Keening

I never really understood what this was – until this past week.

Of course, I’d heard of the practice: people crying, wailing, making all manner of sounds to vocalize their pain and grief. I understood that it often was a cultural practice at funerals. But that’s how I understood it: as some anthropological note about what other people do with their grief. It was academic, and wholly disconnected from my middle class American existence.

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Be ye transformed

​Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:2 NIV

Additional election reflection: I just had an insight into why this election result, while disgusting me in the extreme, is neither all that surprising nor traumatizing. Many people on my feed are writing about feeling like this isn’t their country, like they can’t believe they live in a nation this racist/xenophobic/misogynistic, like they don’t know how to live in a nation where this is true, etc. Those reactions sounded oddly familiar, and it occurred to me that I already had that moment for myself and my nation: two years ago, after Mike Brown was murdered in Ferguson. I said these exact things in a sobbing phone conversation with my mother, as I sat in my front yard in Somerville trying to figure out how I could continue getting up and going to work and living life like the world hadn’t just exploded.

My pro-tips:

  1. It’s OK to be devastated. I was barely functional at work for the latter half of August 2014, trying to deal with the trauma. Don’t try to act like nothing has happened. Breathe, grieve, and give yourself some grace.
  2. Let yourself be angry, but not forever, and not so that it toxifies you. I’ve spent the better part of the last two years in a seething rage. It’s not that I was wrong to be angry; but it was an impotent rage that I had a hard time channeling into productive outlets. I wish I had spent more time processing my emotions through relational and spiritual spaces that allowed me to express what I was feeling, but then begin to heal and refocus on my purpose. Try to find (or create) those spaces for yourself. SOCIAL MEDIA IS NOT YOUR FRIEND IN THIS REGARD!
  3. Let it change your life. Ferguson was the moment that changed everything for me. Within four months, I quit my job and moved from the place I thought I’d live forever to an area of the country I swore I wouldn’t return to unless a family member was dying. I spent 16 months away from full-time, 9-to-5 work, and instead spent most of that period caring for family members. (NOTE: none of those family members were dying, although both my parents gave us some good scares that I’ll thank them not to repeat!! 😛 ❤) That transition was EVERYTHING: it reoriented my priorities and opened up opportunities I could never have conceived, let alone planned for. The vision I had for my future and life’s work is becoming a reality that I’m walking in daily because of that move. Paradoxically, despite the election, today was an absolutely magnificent day for me because I am in the midst of this moment where so many amazing things are blooming for me that I can barely keep track of them all. That trauma was a real trauma – but it was also the doorway to blessings beyond measure.

There is no more business as usual. But the thing is, there never was. Live into that reality, because that’s where all the amazing shit becomes possible.

I’m glad I can laugh at myself!

Here’s a fun update: I’m currently clocking in at a svelte 212 lbs! While losing five pounds since the last time I posted about this may not seem like such a big deal, it becomes more impressive when you know that almost immediately after that post, I gained ten pounds and had to work my way down from there. It was an inauspicious, disheartening beginning; but I’m thankful that better things were yet to come.

Hilariously, I achieved my unusually successful weight loss by keeping rigorous track of what I ate and generally making sure that I expend more calories than I consume. 🙂 When I realized that I was just following really basic weight loss advice, it cracked me up. But hey, I never said I wasn’t incredibly hard-headed and terrible at listening to what other people tell me!

The key for me was finding tools that made the tracking fun and interesting instead of duty and drudgery. I got a Samsung Galaxy S6 this spring, and discovered that it came with this fitness tracker (S Health) pre-installed. I was curious and started playing around with it, and all the charts and analysis made it more like a game for me, as well as tying into my competitive mobile gaming side (wanting to beat my previous “scores”/get new achievements). I started to see that I was walking more and even getting other things like my blood pressure and blood sugar to go down a bit, but I was frustrated at not seeing more consistent weight results because I thought I was eating OK. So I decided to test my assumption about my own consumption using the app’s food tracker.

