Monday, August 31, 2020

My Challah Fail

No pretty picture of a golden, braided challah. No delivery of warm loaves to friends. No handfuls of soft, pillowy goodness at sundown.

Here's the "after" photo of this week's challah fail...

Nope. Friday's challah was a fail. Not just a "looks lumpy and weird" fail.  Not a "baked too long and burnt on the bottom" fail.  No. Those are all salvageable fails. This was not. And the reason is that it wasn't really a challah fail at all.  

It was a sabbath fail. 

The reason I started making challah every Friday back in the pre-pandemic spring was to incorporate a ritual of rest and worship.  To really sabbath.

But this past Friday, my challah fail revealed a deeper problem: making the challah had become routine and religious, not restful and reverent.

I am no longer making challah in the wee hours of the morning, when all is still. I am no longer reading scripture and praying in the dark while the dough does its rising. 

Instead, I've been snatching an extra bit of sleep and then squeezing in the baking process later in the day. Which is like playing Jenga, really:  timing the mixing and rising and kneading and braiding and rising and baking in between running and shopping and cleaning and laundering and virtual-school-assisting and dog-momming and also {hopefully} writing. Hoping it doesn't all topple over. It's dizzying just reading it, let alone living it.

So this past Friday, when the timer on my wrist let me know the rise was done, I distractedly dismissed it while finishing a chore. And completely forgot to turn out the dough for punching and kneading and braiding. For a very long time. When I finally dashed into the kitchen, the dough was bubbly and fermenting. And not in a good, Prosecco kind of way.

I decided to bake it just for grins - heat fixes all sorts of things, right? Wrong. Even my always-affirming husband, who gives me great latitude in my cooking {because I'm notorious for burning things}, took one bite of the warm, mangled mess and said, "Nope." 

And so, as I texted my friends to let them know their personal bread delivery was canceled due to unforeseen circumstances, I realized that the circumstances should have been foreseen.  I realized that we - I - are all in danger of turning the most worshipful of rituals into rote routine. That we - I - are all at risk of transforming what is meant to be restorative into something that is depleting.

What is your challah? What practice do you practice that is now just practice - or performance - instead of worship? 

But I do have something against you! And it is this: You don't have as much love as you used to. Think about where you have fallen from, and then turn back and do as you did at first.  Revelation 2:4-5a CEV

I encourage you to return to your first love, to rediscover the joy and passion and worship and rest that prompted that practice in the first place. To reignite it. Fan it into faith-full flames with a tender heart to receive God in the way you used to. 

Or even better than you used to, knowing that His love has never grown rote, that He continues to call you to His bountiful table, no matter how burnt or mangled or unappetizing you've made the offering. 

After all, the Bread of Heaven can, and does, make all things new... 

Monday, August 24, 2020

The Fab Five (a/k/a Love as a Witness to a Watching World)

People love to hear about the supernatural moment of my testimony. The moment God broke through and spoke to me. They weep. Heck, I weep. Every. single. time.

The room where "it" happened. Haden Chapel (Palmyra, Virginia)
Photo from Charlottesville District UMC website

But the quiet preface to that moment is just as powerful. It's what God used to prepare me. To physically get me into Trevon's one-room church. And to pre-assemble a support group to help me through the fraught family fallout in the days that followed.

And now, thirty years later, during the summer of 2020, I can't stop thinking about it. Well, about them.

I fondly call them the Fab Five of my testimony. Five fellow college students that grew from complete strangers to close friends during that fateful summer in Charlottesville.

Three guys, two girls. Very different backgrounds, personalities, and politics. Different tastes in everything from clothes to music. Leaders in different student organizations. Who didn't really run in the same friend groups, but who were spending the whole summer together - along with me and about fifteen others - for required leadership training. At the time, I couldn't see a single thing that united them. 

The rooms where it happened...

And yet. They treated each other with a kindness and respect I'd never seen before in people my age. Certainly not in my party crowd that I called friends. Or even among most of the highly opinionated adults in my life. 

The Fab Five laughed together - sometimes at each other. But in a sibling kind of way. They debated, but with respect. They listened, with full attention. Sometimes they rolled their eyes at each other, but always ended with a wink and a chuckle.  

I didn't get it. But I liked it. I was drawn to it. Such acceptance and kindness filled a void I didn't know I had. Provided a safe place I never imagined to exist. And they included me in every bit of life that summer. We ate, we played, we simply did life together. We were friends.

Eventually I learned that one of the guys was one of those "born-again Christians." But he never pushed his religion on me, so it didn't make me feel uncomfortable or like an outsider. What he - and the others - did push was inclusion and kindness. Toward me, and toward each other. Which didn't make a lot of sense to me. But I was just enamored by this group. Who really were - and are - fab.

Later in the summer, when I heard God's voice on that fateful day, I knew exactly who I could talk to. I figured the "born again guy” was the only person who wouldn't think I was totally nuts. But as I snuck downstairs to his suite that afternoon to confess my revelation, I ran into another one of the five, who wondered why I was in such a rush to talk with TJ. I sheepishly told her. Lo, and behold! Donna was a believer, too. Over the next few days, I learned that so was Travis. And Jack. And Jenny.  

Now I understood why the Five was so Fab. 

"For when you demonstrate the same love I have for you by loving one another, everyone will know that you’re my true followers.”  John 13:35 TPT

God did the supernatural work. These believers did the daily work of submission. Of loving their faith siblings as Jesus loved them. Day in and day out. Were they perfect? No. But they strove to love each other well in the midst of a watching world. And they drew me in with this radical love. Love with their hearts (kindness) and their minds (respect) and their strength (weekly softball). 

Today, as I sit here outside a coffee shop in Raleigh,* I am wondering if I would have been willing to step inside that little church - so very far outside of my comfort and culture zone - if the Five had been feuding about politics all summer. I wonder if I would have entrusted myself to their care during the difficult days ahead if they had been mocking each other's views behind their backs or on social media.

And so these days I also wonder, as I scroll Facebook and Twitter, and as I overhear heightened voices in open spaces, how many people out there are tuning out Christians in the news or in their feed or in their lives because angry, mocking, polarizing words communicate that Christian community is not a safe place. And that, by extension, the Cross is not a safe place either.

Oh, please, please let it not be so.

*Traveled the two hours with my daughter so she could have a picnic with her boyfriend {yes, major mom points today}