Balancing Conservation and Progression

Mom, are giraffes endangered? Bea asked the other morning at breakfast. Is that why they’re in zoos?

IMG-7431As I paused to answer, Bea continued to ask what made animals endangered; how do they end up threatened? We talked about hunting and climate change and how zoos keep a lot of animals safe. But we talked about how zoos are feeble, at best, at replicating a native environment. I asked her if she’d rather live in the wild or at a zoo.

I’d rather live in a zoo! You have people to feed you and play structures.

We moved on to other topics but I started thinking about her response. After reading Animal Madness by Laurel Braitman a few years ago, I’ve always felt a bit uncomfortable with our zoo membership. Yes, there’s some great research and preservation happening in zoos. But there are a lot of depressed animals. What is the cost of preservation?

When I visited Estonia in high school, we went to a zoo that was all concrete cages. The animals may have had a branch to climb but ultimately, the tiger, the elephant, and the sloth all had about the same square footage. It was pretty depressing. I’m sure that zoo has changed in the decades since I’ve visited, just as our city’s zoo has expanded and created more thoughtful spaces for the animals. Conservation is still at the heart of the zoo model but best practices have changed and created a more authentic environment for the animals.

The question of responsible conservation isn’t just a question for zoos and animals. In the art world, there are divided camps over the philosophy of preservation. How much do we meddle? When do we recognize that an artist’s experimentation with paint isn’t sustainable? Does a painting need to last longer than 500 years in pristine condition?

One of the most famous debates in the art world is the conservation of DaVinci’s The Last Supper. The past 500 years have been spent preserving a painting that began disintegrating 20 years after its installation. Yes, it’s an incredibly important piece of Renaissance art. But at what cost do we continue to preserve something that was an experiment in itself?

Lent starts today and this year, I’m not giving up anything big or adding any grand project to my days. It’s been a season of lots of change for our family in many ways but mostly because it’s our first tax season as business owners. In a hectic time of year, we have new layers of questions and unknowns to contend with.

So, I’m working my way through a traditional Bible study. I’ll be reading the plan each day, journaling, answering questions and reflections. I purposefully chose a plan from a more conservative point of view. I’ve been reading a lot of books that have stretched my thinking and am so glad for them but I’m recognizing the need to balance progression with conservation. What are interpretations that have pushed us in good was and what are interpretations that are solid foundations?

One of my hopes for this Bible study is to dig into my own views of Biblical conservation. What is worth preserving? What was truly an example of cultural context? What is the overarching storyline and takeaway? What I’ve learned about conservation is the imperfections of it. We conserve art and animals the best we can with the best resources we have. But when we learn new things and better ways, experts reevaluate those practices and implement new ones.

I’ll be spending Lent digging into the Bible, examining my conservative roots, and really trying to understand which pieces are worth conserving and which pieces of the story could be brought to light as we learn more about the history and storytelling of this era. I’m no theologian so, at the end of these forty days, there will be no radical reformation. But I’m hoping that there will be a deeper thoughtfulness to the story and the overarching plotline God is building.

How do you conserve what’s important while learning new things? What are your thoughts on preserving artwork?

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Life is Mostly Boring

When I lived in Paris, none of my apartments had washing machines. So, part of my weekly routine was packing up my clothes and the lightest of my homework books and walking to the nearest laundry to spend hours watching my clothes churn. In my last apartment, I would walk through the winding streets of Montmartre, quintessential Paris, to get to the laverie. Even though the setting was romantic, the activity was pretty boring. Put in a few loads, wait, read, switch them, wait, read, pack everything up, walk home.

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Image: RyanMcGuire via Pixabay

One of my biggest pet peeves about staying home with the girls is when people tell me that they couldn’t do this – it would be too boring. I’m never really sure how to respond to this because, honestly, staying home with young kids is often boring. We do fun things but most of our day is structured. Some days, we stay home and clean the house and do laundry. Some days are filled with adventures. But even at the museum or park, unless I’m with another mom to chat with, I sit on a bench with my book, watching my kids play. Not the most exciting life.

My guess is that if we were able to track the number of minutes per day we spent on boring activities, most of our days would be pretty boring. Commuting to work, answering emails, grocery shopping. No matter where you live or how exotic the setting, life is made up of these boring details.

