Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thankful and Free

I am both thankful and free. These two words have so many different meanings to so many different people. We can be thankful for anything ranging from glad to be out from under tyrannical government control, to thankful we don't have to spend Thanksgiving with Cousin Eddie who drives us nuts. We can be free from institutional control on the outside, and be free from institutional control still on the inside.

As a dear Canadian-born friend of mine pointed out, Americans are relentlessly patriotic. Holidays such as Memorial day, Fourth of July and Thanksgiving are heavily promoted, especially by religious conservatives, those in or related to those in the armed services, and ahem, those whose homeschool product catalogues land in our mailboxes each year around this time. It's as though being Christian and being free is defined entirely by our cultural religious heritage.

Everyone knows that our Thanksgiving holiday is based on the memories of long-ago Pilgrims from Holland and England who fled their oppressive government to worship in freedom. They were willing to travel, leave their homeland and many family and friends, endure starvation and sickness, and go to a place they knew nothing about, in order to obtain the freedom to worship as they felt was right.

I look around me today and see most of the people I know making plans for Thanksgiving in traditional ways. This is a happy and fulfilling occasion for some. However, I know a number of people who complain, gripe and get nervous and tense when Thanksgiving approaches. They roll their eyes at the number of people expected to come over, worry about their husband and their mother getting into a spat, wonder if Cousin Eddie is going to show up drunk again, fret that the bathroom isn't clean enough for Grandma's white-glove inspection.

I had one friend sigh and say, "here it comes." She was going to drive to a relative's house for Thanksgiving, and admitted she didn't like the people who were going to be there. Another friend wondered if her mom would notice the tension between her and her husband. A third said that if her mother in law didn't think her house was clean enough, she could just go stay in a motel.

We invited friends over who had to decline because they were due at Grandma's house. Their kids said, "I don't want to go. Can't we go to THEIR house instead?" In years past, I've invited friends over for Thanksgiving who I could tell were tempted by my invitation, but they were going to go to their Mom's house to sit and try for several hours to get along with their nitpicky sisters and their boorish-joke-telling brothers-in-law without losing their cool.

For people whose holiday was founded on religious, spiritual and cultural freedom, so many of us Americans sure are die-hard traditionalists. For years, Thanksgiving meant making that green bean casserole (blech) with mushroom soup, watching no one eat it, and stick it in the fridge to finally feed to the dog. It meant going to relative's houses because it was expected. It meant turkey and dressing because that's just what you have for Thanksgiving. It meant taking home gobs of leftover pie that no one ate because no one is crazy about it, to appease the relatives so I wouldn't hurt their feelings. It meant eating more than I was hungry for, so whoever cooked wouldn't get their feelings hurt. Of course, there were hours of football to be watched all day (I can't stand football), and of course, it was ALWAYS raining and cold on Thanksgiving, and no one was really interested in talking, so I had no alternatives but to sit there.

As Americans, we've been heavily conditioned with the Norman Rockwell-styled images of Thanksgiving and how things are 'supposed' to look. This puts an enormous amount of pressure on everyone, perhaps especially those whose relatives treat them like crap or who have no family to get together with. I am thankful that this year, God is working to set me free from another set of 'shoulds' about how I've been conditioned Thanksgiving should look, that just don't apply in my life.

Certainly there is a time to endure food and relatives you're not crazy about. There is also a time to say "enough already! let's make some changes!" when the relentless marching of the years going by means that you feel emptier and more annoyed as each holiday is done mostly for the sake of tradition and appeasing others' feelings.

This year, due to several circumstances, we stayed home - just our immediate family. Our friends all had family obligations - I truly hope they all are enjoying themselves. We didn't have turkey - we had chicken, and a host of finger foods that we like. No yucky green bean casserole, giblet gravy or giant pecan pies showed up on the table, because no one likes it. Even if it is in the Tradition Rule Book that you're supposed to have all these things on Thanksgiving. We're free to follow the Rule Book if we like it, or toss it if we don't.

