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? 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Letters to God from a ridiculous 4th grader : Entry 2

Today's entry is from June 29, 1997. I've changed the names of the people mentioned to protect their identity....I'm friends with them on facebook. In this entry I discuss, with much wisdom and insight, the parenting styles of two of my friends' parents.

June 29, 1997
Dear God,
Today I got back from South Padre Island with my friend Sally. Tammy (Sally's mom) thinks that Jessica's mom, Liz (Jessica was another friend of mine) doesn't like her. Liz thinks that since Sally's dad got divorced twice that Sally and Tammy are both bad (confused with all the names yet?).  I don't think that Tammy is bad, I just think that she's more free about letting Sally do things. Which brings me to another thing: Jessica's mom doesn't think that Jessica knows what gay and sex means (I still don't know what those mean). I think that Liz is not willing to accept that Jessica is growing up. Please God, show Liz that Tammy isn't bad, just that she parents different (how very diplomatic of me).
Love, Charissa 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Jesus should have taken Biology

Matthew 12:24
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

Seeds don't actually die. Jesus used this metaphor in the Scriptures to give illustration of our need to "lose our life in order to save it", but one of my friends in my community group last night said she always gets frustrated with the metaphor since she studied Biology in college. It's ok, I don't think Jesus was lying or anything, he probably just didn't take Biology. But the metaphor still kinda works- even with the correction. When He tells us to die, He's not literally asking us to kill ourselves. He's telling us to put to death the rotten self in order that the true self might shine through. You know, the self that Adam and Eve had before they screwed things up, the one we'll get back when we finally see Jesus, the one that God is creating in us if we let Him. There is always life hiding underneath, even if it's very small, even if you can't see it. When the seed falls into the ground, it sure looks dead, but the new life and eventually fruit will spring forth.

Here's another observation from this verse, one that has come into sharper focus since I've started gardening:
Plants don't always produce fruit. They have seasons of fruit-bearing, but it's not constant. In fact the plant is always running through the cycle of "death" and life and re-birth. Matthew 7:16 says "You will know them by their fruit..." Them being us, the believers. Are you ever discouraged or scared when you realize you might not be bearing fruit? I know this verse used to freak me out. I would go through a time of frustration, of silence from God, and on top of that I would realize nothing good was coming out of my life. I knew I must not be a Christian! "The Bible says we'll know them by their fruit and I have none, so that must mean I'm a failure." But it was usually just a season of "death". To keep with the garden metaphor, God was pruning my leaves and branches, cutting out the things that were hindering me from loving Him better. And eventually life sprouted up again. 

Death is a part of this life. We are called to die not just once at a church youth group altar call, but to do it again and again. You may not have fruit on you ALL the time, but if you are in Him, you can rest assured that you WILL bear fruit. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Blah, blah, blah

I haven't much felt like posting lately. Some days I just have nothing worth saying...or more accurately, nothing worth overcoming my laziness to write. I've sat here for about ten minutes now trying to figure out a way to merge all the things in my head into one cohesive idea, but it's not happening so I think I'll just do a round-up of what's been on my mind.

1. If I published some of my personal, recent journal entries on here, there's a good chance most of you would question my walk with the Lord. I wonder if the people who were around when King David was penning out his frustrations with God thought he was sacrilegious or crazy. Did people start praying for him to "come back into the fold"?

2. Sometimes I get really caught up with myself. Without even realizing it, all of my thoughts, actions, motives turn to me, me, me. How does this affect me? How will this benefit me? Why doesn't anyone notice me? And then, out of nowhere something jolts me from my bubble and I remember how small and insignificant I am. Does this ever happen to you? What is it that brings you back to reality? For me, looking at the sky always works. Seeing how big it is reminds me of the world I'm a part of. It reminds me I serve a really big, really loving, really epic, really hard to understand God. Listening to Sigur Ros song always does the trick too. This one came on in my car on the way to work, while I was busy whining to myself about my life:

3. I wanna start a little mini series on here where I ask various different people the same vague-ish question (Why do you believe in God?) and let them answer however they want to answer. If you're interested in participating shoot me an email or leave a comment. I'll probably post one a week.

