Category Archives: stuff about me

Open Space

“To keep the heart space open, we need several things.  First, we almost all need some healing in regard to our carried hurts from the past…  And to be fully honest, I think your heart needs to be broken, and broken open, at least once to have a heart at all or to have a heart for others.” (Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water, p. 11, 12)

These quotes pretty much explain my spiritual journey since college.  I probably came to the second part first.  Rohr talks about the importance of re-aligning the head, heart and body. In my head-centered religion, I realized during college that my heart was not open.  I remember singing the praise song, “break my heart for what breaks yours,” and realizing that my heart didn’t break for much of anything.  And then my friend Nicole died (14 years ago yesterday), and my heart broke.  I began to FEEL instead of just THINK.  A little bit to avoid feeling, and a little bit to get better at feeling, I went back to Kenya and worked in a children’s home, where I met a young girl named Wamaitha who broke my heart a bit more.  Sitting on the bench in the children’s dorm, a crowd of kids tugging at my hair to braid it, and Wamaitha sitting next to me–holding my hand and rocking back and forth singing sounds and words that only she understood–my heart broke open just a little bit more.  When I came back to the States and got involved in a community that didn’t need me to think my way to spiritual maturity, I sensed my heart opening to those around me, and more deeply to a Spirit that is mysterious and beyond comprehension.

At times along the way, I have also realized the need for healing in regard to past hurts.  This has meant counseling and spiritual direction, where I have been able to sit with that inner 8-yr. old who was dropped off at boarding school and give her some space to name her fears and tears in new ways.

I can see the difference it makes as my heart space becomes more and more comfortable being open.  It’s overwhelming and scary–because an open heart space inevitably means the possibility of pain.  Not just pain others might cause me, but I find myself feeling the pain of others…of our culture…of the world more deeply.  Maybe that’s what Rohr means when he talks about a broken heart leading to a heart for others…

Looking under the hood

Last weekend I was in Washington, D.C. for a work thing.  It was an interesting experience to be in the nation’s capital city at this time.  Here is one reflection I had:

If you look under the hood, there’s still enough to work with.  What if we can get this thing running again?

There was a video floating around social media a while ago:

These guys are trying to get this beat up junker of a car running again.  They punch out the glass, rip up the seats and hot-wire the engine, but eventually they get the car running.  They drive away hollering in glee.

I thought of that video yesterday as we toured the Capitol building and then later as we toured the monuments.  The tour guide at the Capitol was amazing, and kept coming back to how this country was founded on “We the people…”  The Constitution is a contract that CAN be renegotiated and revised.  Plenty of history is remembered incorrectly.  The Founding Fathers had some good ideas, but were also deeply flawed.  Those were the highlights.

As he lifted up the hood and described how the car was originally designed and built, I saw the whole thing in a new way.  Right now it feels like a wreck.  But what if there’s enough of the original stuff to restore it?  That stuff of the original design…the vision of the designers and manufacturers…what if there’s enough of that stuff still in there somewhere? What if the best wisdom and vision of those represented by the monuments was not forgotten?  What if the devastation and hurt was addressed honestly and directly?

We’ve gotten off track and added all this stuff that makes driving hard.  Some would say there were some significant flaws in the original that need to be re-done altogether.  Some really important parts aren’t working the way they should.  We may need to pull up the seats, remove the glass and hot-wire the starter.  But…what if there’s enough in the guts of the machine that can be repaired?

What if this vehicle CAN run again???

the space between us

My Lent devotional this year has been A Way Other than Our Own, by Walter Bruegemann.  There are several quotes throughout the book worth pondering, but here’s what he says about Maundy Thursday that has me thinking today:

“The drama of the towel provided an example for the disciples to replicate:

  • Replicate the truth that you have come from God; you are not on your own.
  • Replicate that the truth that you will go to God; your future is assured.
  • Replicate that the space between you and others is filled with a towel.
  • Replicate that as you travel with towel and basin, you will be safe in vulnerability, treasured in obedience, and free from anxiety” (p.88)

What do I make of this image of the space between me and others being filled with a towel?    The towel is the symbol of vulnerability and humility.  If the space between me and others is filled with a towel, we are open to that vulnerability–both in ourselves and in the other.  We are mutually serving each other…at each other’s feet.

That means not only am I serving my neighbor, but I am open to being served by my neighbor.

Deaconesses (and others) use this image of basin and towel to describe our call to the world.  We receive a basin and towel at our Consecration service.  So I can intellectualize and spiritualize this ritual with the best of them.  But, personally, I am all too aware at how easy it is to keep distance between me and others that is not filled with the towel of service and vulnerability, but is filled instead with fear, criticism, and self-protection.

So what would difference would it make to see the space filled with a towel?

I imagine it would make quite a difference.

