Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Landing Place

Our Table on the 4th Night of Chanukah, Second Week of Advent


I wrapped my hands around the cup of hot tea and closed my eyes. Just briefly. And in those few seconds with my eyes closed, I smiled. Guitars and voices filled the room with music. This has always been where I feel peaceful: surrounded by people I love and the sound of music. We had already lit the Shabbat candles, stood under the tallit to be blessed, heard the sound of the shofar, and enjoyed our meal and Torah discussion together. Now the children screamed happily in the basement, the baby passed from one family member to another, we chatted and sipped hot tea.

These are the other pilgrims on our journey. They believe Jesus, and they believe in the importance of honoring the Jewish history of Jesus. They believe in the importance of traditions, rituals, within our families and among fellow pilgrims - not in following traditions in a legalistic way, but in enjoying tradition, honoring it, and letting it point us to Jesus. 

We first met with them six weeks ago. Six weeks ago I realized that we found the place where we belong. It isn't the Western church. It isn't church in any traditional sense at all. It is church in its truest incarnation - people who are bound together by the love of Jesus and who serve God and serve each other in a way that draws others to God. No judgment regarding various traditions, just fellowship and study in the presence of other believers.


The Messianic tradition is something that has interested me for a long time. Mango & I attended a few different Messianic congregations while we were looking for a church in our early marriage. My favorite Mama message board (Gentle Christian Mothers) has a large contingent of people who participate in Jewish/Biblical holidays and traditions (whether they are Jewish by birth or not). Then, a few years back, I met a wonderful woman who became one of my dearest friends, and her husband began a ministry organization called Hebrew For Christians. A few months ago they invited us to join them for their Shabbat meal and Torah study. I cannot begin to tell you how rightly this fits our family and our faith. When most people think of the roots of Christianity, they think of Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. Later, we think of Martin Luther and Charles Wesley. The Messianic movement takes church history all the way back to its roots - the Hebrew people, the promise of God to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the rituals and traditions instituted by God for the benefit of the people of God, the Jewish people.

In saying these things, I want to be careful to acknowledge that there are many, many ways to follow God. You don't have to follow a set of rituals and instructions to be a Christian person. You don't have to believe me or your neighbor or your pastor or your best friend. You just have to believe God. We've been on this journey for a very, very long time, and this is our landing place for now. 

I didn't actually think we were ever going to come to a landing place. When I began writing about church this summer, I had no idea where it would lead. In a strange way, this has been a much more public journey than I would have chosen. Had a known we were going to land here, I would have begun writing here, and then you wouldn't have heard the groaning and frustrations of my previous posts. Perhaps, I had to make the plea aloud, speak the desire to land somewhere, before we could be cleared for landing.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

grace packaging

I asked for a glass of ice and she handed it to me in a hot, freshly washed coffee mug. The ice was quickly melting, giving me something to drink while chomp chomp chomping. I love ice.

I sat down to write and every time I reached for my mug it would warm my hand so that the ice cold water would surprise my lips and teeth.

(I know. I know. You just never know what I might talk about when you come here...bear with me...I kind of know where this is going. Sort of.)

The contrast of the cup and the ice got me thinking about how two things can be really different and both be good, maybe for different reasons to different people. For the longest time I've been fighting to believe that certain things make me uncomfortable because they should. Like I'm a warm glass and they are ice cubes packed up high to my top, cooling me down when I don't want to be cooled, changing me from the very thing I am and its out of my control. I mean, if you're all warm and cozy, the last thing you need is a bunch of get the idea.


Let me give you an example. I'm a Christian, right? But I feel like I'm constantly explaining, to people (who are new to my life anyway), that I'm not very stereotypical in my faith. I don't have a Jesus fish on my car, I've never owned a WWJD bracelet, and overall I'm not very conservative. My entire life, the Christian bubbles I floated through were places that felt pretty foreign to me, and over time I took that to mean there was something wrong with me. What I've come to learn over the years is that it isn't about me being wrong or that particular "brand" of Christianity being wrong, but rather, maybe I'm just simply not all that Evangelical.

