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Last night at the Hollywood Bowl, George Benson introduced his new female band member, Lilliana de los Reyes, as the daughter of a famous drummer. He noted that she’d recently completed her MFA at USC’s prestigious Thornton School of Music. You could hear the pride in his voice.

After playing percussion behind him all evening, she joined George front and center for a duet. Wow! She rocked the house. As soon as she began, a smattering of  “Oooo….ooohhh….aaaahhhh” murmured across the audience along with light applause.

At the end of their song, we let forth our biggest round of appreciation all night. Lilliana de los Reyes is a spectacularly gifted musician. And I imagine a very remarkable woman in many other ways. She’s also a young, tall, lean, long haired blonde, who fits the idealized American beauty standard.

George extended his hand toward her as the applause died down and said her name “Lilliana de los Reyes.” Basking in the glow of her first appearance at the Bowl, she bowed, waved to the audience and headed back to her drums. But then George ruined it for me. He jokingly compared her to her father who plays drums but doesn’t sing. And ended his comment with “Of course, her father isn’t beautiful like that either.” He chuckled sweetly as did many in the audience. And the show went on.

I felt intolerance surge from my gut into my chest. I shook my head and felt the strength of my Guardian midlife Warrior energy rise up. Another ignorant and “innocent” objectifying comment by a man who is continuing to play by the rules of an “old boys” system.

Translate the same engagement to a corporate setting and imagine how it would fly. At the end of a great presentation, the older male lead presenter turns to the room of business people and comments on how attractive his younger partner is??? I don’t think so!

I have no idea how Lilliana felt about the comment. And I suppose that is what is most important. Yet I feel protective. I realize now what I didn’t recognize when I was her age.  Comments by men in positions of power about a woman’s appearance aren’t as innocent as they sound.

My younger self appreciated being told I was attractive by older men. Like many women of my era, I didn’t understand the power dynamics playing out in the relationships between men and women. I enjoyed the power I felt in my sexuality, in my feminine beauty. I took it in and let it feed my Ego.

Then I grew older.

And less stereotypically attractive.

I cut my hair short.

I grew even older.

Then #MeToo happened.

And I began to recognize in ways I’d never seen before, the pervasiveness of gender inequality, male privilege, and the objectification and sexualization of the female body at every level of society and in most institutions. It’s everywhere. And for the most part we all just go along with it.

Like last night.

I wonder how many other audience members picked up on the comment. Did anyone else feel intolerance rise up?

I don’t blame George. And I didn’t let it ruin my enjoyment of the concert. I sent myself a text with George’s comment so I could write about it today. Then, like the Buddha taught, I chose to let the wave of intolerance and anger pass to the shore.

This morning I decided to revisit the wave.

Dictionary.com defines intolerance as unwillingness or refusal to tolerate or respect opinions or beliefs contrary to one’s own, or persons of a different social group, especially a minority group.

That makes sense in light of historical and current inequity and injustice.

But isn’t there something true and good and pure about intolerance that also needs to be included in the definition?

The Oxford English Dictionary my mom bought me back in the 1980’s begins their definition of intolerance this way: “impatience, unendurableness; the fact or quality of being intolerant; not tolerating or enduring something; incapacity of endurance.” Then it goes on to list specific expressions similar to the primary definition offered by dictionary.com.

I am reclaiming the use of “intolerance” in its purest meaning.

The refusal to tolerate or endure unloving, demeaning, dehumanizing, disrespectful language, attitudes and actions is essential for social justice.

The refusal to tolerate or endure objectification, sexualization and commodification of the female body is essential for gender equality.

In an interview for an Appearance Matters podcast, Philosopher Heather Widdows of the University of Birmingham talked about how beauty standards are a social justice issue. She suggested that instead of imagining a world where all beauty appearance pressures are eliminated, we need to imagine a world where all social injustice is eradicated.

I think she’s on to something important about beauty, identity and women’s empowerment.

