As I remember, it was somewhere between two and four in the afternoon, on a Monday. A lovely spring day, temperate California weather, a low simmer of chatter and anticipation in our small seminary classroom.
There were about 20 of us taking a course on Conflict Resolution, from a moderately well-known professor who had written on the topic and had always seemed to me to be kind and soft-spoken. Maybe that’s why his response startled me so.
We were divided into pairs and given a scenario to act out, to role-play. My partner was a nice young man, whom I did not know, and we were assigned the following:
You are a married couple shopping for furniture for your home. When you arrive at the store, the wife discovers that the husband has already purchased furniture without telling her about it. How does the discussion unfold between you?
There was no advance notice, no conversation between us ahead of time. “Just plunge in,” the teacher said. “Act it out.”
So I did.
I stated my disappointment clearly, firmly, with a moderately low level of emotion, at least to my ears. And to the ears of every other woman in the class, I later discovered.
As soon as I finished speaking, this well-respected professor very carefully and deliberately crossed his legs and placed his hands in his lap, as if to protect himself, and said, “Wow, Diana. Way to challenge his manhood!”
To say I was stunned would be a severe understatement. I am a large person, this I know. I am a strong person. This I also know. I am also moderately articulate and quick on my feet. I expressed my disappointment with the ‘husband’ clearly, but not harshly.
Yet to this prof, whose specialty was conflict, I was overbearing, aggressive, out for the kill — just plain too much. I was embarrassed to the point of humiliation. In addition, I was really, really confused.
If a woman states her case plainly, is she aggressive? Is she emasculating? Is she crossing some kind of invisible line in the sand? If the roles had been reversed, if the ‘husband’ had spoken similarly to the ‘wife,’ would that have elicited the same response?
I cannot know for sure, but I have my suspicions.
I slunk to the back of the room, my face aflame, and didn’t say another word for the next 45 minutes. At the break, I had several women students come to me, deeply apologetic and more than a little bit angry. There were several men who offered comfort as well. All of them encouraged me to address this issue head-on when we re-entered the classroom.
So I took a deep breath, raised my hand and broached the subject as honestly and unemotionally as I could.
“Could you tell me, please, what it was in my words, my manner, my posture that seemed so over-the-top to you? Several of us are wondering why you reacted as strongly as you did to what I chose to do in that scene.”
He hemmed and hawed, cleared his throat and hesitated. Once again, I had crossed a line of some kind, a line that the rest of us simply didn’t recognize, and he dismissed my question and refused to delve any further into the topic.
This was a class on conflict resolution, for heaven’s sake. And here we had a real, live conflict, right in the middle of our small class. Yet the ‘expert’ refused to resolve a thing. Basically, he blew me off. I think he said something like, “I’m sorry if my words upset you,” but he never apologized for the body language nor for the gigantic leap into the whole territory of threatening my acting partner’s manhood.
May I say that I have great respect for good men? I value the contributions of so many fine men to my own life and career — I have no interest in emasculating anybody. I also have no interest in being anyone but who I am.
And it’s taken me a lifetime to get to that point, to believe that my opinions are as valuable as anyone else’s, that I am called to speak truth-in-love in a wide variety of settings, that men’s egos are not nearly as fragile as I had once been taught.
It’s been 22 years since this event, and I still feel like blushing when I think about it. When women are strong and sure of themselves, are they a threat to men? Does expressing an opposing opinion make a woman a harridan? A shrew? Should women always have to be on guard, fearful that telling the truth will be a threat of some kind?
I do not enjoy conflict. I do everything in my power to avoid it. But when it happens, is it up to me to ‘tone it down,’ to play the ‘cute card,’ to withdraw, be demure, retreat to the edges?
I don’t think so.
What do you think?
We’re a big fan of fairy doors and gnome doors here at our house. We have a gnome door in one of our trees out front and have made salt dough fairy doors inside in past years (click here to see how we did it).
Tonight, I stumbled on some more wonderful ways to make fairy doors (or elf doors or goblin weapons closets or whatever your children want to deem them!).
Here’s a few….. Click on the links for lots more photos and directions.
Knickertwist posted all sorts of fabulous inspirational photos on Craftster. I think it’s brilliant to use popsicle sticks for the doors, and now we have a new reason to start stockpiling them.
And just look at the tiny laundry hanging nearby!
Artful Kid posted this adorable twig fairy door to Flickr.
Kaboodle featured this darling door that was offered for sale on Etsy.
And Roots Nursery really went to town making fairy doors after getting inspired by others online.
This would make a fantastic rainy day project with the kiddos and I think we’ll try our hands and making some more sometime soon.
Remember not to focus on making perfect little pretty projects. For kids, the magic is in the making of them, especially when we share their enthusiasm and join in the fun. And fairies are marvelously unconcerned about perfection. ;)
Happy Weekend, Happy Easter, Happy Passover and Happy Everything Else!
When conservative Christians find out I’m gay, they almost all say the same thing: “I know gay people think Christians hate them, but I don’t. I love gay people. I may not agree with them, but I love them.”
You’d be surprised how often I hear this. Christians are constantly telling me how much they love me.
If they treat me disapprovingly, it’s because they “love the sinner and hate the sin.”
If they preach at me, they’re “speaking the truth in love.”
If they distance themselves from me, it’s because they’re showing “tough love.”
Yet they wonder why gay people don’t feel very loved.
It reminds me of a scene from the 1960s musical film My Fair Lady. Eliza Doolittle, a poor flower girl, has worked hard to overcome her Cockney accent and pass as a proper English lady, but she eventually tires of being treated as a trophy by her diction teacher and others. So when a young suitor named Freddy—who barely knows anything about her—begins to sing a song professing his love, she humorously interrupts him with a song of her own:
Words, words, words! I’m so sick of words!
I get words all day through,
First from him, now from you!
Is that all you blighters can do?
Don’t talk of stars burning above;
If you’re in love, show me!
Tell me no dreams filled with desire;
If you’re on fire, show me!
“Show me,” she says. As a gay man, I feel the same way.
Do you love me? Don’t talk about it. Show me.
You know why LGBT people have such a bad impression of Christians? It’s not because of protesters with “God hates fags” signs. We know they’re extremists. It’s because of daily being dehumanized by the Christians who lecture and preach at us, treating us as issues instead of as human beings—and because of the Christians we know who stand idly by, thinking that if they’re not actively hating us, that counts as loving us.
That’s not love. Talk is cheap. Telling me your opinion on my life is easy. Real love takes more than that.
Sing me no song; read me no rhyme!
Don’t waste my time! Show me!
Don’t talk of June; don’t talk of fall;
Don’t talk at all! Show me!
Never do I ever want to hear another word.
There isn’t one I haven’t heard…
It’s true. Anything you could say, all that “speaking the truth in love,” I’ve heard it all before. So if you’re really serious when you say you love me, you’re going to have to prove it. Show me.
Not sure how? Here are some ideas.
- Support my rights. Okay, maybe we don’t agree on the definition of marriage, but can we at least agree that people shouldn’t be able to fire me or kick me out of my home just because they found out I’m gay? If you agree, help me make those legal protections a reality. If you don’t agree, it’s hard to believe you really care that much about my well-being.
- Stick up for me, even when I’m not around. Don’t let people make gay jokes or speak derisively about LGBT people. You never know who might be listening. I was, before you knew I was gay.
- Invite me to dinner. Or a party. Or a movie. Or a game night. Or to hang out at the mall. Make it something I enjoy, and don’t use it as a pretext for anything other than having a good time together.
- Take an interest in my life and relationships. Ask about the person I’m seeing, or the person I’d like to be seeing. (No need to tell me how much you disapprove.) Find out about my hobbies, favorite movies, favorite music, and other things I’m passionate about. Learn to see me as a multifaceted human being.
- Ask about my experiences as an LGBT person. Don’t comment. Just listen.
- Learn the language I use for myself, and use it. For instance, I don’t call myself “homosexual”; I call myself gay. If you call me “homosexual” in spite of my disdain for that term, it doesn’t feel very loving to me.
- Get involved in causes LGBT people care about. Join the fight against LGBT bullying in schools. Learn about the homeless LGBT youth population in your city. Volunteer at a charity serving people with AIDS. Don’t bring attention to what a good Christian you’re being; just do it because it’s the right thing to do.
- Instead of asking me to join you in settings where you’re most comfortable, look for opportunities to join me in settings where I’m most comfortable. Maybe I have a favorite coffee house, or I love to hike a local trail, or I go bowling with friends every Friday night. And hey, maybe you could get to know my friends instead of expecting me to fit in with yours.
- Be the conservative Christian in my life who doesn’t quote the Bible at me. I know; you’re worried that not expressing disapproval will make me think you approve of all my decisions. It won’t. It just shows me that you care more about me than about our differences.
Most importantly, don’t do any of these things with a hidden agenda. Do them because you love me. You said you love me, right? Okay, then. Show me.
A note: I’m now getting a lot of visits to this post from people who have never read my blog before. If this is your first time, I suggest visiting this welcome post to learn more about me and my blog before commenting. Welcome!
For more stuff like this, check out my book, TORN: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate.
Now, Chad likes to tell people what made him decide to go to school and the reasons why he traded in a job at Best Buy for a few hard years of hitting the books.
See, on a whim one weekend Chad packed his trunk and cruised down the highway to visit our friend Mike who was away at school. They didn’t have any plans but spent a couple days going out for drinks and eating meals at the residence dining hall.
And it was in that dining hall that Chad first came face to face with a big beautiful stainless steel object of his desire. Yes, he glanced up slowly and realized in a stunning moment that he was staring straight at chocolate milk on tap.
His jaw dropped and his eyeballs flashed fireworks as he immediately filled three glasses with the sweet-flowing brown gold and let his brain reel with infinite possibilities.
“It’s like neverending chocolate milk,” he said at the time, his eyebrows furrowed and his head bobbing in quick nods. And then: “I gotta go to college!”
Yes, this really is a true story. Chocolate milk on tap convinced Chad to ditch his job and head down the highway the following year. Chocolate milk on tap changed his life because anything on tap is great.
Let’s count down some killer classics:
• Brown soda. Did you ever get behind an open bar at a wedding when you were a kid? Hey, if you remember mixing tall glasses full of fountain Coke, Sprite, Orange, and Root Beer into delightfully tangy swill, you had a great childhood.
• Beer at a keg party. Forget the bottles and cans for a night. Now it’s time for some foamy pumping. If you’re the one guy who actually knows how to tap the keg then you’re the official dude responsible for keeping everyone’s red plastic cups full tonight.
• Soft serve ice cream. Don’t you love it when your local all-you-can-eat buffet has that soft serve ice cream machine sitting right in the open? You can squeeze a little swirl into your warm, plastic wet-from-the-dishwasher bowl, or go cowboy and build the tallest, swirliest ice cream known to man.
• Water. If you’ve got a drink in the kitchen, clean hands in the bathroom, and a hot shower in the tub, then today’s your day to say thanks.
• Nacho cheese at 7-Eleven. Now here’s the heaviest hitter of all. When you swirl your salty 7-Eleven nachos under that hot pump of oozing cheese, you’re in for a good night. I once saw a guy fill up a Big Gulp cup with the stuff and take it home. The cashier was so surprised that she just charged him for a soft drink. Good deal, man.
People, listen up: when you come face to face with anything on tap all Coke cans and beer bottles fade to dark black. You grab control of the boat and start pumping nozzles and squeezing triggers with reckless abandon, breaking free of the tight shackles of portion control and sailing deeper and deeper into a shadowy paradise of no rules … no order … and no limits.
The Washington Post just released some maps charting the religious makeup of the U.S. based on the 2010 census. Super interesting stuff here, and definitely worthy of our attention. What do you think this means for your area of the country? (I’m in Vermont, where Catholicism is the dominant expression of Christianity, Judaism is the most popular non-Christian faith, and my county, Chittenden, is ranked 2,904th out of 3,143 counties in the number of congregations per 10,000 people.)
