“We work out our faith with these other broken men and women around us in the pews.” (Tish Harrison Warren)
Dear Church of the Ascension,
I have visited your church two times. My husband and I live in New Jersey, but he works in Pittsburgh three days a week and has an apartment in the Strip District, not very far from you. About once a month, I make the reverse commute and we spend the weekend in Pittsburgh, a city I have come to love and enjoy beyond what I thought possible.
It’s on these weekends that we have walked through your bright red door, been greeted by your people, sat in your pews, listened to your choir, watched your children gather at the feet of your rectors, opened the scriptures, kneeled in prayer and shared bread and wine. It’s on these weekends that we have been outsiders peeking in on how you navigate this complex world of “church” in the new millennium.
I have some confessions to make to you this Palm Sunday morning, a day where I will be entering into the doors of another church, one where my view is from the inside out, not the outside in, one where we’ve loved and served for many years, one that is also maneuvering the mosaic of “church” in 2019.
Back to my confessions.
Today, I confess that I only visited your church because I was mildly obsessed with Tish Harrison Warren, having soaked up her book, Liturgy of the Ordinary, not only once at a cursory level, but in depth with my women’s group. When I found out that she had moved to Pittsburgh and was a writer in residence only a mile away from my husband’s apartment, I was determined to visit you. I felt a little like the paparazzi, as I recorded her talk with the children, received communion from her and talked her ear off as she was greeting parishioners. It was not my finest moment, but as she reminds me in her book, we are all “limping to redemption,” and I am included in the “all.”
Today, I confess that something changed inside of me that first day. I wanted to come back. Not just because of Tish, although her talks that day fed my soul the love that it so longed for, but because as I watched and wondered about this community that “practiced” very differently than what I am used to, it seemed kind and gracious, filled with love for those on the inside and those on the outside (me included), the kind of love Jesus talks about every chance He gets.
Today, I confess that I came back with my husband, this time my motivation not to see Tish (I didn’t even see her that day), but to be filled again with this love you have to share. I confess that as I sat there, tears welled in my eyes as the message of God’s love for me was communicated from beginning to end, almost as if it was a calculated move on your part. Here is just a glimpse of the words that leapt from the white booklet and the hymnal I held in my hands:
We started here…
“O love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in thee.”
“Come down, O Love Divine, seek thou this soul of mine.”
“What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul,
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
to lay aside His crown for my soul, for my soul,
to lay aside His crown for my soul.”
“Jesu, my love, my joy, my rest, Thy perfect love close in my breast…”
The middle was filled with this:
And we ended here… “O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me, is the current of Thy love
Leading onward, leading homeward to Thy glorious rest above!”
Whether it was deliberately planned by your leadership, God knew what I needed that day, my heart was more open to receiving the love and goodness of God, or ALL of those in sweet combination, my “outsider” self felt beautifully connected to you and your people, and especially to the loving heart of God.
Today, my last confession is one of thanks to you. Thank you for being a beacon in the middle of my beloved adopted city of Pittsburgh. Thank you for giving this outsider a place of belonging. Tish reminds me in her book that “God loves and delights in the people in the pews around me and dares me to find beauty in them.” I have found the beauty in you. Your beauty is one that has given me inspiration for my inquisitive mind, daring hope as an anchor for my soul, but most of all, deep, deep love for my longing heart, a beautiful and firm foundation that I carry with me into this Holy Week ahead. Thank you. We shout HOSANNA (“Come Save Us!”) together today!
Sarah, our first-born, and a mom herself, tackles the tough question about how our faith journey both harmed and helped her during her childhood. What happened when our faith was filled with fear and guilt and behavior-management? What changed when that all began to unravel? How did we change and what was different in how we parented? FIND OUT the wise piece of advice she gives toward the end (you have to listen all the way through) that brought healing in my own life (right on the spot). She reveals something that we ALL need to hear! CLICK ON LINK BELOW!
I am so excited about my guest this week, Sandi Piazza! You are in for a treat! Sandi is married to Gerry, and is currently on her third career as a stay-at-home homeschooling mom to Emilio (10) and Ana (8). She is passionate, strong, wise and gentle. Her heart comes alive when fighting for equality and social justice, diving into literature of all kinds, and providing the much-needed love and care for her foster dogs. Welcome, Sandi!
A few years ago, I heard someone preach that men’s brains are like waffles (compartmentalized) and women’s brains are more like spaghetti (highly intertwined). For many in the audience, this really resonated. Not for me. I have pots in my head.
As a perfectionist. I always have a lot going on AND never really learned how to outline and organize big projects, I tend to procrastinate until I must focus fully on the task at hand and get it done. To juggle several divergent tasks, I developed a system where I envision my brain as a cooktop covered with pots during a large holiday meal. Those who know me well may have heard me say, “OK. I need to get a new pot going in my head.” (In fact, that proclamation to my curious friend Esther is the origin of this post!)
