An Unexpected Sabbatical

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“I am as good as dead,
     like a strong man with no strength left.
They have left me among the dead,
     and I lie like a corpse in a grave.
I am forgotten,
     cut off from your care.
You have thrown me into the lowest pit,
     into the darkest depths.” (Psalm 88:4-6, NLT)

I published my last post over a year ago. I didn’t expect to go silent. I fully expected to continue with a series about anger and healing. Instead, life happened and flung us into a rollercoaster that crashed into an abyss.

And I lay there.

For about a year.

In silence.

Alone.

A traumatic death brought our son and 2 large dogs back home. Months of trying to re-home 2 other dogs. Inheriting a cat from a 95-year-old friend who had to move.

Empty nesting, then full-housing. And inadequately helping our son move through grief and put some pieces of life back together.

While the puzzle of our life is starting to take shape, I am only now starting to look around the abyss for a way out.

I don’t know yet how often I’ll be writing; but I know I must write. It’s my ‘safe place.’ My processing place. My refuge. And in sharing, I find hope and community. Connections with people who feel the same, but may not have words.

I have words. It’s one of my gifts.

Then others share their gifts with me, because I gave them words.

While this short post only cracks the door as I begin to search for sunlight and slowly examine how damaged my heart is and do I have the stamina to begin the arduous journey upward, I must begin.

Will you begin again with me? 

Have you experienced levels of trauma you didn’t know existed? Has your life taken a toll on you, and you wondered if you would ever recover? Let’s explore baby steps together!

I welcome comments! Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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What Does God Look Like?

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The Eternal went on ahead to guide them during the day in a cloud shaped like a pillar; at night He appeared to them in a fire shaped like a pillar to light their way. So they were able to travel by day and by night. The Eternal did not remove the cloud pillar or the fire pillar; by day and by night it continued to go ahead of the people. –Exodus 13:21-22 (The Voice translation)

… I came to give life with joy and abundance. –John 10:10b (The Voice translation)

Leonard Nimoy passed from this world several days ago.  Most remember him best as Mr. Spock on the original Star Trek series.  He was raised an Orthodox Jew (and remained active in the Jewish faith).  Upon hearing of his death, I watched a video someone had posted on Facebook about how he’d created the split-fingered gesture of greeting for his Spock-character.  He spoke of his Jewish roots and Yiddish rituals.  In giving a benediction, the rabbis would spread their middle and ring fingers apart as they chanted the blessing.  The hand gesture symbolized the Hebrew letter Shin which is the first letter in Shaddai (a name of God), shalom (God’s peace, completion), and Shekhinah (the name given to the feminine aspect of God which is said to have been created to live among humans, and gives blessing).  He goes on to express the profundity that he experienced in that moment.  He wanted to add that gesture to his character’s people group as a salutation.

As I watched the video, I felt an awe wash over me.  The glory of God which rested in the Holy of Holies in the temple, and appeared as a cloud by day and pillar of fire by night to the Israelites on their way to the promised land, was, according to Jewish tradition, feminine.  The blessing of God is feminine.  The tangible presence of God among mankind is feminine. In Christian traditions, we call that glory, blessing and presence: The Holy Spirit.  Most of my life, I’ve heard God is masculine.  Rarely have I heard that God is feminine.  When I read The Shack several years ago, it was the first time I’d seen in print God portrayed as a woman.  The book revolutionized many people’s view of God.  And many others condemned the portrayal of God as a woman.

During this Lenten season, I’m trying to practice the fast in Isaiah that I referenced last week.  I’m trying to focus on how to give of myself to my ‘neighbors’ more … what sacrifices I can make for the good of others.  This week, I want to do some inner work on how I view God.  How does it sit with me to have God look differently than a white, straight, successful, male?  Can I worship a God who resembles a homeless teen, a transgendered man, a battered woman, a person of another race?  In the churches I’ve participated in throughout my life, God is seen as all-powerful, financially blessing those who live a certain way, being ‘always on my side’ (to quote a popular worship song).  I believe that perspective of God has a place for us.  We need God to rescue us.  We need to have confidence that God will provide for our needs.  But how do we continue to worship God when God seems powerless … or worse, silent … in the midst of terroristic groups like ISIS and Boko Haram, or when we only have enough money for either rent, food or medications?

What do we do with our faith when God looks like those we’ve put at the bottom of the religious power heap?  Will we give their perspective of God credibility?  In the agony of lost dreams, lost lives, lost innocence, how do we ‘keep the faith’?  How, indeed …

A friend’s husband died.  They had a strong faith that God would heal.  Healing didn’t come.  Instead, devastation, grief, and helplessness encircles a widow’s heart.

But, peace is coming.  Sometimes, only for a moment.  Sometimes, a little longer.  Sometimes, only to be flooded out by a wave of doubt and anger.  But peace is coming.  Shalom is coming.  And her view of God … of life … of death … is broadening.  And that broader perspective of God brings healing to her soul.  Peace, shalom, heals.  In evangelical churches, we’re not taught enough about the problem of suffering or powerlessness in our world.  We’re not taught how to sit with or live through chronic illnesses or disorders.  We’re taught to fight, have faith, not accept those experiences.  When we don’t get the outcome we’ve hoped for, often shame floods our hearts.  We didn’t pray correctly … we didn’t believe enough … we didn’t do the right things.