We didn't read the Bible or any Christian American Heritage books. These days I find that I just don't care any more about re-reading and trying to re-create what our early forefathers did. Just because they were 'founding fathers' of freedom, doesn't mean my freedom will look like theirs. So instead, we watched movies, played music and went walking.

As Christians we are actually free not to even celebrate this holiday, if we don't feel it in our heart to do so. The same goes for Christmas, the roots of which are actually pagan. I'm not making an argument for Christmas being wrong, just a choice rather than a rule or obligation.

To all who read this, I hope you are having, or had, a happy Thanksgiving, however that looked for you. If it wasn't a happy Thanksgiving, I ask you to consider, as I did - is it partly a problem of further renewing of the mind that has yet to take place? What does freedom mean to you?

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. - Galatians 5:1

Friday, October 15, 2010


I've been left wondering what people do when we come up empty praying for a wounded, broken or faded relationship. When we leave our spouse and take the kids, or are no longer speaking to our parents, or get to the point where we have to block a former friend on facebook so they can't harass us anymore. How did things get this bad? we wonder. We certainly had good intentions... we never wanted to fight with this person, we wanted a good relationship, we did all we could to make it that way.

Sometimes, though, you come to the point of realizing that you are just empty. You have done your best to improve the relationship, or maybe just manage the relationship. Or maybe some of both. Then one day, you run out of gas, like a car on the side of the road. The relationships in life that are supposed to nurture you are draining you and making you feel as dry and cracked as a patch of ground in West Texas in August.

You wonder if anyone is praying for the person you felt you had to walk away from before they drove you insane. You feel like YOU should, but you can't. You try, but the words don't come. You are just drained. You're past caring much about anything concerning that person or relationship right now, except that you got out of it with your sanity intact.

For many of us, especially women, there's still that little voice saying it's our fault. We should have been more patient, tried harder, given more. Like with the Institutional God, anything you can do was never good enough. We all grew up watching TV shows with 'good guys' and 'bad guys' and that's how we've been taught to view people in broken or rifted relationships.

Maybe the first thing that is needed is to try to stop seeing 'the good guys' and 'the bad guys.' Although in some situations one person was clearly more at fault, can people just agree to part ways when they can't get along? Even if they're related, even if they used to be best friends?

Better yet would be to repair the relationship, but I've lost a lot of hope for that because I just don't see it happen. What I see a lot of is divorce, broken friendships, extended family who won't speak to each other. I know God's heart is for restoration. Do we have to wait for heaven to see this happen? Today I just don't know.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


For those of us who have been compelled to follow God 'outside the box,' we have come to realize that relationships, between us and God, and each other, are valuable above all else. Yet there are times when we experience the pain and frustration of realizing that we don't have ultimate control over how any of our relationships turn out.

A few journey-mates and I are all dealing with relationship situations in our own lives that we can't seem to fix, improve, or sometimes even hang onto. We ask ourselves and each other, was it us? After all, we're not perfect either. We re-comb the scene of destruction, re-playing family gatherings, arguments, and dynamics. Are we bad parents? Bad sons or daughters? Crummy friends? What could we have done differently? Would it have made a difference? Even if the break or the wound in the relationship wasn't our fault, is there anything more we could do to repair it? This question haunts many folks who love people that we can't live in harmony with.

So to all of you out there

-whose spouse seems distant, and you wonder if they'll leave you for another one day, or maybe they already have,
-whose parents seem bent on 'being right' above all else, including having relationship with their children or grandchildren,
-whose grown children won't talk to you and your efforts to repair the break are stonewalled,
-whose family members are making choices that are upsetting and bewildering to you,
- whose friend has discarded you like an old newspaper and you're still trying to recover from the shock so you can grieve,
-whose relationship with their child is going through a difficult season,
-whose family structure has fractured in a dozen different places and they're all hoping you'll take sides with them, even as they look to you to fix it,
-who wonders if their life will ever be the same after the loss of a relationship that was torn from their life and left an aching hole.

I'm going to talk about this for a few blogs. Relationship trouble, and seemingly irreparable rifts in relationships with folks we love, seems to be a given in a fallen world. Yet my heart of hearts insists this shouldn't be so, for people supposedly planning on spending eternity together.

