Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Bible and other things


It's me. MidnightCafe. (So as not to confuse people who might think it's Heather responding. ;) )

You said:
"My first thought I wanted to share with YOU was about the Bible. With a one sentence description on my feelings and struggles with it: it's scribed by men from men from men...and to me it becomes the "telephone cup" game of sorts where you pass along a message so many times that "I love to eat bananas" becomes "May I shovel the feet of camels". Know what I mean? I do believe THIS about the Bible - the essential meaning and lessons give a great "to do" list for living a good, honest, meaningful and CARING life."

I wanted to respond to this, if I may be so bold as to jump in the middle of this discussion. You have a lot of things going on here in this one sentence. First, it seems that you're wondering about the accuracy of the Bible as an ancient book passed on over time. But, also, you seem to wonder how it is that the Bible is God's book...not just the thoughts of a bunch of people.

I tend to begin by approaching this stuff intellectually. I enjoy theology, and I love to explore the details. Bear with me.

There are a number of books and articles out there attesting to the historical accuracy of the Bible and also the integrity of the book as it has been passed down over time. Late manuscripts of the Bible have been compared to very early manuscripts, and the consistency has been remarkable. The people charged with copying the text were held to a very high standard, and several manuscripts are out there demonstrating that the words have, in fact, not been changed over time. In spite of it seeming like it would turn into a big game of "telephone," the documents themselves demonstrate that this is not what happened.

Aside from that, there are some "proofs," if you will, that the Bible is historically accurate, meaning that the historical events recorded in the Bible are the same as the events recorded by other historians at the same time period. Current archeology also supports the historical accuracy of Biblical events. It's actually pretty amazing.

These things, of course, say little about how it is that the Bible is God's book. People can, on their own, record history and even accurately pass down manuscripts and texts. It's still a book written by people about people, right? Interestingly, I kind of agree with you there. There are a lot of different schools of thought about the way that the Bible is God's book. People have different theories about how it was written, if the words were given directly by God or if the people were simply prompted or inspired by God to write the stories in their own words. I believe the latter, that God prompted people to write the stories. I don't believe God held their hand and literally wrote the text through them.

For me, though, this doesn't make the Bible any less God's book. It's a book about God moving through the lives of people, weaving a story of love and reconciliation through the ages. The stories are true, and they're all about God. So, that makes the Bible God's book. We know that it was really God speaking in and moving in the lives of people because of the number of prophecies recorded in the Bible that were later fulfilled. Do you know that the books of the Old Testament contain something like 2000 prophecies that have all been fulfilled? And we know that the books were not written after the fulfillment because the early manuscripts have been clearly dated before the time when the events happened. It's wild and amazing.

I *do* believe that the Bible is inspired by God. I believe that God inspired the people to write their stories and experiences. It's not something I can prove, as Heather mentioned. It's more that it's very clear that the Bible is true on other levels. So, I choose to believe in this one last area that it's truly inspired by God.

I don't actually think you have to believe the Bible is inspired by God when you're first exploring it, though. I think it's important to know that the stories are historically accurate and that people appear to be telling the truth, that the prophecies were accurately fulfilled and that even many of the miracles are historically and archeologically supported. Then you just go from there. You read the stories to find out what those people knew about God, how they experienced God, who God was to them. You listen to the stories and the way they tell God's story. And that's all. (And you skip the family genealogies and the several repetitions of the laws until some other time....)

I hope I haven't said too much. I, personally, didn't really get "into" the Bible until I started studying it in college & seeing it as a whole unit that tells the story of God bringing redemption/reconciliation/ whatever-you-want-to-call-it to the world, to all of us human beings, individual people who are each made in God's image.

Oh, can I say just one more thing? I don't want to wear you out, but that reminded me. You were saying something about how people ought to live good lives, care about others, etc, etc...because it's human, not because it's Christian. What I just said there in the last paragraph is why I believe that it's both. Human beings, if I believe the Bible, were created in the image of God. We have a teensy bit of the character of God in us, and that is why it's human to love, to care, to have compassion, to do good. God is all of those things and we are made in God's likeness. So, it's human to do those things. It's the humanitarian, if you will, way to be. And it's also Christian, because we have that likeness, that character, that image of Christ, of God, in us. That's what makes us human.

Phew. That was a lot.

Dear Jess

(If you're new here, the most recent posts are comprised of a conversation between myself (Heather) and a reader/friend, Jess. The conversation has grown to include a few more friends in the comments and I'm loving that. Thank you all for coming along.)

(If you'd like to start at the beginning, you can click HERE for the first post.)
Dear Jess,
Hopefully you aren't getting too overwhelmed! There's a lot being said here and I hope that as you wade through it all it's helping rather than frustrating you.

I hope it's o.k. that I speak for all of those who have responded when I say that it's tricky to find words. Because this discussion is about faith, it's hard not to speak too much Christianese. I think about that a lot in my own life. When I'm talking to someone who's not a Christian about theological stuff, I often have to laugh at how I must sound. I just wanted to let you know that I'll do my best to not use phrases and terms that don't make much sense.

After the last post, Midnight Cafe (a contributor to this blog) left a comment I want to quote here because I think it's really important.

"I'm wondering if looking for proof that God exists OR if you're more in the position of believing that there *is* a God but you're not sure how people have a relationship with that God. Maybe you're wondering about both.

And, clearly, you're wondering about the we know that Bible is really God's word, how we know it hasn't changed over time...that sort of thing."

I've gotten the impression through our email correspondence that you're asking not WHY a person would believe (since you don't think it's ridiculous), but rather HOW. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought I should help clarify.

Now on to my response to your last email (finally).

Your thoughts about the Bible are totally valid. If we're being honest it seems a bit far-fetched to trust a bunch of imperfect humans to get the Word of God written by hand and call it good. For me that's exactly why I'm blown away by it's validity. It seems impossible, but even though it was created the way it was, it speaks to my mind and heart in a way no other book can. It's not that we're dumb, I think it's that we can't wrap our minds around God's bigness (yes, that's a word.) He is perfectly capable of using men to do things that only He can do, we just like to give Him human qualities, restrictions and limitations. So when the ink was in the hands of men, God was really the one doing the writing, knowing exactly what He meant and how people would respond. I think God knew there would be a lot of disbelief and worked his book to speak at the right time to each individual as they seek it and try to understand. It's like there was a different Bible written for each of us. You know, a spiritual phenomenon if you will. We are always evolving, changing, learning...and as we do, the Bible does it with us, different parts of it speaking to us at different times. That's what I mean about the Bible coming to life for me. It's aliiiive. (: That's what makes it different than other books even on the same topics.

For example, as I went through my years of being frustrated with "the church," I kind of shut down my belief system for awhile. I needed a time of quiet, without all the doctrinal stuff floating through my head. I'm a distracted person, always have been. I've never been good at just sitting with the Bible, praying, doing Bible Studies, etc. And I always felt like that was bad, or I was wrong and should feel guilty. I needed somewhere to start, but didn't know what to do, I just get so stuck in feeling like I'm not up to this whole Christianity task.

I'm a sensitive person who is easily sad and down on myself. Since I believe God made me, I think He knows this full well. He knows therefore what my specific needs are. He knew I needed to hear that I am loved fully no matter how lame I can be. So he met me there through His word. When I was reading and learning (here and there) I was being plowed over with verses that spoke to my hurting heart. I didn't have much self-worth and finally the Bible started to act as the tool to heal that.

"If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you." James 1:5

For once, I didn't think something along the lines of "oh, that's nice." I was hit right in the heart, I could see that I needed to get that, to really get that He... "gives generously to ALL without finding fault..." I was blown away by this verse and so many like it because they screamed God's love to me. Instead of being a big book of do's and dont's, I started to realize that God just wanted me to read it so He could tell me as often as possible that I'm loved, just exactly as I am.

When I opened myself up to that perspective, I started to see the Bible in a new way. I recently heard a woman speak on this. She talked about how we need to start imagining ourselves IN the stories of the Bible, to be the woman at the well, to be a part of the crowds receiving the fish and the loaves, all the while coming from the idea that God is showing LOVE in every every story, even the ones that don't seem that loving.

That's enough on that for now. I do go on and on and I don't want to do that. I'll be saying much more about the Bible as I tell you my personal story in bits and pieces if that's o.k.


