Monday, February 26, 2007

Lent is beautiful.

I told someone that tonight and surprised myself.

I didn't really learn what Lent was until 2005. Let me re-phrase that. I knew the definition, the tradition, the eating fish on Fridays, I'd even practiced some of it's disciplines. But it wasn't until I became a member of Mosaic and experienced my first real journey through Lent that I understood it. The forty days plus Sundays were a time of constant reflection for me. Never have I been so involved in religion that it became an everyday part of my routine; no, more than that, an everyday part of my consciousness. That year I gave up pop I believe: a drug to keep me going. In addition, I fasted lunches during the week and journaled that half-an-hour instead. It was 2005, there was much pain early on that year (and unbeknownst to me, much more to come), and my prayers were fervent. On Sundays at church, I watched our worship space get darker and darker as we slowly we began removing the candles and dimming the light. By Good Friday it was pitch black in worship. My eyes adjusted some to the darkness, but mostly I just listened intently. And for the first time in my life I cried at the death of someone I'd never met. I cried for Christ. It finally hit me that I loved a man who died, and a tear slid down my cheek.

Easter that year was beautiful though; bright with Easter lilies all around the worship space. We changed the seating completely, we turned on the lights, we decorated with flowers. All was new for the people who entered. And you can see how I really "experienced" Lent emotionally that year.

Last year for Lent I gave up alcohol during the week, and took my college students through the wilderness of Lent as we worshipped and learned together in Beresheth. It's so depressing, my colleagues complained. But it's Lent, I probably replied. And it was a good chance for me to teach some good Baptists college kids what Lent was designed to remind us of.

But it's purpose is not only about things becoming dark, the stripping of the sanctuaries, the black cloths, the unlit candles. It's so much more than that. So this year, thanks to Sam and his cohorts, I was reminded of what I did instinctually and obediently that first year, that Lent is about more than giving up something, it is about giving to (too). So as I had abandoned my lunch, I offered up my prayers. This year again I have given something up, but am focusing more on what I am giving back. (And no, I'm not telling what either of those are - it's private, between me and God, and we'll see what results from it).

In Beresheth last week, Roger spoke about the elements of Lent, how it started, how we are called to help usher in God's will on earth as it is in heavenly. We are called to have heavenly days, to live seeing the world through God's eyes.

And so instead of spending Lent mourning, I will spend it observing, watching God at work, appreciating God's creation and joining God to bring about heaven on earth.

Never the less, for the next four weeks of Beresheth (sans one week in March), we will study what it means to have the ashes smeared across our foreheads: equality, mortality, something-else-I-can't-remember-now, and persecution. I know that sounds depressing. We all know depressing: I watch the news and get depressed. I look at the temperature gauge on my house, take off my sweater, wonder at the mystery of winter, and get nervous. I listen to men and women who speak to me of guilt and sorrow and a desparation to know a God they feel they have let down and it is saddens me. It's depressing not to see ourselves and not see the world as God does.

But that for me is why Lent is beautiful this time around. Because my focus is not on the sorrow, the grieving, the coming to terms with Christ's death only to be released finally by a joyous resurrection. This time it's about heaven on earth, being Christ to each other, recognizing (painfully) our mortality and seeking to make the most of every day, to love every person. Our sin has got to go, there's no time for it. Only time to love God and love each other. So repent, repent, (i've never heard that come out of my mouth) turn around and start over. Not on Easter, but now, today, during Lent. Let's make life beautiful. And if they abhore us for it, so be it. There are worse things in life than to be hated for doing what is good and pure.

You are good and pure. Not of your own essence, not of your own self, not of anything you've done. Just by being you, a child of God, gazing up, repenting, and turning around, ready to behold heaven on earth... and join right in.

Lent, it's beautiful.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

I love Ash Wednesday service.

I love the symbolism of the ashes - that we are all on the same ground before God, that we all fall short, that we are all equal, that we all sin, that we all need help. I love that in the Baptist church the people impose the ashes on each other, because we are all priests. I love watching one family member make the cross on another family member, I love watching the young remind the old, short stand on tippy-toes to reach to forheads of the tall. I love it. Priests unto each other.

I love that I get to participate in creating Ash Wednesday services and that I get to be creative. I've helped plan the past two years at FBC and four years ago at UBC Waco. (I remember Kyle calling me 3 years ago to ask, "Now what did we do last year and can you send me some info on it?") I love that there are so many symbolic acts that can be done to communicate the tradition, wisdom and deep meaning of Lent and Ash Wednesday.

