Tag Archives: wilderness

On my own

The view from my campsite on Lake Diablo in The North Cascades. It was a-ma-zing.

The view from my campsite on Lake Diablo in The North Cascades. It was a-ma-zing.

The other day I was grousing to a friend about all of the things I need to re-learn now that I am single. There are many, many things (did you know there are rules to texting? There are). Quite a few are simply the rules to navigating socially as a single person (specifically a 35-year-old single female almost pastor), and many of those things I’m learning for the first time (some because I didn’t learn them well the first time). Other things, however, are pieces of knowledge I once had, but somehow lost by virtue of being married to someone who was better at certain things than I was. For example, I used to be really good at hooking up electronic equipment. I recently bought some new pieces for my stereo and it took me for freaking ever to get it put together. I used to feel like I was smart about cars, I could fix basic broken things around my house. Somehow, by virtue of having a man around (and, let’s be honest, some of these things he was better at, some, not so much) I forgot how to be self-sufficient.

I remember fighting it at first, insisting to do things on my own. Then it just became easier to let him do it (with computers it really was easier. I do miss having my own personal IT guy). In doing so, I lost some of the strength that came along with being able to do things myself. Without realizing it, I gave away some of my power and became dependent on the presence of another to get through parts of my daily life.

This became glaringly apparent to me this weekend. I went on my first solo camping trip without my dog. That’s where the problem begins. I kept thinking it was my first solo camping trip. I had totally forgotten that I had gone camping with Rocky a bunch before meeting my husband.

Camping is one of the many things that is a harder to do alone if you are a woman — or at least that is the perception most women have. We (women) are so acutely aware of the dangers in our world that we often fear things that we don’t really need to fear (like camping). I was hiking solo a few weeks ago and there was a guy hiking by himself behind me. I was afraid the whole damn time he was behind me. I finally stopped so he would get in front of me. I spent 20 minutes of my hike totally stressed out about getting attacked. Ugh. We spend so much time learning about how not to be raped (because that is apparently more important than teaching men to, you know, not rape), learning about statistics about violence against women, and, likely, watching too damn many crime shows (SVU, Criminal Minds…) that we freak ourselves out. It is hard to balance a reasonable wariness of the world with the desire to explore and do new things. Plus, I’m kind of afraid of the dark. For reals.  Add this to my love for shows like Ghost Hunters, and you’ve got one nervous first-time-solo-camper.

Then I realized that it is really rare to hear a story about someone getting raped or killed while camping. In fact, I can’t think of one off the top of my head. So I started thinking about perceived danger versus actual danger and realized that much of my fear was of perceived danger, not actual danger. This doesn’t mean that bad things can’t happen while camping, but the changes are better that the bad thing is something stupid I’m going to do to myself (which I am just as likely to do at home) than something someone else is going to do to me. According to this article, of the 273 million visitors to the national parks in 2006, there were 11 violent deaths. That percentage is so small it’s barely a number.

I took precautions. I picked a spot next to some nice women who I think were professors, I listed my campsite as having two people, and I slept with my knife next to me (I’m kind of amazed I didn’t stab myself with it while searching for my headlamp. That was probably a not-safe precaution). I told a few friends where I would be.

After setting up I went for a spectacular solo hike. At one point I was so overcome by the beauty surrounding me I just stopped and got on my knees to give thanks. No joke. Then I hugged some trees (yeah, I’m a hippie, what of it?). I hiked partway back in the twilight (sadly, no sexy sparkly vampires), cooked with my camping stove and then sat on a tree trunk in the lake and watched the meteor shower. All by my damn self. All of it.

Sitting on that tree in the lake I started to remember all the things I can do by myself. The love of God overwhelmed me. I realized that I have a partner in God. I don’t need a romantic partner to do things. I don’t need to be made whole by another person, I am whole on my own. I am enough. It is nice to have someone to compliment me, and there were points when I really wish I could have expressed my appreciation for the beauty surrounding me to another person, but all in all it was pretty awesome doing it alone.

Now, I don’t want to sound like I’m saying I can get through life alone. That’s crap. I absolutely could not have gotten through the past four months without the amazing cloud of witnesses with which God has blessed me. I need love, I need hugs, and I don’t think I will ever stop hoping for that spark that happens when two people are well matched (or just think the other one is pretty neat), but I can do this on my own, with the help of my friends and family. That was an amazing thing to remember.


The devil’s question

If the devil really looked like this, he would be much easier to avoid.

If the devil really looked like this, he would be much easier to avoid.

