The term 'lean in' has taken on a life of its own for me after I read Sheryl Sandberg's book, Lean In: Women, Work, And The Will To Lead, which came out earlier in the year. The words “lean in” are becoming a buzz term and part of the business speak of today's world. I like it. I like the concept of how it invokes a full body engagement and response to something.

I think life is better when you lean in. That being said, I may venture off track a bit from some of the premises in Sandberg’s book since it's been a few months since I finished it. I have two littles that work a lot like the magic pen in the Men in Black movies – total mind erase on a semi-regular basis. None the less, the concept of leaning in will stick in mind and make itself known (despite my little mind erasers) for a long time, and here is why.

I decided to write about this after perusing Facebook and seeing some beautiful new pottery posted by MudCrush Pottery. There was one bowl in particular that caught my eye, so I commented online about how beautiful it was. Immediately, I got a 'Thank you' back from the artist. Now, maybe that didn't mean a whole lot to her. Maybe she is one of those uber-confident people who needs the approval of no one (I secretly think that no one needs approval, quite like I need approval). But maybe she did need to hear something that day. Maybe my small compliment brightened her day just a bit more than it would have been otherwise. And I thought, “That's a kind of leaning in, too.”

Whenever we take the time out of our day to recognize the beauty of someone else, we are leaning in to life. We are practicing being present for someone else. I see art every day that takes my breath away, but I comment on about 1% of it. I'm going to try to do better.

Anne Lamott is a writer whom I love so much. And I have so enjoyed peeking into her mind and life on Facebook. I appreciate hearing about her daily struggles to write. “Just write badly every day,” she says. This quirky encouragement is a balm to all of us who were made with this burning desire to write, to record, to respond in this way to all life has thrown at us. Anne's writing, to me, is a great leaning in to all of us. A pouring out and leaning in to each life that may read her words.

Goodness knows we need for others to lean toward us. Life throws a lot at us. Many of you read my nervous and teary musings about my first child starting kindergarten this year. I didn't tell many people, but my overwhelming fear about kindergarten really had to do with the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings. I was almost debilitated the night before school started just thinking of the risks that are out there. I got through it because I realized that many of the mom's and dads from Sandy Hook were sending their other children off to school this year, and if they could carry on, I certainly must. I decided to lean in to life when all I wanted to do was back out, resign, and move to an island.

And then I turn on the news this week to learn of a shooter in an elementary school in a town with people I know. The next day brings the horrifying story of a couple of teenagers killing a young man because they were bored…and I had to decide, again. Lean in, or check out?

Everything screams check out, doesn't it? The random violence, the anger we see in one another, the lack of simple manners and common decency – they all seem to scream that it is time to check out. But maybe, just maybe, things are like this because we already checked out long ago. Maybe this mindset of 'mind our own business' was just a big mass exodus and a means of leaning out.

That's what we do when we are scared, right? We lean away from the unknown and hunker down. It takes courage to lean in. It takes courage to stay engaged when you feel like walking away. But that's what all the big problems take – courage. The choice to lean in.

Leaning into your career can yield great results; just imagine what leaning into life could do. If we all just responded to this ache for community that is within each of us, we could win over the violence and apathy. If we all just leaned in a bit – sometimes it is as simple as acknowledging the beauty of a piece of pottery, sometimes it may be finding a way to address social injustice – we would realized how very missed our participation in the lives around us has been. It is your participation that would add to the beauty of life. You are the missing ingredient. Sometimes we think that it is difficult to hear God. I believe God whispers to us so that we will lean in.

She is just so small.

And she is larger than life.

I want to keep her home. She wants to walk in to kindergarten by herself the second day.

I want her to need me. She wants to be able to do things by herself.

To me she seems so small. To her she feels so big.

Arms open wide, she is ready for this. When will I be?

 

Today I pick her up and she couldn't stop talking. It hit me. Her world has been very small, and now it is very big. While that is scary for me because I know all the things that can go wrong. It's exciting for her because every day is a new adventure.

And that makes my world twice as big as it was a few days ago. I am beginning to realize that as my children grow – my world grows. There are the adventure of my own life, as well as the adventures they each will have.

“Mommy, I went down the slide today. I decided to just be brave and try, and I really liked it. So I did it again!”

“That's great, baby,” I say, “tell me more.”

No detail is too small in this big adventurous story she is starting.

(And, yes, I'm crying a river as I write today.)

 

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I am struggling to return to our series on poverty.  I’ve continued with my research over the summer, focusing on how our two main political parties approach this issue. On one hand, the Democrat’s approach seems so kind and in line with my values of helping the poor. But, when I read a Republican’s explanation on the economy and the damage done by ineptly conceived and deployed social programs, I find myself thinking that view makes sense too.

