twentybydesign

the life and times of a twenty year old designer

Posts Tagged ‘community

(seven weeks) a lenten journal

with one comment

(one)
monday.

all of the Things had been done

and instead of finding peace my heart exploded in a stream of physical fear late night phone calls and in the midst of phrases unuttered and hearts drawn into compassion and great aching voids of understanding unwilling to admit that the wrenching came from anything at all being wrong

everything weight, heavy, heavy, heavy

 

another way presented itself
it was treadwatertreadwatertread.
or accept the hand pulling me into the boat

and the thought that perhaps the best way to handle
drowning
wasn’t to keep treading to become a stronger swimmer to fight for every gulp of oxygen
but to realize that maybe
the drowning could be ascribed
to the size of the ocean
and indicated no fault in the strength of the swimmer

 

on wednesday we all returned to dust
each and every and all

in my weakness, imbalance, humanity

i accepted the invitation into the boat
a clean break
clear start
opening, honesty, redemptive connection

 

it’s impossible to stop drowning if you insist on staying in the water
you’re only delaying the inevitable

a floodgate, an outpouring, made space for grace i couldn’t understand
when the man who knows and keeps the law is wracked with internal shame and guilt and the prostitute shatters her life savings at the feet of an itinerant rabbi
who has found the heart of the matter?

 

sometimes, when you get the queen of hearts, you’ll still have a chance to shoot the moon

 

“i have seen the burden God has laid in men
he has set eternity in the hearts of men
he has made everything beautiful in its time
yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”
-ecclesiastes

 

(two)

a gracious, still space.

a room marked “peace”
a back porch and a basement and a bookshelf
generous company, great faithfulness, rescue and shelter
hope unspoken vows and freedom to move freely
binding beginnings and endings into covenant purposes of friendship

 

space to pause, freedom to live the questions as we are brought through

and yet the snare tugs and much is unprocessed and grace is grating and the space is aching

“i remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall
i well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. 

yet this i call to mind and therefore i have hope:

because  of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail. they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.
i say to myself “the Lord is my portion, therefore i will wait for Him”
-jeremiah’s lamentations

 

(three)

honesty long overdue patches cracks in aging friendships

but stories also confirm
the ship is still sinking

perfect hands dig through the mud
uncovering the precise clay needed
the pot is made to be filled, to be emptied, to be filled again
to be rich with purpose
and always rich with hope

 

boundaries become opportunities
which stop patterns from becoming identities

 

ten days is the longest time, and i am a fraudulent mess

refuge in the smallest cabin on the humblest lake
and it is snowing
and i find it easier to wrestle with You than with myself
as i seek to catch an echo

 

none of us can claim full representation
we are tiles in your mosaic
who need each other as others
 blessed, sacred, rooted in holy solitude

my wandering heart is bound in this goodness and grace
caught up in swirling sacred, i call attention to the mystery and find a tangible freedom

 

“God talks quite audibly before one is created,
then walks in silence beside you into the night.
but the words, before one is given one’s start,
these cloudy words are:
guided by your senses you are sent;
walk to the rim of your desire;
be my attire.

 grow like fire behind the scenes
so your shadows stretch and hover,
becoming my cover.

allow it all to happen:beauty and terror.
just press on! no feeling is an error. but don’t get severed from me.

close is this land,
which one calls life.

you will recognize it by its strife.

take my hand”
– r.m. rilke, the book of the monkish life

 

(four)

we are a covenant people

and as i stand before you this is less about me
and more about us

the pulpit was a life raft
a holy and broken hallelujah
a gift that never had to become an identity

a simple, homemade dinner and a pull out couch
extensions of grace
invitations into a family

 

the war is great
but the field is leveled and the ground is solid
we are not given weapons to show our own finesse
instead it is armor

and we trust the strength of the maker who is present with us
and knows where we will go from here

louisville slugger vision retrospective
return to banjosity
interwoven threads of grace
honest feedback
a scrappy band that refuses to give up
mustard seeds cracking pavement

 

as the tender places heal on this scarred back
even the blanket of grace cuts like burlap

i see it as abrasive, ill-fitting-undeserved
and want to prove i’ll never be able to wear it

the healing is slow, almost imperceptible
nowhere near fast enough for what i need
i feel the old coat will never be shed

faith grows from knowing exactly how much i can’t handle
and trusting that there is one who can

against all hope, abram, in hope, believed”
– the apostle paul, to the romans

 

