It’s a Disaster but Everything’s Perfect. I Guess

 

So, two weeks ago today I fell on an icy driveway and broke my ankle. It was classic; my foot started to slip on the ice, hit dry gravel and stopped. I continued my fall, my foot did not. Just like in every other broken ankle story you’ve ever been told, I heard the crunch of breaking bones, screamed and went into shock. There was no safe way to move me and both my oldest son and my husband have their own issues with balance/stability, so an icy pile-up nightmare was a real danger. So there was nothing to do but call an ambulance.

I live outside of town so it took a solid 15-20 minutes for the ambulance to arrive. During which time, all I could do is sit there. And try not to think about yet another set of medical bills we can’t afford. (I’ve lost track of how many times the local hospital has sued us.) Definitely try not to think about the implications of being unable to drive and largely immobile for any extended period of time. In a household of 7. Or about how much pain I was going to be in once the shock wore off. I’ve tapped out all my pain tolerance over the last few years.

And as I’m sitting there trying to figure out how to feel and think about all this, I had the strongest sense of God saying to me, “it’s ok. This is exactly where you’re supposed to be. Everything’s perfect and exactly the way it’s supposed to be.” Like the Spirit was pleased that I was sitting in the snow on a hill overlooking the field next to my house on a cold December morning with a broken ankle. I reminded myself that I was in shock. Obviously a broken ankle is pretty incompatible with perfect. But at the same time, I couldn’t seem to muster up any panic, anger or despair over the situation. I felt pretty at peace actually.

The ambulance finally arrived and with some amount of difficulty they got my fat ass into the back. I looked up at the clock above the doors right after they closed them and kind of stared at it, bemused. It was 11:11. I’ve had a weird thing with repeating and sequential numbers going on around me for a while now. It happens so often, in such unexpected ways that it’s become a joke in our family. When I saw that, I kind of laughed and decided that I might as well accept that the universe is in charge and everything’s exactly how it’s supposed to be somehow.

I had surgery on my ankle last Friday to put in a plate and several screws. I don’t know if you know this – but when they screw things into your bones, it hurts. Of course it hurt before surgery too, so it’s been a couple of weeks of pain and pain killers. Neither of which are good for writing. Or moving. Or being nice to stupid people on social media.

Thankfully I am being well cared for, children are still putting on clean, weather appropriate clothing every morning and going to sleep on clean sheets every night. Everyone is being fed. Even if it is an endless stream of dad’s pasta dishes. (I would be perfectly happy to never eat pasta again in my life. It’s just me.) So I have nothing more to complain about. I just wish I had a fast-forward button to skip over the next couple of months.

But I keep coming back to this assurance that everything is exactly how it needs to be, regardless of what it looks like. And I keep thinking that it’s probably a pretty apt analogy for what’s going on in our country right now. I wasn’t nearly as shocked by Trump’s election as everyone else was. I’ve spent too much time around too many different kinds of people not to recognize the power of appealing to people’s most base instincts, peddling ignorance and putting on a good show. I believe that we are all made in God’s own image, but I also know that a lot of people have layered a seriously flawed value system, a stunning lack of self-awareness and a markedly shallow relationship with reality over the top of their true identity. So I was irate at Trump’s win (I still am), but not too shocked.

But the whole time, I’ve also had this sense of peace underneath. Like everything we can see in the material world is about as big a disaster as it can be without tipping over into actual mass violence. But the Spirit keeps saying, “oh, this is perfect. Everything’s exactly the way it’s supposed to be.” And just like with my ankle, I don’t think there’s any rescue or miracle coming to fix everything; just a long, hard trudge of doing what needs to be done to deal with the situation. But at the same time, I think there’s a lot of comfort in knowing that we have what it takes to walk from here in the middle of disaster to the other side of healing and rehabilitation. We’d rather not have to. We’d rather just carry on without the disruption, the pain and the difficulty. But that’s not an option. So we’ll do what we need to do.

I have often said that keeping faith in my fellow man has been the most difficult task I’ve ever undertaken. I genuinely like people, but I also hold most of us in low regard. Some days I’m down right misanthropic. People are idiots. And stupid to boot. Yet, I do keep faith. Not because of the greatness of humans, but because I know that the same God who created this body of mine with a predictable, reliable capacity to heal and reconstruct itself created human nature as well. And I trust that God also created human beings with a predictable, reliable capacity to heal and reconstruct ourselves at the spiritual and cultural levels as well. Sure, this capacity hasn’t always gotten the job done, but we do learn. 100 years ago, without surgery, my ankle wouldn’t have healed itself to the point of restoration. We do need to pitch in for best results. It’s a co-operative venture between us and God.

