Thursday, December 8, 2011

Sing of your deliverance!

Here are ways for you to take ownership of your brothers and sisters:

  • Donate to VCDF's Annual Christmas Party in Thailand! One of my good friends works at this shelter and I get to hear all the time about the amazing things happening there. Information about the shelter is in the first link and there is a button to donate at the bottom of the second link

  • Donate or volunteer your time at the Hungry for God Home. This home houses young men, most of whom have been "aged out" of foster care. This means basically they are too old for the system. Of the 26,000 young people who are aged out every year, many end up homeless or incarcerated. Hungry for God Home seeks to take these young men in, encourage them, support them and help them lead fulfilling lives. This home has fallen on some hard times...consider giving either time or money this Advent Season

Monday, November 14, 2011

Half-hearted prayers answered wholly

Specifically answered prayers are big victories for me. I love Jesus but sometimes I feel as if I'm walking the path He's laid out for me on my own. I wander through life and ask Holy Spirit for help with big decisions, guidance, assurance, etc, but rarely do I have those moments of solid, beautiful realization. The moments where God is so close that every part of my body and Being responds accordingly. The moments when the hairs on my arm stand up on end, tears fall freely from my eyes and I feel full to overflowing.

This morning I prayed that I would be even more smitten with Jesus. I've gotten into the bad habit of assuming my prayers will not be answered...or at least not in the way I want them to be answered. I wake up in the morning with half-hearted words already on my lips. They are half-hearted not because my whole heart does not ache for their fulfillment, but because only half of my heart holds out hope that they will. God is mysterious and despite my lack of faith, I prefer Him that way.

But today my prayer was answered in the simplest of ways. As I was sending off emails and dealing with the mundane details of my life, a song came on Pandora that I had almost forgotten about. I was immediately bowled over again at the joy found in these words. Listen to it and let your heart be overwhelmed with the beauty of the God who created us.

Thy mercy, my God, is the theme of my song,
The joy of my heart. and the boast of my tongue;
Thy free grace alone, from the first to the last
Hath won my affections, and bound my soul fast. 
Without Thy sweet mercy I could not live here;
Sin would reduce me to utter despair;
But, through Thy free goodness, my spirits revive,
And He that first made me still keeps me alive. 
Thy mercy is more than a match for my heart,
Which wonders to feel its own hardness depart;
Dissolved by Thy goodness, I fall to the ground,
And weep to the praise of the mercy I’ve found. 
Great Father of mercies, Thy goodness I own,
And the covenant love of Thy crucified Son;
All praise to the Spirit, Whose whisper divine
Seals mercy, and pardon, and righteousness mine

Thursday, November 10, 2011

On giving and sacrifice

Boyfriend and I got into a (somewhat heated) discussion about giving and the slippery slope of guilt that inevitably comes with being an affluent, American Christian (at least compared to the majority of the world). I'd love to say that my mentality is always, "I can't spend $300 on a pair of boots! Some people don't even have shoes!", but I obviously don't always think that way. All you have to do is look at my lifestyle to know that there are certain areas that I find I can easily justify spending more than what I need to spend. And that really was the crux of the problem we were discussing; it's easy enough to say we should only live on what we need, but if I followed that to the letter I'd be living in a box with a few sweaters and some ramen noodles.

I have actually had this same conversation with multiple people in the past. Generally we come to the consensus that God does not have a hard and fast rule about giving that applies to every person and every situation. Rather, He requires of us only that we be open to giving (and maybe giving radically) if He calls us to do so. I think there is merit in this conclusion, but I don't think it goes far enough.

The Bible has a lot to say about money and giving and most of the time what it has to say is quite jarring and counter-intuitive. In Luke 21:1-4 we see the story of the Widow's Offering. Many wealthy people were giving lavish gifts out of their resources, but all the Widow had to offer was two copper coins. Yet Jesus said she had actually put in more than all the others because she had given out of her poverty. It was a sacrifice for her to give. And then we have the Macedonians in 2 Corinthians 8:2-4: "In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people." The Macedonians considered it a joy to be able to sacrifice their own comfort in order to serve the body of Christ. 

So we are beginning to see here an emerging theme. Instead of being commended for their willingness to give, all these people were commended for their sacrifice in giving. This is fitting of our call as Christians to follow Jesus where He leads. If we're following Jesus, where will that ultimately lead us? What was the culmination of Christ's life on earth? It was His sacrifice, His self-giving, his love. According to Richard Beck (on his brilliant blog yesterday), love at its core, is courage in the face of death and neediness. In his explanation he quotes from Arthur McGill's book, "Death and Life: An American Theology":
[The love which is proclaimed in many churches] carefully disregards the outcome of love. These churches speak of love as helping others, but they ignore what helping others does to the person who loves. They ignore the fact that love is self-expenditure, a real expending, a real losing, a real deterioration of the self. They speak of love as if the person who is loving had no problems, no needs...[The] proclamation is heard everywhere today. They say to people: "Since you have no unanswered needs, why don't you go out and help the other people who are in need?" But they never go on to add "If you do this, you too will be driven into need." By not stating the outcome of love they give the childish impression that Christian love is some kind of cornucopia where we can meet everybody's needs and problems and still have everything we need for ourselves!...Too often in our churches we hear the gospel of love without the gospel of need. Too often we hear the lie that to love is to help others without this help having any effect upon ourselves....The only love that has anything to do with Jesus Christ is a love that has no fear of need, of neediness, of poverty.

This definition of love sounds a little intense, but does it require of every Christian their living out of a box, eating ramen noodles? Probably not. What it does require is that our giving be done in love, which is by default, sacrifice. What does this look like for each individual person? I don't know. But I do know that if my giving, whether time, money or resources, doesn't cost anything for me then there is likely not much love in it. My desire is that I would cultivate in my heart a readiness towards self-giving. It doesn't mean I won't ever get to enjoy little things ever again...after all, God is a good gift giver...but it does mean I will be looking for ways to live on less so others may experience more.

What do you think? What does God require of us when it comes to giving?
In what tangible ways can we cultivate a readiness for sacrifice?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The "In or Out" Gospel

How does one become a Christian? What marks you as one? Growing up I was told that I had to "believe and confess" that I was a sinner but that Jesus died to take away my sins. Practically this worked itself out as me saying the sinner's prayer with my parents at the kitchen table. Now was I a Christian? Maybe. But I certainly didn't understand all that it entailed. Later in life I began identifying my first mission trip as the point of real conversion. This was the point where I was jolted out of the illusion that I was the center of the universe; the point where I finally saw people and realized there was an actual need for a Savior.

But if you look at all of the above statements they revolve around one idea: that you must believe and understand correctly to be a Believer. I believed I was a sinner at age 6, even though I didn't understand all the implications. At 13 in the Dominican Republic I finally understood that we were hopeless without Jesus. In the Christian walk, whether we come right out and say it or not, believing/understanding equals inclusion in the faith. After all, this is the definition of orthodoxy: "orthos" meaning right or true and "praxy" meaning belief.

