Foolishness, Wisdom, Love

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It is Sunday morning, and I am not going to church today, because my white blood cell count is down, and I am not brave like my friend Erika who puts on a surgical mask and gets out there in the world. Of course, Erika looks pretty adorable in her mask, and I just look kind of scary. Seriously, what do you think when you see a person wearing a mask? “I wonder what sort of terrible disease that person has?” And this, of course, brings up another question, which is why can’t I get over this concern over what other people think of me???

Anyway, since I am not going to church, I thought I’d write a Stumbling Scripture Studies blog, since I’ve had a thought or two, perhaps even interesting, that is shareable. And as always, please don’t think I write these blogs just to tell you what I think, or what you should think. I am very interested in your pertinent, nice and creative perspectives. And your prayers. These Stumbling Scripture Studies, at least at this point, are a record of my own struggles in this journey.

The Bible reading track I am on is currently in 1 Corinthians chapters 2 and 3. These chapters have really captured the essence of my problem, which is the wisdom of this world coming up against the foolishness of the message of the gospel. Hey, that’s not my assessment. That is Paul’s. Time and again in these chapters, Paul states that the things of God are foolishness to the natural man, and that “If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” (1 Cor 3:18-19)

The point where I am in my faith is that I have resolved that I have been called to it, and that I am going to return to it however many times I run away. But it seems impossible for me to read the Bible or study my faith without looking at it through the  lens of the skeptic’s glasses. When I read this stuff about the wisdom of the world and the foolishness of God, half of me says, oh, aha, that is my problem, while the other half of me says, maybe this is because it really is foolishness. I can actually lay out that argument far more easily than the argument for faith’s wisdom. There is no argument for it. It is impossible to “witness for” the faith. When I read the scripts laid out for this purpose, it makes me cringe.

Faith, to me, is purely experiential. It can’t be argued, it can’t be taught. It has to be experienced. There have been enough times in my life that God has spoken to me, has acted in my life, that I have to open that door to him. But I think this is something anyone needs to experience for themselves. “Witnessing?” This is the only thing that I have ever been able to say to anyone that has made any sense: ask God to reveal himself to you. Say, “God if you are real, show me.” I used to say this with absolute certainty that God would do just that if given an opportunity. I still believe that. But in the many, many, many years since I first became a Christian (44 years to be precise), I have learned that resistance to the voice of God is deep.

Paul gives us a promise, however. He tells us that if we get over our wise old selves and allow ourselves to be fools, that the deep wisdom of God will be revealed to us. And I want that deep wisdom. I long for that deep wisdom. So let me be a fool.

If I should be wrong, and God doesn’t exist, and Christianity is just foolishness, what harm will be done if I am a fool? NONE. This is not to say that harm isn’t done in this world in the name of Christianity. It most certainly has been done, from early days through our own times. In this country today, the marriage between Christianity and the political right has been a spiritual disaster. It has bred a hate and intolerance that is completely out of step with what Jesus taught. It has bred a lack of caring for the needy among us that is purely Pharasaical, and which has been condemned by the Bible from start to finish. The Old Testament laws looked out for the poor, instructing landowners not to glean all from their fields, but to leave some for the poor among them to use. The early chapters of Isaiah may talk about the judgment on Israel for being unfaithful to God, but over and over again it talks about the greed of Israel and its lack of care for the poor. Isaiah says:

Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes. Cease to do evil. Learn to do good. Seek justice, rebuke the oppressor, defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.

Jesus, when he lived on this earth, did not hang out with the rich. He did not fulfill what the Jews of the time wanted, which was to overthrow the Roman government and restore the glory of the Kingdom of Israel on earth. He came and cared for the poor and the sick. He had compassion on those who were hungry and fed them, and on those who were sick and healed them. He taught us that the greatest commandment is that we love God with all our hearts, and second only to that is that we love one another. He gave us a very specific picture of what this means in Matthew 25: 34-46:

Then the King will say to those on his right hand, “Come you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to me.”

Then the righteous will answer him, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and take you in, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?” And the King will answer, “Assuredly I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” 

Then he will also say to those on the left hand, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the evil and his angels, for I was hungry and you gave me no food; I was thirsty and you gave me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take me in, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.”

Then they will also answer him, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?” Then he will answer them saying, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.” And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

As far as I can see, the right wing agenda falls squarely on the left hand, and it has given the world a bad taste for Christians and Christ. But this is not who Jesus was. Many of us want to hide our faith because of this perception, but we can’t. As a recent article in Sojourner magazine put it, “We must learn how to ‘come out’ as Christians.” We need to show people that we live the love that Jesus taught. It is not up to us to judge the world. If we have faith, we should be absolutely assured of God’s ability to communicate to each individual what he wants for them in their own lives. If we have faith, we should not fear that we don’t have enough to share. If Jesus could feed 5,000 people with a few fish and loaves of bread, surely we could take in some refugees!

I have a long, long way to go to meet the standards of love that Jesus taught. I need to get off my duff and do it instead of just talking about it. Following Christ without reservation can only foster that in my life, and hopefully let others know that God really does love them. It will help me to become a mature believer to whom the deep things of God may be revealed. If I am a fool, well I will be a fool who has led a better life, and been a better person, for traveling the road I have chosen, or which has chosen me.

Stumbling Scripture Studies: How to have faith

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I am currently in a discipleship program which includes doing daily Bible reading, and then writing about it in a SOAP format: Scripture, Observation, Application and Prayer. You pick a specific verse out of that day’s readings, write it down, write a little about your observations of this scripture, how it applies to your life, and then a prayer based on this scripture. These are supposed to be short, like a line or two, less than a page total, but of course mine go on and on and on. In fact, I often have trouble sticking to just a single verse, and instead write about the whole chapter or several verses. I often feel that God is speaking to me here, telling me things of value to me. I thought that sometimes I would share them, in case they might be of value to anyone else.