The foundation of my beliefs at their core are definitely Christian, and for that I'm not the least bit ashamed. It's just that I continue to try to reconcile those beliefs with how things are in the Evangelical Christian world of today and I can never do it. So often, not much of it makes sense to me. So often, Christians create their own version of something good by adding or subtracting
to align their religion with their opinions. I've never been good at swallowing that, and I've even been known to rant on and on and on about how much I don't like it.

There are still many many things to get angry about. I guess I'm just finally ready to not take on those things like it's entirely up to me to scream until it's fixed. I don't like it one bit that large Christian events like the one I attended last weekend are overly commercialized, filled with excess beyond t-shirts and coffee mugs and into "get your own platinum card with our logo!" I don't like it that the speakers at this Christian event had "a person," each of them, "a person," to follow them and take care of them and parade them to their seats for security's sake. And I don't have to like that there was a garbage between each of their chairs, just two or three feet from the next one, the chairs and the garbages all in a row facing a flat screen television that sat directly in front of the stage where what could be seen on the TV could be seen in real life, simultaneously, one right on top of the other.

There were so many flat screen televisions, surrounding the base of the center-of-the-arena-circular stage, up high, down low, off to the sides, next to the beautiful glass panes that made a fence-like structure for the speakers with its glowing logo on every pane. A glowing logo that changed colors on a timer, mesmerizing my already easily distracted self.

It was done up big, yo.

And it made me itchy. Because I know far too well the places that money could go, if this event were stripped down and simplified. I know how much money would be left for those places where it's needed most if at least some of the excess was stripped away. For me, so often, sitting in the midst of all of it felt like ice in a hot cup.

I was trying to reconcile the good things of grace that I was experiencing with the logo and the products and the TV's. It was like I could feel the clashing of opposites in my soul and in the air.

Feed the hungry! Get your platinum credit card!
God's grace is for you and he loves you! Get your tote or coffee mug!

And then it hit me, as I sat right there in that chair feeling overstimulated and confused. I remembered the comment I received on the EO recently, the one that expressed frustration at watching my journey turn into what it has. How I'm traveling so much and having all of these opportunities come up and I thought Is this what I look like now? Am I doing it up big? Are my readers sitting there trying to read my heart and feeling blinded by my speaking and traveling and the writing of a book?

It hurt to think that, to not know what to do or to have all the answers for how to do this right. Because the last thing I want is to ask you to apply for a platinum card with EO on it, so to speak.

I never imagined any of the things that are happening, you know? I didn't sign up for this, and still it just happened at the same time as I guess I made it happen, by putting myself out there so...much.


The morning I attended this very large event in the very large place with the very many people and very many lights and TVs and myriad of things for sale, I went to Target, hurriedly and over-tired. It was early and I'd been up most of the night and I wanted me a Dr. Pepper. I was very focused on the Dr. Pepper. The store had just opened recently and I was the only person walking in, very few cars in the parking lot. A young man came through the automatic door as I walked up and he seemed to be walking directly for me, so I looked up to meet his eyes, his eyes with a little glint in them. He asked me how I was and I said fine and asked him how he was. He reached out his hand and I knew this was the moment when I was supposed to question what he wanted and whether or not I would say yes or no, to help without suspicion or to sheepishly decline with an excuse because my gut was telling me no. But none of that was happening, I just felt peaceful. I reached out and felt the shape of a card, one that had a receipt wrapped around it, one that was being handed to me. He was saying I got what I needed and there's a little bit left on that gift card so I thought I would give it to's not much, but maybe you can use it toward your purchase.

I walked away calling thank yous over my shoulder and fighting back over-tired and touched with emotion tears.

What a guy.

It was simple. No one was around to see it. He was fighting back a very proud smile. He was humble about all of it and this small thing changed me.

There was $2.02 on that card. More than enough for a Dr. Pepper fountain soda with lots of ice for chomping.

