Wednesday, August 29, 2012

I Made It Because I Love You

"Mommy, I made something for you!" said my five-year-old son as we drove home after I picked him up from school.  "It's in my backpack."  "Hmm," I said.  "Is it an elephant?"  "No!" he laughed.  The guessing game continued on the short drive home but he wouldn't tell me anything.  "It's a surprise," he informed me.

We arrived home, and as I walked around to the other side of the car to unbuckle his little brother, he tried whispering to him what it was so that I couldn't hear.  After we went inside and got settled, he brought me his creation.  He handed me a purple envelope, closed with a sticker of a cat with flowers (I love cats) and he'd written an X next to it.  "The X is for a kiss," he explained.

I opened the envelope and pulled out a folded yellow piece of paper.  I unfolded a drawing of a tent with flower petals on it, a roof, a ball, and a flower.  I thanked him and told him it was great.  "I made it because I love you," he told me.  My heart melted and we enjoyed a nice long hug (this was an especially touching moment because lately, he's been asserting his independence more in the form of defiance and tantrums.  It's not a pretty sight).

It made me think, though, that with everything that we create every day, whether it is music, art, writing, cooking, etc., do we keep God in mind when we do it?  How often do we write a blog post, paint a picture, compose a piece of music, cook a meal, and say "I made it because I love you"?  We might have some sense or a deep knowledge of what God calls us to do, but even though we know that, do we remember that we respond to that call in love for Him?  Too often, I think we forget.  I know I do, which is ironic, considering I mostly blog about issues surrounding faith.

What would it look like to deliberately create with our love for God in mind?  Would it change how we see even the most mundane tasks?

What can you make this week and give to God, saying, "I made this because I love you"?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Book Review: Beyond Evangelical by Frank Viola

I received a free review copy of this e-book from Present Testimony Ministry as part of Frank Viola's book launch team.

When I first began reading Frank Viola's blog earlier this year, I read so much that seemed to express thoughts that I had already been having, and when he asked for people to join his book launch team, I applied.  I received my copy of Beyond Evangelical in June, and for various reasons (none of them are probably all that great an excuse), was not able to actually get around to reading it until this week.

Beyond Evangelical is a compilation of already-written posts on Viola's blog combined with new chapters; there are 20 chapters total and some are quite short.  While the chapters do not easily flow into one another, I think this is actually a strength in that they are each stand-alone.  One could read any chapter of this book at any time without having to read the surrounding chapters to understand it.

There are two things that I appreciated most about Beyond Evangelical.  The first is that it showed me that I am not alone in my thoughts.  Secondly, each chapter can make me ask the question "how does this apply to my life?" without telling me exactly how it must be done.  I think this is because those who will identify as "Beyond Evangelical", are, as Viola says, found in all streams of Christianity; there is no one denomination that would fit.  It is simply a desire for and knowledge of something more than is currently offered.  "Those who have moved beyond evangelicalism," Viola writes, "want to know Jesus Christ in reality and in the depths.  They aren't quietists, pietists, passive mystics or gnostics.  Outward activity is important, but it's like fruit falling off a tree.  It's the natural result of living by the life of Jesus." (Chapter 2).

Beyond Evangelical should not be considered a book that puts down other streams of Christianity, but rather, one that acknowledges that none of the expressions we have are truly adequate.  Quoting his book Jesus Manifesto, Viola writes the following in Chapter 14:

"Concerning the reality of Christ Himself, all the fullness of God dwells within him.  It is for this reason that every theological system breaks down somewhere.  Every systematic theology, no matter how coherent or logical, eventually meets some passage of Scripture or passage of life that refuses to fit into it.  Such passages have to be bent, twisted, and forced to fit the system.
Why is this?  It's because Christ is too immense, too imponderable, and too alive to be tied into any immovable system of thought constructed by finite humans.  Thus, He will always break out."