In the end, I suspect that Trump’s election will prove to be the societal equivalent of re-breaking an improperly set bone. Right now all we can see is the break with the sharp jagged edge of a bone pushing up against the skin, threatening to break it. But, if those of us who know a broken bone when we see one put one foot in front of the other, fight through the challenges, do what is right and what needs to be done, I think we’ll be OK. Although I still wish that fast-forward button were real. 😉

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The Christmas Bird

Instead of doing my Christmas shopping a couple of years ago, I recorded this. It’s perfect for sharing with the kids, if they are the sort who will listen to a recorded story.  Grab a cuppa whatever suits you best and listen to the dulcet sound of my voice sharing a heartwarming Christmas story about a farmer, a bird and a little boy. It will be the best 11 minutes of your day. 🙂

For those of you receiving this via email, here’s the link to the recording on soundcloud.

Let’s Get Something Straight

Praying for someone and being critical of them are not mutually exclusive things. Neither are loving someone and calling out their wrong doing. And, I know this is hard to believe, but speaking out against evil is not the same thing as sowing fear.

Right wing Christians understand all these things when they’re targeting the weak, the vulnerable and the oppressed, but seem to lose site of them entirely when it comes to the mighty and powerful. If one more person tells me that we need to pray for the president love our enemies and not sow fear in response to me criticizing the cheeto dusted Mussolini redux they just elected, I might have to start being rude about it.

(Also, for the record, being rude is not a mortal sin. If you can’t tolerate some rudeness without having a meltdown and withdrawing, you are damn near worthless to the Kingdom of God, anyways. Who’s he supposed to send you to minister to – comatose people? The demand for that isn’t as high as you’d think, I’m afraid.)

Santa, God and the Problem of Certain Belief

I once knew a family that didn’t do Santa Claus with their kids at Christmas. The reason they didn’t do Santa Claus was because they felt it might lead their children to doubt the existence of God. You see, Santa is basically an old man living far away at the top of the world. He gives you what you want because he loves you. But nobody ever gets to see him. And many children think of God as an old man living far away in heaven who answers our prayers (gives you what you want) and you never get to see him either. So their concern was that when the kids discover that Santa isn’t real (sorry if that’s a shock to you), that would sow the seeds of doubt about whether they were being similarly bamboozled when it came to believing in God. No seriously, that’s what the mom told me. I’m not making it up at all.

I actually think that the experience of finding out that Santa isn’t real, when handled decently well, is a good thing for kids. It’s a safe way to teach them that sometimes you believe things that aren’t actually true. And it’s OK. Life doesn’t end. The presents don’t stop coming. Yeah, you lose a little bit of the magic. But it’s not the end of the world. The real fun of Christmas doesn’t come from in believing in magic; it comes from expanding what brings you joy beyond just receiving. Christmas is much bigger and richer than presents that show up by magic if you’ve been good. It’s just like Christianity that way.

Unfortunately, this whole “never allow doubt, never consider that you might be wrong, never question the reality you’ve be taught” mentality is exactly how a good number of people teach their kids to approach the faith. I know that the people who do this and think this way believe they are doing the right thing. But the hubris of it is astonishing.

In order for me to teach my child never to doubt, question or challenge what they have been taught about God, I have to be confident that what I have taught them about God is 100% accurate and complete. I have to be so certain that my faith experience and theology represents the pinnacle of the Christian faith that it would be foolish and dangerous us for them to ever seek anything better than what I’ve got. And if you believe that about your faith, um, well, I don’t know how to tell you this, but, hmmmm . . . how to put this delicately? Maybe if I pet your unicorn while I figure out how to say this without sounding like a jerk? I know they must exist somewhere in your world, because your world clearly doesn’t work the way my world does.

In my world, God is bigger than I can imagine. In my world, we have barely begun to grasp his goodness. In my world, we’re still struggling to live according to his Kingdom ways. In my world, the way we’ve been doing it hasn’t been universally embraced and resulted in the meeting of heaven on earth, so clearly it’s not good enough. In my world, what I know and what I have experienced is the jumping off point, not the end destination.

If you think that what you know about God and how to live according to his Kingdom ways is good enough, well, flowers better be springing up around you everywhere you walk. Because that’s a mighty big claim to be making. Big claims require big proof. If the faith you are passing on is so delicate that learning that Santa’s not real might threaten it, that’s big proof alright. Just not the sort of proof that points to you being right.