This experience was completely stripped of excess and just as powerful as the changing lights and booming sounds and big names of the conference I was about to attend. A conference that would end up leaving me changed just as the man in the parking lot had. Because people stood up on that stage and they told their truths, their stories, and especially when adoption was spoken of, I was rocked to my core.

So. I guess I'm more comfortable with the small things, the extraordinary things that happen in my small day-to-day life. They fit me. And yet there is something God can do with anything, anything, even things that can feel a bit inauthentic on the surface, overdone and commercialized. I don't know how this particular popular Christian event took this course. I can't judge its journey to survive and thrive. I don't know if all the money that's made is going to help the poor and the hungry, the fatherless and the widow, and maybe it is. I don't know. All I know is that it made me care more deeply about the orphans of this world, because of its fine choices for musical guests and speakers, people who are not thinking of themselves as people who need their own "person" to escort them everywhere, but people who adopt and serve and love and talk about it.

I could be wrong, but I highly doubt that the intention of creators of this event is to get rich quick. Most likely they just want to help, like my friend in the Target lot, and like me.

I don't know what's going to happen next, but I do know that I'm more of a warm cup than an ice cube. And when ice cubes make me uncomfortable, maybe it's not so bad to endure the clashing I feel inside to experience something I may not fully understand but God is certainly always using. He's much bigger than opposite clashing temperatures, in my opinion. He will use me big or small because it's true what they say...he does not send those who are equipped...he equips those he sends.

I guess what I'm saying is that sometimes I may think it's horrible to add ice, but maybe I need to realize that as it melts, I can get at least one drink out of it. A drink from a place I wouldn't expect to find quenching. Those are everywhere and in every form.

Grace is a mysterious and tricky chameleon, and I love it.


This post is a part of 31 Days of Grace at Chatting at the Sky.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Life Without Church - Part 3

Sometimes I wonder if the longing for something that looks like "church" isn't sort of the same longing that we homeschooling parents sometimes have for those "school" type things. I know that I look back and think of the good times I had at school, and I get all nostalgic, and I wonder if I'm cheating Mane out of something, some experience she isn't getting to have. Then I remember that I'm homeschooling to give her a different kind of experience, one that I hope will be equally positive (or more) and that she'll have plenty of nostalgia about someday. It just won't be the same nostalgia I feel for my school days.

I know I feel that same nostalgia about church. I remember the Bible verses and the Sunday School songs and the people who loved me. Then I want those things for Mane, and I wonder why we aren't going to church. It could be, though, that it's just the same as homeschooling. Mane isn't having the same experiences I had. She's having different ones. Maybe she's having some better ones. And, hopefully, she'll be able to look back fondly someday on the things we did together as a family, the people we met along the way on this faith journey, and the experiences we had.

It's a fine line, a balancing act, a bit of a blur to distinguish: What am I wanting because I really need it, and what am I wanting just for the familiarity and safety. How do I trust my intuition when my intuition is so connected to my emotion? How do I trust my own decisions when they fall so outside the mainstream?


Still no answers. But this is what came to me after Part 2. And, I realize that Part 2 sounds a bit too much like an easy answer following Part 1. I was just so amazed at how miraculously that prayer book seemed to have dropped into our laps when we needed it the most.  It seemed, in some ways, a confirmation that we could really do some of this at home, that we don't need a church building and a church service to develop a practice of prayer, even some liturgy and tradition. It seems like that's something we could all learn, whether we attend church or not. For us, it filled a desperate need.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Life Without Church - Part 2

Disclaimer: This is not an answer to my previous post: Life Without Church - Part 1. It is simply another piece of the journey.  