Interactive Map Showing Congregations per 10,000 People by County:
What does this mean for you in your context?
They both need white collared shirts for their chorus performance this week. It sounds easy enough, but as it turns out there aren’t a lot of stores selling plain, white, button-up collared shirts for girls. They all have ruffles or rhinestones or characters on the front. And hardly any of them are white.
Today I don’t mind the hunt. It reminds me I’m their mom, and I do things like find them shirts for their chorus concert.
I give up on shopping in the girls section at Target and move over to the womens. I train my eyes to ignore every color but white and quickly find a rack in the middle with white, button-up shirts. With collars. There is only one extra-small so I grab it, knowing I’m only half done.
I end up at Once Upon a Child to find another white blouse for my other girl. I don’t come in here as often as I did when the kids were younger. I smile as I walk in, remembering how John always accidentally calls one of the shows we watch Once Upon a Child instead of it’s actual name, Once Upon a Time.
I head to the back where the clothes are color coordinated. Score. This shouldn’t take long.
They only have three white blouses in the girls’ size, one with ruffles in the front (won’t work), one labeled size 10 but looks more like a 4 (way too small) and finally another that looks the right size but has a rounded collar. I decide it will work and head to check out.
As the cashier rings me up, she tells me all about how the store works and I let her because why not.
“You can bring in any gently used clothes she’s outgrown and we will buy them from you. We accept all seasons.”
I thank her, knowing she speaks lies and more lies because she makes it sound so simple but they are actually very picky about the clothes they will accept. Ask me how I know. Needless to say, I won’t be bringing in any clothes she has outgrown anymore.
And besides, I have two she’s. Not that the cashier should have known that, but I notice when she says it. In our house, it’s never just one daughter. It’s always two.
When I first found out we were having twins, I was aware of the potential resentment one of them might experience because of being a twin. (I like to make up problems before they happen because I am a rational person.)
As it turns out, I haven’t had to do anything back-bendy or overly special to make sure they each feel like individuals. They are individuals. They are also twins. If they need a little something extra – time, attention, conversation – we try to be aware of it.
I’m reminded of something John Blase wrote about the importance of simply being present with our kids:
“Presence. I realize it’s a counterintuitive idea for most parents these days but I like to suggest that simply being there is as important as what you do when you’re there. The cultural pressure to be this fully engaged father reminds me of that picture of Atlas carrying the world on his shoulders; that’s a little much, don’tcha think? Maybe one of the primary roles of the father in a child’s life is to be there, on-site, in the scene, to keep the fear at bay. Not to interfere, but to protect simply by presence.”
from his book, Know When to Hold ‘Em
Walking to the car with my second white blouse, the wind picks up as I open the door. I’ll head to the school to have lunch with them after this, where they’ll each pick a friend. We’ll sit in our little group of five at the family table, sharing the kit-kats I bought at Target and they will ignore me completely while they giggle with their friends.
I will be so glad to sit with them. And they’ll be so glad I’ve come.
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Black Friday — the onset of one of the most heart-involved seasons of the year. Today is the day where everyone gives everyone else “permission” to celebrate the holiday season. It’s the day, for me, when Christmas starts racing toward us and I pull out every decoration, old vinyl and Christmas colored thing I own. This year is quiet for us — free of travel plans, drama, extraneous stress. It’s shaping up to be a simple season for us.
But I know this is not always the case — not forever, not for everyone. I’ve had the Thanksgivings and Christmases where it all felt empty. It felt robotic and fake. I hung ornaments, bought presents, made turkey and listened to Bing Crosby and I felt nothing.
No magic. No wonder. No spirit.
I remember the Christmas Eve when I cried myself to sleep. I remember the Christmas morning when the one who I loved the most forgot to wrap my presents, and I sat alone waiting for him, waiting for the feeling, waiting for the magic. I remember the year that I was a new single mom. I had no money, no budget, and a broken tree filled with broken dreams, and my broken heart tried to tape and glue it all back together while my two year old toddled around the room.
I haven’t experienced every kind of loss, pain and disappointment, but my heart has felt loss, pain and grief, and I’ve felt them all during this season.
But I also know there’s joy. I know there’s good here too.
So here are my brief words for you today as the Christmas season starts in, the advertisers try to eek every last dollar out of your wallet, memories remind you of what could have been, and maybe the fears of what might be feel overwhelming.
I decided to come here today with words of hope. Some words to remind you that your heart might be heavy, but the Gospel is still light. Advent is not for those who have their lives together — Advent is for all of us who are still waiting. Advent is the story of a God who sees all the details, catches our tears in bottles, breaks bread with us, and cries with us at graves we never wanted to stand by. Advent is for celebrating, for joy, for the cries of new life and the places of warmth and comfort when we thought for sure we’d be left out in the cold. Advent is for all of us.
Free Printables — (Simply click on the image to get the pdf!)
Tolkien said “If we all valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, this would be a merrier world.” When it feels like everyone else is hoarding gold this season, value something else. Sing a different song. Break bread with the broken. Bring cheer to the brokenhearted. Hoard something that can’t be hoarded because it only multiplies.
A few weeks ago, our own Melissa Green blogged a beautiful song referencing Julian of Norwich’s prayer “God of Your goodness give me Yourself, for You are enough for me now…All shall be well, all shall be well, all manner of things shall be well.” This season, if you’re staring at uneven seas, if your heart is anything but merry and bright, let this prayer lead you through the dark — “In your love all things are made new, please remind me still.”
Rainer Maria Rilke, one of my favorite poets (of all time), penned these words. “Everything terrible is something that needs our love.” I want to remember this as I get weary, annoyed with family, tired of my own weaknesses, and exhausted with all the strain of living in a messed up world. Where can I love this season, turning the terrible into beauty?
Our own Troy Bronsink wrote about “Learning from Beauty” last month. He wrote this and my heart whispered a quiet yes because beauty is one of those things you can’t hold on to. As Troy said its “Freed to gracefully reveal to you who you are and who you are becoming.” This season, try and let some of the real beauty reach you. Beyond the lights and sounds, presents and meals, movies and such — find the beauty (because its always somewhere) and let it do its work.
Today my prayer for you is more than just four printables and some Black Friday standard Christmas wishes. I pray you are surprised by joy this year. That today, your heart and soul can breathe deep and give thanks all over again. And that at some point, you can find yourself giving back the song “which now the angels sing.”
And I’ll do it publicly here.
Because, after all, I’m a Protestant and- on paper at least, even if its seldom practiced in most congregations- I believe in corporate confession.
I don’t need to duck inside a little private booth (note to Protestants: most Catholics haven’t used those in a long while, no matter what you saw in Keeping the Faith) to have a priest mediate my confession and prayer for absolution to God.
I can do it all by myself. With and in front of others.
There doesn’t need to be anyone who comes between me and God (note which noun comes first in that subordinate clause).
Which just nicely guarantees that very little communication, to say nothing of confession, passes from me to God.
While famous corporate confession from the Book of Common Prayer:
“…We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders…”
is incredibly pointed and powerful, I daresay it’s salvific sting would be felt more keenly if I had a confessor forcing me to own up and articulate exactly how what I’ve ‘left undone’ in my life and relationships that’s deserving of the label ‘sin.’
I’ve already shown my hand without actually fessing up:
I’ve got to confess.
I’ve got a serious case of Catholic-envy.
A virus that was perhaps latent within me since John Paul but has flared up to near-fatal levels by the arrival of Pope Francis.
While my own denomination continues to sever itself over North American issues of homosexual ordination, I’ve got to admire (if not agree) with a tradition that at least has the logical consistency to demand celibacy of all its clergy, gay or not. In a denomination severing itself over issues of homosexual marriage while about 1/2 of its members- let’s not talk about its clergy- divorce, I’ve got to admire (if not agree) with a tradition that has the logical consistency to teach that marriage is a lifelong covenant. In a denomination that is inescapably ‘American’ I’ve got to admire a tradition that is thoroughly ‘universal’ even while it universality means its rate of change seems incredibly slow to this American.
But really, like so many others, Pope Francis is the reason for my Catholic envy.
How I wish my own tradition had a globally recognizable leader in whom the life and teachings of Jesus were so palpably and incarnately demonstrated.
Just check out this picture. If not worth a thousand words, it def rates a short homily or a Broadway billboard:
The other Francis was right.
You don’t need evangelism when you’ve got leaders like this who are like a flesh-by-numbers display of the Gospel.
Had I not already signed on to a particular Jesus tribe and were, right now, ‘seeking’ a place to follow him, I gotta confess I’d give our Romish brothers and sisters a try.
Which but leads me to another confession that IS corporate for most my Protestant tribe:
Why are we not Catholic?
Or rather, in what ways are we still meaningfully Protestant?
I don’t know what church you attend or denomination you belong to but, chances are, you’re not ‘protesting’ anything anymore. Even if you are protesting things, odds are good it’s got more to do with ‘social justice’ or ‘the conservative agenda’ and little to do 16th century theology.
After all, the main points of contention that compelled Martin to post his 95 Theses have long since been reconciled.
Abuse of indulgences? Check.
Scripture and liturgy in the vernacular? Check.
Justification by faith alone? Double Check.
Every year it strikes me as odd that Protestant churches actually celebrate Reformation Sunday.
Even if you agree with Luther’s vision of Christianity, schism isn’t something to celebrate. That’s like celebrating your parents’ divorce- I know firsthand that even when the separation is necessary it’s still tragic.
You’d think it strange if I offered prayers every late October celebrating the rupture of family wouldn’t you?
I’ve spent a lot of time in Latin America, a region where the United Methodist Church is all but unknown so small is its population share. There, the Jesus family is divided into 2 homes, Catholic or Evangelical (usually meaning ‘Pentecostal’). Truth be told, I’ve got a lot more in common with the former there than I do the latter. In terms of worship, theology and how mission and service are to be done.
I wonder, given the changing contours of post-Christian America, if our future is to be found in Latin America?
Do our increasingly diverse cultural options make it necessary to winnow down the Christian options to two basic choices: Catholic or Pentecostal?
Could it be the Protestant affection for Pope Francis is a harbinger of things to come?
By the way, here’s a great article from First Things that echoes.
Queen’s to you:
Why are you Protestant?
Why are you not Catholic?
And does your reason trump the cause of Christian unity?
You can listen to here, on the sidebar or download it in iTunes under ‘Tamed Cynic.’http://tamedcynic.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Tamed_Cynic_Your_Salvation_is_Impossible.mp3
I originally tried to get an actual, live camel here for this weekend. As it turns out that would’ve been obscenely expensive, which Dennis thought would’ve been too ironic given this month’s focus on simplicity.
So I don’t have a live camel, but I thought I could approximate one to help us visualize the story. I need a few volunteers.
According to Wikipedia, which is never wrong, the one-humped dromedary camel is about 7 1/4 feet tall, from the ground to the top of its hump, and about 10 feet long from nose to tail.
In his day and in his part of the world, the camel was the largest animal Jesus could’ve have conceived. Just just hold those dimensions in your mind.
In Mark 10, Jesus and the disciples are a few miles outside the nation’s capital. Jesus has just taught that if anyone wants to enter the Kingdom of God they’ll have to approach the Kingdom as children, as having nothing, as children have nothing.
No sooner are his words out of his mouth than someone with everything approaches Jesus. A rich man. You don’t have everything you want without knowing how to get anything you want. So the rich man tries his hand at flattery: ‘Good Teacher’ he calls Jesus.
And then he asks him a rich man’s kind of question. With everything in this life taken care of- no worries- the rich man asks what he has to do to inherit the next one.
Jesus doesn’t return the rich man’s flattery and responds disinterestedly by giving him the most ordinary answer imaginable.
He recites the 10 Commandments.
