I thought you might be wondering why I’ve disappeared off the radar over the past couple months.
Shit just got real, folks. And we are so, so excited.
Holy shit, you guys, I’ve been with this kid for four years.
I stole his last name three years ago.
The kid who makes my food. And only
usually sometimes complains about it.
The kid who falls asleep on me more frequently than most sloths.
The kid who goes with me to the doctor and then carts (literally) my sorry, high ass around Target.
The kid who may be AN ACTUAL GODDAMNED MODEL.
The kid who apparently (?) likes to make meals out of my ear and/or hair.
This kid, you guys. He’s the biggest dork around. And I love him to pieces.
Happy anniversary, goofball. I love you. Don’t ever stop being your ridiculous self.
I am a mess.
This is no secret. For a long time, I tried to hide it, I tried to pretend that I had it all together. Eventually, I gave up, and though I lost some friends in the process, I learned who I was. Who I am.
I used to hear this phrase a lot in college: “You are one of God’s masterpieces.” It was more often directed towards women, I think in an attempt to foster positive self-image, but every time I heard it, I always thought, “I really don’t feel like much of a masterpiece.”
When we think of masterpieces, we think of the Mona Lisa or the Sistine Chapel or similar works. We think of works of art praised for their beauty. They are whole, complete, finished, beautiful works. Nobody wanted to see Michelangelo’s sketches–that’s probably why he burned them–but people flock in hundreds to see his finished product.
Masterpieces are, in our minds, finished.
I am not. I continue to change, for better and worse, with every day that passes. At no point have I ever modeled perfection. I eat too much cheese. I refuse to check my voicemails. I complain about everything. I have panic attacks at 5 a.m. about being stuffed in lockers. I forget my glasses and miss turns when I drive. I get angry and yell and swear too much. I laugh at funerals and cry when babies are born. I have experienced many things that have left scars on my body and my soul.
I am a mess.
But maybe that’s the masterpiece. Maybe we aren’t Mona Lisas or Sistine Chapels. Maybe we are more like mosaics. We’re made up of broken pieces of other things, pieces that are being added with every day that passes. We’re made of a million colors of joy and anger and sadness and peace and every other experience we’ve ever had. We are full of intricacy and complexity and beauty.
Our brokenness brings forth fullness, but never completion.
We are works in progress.
We are eternally unfinished.
And that, my friends, is beautiful.
I am a non-denom-er.
I don’t ascribe to any specific denominational doctrine.
I pick and choose. There are elements of just about every (major) Christian denomination that I like. I don’t think we need to fully fit within one.
I also don’t put much emphasis on tradition. I find that my beliefs often contradict what tradition says, and while I’m willing to engage that debate, I rarely end up siding with tradition.
But it’s Lent. And that changes things for me.
The first church I went to was Lutheran. It’s also the church I have attended longest. So it’s had a pretty significant impact on my theology.
Do I think everything within Lutheran doctrine is correct? By no means. I actually disagree with much of their doctrine.
But, Lord, I love the way they do church.
I love the adherence to the church calendar. I love the church seasons and the colors that we associate with them. I love the liturgy and the lectionary texts. I love the hymns and the LBW. And I love love love the Sacraments.
Part of it is the dependability, the regularity, the consistency of it. Part of it is the unity that comes from knowing that everyone in the building is making the same statements and prayers together, that everyone (both within the individual churches and within the denomination itself) is meditating on the same text, and that so many from years past have sung the same hymns. Part of it is the beautiful meaning of the Sacraments and how deep they cut into the human soul. There are a myriad of reasons why the way Lutherans do church resonates so deeply within me.
I’m okay, most of the time, with not having this in my life. I go to a Baptist school and a non-denom church. I’ve seen plenty of adult immersion baptisms and I’ve done communion with Welch’s and Wonderbread more times than I can count. I sing 90’s worship songs at church on Sundays and listen to a forty-five-minute-long sermon. My husband (who you can now find here) grew up Baptist-Covenant, so he’s not big on anything that has to do with liturgical churches, and I’m okay sacrificing that for him. I can deal without Lutheranism for forty-five weeks out of the year.
But…Lent is different.
I’ve learned that many non-liturgical churches (and their members) don’t really do Lent, or they do it in a very different (and almost unrecognizable to me) way than liturgical churches do. It’s this thing in March or so that starts by getting some ashes smudged on your face and you give something up for forty (or forty-six, because many don’t realize that you’re supposed to break your fast on Sundays) days. Then you go to Easter service and everything’s good and not weird again. Which is fine, I’m not bashing that. There is nothing in the Bible that says you have to celebrate Lent.
But it’s not fine for me.
Christmas, Easter, they’ve been taken over by capitalism and pop culture. I know Jews who celebrate Christmas because, why the hell not, everyone else does. Lent is different. It’s still ours. It’s precious. It’s beautiful. It is mournful and solemn but it pushes towards the joy we know is coming. It moves us to rethink ourselves and our actions and commit ourselves yet again to Jesus, to prepare ourselves for this coming joy. It requires us to walk in the steps of his pain, but it also sets us free to rejoice with him on Easter morn. It is the most stunning example of how we ought to live as followers of Christ that I’ve ever found in the Church.
And we do this every year. For six and a half weeks. Beautiful.
Two days ago, I (and my husband, reluctantly) went to Ash Wednesday service at a Lutheran church in our neighborhood. We sang hymns out of the LBW. We listened to the (classic twelve-minute-long) sermon. We took communion of kosher wine and unleavened bread. We prayed the confession. We received the ashes. It was wonderful.
I recall, as the pastor was reciting the Words of Institution (for Holy Communion, for all you non-liturgical types), I was mouthing along with her. I watched as every person spoke the Lord’s Prayer together. I saw everyone bow their heads and offer their empty hands up to receive the elements. And, for the first time in far too long, I received Holy Communion. And it meant something.