As long as we go along with historically accepted norms that give George and other men a pass to comment on women’s bodies outside of a beauty contest, we perpetuate injustice at a micro-level. Every time we don’t call out micro-aggressions, we contribute to the perpetuation of macro-aggressions.

At some level, George’s innocent and affectionate remark grows out of the same soil as Harvey Weinstein’s reign of sexual terror.

A few weeks ago I vented with my friend Stephanie about my growing intolerance for ways of praying and worshiping that used to feed my soul. I told her how conflicted I felt about the dark energy arising in me. The next morning she sent me this word of wisdom. I don’t know who said it, but I’m carrying it with me these days as I reclaim the goodness of intolerance:

“I use the sword of my intolerance to cut deep and true.

I hold fast my vision and manifest it.”

How about you?

Is there an area in your life where you need to allow intolerance to help you cut deep and true?

If so, I’d love to hear about it.

 

“Adventure” evokes memories of the three months I spent in Zambia during graduate school or my solo travels a few years later through Italy and the South of France. I remember driving through the Verdon Gorges (France’s version of the Grand Canyon), getting a flat tire and the relief I felt when a small town appeared after several minutes of slowly inching my way down the road while anxiously wondering:”Should I pull over and try to change it myself? What if I don’t know how to work the jack? What if there is no jack? What if there’s no tire? Is this a safe place to pull over? I wonder how far it is to the next town?” I think of my solo hike in the mountains of Provence, where I spent most of the time worrying about the dangers of hiking alone.

Those were bold, risky and exciting undertakings that I’ll never forget. But the adventures most on my mind these days are of the spiritual realm where the opposite of faith is not doubt but certainty.

Adventure comes when we step out of our comfort zones, begin the journey not knowing where we’ll end up, defy the rules, risk an uncertain outcome, go places that scare us.  This weekend I ventured to Minneapolis where 1000 spiritual risk-takers gathered at St. Mark’s Cathedral for the inaugural Why Christian? conference.

St. Marks Cathedral by Lisa Swain

St. Marks Cathedral by Lisa Swain

Brought together by Rachel Held Evans and Nadia Bolz-Weber, we heard stories from eleven remarkable women about why, in spite of corruption, hypocrisy and televangelists, they continue to follow Jesus. Personal stories of upheaval, challenge, despair, perseverance–often with the odds highly stacked against them. From a transgender Baptist minister to a 29 year old African-American powerhouse who preaches in heels higher than my feet have ever seen, each one took us on an adventure, testifying to their hope in Christ.

Why Christian?

– Made in the image of God, we can’t lose our human dignity. Someone will always care even if we can’t see them or don’t know them. (Nichole Flores)

– “Your sins are forgiven” – no one ever says that in yoga class. (Nadia Bolz-Weber)

– My life was no longer about fulfilling others views of who I was, but believing God’s view of who I am. (Winnie Varghese)

And the one that resonated most deeply with me:

- I am a Christian because having a body was not always good news for me. (Kerlin Richter)

I left inspired, disturbed, renewed and more aware then ever of my need for the diversity of the body of Christ where I learn to love the Kim Davis’ and Donald Trump’s of the world. If I can’t love those in my own family of faith, how will I ever learn to love neighbors in other communities.

The Christian life isn’t supposed to be safe. C.S. Lewis conveys something of this in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when Mr. and Mrs. Beaver are first telling the children about Aslan. When they learn that Aslan is a lion, they are concerned because they don’t know if it’s safe to meet a lion. Mr. Beaver says, “Safe! Who said anything about safe. Of course he isn’t safe, but he’s good.”

Christ doesn’t invite me to safety and certainty. He invites me to goodness, kindness, generosity–especially among those people and in places where I don’t feel safe. That’s where the growth takes place.

Pastor Emily Scott of St. Lydia’s Dinner Church in Brooklyn pushed me to consider the importance of being uncomfortable in my faith. She asked “How are we nurturing a discipline of discomfort in our churches?” And summarized her understanding of Why Christian? saying: “Being a Christian is living at the fulcrum of your fear.”

