twentybydesign

the life and times of a twenty year old designer

Posts Tagged ‘faith

Dwelling Place

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New post over at Appalachian Ginger for those who haven’t transitioned over yet!

This one is on making a dwelling place, and has a lovely but of poetic flow.

Thanks for joining the journey!

http://t.co/79zQNsulzO

Written by Taylor Webster

October 12, 2014 at 7:03 am

walking in the rain

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As has become my custom this summer, I set out to walk the mile and a half to my afternoon coffee meeting rather than fire up my SUV for the journey. I love the walk, it winds through a beautiful part of my neighborhood, big old trees and creeks and streams, well kept-houses, my very favorite local church, and a stretch of busy road that makes me glad I’m experiencing the road at four miles an hour rather than forty. It only takes half an hour, and provides good time to think, pray, listen, and breathe some fresh air. I’ve fallen in love with my neighborhood in this way – in taking the time to see and smell and feel this particular patch of earth. Sometimes I take this walk on sunny days, and on those days it’s advantageous to know the oases along the way, shade trees for resting and streams for cooling down toasty toes.

 


 

Today, it is raining. Not violently or tempestuously, but steadily and often substantially. Rain makes me want to put on some Sigur Ros, drink tea and read something dense. It would be easy to simplify the journey, save some time and effort, and take the four mile drive. But I’m looking forward to this walk, and I know that in saving time, I’ll also lose an opportunity to see another side of the neighborhood. So I pull on a hooded sweatshirt, shake out my umbrella, strap on my Chacos, and set out on the journey.

Along the way my pace slows considerably. On hot summer days I take the walk pretty quickly, so as to avoid sunburns and reach the next bit of shade as soon as possible. I don’t like being very hot for very long. Today, the rain allows me the time to notice how, from the right angle, the old trees form an arch across the road that obscures the buildings and makes the neighborhood look like a forest. The rain challenges me to turn off my music and listen to its own particular rhythms. And my ritual stop at the stream to cool my feet becomes an opportunity to wash off all the debris my soggy sandals have collected. It is good to be in this place. As cars rush past, windows rolled up, climates controlled, pace ruled by the rhythm of traffic, I can’t help but wonder if they know how much they’re missing. 

 


 

It’s essential, somehow, to learn to love the road when it’s raining. Not to see the rain as an inhibition or inconvenience, something we have to protect ourselves from and rush through as quickly as possible, but to see the rain-soaked world as a space that is just as valid for an honest journey as the blue-skied paradise we Coloradans get to experience 300+ days a year. We’ve worked as hard as possible to control our environments, to make sure our experience of the world is exactly the same regardless of climate or temperature. But if we spend the rainy season wishing for the sunshine, we’ll miss an opportunity to move through this time at the pace of our own two feet, to see the depth and beauty and humble sadness of a world where the rain is still fresh. I loved the rain today, precisely because it was, without hope or agenda – immersive, arresting, and revealing another shade of glory on the trail I thought I knew so well.

I’m sad to be leaving this place, because I’ve seen so much sunshine here. Rays of light and goodness and glory, moments that bestow hope and purpose and joy. But I’ve also seen seasons of rain, and loved them in equal measure. Somehow they show the road with honesty, washing away the illusion of invincibility and omnipotence. And they is part of what I’ve loved about the last five years, and so I’m sad to be leaving that too. 

 


 

Often, learning to see Him in the rain is the only way to know He’s here. His love for us is not confined to the sunshine, to the clarity, to the easy paths and bright moments. He is equally present in the rain, the inconvenience, the confusion, the obscurity, the washing away and the vital refreshing. He dances in the fresh and bewildering downpour, even as He delights in the new shoots of life this deluge calls forth. This rain is not simply valuable for what it produces, but for the exact beauty of what it is. 

O my heart, learn to love this place, even if it feels like a season of interminable, bittersweet rain, because He is Here. And because, in the midst of all of it, He Is. 

 

 

Written by Taylor Webster

July 30, 2014 at 11:34 pm

Wedding Season, 2014 (a toast)

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As anyone in twenty-something stage of life knows, summer is Wedding Season. The sun in shining, the birds are singing, and happy couples across the country are tying the knot with vibrant, festive enthusiasm. And the friends and family of these couples are caught up in the tidal wave of bridal showers, engagement parties, bachelorette parties, ceremonies, and receptions. I’m a couple years removed from college, so my friends are really starting to kick things into gear. It’s been four for me this season, including a three-weddings-in-ten-day stretch that inaugurated and defined my July.

All of these festivities made me think of a post of mine from a couple years ago. You can read Wedding Season if you’d like – I still think there’s some wisdom there, even though it was written before I started going to 4+ weddings a summer. This time I’d like to reflect on what a rich experience this wedding season has been, and on the marathon of the last ten days in particular.

If you didn’t click through to the last post, I’ll give you a bit of a background. I’m 23 now, and I think I’ve been to about ten weddings since then, and there’s never been anything to interfere with my single-gal status at these shindigs. I’ve written a fair bit about singleness, some about the engagement bug, but very little about the weddings themselves.

