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Thursday, August 6, 2015

Emerging, Part 2

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

I've found myself frustrated on multiple occasions lately with the way I observe people judging others from a distance.  This sort of uninformed judgment-making is commonplace in today's world -- perhaps especially so in America where we're conditioned to exalt the independence of the self, and even more so in the church where so many of us have been taught to fear those who might "lead us astray."  For the sake of self-preservation, in whatever form that might take, we close our eyes and ears and minds and, most grievously, our hearts, to anyone who thinks or sees the world differently than we do.

It is this sort of prideful arrogance that assumes we've better figured things out than another person -- and subsequently leads us to separate "us" from "them" -- that created the chaos in our church last year.  It's not that a conviction that one way is "right" or "better" is bad.  It is precisely this sort of conviction that guides us all in our daily lives, that informs the choices we make, whether that conviction stems from our belief in Jesus or Buddhism or scientific discovery or human progress or so on.  The problem arises when our conviction leads us to distance ourselves from those who live by a conviction not mirroring our own, when we lose our ability to interact with -- and, beyond that, to genuinely love and care for -- those who hold another perspective.

If we spent half as much time and energy concerned with whether people knew they were loved and cared for as we spend trying to protect our own reputations or guard our (or someone else's) morality, I'm convinced we would be more peaceful, joyful people...

God, I don't want to keep revisiting these old frustrations.  I believe You've shown me a better way -- one of love, compassion, understanding, sympathy, peacemaking, and trust -- trust that "You've got this," that judgment can be left up to You and that I am free to love with abandon.  There are still many in my circles who don't (and perhaps won't) understand where I am in my relationship with You or with others.  They fear I've taken a wrong turn.  They've been taught to fear.  But I continue to rest in my confidence that perfect love drives out fear.  And I'm choosing love.  I'm choosing to believe You are the One who can redeem divorces and same-sex attraction and addiction and depression, and perhaps not always in the way we think it ought to be done, with reversal or elimination as our only options, but perhaps by bringing new life from the death of a relationship or by teaching us to extend grace and acceptance to those we don't understand or by our choosing to love well in spite of struggles that never really go away.

I want to run ahead full speed in my belief that LOVE -- and presence -- truly is the way to which You've called me, and us.  Help me to throw off what hinders -- these old concerns about being misunderstood that repeatedly wrap themselves like chains around me, causing me to dwell in old patterns of self-righteousness and fear.  Please help me to trust and follow Your Spirit into greater freedom and deeper love.  Give me a humble heart and kill my pride.  Remind me each day that I'm no better than any other person.  Help me to love well.  Please make me a safe place for people to be real -- to share both their heartaches AND their joys.  Please let people experience Your unconditional love through me.  Make me a peacemaker, Jesus, seeking both justice AND mercy.  And give me Your grace to shake the dust when people don't understand.  Let me really leave the past behind and move forward into LIFE.

Read the Introduction and Part 1.

Emerging, Part 1

image from cop richard
Thursday, May 7, 2015

"For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God?  Or am I striving to please men?  If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ."  Galatians 1:10

Judaizers had come into Galatia behind Paul and convinced the easily-swayed believers there that the Gospel required them to be circumcised according to OT law.  Paul re-asserted that if such were the case, Christ's death was useless.  He refused to succumb to the expectations of men -- even though those expectations were rooted in Jewish Scripture! -- because of Christ's sufficiency.

It's fascinating to note Paul had once railed against the very things he now preached (Galatians 1:23) -- and people glorified God because of it.

I ended up reading the entire book of Galatians, and it was as if for the first time.  Paul is so adamant about not allowing anyone to drag us back into thinking we must be enslaved to the law because that ideology is essentially blasphemous toward Christ's death and resurrection.  He never suggests we throw caution to the wind but encourages his readers instead to be guided by LOVE.  So good...

"Preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.'  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons; freely you received, freely give...whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet."  Matthew 10:7-8, 14

JESUS' Kingdom is a stumbling block...

Read here the Introduction and Part 2.

Emerging: Introduction

image from wendy pastorius
I recently wrote about a season of grief that began a little more than a year ago.  (See A Year of Lament:  Introduction, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.)  In the introduction to that series of blog posts, I alluded to finding new hope and sensing that the darkness was subsiding, and my desire has been to write about that as well.

But even this new season is not without challenges.

Sometimes I feel like a baby bird trying to peck my way out of my shell, knowing even once I've emerged my wings are still going to have to be strengthened before I can actually fly.  And that probably means some falls and bumps and bruises along the way.  But the prospect of flying pushes me forward.

