Tuesday, April 21, 2009

One more video

I'm so thankful that the college group posted this video. Thanks, Craig. Missing the two of you especially this week!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Looking back...

I couldn't let this day pass without writing something. April 20, 1999 - It was quite possibly one of the most pivotal experiences of my life. So here I am...in the 11th hour. I wasn't a direct victim. I wasn't a student or a family member. I was simply a 19 year old volunteer leader in a local church youth group. In a youth group of nearly 150 kids, 45 were students at Columbine. I can still visualize in my mind's eye the printed out roster that we used to cross off the names on the list of those who had been accounted for. One-by-one all of the names were crossed off the list...except for hers. As the day carried on and it became more apparent that she was one of the fallen, I found myself in the run-down church office restroom peering at my own image in the mirror. I think I may have even spoken out loud, "This is not happening. She can't be gone."

We were supposed to talk that very evening after our weekly book study. Something had been bothering her and I had been encouraged by our youth pastor to get together with her to discuss what had been going on in her life, her mind, her faith. Her hair. That's all I could think of actually. Her long blonde beautiful hair. This couldn't be happening. She couldn't be gone. But she was. And I had to tell her closest friend in the youth group - she was from a different high school and she was ironically named Cassandra. As she entered the youth building that evening to gather with the rest us I ushered her into the girls restroom (the closest place we could escape to for a bit of privacy). I'm not sure how I got the words out. I think I just whispered that we were fairly certain that she was gone, though confirmation wasn't made until the following day. Cassandra literally fell into my arms and we both struggled to remain standing in that crowded bathroom where the sobs of teenage girls reverberated off of every wall.

After allowing for a time of coming together, praying with and embracing one another, a handful of us departed and spent the rest of our evening at a nearby elementary school where the families of victims still unidentified waited. Waiting. We just sat there waiting. I watched therapists and crisis relief counselors wander around the gymnasium scanning the room for an invitation. There was another room set up with a television broadcasting the continual news coverage. I couldn't stay in that particular room for any length of time. But I didn't know what to do. So I waited. I watched. There they were sitting surrounded by faces I knew and faces I didn't know. The Bernalls - Brad & Misty. I don't remember seeing Cassie's little brother Chris, but he may have been there as well. All I could do was watch. And wait.

I'm fairly certain, though I'm sure some details have been constructed by my own mind, that it was that evening that we first heard rumblings of a conversation that may or may not have taken place prior to Cassie's execution. Our youth pastor had heard a student exit the building screaming, "They asked her if she believed in God and she said yes...and then they killed her." I'm not sure how or when it became the story that much of the media frenzy focused upon...but it happened. She was called a martyr by many. I always had a difficult time with that term only because it seemed to imply that she died as direct result of her faith in God and I'm not sure that was the case. From this vantage point, it seems that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were not specifically targeting anyone in particular. Mass destruction, mass murder - that appears to have been their sole aim.

On the other hand, I don't know of a better term than martyr to explain the decision to lay down one's own life in order to follow a God of love. In that sense, Cassie was very much a martyr - not in her death, but in her living-daily-death to the parts of her self that prevented Christ's love from flowing through her into the lives of others. So whether or not she was asked that poignant question at the time of the shooting or not, she did say yes - with her life.

We were criticized as a church by many. The first controversy we encountered was when we made the collective decision to plant 15 trees in a prayer garden on our church property. I still have the notes I took during a meeting with all of our leaders as we discussed what our purpose was in erecting this memorial garden. Our intent was never to memorialize the two boys who brought about such horror, but we acknowledged that there were 15 families suffering an unimaginable loss and we wanted to always remember that. I'll never forget what it was like to watch our youth group kids serving coffee to the protesters that stood in front of our facility crying for vengeance. They chopped down two of the young trees in our garden. I waited. I watched. One of the members of our congregation used the remains from the trees to construct 15 beautiful ornaments.

Misty wanted to write a book about Cassie's transformation. We all wanted to share the story of her life with the world. Many have called this exploitation. They claim that we utilized a mythic story to propagate Christianity. Looking back, I am willing to say that there was some level of exploitation...but not to manipulate people into converting to Christianity. But we may have exploited the story of Cassie's life and death in order to tend to our own sense of loss and devastation. We honestly believed it was a story worth sharing. She was a young girl worth knowing. And we wanted everyone to know her. We wanted her life to matter to more than just us. And it has mattered to many others as a result of our mutual sharing of her story.

Many have accused us of spiritualizing the entire event. And they're right as well. We found meaning in her death, and the deaths of the others as well. We believed that through this horrific tragedy God was collectively enabling us to loosen our grip on this world so that we might live with eyes for the kingdom. This may not make sense to others who didn't experience Columbine in some way, or possibly a similar trauma or experience of loss. I don't mean to suggest that we became detached from this world in the hopes of someday being rescued and reunited with those we loved. Instead, we became convinced that love was all that mattered. Living now - moment to moment was all we could commit ourselves to. I still believe that God was very much a part of what we experienced that day and in the years that followed.