Today’s New Testament reading was John 12. This chapter occurs right after Jesus raised his friend Lazarus from the dead, and takes place in the same location. In John 11, I was struck by the reaction of the Pharisees to this miracle. “What shall we do? For this man works many signs. If we let him alone like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.” (vv 47-48) I marveled at this reaction. This man resurrects someone who had been dead for four days, and it doesn’t occur to you that he may be more powerful than the Romans? But then I thought, well, they were right in a way. Jesus didn’t overpower the Roman Empire. He died. Jerusalem fell.

Chapter 12 continues to deal with this issue. Jesus was speaking about his coming death, but “The people answered him, ‘We have heard that the Christ remains forever, and how can you say the Son of Man must be lifted up?'” (v 34)

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:19 says, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.” Hmmm. This was absolutely true for those first century Christians. These were the people who walked with Jesus, who sat at his feet when he taught, witnessed his miracles, watched him die, saw him after his resurrection. They suffered persecution, floggings, and imprisonment, and every single one of them suffered horrific deaths for his faith. This, of course, is one of the arguments for the truth of Christianity. These were the eyewitnesses. You might stretch the truth to have a good time, but would you endure persecution for it? Would you die for it?

Others, though, “the people,” they still had expectations in their minds of who and what the Christ was to be and do. They tried to put Jesus into that pre-made box and he didn’t fit all that well. They wanted a political savior who woud free them from Roman rule and restore the glory of the kingdom on earth as it had been under David and Solomon. So Jesus posed difficulties. They were the original believers in the prosperity gospel. They were not prepared to accept the suffering Messiah of Isaih 53. They were not prepared to suffer themselves for a kingdom they could not see.

Except that they had seen it. They were right there in the very place where Jesus had raised a man who had been dead for four days! How could they not believe, having seen that kind of evidence? Yet they didn’t. We might think that they are without excuse because of what they had seen, while we get a bit more slack because we didn’t witness this. But God still works. I know that I have felt God’s presence, have heard him speak to me, have seen him at work in the events in my life and the lives of those around me. I can say that those who witnesses Jesus’ miracles are without excuse, but am I not also, if I have once heard his voice? “Did I really hear that?” “Was Lazarus really dead?”

What got to me most, though, was another group of people mentioned in John 12: “Even among the rulers many believed in him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue, for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” (vv 42-43) Now again, they had just witnessed Jesus raising a man who had been dead for four days! They are way without excuse, right? I mean, if I was there, I would have believed. I would have confessed! Right?

I have to admit, in my struggles with faith, this has actually been one of my problems. I love the praise of men. And women. As in, I want to be lovedand respected even. Now this is actually true for people inside the church as much as the people outside. The thing is that most of the people who love me are outside the church, as in far outside. Their attitudes toward Christianity generally range from complete disinterest to complete disdain. Yes, this is my family, and most of the people in my circle within the community. I will admit that when I hear sermons, I frequently imagine them sitting next to me rolling their eyes, or saying, “oh my God,” and not in prayer! I hear their derision ringing in my ears.

And the thing is, I get it. I have thought all of those thoughts. I can’t even say from an intellectual standpoint, “You are wrong.” Apologetics is never going to prove anything to anyone. I know because it has never proven anything to me. You have to have faith to get it. Faith is a gift from God, and when you say “no thank you,” you just are never going to get it. 1 Corinthians says, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (v 18) The Jews require a sign and the Greeks seek after wisdom, and the cross is nothing to them, “but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ (is) the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (If you are reading this and you are wondering, you are called. Maybe this is your call. Just say yes and see what happens.)

This is the whole key, I think. In the last couple of weeks I have come to see it as the answer to everything, that last paragraph. It is not an easy answer to accept, and yet it is also the easiest answer of all. Well, one thing for sure is that I have been called. From the age of nine, raised in a completely non-religious family, I was seeking for this God who was calling to my heart. Since I found him, I have tried to get away, and I always get called back. It’s happened so many times now that I have decided to quit trying to escape and to try instead to hang on. It’s a bumpy road sometimes, but I am still here.

One other point, about Jesus’ kingdom not being of this world. That does leave us in a quandry if we require evidence. But are we really most pitiable? I don’t think so. I am a mystic at heart and I love to see the transformative power of God at work in my life, and in the lives of the people around me. Even when it’s hard. Even when it hurts. It is beautiful.

Father, thank you for calling me and keeping me. Let me walk the streets of your unseen kingdom in this world. Take my hand and guide me, show me where to go, where to look, as you prepare my heart for what you would have me do. And give me the strength and courage to do it. Thank you, Lord.

Amen.

I believe God exists

One of my blogs is about to be deleted. In the interest of saving it, I am copying some of my previous posts into this blog. This post was from November 5, 2015. 

I believe in God. Ultimately, this belief is a choice, but I have also had too much experience of God in my life, too many synchronicities, too many times I have had answers given dramatically and at just the right time and place to want to deny it. I believe in God because I feel him when I pray. It is not like talking to an “imaginary friend” as some have characterized prayer. It isn’t a feeling of talking to myself, or the ceiling or the sky. I have felt the presence of God. I know a lot of people who put their faith in humans (humanism), or “science,” who seem to think that if you can’t prove the existence of God, then God doesn’t exist. Well, better minds than mine have put forth ontological, cosmological, teleological, and other logical and moral arguments for God’s existence. There are those who assume an intellectual superiority for their atheism, but I don’t think you can accuse Plato, Aristotle, Anselm, Aquinas, Descartes, Kant, and the many others of being ninnies. Many intellectual giants have argued for the existence of God.

