The Supreme Court Ruling, ‘Biblical’ Marriage, and Grace

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Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently. –Romans 14:1 (The Message)

Jesus said, “I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him. You’ve even seen him!” –John 14:6-7 (The Message)

This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. –Ephesians 5:32 (NASB)

I promise I will get to some more on anger; but current events keep happening…

A couple of weeks ago, the Supreme Court of the United States gave a landmark ruling on marriage equality.  So much division, among the justices of the court as well as across our nation.  I don’t know how we can get beyond the diatribe and vitriolic soap boxes both sides are lobbing; but we must try.

I’ve addressed my own feelings about marriage equality and LGBT relationships here and here; but for this post I’d like to process through some of the arguments that trouble me the most when I hear my brothers and sisters use them in a holier-than-thou tone, and the implications of the statements:

  1. I believe the Bible and what it clearly says:  The implied statement is that only those who agree with my interpretation know what the Bible actually says.  This statement breaks my heart because I’ve studied and taught the Bible most of my life.  Not just my adult life; but since I could sit up.  I know it’s scary to change long-held beliefs of what we’ve been taught the Bible says.  I’ve had to trudge through those murky waters too.  I’ve had to look at passages and stories from other facets (as the Hebrew writers of the Bible intended), and ask hard questions about cultural and historical perspectives.  And then, come to my own understanding of how to live out the life of Christ with integrity–because ultimately, Christ is truth.  Not the Bible.  The Bible can show us Christ; but the Pharisees knew the scriptures, and didn’t really understand how to live them out.  I’ve found there are many credible Bible scholars with differing interpretations.  All of us need to find the one that we can in good conscience follow.  Even if that means we don’t agree.  And then we must respect each others’ views.  Holding that tension of differing interpretations leads to unity.  True unity in the Spirit.
  2. I believe in the biblical view of marriage:  The implication with this line of thought is that ‘biblical marriage’ is what our culture defines as ‘normal.’  But in reading the Bible, biblical marriage can be anything from polygamy to concubines to women-as-property.  Solomon speaks of lusty love; but remember he also had about 1000 wives and concubines.  The Christian New Testament has a few references to marriage; but in that day, women were property–it wasn’t what we think of as marriage in our country today.  And most of the references to marriage aren’t about human marriage–but analogies of our collective relationship with God.  Working with Bible translators in different cultures and tribes on different continents has made me question what our role is in proclaiming the gospel.  Do we try to ‘convert’ people to our way of life, or to Christ’s life?  What do we do with polygamous tribes?  Do we try to make them change to our views of living, or do we allow the Spirit to decide when and how their cultural beliefs change?  Would we say to a man with 12 wives, “You have to pick one,” and then leave the other 11 to live unprotected and stigmatized outside the community?  What about in our own country?  Would we actually say to children with 2 mommies or daddies that it’s better for their family to be torn apart and for them to experience the trauma of divorce because God hates the love in that family?  Christ, have mercy!, if that’s our stance.  If marriage is representative of how Christ and the Church treat each other, then I’m not sure that gender matters. I’ve known heterosexual, Christian couples who don’t treat each other very Christlike. Are we saying that those marriages are better representations of Christ and the Church than a same-sex relationship that honors and respects each other?  I’m not saying that all Christians have to support marriage equality; but, people, let’s have a little compassion!
  3. The Bible doesn’t condone same-sex relationships:  The implication being that anything the Bible doesn’t condone is sinful?  The Bible ‘clearly’ doesn’t condone birth control of any kind, modern technology, medical research of any kind, most of the lifestyle choices we make in the way of ‘success’ and ‘prosperity’, interracial marriage.  The list goes on and on and on.  We do ourselves a disservice when we try to conform our beliefs to the Bible, instead of allowing the Spirit of God to transform our hearts through informing us what the Bible says about God’s intentions toward all people.
  4. Same-sex relationships aren’t natural:  The implication here is that whatever comes naturally is okay?  Because to a person with same-sex attractions, opposite-sex attractions are ‘unnatural.’  Also, scientists have found at least one entire species that is 100% bisexual, and at least 1500 species with a percentage of same-sex attractions–it will be more; but they’ve only studied 1500 species. Those statistic references are in my aforementioned blog posts.  Often, this argument is followed by, “If we support same-sex marriage, then accepting bestiality and pedophilia will follow.”  It’s discouraging to hear so many arguments that are borne from fear.  I had a conversation with a friend who asked, “So is everything ‘gray’?”  I could hear the fear of instability in her voice as she wrestled with how to view life if we don’t see controversies as black and white.
  5. Acceptance of marriage equality dooms America:  I feel the weight of this statement crush so many each time I hear it.  Can you imagine if you were told over and over and over again that your existence, your very being, can bring down a nation?  Did we hear that same phrase each time a pastor or priest has abused his position?  Has anyone ever heard those words and said, “Tell me more about this Jesus you say you follow”?  Seriously, if that is our ‘good news’, I want nothing of it.  Callously and arrogantly fixing this weighty yoke on anyone reveals our own fear.  The Jesus I know never told us to live out of fear.  He showed us how to treat people–even when they didn’t match the religious norm or who God chooses.

Again, I am not suggesting that anyone who is against marriage equality is uninformed or unenlightened.  On the contrary, I know many who read the same Bible verses I do and interpret them differently.  I’m not even suggesting they are wrong.  I’m saying it’s not about winning a debate or proving a side right.  The Supreme Court ruling shouldn’t change much about our lives.  Jesus wasn’t frustrated by governmental or religious laws.  He lived his life in full submission to God.  How would he respond to this modern-day ruling?  He would continue to heal, teach, show compassion, eat with sinners, chat with societal undesirables and desirables alike, cry out against injustice, weep, laugh, pray.  Regardless of what we believe about subjects and theories, we can agree to follow Christ’s example.  But we have to stop the bumper-sticker arguments that just aren’t helpful to anyone.

So how do we live out the life of Christ with integrity if we don’t agree on biblical interpretations?  Romans 14 is a great place to start.  Practicing with trusted people with differing points of view

Of course, that implies that we actually have people in our lives with differing points of view….

Reading other perspectives with an open mind–not with a goal to change your mind or solidify your beliefs; but with a goal of understanding the complexities of the topic, of learning to hold in tension the various perspectives which leads to true unity of faith.  Faith that God is the same yesterday, today and forever; but we are constantly growing out of our own boxes of understanding.  God gives us the grace to grow into a broader understanding of Christ’s life as our knowledge of the universe, human body, human psyche, scientific discoveries expands.  

How exciting to be privy to revelations about scripture and God’s nature!  How exciting to learn to live with one another in unity without having to force conformity of thought!  How exciting to travel this road with others with different images of God than we have known!  How exciting to travel on the road of grace!

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 In Rest

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Jesus said, “‘Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Put My yoke upon your shoulders—it might appear heavy at first, but it is perfectly fitted to your curves. Learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. When you are yoked to Me, your weary souls will find rest. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light’” –Matthew 11:28-30.

It’s August, so my 6 week sabbatical is over.  In my 49 years, I’ve never taken an extended break from church life.  What a breath of fresh air!

Jud and I met with a philosophy professor who loves Jesus and is the faculty sponsor of the Atheist Club on campus.

We went to a class that we wouldn’t have thought to attend … and didn’t like it.  So freeing to admit something wasn’t a good fit for me!  Freedom to try it … freedom to attend … freedom to not continue.

I slept in on Sunday mornings without any feeling of guilt, shame or remorse.

I finally had undistracted time to process some of what has gone on in my heart the last several years.

What did I learn that I couldn’t learn with the distractions of daily church routines?

