Church · Things That Matter To Me · Uncategorized

Do We Hold All Life Sacred?

A few weeks ago, my daughter and her dad had a conversation about guns on the way to school. I was not privy to this conversation, but I’m told it went along the lines of whether or not having guns is okay. And questions about why people hurt each other with them. And why we have them at all. And her dad, he said a really good thing–he said that people who have guns need to also have a great respect for life. And he added that being a praying person can help that.

To which the girl child said, “Well…Papa is a praying person. And he has guns.”

Her Papa, my father, is one of her great heroes in this life. She knows that he has guns, and she knows he uses them solely for hunting deer or ducks or whatever. She also knows that he is, yes, a praying person. In her 8 years of life, she’s seen Papa pray more times than she could even begin to count.

And so the thing is, she’s on to something. I know no one who has a greater respect for life than my father. And so his guns, they don’t bother me one bit. I can’t even tell you the last time I saw them, actually.

Since I’ve heard what M said about her Papa and guns, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the truth of her words. And what they might mean for our nation. Because every damn day, statistics tell us, citizens of the United States of America die from gun shots.

I have nothing else to say or write about gun control. I have nothing else to say or write about those who suffer mental illness in this country. I have nothing else to say or write about the ways we split hairs between what’s defined as terrorism and what’s defined as a “mass shooting,” most of it an effort to define and confine the “other” we’re so afraid of. And I have nothing else to say or write about the 2nd Amendment. We’ve polarized and politicized the conversations about all these things to the point that we can’t even hear each other over the sound and fury of our arguing.

And I swear to the baby Jesus I wait on this Advent season, if I hear one more person refer to a gun violence episode as “shocking,” I may lose it entirely. It ceased to be “shocking” a very long time ago.

Meanwhile, men, women and children die at gunpoint. Every. Damn. Day.  And it sickens, terrifies and enrages me.

At some point, we the people of these United States are going to have to make a decision. And as I see it, the decision is this: Do we hold life sacred, or do we not?

Do we hold life–all life–sacred…or do we not?

Do we treasure our children–all our children–as the beautiful and full of glorious potential beings that they are? Do we acknowledge and live into the words of our founding documents that all men are created equal? Do we see the contributions that women have made to the sometimes greatness of our country and continue to support them in their efforts?

Do we welcome the stranger? Do we care for the poor? Do we offer shelter to those who need it?

Do we understand that my heart, your heart, their hearts–they’re all the same? Every single one of us, created with the same organ that gives us life?

Do we value all life as sacred? And if we do (and I’d argue these days we really don’t), do we teach our children this same value?

If I’m wrong (and how I’d love to be!), and the answer is yes, then we’ve got work to do to prove it. If the answer is yes, then we’ve got:

  1. Phone calls to make, emails and letters to write, and visits to schedule to our lawmakers, so that they might hear us finally and mightily screaming, “ENOUGH!”…
  2. Conversations to have about how we treat the marginalized and disenfranchised in this country and how that might contribute to the madness we’re in…
  3. Honest and valiant efforts to be made at reconciliation among varying skin colors and ethnicities and faith traditions…
  4. Humility to find. Hospitality to reclaim. Voices that insist on safety and security for ALL to engage.
  5. Serious soul-searching to do…and maybe this is where M’s acknowledgement about her Papa comes in. Real soul-searching involves prayer of some sort–be it to God or Allah or Buddha or the Universe.

Do we really want to be known as the country where every day, we wake up and hope we don’t get shot? Is THAT what it means to be the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Not in my book. Not even a little.

Do we hold all life as sacred in this country?

And do we really want to be known for answering that question with…”No.” ?


Things That Matter To Me · Uncategorized

This Day.

I thought about the picture last night. Early this morning, first cup of coffee in me and second cup of coffee in hand, I went looking for it. It’s a photo of my cousin Alison and me.

My dad and her mom are brother and sister, and Ali and I are five months apart in age. Though we have never lived very close to one another distance-wise, I feel like we’ve still somehow shared a good bit of our lives together. And I’m grateful for that.

This photo of Alison and me, it was taken in August of 1986. My family (we lived in Texas at the time) had driven up the east coast on a summer vacation. The trip included a visit to Jersey City, New Jersey, where Alison and her family lived. In the picture, we’re standing on a New Jersey sidewalk that happens to have a magnificent view of Manhattan.

