Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Sore Thumb Christianity

Do you realize that, having signed up for this Christianity thing, we belong to an invisible kingdom with an invisible King, wearing invisible armor to fight an (usually) invisible foe?
But wait!  There's more!
If we actually do what Jesus says to do (boiled down: love Him, and the rest of His children), we shall be as glaringly obvious as salt, as light, as Manhattan on Mt. Everest!

Christianity is a faith of paradoxes: live like a sacrifice (Rom. 12:1); have a ready explanation for your inexplicable hope (1 Ptr 3:15); to be great, be a servant (Matt. 20:26); to save your life, lose it (Lk. 9:24); don't wear gold and pearls, wear good deeds instead (1 Tim. 2:9-10).

When I saw three nicely-dressed Mormon boys walking up Market Street on Thursday I realized suddenly that I have been grieving the loss of this paradox.  Throughout history, all religions and their various sects have earned their "regconizeability" by being different from their surrounding cultures.  Everyone recognizes the monk's habit, the guru's toga, the Muslim's turban, the Mormon's suit.  

Our difference as Believers is supposed to be love (Jn. 13:35 ).  But lately adherence to that greatest of commandments has begun to morph.  Instead of lovingly practicing-- and reminding other people to practice-- things like "if anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is worthless" (Jms. 1:26), standard practice has become "Don't tell people they have to shut up!  You're so judgmental.  No one has to change before they come to Jesus.  He loves you where you are.  We have to win people through acceptance."  Which sounds lovely, but two minutes later a session of the Presbyterian Church of the USA must apply to not have any of their dues support abortions, the Pope holds a tri-faith pray-in with Jewish and Muslim leaders in the Vatican, and the Episcopalians ordain people actively engaging in homosexual behaviors.  The Cult of Relevancy is established and suddenly we're invisible for all the wrong reasons.

When the stated purpose of our behavior is to blend in so that people aren't jolted out of their comfort zones, we have fallen off the wagon.  Yes, Paul said he was all things to all men, and I get that-- by all means, tattoo your arm so that people want to know about that lost ship that represents your former soul.  But Paul never blended in with the surrounding culture. He stood out like the sorest of thumbs.  He called a spade a spade.  He said, "Yes, Jesus will take you as you are, but He  won't leave you that way!"  By calling the above things wrong, I am not saying I hate any of the people engaged in those behaviors.  But I am going to echo Jesus and say, "Neither do I condemn you; now go and sin no more."  (Jn. 8:11)  The lost aren't looking for our tolerance; they are on our doorsteps because they can't tolerate who they are.  They realize their "normal" is broken and are looking for a "different" to intervene.  

Which means that instead of being relevant and nice, we must love.  Love stands out!  Love intervenes!  And while no modern preacher leaves love out of their main selling points, their version of love is so often cloaked in moral relativism that the lost are in danger of not being able to see the white for all the grey, let alone black!  Black never even comes into it.  There are hard, unfathomable things about Christianity.  No denying it.  That's the deal with having a God at its head who is not a tame lion.  A Lion Who, as my father-in-law puts it, is not called God for no reason.  But that is what the Relevant Camp tries to soften for the pre-Christian instead of giving them the dignity of assuming they can handle the truth.  Which is, oddly enough, why so many within the camp get disillusioned and leave-- some to monasteries, some to atheism, some to sit in the desert for months with an open Bible trying to find true north: there isn't enough difference from their normal in what they're selling to keep them alive.

So why do I write this?  What do I want?  No fear.  I want to stop being afraid that this treasure I hold in my earthen vessel is somehow going to be too much for the people God is actually chasing down to pour it on.

It is not the Church's job to save people; it is only to stand out like a sore thumb by loving and speaking truth.  Let the Spirit worry about how relevant that is to our poor culture.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Commentary on John 15 in the style of Charles Dickens, right-honorable influencer of all current literary endeavors.

"This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you."  ~John 15:12

This is all very well as a platitude on a plaque hung over the kitchen sink or in the bathroom to remind the children what actions they are expected to mimic during the day, but what on earth does it mean?  The next verse speaks loftily of laying down one's life for one's friend (not enemy, interestingly enough, though that is a different expostulation), but as that deals only in death and we have a great deal of living to do in the mean time, how do we then live?  How exactly did Jesus love us?