Your second question had to do with "praying the prayer," the feeling of getting saved and what that entails. I'll start by saying that I believe that coming to a belief in Christ is not always so black and white. I believe it can be a process. I think there is more than one way to "accept Christ," if that makes sense. Sometimes that can be kind of a slow dance, moving toward a full acceptance of all that He is. I don't necessarily think a person needs to have a date and time of the moment they suddenly believed. Some people think the Bible is saying you DO have to be that certain, that clear...but you know what? We're all different. God is the one that made us that way. Not every person is going to have a clear cut "come to Jesus" moment. I have dear friends that are good examples of that. They may have never "prayed the prayer" in the way we're taught we're supposed to, but they've been "praying the prayer" in the sense that they pray, they believe, they're growing and changing...they are Christians just like a girl like me who prayed the prayer a gazillion times, trying to fix myself. In the end, maybe it's more about coming to a fullness of peace in knowing that Jesus was who He said He was, and He loves us like crazy. Then we take it from there and ride the faith train, learning more as we go.

I'll shut up now.

As usual, I'm looking forward to more thoughts from you,

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Dear Heather

I began telling Jess my own personal faith story in the last post. This is her response to that post and to your comments. I'll post my response to her questions tomorrow.
(My email from Jess)
My first reactions were:
1. The ladies who commented were very, very sweet.

2. I got nervous about posting under my blogger name (I could create an anon but don't really want to do that) because I still felt, just from reading their responses, that although some say they came to understand as an adult...they still sound so..."church-savvy" (in a completely unoffensive way) I'm afraid I still won't be able to relate.

My first thought I wanted to share with YOU was about the Bible. With a one sentence description on my feelings and struggles with it: it's scribed by men from men from men...and to me it becomes the "telephone cup" game of sorts where you pass along a message so many times that "I love to eat bananas" becomes "May I shovel the feet of camels". Know what I mean? I do believe THIS about the Bible - the essential meaning and lessons give a great "to do" list for living a good, honest, meaningful and CARING life. Please share your story about how your views on it changed, as you see fit and when you want. I'd love to hear more of that.

My second thoughts were to ask these questions if anyone is willing to elaborate and share:

Heidi - Thank you for being honest and not feeling "put off" by the fact that those who have always known are somewhat of a mystery to me. LOL Hopefully in time I can relate to what you say with regard to this topic.

Sara@butterville - What types of "other" things had you tried and how did you become certain that HE was the one moving things in your life, that it wasn't just "life" happening?

Kazzy - How do you experience a "two way" relationship with God? How are you certain that what's happening is two way?

Growin' with it - Just reading "it will always be a process" and "I don't ever expect to figure out God" helps more than you know. I'm a SOLID THOUGHT person. I have to have definitive answers and solutions. I hate leaving things open-ended, and I fear that this search will still feel that way once I am done or give up.

Brooke - If she is willing to share any of her experiences that solidified the knowledge, I'd love to learn of them. The quote was wonderful, thank you for sharing. I think it'll be something I hang onto for awhile.

Lastly, for you since you mentioned it and it's something my husband repeats as what he KNOWS and feels about religion - accepting Jesus as your Savior. I understand why we should do this, in the most general sense. But other than saying "sure, he might have offered up his son under the presumption we'll be saved because of this act" did anyone come to FEEL this acceptance and that you were "saved" because of it? I follow the story, I think I believe that Jesus existed on Earth as a man to share what he believed was the word of his Father...but from here it gets gray for me. I hope this doesn't qualify as blasphemy - that would really suck. LOL

I will stop talk about YOU rambling...sheesh. I am not even going to spell check!
Thank you for giving me a forum/sanctuary of sorts to read and talk about this but still feel like I'm under my blankets. I've already been told I'm going to hell back in college because I didn't know what I believed, and I really don't feel like hearing it anymore, even if I AM doomed to it. LOL


Monday, December 29, 2008

Dear Jess

*Disclaimer: I'm no theologian and I don't have all the answers. This is simply a discussion among friends and these are my thoughts and feelings as a part of that conversation. Some will agree and some will disagree and that's cool with me. Please accept my story as my experience, not as right or wrong.

Dear Jess,

I wish I had a nicely wrapped answer for you. With a bow on it. But I guess if it were that easy, you most likely would have received it already. :)

Most likely I will go on and on, but I want to get the conversation (on my end) rolling by keeping it short and sweet so you don't have to respond to a huge lengthy ramble. (Have you noticed I have a tendency to ramble?)

That said, I'll begin the story of how I came to a certainty of belief.

I did grow up in church (of the Baptist variety.) I never disliked it. I had fun with my church friends and found going to church on Wednesday nights and Sundays to be more of a social thing than actually learning about God. Because I was just a kid, and in my insecurity I cared more about what boy liked me than memorizing verses. But I did "accidentally" come to believe what I was being taught (for the most part.) My parents are also Christians, so there was a lot of talk of Jesus in my house too. I'm thankful that this foundation was there because it has really helped me as I've made my faith my own in adulthood. I'm simply admitting here that I don't think my faith was all that genuine until much later in my life. I was missing some very important things that would open my eyes and heart more than I had thought possible.

Early on, I was taught that a person needed to pray a certain prayer and "accept Jesus as their Savior." It seemed to me that was the most important thing because that gets you into Heaven (PHEW). From there, it appeared that having faith was about lifestyle. (Going to church, no drinking, no smoking, no swearing...)

(I must say here that this was MY impression, it's not how every Christian thinks, I'm sure. But that's how Christianity appeared to me as a child.)

So up until I was an adult, I think I "prayed the prayer" about a thousand times, every chance I got. I had this sneaking suspicion that I wasn't good enough so I should probably keep trying to make sure I wasn't going to Hell.

In my early twenties I finally started to see that walking with God was not just about an afterlife. I now believe that we focus a bit too much on that. Sure, it's very important to have an assurance of your final destination, but I think that final destination may take care of itself if we could learn more about freedom in Christ in this life. Coming to know that freedom means a person has come to know HIM for who He really is, and if we do that, I'm of the opinion He'll welcome us to Him in person one day cause we'll be friends and stuff. (I have no idea if that sentence made sense, sorry.)

I'll continue this possibly very boring story after your response. As I tell it, hopefully I'll answer your question of HOW a person comes to believe. I don't think there's a specific answer to that, like I said before. But I have my story to tell of how it's been for me and I hope that will help.

Lastly, I want to throw a little something in about the Bible. Because I'm a Christian a lot of the knowledge I have of God comes from His book. I have to admit that for much of my life I found the Bible to be somewhat...boring, unrelatable, and really confusing. As we carry on our conversation I'll tell you how that changed as well. I'm now finally understanding how God's Spirit works with we humans, opening our eyes to see things in a way that we couldn't if we didn't ask for His eyes. His word came alive for me and I was actually quite shocked (and impressed) by that.

Jess, I want to say that as I was cutting and pasting your emails in last night for the first post, I found myself more and more impressed by YOU. I appreciate that you aren't judgmental, you're so thoughtful, funny and just plain kind. Thank you.

I SO look forward to hearing from you,

Sunday, December 28, 2008

From Here to There

I wrote a post recently on my other blog about what I believe. Shortly after posting it, I received an email from one of the readers asking if she could ask some questions about my faith. Her name is Jessica, and with her permission, I'd like to share some of her words.

(from Jessica's first message)

"I wanted to express to you how much I enjoyed reading your full description, but didn't feel

like commenting in the public forum. I hope you don't mind. So much of what you said are things I feel in tune with, and was wondering if I could share some questions with you.
I have been speaking a LOT with my husband (a Christian man who knows what he believes) and trying to figure out things for myself.

I learned a few months ago what it was that I was seeking out, and it was someone who found their path to God and religion and might be able to share with me ways of understanding it. I have found it very difficult (so far impossible) to discuss my reservations about religion
with people who have always grown up "believing"in a higher power. They talk about it as if God already exists for everyone and explain from there, but I'm still back
at "how do you GET to him and feel him in your life" stage. I hope that makes you said, it's very difficult to put into words what exactly one means when talking about faith.
If you would be open to sharing some conversation with me, I would love to "chat"."

(from Jessica's second message, after I told her I would love to talk more with her about faith)

"I appreciate you being open to discussing, I just felt from the tone of your posts, you would be a comfortable voice to talk to. I've been searching for quite awhile for someone to bounce ideas around with, and realized looking around my peer group wasn't cutting it."