Over the years I have grown dissatisfied with this idea as a means to identify other Christians. As someone who loves to read theology and philosophy, I'm always pushing further and further into belief. As truth makes itself evident to me, my beliefs change accordingly. But not everyone is on the same track. I know people who love Jesus yet hold certain doctrines that I wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole. As I'm sure they would say the same about me. Then you have Christians living in the underground church in China who only possess a small section of the Bible and the Holy Spirit to live on, whose faith is stronger than mine may ever be. I also know people who don't read theology at all, who believe the same things they were taught as a child and are completely content to continue doing so. I cannot doubt their love for the Lord and yet I know we will never believe all the same things.

And what are the "things"? What are the "main and plain", as my Aunt once asked me? I'm not actually going to answer that question here, not only because I don't feel qualified to do so, but because there is another point I'm driving at. And that is how our emphasis on right belief changes how we present the full, living, Gospel of Christ to "unbelievers" (as we commonly call them).

I want to make a quick disclaimer: I am not trying to downplay the importance of right belief. I wouldn't read theology at all if I thought that it didn't matter what you believe. My point here is to show that right belief is an inadequate way to label and categorize "Believers" from "unbelievers". Not only do I think this an inadequate way to categorize people, I think it does damage to the ultimate mission of every Christian: to proclaim the Good News to people who don't know it, that they are loved by God.

Consider these two methods of invitation into the the Life in Christ found in "The Tangible Kingdom Primer":
-Unbeliever is invited to church
-Unbeliever confesses belief
-Unbeliever repeats a prayer
-Believer joins church
-Cognitive discipleship focus: counting confessions
-Believing enables belonging

-Sojourner is invited to belong
-Sojourner confesses interest
-Sojourner experiences the good news
-Sojourner participates in community
-Experiential apprenticeship focus: transformation
-Belonging enables believing

In the incarnational approach believing is still a vital part of life, but the focus has shifted. This is the good news of the Gospel, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us! In other words: while we still didn't believe all the right things, God invited us to be forgiven! While we were still fumbling our way through this life, God asked us to join him in His Life. How much would this change the way we encounter our family and friends who don't know Him yet if we would just let it? I fear we, myself included, have reduced the Gospel to an "in or out" mentality, when the good news is for everyone RIGHT NOW.

How can we create a relational environment in which sojourners can belong so they can feel and see  aspects of the Gospel lived out?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

I'd rather dance

My view of God has exploded over the last few years. It's been a gradual progression but I do remember waking up one morning to the realization that God no longer fit into my field of vision. He does not stay put. The ink I use to write about Him will inevitably bleed out and transform into something grander. He is more loving than I could have imagined. And best of all, His dreams for us are bolder and more radical than I ever thought they might be. They will not be chained or shackled by our own small interpretations of Scripture, of God's Story. His dreams are screaming to be realized in our lives if we will let them.

My spiritual growth has not come without a price, not without many deaths of ideas and notions that I held too dear. God has graciously loosened my grip on some of the thinking that held me in chains. I had to put to death the idea that somehow, someday I would have all the answers about God.. I've had to put to death the foul idea that nothing can be known about Him outside of the Bible. I've allowed myself to dare to dream that God might actually be more  loving than I imagine. Each of these things has loosened my chains little by little, but lately I've found myself entangled in a new chain. I have had to fight cynicism on a daily basis so God can remain huge in my feeble view of Him. It's hard for me to look at my old way of life without feeling cynical and judgmental. Even though the process of getting me where I am took years, for some reason I expect everyone to be on the same page as me right now. How is it possible for me to experience a revitalization of my own life (even in spite of my stubborn heart) and look at the same God who did the work and not trust that He is capable of doing the same for someone else?

So I've been obsessively listening to the new Gungor album, Ghosts Upon the Earth. No joke- just over and over and over again. You know when an album comes along at just the right time, with all the right words?
Anyways, I was reading the band's thoughts about what went into each song and a few things stood out to me regarding my battle with cynicism. Lisa Gungor explains a scenario similar to mine:
"It felt as though we were meager little ants who were discovering that the traditional way of digging into the earth is bogus.  But in spite of the discovery, we were still forced to succumb to the great ant tradition – clawing and scraping, shoving dirt into our mouth and spitting it out again."
I realized the way I was doing life, the way I was worshipping God, the way I was "loving" people was all wrong. And yet each morning I woke up with a fresh day, a new batch of questions and the realization that I am still a part of this forward motion. I'm still a cog in the clockwork. I must join the great cloud of Saints who continued to strive to live a better Way. Michael Gungor continues by talking about his own cynicism:
"Instead of allowing all of your unanswered questions to fully consume your joy, just enjoy the dance.  To me, that’s largely what faith has become. Yes, I have my doubts and questions and everything else, but at the end of the day, it’s not what questions I have in my mind but whether I’m going to join the dance or sit on the outside and sneer.  I’d rather dance. "
What are you cynical about today; what are you jaded about? Is it politics? The church? Your job? Life in general?  Whatever it is, don't allow it to chain you anymore. Keep walking. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Join the dance, even if it makes you a fool.  Allow your jaded heart to be healed.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

remember that time when I actually blogged? that was awesome

So it's been a while since I've posted on here. A few major and minor things and a whole lot of laziness lead to my reprieve from the blogging world. I started finding it hard to come up with an edge to any of the ideas I had for posts. I also started kind of this boy- so you know, there's that. Actually, there's just been a lot of  transition in my life that, I admit, would have probably made for some good blogging. But ultimately, I needed the chance to just transition without scheming how I could turn it into a hilarious little anecdote that would boost my readership. So even though it will probably be boring to most, I will give a brief recap of the past few months as a way to say, "I'm baaaaaaack!" before we get back to regular blogging. Who doesn't love a good recap?

1. So there's this boy...he's pretty cute and nice and after years of being branded "SINGLE" on Facebook, I have made the switch to "In a relationship". As Boyfriend has heard many times since we started dating, "I don't know what the hell I'm doing." I don't know how to date. I don't know the right things to say in every situation. I don't know how to include someone else in the personal world that I've done JUST fine running on my own up until now. I don't know how to walk in high heeled shoes without looking like a man would if he had to wear high heeled shoes. But despite all these things I'm having fun, and I am learning. Boyfriend and I are a lot the same on things and a lot different on other things, but he's being pretty gracious and patient as I figure everything out...not to mention how many serious talks I've made him sit through. Expect a post soon about how the checklist that was mandatory in almost every church youth group I ever attended has made dating harder than necessary. You know, the one where you make a list of all the things you want in a husband? Yea that one.

2. My job is ending. I've been a nanny for five years, almost three of which were with my current family. And now the mother is quitting her job to stay at home and I'm moving on. I've been gearing up to move on from nannying for a while, but now the trigger is actually being pulled and I still don't know what the next step is. I want to do something I'm passionate about, but that pesky little fact that I never went to college is rearing it's ugly head.