I love that at one time, people took their faith so seriously, that they would spend 40 days in "training" learning about God and the tradition, anticipating being baptized on Easter at the end of their educational period.

I love that those people were willing to wear the ashes, be immersed in water, and rise to new life in Christ because they really believed in who God is.

I love that my friends at Cool People Care suggested not giving something up for Lent, but giving something to...

Ash Wednesday is beautiful, and as you may have noticed, I love it. I just wish more churches celebrated the tradition.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Happy Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday or whatever. I hope you got all your feasting in, but hopefully you feasted on more than just women's breasts. (Lame). Food and wine is always a better alternative than random people's privates being peddled in public - i digress.

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and in light of Sam Davidson's suggestions we will be repenting but also resolving at my church, burning a paper with our sin written on it and also laying on the Table a paper with what good we vow to do to help bring about heaven on earth. Yep, I'm singing Heavenly Day.

If you live in Austin and want to receive the imposition of the ashes (taken from our burned paper), come to First Baptist Church at 9th and Trinity at 6:15. It will be a beautiful service of mourning and rejoicing as we enter Lent repentant and resolute.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Can I just say that on my deed to the house I own, reads these words...


Um, can i get a witness? Does everyone else's deed say that? If my single male friend owns a house does it read, "SO N SO, AN UNMARRIED MAN..." I mean really. Like that's not obvious enough.

I was also told by my friend (who shall Joyfully remain anonymous) at the dinner table tonight that I am "not horrible looking." My friends all laughed - as did I. Whew! Thank God I'm not horrible looking. "No," she tried to fix it, "what I meant to say is, you're not horrible looking, you know? You're definately not."

[Granted, there's a context to this story and why I'm not horrible looking (although I did inform her that there were plenty of other ways she could have communicated how I look including inserting other adjectives into the sentence instead of negating horrible; for example, nice-looking, pretty, beautiful, totally hot, or whatever) but it's pretty funny (and accurately recorded) as is.]

So just for the record, in case anyone was curious, I am Ann Pittman, an unmarried woman, who is definately not horrible looking.

Go ahead and print that on an official document.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Patty Griffin, whom I love, has an amazing song on her new album Children Running Through called Heavenly Day. Great Song. Super. I'd love to cover it someday.

Yesterday was a heavenly day. After getting all day Monday off, I woke up Tuesday refreshed and ready to go. Staff meeting? Not a bore. Discussing hard issues of the church? Not a chore. Even when Roger and I had our monthly heart to heart confrontation and I cried, I wasn't sad or mad or whatever. They were just tears on a heavenly day.

The sky was blue. Deceptively blue. Blue sky and 60 or 70 degrees blue. But even when I had to turn right back around to go inside and grab a scarf before heading to work it was a heavenly day.

After work I ate amazing chinese food from a restaurant called Suzy's. Read up some on the Judah and Tamar story from Genesis 28 - always a delight. And then two of my best friends and I watched my favorite show House on TV and then rented Little Miss Sunshine.

My parents and grandparents had sent me Valentine's Day gifts that came early so I was still buzzing from those. According to my parents card to me, I "sparkle." And I felt sparkly yesterday on my all too normal but very heavenly day.

Today on the other hand - known to the general public as Valentine's Day, but known to all Common Grounds-ers as Singles Awareness Day - was not heavenly. I awoke at 7:30 to do a hospital visit, but went back to bed when we couldn't figure out what hospital she was in. For some reason when i returned to sleep, I set my alarm for 1:30am and needless to say didn't wake up on my own until 11:30. No flowers at church waiting for me from my imaginary boyfriends, my wanna-be boyfriends, my ex-boyfriends, or even stalkers. I forgot my lunch at home and had to moocoh off the secretaries. And the sky was grey and the weather cold. Didn't go out to a movie tonight with friends because of a headache and general not-feel-good-ness. Not a heavenly day.

But you know what, those are facts and I'm not complaining. Because some days are just normal days you get through and some days are simply normal but feel simply heavenly. Maybe it's the weather, maybe it's waking up on time, maybe it's karma, maybe it's prayer, but even as i lay here with my throat getting a little more sore, i'm still treasuring yesterday and contemplating how to view every day as a heavenly one.

