Posted on Leave a comment

Time To Get the Party Started!

Who doesn’t love The Upside Down World? Well, people who haven’t heard of The Upside Down World, of course! And let’s face it, not nearly enough people have heard of The Upside Down World. Which I’m sure we can all agree needs to change. So how ’bouts we go ahead and change that?

I’ve been hard at work behind the scenes creating all kinds of goodies to share with the world – podcasts, new essays, books, videos, and what Upside Down World fans the world over have been waiting for – MERCH! Of course, building anything takes more than just a pretty face, good ideas, and hard work. It also requires money. Which up until now has been hard to come by, but fear not – I have a plan! It’s a good one. Don’t worry – we’re going to have a good time doing it too.

I’ll be sharing details of the plan and how you can pitch in and bring The Upside Down World to the rest of the world over the next few weeks. Right now, there are two specific tasks we need to get done to get this freight train going that we need to take right now. First, let’s get to know each other better. I have a patreon page that we’ll be using for that. And then we need to make sure everyone has proper gifts and stocking stuffers to pass out to friends, family, co-workers, and random people on the street. So let’s get started.

I know everyone’s super excited about merch, but life’s been a bit dicey lately so I’m short on the money I need to upgrade the site so I can start taking orders. Which is where the Patreon page comes in. For as little as $2/a month, Upside Down World fans will gain access to exclusive content, previews, behind-the-scenes look at work in progress, and places to meet up with me and other Upside Down World aficionados. Support from the Patreon page will allow me to cover overhead, hire help to create more, higher quality content in a variety of mediums, and – most importantly at the moment – GET UPSIDE DOWN WORLD MERCH OUT INTO THE WORLD!

And if you don’t have big cash to throw around like that, that’s cool. OF COURSE you get to be part of the party too!!! While much of what I post will be exclusive to patrons, there will also be content published exclusively on my Patreon page that’s available to anyone so be sure to stop over now and again to keep up and join in the conversations. (Don’t worry – just subscribe to The Upside Down World and I’ll remind you 😉 ). In fact, if you want a preview of the new merch store, head on over to Patreon right now and follow the link there. Only place you’re going to find it before the store goes live!

Obviously, with the holiday season upon us, we’re short on time, so I’m offering a bit of sweetener to the pot. For the next 24 hours only, you can get a coupon code for 30% off one item from the merch store when it launches for new patrons at the $2, $10 and $25 tiers and 30% of your entire order at the higher tiers of support.

Go look at the site – there’s more!

Alrighty everyone – you know what to do!

Posted on 2 Comments

On Living and Warring

Years ago one of my sisters got lost for several days while hiking in the mountains. There was a massive search which culminated in her being rescued via a helicopter from the middle of a river several miles from where she had gone missing. Thankfully, she didn’t suffer anything more than dehydration and some trench foot from the experience. But when I spoke with her after it was all over she told me something which I’ve thought of often over the years. She explained that at several points as she wandered the mountains* trying to find her way to civilization she decided to give up. She was going to die on the mountain and that was just all there was to it. So she’d sat down to die and . . . didn’t die. Because you can’t just decide to die. It doesn’t work like that. After a bit she’d start thinking about people she loved and the reality that death wasn’t going to just take her on command would sink in. So she’d get back up and start moving forward again.

I’ve thought of that often over the years when I’ve reached a point in my life where I found myself saying, “I can’t do this anymore!” Because the truth is that it doesn’t matter how miserable I was, how much I wallowed in despair or how desperately I wanted to give up, my heart just kept right on beating and my lungs kept right on sucking air. The sun came up and went back down just the same. More times that I can count I’ve said “I can’t do this” but time always proves me wrong. I declare myself done and commit to refusing to help myself and refuse all comfort and then the moment passes. Something in me compels me to get back up and start moving forward again.

Image

Recently I watched a movie called The Old Guard which centers on a small group of immortals who spend their time on earth fighting battles in support of what they believe is good. We learn that they’re immortals early in the movie, when they walk into an ambush and end up riddled with hundreds of bullets. They all lay on the ground with horrific wounds, dead. For maybe a minute. And then their bodies start to knit themselves back together into wholeness, literally expelling the bullets out of themselves onto the ground around them as they heal. And then they got up and killed the stunned assailants who shot them. And I’ll tell you, I have never felt so seen in my life. Because that’s exactly what it’s like. You take the hit – the wounds are horrific and painful and then . . . you heal. Even if you’d rather just stay dead. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something in me and probably you as well that just won’t or can’t stop going.

In the movie the main character has been an immortal for longer than anyone knows. And she’s tired of it. She’s spent literal millennia fighting battles on the side of good and against evil yet when she looks around her, all she sees is the sorry state of humanity. “The world can burn for all I care. I’m done,” she says to her fellow immortals. “We’ve done nothing! The world isn’t getting any better! It’s getting worse!” And boy, did I feel that.

And yet . . .

In the movie, there’s a very smart dude who has figured out the immortals’ secret. I don’t recall if they explain how in the movie, but something clued him off that these people have been around much longer than any mortals ever could be. And he went looking for evidence of their presence throughout history. There are old legends and myths to start, but with the advent of photography, he’s able to start assembling actual proof of their presence at various points in human history. Battles where they stepped in and shifted the balance of a fight away from some brutal dictator or destructive ideology. Times when lives were saved from certain death. And other lives were taken to stop them from doing worse than they’d already done.

The immortals had always come in, done their work and left. But as he searched for evidence of their existence in the past, this man who had figured out their secret would take the time to find out what happened in the aftermath an event they’d been involved in. What the people left behind had done with the gift they were given. He mapped out the connections between lives saved and the good those people – or their descendants – would go on to do. Inventions and medical breakthroughs and social movements and freedom won and even just simple lives of service to families and healing across generations. An entire web of goodness made possible by the interventions of these immortals.

When I watched the movie, I was very much in a similar state of mind as the main character. I had told a friend not long before that I felt like an old, battle weary general who has been fighting and leading in what seems like a never ending war and is just tired of it. He isn’t even sure the king isn’t crazy or is worth fighting for anymore. And yet, after a lifetime of warring he doesn’t know what else to do with himself. No other way seems better. So he just keeps following orders and leading the charge and half hoping that maybe this next battle will finally take him out. War – even when it’s “just” spiritual – gets old. And in the middle of a battle that seems likely to destroy everything gained in all the previous battles, it all starts to feel very, very pointless and reckless.

Like the immortals, I may recover from the painful wounds incurred in the battle, but they still hurt like hell. And even when you have full confidence that you’ll survive, it still takes commitment and resolve to keep living according to an ethos of service to God and man knowing that you’re going to get hit again and again and again in the process.

But when I watched the movie and saw the explanation of the impact of the immortals’ work over the course of time, it hit me, as it sometimes does, that as much as I sometimes hate my life and the constant warring that so often seems to engulf me, I love us – humanity – more. Much like the immortals, I have this tendency to drop into people’s lives in a moment of crisis, do what I do and then move on without seeing what happens in the aftermath. But I know that there’s a little girl in the slums of Bangalore with my name because her mother heard tales of things I, some crazy lady far away, did for others in her community. There are young adults in Pakistan who have full use of their bodies because of medical care I – sometimes with my readers’ help – helped arrange for them. There are people who didn’t commit suicide and others who didn’t abandon their faith and families that have held together because of something I said or did. Among other things. And Lord only knows the fruit of things I’ve done that I never even saw a hint of. It’s not stuff I go around banging my chest and bragging about, but the impact I’ve had on people’s lives is real. Even when I don’t see it or know about it.

For me to give into bitterness, to decide to quit and say it’s not worth it to live the way I have would be to say that the people whose lives I’ve impacted aren’t worth it. And I can’t do that. Of course they’re worth it. You’re worth it. I’m worth it. And so I carry on. So we all carry on. And really, what else is there to do? Even the immortals in the movie will die eventually. If we have to be here, we might as well use our time and whatever gifts we’ve been given to help each other out. Because there will be people coming after us who deserve a world much better than the one we get when those of us who serve God and each other don’t show up.

*Just a note – if you ever get lost in the wilderness, sit yo ass down. Don’t wander around. It makes you MUCH harder to find. If my sister had just stopped and stayed in one place when she realized she was lost, she almost certainly would have been found within the first 24 hours instead of days later.

Posted on Leave a comment

A Bubble of Protection

Top o’ the morning to ya! As you may have heard, today’s St. Paddy’s day, so I figured I’d share a prayer that I’ve used for years when I’ve felt overwhelmed or fearful. It’s just an abbreviated version of a hymn called St. Patrick’s Breastplate. There’s an apocryphal story about the hymn in which St. Patrick and his monks were facing certain death from a squad of King Leary’s men who had been sent to kill them. St. Patrick and his fellow monks travelled through the woods singing the song and when the king’s men came upon them, they appeared to them as a herd of deer and so were able to pass unharmed. While there’s no way of knowing who wrote the hymn, it does date from the earliest days of Irish Christianity and is believed to have it’s roots in pre-Christian Celtic spirituality. It’s a lovely hymn and prayer which you can read in it’s entirety here.

I don’t recall when I encountered the prayer, but a portion of it came to mind one day when I was sitting in my car struggling with a sense of dread and anxiety that I couldn’t push away. I’ve used it when I needed ever since and have taught it to many others who report that they’ve found it helpful as well. The prayer is simply:

Christ above me

Christ below me

Christ before me

Christ behind me

Christ to my right

Christ to my left

As with all such prayers, the power of it isn’t so much in the words as it is in your state of mind, openness and intentions when you say it. When I say it, I will mentally or even physically turn my eyes (or my mind’s eye) above me, below me, to my front and my back, and to my left and right as I say the words.

The first time I used the prayer, in my mind’s eye, I saw a bubble forming around me. For whatever reason, my bubble has always been a transparent bubble – like a soap bubble – and has a pearlescent pink hue. When I teach people to use this prayer, I always encourage them to also allow a mental image of a bubble around them to form and to take note of the color of their personal bubble.

Once I have a mental image of my bubble, I’ll sit with it for a moment, acclimating myself to the sense of being surrounded by the spirit of Christ until I feel it in my bones. (Or at least down to my subcutaneous tissues, which is the best I can get some days.) I’ll pause for a moment to imagine the spiritual arrows and forces (or people’s mean words and bad intentions) that might come my way bouncing right off my bubble, unable to get through. Often I’ll repeat the words of the prayer over again to myself as I strengthen my sense of being surrounded by this bubble of protection around me. And then, with my pretty pink Jesus bubble securely in place around me, I’m able to re-engage with the world around me from a place of security and with a sense of safety rather than with anxiety and fear.

So there’s my St. Patrick’s Day present for you. Try it and let me know how it works for you in the comments!

Posted on 1 Comment

Wanna Help Me Change the World?

Once upon a time, I wrote on this here blog so frequently that mere mortals had a hard time keeping up. Strangely enough, all that writing never turned into the massive money-making machine one would assume. Sad though that is, it’s fine because I’ve found a new money-making venture that’s sure to lead to the fame and financial windfall which, I’m sure we all agree, would be mine in a sane universe: feeding homeless people!

OK, OK, so feeding homeless people doesn’t exactly sound like a great money-making venture but that’s because you just haven’t seen the way we’re feeding homeless people. It’s new! It’s revolutionary! It’s going to get me the money to buy that new car I’ve been needing for like 20 years and pay for plastic surgery to remove these two weird bumps on my nose. Just you wait and see.

So, all joking aside, I do need to tell you about this crazy, brilliant thing I helped build called LoveTalks, Baby! And it really is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. It’s the brainchild of my sister Linda and her husband Adam. There’s an entire movie and several books worth of background story to how LoveTalks, Baby! came to be, but for our purposes, let’s start this spring when the lock-down began. For years Linda and her family have passed out food and spent time with people experiencing homelessness in the Old Town area of Portland. They had paused while Linda and her grandson recovered from COVID-19 in early March, but while driving to the hospital for her grandson, Linda and Adam witnessed an encounter between a homeless man they knew and police that left her very disturbed.

ltb2The thing about Linda is she can be a bit . . . extra. She follows her heart, does everything BIG and once she sets her mind to something all you can do is follow along and hope she doesn’t get hurt. She’s the sort of person who witnesses an accident and gets out and shuts down traffic on the expressway while she pulls the people out of a burning vehicle. After seeing this encounter between the police and one of her homeless friends, she worried that with the streets empty the homeless were even more vulnerable to abuse by those cops who are bad actors than usual. So she and Adam went home, made meals for 40 people and went out in the middle of the night to pass them out. She knew that people needed food, but as importantly she wanted the cops to see housed people around to signal that the homeless weren’t actually alone.

ltb8While on the street, Linda learned that the bathrooms and water fountains in the area had been turned off. The restaurants were closed and even fast food places were inaccessible except by car. Social services agencies were either shut down entirely or had limited operations. It was the end of winter and the elderly, disabled and sick were too weak to even get up and move. People were relying on each other to bring back what food and water they could find. Alarmingly, Linda saw that all of the windows in the area were boarded up. Other than an approaching hurricane, the only reason to board up all the windows in an area is when violence is expected. And really, if you leave impoverished orphans, widows, autistic, mentally ill and severely traumatized people to die on the street without access to food, water, bathrooms or human connection under the supervision of police whose interactions tend towards violence and humiliation, violent outbursts are inevitable. It had all appearances of a set-up. Vulnerable and potentially volatile people who are already widely despised would lash out and their behavior would be used to justify subjecting them to violence and forced confinement by the government.

So, Linda did what Linda does and intervened. She told me, “I may not be able to stop terrible things from happening, but no one’s going to say that when a holocaust was brewing on the streets of my city, the body of Christ failed to show up.” She contacted the mayor’s office and got categorized as an essential service so they could be on the street every night, serving. It started with making large quantities of food at home to pass out ltb21in take-out containers, along with water and whatever blankets, tents and other supplies they could get their hands on. Soon, they got a rig to cook food right on the street. The smell of cooking food attracted a crowd. And just like at home, people needed something to do while waiting for dinner to be finished. So Linda and Adam brought a rug for people to sit on, then some chairs, tables, music, art supplies and sometimes even a TV to watch movies together. They provided charging stations for people’s phones, tents and other supplies for those who needed them, vitamins and supplements for the elderly and sick and most importantly, love and boundaries and acceptance, regardless of difficult behavior, questionable appearance and whatever baggage people had. A Street Family started to form.

Linda and Adam are not rich people – she’s on SSI and he’s been out of work since being laid off from eBay 2 years ago. They put every penny that came to them into food and supplies for their evening gatherings and when that wasn’t enough, took out a $20K loan to get through several months of lock-down. The homeless themselves gathered donations from each other. While the world was shut down, the homeless were having parties on the streets of Portland. When they were forced to move from a sheltered location near a parking garage, party tents and lights were brought in along with more seating and decorations. Their gatherings took on the appearance of a fancy party happening on the street, except all of the attendees were homeless people.

ltb10For the longest time, no one except the cops and their friends even knew they were there because they came late and cleaned up before leaving. The cops kept their distance and didn’t interfere. Occasionally one of them would privately thank Linda and Adam for sparing them from spending their nights dealing with the problems that homeless people in mental and physical crisis tend to create on the street. Not only did a violent showdown between cops and the homeless never happen, crime rates in the area remained consistent with historical levels rather than going up as one would expect given the conditions.

83586444_10220356242309666_1940147078197936128_oWhen the protests started in late May, Linda and Adam rented cotton candy and snow cone machines and provided a safe haven for their people in the midst of chaos. When the noise and chaos threatened to overwhelm, they played soothing music and sat with everyone to help them remain calm and in control of themselves. Sometimes passing protesters stopped to share food, often leaving donations and thanking them for what they were doing. A couple of local police told Linda and Adam privately that without them the protests would almost certainly have been even more explosive and violent than they were.

So now it’s July and the nightly gatherings are still happening. The loan money is gone so we’re operating hand to mouth and donation to donation each day with the help of a few generous individuals. We’re hard at work creating partnerships with local businesses and charitable organizations to meet the need. We’ve formed an official registered charity (501c3 status pending) with a fancypants board and everything, built a website and are about to start selling merchandise to raise funds. We’ve met with a city commissioner, been given official clearance to keep using the city sidewalks for the gatherings and are working with her team to start integrating what we’re doing into the city’s efforts to serve the homeless. We met with US Senator Ron Wyden and his state director who will be visiting the gathering in the near future. Next month, Linda and I will complete training curriculum for people who serve vulnerable populations on issues like trauma, autism, deescalation, safety and building trust which everyone we encounter has told us is desperately needed. That training will become workshops which will create the revenue stream needed to fund the street operations.

ltb6I started the story with what happened this past March, but really, Linda and I have been laying the groundwork for this for years as part of a larger vision. The lock-down forced us to launch rather suddenly and unexpectedly, but we were able to make such a heavy lift so quickly is because we’d already laid out the vision for a model that can be replicated in other places to bring fundamental change from the bottom up. Once we get this pilot in Portland self-sustaining and solid, the plan is to train people in other cities to do the same. And as important as it is to make sure homeless people are ok, by getting the community actively involved and invested in providing people with a safe, healthy place to just rest, relax, dance and sing and share a meal together, the divide between the community and the people in the community who are unhoused can begin to heal.

Beyond that, our real mission is to trigger a fundamental shift in the way that we treat each other generally. Homeless people – even the difficult, troubled ones – are fellow image-bearers and deserve to be treated as such. It’s why we feed them good food in an attractive setting and treat them like valuable human beings who deserve good things. Because when homeless people have standing to be treated as human beings who matter and belong, then we all have standing to be treated as human beings who matter and belong. Which is a shift that very obviously we desperately need in this country.ltb13

So I’m asking for donations, not for my new car or to remove those weird bumps on my nose, important though that may be, but to keep us up and running until we can get our model to the point of being self-sustaining. You guys have come through in the past to provide clothing for naked grannies in India, medical care for injured children in Pakistan and even to help me pay my family’s rent. So I know you’re the sort of people who will pitch in for a good cause when you can.

We need at least $5000 to fund operations for the next 6 weeks. It’s more than I’ve ever asked you folks for, but seeing as only the very best people read this here blog of mine, I believe we can do it. Pray about it and if you feel lead, chip in whatever you can – it all adds up. Pass this on to your family and friends. Share it on social media. Stand on a street corner with a sign and a can if you want. Whatever we need to do. I really do believe that working together, we have what it takes to change the world. After all, the world is on fire and if we don’t show up and do it, who will?

You can make a donation using the button below or at our website where you’ll also find more pictures and videos from our gatherings. If you’d like to do something more personal for our Street Family, go to our store and pick items to meet specific needs. While you’re there, be sure to leave your email address so you can receive notifications when LoveTalks, Baby! Merchandise becomes available and to receive a monthly newsletter sharing what we’re up to. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with what’s happening on the street. Or, just click on the donation button below to make a cash donation today and know that we’ll put it all to good use. All donations are tax-deductible. And when we make our goal, I’ll be sure to let y’all know. Come on – let’s change the world. You know you wanna! Donate button

Posted on Leave a comment

How To Lose 50 lbs Without Even Trying! (Or Not)

My after picture. The before looks like this but slightly bigger.

I lost 50 lbs in 6 months and now weigh less than it says on my driver’s license. How often does that happen? And I wasn’t even trying to lose weight! I haven’t been this size since before I got pregnant with my 16 year old. How awesome is that? Meh, not particularly awesome, actually. Like most people who lose weight quickly without trying, the rapid weight loss was a sign that something was wrong. Severe trauma resulting in perpetual nausea combined with 18 hour work days, lots of manual labor and limited access to food did the trick. So not anything I’d actually recommend. (I’m sure I’ll get into the details at some point around here, but for now if you want a sneak peek at the scandalous dirt of my life, you can check this out.)

But still, aren’t I happy to have lost a bunch of weight? Well, I am getting older and less weight means less wear and tear on my joints. I have a family history of longevity so I need my joints to last at least another 40 years, so that’s good. On the other hand, my knee is bugging me after a couple of long walks this week, so maybe it’s not as helpful as I’d hoped. And because of stress (I assume) my blood pressure is showing signs of getting too high for the first time in my life. So I’m not experiencing much in the way of health benefits yet. Perhaps I look better, but I don’t have to look at myself so I always kind of think that looking nice is a courtesy for everyone else rather than something I’m overly invested in. And I’m still a good 35 lbs from being a hot body anyways. Perhaps if I’d been able to keep my D cups I’d feel differently, but I doubt it. Even with mere C cups I’m getting hit on more frequently which is mostly annoying (no offense, my dudes, but most of you have terrible flirting skills. IJS).

So I guess what I’m saying about losing 50 lbs is . . . I really don’t freaking care!!! And I don’t care for the same reasons that I never did care about my weight and I don’t think you need to either. Now, that may seem like a radical statement for someone to make in a culture like ours which is absolutely certain that everyone needs to be thin or at least trying to be. But the reality is that for whatever actual problems being overweight causes, our mistreatment of and disdain for people who are bigger and fatter than has been deemed acceptable is worse by far. It’s disgusting and despicable and the harm done by our fixation on weight is immeasurable and I absolutely, positively refuse to participate in the destructive madness. (Don’t believe me? Stop right now and go read this excellent article “Everything You Know About Obesity Is Wrong“. Key point: “For decades, the medical community has ignored mountains of evidence to wage a cruel and futile war on fat people, poisoning public perception and ruining millions of lives.”)

My mother grew 10 human beings in her own body. She sustained their lives after birth with that same body. And for my entire life, she’s been exercising and dieting trying to get that body into a size and shape that it didn’t want to be. You name the diet or exercise program and she did it. Often repeatedly. Weight Watchers. Slim Fast. Jenny Craig. Nutrisystem. Medifast. She did Jane Fonda videos in the living room while surrounded by small children. She’s used stationary bikes, handweights, treadmills, weight machines and mini trampolines and of course health club memberships and daily walks going as fast as she could pump her short legs. And that’s just what I remember.

I could never understand why she wasn’t allowed to just be lumpy and bumpy without having to worry so much about what she ate and measuring herself by whether she’d exercised that day or not. After all, her body was doing hard work – wasn’t that enough? The reason I say she wasn’t allowed to let her body be was because people cheered this madness on. Any weight loss was noted and complimented. Gains were met with encouragement telling her success would come soon. Her latest diet programs were a regular subject of conversation. Sometimes token acknowledgement was given to the fact that she was beautiful and loved regardless of her size, but it was always paired with the omni-present concerns for the effects of weight on her health and how much better she’d feel about herself if she liked the way she looked. Never do I remember anyone expressing the idea that so long as her body was healthy enough to engage in her daily activities and do what she wanted to do with it, her weight didn’t matter and she certainly didn’t need to look a certain way in order to feel good about herself.

For all the attention my mother’s weight got, her lumps and bumps and size never made a damn bit of difference to what kind of mother she was. I loved her just the same at size 14 as at size 8. So I could never quite get myself to buy into the idea that my own value or even desirability as a human being was tied up in my weight. The truth of the matter was that I really didn’t care much how my body looked – I don’t have to look at it, after all. And I was super unimpressed with the boys around me, so I wasn’t particularly looking to attract one of them, tbh. Besides, I figured my acne was a deal breaker regardless of how my body looked.

Having watched my mother spend so much time trying to manage her weight, I was keenly aware of the amount of mental energy and time that managing a body’s weight could take. I knew how it made food an enemy rather than a source of enjoyment and pleasure. And I deeply, deeply resented the expectation that I was somehow obliged to use my precious time and my limited attention and mental capacity in service to making my body look a certain way so that other people would view me approvingly. There were other things that mattered to me much more that I wanted to use my time and energy on. Books I wanted to read. Thoughts to think. Experiences to have. People to know. An entire world that was changed not in the least by the size of my body was out there calling for my attention. I mean – imagine what my mom could have accomplished if she had taken all the time, money and energy she devoted to dieting and picked up a hobby. She could be a world class harpsichordist or a master carpenter or learned to ride a unicycle or become a comedian or even just done art projects with her kids!

By the time I went off to college, I had decided that one of my life goals was to be an old babushka lady with pendulous breasts who was beloved by her children and grandchildren. No one cares that Nanna isn’t hot. So far as the people who love her are concerned, she looks exactly how she’s supposed to look and is loved and admired for who she is as a human being. Which is as it should be for all of us, of course. But all too often in practice it’s only when a woman is old that she gets to be appreciated for the human being she is regardless of the body she’s walking around in. And that’s a damn shame.

Of course, not caring much about how your body looks is all well and fine, but as I headed into middle age I realized it wasn’t enough. I’ve always been fairly active and since I was able to comfortably engage in the activities I wanted to I remained defiant in my refusal to care about my weight enough to try and change it. Yet deep down, I always considered my body unattractive and undesirable. I didn’t feel compelled to do anything about it, but the truth was I didn’t feel good about my body. I grudgingly tolerated its flab and squish and weird bumps. Until I started noticing that my family didn’t just accept my body – they loved it. My children, my husband – all of them sought out my body to touch, to hold, to just feel it close to them. They expressed pleasure in its softness and found comfort in touching it. My kids loved nothing more than to sit next to me and play with my belly fat like I was some oversized, animate stress ball until I would force them to stop.

Eventually the total disconnect between how I felt about my body and how my family felt about my body was so striking that it caused me to re-evaluate how I felt about my body. Like, my body was never going to be much good for a photoshoot or slinky, skin tight dress, but if it brought the people I love so much pleasure and enjoyment what possible excuse can I have to continue thinking of it as unattractive and undesirable? As I was pondering this, a picture came into my mind of my children and grandchildren gathered together after I am gone. Someone says, “remember how soft she was?” And all around the room came smiles and nods and murmurs of agreement at the very memory of this soft body that they found comfort and pleasure in during my time with them. And the picture completely shifted the way I felt about and viewed my body. I mean, perhaps somewhere there are people who remember grandma’s flat abs and tight ass fondly, but I have a body so lovely that the mere memory of the feel of it will bring pleasure to those I love. What a gift is that – for me and for the people I love. How on earth could I continue to have contempt for this lumpy, bumpy, soft as anything body that I’ve been blessed with? I can’t.

So now I’m down 50 lbs. My kids are too old to sit around kneading my belly fat these days and there’s still plenty of squish left for anyone who wants to hug or settle into it anyways. Perhaps in the future there will be more or less of me to squish. But it doesn’t matter. Because this body is a gift. To me and to the people I love. And I’m grateful that in a culture whose views of body fat are as toxic as ours that I get to enjoy this gift regardless just for being what it is. I invite and encourage you to do likewise.

Posted on 3 Comments

Regarding the State of My Country

You kind of have to laugh to keep from crying. Sometimes my heart just breaks as I watch the lengths the powers of this world are willing to go to to protect a corrupt, destructive system from even the most reasonable, necessary changes. The pain and suffering they’re happy to inflict on everyone while acting like we don’t deserve any better. I have moments where want to be like some melodramatic woman with a cloth on my head crying out in a psalm: “my country, my country”. While clasping a sheaf of wheat to my chest and falling to the ground in agony. I hope and pray we make it out the other side alright, but what times to live through. And to think it’s been like this for some folks pretty much the whole time. No wonder black comedians can be so damn funny. It’s humbling, honestly. It should be a humbling time for all of us, really.

But I wrote something to some friends earlier today that I wanted to share here as well, because I think it’s important. It’s about denial. And how tempting it can be to allow yourself to slip back into it. Especially when things are so bad and you’re in a position where you can just turn away and retreat into denial even as you continue to pay lip service to your determination to do the right things with your life. I mean, we all retreat there from time to time. If we can access it, that is. Of course we do. It’s self care for people who aren’t used to living without it. I mean – who wouldn’t want to at least visit denial sometimes? It’s soft and comfy and it feels like you could just live there forever. Which is kind of the problem. It’s not real. But that feeling of forever makes it oh so tempting to pretend you don’t know that.

I happen to know a thing or two about denial. Denial is my mother’s tongue. I have this very funny story about my poor mother (she is never spoken of to me without the honorific “poor” before her name or position, btw) trying to do what she could with a home that was bought as a fixer-uper and then never actually fixed up. The house had a leaky basement and cracks in the plaster, but was otherwise solid and comfortable. The problem, as 8-year-old me saw it, was making it habitable for people with eyeballs. To this day, I think it may be the ugliest house I have ever set foot in. My mother has many talents and endearing qualities, but let’s just say that some of the worst conflicts she and I ever had were over the clothing she would pick out for me to wear when I was a child. So when faced with one room that had a speckled green and black shag carpeting some of you would go crazy over today but which was considered an eyesore in the early 80s, my mother painted the room a soft, simple, baby blue. As one does. And when she was done and we were looking at it together, she says, “I know it doesn’t match. We’ll just pretend the floor’s not there.” 😂🤣(This memory makes me laugh every time, btw.)

