Why I Marched

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“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Judge fairly, and show mercy and kindness to one another. Do not oppress widows, orphans, foreigners, and the poor. And do not scheme against each other.” –Zechariah 7:9-10 (The Message)

I have strong opinions; but I’m not an activist. Mostly, I just imperfectly live my life under my interpretation of how Jesus lived. However, yesterday, I marched with thousands of others–7,000 in my city of Colorado Springs. Millions across the world marched.  Some, maybe most, marched in hopes that our government will take notice of the importance of keeping civil liberties for all Americans. Some marched out of concern for health care, immigrants, social security. Some, probably most, marched because our current president scares the bejesus out of them.

Lots and lots of signs.

Some made me laugh. 

 

 

 

Some brought me joy. 

 

 

 

Some made me tear up. 

 

 

 

But the energy in the crowd was hopeful! I saw unity amidst diversity. I saw people that don’t align with some of my political, theological, and social views; but we were the United States of America in that moment.

I marched for several reasons:

  • I marched because I’ve done much soul-searching about the 1860s and 1960s over my lifetime, and I always wondered on what side I would find myself–pro-civil rights, anti-civil rights, or just plain indifferent.
  • I marched because I, and my government representatives, need reminding that I have a voice that this ‘government of the people, by the people, and for the people’ needs to hear.
  • I marched because so many in the minority groups are scared and need to know there are those in the privileged class who are allies and willing to give up some of their privilege so that they can rise.
  • I marched because orders already have been signed, and bills already have passed the House and are going before the Senate this week that sweepingly change aspects of our country, and most of us are not paying attention.

I haven’t paid attention.

That’s really why I marched. I needed see that this beautifully flawed country is made up of people from various perspectives. I marched with socialists, people who identify along the LGBT spectrum, atheists, Jews, Christians, and every other faith tradition, moms, dads, kids, grandparents, men, women, suburbanites, urbanites, homeless people, veterans, wealthy, poor, health-care providers, health-care users, every ethnicity in our city, able-bodied, ability-challenged, and some older people who remember their mothers voting for the first time.

I have forgotten our diversity, and am guilty of looking at things through my own narrow, limited view. For me, I hope this march was not just a moment. I hope I will continue with the movement to keep our government accountable.

So for any (and I’ve seen on Facebook that there are many) who don’t understand what these marches wanted to accomplish, you’re right that they didn’t change any legislation … yet. The goal was not a sprint to help people release some pent-up angst. The goal was to begin physical therapy so that those of us who have grown complacent can train for a marathon in keeping abreast of what our representatives are doing. The goal was to begin the long, difficult process of grafting in all the diverse people into a cohesive movement.  Across the board, our dissatisfaction with Congress, the Senate, and our government leaders in general has escalated over the last 6 years. I will continue to speak with my vote. But it will not stop with just that action. I will also use my voice and my presence with the offices of my senators and representatives.

I encourage all of us to do the same. Whatever gives you passion. Whatever your perspective.

Whether or not others understand or agree, marching yesterday gave me life.

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

 

 

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Elections of the Privileged

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

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

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

Common denominator? I vote.

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

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

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

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

*sigh* … I do that a lot lately …

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

 … won’t defend us … 

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

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

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

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

I finally grew up.

I welcome comments! Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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Dawn … Before The Darkness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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What Does God Look Like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s our fault.

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

A God worth worshipping.

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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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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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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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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All Are Welcome

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

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

We felt refreshed.

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

We felt hope.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or, at least, that it’s possible.

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

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Family Resemblances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Just As He Said

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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. … 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. … The soldiers guarding the tomb were terrified. They froze like stone.  The messenger spoke to the women, to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, ‘Don’t be afraid. I know you are here keeping watch for Jesus who was crucified. But Jesus is not here. He was raised, just as He said He would be’“–Matthew 28:1-2, 4-6 (emphasis mine).

CHRIST IS RISEN!  How can we not feel the thrill through our hearts?  As I reflect on the heart-stopping awe that all the Marys in the various resurrection accounts must have felt, I rejoice with them and all the others that paved the way for me to celebrate today!

For many years (and probably decades) I have reveled in the angel’s words, ‘just as He said.’  Because Jesus told all the disciples outright that God would resurrect Him.  None of them believed it at the time He said it, let alone once He died.  The women watched and remembered at the tomb; but they seemed to believe that He would stay physically dead.  The whole exchange between the women and the angel fascinates me.  In that culture, women were not considered credible eye-witnesses.  Yet, the angel does not address the soldiers; the angel addresses the women.

The women who worshipped.  The women who financed Jesus’ work.  The women who waited.

