Unplugging

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 ‘In Him you are being built together, creating a sacred dwelling place among you where God can live in the Spirit’ (Ephesians 2:22).


Summertime.  I remember the hellishly hot Phoenix summers growing up.  We had a bunch of kids on our street.  We would chase each other through the sprinklers.  Slip-n-slide on our driveway (before the official ‘Slip-n-Slide’ was developed and sold) by letting a hose drench the concrete.  When the ice cream truck sounded its familiar music, we’d run inside for our nickels, dimes, and rare quarters to get a fudegsicle, an ice cream sandwich, or a bomb pop.  Tammy and I would climb their mulberry tree and pretend a flood was rising and we lived like the Swiss Family Robinsons.  We’d play Mother May I and Red Light/Green Light until our mothers called us in for dinner.  After dinner, when the sun finally stopped beating down and the temperatures dropped to under 110 degrees, we’d play Ghost in the Graveyard … until our mothers called us in for bed.  Being the youngest on the street, I usually got called in first.  And was never happy about that!

When the monsoons would come up from Mexico, we’d relish the pouring rain that would refresh some of the intensity of the heat.  After the rains, when water would still rush down the street gutters, we’d ‘race’ popsicle sticks down the rapids.  We saved our popsicle sticks from the ice cream truck treats to make ‘A-bombs’ and ‘H-bombs’ (because it was the 1970s.  I don’t think any of us thought about the political or historical implications of our popsicle stick ‘bombs’)–weaving the sticks together and then throwing them at each other, watching them ‘explode’ on the driveways and sidewalks.

We didn’t know it; but we were a community.  When Dougie’s and Teddy’s parents divorced and they moved out of the neighborhood, our community ended.  Dougie was the visionary and leader of the street.  He organized all the games and activities.  The last activity was the night before they left, all of us got a white t-shirt (probably one from our fathers’ undershirt piles) and a Sharpie.  We congregated out in the street to sign each other’s shirts to commemorate our passing childhood.  We knew things would never be the same.

Community seems elusive as we grow older.  Looking back, I see how much I took for granted in childhood, adolescence and college years.  Group cohesiveness in microcosmic worlds of school, youth groups and activities came naturally.  Even as a mom with young children, I found others like me duking it out in the trenches, and we created community fairly easily.  It’s harder now that Jud and I are entering our 50s (okay, just gotta give an aside:  JUD is 50, I’M only 49).  I long for the days when we had a group of people to intimately worship God and passion to live out His life in our towns.  I’ve grown weary trying to find that community within church walls.

And I think that’s my problem.  I’ve focused on church walls.

I know that church-the-building isn’t Church-the-Bride, as I wrote last week.  But those lines get blurred.  I’ve relied too much on finding Church-the-Bride in church-the-building.  And it scares me to think that I may have to go outside the building to find the Bride of Christ … because I’ve been in the building 49 years.  I want to reconnect with people where together we become a sacred space where God dwells.  I need some time to reflect and remember what it’s like to splash around after a rainstorm in the puddles of the presence of God.

So, this summer, I’m taking some time off.  I’m unplugging for 6 weeks from the internet, blogging and church-the-building life.  I need to remember the carefree summer days full of laughter and sport, full of friends and play, full of popsicles and imagination, full of sun-soaked skin and cool sheets at the end of the day.  I’ll be checking email and in on Facebook from time to time because I still have a part-time job that involves those venues; however, I won’t be posting much.

I encourage all of you to enjoy your summer and rekindle some of the child-like (and -ish) mentality you used to have.  Remember to play … laugh … and dream!

I’ll see you in August!

I’d love to hear from you!  How do you unplug?  What do you want to recapture from childhood summers?

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Stripping Wallpaper and Finding Christ

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Jesus said, ‘Remember this: …if two or three of you come together as a community and discern clearly about anything, My Father in heaven will bless that discernment. For when two or three gather together in My name, I am there in the midst of them’ –Matthew 18:19-20.

