It’s that time of year again – time to look back and collect up the goodies 2017 gave me that are worth carrying forward, and time to look forward and consider what to aim at in 2018.  Having New Year’s Day off work, giving me a big block of silent time to do so (with an added incentive to stay in, as it is literally dangerous to breathe outside today) is priceless.

Some years I come to this process bristling with ideas; this year I ended up reading through a bunch of the year’s emails to remind myself what even happened, as the cloud of the national political awfulness was almost the only thing that came to my mind when I asked what 2017 had held.  The review of the emails was good – turns out A LOT of other stuff – good stuff – also happened.  Thank God politics is not all there is in life.

Healing Journey

New Year’s Day 2017 was my third day of taking an array of supplements recommended to me by my functional medicine practitioner (I say chiro, for short, as she’s also that) to address what had run into almost two years of increasingly severe-to-sometimes-the-point-of-debilitating fatigue.  By January 3rd I was already getting glimpses of feeling better, and a deliciously shocking series of events followed over the next six months.

A wound on my leg that wouldn’t heal for months suddenly and almost instantly did.

My monthly cycle went from “please kill me now” for at least one day per month to “merely a minor inconvenience.”

The arthritis pain in my feet (something I’ve lived with for I think five years) reduced in severity.

And yeah, my fatigue lifted – I went from needing 10 hours of sleep (and still tired more often than not) to being able to get by on 8.

It wasn’t a perfect journey – I was sick a lot this year, which my chiro attributed to a suppressed immune system.  I was chafing to be instantly better, so I kept sabotaging my healing by overdoing, until finally my chiro whipped out a word that slowed me down – she said I was “convalescing” and needed to act like it.  The seriousness of the word made me cry, but slowing down did help.

The cost of those supplements was $6/day, in addition to regular visits to the chiro; as the year went on I came to realize that we actually don’t have an extra $6/day just lying around.  I’d been pushing back first one bill and another to make it work; by August there was no more room for pushing, so I made the decision to discontinue the supplements that had given me back my life.  We are scrimping and working to get our finances to a better place before I can resume the supplements; I note my body starting to lose ground again on those fronts where so much was accomplished.  I’m doing what I can.


Swearing in a new president who seems to me somewhere between foolishly dangerous and outright evil (if you don’t feel the same, I’m not trying to pick a fight – several of my closest people – GOOD people – think the right choice was made) left me struggling to figure out what MY job was in response to it.

I wanted to go to the Women’s March in January, but my arthritis and fatigue made that impossible, so I cheered on a friend who went.

I attended local rallies, candlelight vigils, protests and various meetings in the first quarter of the year looking for my role.

G and I attended two events at the local mosque, as a we-don’t-all-hate-you and we-need-to-learn endeavor.  I learned a lot and met some great people.

I took an all-day class on communication to learn how to listen better.  I pushed myself harder than ever to listen and read and educate myself on the issues and cultures of people of other races, including listening in spaces where there is little to no patience for nice white ladies like me; as I cross over into 2018 I’m in the midst of a podcast series teaching me about where the construct of “whiteness” came from (the first thing I learned – while “race is real” in its effect, it is utterly unscientific where biology is concerned).

While I support protests and other forms of activism, at this point I find that for me, the best things I can find to do are educate myself aggressively, speak truth in settings where people who look like me will hear from me what they couldn’t/wouldn’t hear from people who don’t look like me, and live out my faith with increasing intention and vigor.

I also started listening to podcasts from perspectives with which I do not agree and cannot support, for the purpose of at least understanding other viewpoints.  As a culture we are forgetting how to hear each other; this is one of my weapons to prevent myself from living in an echo chamber and being useless among those with whom I disagree.

This year afforded G and me a service opportunity when we served at a local meal site, and loved it so much that we took it on once a month, a practice we’re carrying into 2018.  I debated about even listing this, as it can look like patting myself on the back, but also I wanted to note out loud that this is an opportunity available in most communities (maybe even yours), and it is wonderfully practical, if you’re looking for a hands-on good thing to do.

Meanwhile, I continually work to stock the pantry at home and do the things to prepare for a crash of one or more (all?) systems here in our country, since such a thing seems so likely and if it happens, I want to be one of the helpers, not one of the people crying with their hands out because they thought it couldn’t happen.

Spiritual Growth

I read a book this year that you should totally read.  Dr. Kelly Flanagan’s Loveable:  Embracing What I Truest About You, So You Can Truly Embrace Your Life was a life-changer for me.  I wept my way through it, getting confirmations from God at every step in the form of totally unrelated conversations and other readings.

Other books that I read spoke to the electronic overload of our brains due to the internet and all of its shiny goodies – Cal Newport’s Deep Work:  Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World irritated me but made good points, and Greg McKeown’s Essentialism:  The Disciplined Pursuit of Less was helpful along the way.  There were also a handful of church leadership books that left me thinking and worrying about the best way forward for today’s church.