I decided to start off by giving a very condensed synopsis of me and any religious"ness" that's been in my life. It's brief, which makes it the easiest place to start (when you compare it to the thoughts in my head that I've tossed around for years). I'm 31. The first 10 or so years of my life, my dad took our family to Catholic church and Sunday school, almost without fail, every Sunday. One day, we woke up and didn't go anymore. I asked my mom about it, and she said they had a problem with the Father who was currently at that church (he picked on families with small children if their children were loud - go figure, Catholic priest getting mad about KIDS??). My mother was raised Methodist and converted to Catholic to marry my father. For those ten years, I really got nothing out of church. We didn't discuss religion at home, and I don't recall much of anything from
Sunday school lessons, and all I really remember about mass was the singing and trying to stay awake.

I basically went through the rest of my young years and all of college ignoring everything about religion. I didn't have anything against it, and I didn't have anything for it. It existed, and I existed, separately.

I started to ponder religion and what was "real"in my early 20s. I was living alone, working,
surviving....I saw a guy a few times, but during a latenight phone call, we started talking about church. I don't really remember what was said, but I believe it started with him saying something about being blessed, God knowing what was right for him...and I was totally
shocked at myself because I started crying. Not to him, and not aloud, but I just cried. He sounded so peaceful talking about God in his life, and I knew nothing of what he felt.It was during this conversation where my thoughts began, and so did my confusion. By this point in my life, I was so set in my beliefs that good things happen because good people made them happen.

Simple as that. I believed that you treat people nicely and as you want to be treated because it's the right thing to do, not because I want to please a higher being. I didn't feel this way to shun God, but I just didn't see how it was "Christian" of me to behave this way, I felt it was a HUMAN way to behave. It's how my families have always acted. And because I felt and still feel this way, it makes it hard to understand that it's a Godly way to live. My husband has told me that he believes I'm one of the most Christian-living people he's known and I don't even realize it. But I tell him it's how people are supposed to be, I shouldn't have to believe in a God to want to live this way. Because I could go on and on with my confusing thoughts, I'll get to my main two points of conflict (right now anyhow!).

1. I think religion is a great thing for those who have it. I think, no matter if the afterlife and God exist or not, having something like religion to believe in allows people to live more peacefully. I envy that feeling that people have, and that no matter how rough life can be, they honestly feel that by praying, their life becomes less stressful and the struggles are given to God to lead them the right way. I think it's wonderful to have it regardless of what really exists.

2. I have yet to meet anyone who came to understand and believe in God as an adult. I have realized I can't talk and ask questions from most people who have believed all their lives because they truly canNOT relate to what it feels like to not believe or to waffle. Asking questions about how they KNOW God is there and how to form a relationship with something so intangible always ends up with answers like "praying will help you find your answers" or "I just knew he existed because I've been so blessed". That doesn't work on someone so uncertain of it's very existence. It doesn't make sense. I don't feel blessed, I feel like I struggle and good things happen if I work hard or have good people around me. I can't pray because that feeling of inner peace or tranquility that comes with releasing your fears doesn't wash over me. I feel silly.

I am so sorry this got so long but I guess with a topic like this, it's very difficult to condense such confusion. I am really looking forward to hearing from you. Your post made me feel like I could get some truly honest and non-judgmental responses and conversation.
Thank you again, good night.
(and from her most recent message)
"My question or quest is determining how to create or seek out this relationship or how to even come to terms with his existence at all. It's like..."I want to believe that someone will "catch me when I jump" but I can't force myself to step off the ledge". Make sense?"

Jessica and I agreed that it would be a good thing to have this conversation in a public forum. For me, that's because I would love input from the comments, people adding thoughts to mine when I can't find my words. And also, the contributors of this blog will most likely have lovely things to say in post form if we get their wheels turning. They are wise women who are the type of people who understand, like I do, where Jessica is coming from.

I'm honored that Jessica felt comfortable opening this discussion with me. I'm humbled to think she found me worthy of carrying on this conversation. I consider her a friend, and can't wait to see what's in store for both of us. I respect where Jess is coming from and hope and pray that I can express myself well here. I'll ask God to reveal himself to both of us, since every human has much to learn, whether they are believers or not.

We're all on a journey in this life. Come along and think with us, out loud if you'd like.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Feast or Famine

Over ten years ago I stood in the city dump in Quito, Ecuador baffled by the stench of garbage and completely disturbed by the fact that people lived there. My heart hurt as the dark side of life sunk in.

We were an idealistic group of Americans, and as we crawled out of our van and stood loaded down with loaves of bread, we let the children run to us, their dirty faces smiling.

Radiant smiles. Pure joy, confidence, contentment, shone from their faces like headlights angled up a bit too much, blinding with bright. I was the deer in those headlights, dumbfounded and confused, unable to move for fear I might miss something, a clue as to why this awful place held so much happiness.

That's when I began to realize I was the one there to learn something. The aching need I thought would be expressed in those faces wasn't there as I had predicted. These people were simply happy. I imagine they were truly thankful for our gifts. But the thankfulness in their faces wasn't temporary, a result of our presence or our bread. It looked like the kind of gratitude that proved consistent, a part of the countenance of the souls behind those smiles. It was the kind of thankfulness that could be trusted to remain, gifts or no gifts, feast or famine.

I looked at the cardboard boxes leaning together posing as walls and roof tops, and thought of how so many called this home. There were old blankets and stuffed animals molded into beds. I couldn't imagine spending even one night there. But for many residents of the city dump, it was all they'd ever known.

I thought we would come to these people and tell them something they didn't know. That there is a God who loves them despite their circumstances. I was going to teach them about faith. But mine is a faith clouded with things. Opinions of denominations, the inevitable task of keeping house, daily doses of commercial "freedoms" clouding my vision and confusing me. I can have the best of intentions to love my neighbor the way these people did, but my intentions often get buried under sales flyers, phone calls, emails, and the rat race of my American life.

That day in the dump I realized that one day, or even three weeks of stepping outside my comfort zone was not what I was called to do. It was a good thing to do, but I knew I couldn't leave it at a loaf of bread, wash my hands of it, and head home.

Because every one of us has a specific calling over our lives to serve the people around us, whether there is a feast or a famine in our own lives.

The fulfillment of moving forward and reaching out brings joy, feast or famine.

That day in the dump, we had shown up with the idea that we knew something about life and faith that these people needed. We went assuming that what we knew of God had not yet been revealed to the people of the city dump in Ecuador. We felt we were there to help some lost souls meet Him.

But God had shown up long before we had.

"God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them."

The light that shone in those eyes I met that day was pure, ignited by the simplest of life's pleasures. And a knowledge of a loving God that meets people in their need. The Great Comforter is a dear friend to those that live in the city dump. And He is just as close to those of us who are completely distracted. We just don't often cry out for Him like those who have set aside their pride and realized their need for His daily presence, feast or famine.

My twenty-year-old American mind could hardly grasp the lesson, but I believe it was there.

Stripped bare of all other desires and freedoms, the human soul can finally rise up to meet contentment as that desperate soul comes face to face with it's Maker.
In that contentment there is pure joy, feast or famine.

Monday, November 3, 2008


As I look to tomorrow, the big election day, my head is full. There is only one thing I know. God does allow us to make our own choices, but He's always moving us toward a specific goal. His kingdom, where love reigns.

He is there already, defying time and space, completely capable of handling all of our tomorrows.

The following post was written by my friend Kristen and was posted today on
her blog.
It's an election year, and passions and opinions about the abortion debate are at an all-time high. People are extremely vocal about their views on protecting the unborn. In fact, it seems to be, for many, the single-most important factor in deciding who to vote for.

I am pro-life, and I think all this conviction is great. But I wonder what it will look like on November 5th? Will we be as "pro-life" once the vote is cast? Where will all this energy go? Once the pro-life political email forwards and youtube videos slow down, how do we take this enthusiasm and translate it into action?

  • How would this affect how we spend our time?
  • How can we mobilize our local church to care for birthmoms?
  • How we will care for pregnant teens in our own community?
    How would we assist with the orphan problem worldwide?
  • How will we respond to the 115,407 children in foster care who are waiting for a family?
  • How will we aid children suffering from malnutrition in impoverished countries?
  • How will we demand that our government protect the lives of innocent civilian children living in countries that we attack?
  • How will we respond to the children in US cities who live on the streets or in shelters or transient motels?
  • How will we educate teenagers so that they have the information they need to avoid unwanted pregnancies?
  • How will we keep our local hospitals accountable for their policies on late-term abortions and infant care?

