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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

jacobwrestlesgod

An encounter with the Divine…

Wrestling as worship, leading to transformation…

I wonder…

Monday poem 2017.8


Dry-Bones

1. For the paradox of wandering

in a mapped landscape,

for my half-blind eyes

and Your tiny blinding light,

I give you thanks, Oh Lord.

2. For the altered state of

ice over lake water, the kindness

of snow on snow on snow covering

a multitude of sins,

I give you thanks, Oh Lord.

3. For the cravings of knowledge

and the fear of the unknown,

for all that is or will be

and all that never will be so,

I give you thanks, Oh Lord.

4. For endings of childhoods

and each best loved dog,

the incremental demise of body and mind

that You say one day will rise,

I give you thanks, Oh Lord.

5. For closed doors

and open roads,

for edges of the wild world

and the nothing that is everything,

I give you thanks, Oh Lord.

6. For this moment, this chair,

fingers synapsed and sure,

breath, room, silence,

Your imagined and almost certain presence,

I give you thanks, Oh Lord.

LAE2017

The elusive art of editing


DSC_0050I think writers come to believe in an innate ability to catch our own errors, spit and polish our work to its very best form, and we do so each time we offer work for submission, contests, or print. This post is yet another chance for me to make editorial mistakes, I know, I know. (Sure, you can point them out to me if you like.)

Truth is, like many artists, poets are just scraping by financially. We cannot afford to hire editors, so we take risks, perhaps believing a little too strongly in our guts, our grammar, and our attentiveness. How hard can it be, we think. Well done, we say. It will be…fine, we whisper as we drift off to sleep having pressed “submit” again, with some hesitation and a little bit of angst.

Deep down we are not entirely sure, but we bravely do what we have to do, which can lead to embarrassing moments. Like the time I spelled the publisher’s surname incorrectly, or saw a clear lack of punctuation upon my 1st read, right after submission! My personal challenges often come in the form of it’s and its, and my deep and abiding love for the Oxford comma that ripples out, abundantly.

Or, most recently, after several months of design, planning, and (several) eyes on every comma, word, line break, title, font, layout, selection of hardware, paper, packaging, and marketing approach, I felt I was finally ready to put my poetry/art books together.

I painstakingly built one hundred copies of the book, tightened each Chicago screw,  placed each stainless steel washer, organized flash card covers into fun and witty combinations, collated stacks of poetry on beautiful cream paper (professionally laid out and printed and drilled with holes for the screws), hand tinted each vintage illustration, and felt a sense of progress and fulfillment at the growing pile of books.

Then I went online to put the finishing touches on the announcement for my book launch. As I typed in the title of my poetry/art book, I felt a niggling. I spell checked a word, and it was correctly spelled…yea, me! But the niggling didn’t go away. And then it hit me…there, blatant, unchecked, WRONG…was a word. On every title page of every book that I just spent days putting together, was a spelling mistake!

POETRY PRIMER | a book of elementary principals

instead of what it should have said;

POETRY PRIMER | a book of elementary principles

ahhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!

First anger. Then blaming. Then another hissy fit because it was so OBVIOUSLY WRONG and I missed it…we all missed it… but I MISSED IT! And then the creative problem solving began…what if this, or what if that, in an attempt to save it somehow…but I could not. It was WRONG. It had to change. Then my gratitude to God that I saw the mistake before my book was sold!

Yes, indeed. Gratitude. Two hundred times I unscrewed those Chicago screws. One hundred times I removed the offending page and, after paying my printer a substantial amount of money for a one page reprint, one hundred times I replaced the page with the corrected title page. And then I tightly bound the book with the turn of two hundred more Chicago screws! Editor, I am obviously not. Life learner, yes I am. And my thumb and index finger were throbbing proof!

What would I do differently next time? I don’t know, I run a tight ship, so I still can’t afford an editor. Or, maybe I can? Maybe we could barter something? Or, maybe if I sell all of MY POETRY/ART BOOKS (limited edition, signed, numbered, unique, collectible, fun) I can afford an editor for my next project?

Have you got a copy of POETRY PRIMER yet? If you live in Kelowna, delivery is free!

A human, being, and learning humility,

Lesley-Anne

Along the way…


Years ago I began to see. At birth, my physical eyes opened. At the age of 40, my spiritual eyelids lifted to reveal new and meaning filled sights. And, another (almost) ten years later, I recognize that the second sight that comes with the spirit focused eyes must be intentional, often requiring of me a tuning up, a dusting off, a wiping of my glasses to ensure that I am seeing as best I can. God has things to reveal to me… even when I forget (see this post) or when I’m distracted or simply focusing on myself way too much.

Ten years ago or so I often saw things as I walked my dog and talked to God along the way. I was reminded of those wonderfully intimate times this morning as I drove to meet a circle of women who are becoming very important in my life and spiritual development. I saw things along the way today… and they revealed a deeper sight that I will share with you. May it bring you peace. God often brings peace in the midst.

