Pains In Our Backsides

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Therefore, to keep me from becoming overly proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from the Adversary to pound away at me, so that I wouldn’t grow conceited. Three times I begged the Lord to take this thing away from me; but he told me, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is brought to perfection in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:7b-9a)

  • Yes, Donald Trump’s video sickens me.
  • No, I wasn’t okay with Bill Clinton’s behavior back-in-the-day.
  • Yes, Hillary Clinton is a flawed human being.
  • No, I won’t vote for Donald Trump.
  • Yes, Benghazi was horrifying.
  • No, I don’t believe Benghazi or the emails discredit Hillary Clinton.
  • Yes, I have substantial reasons for all of these statements.
  • No, I won’t write a blog about them.
  • Yes, I have read the same articles and have the same facts that others have.
  • No, there isn’t just one way to interpret that information.
  • Yes, I am thrilled to have a civil conversation with anyone about them.

As a matter of fact, I have had several conversations with friends on the-other-side-of-the-aisle from my leanings. And I learned things about them, and myself. And I have great respect for them and their interpretations of the facts in our current political mess.

But, sometimes, we just need a funny story that relates to the bigger picture:

The other day, I finally had a morning to sleep in after a month of travel and catching up after travel. My son had to work early, my husband had breakfast plans with a friend, and I would have a silent house that wouldn’t wake me.

Mmmmmm. Best. Laid. Plans.

As I enjoyed a dream devoid of politics, I felt a sharp pain in my backside.

And then again.

prick. prick. prick.

It became an unpleasant part of a dream that had started off as a party with friends, then became a horror movie scene where someone took a knife to me–in my backside.

Ssssslooooowly entering into the non-dream world, I realized there must be a needle or a pin in my bed. I felt around; but couldn’t find anything sticking in me, out of me, or on the sheets. I tried going back to sleep; but I kept feeling the needle pricking me.

Finally, sleep completely gone from my mind and body, I got up and looked around my bed. Something was moving; but my eyes hadn’t quite adjusted to ‘awake’ reality. Fading into focus, I saw the ugliest weirdest spider I’d ever seen!

THEN IT TOOK FLIGHT!

And I couldn’t see where it went!

I screamed!

To no one since everyone was gone. Thoughts flew fast and furious through my crisis-heightened logic:

I could make a 911 call because surely this was an emergency but maybe the more rational thing to do was to call my son and have him leave work to come rescue me because he works only 5 minutes from our house so he could be there before the monstrosity killed me and surely his boss would understand of course I had no idea where my husband was having breakfast but I could call him and he would rush to my defense because he’s gone 100mph before and surely that experience was in preparation for this very moment!

Then I came up for air.

Somewhere in all my panic, my eyes snapped into clear focus and I saw it on the wall.

Thank God!

It was only a wasp…

Yes, as my backside burned with the fire of fresh stinging, I breathed a sigh of relief.

It wasn’t a mutant spider.

It was a normal wasp.

**I felt the same relief long, long ago when I went to Mexico on a short mission’s trip. We had been told stories about the mutant roaches that grow to the size of small rodents … and were albino because they lived in the sewers … So, my mind was prepped when I saw the white eel-like creature slithering behind a pot. Not ashamed. I totally freaked. I begged my brain to let me pass out; but what if there were more on the floor?! I just stopped breathing and pointed. Someone said, ‘Oh, that’s just the rat that comes in at night, looking for food.’ I’d rather face a normal icky thing than a mutant creature. Normal icky may creep me out; but I don’t have nightmares about it.**

But back to the scheduled program…

Those of you who protect all living things, and who are vegans, may want to skip this next part…

I bravely killed the wasp.

Our election coming up is a little like that wasp. Irritating. Threatening. Painful. Fear-inducing. But, like my interaction with the wasp, our election process will come to an end.

We will go back to our business at hand.

We will have ample opportunities to complain about the next president.

We will see that America has problems that are too big for our government.

And we will have a choice to get involved in the healing of our country’s wounds, or let them fester like a bee stinger stuck in our backsides.