(five)

to go out in joy

to be sent so full and so assured
to build well and laugh together
to see grace, peace and space

ice cream on the kitchen floor

 

all is quieter, less dramatic than what I’d expect
it is also deeper, truer, and far more beautiful
a sweet and subtle work that tints every moment

in the work of months and years and half a decade
this heart is still being redeemed

 

we test our limits, argue for out limitations
and find grace is the essential fabric of the coat we’re seeking to jettison

suddenly there are stories to tell and the opportunity to stand firm
to fight it by name
to pray out loud
in quivering moments of boldness

 

aching for rest and permanence, transcendence and glory

 

someday every point of rest won’t feel like a waystation
for the time will come to settle and breathe
the dwellings will no longer be temporary

the goal will no longer be onward and upward, but downward and deeper

sacredness is not found on top of a mountain
but in the sweat on our backs and the dirt under our fingernails
we will see glory in the ash from which we are emerging

it will be a good and gentle place to begin a garden together
beauty and nourishment rise form the compost heap

 

as far as the trains could have taken us
we will never see anything more wonderfully bathed in grace and in glory  

 

for i can not be defined by what i will never be

for the foolishness of god is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of god is stronger than man’s strength”
– the apostle paul, to the corinthians

 

(six)

a return to a home all but forgotten

rivers and roads, hills and hollers
mountain air on the front porch
notebooks and guitars and typewriters

 

and it smells like it’s supposed to

 

the bittersweet tears trapped behind the eyes of monday are impossible to find on tuesday

 

from a great height, the clouds look so very substantial
from the ground they block the sun and act outside of our control

but they’ll never be solid
for the sun persists on shining
the world never remains bathed in darkness
the clouds never hold together

it’s fruitless to focus on the strength of the cloud
what it hides from us, or what it’s essential shape and substance is

because when they dissipate, we’ll realize
our lives have been marked as children of light all along
so we study the strength and substance and character of the sun

 

after three years my heart still knows how to breathe here

you are contrast and consolation
beauty and rage and strength
depth and truth and steadfastness

 

it’s a particular grace, to be remembered
amongst a group of people who make a living out of tossing starfish back in the ocean, one at a time

what would seem a daunting choice  has been taken out of my hands

humbled
called to abandon illusory successes
remove the chip form my shoulder
lay down the mantle
stop defending myself
and come and die

 

here at the last i find boasting only in impeccable and present grace
joining in a family for which faith is a lifeline, not a hobby

the miracle in others helps me find it in myself
in my pride, fear, insecurity, mess and humanity
the invitation stands to be exactly myself

to live the story that is being granted to me
to be surprised by parallels, and delight in intersections

vibrant stories
creativity in simplicity

perhaps i wont always have to do the hardest thing i can think of
you are preparing the place for me, and me for the place
it is a beautiful symmetry of liturgy and history
hope and healing and old-time-religion

 

somehow there is still a burr in my heart
a dominant and particular proclivity threatening to jam up
the process of knowing others and becoming known

 

and yet i recall that a month ago i was basking in provision faster and wider and deeper than i could ask or imagine

 

he has walled up my way so that i cannot pass, and he has set darkness upon my paths.
he has stripped from me my glory, and taken the crown from my head.
he breaks me down on every side and i am gone, and my hope he has pulled up like a tree.

i know that my redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
and after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh i shall see god,
i myself will see him with my own eyes – i, and not another.
how my heart yearns within me!
– job

 

(seven)

this week begs for silence.
space.
reverence.

a renewed awareness that nothing in myself will ever quite
fulfill the need for something in which to believe

a twisted ankle humbles
good conversation exalts
in equal and opposite measure

the inclination is to rebuild walls
to withhold to protect
to root out toxicity
to see passion as a fool’s errand

because i cannot keep working so very hard
to not be who i am

i cannot stand as judge and jury and prosecution and accused

and the necessity for a living sacrifice becomes painfully clear

“thistled ground, tomb of my love, heart torn apart  coming God, soften the soil tend now the scars
‘love’, you said, poured out like wine, broken like bread waken us, enliven our minds, unearth the dead

rend this heart of stone and mend it into flesh and let your love bring me to life 
yield this hardened earth until a garden spills the ground and brings us back to life 

open, your love breaks us open  resurrects a garden, a garden “
the liturgists, garden

 

(day one)

 

 

everything. is. new.