A sermon on Luke 4:1-13

This past Wednesday, we entered into the season of Lent; the time the church has set aside for penitence, reflection, fasting and prayer. It seems only right that we begin our Sundays in Lent with this story about Jesus’ temptation. This is a season when many of us put ourselves face to face with temptation – giving up things we love like chocolate, wine, perhaps whining. We do this to practice discipline (and sometimes to lose weight or give up bad habits), and, in doing so, we enter into prayer and build our relationship to God. Jesus’ temptation was far more formidable than chocolate – the devil tempted him with some of the more difficult things that we wrestle with every day. The need for self-reliance, the desire for power, the easy way out. But at the bottom of all of these temptations, and most of the temptations we face in life is the question, “Do you trust God?” That is what the devil is asking Jesus. Do you trust that God will provide for you? Do you trust that the path God is leading you down is the right path? Do you trust God with your life?

These are the same questions the devil asks us. Do you trust God? Or do you trust yourself?

Jesus had just spent 40 days in the wilderness. He had not eaten, and was very hungry. It is reasonable to imagine that he had not slept all that well either – sleeping out in the open, weather and animals keeping him awake. And here comes the devil, doubt and temptation personified, to offer Jesus a solution to his problems. You are hungry, Jesus, and you have the power to fix this on your own. Use your power for yourself, just this one time. Be fed. Fill yourself with what you have created by yourself. God might not give you the bread your stomach so strongly desires, Jesus. Fix it.

We are hungry. We are hungry for connection, for community, for meaning: we are hungry for love. The media and product peddlers take on the role of temptation and doubt personified. They tell us that we are not attractive enough, but there are pills and diets and surgeries and clothes to fix that. They tell us we are not complete, but there are cars and furniture and kitchen sets to fix that. They tell us we are not truly loved until we have extravagant presents to prove it. We are unsure of who we are and where we belong, we are told that the products we buy can help us define who we are, and along the way provide us with a community who is into the same stuff. We will find connection through our things. And we are surrounded by it, this message. It is in our ears and faces all the time. We absorb it through our pores. We doubt our worth and fall prey to the belief that we have the power to sate our own hunger. We fall into the cycle of spending our time to earn money to buy things to fill our hunger but it never lasts. And so we do it again, and again.

Jesus knows about this cycle. He knows that, on his own, he can do nothing, that it is only through God that he can act for good. Jesus knows that life is about so much more than that bread. He knows that he cannot fill himself on his own. He is hungry, he is weak, he is tired. I would imagine he is salivating at the thought of a meal. But he is also grounded in the Word of God, in scripture and prayer. He is grounded in faith in God and the knowledge that God can and will provide so much more than the things of this world, so much more than Jesus’ own power and abilities can bring him. It is his grounding in the word of God and trust in God’s promises that allows him to put aside his hunger and reply with words from scripture, “The human shall not live by bread alone, but by the word of God.”

By what are we living? The word of the world, or the word of God? Where do we put our trust?

The devil sees that this tack will not work. What else can he offer Jesus? What else might throw Jesus off track? An offer of power, perhaps? The devil offers all of the kingdoms in the world. Just the fact that the devil was able to show this to Jesus hints at the devil’s power. The devil claims that the kingdoms of the world have been given to him – is the devil lying, or does the devil control the major cities of the world? If the devil does have this power, this could make Jesus become the messiah the people of Israel were expecting – a mighty king, a political leader, come to free God’s people. This would be a very different king than the road Jesus is currently on. His power would be more visible, more worldly, would be seen in a way that those around him could understand. Moreover, it would be a power that he could understand, that he could control. Not only is the devil offering Jesus power and control, he is offering him it in a way that makes sense in this world. The power Jesus has, the role he plays in the world is almost never understood by those around him, not until after his death. All he has to do is pledge loyalty to the devil — in return he will recieve power, control and a different destiny.

Power. Control. Understanding. Recognition. We really like those words. Who doesn’t, at one time or another, daydream of being in charge of a kingdom, be it having control of your household for five minutes or having control of the world. We love control, and we really, really hate to admit that we aren’t in charge of much of anything. Most of us want to be recognized for what we do, to be seen as the one who just did that awesome thing. But we have a God who doesn’t show us the end of the story but lets us work it out. We have a God who asks us to do our good deeds on the down low. We have a God who asks us to pledge our loyalty to him and only him, in return for things that are hard to see, hard to explain, and often unrecognized by our world as being awesome. The world tells us the opposite – power is visible, control is ours, and we deserve to be recognized for what we have done. What are we willing to trade for some recognition, some power, some control? What are we willing to give up to God?