3. I've started work on my own to promote child sponsorships for a Thai-run children's shelter in Chiang Mai that houses kids pulled from the sex trade. This is something I've been wanting to get involved in for a while but have only just started following through on. Coincidentally, this is something I would really love to do as a career. Expect a post soon detailing what is currently happening in the global sex trade and how it has so profoundly broken my heart.

4. God has still been relatively silent. But I have had some sweet times of communion with my brothers and sisters in Christ that have done much to re-energize me and stoke the little ember of faith in my heart. My community has been my lifeline as I've walked through the desert of doubt- truly a representation of Christ in the flesh to me.  And Jesus is still just as beautiful.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Dark Cloud of Unknowing

If you've read this blog even just a little bit, it's easy to pick up that I struggle greatly with my ability to have faith when it comes to knowing God. The truth is, it has been a long time, maybe years since I have clearly felt or heard the voice of God in an irrefutable way. Radio silence. And yet I cannot seem to abandon Him, or is it He won't abandon me? Either way, I find myself in a holding pattern. A frustratingly long holding pattern. I haven't known how to proceed. How do I keep praying without doing it out of mere obligation and guilt? How do I read the Bible without disintegrating into a quivering heap of questions in the corner of my room? How am I to relate to my Christian friends who ARE hearing from God?

As I've been slowly savoring my way through The Solace of Fierce Landscapes, a desire has sprung up in me to begin practicing contemplative prayer. Contemplative prayer is a discipline in silencing the self in order to make room to just be with God. Contrary to my original hopes, it's almost never a spiritual experience. It does not promise an encounter with God, it does not promise my questions answered. Contemplative prayer is a call to relinquish all control...something which I unfortunately hold onto, white knuckled. "God can only be met in emptiness, by those who come in love, abandoning all effort to control, every need to astound. The presence of God may, as often as not, be perceived as an absence. God is revealed in what others may blithely disregard as a barren nothingness."

Sam Keen, a noted author and philosopher, hits the nail on the head when he says:
A psychoanalysis of chatter would suggest that our over-verbalization is an effort to avoid something which is fearful- silence. But why should silence be threatening? Because words are a way of structuring, manipulating, and controlling; thus, when they are absent the specter of loss of control arises. If we cannot name it, we cannot control it. Naming gives us power. Hence, silence is impotence, the surrender of control. Control is power and power is safety.
At the heart of contemplative prayer is a deep longing for God alone. This is hard. I come to God in prayer with frantic requests for my friends, for me. I tell Him what I want from Him. Ironically, despite the fact that my petitions are mostly selfish in nature, the thing I want most is just Him. I talk and talk and I ask and I ask because hearing my own voice is at least better then hearing nothing at all. But at my core I only want Him; sometimes so badly that sometimes it's a physical ache. Far from making me apathetic, His silence only makes me long for Him more. My mind may only grasp at the edges of God but my heart beats fully, painfully for Him. Belden Lane continues in Solace...
"A dark cloud always separates the believer from her deepest desire, a God beyond the reach of human reason. It is a frustrating darkness through which the mind cannot see, yet it serves to intensify the longing for that which is loved. The only way the thick cloud can be pierced is by a 'sharp dart of longing love,' by utterly forgetting oneself in the quest for what is loved above everything else....The ego is relinquished, along with its constant flow of chatter and illusion of control, so that love may happen. Love, after all, is the only way God can be known." soon as I move into my new house and get my own room again (and turn it into my "hidey hole of peace and tranquility"), I will begin the practice of contemplative prayer. I don't know what to expect.  In fact, I think I'm going to try and have no expectations at all. I'm ready to meet with God, even if that means silence, in a place bigger than the pitiful space I've carved out for Him.

Have you ever practiced contemplative prayer? What happened/didn't happen? 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

animated characters I kinda have a crush on

Sorry I've been slacking on the blog lately. Summer is always the busiest time of the year for me and this one is no exception. I've also been pretty tired lately of talking/thinking about theology....more on that soon.

SO instead of posting nothing, here's a little something. As I was watching Disney's Robin Hood today with the kids, I found myself swooning, seriously swooning over the (literal) fox, Robin Hood. This is not the first time I have had a crush on an animated character, and a non-human one at that. So without further ado, in no particular order, I give you my top five animated hunks:

1. Robin Hood
How can an animated fox be handsome? I have no idea, but somehow Disney managed it. Not only is he hot, he is a champion of social justice- stealing from the corrupt Prince John to give to the poor. A man after my own heart. He also has a sexy voice and an English accent. Everyone knows girls can't resist a man with an accent. He is smitten with Maid Marian and not afraid to show it- girls need affirmation. If Robin Hood was real and not a fox, I would date him.

2. Prince Philip from Sleeping Beauty
There's not a whole lot to this one. He's handsome and he can sing and he doesn't have a mullet like some of the other Disney princes. My high school boyfriend liked Sleeping Beauty as much as I did, actually probably better, and he could quote most of the movie by heart. Sometimes for fun we would start at the beginning and see how far we could get by memory. Little did he know that I was imagining what it would be like if he was Prince Philip and I was Princess Aurora. In hindsight, it's pretty weird that he knew the movie as well as he did.

3. Max from A Goofy Movie
What is Max? An anthropomorphic puppy? A weasel? I guess he's Goofy's son, so that makes him a dog. But I have never in my life seen a dog like this. Regardless he's cute, in that dorky, "Ahyuck" sort of way. He's quirky, and Lord knows I love quirky boys. Also he's enough of a rebel to break the rules to impress the girl he likes. I had the BIGGEST crush on the Max the first time I saw this movie as a girl. Guys, don't tell me you didn't think Roxanne was little vixen too. I've come to learn from some of my guy friends that she was a common animated crush for them too.

4. Dean from Iron Giant
First, if you've never seen Iron Giant, do yourself a favor and watch it on Netflix. Seriously, one of my favorite animated movies. Dean is the original hipster- tight pants, Ray-bans, and artistic ability. He's cool, he rides a motorcycle and he stands up for the under-dog. What more could you ask for?

5. Flynn Rider from Tangled
Flynn Rider is just misunderstood. He's coping with his upbringing as an orphan by living his life as a common thief. He acts tough and selfish, but deep down he's just a man looking for a home and someone who loves him. Flynn plays the hero by sacrificing his own life to save Rapunzel's...doesn't get any better than that. And whenever I start to feel weird about how attractive this animated man is to me, I just imagine that it's actually Zachary Levi, who voices the character and is just as easy on the eyes. It should be noted that any time I am fantasizing about the boy I will some day marry, whoever he is, we are almost always singing a duet together. Boys, take note, girls like duets.

So that's it for my list. What animated characters do YOU have a crush on?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

To know us is to love us : living beyond our labels

On June 24th, New York became the 6th state to legalize gay marriage. I've read quite a few blogs and articles on the matter over the last week but one stood out to me because of the universal truth it conveyed. Namely, that knowing someone or getting to know someone messes up all your preconceived notions, your ideas on what they are actually about.

