Saturday, March 31, 2012

Church is not a Buffet

When we go clothes shopping, which I love to do, we try on lots of items, analyze the fit, the color, the style, and eventually decide whether or not to buy it or keep looking.  Sometimes, we buy something that isn't quite right just because we really need a new sweater or pants or skirt.  But the color might not be exactly what we were looking for, or the fit is off, or we buy it just because it's on sale and it is such a great deal.

Church shopping is similar.

We recently moved to a new town, and moving to a new town means the process of finding a new church to attend.  For specific reasons that I'm not going to get into now, there will be a particular denomination we will be attending and we also now live in an area where it is common to attend church both Sunday morning and Sunday evening (though I am not sure we will be doing that).  So each week, we visit a different church, observe, participate, file away the bulletin in a binder so we can refer back to it (ok, that is all me and my obsession with desire for organization and office supplies).  We talk about what we liked and didn't like about each one.  So far, there has not been one church that has really stood out from the others, which, of course, makes it all the more difficult to choose.

I'll confess something to you.  I really don't like "going to church".  I don't particularly like listening to sermons (although I enjoy giving them, so I suppose that makes me somewhat hypocritical) because I am not an auditory learner.  I enjoy both contemporary and traditional music.  I think some of the things churches hold on tightly to and their reasons for them don't make much sense.  I think that churches often are too busy with building funds and hiring staff and having programs and figuring out how to get people to come to them and increasing membership and attendance numbers and that gets in the way of actually being the church.  I remember feeling sad one time when I heard a Business Manager of a church explain to a confirmation class that the church is a business; it is a 501c3 organization...etc.  I wanted to scream "NO!  The church should NOT be a business and should not be governed by business decisions!"  I wasn't that brave though, and kept my mouth shut.

But I also know that no one congregation is going to be a perfect "fit" with my beliefs or my likes and dislikes.  I've attended various denominations (see the ongoing "What I Learned" series) and they have all had their strengths and their weaknesses.

I am generally more drawn to the idea of "organic" church, although I have very little experience with it.   A few years ago, I read Organic Church by Neil Cole, went to a conference in 2009 in which I attended a few sessions by John White, and also heard Neil Cole speak at that conference.  There, I also met my friend Katie Driver whose blog I enjoy reading (as an aside, she's also speaking at a conference in April called the Sacred Friendship Gathering, which I think sounds fascinating, and if you live near Chicago, I encourage you to check it out).

Everything I learned at this conference resonated within me.  However, I have done really nothing to put any of it into practice and have continued to do the traditional Sunday church thing.

Most people who believe that weekly church attendance is of the utmost importance will probably tell you that it is important because you need to have a community to worship with and with whom to develop relationships.  The problem is that relationships don't really develop in a setting where you are listening to one person talk, looking at the backs of people's heads, and then having a few minutes of small talk afterwards.

I have always grown more through "small groups" than I have by attending a church/worship service.  I have great memories of small groups that I have been in since I first went to one in 1997.  I especially enjoyed one that we belonged to for about three years (before everyone started moving away).  This group was comprised of people who went to different churches or didn't go to church at all.

This is not to say that church attendance or churches are bad or that sermons are bad.  In fact, I was blessed to hear some sermons last fall that spoke to me and helped to prepare me for the upcoming challenge I was going to face about really trusting God with my life.

As we were talking about the four churches we've visited, and weighing our likes and dislikes, my husband pointed out that we can't just choose the music from one, the sermon from another, the programs from another, etc.  It's not a buffet.  It's more like when you order your entree and it comes with various other items and you eat them or pick them off and set them aside.

I don't know how many we will visit or how long it will take us to decide on a church that will be our regular one.  I am not even sure exactly what our qualifications will be.  And even if we have certain qualifications, that will have to be secondary as to where God wants us to be.  I hope that we will be able and willing to listen to His promptings.

What I'm Reading

I thought it would be fun to periodically post about what books I am reading.  This won't count books that I read at night to fall asleep, which are usually novels that I've read countless times.  I don't know why; but I just find it easier to fall asleep reading than just lying in bed trying to fall asleep.

Since January was pretty crazy due to everything that goes along with moving, I don't think I read anything then.

Since I moved at the beginning of February I have read the following books:

Deepening the Colors:  Life Inside the Story of God by Sydney J. Hielema
Great book on the topic of vocation.

The Gravedigger's Daughter by Joyce Carol Oates
Novel with a strange ending.

Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller
Popular book with an upcoming movie release about Christianity in a not-so-typical way.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
About writing (and life).

Friday, March 30, 2012

An Interview with Christian Smith on “The Bible Made Impossible”

Read the complete interview with Christian Smith on “The Bible Made Impossible.”

An excerpt:
Frank: Tell us about the title (“The Bible Made Impossible”) . . . what does it mean and what does it not mean?
Christian Smith: The key word is “made.” The Bible itself is not impossible. I am clear in the book that the Bible is God’s inspired Word written and should and does function as a central authority in Christian life. The impossibility comes in when biblicism as a theory is applied to or imposed upon the Bible, as an account of how the Bible ought to function.
Did that pique your interest?  Make sure to read the full interview!

This blog I am sending you to is called Beyond Evangelical, written by author Frank Viola.  I just started reading this blog within the last couple of months and love it.  He's written numerous posts that I identify with as well as interviewed authors of books I either love and have read or want to read.  I hope you like it too.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Safe Water for Haiti

If you've been following along with my Haiti Saga, you know that my life has been inundated with references to Haiti since late last fall, and it began due to an email conversation with my friend Andy.  Andy is also part of an organization called the Haiti Mission Project, and they are currently raising funds for safe drinking water in Haiti.  You can read about it here and donate if it touches your heart to do so.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Those Days When Everything Just Feels Off

Do you remember the old commercial that said "It's 10:00 p.m.  Do you know where your children are?"

I feel that way today, but not about my children.  It's a voice saying to me "It's 3:00 in the afternoon.  Do you know where your muse is?"

I've been home from Bible Study and picking up Z. at preschool for approximately 3 1/2 hours.  When I got home, my plan had been to make lunch and then get down to writing a handful of posts that I'd been thinking about throughout the morning.  Now, I can barely remember what it was I wanted to write about, I feel tired and grumpy, have lower patience for the kids (which then makes me question my parenting skills since that is when I start yelling), and my motivation has gone downhill faster than an Olympic skier.  I also didn't do the laundry I had planned or get the kitchen cleaned up like I wanted to or bake some bread like I thought I would.   It is just one of those days when nothing seems to go right.  It's not even big things!  It's just little things, here and there.  That almost makes it worse, because I wonder then "why am I complaining?  why am I irritable?  It's not like my life is really a mess or tragedy has hit.  It's just little things."