I told this story to my brother-by-another-momma who lives down in Sante Fe. And he goes, “wow. That’s like industrial-grade denial.” It’s like the most on-brand story I have about my mom. Because denial is my mother’s tongue. So believe me when I tell you this: denial is deadly. Denial is soft and comfortable, like a mother’s arms. But denial will offer you up to monsters while saying “I love you”. It may feel safe, but it can never, ever be trusted. Do not allow yourself to play with denial. And as hard as it is, I promise you, I swear to you, scary reality is ALWAYS superior and usually much more enjoyable than comfortable denial. Whatever denial you have, find it, identify it and do not entertain it. Be done with it. You will be so much better without it. I swear before God it’s the truth – and y’all know I don’t ever do that. Denial can be a survival mechanism. But denial is not your friend.

Now, on a lighter note, I have finally figured out what to do with the MAGAt trolls that come on my wall. I’m just sharing a link to this blog post which I wrote – you will note – all the way back in 2014 (because this whole thing has actually been super predictable, tbh. Scholars had written papers on it and run it through algorithms.) I’m adding a comment thanking them for their service in the planet-wide “asshole identification training” the universe has been running. I let them know that the people around them have taken note so no need to keep identifying themselves, although we do understand that compulsion is a thing so perhaps they won’t be able to stop in which case we’ll all just block them. Thank you so much for going to such lengths to clearly identify yourself, MAGAtron. And then I tell them that they picked the wrong side. Again.

How on earth do people who claim to be Christians fail an open book test they were given the answers to ahead of time this badly? They’re bad people with bad motives and now we all know who they are because they’ve come right out and identified themselves. The good news is that among human beings, they’re a distinct minority. A distinct minority who have proven that they shouldn’t be trusted with so much as a tooth brush half the time. And then I wish them luck with their recovery. Being that many kinds of wrong hurts. Yay Jesus! 

Anyways, I said it back in 2016 after the election and I still say it today, I think we have a fighting chance this time. I really do. I mean, creating a fundamental shift in societal awareness as the forces which benefit from denial are fighting their absolute hardest to destroy you is not an easy trick to pull off. But if ever a people had a good fighting chance of fighting off oppression under the worst circumstances imaginable, we do. And, for the record, as I said 3 1/2 years ago, it will be because of the work that has been going on for generations. And yes, it can get much, much worse than this. I’ll probably need to write about it more soon, but I hope everyone appreciates the fact that these protests have been going on everywhere for almost 2 months and there are next to no known instances of significant violence against human beings from the protest side. That requires discipline and that kind of discipline isn’t developed overnight. If the anti-lockdown people had been met with police in riot gear shooting tear gas at the slightest provocation, without regard for who is present, there would have been shooting within the first days. We’d be looking at pockets of significant loss of life everywhere. It is the groundwork laid by activists, movements and generations that creates a movement capable of holding up under these conditions without giving free reign to the impulse to inflict physical harm on other human beings. The protesters have nothing but my respect, although to be honest, there are certain things I’d prefer they stop doing, but I’m not in charge of anything or anyone but myself so that’s neither here nor there.

And finally, LoveTalks, Baby! is having a fundraiser. We’re selling long and short sleeve t-shirts, custom-designed by yours truly. Sure to be a collector’s item one day. (You know who you are – secret Rebecca fan club members. We have another one ready to put out when these are gone – you know you want more!) You should go buy one to wear and one for the closet. Or if you have a dog, you could buy one for them too. We can’t print and ship them until we have enough orders, so the longer you take, the longer everyone has to wait. The link is in the picture. Click on it. Raja. (That’s please in Arabic):

tshirt1 mockup ad

Or if you’d rather just make a donation or are wondering what in the world LoveTalks, Baby! is, go here where I explains all. Peace! Love y’all!

Posted on 1 Comment

Finding Peace In a Time of Dread

I don’t know if you’ve ever had a freight train barrelling down on you and all you can do is wait for it to hit before. You’re waiting for the power to be turned off. The doctor to give the terrible diagnosis. For the court date to come, the judgment to be rendered, the relationship to irreparably break. Where you’ve just stood and watched the cracks form as the world starts to fall out from under your feet. Even if you’ve experienced it all before, waiting for the freight train to hit can leave you struggling to breathe from one moment to the next and make each day a long, arduous endeavor to get from morning to night without breaking anything or anyone.

I think a lot of people are in that place – or realizing that they may be headed towards that place right now. Unemployment claims in the US are expected to jump from 250,000 to over 2.5 million this week. Elderly people and those with preexisting health conditions are living in fear. People with no health insurance are thinking through what will be their sign that they have no choice but to seek medical treatment if they get sick. Everywhere there are people making choices between income and protecting their health. Being isolated or risking the health of those they care about. Right now there are people watching the cracks forming under their feet and contemplating whether they even have what it takes to survive the world falling out from under them.

This time 5 years ago, that was me. I was living in a state of constant dread. My husband hadn’t gotten a paycheck in over 6 months and the last bit of consulting work he could drum up had been completed a couple of months back. We hadn’t paid the rent for March and there was little to no hope of being able to cover it in April either. Our one working car was in such dire need of repairs that we didn’t dare even use it for one of us to get a job working for low wages lest it finally breakdown and require a repair bill too large to be covered by a low wage job and thus make it impossible for my husband to get to job interviews much less to his first paycheck large enough to cover the repairs. We had no plan for the inevitable eviction we were facing – no place to go, few people to turn to when the day came that we were forced to load the family into our janky truck and leave. The only positive was that the utility companies were prohibited by the laws of the Northern Tundra from turning off the gas and electricity until Mid-May.

The kind of dread that comes from waiting helplessly for the freight train to hit is like a great suffocating blanket. When the freight train actually hits it creates problems that demand action. The adrenaline hits and you physically have to move. There are plans to execute, solutions to find, calls to make. When the train hits and there’s carnage all over the tracks, you call in help, you move to stop the bleeding, you put aside thoughts for tomorrow while dealing with what’s right in front of you. But when the train’s barreling down on you and the ground under your feet starts to rumble and there’s nowhere to go and nothing to do but wait, there’s just that paralyzing dread.

Back in 2015 when I was walking through long days of dread, I was reminded one day of the sparrow whose fall Jesus says God takes note of. And it hit me that in my mind, the entirety of that bird’s existence was defined by the moment it fell and yet that wasn’t so at all. Prior to the moment it fell, there had been a great many more moments of not falling. Of flying, socializing, singing, eating, resting and just living its bird life. Out of all the moments that the bird existed, the moment of fall was actually the smallest one. I don’t know what it was about this idea that grabbed me that day, but it came to me that if that freight train was going to hit, it made no more sense for me to suffer in advance over it than it would have for the bird to allow the fact of its inevitable fall to steal all enjoyment from the other moments of it existence.

I felt God telling me, “you think constantly about what has happened or what will happen and hardly even notice that right this moment, you are fine. You can breath, you’re not far removed from a meal, you can get something to drink when you need it, you have shelter from the weather and covering for your body. No one is harming your body in this moment and there’s something beautiful closeby for you to see. Right in this very moment, you’re OK.”

After that, when the dread would start to overtake me, I’d stop and repeat to myself, “right now, I have everything I need. I am safe, I am fed and watered, I am sheltered and I have something beautiful to look at. In this moment right now, I am fine.” It sounds trite, but I’d actually think of the last meal I had eaten, take a sip of the cup of tea, coffee or water I had sitting nearby. I would let myself physically feel the creature comforts I was surrounded by. I’d take a moment to look at and appreciate something beautiful and the dread would pass. In its place came almost a sense of awe at my good fortune. There was still a freight train approaching, but until it hit, I was living in a level of luxury and security that many of the humans who have ever existed rarely had. It made no sense not to savor every moment of it for as long as I could.

Over the next couple of months I would regularly discipline myself to engage in this little mental practice whenever my sense of dread would crop up. Simple and trite though it sounds, it transformed the entire way I experience life. After a while, I started to feel unreasonably spoiled. Yeah, all the furniture might wind up on the front lawn come May, but have you felt how soft this couch is? (Don’t look at the stains!) And how many people in history ever got to enjoy both coffee and tea with just the right amount of sweetener and cream on the same day?!? Have you seen the view through the living room window or looked closely at this picture on the wall? And smell the lentil curry cooking on the stove! I live on the great Northern Tundra of the United States of America and there’s a freight train barrelling down on me and yet somehow I have coconut milk and rich spices from the other side of the world! It’s all quite amazing if you really think about it. I mean – lots of people have had the earth open up under their feet, but how many in human history have birthed 5 children who were all in good health and spirits and had never really been hungry?

The hard reality is that life doesn’t owe us anything and when we enter into human form here on planet earth, there are no promises. Anything can happen. We might get hit by a freight train. In due time, each of us inevitably falls just like that bird. But for most of us the moments of disaster are wildly outnumbered by all the moments in which we are fine. Isn’t it enough to deal with the moments of disaster and the arduous work of recovering from them without also handing all of our moments when we’re actually fine over as well?

If you are one of the many, many people who are suddenly living under the shadow of dread, I would strongly encourage you to start disciplining yourself to stop and be in the moment you are actually in rather than fixating on the train that’s barreling down the track towards you. If the train hits, it’s going to suck – there’s no two ways about it. But there’s no point in suffering in advance. Let the moment you are in – the one in which you are fed and clothed and sitting at a computer or on your phone reading these words nourish you so that in the moment that train does hit, you won’t have already worn yourself out with worry and sacrificed all your moments of fine leading up to disaster to it.

And you never know what’s going to happen anyway. I’ve certainly had freight trains hit me and leave a mess behind but that freight train barreling down on me five years ago? It never did hit. My husband got a good job with the best company he’s ever worked for right in the nick of time. The repair guy we took the car to when the first paycheck came did the most critical repair on the cheap and then arranged to replace our ready to blow tires for less than half price. The bills were eventually paid down and there was even a trip to a resort in Mexico on the company dime the following February. I really am spoiled. And even if you have a freight train barreling down on you, you probably are too. You just have to stop and let yourself feel it for as long as you can.

Posted on Leave a comment

A Bunch of Noah’s in Nashville

Do you know what I don’t like doing? Arguing with conservative Christians. I used to do it. But it’s pointless. Sometimes someone is so many different kinds of wrong that it’s hard to know where to start. And why bother? Arguments have been made, the sides staked out and scripts provided to all involved. It’s just the same conversations over and over again. As is so often the case when it comes to controversies grounded in scripture, we tend to come down to two fairly plausible readings of the text. As much as we want to argue over minutia and details, when you get right down to it, we’re just picking the interpretations which seem right to us. Which means all we’re doing is using the scripture to reflect our own hearts.

Sometimes what’s in our hearts is ugly. Like the recent appallingly timed release of an anti-LGBT statement by an appalling list of right wing charlatans who use the fear of God and man as a weapon to maintain control over much of the white American church. (If you are fortunate enough not to be in the loop about these things, it’s called the Nashville Statement. Google.) Now, not only am I openly biased about this statement, but I haven’t even read it. I’ve just read what other people who are appalled by it have said about it. That’s how flagrantly biased, unfair, bigoted and close minded I am.

Except I’m totally not. I haven’t read it because, again, what for? It’s not like we don’t already know the script they’re working from and it’s not like a bunch of “leaders” who long ago lost my respect are entitled to the time and brainpower it will take for me to read it. But because of the prominence and proximity to power which the signers hold as well as the fact that these morons thought we needed to hear them formally recite their opinions – AGAIN – about other people’s genitalia while we’re in the midst of several human, ecological, political and social catastrophes, it’s a thing people are talking about.

So, to start off with, contrary to what these jokers claim, the bible is not nearly as clear as they’ve made it out to be when it comes to LGBT people’s genital pairings. There’s an excellent case to be made that the bible passages which forbid homosexual activity have been completely misunderstood and misrepresented. If you’re not familiar with it, here are some good places to start looking. And here. And here.

But even in the absence of a scholarly case for LGBT acceptance, scripture provides us with ample room and cover for re-examining the old prohibitions against homosexuality. Go back to Noah. In Christian lore, Noah is held up as a righteous man who obeys God’s commands without question. A hero of the bible who saved life on the planet. The Jewish people, however, have tended to see things differently. In their eyes, Noah is not particularly admirable and, despite being a literal forbearer to the Jewish people, according to the text, has not been accorded the honor of being recognized as a Jew at all. The reason? Because he obeyed God’s commands without questions. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, certainly no liberal, explains this Jewish perspective of Noah thusly:

The Bible says that Noah was a righteous man “in his generation.” He was only a righteous man compared to the others who were far worse than he.

Now, why wasn’t he righteous? Because righteousness is all about what you do for your fellow man. And Noah does NOTHING for his fellow man. He doesn’t care, he has no compassion. He executes God’s commandment to the letter. So when God says “I’m going to kill everybody,” Noah says, “will you save my skin? Oh, I get an Ark? Okay, fine.” . . .

[Noah] failed in the greatest mission of all. He failed to protect human life. And failed to fight with God when he wanted to take human life. He refuses to wrestle with God. . . God says “everyone will die” and Noah says nothing. But this is not what God wants. God wants people with moxie! God wants people with spiritual audacity! He does not want the obedient man of belief. He wants the defiant man of faith.

It isn’t until Abraham, when God says “we have the rainbow and I promise not to destroy everyone, but I will destroy these two cities Sodom and Gomorah,” Abraham does something audacious. He says “will the judge of the entire Earth not practice justice?” He lifts his fists to heaven! He raises a cudgel to Heaven! This made him the first Jew. A Jew does not just accept a divine decree, he does not just bow his head in silent obedience. [Source]

Jesus was a Jew in the tradition of Abraham, not Noah. We see it in his proclamation that “the sabbath was made for the man, not the man for the sabbath”. That is to say, the rules do not take precedence over human beings and their needs. It’s up to the rules to serve human needs, not the other way around. This idea is further re-enforced in Acts 10 where God tells Peter to stop dividing between clean and unclean. Those rules which had been put in place long ago for the Jewish people would no longer define what was acceptable and unacceptable. Real Jews wrestled with God in defense of their fellow man. And going forward, Christians would no longer bind people to the rules which had previously defined everything Peter knew about right and wrong, good and bad, clean and unclean.

The fact of the matter is that those who continue to declare homosexuality unclean, forbidden and a violation of Christian morality are like Noah. They are obedient, but fail at the most basic requirements of caring for human life. Regardless of our understanding of what God has declared his intention or desire to be, LGBT people have made it clear, in word and deed, that they are being deeply hurt by the teaching that their innate sexual inclinations are defective and acting on them an affront to God. The traditional teachings regarding human sexuality have resulted in suicides, addictions, destroyed families, people being cast out of communities, mental health problems and intense rejection and hostility for LGBT people. So even if we believe that it is, in fact, clear that God condemns homosexuality, that is not a good enough reason to continue promoting a teaching which is hurting the people who are subject to it.

Jesus told us, flat out, that we can judge a thing by its fruit. The fruit of the teaching against LGBT people has been consistently bad. To ignore this because we believe that the teaching was handed down by God doesn’t actually honor God. As 1 John 4:20 says, if we don’t love the human beings who we can see, we CANNOT love God who we cannot see. Insisting on feeding people fruit that poisons them is not love. Saying that the fruit that poisons them is from God and must be eaten for our own good only makes it worse. Pointing to the very rare person who is able to tolerate the fruit without being obviously poisoned by it does absolutely nothing to help those who the fruit would kill. God’s ways bring life, not death.

At the end of the day, we do have a choice to make. It’s much the same choice that Noah and Abraham had to make. Do we just go along with what we’ve heard God has said he desires, or do we push back in order to defend our fellow man from destruction? The writers of the Nashville Statement have chosen the path of Noah; they will accept the salvation of being right for themselves while others continue to perish. I and many others are choosing the more faithful option of refusing to continue imposing death, suffering and rejection on LGBT people in God’s name. And I am not remotely worried that God will condemn or reject me for following in the footsteps of father Abraham.

Posted on Leave a comment

Rules For the Wilderness: Do What You Can

Yesterday I shared a vision of a walled city and falling towers which you should go read if you haven’t already. In the vision, the area around the city was wilderness and in this wilderness people lived according to God’s rather than man’s ways. Over the next few days, I want to explore more about this idea of “God’s ways” and what they look like in real life. And today we’re going to start with what I said yesterday was rule #1. Which is an exaggeration. There are a bunch of other principles for living in the wilderness according to God’s ways which probably come first. But this is an important rule and pertinent for today, so I’m gonna start here:

Do what you can for those in desperate need before you do anything else.

Now, the amount of people in desperate need probably numbers in the billions, so “do what you can for those in desperate need before you do anything else” is far too broad a statement to be practical. So let’s narrow this down a bit. Which of the people in desperate need should you personally be concerned with? Well, highest priority goes to the person in desperate need who God, in some way, places in your path. This could be someone you know personally, someone you run into in your daily affairs or someone who is brought to your attention by others. When it comes to your attention that an individual is in desperate need, assume that God intends for you to help that person. Like actually help that person. As Pope Francis says, “you pray for the hungry. Then you feed them. This is how prayer works.”

It should be noted that whether the person in desperate need deserves help is irrelevant. Part of living in the wilderness, according to God’s ways, is that you assume that God is arranging all things for good. If a person in desperate need has crossed your path, assume that God intends for you to help them. Whether they deserve it or not is completely irrelevant. God works in mysterious ways. Do your part and let God worry about the rest.

Of course, not only are the number of people in desperate need probably in the billions, the needs of any individual person who is in desperate need will frequently be far in excess of what you can meet. Which is why this rule says “do what you can”. Your job is not to meet everyone’s needs and/or fix their problems. Your job is to do what you can. Sometimes what you can do is nothing more than a smile and a kind word. Sometimes you are in a position to be the angel who meets the need entirely. But more often than not, you may not be able to do more than offer partial or even token assistance. And that’s fine. What is important isn’t that we are going around saving people or fixing their problems, although it’s lovely when we can do that. What is important is that we are doing what we can. That’s our part. In the wilderness, we aren’t responsible for anything more than our part. We do our part and trust God to do the rest.

So now we get to the last part of the rule: before you do anything else. Remember those old Nike commercials that said “just do it”? Whoever came up with that tag line was a genius because rarely have truer lines ever been spoken. If human beings would just do all the good things they think about doing, we’d all be fit as a fiddle and well on our way to fixing every problem in existence within months. See, our brain has this little quirk; when we think about doing something, it creates the same sensation in our brains as doing it. So simply thinking about doing something makes us feel like we’ve done it. It’s true. When I’m angry, I frequently think about punching a heavy punching bag until I collapse. I visualize wailing on the thing and feel what it would feel like to move my arms and for my hands to hit the bag and have it softly bump away. And this drains my anger just like punching the bag would. The catch is that since I don’t have access to a heavy bag, I don’t get the muscles or skills that would come from actually engaging in the activity.

It’s very much the same thing with helping those in need. We think about helping them. We think about how it’s a good thing to help them. We maybe even think about how we might carve out a few bucks or some time in order to do. We may make our plans to help them. And then we feel like we’ve actually done those things. Which is the point at which talk ourselves out of helping them. Or we just move on and assume that the need will be met somehow. After all God is in charge, right? This is why it’s so important to “just do it” when you encounter someone in desperate need. Doing the right thing or even the best you can is a great idea. But in the real world, simply doing what you can before you do anything else is what gets the job done. If God puts it on your heart to come back later and do more or better, that’s fantastic. But the reality is that once the moment has passed, we’re not going to do anything. Immediate action is the name of the game when it comes to helping those in desperate need.

So consider this your first lesson on how to live in the God’s wilderness: do what you can to help those in desperate need before you do anything else. Now here’s your chance to practice. I’ve been sharing the story of a 14 year old Christian Pakistani boy who was kidnapped, tortured and dumped in front of his family’s home for a little over a week now. He needs surgery to repair the injuries, but his family is very poor and does not have the funds. The doctor is so alarmed over the boy’s condition that he has agreed to perform the surgery with only a partial rather than full payment up front. The total cost of the surgery is $800. So far, I have collected $235 towards the surgery. We need an additional $165 by 7:30 tonight. I will continue collecting funds until he has the full $800, but the $165 needed to get half-way is urgent. I will update the remaining need as new donations come in. Please make a donation in any amount you can. Many small donations work as well as one large donation. Now . . . go. Do what you can before you do anything else.

Amount still needed: $0! We did it!

paypal-donate

Posted on 2 Comments

The Falling Towers of the Doomed City

A while back a friend shared a vision she was given which I think is incredibly relevant to what is going on in the world right now. Even if you’re not a Christian and don’t believe in anything, this will be interesting to you. The person who was given this vision shared it online but has since taken it down. So I’m sharing it from memory, with her permission.

In the vision, my friend was sitting on a hill in a wilderness overlooking a walled city. Within the city, towers were being built. But just as a tower would reach it’s full height, a giant snake would rise up and devour the tower from the top down to the bottom. Then another tower would be built in its place, taller than the last. But each time, a snake would come and devour it as it reached its full height. At first, this process happened slowly, but as she watched the rate at which the towers were rising and falling became faster and faster. Soon, the rate at which towers were rising and falling reached dizzying speeds. Chaos was taking over.

Suddenly, the doors of the city flew open and a trickle of people began leaving the city. As they left the city, they shed their clothing at the city gates before heading out into the wilderness surrounding the city. My friend looked around and saw that all around the city there were others such as herself who had been living in the wilderness. The people leaving the city found their way to these people who taught them the secrets for living outside the city. Soon the trickle of people leaving the city became a flood and the first people to leave the city began instructing those who came behind them in how to survive outside the city walls. At the end of the vision, the city was empty and desolate. 

This is what my friend was told that the vision meant: the city itself represents the project of human civilization. The towers represented civilizations, ideologies and empires. The snakes represented the forces which inevitably lead to the downfall of every civilization, ideology and empire in history. Today we live in a time in which these civilizations, ideologies and empires are rising and falling more quickly than ever before.

The people leaving the city were those who had lost faith in the ability of civilizations, ideologies and empires to provide for their safety and well being. They removed their clothing as they left the city to represent the shedding of their humanly created ideas of how to live. The people who lived in the wilderness around the city are those who God had called out, trained and prepared in his ways. These are people who either left behind human ideologies or never bought into them in the first place.

What my friend was told and shown was that we are rapidly approaching a time when people will lose their faith in the ways of this world – the reaching for power, control, greed, violence, hatred, conflict, self-protection and the like which have ordered human affairs for millennia now. At some point, the failure of any system, any ideology, any human created force will cause people to decide that they are better off abandoning their faith in these very human creations and turn back to the wilderness – God’s ways.

Here are a few take aways which I think are important, particularly in regards to the times we live in:

1. If you believe that there is a system of thought, a form of government, an ideology or leader who can or will put us on the right track or save us, you are fooling yourself. Every last one of those things is destined for inevitable failure. None of them will ever, ever do what you think they can do. If you’re actively involved in building one of these towers, you might as well walk away now. It’s going to come crashing down on your head soon enough.

2. The city and the wilderness around the city are metaphors and don’t necessarily represent us losing our creature comforts and reverting to living in caves. Rather the city and wilderness represent two different ways or approaches to organizing the world. “God’s ways” are love, compassion, service, humility, patience, sacrifice, forgiveness, self-control and freedom. These stand in complete contrast to the driving forces of control, condemnation, power, hierarchies, violence, greed, intolerance, fear, dualism and the like which have shaped human affairs for millennia. (I’ll be getting into this more in the next few days, so if you aren’t already subscribed, you should go to the doo-hicky over on the right and fix that.)

3. While it is alarming to watch these towers fall, raining their bricks and mortar down on the heads of anyone nearby, it is also necessary in order to wake people up to the reality that we are never going to be able to succeed in our project of controlling the world and each other. Many of us are going to have to realize in a visceral way that we will never get where we want to go doing what we’ve been doing. (You can read a bit more about this process here. It’s what I like to call a planet wide arsehole identification educational program.)

4. If you are frequently disoriented, agitated, angered, despairing, frustrated or downright apoplectic over the state of the world and your fellow man, that is your spirit telling you it’s time to turn away and leave the city. Not necessarily close your eyes to what’s happening or stop speaking out entirely, but let go of your attachment to it. What will happen will happen. At this point, the die has been set for many things. The best thing you can do is put your energy into ridding yourself of your attachment to the ways of the city and orienting yourself to life in the wilderness.

5. If you are one of the people who has been watching from the hills outside the city, don’t let yourself get too caught up in the spectacle going on in the city. Not only is it bad for your mental, spiritual and even physical health, the gates will be opening soon. There will be people coming to you who are going to need you to teach them what you know about the wilderness.

Tomorrow: Rule #1-ish: Do what you can for someone in desperate need before you do anything else.


 

Posted on 3 Comments

Of Strange Gardens and People Living Underground

About 5 years ago, I had the same vivid dream, three nights in a row. In the dream, the world was watched over by a totalitarian power which monitored your every move and word. There was a lot of fear and tension because getting caught saying or doing the wrong thing could get you hunted down and punished. Moving about out in the open was risky, so when I found a couple of orphaned, abandoned children out on the streets, I gathered them up and took them with me in order to protect them.

I was moving around with a realtor who was showing me various homes that had “for sale” signs out front. I was looking for a place to hold meetings without drawing undue attention from the totalitarian authorities. At the back of each home there was a large gardens. I am a gardener myself, so I was pleased that there were gardens. But I was puzzled to discover that the plants growing there were angular and unnatural looking, like something from a bad sci-fi movie. I have a nearly encyclopedic knowledge of garden plants, so encountering so many odd plants that I couldn’t identify was mystifying.

Inside many of the homes I discovered a hidden door. The door lead to a cavernous underground area filled with more people than I could count. The underground area was so large that I could only see a small portion of it. The people there were clearly enjoying themselves. People were watching sports, movies and other entertainment on giant video screens. Others were playing video games, eating, talking, romancing and just hanging out. Children were playing freely. There were families everywhere.

When I entered the underground area, the people close to the entrance turned and cheered to welcome me. I was able to find several families who were happy to take in the children I had brought with me. I remember being pleased to find so many people living in these underground areas, which was quite a contrast to the surface where I met very few people, most of them scared.

So that was my dream. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, so I set about praying and thinking on it. The understanding I came to was that the authoritarian power in my dream represented religious powers and hierarchies that claim the right to control what people are allowed to believe, think, say and do. The houses are churches. They had sale signs out front because the church has put itself up for sale by pursuing money directly or generally adopting the methods, mores and priorities of a money-obsessed world. The gardens are the people, including the pastors and teachers, that the church grows. The plants were unknown and unattractive to me because they were not the sort of plants/people that God creates and grows – they were unnatural.  The caverns and people underground represented the majority of people who are being kept in the dark by the church above them.  These are God’s people as they are in a natural state.  This is why these people were the ones to take the orphaned children in.

I’ve been thinking about this dream a lot lately. I am convinced that pretty much everyone is interested in spirituality and religion. I have talked about God with drunk men bars, the waitress at the truck stop, the guy running the weird massage/hypnotherapy place who believes that we’ll all be nudists after Jesus returns, felons on parole, housewives and homeless people and really, just about every sort of person you can imagine. What I’ve learned is that most people have their own spiritual experiences and a deep belief that something more than we can see is going on here. And most of them rarely, if ever, set foot in a church.

The church is so fixated on maintaining control and keeping itself sanitized and clean that it’s lost its influence over probably most people. The church calls these people “lost” (or as a Charisma magazine  headline described Super Bowl 50: 144 Million Americans Blatantly Ignore God’s Word). But in my experience, the people outside the church, even the atheists, often have more spiritual and moral maturity than at least 80% of the people you can find in church on Sunday.

I cannot tell you how many times I have been threatened with hell, shunned, chastised or otherwise judged and found wanting for believing wrong, talking wrong, looking wrong, thinking wrong, acting wrong. Now, I personally feel no need to give up even a smidge of my right to consider and present myself as a devoted, orthodox Christian in good standing. Defiance is a Christian virtue, after all. But a lot of people understandably decide that the church isn’t for them and go underground with their spirituality. It becomes something that they keep to themselves as they go about living like normal human beings who cuss and get rowdy and dress and speak and otherwise simply enjoy life without worrying about the judgment of some blow hard who wants to micromanage their most intimate thoughts and beliefs in the name of God.

Back on the surface, in the realm ruled by the religious powers, people have lost careers, income, housing, had their reputations trashed, lost family members, and been turned out of their communities for doing nothing more than speaking the truth as they see it or questioning the obvious errors and abuse they see happening around them. The religious authorities decide who gets published, who speaks at conferences, who gets access to their networks, whose music is heard, whose talents are recognized and nurtured. The result is that people who have a better vision for the church are marginalized and struggle to be heard. It’s getting better with the internet but it’s arduous for those trying to work against the tide of religious totalitarianism. The result is that voices which have the potential to offer an alternative, positive vision of the faith don’t get heard enough to be familiar and have credibility with most people.