While contemplating the conundrum by my fire this morning, I was startled to realize after a moment's reflection that there was a seemingly simple answer.  While He lived on earth (past tense), He loved us sacrificially, certainly.  Totally, surely.  Unreservedly, yes.  But also wisely.  And discriminatingly.  Not against our best interests. And thus I ran against the Fruit of His very Spirit (undisputably not past tense) as a barge runs against its home dock: He must love us with joy, peacefully, patiently, with kindness and goodness, with gentleness, faithfully, and with self-control.

This led me instantly to a second list, as if the first dock turned out to be only a hand offering to guide me in to my true mooring.  In this list love is even more clearly defined.
Love is:
Not envious
Does not boast
Is not proud
Is not rude (!)
Or self-seeking
Not easily angered
Keeps no record of wrong
Does not delight in evil
But rejoices with the truth
Love always protects
Always trusts
Always hopes
Always perseveres
Never fails
And so the barge appears to rest, comfortably, with a contented knowledge that its cargo is fathomable and useful and uncomplicated.


That satisfied mooring is where I began my typing this morning.  But by copying down my ideas I was made further acquainted with their subtleties and quite suddenly I find that the barge has not nosed into dock at all but has rather struck some sunken piling and is in danger of taking on water rapidly:
Jesus, while on earth, was arguably, by our standards, rude.  He also got angry.  He was not what we would call kind to the pharisees, and not really what we would term patient with them either.  By allowing most of His disciples to be eventually martyred, we would question His "always protecting," and by losing Judas to the dark side we would wonder about the preserving and never-failing aspects.  Was His love always attended with what we would call peacefulness?  Gentleness?  Often.  But not always.

It is therefore my forlorn duty to understand that our understanding of these straight-forward concepts is not straight-forward at all.  If Jesus did it, that is the standard, and the standard is gold.  If we object, our objections are dross.  And so, at the end of 500 words on the subject, I find I have only written a confused preface to a poor pamphlet with question marks for content.  I must go back to the library of the Spirit and ferret out what He means by patience, kindnesses, protection, and peace.  

After I have done that, perhaps my life will be a better plaqued-platitude for the instruction of my children than anything I could hang on the bathroom wall.

Friday, January 24, 2014

He said, "abide in the vine," not in the Apple.

"Abide in Me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me."  ~John 15:4

Abide - meno; a primary verb; to stay (in a given place, state, relation or expectancy): - abide, continue, dwell, endure, be present, remain, stand, tarry (for) x thine own.

Lots of cool things here on which I haven't thought before, but that's all head stuff: what do all these words feel like in the real world? How do I walk them out in shoe leather?  To what existing relationship in my own life may I look for an example of passion like that, dedication like that, tuned-in-ness like that?  

Enter Facebook. 
Turns out most of us have an existing relationship to which we may look for insight.  We all know what it feels like to dwell with and endure with and be present with and tarry with our phones.  I mean, where else can we keep up friendships, get inspired about art projects, home improvments, DIYs, get ideas for dinner, learn a new catch-phrase, find a fashion statement, keep up with current events, research ideas for how to handle a needed response, a health problem, an in-law, a child, a marriage, a co-worker, an enemy, a friend, an addiction?  Where else could we get Google, Wikipedia, Pinterest and Instagram under one cover?

A friend and I were marveling again just yesterday that we get to be in this club which is infinity-deep and a constant source of secret joy.  And, low and behold, this club has a physical book we can consult about everything.  How many of us have wished for that on any given day?!  "I have four sons!  I wish there was a manual!"  I married a type- A/B/OCD/Unmotivated person!  I wish there was a manual!"  "I don't know what to do with my life!  I wish there was a manual!"  

There is.  And as Pastor Kyle frequently says, "Seriously, you should read it-- it's amazing!" Between its covers lie the answers to all the above questions and any other we might possibly think to ask in the course of 70-100 years of life on this planet.