  1. Why did it take me so long to take an extended break?  I discovered how refreshing life away from our normal work schedules can feel to the soul.  And I learned that church had become my ‘job.’  My leadership responsibilities (all volunteer and unpaid) amount to a part-time job.  All the people that come to me on a weekly basis to pour out their hearts because they know I won’t condemn them for any thoughts or actions weighed on my own spirit and started to bottle-neck emotions in my heart.  I knew I internalize others’ pain, I didn’t realize just how much it affects me physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally.
  2. It amazed and rattled me how little I missed all the meetings.  I realized how much I need relationship connections. Meetings and services had become my ‘relationships.’  I realized how little people actually know me.  I’ve invested so much into others; but I haven’t allowed others to invest in me.
  3. The loneliness that overwhelms me in services lessened in isolation.  I’m still processing this one and may for some time to come.  Often I am aware of loneliness in groups more than by myself.  But, during this 6 weeks, I realized how easily I could alleviate those feelings of irrelevancy by living away from church-the-building.  Which brings me to …
  4. I have attended church all of my life and have melded it with the Bride of Christ.  Over the last 6 weeks, I recognized how much the organism of following Jesus had blurred into the organization of church.  The two have become inseparable in my thinking.  Jesus told us to make disciples and that is done in church-the-building.  How did I ever come up with that one?!  Church-the-building has subtly (and in some cases, overtly) promoted that by giving toward and supporting the business-end of church (building funds, administrative costs, salaries, upkeep, bigger-and-better sound and lighting systems, etc.), we fulfill The Great Commission–to go and make disciples.  Instead of meeting people in their own lives like Jesus did, we expect them to come into our house, our territory, to learn about Him.  We’ve made ourselves way too comfortable!  I’m not opposed to the business-end of church–just opposed to the organization overtaking the organism and focus on relationships and people’s lives.  I believe that much of this thinking contributes to doctrine trumping how we treat people.
  5. I need more time. More time to process.  More time away from the organization.  More time to find those people who speak and live the life of Christ and less time defining another’s sin while justifying our own. More time remembering why I follow Jesus and love those who follow His ways.

I intend on learning to make rest a priority in my daily life–not waiting another 49 years for a break!  I haven’t figured out how that looks in our culture that rewards stressful living, but I now know how my heart needs time to reflect on and enjoy this journey with God.

My only regret: I didn’t read enough books. My Stephen Booth crime novels are still piling up along with many others next to my bed.  Perhaps I need another sabbatical.  This time on a beach away from technology….

I’d love to hear from you!!  What do you need to rest from?  Have you felt God tugging at your heart, but don’t think you have time in your schedule to sacrifice?  What can you do this week to unplug?

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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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Through The Decades Of My Life

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‘Do not allow this world to mold you in its own image. Instead, be transformed from the inside out by renewing your mind. As a result, you will be able to discern what God wills and whatever God finds good, pleasing, and complete’ –Romans 12:2.

This week, I turn 49 and will enter into my 50th year on this earth.  My birthday always finds me reflecting on who I’ve become and how the world is different.  In 49 years, I’ve seen technology explode our planet and make the world much smaller.  I remember the computer room my dad would take me to at the university where he worked.  That computer took up more space than my bedroom in my house.  I think it might have been bigger than my parents’ room, as well.  I remember fully embracing the risen Jesus–not just loving the Bible stories, but really and truly loving Him.

That would have been the late 1960s and early 1970s.

I remember women’s places changing from home to career.  I remember the first woman professor in my dad’s engineering department.  My dad didn’t know he taught me inclusivity by respecting her work.  He never got on a soap box; but he lived his professional life without feeling threatened by women.  I developed the belief system that as a woman, I was equal to men–even within church positions.

That was the 1970s.  

As a teenager, I remember listening more to what my parents talked about with each other.  As children, we observed more of how our parents lived than what they tried to tell us.  As a teenager, I had enough brain development to understand more of what they  talked about.  I learned how to treat people with compassion and how to live my life with integrity–mostly the same person in public as I am in private–by watching how they acted in public and at home.  I learned what to look for in a politician and what to look for in a life partner.  I remember the list I wrote before God of what I hoped He would provide.  Jud embodied that list.

That was the 1980s.

As my life progressed and my view of the world broadened, I understood more of my mom’s perspective–especially in raising children.  I found how daunting a role ‘Mother’ is.  However, I still believed that I could find answers in a book that would give me the formula on how to raise godly children.  I still believed a formula existed for most of life’s endeavors.  I still believed a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ way existed for marriage, children and church.  I began to understand just how wrong my beliefs were.

That was the 1990s.

At the turn of the century/millennium, I remember knowing that I had become a farce–as a mother, a wife and a church-goer.  I had played all the games, followed all the ‘rules’, and read all the books; but none of those things made my life turn out the way the ‘teachers’ said life would become.  I no longer found the presence of God in church, I couldn’t live up to the suburban-soccor-mom stereotype that people lifted up as the godly way to live, Jud and I had to re-learn what it meant to have a ‘christian’ marriage by re-learning how to be a wife/husband to each other–not the one-size-fits-all husband/wife rules of all the ‘christian’ marriage books, classes and seminars.  God began to reveal that sometimes church can have its own ‘world’ attitudes.

That was the 2000s.

Now, in this next decade, I can take all I’ve learned from the previous decades and transform even more.  After learning some facts about Bible interpretation and scholarship, I’ve had to re-learn how to read the Bible and accept its limitations.  I’ve found that by accepting the limitations (and many months of confusion, throwing a book or two against walls, and a few screaming matches with God, followed by some not-speaking-to-Him time), the Bible has more meaning, relevancy and depth than I ever dreamed.  Frankly, the stories have become so much more interesting and passion-filled–especially stories about Jesus.  I’ve learned to welcome and embrace the humility of broken living. I’ve learned to allow churches and pastors the same broken-ness.  Transforming my mind, God has developed a deeper sense of compassion, justice and a fuller belief in His power and work in this world. I look forward to having more and more revealed to me and our world about God’s heart, thoughts and ways for us.  I look forward to the struggle, the heartache and the joys as we become more and more like Him.

These are the 2010s.

I’d love to hear from you!  How have your views of yourself, life, God changed over the decades?

 

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Family Resemblances

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‘Now let Us conceive a new creation—humanity—made in Our image, fashioned according to Our likeness. And let Us grant them authority over all the earth—the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, the domesticated animals and the small creeping creatures on the earth’ –Genesis 1:26.

I have my maternal grandmother’s nose and my father’s eyes.  I look more like my father’s side of the family.  Some have seen my maternal grandmother’s picture and thought that it’s me as an old lady.  I hope I look like her in my 80s–she was ADORABLE!!  I hope I reflect all the good parts of both sides of my family in my temperament; but I know that stubbornness runs on both sides.  Thankfully, that trait skipped a generation with me…. I do hope my heart reflection continues to change into more of what I think Jesus looked like on earth.  I definitely can’t claim even a smidgen of perfection in that area; but I hope people see me growing and learning.

I took a Bible study years ago that I hated.  I don’t use that word lightly.  In it, the thesis statement was, ‘There is no feminine in the Godhead.’  Not shocking why I hated the study.  Every lesson reminded me that the core of my being is not found in God.  I had many … um … discussions … with the leaders of the study.  Finally, unable to hang with my mental and scriptural gymnastics, they pawned me off to one of the pastors.  He was doing a study by the author’s husband on men.  He told me that while he hadn’t actually read the one on women, the one on men was terrific.  “I’m sure I’d love that one too–you get to relate to God!  According to this study, we are an anomaly to Him!” I replied, forcefully.  He didn’t discuss much with me after that.

I’ve read several articles about racial inequities in churches.  I recently listened to an interview with Muhammad Ali where he talked about why he became Muslim.  He humorously asked some poignant questions about the ‘whiteness’ of Christianity.  I had pondered some of the questions before, but not really understood the significance of the messages that are sent to minorities.  Since I belong to the group in power, I never had the images we present act as a dagger in my spirit.  I never internalized the messages that because of the color of my skin, God would not use me to the same degree as He would white people.

Until I took that study.  I finally understood what it felt like to have my voice diminished.  I finally understood what it felt like to have people say that God doesn’t look like me.  That I don’t look like God.

This week, I started to globalize that thought more.  It’s what underlies all our culture wars and gender wars in the church.  Some churches would say (probably not out loud), “We don’t want God to look like a woman; therefore, the Bible clearly says that women are not to lead men.”  Others might say (probably not out loud), “God can’t look like a person of color; therefore, we will exclude their voices from the music industry, from our upfront ministries, from anything but their own churches.”  I actually heard people in the South say, “Why would black people want to come to our church?  They have their own.”

Why would we want God to look like anyone who makes us uncomfortable?

Is this attitude one of the reasons we don’t want to consider that we have it wrong with Christians who are gay?  Are we afraid that God might look ‘gay’?  (Whatever that means….)  Have we chosen to interpret a very few Bible passages in a way that excludes some because we don’t like what the repercussions are to our view of God if we look to broader interpretations?  One pastor of a mega church said that we had feminized Jesus too much, and he couldn’t serve a Jesus that he thought he could beat up.  What disturbed me most was that this Christian pastor actually thought about whether or not he could beat up Jesus.  I realized that I’ve mostly thought of Jesus in an asexual sort of way.  But, I consider Him cutting-edge when it comes to honoring and respecting the voices of His society that those in power diminished and abused.

