The Ragweed Parable

Years ago I started gardening around the entrance to my house.  Begrudgingly.  It was strictly to make our home more presentable.  Not for any joy or love.  Because I had to.  I couldn’t have the neighbors thinking that I didn’t care about my home.  And it looked…ok.

But then, one summer something changed in my approach to those growing little green things.  To this day I cannot explain it.  I began to love the way they reacted to different light.  I was fascinated by the transformation of  perennials throughout the growing season.  I adored the bees and butterflies they attracted.  My garden began to expand.  More sod was torn up.  More trips to the nursery for new specimens.

I looked at magazines.  Read gardening books.  Paged through catalogs for the  latest cultivars.  I spent my days hunched over, pulling weeds.  Kneeling to examine insect damage.  Carefully tending my lovelies.  Moving flowers to a new location when I saw that they were not thriving.

I talked gardening to anyone who also tended the earth.  I quizzed them about their fertilizing protocol, their watering regimen, and their bloom successes.  I listened to those who had been doing this for years.  They had to know, just because of sheer hours spent in the dirt.  Right?

But sometimes they were wrong.  Sometimes a fertilizer burned the plant it was meant to feed.  Sometimes a plant was perfectly healthy in the shade where they said it would not survive.  Sometimes I was told to give up on a particularly weedy area because it would never work as a garden.

I loved stopping at a local flower farm to quiz the master gardeners that owned it.  They were elderly, wrinkled from years spent outside, and always had dirt under their nails.  They were walking treasure troves of information and experience.  The husband was also a little crusty at times.  But I loved talking with him, walking through the gardens, and choosing potted plants.  I listened to his advice about what plants would do well under trees, when to trim shrubs, and what to do with struggling ferns during a drought.

Then one summer, I decided to create a trail through the trees between our house and the neighbor’s.  It was a rambling little walking path surrounded by shade plants.  There was no plan.  I just chose the turns according to the trees and shape of the land.  This lack of plan is how I ended up in a large patch of wild roses.  I went to my master gardener friend for advice.   He advised me to just avoid that area.  Wild roses are invasive and cannot be conquered.  He suggested that I would forever be fighting them and should not frustrate myself.

But he didn’t know how stubborn I was.  He didn’t know how much I wanted that curve in the trail.  He didn’t know how many hours I was willing to dig out root after root after root.  He didn’t know the satisfaction I’d feel in finding the “mother root” as he called it.  It was a fist-sized gnarled knot that required a hatchet.  That area of the trail eventually became my favorite section.

A few years after discovering that my master gardener friend was not perfect in his advice, I planted a vegetable garden and tossed in some cosmos seeds to attract  bees.  I always enjoyed the delicate leaves of these happy flowers, but I had never planted them.  They looked so dainty as their little ferny greenery developed.  I anxiously waited for the buds to set.  This was a color that I had never seen before.  Would it be as gorgeous as the picture on the seed packet?

I noticed that one of the plants grew faster and sturdier than the rest.  That was fascinating!  Why was that?  Hmmm.  Then, as the buds developed, I noticed that the shape of the baby flowers was different on the odd plant.  Curious.

As a side note—I was severely allergic to ragweed.  I had allergy shots for years to eliminate the yearly flu-like days and weeks I suffered until heavy frost killed that evil weed.  It was my nemesis.  I despised it.  I knew what it looked like.  I would never allow one to survive in my yard.

But, when I noticed the different buds on that larger than normal cosmos I decided to look for a picture of the dreaded ragweed.  Just to be sure I really knew.  To my surprise, I noticed a striking resemblance to the large plant I had nurtured all season.

I hadn’t known what ragweed looked like after all!   I felt foolish for weeding around the textbook specimen that invaded my flowers.  My husband and I (who is also allergic to ragweed) laughed and laughed about my cultivated allergen.  It was unceremoniously yanked from the ground and tossed in a bucket for the city to pick up.  While it sat in that five gallon pail  awaiting the monthly pickup, it bloomed!  In a bucket.  With no dirt.  With no care.  It bloomed!  Evil plant!

I may have mumbled under my breath at it each time it came into my line of sight.

I couldn’t resist sharing my stupid care of the evil weed with my master gardener friend.  He smiled and said, “You learn gardening as you go.”  He then pointed his long finger toward the lush trumpet vine swallowing a trellis and said, “If I had known how nasty these things were 30 years ago, I never would have planted this thing.  We learn by trial and error.”

Now I can identify a ragweed plant at the earliest stages of its development.  I will not be fooled again.  Live and learn.

Tonight, as I tossed another of that dreaded weed into the wheelbarrow, I thought of  lessons learned in the dirt.   I thought of the years I spent living by the code of what others said Christianity was.  Following the rules passed down generation to generation.  Listening to the giants of the faith.  They had to know what it meant to be Christian just by sheer number of years spent as one.  Right?

But, what I see so often displayed by those who profess the loudest, preach the most forcefully, and judge the harshest is…ragweed.

All those years I assumed I knew what ragweed looked like.  I listened to some outdoorsy people who thought they could describe it.  Some were not clear and I misunderstood.  Some were describing something entirely unrelated.  The result was the same.  Both did not help me identify the real plant.

I finally discovered what ragweed was when I went searching on my own.  I looked for pictures.  Many pictures.  Pictures of young plants.  Pictures of blooming plants.  Pictures of enormous plants.  Pictures of plants mutated by their environment.  All slightly different yet all equally toxic to me.  Now I know.

The past few years has been troubling to see just how much ragweed there is amongst the cosmos.  Some  appear inviting, yet sicken others when a crosswind blows.    Some blend in beautifully with the cosmos, until you breathe too deeply and find yourself wracked with sneezes.  You may try to live peacefully with the ragweed for a time; stubbornly working along as if it wasn’t there.  But I always found that it sapped my energy and weakened my desire to be among the flowers.  Best to avoid the garden when ragweed is in full bloom.

I’ve tried pulling it from the ground.  It’s roots are shallow, after all.  But it inevitably comes back somewhere else.  It grows in nearly any soil.  It prefers neglected and infertile ground.  Ground where the patient and tender care of a gardener has not toiled.  It grows wherever its seeds fall unless an attentive and loving hand nurtures the delicate blooms around it instead.

We are past time in our churches (and, truly, in our culture as a whole) from allowing the ragweed to overshadow the cosmos.  We need to nurture the loving, the welcoming, the inclusive, the generous, the kind.  The self-protectionist, the self-centered, the angry, the judgmental, the proud must be uprooted and exposed for the false specimens they are.

Our environment should be one of beauty and grace.  We need to stop allowing people to claim the irritation they cause is because the Bible says we will be misunderstood and attacked.  So very, very often the hurt and pain caused by the professed protector of the faith is really just their toxic selves cloaked in godliness and spirituality.  Deep wounds are not caused by God.  But a multitude of gashes have been inflicted in His name.

I am uncertain if I will return to the church someday.  My soul feels defeated when watching “Christians” defend  rejecting refugees. I feel deflated when I hear them argue the virtues of making the lives of the poor harder.  I feel ill when they turn a blind eye to children separated from their parents at the border.  And I can’t even begin to accept the demonization of the LGBTQ community when Jesus himself never uttered a word about it.   I have no interest in the side-eye from longtime members when they see me.  (There’s that one who asks too many questions.  The heretic.  The blasphemer.  The bleeding heart liberal.)  

In the meantime, I suppose I will do my best to nurture the cosmos.  And the lilies.  And the sunflowers.  And the roses.  And the odd cactus or two.  I will study and ask questions of the Master Gardener.  I have found a love for all the glorious creations in the garden.  Not out of obligation or to please the neighbors.  Love.  That one big rule that Jesus actually left us with.  Love.

And maybe some day  the ragweed will  be overshadowed by all the glorious blooms around it.

 

 

 

The Sand Beneath My Feet

A friend asked yesterday, “How did things get so broken?” after witnessing a Facebook exchange on how to deal with the tragedy of school shootings.

How indeed.

There are so many people screaming at each other that they have the answers, and they have the memes and talking points to prove it!  Maybe if this brilliant thought goes viral, I can unlock the key to all the solutions!  Or maybe I just wish to backhand a “friend” who irritated me with their silly views.

