• On Treading Water

    Once upon a time, a dastardly villian took a girl out to sea and left her there in the water, in the dark.  She knew she was in a struggle for her life.  Although it was night and she could see nothing, she couldn’t tolerate just waiting.  So she took off swimming in the direction she thought land was.  She swam though the night until she was so exhausted that she could barely tread water.  As the sun rose, she thought she could see land in the distance, but now that her energy was spent, her survival depended on staying afloat until someone happened to spot her and rescue her.

     * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

     Once upon a time a dastardly villian took a girl out to sea and left her there in the water, in the dark.  She knew she was in a struggle for her life.  But it was night and she could see nothing to guide her way.  So she decided to just tread water until morning came up.  As the sun came up, she was tired, but not spent.  She spotted land in the distance and started swimming in that direction.  Her survival now depended on whether she had the stamina to swim close enough to shore to be spotted by a rescuer or pull herself onshore.

    This is one of the essays found in my book The Upside Down World’s Guide to Enjoying the Hard Life. You should go order a copy before you forget!

     

  • Does Forgiving Demand Restoring Relationship?

    Over the years I’ve forgiven some rather unforgivable things. I hope you have as well. . . Wait – that didn’t come out right. Hopefully you’re one of those rare birds who have never had anything particularly unforgivable happen to you. But if you have had someone do something unforgivable, I hope that you have been able to forgive them.*

    One of the problems that people commonly struggle with when it comes to forgiveness is the issue of the restoration of relationships. Can you really say you’ve forgiven someone if you are unwilling to be in relationship with them? Does forgiveness demand that your relationship be restored? Or can you forgive but refuse to engage in relationship with the person who wronged you?

    Part of why I am such a big fan of forgiveness is that it’s a very empowering act. I cannot often control the way other people behave towards me, but I can control how I respond to it. Forgiving allows me to take back my power from someone who has injected pain, suffering and turmoil into my life against my will. I get to declare in the heavenlies when a person is bound or loosed from their sins. And forgiveness also props opens the door to healing from harm done.

    On the other hand, insisting that forgiveness must be accompanied by restoration of a relationship is just the opposite; it’s dis-empowering. It doesn’t allow for choice. It doesn’t allow for self-love or self-protection. It makes my own pain and struggle and needs completely irrelevant. And all too often, this insistence that forgiveness must go hand in hand with restoration of relationship is a tool of control which gets used against people who are already in a weak position.

    Being in relationship with other people always opens us up to being hurt. And if we refuse relationship with anyone who is dysfunctional or hurtful, we will be lonely indeed. Most acts of forgiveness should not be accompanied by a reconsideration of the relationship as a whole. Generally, we ought to forgive and move on freely. But there are those times when what is being forgiven does call the entire relationship into question. So how can we maintain our default openness for relationship while also being realistic about which relationships are simply too dangerous, unhealthy or dysfunctional to continue? Continue reading

  • The Sacrifice of Isaac . . . Or Provincial Much?*

    Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. ~ Micah 6:7-8

    In the pantheon of weird stories in the bible, the Sacrifice (or Binding) of Abraham is often treated as the most inexplicable or as the clearest evidence of how capricious the God of the Old Testament is. However, it seems to me that these conclusions simply demonstrate our poor understanding of history, God’s ways and human nature.  In context and with a decent concept of human nature as well as a proper understanding of what God is about, the story and it’s moral aren’t so hard to understand.

    The reality is that infanticide has always been part of human behavior. It’s been practiced everywhere and through all time periods. Including during the time of Abraham. In fact, there is evidence from both ancient writings and from archaeology of wide-spread infanticide and ritual child sacrifice in the Ancient Near East continuing into Greco-Roman times. Continue reading

  • Being Passive is a Discipline

    Passivity is a discipline. In fact, sometimes I think it is the hardest discipline – particularly in a culture like ours. We humans like to DO things. We like to build. We like to invent. We like to build relationships and parse them out when they breakdown. We like to plant and grow and make. We like to talk and write and sing. We like to be masters of our fate, captains of our ships, directors of our plays. We seek, we strive, we fight, we climb mountains simply because they are there. We admire those who do it well and follow those who champion the cause of doing. Which is good and well. It is as it should be in most ways. And yet . . .

    Here in the great Northern Tundra of the Upper Midwestern United States, there will be a reduced apple harvest this year, although fortunately it’s not as bad as some had feared. You see, as in much of the country, winter was mild and warm weather showed up early. The apple trees woke early from their winter doze and sent out their blossoms into the warmth. However, March and April had merely traded places. The warmth of March that tricked the trees into releasing their blossoms too soon gave way to frosts of April that threatened the delicate apple blossoms before they had time to set fruit. So now, this fall when the trees produce the fruit of a long summer of growing in warmth and rain, their harvest will be inferior. All because the trees were tricked into think their passive winter wait was over and their time to shine and begin the work of making fruit was at hand. But the conditions that made them think their time had come were not sustainable.

