Mighty Stirring: Not the Salvation We Choose

Mighty Stirring: Not the Salvation We Choose

Stir Up Sunday should be featured on an episode of The Great British Baking Show: Masterclass (please tell me you’ve seen these; Aaron and I are obsessed).

On the last Sunday of the church year traditional liturgy rises in a cognate with Psalm 80:2: “Excita, quæsumus, Domine…,” “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord…” While hailing the divine, this liturgical invocation has also summoned many a British homemaker, cook, and baker to stir up their Christmas pudding so that it has time to mature before the big day.

I find the tradition charming and have embraced the fun injunction this Advent season through Sunday bakeathons.

But that phrase, excita , has stuck with me. Three out of the four Advent Sundays also begin with excita, calling congregations deep into the active wait for Christ.

When the invitation is made to God, however, as it is in today’s psalm, the question haunts me. What does it mean to say, “Stir up thy might, O God”?

What does God’s might look like? What am I really asking?

Why I Shave Ritually, Not Religiously

Why I Shave Ritually, Not Religiously

A year ago this week I shaved my legs for the first time in two years.

"’Bout time you shaved them hairy legs, ain't it?"

We were in a Chikfila parking lot, my dad and I. I remember.

He held some sway, for I started shaving that weekend.

I had been wanting to shave my legs. The older girls at church did it, so the idea held a special glow. There are few coming of age markers for girls and I craved one, needing something to announce my place on the cusp of young womanhood.

My mom had held me off a while. Perhaps she wanted to preserve my childhood. Perhaps she wanted a watershed experience for me, too, and maybe did not know how to give it. Perhaps it is difficult to watch your daughter grow up.

Regardless, at his words I got what I wanted. But it was not special. I remember feeling that I had been shunted to the bathtub to do the deed, isolated there with the shaving cream and the blue Venus razor.

I knew even then that I had gotten what I wanted at the cost of something dear.

The awareness still raises the fuzz on the back of my arms. The first rule of patriarchy is this: You can have what you want on our terms.

This time the cost was body-confidence. Evidently there was something wrong with my legs without shaving. Something was wrong with me. My body was wrong.

This is the way of patriarchy. Get what you want, but only if you feel bad about it. Sure, have it, it croons, because otherwise you are deficient and gross.

When God Sings: Beth Moore and the Brood of Vipers

When God Sings: Beth Moore and the Brood of Vipers

It is not every day that a conservative evangelical gets my attention. This week one such person did. Author and speaker Beth Moore wrote all of social media…

And great rejoicing ensued.

If Beth Moore is radicalizing—“rooting” in the embodied, incarnational love of God—then perhaps there is hope for the rest of us white, well-to-do people of faith.

We are probably the most difficult to reach.

Our ears are so stopped with comfort and luxury; it is easy to forget the naked and hungry.

Our shoulders are so heavy with the expectation to perform, achieve, and get ahead; it is hard to distinguish between the cultural, shame-induced patterns of white upper-middle class church folk and the radically nuanced gospel that is really worth of our lives.

Beth Moore sounds like John the Baptist to me this week.

How Praying the “O Antiphons” Can Bring You through the Wait of Advent

How Praying the “O Antiphons” Can Bring You through the Wait of Advent

We are coming up on the last push of Advent.

Now is the time when perhaps waiting seems most impossible. Indeed, for some families, gatherings with grandparents, cousins, great-uncles, etc. will begin in a matter of days. Church musicals and special services are whipping to a frenzy. And maybe our hearts are burning, just a little, with the strain of the wait.

Good. This is probably a safe indication that Advent is well at home with us, in our bodies, minds, and spirits.

Keeping Advent in this space is possible and worth it. This could be the time in which it matters the most.

Zechariah’s Refinement: An Old Man Learns Something New

Zechariah’s Refinement: An Old Man Learns Something New

Zechariah, the husband of Elizabeth and the father of John the Baptist, was a priest. He was kind of a big deal, really. Only descendants of Levi could be priests and he was one of them.