But where are the people with listening ears?  Where are the courageous and curious souls willing to read that article from a differing viewpoint?  Where are the humble souls willing to say, “It’s possible I’ve had it wrong before.”  Who are the leaders willing to sit and listen.  Really listen.

My blog has been silent now for months.  That is by design.  My mind has not stopped pondering. My ideas and questions are still there.  I’ve not lost my drive to implore people to ponder bigger questions.   But, really, what is the point?  To add to the cloud of unheard voices feels…depressing.

Don’t for a moment buy that I have been a paragon of virtue in this pursuit of listening to understand.  There have been people who angered me to the point of slapping back.  There are falsehoods that I have been unable to scroll by without offering a snarky retort.  There are times when my inner voice speaks through my fingers before my brain scans the bigger picture.   The sarcasm runs deep in this one, and she likes to use it.

But, it is now past time for kindness and consideration to overrule stubbornness.  It is past time to insist that our facts are facts when someone proves otherwise.  It is time to accept that different opinions may have things to teach us.   It is time to admit that some things are unknowable.  It is long past time to accept that the greater good, the atmosphere of our community, matters more than insisting we are right.  Are we really so proud that we can’t even imagine that we may have bought lies unwittingly?  We can’t all have the best brain.  We can’t be infallible.  Are we so certain of the foundation of our beliefs that we need not even consider other possibilities?  It’s a big world out here.  There are people smarter, more educated, and with more expertise, than us.

Or perhaps certainty of our rightness is not the core reason for digging in our heels and covering our ears.  Perhaps we are afraid.  Afraid that we may be wrong.  Afraid that admitting our mistakes would be terribly embarrassing.  Afraid to acknowledge that we’ve never actually looked deeply into many things we say we believe.

I caution you to proceed with the following recommendation with some wariness (or even a little trepidation).  Examine and question your beliefs.  All of them.  Questioning our beliefs– if they are real; if they are correct; if they stand the test; is frightening territory.  Not knowing the ending chapters to that mystery is unsettling.  Often times painful.  Uncertain days will lie ahead.

If you are unwilling to take the time and mental and emotional energy to consider the very real possibility that you might be wrong, then don’t.  We all have that right.  Sometimes we need to just float along the surface for our own health and sanity.  Sometimes we need to watch puppy videos and giggle at Pinterest fails.

But, might I suggest, we are missing out on so much if we stay in our comfy inner tube and never risk diving in.  We miss the wild flailing as waves knock us under, yes.  We miss the frantic search for daylight and air after getting flipped around under water.  But, then we also miss digging our toes into the sand too. We miss feeling particles as old as the earth under our feet.  And that is worth the turmoil.

I have spent roughly the past year or two intentionally questioning my beliefs.  Are the things I was taught in Sunday school true?  Are the nuggets of wisdom repeated generation after generation really the core teachings of Jesus?  Or are they a mashup of opinions, biases, and thoughts, of old teachers?   Are the tenets of faith so vehemently defended by the loudest and most stern voices really what are the most important lessons of Jesus’ life?

Are the predominant political views of those claiming Christian faith correct?  Do they line up with the teachings of Christ?  Do the things that anger us?  Upset us?  Grieve us?

The journey is not complete and, I suspect, will never be 100% concrete in all facets of faith and life.  Questioning means we need to accept change, expect change, embrace change.   I have reached some conclusions that change everything in my life.  Because perspective changes everything.

We who grow up in the evangelical tradition are taught that we are to be different from our culture.  We are to forge a clearly different path than those who don’t believe.  But do we?  No.  We don’t  Not in the areas that matter most.  Not in the areas that were modeled directly through the life and words of Jesus.

Jesus reached out to people who lived on the fringes of society.  He ate with them.  He touched them.  He told others to love them (recall the story of the good Samaritan in the book of Luke 10).  He fed them (the miraculous feeding of the crowd is a Sunday school favorite).  He lived simply.  He rejected political power.

The American church that I see speaks of love very well.  But when it comes to demonstrating love, I must confess, my agnostic friends do as well if not better.  I have watched them spearhead campaigns for the rights of others.  I have seen them clothe someone else’s children.  Open their homes and hearts to distressed and difficult teens.  Not bat an eye at a goth kid with a septum piercing.  And one of the most beautiful examples I have observed is a rag tag group of friends who created their own family of support and love.  They are all different personalities, all different temperaments, even different ages.  But they love.  They share their lives regularly.  They eat together, go to events together.   They accept each other–annoying quirks and all.  The way we Christians are supposed to.  But do we?  I have been a part of many small groups through my years in the church.  Not one group has made me feel completely and unconditionally loved.  Not one group has known much about my life, nor I of theirs.  We didn’t spend time together outside of Bible studies.  We never really knew each other’s children.  I never felt completely comfortable to speak up when my thoughts differed because when I did I was nearly always quieted or shot down.

This is not to say that Christians don’t do any of the above things.  Some do them very well.  But what I see more often than not is that those things come with strings attached.  I will love you if you come to church with me.  I will feed you if you let me pray publicly for you.  I will give you a warm coat if you promise to …. (fill in the blank).   I will accept you as a friend as long as you think and act in an approved manner.  What I then observe is disappointment, disapproval, even resentment if the generosity is not recognized or unspoken rules not followed.   To me, this does not appear to be different at all than the culture we rage against. Do and say the things I find acceptable and I will care for you.  If not, you may be on your way.  This does not seem like unconditional, Christlike love to me.

When Jesus healed the ten lepers, only one of them returned to thank him.  The rest just happily ran off.  When this story is told in churches it is often used as an illustration of how we must show gratitude.  But is it?  Jesus made a point to say that the one man who came back to thank him was a foreigner, a Samaritan.  The very people that were culturally unacceptable.  Jesus used that man as an example.  Could He have been trying to tell us that we have much to learn from those different than us?  That even our enemies can make good choice?  Could He have been telling us to not assume we know people or how they will react?  Could He be telling us to care for all people regardless of background, faith, status or outcome?

I am passionate about caring for the poor and neglected.  I make no apologies for beating that drum every single day.  And I need to tell you that the people who break my heart on a regular basis in their dealings with the poor are the American evangelical church.   I’ve had people argue that clothing school children is just enabling bad parents.  If those parents can buy cigarettes and tattoos they can buy sneakers for their kid!  Yes.  Yes they can (…maybe).  But, it is not the child’s fault when they don’t.  And nowhere in scripture do I see evidence of a mandate to help only the responsible poor.  (Which, by the way,  seems to be an oxymoron in a majority of American Christian’s eyes).  This is where Christ’s teaching hits its core.  Love God, love others.  This is where the example of Jesus was countercultural.  And this is where the American church is so very very wrong.   Help.  Meet needs.  Love.  Not only for those who never buy drugs or alcohol.  Not only for the loving parents.  Not only for the clean.  Not only for those who listen to us.  All.

What is the difference between poor oversees and poor in our backyard?  There is an ocean of difference in the way many Christians talk and think about them.  Many Christian homes have a picture or two on their fridge of someone they sponsor oversees.  They are pleased to hear progress and updates about these people.  They are proud of their financial part in making their lives better.  They do not ask questions about what led to their sponsored person being poor.  They do not ask about parenting, drug use, abuse.  Do we fool ourselves into thinking those problems don’t exist in third world countries?  Are we playing the savior to these poor, lost, and clueless souls in our own minds?  While tsk tsk-ing the poor, lost, clueless souls we can actually see and touch in our own community?

We need look no further than the example of Franklin Graham to see this mental and moral disconnect.  He is the head of a Christian international aid organization.  Among other things, his organization helps make sure disaster victims have food, shelter, and medical attention.  They have set up medical tents for refugees and delivered supplies to camps.  Wonderful!  Yet at the same time, after touring refugee camps in the middle east, he is speaking into his large megaphone that we need to close our borders.  Think of our citizens first.  For our safety.  Are those seeking safety and asylum here not the same people in the photo op oversees?  He claims it is not a faith issue.  Isn’t all of life a faith issue?  Can anyone point me to the story where Jesus talked about His safety?  Where is the teaching on putting ourselves first?