It’s our fault.

But if we can humbly acknowledge to God that we don’t understand, then we can begin to just beBe in the presence of God … Be in the presence of others … Be human ….  In that be-ing, maybe we can experience shalom and Shekinah … experience God in a way we never dreamed.  A way that makes us want to share our material goods, and that shrinks the gap between the haves and have-nots.  A way that enlightens a path to live less focussed on outer appearances and behaviors, and allows us to live in community with all of the reflections of God’s image.  An image that isn’t limited by human standards.  An image that is more than straight, white and male.  An image that exudes an abundance of joy and life.  An image where all are found in God.

A God worth worshipping.

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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A New Year … A New Look … A Renewed Heart

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Create in me a clean heart, O God;
restore within me a sense of being brand new.
Do not throw me far away from Your presence,
and do not remove Your Holy Spirit from me.
Give back to me the deep delight of being saved by You;
let Your willing Spirit sustain me. –Psalm 51:10-12

I have updated my website and included a photo of myself (which I have fought against adding).  Being technologically-challenged and artistically-impaired, I struggled to change a system that seemed to work ‘good enough.’  But, change I did.  I hope you like the new look.  For those of you who read my blog via email, visit the site and let me know what you think!

But, as I changed the aesthetics of the site, my heart broke again.  And again, I am tempted to fall into war-path patterns that I’m determined for God to change in me.  Another LGBTQ teen committed suicide.  Another time church culture failed someone struggling to find acceptance and people who would walk a rocky path with her.  How many have to die physically or spiritually before we wake up?!  Each time someone walks away from faith or commits suicide because of a perverse image of God we project, we fail in Jesus’ commandment to love and make disciples.  I read about this girl whose parents rejected her because of their faith, and I want to start swinging the sword.  I hear the statistics of LGBTQ teens and homelessness, suicide, bullying and my heart breaks in all too familiar tear-soaked convulsions.

The ‘good news’ and ‘great joy’ of Jesus’ life has to be good and joyous for everyone, or it’s not ‘good’ or ‘great.’  How do we find the promise of joy in God’s presence with such alarming stories?!  When will we stop trying to create people into our image of ‘christian’ instead of celebrating the image of God they already bear?!

I wish I knew easy answers and quick fixes for these heart attitudes.  For me, I have had to give up ‘Sunday school’ answers and listen to stories from the trenches.  I am learning to allow stories from people’s lives to determine how I express Christ’s life.  My hermeneutics (there’s a college church word!) have changed from an academic and linear focus of the Bible to a more fluid and relational focus.  People and how we relate to each other have to take priority over ‘correct’ and ‘static’ interpretations of the Bible that tradition has ingrained upon our minds.  I choose to interpret the Bible through the lens of:

  • Jesus.
  • grace.
  • humility.
  • compassion and mercy.
  • Good News and Great Joy for Everyone!

Jesus listened to people and their stories.  We get snapshots of him conversing with the ‘less-thans’ in society.  He didn’t quote the Bible at them or list all the ways they failed God.  He asked them what they wanted (there’s a thought) and never told them they weren’t good enough for God.  He encouraged them, healed them, and taught them about God’s vision for their lives and the world.  He offered grace to the oppressed.  He looked on people’s needs with compassion and mercy–not cynicism and self-righteousness.  He gave them hope that the future could be bright, joyous and full of freedom.  When I examine Jesus’ way with people, humility floods my spirit.  And I begin to view the world from a different perspective.  I begin to see how much I relate to life from a holier-than-thou/shame-based view.  I see myself as better than some–therefore, more deserving … and I diminish my shortcomings.  I see others who have more attention or success, and my mind fills with shame as I exaggerate my own insecurities.  When I humbly view myself, I look on others the way I see Jesus looking at those in his culture–weeping, empathetic, sympathetic, and giving all of himself to see life restored–allowing God to determine their path to His heart, and standing between them and the religious hierarchies of the day.

How often have I heard church leaders and church-going people sigh and profess in resignation, “I wish I could accept (fill in the blank of ostracized behavior in any given age: women in leadership, inter-racial marriage, divorce, homosexuality); but the Bible is clear.  I can’t go against God.  His ways are higher.”  We say these things and dismiss the thoughts of injustice and accept powerlessness.  In essence, we are saying that we are ultimately more compassionate than God.  Seriously?!  Even though God implores us to live in relationship with Him and ‘reason’ with Him, we believe we cannot question traditional thoughts of churches?!  Even though Abraham bartered with God for people’s lives, we cannot compromise church positions?!  We silence the Spirit’s efforts to unveil in us more of God’s image than past generations could exhibit because we have bought a lie that God, as revealed to past generations, has to remain as we have known Him.  We don’t allow God to broaden our view of Him, so we don’t build on previous knowledge and encourage the next generation to add their discoveries of faith to ours.  Is this the spiritual legacy we want to leave?!