Turns out I was eating good food most of the time but really indulging in some crap at other times, and generally eating WAY too much (i.e., 3,000 calories) for my level of activity. So I set myself a goal of staying under 2,500 calories, which I seemed to be able to do most of the time, and then later tried staying under 2,000 calories, at which I was less successful. Slowly but surely, I started to see that when I kept to my steps goal and my calorie goal, the changes (albeit small ones) would show up on the scale. Those small wins, combined with the “gaming” perspective, kept me going as I tried to figure out how to move my progress along a little more quickly.

Oddly, it was the frustrations I experienced with S Health’s functionality that moved me to the next level. The food tracker database wasn’t very extensive, and I found myself constantly having to look up nutrition information on other websites for food I needed to log in S Health. That was when I discovered MyFitnessPal, the food log site I found myself turning to over and over. My other issue was with the step counter: because it was on my phone, I constantly had to be carrying my phone to count my steps; and since I don’t always wear outfits with pockets, that felt very inconvenient (not to mention upsetting my competitive side when I didn’t make a goal because all my steps weren’t being counted!). Enter the search for a wearable step counter.

It seemed a little ridiculous to buy yet another gadget after I’d just purchased a new phone and laptop; the fact that my shiny new phone wasn’t also functioning perfectly as a wearable fitness tracker is such a #firstworldproblem that it’s a little embarrassing to write about it. That said, I’m so grateful to my sister for my birthday gift of a Fitbit Charge HR, because it the difference it has made in successfully moving toward my weight and health goals is nothing short of stunning for me.

I’m counting my steps and tracking my food rigorously almost every day, managing my activity and calorie consumption goals with the benefit of the the seamless integration between Fitbit and MyFitnessPal. I’m engaging in challenges with my cadre of Fitbit buddies, which helps to push me on those days when I’d rather not get all my steps in. I’m even tracking my sleep, along with still monitoring my blood sugar and blood pressure through S Health. And I can see the results so clearly: my weight is down, my sugar is consistently in the target zone, and my blood pressure, while still high, is markedly down from where it was. My energy is up, I can move more quickly and more easily, and I generally want to eat less.

Plus, I feel more in control of my weight (rather than it having control of me) because I see very directly how my body responds to a low-activity or high-calorie day – both of which I still totally have. There’s no specific food or activity plan: no special diet (although I have to watch how much I eat food out, as the calories in those meals are generally crazy), no series of workouts beyond my daily step target. But I feel like the information I get from my trackers empowers me to make activity and food intake decisions that affect my weight and overall health in a way that is dynamic, natural, and sustainable.

And really, that’s the underlying change, which is a gift of God and not any work of my own. He slowly and patiently brought me to the place where I could look at those health metrics as tools to use in pursuing the things He is prompting me to do, rather than judgments on my worth and character. That sermon I mentioned in my previous post was a turning point, where the Lord helped me to stop using insecurity and fear of failure as excuses and crutches. He prepared my heart and then spoke the right word to me at the time when I could hear it. And He led me to ways of managing my health that are responsive to my real life instead of some imagined ideal. So this is one of my testimonies to the things the Lord has been doing in me this beautiful year – and it is only one of many!

In summary, here’s to discovering the obvious; having my weaknesses (competitiveness and technology obsession) turned into strengths; and the overwhelmingly impossible becoming completely doable. I’m still at the beginning, and there will be setbacks along with successes – but I know that I’m moving forward instead of backwards, and I am rejoicing at the transformation.

Christians and Gay Marriage: Why I’m Over It

I don’t know where I stand on gay marriage as a civil right.  I have a lot of conflicting thoughts and emotions: my belief in Scripture as the word of God; my love for my friends who are gay; my belief that people’s worldviews (regardless of whether they include religion or not) are absolutely valid bases for the policy choices they want to make in civil society; and my questions about whether it’s even appropriate for the state to get involved in sanctioning marriage.  I’m not going to pretend that I have some clear moral stance on the issue, either to please the people in my life who oppose gay marriage or to please the people in my life who support it.