The women who believed what Jesus said.  

Yes, God gave one of the highest honors in history–proclaiming the resurrection of Christ–to the least valued voices of the culture.

Humbling.  Validating.  Awe-inspiring.

In life, Jesus brought honor to women and other less-than people in His society.  In death, the Gospel writers honor the oft-forgotten women.  In resurrection, the angel commissions the lowly women to proclaim Christ’s new life!  A beautiful picture of healing the power struggle between genders.

In the beginning, when the world was innocent, God created all humanity in His image.  A balance of power.  We created the power hierarchy.  We needed Someone to free us from the shame environments that hierarchy created.  Only He could show us how to embrace that image once again.  Only He could rescue us from ourselves.  Only He could invite us to join His way of life.  Only He could teach us how to risk without shame and live bravely, even when others don’t approve of the freedom we gratefully receive from the unconditional love and grace of God.  Only He could show us how to die to the facades we’re told we have to exhibit so that our truest parts can resurrect and bloom!

Christ’s resurrection life created a better way–one where everyone gets to play.  Just as He said from the beginning.

I’d love to hear from you!!  How can use your voice to proclaim freedom in Christ to others?

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The Forgotten Disciples

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“And then, starting at noon, the entire land became dark. It was dark for three hours. In the middle of the dark afternoon, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘… My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’ … And then Jesus cried out once more, loudly, and then He breathed His last breath.  … So Joseph [of Arimathea] took the body, wrapped Jesus in a clean sheath of white linen, and laid Jesus in his own new tomb, which he had carved from a rock. Then he rolled a great stone in front of the tomb’s opening, and he went away. Mary Magdalene was there, and so was the other Mary. They sat across from the tomb, watching, remembering”–Matthew 27:45-46, 50, 59-61.

I wish churches would focus on the women who followed Jesus more.  The women of the Gospels play an often overlooked role in showing us today what it means to follow Him.

The disciples scattered.  The disciples doubted.  The disciples missed so much.

The women worshipped before Him.  The women financed His work.  The women waited.  The women watched and remembered.

No, this post is not idolizing feminism or women.  However, what we have focussed on is the humanity of the male disciples without balancing those thoughts with the spiritual intelligence of the women who also followed Jesus.  Yes, we all scatter, doubt and misinterpret.  BUT, the women show us that we can reflect and grow into steady, focussed, faith-filled Believers.  We need both examples; but too often we glorify the earth-bound humanity of the disciples without challenging ourselves to become Jesus’ other disciples.

The overlooked disciples.

The forgotten disciples.

The female disciples.

As we ponder the wonders of the final moments of this Passion Week, let us also honor the women who followed Jesus by waiting, watching and remembering.  Let us allow God to fill our hearts with hope and faith that will help us process the confusion, tragedy and fear in our lives.  Because the story is only beginning …

I pray that we will learn equally from those who walk with Jesus, regardless of gender, social standing, identity or background.

 

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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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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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Liberty and Justice for ALL

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‘At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality…’ (2 Corinthians 8:14).

The story of little ‘Maria’ over the past couple of weeks strikes at my heart.  We may never know exactly what happened with her–her Roma mother, who lives in Bulgaria, and the Roma couple, who live in Greece and have cared for her, say that the mother ‘gave’ her to the couple.  The police believe the story has holes, but may never know the full truth.  ‘Maria’ may never know her birthdate or her exact age (tests show she is either 5 or 6).  Time will tell where ‘Maria’ will live–the mother lives in squalor and has had two other children taken into Bulgaria’s Child Protective Services because of the living conditions, the couple lives in squalor and face charges with the police.  For now, she is with a Greek charity.

In my White-ness, my American-ness, I want to see this precious child taken in like ‘Little Orphan Annie’ and given a home with a room painted pink and an overstuffed down comforter to sink into at the end of a long day–a place of safety, cleanliness and opportunities.  A good home.  Which, of course, I interpret as one that fits Americanideal standards.  I saw her biological mother on the news.  She was illiterate and dirty.  I saw her ‘adoptive’ parents on the news; parents who are now in jail.  They were illiterate and dirty.  Definitely not the American ideal.  With shame, I admit my first thought was, “Oh, wouldn’t it be great if someone with means could rescue her and give her a shot in this world?”  When I heard my own gut-reaction, I wished for higher thoughts.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, all adoption (foreign and domestic) has its place; and for all who have adopted children, you deserve every honor for raising and loving children who have become your own ‘flesh and blood.’

But, not all children who need homes get adopted.

And it is for those children, I voice hopes and dreams for a better system.