I was left with a longing in my heart and spirit when I left the baptism that day in August, and as the new school year began (we homeschool) I was searching for just the right thing to fill the longing for something more structured in our spiritual lives. My eyes landed on a little green book on my bookcase. I pulled it down. It had been a garage sale find - a Celtic prayer book. I picked it up because Mango's ancestors came from Scotland and because I have a certain affinity toward things that add tradition and ritual to daily life, though I find those things much more difficult to carry out in practice.
Over the years I have discovered something important about myself with regard to beginning a daily practice of anything. I know this may sound counter-intuitive, but I have to give myself permission to not actually do it every single day, to miss a day now and then. And I have to introduce it to Mane that way, too. Because Mane is 8 years old and still thinking in a mostly concrete way, I can't tell her this is something we're going to do every single day or she'll go crazy if we miss a day. So, I tell her, "We'll do this whenever we can, as often as possible. It might not be every day. We might miss a day, and that's ok."

When I'm talking to her, I'm talking to myself. It's ok to not be perfect, to make mistakes, to be flexible. My problem isn't that I'm too concrete. It's that I'm too much of a rule follower, having grown up in a rule following kind of family and a rule following kind of church. When I can't follow through, even when it's just my own rules, I feel defeated, a failure. So, I gave myself permission, from the get-go, to be flexible, to do what works, to make this our own prayer practice, not a rote, rule-following practice. And, we began.

Within a week I realized that we were meeting this need, filling this empty space. We need the [flexible] structure that that this little prayer book helps to provide. And we need the tradition and ritual that we're missing by not attending a church. Something about praying The Lord's Prayer with Mane every night helps me feel connected with other pilgrims on this journey everywhere, and I can relax knowing that she will know this prayer, too. And when she visits churches here or in Scotland or Russia or Mexico or some other unknown place where other believers join together in The Lord's Prayer, she will know it, too. I want her to have that.

We also say the Magnificat each night, which is the prayer or song of Mary, as recorded in the book of Luke. After hearing me read it for a week, Mane declared that she wanted to learn it. After hearing it for 3 weeks, she could recite it alone with no prompts. Two weeks later, I've learned it, too. I've written before about the power of repetition, how we move things from our right brain to our left brain and into our bodies through repetition (and, thus, memorization), and so I am delighted that Mane is learning such beautiful passages of scripture, prayers for her to cling to when she doesn't know what to pray for herself, prayers that she will believe in her mind and her body as she has learned them inside out.

Morning prayers include a time for us to pray over our own intentions for the day. Midday prayers have a space for congratulating ourselves for something. Evening prayers leave an opening for expressing gratitude and for petitions. I love that there is both structure and openness, liturgy and spontaneous prayer. I find that Mane appreciates the liturgical because she doesn't always know what to say in her own prayers. And I appreciate the prompt to speak my spontaneous prayers aloud, allowing Mane to "eavesdrop." I often keep my prayer life cloistered, though I have desperately wanted to teach her what it is to know and follow God. That seems a bit contradictory. So, using this prayer book pushes me to move out of my prayer closet and lead by example.

We don't want our lack of church attendance to mean that we raise a child who doesn't know scripture or understand prayer. Our intention has actually been the opposite - that she's understands authentic prayer and true Christianity better without the buzz of religiosity and legalism in her ears. It requires so much intentionality, though, to do that outside the structure of church-going. It requires us to build our own structure. This new practice of prayer (because it's actually pretty new for me, too, being a somewhat Catholic prayer book) is a piece of that structure. It isn't other pilgrims on the journey or the community we long for, but it's a connection to them, a link to all the generations of Christians who have gone before us and who walk beside us unawares.


Stay tuned...because I think parts 3 & 4 are coming. (If I tell you this, it will hold me accountable to actually writing those things...)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Life Without Church - Part 1

The following was written about a month ago, and I never really finished it, but I started writing something else today and realized that what I was writing was "Part 2" of this post. So, today I give you Part 1...