That’s the adventure I’m living this week. I want to live on the edges of chaos where physicists tell us creativity takes place. I don’t want to do life in the comfortable zone. I’m not sure where that will lead me, but that’s the point of adventure–not knowing and going anyway.

I’m grateful for a community of bloggers I’ll be sharing a writing adventure with over the coming months. I’m new to blogrolls but excited to see what comes as we journey together, share our stories and grow together. For more on adventure, start with Lindsey’s blog and then click on through.

 

 

 

In 2007 I began offering retreats, workshops and groups for women struggling to live in harmonious relationship with their bodies. Topics have included: dieting, fitness, health, beauty, perfectionism, sexuality, stress, mind-body connection, compassion, self-care and mindful awareness–just to name a few.

Sharon Song was an early adopter of the alive and well way. What began when she attended a Christ-centered yoga class back in 2007 has evolved into a shared mission to help women heal shame-based relationships with our bodies so we can love and enjoy being in our bodies, just as we are!

AWW VisionIf you relate to Sharon’s story, please visit our Alive and Well Women Facebook page.  We’d love to have you join us in creating communities where women can be ourselves, unconstrained by other people’s agendas for our lives.

Sharon Song

Sharon Song

Over-caffeinated, over-sugared, over-stressed and over-committed is how Sharon once described herself. She was on the verge of burnout and completely disconnected from what her body really needed.

“Alive and Well helped me learn to listen to my body–especially the stress that was telling me I needed better self-care. I learned that loving and caring for myself is a way to connect to God’s love for me.”

Sharon lives and works in South Los Angeles with an urban ministry community. Inspired by her own transformation, Sharon became a certified fitness trainer and is training to be a spiritual director. She’s committed to using what she’s learned to support others in living healthy, sustainable, urban spiritual lives.

For more from Sharon, please visit her blog “Live Move Be in the city” – a journey of South Los Angeles urban life. Featuring the Sonshine Shop thrift store and vintage items. Explorations on faith, fitness, fashion, food, fun, and more.

Today hasn’t gone according to schedule. At only 9:30 this morning it was already “one of those days…”

I’m grateful the wise reminders from Eveyln Underhill and my friend Stephanie that came to me before the day started going sideways.

In her Lent devotional, Evelyn reminded me that Saint Paul did not say that the Spirit of God would bring forth qualities of productivity, organization, effectiveness or success. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. These hallmarks of spiritual maturity may at times manifest in productivity, efficiency, etc., but can’t take primacy over love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The energy of the fruit of the Spirit may fuel my capacity for effectiveness and successful completion of my tasks for the day. But sacrificing peace and patience in order to “get things done” isn’t worth it!

Soul School with Stephanie

Soul School with Stephanie

My friend Stephanie Jenkin’s blog about her journey with infertility in today’s Monk in the World guest post reminds me of what I most value. She writes:

As a monk in the world, I am called to live authentically into who I am at the core. Infertility stripped off the false pretense of perfectionism and control and made me see that Love is bigger.  And I am called to choose Love each day. I am called to strip off the demands, the deadlines, the pressure to perform and conform. I am called to live in to and out of my heart.

My sacred symbols have become the feather and the leaf. Whether I am flying like the feather or falling like the leaf, I am surrendered to God who is greater than I.

I am loved. I am Beloved. That is more than enough. It is in this great Love that I am naked and unashamed.

For the rest of her story, please visit the Abbey of the Arts.

Thanks for taking me to soul school this morning Stephanie. I am loved. I am Beloved. That is enough!

Amen!

Your capacity to remind me of who I am and what is most important is a precious gift. You are a blessing to me and all who know you.

