Step Back, Breathe, Reengage

Oh, Reader, what a day.

It will be a feat of heroic proportions if I can make it to the end of this work day in one piece because I’ve been ready to go home and curl up in a blanket fort since I got here.  (This is unfortunate.)  Part of that is that I simply don’t like my job and so want to go home every day (not necessarily to a blanket fort), a dislike made so much harder to bear with every new sortie into pieces of the Church because I see what gives me life but I can’t have it (yet).  That was thrown into sharp relief this week because of Annual Conference (which I posted on last week and about which I will post further next week) and the moments of being mad as hell at the Church and loving it still.  To come back to a job where I do not fit, where I watch myself becoming someone I don’t like out of frustration and disenfranchisement, is a quiet form of torture.

But it is also that this week follows Orlando, this week holds the ninth-longest Senate filibuster, this week has been my heart breaking over my country once again saying that we are more afraid of our government than our weaponry, more determined to protect our right to have guns than our right to continue breathing with lungs not torn asunder by hot lead blasting through our bodies.  I have been unable (not that I’ve tried very hard) to keep myself from continually getting into this conversation—not out of a desire to antagonize but out of sheer befuddlement that this is still happening.  Again and again I have been asking how this works, why even the smallest steps of gun control are shunned outright, and to their credit my more conservative friends have responded.  We still don’t understand each other, but it has mostly been civilized.

Even when my newfound “liberalism” makes them question my faith.

Reader, I came to Christ in college and fell into a beautifully loving country Christian church with all the insularity you might expect.  God, guns, and the American way are very important in that church; gay folk are sinners to be loved, divorce isn’t spoken of, women don’t become pastors, and abortion is an abomination against God.  Even then I disagreed on some things but I was loved there, and I will spend the rest of my life pushing against the stereotype that people who think these things are horrible human beings without hearts.  They were my family, they were my support network, they quite literally fed me and gave me a home after I finished college and realized I had no idea what I was doing next.  I worked part time there, I built the foundation of my faith there, and they wept with me when I left.

Since I’ve moved away we have all changed, and though that love is still there we are far more prone to seeing the places where we disagree than the places we are family.  So for some to question my advocacy of gun control and my stance against violence and my blatant feminism in the frame of lovingly correcting me in faith and steering me back to Jesus…God, Reader, it breaks my heart in half.  I see still their compassion and understand that they believe wholly in this gentle remonstrance, but I cannot stand by and accept these tenets anymore.  I will not wash my hands of this gunpowder and blood, especially not when a life of professional, pulpit-based ministry beckons me forward.  But this…this is my family who look at me in concern and sorrow.  These are the people who taught me what love looked like in the first place, and every rift between us hurts that much more precisely because I cannot mend it and (to the extent that it would mean walking back my beliefs) will not try.

Add to this, then, betrayal by my very body.  Perhaps one of the cruelest things the Church has done in terms of doctrine is to tie women’s menstruation to Eve’s sin, ’cause damn, this shit sucks.  (If you’re uncomfortable with talking about this because you think it’s gross, skip to the next paragraph.  Then go apologize to all the women in your life whose bodies and voices you’re denying by refusing to acknowledge this as a biological reality.)  Beyond that fact that it can feel like someone is attempting to pull out your spine through your abdomen while twisting the surrounding muscles in an unpadded vise, going on your period really can and does screw with your mental state.  I realize it’s a social stereotype to show the wigged-out woman eating a pint of ice cream and crying at nothing in particular, but seriously, your chemical balance is getting thrown off and you can’t stop it.  So it’s been a legit intense week and today my brain is magnifying everything a thousandfold because its busy trying to overhaul its entire hormonal state.  Once I figured out that was a factor it made the day slightly easier because I can tell myself to step back, breathe, and reevaluate the way I was reacting to people, but before I got there I thought I was losing my damn mind today.
The spiritual implication of all that?  We are not only spiritual.  I would love to be, trust me, but we are living in mortal, political, social, emotional, and physical plains as well as the spiritual one, and that is a hot mess sometimes.  And somedays—many days—we carry the grief of the world on top of our own and we shudderstep underneath that weight.