THIS is where the church should stand out.  THIS is where there should be so much contrast  to the rest of the culture that there is no denying that something is radically different about those who follow Jesus.  Instead, I see fear of the refugee.  Fear of the immigrant.  Fear of the homeless and poor.  Fear of judgment from others for getting too close to the messiness of life.  Fear of anything or anyone who may invade our protective bubble.  Fear of questions.  Fear of uncertainty.  Fear of being wrong.  Scorn for the possibility of enabling a less than “worthy” person.

But who decides who is less than worthy?  I thought that we loved to quote “For God so loved the world…”  Doesn’t “world” include everyone?  Even the refugee?  Even the smelly poor parent who doesn’t take proper care of their child?  Even the gay person? Even the alcoholic?  Even the scared woman considering abortion?  Or the girl who already had an abortion?  Even the screwup that keeps coming back to the food pantry after spending all her money elsewhere?

Yes, you purists who haven’t given up in disgust by now–I know the rest of the above verse.  I know that it speaks of Jesus being the savior of the world.  I know it speaks of people choosing to follow Jesus to find life.  But I can’t help but wonder how many people would want to follow a Jesus who only chose to love refugees from a vast and safe distance.  How many people’s lives would be impacted by a Jesus who only gave to the poor single mom but not the poor addicted man?  Isn’t that man part of “the world”?  Isn’t the woman in the hijab just as loved by God as the missionary?  Isn’t the gay couple just as loved by God as your own children?  What if they are your children?  Does the definition of God’s  love change then?

You see, I don’t believe it was an accident that Jesus used the example of the Samaritan.  It was no accident that he had lowly, working class people in his group of closest friends.  It was no accident that he befriended prostitutes.  No accident that he ate with sinners and crooked tax collectors.  He was teaching by example for those who would learn of Him later.  Just like parents whose children imitate us, He wants us to imitate Him.

That is difficult.  Insanely difficult at times.  I find lovable people more…lovable.    I want to be sure my resources and time are best served.  I love to be in control.  But, as one who claims to follow Jesus’s example, I don’t get to decide who to love.  All the world.  All.  Even those who hate me.  Even those who live, believe, and behave differently than me.  Even those who will only take from me and disappear.  Even those who may be dangerous.  And I don’t get to tell them what they must do in return.  I don’t get to condemn them.  I don’t get to feel superior to them.

Didn’t the early followers of Jesus end up being led by the man named Paul?  Many current day Christians actually seem to  prefer his teachings over Christ’s (but that’s another topic).  And yet that man had been a persecutor of them before then.  Saul had taken pleasure in trying to destroy the followers of Christ as a way of keeping his religion pure.  He was being pious and godly (he thought).  But God changed him (and renamed him Paul) and made him a key player in His church for all of history.  Is our current day God smaller than that? Is He not capable of turning would-be terrorists of us into alibis and leaders for us?  So why so afraid of Muslims?  Of Hispanics?  Of “others”?  Church, why no different than our culture in this area?

Why is the Church so tied to one particular political party?  Why are the Church leaders seeking power and influence in the political arena?  Didn’t Jesus teach by example when he rebuffed the calls to become the political  king?  It had to be flattering to have followers tell Him that He would be a great king!  But he wholeheartedly rejected accepting political power.  He was here to teach, to love, to guide.  He was never here to rule.  The church seems to have lost the ability to copy Him on that one.  Humility and service.  Not power and dominion.

So, what do all of these thoughts and realizations have in common?  They are all the results of allowing myself to ask questions.  They are more meaningful facets of genuine faith that I never would have come to if I had not risked being wrong.  If I had stayed in my comfy inner tube I would never have seen the pain in the eyes of the Christian woman who  regularly feels she is out of line for wondering if Jesus really stood for…..(fill in the blank of hot button topics).   If I had not been bruised by the waves crashing on me, I would never have looked at poverty from a completely different, and refreshingly nonjudgmental, perspective.  If I had not known the panic of searching for the sky while my lungs burned I would not have been able to put my arm around my unsettled friend and say (with deep sincerity), “I understand.  It hurts.  It’s lonely.  You will upset friends.  You will upset family.  You will upset you.  But you will not upset God.  Ask.  Wonder.  Doubt.”  And my friend can take comfort in knowing that I found my way to the sand beneath my feet.  My toes are digging into the ancient earth.  The sand still shifts.  But now I know that it’s okay.

 

 

 

Epic Fail: The Prequel

I’d like to tell you a little story about my last post entitled “Epic Fail”.   Maybe this will help those who are confused to understand my decision to share such a painful and troubling experience.  What good could it possibly do?

This is not the first time we have walked away from a church.  In all my years I had never considered leaving a church family until we found ourselves being pushed out the door in a previous home.  We had been key leaders.  We had our hard work, time, gifts, and financial resources supporting nearly every ministry there.  For over twelve years.  And we were pushed out.

To this day, I cannot clearly answer why that was done to us.  I can say that we were definitely not the first family that was treated in that way there.  So, in that regard, I should not have been surprised.  The pain should not have been as deep as it was.  The dark days that followed should not have been so black.

But, being human, it was a dreadful time for our family.  And yet, we chose to leave silently.  We decided that we did not wish to stir up any divisions by stating what had been done to us.  We chose to let people believe that our moving to a new home was the reason for our exit.  Happy happy church joy for all that way.

I now question that decision.  Were the friends left behind in the unhealthy environment served by our silence?  Was the leadership who chose to behave in this way given a chance to grow through our quiet departure?  No.  Clearly, no.

So, our family has found themselves at a difficult crossroads again.  This time we chose to speak.  This time I chose to write.  This time I had hoped that maybe it could be a learning experience for all involved.

For those who have expressed concern for our family and for me personally, I thank you.  It has been truly touching.  Know that it was never my aim or desire.  But support and care displayed is never a bad thing.

For those who worry about my soul being lost, my faith in God destroyed, or in me becoming some angry atheist–please do not worry.  I am not lost.  My faith in my God is strong.  My desire to follow the life and teaching of Christ is still very much my goal.

For those dying to know what exactly happened–um, nope.  Those who need to know, do.  Those who don’t, won’t.  We have addressed every bit of the problem in the best way we know how.  We have followed scriptural teachings in doing so and are now ready to just rest and heal.

But my reason for writing about this is in hopes that this very personal example might illustrate the problems I have been writing about since I started my blog.  Actually, I have been talking and writing about some of these problems for many years.  Maybe this time people in the greater evangelical church might listen?  Maybe this time people will ask themselves the questions that I pose?  Maybe now they’d look and see that it is not just my lone voice screaming in the wind?

I must admit that I have been shocked by the amount of response to these words.  I have said nothing earth-shatteringly new.  I have written many times before of nearly everything in this post.  I have consistently asked questions of the American evangelical church that I believe need to be asked.  I have consistently pointed out hypocrisy, contradictions, blind spots, and weaknesses.

Is it because this time I actually said I have had enough?  Is it the fact that I blatantly point out that some of those “other church” issues are actually present in my own?  Is it because my family’s health is more important to me than the potential bruised feelings of a few?  I hate to break it to anyone who might doubt it—but all churches have a messy underbelly.  All churches have wounded people.  All churches have people who hurt others.  All churches have some people who think they have all the answers.  All churches have some people who judge those who are different.  Because all churches are filled with people.  Imperfect, fallible, struggling people.  Don’t believe anyone who would tell you differently.

You may not have noticed, but my name is nowhere on my blog.  You may not notice, but the church I’ve attended is never  mentioned by name.  The personal stories I include are altered just enough to protect those whose stories are important to tell (while protecting the very real humans behind them).

This is on purpose.  This is very much for a reason.  I don’t need anyone to really know who wrote the words.  I don’t need anyone to be able to pat me on the back.  I don’t wish my family to be attacked (or have any other ripple effect caused) because of my words.