    We humans are not trees. We don’t have to be tricked into acting outside of our proper time. But it requires great discipline to refrain from action when conditions seem ripe even when we know it’s not sustainable. We tell ourselves we’ll work it out later. But this is a lesson to learn. To be passive. To wait. And most of all to allow God time enough to work in us and on us. Continue reading

  • idiots

    Why Have Lunatics Taken Over?

    Sometimes people come to me and say, “Rebecca, you are amazing, wise, funny and smell like flowers and lemon Pledge. Why are you not recognized as the wonder you are by all of humanity near and far?”

    To which I can only answer, “this is a great mystery to me as well.”

    The other questions I get asked a lot are “has everyone lost their ever-loving-minds?”, “Why are the lunatics in charge of everything?” and “Is there any hope for humanity left?”

    As fate would have it, I happen to have answers to these questions. They are, respectively:

    Pretty much.

    Because lunatics appeal to all of our worst impulses.

    Yes. The lunatics’ days are numbered.

    Now, perhaps you too have noticed that the world seems, well, a bit unbalanced lately. The most violent, most hateful, most greedy, most dishonest actors in our world appear to be ascendant, if not triumphant. Families are in shambles, communities are shells and compassion seems to have gone MIA. Injustices which have festered for decades, if not centuries, are not even attempting to hide themselves, but are right out into the open, secure in the knowledge that few will object. The technological innovations that not so long ago were making humanity safer, healthier, more prosperous and comfortable seem to be reaching their limits and are threatening to turn on us. It’s very easy and tempting to be pessimistic and lose faith in the whole human project.

    To a certain extent, this is an illusion. With the internet, global communication and 24 hour media, we can see things we were not previously aware of (or were in denial about). It used to be that if something awful was happening in another part of the world, we wouldn’t know it for months or years, if at all. If an atrocity was committed, we might read a news story about it and wonder what in the world was wrong with those people. Today we can watch videos in real time and get instant news from far and wide.

    Since we all have front row seats to what’s wrong in the world, it’s easy to think that this is because there’s more wrong in the world. However, this isn’t necessarily the case. In America, the crime rate has dwindled down to rates not seen since the Eisenhower administration. Around the world crime has fallen, poverty has decreased dramatically, armed conflicts are less common and life spans are increasing. It’s not perfect, but we’re on a very positive trajectory.

    However, it does seem that large portions of humanity are refusing to let go of their allegiance to the very worst tendencies that the human race are prone to. While the world and our understanding of it and ourselves has changed dramatically and brought massive improvements at every level, not everyone’s on board. It’s not that we’re any worse than in the past. People in the past were just as, if not more, prone to obnoxious, hateful, violent, ignorant, greedy, oppressive behavior and words as anyone alive today. What has changed, really, is that increasing numbers of us are openly and loudly refusing to accept those behaviors and attitudes as normal or acceptable – for any reason.

    This has opened up a gap which is fueling both conflict and insecurity. The questions I get asked about what in the world is going on tend to come from those who want to see humanity turn its back on our hateful, oppressive, greedy, violent tendencies once and for all. They listen to the rhetoric coming from churches, politicians, individuals and governments and wonder if those who view the past as something to go back to rather than run from are going to win. And the answer is no. They will not. But it’s probably going to be ugly for a while.

    I have two related reasons for saying this. The first has to do with the way God deals with sin and those who will not repent of it:

    And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them. ~ Romans 1:28-32

    Essentially, Paul says that when people refuse to repent of their sins and continually reject God’s call to love, mercy, peace, service and forgiveness, God will allow them to follow the desires of their heart to their own destruction. As they do so, their sin, error and the darkness of their hearts becomes more and more apparent. The longer they refuse to accept correction, the more outrageous their words and behaviors will become. Eventually, such people will become object lessons that others point to as warnings. And this is exactly what we are watching happen all around us.

    When we see people, institutions and governments speaking and behaving in outrageous ways, we are being shown exactly what it looks like when a depraved mind is allowed free reign. So, while I understand people’s alarm at what they see going on in the world, and I do not in any way mean to discount the very real suffering of those who are on the receiving end of those who have been given over to their depraved minds, I tend to see these people as serving a useful purpose. Basically, they are exhibits in humanity’s world-wide asshole identification training program.

    As I’ve mentioned before, one of the unique things about the time in which we live is that what happens in the dark is being brought into the light. For most of human history, the worst actors have been able to gain and hold power through a combination of force and deception. It has generally only been after the fact that people were able to recognize the evil being perpetrated for what it was. In the moment, wars, slavery, feudalism, inequality and injustice seemed like reasonable ways to go about organizing the world. And there were always theologians and clergy willing and able to explain how these things were part of God’s will, just to make sure it all went down as smoothly as possible.