I dream of a day when adoption and orphanages aren’t needed because we’ve figured out a way to share food, clean water and medicines with each other, so that families can stay together and not have to make agonizing choices about giving up children.  I hope for sharing of information with cultures who have destructive habits like child-marriages, hierarchy of male children over female children or able-bodied children accepted over disabled children so that all children will feel loved, welcomed and secure.  I dream of the day when Western thought has an epiphany that maybe we’ve missed something really important about life and need some of our ‘third-world’ cultures to teach us about simplicity, contentment and wisdom of sustaining and replenishing our environment and soil.  I hope for a future that includes less power struggles between rulers and more negotiations to make impoverished cultures able to feed, house and clothe their people and able to use their vast natural resources for the good of the community and not for exploitation to feed the greed in dominant cultures.

I pray for the ‘Marias’ of the world to have their hearts protected enough to break the dysfunctional cycles in their children’s generation.  I pray for our own ‘privileged’ children to have empathy and resourcefulness to end our hierarchical world-view by building on the research and vision of others who have willingly devoted their lives to sharing their status and power.

May we experience equality in our world where ‘[n]othing left over to the one with the most,
[n]othing lacking to the one with the least’ (2 Corinthians 8:15, The Message) becomes our legacy for generations to come.

What are your ideas on how to ‘level the playing field’?  How can we invest ourselves in beginning to solve some of the problems in our lives, communities, nation and world?

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Coming Out To Play

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because we all should get to play.

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

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WWTKD

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The tears well up and drip down my cheek.  I feel the warmth of the salty liquid begin to cool as the evening breeze dries my face.  Soon, they will not just drip.  Soon, they will flow freely. Soon, my stomach, already knotted, will convulse and breathing will become gulping gasps.  Struggling to unite both right and left sides of my brain–knowing I need to focus and work through how to write something more graciously, yet feeling the heartbreak of a group of people struggling for acceptance–two worlds collide in my soul.

When a church leader asked me this week to try to rewrite a policy that I found problematic, I told her that it would be difficult because I don’t agree with the point of view.  How do I maintain a sense of integrity and look myself in the mirror when someone asks me to bring some heart into a policy I find offensive.  Surprisingly, I found myself asking, ‘What would Ted Kennedy do?’

Raised in conservative church culture, I didn’t have a lot of respect for Ted Kennedy while he lived.  He was extreme, liberal, not-on-our-side, someone to distrust.  Amazing how much propaganda influences our young minds.  As an adult, I see him from a different perspective.  When he died, I listened to many people from various walks of life tell their stories about how he influenced them and the humanity he brought to our legislative branch.  I heard many Republicans say that if Ted Kennedy gave his word, it was as good as gold.  I heard one congressman say that after a devastating car accident with his family, Ted Kennedy and his wife stopped by the hospital to visit with him … then followed up with phone calls to learn of the progress.  Ted Kennedy was the only person of Congress to make that personal connection.  The man, a Republican, said that no other colleagues made time to visit.  Others talked about the phone calls he made to all the Massachusetts’ families of people killed in the 9/11 attacks … and he followed up with them … all 176 families … every year … with a personal and personally signed note … until his death in 2009.  Another talked about how he had negotiated with international kidnappers to get their child home.  Story after story after story talked about the unreported deeds, compassion and sacrifice of this man.  A friend who grew up in Massachusetts and lives in Boston had not heard these stories until his death.  WOW!  Most of us would have camera and crew on retainer so that all could see our acts of kindness, or at least our PR team could use clips for re-election campaigns.

That’s humility.  That’s the kind of leader I want in government.  Someone willing to negotiate with the differing points of view.  One of his colleagues said that Ted Kennedy knew where the Democrats wanted policy to go and would then work backwards to figure out what to compromise so that Republicans could sign-off on it.  His goal was progress–not soap boxes, not making a point.  Not arrogance.  Was Ted Kennedy imperfect?  I’ll answer that with these questions:  Aren’t I imperfect?  Aren’t we all?

So, as I face my own smallish soapbox compared to national policy, I find this follower of Jesus asking the question, “What would Ted Kennedy do?”  Because wars aren’t won from just one battle.  It takes many battle successes, retreats, covert spy operations and a lot of divine intervention to win wars.

And that’s when I see my problem.  I view ‘it’ as a war.

Ted Kennedy saw ‘it’ as our country, united.  Jesus, in my paraphrase, said, “Treat others how you want them to treat you.”  I don’t want anyone to treat me or my perpsective as ‘a war.’  We all have to ask ourselves if we will consider compromise a beginning to change, or if we will insist on only our way.  Do I want to be ‘right’ and battle it out until others see me as right, and I am the only one left standing?  Isn’t that what we see in the stalemate in Congress over the budget right now?  Or do we want to make a difference and pave a smoother path for the next time we butt heads?