If I were to accept the challenge of this meme, continually living in a state of expectancy, remaining in the presence of and standing on the physical Word of God, surely that might add up to the outward characteristics of abiding.  It's worth a shot.  

And by a shot I mean more than trotting off to tweet about it.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Gospel According To.....

How many of you, growing up watching The Little Mermaid, are now in your thirties, have the care of small children, and have changed your glowing opinion about the sea-shelled Ariel?  Do you find yourself saying, "No Susie, we're not watching that; you've got all the example of selfishness, disrespect and disobedience in your own little sin nature you could possibly need-- you don't need help."

Ariel's a brat!  Self-absorbed, can't imagine why something might be bad or dangerous if she doesn't personally think so, assumes a pretty face automatically means you're the good guy, yet unquestioningly trusts people she knows to be untrustworthy just because she'll get what she wants!

Why the sudden vitriol at the amphibious redhead?  I was listening to my Tangled Pandora station last night, skipping through all The Little Mermaid songs when I was arrested by Ursula's fantastic, bombastic villain solo.  How can you skip that one?  Now, I know The Little Mermaid, despite Hans Christian Andersen's best attempts with the original, is just Faust retold for the toddler, so the parallels should have been obvious.  But it really wasn't till last night that I heard the Gospel.

Ariel is me.  There she is, making a deal with the devil to satisfy her selfish lusts, giving excuses, running away from the Father who does, in fact, know best, getting her friends into hot water, not to mention nearly killing her beloved as he attempts to unwind her mistakes.  It's not until Daddy steps into her place, bears her sins, takes her punishment, that Ariel is brought to any kind of remorse.

Of course the illustration breaks down rather quickly after that, but it was the "I am Ariel" thought that occasioned this rant.  It's very humbling to see oneself in an object both despised and envied (who didn't want that hair and those, uh, seashells?), all the more so because she is only a cartoon; if I am shamed by animation am I really any more important than pixels?

Praise be to God, yes I am.  "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you."  And so I make peace with Triton's youngest daughter.  No, I'm still not wild about the lessons of the movie in general (Combing your hair with a fork at the dinner table is cute?  French chefs are unequivocally evil?  Kissing solves everything?  And if you don't believe me, watch me throw in a Blue Lagoon reference?), but the Lord of All being omnipresent, I can't escape Him.  Even under the sea.

What are some of your favorite "Jesus Finds" in popular culture?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Crying Over Catholics

"Your over-kindness doth wring tears from me!"

Claudio said that to Leonato in Much Ado About Nothing, and lately I've found myself saying the same to our Father over and over and over.  Reading another little bit of Maria Von Trapp's autobiography inspired my tears on Tuesday-- all these "coincidences" He orchestrates all day long to bring His exhausted and miserable babies running headlong to Him with wobbly steps and much crashing into furniture.  I was crying, I think, over His kindness, but also over the rather lively portrait of myself Maria's stories brought to my mind's eye: for so long I have believed I was above baby blunders, that I was stepping along beside God, proud as any Arabian pony moving through her dance.  Reality reveals I am as much a tripping toddler as anyone, perhaps more so for having been so certain I was "all growed up" and the talk of the town, the girl with the best little bonnet in the Easter Parade.

One of the "coincidences" He's been orchestrating lately is that after a lifetime of sheltered Evangelicalism, I have been running into Catholics all over the place.  Whether through books, involvement in the Pro-Life movement, the guitar player in my own band, or osmosis-izing the ubiquitous mist that is Church History, Catholicism has been challenging my proud little concept of the cosmo.

