twentybydesign

the life and times of a twenty year old designer

Posts Tagged ‘church

journeying through babel: a story of carpentry and redemptive community

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yesterday’s story:
this bookcase had been three days’ work for a team of five. planning, laying out, preparing pieces, squaring each corner, framing the stand, painting and molding. the finished dimensions were over 16 feet tall, 9 feet wide, and 15 inches deep.
at ten minutes after five, we rolled it into the theatre and decided to quickly pivot it from horizontal to vertical so that it’d be ready for the additional work happening this weekend. one final push after a week of working ourselves sick and tired. a weary crew of carpenters gathered around and began to lift.
the scenery began creaking in protestation, but we figured it would settle once it was righted, so we kept pushing.
and magnificently, almost poetically, at the point just before it would tip into place and right itself, the strain became too much. the plywood boxes collapsed into each other like a fragile rectangular card house, and the whole unit flattened itself straight down onto the ground.

everyone walked away uninjured, but you can bet our pride had been put in check. and my mind couldn’t help but wander to the story of the community gathered at Babel.

 

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.  And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.  And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar.  Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”  And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built.  And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.

Babel is our story. As I watched the towering scenery crumble, stood in the wreckage of the edifice of our competence, I saw how clearly Babel is our story.  But we were never called to end our stories at Babel, the place where we are confronted with the shame which seeps from seeing clearly our hubris, self-centeredness, and idolatry. We were called to journey through Babel. Babel is a place of “yes, and…” where the “yes” of our failed attempts at eternity meets the “and” of our gaze straight into the source of eternity Himself. Afraid of being dispersed over the face of the earth, the people of at Babel attempted to create their own fortress of power and security. The Lord’s response was to scatter them to the the winds, and remind them that they could not create their own name or hold themselves together. He alone is the provider of rest, strength, peace, and unity, and without Him, we are confused in language and scattered across the globe.

I know this story. Deep in my heart, I have been reenacting this story since childhood. I have built these walls in my life and around my heart. High and wide and deep. Testaments to my strength, accolades to my name, badges which honor collective accomplishments. I have built these walls. For years, every single thing I did with a group of people was only meant to raise my own profile. And I have been so afraid of being dispersed over the face of the earth, forgotten in the margins of history, unable to account for myself or measure up or matter. I know that I cannot find within myself the capacity to create a beauty that is pure and great and true, but something in me aches to be reunited with perfection, and so I replace attentiveness to the great Creator with working extra hours, taking extra projects, accepting additional leadership responsibilities, and caring for more people so that…at the end of the day, I can feel my time has not gone wasted.

When, in fact, attentiveness to the great Creator is the only worthwhile use of time. I don’t mean that every hour of every day should be spend in silent prayer. I do mean that we are called to be attentive to His breath in our lungs, and pour out our praise accordingly. When we rush and bustle and push the margins of our own strength, building towards the impossible goal of “reaching the sky” we are ignoring the power of the only One who can hold us together. Walking with Him through Babel itself  has re-centered my gaze on the only One who deserves my full attention and devotion. I am seeing my desire to recreate Babel in every facet of life, to center my focus on idols, foolish facsimiles meant to  supplant the Creator.

Growing up, Babel was always a bit of a sad story, but rather odd because it didn’t quite seem to impact me directly. What a tragedy, I thought, that these people spent all of this energy building something only to have to abandon it. I learned this week what I had never understood as a child. The tragedy of Babel is not the loss of the citadel. The tragedy of Babel is the loss of community. These people had a gift we can’t comprehend in modern culture (no matter how we strive for it) – complete unity of communication. No cultural barriers, nothing lost in translation, and a completely common vision. Trouble was, they turned their unity in praise of themselves, and their gifts towards creating a place of certitude and permanence on Earth, a promise Adam and Eve lost when they rejected the Creator in Eden. The utopia imagined at Babel was doomed from the start as it was founded on arrogance and lacking in gratitude and respect. In scattering the languages, God erected a barrier to natural understanding between people. He saw our desire to unite with each other in ways that denied our need for Him, and made certain we would no longer be able to confuse perfect unity with one another with the God our hearts were designed to seek and to serve.

But, the beauty of life after Jesus in the second chapter of Acts is the restoration of community. People from every walk of life had been brought to new life in Christ, and “all who believed were together and had everything in common….and day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.” The Spirit descended, and speaking in tongues was not a mark of hyper-charismatic spirituality, but a genuine blessing which allowed the disciples to communicate across cultures, creating new families where the generations of divergent cultures had only bred cynicism and distrust, and banishing established dynamics of power and fear. Among themselves, these first disciples saw unity which could only come from a shared understanding of what it meant to once again live at peace with one another.