Now I can kind of understand why people don’t believe in God, but I think it’s a point of view that is very limited. God’s existence can’t be proven by science? There is so much that can’t be proven by science, so much that IS that can’t be explained by science. You tell me, when did time begin, and when will it end? When you get to the end of the universe, what is there? To me, these questions are just completely mind boggling. You want to believe in the Big Bang and evolution? Well, that’s fine, but it certainly doesn’t preclude the existence of God, because the question still remains where did all that stuff come from in the first place? All the matter and energy in the universe just popped into existence from NOWHERE? Personally, I don’t need any philosopher’s elaborate argument to see this. The existence of the universe, of life, of anything is something that no scientist can adequately explain. I understand that this does not in any way prove the existence of God. What it does do, though, is knock “science” off its pedestal. In fact, much what is explained by “science” has to be taken on faith. So many things in science are preceded by the term “theory of.” Whenever you see that term, it means that this is an explanation that somebody came up with for how or why things are the way they are based on their interpretation of events, but it cannot be proven. Science is great as science, but as a god it has clay feet.

I would not laugh at anyone who chooses to be an atheist. That is their choice. But it must be recognized as a choice, as a faith in itself, rather than a foregone conclusion, and there is nothing that makes it an intellectually superior choice.

I think that one problem atheists have is mixing up the existence of God with religion. The two are really quite separate, as is proven by the existence of so many religions in the history of man’s existence. You want to argue with religion, I can understand that. That is a subject that is full of mud pits and thorns. I have honestly encountered God in many ways in the course of my life. I feel called to Christianity, but not without a million questions. For some reason, even though I have allowed the questions to drive me away from it, I keep getting called back to it. I am not going to say I have it all figured out. I am not going to say that my doubts and questions have all been stilled. Far from it. But since I was a very young child, living in a completely non-religious household, Christianity has called to me, and it has never stopped, so I have to honor that call. When I find all the answers to all the questions, I will write a book on it, but in the meantime, decades into the journey, I am still seeking to learn everything I can about this faith that calls me. I have said before that perhaps it is impossible for we mere humans to know The Truth, and I will not argue against anyone who takes this position. Honestly, I cannot tell you exactly where I will end up on the spectrum of belief. But I will end up on the spectrum itself. It is, to me, completely logical. It potentially holds answers to the unanswerable questions, and even if it doesn’t, it is certainly no more fantastic than the Questions Which Must Exist. It is no more difficult to believe in a source from which everything came into existence, than it is to believe that everything just appeared from nowhere.

And in the meantime, although I know harm has been done in the name of religion, I personally am not doing harm. Well, perhaps I am. If the harshest tenets of the Christian faith are true, I may be doing harm by not shaking you by the shoulders and warning you about them. But I have a great, huge faith in God. I think God is entirely capable of communicating to you what he wants you to know. I am here to tell you that there was not ever in my entire life anyone who “shared the gospel” with me. Never. God called me all on his own. And although I will admit to having gone through a judgmental phase on my Christian journey, in the end I find in the teachings of Jesus a call to love, and to do so without fear, without counting the cost of that love. Lord knows I have learned the emotional cost of love, in the loss of my daughter, in all the sorrows of my children that pierce my own heart, as well as the material cost in the lifestyle I chose from the beginning, which was to do with less in order to be able to give more to those I love. God always has more to give than we do, whether money or love.

If you want to be intellectually honest about your faith, or lack of it, I think you have to be willing to give up your assumptions. I will agree that I cannot prove the existence of God, and hey, you might be right. One day I might die and drift into nothingness, but if so, I am not going to care. Maybe you should be willing to give up the notion that you can possibly “know” that God does not exist. Just logically, it is impossible to prove a negative. Personally, I think the highest intelligence exists in the humility of knowing the limitations of our knowledge. So open it up. Just be willing to say, “God if you are real, show me.” Who knows? You might be surprised.

Books: Out of Sorts by Sarah Bessey

One of my blogs is about to disappear, and in the interest of saving it I am copying some of my previous posts into this blog. This post was from February 19, 2016.

I have been a Christian for many decades now, but all of you probably know that it has not been an easy path for me. I have struggled with my own questions, as well as the questions of people I love. Actually, using the term “I have” is probably incorrect. It’s more like “I do” struggle. I’m not a social Christian, one who goes to church for social reasons, to meet friends or get involved in service programs (although I think both of those are wonderful things!). I go to church to worship God. I go to church because there I hear at least some of what God has to say to me. But church attendance itself has never been what it’s about either, and for that reason I actually read the Bible, pretty much on a daily basis. And I pray. I talk to God and do my best to let God talk to me.

It would be easy to get dressed up and go to church on Sunday, and listen to a charming, charismatic preacher give sermons about love and self esteem, but that is not what my spirit seeks. I want to follow the narrow path, even though it sometimes leads through the brambles, sometimes across oceans, or through storms, and sometimes even just drops off a cliff to unknown places! There are a lot of Christian books out there that can help in negotiating this path. But I have another problem. I wander sometimes. And because of that, I really, really enjoy a good, thoughtful book written by another wanderer who found her way back.

 Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith by Sarah Bessey is such a book, and it has the benefit of being one of the most beautifully written books of its kind, one that makes you stop occasionally just to savor the words, which has phrases that stick with even someone with a really terrible memory, like me. But don’t take my word for it. Let me treat you to a quote that kind of sums up the whole book:

But most of us, at some point, will encounter the second state, which he called “critical distance.” This is the time in our formation when we begin to … well, doubt. We begin to question. We hold our faith up to the light and see only the holes and inconsistencies….

