Elections of the Privileged

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‘Love … does not seek its own interests … When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. ‘ (1 Corinthians 13:5, 11)

While I hope all who read this post will benefit, my focus centers on my more conservative past. I don’t often talk about my life before social justice took over my heart; but in this election I felt I had to address some of my past, and growth. Maybe, just maybe, others can hear this perspective from someone who used to be one of them.

I’ve voted across the spectrum. I’ve registered as a Democrat, Republican, Independent throughout my voting career. I’ve voted for candidates. I’ve voted against candidates. I’ve voted from a place of hope. I’ve voted from a place of cynicism. I once even handed my mail-in ballot over to my daughter who had neglected to register for her first election.

Common denominator? I vote.

However, most of the time, I vote for myself. My interests. My comfort. My beliefs. My privilege. I haven’t thought about how policies, politicians, platforms affect those not in my white, middle-class-or-above, conservative-evangelical society. After all, American society would function better if we all got on board with white-middle-class-or-above-evangelical-thought, right?

*sigh* … I’m embarrassed to even write that, or admit it out loud. But one reason I started this blog was to say things out loud, and as honestly as I could. The good, the bad, and the ugly of our humanness.

This election season, I’ve watched all the usual stumping, preening, and blustering. But, I’ve watched the candidates through a different lens. I’ve watched them through Black Lives Matter. I’ve watched them through the eyes of LGBT+ family and friends and allies. I’ve watched them through the eyes of the physically-challenged and the developmentally-challenged. I’ve watched them through the eyes of women. I’ve watched them through the eyes of a dead Muslim soldier’s family. I’ve watched them through the eyes of a 25 year old girl about to get citizenship after living here illegally, unbeknownst to her, for 23 years.

This election year, I see (what I hope is) a last stand of white, middle-class-or-above, conservative-evangelical tradition. Bullying people into a mold of that status-quo. Where white privilege rules, and we keep our power–trying to force non-white, non-middle-class-or-above, non-conservatives into our social order. A tradition where we don’t mind others, not in our group, moving up. We just don’t want to move down in the process. We’re proud, white Americans. And we’ve always had this god-given standard of living. We deserve it. America gave us this right. And we won’t be like Esau who sold it for a bowl of soup (Genesis 25).

*sigh* … I do that a lot lately …

And I hear the fear in all those statements. Fear that if we give up any of our power and privilege, then our country will no longer honor Christian traditions. We fear that our country will become less-white, and our conservative-middle-class-or-above culture will fade–which means we failed God and betrayed His call on our lives and our country’s life. We fear that our God won’t defend Himself

 … won’t defend us … 

And that’s the kicker, isn’t it? We fear losing our way of life. The way of life that we believe God mandates. We don’t want God to become bigger than our box. We don’t want God to expand. We want to keep Him static, because our view of the Bible is static. (But that’s another post for another day…)

As the first debates start this week, let us finally listen to the whole of our country, and not just our own agendas. Let us finally see the smallness of our pet issues, and begin looking at America as a true melting pot. Let us live out our beliefs, faith-traditions, and ideals by really walking in another’s shoes. Let us vote our conscience. I just pray that our conscience doesn’t only benefit the already powerful.

This year, I have determined that I will cast my vote to share my privilege … even if that means reducing my power … even if that means reducing my standard of living. If it means our country’s playing field is a little more leveled, I’m all in.

This year, I will vote for the ‘others’ in our country. I will vote for the oppressed, the marginalized, the powerless. I will vote for the non-white, non-middle-class-or-above, non-conservatives in hopes that we will begin to level our society and learn from all walks of life. I will vote my theology–the teachings of Jesus–in hopes that in living out my beliefs, my theology will lead others to ‘life and not bondage,’ as a friend once said. I finally get it that politics and voting is not just about my special group. I finally get it that if my fellow Americans can’t live without fear of discrimination and oppression, then we don’t live in a free society. I finally see through their eyes.

I finally grew up.

I welcome comments! Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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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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A Wake-Up Call … In No Uncertain Terms

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The word of the Eternal came to me with a message for Israel’s leaders … Meanwhile you don’t take care of the sheep at all. You have not sought to nurse the weak. You have not gone out to tend to the sick. You have not bandaged the injured. You don’t bring back the strays or look for the lost. You have led them with neglect, ruled them with harshness, shepherded them with cruelty! They had no real shepherd, so they have scattered; the entire flock was prey for wild beasts. My sheep drifted aimlessly through all the mountains and up and down every hill. My flock was scattered all over the world, scattered like the stars in the night sky, and not a single shepherd went looking for them.” –Ezekiel 34:1, 3-6 (The Voice)

I’m in the middle of a month-long course called Walking Wounded.  The on-line forum is designed to share stories of church and life experiences with others who have been deeply wounded by churches and Christians.  Each week, we have exercises to complete to help us understand the traumas and (hopefully) help us process through them with the goal of healing.  We have journeyed through all the stages of grief.  This week dealt with anger.  So, this post exposes some of the things that make me angry–because it’s healthy to express anger when things are unjust.

I’ve never really legitimized anger in my life.  Judging by the class and interactions with people throughout my life, I don’t think I’m alone.  We deal better with denial, fear, sadness than we do with anger.  I need another week to process through some of the things I began to learn this week; but for this post, I want to expose some of the inconsistencies I see in the churches that I’ve been a part of, and validate that we should be angry over them. 

My last post encouraged women and men to not accept the status quo of power.  I get a little irritated when I hear women accept the power-system and not realize just how much power we wield.  If we choose not to insist on being treated with respect and honor, we have no one to blame.  Because we have the majority numbers in churches and could actually change things, if we want to stop complaining.

Part of my angst over the male/female power struggle is that there are true minority groups in churches that do not have the numbers to command much power.  A pastor once said to me that he didn’t understand why I was so passionate about a particular issue in the church because others didn’t get so emotional about it.  Why should I, who was not affected by the policy, get so worked up about something that the majority didn’t feel was that important?  Frankly, people who see the injustices and don’t get passionate about them should concern us.  Lack of empathy from the people who have a trump card concerns me deeply.  If we don’t stand up for those who cannot change the system, what does that say about us?

That we are entitled, spoiled hypocrites who put the ‘anti’ in ‘anti-Christ.’

Yeah, I know, ‘Them’s fightin’ words…’

Well, then, since I’m on a roll, let me give you a few more strong words.  But notice that I include myself in all these statements. I’m not pointing fingers at anyone from a self-righteous stance. It’s a ‘we’ problem:

  • Shame on us, church, for pandering to white/Western/consumerism.
  • Shame on us, church, for growing fat off the poverty of others.
  • Shame on us, church, for letting others drift away instead of running after them and showing them how valuable they are to God.
  • Shame on us, church, for closing the doors on some because they make us uncomfortable, and we don’t want God to look like them.
  • Shame on us, church, for so piously giving a token amount of money so that we don’t have to actually see or touch someone in desperate need.
  • Shame on us, church, for elevating theology over people and relationships, and for using the Bible as an excuse for our prejudices.
  • Shame on us, church, for protecting a system and a building and salaries over the people our system, buildings, and salaries have destroyed.
  • Shame on us, church, for not acting like the Body of Christ.

I know it’s harsh.  I also know it’s true. And I know it doesn’t have to be this way.  We really can do better.  But we have to look at the problems in all their ugliness.  We have to admit the ugliness without caveat that ‘But, there are so many good things we’re doing too.’  The good things cannot whitewash the ugly beliefs and systems we keep perpetuating.

We have to admit our guilt … dare I say it? … Our sin … against God and those created in God’s image.  In humility, we have to ask forgiveness from those we’ve offended and repent–make a hard 90° turn.  We have to admit that we don’t have to look to the future for THE Anti-Christ.  We are the anti-Christ.  Complete with an agenda for a one-world government and belief system. 

But more on that in a few weeks…

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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The First 50 Years

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With every sun’s rising, surprise us with Your love,
satisfy us with Your kindness.
Then we will sing with joy and celebrate every day we are alive. –Psalm 90:14

I turned 50 this past week.  (I know. You’d never guess it to look at me….) For the past 10 years, I’ve celebrated anniversaries of my 39th year.  This year, I ‘fessed up to my actual age.  I don’t fear aging–just kinda liked the shell-game of ‘how old am I’.

’50’ doesn’t mean much to me.  Except that I told my husband, “It just sounds so grown-up.  I guess I should act more grown-up now … But that’s probably not going to happen.”

One of the many things my mom taught me was that birthdays should be celebrated.  I don’t think she ever used words to convey that message–just the joy she exuded with every birthday.  She had ovarian cancer back in 1970, and she’s considered a medical miracle.  Ever since, she has celebrated ‘as long as people will let [her] celebrate.’  I love that she’s passed that idea down to me.  

None of us know how long we will live.  I’ve got long live-ers in my family.  Most of my immediate line have lived into their 90s.  However, with military life came realities of lives cut shorter than was natural.  I think of my husband’s best friend, Bob, who died in the first or second year of our marriage. His funeral initiated me into the gravity of military life.  Many others would follow through the years. Length of life comes with no guarantee.  However, regardless of how long or short our lives run, we can live them fully and without fear.  Which brings me back to my running theme for 2015:  the tree of life vs. the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  As I pass what very well could be the mid-point of my life, I want to continue to eat from the tree of life.  

With so much life behind me comes so much opportunity for shame and regret. How do we choose Life every day? How do we identify every day with Christ and not with shame? How do we oppose the shame–even when others tease without realizing the effect on us … on me…  I heard Nadia Bolz-Weber speak recently.  She distinguished between ‘shame’ and ‘guilt.’  She said something like, “Guilt is good.  We should feel guilty when we do something wrong or hurt another person.  Shame is an identity.”  I never want to identify myself or others with shame.  Shame is not nourishing.  Or life-giving.  Or joyful.  It sucks all the life and joy and sustenance out of us.