But the rich man waves him off: I’ve already done all that. I’m a good person. I’m religious. I don’t lie. I haven’t cheated on my wife. I haven’t stolen from my neighbors.
You’re still missing one thing, Jesus says.
Liquidate your 401K. Empty your savings. Put the house on the market. Trade in the car. Sell the season tickets. Forget the beach vacation. Cancel your membership at the club. Everything. Give the cash to the poor.
And then come follow me.
And the rich man says: ‘Yeah, I don’t think so. What do you know? You’re just some homeless guy.’
Then Jesus looks at this one rich man and makes a sweeping generalization about all rich people:
their salvation is impossible.
This same Jesus who promised paradise to the thief
This same Jesus who refused to condemn the adulteress
This same Jesus who compared himself to a shepherd who will go out of his way searching for a single lost lamp
This same Jesus who said God’s love was like an old lady who turned her house upside down looking for a dime
This same Jesus says salvation is impossible for the rich.
The disciples, who’ve grown up believing that prosperity is a sign of God’s blessing, they ask Jesus: what do you mean it’s impossible?
I mean, it’s about as likely as shoving a fully-loaded 7 x 10 foot camel through the eye of a needle.
Or, as we might say today, when it comes to heaven the rich have a snowball’s chance in hell.
I offer it to you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Actually, the story’s maybe not as bad as it sounds.
As the ancient Church Father, Origen, pointed out, the Aramaic word for camel (kamelon) is almost identical to the Aramaic word for nautical cable (kamilon).
It’s just 1 letter difference. It could be as simple as a copyist’s error.
So when Jesus says ‘impossible’ he doesn’t mean camel-through-the-eye-of-a -needle impossible.
He instead means that the rich getting into heaven is more like threading a mariner’s rope through the eye of a needle.
See, that’s more comforting right? Not really?
If nothing else, we can seek solace in the fact that Jesus didn’t say this to everyone.
Jesus didn’t tell his 12 disciples to sell everything and give it to the poor. Sure they dropped fishing nets and left boats behind in the water and walked away from homes and, presumably, families inside them.
But Jesus didn’t tell them they had to or heaven was null and void.
And when a lawyer- who definitely wasn’t poor- asks Jesus this very same question about eternal life, the lawyer doesn’t get an impossible image of a camel squeezing through a needle.
He gets a story about a Good Samaritan.
And the woman at the well, when she asks Jesus about eternal life, Jesus doesn’t tell her ‘Go and give away everything for the poor.’
Jesus tells her ‘Go and sin no more.’
So before you get all worked up about this Gospel passage, just remember that Jesus doesn’t say this to everyone. Jesus doesn’t pull the camel-through-the-eye-of-a-needle comparison for everyone. He doesn’t say salvation is impossible for everyone.
He just says it to the rich, about the rich.
So as long as we’re not rich, we’re in the clear.
We can love our neighbor as ourself. We can go and sin no more.
We don’t have to worry that our salvation is impossible.
But how do you know?
If you’re rich?
After all, rich people are notoriously adept at deluding themselves.
In study after study, sociologists have shown how rich people seldom think of themselves as rich. Hardly ever.
It’s always the person above them, in front of them, who has and makes more who’s wealthy. Not them.
Rich people rarely think of themselves as rich.
Even if we were rich, chances are we wouldn’t think we were. So how do you know?
A few years ago, Money Magazine surveyed its readers and asked them how much they would need in liquid assets to consider themselves wealthy.
Guess how much? 5 million dollars.
That seems a little high to me.
But here’s the thing-
When it comes to wealth, we don’t need to agree on tax brackets or net worth.
We don’t need to debate exact amounts or dollar figures because we can easily identify a rich based on some very specific behaviors.
Some ‘you might be a rich person if’ behaviors.
Because rich people have so much money they do some crazy, strange things that are easy to point out.
For example, one of the things rich people do is called ‘upgrade.’
Maybe you’ve read about it. It’s when a rich person has something that works, perfectly, and then they go out and get another just like it, only a litter newer.
And then they have 2.
Like I said, we don’t have to agree on net worth because we can I.D. rich people by the crazy things they do they have so much money.
Don’t believe me?
Listen to this:
Rich people will go into a kitchen, a kitchen with countertops, a microwave and an oven, and guess what they’ll do
They’ll rip it all out.
And then…they’ll replace it.
With countertops, a microwave and an oven.
You’re smiling because it’s crazy right?
That’s why we don’t need to agree on how much money makes a person rich because we can identify a rich person based on what they do.
Some rich people I know, they’ll go to the mall and they’ll wait in line outside the Apple Store, and let me tell you rich people hate waiting in line.
But they’ll wait in line at the Apple Store for an hour, 2 hours, 3 hours. And while they wait, they’ll pull out their iPhone and they’ll post on Facebook: ‘At the Apple Store, waiting to get my new iPhone.’
Rich people do such strange things they make themselves obvious.
Something else rich people do- maybe you’ve heard about this before.
They’ll open up a refrigerator filled with food, and they’ll look inside and then they’ll say the craziest thing: ‘There’s nothing to eat.’
I know rich people who will do the same thing in front of their closet.
They’ll stand in front of a closet full of clothes and they’ll say: ‘I’ve got nothing to wear.’
And the truth is, they’ve got work clothes, workout clothes, afterwork clothes and work in the yard clothes.
It’s ridiculous I know.
Don’t say anything, but I know this one rich woman. She’s got like 13, 14 pairs of shoes and she’s always on the lookout for another.
What could you possible do with 14 pairs of shoes? That’s like half of February.
You see, we don’t need to peek inside a person’s portfolio to know if they’re rich. Their behaviors are so easy to spot.
Rich people have so much stuff they’ll gather up stuff they don’t use- it all works fine- and they’ll give it away.
They’ll give it away.
And then, they’ll feel good about themselves for giving away stuff they don’t need in order to create more space in their house so they can go get more stuff.
I’m telling you, rich people do the craziest things.
But it’s not just the crazy things that make a rich person easy to identify.
How many of you know someone who owns a car? Any kind of car?
Only 8% of the world has a car. 92% of the people in the world would look at that person with the car and think ‘rich.’
How many of you know someone who has some way to drink a glass of clean water?
Because 1 billion people in the world would look at that glass of water like it was gold and lick their lips and think ‘rich.’
How much change do you have on you? Right now in your pockets?
Over a billion people live on less than a dollar a day. I won’t tell the IRS but congratulations, you’re rich.
How many of you know someone who will eat something today?
Because half a billion kids won’t.
This girl on the back of your bulletin.
I’ve been to her home at least 3 times. Fact is, I can tell you for sure that my garbage disposal eats better than she does.
When surveyed, the readers of Money Magazine said they’d need 5 million dollars in liquid to consider themselves rich.
The truth is- if you have a combined household income of $45,000 you’re in the top 1% of wage earners in the world.
And I know, the way wealth works, you probably don’t think of yourself as rich.
I know, most of you, in this part of the world, in our part of the world, you’re not considered rich. But don’t forget Jesus was a homeless dude and probably wouldn’t find that a very persuasive argument.
It’s a dangerous thing when we think our world is the world.
It’s dangerous because we might read right on past a passage like today’s and not even realize that Jesus just said our salvation is impossible.
The rich man asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life and Jesus answers by reciting the 10 Commandments: don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t covet or cheat or dishonor.
Jesus doesn’t rattle off all 10 of the Commandments.
Jesus leaves off the first 2, the 2 most important ones, the 2 of which the other 8 are only subsets:
I am the Lord your God.
You shall worship no other gods but God.
‘I’ve done all that; I’ve kept those commandments’ the rich man says.
And Jesus parries:
There is one more thing- what about the first 2 commandments? How are you with those?
Only Jesus doesn’t phrase it that way.
He asks it in an object lesson instead.
Go sell all your stuff. Put it on Ebay and Craigslist. Auction it off.
Take the money- I don’t want your money- give it to the poor.
Get rid of everything you have so that you just have me.
Get rid of all you treasure and you can have me, your homeless God, as your greatest treasure.
How does that sound?
Mark says the rich man walked away, ‘grieving.’
And that word in Greek (aganakteo) it’s the same exact word that Mark uses to describe another rich, young ruler in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before he gives everything away, when Jesus weeps and sweats blood because he’s losing the most precious thing he has: the presence of God the Father.
Mark says the rich man ‘grieves’ thinking about losing his god.
As the rich man walks away, Jesus says ‘Huh, rich people…their salvation is impossible.’
I know enough rich people to know that that rich man- he probably heard that as bad news.
It just goes to show how money can make it hard to hear the Gospel.
Because it’s not bad news.
Let’s be honest, rich people like us- we’re such sinners. Our hearts have so many idols, money is only the primary one. Our values and priorities are so compromised . We’ve hurt so many people in our lives and messed up our own lives in so many ways.
It would take a completely impossible miracle to save rich people like us.
I mean, it would be as likely as a rich man willing making himself poor. Not going to happen.
Our salvation is as unlikely as a King stepping down off his throne to become a slave. What are the odds?
It would be like someone paying an incredible debt that someone else racked up. There comes a price point where no one would ever do that.
It would like an innocent man laying down his life not for his friends or his family or his country but for a guilty man. What are the chances of that happening?
Our salvation IS an impossibility!
It’s like hell freezing over. It’s like pigs flying.
It’s like a dead man coming back from the grave.
It’s like a camel going through the eye of a needle.
Thanks be to God.
The only people who are saved are the ones who realize that their salvation is an impossible miracle.
An act of God.
A gift I don’t deserve and could never purchase.
Something that was bought at great cost but has been freely given…to me.
Once that Gospel transforms your heart, once it becomes your treasure, once it becomes the most precious identity-forming thing in your life, it changes everything.
Once the Gospel transforms your heart, you realize that asking the question ‘How much do I have to give?’ or ‘What percentage do I have to give?’ misses the point completely.
Because it’s not about obligation.
You should want to give all that you can because Jesus Christ gave it all away for you.
Even putting the question that way: ‘How much do I have to give?’ is a good indication that you haven’t experienced the Gospel yet.
You might be a religious person; you’re just not a Christian.
That’s why, for example, it never works out when people say ‘I’ll give more once I make this much money, once I’m at this stage in my career, once the kids are gone, once this bill is paid off.’
Odds are, you won’t.
Because it’s not a money issue. It’s a God issue. It’s a Gospel issue.
Statistically, the more money a person makes the less they give as a percentage of their income.
Because the more stuff you have, one, single gift doesn’t seem quite as important does it? The more provisions you have, the less you need a Provider.
It’s not a money issue. It’s a Gospel issue.
It’s not about asking how much you have to give.
It’s about having your attitude about money- and everything else- shaped by the Cross.
It’s not about percentages or pocket change.
It’s about giving and living sacrificially.
And by definition, giving and living sacrificially means it hurts. It’s uncomfortable. It’s costs something. It’s not easy. It strains you.
Look, full disclosure: you pay my salary.
So if you want to chalk this up to a self-serving, fundraising sermon, fine.
Don’t give your money to the Church.
Give it to Lupe to use in Guatemala.
But give until it hurts.
Give until it hurts because it’s NOT ABOUT MONEY.
Jesus didn’t want the rich man’s money, and God doesn’t want yours.
God wants your heart. He already paid a lot for it.
God wants your heart.
And God wants your heart to be shaped like his.
And if the preaching of Jesus, again and again and again, is any indication:
Nothing competes more for your heart than money.
Nothing competes more for your love of Christ than the pursuit and management of wealth.
Nothing works against you following Christ fully, you maturing in your faith, you surrendering everything you are to Christ, you making yourself available to Christ’s call upon your life- nothing works against you following Christ more than the pursuit and management of a lifestyle.
Nothing competes more for our hearts than money.
So it’s always good to find out where our heart is, whose our heart is.
Now I’m not going to test you like Jesus did and challenge you to sell everything you got and give it away.
Because actually, you can find out where your heart is without all that trouble.