I read an excellent article today in which Brian Zahnd briefly describes how rediscovering Jesus in his 40's altered the way he was reading Scripture (and, subsequently, his thinking) even though he'd been a Christian since he was very young...
" my forties, I began to encounter Jesus all over again.  I discovered the 'unvarnished Jesus' and gained new eyes.  I was born again...again.  The Bible had not changed, but I had changed.  I was beginning to read the Bible in a new way.  Ironically, it was closer to the way I read the Bible when I was teenager.  I now knew again what I had once known long ago -- that dropping atomic bombs on cities is incompatible with loving your enemy!  I now knew that no matter how you spin it, the Jesus of the Gospels would never bless the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Never!"
I went through some similar shifts in my thinking about three years ago.  Just as Brian describes not a mere departure but rather a return to a previous way of thinking, I, too, was returning to some perspectives I'd first experienced in my early twenties.  Back then I was disillusioned with church.  I felt we too often were missing the point of our whole existence by neglecting Christ's heart for love, justice, and mercy while constantly working to manipulate people into little more than assent to our beliefs and assimilation into our particular branch of Christian culture.

The more I've reacquainted myself with the life of Jesus (and, thus, the heart of God) over the past few years, the more I've become convinced we are, in fact, meant for more than that -- that we are actually supposed to care about things like justice, that we are actually supposed to love people in tangible ways.

This kind of shift in thinking is not always well-received.  I know more than a handful of people who have been met with criticism and judgment from those who think we've stumbled down a "slippery slope" as we've come to believe God actually cares about life in the here and now, not just what happens to us when we die.  It's sad and ridiculous, really, but a lot of people have been taught to think this way, to fear anyone who dares to veer the tiniest bit off whatever path their theologian of choice has described as "right."  But if I remember correctly, Jesus told us that He IS The Way.

HE is The Way.

I cannot count the times I have pondered over the past couple years how little we grasp how radical, crazy, and even heretical Jesus would have sounded to His own people, the Jews, God's own chosen Israel, when He walked the earth.  At times He directly contradicted their Scriptures.  Had Twitter been around back then, He almost certainly would have received a "Farewell" tweet from a well-respected rabbi (for church pastors did not yet exist) at some point.  We, myself included, need to spend more time camped out in the Gospels, reading about His life and ministry, realizing HE is a truer picture of God than ANYTHING else we've been given.  HIS example is the one we ought to follow first and foremost.

So while I still have a lifetime of transformation toward Christlikeness ahead of me, I've at least been pushed toward the decision in recent years to follow Him actively, even when people around me don't understand, or sometimes even disapprove of, certain choices because my expression of Christianity doesn't look like the version that has been handed down to them.  I grapple with this because I want people to like me and approve of me, but I'm finding that following Jesus just might mean risking my reputation as a "good little Christian girl" because He just might lead me to interact with and even love people who might be looked upon with disdain in some Christian circles.

The following posts are excerpts from my journal in which I've wrestled with this.  Read here Part 1 and Part 2.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

{Blogger} Dashboard Confessional

image from Andrew Beierle
Sometimes I wonder if it seems as though I'm always pointing out and criticizing loveless behavior in others, particularly those in the church culture I grew up in, while remaining silent about my own faults.  The sad truth is I've been plenty guilty of loveless behavior myself, and it grieves me to remember certain episodes in my life that were marked by it.  There are many things I wish I'd said or done differently throughout my lifetime.  As Josh Garrels sings, "I'm holding on to hope that one day this could be made right..."  I can't go back and change the past, but to acknowledge some of these times when I failed to love seems to me as though it would be a step toward healing...

To my parents:
I am sorry for all the times I wasn't grateful for the countless ways you took care of our family through the years.  I remember complaining as a kid when we wouldn't go out to eat with other families on Sunday nights after church, not recognizing how hard it sometimes was just to put food on our table at home.  It serves as one small example of a million ways in which I have failed to appreciate you both.  But in my heart I have never stopped being thankful that you're my parents, or that you were the first people to lead me toward Jesus, and I'm sorry for the times I haven't shown that.

To my grandparents:
I am sorry for that time I stupidly listened to my Whiteheart cassette tape on headphones while we hiked the beautiful trails at Mt. Rogers instead of simply enjoying your company.  I'm sure it wasn't the only time I failed to show appreciation for the many wonderful experiences you made possible for me and Cassidy growing up.  So many of my favorite memories now are of times spent hiking or camping or boating or playing tennis or going on picnics with you, but I wonder how many times you had to drag me along, how many times I complained or, as in this instance, tried to tune out the experience just because it wasn't what I would have chosen to do at that moment.  I'm sorry for not savoring those times with two of my favorite people in the world.