When any project comes up, I add a pot on my brain’s stovetop. I carefully consider the core (main ingredient) of that task? What else needs to be added (some side elements) in order to accomplish this? How long do I have to complete (cook) this undertaking? Each item on my “to do” list gets a dedicated pot–something akin to the discrete little compartments in waffles, but oftentimes things are related and work together and it’s not quite the jumbled mess of spaghetti. Every so often, I sit down and think, “OK, POT CHECK! Let’s give things a stir.”
This process was crucial to my success as an undergraduate student. I was pursuing a degree in English Literature, which meant multiple books and essays assigned at any given moment. I was an officer in a club. I had an almost-full-time job. I was active in a church community (and most of us know what that means for good and bad). I was fortunate enough to have scholarships covering a huge chunk of my tuition, but room and board simply weren’t in the budget for the Rodriguez family. This meant LOTS of time spent in transit on the subway, commuting from the northernmost tip of Manhattan all the way down to Greenwich Village, in the days before internet, laptops, and smartphones. What was a student to do? CHECK MY POTS!
Typical POT CHECK, sitting on the subway riding home from school:
POT ONE: Paper due later this week on William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury.
“I loved the book, even though it took me a while to understand the first chapter, with its stream-of-consciousness descriptions and odd details like Cassie’s white underpants as she climbs a tree. WTH is that about? Interesting that the main character of the book never actually gets to speak for herself…her brothers and the family servant do all the talking. Can I emphasize this in my paper somehow? Hmm… OK, I’ll put it aside to revisit later, but it’s due soon so best not to wait too long.”
POT TWO: Paper two comparing Coriolanus and Titus Andronicus.
“Ugh. May as well be comparing liver and okra. Blaaah. That one isn’t due for a few weeks. Back burner for sure.”
POT THREE: Leading Bible study next week.
“What’s the verse again? ‘For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses…’ OK, how can I make this super-familiar verse seem fresh? There’s the whole Iran Contra-gate thing in the news…weapons of warfare… Too much of a stretch? Should I just read it and leave it hanging there, hoping everyone can apply it to their own life? Hmm… I have some time on this. Let it simmer on low.”
POT FOUR: Choir Christmas service.
“It’s coming up soon. I have the lyrics and harmonies of the songs memorized. I have the white shirt I need and I have that black skirt I can wear. I haven’t worn it in a while. I hope it fits…I might need to add some girdle-y (is that even a word? girdle-like?) underwear to make it fit better… Stir that pot when I get home. Wait…”
WEIRD TRANSITION BACK TO POT ONE:
“Underwear, again. That’s in a couple of my pots. Back to the paper. There was that thing in where Benji notices Cassie’s underwear. Weird for a brother to notice that about his sister. Wait, now that I think of it, didn’t that happen with more than one narrator? Where’s that book?”
By the time I got home from school, I had figured out that there were three different characters in The Sound and the Fury who noticed the central character’s underpants, and that the underwear reflected what they thought of her in that. The paper practically wrote itself, which was a blessing in the pre-word-processor 1980s!
Some 30 years later, my perfectionism has waned, but I still organize my thoughts and projects in this way. The pots bubbling away in my mind these days tend to be more abstract than project-based, and currently include things like:
what walking with Jesus looks like after deconstructing some toxic doctrines from my fundamentalist upbringing
having a successful marriage, almost 14 years in, without an example in my life to emulate
parenting a child—possibly two—with autism
navigating family relationships successfully and in a healthy way when members struggle with mental illness, addiction, & codependency
building and maintaining a tribe
a room decorating project
rescue dogs, old dogs, and how to keep them both healthy/calm
You get the idea. Lysa TerKeurst says, “The mind feasts on what it focuses on. What consumes my thinking will be the making or the breaking of my identity.” That rings true. This is the stuff of my life…the things that nourish me, sustain me, and keep me going.
Doing an occasional pot check helps me to realize what I know a lot about and what I need to research further. And, much as it did when I was in college, it often allows me to draw parallels and to see how something in one pot relates to another, helping me make sense out of a vexing problem and integrate the various parts of my life.
I also cook a lot more now than I did when I was younger, and something invaluable I’ve come to know is that there is one ingredient that improves every dish I cook. GARLIC! Just kidding. It’s SALT!
Salt is amazing. It has so many uses! It preserves. It melts ice. It kills weeds, and, relevant to the topic at hand, it seasons food and enhances the flavor of almost everything.
Author and activist Mariama Bâ has said that “The flavor of life is love. The salt of life is also love.” That rings so true! Much as every dish I cook improves with a bit of salt, every pot in my head is better when I add some love.
Sound like a stretch? See for yourself!
Parenting? Add love.
Marriage? Add love.
Faith? Family? Tribe? Yes, yes, yes…more love.
Re-examining my faith? Definitely needs more love.
And so on…
However, unlike salt, I have yet to see a “pot” where too much love ruined it.
Well, if you’ll excuse me, the kids are occupied for the moment, leaving me a few moments to sit and reflect. Perfect time for a pot check. No thanks on the waffles and spaghetti, but…can you please pass the salt?
A final word from the Dolly Mama. It’s been a pleasure having Sandi come and share with us. She’s exceptional. If you’d like to see some of my favorite blog posts, take a look at these (and please follow me if you like what you read and don’t want to miss another post):