship, and being willing to take up any new tasks or job he doesn’t know how to do already if anyone – literally anyone – asks him too (he will moan about… he is a teenager after all, but he usually also does it). He is a lot like oil in a machine – you don’t necessarily notice he is there until he isn’t… because when he isn’t nothing quite works right. (Also… he is the LOUDEST video game player the world has ever… heard.)

Caroline is the glue to it all. I don’t need to tell you that there are few people as compassionate, empathetic, and caring as she is – and who backs that up with tangible work: running the car pools, cooking the food, crunching the numbers, organizing the chaos. And while she might groan to me – she does it all with the type of laughter that tells you where Danielle gets her joy from.

The name Kukla means doll… or puppet. In Greek, it’s used as a term of endearment for a young child (you doll), but as you move up Eastern Europe in Czech it means cowl or hood… or one who makes or wears cowls or hoods… and in Russian, it takes on more the puppet or puppet maker meaning (thus Kukla, Fran, and Ollie for those of you that know that reference). We are Polish Kuklas… and I like to think it means court jester. (A doll wearing a hood who entertains… a mishmash of it all.). Why? Not because we mock or have nothing useful to add… but because I like to think the court jester properly makes things go more smoothly… to prick the egos of the powerful and lighten the nasty moods, to bring joy and point out elephants in the room, to serve the master, not of entertainment, but of cooperative peace… maybe even harmony – discordant notes brought together into a semblance of beauty… It’s a goal anyway – even if not quite attainable. And one I think is worthy. Because working together isn’t easy, it is messy, and it will cause no small amount of headaches and frustrations… but ultimately? I think it’s the only way we are getting through this thing called life.

So here is to a year of the court jester in its many manifestations! I hope you are finding people in your life who bring you joy and comfort (and prick the balloon of self-importance when necessary… we all need it – I know I do). And I hope you find yourself being those for others as well. Nurturing cooperative actions towards a more comfortable and joyous tomorrow for all our neighbors. And along the way: may you have a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and wonder-filled New Year.

We love you all, the Boise Kuklas

Kindled

You lean in

on hands and knees, you

can feel a cold draft pulling up

and yet a tiny warm glow barely

heats the front of your face.

Leaning in, you purse your lips

and ever so gently

exhale.

A billow of ash greets you, but

you do not pull back and you do

not cease your steadfast instigation

as you feed an ever-increasing

amount of air to ember

and bring the banked fire

back to life.

Just so… dreams are kindled.

On hands and knees with

reverent spirit and life

sustaining breath poured over an idea

that moves beyond itself,

flickering up and carried

away beyond the confines

of our efforts and into the skies

fueling yet more dreams.

Lean in and savor

the act of creating, birthing

and gifting the world

the ignited and igniting warmth

of a dream fed with love.

The Earth Will Now Rest… will you?

I came across this Harvest prayer for the Seaconke Wampanoag people written by Michael “Tender Heart” Markley.  The Wampanoag people were a thriving culture and people living in modern-day Massachusetts and Rhode Island inclusive of all of Cape Cod long prior to the sixteenth-century arrival of European settlers. Their numbers were decimated by epidemic but their culture lives on in the resilient way of life and today I’m grateful for their wisdom which I share with you, the prayer reads:

“Let us give thanks to the creator for all that is given.  The harvest moon has shined its brilliance over our home and now as we store the harvest of our work the creator gives sustenance.  The Earth will now rest through the coming seasons storing the energy needed to once again feed our people.”

Harvest Prayer of the Seaconke Wampanoag by Michael “Tender Heart” Markley

I love reminders to pay attention to the seasons… to let our work reflect the work that is natural to each season and thus keep our life in concert with the larger rhythms of life.  I believe God created and nurtured all that draws breath (and even that which does not) to live this interconnected pattern so that all creation shares breath, life, and death.  God was the originator of social networking! 

And the Earth is about to sleep, a type of death, that is not only natural but life-giving for the next season in the cycle.  Our forebears knew to match those cycles and let ourselves rest as well… that we might be prepared to have the energy we need to once again “feed our people” come the spring.  However Modern technology grants us the illusion that we are no longer bound by these rhythms, we can fight them and seem to win.  Our lives would see the gift of seasons as an obstacle to overcome and keep at bay and we learn to grow things out of season and even out of place.  We “extend the day” and fill up the coal tender of our lives with enough artificial energy to keep running… seemingly without end.  But we are finite beings… and there is always a cost.  It will be higher and higher the longer it is when it finally comes due. 