emerging from an evening of doubt and fear and uncertainty
radiant, sure, strong hope

the tension of a heart that longs to go without having to leave
but is inclined to leave before it is time to go

placed beautifully in context

which reminds me of the following:
seriousness is  not a fruit of the spirit –  but joy is
the world will never again be flooded with a deluge, an extinction – but with overwhelming light and grace
that partnership and purpose and pure personal happiness are gifts –  not essential rights
that heart and family and community and hope will always carry human tension – but can also be the seat of remarkable peace
that our struggle is not against the overwhelming circumstance –  but against the lies the accuser brings into the circumstance
and that even as our hearts are bent against god –  death has been defeated and the lies no longer define us

 

like the resurrection day coming so close after good friday
the grace of this season was all precisely unexpected

though it met exact needs perfectly
though i had been promised it was coming
could not see these graces on the horizon until they were within tangible reach

how much more do we miss because our expectations are limited
to what we can see and feel and touch and understand
unable to see that in two days time our greatest joy will be born out of our greatest sorrow

 

the personal identifiers, the sources of strength
carpentry. liturgy. banjosity.
are being haltingly submitted to hopes of
community. spirituality. service.

this is bittersweet victory
which stems from a strength not my own
and stands to calm the waters such that
the stormy point of ending yields
to a graceful beginning

where less is resolved
less is defined
and more and more is held in hope
and shaped by grace

 

“my eyes have seen the glory of the coming Lord
i
t looks like streets restored after the vicious war
my eyes have seen the glory of the coming Lord
i
t looks like God’s own feet walking along these floors.

my God, you move, and everything is new
the world is changed, never the same
the light has come bearing your name
the dawn that’s breaking in the East shines upon the least of these
and soon, everything is new

 

glory, glory, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah”
-tim coons, everything is new/battle hymn

Written by Taylor Webster

April 21, 2014 at 9:02 pm

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. 

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

carpenter’s gospel

with one comment

This is the story of a table. It was nearing the end of another summer week. And we had been building this table for probably, I don’t know, a week and a half.

And I was Done. D.O.N.E. DONE. When my boss pulled out the sander and asked me to go over it a third time, I just about gave up.

For context: The table was probably the  most complicated thing we built all summer. The top was 3′ x 8′, the legs and lid were each only 3″ thick, there were no center supports, and a person (possibly several) needed to be able to stand on it. It had to be a level surface on a raked stage. It needed to look like the entire thing was carved from a block of solid marble. And it had to be lightweight enough that a respectable team of human beings could move it into place. And somehow, this complicated carpentry project taught me about God’s love in a way that was pure, tangible, and real. This is the story of a table.


Our TD had designed a brilliant structure of interlocking supports, which was light and strong and took about three times as much prep and layout work as anything we usually build.  The skin was triple-glued in place, and instead of our usual RockHard wood putty, we filled all the staples with Bondo. Which. Is usually used to repair dents in automobiles. This is legit stuff. 

We are built strong. Our composition is no mere happenstance – we are the result of careful planning, and every part of us is designed to fit together perfectly. We are not haphazardly nailed together with the cheapest materials available. Each piece of us is lovingly prepared to serve as part of a greater whole. And with the greatest attention to detail, we are built to be strong enough to support much more than we would appear to be capable of.

No matter how tight and clean our carpentry is, we use staples to ensure the strength of  even on the most neatly interlocking pieces. In order to attach the pieces together, we used a pneumatic staple gun, which ensures a firm bond, but also leaves a tiny scar on the surface. We had a couple hundred staple indentations on the face of this table, and each one was covered with a small glob of a repair putty that is designed to dry strong as steel. 

Scars are part of our composition. The layout and carpentry can be modeled after a perfect and strong design, but the fasteners we use to hold ourselves together often leave scars we’d rather not acknowledge. Our souls are covered in tiny wounds where we have attempted in vain to attach ourselves back together. We are convinced that these marks are of no great significance, and that we can carry on just fine as we are. God takes a different approach. No matter how small the scar, He applies balm to our wounds. Using the strongest, most permanent reconstructive adhesives, He applies more than we need, providing abundance where we had only known deficiency.


And then comes the sanding. The first, roughest pass is simply to remove all of the lumps of Bondo that stand above the smooth surface. This can take several discs of 60 grit sandpaper, the kind designed for aggressive removal. For us, this part took the better part of an afternoon.