4. I have some really exciting possible future plans (so what else is new?) that I'm dying to tell people about but won't because I'm perpetually the "girl who cried wolf". Once I've sat on the idea a little longer I'll dish about it on here, but in the meantime just know that it's really expensive. For the next year I'll be on a strict budget, so don't ask me to go out to eat with you- I have no self control.

5. Before we had computers how on earth did we keep track of everyone's license plate numbers? How did we make sure there weren't repeats? Was there one big book somewhere that everyone had to consult?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The root of hatred is love

What makes us hate people? I don't know if I've ever given much thought to why I might hate someone. Maybe because it doesn't come up that often. Not to brag or anything, but there are very few people I hate. This isn't as virtuous as it sounds since it probably just stems from my need to be liked by as many people as possible. But still, it takes a lot for me to hate someone. Generally I find myself struggling with it when I encounter meanness. I can't handle mean people.

When I was a senior in high school I took Spanish-1 to fulfill the bare minimum requirement of language credits needed to graduate. What can I say? I am an over-achiever. I was one of the few seniors in a class full of lower-classmen. There was a girl named Jamie in our class who was severely autistic and beyond socially awkward. She was obsessed with Pokemon cards and carried around a huge binder of them, tucked away in plastic sleeves, everywhere she went. She was constantly talking about them, doodling them and trying to corner people into talking about them. For the most part, when the teacher was talking, she kept to herself and no one bothered her, but whenever we split off into pairs she would revert back to Pokemon expert mode. There was another kid in our class named David. David was your quintessential jock. Super buff, tan, good looking, popular with the ladies, and an all around douche-bag. He had a personal vendetta against Jamie and made it his goal to publicly embarrass her as often as possible. David was always calling attention to Jamie when she was just minding her own business. He'd point and laugh, usually bringing the rest of the class with him. I know this is awful, but I distinctly remember thinking, "This is the first person that I actually can't fathom Jesus loving." I didn't want to admit it to myself, but I hated him.

But why? Was it just the act I hated? What deep reason did I have for not only hating the sin but the sinner as well? Did I have a subconscious standard for him that he wasn't living up to? Maybe.

I've been reading through George MacDonald's Unspoken Sermons over the last month and recently I happened upon a possible explanation for my hatred. He suggests that maybe we hate because we know, deep down that inside every person is something worth loving, something we want to love, and when their actions cloud our vision of this truth, when they make it hard for us to see the loveliness they possess, we hate them for it.
"But how can we love a man or a woman who is cruel and unjust to us?-- who sears with contempt, or cuts off with wrong every tendril we would put forth to embrace?--who is mean, unlovely, carping, uncertain, self-righteous, self-seeking, and self-admiring?...These things cannot be loved. The best man hates them most; the worst man cannot love them. But are these the man?...Lies there not within the man and the woman a divine element of brotherhood, of sisterhood, a something lovely and lovable,--slowly fading, it may be,--dying away under the fierce heat of vile passions, or the yet more fearful cold of sepulchral selfishness--but there? Shall that divine something, which, once awakened to be its own holy self in the man, will loathe these unlovely things tenfold more than we loathe them now--shall this divine thing have no recognition from us? It is the very presence of this fading humanity that makes it possible for us to hate. If it were an animal only, and not a man or a woman that did us hurt, we should not hate: we should only kill. We hate the man just because we are prevented from loving him. We push over the verge of the creation--we damn--just because we cannot embrace. For to embrace is the necessity of our deepest being. That foiled, we hate."
If we were to realize the root of our hate, what would happen to our tendency towards war and violence?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Letters to God from a ridiculous 4th grader: Entry 1

I have a keepsake box in my closet that is packed full of pictures, my childhood blankies, my letter jacket, all the notes I ever wrote in high school, and almost every journal I've ever kept. Periodically I'll read through the old journals and notes and recently I had the brilliant idea to post some of the classic entries from my adolescence. Please tell me you were as ridiculous as I was in 4th grade.