Good think God keeps telling us to give it to Him.  In so many ways, Lord, we pray for healing.

 

 

“Teach me and I, for my part, will be silent;
explain to me how I have been mistaken.
 How painful are honest words!
But what does your reproof prove?
 Do you intend to criticize mere words,
and treat the words of a despairing man as wind?”  (Job 6:24-26, NET)

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People of the Books: The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

“How on earth, Christiana, does this book belong on a blog about Christian spirituality?  It’s only an old nursery tale about a rabbit.  There’s no mention of God anywhere.”

True.  I think we both know that God doesn’t so much wait around to be mentioned, though.  Here’s the thing about The Velveteen Rabbit; I don’t actually understand this book.

I mean, I get the story line well enough—before Toy Story (but after Pooh and Pinocchio), there was the Velveteen Rabbit being a toy with its own worries and fears and desires to be loved and useful and fun.  But there’s this central concept in this story about being Real, and I struggle so hard with what that actually means.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is a book loaned me by Interpreter, who has had me read it twice and I’ve read it a third time trying to understand what on earth is so important about it.  My first response is yay, that’s adorable, what a delightful snippet of childhood.  I remember having that one toy as a child that was not a toy but my best friend. It knew my secrets, it shared my adventures, it understood the days that I needed to not talk at all but simply be there together. Giving that toy a voice, a heart, a love for its owner and a desire to be Real—what a fantastic concept!

But I still didn’t really get what “Real” actually meant, which kind of drove me nuts because this book seems to mean a lot to people and I didn’t know why.  So I read it, and re-read it, and mulled it over, and thought about it when that one important page popped up on Facebook pages:

And I still didn’t get it.

Anyone who’s ever taught anything knows that you understand something so much better when you have to explain it to someone else.  I was out to lunch with Discretion the other day and somehow she and I got onto appearance.  I’m not beautiful by American societal standards, and in some ways neither is she.  This is a hard thing because we are taught to want to be beautiful—but that’s another conversation.  In this conversation, I was talking about how it’s okay that I’m not beautiful because my friends like her don’t actually look at me, not my physical self; they see the me who is their friend, the conglomerate of all the memories that we have together.

And I actually stopped mid-sentence because that is what it is to be Real.

I have the feeling there’s more to it than the physical appearance thing—I don’t pretend to have totally figured this book out.  But I am Real to God:  no matter whether my ears have lost their pinkness or my nose has fallen off or my fur has been rubbed to dullness, I am Real to God.  No matter whether I don’t have real hind legs and can’t actually hop, I am Real to God.  No matter whether I have totally fucked up the life I was given and the body I was given and am not at all like the human I was supposed to be, I am Real to God because God sees past all of that.  God loves me enough that I am Real.

Because I am Real to God, and because God teaches us to see other creations as Real, I am also Real to some other people.  I am Real to Discretion, and probably to Watchful, Hopeful, Magister, and Interpreter.  They don’t see the unkempt body or the mismatched sins; they see me, their friend whom they love.  And they are Real to me because I see them as the people I love with whom I have shared many adventures and long conversations and moments of holding tightly when I was afraid.

This is tough stuff.  The Skin Horse (who has been Real for a very long time and is quite wise) says, “When you are Real, you don’t mind being hurt.”  Either I am not Real all the time or the Skin Horse got that one wrong, because I very much mind being hurt.  This is perhaps why I get super stuck at the Rabbit’s conclusion when he’s been thrown away with all the other scarlet-fever-infested toys:

Of what use was it to be loved and lose one’s beauty and become Real if it all ended like this?  (33)

I’m still there, to be honest, because I am still velveteen and I want very much to stay in what I know.  My family loves me and I have to leave them, and that sucks, Reader.  That sucks a lot and I am in a lot of conversation with God about what that’s going to look like because what use was all that relationship-building if it’s to end like this?

The hope, perhaps, that it does not end like this.  The Rabbit meets a fairy and the story goes on; some day, some far off day, I will meet a Savior and the story will go on.  In the meantime will change, and there will be many other meetings in between now and then, and I may be altered by the next pieces of my life such that one of my current friends may see me and not quite recognize me but think, “That woman looks just like a friend I used to have…”

But I will never stop being Real because one you become Real, you can’t become unreal again.  God made me Real long before I had any idea what that meant because God really loved me—loves me still.  So to God, and to some of my friends, I cannot be ugly—in spirit or physicality—because they understand.