First there is Kieth, who is still the only Protestant convert to Catholicism I have ever met.  He's crazy enough to do all the research and jump in with both eyes wide open.  Then there is Samantha, the only girl I have ever met who is so in love with Jesus that her decision to become a nun is the most logical and laudable in the world.  She also gave me The Theology of the Body for Beginners, the condensed version of Pope John Paul II's treatise on marriage, sex and holiness.  It is by far the best book I have read on the subject, and it has given me the gift of a Biblical apologetic understanding of the why of sexual purity, before and after marriage.  No Evangelical explanations in my experience has succeeded so well.  (Seriously, go read it.)  Then I notice that the truly uplifting stuff filtering through my Facebook feed is not the chichi memes of the Protestants but rather the substantial and often humorous insights of "Support the Catholic Priests".  Then Pope Francis starts kissing the faces of the unlovely and I begin to think Surely God is pleased with this man's heart.  Adrianna, a fellow volunteer at the crisis pregnancy center, reads her Bible and with child-like logic believes what it says during the most heartbreaking chapter of her life. And then there is Maria Von Trapp-- headlong, tempestuous, heedless Maria.  She is so beguiled by God that her toddler careening takes her from convent to motherhood to the South Pacific mission field to the Catholic wing of the Jesus movement.

Twenty-seven years of gathering bits and pieces of knowledge about Catholicism did not prepare me to be bowled over by the winsome reality of the faith displayed by the truly dedicated Catholics I have been privileged to meet in the last four years.  I have found in them more passion and vitality than in a hundred average Protestants.  Even the "on fire" youth of my Evangelical experience have a lack of foundation which frequently results in burn-out, falling away, and incomprehension.  We AG, non-denom, Baptist, Foursquarers have no catechism, nothing to memorize, no liturgy permeating and informing our childhood, no meaningful traditions-- nothing but the potentially shifting standard of our own "personal relationship with Jesus."  [Don't misunderstand me-- I am justly grateful that the Word says I have no need of any other Priest than Jesus. But as my friend Brook recently wrote, "Unfortunately, a once vibrant intellectual Protestantism has become anything but a protesting body while the last Roman Catholic Catechism made very large steps in the direction of Reformed thought.  Pope John Paul before he died stated that Luther was correct as regards salvation by grace through faith.  So while Roman Catholicism remains in grave error on so many fronts, its error is now no longer any greater than the errors that mainline protestantism finds itself embroiled in currently."]

It is not nice to copy out my prides and prejudices on the blackboard of life's school room, but I do it because at the end of each line I may now add the lesson learned, and I would not wish to bury that to save my vanity.  The lesson, dictated several days ago by my personal Lord and Savior was this: The acid test of your salvation-- whether Catholic, Protestant, or RNP (Really Nice Person)-- is Do you confess with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord of all (and Him alone), and do you believe in your heart that God (truly) miraculously raised Him from the dead?  You do?  Congratulations! You're saved!

Because what it does not say is, "And if you believe that saints can help your prayers, or that Creation is a little ambiguous, or that good works/baptism/speaking in tongues help you get to heaven then you shan't be saved."  Salvation is a matter of addition, not subtraction, and those things are subtractions.  Add the confession of your mouth and the belief of your heart to your life and viola! Salvation.  Subtract behaviors and faulty beliefs and you get.... better behavior and better beliefs.  Not salvation.  Glory to God!  We all have blind spots, we all believe and practice goofy things, we all sin.  But if qualifiers and rhetorics are stripped away for a moment, we see that with the answer to just these two questions we may know who is toddling as fast as they can in the same direction-- straight to the Father's arms.  

His kindness truly doth wring tears.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Master of the Metaphor

Metaphor ~ noun
     1. A figure of speach in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable.
     2. A thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else, especially something abstract.

Jesus is indisputably the King of Everything.  Which, fortunately for this post, includes metaphor.  He used them all the time, often to describe Himself: "I am the vine;" "I am the door."  Or others used them to describe Him: "He is the lamb of God;" "He is the morning star."  

This is surely a kindness of God, knowing as He does that our finite minds cannot fathom Him.  Doors we can grasp!  Vines we can comprehend!

This being the case I recently reasoned that if I could understand more about the metaphors, I might understand more about the God.  After all, He created the things beforehand, knowing He would use them to describe Himself-- they must be a perfect examples.

Enter Science.

This is not a subject at which I excelled in school.  Bill Nye the Science Guy gave me the basics about the general behavior of the universe, but the rest of my "education" has been left to Stargate and Doctor Who (dubious professors at best, nefarious purveyors of downright falsehood at worst), and the long-suffering Kersten Peterson, the only bio-chem nerd I know who can yet speak real English, not to mention the dialect "Girl" thereof.