After he has healed the wounds on the surface, great and small, acknowledged and ignored, there is still work to be done. We cannot simply say “Well, the holes are filled, I’ll thank you for your time and leave it at that!” There are leftovers, pieces we no longer need, remnants from our healing that our now extraneous. No one leaves a bandage on a would that has been long healed – and yet, somehow we are tempted to hold on to these bandages as proof of our healing, rather than allow the roughness of the sandpaper to liberate us from the memories of our wounds.

I thought, “Well, that’s smooth enough. Dinner time!” But my boss smiled, pulled out the 100 grain sandpaper, and told me we were going to go over it again, for finishing’s sake. 

It is not enough to take the quickest, roughest approach. The minute we consider ourselves finished, we are choosing to distance ourselves from God’s work in our lives. We are far too often tempted to give up. To say that we have learned enough, that we have recieved enough love and grace, that we are healed enough, that we are close enough to that glorious marble table we’ve been built to become. In doing so we sell ourselves short, and rob God of his power in calling us into his family as new creations, healed and whole.

Even as I had reached the end of my rope and nearly worked through my patience, I patted myself on the back for completing the finishing. Well. I thought it was complete. Turns out, there are imperfections the first round of finish sanding doesn’t pick up. It then becomes necessary to go over the piece with a damp cloth to raise up the grain of the wood, and finish sand it again with an even finer grain of sandpaper. So I went over the table. Again

The metaphor came to me as I was nearing the end of the last round of sanding, and it was so beautiful I nearly burst into tears. I don’t often hear direct phrases from God. But this time, between passes with the disc sander, I heard quite clearly “Aren’t you glad this is how I have chosen to work on you?”

It’s true. It’s so, so true.  The prophet and savior who spent his formative years as a carpenter knew how to finish tables to the highest standard. And he is committed to going over us again and again, no matter how many times it takes, carefully raising the grain we didn’t even know was there, and gently sanding off the rougher bits, until we are left with a surface that  bears no blemish. Our deepest wounds, the places which required the most Bondo to fill, are now the strongest parts. 
The beauty of the sanding process is that whether you start off with a hunk of driftwood or a 2×4 from the lumberyard, both will require sanding to become smooth as marble. And whether we are a storm-tossed log or a nearly-finished piece of lumber, God will go over our hearts again, and again, and again until His work in us is complete. I asked a co-worker if it was really necessary to raise the grain and do a last pass with the sander. He said “Right now, you’ve got it pretty smooth. If you raise the grain and go over again, it’ll be like glass.” Here’s to never settling for pretty smooth, and to believing in the one that will make us shine like stars.

In the paint shop, several layers of patient faux marble treatment combined with a few good coats of glossy sealer finished off a table that, under stage lights, is indistinguishable from a smooth marble countertop. 

The final step of the transformation is one we were not able to affect without a bit of theatre magic. But I believe that in this story, though our highest ambition on Earth may indeed be to become a beautiful facsimile of a marble countertop, we will one day be pure and clean, finished and whole. We will know why we were built strong. We will see our imperfections fully healed. We will know why it was worth so much effort to continue the work of finishing us. And we will be perfect images of the One in whose image we are made. This may be the story of a table. But it is also the story of us.

“In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Hallelujah. And Amen.

Written by Taylor Webster

August 28, 2013 at 8:44 pm

ashen valentines

with 2 comments

On Wednesday, followers of Christ around the world gathered in public meeting places for a time of quiet, stillness, and reflection, preparing for a forty day journey of repentance. Ash-marked foreheads bore witness throughout the day, reminding us that we are dust, and to dust we shall return.

On Thursday, an awkwardly American holiday called forth extravagant displays of romantic love, outpourings of friendship, consumption of sweets and celebration of our interconnectedness.

And somehow, experiencing the two one after the other was stunningly harmonious.

Hear me out on this. Nobody ever said love made sense.

Here’s where I’ve been, going in to this week.

A year ago, Wedding Season was a beautiful opportunity for me to open a constructive dialogue on the role of the single soul in the life of the community.  I had no idea at the time how far the journey would take me. I even spent a few months dating near the end of last year. I can absolutely say my perspectives have been challenged to the fullest. I have celebrated some beautiful weddings, grown in friendship with married couples, seen the selfish underpinnings of my own perspectives, walked with dear friends through the seeming valleys of their own singleness, and learned to advocate with greater clarity and understand more personally the deep blessings of vocational singleness. In essence, the struggles I wrote of in Wedding Season have only grown deeper and more complex. But the rewards of engaging deeply have multiplied beyond what I could have expected. 

