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i could deal with this if it weren't for that

Driving back from the grocery store yesterday, I thought to myself how wonderful being a mom is. I get a primal satisfaction from planning Abby's lunches and playing games with her. I thought to myself how happy I'd be with several little ones running around and me with only their laundry, health, education, and spirituality to worry about. I thought to myself that it's this pesky job that's in the way, that keeps me from being completely fulfilled.

Last week, returning home from a long but good day at the UC campus, I thought to myself how wonderful being a campus minister is. I get a primal satisfaction from brainstorming new events and conversing intently about folks' lives. I thought to myself how happy I'd be focused entirely on the campus and my husband, with only their very special needs and concerns to worry about. I thought to myself that it's this pesky motherhood that's in the way, that keeps me from being completely fulfilled.

When I have a migraine, I think I could be okay if only either the nausea or headache would go away. But when I have only one of the two, it's no better. Seems like there's always something standing in the way of happiness. Seems like we put something in the way of happiness--that our happiness/joy/fulfillment is conditional. We can only be happy if certain conditions--established and changed in a moment--are present.

"If it weren't for this one thing," we think to ourselves, "I could deal. I could be happy. It's just that one thing."

But that one thing becomes an idol, something that stands between us and God and which we mistake for a god. Workload or homework, a partner's behavioral tics, perceived persecution--all become idols of negative space. That is, they take up space along the edges of things, filling our vision to overflowing with what-has-to-be-done rather than what-is-being-done. We give them power and they take over. We let these things keep us from giving of ourselves in whatever context we find ourselves in. I once heard it said that Jesus didn't go out of his way to help people--that he was busy enough helping the ones who crossed his path. It is where we are--busy-ness, multiple pleas for our attention, sickness and health--that we are called to celebrate and where we will be fulfilled. There will always be something else to deal with. But there is also always the space and people where we are to celebrate and encourage.

Independence Day

I spent Independence Day doing what every red-blooded, patriotic American does: I worked on home improvement. We worked on fixing our deck, digging stones out of the back yard, and removing some truly monstrous roots from the garden. Seriously, one of them looks a bit like a huge horseradish or maybe a small mole.

At dinner with my parents, my mother and I were musing about Independence Day and what it means. So often you hear, "Give thanks for those who died to make this country free." I do give thanks for them, but that's not what we're celebrating. This is the day of the Declaration of Independence, the Colonies' beginning their insurrection against England. My mother put it well: "We said, 'NO.'" That really is the spirit of the holiday--we said no to tyranny and ambivalence and being subject to. And we said, "YES." We said yes to life, liberty, and happiness. We said yes to carving out our own destiny. We said yes to the possibility of failure. And we won.

I am very much an advocate for the separation of church and state. That said, there's a distinct similarity between that NO and YES and the NO and Yes we're asked for as Christians. The prophets and the mothers and fathers of the faith are remembered for standing up to tyranny, for saying "NO" to the powers that be. And they are beloved for saying "YES" to free will and compassion and love.

There is no guarantee that we'll succeed in this world. There is no surety that the garden I worked in today will be mine next year or even next week. There is no reason to believe that the Kingdom of God is ours here and now, and yet we Christians make the choice every day to stand up for what's right and to open our arms and hearts to the stranger. It is our experience of the holy in one another, in the Created world, in the structures and chaos of our lives which points to God.

It has been said that humans make their governments into idols. We see the safety and generosity and organization and we say, "Indeed, it is very good." And often that government can take the place of God. Ask yourself which you would choose: what is right in the eyes of God or what is right in the eyes of the government? This is not to suggest a rebellion here and now but to remind myself of where my priorities should be. God is the top of the hierarchy. I am in relationship with God as are billions of others--how do I then see the world? What does Creation look like through God's eyes rather than my own?