I'm not asking these questions hypothetically. Shocking, I know, but I am not being sarcastic. I am absolutely sincere here, and I hope we can all think about these questions, and how we can respond, so that our pro-life talk becomes more than rhetoric.

I've heard a whole lot of conversation about how people don't want the government choosing how to spend our money, or mandating that our taxes be given to the needy. "The church should respond to the needy, not the government", some say.

So? How are we responding???

It's time to show the world that we are SERIOUS about defending the life of children, both the unborn and the born. We can't leave this up to the government. Our vote, or our president, will not solve the problems facing children and birthmothers in need. We must help. There are too many lives at stake to be passionate with our vote and then forget about this issue until the next election.

So, WHAT ARE WE GONNA DO? - Kristen Howerton

(back to Heather now)

I'm thankful that I'm not only educating myself one way or the other this election year, choosing to read things that are slanted only toward my personal views and watching only channels that support those views. It's amazing what a good dose of the perspective of both sides can do for your heart and mind.

I don't want to lean so heavily one direction that it becomes my main passion in this life. There is so much more to this life than our one country, our election, or our views on specific certain things.

It doesn't sit right with me when people are passionate to the extent that the Word of God that they stand on is being taken advantage of. No, that doesn't sit right with me.

Slander does not sit right with me. Judgment does not sit right with me. Anger does not sit right with me. Fear does not sit right with me.

Each one of the above is being used to it's fullest extent by the religious right (and the media) in this campaign, and it's wearing me out. I simply find it to be very sad. I see and hear people around me doing and saying things that are absolutely against the teachings of the Bible they profess to believe is truth.

The woman who questioned each of her trick or treaters on who their parents were voting for and refused candy to those that said they were voting for Obama. Hate.

The letter from Dobson predicting the future of our country if Obama is elected, detailing the corruption and demise in the imaginative days to come. Fear.

The man who started a fight with a fellow church-goer in the parking lot of his church for saying he's voting for Obama, calling him a sinner and a fraud. More hate.

Hate and fear are not alone this election year. I want to point at idolatry as well. Our country is not our God. One political party or another is not our God. One president or another is not our God. Our God is still on the throne. He is Sovereign, all-knowing and completely and totally in love with us. He will not let us down. No elected official can keep Him from working ALL things together for good.

When we are this passionate and wrapped up in our political views, we must ask ourselves where our faith is. Is it in this country, the one some believe is somehow the first in line, powering over all other nations, and somehow more important to God than any other nation? Is it in a political party, or in a belief held that says it is our right to mandate the moral decisions of others?

Or are we believing that God's in control no matter who is elected and no matter what party holds the most spaces in office? Do we believe that He might know more about what our country needs than we do, even if we're disappointed in the outcome?

It is one thing to feel strongly about our own taxes and to feel strongly about our moral convictions, but it's also a good idea to dig a little deeper. When I take a look at the world around me and really sit with it, asking God to guide my heart to see it how He does, what do I come up with? Are my blinders on as I put myself and my family before all others and look down my nose at the ideas and practices of others?

Hearing the self-righteous views of Christians around me this election year has not swayed my personal political views. If anything it has reminded me of how badly Christians in our country need a good dose of perspective.

The (much) bigger picture (the world, God's plan, people outside our bubbles...) is often totally forgotten in our haste to be right and to win.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Practicing Peace

I'm an anxious person.

If I could have three wishes from a genie in a bottle, one of them would be to POOF, take away my anxiety. The other two wishes would have to do with cottage living on a lake and poverty. Really. I mean that about ending poverty. Even if three wishes from a genie are meant for frivolous things.

But I digress.

I'm the kind of anxious that produces nail-biting and leg hopping. There could be absolutely nothing anxiety producing going on in my life and I'll still walk around with a bit of an edge to me. A bubbling group of butterflies batting away at my stomach.

I'm sick of it.

Every which way I turn these days, I have been hit over the head with these words:

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me-put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you."

Easy peasy, right?

Not for me. I can admit that I need some work in this particular (and many other) area(s). It seems like a simple equation:

Stop yourself when you start to worry + Pray + Think on lovely things = Peace.

So straight-forward.

This may not come easy for me, but I believe that it works.

I am an excellent example of a work in progress. Because it will take some time and faith to re-train this anxious brain. It's easy for me to fall back on worry, to listen to the little red guy on my shoulder, whispering his negative messages, his lies.

But I would like to silence him, until he is bored and moves on. I would like to stop when I notice that I'm about to start chewing my nails and staring off into space, thinking hard about all that isn't good. I would like to stop and say,

"I am good. Maybe even lovely. I have this man in my life who thinks I am good. I have these children. They are pure joy, and that is excellent. I have these parents that I admire. I see someone hurting and I want to help and do what is right. There is a God who loves me, and I know that is true. He is more than praiseworthy."

I want to stop and speak truth. I want to do what these verses say and calm my anxious heart. I want that peace that passes all human understanding. I want to stop biting my nails over lies.

Sometimes I want it to be miraculously simple. Like that genie in a bottle. But then I realize that most of the time, change comes a little slower, by putting a new way of thinking into practice.

I have met my "genie in a bottle," and I'm so thankful that He still speaks, bringing me peace when I didn't think it was possible.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Line in the Sand

To clarify the previous post...

We really rockin', ultra-cool Bible Study Ladies were talking about names people had called us over time that affected who we are now. Someone brought into the discussion that a family member of hers had been offended by being called "conservative right." A discussion ensued about whether "conservative right" and "liberal left" are derogatory terms. It seems that it mostly depends on context. In some situations these labels are offensive and in some situations they aren't. (So, for those of you who were hoping for an answer, my apologies.)

The end part of the unheated discussion went something like this:

The Other Lady (TOL): Jesus was conservative right.

Me (MidnightCafe or MC): Well, next week I'll have to wear the t-shirt that reads "Jesus is a Liberal." [this was teasing, but also to provoke some thought]

TOL: I don't think so [that Jesus was a Liberal]. Jesus drew a line in the sand.

MC: I do, too. That doesn't mean I have to vote Republican.

TOL: [something I don't remember]

MC: I have really big feelings about this.

Ok, so here's how I, personally, understood the line in the sand comment. I did not associate it with the story where Jesus drew a line in the sand. I associated it with the idea of having boundaries, morals & values. defines "draw a line in the sand" as a figure of speech meaning:

"to set a limit; allow to go up to a point but no further."

As in, "I have lines that I will not cross." I'm not totally sure, but I'm thinking that's what TOL was talking about.

James Dunigan at Park Hill Church of Christ said it this way:

When the lines of compromise are drawn we cannot cross it. We cannot swap sides back and forth. We as God’s people must have the courage and strength of character to remain faithful to God’s word no matter who dares us to cross over their lines drawn in the sand and join their side. Whatever line is drawn before you make sure you always step to the side God is on!

But I wanted to talk for a minute about another way that "drew a line in the sand" can be interpreted, and where in scripture the idea comes from. John 8:3-8 says this:

3The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" 6They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." 8Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

I can't think of a better way to express the sentiment of this passage than Pastor John Frye in his blog at: Jesus The Radical Pastor:

The time that Jesus drew a line in the sand
The scandalous woman lived; sent away forgiven
While blood stones lay unused on the ground,
Once held by self-confessed sinners.

What is our line in the sand?
Does it heal, forgive, give hope and life?
Is it a life line or a line of dark challenge,
signaling separation, judgment and death?

Go click on the blog & read the rest of what he wrote. It's beautiful.

So, Jesus' writing in the sand wasn't about morals and values at all. It was about forgiveness. It isn't even clear that what he wrote in the sand was a line. Maybe He was writing words:


I don't know. Maybe it was just a line. In any case, I'm not crossing it.

Whatever line it is, whether it's about having some morals and values I will not compromise or whether it's about crossing the line into judgment, I'm staying on this side.

And I don't think the conservative right has the corner on the market. Not on morals and not on forgiveness. To be clear, I don't think the liberal left does, either. More often, though, I hear the conservative right claiming that corner and casting judgment stones at the liberal left.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Political Feelings, Big and Small

You know, the thing about politics is that they are so political.