 

Lent commemorates the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert fasting, praying and being tempted by Satan with what my former pastor Darrell Johnson calls “the world’s trinity” – power, possessions and control. As one New Testament author wrote: Because he suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those being tempted. That’s the good news we enter Lent with: we aren’t alone in our struggles. God gets it. Lent is a time to reflect on our lives, acknowledge temptations to be conformed to the culture around us and take stock of our investments.

In our media-saturated, often too busy lifestyles, many people, things and opportunities invite attention. The internet is a vast network of lanes going an infinite number of places. Thanks to technology we don’t even need to leave home to engage with hundreds of people and travel the world.

Every day I delete dozens of emails from retailers and service providers I subscribe to and organizations I value. I’d love to investigate the new brain book that Amazon recommends or the workshop offered by the Center for Non-Violent Communication. But to do so takes me on detours that eat up time, energy and, potentially, money. I delete 90% of what enters my in-box, but don’t unsubscribe because I think “Someday, I might want to go down that path…”

I like to keep my options open.

Cissy, Marva, Kathy and Diane

Cissy, Marva, Kathy and Diane

But, as my prayer partner Marva’s dad so wisely counseled her on many occasions, I need to stay in my own lane!

When Marva came home, complaining about some person or circumstance over which she had no control, he’d say “Marva, you’ve just got to learn to stay in your own lane.”

For Lent, I’m choosing to practice staying in my own lane!

- When I find myself tempted to open a superfluous email or click on a link to who-knows-where, I’m going to take a deep breath and stay in my own lane.

- When I am on the road and become frustrated with how others choose to drive, I’m going to take a deep breath and stay in my own lane.

- When I feel irritated because my husband left crumbs on the counter, I’m going to take a deep breath and stay in my own lane.

A deep inhale, followed by a long, slow, pursed lip exhale, activates the calming system of my body and brings me back to center. It’s a quick way to down shift my nervous system when it starts to amp up in response to the excitements and aggravations of life. It’s a powerful tool to bring my attention back to myself, let go of what I can’t control and change what I can–my own response.

I know I will fall short. I’ll probably veer into  Dave’s lane at least once by the time we go to bed tonight.

Thanks be to God that in Christ, I am already forgiven. And that’s exactly what makes Lent possible–I can reflect on how far short I fall because I walk into my darkness with Christ at my side. Before me, behind me, to my left, to my right, over and under, all around me. Nothing can separate me from God’s love. He’s in my lane with me, ready to help me bring my attention back where it belongs.

That’s Great News for this driver!

 

 

Our guest blogger today is Vivian Mabuni. She is the author of Warrior in Pink: A Story of Cancer, Community and the God Who Comforts. October also marks five years since she finished active treatment for breast cancer. Thanks be to God! I’m delighted to be part of the ever growing fellowship of women (and a few men) living vibrant and purposeful lives post-breast cancer. Though not a club any of us would have signed up for, I must say we are a very remarkable group and I’m delighted to share a bit of her story today.

Warrior In Pink

From Warrior in Pink by Vivian Mubani

When I finally made it home, I headed straight to our bedroom. I lay on the bed, pulled the covers over me, and closed my eyes. I tried to rest, but my mind couldn’t settle. My prayer in the food court about letting people in came to mind. I found myself at the same crossroads of deciding whether to muster up self-sufficient strength and go all Christian Rambo—just me and Jesus—or take the braver route to open my heart and let people into my fear. My Asian heritage and cultural value of “don’t rock the boat” or “the nail that sticks out gets hammered down” amplified my struggle of not wanting to bother people with my problems. I saw this dynamic played out over and over with my family and my Asian friends. One friend tweaked her back so badly she could barely walk. We had planned to have people over for a luncheon. I suggested we order out for pizza so she could rest.

“Oh no, it’s okay. I’ll be fine.”

“No, seriously, we can cancel the whole thing or have someone bring the food. You can barely move!”

But instead of letting others help, I watched her push through the pain, and she hosted a small army in her house with a smile on her face. It was dishonorable and shameful to put people out or bring attention to themselves. I imagined the Asian Martha Stewart had similar thoughts. She ended up deciding against burdening others with her emotional struggles. I did not want my story to end like hers.

