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    When Complaining Is Ministry

    OMGeeee guys! This is going to sound crazy, but I think it would take me the rest of my life to explain what I’ve learned in the last week. None of you would still be reading by the time I got done explaining it all, of course. I get really geeked over weird things.

    I’m having one of those times where all of a sudden, everything starts to make sense and a path forward is becoming clear. And I’m super excited about it. You’d have to know me personally to understand this, but I never get super excited about anything.

    I’m one of those people who you should only bring your ideas, plans and dreams to if you’re looking for a solid critique of them. Otherwise I’ll probably give you a seemingly unenthusiastic word of support. Not that I won’t support you, just that I’ll be using all of my self-control biting my tongue because I know you need my support and not my advice. It’s hard to show how enthusiastic you are while biting your tongue.

    Strangely enough, this is a trait my husband doesn’t always find endearing in me. He’s told me that he wants to be rich enough to create his own echo chamber so he’ll never have to hear anyone disagree with or criticize his ideas again. I keep trying to tell him what a bad idea that is, but some people just have to learn things the hard way, I guess. So I’m not saying anything about it anymore.

    Personally, I dislike learning things the hard way. I’d much rather have other people learn things the hard way for me. Of course, there are those things you just have to learn for yourself. Once you get past wisdom like, “don’t take your duelie* out on the ice when it’s only been below freezing for a week” and “rich people spend all their time working so their children and grandchildren can grow up to be stunted, damaged people”, most people have no idea what they are talking about. So often, you have no choice but to make your own mistakes and figure out your own lessons for yourself.

    I certainly looked for a way out of having to learn things the hard way. And I’ve learned a great deal in the process. But I finally had to accept that there is no one out ahead of me who could give me some answer, some word of wisdom or practices or set of rules to follow that would make everything alright. It’s not just that I’m so wise and out ahead of everyone else, spiritually speaking. (Although that does play its part, of course. I should be catching up to the kids with Down’s Syndrome in another 20 years or so.) It’s also that in the end, some things are like death. Or labor. They have to be experienced to be understood.

    I’m hardly the first person to figure out that there’s  no answer anyone can give that will end my suffering, of course. But I think I might be more willing to shamelessly complain on the way than most. If you’re a jerk, that makes me a complainer. If you’re a kind, wonderful human being such as my readers are, that makes me brave and vulnerable. Which I’m always a bit amused to hear people say about me. I only share things that don’t make me feel vulnerable and don’t make other people look bad. If what I share sounds brave and vulnerable, that’s just a sign that not enough people are being honest. Because, trust me, it gets much worse than what I’ve shared here.

    We’re always told not to complain, but I think it can be helpful to keep a few complainers around. Have you read the bible at all? Complaining is biblical, people**! The complaining is one of the reasons I keep returning to the bible. Often the promises and praises sound like taunts and betrayals, but the complaining? That’s real life, peeps.

    One of the unique and valuable characteristics about the bible is the lack of sugar coating. The writers were honest about how much pain they were in. They were melodramatic and intense and blunt. And because they were so open about their pain, I knew that my pain wasn’t a sign that I had unwittingly gone astray. Being in that much pain didn’t mean God had abandoned me or wasn’t real. Sometimes people who follow God walk through terrible suffering. I know it because my bible tells me so.

    Hell, I know it because of the cross. When Jesus suffered, there was no buffer between him and the rest of the world. He didn’t get to retreat to his bedroom or into loving arms as he suffered. He suffered in front of us. He lost all control over his story. He fell in real time in front of crowds. He felt pain beyond what he could be stoic enough to bear in front of his mother and brother. Every cry, every yelp, every inch of skin and bodily function was there for the crowds to see.

    Me? I do my suffering in private and then sift through the details and decide what I’m comfortable sharing. I might look brave, but that’s only because we’re all really scared. Jesus was vulnerable. I’m just less beholden to shame than most of y’all. But no matter what the world would have you believe, there’s no shame in suffering. Jesus did it after all.