On the other hand, the promise is that, just like in my dream, there are a lot more people who are simply enjoying life than there are stuck in the church’s gardens. While it’s always possible for a society to embrace secularism, we humans have a natural tendency towards religion and a lot of people are inside and outside the church would love nothing more than to come out from underground, so long as it doesn’t require submitting to the illegitimate totalitarian authority of religious power. Perhaps what we need is to find a way to amplify the voices of Christians who the church is eager to marginalize and silence. Maybe if the people underground joined in, we could raise the roof and break through. After all, you put seeds underground and eventually, when the conditions are right, seeds sprout.

Posted on 8 Comments

How to Recognize a Brother or Sister in Christ

I have met some of the coolest people while writing this blog. One of these days, I’m going to have to share the story of how God sent some of them to help catch me at the end of my fall last summer. Based on my experience with my readers, I have to assume that if you are reading my blog, you’re probably a pretty amazing person. Or at least, I would think so. And really, isn’t that all that counts? (That was a joke, btw. Hopefully you laughed. The test audience in my head found it amusing.)

But for today my point, such as it is, is that I’ve met some amazing brothers and sisters in Christ out here in the far reaches of the internet.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ is one of those overused phrases that Christians have destroyed. Which is a damn shame because this idea of brothers and sisters in Christ dates back to the very earliest days of the church. It is a beautiful and profound concept that precious few in the church understand today.

Not only is the concept of “brothers and sisters in Christ” a beautiful and profound concept, it’s a damn useful tool for a Christian to have in their toolbox. (I feel like saying damn today. I know it’s unseemly, but it keeps out the riffraff. 😉 ) Anyways. Believe it or not, this whole “church/body of Christ” thing would work a lot better if more Christians understood how “brothers and sisters in Christ” worked. So, I’m gonna teach y’all the basics.

At its simplest, you can think of brothers and sisters in Christ as being those people who know God the way that you know God. The amount of overlap between how you know God and how I know God, will determine the level of spiritual intimacy we are able to share. If someone knows God only by name or theology, we may not have much in common. That doesn’t mean we can’t talk and we can’t learn from each other! We’re brothers and sisters in Christ, after all – that does mean something. But there’s not going to be a great deal of intimacy there. I don’t need you trying to correct God’s work in me or stepping all over my boundaries, thank you very much.

On the other hand, sometimes I run into people who know God in a deeper way. Like they’ve encountered God’s spirit. Sometimes they are people who don’t even know the name of the King. But they know his heart. I know that they know his heart because I know God’s heart and I can see that we’re talking about the same God. Even if they don’t know that there is a God to talk about. It just comes through. It’s in what is important to them, how they think, the way they understand themselves and their place in the world. I recognize my Father’s handiwork. But sometimes these people’s judgment is suspect. Like maybe they willfully embrace greed, violence or unforgiveness as positive, useful things.

But then, every once in a while, I run into someone who both knows my Father’s heart and they know his name and his story. Or at least a version of the story that similar enough for me to recognize it as the same one that I know. They even know the rules of the game the way my father taught them to me. These are the people who give beauty and meaning to the phrase “brothers and sisters in Christ”.

These people can be a lot of fun. Sometimes they become friends. Sometimes they are just people whose judgment I know I can trust if I need information or an opinion. In a pinch, I know that I can reach out to this person for prayer and a shoulder to cry on in a time of need. And they can do the same with me. I mean, there are people who I don’t know the names of their kids who know some of my most intimate thoughts. Before I write them here even! And I am the repository of any number of their secrets as well.

These relationships are like gifts from God. Inevitably these people have something that I need for my journey. Even when I don’t have anything to offer in return.

I said at the beginning of this post that some time I’ll have to share the story of how some of these people, including a few I know only because of this here mess I call a blog, were there to catch me and help set me on my feet last summer. It was as if God found just the right people, with just the right background and just the right knowledge, personality and temperament and sent them to me so I’d have exactly what I need. Really and truly, I swear it was like God sent some of his children who were basically Jesus out there looking for me like a shepherd looks for his sheep that got separated from the herd. Although, to be perfectly honest, he could have sent a lot more rich people. I mean, not to criticize or complain. I’m just saying.

But that’s the power of being brothers and sisters in Christ. That’s how it’s supposed to work. Even if you feel very alone. Even if you’re like me and are practically a recluse. (Because I need a car. Rich people. I need God to send me more rich people. Or make my books NYT bestsellers so I can buy myself a car and not be a recluse anymore.)

That’s really what this church thing is supposed to be all about. No matter what your circumstances, you’re never alone when you know the King. There is always help there. There is always someone who will love you in your dirty, broken state. Whatever you are going through, there will be someone walking by your side. The way of the cross is something we must walk for ourselves. But like Jesus, we will never have to walk it all alone. Just keep your eyes open for the signs that the person in front of you might be a brother or sister in Christ.

Peace, peeps!

PS – Damn. (Insert groan here.)

Posted on 11 Comments

Me and That Judging Thing

I’ve written a couple of times about what I call “the hardest, best spiritual discipline I’ve ever tried” – that being not judging. Now, this is not something that came naturally to me, to say the least. I’ve always been pretty tolerant and laid-back, but let’s face it; some people are idiots. Some situations are so ridiculous that you pretty much have to be in a permanently drug-addled state not to look at them and say, “really? WTF is wrong with you people?” There’s a reason that, despite Jesus’ rather point-blank instructions, even the most devoted Christians equivocate when it comes to not judging others.

But, as I explained before, I decided a couple of years ago to treat Jesus’ instruction as a spiritual discipline – something I do out of faithfulness, whether I want to or not, even when I have every reason not to and when it seems pointless. Far from the claims of those who think that not judging is easy, not judging is extraordinarily hard. Most of us can’t even manage it while sitting in traffic.

So it’s been a real struggle to let go of my urge to judge and just be open to learning and loving instead. Often it’s something that I have to turn to God in prayer in order to accomplish. But slowly and surely, God has used my willingness to withhold judgment to teach me about his judgment.

You see, our judgment is easy. It comes automatically and is so obvious that any fool can learn it. Some things are right and some things are wrong. My 5 year old knows it. Our judgment and our ability to point out right and wrong hardly need to be taught, they come so easily to us. As attached as we are to our human judgments, they really are no more useful or impressive than being able to stick out your tongue and spit.

By withholding judgment, I open the door to allowing God to show me how his judgment works. And his judgment is a much more complicated affair than mine, it turns out. As God says to Samuel, “people look at outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” God knows what a heart has been through better than the owner of that heart does. God also knows the role that a person has to play in the grand scheme of things. We do not. God knows both the harm done and the unexpected opportunities created by even the worst actions.

We are told not to judge, it turns out, because we simply are not capable of it. No matter how easy, obvious and even necessary our judgment seems to us. It turns out that the sheer volume of information and complexity that God knows and understands simply boggles the mind. These days, when the urge to judge hits me, I find myself almost afraid. I still have my own opinions and feelings about things, but I no longer have any desire to turn them into declarations about another person that ought to carry any weight beyond the confines of my own skull.

And when God does judge, it is a mighty and a frightful thing. To stand before the one who made the universe and be faced with the reality of both the good and evil of one’s life and being carries with it such weight that I am astounded now that I ever even tried to do it.  The task of judging is so far beyond us and our limited abilities that if we understood just how inadequate we are to the task, we would feel like a person pulled off the street being asked to perform a life saving operation on an infant. Some things are too big even for me.

Except when it comes to this one person . . .

There is one person who I have held as exempt from my little “don’t judge” spiritual discipline. Who I have felt free to judge as good or bad and whose very life story I have been continually passing judgment on with abandon. And further, I have discovered that my ongoing judgment of this person and her life is very deeply entwined with my ongoing struggle to trust God and live fully in the fruits of the Spirit, as is my right and inheritance as a child of God.

It turns out that as much as I have learned by refraining from judging others, it really matters very little because all the while, I have continued to judge myself. I continue to look at my own life and declare it broken and in need of fixing. I am forever taking each event, each action, each need or pain or achievement and putting them on the little scales of my own mind to weigh in order to understand myself and my own life as either good or bad. Damaged beyond repair or a work in process. Irretrievably broken or inspirationally triumphant. And it’s been killing me.

Like a lot of us, I have this tendency to absorb the negative voices around me and other people’s negative judgments of my life. So in order to combat those voices, I developed a habit of creating a counter-narrative that highlights what is good about me and my life. The negative voices say that I am lazy, so I keep track of what I accomplish in order to prove to myself that it’s not true. Someone told me that I am indulgently wasting my life raising my kids rather than having a career, so I have a litany of reasons why simply being mom is enough. Someone told me that my life is a tragic, pitiful waste and, well, I’m still working out my defense against that one. But back and forth it goes. Sometimes the positive view wins for a moment, but it’s a continual battle. It never stops.

Recently I was talking to a friend and I had lapsed into my habitual defense of myself, against myself and my friend stopped me and said, “you don’t have to prove yourself.” And like truth sometimes does, it got through my defenses and hit me square in the heart. Because something very deep in me does feel like I have to prove myself. Like I do have to mount a defense against the accusations and judgments that come my way and get nurtured in my own head.

I mean, I know in my head that I am justified and don’t have to justify myself. I know that I don’t need to defend myself. But I want to. I want to prove that I am good enough. I want to prove that I am worthy. I want to prove that those who stand in judgment of me are wrong. Because I think I can. I think that if I don’t, I might get a technical pass because Jesus died for my sins, but really, we all know that it’s just a technicality. A pretty gloss covering what I’m afraid looks like an ugly reality. I don’t just want a pretty gloss; I want a beautiful reality. And I’m going to figure out a way to prove to myself, if not to anyone else, that me and my life are good enough. I am trying to do for myself what Jesus has already done for me. And unsurprisingly, my way has brought nothing but death to my spirit.

So now God is telling me to lay down my defenses. To stop trying to prove that I and my life are good and worthy enough – even to myself. To accept that even though it’s my own life and my own being, I really don’t have the ability or the right to make such a judgment. I do not know what God knows. I cannot see the full breath or meaning of my life anymore than I can see the full breath and meaning of someone else’s life.

What I am realizing, as I try to let go of my judgment of myself, is that when I am engaging in my back-and-forth accusation and defense of myself, is that I am denying what God has already said about me and my life. By continually judging myself, I am giving power to the lies and accusations the enemy has cast at me, no matter how often I raise a defense and convince myself that I am OK.

That’s why the battle never ends. I am viewing the value and worth of my life as an open question that I am responsible for answering. And it’s just not so. It wasn’t an open question on the day I was born and it’s not an open question today. As has so often been the case with me, I could see this in other people long before it even dawned on me to see it in myself. So now, I hope and pray and trust, that God will help me apply what I have learned from not judging others to myself.

Posted on 10 Comments

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 and say things we want to hear.

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: he hands them over to “a depraved mind” (Romans 1:28-32).

Essentially, Paul says that when people refuse to repent of their sins and continually reject the 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. Observe the way the asshole denigrates peace and glorifies violence. If you listen to the asshole’s warble, you can easily detect the various excuses utilized to oppress and dismiss those who threaten the diabolical system which the asshole relies on for sustenance. The asshole lives in a symbiotic relationship with other assholes. Assholes value other assholes for their willingness to speak asshole loudly and forcefully. The Asshole relies on abuse, dishonestly and a lack of empathy in order to maintain their illusions and avoid the pain of being wrong. The idea of having to give heed to the full humanity of those unlike themselves has not fully developed in the asshole. 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!

Posted on 9 Comments

Free Will and Its Discontents

fatalism_large1OK, so let’s talk about free will. I’ve had several people ask me to explain my understanding of it lately, so apparently it’s a subject of interest. As the conversation usually breaks out, you have free will on one side and determinism on the other. Free will says we make our own choices. Determinism says that everything is decided for us. Free will is a mental illusion and nothing more.

Now, to be frank, I’ve never had much interest in the subject of free will. The reason being that it makes no real difference in how we live our lives. If the reality is that I have no actual free will, then either choice I make will be the inevitable which is more confusing than helpful when faced with a decision. How do you pick the “right” path when whatever I choose is inevitable. It’s a supremely unhelpful concept when you have to make some decision.

As a practical matter, I must chart my course as if I had free will. Even if predestination is true, the illusion of free will is such a powerful internal sensation that for all practical purposes, it’s my reality. That being the case, what difference does it make is from some cosmic perspective everything is predestined?

Now, my personal understanding is that we have incomplete free will. There are simply too many factors which can take away our ability to choose freely to say that we have unfettered free will. Like I can’t stick my elbow in my ear. Seriously, I’ve tried and I just can’t do it, not matter how much I freely choose to. Or take someone who is facing extreme poverty, war, crime, sickness, oppression, etc. People’s options can become so circumscribed by circumstances that free will loses any real meaning.

However, within the limits we are working under, I think we have complete free will. More than people even realize, in fact. I believe strongly that we are always free to choose to do anything we want, so long as we are willing to live with the consequences. Not only do I believe that, but I  believe that this attitude is key to living a life of freedom, wisdom and power.

The problem I have with free will enthusiasts is the often unstated assumption that having free will means we are all captain of our own ships and masters of our domain. If life is directed not by outside forces, but by the direction of our free choices, then clearly we are all responsible for those choices and the consequences of them. It is my opinion that this is why the idea of free will is so popular in American Christianity. We like to judge. We feel that it is our duty to judge. When we refuse to judge, we end up with reality TV shows featuring Flavorflav in hot tub filled with erotic dancers. If we have free will, then people are culpable for their own choices and our job of warning people away from such things is both simple and a moral imperative.

Now, if you are fairly privileged; if you are not impoverished, under-educated, disabled, living under oppression, haven’t suffered significant trauma, don’t have a chronic illness, aren’t being held hostage by stoned pirates, etc., then free will is very appealing. It means that a fairly direct line can be drawn between what is good in your life and the good choices you made and the bad choices you turned away from. You can take responsibility for both your poor choices and the good choices you made which allowed you to overcome them. You are free, wise and powerful.

However, what I know from experience is that for someone who is not so privileged, the teaching of free will becomes a trap of condemnation. If you made a bad choice, it was because you freely made a bad choice and therefor can be held accountable for the consequences. It doesn’t really matter if you were so stressed and overwhelmed by circumstances that you couldn’t think straight. It doesn’t matter if you were in so much pain that your judgment was compromised. It doesn’t matter if you were trying to escape a dangerous, untenable situation by any means possible. It doesn’t matter if you made your choices without the sort of maturity or information that would have allowed you to make a good choice. You made your choice. It was a bad choice. It’s all your fault, so don’t expect any coddling or sympathy from the good people who knew better than to choose so poorly.

In fact, so deeply ingrained in a lot of Christians’ thinking is the idea of free will that the church is well known for resisting psychology, many social justice concerns and calls to display greater compassion towards society’s undesirables. Frequently such things are seen as excuse making by and for those who are unwilling to take responsibility for themselves. The fact that the average church goer is better educated, happier and wealthier than the rest of the population means that a lot of white Christians, in particular, haven’t ever spent years on end being pushed past the limits of their ability to cope and so have no real idea what life is like for those they see as excuse making failures.

If we admit that things like trauma, oppression, addiction, mental illness, poverty, abuse and ignorance remove at least some culpability for people’s poor choices, then the answer is to do something about the sources of trauma, oppression, addiction, mental illness, poverty, abuse and ignorance.  And really, it’s much easier to tell people to buck up and get their acts together. In practice, free will enthusiasm is frequently an excuse for eschewing any responsibility for lifting burdens, ending oppression and righting injustices.

Of course, I am writing this as a child of western culture which is excessively married to the idea of free will. There are plenty of people who come from cultures that are excessively married to the idea of fate. I suspect that for a person who has been told that life is all up to God and fate, the idea of free will is exactly what it should be – a source of freedom, wisdom and power. But for someone like myself, the idea that fate has its say is a comfort to me. It’s a bit of reprieve from a harsh, judging and demanding world that blames me for all of my own suffering.

In the end, only God really knows the extent to which life is and isn’t in our control. It is foolish arrogance to claim to have such knowledge ourselves. The best we can do is accept that even if it’s not our own experience, for most people, life is continually circumscribed by circumstances beyond their control. Not every obstacle can be overcome through force of will. Sometimes we are completely powerless and just going along the best way we can figure out how. Yet, when an option presents itself, we do have the right to choose, so far as we are able. And frankly, many people do not take full advantage of the free will they do have because they do not consider the full range of options available to us. As usual, the best answer seems to be both/and rather than either/or.

Posted on 1 Comment

Dancing The Way

How many of you, at some point in your life, thought that there were two ways to do things; the right way and the wrong way? And that your job was to find the right way. Failing to find the right way might mean being a bad person, being unlovable, being rejected by God, being outside of God’s will or just being a stupid doo-doo head. I suspect a lot of you just raised your hand. I suspect that those of you who didn’t just haven’t dug quite deep enough into your heart to find that particularly nasty snare that gets planted in the heart of nearly every human being along the way.

Now, do I mean to say that there are no wrong ways and no right ways to do things? That all options the human mind can conceive of are equally good? No. Of course not. Going to the spa is a much better way to deal with burnout than doing meth. As anyone who has done meth has probably figured out by now. Hell, smoking weed is a much better way to deal with burnout than doing meth. But not if you are prone to addictions and might be tempted to do meth. Because meth is really, really bad, donchano. (Hey – fun fact: do you know how much weed it takes to kill a rat? Continue reading Dancing The Way

Posted on 4 Comments

THIS

This is what God would want those who claim his name to hear today. Like really today. Right here in the reality that is whatever day it is right now when you’re reading this. Don’t worry, I’m not claiming to have some “prophetic word” for y’all. Although maybe more people would pay attention if I did. And send me some seed money! Yeah. . .

Allow I to start over . . .

So, I have this prophetic word that God asked me to pass along to y’all. (Click here to make your donation today.) Now, this here is a powerful message I’ve been entrusted with.  I’m just repeating things God has told me will be heard and understood by those who put trust in his word and know the one who is the way the truth and the life. (OK, what really happened was I read the bible. You know, like all the stuff in between the 50 verses you can use to win an argument. And this is what I got from it. And obviously I think you should agree with me.)

Before I move on to the body of this here prophetic word, may I take a moment to remind you that while God allows you to enjoy the food from his table freely, it’s always a good idea to do what you can to help him offset the costs associated with an operation like this. (Yes, I know that makes no sense. The less sense you make when asking for money in God’s name, the more money people will send you. And I need a car.)

Click here to make your donation today. I’m not sure how it will work on your taxes, so I won’t come right out and say that it’s tax deductible, but I’m pretty sure any decent tax guy can find a way to make it work.

Now, on to this here prophetic word. (Which sounds best when being read by the intense, commanding voice in your head, btw.) :

God is God. God needs nothing from us. He takes no satisfaction in seeing people willing to make any sacrifice imaginable to protect their understanding of the Christian faith but are unmoved by the site of despair all around them. He’s not interested in hearing our explanations for why our way really is loving, no matter how much our neighbors say that it hurts.

What kind of father is happy that his kid swept the floor while he’s listening to his other son being beat with the broom? What kind of Father do you think we serve? One who doesn’t give a crap about one of his children just so long as his orders are followed? One who elevates service to him above any other concern? If that’s what you think, either you are under the mistaken impression that God is far less good than you are or I feel sorry for your kids. Continue reading THIS

Posted on 4 Comments

“Whoever Is Not Against Us Is For Us”

“Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

“Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us.”  ~ Mark 9:38-40

I have long thought that we Christians would do well to embrace any and all who walk and work on the side of love, regardless of their theology, religion or ideology. God is love and love is what’s left in the end and it never fails, so why not? Why should I not stand side by side and shoulder to shoulder with anyone who is on the side of love, regardless of what else we disagree with? Whoever is not against us is for us, right?

Unfortunately, the church has long chosen to embrace this idea from the opposite side of the coin. In both Matthew and Luke, Jesus is recorded as saying, “whoever is not for us is against us.” This saying has often been used to reject those who, while perhaps sharing the same devotion to love, are not actively for Christianity. And not only those who are not actively for Christianity, but for the same peculiar form of Christianity.

This is how we end up with the bizarre spectacle of atheist volunteers being turned away from helping at Christian soup kitchens. Or one group of Christians denouncing another apparently equally devout group of Christians. It’s how we have so many supposed leaders who are able to convince their followers to see the world in “us vs them” terms. “If you’re not for us, you are against us.”

But look at the context for Jesus saying “if you are not for us, you are against us”. In both Matthew and Luke, it is spoken in response to people who accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Satan. Jesus responds by saying:

“Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? If I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? For this reason they will be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can anyone enter the strong man’s house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house.”

Now, the first, obvious point that Jesus is making here is about unity. A house that is divided against itself will fall. Satan knows this, but the people of God need to be taught it.

Beyond that, there’s this somewhat odd bit about a strong man and his house that is often misunderstood. Usually when Jesus speaks of a powerful man like a king or a landowner, he is alluding to God. However, in this case, the strong man is not God, but Beelzebul. What Jesus is saying is that the devil is like a strong man who has been bound up so that his house can be plundered.

In the early church, it was universally accepted that when Jesus died on the cross, he descended into hell, wrested the keys of death from Satan and plundered his house, taking with him into heaven the souls held prisoner there. This was what Jesus was sent to do: to set the prisoner free and lift oppression.

Of course, when he tells this story, Jesus has not yet been crucified. Yet here he is already plundering the strong man’s house and taking back those who were possessed by him. Which is why Jesus goes on to say:

“Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.”

Prior to his death and resurrection, Jesus is preparing for the ultimate victory over the strongman who holds humanity captive. It is the Holy Spirit who has bound up the strong man, so that Jesus can begin the plunder of his house. The accusation that Jesus was working for the strong man was blasphemy against the Holy Spirit because it failed to recognize the power of God at work.

The reason Jesus says that this sin will not be forgiven is simply because if you do not recognize your Savior’s voice or the hand of God at work, you will not respond to it.

If you cannot tell the power of God from the power of the devil, how will you be saved? You will turn away from God and towards Satan without even knowing what you are doing. If you are as blind as the Pharisees, you could die and be in the presence of the Holy One and be repulsed by the source of all that is good, thinking it is evil.

Which is why blasphemy against the Holy Spirit can’t be forgiven. Forgiveness must be accepted in order to bear fruit, but if you reject the forgiveness God offers because you mistake God for Satan, how can you benefit from it?

So, it is in this context that Jesus says, “He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me, scatters.” What he is saying is that anyone who is not with him – recognizing the hand of God and the work of the Holy Spirit when they see it – is against him. Anyone who sees the work of the Holy Spirit and instead of celebrating it, rejects it is against Jesus.

Labeling someone as against us due to differences in doctrine, religion and ideology is foolish in the extreme. As Jesus says in John’s gospel:

“The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

The Spirit moves as it will. It will not be contained by human minds, beliefs and expectations. Failing to recognize the Spirit when it is at work ought to be considered far more dangerous than the possibility that those we associate with may not be pure or righteous enough.

Notice that those who are with Jesus gather, while those who against him scatter. Jesus and his followers are tasked with gathering up the harvest. It is the job of Jesus’ followers to recognize the Spirit moving and claim the harvest for Jesus regardless of where the harvest appears. After all, as is said about the landowner in the parable of the talents, God “reaps where he has not sown and gathers where he scattered no seed.” The whole harvest belongs to God.

It is the enemy who scatters and sows division. When we use Jesus’ teaching that “whoever is not for us is against us” to divide between “us and them”, “believer and non-believer”, “orthodox and heretic” and so on, we are playing the role of the one who scatters. Rather than gathering the harvest, we are rejecting it and throwing it aside as not good enough, not pure enough and not holy enough. Which is exactly what blasphemy against the Holy Spirit looks like.

So, how are we to avoid rejecting the work of the Holy Spirit? Well, we can go back to what Jesus said about those who were casting out demons in his name: “whoever is not against us is for us”. If someone is driven by love, they are for us. If someone wants more peace, joy, patience, justice, mercy and grace in the world, they are for us. Even if they are, as the disciples put it “not one of us”. After all, the Spirit moves where it will. And it is our job to gather the harvest, claiming it for the one who is the source of all good things.

Posted on 3 Comments

Suffer Us Little Children

What parent doesn’t want to be a better parent to their kids?

And what Christian doesn’t desperately wish to be truly humble? (OK, almost no Christian actually wants any such thing, but play along with me here.)

What if I told you that I have the secret to attaining these two highly desirable goals all in one fell swoop? Well, I’d become a viral sensation and finally be discovered and recognized as the spiritual genius I am, of course!

Ahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha! Ah. Sorry, sometimes I just need a good laugh. (You may not find me so amusing, but from time to time I crack myself up. It always makes me happy to know that someone thinks I’m funny.)

Anyhow, in all seriousness, somewhere along the line I picked up a spiritual habit that actually does humble me far more than I want to be humbled. And it does make me a better, more compassionate parent. And I will share it with y’all in case any of you are stupid brave enough to want to follow in my footsteps and enjoy the horrible joyous spiritual misery benefits. (I’m feeling really up on life today. Can you tell?)

It goes back to something Jesus said:

“[Jesus] called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Now, the bible is filled with references to God as father. Which would make us children. But it’s often not a particularly helpful concept because we tend to want God the Father to be a grandiose, super hero version of dad rather than a real dad.

So we think that being dad, God is supposed to protect us from all harm. Which, as anyone who has ever watched Finding Nemo knows, doesn’t actually work in real life. And we want God to be the dad who makes sure his kids have everything they need. Which is no doubt what the father of every child who has ever gone to bed hungry wants as well. We want God to move heaven and earth, changing time and the rules of life itself if that’s what it takes to make things all better. Even though heaven, earth, time and life itself all work the way they do because God made them work that way, presumably for good reasons.

The truth is that we don’t actually want God the Father. We want God the personal body guard/Santa Claus/magician.

In real life, dads do provide and protect, to the best of their ability. But mostly they tell you to stop jumping on the couch. They spin you in circles and tickle you and make fart jokes. They refuse to give into your temper tantrums and tell you to wait your turn and share with your sister. They teach you how life works and strategies for coping with its difficulties. They tell you stories and give advice and keep your secrets.

Once you understand this, Jesus’ teaching that we must become like little children takes on a whole new flavor. In fact, what I’ve learned is that when God is not responding to me the way I think he should, it’s because he’s dealing with me like a real father. And I’m acting like a real child. Which is hard to see when I think I’m the righteous heroine in distress and God’s supposed to be my father cum super hero/Santa Claus/magician.

For example, this spring, I realized that my ongoing anger at God was very much like when my kids would attempt to bend me to their will by throwing the world’s biggest temper tantrum. And that much of my time in the desert was basically God using my own super easy, super effective parenting trick on me. He was just standing by, waiting out my hurt and anger so we could both start to move forward.

And it makes me appreciate how much God puts up with from me. How rarely he chastises me for my anger and instead offers comfort and understanding. He bends down to my height and listens to my howls of pain and outrage and tells me I’m going to be OK. Then when I won’t be comforted, he withdraws a little to wait until I’m ready.

But he never mocks me. He doesn’t tell me to shut up and show some appreciation for everything he does for me. He never holds the things I say in anger against me. He doesn’t walk away in disgust. He doesn’t yell at me or tell me to pull myself together and grow up. He doesn’t get angry at me for not showing proper respect. He just loves me through it until I figure things out for myself.

Realizing how much pain I am in when I throw my spiritual little kid temper tantrums, forces me to look at my children’s temper tantrums with much more compassion. I can see how ridiculous they are sometimes being. But even when they know they’re being kind of ridiculous, they are in so much pain that they just can’t help themselves.

So I do for them what God does for me. I don’t mock, ridicule or yell at them. I offer comfort and if they won’t take it, I just stand by and wait it out. I understand that as annoying as a temper tantrum throwing little kid is, it’s much worse to be in that much distress.

Right now I’m in a period of waiting. My life is a disaster. Beyond repair, so far as I can tell. Yet I’ve had multiple people who I trust pass on messages telling me that it’s just a matter of time. God has very good plans for me. But he’s working on his own schedule and he’s not going to deviate from it, even though it’s painful for me.

This is very frustrating because every time I get upset and beg God to step in and help me and I get angry about my life, I am forcibly reminded of how my kids pester me when I tell them to wait. How they will come to me multiple times a day demanding to know why it’s not their birthday yet. Or asking, “are you ready yet?” over and over. Or wanting to know when their stomach flu will pass.

Frankly, my kids’ inability to wait irritates me like nothing else. Realizing that I’m in the same boat and that the waiting is unbearably painful both humbles me and gives me new compassion for my kids. I’m not sure I’ve really understood before how much I’m asking from them when I tell them to wait. Which has forced me to be more judicious about when I elevate my priorities over theirs and how long I ask them to wait.

It also makes me more cognizant of the burden of their trust. I cannot ask them to wait patiently if I cannot be trusted to do what I’ve said I will. I’ve learned to make very, very few promises or commitments with my kids. It drives them nuts, but then when I say I will do something, they can have full confidence that it will happen, no matter how long it takes.