We do not know very much about his economic status or learning, but we do know that he had responsibilities in the Temple—a turn to touch the holy.

That is always a big deal.

The lectionary tells the story this week of John the Baptist. Starting with Malachi we learn that God is sending a messenger to prepare the way; “The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight--indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 3:1b). But this will not necessarily be an easy coming. It will be something to be endured like a “refiner’s fire” and “fullers’ soap” (Malachi 3:2). The messenger’s coming will require transformation of us all, but especially, Malachi says, of the descendants of Levi.

How interesting that John the Baptist’s own father was one such person.

Malachi believed that the all-male religious leadership he knew would especially feel the effects of the messenger’s coming—and that the well-being of the entire people would depend upon their heeding that transformation.

Fast forward a few hundred years and we see Zechariah tending his duties in the Temple. Along comes the angel Gabriel with good, good news. The messenger is coming, he says, and through your partnership with your wife!

Zechariah’s response, Say what? How will I know that this is so?

And the angel promptly strikes him mute.

St. Nicholas, Our Brother

St. Nicholas, Our Brother

The feast of St. Nicholas is upon us. Tonight lots of little shoes will be set out in hopes that he will stop by in the night. Our stockings are certainly hung with care.

I so enjoy the fun of this feast day because I enjoy our brother.

Though not much can be said for the St. Nicholas from our 21st century historicity standards, thousands upon thousands of faithful folks have carried stories about him through the centuries. These widely-held legends all have common threads running throughout as well, themes of generosity, liberation, compassion, and faith.

How We'll Advent this Year

How We'll Advent this Year

Advent began yesterday in a soft and glorious manner. The children called us to worship with their song and the family of faith looked on as Hope lit up the sanctuary. It is here. The season of watching and waiting is finally here.

Advent pasts have looked quite different than this one in the Coyle-Carr house. Until now, at least one of us has faced down finals and term papers ‘til Gaudete Sunday three weeks in. This time around, though, graduate days are behind us and a bump swells before us day by day.

Our family is changing and growing, as is its expression of vocation and faithful living. We are seeing things in new lights and from new angles. There is a stirring in our bones even as we feel the most at home yet.

I do feel rooted. My feet can almost find their way around here. I technically became a Texan last Friday.

And here comes Advent.

See the Signs: An Invitation to Anticipation

See the Signs: An Invitation to Anticipation

Advent begins today with what could be a rather ominous gospel reading.

We hear Jesus talking about the apocalyptic coming of the Son of Humanity—his own glorified return at the end of this age. The End is always tinged in mysterious light; it has been a source of anxiety for Christians since the beginning. “When will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” (Luke 21:7). We worry about burning skies and brimstone, persecutions and purgatory—pretty much everything that is not found in this text.

In fact, the Teacher answers the anxiety of his disciples not with a series of warning signals, but a serious invitation to anticipation. To be clear, Jesus does not trivialize the disciples’ fears. He does not shame them for being confused or afraid. Indeed, the End could be scary for those not expecting it to come. But that is just it: Jesus gives us a heads up and a hand up—an invitation to anticipation.

When Temps Rise, Our Thermostat Does Too

When Temps Rise, Our Thermostat Does Too

As I sit here and type the outside thermometer reads 93 degrees and the indoor…74.

Actually the thermostat is currently set to 78 degrees because as I did more research for this blogpost, I (re)learned that the official Energy.gov recommendation for daily AC use in the summer is 78 degrees. Fahrenheit. Yes, you read that correctly.

For the past month Aaron and I have been enjoying a balmy 74 degrees indoors with only a little complaining, mostly from me at night. His encouragement kept us on track, however, and here we are sort of willing to punch the thermostat up a few more degrees.

Maybe you’re wondering (as I was last night) why the heck our thermostat climbs with the summer temperature. Well, I’ll blame it on the pope.  