    Maybe one day we’ll know how to become wise and live in union with God without walking through all the pain and suffering. After all, there are videos on YouTube of women having orgasms while giving birth. Mr. Rodgers was so happy when he was told he was going to die that his family requested that he at least pretend to be upset that he was dying. Jesus is now worshipped  as King. There’s hope for us yet. We are teachable, after all.

    This is probably one of those things you have to experience to really understand, but I do have one little thing to share with others who are in the process of learning things the hard way. It helped me to hear it when all hope was gone, so even if it’s a bit premature, I’d like to add my voice to the great cloud of witnesses who have said it before: trust God. Even when he seems utterly untrustworthy or like a figment of your imagination. Faith is believing what you cannot yet see, after all. Just a teeny, tiny bit of faith will get you through the darkest night. And if you can complain a little on the way, call it a ministry. ;)

    *For those of you who don’t live someplace where people drive on ice, a duelie is a truck with four back tires. Also called a big bootie or fat ass truck. You’re not allowed to take them through automatic car washes. Every year up here in the Northern Tundra, some dude with a duelie drives out on the ice before it’s thick enough and puts his truck through the ice. And every year, that year’s genius is interviewed on the local news. Inevitably he informs the rest of us that the local officials warning everyone to stay off the ice might be on to something. Because who knew, right?

    **Complaining can be a problem. If you complain about something every day, you are complaining too much. Save complaining for important things like intense suffering and itching, not petty stuff like broken bones and bad traffic, k?

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    Is Your Faith Good Enough? Yes. Always.

    gotfaithOnce upon a time, back when I was a young, single mom trying to get my crap car to start, or wishing for money to fall from the sky to get my electricity turned back on or hoping I could  make it to the gas station on fumes, I prayed many desperate prayers. I was queen of the desperate prayer, in fact. But my prayers were answered close to never. Which made me think that I didn’t have enough faith. Because if I had enough faith, I could make anything happen. Right?

    “Name it and claim it”, some people would say.

    “Walk boldly into the throne room and lay hold of your rightful inheritance,” others would advise.

    “True belief is the key that unlocks the blessings God has promised his children,” I was told.

    “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,” Jesus claims.

    So as I moved from crisis to crisis to crisis, I tried really, really hard to have faith. Enough faith. Real faith. Good enough faith. The kind that could move mountains. Or at least help me find change in the couch cushions to buy milk for my toddler right before payday.

    I was like a little kid who’s been told that a fairy’s going to die if they stop believing in fairies. “I do believe! I do believe! I do!” I would practically clap my hands and will myself to really, really believe – with absolute certainty – that God would answer my prayer.

    In the end, I learned two things. The first is that magic isn’t real. I can’t just really, really believe and say just the right words and make things happen. I’ve heard of people who this works for, but I’m just going to have to chalk that up to the sort of illusions which all so-called-magic relies on.*

    The other thing I learned is that my faith isn’t faulty. You see, when you’ve been told that the key to getting God to answer your prayers is having enough faith, unanswered prayers can never be God’s fault. If you get mad at God then he’ll really not ever answer your prayers. Therefor unanswered prayers are always your fault for not having enough faith.

    But one day I heard the scripture verse which refers to Jesus as “the author of our faith.” And I had a little revelation. Whatever faith I have – be it big and certain or small and doubtful, has been written – authored – by Jesus. Who can always be trusted. And who does all things perfectly. So my faith, shaky though it sometimes seems, is always just as it should be.

    And all those unanswered prayers? Well, that same verse says that along with being the author, Jesus is the “perfecter” of our faith. As hard as it is for me to swallow sometimes, my faith is much more important to Jesus than my car not starting. My car problems will pass one day. (Maybe. I’m still waiting on that one, actually!) But my faith is meant to be carried into eternity.

    As much as I would like it if I could simply believe and make things happen by the magical force of my belief, instead I have a faith that doesn’t fail when my car does. Or when my wishes don’t come true. Or when tragedy strikes. Or even when God is no where to be seen. Because Jesus has been using all those unanswered prayers to perfect the faith he’s authored for me.

    So if you ever worry whether your faith is strong enough or good enough or big enough, stop. It is. Because Jesus himself is authoring and perfecting it just for you.

    Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith ~ Hebrews 12:2

    And all God’s people said – Amen and amen!