Including the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

I am pretty sullen in the picture, and Ali doesn’t exactly look thrilled either. We were 11–and of course had no idea that one day this picture one of our parents was snapping would be something to treasure. To hold on to, as I have held on to it since those towers fell.

Everybody has a memory. Everybody can tell you where they were that morning. Everybody has a story.

I think what I am cognizant of, this year, this particular anniversary, is how much it still hurts. How terrifying it still is. And how much awful, gut-wrenching, life-changing sadness and pain and violence has come from it.

I was in my car, pulling into my regular coffee shop, when the national moment of silence began this morning, and I parked, turned my car off, and bowed my head and stayed still. And quiet. For 90 seconds. And I felt the presence of others, all over the nation, all over the world, perhaps, doing that with me.

This very worst of days–it somehow brings out the best in us. Some years I have wanted to wonder at that. Theorize about why and how and if we could somehow make that “best” last. But today I just found myself thankful for it. It was a glimmer of light in the darkness of remembering–a sign of hope that such horror does not ever have the last word.

When I found the picture this morning, Curly Girl, who was inhaling Trader Joe’s pancakes and watching Girl Meets World, stopped, put down her fork and paused Netflix and asked, “What’s that picture, Mommy?” I said, “Well,” and as I held it up began to tell her the story.

And then she held up one hand, and said, “Oh. Wait. I know. Those are those buildings those planes crashed into.”

Sort of stunned I said, “Yes. That’s right. But honey, this happened six years before you were born. Those people did that before you were born…how do you…??”

She shrugged. And then, realizing what I’d said, exclaimed, “WAIT. Someone did that ON PURPOSE?!?”

And then I knew. She’d heard stories. Seen pictures. But in her safe little world has assumed an accident.

My heart just shattered as I said, “Yes, honey. Yes. Someone did that on purpose.”

“There’s that much evil?” she said, obviously horrified.

“Yes,” I said, quietly, “There is.”

But then I said–and I believe this–“But honey, there is so much more good.”

We have a new neighbor. I haven’t met him yet, but his license plate and some bumper stickers indicate he is a veteran of the conflict in Afghanistan. He just moved in this week. I just realized his plate and stickers this morning. Obviously I do not know his story…but it is a safe guess that today is a difficult day for him, because it marks the day that would lead to his deployment. I’d like to thank him–because no matter how I feel about war or politics or anything else I am grateful for the men and women who feel called to defend our country no matter why they’re asked and no matter the cost.

So much evil. So many lives irrevocably altered. So much about our nation and our world never the same.

There’s that much evil? she said. Yes, I said. But there is so much more good.

That’s what I’m holding onto today. And hoping with all I am that it proves true for her and this world she’s claiming as her own.

Things That Matter To Me

Just Words

At some point it is all just words on a page, and perhaps too many of them at that. They start to run together, sentences bleeding into one another as you read them for the 88th time. They start to sound hollow, even, after a while, and eventually you start wondering what the point is. Because will it really matter? Will it make a difference to someone, somewhere? Will it even make a difference to me? Why am I engaging in such hard work if, in the end, the world won’t be any different for it having been done?

There is, on the one hand, a certain amount of arrogance to this–the fragile ego of any artist pushed up against the reality that this creation that matters so much to her, that seems to express more than she knew she could about herself and her place in the world, may well not resonate with any other living being.

Any artist who tells you that they paint, write, draw, create, sing, dance for only themselves is fooling themselves and you both. We all want, very much, for what we offer the world to be accepted by it with some celebration and gratitude and applause. That said, our best work is often that which we never mean for anyone to see. You/we/I can’t win against these twin truths.

This blog hasn’t gotten much attention from me lately–I’ve neglected it terribly as I’ve worked on a book (forthcoming, if all goes even remotely as is planned, Spring 2016 from Chalice Press and tentatively titled Available Hope). I owe my little blog an apology for this–as this corner of cyberspace is by and large what led me to the book contract in the first place. So much for expressing gratitude!

I’ve tried to return to the blog every day for the last week, and multiple draft posts now lie discarded in the WordPress trash can. I was unable to get past the first sentence on any of them.

Writing fatigue? Maybe. But I think more likely an honest reflection that it felt like everyone, everywhere, was writing something about the things that were weighing on my mind and at some point it just becomes to much. Too loud. Too frenzied. Too opinionated.