So, why bring it up again? Is this just my “chew toy,” my pocket subject, my identity-defining different-ness? I’d like to hope not. But lately other things have been making me feel the way my singleness used to make me feel. Sure, some of it’s being excluded from couple-centric dialogue and events, especially with other women. (seriously folks, we all have more in common than boys and babies…) But there’s a lot of things that make it hard for me to relate to other folks. Or for other folks to relate to me, maybe.

I’m the post-grad who still lives and hangs out with college students.

I’m the twenty-two year old managing, leading, designing, and teaching with colleagues who should be my mentors and students who should be my peers.

I’m the bookish, philosophical academic who spends her days in a world of sawdust, paint drips, and welding wire.

I’m the aspiring world changer who faces deep conversational unease in a group larger than two.

I’m the banjo-picking lover of good headphones and multifaceted compositions, at odds with a culture where four chords suffice.

I’m the advocate for radical living who works a 9-5 and has a retirement plan.

In essence. There are things about me that don’t fit. Points of disconnect from the expected. Parts of me that seem especially hard to love, especially to those following any sort of formula. Things I don’t talk about for fear of seeming too different. Actually, it’s scary how good I’ve gotten at not talking about myself. Some folks will tell you I’m a good listener – what that really means is that my own self is so far guarded that it’s easy to create space in the room for someone else’s story. Somewhere along the way I’ve learned that my mess, when shared, will only hurt me (or worse still, whomever I ask to share it with). And so, because of all of these differences and inconsistencies, I’ve almost grown resigned to the idea that i’ll never quite be connected or understood.

Ash Wednesday was beautifully soul-crushing. There, I felt understood all too well. 

What a picture of love. 

To look at us and say “I want you to remember something. I want you to remember who you are and where you came from. You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Sitting in the sanctuary, going through a communal prayer of confession, my own disconnection and unworthiness seemed to ring through the room in rippling echoes. Having just experienced a deep and powerful act of personal reconciliation, my healing heart was still tender, vulnerable and open.

And in response, I was given the gift of being able to look around the campus or across the table, and see a dirty cross distracting me from the face of a friend or loved one, reminding me that no matter what sort of facades we’ve constructed, dust is the summation of our being.  What a powerful common thread. No matter our age or social status or knowledge or power or wealth, we were all raised up from the dust and will someday leave our bodies behind in the dust of this earth. And the great hope we yearn to celebrate on Easter is only powerful in relation to it’s role in lifting us out of ashes, creating beauty from the dust. If we were so very worth loving, Christ’s love for us would have no miraculous or transformative power. 

How powerful, then, to celebrate our love for each other on Valentine’s day?

To take this opportunity to look each other in the eyes and say “I’m thankful that we’re living life together.”
To say “I saw the ashes on your forehead, and I know the darkness in your heart, and I still choose love.”
To say “Let us keep walking together the journey from ashes to ashes.”

Isn’t this all exactly what Christ has said to us?

As a wise, dear friend said to me yesterday, “Sometimes we feel love the best when we are in repentance.” Accepting our own deep brokenness, owning the cry of our souls that rings of desperation, loneliness, and unworthiness, somehow opens the door to forgiveness. As we learn to accept the love we know we don’t deserve, it pours out of our hearts and makes such communal sentimentality as we saw on Thursday possible.

This acknowledgment somehow allowed my lonely, crazy, single, guarded heart to smile yesterday. To taste, and see the goodness overwhelming the bitterness. To see communities connecting in spite of  vast social differences. To hope, in spite of every broken inclination, in a love bigger than my imagination, stronger than marriage and friendship combined, and deeper than the world’s topsoil of ash and dust.

In this time of repentance, may we be compelled to love stronger and deeper than ever before. Thank you all for continuing on the journey with me.

Written by Taylor Webster

February 15, 2013 at 9:15 pm

a baffling level of other-ness

with 2 comments

As most good things do, this bit of writing was inspired by a surge of brilliance from a dear friend, a welcome moment of clarity in a scatterbrained heart to heart. So, all the credit belongs to H,  for an insight that prompted an extended series of interpretations.

The hardest thing in the world to do is to love someone who isn’t like us.

That’s why we favor cliques and affinity groups and soul mates and best friends. We long to find those who will validate our existence simply by being like us. We shape our careers around those who share our passions and dreams, we build our lives on a foundation of people who know where we’re coming from and want to walk with us into where we’re going. We want to be known and loved and valued and not as different as we know and feel that we are.