And He himself is our peace. This incredible unity which once allowed all of humanity to come together on a project through which “nothing they propose to do will now be impossible for them” is once again available. In ourselves, our speech is too confused. There are too many of us, speaking too many different languages. But in Christ, we are not only reconciled to the God we tried to depose in Eden, whose sovereignty we challenged at Babel, and to whose authority we have never submitted quietly. We are reconciled to our brothers and sisters who were standing right beside us as we did so. We who goaded each other on, stacking challenge on challenge, convincing ourselves we could live free of consequence, that we could create our own eternity and immortality. Our actions against God are doubly painful for their repercussions in our communities. When we seek healing in our own hearts, the inevitable consequence is the healing of our communities. And as we learn to center our community life around something outside of ourselves and our own abilities to create perfection, achieve greatness, and support each other completely, our hearts begin to come home. 

I am walking away from the tower I have been building, the places where others keep encouraging me to stack brick on top of brick on top of futile brick in an attempt to reach the sky. I wonder what would happen if we became less intent on reaching the heavens and spent more time marveling at them. If we yielded our desire to control and achieve and perform and stood awestruck at the mere mention of the name that has been whispered directly into our hearts. Hands raised in praise are incapable of doing any competent work. You cannot build a permanent structure with your arms outstretched and your palms empty. But it is precisely this posture of worship into which we must reorient ourselves if we are ever to be a part of the only Kingdom worth building. 

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Written by Taylor Webster

November 9, 2013 at 10:00 pm

praying in pencil

with 3 comments

october second, two thousand and thirteen

I am writing to You in pencil

Not because I don’t believe You are permanent

But perhaps

because I do not desire these thoughts to be



du großes Heimweh, das wir nicht bezwangen


And I am homesick for you

And for the times when I knew what it meant to follow You

And to invite others to join the journey



We used to ask questions


In laughter, tears, arguments, prayer, and LOVE


We used to ask questions

We sought your kingdom first

Hungering, thirsting



And you were found by us, behind and before


du Wald, aus dem wir nie hinausgegangen


Surrounding us, protecting us, providing for us

Even as our gaze shifted

From Your love

To our ability



Competency. Effectiveness. Structure

Restraint & Reserve & Moderation



Watchwords birthed in fear

that You are not what You said

what You have been

what we have known



But that instead You have called your minsters

to be lonely, to be apart

to follow rules & fulfill expectations

to doubt our sanity in seeing clearly



And that you have called your people

to safety and comfort and sameness

and that we don’t have to take You seriously

Because after all what is a minister for

and that we cannot hope for true community

Because haven’t we been hurt

And that we must. be. polite.



If we never see the oceans rage

How can we have faith in the One who walks on water?



If we never dare to dine with the 5,000

How will we marvel at the leftover bread?



And if we never engage deeply with Your word

How can we claim to act in your name?



We used to pray boldly


And the bigger we prayed, the more intimate

our awareness of Your answers became



And we became less afraid to think and say

and feel and do



We made mistakes

laughing and crying and praying

we made mistakes

portals for grace, channels for mercy

we finally. made. mistakes.



Our hearts let loose their silenced hymns

the joy we’d thought preposterous

the sadness we’d thought shameful



Brimming excess, pure emotion
Radiantly, blessedly incompetent


Our imagination’s thirst for adventure satisfied in bread and wine

Our timid hope for a distant future already coming to pass

Our sins of striving and self sufficiency overwhelmed by constancy of grace

Until



With fear and trembling and unbelief
We began to ask questions

Written by Taylor Webster

October 5, 2013 at 9:28 am

a week in four parts: roots, celebration, obedience, benediction

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I promised I’d write about last week. And so, before last week become two weeks ago, here are some ruminations on a week so thoroughly saturated with a restoration that I’d forgotten it’s important to ask for. I think, for the sake of touching on everything a bit, I’d like to chronicle that week in four particular movements. It’s really more like a journal entry than a blog for me, so that I don’t forget anything, but I’ve tried to highlight and refine the lessons I’m learning in hopes that they speak to your heart as well. If I were a good blogger I’d probably make this a series, publish each of the movements separately so that you don’t get overwhelmed and I don’t have to write anything else for the rest of the month, but this is my story, and i am evidently more of a novelist than a blogger, and somehow I think it all needs to be told together. so pull up a chair, brew some tea, and find the story that speaks to you. it was truly an incredible week.

movement I – remember your roots
“it’s Your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise to you only”

I am realizing more and more that there are two parts of my life that have been fundamentally shaping me for longer than I can remember. One of them is my deep-heart love of music. The other is my tumultuous journey to calling the Church my home and God’s people my family. Both have always been connected to a pursuit of beauty, truth, and community.