Here's an entry from June 1, 1997:

Dear God,
I know this is the first time I've really written to you. I'm supposed to be all happy and gayla (apparently gayla was an acceptable/real word in my vocabulary) but no, Stephanie just HAS to ruin what was going to be a perfect night (I was beyond mean to my sister in all these old journals).

Life is going well in the boy world. After the recent F-5 tornado I've recovered emotionally (I wasn't even in Austin when this happened) and I think Matt has too (my 4th grade boyfriend), considering he got hit in the head with a chunk o' metal and had to get stitches (nope. This did not happen). Matt is the sweetest guy I know besides You and Jesus.

Well, gotta go!

Clearly I felt the need to lie to make my story more awesome, even to myself.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Whoa nelly...that is me

This morning Donald Miller blogged about the Enneagram Personality Test. Now, I've taken a lot of tests and surveys over the years, most of which come relatively close to diagnosing my personality quirks, but this- this is dead on.

My own inner dialog is a constant conversation of introspection as I attempt to figure myself out. I'm always trying to classify myself, always trying to put things in compartments. Without even knowing it I obsessively compare myself to everyone I know. Not in an insecure way...I just like to see how we differ. I like to see what makes me unique.

I just took the shortened version of the Enneagram and was blown away by how accurate it was after only about 25 questions. Take the test here (you have to scroll down a little) and find out for yourself. Here are a few of the hi-lights from my own assessment. According to the test I am a Type 5:
We have named personality type Five The Investigator because, more than any other type, Fives want to find out why things are the way they are. They want to understand how the world works, whether it is the cosmos, the microscopic world, the animal, vegetable, or mineral kingdoms—or the inner world of their imaginations. They are always searching, asking questions, and delving into things in depth. They do not accept received opinions and doctrines, feeling a strong need to test the truth of most assumptions for themselves.
Behind Fives’ relentless pursuit of knowledge are deep insecurities about their ability to function successfully in the world. Fives feel that they do not have an ability to do things as well as others. But rather than engage directly with activities that might bolster their confidence, Fives “take a step back” into their minds where they feel more capable. Their belief is that from the safety of their minds they will eventually figure out how to do things—and one day rejoin the world.  
Knowledge, understanding, and insight are thus highly valued by Fives, because their identity is built around “having ideas” and being someone who has something unusual and insightful to say. For this reason, Fives are not interested in exploring what is already familiar and well-established; rather, their attention is drawn to the unusual, the overlooked, the secret, the occult, the bizarre, the fantastic, the “unthinkable.” Investigating "unknown territory"—knowing something that others do not know, or creating something that no one has ever experienced—allows Fives to have a niche for themselves that no one else occupies. They believe that developing this niche is the best way that they can attain independence and confidence.  Thus, much of their time gets spent "collecting" and developing ideas and skills they believe will make them feel confident and prepared. They want to retain everything that they have learned and “carry it around in their heads.”
It's funny that they use the phrase "collecting ideas" because a while back I used pretty much that same phrase to describe what I do to my brother...although I think I said I "hoarded ideas and information".

Have you ever taken a personality test? Do you ever feel a little relieved when you read a correct diagnosis? Like maybe now that you know what your problem is you can move forward better?

Sorry this is kind of a boring post about myself, but I find it so fascinating! What personality type are you?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

What is wrong with this picture?

This is taken from a popular Manga Bible published by Zondervan. A Manga Bible is like a Bible set to anime comics...

Monday, May 9, 2011

Letting go...

I am a certified control freak, holding the reins of my life with an iron fist. I try to play it off with euphemisms that might take the label "control freak" down a notch. Things like, "I'm detail oriented" or "I just have strong opinions" or usually I just say that "I'm trying to make sure things go smoothly." But while the euphemisms may be true sometimes, they mostly just come from a deep need for things to go my way. 

We're five months into this year and already I feel like my life has been flipped upside down. Never mind that I say that every year...each time I'm left just as dizzy and disoriented. I mentioned earlier this week that my spiritual life as of late has been about deconstruction. A lot of long held beliefs no longer hold water. There have been some pretty painful times, but most of it has been a good, healthy letting go. And control is one of the big things I'm loosening my grip on.