At least, I think that’s what it means.  The things we write for children are often hardest for us adults to grasp.

 

 

Rating:  4/5 stars  5ac3e-1056599-golden-four-star-rating-border-poster-art-print

Jumping Off Cliffs

The West Wing is one of my favorite TV shows ever; I love the writing, love the pacing, love the casting, love the challenge, love the applicability of it.  In the sixth season (it ran for seven), the president has to appoint a new chief of staff.  When he asks his chosen person, he says, “I need you to do something for me…jump off a cliff.”

Big news in the Land of Pilgrims, Reader—I have made my decision on where to go to seminary.

It’s funny; a lot of folks have been asking me if I’m super excited now or so relieved or really geeked about going, but I have to admit that after I sent in my acceptance I felt…nothing.  Not a bad, soulless kind of nothing, but just the utterly exhausted can-I-please-go-home-and-watch-Disney-films-now kind of nothing, the nothing that comes from having emptied myself.  Do you know what this feels like?  This decision was a bare-knuckle fight to the very end because it was so incredibly important to me and because I so very much don’t want to repeat the mistake of my first master’s program, namely attending a school for all the wrong reasons.  I needed to get this one right.

And I have no idea if I did.  It was a fabulous exercise in watching my words, Reader, to have so many people tell me how to pick a school.  They cared about me and this decision, I know they did, and I honor their concern for me.  But it was so hard to hear again and again “flip a coin and if you’re disappointed, you know;” “throw darts at the choices;” “really sit down with which one has a more solid program;” “go where your gut tells you;” and, of course, “go where God is leading you.”

It felt like God had checked Himself out for this part as effectively as Rizzo and Gonzo right before the Ghost of Christmas Future.

It wasn’t that I felt like God had abandoned me to make this decision, but it most certainly felt like He was letting me get there.  There was no billboard announcing the merits of a certain school, no magically tingly feeling when I read through the materials of one or another.  I had narrowed my starting list of more than 60 schools to five, then three, then two.  Still no open portal to where God wanted me to be.

So I talked to everyone else—or, at least, it felt like everyone else.  I talked to admissions counselors, to alumni, to current students, to friends who had known that school once, to my poor friends who had no stake at all, to friends I haven’t really talked to in years but who are doing some kind of ministry discernment of their own, to God, to myself, to my plants.  I wanted to be sure, you see; I wanted to be right.  God wasn’t telling me which school to choose, so I wanted to make the best possible choice I could on my own knowledge.

But time doesn’t care about whether or not you’ve gathered enough facts; I had to make a choice at last if only to free up the other school’s resources for some other student.  And I will say this about the process of applying to seminary as opposed to “regular” graduate school:  they care that this is hard.  I had several folks from several of the schools check in with me to reassure me that I could take my time, that they were there if I had questions, that they prayed for my discernment no matter the outcome.  (Legit, these folks were praying for my process; trust me on this one, after eleven years in higher education that kind of concern for an applying student is not something you expect.)  But I had to choose—I had to jump off the cliff.

One of the blogs I follow had a really apt illustration of that sense of heading off to grad school and how totally out of your depth you suddenly are.  I am heading off to yet more school, to incur yet more debt with definite uncertainty of work to support that both now and in the future of my denomination (as people love to remind me, the Church is changing), to a state where I’ve never lived with a populace different from what I know.  And the hell of it is that I knew all of this when choosing.  I turned down a school that offered me a full ride and another that would put me right in my comfort zone of people and places I knew, and I had to do that because I need to jump off a cliff.

It’s not about being suicidal, Reader, or even different for different’s sake as a friend accused me of recently.  It’s about knowing that this has to be completely different from anything I’ve done before or it won’t work.  Going to seminary is an incredible investment in a ministerial career, but going somewhere that you absolutely must trust God to help in the transition and accomplishment is a commitment.