I almost vetoed the house we own because of all the wallpaper in every bathroom and the master suite. The wallpaper and all the white flooring made me queasy as I watched our then young children exploring their new digs.  This summer, we’ve finally taken down the floor-to-ceiling wallpaper in our master bedroom and bathroom (the other bathrooms lost the wallpaper a few years ago).  The 1980s mauve and blue English victorian garden that covered the walls when we moved in 15 years ago finally had to go.  I say ‘we’; but in reality, Jud stripped all the wallpaper, and I will do the painting (at least most of it) this Fall.  In stripping the wallpaper, I contributed to the work by networking with friends to figure out the most expedient way to bring it down.  Most of our friends had stripped wallpaper in their lives.  The suggestions ranged from getting a steamer to Downy or vinegar mixed with water in a spray bottle.  Because of the size of the walls, we opted for the steamer (although Jud also used the spray bottle, at times).  Regardless of the method, stripping wallpaper is messy, time-consuming and exhausting.  I’m not a visual person, so I’ve enlisted the help of a friend to tell me what I like for style and paint color.  The enormity of the space intimidates me.  If left to my own devices, the room would end up looking like the Partridge Family’s psychedelic van.  Thus, the call to my friend.  I need someone to reign me in and give me a sanity check.

We need people like that in our ‘church’ lives too.  People who will allow us to question long-held beliefs.  People who will help us figure out what’s working and what’s not in our lives.  People who know us and know God deeply.  People who can help us strip away the old, tired, dated thinking that no longer serves our lives well.  Then, when all is stripped away, help us figure out what to do with the blank walls of our hearts.  The foundational structure of our spirits, hopefully, remains solid; but often we hold onto old ways of thinking like avocado green appliances and burnt-umber shag carpeting because they remind us of our heritage–not because they bring us closer to God.  ‘Church’ friends can help us through the messy, exhausting remodeling stages of our spiritual lives.

What do I mean by ‘church’ friends?  A friend asked the question this week, ‘How do we celebrate church in our lives?’  He feels discouraged that so many articles and blog posts express negative things about Christ’s Bride.  I believe we have to distinguish between church-the-building and Church-The-Bride-of-Christ.  I hope people continue to write about the ways that the structure of church-the-building needs to morph so that people experience less abuse there–so that more and more can see Church-The-Bride-of-Christ.

Church happens when two men meet for breakfast or yard work and weep for one another because they have found a place to share vulnerably the tough circumstances of life.  They feel no shame in their tears because here, in this sacred friendship, Christ is present.

Church occurs when brothers come together to help children and their families find hope.  Researching and developing, not fearing backlash, medical hemp strains that diminish seizures in children–hoping to find other hemp treatments for more diseases and disorders.  When we feel no shame in finding creative solutions that better our world, heaven comes to earth … and Christ is present.

Church shines when groups of people come together and pray for their community.  When out of that prayer, God gives glimpses of action that can change homelessness, sex-trafficking, addictions, child neglect/abuse … and we act on those God-given ideas … our world becomes kinder, more compassionate and hopeful.  When we feel no shame in our humility of needing others, we have a chance to experience the kingdom of God on earth … and Christ is present.

Church awakens when people can disagree on how to live out Christ’s life, but still remain friends.  When a friend can say, ‘I have a new perspective on this because it’s no longer an issue, it’s flesh and blood.’  When people grow into a new perspective on the heart of God, but have no idea how to live out all the implications.  In voicing without shame those conversations and not-having-all-the-answers, Christ is present.

The presence of Christ is not found in shared theology, but in shared lives … shared brokenness … shared joy … shared love.  May we all enjoy ‘church’ this week.

I’d love to hear from you!  How do you experience Christ’s presence?  How do you define ‘church’?