May God’s grace continue to be sufficient.

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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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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Mother’s Day: A Snapshot Of Reality

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My dear children, I feel the pains of birth upon me again, and I will continue in labor for you until the Anointed One is formed completely in you. –Galatians 4:19

If St. Paul can know what it’s like to birth and raise children from a spiritual standpoint, I think all of us can celebrate Mother’s Day without shame or regret.

Mother’s Day looks great in a greeting card.  But, real life rarely looks so functional and pretty.  A friend of mine and I privately came up with ‘honest’ Mother’s Day card sentiments.  Things like: “Happy Mother’s Day to my mom who taught me to feel so guilty in life.  My therapist thanks you!”  Or: “Thanks, Mom, for exemplifying a strong woman to me.  A woman of strong character and fashion sense.  It’s not every woman who can pull off a red flowered shower cap in a motel swimming pool.  My therapist thanks you!”

…DISCLAIMER…

NONE OF THE AFOREMENTIONED SENTIMENTS HAVE ANY BASIS IN MY OWN UPBRINGING.  

I LOVE YOU, MAMA!

And now, with my 3 adult (well, semi-adult) children, they give me some fodder for ‘honest’ sentiments.  My just-married daughter has multiple commitments today and my older son has finals that he has to study for, so I’m told we’ll celebrate later in the week.  But, my 19-year-old son will live in infamy for many years to come.  Here’s the conversation:

Son: I have to work on Mother’s Day.

Me: Seriously?!

Son: Yeah.  The restaurant expects a lot of people to come in with their moms to celebrate.

Me: REALLY? Huh! 

Son: (looks at me completely perplexed) Oh, did you want to do something?

*sigh*

Yes, Happy Mother’s Day to all who nurture, sacrifice, love, and give companionship to others.

I hope for those that feel the weight of this day, you will find comfort in this prayer I found online by Amy Young.  Often, churches overlook the many stories of the Bible’s women.  At least today, find yourself a hero in one of these women who understood whatever circumstances you walk in.  May you feel encouraged that God doesn’t overlook your story.

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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Non-Violence In A Violent World

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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 2:16-17

I am a violent person.

I have violent thoughts and violent dreams.  I tend to have homicidal sleep-walking occurrences.  Which is one of several reasons we don’t have firearms in the house….

I have a warrior’s spirit, which served me well when I played on the high school tennis team.  In Phoenix with 100° or higher weather, I would deny myself water if I started to lose.  I played mind games with my own body–which led to mind games with my opponents when they would see me pass up water breaks.  Out of desperation (or dehydration), my body would submit to my mind and begin to make un-returnable shots for survival.

While I have never fought anyone physically, I have destroyed many with my words. In the fight-or-flight psychology, I’m a fighter. I fight to win. I rarely back down. You want me in your corner, because I will go to the mat for those I love. And I almost always win. Almost always.  I’ve honed my injustice/hypocrisy radar to near perfection, and my craft in shaming a hypocrite are alarmingly sadistic.

And I enjoy it.

How did I get this way?  I ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Like everyone else, I chose the fruit that would put me in control of my own soul.  While some didn’t get the homicidal gene, even the ones who would prefer ‘flight’ over ‘fight’ have eaten of the tree that brings death to our souls.  Fleeing does not equate to a non-violent approach to life.  It just means that you may live in fear of being over-run by those of us who live homicidally … I mean … assertively ….

Over the last several months, I’ve thought about the world events that flood my newsfeed.  Boko Haram and ISIS still rear their ugly heads.  Israel/Palestine relations continue to devolve.  Ferguson and, most recently, Baltimore divide people’s passions.  In the midst of these discordant stories, I’ve felt torn in understanding the desire for justice (really, vengeance) and wanting to embrace a non-violent approach to conflicts.

How do we live out eating from the tree of life in the midst of so many who live by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?  Because the people I see in history that held to the tree of life philosophy were crucified, assassinated, martyred.  How many of us are willing to die, accept rejection or even exile from those we consider friends for what we value?  How easy compromise seems in keeping everyone happy!  Yet, that compromise brings a slow death.