A lot of times, when I’m trying to encourage someone or to help them understand how I’m feeling, I’ll send them a song. There’s something about the emotional quality of music that transcends words or chord patterns or form or structure. Music is. That’s all there is to it. I’ve been aching for ages to see and hear songs rise up from the church that are written by musicians, not by praise bands with agendas or rockstars seeking performance highs, but the people who see the beauty and life and breath in music that is layered and complex and interesting and honest and through all of those things, deeply joyful. With the rise of sites like noisetrade, bandcamp, and kickstarter, this is finally coming to life. Music is no longer controlled by an industry – artists are able to connect directly with those who have ears to hear and create something together that brings joy to both of their hearts.

This last week, I was able to attend concerts of two artists who have a remarkable gift for calling me back to where I’m from. I’ve always had an uncanny love for live music, and these bands reminded me why that is a good. thing. (And why banjos are completely essential to any live performance.) These first guys, The Oh Hello’s ( their album is pay-what-you-can at http://theohhellos.com/ and you’d be doing yourself a huge disservice to not at least listen!) are intentionally independent and self produced. They do their own CD art, dye their own t-shirts, and are a beautiful model of radical community. Seeing this troupe of 11 young people playing a sold-out Bluebird show in their first-ever tour stop outside of their home state of Texas, the joy and love and passion were evident. They seemed so surprised and humbled that we were all so excited to see them, and their songs called us to worship with reverence and joy, honesty and love, in a chamber-folk style that far surpasses even the charms and talents of the famed Mumford quartet.
The second group, also playing their first shows outside of their home state this summer, are a trio of gents known as Judah and the Lion. We saw them for free at a church in Littleton, but they play with energy that rivals some of the best arena concerts I’ve seen. It’s Americana at it’s best, with banjo, mandolin, and guitar playfully intertwining, singing true, deep, and pure, straight to your soul as your foot can’t help but stomp and your hands can’t help but clap. Musicians like these, who are so willing to have a good chat with the audience after the show, who have the faith to put their music out for free on the internet, and who have the artistic integrity to create exactly as they are called to. These are the ones who give me hope, that someday our national imagination will be recaptured by the artists who understand how to sing to our souls.

Speaking of music. Last week I had the opportunity to worship with the body of Christ in five different communities. The youth camp outside of Colorado Springs, the hipster church in Denver, the student community gathering at the YMCA in Winter Park, the small and focused ministry of a sprawling megachurch in Highlands Ranch, and of course, my home church in Fort Collins. In the past I have attended such varied worship gatherings, but always with a critical eye. Were the people genuine, was the music well done, was the stage design attractive, did the speaker give me something to think about while I drove home? Such questions have their place, of course, but when you attend a family gathering, you shouldn’t be there to criticize your less-fashionable aunt or wonder why the sweet tea was brewed so much stronger than you like it. You should be rejoicing to simply be together again.

And so it was this last week. I saw things in these communities that I’d never seen before, glimpses of beauty and truth and the kingdom bursting forth. And while the differences in background culture, shape, and style were indeed visible, what was more striking were the similarities. Whether we were gathered in a basement, an aging chapel, a mountaintop tent, or a converted gymnasium, so many elements were the same. The call to sing out to our creator, the sense of sacred space even in the most ordinary location, the need for us to teach each other and share our stories, the desire to connect as a family, and all the love that is only possible when it is proclaimed in Jesus’ name. I was raised in churches that met in a good-sized suburban facility, a strip mall/movie theater/ a burgeoning megachurch campus, and a well-established community chapel. And for all the grief it’s given me, for all the heartache and questioning, there has also been more joy in these places than any earthly kingdom should allow. Wherever else I go, the North American church will always be my first home.

movement II – celebrate who you are.
“now i am a heart, with a head on my shoulders, and i’ll say that i’m a different child”

If you had told me one year ago that my heart would grow to be so stretchy, I would have laughed and told you it was time to get back to work. A year ago I was fighting to establish new, grow-up rhythms, and just barely beginning to concede the fact that the only rhythms that matter are the ones which stem from my identity as the beloved child, one of a multitude of beautifully created siblings.