This is not the first time I have tried to cure my little control problem. If you looked in every single one of my old journals you would find multiple entries detailing my struggle with being a crazy person. Begging God over and over to just take control from me since I have such a hard time giving it to Him willingly. During my Discipleship Training School I had my entire small group pray over me, hoping that their words to God on my behalf might do the trick, but knowing even while they prayed, how tightly I was still holding on.

I think the reason it was such a struggle was because I thought I still could have control if I wanted to. I thought if I tried hard enough I could make things happen exactly the way I wanted them to. Who would want to give THAT up if they had it? But as I've watched my faulty foundation crumble away beneath me, I've realized that I'm not that powerful. "No duh", you might say, but this seriously is a break through of epic proportion. I'll be honest though, the beginning stages of this break through are making me pretty apathetic. My pathetic inner dialog whines,  "If I can't be sure that I'll get what I want eventually, why try?" But even in this season of apparent deadness, this numbing of my soul, I can already see something beautiful beginning to grow from it.

Some of you know that this year I have started gardening. I wasn't sure how long I'd stick with it since I tend to have the attention span of a two year old when it comes to plans for my life and hobbies. But much to my surprise, I've stayed consistent. There is something so magical about watching a small seedling transform before your eyes and bear fruit. I love pushing my hands into the dirt and feeling brief moments of connection with the earth God created. There is so much to learn about Him in the garden! John 12:24 says, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." I'm the dead seed in the ground right now and it's hard for me to see light with so much dirt covering me, but I am emerging. What will I become?

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Pacifism isn't just for hippies: Non-violence and the early church

Friday was a crazy day and I wasn't able to get on here to post the second blog in the pacifism series. I know only like 12 people read this thing regularly but it's important for me to be consistent, so from here on out I'm going to try really hard to be on time with this series.

Before we continue any further I think it would be good to clarify what I mean when I say pacifism. When most people refer to pacifism they're referring to an opposition to war and violence. While that's a pretty sturdy definition, I'd like to add a few things here for our uses. For the majority of this series when I use the word pacifism, I'll be thinking of Christian pacifism. This particular brand is not passive, it's not content to sit on it's hands with a mere declaration of "war is wrong". It is active, it seeks to counter the powers of war and violence with love and sacrifice. I know this is a lot to fit into one definition, but I just think it's important to emphasize that the pacifism I'll be spending my time writing about is active.

A little history to get us started:
In the almost three hundred years between the ascension of Christ and beginning of the Emperor Constantine's reign (314 AD) , the early Christian church was known for their radical pacifism. Many of the most well known church fathers were outspoken about the issue. Tertullian, who was actually a Roman centurion's son, converted to Christianity in 197 AD and quickly began efforts to convert soldier's so they would refuse to fight, saying later, "The divine banner and the human banner do not go together, nor the standard of Christ and the standard of the devil. Only without the sword can the Christian wage war: for the Lord has abolished the sword." Justin wrote,  "We ourselves were well conversant with war, murder, and everything evil, but all of us throughout the whole wide earth have traded in our weapons of war. We have exchanged our swords for ploughshares, our spears for farm tools. Now we cultivate the fear of God, justice, kindness to men, faith, and the expectation of the future given to us by the Father himself through the Crucified One." (Dialogue with Trypho 110.3.4 about 160 AD). Many such writers, including Origen and St. Ignatius similarly called for the abolition of warfare, which they only saw happening once the church embraced the teachings of Jesus to turn the other cheek, love one's enemies, and do good to those who do evil. As Mark Kurlansky points out in his book, Non-violence: The History of a Dangerous Idea, "Such determined love and goodness was not meant to be pacifistic but a program for actively fighting evil."