So what image do those who do not look white or act heterosexual reflect?  Do we tell them covertly that they do not reflect God’s image?  Yes.  We do.

It may not be consciously or with evil intent.  But the message rings through, nonetheless.  Those who identify with Christ should never feel excluded within churches.  We have to do a better job of using our power for including all people–because all people carry God’s image.  And we need all those reflections of God’s image so we can see the fullness of God’s heart in our world.  Will this make us in power uncomfortable?  Probably.  But isn’t a little discomfort worth the freedom of Christ for all?

It may scare us.  It may make us uncomfortable.  But only for a time.  Soon, all of the fear and shame would dissolve as we see the beauty of God’s full image.

I’d love to hear from you!  What does God’s image look like to you?  Have you subconsciously created God in your own image?  

I recommend The Shack, if you want to see a broader image of God.

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Sacrifices of Lent

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“But Jesus replied, ‘Leave her alone. Why criticize her for doing such a good thing to me?  She has done what she could…'” –Mark 14:6, 8.

Often I feel not good enough when I see the great injustices and know that my small contributions won’t change the world.  In prayer, I often voice, “I can’t make it better!  I can’t fix it!”  This past week, I’ve had many days of crying out to God because I feel like I’ve failed to protect, advocate and gently nudge with any real success.  Other voices in my head constantly shame and mock me for speaking up without the desired results.  Far too many burdens weigh on my heart, and all I can do is pray and speak when given an opportunity.

As we entered the Lenten season this past week, the Bible study I attend took a day-retreat for Ash Wednesday.  We had a time of spiritual reflection at some stations that one of our women set up.  Sandals to remind us of Jesus’ human-ness, drops of nard (a type of expensive perfume mentioned in the Bible) on cotton balls to remind us of the woman who anointed Jesus, bread and grape juice to remind us of our communion with Him.  The gentleness, silence and slowness of the day created space in me to remember how Jesus walked this earth.

Then, we had a time of Lectio Divina–a way of absorbing Scripture by listening to what word or phrase in a passage resonates with you.  The passage we read was the woman who anoints Jesus with the expensive perfume found in Mark 14.  As I leaned into the Scripture reading, the phrase ‘she has done what she could’ hit me.  After the second reading, tears began to fill my eyes.  After the third reading, God embedded the words in my heart:  I’ve done what I can, and it is enough.

Discouragement continues as I process through some of the weighty burdens; but I whisper in the midst of the despondency, “I will do what I can.”  My resolve got a second wind:  I cannot do any more, and I won’t do any less.

Risking without shame is my theme for this year.  It sounds more noble than it feels.  One of my pastors told me that he appreciated the ‘brave conversations’ I’ve opened up with him.  I told him that I wish those conversations felt heroic. I leave some conversations humiliated, dejected, wanting to run away; but I continue to risk and fight through the feelings of shame and failure so that others may know that they do not stand alone.  I am thankful that my church leaders do not wish to shame me into silence.  I tend to be the loudest critical voice of shame to my soul.  I tend to create fear inside of me that tries to keep me from doing what I can for those who have diminished voices.  Only I can overcome those saboteurs inside myself and continue to live the life of Christ.

I offer what I can in worship of Him who released me from my shame.

If we all do what we can, what a world we would have!  What can you offer as a sacrifice for others this Lenten season?  Let me hear your stories of how you are worshipping through your talents, skills, voice and actions.

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Freedom From Religious Entitlement

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Jesus, knowing that He had come from God and was going away to God, stood up from dinner and removed His outer garments. He then wrapped Himself in a towel, poured water in a basin, and began to wash the feet of the disciples, drying them with His towel –John 13:3-5.

Can we talk about religious freedom for a minute?  I’ve heard the term bantered about for the past several months, and I believe we’ll be hearing more of it as more and more states examine the role of religious beliefs in the private and secular sector.

What does the Constitution guarantee?  We can worship whatever god in whatever religion we choose freely and without government intervention.  Unless that worship includes animal or human sacrifices, sexual abuse of children or adults, physical abuse of children or adults.  You get the idea.  We do not live in fear that we will be arrested, killed or fired from our jobs because of the church we attend.  The government cannot force a non-profit, religious organization to perform activities which go against their religious beliefs.  For example, no church or pastor is required to perform wedding ceremonies for couples with whom they disagree theologically.

However, as the tide turns toward accepting gay relationships and marriages, I’ve noticed a development in ‘religious folk.’  A determination to cry religious freedom in secular, for-profit businesses.  It takes a huge leap of logic to turn a bakery, a restaurant, or a tailor shop into a place of worship that requires protection from the government.  Most people see the obvious flaws.  Will those businesses hold a consistent standard, or will they single out one group of people?  A baker who has no problem baking a wedding cake for a couple who have lived together for years or who have children outside of marriage, cannot cry religious freedom and then deny baking a cake for a gay couple.  What about serving a Buddhist, a Muslim or another religion/denomination outside the owner’s belief system?  If the standard isn’t consistent, then the argument isn’t valid.  As the arguments of what the Bible ‘clearly says’ crumble around staunch traditionalists, many now hide illogically behind the Constitution–a sign of desperation and a tool used by people who feel threatened and, in desperation, circle the wagons.

If we follow Jesus and watch Him wash the disciples feet, heal the Centurian’s son, welcome Samaritans and eat with people on both sides of the tracks, why do we feel so entitled in our religious rights that we single out only a few of the people we believe unworthy? Because if we’re honest, there are a whole lot of people we find unworthy.  On any given day, any person we meet.  But we’re not great at honesty in Christian churches.  We excel in presuming we know how God views people whom we’ve chosen to focus on one or two aspects of their lives, all the while we diminish our own unworthiness by showcasing our donations to charities or hiding dangerous heart attitudes behind pious ‘bless their hearts’ and singing hymns on Sundays.

Jesus asks us to be His Body and come alongside those who are outcast and let them know they don’t have to face their accusers or healing alone.  Just as He protected from societal shame every outcast mentioned in the Gospels by taking the heat from the religious leaders, so we should stand in front of our societal outcasts and shield them from the religious beating or bullet of shame aimed at them.  It’s hard to teach people the abundant life of Christ while throwing stones of public shame at them.

Jesus never insisted that the disciples wash His feet.  We cannot use our power to force others  to accommodate our perceived rights.  That attitude leads to slavery and shame-based systems of worship.  Jesus set an example of humility, and He lived life free from societal shame.  The religious leaders couldn’t threaten Him with loss of reputation or social standing, because He lived under God’s acceptance of Himself.  He had nothing to lose, so no threats could harm Him.  He was free to serve all equally, because He saw people the way God sees them–not the way our human condition labels them.  Jesus gave up His rights for us and humbled Himself for others.

Then He told those who follow Him to do the same.

I’d love to hear from you!  Have you experienced religious entitlement either in yourself or in others?  How can we treat all people–even those who seem entitled–with dignity, respect and grace without compromising our beliefs?

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The Joy of Family Stories

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 ‘He showed us real life, eternal life. We have seen it all, and we can’t keep what we witnessed quiet—we have to share it with you. We are inviting you to experience eternal life through the One who was with the Father and came down to us.  What we saw and heard we pass on to you so that you, too, will be connected with us intimately and become family.  Our family is united by our connection with the Father and His Son Jesus, the Anointed One; and we write all this because retelling this story fulfills our joy’ –1John 1:2-4

A pastor told me recently  in an email exchange that he hopes to see more people who ‘struggle with same-sex attraction’ find a home at our church.

Not gonna lie, I’m praying the opposite.

I’ve seen how the few brave gay people who have opened up about their relationships in our church have been treated.  I’ve seen them denied membership.  I’ve seen them overlooked for leadership.  I’ve seen them weep because they cannot give their testimonies of God’s grace and Jesus’ saving power in their lives … at least not publicly on a Sunday morning.  The Bible study I co-lead is studying Romans.  We got special permission to have one woman who is gay give her testimony to our class.  This woman has been part of the study longer than I’ve been at the church.  I applaud our leadership for allowing her to give her testimony to our study on church grounds and not making us go off-site.

But, why did we have to fight for her to give her testimony?