    *For the record, this is not meant to discount the possibility of being gifted for healing or other seemingly miraculous things. I know a young man who regularly goes into the ER waiting area at local hospitals with a group of friends to pray over people. Most of them end up leaving without seeing a doctor. But that’s a gift given by God for his own purposes, not something which is just our due for putting an “X” next to the Christian check-off box.

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    Warning: God Can Be Ruthless

    Some years ago my husband was driving through our small town’s business district early in the morning and happened to observe a hawk catch a rabbit. After nabbing the cute little bunny, the hawk alighted on a nearby light post and began ripping into the little thing’s soft belly. What struck my husband was that the rabbit was still alive and struggling when the hawk ripped into its flesh. Yet the hawk was completely unperturbed by the fact that its prey was still alive and struggling. He just sat there nonchalantly looking around, enjoying his breakfast.

    When my husband shared this story with me, I wondered for the umpteenth time what exactly it says about God that we live in a world of predator and prey. Because scripture says that the creation is a reflection of God. In the Book of Acts, Paul says that creation testifies so strongly to the reality of God and his character that even those who have never heard of God know enough about him to be judged.

    So for many years, I would occasionally meditate on the relationship between God’s character and the fact that we live in a world which actually depends on the relationship between predator and prey to function properly. What I came to is that there’s a certain ruthlessness about God.

    Ruthless isn’t a word which we usually associate with God. It seems awfully negative. It’s hardly something we go out and proclaim to the world; “praise God all you people for he is ruthless!” Sure there are those people who are really excited about God’s wrath who might do it, but mostly we tell people that God is loving, powerful, merciful, etc.

    Perhaps ruthless isn’t quite the right word. The dictionary definition of ruthless is “pitiless, without mercy, cruel”. And certainly God is not any of those things. When I say there’s a ruthlessness to God, I mean to describe a lack of sentimentality combined with unwavering determination.

    God is ruthless in the same way a surgeon who cuts into flesh to operate is ruthless. He’s ruthless like a demanding coach who won’t settle for anything less than near perfection from his team is ruthless. He’s ruthless the way chemotherapy is ruthless.

    What I mean to say is that God most certainly has pity on us, is merciful and abounding in love. And yet he will not allow any of those things keep him from doing what needs to be done in order to bring us to salvation. He would rather walk us through the suffering of redemption than allow us to remain broken and enslaved to sin in blissful comfort.

    Consider Jesus; despite being King and God incarnate, he wasn’t spared the suffering of mankind. Everything we suffer, he suffered. There was no point at which God said, “it’s too much.” Instead, he walked with grim determination to his bloody death so that the work he set out to do could be completed. He would rather suffer the worst that life had to offer than leave our redemption for another day when it would be easier and less painful.

    I’ve written a few times about the work of John of the Cross. His writing on the dark night of the soul has been a comfort and companion to me for the last few years. And yet when I read his story, it terrifies me. He suffered awfully. Same thing with many biblical characters. Abraham, Joseph, Hosea, Jeremiah and others all suffered through terrible trials and anguish which went on for far longer than seems reasonable.

    When I first heard of Mother Theresa’s long night of spiritual darkness, it made me wonder what sort of God this is we follow who would hide his face from a faithful servant for so long and inflict so much suffering on her. Truly, there is a reason scripture says, “it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God.”

    This is something we Christians don’t talk about much. We flock to teachers who explain how if we are faithful, God will bless us with prosperity, ease and a good name. For many people a good life is evidence of Godly character.

    Apparently it works for some people. I have heard many stories of people who practically had wealth and good fortune fall from the sky when they put their trust in God. He got them good parking spots even! And yet, I know many more people who have done their best to follow God whose lives are a mess. They keep waiting for him to show up and set everything right for them. (Sometimes to the point of not doing for themselves what they need to do!)

    So many people suffer and wonder if perhaps God is angry with them. Maybe they don’t have enough faith or haven’t submitted enough. The suffering which comes when we expect God to bless us and he doesn’t is sometimes far worse than the circumstances we are struggling with to begin with.

