Outlier


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Outlier. The word intrigues me. I’ve been chewing on it for a couple of weeks, wondering if this word relates to me or not? I am beginning to identify with it. I also wonder what creates an outlier? Could it be that outliers have a somewhat common experience of the world, or a common way of looking at it? Do outlier’s share certain personality traits? Might understanding some of these things help me to unpack my struggle with the elusive sense of belonging in any church?

What is an outlier? Or another word I’ve heard of late is “done,” though I don’t like that word as much. An outlier is defined as a person or thing situated away or detached from the main body or system, and a person or thing differing from all other members of a particular group or set. In a church context this is a challenging type of person, because one of the things churches wish to do is create community, belonging, family. The church wants to draw all people in, most especially the outliers. But what if the outlier cannot be drawn in?

Maybe it’s best to start with my personal journey in and out of the doors of churches. I’m curious to see what I can mine from my story. Let’s see where it goes. Please join in with your thoughts on this as I can only speak to my own predispositions and experiences. Please join in especially if you self identify as an outlier.

First stop, my church story.

Born into a fundamentalist christian sect, I grew up in the church, the eldest daughter of an elder, and from the start I was a good girl. There were so many teachings from my formative years that are vital to my story; purity culture, end times prophecy, the inerrancy of scripture (literal interpretation), male headship, within a small church where whose you were mattered. I struggled to fit in. I was not athletic, chatty, outgoing, and my father was an Elder. I was doomed socially. I loved books, art, time on the family farm, the quietness of the garden, music. I understood God to be rules, love to be conditional, and relationships to be complicated.

Leanings: introverted, with artistic ability, kept from culture (in the world but not of the world – rules against movies, drinking, dancing, smoking, swearing, etc.) and pushed to the social margins of church. Pleaser. Somewhat repressed.

I invested and persisted with church through to my senior year of high school, when I concluded that while church youth didn’t like me, non-christians did. I found friends outside church. I found a capacity within me to rise to intellectual and artistic recognition by applying myself with good old work ethic. Work was easy. You either worked hard, or didn’t. Achieved or didn’t. I had part time jobs, and enjoyed making money. I had long been aware that the kids who rejected me at church were not who they pretended to be. I didn’t call it integrity at that time, or recognize my bullshit detector, but I knew intuitively who was to be trusted, and who was not. I especially found this perplexing around church leaders who lavished love and belonging on some, but not on all, and in particular not on me. I didn’t feel sought after or special. At church. On my grandparents farm and in nature however, my heart sang. 

Leanings: intuition, a felt sense of what is truth and fiction, strong work ethic, a desire for more – self improvement, environment improvement, love of the natural world, no nonsense approach to things. Sensitive. Quiet. Curious.

In my final year of university I was excommunicated from the church. What was my crime? I married a Catholic. I’ve written about this before on this blog. Any sense of lingering belonging I may have had within the church of my childhood, no matter how challenging it had been, was ripped away from me for choosing to love someone who I was told did not belong. I took it all on the chin and carried on. For 35 years.

Leanings: trusting, until trust is broken, judging of others and self, introspective and curious, educated, seeking, idealistic, keen, resilient, stubborn.

Marriage, career, the upheaval of moving across the country and starting over, 3 children in 5 years, and church again became part of my life. Healing began as I discovered a different church culture and within it God’s grace and love for me. But his people continued to create havoc in me. In particular I struggled with what it meant to belong, what was required to fit in, and how fleeting that belonging seemed to be. When I served I felt belonging. When I did not I felt invisible. This sense continued over years, but I pushed it down, pushed through. Perhaps mega church was an odd choice for someone like me, but that’s where we found ourselves at last…with good friends, good children’s programs, good teaching, and a good life…fast forward 22 years to a place I could no longer abide by what felt like duplicity or confusion or plain old unanswered questions around the love that supposedly defined the place, yet denied certain people groups.

Leanings: social justice, righteous indignation, taking a stand on behalf of others, questioning of doctrine, theology, and black and white thinking.