May we all find peace as we tread through the valleys of life.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. - Revelation 21: 1-4

Monday, October 4, 2010


Now and then, I’m blessed to see a time of unity among people who might otherwise have a hard time finding anything in common. I spend time with a group of people each month so we can play our stringed instruments together. We play folk songs, fiddle songs, hymns. Sometimes we sing with the music, other times we just play. We always have a great time and I go home feeling full.

Now if I were to spend the day in church with these same people, I’d likely go home feeling drained. After a day spent listening to a preacher talk and the group discussion (if there is any) is about trying harder to be good and please God, I’d be ready to go home and take a nap even if the group of people was my best friends. But then, at this point in my walk, this group of people couldn’t be my best friends.

So I spent the whole weekend at a folk music festival with a bunch of conservative WASPS, most of whom probably only miss the weekly church meeting for special occasions such as out-of-town music festivals. I’m sure none of them ever cuss, smoke or drink. I’m also sure they’d mostly think I’m off my rocker for being a ‘free believer.’ In this setting, though, I feel right at home with them.

Our focus was not on our differences in doctrine, or on dos and don’ts, or on religion at all for the most part. Our focus was on what we all love: music. We talked some, about the pretty weather and about how to play this or that chord differently, but mostly we just played. We played songs together that we knew, and listened to songs played by others that we didn’t know. We sang (sometimes off key) and laughed off our mistakes. We asked each other how long we’d been playing an instrument, rather than how long we’d been going to this church. We shared what we knew that someone else could learn from. Obviously there was no need to shove it down each other’s throat. Funny how only church doctrine conversations usually take on that tone.

There was an unusual and enjoyable church service Sunday morning, ending the weekend. We sang A Capella gospel music, then heard a sermon on unity in the church, and how that is what God’s heart is. There were many denominations represented there, and I wonder what the reaction was in some of them as they listened to the preacher tell them that many church traditions stand in the way of unity in the body. It’s true. Yet the whole weekend, this group of people had been unified through music and love for the God that we all worship. It was a balm to my soul. I hope this brought some healing to others, as well.

The most amusing and touching part of the weekend was seeing my conservative Baptist friends from our music group go wild cheering over the dynamic performance of a self-described black Indian named Bing Futch. Visually, he blended about as well as a chocolate bar in a sea of marshmallows. He was the only non-WASP there, with dark skin, dreadlocks down past his waist, and several ear and nose piercings. Moving among the crowd of conservative 70 year old Baptist ladies in their clean white tennis shoes and jackets with their church logos on the front, he seemed perfectly happy and at ease. Everyone there had wonderful things to say about him as a person as well as a performer; I didn’t get to meet him but he seems to really love people.

His music is full of his own history (his-story) which is African and Seminole. While I love traditional American folk music, I’ve often felt it’s very limiting to understanding the struggles, pain and joy of the human race. Hearing Bing’s music brought images of proud, brave, strong and yet often downtrodden people of the past and present, from all over the globe. People who have often been used as stepping stones for the white man’s greed and glory.

I have always felt that the WASP version of Christ and Christianity is sadly lacking. The blend of selfish ambition and self-aggrandizement that is so common to the ‘progress’ of the white race is all too obvious in most of Churchianity. I believe this prideful attitude is at the root of the insistence of the salvation-by-works doctrine that is at least blended into the doctrine of ‘grace’ at most church buildings. (Some buildings don’t even bother with the grace part).

So the idea of what Jesus might look like is not fixed in my mind. I have always laughed at the insistent images of Christ portrayed in most Protestant works of art, both ancient and modern. He is always slim, blue-eyed and lily-white, with immaculate brown hair to his shoulders. (My husband, who has access to a much better hairbrush than Jesus could have had, never achieves such a smooth look). He is always dressed in a clean and blindingly white robe, with a glow about his head and usually a martyred, distant look on his face. It has never appealed to me.

We can be Christ to one another, or at least try to. The 'Christ' I experienced in most of my time in traditional church was white, with freshly clipped short hair, starched to the nines and always carrying a Bible. If I asked for help, they had the answer in the book and sent me on my way (that is, if they even had time for me at all).

