See through Resolutions

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It’s almost New Years.

I don’t know of any other worldwide event that holds more hope for fresh starts and also, less staying power.

Don’t get me wrong, I get excited like the rest of them. I make a short list of necessary life upgrades, grab drinks with friends, watch the ball drop and then break for the exits as the PDA bomb explodes.

And I’ll be the first to admit… There is just something to that dawn of January 1st. Something significant. It makes us feel like destiny is just waiting at the doorstep. Like the world is our oyster. A place where anything and everything is possible.

New beginnings are precious to us because they promise our lives will get prettier. What works will remain and what doesn’t will be left behind. We shed old skins for new ones.

Maybe that’s why we love it so much.

But… it’s also a time of reflection.

We reflect on how we lived the last 365. How many mornings we awoke feeling a sense of purpose. How many times we passed open hands of the homeless on the sidewalk. How often we called up our grandmas just to let them know they’re appreciated. The number of nights we were moved to gratitude for the sparkling stars staring down at us. How we cringe when we count our favorite TV shows compared to our favorite books. The night we put side by side the loved ones we have and those we wished we did and remember which ones we spent more time trying to please.

We bury all of the things we wish hadn’t happened in the last 365. 2012 becomes a time capsule, one we hope no one reopens. Just like all the years before.

So we make pages of plans to prevent the perils of yesteryear. We take the surfacey stuff like learning new hobbies, losing the baby weight, smoking less and so on. Then we make bold inner goals, like giving more of our time to people and building stronger bonds with those that are different. We blueprint the year to come.

And… After a few weeks of realizing that the New Year is just like the old, we stop believing. Reality sets in. No, we actually cannot fly.

Yet, hope can be a stubborn thing…

Like the seed beneath the snow, on New Years Eve- hope breaks through our habits. It messes things up. It reminds us that the scriptures we sift through insist upon the theme of renewal. It claims that every morning we are reborn, we start over, we smell the grace God promises with the dawn, and hope becomes the breath we breathe.

It is the story of Job and Jonah. We read it in the anguish of Lamentations and the promises of Isaiah. Hope is the hidden thread that makes our faith weather our skepticism.

We know too well how imperfect we are and what fools we’d be to even try. We know the difference between things that make us unique and others that make our lives worse. We know that change cannot come through a turn on the calendar, but rather by thoughtful reflection and a turn of the heart.

And we celebrate our weaknesses, warts and all, because Christ treasures them. If the gospels teach us anything, it’s that Jesus is really attracted to those coming at life with two left feet. He smiles and sighs as we huff and puff and check down the list of changes to be done by such and such deadline. He is brokenhearted with our stress, but overjoyed when we finally collapse and toss it all down before him. More than anything, he’s happy that, at least, we still hang on to hope.

While your resolutions probably won’t last a full week (sorry), remember the hope you held before the clock hit twelve. Bottle it up. As with all things in life, 2013 may be a mixed bag for you. Your back may hit the wall. Shit happens.

Take the tingling feeling of promise and let yourself off the hook. This is one of those occasions where you can have your cake and eat it too. Sure, maybe you’ll learn to love broccoli, but may be not! Perhaps you’ll quit smoking, but you might not be ready yet.

And on January 2nd or 3rd as you wince at that list of lofty goals, be sure to be grateful that, at least, you still know how to hope.

RR

Under Umbrellas

“During the war we… we never knew what would happen next. So they are my way of showing both paranoia and protection. That’s why I paint them.”

As she sat there spilling her story to me, I couldn’t help but fall apart. You’d have to be cold not to. My Aunt and I talked as we walked through this woman’s studio, looking at all of her work, the ghosts of her horrifying past. And inside most of her masterpieces were beautiful umbrellas. She saw them as symbols of safety, an expression of her fear and, a surprising discovery about her childhood. One day, sorting through her five-year old doodles, she found that as a kid, she always drew umbrellas. Psychology suggests that this may have been a way to fill a void of security. It’s not easy growing up in a war zone.

Following her into the next room she pulled out an enormous framed piece. The subject was a nude woman collapsed upon the ground. Her body was colored in a deep crimson red before a gray backdrop. Umbrellas and a fading sun filled in the negative space. The sun was on the left, umbrellas on the right.

The woman was her grandmother. Her two sons had been taken captive by enemy soldiers when they were just teenagers, only kids. And in the aftermath of the conflict when the mass graves were being dug up on a weekly basis, her grandmother was tortured by two hopes. One, in which her boys would be in the mass graves so she could carry them home to a proper burial and the family, might finally have peace. The other- that her sons may still be alive.

“She was strong for all of us. Tortured within, but strong. She covered us, like an umbrella.”

Stepping away a bit weepy, I started seeing all the umbrellas in my life. The places I go to find peace and protection in times of duress. In times of war.

Upon returning home, I hopped on the laptop and saw a flash roll across my news feed. A major Christian leader tweeted his support for the proposed Kill-the-Gays bill in Uganda. He actually called Uganda, a nation “returning to God”. As grotesque as his support may be, it’s important to note he’s an outlier within the Christian community. But in the same token, his militaristic tone is rather mainstream evangelical.