I’ve also spent some time talking with people who devote their lives to helping people overwhelmed by poverty, and once you really get them to tell you their story, it is like looking into the eyes of a volunteer in a catastrophic natural disaster.  The depth of their love and the extent of their exhaustion are at war within them.  The pain and the frustration, and the love and the commitment, are waging a battle each day.

It feels like a hopeless situation that one cannot escape.  We cannot quit, but we cannot go on.  What does one do with that?

Oh, but then I remember that anytime I look at things through the lens of politics, I am being deceived.  It is very hard to extract ourselves from the pervasive cultural programming of the media that divides us so clearly against one another.  Nearly impossible, really.

This is what I believe – we have been tricked, slowly and methodically, into throwing the baby out with the bath water.  In the name of tolerance and equality we have gotten rid of the one thing that could have provided both.  A common value system.

I ask my friends who do not believe in God to stick with me.  Can’t we all agree that one of the things that we are missing in our current society is a base, foundational set of values?  It is difficult to counter a culture that glamorizes celebrity and defines success, not by the content of character, but rather by amount of content you own.  Without a culturally agreed upon set of values, what do we teach our youth?

It feels like as we have moved away from the base Christian values that this country was built upon, we have also moved away from a healthy and vibrant culture.  I realize that there we have never been perfect, but I long for a future where civility is a default response and reaction.  And I realize that there is debate about whether or not our country was founded by Christians, but I believe the words etched in marble throughout our Capitol provide a compelling argument that whether or not every founding father would consider themselves an evangelical Christian, the character of Christ as laid out in the Bible was a driving force in their thinking.

As we look at the hurt and anger and division in our country today.  As we look at the disparity between the wealthy and the poor.  As we look at the divorce rates and single parents.  As we look at abortion rates and crime rates.  As we look at the prison population.  As we read the vitriol spewed out in almost any article on the internet.  As we feel the anger bubbling up…can’t we agree that something has gone terribly wrong?

I believe in good, and I believe in evil.  I have seen both in my life.  I have seen both in me.  I believe that evil has built a house in our political system.    It divides us and blinds us to the reality of our own responsibility no matter what side of the political fence you sit on.

We have to find a path back to a common set of values that we, as a culture, can expect from one another.  Values like taking care of the poor, holding yourself accountable to working and earning what you can, treating one another with respect.  We have to expect more from our companies, our families, our churches, and ourselves.

No matter your personal beliefs, can anyone deny that those in our society who live in moral poverty would not benefit from these values soaking into their very bones?  Can anyone deny that we must begin building a foundation for those in our society whose lives are lived on no foundation?

I have never believed quite so fervently that we have God inside us – that His spirit is what guides us to our best selves.  I believe that this is what makes me a better person than I would ever be on my own.  I believe that this is what drives an atheist to live a good and worthy life.   It is this driving force of creation in all of life that results in good.

On the flip side, I believe that to deny the pull of love is to choose evil.  I believe that, much like gravity, there is a law that allows one or the other to be present, but never both.  If you reject love, you choose hate.  Too many have chosen hate and don’t even realize it.  They have done this because they have never seen love…they are trapped in a cycle of hate that will continue until someone can break through and show them that another way is possible.

Believer or non-believer, it is the responsibility of those who live in love to help those who are trapped in hate.  It is exhausting work, and unless we all decide to participate there is no hope.  There is no government program that can instill a moral code.

We have lost something precious, and the more I delve into the pain and hurt and desperation of the least in our society, the more I believe that the answers lie in our ability to see past the talking heads and the rhetoric and find a common ground to stand on.

So the question lies in how we get past the ‘evangelical right’ and the ‘liberal left’ that we are all told we belong to, and find a way to come together.  I have more in common with everyone I know than I have differences.  Atheist, believer, democrat, republican – most of my friends are just great, intelligent, caring people who want to see this world get better and move forward.  They want their kids to be a part of something good and hopeful.  They are not these labels of political parties or denominations – they are people.  Great people.  I love them.

How do we get past the labels?  How do we overcome differences to reach common ground?  What can you do to make this happen in your life?  Where can you stop judging and start loving?  Where can you start giving time to help lift someone up?

A few weeks ago I finished the stimulating book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God, by Rob Bell. In it, he reveals some fascinating facts such as:

– The edge of the universe is roughly ninety billion trillion miles away.

– Our solar system fills less than a trillionth of the available space.

– 96% of the universe is made up of dark matter, black holes, and dark energy.

– A single grain of sand contains 22 quintillion atoms.