Death of integrity.

Death of soul.

Death of innocence.

Death of hope of a better way of living.

What I see in Jesus, many of the Hebrew prophets, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi and all our peaceable heroes who died violently is an uncompromising spirit that embraced non-violence regardless of how others treated them.  They forsook the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil in favor of letting the fruit from the tree of life sustain them–even in their own physical death.  And the life they struggled to actualize for the world, blossomed and grew exponentially because they would rather die than see the world continue to divide over selfish pursuits of who-is-in-charge-of-everyone-else.  They sought unity over power-systems, human dignity over winning, equal-standing over hoarding–hoarding wealth, knowledge, opportunity.

Over the years, I’ve mellowed and am learning the grace of humility. I think it’s a life-long lesson; because when I sense injustice, I feel the fighter in me rising.  While most of my verbal assaults take place in my head these days, I still regret how easy it is for me to ‘slice-and-dice’ a person’s soul.  In recent years, I’ve seen firsthand how a less defensive mode can defuse a tense situation.  When I go on the offense, relationships suffer and tensions escalate.  When I take a moment to breathe and deny my primary desire to win, relationships grow and each person feels respected and esteemed.  How much more does this way of treating people play in world events?

Would we rather have a hothead with a knee-jerk reaction in charge?  Because that’s mainly who we’re putting in office.

But I digress….

How much do I practice that skill on myself?  If I train myself to use words against me, how will I learn to do the opposite with others?

And there’s a big part of the problem.  The more I destroy my own value, the less likely I am to see others as valuable.  If I view myself as created in the image of God, I would be less likely to destroy God’s image in someone else. The hope, then, is that if others can see themselves as the image of God, perhaps they will not be so quick to use their power to savagely sacrifice others.  But it all starts with recognizing the image of God within us and loving that image.  Until then, we will continue only to hope for non-violent resolutions while perpetuating the violent cycle.

I wish I had more answers; but then I would struggle even more with arrogance.  I know I only have a small piece of the puzzle.  Together, we need to share our ideas of how to live free and victorious while humbly helping those who remain trapped in shame and anger from the circumstances of their lives.

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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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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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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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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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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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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Members … And Everyone Else

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

 

 

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Growing Up Into Childhood

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

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

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

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

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

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

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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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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What’s Your Line?

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Jesus speaking: “‘Oh Martha, Martha, you are so anxious and concerned about a million details, but really, only one thing matters. Mary has chosen that one thing, and I won’t take it away from her'” –Luke 10:41-42 (The Voice).

This week, my almost-21-year-old son (his birthday is in a few days!) told me that his friends say I’m their favorite parent of all time because I did not ‘freak out’ over his getting his eyebrow pierced.  He’s not my first child to say this to me.  I have been the go-to parent for many activities.  My kids have never asked me not to attend one of their events (although I have refused many), and my daughter’s friends have suggested me as a designated driver (when they were too young to drive) for late night TP-ing pranks for the cross-country teams or to team events.  Since I have never been in the ‘cool kids’ group, it amuses me that the next generation thinks of my middle-aged self as a kindred spirit.  What separates me from other adults in their minds?  Am I better?  Oh, that’s just laughable.  Am I wiser?  I can bluff a good game, but I know it’s smoke and mirrors.  Am I prettier or more fashionable?  Yeah, no.  There’s a reason I don’t post my photo on my blog.  I think it’s that I remember what teen and young adult years were like.  I remember that all I really wanted was for someone to believe in me.  Someone to say, ‘You’re not crazy for wanting to follow a dream.’  Someone to tell me that the world won’t come to an end if I make a mistake or do something I would regret later.  Someone who would love me unconditionally and not let me face my consequences alone.  Someone who wouldn’t draw a line in the sand over ‘a million details.’

I wanted freedom with a safety net.