No, the Jesus I find appealing and long for, if I try to picture him in a fleshly vessel, is one of dark, dark skin and thick, knotted hands, scarred and tough from years of work. Maybe he has long dreadlocks, or maybe just long bad hair. Maybe he wears traditional African garb, or maybe a dirty t-shirt and jeans. His eyes are as dark and rich and filled with love as can be. He says “hey little sister” when he sees me and I find such comfort burying my face in his hair, breathing in his scent and feeling his warm, strong arms around me. He might hold me as I cry, or tell me a story. Maybe he'll take me on a ride down the highway on his Harley, telling me with a wink, "Hang on little sister, here we go."

What would the reaction be around here in the rural Baptist Bible belt, in one of the ‘white’ churches, if such a man appeared in their building? Would they run? Some might. Others might throw him out. Me, I’d want to leave the building and go have coffee with him. Maybe we could just talk, hang out. Maybe we could sing “Amazing Grace” together as we strummed our instruments, laughing at our off-key voices. I know he wouldn’t try to ‘fix’ me. We’d just love each other, and play our music, and that unity is what would bring healing.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


For some time now, I've felt inexplicably caught up in a longing to know God in the flesh. After years of having insitutional versions of "correct" drilled into me until I was ready to throw up, I'm tired. I don't even care about people's doctrines at this point, except to worry about how they're going to hurt someone else with them.

While I'm on my 80's movie kick, I'll probably revisit a lot of bad perms, leg warmers, music by Bob Seger and Kenny Loggins, and marijuana smoking movie scenes. I'm looking past the silliness to search for essence. So far, the most outstanding movie of "essence" that I've watched has been "Mask."

Eric Stolz plays Rocky Dennis, a teen whose face is disfigured by a rare disease called craniodiaphyseal dysplasia. Cher plays his drug addict, rock and roll, motorcycle-gang mom Rusty Dennis. Although I've always found Cher to be an overdone caricature as a singer and entertainer, she was truly outstanding as Rocky's mom in "Mask."

Modern day Pharisees, of course, would be horrified that anyone calling themselves a Christian would watch such a movie. Drugs! Sex! Dirty language! Rough elements! A prostitute! Oh my God, call the doctrine police! But for those mature enough to look past the exterior and see the essence, this movie is truly a gem. The essence of love is raw, simple and powerful throughout the movie.

Rusty's love for Rocky is evident in many touching scenes, in between her bouts with drugs and a revolving door of boyfriends. The love that her motorcycle gang friends have for each other is a lot simpler and stronger than I've ever felt loved at 'the church.' They drink beer, smoke, sing, brawl, and stick together through life, death, breakups, pain, and heartache. Rusty's on-again, off-again boyfriend Gar is far more of a nurturing father figure to Rocky than I ever had myself.

But the most touching scenes are between Rocky and Diana, the blind girl he meets while he's away working as a counselor's aide at a summer camp for the blind. They fall in love; the boy who 'couldn't get a girl' wins the heart of this beautiful young woman because though she is blind, she can see, far better than most people with 20/20 vision.

While riding horseback in the mountains, Rocky tries to describe colors and clouds to Diana. She doesn't get it; she's been blind since birth. Rocky loves her and wants her to understand, to share in the world of sight and color that he knows. Yet he knows she needs a way to be able to 'see' such beauty; the ordinary way that most people can rely on is not going to register with her.

Below is a scene from the movie; near the end is, in my opinion, the most outstanding scene in the movie, where Rocky has thought of a way to connect the concept of sight to a girl who was born blind. This scene is so overpowering to me now, as one searching for God in the rawest, purest form, that I'll remember it always. Diana can't 'see' the 'correct' truth, but she grasps the essence of truth. It doesn't matter now that she can't see 'red' or 'green' with her eyes; she understands their essence. There are some people who see these colors all the time, but their essence is meaningless.

I've felt stuck in being unable to understand the correct truth of what a father looks like. The concept of a brother seems safer, and I've gotten some help with that, but still have not been able to dive in and totally get the essence of either concept. I want to understand a totally safe and loving place in a father, a brother, but it just doesn't register. I'm hoping that someday this side of heaven, it finally will.