And there’s also this, with which I am grappling mightily this morning…

…words cannot seem to change the heart and mind of Kim Davis. I disagree with her stance at a very visceral level (like Demi Moore “strenuously!” objecting in A Few Good Men), but there’s something to be said for Ms. Davis’ dogged determination.

…words cannot make Donald Trump Shut. The. Hell. Up. In fact, the more words we throw at him, the more he spins out himself, having apparently become the darling of anyone who wants their TV show to get its 5 minutes of fame these days.

…words cannot fix heartache. Cannot reason with stubborn 8 year-olds. Cannot change systems that frustrate mightily. Cannot eradicate heroin from our neighborhoods. Cannot…cannot…cannot.

…and most of all, this week, words cannot bring Aylan Kurdi back to life (may we write his beautiful and precious name on our hearts and never forget it).

And so I am left to wonder…are they really just words?

I can’t believe that. All my life I’ve depended on words to manage whatever situation I found myself in. I’ve depended on well-crafted sentences and imagery such as I could create it to help me see past whatever difficulty I found myself in and into the possibility of something more. I’ve needed my stories, written down, to remind me that something so much bigger than me is at work in this life I’m/we’re living.

If they were “just words,” there wouldn’t be banned book lists. Atticus Finch wouldn’t be one of my great heroes, and Katherine Forrester wouldn’t be this woman I resonate so deeply and fully with. And if they were just words I would not–still–be looking for my own invitation to my first year at Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft (seriously, where’s my owl?!?).

And so even as I struggle to find the right words for my deep sadness over so much of the world as of late, I come back to these words–not just words at all, but deep and proven truth from one of the great film characters of all time, played by the incomparable Robin Williams:

“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.”

And so I keep at it. We all do. Writing and speaking words, searching desperately for the ones that will make the difference, turn the tide, help us realize, finally and blessedly, that all the empty words we’ve been shouting at each other with for so long…they cannot stand. Not in the end.

More powerful, more gracious, more loving words are at play. And it’s these we’ve got to set about staking our lives on. If anyone is to have any hope at all.

Things That Matter To Me

The problem with #causes….

Y’all, I need to confess right up front that I am about to do some serious thinking aloud (well, thinking while writing…but you get it). My thoughts are scattered, because I’m trying to work through a frustration stewing in my heart, one that has threatened to bubble up and over today. So bear with me, forgive me if it doesn’t come out just right, and know that maybe…maybe even a month from now I won’t feel exactly this way. But today I do. And if any of the names, situations, etc. below are unknown to you–Google them. I assure you a plethora of information will be at the ready.

I did not know Sandra Bland. My only knowledge of her is through media coverage of her arrest and death. And while I doubt any of that coverage tells the whole, true story (because such is the nature of most media in these United States), I grieve her death. First, because she was a human being. Second, because it seems to have added an even deeper level of divide in the ongoing, mostly accusatory and uncivil “conversation” we’re having about racism in this country right now.

I did not know those four Marines gunned down in Chattanooga a couple of weeks ago. But I grieve their deaths, too. First, because they were human beings. Second, because they were men of deep service and commitment to their country. Third, because it is one more terrifying example of the love affair we Americans have with guns (and as I’ve said elsewhere, before you think I’m attacking all gun owners, I’m not–I do not care one whit about your deer rifles or your purely fun and social target practice–I do care, mightily, about Sig Sauers and the like, guns designed solely to kill people, being available to just about anyone who wants one).  And I’m also puzzled by the lack of rallying around their deaths. There’s no hashtag for four dead Marines.

I believe, with every fiber of my being that Black lives matter. Because I believe with every fiber of my being that ALL lives matter. But that I can’t say that aloud without being accused of “not getting it,” or of simplifying or pushing aside the point is troubling to me.

I felt very visceral disgust rising in my stomach when I saw the news coverage of that dentist-hunter and his having murdered Zimbabwe’s beautiful Cecil the lion. With one bow and arrow and then one gun shot (a brutal number of hours later), this guy demolished a symbol of a nation and demonstrated a fierce disregard for life, not to mention the pride Cecil stood guard over and the havoc his death will wreak there. And already I’m seeing social media chatter about how we Americans, we get outraged about a lion, but we don’t care about the deaths of Sandra Bland or anyone else. “Misplaced priorities,” I saw someone call it.

Can I not grieve both Sandra Bland and Cecil? Even if on entirely different levels? Can I not feel as much pain for those four Marines and their families as I did for those nine lives snuffed out in Charleston in June? Can I express my doubts over the efficacy of the lines we draw in the sand with our insistence on broad generalizations and cause-naming without being accused of not paying attention or not thinking long and hard enough about it, or not having been given the right information?