Transparency is the willingness to share about difficulties one has undergone after the fact. Vulnerability is sharing difficulties raw, in real-time, without the lesson-learned end of the story. I was comfort- able with transparency. Mostly.

Vulnerability? Not so much.

–Excerpt from chapter 1: we, us (x5) Warrior In Pink

The excerpt I (Vivian) share here reveals a common struggle among people—the idea of not wanting to inconvenience others, our tendency to isolate when faced with difficulties, the myth that “Just me and Jesus is enough.” For Christian women, and Asian American women leaders in particular, the tendency to be the strong one is underscored because of learned faith and cultural values.

My strong encouragement for all of us is YES, lean into God, but also let others in.

After my cancer battle I read the Bible with new lenses. Verses I thought were familiar became more meaningful after experiencing true community.

“Therefore, since WE have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding US, let US also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles US, and let US run with endurance the race that is set before US.” (Hebrews 12:1 NASB)

God designed you and me to live in close intimate connection with Him and with others. Learning to trust Him and to trust others is a worthwhile lifelong endeavor.

How are you doing in the area of vulnerability?

Vivian Mabuni

Thank you Vivian for sharing your life and words of encouragement with us today. May God continue to use you to empower and support others in deepening intimacy with God and each other.

Vivian and her husband Darrin work with Epic Movement, the Asian American ministry of Cru. Vivian is a mom of three kids and a cancer survivor. She is part of a group of women writers called the Redbud Writers Guild. She blogs regularly. Warrior in Pink was published in April and is her first book. If you like what you read here, please pick up a Kindle or paper copy of your own. I just downloaded mine!

Subscribe to Vivian’s blog for regular words of wisdom and encouragement.

Maya Angelou has died. Death will not stop her life.

Mother Maya Angelou 1928-2014

My colleague Shaunelle Curry from Media Done Responsibly published a copy of her tribute to Maya yesterday. She inspired me to write my own tribute

I sat out under my oak tree yesterday afternoon with a book of her poems and pulled out phrases from some of my favorites to remember her words, her spirit, her power.  She birthed most of the phrases below. I collected them and adapted them to honor her memory. May the Spirit that inspired her to rise above adversity, become stronger through the things that pressed her down, live on in all of us who were fed by her life.

Thank You Mother Maya

Mother Maya has passed. Her daughters born through words gather to mourn. Red, yellow, black and white, all precious sisters, daughters in her light, gather round to say  “Thank you Mother Maya.”

Thank you for fierceness and vulgarity and letting it all hang out, for caged birds singing and dancing like you had diamonds at the meeting place of your thighs.

Thank you for the click of your heels, the bend of your hair, the palm of your hand.

Thank you for the sun of your smile, the ride of your breasts, the grace of your style.

Thank you for tears, now powdered black like dust in ashes, black like Buddha’s belly, black and hot and dry, crying for your sons and daughters.

Death has taken you by the hand, but because of mercy you live on.

Now angels gather, hosannahs tremble, harps sound:

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

You, Mother Maya, coming through the door!

Last week I met a remarkable young woman named Kate who fears that God, her parents and friends won’t approve of her searching beyond what she’s known of him all her life to be the “only truth.” Yet she also fears staying in the safety of that belief system, of not following her innermost self and trusting her own capacity to understand her tradition in a bigger way–what my husband Dave calls the big “G” Gospel.

It takes courage to leave the safety of traditional ways of believing the gospel of Jesus Christ, just like it takes courage to leave home and go away to college. Yet doing so is an essential part of adult identity and faith development.

What does it really man to “believe” the good news that Jesus preached? As I read the resurrection story in the last chapter of the gospel according to Mark this morning I considered the meaning of “believe.”

What does belief look like in daily life? Is about knowing facts and information, cognitively assenting to ideology? My evangelical training emphasized correct doctrine as the key element of belief. Discipleship focused on studying topics like “know what you believe” and “know why you believe” rather than equipping me for transformation into a more loving, Christlike person.