I hope to unclench my fist, lay down my arrogance and simply bring some heart and opening for a conversation into a divisive policy.

What is your part?  Have you found yourself forcefully pushing your own soapbox?  What can you change in yourself that may create change in others; or at least open the door to discussion?

 

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The Power of Humility

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“Take my yoke upon you.  Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” –Matthew 11:29

This week, I discovered that a friend ‘unfriended’ me on Facebook.  Oh, it didn’t surprise me.  Not really.  While we knew and liked each other years ago, geographical distance had taken its toll on our lives.  We rarely had seen each other outside of church when we lived in the same state; but I truly had thought of her as a kindred spirit when it came to family and passion for God.  I knew we didn’t agree on much politically, and perhaps interpreted certain Bible verses from different angles; however, none of that mattered to me, because those differences didn’t define who she is to me.  She has gone toe to toe with me on some of my more political comments.  She challenged and engaged me with scripture.  She encouraged me to use my writing for good and not evil.  It appears that I crossed a line in my views that she could no longer tolerate.  Apparently, she didn’t share the same attitude that what makes us different makes us interesting.

So, she did what has become the schoolyard snub and ‘unfriended’ me.

I don’t know that she hates me (that would be un-Christian); but if she secretly reviles me for my views, I’m not offended.  I’ve been hated and reviled before–at times, even I can admit it was justified.  Because I’ve always loved words, and especially creating them on blank canvasses, words tend to get me into trouble.  Being an extrovert, words flow out of my mouth, often before I think through the thoughts.  So, I have apologized time and again and will continue to apologize, I’m sure.  However, I don’t ask anyone to apologize for their opinions and I offer no apology for mine.  I do offer a seat in my home for discussion–even heated discussion–without fear of shame or rejection.  Don’t put me up on a pedestal.  I can be more sophomoric than the next person (and I have a few friends who can attest to the lengths of my immaturity); but in situations of differing philosophies, ideologies and interpretations, I am broad-minded and tough-skinned.  I don’t think my friend will invite me to share her table any time soon.  Too bad, because I still make her mother-in-law’s sweet potato casserole for Thanksgiving every year–delicious!

In reflecting on my friend’s snub, I wondered why it bothered me so much.  I don’t often get caught up in rejection–not that it doesn’t bother me at all; but rejection isn’t one of my prominent insecurities or issues.  So, as I sat with my feelings of loneliness, my thoughts turned to Syria, Egypt, Israel/Palestine, America and all the dead-in-the-water negotiations our world has tried to garner diplomatically.  If ‘friends’ can’t get along with differing views, is it possible to expect national leaders to act reasonably?  If only ‘they’ could see ‘our’ point rationally.  Surely, we can talk it out and break the cycles of tyranny, oppression and revenge.  Surely, people (especially leaders) want good for their people and the rest of the world.  Surely, national leaders envision the consequences of their actions.  Surely, people want to eradicate evil in our world.  Except that most people don’t admit we have to eradicate that evil from within ourselves, and not others, first.  Part of the problem we face is that we want to see humility in the person we face, while we keep our own pride.  Do you see that in leaders like Assad who defiantly assert their power regardless of whether their actions are humane or sane?

I remember conversations in our last presidential election and all the issues debated privately and publicly.  At one point, I stopped caring about the issues and said that I was tired of arrogant men.  I would vote for a person with some humility.  My candidate didn’t come close to winning.  In our schoolyard tussles, aren’t pride, arrogance, superiority and power the driving forces?  If we can’t stop our own selfishness, how can we hope to eradicate global selfishness?  It always begins with us.

As I follow-up with Pope Francis’ encouragement for people of all faiths to fast and pray this weekend for Syria, the Middle East and the rest of the world, my heart prays for humility in our global leaders, humility in our spiritual leaders, humility in my own heart.  Humility is the foundation for understanding another point of view.  Humility creates an atmosphere of negotiation.  Humility begets flexibility, kindness and reasonableness.  Humility won’t allow one-upmanship and doesn’t do anything to teach “them” a lesson.