I want for those who read to be able to put themselves in the middle of whatever topic I write about.  I want you to be able to say “she’s talking to me!” when you see words of support.  I want you to ask “have I ever done or said that?!” when I point toward our common Christian stumblings.  I want you to sit and think, “does any of this happen in my church?”  “Have I been guilty of causing hurt in others because of how I express my faith?”

I write out of love for my God, my faith, my community, and my church.  I do not write to attack.  If you see things that way, I cannot change that.  Instead I would ask you to question why you believe I am attacking you.

I have been surprised by how many non-church-going, non-christians read my blog.  It is humbling.  It is sobering.  It is a huge responsibility in my eyes.  I write to them.  I write for them.  I write to show them that we are all messed up.  That the “perfect church people” who’ve hurt them are not perfect.  That the only perfect example of love and grace is Jesus Christ.  The one who we Christians take our title from.  The one we claim to follow is the one who needs to be looked to when people are jerks.

The one who chose grace and forgiveness over judgement and condemnation is the one who should be heard.  Not the loud, ugly voices of church people on tv.  Not the protestors with signs condemning gays.  Not the protestors with signs condemning women outside clinics.  Not the one making excuses for a morally bankrupt president.  Not the ones asking for money so you might be blessed.  Not the ones who have hurt me personally.

The one who told the crowd to put their stones down rather than kill a woman who messed up.  The one who loved the unlovable, touched the untouchable, scolded the unteachable.  That one.  That’s the example to follow.

And, as I have so very often before, I will quote His words once more.  If I could have them tattooed across my forehead I would.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  (Matthew 22:37-40)

Let’s give those words a try.

 

Epic Fail

I nearly made it.  Nearly reached 47 years as a good, obedient, evangelical Christian.  Alas, I have failed.

Well, to be brutally honest, the church has failed.

As one who has attended church from even before she was born, I must admit that it is quite sad that the evangelical church can’t even keep me.  I should be thoroughly indoctrinated.  I should be thoroughly submissive.  I should be loath to question and afraid of the grey.  I should unblinkingly support the republican party.  I should parrot the words of Franklin Graham and those like him.  I should happily condemn homosexuals and those who consider abortions without stopping to ask why.  I should worship the flag, this country, and the military.  I should rage against the moral failings of Bill Clinton while dismissing and outright excusing Donald Trump’s.  I should do all of this un-ironically.  I should do all of this without seeing the blatant disconnect from the faith I claim.

But I don’t.  I can’t.

I blame my mother.  Ok, I really don’t.  But I do acknowledge her for being a strong woman with a critical mind who wasn’t afraid to think.  I blame my childhood surrounded by boys and daring to think that I could talk to them in the same manner that I talked to girls.  I saw no difference in their worth than my own then.  I don’t now.  I went toe to toe verbally with any boy and will still do it to this day.  But, I must confess, many men of the church do not appreciate a woman getting all logical and smart and stuff.  Cuz, you know, breasts and periods and all.  And submissive women.  And blah blah blah….men retaining power over all.

I like to think.  I like to question.  I like to seek.  I refuse to submit strictly because a man tells me to.  I refuse to follow tradition simply because the church decides to.  I will not shut off my brain for fear of shaking my faith.

And therein lies the problem.  When one ceases to fit into the tidy box created for us in the evangelical church one risks exile.  One risks attack.  One risks pious prayers for our lacking discernment and wisdom.  Pity.  Anger.  Disdain.

Really.  I tell you no lies.  I have been the blessed recipient of all of the above.

I have been on a fascinating journey in my faith for many years.  But it has come into picture perfect focus within the past year.  Thank you Donald Trump.  Thank you Franklin Graham.  Thank you Westboro Baptist.  Thank you stubborn homophobic cake bakers (it’s a cake people!!  A stinking cake!).  Thank you alt right, confederate flag waving, nazi saluting, gay condemning, conservatives.

Thank you for exposing the hypocrisy and self-told lies in my own mind.

For years I had complacently looked past the bigotry disguised as love in my own faith community.  I accepted the notion that those scholars who researched and found flaws in translations of scripture were out to destroy the Bible (yes, I have heard this statement many times).  For decades I bought that we alone had the correct interpretation of scripture.  For nearly half a century I happily lived amongst the Pharisees.

Yes.  The Pharisees.

The Pharisees were those in religious power in the days of Christ.  They were the recipients of Jesus’s most direct displays of anger and rebuke.  They were blinded by their own righteous thinking.  Blind to their own snobbish hatred of those beneath them.  Completely clueless that they had left their God long before and traded it for power and rules.  Lacking the discernment of the Truth in front of them.

Sound familiar?

Today I step away from this toxic brew of political power and pious judgment the American evangelical church has become.  Today I close the door to those who wish to guide me off of the path I am on.  I am on this path because of my faith, because of my seeking, because of my prayers.  Not in spite of.  Not opposed to.

Does it not seem arrogant to even suggest that we have the definitive interpretation of the gospel?  Does it not seem foolish to think we and only we understand God’s teachings, God’s reasons, God’s will?   Does it not seem counterproductive to quash those who dare to be different?  Dare to ask questions?  Dare to follow with both their heart and brain?  Why would it be wrong to leave some questions unanswered?  Some facts unknowable?  (Who is right when declaring God’s will for hurricanes?  Is it judgment for homosexuality, abortion, lack of support for Israel?  Or is it God teaching us to love and depend on each other?  I’ve heard all those variations and more.) Why can’t we admit that not everything in life was outlined clearly in scripture?  That life is full of grey.  Isn’t that the definition of faith?  To use our brains for as far as they can take us and then leap for the remaining unprovable parts?

I find myself at a point where I can no longer suck it up for the sake of community.  In fact, I find that notion laughable given my community lately.  Parts of my community have regularly blamed me for being unkind and harsh.  I have been confused if they were referring to my constant pleading that we  reach out to the marginalized OR to the fact  that I disagree with them politically.  And that…THAT is just pure heresy!!!  Is my dysfunctional heart reflected in my devotion to charity or to my disdain of falsehoods?  Is my poor discernment proven by my questioning the Christian defense of despicable personal beliefs OR by my belief that we are to strengthen each other’s faith through challenging that which is against Christ’s teachings?  I must say that I am confused about these things.

I have had a rotten few days.  I have not seen the loving side of my evangelical brethren lately.  My children have witnessed their cruelty cloaked in piety.  They have seen the venom dripping from lips claiming to love me.  My family’s faith has been damaged.  It is too soon to tell if the damage is permanent.  It is too fresh to know when or if the wound will heal.  But I grieve for my children.  I grieve for their pain and concern over mom’s red, swollen eyes.  I grieve for their worries about implications to their own lives.  I grieve their innocence in thinking that Christians really do love each other.

And what caused such grief?  Pettiness.  Stubbornness.  Wounded pride.  A desire to quiet different thought.  Assumptions about me based on nothing other than my gender, my defense of facts, and my refusal to back down on the core of Christ’s teachings.  The core of love and grace to all.

Literally all people.

LGBT included.  Poor included.  Addicts.  Those who don’t plan ahead.  Those who vote democratic.  Those who’ve had abortions.  Those who fight fascism.  Fascists (yeah, that one stings).  Atheists.  Single moms who’ve never been married.  Dads who have walked away from their responsibilities.  Divorced people.  Parents who neglect their children.  Children who are disrespectful. Christians who think differently than the unwritten evangelical handbook says they should.

I’ve thought back over other times when loving, caring christians have felt it necessary to scold me for causing others to stumble.  Yes, this accusation has been used several times.  Most, if not all, have been over a difference of political opinions.  When I refused to apologize for thinking that our current president is much like Saul  in the book of Isaiah, I was condemned.  I guess God only agrees with blind support of political leaders.  Because He placed them there.  How dare I suggest that perhaps they weren’t placed there for the reasons they believe.  Are either stances provable?  Absolutely not.  But, I suppose my version of unprovable is far more blasphemous in the handbook.  And they have freely pummeled me with verses to confirm their superior view.  Pay no attention to the verses that don’t.