Last week I had the opportunity to reunite both with my newly-formed heart family and with one of my dearest friends. As a bit of background, having a “best friend” has always been inordinately important to me. I have suffered from “Best Friend Envy”. I want to know that I matter to someone else as much as they matter to me, and the label has always seemed to be the surest way to guarantee continued closeness. And what I’ve been learning, most especially in the last year, is that I don’t need to cling to “best friends” any more.

Because I have been invited to join a family. A family who rejoices when someone new is invited in, whether it is a child, a spouse, a long-lost cousin, or a soul sister. Saying goodbye to a family member isn’t so scary, because you know how that no matter how many many miles or months, states or seasons come between you, you’ll always be at home when you’re together again. If you asked me today who my best friend is, I’d have to list probably more than a dozen women. (It’s probably good I won’t have to narrow these fantastic women down into a manageable wedding party anytime soon. But you ladies know who you are – and there’s no question in my heart you’d all be standing up there with me.)

So this heart family. These crazy undergrads who burst into my life unkempt and uninvited. The students I vowed I’d never live with. They have grown my heart exponentially. None of us make sense together – last year it was two sophomores, two juniors, and one recent graduate cohabiting this condo which has its own thoroughly awkward beauty. We represent the math, psychology, biology, hdfs (prepping to run a daycare facility), and theatre design departments of this university, and our personalities are as diverse as our disciplines.

But from these women, I have learned the beauty of seeking God together, cooking extravagant dinners with open invitations, holding hands and giving hugs when words are insufficient, embracing hospitality which calls us to truly love our (next door) neighbors, operating with an emotional range which allows for crying and laughing to occupy the same moment, seeking to love family and friends and those the world rejects with deep passion and a strong commitment, and daily choosing fierce love and friendship which claims family where there should be none. I am humbled and thankful and in no way deserving of how well they love me. The weekend reunion was our last time to all be together (we just shipped one off to Australia for a semester!) and our first instinct was to find a place to pray and simply give thanks. It’s the first time I’ve prayed with a group and heard the words flow so freely and without hesitation from every single person’s heart. What a beautiful, beautiful gift.

And then to visit this dear, dear friend, who has walked closely with me through every twist and turn the last year has thrown my way. What a blessing to have a few hours in the midst of a hurried summer to simply be in the same place. To share stories of triumphs and challenges, to acknowledge frustration and hope, to be able to see clearly that we were both exactly where we most needed to be. To know each other enough to know what was cause for celebration, which circumstances would prove particularly obtuse, and how each other’s hearts would respond and what we needed most to hear. And to rejoice in God’s goodness weaving through all of it. It was a time for city-lovers to rest in the garden, to see the beauty of where we’re from before we rush headlong into where we’re going. (For more on gardens and cities, see Monday’s post at https://twentybydesign.wordpress.com/2013/07/08/garden-to-a-city-living-the-story/)

And so. I may seem to be a bit of a different child. But I am rejoicing at having found my family.

movement III – step. in.
“in the silence, i heard you calling out to me”


Have you ever been asked to do something which seems outrageous, so far outside of your comfort zone and what seems to make sense? In my experience there are two responses to this invitation. The first is to shake our heads, both at the foolishness of the asker in assuming we’d be capable, and to express our own thorough conviction that this is not what we were made to be. The other is to see the joy in the eyes of the asker, to trust that they have considered all of the possible pitfalls and still want you to join in, and to step in. Whether out of hesitant obedience or joyful compliance, step in.

Relatable Scenario A: When random internet browsing across the blog of a songwriter you’ve only recently discovered yields a book recommendation that intrigues you, step in. Don’t look up the book, delight in the first few chapters, but assume the $12 Amazon price tag won’t be worth it because, I don’t know, you were going to use that money for a cheeseburger and a milkshake or something. Get the book, not knowing entirely why, but knowing it’s going to be important. Devour it, letting the words and stories and experiences wash over you like a tidal wave. And then, respond. 

When I ordered Eugene Peterson’s The Pastor, I wasn’t expecting my heart to find a home there. I wasn’t expecting to suddenly realize that this book expresses, clarifies, and confirms so much of what has felt both called and disconnected in my own heart for so many seasons. As I wrote in a letter, attempting to describe this joy and confirmation:

“You know how it is once you admit something that you’ve been unsure of inside of yourself for a long time and all of a sudden it just seems to make sense? That’s what reading Eugene’s book was for me. Verbalized a lot of things I have discredited inside of myself because no one ever gave me words for them before
Outside of God, I can’t explain it, but I do know that whatever happens from here on out, and whatever form it takes, somehow there is nothing I am more deep-heart excited about than serving, loving, and growing with the Church. Nothing sounds more challenging. And nothing sounds more worth it.
I know I am young and I have so much to learn, and life experience has taught me not to get excited or have dreams or hope for things or ask for things. I am excited about this. I am hopeful about this. Learning to verbalize my dream is helping me to find a new joy in reading, praying, and living – and even to be challenged by the vastness of what I don’t know and seeing how growing as a disciple of Christ is going to be a series of small arrivals as He continues to stir up and turn over the rock-riddled soil in my heart.”