Retreat, full on. No church. For a couple of years. Followed by testing out a few options. Nothing seemed to draw me. I went to the beach and thought about nature’s beauty. I wrote poetry and thought how like prayer it was. Slowly and incrementally God became more real to me in ways that had nothing to do with church, and all to do with a personal experience of his love. I found elements of Christianity…Desert Fathers and Mothers, contemplative, liturgical, great theological writers and poets, resonant thought…and at the same time felt a warning to proceed with great care…to not jump from one box into another, to not exchange one language for another…but to find a way to live in integrity with Christ, myself, and others.

Leanings: willingness to say I don’t know, willingness to hold unanswerable questions, willingness to withdraw and be solitary, seeking, asking, disillusioned, hopeful.

35 years after I’m put away from my childhood church, this happened. Another layer is peeled back and I recognize how my excommunication was spiritually formational. Big time.

Leanings: personal trauma, a desire to make sense, and overcome. Willingness to do the work.

Of note here is I carry my peculiar sense of things to the world, not just church…I also feel apart when I consider society and culture. What appears to matter to many folk, just doesn’t to me. I weigh things, and I find so many of them wanting. I am peculiar, one who finds it hard to relax, play, give myself over to pleasures. I can’t imagine retirement. I seek meaningful pursuits, and often give more to others than I give to myself. I’ve been told I’m too hard on myself, am my own worst enemy. I wonder what it’s all for, why I am the way I am.

Still God persists with me.

I find myself volunteering at a church run street mission, facilitating a poetry circle for those experiencing homelessness and marginalization. It is an evangelical Christian organization but I find a way to participate without having to give answers for myself. I dip my toe in the water of belonging. I join staff. I apply work ethic and creativity. I create things. I instigate things. I still sense there is a divide between the in crowd and me. I don’t know why but it haunts me. I cannot abide group think or conformity. I still have so many questions. Am I creating my own sense of marginalization?

Leanings: self knowledge, independent spirit, lived experience of God’s presence, creative energy, rebel, brave, lonely, leadership tendencies.

Present day. Again I step back, and wrestle every Sunday to go to church. Staying home wins out more often than not. When I do go I spend time listening, and watching. I sense intimacy between others in the group, I long to be asked to do something, I long to be seen. I am seen more by my street friends than by the staff. I offer my help, I facilitate a study, continue to visit my street friends, but I know I am again on the outside looking in. I don’t know if I’ve ever been in. I wonder if being in is like “The Borg”…a form of assimilation? If so, I sense I will never experience that feeling because I am attuned to it, repelled by it, and run from it. The very idea of conformity stands against who I am, rightly or wrongly.

Leanings: a strong sense of personal mission, a strong sense of God’s leading, learner, seeker, fragile, indignant, willing to speak out and bear the cost most days.

How do I interpret all this, I wonder? I think it will take more thoughtful consideration. Someone suggested I look at my Enneagram # and consider how that informs my sense of belonging. Do I set myself against the very thing I believe I am longing for…belonging? Is there too much about how the church operates that is against my grain, so that in some ways, the church repels me?

This I know, I continue to see the beauty of the church and her ability to bring love and hope and mercy and justice to those who are in great need. I believe passionately, and I am not all in with everything, and I continue to have some deep questions. God has not left me, Jesus is walking with me. I may not align completely with the church but I have not given up having a place and purpose there. I have a sense that being an outlier matters to God…

Thoughts?

 

Suffering


dsc_05151.jpgI’m a terrible sufferer. I hesitate to use the word, as my experiences with suffering are few, and not long lasting. Still, being ill with a particularly virulent flu virus at the moment opens me to feelings I’d rather not have; lazy, unproductive, frustrated, angry, bored, sorry for myself…to name a few. I’m OK admitting these things. They are truly true. But my suffering is minor, the flu, nothing more.