If we’re talking liturgical philosophy, I’ll give you an earful about how the commercialization of weddings and the elevation of the romance narrative is part of a cultural downward spiral of dire significance. But I’d be remiss in ignoring the way in which weddings also play a vital role in combating the tide of cynicism in our world. I can’t pinpoint what it was about this stretch of weddings in particular that I enjoyed so much, so I’m going to try to give you a series of vignettes to capture the week, to share with you something of what it was:

 

It was being my mother’s date to the wedding of my oldest friend, sitting at the table with our first-grade teacher and sharing stories, dancing and laughing and catching up with a family I hadn’t seen all together in nearly ten years. 

It was the fusion of modern zest for life with reverence for tradition, as old hymns, familiar scriptures, and well-aged liturgies ushered in the beginning of decidedly new, twenty-first-century marriages.

 

It was the bachelorette party that was a celebration of friendship and sisterhood, a poignant good-bye to a way of life as we prepared to send the bride halfway across the country. 

It was reuniting a crew of crazies and blasting 95.7 The Party so that we could get our groove on because we knew that at the end of the two hour drive, this wedding wasn’t going to have dancing. 

It was the ceremony where I got to sit next to my best friend, the gal whose imagination during the ceremony turned towards “When you have your own church someday…” rather than “When we’re planning your wedding…” and feeling known, loved, and immensely grateful to be sharing life with someone so wonderful.

It was the way the bride and groom, finding themselves at the end of nine months of long-distance engagement, never let go of each other’s hands during the reception.

It was being seated with a table entirely composed of strangers, despite the fact that I knew a couple dozen people at the wedding, and being able to laugh and talk and enjoy the evening together as through we were old friends. 

 

It was rekindling a dormant friendship with a man who’s always been a big brother and mentor, picking up right where we left off, and discussing long-range life philosophies while slow-dancing to “Closing Time” at the end of the night.

It was the men – some friends, some strangers – who noticed me sitting alone and requested the honor of a dance, knowing that asking for a dance simply means you’d like someone to dance with, and that it’s perfectly acceptable behavior at a wedding.

It was playing Scattergories and Taboo with two of my favorite married couples in a mountain cabin after the wedding, falling asleep in a pile of blankets on their floor at 2 AM, and waking up for a leisurely breakfast in town at a table for five.

 

It was the realization of the beauty and bravery of these marriages, these decisions to say, at the age of twenty-three, “I’m done comparison shopping, you and I are going to do this together regardless of who else we meet, where our careers thrive or struggle, where we have to move, or where we have to stay.” It’s a brilliant, selfless antidote to the tonic of self-fulfillment, convenient, disposable relationships and pursuing one’s own dreams that has permeated the mind of your average twenty-three year old (myself included.)

Yes, it was about the eight folks that I witnessed knit their lives together. But it was also about the reunion of a wide web of friends and family at vibrant celebrations born out of long seasons of difficulty.

During the ceremony of this Tuesday’s wedding, the minister said something like “You two are embarking on life’s greatest adventure – marriage.” I couldn’t help but twitch a bit at that statement. Marriage is a grand adventure, make no mistake. I can’t wait to see all of the joy and glory that comes out of the depth and vulnerability of these marriages.

But what if life’s greatest adventure is just life itself? What if it doesn’t have to be hindered by a fear of odd numbers? What if it’s these crazy moments where single folks and married folks share stories and wedding parties become centers of hospitality and reunion? What if, even in our singleness, we allow our relationships to be vital and risky and intimate and hopeful?

And what if, as one of my newlywed friends reminded me, we allow this all to stand as a brilliant metaphor for the relationship between Christ and his Church – the passionate pursuit, the fastidious preparation, the joyous union and the celebration from which no one is turned away. Weddings are as crucial to understanding the present and future realities of the life of faith as they are to upholding traditional social structures.

 

There’s no better way to end than with a toast. So, here’s to wedding season. This crazy season that somehow reminds us to look outside of ourselves, to stop comparison shopping, to commit to the real, honest, hard, fulfilling work of building strong relationships with each other, to dance and laugh and eat cake, to invite folks from our pasts to celebrate with us the great joys of our present moments, and to keep throwing the kind of parties where everyone feels welcome. Here’s to the guests and wedding parties, spouses and singles, old and young, estranged and embraced. May you all live to see a thousand reasons to rejoice. 