Ascended, But Not Far Away

Ascended, But Not Far Away

Well, the Feast of the Ascension of Jesus is coming up, folks. Observance start tomorrow and in some places happens all day on Sunday.

It’s got me thinking.

To be completely honest, Jesus’ Ascension has always stirred up feelings of abandonment in me. Why did he have to go? What did it feel like to stand there on that mountain and watch your friend and savior disappear before your eyes, especially after the ultimate miracle of his resurrection? And why did he have to go so far away, all the way up to the “the right hand of God?”

The whole thing reminds me of that moment right after the goodbye while your love’s car rounds the corner out of sight.

And it doesn’t feel good. There’s an ache to it. It’s fine in the long run, really. Life goes on and there is work to be done. But, still. It hurts me to think of it--maybe especially because the separation my spouse and I had to endure so that I could finish seminary is still very fresh in my body.

I am bringing this to Christ’s Ascension; it’s all tied up.

The scripture today (find the whole list of daily lectionary readings here), however, upsets my despair. It disturbs this notion of an abandoning, far-away Jesus.

Ordinary Mary

Ordinary Mary

The very first sermon I ever preached was called “Ordinary Mary.” It explored the Annunciation of Mary, when God asked an ordinary girl to play an extraordinary part in healing the world (Luke 1:26-56). As a fourteen-year-old young woman, I was fascinated with this God who would invite people like me into such plans.

It was and is still important to me today to emphasize the human-ness of Mary, her ordinariness. Her story bears much hope and power, but only if she is not immaculately conceived, “born [especially] pure,” or whatever else nonsense folks have put on her over the centuries of church argument.

Put plainly, they have been trying to figure out what to do with a woman so intimately involved in the redemption of the world.

Mary being a woman is not enough for some theologies. Their deficient doctrines of original sin gets in the way; Mary has to be immaculately conceived in order to be holy enough to get pregnant with God. But not only does this not have to be true, it misses the point of the incarnation. God became flesh and dwelt among us. The scripture does not say God became “perfected flesh” or “oddly pure” flesh. The Word became flesh, period, of a woman who just so happened to get one every month.

Mary’s story bears its intriguing and liberating lesson if Mary is just Mary—a human female chosen to be the mother of God, chosen to birth Jesus into the world.

"Peace on Earth Begins at Birth"

"Peace on Earth Begins at Birth"

“Peace on earth begins at birth.”

I heard this quote somewhere years ago. It is a fairly popular refrain among female activists and birth-givers. I thought it referred to “calm,” “soothing,” or “natural” birth practices, or, I don’t know, trying not to make the baby cry. I thought it was about the baby’s experience.

However, my experience of finishing Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth on Good Friday and then going to services—all during peak ovulation and its brave hope—brought out a different and deeper meaning that extends and encompasses the baby’s experience, the mother’s, and, indeed, the whole human community.

If we truly respected women (or “womben”), life-making, and life-giving, there could be peace on earth. If we truly recognized and honored the sacred nature of the birthing process, the holy passage of it all, how could anyone move to diminish or destroy creation, that which came through such a sacred course? If we understood and honored all of the hope and tears and spiritual labor that went into one child—how could we ever take that person from this world, either with one bullet or hundreds of denied opportunities? How could anyone destroy a mother’s child? Someone who has come though the sacred gates?

For my dog's Good Samaritan - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 54

For my dog's Good Samaritan - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 54

This week I am grateful…

1

For my Dallas-dwelling, dog-loving Good Samaritan.

Last Friday afternoon our Barkley-boy went missing. I had let him out into our fenced backyard to play for a while in the sunshine. Just under an hour went by before I went to let him back into the house…and he was. not. there.

Heart in my throat and absolute shock in my brain, I started calling for him, looking for him, and checking all of his favorite spots. No Barkley, but I did find a side-gate standing wide open. A gate I did not even know we had. The church yardmen had accidently left it open that morning.