This, I think, is the problem with hashtag causes (#causes). While they often draw much-needed attention to an issue or horror or problem, they also seem to just divide us even further as a nation. If you don’t identify with one, well, you must identify with another and that is not okay, sister.

I have been taught since the day of my birth that every life is sacred. Every. Life. Is. Sacred. And we live in a world…wait, no…we live in a country, that has forgotten this.

At every level, we far too often, collectively, leave the powerless, the voiceless, just as they are, and what’s even more unsettling to me is that oftentimes in our own good intention, our own paying attention to the powerless and voiceless, we become social bullies–“Believe what I say, join my cause…or you will be aligned with those who do not get it.”

My fingers hesitate, even as I type, sure someone is going to jump down my throat for this. Because this is the landscape we have created for ourselves. I’m right. You’re wrong. And if you’d just see it my way….

Y’all, there is evil and hate in this world to be sure. But not every cop is a dirty cop. And not every African-American kid in a hoodie is an addict or a dealer (in fact, in some places, his rich white peers are far more likely to be dealing the drugs). And when we can get behind as a nation the gut-wrenching awful truth that a lone gunman can shoot up a church and murder nine people in the process, but we don’t do the same for four Marines…what does that say about us? Or what about our insistence on the stats of those in poverty who end up in jail…but our blatant ignoring of the truth that a transgender man or woman is at the top of the charts in terms of being at risk for sexual violence in our nation?

I think it says we’ve gotten to a point where you have to choose your side, pick your cause, or get left out. Judged. Assumed to be something you might not be.

And it breaks my heart.

We have to find a way to talk to each other in this country. We have to. Because right now, all we’re doing is yelling…accusing…pointing fingers and casting blame…and tearing ourselves apart. Our insistence on either/or is going to leave us with neither if we don’t take care.

There are exceptions…I know this. But they are just that…exceptions.

And we have got to do better than that. Because the truth is? All the Sandra Blands, all the victims of gun violence, all the creations of God that make up our ecosystem, all those who are cast aside in these United States…ALL of them need us to do better.

Every. Life. Is. Sacred.

Try that for a #cause.

Things That Matter To Me

Perspective = Grace

10150196226530300Perspective, my friends, is a mighty and necessary thing. 

When I’m tired, or taken aback by crisis or challenge or harsh criticism, or afraid, I become pretty irrational pretty quick.

In other words, I lose all perspective. I’m better about this than I used to be, but its definitely a growing edge for my soul, and I wish that weren’t so. I wish I could take things more in stride, react more calmly to an unexpected financial burden or a difficult situation at work. I wish I didn’t take criticism so personally. I wish that fatigue wasn’t such an enemy for me.

An arrow struck straight and true just into the soft spot of this Achilles heel of mine yesterday, and, as is par for the course in such moments, I didn’t handle it well. I got very quiet at first. And then I cried for a good bit. I refused to listen to words from a friend that were meant to offer me a way forward. I immediately assumed the worst possible result and in doing so blocked out any other options for how to deal with what I’d been handed.

(The specifics of the situation don’t matter, suffice it to say, while it is a challenge, it is not life-threatening, or even life-altering…just a bump in the road in the grand scheme of things.)

And then these things happened:

1. A text from someone who means a great deal to me, letting me know his friend who has been battling cancer is facing the end.

2. A Facebook post from another friend who just lost her brother and is handling the loss with more strength and hope than you could possibly imagine.

3. I wrote. With detail, and with a forced calm, and with quiet focus, I wrote about what was eating at me, and in doing so, it became manageable, something I could face with some resolve and courage.

4. I went for a quick swim and read a few chapters of a good novel and took my dog for a long walk.

Somewhere between #1 and #4 my head cleared and my heart settled down and I could feel both my creativity and my sense of humor returning.

I gained perspective. I was reminded of goodness. And of how entirely selfish I can be. And of the very terrible and very beautiful things that happen–sometimes in twin moments, in shared spheres of existence–in our lives. It was as if my entire orientation to the world had gone from squeezed up tight and small to suddenly, mercifully, expansive and wide.

Like the Yosemite Valley on an early spring day. The sky wide and full of promise. The mountains rising up to the heavens. The thunder of waterfall and the rush of wind a sign of something so much bigger than us at work in the world.