Now I’m not advocating that everyone up stakes and replant themselves in order to prove their trust in God.  But I am saying that I have made this huge, life-changing choice, and I’m not going to be super geeked about that.  I am highly aware of what I turned down for this and there are parts of it that I will regret forever because I can’t do everything.  And somewhere I have to be okay with that; somewhere I have to say that this cliff is tall and the water is deep, but God is faithful and that is enough.

 

 

Have I not given you your orders? Take heart and be strong; have no fear and do not be troubled; for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go[.]  (Joshua 1:9, BBE)

 

 

Lent, Week Two: Eucharist

DANG IT I PACKED A TURKEY SANDWICH FOR LUNCH AGAIN.

Deep breaths.  Deep breaths through the fact that I’m utterly failing everything I set up for myself in observance of Lent (how Lentian, perhaps).  Deep breaths through having had a week of incredibly stressful travel and being unable to find my footing on returning to this life I’ve made that increasingly seems almost foreign.  Deep breaths through yet another meeting, yet another task, yet another extroverted moment when all my introvert heart wants is to curl up and read for a day.  Deep breaths through a lunch eaten at my desk as an afterthought, the thousandth of such lunches and breakfasts where I eat because the clock tells me to.

One of the two sacraments that survived the transition from the Catholic Church to the Protestant ones is that of communion, the Eucharist.  I recently heard a professor say that the Protestants have made it unrecognizable from what it was originally as a sacrament, but I’ve no desire to get into that here.  I’ve also no desire to get into what the meal is.  I want to get into the fact that this is the one people know—the bread and the cup, the Last Supper, that moment when Jesus says some crazy stuff about dinner.

This is the one that, honestly, is hardest for me.  There are many reasons why, but you don’t need to know them, Reader.  What you do need to know is this crazy story about a man and a woman and some soup with bread.

Here’s the thing:  I don’t like soup.  I’ve never liked soup.  The older I get, however, and the longer I live in places that get cold for part of the year, the more I realize that whether I like soup or not is somewhat irrelevant.  I’m going to have to eat soup sometimes, especially because well-meaning people serve it to me and there’s simply no point in continually reiterating that I don’t like soup because they will tell me that this is because I haven’t had their soup and proceed to serve me their soup and I will have to be polite about it.  So I’ve developed a sort of cultural resignation toward soup, an attitude where I won’t necessarily choose it but I no longer refuse to eat it.  This past week I had a rather intense couple of days of driving and stayed with a very kind couple whom I had never met before and who had graciously made dinner.

Which was, of course, soup.

Sigh.

It was fine soup and I was very much aware of the gesture of the thing, but the best part of the dinner was that there was this bread, a honey-sunflower-seed wheat bread that was fresh from the oven and warm and crackly and wonderful.  It was soft to a perfect degree of softness and crusty but not painfully so and just damned delicious.  I ate rather a lot of that bread, smeared with real butter because this was the country and that’s how it’s done.

I say all of this not to go all Instagram on you (don’t worry, there are no photos of this bread) but to showcase this incredibly ordinary moment of communion.  That was not the sacrament, to be sure, but it shared the origins of the sacrament.  Jesus’ conversation with His disciples, His friends, was at a dinner table; it was taking the things of the meal and reshaping them.  He didn’t go out to Kroger and buy bread and wine specially to make a point like show and tell.  He used what was already in front of Him, pieces left from a ritual already drenched in sacredness both by its religious connections and the very necessity of eating to maintain this frustratingly blessed thing called a body.

Communion is done in a thousand ways these days; some go for intinction, some are fed by the priest, some have the pre-packaged wafer and grape juice, some will only serve crackers, some separate the wine from the bread and devour fistfuls of the latter in the delight of breaking fast.  It has had some super bizarre moments of importance in the past.  But hopefully the concept always remains—in this act we remember that Christ sat down and ate with those who loved Him (and those who didn’t) and said this will be a new world.  This will be a new way, a way that takes what you understand and turns it upside down but I will be there with you always, I will be in and through this act of remembrance because I am bringing you into Me and into relationship with all the parts of Myself.