I served on a Walk to Emmaus team – that’s a weekend retreat.  When I went on my first “walk” years ago, it radically changed my understanding of my faith; I’ve served on teams from time to time since then to create the same experience for others.  If you haven’t been, you should totally go!  If you’re local, let me know and I’ll help you get there.  Serving this time was by far the best experience I’ve had at the weekend.

Our annual Royal Family Kids Camp was another stretching experience this summer, leaving more foster kids imprinted on my heart for permanent prayer.  2018 will bring an affiliated monthly “club” meeting and mentoring program starting in the fall – I can’t wait.

For the month of May I fasted from Facebook, Netflix, and added/processed sugars.  This was NOT my idea; it came to me in prayer and I stiff-armed it for all I was worth.  But when I gave it a try, I learned a lot (much of which I pretty promptly put out of my mind, so the review of emails for this blog was a good thing – I can pick some of that back up and use it as I slide into 2018).

And I can’t leave this out:  our pastor did a 3-part sermon on “Crazymakers” very recently, addressing relationships with difficult people.  Part three of that series was one of the most important messages ever for me, empowering me to step out of an exhausting, years-long, continually toxic situation without feeling like I was somehow letting God down.  I recommend it.

Body Stuff

Though I had all that good healing stuff early in the year, this has not been a banner year for Karen’s body.  It’s not all bad – in November I started running again once in a while, to my delight.  But overall I am not in a good zone where the body is concerned – my weight is up to the point of continual discomfort, and something’s gotta change in 2018.  Some of that has come from eating cheap food (read:  crappy processed carbs) to fix the household budget, but mostly as I reread my emails from the year, I see a sugar addict who knows she’s a sugar addict just mainlining sugar continually and acting like it’s okay.

Fun Stuff

I read more books this year than I’ve done in a long time – I don’t even know how many.  I delved back into fiction, and it feeds me in a way that nonfiction does not – like a brain refreshment or something (but there were also a ton of nonfiction books along the way).  I used my library card and my free Kindle books available on Amazon Prime to just relish the joy of reading.

AudioFeed Music Festival was a refreshing few days – fun faithful nonstandard music that you can’t find on K-LOVE, interesting classes, and a departure from everyday life.

We did a seder at my daughter’s house with family for Passover.  We made our annual trip to Chicago so we could do Yom Kippur (funny that this day of repentance is my favorite Jewish festival) at G’s synagogue in Skokie, and we caught up with friends at JPUSA.  We also camped out and enjoyed meals in the back yard during Sukkot, and have great plans for Sukkot 2018.

For our 4th anniversary in August we took a little hiking vacation to Starved Rock State Park.  I want to do that again.  The rest of my “fun stuff” for the year was family stuff  and friend stuff and garden/yard stuff, because I am a real party animal.

I’m glad to see, looking back, that the yuck on the news feed is not all that 2017 contained.  The year hasn’t been perfect, and I’m getting a lot wrong along the way as usual, but overall I note how often I think or say aloud that I’m shocked at how happy my life is – I know for sure I didn’t “earn” this level of joy, fun, peace and purpose.  That’s where I’m choosing to focus – gratitude is ALWAYS the right answer, no matter the question.

If you made it this far (yes, I know I write way too long!)…thanks for hearing me out.  I’d love to hear about the goodies YOU pulled out of 2017.


a violent hope

Posted: November 13, 2017 in Uncategorized

My aunt and uncle have a farm, with land and barns and cattle and chickens and the whole deal – the kind of stuff to which I fondly I refer when I say that I grew up on the farm.  My husband the city boy can’t get enough of visiting there.

Recently we drove out to get tomatoes from their garden and apples from their tree; as we got out of the car, he was excited:  “Cows!”  The cattle were up near the fence, calves and all.  I headed for tomatoes and he went to commune with them.

But unlike most visits, he quickly returned to my side.  I was surprised he hadn’t taken more time; generally he works on his perpetual fantasy that they will come to the fence for petting and he takes his opportunity to Instagram them when they prove to still be cattle, uninterested in the affection of the stranger at the fence.  What brought him away from the fence so quickly?

One word:  the bull.  This guardian of the herd had not not needed special identification to make himself known.  One sound, one small gesture, and G was instantly aware that he was in the presence of danger, despite the fence between them.  Bulls don’t have to speak twice; when they tell you to back off, that’s what you do.


Earlier this year, my brother visited a crocodile farm somewhere in the south.  On my tiny iPhone screen I watched a short video clip he sent me, in which a gigantic, ancient beast rises up out of muddy water, opens its ponderous jaw, and lets out a rumble.  My brother said that when he made that noise and the water droplets shook off his head, the ground shook beneath his feet.  All I know is that every time I watch it, something at the very center of me experiences sheer terror, urging me, “RUN!”  Even coming from a device that fits easily in my hand, that sound says to me, “Today, you are going to die a horrifying and violent death.”  The crocodile doesn’t have to rage or create cinematic drama to make his power known.