I bring the early church up because I want to emphasize the fact that, on the whole, active non-violence is not something new to Christ followers. It's not a product of the new emergent church. It wasn't born out of liberal theology. It has been woven into our collective tapestry of belief since the time when Jesus came to earth and shook everything up. For early followers it was important enough to die for. The death of Jesus still fresh on their memories, his admonitions to pick up their own crosses and follow Him still ringing in their ears, these believers knew in a way that we will never know how high a cost they might be called upon to pay. Saying you were a Christian in these times meant becoming a fool in the eyes of the "establishment". Everything about them was counter-cultural, counter-intuitive, but everything they did was to be soaked in love. Their lives were not too high a cost to pay in order to achieve this, and indeed some of them paid dearly.
Paul famously said in Philippians 1:20-21,
 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Paul knew that the purest form of Christ's exaltation in his body was through the extreme love, forgiveness and ultimately, sacrifice that He displayed for the world. And Paul was content either to live to show it or die to show it.

I have lots more thoughts that will stem from this first installment. You might be wondering, if pacifism was so prevalent in the early church why is it so rare now? We'll get to that. We'll also get deeper into the ideas of sacrifice and what our rights are as Christ followers. But for now, since I can't think of a better way to wind this one down, I will leave you with a question to ponder until next week:

Why do you think the Church has seemingly derailed from the practices of non-violence and pacifism over the course of history?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Man does not live on answers alone

Here is some more food for thought from the book I'm reading, The Rise and Fall of the Bible:

What is the meaning of the word religion? We're all familiar with the word and probably have an assumed definition of it in our heads, but what was it originally intended to mean? Most say that the Latin origin of the word is religare which means to re-bind or re-attach. "Religion is then about being bound and re-bound to a set of beliefs, doctrines, institutions and scriptures." But another possible  Latin origin of the word is relegre which means to re-read or read again. "Take this as the origin and we have a sense of religion that is less about the binding and more about the ongoing process of rereading. It's about reinterpreting sacred scriptures and other religious traditions in order to make them speak meaningfully to new horizons of meaning."

Timothy Beal asks this question about religion in his book but I ask it again here because I thought it profound and fitting considering the nature of the Bible, as a book that is constantly referencing itself. Here is a graph that a PhD student at Carnegie Mellon created to represent the data of the 63,779 cross-references between the Bible's 1,189 chapters: 

The authors and characters are, from chapter to chapter pulling out bits and pieces of the Jewish Scriptures and using them in new and sometimes extremely creative ways. Even Jesus participated in this process. In the Sermon on the Mount, he quotes a passage that appears three times in the Torah, "You have heard it said 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth' but I say to you, do not resist the evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well..." 

According to Beal, the Scriptures are meant to engage us in a creative dialog, where we join the saints before us in interpreting what God is saying to us now, in this moment. On the one hand this seems scary, "a slippery slope" as my roommate Melissa commented after yesterday's blog. But is this really so different from what we already do as a community of believers? None of us has the corner market on the exact right interpretation of Scripture, as much as we might believe we do. There's strength in numbers, but even the masses can sometimes be proved wrong by the gradual and inevitable turning of time. I think the difference is that we drop the pretense that the Bible is meant to be a book of answers, we instead view it as "an unfinished  conversation, a work in progress." Beal continues, saying:
The Bible creates community by providing space for community to happen. It offers storied world and theological vocabularies around which people can come together in conversation about abiding questions. It calls for creative, collaborative participation. This is true especially for Christians. It is "our" library of questions and pool of imagination, the place we gather to read again in order to find meaning in new situations. In its many voices, perspectives and contradictions, it both embraces the diversity of voices among us and provides a context in which we can affirm unity within that diversity-not by agreeing about what it means but by joining in the creative, meaning-making process of interpretation that it hosts.
This idea resonates with me. It fits with my experience of reality which is one of more questions than answers (this many only be a personal reality); our intrinsic understanding that the world surrounding us is made up of so many diverse things, people, and ideas, our universal desire to make sense of it all. I have to believe that the Scriptures are the way they are because they reflect the reality of living out of sync with the Creator. It makes sense to me that God would use such a polyvocal book to inspire truth, creativity and unity within such a polyvocal Church.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Is the Bible an icon?

I would describe the last few years of my faith journey as more of a deconstruction than anything else. I've tapped on the bricks of long-held beliefs and watched them crumble before my eyes. Sometimes I feel exhilarated  sometimes devastated, but each time I know there is no going back, no way to reform the same brick. The only way forward is to make a new one.