Everyone who follows Jesus has a testimony of how God has worked in their lives.  Everyone gets to proclaim that work in their own words and from their own perspective.  I’m sure there are several things in my past that I interpret one way as giving glory to God that others may have a problem with in their interpretation of scripture.  I’ve heard some testimonies in my day that made me cringe–not because of the gory details, but because I judged, ‘God never would have told them that.’   Not proud of my arrogant immaturity.  Less proud that perhaps the assessment was correct, but the subsequent gossip with others afterward negated any thought of trying to talk with the person and hearing more explanation of their life–perhaps, in humility, offering a way to clarify what they tried to communicate.  Unless something is total Christian heresy like Jesus isn’t the Son of God, or God isn’t sovereign, or only white straight people are going to heaven–you get the idea:  character assassination of God or elitist theology that only some are allowed to know Him–we don’t get to decide how a person experiences Christ in their lives.

What does that mean if we allow testimonies that go against the traditional grain?  It makes church messy.  It may mean pastors getting emails/phone calls/texts from people who, like me, have a problem with a person’s expression of an experience with God.

But, it may also mean that a church will grow spiritually mature because of the depth, breadth and height of the revelation of God at work in our lives through the multi-faceted stories within the congregation.  So there may be a few stories in there that don’t speak to me.  What if some of those stories are the ones that reveal the joy of life in Christ to someone else.  Some of the stories may challenge my theology.  What if that challenge leads me and others to examine why we interpret Bible passages a certain way.  What if our view of God becomes bigger, and He takes our breath away with His beauty, power and … God-ness?  My heart is racing with excitement at the possibility!

I long to see the reality of a church united by the common thread of Christ at work in our lives.  The reality that we are family … blood family because of Christ’s sacrifice … and in the telling and hearing, the story of God’s power in our brothers’ and sisters’ lives ‘fulfills our joy.’

What takes your breath away about God?  Have you discredited someone’s experience with God because it wasn’t yours?  How can you help make church more of a ‘family’ for yourself and others?

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Christians Running Amok and A-Fowl–Again

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I love Jesus, but sometimes I curse a little when others who follow the Bible open their mouths.  I tried to avoid the Duck Dynasty controversy.  It’s Christmas.  I want to celebrate Jesus’ birth with cookies, carols, children and cheesy Christmas movies.  I don’t want to enter into yet another stressful discussion on what the Bible is and isn’t ‘clearly’ against.  But, I’m so appalled by the knee-jerk reactions I see in my own kind that I can’t sleep and can’t keep silent.

First of all, while I have heard of Duck Dynasty, I have never seen it.  Oh, no high-horse, holier-than-thou reason.  We don’t have cable/satellite.  I also have only read the articles about the GQ article that has created so much diatribe on both sides.  Honestly, I don’t care what Phil Robertson said.  He gets to have his beliefs.  I’m more concerned with the vehemence that christians seem to defend him–at the expense of those whom they claim need to turn from wickedness.

So, here are just a few of the things that (once again) we christians have missed:

  1. Homosexuality is unnatural.  *sigh*  Will we ever get over ourselves?  The vast majority of the people who say that being gay isn’t ‘natural’ are heterosexuals.  According to Medical Science News, homosexuality occurs in more than 1500 species.  Apparently, dwarf chimpanzees (which are considered close relatives to humans) are all bisexual.  The entire species.  So, perhaps we can say that homosexuality isn’t ‘common’ in human beings.  Statistically, that’s true and doesn’t carry the same connotation that ‘unnatural’ does.  For those that insist that we continue to call out ‘unnatural’ behaviors, please remember that Jesus lived his life, and taught us to live ours, quite un-naturally.  Living sacrificially, loving our enemies, the whole concept of grace, living selflessly, turning the other cheek, the Sermon on the Mount, forgiving those who oppress all run against human nature.
  2. Only christians are oppressed.  *sigh*  We do have a persecution complex.  We find persecution behind every corner.  We rarely take responsibility for what we say or do that has more to do with us acting unkindly or saying offensive things.  We often claim persecution as a badge of honor, so we proclaim things in the name of ‘truth’ that have little to do with anything of God’s heart.  We want to live as martyrs (of course, we don’t admit that publicly).  We want the glory that God promises to those who suffer for their faith, so we often create our own ‘persecution’, when we’re really just being Pharisees.  Christianity has enjoyed privilege and power in this country.  We abused that privilege and power by trying to force all others into our interpretation of the Bible (which, by the way, ensured our privilege and power).  What we experience now is closer to the American Revolution, Civil War, Women’s Rights or Civil Rights Movement–the powerless and under-privileged saying, ‘ENOUGH.’
  3. The Bible clearly states….  *sigh*  6 verses.  Only 6.  The whole Bible contains over 31,000 verses.  We focus on the 6 that, taken in historical and cultural context, are anything but clear.  I know very few people who claim to be christians that volunteer at soup kitchens, take in orphans, advocate for domestic abuse victims, visit prisoners and AIDS patients.  There are over 300 verses on poverty.  According to well-known financial speaker, Dave Ramsey, there are 800 verses that tell us how to use our money.  But we draw a line in the sand over 6 verses.  While ignoring the thousands of verses about how to treat powerless and underprivileged people.  *sigh*
  4. The Bible clearly does not state….  *sigh*  I’ve begun to hear this argument more and more.  The Bible does not have any examples of homosexual relationships, that’s true.  However, it seems that we have adopted this line of thinking because the-Bible-clearly-states-in-6-out-of-31,000-verses line of thinking has become a joke.  The-Bible-clearly-does-not-state is also flimsy, at best.  The Bible is silent on the use of modern technology, corporate monopolies, political democracy, capitalism, birth control pills and much in the way of modern medical research.  We cannot develop firm doctrine based on what the Bible does not say.
  5. Sin focusses on behavior; therefore, God focusses on behavior.  *sigh*  Jesus never focussed on behavior.  Every instance that I’ve seen in the Gospels, Jesus does a face-palm when his disciples or religious leaders try to define ‘sin’ as someone’s behavior.  God, even in the Old Testament, mentions behavior, but the emphasis is on how that behavior represents our hearts.  People can do all the right things and still miss the mark (one definition of ‘sin’).  The rich young ruler found that out when he interacted with Jesus (Mark 10).

We have missed the mark.  In trying to live perfect ‘christian’ lives, we have isolated ourselves and damaged the credibility of Jesus and his Good News.  It should shame us when we preach a message that drives people away from Jesus–when we preach a gospel that doesn’t make people gasp in astonishment and cry, ‘Heresy’ or ‘Blasphemy.’  A gospel that alienates prostitutes, tax collectors … minorities, the powerless, the shamed.

Ah, but all is not lost.  Jesus promised that if we are silent, ‘the very stones would cry out.’  His message, God’s heart, will continue with or without us.  Our attitudes cannot stop God’s grace.  I cannot stop God’s grace–even when I communicate His heart imperfectly.

As we celebrate Jesus’ birth and end our calendar year, may we proclaim the true Gospel, His Good News, that Jesus came to bring wholeness and unite us back to God!

 

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Comfort and Joy

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“God sent me to announce the year of his grace—a celebration of God’s destruction of our enemies—and to comfort all who mourn” ~Isaiah 61:2.

A couple of days ago, there was another shooting at another Denver-area high school.  The shooter killed himself after shooting another student.  She remains in critical condition.  And this happened almost a year to the day of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that took 26 lives (20 children, 6 adults).  I remember thinking about the massacre of children surrounding Jesus’ toddlerhood–a story we don’t often sermonize at Christmastime.  I nearly left the service today when we prayed for the Sandy Hook victims’ families and then for Claire Davis as she fights for survival.

When the evil of this world touches children, we all should ask, “What can I/we change that may prevent this horror in the future?”  We may not find satisfactory answers; but we need to ask the question.

I find myself pondering more and more the questions of life.  I wish I could say I find creative answers in that pondering.  I remember Jo Anne Worley (a female comedienne of the 1960s and 1970s) saying that she dreamt one night that she found the answer to all the world’s problems.  She woke up long enough to write it down so that she’d remember it in the morning.  When she got up the next day, she looked at her notebook.  She had scribbled “Cottage cheese” in her dream notebook.  I laughed during that interview.  As I remember with nostalgia days where profound answers came on bumper stickers and posters, I know now that answers seldom come in sound-bytes.

As we decorate with bright lights and tinsel, bake and frost Christmas cookies, buy and wrap gifts with beautiful ribbon, maybe we can also remember to say a prayer for Claire Davis and all the others who are fighting for life or sanity during this festive time.  Praying may not seem like much; but I believe that if we all accept a dose of humility each day that we cannot solve the world’s problems with any quick, trite or simplistic phrase, then maybe in those acts of prayer we will find a simplicity of wisdom that reminds us to treat each other kindly, gently, tenderly.