And shame makes it really hard to CELEBRATE ourselves!  

With living in the midst of my 51st year, I celebrate who God has made me.  I celebrate my best qualities.  I roll my eyes at some of my not-so-best-but-ever-diminishing qualities. I humbly accept the love and patience of my family and friends, and I offer them my love and patience in return.

We need each other to remind us of our best qualities and our amazing potential.  We need each other to fiercely stand with us when all we see are (and others remind us that they see also) our short-comings. 

Before I go and savor another piece of cake, let me encourage all of us to ask God for perspective on ourselves and our lives.  God can satisfy our need for love and kindness, and give us a reason to sing and celebrate.  Choose to believe the truth about yourself.  Choose to believe that God loves you.  That God treats you with kindness–even when others are unkind in our every day lives.  Find friends who will build you up and help you to discover your value and worth.  Life’s too short, whether it’s a few hours or a hundred years, to experience without grace.  So, I offer a toast of thanks for today, yesterday, and any days to come for all of us.

And now … cake!

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

 

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Life Is Good

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With wedding stress behind me, I’m still recuperating from the lack of sleep over the last few months.  I’m reposting this piece from January because I want to remind us all of what I started the year off pondering.  I hope to continue to examine the two trees of Eden’s garden next week.  Thank you for your patience!

Then God surveyed everything He had made, savoring its beauty and appreciating its goodness. –Genesis 1:31a (The Voice version)

Suddenly their eyes were opened to a reality previously unknown. For the first time, they sensed their vulnerability and rushed to hide their naked bodies, stitching fig leaves into crude loincloths. Then they heard the sound of the Eternal God walking in the cool misting shadows of the garden. The man and his wife took cover among the trees and hid from the Eternal God. –Genesis 3:7-8 (The Voice version)

I’ve often reflected on what the world must have looked like at the dawn of creation.  In the past, I’ve bemoaned living in a ‘fallen’ world.  A world where Evil reigns and goodness is tarnished.  A world that disappoints God.

My perspective is changing.

I don’t know why I never saw some of the things I’m now seeing in the Bible.  I hadn’t seen, for example, that no evil existed in the Garden of Eden.  God proclaimed everything good! Even the serpent is called ‘crafty’ not ‘evil.’  Peter Enns, a noted Bible scholar, tells of a conversation he had in graduate school with a Jewish friend from Israel.  You can read it here.  So, Jewish interpretation doesn’t necessarily agree with our ‘enlightened’ western-thinking minds interpretation of creation.  The Genesis creation story may not be all about how we-messed-up-the-world-and-God-got-so-angry-that-He-disowned-us?  The evangelical, protestant assertions may be … wrong?  Or, to say it more gently, at least incomplete? Huh?!

As I continue to ponder the ideas from my last post, my thoughts gravitate to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life.  If no evil existed in the Garden of Eden, why would God need to caution mankind away from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?  Maybe because our minds are pre-disposed to thinking our own way (free-will).  If we stop relating to God, we focus on pecking orders and rankings and a need to play ‘king of the hill’ to prove our worth and relevance.  In order for us to have worth, some have to be worthless.  In order for us to be good, some have to be evil or ‘not good.’  When we obsess over value-judging people, intentions, or behaviors, we hide ourselves in shame–because our personhood, intentions and behaviors are up for grabs for God and others to judge ‘not good.’  Interesting that knowledge is the tree’s focus.  Interesting that the Pharisees focussed on knowledge of the Law (good and evil).  Was their religious system the embodiment of that tree?  Their religious system certainly created shaming, judging and a desire to one-up others to be considered ‘righteous’ before men and God.  Sound familiar in the 21st century?

Interesting that Jesus never said that he was the knowledge.  Instead, he claimed he was ‘the way, the truth, and the life.’  We have equated ‘truth’ with ‘knowledge’ in our reasoned thinking.  Jesus didn’t seem to define ‘truth’ in that manner.  He challenged teachings that we could find life in behaviors, rules, choices–that if we could just figure out the formula, all would be well with us and God.

Then, where and how do we find true life?  The Sunday-school-answer is Jesus.

There, isn’t that helpful?

All clear now?

Okay, maybe the following ways that I find joy and life in Christ will help you consider what brings you life:

  • Living the teachings of Jesus. I focus on how Jesus interacted with people in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  I try to filter the rest of the Bible through his example and interpret passages based on his teachings.  I fail often; but I’m beginning to recognize more quickly when my heart seeks my own ego and not Jesus’ example.
  • Learning to love God and walk with Him in all of life.  Seeing all of life and its seasons–nature’s seasons, life-cycle seasons, the soul’s seasons–as ‘good’; because all of life and its seasons reveal different facets of God’s infinite complexity, infinite wonder, infinite grace, infinite wisdom.
  • Learning to love myself–warts and all (that’s one of the hardest for me!).  Learning to love others out of the humility that comes with loving myself and the grace of loving God.
  • Sitting in silence and learning to abide in the presence of God (in prayer, meditation, contemplation)–which means turning off computers, phones, and television….
  • Listening to others and their experiences with God.  Never underestimate the profundity of life stories and how they create openings for the Holy Spirit to heal and grow our understanding of God’s ways and thoughts.
  • Looking for opportunities to make another’s life better.  Remember ‘random acts of kindness’?  Doing that–not as a fad, but as life-giving investments that may lead others to open their hearts to the magnificence of God and how they find the tree of life.
  • Savoring moments of accomplishment.  My daughter got me hooked on hiking ‘The Incline’–an extreme hiking trail which is the remains of narrow, steep railway tracks.  The first time I hiked it with her, my legs felt like Jell-O.  I had to stop every 25 steps sucking air due to low-oxygen altitude and gulping much-needed water.  About half-way up and feeling intimidated by the steep grade before me, Em stopped and told me to look behind us.  ‘Look how far we’ve come.  How small our car looks in the parking lot.  How beautiful the view of Manitou and Colorado Springs is from here.’  It took my breath away in awe (not oxygen-deprivation) to enjoy the fete of endurance we’d accomplished to that point … and it kept me going to the trail leading back to the car.  I love thinking of that seventh day as God savoring, relishing and delighting in His creation … and then telling us to do the same!

These suggestions serve as some examples of how I find the life in Christ.  You may be thinking of others that work for you.  I’d love to hear your suggestions!  This year, I’m trying to recognize when I fall into the judging habits that come from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Eventually, we will have to deal with the reality of evil, suffering, and pain in this world.  Because we see atrocities every day in the news that have nothing to do with the tree of life.  I need more time to formulate thoughts on those traumas.

For now, I want to experience more and more of the joy and freedom that come from the tree of life!  And help others find that there is another tree from which to eat.  One that enlivens and makes us unashamed of our vulnerabilities.  One that beckons us, ‘Come!’, without fear–because God’s favor rests on us!

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.us

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Waiting For Resurrection

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After the Sabbath, as the light of the next day, the first day of the week, crept over Palestine, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to the tomb to keep vigil. Earlier there had been an earthquake. A messenger of the Lord had come down from heaven and had gone to the grave. He rolled away the stone and sat down on top of it. He veritably glowed. He was vibrating with light. His clothes were light, white like transfiguration, like fresh snow. The soldiers guarding the tomb were terrified. They froze like stone. –Matthew 28:1-4

I used to love Easter sunrise services in Arizona.  As a teenager, many from our youth group would gather in the church parking lot and climb ‘A’ Mountain (the little hill with a giant ‘A’ embedded in it for ASU–Arizona State University).  We would sit in silence facing east, waiting for the sun to rise.  We each reflected on our own thoughts.  I’m sure some thought, ‘Why did I get up so freakin’ early?!’  I’m sure I thought that at least one year.

But most of the time, my thoughts on Easter reflected how much I knew God loved us.  The gratitude inside me would well up to almost bursting and coincided with the sunrise.

I miss those Easter sunrises.  Here in Colorado, the warmth of the blankets usually keeps me snuggled and asleep at dawn.  I miss the camaraderie, the community, the connection between ‘us’ and God.  In recent years, I haven’t felt very ‘together’ with other church-goers.  Instead, I’ve felt disconnected, and at times betrayed.

Isolated and ignored. 

Dead and buried.

Our American evangelical church-system hasn’t figured out yet how to encourage once-mighty-leaders and allow us to question and expand our Sunday-school-answer view of God.  We haven’t learned how to walk alongside people and keep them company as they live their journey of faith.  In my experience, our best solution has involved putting people in their own corners and telling them that ‘we’ll be over here when you’re done with your time-out.’  

*sigh*

The disciples must have felt similarly.  When Jesus died, they must have felt a part of them died.  The part that believed like children believe in magical endings.  The part that hoped for a fulfillment of all the stories they’d heard in their childhood about God and saviors and finally putting the world right (with them on top).  The part that believed all things were possible, like Jesus told them.  The part that kept them connected to each other.

It took them less than a day to disperse and disconnect from each other.  Only the women remained together, united at the tomb, sharing their grief.  

Then, the angel at the tomb said, “He is risen.  Just as He said.”  And in a moment’s flash, hope was restored.  Mary encounters Jesus, and He tells her to gather all the disciples.  They experience Christ’s resurrection, and their own resurrection of soul.  They spend many days together before Christ’s ascension.  It’s a glorious ending to the Gospel accounts!

An ending worthy of celebration!

I didn’t go to church this Easter morning.  The thought of celebrating resurrection weighed heavy on my heart when I feel like my spirit is still waiting for the stone to be rolled away.  Faith growing-pains are arduous and take more than a few days to complete.  I see glimpses that resurrection will come.  And I wait with anticipation in the midst of fear and grieving that the poignancy of the old ways have tarnished and rusted.  Because they need to give way to a faith that’s deeper than youth’s naive heart.  Because they don’t contain the profound wisdom that comes with growing older with God.  Because Christ’s resurrection gives us maturity to be peers with Him instead of constantly expecting Him to take sole responsibility for our spiritual hunger and entertainment.