So, when my son told me that many of his friends and their parents think I’m an anomaly–the friends in awe of me, the parents thinking me crazy and too tolerant–I felt the need to offer a glimpse of what I have to offer.  In no way do I believe I have parenting figured out, nor do I believe that I’ve done the raising of my children ‘right.’  This post is not meant to shame, judge or condemn anyone.  Believe me, I have had many Psycho Mom Moments and have freaked out immaturely.  You may have another piece of the puzzle that I haven’t seen.  The point is that we stop criticizing each other and start playing on the same team!  Let’s work together to equip our children so that they will have a foundation to grow stronger and wiser in equipping their next generations.

So, here are some questions to ask yourself before you ‘freak out’:

  1. Is it life-threatening?  A piercing, a tattoo, a funky hair color or cut will not bring down civilization.  If they are 18 or older and don’t need your permission, be careful about withholding your blessing. I tend to *sigh* and roll my eyes.  My kids call me on this all the time–as they smile or chuckle.  Do you really want your line in the sand to be over something like hair? A young adult will process that thought to mean, If my mom freaked over a piercing, what will happen if I ______. We can squelch communication between us by our reactions to the little things.
  2. Is it immoral, or just embarrassing for you?  This one’s tough.  Some denominations have super-strict policies on personal modesty.  I cannot tell you what’s right for your household, only that I have researched and read all the Scriptures by myself and with others and have come to my own conclusions.  I invite you to do the same–setting aside the church party-line and really process what God is saying through those Scriptures.  Often, the choices of our young adults conflict with our own insecurities of what our friends, family and church leaders will think.  As a parent, my child should never carry the weight of my insecurity on their shoulders.
  3. Am I afraid of losing control over their lives?  You already have.  … (I’ll let that sink in for a moment) …  And if you feel that you have to resort to shaming or guilting them into compliance, you may have lost more than control over them–you may have lost them.  Recognize they are adults and will make some choices you would never dream of making.  You don’t get to live their lives anymore!  I would rather have a relationship and an open channel of dialogue with my children, than children who don’t ever want to be around me.  If you would rather prove to your children that your way is best, then realize that you may not have enjoyable family times.  You have to pick your battles–and every choice they make cannot be a battle.

Every year, my daughter has a Christmas party for the high school girls she mentors and several of her close friends.  They come over for a tree-trimming, homemade soup, Christmas movie evening.  Last year, a 15 year old opened a soda bottle and it exploded all over my kitchen counter and floor.  I looked over, laughed and got out towels to mop it all up.  All the girls helped, and the embarrassed girl was able to laugh … eventually.  One girl looked over at me like I was an alien.  She solemnly said, “My mom would not be laughing at this.”  It was soda!  Just a mess.

No one should have to live anxiously about making a mess.  Lighten up with each other! Lighten up with yourselves!

Have you figured out yet that this post isn’t just about parenting, but about how we treat others?  Do you recognize yourself in the parent or child role?  If we freak out over the smaller things in life, will we have credibility with the really intense things that come our way?  I’ve had hard conversations with teens and adults.  People tell me their dark secrets all the time because they say they know I will show them compassion.  I will hold them accountable, but I won’t make them confront anything alone.  If another person is involved, I offer to go with them to have the conversation.  Most of the time, I help them see the situations as a growth curve.  It may be life-altering, but no moment has to become your life identity.

If you must have a line in the sand, let it be over abusive ways, integrity issues, ignorance and prejudice.  Because we should freak out over character flaws that determine our world’s culture.

Certainly, we all need people to watch our backs and keep us from destroying ourselves and others.  I pray that you find your security in God so that you recognize when you or others truly need wise help.  

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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Living In Rest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Voices In The Heart

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“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” –Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)

Dear Weary One,

I know you have heard many things spoken against you and people you love in My name.  

Those words assault Me also.

Some people speaking those words love Me and desperately want to know that I am proud of them.  So they speak words that they think are Mine because others with authority in their lives have said they are My words.  I know those words hurt.  

They hurt Me also.

Hear My words.  I speak healing over you.  I speak grace over you.  I speak acceptance over you.  I speak love over you.

I speak the same words over them.