But my ignorance of the subject may prove to be my greatest resource as I tackle this "Bible study", for in knowing nothing I come to the table with very few preconceived notions and biases, many, many questions, and bucket loads of Wonderment.

To keep myself honest I write only this introductory preface today, stating in it my intent to investigate at least the following subjects:


If you discover other "Jesus Metaphors" in your readings, or have a favorite science fact about any of the above, please post them as comments below; eventually I would love for this to turn into an actual Bible study, or what about a science primer for homeschoolers?  I'm really looking forward to meeting the Master of the Metaphor in His textbook of Creation.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Confessions of a Stay-at-Home-Wife

Dale and I don't have kids yet (God's choice, not ours).  Consequently we have had the standard amount of frustration and sadness and hoping and grieving.  But a hidden side-affect of infertility has recently been coming to a boil in my heart and this morning it hit 212°.

I have been waging a silent but violent war with my culture for almost three years.  I didn't realize it till this summer, knowing only that I felt vaguely assaulted most of the time. Then I went to Texas for nine days and helped my best friend paint her bedroom and I came home inspired, motivated-- and mad.  

Western Civilization makes an unspoken yet intractable assumption that if I have no children, I have no possible excuse for staying home.  "What's the matter, just lazy enough that you won't get a real job?" they seem to ask.  "Oh, you teach watercolor?" they exult, relieved. "Great!  At least that's something," and suddenly my existence is valid again.  If they knew it was only for two hours one day a week they would probably ooze back into puzzled contempt of this selfish little introvert who won't help support her family, so I frequently fail to mention my schedule and my pride shows its true colors by siding with my enemies.

But all the contempt in the world has not managed to quench the yearning of my heart for my home.  This yearning is so strong that I practically feel the burn.  It's a longing like we all long for heaven, for love, for safety, for joy.  It finds relief in the strangest things-- a vacuumed floor; clean dishes; folded laundry; a half-done quilt; a started painting; cleared counters; not-dead flowers in a garden bed; dinner ready when Dale gets home.  

"Well, all of those things are nice and a good idea," say my assailants, "but are they truly necessary?  Aren't you just selfishly doing the things you like to do anyway when there are babies to be saved and homeless to be fed and Bible studies to lead and money to be earned and the sick to visit...."

And, and, and.

Yes!  Of course there are other worthy things to do!  That is the crux of the dilemma, the barrel of good things and whole truths over which the enemy has me.  But they aren't fair questions.  They are being presented first of all as mutually exclusive, and then in an order of importance, losing value as they go.  I am trying my darndest to discover if my home is a ministry I'm allowed to prioritize, deserving of more than whatever is left over at the end of my day spent serving everyone but the most important person in my life.  Is my husband and his castle worth-- in God's eyes-- the vast majority of my time and effort?  I think so.  Does God?

This is where I want to know if any of you have developed a "Theology of Home," as it were?  Proverbs 31 is the closest I've got so far.  While Superwoman certainly ventured out of the house (vs. 13, 14, 16, 20, & 24), the core of her majesty is her home.  There she works and provides, oversees and stores up to give out, teaches and lives, loves and makes beauty, and in so doing blesses her family and servants.  (Ah yes, by the way, exhausted moms, you can't be a true P31 without maidservants.  Just saying.)  Every verse draws a more finally-detailed pictures of the home as a place of power, not simply a haven from the "real world".  It is the real world, and from it the rest of the world is fed, physically, emotionally and spiritually, and the generations are blessed.

For now, that's enough for me to go forward.  So the seasons are changing.  And it's not just the bight in the breeze as the sun rises or the edges of yellow on our maples trees.  Seasons are changing for me. I'm coming home.  In passive-aggressive rebellion I've listed my occupation on Facebook as Full-Time Wife and Homemaker.  And I'm so excited I can hardly stand it.  

Let me hear your coming home story!  Or about your journey towards that end.  Tell me if you've found your own Theology of Home in the Word.  Let's let our sisters out there know they do not yearn alone.