Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Today is the Day to Make Peace (A Tattoo Story)

Kelley Nikondeha is over at Deeper Story hosting a link-up on "Embodied Stories" where she invites us all to sit around the table and tell stories about our tattoos. I thought it would be fun, so I'm telling the story of one of mine and linking-up (a day late, which has become kind of my thing as of late).

I was out of the military and just really beginning to process much of what I'd gone through, and I wanted something to mark the occasion by. If you know me at all, you know that the traditional bald-eagle-American-flag collage wasn't really an option, nor was the classic violence-glorifying gun-worshipping sort of thing that also seems to be standard issue among vets (no offense if you've got one of those, it's just really not my thing).

There was a lot going on at the time. My whole worldview was slowly being picked apart, piece by agonizing and terrifying piece. All of the rationalizations seemed absurd, the excuses so silly and empty.

The other day, E was at "school" (which basically consists of 2 hours of structured play, because, you know, HE'S ONLY THREE) and he had worked hard to build a castle out of those fake cardboard bricks, only to have a bully come over and knock the whole thing down.

That's kind of what my faith looked like at the time. I had worked so hard to build it, meticulously placing each brick in its proper place and marvelling as the whole thing took shape. Then, it was confronted by the bully of cold, hard reality.

I had the most incredible English teacher in both junior high and my freshmen year of high school named Mrs. Brandenburg. She was passionate about her job and relentless in trying to get us to step out of our middle school awkwardness and actually express ourselves. She was a constant encouragement (like when I first started writing really bad poetry as a tween) and an inspiration to all of us who were lucky enough to have been in class with her. She was the first one to ever encourage me to write something down (I'll let you be the judge of whether or not that was a good idea).

Anyway, Mrs. Brandenburg had a saying that she lived by (and I can't help but think a certain stellar performance by Robin Williams had something to do with this): Carpe Diem. Seize the day. It has always stuck with me for some reason (perhaps as a counterweight to my accursed penchant for egregious procrastination), and it serves as a constant reminder to take advantage of the gift of time we're given.

So there I was, looking at the wreckage and ruin of everything that not-so-long-ago I thought I was certain of. I was looking for peace, but all I could find was a vague promise in an old book:

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God."

So I have this saying, Carpe Diem, a saying that has been so often used as justification for all kinds of mindless, self-serving nonsense (I mean, let's be honest, YOLO is just the text-message abbreviation) and hedonistic indulgence. I thought, maybe it would be kind of cool to take it and apply it to something totally counter-cultural, like peacemaking. So I needed some universal symbols of peace that would be easy to recognize.

First, the dove. Duh.

I was raised Pentecostal. The image of the dove as a representation of a certain kind of spiritual peace is a foundational piece of Pentecostal symbology. Pretty sure that one was non-negotiable.

The olive branch is significant as well, from its roots in Roman usage as a symbol of peace. Also, I love the connotations of cultivation that come along with olive branch. To get good olives, you have to work the soil, tend the grove, and pay painstaking attention to the needs of the trees. It takes work, in other words. The two taken together are often seen as a symbol of peace as well, from the conclusion of the flood story to modern appropriations like the symbol of Vets for Peace (a personal favorite of mine). 

The process itself ended up with me answering my own question. I was looking for peace, asking "how do I find it?" when all along, the answer was right there in front of me.

In this life, we don't find peace. We have to make it.

So I guess if you ask me what my tattoo means, the short answer is this:

Today is the day to pro-actively make peace.

With ourselves, our pasts, our families, our enemies, our cities, our world.

Wherever we can. Today is the day. Make Peace.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Faithful Parenting?

Today is fun for two reasons.

1.  I have the distinct pleasure of both getting to share the page (though I guess it's not really a page...more of a screen) with the wonderful, the beautiful, the talented Mrs. Jill Harms (who tells her own beautiful stories here).

2. We're guest-posting over on the Parenting Wild Things blog, a project of one Jessica Bowman of the always funny and insightful Bohemian Bowmans.