I don’t honestly like the idea that my problems, which from a human perspective are not small, are so small in the eyes of God. It makes me feel less than. No one likes to feel less than. Like a lot of us, if you tell me that my problems are childish or my pain is caused by my immaturity, I feel angry and humiliated.

But this reveals a flaw in my thinking; God is not a man who would look on a child’s problems as foolish and inconsequential. The harm done to a child can stay with them for a lifetime. He’s not the sort of parent who demands that his child takes his perspective for their own. He respects our limits and doesn’t treat us with disrespect because we are not as mature, powerful and capable as he is. God asks us to be humble, but never, ever, ever wants us to be humiliated by our status as children.

We’re children. We have children’s problems. What Love knows, that we too often do not, is that children’s problems are real. The fact that we, from our vantage point as adults see them as foolish and unworthy of care or concern comes from our lack as parents. Yes, sometimes our kids frustrate us and sometimes the gap between their distress and the magnitude of the actual problem makes us laugh. But we should never shame them or humiliate them for seeing things from a child’s perspective.

Part of what I have learned from humbling myself enough to see that I really am like a child to God who really is like a father is how much is required of us as parents. We speak of child’s problems as if they are small, foolish things. But as I said, the harm done to a child can stay with them for a lifetime. And too often parents minimize the harm done to their children because they are unwilling to be strong, brave and sacrificial enough to help them.

Think of all the children who are abused by parents who believe they have the right (if not the obligation) to inflict pain on them for their own good, when really the parents are just too immature and out of control to handle the demands of parenting. Or the kids who seek help only to be turned away by adults who are unwilling to risk ruining a reputation or threaten a comfortable family dynamic. Or all the kids who are hurting and in trouble who get met with “tough love” or ignored by adults who want the child to carry all of the burdens placed on them rather than facing their own failures or disrupting long existing ideas about how things are done.

Then think of what God did for his hurting children on the cross.

When God asks us to humble ourselves to be little children, he’s not trying to humiliate us. He’s asking us to give him the chance to be the sort of parent that we actually need. To be the parent who is trustworthy and won’t turn away in our time of need. To be the parent who comforts rather than shames us. To be the parent who takes our hurts seriously rather than mocking them. To be the parent who lifts our burdens rather than telling us to buck up under them.

Which all sounds nice, but there’s a great deal at stake here. You see, it’s very hard to parent when you were never parented well yourself. No matter how much you love your children, when your back’s against the wall, your automatic response will come out of your brokeness rather than your love.

Children are vulnerable. It’s easy to hurt them without ever meaning to. And if you are unwilling to humble yourself, to allow God to parent you and show you the way, you may cause harm that can’t be undone in this lifetime. Which is why Jesus ended his words about becoming like little children with a promise and a warning for us:

“Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

Posted on 2 Comments

Three Sinful Paths

Let’s say that you are a new Christian, earnest and eager to follow the narrow path and repent of sin and all its damaging consequences. Which is a good goal. Both the Greek and Hebrew words for sin mean to miss the mark. The mark being union with God. Since union with God is the full fruit of redemption and sin means missing that fruit, avoiding sin is a worthwhile goal. But how to do that?

Well, in general, there are three paths you can take. One will take you to God. One will take you destruction. And one will get you somewhere between the two. Allow me to explain these paths and you see if you can pick out which is which.

The first path is one favored by many in the church. It is to identify sin and target it for elimination. It may mean that you refrain from engaging in worldly activities like drinking, swearing, watching questionable movies, hanging out with friends who are up to no good and the like. Perhaps you get involved in a small group or pursue relationships with more mature Christians as a way of building accountability for yourself.

This path does have its uses, particularly for those who are new to the faith. When a person converts to Christianity, it means adopting a new identity and with it, a new way of life. If your old identity was grounded in being a promiscuous partier who was known for your outrageous antics, it may be necessary to swear off those old behaviors in order to make room for your new identity in Christ.

The danger of this path is that identifying and eliminating sin can become the way you live out your faith and the basis of your Christian identity. Those on this path are too often the public face of the church, defined by what it is vocally against. In fact, the church has no end of self appointed gatekeepers for whom a willingness to identify and target sin for elimination is synonymous with being a faithful Christian. They think they are protecting the church when really all they are doing is attempting to lock everyone in the nursery. Continue reading Three Sinful Paths

Posted on 8 Comments

Adam and Eve and When It All Went Wrong

Well, it’s been a while since we dropped in on our friends Adam and Eve in the garden. So I figured I might as well make it a week of weird and tell y’all what I’ve been thinking/figuring out about them.

For those of you who don’t know, I have a wee bit of an obsession with the creation stories and the story of the fall. In fact, if it were possible to make money off meditating on them, I would be writing this from a beach in Fuji instead of on a computer with vacuum tubes in a spare bedroom that looks it hasn’t been cleaned in 2 months (because it hasn’t).

The reason I am so obsessed with these stories is because they seem to hold the key to understanding what is wrong with our relationships with each other, God and creation. Once you stop reading them as either the worst history book ever written or a fairy tale just-so story and taking them seriously, you discover that they are a lot like a puzzle. And I’m one of those people who plays soduku to relax. I like puzzles.

Anyhow, last spring I wrote a short series about a vision/dreamy sort of thingy I was given about what happened at the fall. Which if you may want to check out. The big take-away from the whole thing was that the fall wasn’t actually our fault. It was more like the world’s worse act of abuse against a couple of kids. If you think I’m full of it or want to know more, you can go read the posts on the subject. They’re short, we can wait:

What Was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil Doing in the Garden?

The Fall Wasn’t Our Fault

Does God Sit Around Monitoring Our Thoughts? And Other Pertinent Questions

So What Happened to Adam and Eve Anyhow?

Now if I haven’t scared you off, today I want to discuss the relationship between Adam and Eve. As I’ve said before (and as Ireneus and a few other early church fathers said), Adam and Eve were children. Little children.

Adam was made first. Adam is the Hebrew word for man or mankind. It’s used thousands of times in the Hebrew OT to mean man or mankind. So when we talk about Adam, we are talking about a character who represents mankind as a whole, not necessarily about one specific individual. (Remember, mankind is one.)

Eve is formed later as a subset of mankind. Still a part of mankind, but defined by her gender. Eve is like a little sister to Adam. Consider that it is Adam who named the animals, received instructions from God, went looking for a partner, etc. Adam even got to name Eve.

So Adam would have been much like a big brother, showing his little sister around, telling her what things were called, explaining the rules, etc. Anyone who has ever seen a preschooler with a toddler sibling knows exactly what I am talking about here. A little kid enjoying being in charge and showing off what he knows for an admiring younger sibling.

I’ve written before about a small detail from the story of the fall which is normally overlooked, but I think is important. When Adam and Eve were standing by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the snake approaches them, Eve says something untrue. She tells the serpent that not only can they not eat the fruit of the tree, but they are not even allowed to touch it. It’s a little detail that points to the fact that perfection, as we think of perfection, did not exist even before the fall. Which makes sense; God had declared the earth “good” and Adam and Eve “very good”. We’re the ones who made up this idea that it was perfect.

So, where did Eve get this idea that they weren’t allowed to touch the tree? Perhaps she made it up and was just lying. Or perhaps it was what her big brother Adam had told her. It’s totally the sort of thing a big brother would do. (I once had my little sister convinced that clouds moving across the sky showed how fast the earth was turning. Because I wanted to impress her with my great understanding of the workings of the earth, of course.)

God had given Adam one little rule to follow. It’s very easy to imagine that as a big brother, earnestly taking his responsibilities very seriously and feeling very important, he had instructed Eve, “see that fruit over there? God says we can’t eat it or we will die. We can’t even touch the tree it’s so dangerous!” He exaggerated a bit. Who doesn’t exaggerate from time to time? (My computer does not have vacuum tubes, by the way.) Especially when we’re trying to impress someone?

So Adam and Eve are standing by the tree. Maybe Adam’s showing off how brave he is to get so close to the dangerous tree. And the snake, who knows damn well that he has no business messing with them comes by to chat. And let’s just say that perhaps, as they are talking a breeze goes by and a branch moves and a bit of fruit brushes against Eve. Who doesn’t die.

And the snake says, “You will not certainly die. For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Eve at this point is perhaps aware that her brother may have been doing what big brothers do and scared her in order to impress her. She didn’t die from touching the fruit. Perhaps eating it wasn’t so scary either. It was pretty. What little girl doesn’t like pretty things? And God had given the garden to them to eat from. Plus, the fruit was useful for gaining wisdom. If she was wise, then she wouldn’t be the little kid her brother could trick.

Adam is standing there silently. Perhaps he heard Eve repeat his harmless lie and had some idea that he had made a mistake in telling her they couldn’t touch the fruit. Perhaps he had some vague awareness that he had been caught; that Eve knew he had lied to her. But I have had a child tell me “I didn’t stand on the coffee table” while they were standing on the coffee table. Little kids aren’t exactly know for their willingness to admit that they did something wrong.

So Eve eats the fruit and hands it to Adam. Adam has just watched his Eve, who God made just for him, who would be the mother of all adam, sign her own death sentence. All he had meant was to keep Eve safe and maybe impress her a bit. He was the big brother and being a big brother comes with responsibilities. So Adam does just what a good man would do in that situation and bravely took a bite of the fruit Eve handed him. If she was going to die, he would go with her.

 

Posted on 2 Comments

And Now For Something Weird in the End Times

In today’s edition of signs of the end times, we’re going to talk about vanity, the anitchrist, lion’s teeth and Marian apparitions. Among other things. Because part of my calling is to make your brains hurt. But don’t worry, it’ll be fun! And fun is good until somebody pokes an eye out. But I promise I’ll be careful not to poke your eye out.

So, about 10 years ago, my dear Catholic mother sent me a book called For the Soul of the Family. It’s the story of a woman named Estela Ruiz, a woman who began experiencing visitations from Mary back in 1989 and her family. Marian apparitions are one of those things that I deliberately choose to neither accept or reject. They could be true or they could be false, who knows?

Over the years, I’ve read accounts of quite a few Marian apparitions and come to the following conclusions:

1. Like all mothers, Mary repeats herself a lot. Seriously. Her motto might as well be “if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times.”

2. Like all mothers, Mary is really worried about her kids and absolutely certain that terrible things are going to happen to them if they don’t stop what they are doing and start listening to her.

3. Mary thinks we need to spend a lot more time praying.

So, one of the things I remember from this particular book that my mom sent me is that Mary supposedly told Estela that TV was the antichrist. And I think she said movies are too. Which sounds crazy, of course. But consider this; there is a long tradition in Christian thought which says that Jesus is the model of the true man. Like, if we want to know what human beings are meant to look, act and be like, we should look to Jesus.

Media, on the other hand, has long presented us with a false, often idealized, exaggerated picture of how human beings look, live and behave. And it does affect how we think about ourselves and each other. It’s a powerful force in shaping our ideas about what is normal, desirable and acceptable. Just look at how many at home teeth whitening products there are in circulation today. You could say that where Jesus is a picture of man as he truly is, media shows us a false picture of who mankind is. Which you could say makes it the anti (as in against or opposed to or opposite of) Christ.

So, the claim that TV is the antichrist is crazy, but not entirely implausible. I’m not saying you should all go throw out your TVs, except it probably wouldn’t be such a bad idea. :p

Anyhow, one of the most problematic aspects of TV and movies is that the people they show us are tend to all be very attractive. Which is nice to look at, but in real life only about 1 in 5 people is actually all that good looking. Once upon a time it, there was nothing particularly wrong with being plain or dowdy or even just ugly, but today pretty much every ugly woman in America has been told at some point that she should not be inflicting her ugliness on the rest of us by going out in public. I have heard people say that they were too ashamed to go shopping or to meet new people because they are fat.

Of course, being attractive doesn’t make you good, kind, loving, generous, clever, creative, interesting or any other worthwhile thing. It doesn’t even mean you’d be particularly good in bed, for pity’s sake! It just means your features grew in a symmetrical way. That’s it. But we are obsessed with it.

I know, I know, people have always been obsessed with beauty, right? Sure. Except here’s a coin with Cleopatra’s face on it:

Here’s what Hollywood said she looked like:

Notice the difference? Because it’s not enough to be powerful, charming and intelligent. A woman worth admiring must first and foremost be stunning with high cheekbones and purple eyes. Or how about this picture from South Korea where plastic surgery is the #1 graduation gift year after year:

Those are 18 different women. They all look the same because there is one ideal look for women in South Korea to have and since you are expected to send in a picture with your job applications, you may be unemployable if you don’t look like that.

Perhaps you don’t view this as particularly alarming because humans have always gone to extremes in order to be attractive. The Chinese deformed their daughters feet. Some South American tribes wear spikes through their faces. There’s that one African tribe that puts giant plates in their lips and ear lobes. Which is all true, except none of those practices required you to be born looking like that. If you were a Chinese woman with a face like Methuselah and teeny, tiny feet, you were hot. We, on the other hand, aren’t just going to extremes to adorn ourselves with beauty. We have basically gone to war against our bodies for daring to grow with bumps and lumps and eyelids.

At this point, some of you are thinking, “OK Rebecca, our fixation on looks is unhealthy and unkind. And I promise to never again walk around Walmart offering paper bags and tent sized mumus to the ugly people I meet there. But what on earth does all of this have to do with the end times?!?!”

Well, I’m so glad you asked. And here’s where I’m going to get extra weird with you. If you go to the book of Revelation, in the middle of all the seals being broken and disaster being unleashed, there’s one particular pit that spews forth an unusual hoard of locusts. These locusts are described as having the shape of horses and as wearing what appeared to be crowns of gold on their heads. Further it says, “their faces were like the faces of men. They had hair like the hair of women, and their teeth were like the teeth of lions.”

In addition to their peculiar looks, these locust could only hurt men, not any other part of the earth. And they couldn’t kill men, but instead caused a painful sting like that of a scorpian that went away in time, but was bad enough to make people wish for death.

Admit it, those are some mighty fine teeth. Teeth whitening products these days are truly effective.

Now, I readily admit that this is an entirely speculative reading of the passage, but I believe that this is a figurative description of the destructive vanity which has overtaken mankind. The long hair and the lion’s teeth. Do you have any idea how much we spend on cosmetic dentistry, teeth whitening, hair care and the like? Billions. There’s a rumour that a long beach dentist has made over 10 million dollars, singlehandedly. And those things on their heads that “appeared to be like crowns of gold” sound an awful lot like the figurative halos we see our favorite Hollywood golden girls and boys wearing.

Plus the effects of these locusts fit. The only part of creation affected by our fixation on looks are human beings. And it’s not fatal, but the rejection people experience when they are judged by themselves or others as not attractive enough hurts. Sometimes it hurts because of eating disorders or the pain of plastic surgery. But sometimes it’s just the pain of being rejected. Did you know that the same parts of our brain that process physical pain also process  pain from being rejected? When we insult someone for being unattractive, we might as well just walk up and slug them as far as our brain’s concerned. And even Americans know that it’s not OK to punch people for not looking like Brangelina.

Now, in Revelation, people are protected from the sting of the vanity locusts if they “have the seal of God on their forehead”. So that means no credit cards. No wait, that can’t be right. OK, so it means you shouldn’t let President Obama give you an obamacare RFID chip implant. No, no, that can’t be it either. Wait, I’ve got it! How about we assume that it means having a mind set on the things of God:

For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God . . . ~ Romans 8:5-7

There we go. That makes more sense. If you are concerned with the things of God, you will not be affected by the torments which come with having a mind set on the flesh.

So, today’s lesson is that in the end times, our vanity will be used to torment and torture us and everyone else, unless we refuse to play along. So, let that armpit hair grow, ladies. Embrace your moobs, fellows. And maybe, just maybe, you should pay a little more attention to your mother Mary. She’s worried about you. 🙂

Posted on 3 Comments

Jesus’ Gift to a Young Rich Man

As [Jesus] was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. “You know the commandments, ‘DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, Do not defraud, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.’” And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.

I remember years ago hearing someone say that morals are for rich people. Which I didn’t understand. I mean, I can understand how a lack of money could drive you to stealing or fraud. But otherwise, why would morals be optional for people just because they didn’t have money? You don’t need money to be a good person, after all.

I, of course, still don’t think that poor people don’t have morals and that morals are for people with money. But what I have come to understand two things. First, that having good morals does not make you a good person. I know plenty of people who never break any of the 10 commandments and are terrible people. The second thing I’ve learned is that it takes much more to hang onto morality when you are already depleted by a ridiculously stressful life.

When there’s no comfort or pleasure in your life, it’s much harder to turn away from the comfort found in the arms of someone you are not in a covenant relationship with. When your mother and father were so desperate and depleted by the time that they came home, that they lashed out at you, it’s much harder to honor them than it is when you have a mom who greets you after school with a plate of cookies and a smile and a dad who wants to play catch in the yard after work while you tell him about your day. When a shady mortgage broker has defrauded you and you’ve lost your home and are living out of a cheap motel room, it’s much harder to convince yourself to stick to the rules just on principle. Life’s just different when you’re just struggling to survive.

While we may admire the upstanding, morally sound, financially comfortable person, the truth is that many of those people wouldn’t have held up any better under trying circumstances than anyone else. Which is part of why we can’t judge people. Only God knows the heart. And sometimes even a good heart gets overwhelmed, depleted and despairs. Which isn’t an excuse for immorality, but it is an explanation. God knows this.

The thing is that while we see morality as something that is just expected of us, it was given as something to struggle with. We’re actually meant to fail at it. In Romans, Paul says, “through the law we become conscious of our sin.” If we can follow the law, without fail, then the law is not having the effect God intends it to have in our lives.

Now, does this mean that God has set us up for failure so that he can then show up and play the super-hero who graciously saves us? I can certainly understand why someone would think that. However, this isn’t the case. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul explains about the law, “therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.”

As Brene Brown says, “we are wired for struggle.” The law was meant to cause us to struggle. It is in struggling that we learn, grow and change. Struggle is like weightlifting for the soul. It tears us down and builds up back up, shaping us in the process. By placing demands on us that we will struggle and fail to meet, the law becomes our teacher, showing us the way towards Christ.

If we never fail, we don’t need forgiveness. If we never rebel, we don’t need grace. If we never fall under our heavy load, we don’t need our burdens lifted. If we never rail against an unfair world and a seemingly uncaring God, we don’t need comfort. If we have no need of forgiveness, grace, burdens lifted or comfort, then we have no need for God. We all need God. But without struggling, we will never know just how much. Nor will we understand the value of what God has to offer us.

When Jesus says, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God,” he’s not saying that rich people are worse people than everyone else. That they love money more than everyone else. Or that they care less about other people than everyone else. He says that it’s harder for rich people because the whole point of wealth is to protect us from struggles. The whole point of the law is to cause us to struggle. Which is why money and following God are so often in conflict.

Now, consider what Jesus does in his interaction with the young rich man. When the young man approaches, Jesus starts by disarming him. “Only God is good.” If the point of the law is to follow it, then those who are good at following it are completely justified in thinking that they are themselves good. But if only God is good and even Jesus refuses to accept that descriptor, then this young man knows he cannot stand on his own goodness. We are not good because of our morality, but any goodness we have comes from our connection with the one who is good – God alone.

Jesus then brings up the commandments in order to draw out the young man’s relationship with them. When the young man responds that he has kept to them from his youth, we see the problem; he’s never struggled. Sure, he may have faced temptation. But he’s never had to struggle with the law to the point of failure. Which means that the law has not had the intended effect in his life.

The story says that Jesus looked at this young man who has sought righteousness the only way he knew how and loved him. Jesus loves us all, of course. But he looked at this young man in particular and saw something in him that he loved in that moment. I suspect that what he saw was a young man who had done all of the right things and yet knew somehow that it was inadequate. Something in him knew that he needed more than to keep to the commandments in order to attain what he sought.

He could have gone to the Pharisees and asked them what he needed to do and explained that he kept to the commandments and always had. They would have been happy to tell him that he was right with God, especially in light of the financial support his family provided to the religious establishment. But he didn’t. For whatever reason, he sought Jesus. Which, oddly enough, is exactly what the law is supposed to do – lead us to Jesus.

So Jesus looked at this young man and loved him for whatever was in him that knew he was lacking. And he says, “sell all you own and give it away.”

Jesus knows perfectly well that he’s asking this young man to do something he cannot do. It wasn’t just love of money, comfort and security that made it impossible for this young man to do as Jesus instructs. It would have been terribly destructive and irresponsible for him to sell everything and give it away. It would have meant casting his entire family into the streets, for one thing.

Jesus had other followers who were wealthy. He never asks any of them to sell everything to follow him. But he loved this young man and so gave to him what the law could not – something to struggle with.

Posted on 4 Comments

The New Reformation

It occurred to me this morning that perhaps Christianity has been going through a Tower of Babel experience. If you recall your kiddie bible stories, the tower of Babel tells us why there are many languages and peoples. If you don’t recall the details, after the flood, all the men got together to build a great tower. They were able to do this because they had gathered themselves together and all spoke one language. But God saw what they were doing and was alarmed at the potential of what man could accomplish working together. So he confused their speech and they stopped building and scattered themselves across the world. And that’s why we all speak different languages.

The Jewish Midrash (the collection of ponderings, stories and explanations of Jewish rabbis which dates back to before the time of Jesus) held that the tower builders were motivated by a desire to defy or confront God. One writer claimed that they intended to put an idol with a sword on the top to wage battle with God. Josephus said that they had made the tower very tall and waterproof. Perhaps they were all still peeved at God for drowning everyone in the flood a few generations back?

At any rate, ages ago I read an explanation of the Tower of Babel which claimed that the Tower of Babel can be understood as foreshadowing the Temple in Jerusalem. It was meant to create an identity for the people (“that we may make a name for ourselves”). It would be a point where heaven and earth met (“a tower that reaches to the heavens”). And it was meant to be a permanent focal point for the group to orient itself around (“otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth”). 

So, the tower was meant to serve purposes which would later be filled by the Temple in Jerusalem. We don’t actually know what motivated the tower builders, but clearly God is not willing to sit by and let them do this thing. And this is why I’m inclined to accept that the tower was basically humanity’s feint at creating what the Temple in Jerusalem would later be.

The problem with it being that their vision of what this object could be was an impoverished version of the real thing. Beyond their stated objectives, we have no idea what they planned to actually do with the tower. There’s no mention of reconciliation, worship or learning God’s ways. The old rabbis seemed to think the whole purpose of the thing was to serve as a big middle finger from humanity going up towards God.

Or to put it another way, if the tower represents the center of human religion, their religion sucked too bad to be allowed to grow into fruition. God caused confusion and division which is why were are not only so many languages, but also so many religions. (Also, people united by a common language usually shared a common religion.)

Immediately after the story of the Tower of Babel, you get an account of the lineage leading up to Abram, later Abraham, father of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim people. I don’t have the patience to add up all the years, but clearly a great deal of time passed between the tower and the arrival of Abram.

In Hosea, God describes finding Abram and his line as “like finding wild grapes in the dessert”. Too many people seem to think that God found this bronze age people to teach his ways and rules to so that all of mankind could be bound by them. God’s purposes were much bigger than that. Wild grapes make lousy wine. But over the course of time, with cultivation, pruning, breeding and care, wild grapes give rise to grapes that makes the best new wines.

In a way, the confusion and division of united humanity turned out to be creative destruction. Over the course of a great deal of time, a man and through him a people arose who God could work with to bring about a real temple, worthy of God’s purposes. And through that religion, the salvation of the world would eventually occur.

Now, consider the history of Christianity. A bit like the tower of Babel, Christianity is mostly a man-made construct, using materials provided by God, Jesus and scripture. Jesus really didn’t leave any instructions behind. We had to figure out the way forward after he was gone. But unlike the tower of Babel, the people building Christianity were supposed to have a better idea of what they were doing than the ancient tower builders. Start with the foundation of Christ, build from there.

Eventually, it became apparent that we Christians weren’t doing such a hot job with our building either. It wasn’t awful. There were a lot of good things about it and its influence in the world was a net big positive. But what we’d built was dangerously imperfect. As time went on, these imperfections became harder and harder to ignore. It could not be allowed to continue.

This time, it didn’t take an act of God to bring about creative destruction. We did it ourselves. First through Luther and then through tens of thousands of his spiritual descendants. All taking a crack at building a tower worthy of uniting mankind around a common identity, bringing heaven and earth together and serving as a permanent focal point that unites us.

Last time this process played out, it was God who found the fruit he could use to advance his redemptive purposes. This time, I think it’s going to be up to us to recognize and choose which fruit from this long process of creative destruction we’re going to use to build our tower. And I further think that there is a widespread, emerging consensus as to what that is.

But before I share that, let me tell you a funny story from the Jewish Midrash about Abram which I think reveals the model for how this works. According to tradition, Abram’s father made idols for a living. He had a shop where people could come purchase idols for their homes, personal altars and other purposes common in that part of the world at the time. Abram thought the whole business of idols was nonsense and that his father and his customers were fools for worshiping bits of clay and metal that he himself helped to make. So one day when Abram was left alone in charge of his father’s shop, he took a hammer and destroyed all the idols in the shop but one. He put the hammer in that idol’s hand and waited for his father’s return. When his father came back, he was understandably upset to see his merchandise in ruins. He turned on Abram in fury, demanding to know why he had done this. Abram calmly explained that he had nothing to do with the destruction of the idols. That idol over there holding the hammer had done it. And that explains why Abram was so willing to pack up and leave when God asked him to. He was in such big doo-doo at home that leaving was probably a good life choice at that point.

The story is apocryphal and almost certainly untrue, but it does provide an excellent explanation of exactly what Abram’s role was in the history of human religions. Through him, God brought about the destruction of the pantheistic idol worship common to man. For a very long time prior to Abram, all religions recognized many gods. Today, the overwhelming majority of humans follow religions which recognize only one God. At its simplest, most basic level, Abram was the man who exchanged many gods for the one, true God with humanity eventually following suit. (Yes, there was that one Pharaoh, but his attempt was about as successful as the tower builders at Babel.)

So out of the creative destruction of the tower of Babel and the religion it represented, we eventually get:

Many gods ->Abram->One God

I think that we are seeing a similar process at work today. Only instead of many gods, we have many teachings. In the ancient world, it was the gods which were in conflict with each other. But today, it’s our beliefs. We have a zillion different ideas about God and Jesus and the Christian life. Of course, none of them are correct. They can’t be. It’s impossible to fully understand God and his ways, so inevitably each theology we come up with will fail to contain the Truth.

But there is one teaching we should be able to agree on. As mushy and unsubstantial as it seems, love is that one thing. Basically, what I think we’re seeing in Christianity right now echo’s what happened with Abram:

Many teachings ->Christianity ->Love

It’s not that none of the other teachings, customs, traditions or practices of Christianity have any merit. Many of them absolutely do. However, consider that worshiping the One God who is spirit was a prerequisite for God to reconcile mankind to himself. I believe that Love is the prerequisite for us to bring the best of Christianity to fruition. No amount of study, teaching, rule making and keeping, social pressure, governmental power or church participation can do what Love can do.

Some will protest that Love is too generic. Every religion and no religion teaches love. If love is the center, then what do we need Christianity for? But the thing is that while it is true that love is a common teaching, the Christian vision of what love looks like, what it acts like and what it does is utterly unique. It’s a picture of love as sacrificial, selfless, but not self destructive, enduring through all manner of hardships, universally extended to both friend and enemy without regard for outward appearances.

Further, the ultimate destination in Christianity is utterly unique. Instead of merely personal gain or enlightenment, an enjoyable afterlife, or a final judgment which brings destruction, the end game for Christianity is a new heaven and new earth. It’s the restoration of all things. Of God to man and man with each other and all of creation. A reign of peace and beauty which goes on and on in the here and now as well as after death.

For a Christian to use love as the starting point and touchstone by which all other things can be judged and through which all of creation should be viewed is in no way a capitulation to some generic, wishy-washy religion. It’s the ultimate fulfillment of the faith we have received. And I trust that the fruit of a Christianity which is oriented and ruled by love will be the long awaited revelation of the Bride of Christ whose beauty will cause all mankind to marvel and praise God.

I apologize that this is super long, but I want to go back for a moment to something God said in the story of the Tower of Babel:

“If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.”

From a religious perspective, when we are all united together, nothing is impossible for us. God said so. Way back in the day, the people were united around an impoverished vision. Today, we know better. We can choose to unite around a vision which is utterly obedient to God, yet one that each man, woman and child can freely embrace, regardless of what other beliefs they hold. We can choose to unite around Love.

If that’s the right plan, the right way to build the tower, we will be impossible to stop. And do you really see God stepping in and saying, “that’s enough of this love nonsense. Get back to your old way of doing church”? After telling us that everything hangs on the command to love God, neighbor and self? I don’t think so.