Does that shock you?  Offend you?  If it doesn’t, it should.  I came to bring unity and accessibility back to God.  For everyone.  Not just you.  You are not the only wounded one I see.  Remember, your words have also brought pain–sometimes unintentional … sometimes with great intention.  I spoke healing, grace and acceptance over you then, as I do with them now.

So learn from Me how I lived without shame before all the ones who tried to kill Me … how I live now.  Let Me remind you of all the exciting adventures we’ve experienced together.  Let Me give you a glimpse of the future as I see it.  Have you forgotten the breathtaking awe of walking alongside someone who didn’t know how much I love them?  Have you missed the joy of watching the light bulb go off in a person’s soul as we work together to show how life could be?  Remember all the times you wept and prayed and didn’t know if I saw what was happening?  Remember how you laughed when you realized I did see and accomplished what you thought impossible?  Remember and learn from our past encounters and take heart now … laugh now … because you must know I see now and am working now.

The other voices have grown strong in your mind.  You have exaggerated their power.  Come away with Me.  I will show you a place that silences them.  I never meant for you to fight their war.  I never meant for you to live on their terms.  I created you to live like a child–freely, joyfully … including anyone who would play.  

Don’t listen to the other voices.  Mine is the only one that matters.

I love you, My beloved–Jesus

Have you given your heart over to discouraging voices that want to engage you in a war you don’t feel equipped to fight?  Is God calling your heart to live like a child? How can you focus on the ones who want to play, and ignore the bullies on the playground?

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Figuring It Out

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[Jesus speaking,] “You don’t realize what I am doing, but you will understand later”–John 13:7.

As we journey through Lent and reflect on the final days of Jesus, I see how much the disciples didn’t get it.  I see how often I don’t get it.  I see how many ‘its’ there are in the course of our lives.  Some are ‘its and some are ‘ITs; but they are all events or relationships in our lives that we have to figure out.

I love that Jesus finally throws His disciples a bone and doesn’t ask them to ‘get it’ at the Last Supper.  So often in the Gospels, Jesus asks the disciples something that they have no clue on how to answer.  Not here at the end.  I love that He just flat out says that they don’t get it.  I also love the hope He throws them by promising that they will eventually get it.  What ‘it’ does He refer to?  His betrayal, suffering, death, resurrection and how they will carry on His teachings.  The next few hours promise to throw them all into confusion, retreat and panic.

Most of us have experienced what the disciples experienced during Passion Week leading to the cross and resurrection.  Most of us have had days (or at least hours) of blissful running-barefoot-through-a-meadow-of-wildflowers moments, only to come crashing into a brick wall wishing-you-could-die-or-at-least-enjoy-a-coma events or relationship stress.  What do we do with the confusion and panic of ‘it’?

We self-medicate–legally and illegally.

We isolate from others–physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually.

We create a false-story for others, and sometimes for ourselves, to believe.

Once the initial grip of shock releases, we may begin to look for solutions.  We say, ‘We can figure it out, if we just put our minds to it.’  Sometimes we can figure it out.  Those are usually the smaller ‘its.  The big ‘ITs rarely get figured out without help.

The disciples had each other to process through their ‘IT’ of lost expectations of political grandeur.  They hoped that Jesus would overthrow Caesar, end Roman rule, and they would hold significant positions with Jesus.  Ah, how lustrous power looks when daydreaming.  It’s a pretty dream.  But then we awaken only to find that things didn’t quite turn out the way they were supposed to in the dream.  The disciples had a traumatic awakening when their rabbi, their leader, didn’t receive quite the kudos they expected.  Their dream quickly turned into a nightmare.

Recently, Jud and I received some information that has us questioning how to live out certain relationships.  The feelings of betrayal, anger and primal vengeance, at times, consume me.  In the midst of processing through the havoc, I have prayed often, It wasn’t supposed to be like this.’ And in a perfect world, I am right.  However, we don’t live in a perfect world, and people sometimes act unbecomingly.  How do we regroup and live through the painful choices made by others that affect our lives?

I don’t know.

Neither do you.