And once again, I whispered to myself Wendell Berry’s words that there is a “grace that keeps this world,” — all that is truly awful, all that we just imagine might be awful, and all that points us toward love and light…kept, held, contained within the firm grip of grace. 






Things That Matter To Me · Uncategorized

Dogs. Prison. Hope.

SkyeThat dog you see, with the deeply soulful copper eyes–that’s Skye. She’s what folks around here call a “Kentucky Brown Dog,” vernacular for “No one really knows what she is except brown…hound…and of Kentucky.” She was pulled from a high-kill county shelter down in the southeastern part of the state and brought to Oldham County, where she was placed with a local no-kill rescue organization and enrolled in Paws Behind Bars, a training program for dogs, located inside the walls of Luther Luckett Correctional Complex (LLCC).

And now she’s mine. Well, mine and my Curly Girl’s. We adopted her in celebration of my 40th birthday.

These things we know about her so far: 1) She loves her people. 2) She does not love bunnies, squirrels or chipmunks and would happily nose them out and chase them all to their terrified deaths if we’d let her. 3) She loves other dogs. Except for that one enormous Dane we saw on a walk and CG thinks maybe Skye thought it was actually a horse. 4) She is highly motivated by treats. (Who isn’t?!?)

A fine man and pastor I once knew, who died too soon and unexpectedly a couple of years ago, had, unknowingly, a great deal to do with getting Skye to us. He started the Paws Behind Bars program at LLCC. Out of his love for dogs, and his care for the inmates he served as chaplain, he envisioned a way to help both dogs and inmates. As a result of his vision, I visited LLCC one afternoon in early May so that I could meet both Skye and the inmate who spent over a month, 24/7, getting a skittish, withdrawn, underweight stray ready to be a family dog.

Entering a prison–even a medium security one such as LLCC–is daunting business. There are guards. And guns. And heavy doors. And metal detectors. And strict protocol. And then suddenly I was inside and in front of me was this dog and this man in drab prison khaki, about my age, who clearly cared about her and who had done his best to train her for life on the outside.

“Can I show you what she can do, ma’am?” he said, and as I smiled and nodded yes, he took her through all her obedience paces, proving to me she could sit, lie down, stay and come at his bidding. “She hates cold water,” he said, “and she likes to have her stuffed teddy bear in her crate at night. She loves to be petted and groomed, too.”

I nodded. Smiled as Skye sniffed my hands and then my face with a hopeful and inquisitive nose.

Then he said, “Really, ma’am, if ever I’ve trained a family dog, Skye’s it,” adding, “and I just want her to be loved.”

“Sir,” I said (wondering if ever this inmate had been called “Sir,”), “thank you. I think I’d like to take her home with me. And I promise you, we will love her.”

And we will (do) love her. But as we do, two thoughts hang out in my head. The first is that how we treat our animals says a lot about us as a society. The second is that how we treat our humans says a lot more.

As I chatted with Skye’s inmate-trainer, and saw what good caring for and training her had obviously done him, I thought of my almost/surrogate/sort of little brother, convicted of robbery a couple of years ago and now serving a sentence at a state prison down south, and wondered, for the thousandth time, if prison was making a more whole man of him. Will he emerge, like Skye, ready for life on the outside, or will he simply wither and fall under the weight of his surroundings, of the life he was handed and the choices he’s made?

I don’t know. What I do know is that somehow the conscious decision to rescue a dog trained inside a prison was rooted in a desire to do something about brokenness. About strays and rejects. About lives that don’t turn out the way we’d hoped they would. About systems that are failing and lives that are on hold inside those systems. I don’t really understand it–I just know choosing Skye felt like doing something for goodness. Something for hope.

And if there is anything we all need more of, it’s goodness and hope. So I’ll take them where I can get them, spread them around as I am able, try to live out both more fully.

Or, as my daughter’s preschool taught her to pray before meals:

Bless the elephants and the hummingbirds, the pigs, the mice and the ants. Show us all how to live in peace, so that all creatures may have long and happy lives. Amen.

All creatures, indeed.





Things That Matter To Me · Uncategorized

“Hope is a dangerous thing.”

(Please excuse the immediate salty language. I don’t apologize for it, but I do warn you.)

A dear friend said to me, during a time in her life that can only be described as one of the very worst kinds of emotional roller coasters, “Hope can be a real bitch.”