It occurred to me this morning that our problem is that we are looking for a once and for all solution to everything. We want to get our theology right once and for all. We want to get our parenting right once and for all. We want to get our governments right once and for all. We want to get our sexuality right once and for all. We want to get our economies right once and for all. We want to get our laws right once and for all.

But this runs utterly contrary to how God created the world to work. There are no once and for all solutions on planet earth. You can’t water a patch of earth once and for all. You can’t grow food once and for all. Everything changes. What was once a jungle is now a desert. What was once a dominant male lion is now a fallen carcus being eating by scavengers. There is no once and for all. There’s only a process.

Then I thought, “but God does promise a once-and-for-all, doesn’t he? He promises salvation and redemption once-and-for-all. Right?”

And then I had one of those ah-ha moments. We want a once-and-for-all, but God gave us a process. There’s a Way of doing things. It’s why Christianity was called The Way very early in its development. It’s a way of doing life. A process for challenging the powers and principalities which rule this world. The process IS the once-and-for-all solution we’ve been looking for.

The process works when we are continually looking for a better way. When we are driven to do better and expect more from ourselves. We can always love better. We can always find better solutions. We can always learn from errors. We can always go deeper into God. We can always become more of who He created us to be. We can always experience our salvation more fully. We can always grow in deeper unity with each other. To embrace this process of continually learning better ways to follow Jesus’ teachings is to embrace God’s once-and-for-all solution.

The moment you insist that your way is THE way, that what you know about Jesus is what there is to know, that your theology is not only good enough, but unable to be challenged, you are cutting yourself off from God’s solution. You are like a child who refuses to mature. It’s not a good look, frankly.

Learning to be wrong is a skill. Most of us weren’t taught it. In fact, the more religious your upbringing, the less skilled you are likely to be at it. But refusing to be wrong doesn’t make you right. When I confront my children about their unwillingness to admit when they are wrong, I sometimes remind them of someone I knew growing up. He would never, ever admit he was wrong. He believed that it was his job to never be wrong and that to admit error meant he was failing at his job.

I ask my kids, “do you think he was ever wrong?” And of course they say yes. Everyone’s wrong sometimes. Then I ask them, “do you think that him never admitting when he was wrong fooled us? Do you think that we actually thought he was never wrong?” And of course they say no. We knew he was wrong even when he wouldn’t admit it. “Do you think you’re going to convince us that you’re never wrong just because you are unwilling to admit it? Do you think it will work better for you than it did for him? Or do you suppose we’ll all just think you’re kind of an idiot for never being able to admit when you’re wrong?,” I ask.

What I don’t tell them is that this person actually did manage to convince some people that he was as perfect as he claimed to be. It was shocking and hurtful to them when they finally had to face the reality that he was just as, if not more, prone to error than the rest of us. Even sadder was that he wasted many years dedicated to never being wrong that he could have been using to learn better ways of living and being.

So, I suppose that all of this is to say, there’s nothing wrong with your kids finding out that Santa isn’t real. And refusing to ever allow for doubt, questioning or error isn’t going to make you right. It’s just going to turn you into the kind of idiot who teaches their kids that God is like Santa Claus in the sky. Which is fine if you’re into that sort of thing. But it’s not nearly good enough for me.

*Originally posted May 2014.

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!

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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.


 

The Quiet Secret to Global Revolution

Well, look at me! Posting for the second day in a row. I told you I’d be back! 🙂

I actually have a guest post up at Dr. Chuck Crisco’s site that I wanted to invite y’all to go check out. It’s on a topic near and dear to my heart – overcoming the “us vs them” dualism of the past in order to embrace a more humane, holistic understanding of humanity as “just us”. I’m sharing the introduction below and I hope you’ll head on over to Chuck’s site to read the rest:

The Quiet Secret to Global Revolution: “Us vs Them” or “Just Us”

In talking with my fellow countrymen, it has become increasingly clear that there are two competing and seemingly irreconcilable mindsets at work in the conflicts being played out around us. On one side, you have people who see the world in terms of “us vs them” in which humanity is divided between those who are on our side and those who are not.  On the other are those who see the world in terms of “just us”, as in there is no “us vs them”, there is only a broad “us” which encompasses all of humanity. “Us vs them” thinkers see our differences as a cause for division, while “just us” thinkers seek to transcend our differences and recognize our deeper, shared humanity. READ ON . . .