It is times like this when I wonder why I even bother to blog.  I don't have a huge readership (and that's ok with me; it would probably be way too stressful on me if I did, at this point, and then I'd have to worry about such things as my "brand" and getting a more memorable domain name and feeling like I need to produce more content and feeling like I need to comment on every big topic that comes up, and...and...and...).  Plus, there are so many, many excellent blogs out there, and so many that I read and think "hmmm...that's what I was thinking".  I mentioned that very thing recently on Twitter to someone, and he said back that he thought he was the only one who did that, and that I should still write what I am thinking.

Discouragement and distraction for writers is nothing new.  I know I just read something about this recently in Anne Lamott's book Bird by Bird, but I just spent some time looking for it and can't find it, so you will just have to take my word for it.  I promise I am not making it up.  At least I hope I am not.

Distraction is hard to come back from, at least, it is for me.  I could be in the middle of reading or writing a sentence, get up to change a diaper or respond to one of the myriad times I hear "Mommy!", come back to the computer and have to reread what I was originally doing and then remember what was supposed to come next, and then get up again...this means it can actually take me all day long to write a very short blog post.

I really do not know how so many other mom bloggers do it.  When do you find the time to write, uninterrupted?  What are your tips and tricks for accomplishing what you want to accomplish in your writing?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

What Is My Place In God's World?

Today, just a short excerpt from Deepening the Colors:  Life Inside the Story of God, by Sydney J. Hielema.

I appreciate this excerpt because it deals with the idea of questions.  We don't have to have everything in our lives figured out all of the time.  We can ask questions, and more questions and wrestle with them as we grow in our faith and in discovering who we are.

"The purpose of this book is to explore questions like, 'What is my place in God's world?' and 'What am I called to do and be, and how do I know?'  These questions often take us through fogs of confusion, and they also drive us to our knees.  But Jesus does not usually answer our prayers with a great light that instantly melts away our fog.  His way tends to respond to our questions with more questions, deeper questions, questions that expand our range of vision as though he is taking us up in an airplane to help us see the bigger picture, the bigger questions.  The question 'What is my place in God's world?' is a bit like asking, 'How does the one piece of the jigsaw puzzle that is my life fit into this multimillioned piece picture?' (pages 2-3).

Have you found your place?  Or are you still searching?

Monday, March 26, 2012


This post continues the story begun in Signs & Wonders,  Why Haiti?What Is Enough? , Plant Some Seeds, and Be Encouraged.

So far, this has generally been a nice story about connections between seemingly random things and about listening for God's voice, but I also said in "Be Encouraged" that I don't think the story is over.  One reason I don't think it is over is because of the following:

At some point in our conversation, Andy said to me (emphasis mine):

I'm glad thoughts of Haiti and even a sense of vocation calling to go there someday has been nagging at you. That makes me happy, not because I think you should feel any sort of requirement to go and certainly not because I want you to feel guilt if you never end up going there, but because it sounds like God is placing some things on your heart that are going to lead you into some incredibly powerful experiences of brokenness, confusion and hope. Hopefully it won't be as painful as those words make it sound, but honestly, it's not going to be a vacation! 

The words about brokenness flashed into my mind yesterday morning as I stood in church singing a song called "Hosanna" (video, lyrics).   This song was one that had me in tears approximately one year ago after I returned from a mission trip to Kansas City and witnessed such hopelessness and poverty.  The line "break my heart for what breaks yours" was what did it--I knew that God's heart was breaking because of Kansas City.

In addition to this song we sang one called "Take My Life" (video, lyrics).   There were some lyrics in this song that I didn't think I'd heard before, and as I looked for them online later, they weren't in all versions.  The line was "brokenness, brokeness is what I long for.  Brokenness is what I need."

Broken.  Brokenness.

We don't really like the idea of being broken, do we?  When something is broken, we either fix it or throw it away.  We don't keep it in a state of brokenness (unless it is a plastic airplane you bought for $1 at a thrift store and you absolutely are not allowed to throw it away because it is claimed to be a favorite every time you try to do so and then is forgotten about shortly thereafter).  Who actually desires to be broken?  And yet, that is a message in these two songs.

These two songs, in turn, brought to mind Psalm 51:17:  The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

I don't read Hebrew, so I have to rely on hovering over the word in my BibleWorks program to tell me what it means.  It means a broken inner man, mind, will heart.  It is that kind of sacrifice that is worth more to God than any other.  It is when we are broken and cry out to God that God can pick up the pieces and heal us.  It is when we are broken that God can recreate us as we are meant to be.

It is that idea of dying to ourselves (Romans 6:6; Ephesians 4:22; Colossians 3:9) and, as some would say, being "born again" into a new life (Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10).  For many, this is an instantaneous event.  For me, it was and is not.  It is a gradual and constant process.  We are always being broken from old habits or beliefs and learning and growing in a new life.  It is, in a sense, part of calling, part of listening to who and what God is calling us to be and do.  How can we listen to and respond to His call if we seek after our own agendas?

Os Guinness writes:
"Calling is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion, dynamism, and direction lived out as a response to his summons and service." (in the Call, page 29).
Calling and response.  Calling and response.  It is like a dance, or a butterfly in flight, or an echo across a lonely canyon.

Is He calling you?  Are you responding?  Are you being broken and recreated into all that you are meant to be?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Be Encouraged

This post continues the story begun in Signs & Wonders,  Why Haiti?, What Is Enough? , and Plant Some Seeds.  

I said in Signs & Wonders that I didn't necessarily think coincidences were actually coincidences, that there could be a deeper meaning to seemingly random events.  In the follow-up post to that one, Why Haiti?, I told you that there had been 19 references to Haiti.  The references were not just a reminder to email Andy, because they continued after the email, and were apparently not just a reminder to write the "Why Haiti?" post, because they continue.  I'm now up to 23 references, two of which happened just this morning.

I think that there are so many things that are connected, somehow, but it is hard to see the big picture that only God can see.  Is it cliche to think of it as a spider web, as me on one side connected, somehow, through all these transparent, thin threads to everything else on the web?  And why am I using a spiderweb analogy?  I don't even like spiders!

If I had never moved to Iowa, I'd have never met my friend Andy and I'd have never have had all these Haiti references.  Even more than that:  if my husband hadn't gotten a job in Iowa in the first place, or if he'd pursued a different career, or if we'd never met or if, or if, or if.

I know that some people say that things happen for a reason.  I don't necessarily believe that all of the time, especially when it concerns tragic things, because I have a hard time thinking that God causes bad things to happen for a specific reason, but maybe there is some middle ground in that in ways we do not understand, the Holy Spirit is working in and through events and people.