The Flock has always had a tendency to talk about it’s beliefs in battle metaphors. The “armor of God” in Ephesians gets a lot of airtime and most Christians understand what it means. It’s spiritual war. The invisible world of darkness that we cannot see, but only feel. That’s the darkness God is waging war on every day. Tragically, some believe God’s war is on the physical not the invisible. Some believe gays and lesbians should be wiped off the face of the earth.

When folks fancy themselves to be “soldiers for Christ”, I get really uncomfortable. While everyone knows that the “Armor of God” scripture clearly points to warring with the spiritual realm, Christian Extremists struggle with a temptation to mix the spiritual with the physical, ultimately driving divisions between whites and blacks, gays and straights, Muslims and Christians. Different is dangerous.

And there are times, when I hear the story of both the war ravaged grandma and the new African genocide, I feel their swords encircling me. Quite literally, they’re encircling the LGBT community in Uganda. Some call it a nation “returning to God”, others say its purifying the human race, and others say that it’s the divine will of God.

I call it Hate wearing a crucifix.

And when things like this happen, I step backwards and walk until I am under the cover of the umbrella.

Like Runaway George’s “golden cloud of protection” I run until I’m in the safety of His shadow. Where He holds my head to His heart, just so I know it’s really Him. He shields me from the stones, the hate, the misunderstanding. He says he’s “not like them” and that it’s okay to be afraid, just as long as I stay at his side.

I find my stillness and strength when I wake up to him whispering: See! The winter is past, the rains are over and gone” (Song of Songs 2:11) Like the artist’s grandmother, I see the sun hanging off in the distance.

God is an umbrella. He’s a shelter from the storm and a refuge for the runaway. He is not a sling to shoot with. We don’t wire him like a bomb to throw.

Your bullets are not blessed and your shackles hold no salvation. Your guns are Godless.

Pray a prayer for Uganda tonight.

RR

Learning from Squirrels

Squirrel Hiding Acorn Nuts in a Tree.

My apologies, posts have been and will be less frequent as of late. I have left the country! I am working at an organization in the Balkans promoting the Environment and researching Energy policy. Thanks for sticking with me through these next couple months!

I have learned a lot from squirrels. Don’t turn back to facebook, I swear it’s not as weird as it sounds.

If you live in the path of the cold chill of winter, take a quick glance out your window. See the squirrels hard at work? Busy burying their livelihood for the season of dry spells? They hurry here and there to prevent an otherwise certain death.

The winter blues are coming and you can’t avoid it. The cold is coming. The sun is ceding it’s ground. Flowers are bidding farewell. So is your energy.

It can be easy to forget how the weather affects our moods. And that forgetfulness can make this season so much more difficult than it needs to be.

It’s time we take a lesson from our furry friends.

On a scientific level- the winter season shapes our brains in ways that you may not be aware of. The lack of sun (vitamin D) can drastically alter the chemicals in your brain making you more tired and unhappy. For those that struggle with depression, the winter months can exacerbate existing negative emotions.

So what are you tucking away this winter?

I love this message in Proverbs.

“You lazy fool, look at an ant.
Watch it closely; let it teach you a thing or two.
Nobody has to tell it what to do.
All summer it stores up food;
at harvest it stockpiles provisions.
So how long are you going to laze around doing nothing?
How long before you get out of bed?
A nap here, a nap there, a day off here, a day off there,
sit back, take it easy—do you know what comes next?
Just this: You can look forward to a dirt-poor life,
poverty your permanent houseguest!”

-Proverbs 6:6-11 (The Message)

How long are you going to nap?

Here’s what I’m holding on to:

Humor-

There is perhaps no greater antidote to the blues than a good laugh. One of my good friends and I email each other funny past memories to warm our hearts when we start to freeze. This, along with my collection of Modern Family, The Office, Parks and Rec and so on, keep me close to the crackling fire.

Hope

Running through the Scriptures is a strong thread of Hope. There are stories of encouragement and endurance, which keep us checking for Spring around the corner.

“See! The winter is past;
the rains are over and gone.

12 Flowers appear on the earth;
the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
is heard in our land.”

-Song of Songs 2:11-12 (NIV)

“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. “

-Romans 12:12 (ESV)

The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.
-Zephaniah 3:17 (ESV)

Adaptability

Sometimes the cold can seem like something to just get through. It’s chilly, mushy and inhospitable. Simply slick streets and never enough mittens. But, what if we started to see this season as something more. Like a work of abstract art that upon first sight is unattractive and dull, it waits before us, and suddenly we notice it’s nuances and it’s meaning begins to feel magnetic. Winter won’t leave, maybe because it wants to show us something. Embrace this characteristic of creation. Go sledding, skiing, build an igloo, throw a snowball, watch flakes fall slowly. He made it with all of it’s imperfections and all of it’s beauty, just like us.

“Nature looks dead in winter because her life is gathered into her heart. She withers the plant down to the root that she may grow it up again fairer and stronger. She calls her family together within her inmost home to prepare them for being scattered abroad upon the face of the earth.”

~Hugh Macmillan, “Rejuvenescence,” The Ministry of Nature, 1871

“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says “Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.”

Lewis Carrol, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass

Pick up your shovel and start digging.

RR