Heaven on earth, God's kingdom now. There just might be something to that.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Bright lipstick masks many an illness.

You can quote me on that.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

For the very old school...

Il a plu in Montpellier today, for I am without you...


Friday, February 09, 2007

This conference has been kicking my butt.

I don't mean the 14 million hour work days, i mean the content.

Yesterday I attended a breakout session on Terrorism with Dr. Oladapoe who actually was a professor at Truett in 2001 when I first started there although I never had him in class. Then I went to a session about Starlight Ministries, an organization that ministers to exotic dancers (read: strippers). It was amazing. The woman asked us who the "least of these" are in our lives. Then she made us do this intense illustration about things we treasure in our lives. I won't tell you all about it, because I plan on using it someday on a Wednesday night or at a Bible study. Suffice it to say, it sombered us, angered us, saddened us and humbled us. I would love to start a ministery here in Austin that seeks to tell women in clubs like that that they are valuable to God and worth more than what someone will pay for them.

Today I attened another breakout on change: the process of change, how to help people get over or begin to start the process of dealing with addictions. The leader stuck nametags on us that read "slut," "smoker," "manwhore," "junkie," "drunk," etc. Her point was of course that people always are more than the labels we give them. As Carlyle Marnie says in his book, Priests to Each Other, it is not what we do that defines who we are, it is simply our being, our humanity. So we are not "potheads," we are people who smoke pot and need help breaking the cycle. We are not "tramps," we are women who dance for money who need redemption from what led them to that point. It was really interesting.

I was a "slacker" addicted to sleeping pills in her illustration. We also had a "bitch" who's boyfriend abused her. At the end of the session, I reminded that girl to take off her nametag if she walks into the office. Her "name" might have traumatized some of our secretaries as it's probably traumatizing my grandma right now.

So it's been a really interested conference so far on Social Justice. Suzii Paynter spoke this morning for the devotional and was of course fabulous. She'll speak again tonight at Worship.

I'll keep you posted...

Thursday, February 08, 2007

new post? you wanna new post?

fine. here it is. ambien-fied, but true.

14 hour work day, just got home an hour ago.
12 hour work day yesterday.
funeral today - jerry keesee who died too young in most of our opinions. but who are we to judge god? did we make the wind and the seas? or so they say. and i cried very hard for janet. did you know that they both had a dream the same night that they were supposed to marry each other and the next day of course they told each other their dreams. and obviously, they did end up getting married. that would never work today. your typical male-committment-phobe would freak out, dump you and then ask out a different girl every night to make himself feel free and available and just testing the waters and surely not committing. and your typical female would keep it to herself but would write about it in her jounal and wonder. and those wonderings she would "treasure in her heart." then they'd break up and she'd be heart-broken and he'd just get taked about behind his back for being an ass to women and she'd beat herself up for believing, even a little bit, that he was a good guy because of some stupid dream.

but it worked for Janet and Jerry and i loved that about them. "Janet, Jerry's on line one." It always made me smile.

"Did you dress up for JerBear today or for me," she whispered in my ear.
"For JerBear, Janet."

The Current conference at church has officially begun. I had resident meetings all day which went great except for when i returned from the funeral sobbing. but i calmed down after getting overwhelmed about being a part of a church which such a legacy of saints. I've never been at a church that revered it's history so much and treasured it's saints. I can name those who have gone before me at First Baptist and i never even knew them. that's a legacy. that's community. those are men of God. i can't wait to meet the saits of our present and watch them, men and women, grow in God and go make a difference in the world. Will i get to, is the question...

the highlight of the last few days is seeing my friends who are also in my program: Cody, Rachel, Kevin, Todd and Charles. And LeAnn who already "graduated" showed up tonight too. So that's fun, to catch up, laugh, cry, lament and dream.

I love dreaming.

Except when the dreams are bad or tell you you're going to marry someone. Then I just get cranky. Keep it subtle God or keep it to yourself. And psychie - if that's you in there. Cut it out. You've failed me before.

Take me back to the flowers and angels dream. That was nice. Prepare some good ones for us Jerry for when we get up there to join you. My favorite color is red...

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Tonight I will dream of flowers. Flowers and angels and soft delicate hands with long fingers. And these three things will all be beeautiful but indistinguishable. Their background will be white. Perfect for all those flowers and it hides the angels well; though you can hear them, singing him home.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

I know very little about being still.