Written by Taylor Webster

July 17, 2014 at 4:31 pm

(seven weeks) a lenten journal

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(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

an inescapable newness

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i’m a multi-sensory sort of person – so i’m going to highly recommend you open this track up and play it while you read. mr. tim coons has a mighty fine take on newness.
http://timcoons.bandcamp.com/track/everything-is-new-battle-hymn-of-the-republic

it’s the end of the second day of 2014. like most folks of my generation, i’m sitting here listening to death cab for cutie and contemplating the year that’s passed and the year to come (and what a magnificent album transatlanticism was and still is – can’t believe it turned ten this year!)  on the internet, this is a late-game new year’s post. i’ve seen a lot of countdown type posts as we closed out 2013, and a lot of posts yesterday – some reflecting back, some looking forward. but the newness of 2014 seems to (rather lamentably) become less fashionable day by day.

in thinking about writing, there’s a lot i could say to you. a reflection on 2013 would no doubt be a gratitude-filled lovefest. the word of the year was staying. and what a powerful, deepening, angsting, growing, loving season of staying it has been. for the first time in years and years, i spent all twelve months working the same job, serving at the same church, and living with the same people. that’ll grow a person.

an anticipatory look at 2014 would no doubt be characterized by my prediction that this will be a year of going. that word instills in me a thrilling mix of excitement and trepidation, a call to begin to step out in faith in some radically practical ways. for the first time years and years, i’m preparing to move outside the state and culture where i was born and raised, take first steps to a radical career shift, and say a mess of heartbreaking goodbyes all at once. i’m betting that’ll grow a person too.

and yet, somehow, both of these posts would speak of newness. the quiet, beautiful, aching day-to-day newness of staying. the exciting, terrifying, surprising newness of going. when we write at this time of year, in our countdowns and memories and lists, aren’t we writing to celebrate what was new and notable about the year that has passed? to remind ourselves that yes, new things happend, yes, they mattered, and yes, those resolutions from jan 1 2013 deepened and ripened into some beautifully unexpected fruits, even if they weren’t carried out perfectly. and of course, when we write for next year, we’re writing as if to say that no matter what age or milestone we’ve hit in the last year, we’re not done expecting newness. even if we’ve finally done the thing, accomplished the goal, have a new degree or car or house or relationship or achieved whatever that dream was that we’ve always wanted. even if all of those things have happened, we’re still somewhat restlessly looking for something new, to know that our story hasn’t stalled out.

our culture is haunted by a post-christmas emptiness. retailers are struggling to keep up business that have been driven since thanksgiving by promising to provide products that resolve relationships, provide for needs we didn’t know we had, and answer our deepest desires. and on december 26, we are often surprised to discover that our hearts are still as empty as the pile of boxes and bows and tissue paper that’s been saved meticulously to perpetuate next year’s reeenactment of the same traditions. 

so, when we halfheartedly tighten our belts and deepen our resolves and dare to dream a little bigger, are we acknowledging the failure of our christmas and new year’s traditions to renew us properly? because in these twelve days of christmas, after an advent season where the pain of longing was acutely felt, i’m beginning to realize that god has been into newness for much longer than we have.

at a point in history where nothing else was going right for the people of god, he got down and dirty and messy and creative and gave us an entirely new way to experience his presence. no longer preserved in the inner sanctum for the most thoroughly purified priests, he sent his own son to be born to one of us, to grow up with us, to serve us and heal us and live daily with us, die our death, and resurrect the only hope of a truly new life.

and if christmas is really the beginning of something new and remarkable, then the emptiness that haunts us has no seat in our hearts. and we are invited into a resolution much more important than the annual standards of a gym commitment that peters out once life gets busy or a resolve to read through the bible in a year that never seems to make it past leviticus. because we who have for an age been singing o come, o come, emmanuel, expecting a warrior king to come to our rescue, have instead been given a baby born in a humble town who never became more than a carpenter and itinerant preacher. and somehow, in that quietly radical newness, he redeemed us all back to himself. how. is. that. for. newness.

the holiness of new year’s eve and a season of resolution is that after seeing christ’s commitment to newness, we are invited to do the same. emmanuel means “god with us”, after all. only fittng that he should invite us to join in. this first spark, the reminder that unto us a child has been born, and that god works in ways that are so new that they are foolishness to the eyes of man, helps us to realize the need for newness even after all of the presents have been given. and in a proper celebration of the new year, we commit to once again join in the redemptive work. we acknowledge that, just maybe, there is more to learn. just maybe, there are relationships that deserve to be begun and sustained and redeemed with honor. just maybe, our brothers and sisters need our prayers more than our self-righteous vitriol. just maybe, god still chooses what is weak in the world to shame the strong. and just maybe, this newness will encompass more than the strength of our resolve – maybe it will seep into every corner of our hearts and through christ in us, everything will truly be made new.

so sometimes, for me, newness will mean going, sometimes it will mean staying. sometimes it will mean the hard work of keeping in touch across distance, sometimes it will mean the harder work of letting go and making space for change. sometimes it will mean joyous redemption, sometimes it will be the quiet stillness of a broken heart. but as my heart swings from the surprising announcement of christmas through new year’s invitation, i’ll admit that although newness sounds like work and terror and surprise and change, it also seems the only way to open up to a god who has never stopped creating. here’s to living in gratitude for the surprise of christmas and in commitment to participate in the continuing redemption of the new year. that’s a reflection i’ll ponder for years, and a resolution i’ll always be working on.  isn’t it just like him to have has given us an inescapable newness that is equal parts gift and invitation?

amen to that, and happy january, y’all. 

 

Written by Taylor Webster

January 2, 2014 at 10:52 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

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