The steps of becoming that this book is inspiring in me have been beyond expectation. Writing that letter sparked a conversation which was more honest than any I’ve ever had about these dreams that I have. And in that conversation, my heart was encouraged and affirmed and given space to continue growing. I am beginning to take the first small steps of doing, when up until now thinking and understanding have always seemed more important. And the joy in finally doing what your heart and soul were made to do is so indescribably full. All I can do right now is stand in awe, feeling just as thoroughly unqualified as Jeremiah and David and Moses. Who, through their following, didn’t turn out so bad in the long run.

Relatable Scenario B: When a close friend asks you to pray for a friend of theirs who is facing a tough season, step in. Don’t stop at the “Yeah, of course I’ll pray for them, mmmm, that sounds so hard” response. Recognize that perhaps you are being asked to be part of the answer to that prayer. You have unique gifts and resources, and you are being asked to actually do something about the needs of this person who up to this point has been only a marginal acquaintance.

When I sent the message I knew I had been asked to send, I knew I couldn’t control how it would be received or anticipate what it would mean. But this simple act of obedience has become a wellspring of blessing. I have since had the opportunity to meet with this incredible young woman. I was able see firsthand her passion and vision for the work God is calling her to do, and to be encouraged by her affirmations of what He’s been doing in my own heart, and to feel thoroughly blessed and humbled by the opportunity to partner with her in the next steps of her journey.
I’m learning that the absolute best kind of generosity is the relational kind. As much as I wanted obedience to look like writing a facebook message and sending a gift from the comfort of my own home, the beauty of generosity is the way that it calls us into each other’s circumstances as we begin bearing one another’s burdens and learning to walk the road together. Give as freely as you have received, all the while praising God from whom all blessings flow.

movement IV – benediction
“whatever may pass. whatever lies before me. let me be singing when the evening comes”

there are no clean endings or conclusions to these stories. all that is left is to continue living, to continue sharing our stories, and to remember. there is always a reason to sing.

i will sing, sing, sing to my God, my King
for all else fades away
and i will love, love, love, with this heart You’ve made
for You’ve been good always

Where There Is Darkness, Let There Be Light

with 2 comments

Wake up, wake up, Oh sleeper from the dead, Wake up
Rejoice you lonely and lost, you sick and despised, all will be made right.

Our cultural mythology is saturated with images of awakening what has long been asleep, welcoming home the lost and lonely, and reclaiming beauty from dust. When I saw Gungor in concert at the House of Blues in San Diego, the senses of awakening, welcoming, and reclaiming were powerfully present. It ranks as one of the most beautiful live entertainment experiences I’ve ever had. As I was riding home from the concert, there was so much in my head and on my heart. I struggled earlier in the night to find words to tell my friends how I was feeling, so I searched my purse for a pen, and unable to find one I began writing a text to myself in a desperate effort to express myself. Here’s what came out. It’s a bit raw, but I think it says a bit of what I mean:

The sheer joy of joining with the original creator(s) in the live act of creation. The redemption of all things. The pain of years of awful music, the ache of years of empty art. A celebration in the most beautiful way of the God who enters into relationship with our despicable broken selves. The pure heart of one whose scars speak of healing and restoration, of making all things new through the grace at the foot of the cross/throne, the message that it didn’t end with it all being easy or clear or resolved, but with a profound sense that it had all been worth it. The art elevated it above other experiences, and the passion to partner with Christ in creation was awe inspiring. The willingness to lay such powerful and profitable gifts at the foot of the cross was more than they could have easily been asked to give. It’s not about celebrity worship, it’s about welcoming the estranged patellas back into the body and giving the stiffened limbs freedom to move, to once again dance with joy and passion before the king.

To me, this somehow managed to say everything it needed to say. But for those who don’t live inside my mind (ok, that’s everyone!) I’d like to explain a bit more.