To the young gay man who joined the singing ensemble I was part of in high school:
I am so sorry for how I looked down on you, joining in the jokes that were made behind your back about the stage name you supposedly used at some gay bar where you allegedly performed.  Is that even something someone young enough to be in high school would have been legally permitted to do?  Probably not, yet the rumors flew, and few (if any) of us bothered to ask such questions, opting instead to laugh at you with condescension.  Now, granted, you were never very friendly to us, either, but who knows how much mistreatment you had already faced before you ever met any of us that might have led you to hold yourself aloof?  It doesn't excuse my attitude toward you, and I'm sorry.

To the young girl in a youth group I used to work with in Tennessee:
I am so sorry for the time I chastised you for being excited about an upcoming youth convention, reminding you that not all of the Christian life is a mountaintop experience and we would be wrong to count on those high times to get us through the low ones -- as if God doesn't graciously give us all moments of relief and refreshment that do, indeed, help sustain us through life's hardships.  Why did I feel it so necessary to burst your bubble?  Your excitement was not a flaw, and I'm sorry for acting as though it was.

To my friend I once called out for including the word "ass" in a photo caption on Facebook:
I am so sorry for my self-righteous compulsion to make a mountain out of a very meaningless molehill.  I made you feel small and inadequate (and this was certainly not the only time), as though your choice of words somehow overshadowed the many wonderful things about you, like your love for Jesus and your deep compassion for others and the beautiful, creative soul He made you to be.  I'm so sorry for choosing to focus on the one thing I disapproved of at the time instead of shifting my thoughts to all the things I love about you.

To Adam Lambert (and to any fans of his or anyone who related to him in any way):
I am so sorry for condemning you during your time on American Idol because I didn't approve of your lifestyle or appreciate your often-dark musical choices.  I'm sorry for all the ridiculous things I posted on Facebook during those months, many of which I mercifully no longer remember, but the tone of which I recall being incredibly negative and judgmental.  I do remember once asking people to pray for three of your fellow contestants, as though you weren't good enough to be prayed for.  I'm so sorry for not simply seeing you through eyes of grace as a person with a soul and a lifetime of experiences I know nothing about.

To the one I tried so hard to control a few years ago (and honestly, this could be extended to many of my friends, though I have one particular person in mind at the moment):
I am so sorry for not trusting God to guide your decisions.  There had been a time when I was a major source of encouragement in your life, but as the months went on I felt more and more confident that I knew better than you did what you ought to pursue with the years that lay ahead of you, and I made it increasingly clear how much I disapproved of your desires.  I even threatened to distance myself -- empty threats, because the truth was I didn't want distance, I just wanted to manipulate your choices.  The deepest regrets of my life came during this period, and even now I fear you might be experiencing residual effects of how I treated you.  (And truthfully, I fear this for each person I'm addressing here, and probably for others I haven't thought of during this writing.)  I hope and pray God has relieved any of the burdens I helped to fashion in your life.  I pray you find freedom and beauty and life.  And I'm so sorry for working against these things, the very things Jesus came to bring us.

This post hardly even begins to scratch the surface of ways I've stripped my fellow humans of their God-given dignity as His image-bearers throughout my lifetime, but they are some of the moments that haunt me, even if I've accepted forgiveness for them and moved on.  Loveless behavior has not been a problem in church culture alone.  It has been a problem in me.

image from sallydell
These are some of the reasons I've come to cling so tightly over the past few years to Christ's call to love.  We're told in Scripture that love is greater than hope or even faith.  We're told it drives out fear and covers a multitude of sins.  We're told it is the singular thing that fulfills all of God's law.

I've spent too much of my life ignoring these facts, minimizing love's importance, attempting to redefine it in ways that allow me to see myself as better than others.  But increasingly my desire is to let go of my pride in order to love people well.