I can’t imagine how those with chronic pain find the capacity to carry on, day after day, with no relief. There are those who seem to bear the lion’s share of pain and suffering, not just one thing, but many things one after the other. I don’t understand. I feel powerless to help them. And I am ashamed to say seeing their suffering makes me afraid. I think about the end of my life. If I am so impacted by the minor pain that I’ve experienced so far, what will I do should more come to me?

Medical assistance in dying appears to offer a way out of the suffering. I watched a documentary once, a beautiful story about someone taking leave of their illness. After attending to their affairs, and doing what they could to carry on as long as they could, they lovingly attended to their goodbye’s. In a poignant ceremony of gratitude, surrounded by their beloveds, they left this earth for the hereafter. It appeared very peaceful, meaningful, and dignified.

Suggesting this option is heresy for some, hope for others. For some there is a deeply held value in soldiering on through illness, to suffer silently and with great inner strength. I recall as a young child my parents spoke about folk who were dying. They talked about their testimony. They found in the way these gentle people handled their illness, hospitalization, and treatments, a reflection of God’s love and grace. I’m not so sure.

I have been witness to the sorrow of a dying friend of great faith who implored us to help him, who when he lost the capacity to do everything, and being deeply afraid of ever being left alone, asked us to take turns sitting by his bedside through the days and nights until the end. I can’t imagine God’s love shining more brightly in my dying friend than it did when he was healthy, and whole. I can’t imagine how his slow and lingering decline testified more greatly to his life of faith. Perhaps it did to some. Not to me.

It is said, “Most certainly I tell you, when you were young, you dressed yourself, and walked where you wanted to. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you, and carry you where you don’t want to go.” I’m not a scholar, but I have to wonder about the carry you where you don’t want to go part. Yes, it could be literal, but might it also be metaphorical?

There may come a day when I sit in a doctor’s office and hear something I would prefer not to hear. I wonder about suffering again in that context, and if when I am old (or any day now really) and I am dressed in the burden of suffering and it carries me where I do not want to go, will I also be given the grace to accept it as part of my journey that will have its own gifts of mercy and moments of transcendence. I believe I believe that.

Today my throat is too sore to swallow, so I try not to. My fever has broken. The sun just came out for a few minutes, and the feeders are busy with an abundance of birds. The dog naps on the couch, and in the time it took to write this I become unaware of anything other than my fingers on the keys, my thoughts on the page. The flu becomes less. These words become more. That is a grace.

Thanks for joining me in considering these things. I recently read an article by Anne Lamott. She says: the first and truest thing is that all truth is a paradox. Life is both a precious, unfathomably beautiful gift, and it’s impossible here, on the incarnational side of things. And here it is again. Paradox. Is suffering a vehicle, a way, or a curse, a great burden? Both. And.

I can’t help thinking of the cloud of witnesses who have gone before me, some of them through deep suffering over their lifetime; my ancestors, friends, all regular folk. Many of them, of great faith. Thinking on them I am reminded of how it is possible to make a life, like a pie, out of the ingredients you have on hand…and then share it bite by bite by bite…right to the bottom of the dish. The taste is not always sweet, but mostly. And the fragrance of the pie while it’s baking, well there’s nothing quite like it. I’ll have to think more on what that means.

 

 

 

 

 

A snapshot of my life


dsc_0907To be honest, sometimes nature speaks, and I hear things. I’ve been aware of this since around 2006, but I think it may have been happening to me when I was a little kid. Only I didn’t understand what or who was speaking. 

In 2006 I began to walk with my dog with the intention of paying prayerful attention to what God might have for me, what he wanted me to see. I asked. And I believe God began speaking to me through the eyes of my heart. I became aware of the divine presence of God in all of my surroundings. I learned the whole earth is the fulness of his glory. I went seeking. I found God’s supernatural presence and life feeding thoughts in things like a roadside rose bush, and two seagulls chasing one another, heart shaped poplar leaves, and even in a tarp covering an old boat. And then I went home and wrote those thoughts down. This was the beginning of my writing life (two ancient blogs, here and here), and how I eventually came to poetry. 