Yesterday in church, we sang a song that paints a picture for me of that level of power.

But on that day/What seemed as the darkest hour/A violent hope/Broke through and shook the ground/And as You rose/The light of all the world was magnified/As You rose in victory.

The first time we sang that (and every time since), it wrecked me.  I pictured a scene I don’t know as well as a bull or a crocodile:  a lion.  He steps onto the scene and makes his voice known a single time.  The ground shakes, and nothing that hears remains casual or complacent.  The sound is fearsome power, and no one needs a tutorial to understand this is so.

This is the power of “gentle Jesus,” whom we follow and worship but too often miscalculate with our feeble imaginations, making Him small and easily understood, a casual “part” of our lives, sometimes remembered and other times forgotten.  I think God gave us things like bulls and crocs and lions as pictures (small and inadequate, but illustrative when we encounter them in person)  of the power we dismiss because we’ve distanced ourselves from Him and/or mistakenly measured ourselves as far greater powers than we are.

A violent hope broke through and shook the ground.  Scripture tells us that’s a thing that actually happened the day of the cross, something I don’t remember hearing as a small child, so it shocked me in my thirties the first time I noticed it.  An earthquake, the tearing of the temple curtain, graves opened up, a darkened sky.  Not a small, symbolic, cinematic moment for the artsy folks, but the violence of God in an instant overruling a death sentence hanging over humanity.

Feeling like you’re barely making it today?  May the power of that violent hope seize you and let you know how silly you’ve been to rely on your own power, when “gentle Jesus” offers you His.  May it shake the ground on which you stand.  Today, let’s pray like we have access to that because…

we do.

“God hates divorce.”  Five or so years before my divorce, I was comfortable with this scripture.  Smug, even.  I recall lecturing righteously to my kids about it as we drove somewhere in the car, filled with superior gladness that I was a stable, responsible person who would never break that vow made before God, never put my own needs so much on the front burner that I’d inflict pain and chaos on others around me.  Divorce was for flaky people.  Selfish people.  People who couldn’t get their shit together.  (And on rare occasion, it was for ladies and were rightly fleeing physically abusive situations – even at the worst of my arrogance, I understood THAT part.)

Divorce was for people who were not like me.

It wasn’t long after that my marriage began its slow, awful crumble, with plenty of fault to go around.  There were stages and much struggle over a period of several years – this was no sudden decision – and then a couple of years of getting through the actual legal severing once we’d determined that the marriage simply would not be saved.

It was the hardest, ugliest thing I’ve ever been through.  Here’s the thing I learned:  when you make a marriage vow, you create a holy, living thing.  Divorce is the deliberate murder of that living thing.  No matter how hard you work on being civilized and cooperative, it is a death…and not a natural one.  The pain level for me and for him was intense – shocking.  We each felt at different points that we might not survive the process.

That was to be expected, right?  Divorce hurts.

What I DIDN’T expect was the level of pain it would cause others.  The kids, yes, of course that would hurt – that was the hardest part of making that decision.  Lots of people, including counselors, told me that “kids are resilient” and I shouldn’t base any choice on the question of “what about the kids.”  I didn’t buy for a minute that it would be anything less than excruciating for them – the only reason I was able to push forward was that it seemed staying was going to damage them even more.   So, I didn’t leave *for* the kids, but as I did what I needed to at the time, I understood the choice as “the least bad option” available to me, where it came to their well-being.  What I believed then and still believe, right or wrong, is that we (BOTH of us) had broken things irrevocably, and we only knew how to be unhealthy with one another.  Not a good legacy to pass on to kids.

But the pain wasn’t limited to those in our little 4-person family.  It splashed around.  It hurt extended family.  It hurt friends.  It intruded into the workplace.  It was an ugly gift that just kept on giving.  I hadn’t seen that coming.

Even today, when I talk with anyone who is struggling in a marriage, I am quick to let them know:  don’t think divorce is an easy out.  It is ugly and difficult beyond any words I know how to use.  Pursue all other avenues.  In most cases, take divorce off the table as even a thought – even CONSIDERING it is harmful to a marriage.  Don’t go there, as long as you can find any other option at all.  Keep trying.  Keep praying.  Keep working on yourself.  There is no easy escape hatch.

I thought of all that this morning in church, as our guest pastor paused amidst his message for a sidebar.  “Denominations,” he said, “are not of God.”  He told us there are FORTY THOUSAND denominations inside of Christianity…”each birthed from divorce.”