In the past few years I have "psychologized" the experience. I have attempted to explore the ways in which we spiritualize certain aspects of this life in order to cope or even escape realities too painful to bear. I have tried to make sense of what happened in the minds of Eric and Dylan - what were their possible pathologies and how did they happen to be simultaneously fractured in such a way as to create the perfect storm for mass destruction? I have analyzed my own response to the trauma too many times to count and from every possible angle.

Am I any further than I was ten years ago in making sense of not only this traumatic experience, but in making sense of this life? Maybe. Or maybe not. But I think that there is room in my soul for questions to remain unanswered. And with this space for unanswered questions remains a certainty that love is all that matters.

Cassie, you have been dearly loved. Even still.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Application Essay

ESSAY 1 - What do you hope to learn about yourself, God, the world and others while at Mars Hill Graduate School?

I've delayed putting my proverbial pen to paper until this eleventh hour having hoped that in the months since deciding to pursue Mars Hill Graduate School, a perfectly formed, theologically sound, rationally weighted and psychologically balanced thesis for why I want to attend graduate school would have already taken up residence in my heart and mind. Instead, in the past few months more questions have moved into the space I had reserved for answers. So, I've been bumping my knees up against the whys and stubbing my toes on the how-tos and rearranging the what-fors. But in the midst of all the crammed questions, one answer remains. A simple statement piece that I intend to keep among the cluttered furniture of my heart and mind is: I want more.

Text. I want more than the Baptist belief system I have held to for 30 years that, while rooting me in a deep faith, has also narrowed my mind to who God is and limited my interpretation of what he has said. I want more than a private Christian school education that left me with principles, rules and regulations about everything from what to wear and what to say but never educated or addressed my need and design for relationship with God and others. I want my biblical longings and questions held and heard instead of being rebuffed as still being an infantile diet of milk when I should be eating meat by now. I want to know the text as a whole, in its entirety, rather than only acknowledging its parts that have been picked and chosen to be used out of context for someone else's debate win. I want a passion to read the words of God and see them in a prism of colors, not just the blacks and whites or even the reds. I want to see the Bible as it was meant to be seen, read it as it was meant to be read. And I would rather widen my understanding of truth, as difficult as that will be, than to sit comfortably in the narrow-mindedness of my own ignorance.

Soul. I want more for my heart. I want it to find a gentle, healing path where the destination leads me to an advanced, lengthy, and detailed tutorial of how to take better care of it. Because on the outside, my heart is strong, firm, calloused and impact-resistant. But the blood-thirsty, oxygen-starved, mushy inside has been cut off from desire and longing, pain and joy, suffering and every other emotion along the way and is now on the verge of being gangrenous. I've denied myself cathartic tears of pain and silenced squeals of joy to maintain a posture of composure in order to send the ever-safe and appropriate message that everything is okay. I've picked my brokenness up by my bootstraps and stuffed dangerous desires deep in my pockets for so long I don't even know what it means to feel. It took an outward manifestation of a panic attack at age 29 to finally acknowledge my heart's inner turmoil. And after a year and a half of counseling, I'm just beginning to know what it means to feel again - or maybe even for the first time.

Last year, I was struck by Isaiah 61:1, the prophecy of Jesus' job description: to bind up the broken hearted and set the captive free. The verse made me question naively, "If that is the primary reason for his coming, then he must not have come for me. Because, where am I broken hearted? Where am I captive?" But a lifetime of believing that he did come for me and everyone else led me to examine how by not acknowledging my own woundedness, I was missing the greatest opportunity for intimacy with Christ, through his redemption. Since, I've invited Christ to come in and bring light to the areas I've been unaware were so beat up or in bondage. And experiencing his redemption has made me want to shout to my Christian public - it's not just about salvation and heaven, but it's about redemption here on earth, too! I want to know more of this redeeming work, which requires that I know more about brokenness and captivity - my own, and that of others as well. And seeing the mountaintop of redemption has made me willing to go into the valley of woundedness and captivity again.

Culture. Out of my 31 years of life, all 31 of them have been spent in the church. The church, its heritage, history, influences, and paradigms are my culture. More than being Caucasian female, I have identified myself with being a churchgoer. From serving in the same church for the past 12 years, to private Christian schools before that, to both parents being on staff at the church I was born and raised in, I have a very limited view of the world and a dominant view of the modern church. I want more than the narrow perspective I've been offered. I want to stretch my capacity to think in ways I've never imagined, or even been allowed to imagine. I want to read things I don't agree with, and know why I don't. I want to engage with material that stretches my moral muscles and brings me face to face with my own limiting self-righteousness. I want to know the audience that God looks upon and realize it's so much more than my white, middle-class, religious face that he sees. I want to see what he sees in the face of every culture and find his image there. And the more I know of other cultures, how wonderful for me, the more I will know of my own creator, and therefore, my own image.