Please pay no attention to past religious giants who have stood in opposition to government leaders due to their personal Christian beliefs.  I’m sorry Dietrich Bonhoeffer, you should have followed Hitler.  My apologizes to those Christians who hid Jews in their homes.  Martin Luther–how dare you nail your treatise to the door!  Daniel should not have prayed because the king said so.  Tsk tsk Moses’ mom for hiding him from Pharaoh.  I can’t for a moment think that the disciples who found themselves in jail defied any government authority!  Could they have?  What were these good people thinking?!?!?   Clearly out of line.

There are far more examples of Christians disobeying authority because of not in spite of their faith.  But, hopefully my point is clear.

I also will address the painfully large elephant in the room.  Many do not take too kindly to a women suggesting that their views may be skewed.  People bristle when a mirror is held up by a….girl.  They’d rather break the glass than study the reflection.  Many faithful men are shaken by a strong, thinking woman.  But not Esther! (from the book of Esther)  She was an excellent and godly example.   She spoke truth to power and we revere her for it.  Or Abigail.   Let’s not forget her strength. (Google her story).  Hmmmm…  I guess book examples are fine since no one can witness you learning from a woman that way.

So, I apologize for the epic fail of my American evangelical christianity.  I apologize for choosing to follow Christ’s example over all else.  I apologize for taking Jesus at His word when he stated that loving God and one another were the greatest commandments.  I am sorry that I passionately fight for the poor, the wounded, the marginalized.  I am sorry that these choices are causing people to stumble in their faith.  I am sorry that these choices are causing you pain.  I am sorry that I cannot control my tongue when calling out destructive beliefs or behaviors found in Christians.

Or better yet, I will move on with my faith while it is still intact.

 

 

A Title Without a Heart

Dear Friend,

I’m writing to you today to make a simple request.  Well, it seems simple.  But I recognize that change is hard.  I’m requesting that you stop calling yourself a Christian.  Please.

Stop calling yourself a Christian as you tell me that “God hates sloth” in the midst of a discussion about poverty.   I am fairly certain my God loves poor people too.  Even lazy ones.

Stop calling yourself a Christian as you rage about the worthless addicts who brought trouble upon themselves.   I’m certain my God would help them try to break their mental and physical chains.  Again and again and again.  No matter how they got there.

Stop calling yourself a Christian as you berate and demean your family member in public over differing views.  And please stop using the Bible as a club when you do so.

Stop calling yourself a Christian as you condemn a gay friend and call them an abomination.  My Jesus never condemned gays as He ministered on Earth. He loved.

Stop calling yourself a Christian as you rant about “your money” and how it is being used by the government.  Didn’t Jesus say to give unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s?  Wouldn’t those taxes no longer be yours?

Stop calling yourself a Christian while simultaneously calling yourself a “deplorable”.  Those two things cannot go together.  If you think they can, then you are misunderstanding one of the chosen labels.

Stop calling yourself a Christian as you spread lies found on conspiracy theory and hateful sites.  My God is a God of truth.

Stop calling yourself a Christian as you continue to spread propaganda veiled as news.  Lies that can easily be disproven with minimal effort.  My God wants our words to be trustworthy.

Stop calling yourself a Christian as you pretend to love while seething with anger and venom.  Telling someone you love them as Christ loves them is not only impossible, it is laughable and false.  Even Jesus got angry.  Are you more holy than He?

Stop calling yourself a Christian as you fight against government help for the poor, the sick, and the dependent.  Stop telling others that it is the church’s job as your justification.  Is the church doing it?  Is the church able to pay for the healthcare of a few of its members let alone the community?  Does your church have a free clinic?  Does your church pay for housing for those without jobs?  Does your church fund rehab for addicts?  Does your church clothe the children of disabled single moms?  Does your church supply groceries for the hungry? Could your church financially survive the $60,000+ MS drugs needed by some to function?  How about an organ transplant and the subsequent lifelong drugs?  Diabetes?  Heart disease?  Complicated births and NICU?

Stop calling yourself a Christian as you demand we protect ourselves from scary refugees.  My God is not a God of fear.  In fact, we are told not to fear.  And we are told to care for the foreigner.

 

 

Yes, I know you think I’m too simplistic in these requests.  It is simplistic to suggest that love is the greatest tool we’ve got against all evils.  But I’m not the first to do so.

Politics are separate from our faith.  *Even though our faith is to permeate every portion of our lives.

You are loving people as you tell them they are deviant sinners.  Tough love.  Truthful love.  *Except that condemnation and harsh words drive people away, not toward my God.

The church must protect itself because it is always under attack.  *Did Jesus protect himself?  Don’t we say that “if God is for us who can be against us”?  Or is that just a catchphrase?

Well, we know we are living right if we offend people.  *OR, we are just being jerks and using faith as an excuse.

 

 

So, friend, I plead with you today to stop calling yourself a Christian while ignoring the example of your namesake.   Stop saying you will pray for something yet never praying.  Stop saying prayers for needs without looking for a tangible way of meeting those needs.  Stop preaching rules before love.

Until you stop taking the mantle without demonstrating the radical love of your Christ, you misrepresent Him.  Your humanity is out-shined by atheists and agnostics.  Your generosity is eclipsed by rockstars and actors.  Your fight for the weak is pathetic when compared to the humanist social worker.  Your support of the sick is laughable when compared to a fast food clown.

And, friend, since you claim to represent the God  I love, I will continue to speak out when you don’t do so.  I will continually point to the original example of love when the non-churched are confused by your contradictions.  I will apologize to those you’ve damaged.  I will listen to those you’ve hurt.  I will help those you brush aside.  And I will try to lead them back to the God I love.  The God who loves them.  The God you seem to have lost in the anger, fear, and prejudice.

Thank you for considering my request.

 

 

 

 

 

Self Inflicted Martyrdom

Today I have a heavy heart.  I have been on a long journey to readjust my path based more closely on what the Bible says we are called to do.  I have found this journey both exciting and exhausting.  It is simultaneously freeing and joyful while being filled with a sense of constant loss.  Loss of long-held beliefs.  Loss of ability to float along the unexamined tide of Christiandom.  Loss of respect for old leaders who have chosen anger and fear over love and grace.  Just…loss.

I have been renewed by discovering the simplicity of Christ’s teachings.  Love all.  Show grace to all.  Let God work on people’s hearts and minds.  Be willing to tangibly help others, sacrificially.

I have been saddened by how often the church does not mirror these teachings.  Rules.  Lack of acceptance of differences.  Forcible lecturing  of “our ways”.   Crying out about a perceived loss of “our rights”.  Budgets strained by the “needs” of the church rather than the community which they serve.

My heart is not heavy for me today.  My heart is heavy for several people I love.  I have watched their trust in the church as a place of health and healing…dissolve.  I have seen the hurt in their eyes when recounting the venom spewed at them when they dared to ask questions.  Just questions.  Or, worse yet, I have listened as they talked of their fear of asking questions.

These people I love have come directly up against the claim of love and grace presented with narrow minds, immovable opinions, and…no love or grace.  When faced with the words  being quite contrary to actions seen it is difficult to soothe troubled souls.  The life of Christ and His beautiful example has been overshadowed by the present blind hypocrisy.

I have often told people that it is ok to ask questions of God.  It is ok to get mad and yell.  It is ok to have doubt.  He knows anyway, so we might as well be honest.  I’ve told people that God is big enough, powerful enough,  and wise enough to draw us to Him even when we don’t know who  or what we are searching for.

But today those truths are harder to trust.  Today those truths are connected to the journey of people I love instead of myself.  So I worry.  I hurt.  I grieve.

I am incapable of wiping the tears from their eyes with any genuine advice to live by.  I cannot say “Trust God” when that is exactly their struggle.  I cannot say “dig into more scripture” when they now wonder if there is anything to be found in those pages.  I cannot say “pray” when they have been told repeatedly that they should feel connected and emotional when they pray when all they feel is….nothing.  I cannot say to talk with some other friends when those are exactly the people who have made them feel less than.

For some of my loved people, church has become a hospice instead of a hospital.  It is a place where faith and love go to die instead of where doubt and fear go to heal.  It has become a place of hollow music sung without reflection and words spoken but not heeded.  It is a place where we can lie about our commitment to others, our commitment to God, and our willingness to grow.  We can hide under the umbrella of the good christian while never offering any goodness to anyone standing in the rain.