This concert spoke to aches and deep pains I’ve carried for a long time. I’ve written before about how I’ve often been frustrated with the quality of musicianship in church music. I remember going to churches growing up and coming home in tears because the music was so far from reflecting the passion and beauty that was the God I longed to see. On the other side, I’ve gone to dozens of “secular” concerts and been floored by the quality of the music and production, but ultimately left feeling unfulfilled. The music awakened an ache to connect to something beautiful, but never quite followed through with an answer. To see the band which has made some of the most beautiful worship music I’ve ever heard playing in a mainstream concert venue like the House of Blues was wonderfully redemptive, speaking into the desire to see God and music working together rather than being at odds with each other.

Why see this concert live, rather than just keep listening to the CD by myself? Partnership. Community. A sense that something beautiful was created in that moment, never to be replicated, and that the live act of creation was a partnership between the band and the audience and the creator of all things. And being able to witness the incredible musical gifts of the entire band (lead guitar, bass, drums, banjo, cellos, violin, keyboards, glockenspiel, and all the other cameo instruments) made me realize – they don’t have to be doing this. All of these people are talented enough to be able to headline a successful indie rock band if they were willing to live under a different banner, write songs about relationships and why they’re great and why they’re tough and why bars are awesome. But that’s not the life they chose. They took their gifts, and they did something that mattered. That was humbling and inspiring.

The structure of the concert – four movements from Creation, The Fall, The Bride, and Re-Creation, was a powerful heart journey. Not all of it was easy to swallow. The beauty was present, but so were the scars. The journey through our triumphs and failures made it clearer to see that every part had been absolutely essential to the whole, worth the pain even. By the time they returned to sing “Beautiful Things” as an encore, I had a new understanding of what it means to be in relationship with a God who makes beautiful things out of us. How even in the midst of the most acute awareness of our brokenness, He is creating life out of chaos, reminding us that this is not the end, and guiding us to the messiah who will make all things new.

When I was first writing I didn’t know why I picked the patella for an analogy, it was simply the first part to come to my mind. As I continued tapping letters into my phone, I realized that in many ways, the patella is exactly what the arts often become to the life of the church. A body part that is never the first to come to mind or the one all the heroic stories are written about, but which serves a beautifully vital role in the life of the whole. Yes, we can clump around on our stiffened limbs all we want, plodding through life in a utilitarian, functional manner, pretending we never feel the urge to bend. But isn’t life so much more beautiful when we bend our knees? Beautiful music bends our knees in all sorts of ways – calling us into reverent moments of awe and wonder, and giving us the freedom to dance and allow our bodies to say what our mouths cannot. My prayer is that we will not simply keep music as part of a checklist, or ever take it for granted, but that we would allow it to call us to bend our knees, in reverence, and in joy.

And that the music would always be there to remind us that this is not the end.

Written by Taylor Webster

March 19, 2012 at 11:28 am

Wedding Season

with 15 comments

Something is happening to my friends. In the last four to six weeks, I’ve seen more than ten updates on Facebook, all advertising the same state of euphoria. [I almost inserted a witty remark akin to “No, I’m not talking about Tebowmania…” then decided I don’t want to be that kind of writer.] It seems that lately the engagement bug is spreading like the plague. And it makes sense. If you want your next step in life after college to be marriage, then you get engaged in December and spend your senior spring planning a lovely summer wedding. Engagement is a validation of the months or years you’ve spent in relationship with this person, working hard to determine whether you are ready to give the whole of your lives to each other. It is a beautiful step in the journey to lifelong relationship and covenant, and I’m truly excited to support some dear friends as they embark on this journey.

Even so, as a lady who has spent the last three and a half years in a state of persistent singleness, all this talk of weddings is at times a bit hard to take. In the spirit of honesty and openness, I’ll confess that initially it brings up all of the old frustrations which stem from a place of jealousy and are reinforced by a persistent societal inferiority. It is frustrating to have desires for oneness, closeness, and companionship left unfulfilled. It is frustrating to go out alone and feel like restaurants, movie theaters, and even grocery stores are not designed to be enjoyed by the single. It is frustrating to pursue close friendship with those who devote so much emotional energy to romantic pursuits that they have little time left for friends. It is frustrating to feel personally and socially incomplete. In short, it is frustrating to know that there is space in your soul for deep union with another and to feel the ache of that space being left untouched, especially as it seems your friends are getting something you’re not.