I want more. And for the first time I'm willing to step out in risk to grab it. I'm letting the tiny seed of desire germinate, praying for water and sunshine, hoping that Mars Hill will bring the elements I need for the growth and thriving life of that little seed.


Monday, April 13, 2009

A day to be proud

CONGRATULATIONS on your acceptance to Mars Hill Graduate School!!! I am so proud of your decision to take the risk that desire seems to require. So step one has been accomplished - relish it!

I'm also incredibly proud of my friend Erika for taking a different kind of risk. She has chosen to let her heart lead her into new territory as well. Watch her youtube debut below!

I feel so lucky to know such incredible people!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Acknowledging our neediness

My Beloved from Brandon Russell on Vimeo.

This is a video my brother was a part of creating a few years ago and I absolutely love it. I have utilized it as a visual demonstration a few times when sharing aspects of my own story with various groups in the church during my years at WBCC. In preparing to give a presentation this last week in school I thought of using this video once again - not so much in connection to my own story, but for the purpose of exploring what our role as therapists might look like. I ended up running out of time and was unable to show the clip at the end of my presentation, so I thought I'd post it here instead.

I've been wrestling with a few things portrayed in this short video lately as I've reflected upon how our cultural focus on individualism has influenced our reading of the text and our perception of God. Let me expound a bit here to demonstrate exactly what I mean to suggest. In the video we find an adolescent boy and girl both separate and alone in their display of misery and loneliness. They are revealing all of the messages that they have internalized which now keep them in bondage. They are messages about the self, the other and the world that work together to construct their world-view, which actually determines how they are who they are in the context of their lives. Unfortunately, as is the case in quite possibly the life of every human being, these messages are distorted realities of their true nature, their ultimate design and purpose in life.

Nonetheless, many of us fail to ever hear the truth about who we are. So we long for someone to erase all of the messages...to make them disappear so we can start over anew. Our only hope for a different way of being is by ridding ourselves of what we have already come to receive and inevitably internalize. We want God to be the genie in the bottle who makes it all go away. But in my experience, God has never performed such a disappearing act.

Don't get me wrong...it's not that I don't think God is capable of completely eradicating the ugliness and painfulness of such distortions of truth. But rather, I don't think God wants to. Because maybe it's not about each one of us having our individual slates wiped clean. Maybe it's not about God cleaning everything up and us still being alone in the end. What would it look like for us to get in there with one another, not to erase the messages, but to look at them together...to sort through them, understand them, feel them deeply together. And then to co-create new messages in our experience together...new messages that eventually become more powerful and more formative than the previous ones. I believe that the role of a therapist, actually I believe it pertains to the role of any disciple of Christ, is to get into the messiness with another. How that happens may just look differently in the therapeutic realm.

The greatest hurdle to this way of being with one another seems to be our reluctance to acknowledge just how much we need one another. We all know how much we need God. Even non-believers must know that they do not have ultimate control of their own existence. Yes, I am aware of the fact that we all struggle with living life as though we don't need God - but are we even aware of how much we fail to acknowledge our need for one another? God, by nature, is union - three-in-one. I wonder how our reading of the text and perception of God would look differently if we stopped focusing solely on how much we need God but rather acknowledged our need for a tri-part union - God, others and the self.


Monday, April 6, 2009

When all else fails, write poetry

What will I tell you my lovely little ladies?
How will I explain these unending tears?

I can't possibly explain how my heart was broken
when I was as young as the littlest of you
how he walked away and my tiara disappeared
never daddy's little princess or pumpkin or peanut.
How can I describe the longing that is never
more than a song away?

What will I tell you my lovely little ladies?
How will I explain these unending fears?

I can't possibly tell you about the yelling,
the screaming still burning in my ears
how the touch of his hand raised the very hair
off the neck he wanted to squeeze.
How can I convey the scars of his rage
skin shuttering still?

What will I tell you my lovely little ladies?
How will I explain these unending tears?

I can't possibly explain how he used my body
to cope with his own seething pain
how his touch revealed that I was good
for at least this one thing.
How can I uncover the layers of guilt and shame
constricting my heart from pumping forth life?

What will I tell you my lovely little ladies?
How will I explain these unending fears?

I can't possibly tell you about the one
I can never seem to find
how about the one who found me
and then said it just can't be?
How can I confess the void that I can't force
the three of you to fill?

What will I tell you my lovely little ladies?
How will I explain these never ending years?

one possible answer...

and God help you if you are an ugly girl
- course too pretty is also your doom -
cause everyone harbors a secret hatred
for the prettiest girl in the room.

and God help you if you are a pheonix
and you dare to rise up from the ash.
a thousand eyes will smolder with jealousy
while you are just flying past.

-32 Flavors by Ani Difranco