It is a place where we say we must love others but we must support a president who lies, mocks, and accuses.  It is a place where we must “die to self” yet continually “fight for our rights”.  It is a place where the poor are blessed (according to Jesus’s beatitudes) yet the poor are seen as lazy and deserving of where they find themselves in life.  It is a place where we cry out about the sanctity of life while cheering  the turning away of refugees.

It is a place where those who embrace Christ’s teachings of submission and turning the other cheek in all of life are mocked as weak.  It is a place where life-long elders can say, without irony, that we should let addicts die after two doses of the drug to revive them.  Then they had a second chance.  I am at a complete loss for where Christ’s example would back that up.  And yet I have heard it with my own ears.  I have read it with my own eyes.  Calloused and hard hearts toward real, actual, skin-covered humans struggling with a horrible addiction.  Such is our current Christian rhetoric.

Church is a place where we teach our youth how to share their faith with others before teaching them how to live their faith.  It’s easy to pass on rehearsed answers to genuine faith questions.  It is not so simple to just let those questions be.  It is far scarier to encourage the journey to be personal and in one’s own time.  That involves an inherent loss of control (which, quite honestly, we never had in the first place).  Church is a place where we really don’t trust God.

I have listened as one said they could not accept that Jonah was swallowed by an actual fish.  This made them a bad believer.  This meant that some other Christians thought they had weak faith.  But why?  Can’t we learn from the story of Jonah even if it is an allegory?  Can’t the teachings of scripture have just as much power even if they are stories used to illustrate lessons in language understood by those being taught?  Why get hung up on a minuscule argument?  Can’t a big God speak through direct history AND figurative language?

We argue that God is male because the Bible uses male pronouns.  Who chose those pronouns?  During which translation did they appear?  Is it not more realistic to say that God is too big and too complex to be either exclusively male or female?  If not, I’m wondering how we women can claim to be made in His image (as we church folk are taught).  Isn’t God big enough to either create the universe in six days OR set things in motion that created the universe over millions of years?  Why must those who wonder be seen as lost and lacking faith?

So today I sit here with several beloved souls on my mind.  Beloved people who have been damaged by the church.  Beloved people who are struggling to find faith in something to trust again.  Beloved people who are hurting as the ground shifts beneath them.

No, this is not the handiwork of an evil enemy preying on their minds.  It is the direct result of being treated as inferior for being divorced.  It is the direct result of being taught to use your talents for God, but only if we approve of your methods and opinions.  It is the direct result of  the anti-LGBT post by the loving Christian being read by the gay teen.  It is the direct result of the horrific abortion images posted by pro-life Christians being seen by a woman who had made that painful decision in their youth.  It is the direct result of famous church leaders stubbornly defending a morally bankrupt presidential administration while atheists shake their head in disbelief.   It is the direct result of Christian’s refusal to honestly examine their beliefs, motives, and behaviors.

We, the church, are our own worst enemy.  And until we realize that and work toward repairing our self-inflicted wounds we will continue to be less and less and less vital in our communities.

 

 

 

The Truth We Cannot Always See

As I tackled Bobbie to the ground and grabbed his jacket collar I wasn’t thinking about Sunday School lessons or Bible hero stories.  When I dragged him down the alley  I was just enjoying meting out  swift justice.   I stood by Sally’s back gate and watched him knock on her door.  I wanted to be sure that her hat was returned.  I wanted to hear him apologize as I had instructed him to do.

Bobbie was a tiny boy who lived in the next block.  Bobbie was a bully.   That day on the bus he had crossed the line of what I would silently tolerate.  I typically bit my tongue and looked out the window.  It wasn’t my place to right all the bus ride wrongs!  Keep to yourself and you will be safe. 

That day he stole my neighbor’s hat as we lined up to depart the bus.  She chased him and was nearly hit by a car as it approached the intersection.  Watching her slip on loose stones and slide between the wheels of the sedan was terrifying. The squeal of the tires made my heart skip.   I reflexively took off after him as soon as I saw Sally stand and brush herself off.  The bully would not win today.  Not if I could help it.

Bobbie was still a bully after that.  But not to Sally.  He even smiled at her when he walked to his bus seat.

I had totally forgotten about that incident until recently.  I forgot how I stood at a distance and watched him right his wrong.  I forgot how my legs turned to jelly after I reached my home.  I forgot my mom’s subtle smile when I told her what had just happened.  (I’m fairly certain that she would not have openly approved of my brutish methods.  But she approved of my defending the awkward girl from down the street.)

I stood in my kitchen last week and told my husband that I think I may have  always been a social justice warrior without realizing it.  Never.   Never connected the dots from the little girl who chased the bully to the woman who calls out societal wrongs.  I never connected the little girl who gathered up the kids on the sidelines of the playground  with the woman who searches crowds for lost faces.

My parents taught us to look out for those weaker than us.  We were to care for those who lived in the shadows.  We were to help without being asked.  And never, ever seek recognition.  Do good just because it’s right.

That is strangely like teaching us to follow the example of Christ.

Years after the great hat chase,  I recall arguing with my father when the Clintons introduced healthcare reform.  I, the idealist twenty-something, thought it was a wonderful idea, no matter where it came from.  Everyone should have healthcare!  Everyone should be taken care of no matter their social class or income!   Families shouldn’t have to watch loved ones die because they can’t afford treatment.  Those who had the means should help care for those who didn’t!  I thought he would agree.  Take care of others.  That is what we had been taught.  That is what my parents silently did for many throughout my growing years.   But for some reason this idea was not even worthy of exploration.  It was not up for discussion.  This was a source of anger.

Since I adored my father and considered him to be one of the wisest people around, I decided that he must be right.  He must have known more than my young self.  He surely had studied some scripture that I had yet to discover that taught separation of  spiritual self from our social and political self.   I quietly decided that he had to be right.  Stop being a silly kid and thinking that social justice is straightforward— All people deserve dignity and care.  Or at least keep my mouth shut.

I gradually stopped paying attention to politics.  I naively assumed that those in power were there for altruistic reasons.  They were called “public servants” after all.  That title alone proved that they had the best interests of the masses in mind in all decisions.  They were aware of the weak and powerless.  Right?  Let the professionals take care of the citizens.  Right?

I married, bought a home, had children.  I had a comfortable life.  My focus became insular.  As long as my tiny family was safe and secure, all was right with the world.  We never lacked food.  The children were nicely dressed.  We had a cozy home.  Good neighbors.  Safe cars.  Secure jobs.

We taught our children to be kind to kids at school.  We taught them to do their best in whatever they were asked.  We tithed to our church.  Hey, we even occasionally gave to charity.  What stellar humans, we!

Gradually, I found myself echoing some sentiments of conservative friends and family.  Questioning the contents of someone’s shopping cart when I knew they used food stamps.  Wondering about why that person wasn’t working (but never actually asking them).  Assuming that all prisoners were awful humans who deserved to be punished harshly.  Condemning a beloved friend when he told me he was gay.

It’s very easy to become calloused and distant when living a comfortable and privileged life.  It’s easy to never notice the disadvantaged, the poor, the sick.  I could just drive my car through nice neighborhoods and pretend the broken down apartment buildings don’t exist.  I could shop at times when only people like me were in the store.  I could choose a doctor’s office who didn’t accept Medicaid.  I could look the other way at the stop light when the homeless man holds his sign up to the car.  Pretend he’s not even there.

I was a church worship director for over ten years.  I became part of the Christian machine.  The Christian machine looks shiny and nice on the outside.   It claims righteousness and the love of God.  But it will grind up anyone who does not stay in their designated box.  As long as I was an unquestioning conservative, Republican, church member I was in the fold.   I even  sat in on meetings where good people were vilified and scolded for mistakes made.  I watched beautiful families disappear only to find out later that they had felt unwelcome, unwanted, not good enough.  (How could  we have mistreated people in God’s name?  They must have misunderstood.)

Then good riddance to you!  If you can’t see that this is the way God wants things to be, we don’t need you here.  Shape up or move on!!!  You must be running from God.  You cannot see that you are blind.  