In my final year as a junior high Sunday School teacher, I did a “survey of the faith” segment with my class.  We started with Judaism, and studied the rise of the Christian church, the split between Catholic and Protestant, the various denominational differences, etc…for the better part of a year.  We visited Jewish synagogues to start out (from orthodox to messianic in nature).  We checked out a catholic church with a Latin mass (though the priest fell ill and didn’t show up for service, so we never actually heard the Latin).  We attended services at all sorts of different denominations within protestant Christianity, trying to learn a little first about each and then go in respectfully, collecting impressions to discuss later.

My class was a FANTASTIC group of kids and in some ways the exercise was great fun and highly educational.

In the end, though, I regretted doing the “survey of the church” segment with them…because of how much hope it sucked out of ME…and how much I worried that I’d damaged their ability to trust the church by looking so closely at it.

Because today’s guest pastor was right:  every denomination has been birthed by divorce.  Every new church was started because someone decided they weren’t satisfied where they were, things were not being done “right,” they were going to do it “better,” and for whatever reason they couldn’t just work out their differences where they were.  Bring on the split, and the split, and the split and the split, starting more and more churches, many too focused on their difference from the others and not enough on loving one another, all of them filled with messy people doing it imperfectly.

If you haven’t been to the church wars, maybe you don’t know the level of pain and chaos and awfulness therein.  I have.  I know.  While I was an awful combatant the first time I went there, the second time I felt like a child of divorce.  I wasn’t on either “side” of the war.  I liked and loved people on both sides.  I just wanted them to play nicely together – to humble themselves, to fix the mess.  The fix came eventually, I guess, but it took people out of that congregation and it left a big scar.  It was a divorce.

God hates divorce.  Once upon a time, in the middle of ending that marriage, those words felt like a giant finger of condemnation pointed at me.  Like a judgment.  Like a measure of my failure.

A little further down the road, I don’t see it that way AT ALL.  Does God hate divorce?  Sure.  Not because someone is “failing,” but because of that pain that splashes around, that ugly gift that just keeps on giving.  He hates divorce because of the harm it does to the people He loves.  If divorce has happened in your household, or in your church, maybe you know what I’m saying here.

We’re not going to go back and fix this – the endless denominations exist, and this side of heaven we’re not going to lay that all down, undoing our different labels and nuanced theology.

But we’d do well to consider this business of being birthed by divorce…and working on healing the wounds inflicted therein.

We can do that, with God’s help.  He’s all about it.




When I was in high school learning about one historical clash after another, I often wondered how I would have responded, had I lived in those times.  Would I have protested the Vietnam War?  Where would I have stood, what would I have been doing when Martin Luther King Jr. was giving his “I Have a Dream” speech, or when Rosa Parks made her very calculated and fully supported move to stand her ground regarding a bus seat?  What would I have been saying when the battle to desegregate our schools happened?  Would I have spoken out against having separate bathrooms and drinking fountains for “colored folks”?  If a lynch mob had happened in my town, how would I have reacted?  What if I had been in Germany when the Jews had to start wearing stars and receiving second-class citizen treatment?  Would I have hidden Jews from Hitler’s people?  Would I have been silent while my loved ones owned and abused slaves, here in my country?  Would I have hidden slaves from those in authority?

In other words:  would I have had integrity to the point of being endangered by it, or would I have offered my complicit silence and hidden behind what was “legal” in those times and places?  Would I have maybe even believed in/agreed with what I now see as “the wrong side” of history?  A younger me was sure I’d have been a firebrand for truth.  Middle-aged me is not so sure about that.  Everyone wants to think they’d do the “right” thing, looking back on various points in history, even if we disagree on what thing is actually right.  I suspect that the number of us who would ACTUALLY be bold and uncompromising in our integrity is far smaller than the number of who suppose we would.  We human beings are better at theory and intellectual exercise than reality, for the most part.  I’m not at all certain that if I had lived through any of those difficult passages, I’d have acted in a way that would make “today Karen” proud and filled with approval.  Not at all certain.

Let’s segue from “high school Karen” and “historical supposing” to today.  Here and now, August 2017, with Charlotteville, Virginia in the news.  I wondered aloud to my daughter yesterday about the counter-protesters there on that scene.  I tried to decide, was it wise to be there?  Should they have skipped it, knowing it might go the way it did?  Was there value in going to interrupt a racist rally?

While I am a Jesus-follower, an active leader in my church and committed to my faith in my own highly imperfect way, wading into scripture daily and working always on that business of “praying without ceasing”… I am also quite liberal in my political leanings.  I gladly embrace the epithet “wild-eyed liberal” thrown by people who don’t feel the same.  (Surprise!  It is possible to be both of those things!)  After the 2016 presidential election, as I was reeling and horrified and fearful and angry, I got engaged in “resistance” activities.  I had to – it felt like the world was ending, and I couldn’t just sit in my living room while it all burned down.