This morning I was overcome by the weight of loneliness. Sipping my morning coffee, I looked out over the wood and wondered about how who I am aligns with these particular feelings at this particular time. I thought about what feeds me, why I do what I do, why I am hurt so easily, and the depth of joy that fills me in the creative process when I am realizing a vision for the sake of something or someone. As solitary as I am, creative partnerships invigorate me. I recognize how meaning must accompany my actions, and how the mundane responsibilities of my life are almost always my greatest challenges. I realize the tension of opposites in pretty much all of my life.

I began to cry as I thought of some relational challenges in my recent years, and I said out loud, I am so lonely. The next thought that came was, are you a victim in this? But I dismissed it and felt the depleting feelings.

Then an eagle flew over the treetops toward me and straight over the house, and the wisdom words “they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength” downloaded into my mind/heart. Did I feel caught up by that? You bet, I did. A teeny bit of pressure in my chest/heart/gut lifted straight away. I thought on those words a little more, how God is for me, he loves me and will come to me, and also how I have a responsibility for my own life and choices. Then I texted a couple of friends, and made a couple of asks that might help this introvert stand against self-isolating behaviour. 

Nothing has changed yet, but it might. It always does. 

Peace, out,

Lesley-Anne

#beautyhunter

p.s. This, just now, via email:

DAILY MEDITATION | JANUARY 14, 2020
God Longs to Bring Me Home
For most of my life I have struggled to find God, to know God, to love God. I have tried hard to follow the guidelines of the spiritual life—pray always, work for others, read the Scriptures—and to avoid the many temptations to dissipate myself. I have failed many times but always tried again, even when I was close to despair.
Now I wonder whether I have sufficiently realized that during all this time God has been trying to find me, to know me, and to love me. The question is not “How am I to find God?” but “How am I to let myself be found by him?” The question is not “How am I to know God?” but “How am I to let myself be known by God?” And, finally, the question is not “How am I to love God?” but “How am I to let myself be loved by God?” God is looking into the distance for me, trying to find me, and longing to bring me home.
Henri J. M. Nouwen
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
ISAIAH 41:10 (NIV)

Birthday Gifts


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What is filling my soul this morning, the anniversary of my birth, so long ago;

Well, finding this silly picture that makes me look like a birthday fairy queen, I guess…

And this…grounding me, confirming I know nothing, but…

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux: 1999), 79.

And this;

  1. relationships that continue to ask of me…and give to me…and the beauty of discovery within the complexity of life with people, these gifts that I will never truly understand and yet there they are, talking, breathing, working, living alongside me and I get to be with them all…
  2. anticipating the arrival of my son, and the intersection of 5 lives over several days…oh the anticipation of all that…
  3. a unexpectedly delicious poem, written by my lover, posted to Facebook.
  4. the dog, coffee, porch, quiet, sunshine, bluebird day, time, space, lingering…
  5. messages of love on social media
  6. challenges and considerations…each day to choose what is important, what is vital, what is life giving, and what adjustments must be made to live with integrity
  7. creative energy…that vast stream of Creator God’s creative DNA that flows and overflows in me with thoughts and ideas and possibilities and just enough courage to try something new…
  8. health, dreams, desires, all those elements that make up a life and are often taken for granted and yet are foundational to living well…
  9. writing, always writing, listening to the inner voice speaking and writing, playing with writing, writing with people, reading and writing, writing, writing, writing…
  10. the audacious pink thread of The Trinity woven through the simple fabric of my life …often hidden, sometimes apparent, but there…oh yes, there!

Gift. Gift. Gift. All gift.

Undeserved. Thankful. Gifts held with the knowledge that this may be for a day, a month, a few more years. Breath held for a few seconds, then breathing, breathing, wondering…what happens next?

Lesley-Anne Evans, July 29, 1962 – ?

 

 

 

Possible, probable, or mystery?


DSC_0184I received a letter today after receiving a phone message from a stranger. She told me that she had a letter addressed to me from an address I last lived at in 1999. The woman now owns and rents out the cute old house we used to live in, and the letter…the letter…

I went by her house today and picked up the letter. She told me beforehand that she had opened it, by mistake, was just busy and didn’t read the name before tearing into it. She apologized. The letter was taped closed.

