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

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Parting Chat with the Pastor

After considerable discussion and prayer, my husband and I finally decided that when it came time for the parting discussion with the pastor, to try to be as peaceable as possible. This usually involves leaving out mentioning 95% of what's really going on when parting ways with someone. Maybe it was best this way.

Not wanting to bring the kids along and deal with potential emotional turmoil there, we decided it was best if my husband went alone to the meeting. He and I had decided beforehand that he would tell the pastor no more, but no less, than he pressed for about exactly why we were leaving. I wasn't surprised to hear that the pastor didn't press for information. We just deflected to the rather vague "God is telling us to move on" explanation. I wonder if God keeps track of how many times people have said that to get out of sticky situations they can no longer contend with.

But in a roundabout way, it's true. We can't live with the law-based, hellfire-and- condemnation laced sermons preached nearly every Sunday at this place. It's because the Holy Spirit has opened our eyes to the fact that this kind of talk is NOT our Father's heart toward us. No one can truly draw near to a God they're afraid of. And without drawing near to God, how can we hope for real sanctification?

The pastor accepted my husband's simple explanation without question and told us he was sorry to see us go, but that we are always welcome back. I know Jesus talks in the Bible about how he came not to bring peace but a sword, but did he mean a sword between brothers in the Lord who both love Him but have vastly different basic theology in many ways? There is no doubt, confusion is a far more effective weapon than black-and-white 'good guys' and 'bad guys.' Surely Jesus meant the sword between believers and unbelievers. But in my walk with Christ, virtually all of the contention, problematic relationships and outright alienation I've had to deal with have been with my brothers and sisters in Christ.

So even though I feel a bit disconcerted that a more honest and open discussion didn't take place, I also know that people tend not to hear things that don't agree with what they already think. They have to be really ready to hear something diabolocally opposed to their way of thinking. As many 'out of the box' journeyers have pointed out, really walking with Christ isn't about being 'right.' It's about being Love.

Perhaps at some point the Holy Spirit will arrange for a time for our paths to cross again with this pastor or with the people of this church group, and we can have more fruitful discussion. None of this is clear to me right now. I only wish that people could be totally honest with each other in difficult situations and something good would come of it, more often. It seems that rarely really happens though.

Situations like this leave me wondering about some of the same questions over and over again. Does love mean you speak up or remain quiet unless you feel compelled to tell the whole truth? Do people ever hear the truth about things they are blind to unless some 'bold' person comes along and lays it out for them? When does "love tells the truth" apply, and when does "love covers a multitude of sins" apply?

I welcome anyone's constructive thoughts on this situation.

Monday, August 16, 2010

So am I Crazy?

Someone reading this blog might ask, is this woman crazy? I've already had a few comments directed at me since our time back in the building. "I would never go to a place like that. It doesn't sound healthy. I would get up and walk out in the middle of it. I wouldn't last five minutes there." etc.

If only life were that simple. If only life really was as black and white as people try to make it look, or as black and white as we would wish. (And if only there were as many other options available as we'd wish!)

While we've been at the building, even sitting through boring, dry Sunday school and thundering hellfire-laced admonishments from the pulpit, there have been good things. We have had somewhere to get up and go on Sundays as a family. We really needed something, after so long staying home by ourselves on weekends we were all getting stir crazy.

My daughter loves Sunday school. Her teacher has been so sweet to her. So have many of the other adults. While my boys aren't thrilled with the youth group, it has still given them something to do with people on Sundays and Wednesdays. They think it's worth going for the same reason my husband and I do - just being around people is a basic need being filled, if not in an optimal manner.

I have been privileged to indulge my love for senior citizens at this place. Watching old men hug my daughter reminds me of a time I can hardly remember when I was a little girl at church. Old ladies chase my teenage sons down and give them hugs.

Two dear ladies there always find me and get a hug. One is around 70, and always compliments what 'lovely' children I have and is so jovial and genuinely friendly. Another is about 4 feet tall and about 90 years old. She stands there hovering like a child near me until I turn around and see her and give her a hug. She peers up at me through thick glasses and says "I love you honey" in her tremory Texas accent. It truly breaks my heart to think of leaving these people behind.

We have no earthly extended family support in our lives and just for a few moments each week, we can pretend that we do have real family support. These people are our brothers and sisters, though we may not agree on some important issues. Before and after class and service, I can say howdy to people and hug them and experience a few moments of what it's like to have a feeling of belonging somewhere among other people besides my immediate family. This is something we all have a felt need for and the only place we know to find it is organized church.

There have been pot luck lunches at least once a month during the time we've been there. It has been such a blessing to sit and share home cooked meals with others and talk about kids and fishing and weather. I hadn't enjoyed a potluck lunch with homemade fried chicken and deviled eggs since I was a kid in church. We spent a couple of years at one church where the pastor thought pot lucks were an unspiritual waste of time. We spent several more years at church where no one wanted to be bothered with cooking and instead went out to eat at a restaurant together after church. Our family went home and ate sandwiches because we couldn't afford to go out and it's sure hard to have a conversation in a noisy restaurant anyway.

All these positives about this church outfit have been noted without even getting to my very mixed feelings about the pastor. We had known him for a while casually from another group and remembered how exceptionally kind he seemed. So when searching for an organized place to go, we decided to give his place a try. We never dreamed that he would preach the way he does. It's almost like someone else takes over when he gets up on stage.