    The truth which isn’t spoken of nearly enough is that the Christian life is practically by definition a suffering life. It’s not that God doesn’t love us and doesn’t want good things for us – far from it! It’s just that he loves us too much to settle for less than the best for us. And, unfortunately, the process by which humanity finds redemption is a painful one.

    Jesus didn’t tell his followers that if they followed him, they would live in comfort and ease like some prosperity gospel preacher. Rather, he told them that to follow him, they’d have to carry a cross. At the time, the word cross was actually a common Roman curse word. People would tell someone, “go to the cross” the same way we say, “go to hell.” When was the last time you heard a Christian teacher tell you that to join their church, you’d have to agree to “go to hell”? (If they were following truth in advertising rules, a lot of them would have to. But that’s another topic for another day!)

    Some time ago, I said what has got to be the dumbest, most idiotic prayer I’ve ever said. (And I’ve prayed some dumb prayers before!) I asked God to do what he needs to do in order to redeem me. I asked him to be ruthless. That I wanted as much of him as I was capable of receiving. That he knows my limits and abilities better than I do, so to do as he saw fit – even if I begged him to make it stop. I’ve talked with other Christians who have said similar things and we all agree that it was an idiotic thing to have done.

    And yet, even on my worst day, I wouldn’t really take it back. You see, Jesus said that he came that we might have life and have it abundantly. We tend to think this means we will enjoy the good things of life abundantly. But he’s really promising that we will experience all of life abundantly – including the hard things. How hard life is and how much I suffer on the way is simply a measure of how good the life God has waiting for me is and how much joy I will have in him.

    The deeper that sorrow carves into your being the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven? –Kahlil Gibran

    It’s hard not to look at people whose lives are comfortable and relatively easy and be jealous and bitter. But don’t be fooled. This process of redemption is something God is determined to bring ALL of us through. “As in Adam all die, so in Christ will all be made alive.” God’s ruthlessness is that he will not spare his children the suffering of correction and leave them dead in their sins.

    Those people who have refused the way of the cross and enjoyed the easy path will one day experience the consuming fire of God which purges all that is not of him – only with great regret at having invested their lives in things that didn’t last or matter. A wailing and gnashing of teeth, as scriptures say.

    Those of us who walk through the process of redemption willingly – who have said idiotic prayers and picked up our cross of our own free will – will be spared that bitter regret. As we grow and are refined into the likeness of God, we will see God’s Kingdom emerging within and among us. We will surely see the Lord in the land of the living and when the times comes, walk right into the house of the Lord to join in the feast which is being prepared for us.

    The way of the cross is hard and full of suffering. And yet, it is for good reason that the bible tells us over and over to endure to the end. Father John Hardon said, “we love only to the degree that we are willing to suffer.” We know that this is true. When we love someone, we stay with them through sickness and death – even though this means we will suffer alongside them. Parents go without food and suffer hunger pangs so their kids can eat if that’s what it takes. If we are not willing to suffer, we are also not willing to love.

    In the end that’s what this is all about. Suffering isn’t the point any more than the point of surgery is the cutting. It’s about Love. It’s about becoming an image of Love. And when we reach the point that there is nothing in us which is not love, we will be grateful that God is so ruthless.

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    Can God Do What He Says He Will?

    One day – hopefully soon – I will write a post which is all “God is great! He has lifted me from the pit!” but I’m not there just yet. And I’m guessing that more than a few of you aren’t either. I feel like I’m in that spot just after the darkest point of the night when hints of a coming sunrise lighten the far eastern border of the sky ever so slightly. I can sense it coming, but it’s still awfully dark out here.

    Anyways, a week or two ago I asked God if he was ever going to bring me out of the darkness I’ve been wandering in. And he said, “I swear I will.” Under other circumstances, a promise like this would lift my spirits. But I’m in endurance mode, so it’s re-assuring, yes. But it’s a bit like telling a woman experiencing contraction on top of contraction that she won’t be in labor forever. Good to know and hang onto. Doesn’t do much to change what’s going on right at the moment. But I will say that if it’s true for me, it’s true for you are well if you are also laboring in the dark. God has sworn that he will bring us out of this.

