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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Non-Violence In A Violent World

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God speaking:  Eat freely from any and all trees in the garden; I only require that you abstain from eating the fruit of one tree—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Beware: the day you eat the fruit of this tree, you will certainly die. –Genesis 2:16-17

I am a violent person.

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

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

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

And I enjoy it.

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

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

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

Death of integrity.

Death of soul.

Death of innocence.

Death of hope of a better way of living.

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

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

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

But I digress….

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

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

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

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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Life Is Good

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

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

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

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

My perspective is changing.

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

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

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

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

There, isn’t that helpful?

All clear now?

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Fastings of Lent

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God speaking: [W]hat I want in a fast is this:
to liberate those tied down and held back by injustice,
to lighten the load of those heavily burdened,
to free the oppressed and shatter every type of oppression.
A fast for Me involves sharing your food with people who have none,
giving those who are homeless a space in your home,
Giving clothes to those who need them, and not neglecting your own family. –Isaiah 58:6-7 (The Voice translation)

Lent began last week.  Last year, I wrote about doing what we can.  This year, I want to expound on the idea of fasting and sacrifice.  Traditionally, fasting of meat was the sacrifice of choice.  However, in recent decades, as people wanted to connect more with the ritual, Lenten sacrifices have become more broad.  I know some who fast just from sugars or other delicacies, media of all sorts, consumerism.  Some fast from things difficult to give up … others from easier habits.  Religious or spiritual fasting should enliven our spirits and deepen our connection to God.  The discomfort we feel in giving up something in our daily lives can help us focus on those who, not by choice, give up necessities and niceties … Every. Day. Of. Their. Existence.  Because many of us in Western nations enjoy a privileged life of having access to food, water and health care, we forget how many more in other countries (or down our own streets) live in want–want of shelter, clothing, food, water, medications, companionship.

I’d like to encourage us all to participate in the 40 days of Lent in some way.  However, let’s participate in the fast God calls us to in Isaiah.  I’ve got some ideas to get us started.  Pick one, more than one, or come up with your own:

  • If you fast from food, consider giving to Heifer International, deliver Meals on Wheels, serve at a soup kitchen, donate to a clean water project, or donate to a medical charity like Doctors Without Borders.  In this world, we throw away enough food to feed 3 billion people … almost half our planet’s population.  We really can (and should) end world hunger.
  • If you fast from consumerism, consider donating gently used (or unused) clothes to domestic abuse shelters or thrift stores that employ challenged people, volunteer at a homeless shelter or domestic abuse shelter, volunteer at a food pantry.  Often consumerism makes us self-absorbed, so branching out to experience other stories of those who don’t have physical wealth can help us see our own poverty of soul and spirit.
  • If you fast from social media, electronic media, paper media, consider visiting with an older or lonely person in your neighborhood, volunteer at a neighborhood school to help children read, offer tutoring for math or other subjects, or help a teacher grade some papers.  Get out and have actual conversations with flesh-and-blood people.  If you physically cannot get out, pick up a phone.  In our ‘virtual’ world, we often forget how to have conversations out loud and not just at our keyboards or in our heads.
  • If you fast from entertainment, consider giving to organizations that pay for schooling, fund a project for a documentary that brings awareness, volunteer as a coach or coach’s assistant with boys and girls clubs or YMCA.  Too many children in the United States go to school hungry.  I know teachers who work in disadvantaged schools in my city and accept non-perishable food donations so their hungry classroom kids can have a meal over the weekend.  The more-than 200 Nigerian girls kidnapped by Boko Haram remain missing.  Their story haunts me 9 months later.  The terrorist group targeted them because they went to school, sought an educated life.  Many wanted to be doctors, lawyers, teachers to help their communities grow and succeed.  Now some of the girls who escaped are courageously accepting scholarships to continue their studies amidst the threat that Boko Haram will come for their families.  Often we make education entertaining in Western civilization.  We forget what it costs many families in other parts of the world.  Let’s use some of our wealth and privilege to make learning easier for those less fortunate.

The charities and non-profits I’ve mentioned are not exclusive and very possibly not the best ones.  There are so many smaller groups who tirelessly work in their local and global communities.  The ones I mention are a springboard to help us begin to live a life worth living … a life that makes a difference in another’s life.  The more we make a difference in our corners of the world, the more global change has a chance to succeed.

Whether you participate in Lent or not, consider sacrificing to make life better for someone.  However you live, pray for peace in your neighborhood, your community and our world.  Lent is about Jesus’ life and how he lived.  He made the most of his life … so much more than 40 days.  Let’s make the most of our lives.

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So how do we eat from the tree of life?

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

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

That’s grace!

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

 

 

 

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A New Year … A New Look … A Renewed Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… God’s enemy.

… my enemy.

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

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

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

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

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

 

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Angelic Hosts Proclaim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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The Art of Loving

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

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

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

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

I am not enough.

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

That I am condemned by God.

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

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

I am accepted.

But not just accepted, I am cherished.

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

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

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

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

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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Members … And Everyone Else

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

 

 

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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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Snapshots

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“For now, we can only see a dim and blurry picture of things, as when we stare into polished metal. I realize that everything I know is only part of the big picture. But one day, when Jesus arrives, we will see clearly, face-to-face. In that day, I will fully know just as I have been wholly known by God” –1Corinthians 13:12.

“We had been hoping that He was the One—you know, the One who would liberate all Israel and bring God’s promises”–Luke 24:21.

This week, many events occurred which felt like bullets hitting my soul.  Sometimes the snapshots of our lives bring us to our knees and we find God.  Sometimes we just fall to our knees with the wind knocked out of us.  Either way, we need to find the strength to get up, dust ourselves off and learn from the wounds of the soul.