The benefits of growing up definitely outweigh the benefits of remaining as a child.  The more we choose to accept the process, the more freedom we experience.  Children think they have freedom; but their parents (if they are wise and good) keep strong boundaries so that when the children are old, they will know how and when to expand those boundaries.  

So, I wait by the tomb.

I wait for my spirit to expand enough to contain Christ’s resurrection for this season of my life.

I wait with those who no longer find their childhood church systems fulfilling.

I wait in expectation to hear ‘just as He said’ and receive the fulfilled-promise of new life, renewed joy, restored equality in Christ for everyone.

I wait for Easter morning to come.

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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Dawn … Before The Darkness

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I am still in the throes of wedding planning and feeling exhausted.  I’m republishing this post from last year’s Palm Sunday reflection because I think it’s still relevant.  

Then the blind and the lame came to the temple, and Jesus healed them. Rings of children circled round and sang, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David.’  But the priests and scribes didn’t understand. When they saw the upturned tables, the walking paralytics, and the singing children, they were shocked, indignant, and angry, and they did not understand. –Matthew 21:14-15

The triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem a week before his crucifixion creates a stark contrast to the events later in the week.  Healings, children singing, the powerful called-out on how they treat people.  What’s not to love?  I suppose it depends on your point of view.  To the ones healed, released from the torments of a dictatorial religious system, and the children who saw an opportunity to play in the temple area, they rejoiced and basked in their new-found freedom.  To the religious leaders who felt their power and control endangered, I doubt they felt the same exaltation.

The religious leaders needed to find an opportunity and fast to get the focus off Jesus and his message of freedom from shame, forgiveness and equal standing with God.  They will do whatever it takes to save their power and control … of course, for God’s glory ….  Underlying the victorious celebration of Jesus entering Jerusalem is the sinister plotting of those who fear losing their hierarchical standing with people and God.

Holy Week brings a sacred focus on Jesus’ passion, his suffering.  God offers us a front-row seat showing us the lengths He’s willing to go to in order for us to know His true character of forgiveness, compassion and power–He will do whatever it takes for us to understand He uses His power and authority not to shame or create a king-of-the-hill game between all of us, but to level the playing field and bring liberty from unbearable life systems that crush the spirit.

The difference between the two attitudes of ‘whatever it takes’ challenges my own soul.  Do I have the attitude of sacrificing myself to see freedom come to others?  Or do I have the attitude of sacrificing others to ensure my own status?  Meditating through Lent on Jesus’ life convicts me of my selfishness and self-absorbed comfort.  My prayer has become that as we get closer to Good Friday, I will see my own narcissism and desire for status crucified on the cross with Jesus.  As I reflect on Jesus’ last days and see the fickleness of humanity–one moment giving him glory, the next calling for his death–I clearly see my own changeableness and am humbled.

Jesus’ disciples must have relished His entry into Jerusalem.  They sat at the top of the heap of this bold leader who exposed the arrogant rulers and elevated the oppressed.  They probably celebrated, cheered and sang with the children and the ones healed.  They exalted in the dawn of a new day where God would finally reign on earth and overthrow the evil governments!  The day Israel had waited for since Abraham.  This triumphal entry would prove to all their doubters and bullies that they truly were God’s chosen people!

But they soon would find out that wasn’t God’s point in the story ….

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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Life’s Love Letters

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I am deep in the throes of planning for my daughter’s wedding in April.  So, I will be less-than consistent with my blog each week (did you miss me last week when I didn’t post?).  I will post when I’m inspired, but am giving myself freedom to take a break when wedding details overwhelm me.

But now faith, hope, and love remain; these three virtues must characterize our lives. The greatest of these is love. –1 Corinthians 13:13

Valentine’s Day has come and gone again.  I’m not big on celebrating it–not because I’m against love or fun or chocolate; but because it just doesn’t hold any significance for me.  I never really dated before I met Jud, and our ‘dating’ life involved long-distance communication for most of the year and a half before we got married.  I still remember our phone ‘dates.’  We would both order the same pizza (pepperoni and pineapple) and talk on the phone for hours.  That was back in the day when you actually had to pay for the long-distance minutes you used.  I think we topped out at $650 one month. I nearly choked when my dad showed me the bill and told me I needed to pay it within the week….  But, with our anniversary in January and the holidays so close to that event, Valentine’s just seemed like too much work.

However, this year, I started getting really excited for Valentine’s Day–or at least the post-Valentine’s-chocolate sales.  With our daughter’s wedding in April, I need to amass some pretty chocolate hearts wrapped in pretty red or purple foil for some gift bags.  This week, they will all be on sale!  And I like the idea of not having to pay full-price for anything wedding-related these days!  As I’ve scoured some of the ads to try to find good deals throughout the city, I have thought about love in our lives.

As I’ve said, Jud and I had a mostly long-distance relationship before we got married.  A week after we started dating, the military, in all it’s wisdom, transferred Jud from Arizona to New Mexico.  We still have all the snail-mail letters we wrote during that time, since the internet didn’t exist.  Someday, our kids will find the boxes that hold those cards, letters, cassette tapes and drawings and see how our relationship developed.  But those items only hold the beginning of our love story.  Most romantic comedies confuse romance with love, and then they end at the beginning of love.  Ah, those beautiful times when love is new.  The grass has forsaken the winter snow and hibernation and has become green again.  The trees are brimming with birds singing and new leaves unfolding.  Can we take a moment to deeply sigh longingly in the romance of young love?

Okay, that’s enough.

The reality that those of us who have lived-longer-than-our-teens know is that love encompasses so much more than the shallow depths of its newness.  Love grows to depths we couldn’t imagine in the beginning–and would completely scare us off if we knew the ugly paths we’d have to traverse to strengthen love for one another.  We find an everlasting beauty and depth of love in our scars–the times others had to help us, and the times we had to shore up our own strength to help another.  I think of the parent who tries to talk a child off a literal ledge to (hopefully) save the child’s life.  The spouse who takes care of a dying partner.  The woman who courageously chooses to leave an abusive relationship, rather than have her daughter grow up thinking that love destroys the body, mind and soul.  The man who embodies integrity, kindness, gentleness when he’s at his best, and humility when he fails.  The couple who weather the decades of life-issues, children-issues, health-issues, job-issues and allow those circumstances to grow them up individually and bond them collectively.

If you’re in love’s newness stage, enjoy every heart-soaring, heart-breaking minute of it.  If you’re well-rooted in love, enjoy every heart-soaring, heart-breaking minute of it.  If you express your love for others as a single, enjoy every heart-soaring, heart-breaking minute of it.  If you have lost a loved one, remember the heart-soaring, heart-breaking times, and let the remembrance of deep love accompany you in your grief and allow your heart to heal, in its time.

Too much of the news fills us with the knowledge of evil, injustice, dream-squashing in this world of ours.  It’s easy to forget that God’s image in us makes us capable of brilliant acts of courage:  staring down the powerful when they forget the breaking backs upon whom they stand, gently caring for the orphans and diseased, tirelessly teaching the challenged ones who are often overlooked.  Those who vulnerably open their hearts to receive the pain and fear of others to show that God’s love really can bring hope to mirthless places and rekindle faith that God has not forgotten us.  Those are love letters we all need to find!  Those are love letters we need to live!

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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Celebrating Life!

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So since we stand surrounded by all those who have gone before, an enormous cloud of witnesses, let us drop every extra weight, every sin that clings to us and slackens our pace, and let us run with endurance the long race set before us. –Hebrews 12:1 (The Voice version)

I’m not there yet, nor have I become perfect; but I am charging on to gain anything and everything the Anointed One, Jesus, has in store for me—and nothing will stand in my way because He has grabbed me and won’t let me go. –Philippians 3:12 (The Voice version)

This past week, I went to the funeral of one of my mom’s dearest friends.  I used to babysit for him and his wife before they moved out of the Phoenix area.  While my mom kept up with them–through fairly consistent weekly phone calls with his wife–I only heard bits and pieces of news from my mom through the years.  Missions trips, marriages, birth of a baby for the now-grown children; and retirement, travel and spiritual epiphanies for her friends.  Traveling to the funeral, memories from childhood to adolescence flooded my heart.

Funerals gather an interesting assortment of people–people who knew the person from all aspects of his life.  My mom’s friends had started attending a church with Messianic influences several years ago (I don’t know if it’s an official ‘Messianic Jewish’ congregation or not).  They had studied Hebrew and travelled to Israel.  I didn’t know them in this context.  As photos of them and their family scrolled on an overhead, I didn’t recognize the later pictures of their life.  Then, the earlier pictures repeated.  Ah, there was the man I knew.  There were the kids I remembered.  There was his wife whose laugh always sounded so musical.  There was the family I went to the drive-in with during a rainstorm and ate popcorn while watching The Cat From Outer Space.

As people told stories of his influence in their lives, almost all of them (except for his children’s stories) came from people who only knew him in recent years.  They described a man who sounded bigger than life.  A great man.  An encouraging man.  A giving  and selfless man.  His daughter finally spoke and reminded everyone that he was human–with faults and insecurities.

That was the man I knew:  the human one.  Not that he wasn’t a great guy when I knew him; but he hadn’t yet matured into the man these people knew.  He still had edges that needed softening.  His God-given gifts needed some humility and training.  His life in Christ was new and uncultivated.  I recognized a piece of the man his friends described–his best qualities had been well-seasoned with humility over the years.

I thought of another death of a family friend from long ago.  I remember my mom and dad talking about his funeral.  I knew him from a child’s perspective and loved him.  He asked my mom if she would call me ‘Maggie.’  (‘No’ was the answer.  I had to wait until I moved out of the house to take on that nickname.  Another story for another time…)  He was loud, funny and wore bow ties.  At his funeral, his first wife came and said, “You all act like you really liked him.”  She knew him as an unkind alcoholic.  We knew the person he became, and he looked precious little like his former self.