Abram had a choice to make. Stay where he was or follow God. He chose to turn his back on many gods to follow the One True God. I think we have a choice to make as well. We can stay in the rubble of Christianity’s Tower of Babel experience, continuing to attempt to piece together a tower worthy of our faith. Or we can chose to turn our backs on our many teachings and ideas in order to follow the One True Teaching which is Love.

Posted on 7 Comments

Angry Men and Crying Women

In the last few months, I’ve realized something about men and women and why we often struggle with each other. It might not be THE problem, but I would venture to say that it’s certainly been A problem. And figuring this out has been really helpful to me, so I thought I’d pass it on to y’all. It all has to do with the way we express our pain.

Generally speaking, there are two ways we experience the emotion of being hurt – through anger or sorrow. They look very different, but they are basically the same thing. So a person who is raging and lashing out at the world is essentially the equivalent of someone who is wailing with grief. This is really obvious for some of you, but I suspect that I am not the only person for whom this is a bit of an eye opener.

Most of us are trained – usually unwittingly – to express our hurt in a gender acceptable way. If you are man, you are allowed to get angry. If you are a woman, you are allowed to cry. It’s not universal, of course. But it’s common enough that it’s true more often than not.

We’re all familiar with people telling little boys not to cry. It’s a bad habit. It cuts them off from a legitimate and necessary means of experiencing and expressing his pain. On the other hand, some room is made to allow the boy to be angry. He can kick the dirt and throw down his helmet after losing a game, but can not sit down and sob.

It’s not talked about nearly as much, but little girls are often punished and disciplined when they get angry. Anger from a girl tends not to be seen as an expression of pain, but as a sign that she is out of control. And that’s not allowed. A good little girl is always in control of herself, willing to submit to what is expected of her. If she is hurting, she can cry in her room or to mom until she gets over it. But if she complains, throws something or has a temper tantrum, she is swiftly punished. Refusing to allow a girl to get angry cuts her off from a legitimate and necessary means of experiencing and expressing her pain.

So. men tend to get angry and women tend to cry. Again, it’s hardly universal, but it’s common enough. Now let’s go back to how many of us see anger and sorrow working in the real world. Many parents rely on anger to discipline and control their kids. And, of course, angry people frequently say and do things that cause harm to those around them.

Both men and women grow up with this model of anger, but we experience it very differently.Men often find anger empowering. Women find it frightening. Women find crying emotionally cathartic – a way to move through negative emotions. Men may feel helpless, irritated and embarrassed when someone is crying.

For a woman, anger is often very frightening.  This makes sense because for women anger is associated with being controlled by someone who may be willing to hurt you. We may even go out of our way to avoid situations in which anger is expressed. For example, research has found that women are much less comfortable with disagreement in regular conversations than men. We prefer to sit around and talk about what we agree on and may keep our disagreements to ourselves, even when it would be helpful and appropriate for us to voice them.

Boys don’t appreciate being controlled and hurt by an angry person any more than girls, I’m sure. But since boys are allowed some experience with anger, he will often learn to see it as a legitimate tool for exerting control. The fact that in anger he may hurt someone he loves may be a source of shame and guilt. But without the ability to express hurt through sorrow, the best many men can do is suppress hurt so as to reduce the likelihood of hurting someone in anger.

On the other hand, sorrow tends to be a pretty private emotion. Even small girls will go off by themselves to cry. Many kids can go their whole childhood hardly ever seeing an adult cry. When a woman cries in front of a man, it’s because she’s in pain and she trusts him enough allow him to see that. Her expectation is that he will do what other women do and offer expressions of concern and comfort to her while she is obviously in pain. However, a lot of men have little or no experience with crying people who aren’t children. He doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do, but he knows the woman is going to get angry with him if he doesn’t respond well. Often he feels that a woman who is crying in front of him is trying to manipulate or control him. (Interestingly, researchers have found that in the presence of a woman’s tears, men’s testosterone levels drop. A crying women literally makes a man feel less “manly”.)

Odds are good that I’m describing things that most of you have experienced and observed yourselves. And no doubt some of you figured out long ago how to navigate this difference between men and women. But I do tend to be a bit slow to catch on, so realizing that anger is essentially the same thing as sorrow has been eye opening for me.

Although I’m pretty dang tough (for a girl 😉 ), anger has always made me uncomfortable. Being able to tell myself that anger is no different than sorrow, from an emotional perspective, has helped enormously. It has allowed me to make wiser choices about how to deal with and respond to anger. I’m less likely to get emotional or defensive. If someone’s really angry, I see them as someone who is really hurting rather than just as someone who is really scary. I don’t know what to do about anger except try to protect myself. But hurt? I know how to deal with someone who is hurting.

If my husband listened to anything I said, he might be able to tell me what this looks like from the male perspective. But I would imagine that it might be helpful for a man to see a crying woman as kind of the female equivalent of a buddy who’s letting off steam. Which might make it easier to realize when she just needs someone to be present, listen and maybe offer some encouragement.

Undoing this whole knot is a bigger task than I can take on here, obviously. But I do think it’s an important issue. Problems between the genders go back to the Garden of Eden. But we were made to live together as a whole, not in conflict with each other as warring factions.

A friend of mine recently told me that she had a revelation that there is a serious imbalance between male and female which is causing serious problems for humanity. I think that this area is a great example of that imbalance. When men can only get angry and women can only be sad, that’s an imbalance. It affects individuals, couples, families and even communities and cultures. Heck, world history and current events probably make more sense when you consider that everything has basically been run by people whose only tool for dealing with harm done is anger.

Clearly, world events are well beyond most of our control. But perhaps finding more balance, understanding and empathy within the context of our intimate relationships is as good a place as any for change to start.

Posted on Leave a comment

When Complaining Is Ministry

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?

Posted on 6 Comments

Addressing Sin the Biblical Way

When the subject of sin comes up – specifically other people’s sin – a lot of people have one go-to-verse/argument: “even Jesus told the woman caught in adultery to ‘go and sin no more’.” 

These words are particularly helpful when being confronted with something else Jesus said: “do not judge lest you be judged.” Unfortunately, when Jesus spoke those words, he neglected to add all of the necessary caveats. Fortunately, we have his words to the woman caught in adultery to make it clear that Jesus didn’t really mean for us to leave sin unremarked on and unaddressed.

Since people who depend on the words “go and sin no more” clearly desire nothing more than to be faithful to Jesus’ teachings and example, I thought it might be helpful to examine their proper, biblical application. I would hate for anyone to behave in a way that didn’t meet the biblical standard, of course.

So, first we must look at the circumstances in which these words can be understood to provide biblical cover for confronting or calling out sin. Based on the story of the woman caught in adultery, I have identified the following prerequisites:

  1. There must be general agreement that the person has committed a sin which must be addressed. Situations in which there is argument or disagreement over whether the behavior is, in fact, sinful, do not meet the biblical standard.
  2. The sin in question must be brought to your attention by others. So, sin which you encounter on your own is not biblically covered by Jesus’ words to the adulterous woman.
  3. The person who has sinned must be facing serious consequences and condemnation for their sinful behavior.
  4. You must be asked directly to weigh in on the sin.

Basically, if the sin is brought to your attention by others who are upset over the sin and who have a desire to ensure that the sin is condemned and consequences given and who are seeking to have you join in or give your approval to said condemnation and consequences, this situation meets the biblical standards. On the other hand, if you just happen to run across someone’s sin yourself or the person is getting away with sinning, consequence free or if the situation involves an argument and if no one has actually asked your opinion, the situation does not meet the biblical standard. The claim that “even Jesus told the woman caught in adultery to go and sin no more” does not provide biblical cover in such circumstances.

Once you have determined that the situation you are dealing with meets the biblical standards for telling the person to “go and sin no more”, you have certain obligations which must be met. Specifically these are:

  1. You must first devise a way to run off the people who are condemning and calling for the punishment for the sin. Figuring out how to do this can be tough. Even Jesus had to stop and think before saying, “let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” But it is a biblical imperative that before you can address the person’s sin, you must first ensure their safety and well being. Otherwise you are just joining in with the crowd which is most certainly not biblical.
  2. You must have the patience to wait until the person who has sinned is no longer the target of wrath, condemnation and punishment. It is not biblical to address someone’s sin in the presence of those who want to punish and condemn them.
  3. Once you and the sinner are the only people involved in the controversy over their sin present, you must check to make sure that the sinner is no longer in fear of those who would condemn them. If they express fear that those who want to condemn and punish them are still seeking to punish or condemn them, now is not the time to confront their sin. You may need to go back to steps 1 and 2 before proceeding. If, like the adulterous woman, the sinner says, “there is no one left who wants to condemn me”, you can proceed to the next step.
  4. Assure the sinner that you do not condemn them and have no intention of punishing or otherwise holding them to account for their sin.

Once you have followed the above biblical procedures, you are free to address sin as Jesus did. Based on Jesus’ words, when you address the sin, you should:

  1. Make sure your words are forward and not backwards looking. This is not the time to ask for an explanation of past behavior or to run through an account of past sins committed.
  2. Resist the urge to lecture or give advice. Keep it really short.
  3. Don’t offer (or threaten) to hold the person accountable for their future behavior. Leave it up to the person to find his or her own way forward. If they need help, they will ask someone they trust for help and you may well not be that person.
  4. Don’t hold the fact that you just rescued the person over their head. Do not imply that they owe it to you to behave differently going forward.

Really, you can’t do much better than Jesus’ words, that we all love so much: “go and sin no more.”

After you have biblically addressed the sin, you must continue to follow the example set by Jesus. You should never speak of that person’s sins again. The sin should not become fodder for sermons or rants or blog posts. Nor should it be a topic of conversation with your friends. Also, do not seek to maintain contact with the person (unless they seek you out, of course) in order to see how they are doing. Once you have followed the biblical procedures and methods for dealing with sin the way Jesus did, your job is done.

Hopefully this explanation for how to biblically confront sin the way that Jesus did has been helpful to you. Dealing with sin like Jesus is the source of a lot of confusion. Perhaps the next time you encounter someone using the explanation “even Jesus told the woman caught in adultery to ‘go and sin no more'” in an unbiblical way, you can direct them here. Because we do want to be very biblical in our approach to such things, do we not? 😉

Posted on 6 Comments

Stop Hurting People

Today, I have something really simple to say; if you hurt people as you move through life, you need to stop. Entirely. Forever.

Look, I know that sometimes we hurt people just being who we are. We’re too much for some people and not enough for others. They have expectations we can’t live up to and they feel disappointed and let down. We make choices which we know are the very best we can do and some people feel hurt by our choices. It happens.

But there are people who move through life hurting other people mostly because they just can’t be bothered not to.

They feel entitled to speak and act without regard for who gets hurt because people shouldn’t be so sensitive.

They say and do things that hurt people in the name of truth or what’s right.

They to hurt people when they’ve been provoked.

They hurt people when they are irritated.

They hurt people when they are incovenienced or negatively affected by other’s behaviors.

They hurt people because it’s too much trouble not to.

They hurt people because they have their own problems to worry about.

They people because they’ve never developed self control.

They hurt people because they’ve suffered worse (and survived).

They hurt people in order to make them so uncomfortable that they will do whatever it takes to get you to stop – ie in order to get other people to meet their demands, wishes and expectations.

They hurt people because they are too busy with more important matters to be bothered. When they are sucessful, wealthy or secure, they will lavish good things on others to make up for it.

They hurt people for any and every reason imaginable – we humans have an nearly limitless capacity for self-justification – remember?

But no one is entitled to go around hurting people. No one has the right to decide for someone else what ought to be hurtful. No truth is so great that it gives you a right to hurt other people because of it. If you’re so freaking right, be happy for it, don’t take it out on some poor soul who hasn’t yet accessed your amazing grasp on truth.

No one is entitled to move through life without being provoked, irritated or inconvenienced by other humans. When it inevitably happens, it’s an expected part of being alive, not a license to lash out or be cruel. People don’t owe it to you to be always on the look out for you and your entitled self.

No one is entitled to inflict their unresolved problems, pain and lack of self control on the people around them. As unfair as it is, those thing are the full responsibility of the person they belong to to work out, discard and resolve. The rest of us don’t exist to serve as a release valve for your unresolved pain and problems.

Your fellow human beings don’t exist to meet your needs and desires. They have their own lives, with their own desires, needs and opinions which exist seperate from yours. You have no right to demand that they put aside their own lives in order to serve yours. The fact that you have to resort to hurting people in order to get your way ought to tell you that your sense of entitlement has lead you dangerously off course.

If you think you’ll have time to make up for the hurt you’ve caused later, when you’ve “arrived” at where ever you think you are going, your going to be sorely disappointed. Many of the people you hurt will not be willing to wait around that long. Those who do will be so damaged by what you’ve done on the way that your sucess will be bittersweet indeed. You will discover that you’ve been like a man who starved his family into sickness and criminality to pay for a palace for them to live in.

All of us will occassionally hurt the people around us. We’re human. It happens. But if your presence regularly brings pain into the lives of others, stop it. You’re doing it wrong. And it doesn’t matter what else you accomplish in life – whether you are wealthy or powerful or well regarded or talented or are impeccibly stylish – your life will be a waste and a bane on humanity if you don’t do whatever it takes to stop hurting people.

When you move through life spreading pain, you are not the great, important, ambitious, hard-nosed person you think of yourself as. You are in the process of becoming something subhuman, far less than you were created to be. You are in danger of becoming an object lesson – a warning for others who would follow in your footsteps. People will point to you and say to each other, “what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?”

No one lives forever. One day the good man and the evil man alike will die. And in the final review, an account of how your times was spent will be made. Many people who go through life hurting others think that when that time comes, whatever the cost ends up being, it will be worth it. Or they will be able to point to the good they did as a way to offset the hurt they caused.

But when we die, we won’t meet a judge who weighs out our lives on scales. We won’t move on into some dark realm with the memory of our past life to remind us that we had fun while it lasted. Instead, at judgment something very simple happens. We get to know the truth of our life.

We will experience for ourselves what we create with our lives. For those who spend their lives spreading joy, love, peace, comfort and healing, those things, multiplied and magnified by the effect they had in people’s lives will come back to them. Those who spend their lives spreading hurt, will receive back that hurt, multiplied and magnified by the effect it had in people’s life. All the excuses and accomplishments such people have used and gathered along the way, will provide no protection or comfort when the torrent of pain they created with their own lives comes back to them.

So if you are someone who hurts people, stop it. Do whatever it takes. Get counseling. Go to AA. Tell everyone you’ve lost your voice and observe a vow of silence until you stop yourself from hurting others. Put a few scraps of paper in your right pocket and each time you think you may have hurt someone, move one piece to your left pocket. Make it your goal to go through your days with all the scraps still in your right pocket. Stop trying to control and shape everything and everyone around you. Ask God to help you recognize what is right rather than fixating on what is wrong. Practice gratitude. Meditate. Take up a martial art to develop self-control and a healthy relationship with power.

Whatever you have to do in order to stop hurting people, do it. Make not hurting people your single minded focus. The stakes are too high for you and for everyone around you. You were made to be a blessing in this world, not a blight.

Posted on 3 Comments

Self-Justified vs Justified in Christ

Back in the olden days when I was involved in prison ministry, I learned something remarkable about human nature. We have a nearly infinite capacity for self-justification.

Over and over again, I had kids tell me the story of some crime they committed in which they would explain how they had convinced themselves that their actions were justifiable. Some kids were far enough along their journey that they could see that the story they had told themselves was rubbish. Others were still so convinced by their self-justification that they continued to think of the crime and its consequences as regrettable, but understandable given the circumstances they had been dealing with. They didn’t really see themselves as guilty.

Commonly, I would talk with kids who were struggling to let go of their self-justification and truly own their errors and responsibilities. They could mentally accept that they had wronged and had caused harm to themselves and others. Usually they could even understand that healing and taking their lives back was dependant on accepting responsibility and were highly motivated to do so. But they just couldn’t let go of their self-justification. The story they had created for themselves to explain why they did the things they did still felt so true, so right, so unassailable to them.

(“If I didn’t go along with stealing that TV from an old woman’s apartment – she was blind, by the way – then I would look like a punk. In the neighborhood I live in being known as a punk gets you killed. What was I supposed to do? My choices were either to help steal the TV – did I mention that the old woman was blind? Or die.”)

This impulse to create stories in which we are the good guy, always the victim or the hero, lies very deep in human nature. If I confront my 7 year old because she hit her sister, you can be sure that she be able to give me a detailed explanation for why what she did was totally justified in light of what her sister was doing. She’s the real victim, don’t you know. And she will be able to regale me – on the spot – with all manner of evidence and logic and obfuscation to back up her self-justification.

Over the years I have become convinced that we engage in the story telling of self-justification in a desperate attempt to hide from our shame. Shame is such a toxic emotion. Shame says that our identity is created by our errors. It tells us, “there’s something wrong with you as a human being. Your core identity is ugly, disgusting and unlovable.” Shame sent Adam and Eve into the bushes to hide and it compels us to cover our own guilt with self-justifying evidence, logic and stories as well.

The more shame we have lurking deep inside, the more we will engage in self-justification. The more stubbornly we will cling to these stories, this evidence, our logic. We will cling to our self-justification, demanding that our story and evidence be disproven, piece by piece, to our own satisfaction before we let any of it go. Then we will concede a point, shift our position and desperately set about re-arranging the evidence into a better, more unassailable story with which to protect ourselves.

And along comes Jesus, wanting nothing more than to remove our shame. “There’s no condemnation in me,” he tells us, “there’s nothing wrong with you; you’ve just been lost. I am the way back to who you are. You’re not ugly or disgusting. You were made in the very image of God. Your sins may be like filthy, bloody rags around you, but let me remove them so the beauty you are can be revealed. You’re not unlovable. I love you so utterly, so irresistably that I left all the privileges of heaven just to be with you. I love you so much, I died for it.”

As he woos us away from our shame and into communion with himself, Jesus tells us, “stop trying to justify yourself. You don’t have to prove to me or anyone else that you are justified. Your justification is in me, not in yourself and all of your stories and evidence and logic.”

But this impulse to justify ourselves is very deep in us. Instead of resting in the justification Christ has provided us, we continue to compile our evidence and write our stories, telling how we are always the good guy, always the hero or the victim. We use them to comfort ourselves when things don’t go our way. We repeat them to ourselves and others in order to stave off our shame when we are in error. “I’m not perfect, but I’ve been doing what I’m supposed to be doing. Here’s the real story.”

Then an accuser from without or within shows up and tells a condemning story of your failures, your guilt, your inadequacies. The accuser knows that you’re going to fall for the trap. That you will compulsively protest and self-justify. You’ll counter the accuser’s story with your own. You’ll pull out your evidence to refute the evidence against you. You’ll use logic to shred the fallacies used to construct the allegations against you.

But it’s a trap. It doesn’t even matter whether the accuser’s story is right or wrong, fair or outrageous slander. Even if you can refute him point by point and demolish the accusations against you with evidence and logic, the accuser will not concede his error. He will not give you your due and declare you innocent.* So long as he can get you to justify yourself to him, his goals will be accomplished.

Our self-justification exists to keep our shame safely hidden away. The enemy knows that so long as we continue to self-justify, we may hear Jesus’ words, we may mentally assent to them, but we do not own them. They are not at the core of who we are. Shame still remains on its throne, a malevolent, hidden power reigning over our heart.

The tricky part is we can’t own the truth Jesus speaks to us with shame reigning in our heart. But we can’t get rid of the shame until Jesus’ truth – his justification of us – has taken its place at the core of our being. Which is why we need to rely on our faith. We need to believe in what we cannot yet see – that we are completely justified in Christ. That he’s vouched for us and is telling the truth when he renders his judgment of us as beautiful, cherished and without blemish.

My friend Jolene was the chaplain at the prison I volunteered at and she used to tell the boys, “whatever your accuser says, don’t bother trying to defend yourself. Just agree with him. Say, ‘yes, you’re probably right.’ You don’t have to explain yourself or your actions. It could be that they are beyond justification anyways. It doesn’t matter because your justification is in Christ, not in yourself. So go ahead and agree with your accuser because Jesus has already provided all the justification you need.”

When we refuse to engage in self-justification, no matter how sorely we want to, but rely on our justification in Christ, it allows Jesus to sink a little deeper into our heart. And as Jesus sinks deeper into your heart, there is less and less room for shame. When shame is dispelled, the Kingdom which Jesus says we carry within us will be revealed and ruled over by the truth – you are beautiful, ravishing and a delight. You have nothing to be ashamed of anymore.

*I find it maddening and ironic that what we (I) really want is for our accuser to declare us innocent? But that’s not what the accuser does. The truth is that the accuser has no right to define you or label you as guilty or innocent, lovable or repulsive or any other thing. Only God has the right to say who you are. And he has already declared you innocent, lovable and fully justified. So stop waiting (, Rebecca,) for your accuser to concede your innocence. Surely the accuser’s words should not carry more weight than God’s?

Posted on 12 Comments

Will the New Covenant Kill the Church?

My 14 year old has a bad habit of trying to engage me in conversations which he really ought to be having with his peers rather than his parents. Because, really, only a teen wants to spend hours sitting around talking about their favorite bands, watching weird, nonsensical videos online and complaining about their teachers. Although I do appreciate that he insisted in introducing me to The Room. Because some sorts of genius idiot disasters do transcend generational lines.

Anyways, last summer, he was trying to regail me with yet more information about the bizarre genius of Trent Reznor which quickly started sounding like, “whaa-waa-waa-whaa-wa-wa” to me. So I stopped him and said, “I’ll tell you what. Why don’t you go and learn everything there is to know about the character of King David and his influence on Jewish thought through the ages and then have a conversation with me about it? Tell me something new that I might care about.”

To which he responded, “see, religion is your thing. I figure that what you’ve taught me makes sense and I believe it. I pray and live by what you’ve taught me. So I don’t have to spend my time worrying about it or trying to work it all out. Which leaves me free to learn about all sorts of other things. Like Stockhausen. Noah and I have this theory that maybe his mother fed him live tadpoles as a child and that’s what turned him into a scary lunatic.”

And I kid you not, something very deep in me said, “this is the future of the church you are looking at.”

Which sounds odd, but stop and think for a moment; what would it be like if an understanding of God, morality and spiritual matters were just a given. If we all pretty much understood and agreed on them and weren’t continually arguing or preaching or fussing over them? Maybe there would be a few of us who were vocationally drawn to studying and thinking about such things who would continue to do so. We could be a resource for people when they needed help or wanted to deepen their understanding. But otherwise, people would be free to spend their energy on other things, secure in the knowledge that they were living in right relationship with God, self, others and creation. Wouldn’t that be something?

Now, the idea may seem far-fetched or even undesirable. Yet this is actually the new covenant which God says is coming:

“But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.

“They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

~ Jeremiah 31:34

This passage is also quoted in Hebrews 8:10-12 and 10:16 which is a long discussion of the forgiveness of sins through the new covenant established in Jesus. Hebrews 8:13 says that the old covenant is “obsolete” and is in the process of “disappearing”. Paul explains that at this time Jesus is “waiting for his enemies to be brought low and put under his feet.”

As always, we need to be wise about enemy language in scripture. Ephesians 6:12 says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms“. The enemies of Jesus and of believers are not people. They are spiritual forces.Like say the spirit of violence, greed, hatred, condemnation and will to dominate.

So, God has told us that there will come a time when such enemies are brought low and placed under the feet of Jesus. And when that happens, the new covenant will come to fruition. Meaning that once things like violence, greed, hatred, condemnation or a will to dominate are no longer seen as valuable or tolerable or acceptable in light of the call to love, serve, heal, free and elevate each other, the new covenant will take the place of the old, dead one.

And you know what? I think we are seeing the first signs of this happening now. We certainly aren’t there yet, but there are fewer and fewer groups of people who are set aside as acceptable objects of hate. There is a growing awareness that declaring a country an enemy doesn’t turn its citizens into subhumans who we can kill at will. There’s less and less tolerance for treating women as inferior to and under the rule of men. Greed is certainly still rampant, but there are powerful, wealthy men and women who have made it their life’s goal to improve life for others. We’re still a hot mess, but bit by bit, in the hearts of people, we are putting those old enemies under the foot of Christ.

I don’t think it’s any coincidence that as this happens, more and more people are walking away from the church. For the most part, they are not walking away, as some religionists imagine, to live lives of debauchery and selfishness. Rather, people are seeking ways to be good without anyone trying to teach them to “know the Lord”. Whether they realize it or label it as such, more and more people are embracing what our faith says at the outset – that their heart is made in the very image of Love. And they are looking to see what Love has written on it.

Now, I don’t mean to imply that we’re just a half step away from some progressive utopia where everyone follows their own heart to their own bliss. In fact, I suspect that humanity’s about to explode and it’s going to be a hell of a storm before we get to calm. But that’s a story for another day. All I am saying is that when I look around, I am seeing the first dawning of new light. Candles being lit to provide light through the storm, most likely.

It seems to be my lot lately to tell you things you won’t hear taught in church. And what I’m saying most certainly isn’t being taught in any church which hasn’t decided to use a nautilus shell in place of some recognizably Christian symbol. But let me ask you something. How do you suppose the church will react when the day comes that God’s law and word is written on each person’s heart and no one will teach their brother to “know the Lord”? Do you really think they’ll be pleased? Do you really think they will be quick to say, “follow what God has put in your heart, not what man (including our pastor) teaches”? That seems very unlikely to me.

It seems much more probable that there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Hangwringing over the death of Christianity. Attempts to condemn and guilt those leaving into coming back under their control. Endless attempts to lure people back, figure out where it all went wrong, staunch the flow of those leaving, etc, etc, etc. As Paul said in Hebrews 8:13, when something becomes obsolete, it begins disappearing. It’s dying. And dying hurts.

Now, am I saying that we are seeing the beginning of the death of the church? Um . . . kind of. But it’s a spiritual death, not destruction. Like all death, it’s not the end. It will eventually give way to new life. What that might look like is what I’ll be discussing later this week.

In the meantime, I know that there are a lot of people who have left the church, although they certainly have not left God. And I know that there are a lot of people who are very concerned about what appears to be decline in the church. But this is really what’s supposed to happen. We’re not going to be teaching each other and telling each other “know the Lord” forever. And we shouldn’t be too alarmed to see it start to happen.

I’ve seen the future of the church in my own living room and it looks like a kid who hasn’t been in a church in 7 years, is secure in his identity as an image bearer, who loves God and seeks his ways, has read his bible and just doesn’t worry too much more about it. It’s what freedom in Christ looks like, it seems to me.

Posted on 5 Comments

Breaking Rules, Following God

pp-e1There’s a saying in jazz that you have to learn the rules before you can break them. Music has certain underlying structures – rhythms, chords, harmonies, counterpoints, etc. If you don’t understand these structures and the rules that govern how they can come together to make an enjoyable song, you’re going to be a lousy composer.

Once you’ve mastered the rules, if you have some talent for such things, you can create an ear-tickling tune with them. And then, but only then, will you have the know how and judgment required to take all those rules and break them. Someone who hasn’t mastered the rules of music can break all the rules and create an ear-splitting cacophony. Someone who has mastered the rules, on the other hand, can break all the rules and create a beautiful, engaging, challenging and enjoyable piece of music.

This is how it works with all creative endeavors. That painting at the top of this post was done by Picasso. Phillip Glass, the modern American composer, is a trained student of the Western canon. Walt Wittman wrote conventional, metered poetry before publishing Leaves of Grass.

Occasionally, someone with innate genius benefits from not being properly trained and is able to create something new and innovative. But as a general rule, anyone who has a creative or artistic vision they want to bring to life must first master the underlying rules.

So, let’s bring this adage – you have to learn the rules before you can break them – into our own lives. In my last post, I pointed out that God’s first act with Adam was to ask him to act independently, using his own judgment and take on a role of power and responsibility.

This is quite the contrast to what we are usually taught in our churches. There, we are taught that we should seek God’s will, not our own. That we should lean not on our own understanding, but trust God’s instructions. That rather than following the path which seems right to us, we should follow the path which is obedient to God.

And you know what? All of those teachings from the church come right out of the bible. They aren’t lying or misleading anyone by teaching such things. And yet, right there at the very beginning of our faith’s account of our relationship with God, we see God handing Adam power and responsibility to act independently and use his own judgment. So what gives?

You have to learn the rules before you can break them.

Back at the beginning, God had Adam come up with names – consistent symbolic vocalizations – for the animals around him. Then he gave mankind just a couple of jobs. Tend to the garden and make babies. This was the level that Adam was working at: using words, getting food and having sex. Sort of like a young musician being given scales to practice. Basic, necessary, able to be mastered given a bit of time and dedication.

Once the serpent played his nasty little part, mankind suddenly needed to be able to improv a symphony all on his own. Living as God – as one who knows good and evil – is a much more complicated affair than remembering what a lion is called during an emergency, planting seeds and playing hide the sausage. We had never learned the underlying rules needed to live as one who knows good and evil. 