  • Jud’s mom died this week.  So many emotions to process–I wish I could say the emotions evoke warm, fuzzy memories.  Not much of that going on.  Just tough processing.
  • A woman I met last week died suddenly, tragically.  My daughter talked with her daughter in a park several months ago and started mentoring her.  The woman, her daughter and the woman’s mother had started coming to church a few weeks ago and seemed to have hope, joy and renewal.  Now, Spring Break will have an ugly edge for the 16 year old who mourns her mother.  More tough processing.
  • World Vision changed their hiring policy to accomodate gay marriages.  Then a day later, under pressure, changed the policy back to the original one of not allowing committed gay relationships.  The tension and sadness overwhelmed me.  Each side felt victory and defeat.  Once again, an issue became about winning and losing instead of treating people well.  Too much tough processing.
  • Having inside information on a church’s upheaval that a friend attends weighs heavy on me.  Hearing the ‘public’ side of a person and knowing the ‘private’ side creates sadness and a cynical environment for me.  Enough of the tough processing!
  • All the world problems of Russia vs. Ukraine, the Malaysia flight, the mudslide in the state of Washington.  The processing continues.

Of course there’s more … because there always is more to every story.  But not all the ‘mores’ are meant for sharing.  I struggle to find the beauty and joy in weeks like this one.  How do we take the snapshots of ugly stories and turn them into a bright-colored collage with witty captions in a photo album of life?  Where are the pithy sayings that wash away the deep scars left in our souls?

Let us choose to not allow the story of our lives, our world, to end with the tragedies we experience.

Let us not allow discouragement and sorrow to imprison our souls.

Let us remember Easter and the message of Jesus’ resurrection–the story hasn’t ended yet!

Perhaps weeks like this one serve to remind us of the searing reality of the ‘not yet’ that Paul mentions in his letters.  Perhaps weeks like this one can serve to remind us of how the disciples felt in the last hours as all their hopes came crashing down, and they dispersed as Jesus died.  As we journey through Lent and look toward the promise of Easter, may faith, hope and love remain in us until more of Christ’s life is revealed in us.

I’d love to hear from you!  Are you weary with the heaviness of your life?  What has encouraged you when all hope seems lost?  

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Figuring It Out

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

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

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

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

We self-medicate–legally and illegally.

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t know.

Neither do you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sacrifices of Lent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Joy of Family Stories

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

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

Not gonna lie, I’m praying the opposite.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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It’s The Small Things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Passion Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Absolute Truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Empty Cup

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I hold an empty, disposable coffee cup in my hand.  It symbolizes my spiritual journey in the last year.  I have felt empty and disposable in the Body of Christ.

For the past several years, I have been on a healing journey–spirit, soul and body.  My thyroid stopped working and I ballooned in weight; so, last year, after a couple of years of getting the thyroid medications synced up to my brain, I started exercising again.  I LOVE working my body hard, and I love watching my body slowly, excruciatingly slow, gain back its strength.  This year, I begin the art of living bravely and vulnerably.  For years, I lived out loud and fearlessly.  I remember feeling alive and unafraid to take risks in relationships and daring to try new things.

Then I took a nose-dive with no parachute opening for me.

It’s a long journey and a long story; but I relate well to the man in the parable of The Good Samaritan who was beaten to the point of death.  Spiritually, I experienced that severe beating.  Emotionally, I experienced that severe beating.  All that beating took a toll on me physically.  Anyone who has been that character in the parable knows, but may not be able to articulate to anyone, the mystery of “O death, where is your sting.”  One moment I thought I might actually die, another I nearly panicked that I would not.

We all have what I call ‘ugly stories’ in our lives.  Mine are no worse than anyone else’s–they are just mine.  Some of my stories stifled my bravery and shut down my vulnerability.  I’m starting to reclaim myself this year.  If my physical body can recover with the help of doctors and discipline, I believe my spirit can recover its vibrancy and vitality with God’s help.

I hold an empty, recyclable coffee cup in my hand.  Empty of my preconceived beliefs about God and my place in His world, I wait with expectancy of what liquid He will choose to pour into me as my “drink offering.”  Recyclable, I wait with expectancy of how He will transform me to His purpose and give me “beauty for ashes.”

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Oneness of Heart

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Jud is reading Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life by Susan Forward and Craig Buck.  Last night, he hugged me and whispered, “I’m sorry for what that man did to you.”  He had read about the effects of sexual abuse on children.  He teared up when he looked at me.  For the first time in my life, I felt like someone actually FELT what it was like to be me.  Long-held defenses that I’d forgotten I forged melted with those tears of his.  As we talked about what he was reading and how it described the battle the abused face, I was able to describe my own struggles with shame and body-image that have become second-nature to me.

“Do you feel heard” is a buzz-phrase in our culture these days.  It’s a great starting place and I wouldn’t discourage that level of understanding another’s point of view.  But sometimes, when a heart lies raw and has tried to find the courage to express the deepest wounds it possesses, that heart needs someone to feel its pain and experience the wound.  I didn’t know I needed Jud to be ‘one’ with me in my pain from so long ago.  When we talk about marital ‘oneness’ in Christian circles, we rarely (if ever) mean fully experiencing another’s life.

After last night, I understand Jesus’ words afresh:  “I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one–as you are in me, Father, and I am in you.  And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me” (John 17:21).  When we can feel another’s experiences, then we can truly love another.  That kind of love should not be limited to marriage or a sexual relationship.  I echo that prayer for all who attempt to know and follow Jesus–may God make us one.

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