And I fall, once again, into temptation of looking at my brothers and sisters in Christ as the enemy.

… God’s enemy.

… my enemy.

And again, I see my own depravity and hypocrisy.  Because in judging attitudes in others, I have also sentenced them to righteous destruction.  How to grow and mature in assessing wrong attitudes without pronouncing penalties on their souls is what I hope for this year.

Wars of words have not proven successful in this social media age.  Instead of fighting each other to win a debate, can we agree to listen more and quote the Bible less as we navigate these conversations?  If we need or desire to quote the Bible to someone, can we quote Jesus more than Leviticus?  As we search for ‘biblical’ interpretations, can we focus more on how Jesus interacted with people and less on ‘issues’ and what is ‘unclean’ today?  Can we seek the Holy Spirit’s leading in shaping our theology, instead of relying solely on what pastors preach from the pulpit?  Can we seek out what is just and merciful, keeping our hearts humble, so that we refrain from shaming people and their actions to win a round in this vicious cycle we continue to feed?

Above all, can we try to remember that it is God’s will that none should perish–making it our goal each and every day to present Christ in a way that helps someone choose to live, and continue to figure out what it means to ‘work out’ our own salvation?  Let us treasure our interconnectedness as God’s image-bearers and journey toward unity of the Spirit.

Having someone commit suicide because of church teachings should humble us all into examining how much of the Spirit’s life we express to the world.  May we all cry out for God to create a new heart in the Bride of Christ that exudes the joy of living in God’s presence!

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

 

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Living To Tell The Tale

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‘I’ve been broken, lost, depressed, oppressed, and weak that I might find favor and gain the weak. I’m flexible, adaptable, and able to do and be whatever is needed for all kinds of people so that in the end I can use every means at my disposal to offer them salvation.  I do it all for the gospel and for the hope that I may participate with everyone who is blessed by the proclamation of the good news’ –1 Corinthians 9:22-23 (The Voice)

This week, Jud and I attended a gathering in Colorado Springs designed to encourage those of us who have undergone a radical change in faith perspective, are undergoing a radical change in faith perspective, or know someone in those categories.  Colorado Springs has a reputation of being a mecca for conservative faith organizations.  We haven’t found it easy to find cohesive groups of more open- or progressive-minded people.  Certainly, we struggle to find anyone who has wrestled with long-held, conservative beliefs and have lived to tell the tale.  Even finding a church that will have open discussions between opposing scriptural views on relevant subjects like how to embrace people who follow Jesus wholeheartedly but don’t belong to the privileged power class, did Jesus promote non-violence and how do we embrace His teachings in a violent world, or how do we ‘go into all the world and make disciples’ when we don’t want to admit we’ve judged a majority of people in ‘the world’, or how do we find communities of faith when traditional church services don’t fill the needs of relationship and worship?  Tough questions.  Tougher discussions.  Because there is no Sunday school or pat answer for any of them.

So, through word of mouth, we gathered to hear pastor and author Kathy Escobar, who has just released Faith Shift, give words of perspective to all the churning in our souls.  Between 30-40 people came, from all walks of life, from various degrees of ‘faith shifting’.  We came:  bikers, single moms, worship leaders, college professors, artists.  Devastated ones, healing ones, healed ones, faith-less ones.  All of us with our own church stories.  All of us desperate to believe we aren’t alone.  All of us ordinary.  I talked with people who had come through to the other side and stood victorious.  I talked with many who, like me, had stumbled up from falling off a cliff, assessed their injuries, and started to reorient themselves to their new surroundings.  I talked with one who broke my heart, because I saw the deer-in-headlights look that I had not too long ago.

As we processed our faith journeys in the larger group and in our smaller table groups, I found myself fighting tears most of the evening. Taking in the collective emotions in the room and trying to filter those from my own, nearly overwhelmed my already frazzled system. Hearing others tell how they became outcasts in church communities through changing perspectives on Scripture interpretations, I felt a kinship. Like I wasn’t losing my faith in God or Jesus–just in some of the systems that promote a version of Him. Because my entire life has involved traditional church services, my entire identity feels like it’s unravelling. Hearing from others who have travelled longer down this road and have learned to re-braid or re-weave their lives with beauty and peace, gave me a seed of hope that I may learn to love my spiritual scars. But seeds need nurturing. I must learn to love myself and cherish the image of God I project.

But Kathy didn’t let us wallow in our current state. Her emphasis was on rebuilding, empowering our spirits to find even one truth about God that we hadn’t lost. Encouraging us to allow the process to pace our healing. We don’t have to fight against or stress toward healing.  And we need each other along the way.  I’ve pondered often, since that night, how our current church culture could change, what it would mean if more churches allowed people to express openly doubts, fear, anger, loss in their faith?  If more church leaders risked vulnerability and expressed honestly and publicly their own faith journeys?  Would more people feel less alone?  Less not-good-enough?  More connected?  I know I would.  Because all of life needs expression and celebration of beauty–even the ugly parts … maybe especially the ugly parts.