After one of the references, I had asked Andy for a link to any blogs by people he knew in Haiti and he directed me to the blog of his friends Troy and Tara Livesay.  I spent a decent amount of time reading this blog one day, but what hit me was actually not so much their being in Haiti and having experienced the earthquake, but rather, the page in which they write a litter that begins with "Dear Someone, Somewhere", written on June 2, 2008.

These words are what spoke to me:
  • "In reality, the MAIN point of blogging (outside of - and more important than - the ones already listed) ... is to hopefully encourage someone somewhere."
  • "If you've ever said "God cannot use me" or if heaven forbid- some holy-roller person told you that you were not usable because of X Y or Z in your past - you must know those are lies."
  • "There is a way in which God can use anyone and everyone seeking Him. Having every little answer packaged up nice in a fancy box is not necessary or possible."
  • "There is a misconception about what it looks like to be used. I don't think it only looks like going to Africa to hold AIDS babies.  I don't think it only looks like pulling up stakes and going somewhere far from where you live today....
  • I think it looks like something different for each person. That is an issue for each of us to work out with God. I think for some it is reaching out to the guy next door whose wife just left him, inviting him over for dinner. I think for others it means coming along side a 16 year old that is pregnant and afraid. Maybe it means baby-sitting for a struggling single mom down the street. Maybe it is as simple as being kind to a real geek/dork that you work with. Maybe it is finding out how to interact with the homeless in your community and going way outside your comfort zone to do it.  It mainly means allowing God to take us to uncomfortable places where we're loving people that we don't find all that lovable. The location in which it happens is irrelevant."
  • "We hope there is something here for you. Whether it be a story about Haiti that moves you, a goofy kid moment, a confession that helps you know you're not alone in your struggles or a chance to see God's amazing creativity and ingenuity by working with ordinary people that are not missions trained, ordained, perfect, or even all that together ... Be encouraged."
Be encouraged.

Two words that are so simple and yet say so much.  As I continue to listen and watch and wait to see what God has next in store for me, I am going to remember that I need to stay encouraged.  I have had other "coincidental" references too (though not nearly as many as Haiti) that have to do both with the general topic of vocation and the more specific topic of writing.  I hope, as I practice writing here on my blog, and as I learn more about the art and craft of writing (because I feel very out of practice; writing papers in college was a very long time ago!), that I will eventually be able to call myself a writer.

So, thank you, Tara and Troy, two people I don't even know, for encouraging me, and for encouraging anyone else who has crossed paths with you.

I hope that this post too, can be used to encourage anyone reading it who needs encouragement, because I want you to know that you are loved by God and that you have so much to give to others.

I don't think this is the end of the story, by far (and, actually, I have some other Haiti-related references that didn't fit into this post like I thought they would, so there will be at least one more), but I am glad to have traveled this far so quickly and I am looking forward to seeing what the next part of the story is.

I am sending him to you for this very purpose, to let you know how we are, and to encourage your hearts. ----Ephesians 6:22

This story is continued in "Brokenness".

Saturday, March 24, 2012

What I Learned From the Catholics & Baptists

This post is one in a series of posts about what I have learned from the different denominations and religions that have come into my life.  There may be more than one post per denomination.

The first post was  "I'm a Christian Mutt".  
The second post was "What I Learned from the Wesleyans/Methodists"
The third post was "What I Learned from both the UCC and the Methodists"
The fourth post was "What I Learned from the Presbyterians"

A couple of years ago, I heard a sermon in which the pastor related that he was 9 when he first understood that he was a sinner.  He seemed to imply that this was a very young age to realize this but I thought, "isn't that a little old?"  I at least knew that when I was 6 or 7, if not before.  You see, I grew up part Catholic, and had my first communion in second grade when I was 7.  In order to have one's first communion, though, one must also go to confession.  What happens at confession?  Why, you confess your sins, of course.  Not only that, but two things recited every week were the Lord's Prayer and the Nicene Creed.  In the Lord's Prayer we prayed "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us" and in the Nicene Creed we spoke of how "For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered, died and was buried" and "We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins."  So from a very young age, I knew that Jesus died for my sins.  I don't remember ever not believing it.

I am not sure why it sometimes is put forth as if it is some big revelation to realize that we sin.  I think it should be rather obvious to anyone from the age of, say, 2 that we do things that are wrong.  In fact, my two year old knows he is not supposed to just take marshmallows, and so he takes the bag and goes and hides with it in order to eat them.

Sin was also a big topic when I attended a Baptist church for a while when I lived in Albuquerque.  While I actually don't recall anything specific about it, I do have a general sense that it was often preached how awful we all are and how we don't deserve God's love and grace.  There was almost this sense of piling on the guilt about how bad we were.  And, in this particular tradition, the only time "confession" was ever mentioned was for those "first-timers", the people who had not yet "asked Jesus into their hearts" and needed to say a "sinner's prayer" so that they could say they were sorry for their sin.

What about everyone else?

Looking back, I think that although the similarity between these two was acknowledging and talking about sin, the main difference between them was that the Catholic church provided an ongoing way to deal with sin.  You could go to confession every week if you wanted to!  And, actually, in many other protestant churches that I have been to, the congregation recites together a "confession of sin".

When people are given those moments to continually confess, either to a priest, or as part of a group, not just confess one time, I think it can actually help them from dwelling on their sin.  I know, that seems a little counter-intuitive, doesn't it?  It would seem that all one would have to do is confess one time and forget it all.  But the thing is, we do still sin, even if we have a moment in which we say "I'm sorry for everything I've done wrong".

In not providing teaching or opportunities for continual confession, it's possible that churches like that can inadvertently make their congregants more of a slave to sin.

What are your thoughts?  Is regular confession a good thing?  Are you more of a one-time confession type of person?  For either position, what makes you think as you do?

We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.  For whoever has died is freed from sin.  But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.  We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.  The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.  So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. --Romans 6:6-11

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Plant Some Seeds

This post continues the story begun in Signs & Wonders,  Why Haiti?, and What Is Enough?

I have very, very little experience with anything to do with mission work.  When I was working as the Campus Ministry Coordinator at Waldorf College for the last couple of years, one of my duties was to plan a mission trip during spring break (service is a very big and important part of the mission of Waldorf College).  I thought "great!  That will be fun!"  Then I thought, "what on earth am I going to do?  I have never even gone on a mission trip as a participant.  And now I am in charge of planning one?"

Luckily, I thought to contact my sister-in-law, who was one of the founders of The Hope Center in Kansas City, MO.  She was able to put me in touch with someone who worked there and I was able to bring a group of people there to help them with some behind-the-scenes projects that they had been wanting to get done for about two years.  During our few days there, we learned more about poverty than we probably cared to ever know, and our eyes, hearts, and minds were opened to the reality of the poverty that existed just five short hours from where we'd come.  (To read more about the experience, see page 10 of the Waldorf College Alumni Magazine from Spring 2011).

