"before we turn to stone"

Well, I feel exhausted.


I did a video last night with my cat Madeleine L’Engle.
I have a mild allergy to Madeleine L’Engle (the cat).
When I hold her next to my face while singing a song, I apparently end up looking like this:





In my Benadryl induced haze, I am having a little trouble thinking theologically, so please bear with me.


Last night we had an amazing Bible Study/Prayer Service.
Generally the focus in the first week of Advent is Hope and the second week it is Peace. It is in this perspective we came to our Gospel lesson, Mark 1:1-8.


 1 The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah,[a]the Son of God,[b] 2 as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

   “I will send my messenger ahead of you,
   who will prepare your way”[c]
3 “a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
   make straight paths for him.’”[d]
 4 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 6 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.7 And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with[e] water, but he will baptize you with[f] the Holy Spirit.”



We were struck that the whole Judean countryside came because they heard his message of repentance and therefore came to confess. We started talking about repentance and how that is a part of waiting actively in anticipation.

This has resonated with me so deeply in this season of Advent and the times of transition I find myself in. It would seem that the Gospel on a whole, and Mark in part, makes it clear that repentance, the willingness to say “I was wrong, I’m sorry” is essential for a life of peace. 

I see this over and over again in my life. If I am unwilling to  humble myself and ask for forgiveness for the wrongs I have done, it is impossible for me to have peace. Completely impossible. It happens quickly. When I have done something that has caused offense to someone the immediate reaction more often than not is to find a way to defend myself and my decisions. And if I don’t get myself in check, it becomes defending myself at all costs, causing further offense and hurt. But that isn’t even the beginning. 

It begins to eat at your insides. Eat them and at the same time disable them. It makes them hard so that the next time you hurt someone, and don’t humble yourself and ask for forgiveness, you don’t feel it as much. It becomes duller, so it can happen more and more and more.

I’ve found (by trial and error) that most of the “instructions” in the Bible aren’t just for the heck of it.
Not just for kicks, because God “can”.


It really is in our best interest for ourselves and our relationships to freely give and seek forgiveness. It’s the only way we can truly have peace.


It’s hard to humble yourself. It’s like dying to yourself. A little death that comes before a whole lot of life. There is so much freedom when you humble yourself and ask for forgiveness. A huge weight is lifted off of you and you can feel again. I’m not going to try and fool you, that it doesn’t open you up again and again to the possibility to be hurt again and again. But that is the danger with truly living isn’t it? The danger when we choose to fully participate in humanity.


In my short experience on this earth, the peace that can be experienced is far greater than the turmoil.  The possibility of deepening relationship, of showing true love, it can be amazing.


I couldn’t get this song out of my head with the Gospel lesson from yesterday.







To me it speaks beautifully about looking beyond ourselves at the world around us, and the importance of taking responsibility for our actions “and not waiting for someone else’s hand”. The specific line that keeps speaking to my soul is:


“but brother how we must atone, before we turn to stone”


It is a simple truth.


If we aren’t vulnerable to one another, and are incapable of humbling ourselves, we will turn to stone.


The further we separate ourselves from humanity the less human we become.


Let us all take this Advent season as an opportunity to seek forgiveness where it is needed and to freely give forgiveness as it is asked of us. Not many better ways I can think of to honor the coming of Christ who came to us in a humble vulnerable human form so that he could grant us ultimate forgiveness and redemption.


peace to you,
meredith










Back to Do. . .

I haven’t had a lot of time today to muse or ruminate on anything in particular. But as I was singing Do Re Mi with Eleonore today in the car, I was remembering this video.

Nate and I at the beginning
 of our time at Streams of Hope

In itself it is an amazing thing to behold. I first saw it in 2009. We were in the process of closing a church while Nate was in seminary. It was an amazingly beautiful, painful, and growth inducing experience which I am sure I will write more about in the future.

The Sunday the church closed I stood to give some of my thoughts. I wanted the congregation to know that we had to decide if our journey as Christians stopped there, or if we were going to go out into the world and be the church, join new existing bodies of believers and evolve as Christians to share the joy & hope we have in the Risen Christ.

This video had spoken immensely to my heart and soul during that period.
God used something as simple as a song from The Sound of Music and a bunch of people dancing to speak to me, that joy still existed & that hope was still alive, even in the midst of mourning.

And, that ultimately, it starts with one person, making a decision. 
So I shared this video on that Sunday with the congregation, and I share it with you now, because it still holds so much truth and beauty.
peace to you,
meredith

Back in Bloomington #5-Albert

I wrote this over a month ago and wasn’t able to finish till now. 