When you're a child you see things very much black or white. Parents play a huge role in making sure the child is secure in what is true and what is not. Growing up in a Christian home, I was inbred with the knowledge that I was loved by my mom, dad and especially Jesus. I was told that Jesus loves everyone. That the Bible is the Word of God, that it is absolutely perfect in every way, and that it has always been in the form we have it today.  I'm thankful that my parents gave me such solid footing for my childhood. But as my brain matured with age, questions about the Bible started to form that seemed to make my footing less secure. I knew what the Bible was supposed to be. It was supposed to be a book of answers, authored by God Himself, through inspiration of course. But my reading of it began to fall short of that bar almost every time I opened its pages. Timothy Beal describes my experience quite well in The Rise and Fall of the Bible:
When it comes to the Bible, many feel that there is a single right meaning- the one  its divine author intended. "Well, what does the Bible say?" "The Bible is very clear about that." This is part of the inconicity of the Bible in contemporary society, the idea of it as the one and only divinely authored and guaranteed book of answers, with one answer per question. No more, no less. 
For many potential Bible readers, this expectation that Bible is univocal is paralyzing. You notice what seem to be contradictions or tensions between different voices in the text. You can't find an obvious way to reconcile them. You figure that it must be your problem. You don't know how to read it correctly, or you're missing something...If the Bible is God's perfect, infallible Word, then any misunderstanding or ambiguity must be a result of our own depravity...So you either give up or let someone holier than thou tell you "what it really says."
Realizing that the Bible may not be the rock you once thought it was is admittedly terrifying. But for me, reading about the history of such a miraculous book, this cacophony of voices, the story of our collective heritage has made me fall more in love with it. Timothy Beal suggests thinking about the Bible as a river rather than a rock. In my life, the rock has been a stumbling block, a "millstone around my neck".  But seeing it as a river seems a lot more in line with something that's "living and active."

What are the implications of viewing the Bible as a river instead of a rock? I'm not sure. I'm still very much in the process of fleshing this out, and suspect I will be until the day I die. But as I sit here trying to wrap this up and worrying about the can of worms I just opened without much explanation, a few things come to mind:

1. I am finite. I will screw up as I attempt to decipher what God is saying, whether that's through the library of His Word or the Holy Spirit within me. But what else is new? Even if the Scriptures are supposed to be a rock, they require our interpretation, they require us working out (sometimes with fear and trembling) what they mean. And I trust God to help us.
2. Along those lines- The Bible as we know it, in canonized form, bound together in one book, is a relatively new concept within the span of Christian history. The very earliest believers wouldn't have been able to conceive of such a thing and they still served God faithfully. Much of the underground church in China and other closed countries live their entire lives never having seen but a few pages of Scripture and they still serve God faithfully. *
3. I realize that I'm leaving out a LOT of information and research that lead me to view the Bible in this new way. I hope to include some of it in future posts, but for right now that would take a lot of notes and summaries that I don't have time for before the babies I watch wake up.

Here's a final question for you to ponder today:
If you found out the Bible was not the infallible Word of God (doesn't mean it's not inspired), what would that do to your faith? What would it change for you? **

*This is not an excuse to stop reading Scriptures. I believe they are meant to be a huge blessing and encouragement to the Believer, and it would be foolish to ignore such an obvious gift, but as evidenced by so many who have gone before us, they are not a requirement for survival.
**I'm not saying that the Bible is unequivocally not infallible, only wondering what it would change for you if it was

Monday, May 2, 2011

Nuggets of wisdom from my snarky (read, awesome) grandpa

About three months ago my sister sent a letter to my paternal grandparents in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania asking them if they wouldn't mind just sharing about their life and their experiences and anything else interesting. Since then we've gotten several letters with stories or old newspaper clippings, but the one we got yesterday was pure gold. There was a long hand-written note from my Mum-mum and tucked away inside it, my Papa had scrawled out a shorter one. Here's your nugget of wisdom for the week:

When I was about 10 or 12, I saved a lot of coupons to redeem a football. I got it on a Friday night and couldn't wait till Saturday to take it out and play. On Saturday while we were playing with it some kids came by* and asked to see the ball. And the jerk that I am , I tossed it to them and they took off with it and that is the last I saw of it. The moral of this story is "Don't be such a jerk!!!!"