Training is rarely fun–if you take it seriously.  However, when you feel your body, soul and mind automatically working in unison during a competition, the experience cannot compare to anything else.  The oneness you feel within yourself creates a power, a synergy, that propels you to complete the game regardless of the outcome.  If I can keep my mind and heart on that prize–not the prize of winning, but the prize of competing–I can continue the journey, no matter how jagged the terrain.  And I look forward to discovering who else is on the trail … those who will encourage me and those I can encourage.

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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The Art of Loving

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Jesus speaking:  “’Love the Eternal One your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is nearly as important, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The rest of the law, and all the teachings of the prophets, are but variations on these themes” –Matthew 22:37-40 (The Voice).

Wow!  I kinda wish Jesus had stopped at loving God.  It’s easier to think I love Someone who is ethereal and theoretical and defies definition.  A Person who is nebulous that I can conform to my own ideal.  A Person who says over and over how much I am loved, accepted and cherished.  Why did Jesus have to add that last bit?  It’s not part of the Deuteronomy passage of Moses telling us how to love God.  It’s mired in a rather obscure Leviticus passage.  Why did Jesus juxtapose these two passages?  Why do we shorten His thoughts to ‘Love God and love others’, omitting the ‘as yourself’ part?  I’m growing to believe that the ‘as yourself’ part is key to how we love God and love others.

Most women understand a love/hate relationship with body image.  Some of us struggle more than others; but society has taught us well that some body types are better than others.  Every generation can look at the fashion and determine which body type is in style for each particular decade.  Women (and some men, too) tend to internalize that how we look on the outside determines our internal worth.  I believe that Jesus communicated that to the degree we love and accept ourselves correlates to how deeply we can love and accept God and others.

I find that when I dwell on my shortcomings, my view of God becomes more and more distant and judging of who I am to Him.  I begin to listen to all the negative voices in my head telling me that I am not smart enough … pretty enough … strong enough …

I am not enough.

Self-shame begins to fill my thoughts and heart.  And through that shame and loathing, I look at God and others.  I am judged by God, so I judge others by the same standard I believe He judges me.  God is distant because I am not good enough for His time and energy, so I grow distant from others to protect myself from their rejection.  I wouldn’t want them to see the truth about me.

That I am condemned by God.

Comparisons breed insecurities.  Insecurities breed shame.  Shame breeds isolation.  Isolation spirals to very dark places of our souls.  In the loneliness of isolation, we may find it difficult to crawl and scrape our way up from the rabbit hole we’ve fallen into.  Some never recover, as we see in many headlines of suicides and violence throughout the world.  I can make a case that much of the world’s horrors stem from people not knowing how to love themselves so they lash out at others.  When those people unite (as in the cases of Boko Haram, ISIS, Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups), the damage becomes globally felt.

So how do I (we) learn to love ourselves and reverse some of the damage we inflict on others?  I believe Jesus understood the cycle well:  Love God with everything in you.  How do we love anyone fully?  1 Corinthians 13 tells us how God loves us.  I love verse 12 which tells me that I am intimately known by God.  When looked at with the rest of the chapter, I discover that being so deeply known, I am loved.

I am accepted.

But not just accepted, I am cherished.

Let those thoughts sink in to your soul for a moment.  Bask in the presence of the One who looks at you as in a mirror.  You reflect His image.  Let the shame of all your perceived shortcomings melt away as God exposes you for your true self–beloved … adored … created to look like God.

Out of that knowing, my confidence rises.  But confidence that humbles me.  In that humility, I begin to see others in the same light.  They are loved.  They are accepted.  They are cherished.  Because I know the God who loves me and teaches me to love Him back, I can love well those He loves.

Quiet the voices that say you are not enough.  Let the voice of God speak louder for a moment each day.  Hear Him say that you are loved.  You are accepted.  You are cherished.  

And as we all learn to love ourselves more, perhaps we will begin to see a change in the world around us.  Perhaps others will begin to hate less.  Perhaps the world really can become a kinder place.  But, only if it starts with me.  With you.  With us.

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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Members … And Everyone Else

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Special Messenger:  I want you to call him Ishmael because the Eternal One has heard your anguished cries.  

As a result of this encounter, Hagar decided to give the Eternal One who had spoken to her a special name because He had seen her in her misery.

Hagar: I’m going to call You the God of Seeing because in this place I have seen the One who watches over me.  –Genesis 16:11b, 13 (The Voice translation)

‘Kingdom Partners.’  That’s what my church calls it.  ‘It’ may have various names; but the meaning is the same everywhere.  Membership.

Today, one of the pastors at my church good-naturedly approached me.  He knows my story.  He knows my beliefs.  He treats me graciously.  But, he’s assigned to the membership classes, so he has to ask when new classes start if I’m ready to become a member.  He told me during the awkward ‘meet-and-greet’ time that church services seem to believe obligatory that I am on his ‘to-call’ list for the classes, and should he bother.  I told him with a smile that I welcomed his call, but no, I wouldn’t attend the classes.