Yet he writes, “Beyond the desert of criticism, we wish to be called again.” I remember crying out to God once while in the midst of what I called my wilderness, what Ricoeur calls the critical distance, because I was longing to “go back.” …. I found it was not enough to live without the magic and the beauty, without the wonder. I couldn’t return to my first naivete and I missed the simplicity of it. I wanted to be called again, to hear the voice of God again, perhaps never more wildly than when it felt like the God I once knew was disappearing like steam on a mirror.

But those who continue to press forward can find what Ricoeur called a second naivete. I didn’t know it, but I was pressing through my wilderness to deliverance, toward that place on the other side of rationality, when we reengage with our faith with new eyes. We take responsibility for what we believe and do. We understand our texts or ideas or practices differently, yes, but also with a sweetness because we are there by choice. As Richard Rohr writes, “the same passion which leads us away from God can also lead us back to God and to our true selves.”

Bessey’s journey is not my journey, but she captures the essence, the heart that I feel beating in my own chest. This is what I have said, why I am a Christian in spite of my questions, because of the spirit, because of the call, because of the heavenly magic of belonging to God.

Jesus. His name felt like every question and every answer. There was a strain of something like unearthly music to His name, and part of me still believes that my desire to be like Jesus was the Spirit’s call — deep calling unto deep, as the psalmist wrote.

My broken heart — cynical, jaded, frustrated, angry, wounded — somehow exhaled at every mention of His name. 

In my wanderings and wonderings I have changed. I judge people’s lives and faith less. Instead I trust God. I trust him to know the hearts of people, which I can’t know. I trust him to be able to call to those hearts. I trust him to speak to people and tell them what he wants them to do. There have been times when people didn’t seem to trust that I had heard from God, because what God was telling me was different from what they judged to be right, but time and life proved that what I’d heard was true, for me, in that time and place. Exactly what Sarah does, exactly what she believes … I have to tell you, I can’t even remember those things. There is plenty of the mind present in this book, but what captured me was its heart.

And then I open my Bible, just like my father did every morning of his life. I know that this very morning, he was also in what he still calls “the Word.” And I am my father’s daughter. I am in the Word, just not quite in the same way anymore. I spend these moments reading Isaiah and I pray. I write and refill my cup, I bow my head over these sacred words that I love all the better for the wrestling to release them from the prison I built for them. 

I begin to read, jotting down verses as the Spirit illuminates them to me…. Sometimes I write the names of my four tinies and then I write down a few words from Scripture that correspond with what I am praying over them….

So here I am, my father’s daughter, as the light breaks through the forest, writing down the names of my children and my husband, my friends and even the world at large — like our brothers and sisters in Iraq or Haiti or Burundi — and beside these scrawled names, I am writing the words of Scripture. Not like promises or talismans, not like magic spells, no. But to give language to what I yearn for, what I believe, and even what I hope. 

If your faith is strong and firm and neatly defined, then perhaps Bessey’s book isn’t for you. But one of my pastors once swept his hand around the church in which we were standing. He said, “Do you see all these people? All those people whose faith you admire most have asked these same questions that you ask.” That was a revelation to me, but it makes sense. If he is right, then this book would be right for every person whose heart longs for faith. You probably won’t walk Bessey’s paths. You may well not reach the same conclusions she did. But I think you will feel the love of the Lord and the moving of the Spirit.

How many stars are there in the rating system here? I don’t know, but I award them all.

Sarah Bessey has a blog, by the way. You can find it at http://sarahbessey.com/. Her description of herself kind of says it all: “Happy, clappy Jesus follower. Recovering know-it-all.” Sounds like someone I know!

Books: Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey

One of my blogs is about to disappear, and in the interest of saving it I am copying some of my previous posts into this blog. This post was from March 6, 2016.

Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women is not a book that would ever call to me from the bookstore shelf. It just feels completely irrelevant. I grew up in the late sixties and early seventies, when the feminist movement was at full throttle. It has always been a part of me. But it is not something that I have ever felt to be in con
flict with my faith, and never anything that has been an issue in my life or relationships. I know there are a few iffy scriptures and the arguments back and forth that might revolve around it, but I just never really cared about that particular question. Honestly, this book sounded like something that would be kind of dry and, well, boring.

I picked up Jesus Feminist, however, and I read it because I completely love the author, Sarah Bessey. She did not disappoint me. It was captivating.There is not a writer on earth who stirs my faith, and my desire for faith, more than Sarah Bessey. At first glance this might seem odd, since Bessey is possessed of a wandering, questioning heart. But it’s not so odd, because I possess the same heart, and so I identify with her words … words which also happen to be beautifully, exquisitely written, with ink blended from her tears, her sweat, her blood from the battle for her faith. This book is not a dry treatise on the place of a woman. I will tell you, I cried several times when reading this book, and I am not a cry-er. I cried over for-real things, like the girl who hanged herself because of rejection, like the orphans in Haiti that Bessey visited. I cried over Bessey’s miscarriages. But I cried much more when she wrote of the pain of having questions.

Bessey is the author also of Out of Sorts, a book I reviewed recently. As with that review, I think that there is nothing like Bessey’s own words. I can tell you what she said, but I can never tell you in the way she can. So just a few excerpts, if you don’t mind.

She described briefly the falling from faith that she had described more fully in Out of Sorts. I heard it in a different way this time, though.