And then I realize, this is ridiculous. I’m twenty years old. I can’t even buy myself a glass of wine in which to drown my sorrows.  I’m far too young to be a bitter old maid. Because being single does not make me incomplete. My friends who devote so much of themselves to these relationships aren’t trying to hurt me or alienate me. I didn’t blow my one shot at eternal happiness by not dating in college. The whole idea that the purest happiness comes from marriage undermines the truth that the only way to fill that empty space is through genuine union with the heart of Jesus. That ache, that loneliness, that frustration, and that persistent sense that something is missing is more than the desire for a husband, it is the desire for a savior. And the gift of ultimate redemption, of being welcomed into the kingdom as one deeply beloved, is not reserved for the married. As John Newton wrote centuries ago, to the married and unmarried alike:

 The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

Why then, with such a beautiful and permanent promise, do I have any cause for worry or fear? Perhaps it’s because for a while it seems I’ve been told that my husband is out there waiting for me as I wait for him, that I’m absolutely entitled to a lifetime of marital bliss, and that just when I stop looking, that soulmate will come along and take away all of the ache and all of the loneliness.

These promises come from easily-resolved chick flicks, churches reinforcing the American concept of family above all else, fairytales in school, and even the examples of relatives and family friends. Somehow, I just haven’t managed to find many single folks to fill the role of mentor in my life. And while I’m grateful to have received personal and spiritual direction from married folks, I can’t help but feel a piece of my education is missing. Paul writes time and time again about how he thinks that it is better for man to remain single and how those who are married face many difficulties which often make it more challenging to pursue wholehearted service. And yet, it often feels as though all we see are announcements of weddings, celebrations of births, and the creation of a culture in which singleness is more of a disease to be cured than a gift to be valued. 

The body is bigger and more beautiful than any of that. It is not a place for married couples to meet other married couples and raise their kids and talk about their retirement plans. It is not a place for single people to meet other single people and get married so they can raise their kids and talk about their retirement plans. It is where single people and married folks find common ground and enter into life together. Yes, we rejoice at a wedding, but a wedding should plant a seed for deeper engagement with the kingdom and the community, not push the couple into focusing so much on their own relationship and family that they are no longer able to reach out.  And just as we take joy from a wedding, we should also rejoice when a man who is not bound to wife makes a commitment to devote his time, talents, energy and resources in an entirely different but equally valuable way to the contributions of the family man. It hurts our culture to elevate one state of being above all others, whether it is dating or single or thin or old or young or intellectual or artistic. We need everybody. Together. 

So, to my single brothers and sisters, take heart. Not everyone gets married right after college. More importantly, not everyone gets married at all. You are not an empty, unfulfilled, shell of a human being. You have been given a gift in this moment, a lifestyle and perspective that is different and valuable and important to be shared with your single and married friends alike. And, most important of all, you are not alone. The love and completeness you desire is offered freely by the your soul’s redeemer whether you marry or not. The church is more than just a place to meet your husband or wife, it is a place to form deep and authentic relationships with the body which challenge you in spiritual and personal growth. Some of you are called to singleness for a lifetime, others for just a season. But wherever you are, don’t imagine that the married folks are getting off easy, are completely fulfilled, or no longer desire your friendship. Take the hard step of reaching out, engaging with and learning from those who have been given a different gift. Your married friends still need you. And you still need them.

To the church, it’s been too long that we’ve seem marriage preached as the ultimate fulfillment and encouraged pastoral matrimony to the point where single leadership in the faith is hard to come by. I’ve visited at least a dozen churches in the past year, and engaged with half a dozen others through podcasts and blogs. I cannot remember a single church from the bunch that was not led by a married man. There are nearly three times as many books on Amazon written for Christian couples as there are for Christian singles (and even fewer for singles who aren’t trying to find a spouse). Our attitude, our culture, has got to change. Henri Nouwen, one of the most inspiring and encouraging, honest and genuine authors of the faith I’ve encountered, was celibate and single his entire life. The Apostle Paul never married, and yet authored a substantial portion of the New Testament. Many of the saints never married. Are we to assume that there was something wrong with them? Or is it possible that they were simply fulfilling the call of God in their life in the same way those who married young desire to do? Lift up the singles in your congregation, not as oddities, but as treasures. Encourage a life of singleness with the same ferocity you devote to the pursuit of healthy marital relationships. God loves the artist and the businessman, the explorer and the homemaker, and the husband and the monk with equal passion, and has placed a unique calling in each of their hearts with purpose and intention.Who are we to say any of those gifts are of lesser value or need to be replaced by a more socially encouraged gift?