A Trump rally was scheduled in my area.  My resistance group held a discussion:  what should we do?  While some wanted to protest the rally, the larger consensus was that this had potential for violence and little to no potential for changing hearts and minds…so we opted instead to do some positive activities in other areas on that same day at the same time.  At that time, I felt like the decision was wisdom.

So yesterday, I pondered:  should the counter-protesters in Charlotteville have taken that approach as well?  Should they have just done something positive somewhere nearby, but not on site?  Would that have been wisdom?

And then I thought about what was at stake – the agenda of the alt-right rally.

I thought about how we view the people who were actively involved in slave trading – and even how we view the folks who simply didn’t offer resistance while it all went down.

I thought about the Jews saved in Germany by those who risked terrible consequences, breaking the law even…and how we feel about them, as compared to how we feel about those who knew damned well and good what that smell was emanating in the neighborhood when Jews were being burned up in furnaces.

I thought about how much easier desegregation could have been for those poor kids who took so much abuse, if only people had chosen to address evil directly, rather than talking around it or being too afraid of their racist neighbors and family to actually speak out.

We can’t always carefully craft our words so that they will land softly – doing so, in some cases, is a direct injustice, an act of cowardice or worse.

Calling out racism can’t be the *only* strategy we have, or it’s not a strategy at all – that’s just useless talk, on its own.  We have to be looking for active ways to be part of the solution, to address the problem, to give of OURSELVES, our money, our time, our “rights.”  And I confess:  I have a really hard time finding those active ways.  I try, but it’s not often self-evident to me.

But that doesn’t mean we should not be calling out racism.  What if the Germans had called out Hitler’s regime often, early, and boldly?  What if when slaves on ships had started showing up on American shores, people would have said, “Oh, HELL no,” and backed it up with might?  Our only strategy can’t be just shaking our heads and muttering quietly to others who won’t be mad at us for our opinion.

So…not that anyone in Charlotteville needs MY blessing…but I’ve concluded that their presence at the rally was integrity.  I hope I’d have the clarity of vision to be similarly willing, in their shoes.  My interpretation of my faith demands that I stand up for oppressed people, and that I resist evil.  I don’t see it as optional.

Truly, no part of me is excited at the prospect that this race conversation is far from over…that I might get my chance to make such a decision, somewhere down the road.

If so, I hope – I PRAY – my integrity holds.

naked affection

Posted: August 9, 2017 in Uncategorized

In August 2011, after nine glorious months living in intentional Christian community in Chicago (understood perhaps more simply by the word “commune”), I moved back to the Quad Cities and returned to my previous job.  This wasn’t MY idea…my intention and favorite plan was to stay in that community for the rest of my days here on earth.  The return to the QC happened because my boss at the previous job asked me to pray about coming back, and I said I would, so then I had to actually pray (I figure God has a dim view of folks saying, “I’ll pray about that” and then not doing so)…and those prayers eventually led to a clear call for the move.  I’ve been back with that boss ever since; it turned out to be a good plan, despite feeling at the time like the cancellation of a many-years-long dream for my life.

The first six months after the move back were hard.  I lived alone in an apartment at the senior housing facility where I was (and am) employed.  The end of the day meant retiring to my own space, without another human being in it, to eat supper by myself and find ways to fill the hours before sleeping, and then to climb into my great big bed in my too-quiet bedroom (none of the sirens and screams I’d grown accustomed to in the Chicago nights) and wait for sleep to kindly eat up the hours.

In my intentional community, I always had the option to choose sufficient “alone time” to satisfy my introverted ways, though sometimes that required creativity…but I also always had the option to have as much company as I wanted.  In my room, in my hall, on my floor, across the entire building were other people with a vision at least somewhat similar to mine.  Everywhere I looked were folks who were weird in at least some of the same ways as me.  I congregated with friends in the little kitchen on our floor, in the big dining room downstairs, in various living rooms on various floors, outside in the “side yard,” at my job at the homeless shelter run by the community, and out on adventures all across the Chicago area.  We got together for tea or coffee.  We ate meals together.  We went for walks.  We talked and laughed and were quiet together.  We had deep conversations about real things that mattered, not just small talk, which I loathe, largely because I can’t do it.  We went to music shows.  We did community service projects together.  We did Bible studies together.  We had an exercise class.  We met for “bardic circles” to tell stories and jokes and sing songs and read poems.  We had house meetings.  Our church was inside our community, though people from outside also joined us.  That intentional community was home to me before I got there, while I lived in its midst, and really in some ways will always be home to me – I feel a strong longing as I write about it, though I love my life here and feel no need to fight against being where God has placed me.

