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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Filtering by Category: Speaking

Keeping Place - in DVD

On Monday night, the arts ministry at my church hosted a wonderful launch event for friends and family. It was the very first time I actually held the real book in my hand!

People bought books (which was lovely!), but they were also asking about the companions DVDs, which I didn't have on hand. (Shhh, please don't tell my publisher.)

[video width="640" height="360" mp4=""][/video]

In case you didn't know, Keeping Place is also offered as a five-session DVD teaching series produced in partnership by RightNow Media and Intervarsity Press.

For the record, I did make a decided effort to improve upon the video teaching that I did for Teach Us to Want. (Because who gets class on this?) I made Ryan sit and watch all the teaching sessions with me. We decided what worked and what didn't. (You can only guess which list was longer.) Then we watched videos by other people, who are much better and more experienced than I am. In the Keeping Place DVDs, I have tried imitating them all.

Tried smiling more. Tried talking faster. Tried being more personable.

You can decide for yourself if I managed any of that.

In case you're interested in using the DVDs for a small group, there are discussion questions in the book, both for the book and video content.

And lastly, many thanks for the terrific team at RightNow Media with whom it's a real pleasure to work!

Advent's Invitation: Consider your joy, and keep your song

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept When we remembered Zion.

There on the poplars

We hung our harps,

For there our captors asked us for songs,

Our tormentors demanded songs of joy;

They said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?

If I forget you, O Jerusalem,

May my right hand forget its skill.

May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth

If I do not remember you,

If I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy.

Psalm 137:1-6

Maybe you, like I, wonder how we can bring ourselves to the melodies of Advent when we are in collective mourning for Newtown, Connecticut?

Yesterday, I am standing at the kitchen sink, and above the noise of breakfast clatter, I hear the names of the Sandy Hook Elementary children read aloud on the radio. Charlotte Bacon, James Mattioli, Olivia Engel. It’s a long list of tragic loss, and every name sears. It’s not their faces that make me weep, but their names. Oh God. How do we bury all the possibilities of a child’s name?

This morning, I read coverage of the first two funerals – Noah Pozner and Jack Pinto – and think of the utter impossibility of eulogizing children. What would I say of my own children were I to lose them? The heartbreak is in the absence of words, all that could not be said of their stolen days, months, years - the record that will never be.

No, I am convinced. You cannot eulogize a child, and this is just another ominous reminder that this, this, should not be.

We are struggling to find our words in the wake of Newtown.

And when the heart breaks, a song feels like an utter impossibility. This is the picture of Psalm 137: Israel has been exiled, taken far from home and settled in the land of Babylon. “By the rivers of Babylon we wept.” The weeping seems to have excluded the possibilities of a song: “There on the poplars we hung our harps.”

And this is grief. We hang up our harps when life shatters. We bury bodies - and with them, we want to bury our songs.

“How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?”

And if we needed a reminder that this bedraggled and beat up planet is not our home, Newtown has been the chilling reminder of our own exile. The scene at Sandy Hook Elementary has stirred up all of our Edenic longings for a better world, a world where children live out their days, where poverty and injustice are banished, where all of creation sings the songs of wholeness and goodness, truth and beauty, justice and righteousness.

“How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?”

Newtown testifies, not just to a season of national mourning, but to the universal groaning of Creation that began when sin birthed this tormented world of wrong: “For the creation waits with eager longing . . . the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth,” (Romans 8:21, 22).

We pine for a better world: the New Jerusalem, the future city of God, all of which are images used in the Scriptures to describe heaven. “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy.”

By the rivers of Newtown, we sat and wept.

How can we sing the songs of the LORD – the songs of Advent – in this foreign land, where Death still reigns supreme?

If I forget you – the new heavens and the new earth – I will lose all capacity for a melody.

I will lose my joy. And I will bury my songs.

Which is why today’s Advent invitation invites us to look beyond these shadows of death to a future hope. Receive today the invitation, which Christ secured on the cross when He defeated Death and announced that Creation was finally waking from the long sleep of her spell:

“Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (1 Corinthians 15:55).

Today, consider your joy and keep your song. Because this is not our home: "Let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and let us offer to God acceptable worship - A SONG? - with reverence and awe."

“I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days.” Isaiah 65:19, 20

“But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” 2 Peter 3:13

* * * * *

I spoke at two events this month on the subject of joy. Some have asked for the manuscript, and I’m including it here, knowing that its message of joy in the midst of loss may provide hope to us in our own sadness.

Grace Christmas Brunch, 2012, final

Atonement. The End.

I traveled to Delaware this past weekend to speak at the church where my college friend’s husband serves as pastor. And it was this weekend that I had my first awkward moments as a blogger.

On the night I arrived, after our conversation had stretched close to midnight around their long kitchen table, my friend began giving me instructions for using her Keurig the next morning.

“No, no, hun,” her husband quickly interrupted. “Don’t you remember she likes the French press?”