I reflected that night on the conversation my parents had about their other friend’s death, and the conversations I had with family and friends at this recent funeral.  I knew the man he was becoming.  His friends from later years knew the man he became.  I got to see some of the hard-work-of-his-soul.  They experienced the fruit of his journey with Christ.  Together, our memories contained a fullness of his total person.  I began to feel so much joy from the knowledge that he continued to mature and didn’t stay static–even though in my mind he remained a young father.  That joy overflowed through my being as I realized we all have the opportunity to change.  No season of our lives, no event in our lives, no person in our lives has to define our identity.  We can grow.  We can change.  We can become our best selves.  In my belief system, we need the presence of God and the Holy Spirit to develop that identity and constantly revise our thinking to become more like Christ.  We need God to remind us what His image looks like and that all of us carry His imprint. I appreciate the reminder to once again celebrate the people we once were, the people we are now, and the people God has yet to reveal in us.

I grieve my mom’s loss of a friend, his wife’s loss of her beloved husband, his children’s loss of their honored father, his community’s loss of his wisdom and generous spirit.  I rejoice that he now stands with the cloud of witnesses, having run his race well.  I pray we can all live our lives in similar fashion–with integrity, humility, wonder, and reverence–leaving a legacy worthy of celebration!

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

 

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Trees, Life and Death Choices … Oh, My Head!

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‘The Eternal God planted a garden in the east in Eden—a place of utter delight—and placed the man whom He had sculpted there.  In this garden, He made the ground pregnant with life—bursting forth with nourishing food and luxuriant beauty. He created trees, and in the center of this garden of delights stood the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil … God speaking: Eat freely from any and all trees in the garden; I only require that you abstain from eating the fruit of one tree—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Beware: the day you eat the fruit of this tree, you will certainly die’ –Genesis 2:8-9, 16-17.

Several times in the Bible we are encouraged to choose ‘life.’   In Genesis, we have the conundrum of the ages:  tree of life vs. tree of knowledge of good and evil.  But what did God mean when He gave us that choice?  I’ve mulled over this mystery through the years without a satisfactory conclusion.  When a friend opined that our minds are the key to understanding the Bible, and the Bible is the only reliable source for living–over experience, intuition, and traditions–I balked, cringed, and threw up a little in my mouth….  So, I decided I needed to spend some intensive time pondering in my spirit, soul, and … yes … mind … as to why I reacted so strongly to a very common thought in Protestant circles since the Enlightenment era.

First, I have to emphasize that I respect our ability to think rationally and dissect arguments logically–even when it comes to spirituality.  I come from a highly educated family that has valued education for at least 150 years.  I also respect the Bible and the wisdom it contains in learning to live out the heart of God.  I’ve studied it my entire life.  However, I learned long ago that our rational minds have limitations.  I believe in living a more integrated way with ‘checks and balances.’  When we elevate or compartmentalize the mind, we devalue intuitive knowledge and experience.  When we elevate and isolate the Bible–asking it to contain historical and scientific facts, moral and rigid conduct codes, societal and religious blueprints–we risk narrowly defining what ‘biblical’ means and putting God in a nicely ordered box.

So, when we look at the Garden of Eden in Genesis and hear God’s command to not eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because we ‘will certainly die,’ what does that really mean?  What is the difference between the two trees?  One offers life and one offers death.  We’re told in 2 Corinthians 3 that the Spirit gives life, but the letter of the law kills.  Do you see what we’ve missed?  I have heard sermons about ‘the spirit of the law.’  The verse doesn’t talk about the ‘spirit of the law’ at all–but refers to God’s Holy Spirit.  Could it be that God wanted us to forsake a rules-based system of justice in favor of a relational-based way of living?  Could it be that our minds need transforming to a more childlike development because children are more accepting, more intuitive–more like God’s kingdom?  When we use our brains to figure out the formula of someone’s spirituality, aren’t we missing the point?  Isn’t the point relationship with God–a relationship that God desires and initiates?  A relationship that Jesus embodied?

The vast majority of the books of the Bible record people’s experiences with God.  To devalue spiritual experience in favor of rational thought baffles me.  I believe Jesus encouraged all of us to integrate experience, reason, scripture, church traditions with the Holy Spirit so that we can finally celebrate unity with one another.  We may have differing perspectives on Bible passages; however, we need to allow other views to renew our minds like a breath of fresh air.  When we fight against another’s thought of how to interpret the Bible, or look to the Bible as a rule-book or owner’s manual for living, are we not eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil … and choosing death over life … for ourselves … and for others?  The fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil assumes there is only one logical/rational way to interpret the library we call the Bible.  The tree of life beckons us into a messy, intangibly real relationship with an infinite and unlimited God!

So how do we eat from the tree of life?

  • We take the log out of our own eyes before removing the speck from another’s eye.  Jesus encourages us to hold ourselves accountable for our own actions without pointing the finger at others.  I don’t get to tell anyone–especially not an entire group of people–how God expects them to live–especially when the standards/rules are different than the standards/rules for myself.  I’m not the one who has to live with the consequences of those decisions, so I don’t get to force them on anyone.  That’s grace!
  • We constantly evaluate whether we are living out rules and regulations of behavior. Do we believe our worth to God is based on our choices? Do we believe that we deserve grace; but others deserve judgement? We must allow our minds to be transformed and renewed into a childlike state so that our whole being can integrate with the Holy Spirit. That’s grace!
  • We walk alongside.  Offer companionship for the journey.  Offer kindnesses like food, water, safe shelter–physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually.  Earn your right to speak into others’ lives by proving you actually care for them and don’t want to change them to your way of thinking.  That’s grace!
  • We ask questions–sincere questions:  What is it like for you to hear…?  Why do you want to make this choice?  Is this decision giving you life?  Do you feel God smiling over you?  Whatever the answer, it’s their life.  If the decision turns out to be unhealthy, refrain from voicing an ‘I told you so’–just help them to get up and learn from that choice.  No shaming.  That’s grace!
  • We rejoice and ache equally for others’ successes and failures–even if our own theology is challenged.  If someone experiences a life-giving relationship that you don’t like, rejoice with him/her anyway.  If someone experiences a break-up of a relationship that you believed ungodly, weep with her/him anyway.  That’s grace!
  • We constantly guide toward life … always.  If the message you offer causes people to want to harm or kill themselves, it’s not fruit from the tree of life.  Only the tree of the knowledge of good and evil turns people away from Christ.  Let your gospel-good-news-great-joy message draw people to the life of Christ.  That’s grace!

I want to learn to live in one-ness with the Holy Spirit.  I want my whole being transformed into God’s presence!  I want to eat from the tree of life!  Here’s hoping more and more of us desire the joy and freedom of humble walking with God and each other!

That’s grace!

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 Christmas All Year

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Jesus speaking: ‘The thief approaches with malicious intent, looking to steal, slaughter, and destroy; I came to give life with joy and abundance’–John 10:10. 

I’m not sorry to say goodbye to 2014.  The last few years have seen a plethora of difficulties and life-altering events.  A friend of ours once told me that he believed I must be in God’s ‘special forces.’  He noted that I tended to do spiritual search-and-rescue missions for people’s souls and spirits.  And I don’t give up.  In some ways, he may be right.  I don’t fear hell on any of the levels I’ve experienced in my own life or the lives of others.  Oh, I ache, throw temper-tantrums, and have tremendous unbelief that I won’t heal from some of the falls I’ve taken; but I’m not afraid of what I may face in helping people see healing is possible for their hearts’ devastations.  I’ve seen depths of hell I know God never intended us to see.  But, in my own life and the lives of others, I’ve always had the confidence that God will show the way out of the maze to His light.

But, this year, I got bogged down in hell and lost my perspective of the abundant life Jesus promises us.  I became too comfortable living in the darkness searching for lost ones to embrace back into God’s presence.  And no one could find me … or maybe more truthfully–I wouldn’t let anyone know I couldn’t find my way out this time.  I’ve got the heart of a warrior when it comes to expressing who we are to God, and I go to great lengths to try and communicate God’s favor to all people.  When I think ‘church people’ are too theologically-focussed that they have begun bullying certain types of people, I want to go to war.

… And fight to the death.

… Because I know it won’t be my death….  

I’m learning that God can fight His own battles quite successfully and with significantly fewer casualties.  A gentle word … a kind act … is all I need to offer the war-effort.  No one can stand against those weapons.  And yet, no one’s spirit is crushed by them either.

So, as I reflect on 2014, I see how I viewed some of my brothers and sisters in Christ as an enemy whom I needed to destroy.  Living in the dark places with others will give that perspective.  I need to let Christ’s light shine on me again.  I need to live Christmas throughout the year.

What does that mean?

Christmas reminds us to look at the world as children–with awe, wonder, hope and expectancy.  I crave the world of childhood’s dreams, possibilities and unbridled joy.  Jesus’ birth created quite the stir; but then, Mary and Joseph had to get on with the mundane years of child-rearing.  No stars, no shepherds worshipping, no wise men giving gifts every year, no angels harking and heralding.  Just dirty diapers, skinned knees, colds and flus, temper tantrums.  (Seriously, do you think Jesus never threw a temper tantrum at age 3 or 4?)  And yet, in the mundane living, the promise remained.  In Luke 2, we are told that Mary pondered and treasured all the memories of Jesus’ birth.  I want to ponder and treasure all the memories I have of God’s presence–even when life is dull.

So for 2015, I want God to restore joy.  I want to gasp in awe at life, even if no angelic choir visits me.  I hope for a bright future, even if it takes years to grow up in me.  I choose to live expectantly, even if I continue to journey through the hellish mazes of people’s lives to offer healing and rest for their weary spirits.  I will remember to lift my eyes up more and let the warmth of Christ’s gaze envelop me, giving me strength and confidence to fight our real enemies of injustice, oppression, poverty–enemies that silence voices and create impossible standards and expectations of living.