I love that the prophets foretold that Jesus would announce the favor of God in our midst.  I love that God wants to communicate grace, compassion and healing.  In learning humility, I pray that we learn that our enemies are not flesh and blood–people who cut us off on the freeway or say and do insensitive things.  Our enemies lie much deeper within ourselves–arrogance, devaluing lives, emotional toxicity and indifference to suffering in others.  While I personally can’t end world hunger, I can drop a dollar in the Salvation Army bucket, make a donation to a clean water charity, volunteer at an underprivileged school, donate clothing or coats that just hang in my closet.  I can get to know my neighbors and see if together we can make a bigger dent in poverty, medical missions and companionship needs than I could individually.

Today, I pray for Claire Davis.  I will pray for her and her family while I bake my daughter’s favorite Christmas cookies.  Tomorrow and in the coming year, I can look for opportunities to set aside portions of my busy-ness and ‘to-do’ lists and proclaim God’s favor in the lives of people I meet.  A smile, a handshake, a conversation, a donation of time to a person or organization that desperately needs human contact.  Jesus interacted personally, humanly, humbly.

As the Advent season continues, may we all start to look past the shopping, the wrapping, the parties and begin to love with our lives and not just with gifts.

How can you ‘proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor’ in others’ lives?  Have you volunteered for organizations that help others in need?  What have those experiences taught you?

 

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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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Coming Out To Play

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“For You shaped me, inside and out.  You knitted me together in my mother’s womb long before I took my first breath.  I will offer You my grateful heart, for I am Your unique creation, filled with wonder and awe.  You have approached even the smallest details with excellence; Your works are wonderful; I carry this knowledge deep within my soul.  You see all things; nothing about me was hidden from You as I took shape in secret, carefully crafted in the heart of the earth before I was born from its womb.  You see all things.  You saw me growing, changing in my mother’s womb…” (Psalm 139:13-16).

Friday was National Coming Out Day for closeted LGBTQ persons to announce to family or friends their sexual orientation.  I truly appreciate the empowerment that this day represents.  However, my heart dies a little that we make people announce their sexuality at all.  I think of the suicide and depression statistics, the isolation and rejection that agonizes people’s minds, the fear and panic that can overcome the nerves when someone must finally open up to another the vulnerable part of their being that makes them different.

The pastor of the church I go to often talks about redemption and restoration.  He wrote a book that we use as a midweek class, Jesus’ Big Idea.  The premise of the book and the class is that Jesus talked more about the kingdom of God than anything else.  ‘Everyone gets to play’ sums up the theme of the book and Jesus’ take on God’s kingdom.  I can’t express enough how much I want to see that worked out as true in our lives.  My heart races when I think of a world that fully lives out that truth.  I try not to give in to cynicism as the reality that we put conditions on people and God that Jesus never did unveils itself.

Today, in the spirit of equality and fairness, I’ve decided to ‘come out.’

I confess that I am part of the privileged class of WASP (white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant).  It scares me to admit that I haven’t used that privilege often enough to protect and empower those my powerful class dismisses.  In my life I have said insensitive and repugnant things in ignorance, but acknowledge that wounds inflicted with good intentions can still be mortal.  I beg forgiveness from my brothers and sisters for the times I let shame come over me and I remained silent.  I am straight; but I come out today publicly that I endorse equality in civil rights for all, equal opportunity and treatment in Christian churches for all who follow the teachings and heart of Jesus, and am heartbroken over the treatment of any who do not fit what we in power have defined as ‘normal.’

Psalm 139 has been used often in the pro-life movement to stand against abortion.  What kind of message do we send if we hold up that scripture for the unborn, but ignore that psalm for those already living among us?  Today, I may be a minority voice in certain church circles, but I publicly proclaim with a humble heart that I do not have the right to make a blanket statement for any group of people how to live or how God’s glory is revealed through their lives.

I make this public confession with feelings of fear.  I know I probably can’t know the full extent of the emotions that others in powerless groups feel when they make their confessions; but shame is universal to all of us.  Knowing that I may lose even more friendships than I already have, I still must come out and stand alongside others who have lived in shame far too long.  Today, I offer my privilege and power to the voices of people who have stood stripped down and treated like an issue instead of a person in front of their accusers.  Today, I hope to begin to offer covering from the shame and humiliation and speak the words of Jesus when he dismissed the religious leaders accusing a woman caught in adultery by saying, “Let the first stone be thrown by the one among you who has not sinned.”  After all of them left and the woman felt protected, Jesus asked her who was left to condemn her.  She responded that no one remained.  Then Jesus said what we all want to hear, “I don’t condemn you either.”

And I now hear my fellow Bible aficionados proclaiming that Jesus also said to her, “Go and sin no more,” making that beautiful story about a weapon to use against anyone we deem is ‘sinning’ instead of Jesus’ grace.  So, I will briefly address this statement.  This story isn’t confirmed in any of the earliest manuscripts of John’s gospel.  So, we’re not sure the story actually happened.  If it did (and I so hope it did–I LOVE this story in the life of Jesus), what does Jesus mean by ‘Go and sin no more’?  He has just announced to the religious leaders that only if they haven’t sinned can they stone this woman.  Could Jesus have been making a little joke with her about the ones who try to condemn us?  Or, could he have meant something like, ‘Don’t let choices in your life separate you from God’?  Isn’t ‘sin’ that which separates us from God?

I don’t have the patience for the nit-picking theological arguments.  But, I do know that I have publicly announced in my own stripped-down way that I do not have the right to condemn the core creation of people with whom God ‘approached even the smallest details with excellence.’   Today, I celebrate those with the courage to come out and throw off the heavy garments of shame–standing naked and unashamed before their Creator, letting God define their goodness, acceptance and value.  I just get to be a part of the standing ovation and pray that our cheers are louder than the accusing voices.

Because we all should get to play.

Do you need to ‘come out’ on anything?  What are your fears that stop you?  How do you see Jesus protecting you from your accusers?

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Choice of Weapons

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“We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments.” –2 Corinthians 10:4

I appreciate Pope Francis calling people of all faiths to fast and pray last weekend for the crisis in Syria, the Middle East and the rest of the world.  I thank everyone who participated in that call to whatever extent.  Those of us who identify with our spiritual selves believe that as we practice some ancient traditions like prayer and fasting, God can affect change in our world.  In the Bible, Paul and others equate the use of these traditions with military weapons.  As those of us who fasted and prayed with others across our world, we hoped that God would bring a non-military solution to Syria’s use of chemical weapons.  Monday morning, hope sprang where there had only been dry, dusty hopelessness just days before.  The change started with a religious man using his public platform to humbly pray for peace and ask the rest of the world to join in.

Not all who read this post will agree that worldwide prayer and fasting had anything to do with the change of heart in Assad or throw-away comment by Secretary of State Kerry that perhaps if Syria agreed to give up all their chemical weapons, the United States might abort a military strike.  Whatever your beliefs, I hope you can take a moment to breathe a thought of gratitude that we are not facing imminent war.  I know I have said, ‘Thank you, Jesus, for your peace.  For your hope.  For your humility.  For breathing your spirit’s humility into Assad, Putin, Kerry and Lavrov–even if it’s just for this moment on the chemical weapons.”  Truly, we saw a miracle in having the leaders agree to do what they can to avoid war.  Once again, my heart is humbled by the knowledge that our human reasoning and political posturing failed; but when Pope Francis offered the humility of asking God what He could do and people responded, within 48 hours hope lived.

Thank You, my God, for opening hearts to hear alternatives to force.  Thank You, my God for giving humility to negotiate acceptable terms for all.  I trust You, my God, to continue working in our world leaders’ hearts.  Let ‘Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’ (Matthew 6:10).

If you don’t have a view of God working in our world, I ask you to be grateful nonetheless with those of us who do.  Our world is not at war.  While our world still lies on tenuous agreements, at least today there is hope that this crisis may not become bloodier than we have seen already.  Today, all players can save face.  Today, each side has heroes, and no side needs to make an example of the other.

Today, I rejoice that my God gave us weapons that do not propagate bloodbaths, but that engender life.

What are your weapons of choice?  

 

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Back To School

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My youngest started his senior year last week.  He’s taking a few college classes and his final few high school classes.  As I reflect on my final time graduating from high school (when he graduates, I will have graduated 4 times total), I remember all the back-to-school shoppings, disagreements over uniforms and the bags upon bags of well-ordered supplies for the individual teachers’ classrooms.  I will NOT miss the ‘midnight runs’ to Walmart in search of the ever elusive items on the supply lists.