The idea of Jesus roaring down a highway on a Harley, with me resting my face on his back behind him, is the kind of God experience I'm yearning for now. I don't care if I ever do another cheeze-ball fill-in-the-blank Bible study as long as I live. I just want the real deal. God in the flesh. This movie gives me hope that one day, I'll really, truly get it; the essence of God's love.

Friday, September 10, 2010

More Division

The term "divide and conquer" is obviously well grounded in reality. Division makes any group of people, of any size, much easier to conquer, even destroy.

Each Sept. 10 now marks the anniversary of another remembrance of the last day that we experienced the feelings of safety and unity we once had, however falsely based that some of those feelings were. This year, I am especially sad at the the planned building of a mosque near the site of 9/11. I am even more distressed at the plans of the "pastor" Terry Jones to hold a public burning of the Koran in his church group. Really? Just what does he think this will accomplish?

I am going to quote a quote from Jim Palmer's "Wide Open Spaces" that is heavy on my heart today:

I Hate You.
You Hate Me.
We Hate Them.
They Hate Us.
What does it take to change this?

- Connie on MySpace, as quoted in "Wide Open Spaces"

These words planted a seed within me that has continued to germinate. Religion teaches that God is synonymous with a specific belief system. Each system claims to have "right" beliefs about God, which are passionately held by its adherants - so much so that hate, bitter resentment, bloodshed, and even war can result from disagreement about God. A brief overview of world history shows that bad things happen when religious belief systems clash. That is what Connie was feeling. She had experienced religious hate in her own world, was fed up, and voiced it in nineteen sobering words.

- Jim Palmer, "Wide Open Spaces"

I am also posting this video clip which immediately came to mind.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


I was blessed to spend last weekend in Dallas with some wonderful free believer friends, both old and new. We had some edifying and thought-provoking discussions on both Friday and Saturday evening. Sunday, Darin gave an inspiring message on the difference between being a chef and being a cook. The spiritual parallels are endless when I start thinking about them. So I am going to write another blog as a series of contrasts.

A cook is more or less a servant. His job is to make a big pan of relatively tasteless filler and put it out for everyone to line up and plop some on their plate. He doesn't deviate from the recipe he's given; he just follows instructions. It doesn't take a whole lot of deep thought, or being closely in tune with his heart to do his job.

The Sunday school teacher couple whose class my husband and I have attended (endured?) make me think of a series of words that begin with the letter D: dutiful, diligent, dedicated... dry. If the people in the class had any original thoughts outside the approved religious voices, they kept them to themselves. Attending class was okay at first, we'd spent Sundays alone for so long. Eating warmed-over cafeteria food might be OK when you're really starving, but after a while it starts to leave a yucky taste in your mouth. It reminded me of my grandmother's cooking that I ate as a kid. I loved her dearly but still shudder at the memories of her vegetables cooked to beyond dead.

A chef, however, is an artist. Food is food? Maybe to people who have never tasted the difference. A chef prepares something unique, beautiful, perhaps unreproducible. He puts his heart into what he is doing; he knows each ingredient well and uses it wisely. The senses are on high alert all the time he's working.

I saw the bald guy with the grin and knew I was in the right place. Through the weekend, I listened one at a time to the people talk, trying to get a feel for their personality and their journey. Some were chipper and happy, some more melancholy and quiet. A couple didn't look like they were thrilled to be there, but maybe they were just unsure or feeling burned out on anything to do with God. Some were funny, some were sensitive and vulnerable and sad. Some had had real epiphanies and were not hesitant about sharing them. It was like seeing a bunch of fresh, bright, crisp vegetables, herbs, oils and spices turning into a huge salad delight.

Boxed mixes make it easy. Open these packages, add a couple of things, and bake until done. Mmm, good. The fact that the dehydrated potatoes still seem pretty flat and chewy after adding water and cooking shouldn't bother you. This is how it's done. Just do it and don't ask questions.