May we all experience the joyous abundance of Christ’s presence in our lives in 2015!

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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Good News! Great Joy! For EVERYONE!

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“Suddenly a messenger of the Lord stood in front of them, and the darkness was replaced by a glorious light—the shining light of God’s glory. They were terrified!  

Messenger: ‘Don’t be afraid! Listen! I bring good news, news of great joy, news that will affect all people everywhere. Today, in the city of David, a Liberator has been born for you! He is the promised Anointed One, the Supreme Authority! You will know you have found Him when you see a baby, wrapped in a blanket, lying in a feeding trough.'”–Luke 2:9-12 (The Voice version)

I can almost hear the urgency in the angel’s voice trying to calm the shock the shepherds experienced.  The message God sent the angel to convey to the shepherds would change the way mankind related to God.  Looking through the Old Testament, man seemed to filter life events, natural disasters, outcomes of wars through a lens of a wrathful God … a God who just waited for mankind to mess up so that He could unleash destruction on every infraction … a God who enjoys setting us up for failure.  Even though that interpretation of God is misleading when we carefully read the prophets and many of the stories where God expresses His love of mankind and desire for relationship with us.  So, as the birth of Jesus unfolds, God sends a messenger so that mankind cannot miss His heart for us:

GREAT NEWS!

GREAT JOY!

GOD IS FOR US!  GOD WANTS TO SET US UP FOR SUCCESS!

‘Don’t be afraid!’ The angel declares.  Because up until that point, God terrified people.  I think most of us continue to wait for the other shoe to drop with God.  We know we can’t live up to His standards and hope He won’t notice us.  We just need to keep our heads down.  But, the angel comes and lifts up our heads to see Someone who is all smiles, warmth and delight.  Someone who wants to show us how to aim for a higher goal than ‘just don’t mess up.’  Someone who will teach us how to live freely, without shame, without fear–how to be our true selves without the false protection of socially acceptable personas.  Someone who is accessible and not so intimidating that we try to hide from Him.  Someone who beckons us to His presence.

Someone who is … a baby?

God amazes me in all of His eternally surprising ways.  Who else would have thought that taking on the form of a human was a good idea to show Himself to the world?  And not just human-form, but actually starting from the beginning of human life.  Choosing to be totally human.  Experiencing life as we experience it.  Yet showing us in that humanity a fuller way to live.

A way to access the image of God that we bear.

A way to intertwine the divine with the created.

A way to live in humility (not humiliation) and without shame.

Wow!  That is good news!  That should well up within us great joy!  Everyone gets access to God.  The angels told the shepherds that God wants everyone to succeed.  Shepherds, who had a low rank in society.  Telling the lowly of this awe-inspiring plan makes my heart pound in expectancy because God … once again … levels the playing field by entrusting the unveiling of His glorious plan to the least likely members of society.  The thought leaves me breathless.

So, as we prepare for Christmas this week, may we all experience the pulse-quickening anticipation of God’s favor in our lives.  Embrace the good news with great joy that God liberates us to succeed in relationships … in loving God … in loving ourselves … in loving others!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

 

 

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Angelic Hosts Proclaim

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“At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:
‘Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women on earth who please him'” –Luke 2:13-14.
 

The heavenly host singing is my daughter’s favorite part of  the story of Jesus’ birth.  I imagine what the shepherds may have seen.  Did it appear that the stars all came to life?  Did angels materialize?  Did their song sound like Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus?  I imagine the whole incident taking moments but seeming like hours.  I imagine breathlessness and hyperventilations as the shepherds gasped in awe, reverence … and fear.  Often, when angels appear in the Bible, the first words out of their mouths are, ‘Fear not.’  Often, I have put myself in the place of the person receiving an angelic visitor, and I doubt seriously that being told not to fear would calm my heart beating out of my chest.

We find angel figurines everywhere in Christmas decorations.  There’s a house not too far from mine that goes over-the-top decorating with nativity scenes, ‘Keep Christ in Christmas’ banners, and angels galore.  Lighted angels ‘flying’ on every fence post.  Statues of bigger-than-life angels.  Angels ‘keeping watch’ over manger scenes.  Angels trumpeting.  Angels harping.  Angels … angels … everywhere.

It’s ridiculous in it’s gaudy, tacky, in-your-face-Jesus-is-the-reason-for-the-season showmanship.  After seeing it every year (and every year, the owners add to the display–making it so much more than the last year’s display), I feel the need to go home and watch A Charlie Brown Christmas because I need Linus in his simplicity to remind me what Christmas is truly about.  I love to hear the Peanuts crew sing Hark! The Herald Angels Sing in childlike purity.  Because with all the grandiosity of a heavenly host, a baby was born in a lowly, smelly, dirty stable.  Only heaven understood the royalty of Jesus’ birth.  Because only heaven recognized their king despite the humble setting.  The angels saw no shame in the feeding trough.  They saw only God.  The angels saw no shame in this poor, unwed mother.  They only saw one upon whom God rested His favor.

Makes me wonder what the angels see in the events of our lives that we find shameful.

What does Jesus’ birth mean to you?  To us?  I see in His birth a blending of lowly (shepherds) and mighty (wise men).  A blending of the irrelevant (shepherds) and the learned (wise men).  A blending of the chosen (the shepherds were Jewish) and the pagan (wise men were not Jewish).  A blending of the holy people of God (shepherds) and the secular people forsaken by God (wise men, because they weren’t ‘chosen’ in the Jewish sense).  I see God giving honor to unexpected guests.  He invited the most unlikely people to weave into His story of redemption.  He used what the Jews would have considered foolish to herald His coming–confounding their logical wisdom.  I see God leveling the playing field by not showing a bias of whom He invited.

A heavenly host heralded the shepherds to Jesus. A sign in the heavens led the wise men to Jesus. Do we look up enough to see what lowly, overlooked, insignificant person or circumstance might invite us to Jesus? God issued an invitation those shepherds would never forget–one that compelled them to go see a baby in a feeding trough and worship there.  Another heavenly invitation issued to wise men in Eastern lands that compelled them to give their wealth to a humble carpenter, his wife and child–and they worshipped there.

As we reflect on who Christ is, what He promoted, whom He honors, may we hear an angelic host invite us into the life He offers in abundance.

And may we see and experience God in the most humble of places … and worship there.

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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Using All The Crayons

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‘God has no favorites’–Romans 2:11.
‘Masters, hear this: act in kind to your slaves. Stop terrorizing and threatening them. Don’t forget that you have a Master in heaven who does not take sides or pick favorites’–Ephesians 6:9.
Peter speaking: ‘It is clear to me now that God plays no favorites, that God accepts every person whatever his or her culture or ethnic background, that God welcomes all who revere Him and do right’–Acts 10:34-35.
‘My brothers and sisters, I know you’ve heard this before, but stop playing favorites! Do not try to blend the genuine faith of our glorious Lord Jesus, the Anointed One, with your silly pretentiousness’–James 2:1.

“I don’t see color.  I see people.”  That’s what we’re told is the correct way to speak and think.

This post is not a judgement on police, Ferguson, Michael Brown or any other headline of how the legal system fails people of color.  I know precious little about how the legal system works in these cases, or what evidence juries hear and how attorneys spin facts and opinion.  However, as a country, we have to start listening to each other.  White people in particular need to stop trying to ‘fix’ or dismiss these situations, and we need to learn to listen to the reality that people of color live.

Without defensiveness.

With complete humility.

Admitting our shame.

Repenting of our inaction.

As a white female, I feel ashamed to bring up race relations with people of color … which I’m not supposed to acknowledge.  I know I come from a place of societal privilege; and the view I enjoy from farther up the heap gives me a comfortable perspective.  I rarely think about the people I may sit upon who afford me that view.  I read a commentary this week where a panel of 10 black mothers spoke honestly and openly to a full auditorium about the reality of how they have to raise their sons.   It’s not enough for them to teach their children to respect authority, be kind to others and work hard.  No.  They have to teach their children how to stay alive by taking extra precautions because of the color of their skin.

“I get tired of hearing all the whining about how tough their lives are.  Slavery was abolished over a hundred years ago.  They have civil rights.  Their lives are better.”  I hear these statements all the time.  I’ve probably made at least one of them in my lifetime.  I remember living in Alabama where the South has found ways to get around civil rights laws.  Exorbitantly priced private schools that offer ‘scholarships’ to acceptable families (white) keep black families from affording a better education for their children.  Some towns and neighborhoods won’t publicly list homes for sale–you find out by word of mouth who wants to sell a house–so that ‘certain elements’ can’t move into the neighborhood and drive housing prices down.  My husband and I lost over $20,000 in the sale of our home because black families had started moving into the neighborhood, making our neighborhood ‘mixed.’  We lost that money because of the color of someone’s skin.  Not because of anyone’s quality of character.  Not because drug dealers moved into the homes.  Not because crime increased and houses fell into disrepair.  Although, I would have moved out of the neighborhood if the military hadn’t transferred us to Colorado because of the white family that moved next door–sandwiching their boat between our houses, parking their truck in their front lawn, and not controlling their dog that would attack us when we tried to enter our house (it even ‘treed’ my husband Christmas morning when he went out to retrieve a gift hidden in our car).  In Arizona, some friends moved into a predominantly hispanic neighborhood.  They would not allow their sons to associate with the neighbors because the neighbors might be drug dealers, and at the very least, couldn’t be good influences with the music and gatherings they had.  Our friends found an acceptable (white) neighborhood less than a year later.  Where their son experimented with drugs and other frowned-upon activities….

*Sigh*

Yes, racism and prejudice are alive and well all over our country.  Which is the first admission we need to make.  We have to stop pretending tolerance of others ‘not like us.’  We are not tolerant.  We are racist and prejudiced.  Toward people of different colored skin.  Toward people of different colored sexual orientations.  Toward people of different colored genders.  Toward people of different colored socioeconomic backgrounds.  Toward people of different colored physical, mental and emotional capabilities.