The rest of the service I thought about the weight of that question.  While I have several reasons for not becoming a member, I don’t fault anyone who enjoys that status in good conscience.  My reservations with membership stem from my upbringing with parents who lived in segregated communities and some of their experiences.  Even though I’ve attended this church for years and actively support several groups in leadership roles, embracing membership eludes me.  I love this church and the people who attend.  But, I can’t reconcile membership and the implications of excluding certain groups with the teachings of Jesus.  We proclaim confidently in church that ‘everyone gets to play’ when it comes to the life found in Christ.  Unless … that life includes an LGBT-spectrum relationship.  We proclaim loudly, joyfully that we are all saved by grace through faith! Except for the rules that you must live by to prove to us that you deserve Jesus’ sacrifice.

None of the unspoken rules used to bother me.  They didn’t condemn me, and in my immaturity, I couldn’t imagine others who wouldn’t agree to them.  Being white, straight and moral by church standards, I had no reason not to propagate the biblical standard interpreted by my kind.  Then I met others not like me.  Others who came from divorced homes.  Others who grew up churched, but harbored personal truth they couldn’t reconcile with church doctrines.  Others who carried shame because they didn’t conform to church standards.  Others who embodied Christ’s life to me, but didn’t embrace traditional interpretations of Scripture that the church taught me as infallible.  Others who created doubt in my church tradition, but enlivened my faith in God.  Others who showed me love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control without the weight of shame and protective masks of the soul.

Until a few years ago, I never thought of the people to whom the church denied membership.  I didn’t understand what it’s like to worship God, but be treated like an illegitimate sibling.  I never identified with Hagar and Ishmael.  Until my own power and privilege in a system I’d always supported crashed down upon me, killing my ego-centered religion; and God resurrected my humbled self.  I remember reading the woman at the well story of Jesus and becoming overwhelmed with empathy for her. I felt Jesus speaking to me as He treated her with respect and honor.  For the first time, I understood that I had been treated as the proverbial ‘church whore’ by an abusive pastor.  While I had never compromised my standards or my church’s beliefs, the pastor had the church community shun me because he couldn’t control me.  Much like the Samaritan woman Jesus met.  Her community shunned her because she didn’t measure up to their standards.  While we can make the argument that she made poor moral choices, I believe I related to her because her choices led to ungodly shaming.  Her encounter with Jesus reconciled her within her community.  He removed the shame that the community placed on her and freed her to live as a true child of God, instead of as a bastard child of religion.

We all need to see ourselves as the excluded ones at some point in our lives.  We need that experience to humble us and help us understand that none of us deserve the life found in Christ.  We must identify with the Hagars and Ishmaels in order for others to believe the good news of God that He hears our anguished cries and is the One who sees us and welcomes us all, as we are and without condition, into His kingdom.  All God requires of us is to humbly believe we cannot earn His love and to treat all others–as equal siblings–with the same grace He gives us.  When we learn those lessons, people will beg us to tell them more about Jesus and our God!

And membership will become obsolete.  Because everyone will get to play.

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

 

 

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Growing Up Into Childhood

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‘He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God’ –(Micah 6:8).

Seems so simple.  Growing up in the 1970s, we played with all the neighborhood kids. We didn’t choose who moved into our neighborhood or who went to our school.  We made allowances for ability and age.  We just wanted to play.  Everyone got to play–even if they weren’t very good at the game.  Unless they cheated, played dirty, or flaunted how good they were and didn’t give others a chance.  We all belonged.  We all brought strengths and weaknesses to the game.  We all accepted each other–even when we lost and disappointment tempted us to blame our teammates or ourselves.

Then we grew up.  Winning became the only measure of success.  And we brought that attitude into church.  We need to be right.  We need to prove we’re the best.  And we do that by creating a loser.  I think we can all name a few losers in church systems these days.  Why have we decided to make them losers?  Because we can.  Because they’re an easy target.  Because they showcase our strengths.  Instead of using our strength to protect them, we shame them.  Instead of including them, we reject them.  Instead of recognizing our own weaknesses that need another’s strength, our bloated ego bullies them into hiding.

It’s time–past time–to grow up into mature adults who live like we did as children.  I haven’t found a passage in the Bible that tells us to win people over by proving their beliefs wrong, to shame people into obedience to our way of living, or to reject whole groups of people because how they live before God makes us uncomfortable.

There will come a day when we no longer have the power privilege.  Do we want them to treat us the way we’ve treated them?  Seriously, think about that thought.  Do you want others to use the Bible to justify rejection, loathing, one-dimensional defining of you?

It’s not too late.  Instead of  sustaining an Us vs. Them culture, we can play on the same team.  We don’t have to agree with each other on everything.  We just have to play fair.  We have to include even the ones we don’t think can ‘win.’  We have to realize that we’re just kids on the playground.  And God gets to figure out who plays on the team.

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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Prisons and Pardons

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‘Certainly Your faithful protection and loving provision will pursue me where I go, always, everywhere.  I will always be with the Eternal, in Your house forever’ –Psalm 23:6.