And to my dear friends who are dating, engaged, or married, let me first say that I truly admire, applaud, and respect the path you’re on. It takes incredible devotion and strength of character, honesty and commitment, forgiveness and love, hope and faith to sustain such a close relationship between two people. The journey towards a lifetime of healthy commitment is far from simple or easy. I cannot pretend to understand the joys and sacrifices which comprise your relationship with your beloved. But I would, from my heart, ask you to remember that your beloved is only a part of the fullness of life God has in store for you. Fullness derived from engagement in community in which you have not chosen or been chosen by every member, community comprised of the sorts of folks with whom you would never have elected to spend the rest of your life, but are part of your family nonetheless. Keep a place in your heart for your single friends, even when it seems easier to hang out with other couples or spend most of your time with your spouse. Let your relationship bring you closer to God as you learn new ways to engage His heart together, and then share what you’ve learned with the body. Marriage is a public ceremony for a reason – the covenant is also with the community, and your responsibility to your community is just as important as your duties to your spouse.

In closing, some words from the blog of Andrew Arndt, pastor of Bloom Church in Denver. The original post can be found here

I also tried to draw attention to the fact that Jesus seems to think that marriage is not for everyone (this was the point that got the most response, especially out of our heavily singled crowd).  When the disciples say to him, “In that case, it is better not to be married!”, Jesus doesn’t reply by saying, “Oh no no no, marriage is great and everyone should do it!”  Rather, he says, “You’re right.  But some have been given the call to be married, and those who have should accept.”  This is basically similar to what Paul says in 1 Co 7.  ”Each has his own gift from God…”

So marriage is a high calling

And so is singleness

Both have an indispensable place in the church

My concluding points from all of this reflection were these…

1) Being single is not evidence of some kind of pathology, which is exactly the way we treat it in the modern church.  ”Married” is the normal mode of sexual life, and “single” is abnormal.  So we create “singles ministries” in the hopes of “ministering to the special needs” of single people.  This is exactly backwards from the early church, which understood that singleness was the “normal” mode of life for God’s new people in Christ, since, unlike Judaism, the religion didn’t grow by procreation but by witness and conversion.  You’ve heard it said, “God has no grandchildren”.  And that’s right.  So if you’re single, I said, EMBRACE THE MOMENT.  God may call you to be married, but you ought to carpe diem and give yourself over to the purposes of God in the very rich and marvelous way that Paul commends in 1 Co 7.

Carpe diem indeed, friends. Let’s go change some hearts.

(And for those of you who may not know much about blogging, I can’t tell you the difference a simple comment and willingness to engage makes to us lonely typists out there. Write back if you agree. Write back if you’re angry. Write back if you lost interest halfway through. But anytime you read a blog. Write back.)

Written by Taylor Webster

January 12, 2012 at 2:07 pm

Resurrection

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An introduction to posts about God:

I do not write from a desire to convert the reader or appear pious and full of answers. I can only speak the truth of my own experience. I’m writing for the curious, the athiest, the doubter and the churchgoing evangelist. The desire to connect to something greater than ourselves is something we all have in common. Thank you for exploring this with me.

It’s my fourth week going to Emmaus Road Church. Churchgoing is still a habit I’m trying to get into. In my past I’ve been let down by churches and church leaders more times that I’d care to count. But I’m learning that it’s time to forgive. It’s time to own this faith I claim. It’s time to go back to the church.

I believe that this time of young adulthood is the time to strengthen, own, and define what you believe. For me, that means making the church experience my own. Searching for teachings that are full of truth and a community full of hope. So far, Emmaus is going well.

This morning we studied Philippians 3. It’s a powerful passage. Take a look:

7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Paul was talking about how he had achieved everything a man could be expected to achieve. He was a Jew in the purest sense of tradition and faultless in the eyes of the law.

But this isn’t what mattered. Paul was willing to die to all these things to come alive in Christ. He wanted to be resurrected into a life where not everything had been attained, but where he had the freedom to turn towards Jesus and lean into the future. A future full of life.

The funny thing about resurrection is, you have to die first.

That’s hard to hear. But in thinking about it, it makes sense. We’re not ready for it, when it happens. We ask God to save us, and the balk at the ways in which he asks us to die to our own achievements or the things we prize most.

I’ve fought the idea of dying to myself. I don’t know when God started the process.  But recently the pain of dying, watching what I have always held most dear, considered my top priority and greatest strength, crumble at my feet has had an incredible power in bringing me to my knees.

It  is only in light of our own weakness that we are able to accept God’s strength. When we live convinced we are capable of solving our own problems, there is no need for God in our lives. In the past month I’ve seen more powerfully than ever before a God who is willing to raise me up. A God who says that this time of death is not the final word. A God who promises life beyond pain.

God is hope. When we take on the sufferings of Christ and die to ourselves, we are creating the opportunity for resurrection into a new life. The glory of pain is in the opportunity to heal.

Written by Taylor Webster

February 6, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Posted in Life of the Spirit

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