And so the email exchange with Andy about Haiti led me to think about mission and vocation, which, of course, with such an emphasis on them at Waldorf, made perfect sense.  At first, my thoughts were of a somewhat depressed nature; as I thought about what Andy had done in Haiti and looked at the pictures of Haiti he had on Facebook, I felt very disconnected from the world and wondered what I’d ever done or could possibly do to make a difference like that.

But what I learned through working at Waldorf (and taking the “Religion and Career Values” class for fun when I was pregnant with my second son--yes, I think taking college classes is a fun way to spend time) were the ideas of multiple callings and not necessarily needing to have some big, grandiose plan to change the whole world.  By not devoting my life to one specific thing, I know that I am freed up to do many different things that God throws my way, and I actually really like the variety of that.  I’ve been in monotonous jobs and couldn’t stand that they were always the same thing all the time.  If I am faithful, I can affect just my small part of the world, even if I don’t get to see any big results.  I may not see any small results either, for that matter.

In the article I linked to above, I quoted the CEO of The Hope Center, Chris Jehle, as saying “we
will never sit under the tree of the seeds that we plant.”  I didn't remember that quotation until I looked up the article for this post, but it is still relevant to me right now, right here, today.  I know I have planted seeds in places, and there may be places that I have planted seeds without knowing it, and I will never know how those seeds will grow and thrive.

Another thing that Andy said was "I think the more involved you get in a cause and/or a place the more you realize you could be doing...and unfortunately, could often become should, at least in our guilt-ridden mind's eye."

Isn't it true?  We often feel as if we could and should do more, especially when there are so many needs out there in the world.  But none of us can do it all (and being a person who often ends up being too busy, it has taken me a long time to realize this) and there may be seasons in our lives for certain things.  This doesn't mean we should ignore needs that we see just because it "isn't our time" or "someone else will do it" and use that as an excuse (though I really wouldn't put it past myself to do so), but we should realize that we can't do everything we might think we should do.  

Are you wondering what you could or should do?

Start small.  Plant some seeds.  

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What is Enough?

This post continues the story begun in Signs & Wonders and Why Haiti?

Last November, in an email conversation completely unrelated to Haiti, I asked my friend Andy what exactly he'd done there, since all I knew was that he'd gone there multiple times.  In his response he included these things:
"...we've had opportunities to lead groups of people to Haiti giving them opportunities to experience the culture, meet some of the people and get their hands dirty while helping. We've done construction work at an orphanage, painted a church, held hundreds of kids, led VBS in rural neighborhoods, brought medical supplies and clothing and organized the efforts of child sponsorship."
He then ended with "We're all busy in our own careers, so our work with the organization is as volunteers, but it's been an important part of our lives and for me personally it has drastically shaped my view of God and what it means to have enough."

It was that simple italicization of the word "enough" that captured my attention.

Since I was just starting to think about moving and getting everything packed, the idea of stuff was at the forefront of my mind.  And, since I am a pack rat, especially when it comes to books (over 800), I have a lot of stuff.  I don't intentionally collect more stuff just for the sake of having stuff, but I like reading and decorating and cooking and so I just end up with more.  How much is enough?  I don't think I'll ever be able to say that I have enough books, that is for sure.  There are always more and more being written and I cannot keep up with all the ones that I want to read.  I also like owning them because the library would probably frown on me highlighting and writing in their copies.

When I compared all that I have with all that so many people do not have, I felt some guilt.  In so many ways, I have more than enough, and so many people have less than enough.

It brings up the question of what is our responsibility to ourselves and to others, as individuals, as the church, as groups of people coming together for a common cause, as a city, as a state, as a country, as the world?

How do we balance out our own desires to put ourselves first with the importance of looking outside of ourselves and our own little world and caring for others in need?

I don't have the answers, and it's probably a good thing that I struggle with this issue.  When we cease to struggle with important issues then, I think, we cease to care.

This story is continued in the following posts:
Plant Some Seeds

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What I Learned From the Presbyterians

This post is one in a series of posts about what I have learned from the different denominations and religions that have come into my life.  There may be more than one post per denomination.

The first post was  "I'm a Christian Mutt".  
The second post was "What I Learned from the Wesleyans/Methodists"
The third post was "What I Learned from both the UCC and the Methodists"

When I moved to Albuquerque in June of 1997 I began attending a Presbyterian (PCUSA) Church.  The first time I went to a service, I found it to be a blend, stylistically, of what I had been used to as a child in the Catholic and UCC churches I grew up going to.  At this point, I can't quite remember what the specifics were that made me feel that way, but whatever they were, it was helpful in acclimating me in my return to church attendance.

What was very different, however, was that this church offered mid-week Bible study groups and Sunday school classes for adults.  I had never heard of such a thing.  In my experience, Sunday school was only for children, and I don't think I ever knew anyone who went to Bible study.  Adults went to things like choir or committee meetings.

I started going to one Bible study group and then joined another, and went to Sunday school, and then became involved in leading programs and classes and eventually ended up on staff of that church until I moved to Indiana.  In the Bible studies and Sunday School classes though, I just couldn't get enough.  I wanted to learn more and I eventually ended up deciding to minor in Religious Studies in college.  At the University of New Mexico, a Religious Studies minor had to have 18 (I think) credit hours in order to have the minor.  Because there were no particular class requirements, I took all Bible/Christianity-related classes.  I also took some from the English department as well (to this day, my "Women of the Bible" class, taught by Janet Gaines, remains one of my all-time favorite classes, and I'd love to replicate it and teach it somewhere, somehow).

It has been a long time since I went to that church, but ever since then, educating Christian adults has been very important to me.  Too often, we only concentrate on educating children with the "nice Bible stories" (like the story of Noah and the flood...perfect for children, because it has animals in it, right?) and then as adults, think we know our Bibles, when, in reality, all we know are stories we learned as children.  We never really get around to learning anything more about them.  There is so much more to know than that, and I am always impressed when I visit a church and see that educating its members is a priority.

So I give credit to the Presbyterians for infusing in me this desire and passion to learn about the Bible, in all that it means:  what it means to me today, and what it meant throughout history.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Why Haiti?

In July of 2010, two teenage boys from Kansas City drowned in a pool in Pella, Iowa during a week-long Fellowship of Christian Athletes camp.  I was there.  I was not just there at the camp; I was there at the pool the night that all of the boys from camp went swimming.  My husband was one of the coaches at the camp that week, and because spouses and children are always invited to come to camp, we went too.