Or, as Red says it in The Shawshank Redemption, “Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.” 

Red’s not talking about hoping your birthday brings the exact new pair of shoes you wanted. Or hoping it doesn’t rain on a day you have a picnic planned. Or hoping that it’ll snow for Christmas. These superficial sorts of hopes–thrown around as easily as we (ok, maybe just me) throw around “I love coffee,” are not the b*tch-y sort. They aren’t what gets us in trouble, makes us believe in that which seems impossible. Red’s talking about real hope. Life-changing hope. Hope that gets down in your bones and convinces you that maybe, just maybe, a miracle, a way out of no way, a thing-once-thought-impossible will, in fact, be possible.

In the midst of that which threatens to undo us, hope lifts us our eyes up out of what’s around us and sets our sights on the things we dare to dream of in the deepest sanctuaries of our hearts.

This is terrifying, if you think about it. 

In a conversation with another friend today I described grief and baggage (the emotional kind, not your Samsonite) as twin b*tches, because they sneak up on you when you least expect it. Just as think you’ve got them both under control, dealt with appropriately, behaving nicely…boom! whack!…they knock you upside the head, forcing you to fight back out of their clutches.

But here’s the thing…grief and baggage are not so distantly related to hope. More than kissing cousins, they are, because, together, they forge us–whether we like it or not–into something new. True grief levels you. The crap we carry around as a result of our own myriad issues, it can knock you off at the knees before you even know what’s happened. And hope…hope challenges you…double-dog-dares-you, even…to believe that there is something past the grief, the baggage, the pain.

Hope declares that what is now is not what will always be.

We’re comfortable with our grief and pain sometimes, you know. We’ll wrap what’s hurt us around us like some old shawl, beaten and worn and not even protecting us from the cold anymore, but known…a landscape with which we’ve let ourselves become familiar, comfortable, able to move and have being in. We sometimes wear what we feel has betrayed us like a badge of some distinction. “That place…those people…that situation…I cannot get past it.”

I don’t believe there is any rhyme or reason to who or what gets torn apart by evil in this life. I don’t believe we are asked to endure trials to prove our strength or faithfulness. And I do believe horrible, terrible, awful things happen to very good people all the time.

I also believe the writers of Greek mythology were on to something when they spoke of hope being the very last thing to fly–quickly and quietly–out of Pandora’s box. All that is evil in the world set loose…but not without Hope its constant, insistent, determined companion.

There’s a great deal I hope for in my life and for the world. And some of it seems pipe dreams, even at best. Still…I hope. I know no other way to be. And I trust that whoever and whenever this world was created, it was created out of Love, first and foremost.

And this is everything.


Things That Matter To Me

Looking for the Moon

I went looking for the moon tonight. Sort of like my two year-old niece does when she’s having Goodnight, Moon read to her of an evening. “Dere’s da moon, Tatie!” she says and points her sweet little finger at the book’s picture as she beams up at me.

I once lived in a house where I could see the moon any clear night with very little effort. A big screened-in porch faced just so where the moon rose up gracefully over houses and coffee shops and bars, until it reached its apex well into the evening and then shone straight into the upstairs of that house. When I couldn’t sleep, I could count on it to keep me company.

I can’t see it so well where I live now, and there’s an odd grief to that. I find myself forgetting it is still there at all and then I wonder at the feeling of ungrounded-ness that slips over me. “It’s still there,” a friend said to me recently, “You just have to look a little harder.”

He was right, and so tonight I went looking for it, just before dusk, and sure enough, there it was, a pale soft sliver of silver making itself known in the just-darkening sky. By the time I’d circled the neighborhood to come home, the skies had darkened and the sliver had deepened, grown brighter and more confident, its shadowy edges a musky purple hue reminiscent of dreams that disappear just as you wake, not ever to be fully known.

I smiled, as if at an old friend not seen for a while.

There is a great deal I am not sure of these days. Learning new work continues to be a challenge, even as I find myself supported left and right in it. My precious Curly Girl is no longer a baby, suddenly eight-going-on-eighteen and with such wings on her feet that I know I’ll spend the rest of my life praying for her safety and well-being as she travels and explores and commands the best of this world she’s been born into. This is terrifying to me sometimes (all the time). And as I learn this new space and way of being I find myself in, I am reminded that change, if nothing else, is constant.

I often find myself longing for a long stretch of familiarity and fixedness.