    Anyways, the next day I was thinking about my own life and how intractable my problems seem to be. How everything I can think of to fix or change them has been tried and failed. How fixing any of it would seem to require an act of God. And even then, there’s always the very likely possibility that people would refuse to respond to even an act of God. Not only that, but I thought of how in some ways the challenges I’m facing seem in some ways to be a microcosm of what is going on in the world at large. There are these hints of sunrise on the far borders, but really our problems just seem too entrenched and unsolvable. And too many people seem utterly resistant to changing.

    I confessed, “I just don’t know if I believe that you can do what you say you’re going to do, God.”

    Right away my attention was drawn to a coneflower plant growing next to my front steps. Plants perform this magical alchemy of turning sunlight into food. And they use quantum physics while doing it. The number of leaves, petals and seeds the plant grows follow the pattern of Fabonacci numbers. (If you’re not familiar with Fabonacci numbers, they are a series of numbers which show up over and over and over again in the universe for reasons we don’t understand. It’s a pattern which is so consistent it seems like it ought to mean something, but we have no idea what that something might be.) The workings of a simple, common garden plant are so intricate and precise that it boggles the mind if you stop to think about it.

    It’s ridiculous that such a thing should exist, really. And yet it doesn’t just exist, it exists as the result of a long, elaborate, yet elegant process which stretches back through the course of life on this planet, the birth and death of stars long ago and into the porriage of particles present at the big bang. Go back to absolute chaos and through an unimaginable amount of time and somehow, you get a coneflower with it’s impossibly neat, exact geometric pattern at the center and an equally impossible bee feeding on it. And God says, “do you really think I can’t do what I’ve said I will do?”

    It still seems impossible to me that God can take my life and fix it much less that he can do the same with the rest of the world. (Actually, fixing the rest of the world seems much more likely than being able to fix my own particular life at the moment!) And the truth is that one of my great fears is that my life is just going to go on as it has for the last 40 years for the next 40 and that I’ll continue to be helpless to stop it. That all of God’s promises really are for the next life and not this one – at least for me. It took many billions of years to make the coneflower, after all.

    And yet there’s this very faint light just starting on the horizon. So now, a few times a day, I go out and look at that coneflower outside my front door and remember God’s words: “I swear I will.” And for as long as the manna lasts, I can believe that just maybe he can. And will.

  • Keeping Faith When Life is Good

    524824_498440336890132_847551978_nIf you’re a regular reader, it’s probably hard to imagine a happy-clappy Rebecca, but honestly, I haven’t always been a broken, whiny, suffering Christian. In fact, for most of my adult life, I was pretty darn happy, although I never was very clappy. Unless there’s a good gospel-worship band going and I can get as clappy as the next gal.

    Sure I had my ups and downs. Sometimes I was really unhappy and even fell into a serious depression once before. But those were passing phases, really. Most often, I was happy in the face of challenges and sometimes life was reasonably decent enough that I was simply content. Ah . . . those were the days.

    One of the things I learned during those years was that I’m a much better Christian when things are going well than when they aren’t. As you may have noticed, when life really sucks – like way more than is normal for a life to suck, sucks – it doesn’t bring out the best in me, faith-wise. I get angry with God. I complain incessantly. I delve into despair. Bitterness crops up. I question every choice I ever made – especially the one to follow God. I feel betrayed. I complain. Did I mention that I get angry with God?

    Yes, it is true that sucky times teach me a great deal. I grow in them. I’m sure it’s all for the good. Maybe. But really and truly, if you were to ask me when my walk with God is most faithful, most intimate and most life-giving, it would be during the good times. Hands down. And as is so often the case with me, it turns out that this is a little weird.