At this point in my spiritual journey I think belief has more to do with how I live and how I love than anything else. Faith in Jesus Christ is reflected in my attitude, motivation and behavior more than in what I proclaim to be true about God, human nature, reality and other existential issues. Interestingly, the modern English word “belief” has it’s etymology in Old English and Germanic words reflecting the more personal nature of belief as “holding dear, esteeming and trusting.” Billy Graham, who’s been called the greatest evangelist of our time, once said that the greatest expression of belief isn’t cognitive assent but to “be love” in the world.

I can’t “prove” my interpretation via exegesis. Moreover, I don’t want or need to. Years of exegetical training and practice did much to equip my mind for the study of scripture. But it did little in terms of making me a more loving, Christlike person. Psychotherapy and contemplative Christ-centered practices have been the primary avenues the Spirit of God has used to free me from reactive, defensive, unloving ways of being in my life. Centering prayer in particular has been the greatest tool for being transformed by the renewing of my mind in Christ.

I’m grateful to stand with Kate and many other millennials who are searching outside the expressions of Christianity they were raised in. They need boomers like me to support them in their desire to deepen their connection to Christ through both traditional and non-traditional forms.

My prayer for Kate and others millennials doing the hard work of adult faith development comes from the apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus: according to the riches of God’s glory, may you be strengthened with power through God’s Spirit in your innermost beings, may Christ dwell in your hearts as you are being rooted and grounded in love, may you have power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, and be filled to all the fullness of God.

“Now to the one by whom the power at work within us is able to do abundantly far more than all that we can ask or imagine, to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”   (Ephesians 3.16-21)

It’s been a long time since I ate a burger. I can’t remember the last time I ordered one. It’s just not something I eat, not something I crave.

Occasionally my body craves red meat, but I go for a grass-fed rib-eye or filet. “Hamburger” just doesn’t seem to be on my body’s database of what I need.

This week I’m playing roadie, chauffeur and traveling companion to my niece Caity as she returns for her senior recital as a jazz studies major at University of North Texas. When we arrived last night and wanted something to eat, she suggested “Whataburger.” She described it as the “In and Out” of Texas, “But the meat is better…after all, this is Texas.”

What? Me? A burger?

With that endorsement, I figured when in Texas, do as Texans do. I ordered a Whataburger Jr. and ate the whole thing–gluten filled bun and all!

Why did I eat a burger? Because I don’t want to be a food nazi!

After my breast cancer 21 years ago I became militant about food. I only ate vegetarian, low-fat, unprocessed organic foods because I feared the role animal products, pesticides, processing and other toxins played in the onset of my cancer.

For a few years, that was a necessary and important stance to take. But over time,  I began to listen to my physical needs and not my fears and found my way to a more balanced, loving and life-giving relationship with food.

For me, it’s about moderation, balance and choosing the best food. Today, that includes minimal red meat and limited gluten based foods. Yet, if there’s an Auntie Em’s dessert or a loaf of bread from Fiore Cafe around, I’ll say “Yes” and enjoy every bite of my gluten. If I’m going to eat the gluten that can sometimes activate rosacea on my cheeks, I’m going to make it worthwhile.

My remarkable niece Caity

My relationship with Caity is more important than what we eat. I enjoyed the burger well enough…for a burger. But even more important was how much I enjoyed being with Caity in her college town, going to the places she hung out and getting a taste of her last five years. Celebrating her success as a top-notch jazz saxophonist and experiencing the world where she’s honed her skills, met her boyfriend and matured into a remarkable young woman–that’s why I’m here.

When I was a food nazi (while hard to admit, at times even now) what I ate took precedence over enjoying the people, events and places around me. Thanks be to God for the love, grace and truth that have come to me over these past 21 years. I am free to eat burgers or not eat burgers. For this freedom, I am exceedingly grateful.