I know. Can you believe it? We get done with the whole church conversation and I bring up politics! I can't help it! There was a debate last night and a little something else happened at Bible Study that I'm really interested in discussing.

Both Midnight Cafe and I attend the same women's Bible Study every Wednesday morning. Now before you go picturing us sitting around in a circle, our heads bowed reverently with a bunch of gray-haired ladies, I want to say that our little group of women is totally cool. I love them. They're good people. We drink coffee and eat naughty things and then learn a little something from a little known lady named Beth Moore.

Anyway. A couple of Wednesdays ago, a political discussion reared it's ugly head in an otherwise mild conversation. I overheard parts of it and had to ask Midnight Cafe about what was said afterward, because she was sitting with the women who were discussing liberals and conservatives.

Now. Midnight Cafe may have to correct me if I get any of this wrong, but in short, someone was offended by the term "conservative right," or "religious right." They then said that it's a slur and that liberal people are also offended by the term, "liberal left." I was a bit confused by that alone. I guess if I feel strongly one way or the other, left or right, I might even consider it a compliment to be labeled as such. But an unheated argument came after these remarks, questions being asked and a bit of a non-conclusion resulted. Since that's how it goes with politics.

But then the thing that got me the most was one woman's response to being conservative herself. She said, and I paraphrase, that Jesus would be considered a conservative...a conservative falling very hard to the right. Someone asked a question and the response was "well, He drew a line in the sand."

Then Midnight Cafe could be heard saying, "I have really big feelings about this." Which gave me a chuckle.

I don't claim to have a clue what Jesus really thinks about Republicans. Or Democrats for that matter. I do know what He preached about justice, mercy and service to the poor. But I won't pretend that these beliefs answer all the questions.

I'm just curious. What do you think Jesus was saying by "drawing a line in the sand?" And does it make him part of the religious right of today? A lot of people think so. I admit that I do not. But I'm always willing to see another's point of view and try hard to understand. Do you have big feelings about this? Or are you just plain tired of the whole conversation?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Tangible & Intangible

I think that Christianity is a lot like love. Love is an abstract concept, but it doesn't mean much without the tangible practice. I don't think that means you have to go to church to practice Christianity, but I also think that going to church can really help.

I know it sounds like I'm contradicting myself. The trouble for me is not whether or not going to a church building is good or right.I think it certainly can be. The trouble is more that it seems very difficult these days to find a church that is about those things that are central to the Christian faith - service, community, love... Church is supposed to be the people, the body of Christ. If the people in a church building keep that focus, they are BEing the church. If they don't, I don't think being in a church building makes them the church.

Candles, incense, liturgy, ritual *can* help keep us focused, but they can also become the focus. Eucharist is supposed to point us to Jesus. Eucharist itself is not the focus. Jesus is the focus.

In the same way, lots of churches right now seem to be getting hung up on the finer points of theology, rather than building community and breaking bread together. I don't think it was this way when I was a kid, but I definitely think there's something going on in Western church as a whole right now. We've traveled all over and visited lots of churches. I don't think it's that we're so very picky. We're just having trouble finding something so basic and life-giving as a community of faith struggling to live the Christian life together in love and joy, walking together in a way that draws other to them.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Personality & Ritual

Wow! 4 posts in 2 days! I was going to reply to Heather but decided it might get a little long, and I want to keep talking about this.

I have to say that I totally think people choose churches according to their personalities/experience/family dynamics. We (people) choose a church that fits us in somewhat the same way we choose a marriage partner...someone with quirks we can put up with and a communication style that matches ours (though it can get pretty muddled up sometimes). People who are less demonstrative, for example, are way less likely to choose a Pentacostal church. People who are introverted and more reserved by nature may be drawn to quiter traditions, Catholic, Lutheran, etc... And I think how we feel about the church building also has something to do with who we are as individuals, how our personalities function, and our current worldview. When I was studying family therapy we used to talk about how we also tend to choose our denomination based on our family's flavor of dysfunction. Isn't that encouraging?

I can't tell you how difficult it is for me to deal with all that I just said above. I know it's so true, and, to a certain extent, I think it's ok. We come to God however we are, and we seek out a niche where we fit. God loves us in whichever niche we choose. But then there's this other part of me that wants to see a more unified body of Christ. AND there's a huge part of me that wants to say, "No! I'm not choosing this because of me. I'm choosing this because it's right." It isn't just that I want to be right, though I don't mind that either. It's that I don't want to be choosing out of my brokenness or dysfunction.

I *think* maybe this is related to what Heather was talking about when she first posted on the subject. She wanted to know if all people sit in church with prickles running up & down their spine or if it was just her own stuff getting in the way. I worry about that all the time, too. I don't want to be choosing not to attend the building just because I've been burned in church or because I'm too worried or judgmental or self-righteous or whiney. I want to choose whatever I choose for the "right" reasons. Which is maybe why this is such a huge topic here all of the sudden. We're talking it out, trying to figure out what's right.

Ok, the other thing I wanted to respond to is the importance of weekly/daily ritual, as Heather also mentioned. This is the one thing that draws me back to a church building, the one thing that keeps me second-guessing where we're at right now. Sure, we have family rituals, but the ritual of going to church can be so valuable. It's so tangible. Maybe this is why I miss going to church most for the sake of my children. Spirituality/Christianity is so abstract. The church building is SO concrete. It's so tangible and visable. I have to confess that, although I grew up in a Pentacostal tradition, I have always been drawn to incense & stained glass, memorized prayers and making the sign of the cross. I think it is innately human to desire the physical and tangible rituals to connect us with the things we cannot see. It helps up to move Christianity from our head and hearts into our bodies, our flesh and bones.

So, at this time we've chosen to live intentionally outside the walls of the church. We're hoping to create more ritual, community and connection outside the building. It isn't easy to be in either position right now, though - either inside our outside the church building. Both places have challenges. I can't help but feel that there's a stirring going on right now of God's people. We are getting restless and ready to change. Nothing sits well or easily. As I've said before over at The Midnight Cafe, you always know that if you're a little (or a lot) uneasy and you feel like you're living on the edge of a cliff, you're probably exactly where God wants you to be. You have to hang in there & follow God's lead. Life on a Cliff

Thursday, September 18, 2008

I Don't Know (Miles chose that title and I think it's perfect)

The term Church definitely means different things to different people. Some people read the Bible to mean that we are called to attend church (the building). Some may interpret Scripture to mean that Church is simply the body of Christ in communion, fellowship, and service to one another wherever that might be.

I don't know that we can find a "right" answer to which Church term is "correct." (But please give me scripture if you know of it, backing one side or the other.) I don't know that there is sound biblical evidence that I'm to attend a church building each Sunday in order to be doing this Christianity thing "right."

After reading the post from Midnight Cafe, I thought of how their family home schools. They do not have their daughter enrolled in classes at a school building with paid teachers and staff. But they do have school on a daily basis. They are doing school. Whether or not it's as organized as it is at a private or public school building, it is still school. It is learning, challenge, growth, stretching, reading, writing, interpreting, investigating, hypothesizing. If done in such a way that meets the individual needs of Mango, it serves it's purpose. Possibly even more fully than she could be served within the actual walls of an actual school.

Now I realize that this isn't necessarily the perfect analogy. But bear with me. What I'm getting at is individuality. We're all made in the image of God, but we're all unique too. Some were made to be teachers, some learners, some seekers, some thinkers, some talkers, some doers, whatever it may be. I'm starting to wonder how much of our individual make-up decides for us how we define Church. Just as some families need a structured school environment to be able to learn effectively and others thrive in a school setting right at home.

Maybe some people need church (the building) every Sunday and some do not.

Maybe some people have a personality that allows them the ability to focus on God and "do" Church on a daily basis, fellowshipping with family and friends, talking about God, teaching one another and serving each other with all the love they can muster. These people may even be blessed with an immediate family that is all fired up for the things of God, just constantly exuding His goodness, all parts of the family working together as "hands and feet." I've heard of this and seen it with my own two eyes. It is rare and beautiful and it makes sense to me that the desire for an organized church setting would be so little in the face of such spiritual abundance (Church) at home or in your immediate surroundings. This can happen with an individual too, who lives focused on the heart of God and seeking Church in all their relationships and experiences. Some people are blessed with the ability to see things spiritually without weekly reminders at a church building.