You just have to think about this one question and answer to yourself honestly.
Which reality, if it were true, would cause you greater anxiety, distress and fear:
There is no God. Your sins haven’t been forgiven, but that’s okay because there is no heaven and after you die you won’t be with God or any of your loved ones.
You have no money.
Which reality, if it were true, would cause you greater anxiety, distress and fear: there is no God or you have no money?
Where your answer is, there lies your heart.
Jesus is not a competitor for space in this world.
Nine days before the accident Rich and some of his Ragamuffin band recorded nine songs in an abandoned church. These were rough takes recorded on a cheap battery-operated tape recorder. The songs were all about Jesus, sketches of songs intended for an album Rich was calling "the Jesus album."
After his death these rough recordings were released in the 2 CD set The Jesus Record. The first CD is the rough takes that Rich and the band recorded in the church.
One of the reasons I loved Rich Mullins was the rich theological imagination and creativity of his lyrics. That imagination is on display with the song "You Did Not Have a Home" from the The Jesus Record. Some of the lyrics:
You did not have a homeIn these last lines I'm reminded of Rowan Williams's assessment that "Jesus is not a competitor for space in this world" and that, because of this, Jesus stands outside our cycles of violence. There is a connection here been possessionlessness and peace.
There were places You visited frequently
You took off Your shoes and scratched Your feet
'Cause you knew that the whole world belongs to the meek
But You did not have a home
Birds have nests, foxes have dens
But the hope of the whole world rests
On the shoulders of a homeless man
You had the shoulders of a homeless man
You did not have a home
You had no stones to throw
You came without an ax to grind
You did not tow the party line
No wonder sight came to the blind
You had no stones to throw
You rode an ass's foal
They spread their coats and cut down palms
For You and Your donkey to walk upon
But the world won't find what it thinks it wants
On the back of an ass's foal
So I guess You had to get sold
'Cause the world can't stand what it cannot own
And it can't own You 'Cause You did not have a home.
I’m a feminist, sure. But first, last, always, I’m a disciple of Jesus Christ. My first allegiance isn’t to feminism. My first allegiance is to Jesus and his Kingdom.
Following Jesus changes my feminism, not the other way around.
I choose to be a feminist in the way that I believe Jesus would be a feminist.
The ways of the Kingdom of God stand in direct contrast to the ways of the world and our culture. (Sadly, our churches can sometimes resemble our culture instead of Jesus – witness our fascination with militarism, entertainment cults of celebrity, power, materialism, and patriarchal culture and so on.)
When I decided to become a disciple of Jesus, it meant that I wanted to live into my right-now life the way that I believed Jesus would do it. That has led me to many changes in my politics and activism and opinions, how I live out my faith, my marriage and my mothering, my engagement with the Church and community, and all points between.
Because I follow Jesus, I want to see God’s redemptive movement for women arch towards justice.
And God’s Kingdom tastes like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. My life should still bear the fruit of the Spirit out.
I don’t get a free pass on discipleship because I’m a woman or a feminist or for any other reason. I still have to work out my salvation with fear and trembling.
When I chose to follow Jesus, it meant I chose to apprentice myself to his way of life and living in the world.
If we want to live counter-culturally as disciples, we have to live our lives and seek mercy and do justice counter-culturally as well. It’s tempting to want to employ the same tactics and arguments or methods that have been used on us or others but that is a temptation we must resist. I don’t believe that silencing and shaming and other tactics of the world will really bring about God’s redemptive movement for women. We are to be gentle as doves and cunning as serpents.
God is light, there is no darkness to him, so when we participate in the life of Christ now, we are marked as the bringers of light. The Apostle John wrote, “Anyone who claims to be intimate with God ought to live the same kind of life Jesus lived.”
And a follower of Jesus is marked by joy. A follower of Jesus forgives seventy times seven. A follower of Jesus seeks to serve others. A follower of Jesus turns the other cheek. (I could go on.) There are hundreds of ways that Jesus subverts our world’s systems and that can be hard to embrace: we want a seat at the table and a share of the power.
Maybe it’s because we don’t really trust that the living water and broken bread will be enough for us.
Maybe it’s because we don’t trust God’s faithfulness.
Maybe it’s because we’re afraid or angry or hurt or wounded or broken.
Maybe it’s because we are still learning how to turn our swords into ploughshares.
To the world, it’s foolish to choose peace instead of war. It’s foolish to forgive. It’s foolish to be kind. It’s foolish to hope. It’s foolish to offer grace and conversation. It’s foolish to care for your weaker brothers or sisters, let alone change your own behaviour to accommodate them. It’s foolish to live without legalism and “clear boundaries” that apply to everyone.
Foolish things will confound the “wise” of our world.
And when a feminist chooses to eschew the tactics of the world that are often used against women – silencing, shaming, name-calling, belittling, ganging up, violence, and so on – we are being foolish in the ways of a disciple. We are living prophetically into the Kingdom of God. How would Jesus be a feminist? How would Jesus do justice and seek mercy and walk humbly on behalf of his global daughters?
We can prophecy a better world with our very words and actions.
The Spirit transforms our hearts and minds and then our lives: regardless of our past, regardless of our context, regardless of our privilege or lack thereof. If we are disciples, we are participating in the life of Jesus now. And the way in which we engage in our lives matters. (The way in which we engage our enemies matters even more perhaps.)
This is how we will be known: by our love.
I want my work and witness as a Jesus Feminist to be marked by who I build up, not who I tear down. I want us to be known as the ones who speak life, not death; the ones who empower and affirm and speak truth. I want us to be the ones who boldly deconstruct and then, with grace and intention and inclusion, reconstruct upon the Cornerstone. You will know us by our love.
I turn more and more towards the aging Beloved Disciple’s words these days when I’m working for justice for women: if we love one another, God dwells deeply within us, and his love becomes complete in us—perfect love!… When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us… There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love. We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first. If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both.” (excerpts from 1 John 4)
As Release Week for my book begins, I decided to repost this from my archives. As responses, reviews, ratings, praise, and criticism begins to unfold from all corners, it feels timely for me…. here’s to loving one another.
The post In which I’m a feminist, sure, but first I’m a disciple of Jesus Christ appeared first on Sarah Bessey.
A recent conversation on Twitter got me thinking about how I find myself straddling the line between what folks might call “conservative” and “progressive.”
Now, my definition of “conservative” here is more literal than political. I’m not saying that I am conservative in the sense of identifying as a political – whether social or fiscal – conservative. The entire American conservative political movement is fairly repulsive to me. Listening to the local evangelical (read: baptized American political conservative) radio station on my morning drive confirms this regularly.
But I am conservative in that I believe in an actual baseline for human values. In other words, I believe that there is a “good” that really exists and is binding on all people throughout all time. There is certainly some relativity in how that good is perceived and applied, but the baseline is always there. In one sense, the calling of each generation is to keep society tethered to this baseline – to conserve, as it were, the values that make us decent human beings and not baseless biological blips on the radar of time.
Jesus, of course, defined this baseline as “love” – for God and for neighbor. Love is that which anchors us to human meaning by demanding honesty, generosity, mercy, equality, and safety in all relationships with all people. Love is manifest and applied at individual, interpersonal, communal, and societal levels. Love is that which makes the human divine and fulfills all divine law. Love makes life sane and humane.
But this kind of conservatism actually leads to my progressive bent. Whereas there is a baseline for human values that make life sane and good, there is also constant progression in how to best apply those values to life in each generation. Thus, there is actual scientific progress. There is actual medical progress. There is actual therapeutic progress. There is even actual theological progress! Certainly, not all that claims to be progress is, in fact, progress, and what is actual progress must be discerned and proven in each generation. But the philosophical position that would make all progress provisional and unreal is a hideous one indeed. Abolition is progress. The granting of civil rights is progress. Every successful vaccine or treatment is progress. Protection from oppression and abuse is progress. A Jesus-centered interpretation of Scripture is progress.
That is also not to say that progress is perfect. By its very nature it must be improved upon by further progress. And some progress is, in fact, a correction of “progress” gone wrong by returning to the way the baseline was better applied in generations past (perhaps much theological progress fits into this category). But to deny that progress has been made, or to obscure the reality of healing, safety, and empowerment for those formerly sick, endangered, or oppressed is nothing more than philosophical hogwash. Embodied reality is the place in which both the baseline of human values – summarized as love – and the progress of application are clearly seen.
The child finally protected from the sexual predator and the woman finally treated as an equal have no misgivings about these clear embodied realities.
And they have no time for fanciful philosophical muddiness.
Ok, philosophers and realists alike…Opine!
Make It & Love It shows us how to make amazing glass etched gifts like this Etched Trifle Bowl! You can use any design to make it as personalized as you’d like or even use a pretty font to write someone’s name or a favorite Bible verse. So many ideas to permanently engrave glass gifts!
Do you have a beautiful homemade Christmas gift idea? Submit blog links here. If you are not a blogger and would like to share instructions for a homemade gift idea, please submit the information here.
Someone told me that I’m disgustingly prideful. They talked and wrote about my hubris, my vanity, my self-importance and self-promotion.
Someone else told me that my hallmark is my humility and self-deprecation.
Someone called me an uppity woman, like it was the 19th century all over again.
Other people tell me I’m too nice, that I avoid conflict, that I should get better at arguing and confronting, taking a stand.
Someone thinks I’m a terrible feminist because I don’t tick the proper boxes in their political opinion notebook. I’m just palatable to the pablum-craving masses, that’s all.
And someone else thinks I’m a terrible follower of Jesus. Oh, yes, don’t forget the heresy: I’m an apostate. I clearly don’t place any value on Scripture. I’m weak and easily deceived with a disdain for the Word. In fact, I’m ruining everything apparently, to blame for almost all ills.
Someone else thinks I’m doing just fine on both the following Jesus point and the feminist thing.
My identity can’t be found in the accusations or the accolades.
I can’t listen to the ones who think I’m evil – or the ones who think I’m wonderful. Both of them are right – and wrong. I can’t find my identity or my voice or my worth in the words and opinions of others. I mean, I’m open to criticism from the ones who’ve earned a right to speak into my life, absolutely. And trust me: they hold my feet to the fire sometimes. (But there’s a difference between someone who speaks from an earned place of love and trust into your life, and the drive-by critics with an ax to grind against you and no investment in the outcome.)
It’s a good thing I have such a gift for selective hearing. (See, Mum? I know it was hard on you when I was growing up, but now it’s quite useful!)
Here is the thing about standing up: some people would rather if you sat back down.
People prefer status quo. Boat-rockers make us nervous. Just like people in the wilderness wearing camel hair coats and eating locusts with a side of honey disrupt us, people who think Jesus actually meant all that stuff he said don’t fit in anywhere.
But I won’t sit down. I won’t back down. I won’t be silenced simply because I’m not perfect. My only prayer now is that my weakness shows the strength of Christ and his Kingdom.
I will call attention to my feet of clay and my own contradictions over and over again because no one is more aware than me that I only carry a priceless treasure – the life of Christ – in this (quite) cracked pot of earth. The treasure and the validity of the message can’t be dependent on my ability to please everyone all the time. My failings are real – and number far more than the ones above.
I believe in being a feminist the way that Jesus would be a feminist, absolutely. I believe that our HOW matters as much as our WHAT and our WHY. And I want my ways to reflect the man from Nazareth, I want to walk in his footsteps faithfully.
And right from creation, we’ve been called to be an ezer kenegdo, a warrior. We’ve not been called to the people-pleasing life, to the approval seeking life, to the bow-down-and-give-up life. We’ve been called to the peace-making life, the truth-telling life, the he-who-the-Son-sets-free-is-free-indeed life.
We’ve been called to the spirit-filled and God-breathed life, living out the ways of the Kingdom and the life in Christ to every corner of our humanity.