As a microcosm for the world, school serves as a great analogy.  Sadly, enough of us don’t learn the lessons that recess and lunch time should teach us.  We focus on academics–which are important (VERY important, if my kids are reading this post).  But can we all agree that navigating the awkward and painful social setting of school can make or break us as adults?  I remember schoolyard posturing: A couple of people (usually guys, but the girls could get into the cat fights too) would disagree about something–usually territory which included girlfriends/boyfriends, sports team positions, clothes, opinions, sports equipment, hairstyles.  Really, anything except academics.  The disagreement would escalate into a heated argument where said people would amass their ‘armies’ (everyone at the school could pick a side and if you didn’t, one was picked for you) by overblowing the offense, then they would puff out their chests like a rooster and start the trash talk which usually ended with, “I’m going to mess you up.”  I actually never saw a real-life fist fight.  I know they happened because I did see the black eyes and the bruised knuckles.  Many times, it all ended with the trash talk.

*SIGH*

Not much has changed in our world and it seems that these schoolyard tussles are universal to all cultures.  As I watch our country on the cusp of another war, a war many political pundits say could become a WWIII, I wonder what lessons we didn’t learn in school?  How do we avoid war when grown-up bullies have so many more dangerous weapons at their disposal than fists, knives and even guns?  When a leader like Assad doesn’t care about what happens to his own people, callously uses chemical weapons on a school and arrogantly defies the Geneva Convention, how do we stop him without stooping to his level?  Why has it taken 2 years for the world to do more than pontificate and threaten Syria with action?

As a parent, I know I learned to use my children’s ‘currency’ to shape their behavior and help them learn civility.  What is Assad’s currency?  Power?  Ego?  How do we make bullies back down on the schoolyard?  We call their bluff, we don’t engage in their antics or we fight and overpower them.  I have to ask again:  How do we stop him without stooping to his level?  Because, ultimately, this question separates us from terrorist inhumanity.

I wish I had sane answers.  Hindsight is 20/20 and if the world had executed a plan before now, perhaps we would not face war. Perhaps if we had learned our lessons from the Hitlers, Stalins, bin Ladens or Gadhafis, we would have acted sooner and more diplomatic solutions may have worked–or at least lessened the severity of the situation we now face.  But, we didn’t execute a plan  and haven’t learned our lessons and now Assad has crossed a line that the world should not ignore.  He has bullied his people and will soon bully the world.  We know he will not act reasonably.

 I’ve heard so many analysts say that our country is war-weary.  I agree, and we have not had to deal with it up close and personal–except for our military who have the external and internal scars to prove their sacrifice.  However, weariness is not a reason to let victims stand alone.  Weariness will not excuse us of turning a blind eye.  Weariness cannot be a decision-maker.
So, while I don’t have any answers (and I’m glad I’m not making the decisions), I watch with a sober spirit as this chapter of our world’s history unfolds.  I shed tears thinking of the loss of life that has happened and that will happen–regardless of our response.  I pray that God remains in control of history and will look compassionately on the innocent people caught in the crossfire.  I pray that peace will come and that cooler heads will prevail.  I pray that all sides will listen to reason and want to work toward a humane solution.  If nothing else, I pray a swift end to war.
Will you pray with me for peace in the Middle East?  What are some solutions to world  or personal conflicts that you have employed?

 

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A Time To Build

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“A time to tear down and a time to build up” (Ecclesiastes 3:3).

“And you are living stones that God is building into His spiritual temple” (1Peter 2:5).

Almost every year, Jud faithfully strips, sands and repaints our deck.  A thankless job, he only complains a little when he has to do it again.  We would love to redo our deck with composite materials; but with our three kiddos still at home, it hasn’t fit onto the priority list or the budget list.  So, he continues to strip, sand and repaint.  I’ve had friends who have built houses.  It all starts the same:  the planning process, scoping out land, cutting trees, clearing the land, leveling the land.  Our area of Colorado has seen a couple of devastating wildfires over the past couple of years.  Last year’s fire that took out so many neighborhoods and traumatized so many lives of people we know has given a little perspective on the devastation that happens to our hearts when life turns ugly.  Even though the fire’s destruction happened over a year ago, less than half the homes have been rebuilt.  The cleaning process, the insurance claims, the processing of if or what to rebuild, flood mitigation just takes so much longer than anyone wishes.  My heart breaks for the families that lost their homes this year and are only beginning that process.

The ugly events that destroy rarely last more than moments compared to our whole lives.  If we decide not to let those moments kill us, we still have to deal with the aftermath–which can take years to disassemble, clean-up and mitigate before we can begin to build anew.  As Jud and I have processed through much of the ugly stories in our pasts (both long-ago and recent), we find ourselves ready for God to build us into something again.  Not sure yet what the plans look like, we try fitting ourselves into various projects and causes.  Sometimes we find a group that resonates strongly with us.  Sometimes we just look at each other and say, “Epic FAIL.”  Our journey won’t end once we get beyond the aftermath.  I love that Peter calls us ‘living’ stones.  Because the house that God builds from the ashes is living–it can’t stay static.  His home is constantly changing as we grow and understand more and more of His ways and thoughts.  Some will throw up Hebrews 13:8 at this point saying that God doesn’t change nor does truth change.  I agree.  God doesn’t change.  We do.

Thank God, we do.

For me, I’ve grown in how I interpret the Bible, how I identify and live out truth, how I view others in light of that truth.  I now view truth as a person, Jesus, and allow His Spirit to help me interpret what I read in the Bible.  If I held tightly to my beliefs from 30 years ago, I doubt anyone would want to be around me.  I was on the fast-track in becoming arrogant, bitter, angry and above all … right.  I wouldn’t like the me I would be if God didn’t reveal more of Himself to myself and others whom I respect.  I learn a lot about God as I see the pieces of Himself He has placed in each of us.  I’m only a stone.  So are you.  None of us have all the right answers on anything.  Together, God can make us a temple–a place of sanctuary, a place of peace, a place of worship.

As He builds us into His temple, as we begin to come together for His glory (and not our own rightness), perhaps we will finally have a relationship with Truth.

Have your attitudes changed toward ‘living by the rules’?  Have you experienced growth in areas that you thought were fixed?

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Remembering Jane: A Tribute

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The church I attended from birth to high school graduation received Dr. Jane Tews as an Associate Minister around 1978 or 1979.  As the first female Methodist minister in the Phoenix area (perhaps the first official female minister in AZ; but I don’t remember the statistics from so long ago), she challenged stereotypes and created opportunities for women in the church.  I learned she had a massive stroke while I lunched with a dear friend, who had been in youth group with me.  The following is my tribute to this pioneering woman.

Dear Jane–

I know you’ll never read this note.  I had lunch with Jennie while my family visited my parents in Phoenix.  She told me about the stroke you’ve had and that you are not expected to live. I’m sorry for all of those you currently minister to and those of us you mentored in the past.  We will miss you.
I remember when you came to the United Methodist Church near Arizona State University.  You were fresh out of seminary and the first woman minister I had ever seen.  I remember the newspaper article about you.  Being a female minister was a BIG deal back then.  I think I was in 7th or 8th grade when you arrived for your new position.
I wonder if you knew how important you were to us girls in the late 1970s?  The women’s movement had gained much; but most of us didn’t have real-life role models of what it looked like to have a woman in a leadership role.  Thank you for letting us watch you and learn how to navigate through ‘a man’s world’ and make it our own.  Thank you for showing us that we didn’t have to sacrifice faith in order to have an intelligent voice in our world.  Thank you for showing us how, as women, Jesus lived through us.  Thank you for modeling how necessary women are in leadership positions and not just support positions.
Thank you for pioneering the way for us to believe that we really could embrace whatever calling God had for us and never had to believe that we had to conform that calling to gender stereotypes.
I’ve thought of you over the years and what it must have been like for you to be a lone woman in a traditionally male position.  To our eyes, you seemed so natural and confident.  I’m sure it wasn’t easy at times.  You and a few other women in my life developed my confidence to know that I am not lower than men.  In 2013, it sounds silly to even think that was once a common belief about women.  But, I and others remember the late 1970s/early 1980s, and know how ground-breaking having a woman in a leadership role was.  I remember how young teens desperately needed role models to understand not just our culture’s changes, but to understand how to live out what Jesus offers to ALL believers.
Thank you, Jane, for being that role model.  Thank you for your life.  May you know fully God’s joy as you pass into His tangible presence, as you have been fully known by Him in this life.
Sincerely,
maggie
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Loving Church

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“So, what do you LOVE about your church? (Or THE Church?)”