Only the truth is my heart has always been a restless one. This is why I search for the moon, I think–because no matter where I am or what I’m finding my way through, it remains.

I can trust that.

And maybe, just maybe, finding the moon, discovering it is, after all, right there, just as it always has been, is that much sweeter, more sacred, for having been not quite so obvious as it used to be. 


Things That Matter To Me

Heartbreak and Hope

The city of Louisville–my home, dearly loved–has broken my heart this week.

I logged on to Facebook just after 9am yesterday to see the news that a man had been shot and killed on a section of I-71 that runs just a few miles from my house. Said section of interstate was shut down for hours, causing a nightmare of a traffic snarl through my neighborhood as folks strove for alternate routes to work and home and school.

Shot and killed. While driving down the highway. Less than 12 hours after three other murders-by-gun in the city. Yes. You read that correctly: 4 people shot to death in 12 hours in a city regularly hailed as one of the best cities to call home in our nation.

We’ve been living through a brutal cold snap the last two weeks here–a longer stretch of single digit temperatures than we’re used to or comfortable with, and I swear to you I haven’t been fully warm since early February.

But a few nights ago Kenny, a homeless man well known in shelters around here and on a wait list for stable housing, froze to death. Froze. To death.

And I thought I was cold….

And if you caught NPR at noon yesterday, Louisville was highlighted…for a heroin addiction epidemic.

And the number of domestic violence and child abuse cases reported around here lately…. I can’t even go there.

On the one hand, I suppose you could say that it is business as usual and headlines are headlines and we also focus on the negative because that’s what gets people to watch the evening news and stream CNN reports, right?


Except…no. This is personal. This is a rush of some of the very worst of life across a town that I love. That I live and laugh and have being in. That I know good and decent and compassionate folk doing incredibly and life-changing work in. That has been the first place I’ve really felt at home in other than my southern hometown of Winder, Georgia.

Forget the bourbon. Forget the Derby. Forget the horses and the coffee shops and the independent local restaurants and the good public schools and the world-class park system. Forget all of it.

Because none of it matters if we cannot funnel the things that are best about us into a way of being that changes the things that are worst about us. 


My daughter goes to a public elementary school that is also a performing arts magnet. It is pretty incredible, this school, and last night my daughter was part of a select group of students chosen to demonstrate dances during International Delight Night at the school. Her dance instructor there is a world-class performer, mostly retired from the public stage, who has spent her life studying liturgical dance. And last night, my girl got to demonstrate liturgical dance with about a dozen other second graders. Their dance interpreted lyrics to a song that is a prayer for peace…for love…for community…for recognizing our need for each other.

Multiple skin colors. Varying nationalities. Vast expanses among those dozen or so kids in terms of socioeconomic status, religious preference, parental support and family makeup…and yet…they danced. Together. To a couple hundred parents and educators who stood transfixed at the sheer joy and possibility and hope of it all.

My daughter’s dad and I thanked her teacher when it was over, wanting her to know how much we appreciated her efforts. She was grateful, and she said, “I really do believe that we have to teach these kids that we all need each other. It’s our only hope.”


And so on the one hand, Louisville broke my heart this week.

And then her children made it whole again. Or, at least, made it hopeful, again.



Church · Things That Matter To Me

Speaking Up Again

I first wrote the majority of the post below in March of 2012. Almost three years ago. And I wish, more than anything, it didn’t need repeating. That I could look back at it and think how thankful I am that it is no longer necessary to speak up on behalf of the LGBT community. For a variety of reasons, all of which boil down to our inability to accept one another for who we are, as God made us, and love each another enough to really listen past the fear and anxiety and into a new way of being together, I’ve adapted the original post, here, and am once again sharing it. Because everyone’s life matters. 


I was eleven years old the first time I had a conversation about homosexuality. It was at the family dinner table, and for whatever reason, my parents said the word “gay” in front of me for the first time. I piped up, “What’s that mean?” and my dad proffered an explanation.  “I don’t know anyone like that!” I said, all earnest insistence.

And dad said, “Yes, you do, Julie.  You just don’t know it.”

Perhaps it is precisely because of this that the issue of who someone loves, or is attracted to, has never been, for me, an issue at all.  Intentionally or otherwise, my parents never made it anything to get wound up about.  And because I was consistently surrounded by messages of grace and love when it came to church, it never occurred to me that God would take issue with someone being gay either.

I was lucky.