We’ve been called to the life of the beloved. We’ve been called to the life of the disciple. And sometimes that means people love what we do, sometimes it means they hate what we do. (In my case, they’re probably both right because I’m a mess and I make mistakes. I have, and I will, disappoint.)
But we can’t engage in our lives from a place of worthiness without having a core belief about that worthiness: We are loved. We are free. We are redeemed. We are whole in Christ. Your true identity is Beloved. Start there.And then we can live out our lives and our callings from a deep well of love and freedom and wholeness – because we are.
Even – maybe especially – our imperfect, contradictory lives are singing a beautiful prophetic song of invitation: come outside, come outside, it’s beautiful out here, breathe free, you are so loved.
The post In which identity can’t be found in the accusations – or the accolades appeared first on Sarah Bessey.
I'm just holding this post with an open hand before God.
“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It's about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”
– Brene Brown
I think we should cut Christianese some slack.
Like any culture, the evangelical culture in the U.S. has its own linguistic affectations and quirks, blending together lines from Scripture, hymns, and tradition with everyday colloquialisms and figures of speech.
And it’s not all bad.
I remember with fondness the way my great-grandmothers would shake her head at some baffling news or unsettling headline and in her thick Appalachian accent whisper, “Lordamercy”—the ancient Kyrie elesion rendered into a single, appropriate word. And I find it helpful to heed James’ advice now and then by punctuating a lengthy discussion over calendar dates and future plans with a reverent, “Lord willing.” It is beautiful and good to work the poetry of our faith into everyday conversation and meditation, to speak of “traveling mercies” and “fellowship” and of how “God is good all the time.” Each time I’m on a plane that rises above the clouds at sunrise, I think of Psalm 139—“If I rise on the wings of the dawn, or settle on the far side of the sea…even there your hand will guide me”—and I am grateful for the gift of these lovely words.
We have this deep well of beautiful, helpful language from which to draw, and we should not be ashamed of using the words and imagery handed down to us from the great cloud of witnesses that came before us to illuminate the present. Jesus himself did so often.
But in thinking about our use of “Christianese”—both as a writer and as a member of the Church—I think Christianese becomes unhelpful the moment we use it to protect ourselves from being honest with one another, the moment we use it to escape vulnerability.
We do this in several ways:
1) We employ Christianese when we have an idea.
I see this a lot in the religious publishing/blogging/conference “industry.” Folks protect their ideas by bubble wrapping them in an impenetrable layer of Christianese, so that suddenly, it’s not a just a book proposal but a “God thing,” not just a marketing strategy but a “Spirit-movement,” not just an idea for a blog post but “something God has laid on my heart,” not just a conference but a “Jesus revolution.”
On the one hand, I suspect this language gets used to convey true conviction and feeling, but on the other, it can also serve to protect a person’s ideas from criticism, input, and disagreement. It can be scary to put a bold idea out there to be digested and dissected by co-workers or the public, so sometimes we try to protect our ideas by claiming they are not merely our own, but God’s. The problem is this keeps us from being honest with one another and it drags God’s name into ideas and plans that may not be perfect and that may in fact benefit from the input of other wise people who are happy to respectfully engage a person’s ideas but are wary of “crossing” God by offering a new perspective. (It also tends to gloss over the hard work of real people, like agents, editors, sales reps, marketing people, designers, and assistants whose gifts and creative energy make a lot of what we create possible. An author once told me she didn’t need a literary agent because her only agent was God. I told her that, unfortunately, most publishing houses weren’t accepting submission from God right now, so maybe she ought to rethink that strategy.)
It may not seem so, but it requires a lot more honesty and vulnerability to tell someone you have an idea that you would like him or her to consider than to tell that person God has an idea you would like him or her to consider. In the latter, God serves as something of a buffer between you and the other person, protecting you from potential rejection. But this tends to break down actual conversation as both parties have to navigate carefully around the Christianese to try and guess at what one another actually thinks and wants. Suddenly, we’re not talking like normal people anymore. We’re talking like a bunch of repressed weirdos and no one knows what we’re actually saying to one another!
It’s really hard to put oneself in the vulnerable position of sharing an idea. But without that vulnerability, real friendships cannot grow and real ideas cannot flourish in the good soil of a diverse, engaged community.
2) We employ Christianese when we make a decision.
I think most Christians are eager to make God-honoring decisions in our lives, but sometimes we inadvertently close ourselves off to the wisdom and love of other people when we use Christianese to justify and explain our decisions. It’s hard not to cringe when someone confidently announces that God “led” her to do something careless or hurtful, and it’s hard not to get frustrated when certain specific lifestyle decisions are spoken of as “God’s way” when they just might not work for everyone.
It is much easier to say, “God told me to go to Uganda for a short-term missions trip,” than it is to say, “I’d like to go to Uganda for a short-term missions trip.” One protects us from input, disagreement, disappointment, and the risk we might be wrong by placing all responsibility for the decision onto God. The other requires vulnerability and opens us up to input, disagreement, disappointment, and the risk we might be wrong….which is harder, but ultimately, healthier. Owning our decisions helps us live among one another with more authenticity, openness, respect, and love…because it puts us on a level playing field as we each seek to do what is right while remaining mindful of our own imperfections.
3) We employ Christianese in the context of suffering.
My mother-in-law was recently in the hospital suffering from a “perfect storm” of health problems that suddenly afflicted an otherwise incredibly healthy woman. Now, my mother-in-law is one of the most kindhearted, giving, open, and grateful people you will ever meet, but even she expressed some dismay at Christians who approached her bedside, patted her on the hand and told her God would not give her more than she could handle.
I think what she wanted in that moment was not religious platitudes or shallow words of comfort, but for someone to sit next to her, hold her hand, and say, “This sucks. I’m here.”
Perhaps we resort to Christianese in the context of suffering because it is so freaking terrifying…for both the person suffering and those who feel helpless in the face of their loved one’s pain. To sit in that pain together is to put ourselves in an extremely vulnerable position…and I know what it’s like to want desperately to try and ease the tension and make it easier by quoting Philippians 4:13 or urging everyone to look on “the bright side.”
But we are not called to paper over one another’s suffering with platitudes. We are called to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. Jesus himself displayed this in his own life, and in his own suffering, time and again.
But when we resort to Christianese, when we start talking carelessly about God working all things together for good or having higher ways than our own, we risk losing our ability to truly empathize, to truly relate. Once again, we stop talking like normal people, and we start talking like robots! And often, we fail to communicate the gospel to those who aren't in on our religious "lingo" as a result!
As Brene Brown has so thoughtfully brought to our attention over the last few years, vulnerability is at the heart of healthy, authentic relationships. We cannot really love one another unless we are willing to be honest with one another, unless we are willing to risk being real.
The risk doesn't always pay off; it's not always safe - and that's why I think we build these defenses around it, why we resort to Christianese. When it comes to my relationship with God and with other Christians, I’m as quick as anyone else to try and protect myself from honest dialog by hiding behind flowery, unhelpful language (or, my favorite defense mechanism: to intellectualize everything so that it can’t hurt me).
But Jesus didn't call us to be safe. And the relationships that have meant the most to me, that have brought me closer to the Table, have been those in which we talk to one another like normal people, employing the language of our shared faith tradition when it illuminates the truth, but not when it obscures it.
Thoughts? Where else do you see Christianese employed as a way of protecting against vulnerability? How can Christians do a better job of talking like normal people when it comes to sharing ideas, making decisions, and experiencing suffering together in community?
My warrior princess had been going through a period where the warrior was very much in evidence. Her rages were a terrible thing to behold. She would yell, stomp, knock things down and throw things. If someone was too close, it was certainly within the realm of possibility that she would hit or kick.
And I was mad. Mad at this tiny little girl whose feelings were so, so much bigger than she was. Mad because she was adding a burden that I didn’t want to bear. I resented interrupting other activities whenever she got upset to help her calm down and make sure that she didn’t hurt someone or something. Each outburst added a few more pounds to my load of mommy guilt as I fought to hold on to patience, peace and self control, and often dropped the ball.
Could we have punished or ignored it out of her? I asked myself that several times. Honesty compelled me to admit, though, that all punishment would have accomplished is to turn that fearsome rage inward, and the thought of that seething inside of her was far worse than dealing with the outward expressions.
“Use your words.” Except words don’t matter to this one they way they do to her older sister and me. This mighty girl has always been a tornado. Walking earlier than any of her siblings, always jumping, always running, perpetual motion, breath-taking hugs, bouncing from delight, shuddering under sadness–her language has always been more physical than verbal.
“I don’t love you. And (her voice caught here) I don’t love God.” Oooow. Words aren’t the release for her that they are to me, but she knew how to use them to kick my mama gut.
“You know what, sweetheart? I have enough love for both of us right now. God has enough love for all of us.” Enough grace for all of us, even when we don’t have our own.
The One who has always cradled me during my own storms and rages and temper tantrums held me tightly. “You who are spiritual, correct one another gently. Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.“
I could see her spirit collapsing under the weight. All the ordinary disappointments, hurts, and frustrations (and they are no fewer and no lighter when you are five than they are when you are thirty five) were so heavy on her little soul, and her muscles hadn’t yet grown enough to be able to carry them.
As the anger subsided and the sobs began, I stroked her arm. “Those feelings are really powerful, huh? Maybe I can help. Can you give some of them to me?” Her tear-streaked face turned up, wondering what I meant. I laid my hand on her for a moment, praying for peace, and then turned my palm up and asked her to squeeze all the yucky feelings into it. She grabbed my hand and squeezed with all her might.
She squeezed and squeezed, then looked at her hands and mine. Her face scrunched in thought, and she said that maybe some of the yucky feelings were sticking to her skin. She pressed her hands even harder against mine, and I felt the tension dissipate. Together we took several deep breaths and blew those feelings away. Then she smiled and hugged me even more tightly than she had squooshed out the other feelings. Beaming, she whispered, “I love you so, so much! And I love God more than anything!”
Every day this week, she has come to me. “Mami, I have really big, angry feelings right now. I want to scream and hit! Can I squeeze them into your hand?” “Sure, sweetie. Let me hold them for you.” My little dynamo uses every bit of her strength to hold on, then blasts those icky-sticky feelings away with a strong lungful of air.
After several days of this, we decided that it wasn’t just enough to let go of the heavy feelings. We needed to pick up some happy ones. So we use our eyelashes to rub butterfly-kiss giggles onto each others’ cheeks, and her favorite lavender oil to rub peace onto her back and feet. We blow zerberts on each others’ faces until we are laughing too hard to puff. At least a dozen times she has come running up and wrapped her arms around me in a bear hug. “Mami, I have so many love-feelings that I had to squish them into you with hugs and kisses!” Sure enough, her love-feelings pressed right into the depths of my soul. And suddenly I realize that my spirit is no longer weighted down.
Isn’t that just like this topsy-turvy kingdom of God? As soon as I bent down to help carry her burden, my own load grew light.
Image credit: woodleywonderworks on Flickr
Balm! So well said and speaks to exactly what you dealt with at church.
“The quest to feel certain becomes an idol when a person’s sense of significance to God and security before God is anchored not in their simple trust of God’s character, as revealed on the cross, but in how certain they feel about the rightness of their beliefs.” – Greg Boyd
Today I am just thrilled to share an interview with theologian and teacher Greg Boyd, whose new book, Benefit of the Doubt, releases this week. Greg is the co-founder of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota where he serves as Senior Pastor, speaking to thousands each week. He has authored or co-authored 18 books and numerous academic articles, including his best-selling and award-winning Letters From a Skeptic and his recent books Repenting of Religion and The Myth of a Christian Nation. Greg has also been featured on the front page of The New York Times, The Charlie Rose Show, CNN, National Public Radio, the BBC and numerous other television and radio venues.
What I love about Greg’s work is his commitment to both intellectual integrity and faithful obedience. His books always challenge me to not only think, but to act. And his latest, Benefit of the Doubt, is right up my alley…and likely many of yours too…for it tackles issues related to faith, doubt, certainty, and obedience. I think you will find many of Greg’s thoughts here helpful and profound. Enjoy!