Rachel Held Evans, whose blog I follow, posted this question on FaceBook.  Great question.  I read about 100 of the responses trying to remember what Jesus loves about Church and that there are congregations out there that my cynical heart cannot dilute.

One church that we attended amazed me.  I’ve never been a part of a congregation like it before or since.  On one side of the aisle sat the old-timers who still practiced ‘holiness’ teachings (women shouldn’t cut their hair, no make-up, modesty in dress, no/little television, no shopping on Sundays–basically trying to keep your life ‘pure’ from ‘worldly’ influences).  On the other side sat the people in AA.  I’m not kidding, and the irony was not lost on me.  The two groups seemed to cohabit well.  I hope I never get the image out of my head of one of the older ‘holiness’ ladies going to the alter, kneeling and weeping,  in support of a head-to-toe tattooed and pierced owner of a tattoo parlor whose marriage was failing.  The tenderness and compassion embracing two people from such different worlds took my breath away.  The memory still takes my breath away.

Hoping to see more incidents like that one from 17 or 18 years ago keeps me going to church.  Oh, I have a deep theoretical love for THE Church–Jesus’ bride, the Body of Christ as a whole.  The local community of faith trips me up.  Theory becomes application in the local congregations.  Personalities conflict in the local churches.  Theologies collide in our ‘home’ churches.

I’ve grown cynical and need to remind myself that not all who follow Jesus fall into the ultra-inflammatory camps that make the news.  Sometimes in a fit of self-pity, I fall into the same delusion that Elijah believed–that only he was left (1 Kings 19:10).  Of course, in the previous chapter, Obadiah had told Elijah that he had hidden 80 of God’s prophets.  The cause was far from lost.  But Elijah, in his weariness of fighting the good fight, felt abandoned.  I have felt abandoned and need a reality check.  I need to remember the many every day examples of how to live out the gospel of Jesus.

So, what have I loved about local churches we’ve seen?  I love the people who just want to help their corner of the world.  I love the challenges of loving difficult people and maybe getting to see them become lovable.  I love knowing that, more often than I care to admit, I am that difficult person receiving grace from others.  I love worshiping with people of all ethnic, cultural and ability backgrounds and how united we become in the presence of God.  I love the hope that fills my soul and spirit that the Good News of Jesus can still change the course of personal and collective history.  I love that, even if it’s for just the duration of a church service, humility takes me down a peg and I can allow the Spirit to convict hearts, the Father to judge hearts and Jesus to heal hearts while I stand in awe full of love toward those hearts and their journey.

I love that in a tangible, congregational presence of God, away from the spiritually theoretical life, I know that I don’t have to have all the answers, the person next to me doesn’t have to have all the answers, the pastor doesn’t have to have all the answers; but God loves all of our imperfect selves and smiles over us.

 

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A Time to Breathe

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In the news this week, the Boy Scouts voted to allow openly gay kids into the organization.  I’ve read many of the comments on the news articles, and one would think that every disaster proclaims God’s disgust with that decision.  Hearing adults who claim Jesus as their example projectile vomitous hatred and vitriolic arguments frightens me.  Hearing vindicated glee in the tone of people, whom I assume have felt the freedom from shame and the power of God’s amazing grace, directed toward anyone’s suffering turns my stomach.  Hearing the terror in their hearts over ‘the moral decline’ in our nation rage against a group of people–especially children–causes me to gasp in disbelief.  Hearing my own arrogance as I rail against my own kind humbles me.  Why would anyone follow that kind of religion or that kind of God?  Have we fallen so far to have lost the ‘good news’ of Jesus that angels ‘harked’ to shepherds?  Have we forgotten all of Jesus’ parables and teachings about how to treat people?  Have we trumped the teaching about being ‘innocent as doves’ with being ‘wise as serpents’?

In my discouragement with myself and people who claim to follow the same God I do, I searched my soul and prayed for God’s heart.  Here’s what I concluded:

1)  God doesn’t need us to defend Him.  He doesn’t even ask us to defend Him.  Jesus got pretty upset with Peter when, in trying to defend Jesus, Peter took out his sword and chopped off a guy’s ear.  It’s hard to ‘make disciples’ when we’re on a soapbox.

2)  Changing someone’s theology?  Forget about it.  In my experience, no one has ever decided to follow Jesus because I out-debated them.  “It’s Your kindness that leads us to repentance.”  (Romans 2:4)

3)  Arguing the ‘black and white’ view of the Bible goes both ways.  Just as I may see my interpretation of the Bible as obvious, so others see their view.  Slashing someone’s character because they don’t have the same interpretation doesn’t make them wrong and me right.  It means that God is bigger than all of us and His ways and thoughts are higher than ours.  (Isaiah 55:9)

4)  Jesus’ sacrifice released us from the power of sin and death.  (Romans 8:2)  When we see something that offends us, we tend to overshadow the cross of Jesus and His sacrifice for ALL.  Jesus got offended–at religious leaders who declared impossible expectations on people so that the leaders looked more holy.  In a world where so many news stories tell us of adolescents bullied because of sexual orientation and the suicides that accompany that bullying, we need to proclaim freedom in Jesus and emphasize His power to release us from shame!

5)  We tend to pick and choose sins.  We want grace for our ‘sins’; but condemnation for our definition of sin in others.  Jesus addressed this attitude often in his parables and teachings.  (Luke 6:42)

6) The Holy Spirit gets to convict–not us.  Only God changes people’s hearts to His will.  I am not responsible to ‘save’ anyone or do much more than offer counsel when asked.  How arrogant am I to think that I know what and how God needs to change in another–especially if I do not have a relationship with that person?  (John 16:8)

7)  Why do differing viewpoints threaten us?  Romans 14 offers great insight to this point.  “Blessed are those who don’t feel guilty for doing something they have decided is right” (Romans 14:22).  Paul advocates letting God’s Holy Spirit decide in each person.  Some will accuse me of interpreting this passage as ‘situational ethics.’  My ethics have never changed in any situation–regardless of the person, I try to treat each one with equal empathy and understanding (admittedly, I fail more than I wish).  I want respect for my deeply thought out interpretations, and I give respect to anyone with opposing, equally thought out interpretations.

So, what can we do?  Ask questions and don’t sermonize.  Jesus did.  He also taught with story.  He understood its power.   We tend to focus on correct doctrine.  In making that our passion, we forget that there are real people with real lives, real feelings, real beliefs behind every ‘issue.’  Behavior that one person may believe the Bible condemns, another may have a different  interpretation or insight.  Before drawing a line in the sand, perhaps we can listen to each other’s viewpoints and experiences without trying to win a debate.  Shaming a person or a group of people to prove ourselves ‘right’ reminds everyone more of the Pharisees than Jesus’ actions.

As my blood-pressure rises when I hear people in my own faith tradition making blanket statements at the expense of hearts (we are all guilty of this, regardless of our viewpoint), I breathe.  in. and. out.  slowly.  methodically.  silently.   And I focus on Jesus.  And I remember how much He loves us, how competent He is to fulfill His purposes even though we are not perfect in communicating His life.  As I see again myself in His vastness, I stop attacking those that see the world differently (even if they speak unkindly and irrationally) “and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace”  (Helen Lemmel, hymn).  May the grace of Jesus overflow in our lives as we all work out our own salvations.

 

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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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Are We There Yet?

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My daughter and I took a road trip to Phoenix to take care of my parents’ cats and house while they went to Texas for my aunt’s funeral.  With a 12 hour drive from our house to theirs, we had lots of time to sing to Billy Joel and Beach Boys (my contributions) and Ke$ha (her contribution).  Calm moments brought out worship songs.  With boredom, we raided the food sack for trail mix, granola bars, jerky and potato chips.  A lot of nothingness greets us on I-40 through New Mexico and northern Arizona.  The scenery carried so many dust storms that my eyes burned.  Beautiful silhouettes greeted us once we hit the Arizona mountains at twilight.

Somewhere around hour 7, both of us whined, “Why is it taking so looonnnggg?!”

Sometimes, I feel like my life’s journey is trapped in a car on a road trip.  Somewhere in the middle of nowhere, where it’s hard to remember the hopeful excitement at the start of the journey and much too soon to think about journey’s end, I wonder, “How much further, Lord?  When will I see some of the results for which I thought I labored long and hard?”  Oh, I linger some places, see His hand at work and experience great joy.  But, eventually, I have to get back in my soul’s car and sojourn to unexpected locales as I find my way home to the Father’s heart.