Eating is a powerful bonding experience.  I don’t know why, but I designed an entire service-based house on the idea when I was in college and I believe still that the best way to join people together is over food and drink.  Whole relationships have been shaped by coffee for me, others forged over sandwiches and Gatorade or shared Kit-Kat bars that break apart to bring together.  For God to put a meal at the heart of this faith is gutsy and genius and utterly, utterly human; we have to eat.  This is an earthy thing wrapped in such divine understandings that it points us in receiving it to deeper aspects of this faith life—somewhat like accepting soup because the bread is so delicious and so freely offered.

 

 

Then Jesus took some bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to the apostles, saying, “This is my body, which I am giving for you. Do this to remember me.”  In the same way, after supper, Jesus took the cup and said, “This cup is the new agreement that God makes with his people. This new agreement begins with my blood which is poured out for you.”  (Luke 22:19-20, NCV)

Dropped Calls

I really hate surprises.

This has always been part of my personality, which has led to much frustration when my family surprises me with gifts or announcements or something and my first reaction is that I don’t like them, I’ve never liked them, not even the “good” surprises.  I want to know what’s coming next and be prepared for it; I want to know the details of an upcoming thing so I don’t come up with something different and get disappointed.  It’s a terribly selfish thing, but I don’t like surprises.

It is terribly unfortunate, then, to have gone out to dinner this past week with a friend of mine and gotten two rather major surprises, neither pleasant even by normal people’s standards.  Both, directly and indirectly, had to do with realizing that I don’t have a bleeding clue what I’m getting into by saying yes, I want to go to seminary and be a minister.  Several people have tried to warn me and I kept saying that’s okay, I feel this Call, God will not bring me to something and then leave.

Unless this particular service Provider is One Who drops Calls.

Don’t worry; this isn’t me calling the whole thing off and skipping ministry, not least because I’m not sure I even could turn that battleship around right now if I tried.  But it is the nasty shock of actually hearing all of the people who have been saying that ministry is not what I think it is, that seminary will not adequately train me for it, that there is no God in ministry and only the pettiness of people.  Many have said these sorts of things to me, but I’ve not been hearing them.  But in this moment of doubt, I see their points—why am I going to seminary if nothing I’m going to do in ministry is taught there?  Why am I reading the Call of God as one to an inherently people-driven vocation when I am quite frank about not actually liking people all that much?  Have I, despite myself and my best efforts at being aware and observant, been viewing this career through rose-tinted glasses?

I don’t know.  I don’t know and that freaks me out because it’s a bit late in the game to have these kinds of doubts, but I also know that not doubting is somehow worse.  If there’s one thing this blog can serve to do, Reader, it’s allow you to see that those in the professional ministry—or training to be so—aren’t perfect.  There is no straight line to God, no red phone with perfect coverage and never any static.  We don’t have an inside track…and maybe my future self needs to hear that as much as you might.  To doubt is awful, but to share that doubt in a public forum locked into the eternity of the Internet is horrifying because I want to reassure you and myself that that I am fine, that this is fine, that there is no problem with going forward into this incredibly daunting career that will demand more than I can ever give.  I want to say that ministry is everything I want to do.

And in some senses, I can; don’t worry, I remember how I got this far and I definitely remember the whispers and shouts of God calling my name.  There are weekly moments of ministry that show me the God spark, the living Spirit continually drawing us to Herself.  And I do still believe that God would not bring me this far only to scamper off without me.

But some weeks there is static in this Call.  Some weeks important words get lost; some weeks it feels as though God hung up without telling me.  Some weeks I look at this new career and see only that it will take everything I have and more that I’ve never even known I should offer.  These are hard moments because no one wants to be uncertain about these sorts of things.  We want to know that we are doing what we are meant to do; we want to say we have heard our call clearly and are going in the right direction.

Yet there are tunnels that interrupt service.  There are random flocks of geese and broken towers because humans are weird and hard and a perfect God working with imperfect people is bound to get messy.  I can’t tell you that some wondrous thing happened to restore my faith in myself and in everything about ministry, but I can tell you that one of my high schoolers had a hell of a week and just needed a hug that I could provide yesterday.  I can tell you that that one of the awful pieces of information I got prompted me to reconnect with a friend and understand that his life fell apart but he’s still pressing on in trust in God.  I can tell you that there will totally be all of the frustrating and utterly human pieces of ministry, but they will not be all of it.  Sometimes I will hear the Call loud and clear, and for now that is enough.