There are no pat answers for the ‘ITs in our lives.

But while answers may elude us, perhaps we can learn to just feel the moments–feel angry, feel sad, feel confused, feel panicky.  We need each other to sit and feel with us.  BUT, we don’t want to stay there too long either.  We also need each other to coax us out of the abyss into which ‘ITs tend to plummet us.

We need to hear God’s promise that we will someday understand.

Oh, we may never understand the ‘why’ of any time in our lives.  The promise isn’t that everything that happens to us magically becomes good or just.  The promise is that we will understand the growth and development we need to mature into wisdom.  He promises that we can heal, embrace wisdom and learn how to lead others through their times of ‘IT’.

I told Jud, “I know we’ll figure it out together.  I just hate that there’s an ‘IT’ to figure out.

I’d love to hear your stories of hope and processing through life.  Have you experienced a similar feeling?  Life seemed to go along well and then took a turn you didn’t expect.  Have you ever said, “I hate there’s an ‘IT’ to figure out.”

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Freedom From Religious Entitlement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The ABC’s of Shame: Addictions, Bliss, Cookie Comas

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‘So eat your meals heartily, not worrying about what others say about you—you’re eating to God’s glory, after all, not to please them. As a matter of fact, do everything that way, heartily and freely to God’s glory’–1 Corinthians 10:31.

Why do we feel shame when we have joy?  Have you noticed that in our society, we tend to feel guilty, not just when we’ve done something perceived as wrong, but also when we are happiest.

I’ve got an addiction that I only succumb to once a year.  Thankfully, my addiction is only available for a few weeks out of the year; but I’ve learned to stock up so I can imbibe all year long.  Thin Mints.  Yep.  That’s my addiction.  Girl Scout Thin Mint Cookies.  And I get several boxes of Samoas–they’re my daughter’s favorite.  I get enough to last through December.  Just a box every few months so that they keep their special occasion feel.  My dealer … er … ‘supplier’ … no that doesn’t sound any better … FRIEND!  That’s a great word!  My friend covertly meets me at McDonald’s, Starbucks, Chick-fil-A–wherever there’s a parking lot, really.  We make the exchange:  Me handing over a check for more money than I would ever spend on cookies, and her handing me an ungodly number of cookie boxes.  This year it qualified as a ‘case’ of cookies … That would be 12 boxes.

I’m not proud of my addiction.  I’ve realized just how much shame I feel with those boxes of cookies hidden in my room until the right amount of need-t0-cry-for-an-evening-rough-day reminds me that I can feel better–not fixed–just better.  A couple of years ago, my friend met me at McDonald’s for some coffee, then we went out to her trunk.  She opened it up revealing cases of the cookies.  I ‘shopped’ to my heart’s content; and as we said goodbye, several women came up to her looking over their shoulders and whispering, “Are you selling those?”  I laughed, left her to her other sales and drove out of town back to my home–with a sleeve of opened Thin Mints riding shotgun.

How often have I passed by a table outside of a store with adorable little girls selling their cookie wares and felt just a little self-righteous about my ability to say, ‘No, thank you’, while others just cannot help themselves.  Then, when I’ve gone out of town to purchase mine (so no one knows just how many I hoard in my home), I feel shame eating the incredible chocolatey-minty goodness that makes me so happy on my hour-long ride back home.  I’ve noticed that as I find freedom from shame, I don’t eat as many cookies in one sitting, nor do I have to do it covertly.  Which leads me to believe that shame can lead to addictions.  And, in my case, to cookie comas!

Instead of loathing myself for enjoying a few cookies, I can rejoice in the moments of bliss that having a couple of them give me after a stressful day.  Instead of hiding my ‘stash’, and secretly scarfing some down when no one is looking, I can savor them and enjoy the serenity of breathing in and breathing out when life throws me the curve balls.  Instead of shame, I find freedom.