I love Psalm 23–especially in The Voice translation.  It’s poetic, gentle, comforting, vivid.  As I experienced trauma at young ages, I would go to passages like Psalm 23 and find comfort that God is on my side.  Somehow (over the years I’ve lost sight of when exactly this happened) I became responsible for God’s faithful protection.  I will not insult soldiers struggling with PTSD and pretend that my version of PTSD compares to the atrocities that veterans have experienced and continue to have haunt them; but counselors tell me that traumatic abuse is traumatic abuse across the board–regardless of the circumstances that create it.  When I describe the hyper-vigilance that I experience in life–my brain GPSes office buildings for escape routes, notices people in restaurants who look out-of-place and tracks their movements, and categorizes everyday items that can change to weapons at a moment’s notice–therapists say that is a trait of PTSD.  All of this is done internally while I am joking, conversing, and seemingly carefree.  This post may be the first time most (if not all) of my friends and family have heard this.  Sorry.  Love you all!!

But this post is not about abuse and PTSD.  At least not directly.

This week, Acts 29, a church-planting ministry, removed Mark Driscoll and his Seattle-based Mars Hill Church from their registry.  Why was this a big deal?  Mark Driscoll co-founded the ministry and Mars Hill is a major supporter of Acts 29.  I’m no fan of Mark Driscoll.  Many have reported his character flaws and theology that … well … doesn’t exactly call to mind Jesus and how He treated people.  You can read one of his former colleague’s concerns here.

But this post is not about Mark Driscoll and his abusive ways.  At least not directly.

I write this post because tremendous healing has taken place in my soul over the past several years.  I haven’t had flashbacks in many years, my homicidal sleep-walking events have significantly lessened, and I feel more relaxed and at peace than I remember ever feeling.  Traditional counseling, non-traditional counseling, and spiritual direction have allowed me to see what God intended and what He never intended us to experience.  It takes a village to heal a person’s brokenness.

So, in saying all of that, hearing that an organization has the courage to stand up to a powerful bully and abuser helped me breathe a little more deeply.  We, the hyper-vigilant and self-designated protectors of all things unjust, don’t have to fight by ourselves.  God really does have others to raise up–and they really are beginning to listen to His voice–to take some of the pressure off us.  It doesn’t matter that my internal life has me believing that I’m really a super-hero–MaggieWoman–my reality knows that it’s all smoke and mirrors.  When I hear stories of people taking a stand against injustices, especially when whole organizations change policies to right wrongs, something in me heals a little deeper.  My hyper-vigilance relaxes just a little more, and I see less of the potential threats and enjoy more of the beauty around me.  I never would have guessed how much freedom I’ve missed throughout my life.  When we allow our hearts to heal and embrace freedom, it doesn’t mean we are less protected.  In many ways, I feel more protected these days because the fear of trauma has diminished.  Before, I had no control, but I had to try to control the safety around me.  Now, I know I have no control, but I’m not afraid of not being strong enough … smart enough … careful enough … enough ….

Unhealed trauma teaches us to not take risks–to not allow others to take risks.  We become our own bullies and abusers by shaming ourselves, or those we love, into our protection.  All in the name of love.  Protection born from shame is a prison.  We need a village to surround us so we learn the key is our own humility.  Humility brings safety and freedom.  Humility releases us from the emotional blackmail of lies our wounded souls use to keep the pain inside and us away from others.  Humility frees us to live our truest selves without fear of backlash–because the backlash we may experience comes from those trapped in prisons of their own making and it cannot overshadow the joy of releasing the God-designed life waiting for us … waiting for us to embrace … waiting for us to believe … waiting for us to recognize …

…Unfailingly waiting.  Just outside the unlocked prison doors.  Un-crouch from the corner shadows and look outside to the light.  Your pardon is signed and freedom is yours for the taking.  Many of us are beckoning for you to come out and play!

Please join me in praying for humility in our lives and in the lives of leaders.  I pray for Mars Hill in Seattle–for the congregants that are trying to understand all that’s going on in their church, for Acts 29 that God will bless their decision to stand for integrity, and even for Mark Driscoll that he will allow God to humble and transform him.  Statistics are not on his side; but God is on the side of his heart.  

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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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Shame On Christmas

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[Elizabeth speaking]: ‘I have lived with the disgrace of being barren for all these years.  Now God has looked on me with favor.  When I go out in public … I will not be disgraced any longer.’ ~Luke 1:25

I love Elizabeth’s story in the advent of Jesus’ birth.  I relate to her.  She lived the right rules for her society and church culture.  She made wise life choices.  She lived her life the way she believed God wanted.  Yet, she lived in disgrace.  In her society, a married woman’s identity rested in her ability to provide children who would care for aged parents and carry on the family name.  Having children meant God liked you and ensured that you would not be forgotten.  Living well had not provided children for her and her husband; and when they enter into Jesus’ story, their age prevents hope of ever having children.

Until God takes notice of them.

I wonder how many times she prayed and hoped each month, as a young bride, that maybe this month she would experience pregnancy?  I wonder how many months she cried when hope never fulfilled itself?  I wonder how many years before hope turned to shame and disgrace.  In her own recorded words, we know that she felt that public shame.  I wonder if she, like so many of us, made peace with her shame and accepted it as her ‘lot in life.’

