Do Not Be Afraid

Fear leads us to hurt, or to reject other people. John said, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)

Because I grew up in the church, it’s easy for me to point the finger that direction, and say that the church often carries an “us and them” mentality. These are the rules, and we know who’s in and who’s out by who follows these rules. But why does this matter at all? Why do you have to know who’s in and who is out? What if you just lived in a house with a bunch of people from varying faiths, and with various morals, and you worked together like a family? How could it work, unless you loved, unless you didn’t fear what their otherness might do to you?

What will their otherness do to you?

When I was growing up, there was a pressure to not be close friends with Unbelievers. It probably says somewhere in Proverbs that “bad company corrupts good character,” but I’m beginning to realize that I am already the worst kind of company. We’re very, very afraid of becoming monsters, of being thrown out of the family, of becoming unacceptable, and unloveable, and this actually leads us to throw other people out first.

What if I’m friends with a gay person? What if (even worse in our current world) my neighbor has opposing political beliefs? What if I want to get drunk or have sex outside of marriage? How can we stop the world from becoming tainted by The Other’s ugly, wrong, oppressive, horrible view? How can we keep ourselves safe from tyranny, or keep ourselves from becoming tyrants?

Though I know very little now, I do know that one road that won’t work is the road of fear. Fear will lead us much more directly into suffering and monsterhood.

What defensive actions are we taking based on fear? How are those actions harming us, and those around us? What would it look like if what John said was true- that perfect love casts out fear? How would our daily lives be different?

Faith Part 2: On the Ground

We’re all trying very hard, aren’t we?

This morning I was awake an hour before my alarm was set to go off and I was filled with both excitement and anxiety (I start college today!). I decided to work out with that extra time and while working out I had so much inspiration about this specific post. I was going to title it, “Work: Burden or Blessing,” and it was going to help us all get a better view of God and who He has made us to be.

Not surprisingly, I managed to get really tangled up in stress before I could sit down and start writing. Instead of that calm inspiration I felt on the elliptical machine, I was staring at a white screen and I was filled with wordless frustration… Continue reading “Faith Part 2: On the Ground”

Faith Part 1: Outer Space

We’re all trying very hard.

Growing up we believe what we’re told, or we rebel against it because faith costs more than it appears to be worth. Nevertheless we wrestle. We make “I’ll nevers” for ourselves and “He’d nevers” for God.

This plus that equals another thing.

We’re creating math equations of existence with only a few digits, a few thousand denominations. God must be and yet… who is he?

I go spinning, like those horrifying movies set in outer space. Bouncing slowly along the outside of the ship to batten down some hatch, tethered by a life line. Then a meteor comes, some shift in the weightless darkness, and a man who used to be a boy, or a woman who used to be a little girl, goes spinning. Spinning forever into the coldest, darkest nothing. No air, no ground, no more going inside where it’s safe…. Continue reading “Faith Part 1: Outer Space”

Audience Participation

This morning I sat down to “hang out” with God. I barely opened my Bible where there’s a flyer marking some random book,  saw the title of a book and was suddenly flooded with revelation that sent me writing feverishly in my journal and flipping back and forth between books of the Bible, recording, processing, crying.

You probably already know the things I’m about to share, but let me tell you anyway.

The book fell open to Joshua.

First of all, as background I’ve been chewing a lot lately on the idea of holiness. I used to have the view that because it was obviously too hard to be really holy, God didn’t expect perfect obedience from me. He loves me, after all, and isn’t some cosmic police officer. But I’ll be honest- I have often swung between “striving” to please God then giving up exhausted, and falling upon grace. There was a real sense of my unworthiness and God’s goodness and the mystery of his acceptance, but I have never really understood that non-legalistic holiness existed.

Back to Joshua. If you haven’t read it, I’ll give you a little sum up. The Israelites wandered in the Sinai desert for 40 years. On the brink of The Promised Land, Moses gives an epic speech and then croaks, handing the leadership over to Josh… Continue reading “Audience Participation”

What God Says (revisited)

I am inexorably attracted to people who know how much they are loved by God and they allow this knowledge to change them.

This Spring I will have been a Christian for twenty years. In that time I have met all kinds of believers; the bitter but tenacious, the happy naive, the fearfully upright, and the broken beggars who walk around amazed to be so beloved by the creator of the Universe…. Continue reading “What God Says (revisited)”

The Odd Couple

Having lunch with a close friend after church yesterday I said,

“I don’t know how to be a Christian anymore.”

It sounds both more shocking and less extreme than I mean, but they are the only words I can find to explain myself.

I love Jesus. Even when I’m twisted into some weird, navel gazing obsession over the point of my existence… even when  I’m catastrophically overwhelmed by the clash of world news and daily personal hostilities I have this unshakable hope that God exists and that He is good.