In her book, The Quotidian Mysteries, Kathleen Norris talks about the liturgy of the ordinary moments. She connects the monastic rhythms of prayer and repetition to our own daily chores of dishes and laundry and raising kids, challenging us to find God in those repetitive moments. She says,

Ironically, it seems that it is by the means of seemingly perfunctory daily rituals and routines that we enhance the personal relationships that nourish and sustain us.

This is a reminder to me to find the holy in these everyday moments. I’ve tried to set aside time to pray and it just never seems to work out. Something is always happening when my alarm to stop and pray dings. But when I incorporate prayer into those mundane moments, I’m much more successful. I pray for a mom I know as I wipe the counters. I pray for my girls as I give them a bath. I pray for the world as I stir our dinner. I find that when I pray for the same thing as I do the same task, a habit is formed and my boring days seem holier.

I’m not great at this rhythm. More often than not, I forget to pray altogether. But when I do remember, I realize that God has given me these boring moments for a purpose. If my time was always filled with thinking, enriching, stretching activities, I would have no space for those quiet moments of finding God.

I’m embracing this boring season. Before too long, my days will be filled with other things outside my control and I’ll look back on these long, uneventful days with longing. Not just of this season of motherhood but of this time to find a holy space while doing the mundane.

How do you find holiness in the boring moments? Do you find peace in routine or do you thrive on new and unexpected events?

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The Platinum Rule

We’ve all heard the Golden Rule: “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” While that rule is a good start, I’ve always been a bigger fan of the Platinum Rule: “Treat others the way they want to be treated.”

heart-1567215_960_720Living life by the Platinum Rule means setting aside my own preconceived ideas for what others need and want. It forces me to stop and listen, to put aside my own life experience and allow others to fully live out their own life experience.

When I treat others the way they want to be treated, I put aside my notions of historical significance to manmade objects and listen to how people feel when they see oppression objectified.

When I treat others the way they want to be treated, I put aside my own reality of comfort and safety and listen to how people feel unsafe walking in their neighborhoods, driving on the other side of town, living their daily lives.

When I treat others the way they want to be treated, I put aside an ideal that learning a new language is an easy thing and I listen to stories of learning three or four other languages before tackling English.

When I treat others the way they want to be treated, I recognize that my marriage and family fit into societal norms and I listen to the heartbreak of families not recognized by their churches and faith communities.

There’s been a lot in the news the past couple days about how we want others to live their lives – from the distribution of resources in a crises to the way we choose to interpret the Bible that cuts out whole sections of the population, we are living the way we want to be treated. My rights are so rarely infringed upon that I can easily treat others how I want to be treated because society treats me pretty well.

But when I treat others how they want to be treated, that can make me uncomfortable. It can force me to recognize that my neighbors want to be treated with dignity because their rights are often diminished. It forces me to recognize that my LGBTQ friends want to worship without condemnation because they are so often shut out of the community of God. It forces me to recognize that our system is built on a history of racism and oppression and that I have both directly and indirectly benefited from this.

Treating others the way they want to be treated doesn’t make me less than. Building others up and honoring their experiences doesn’t diminish my own or rewrite history. I think about the way Jesus lead by example, how time and again he treated the “other” with dignity and respect. He didn’t treat them the way society demanded but with grace and love. How can I do any less?

How do you honor those whose experiences are different from your own? What are some ways you’ve learned to listen to the experiences of others?

Review: Adopted by Kelley Nikondeha

I was hanging out with a friend the other day, our kids playing in the basement as we snatched bits of conversation. Her almost-one-year-old crawled over to me with the biggest smile. What a smile! I exclaimed before making a huge faux-pas, She looks just like her mom. Without missing a beat, my friend replied, She does look like her birth mom!

My friend is this little girl’s mom. She has been since before this child was born – chosen for her. And yet, through the connection of Facebook and open adoptions, we also know her birth mom and what she looks like. We see biologic resemblances even though all of this sweet girl’s nurturing is through her adoptive parents.

My friends have learned to handle these comments with grace. They are open about this road to adoption and the challenges and sweetness of the journey. They embody a family knit together by the restoration of adoption.