Then there are others that need Church (the building) in order to stay focused and to feel connected to the body. To find ways to serve. To be reminded on a weekly basis what life is all about. Maybe these people don't have a lot of natural spiritual support and flounder without this weekly connection to the family they have in Christ. Maybe some people need church or they totally lose sight of what they're here for, they can't focus, they struggle. They need a concrete sense of accountability and maybe even a concrete sense of boundaries, a reminder of God's love restricting some of what we do so we don't hurt ourselves or others as much as we would without these concrete reminders. And for these people, a large part of Church (the building) is the community, as Riley commented on. Some people have no other real sense of community, or have a very isolative existence, so they need weekly community gathering in order to fulfill the call to be in service to one another. I think this is the majority of people today because we do live such individual lives. Most people don't live in any kind of community setting and may even have limited friendships.

You get the idea.

The problem for many people in either of the shoes described above, is that finding real community in Church (the building) is definitely hard. It's sad. That has been said by each person giving input here. It's hard to find. And that's hard to swallow. I wonder what God thinks about that? What does He think of the Church today, the Church His people have created with good intentions (and some not-so-good). I wonder what He thinks about how difficult it is to find a "home" among "His people." For those that do need this structured routine, this place to feel safe, this place to call home, it is rarely what we're looking for. Or for those who simply love it, like Sabrina: the music, the teaching, the encouragement, it's even hard to feel comfortable when you're coming at it with this good attitude.

I guess the question is individual. What is God speaking to me personally? What do I need? What does my family need? I will be honest here and say that we need church (the building) in my particular family. We need a concrete focus. We're a household of ADD folk with little patience and easy-to-flounder personalities. That's us. If we don't have concrete set-apart time for learning and spiritual community we tend to watch too much TV and spend too much time on the internet, rather than talk about what really matters, pray together or spend time serving others in our community. Our hearts are in the right place, we just have a tendency to get distracted quite easily. I think the weekly ritual of church helps center us on what we believe and reminds us of who we want to be. Some people have all of that without having to attend a weekly meeting to find it. And I think that's okay too. I'm a bit jealous actually. I really wish I were more focused and self-disciplined if left to my own choices for learning and growing.

I don't think either choice is wrong? Is that way off base? Maybe I'll never know in this life.

Just more fuel to the conversation fire.

And my thoughts too...

I guess this is a hot button topic... Have we had one of these yet? I guess since I am a contributor I would like to contribute. I share the same sentiments as Heather and Midnight Cafe. I do not have a church. It's not that I don't like going, I am one of those strange people who enjoys it. But I never feel "at home". Should you have a building to feel at home? Sometimes I feel more at home sitting on a friend's couch fellowshipping then i do in a pew? I often feel more connected with people when I'm making a meal for them then when I'm half-heartedly making small talk and shaking their hands on a Sunday morning. I have no answers. There is no right or wrong.
The early church was not just one service one morning a week, it was everyday living.
Loving, giving, worshipping, serving can happen anywhere at anytime and that is more important to me then a service once a week.
Truthfully, I am made to feel guilty by others who say I'm not Christian enough if i don't go to church every week. Should=Shame. I don't want to go to church out of shame or guilt. I want my heart to be in it, but I want my heart to be in it everyday with everyone that is around me.
Love joy peace patience kindness gentleness faithfulness self control.

Coming out of the closet...

About church.

I was talking with Heather of the EO the other day and realized that I'd never really come out and said where I'm at with regard to church. I guess it isn't something I advertise, though I'm putting it out there now as just a piece of information.

The short story is that we don't go to church. We've been to a lot of churches, regularly attended a few, and finally decided that this is not what the church is called to be. We believe that we ARE the church, that the church was intended to be the body of believers who are called to live and work together, loving each other in a way that calls others irresistably to Christ. Last I checked that isn't what happens in most church buildings...on Sunday or any day. I believe in church as the community of believers, not the church building. So, we don't go to in, we don't attend a service or a building, which calls itself church. I actually don't believe that one can go to or attend church because church is supposed to be who we are not where we go. But anyway, we don't go. Have I said that enough times now?

The truth is that I can listen to great music, sing, and hear a sermon all at home, on TV or over the radio. There isn't time when we go to church to actually BE the church. No actual, real live fellowship happens in most churches on Sunday morning as near as I can tell. Small talk? Sure. Real friendship, sharing, discussing, exhorting? Not so much. Where real fellowship (or church) tends to happen for me is in my small Bible Study group, in coffee shops, in my living room, around the kitchen table... Corporate teaching and worship may have its place, but I don't think it was intended to be the bread and meat of the Christian life.

We are called to BE the church, and the church is not a building.

This is not to say that I don't feel guilty about not GOing. It's pretty tough to grow up going to church and feel like it's ok to NOT go, especially if you still call yourself a Christian. My neighbor called the other day to offer to take Mane to Sunday School. Ouch. She's of the firm belief that we should be GOing to the building, and we aren't doing the right thing for our children if we're not.

We DO teach our children about God. We read the Bible and pray together. We talk about living our lives in service to God. It's part of fabric of our lives and our conversation with each other.

So, that's the beginning of those thoughts. There's a lot more to say and a lot more I'm thinking through, but this seems like a good stopping place for now.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Some "Finding a Church" Wisdom

After my last post on feeling uncomfortable (again) in church, I received an email response that I couldn't help but want to share here. This email was exactly what I needed for reasons I won't explain in this post. I'll let you make your own conclusions as you read this well-articulated, non-judgmental view on the importance of church, and what issues need our consideration before making a decision of where to attend. I've highlighted a few things that really got me thinking, and I'd love to hear what you think. Give it a read, it's worth your time:
We got your email and I read the post. Yes, first, it is sad--regardless of whatever reasons, or whoever's "fault", it is sad when we can't feel at home in a church. So I hear you there. I obviously didn't hear the pastor, but some of what I "do" with that thinking, whether or not he intended it, is:
I distinguish between attending church as a legalism that we "must" do to be Christian, and attending because I do think it is the biblical way. It seems Jesus continued to go to "church" pretty much through out his life, especially early on. He went to Synagogue, listened to the teachers, even did some teaching--I think Jesus was first and foremost a Jew, not creating something over-against Judaism--his life and ministry was grounded in the church and Torah. Eventually he didn't have a "place to lay his head", but that doesn't mean he didn't want to (I think).