One of my best friends is gay. I've known him since high school when my group of friends and I took him under our wing. He was about as nerdy as you could get- he probably wore his choir t-shirt three times a week, he had chubby cheeks, he was top of his class and the most hideous sandals you can imagine. (He also was fluent in Elvish. Yes, from Lord of the Rings) This kid was a major brown-noser and tattle tale.  But if he loved you, you knew about it. And despite all I just described to you, he was pretty lovable too. We adopted him, roughed him up a bit, and finally forced him to have some fun.

Towards the end of high school rumors started to swirl about our friend and his sexuality. He denied them all vehemently, and even though I had suspicions of my own, I chose to believe him and defended his story to every one of the rumors I heard. By the time I had been out of high school for about three years though, it was getting harder and harder to believe he was telling the truth. Another close friend and I prepared to confront him about it. The three of us were pretty close, so what it came down to was us basically forcing him out of the closet. We even read him a list of all the reasons we thought he was gay. Haha, in hindsight, probably not the most effective/sensitive method, but it worked. He admitted that he was gay and confessed that even though we were his best friends, we were pretty much the last to know besides his family due to the fact that we were Christians. We had such a good talk and re-affirmed how much we loved him and that we would be there for him as he struggled to figure out what this meant in regards to his relationship with the Lord.

The reason I tell you this story is to bring home the truth that we are relational beings. When we love someone, our hearts get tied to their hearts. Issues like homosexuality aren't so black and white anymore. We live in a world filled with labels: gay, straight, Christian, atheist, refugee, terrorist, fat, skinny, prostitute, prude. We have all been labelled and all of us label other people. Labeling makes it easier for us to get on with our own lives. It condenses people down to one word and allows us fit them neatly in a compartment that we don't have to interact with much. But sooner or later, life happens and we meet these labels, really meet them, get to know them, and eventually love them. The label becomes human.

Jesus' life and ministry consisted of His encounters with labels. The tax collector, the leper, the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery- all of them became individuals in His eyes. Knowing someone as an individual doesn't automatically mean you want all the same things they want, it doesn't mean you agree on everything, but it does almost force you to consider what it's like to walk in their shoes. A while back I was having one my deep conversations with my Dad that happen almost every time we're together. My Dad knows how much I wrestle with the idea of hell and whether it exists in the traditional understanding. At one point in the conversation he asked me, "Do you think one of the reasons you struggle so much with this issue is because you spend so much time with friends who aren't Christians?" My answer was, "That's exactly why I struggle with it so much." To know someone is to acknowledge their humanity, to acknowledge that we're all just trying to make sense of this life. Jesus knew that and He saw past the label, into the heart.

Friday, June 24, 2011

my love affair with agnosticism

Sometimes I have serious doubts about the existence of God. Sometimes I feel like such a phony that it keeps me up at night. I'm fluent in Christianese and I know how to craft my words so they build up the image of me that I want to convey. And the image isn't just for other's as much for myself as it is for anyone else. The confident, stable, and certain Charissa is the one that seems the safest. But it's much harder to fool yourself than it is to fool the people around you.

These past few weeks have been tough. God had been silent leading up to John's death (hence, all the blog posts about spiritual deserts), but I guess a part of me believed and hoped He would break the silence to comfort me in my sadness. But He didn't and I stopped asking. I began to slosh through the aftermath of losing a dear friend on my own. It took almost two weeks for me to realize how angry I was with God. Not for John's death...people die every day; I'd have to be just as angry about everyone else who ever died. I was angry because God wasn't doing much to quiet my fears that He might be just figment of my imagination, a coping mechanism for living in such a screwed up world.

And maybe that's all He is. It's possible.

The truth is that not one of us can prove that God is real. That's not to say there aren't compelling reasons to believe that He is. I can think of plenty. But in the end each of us in turn succumbs to the unknown, in death, hoping we were right.

Jose Ortega said,
“And this is the simple truth – that to live is to feel oneself lost – he who accepts it has already begun to find himself, to be on firm ground. Instinctively, as do the shipwrecked, he will look round for something to which to cling, and that tragic, ruthless glance, absolutely sincere, because it is a question of his salvation, will cause him to bring order into the chaos of his life. These are the only genuine ideas; the ideas of the shipwrecked.”
I admit, all this sounds pretty bleak: a lost, shipwrecked soul, grasping on to a seemingly frail hope that all is not pointless. And yet, as I've begun to embrace my lack of certainty, God has grown larger and larger, the ground beneath me firmer and firmer. The end of the quote says the only genuine ideas are the ideas of the shipwrecked, the lost. All this time I've been living my life in chains. Everywhere you go in the church you run into people who think they have it figured out, or are striving to figure it out. We live our lives as Believers thinking there is an exact, right combination of beliefs and doctrines, if we can only just line them up- a theological Rubix Cube. And we strive and toil and agonize our whole lives in this pursuit, under the banner of "glorifying God". I do believe there is absolute truth. I DON'T believe we'll ever know which one of us has it. We're missing the forest for the trees. And I'm only now beginning to see how beautiful and massive the Forest is.

My embrace of agnosticism is freeing me from the chains I put on myself. And the God that I hope with all my heart and soul is real, seems to be breaking His silence. My "tragic, ruthless glance" towards Him, my hope of salvation, is bringing order to the chaos of this life.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The sturdiness of life

One of my best friends passed away in a freak accident on Sunday. This is the first time someone really close to me has died and I realize now that I wasn't prepared for the depth of despair that inevitably comes, leeching every ounce of life and ambition out of you. I've always been really good at moving on. I don't like to dwell on things that make me mad, sad, frustrated, etc...I'm good at picking myself up by the boot straps and pressing on. But not now. I can't escape the endless cycle of thoughts in my head: sadness, anger, regret, numbness, sharp stab of a beautiful memory, repeat.

In physical stature John Fox was small, he had the tiniest hands, even smaller than mine. But in reality, John was a giant of a man. He was a shelter to any he called friend, and that was basically every person he ever met. I can still feel his arms around me in one of his hugs that every one of his friends experienced at some could someone so little make me feel so enclosed, so protected?...but these are things that everyone knew about John. These things are beautiful because of how broadly they were experienced. Here is what John meant to me:

John was the sturdiness of life. He did things simply but not half-heartedly. One of my best memories was birthday dinner at his house a few years back. It was just me, a couple close friends and John's family on a summer night. John's air conditioning was never on in his house, he preferred the windows and doors open, with the breeze and flies coming in and out  all through the evening. It was hot before but even hotter with the oven on. We sat around the table cutting vegetables for shepherds pie. Dinner preparation took forever...nothing was really planned ahead- something that normally annoys me. But with John and his family, we were just enjoying each other's company. We didn't eat til close to 9, sitting on the floor around the coffee table, talking about the ACL line-up. There is nothing remarkable about this memory except the way it made/makes me feel. John made everything feel like home. He made me feel like everything was connected. Everything was meant to be submerged in: the river, family, love, laughter, rain, dirt, pain, life.  John knew how to be fully present in all of those things, and was good at taking other people with him, without them even knowing it. Now that he's gone, I feel like a part of my home is gone.