*My Aunt Lisa informs us that Papa forgot to mention the kids were on roller skates, which makes the scenario even more hilarious/sad
**The above picture is of Papa wearing the Jackass shirt we gave him as a Christmas present that came with our Jackass the Movie DVD...yes, we own that movie

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Rebuilding a broken temple

Sometimes I wonder: are we all serving different Gods? 

I'm not just talking Ganesh vs Ra vs Buddha vs Yaweh.... I'm talking, do I serve a different God than my Christian brothers and sisters? You know, the sisters who are Calvinists or the brothers who believe it's a sin for a woman to speak in church or the people who believe in a literal seven day creation story. It might seem an absurd question to some but it must be asked regardless because at times we act like we've got our own personal deities. Upon hearing divergent view points I admit, sometimes I think, "That's not the God I serve." And while the character traits of the God they're describing may be unfamiliar to the one I understand and know, we ARE nevertheless serving the same God. He is dealing with us all, regardless of if we can agree with each other long enough to see it. 

I often feel at war with myself. Part of me wants to be able to just write people off: That person believes something whacked out, so they obviously can't be a believer. Or- that girl is obviously in denial about what the Bible is really saying in that passage, she must be a nominal Christian. Or- that guy thinks the Virgin Mary is kind of a big deal, he must be an idolator. But the more I try to homogenize the Body of Christ, the smaller and smaller it gets, until it's whittled down to just me. 

The other part of me longs to make sense out of the obvious reality that we're all so beautifully different.  But God doesn't seem to have any intentions of making us beautifully the same any time much as we may want that. I confess that sometimes I despair of this fact. I like things to fit neatly in a box, with no loose ends. It doesn't make sense to me when my roommate who I love, and who I know is honestly seeking the Lord, doesn't come to the same theological conclusions as I do. We're both open to correction, both open to seeing truth in the other's side if it is there, and yet we remain firmly separated in our understandings of certain things. At times both of us have exasperatingly asked God, "What are you doing? When are you going to show one of us that the other one was right? Or even that we were both wrong?" These are valid questions. God could, at any time, snap his fingers and we'd all be in complete unity in regards to what our lives as Believers should look like. But I suspect that if we were to wait around for those things to happen, there'd be a lot of waiting going on. After all, the qualifying factor for being a Christian is not a list of things we ascribe to theologically, but a love encounter with the Savior where our rags are exchanged for His righteousness. It is a journey to His heart and none of us has arrived yet.

As lame as the title of my blog is, it conveys a question that is often on my heart. When we come to an understanding or have that light bulb going on moment, our next question should be, what now? How do we move forward from here? We are in agreement that the Church is pretty diverse, so how do we remain the unified body of Christ in spite of our differences? We do it by placing value on each other's  journey and sincere desire to know God more deeply. We do it by trusting that the Holy Spirit really will guide us into all truth as the Scriptures promise us. I'm trying to figure out how to do this myself...but I know it is important work.

Bishop Charles Henry Brent said: 
The unity of Christendom is not a luxury, but a necessity. The World will go limping until Christ's prayer that all may be one is answered. We must have unity, not at all costs, but at all risks. A unified Church is the only offering we dare present to the coming Christ, for in it alone will He find room to dwell.

We are the temple of God. I've always been told that He lives in me as an individual, but I think it even more important and perhaps even more Biblical to understand this as He intended it: that corporately we are the temple, the dwelling place, the Body of Christ. Where does He have to dwell but in us? 

Colossians 2:2
My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ. 

Unity is important. Not just so we can all get along, but because when we are unified we are actively building a dwelling place for Jesus, and in doing so we come to know Him who is making His home in us- the mystery of God.

If this is something that has been on your heart, check out the Rally to Restore Unity going on all week. Read blogs, round table discussions, and post your thoughts as we blaze the path forward in love.