There has been a lot weighing on my mind lately. I think any parent is in a constant state of looking at the world around them with a newfound lens of “What does this mean for my child?”.

It can be overwhelming if you take that too far. It can consume you.

But there is a fine line and a grey area where for brief moments you can see with the hopefulness and the heartache of a child. Which I have come to see as life in its purest form.

My husband as his “Day Job”, works as a residential counselor at a Boys Home for addiction and behavior rehabilitation. His “Night Job” is church planting, which is why we moved back to Bloomington.

This past week one of the boys from the home were on an extended home visit. He was also two weeks from completing the program/graduating High School. A young man who knew what he wanted to do with his life, who all the other boys looked up to.

While at home, his mother caught him drinking, told him she was taking him back to the Home, where inevitably the leaders would be told, and he would have to start the program over again. In his compliant nature, he packed up his things, went to the car, then told his mother if he was going to be there for a longer time, he would like to have his slippers. He ran upstairs to his room, took out a shotgun, and killed himself.

As a parent the questions seem endless. For a while I thought my crying would be endless.

That boy was someone’s Eleonore.
That little boy. . .

And then my view broadens, and my questions as a Christian become endless.

This decision was made in a split second.

In that split second, where was the Hope that is central to the Christian Faith?

And then I begin to judge.

I begin to judge the church, I begin to judge those who call themselves Christians. I begin to judge myself.

How often am I guilty of not exasperating myself in my need to share the Hope that is Christ Risen?

It is of course much, much more complicated than judging and asking those questions.

I was on pinterest the same week. Oh man, I love this website! So fun and inspirational.

One of my “boards” is a place to put all of the lovely quotes that are fashioned into art on said site. The one that hit home in light of this boy’s death was this:

Practical and straightforward in it’s nature, this Albert Einstein quote struck through to the base of the problem.

If you tell someone that they aren’t good enough, will never be good enough for the love of Christ, and you judge them by this, and don’t share what is CENTRAL to the message of Christ, they will never be able to experience the Hope and Love of Christ. If you don’t name them for what they are. This idea of naming comes from my favorite author Madeleine L’Engle, and it consistently and persistently rings true with my theology and world outlook.

I see it as an epidemic in our society. We are not naming the children, who are becoming unnamed adults, and we ourselves are not claiming our names.

I have a friend who recently started a sports team. She shared with me about her confusion of community within this sports team.

“I feel more a sense of community on my team, than I have in a church in a long time.”

And I can’t do anything but nod my head in agreement and apologize for the Christian Church and what it has become (which is a full time job when it comes down to it).

If we Christians cannot hold one another up in the knowledge and hope of the risen Christ, then how DARE we look upon the world in judgement.

I struggle with this on a daily basis. The house that sits across from ours is not the “loveliest”. A seven unit victorian mansion that has seen better days, and holds so much sorrow and heartache.

I often don’t recognize the strung out that enter and exit this place. Some of the men who are tenants work on the house to pay their rent. I noticed that they had been staring at me quite a bit (I do say “Hi” when I see them and make eye contact, as they are neighbors) but this was getting uncomfortable (seeing them in the reflection of the window staring etc.) I feel completely safe, more than anything I don’t want other women being treated this way.

Nate went over to talk to them about it.

The landlord proceeds to say:

 “She’s a pretty woman in a poor neighborhood, she needs to get used to it.”

No words are fit to respond to this.
I become enraged.

It’s a perfect example of a cyclical cycle that if we aren’t careful we can all find ourselves trapped in.

Because no one named the Landlord, no one cared and nurtured him and taught him the value of humanity, he cannot name anyone. In fact he allows people to live under his roof and continue in processes that not only don’t “name” but actually “un-name” them, consistently de-humanizing themselves. And in the process he is de-humanizing himself. Thus a woman doesn’t have humanity, she is thought of as an object to look at, un-naming her (me), and when I am “un-named” if I’m not careful, it takes away my ability to name, and so I begin to only see those men with eyes of disgust and hatred, rather than seeing them for what they are, un-named, un-nurtured, children of God (there is nothing wrong with being wise and safe, but it is still important to see them as human).

When I do this, and enter into this cycle, am I any better than the influence and judgment that brought this young boy to a place of ultimate hopelessness and desperation, where he thought his choices were gone?

No, I’m not.

Where does it stop/start?

With YOU and with ME.

Making a decision, to exasperate ourselves in sharing the Hope of the risen Christ, and letting that define how we care for EVERYONE we encounter.

This decision becomes even more vital when I see my child, and I see that my influence will directly decide how she values humanity and values creation. It’s a scary and yet ultimately hopeful privilege.