I went to a baptism yesterday. It was the first time I've attended church in years. And it wasn't a church service, per se. It was an outdoor baptism service following the "regular" church service. It was hot and bright and the late summer wind was stirring up all my allergies. Even so, I found myself feeling all sentimental and nostalgic, closing my eyes to sing and just be with the Jesus-followers around me, in all of our imperfection and discomforts...and commitment to the same God and Creator, who forgives us our imperfections and loves us like we love our children, fiercely and unconditionally. I found myself singing that oh-s-familiar refrain,

I have decided to follow Jesus
I have decided to follow Jesus
I have decided to follow Jesus
No turning back
No turning back

The simplicity was stunning. And my eyes were stinging. And I realized that I wanted Mane to know this song. I want her to have the precious little gems I got out of growing up in church. Somehow, I want her to have this experience of being a pilgrim on a journey with other pilgrims. I want her to know that our family isn't the only family on this journey. I want her to know that there are other people in this family. I want her to know that following God comes in all shapes and sizes, that everybody has unique ways of being a God-follower. I want church. Not a building. Church. I want people who have the grace to not argue theology and church politics, who won't get hung up on doctrine. I want to talk about all of those things. But I don't want to argue. And, in the end, I want grace.

The real truth is that we don't go to church because we don't want Mane's impressionable mind to loaded with prejudices and legalism and an all-one-way kind of doctrine.  And we don't want to have to be exactly like everybody else to belong. And, really, we want a church that is more about relationships than Sunday, Wednesday and Saturday services.

I don't know what this means because we haven't found what we want anywhere. And maybe it's because we don't have enough grace and flexibility to just go and be there and forgive the differences and choose to be part of something anyway. It's so difficult to find the line where wanting grace and flexibility becomes graceless and rigid.

I do know that, because we don't go to a church service in a church building, we have to be that much more intentional about teaching our children who we are and what we believe. Church-going offers a structure that is hard to come by in any other way. We must, instead, be intentional about finding fellowship, learning scripture, practicing prayer, and singing those favorite hymns. It's harder than I had imagined.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

what matters most to you?

I've been having an email conversation with a friend. She's known all her life that she's gay. She has fought this all of her life. She is preparing to tell her truth and to therefore be disowned by her family. She is ready to be honest.

My response to her?

I love you. I'm sorry you're hurting.

The End.

I just finished watching the conversation between Jennifer Knapp (a Christian artist and a lesbian) and Pastor Bob Botsford on Larry King Live. It left me itchy. Whatever your beliefs about homosexuality, I'm confused at what point a person finds themselves the authority, the one to say, Choose between Christianity and your sexuality.

I'm a Christian, and I know this is a hot button issue in my faith community. Sometimes I'm just not so sure why we're even talking about it. Why are we so focused on it? As Christians, what "should" we be focusing on?

Derek Webb asks some good questions...
(if you don't like swears, don't watch it)

As usual I love the point that's made through this song, that we're so focused on the wrong things. Please tell me, if a person is expending their little left-over energy on another person's moral choices, how do they have room for the sick and the poor and the orphan and the widow?

Sometimes I wish we all could sit together the exact same way we alcoholics sit together. If we did, I'm certain we'd have no room in our hearts for judging lifestyles. Those hearts would be so filled with the power of mercy and a holy redemptive freedom, we would go mute. There would be a lull in the crowd, mouths agape, standing in awe of love. We would see each other the way Christ sees us and the words that follow the pointed finger would be held captive by grace.

I guess this makes me a grateful alcoholic who fully admits she doesn't have all the answers, and is too busy learning to love and be loved to pass my time digging around in the lives of others in an effort to be right out of fear.

I want to transcend, to rise above all of this. I really do. To be a friend to my friend, and that is all.

Pastor Bob says that "sin is not ruling my(his) life," and that Jennifer is "not allowing Jesus Christ to reign over her life."

This is what gets me. Those very words. Those beliefs. It hurts. I hurt for my friend and I hurt for me. Because had people known about my addiction and had they told me, "Sin is ruling your life Heather"...I highly doubt it would have helped me, even if they were right to some degree, a degree I can't claim to fully understand. It would have left me hurting, even if they added, I tell you this because I love you.