What I do believe, very strongly, is that the prevailing American evangelical focus on views of sex and sexuality as a litmus test of whether or not people are “really” Christians or can fellowship together is total BS. The basis of our faith is belief that we cannot be holy by our own efforts or merit and that the only thing that reconciles us to God, saves our lives from utter fruitlessness and death, and redeems the world is Christ’s victory over sin and death through the cross and resurrection. When we accept that truth, the Holy Spirit works in us every day to change our lives so that our salvation is not just for the judgment at the end of time, but rather that our reconciliation and restoration can be lived and felt in our present. That’s it, that’s the whole good news; if you add anything else to it, it is no longer the Gospel, but rather some false human creation that will never save anyone (Galatians 2:19-3:6).

Faith in Christ is not a list of religious rules or cultural practices. It isn’t a ranking of who sins more or whose sins are worse so that we can decide which of us are better than others – for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and no one is good, except the Father (Romans 3:10-18, 23; Mark 10:18). But from where I stand, the church debate on homosexuality seems to be primarily about creating a group of people that we can label as “other,” so that we can point out how terrible their sins are, congratulate ourselves on being better than they are, and show how holy we are by shunning and shaming them (Luke 18:9-14). And by doing so, we can conveniently ignore the beams in our own eyes, the greed and anger and hatred and violence and idolatry and pride that run rampant through our society and manifest in a wide variety of ways in our churches (Matthew 7:1-5).

I’m tired of this farce. I’m tired of churches considering schisms over this issue, or organizations bending over backwards trying to find the right position that will play well to their supporters. These are the games the world plays, and they have no place in the body of Christ. Whatever understanding we are going to come to about same-sex partner relationships, it will come through living out the love and reconciliation that is the center of the Gospel, because that is the only way we have to put all of our sins, or relationships and our works back to rights. This doesn’t mean that we won’t continue to wrestle with our understanding of Scripture and how it applies to our lives; if we’re not engaging in that pursuit of deeper knowledge every day, then we are stunting our growth toward spiritual maturity. But when we share with each other about our lives, our questions, what we believe and what we have trouble believing, it should be with the understanding that the diversity of God’s people is for having our eyes opened to the many ways He works in the world as well as giving and receiving the correction we need to grow in faith and obedience.

I don’t know what the Lord is doing in the hearts and minds of those who believe in Him and also identify as LGBT. I do know that if God’s grace isn’t enough to cover whatever sin they are wrestling with, then it also isn’t enough to cover the sins that I wrestle with daily, and that means my hope is for nothing. But since I do believe that God’s grace is sufficient for all of us, then it is preposterous and blasphemous for me to presume that my judgment on other people’s lives ought to trump His. If God can love me and be with me despite the many ways I fall short, then there is no one I cannot love or fellowship with, in grateful recognition of the grace that I am given every day.

Horseshoes and Hand Grenades

The principle also works pretty well for bocce.

My Lent had a strange finish.  I was so excited that today was going to be my 300th blog post, which seemed like a fitting end to a successful writing challenge.  Instead, it’s the 299th, because, after 45 days of successfully posting despite stress, travel, tiredness and occasional lack of inspiration, I missed day 46 of 46.  I now have much more sympathy for the Patriots 2007-8 season, and I can finally forgive them for my sports fan trauma after that tragic single loss.

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Stillness

It’s a quiet-feeling kind of day.  At the end of service today, as I was sitting in the darkness of the sanctuary, I realized how hard it is for me to be still – not physically still (that’s super-easy for me), but mentally still, without words and images constantly flooding and filling up my brain, without the slightest sound or motion distracting me.  Sometimes I wonder if I would be able to commune with God in a different way if I developed that ability to be still.  Maybe next Lent my discipline will be meditation.

At any rate, I’m still enjoying that stillness, and I don’t want to fill it up with too many words.  It has been a good day for prayer, reflection, fellowship and worship.  I’m glad for that.

Preparation

Holy Week is a little different for me every year.  This year hasn’t included any formal religious observance (e.g., worship services), and that does feel strange to me; I’m hoping at least to go to an evening service for Good Friday.  Yet it still feels like it has been a week of preparation and of some piece of learning or training drawing to a conclusion.  Maybe not a conclusion; more like a climax, but the dénouement is still to come.

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