Saturday, June 28, 2008

What Comes First, the Love or the Rules?

I've started writing this three times now, gotten about four paragraphs into it, stopped and deleted it. Maybe that's because I don't really know what I'm thinking or trying to say. So bear with me, as once again, I think out loud.

I struggle so much with a busy mind (not much clarity, only a few moments of 'crisp and clear' here and there). I have a hard time figuring out what's really right and wrong. I have been experiencing this struggle pretty much my entire life. I know a lot of it has to do with being brought up in some pretty conservative circles. I think in some ways that can really mess with your head. And your heart.

I also think it simply has to do with the fact that we're all made to know there's right and wrong, to feel that intuition about yourself and others that really does come down to morals. But there are so many angles and gray areas to me. Sometimes I wish I were more legalistic so I would just be more comfortable and at ease with myself and the way I live life. Behind the rules.

Right now I'm not so comfortable. I still struggle with the idea that God's love and grace are dependant on how I'm living, acting, and even feeling. I don't know how to shake that.

In my childhood and teen years, I did live by the rules (for the most part). The things that were considered really bad, I refrained from.

I think I was happiest then, in the sense of not being tormented by my conscience (as unhealthy as my trained conscience can be). In a sense, I felt free because I was following the rules.

But I don't think that's good.

I don't want to feel free because I'm following the rules.
I want to feel free because I feel wholly loved.
I don't want the things I do to determine how close I feel to God.
I want God's love and how that brings me close to Him, to determine the things I do.
I want to live by the rules on accident.

I want to be so aware that God is crazy about me that I accidentally take care of myself and others, believe in myself, and live out of the joy that brings.

I don't want the things I do and the way I live to come first.

I want the love of God to come first, spilling all over every aspect of who I am.

So I guess what I'm saying is that I wish I would have learned fully of God's love before I learned a list of rights and wrongs. When it comes to "The Christian walk," my road and my ideas are colored with do's and dont's, rather than what it's truly all about.

*I just paused in the writing of this and discovered Midnight Cafe had posted something here (thank you!), and she said what I'm trying to say. So I'm going to stop rambling on now and post this tomorrow. I want hers to be the latest post for awhile. Cause it's good stuff...

Friday, June 27, 2008

Thoughts on Love

I think I was 11 years old when I first doubted my salvation. I had given my life to God at the small age of 4, but, at 11, I began to wonder if I was really, honestly "saved." The crisis began when a teacher at my tiny Christian school called me "self-righteous" in front of the whole class and told me that self-righteousness was just as sinful as more obvious things like lying and cheating. And, while I actually believe that to be true, I'm not sure how helpful it is to point that out to anyone, much less an 11 year old who probably couldn't even define self-righteousness at the time. I wondered if I was lacking in faith since I was "self-righteous" and, therefore, trying to earn my salvation, rather than accepting it as a free gift from God. If I was lacking in faith then maybe I wasn't really a Christian at all.

I don't really believe I was self-righteous at the age of 11, or maybe I was in a kid sort of way. I tried to be good, to do the right thing, to get good grades, and to make my parents proud. I wonder how my life would have been different if that teacher had made a point of telling me in front of the whole class that God was so in love with me, that God smiled on my efforts to be good and to do good but that nothing I could ever do would make God not love me any more. I wonder who I would be if I had learned at a much earlier age to trust in God's goodness, love, and kindness. Kindness. Love is kind. This gentle, loving message is so painfully missing from the lives of most Christian or formerly-Christian people I know. The church, as I see it right now, is so full of judgment, is so terribly good at pointing out sin, and is so downright bad at helping people understand the central characteristic of God: God is love. So bad, in fact, that an 11 year old can have a crisis over whether they're really "saved."

So, I'm starting small and trying to change my own little corner of the world. I try to think of God's love when I'm with my kids. Love is kind. Love doesn't humiliate people in front of the whole class...or the whole family. It is better to communicate God's love to them than to dwell on their sinfulness. I want them to operate out of a sense of their loved-ness rather than guilt or fear. This reminds me of one of my favorite principles of parenting: It is better to teach what "to" do rather than what "not" to do. I want my children to know who they are: children who are desperately loved by the King, and, then out of their assurance of that love and some careful teaching, I hope they grow into compassionate, loving people, who desire to serve God and to serve others.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

That Beautiful Thing

I had a very interesting conversation about Christianity last night. This particular conversation has been a long time coming and today I can't get it out of my head. I really didn't say much. Hardly anything at all. I listened long and hard about the views of...let's call him...Ron. I respected him and refrained from talking. That's really hard for me to do. I love to talk. I love to say what I think. I love to keep rambling until I feel I've been understood. But last night there wasn't room for that. It isn't even that I'm afraid I don't know what to say, although at times there's some of that. It's just that sometimes it's time to shut up.