It sounds like the pastor's message sounds condemning or exclusionary. To that extent, it is not gospel, and should make you feel uneasy. If I want to listen to the sentiments though (from a distance), I've changed my way of thinking about the church to more of what he's getting at (without the overstatement and condemnation:) For a long time I was primarily wounded and sad about church, that I couldn't find one that I felt really accepted in, and to a lesser extent, that I basically agreed with the theology/worldview. I always had an ideal that our family life and my ministry would be rooted in a church home, but it just wasn't happening--it was very sad, and isolating, and I was very cynical/sarcastic (which exacerbated the "not being accepted" part....I was probably a hard guy to accept). So, what changed for us/me, was partly my own work which included clarifying my actual beliefs and passion (vs. what I thought I should believe), and some soul-searching on how I wasn't as able as I liked to say, to open myself up to real friendships. In other words, I mostly blamed others for not accepting me, but as I got honest, I realized 1) I didn't accept myself that much, 2) Being on the "fringes" was more comfortable for me than I thought, 3) I was not accepting others about as much as I blamed them for not accepting me. It was a humbling, and freeing time.
Those were the first steps. The fact remained though, that even if I did alot of my own "work" to open up and let go of some of my resentment and "righteousness", there are still many churches/denominations I just couldn't be a part of any longer. I realized leaving the AG wouldn't just be for my sake, but for their sake too--It was healing and liberating when I let go of the AG, not in reaction/judgment, but in getting realistic about the differences, and how they were genuine (no one's fault....and insurmountable), I was able to claim the gifts I got from my AG heritage, and maybe most importantly, thank them, and bless them to continue in God's work the way they felt called to (even though it wasn't my call). This is where I "might"? agree with the pastor: I really do believe that the Christian life is not primarily an individual thing, or even family thing, but that is grounded in the church, in fact a particular church--I mean this as a positive not legalism. Placing my "story" in the context of a church, and the heritage of that church and the global church, has broadened my faith to something beyond just me, just my "decision". It is a gift from God, found in the "story" of the church--it is grown and even safeguarded by the church. This is pretty Lutheran thinking, but it's pretty much where I'm at. It has melted my heart to think I'm not alone, it's not up to me to "do" my faith under my own power, but to be held up in grace through the history of the church--in some real sense I am a Christian because I commune with the church (not legalistically:), but the church as a gift, as a "people growing place" where I can be flawed and screwed up and scared and lazy on a personal level, but still be wrapped up in the grace found in the body until I am able to grow, from that grace, to the "next" place I can become.
So, 1) I did/am doing a lot of personal work, 2) That wasn't the end of the story, I had to find a "good enough" fit (never ever perfect) where I could be myself and have "enough" people be genuinely interested in me, and me in them, to be able to talk openly, and feel accepted "enough" to grow and face each other, self, and God. I'm not a flame'n liberal, but frankly, I could no longer be a part of the AG or most baptist, E-Free, type churches. There are significant differences--the easiest theological distinction to raise is whether a church ultimately sees the world as "us" (saved) and "them" (unsaved), or not. Of course there's something to this, but does the church have this distinction as the primary piece of their identity and mission? Arguably all/most AG/Baptist/Efree churches do think this I think--they try to be "nice" about it, and "caring" for the unbeliever (in there assessment), but the fact remains, there is a pervasive and enduring "culture/worldview" of judgment, unavoidably built into the fabric of the church. When this is it at the heart of identity, it naturally gets applied within the walls of the church too!
So, I don't know where you're at, but if you are "somewhat liberal" like you say (I know I am), it might be time to do some soul-searching, grieving, and decision-making??? I'm admittedly biased here--I think theology/worldview/culture of churches are extremely important. Not because of "right" and "wrong" but because it has real, felt, effect on our spiritual health and livelihood--I could care less about alot of theological topics in the church, if the underlying ethos is humility first, followed by openness and genuine interest in each other, and those outside who are different--assuming first that God is working in the lives of all even if they differ from us--maybe we could be just as off base as they are--that's the most important part for me--when that's the primary culture, the rest can be "worked out" with freedom and trust.
There are alot of us struggling evangelicals out there, I feel your pain, and really wish the best for you and your family!!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Where Two or More are Gathered, Communion, and Church

I think I might be either overly rebellious (entirely possible) or overly sensitive (totally possible) or both (pretty sure that's it).

Because when I sit in many of the churches we've been to, at least once during the sermon, I wince. Or my heart starts to race. Or I start looking around wondering if anyone else is shocked and notice no one seems to have felt a thing.

I'm frustrated. Mostly with myself. I don't expect a church to cater completely to the needs of my family. It's just that so many times, like I've said before, I come away feeling as if I don't fit in. Then I wonder why no one else seems uncomfortable, and figure it could just be my rebellious, cynical nature. Maybe I just don't like hearing certain things. Maybe they don't sit right with me because I don't want to have to change. Maybe the double-edged sword is a bit too much for me to handle in my immaturity sometimes. Maybe I hear things through my somewhat liberal ears, twisting what the person is saying so I can be offended and say, "I told you so, another judgmental closed-minded sermon."

Other times I think there's no way around it. Something is said that seems so far off, I never want to come back again. But I don't want my family to switch churches every six months when we're hopeful we've found a church home, then suddenly surprised by the misrepresentation of the word of God. I don't want to find out that things I hold dear are not being lived out. I don't want to feel as if there is no way the Holy Spirit is a part of the services, classes and other gatherings. I'm frustrated.

Today the pastor spoke on communion and the doctrinal beliefs behind it. All was well and good until he got a bit fired up and said some things that didn't sit well with me. I tried to check myself, asking myself not to judge him. I tried to understand where he's coming from, what he could mean. The sermon took a turn when the pastor started to talk about a poll that was done asking baby boomers if they're attending members of a church community. Many of the boomers answered that they would call themselves Christians, but they did not attend church each Sunday and were not members of any certain church.

I understand that the body of Christ is a vital aspect to faith. We hold each other up, we teach one another, and we even keep each other in line a bit, wanting to see one another living the fullest of lives possible. I agree with that.

But then the pastor started to talk about how "absurd" it would be to call yourself a Christian and not go to church.

He talked about the act of taking communion, and it's mysterious power when we do it together. True. That's cool. But then he said that if you were to take communion at home, with no one else there, "Jesus will not show up." He used the "where two or more are gathered" verse and basically said if there are less than two, God will not be there. He was specifically talking about communion.

I'm still chewing on this, so forgive me for rambling and thinking out loud a bit.

Then he also said that what you do in the world as an individual Christian is basically useless. It has to be done as a part of a church body (he was meaning a body that meets on Sundays, not the body). He said that handing out tracts on a corner by yourself does nothing for the people that read them (I'm not a fan of this method either, but I wouldn't be surprised if God has spoken love to someone at some point even through tracts.) He then moved on to say that loving people on your own, not representing a church, does nothing for the person you are loving. Because in the end it doesn't last. The person would not be witnessing Christ because they could just go and find the next person to love them, someone that may not even be a Christian and they'd find the same thing there. Basically saying that if your love cannot be traced back to a church or ministry, it is separate from Christianity.

I'm pretty sure that I think this is way off. Maybe I'm missing something. Yes, the church can definitely be effective in the world for those reasons, but first of all, how often is it effective in our world today? And what did Christ mean by "the Church?" And I sure hope that God still shows up when I'm not a part of a church community, because I can't seem to find one.

Mostly I'm just sad. Sad that we just can't find a home. A church where our kids can love other kids and learn about God. A place that doesn't sneak up and hit us over the head with stuff we just can't swallow. I was hopeful and now I'm disappointed again. Maybe it's wrong to not go back and give more chances. But to be honest, we had already heard a few things that didn't sit well with us, and we kept coming back because we were hopeful about the lovely congregation and children's programs.

But we don't want our kids to hear these kinds of messages either. I'm so frustrated.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Thoughts from the beach at Lake Superior

Heather said it was ok to cross-post this from my blog at The Midnight Cafe. So, here it is (edited to add that Mango = my husband, Vespera = my 17yr old daughter, Mane = my 6yr old daughter, and Novio = Vespera's boyfriend):

Last week we camped...5 days, 4 nights...just on the outskirts of Duluth. We brought the whole family + Novio.

On Wednesday evening I sat on the rock beach watching the waves come in, nestled up close to Mango, the wind whirring in our ears. Mane collected "rock babies." Vespera and Novio sat quietly, first taking pictures and then just still and contemplative. My heart was so full I could have laughed or cried. Instead I poured out my thoughts to Mango, poured them into the wind and the waves.

I have always loved the passion and intensity of teenage emotion. I love that electricity. And I think we are faced with a couple of choices as we grow out of our teenage years. We can stop feeling all that intensity because it's heavy and difficult, because it's hard to be stable and cope with life at that level of emotionality all the time. OR we can allow ourselves to feel, to be fully alive. And, in being fully alive, we have so much more experience and depth to the emtional intensity that follows. It makes your heart feel like bursting so very often, but the joy is just as deep and intense. Sometimes I feel as though I might drown in my own heart, covered over by the depth of all that I've learned and experienced since those teenage years.

I was aware, sitting there on the beach, that Vespera and Novio were in the midst of one of those deeply emotional moments. Novio comes from the ocean, and surfing was his hobby. Since moving to Minnesota he has not visited a body of water so vast that you cannot see the other side. The water and waves of Lake Superior were both the wound and the balm at the same time. So poignant. So bittersweet. The waves washed up old memories, even while we were there creating new ones.

I asked if the Lake made him homesick. His answer was heavy but quick and direct, "Yes, but Vespera is here, and I want to be with her." And they curled into each other, one wave inside another.

I honor the depth and breadth and truth of the emotions that my child and her Novio held out there in the wind that evening, while also acknowledging that the strength and depth of my own emotions go deeper...just because I've lived longer and known more, because I know them AND I know me. The wild ride of learning that we have intense and passionate emotional selves that begins in the teen years is really only the beginning. I can keep a cap on it better now if I want to, but when I sit in that quiet created by the rushing wind and crashing waves and allow myself to feel, I know that I draw from a well that is deeper now than it used to be. And I am so glad. I feel as though so many people around me have forgotten how to really just be connected to the waters of passion and intensity, of life and vitality. And the lack of connection limits our ability to love, to know joy, to be loved.