Does this work for all addictions.  Absolutely NOT!  Some addictions need re-direction to healthier options.  Sex, drugs, alcohol and even sugar addictions should be overcome, not managed.  Does that mean that those who struggle with destructive addictions and unhealthy living cannot find blissful moments?  NO!  They just need to find healthier options on their road to freedom.  They still need release from the shame of their addiction; but that release should not give them justification to continue it–just as I cannot justify eating an entire sleeve of Thin Mints and throwing my body into a cookie coma.

But we all can revel in moments of joy without shame.  And one thing I have learned with Girl Scout Cookies:

Buying cookies should not feel like a drug deal.

Have you ever felt shame when you’ve done something not shameful?  Have you learned how to live in freedom?

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Super Sunday!

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I’ve told Jud that he married one of the last perfect women in America.  I hate to shop.  I love to cook.  And I love sports.  I married a Minnesota Viking fan.  For some insane reason, we got married during the playoffs.  Those were the days when Minnesota was winning….

Yesterday, I totally expected the Broncos to win–and not just because we live in Colorado.  Secretly (although not secret anymore), I always root for the NFC team; but I really thought the Seahawks were the underdogs.  I just hoped they’d make a game of it.  I was as shocked as everyone else in my state when Seattle blew-out Denver.  However, the snacks I made saved the day!!  Homemade guacamole, taco dip, Irish nachos (made with the healthier alternative sweet potatoes).  Snacks definitely salvage a dreary game!

So, today as I look over all the disappointed Facebook posts of my neighbors and work on the Bible study on Romans that I’m doing, I see a correlation of what Paul communicated.  The Jews of Paul’s day felt betrayed by God when the Gentiles were welcomed in to the promises they thought were only for them.  According to Facebook, Bronco fans believed winning the Super Bowl was their destiny.  Someone had to lose and when it was us, we feel the sad let-down.  The shame of the team spreads to the whole state.  For better or worse, we take on the identity of our team.

How often have I believed myself invincible … Believed that I could do no wrong … Believed that ‘if God is for us, who could be against us?’ … Believed that ‘The God of angel armies is always by my side’ (Chris Tomlin song).  I think my focus is wrong–just as falsely believing who wins or loses a football game has spiritual implications of the worthiness before God of a particular team.

Studying Romans for the first time in many years reminds me that God is the center of the universe.  He’s not always by my side; I (hopefully) am on His.  Often, I take the ball and run with it; essentially saying, ‘God, I’ve got it from here.’  Then when the play doesn’t work out, I turn to God, perplexed.  How could the plan fail?  I thought it through and it made sense!  The Jews in Paul’s day seem to wonder the same thing.  They thought they had God’s plan all worked out, and they win.  They had lived hundreds of years in that belief.

Then God goes and welcomes the Gentiles into the fold.

Their fold.

Their covenant fold.

Their exclusive fold.

Now, as part of the ‘Gentile’ group, I’m grateful.  But, I also relate to the feelings of the Jews.  I’m part of the church group too.  The modern day ‘chosen people’ group.  And we haven’t changed much from Paul’s day.  Once we understand our privilege, we don’t want to share with outsiders–unless they look like, act like or think like us.  Or unless they know their place … beneath us.  Paul, in Romans, tries to unite the two camps.  He tries to show the Jews that God’s plan never changed.  He quotes all the prophets and Moses to show them.  And not just in Romans.  He threads that theme all through his letters.  God foretold it all, but the Israelites didn’t want to see the weaknesses within themselves that God also foretold.

We don’t want to look at those weaknesses either.   Sometimes, just like in football, we underestimate our opponents.  Sometimes we believe too confidently in our ‘golden child’ status.  Sometimes it’s just time for another to win.  Can we let that happen without feeling betrayed?  Can we let that happen without making excuses?  Can we let that happen and still believe we are ‘chosen’?  Can we let that happen, still believe we are ‘chosen’; but at the same time believe the other is ‘chosen’ too?

Some heady Monday morning quarterback thoughts.  I think I’ll ponder those things as I eat some leftover guacamole.

Have you felt betrayed by God?  Have you seen God bless people you thought unworthy?  How can you expand your view of God’s fold to allow others equal footing?

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