If you are struggling with something in your Christian faith but can't quite put your finger on what it is, you might be moving beyond evangelical, and it would be worth your time to read this book.   A variety of options for ordering can be found here, in a listing of Frank Viola's other books.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Standing Up Alone

Peer pressure.  It's something that is usually spoken about regarding teenagers and sex, alcohol, and drugs.  Teens are taught to be strong and not give in to peer pressure.  The thing is, though, peer pressure doesn't go away once one passes into adulthood.  It is alive and well, and most people generally want to follow the crowd and not step out alone.  Whether it is because they don't want to make a scene or because they are scared, it still happens.

A couple of weeks ago, the biggest topic for days was Chik-Fil-A and whether or not one would join on the side of the boycotters or join on the side of those eating there on a particular day.  The country was fairly divided over the issue: bloggers weighed in; Facebook statuses were shared, tweets were retweeted.  The message was fairly clear:  pick a side (the correct one).

But what if the group that you would usually side with wasn't who you wanted to side with in this instance?  Did you "cross party lines"?  My guess is that most people would not; most people would stay silent if the majority of their group stood firmly on one side.  Most people who felt differently from their friends probably would not dissent.  And why not?  Dissenting, being the odd one out, is hard.  It brings uncertainty and fear:  of whether or not one is actually right, of whether or not one will be vilified, of whether or not one will lose friends, respect, opportunities, you name it.  

Frank Viola recently wrote a piece about being a dissenter.  He distinguishes between two types of dissenters:  disgruntled dissenters (angry, bitter, and misguided people with their own agendas) and sober-minded dissenters (people with good judgement, prophetic insight, and wisdom).  It seems to me that the disgruntled dissenter has it easier than the sober-minded dissenter.  The sober-minded dissenter, I think, is taking a bigger risk, precisely because she or he cannot be written off as angry or bitter.

This stirred in me thoughts of my own fears and hesitations about voicing my thoughts and opinions when they may be different than most of the people around me, or I just think they may be different.

I remember the day I decided to "like" Rob Bell on Facebook, knowing that I had friends who were very much against his ideas.  I wondered "who will see that I did this?  Will they think less of me?  Will they question my faith?"  I was afraid.

Pam Hogweide, author of Unladylike:  Resisting the Injustice of Inequality in the Church recently wrote a blog post called "Why I am Not a Christian Writer", in which she told the story of how she was all set to write a book when the publisher pulled out due to some of her views they discovered on her blog.  Because of differing points of view regarding gay marriage, the Publisher felt they could not have her as an author. Though this initially crushed her, but eventually she realized she had to stay true to herself and her writing.  She acknowledges that "our beliefs, when spo­ken out loud, can get us into trouble".  And really, who wants to get into trouble?

In the aftermath of the Chik-Fil-A uproar, I listened to Jonathan Martin's sermon "Don't Stand Up For Jesus", and it was as if I heard many of my own broken thoughts and questions put into clear and concise words that I either could not do or have been too afraid to do.  One of the Martin's statements was that "It's easy to buy a chicken sandwich on the right chicken day. Loving people is hard work."  And he's right.

  • It's easy to join in a crowd on any side of an issue.  It's a lot harder to break from the crowd that expects you to be on board with them.
  • It's easy to retweet something that someone else says but a lot harder to make your own statement.
  • It's easy to jump into an issue but a lot harder to think deeply from different points of view about the issue.

There are so many bloggers and writers out there that are not (or don't seem to be!) afraid of voicing their thoughts; I'm not sure I am one of them.  No, that's not quite true.  I know I am not one of them, yet.  Whenever I read something that is a dissenting opinion, yet with which I agree, I wonder "why didn't I say that?"  The answer?  Fear.  It's scary to put my thoughts and ideas out there for the world to see; I am much more comfortable doing it with family and friends that I know well, but strangers?  On the Internet, anything that is written is up for debate and dissection, and I don't have a thick enough skin for it at this point.  But at the same time, I think, if I read thoughts that I wish I'd said, maybe there are things that I have to say that other people would feel the same way about as well.

I hope that this is part of the process of becoming a better writer; to "write naked", to be true to who I am, to who God is always shaping me to be.

In what way--if any--do you feel afraid to be a dissenter?  How does this affect how you live your life?  Do you feel as if you are not being all that you really are when you keep quiet?