You are not meant to run without end.  The Earth will slumber and rest… will you? 

I have been thinking lately, as Thanksgiving prepares to blend right into Advent, about how I will intentionally incorporate more rest to my days… that I will allow myself to fall back into the natural rhythm I was meant to live… and fight now more.  I will be tempted to call it lazy and give it up.  But I am hoping to hold to my resolve… to ask myself each day:

“The Earth is resting… are you?”  And I invite you to join me in this spiritual discipline. 

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

Viral Dis-Content and Disjunctive Gratitude

We have talked a lot about viruses the last year – many of us are running around with google degrees in epidemiology!  (Note: this does not equal an actual degree in actual epidemiology…)  But infectious diseases aren’t the only things that are viral in nature.  We can talk about a social media post that “goes viral” when it’s shared repeatedly by an ever-growing network of people.  We can talk about viral phenomena when a new idea catches our interest as a society and becomes, almost overnight, pervasive.  Viral is contagious, growing, and has a persistent (pernicious?) grip on our attention.  

So, I want to take note of another thing that can go viral: complaint… dis-comfort… dis-content. 

When people start to complain and take not of reasons to be upset an interesting thing happens… we all start taking note of all the reasons – legit reasons – to be upset.  We “catch the bug” of one moment of discontent, we focus on it, and we let it spread so that all that our eye sees is that which is wrong.  And the wrong things are often there.  We aren’t “making it up”.  There is much over which to lament and be upset.  But the nature of the viral pushes out anything else – it consumes us.  It allows that we only see that which it is looking for: bad stuff. 

Enter thanksgiving: I’m caught up in the idea that the root idea of thanksgiving (both the concept and the holiday) is of gratitude IN THE MIDST OF messiness and challenging circumstances… it to have a necessary disjunctive experience to our viral complaint and our current condition.  This is not the same thing as having rose-colored glasses.  I’m not saying to ignore all that is wrong with the world and pretend it is all good.  I’m saying that sometimes we need to clean off our glasses to make sure we are seeing the WHOLE picture… which often is as much – and even more – filled with reasons for gratefulness and celebration than it does for complaint… but we won’t see it, experience it, or celebrate it if we don’t cut off the viral nature of the progressive cancer of discontent. 

I’m a cynic and an idealist at the same time.  I’m not sure which is more my core being.  But I do know how easy it is for me to swing out of balance towards cynicism… or out of touch towards idealism.  And then I need a disjunctive experience – my own vaccine to my viral blinders.  It is often my favorite part of “going home” at the end of the day.  Work can get me negative… or work can be high on idealism… and home brings me back to rootedness in the everyday blessing and messiness of life.  It is why I appreciate seasons and liturgical seasons because ready or not a new thing is ready to interrupt my current thing… and I think, for me, that’s healthy. 

So, thanksgiving?  What are you grateful for?  Who are you grateful for?  And how are you expressing and sharing and celebrating those gratitudes in ways that interrupt your, and others, viral fascinations? 

We all need it.

Taking Off the Whole Armor of God

I was reading this article (https://www.christiancentury.org/article/how-my-mind-has-changed/why-i-came-back-around-repentance) this morning and I was struck by the tagline: “First I needed to meet a progressive, gracious God.”  That line was something of a tuning fork to me… I found reading the rest of the article difficult because I want to spend time just with that phrase.

I spend a significant amount of my personal faith journey, preaching life, and ministry trying to take off the “whole armor of God”.  You know that exciting passage in Ephesians… the breastplate of righteousness and the sword that is the Word of God.  So powerful.  So strangely anachronistic to most of the ways scripture talks about our life of faith.  No wrestling with an angel and limping the rest of our life… no Paul talk about being afflicted and, Paul who speaks with confidence but also with an open heart to the ways faith makes us vulnerable to ridicule, confusion, and doubt.  Any attempt we make (and we make a lot of them) to turn Jesus into some indomitable warrior-monk fails at the foot of the cross, or when Jesus took towel and washed his disciples’ feet.  I’d like to pass on that please and put on the belt of truth and pick up the shield of faith instead. 