 Einstein hits the American Christian Church on the head once again with this one:

If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed. 
-Albert Einstein

Let us make a decision to start filling the beautiful creation of God with the Hope we have been given, let us not be “a sorry lot”.

It might be crazy what we see.

peace to you,
meredtih

Back in Bloomington #2

The past few days I have had the opportunity to see some extended family on the Owens side of things!
Being back in Bloomington means being blessed to be near my parents in Pontiac, IL.

Grandma Sue Ella

My Grandma Sue Ella Owens is having an extended stay in Pontiac due to falling at my Fathers Church in May and breaking both ankles. She normally resides in Montana.

Due to this, we have been able to see her, she has been able to see Eleonore, and extended family have come to visit her!

The first treat was my Great Aunt Rae her sister who lives in Michigan. I have always viewed my Aunt Rae as absolutely lovely. Just a lovely older woman. I also had a special affinity for her husband, my Great Uncle Ron before he passed away. And then just yesterday we were able to see my Aunt Cindy and Uncle Joe from Oklahoma. Aunt Cindy is my Grandma’s eldest of five children, and at sixty-two, I can only pray to look as good as she does, I think her skin is smoother than mine! She has become a Southern Belle from her humble roots in Rantoul, IL, and is another lovely woman in my life.

Great Aunt Ra

All this has my mind whirling a bit. With family extended all over the country, the meetings are more infrequent than everyone would like. And, oddly enough, as I continue to get older, so does everyone else.

I wonder with my Aunt Rae if I will see her again in my lifetime here on earth. I wonder this with my Grandma Owens at each visit from Montana.

Is this morbid?

Perhaps.

And I have to admit, it does make it hard to focus on the present, and the person, in the short time that you get with them.

So, all I can do is try to focus more, try to listen more, try to experience more in these brief moments, and be thankful for the blessing that they are.

With seeing some of the Owens family, I was trying to remember the last time EVERYONE (all five siblings) were all together, and I think it was my Grandpa Albert Owens funeral.

For my Father’s birthday a few years ago, and for personal recollection, I wrote a recount of that experience.

How my fashion philosophy has been formed (to some extent)

My love of fashion started at an early age and I believe can be coincided with my obsession of JC Penney catalogs. At about age 5 I would take the JC Penney catalog into my room and look at all the pages and make up stories in my head about everything.

I would choose outfits I would wear for specific occasions and to this day I can still recall some of them. (I think I suffer from “selective” photographic memory. Useless information to minute detail I can retain for years, but anything I need to remember like the fact that Seattle is indeed not in Oregon will continue to evade me).

In particular there was a black dress. This lovely slender woman with long blonde hair, long legs and a toothpaste smile wearing a large brimmed black hat was leaning against the side of a building, one leg slightly bent peeking out from under her hat with a look that signaled to me anything could happen and she was ready for it all. In my five year old mind this was due to the fact that she was wearing a classic black sheath dress with cap sleeves. In a dress like that everyone must look like that and be ready for the unexpected. But I had to delve deeper. In my imaginary story, I was wearing the dress and with semi realistic expectations had grown up to have long dark not blonde hair. But I had everything else, the legs, the smile the hat. Little did I know then that I would always have baby teeth and that thanks to my mother and father both, calf definition would be something that would always evade me. But as a five year old noone could tell me what I would look like. The only event that I could think of to correlate with a black dress was a funeral. And the only person in my life at the time that I didn’t think I would care if they died was my Grandpa Owens. I had trouble understanding why he didn’t play with me like Grandpa Molloy and why he just sat in his chair watching T.V. during my visits when there was so much to be explored in his old Victorian house (I would learn later that he had had brain surgery, as well as very traumatic experiences during WWII).

So I made up a story that I was off to Grandpa’s funeral as a young woman and perhaps I might meet a man there to help me with my sorrow, but I would tell him I wasn’t really sad that I was just acting because Grandpa was never nice to me. This was all well and fine and my story kept me entertained for a while. Then bedtime came and I was racked with guilt for having Grandpa Owens die in my story just so I could wear a black sheath dress and meet a nice man. One disappointing thing that wasn’t worth the guilt was that the men in my stories never had faces because the men in the JC Penney catalog were extremely unattractive in my opinion, especially the underwear models, which didn’t help when I was doing my imaginary wedding night stories (but don’t worry, those didn’t come until I was 6 and a half).

I couldn’t fall asleep, and for about three days I was positive that I was going to kill Grandpa Owens with my imaginary stories and so I would compulsively ask how he was everyday.