I went back out to the car, looked at the airmail envelope and the value of the stamp and noticed no return address. I thought how it’s been some time since postage in Canada was 43 cents. I drove away, pulled into the parking lot at the grocery store, and opened the letter.

Two pages, typewritten, and hand signed. I read the words slowly. I read them again, noting the telltale signs of time of writing. “seeing photos of you and Bob and your wee lad” and “He has given you one of the greatest of all blessings, a dear wee son…” and further on “God bless you – all three”. We are “five” now and have been a family of five since 1996 when our second son was born.

Just now I google stamps in Canada 1996 and see…45 cents

And a little more digging around and I see the stamp…issued for 43 cents, December 30, 1992.

The letter is dated June 15, without a year noted. But our wee son was born in May, 1993, so it could be from June 1993, or a stamp saved and used in June 1994, or June 1995…because by June 1996, we were a family of four.

Could this letter have been in transit for 20 plus years? Is this even possible?

Could I have received the letter while still living at the old house and left it behind when we moved? I can’t recall having read it before, but sometimes I have trouble recalling my PIN! Probable, I suppose, but why would multiple owners of the old house, and multiple tenants save this letter over and over again rather than recycling it?

What am I to think? What does it mean?

An old family friend, a mentor all those years ago, the writer of the letter is long passed from my life and from this world. I wonder how many years he has been gone now? I text my brothers and ask them.

What is it he had to say over 2 decades ago that I am to pay attention to now?

And so I will sit with the letter, and ponder the question… what is it God, that you would have me see?

And at the same time, shivers that this is happening…and the memories of that time…the people…a reminder of someone good, kind, and gentle who took the time to write a letter.

This is just a wee note to renew acquaintances, for I so well remember you…

Sincerely, in Him,

Alan

Small


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My faith is small, or maybe the way I live my life is small, and ordinary. In small things I find God: his presence, his provision, his orchestration, his glory, his love.

When I recognize God in my life, it usually comes in the form of just enough rice or just enough flour, or sun breaking through cloud before sunset after several days of depressing grey, or a poem just right for the moment, or the colour of a pair of mittens matching a child’s snowsuit I’ve never seen before, or the heart shape of trembling aspen leaves strewn along a creekside pathway. God is in the shade of orange kelp on sand. God is in a small child spinning in a pink tutu. God is. I have come to notice God in all the details.

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I believe my Grandfather taught me to see God in this way. When I was very young, Grandpa walked me around his garden on summer evenings, our hands clasped behind our backs, each flowering shrub like an offering, a miracle he had discovered and wanted me to see. “Look at that” he would say, gazing deep into the centre of a Hibiscus bloom “have you ever seen a design like that?” “Rosa, Spiraea, Forsythia, Weigela, Hydrangea…” he repeated over and over until I knew them. Name these plants, see these small miracles. He was the same about song birds. His curiosity and joy of creation spilled over and captivated me. Little things. Seeing small. Seeing God.

Not that I don’t dream big. I love to dream and drink wine and talk about ideas. Not that I don’t dive into big things, because I do. But the dreams and projects and ideas must quickly settle into a series of little steps to realize the bigger picture. And maybe it’s not the big thing that matters as much as the little things that take place along the way. Usually, that means the people, conversations, conflicts, resolutions, and love. Each little interaction, each small encounter, mattering so much more than any end result. God is in the details of people too, I find.

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My faith is small, and wildflower and honey bee sized. My faith is my search for tracks to hang gallery hardware on the wall and finding them no more and no less than I needed, and my faith is the width of several old doors that now cover windows, in exactly the right width for the openings. My faith is sometimes the size of these three words…”I don’t know”. My faith is the sound of my daughter’s joy that she drove stick shift for the first time over the winding road to the Pacific Rim, and back. Safe. Back. My faith is light and shadow, juxtaposition of words on a sign against audaciousness of spring blooms. God is in each one of these small and sacred things.