Will I remember how to be fully engaged, fully submerged in all the beauties of life without him? Why does it take death for us to realize the treasures our friends and family have taught us? And now there's nothing I can do. No amount of remembering him or dreaming about him will change that fact that he's gone. I can read his facebook page obsessively for weeks on end and he'll still never send me a message again. I have zero control over this. What can I do? For now, I can only wait. If death is a part of life then this is something I must be submerged in for a while, letting it's waves break over me as I wait out the storm. Waiting and missing...

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A song from my heart

Out on the farthest edge
There in the silence
You were there

My faith was torn to shreds
Heart in the balance
And You were there

Always faithful, always good
You still have me
You still have my heart

I thought I had seen the end
Everything broken
But You were there

I've wandered at heaven's gates
I've made my bed in hell
You were there still

Always faithful, always good
You still have me
You still have my heart

You have me, You have me
You have my heart completely
You have me, You have me
You have my heart completely

You have me, You have me
You have my heart completely
You have me, You have me
You have my heart

You have me, You have me
You have my heart completely
You have me, You have me
You have my heart completely

Thursday, June 9, 2011

God is never what we expect

Growing up my dad managed to film almost every major milestone of mine and my siblings lives. As I got older, it got to be embarrassing. Not too many of my friends had to get filmed before their senior prom- pictures were much cooler. But in hindsight, I'm so thankful to have all those memories. In fact my siblings and I are frequently teased for how often we actually watch those videos. 

I remember one in particular where I'm sitting at our linoleum top kitchen table with my mom and dad; I must have been about two. My mom is asking me lots of questions in order to document my burgeoning vocabulary. Questions like, "What is your name?", "How old are you?", "Who's your best friend?"-- I knew the answer to that one. It was Jesus. I'm fairly confident my two year old mind didn't fully understand that concept, but it was a sweet moment to catch on tape regardless. 

To this day I have grown up with that expectation, that Jesus would be my best friend. Even in my current, slightly cynical state, I can't deny that there have been times in my life where He has been exactly that. Each of those times were sweet, unexpected moments of perfect peace; quick realizations of how I was treasured by God. But as lovely as those moments were, they almost never came when I asked for them. They have never come in my times of deepest despair. Never when I begged God, "All I want is to know that you're there, that you love me!" Sometimes I wonder what kind of best friend goes MIA every time a real need comes up. God is never what I expect. Belden Lane says in The Solace of Fierce Landscapes, "Our image of God doesn't prepare us for a truth realized in brokenness. We need to be shaken out of our expectations."

If I had it my way, I'd have the mountain top experience of God every time. Day and night, every moment, let me just camp out there. I would have done EXACTLY the same thing Peter did on the mount of transfiguration: God is finally something I can see, something I'm overwhelmed by, something I have no words for. Naturally, I want to stay there as long as possible. But even as Peter was in mid-sentence, God interrupts, tells him to listen, and then everything is back to normal. Then they have to come down. 

The desert, the ground level, the place of mundane activity, is where life happens. Lane says, "Spirituality is not the sublime transcendence of everything trivial and matter-of-fact. In Western spiritual tradition, the journey of the soul into the vale of ordinariness is an equally good, if not surer route to holiness. This is the way of being wounded, of being committed to the concrete, of being bound to the familiar." The harshness of the desert "disclaims the false niceties of home, the small lies and pretences by which an entire life can sometimes be shaped....The fragile ego loses is props and supporting lines. Its incessant need for validation is ignored." I wouldn't say that all my expectations of God growing up have been lies, but a lot of them have gone unmet. The desert teaches you that our expectations put an infinite God into a box. It teaches you not to try and shove God into a tent on a mountain top. 

I'm in a spiritual desert right now. I seem to be here a lot. Things look barren and lifeless. And while there is lots to be learned while I'm here, I can take comfort in the fact that my brokenness is leading me somewhere. "The God of scripture is equally revealed in vulnerability and in triumph. This is because both actions are rooted in love. Divine love is incessantly restless until it turns all woundedness into health, all deformity into beauty, all embarrassment into laughter. In biblical faith, brokenness is but an expression of a love on its way to completion."

Monday, June 6, 2011

God is a desert

I recently started reading a book called The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring desert and mountain spirituality by Belden Lane. This has been on my amazon wishlist forever and I finally sucked it up and bought it. I have always been enchanted by mountain and desert terrain. I remember flying over the Himalayas on my way to Kathmandu, tears streaming down my face from the beauty of seeing mountain tops soaring higher than the clouds themselves. A weird paradox occurs in those moments: I'm humbled by own smallness in comparison, my questions become irrelevant even as they grow louder in my ears. Maybe that's why I crave these landscapes so much.

I don't know how to be silent before God. We live in a culture of constant noise and busyness and Christians have lost the art of being still. As my expectations of how God will speak to me have changed over the last year, I have found myself longing for a more meaningful approach to Him- one that is not so dependent on emotion and experience.  I confess that even as I've been reading this book, I've fallen into the trap of thinking, "If I can just get away, if I can just visit a desert monastery, THERE I'll find God. THERE I'll experience Him in the the way I should." In chapter 1, Belden Lane says, "Holiness has never been a predetermined result of topography...The danger of simplistic geographical determinism in the spiritual life is that it makes everything too easy...I can imagine that finding the right desert monastery, making the best mountain retreat, will occasion in itself involuntary holiness. But the desert, the mountain, offer no such guarantee. Physically being there is never enough. Growth of the spiritual life requires adopting a conscious 'habit of being'. Far too easily do we embrace the illusion that changing places is the simplest way of changing ourselves." This has been the story of my life so far. I have  had this impossible expectation of how my life as a Believer should look, and each time the expectation is not met I go searching for conditions where it will be met. When I do this or this or that, then God will start talking to me whenever I want Him to. When I go here or there, my faith will be more than a mustard seed. But even as Belden warns against thinking a certain terrain will produce unwarranted holiness, he does suggest that fierce landscapes are a sort of classroom where we practice and learn how to "ignore the inessential in our own lives."

Many of our church fathers and mothers over the years have been desert Christians who have participated in this classroom. One of the lessons that can be distilled from their writings is this:

"God is a desert whose fullness of glory is hidden from human sight, known only in an unknowing and risking of love."

Despite hating risk, I really love that idea. What do you think about it? I'm really only about 14 pages into this book, so this is only the tip of the iceberg. In what ways do harsh landscapes convey truth about God? In what way is God both living water and desert?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Max out or margins?

Throughout the whole "May 21st is the end of the world" debacle, I don't think I even ONCE thought that it might actually be true. I would venture to guess that most people only briefly considered the possibility, if at all. But I do think it was an excuse for a lot of Christians to bring back the cheesy charge to "Live every day like it's your last, because you never know when your last will be." I admit, as cheesy as the phrase is, the lifestyle behind it sounds pretty radical and attractive sometimes. Throw caution to the wind! Give everything away! Make every minute count! Love people deeply! Spend yourself on behalf of others! Sounds kinda like the way Jesus lived. Usually when I think of how I'm compelled to live my life as a Christ follower, this is how I see it playing out. But my sister disclosed her frustration with the phrase, saying, "If I lived every day like it was my last I'd be homeless." This is true. If I were to follow this to the letter, I wouldn't have two pennies to rub together.