Rachel: First of all, thank you so much for this book. I really related to your personal experience with doubt and found myself underlining paragraph after paragraph of Benefit of the Doubt, praying your words would reach those who need it the most. To start off, tell us a little of your own story. What triggered your first doubts about your faith?
Greg: Thanks Rachel, I appreciate the opportunity to talk. I don’t know if I can say when I first had doubts about my faith, because my faith has pretty much always been accompanied by doubt. But it was a prayer meeting I attended twenty-some years ago that first got me questioning the very concept of faith that most Christians embrace today. A dozen or so other people and I had gathered to pray for a young man who had been diagnosed with brain cancer. At the beginning of the meeting the lady who owned the house we were in stood up and read Jesus’ statement, “according to your faith it will be done to you.” She then told us that if our faith was free of doubt, this young man would be healed. The implication was that if we doubted, he would not be healed.
As we entered into prayer for this young man, everyone in the room felt pressure to try to make ourselves certain that this man was in fact going to be healed. As I share in my book, after a couple of minutes of praying the image of the Lion on the Wizard of Oz suddenly popped into my mind and I saw him saying, “I do believe, I do believe, I do, I do, I DO believe!” just as he does in the movie. It occurred to me that this was exactly what we were doing. We were trying to talk ourselves into becoming certain, as if faith was a sort of psychological gimmick. And it made me wonder what kind of God would leverage the life of a young man on how well we were to perform this psychological gimmickry, and about a matter that, if we’re honest with ourselves, we can’t be certain of. It seemed like we were caught in a cruel, twisted joke!
This motivated me to begin to seriously question whether the notion that our faith is as strong as we are free of doubt is really an accurate understanding of faith. The Benefit of the Doubt is really the outcome of that line of questioning that began in that prayer meeting so many years ago.
Can you explain what “certainty-seeking faith” is and why you claim that it's a problem today?
“Certain-seeking faith” is the sort of faith that people were trying to exercise in the prayer meeting I just talked about. It’s the assumption that a person’s faith is as strong as they are free of doubt and that striving to have a “strong” (viz. doubt-free) faith somehow pleases God. I’ve found that this is how most Christians today think about faith, and it causes far more damage than most people realize (I spend two chapters in my book fleshing out these problems). In fact, I argue that this misguided model of faith is at the root of most of the struggles believers have with the Christian faith and behind most of the negative things non-believers associate with the Christian faith.
Among other things, as I stated earlier, this model reduces faith to a psychological gimmick in which people try to convince themselves that their beliefs are true beyond what the evidence warrants. Thoughtful people legitimately wonder why God would consider this ability virtuous, to the point of leveraging people’s eternal welfare on it! So too, this model makes thoughtful people who have perfectly reasonable doubts feel guilty and rewards people who either lack the concern or the intellectual curiosity to question their beliefs by making them feel like they have “strong” faith.
On top of this, those who embrace “certainty-seeking faith” tend to become narrow-minded, for honestly trying to see things from other peoples’ point of view might lead them to question their faith and thereby jeopardize their “salvation.“ In fact, this model can easily lead people to develop learning phobias, for if you dare to read broadly and learn to see things from other people’s point of view, you might uncovering facts that could shake your certainty and thus displease God. I’m convinced this explains why Christians, especially conservative Christians, have a well-deserved reputation in the broader culture for being narrow-minded.
You go so far as to claim that certainty-seeking faith is “idolatrous.” That is a huge claim, especially since this is the kind of faith most Christians today embrace! Can you explain it further? And how can we break free from it?
In the book I make the case that we are created with a core need to feel fully alive, unconditionally loved and worthwhile, and ultimately secure, and God created us with this need because he wants to meet it, and is the only one who can actually meet it. An idol, I argue, is anything we use in place of God to meet this core need. While many people try to meet this need with the idols of wealth, power, success, sex and other such things, many Christians try to meet it with the idol of certainty-seeking faith. The quest to feel certain becomes an idol when a person’s sense of significance to God and security before God is anchored not in their simple trust of God’s character, as revealed on the cross, but in how certain they feel about the rightness of their beliefs. This form of idolatry is a danger whenever people assume (rightly) that they are saved by faith while also (mistakenly) equating faith with their sense of certainty. For it means they now feel “saved” – uniquely significant and secure before God – on the basis of their psychological certainty.
As I show in Benefit of the Doubt, the only way to get free from this without falling into some other form of idolatry is to realize that biblical faith isn’t about feeling certain, but about a willingness to commit to living for God in the face of uncertainty. We need to accept that uncertainty is simply part of what it means to be human and to trust that God’s love for us, revealed most perfectly on Calvary, isn’t dependent on how certain or uncertain we feel. The God revealed on Calvary isn’t a God who is impressed with people’s ability to make themselves feel certain that their beliefs are right. He’s rather a God who simply wants us to trust him, in the face of uncertainty, by lovingly laying down our lives for him in response the way he has lovingly laid down his life for us.
What difference do you see between ‘faith’ and ‘belief’? And why do you believe this distinction is important?
As I define them, “belief “ is an opinion about something or someone, while “faith” is a willingness to commit to a course of action on the basis of that opinion. When I married Shelley, my wife, I had to first believe a number of things about her, but I only became married to her when I demonstrated faith by being willing to commit to living the rest of my life as her husband.
The most important thing for people to realize about this is that salvation is not merely about beliefs that people hold. James tells us the demons “believe,” but it does them absolutely no good (Ja 2:19). Salvation is rather about entering into a marriage-like, covenantal, relationship with God through Jesus Christ by exercising faith. And whereas one might measure beliefs in terms of how certain or uncertain a person feels, the measure of faith is simply about how willing one is to trust God’s character and how faithful a person is in living out the covenantal relationship they have with the Lord, despite the uncertainties they may have.
Sadly, many today think that people are “saved” simply because they espouse certain beliefs, apart from any consideration of how they live. This is why research demonstrates that the vast majority of Americans admit to believing in Jesus (and a host of other “Christian” things) while also demonstrating that this belief has very little impact on how they actually live. It also explains why so many mistakenly think God is impressed with our level of certainty over our beliefs, when in fact the only thing that means anything to God is how faithful his people are in trusting his character and in living in relationship with him, regardless of whatever level of certainty they have, or don’t have.
In the book you write that, “God enters covenants, not contracts, with people.” Could you share a little about how the court-of-law framework of theology has affected how we read the Bible?
This is a very important point that I spend a lot of time on in my book. Whereas a “contract” is a deal between parties, a “covenant” is a commitment that involves the parties themselves. Contracts involve exchanging money, work or possessions, while covenants involve a commitment of our life. And while covenants are rooted in people trusting one another, contracts are only necessary when people don’t trust one another. So too, while contracts are about what different parties can get from one another, covenants are about what different parties pledge to give of themselves toward one another. Buying a car or house involves a contract: getting married involves a covenant.
Unfortunately, while covenants permeated the lives of people in biblical times, western culture is entirely contractual. Indeed, marriage is the only remaining covenant we have, and people today are unfortunately increasingly viewing even this in terms of a contract. Because of this, most contemporary western Christians interpret Scripture’s covenantal concepts as if they were contractual, and as I show in Benefit of the Doubt, this has fundamentally screwed up our understanding of a number of theological concepts in Scripture.
Can you give us an example?
Sure. Consider the way most Christians think about “salvation.” They think of it primarily in legal and contractual ways. God the Father is the judge, we are the guilty defendants, and Jesus is our lawyer. In this view, the Father was going to send us to eternal prison (hell), which we deserved, until Jesus stepped in and worked out a strange deal with the Father in which he somehow takes on our guilt and our punishment, while we are acquitted, assuming we can believe these things are true with a requisite degree of certainty.
It’s of course true the Bible uses some legal metaphors to describe salvation, but as I demonstrate in my book, the primary framework, and the framework in which even the legal metaphors should be understood, is covenantal. This dramatically changes everything! Understood as a covenantal concept, salvation, isn’t about a deal that takes place between us and God. It’s rather about entering into a marriage-like relationship with God – a relationship that involves us pledging ourselves to him in response to the pledge of himself he offered us on Calvary. So too, whereas the legal model was focused on belief and therefore didn’t involve our character transformation as a central consideration, the covenant model is all about character, for its anchored in faith, and as I’ve said, covenantal faith is about our willingness to trust another and to live in a trustworthy way in relation to another.
You can also see the significant difference between these two models of salvation by the sorts of questions they inspire. If a person is thinking in terms of the contractual model, there are all sorts of legal-type questions that need to be addressed. For example, since salvation is a legal deal, it makes sense to wonder if the deal can be “undone” (the debate about eternal security)? If it can’t be “undone,” it makes sense to wonder what, if any, are the negative consequences for living in ways we know God disapproves of?
On the other hand, if the “salvation-deal” can be undone, it makes sense to wonder what are the precise legal conditions that would undo it? Is the “salvation-deal” undone if a person fornicates, for example, and dies before they can repent? And (here’s one I’ve found Christian engaged couples ask frequently), what exactly does it mean to “fornicate”? How close to “vaginal penetration” can you get before you “cross the line? In the contractual framework, it naturally makes sense to want to get away with as much as you can without “crossing the line,” for contracts, recall, are predicated on a lack of trust and are about what individuals can get from one another.
The mindset behind these questions makes perfect sense in a contractual, court-of-law framework, but that make no sense whatsoever in a covenantal framework. No one in a remotely healthy marriage would ever wonder about how much they could get away with before their spouse would divorce them, for example. And if a spouse ever did wonder about this, it would simply reveal that he or she was already dishonoring their covenant. For one only resorts to contractual thinking when the covenantal pledge to give of oneself to another and to trust and be trustworthy toward another is absent.
In this light, and in light of how pervasive the legal paradigm is in contemporary Christ thinking, is it any wonder we see so live covenantal trust and trustworthiness in the lives of professing Christians today?
You acknowledge that one of the greatest challenges confronting people who believe the Bible is “God’s Word” concerns the violent portraits of God in the Bible. and you spend a whole chapter on this topic. What advice do you have for people who are deeply troubled by these portraits?
There are three things I share in Benefit of the Doubt about this incredibly important topic. The first is that I attempt to show that the revelation of God in Jesus Christ isn’t just one revelation among many others in Scripture. He is rather depicted as the supreme revelation that culminates and surpasses all others. God spoke in many different ways in the past, the author of Hebrews tells us, but in these “last days” he has spoken “through the Son.” And in contrast to all that came before, the Son is “the radiance of his glory” and “the exact representation of his being (hupostasis, meaning “essence,” Heb. 1:1-3). This is why Jesus could say such radical things as; “If you see me, you see the Father” (Jn.14:9) and could claim that all Scripture points to him (Jn 5:39-45; Lk 24: 25-7; 44-7). What this implies, I contend, is that, whether we can explain the violent portraits of God in the OT or not, it would be unfaithful for us to ever allow anything we find in the OT to compromise what we learn about God in him.
Second, I argue that as the NT depicts it, the cross sums up and supremely expresses everything Jesus was about. This is why John said, on the basis of what he learned about God from Jesus, that “God is love” (I Jn,.4:8) and then defined the kind of “love” that God is by pointing us to the cross (I Jn 3:16). God’s very essence, in other words, is cross-like love. On the one hand, this increases the problem of the OT’s violent portraits of God, for the cross reveals a God who would rather did for his enemies than use his power to crush them. So we have to wonder, how do portraits of God commanding genocide or causing mothers to cannibalize their babies point to the enemy-loving, non-violent God revealed on the cross?! On the other hand, however, I argue that the cross itself holds the key to solving this problem, which leads to my third point.