At the same time I have totally forgotten the why and the how of so many rituals. When I try to pray anything fancy about healing or spiritual warfare, I can’t get out anything beyond, “Help, God.” or  “Please, God.” I say a lot more stuff to Him than that, actually I say all of the things to him, but I no longer understand why we concoct prayers that sound like magical incantations.

Last winter when I got this strong feeling that I needed a sabbatical I also sensed God giving me a heads up that this season (that I’ve just walked through) wouldn’t be any easier than the last season when I was piled under an unmanageable amount of stress. When I say I “walked through” this sabbatical what I really mean is I’ve crawled through, often just laying on my face in the mud pouring out of my heart.

I’m super broken, guys… Continue reading “The Odd Couple”

The Ugly Truth

Sometimes I go down roads in my head I don’t want to go. This usually has to do with big questions about life and God. Several years ago I suddenly couldn’t shake the fact that the Bible doesn’t say explicitly what happens to babies that die. I couldn’t just believe something happy to soothe my fears, I had to know. And until I worked it out, I had a hard time thinking about anything else.

When thoughts like this come along, I don’t usually want to share the journey with anyone because I fear several unpleasant things. Mostly I fear that they will label me or decide something about me based upon my current feelings and thoughts without recognizing the journey of it. I fear this from others because I tend to do it to myself.

“THIS IS A BAD PLACE AND I WILL ALWAYS LIVE HERE.”

That’s the thing I tend to think when I’m wandering down the miry path called Crisis Of Faith… Continue reading “The Ugly Truth”

Divided Humanity

One of my closest friends, a white American woman, is married to a black Jamaican man. She doesn’t really watch the news and so I was explaining to her what I had read/heard about the situation that has been unfolding in Ferguson, MO. She mentioned her own awakening awareness of racism since marrying a black man and, unfortunately, his introduction to racism since moving to the U.S.

At the age of 22 I worked for the summer at a camp in Wisconsin. Most of the kids coming to the camp were from inner city Chicago. Black city kids at a mosquito infested Christian camp with an almost only white staff. It was a particularly difficult summer for me and likely also for them. This was partly because I had just been kicked out of Bible college,  and my inner brokenness made me more fragile and less capable of connecting with my campers.

White people who want to steer clear of being called racist tend to do an opposite kind of injustice to their fellow brown humans by pretending that skin color is the only difference, missing the rich differences in culture. I have never heard a black person make this same mistake. On my first or second week as a counselor at camp, I was wrestling heavily with the communication-by-insult factor. On my insistence that regardless of how ubiquitous this was in their families and communities, it was still not nice, one savvy 12yr old said with great inflection, “You don’t know many black people, do you?” 

I didn’t bluster and say, “I have black friends” because I honestly didn’t. Growing up in the suburbs of North Seattle did not bring me into contact with very many black people…. Continue reading “Divided Humanity”

Getting it Right

Most of us want to be Good People. We tend to think that, just as a child grows from infancy to adulthood, everyone is at some stage of “growing up” toward maturity and greater independence.

A few months ago I posted something a friend of mine wrote where she mentioned a pastor who had committed suicide. Weeks later, another friend asked me about this- disturbed to consider a pastor doing such a horrible, desperate thing. Because of this idea we have that spiritual growth is a steep climb up a mountain made increasingly on your own, it is horrifying when someone “ahead” of us on the path gives up or slides dramatically backward.

We ask ourselves, “What is the point of my climbing if  someone like that can fall?” 

The bad news is that being a pastor or a missionary or a nun will not safeguard us from being Bad People, from getting depressed, from having broken relationships, from sin or from tragedy (a fact that is noticed easily by people who keep their distance from Christianity). Although we gain maturity and we learn lessons, we’re always light years away from being grown up… Continue reading “Getting it Right”

Growing Young

I know Rich Mullins was not your typical kind of hero. From what I understand, he was a  very flawed and broken man. Nevertheless, the music and the words that God gave him have impacted me in a bigger way than I had realized until seeing  a movie about his life. He taught me two very important things about following Jesus.

His message resonated so quickly and deeply that I didn’t even know it was him that God was using to teach me. While this is about the influence of a musician, it’s mostly about the faithfulness of God to walk so near to me.

Lesson 1: Honesty

“These days I need more than just a line about Jesus.
I need to see his love, these days.”

I grew up going to a Southern Baptist church. What I learned as a kid was that the best Christians looked good and shiny on the outside. They had two parents, and plenty of money, they dressed up for church and they never said bad words. I saw nowhere to express my confusion and pain over life (not to mention I was poor with divorced parents and started swearing in elementary school)… Continue reading “Growing Young”

Purposely Provocative

Generally, my desire is to encourage, bolster or soothe people. This is not because I just want people to like me, but because my own troubles stem from an internal chaos of which I long to be free.