Lent, at that moment, renewed its grasp on my heart.
Because I was reminded that this Communion was not simply something done to unite my brothers and sisters and I. I was reminded that I am being invited to a table, not only with all these people, but with Christ. I, who am not worthy, was offered an outstretched hand and the simple invitation of “Come, the table is prepared, all are welcome.” I was reminded that this bread and wine is not just bread and wine, it is the manifestation of the body broken for me and the blood shed for me on the Cross that we are walking towards in this season.
Broken. Unworthy. Sinful. Invited anyway.
But first, we must walk. Forty (forty-six) days in the valley of the shadow of death. My sins. Seeing every ugly detail thrust out into the open like that. Still, we must walk. At the end of this valley lies a hill with a Cross atop it. We must make it that far. The further we go, the more I look back. I want to return. I want to stop walking. I begin to limp. Soon, my legs give out. I can’t do this anymore. No matter. I will be carried there if by no other means. Laid at the foot of the Cross. You who carried me here are now nailed to it. Your body is broken before me and your blood runs over me. I lift up my hands to give something, anything, to stop your pain. Hush, child. Now is not your time to give. You must receive. I don’t understand, I am the wrongdoer. Before you can explain, your last breath escapes. I cry out in mourning. If it is all I can do for you now, I lay you in your grave. I weep. I come back two days later to find your grave opened. I don’t understand, I don’t know why. I ask the first person I see, the gardener, if he knows what happened. He turns and his face is yours. I don’t understand. Joy fills my heart and I am ready to dismiss the last six weeks as a dream. You tell me no, I can’t. I must always remember that journey. Without it, we would not be here. This joy is a product of that pain. But rejoice, child, for the pain is now over; the journey is complete.
Come. The table is prepared, all are welcome.
I have a friend who, in a note on Facebook, attempted to assert her piousness by stating that she never “listened to a single secular song or watched a single secular TV show.” This was not, as I’m aware I’ve made it sound, done to make herself sound great or to flaunt her “holiness,” but merely to make it known as background information that she is, in fact, a good Christian.
This was over two years ago, and I still think about it on a regular basis.
Now, before you misinterpret me, let me make it clear: this woman is amazing, and she really does love Jesus a lot. I write none of the above to criticize her.
Unfortunately, though, she is not the only person I know who thinks (and lives) this way.
I’m just not the same.
I love music. On perhaps an unhealthy level. Our spare bedroom is half-filled with musical instruments and the collective gigabyte count of music between my husband and I rivals some radio stations.
Some of my favorite bands/artists include NeedtoBreathe, Death Cab for Cutie, Gavin DeGraw, MuteMath, Mumford & Sons, Andy Grammer, Fitz and the Tantrums, Tyrone Wells, Coldplay…the list could go on for a very long time. Some of these artists sing about Jesus. Some of them don’t.
I also love all things funny. I watch TV shows like The Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother, 2 Broke Girls, The Colbert Report, The Daily Show, Futurama, Mythbusters, 30 Rock, Friends, and (of course) Arrested Development. I love movies like Juno, Our Idiot Brother, Away We Go, and many other sarcastic comedies. I adore bloggers like Brittany Gibbons (barefootfoodie.com), Meredith Soleau (lifescrazyjoke.com), Matthew Inman (theoatmeal.com), Randall Munroe (xkcd.com), and Reza Farazmand (poorlydrawnlines.com). All these shows/movies/people make me laugh, sometimes so hard that I’m afraid it might kill me.
The problem is, aside from a couple of those bands, I couldn’t say the names of just about anything up there in a church without someone “praying for my soul.”
My enjoyment of these things is not because there are no Jesus-following versions (Extreme Days, anyone?), I just simply enjoy them. I relate to them on a deep, unexplainable level. And I refuse to stop doing so because they aren’t “holy enough” for other Christians.
Because the thing is, we were made to enjoy life.
This is not to say that our lives will be easy. Following Jesus is the via dolorosa, it is hard, and you will, in one way or another, be crucified. There are no shortage of biblical stories that attest to this. There are, however, plenty of verses that remind us, despite these difficulties, we are to “count it all joy,” to praise Jesus, to find happiness in the midst of our struggles.
Following Jesus doesn’t mean that you are now required to be serious all the time, or, like the ever-popular Vintage 21 videos state, “No laughing, unless it’s at how stupid the devil is.”
It means being joyful in spite of how difficult this kind of life can be.
Folks, there is no better way to stick it to Satan than to enjoy life. The mission statement of Hell is to destroy, to make things worse, and certainly to eradicate joy.
I am on a mission to find joy everywhere, whether that place loves Jesus or not.
I’m not saying that we can do whatever we want, as long as it makes us happy, because God wants us to be happy. That is hedonism, and it is not awesome. Deliberately seeking out sin does no good for anything. Happiness is a fleeting emotion.
But, those artists, and shows, and movies, and bloggers I mentioned above? That’s not their aim. They’re being real about life. They don’t romanticize the pain that comes with living. But they do look at the world in a way that says, “To Hell with all of you, I am going to make the best of this. I will turn this into something beautiful. I will find joy, and I will share it.”
Because joy is so much more than being happy. It is being full of something that is greater than any pain you might encounter. It is laughing into the mouth of the lion about to devour you. It does not deny pain, rather, it overcomes it.
Even though I haven’t met a single one of them, these people are so much more real to me than many of the ultra-religious Christians I know personally. They aren’t stiff. They don’t protest non-Christian TV shows or set fire to non-Christian records (as much as Arrested Development might think so).
They seek joy.
And I’ll be damned if I won’t too.