DGPSZ9bXcAAwJQ1In Adopted: The Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World, Kelley Nikondeha speaks about the theology of adoption as an adoptee herself and as an adoptive mother. She weaves together stories of her own adoption, of her journey of adopting her children, and the Bible’s underlying theme of adoptive family. From Moses to Ruth to Jesus, we see adoption stories as the basis of Christian faith. Paul calls us adopted children of God. Without adoption, there is no foundation for the radical inclusiveness and love of the message of Jesus.

Kelley brings this theology of adoption out of the ancient text and into our lives, here and now. How do we reconcile the adopted land of Israel? To some, this state is a restoration of a displaced people; to others it is the oppression of an original people group. How do we reconcile centuries of oppression and slavery in America with acknowledgement that returning to literal African roots isn’t the solution? How do we restore the stolen land of our Indigenous People while recognizing it isn’t about the physical plot of land. Or maybe it is? Kelley brings these questions and their theology to the forefront while recognizing the complexities of living out a Jubilee-faith, a faith that restores the land and forgives debts; a faith that welcomes the refugee home; a faith that reconciles adopted land with homeland.

Kelley’s rich storytelling and smart theology blend perfectly create a book that deals with current issues of social justice with the power and grace of biblical redemption. She reminds us that redemption doesn’t mean a neat bow and easy answer, that this kingdom is slow in coming. But, she says, that doesn’t mean we lose hope. Through her own story of adoption, she says,

Adoptive parents aren’t superheroes or saints. The legitimate words of caution and real complications that are part of adoption give me pause. And yet redemption, whenever it happens, must be named (94).

Extending this metaphor of adoption, she reminds us that the road to redemption is paved with disappointment, failure, and suffering. It is the restorative work of God that brings those heartaches light and brings the slow restoration of this world.

She ends this book with the reminder that all of humanity is adopted into this family of God. And that by claiming the title of family, of brothers and sisters, we are interwoven and bound. We are together on this road to reconciliation and redemption. This faithful hope gives me pause when I get discouraged and reminds me that, though there are so many divisions, there is so much repair that is happening, as well.

Adopted is for sale now, and I’d highly recommend this hopeful book! As part of Kelley’s launch team, I received an advanced copy from the publisher but all views are my own.

How have you experienced the theology of adoption? Where do you long to see restoration through adoption?

The Sacredness of the Ordinary

We just got back from a camping trip out in the wilderness of Colorado. Our campsite didn’t have many amenities – just a vault toilet and a fire ring. We spent a few days playing in the dirt, using wet wipes the best we could, and letting our kids explore. We unplugged because we wanted to and because there’s no other option in these woods.

IMG_5065My friend and I were laughing at the amount of work that goes into a weekend camping trip. The baking and shopping and organizing beforehand and the unpacking and fifteen loads of laundry when we get home. How does a weekend of fun translate to a week of prep work?

But our girls, though exhausted, had an incredible time. After two nights, Bea wasn’t ready to come home to our ordinary routine.

I have a planner produced by a group called Sacred Ordinary Days. It follows the liturgical year and has helped me be more attuned to the church calendar. I love learning about the seasons – from the well-known Christmas and Lent to the emerging Advent and Epiphany, I’m noticing a new rhythm in my outlook.

Right now, we’re in the season of Ordinary time. This happens twice: Once in the weeks between Advent and Lent, known as Epiphany, and the much longer Pentecost, which stretches from Easter to Advent.

According to Sacred Ordinary Days, ordinary has two meanings: It serves as the contrast between the extraordinary times of feasting and remembering Jesus’ life and ministry on Earth. The second meaning comes from the word ordinal or counted time. This time isn’t about feasting but about remembering the role of the church in this world and our ongoing relationship with the Holy Spirit.

I get caught in a desire to live an extraordinary life. I don’t want to be ordinary – I want to change the world! To leave my mark! To make a difference! My reality is that our days look very similar to each other. Perhaps the nouns change a bit but the verbs are more or less the same.

I like the idea of viewing ordinary as ordinal. What am I counting? How are my rhythms shaping my days? Those flows and cycles and routines that lay a foundation for feasting and extraordinary celebrations.

