Changing Vases 2.0
On deconstructing. Or, cleaning up our faith in order to see just how alive it still is.
I work as a cook at our local soup kitchen every Monday and Thursday.
The rhythm is always the same. I make the school drop-off loop, arrive around 8:15, wash my hands, and see what needs to be done. For the next 3 hours, I chop buckets of onions until a tiny blister forms in the crook between my thumb and forefinger. I might pick through heaps of donated greens for a salad that feeds 120 people. Maybe I stir sour cream and melted butter into a casserole as Midwestern as a tornado warning or a cold can of pop.
There’s no idle time in those first few hours. It’s sweaty, physical, grounding work.
After everyone else is served, the kitchen staff eats together. Around that time the donation truck arrives, and our buddies on the pantry side wheel carts of past-its-prime produce and, say, twenty cases or raisins or frozen shrimp or mini muffins down the narrow hallway.
Yesterday, as we sat eating our chili dogs and pasta salad, our boss handed each of us a bouquet of donated flowers. It was a nice gesture from a good-hearted guy. But the flowers, overall, were rough.
I brought mine home, never one to leave a flower unloved, and commenced the familiar liturgy of stripping it back to beauty. As I went about my work, I thought about faith, and church. I thought of the messages I get lately from people who range from disheartened to disenchanted to utterly disenfranchised from the churches that used to be their homes.
I thought of my own spiritual and emotional disruptions; how I find myself constantly trying to quantify and qualify, to make some sense in order to make some peace.
Our long hauls are being tested this year.
“I spent some time tending the bouquet. I tossed out the dead blooms, the dried and dusty. I tried not to breathe through my nose while I dumped rancid water.
I dug through the knotted stems, asking questions with an eye for what still worked, and what needed to go. I poured some fresh water.
I deconstructed the bouquet so that it might continue to thrive.
This is how I've come to see the necessary, fruitful process of deconstructing my faith.
It's not a bad thing and it doesn't stay broken. It isn't reserved for "liberals" or "progressives." It doesn't mean our faith is lacking, or that we're creeping away from holiness so slowly that we won't even notice until we're long gone.
It means we are still children, wondering why the sky is blue, trusting God is near and that He's bigger than we know. I didn't take apart the bouquet just to trash it all. I spent time and great care inspecting each stem, giving the living ones a place of honor.”
The metaphor holds.
I knew I was deconstructing parts of my faith back then. I think we’re always deconstructing. (@kateboyd.co wrote on Instagram that she refers to it as “disentangling.”) The real question is, how honest do we believe we can be about it?
Someone once told me, “God doesn’t change, so we must.”
I carry these words in my pocket, even as, three years later, the work continues.
Rereading that post, I see things I would say differently, things I believe differently. And on we go.
On my most anxiety-riddled days, the thought of perpetual change feels threatening. For half my life, a narrow set of beliefs and allegiances determined my belonging. (I have so much compassion for anyone aware of what growth will cost them. The clamp has only tightened. We’re more eager than ever to push out the “radicals” - regardless of what that means - and bolt the door.)
But on my best days, the thought of perpetual growth and change feels like a living, breathing, active, holy relationship between me, God, and the chaotic, hopeful kingdom of suffering saints.
It is okay to acknowledge that the bruises haven’t faded.
It’s okay to realize that something you’ve believed without question suddenly doesn’t make sense.
It’s okay to be the lone voice in the room asking, (and asking again,) “But why?”
It’s okay to love the ones who hurt you.
It’s okay to step back from the ones you love.
It’s okay to dig in and it’s okay to protect yourself and it’s okay if you’re reading this and not a word of it lands, because for you, all is well.
Beyond affirmations and “me too’s,” I offer no simple solutions. I’m not sure they exist.
We keep doing the work. We stay frustrated longer than we’d like. We ruminate and read. We overthink it and exhaust ourselves and others.
But when we can’t sleep, and we do our wonky version of praying, we feel the breath of God over us, calling us Beloved.
That’s the signal. We can carry on. We are not alone. We don’t have to be afraid, because God is still in the room, and in the lightness of that Love, there is no room for fear.
As long as we’re asking, as long as we turn the stone over and over in our palms, wearing down the edges, as long as we care, we’re in the room, too.
We hold tightly to what is true. The late-leafing Walnut tree greening up overnight. The child who wakes up bright most mornings and sometimes, pens “Mom” with a heart in the corner of the napkin on which he serves the toast. The peonies in bloom. The return of hugs. The thrill of expectation. The solace of an apology. The stranger who went out on a limb and became a new friend. Arlene, nearing 90, standing shaky at the podium and singing to us on Sunday.
Picture me handing you a geriatric bouquet of Kroger flowers, marked down thrice before being sent out the door.
Let’s strip off what was dead, and maybe always was. Inspect what remains. Hold it to the light. Notice just how worthy it is, even if we can’t quite explain it, even if some feel otherwise.
After all, faith is not a tool or a rule-book.
This + That
:: I started reading Dear White Peacemakers by Osheta Moore last night and stayed up much too late. I’m on page 70-ish and it is magnificent. This book is for all of us who love Jesus and can’t let him go, are on a path of learning to be peacemakers and allies, and truly want to believe there’s a way beyond turning away from anyone who doesn’t see the world we do. I’m challenged and heartened. This is the book I’ve been waiting for. (It’s selling like crazy, so if it’s out of stock, I promise it’s worth the wait.)
:: I discovered this particular podcast episode last week, did a deep-dive into past episodes, listened to few on my weekend date with Cory, and just today, bought the book based on the pod. It’s the height of wonder, literature, and John Green. (I give it 5 stars.)
:: Speaking of the weekend date. It had been way too long, so we decided to go out last Saturday night. But it hit me on Friday that we could go earlier, to brunch! I don’t think we’ll ever go back. Brunch is one of the most celebratory meals I can imagine. (I don’t drink often, but I don’t turn down a mimosa. It screams WEEKEND! And REST! And LIFE IS BETTER THAN IT SEEMED TWO DAYS AGO!) The icing on the cinnamon roll is that we’re not as tired (adult probs) and we still get the whole evening to do our typical sweat-books-shows situation, about which we have no complaints.
We were too busy browsing the Farmer’s market to take a photo, but we took this one later, on our back patio.
The next time I write we’ll be in the thick of summer.
Until then, may you find a patch of dirt and toss in a few seeds. May you not sweat the large stuff, because it’s too hot for that. May you discover new ways to rest and be present. May you take a short nap in the shade. May you break free from your ice cream strongholds and just try the Georgia Peach, for the love.
PS! If you’d like to hear from me sooner than a month from now, the door is always open over at The Secret Soup. I dare say it’s the internet version of brunch.