This acceptance of shame is different than accepting the reality of circumstances.  I’ve often said that the only thing I took away from geometry class is:  You can’t change ‘the given.’  Sometimes, we fight against circumstances and limitations that we cannot change.  We exert a lot of effort frustrating ourselves and others trying to rework our past or not acknowledging how our past affects our present.  But, the acceptance of shame means that we’ve grown comfortable believing that our shame is our identity.  And not just that we’ve accepted the shameful identity; but we’ve also accepted others’ judgements against us and believe we deserve the shameful identity.

Because shame and disgrace are pretty universal to humanity, I love the stories of Jesus.  He took people’s shame and turned it into blessing.  He took the lives that society shunned and created restoration and reconciliation.  He noticed outcast people, marginalized people, underprivileged people, powerless people.  Jesus changed their ‘given.’

Just as God changed Elizabeth’s ‘given’ and allowed this barren couple to conceive, deliver and raise John the Baptist–the harbinger of Jesus.

I wish I had a step-by-step formula to release people from shame.  I wish our world would celebrate differences and not war against them.

While I don’t have a formula, I do know a person who lived the example of God’s heart.  I love that we celebrate His birth–the beginnings of hope, wonder, expectancy.  He lived life at times confusing His disciples, many times infuriating religious leaders who wanted formulas, but always un-ashamedly loving and accepting the ones living in disgrace.

We see at the birth of Jesus, God becoming flesh and dwelling among us.  Humbly born, He relates to our shame.

I take courage that God notices us in our shame and invites us into His story.

Have you felt like a misfit?  Have you believed that your shame separates you from society?  Have you believed your shame separates you from God?  How can you begin to encounter Jesus this advent season and allow Him to heal the wounds caused by shame?

 

 

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Our Beloved Country, Divided

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I considered writing a light fluffy article this week.  I wanted to write something sentimental, funny, carefree … unimportant.  But,this year, Jud and I have declared ‘the year of living brave, but afraid.’  The year that we choose not to let fear determine what we try.  The year we take the risk and face possible rejection or failure.  The year we begin to remember and act on dreams.  The year we ‘fan into flame the gift of God, … for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control’ (1 Timothy 1:6-7).  With such a passionate desire to throw off the chains of the past, how can I ignore the historic moment of the Supreme Court overturning DOMA this week?  Why would I want to gloss over such an important event?

Because I’m afraid.  But this year, I vowed to live bravely.  Despite fear.

I wept with others, as I read their stories in news articles.  People who finally had hope.  People who had fought so long and for decades to have our great country consider them equal and not separate.  I heard voices rising up strong, reminding me of the 1960s Civil Rights advocates.  I wept because laws cannot change hatred in hearts.  I wept as I heard fear gripping so many as change sweeps across the country.  I wept for the innocence that once was, the turmoil that is and the hope of peace that is to come.  I wept with joy, triumph and prophetic understanding of the real battle to come–the battle for unity in our country.

In remembering history class, conflict surrounds most, if not all, of our nation’s history.  The Revolutionary War, the Civil War, Women’s Suffrage, The Great Depression, Vietnam, Civil Rights and countless other political battles.  Unity does not equal agreement.  My dear friend, Jules, and I have known each other for more than 25 years.  We met at church during our college days.  She was one of my bridesmaids and we’ve kept in touch over the years.  We share a deep love of the Bible, Jesus and living His gospel in this world.  We have different ways of viewing some scriptures.  We have different approaches in living out those interpretations.  Yet, we love and respect each other like sisters.  We share unity regardless of our heated debates, because at the end of the day, we know each other’s hearts and we love each other.  We’re family.

In Sunday school, back when I viewed the world more innocently, the stories swelled in my heart.  Yes, the adventure stories of people who followed God’s call and faced death and destruction for that obedience.  I love action and adventure stories!  But the ones that I continue to mull over and that bring tears to my eyes even though I know them by heart explode with God’s passion for all of us.  Stories of the people Jesus healed and took time to know.  Stories of the people who the religious leaders called ‘unclean’ and ‘unworthy’; but Jesus proclaimed God’s true nature of inclusiveness–not exclusiveness.  Stories of ‘the least of these’ becoming leaders.  Stories that go against all our human wisdom so that we look to God with sacred wonder and treat each other humbly and graciously.  Stories that remind us that because God created us in His image, we stand united–even when we disagree–because we share His DNA.

Most of the time, we feel the need to demonize people standing on a different side than our view.  If we create an ‘us vs. them’ environment, we don’t have to acknowledge that maybe we have accepted an overly simplistic view.  We draw lines in the sand and say, “Anyone on the side where I stand is right, good and intelligent.  Anyone on the other side is delusional, deceived and our enemy.  They deserve whatever it takes as long as we make our point.”  Anyone on the other side of our line is fair game.   Some of us have forgotten how to play fair.