I bounce my leg when I sit, fidget when I stand and rub my feet together when I lay down in bed.

Still is not an adjective used to describe me.

I jump with both arms up in the air when I’m excited. I throw my head back and sing opera when I’m nervous. And I slap my hands over my mouth and bunch my shoulders when I’ve done something wrong.

I’m animated, not still.

Inside of me there’s not much stillness either. I get a chest pain when I’m overwhelmed; a headache when I’m too hot, chattery teeth when I’m too cold. I have a permanent back ache that has taken to sending pulses up and down my left shoulder blade. When I’m excited, I get butterflies in my stomach and when I’m nervous my hands sweat. Nothing inside or outside my body stays still.

“Spend six hours in silence,” my professor in seminary assigned me and my colleagues. Are you kidding me? Do you think you could get this brain to be still and silent at all let alone for six hours? If I’m not brainstorming what I need to get done at work or how I could do better, I’m worrying about my friends or family or my house or money. Or I’m chastising myself for being a hypocrite or praising myself for being such a freakin’ genius. Or I’m overanalyzing some conversation or even composing a future blog. And if those things aren’t occupying my mind, then I’m usually rehearsing the acceptance speech I’ll humbly deliver when I win a Grammy or I’m giving an amazing monologue about relationships to an ex-boyfriend after which I gracefully exit the scene having broken his heart and left him in utter destitution without me to love.

My mind is never still – is yours?

I mean really, you can’t be all that different from me.

Maybe you’re shy or not quite as vocal or animated or self-consumed or neurotic, but I bet you haven’t got stillness down to a fine art.

“Be still and know me,” God says.
“How about I be active and know you?” I respond.

I’ll go to my job and work really hard and come home and listen quietly to my spouse talk about her day, and on the weekends I’ll hang out with my friends and encourage them through “good fellowship,” and on Sunday I’ll go to church, visit with my church friends, contribute a few thoughts in Sunday School and listen to a good sermon in worship. That’s knowing you, right? Hard work, being supportive, going to church – isn’t that what you want?

Or I’ll go to school five days a week, read lots of books about ancient Rome or rocks or the pythagrium theory and I’ll be sure to not to curse my teachers when their expectations are way too high even though the other people do. All this because I want to be studious, a student of your world and the more educated I become, the more I understand you. I read the chapters in the book we’re studying in Bible study before I even get to Sunday school – that’s a quality quiet time. Not to mention Beresheth on Thursday nights. That is when I learn about you and just chill with some of my friends and that’s knowing you – right? Learning more about you and the world?

Right? Right? Aren’t you listening to me? I’m telling you how our relationship works! This is how I know you. This is how; aren’t you listening?!

And we’ve missed the point because none of it is still.

We may learn about God through books in a classroom or by throwing a football with some friends or by planting a garden in the earth, but still God asks us to know God more.

How? By being still.

A reporter once asked Mother Theresa what she does when she prays. “I listen” she replied. And what does God do, the reporter inquired further to which the humble nun replied, “He listens.”

Being still.

Practicing stillness requires setting time aside for it. Actual time during the day or during the week. Designated time for stillness. Practicing stillness requires a posture of stillness – literally. Not posture that will make you fall asleep or make you more anxious or focus you on yourself – but a posture where you can breathe properly, with perhaps open hands, opening your body to silence and to God. Practicing stillness requires patience. Patience for your brain to pass through what you didn’t get done at work, that argument with your mom, what’s currently broken in your apartment, if you have enough money to pay off your credit card, how you wish you’d auditioned for American Idol, and what a liar your ex-girlfriend was. Your brain has to move through all that and then when it is still and it is with God, you will be still and God will be still and peace will settle in.

Peace that not everything in life will work out, but that God will still be present.
Peace that you may not pass that class with a B, but you will pass.
Peace that you may never feel good enough at your job, but you will work anyway.
Peace that you may never find the right girlfriend or boyfriend, but that community will prevail.
Peace that there will never be an end to poverty or war or hate, but that love does exist.

And in the stillness you will hear God say, “lo I am with you always, even until the end of the age.” Even when your car breaks down, even when you flunk a test, even when your spouse leaves you, even when death prevails. In the stillness, you find that God remains.

You will find peace that though the world is not right, God is.
Though you are not strong, God is.

God still is.


So be still and know.