I'm pretty sure my heart's response would have been something like, Okay. Now what am I allowed to tell you? Should I point out the way you believe you hold some higher authority, some right to point fingers? Have you ascended beyond having sin rule over your life? What are you not seeing about yourself if can say such things? Unless you can honestly say you're perfect, it's very difficult to find the dividing line between the sin-ruled life and the life Jesus reigns in.

If a man walks into a meeting with fellow alcoholics and says that he's relapsed and cannot stop. If he smells of whiskey with a touch of red wine, what happens?

Open arms, friends. Open arms. We're glad you're here today. That is the only response. And that is why the room is safe and holy, life-giving and life-changing. The change will come. After love.

I can't claim to know if homosexuality is a choice or a sin...I can't. I can't spend my energy looking over the arguments on both sides, arguments that both hold valid points and believable research. I don't think that's what I'm here to do. My friend's journey is her own, as is mine, and I simply love her for being her.

I just needed to get that off my chest.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The truth is, most Christians think alcoholism is a choice

When I say that alcoholism is a disease, I'm often met with the same response from Christians,

Well... kind of.

Family, friends, professionals, it doesn't matter,

Well...kind of.

The commonality among people who have said this to me? They are not alcoholics.

I do understand why Christians struggle to understand alcoholism. As believers in the Bible, what comes to mind for them is "do not become drunk on wine..."


As a Christian and an alcoholic, I struggle with this mentality. I don't want to become angry or resentful, I just hope that I can help people understand, even if my effort here falls on many a deaf ear, I guess I just need to say what I need to say and then let it go.

I don't want to argue, but I do want to talk about this.

The way alcoholism is approached in most Christian circles is truly damaging. There is already so much shame in the mind and heart of the alcoholic, so to hear the message that this disease is a sin and a choice only compounds those feelings and therefore hurts rather than helps.

I'm writing about this today because I heard a pastor speak last night and it left me hurting, sad, frustrated....

The pastor was invited to speak to a group of alcoholics, to encourage and enlighten. I respect this man and truly appreciate him for having the courage to stand up and talk to people he may not fully understand. I believe he was nervous and uninformed, so this isn't about blame or judgment. This is about a deep desire in my heart to prevent my fellows from being hurt in the way they were last night. That's all it is.

To make a long story short, what I heard last night was that I've made my bed and it's going to be difficult, but now I have to lie in it and I should remember to love everyone, even the most unlovable, because well, look at me-God loves even me, so I should pass that on. I heard that I made a choice to be an alcoholic and that it's only because I grew up with bad examples (not true). And Jesus fed the multitudes with a few fish and a loaf of bread because he felt sorry for the people even though he was busy, and so He must love me, too. Even me.

Now, before I receive comments that tell me that my drinking was sinful, I want to be clear. Yes. I drank. I chose to take that first drink all those years ago, at a legal age, just as many other people do and then go on to never struggle with drunkenness or addiction.

But for me, that one drink never stopped. I am an alcoholic. I have a disease, and therefore, my drinking snow-balled all on its own. Please trust me if you can. I consistently found myself unable to control the amount I consumed and completely unable to control my ruminating thoughts about drinking. For so many years, I thought this had to do with me, as a person, that I was more flawed, lazy, lacking self-control. I couldn't understand what was happening. I had heard my entire life that alcoholism is not a disease. So, my conclusion was that I was simply failing, and then failing, and then failing again. It wasn't until I learned MUCH about the physiological aspects of this disease that I finally could get real help that made it possible for me to stop. I absolutely could not stop without starting a rigid program of recovery. That, my friends, is a disease.

So I look at what this man said last night and I roll it over in my hand like a stone and I feel it, I just let myself see it and feel it, and then I have no choice but to forgive it, tossing that sad stone away, over and over.

I guess what I'm asking here is this: When considering your beliefs about alcoholism, please know your unknown. Please know you can't judge something you have not experienced.

I heard this little ditty in treatment: The truth needs no defenders.

The truth, it stands on its own no matter what. It just is. Like alcoholism, it just is. Like redemption, it just is. None of those three things can be changed by our will, but there they are.

