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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.

A Year of Lament, Part 2

image from matteo canessa
Saturday, November 1, 2014

Well, perhaps I won't be writing as frequently as I'd hoped or imagined.  And maybe this is going to be a book of laments.  My spirit is definitely troubled again today.

Today I'm troubled after reading Tony Kriz's account of how he was asked to leave his ministry at Reed College.  Someone dared to challenge the accepted norms in American Christianity and was deemed "dangerous" and removed.  What troubles me most is the fact that the supposedly "dangerous" practices/teachings look way more like Jesus' life and ministry than the "safe,"
acceptable norms we insist upon.  The more I hear about things like this, the more I wonder how in the world we've reached such an extreme cognitive dissonance that we don't even recognize how opposed our American conservative evangelical ideologies and methodologies too often stand to the ways of Jesus.  I can't help but be grieved again and again to see how little we look like Him and how oblivious we are to that fact.

Lord, have mercy.

I think back to our conversation in class Wednesday night about how Israel's great failure was repeatedly forgetting her identity as the people of God, which led her to neglect what had been handed down and instead to adopt the ways of the surrounding nations that did not know or trust God, nor look out for their fellow man.  We today often make the same mistake, forgetting our identity as Christ-followers and neglecting what was handed down to us through Him and His church.  We've adopted the ways of our culture, treasuring our independence, capitalism, and consumerism and largely ignoring the voices around us crying out for hope and healing.

How have we strayed so far, Lord?  How can we be brought back?  Can You restore our humility?  Can You make us agents of hope and healing again?

Lord, have mercy.

Read here the Introduction, Part 1, and Part 3.

A Year of Lament, Part 1

image from Bobbi Dombrowski
Sunday, August 10, 2014

It's been such a tumultuous year, Lord.  My heart feels like it's been beat to a pulp with all that's happened.  I've felt many times as though I'm drowning in brokenness.

Why do people in the evangelical/conservative/American/whatever church dismiss people like N.T. Wright, or like Scot McKnight, or even like Donald Miller or Eugene Cho, without even truly weighing what they have to say?  Why are there brilliant lines of thought coming through the likes of these people that hold desperately needed wisdom, that Your people refuse to give a second thought?

Why do we, Your people, spend the bulk of our energy concerning ourselves with things other than what Jesus revealed as the primary concerns of Your heart?  Why are we increasingly defined by who we kick out of fellowship?  Why is Your Church no longer a refuge, a safe place for the most broken of sinners and proponents of the most scandalous grace?  Who do we think we're pleasing?  You?  Surely not.  What are we trying to prove?  That we've got it right and those who don't ought to be shunned?  How far from the life Jesus lived...

My heart has been so overwhelmed with grief this year, and the most grievous part is almost every single drop of this grief has been born of the words and/or actions of Your people.  God, I know we're all broken and imperfect, but is this seriously the best we can do??

We need more Lisa Smiths and Whitney Gorbetts and Cari Jenkinses.  We need people who actually believe in the power of love to transform.  We need more conduits of Your grace and agents of Your healing.

I think the hope that lives in me has been brutally assaulted over the past year.  I think the enemy has tried to kill my belief in Your Kingdom's ability to invade this broken, hurting world as I've watched its citizens fire cannons at each other and perpetuate a cycle of devastation that renders us completely incapable of being any good to the world around us.

God, I know You are bigger than our brokenness, our ignorance, our refusal to listen to Your voice.  But I am desperate to see Your Kingdom breaking through all this senselessness, to see Your people acting as Your hands and feet instead of assuming we can act as Your mind; to see Your Church serving, loving, helping, and healing rather than judging and condemning.

Lord, have mercy.

Thank You for being a good God I can believe in even as I watch things crumble around me.  I know You desire more for us than this.  Help me to be an instrument of that.  "Make me an instrument of Your peace.  Where there is hatred, let me sow love.  Where there is darkness, let me shine light."  Help, Lord.

Read here the IntroductionPart 2, and Part 3.

A Year of Lament: Introduction

When I went to my first Q Conference in April 2014, I purchased a journal through the organization To Write Love On Her Arms.  The cover reads, "Let us not be silent...your story is important."  Ironically, I had no idea just how silent I would become in the months that lay ahead of me.

A series of events was about to unfold that would leave me virtually incapable of expressing the movements of my heart.  As conflict erupted in my church, I found I couldn't turn in any direction without seeing someone I loved experiencing excruciating pain -- people on all sides of the conflict.  My INFJ heart knows not how to avoid absorbing the hurts of those around me, and there were more hurts swirling around me than I could begin to process, in my own mind or on paper.

The journal I brought home with me from Q Nashville lay dormant.  You'll only find two entries dated 2014.  A glance at my blog reveals that I only posted two entries here during the entire year as well.  Even as 2015 began, I wrote virtually nothing.  No blog posts and only one journal entry until May.  Words just wouldn't come.

Thankfully, I've sensed the darkness beginning to subside over the past couple of months.  I'm finding words again.

And hope.

I remember thinking last year that what I was experiencing needed to be shared at some point, but seeing as I could hardly even write in my private journal, I was certainly in no place to share publicly at that time.  Now that the fog is lifting, however, I think the time is right.  And so I share at last some excerpts from those few pained journal entries written during what I've come to refer to as A Year of Lament...

