Monday, September 29, 2008

come together...right now...

I can remember being in the fifth grade and thinking, "Why are Christians so uncool?" I thought I would one day pull off being a cool Jesus Freak and really make a difference for God.

More than a quarter of a century later, I've learned a few things. One of the things I've learned is that I'm not at all cool, now that I'm pushing 40. Not at all.

More important, though, I've learned that going against the current is difficult and discouraging.

The Christian current in the U.S. is the predominant fundamentalist movement, in which people gather in their buildings every Sunday morning and look just alike and act just alike and vote just alike and do freaking everything just alike. It breaks my heart that so many of these Christians are in bondage to unnecessary expectations. It's sad that Jesus' message gets diluted by fear. I know about this, because I've been there and I've done it.

I've tried to be a part of those churches over and over, in different buildings in different cities and locations, but I have never fit in. No matter how hard I try, I can't be like them. And I can't buy it that God wants me to!

This summer, I finally decided it may be time to just give up on church. It has evolved too far from Jesus' original plan.

Right about that time, my pastor friend Matt told me at the coffee shop one morning that he is planting a church with a denomination called the Evangelical Covenant. I like Matt. A lot. He is a great friend, and he enjoys diversity. He loves Jesus, but he's cool...well, in the same way I am, which is to say 'probably not at all.'

I'm a few months into the church plant with Matt now. I have just returned from a training given by the Covenant denomination, where we had a great time and where everyone was different: different races, different political beliefs, different thoughts on baptism, different ways to worship God, different beer preferences...

It was beautiful.

For the four days we were there, I kept thinking to myself, "These are my people."

Just when I was beginning to think there was no hope for a "different" Christian like me to have any connection or respect in a church, God has brought it all together. He has even given me a leadership position. God likes diversity, too. That's why He made us all different. Duh.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Misunderstood, Politicized Christianity

Since I enjoy people and getting to know people from all walks of life, I often find myself smack dab in the center of extreme beliefs and values. Even though I feel like this kind of socializing offers me a full, interesting life, it puts me in a place to see severe misunderstandings and unnecessary stereotyping that I can't do anything about.

For example, I am among a group of a dozen or so people teamed up with a dear pastor friend of ours named Matt Randles to plant a church. In searching for a place to meet and worship, we asked the director of the science museum where I work if we could rent the museum once a month. A few of my co-workers were appalled that a church, of all things, would be allowed to meet in museum's space.

What is clear to me is that just the word "church" is immediately equated with religious, right-wing extremists who are at odds with science and live lives of hypocrisy and judgment toward others. The word "church" makes eyes roll and mouths mutter things like "Oh, brother."

When did Christianity become so politicized? When did Jesus' teachings of love become seen as hate? Where did Christians go wrong and how can we turn this screwed up image around?

Christians are just people. And for some reason, human nature leans toward a need for structure and rules and categories. Christianity has nothing to do with this type of organization. But being imperfect people, we have clung to unnecessary rules for a sense of security, I guess, or a sense of control. It's hard to grasp the truth that Jesus has done all the work for us, and we are free from all of this junk. It's too big a gift to totally accept.

In fact, Christianity is the only religion that does not require people to be "good" and earn salvation (in whatever form that may come). Christianity is a belief that we as people will never be good enough to earn anything close to eternal life with God, so He provided a way for us through Jesus.

Jesus said that the most important thing for us to do is to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, souls and minds. The second most important thing for us to do is to "Love our neighbor as ourselves."

Christians haven't meant to be shitty and judgmental. Christians are just people. And Christians are not the only people who are shitty and judgmental. And Christians are so excited to have found Jesus, they want to tell everyone, but it's just too overwhelming to think that He covers it all and we just have to believe and love and use our gifts He's given us.

The outspoken Christians are the type-As, just like the outspoken anti-Christians. So it seems the squeaky wheels create the stereotype.

Christianity, itself, is a beautiful, liberating gift. It's love. Don't get confused by the misunderstandings. People are people. Jesus is life.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Mission Statement

Do you have a mission statement?

Mission statements are used in businesses and organizations for a number of reasons, one of which is to remind themselves (and employees) what they are about, in case they tend to get off track. Another reason is to use it as a checklist or a guideline when a decision has to be made. If an option doesn't fit the mission, then that option is out.

Having a personal mission statement is not a new idea, but I think it's a good idea, especially for those of us who have many interests and fret over small decisions.

So I've put together my mission statement. I plan to post it where I can see it often. I hope it will help me to keep my true self in the forefront of my life, instead of being covered up by self-imposed obligations and crap that wastes my time!

Here it is:
To live a life of radical love, boundless passion, human connection, and creative expression, and to encourage and empower others to do the same.

I've been thinking lately about going back to school to get a master's degree. I just ran it by my mission statement to see if it lines up. I'm thinking now that to spend the enormous amount of money a graduate degree would cost, and to be unavailable to my family much of the time for two or three years would make no sense. It could not give me anything I need to pursue my mission.

My husband will be thrilled. I just saved us tens of thousands of dollars!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Mother-Daughter Book Club

My 8-year-old daughter Caroline and I decided to start a book group. I came up with the idea after giving up on forcing her to read her required five hours a month for her third grade class. She's a hopeless extrovert, so sitting alone quietly reading is the last thing she ever wants to do, no matter how good the book is.