I was drawn toward a life of redemptive peacemaking and justice seeking, yet the churches of my context and tradition were in a strange collusion with politics and just-war philosophy as the Iraq war began. I struggled with the cultural rhetoric against immigrants, homosexuals, artists, welfare recipients, the poor, non-Americans, and anyone who looked different or lived differently than the expectation. Cultural mores were passing as biblical mandates…

The more I learned about the life and world and tragedies thumping along beyond our seemingly missing the point building programs and Christian schools and drive-by missionary work, the more I ached and grieved and repented of my own sin and blindness….

The cracks were ricocheting and multiplying across my heart now, and when I turned to the Church for answers, I did not feel my questions were welcome. This may have been my own pride and willful blindness, but there didn’t seem to be room for me as a questioning woman within the system, as a seeker….

Bessey tried to keep her questions stuffed into her mental closet where they wouldn’t cause problems, but she reminded us of the over-stuffed closet in the cartoons, whose contents build up until the closet simply explodes. And this is what happened when Bessey’s closet of questions exploded.

Crash.

I know nothing for sure. Is God even real? What about my Bible? Church? People? Life? Meaning? Loss? Grief? Disillusionment? Soul weariness? Goodness? Evil? Tragedy? Suffering? Justice? Women? Equality? Politics? I know nothing, nothing, nothing.
And it’s not because I didn’t have “answers” — oh no, I had all the photocopied apologetics cheat sheets lined up in a neatly labeled three-ring binder, paragraphs highlighted to respond to the questions of the ages, all in three lines or less….
I have sincere regrets about the way I processed much of the shifting and changing; I’ve had to ask forgiveness from several friends and leaders. But the questions were legitimate, and now, I embarked on a journey through the wilderness of my wonderings with a seen-it-all-before smirk on my face and a profound ache in my soul.
But God set up a banquet in the wild places, streams of water flowed in the desert, and I walked and walked and walked right through the pain of disillusionment and despair, leaning into the wind….

The wilderness transformed me in a way that no ‘spiritual high’ or certainty or mountaintop moment had ever done…. I sought God, and he was faithful to answer me. I came to know him as ‘Abba’ — a Daddy. He set me free from crippling approval addiction…. He bathed my feet, bound my wounds, gave rest to my soul, restored the joy of church and community to our lives. I learned the difference between critical thinking and being just plain critical. And I found out that he is more than enough, always will be more than enough — yesterday, today, forever….

I know you have questions, and they’re much bigger than the whole curch-women-feminism-equality issues. I know. Me, too. Still. So I’ll carry you in my heart. Stay as long as you’d like; I’m in no rush. Hurry wounds a questioning soul.

My water in the desert arrived in cups fashioned by the hands of those who love the gospel. I found, right under my nose, people who love God and love others; their lives were a smelling-salts wake-up experience of grace. Sometimes they were the same people I lived alongside during those years of wondering and isolation in Texas. My loss is that, in my pride, I didn’t seem them there at the time.

I identify so closely with this, as a bleeding heart liberal who belongs to a conservative Christian church. I want to be sure that the government has programs in place to help those who are not able to help themselves. I’ve heard church leaders say, no that is not the job of the government; it is the job of the church to take care of the poor. But I know full well that all those people are not going to get the assistance they need from the churches. I mean, come now, many of these churches are made up of the same people who are talking about welfare recipients as being lazy bums. There is no room for judgment in the offer of assistance to people. I’ve been around and around with good Christian people about whether they should spare a dime for the beggar on the corner, because he might spend it on drugs or alcohol. And I say, if he does, that is on him, but if he needs help and I don’t offer it, then that is on me. And sometimes the help he needs can’t be met by a sandwich. I want also for my country to offer refuge to those who are fleeing the oppressive violence in Syria, but the conservative Christian response seems to be, “Uh, no. They might be terrorists. And we need to take care of our own people before taking care of people from other countries.”

Really? I mean, really? This is not what Jesus preached.

Then the King will say to those on his right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty, and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to me.

Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and take you in, or naked and clothe you? Or when did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you? And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.

Then he will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels, for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not take me in, naked and you did not clothe me, Sick and in prison and you did not visit me.

Then they will also answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?” Then He will answer them saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.

Matthew 25:34-45

Clear, no? Is there any way to argue against it? I don’t think so! And how about this one?

Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not and you shall not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you. 
Luke 6:37-38

Is it Biblical to believe that we have a responsibility to care for our own first, and that because of that it would be wrong to care for the Syrian refugees? That’s what the disciples thought, when they wanted to send away the 5,000 who had come to hear Jesus teach. They had just a few loaves and fishes, just enough for themselves, not enough to share with that massive crowd. But we believe, don’t we, that Jesus blessed the loaves and fishes and they turned out to be enough to feed the crowds with baskets full left over. Do we believe this, really? Really?

Perhaps I have crossed Bessey’s line, from critical thinking to critical, but I have been absolutely floored to hear these arguments coming from the mouths of some of the nicest, kindest, most God-loving people I know. I believe this happened because of the weird marriage that has occurred between conservative Christianity and political conservatism. But they are not the same, and political conservativism is not consistent with what was practiced in the Bible. In fact, according to acts 4:32, the early church was a socialist community.

Now, I can have fellowship with Christians who have different political viewpoints, and it does not affect my love for them at all. The thing is, I don’t do a very good job of keeping my mouth shut. I post on Facebook. I write this blog, with things like this very blog entry! I And when I blabber away, it doesn’t always feel like it’s okay. And, as Bessey said, this could simply be “my own pride and willful blindness.” Could be my imagination, or my feeling of guilt, or it might simply stem from my need for love and approval and fear that I won’t get it. I will admit that. But it hurts anyway because I kind of feel as though there is a part of my essential self, my essential faith for that matter, that is not quite acceptable, and maybe never will be. I don’t know if there will ever come a time in my life when I will stop asking questions. Just the Bible itself is a complex and difficult book, and I will have questions about it as long as I keep reading it. I have come to the point where I can hold onto my faith over, under and through the questions. I can take the questions to God in prayer. Sometimes I get an answer that is different from the answer someone else interpolated from their reading of the Scripture, but I believe that God can speak to me, and I can hear him. Another Bessey word: “We must obey God, and our obedience to God may be perceived as rebellion and pride by some; others will see it as giving in or not giving enough.” 