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All Are Welcome

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‘“Come!” say the Spirit and the Bride.
Whoever hears, echo, “Come!”
Is anyone thirsty? Come!
All who will, come and drink,
Drink freely of the Water of Life!’ –Revelation 22:17 (The Message)

Last Wednesday, Jud and I attended a gathering that discussed how to have a conversation between opposing viewpoints.  The 1  hour 15 minute drive took 2 hours in Denver rush-hour traffic.  Why did we go?  We feel desperate.  Desperate for spiritual nourishment.  Desperate for unity (not uniformity).  Desperate to meet at a table where others can disagree and still like each other.  At The Refuge, we found a diverse group–a lawyer who’s a pilot, ‘FedEx’ who’s a pastor of a biker church, a man who runs a ministry for homeless youth, a man and woman who are friends and co-pastor equally this group of normally unconnected people.

We felt refreshed.

We felt for the first time in a long time that we belonged.

We felt hope.

The co-pastors don’t agree on how to live out controversies over same-sex marriage; but neither of them walk away from the discussion.  Neither of them have trumped the other with hermeneutics or the-Bible-clearly-says conversation killers.  They have both put their friendship first; and out of that love and care for each other, they disagree on a few things.  I found myself tearing up often during the evening because I realize most of my more conservative friends refuse to open the conversation.  It seems that they believe that to admit there may be another way to view and interpret the Bible opens the doors to Hell.  Just the discussion becomes ‘a slippery slope’ and puts us in league with Satan.

How did the conversation become so ‘evil’?  When did people decide to shut down discussion at all costs, because to entertain another viewpoint means we affirm it?  When did our integrity become so fragile that we will only associate with those of homogenous thinking for fear of someone labeling us ‘guilty by association’?  When did the ‘issues’ become the line in the sand that we will not cross?

In talking with a friend the day after the event, it dawned on me how difficult it is to find people in the conservative camp willing to dialogue in a respectful way (and I am sure there are many in the conservative camp that feel the same way about the progressive camp).  The ones I know believe that just the dialogue compromises their beliefs.  One thing that sticks with me from the gathering on Wednesday is that we define ‘unity’ as black and white meeting in the middle and both becoming gray.  In reality, one of the co-pastors said that it’s more like polka dots on a solid background.

How do we learn to co-habitate with one another without fearing our polka dot will dissolve into the background color?

We can focus on God–Father, Christ, Holy Spirit.  He is the background color (which probably is gray).  All our black and white polka dots (and every other color in the spectrum) are found in Him.  We all, no matter our views on ‘issues’, carry a piece of His perspective.  Every time I want to yell IDIOT! because I think some policy unjust or unfair in the Christian world, I can breathe and remember that the person who created the policy or procedure comes from a sincere belief.  I can remember to respect the person’s heart–as I’ve wanted others to respect mine in my growth.

Regardless of what some Christian leaders proclaim, I do believe that we can find a ‘third way’ of unity.  A way where all are welcome, respected, given dignity.  The co-pastor that represented the more evangelical thought said that policies are conversation killers.  As soon as a church forms an official policy, how can there be open dialogue?  Yet, in our institutional, systematic approach to church, how can we not have policies to help people decide if they can live with the beliefs of the particular church.  Ideally, I’d love to see more churches and pastors able to set policies and personal beliefs aside in order to have messy, potentially-offending, learning-humilty-and-other-focussed-living congregations.  Maybe it’s a Sesame Street dream; but I choose to dream.

I don’t believe that all churches can become ‘third way’ churches.  I’m not sure it would be healthy.  If we really believe that following Jesus is a journey, we need all sorts of gathering places to accommodate all sorts of belief systems.  How can a person with strong conservative beliefs suddenly be expected to worship alongside a gay couple (without malice, distraction and a hardening heart)?  How can a person passionate and committed to advocating marriage equality suddenly be expected to worship in a community that denies church membership to gay people who are in relationships (without malice, distraction and a hardening of heart)?  I may be romantic in my thinking; but I’m also pragmatic.