We're talking about faithful parenting, and what that looks like for our family:

For us, I think that’s where we begin our discussions of parenting: at the end. We ask ourselves what we want them to get out of this whole process (as opposed to asking what we want to get out of it) and we wonder aloud what the real purpose of discipline is in our family. Is it to teach or to ensure compliance? Is it to correct, or is it to prove to them that we’re correct? Is it to make them better, or is it to make our lives easier?

Now, if we’re being honest, on any given day of the week, the honest answers to these questions might be radically different, which is why we have conversations in the quiet spaces, during the lull of the battle when they’re resting and we’re still awake and alert enough to actually form coherent thoughts. The hope is that if we can give some serious thought to these questions at some point before the moment at which the hitting/snatching/yelling/not listening takes place, perhaps we will be better prepared to handle those situations gracefully, with a certain amount of perspective.

 But best laid plans, and all that. This is hard stuff.
Click through to read the rest and join the conversation!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Resurrection For Thee, But Not For Me

Photo Credit
"You wouldn't even have asked this question a year ago," she said.

And I think to myself,

Maybe that's what Resurrection is, for me.

There haven't been a lot of "revolutionary" moments in my life. I didn't have a dramatic conversion experience, no booming voices or bright lights. I don't generally do 180-degree turns. I'm more inclined toward wide, sweeping arcs that eventually get me headed in the right direction. Now don't get me wrong, there certainly has been change, but it has been evolutionary, a slow slog toward...something?

For the last few years I've been unsure what exactly that something was. We use words like salvation and resurrection, but most times I don't think we're really even sure of what those things mean. They're like placeholders for concepts that are too big and too scary for us to really wrap our brains around, abstractions that leave us grasping desperately for something concrete to really grab on to.

And now it's Eastertide, that time when we're supposed to be celebrating Resurrection while anticipating the Gift of Pentecost, but again, I'm left wondering what that word - Resurrection - even means, and how I can find some way to connect to it.

Because if I'm being honest, if Resurrection is the sort of thing that I've been taught my whole life, then it's not something I feel that I have a right to connect to at all.

When you have blood on your hands, it's hard to accept forgiveness.

It's hard to feel like you deserve closure or peace. Part of me, the biggest part in fact, feels like carrying around guilt for the innocent people whose lives came to an end based on your work is somehow the right thing to do, like I should be profoundly affected by these memories, like carrying them around with me somehow keeps that person that I was back then from coming back.

And I've heard all the rationalizations.

"You were just following orders."
"You thought it was the right thing to do."
"You were influenced by a broken, fallen system."

All of that is true, but none of that really matters.

I was that person who followed those orders, thought those things, and allowed that system to influence me without questioning it.

But what's more, I was that person who took joy in his job. I was that person who was filled with vengeful satisfaction as he watched the dealing of death without mercy play out in front of him. I was that person who delighted in hunting and killing human beings, and who was wholly unmoved by the death of innocents caught in the crossfire.

I did those things. I was that person. How could I possibly be worthy of this thing we call Resurrection?

Can things really be made new?

Those people will still be dead.
I will still be that person.

Yet all around, I see Resurrection. I see light and life breaking in and breaking out where only death and darkness existed before.

Around me. About me. Above and below, in front of and behind me.

But never in me.

I believe in the power of Resurrection, and I strive to see that power manifest in the people, the systems, and the culture I'm immersed in.

But never in me.

So there we were, leaning over the kitchen island in a precious moment of peace, talking about life and change and love.

I ask a question. It seems so simple, so fundamental to the way that a marriage should work and yet, it feels as if it is altogether something new.

"You wouldn't even have asked this question a year ago," she said.
And that most unfamiliar of feeling begins to creep into the margins of my Spirit:


And I think to myself,

Maybe that's what Resurrection is, for me.
I can't ever give those people their lives back, but maybe that's not what being made new means. Maybe it means that their deaths get turned into something meaningful as the Holy Spirit continues to work in and through me. Maybe it means that change might not happen in 3 days or 3 months or even 3 years, but maybe it's not supposed to or maybe it doesn't have to.


To be sure, there still isn't much for me to grab on to here, but whatever it is that I'm reaching for, or that's reaching out for me, I know that I can say something that I haven't been able to say in a long time:

I hope.  

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