As Bruegemann says, as we travel with towel and basin, we will be safe in vulnerability, treasured in obedience, and free from anxiety.

Safe.  Treasured.  Free.

Yep.  I imagine it would make quite a difference.


Redemptive Violence and 24

A few weeks ago I listened to a Robcast about the “lie of redemptive violence.”  In this podcast, Rob Bell explains how this idea of redemptive violence–that violence in retaliation for wrong-doing can be justified–is deep in our society…and even in our theology.  But it’s really a myth, and he goes on to talk about how the “Jesus narrative” provides a powerful alternative to this myth of redemptive violence.

So I had this podcast in my mind and was pondering this concept of redemptive violence, when I had a brief window in my regular schedule of television shows and was looking for something to watch.  So (don’t judge me) I settled on the final season of the show 24.  In this final season, counter-terrorism expert Jack Bauer is called on once again to save the U.S. from the threat of a terrorist attack.  Jack Bauer spends the next 24 hours trying to neutralize the threat in order to preserve peace.  And, of course, in quality mediocre television drama fashion, lots of people are tortured and killed in the race against time.  And at the last minute, the president of the United States has to decide what lines can or cannot be crossed for the sake of a signed document called a ‘peace treaty’.  To the show’s credit, it does not tie all the pieces together nicely at the end, and the whole thing ends with a bit of a question about who exactly ‘won’ after all that fighting and revenge.

Continue reading Redemptive Violence and 24

A poem to celebrate 40 years of marriage

 (roughly to the theme song from “Fresh Prince of Bel Air”)

In western Kenya born and raised
At the missionary college, I spent most of my days,
Walks in the forest, Sunday night devos
Right from the start, you guys were my heroes.
You walked hand in hand, no matter the case,
Standing side by side, giving ‘faith’ and ‘love’ a face.
You’re committed to others, but without seeking fame,
Above all else, giving glory to God’s name.

You raised seven quality kids, impacted many more,
You lived what you believed, and moved from shore to shore.
Even through those dark years, when words were hard to find,
The words from Psalms and Romans, would often come to mind.

You gave us what you could, and it was always just enough.
You cared more about people than about flashy stuff.
My guess is there’s more than even what I know,
Regarding who you touched and all the love you showed.

So now here we are, to celebrate the day
You chose to stand together and journey on the way.
You’re not ones for show, for streamers and noise makers,
In fact, you’d have things to say about those ‘movers and shakers.’

But we want to take a minute to say we really care,
About the love you’ve showed us, and about the life you share.
The thing I learned from you is that in the end, you CHOOSE
To live, love and pray together, and on the couch to snooze.

Happy Anniversary, and all the best to you.
I have so much respect for the things you’ve chosen to do
As you’ve followed your life’s convictions, regardless of the cost
The legacy you leave behind you will not easily be lost.

I am one of many, who wouldn’t be the same,
If on Feb. 28, 1976 you hadn’t shared a name.
Here’s to you and all that you have done.
In so many categories that matter, you two have definitely won.

Happy Anniversary


Put down the book and get into the story

I was setting up my nativity characters for chapel this week, and was reminded about a preschool chapel last year that became the central illustration in a sermon I preached on Dec. 20, 2015.  The sermon was in the context of a ‘Traveler’s Christmas,’ a Christmas Eve service for those who would be travelling over Christmas.  I found the manuscript to that sermon and realized I needed to hear it again this year.

Text: Luke 2:1-20

Last week in preschool chapel here at Grace, the kids were helping me tell the Christmas story.  I had a few sets of characters scattered around up front, and together we organized them to look something like a nativity scene.  And because I know that epiphany doesn’t come until after Christmas, the kings were a distance away from the rest of the animals and characters.  Someone noticed this and said, “the kings don’t have a star to follow!”  Without missing a beat, the kid sitting next to me holding the picture Bible put it down and jumped up, saying, “I can be a star…like this!” and he spread his arms and legs out while we sang “Go, tell it on the mountain.”


I tell you that story tonight because it was a moment full of joy and life that I just can’t get out of my head.  But also, the more I think about it, the more I think that kid got it right.  For many of us, this story we read in Luke 2 is really familiar, and every year we arrange the various pieces of our nativity sets to illustrate the story…and then we stand back and admire it from a distance.  In fact, I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we keep the whole message of Christmas at a distance.  We distract ourselves with questions about the historical accuracy, the literary details, the cultural specifics.  Maybe we honor the traditions of those around us.  Maybe we even find meaning in these traditions for ourselves.  But, for the most part, we keep this God who breaks into the world at a distance.

Continue reading Put down the book and get into the story

It matters who’s calling

A few months ago I called my credit union with a simple question, and ended up getting routed to the supervisor of fraud detection because after I answered the basic security questions the customer service lady said, “well, we don’t have that Michelle is a male, so I’m going to send you to my supervisor.”  I tried to tell her I’m not a male…I just have a deep voice, but she had already sent me on to her supervisor.  It was frustrating and a bit humiliating, and it brought back all the comments throughout my life that I’ve heard about my voice.