We didn't know until later what had happened as we had driven our own car there and back and had left before anyone knew anything was wrong.  It was a long night fraught with tears, prayer, and uncertainty.

I have recently been thinking about these two boys and their families, who, we were told, had moved to Kansas City earlier that year after their home country of Haiti was devastated by an earthquake.  I know next to nothing about Haiti.  I remember seeing the devastation on television and I am pretty sure I texted "Haiti" to some number to donate money so that I could feel good about myself for "helping", because other than donating money, what else could I do?  (Potentially, I probably could do a lot of things, but when I see widespread devastation like that so far away I tend to shut down and be numb; I am glad there are so many people who are equipped to respond to crises).

Why have I had these boys on my mind?  The answer is because I have had Haiti on my mind.  I know.  You're thinking, "What?  Haiti?  Why Haiti?"

In Signs & Wonders, I wrote that I have been seeing references to a particular place, and have not known why.  To date, there have been 19 references to Haiti since I started the email conversation with Andy.  While I am not sure of the full reason, I have somewhat of an idea now (and no, the reason is not that God is telling me to drop everything and go to Haiti) of what the references might mean.

There is really too much to write in one post, so I'll leave it at that for now and continue the story in future posts.

In the meantime, what might God be trying to say to you through seemingly random and meaningless things?  Are you open to awareness of those things, or do you only expect a booming voice or a burning  bush?

This story is continued in the following posts:
What is Enough?
Plant Some Seeds

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Then and Now, Old and New, Who Are YOU?

Somehow, I managed to join something called Schoolfeed.  I don't even know how I joined it or why, but I keep getting email notifications that various people have added me as a friend on it.  Today's e-mail was different, though.  Apparently, someone had nominated me for a "Best in Class" award.  This was intriguing enough to click on and find out more, for a couple of reasons.  One, the person who nominated me is not someone who went to high school with me, and two, I wanted to see what the category actually was.

I went to Schoolfeed and laughed when I saw the category.  The nomination was for "Most Outgoing".  I wouldn't even vote for myself for that category, based on who I was in high school.

But, as I said, the person who nominated me didn't know me then.  This person only knows me now.  It made me think not only about how much we change throughout our lives but also how we know people who only know us from certain stages of life.  I am sure my nominator would be surprised to find out that I was not outgoing back then.  I remember myself as someone who was quiet, who didn't like to speak up, and certainly wasn't outgoing.  Alternatively, people who knew me then might be surprised to find out that today I enjoy public speaking (although, I still hate small talk in any situation).

I wonder too, in what ways do I remember people being a certain way, even though today they may be very different?  If I have realized that I have changed, doesn't it stand to reason that other people have changed too?

A literary agent named Tamela Hancock Murray started following me on Twitter the other day.  I followed her back, and one of her tweets said "If you want everyone to forget your past mistakes, you must concentrate on forgetting theirs. On to the future!"

When I think of people I have wrapped neatly up in a box as to who they were then, I think I probably am not forgetting their past mistakes (especially if it was something that directly affected me).  In some ways, with some people, I know I have moved on from doing that; in other ways, probably not so much.  But I wouldn't want anyone to only think of me as the person I used to be, so why do I do it to them?

How often do we dwell in the past?  How often do we dwell on who we were, what we should have or could have done instead of looking ahead to the future and embracing all that it will bring?  How often do we struggle with who we were or who we think people expect us to be instead of being who we are created to be?  More often than we should, I'd wager.

The good news is that we don't have to fit into those narrow expectations.  We can be free to explore all we are meant to be and all we are meant to do.

Who do you want to be?

Some encouraging words for you:

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!  --2 Corinthians 5:17

Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. --Philippians 3:13-14

Our life-purpose therefore comes from two sources at once--who we are created to be and who we are called to be.  Not only is this call of our Creator the source of the deepest self-discoveries and growth in life, it gives our lives an inspiration and a dynamism that transforms them into an enterprise beyond any comparison.  --Os Guinness in The Call, page ix

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Signs & Wonders

I love the movie Bruce Almighty.  I've only seen it twice, and I'd love to add it to my rather small dvd collection at some point.  This particular scene came to mind today as I was thinking about the idea of coincidences.  Take a look (hopefully I did this correctly!):

Bruce is desperately searching for a sign from God, and all of the signs that he gets, he ignores.  While I have never given much thought to "signs from God" and I am pretty sure I've never specifically requested any, because it can be so subjective to truly know whether or not something is a sign, I do believe that God can speak to us through seemingly random events.

If you've been following this blog since I started writing regularly in the last couple of months, you know that in my life right now I am doing a lot of thinking about vocation.

I also, during Advent, appropriately, experienced what it is like to wait and trust and pray and hope.

Also during Advent, I began an email conversation with my friend Andy that I ended up not being able to respond to until after I'd moved.  It took me almost three months to finally sit down and write out the thoughts that I'd begun thinking.  During this time, I kept seeing references to a particular place (I'll write about this in more detail in future posts) that served to remind me that I needed to send the email.  I was somewhat amused, as if God was sending me reminders to make sure I did not forget about it.  After I sent the e-mail though, I was surprised to see that these references have not stopped.  It has made me wonder what the deeper meaning is, because I believe there is one.  I don't think that it is all coincidental.  I am not sure that anything really is ever a coincidence.  Instead, when we experience "coincidences", I think we ought to pause and consider what we can learn from them.

What do you think about coincidences or signs or messages or how God speaks today?

Edit:  this story is continued in the following posts:
Why Haiti? 
What is Enough?
Plant Some Seeds

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

I Gave You Some Brave Powers

The other day, I took my 4 1/2 year old son ice skating for the first time.  After we were done, we sat and watched some kids practice hockey.  At one point I got startled because a puck hit the glass right in front of us.  I said "that scared me!"  My son put up his hand, pointed at me, made a noise, and then said "I gave you some brave powers".

Brave powers.  Who knew it was that easy to be brave?

I don't really think I am a brave person.  I don't like conflict or fighting and am happy to ignore them and shut down when those things happen.  I usually don't share what I really think and feel until I get to know people very well. I like to keep the peace and have everything be ok.

As I have read more blogs and started following people on Twitter and somewhat listen to political "conversations", I see that there are a lot of brave people out there willing to say what they think--good or bad.  Sometimes I read things and think "that's what I was thinking; why didn't I say it?"  (I also see so many overlapping topics that I wonder what on earth I am contributing to this whole blogging conversation thing, but that's a topic for a different day).

What is it that makes us hesitate to share what we really think and feel?  I think that it comes down to fear and insecurity.  We are afraid of what people will think about us or what judgments they will make about us.  If it is something regarding our faith, we are afraid that people will think it is not real or we are not a "True Christian".