I'm torn about this conversation because the topic was so heavy and intense and I felt as if I couldn't do justice to what I hold in my heart. I'm also torn because on so many levels Ron and I are on the same page. We hold a lot of the same views on justice, compassion, peace, and the struggle to understand why Christianity has become what it is today.

I've known for a long time where Ron comes from. He says he's not a Christian, but is very focused on spirituality. He believes in the spirit world, in a divine calling and plan for our lives, and each person's individual power. That we are all made in God's image and hold His power and His goodness. (I'm probably not doing his beliefs justice because there isn't enough space and time here, and I'm not him, so I can't speak for him. That's simply a short version of my take on what he believes.)

And Jesus? Well, we talked about Him a lot. Or I should say Ron talked about him a lot and I listened. It may be putting it too simply, but my understanding is that he believes Jesus did live here. He believes He did what the Bible says He did. He talked a long while about Jesus' love, His ability to perform miracles, and His revolution for the poor in a dark time. He called it all a "beautiful thing." But the thing that Ron can't stand is how the end of the story is, in his view used for fostering guilt. He talked about being shown the crucifixion story at a young age and how it scarred him. He feels he was taught that the message behind the cross is that you should be so disturbed by it that you never forget that you owe this Jesus. That you never forget how unworthy you are. That you never forget that you better live in a way that doesn't offend what Jesus did. And if you don't live right, you better feel pretty bad about nailing Jesus to that cross.

This is one of the areas where I can totally respect his frustration. I don't think that any of what he was fed, or that many of us are fed, is the point at all. Jesus did not die so we'd feel bad about it for a lifetime. He did it to take on every ugly perversion and hateful act of mankind in one fell swoop so that we could be free. He did it because He is love. I'm not saying we're free to do whatever we want because Jesus took care of it, but I genuinely don't believe the point of the cross was for us to wallow in our unworthiness and never forget how bad we are. But sometimes that's what we're taught, subtley or not.

I think the only question I asked Ron was what he thinks about Jesus claiming He is God. The one and only God. He said some things about how he doesn't know, because he's not sure exactly what Jesus said and perhaps His words have been twisted...Then he went on to say how frustrating it is to watch the Western world fall for an idea of fear-based religion and all that's been stripped from the original stories and teachings of Jesus. That frustrates me too. But I still believe that Jesus is the one and only God, part of a beautiful trinity that has revealed itself to me in a powerful, tangible and personal way. That's where we're different. But I didn't say that.

I didn't say it because Christians really have done a number on the truths of a loving God. To the extent that when these conversations arise, there is so much frustration and anger, that I don't even get a chance to speak. Pretty much anything I could say would come out sounding like the same old mumbo jumbo Ron's been hearing his entire life. Things he has an educated argument against.

There are times when I think I just need to rest in being me. Just rest in knowing that there are times when I shouldn't speak. Rest in the hope that perhaps my life might speak more than any scripted answer I could ever attempt at giving. I cannot tout my beliefs to someone who is in fight or flight mode. He's in that mode because of a long history of people in his life misrepresenting Christianity.

What is so interesting to me is that if you take the Christianity of today and you strip away judgement, arrogance and disrespect, and maybe even guilt, you come up with what Ron believes. If these things were removed from his idea of Christianity, he may not refuse to call himself a Christian. Because the things he holds dearest to his heart and soul are exactly what Jesus came to teach.

So I'm thinking about this conversation today and feeling sad and a little angry. Angry that the "beautiful thing"Jesus came to do has been all covered up in many ways. And yet I'm feeling hopeful, knowing that all of it works together. Even the disillusionment and failures of God's people and the mistakes they've made to hurt others will all work together in His good and perfect plan. He's that powerful. He's that wise. And He loves us that much.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Never Gone

When I get a little of my own head space, away from the demands of every day life as a mom, I think. Well, I think all the time, too much really, but I think even more when I get a moment to myself. So the shower is a great place for ideas. Thoughts flow there, just like the water, with no interruptions.

Sometimes I take really short showers because I have to jump out and write something down. It's like God is showering me with His wisdom, and I have to take note so I won't forget what He taught me in a moment by myself.