We sat for hours each evening, sharing our stories and our thoughts. Nothing was taboo. People could hardly wait for their chance to share, and listened to each other eagerly. The conversation kept going until we had to leave and lock the building both evenings. Darin facilitated the conversations, but he didn't have to do much. Kind of different from the Sunday school teacher's doing most of the talking and the quiet class reciting short, mostly rote religious answers when she urged us to give her feedback. My husband and I were the loose cannons, darn those people who keep trying to put foreign herbs and spices into that boxed mix meal.

The first time I drank a green smoothie, I turned my head sideways and looked at the glass with raised eyebrows every few swallows. Hmm, different. I think I put a little too much greens in. I tried again, this time with more fruit and a handful of pumpkin seeds. I had never had such a drink before, but it was like my body had been asking for this for years.

I went 'to church' at four different places over a ten year period. We were there anywhere from a few months to a few years. The conversations and the relationships rarely made it to a really meaningful level, and never lasted once we left the building. Hugs were often exchanged in a polite and rather distant manner. I often felt sadder and emptier than I had before arriving at the meeting.

At the free believer gathering, new acquaintances eagerly talked with each other openly. We hugged each other enthusiastically in greeting and in parting, genuinely glad to see each other as well as genuinely sad to leave each other. It was like we had always been connected in spirit, though many of us had just met each other face to face. Many of us didn't really even have an internet relationship prior to meeting. Good nourishment just tends to play out like that.

While teaching my kids to cook, I've had to tell them a few times that turning the heat up twice as high does not make the food cook twice as fast. The food will instead be burned on the outside and raw in the middle. Waiting for food to cook at the right temperature, for the right amount of time, can be hard when you have little patience and are really hungry besides.

While the weekend was wonderful, it also stirred up some painful and messy feelings and longings that sometimes I think I'd rather just not deal with, because it doesn't seem like they're ever going to go away or get much better. The longings I've held in my heart since I was a small child that I still carry to this day. The longing for a family, a huge family, a loving family, a whole bunch of people whose hearts are totally interconnected and who are just there multiplying each other's joy. While I know that these fellow free believers are my spiritual family, the fact remains that when the weekend was over, we still all had to get into our cars (or onto airplanes) and travel many miles, sometimes hundreds of miles, away from each other to go home.

I felt very sad late Sunday night at home, missing my free believer family. I found myself wishing that I'd had 'real' sisters and brothers just like them. That we'd been born into the same family and have that bond, along with the privileges of that relationship. That we'd have known each other all our lives, that our children would be buddies, that I know I'd see them at Thanksgiving and Christmas. That they wouldn't have to be relationships that had to wait for heaven to fully experience. Why do I always have to wait? Why can't the food cook faster and be done?

The bitter herbs must be tasted, chewed on, smelled; sometimes over and over, so that their essence is easy to recall instantly. You never know just when you'll need to take a pinch and add it, but you'll have a good idea of how much to start with. True culinary art cannot be done without real herbs. And you have to know which one goes with which food.

I'm trying to do better at understanding what my pain has purchased. Or, what is yet to come from it. I don't know how well I'm doing as a parent, but I know I'm doing better than my own parents did. Because I remember the pain caused by bad parenting and try hard to do better. My daughter is adopted; she carried some wounds from her past and I think our patience and love for her has healed most of it. We hope to adopt yet again. Perhaps there is a child God already has waiting for us, who is out there hanging onto hope in spite of hopelessness, longing for a family, a real family, like they can never remember having.

"...I have a photograph on my wall of this ancient crucifix at a church over in Corte Madera, a tall splintering wooden Christ with his arms blown off in some war, under which someone long ago wrote, "Jesus has no arms but ours to do his work and to show his love," and every time I read that, I always end up thinking these are the only operating instructions I will ever need." - from "Operating Instructions" by Anne Lamott

I realize I've permanently lost my taste for cafeteria food. I know the difference now. A chef is an artist; as Christians we are called to be chefs. Throw out the rulebook; our only law now is Love. Create a masterpiece. Live life.

Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters;
and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on
what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me and eat what is good, and your soul
will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful
love promised to David. - Isaiah 55:1-3