– The nucleus of one of those atoms? It is one millionth of a billionth of the volume of the atom.

– Sub atomic particles are constantly in motion, exploring all of the possible paths from point a to point b – at the same time — meaning they are nowhere and everywhere at the same time.

– When you stand on the sidewalk and see your reflection in the glass front of a store, it's because some of the light particles from the sun (photons) don't pass through the glass. They essentially bounce off of it and all you to see your reflection. Other photons, however, go through the glass and illuminate the goods inside the store. The weird thing is, it's impossible to predict which particles will do which thing.

And if all of that isn't enough to just blow your mind get this: “As things heat up, they register different colors, each new color representing an increase in temperature. And so, according to the standard assumptions about heat and corresponding color, your toaster should glow blue.

But it doesn't; it glows red. Why? No one knows. WHAT?

Can you feel the magnificence of that statement? We have put men on the moon but have no idea why our toasters glow red?!?!

(Side note: That really is how I read the book. There are fascinating facts and mind blowing science on page after page and I'm thinking, “Wow, that's awesome. How amazing.” Then I get to the toaster thing and that's when my mind was blown…go figure.)

And Bell goes on:

– Your body is made up of about seventy-five trillion cells.

– Each of those cells contains six feet worth of DNA.

– We share over 60 percent of our genes with fruit flies, over 90 percent with mice, and 96 percent with large apes.

– Every twenty-eight days you get completely new skin.

– Every nine years your entire body is renewed.

Your. entire. body. Every. cell. New. Every nine years. (I'm four years away from my 5th me.)

And so, this got me to thinking about Jesus. And specifically — for those of us who believe that Jesus is the son of God and therefore all knowing -how maddening it must have been for Him to come to earth before we knew any of this stuff. I mean really – can you imagine knowing all about disease and medicine and energy, and on and on and on, but also know that there was no means of making a finite man understand it?

It would be like teaching a toddler to drive – too much information. Incapable of handling the knowledge.

Timing is everything, and I've no doubt that He came right when He needed to be here. Long before we made advances in science. I also am quite certain that He would have loved to explain more. But hundreds of years later people would still be stoned for believing in the most rudimentary science facts, and at the time He was here, He had a limited time to share His message. Moreover, this critical message of love and grace would eventually end in a crucifixion, so the battles He was sent to fight were chosen well before his arrival.

But maybe that is why the bible is so challenging to understand. Just maybe that is why Jesus spoke and taught in parables. Parables that had a meaning that could expand as our knowledge expanded. We understand so much more about this beautiful and intricate universe. Proverbs 2:10 says, “For wisdom will come into your heart and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.” Oh, amen. How true is that, and how beautiful and infinitely amazing this world is. But how careful would God have had to be when explaining things without revealing too much? How careful would He have had to be reveal without overwhelming us?

I guess some may argue that a loving God would have come specifically for that purpose, to give us this basic knowledge – but is that even feasible? Can I ever teach a toddler how to drive a car? There is only so much we can handle at any given time. The universe has had to reveal itself over thousands of years and while our capacity to understand has accelerated rapidly. What wonders still remain? It takes time for us to accept new ideas and new concepts; knowledge is not something you can just pour over people and expect them to absorb in a single sitting. The universe unfolds just as it should, slowly.

And then I am humbled once again by the thought that this same essay could have been written, in all sincerity, 1000 years ago, 100 years ago, 10 years ago….and yet what we once thought of as knowledge is no more. It's amazing how much of our 'knowledge' has already been laid to waste – swallowed up by deeper truths and more clear understanding. Knowledge is always put away in the end for new knowledge to take its place. It always has been and always will be. I believe that to be true until one day when all knowledge will be made whole and all will be revealed. One day our eyes will be opened and we will understand and see everything. Some of what we know will be put away, much like the idea of the sun revolving around the earth. Some will be expanded upon further and we will find that our rudimentary knowledge of quantum physics is just the tip of the iceberg. Who knows, perhaps we will find we got a few things right.

For me, the deeper the mystery, the higher my love, the wider my belief…the more peaceful my soul. I think God revels in our building the blocks of knowledge and unlocking the mysteries of his amazing universe. But I also believe that with that knowledge we have to maintain our humanity and honor the Spirit of love that is in each of us. 2 Corinthian 8:7 says, “But as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you – see that you excel in this act of grace also.”

We were never meant to excel in grace and forsake knowledge, but neither were we to excel in knowledge and forego grace. It is only when we learn to live in balance with both of these things that we are able to fully appreciate this gift.

I encourage my fellow believers to embrace the beauty of science as a gift from a loving God.

“The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship.” Proverbs 19:1

 

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