I'm in good company, though, when it comes to being scared and insecure.

This morning, I was at a Bible study and we were discussing Luke 22:31-71.  In this section, Peter tells Jesus that he is "ready to go with [Jesus] to prison and to death!"  Jesus responds to him with "I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me."  Jesus had an idea of what was coming; Peter did not.  When we come to the verses after Peter has done exactly what Jesus said he would do, we can feel the pain and despair in those words:
Then about an hour later still another kept insisting, "Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean."  But Peter said, "Man, I do not know what you are talking about!" At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed.  The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, "Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times."  And he went out and wept bitterly. --Luke 22:59-62
Can you imagine what Peter felt throughout all of this?  After seeing Jesus arrested in the dark of night and wondering what would happen, Peter followed behind at a distance, not wanting to get too close to the action, but wanting to see what would happen.  The text does not tell us what he was thinking or feeling; we can only guess.  Curiosity.  Fear.  Confusion.  Sadness at disappointing Jesus.  Can you imagine the look that Jesus gave Peter?  When their eyes met, what words silently passed between them?  "I told you so, Peter"?  "I didn't believe I could do that, Jesus.  Forgive me."?

I don't think that Peter intentionally and deliberately denied Jesus.  I think he was just scared about what could happen to him if he identified too closely with Jesus at that point.  He may have been the next one to be arrested.

And this is the same Peter who was the one to first bravely say that Jesus was the Messiah:
Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, "Who do the crowds say that I am?"  They answered, "John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen."  He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered, "The Messiah of God." --Luke 9:18-20
We might wonder how that can happen.  How can Peter go from announcing that Jesus is the Messiah to denying that he even knows him?  Yet there is hope for him.  Our text also tells us that Jesus says to Peter "I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers."  (Luke 22: 32).

Peter may have been afraid and Peter may have been insecure, but those things do not mean that his faith failed.  He may have faltered, but Jesus knew he would come back and would be of encouragement to others.  He would be able to eventually have his "brave powers" return.

It's encouraging to read about Peter, isn't it?  Not to gloat about his failures, but to identify with them, to know that none of us are perfect followers of Jesus, but to know that when we falter, we can always return.

Do you feel afraid and insecure?  What helps you to overcome those fears and insecurities?  How do you get your "brave powers"?

Monday, March 12, 2012

What I Learned from both the UCC and the Methodists

This post is one in a series of posts about what I have learned from the different denominations and religions that have come into my life.  There may be more than one post per denomination.

The first post was  "I'm a Christian Mutt".  
The second post was "What I Learned from the Wesleyans/Methodists"

Communion has come to the forefront of my mind because I've had communion in two churches lately, and I also had communion at my church shortly before I moved in February.  It has made me think about the different rules that different churches have regarding who is eligible to receive communion.

First, where does communion come from?

In the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), Jesus and his disciples eat a Passover meal together; this meal has become known as "The Last Supper".  Here are the three references:

Matthew 26:26-28   While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body."  Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you;  for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 
Mark 14:22-24   While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, "Take; this is my body."  Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it.  He said to them, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 
Luke 22:19-20  Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me."  And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.
I included all three of them because they differ slightly and it's always fun to compare the accounts and wonder why each author chose to include or not include certain points.  

It is a simple meal filled with new symbolism and promise and creation of a new covenant.  (The blood covenant to which this is looking back on is likely Exodus 24:3-8).  There are only a few people present during this meal, yet it is a tradition that has been passed on since that time.  I do not have a memory of the first time I ever took communion, but I have a memory of my first communion.  Confused?  Remember, I am a Christian mutt and I grew up going to two different denominations.  In one, the UCC, I was able to take communion without any ceremony or special permission.  In the Catholic church, I had to wait until I had my "first communion", which was in the spring of second grade.  Before that, my sister and I would pretend to take communion by giving each other mints while we sat in the pew and waited for all those eligible to finish.  

I never really thought much of it at the time.  To me, it was just that different churches had different rules and I learned to follow them as needed.  

I now wonder, though, why do we have to have these rules about communion?  Why does this ancient rite instituted by Jesus as something to remember him by have to be so complicated?  Why are certain people eligible to serve communion to others and other people are not?  Why are children so often excluded?  I have let my 4 1/2 year old take communion even though he technically is apparently not supposed to, depending on the church we are in.  I have almost wished that someone would try and stop me, because I have my defense ready:
But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. (Mark 10:14)
I remember a conversation I had once when I went to a United Methodist Church when I lived in Indiana.  My pastor said that communion was open to everyone, regardless of where they believed they stood with God, because he said that a transformational experience could happen right there during the taking of communion (Maybe based on this?  "When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.  Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight." --Luke 24:30-31).   There, it truly was an open invitation for all to come to the table.  There was no requirement of having had to "ask Jesus into one's heart" or first "be born again" or be a "believer" based on whatever that church's definition of a believer is, or be a "professing member in good standing of a Bible-believing church" (however that gets to be decided).

I have come to see how exclusive we can make that one simple meal, and I don't like it.  It is one more example of the "I'm in; you're out" feeling that, unfortunately, can be prevalent in Christianity today.

The UMC says the following about children and communion:

But do young children know what they are doing when they receive Communion?Do they understand the full meaning of this holy sacrament? No, and neither do any of us. It is a wonderful mystery, and children can sense wonder and mystery. Children cannot understand the full significance of family meals, but we feed them at our family tables and at Christ’s family table. Young children experience being loved by being fed. They sense the difference between being included and excluded at a family meal. They have the faith of a child, appropriate to their stage of development, which Jesus recognized and honored. Indeed, he said to adults: “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:15 NRSV).

I love that.  None of us have all of the answers, and we should stop pretending as if we have it all figured out.  If we think we have all the answers, it doesn't leave much room for that mystery and wonder, and it doesn't leave much room for us to grow.

This meal should be unifying, not divisive.

At the end of The Meal Jesus Gave Us by N.T. Wright:
From the first generation of the Church, eating together was a sign of the breaking down of boundaries between Christians of different groups: Jew and Greek (Galatians 2), rich and poor (1 Corinthians 11), and so on.   This was a sign of God's saving justice going out into all the world.  When this caused difficulties, Paul was adamant, in the name of the Jesus who had included everyone at his table, that unity there was not negotiable.  'We who are many, are one bread, one body--for we all partake of the one bread' (1 Corinthians 10:17).  Sharing Communion together between Christians of different denominations ought not to be the goal at the end of a long process of unity negotiations.  it ought to be the means, the thing we already do, that will create a context in which we will be able to understand and respect one another, and grow towards a richer unity.  I know not everybody will agree with this.  But I'm pretty sure St. Paul would have done."  (pages 81-82)
The next time you take communion, when you hear the words "do this in remembrance of me", ask yourself, is it in remembrance of Jesus if it is exclusive?

