Transfiguration

I’m not so sure
(when it comes right down to it)
that I really want to see You
as You are
full of glory
and might. Just as
I shy away from
seeing me
as I really am
and as I could be.
Cover Yourself with a cloud,
O Christ, so that I can’t see You
fully, clearly. And through
the haze I will worship You,
through the fog
I will say
“Here is my God!”
(probably pointing in
the wrong direction because,
you know, FOG). But still
I will love you
unclearly
and a little more
adoringly because I will not have to
contend quite so honestly
with myself
through Your eyes,
I will not have to account for
not only my humanity but also
my holiness, not only
my blunders but also my belovedness.
Do not reveal Yourself transformed
for I am not ready to be
transfigured.

cross-posted at RevGalBlogPals

To Love My Enemy

You, O LORD, are God and you are my God

so teach me to love my enemy, which is my own spirit:
to love my spirit despite her cowardice and to believe
that she is capable of fierce strength for bold living.

Teach me to love my enemy, which is my own heart:
to love my heart despite her complacency and to know
that she can risk heartache for the sake of unbounded love.

Teach me to love my enemy, which is my own flesh:
to love my flesh despite her vanity and to trust
that she can bear God’s presence with perfection.

Teach me to love my enemy, which is my own mind:
to love my mind despite her judgments and to have faith
that she has the fullness of joy to see the foolishness of God.

You, O LORD, are God and you are my God. Amen.

cross-posted at RevGalBlogPals

Swim, Ride, Run, Breathe

swim-ride-run-breatheThe first thing worth saying is that I should apologize to my friend for taking two years to read her book.

The second thing worth saying is that Swim, Ride, Run, Breathe: How I Lost a Triathlon and Caught My Breath is beautiful and quirky and encouraging, and I love it even though I can never remember the order of verbs in its title.

Because I know author Jennifer Brownell personally, on every page I hear her voice chatting and interweaving stories from her childhood and adulthood, from church to pool to hospital. And to my reader’s ear, she laughs easily through the stories as she does in real life, highlighting the odd and the comical in order to soften the impact of the book’s honesty about fear: childhood fears and adulting fears, fears of real life-and-death matters, fears and challenges of flesh, like the work of living in a body and the work of loving another body.

It’s the honesty that makes Swim, Ride, Run, Breathe so accessible and endearing and comforting, like sitting with a girlfriend over coffee and swapping troubles to remind one another that you’re not alone. (Although since we’re friends already, the next time Jennifer and I sit together over coffee we’ll need to talk first about our shared love of Free to Be You and Me and try to recite “Boy Meets Girl” together … and then we can discuss the deeper topic of incarnation.)

Because, like any good book, Swim, Ride, Run, Breathe is about more than it says it’s about, and Brownell’s book isn’t so much a memoir about a triathlon as it is a memoir about incarnate grace — of mercy and delight through (and sometimes despite) the flesh.

It’s not a hero’s story. It’s not a memoir of exceptionalism. It’s a tale of faith that acknowledges — without snark or animosity — life’s hardships and fears but still attests that love remains.

And that’s the most important part: that love remains.

Thank you, Jennifer, for this beautiful reminder and for putting to paper how you caught your breath.

Love Never Fails

Love-Never-FailsTime and time again, I am blessed to know the good people and the beautiful work of Paraclete Press. Most recently, I am moved by the thoughtfulness of word and art in Paraclete’s new book, Love Never Fails: A Journal to be Inspired by the Power of Love by Hilda St. Clair.

Love Never Fails is a creative book for such a time as this: a touchstone of love to hold fast in a landslide of fear; a stimulus toward generosity amidst an inundation of selfishness; a reminder to be faithful in the ways that change the world: listening, caring, connecting.

With compelling quotations, gentle prompts, and blank space for writing, drawing & coloring, Love Never Fails is a visually-engaging invitation to reflection …

love-never-fails-baldwin… and not just inward reflection, but outward engagement: living with love in the world, working for reconciliation in relationships, stepping across misjudgment to understanding, breaking open a spirit of gratitude.

Or at least, that’s what Love Never Fails does for me when I read it. And, having read it once, I’m planning to engage it more thoroughly a second time by making Love Never Fails my daily journal for Lent.

I encourage you to do the same — whether for Lent or not, if you find yourself discouraged for lack of love in the world or overwhelmed for a place to start, let Love Never Fails bolster your spirit and inspire you to greater love-filled living.

Sacred Habits

In addition to my experience of Carol Howard Merritt’s new book, Healing Spiritual Wounds, as part of a larger conversation on Church & faith in the 21st century, recently new to the same conversation is a collection of essays entitled Sacred Habits: The Rise of the Creative Clergy.

sacred-habits-clergyEdited by my colleague Chad Abbott, Sacred Habits (Noesis Press 2016) features personal, professional & practical reflections on the roles of clergy in the 21st century. The essays are written by ministers who serve in local churches, academia, institutions, and entrepreneurial ventures. My own chapter in Sacred Habits is “Disrupting Sabbath.”

If the book’s subtitle — The Rise of the Creative Clergy — implies new revelations in the rise of its essayists’ practices and perspectives, I might temper such a hint to emphasize that Sacred Habits represents creativity more than discovery, not so much a new wheel but a new set of voices. In seasons of change & upheaval such as the 21st century Church is experiencing, it can be tempting to claim newness in all things, to perceive the changing climate as completely unique (it’s not: change is ongoing), and to see ourselves as uniquely positioned to save it (we’re not: theologically & practically speaking, ours is not the task of saving but of faithfully engaging).

It’s possible that I’ve stepped on the “Let’s save the Church!” soapbox a time or two, which is why I offer caution.

Sacred Habits is a useful book for clergy who seek to engage faithfully, not to save but to participate in change with intentionality and authenticity. The book is rich food-for-thought for ministers, ministry settings, and those training for ministry. It could serve to support a brainstorming session between a pastor and the leaders in her congregation. It could prompt a monthly series of ministerium conversations. It could encourage a minister whose theology for ministry has become disconnected from his practice of ministry.

Reading Sacred Habits as a colleague in this ongoing conversation about ministry in a changing Church and faith in the 21st century, I tumble with questions for my fellow essayists:

Are we aware of how many dead white men we quote and cite as central to our theological compasses? And, if we’re aware of it, how are we responding to it?

Have we adequately discerned our own critiques of Church from the wider world’s critiques of Church? Maybe that’s an unrealistic or unnecessary distinction, but in our essays I hear the occasional conflation of ideas that suggest (to me) that we have borrowed others’ critiques without much reflection: systematic theology, for example, is not synonymous with doctrine; the latter tends to get a bad rap (understandably) but the former means a way of thinking about faith — which I hope we’re doing! Also in the category of words not currently in vogue is “institution,” which the book’s chapters occasionally lament even though each clergy essayist serves as a representative of the Church as institution.

(There are more questions to be asked. The book’s provocation to conversation is one of its assets, and I would buy the first round of drinks for the above and additional conversations.)

Questions noted, I am proud to be a contributor to Sacred Habits and I am impressed by my colleagues who are so thoughtful, resilient and faithful in their ministries. I commend Sacred Habits to readers who seek a nudge of inspiration for their ministries, who are looking for a tool by which to reflect on their ministry calls & contexts, who might be encouraged by a vision of creative ministries and by a community of conversationalists who are earnestly & faithfully engaging change in the 21st century Church.