    Dragging what was done in darkness into the light is of course a good, necessary step. But now we need to learn to recognize what we are looking at. Enter in the lunatics who are, if not fully in charge, making a good run for it. These people and their supporters are showing us, out in the open, what a depraved mind looks like. Our job is to learn to recognize them for what and who they are. It’s a painful and frightening, but necessary part of the process.

    The next time you encounter someone or see a news story of someone advocating violence, hatred, greed, oppression and lies, imagine that you’re watching a wild life documentary with a narrator in the background intoning:

    “Here we see the asshole in his native habitat. Observe how he lies and distorts reality in order to shore up his position in the group. Notice the tendency to advocate for the rich over the poor, the denigration of peace and glorification of violence and the various excuses utilized to oppress and dismiss those who threaten the diabolical system he relies on for sustenance. The asshole lives in a symbiotic relationship with those who value his willingness to be the voice of the asshole in order to maintain their illusions and avoid the pain of being wrong or having to give heed to other people’s humanity. If you encounter an asshole in the wild, approach with caution. The asshole is driven by a depraved mind and should be considered dumb and dangerous.”

    That being said, no one’s perfect, and the accusation of a depraved mind is easy enough to throw around as a weapon to discredit and defame others, of course. So what makes me so sure that the lunatics are being put on display for educational purposes and will not maintain their power forever? Well, part of it is because God has promised his ultimate triumph. The depraved mind cannot sustain itself in the presence of the glory of God and his ways, and so is doomed to ultimate failure.

    The other reason for my confidence comes from the fact that I have had several different people bring me the same message explaining what we see happening around us right now. In fact, one of my readers who had made a commitment to pray for me and my family sent me a “word” that she felt God had lead her to convey to me. Much of the message was for me personally, but there was one part which spoke to the wider goings on in the world (the bold is the message, the parts in parenthesis comments from the person who sent it to me):

    (At this point I saw the world, the earth from outer space)

    It is like a cauldron, boiling and bubbling, the scum is rising to the top, and I will take it away and bring new life.

    (it would seem more appropriate that he is talking about your world and life circumstances, but the feeling I actually had when writing this was that he was describing the world, that it was time to bring stuff up, like something is stirring)                                                                                   

     

    Now, as a general rule, any claim of having received a “word” or message need to be taken pretty lightly. There’s a great deal of self-serving and deception that tends to surround such things. However, aside from the good character and faith of the person who sent this to me, this is a message I have heard from multiple sources which, to me, lends it credibility.

    God is in the process of refining humanity. In Isaiah 1:25, God says: “I will thoroughly purge away your dross and remove all your impurities.” This refers to the process of refining gold and silver by melting down, adding lye which binds to the impurities in it and causes them to rise to the surface in order to be skimmed off and removed. These people who are advocating for violence, greed, hatred, oppression and the like are bringing humanity’s dross to the surface. The dross is removed as more and more people turn from the enemy’s ways and towards’ God’s rule of love, peace, mercy, service and forgiveness. The more outrageous the lunatics are, the more people will learn to recognize an asshole when they see one and turn away.

    Of course, refining gold and silver is a process that must be done repeatedly in order to bring it to the highest levels of purity. Neither I nor anyone else can say how long this will go on or how many times we will have to see the assholes in action before humanity at large turns their hearts towards love. But ultimately, the time of the lunatics will pass. And in the meantime, hang onto your hats and your sense of humor. It’s bound to be a bumpy ride!

  • The Holy Spirit Doesn’t Much Care For Rules

    Back in college, I was involved in a prison ministry program that put on retreat weekends for boys in a nearby juvenile prison. Which, much as I loved it, seems not to have been especially appealing to most of the other college students on campus. We always struggled to keep our numbers up and eventually reached out to nearby Wheaton College for help. It turns out that putting on retreats for juvenile delinquents wasn’t anymore appealing to college students at Wheaton either. (Wheaton College is a well regarded traditionally white, evangelical Christian college, for those of ya who aren’t familiar with the Christian college scene.)

    The only thing I really knew about Wheaton was that the kids who went there were freaks. The whole place was a freakshow, really. I attended a Rich Mullins concert there and they had people patrolling the aisles making sure no one was dancing. Seriously. Because apparently there was always a concern that some kids would get carried away and start twerking to “Awesome God” and “God, You Are My God”. So, really the anti-dance patrol wasn’t weird, it was protecting us from a whole other realm of uncomfortable that the human mind cannot comprehend.