Every evening at home alone in my nice apartment was hard.  I played on my computer while I ate, to distract myself from the deep loneliness.  I was meeting with a couple of my female friends, which filled maybe two evenings a week, and I visited my parents and my prayer partner on another night,  and met with some friends for Bible study yet another night.  That sounds like a full week, and today it really would be, but at that time, the other days – the ones with no plans outside my lonely apartment – got long.

I spent too much money on unneeded things, trying to fill up the aching space in my life.

I rode my bike a lot to fill the hours.

I talked too much about Chicago when I was around others, yearning to be back where life had made so much sense and been so comfortable.

And on Sundays I shopped around for a church to call my own – a task that got harder and harder as each Sunday went by.  I got weary of being the new person, weary of pasting a smile on my face, worn out from trying to figure out the “elevator speech” to give about myself upon introduction in order to give folks some idea who I really was.  I got sick of the discomfort of being new to the ways and routines of each new church I visited.  I just wanted to BE somewhere, to BELONG somewhere, to be known and to know others and to have an idea of my role and to be able to contribute something.

I visited a church with a warm, friendly greeter.  She was interesting and interested.  We shared common values and interests.  She lavished me with her undivided attention before church, and then invited me out with her and some other ladies the next week when I saw her.  Lonely Karen soaked that up.  I had gotten used to the naked expression of affection at the intentional community – friends who were openly overjoyed to see me, actively interested in what I had to say, downright gushy in their expression of fondness on a regular basis.  After leaving the community, I’d been struggling to be more chill, more distant, more cautious like everyone else around me seemed to be, and I was missing my community friends HARD.  This greeter unknowingly pushed all those buttons with her warmth and attention; I found myself gushing to her on email that I was so glad to know her, so glad to have found a potential real friend, looking so forward to spending more time with her.

Cue the crickets.

Looking back, I’m pretty sure it was mostly just that she was a career woman and a wife with a very full life and plenty on her plate already.  And maybe she was feeling cautious about me as I probably read as a needy woman.  (There is also the distinct possibility that she just wasn’t really “an email person” – I can’t understand that, but it’s true about a lot of people.  Maybe she never even got around to reading my lavish message.)

At the time, the silence in response to my extended affection was devastating.  It felt like a corrective slap.  I pulled back, re-calibrated, reminded myself that outside my intentional community, people didn’t do naked affection so much.  I was embarrassed at my display of strong affection and open need – the silent response made me feel like I’d been childish and inappropriate.  I worked to “suck it up” when I saw her after that, playing it friendly but cool, asking for nothing, not striving to cement a friendship.  Don’t be a leech, Karen.

I didn’t hold it against her at the time, nor do I now.  Who knows…maybe I was just being weird.  Certainly I am gifted in social awkwardness.  It was a time of massive adjustment for me, and everything felt “off” in the process.  It has left me careful ever since, trying not to press myself excessively on others, not to demand more than people might want to give.  And also careful not to inadvertently put someone else in a position of feeling rejected.  I guess in the long run it has made me a slightly more distant person, when it comes to new people in my life.

I’m still a fan of naked affection, though I don’t know how to lead others into it – I only know how to respond when others extend it to me (THANK YOU, people who love loudly and boldly!)  I love visiting my intentional community friends, who are still as naked as ever in their gladness when we meet again.  I have a couple of friends here in the QC who love with the same unashamed abandon – I revel in the mutual gushing that happens whenever I get to see them.  I know that level of emotion and affection aren’t comfortable for everyone – but I’m really glad to have some people who are all about it.

May you know naked affection from someone in your life, even if you never choose to go and immerse yourself in it via intentional community.  It’s a beautiful, life-giving thing.


Audio Feed report, part 2

Posted: July 5, 2017 in Uncategorized

A coworker asked today about my Audio Feed vacation – “You went to a concert, right?”  This presents the dilemma:  trying to explain what the festival is.  I didn’t even try to explain today, as we both had a lot of work to do.  When people asked about Cornerstone festival, I generally called it “a Christian Woodstock,” but that didn’t do it justice.  To my knowledge, Woodstock had no educational element, nor any worship element – just the music and, I don’t know, maybe it had merch?  I just felt like comparing it to Woodstock was pointing to the music and the openness that I was encountering.

I won’t be able to capture all of Audio Feed in a few blogs, and if I tried to keep writing until I’d painted the whole picture, I think I would just kill the magic.  Rather than trying to explain every detail, how about I just share about some of my favorite highlights?