And I find that as I exercise these ancient traditions of prayer and fasting, my own heart softens toward my friend.  My knee-jerk reaction to reject her at a higher level and ‘block’ her on Facebook (because that would really show her) loses its power and I can let go of the hurt.  I begin to realize that if all of us would take time to regularly humble ourselves, we really can affect change in our world–end hunger, global warming, genocides, sex-trades, prejudice and hate crimes–because the problems our world faces are problems in our own hearts.  The more we find our own selfishness unacceptable, the better chance we have of electing officials who have done the same, the better the chance that we will work together to find answers that don’t include weapons of mass destruction.

For my part, I humbly offer a seat at the table for my friend’s point of view.  Because I still believe that our differences make us interesting, and we need those differences to help us see the whole picture–and not just our own little corner.

Have you experienced the power of humility either in yourself or through a leader?  What are some other traits that you appreciate in relationships?

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A Time To Build

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

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

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

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

Thank God, we do.

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

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

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

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Our Beloved Country, Divided

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Time to Breathe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Paths of Righteousness

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Recently, some friends accused me of compromising the gospel because of how I relate to people’s experiences and their stories.  I don’t often call-out ‘sin’ in people’s lives, but instead, I walk with them and offer counsel as they ask.  My philosophy is that I earn the right to speak into their lives as they see I sincerely care for them and am on their side.  Psalm 23 resonates on many levels for me.   “He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3) is my favorite line.  Do you see its beauty?  Paths.  Plural.  More than one.  In my belief system, for me, there is only one way to God and that is believing Jesus.  BUT, that’s not the sum of the beautiful, wondrous story of salvation.  So much more awaits us as we journey into oneness with each other and with God.  No one story will look alike.  Snowflakes, all of us, unique and yet appearing the same on the surface.  Yet, no one path contains the full mystery of God’s grace, God’s righteousness, God’s kingdom!  Many paths lead us to Jesus.

Sometimes I want my path to be the path where everyone finds God’s glorious treasures.  Surely, my tailor-made blessings from God would fit anyone.  How many of us have seen The Grand Canyon and gasped at its breathtaking grandeur?  I talked with a long-time family friend who visited that majestic tapestry of God’s handiwork and thought, “Eh, it’s just a big hole in the ground.”  Seriously?!  Someone experienced that divine creation differently than I do?!  A neighbor of my parents is an entomologist.  She has bug specimens all over her house (EEEEWWWWW!!).  Now, I have three kryptonite-level phobias.  Fear of bugs tops that list.  I even created a theology, of sorts, about bugs–they are a result of The Fall and epitomize sin entering the world.  They are NOT found in heaven (and we need to be quite clear on that point–except maybe butterflies, fireflies and ladybugs).  However, the neighbor sees God in the world of bugs and can actually worship Him in thinking about their creation.  Puzzling to me, but it’s not my path.  Could paths leading to our heart’s refinement be just as diverse?  Could God actually use His gift of mercy in me to lead someone else on a path to His righteousness which wouldn’t be found by overt ‘evangelism’?  Am I willing to admit that my ‘witness’ is flawed and not a one-size-fits-all for God to use in everyone’s life?

A few weeks ago, I went to a store looking for some art supplies for my son to finish his art project.  Because the store is large and poorly laid out (or brilliantly laid out to get people to buy more–depends on perspective), I traversed for 15 minutes before giving up and finding an employee to ask directions.  While the woman answered my question, she seemed to have a heavy heart.  I asked her if she was okay before going on with my agenda.  Her son, a security guard for an apartment complex in a rough part of town, had been shot early that morning and the store wouldn’t let her leave work.  Thankfully, the bullet hit his bullet-proof vest; but, naturally, the woman wanted to see her son.  After empathizing with her for about 10 minutes, I hurried to finish my original art supply errand.  Driving home, the shame began to creep up behind me.  I should have prayed with her.  I should have mentioned Jesus.  I should have witnessed more…better…overtly.  That evening, still beating myself up for missing an evangelism opportunity once again, I believe God spoke peace into my spirit.  She needed to vent and process.  She needed someone to enter her world of concern and worry.  She needed someone to soothe her soul in that moment.  In that moment, my gifting became God’s presence for her.  In that moment, God met her.  If God needs her to hear more overt evangelism, He’ll send someone else down her path.  Someone He’s trained with that gift.

What if God wants me to just lay the groundwork for another to ‘harvest’?  What if a person needs to learn to trust in the unconditional love of God before he or she can hear correction?  What if someone’s perceived ‘sin’ by us is not God’s definition of ‘sin’ or biggest concern in that person’s life?  Can we hear Jesus’ words to Peter when he hears what his future will hold and asks Jesus about John’s future, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?  As for you, follow Me.”  (John 21:22)  Are we willing to follow where we see or hear Jesus leading us regardless of how someone else’s path looks or to whom another is called to minister?

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