Also, I am still collecting money to fund necessary surgery for a 14 year old Christian Pakistani who sustained serious injuries after being kidnapped and tortured by a man his father had a financial dispute with. I shared the story here yesterday. If you missed it, you can read it and find the link to make a donation here. 

His Eye Is On the Party Sparrow

Last night when I sat down for my bedtime prayer/meditation, the face of the chaplain who runs the chapel at the local truck stop  came to mind very clearly and I heard God say, “I want you to go talk to Tim.” (Tim’s the name of the chaplain.) So I was like, “ok, but tomorrow’s Monday and Tim’s not going to be at the chapel.”

God says, “don’t worry about it. I’ll arrange everything.”

Well, alrighty then. So I continued with my prayer/meditation time wondering why God wanted me to go talk to Tim. When I was done and about to go to bed, I realized that I hadn’t gotten around to putting gas in my car that day. Long story, but there’s no cash in the house and only one card for the bank account which my husband was going to be taking to work with him in the morning. And I have a broke kid who needs to be at his own job the next day. I had just enough gas to drive to the gas station and that was it. Because I’m super responsible like that. It was around midnight, but if I didn’t go put gas in the car before going to bed, it was going to be a messy situation.

So, I grab the card and load the dog up to be my bodyguard and headed to the truck stop. Normally I’d go to the gas station across the street, but I figured maybe Tim was pulling a late nighter or something and that was why God told me to go talk to Tim. Well, Tim wasn’t there, but there was this kid sitting on the ground outside the truck stop. He looked awfully young to be a hitchhiker, but drugs are a hell of a thing, so I ignored him. It’s not like I was going anywhere anyways. Continue reading

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.

A Word About the Pakistani Church and God’s Terrible Advice

I got serious about writing this blog about 4 years ago. And as shocking as it sounds, it was not the instant success one would imagine. Incredible, but true. So I went to God and asked in my best plaintive wail, “what should I dooooooo?” And I kid you not, every time, I got the same response: “let them come to you.” And I would be all like, “but that’s really terrible advice, God! Why are you always giving me such terrible advice?” But, seeing as there’s just only so much a person can do to control the universe, I went with it. I would do my thing and people would come.

Well, the darndest thing started happening. Occasionally, seemingly random people would show up and announce, “I feel like I need to reach out to you.” And then I was all like, “well, I guess I’ve been expecting you. Howdy!” Cuz there’s a reason why I follow God’s advice, even when it’s really bad.

Well, a couple of months ago, a Christian man from Pakistan showed up and started pestering me. My curiosity was piqued by his persistence and lack of come-ons, so I was like, “what the hell do you want?” (I’m sure I was much more polite than that in real life, of course.) And he was like, “I dunno. I just feel like I need to talk to you.” And I was like, “well, howdy. I guess I’ve been expecting you.”

So the next morning I was meditating on Romans 12:2:

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

because . . . Well, I don’t know why. It’s just one of those things I do. I had just said to my husband that I suspect that the verse refers to the fact that Christianity is basically a reprogramming system for the human mind. Because not only do I do weird things like meditate on random bible verses just cuz, I think weird things about them.

So I get up from my weird pondering to check my facebook account and there’s a message from my Pakistani guy sharing his testimony of coming to faith. He tells me that seeing the words of Romans 12:2 written on a church wall started him on his journey to Christ. Because, again, there’s a reason I follow God’s really terrible advice.

Anyways, the reason I’m sharing all of this with you is so you will all know how cool I am. I’m not sure how well that’s going, but fortunately for us all, there’s also another, more serious reason I am sharing all of this. As some of you may know, On October 27th, Pakistan was hit by a powerful 7.5 earthquake. Nearly 400 people died and thousands of homes were destroyed.

My Pakistani friend happens to be in a position where he can advocate for Christians and coordinate assistance for those who are in trouble. Fewer than 2% of the population of Pakistan is Christian and the persecution Christians face there can be intense. (Along with the kidnappings, murder, bombing, open discrimination and the like, I hear that the coffee shops there don’t even switch to using red paper cups during the holiday season.) So he tends to be in the thick of things.

After the recent earthquake, my friend learned of two Christian families near Faisalabad whose homes were destroyed by the earthquakes. Six family members needed medical care, but the local government hospital initially refused to treat them because of their faith. They were eventually treated, but one of the victims, an 8 year old girl I’ll call K needs surgery on her shoulder to prevent permanent disability. Continue reading