I do wonder how this relates to our ability to know God and be loved by God. God is such a powerful, intense, and vast Being. We connect a little bit to that vastness in those in-between years when we're so full of life and vitality ourselves. So much gets lost in the race to be successful, to care for our families, to do the necessary day-to-day things that we forget. We forget to open our arms wide to the wind and let the waves wash over us. We're filled with inhibitions that come from more experience, from fear. But our possibilities for understanding and knowing that Greatness, that Vastness are so much greater as we gain experience, more life, more depth. It's a conundrum, a paradox. Experience creates our inhibitions, but it also increases our potential for knowing and being loved by God and other human beings.

And this is why I love the wind and the waves. I love the way that the natural world grounds me in my humanness while drawing me into eternity, into a full, wide, expansive relationship with God and with others.

I want to live with the expansiveness of a teenager and with the tiny bits of wisdom I've gained since then. I want to put to use the full range of human life and emotion that God has granted me. I am willing.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Maybe it's in the Moments

I look out the window at a man who has been struggling with his weight, his love of food taking over and leaving him defeated most days. Today he looks happier, a little lighter. He has been sick and couldn't eat, making weight-loss that much easier. For quite a few days now, his desire for food has paled in comparison to the desire to avoid the pain that comes with eating. So the weight dropped, leaving him to feel like health might be possible. It is only by these days of inevitable consistency and motivated self-discipline, that the outcome that has been so long desired is starting to appear. His weight loss can be chalked up to a mere accident, in the face of no other choice. The ability to be self-disciplined handed on a silver platter. The platter of no other choice.

That's what it takes for me too, I think. Something has to happen that changes everything to get me to follow through as faithfully as is required of me. And even then, my will-power only lasts until I'm comfortable again. Or distracted. Or allowed the opportunity to be even the slightest bit lazy. If given the chance, I fall ever so quickly back into patterns of self-destructive behavior. Or at the very least, the absence of healthy habits.

One way I do this is with my "quiet time," as we good Christians like to call it. For a month at a time I can rise in the morning and spend some time with my God, feeding my spirit with His words and learning more about Him. And then the month passes, a new routine appears and I cave. I give in to the stress of life, the desire to sleep, or a generally distracted nature.

Sometimes I ask and ask, wanting God to give me a quick fix. A fix to a situation, or a part of me I'm tired of battling. But just as a diet plan is slow and arduous, so is faithfulness. We attempt and fail many times, making small strides and falling back. Lately I've been wondering if that's because we think in endings. The final weight goal, total freedom from addiction, a life where we live as we desire everyday without fail, or a perfect walk with God. Maybe it would be better if we stopped thinking that way. It seems too simple to say we need to start thinking in moments rather than in endings, but it may be true.

Maybe "living in the will of God" looks more like taking tiny steps with Him, thoughtfully considering what He would want in a particular moment, rather than believing there are only big choices on the road to His purposes.

It's maybe not about that one big decision, a job, a new baby, or a big move. It's maybe in the way we speak to the annoying co-worker that everyone else ignores. Or in the way we extend a hand-full of change to the homeless man holding his sign on the corner. Or it's in the way we take a deep breath, rather than lashing out at our children our spouses. Or in the moments where we stop and let another's hurt pierce our hearts, compelling us to act on their behalf. Or it's in the small ways we are called to action; to live, to feel, to hurt, to love, and to extend grace freely to the world around us.

In small moments we can stop and choose what God would want for us and His world around us. So maybe it's not about the end goal weight, but about the simple choice to choose fruit over a danish, just one morning at a time. And maybe it's about choosing to take a walk over having another glass of wine. Or it's about choosing to get up and sit at the throne of God, asking for wisdom and grace, just for today. I can do it, just for today. No need to think of whether or not I can do it tomorrow. Just for today.

Maybe as we choose the heart of God in these small moments, we live our way into the big and glorious calling for our lives.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Easy Path vs. The Difficult Path

There are a number of things I know about God in my head that still don't seem to get all the way through to my heart all the time. Much of the time, I think I've got a pretty good handle on who God is (dangerous, I know), and it even seems like I can feel it for the most part. But, then these moments come along when I realize that there's something I'm missing. I'm in the middle of one of those moments right now (or maybe it's more than a moment...more like days or weeks).

I can't get into too much detail, but there are some very concerning things regarding my daughter, Vespera's, immigration process looming on the horizon. It'll be another 9 months, most likely, before the whole thing is ironed out, and, in the meantime, I get to practice deep breathing and anti-anxiety techniques. This isn't my point, though. My point is that I always get this niggling feeling with regard to huge things like this that they aren't going to happen the easy way, that I can't even ask for them to happen the easy way because God doesn't give us the easy way. This is such a jumble for me. I believe, honestly, both in my head and my heart, that God isn't about taking the easy road. Really. That should come as no surprise to anyone who knows God. This isn't about smooth sailing and sunny skies. And, yet, I believe that God deeply and truly loves us and doesn't *wish* the more difficult path upon us. Really, in my head I know this. God isn't trying to make life difficult. God doesn't give us the hard road just because it's hard. And God isn't trying to make a point. God gives us the *best* road, which is often difficult anyway.

I'm really not saying this very well, but here's where I get hung up. My mom is praying for all of Vespera's immigration stuff to fly through with no trouble and in the quickest possible manner so that it doesn't require some additional travel, time missed from school, time of separation for our family, etc, etc... I am convinced that it won't be that easy. I mean, I hope that it might be that easy, but I don't even dare to ask God for it because I don't really believe that it's going to happen that way. I believe that it's going to happen the hard way, that there's going to be some bitter-sweetness, some heartache, some headaches and negotiations.

Why do I believe that?

That's my question. Why do I believe that God won't answer the prayer for calm waters, for sunny skies, for smooth sailing? I even cried about it the other night and begged for God's mercy. "Have mercy on my, Oh God, according to your unfailing love." I beg for compassion, for leniency. My head knows that God can move mountains, that, according to scripture, our faith can move mountains. And I think that I even believe this in my heart....that God can do that, I mean. But my heart doesn't believe that God will do that.

I also believe in my heart that we don't know the best way, and that God leads us in the best way, though it isn't always the easiest way. I have trouble letting go of the idea that it isn't always the most difficult way, either, though.

My good friend in Montana says that she's recently been connecting with God's sense of humor and God's desire to give us wonderful gifts and surprises. I found myself wondering what that feels like. I've been connected with that part of God at other times in my life but not recently, and I don't know how it even relates to my life right now.

I feel so schizophrenic about God. Sometimes I get it, and sometimes I really don't.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Small Hopes

I was sitting, thinking about my life... having one of those "is this all there is to life" moments. When it struck me, I completely have made God small. Or basically, I am lacking the faith to believe that God can still do big things. Lately, my prayers have become small, my hopes have become small, my faith has become really small. I think i used to believe that God could do anything. Then somewhere along the way, I have become one acquainted with disappointment. When the things you have hoped for, for so long never seem to come to fruition, you start wondering if they ever will. So your hopes become small and your faith just shrinks. I really want to believe that God can still move mountains, that He can do big things in my life. But i have been so disappointed in the past, I just have stopped asking for God to do anything.
This morning, I was struck by how futile that thinking is. Of course God can still do BIG things, he is the God who parted the Red Sea, collapsed a wall just by having people walk around it and yell really loudly. He is also a God who can send his son to the earth, to die for our sins and then raise him back to life. These aren't small feats.. these are big feats done by a great big God. Of course i am foolish and forget all the big things he already has done in my life. My memory often fails me, until i am reminded of all the times that God has moved mountains in my life, broken down walls and brought me back to life. I forget so easily. But I have become complacent with just settling for small. If you don't get your hopes up for anything big, then you will never be disappointed if it doesn't happen. But then i guess I'm missing out on the longing and expectation and faith that accompanies hope. I read this quote recently, "The Grand essentials of happiness are: something to do, something to love, and something to hope for." ~Allan K. Chalmers
So my goal this week is to believe, to pray and to hope for something big from God. I don't expect it to happen immediately, but I just want to for one week, put aside my small faith and have BIG faith for a little while.
I really love the verse Proverbs 13:12, Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.
Most of the time my heart is a bit sick, but i think its time i start holding out for my tree of life.
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