Frankly, I don’t think we humans have ever really faced up to the fact that we have no idea what we’re doing. We’re really good at talking, eating and having sex, but that’s about it. When it comes to loving each other, organizing just societies, raising kids, dealing with differences and coping with life’s difficulties, we’re like a blind man telling a deaf guy how beautiful the sunset is. But rather than just admitting that, we insist that we know what we’re doing just fine and how dare you say otherwise! Poison ivy crotch coverings are all the rage in Paris this year! 

The problem, it seems to me, is that the fruit of knowing good and evil is the right to declare judgment regarding what is good and evil. We got the fruit – the drive to judge – without ever having gained the prerequisite knowledge, understanding and skills needed to execute.

Basically, we’re a bunch of ignoramuses who think we know everything. And as any teacher knows, there’s no student so difficult to teach as one who thinks they already know everything. Which is exactly the task which God has been faced with lo these many millenia.

So, when the bible and our churches tell us to seek God’s will, study his word, be obedient, etc, it’s for a very good reason. In doing these things we are learning how to live as those who know good and evil. If we don’t submit to God’s ways and learn the lessons to be found in doing things his way, we will never master the underlying rules of life and love. And if we haven’t mastered these rules, then we will not have the skills, knowledge or judgment it takes to know how and when to break them.

God’s intention when making mankind was for us to live our own lives. He even made us our own world. We got to name the animals all by ourselves. We were asked by the Lord God Almighty to use our own creativity and make our own decisions. That’s how it’s supposed to be. But until we have submitted to the discipline of learning and practicing the rules, we are clanging gongs and crashing cymbals, calling ourselves jazz masters.

But as many of us have learned, after a while, God’s will becomes harder to find. Simply submitting to the rules starts to require finding an impossible balance between love and righteousness. And obeying becomes a problem when God won’t tell you what to do and you’re faced with the choice of obeying what your love trained heart instructs and what the church or other Christians say God requires.

What the church won’t tell you is that when that happens, it’s a sign that you’re ready to start breaking some rules. In fact, this is what God’s been preparing us for.

Your life is your artwork. It’s the story you write and the music you create. Yes, God wants you to learn the rules and master the cannon. But God’s also a creator – the master artist. When the day comes that you’re ready to start breaking the rules and creating a whole new ways of living out the love he’s taught you, know that he gets it. In fact, he wouldn’t have it any other way.  

Posted on 9 Comments

Who’s In Charge Around Here Anyhow?

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you are well aware that I have a bit of an obsession with the creation stories in Genesis. (No, I don’t read them literally – I take them waaaaaaaaaay too seriously to inflict that sort of nonsense on the text which all but screams “this is a mythological telling, not a history lesson!”) If you could make money by meditating on and studying these stories, I would uber rich. But, alas, God pays in insight and wisdom, not cash. I know he says that wisdom is to be valued above rubies, but try telling that to the electric company – “here, take some wisdom. It’s worth more than that money you keep demanding!”

Anyhow, what I want to talk about today is the first thing God ever did with Adam (read mankind). Even before there was man and woman. Even before he assigned us the job of raising food and making babies. Even before he warned not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Do you know what he did? He had man name the animals. Isn’t that amazing? Can you believe it?

Alright, alright. Some of you just started wondering if I’ve been smoking something. The answer is yes. I had a cigarette a couple of hours ago. Don’t tell anyone.

So the naming of the animals doesn’t seem that remarkable or amazing. Just one of those odd, throw-away details that trying to read the text as history obscures. But it’s revolutionary. It could change everything. Really. Allow I to explain.

It’s a common narrative in Christian teachings that God is in charge of everything. Some people take it to the extreme of saying that every bridge collapse, every act of abuse, every sickness is the direct result of God, in his infinite wisdom, specifically causing that event and its results to occur. Most of us are unwilling to take it to that extreme. We punt and say that God is in charge but allows, rather than causes, terrible things to happen for mysterious reasons.

Now, contrast that view with the very first thing God does with mankind. God doesn’t start by offering instructions, demanding obedience or demonstrating his power. Quite to the contrary. The first thing God does with man ask him to act independently, according to his own judgment. He doesn’t bring the animals to Adam and tell him what they are called. He brings the animals to Adam and has Adam tell God what they are called. Instead of God putting on a display of God’s own power, God has Adam put on a display of mankind’s power. Think about that. Isn’t that amazing? Can you believe it?

This small, seemingly insignificant detail reveals something very important about God’s desire for us and our relationship with him. Naming has long been considered an act of power and responsibility. Far from being a God whose sovereignty demands that he maintain control over all things, we see a God who willingly and eagerly hands power and responsibility over to mankind.

When was the last time a pastor or Christian teacher told you that God wants mankind to take hold of our own power and responsibility? Most of us have probably never heard such a thing taught. God wants us to be obedient, to submit to his will, to hand over control to him. If a Christian pastor had written Genesis, God would brought the animals to Adam, told him what their names were and given instructions for how to deal with each. And then he would have monitored the situation to make sure Adam was using the right names and following the instructions. Yet the God in scripture puts mankind in charge and doesn’t come back until he’s taking his evening stroll through the garden.

Now, am I claiming that we don’t need to worry about being obedient to God, seeking his will, etc? Nope. Not at all. I’m going to get into that in my next blog post, in fact. But for today, this is my point: in the beginning, before it all went wrong, God’s first priority was empowering man to use his own judgment and act independently. Through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, our relationship with God is redeemed, corrected, healed and restored. God’s first desire for mankind was that we be empowered, given responsibility and control. And that’s still his intention for us – that we would be empowered to use our own judgment and make our own choices. Isn’t that amazing? Doesn’t that have the potential to change everything?

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. ~ T.S. Elliot

Posted on 3 Comments

We Are One

“As man advances in civilization, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races.” ~ Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man

“For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” ~ Romans 12: 4-5

“I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity.” ~ Jesus

Years ago, I saw a Centrum Vitamin commercial which helped me conceive of what it looked like for humanity to be one. Seriously. The commercial used what is called a video mosaic where many small images are arranged in a grid to create a larger picture. In this commercial, videos of people doing all sorts of everyday things like arranging flowers, jogging, eating, hugging, etc were placed in a grid to create a larger image of a woman running.

It sounds odd to say that a commercial for vitamins helped me understand the oneness of humanity. But this visualization did make it much easier to conceive of what has long been a rather esoteric idea. That humanity is one – a body made of many humans.

The bible teaches that we are one body with many parts and various spiritual teachers have long taught that we are one. Even in Genesis, when God made Adam, it ought to be read as God making a man called Adam as well as him making mankind – Adam being not just a name, but the hebrew word for mankind.

It seems to me that at the moment, with so many of us not living according to our true identity as image bearers, we make a rather fuzzy, headache inducing image. We’re like a TV getting a bad signal. If (when?) the day comes that each of us recovers our true identity, we will create a coherent image of humanity living together and reflecting God’s image both individually and as a whole..

Another way to think of it is to consider a human body. At the time Paul wrote his words about us being like a body with many parts, it was not yet understood that a body is made up of cells. Thus we get the rather clumsy analogy of hands and feet. But if we take that same idea – that we are one body with many parts – and apply our modern knowledge of the body, we get a better idea of the truth which Paul was trying to explain. Instead of being a foot or a hand, we are like cells in body.

There are many, many kinds of cells in our body. A body where each of the cells are functioning properly is a healthy, long lived body. But a body where there are a lot of sick, malformed or malfunctioning cells is in poor health and will likely have a shortened life span.

This analogy illustrates the futility of trying to deny that we are all one. There is a tendency for us to think that so long as I am doing OK, I don’t need to concern myself too much with whether other people are OK. What difference does it make to me if a bunch of little kids are in slavery on the other side of the world? It sucks to be them right? However, we’d do well to remember that at the point of death, nearly all of the cells in a person’s body are working just fine. Until they all end up dead because of those that aren’t.

So, if we are all connected and the well being of people I don’t even know is intimately tied to my own survival, what does that actually mean for each of us? Well, I would say that the first thing it means is that we each have an obligation to make sure our own picture is clear and our own cell is working properly, so to speak. If our identity is false and distorted, then we are part of what is keeping humanity from creating a clear image of God. If we are harboring disease, cancers and dysfunction in our own little cell, we are putting the survival of the whole body at risk.

The second thing is that we can bring this wisdom to the rest of the body. We can be teaching people, regardless of the circumstances they are in and the sin they are engaged in, of their true identity as image bearers. This is a very healing message that people need to know. Who among us isn’t trying to figure out who they are? Well, we have the answer. Our true identity is love. The more we orient ourselves to love, the clearer the image becomes and the healthier the body is.

We can also be more aware of the connection we have with every other person and behave accordingly. None of us can do everything, but we can all do something. We can take seriously God’s priorities – he made the body, he knows how it works and can be healed. If he says that the medicine we need is to prioritize the needs of the poor, outcast and undesirable, to love our enemies and not resist them, to die to everything that isn’t him, then we need to trust that this is the temporarily painful cure.

Seeing the ways that humanity is one can be overwhelming and frankly discouraging. Along with allowing us to see just how connected we all are, our modern world is also allowing us to see the problems and suffering of humanity all at once. Even if I devote myself to serving and healing people in really radical ways, I’m just one person out of many billions. It’s easy to lose heart and hope.

But small doses of medicine can cure a disease that would otherwise kill an entire body. All the white blood cells in our body probably make up a few cups of material. Heck, Jesus left behind a couple dozen devoted followers. And it changed the world.

When a picture on a TV is fuzzy, it’s because each little pixel is fuzzy and distorted. As it becomes clearer, it’s like each pixel gets clearer and more precise and pulls the surrounding pixels along with it into alignment.

We should not underestimate the effect we can have just doing our little part. Or of allowing God to do his work in us. Yes, the job of healing humanity is bigger than each of us. But that’s true of us as individuals as well. After all, the salvation of each human comes through Jesus. It’s his work which has had and continues to have such a strong effect on humanity. And as it is true for each human, it is true for humanity as a whole.

Posted on 5 Comments

Meditate Like Jesus

jesus-meditating

What if I told you that I held the secret to meditating like Jesus did? And that I have been practicing it with amazing results for 15 years? And I can teach you the secret to meditating like Jesus did. Would you pay me $29.95 for access to an online book explaining the secret of this great mystery? Pay to attend a seminar to learn under my expert guidance? How about if I threw in a money back guarentee – use the technique for 90 days and if you are not completely satisfied, I’ll refund your money (upon receipt of documented evidence of practicing this meditation technique for 90 days, of course).

Yeah, well, if you want to send me money, you are always welcome to – there’s a donation button on the right side of the page on my site. But don’t worry – I’m just going to tell you what I know. Making a book, seminar or marketing plan out of it sounds like way too much work. Maybe one day when I’m feeling less busy/lazy, I’ll work up the ambition to build a multi-million dollar enterprise sharing my expertise as a spiritual scam artist leader.

First, a quick confession; I don’t actually know what I’m talking about. I have learned to pray and meditate almost entirely by instinct and/or following the lead of the Holy Spirit. I’ve never read a book or had any training or gone on a retreat to learn to meditate properly. I’ve probably read a couple of magazine articles or blog posts over the years, but that’s about it. My only actual training in prayer was memorizing prayers for Catholic catecism classes when I was a kid. So what I share is my own idiosyncratic understanding which may or may not meet the standards of Meditation, Inc.

So, first allow me to explain my own understanding of how to meditate, which probably isn’t too much different than anyone else’s. Then I’ll explain the part about meditating like Jesus. (Which may or may not actually be how Jesus meditated, but we’ll get to that in a minute.)

Because I was Catholic when I started learning to meditate, I used a candle. Catholics really like candles, you know. I would simply look at the flame of a burning candle and try to focus on nothing but the black wick at the center of the flame. Of course, this is almost impossible to do right off the bat. Your brain keeps wandering off and before you know it, you’re trying to figure out why Justin Donnelly, the boy whose children you plan on having, should he ever notice your existance, has a British accent even though he’s been attending school with you in the midwestern United States since second grade. Once I realized that my mind was wandering, I’d just let it go and refocus on the flame. Over and over and over and over.

I won’t go through the whole process, which I’m sure has been documented in excruciating detail elsewhere, but eventually the brain chatters itself out. It’s replaced by silence, for just a few seconds at first. But eventually, for extended periods of time you can silence your brain and just focus on your breathing or a flame or a word. This can take time – like years. My sister once attended a week long, silent meditation retreat in Thailand and was able to do it in 5 days. I’m sure she could give you a reference if you need one.

Being able to meditate like this is a great skill to have. And it is a skill which requires regular practice. But for my purposes, being able to sit with a blank mind without thinking wasn’t really the point. Yes, there are benefits to meditating in this fashion, like reducing stress, increasing mindfulness, etc. But this is my own idiosyncratic version, so for me, being able to sit with a silent mind wasn’t an end to itself.

Rather, the bible says repeatedly that we should meditate on God’s word and ways. For me, being able to get my mind blank and quiet provided a good, clean starting place for me to do this. I could introduce a bit of scripture or an idea into my meditation time and rather than having a brain that wandered off or engaged in free-association from the starting point, I could concentrate fully on what I was meditating on. The thoughts which came up were purposeful rather than random. Often I could see connections or gain a deeper understanding while engaging in this sort of meditation.

So, that’s all well and fine, but I started by positing that I might know the secret to meditating like Jesus did. And I might even have been practicing it for many years. Which might be true. You see, many years ago, I read an article, written by a Jewish person, which claimed that the ancient Hebrew style of meditation was to take two ideas which were seemingly in conflict with each other and meditate on them. The ancient Hebrew thinkers, they said, would hold these two seemingly opposing ideas together in their mind until the connections between them revealed themselves. In the end, not just the connections, but the interdependance of thse two seemingly opposing ideas would become clear and then the meditator would be able to see the reality of the situation and why God had made it so.

It’s been many years since I read this and honestly, I’ve never been able to find this explanation for how the ancient Hebrews meditated anywhere else. So maybe the ancient Hebrews really did meditate this way and maybe they didn’t. But when I read that, it occurred to me that, if this were true, then this would be how Jesus had meditated. Plus, it seemed like a good approach to try and I did.

After many years of engaging in this sort of meditation, I am inclined to think that this may well have been how Jesus meditated on God, scripture and theology. If you look at his teachings, you can see that he was the master of the third way. That he was able to find a way to be faithful to scripture without ever sacrificing the primacy of the command to love God, neighbor and self. In my experience, meditating in this way – by taking two things which appear to be in conflict and holding them side-by-side – is an excellent way to find this third way. Especially, if you choose Love as your north star – the thing that everything must be measured by – this sort of meditation does allow you to see connections, recognize what’s extraneous or an unwarrented assumption and eventually, how what you once though was in conflict fits together.

I suppose that I really could write a book or put together a seminar or retreat explaining the ins and outs of how this works. But this is a blog post, so you’re getting the cheapy, free version. 😉 However, if you are intrigued and want to give it a try, I’ll just leave you with a few tips.

First, examples of subjects which this style of meditation can be useful for:

  • Bible verses which appear to contradict
  • The science of creation vs the creation stories in Genesis
  • Christian customs or teachings which are in conflict with human nature or culture (ie women’s roles, homosexuality, wealth)
  • Theodicy – why we live in a world where there’s suffering if God is good

When you have a subject you are meditating on, these can be useful questions to ask yourself:

  • What if this were true?
  • What if I let go of this assumption?
  • Why do I think this must be true/false?
  • Am I making connections between things that aren’t really connected?
  • Is there a different way of understanding this word or concept?

And finally, if you do adopt this method of meditation, know that it’s not a quick fix. On occasion, I puzzle something out quickly, But there are subjects I’ve been meditating on, off and on, for years. Usually, you gain greater understanding without necessarily resolving the whole issue. So it’s not a panacea.

As for whether this is actually a good way to figure out what is true or just a nice way to make your own arguments, I’ll just share this. Over the years it has been incredibly common for people to ask me, “have you been reading so-and-so? Because what you’re saying sounds an awful lot like what he writes about in such-and-such.” The answer, nearly 100% of the time is no, I haven’t read and unless they are a church father, I probably haven’t even heard of the person they are asking about. My book budget is non-existent and I don’t have the sort of education where one would read or learn about various theologians. Nearly always, what I’m sharing which bears such a strong resemblance to what someone else says comes out of this habit of meditating.

Because we each bear God’s image, I believe that we each carrying within us the answers to everything. It’s just a matter of uncovering them and separating the wheat from the chaff and what is particular to me from what is universal. So, maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I can’t help but think that the frequency that I am told that what I am saying is much the same as what some church mother or father or some theologian says is a pretty good sign that this way of meditating has been quite productive for me. I think it’s a bit like how scientific discoveries or inventions tend to pop up in multiple places with multiple people all at once – a sign that something solid has been hit on. Or the way evolution tends to produce the same traits repeatedly in different places and settings – a sign that something useful has been produced. The fact that I’m often reaching conclusions that others have seems to be a good indicator that meditating like Jesus (presumably) did works.

Anyhow, if I ever decide to become a charletan guru and sell my super secret, revolutionary method for meditating like our Lord and Savior, y’all will be the first to know. In the meantime, give it a go yourself!

Related: Just A Housewife

Posted on 24 Comments

For When You Can’t Function

a5b7d8930487bd798420ced547722774698e3403776e4ea866bc5586dd5631fa

Now here’s a subject I know a bit about – not being able to function. By which I mean not being able to engage in normal activities like writing or cleaning or answering emails or having conversations which require saying something other than “uh huh”, “you don’t say” and “I need to go lay down for a little bit”.

So, my apologies for the long silence. And double apologies to those of you whose emails I haven’t answered. I’ve been too focused on enduring to figure out things to say. Sending pages and pages of uuuuuuugh and grrrrrr and uroawooonmnuuuurg didn’t seem appropriate.

It’s always uncomfortable and a bit embarrassing to find yourself unable to do anything other than endure, but it turns out that enduring is a skill that God holds in high regard. Romans 5:3 says that endurance leads to character which leads to hope. Timothy 2:12 says that if we endure, we will reign with Christ. You look at me and see a big blob doing nothing, but God looks at me and sees me being prepared to rule the universe. Or something.

Anyhow, my point, such as it is, is that enduring is something we have to be able to do sometimes. Life is hard. Depression’s a nasty bitch. Beds are soft and brownies are comforting.

So, for those of you who are struggling to endure, I’d like to share this bunch of words I miraculously strung together that I use to keep myself enduring for just a little bit longer. I hope they help you as well. If they don’t, that’s totally cool. Feel free to say, “eff off, Rebecca. You have no idea . . .” Just do it in your head and not in the comments because while I totally understand, I totally don’t want to hear it.

Anyhow. Here you go:

You are fine. And you can do this. Maybe not right this very moment, but that’s OK. You don’t have to be able to function and overcome every single moment of your life. You’ve been able to function and handle life plenty of times before and at some point, you’ll get a few moments where you’re able to do that again. And that’s enough. A few of those moments are more powerful than all the hours when sucking air takes all of your strength.

When you sit down and find yourself unable to move again, it’s OK. You don’t have to fight it. You don’t have to feel weak or guilty. It will pass. We all get too sick to move sometimes; this is no different. Just sit and when the moment passes, you’ll get back up. No use beating yourself up in the meantime. Nothing wrong with just sitting for a spell.

Don’t tell yourself that you can’t function any more. You can. Just not right this moment. It’s OK. You don’t have to function well all the time. There are times when you function just fine. And sometimes you may not be fully functional, but you’re also not immobilized. If you can’t move or think or function at the moment, it’s no big deal. There are other moments, moments when you don’t have to think to breath or struggle to move while the pain blanket is smothering you. And in those moments, you are downright amazing. It’s no wonder you sometimes hit a wall – being that amazing takes a lot out of a person.

It doesn’t matter if right this moment, you can’t feel or believe it, but you are fine. Don’t fall for the guilt and condemnation. You don’t owe anyone a clean house or folded laundry or three blog posts a week or dinner at 6 or a face with make-up on it or anything at all except, so far as it is in your power, to be here tomorrow and the next day and the day after that. So just make that happen and it’s enough. The people who love you want you more than they want anything else in this world.

Don’t tell yourself that no one loves you and that you’re not important. It doesn’t matter if you can’t feel it or receive love right now. When the wind blows against the window, you don’t say it’s not real because you can’t feel it moving against your skin. You know the wind is blowing even when you can’t feel it. It’s the same with the love people have for you.

Not being able to feel or receive love or joy or the good of the world doesn’t means you are wrong or broken. It’s not always a sign that you need to change or do something. I’m sure a massage isn’t particularly enjoyable to someone who’s been hit by a Mack truck either. It can take a lot of time and meds and healing for the pain to get thin enough for the good to get through.

Sometime today or tomorrow or the next, you will see someone who is joyful. A child who made a painting for you. A dog who is so happy you’re home that they can’t control the urge to jump and run. A teen who laughs until they cry at a joke about bodily functions. A spouse who’s elated at having nailed the presentation. When that happens don’t regret that you can’t feel or share their joy. Instead, take a moment to stand in awe that such joy exists. When all you can do is endure, you understand better than anyone else what a miracle and wonder it is that joy exists at all.

Posted on 7 Comments

The Least Have the Answers

Back when I was pregnant with my oldest son, I wound up without a place to live. The counselor at the crisis pregnancy center which was helping me navigate this time reluctantly referred me to a homeless shelter/half-way house for single moms as a last resort. She didn’t come right out and say it, but my sense was that she was none too impressed with the way the program there was run.

And she was right. In the year and a half that I lived there, not one of the women who went through the program was able to move from the shelter into independent living. They were all either kicked out or ended up moving into another unstable setting to get away. When I asked the social worker who we met with regularly, she could only think of one former resident who had moved on to independent living after her time there. And that was because she had scored a section 8 voucher. Given that the stated goal of the program was to move single moms from homelessness to independent living, this was kind of a big deal.

A few months after I moved in, the leadership of the program announced that they were re-hauling the program and the house rules women had to abide by. They asked us to write down any suggestions we had for how to make the program more effective and our lives better. Me being me, I wrote a very long, thoughtful list of changes that I thought would help, complete with explanations.

Several months later, the board of the organization put out the new rules. Of all the suggestions I and other women in the program had made, just one was adopted; we would now be allowed to have Christmas trees. Not only were none of our suggestions adopted, but the new rules actually moved in the opposite direction of what we had said would be helpful to us.

After the new rules were implemented, women cycled in and out of the program faster than before. I was eventually kicked out for taking on a second job without discussing it with the social worker. My now-husband arranged for me and our son to sleep on a his friend’s pull-out sofa for a few months while I tried to find someplace safe that would rent someone under the age of 25 with bad credit. I had never met the woman before I showed up with my bags and kid.

The people who ran the program, when asked about their lack of success in reaching their stated goal, would sigh and say it just shows how hard it is to work with people who wind up in trouble. Frankly, if your program is unable to help a compliant, college educated young woman from an upper-middle class background, who doesn’t party, has worked continually since age 10 and has never been in trouble with the law to get on her feet, it’s safe to say that your program doesn’t work.

The reason I’m sharing this story is to illustrate why it is we as a society cannot solve the problems we face. The problem with this program was the same problem that nearly all programs meant to help those in need have. It was designed and run by successful people according to their experiences and assumptions about how the world works. And that’s why that program didn’t work and why most government social programs don’t work and even why so many schools don’t work.

We have this tendency to think that if we want something fixed, we should listen to people who are successful. It makes a certain sense. If you’ve succeeded, then you know how to succeed and can share the answers with others who would like to succeed.

However, before I became a homeless, single mom or got involved with the man from a bad family who is now my husband, I came from a family of 2%ers. My dad and his three siblings all have masters degrees. His dad was trained at Harvard by the Army during WWII and went on to be president of a company. Two of my mom’s siblings are multi-millionaires. So, I was born, bred and raised among successful people.

I’ve seen people at both the top and at the bottom, up close and personal. And I have a secret for you; if you want answers for how to help people who are struggling and failing, don’t ask successful people. Ask the people who are struggling and failing.

The answers which successful people have for how to overcome adversity are the same answers that everyone has. They don’t have anything unique to offer in that respect. They also don’t have any real understanding of the problems people face.

In fact, I can say from experience, when you are successful it’s hard to grasp that there really are problems. It’s hard to understand why what made you successful won’t work for everyone else. From the vantage point of the sort of person who makes rules, starts programs and runs things, the problem must be with the people – they just aren’t willing to do it right.

People on the bottom have answers that people on the top don’t. They know why people aren’t doing it right. They know what the obstacles to doing it right are. They know the obstacles people face even when they are doing it right. They know what people need in order to overcome those obstacles. In fact, if you look at the few social programs which are working, nearly all of them are run by people from the bottom.

Of course, we humans aren’t in the habit of listening to people at the bottom. They are losers, failures, suspect. What do they know about how to suceed? If they were so smart, they wouldn’t be in a position of needing help, right?

The governing board of the shelter I was at didn’t listen to any of the opinions of the women living there in good part because they didn’t trust us. They were like multi-millionaire lawmakers who are reluctant to build a safety net, lest people lose the drive to support themselves. They thought our goal was to avoid being responsible and disciplined and saw it as their job to force responsibility and discipline on us. They couldn’t imagine that we might understand our problems better than they did. They were sucessful people with families and homes. We had failed at life before we had even started. Clearly, they knew better than we did.

This is a common problem; even when people at the bottom can make their concerns and ideas heard, we don’t trust them enough to listen. We look for any excuse to ignore, discount and disagree. We refuse to consider that perhaps the people at the bottom are able to see things that people at the top don’t. We refuse to believe that the world is so hostile or the odds so stacked. And frankly, we often refuse to listen to people at the bottom because the problems they point to seem too large and intractible to be solved.

The thing is that while successful people rarely understand what the problems are, successful people often have skill sets, networks and experience that people at the bottom don’t have. And those things can be incredibly valuable. Someone at the bottom often knows just what needs to be done to help people, but lacks the skills, networks and experience to make that happen. So it’s not that successful people don’t have anything to offer.

We all know that Jesus said that his followers were to serve those in need and to consider the last to be first and the first to be last. Usually, we see this as a call to alleviate suffering, show compassion and grow in love. Which is certainly true. But I also think that these teachings are a bit of a trail of crumbs he left for us as well. That he knew the answers to the problems we face would be found among the least and not the greatest. Besides, Jesus said that what we do for the least of these, we are also doing for him. Might Jesus who says if we love him, we will listen to his words, also expect us to listen to, learn from and take seriously what the least have to say? It is very much how his upside down Kingdom works, no?

Posted on Leave a comment

The Tree, The Fish and The Light

Once upon a time, in the deep recesses of time on this planet, there was some slime. Or maybe it was bacteria. Slimey bacteria? I don’t really know. I wasn’t there and I’m not actually a scientist. But there was something alive. It was in water, consumed energy and could reproduce itself.

Rain Forest-2 (Canopy Tower)One day, a bit of this slime got left in a puddle on the beach and survived. Then little by little, over the course of more time than you or I can imagine, it changed. It left the water and adapted to dry land and became a plant. It could take the light of the sun and use it to grow itself. The plant loved the sun. At every chance, it would adapt to grow higher and higher, ever closer to the sun it needed, loved and desired. When many eons had passed, what had once been slime left on the beach, had given way to trees so tall they seemed to scrape the sky. And yet, no matter how much of the sun they took in or how high they grew, the trees could never reach the sun. There would always be a space between the trees and the object of their desire.

While the slime that got left on the beach was morphing into mighty trees, another bit of slime was far out at sea. Over the eons, it adapted and morphed until it became a fish. At first the fish kept close to the surface, eating what grew in the sun. But as time went on, the sun became bothersome, the food more plentiful down below. And the fish adapted bit by bit to delving deeper and deeper into the sea. Like the trees, the fish was seeking life, but instead of reaching for the light, the darkness pulled it deeper and deeper in its quest.

The light became faint and the fish grew accustomed to living in a twilight world. But still something kept drawing it deeper. At the same time the trees were striving to meet the sun, the fish had all but lost its eyes in the darkness. It could hardly fathom the world it had known so many generations before when it had swum where the sun shone. The fish came to think that the darkness was all there was and that it was endless.

biolumBut a funny thing happened. One generation, the fish began to glow a bit. And in what seemed like the blink of the eye in the scheme of things, the fish didn’t just glow, Its light could blink and flash and dazzle in the dark depths. The fish had found life and become light there in the inky blackness.

The slime that became the tree was doomed to forever seek, but never reach the light it loved so dearly.  It took dwelling in complete darkness for the slime which became the fish to discover that it carried light within itself.

And so it is with man. We can seek after the light of God with all our might, but we will never own it that way. It is only when we allow God to lead us into the darkness that we discover the light of God within our very being.