    I never got all the details, but it turned out that everyone who was enrolled or employed at Wheaton had to sign a morality pledge which included agreeing not to dance. I think there was some exception that was made for married couples who wanted to waltz together off campus or something. Otherwise, no dancing, on campus or off, for any reason, in any season, if you were affiliated with Wheaton.

    Fortunately, the Wheaton College kids never said a word or looked particularly uncomfortable when we swore and made dirty jokes and sat all leaned up against each other and danced like fiends to “Blister in the Sun” at the end of a long day on retreat. Although they may have decided to go find a quiet room to pray in once they listened to the lyrics.

    Then, one night back at the church where we roomed while doing the retreat, one of the young Wheaton women bopped a little too deliberately to the music. Shook her tushy a little back and forth while snapping her fingers even. And a young man from Wheaton looked at her in shock. She was violating their pledge. He was required to report her come Monday morning. And she knew it. Not only was she dancing, but she was putting him in the position of having to choose what to do about it. You could almost see his world starting to come unhinged.

    “Uh, what are you doing?” he asked her, trying not to look as uncomfortable as he clearly felt. Continue reading

  • Remembering What It’s Like To Worship

    There’s a bible verse from the ever popular prophet Joel which I turn to sometimes when I have sorrow over things I had lost. It says:

    “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten . . . ” Joel 2:25

    I have long believed that there is nothing I can lose that God will not return to me with interest. And that when it was returned to me, I would know it more truly and more deeply for having to do without it. Which may or may not actually be true, but I choose to believe it because life is better when I believe it than when I don’t. It helped me let go a little more gracefully, as I knew that I would receive it back in time. Sometimes it was cold comfort, but this verse gave me hope that life would eventually get better when I needed something to remind me.

    Over the last month, I’ve started having the oddest sensation of being given back my good memories. It’s as if I’d completely forgotten that I really had been happy once. It wasn’t just something I told myself when I needed to shore up my confidence. I really was very happy once. I really did have a happy family once. I really did have an amazing marriage once. I really did have a good, although never perfect or easy, life once.

    It’s like I’m coming out of this place where only the darkness existed and emerging back into the light. I can’t quite trust any of it and none of it makes much difference to my present circumstances, but it’s rather wonderful to be rediscovering the things that made my life good. It’s been like coming home and finding a box full of old pictures that had been lost in a move years ago.

    One of the things I had lost was music. I wrote a post a while ago about realizing that I had forgotten how to sing nearly every song I knew a couple of years ago. The only songs I could remember were songs about God that I had learned while doing prison ministry. I would be singing my baby daughter to sleep and all I could remember were the same 4 or 5 songs attached to a time I would just as soon forget. Sometimes I choked on the words.

    Eventually my daughter no longer needed to be sung to sleep and I stopped singing altogether. Which is something I’d done before, as you will remember if you have read my first book like a good little Upside Down World minion. ;) But there’s a reason that shamans will ask the sick and depressed, “when did you stop singing?” Sickness of the heart and a lack of music go hand in hand.

    So, for whatever reason, lately I’ve been rediscovering songs that I used to love that I had nearly forgotten. Yesterday, I happened to hear the song Gloria by the Christian duo Watermark and I remembered what it was like to worship. My heart used to sing this song, once upon a time. (My mouth has a harder time.)

    A while back, I started a post by saying that one day I want to be able to write a post that’s all “God is great! He healed my wounds and lifted me from the pit!” But I gave up lying a while back. So, this isn’t that post yet. But I finally remember what it is like to be able to do that. And it is so good. Enjoy!

    Gloria

    I wish I could crash like the waves
    Or turn like the autumn leaves
    In effort to praise You
    I wish I could smell like the forest
    The fragrance lifting a mighty chorus
    In effort to praise You, in effort to praise You

    But I’m such a limited creature
    And my words can only paint so many pictures
    But somewhere I think I read that I am
    Treasured over all creation
    So I know that I must try

    I wish I could roll like the thunder
    To leave the earth below in wonder
    In effort to praise You
    I wish I could fall like the summer rain
    And every drop would sing Your name
    In effort to praise You, in effort to praise You

    But I’m such a limited creature
    And my words can only paint so many pictures
    But somewhere I’m sure I read that I am
    Treasured over all creation
    So I know that I must try, I must try

    Gloria, glory in the highest
    Forever I will hide myself in Thee
    Gloria, glory in the highest
    Forever I will hide myself in Thee

    Every breath that I breathe
    Every moment in my history
    Is an effort to praise You
    An effort to praise You

    Gloria, glory in the highest
    Forever I will hide myself in Thee
    Oh, Gloria
    Glory in Excelsis Deo
    Gloria, Gloria
    Gloria
    Gloria, Gloria, Gloria

    -L & C Nockles