We kicked off the book club with a "Mother-Daughter Get-Together" at our house Friday night. We sent invitations to 12 mothers and their daughters; and six showed up. That added up to 14 people in our small house, half of whom are 8 years old and were running and screaming with zero interest in discussing our ideas for the book group.

Finally, I rounded up the girls and told everyone about what I envisioned we could do with and for our daughters. How I hoped that looking forward to the group meeting each month would inspire Caroline, as well as their daughters, to stick with a book to its conclusion. How I hoped that with all her friends reading the same book, maybe they would talk about it together during lunch or something. Jenn mentioned how she liked the idea because she wanted the accountability to spend that time with her daughter, which I was also thinking. This would give us a reason to read together and take advantage of opportunities to discuss issues the book brings up between the two of us.

The mothers listened. The girls grabbed some snacks and towels and ran outside with shrieks and shrills headed straight for the horse trough we use as a pool.

A few of the moms got sidetracked and paired off to have their own conversations, so the rest of us made some executive decisions. Those were: 1.) The idea is a good one, and it is worth a try. 2.) We won't expect too much from our children. Fifteen minutes may be all they can stand for book discussions. 3.) We would meet next month at Jennifer and Jaci's house. 4.) We would read Because of Winn Dixie.

I sent around a sign-up sheet to get everyone's phone numbers and e-mail addresses; and before the sheet was completed, two girls came into the house sobbing huge, dramatic, heaving kinds of bawling sobs. One was feeling left out, and she needed her mom to come outside to comfort her. Caroline was being accused of "being mean," and that just broke her heart. All of them were soaked to the bones and shivering in the nippy fall weather, dripping on my floor. None of them had permission to get wet, so I'm feeling a bit uncomfortable, myself, since my assistant hostess, Caroline, was the ring leader of the rebellious uprising.

It was truly a disaster.

Perhaps the idea of a mother-daughter book group was a few years premature?

I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

What is Soul Arts?

Soul Arts was born in the spring of 2004. Ever since, I've been trying to figure out how to explain what it is to people. I'm going to give it my best shot here.

An avid journal keeper since a kid, I took a bookbinding class in the fall of 2001 and started making my own journals (as well as journals for everyone for Christmas that year). The handmade journals are made with unlined paper, which opened up the unlimited creative potential to do more than just write in my journal. Now I was inticed to draw and collage and write in circles or whatever I felt like doing at the time.

I taught a few of my friends how to make the journals and encouraged them to start creative journaling, like I was doing. Five of us starting meeting every Saturday morning for about two hours sharing our journals with eachother and doing fun writing or art projects together in our journals. We did Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way and Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones, and we found other great ideas for self discovery and exercises that inspired creativity. The group met weekly for two and a half years, and the most beautiful friendships were formed. We only disbanded because everyone but me moved away! (Now we send a shared journal around through the mail in an effort to keep the faith!)

Well, during this time, I went to Mississippi to visit my parents. They agreed to watch my toddler and baby while I took a little break for a couple of days at a Franciscan prayer center about a half hour away from them called The Dwelling Place.

I spent my alone time there enjoying the beautiful space the two nuns and small staff have created there. I listened to the birds and watched the pond ripple in the breeze, all the while writing, praying and doodling in my little handmade journal.

The counselor on staff approached me the second afternoon for a visit, to see if I needed prayer or wanted to talk about anything. In our conversation, she asked about my journal. I showed her the kinds of things I put in it, and she loved it. Then she said to me, "I feel like the Holy Spirit is prompting me to ask you to come here and lead a retreat on journaling and journal making."

I was immediately flattered and intrigued by the opportunity. I said, "Of course. I would love to do that." We set a tentative date for the following summer.

When I returned home to Montana, little bouts of anxiety began. The voice in my head starting saying, "You can't lead a retreat. Who are you to teach anybody anything..."

My mode of defense against the little voice usually is to find a solution, so that's just what I did. I decided to plan a retreat with people I knew in Montana as a trial run, so I would know how to prepare for the one in Mississippi.

I set it all up and 12 people signed up for the retreat. But in the weeks that led up to the first retreat in Montana, the most amazing things began to happen. I would wake up in the mornings with these fantastic ideas. I would envision that certain people were going to be at the retreat, and then sure enough, those same people would have their deposits in my mailbox within a day or two. I woke up one morning with the name Soul Arts. I knew that was what this thing would be called. God was just pouring out the vision for Soul Arts.

The retreat was great. The participants enjoyed it, and I learned a lot. I felt more prepared.

Since then, I've done two retreats at the Dwelling Place now, and two in Montana, as well as a few workshops and classes.

Through this process, I have discovered that I have the spiritual gift of exhortation (also known as encouragement) and I want to use this gift to glorify God. More than anything, I love to encourage people to live their biggest, most authentic lives possible. That's why I follow up the title Soul Arts with the words "Be Real. Live Big."

I would love to offer Soul Arts to existing groups, whether they are women's Bible study groups or stay-at-home mom groups or just whatever, and lift them up with this kind of encouragement through journaling and other forms of creative expression. Also, I will continue to offer retreats, workshops and classes which will put new groups together. Let me know if you are interested.

So, would you call Soul Arts a ministry? A life coaching business? An organization that teaches creative expression as a vehicle to living a fuller life? I don't know. Do you have any ideas?