I remember the part of the start of each elementary school year that excited me the most was opening the new crayon box.  If you were lucky enough to have the 64 color box with the built-in sharpener, whoa!  You just became popular!  Everyone wanted to use ‘Burnt Sienna’, ‘Orchid’, ‘Melon’, ‘Raw Umber.’  ‘White’ rarely got used–unless we were trying to make clouds or colors more watercolor-y.  The more colors we had available meant our imaginations could take over the picture we created.  Sometimes, we would take 5 or 6 colors and swoosh them just to see how they blended.  Glorious times!

When did we start celebrating using only a few colors in the crayon box?  Isn’t it time to remember childhood and celebrate all the colors around us?  Celebrate how the different colors create nuances and depth to our lives’ pictures.  Primary colors set a great foundation to outline a concept; but we need all of the crayons in the box to flesh out impressions to make the image real.  God made man in His image.  God’s image exists with breathing, multi-dimensional, sentient life.  So, how do we begin to take ownership of how we contribute to the inequalities in our nation?

  • Take some time in the last weeks of 2014 to observe your own prejudices.
  • Recognize them.  What is the basis for them?
  • Analyze them.  Why do you have them?
  • Then find people you normally would judge and observe the image of God in them.
  • Really listen to their experiences and what has shaped them.
  • Celebrate that facet of the Eternal you may have never recognized.
  • Let the presence of God wash over you in holy awe and wonder as you see with His eyes the beauty of His world’s colors.

And maybe … just maybe … our world will become a little less ‘white privileged’ and a little more equally privileged.  We don’t need a pyramid ‘heap’ to have a great view.  When we all are on the same level and see eye-to-eye, that’s a position that should take our breath away.

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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Desert Life

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“Imagine the wilderness whooping for joy, the desert’s unbridled happiness with its spring flowers.  It will happen! The deserts will come alive with new growth budding and blooming, singing and celebrating with sheer delight. The glory of Lebanon’s cedars and the majesty of Carmel and Sharon will spill over to the deserts. The glory of the Eternal One will be on full display there, and they will revel in the majestic splendor of our God” –Isaiah 35:1-2 (The Voice).

I remember long-time family friends from India visiting our family in Phoenix when their son came to the United States for college.  We took their son up to the mountains to escape the summer heat before he had to register for classes.  As we drove along the highway through the Sonoran Desert, saguaros stood as sentries along the highway, and prickly pears looked withered in the scorching heat.  Suddenly, Dev laughed out loud.  He said, “You call this a desert?!  There’s so much life!”  In his deserts, plants did not grow.  There was only sand.  Miles and miles of hot sand.  One of India’s deserts is called Marusthali, which means Land of the Dead.

Perspective.

Just as I focussed on how hot and miserable desert living felt growing up, I have focussed on how miserable my spirit has felt this year.  I have forgotten to acknowledge all the life growing in and around me–albeit prickly and somewhat withered.  However, just as the saguaros house the cactus wrens and keep them safe and the prickly pears bear fruit that makes subtle jelly particular to desert palates, so my spirit houses life and nutrients that I have taken for granted.

Thanksgiving.  It’s all about food, family and friends.  My favorite holiday.  I love gathering people around.  When people enjoy my food and are happy, I feel fulfilled.  My parents and brother made the trek to Colorado again this year.  Laughter and chatter filled my kitchen as everyone helped chop, mince, season, stir and mash our way into a turkey feast!  I allowed myself to sink into the enveloping warmth of familial ties.  I remembered the joy of togetherness.

We took a drive up to a roadside attraction, Bishop’s Castle.  During the drive through the mountains and small towns, my parents and brother basked delightedly in the unfolding landscape.  I began to see my world through their desert eyes.  Leafless aspens, mountains breaking the horizon, snow patches among the evergreens.  Yes, beauty encompasses me all around my life.  I remembered how I felt when we first moved here.  Wonder and awe awakened in my heart.  I remembered the joy of creation.

And I began to remember the beauty of the desert after a spring storm.  The flowering cacti, the soothing smell of washed-away-dustiness, the chirping of the crickets and desert birds.  Yes, even in the desert, beauty and life coexist with the painfully sharp cacti needles and parched-ness.  Living with the desert in my bones and the freshness of the mountain life in my present, I can live with the paradox within my soul.  And I can exclaim with the gratitude of hopeful longing and cautious expectation, “There is so much life here!” 

And I begin to remember God smiling.

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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Poverty of Privilege

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You thrill me, Lord, with all you have done for me!
I sing for joy because of what you have done.
O Lord, what great works you do!
And how deep are your thoughts.
–Psalm 92:4-5 (New Living Translation)

Thanksgiving.  A time of food.  A time of family.  A time of celebrating.  I haven’t felt much like celebrating this year.  I’ve lost sight of the multitude of blessings that my life holds, and I’ve grown cynical and skeptical in this wonder-filled life.  So this week, and throughout the rest of the year, I want to remember the joy and anticipation of giving.  I want to remember the goodness of God.

When I think of the poverty that surrounds me, I realize just how closed my heart has become.  Instead of my heart breaking for those who live in want, I find myself judging them …. Why do they have smart phones?  Why do they have cable?  Why don’t they act more humble?  Someone should teach them about budgeting and finances so they don’t always ask for handouts.  Yeah, it’s ugly in my heart.  I begin to see where the true poverty lies.  Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Aware of my heart’s poverty, I am humbled and see physically poor people the way I believe God sees them–with kindness, compassion, mercy, grace.  I begin to see the kingdom of heaven open before me and broaden my perspective.  If someone is hungry, it’s not kind to judge hard-heartedly how they spent their money.  If someone can’t pay the heating bill, it’s not compassionate to take that moment to explain how to set financial priorities and goals. Or worse.  To think they deserve the lesson of hunger or coldness.  My heart grows a little colder when I look at people in the shadow of prejudice and privilege.  And yes, I hear the voices telling me that we must live in balance.  We can’t just fix every person’s problems.  They need to learn.  Don’t forget ‘tough love.’  All of that is true; however, in order for my heart to see and experience God in this season, I need to err on the side of empathy and humility.

So, this week, I’m humbled that I believe my blessings are deserved and another’s depravity is their own making.  In breaking that shameful thinking, I chose to do some random, anonymous acts of kindness.  I gave when I thought someone was undeserving.  I gave when I didn’t want to sacrifice.  I gave when I wanted to turn the other way.  Not all my giving was financial.  I gave time, patience, and empathy too–never letting on how poor I felt to offer anything.  I began to see a different view from the miserly perspective that held my heart for so long this year.  I began to see hope … wonder … God.

I wish I could tell you that I feel all giddy with anticipation.  I don’t.  But, I see a flicker of joy coming.  Because in empathizing with the poverty around me, I see the goodness and faithfulness of God to whom I’ve devoted myself.  In offering companionship to a lonely person, I see the relationships that I enjoy with my children and husband.  In giving a few dollars to a family so they can celebrate Thanksgiving, I see God’s provision around my own table.

How have I wanted others to treat me while in the throws of my angst?  Have I wanted instruction?  Have I welcomed advice?  Honestly, only from those who first treated me with compassion and tenderness.  I thank God for those people.  May we all begin to treat others with the grace and mercy we, ourselves, wish others would offer us.  The more we do, the more we understand God expresses great works and deep thoughts through us–we get to be the vessel of the Lord’s work in this world!  I encourage each of us to look for ways to rejoice in God through the rest of the year–whether by giving or allowing someone to give in our lives.  If we begin to live with this perspective, we will express a life of thankfulness!

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

 
 
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Living To Tell The Tale

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

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

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

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

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

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

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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The Art of Loving

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

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

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

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

I am not enough.

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

That I am condemned by God.

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

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

I am accepted.

But not just accepted, I am cherished.

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

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

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

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

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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Traditions and Memories

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Jesus speaking:  ‘I want you to know the delight I experience, to find ultimate satisfaction, which is why I am telling you all of this’ –John 15:11 (The Voice).

My youngest son (who is 19) and I have developed a Hallowe’en tradition (okay, it’s been twice) of carving pumpkins and watching Psych reruns.  We laugh and get ourselves all gooey with the pumpkin guts, I leave the guts and seeds out for the squirrels, and then we light candles in the carved pumpkins as we continue watching Psych and grab some dinner from the raided fridge.  Usually, my other two kids will join us for the marathon viewing, all the while making comments and laughing.  I love these times of togetherness and recognize how soon they may end with my daughter getting married in the Spring.

So many traditions seem to move on as we grow older.  Last year, my middle child said that Christmas Eve church services didn’t mean anything because it was all showmanship and performance.  He’s right (Don’t tell him.  He doesn’t need any encouragement); but I love the showmanship.  Does it have much (if anything) to do with Christ?  Not really.  But part of the celebration of the season for me are the 3 Cs–children, candles, and carols.  I need those three things for Christmas Eve to feel … well … Christmassy.  I love the twinkling lights and the festive decorations.  I love the cold noses, hot chocolates with peppermint sticks, and fragrant soups simmering on the stove.  Watching the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve, Miracle on 34th Street (1947 version) Thanksgiving evening, and The Bishop’s Wife while wrapping presents create warm feelings in my soul.  When he announced that he would go to Christmas Eve service as long as we admitted that it has nothing to do with Jesus, a piece of my joy died.

I know I should be able to dismiss his thoughts and just embrace what I love about traditions; but on the enneagram personality chart, I’m a 9–which means that I live vicariously through other identities.  It’s hard, not impossible, for me to enjoy events if the ones I love don’t enjoy them.  I have discovered how much I let go of treasured memories because others don’t find value in the traditions.  As an extrovert, I don’t enjoy doing things alone.  I will make myself go places alone; but experiencing events without family or friends to create a memory leaves me a little cold.  If I can’t feed off their joy and share my own with them, the fun never ignites in my heart.