But back to Bessey and Jesus Feminist, the happy ending is Bessey’s heartfelt faith. Speaking of women’s ministries, she says:

I kept coming back because the truth is, I wanted what the world could not give me. I wanted Jesus, and I wanted women in my life who loved Jesus, too. Isn’t that is? We are seeking Jesus — we want to smell him on the skin of others, and we want to hear tell of his activity. We are seeking fellow travelers for this journey. We are hungry for true community, a place to tell our stories and listen, to love well, to learn how to have eyes and to see and ears to hear.

She describes herself as a “happy clappy follower of Jesus,” and she is in a fellowship of happy clappy followers of Jesus as well. She still has questions. She tells us that. But she has faith, and that is why I find her so inspiring.

Me? I can see the lights of that city on a hill growing bright, and it makes me want to fling open the doors. The Bridegroom is coming. Can’t you feel that? In the ache and struggle and evil of our imperfect world, no wonder we long for the Kingdom of God’s shalom right down to our marrow. The tears are pricking; my heart is beating; something is happening here: Aslan is on the move. God’s dream is coming true, day by painful push-back-the-darkness day.

Bessey has come full circle and found her place in the the body. It sounds like a good place, a happy place. I so long for that. I want to dig in so deep into God that there is no crawling out again.  I want to worship, and I want to serve. I want to love, and if I have a fault it is that I want to love, love, love, exceedingly and above all. Thanks to Sarah Bessey for pioneering through the wilderness and assuring me that there is a destination, and it can be reached.

What if God’s purposes are bigger than your answered prayers?

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The title of this blog was taken from a Facebook status posted by the associate pastor of our church. He and his wife are currently experiencing a heartbreaking situation, as she is pregnant with a baby who is not expected to survive more than a few hours after birth. What is in their minds and hearts? I can only guess. Thousands of prayers are being offered for them, for their baby. What are they expecting to happen? I don’t know.I can only imagine.

But I understand the sentiment of this statement, what if God’s purposes are bigger than your answered prayers? I understand it because when I was diagnosed with breast cancer there were people who wanted to (and did) pray for a miraculous healing. But I knew in my heart that was not to be. I knew that this was a journey I had to take, for whatever reasons, for whatever purposes. Maybe it is for myself, to learn, to grow, to become the person I am supposed to become. Will cancer weaken me, or will it strengthen me? Who knows, I might end up competing in the Tour de France after it’s over! Or I might just be in my own individual spiritual Tour de France. Maybe it will touch other people’s lives. My children’s, for certain. I have seen this already in a few ways, for better, or for worse which will end up better, if you know what I mean. Maybe there is one stranger out there whose life I can end up touching through this. Who knows?

But this I know, we were not promised a rose garden. Bad things happen, even to good people. Life is hard sometimes. God has works to perform in our lives and in our hearts, and like the works of a surgeon or an oncologist, those works are not always pleasant in the moment. But they are for good, for a purpose beyond what others may see.

We can see it, though, if we are honest. We may not understand it, but we can sense it. We know when God is moving in our lives, because even though we may not like what is happening, even when we might sometimes have sleepless nights, tears, even a panic attack, behind even those things there is a sense of peace.

I am afraid of what I am about to do, it is true. I’m not sure where I am going or where I will end up. But behind it all, there really is that sense of peace. I have had a whole lot of practice in resting in that peace while toiling through the deepest, darkest places in this world, as most of you know. This is just another thing.

 

Breast Cancer Journey: Stuff Gets Real

img_1406I had a second surgery this past week. Some of the skin they left after my mastectomy had died and had to be removed. After the surgery was over I posted on Facebook, “I had a great time.” The sad thing is, that was true. It says something about your life when surgery is the highlight of your day. But they numbed me. They sedated me. They all took care of me, including my husband. They made sure I was not in pain and that I did not get lost.

In contrast, that morning I had met with the medical oncologist for the first time. He explained to me that my cancer right now is Stage IIIC. That is the last stage before Stage IV, which is metastatic breast cancer, meaning cancer that has spread to other organs. And they haven’t ruled that out either. The oncologist also commented that I’d had a completely clear mammogram in 2014, and then in October 2015 they find a cancer that turns out to have already advanced to IIIC.  It is lobular cancer, which doctors keep saying is “tricky,” first because it apparently grows in sheets so is hard to find, and also, according to the oncologist, if it returns it returns aggressively. Therefore, we are going to have to use the biggest guns available: a total of 20 weeks of chemotherapy, followed by probably six weeks of radiation, followed by five years of hormone therapy. And the chemo? It’s not some new, gentle chemo that has been developed in recent years. It’s the stuff that causes you to lose your hair, suffer nausea, mouth sores, bone pain. The worst of it, a combination that includes “the red devil,” will be given for the first eight weeks. I think the following 12 weeks are a little easier. I also get steroids. So I think this means I get to be bald and bloated, although ultimately chemo generally results in a dramatic weight loss.

It will probably be four weeks until I start the chemo, because I have to heal properly from my surgeries. I also have to have an echocardiogram to make sure my heart is strong enough for chemo, and the PET scan to make sure there isn’t any other cancer hiding anywhere.