It’s a gradual, subtle decline to becoming a hard and judgmental Christian.  We should have standards for who can be a church member, right?  We should be all able to dress respectfully for services (Please don’t ask me exactly what this means because I truly don’t know).   Proper language please!  Don’t be political (unless it involves abortion–then you must be willing to march against it at rallies and clinics).   Every life is sacred and precious.   But, the Bible says “an eye for an eye” so we should also be pro death penalty.  After all, those people deserve to die.  Israel must always be supported regardless of the humanity (or lack there of) that they display.  And the LGBT community is never to be accepted.

My social justice warrior self slowly disappeared and was replaced by a flimsy copy of the ideal evangelical.  The drive for social equality dies a slow and painless death when you only talk to church friends.  When you only  go to nice places you can pretend that all is fair.  All people are given equal opportunities.  It’s just that some people squander their chances.  It’s just that some folks choose drugs over their families.  It’s just that poor decisions land those people in a slum apartment and dependent on government handouts.

 

“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.  Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.”  (Matthew 11: 25-26)

My childish way of interacting with my community was actually pure.  It was based in love.  It was based on the assumption that all people were special in God’s eyes so they should be treated as such.  It was able to look beyond clothing, beyond greasy hair, beyond unbrushed teeth.  The childish me saw the person underneath.  The childish me never stopped wondering what it might be like to be in their shoes.  The childish me reacted according to what I would want others to do for/to me.

The childish me followed Christ’s example.

Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’  For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9: 12-13)

I recently visited with a childhood friend after reconnecting on Facebook.  As we jumped from topic to topic I mentioned to her that I recently discovered that I have become a social justice warrior.  I said it not with pride, but with a sober sense that this choice demands sacrifice.  I wasn’t sure if she might be one of those people who I might lose again. This vocation will create anger and distance with some.  My speaking out will cause others to call me hateful., regardless that my motive is love.  I have seen the disappointment in some family member’s eyes.  I can no longer be a cog in the Christian machine.  I frequently feel alone in a sea of people who think I’m lost.  It’s been a heavy realization, honestly.  I haven’t always wanted it.  I have tried to put it down occasionally.

She looked at me with kind eyes and simply said, “I’ve not been surprised by a single thing you have written.  I have seen my old friend.  You have always been this way.”

She had no idea that I would treasure that remark.  She had no idea that she reassured me that I was not wrong in changing direction.  She may never know that those words were a balm to my wounded soul.   “You have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.”  I understood what it meant to truly follow Christ when I was a child.  She saw that.

As I grew I made it complex.  As I grew, I bought the traditions over the simple gospel.  As I grew, I looked down at those who didn’t believe like me.   I judged those who weren’t as fortunate as me.   I would not admit that to anyone.  But, really, I didn’t need to hide it because my friends did the same.  Of course,  they would never acknowledge it either.

My childhood friend never saw this phase of my life.  She never saw me get lost in the machine.  She never saw me choose rules and judgement over grace and love.  I’m glad she didn’t.

I wish I never saw my father lose some of the simplicity of pure love in favor of some church traditions.  I wish I never saw the pain in his eyes when I speak out on certain topics.  I wish his pedestal was still as high as it was in my youth.    Truth be told, he is a very loving and kind man.  He is a pretty darned stellar example of a Christian.  He is a thinker.  He is still my hero.  But like all of us he has some blind spots.  I wish I had never noticed.  I wish I never knew he was a fallible human.  I wish he was completely outside of the machine with me.

And some day when my children meet with old friends over coffee, I hope they remain true to who they are now.  I hope they keep the simplicity of the gospel in their hearts.  I hope the greatest commandment is etched on their hearts.  I hope they always fight for the poor, the lonely, the fringe, the lowly and despised.

Kind of like Christ did.

And if they get swallowed up by the machine, I pray they find their way out.  Just as I pray my father finds his way in those tiny areas he is blind to.  Just as I did when I started really digging into scripture with the lens of a loving and forgiving God.  I pray to never slide down the slope of rules and traditions again.

Because Jesus, God himself incarnate, said: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

If Jesus called these the greatest commandments, then I suppose we should listen.

 

 

Noticing the Unseen

So, here’s the thing.  I had plans for my day.  I had a clear to do list.  But sometimes you just need to sit and listen.  Sometimes you need to change your plans.

Those who’ve read this blog before know that I tend to focus on the blindspots that thrive in our churches.  I tend to ask questions in order to encourage us to move through the uncomfortable and unsettling ugliness contained in all of us in order to reveal something more lovely.  Someone more loving.

Today my fingers were typing a different message before I ever sat at this keyboard.  My mind was swirling with different thoughts.  What about those among us that are blind to our good?  What about those who need a word to encourage them to stay the course?

I have a friend who has always dreamed of being a missionary in a far away land.  This friend longs for sacrificial service and dramatically impacting forgotten lives.  He yearns to be with, love, and support people that most of the world doesn’t even notice.  He loves getting dirty and messy while building others up.  Short term mission trips have buoyed him on many occasions.   But he still cries out to God to be given the chance to be a full time missionary.

The answer has always been no.  The answer has been trust me.

But still the desire burns bright.  I want to do more!!!

Today my friend needs to know that he is exactly in the right place.  He is unassumingly and quietly reaching those very people that the world doesn’t notice.  His willingness to have coffee with a homeless man goes without fanfare.  His willingness to feed strangers while listening to their stories flies under the radar.  That family budget stretched by purchases for others is a private and personal thing.

He may never get to a foreign and untouched land.  He may never learn the obscure language of a remote culture.

But he has found a mission field that very few even see.  He has become the embodiment of love to the addict, the smelly, the stubborn, the forgotten.

His sacrificial service to the least of these does not earn newspaper articles or convention speeches.  It’s not the flashy subject of Christian biographies.

But it means the world to that man under the bridge.  It means life to the teen cut down from the noose.  It means healing to the woman divorcing the cold man she still loves.

It means the honest to goodness hands and feet of a loving God are among us.  It means that those with open hearts have an example to follow.  An understated and unassuming example.  A person content in the shadows.  A flesh and blood example.

And, to me, that’s a pretty darned good missionary.

 

Love Under a Heat Lamp

As I watched the tiny hairless creature suck formula from an artist’s paintbrush at 3:30 AM I smiled.  What the heck is wrong with me???

Last week we found a nest of three itty bitty mice in the curtains or our camper.  I was not thrilled with this discovery, nor with the accompanying holes in said curtains.  I naively called the children after discovering the source of the faint squeaks.   “Look!  Baby chipmunks.  Or mice.  Or something.”

I knew where this would lead.  But I wanted to show them these tiny miracles anyway.  Immediately the chorus of “We have to save them!!” began.  The girls quickly googled websites about newborn rodents’ care.   Off I went to pick up pedialyte and puppy formula (who even knew that existed before?!).

Gently, the girls placed the see-through-skinned treasures in soft bedding and watched their wiggling.  I got worried texts while at the store.  “Mom, how soon will you be back?”  “I’m worried that they might be cold.”  “I’m worried they might be hot.”  “I think the mom must be looking for them.”  “Do you think the mom will ever come back?”

Let’s pause here for a little family history lesson.  When we started to  remodel our current house we discovered that it had been infested with mice.  That led to us completely gutting the home and starting over.

Completely.

Gutting.

One year of demolition.   One year of redesign.  Two years of rebuilding.  Four years of limbo.  From mice.

The finished product is far more wonderful and perfect for our family than our original plans.  But that doesn’t negate the years of work, tears, upheaval, and expense.  From mice.  (And horrific wiring; but that’s another story.)

Our home is surrounded by rodent bait boxes.  Our barn is surrounded by rodent bait boxes.

But we must feed these three every two hours.  With a tiny paintbrush.  We must dampen  q-tips and stimulate their bottoms to make them poop.  We must do our best to help these three grow and mature.

The first night created three sleep deprived people in our home.  The babies must eat!  My husband even woke at one point to come check on them under their glowing warm light.  My son slept like an unconcerned baby.