I saw… a soldier dressed in his fatigues walking a very happy dog with tail back and forth and tongue lolling and face turned up to his master with an obvious ‘smile’ to share (those of you with dogs know this canine ability to smile). The dog was so full of joy at the walking with the one he loved that I almost didn’t see the obvious, that this pup had three legs, not four. At some point the fourth leg was removed due to an accident or disease and the dog carried on in a way that appeared to be without any real impact on his ability to enjoy the life he’d been given.

and I saw… a man waiting at a traffic light, a man whom I’ve noticed for years now, pocket protector in his short sleeved dress shirt, comb-over hair almost all grey, dress pants, and in one hand his black briefcase… very much the ‘Death of a Salesman‘ image here. And his body, his 60-something body, had conformed to the weight of whatever was in the briefcase, turning in, shoulders dropped forward, arms almost lengthened by the pull of the case. He was heading… somewhere… no smile, no joy, yes purpose, but no outer signs of pleasure.  Compared to the dog.

And here’s what I think I’m going to take from these images that linger in my mind, I’m going to take what I saw and own the truth that speaks. How we each have a choice to carry or to leave behind that which is diseased, that which weighs us down, that which we do not have to carry. And with that another choice, to leave the burden behind and embrace the joy of the moment, the gift of what remains rather than what could have been, might have been, and maybe still is. The dog made adjustments to how it walked to enable him to bounce on three feet. The man, burdened for years, his body also made adjustments, but in a way that left an impression of sad emptiness and pursuit of something just beyond his reach. Yes, I’m reading much into this, but I believe there really is something to it… a revelation of truth in the ordinary.

Thought I’d just lay it out there for you. To do with as you wish.

Journeying and watching, sometimes spirit sight,

Lesley-Anne

A politically (in)correct rant…


Patrick Stewart as Locutus, the assimilated Je...

Image via Wikipedia

Asking you about God is going to get me in trouble, isn’t it? It’s gonna polarize people, ‘cause some will hear preaching and pontificating, while some will breathe a sigh of relief.  Some won’t give a shit either way. It’s true.

I was reading a piece about culture the other day, in a nationally respected rag, (that I ordinarily choose not to read because I’d rather not focus on the bad news of dailiness), but I digress… So I read how it’s not considered correct to discuss ethnic distinctions with respect to child raising, or anything else. And it’s just as incorrect to create cultural stereotypes. They suggested what we need, no desire, is a homogeneous culture based upon polite equality. ‘Cause nobody really wants to stand out with unique and unpopular thinking. Everyone wants to fit in. And like the Borg, once you have fit in, you live to assimilate others. Yet the woman in the article passionately refused to be assimilated.

And so do I.

Resistance is not futile.

Here’s the thing… no matter what I write of a ‘spiritual nature’… poetry, stories, rants, rambles, there’s a question that begs to be asked.  Is there a God or not? You, dear reader, can’t sit on the fence forever. You can argue using scientific facts, test my theology, list the atrocities done in the name of religion ‘til you’re out-of-breath-red-in-the-face and making me wince, like when I see myself in this slam poem by Chris Tse. You can talk about my intolerance and ‘my truth’, but you still land in the same place of having to decide for yourself. Does God exist?


You can dull your mind with work and with technology and with whatever other addiction you’ve got hidden up your sleeve that prevents you from thinking about big annoying stuff. Or just busy yourself with the everyday-ness of life. One day leads to another and unless some drive-a-stake-cataclysmic-thing happens to stop you in your rut, you grow old. We all eventually die. And because of that fact, still the question lingers… Is there a God?

Perhaps I’m responding to having watched the amazing, thought provoking play ‘The Screwtape Letters’ just yesterday afternoon, or maybe I’ve got a screw loose? But, I’m fed up with my own insipid waffling. All the rationalizing and relativism and political correctness is really pissing me off. And the ways of watering down the truth so as not to offend, offends ME! Sorry, but it does.

No, I’m not wishing fire and brimstone preaching back, nor do I believe in shoving my beliefs down anyone’s throat like back in the day when I delivered evangelistic tracts from door to door, to complete strangers!. But there comes a time to be honest in every relationship. It all starts there… because you care about the people in your life… there’s a time to be truthful… to speak up!

So, I have to ask, In the face of all the evidence that surrounds you, to…

… take a minute to look out your window, at the mountains, the trees, the snow, the sunshine, the birds, the stars, the minute details of the natural world (and that’s without a microscope)…

… then consider metamorphosis, DNA, the chicken and the egg, erosion, volcanoes, the creation of new life inside a woman’s body, the germination of a tulip bulb in spring…

(Not-withstanding all the crappy, inexcusable ways that ‘Christian’ people like me have done things in the past to hurt you deeply with hypocrisy and unloving words and ways… please forgive them… please forgive me.)

… now think of the words of all the people of all the nations in the world who share their unique stories, telling how about their lives were ripped from the jaws of ultimate peril by a God who changed everything

… and then, as you consider the beauty of music, and architecture, and art, and all the unexplainable heart ripping creative forces in this world…

… bravely, hesitantly, ask yourself the question that just won’t go away…

Does God exist?

Lesley-Anne