So how am I doing? I am going more than a little stir crazy with the recovery from the surgery. I still have a drain, which prevents me from being able to do so many things, including just rolling around in bed at night and wearing a bra.  I remain relatively calm, however. I’ve done only a little online research. It talks in terms of 5-year and 10-year survival rates, and I got a little choked up over that, because I was able to think about how old my grandson would be in five or ten years, and there was so much more of his life I wanted to see. But I spoke to a friend yesterday whose mother in law had Stage III breast cancer, and she just celebrated 20 years cancer free. And that is what I intend to do. I am not looking forward to the treatments ahead, but I got through the surgery and I will get through this. My faith stumbles along, one day at a time, and I am stumbling with it.

I was reading some old journal entries this morning, and I read the one I wrote right after my repeat mammogram, when I started to suspect something might be wrong. I was reading a YA book at the time, Afterward by Jennifer Mathieu, and I wrote a quote from it in my journal: “I’m not going to try to reduce the weight of your burden, but I’m going to help you grow strong enough to carry it.” Yes, that is what I believe. That is what I feel.

I have that faith for my own journey. But if there is an area where I struggle, it is my ability to provide for my family, both financially and emotionally. Why is it so much more difficult to muster faith for that? Nothing new, though. It has always been this way. And yet always, somehow, we have survived. I have been intending for years to write, have two books swirling in my mind and word processing programs, but I have a paralysis because I am afraid that they will amount to nothing. Silly, I know, because in the process what does the outcome really matter? God has given me grace periods in which to pursue this, and has extended them again and again. I pray that what he has given me will not go to waste. Also written in my journal were these words:

“And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the waters of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left…. And he will give rain for the seed with wich you sow the ground, and bread, the produce of the ground, which will be rich and plenteous.” Isaiah 30:20-23

But I noted also the verse right before it: “He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you.” This was one of the words my pastor gave me for the journey. He talked about Peter walking on the water, but later elaborated that Jesus had only stopped to allow that because the disciples had been afraid and had called out to him for help.

So, Lord, here I am. I am calling out to you! I am afraid. Be with me. You don’t have to do it all for me, but help me to do it. Set my feet in the right paths, show me the way, and let me walk in it.

Notes from the wilderness

imageHello world. I have left my nest of pillows and blankets on the couch and I am sitting at the kitchen table. It’s kind of cold here, shivery. But it feels a little more human like. I’m getting tired of recovery from surgery. No, a lot tired of it. It’s kind of depressing actually.

And perhaps this is part of why I am where I am spiritually, which is in the Wilderness. There have been times in my life when I can read the Bible, and say amen, when I can find passages that feel like God is speaking right to me and it sets my heart alight. There have been times when I talked to God, and he seems present, and answers. Now I read the Bible and say, “Eh?” I pray and it isn’t necessarily that I feel God isn’t there, but he is sitting on a hard chair across the room and not answering.

Maybe I feel like he doesn’t like me that much.

It has never been my in my thoughts that if God loves you, bad things don’t happen to you. In fact, quite the opposite has been my thought: that if God loves you, he allows into your life the experiences you need to grow and become the person you came to this life to be, and to contribute to the world the special gifts you have to contribute. That is what I believe.

Emotions are a funny thing, however, and especially so for me. I have had so many emotions that have tried to kill me I have learned to bury them, and I have come to have a hard time dealing with them on a surface level. Even now, how do I feel? Honestly, I know I am scared. I am scared to have a PET scan because so far every place they have looked for cancer, they have found it. I have the American Cancer Association figures in my head. Stage III breast cancer has a 72 percent five-year survival rate. Not bad. But if it shows up anywhere else, it would become Stage IV, and that has a 22 percent five year survival rate. Numbers dancing in my head, although as long as the number is greater than zero I intend to be part of the survivors.

And I’m at a loss as to how this happened, and happened so quickly. It’s not as though I never had mammograms!

But I don’t feel afraid, if that makes sense. There are tears that sometimes leak out but I’m not sure where they come from, or where they are going.

Right now I just think life will be better when I get rid of these drains and bandages, when I can get shower and get dressed and leave the house, when I can do things for myself instead of having to ask for help with stupid little things. As long as I am stuck in the house, I think perhaps the rain and storms we have had have been a little bit comforting, but my heart will feel lighter when the sun shines again, and when leaving my nest on the couch doesn’t cause me to shiver.

Life would also be better if I felt a little less alone spiritually, if God was not sitting silent on that hard chair across the room, if I read the Bible, or anything, and felt it speak to me, although truth to tell reading at all has been kind of difficult since surgery. I stopped taking the percocet during the day because the words were muddling themselves up when I tried to read or write, but there still seems to be a bit of a drag in the mental functions. I am just plain tired.

Time, time, time. That is what it will take here. Time to heal. Time to move on. Time.

Tuesday is Michaela’s birthday. I was looking at my calendar the other day trying to figure out when my next doctor’s appointment is. I saw a dot on the 24th and thought, no, I don’t have an appointment that early in the week. I had to open it up in order to see that it is Michaela’s birthday. How could that have ever slipped my mind?

My heart breaks.

Again.

 

 

Faith battles: Is God Speaking?

14138823_10207205513795653_6220339703742543748_oMy faith in God is not based in my mind. There are too many questions there. We are talking about things that are completely beyond what at least my mind can grasp. Faith is like quantum physics. My mind says, “Huh? Can you show me that please? Cause it makes no sense at all, and I’m not quite sure I even like it.”

My faith in God is not based in my emotions. My emotions are all over the place. My emotions are wrapped in abandonment and despair. How could they possibly support the idea of a God who loves and cares for me? How can I open myself up to the possibility of further abandonment, not only by a God I put my trust in, but by people because of that trust?