In panic and despair I darted down the street—in loungewear and socked-feet!—calling for my buddy. I texted the neighbors I knew. One neighbor I did not know came out of his house willing to help.

And then the phone rang, an unknown number, which I answered promptly not with “Hello” but “Is this about my dog? Are you calling about my dog?”

“Yes, ma’am—I have a Good Samaritan on the line who has found your dog!”

Barkley has an identification chip, thanks to the Humane Society. Our Good Samaritan found Barks in the shopping center across one of the busiest streets in Dallas (makes me queasy just thinking about it). The man had stopped at the pet store there to buy treats for his own dogs when he saw Barkley weaving around cars with his nose toward Boston Market. He quickly made friends with Barks, had his chip read at the vet nearby, and ended up on the phone with me minutes later.

Dave was his name.

Dave said he would drive Barkley right over to my house, so I quickly got dressed (somehow still missing my shoes!) while a neighbor kept vigil in the yard.

When Dave’s truck came to a stop Barkley bounded happily back to me, looking like he had just had the most amazing adventure ever. Our Good Samaritan gave Barkley a treat, told me I had a very special dog, and said he could tell Barkley was very well loved.

I hugged the man, took Barkley inside, and did not stop vibrating with gratitude, fear, and relief for hours.

Thankful for the utter kindness of that man Dave. Y’all, he did not have to do one bit of what he did. He could have just turned his head and crossed to the other side.

But something invited him to go out of his way for our beloved critter.

Humbled by this stranger’s acquaintance with Love.

Seven Gratitudes--continues!

Seven Gratitudes--continues!

Such deliberation has been going on in my mind today on this 12th day of Christmas! Should this weekly gratitude roundup continue this year, or no? Has its time come and gone? Is it finished with me, or is that a call I hear to the keyboard? Hmmm...Seems like there is just no way to stop a gratitude practice, so #SevenGratitudes continues! I hope to dabble in many topics here at For the Birds in the year ahead, but the gratitudes really have to keep on rolling. I see no way around it.

Grateful for each of you who stop by every week. Thankful for your texts, messages, and comments. I appreciate your presence and participation--such support and nourishment to my heart! 

Thanks for being here, beloveds!

Seven Gratitudes, vol. 52

Seven Gratitudes, vol. 52

This week I am grateful…

1

For tortilla soup on Christmas Eve.

Between the 5 and 11 o’clock Christmas Eve services on Sunday Pastor Mark and Alison had a whole gaggle of folks over for soup and stories, making much out of that window of time. Even the memory of it now warms my heart. It was simple, really, but good. It felt special, but also quite normal.

It was the beginning of Christmas. 

For being home, Sleigh Ride, & an end to waiting - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 51

For being home, Sleigh Ride, & an end to waiting - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 51

This week I am grateful…

1

To be home.

After our 16-and-a-half hour journey last Friday, Mama and I arrived in Dallas just before 10 p.m. Every light in the house was on, the Sufjan Stevens’ Holiday channel was blaring, and there were candles galore. The house glimmered and shined with welcome.

Nothing will ever compare, though, to my husband’s smiling eyes and the way it felt to fly into his arms. I am home. Thank you, Jesus.

For an epic week and a roadtrip tomorrow! - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 50

For an epic week and a roadtrip tomorrow! - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 50

Beloveds, I’m writing this #SevenGratitudes to you quickly from atop my bed at Grandma’s house this Thursday night because tomorrow I am driving home to my husband. Mama and I are roadtripping. It is going to be epic.

This week has been epic. Here are a few snippets of gratitude, the ones I dare touch on the tails of such a momentously big week.

Thanks for being here.

For loose holds and the last day of class - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 49

For loose holds and the last day of class - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 49

This week I am grateful…

1

For Christmas trees in Advent.

Embracing the liturgical year is a beautiful thing, but it is also a conflicting thing. The Year has cost me some expectations and traditions I grew up enjoying because the Year invites me to dwell deeply within the dynamic story of God’s love for the whole world. This means good news, but it also means I sometimes have to give up the kinda good for the better.