Jesus is still hungry, still exhausted, and can likely see some positive outcomes of the devil’s offer. After all, he is fully human as well as fully God. But he knows his call, he knows who he is created to be. Once again, the strength of his faith comes through. His grounding in God and knowledge of his path takes over and he is able to say, “Get behind me Satan: for it is written, you shall worship the Lord your God and no other.”

But the devil is not done. There is one more thing. And, really, it’s kind of bratty. Satan must be annoyed that Jesus keeps pushing him back with scripture, so he comes with some of his own. And through that, he manages to ask Jesus if he really trusts that God will protect him. “Jesus, God has said he will protect you. Do you really think he will? If you do, if you really believe in God, put his love to the test.” Or, the flip side of this question, “If you believe what God has told you about who you are, put who you are to the test.”

Most of us know this is a bad move in a relationship. It is rarely, if ever, a good idea to say, “If you really loved me, you’d…” Or to act out to see what your beloved’s response is. And yet… how often do we put God’s love to the test?  How often do we act out hoping for some response from God, for some lightening bolt from the sky. How often do we put God to the test by questioning who we are, by questioning if we are loved?

You are loved. I am loved. We are loved. By God. The proof in this lies in our lives, our community and in stories of God’s love passed down through the generations and the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Jesus  had the stories, he had the community, he was rooted in God’s love for him. He didn’t need to throw himself off a building to prove it. He knew.

The devil is done with him… for now. The scripture here tells us that the devil will come back – at an appropriate time. Not even Jesus could escape temptation. But he could face it down, he could push it back – and so can we. With Jesus’ help.

But, why? Why should we push back temptation? Usually temptation has something fun on the other end of the line. True. Usually it does. Just like a fish sees a tasty worm at the end of the line but misses the hook. Giving in to temptation usually does have some fun, but it almost always comes with pain, loss, grief, embarrassment, and more.

Jesus was able to push back temptation because he was deeply grounded in the word of God. Not just the words of God, though his knowledge of scripture and his ability to quote it certainly helped him in this situation. He was grounded in the word of God, the word that was there at the beginning, the word that lived inside of Jesus Christ and the word that lives among us today. As the Apostle Paul writes, “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart.” We have the word in our midst! We have scripture, we have ritual, we have community, we have the Holy Spirit, we have the unending, always forgiving, never fading love of God. When the devil asks us, “Do you trust God?” We can look at all that we have been given, all that is around us, all that God has entrusted to us and respond with a mighty, resounding Yes.


Reimagning Church Camp

Imagine this: there is a place where you can be completely yourself, and be loved for everything you are. In this place you can sing, dance, laugh, pray, play, run, create, explore and live more fully than you do in your every day life — possible live the most full life you can. This is a place where you can ask questions you may be afraid to ask in your every day life and those questions will be explored, not ignored or put down. This is a place where you feel God as a real, living presence and become more aware of the value and example of the life of Jesus and of the movement of the Holy Spirit in your life. When you leave this place, the relationships you have formed will support you throughout your life. When you experience crushing loss, these friends will be there to carry you. When you experience immense joy, these friends will show up to celebrate with you. This place will feed your faith in God, in others, and in yourself.

This is how I experienced church camp. Sure, there was teenage drama — the boy I liked who didn’t like me back (oh, Cory… sigh…). But I don’t remember there being cool kids or losers like there so often are in teenage life. I do remember learning to love people I never would have talked to in my daily life and being loved in a way I never thought possible. It is the experience of Camp Mowana that grew my faith as I spent most of my teenage years at punk shows with Atheist friends. It is the love I felt at camp that lives in my heart and reminds me of God’s love when I feel unloveable and worthless. It is the friendships that I made at camp that kept me faithful during the lean years, the times when it seemed like everything was dark and God was nowhere to be found. I have said many times that my camp experiences and relationships have possibly saved my life — and definitely saved me from myself more than once. I am not the only person who can tell this story about church camp (I recognize that there are some awful church camp stories out there, that’s not what I’m goin’ for here).

There is a whole lot of happiness in this picture. You have no idea. Unless you are in it, then you do.

And yet traditional, cabin in the woods church camps seem to be dying. This makes me so sad — not just because I am so attached to my beloved Camp Mowana, but because losing camps will mean losing an amazing way to foster and feed the faith of young people. We are losing the very people we need to reach the most. The problem is, we are trying to reach them by going to places they aren’t. If our churches are shrinking and youth involvement is particularly struggling, how does it make sense to depend on local congregations to  fill the cabins? Why are camps fishing in ponds that are, by and large, dying?

The big question here is this: How can camp be missional?

What if, instead of focusing on the people in the pews, we focused on the people in the surrounding towns? What if we made camps a place where people could explore faith, not just a place where it was fed to them? Would it be possible to be open to the “spiritual but not religious” and yet retain Christian (Lutheran, in my case) integrity? Can a camp be Christian “under the hood”?