Jesus was full of love for souls wounded by the passions of men; he loved to bind up their wounds and to find in those very wounds the balm which should heal them.  Thus he said to the Magdalen:  "Much shall be forgiven thee because thou hast loved much," a sublimity of pardon which can only have called forth a sublime faith.  Why do we make ourselves more strict than Christ?  Why, holding obstinately to the opinions of the world, which hardens itself in order that it may be thought strong, do we reject, as it rejects, souls bleeding at wounds by which, like a sick man's bad blood, the evil of their past may be healed, if only a friendly hand is stretched out to lave them and set them in the convalescence of the heart?
-Alexandre Dumas-fils

I'm publicly repenting of the times I've tried to be "more strict than Christ."  I want the rest of my life to be led by His example of humility and marked by love.  Not control.  Not selfishness.  Not arrogance.  Not self-righteousness.  Love.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A Year of Lament, Part 3

image from eszter dobay
Monday, February 16, 2015
Dear one, if you are in a season of healing, then let God heal you.  He can be found anywhere.  He certainly isn't contained within a building, for the love.  If you need to rest, rest.  But maybe one day when you're ready, you can try again.  There is a safe faith community for you.  This I know.  It exists.  It may be some teeny, tiny little place.  It may be some big, fancy loud place.  It may be with the Episcopalians or with a home church.  Who knows? 
And you are an important part of it.  It's not just that you will receive.  You will give too.  We need you.  You bring something special and important to the body and don't forget it.  God heals all of us through each other.  It's this crazy weird miracle... 
You are so loved and precious.  God can bind up even the worst wounds.  And His people can be so beautiful, so loving, so healing.  I pray you find them, in whatever context, wherever you are, exactly as you are. 
-Jen Hatmaker
In today's headlines is a story of ISIS beheading 21 Christian Egyptian men.  And I wonder as I read about such things how the hell the church continues to fire shots at its own.  I've just watched as way too many people have become collateral damage, left broken along the side of the road, over the past year in a quest for "truth," for the sake of pet doctrines that betray our prideful self-righteousness, for the ability to move forward with organized institutions without the inconvenience of working through tough spots.

And I'm weary of the casualties.  I'm weary of those who are doing the wounding going uncontested.  I'm weary of our insistence upon neatness, upon homogeneity.  I'm weary of having a heart that constantly feels stuck in tension, torn between different directions.  I'm weary of organizations taking precedence over individual lives.  I'm weary of doctrines and structures being given priority over LOVE.

My heart is tired.  I'm tired.  I'm tired of feeling jaded and cynical.  I'm tired of every flame of hope that gets kindled in my heart being inevitably doused with another ousting, another proclamation of error in the lives of others.

Jesus came seeking those who lived life on the fringes.  He offered an easy yoke and a light burden.  He proclaimed freedom and life.  He spoke and dined with those with whom it was taboo to speak and dine.  Aching, broken outcasts were drawn to Him.

How did we, His people, become those doing the casting out, causing the ache, creating the brokenness?

I ran across an article recently chastising those who criticize the modern American evangelical church because, since the Church is Christ's bride, it ought to be loved.  It's not the first time I've heard such an argument, and it's not without some merit, yet I wonder how we can make such a blanket statement when a large portion of the Old Testament is devoted to the voices of prophets who spent their lives calling Israel -- God's chosen people -- out for how they had strayed from His design.  The prophets didn't call them out for not being religious enough -- on the contrary, it was noted repeatedly that they did well with all their religious rituals.  What was sorely lacking was love:  love for God in the form of an actual active relationship and heart connection, and love for fellow man in the form of justice and mercy.

In the present-day representation of God's people in the Church, we may think we've got the "loving God" part down, but throughout Scripture it is made clear that one cannot love God without loving his fellow man.  We're told that mercy is better than sacrifice.  If the nation of Israel was repeatedly rebuked for lacking love and mercy, how much more so ought we to be -- we who claim to follow Jesus, lover of the sinner and outcast, not only in word but in DEED as He took part in their lives?

If there's one thing I've come to believe as I continue to grieve the lack of sacrificial love I see in the Church, it's that the prophets' hearts were constantly wracked with grief for the very people to whom they preached.  It is joyless to watch the ship that was sent to rescue people sink because of its own passengers' volatile determination to shape the vessel into their own images.

Sometimes I feel like I can't stand one more day in the machine that's flattening people as fast as -- or faster than -- it's setting anyone free.  I don't want to be implicated any longer in the choices that are leaving people bloodied on the side of the road...

In contrast to my pain and frustration and grief, thank You, Jesus, for the fresh, springlike air that fills this unseasonably warm February afternoon.  Thank You for people who love me, for people who understand me, and for people who don't understand me but love me anyway.  Please help me to love well and to be a conduit of healing, not hurt; of life, not death; of freedom, not chains.

Read here the Introduction, Part 1, and Part 2.