I’m struck almost daily how much energy we put into pretending… into appearing like knights in solid armor.  My heart aches for how much lies underneath that we fear to share with the world.  Enter the tagline of my current focus: “first, I needed to meet a progressive, gracious God”.  We have nothing to hide.  We do not need to pretend.  We are not playing a board game where we count all the tokens at the end of the journey and proclaim a winner. 

“First, I needed to meet a progressive, gracious God.”

John Calvin is much maligned, and oft misunderstood.  I have my appreciation for him and dislike of much of his jurisprudent theology where everything had to be square and plumb no matter the conclusions such perfect logic arrived at in his God-talk.  But I’m a fan of predestination – that terrible divisive concept only a mind so legally consistent as Calvin could have put to paper. But in the end, Calvin’s point is this and only this: you are not saved because of you… you are saved because of God.  It has nothing to do with you… you can’t gain it, keep it, or lose it.  The creation and healing (saving) of the world is a God job and its way above your pay grade.  And we can all stop pretending. 

I have said before that we all need to crucify God… or better said, we need to crucify the constructs of God we created or were created for us… because then the God who is really is will rise from the ashes of our armored warrior God – or the vending machine who simply gives us what we want when we ask.  And when we meet that God – that God who exists beyond our machinations and projections?  A whole new world unfolds around us.  The armor falls off and all the energy we have put into winning, or looking like a winner, can… simply relax. 

I’ve been called an embarrassment as a pastor and not worthy of respect. I have received notes calling me a blasphemer, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and all manner of names. I have watched many people walk out of my life because I failed them, because I wasn’t enough, or right enough, or fun enough, or authoritarian enough, or malleable enough… or I don’t even know.

It hurts… every time.

But you know who has done none of those things?  You know what picks me up and helps me to heal those hurts?  You know upon what ground I can fall apart every time?

“First, I had to meet a progressive, gracious God…”

What armor are you wearing?  What are you hiding?  How much do wish to just let it all go?  Stop pretending; stop playing the game; stop wearing ill-fitting and much constricting armor.  Just be you… standing before the God who loves you as much as God’s life itself… bathing your feet… and willing for you health and not harm.

Let me introduce you, if you haven’t met, to a gracious God.  It’s the first day of the rest of your life.

It is NEVER ‘just in your head’

The word just is one of the most dangerously abused words in our language.  For the sake of this conversation, I’m not talking about the word just as a term for justice, but when just means only or simply.  It creeps into all kinds of dialog… “I was just talking about that,” “it will just take five minutes,” “can you just sit still for a minute?”

It is regularly a throw-away word that wasn’t needed in the sentence, but that’s another conversation… today I want to talk about the ways it is toxic.  It is a word to negate identity and experience.  You are (I am) just a layperson.  You are (I am) just a beginner.  You (I am) just….

And then we use it this way: “it’s just in your (my) head”. 

Mental health continues to be a major stigma in our country.  When you break an arm, everyone can see the cast and understand why ordinary things are more difficult for you.  When you are carrying trauma, when your body chemistry is out of balance, when you experience pain or identity crisis or emotional distress – no one can see it, you cannot quantify it (no matter how many times they ask you pain level on a scale of 1 to 10), and its lack of objective reality makes us have a tendency to utter the harmful words: it’s just in your head. 

Our mental and emotional worlds, despite their subjectivity, are as real as our flesh and bones.  And in many ways, they are far more powerful motivators of our well-being or lack thereof.  And it’s made all the harder when we try to discredit that reality with words like “…just…”  I find myself heartsick at how pervasive our need is to address feelings of grief, stress, trauma, and all manner of mental and emotional health challenges.  A reality made more difficult if we aren’t willing to admit that we are carrying these burdens… or that they are not legitimate burdens. 

I sincerely hope that we all can carve out space for ourselves and others to talk about the mental and emotional burdens we carry… and I earnestly pray that you, me, and all the people are willing to use professional resources to address the pervasive burdens that prevent us from being whole and well.  When you break your arm?  You get it looked at by a doctor, x-rayed, casted, cared for by professionals. Please do the same with all your health challenges, encourage your friends and neighbors to do the same, recognize that there is no such thing as normal… and there is never a reason to say, “it’s just in your head”.  Do not negate the pain of your neighbor simply because things affected them differently than you, and do not negate your own pain because you wish it didn’t bother you as it does. 

If you do not know where or how to start, I’m always here for you – and no I’m not equipped to be the only person here for you, but I’m willing to be the guide towards the better guide and to be the voice crying in the wilderness: you are not alone.