On the (seemingly?) opposite end of the spectrum, I've been hearing a lot of talk in books, Bible studies, and blogs about creating margins for ourselves. You know, buffer zones. My dad likes to point out that margins keep us safe. Think about a highway: were it not for the extra space, the bike lanes, the lines painted on the road, cars would be scraping by in both directions, there'd be no wiggle room at all, no room for error. My community group leader challenged us the other day to create margins in our lives that would allow us to respond when someone else is in need, whether that need is time or money or resources. This makes a lot of sense. I would love to have the money on hand all the time to give to any missionary friend that needs it. And Proverbs seems to have a lot to say about saving your money and not squandering it. I have a suspicion though, that Americans lean more towards this option for two different reasons. 1. On issues of money, margins allow us to retain some control. They give us a safety zone and eliminate most need to depend on God for provision. Is all saving wrong? No. But I would say that most people don't even question the idea of keeping a savings account. It's a non-negotiable. 2. On issues of time, margins allow us to re-learn the art of investing in meaningful relationships. In an age of iphones, facebook and twitter, we are over-engaged. In this respect, margins are a good thing. They allow time for thoughtful solitude and rest. They cause us to be intentional about giving away our time.

But which is it? Live every day like it's your last or create margins? These two ways of life seem to be at odds with each other. I tend to lean more towards the first. I like the idea of living in the palm of God's hand; not just depending on Him for my own provision, but for the means to give in abundance. I like the idea of living on the edge- maxing out. After all, I am worth much more than a sparrow and God knows my needs. And yet, I see a lot of merit in the latter option.

Which is it? Is it both? Can it be both? Is it one for some people and one for others? I'm genuinely interested in input on this.

Monday, May 30, 2011

A strong hope

This weekend has seemed extra long, which is lovely. I've had the chance to have some really wonderful conversations with some of my dear friends and I'm going to attempt to synthesize them into a blog.

God speaks to me in universals. I often wonder, and I'm often asked by my agnostic friends, why I choose to take the leap of faith required to be a Christ follower, in spite of all my questions (many of which I share with these particular friends). It's a good question. What keeps me putting one foot in front of the other when God seems to be silent, when the Bible doesn't make sense, when it seems I'm all alone? In short, why do I believe in God?

This seems like a simple question, but it's hard to answer without sounding foolish or wishy washy. Here is my attempt at an answer:
I believe in God because His story, through Jesus, answers all of my most primal, deep-rooted questions about life, the ones I need answers to. His story speaks to my experience of this life and the world around me. No matter where you look, you see people who need to be loved. Everyone needs it, everyone wants it, everyone strives for it. This may play out in very different ways; it may look as though a person is striving for success more than they are striving for love, but every urge we have in us can be traced back to our most basic need to be loved. I am a doubter by nature, someone who questions things until only a shred of the original thing is left. There is not much certainty (at least right now) in my life. But this is something I'm sure of. The proof is in the pudding because deep down everyone knows this is true: we all want to be loved. To put a new twist on an old cheesy saying, "There's a love shaped hole in my heart" and only God can fill it.

One of my favorite quotes of all time is CS Lewis' statement that, "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world." Over the years, as I've followed Jesus, I've gotten a lot of confirmation along the way that the road I'm walking is leading to somewhere good. I go through seasons with more confirmation than others but in the end, it all boils down to a leap of faith. A strong hope. As someone who likes answers, who likes things set in stone, who likes seeing where I'm going before I start walking, a strong hope doesn't sound so promising. But isn't that all we can do? We keep putting one foot in front of the other, we take our cues from the multitudes who have gone before us, saints both known and unknown, and we hope. 

I have in me a desire for love that is not and cannot be met by anyone  or anything in this world. 

1 John 4:8 "...God is love"

2 Corinthians 1:20 "For all the promises of God find their 'yes' in Him..."

What can I do but hope that these things are true? 
Romans 5:5
" and hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts, by the Holy Spirit whom He has given us."

Friday, May 27, 2011

"We're all bastards..."

For today's pacifism entry I'm going to share an excerpt from Will Campbell's book, Writings on Reconciliation and Resistance. I read this piece earlier in the week on a blog that I frequent often and thought it was so relevant to this discussion.

Will Campbell was a white, Southern preacher who was heavily involved in the Civil Rights Movement. He was also one of the four preachers who escorted the Little Rock Nine to school. Towards the end of the movement, Campbell took his commitment to non-violence and reconciliation even a step further and began to reach out to members of the KKK. This was bold and offensive to many who had been part of the movement, but for Campbell, he saw it as a logical outflow of Jesus' command to love our enemies.

I'm always fascinated by people who actually are able to put that commandment into radical, tangible practice. It wouldn't be the easiest thing in the world for me, a white, young, American woman to hop a plane and start loving on Al Qaeda, as much as I may want to. The KKK are up there in the rankings of people who've done some pretty nasty and horrifying things.  And yet, as I've said before, they're just like me. This is the realization that Will Campbell makes in an unlikely way. Here is part of his story:

Joe came to the door and called us in. "Brother, you know a Jonathan Daniels?" "Yea. Sure. I know Jon Daniels. Why?" "Well, he's dead." ...

[Jonathan Daniels] was a student from the Episcopal Theological Seminary in Cambridge, Massachusetts who was involved in registering black citizens to vote in Lowndes County, Alabama. A few days earlier I had learned that Jon was in jail in that county along with a number of others...

Jonathan and Richard Morrisroe, a Roman Catholic priest from Chicago, had just been released from the Lowndes County jail in Hayneville. Because of some confusion in a telephone conversation there was no one to meet them when they, and twenty-five others, had been released. Jonathan, Richard, and two black students stopped at a small grocery store on the edge of the little town. Despite the fact that the majority of the woman's trade was black people, she became alarmed by their presence and called a special deputy named Thomas Coleman who arrived on the scene before the four could finish their cold drinks and leave. Armed with his own shotgun he fired as the four were leaving the premises, killing Jonathan instantly with the first shot...

That was the new. That was all we knew. My young friend Jonathan Daniels was dead...I sat in stunned silence. Joe snapped the television off and came over and kissed me on the head. "I'm sorry, Brother." P.D. said nothing.

I made some phone calls to get more details and to see if there was something we should be dong. Joe and P.D. sat in a silent room, mourning with me over the death of my friend, saying little...

P.D. spoke first. "Well, Brother, what do you reckon your friend Mr. Jesus thinks of all this?" I allowed that I guessed he was pretty sad about it. He stood up and turned an overhead light on, went to the kitchen and came back with some beer and cheese. He spoke again as his hulking frame sank into a bigger chair. "Brother, what about that definition of Christianity you gave me that time? Let's see if it can pass the test."