  • Jewish stuff – this is something I don’t recall experiencing at Cornerstone, but there was Messianic Jewish programming available daily.  Thursday night, G and I went to “Rabbi Rock:  A Chanukah Experience,” which was a lot of music and some worship (this was part of the “Goth Family Christmas” occurring in the Asylum tent).  I could’ve stayed for straight-up worship after that, but it was midnight and I have my limits.  Friday morning, I attended a communion service there led by a rabbi whose main message was just because you’re still living in consequences does not mean you’re not forgiven, and included a note that orthodoxy is built to help pilgrims on the path, not to build the institution of the church.  That last bit is one I’ve been chewing on quite a bit – while I wouldn’t call myself “orthodox,” that explanation gives me a new appreciation of and interest in understanding orthodoxy.  Saturday and Sunday I stopped in for bits of other Jewish music or worship.   Having Jewish things to choose from seemed to me the perfect and logical next step for me, having married G and trying to learn the “Jewish wife” routine ever since.  I felt like it was pretty nice of God to arrange this.   The ministry team behind these events was interesting, as well (ministry to subculture folks – that’s my stuff!)
  • Great goth music – Leper played the best show I’ve seen them do yet, concluding with a worship song that took me (and others around me) to that stepping-into-another-dimension place that leaves me always longing for more.
  • Psalters was always a tribal what-the-heck-was-THAT highlight of Cornerstone festival for me; Bird and Herd came closest to that flavor for Audio Feed.  Anastasia Bird’s voice is an addictive substance for me, the poetic essays read at the top of each song were material I wanted to collect in my notebook, and she was well-backed by her “herd.”  I’m sorry I only made it to one of her two shows.
  • Fun music – if you’ve seen Destroy Nate Allen, described by Nate’s other half, Tessa as “rag doll anarchist music,” then you know the joy of that ridiculous party.  This time it included a devil pinata body-surfing the crowd before being stomped to smithereens in the pit, a song about staying out of the “booby bars” for the sake of one’s relationship, and the culmination was my favorite of all their songs, “Jesus Keep Us Safe from the Cops,” which is not about our sad current state of racial affairs but is instead just a giggling poke at what it’s like to be a touring band followed by local cops in every town.
  • More fun music – Spoken Nerd had a hilarious song called something like, “Being a Big Guy Isn’t All that Bad,” a song about big beards, and a lot of other silly stuff…but also an ironic song that plays over and over in my head with a serious point about the Christian culture wars and our general thought that we can be “good enough.”
  • Still more fun music – John Reuben came out after five years without a show, and many of us knew most of his lyrics (hey, he only knew *most* of his lyrics too, LOL).
  • Blow-your-mind music:  Scott Knies, otherwise known as Brother Red Squirrel.  This dude doesn’t PLAY music, he IS music.  He can pick up literally any instrument and caress songs and sounds out of it like no one I have ever seen.  I don’t know how his body and mind bear the brightness of carrying so much talent around in the world.  His show was my other “high holy worship” session, transported across the permeable surface between us and heaven.  I couldn’t know he was playing and then not be there.
  • So much more music.  I saw part of an extreme metal show by Colombian band Exegesis (it’s not my music, but it’s fun once a year), a couple of highly emotional bands that were fun (here and here), a lovely hour of classical/Spanish guitar, and more that I saw, and more that I wanted to see but just couldn’t be two places at the same time.
  • Great teaching on spiritual warfare by Jesus Outsider Ministries.  A class on “Spiritual Warfare through Creative Expression” by Flatfoot 56 lead singer Tobin Bawinkel, with stories about things God had done that made me weep in awe.  A class called “Christ and the Dark Night of the Soil,” that addressed the war going on between various elements of agriculture today.  “Beauty Will Save the World – Art vs. Propaganda,” which ended up being less agreeable to me than I expected, but still has me thinking.  And more seminars of varying quality.

There was more.  SO MUCH MORE, as far as programming.  On top of that, I caught up with friends from JPUSA everywhere I went.  Sadly I did not find a lot of my old Cornerstone subculture ministries tent folks, but maybe that’ll be another year.

Maybe all of that gives you a little glimpse of what I mean when I say Audio Feed.  May you enjoy clicking the links!

When I loaded up my car and got in to leave the very last Cornerstone festival, I cried.  First it was a few little dignified tears but quickly I was sobbing.  How could it be over?  I relived years and years of the festival – shows, friends made, seminars, roundtables, people-watching.  This thing changed my life.  It changed who I became.  It changed my mindset.  It freed me from the need to assimilate.  It pointed me down a path that I’d never have imagined.  My people were here – meeting with them annually was my recharge time that got me through the rest of the year.  How could it be over?

Quickly others who felt the terrible yawning chasm left in Cornerstone’s demise decided to do something about it; the first Audio Feed festival followed the next summer.  I was still grieving and didn’t want to even talk about Audio Feed, much less attend it.  After all, there are endless Christian music festivals out there.  If I just wanted “another fest,” I already had choices.  I didn’t want just another fest.  I didn’t want to show up to find a bunch of music I could hear every day on my radio.  I didn’t want to wander through all the things that gross me out about superiority-complex ridden Christian mainstream culture.  I had no interest in more of the same bland stuff I can find every day, everywhere.  My daughter had tried out Ichthus festival while her husband was in seminary; she had called me, indignant.  “Khaki pants and polo shirts everywhere!  It’s so mainstream!”  Cornerstone, with its rich diversity of all things alternative, had wrecked her for vanilla world just as it had me.  I didn’t need an experience like hers to taint my Cornerstone memories.  No thanks.