Being provoked to passionate feeling is not the opposite of what I’m looking for. In fact, if the provocation is well done and hits in a place I really care about, it will lead me to a greater sense of focus. It banishes chaos equally as well as comfort, although since my ability to change the world seems quite limited, the action that wants to flow out of the focused passion is often frustrated at the door of reality.

These thoughts started with some movies I’ve seen recently which purposely inspired strong feelings about what is wrong with the world. There are many people who prefer soothing because they dislike feeling helpless more than they can’t stand that others really are powerless to truly horrible situations. Slavery, war, violence, addiction. Most of us feel (when we are faced with the real facts on these issues) that there is really nothing we can do to help… Continue reading “Purposely Provocative”

The Big Idea

Studying to teach is a beautiful and frustrating process for me. If I spend too much time on details, I am immediately lost. What happens instead, is I spend a few weeks just thinking about the book I’m supposed to teach. Clearly, I have read through it and I will often gather bits of big picture information to chew on.

I ponder.

At some point, in the  pondering (and attempting to study), I Get It. This usually happens much closer to the time I’m to teach than is really comfortable, but that also somehow suites me. I take the stress and I plunge head first into papers and my teaching outline. What I want to give my students is the Big Idea- the perspective they will not have time to discover for themselves in the two days they will get to study the book I’ve been studying for 4 weeks. But it takes me most of that four weeks to see the big idea clearly enough to teach it to them.

Something else happens while I’m studying to teach a particular book- God allows me to somehow experience or feel this Big Idea in a personal way in my own life. You can imagine because of this factor I was a bit nervous before I started studying to teach the book of Job!

Now I am currently working on the prophetic book of HoseaContinue reading “The Big Idea”

Being Here

What I’ve really be thinking about this week is God’s love. I’m stuck on this topic because not only is it taking this long for me to grasp it, but I’m starting to think it may be the only truly necessary topic.

Yesterday at the end of a lecture on the book of Ecclesiastes, Angela wanted us to spend time sharing what we had learned about God’s character this year. She connected this thought to the question that, since life is meaningless without God (vanity, vanity!) how does knowing him give life meaning?

What I’ve been learning about God in the last few years has to do, first of all, with the message of the Bible as a whole. Big picture- God’s desire is to dwell with man. Time and again, we make a mess of things and time and again He steps in to set things right. But this “dwelling” isn’t just about cohabitation- it’s not just about the Most Holy Place or about Jesus coming to earth, or even, ultimately about our final hope of living in His heavenly mansion. The Being Together that God wants is a kind of active presence that I’m just barely able to wrap my mind around.

You know how some people are always someplace else, even when they are with you? Their eyes are looking, not at you as you talk with them, but far away and they merely nod their head in rhythm with the tune of your words. Then there are others who are so present that you actually feel heard. Their eyes pierce into you and they respond to what you’re saying with insightful questions, laughter, tears. They are with you and completely present… Continue reading “Being Here”

Let’s Fight

When I was young I had a pretty bad temper. “Seeing red” was a figure of speech that I understood completely.

Back then, we also did our family fighting with really loud voices. When it went on between others and myself, it was cathartic, when it was other members of my family with each other, it tipped over into stressful. I remember one time going into my room, slamming the door and plugging my ears so tightly that I hurt myself, all because of an argument in which I was not involved.

It was for that reason that I began looking for “fixes,” or, more appropriately termed, “diffusers.” Jokes are my favorite- ones that make me the fool usually work out the best because there’s no possibility for things to be taken wrong. Every once in a while I found actual wisdom that calmed things. Not so much like Solomon, but more like the time I encouraged my sister to not stay stubbornly in the car at McDonalds because she’d be hungry later when her anger had cooled.

As an adult there is really never any yelling. I still sometimes get the urge to slam doors, but if I notice the urge in time, I can diffuse it by calling myself out as passive aggressive… Continue reading “Let’s Fight”

Reading in the Dark

I’m not gonna lie, it’s been a rough week.

Sometimes I get really stuck in the dark and I cannot see the way ahead. There are a lot of lies that whisper to me when the lights go out. It makes my head much like a haunted house and a heavy rock of grief, stress and fear sits on my chest and it actually feels harder to breath.

This morning during corporate worship I was desperate to get away from myself and see God. I picked up my Bible and opened to Isaiah because I remembered some good stuff in there where God says who he is in a very direct way.

Isaiah 43 has been an important chapter to me for the past ten years. Before doing the School of Biblical Studies, I had a hard time reading the Bible at all. Except for Isaiah 43. My struggle was that I couldn’t see how any of the words were really for me… people talked about “claiming the promises of God,” but I couldn’t see how any of those promises were for me… Continue reading “Reading in the Dark”