The cross reveals that, out of his covenantal faithfulness and unfathomable love, God is willing to stoop to bear the sin of his people and thereby take on an appearance that reflects the ugliness of their sin. Yet, in doing this, God reveals his true nature, for as we look upon the God-forsaken, guilty-appearing criminal on the cross, we know that it was God who voluntarily stooped an infinite distance to become this for us. Now, if the cross reveals what God is really like, then it reveals what God has always been like. And this means we should read Scripture with the awareness that God has always been willing to stoop to bear the sin of his people and take on appearances that reflect the ugliness of their sin.
I thus suggest that we should read all Scripture “through the lens of the cross,” and when we do this, we can begin to see how even the most horrendous portraits of God in the OT bear witness to the God revealed on the cross. The cross reveals God to us only when we look past the surface appearance that reflects the ugliness of our sin and discern in its depth our gracious God stooping to bear our sin and take on this ugly appearance for us. In this light, I suggest we should read Scripture always asking, where else might we find that God is revealed not by how he appears on the surface, but by what faith can discern as we look past the surface to discern God humbly stooping to bear the sin of his people?
My short answer to this question is that, whenever we come upon portraits of God that, to one degree or another, fall beneath the beautiful, non-violent portrait we are given in the crucified Christ, we should assume that the revelatory content of these portraits is, to this degree, not found on the surface of the portrait itself, but in what faith can discern happening beneath the surface as it beholds God stooping to bear the sin if his people. Hence, I submit that the ugliness of portraits such as the one of Yahweh commanding his people to slaughter “everything that breathes” or of causing mothers to cannibalize their children reflects the ugly, fallen, culturally conditioned hearts of his people, not God himself. What rather reveals God is that, out of his covenantal faithfulness and unfathomable love, he was willing to stoop to bear the sin of his people by being willing to take on this literary appearance in the inspired record of his covenantal activity (viz. the biblical narrative).
You are such a prolific writer and theologian, and you’ve written about everything from open theism, to Satan and demons, to politics (The Myth of a Christian Nation is among my most often recommend books), to the problem of suffering. What’s next on the horizon for you? What are you feeling most passionate about right now?
Right now I’m in the final stages of a massive research project I’ve been working on for five years that develops and defends the thesis I just outlined in response to your previous question. It’s entitled The Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Reinterpreting the Old Testament’s Violent Portraits of God in Light of the Cross. To say I’m “passionate” about this topic is a massive understatement! I’ve been absolutely obsessed with this Scripture’s’ violent portraits of God, for I believe these portraits constitute one of the biggest reasons why many abandon the faith while many others refuse to take the Bible as God’s Word seriously. It’s also the primary reason why most Christians today refuse to accept that God is altogether as beautiful as he’s revealed to be on the cross and/or that God is unconditionally opposed to all violence.
Because I’m proposing a new hermeneutic, I needed to make my case as airtight and as comprehensive as possible, which is why the book has taken me five years to research and write and has now evolved to over 600 pages! But non-academics need not worry, because I plan on following it quickly with a much shorter work that will capture the gist of my argument, but without all the scholarly material that’s packed into the larger academic book. I hope to have both finished by the beginning of 2014 which means they should be published (by InterVarsity Press) by the end of 2014.
When it comes to theology, you seem to have a curious mind and an explorer’s heart. How do you handle the inevitable criticism that comes along with that?
I make it my primary goal of every day to get all of my “life” – my core need to be loved, to feel worthwhile, and to feel ultimate secure – from what God thinks about me as revealed on the cross. I believe this is the most fundamental objective for disciples of Jesus. To the extent that Christ is our “life,” we don’t need to be trying to get “life” from what people think about us, or from any other potential idol I might latch onto. But to the degree we don’t get all our “life” from Christ, we can’t help but try to get it from what people think about us, or from some other idol. This is sheer bondage. Only to the degree that all our “life” is from Christ can we live in true freedom. And only to this degree can we “die to ourselves” and live out the radical call of the kingdom to imitate Jesus by lovingly sacrificing ourselves for all others, including those who would identify themselves as our “enemy.”
Thanks so much for asking such great questions Rachel! Keep up your great Kingdom work!
Thanks for this profound and thought-provoking responses, Greg. You are ALWAYS welcome here!
Be sure to check out Greg’s new book, Benefit of the Doubt. And if you haven’t found Greg’s ReKnew site, you’re missing out; there are tons of great resources, articles, and discussions there. And if you’re interested in hearing Greg speak on the topics covered in this interview, consider participating in the upcoming ReKnew conference on Faith, Doubt, and the Idol of Certainty, September 27-28 at Wooldand Hills Church in St. Paul, MN.
I’ve been having fun brainstorming about home improvements around our house and looking at lots of blogs and Pinterest boards for inspiration lately. I thought it would be fun to change up this week’s magical theme and focus on fun ways to make a little magic in our houses.
Some of these are easy to implement and some are definitely the daydream type! I tried to focus on doable projects instead of $15,000 pirate beds to purchase, though.
Click on any image to go to its source (or the closest I could find to an original with an image search).
Here’s my list of 10 ways to make your home magical for children…
1. Have hideaways and nooks.
2. Incorporate ways kids can be active and meet their sensory needs.
3. Add color.
4. Add whimsy.
5. Incorporate your family interests and personalities in your decorating.
6. Bring in nature and the outside.
7. Let the kids help create their spaces.
8. Make it a party all the time (at least in little ways).
9. Add lots of opportunity for creativity and fun.
10. Fill it with love.
You can check out my inspiration boards for indoor play spaces, outdoor play spaces, home ideas and more on Pinterest to see more of my favorite ideas, too.
Keep in mind that you don’t need lots of money to make your home magical! I kind of like the fact that our house came to us so old and beat up because I got a free pass to do whatever I liked to it over the years as we fixed it up. I have painted words up the stairs, stenciled gold swirls around the bathroom mirror, hidden colorful dragonflies near baseboards, painted doors with chalkboard paint and have given my kids the insides of cupboards and closets to paint five year-old masterpieces on. If you rent, you can bring in temporary magic with well placed fairy lights, appliance box forts, whimsical peel-off wall decals and so on.
And really, the most magical home accessory of all is the sound of laughter inside it.
And with that, chickadees, I’m off to tackle a to-do list the size of a small city phone book and love on some kiddos. Have a magical week!
Just for the ikea pic
On a whim last Saturday, we decided to move the furniture around in our living room. This is a fairly familiar event in our house but the difference this time was John. Normally when I move furniture I wait until he’s gone, mainly because I work well with deadlines and I know I have to be finished before he gets home.
But having him there meant I could bark orders instead of doing all the work myself. I found out I get really bossy and know-it-all-y when I’m moving furniture.
The thing about moving the TV to a less important wall is you also have to move the sofa.
When you move the sofa, you have to move the rug.
Then the chairs need to go somewhere else and now there’s a big blank wall you need to fill and before you realize what you’ve gotten yourself into, three rooms of your house are completely different. (Cue mouse holding a cookie.)
It feels just about right, now – an appropriate way to usher in a new season of change. I like how it fits.
My sunroom office is a little more full but I like it that way. It’s just the right space to settle in with Brennan Manning’s Souvenirs of Solitude in the mornings. His chapter called Really Human, Really Poor has been my morning reading for several days just because I can’t get over how true it is. He speaks of being poor in spirit but of resisting self-hatred, something I have struggled with understanding.
He tells this story and had me laughing outloud:
Distracted after a disturbing phone call, I left the monastery to give a talk to the inmates of Trenton State Prison and began with the outrageous greeting, “Well, it’s nice to see so many of you here!” And so it goes.
Frequently not in form, on top, or in control. That is part of my poverty as a human being, and self-acceptance without self-concern simply expresses a reality. An impoverished spirit prevents the poor man from being a tyrant to himself.
-Souvenirs of Solitude, page 92
His reaction to himself in that awkward moment caught my attention. There was no wringing of hands or heavy anxiety for having mis-spoken. There was only an acceptance of the reality of his own frailty accompanied by his refusal to hate himself for it.
And so I recognize a longing in my soul for this kind of lightheartedness. It helps to listen to Ellie Holcomb and Jillian Edwards sing With You Now. As I do, I take a few deep breaths in. It is in the delicate place of embracing my humanity without despising it – there is union with Christ in this space.
My to-do list is bulging, each task more time-consuming than the one I just finished. I have work to complete and a mounting sense of shame that the reason I’m unable to finish is not because it’s too much work but because I am lacking something vital to continue – organization, creativity, skill, the ability to focus.
All of those may actually be true.
But I’m learning my relief will neither be found in continuing to chase an ideal of my productive self, nor in hating myself for my inability to get everything done.
Rather than resenting my weakness, I believe Jesus is asking me to embrace my weakness. Being poor in spirit doesn’t mean despising self but releasing self from the expectation of being anything but poor. Small. Helpless. Worn.
My soul needs to remember the kind of movement that will make a difference:
Don’t try to handle your anxiety. Bring your anxiety into the presence of Christ.
Don’t try to fix your loneliness. Bring your loneliness into the presence of Christ.
Don’t try to hide your addiction. Bring your addiction into the presence of Christ.
Don’t try to change your attitude. Bring your attitude into the presence of Christ.
Don’t despise your humanity. Bring your humanity into the presence of Christ.
There is still responsibility, there is still action that comes from me. But my action is not to make right, to make whole, or to make better. My action is to usher my abilities, inabilities, failures and successes all into the presence of Christ.
Lord Jesus, remind us of your presence with us as we do the next right thing that makes sense. And may you keep our hearts light along the way.
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A few weeks ago, The Atlantic published an interview with Stephen King, by Joe Fassler. It was part of a series in which authors discuss their favorite passages in literature, and King ended up talking about the importance of opening lines in a work of fiction. It turns out the prolific writer puts much, much thought into how he starts his novels. “An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story,” he told Fassler. “It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.” King revealed that he works on his opening paragraphs for weeks, months, and sometimes years, wording and rewording until he’s happy with it.
“If I can get that first paragraph right, I’ll know I can do the book.”
* * *
This was one of my favorite interviews I’ve read in a long time. I’ve long been a secret fan of fictional opening lines, mentally collecting my favorites—some of which I remember verbatim. It helps when they’re short and haunting:
In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.
(A River Runs Through It and Other Stories, by Norman Maclean)
The circus arrives without warning.
(The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern)
Imagine a ruin so strange it must never have happened.
(The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver)
Ethan said, “I hate baseball.”
(Summerland, by Michael Chabon)
In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit.
(The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien)
Even though Ryan Fisher didn’t believe in God, he placed an ad in the Christian Business Directory.
(The Almost True Story of Ryan Fisher, by my friend and co-author Rob Stennett)
* * *
Some opening lines are much longer, and rather than recalling them in their entirety—I’m no memory savant—I remember the way they made me feel. Some stirred an emotion or set an atmosphere the first time I read them. Others, upon reading them again, rekindle a love for the story they begin to tell. I read these first lines and fall right back into the book’s voice:
Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death.
(The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green)
Before she became the Girl from Nowhere—the One Who Walked In, the First and Last and Only, who lived a thousand years—she was just a little girl in Iowa, named Amy.
(The Passage, by Justin Cronin)
Having harbored two sons in the waters of her womb, my mother considers herself something of an authority on human foetuses.
(The River Why, by David James Duncan)
We drove past Tiny Polski’s mansion house to the main road, and then five miles into Northhampton, Father talking the whole way about savages and the awfulness of America—how it got turned into a dope-taking, door-locking, ulcerated danger zone of rabid scavengers and criminal millionaires and moral sneaks.
(The Mosquito Coast, by Paul Theroux)
* * *
Some opening sentences are surprisingly unimpressive. In thinking about this post, I returned to favorite books whose openers somehow hadn’t lodged themselves—either the words themselves or their feeling—in my head. Why hadn’t they? Probably because their first lines were pedestrian and unmemorable, even though the books themselves are classics…or classics in the making:
Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.
(Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling)
Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy.
(The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis)
At the first gesture of morning, flies began stirring.
(Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier)
When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.
(The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins)
When Augustus came out on the porch the blue pigs were eating a rattlesnake—not a very big one.
(Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry)
* * *
Other first lines have had an even greater impact on my life. John Irving is a master of opening sentences, and his first line of A Prayer for Owen Meany has been embedded in my mind since I first read that novel in the mid ’90s. I read it, devoured the story, was knocked flat by the ending, pressed it upon my wife, bought multiple copies (including a first-edition hardback), loaned them to friends, gave them as gifts, and then Aimee and I named our son Owen. It started with this:
I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice—not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.
It’s the greatest opening sentence in the history of literature.
* * *
The most important seasons of my life have been marked by the books I’ve read. Many of my stories start with the lines in this post. They establish a voice. They extend an invitation. As King said, “it’s the first thing that acquaints you, that makes you eager, that starts to enlist you for the long haul.” There’s power in the first line of a novel.
Anyway, these have been some of my favorites. What are yours?
[Guest-post from fellow Virginia UMC pastor Jason Micheli: please check out his blog Tamed Cynic!]
Trolling the news, two separate but related stories have stuck in my theological craw of late.
Two stories that strike me as adventures in missing the plot. The Gospel plot.
First, there is this now infamous flare-up that pits bible-believing bakers against same-sex couples who wish to purchase some sugary carbs to celebrate their recently-recognized nuptials.
The case involves Melissa and Aaron Klein, bakers at the Sweet Cakes shop in Oregon.
When called by a lesbian couple who wished to place a wedding cake order, Aaron Klein reportedly informed the callers that they were ‘abominations to the Lord’ and refused to serve them.
Klein says he only “apologized for wasting their time and said we don’t do same-sex marriages…” In true propagandist style, the Christian Post assumes Klein’s version of the encounter while implying the opposite for Klein’s would-be customers.
What’s the issue at the heart of the matter? According to Klein, the dispute comes down to ‘religious freedom’ guaranteed by the Constitution. Says Klein: “This is ridiculous that we cannot practice our faith.”
For those scoring at home, at stake is the 1st Amendment (not the Gospel) and the freedom to discriminate against homosexuals (sinners, in this view) is part and parcel with ‘practicing the Christian faith.’
Okay, next story:
Mark Tooley, head of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, has this editorial, in which he excoriates Gov. Chris Christie, a previously reliable conservative, for voting in affirmation of New Jersey’s recent ban on ‘reparative therapy.’
In case you don’t know, reparative therapy is the practice by which quack Christian psychologists ‘convert’ homosexuals to the straight if not the narrow.
Reparative therapy is evidence that fundamentalists’ pseudo-science harms more than just the environment.
According to a consensus of mental health professionals that goes all the way back to the days when Sigmund Freud was snorting coke, Reparative Therapy is neither ‘reparative’ for a patient’s life nor is it experienced as ‘therapy.’ And I had a friend whose experience with RT bears out the many stats.
Tooley in DC, like the Kleins out in Oregon, distills this issue in NJ to an issue of ‘religious freedom.’
As in the baker’s kitchen so in the psychologist’s office, it comes down to the 1st amendment. Giving it an unintended Tea Party hue, Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention admits: “This really isn’t about reparative therapy, but about religious liberty and personal freedom.”
Upping the rhetorical ante, the article ends with the sort of unnecessary alarm that then justifies all means: “The New Jersey law is an assault on not just religious freedom but liberty itself.”
First, the Bakers.
Let’s say I grant you that both the biblical narrative and the Christian tradition consider homosexuality a sin, you then must concur that it’s nonetheless a tangential concern of scripture.
Even if I let you have your Levitical holiness codes, where homosexuality is filed right alongside crab cakes and clams casino, and if I let you have your misinterpretation of Sodom and Gomorrah and if I give you the Romans 1 bone and concede that yes homosexuality is a sin, then I’m still left With THE MINISTRY OF JESUS.
Jesus, as we pray in the Great Thanksgiving, ate and drank with sinners.
Given human nature, I bet sinners served Jesus wine at the wedding at Cana, straight couple or not. Jesus healed Jairus’ daughter, gratis, though Jairus was an enemy invader. Jesus’ best story has the 1st century equivalent of a terrorist as the hero. One of Jesus’ disciples, whose name graces a Gospel, was a tax collector; that is, Matthew was a colluder with the invading army. Jesus looked at the obviously guilty adultress and refused to condemn her, right before he had a few choice words about stones. At Easter, Jesus appears to the same damn sinners who betrayed him and then he commissions them to baptize the people who killed him.
And don’t even get me started on Paul, who made himself all things to all people (use your imagination) and took time to settle disputes about pagan meat, why? Because the Gospel was MORE IMPORTANT.
So whatever they think they’re doing, the Kleins are not practicing their faith. Or rather, their faith is in some other than Jesus.
On to the Reparative Therapy issue.
Here’s the thing. Nearly everyone except the most strident fundamentalists, including Exodus International which formerly did reparative therapy but now disavows it and recently closed up shop, admit that reparative therapy DOES HARM.
Fundamentalists love to cite stats about how homosexuals have a higher incidence of suicide and substance abuse without ever taking the next logical step to suppose that the stigma they attach to homosexuals plays a very strong contributing part.
Reparative therapy is a form of abuse endorsed only by the most extreme who are more concerned to give their particular worldview the guise of scientific backing.
Again, no matter how you might feel about homosexuality, even if I grant you the handful of biblical verses, Christians should all still agree that when it comes to homosexuals persons, whom my relatively conservative denomination describes as having ‘sacred worth,’ our first pledge should be the doctor’s own: do no harm.
What’s truly disappointing about the New Jersey law banning reparative therapy isn’t the Church’s loss of religious freedom, it’s that the Church had to be told to stop hurting people in the name of ideology.
Two separate but related stories. In the former, the perceived issue isn’t that ours is a God who loves and loves to be around sinners. The issue is the 1st amendment. In the latter, the lament isn’t for those many (often youth) victimized by reparative therapy. The lament is instead for religious freedom and personal liberty.
Both of which make me wonder if the homosexual debate reveals that conservative fundamentalists have pledged allegiance not to the Risen Christ and the furthering of his ministry but to America or, more specifically, to their vision of it and their particular political camp within it.
In which case, Christ really is just an idol. Something to which has been attached things that are not of God.
Filed under: General Topics, Politics
A few weeks ago I shared a few books written by some of my friends. Today I’m happy to welcome one of those authors to Chatting at the Sky – Allison Vesterfelt. I met Ally last year when she and her husband Darrell were in town. See – aren’t they cute?
Ally wrote a book called Packing Light where she documents her journey of selling everything, traveling across the country, and learning to live with less baggage. Glad to have her here today.
I don’t know about you, but for me, September feels really full.
Summer vacations are winding down and even though I’m mulling over fond memories, I’m also cleaning up their messes — the tent in the garage that we never bothered to fold up the right way, telling ourselves we would “clean it later,” the hiking shoes left scattered in the front hall, the linens we still haven’t washed and cleaned from the guest room since our company left weeks ago.
Then, school starts, and even though I’m not in school I always feel like it’s time to take off the vacation hat and put on the productivity one. So all the projects I’ve been putting off all summer — telling myself (rightly) that this was a season for rest and play and adventure and family — are knocking on my door, and I can’t ignore them.
Plus there’s Pinterest and Instagram and I have to at least try to live up to the thoughtful and creative projects everyone else is accomplishing.
Then there’s the shopping.
In one sense, I love that about this time of year. I love the freshness of it all — the new clothes and school supplies and pumpkin spice everything; and I just want to fill my cupboards and my home with things I know are going to make us cozy when the cold weather arrives.
But I often get carried away and soon it isn’t just activities filling my fall, but new shoes and clothes and make-up school supplies scattered everywhere. Then I actually end up buying more stuff so I can organize it all.
Do you ever wonder to yourself — how much is too much? How full is too full?
Do you ever feel like you’re missing something?
When I feel like I’m missing something, I like to make a trip to Target.
I mean, I’m not serious of course, but I’m kind of serious. Target has this freaky and amazing way of helping me see what I’m missing that I didn’t know I was missing. A mustard yellow throw pillow that would look great on my couch. The newest books I need to read and DVDs I need to watch. As I’m wandering the aisles I can practically picture my husband and myself, curled up on the couch together, with glasses of hot cocoa and a bowl of homemade popcorn, watching those movies and reading those books together, the beautiful throw pillow sitting next to us.
But the truth is, the more I buy and do, and even the more “productive” I am in September (or anytime), the more it feels like I’m missing something.
I wonder if you sense that too.
A few years ago I did this totally crazy thing.
Inspired by the story of the Rich Young Ruler from the Gospels, I sold almost everything I owned, moved into my car, and traveled to all 50 states to write a book called Packing Light. I know it sounds extreme, and it probably was, but I was single and unattached at the time, and I wanted to see what it would look like to make room in my life — to let go of the clutter and mess that was making it seem so crowded.
A few days into my journey, I had dinner with a couple who asked me a question I’ll never forget.
They asked: What do you need?
Think about that question for a second. What do you need? If someone asked you that question today, would you know how to answer it?
Everything I owned was in my car, and still I had a really hard time.
It made me think about how rarely I allow myself to go on a journey without everything I need. In fact, even the thought of being unprepared makes me feel sort of nervous and irresponsible. Maybe that’s why I pack my life and my home with so many things all the time — even good things — like cookies and friends and Bible studies and furniture I love and throw pillows to match the season.
Maybe it makes me feel like I’m in control, like I won’t ever have to go without.
The second thing I realized when they asked me the question was that, despite the fact everything I owned fit into my small 4-door sedan parked outside, I didn’t really need anything. It was such a strange sensation to think about all the things I had packed so diligently, into every nook and cranny of my vehicle, without really knowing what I needed.
I had no idea what was coming.
I don’t really know what I need until I go without.
Now that I’m home and I have a closet again and a bunch of cupboards, and a normal, weekly schedule I can fill with things I really like and want, I have to remind myself of this lesson often. I have to ask myself: What do you need? I have to consciously choose to clear out the clutter and make space in my life.
And I’ll be honest: I find it really hard.
But I try to think back to what it felt like when I camped in the Grand Tetons — drove my car out into the middle of nowhere and set up a tent and slept in my clothes and rose without an alarm clock. I try to remember what it felt like for morning to linger for hours before she ushered in the afternoon.
I try to remember how open my heart seemed…
How open my life seemed..
I try to remember how, even though I didn’t have a Starbucks in hand or a mirror to do my make-up, or any throw pillows to speak of, I had everything I needed.
I try to remember how God met me there.
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This is exactly what I've said about it being too easy to be a Christian in America. Weed out the non-serious people or "cultural Christians" and you have a lot less ppl capable of making the church look so gosh darned awful.
1Do not grant newcomers to the monastic life an easy entry.As most of you know, by today's standards getting into the early church, let alone a monastic community, wasn't an easy affair. In the early church people went through a two to three year training and internship in the faith before their baptism and being welcomed into the community. By contrast, in many churches today you join by filling out a card and dropping it into a plate.
Such practices blur the distinctions between the labels "Christian," "member of the church," and "disciple." These should all mean the same thing. But they don't, leading to a lot of confusion and scorn. That is, we see lots of people call themselves "Christian" or claim to be a "member of the church" but who aren't disciples of Jesus, who don't follow his cruciform lifestyle. And so aspersions are cast upon so-called "Christians."
In a related way, this is the chronic problem faced by every church leader. How do you get a crowd of people who are merely affiliated with the church ("the members") engage in the hard work of discipleship? The general practice is to let just about anybody "join" the church and then, once they are "in," to tempt them into various ministries or venues where spiritual growth can occur.
The early church worked with a different model, making the first steps toward discipleship prerequisites for admission. They worked with Benedict's rule: Do not grant newcomers to the church an easy entry.