I was left only momentarily wondering how they knew this little factoid.

And it was the next morning that a tall, pretty young woman introduced herself to me before the tea. She’s shaking my hand and smiling, telling me that she’d been reading my blog and enjoying it.

There are facts she cites to establish the intimacy she has with the mechanics of my life.

I feel awkward. My life is no paragon of virtue.

In fact, in the week leading up to the event, I am conscious of how irritable I’m acting. Hustled by deadlines, I am quick to snap at the kids, quick to wish away my responsibilities as wife and mother, quick to hope for some quiet, permanent corner of the world into which I can withdraw and work without interruption.

And all week long, I sit down with the Bible in the morning. And I feel nothing. And I hear nothing. And sooner rather than later, I bring to an end what feels to be nothing more than a rote exercise – one I’d hardly constitute as faith.

Do you go speak for God when you fail to hear Him speaking?

Do you go claiming to serve God when it’s your family’s needs you’ve been willfully ignoring?

All this incongruence – between the life of my words and the life of my skin – it heaps up like one big heap of accusation.

And that’s why I wake with the pit in my stomach on Saturday morning. It’s early and dark. I lie there sleepily and feel the familiar knot of anxiety tug, churn, and settle deeper.

Isaiah 6.

Somehow, this passage rises to conscious thought, and I’m out of bed, slipping noiselessly into the kitchen to make the coffee. (Yes, French press.)

And I begin reading Isaiah 6, and it’s as if finally, I can hear more than the leaden silence of the past week.

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne.”

Where am I, Jen?

Seated on a throne. And what would you do or fail to do, what you say or fail to say, that would change my sovereign position of power and authority?

If that were the only reassurance I had had, it would have been enough to calm all the jitters. But I found more, even more.

“Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips.”

And so, Isaiah had his own mirror? And in it, all his own incongruence stared back at him?

Of course.

And what was it that stood between the agony of that reflection and the answer to the call? What makes sinners so daring to believe that they could be commissioned for service?


“One of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said, ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin is atoned for.’”

Here was the consoling reminder that God never uses perfect people – or perfectly confident people. It’s not our capacities or confidence that qualify us for ministry.

It’s the blood of Jesus.

I took that with me into the tea. I beat back the torrent of self-doubt with two words.

Jesus’ blood.

And the weekend was so NOT about me coming to share some pithy word with that crowded gymnasium full of women. As is typical with God, there was more goodness to be had than I could ever have imagined, goodness that I’ve since been mulling over, goodness that made me cry all the way from the moment I landed in Toronto, walked down the jetbridge, through the airport terminal, and out to meet a silver van packed with eager kids.

But that story, that goodness, will have to kept for another day.



Feeling jittery

I order my tall vanilla soy latté and begin wondering where my wallet is. I fumble through the pockets of the bag that hangs from my right shoulder and start feeling the panic rise to my cheeks. Where's my wallet? And passport and money? All the worst-case scenarios play out in fast forward speed. I am dizzied and feeling slightly faint.

Fumbling furiously now, I rummage through the books and computer chargers. I find my lipstick bag (one small sigh of relief - the lipstick is here) as the customers in front of me pay, then peal off the ever-shrinking line to get their drinks. They are not dummy-heads like me. They manage, like grown-ups do, to keep their wallet in sight.

The line is the only thing shrinking now. The panic has now fully seized my body. And I'm up next.

And it's then I realize - suddenly - that my wallet is tucked under my left arm. Safe. Right there in my arm pit. I try sidling up to the cash register to play the cucumber cool part of seasoned business traveler, but it's fairly obvious to anyone who has watched this extemporaneous scene that I am NOT.

I'm feeling jittery, the kind of jittery that makes you all clumsy.

I tried to figure out how to drape my winter coat over - around? - my carry-on. Unsuccesfully.

I tried to maneuver my one tall latte, one cup of ice water, and one yogurt parfait (with the carry-on and shoulder bag and winter coat) back to my gate. Unsuccessfully. (Ok, no spills but visible awkwardness.)

I am feeling the part of old woman whose husband has just died and can't complete the simplest of tasks without the help on which she'd learned all her life to depend.

I'm alone. In an airport. Flying off to Wilmington, Delaware, to speak on the subject of joy.

And I'm feeling all turned inside out, wondering why did I agree to this?

It may have been years ago that I saw myself doing exactly this. But there's something beautiful and right and yet hard about time as it marches forward - and erodes all those smug confidences of youth.

You know your own phoniness better when you're older. You're a fake, a fraud. The accumulated years: exhibit A.

So, yeah, I'm feeling jittery because it's been a busy week and I've tried to pray and failed and wondered why God feels beyond the next closed door.

They're boarding now.

I'm boarding now.

And that means a quick, hurried goodbye.

And the only thought with which to leave is this: "Conscious of all that I am not, confident of all that He is: and maybe that's where real ministry begins."