But how can we stand united with such strong emotions on both sides of any given issue?  How can we ‘reach across the aisle’ when our leaders don’t guide us?  Perhaps we can acknowledge the fear in many that we have neglected what our forefathers originally desired for their new country.  Perhaps we can try to defuse the anger by calling out the fear in tenderness?  Perhaps we can acknowledge the gaping wounds from intentional or unintentional attitudes.  Perhaps we can try to ask each other to tell our stories.  Perhaps we can see each other as neighbors and love each other as ourselves.  Perhaps …  perhaps … Please, God, let us live the ‘perhaps.’

So, I weep.  I weep tears of deep gratitude and victory with my brothers and sisters who finally got a bone thrown to them.  I weep tears of great empathy with my brothers and sisters who fear so deeply what they do not want to accept.  I weep because I feel the victory and discouragement simultaneously.  I weep because I feel the relief of souls at peace, who had labored long and hard and will never know the fruit of that labor.  I weep for all my brothers and sisters who have ‘suffered mocking, and flogging and even chains of imprisonment…  [Who] went about…destitute, afflicted, mistreated–of whom the world was not worthy…  And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect’ (Hebrews 11:35-40).  I weep for unity.

Will you allow yourself to weep with those in this country who are weeping over this decision, and at the same time rejoice with those who are rejoicing over this same decision?  Divided we have no choice but to fall.  United we have a shot at standing and overcoming our differences–ushering in a greater United States of America, one nation under God.

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Lessons Learned

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Most of my life I’ve felt sorry for my pastors and leaders.  I tend to ponder thoughts and ideas from every angle possible; but I do all that pondering inside, then ask questions.  Lots and lots of questions.  Yep, I’m that person.  Trouble is, on the outside, I joke, laugh and have a good time.  So, it can shock leaders when my deep inner thoughts come out.  Because of ‘ugly’ times past with church or a pastor, I hesitate to reveal the deeper side of me.

One particularly painful memory of church involved a pastor who used scripture to shame people into service.  I became the person no one wanted to be.  I became the person who said ‘no.’  Jud worked his full-time job and then volunteered 20-30 hours per week at the church for this pastor.  The pastor wanted me to do more–be more like Jud.  Three children in elementary school and the demands of keeping them fed, clothed and maturing filled my plate.  At first, I deprived myself of sleep to help the church get its footing.  The pastor kept saying, “We just need to push through this immediate need.”  I asked for some time off–3 months to be exact.  He told me that I was ‘shrinking back’ and needed to stop being selfish.  After a couple of years (yes, I am that dense), I realized he would never okay time off for me–there was always one more ‘big push.’  He used scripture to shame me into service.  He compared me to Jud and said that I needed to serve so that Jud didn’t have to work so hard.  He finally told people not to be my friend or hang out with me because I was ‘dangerous’ and ‘in rebellion.’  Frankly, he may have been right.  I won’t pretend that I did everything well and didn’t make relational mistakes.  I can use my words for good or for evil.  I have no doubt that pastor felt that my words were evil toward him.  But, my voice speaks here, not his–he gets to tell his own story.

Finally, after 5 years, we left–not on good terms.  Some would say that we didn’t leave the ‘right’ way; however, we left under guidance from professionals.  Our counselor and a few close friends said we didn’t leave soon enough.

‘Ugly’ stories like that leave scars.  Jud and I got counseling, healed ourselves and our relationship.  The scars remain and surface inopportunely.  We hired a new pastor in our current church about 5 years ago.  The first sermon series he preached was on Daniel (one of our former pastor’s favorite books).  The next series, he preached The Kingdom of God (a HUGE message of our former pastor).  God and I had some angry words over that one (okay, mine were angry; His were kind, but firm).  I informed God that if the next series was Nehemiah, I would leave church–permanently.  Five years later (so it wasn’t the ‘next’ series….), guess what our pastor wants to use for a sermon series?  Yep.  Nehemiah.  I haven’t looked at that book since leaving the dysfunctional church.  I had considered ripping it out of my Bible.  God reminded me that He won’t let any part of that ‘ugly’ experience define me now.  He won’t let that pastor color how I view His words.  (By the way, at the moment I still despise Nehemiah, so I suppose God’s right to address the topic.)  Of all the sermons and shaming, Nehemiah represents how this man leveled scripture against me…often…publicly.

One lesson I’ve learned over my life:  Trust God.  Not necessarily people…but I can trust God.  When I found out about this sermon series, God spoke into my heart that I needed to ask my current pastors to pray for me as we go through the book.  Of course, my response was one of submissive repose and quick obedience.  I believe my sanitized reaction went something like, “WHAT?!  ARE YOU SERIOUS?!”  After a lengthy…um…’dialog’ that lasted several days, I grudgingly complied.  This part of the healing could be the final tote bag left to unpack of the steamer-trunk-sized baggage that I’ve carried from this trauma.  Of the lessons I’ve learned from the ‘ugly’ stories, this one is hard.  I know that God matures us through healing the ugliness in our lives.  I know that God ‘makes all things new’ and that ‘in Christ we are new creations’ and I am thankful for His creative work in our hearts and lives. I trust Him and the path He leads me.

So, I’m reading Nehemiah and hoping that at some point, I will only hear God’s voice speaking the words.

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