Jud and I experienced a traumatic church situation that ended about 6 years ago.  Our spiritual road trip has taken us from valleys of desolation to God’s mountaintop of grace.  Yet, the pilgrimage is ongoing and, once again, I’m asking, “Why is it taking so looonnnggg?!”  Just when I think my heart is healed, a tried-to-forget memory invades the present and I have to get in the car of my soul to wander to more depths.  Right now, I face one of those desolate times.  I have a routine in preparing for a road trip:  I paint my toenails a favorite shade, pick out favorite music and get some fun snacks to make the long hours go by faster.  In preparing for this spiritual road trip, I’ve got some favorite worship music, some favorite Bible stories and I’ve painted my toenails a color called “Are We There Yet?”  I know some of the spiritual scenery may burn my eyes with tears and the road may not offer a variety of beautiful things to see; but I also know that a destination will emerge and God will carve out a place to ‘restore my soul.’

Holy Spirit, I trust that You know where we’re going and how to get there.

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It’s The Small Things

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Coffee with friends.  Diet lemonade from Chick-fil-A.  Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.  Cary Grant movies.  When life throws me a curve ball, these things give me comfort and make me believe that I can make it through almost anything.  As I write, there is a bag of Reese’s Mini Eggs that I just bought at the store for 50% off in the Easter clearance.  I’ve eaten 5 today and feel at peace with the world….

In my stocking at Christmas last year, Jud gave me 10 miniature Christmas-themed (on the bottles) bubbles.  As I blew bubbles to my heart’s content in our family room (and at my kids) and squealed with delight, our kids, a little horrified, asked, “Dad, why would you give her bubbles?!”  Jud just smiled contentedly and replied, “Look at her.”

The Peanuts clock that plays Christmas tunes on each hour just ‘chimed.’  I didn’t remember it until I put away all the Christmas decorations around January 1st.  Since I didn’t get to enjoy it during the holidays, I put batteries in it and set it up in my bedroom.  In February, my daughter rushed in my room and panic-stricken asked, “Do you hear that?!  Is it real?!  I’ve been hearing music for a week and I don’t know where it’s coming from!!”  We laughed (me laughing so hard I cried) when I showed her the clock.  Yes, I know it’s April; but I plan on keeping the clock around until it stops making me smile (or until Jud can’t stand it anymore).

Jesus told us to look to the small things–sparrows, lilies, birds, finding lost things, mustard seeds–and let them build our faith, build our joy.  He told stories like the one about the talents.  He said that if we are faithful with a little, God will trust us with more.  Then he says, “Enter into the joy of your Lord.”

Hiking with Jud, laughing with my kids, cleaning while listening to Beach Boys, sharing with friends what God seems to be doing in our lives, mocking news items with friends that have the same sense of humor that I do all invigorate my heart and soul.  Sometimes, I forget how the little things in life recharge my psyche.  God seems to have built in ways for us to enter His joy today; we just have to look for Him in the everyday.

It’s the small things that make life not just bearable, but joyful.  I hope you find that joy revealed in your life today.  As for me, I think I’ll go get a diet lemonade and see if my son and Jud will watch Grimm (a favorite show) with me.  Life is good!

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Passion Week

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Passion week.  Jesus’ passion.  Us.  His passion for us took him to the cross.  His passion for us got him beaten.  His passion for us gave him the ability to endure crucifixion.  His passion for us sustained him for 3 days as he passed through hell.  His passion for us exploded in joy at his resurrection.

So, what is our passion?  What is my passion?  Injustices inflame me.  Inconsistencies annoy me.  Hiding behind the Bible with feigned compassion could lead me to hurt someone.  What is worthy to me that I would submit willingly to beatings and even hell itself?  In Isaiah 53:4, the prophetic words describing Jesus resound with the question, “Am I willing to have godly people consider me stricken by God for the ones He calls me to protect, honor and fellowship?”  Tough question.

My family, especially my mom’s side, left me a legacy of fighting for civil rights.  My great-grandmother housed and tutored a black man, I only know as “Willie”, so that he could make a better way for himself in the world.  In East Texas.  She and her husband allowed him to live in their basement and do some odd jobs as payment.  Gomama (my mother’s mother) only said that Willie had some problems.  I don’t know if there was some mental illness or learning disability; but in East Texas, at the turn of the 20th century, my great-grandmother stood up for something not right in her society.  Gomama lost her teaching job in a segregated Texas town in the 1940s because, after school, she would teach literacy to black children of the town.  She helped many of them get into college or tech schools in the hopes of creating a better life for them.  She never received a paycheck for teaching again.  My great-great-grandfather founded a college in Texas to ensure that his daughters could be educated in the 1800s when a woman’s role consisted of wife and mother.  Godaddy (my mother’s father) paid into Social Security for all their domestics so that they would have some sort of ‘retirement pay.’  The other white folk of the town criticized him because it was up to the blacks to figure out their lives beyond the service the whites provided.  My father sent money every month to Elizabeth (the housekeeper/cook/nanny to my mother and her brother when they were growing up) once my grandparents passed away.  Civil Rights is in my blood and I have fasted, prayed and agonized over how I can build on that legacy.

Then the answer came a few years ago.  I wanted something that felt noble.  I doubt that Gomama felt noble when she was fired by the superintendent or ostracized by many of the women in the town.  Her nobility comes from her posterity who ‘rise up and call her blessed.’  I wanted to bask in the glow of my nobility.  Gomama never got the chance to bask in her glow.  She never saw the fruit of her actions as a crown of beauty–she only received a crown of thorns.  Those of us who came after her saw how many hearts healed because of her wounds.  She died wondering why God had forsaken her in the nursing home.  Those of us at her funeral rejoiced in the resurrection life we believe she experiences to this day.

Gomama and all the others in my family who fought hard for human dignity, civil and spiritual rights and paid a great price for their battles, teach me that God takes man’s crown of thorns and the mocking voices and changes all into beautiful crown jewels and cheering voices of the cloud of witnesses who show us the way to holiness, to Paradise–even if it doesn’t feel victorious in our lifetime.

I remember all this–where I come from, what I live for and all that I hope to become–as I remember the One who remembered where he came from and where he was going and knelt beside his disciples to wash their feet–even Judas’ feet.  As with my cloud of witnesses, I may never experience the feeling of nobility as I follow the path Jesus walks before me; but I can experience communion with him regardless of what others may think of me.  May Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday usher in God’s presence to our hearts and give us humility to serve the ones we consider stricken by God and the least of our world.

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Absolute Truth

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Have you heard people talking about what the Bible says in ‘black and white’?  Have you heard people say that ‘truth is truth’ and does not change?

Have you ever questioned someone’s take on ‘absolute truth’?  I wish I could say that I’ve questioned and the conversation has gone well….

In thinking through many conversations over the last few weeks, one thing becomes clearer to me:  Jesus is my only ‘absolute.’  Doctrine and theology debates do not lead me to truth.  Jesus taught that truth is a person–Him.  If He’s right, could it be that truth is more fluid than we thought or hoped?  What if what is right for one culture evolves into something else for another?  A strong argument for slavery, polygamy and women as property can be made from the ‘black and white’ words of the Bible.  However, our culture has grown and matured over the generations and we have learned to reinterpret the literal view of many biblical teachings to a more fluid ‘spirit’ of the teachings.

But we don’t like variance.  We want absolutes.  We want to know with which side to … well … side.  We want to be right.  Isn’t that the focus of most of our disagreements–we want to prove ourselves right.  We want to win

One thing I notice about Jesus:  He never let a powerless person stand as a public spectacle for a theological discourse.  Can you imagine the fear and humiliation of the woman caught in adultery?  Paraded to Jesus by a group of men and spotlighted for the crowd to gawk at and judge?  Proclaimed the example of God’s Law at work, many took up rocks ready to heave at her given the command.  Stripped of her humanity, she stood there shamed waiting for her public sentencing.  Jesus responded to the building condemnation not by engaging in the debate, but by scribbling in the dirt.  Whatever He wrote, it silenced the crowd and took the wind out of the arrogant sails.  Everyone left except the woman.  Jesus conversed with her privately and defused the shameful situation.

In church circles, we have spotlighted and shamed groups of people that serve our purpose of proving our ‘correct interpretation’ of the Bible.  Honestly, all sides of issues have done this–we have elevated issues above people, and people have paid a high price of public shame and humiliation.  I challenge myself, and any who want to journey with me, to leave the conflict-inducing debates, begin to hear people’s hearts and learn with them and from them as we seek the only One legitimately called ‘Truth.’

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