Many need to know the stability of boundaries with controversial issues; but some of us need the messiness of ‘third way’ gatherings.  We need the opposing views, because we believe what makes us different, makes us interesting.  We find safety in seeing unity in the midst of disagreement; because if God isn’t threatened by our humble questioning, then why are we so threatened by opposing thoughts?  We want to truly believe that all are welcome without shame and without restrictions.  We want to believe that we are one, just as Jesus and the Father are one.  We want to believe that opposing views don’t eject us from the faith, and that brothers and sisters really do live in unity.

Or, at least, that it’s possible.

I’d love to hear from you!  What do you think of the growing ‘third way’ gathering?  Is it possible to live in unity with opposing viewpoints?  

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Fake Clothes

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Suddenly their eyes were opened to a reality previously unknown. For the first time, they sensed their vulnerability and rushed to hide their naked bodies, stitching fig leaves into crude loincloths’ –Genesis 3:7 (The Voice).

My son likes to kid me about the ‘fake’ jackets that I wear.  I am almost always hot–especially since hitting my late 40s–but because people look at me oddly when I got out in the dead of winter in a tank top, I wear what I consider ‘light’ jackets.  My son calls them ‘fake clothes.’  You see, they are the thinnest cotton material I can find.  And I wear tank tops underneath them, so that when I’m finished at the store, I can remove said jacket and drive home in comfort.  Wearing my ‘fake clothes’ gives me the appearance of conforming to what everyone else expects anyone to wear in winter without having to answer many questions about “Aren’t you COLD?!  Unless someone looks a little closer.  Then I do have to answer why I’m not wearing something warmer.

My ‘fake’ clothes give me a way of feeling protected from social scorn.  I feel less vulnerable out in public if I have on a hoodie-like covering.  I feel less judged.  I feel less shame of not conforming.

I wonder if Adam and Eve felt a little like that when ‘their eyes were opened’?  If you take the story literally, why were they ashamed of their nakedness?  It was just the two of them, after all.  Or is there a broader meaning to the story than just the literal facts that we were taught to believe in Sunday School?  A meaning that reveals the heart of man and the wounds we carry?

The fig leaf clothes that Adam and Eve chose for themselves to protect, hide and create a barrier between themselves, only create an illusion of protection.  The more we believe in the illusion that these proverbial ‘fig leaves’ cover our emotions, secret thoughts and belief systems, and protect us from further wounding, the more we isolate ourselves in a hellish trap where the wounds fester and infect our souls and spirits.

However, what if we don’t believe the illusion?  What if we admit to our masks–even if we still wear them?  Are we still trapped?  In my desire to live without shame, can I actually make myself more vulnerable to shame?

Yes.

Sometimes I forget the wisdom of opening up to only a few trusted companions.  Not everyone needs to know the circumstances that make life hard or why invitations get declined.  In 2 Kings 4, a woman’s son dies.  She knows that Elisha the prophet can raise him.  She tells her husband … nothing.  She tells Elisha’s servant that everything is fine.  Finally, she breaks down at the feet of Elisha.  Everything was never fine; but she chose to put on her game face until she faced the one who could offer help.  (As an aside, in the end, her son lives.)

Where was her confidence?  In her mask?  No.  It was in God–or at the very least, in the man of God.  That’s the difference between ‘fig leaves’ and reserving information.  As I process my own private woundings and circumstances, I want to learn how to live authentically without over-sharing.  Most of my struggle, though, is in actually sharing my heart–especially my fears and sadnesses–with my few trusted friends.  I want to learn the difference between ‘fake clothes’ that just make life less complicated with people who haven’t invested in my life and ‘fig leaves’ that I trust to protect my identity and my heart, but only create a barrier between me and those who love me.

I’d love to hear from you!  Have you trusted in some ‘fig leaves’?  How can you distinguish between wisely vulnerable living and insulating to the point of heart-isolation?

 

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