I hope.

I’ve never much liked the phone, either.

 

 

Not at all! The word is very close to you. It’s in your mouth and in your heart, waiting for you to do it.  (Deuteronomy 30:14, CEB)

All in the Family–Whatever That Is

family, n.  “A social group of parents, children, and sometimes grandparents, uncles, aunts, and others who are related.”  (Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary)

family, n.  1)  “A bunch of people who hate each other and eat dinner together.”
2)  “People you love and love you back, not neccessarily blood or biological, but you trust them and they trust you, and they take care of you and you take care of them.”  (Urban Dictionary)

I’m having dinner with a friend of mine tonight.  She has a slew of small children and both she and her husband work, so when she was in my office the other day she was preemptively apologizing for the fact that it would be a Friday night and the house would be a mess and then she said, “Whatever, you’re family.  It’ll look like it looks.”

On Wednesday I had dinner at a different friend’s house with his family; he has a slew of teenagers who are coming and going from their various things, he works fairly late, and they have two dogs.  It was a casual affair of showing up and making sandwiches eaten on paper plates because I’m family.

I went to visit a college friend and her parents over the Christmas break and rang the doorbell as I have every time I’ve gone to that house for the last ten years.  The mother came to the door and let me in and said exasperatedly, “What are you doing?  Just walk right in and shout, it’s unlocked and you’re family!”

I hope, Reader, that you can supply plenty of your own anecdotes of people along the path of your life who have taken you in and called you family, who have loved you fiercely and fought with you and laughed with you and celebrated the twining of your lives.  This is something that matters so much to me because “family” is an incredibly laden concept for me.  The family to whom I’m related by blood isn’t exactly warm and fuzzy and we aren’t exactly besties.  But so many people have “claimed” me in some way, these secondary families who re-appropriate the word to mean something new and beautiful.  It is, in fact, one of the coolest things in the world to me when Interpreter calls me “sister,” meaning that we are brother and sister in Christ.

We are currently in that strange part of the liturgical year in between Epiphany and Lent, that time of treading water until the Next Big Season.  In this time is the growing up of Christ; in this time He grows from a boy to a man.  We don’t get many of the stories of this time (unless you want to argue for the canonical attributes of the infancy gospels, which you’re welcome to do); we don’t get the family raising Him (except for when He steps out of their jurisdiction) or the friends who became family for Him.  But once we dig into His adult life, He has some intense things to say about what family is and He models a fascinating family structure with His friends.

It’s been an unexpectedly fraught week here, Reader.  I have officially officially started the candidacy process toward ordination—as attested by the proliferation of paperwork in my life, among other things.  I am For Real in this idea of going into the ministry, which is scary and awesome and exhausting and overwhelming and many other things besides.  And some of the stuff that I need to do in this process is hard, wicked hard in such a way that I need to be able to reach out to others and have them remind me I’ll be okay, that I’m not making up this Call, that it isn’t better just to stay where I am.  These people function as my family, my support network, whether or not they’re related to me by the accident of blood.

I wonder if the disciples were like this for Jesus; He had to go find them first, of course, but they are the ones who gave Him room to discuss His ministry.  They are the ones who told Him that what He was doing was necessary when His blood family just wanted Him to come home.  (Of course, they are also the ones who encouraged Him to run when it got super scary because they were far more interested in keeping their Friend around than fixing the world.)  They are the ones who, in their own incredibly human ways, were His family—what Jesus did would not at all be the same without them.

Perhaps today, Reader, I just want to give a shout-out to my family here in the Land of Pilgrims.  I want to appreciate my brothers and sisters (some of whom style themselves mothers and fathers sometimes), my cousins and aunts and uncles in the faith and in humanity.  Last night was rather rough as I was dealing with some health frustrations and a song came on the radio called Stand by You.  It was the most intensely apt song I could have heard at that moment because I am surrounded by so many people who have walked and will continue to walk through Hell with me—and there are people who have asked me to walk through Hell with them, and that is its own incredible honor and test.