No matter what I do, I'm an alcoholic. And no matter what I do, I am redeemed. And no matter what I do, that's the truth.

In the end, no matter what anyone thinks of me, I know that alcoholism found me so I could find true freedom. And because of this disease, I have the gift of knowing more about unconditional love than I could have learned any other way. I'm grateful, and I will not be angry about these uninformed opinions of me, because I cannot afford to have this gift stolen.

"Alcoholism is a physiological disease with spiritual consequences."-Father Martin

God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


Ask yourself more what you are for than what you are against. Then live what you are for.

Yeah, that's all I got.

Except that I really liked this post by Shaun Groves.

Peace out.

Oh and one more thing. The nitty gritty details of my drinking story are being shared tomorrow as an introduction to a series on motherhood and alcoholism. I'm nervous. You can find out where that is tomorrow at the EO.

Peace back out.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The "I" in Church

I had a sinking feeling the other day. I started to wonder what Miles had been told about Easter at school. He goes to a Christian preschool, and I suddenly realized this meant that, most likely, the Crucifixion story had been...covered. So one day last week, on the couch being silly, I asked him what he knew about Easter.


Nothing? Didn't they talk about it at school?

Yeah, but I don't want to talk about it.

Oh. Why?

They put nails in his hands and feet in wood and I don't know why he had to do that.

(Long pause while I was think think thinking fast.) I rub his little hand and I say,

Honey, it's okay that you don't understand. I don't think you're supposed to understand because you're four and your brain isn't ready to understand. How about if you try not to worry about it for now and if you have questions, we can always talk about it.

I said this all calm and reassuring like, but to be honest, there was a tornado in my head and heart. An angry tornado.

He is FOUR! He's scared and this will take a long time to undo. Anyone who doesn't believe that needs to take some time to consider the development of a child. Before they are old enough to own who they are, they are asked to give up who they are. That's what Jesus did for you, now you need to give your life to Jesus. But how are they to know what they are giving, or how?

Some think this teaching at a very young age gives roots and a foundation and I can't begrudge or judge that...I need to simply consider what I want to do for my boys.

I want to be so careful about what those roots are buried in, and with what that foundation is made of. Fear? Guilt? Shame? Or hope? Trust? Joy?

When thinking through his relationship to church and God in his book, Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller writes, "Perhaps it was because my Sunday School classes did much to help us memorize the ten commandments and little to teach us who God was and how to relate to Him, or perhaps it was because they did and I wasn't listening."

I'm sure it's much of both in my life. As a child, I wasn't very good at listening. Like most kids, I wasn't ready to sit and soak in things that were, for the most part, above my developmental head. And so, the stories and rules for life fell a bit flat, and then they were heard so many times, they became background noise.

This is my fear. When all that pressure is on, at such a young age, it solidifies what is already true of children...I am the center of the universe. We do that in church. In an effort to teach a person, to get them to take responsibility, to see their sin, we focus focus focus on not only the do's and dont's, but almost soley, in nearly every church I've ever entered, on ourselves and our lives. We sit around trying to perfect our own faith.

It's all about me. Am I getting this right? Am I getting this wrong?

Of course we do need some focus on these things, right and wrong. We need to learn. I'm not saying there's no place for it. I'm saying something else I'm not even sure I can articulate. Maybe simply that we focus on it more than anything else and in my mind that's too much.

After I quit drinking I had an email conversation with some Christian friends of mine. They were not at all judgmental, just curious, when they asked, "As a Christian, how did you keep drinking when you knew it was wrong?" Well, that turned our email conversation into quite a long one. Part of that conversation had to do with being brought up in the church. I told them that one thing I've seen now, after quitting, is that there is more unconditional love in a meeting of drunks than in any church I've ever been in. And beyond even that, there is more holiness, more redemption, and more freedom than anywhere I've ever been in this life. It is just so full of the bigger picture of hope.