“Moses’ vision of God began with light; afterwards God spoke to him in a cloud. But when Moses climbed higher and became more perfected, he saw God in the darkness.” ~ Gregory of Nyssa

Posted on 5 Comments

Why Parents Should Meditate

Meditation is good for us. The bible tells us to meditate dozens and dozens of times. Modern science has shown that meditation changes the way our brains work and provides a host of physical and mental health benefits. Everyone should learn to meditate.

While meditation is good for everyone, it is essential for parents. In fact, I think it is safe to say that if I didn’t meditate, I would be unable to parent my 5 children without the assistance of weed or booze to smooth things out. But because I meditate, I am usually an oasis of peace in the middle of chaos, even while sober.

When you meditate, you learn to tune out your senses – or at least not give them center stage. Which is really helpful when a kid spilled milk in the car without your knowing it. If you haven’t learned to meditate and tune out your senses, the smell of spoiled milk every time you get in the car might really bother you. Not so for the meditating parent.

When you meditate, you learn to quiet or take no notice of the chattering little voices in your head which insistently demand your attention. This is an essential skill for parents when several children gang up on you demanding ice cream and a pony. You just use the skills you have developed through hours of meditation and those chattering, insistent voices quickly fade away, leaving you free to contemplate what it would actually be like to have a pony in the backyard. As with meditation, when you take no notice of the chattering voices of children demanding that you give your full attention to every inanity of life, they wear themselves out and go away.

Meditation also develops your powers of concentration. Which is helpful when you’re trying to pay enough attention to what your daughter is saying so you can keep track of who is mad at whom today and what each person’s favorite My Little Pony character is. When you’re stuck in the house all day with small children, you take your gossip where you can get it, so this is very important.

The ability to tame your brain and concentrate is also helpful when you have a kid who wants to explain, in minute detail, an epic pokemon battle he saw on youtube. The control over your brain developed through meditation allows you to tune him out entirely without him noticing. You just tune in a couple times a minute to repeat the last word or two you heard – “he used thunderbolt attack, mmhm.” Then your brain is free to plan your next meal, rehash your argument with your sister or find the answer to meaning of life. A parent who doesn’t meditate has to either let their kid know that you don’t care what they are talking about or be held hostage to a long diatribe about the evolution of Celibi, the guardian of the forest.

Another benefit of meditating is that you become more aware of what’s happening in the moment. My husband responds to the various screetches, yells, wails and shouts of our children with alarm and panic. He doesn’t meditate much and therefore has a hard time tuning into the details of the present moment in a pinch. He often struggles to discern the difference between the cry of a child whose finger has just been severed and a child who is losing an argument. But as a meditating parent who is in the moment, I can discern not only between serious injury and frustration. I can tell the difference between crying caused by injury that requires medical attention, injury which requires an ice pack and an over-reaction to a scratch. This greatly reduces the amount of panic in my life. It allows me to continue what I am doing until the child who is wailing comes to tattle on someone.

Now that I have teens, I have found that being an experienced meditator is even more essential than ever. For example, part of meditating is not responding to every thought, emotion and stimulus that comes up. Instead of reacting, you just observe. Let it be what it is. Which was helpful this afternoon when my son came home with two bows in his hair. Rather than reacting, I could simply observe that his hair looks cute with bows in it. When my other son decided to forgo a shower this morning, I was able to observe that the room he was sitting in smelled like cumin and politely told him to go shower before the odor seeped into the couch cushions.

People sometimes ask me how it is that I can raise 5 kids, keep my house from being condemned by the county and write. The answer, simply is meditation. If it wasn’t for meditation, I wouldn’t be able to write many of my blog posts like this (you only think I am kidding):

1382040410149

Related: Just a Housewife

Posted on 1 Comment

God’s Gifts

“The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” ~ John 3:8

It’s been a tumultuous few days here in Rebecca’s little world. Of course, what would the holiday season be without major upheavals and breakdowns to add onto the baggage they’re already carrying? On the upside, it’s so cold up here that the electric and gas companies can’t cut off our utilities until it stops snowing. Like in May. Ah – winter on the great Northern Tundra.

Anyway, none of that’s either here nor there. Suffice it to say, life is going on much as it has been lo these several years. Bad things happen. Nothing gets fixed. The past rises up to bite you in the ass. Fail. Get over it. Wash, rinse, repeat.

But strangely, this isn’t going to be one of my “woe-is-me” posts. This is a post about God’s gifts.

Last Monday, I woke up experiencing something I haven’t felt in a good, long while: peace. Kid you not – I haven’t had peace in ages. So it was rather odd to wake up with a sense of peace that “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” I went to bed just getting by and woke up with a sense of peace.

And it hit me that when God wants me to have peace, I will have peace. And when he wants me to wrestle with its absence, I will not have peace. Nothing I do can change that.

My peace or joy or anointing or whatever I am looking for comes from the hand of God according to what I need to grow and develop right in that moment. It’s not about whether he is happy or unhappy with me or if I’ve said the right incantation or adjusted my attitude just so or thought the right things.

I’d done all of that already and it hadn’t worked. Perhaps your instinct is to assume that the problem is that I wasn’t trying hard enough or hadn’t done it right. If that’s the case, your god is a monster. Because if my best isn’t good enough, then that path is too hard for any human to be expected to walk. If it takes more than I’ve already put into it, then the standard is cruel and inhuman.

I don’t care what any other teacher or pastor says. I’ve walked the path and learned that you don’t get peace or joy or anointing or any other good thing from the hand of God for doing or believing right or having the right attitude. You get those things because God gives them to you. Because he wants you to have them at just that moment. And when they are withdrawn, it’s not because you’ve screwed up or haven’t earned them. They get withdrawn because God sees a benefit to you doing without them just at that point in time.  These gifts are tools in God’s hands.

It was just so clear to me when I woke up last week with peace that it was a gift from God, not the result of anything I have done. And it was further clear to me that every other time I had experienced peace, it was like that. It had never been something I had created, but always a gift from the hand of God. Something he had wanted me to have.

And from the perspective of someone who knows, “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well”, I have some smidge of gratitude for the times God has withheld his gift. It seems that perhaps there comes a time when God can’t give you what you really need until you give up trying or maybe even desiring them. A gift isn’t a gift if it’s something owed or handed over on demand or required for survival, after all. 

The truth is that I’ve been getting along without my old friends peace or hope or joy or really much of anything else I wanted from the hand of God. After a while, I figured that for whatever reason, they just weren’t for me to have. That he was sending me on a path without them for reasons I can’t yet know and that I might continue to walk this uncomfortable, unrewarding path for the rest of my days.

I’d tried everything I could think of – spiritually and practically – to get off the path, change the path or look at the path differently. It was failure on top of failure until the failure began to give me some hope because only successful, important people fail this much!

But I woke up last week with peace. And I had nothing to do with it. My life circumstances certainly don’t have anything to do with it! It was God and God alone who decided that it is what I need for the moment.

If I hadn’t gone so long without peace that I had given up even wanting it, I wouldn’t know that. Deep down, I would still think that these gifts from God’s hands were a sign of how I was doing in life and on my spiritual walk. God’s gifts would be about how good I am; not how good God is. 

I think a lot of us are busy trying to figure God out – what’s his angle? How can I unlock the prize box? How do I figure out what he wants from me? What do I need to do to stay out of trouble? And then we view life through that lens. The rules are simple: if life is good, we’re doing it right. If life sucks, we’re doing it wrong.

But that’s not what’s happening. That’s not how God does it. God is at work causing all things to work together for the good of those who love him. People, not God, are responsible for nearly all the circumstances we find ourselves in. God’s job is to use whatever circumstance we face to shape, grow and redeem us. Spiritual gifts are tools he uses towards that end.

God’s like a master artist who knows just when to apply a stroke, just how heavy it needs to be, where is should go and how long it ought to be. When we have much, it is because God knows we need it. When we struggle with little, it’s because God knows we need to have little. So we can stop worrying and fussing when we find ourselves walking in a suffocating darkness. We can stop blaming ourselves when we’re missing a dear friend like peace or joy who has abandoned us. We can trust that where ever we find ourselves, it is where we need to be.

“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” ~ Julian of Norwich

Posted on 5 Comments

Take Courage

Courage

I think courage is a terribly underappreciated virtue. There’s a tendency to see courage as something a soldier or a superhero needs to face grave danger, while failing to realize how much courage everyday life requires. You can’t grow as a person or keep a living faith life without ample amounts of courage.

The Greek word for courage is tharseo. Jesus uses it four times. Three times it is when he tells someone he is healing, “take courage”. Healing doesn’t seem at first glance to be a situation which requires courage. Who could be afraid of being healed?

And yet, healing does require courage. It requires having the courage to consider that things might be better than they are. It requires learning to live from health where previously you had survived in misery. It means facing the world in a way which is new, unknown and different. Healing means you will not be the same person after you are healed that you were when you were sick. It means upsetting a lot of apple carts.

Strong’s Greek Dictionary says that tharseo literally means to “radiate warm-hearted confidence”. What does someone trapped in sickness, death and blindness know about being warm hearted and confident, much less radiating it? Jesus was asking the people he healed to do something they had no real experience doing before – radiate warm hearted confidence – be courageous.

Today we may or may not need physical healing, but all of humanity needs spiritual healing. We’ve all been made sick by our wounds, our sins and our fear. Jesus said he came to bind up the brokenhearted, comfort the mourning, set the prisoner free. He is as intent on healing our spirits, just as he healed people physically 2000 years ago.

And he still says, “take courage” to those he would heal. Because it takes courage to look at our wounds, our sins and our fear. It takes courage to be honest with ourselves, each other and God. It takes courage to let go of the life of suffering we are so accustomed to. It takes courage to embrace a new way of being.

So many people are spending their lives fleeing from what they fear will undo them. They are fleeing from failure, from shame, from disappointment, sometimes from reality itself. They cover themselves with accomplishments, money, relationships, distractions in their attempts to avoid facing what they need to be healed of. People who are fleeing from what they need to heal from will lie, cheat, steal, harden their hearts, hurt those closest to them. Anything to avoid looking into the abyss of fear, shame and pain they carry within.

And Jesus says, “take courage.” Healing takes courage. It takes courage to be honest about our failures, our wounds, our sin and fears. It takes courage to give up the tools that kept them at bay. It takes great courage to let go of what we have known and how we have survived up until now. Being healed is not for the faint of heart.

Is there something you are running away from? Something you have lacked the courage to face? Some wound, some failure in your past, some secret you carry and hide? Take courage, friend.

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” ~ Jesus, John 16:33

I pray today to you, Papa God who loves us, that you would make us men and women of courage and strength.

I pray that your perfect love would cast out our every fear.

I pray that we would move courageously into the healing you offer us.

I pray that you would grant us courage as free men and women, radiating warm-hearted confidence so that we can face, with you and the grace you offer, every monster, every secret, every wound, every lie and every harmful thing which has kept us in sickness and bondage.

I pray that we would know in our heart of hearts that we have been utterly released from any condemnation and shame. That no matter how frightening the sin or suffering we carry, that we would have full confidence that with your love and grace, it is already over come for us.

I pray that you would grant us the courage we need to step out of darkness and sin, sickness and blindness, death and fear and into the full light of your love.

May we move forward this day and always with hearts full of courage as we enter into the full healing which is your hearts desire for us.

Amen and amen.

Posted on 6 Comments

Ego and Pride, Compassion and Healing

wrong onceOver the last couple of weeks, I have found myself thinking about pride and the ego. There are no end of spiritual teachers who are falling all over themselves to tell us how awful pride and ego are. How they are the root of suffering. How they separate us from God and set us up for a fall. That we can’t live freely and fully until they are driven from our psyche or at least neutralized.

All of that is true, I suppose. But every time I read something about how awful our ego and pride are, I find that it just doesn’t resonate with me. I don’t find it helpful at all, frankly. Which is why I have been thinking and meditating on it recently. What are other people seeing that I am not?

I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason that all the railing against ego and pride doesn’t resonate is because it’s lacking in compassion towards poor, frightened, misguided ego and pride. Ego and pride aren’t our enemies to be fought and resisted, it seems to me. Rather they are parts of ourselves which are doing their best to survive in a world where we are lost, confused and frightened.

I first became aware of the power of pride and ego in my teens. I’ve always had an insatiable thirst for knowledge and understanding. But I had started to recognize that it was unreasonably painful to be wrong. It was actually hard to grow and learn new things because doing so meant facing my imperfections and errors. For some reason, the idea that I was wrong was often unbearably painful.

I realized that this was, first of all, ridiculous. The expectation that I would know everything and not need to grow and be right in all my thoughts and opinions at 16 was absurd. Logically, I could see how dumb this gut level reaction to things which challenged me was.

The other issue was that even at that age, it was my plan to continue learning and growing until the day I died. I seriously would say, even back in high school, that I looked forward to aging because I was excited to see what I would know and learn by then. (I’ve always been weird, yes.) Having to deal with this internal resistance and pain every step of the way was going to be a real problem.

As I thought about the problem, I realized that there was something really deep in me which felt it wasn’t OK to be wrong. That my worth as a human being was dependant on having it all together. I realized that there was a part of my psyche which was afraid that I was always in danger of being exposed as damaged, wrong, unworthy and therefor unlovable. It was this part of me which found the experience of changing or being wrong an intolerably painful threat.

I saw that pride was, for all its bluster and bravado simply the tool that the broken part of me threw up in an attempt to protect itself. It was strong, yes. But brittle. It didn’t like being challenged and did its best to remain invisible. The trick, I realized was to get it to relax. To let the broken part of me know that it was OK. If I am wrong, that’s OK. It’s not a threat.

“There’s no harm in considering a new idea,” I would tell it. “Let’s just ask ‘what if?’ and see what it would look like. Maybe we’ll even like it better than what we’re working with right now.”

In time, my pride became less forceful. My ego started to feel more comfortable and confident. It didn’t feel like it needed to be protecting itself and me all the time. Rather than fighting pride and ego, I began eagerly looking for signs that they were having a hard time. When ego and pride get prickly, that means there was something just itching to be healed or some false belief just dying to be soothed away.

Many people speak of dying to pride and ego. But I really prefer to view it as healing pride and ego. And yes, it does often feel like dying. Healing often does.

Sometimes ego and pride still cause problems for me. I have a persistent problem recognizing when I need to just acknowledge someone else’s feelings rather than arguing that they shouldn’t feel them, for example. I know that I don’t have as much joy in my life as God intends because my pride tells me the things meant to bring me joy aren’t important or impressive enough.

I hope that one day I’ll be healed and whole enough that ego and pride will just relax and melt into the rest of me. But in the meantime, they don’t frighten me. Sure they represent sin. But Jesus died for all that. I don’t need to deny their existence in order to look good – to myself or others. I refuse to blame them for all my suffering or think that they are an enemy to be vanquished. They’re just a sign that I’m still in the process of being redeemed. And a tool to be used to that end.

So my advice is this: if you’ve been convinced that ego and pride are a threat, an enemy and the source of your suffering, please reconsider. Might it not be that ego and pride are just as much the result of your suffering as the cause? That they are as deserving of compassion as anything in human existence? And that when you befriend rather than fight them, they can be valuable tools and allies in your quest to be conformed to the image of Christ in you? It’s been my experience anyways.

Posted on 5 Comments

Loving People, Loving God

good_samaritan_photoOne of the readings that day was from 1 John 4:20 which says in part, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” . . . While I can’t say that I hated anyone particularly, this reading challenged me. I knew that I loved God with all my heart, but people? Well, people were mean and obnoxious. They rejected you and treated each other terribly. Loving God was a lot easier than loving people. God is love. People are annoying. How could it be possible that I couldn’t truly love God unless I also loved people?

R. Trotter, The Upside Down World ~ A Book of Wisdom in Progress

For a long time, I believed that loving others was an act of love towards God. A way of serving him and living out the love you had for him. If you really love God, then you would love other people as well. If out of obedience if nothing else.

There is truth in that perspective. However, I’m coming to understand that the reality is much more profound. Notice that the scriptures say that if you do not love others, then you CANNOT love God. Not do not – cannot. It’s saying that you are not even capable of loving God if you do not love other people. Considered this way, a lot of what we think we know about God, love and our relationship with him gets turned right on its head.

The bible says that we love because God first loved us. That is, God’s love for us is the source of our ability to love. But it is only through loving other people that we gain the ability to love him in return.

The issue, it seems to me, is that we humans don’t really understand love. We think we do. But a quick glance around the world shows that we’re actually very bad at it. What we’re very good at, though, is self-justification. It doesn’t matter how wrong or how outlandish our treatment of others is, we can quite easily find a way to explain how our actions are actually loving. (Exhibit A: Westboro Baptist Church.)

As long as we allow our ideas about love to remain in the spiritual realm, we can continue being oblivious to just how bad and unloving they actually are. Our ability to receive feedback from or see results in spiritual realms is very limited, at best. So if I have the idea that it is loving to offer blood sacrifices to the gods, I can continue doing so indefinitely without ever learning that this isn’t actually a very good way to love God. 

In order to discern whether our ideas about love are accurate or not, we must test them here in the physical world. And this is why I think the bible says that we are not capable of loving God if we do not love other people. By applying our ideas about love to how we treat other people, we are able to see how well they actually work. If they don’t work so well here in the physical world, then that means we’re doing it wrong.

Learning to love other people becomes a way to test and correct our ideas about what love actually is, how it behaves and what it looks like in action. At least if we are open and humble enough to receive correction when we fail. Thus, as we love other people, our love gets purified. Which means that the love we direct back to God is also purified. We gain the ability to actually love God rather than direct our erroneous ideas about love back at him, calling that love.

Often, it is through learning to love others that our ideas about God, who is Love, get corrected as well. Let’s say that I see God as loving, but wrathful and angry. And then I have children. In the course of raising them and loving them, I discover that I am quick to forgive them, unwilling to allow any error or slight on their part to destroy our relationship and that I see them through eyes of understanding and mercy. At some point it may occur to me that God’s love must look more like my love for my child than like the stern, disappointed version of him I had in my head. Once I realize this, my love for God is able to be directed to God more as he actually is and less as I presume him to be.

And it’s not just about getting rid of our bad ideas about love. When we learn to love other people, it changes and shapes us. It drives out our pride. It teaches us patience, understanding and grace. Through loving other people, we take on more and more of the shape of that Love in whose image we are made. Unless that happens, what we consider love of God will be filled with pride, demands, conceit and judgment. It and we won’t look anything like Love.

Jesus famously says that on judgment day, he will welcome those who had cared for those in need. A lot of Christians, for all practical purposes, reject this. They see this as a demand for works and we can’t be saved by our works, of course. But once we understand that it is only through loving people that we gain the capacity to love God, Jesus’ words make more sense. He’s not saying that if you didn’t feed, cloth, visit and otherwise care for others, you haven’t done what is required to get into the Kingdom. He’s saying that if you haven’t done those things, then there’s no way you have the capacity to enter into the Kingdom. Because unless you know how to love people who you do see, you aren’t capable of loving God whose face you have yet to encounter.

Posted on 7 Comments

Of Teen Boys and Scantily Dressed Women

I don’t usually write about parenting, in part because it feels like tempting fate. I’ll write parenting advice and then my kids will end up being drug dealers, pornographers and going out in public dressed like a cartoon pony character. But there are a few things I’m pretty sure I’ve gotten right, so over the next couple of weeks I’m going to be sharing some ideas about parenting with y’all.

Today, I’m going to talk about the supposed problem of teen aged boys (and men) and the threat posed to them by girls and women who have the gall to walk about without their denim jumpers on. Really, this shouldn’t even be a thing that needs much discussion. But over the last few months, I’ve run across what seems like an increasing number of discussions on the subject. And more often than not, what I’m reading is alarming rubbish.

These discussions generally fall into two categories. Either they attempt to shame/scold/convict women into covering it up in consideration of the men who see them. Or they advise men on how to “bounce/avert their eyes” in order to avoid looking at the female forms wandering the streets around them.

As the mother of two teen boys (ages 14 and 18), I find both of these approaches infuriating and insulting. There is another way entirely to approach the subject. One which helps boys grow into, you know, mature adults who don’t think “boobies” every time a woman with some cleavage goes by. And which isn’t sexist and shaming to women. It’s crazy, I know. But bear with me here. . .

So let’s go back to a little over a decade ago to when I was walking through Target with my then 7 year old son pushing the cart next to me. Suddenly I noticed that he had begun walking strangely. Like he was clomping his feet. I asked him what he was doing and he explained that he had been walking with his eyes closed. In order to avoid looking at a picture of a woman in her underwear which was hanging from the ceiling. 

I don’t remember the context, but apparently at some point, I had told him that a good man doesn’t look at women’s bodies – even if they are hanging them out for all to see. So he was doing the gentlemanly thing and closing his eyes to avoid looking at a woman’s body. It was kind of cute, but it did make me think teaching my kid something that had him walking around with his eyes closed wasn’t such a great idea.

After that I hit on a really novel idea; what if I taught my boys to view women – even naked women – as (wait for it . . . ) human beings? Like what if I taught them that instead of seeing women as potential mates or sex partners or walking titillation machines, they should view them simply as fellow human beings? What if I taught them that considerations of a person’s appeal as a sexual partner should be limited to a woman they want to be in a committed relationship with? Crazy, I know.

So now I teach my boys that I don’t care if a woman walks up to him wearing naught but the skin she came in, they’d better look her in the eye and talk to her like any other human being.

Now, some of you are saying, “but Rebecca, boys – hormones – sexy – it’s only natural!” Well, sure. Boys have hormones. They can turn anything into a dirty joke. Women are sexy. That’s reality and I’m not naive enough to think simply telling them to view women as fellow humans will change that. (Nor would I want to change that, really.) So . .

Next, I decided that the real solution to the problem of boys and boobies was to allow them to become accustomed to the female form. After all, nudists manage to live together without the men having to shift uncomfortably and cross their legs every time they are in the presence of a naked woman. Men in tribes where clothing is minimal don’t get a woody every time a woman passes by. Why do we act as if it’s unavoidable that a male who can see a woman’s body is going to view her in a sexual way?

I certainly didn’t encourage them to leer or decorate their rooms with pin up girls. But the picture of a woman in her underwear hanging from the ceiling at Target? I think I need some new underwear. Let’s go stand under it. The nude scene in Titanic? No fast-forwarding it, just sit and watch it as if it were the most normal thing in the world. We’re not German enough to sit down for dinner naked, but casual nudity became deliberately more common in our home.

Basically I made a point of treating the female form as completely normal, non-sexual and unremarkable as I could. Certainly no more suggestions that women’s bodies were a sight to be avoided. No treating the female body as a threat to their purity or standing as good men. We all have bodies. Half of us have female bodies. We all need to get over it instead of treating it like a scandal.

But still – boys – hormones – boobies – lust!

As any male can attest, pubescent boys can find anything sexy. They get turned on when the wind blows in a certain direction. And let Miss Schoolmarm wear a tight sweater to school and soon the poor boy’s grades begin to suffer. But the thing is that this is a stage. It’s a normal stage. Like all other developmental stages, a person can get stuck there. Or they can experience it and move on.

If you want them to get stuck with the mind of a 12 year old, unable to concentrate in the presence of the nefarious boobie, here’s what you do. First you tell them that if they experience sexual desire, they are going to get in trouble. Like they will go to hell. Baby Jesus will cry over them. That way rather than experiencing and getting over this normal state of development, they will spend much of the rest of their lives trying to fight it.

Or you can let them know that it’s normal. It’s kind of silly and occasionally embarrassing. But that they will grow out of it. That way they know that while being distracted by and sexually attracted to random women they meet is normal and not bad, it’s also a sign of immaturity. Real manhood lies on the other side of this stage of their development.

So add in some discussions about consent, rape culture, porn and sexting and that’s what I’ve done with my boys. As much as I hate to call down bad juju by claiming parenting success, it’s working. There are things about my boys I’m not entirely pleased with, of course. But when it comes to dealing with women and managing their sexuality, I don’t mind saying that they continual impress me. May it always be so! 😉

This is already longer than I intended, but before I go, I’d like to share something I realized just recently. It has to do with the importance of touch. This past summer, my 18 year old spent three weeks away from home working. He reported that while he was gone, he found himself “checking out” girls far more often than was normal for him. He said he’s pretty sure that it was because while he was gone, physical touch was almost completely absent in his life. We’re a (deliberately) high touch family. At home, he regularly holds and sits with his sisters while reading, watching TV and the like. Hugs are frequent. We sit close together while talking, etc. We humans NEED physical touch. Unfortunately, we tend to be a low touch culture. In fact, once we’re past childhood, sexual activity is one of the only ways that many people experience touch. My son’s observation made me wonder how much teen sexual behavior is driven by this need for physical contact. My younger son is much less comfortable with physical contact, but oddly, he’s much more willing to engage in hugging and even sitting close together as he’s entered into adolescent. So I would suggest that giving teens ample opportunity for non-sexual touch can be a good way to reduce their need/desire to get their touches through sexual behavior.

And now I’m done. 🙂

Posted on 12 Comments

I Would Rather You Be an Atheist . . .

Some use the text to figure out what love means. Others use love to figure out what the text means. Totally different outcomes. ~ David Hayward aka nakedpastor

Last week, someone left a very long, very angry comment on one of my posts railing at what they saw as God’s cruelty, complete with many scripture quotes. I’m not entirely sure if he was an atheist or an angry believer. He probably thought I was going to argue with him. And I could have – the things he was pointing out are all issues I’ve dealt with and have my own understanding of. But instead, I told him that despite his clear fury at and disdain for the God he saw in those verses, I recognized him as a fellow traveler.

This was someone who refuses to accept cruelty and unforgiveness just because it’s been labeled “godly” and instead raises the cry, “not good enough!” Someone who wasn’t willing to sit in the squalor of the world as it is, waiting for some Santa Clause god to swoop down and make it all OK . . . one day. This was someone who recognized that any god who is cruel and heartless is not worthy of devotion.

I saw a fellow traveler because at different points in my life, I too rejected those aspects of Christianity as it is commonly taught as unworthy, unhelpful and generally “not good enough”. Because of my intense, personal experiences with God, I didn’t lose my faith on the way. But I certainly can’t and won’t condemn someone like my commenter for not doing likewise. If a person sees their choice as being either believing in cruel and heartless God who demands fielty and being an atheist, I’d rather they be an atheist.

No one who reads my blog could possibly accuse me of not being full-on, 100% committed to God and Christianity, so perhaps it is surprising to hear me say that I’d rather someone be an atheist. But the truth is that in the face of what many people are taught about God, inhumane theology and damaging, harmful churches, it can be the height of Godly faithfulness to reject the whole thing and walk away.

Of course, I would rather that people sought out a different understanding of God, theology that gives life and churches oriented around love. Yet, for some people escaping from the wreck that Christianity is for them is necessary for their survival and well being. I hope that people who take this path will one day heal and come to a place of being able to claim the name of Jesus. In their meantime, it may well be better for both them and the Kingdom that they do not.

The problem is that too often, religion has been the reason that people embrace things which are manifestly evil, cruel, harmful and damaging – to themselves and others. Those old pagans who burned their infant children to Molec? They were doing good according to their religion. The people who burnt women at the stake as witches? They thought they were doing good according to their religion. People who bring their mentally ill children to exorcists instead of doctors? They think they are doing good according to their religion. And they all called it love.

It can be very hard, once religion has labeled something as good and/or necessary, for people to see it for what it is. People who recognize cruelty and evil for what it is – even when it bears the label of “godly” and the promise of heaven – are to be commended. Even when they can’t find their own way to disentangling that cruelty and evil from the name of God. If only more religious people had such clarity of sight, the church and the world would be a much better place.

Many people have been taught that a good Christian is one who shows enormous devotion to their beliefs. But that’s just idolotry. A good Christian is one who shows enormous devotion to God. In fact, since God is love, a good human – which good Christians ought to be living, breathing models of – is one who is devoted to love. While many in the church are fixated on beliefs, others who are leaving the church – sometimes angrily – are doing so because they realize that beliefs are no substitute for love.

Now, certainly, I’m not saying that all atheists are loving. Nor am I saying that everyone who leaves the church does so because their devotion to love becomes stronger than their devotion to the beliefs they’ve been taught.

But my experience has been that some of the kindess, most gentle, generous, loving people I’ve encountered have been atheists. And if you listen to those who are leaving the church, their reasons can often be summed up in the cry of “not good enough!” The church, the God they’ve been presented and the theology they’ve been taught have all fallen short of being worthy of devotion. And they are right. Only love is worthy of any of our devotion.

Many of Christianity’s most ardent critics unwittingly understand God better and are more devoted to him than a lot of Christians. And they are willing to stand for their better vision against rejection, threats of hell and condemnation. That’s devotion.

The reality is that on the day they die, there will be atheists who meet Love face-to-face and say, “that was you? Please forgive me, I didn’t recognize you when I saw you before.” And there will be believers who meet Love for the first time and say, “who are you? What do you want with me?”

So yeah, I don’t have a problem saying to some people, “I’d rather you be an atheist.”