Day two’s activities were determined by the amount of time away from home things would take.  Day three Squirmington, Pixie, and Bubs went with us on a trip to visit family.  Yes, they had names.  Yes, we warmed their formula and cleaned their bottoms.

Regularly, my husband and I reminded everyone of the saga of Baby Bird from a few years ago.  “It’s very hard for people to help tiny creatures survive, you know.”  My middle daughter cried for days after the demise of Baby Bird.  I dreaded this inevitable outcome.

Day four brought the loss of Squirmington.  By then, the only child truly interested in the well-being of the mice was my middle child.  And she was all in.  She watched the remaining two babies like a hawk.  She googled what to do about air bubbles in the belly.  (You can see through their skin to their organs.  Yes.  They are THAT tiny.)  She patiently massaged his/her? belly with a vaseline covered q-tip to try removing the gas.  That’s what google said to do.  Worry appeared on her face.  Eventually, Pixie joined her brother in the tiny box coffin.

I found myself reassuring my daughter regularly that she was doing all she could.  I gently reminded her that we can’t save every delicate tiny creature.  No matter how diligently we try.

So, here I found myself babying an arch nemesis in the middle of the night.  Because one I love valued them.  Because one I love could not let go yet.  Because my child needed rest.  Because my parent’s heart broke at the pain in her eyes.

And then it dawned on me.  Sometimes God does that too.

Sometimes He allows us to stay in a hopeless situation because we aren’t ready to leave.  He allows us to gradually release our grasp on damaging habits, people, beliefs.  He doesn’t pry our fingers from the  fraying rope.  We must willingly let go for real change to happen.  Sometimes He peels one finger at a time away from the problem.

But only if we allow Him to.

He is the perfect parent.  He is not a forceful puppet master.  Even when it pains Him to watch His child struggle needlessly, He patiently watches and waits.  He holds our hand as we take one more step toward Him.  He cuddles us as we weep from the peeling away of people, thoughts, beliefs, things.  He understands our pain.

And when we finally are ready to move forward, He is there.  Arms outstretched and smiling.  He helps us bury the destructive thing.  He posts a marker to our progress.  He allows our memories to remain so we can reflect on where we’ve been and where we are going.

So, for now I will continue setting an alarm for the 3:15 feeding.  For now I will store two itty bitty bodies in a small jewelry box in my freezer.  And I will wait for my love to let go.  I will hold her when the grief hits.  I will tell her I am proud of her.

I smile at her growth.

And God smiles at mine.

Living in the Red

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.

Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  (Matthew 5: 3-11 NIV)

 

I was thinking today about those pesky red letters.  The words written down that were spoken by Jesus.  The words that flowed directly from the mouth of God himself.  They were uttered by God.   Directly to people.  God’s thoughts.

Every other passage written was first filtered through the mind of a fallible human.  Someone with their own experiences.  Someone with their own selective memories of events.  Someone with their own views, biases, and strongly protected beliefs.  Yes, I know that the red letters were actually written down by normal humans too.  But these words are the closest we can get to God’s own infinite mind recorded.

So why are so many Christians hesitant to live by them?  Why instead do we favor rules and laws?  Why do we quote Old Testament Law to support our stances on various topics?  Why do we often favor the teachings of Jesus’s followers rather than His own?

Why do Christians like to demand punishment and sometimes even death for people who wrong us?  How can Christians be adamant supporters of the death penalty?   Why state these outcries couched in righteous indignation?  Why is it Christian to support bombing our enemies out of existence? 

Is that what Jesus demonstrated?  Might I remind you of the commuted death sentence for the adulterous woman.  Jesus showed that grace is greater than law.  Love is greater than judgement.

Maybe the red letters of Jesus are harder to act upon.  Maybe it feels better to strike an “eye for eye and tooth for tooth” than it does to “turn the other cheek”.  Maybe?  Who am I kidding?  It definitely is more reflexive and natural to attack than to calmly say NO, the hurting stops here!  

Or how about the difference between “love your neighbor” and “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”?  Which one requires more energy?  Which one goes against every fiber of our selfish beings?  I have days when it’s all I can do to stop muttering under my breath at people, let alone pray for them!

Why has divorce become accepted in churches but LGBT people are not?  How is it that a remarried man can become a church elder but a gay man cannot?  Did Jesus teach a hierarchy of “unmentionables”?

Why has it become commonplace for Christians to consider the poor lazy and weak?  Jesus taught over and over and over again that it is our job as followers of the gospel to care for the poor and marginalized.   He told parables where poor people were held up as examples for their faith and sacrifice.  Yet we look down on those who are beneath us financially.

Don’t tell me you haven’t.

Have you ever considered the poor American just as worthy of our help as the poor African child?  Why is supporting one a point of pride for Christians?  Yet supporting the other is evil socialism?

What makes our hearts ache at the sight of a  Haitian boy’s bulging, malnourished belly?  Yet berate the parents of the American child who gets free lunch?  Sending donations for foreign farmers is commendable.  Yet growing a garden for the hungry in our community is a waste of time and resources.

When is the last time you looked an unmistakably poor person in the eye and saw only a beautiful creation of God?  Not a person who obviously has issues.  (Spoiler alert:  not all poor people are there due to bad choices.)  When is the last time you saw a homeless person and could imagine yourself in their shoes?  (Another spoiler alert:  we are all merely a few unfortunate events away from living on the streets.)

Why are addicts less worthy of being fed than veterans?  What if they are both?  Would a war veteran lose our support if they were also a drug addict?  Does that negate their worthiness?  Did Jesus ask the crowd to disclose what struggles they were dealing with before handing out the free bread and fish?  Did he withhold food from those who drank too much?  Can someone more righteous than me point out where that teaching is in Jesus’s ministry?

Christians are selective in their outrage.  Selective in their grace.  Selective in what they see as the most heinous of sins.  Selective in their memories of Jesus’s teachings.

Because Christians are humans.  Fallible, changeable, emotional, humans.

We like rules.  Order.  Hierarchy.  Merit based rewards.  Strength.

Until we find ourselves on the wrong side of those rules.  Disorder.  Unfair hierarchy.  Random rewards.  Weakness.  Then we aren’t as crazy about those systems.  Then they can’t possibly be of God.

But Jesus preaches that we are blessed when humble.

Comforted when we mourn.

Rich when we are meek.

Fulfilled when we earnestly seek after truth.

Cared for when we show mercy.

Enlightened when we seek God with innocence and openness.

Called God’s children when we broker peace.

Heirs of a heavenly reward when we are persecuted for living out Christ’s example.

Blessed when people insult us, lie about us, and try to discredit us.

Because Jesus rules over an upside-down kingdom.

Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’  For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9: 12-13 NIV)

What?!?  Isn’t sacrifice demanded?  Aren’t sinners messy?  Why wouldn’t we want to surround ourselves with the righteous?

Jesus repeatedly poked at the religious leaders.  Jesus scolded the church teachers.  He rebuked their rules, piety, and judgmental attitudes.  He wasn’t here for the powerful, the rich, the church elite.  He didn’t ask for temple sacrifices.  He demanded mercy.

He was here for the prostitute, the tax collector, the crippled, the widow, the sick, the lowly fisherman, the leper, the lonely, the confused.   He was a champion of those the modern church likes to shame.  He stood with the marginalized in spite of the Pharisees’ opposition.  He broke the letter of the law to fulfill the spirit of the law.  He did the right thing even when the leaders said He was wrong.  He repeated His teachings again and again to the crowds.  And to His disciples.  Yet, even those disciples didn’t truly get it all—with God Himself, incarnate, telling them His ways.

But Jesus patiently kept loving.  Kept giving.  Kept healing.  Kept nurturing.

He’d get away from the crowd to rest, think, pray.

And then He’d do it all again. And again.  And again.

And so should we.

We are not here to continue church traditions.  We are not here to sing pretty praise songs with other believers.  We are not here to fight for the right to protect ourselves and our righteous ways.

We are here to hold the hurting.  Love the cranky.   Sit with the lonely.  Bring comfort  to the ill.  Give to the poor.  Clothe the naked.  Protect the refugee.  Wipe the tears of the mourning.  Feed the hungry.  Love.

We are here to love.  To live in the red.