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?

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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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The Outsider Inside

I may be in the minority here, but I see confusion as a useful tool.

Every group has its own slang. They have stories they retell, behavior they agree is The Thing. I was with some friends recently who are part of what I would call The Party Scene. I haven’t been a part of that scene for over 20 years, so there were several things they all did that were new to me. I found myself curious about the history behind things like everyone tapping their shot glass on the table/bar simultaneously before drinking those shots in unison.

Why do they do that?

It’s not that I need to fit in, but also I don’t want to offend people out of my ignorance. I’m both curious about the “why” behind all of the things people “just do,” and interested in who people are behind their behavior.

These “norms” can be found all over the world. When I’ve had extended visits to Germany, for example, I discovered that instead of drinking 7-UP when someone is sick (as people did when I was growing up in the USA), they drink Coca Cola. Also when sick, Germans don scarves. Now that I understand the reasons behind these rituals, they make sense to me and although I’ve never been one to drink soda, I do find myself sporting a scarf now when I feel under the weather.

If you’re a Christian you hopefully recognize these cultural idiosyncrasies also apply to you and your family or church….

[Click here for the rest of this post.]

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Dream Out Loud

I float in and out of thinking, distraction, sleep, bad dreams and mundane activity.

I’ve formed this weird habit of not talking to people about stuff. Talking to friends about the things I’m wrestling with is like having nice hand rails for a rickety, floating bridge. Not talking sends me adrift, or maybe I just hang out on one rotting rung because I can’t see the way forward. Questions echo in my mind without reply. And then suddenly I’m confessing my sins to the checker at Haggen after she asks, “Did you find everything alright?”

The world seems to be moving more quickly now and I feel like I have to butt in to have conversation, or it’s selfish, or too intense. Maybe that’s why we all have blogs, so we can confess without really asking anyone if they’re willing to listen. Then it gets harder to believe anyone actually is.

Note to self: talk to my friends about stuff…

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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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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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Don’t Freak Out

Last Monday I taught the book of Philippians to the students in our School of Biblical Studies. I get nervous before teaching- not because I have stage fright and not because I’m afraid of what they will think of me. I get nervous because I really want to do a good job- I don’t want to waste people’s time, but I also want desperately to convey something of who God is when I teach.

I know, I know- this is really only something God can do. At the same time, I am responsible to invest time in studying the books I teach so that I do have a foundation. God can speak through any donkey, but I don’t actually want to be an ass.

Teaching Philippians was a really good time. A few hours before the teaching started I had this wave of gratitude for the fact that I get to do the thing I’ve dreamed of doing! It’s ridiculous, people. I have no degrees and very little experience. But I get to spend serious time in God’s word and then I get to lead this awesome group discussion. This is what teaching mostly is to me. I love asking the students, “What do you see?” because even after studying for weeks and weeks they still see things I have not seen. It’s an honor and a joy. We laughed and we cried. Together we had a clearer picture, a fresh reminder of who Jesus really is and who God is really calling us to be together….

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Crisis of Faith

What is a crisis of faith? To me a crisis of faith is any time anything (circumstances, ideas, people, desires, etc) challenges my current beliefs. When my beliefs are challenged I must wrestle with all of it and either see how the challenge really does work inside of what I believe or I have to adjust my beliefs.

It sounds pretty basic, but it’s hardly ever a fun experience.

I remember once I was sitting in a shared room with my friend Jessica. We were on vacation, we were young and we were up super late talking about the mysteries of the Universe, or men, or both. At some point one of us suggested, “What if we don’t actually exist?” What followed was both frightening and hilarious (in retrospect). Both of us could almost feel the floor of the room slide away revealing a black, sucking chasm beneath us. Although it couldn’t have actually happened this way, my memory shows the situation to me like we were both actually hanging onto the beds for dear life as the room rocked back and forth and objects began to disappear….

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Rise

I had dinner this evening with friends to talk about the work they are doing to mobilize people toward missions.

Two definitions of the word mobilize are:
1. (of a country or its government) prepare and organize (troops) for active service, and
2.
make (something) movable or capable of movement.
Those two definitions together could well describe their hearts for the body of Christ.

While we talked I was reminded of what “mobilized” me, so many years ago to get involved with missions. It started with a message from a guest speaker one Sunday in church. He talked about The Cost Of Discipleship. He related our current lives to the lives of the disciples who walked with Jesus- what they gave up, what they gave their lives for and to… I was hit square in the chest with the desire to give my whole life, my whole self to God.

A week or so later I went to a concert held in Seattle and put on by an organization called Operation Mobilization. When the wiry and passionate George Verwer got up to speak about missions, it was like he was opening the door to the thing I had already begun to long after:

A radical life lived with and for a radical God….

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