I read this today, and it helped to solidify my thought process:

People often ask what makes (this program-12 step meetings) work. One of the answers is that (this program) works because it gets people away from themselves as the center of the universe.

A person cannot sit in these meetings and think much of themselves. It's nearly impossible. It isn't about shame, that's not what I'm saying. It's about telling the truth, exactly as it is, and knowing you're safe. When you witness people doing that, there is no room in your head and heart for yourself. Not in those moments, because the whole truth is full of holiness, and in holiness we experience moments of freedom from ourselves. And then it becomes a practice, a meditation almost. I will just sit here and listen, that is all I will do...and we will find true fellowship in honesty and then we will see the face of God and know Him. In mercy. In acceptance. In forgiveness.

What happens next is what keeps us sober. We listen...and then we help not with 'you must do this' and 'you must do that,' but in sharing what has worked for us. Sometimes we help by simply listening, and then mostly by encouraging. In this moment, you are in the right place. Tomorrow you will think of tomorrow. Yesterday is done, and you are here and that is good. That is enough. Judgment isn't allowed and it doesn't come naturally because no one there is pretending to be anything. We are in a position that forces only one issue: we are all the same.

In short, this experience brings me closer to an understanding of who God is and how to relate to Him. And other than that I don't even know what I'm trying to say. I'm thinking out loud. I'm processing.

What my children's faith is rooted in is extremely important to me. They can turn into good kids who follow the rules and talk the talk and even walk the walk, but if their faith is rooted in self and the fear of that self, it is empty. The road to spiritual maturity will be that much longer, and I know exactly what that's like. I still have so far to go, so far, and I cannot deny that I'm starting to recognize why.

Am I blaming the church? No. Am I recognizing that we have to be careful how and what we teach and when? Yes. We do so many things, teach so many things, from programs, ritual and religion. I am desperate to experience something different and even more, I'm desperate for my children to experience something different. And I don't know what to do.


Have you thought about this? If you grew up being taught in the church, what do you think needs to change? What are the benefits in your mind? If you don't do the church thing and yet you're a believer, why don't you go? Please think along with me and let's refrain from judgment. I'm not looking for concrete answers, but simply, a conversation.

I am not at all trying to turn people away from church. I realize it is not about what you get, but what you give, but I do think there can be a tone that stunts that. I want to go. I want my family to go. We go. I know that many good things come from going. But to be honest, I've only attended one church that had me feeling like I belong. It was a life-giving and unconditional place. The diversity had a sameness to it. There was a spirit to the place that I can't describe...something that is missing from any other church I've attended. That's just the honest truth, but maybe it's just me.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Skeleton Bones

Even though I really can't sing, I will be walking around singing this song.


Friday, January 8, 2010

Soul Sick

"Why do you hasten to remove anything which hurts your eye, while if something affects your soul you postpone the cure until next year?"
-- Horace

This quote was in my inbox this morning. It cut right to my core. Just this morning while I was getting ready for work I had something in my eye and within seconds I had out my little magnifying mirror and quickly removed that annoying stray fuzz. Later as I was applying my makeup, I was thinking about some choices I had made recently. Not anything horribly bad, but enough to make me stop and think. My attitudes, my words, my lifestyle have been less than stellar... And I know it's not how I want to be. But I so easily justify postponing any changes. Next week I'll be better, next month, next year... Then I will deal with my shortcomings. I will deal with those little vises that make my soul slowly sick. Why don't I immediately pull out my magnifying mirror, aim it at my soul and go to work removing those annoying little things?
Because that would involve change, that would involve making better choices, it might even affect how people view me.
I wish I was more concerned with my soul than I am all the other trivial things I worry about in life. Right now it doesn't seem like that big of a deal, but what happens when all those little things start to build? Maybe if I were to deal with the issues at hand, then maybe I wouldn't have to spend so much time picking up all the pieces when things get really messy?
I'm not sure what to do. Actually I do know what to do, but do I want to make changes? Not really... but I should. today. not tomorrow.

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