Sunday church services have become reminders of my lost connections with childhood traditions.  By choice, I usually sit alone in a corner of the sanctuary.  Because of my empathetic nature, I tend to get distracted by the people around me and their emotions.  When I sit with Jud, I find it easier to filter other people’s heart burdens; but he has learned that smaller gatherings inspire his spirit and fill his soul.  We have both given each other freedom to experience Christ where we see His life exhibited.  He and I both are learning to express our needs without shame, and humbly accept our limitations.  However, in the freedom comes a sacrifice, and I haven’t learned how to experience joy in church traditions without company … yet.

So these days, I ponder how to fuel my joy without expecting help from others.  I haven’t figured out any answers to those musings yet; but my confidence is expanding that God will help me tap into His joy without sacrificing the relationship connections in traditions that I believe important.  Embracing the journey without knowing the destination doesn’t come naturally to me.  But, I do look forward to experiencing the delight of God along the way!  For now, I will light a candle in my pumpkin and watch It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown with whomever happens to wander in the room and content myself with enjoying today’s moment.

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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A Place To Belong

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‘Instead, by truth spoken in love, we are to grow in every way into Him—the Anointed One, the head. He joins and holds together the whole body with its ligaments providing the support needed so each part works to its proper design to form a healthy, growing, and mature body that builds itself up in love’ –Ephesians 4:15-16 (The Voice).

I don’t write poetry often (and I have no delusions of greatness for my poems), and rarely share my scribblings with anyone.  However, this week, I wrote down the feelings churning inside for several months.  My grandmother had one of my favorite childhood books at her house, Douglas Saves The Day.  In it, Douglas (a bunny) looked forward to a parade; but it poured and the parade got cancelled.  The book described Douglas’ angst as ‘all elbows and knees.‘  I recalled that line often this week as I thought about the angst I have in feeling like Jud and I don’t fit in anywhere.  I’d say my reflective mood encompasses my desire to see more unity (and less uniformity) in those of us who follow Jesus.

Home 

(by maggie jusell)
Am I wrong                                                                                                  
To want to find a place where I belong?
 
 To find a place
(In time and space)
Where they need me
And I need them
Where together
We show a perfect view of Him
In all His glory
 
A place of peace
A place of joy
Where all can play
And share the toys
He has given
Where we fully live
His story
 
Do I dare believe
That place exists for me?
For us?
A place where we gasp and smile
For all He’s done and continues to pile
Blessings in our lives
And wonder in our hearts
 
A place to play
Like a child again
And run without fear
Embracing the wild again
Laughter, tumbles
Giggles, jumbles
Grass stains, tangled parts
 
A place where I fit
Without trying to fit in
Without forcing and bruising
My puzzle piece into place
But finally breathing, ‘I’m home’
Because I found the poem 
I belong in 
 
A place imperfect
But together one
In Him
A place of games
And fun
Without loss or win
Because ‘together’ is what matters
 
Am I wrong
To want to find a place where we belong?
 

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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Amazing Grace

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“Grace is central in God’s action here, and it has nothing to do with deeds prescribed by the law. If it did, grace would not be grace” –Romans 11:6.

Grace.  Such a big word.  Super theological.  Filled with deep meaning.  And, I believe, deeply misunderstood.

As I’ve pondered grace throughout my life, my viewpoint has broadened.  I’ve had my seasons of ‘Grace is all well and good, but we need the law to keep people in line, too.’  At some point, my thinking changed to ‘Grace doesn’t negate the law.  Grace just means that God still accepts us as we disappoint Him.’  Around my 30s, I started believing, ‘Grace is where we start for salvation purposes; but we have more responsibility as we walk through sanctification.’  That thought morphed into ‘As Paul (and therefore ‘we’) walked through life, he started on a broad road that got narrower and narrower until he walked a tightrope at the end of his life.’  I looked forward to the tightrope … I’d practiced my whole life and had excellent balance!  I knew I could show others how it was done ….  *sigh*

In the last several years, I’ve needed a definition of grace that held less shame, less personal responsibility, more freedom … I looked for a definition that gave God less disapproval, more control, more power, more … well … God.  This year, I’ve focussed on shame, humility, freedom and how all of those relate to living as Jesus lived.  I’ve mentioned the idea that Jesus sets us free from shame–because the power of ‘sin’ is shaming us into living according to someone else’s rules.  In recent months, I’ve come to believe that grace frees us from the shame that belongs to hierarchical systems.

By definition, a hierarchy is a lot like a pyramid scheme.  Only a few reside at the top of the heap.  The rest of us only hope to clamber closer to them, and if (joy of joys) they take a tumble, we might replace them–if we’ve hidden our faults proven ourselves above reproach more than the next person.  I’ve heard many in the upper echelons of the power hierarchy say things like, ‘We can’t let grace get out of hand.  How will we maintain control?’  I’ve heard many songs, sayings, and bumper stickers proclaim, ‘Grace isn’t cheap.’  I say now, ‘No, it’s not cheap.  But it is free!  I wish we dealt with the problem of too much grace, too much liberty, too much tolerance in churches.  Instead, we have churches that want to harden grace and burden others with a limit to freedom.  We don’t want to let grace be grace in all its messy, complicated, freeing glory.  It’s harder to lead organizations if there aren’t set ground rules.  It’s harder to corral people if we can’t use shame as a tool when they cross lines of decency.  It’s a lot easier to pull out the rule book than to live in relationship with people and allow them to learn at their own pace from mistakes made.

A friend of mine went through a messy divorce years ago.  Because her self-image took a beating during her marriage to an abusive husband, she kinda went overboard on exercise, provocative actions and wearing revealing clothing to get attention from men.  She relished the ‘freedom’ she experienced after such a repressive life.  She needed to let her pendulum swing from one extreme to another until she could find balance.  I offered challenging questions to her, trying to help her reflect on how healthy her life choices were for herself and her daughters.  Often, she received the questions I posed and changed a decision.  Often, she went ahead with her plans and suffered some consequences.  Many people judged her appearance.  Many friends walked out on her.  Few bothered to understand her motives and what needed healing in her heart.  Fewer trusted that God would finish her story and would reveal more of Himself to her through offering her His grace as she stumbled along the path of emotional healing.  She found balance.  Not overnight.  Not without pain.  But, she found balance in God.  She learned from His humility and grace.  Now, years later, those earlier times have shaped her heart with empathy and compassion toward others who stumble in their own soul’s darkness.  She offers her light that God ignited in her to help them see Him welcoming them to a smoother, well-lighted path.

I believe that as we learn to rest in the fullness of God’s grace, we become humble.  As we become humble, we offer grace to others in their lives.  We want to live compassionately, gently cherishing the journey of another’s soul.  Because we no longer base the success or failure of our own lives on accomplishments or good/bad behavior, we no longer try to make ourselves look holy based on shaming another person … and clambering to the top of the heap just seems like so much work.  So, we content ourselves with being just like everyone else–a blend of mature and immature attitudes, altruistic and selfish actions, and changing and unchanged beliefs.  Instead of anxiously walking a tightrope fearing someone may notice if we fall, we’ve learned to skip along with skinned elbows, hands and knees on a path filled with uneven spots.  And we stop with a smile to help those who have fallen.  Because if we didn’t, grace would not be grace.

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

 

 

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Old Habits Die Hard

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“Like a dog who goes back to his own vomit, so is a fool who always returns to his foolishness.  Have you seen a person who is wise in his own sight?  Know that there is more hope for a fool than for him” –Proverbs 26:11-12.

My daughter and I just finished a 24-day cleanse/challenge.  My nutritionist doesn’t like to call it just a cleanse, because many ‘cleanses’ are unhealthy and focus on starvation.  We could eat well–just not processed foods, gluten or dairy (but we could have eggs and plain Greek yogurt with fresh fruit).  Within 12 hours of beginning, I texted my nutritionist and exclaimed, “I MISS CHEESE!  This doesn’t bode well for me for the next 23 days, does it?”  *sigh*

I actually ended up enjoying the process.  Challenge drives me and motivates me.  To say that I’m competitive understates my inner drive.  When I played tennis in high school, I used to go out in the Phoenix summers and practice serves … at noon … when no one was on the courts … because it was 115º.  If I started losing in a match during the season, I’d deny myself water at the changeovers.  When my body would start screaming from near-dehydration, I’d converse with myself, “You thirsty?  Try winning a game.”  I’d often come back to win.  Bonus points that it freaked out my opponents most of the time.

So, this week, the competition healthy cleanse ended.  And I won … And I feel the benefits in my gut.  I stayed committed to the regulations.  I felt better than I have in years (which makes me think that I have at least some kind of gluten-sensitivity).  I swore I would continue the habits.  Until the night after the cleanse, the thought of more hummus or salmon made me a little ill, and I remembered that I could have a grilled turkey and swiss sandwich and creamy tomato soup.  Oh, it was delicious!  But, I felt the effects in my digestion and renewed my intention to maintain some of the cleanse habits.  Until the next night.  This time, white rice sushi paired with milk chocolate chips sprinkled in a tangerine yogurt (technically, it was Greek yogurt, but looking at the sugar content on the label didn’t help make it healthy).  Then, my nutritionist texted me to schedule a follow-up appointment so I don’t lose momentum.  I haven’t told her yet about my ‘iron-will’ since the cleanse….  Today, my husband took my daughter and I out to celebrate the end of the restrictions.  We had butter, biscuits, linguine, scampi and fried shrimp (yes, on one plate … per person … don’t judge me!).  At least I learned to eat only about half of what the restaurant served us.  The rest, I packaged up and brought home for my son to snack on.  He still has a metabolism.

So, now I’m learning that old habits really do die hard.  And I really do need a support system.  And a plan to keep me on track.  My iron-will isn’t so strong without competition.