Years before, when P.D. had his paper going, he liked to argue about religion...[Once] he asked me to define the Christian faith. But he had a way of pushing one for simple answers. "Just tell me what this Jesus cat is all about. I'm not too bright but maybe I can get the hang of it." The nearest I ever came to giving him a satisfactory answer was once when I blasted him for some childish "can God make a rock so big He couldn't pick it up" criticism of the faith. He blasted right back. "Okay. If you would tell me what the hell the Christian faith is all about maybe I wouldn't make an ass of myself when I'm talking about it. Keep it simple. In ten words or less, what's the Christian message?" We were going someplace, or coming back from someplace when he said, "Let me have it. Ten words." I said, "We're all bastards but God loves us anyway." He swung his car off on the shoulder and stopped, asking me to say it again. I repeated: "We're all bastards but God loves us anyway." He didn't comment on what he thought about the summary except to say, after he had counted the number of words on his fingers, "I gave you a ten word limit. If you want to try again you have two words left." I didn't try again but he often reminded me of what I had said that day.

Now, sitting in the presence of two of the most troubled men I have ever known, I was about to receive the most enlightening theological lessons I had ever had in my life. Not at Louisiana College, Tulane, Wake Forest, or Yale Divinity School. But sitting here in a heavily mortgaged house in Fairhope, Alabama. P.D. East and Joseph Campbell, as teachers. And I as pupil.

"Yea, Brother. Let's see if your definition of the faith can stand the test." My calls had been to the Department of Justice, to the American Civil Liberties Union, and to a lawyer friend in Nashville. I had talked of the death of my friend as being a travesty of justice, as a complete breakdown of law and order, as a violation of federal and state law. I had used words like redneck, backwoods, woolhat, cracker, Kluxer, ignoramus, and many others. I had studied sociology, psychology, and social ethics and was speaking and thinking in those concepts. I had also studied New Testament theology.

P.D. stalked me like a tiger. "Come on, Brother: Let's talk about your definition." At one point Joe turned on him, "Lay off, P.D. Can't you see when somebody is upset?" But P.D. waved him off, loving me too much to leave me alone.

"Was Jonathan as bastard?"

I said I was sure that everyone is a sinner in one way or another but that he was one the sweetest and most gentle guys I had ever known.

"But was he a bastard?" His tone was almost a scream. "Now that's your word. Not mine. You told me one time that everybody is a bastard. That's a pretty tough word. I know. Cause I am a bastard. A born bastard. A real bastard. My Mama wasn't married to my Daddy. Now, by god, you tell me, right now, yes or no and not maybe, was Jonathan Daniels a bastard?"

I knew that if I said no he would leave me alone and if I said yes he wouldn't. And I knew my definition would be blown if I said no.

So I said, "Yes."

"Alright. Is Thomas Coleman a bastard?"

That one was a lot easier. "Yes. Thomas Coleman is a bastard."

"Okay. Let me get this straight now. I don't want to misquote you. Jonathan Daniels was a bastard. Thomas Coleman is a bastard. Right?" Joe the Protector was on his feet.

"Goddammit, P.D. that's sacrilege. Knock it off! Get off the kid's back."

P.D. ignored him, pulling his chair closer to mine, placing his huge bony hand on my knee. "Which one of these two bastards do you think God loves the most?" His voice now was almost a whisper as he leaned forward, staring me directly in the eyes.

I made some feeble attempt to talk about God loving the sinner and not the sin, about judgment, justice, and the brotherhood of all humanity. But P.D. shook his hands in a manner of cancellation. He didn't want to hear about that.

"You're trying to complicate it. Now you're the one who always told me about how simple it was. Just answer the question." His direct examination would have done credit to Clarence Darrow.

He leaned his face closer to mine, patting first his own knee and then mine, holding the other hand aloft in oath-taking fashion.

"Which one of these two bastards does God love the most? Does he love that little dead bastard Jonathan the most? Or does he love that living bastard Thomas the most?"

Suddenly everything became clear. Everything. It was a revelation. The glow of the malt which we were well into by then seemed to illuminate and intensify it. I walked across the room and opened the blind, staring directly into the glare of the street light. And I began to whimper. But the crying was interspersed with laughter. It was a strange experience. I remember trying to sort out the sadness and the joy. Just what was I crying for and what I was laughing for. Then this too became clear.

I was laughing at myself, at twenty years of ministry which had become, without my realizing it, a ministry of liberal sophistication. An attempted negation of Jesus, of human engineering, of riding the coattails of Cesar, of playing on his ballpark, by his rules and with his ball, of looking to government to make and verify and authenticate our morality, of worshipping at the shrine of enlightenment and academia, of making an idol of the Supreme Court, a theology of law and order and of denying not only the faith I professed to hold but my history and my people--the Thomas Colemans. Loved. And if loved, forgiven. And if forgiven, reconciled. Yet sitting then in his own jail cell, the blood of two of his and my brothers on his hands. The thought gave me a shaking chill in a non-air-conditioned room in August. I had never considered myself a liberal. I don't think in those terms. But that was the camp in which I had pitched my tent. Now I was not so sure.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Letters to God from a ridiculous *5th grader: Entry 3

In reviewing this entry I'm pretty positive that almost every sentence is either grossly over-exagerrated or a flat out lie. Also, a little background info: We never had caller ID growing up. My dad insisted on screening all our calls through the answering machine, so he would sometimes get frustrated if we answered without screening first. This little tidbit will make the entry much easier for you to understand. Enjoy!

June 30, 1997

Dear God,
I just went through a terrible experience, a really bad day. First of all, this morning I picked up the phone. It was Aunt Cynthia. She was calling long distance and I didn't want her to have to call back. Dad got mad cause' I picked it up. He started yelling (I don't doubt he actually yelled) and cussing (probably didn't cuss though). He grabbed my arm and threw me into my room (nope). My leg was still hurting so it hurt worse when he did that. Now I just broke my brand new watch and Steph ruined my surprise for Daddy (Stephanie was always ruining everything). Dear Jesus, please help me to have a better day tomorrow, and help my watch to work.


*My friend Allison called out my bad math and informed me that I would have been a 5th grader in 1997. She would know, she went to my school.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Yesterday I wrote a hasty blog post to convey an idea that I had spent over an hour talking about the night before. I didn't use the right verses and I was too lazy to spend enough time writing it to make the idea understood. And after a few comments I've been made aware that I didn't do the topic justice and my writing was disorganized.

One of the first blogs I ever wrote on here was about my desire to impress smart people. I read a lot of smart people's blogs and there are some smart people who read mine and all I want to do is be part of the club. A big reason I started writing was to get people asking questions, to open up lines of communication on topics that are sometimes off limits. But I'd be lying if I told you that my insecurities haven't gotten the best of me since then. I get my daily dose of affirmation every time I look at the number of pageviews on here (which may or may not be 10 times a day). If I don't post as often as Rachel Held Evans then I'm not hitting the mark. If I don't have as many brilliant ideas as Dr. Richard Beck, then I'm a moron. If I'm not as hilarious or edgy as Jamie the Very Worst Missionary then I might as well quit.