    Many Christians who have had the experience of following God in hard times find that it’s actually easier to be faithful during those times. When life is crushing us, we are forced to depend on God completely. Not being able to do anything else, we may spend much more time in prayer, calling out to God for help. We rely on scriptures for comfort. And then when the clouds clear and life gets easier, and we don’t have to be so dependent, aren’t continually calling out for rescue and don’t need so much comfort, many people’s relationship with God kind of falls off. Continue reading

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    Is Reading Scriptures Literally, Literally Wrong?*

    I came across a blog post by Father Stephen, an Orthodox priest about the problems with taking scriptures literally. On this blog, I have tended to focus on how insisting on taking scriptures literally leaves us vulnerable to being unable or unwilling to deal with reality or to losing our faith altogether when our literal understanding comes into conflict with reality. Father Stephen points out another, probably more important problem with a literal approach to scriptures: it engenders a shallow reading of scripture. From his post:

    The Scriptures, particularly those of the Old Testament, are frequently misread (from a classical Christian point of view) in a literal manner, on the simple evidence that the New Testament does not read the Old Testament in such a manner. Rather, as is clearly taught by Christ Himself, the Old Testament is “re-read” from a Christological point-of-view. Thus Jonah-in-the-belly-of-the-whale is read by the Church as Christ in Hades. The first Adam in the Garden is but a shadow and antitype of the Second Adam – the One who truly fulfills existence in the “image and likeness” of God. The Passover and the deliverance from Egypt are read as icons of the true Passover, Christ’s Pascha and the deliverance of all creation from its bondage to death and decay. Such a list could be lengthened until the whole of the Old Testament is retold in meanings that reveal Christ, or rather are revealed by Christ in His coming. . .

    A “literal” reading of the Old Testament would never yield such a treasure. Instead, it becomes flattened, and rewoven into an historical rendering of Christ’s story in which creative inventions such as “Dispensationalism” are required in order to make all the pieces fit into a single, literal narrative. Such a rendering has created as well a cardboard target for modern historical-critical studies, which delights itself only in poking holes in absurdities created by such a flattened reading.”

    Now, I do know that it is possible to see the deeper Christological meaning of the scripture stories while also maintaining a belief that these things are literally historical events, recorded in scriptures. And certainly there are certain things which we need to be literally true. For example, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”

    However, I think that Father Stephen is right that by seeing much of scripture as a record of events which can be shaped into a literal narrative, there is a strong tendency to “flatten” scriptures into nothing more than an account of historical events. Continue reading

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    Wrestling Hope

    “Totally without hope one cannot live. To live without hope is to cease to live. Hell is hopelessness. It is no accident that above the entrance to Dante’s hell is the inscription: ‘Leave behind all hope, you who enter here.’” Jurgen Moltmann

    I’ve wrestled a lot with hope in the last few years. Mostly to try and send it away. “Hope deferred makes a heart sick.” I’ve had enough of being sick. But allowing oneself to venture into hell is a dangerous thing as well. I know – I’ve wandered into hell more than once as of late and couldn’t muster the strength to find my way back out.

    I’ve taken to resisting comfort. I’ve fallen for it too many times before. I’ve read the words of scripture and their promises that God will not abandon me or let me fall. My heart has leapt at them only to find that holding onto comfort is like holding onto water as it slips out between your fingers. And God is no where to be seen but my failure is all around me. Better not to let myself try to grab hold any more.

    I’ve gazed at the cross with its promise of redemption after suffering. But Jesus’ suffering lasted for a weekend and mine is lasting for years. Jesus’ suffering was probably greater than mine, but it’s not a competition. My neighbor’s broken leg doesn’t make my broken heart hurt any less. I’d say I just want my suffering to end, but the damage has already been done. What difference does it make now?

    And then I realize that it is an evil thing I’m fighting with which bids me to remain in hell and refuse comfort as too little too late and far too quickly gone. Continue reading

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    Defiance is a Christian Virtue

    The moments in my life that have been most sure and which have left me with the most peace and joy have been moments of defiance.  The times when, even though no one else would get it, I knew the path I needed to take forward and I took it.  These are my reckless moments.  Those things that caused offense, consternation, even concern for my sanity among those watching.

    I am often a very cautious person.  I don’t go shopping without knowing what I’m going to buy and how much I’ll pay for it.  I skip the “trust” part of “trust, but verify” and go straight to verify.  I can explain the things I do and the choices I make down to a level of detail that could put a hyper-active 7 year old to sleep.  I think of what I’m going to say before dialing the phone.  I think of questions I can ask people and topics to discuss before I get into conversations.  I bite my tongue often.  I handle my relationships with kid gloves lest I damage them or hurt someone unintentionally.