Spiritually, we need cleanses, too.  Times to assess what’s really going on inside of us; and if there are some belief systems that worked in the past, but have become unhealthy over time.  We need to work on our souls, not just our bodies, for our lives to work well with others.  I find more and more I need to evaluate how long-held doctrines affect my spirit.  Am I exhausted because I’ve too long held certain beliefs that no longer offer my spirit and soul good nutrition?  Have I lost a sense of joy and wonder because what used to satisfy my desires, my more mature system has outgrown and my needs have changed?  We need a plan for our spirit to maintain a healthy pace of growth.  We should look for a support system that will encourage us to process beliefs–and adapt or change any beliefs necessary to draw us closer to God.

Adjusting our way of handling our spirituality takes humility to admit that we can’t make those shifts on our own.  We need each other to offer grace, perspective, and support–because we will flounder, at times.  We can’t treat living like a competition where we have to ‘beat out’ someone else in the race.  Instead, we can look at life as a challenge that we train for, and try to progress beyond our last effort.  If we surround ourselves with people who have the humility to admit that they, too, need us to help them, then we can all succeed.

For now, I will contemplate how my physical and spiritual systems react to situations and sustenances; and ask for help in assessing what needs to change in me to make my whole self healthier.

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

 

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Changing Seasons–Autumn

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‘For everything that happens in life—there is a season, a right time for everything under heaven’ –Ecclesiastes 3:1.

I love autumn.  Growing up in Phoenix, autumn meant a respite from the sweltering 110º+ summer heat.  Autumn meant the beginning of gentle, warm 90º to 100º breezes during the day and breathable coolness after sunset.  It meant trips up north to Oak Creek Canyon and buying apples from the roadside vendors.  I can still smell and taste the sweetness of the crisp mountain apples that we’d eat in Coconino National Forest with our tuna sandwiches that Mama had packed.

Living in Colorado now, I love seeing the leaves change on the aspen trees and getting apples and pumpkins from The Happy Apple Farm.  Last year, my 6′ 5″ 17-year-old son asked me if we could carve pumpkins.  I found the biggest pumpkins available.  The Saturday we chose to carve happened to bring in a cold front.  Our fingers froze as we gutted the giant gourds … and I wouldn’t have changed a thing!  Probably one of the last times (if not the last) I will make that memory with one of my kids.

Autumn is a time of ending.  Not quite the finality of winter.  More of a last burst of life and color before things go dormant for another season.  We have many autumns in our lives, because we have many new beginnings as we grow and mature.  We need autumnal times to shed our old selves and celebrate the dying vivid colors of who-we-once-were.  Because who-we-once-were gives birth and creates the nutrients for our new growth to come.  I feel God bringing on that change for me.  Learning to shed my previous skin.  Learning to embrace listening to the heart of God and not having to rationalize every thought and feeling for it to be valid.  Learning to live with all the paradoxes and complexities of life.  Like with trees in autumn, I feel the life-force inside me drawing me inward for a season.

Not gonna lie.  I don’t really embrace these seasons.  As an extrovert, I crave living out loud–REALLY LOUD!  But, as I age, I’m beginning to understand the benefits of quietness and contemplation–especially when voicing my thoughts creates misunderstandings.  Thankfully, I can offer apologies sincerely and quickly.  I’ve had lots of practice (see my comment above about living out REALLY loud!).  I wish more of us would learn to apologize sincerely, humbly (and not just the ‘I’m sorry if you were offended’ style).  Not apologizing for our perspectives, but taking responsibility for how we communicate those views.  I wish more of us could be honest when something someone says or does hurts us.  The world would be a kinder place, wouldn’t it?  If we could live honestly with each other, without shame or shaming–not whining or complaining or accusing–but in gentle ownership of how our hearts process interactions.  If we could receive another’s heartfelt vulnerability and give that person dignity, honor and respect by validating what caused him/her to hear our words or actions in a certain way.

Yes, I know what I describe sounds a lot like Mr. Rogers Neighborhood or Sesame Street.  I long for community like we saw on those shows.  We should all cherish the idea that creating places with those ideals is within our grasp.  Maybe we all need to have an autumnal season to allow all that we’ve been a chance to become something bigger, broader, wiser.

For now, I will watch the aspen leaves change to translucent golden and ponder what changes God is bringing to my soul.

Mmmmm.  And I may bake some apple cake.

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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Growing Up Into Childhood

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

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

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

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

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

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

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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Contributing Factors and Solutions

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Jesus speaking:  “‘So I give you a new command: Love each other deeply and fully. Remember the ways that I have loved you, and demonstrate your love for others in those same ways.  Everyone will know you as My followers if you demonstrate your love to others'” –John 13:34-35 (The Voice translation).

Boko Haram.  ISIS.  Syria.  Gaza.  Russia vs. Ukraine.  Ferguson.  Our world looks bleak.

Boko Haram continues to kill and kidnap people in African villages with no apparent end to their terror.  More than 200 Nigerian girls remain missing.  Some of the original 276 kidnapped girls have died.  Some, the abductors reportedly have married off.  After their abduction in May, hope for their release or rescue diminishes by the day.  How many of us continue to remember them?  Because no new activity in the story appears to happen, our news has moved on to more current stories.

The terror group, ISIS, has become more powerful than we imagined.  In America, we don’t believe that they can make good on their threats … yet … but adding them to the many disturbances in the Middle East certainly complicates our world.

President Putin and his bold attacks presumably to take over Ukraine border on insanity.  Especially when we remember it all started under the shadow of the Olympics.  Seriously?  The one time in 4 years when all the world’s countries celebrate camaraderie  and goodwill?  As your country hosted said athletic events?  That seemed like a good time for you to invade another country?

Ferguson, MO, and all it represents.  Sometimes I feel like I’m back in the 1960s.  Have the last 50 years of civil rights changed nothing in the hearts of our countrymen?  I have no idea about the legality of the matters in MO, TX, AZ (with the profiling of hispanic people) and all the other places that racial prejudice seems to influence the laws and courts.  But, I hope we can all agree that we can do better.

We must do better.  But the issues are so global, where do we start?

We start with ourselves.  We learn to grow up and act like adults, regardless of how anyone else acts.  We learn to forgive and show grace–not because anyone who slights us deserves it, but because we deserve to live without the baggage of bitterness.  We need to realize that we are not big enough to handle the world’s problems on our own … nor are we able to handle our own problems by ourselves.  Part of the problem in our world is our own arrogance.  Embracing humility and admitting that we don’t have the capacity as human beings to fix global terrorism and hatred without the help of God is a good first step.  In all of human history, we have not figured out how to live peaceably with other cultures.  Isn’t it time to confess that we don’t have it in us to figure it out?  But, maybe if we actually pray and contemplate the sacred teachings of God, we may feel more peace within ourselves–and if more and more people live peacefully with themselves, perhaps more and more of the world’s cultures will live at peace with each other.

We give up the ‘us vs. them’ mentalities.  Peace doesn’t happen because one side proves itself ‘right’ and the other side ‘wrong.’  Peace unveils itself when we concern ourselves more with understanding and less of jumping to conclusions about situations.  Few, if any of us, have enough information to pass judgment on any of the situations in the news.  The complexity within the borders of Israel transcend our western ideologies and theologies.  Yes, educate ourselves.  Yes, read the articles.  But, allow ourselves to read opposing viewpoints with an open mind and heart.  We may grow and mature in our understanding of all that is at stake.  We lack empathy in our world of right and wrong information.  We need the stories of real people to help us show compassion to all.

We do our homework. We research rumors and refuse to post inflammatory rhetoric that we have not confirmed. So much of what we get riled up about has little basis in fact. Educating ourselves and looking for multiple credible sources before passing misinformation on to others will go a long way in curbing revenge-seeking passions in our hearts and minds. Also, we must discuss more of world events and less of Kim Kardashian’s fashion. How many of us still carry a passion for the Nigerian girls who remain missing? How many of us sigh and turn the page looking for a nicer story than ISIS teaching children how to behead people? If we don’t insist on action at the global, governmental levels, how does our government of the people, by the people and for the people decide how to prioritize the atrocities taking place?

We look for solutions.  Most of us can’t go to the international conflict hotspots (and we have nothing to offer, if we could go); but we can go downtown to the homeless shelters, the soup kitchens, the domestic violence agencies, the animal shelters, the low-income schools, hospice care, the hospitals and volunteer our time and skills.  A smile, a kind word, offering hope to someone who sees only hopelessness in life goes a long way in changing our own attitudes toward people in the world, as well as those whom we help.  The leaders in those organizations need people who lighten their load.  We can give money to ministries and groups who have credibility to affect change within local and international circles.  A quick search on the internet lists thousands of reputable sources.  Believe that we can make a difference and change our world.  Accept that change may take years.  Celebrate the small victories–the children that are saved from sex-trafficking, the laws that equalize the rights of all, the countries that educate girls, the leaders who sacrifice so much to negotiate for peace.

Finally, we recognize that we can influence only one person at a time.  Global change starts with us and how we treat the person on the street, in the store, or driving in a car down the road.  Preaching to myself here.  I want peace to all the world’s problems; but I want everyone in my little corner of the world to cater to me.  How much more peaceful would I live if my neighbor didn’t practice drums, the person in the store didn’t stand in my way, the guy in the truck didn’t cut me off.  All of that brings us back to the beginning of this post.  We start with ourselves.  I start with me and my attitude toward others–even when I’m right and they are obviously wrong.  I take responsibility for how I contribute to the selfishness in the world.

We may or may not end terrorism in our world.  But, if we begin to implement some of the things listed in this post, maybe our world will become less scary and terror-focussed.  Bridges built between cultures start with humanizing the cultures … one face at a time.

I welcome comments!  Please remember to keep them respectful and constructive.

 

 

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Prisons and Pardons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fake Clothes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes.

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

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

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

 

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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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