Family, I think, are the people who know what you sound like when you laugh and when you cry, and they are ready to handle both.  That doesn’t necessarily mean they know everything about you—the disciples didn’t know an awful lot about Jesus—but it does mean that they know you, the core of who you are, and they love you in flawed and flawless ways.  How good to have family!  How wondrous not to have to do this alone!

 

 

“This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.  There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”   (John 15:12-13, NLT)

Curl Up and Dye

I remember the first time I saw a salon called “Curl Up and Dye” and thought it was the most clever thing in the world.  I’ve since seen so many that I think there’s a salon convention where people get together and brainstorm ways to spin “dye” as a pun.

My hair is naturally a very dark brown and has been since I was born.  I had reddish highlights put in it once when I was in college, but have never done any coloring otherwise.  Today, my hair is streaked with a teal-ish green because I decided this week to hell with it, I’m going to do something outrageous.  I set out to dye my hair blue.  It did not turn blue.  It went green.

Why does this matter, Reader?  Because it’s just hair.  It’s just dye, it’s just color, it’s just for a while, it’s just sections, it’s just, it’s just, it’s just…

I have been so freaked out about various parts of my life lately, and some of them rightly so because they have pretty long-lasting impact.  But long-lasting is not forever because this is not forever.  I will (hopefully) outlive my green hair, but I will not outlive my hair itself.  I will not outlive the scissors that cut it or the bottles that held the dye for it.  I will not outlive some of the people who will see it and have their own reactions to it, and that’s scary as hell and totally necessary for me to understand.  I will outlive the fact that this did not turn out as I had planned, and it will be fine.

green-women-tower-long-hair-green-hair-3a86bea48a8df3f6e20f87f00b3934ceDoes that make sense, Reader?  I dyed my hair because I needed to remember that I don’t have all my shit together and that’s how it is.  I dyed my hair because I wanted to know how it works because I am a curious creation of a curious Creator.  I dyed my hair because I want to look in the mirror and say to myself that I am not this hair, or this face, or this body, although all of those are certainly part of the composition of me.  George MacDonald said that “you are a soul; you have a body” and while I don’t want to encourage a dualistic view of the self I do think it matters to remind myself not to get too caught up in what this body is.  I want to get caught up in what this body can be, in what this person can be, in the amazingly outrageous things that God can do with and through me if I decide that I’m not going to be paralyzed by fear that my hair might be green or my clothes wrong or my tattoos unfashionable.  I dyed my hair because I want to stop trying to be beautiful on the outside.

It’s basically the worst thing in the world for someone to say that someone else is “beautiful on the inside” because it’s very nearly always hiding the statement “but plain and unremarkable on the outside.”  We look at kind people in our image-driven society and somehow excuse them from cultural aesthetics, handing them a day pass from our noticing them because they’re beautiful on the inside.  But their outsides are God’s, too—even though He’s the One Who talks about looking inside instead of outside—and I have met some strikingly beautiful kind people.  Some of them were born that way, gifted with genetics that make them comely to my American sensibilities, but others are made beautiful because that level of awesome really does shine.  Either way, however, it’s a matter of looking at them, actually looking at them and seeing the fingerprints of God all over them.  I want to be like that, especially right now when we look at each other and see so much that is ugly and harsh, our rhetoric of every side spiky and serpentine as it slides off our lips and fingertips to pile on the floor at our feet.  I want to stop saying to myself that perfectly teal hair will make me beautiful and then all of this other stuff will fall into line, because that’s not how it works.  Sometimes your hair turns out green and then people compliment you a bunch because they actually are looking at you and you are beautiful in their eyes even though you think you failed.

And that works because the hair will grow back out, and I will have learned again and again and again that God can work with whatever you freely give, that He loves me even when teal doesn’t happen, that I am beautiful because She crafted me in love and knows what my soul looks like.  I dyed my hair to shake up my perception of myself; I have instead been reminded to look outward at others and see that we have all gotten the dye wrong and yet we are beautiful creatures.

Not bad for a $12 box.

 

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  (Romans 3:22-24, NIV)