I was in high school before I heard the horrid word “fag.” I was sixteen about the time I heard rumored whispers about my friend Steve, my very favorite duet partner at church.  My freshman year of college one of my roommates transferred to another school because she’d been labeled “lesbian” and couldn’t take the heat that came with it. My first year of seminary, Matthew Shepard was tied to a fence and beaten to death.  Not long after that I saw, firsthand, the angry signs of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church.

And for the last decade or more, I’ve watched the Church I love struggle mightily with this “issue.” When I was practicing congregational ministry, I often equivocated when asked, “Do you believe being gay is a sin?” fearing my job would be on the line otherwise.  I found ways of talking about God’s love for those who identify as part of the GLBT community such that it would be easy for congregants to ignore my words if they didn’t agree with me.  And sometimes, to my own deep dismay, I held my tongue when those around me held forth on the great “sin” of homosexuality, not wanting to enter the fray of conflict.

Silent and vague and equivocation don’t cut it.

Because here’s the thing:  I love my friend Doug–he is a shining example of what it means to love God and follow Jesus.  And my friends Rob and Joe?  Their 40-plus year commitment to one another is one of the finest testaments to love I’ve ever seen.  And my daughter’s friend who has two mommies–I don’t want them to ever feel, ever again, that their love, their family, is somehow “less than.”

And between these ones I can speak of, and the other friends and family I cannot speak of aloud (for their own emotional and professional safety and stability), I have come to the conclusion that those of us who stand with “them” ought probably say something about why we do.

And so here’s why I do….

  • I stand with them because there is a whole lot in this world I will never understand, but I do understand that it is never okay to judge someone outside the love of God.  Ever.
  • I stand with them because I know the hearts of some of them and they are hearts full of goodness and truth, and I cannot believe that any one of them would choose the misery, judgement and exclusion that has been present in their lives–I believe they are simply trying to be who they are, even if who they are isn’t appreciated, understood, liked or affirmed.
  • I stand with them, as a person of faith and as an ordained minister, because the Bible says very little–IF anything at all–about what we know in this day and time as homosexuality.  It’s really rather nebulous.  But the Bible is VERY clear about loving your neighbor.  About taking care of those who are left out. About caring for one another as we have been cared for by the One who created us. We Christians used to use the Bible to justify slavery, the subjugation of women, too–for these atrocities we have begged pardon.  Maybe one day….
  • I stand with them because I believe it is the right thing to do.  I might be wrong.  But I’m willing to take my chances.
  • I stand with them because there is a great deal God and I will have to reckon with at the pearly gates.  I’d rather the judgement and ostracization of another human being not be added to the list.

Someone once said to me, “Julie, your thoughts on this are all well and good.  Kind-hearted and compassionate, even.  But unfortunately God isn’t always about being kind-hearted and compassionate. You have to make room for judgment.”

No. I don’t. 

The faith I was given, the stories I read about God and Jesus taught me that we are, each of us, loved beyond our wildest imagining–no matter what–and that it’s the ways we mistreat one another that most often break God’s heart.  Rampant hunger, homeless children, war-stricken countries, generations of poverty, unchecked disease–these things, yes, I think they probably warrant some wrath and judgement from our God.  But the love Rob and Joe have for one another?  I think that probably mirrors God’s love as opposed to acting against it.

I know and love more than a few folks who do not agree with me and who would, at best, call me misguided.  And my only answer for them is the unwavering faith I have in a God who loves–so much bigger and broader and wider and deeper than we ever know.  A God who calls us into life together and pronounces that life very, very good.

The judgement, the bullying, the pronouncing some of God’s children as less worthy than others, the name-calling, the leaving-out, the hatred, the fear, the insistence on naming the supposed of sins of others-on BOTH of sides of this debate!–I cannot believe any of this is what God intended.  And I believe we can do better.

When my daughter was very small, she told me she was going to marry her best friend, Caroline.  I told her that was fine, but asked her why she wanted to.  She told me about another friend at school who has two mommies–“so it’s ok, Mommy, right?”  I smiled, hugged her tight, and told her, “Yes, baby.  It’s okay that Eric has two mommies.”

She doesn’t know any different.  All she knows is the love she has for her friends and how happy they all are together–no matter how all the relationships shake out in the end.  Lucky curly girl.

My deep prayer these days is that we’d all be lead, perhaps by our children, into such generosity of friendship.  Such adamant insistence on loving each other.

Such grand and hopeful and unconditional welcome.