What if our camps were also vibrant spiritual communities where regular worship happened once a week? What if we invited the community in for weekend meals? Or, even crazier, what if we invited local bands in to perform, hosted yoga retreats, provided levels of Christian experience for people who weren’t too sure about church? What if we had weeks that taught farming or primitive skills or computer skills with a side of Jesus? Is any of this possible?

I’m scheming and dreaming new ways we can do church camp. Help me out. What is being tried? What is working? What isn’t? If any of my non-Christian friends read this – could anything draw you/your children/your family to a camp that was identified as Christian? What can we do to revive or rebirth outdoor ministries?


Into the wilderness

The Lenten call leads us here. Image from http://www.bibleplaces.com/wilderness.htm

When I was 23, my father was told he had 12-18 months to live. He had glioblastoma multiforme — a particularly dastardly cancer. It is like an octopus in a person’s brain — it wraps itself around brain cells, disrupts the brain’s ability to communicate and — most fun — if you cut a limb off, it just grows another one. If you have a GBM, you will die sooner rather than later. A few days after Christmas, he had a new understanding of the phrase, “You were made from dust, to dust you shall return.” And, with that, he went into the wilderness.

In the Bible, wilderness is a place where people are lost, isolated, afraid, and grieving terrible losses. It is also where the people find hope for a new and better future and are transformed into a new people. The people in the wilderness have seen horrific things — war, murder, death, destruction of their temple and all that they knew. The prophets words guide the people through their grief, doubt and fear. They express anger at God, the pain of the people and envision a new world for the survivors of mass atrocities. The people have to grieve and deal with their past transgressions before they can come to a place of hope and construct a new society — this is what they do in the wilderness.

Jesus goes into the wilderness after he is told by God, in front of a crowd of people, that he is the son of God. He is compelled to go into the wilderness, where he is taunted by the devil (face his demons, perhaps?) I would imagine he did some introspection as well. After all, this whole Son of God thing just got real. He emerged from the wilderness to heal the sick, preach to and teach the lost and, ultimately, to walk towards his death on the cross.

My dad had an amazing sense of humor, a quick wit and impressive way with words, as well as a passion for serving those in need. He loved those close to him with fierce devotion. He was also deeply angry. He had a temper. He seemed to blame the world for his life not turning out the way he had dreamed it would. He held grudges for long periods of time (like, forever). After his diagnosis, my father spent about 40 days in the wilderness of his head. At the beginning, he was resigned to death. He sat in the darkness of our family room, watching court TV. It was like he said, “Fuck it. Death, you can come and get me right here, in my comfy chair.”

I don’t know what happened for him in those days, but sometime in April, he came out of the wilderness transformed. He let go of his anger. He became loving to people he had previously hated. He had a new sense of gratitude for life and those around him that I had never seen. He looked at everything and everyone like they were amazing and beautiful. With the knowledge of his impending death, he took a close look at his life and decided that things needed to change if he wanted the last bit of his life to be as full and fulfilling as possible.

This is Lent.

On Ash Wednesday, we are reminded that we, too, will die. We don’t know when. Really, it could be tomorrow or 90 years from now. If we really take in that knowledge, if we really believe what is said when the ashes are put on our foreheads, then Lent is not about giving up chocolate or Facebook or having fish on Fridays. Lent is about looking deeply into ourselves and making room for God to dwell in us. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t give things up — I’m not you, you could be giving up something that will be a part of your transformation. But it needs to be about so much more than that. Lent is a time to go into our own wilderness and look at our brokenness — our sin. With God’s help, we examine the ways in which we are not living into the amazing people we were created to be. We look at our idolatry, the grudges we hold on to, the prejudices and habits that we cling to for dear life and we put them all in front of God. God will still love you. That’s what she does, and she already knows about all of it anyway. God will help you look at all of the ways you and I are broken and take us in with a huge hug and say, “I know about all of this. I love you, and I want you to be what I created you to be. Now, let’s work together to fix it.” Some of these changes may be incremental, things no one else will notice. Some may transform your outlook on life and who you are day-to-day. Every bit of effort at Lenten introspection will bring you that much closer to the grace-filled, compassionate, smart, funny, forgiving, grateful, patient, loving bundle of wonderful God created you (and me) to be. So, why not give it all we’ve got? Most importantly, why wait for a terminal illness to realize what is and isn’t important in life or to connect ourselves with our creator? Most of us don’t get to know when we are going to die. And yet, we all will die.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

For each post, there is a song: Awake my Soul