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Are You Noisy?

When I wrote about the idea of vocation inspired by the song "Make a Noise" by Katie Herzig, I didn't mention two things:  what made me laugh about it or what bothered me about it.  One word:  noise.

When I hear the phrase "make a noise", I am reminded of a conversation I had one time with one of my sisters. As was typical, she was giving me a hard time about singing off-key (I am hopeless when it comes to singing or anything musical).  I said to her that the Bible says "make a joyful noise1", not necessarily an on-key one.  She retorted with something like "yeah, and it is a noise".  I think I probably just made a face at her at that point and walked away or pouted or did something extremely mature like that.

I find myself bombarded with noise:  the television or my kids or my cats or the train going by multiple times per day or anything political on tv, Facebook and Twitter or even my own voice talking to my kids answering their questions or telling them to get dressed or threatening time out or or get the idea.  I think of the line in How the Grinch Stole Christmas where the Grinch is thinking about all the "noise noise noise noise noise".  I think this is one reason I rarely listen to music anymore; I enjoy when there is silence all around me.  I find it peaceful when I can drink a cup of peppermint tea after the kids have gone to bed and I can just relax.  I don't really like being surrounded with noise.

The word "noise" itself kind of bothers me.  It felt almost discordant when I first saw the name of the song and listened to it, because it's a word that feels unsettling.  It's not an elegant, pretty word.  It's definition and synonyms are not elegant or pretty either:

Definition:       sound that is loud or not harmonious
Synonyms: babble, babel, bang, bedlam, bellow, bewailing, blare, blast, boisterousness, boom, buzz, cacophony, caterwauling, clamor, clang, clatter, commotion, crash, cry, detonation, din, discord, disquiet, disquietude, drumming, eruption, explosion, fanfare, fireworks, fracas*, fuss*, hoo-ha, hubbub, hullabaloo*, jangle, lamentation, outcry, pandemonium, peal, racket, ring, roar, row, shot, shouting, sonance, squawk, stridency, talk, thud, tumult, turbulence, uproar, uproariousness, yelling, yelp

I think that is the point of the song.  In order to be ourselves and live out our passions and dreams, we have to shed the fear of not appearing put-together.  We have to not worry about what others will think of us if we do not do what is expected or if our life seems off-key.  We have to have the courage to go where we are called to go and to be who we are called to be, even if it means we will be loud and not harmonious.

I may not know what my noise is supposed to be, but I can certainly encourage you in your noise.

Make a noise.  Be Boisterous.   Caterwaul, clamor, or clang.  Cry out.  In the journey of your life, find your calling in the din, dicord, and disquiet moments.  Roar with what you want to say to the world.  Shout in the tumult.  Cause an uproar.  Make a noise. 

1 References to making a joyful noise:  

Psalm 66:1-2   Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth;  sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise.  Psalm 95:1-2   O come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!  Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!  Psalm 98:4   Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises.  Psalm 98:6  With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD.  Psalm 100:1  Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Do We Ever Actually Rest?

Yesterday, I wrote about how quickly the last month has gone by for me.  It's been filled with meeting new people, visiting new churches, getting settled into a new routine, and getting used to being home with my kids all the time again (I worked part-time the last couple of years).

It's also involved joining Twitter.  Previously, I didn't think that I would be too interested in it, but I decided that I'd join it and follow people there instead of liking them on Facebook because I want to keep my Facebook account generally only for interacting with people I know.   I had begun to grow tired of seeing my news feed cluttered up with contests or sales or anything of that nature.

I have only been on Twitter for a couple of weeks, I think.  There are things that I like about it and things that I don't (some people are annoying in what they tweet or in how often they tweet).

I think that overall, though, Twitter feels a little overwhelming.  There is so much happening and everyone wants to be the first to tweet something of importance.  It moves way too fast for me.  I like to read something and then think about it, ask questions, and think some more.  In this Twitter world, there is no time for that.  By the time I have thought about something and may have an intelligent contribution to a topic, it has since passed and the next one is front and center.

Are we missing out on something important with our fast-paced lives in a fast-paced world?  Do we ever take the time to slow down anymore?

I remember one time in particular where I felt as if life slowed down for about 24 hours.  It was July of 2005 and I spent a week in Toronto with some Jewish friends.  Part of my time there was over shabbos or shabbat (the sabbath:  Friday sundown to Saturday sundown).  Everything for our meals was prepared in advance.  We did not use computers or television.  It was a lovely time.  I actually felt rested during that time.  I have never experienced the same thing on a Christian Sunday sabbath.  I rarely actually turn my computer off and the tv is on every day more than I care to admit.

There is something about rest that is so inviting and yet it often seems so impossible to actually grasp.

How do you rest?

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

How Time Flies

I know, what a creative title for this post, right?  As if nobody has ever used that phrase before.  But that is exactly what I am feeling today.  One month ago today, I spent the morning finishing up last-minute packing and running errands.  I had a picnic lunch on my living room floor with a good friend and her kids.  Well, actually, I don't think I ate anything; I was too distracted.  But the kids all did, and they had fun playing together before we said goodbye.

Around 2 p.m., we left, and we began our journey to our new life in our new town.  I was in tears as I got into my car and said goodbye to what had been my home for the last five and a half years.  My four and a half year old asked me why I was crying, and I told him that I was sad to be leaving our house and our friends.  I said I knew that I would make new friends, but that I was going to miss my old friends.  He told me I should have a book of my friends (his preschool class gave him a book with their pictures and messages and drawings).  I smiled through my tears and thought, "I do have a 'book'.  It's called Facebook."

I am thankful for Facebook.  It is a wonderful tool to have in order to keep in touch with people and see what happens in their lives and be able to share things in my life with them.  It makes me feel as if a part of me is still there, almost as if I am simply on vacation.  It has helped me to think not that I said "goodbye" but that I said "see you later".

It is hard to express what the last five and a half years were like.  We moved to that community before we had children and since then have had two boys who are now four and a half and just about two.  It was a welcoming place (neighbors brought over cookies and pies when we moved in) and we made many friends at the college where we worked, in church, and in the town in general.  It will always have a special place in my heart.  Over time, other close friends also have moved away, and while it is exciting for all of us to pursue the next adventure in our lives, there is a hint of sadness that things will never be the same again.

I never thought I'd be one to move around as much as I have (six times, now, since I was 18), and as difficult as moving is (especially the more stuff you have and when you have kids!), there is also always something to look forward to, new opportunities that have yet to be discovered, new friends, new things to learn, new ways to grow.