Read here Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Beyond Knowing It All

image from madmick99
"What Plato and Aristotle recognize is that a fulfilling life requires something beyond having our material needs met and enjoying healthy human relationships.  In their view the only thing that can truly fulfill us is being able to spend our life contemplating that which is higher than ourselves, attempting to understand it but never fully being able to...  Since we can never fully know it, it cannot be fully explained...  Since this is transcendent, theologians might refer to it as God.  For Plato and Aristotle, contemplation of that which is beyond us is foundational for the best life possible. 
To the contemporary world, which is so fixated on activity to the exclusion of the contemplative, such a statement sounds like abject nonsense.  Yet Plato and Aristotle believe that the only thing that can truly satisfy us is to engage in a pursuit we can never finish because it is the only pursuit with which we will never grow bored.  It is in this quest that human fulfillment is complete.  In the [traditional world], the happiest life requires that we be philosophical or theological (seeking to know that which is beyond us), and as we find fulfillment in that pursuit, we can find fulfillment in all our relationships.  The best life possible comprises all these elements." 
-Dale S. Kuehne, Sex and the iWorld

As I read these words one week ago today, I thought about a paper I wrote for my Psychology 101 class in 2013 about Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.  Later in life he had added "Transcendence" as a level of human fulfillment even higher than the previously designated highest level of "Self-Actualization."  As someone who has been a believer in God for as long as I can remember, this made sense to me even then, but it makes even more sense now as I reflect upon this old idea that the only thing that can truly satisfy is a pursuit that we cannot finish.

A little over a year ago, a handful of people in the church where I worked became very vocal about their displeasure with the direction in which they felt our church was headed.  Kuehne's thoughts on contemplation brought this to mind because I specifically remember these folks railing against all things related to "contemplation" or "mystery" or "spiritual formation."  Their relentless insistence upon addressing and demonizing things like this eventually led to a truly massive implosion in our church family from which emotional and relational debris is still being cleaned up.


The sad truth is I was not far from this kind of dogmatism in the past.  The subculture in which I've spent much of my life -- "Amerivangelistianity" as one of my friends has dubbed it -- often acts as though it has cornered the market on theology and holds most, if not all, of the answers.  Oh, it might not describe itself that way, but the dismissive nature that plagues so many branches of this subculture toward people who hold alternate views betrays any claims to the contrary.  I bought into this in the past and found security in my "right-ness."

Considering this tendency toward overconfidence and a demonstrable fear of the unknown, Kuehne's words made me wonder how we can possibly be surprised that so many people in the U.S., even within the walls of the church, seem so marked by disillusionment.  We act as though we've found the end of the road (or perhaps the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow) in our Calvinism or our Dispensationalism or whatever sacred cow appeals to any particular group.

We strip all sense of mystery from the Christian life, leaving no room for awe or wonder or exploration, believing the boxes we've created (or subscribed to) are sufficient display cases for the "awesome God" we seek to worship and serve.

No wonder people in America are bored with Christianity.  And no wonder even in the church (perhaps especially so), relationships suffer great brokenness.  We prefer knowledge to relationship and embrace the illusion of certainty over a humility that would enable us to love.  The journey into which we invite people is not compelling, and our overblown sense of confidence in our own knowledge leaves little room for the complexities inherent in humanity.

At Q Boston, Jefferson Bethke spoke of our need to give people a better "yes" instead of simply telling them "no" all the time.  What if, rather than shaming those who don't meet our expectations, we actually lived lives of love for God and others -- not some mere obligatory, duty-driven sense of "love" but one that actually delights in God and others?  What if we actually learned to enjoy people for who they are -- as they are -- and truly trusted God's Spirit to lead them into greater depths of grace and truth, transforming them in His way and His timing, as He sees fit, instead of imposing our own particular set of convictions on all those we meet?

Surely a world in which we are not seeking to control everything and everyone but instead are constantly seeking reasons to rejoice and ways to love people would offer people a better "yes."  Surely a world in which we stop trying to dominate and instead pursue peace would be one people might actually be drawn to join.  Surely it would more clearly reflect the Kingdom Jesus began to build as He challenged the religious structures that heaped burdens on people in His culture and as He embraced the outcasts and failures.

Can we lay down our self-righteous sacrifice for the sake of mercy?
Can we lay down our pride for the sake of humility?
Can we lay down our dogma for the sake of a little mystery?
Can we lay down our fear for the sake of love?
Can we lay down our sense of doom and judgment for the sake of hope?

As I said earlier, I've been the self-righteous, prideful, dogmatic, fearful, judgmental person in the past.  To be sure, I'm not fully cured of it.  But I began to learn a few years ago that it was just about the most invigorating thing in the world to allow my thinking to be challenged (often by the life and words of Jesus, no less)!  Being willing to consider things beyond what I currently believe to be true at any given moment has yet to cause me to lose my faith.  On the contrary, it has strengthened my faith exponentially to see that God is not as small and powerless and, most importantly, uncaring as we often make Him out to be.  Spend some hours soaking in the life and ministry of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels, and I can almost guarantee you will walk away with less certainty and more questions but also with greater hope in a God who doesn't seek to shame or despise or reject but who comforts the shamed, loves the despised, and identifies with the rejected.

I realize that I can convince absolutely no one of anything I'm saying.  One must be open to the possibility that God is more complex than we've understood Him to be.  But I can say with confidence that given a true chance, He will happily shatter many of the boxes to which you've believed Him to be confined, and allowing Him to do that will be the start of perhaps the most life-giving, joyful, sometimes scary but ultimately freeing journey of your life.