Instead, my faith in God is based in experience. It is based in God calling to me, speaking to me, very occasionally holding me.

For a long time, God was not speaking to me. I lived in unbelief, wanting to believe, but God was silent. Yet I kept chasing God, calling to him. And finally, when I reached a bottom of sorts, he spoke. The first word was a passage from the Bible he had used to call me before. I’d tucked a highlighter randomly into the middle of my Bible, and when I opened it I thought at first it was a psalm someone else had mentioned that I’d intended to look at more deeply, so I stopped to read it before moving on. I was surprised and encouraged when I saw it was a passage in Hosea which was so personal and special to me. The next day again, a similar passage, this time in Joel, verses in which God is calling Israel back to himself, telling them that his love for them is unending.

The next day I read a blog about the prodigal son, about the Father being so overjoyed about his son’s return that he ran to him when he was still far off. The son had thought the father would be angry at him for leaving home and squandering his inheritance, but he wasn’t. He was just happy to have his son back.

And the next day, I read a meditation by Ted Dekker, and it also was on the prodigal son.

One message, two confirmations.

This morning I was sitting here, feeling a little sick, my mind not lining up still, my heart honestly just grieving. In my Bible reading, I was in John 20, the resurrection story. I read that when Mary went to the tomb, she met Jesus there, but she didn’t recognize him until he called her name. And I thought yes, that is me. It takes him calling my name for me to see him. The Bible itself says that the message of the gospel is foolishness to those who haven’t heard that call. Yet I am still with Thomas, saying wait, let me put my fingers in the holes in your hands.

Then I am with Peter. I identify so closely with Peter, with Jesus telling Peter that he would deny Jesus three times, but when he returned he should strengthen his brothers. In the final chapter of John, Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Peter gets exasperated over this repeated question, saying, “Lord you know I love you.” But each time Peter answers, Jesus tells him, “Feed my sheep.” For each of Peter’s denials, Jesus has given him an affirmation, and has reinforced his direction to strengthen his brothers, to feed his sheep. And finally, “Follow me,” even after predicting that Peter would die for his faith.

I was also listening to worship music this morning while I was doing my Bible study, and as I was digesting this, I was reminded that wandering is not unique to me, or even to modern times. The 18th century hymn, Come Thou Font of Every Blessing, says, “Let that grace now, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee. Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love. Here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it. Seal it for thy courts above.”

Then the next song came on, one of my favorites, Brokenness Aside by All Sons & Daughters. “Will your grace run out if I let you down? Cause all I know is how to run. Cause I am a sinner. If it’s not one thing it’s another, caught up in words, tangled in lies…. Will you call me child when I tell you lies, cause all I know is how to cry.”

Again, one message, then one confirmation, coming right on top of one another.

And yet, as I believe, still I doubt. Maybe I’m just crazy. Is it all just coincidence? Maybe I’m making things up to make myself feel better. But perhaps that is the purpose of these messages, to tell me that God knows this, that I wander and doubt, but he still seeks me, still calls me, that he will make it beautiful, that perhaps even he will use it to some day, some way, to feed his sheep, to strengthen his children.

As God seeks me, I seek him. Through the rain I seek the rainbow. Lord, make it beautiful. Please. My heart is aching.

Tap tap tug tug

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It’s happening again. It’s this dance that is both boring and dizzying. And embarrassing, humiliating, humbling. I am feeling this tap tap on my shoulder, this tug tug on my heart.

It’s God. Or perhaps it is just my desire for God.

There are certain things that will trigger it, and oddly enough they are generally to do with the Bible. I have a friend on social media, an old friend of my son’s actually, who posts photos of her husband with a Bible on the table in front of him, a pen in his hand, a notebook to the side. Yesterday I went to breakfast with my family, and there was a young man in the restaurant with the same, Bible open on the table, well used and underlined, a pen and a notebook. I couldn’t help myself. I kept turning to look at him. There is simply a very visceral reaction that occurs when I see these things, a deep, deep longing, a desire.

Sarah Bessey writes:

“I open my Bible, just like my father did every morning of his life. I know that this very morning, he was also in what he still calls ‘the Word.’ And I am my father’s daughter. I am in the Word, just not quite in the same way anymore. I spend these moments reading Isaiah and I pray. I write and I refill my cup, I bow my head over these sacred words that i love all the better for the wrestling to release them from the prison I built for them…. I cling more to the Bible now than I used to; I lean more heavily on the stories and promises, on the visions and the hope. I am challenged and changed in ways I never was when I took every word literally — now that I take them so seriously. Now the Bible places a demand on both my mind and my heart; now I finish with my hands open and prayer in my throat, a fire in my bones and worship rising up, and the ferocious appetite to be transformed, even more, into the likeness of Jesus, into the heart God has for humanity.”

Sarah, Sarah, Sarah what are you saying? How did you do this? How do you divorce the oft times viciousness of the ancient tribal understanding of God from the reality? Where do you draw the line? What is God and what isn’t?

And if it is not all true, why oh why would we spend so much time and energy on it? If there are cracks in the foundation, how can you build on it?

I am still angry. I feel kind of like a wife who is continually lured back into a relationship with a husband who is just slightly abusive. What is it? Why is it? I have been down this path before. I have said, no, no, no, I don’t want to go. Yet I have been slowly drawn back. Each time, though, there has been that little bit of extra distance. I have never forgotten the betrayal, so that when I see the signs again I may choose to not give attention to them, but I can’t just ignore them. They are big, black, glaring spots on my field of vision.

I don’t see the point really. It’s just that this desire keeps stirring in my heart, and desire is beyond reason.