The church we visited this past Sunday sang a hymn called "Trees", sung to the tune of "For the Beauty of the Earth", and I'll leave you with one verse of it:
Tree of Promise, keep your vow; with me then, and with me now.Springtime blossoms, winter tears, mark the season of my years.Fashion me, O Lord, to be, always changing as a tree.
Life changes.  Seasons come and go.  We can choose to fight against the changes and not live up to our full potential, and essentially wither and die, or we can choose to change with those seasons as a tree, knowing there is promise ahead.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Faith & Fashion: I Wore a Wrinkled Sweater

I love clothes, shoes, accessories, and fashion and style in general and I sometimes think about how the worlds of faith and fashion can collide.  Here are the other two pieces I wrote about the issue:
Faith & Fashion:  Shoes
Faith & Fashion:  But Nobody Cares What I'm Wearing

The other day, I was planning to meet some new friends for coffee at a local coffee shop.  I love coffee, I love friends, I love having other kids for my sons to play with, so it was a win all around.  As I stared into my closet that morning I had one of those "what am I going to wear?" moments.  It wasn't panic, and most of my clothes were clean so I had choices.  I just wasn't sure what I was going to put together.  At this point in winter, I start getting very tired of winter clothes and start hoping to see spring around the corner (however, since I live in Iowa, it's a really big corner).

I pulled on some dark wash jeans, a black and white dotted camisole, and my gold sweater.  I then had two thoughts:  one, I really like this combination of articles of clothing and two, my sweater is wrinkled.  I debated on whether or not I should change or at least iron the sweater, and then I opted not to since I was running late as it was.  I really didn't think it would bother my new friends if my sweater was wrinkled (and really, when we're all trying to keep our eyes on the kids in a public place, wrinkled clothing is probably the least of our worries) and I also started to think about how it was symbolic about life.

Life is not perfectly ironed.

Life is wrinkled.  Sometimes, life is not just wrinkled but ripped, stained, and ill-fitting.

But we still have to wear it.  We can't just take it off and choose a new life every time we come across something that doesn't fit quite right.  We have to learn to live with those wrinkles, rips, and stains.  Sometimes, we are able to iron them out, but these difficulties that we face can pop up in a variety of ways.  It could be the pain of losing a friend, the heartbreak of losing a loved one, the daily stress of life in general, the frustration when the kids just don't listen, the multitude of things that happen to make us realize that life just is not perfect.

In all of these things, I am reminded that I cannot get through them on my own.  In all of these things, I am reminded that I am not the one who is strong.

A well-known criticism of Christianity is that it is for the weak, that it is a crutch.  I agree with that, but I don't think it is a criticism, but a positive thing.  I know that I cannot get through life alone.  I know that when times are tough that I need support and someone that I can trust.  I know that in those times, I can only rely on God's strength to get me through the wrinkles of life.  I'm not ashamed of that.  I know that I can't do everything on my own (as much as I would like to!)

As I wrote this, the following verses came to mind, and I hope that if you are experiencing some wrinkles right now, that they will help to comfort you.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. --Philippians 4:7-8  

For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength. --1 Corinthians 1:25

I'm going to go do my ironing now.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

What I Learned From the Wesleyans/Methodists

This post is one in a series of posts about what I have learned from the different denominations and religions that have come into my life.  There may be more than one post per denomination.

The first post was  "I'm a Christian Mutt".  

This post explores one thing that I learned from the Wesleyans/Methodists.

At first I was just going to go through the denominations chronologically, but as I thought about it, I realized that one of the big things I learned from the Wesleyans/Methodists, and specifically learned from my time at Asbury Theological Seminary, has actually contributed to my understanding of what I've learned from all of the others.

One of the few classes (Read "Why I Quit Seminary" here) that I took was called "Method and Praxis in Theology".  In this class, I was introduced to John Wesley's theological method which has come to be called "The Wesleyan Quadrilateral" (for a detailed understanding, I will recommend the book I read in class:  The Wesleyan Quadrilateral by Don Thorsen).  For Wesley, there were four areas in which God is revealed to us:  Scripture, Tradition (Church), Reason, and Experience (it's a good thing there are only four; otherwise it might be like trying to remember the names of the seven dwarfs and always forgetting one).

Wesley on Scripture:  where theology begins
  • Wesley’s reading of the Bible centered around the idea of salvation. To him, this was the focal point, the purpose. To him it was the way in which God had recorded His plan of salvation, especially as it was revealed in Jesus.
  • In Wesley's sermon “Scriptural Christianity”, it is obvious to see that the “scripture” part of Wesley’s method is most definitely his base. Not only does he begin with two scripture references, but many, many more are scattered throughout his sermon. It was as if he wanted to read the entire Bible to his listeners but had to suffice with using only enough to fit into a sermon. In this sermon, there is a tone that evokes the feeling that Wesley is almost pleading with his listeners to truly understand what it means to live as a Christian. He discussed what it meant as a group and then as an individual–both were important scriptural pieces.
Wesley on Tradition/Church
  • Believed the Anglican Church to be the most Biblical, but also was ecumenical.  
  • If salvation was what he deemed the central importance in Christianity, then other issues were extraneous and able to be discussed.
  • If his fellow Christians were of another denomination, but had the same doctrines about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, then they were partners in the work of spreading the gospel.
Wesley on Reason
  • Scripture and Tradition were to be used in conjunction with Reason.  
  • Had a great confidence in the power of people to think logically as that is part of being created in the image of God
  • Believed that creation itself was logical evidence that there was a God
  • Reason works alongside faith in order to not have blind faith
Wesley on Experience
  • For Wesley, “the confirmatory power of experience...was essential to the true believer’s life” (Thorson 129).
  • He did not believe that experience would ever contradict scripture.

As I think about this Wesleyan Quadrilateral, I see how it encompasses things I have learned (reason), experiences I have had (experience) and scripture I have studied (scripture) through all of the denominations that I have been influenced by (Tradition/Church).  

To me, the Wesleyan Quadrilateral works quite well within the broader, worldwide body of Christ.  There are Christians who will probably more strongly identify with one of these than another, but that doesn't make any of them less important.  It reminds me of when Paul writes the following to the Romans:
For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. (Romans 12:4-5 )
Each of us individually is part of something so much bigger than ourselves, yet we too often get caught up in little things that, at the end of the day, may not really matter that much after all.  

As you consider how the Wesleyan Quadrilateral may already be present in your life, or how it may now be incorporated into your life, I will leave you with two other quotations to ponder that go along with looking at things from multiple angles:
“In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, love.”--This has been attributed to multiple people from Augustine to John Wesley so I have no idea who actually said it.  
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” --Philippians 2:3-4