The reason it only lasted for three days is because on the fourth day a new catalog came. And my imaginary house needed a new bedroom set, so Grandpa’s death was lost somewhere between maroon satin comforters and country blue duck quilts. I think I chose the maroon for that particular bedroom.

When my Grandpa did die I was a sophomore in high school.

When we got to the hospital he was already pretty much out of it but this would last for three days.

When we got to the hospital there were already others there.
It might be wrong to say that I had never really had a relationship with my Grandfather, but I didn’t. There was a hug when I came in and a hug when I left and as I got older I would simply situate myself in the kitchen in front of that TV or on the porch swing to read the newest book I had gotten my hands on.

I would sit paralyzed when he came in to the kitchen from the living room and saw me there, thinking he was going to hit me or something. And my mind would go a flutter with my retaliations from scolding him to throwing Grandmas strawberry shaped cookie jar at the wall, to say to him, look buddy I got the Owens temper too so you better know who you’re dealing with.

Of course my Grandfather never laid a finger on me. My imagination took that route because he had spanked my father and Aunts and Uncles with a belt and growing up I figured he could do it to me as well. Only one time did I start actually moving toward the cookie jar when he came in. Because he got very close to me and then turned the TV down and said it was too loud, even though I knew everything that was going on with the plot line of Murder She Wrote blaring in the living room. He said “it’s too loud” again in exactly the same monotone cigar scratched voice as he ad the first time, and went back in the living room.

I was sitting in his hospital room scared that someone was going to find me out. They would realize I was an imposter and perhaps my Aunt Dana would jump up, point and yell, “you never really loved your Grandpa, get out of that uncomfortable orange vinyl seat, you don’t deserve to sit there.” That never happened though. Instead, during a lull in the conversation, my mother said, “do you want to hold Grandpa’s hand?”

I thought perhaps I could communicate NO to her with my eyes. That for once the mother daughter bond could allow me to telepathically connect with her but good old Mom insisted and I realized that if I didn’t perform this task they would immediately find me out. And what worried me most about that was perhaps not getting to eat at the hospital cafeteria. With family histories of horrible health and a mother who was a nurse for a while, plus a father who was a minister and would make numerous hospital visits, (although I only got to go into the hospital on rare occasions. The majority of the time I got stuck in the Omni with my older brother Brian and I was left to his what I considered evil torture, but I would get rewarded for good behavior with a Nehi soda. Even then I could convince myself that cheaper things, close to generic sodas, could be just as spectacular if I just willed them to be. I can still do that with Payless shoes if I try with all my might). I developed an appetite for overly processed overly priced things. I especially appreciated the dinnerware that was disposable yet had no insignias, only little abstract swiggles. This unified a lot of the cafeterias as if it was their own logo, the sign of economy bulk bought paper goods.

So I held my Grandpas hand and something happened.
I started bawling like a baby.
Staring at this close to catatonic man who had smoked Dutch Masters and worn zip up boot loafers and turned the kitchen tv down. In that one moment he did have his eyes open. And whatever overcame me was a combination of this.
Of growing up in an instant for being so near to death.
Realizing that this man gave my father life.
That this man was my Daddy’s Daddy, and that he really had loved me regardless of what my imagination or myself had led me to believe.

I leaned over him crying and said
“I love you Grandpa.”

I think one of my Aunts or maybe even my mother saying “well of course you do”.
As if it might have been silly to say that then, like Grandpa knows plus he probably can’t hear you. But I think he did. Because right after I said it he squeezed my hand. And in his eyes I knew that he was saying it too.

His was the first of many funerals I would sing at.
I didn’t get to wear a black sheath dress.
I wore a polyester black top and a paisley print skirt bought from the Famous Barr that had just come to our local mall.
I didn’t meet any nice men, I didn’t get to wear a hat.
But I got to watch my father do the funeral of his father.
And I got to be a skinny white girl in the back of the funeral home singing “Swing Low Sweet Chariot”, something much more fit for Ella Fitzgerald, or if we need something more modern to attach it to, Jennifer Hudson .
Nonetheless, I sang it, because it was my Grandfathers favorite song and I cried while I did. It was one time I would perform, not do so perfectly, and be ok with it.

Because having told my Grandpa I loved him, and knowing he loved me was much more happiness and contentment than a $39.99 JC Penney sheath dress ever could have given me.

Besides, now at 23, I would rather have a Chanel one anyways.

(originally posted/published May 29, 2007)
*I would also accept many vintage black dresses, just in case anyone is needing to know!
peace to you,
meredith

Eleonore Bay with her
Great Grandma Sue Ella
Eleonore Bay with her
Great Great Aunt Ra