I have come to know that knowing God means holding things loosely because God is always better than I hope, more benevolent than I imagine, and wilder than I can fathom. Trusting God, therefore, is a risk. The symbols and traditions I come to love so much can all of a sudden and drastically not fit the grace I experience, the glimpse of the divine that She gives. Love confounds and breaks the handholds I contrive.

Let them be signs, beloved, reminders and pointers—temporary shelters, not permanent dwellings. Go where I go, hold onto Me. There will be more signs and wonders…

Practically speaking, holding on loosely has looked like an assessment of personal practice and traditions. Aaron and I have been intentionally trying traditions together as a family. It is both fun and frustrating. We have enjoyed listening and learning from the multitude of signs the Body of Christ has recognized over the centuries—form the silly and superstitious, to the sanguine and sacred. But I have also at times gotten stuck in my deliberations with questions like, for instance, when in the WORLD should the Christmas tree go up?

I know some folks put theirs up at the beginning of Advent. Others do a progressive tree dressing: they set up the tree on Advent 1 and add to it every week, with the lights coming on St. Lucy’s feast day and the star on Christmas Eve. Still others save the whole shebang for a solely Christmas Eve tradition, the tree staying up ‘til Epiphany. I have been conflicted about the entire question—I mean, what even IS a Christmas tree anyway?

And then a gift unfolds in the doing. A sign emerges.

My roommates and I put up our tree last Sunday because Holly wanted everyone to be able to enjoy it before we go our separate ways. We gathered. We untangled lights and unwrapped ornaments. We argued tree placement—here or there? This angle or that? And it was perfect.

Meagan pulled out these adorable magi and held them just so, and, just like that, I saw the sign of the Christmas tree for this Year.

I saw pilgrimage and anticipation. I felt the Advent, Christ’s coming, but not yet. I felt my own place on the road, in step with the wise ones from the east on their journey toward a Star they knew meant something wonderful.

The tree became a symbol of Advent. It became a guide for the mystical liminality of this season.

As the magic magi travel up the psychedelic spiral of our colorful Christmas tree, they are leading me onward towards Home.

Thanks be to God for simple signs and wonders.

For Advent's approach, our anniversary, & completed drafts - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 48

For Advent's approach, our anniversary, & completed drafts - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 48

This week I am grateful...

1

For communion, contemplation, and contemplating communion.

St. Matthew’s Episcopal welcomed me to the table on Sunday morning, Christ the King Sunday. The meal warmed my belly and buzzed my mind. How overwhelming is God’s grace sometimes! It often is a gentle hand on the shoulder or the faintest whisper of fond greetings. But Sunday it was a radiating pulse of re-orientating love. It was a welcome home. Again.

The next day I sat to do some major work on my school capstone project, musing for hours on the topic of cosmic communion and praying with the nature of matter (which is a story I hope to tell soon!). Several things became clear, and I will share two of those things here.

First, I love, love, love communion. The more I think about the practice and experience it in my body with the gathered community of faith, the deeper the thing becomes, the more encompassing and transformative, the more the truth of it dwells in me, making me a citizen of God’s reality.

Second, contemplating the ways God dwells deeply in and with the ever-unfolding creation gives me life—it makes me alive.

I love God, I love creation, and I love to think. It is grace—an unexpected and utterly free gift—when God meets me in the communion of it all. 

For feasting, Lucky, & Christ the King! - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 47

For feasting, Lucky, & Christ the King! - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 47

This week I am grateful…

1

For community lessons in real time.

I have only three more weeks with my Winston-Salem roommates, but I am already counting the lessons they have taught me about living life in community. Last Saturday we had a roomie check-in date at our local Chikfila where we talked through our household expectations, etc.

Which is much harder to do than one would think.

It is a blessing to dwell with folks who want to live well together, not just get by. I am thankful for these three and the ways each of them have helped me see Reality from different perspectives.