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My faith is small.

My faith is small, and simple.

My faith is small, and ordinary.

God is there.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe said “God is in the details.”

God is.

Lesley-Anne

And they wrestled all night


My intention is to continue unpacking what I began yesterday, talk about it, bring it into the light, consider what it means, consider how being at this juncture is where I’m supposed to be.

Today I opened The Good Book, which led me to a commentary by Alexander MacLaren, and there I discovered his wonderful essay about Jacob wrestling with…a man…an angel…the divine presence…God!

Alexander Maclaren (February 11, 1826 – May 5, 1910) was an English non-conformist minister of Scottish origin. “Called the “prince of expositors,” Alexander MacLaren was a renowned preacher of the 19th and 20th century. [The published collection] Expositions of Holy Scripture brings together many of the sermons over his fifty years in ministry.”(https://www.ccel.org/ccel/maclaren)

Here are some highlights from MacLaren’s commentary on Genesis 32 :

So this failure of natural power is the turning-point in the twofold
wrestle, and marks as well as symbolises the transition in Jacob’s
life and character from reliance upon self and craft to reliance upon
his divine Antagonist become his Friend.

How interesting to land on this particular story, and these particular insights now. Spiritual formation study and practise have been part of my life for over ten years. My recent studies have led me to the teachings of Contemplative Christianity (Thomas Merton, Richard Rohr, Margaret Silf etc.) with distinctions between living from the false self vs the true self. I am beginning to understand my longing for authenticity and integrity, and my unique place as an artist/poet in the world. I have begun to look at The Enneagram as so much more than a diagnostic justification of identity, rather a starting point toward spiritual transformation, balance, and healing. These teachings are rich, impacting. I continue to sense the draw toward this way of being.

And yet, ironically, I find myself wrestling with certain fundamentals of faith…and perhaps wrestling is what is required of me to continue on The Way with God. Do I truly desire to be transformed? Do I?

Further highlights from MacLaren’s expository on Jacob’s encounter with God (bold text by me);

God desires to go, if we do not desire Him to stay. He will go, unless
we keep Him. Then, at last, Jacob betakes himself to his true weapons.
Then, at last, he strangely wishes to keep his apparent foe. He has
learned, in some dim fashion, whom he has been resisting, and the
blessedness of having Him for friend and companion.

The desire to retain God binds Him to us. All His struggling with us
has been aimed at evoking it, and all His fulness responds to it when
evoked. Prayer is power. It conquers God. We overcome Him when we
yield. When we are vanquished, we are victors. When the life of nature
is broken within us, then from conscious weakness springs the longing
which God cannot but satisfy.

And God prevails when we prevail. His aim in all the process of His
mercy has been but to overcome our heavy earthliness and selfishness,
which resists His pleading love. His victory is our yielding, and, in
that yielding, obtaining power with Him. He delights to be held by the
hand of faith, and ever gladly yields to the heart’s cry,’Abide with
me.’ ‘I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me,’ is music to His
ear; and our saying so, in earnest, persistent clinging to Him, is His
victory as well as ours.

This is far from being tied up with a bow. I will continue to lean into what is revealed…in word, deed, circumstance, and the world around me. I don’t yet know what it means…this seeking and longing for…answers…peace…justice…love…God?

I continue to read and consider the the new name “Israel” that Jacob receives from God after morning comes and wrestling ends. I admit there is a teeny shift for me when I read MacLaren’s words;

To impose a name is the sign of authority, possession, insight into character. The change of name indicates a new epoch in a life, or a transformation of the inner man. The meaning of ‘Israel’ is ‘He (who) strives with God’; and the reason for its being conferred is more accurately given by the Revised Version, which translates, ‘For thou hast striven with God and with men,’ than in the Authorised rendering.’

A true Christian is an ‘Israel.’ His office is to wrestle with God.

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An encounter with the Divine…

Wrestling as worship, leading to transformation…

I wonder…