Peace Like A Metaphor

Yesterday I was finally able to meet with my pastor after being delayed by that roundhouse car accident four weeks ago. On the morning of January 27th, as I drove, I mentally plotted out a sketch of the many things I couldn’t figure out or understand. But so much can happen in a month. The logistical life changes are in progress, and the spiritual dilemmas (at least a few) have had natural moments to untangle. Yesterday morning, sitting safely in Starbucks with Sam, I kind of stabbed at what hasn’t yet been addressed.

I’m usually pretty good at communicating complicated plots, but here I’m a little stumped, so I’ll head back into a metaphor that occurred to me while talking to a friend on the phone last night.

When I became a Christian in 1994, it was after having grown up in church, rebelled for a few years, and come back out of extreme depression. I put on my theology and beliefs like moving into a fully furnished house because I had nowhere else to go. I embraced all of it completely. There were uncomfortable things- paintings I found disturbing, rugs that I couldn’t pick up to clean under, smells I couldn’t eradicate, but it was home. I also added things to the house, but got rid of nothing, opting instead to leave those hard choices for another time, or maybe never. Because of some things that happened over the last few years, all of this became intolerable. It might have been smart to slowly tackle the issues, but what happened instead was total demolition. I was throwing stuff out the front door and lighting things on fire, smashing through walls and spending more and more time outside…

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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….

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Perfecting Weakness

It feels good to be small.

This is my main take-away from six months of sabbatical.

Recently I described the year like being lost in the woods .

It felt like I ceased to be myself for a whole year. I ceased to know the things I thought I knew well and stopped connecting with many things that had previously given me joy and life.

It freaked me out to be unsure of everything I used to know. To add another metaphor to the pile, I was drowning.

And kept drowning… 

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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…

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Library of Love

I have fallen so deeply in love with God by studying this weird collection of books called the Bible. I’m not talking about romantic love, but a love that is so, so much better.

Today in class, we finished the Old Testament.

*Pause for applause*

One of our fearless leaders, Scott Frase ended class by playing a slideshow he had made of the 65 books we’ve journeyed through in the last (almost) nine months (they begin the last book this Friday). Each slide was a book title, the main characteristic of God found in that book and then one or two key verses from said book which expressed this characteristic.  Most of us were devouring each slide and responding with tears to see what an epic story we have been immersed in for so long. (Maybe I was the only one crying?)

It was as moving as I’m sure the picture slideshows will be when we finally graduate these beloved students in two weeks. 

When any of our teachers finish their last lecture, it is SBS tradition to shower them with encouragement and prayer. For guest speakers, this happens soon after we meet them, but for those of us on staff with this school, we finish our last teaching near the end of a very long time together.

I was really struck today by a comment one of the students made to Scott as she expressed her appreciation and love for him. She talked about how, before coming to the school she’d had such a close relationship with God and she had feared that studying the Bible academically would suck the life right out of that relationship. It was a real battle for her and for several other students, but to Scott she said, “I thought I had to choose between knowledge of God or intimacy with God, but every time you teach, you show me I can have both.”  …

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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)…

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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 Hosea

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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…

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Narrativity

The small note on the main page of this blog says,
“Here’s my story. It’s God’s story.”
It’s something I have known, but learned recently in a much deeper way.

For the past few months I have been evaluating and praying about what will come next in my story. We had a staff conference for the last few days and a man named Brad Stanley spoke about several things that really illuminated some dark places in my head. One thing that he said was that when you’re looking for where to go next, it’s important to understand where you’ve been- to see the context and continuity of the direction of your life. I had already been doing that (in a drastically divergent manner) but something else he said caused me to realize how I was doing this poorly.

Instead of this being about the story of my life that God is writing, it’s actually about his story that he is writing with my life. It may sound like semantics, but it completely changes the perspective I have as I take stock of the details. The continuity I’m looking for, which points me forward, isn’t located within the narrative of my specific story, but is found where my story connects to a much larger one…

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Land Mines

I hear the phrase “fear of man” pretty often among the people with whom I spend most of my time.

Sometimes, unfortunately, phrases like this begin to lose their meaning for me when they’ve been used too often. I understand them less and less in any practical fashion and they slide past me unnoticed in the daily barrage of words.

Then one day someone will talk about one of these realities without using the common phrase and suddenly I am struck with the truth and given a much needed heart check…

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