I'm trying to make a niche for myself but how will that ever happen if I'm constantly comparing myself to every single person I know (or stalk on the internet)? A while back before I ever started blogging, I told my friend Joey (who is another smart person I'm always trying to impress) that I wanted to write a book or an essay or something...I can't remember which, and he said something that he probably doesn't even remember saying, but that has stuck with me ever since. He said, "You should do that. I bet you have a lot of stuff worth saying." It was the first time I remembered someone putting value on my voice, my story, my opinions. I can't let my own insecurities cloud that out.

I may not be a theologian but theology and ideas and questions are important to me. It doesn't mean that I can't post until I know every possible detail about a topic, but it does mean that I spend enough time writing about it to do it justice. Earlier I sent a frantic and obnoxious text message to my friend Dustin, who I mentioned in yesterday's blog, that went something like this: "I tried to explain what you told me the other night about the law vs the instructions of the old testament and culture and all that stuff on my blog yesterday and I did a horrible job and everyone misunderstood me and I used the wrong verses and I'm so embarrassed. I want to write about theology stuff but I'm obviously not a theologian....what do I do?" He called me after I calmed down a little bit and reminded me that my blog is about taking people through the process of theology as much as it is about the content of theology. I'm learning, and my blog lets people peek in on what I'm learning, what questions I'm asking. That's a good reminder to take it down a notch when I'm comparing myself to people who have studied theology for years and have lots of letters by their name.

So....there will be a few changes made around here. First, I won't be blogging as often. It's not sustainable to try and write meaningful entries every work day with only a short window of time (the kids' nap) to do it. And second, I will be more open (less embarrassed) about mistakes and corrections. This blog is about learning and I want to learn from everyone.

I hope you'll continue reading and that this blog inspires you to ask questions and to seek God harder. We surely are not in any danger of getting all our questions answered.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Law vs. Instructions: reconciling differences

Do you ever read the New Testament and wonder if God made a mistake in the Old? You know, like when Jesus says stuff like, "You have heard it said...but I say..." Pretty sure the "you've heard it said" part was said by God. Well- God through Moses...but same dif. Is Jesus correcting God's mistake? Did God give us all those legalistic laws in the Old Testament and then realize they weren't working so he sent Jesus instead to give us a new way?

I was musing about these things, among a myriad of others, last night to my good friend, Dustin, who I've mentioned before is a wealth of knowledge. He gave me a new perspective to ponder:

The Torah, also know as the Pentateuch, refers to the first five books of the Bible, and is often mistranslated from Hebrew as 'The Law'. When we hear the word 'law' we think rules. We think rigid regulations to be obeyed. This is primarily the way I have viewed the words that Moses brought down from the mountain after his meeting with God. But a better Hebrew translation of the Torah is 'Instructions'. This translation immediately changes our perspective. The Torah was a set of instructions given to a specific people, the Hebrews. God was setting them apart to be His witness to the nations. The instructions he gave them would distinguish them from every other people group on the earth. The Torah is essentially Hebrew culture.

So in the New Testament when Paul, in 1 Corinthians 8-11, is going over the old law and giving new instructions and leeway to the Corinthian believers, he isn't only doing so to free them from the curse of the law (Galatians 3:10), but also to open up the doors of salvation to the Gentiles. Remember, the Torah was a set of instructions to set apart the Hebrew people, a specific culture. Holding converts to the Hebrew culture instructions would be like going into inland China to try and convert new believers into American Christians. It doesn't work and it ruins something beautiful. Jesus does the same thing as Paul when he says, "You have heard it said...but I say...".  He is basically saying, "It's been done this way in the past, but I don't expect you to be Hebrew. You can love me as you are." He is putting infinite value on all the new cultures and people groups who were beginning to fall in love with Him. Jesus didn't want or need a homogeneous culture to worship Him. The fullness of God's glory in creation is expressed when His people worship Him as they were created, in beautiful diversity.

This understanding has given me a whole new perspective on God's story as it has played out over the course of history. Have you ever wondered why there seem to be so many differences between the Old Testament Law (instructions) and the new way of Jesus? How did you reconcile them?

Friday, May 20, 2011

The birth-place of Just War and the decline of Christian pacifism

This week for the pacifism series I'd like to return to a little history. A few weeks ago I asked the question: "Why do you think the Church has seemingly derailed from the practices of non-violence and pacifism over the course of history?" A few people had some good answers regarding the Church as it is today, but I think a better question would have been, 'What started us off the path of non-violence?' That is chiefly what we will be dealing with today.

In the year 312 Constantine I, who was in the number two position under the emperor, was struggling to climb the ranks and prove himself as a worthy replacement for the big man. He had a decisive battle coming up against one of his greatest competitors, Maxentius. During this period of history a big emphasis was put on belief in magic, dark spells, unseen spirits and the like. As Constantine prepared for battle he felt a great need to up the ante beyond military might alone since he believed the opposing rulers of Rome had rallied the forces of black magic on their side. One night Constantine had a dream where Christ appeared and commanded him to carry the sign of the cross into battle. For the first time in history, soldiers went into battle with an emblem of Christianity painted on their shields. Had it been a generation earlier, it would have been an unspeakable blasphemy for Believers. Before heading into battle Constantine was said to have seen a flaming cross in the sky with the words, "In this sign thou shalt conquer". Constantine won the battle. He became the ruler of the Western half of the Roman empire. But even more importantly, Christianity received a new role: it was no longer illegal in the Roman empire. From Non-violence: The History of a Dangerous Idea, "Constantine became the Christian emperor, the defender of Christianity, and, as such, forever changed the character of the religion as he promoted it and used it to solidify his power. Whether he himself embraced the religion or simply used it politically has been debated by historians ever since."

It seems to me that when religion (Christianity for our purposes) gets mixed with the goals and aspirations of a nation-state, the religion will conform to meet the expectations of the state not the other way around. "One bad apple ruins the bunch" or more poignantly as Tony Campolo stated it, "It’s like mixing ice cream and horse manure. It doesn’t really affect the manure but it really messes up the ice cream." 

We will never know what dreams Constantine dreamed, what visions he saw, or if any of them actually were from God. But we have history to see that many outrageous and counter-Christian ideas have come from people claiming to have a mandate from God. We look away embarrassed at the mention of the Crusades or the white Christians of the South using the Bible to prove their right to own slaves. I'm sure it was easy for the Christians during Constantine's reign to start letting things slip. After all, his mandate effectively ended the persecution that had defined the early church. Why not compromise a little to maintain their own security? The emperor was able to give the Church what had never previously had: political power. And the church slowly became drunk on it.

Yet, if you look at the life of Jesus, you realize he made a point of doing things completely opposite of how people expected (and wanted) him to. He flipped things upside down. He said crazy things like, "If you want to save your life you will lose it" and "The first shall be last and the last shall be first." When Peter tried to defend him from a group of soldiers that wanted to put him on the cross he said, “Put your sword back in its place. For all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?" At all times Jesus could have had power over every authority and government on the face of the earth, but he chose instead a path that would change hearts instead of behavior. 

What do you think of Constantine's visions? How do you think history would have played out differently if he had lost the battle?