And yet. In spite of our preferences and predilections and comfort zones and levels of experience and cultural upbringings. Whatever we have about us that validates us personally, gives us a level of confidence, competence, or certainty. No matter how all-together we feel on a good day.

When we face God, we are all alike in that we face a baffling level of other-ness.  And when he looks at us, He must see creatures that are so woefully unlike Him that they would be completely incapable of carrying on anything resembling a relationship.

In any other relationship, this alone would be cause to have no further interaction. Familiar phrases like…

“He’s not really my type.”
“We just didn’t hit it off.”
“We don’t have anything in common any more.”
“Have you heard what kind of trouble they cause?”
“I can’t believe  they’d say/do/believe something like that.” 

are all accepted as quite valid excuses to cut short our relationships with each other, or never to start them in the first place. When a friend gives us these excuses, we nod and smile and wish better luck next time in the quest to find the perfect friend/mate/community  where they will find sameness and commonality and love…right?

It seems so often we expect the same from God. As though he is standing on some distant pedestal, scoffing at our efforts, waiting until we have it all together and we are enough like him to be worth his time.

And that. That. That is not true, my friends.

God took on the challenge most of us refuse to approach. Looking at us, in full recognition of our otherness and the potential for separation that may cause, He reached across the barrier of our humanity. Unable to wait for us to be enough like Him to be worth His time, He became like us. 100% human.

That is what it took to change everything. The kind of love that abandons right and privilege and comfort for the risks of true connection.

As a twenty-something woman who is single, recently graduated from college, engaged in an ever deepening relationship with my local church, and wondering where the trades of design, carpentry, ministry, banjo music and teaching all collide, let me say unreservedly. I am beyond eager to find others like me.

It seems my particular combination of talents and interests is not altogether common (is anyone’s….?) and I often dream of what it would be like to meet someone who not only thinks my passions are interesting novelties worth contemplating, but vital and important and worth pursuing together. If any of you have already met this clan of smoky-mountain-dwelling, flannel-wearing, book-devouring, folk-music-playing, theatrically minded, local-church-serving, carpentry-appreciating monks and nuns, you let me know.

But  (at least in my two decades of experience) it seems such a perfect community is only reserved for our mental images. So we’ve got to stop asking the real world to be like that. And I think part of that has to be expanding our willingness to engage with the dreadfully frightening “other.”

How would it transform our workplaces, homes, places of worship, if they were not simply safe spaces for like-minded folks to find refuge, but radical communities where those who appear to have nothing in common find love and encouragement at a shared table? What if friendships between the poor and the powerful,  the parents and the childless, the academic and the laborer, the musician and the biologist, the recent graduates and those long past retirement, the athlete and the artist, became not the stuff of fantasy but the fabric of our everyday life?

I had the privilege over winter break to attend a global conference with 16,000 young people where we participated in arena-style worship, sang in multiple languages, listened to testimonies from young and old, students and professionals, missionaries and everyday saints, Kenyans and Brazilians and Canadians. It was a big, crazy mess of people, and my introverted self was often overwhelmed by the sheer size of it all. But beautifully so. Because it was so much bigger than my imagination of what the church could look like.

And what was most wonderful was not the times when I met other people who are the same kind of crazy that I am (though I was grateful to meet other artists, sing some folksy hymns in English, and meet others working in the grad student/faculty sphere). The most beautiful thing was to see God moving across so many languages and cultures and preferences and styles and backgrounds. Chasing us across all the chasms we see dividing ourselves, and calling us back together as one big, beautiful family.

So, friends. Even as we all have unique strengths and giftings that deserve strong encouragement. Even as we all find ourselves in a particular stage of life that demands the support of companions along the way. Even as we are tempted to take pride in our own individuality or despair in our inability to find deep-soul companionship. May we accept the calling to love those who do not appear to be at all like us, reaching into the world as our Father has done, seeing no barrier capable of preventing a new, deep, surprising, and breathtaking love.

And may we find that, as one conference speaker so beautifully put it, that the party we have been long searching for can already be found in the house of our Father. That the hope, encouragement, and support we seek from sameness would be radically multiplied in our interactions with those we see as others. And that those seeking the Kingdom would know us by our surprising love for one another.

Written by Taylor Webster

January 20, 2013 at 5:55 pm