Love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. ~ 1 John 4:7-8

Posted on 2 Comments

A Prayer for Our Journey by H. Nouwen

Dear Lord, I will remain restless, tense, and dissatisfied until I can be totally at peace in your house. But I am still on the road, still journeying, still tired and weary, and still wondering if I will ever make it to the city on the hill. With Vincent van Gogh, I keep asking your angel, whom I meet on the road: “Does the road go uphill then all the way?” And the answer is: “Yes, to the very end.” And I ask again: “And will the journey take all day long?” And the answer is: “From morning till night, my friend.”

So I go on, Lord, tired, often frustrated, irritated, but always hopeful to reach one day the eternal city far away, resplendent in the evening sun.

There is no certainty that my life will be any easier in the years ahead, or that my heart will be any calmer. But there is the certainty that you are waiting for me and will welcome me home when I have persevered in my long journey to your house.

O Lord, give me courage, hope, and confidence. Amen.

~ Henri Nouwen

Posted on 7 Comments

What God Told Me Yesterday

“I want you to know I never believed the things people said about you. Those people who said they could see better than you could what your faults are? I never saw what they thought they were seeing in you. All those times you were told that you are lazy or selfish or undisciplined or a stubborn know-it-all? I always thought the people saying those things were being incredibly unfair.

“I know that when you took these accusations and misjudgments to heart, you were just trying to be good. But I had already made you just the way I wanted you. I had already looked at you and said you were good – very good. Headed to amazing, in fact.

“I know you worked really hard to prove to the people who misjudged you wrong. And that you felt like until they removed the labels they put on you, it was your job to carry them. But they never had the right to put those labels on you to begin with. I’m the one who made you. You and I are the only ones who have the right to say who you are.

“I’m glad you are letting go of those labels people put on you. You and I know what your real strengths and weaknesses are anyways. You don’t have to allow anyone else to put in their two cents. They never knew what they were talking about anyways. I know you’ve doubted that. But I can see you clearly. Those people were wrong.

“Please know that when you were struggling against all of that misjudgment, misunderstanding and criticism, I always took your side.”

Posted on 2 Comments

Stop Worrying About the Idiots!

Would you like to hear my opinion on the controversy de jour? Listen to me rip some idiot to pieces for your edification and amusement? Want my incisive insight into exactly why and how an outrageous, provocative statement is wrong and probably a danger to decent human beings everywhere?

Yeah, sorry. Aint going to happen. Or at least not often. Why? Because a human being who spends their time thinking and talking about stupidity, human failures and what’s wrong with whom and why is like a fish who fixates on water.

We have a tendency to respond to what’s wrong with people as if it were a remarkable thing, worthy of attention and commentary. But really, there’s nothing more unremarkable than humans being stupid, obnoxious, offensive and idiotic.

This brew of human idiocy and failure is the water we swim in. It’s pervasive, expected and completely unremarkable. And it should be treated as such. Ho-hum. More of the same.

What is remarkable and what does deserve our attention are humans being good, kind, generous and courageous. These things are like the coral reefs of life. No one goes scuba diving to look at the water; they’re looking for the bright, the beautiful, the captivating and amazing.

We’d all do well if instead of fixating on the water of human stupidity, we went looking for the coral reefs of human goodness. You’re not going to get rid of the water by staring at it and yelling at it. Instead, the water gets displaced by the beautiful things which grow in it.

Or let’s use another analogy. My house sits within view of I-94. So all day and night, we can hear the sounds of traffic going by. Imagine how unpleasant and stressful it would be if I took notice every time a car or truck went by. If I stopped a few times a day to say to my family, “look at those cars and big ass trucks out there! All they do is drive by making noise day and night. Why isn’t there a sound absorbing wall there? When is it going to stop? And look – there goes an oversized load! Geeze those things are noisy!”

Of course, I don’t do this. No one in my family does. For the most part we don’t even notice the sound of the traffic. But when a bird calls from the trees behind our house, we hear that. We look for it. We put out feeders on the deck to draw them closer. When a deer walks through the yard, we all go to the window to look. When the wind is fierce we stop and listen and wonder at the ferocity of it.

The traffic is just background noise, hardly worthy of our notice. But the beautiful things, the amazing things, the movements of life – those grab our attention.

And this is how it should be with us as we move through life. I’m concerned that a lot of us are wasting our emotional energy, nursing divisions and even despairing of the world paying attention to the unceasing traffic of human stupidity.

Not only is it not good for us, it’s pointless. There’s nothing I can do about the latest murder or war. I can’t get my dog to what I say half the time, much less my elected officials. That pastor or politician or random human being who’s getting a lot of attention for saying something idiotic and inflammatory? If I rebuke them they’re not going to hear about it. Even if they did, they wouldn’t be moved by it.

But when I see something beautiful, even if it’s far away, that helps me. When I hear of people being good and kind, being good and kind myself doesn’t seem like such a foolish, difficult thing. When I encounter something delightful, it makes my own world look a little more magical. What is good lifts us, encourages us and enlightens us.

We are so scared of the dark. So certain that the power of evil will run amok if we aren’t vigilant against it. But this gets everything backwards. The power of good is far more powerful than the power of evil. Even in scriptures it says that the evil of the fathers will be visited on their sons to the third generation. But the good a man does? That endures through 1000 generations.

This is why Jesus says not to resist the evil man, but to do good to those who hate you. He’s directing us to take hold of the real power of the universe – goodness, kindness, mercy, grace, compassion, generosity, courage, love.

So my challenge to you is to stop thinking and talking so much about what’s wrong with people. Turn human stupidity into just a background hum in your life. If you find yourself alarmed by the news, the stupidity, the obnoxiousness of humans doing what they do, stop and tell yourself, “it’s just water. Traffic passing by. Ho hum. More of the same.”

But what’s beautiful, lovely, breath-taking and inspiring? Look for that. Study that. Talk about it. Share it. And then when the water of human stupidity finds its way into your little world, you will know what to do. You will be so familiar with and shaped by what is good that you can build your own coral reef and make your own beauty.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. ~ Philippians 4:8

Posted on 2 Comments

The Most Important Reason for Unanswered Prayers

God often does not answer my prayers because he knows me. He knows that if he allowed me to enjoy material ease, plenty of affirmation and affection from the people around me, a good name and reputation and eased the intensity of my many imperfections, I would be satisfied. But my satisfaction would be in the good life I had rather than in God himself.

So God has often withheld good things from me, not because he doesn’t care and not because he doesn’t want them for me. Rather, it’s because none of those things are good enough for me or for him. None of them are God.

“Seek first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you.”

I don’t think it’s God’s desire for us to live in poverty and misery. I think he wants us to enjoy the good things life has to offer. But he also knows that none of those things are permanent, they don’t bring life and they don’t redeem the world. Only God can offer that. Without first finding what we need in God, all the things this world offers are poor substitutes for the real deal.

The bible says that God is a jealous God. He doesn’t share his throne with idols. This isn’t because he’s a petty narcissist who must be the center of attention all of the time. It’s because he is the source of life, love, truth, light and every good thing. All the good things of this world are temporary at best. Without a firm foundation, they aren’t life giving, but corrupting. God does not want us to build lives on such shaky foundations. And that is why he will not share his throne with them.

Until we are satisfied in God, the abundance of this world will be an idol. Until we’ve been shaped by love, we’ll resist using abundance and excess for the benefit of others instead of for ourselves alone. Until our identity is grounded in Christ, our relationships and possessions and work and reputation will carry the weight of providing an identity for us.

And ultimately, our idols, our wealth and our false identities will require more work to sustain than they give us in return. We will live our lives serving them, rather than the other way around. And at the end of our lives, we will lose those things we invested so much in and go back to God empty handed and depleted.

It’s not God’s desire that any of us would have this experience. But as we spoke of yesterday, God is willing to allow us to make our own choices, even when it does not serve his desire for us. But some of us – a minority most likely – have offered ourselves to him to shape. We have prayed silly prayers like, “let your will and not my will be done.” We’ve sincerely offered our lives for God to do with as he will.

When we do that, all bets are off. God will never push us to our destruction. But he will relentlessly push us to grow and mature in our relationship with him. And more often than not, part of this will mean that he will allow us to be deprived of good things in life. Even when we ask for them in prayer.

I’ve certainly done my fair share of bitching and moaning around here over the last couple of years. I’ve done much more on my own. I’d be embarrassed for you to know how often I wished I wasn’t alive or hadn’t been born.

God could have eased my burdens, answered some prayers, made a way out for me. Instead I often felt like Jeremiah when he said, “He has walled me in so that I cannot go out; He has made my chain heavy. Even when I cry out and call for help, He shuts out my prayer. He has blocked my ways with hewn stone; He has made my paths crooked.”

When God does not answer your prayers, it is normal and understandable to become bitter. To wonder if he is even real. If he cares. If he will live up to his promises. But the truth is that even unanswered prayers are part of his grace for you.

I’ve been bitter and angry and given up my hope. And yet, in my heart of hearts, I’ve also known that it’s all grace. All of it is grace. When I could find satisfaction in nothing else, I was driven to find it in God. And that’s grace. That I can walk as a companion with others who suffer is grace. Everything I’ve ever sought after or put my trust in has been ripped from me. And it’s grace to be freed from those unworthy things.

As unlikely as it seems, the most important reason God does not answer our prayers is because of his grace for us. It’s what we need on our way.

Posted on 1 Comment

People Are People

This week we’ve been looking at common reasons that God doesn’t answer our prayers. Today we’ll look at the problem of people. As in other people. When people refuse to cooperate, refuse to change or follow God’s leading, prayers tend to go unanswered.

Sometimes it can be a matter of people who God would have serve as answers to your prayers not taking up the call. Other times it may well be people who are behaving in ways which are harmful and hurtful and you’re praying for God to change them. Yet they just keep doing what they are doing.

At this point, I could get into a long discussion about free will. But for the moment I’m going to leave that for another day. Instead, for the sake of this discussion, I’m going to work from the assumption that we each make our own choices. Further, let’s posit that God’s interference with each person’s free choices is generally limited to allowing the negative consequences of them to become so unbearable that they may eventually change their ways.

So, when the answers to our prayers require another person to do something or change something and they don’t do it, our prayers will go unanswered. Even when providing an answer to our prayers would be God’s desire.

This begs a question. When it would be God’s desire for our prayers to be answered, why would God allow people’s exercise of free will to interfere with that desire? Why doesn’t God just temporarily short-circuit people’s free will to obtain the desired end? Or why doesn’t he do like he did with the apostle Paul and basically hold them hostage while he gets them all straightened out?

The issue, it seems to me, is that it is God’s intention that we take care of each other. That we be looking out for each other’s needs. And that we be seeking each other’s best interests. But that requires us to have a certain level of maturity. And in order to gain that maturity, we need to grow up and decide on our own to do right by each other. It’s not something that can be done for us.

If God is always stepping in and pulling Jedi mind tricks to use people to answer prayers, humanity will never grow up. He’d be no different than the parent who picks up their kid’s messes, does their homework and otherwise enables them to remain immature and irresponsible. Yes, it creates an easier and more pleasant experience for the kids. But it’s stunting.

There is so much unneeded suffering in the world. It can be a hard pill to swallow to that God isn’t going to step in and fix it or force other people to fix it. instead, like all parents sometimes have to, he’s going to let us fall and fail until we’re finally willing to take responsibility for the mess we have made. Look at the pain we’ve caused. And get to work, with his support, in fixing the wreck we’ve created. And until we human beings get to the point of being willing to do that, there’s going to be a lot of unanswered prayers.

Which is all well and fine on a theoretical, big-picture scale. But maybe not much help when faced with our own unanswered prayers. Or someone who is causing us to suffer and refuses to change. When we’re in this position, there are two truths to hold onto.

The first is that God will not allow anything to happen which cannot be redeemed. This is quite different than saying he won’t give us more than we can handle. I’ve certainly had more than I can handle come my way in life! Rather it’s saying that if it’s happening, I can trust that eventually it will be redeemed. God will bring good out of it, even if it’s awful and not his will for you. And the good will be greater than the evil and suffering you’ve had to endure.

The second is that if we want to live in a world with fewer unanswered prayers, then we must be the sort of people who are answers to prayers ourselves. We must be more aware of and attuned to the needs of people around us. We must be more willing to make some sacrifices for other’s sake. We must be more determined to live and act out of love instead of indulging our anger, self-righteousness, selfishness and fear. The world cannot change if we do not change first.

I could probably keep this series on reasons for unanswered prayers going for several more weeks. But for now, I’m going to end it tomorrow with a post on what I think is the most important and unrecognized reason for answered prayers. It’s a good one that you may never have heard before, so be sure to check back tomorrow!

Posted on Leave a comment

Reality is Reality

Especially when I was younger, I was prone to saying prayers that amounted to “God, please don’t let reality be reality.’ I would not prepare for a test and ask God to help me do well on it anyways. I would wake up late and ask God to somehow make the 5 minutes I had extend to the 15 minutes I needed. And if the bus could be running just the right amount late, that would be great. Or to let the $3 in my bank account somehow cover the $25 I needed for gas. Pretty please, please, please.

Oddly enough, God never seemed inclined to answer these prayers. In fact, anyone who has known me for a while will tell you that I have remarkably bad luck. I’m the sort of person who hits every red light, always gets stuck behind someone who has a problem at the checkout and when I switch lanes while driving, that lane immediately slows down. At least twice a year, my mail mysteriously gets waylaid or returned to sender. And it’s almost always mail with money or something important in it. My checks always went through miraculously fast while my deposits were usually delayed. So on and so forth.

After a while, I stopped fighting life as it is and just went with it. It’s much less stressful to just let life be what it is than to continually hope against hope that just this once, I’ll catch a break.

The thing is that God made reality. It works according to certain rules and principles. And it works the way it does for reasons. Asking God to make reality work some other way for your benefit isn’t really a reasonable request. Nor is it practical. There are 7 billion of us. Imagine if God changed the rules of time, physics and biology every time someone prayed for it in Jesus’ name. It would be an unholy disaster. For all of us.

Right now some of you are saying, “but Rebecca, you’re talking about petty things you were asking for here. I had a kid who I asked God to heal and he didn’t. I asked God to provide safety or shelter and he didn’t. I understand why God isn’t continually making time stand still or changing traffic for our benefit. What about the really major tragedies people ask God to intervene in?”

The examples I’ve given are pretty petty, but I too have prayed “please stop reality from being reality” prayers in some very serious circumstances which have remained unanswered. People I’ve begged God to heal and tragedies which went un-averted. I get it.

And I don’t often understand why God can’t just intervene and set things right. What possible harm could come from healing my 33 year old brother in law who is imprisoned in a body he hasn’t been able to control for the last decade, for example.

To a certain extent, the issue is that there’s a bigger plan at work than we understand. Some things are the way they are and will remain so because to change them would interfere with other important things which are going on. And often there’s no way for us to know the why’s behind such things.

However, I think that mostly the answer is basically the same as for our unanswered petty prayers: reality is what it is. And God made it that way for a reason. As I’ve said often before, all of creation works not in spite of destructive forces, but because of them. The planet could not support life without earthquakes, fierce weather and death, for example. The evolution of life which lead to us could not occur without mutations which more often than not lead to deformity and death. Remember, when God created the world he declared it “good”, not perfect.

As Job said, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

Have you ever considered how it is that we came to have the ability to suffer? If God had intended the world to be perfect and for us to never suffer, then why would he have created us with the capacity to suffer? He could have made us so that no matter what happened, we wouldn’t mind and would just carry on our merry way. But he didn’t.

The truth which has too long been denied – especially by Christians – is that this world is as it should be, even though we often are not. Even with all the trouble which being alive can bring. When we ask God to change reality for our benefit, we are rejecting the reality he made. Which I am certain he understands, but he made reality intentionally, for good purposes. Is it any wonder that he doesn’t often step in to change it?*

Now, I’m not claiming that God never steps in to change reality. Sometimes prayers for healing are answered. Sometimes favor is given, luck strikes and tragedy is averted. And those are good things. Some people say that this is what we can expect when we have enough faith. As if one child will receive healing because of the faith of his parents while another dies because her family’s faith wasn’t good enough. This is simply not true.

As I said a couple of weeks ago, Jesus is the author of our faith, so our faith is always just what it should be. God will not find fault in us and withhold blessings from us because our faith doesn’t meet his standards.

Again, we have to go back to what I said at the outset about answered and unanswered prayers. Different people need different things. Life is far too complex to be boiled down to simplistic formulas.

So yes, there will be times when God answers prayers for reality to be something other than what it is. But as a rule, we should expect that reality will remain reality. Jesus said that no father would hand his son a scorpion when he’d asked for bread. He didn’t say that he’d turn a scorpion into bread for him, though.

*Sometime soon I will have to write more about why God might have desired to make a reality in which suffering is an unavoidable part. But for now, consider that grace, mercy, compassion, empathy and patience are all part of God’s character. And we are made in his image, so it’s part of our true identity as well. If no one ever erred or suffered, what need would there be for grace, mercy, compassion and the like? How would God and man ever express these parts of our character?

Posted on 2 Comments

Rules for Discernment – Particular vs Universal

Image result for what's good for me is good for you

Once upon a time I had the chance to spend time with an unusual man who was a massage/hypnotherapist who believed we’d all be nudists after Jesus’ return. Which I wouldn’t necessarily have a problem with except for the fact that I live on the great northern tundra of the upper midwest where it’s Fahrenheit 9 degrees outside right now. Not long after I met him, he advised me that God wanted us to stop thinking and just trust his lead. After having a spiritual experience a few years prior during which God had told him to stop thinking he had made it part of his mission to advise others of this message going forward. I happened to know that it most certainly was not God’s will for me personally to stop thinking, but after spending time with this gentleman, I could totally understand why God would give HIM such an instruction. Every time he tried to reason things out, he inevitably wound up out in left field somewhere. In fact, the last I heard from him, he was toying around the edges of the anti-government “sovereign citizens movement”. (God puts such interesting people in my path. It’s one of the ways I know she loves me. lol)

There was a great deal about this gentleman that was unusual and peculiar, but his belief that a message given to him was a message meant for everyone generally is an error that one does run into fairly often among Christians. In fact, it’s not all that unusual for a Christian teacher to take some revelation, instruction or insight which he or she believes God has given them and proceed to teach it to others. Entire ministries have been built on this kind of thing. However, when you see someone doing this, it’s a definite red flag. Just because God gives you an instruction or revelation, doesn’t mean it’s meant for everyone. It doesn’t even mean it’s meant for you for all time. Generally speaking, when God teaches us something or gives us an instruction, it’s meant for us and for that time. It’s particular rather than universal.

Now, if you’ve been following along with my slow motion series outlining my “rules of discernment” for navigating the Christian church without falling prey to charlatans, cons and false teachers you’ll know that the other red flags I have pointed out (claiming authority for one’s self, promoting an us vs them mentality and claiming that there’s a basic pattern we should all fit into) came with a warning to run like hell away from anyone displaying them. Like, I won’t even carry on a conversation with people teaching those sorts of things beyond a polite “smile and nod” while figuring out how to extricate myself from the interaction as quickly as possible. Those kinds of people are flat-out dangerous. This particular error, however, may be more of a warning not to take the person making it too seriously. Or it could be predator who is using it as a way to claim authority for themselves which as we covered in Rule #1 is a warning to flee for your life to escape a likely predator.

Even if they’re not using their personal revelation to claim authority, accepting one person’s revelation as universally true can certainly mess you up. So don’t do it . But assuming that person doesn’t set off one of the other 3 red flags I’ve shared, it’s an error that can easily come from immaturity and a lack of understanding rather than actual malice.

A good, mature teacher knows that we all move through seasons and stages. And we have our own particular issues and personalities as well. What’s good for me may be death for you and vice versa. The more my massage/hypnotherapist turned his brain off and just let himself be lead by love, the better he and everyone else around him was. But at the time I met him, God had me puzzling over all kinds of ideas and thoughts that were coalescing into wisdom and insight that have served me quite well and formed the basis of a lot of my work. If I had taken my friend’s advice to stop thinking so much seriously, it wouldn’t have been good for me. Then again, there have certainly been times when my thinking turned toxic and clearing my mind was a needed survival mechanism. Things change, people change, seasons change and so it’s only natural that God’s leading in our lives will change as. Any teacher who doesn’t understand that basic fact is at high risk of leading anyone who listens to them astray.

Posted on Leave a comment

Let’s Talk About That Half Time Show

So let’s have a conversation about the SuperBowl half time show that people are losing their shit over. I’ve been watching the back and forth reactions and talking with people about it and I realized that the problem really is that two people can look at the exact same thing and see two completely different, unrelated events because of differences in culture. For example, when Shakira went up to the camera and did that tongue thing. To me, that looked really lewd. (I was watching with the sound off, so it looked particularly bad.) I have never moved my tongue like that except when doing things I’m not going to discuss with y’all cuz some shit’s private. But since that’s literally the only frame of reference I have for moving that part of my body like that, I just naturally saw something that looked really lewd.

However, as you probably already know, what Shakira was actually doing was performing a zaghrouta. It’s something done by people around the world, particularly in the middle east as a sign of joy and celebration. There’s nothing remotely sexual about it. Little girls do it and perhaps when they’re grown and move their tongue in a similar way for sexual purposes, it carries the memory of joy and celebration because that’s the memory that’s tied to that body movement. Obviously, the movement is not in and of itself lewd or sexual since it’s done in settings and for purposes that aren’t sexual at all. My perspective on the tongue movement is shaped by my body’s memory which is sexual while for people the world over the same tongue movement is tied to memories of celebration and joy. CLEARLY, the fact that Shakira’s tongue wag looked lewd to me is a ME problem and not an accurate representation of reality. If I refuse to accept that my perspective doesn’t define what she was doing, then really I’m just a jerk projecting my issues onto everyone else.

If you listen to people coming from non-western cultures, one of the observations they often make about us is that we are unusually restrained in our movements and behaviors. We don’t often display the physical exuberance, free movement and enthusiasm that is found in many other places. We reserve our hip thrusts and tongue wags and body rubbing for behind closed doors. Which isn’t necessarily a problem except we often make the mistake of thinking that movements which we have never and perhaps would never engage in outside of a sexual context are in and of themselves sexual. But they’re not. Many people in many places regularly move their bodies in ways we restrained westerners only do sexually when there’s nothing remotely sexual going on. What looks to our eyes like lewd, open sexuality is nothing of the sort to someone who has grown up swiveling and thrusting their hips while playing and dancing with their families, etc.

In fact, it’s pretty insulting to others when we presume that they’re engaged in sexual behavior while they’re simply playing, dancing and celebrating. How would you like it if someone claimed that an American cookout was a lewd celebration of fellatio that we encouraged our children to participate in because we eat hotdogs? They could write articles and include pictures of small children sucking on bunless hotdogs and decry us as a perverted people inclined to sexualizing children for men’s pleasure. Cultural anthropologists could theorize about the role of the hamburger and its relationship with cunnilingus. It would be ridiculous, of course, but it’s not all that different than what we westerners have tended to do to everyone else.

Now, I’m sure that right now someone is thinking that I’m being naive – I mean – look at the pole dancing! Obviously, THAT was sexual! We think that because we associate poles with strip clubs but the practice of using poles for dancing and athletic displays dates back hundreds of years to China and India. Even the pole dancing we associate with strip clubs has its roots in western eyes viewing indigenous Egyptian dancers as sexually provocative (because they dressed and moved their bodies in ways westerners don’t unless sexuality is involved). Traveling shows put these indigenous dancers on stage to make money from leering men and the dancers began incorporating the pole that held up the tent into their dances. Eventually, westerners more broadly were introduced to pole dancing in strip clubs in the 60s. But pole dancing isn’t sexually exploitive in and of itself. It’s hard work that takes a lot of skill and strength. We westerners are the ones who made the connection between pole dancing and strip clubs and now we want to be outraged that everyone else doesn’t accept our perspective as the only valid one?!? Come on people! We can be more mature than that, I would hope.

Even the clothing that the women were wearing. One of the most persistent critiques of western and particularly America culture is that we are unable to see the human form except through the lens of sexuality. It’s as if sex were the one true purpose of bodies and we find it impossible to view a body without being reminded of sex. Which is kind of pathological, to be honest. Obviously, our bodies do all kinds of things other than have sex. They run, carry, jump, play, hold, manipulate and on and on. All around the world and throughout time people have displayed their bodies without any sexual connotations. Just because western eyes have difficulty viewing the human form except Nhakg™g™re plays takes a bath after a ceremony in the village of A'Ukre, in the Kayapo Indigenous land , Brazil on Friday, March 22, 2019. The indigenous peoples of the Amazon rain forest are the shock troops in the struggle against climate change and are undergoing extreme pressure from the newly elected right wing Jair Bolsonaro government. (Dado Galdieri for Financial Times)through a sexualized lens, doesn’t mean everyone else does too! If you look at indigenous tribes engaged in religious ceremonies, depending on the climate, it’s not unusual at all to see the religious leaders dressed in ceremonial garb that covers very little of their bodies. It’s not sexual at all. Until relatively recently in the west, nudity during sporting competitions wasn’t even unusual. Not everyone looks at people in “revealing” clothing and sees something sexual.

And this is the point that I think a lot of people who are appalled at the half time show are completely missing: just because YOU saw it as sexualized, objectifying and lewd doesn’t mean that is the reality of what was going on. You think you’re decrying the sexual objectification of women and exposing children to open sexuality while most of the rest of the world thinks that they just watched two women engaged in feats of athleticism, skill and creativity with great joy. When you respond to what others see in those terms by claiming that they’re sexually objectifying women, you’re just telling them that YOU can’t see these women and their skills except through the lens of sex. You’re telling on yourself.

YOU don’t move your body in those ways unless you’re engaged in sexuality so you can’t fathom that a body being moved in those ways is anything other than sexual. YOU struggle to view the exposed female form except through the lens of sexuality so you assume that the point of wearing clothing that exposes the female form must be sexual. But the fact that YOU see all this sex all over everything doesn’t make it a reality. Other people are not obligated to avoid bumping up against YOUR sexual issues. Because that’s really what this is about: western culture has such a weird, stifled relationship with sexuality that we view all kinds of innocent and even fun, joyful things as sexual whether or not they actually are. And then we try to hold ourselves up as the moral exemplars who would never engage in or approve of such behavior. While everyone else stands around marveling at what sick perverts we are to read sex into anything and everything they do.

The bottom line is that just because something can be seen as sexual, doesn’t mean it is sexual. I totally get that those of us who were brought up in cultures where we have clear demarcations between movements that are sexual and non-sexual and dress which is non-sexual and sexual just naturally see a performance like the one at the Super Bowl as sexual. It looked really sexual to me as a white woman raised in a religious environment too. I get it. (And I’m sure that those who don’t view these performances as inherently sexual have no qualms about taking advantage of our sexual peculiarities to make money.) But just because we see it that way doesn’t make it so. When we project our perspective on others around us, we’re actually the ones sexualizing and objectifying women which is supposedly exactly what we’re so upset at everyone else about.

So, chill. It really ain’t that serious, people. And, if I can make a suggestion, it’s probably not a good idea to pass on our narrow views of sexuality to our children. They’re going to be living in an increasingly multicultural world and it just sets them up to be jerks and bad neighbors if they’re going around acting like other people’s joy and celebration are sexually perverse. Sometimes it’s better to just let things go.

Posted on 1 Comment

America’s Dark Night of the Soul

Everything is really dark right now. The forces of evil appear are fighting to maintain the upper hand and are clearly determined to drag us as far down the ugly path of cruelty and hatred as they can with willing support from people who ought to know better but are under the thrall of hate and so don’t care. People have revealed themselves and it is bizarre how rare genuinely good people seem to be. And yet, I do believe there’s a well of untapped goodness lurking under the surface just waiting to be released. There has to be; humans are made in God’s image and we’ve not had nearly as many opportunities to pour out good as evil.

I often think of something John of the cross said in The Dark Night of the Soul. He says that when God invades our innermost being and begins to purify us, it pushes all of the impurities in our hearts to the surface – things we didn’t even know were there or thought we had overcome. We see this darkness rising and think we are worse than we’ve ever been. Hopeless, ugly, evil even. And yet that is the point at which God is working most intensely in us under the surface. As his purifying fire expands out from our innermost being it quickly burns off the darkness on the surface to reveal his presence and our goodness.

I work under the theory that what we go through as individual humans must happen with humanity as a whole. I think (hope) we are at that point where the darkness is right on the surface and we believe ourselves to be worse than ever. Or perhaps there’s still more ugliness that needs to come to the surface to be dealt with. Either way, if that’s true, then we’re not far off from the point where the goodness under the surface burns through the darkness to reveal something much purer and more beautiful than we imagined was possible. Chin up, peeps.

PS Just a reminder, that I pretty much predicted we were heading in this direction back in 2014. Let’s just hope I am also right about the end result!