If we lived in extraordinary time all the time, I would be exhausted. I’d always be preparing and anticipating and cleaning and busy.

Instead, I’m reminded that I count breaths and sit in the sunshine. We play outside and ride our bikes. Our adventures at home are laying the foundation for bigger adventures later. Our simple meals make the feasts more delectable.

I’m remembering that ordinary time is when we are healthy and ready for the next big thing. As Christians, it means that we are living in these days, preparing for a new Heaven and new Earth. As a mom, it means that I am doing the slow work of building confidence in my kids so they can go out into this world.

Now that we’re bathed and the laundry is finished and our sleep is restored, my girls are happy to be home. We are remembering the beauty of home, of our ordinary life, and of our quiet routine. We are also eagerly anticipating our next adventure, knowing that our ordinary home is here, waiting.

What is something ordinary you are thankful for? How do you recognize ordinary time in your own rhythms?

Heaven is a Wonderful Place

We used to sing a song in Sunday school called Heaven is a Wonderful Place. The gang from Psalty the Singing Song Book would sing about a place filled with glory and grace and Jesus.

IMG_3567After college, as I read more and matured, my view of heaven shifted from a place we go to a restoration of what God has given us. A place filled with glory and grace? Isn’t that what Jesus called us to do, here and now, on this earth? Or, I love N.T. Wright’s image of a place of rest before the restoration.

My maternal grandmother died this week. She was 92 years old, missed my grandfather for the past 12 years, and was ready to see Jesus. And I’ve found that all my intellectual images of heaven leave and I hope that she is actually seeing Jesus and my grandpa and her brother and sister and friends who have gone on before her. I want her to be dancing and eating incredible foods.

Those images give me comfort and hope. But I still grapple with the idea of heaven as our only future goal. What about this earth God gave us? What does John 3:16 mean when it says,

God so loved the world

It doesn’t say God just loved humanity or God just loved Christians. It says God loved this world. It reminds me that, while I do long for heaven and restoration, I also long for restoration now. And maybe that’s what the glory of heaven is. Finally seeing that restoration.

How has your view of heaven changed as your faith has grown? What gives you comfort?

Linked with Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “future.”

 

Death and Taxes

After a mild February and March, typical spring weather hit – just in time for spring break. For our week off, we had drizzly mornings, warmer afternoons, and hard-to-predict forecasts which made playdates a bit difficult. But, our grass is green and our trees are blossoming.

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Clyfford Still, PH-235 Image credit: Clyfford Still Museum

When asked to describe the significance of black in his paintings, Clyfford Still said,

“Black was never a color of death or terror for me.  I think of it as warm – and generative.”

This has forever changed the way I look at black in art, in books, in life. Is there an element of death in it? Yes. (At least, from a Western perspective.) But, in order to experience life, death must be part of the equation.

Frank and I are planning our garden and deciding which veggies to plant, which perennials to try in bare areas, and which boxes should be reserved for digging play and which should be off-limits. When we dig into the soil, our hands come up black. As we watch the rain soak the earth, I see the color vibrant against the gray skies.

Easter and the end of tax season coincide this year. Sadly, this means that the last big push before the deadline will happen over Easter weekend. (No rest for the weary, or accountants…) Over the next two weeks, the little we see of Frank will become even less. Life gets harder when the end is in sight.

Not to compare dying on the cross for all of humanity’s sins to the annual tax deadline, but I wonder if this is how Jesus felt in these last weeks leading to his death. He knew what was coming; the hardest days are ahead.

There is darkness ahead and yet, against the gray there is vibrant light and hope. There is despair and an anticipation of something coming – the crowds are getting violent and yet, Jesus still makes a blind man see; still raises Lazarus from the dead.

In order for the soil to be generative, it must be black. Light brown dirt needs to be watered to dark richness. In order to see the light, we must live in the darkness.

In many ways, I’m glad that Lent falls during tax season. For our family, this season of fasting is also one of living without an integral part of our house. Whether we like it or not, our family lives in a sense of loss during this season.

Which makes Easter all the more joyful. It reminds us that life is restored, that our family will eat dinner together again, and that black soil brings new life.

How do you view the color black? In what ways do you prepare when the end is in sight?