A few days ago, I made another call to the same credit union.  But this time, I had an advocate.  A State Farm insurance agent was on the phone with me.  So, ‘Mark from State Farm’ made the call, and when the customer service person answered, he said very quickly, “This is Mark from State Farm, and I have Michelle on the phone with me…”  Without a hesitation, I was given the information I was looking for.

This is the importance of advocacy–or at least one of them.  I realize that advocacy is more than just this, but I think it is at least this: Someone in a position of authority or privilege making the call while someone else is on the line and making sure they get the help they need.

This experience on the phone made me ask myself who would benefit from me ‘being on the line’ with them.  It was another confirmation that as an educated white person, my voice on the line is REALLY important.  There may be someone else who is frustrated, discouraged, and humiliated from trying to get through the system, or trying to get answers, or whatever.  And I can do all kinds of good by staying on the line with them, making the call, and making sure they get heard.

I’m not very good at this advocacy thing, I have to admit.  But now I’ve got another way to think about it.  Hopefully I can keep looking for ways of staying on the line.


The 2nd sermon: “Remember who you are”

In pondering the sermon for this Sunday, I discovered that I actually had two sermons.  This is the one that won’t get preached.

Text: Matthew 5:13-16

In the movie Lion King, Simba is born into greatness.  A descendant of the king, he is told from a young age that he will one day rule over the pride land.  He doesn’t do anything to deserve this honor.  It’s just who he is.  It’s his identity—not because of who HE is, but because of who his father is.  And Simba is raised to be confident and comfortable in this calling.  He can sing and dance with his friends, saying, “I just can’t wait to be king,” because his calling is clear to him.

But then he starts listening to other voices.  After a serious accident, Simba listens to his uncle who tells him he has failed at life and must run away.  And Simba does.  He runs away and loses sight of who he was born to be…he loses sight of his calling.

Continue reading The 2nd sermon: “Remember who you are”



I recently listened to a podcast by Rob Bell called “Seasons.” He talks about taking his son to college, and realizing that with the change of seasons, come both joys and challenges–even if that change is good and necessary and life-giving.  He connected to the story of Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene shortly after the resurrection, where Jesus says to Mary, “Do not hold onto me” (John 20:17).  He reflected on the challenge for Mary of releasing Jesus from who she knew him to be…letting the season of having Jesus among them in bodily form change.  This was hard for Mary.  It was hard for the disciples.  It’s often hard when seasons come to an end and something changes.

I could quickly see the connection to my own changing of seasons, as I left one position earlier this year and am gradually adjusting to a new position. With this position comes both joys and challenges.  One of the very real dynamics for my position–and many youth ministry positions these days–is that youth ministry looks different now than it did several years ago.  And yet there’s a strong desire to re-capture what youth ministry used to look like–large groups of teenagers coming together on the church campus on a regular basis.

But as I listened to Rob Bell reflect on this encounter between Jesus and Mary in the garden, and the reality of seasons, I saw a strong connection to my ministry.  I could see myself in Mary, clinging to the hem of Jesus’ robe and saying, “please…stick around…in a way that I can see you and touch you.  Stick around and keep doing the things I know you can do.  Stick around because I have figured out what life is like with you around.”  And I could see Jesus saying to me, “don’t hold on to me…let me be among you in new ways…let me be within you and around you in new ways…let me send you to the others with a message…don’t hold on to me.  It’s more abstract and harder to define, but ultimately my message won’t get beyond this defined community until you let go and let me be different than what you’ve known so far.”

I could hear Jesus saying something similar to the church:  “do not hold on to me.  Let me be different than the concrete way you may have known me in the past.  Let me be among you in new ways.  I am sending YOU now…”

Imagine if Jesus had stayed in that garden.  Because it was safer, more comfortable, more familiar.

But imagine what can happen because Jesus did NOT stay in that garden.

On Social Media, Opening Ceremonies, and Churchwide Assemblies

Collaborating with others via Facebook and Zoom
While sitting alone in my living room;
Tweeting and retweeting the Olympics parade
Long after my tab at the bar has been paid;
My brother in Indy posted an article about someone I once knew
My mom in Minnesota saw it, and commented, too.
Creating a guide to hashtags and handles
Liking my friend’s Instagram picture of luggage and sandals;
“I’ll see you in NOLA,” the status update declares,
“I’ll be there as well!” is liked and is shared;
My flight is delayed, and according to posts, yours is too,
Twitter assures me they’re doing all they can do.
“We are church together,” we gather to  say
And discuss the statement “Together on the Way”
It’s not just you and it’s not just me,
Through a variety of ways, it’s almost always a ‘we.’