I set that up like I'm about to share something super powerful and life-changing. I'm not because I don't think that's possible. Light bulb, or "ah-hah" moments usually aren't shared at the same moment in someone else's mind. Nor in the same way. Sometimes I repeat one of these moments to someone and they just stare at me like, "well yeah....duh." Maybe that's because those moments really are too personal, speaking to your heart in a way that will never happen again. It can't be repeated even within yourself. It's like waking and trying hard to hold onto the last moments of an interesting dream. Usually you just can't get it back in the same vivid and profound way.

When I have these moments and feel as if God said something just for me, I feel loved. It's so amazing that He "lifts the veil," helping me gain wisdom and experience the reality of His truths. Those truths are always freeing. His whispers are always meant to bring me further from a rut I've been in. Sometimes He says it through a wise friend. Sometimes at church. But mostly He speaks it straight to the heart because that's where He's always looking.

It has been good for me to rest in that idea. To realize that God is most interested in my heart. He sees all that I am there, and is slowly showing me His love in those quiet moments. He says that underneath it all, I'm His. That's it. Loved. Despite the things I'd like to get caught up in focusing on about myself, He sees the core of my heart, the image of Himself. That can't be removed. Hidden sometimes, maybe yes. Covered a bit by my own history, but never gone.

"I'm gonna start with the scraps of the truth. I was starting to see that the past might color the future, but it didn't determine it. And if I could believe that, it was much easier to let go of what I'd done wrong." - Paige, in Harvesting the Heart by Jodi Picoult

Friday, June 6, 2008

Exterminate Me

I was just sitting here reading some of my favorite blogs and I felt a little tickle at my neck. I reached up and realized there was something there and immediately went into the panic brush off, in case it might be a spider. Or worse, a tick. You know this brush off, the one where your whole body responds and you frantically swipe at yourself without looking at what monstrous thing it might be. This 'something' fell to my lap, but I still don't know what it was. I couldn't find it. I was looking everywhere to make sure I didn't remove the horrifying insect to another part of my body, only to have it crawl around and try to get back to my neck.

I got to thinking about how I'm like that when there's something in my life that is also quite icky and needs to go. Something sneaks up on me, tickles me and raises the hair on my neck. Then I quickly brush it away, thinking that will fix it. But it doesn't. My attempt at ridding myself of the problem, habit, negative attitude...well, my attempts at brushing them away don't work. I remove the sneaky thing to another location, a quieter corner of my mind, leaving it to wait in the wings for a moment when I'm not paying attention.

The truth is that I need an Exterminator, a very powerful one. But I keep forgetting to call Him. I try to ward off the creepy crawlies myself, hoping that if I ignore them long enough they might not multiply. But creepy crawlies always multiply if ignored, don't they? And they do more than creep me out. Some of them widdle away at me, stink me up and steal my food. The good things I know about myself get all chewed on until they don't resemble anything good.

It's not like you could really ignore a true infestation of bugs. I mean, once they're there and have been given the opportunity to reproduce in large quantities, there is no escaping them without some help. I've heard of people though, that simply get used to living with bugs. Let's take cockroaches for instance. You've seen those shows, people with garbage houses, infested with grime and bugs. And you think "HOW? How would you live like that? It's disgusting!" But I suppose it's just as anything else, as people we have a tendency to get comfortable in our misery. We judge people who live in squalor, but I for one can admit that I do the same, just not with the tangible.

I get comfortable with my anxiety, my unbelief, my fears and my doubts, until they are so normal that I don't recognize how much I'm itching and scratching. Then I'll come in contact with someone who seems to have so much more peace. To be more at ease and faithful. Then I'll suddenly remember that if I would call the Exterminator I would be much better off.

I've been realizing that a lot of this journey to God's love, to sit near His heart and really believe that He thinks I'm great, is largely difficult due to my fruitless attempts to get rid of my own junk. It's not like a human exterminator is scared of bugs. It's the same with God. He's not scared of my junk. He knows about it already and He's the only one that isn't completely intimidated by it. He can handle it. He's just that good.

Maybe it's as simple as if I really did have bugs all over my house. I would open the yellow pages and pick a name (I'm not big on research) and then I would call and say something like, "I have bugs, come right away and blast 'em." I need to do the same with the ugliness that creeps into my life, my mind, and my heart. "Exterminator, help. Please take it cause I know that you can, and I know I'll be much better off without it."
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