By the next year, I was hearing that my Cornerstone people were gathering again at Audio Feed.  I was interested, though still worried it might not live up to all that I had loved about Cornerstone (my main concern by this point:  what if it was only music and no seminars?)  It didn’t matter, it turned out.  G and I started volunteering that year serving abused and neglected foster kids at Royal Family Kids Camp, which fell during Audio Feed.  Oh well.  Maybe that was saving me from disappointment.

More years, more reports – it seemed like Audio Feed might be good, after all (and no, never at any point was I interested in learning about the other fests.)  We couldn’t choose vacation over foster kids, though, so no point in meditating on that.  I limited how much I read about Audio Feed each summer, so I wouldn’t be sad that I couldn’t at least try it out.

Then last year at camp, an announcement:  camp would be moved to a different slot at the end of July.  We were in the “snack shack,” a kind of staff break room, when the announcement came out – several of us faithful Cornerstone attenders broke into cheers instantly.  We get to go to Audio Feed!  

We got back last night from our first Audio Feed experience, having left before it was over due to the misfortune of not expecting the festival would run through this morning and thus not asking for the correct number of days off work for G, who needed to show up at 6:30 this morning for his role in feeding the seniors.  This meant we missed the Flatfoot 56 show and also a second Leper show, which is a true bummer, but we will bravely press on somehow.

People:  CORNERSTONE IS NOT DEAD.  Audio Feed is a new iteration.  It is smaller, and it is different in some ways, but the spirit is very much there.  My people (read: those who are over the value of artistic and ideological conformity) are there.  Being there was coming home again.  Next year we will read the schedule carefully before filling out our PTO sheets at work so that we don’t have to miss even a moment of it.

My mind is full of images and phrases and my notebook is full of details from the last four days of fun, and maybe I’ll write more about it after today (let’s be realistic:  I’ll write more than most of you want to read about it!) but no set of words can capture the collage.  Of course I couldn’t do/see everything that I wanted, because so much happens simultaneously – that’s part of the sweet agony of it all:  who will I choose to see this hour?

The big theme I heard across my many experiences there was a call for all of us from church world:  stop focusing on our differences and disagreements – we can’t afford to waste time and energy on that.  Ours is a rescue mission – abandon the culture wars and get back on mission.  A rescue mission is about others; culture wars are self-focused.  

Here’s how I know it is possible for us to follow that important directive:  my own Audio Feed experience.  I’m a seminar junkie; I sit in more classes/discussions than music shows because I like it that way.  The teachers I listened to were not all perfectly lined up with my ideologies and philosophies.  People said stuff that made me nod my head affirmatively and mutter amen, but also people said stuff that made me uncomfortable.  Stuff that I didn’t like.  Stuff with which I firmly do not agree.  Some teachers were so inspirational I was ready to leap out of my chair and charge into battle beside them; some were so boring that I stepped out to get coffee to keep me awake (all the nights were late and all the mornings, early) before returning to hear the rest.  Some of it was meaty stuff I’ll be chewing on for months to come.  Speakers ranged from way more fundamentalist than I am to way more liberal than me.  Some sharing did silly little things that pushed my buttons, making it hard for me to pay attention (the funniest:  the lady who took a giant bite of an apple in the midst of making an introduction, and then spoke carefully into the mic while chewing, practically sending me into convulsions), while others were riveting.  Mostly, no politics could be smelled around there, but occasionally I caught enough to know that the person speaking likely voted in a way that makes my hair stand on end. In the end:  I got something of value from every single one of these people (and I’m not foolish enough to suppose that “I hold the correct view” everywhere that I disagreed).  I am refreshed and revived and inspired because of what they willingly brought to the table.

Being called to follow Christ does not come with a manual that brings us all into conformity, item by item, so that we are the same.  But we do have the same Holy Spirit, and if we’re listening, we can play well together and actually get good things done and not act like asses.  IT CAN BE DONE.  I experienced it over and over there, just as I do in my everyday life, interacting with coworkers, friends and family who are all over the spectrum of ideas and worldviews that never perfectly match mine.

I’m grateful for the reminder in this theme.  It’s easy to lose that thread in today’s culture here in the USA, Christian or otherwise.  If I can pick it up and spread it around generously, I’ll have done what I should – no doubt about that.

A big THANK YOU to all who make Audio Feed happen.  What you are doing is important, and I know it is more work than most of us begin to imagine.  I promise to do a better job this year of holding you up in prayer as you pull it together again.  SEE YOU NEXT YEAR!