    So these moments of defiance must seem out of character to anyone who doesn’t understand what’s going on beneath the surface.  But these moments of defiance are my most true moments.  They are the moments when what is beneath rushes to the surface and propels me forwards, regardless of all the consequences.  Because I already know all the consequences.  And not one of them – not disapproval, the loss of relationships, poverty, pain or anything else – is nearly enough to stop me from doing what I know I need to do.  I can be reckless because I know that I’m doing something I have been specifically called by God to do or because I know that the damage done to myself if I do not do them is far greater than any of those consequences could be.  I can be defiant because I have examined the matter through and through and I know that it’s coming from a pure place in my spirit.  You have to be willing to be defiant if you are going to follow God and allow him to restore your heart. Continue reading

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    “You’re so sensitive!”

    “You’re being too sensitive.”

    Oh are those ever familiar words.  All through my childhood they trailed after me like a tin can tied to the end of my shoelaces, with each step in danger of sending it bouncing across the floor.  The sound of those words clanging along behind me made me wince until I could hardly bear to move from my spot any more.  One day, when the strain of being planted in one spot got to be too much for me, I got wise, cut the string and walked away.  For a long time though, the memory of that ugly sound haunted my steps.   But many, many years of freedom from the constant accusation “you’re too sensitive” faded even that away until I was able to move about my world with an ease I had not dreamed was possible back when I was trying to be quiet and still enough not to send that tin can clattering across the floor.

    I am sensitive.  I am very sensitive.  As I explained in the section of my book devoted to part of my spiritual memoir:

    I was the sort of kid who felt bad for the fake Santa’s at the mall when little kids would cry in their laps.  An old woman struggling to pull change out of her coin purse in front of my at the grocery store made me tear up.  If the other kids were teasing the girl from special ed classes who smelled funny and dressed badly, I felt compelled to step in to help her even though that was a great way to find out that I also smelled funny and dressed badly.  If you were someone I actually cared about, an angry word or harsh action could wound me down to the depths of my being. Continue reading

  • pharisee

    Do you read scripture like a Pharisee or like Jesus?

    Way back in college, I took a class on the history of religion in America. One day during a discussion about some Christian evangelist, one of the other students offered this criticism of the man’s work: “it’s like he’s actually trying to be like Jesus.” I sat there a bit bug-eyed. Can you imagine – a Christian who was actually trying to be like Jesus? Whatever could that evangelist have been thinking? (Clearly, not everyone I who attended my college was the best or the brightest.) But the reality is that a lot of people – including a good number of Christians – are as unclear on the concept as this young man back in my college days was. How else to explain the fact that many people read the bible the exact same way that the Pharisees did rather than trying to read it like Jesus did? (For anyone who is really unclear on the concept – the Pharisees were Jesus’ main opponents in the gospel stories. We’re supposed to try to be like Jesus, not like the Pharisees. Just so we’re all on the same page here.)

    At the time of Jesus, the Pharisees were experts on the bible. In fact, they had managed to find all the laws in the bible – 613 of them. They had further figured out that there were 365 negative laws – thou shall nots. And 248 positive laws – thou shalls. So they knew all about important rules like thou shalt wash your hands before eating, thou shalt not perform miracle healings on the Sabbath and how long to keep the fringe on their garments. Somehow they had managed to miss those very important rules about card playing, drinking alcohol and dancing. No one’s perfect, I guess. But they had mastered the very important biblical teaching to avoid the appearance of evil. Like they wouldn’t eat with unclean people because if they did, the other biblical rule followers might call them evil. And evil is bad, donchano? (I once attended a church which demanded that members not drink alcohol on the grounds that other church members might be scandalized if they saw you coming out of a liquor store.)

    So long before the teaching of sola scripture, the Pharisees were experts in biblical living. If you needed to know the biblical way to weave your cloth was, they could tell you. (Using only one type of fiber is biblical. The Pharisees would not have stood for our unbiblical polyester/cotton blends!) The Pharisees were also very good about setting a good example for other people – praying in public or announcing their contributions to the synagogue loudly. Because it was important to “witness” to those around them so that people would be inspired to honor God the right way, of course. Continue reading