At first, his preaching seemed okay. The sermons were louder than at all necessary, right from the start, but we figured that was so that all the elderly folks could hear him. But as the weeks went on, more things were said from the pulpit that caused raised eyebrows and distraught looks between me and my husband as we got in the car to go home. Things continued to get more heavy-handed and assaulting in tone, until we finally realized how badly we are NOT on the same page with this pastor on the Sunday he boldly and plainly preached about his views of "conditional salvation on your behavior and efforts."

My husband and I have spent no small amount of time since then praying and pondering what is going on with this pastor. For whatever reason, we believe it is no mistake that God brought our paths together again. We hadn't seen him in a while before starting to attend his 'church' and it is interesting how strongly we remembered our very positive dealings with him (in a different setting) from a while back. It's a long shot to think we were sent to him to open his eyes, but we plan on having a talk with him sometime soon to explain our viewpoints to him and see if we get anywhere.

This time back in this particular building has been a mini-education in fundamentalism. The time I spent in charismatic AOG-flavored settings exposed me to the Elijah-style prostrating before Baal type of 'worship.' They sort of shroud the 'conditional salvation' message in 'Satan will ruin you.' Watch out for Satan because he's a lot badder than God is good, and he's a lot more powerful than you are. So make sure you wake God up any time you're being attacked and call him down to help you, otherwise you're dead!

Fundamental Baptist style preaching seems to lean more toward "YOU will ruin you, because you are a sinner and you need to quit sinning or you will lose your place in heaven." Either way, you are presented with Eternal Insecurity in which you never know where you stand, so like a man in a desert, you have to keep coming back to them purchasing glasses of 'water' which ironically tend to leave you thirstier than you were before you started.

Even with all this insanity, I can see why people go to 'church' and I can see why they stay. In this place we've been, everyone has their friends there and are related to half the congregation. Especially in these parts, people wouldn't know what else to do with themselves. I'm sure there are people who feel the pinch of legalism, but know what's on the outside of it, just as I've walked through for nearly 3 years - a lot of time alone especially on the weekends.

I do understand that we've been brainwashed into thinking "we need fellowship" far more than is really necessary. But some people have lost (or would lose) ALL of their fellowship, indefinitely, without their 'church.' Teachers such as Wayne Jacobsen say that "Father will bring you the people in your life when he sees that you are ready." That's a nice idea but applied as a blanket statement, it's just another formula.

So, perhaps we're meant to be among the ones who are "in the building but not of the building." Now, it may be a matter of finding a more palatable building setting. We'll see.

Praise and Worship

We have had a couple of weeks of grace of not hearing the weekly admonishment from the pulpit to quit sinning, or else. We stayed home the second Sunday of the month. Yesterday there was a guest speaker who was much gentler and more positive than we've been used to hearing. It was mostly a variation on Spiritual Kindergarten 101 but at least it was a week of rest.

However, Sunday school was an experience to ponder since we're studying Henry Blackaby's "Experiencing God" workbook over the summer. I remember dumping my copy of the original Blackaby manual in the Goodwill bin long before we ever began seeking God 'out of the box' and now I can remember why. Years ago I was naiive enough to think that pouring my all into a workbook about God was how to know Him, but it never worked for me even then.

The SS class is set up like a grade school classroom. The teacher is up front, we sit in neat little rows of chairs. Answers are encouraged at teacher-directed moments, but only short answers. You get cut off if your answer takes more than about 2 sentences. The teachers are the only ones who expound on their opinions.

So yesterday we got a mini-lecture about people missing out on the abundant life because - you guessed it - they don't read their Bibles daily and "learn about God." Since in their minds, God apparently dwells primarily in flat black and white print when they can't access him on days the building isn't open, we'd better not miss our daily devotions. Using this logic, it seems I could just throw a manual at my kids when they have problems, questions or just want to spend time with me. I could just take a mini-vacation from parenting. For that matter, God could just make sure everyone had a Bible, then put heaven on autopilot and go on vacation too.

After the Bible admonishment we were told that we 'should' praise the Lord. We were told that praising the Lord is mentioned at least 200 times in Psalms so we better take note and praise away. Of course, the verse about how God inhabits our praises was mentioned (Psalm 22:3). Never mind that this no longer applies to us as New Covenant believers; God is now ever-present with us and no longer waits until we praise him to be here with us and for us. The truth is I don't even like the term 'praise' anymore, the way it's been used over and over in 'church' to beat people over the head.

While it's true that praising God still blesses us and blesses him, it is not as though he won't show up until we do - he has already inhabited our hearts. Denying this directly or indirectly puts us back in the position of slaves and servants instead of sons and daughters.

There was some talk of how blessed we are materially here in the US, but how spiritually lacking we tend to be. The logic was that if we are feeling neglected of God's spirit, it's our own fault for not reading our Bibles and praising him more. After all, look at all we have here in the U.S. We can go to church in safety and peace, we have nice homes, great food, clean water. No excuses for not praising, right?

If we are lacking in praise, why is this so? asked the teacher. As I opened my mouth to say "Because we don't really know God," several others chimed in with suggestions. Because we're stupid. Ungrateful. Self-centered. Distracted. Oh, okay. We're just not disciplined enough or smart enough to praise him. Kind of like a bunch of dumb Israelites bellyaching about the food in the desert. I sat shaking my head trembling with frustration as the teacher placidly said "Well we're out of time now, let's close in prayer."

I will say, if there are a bunch of Christians not praising the God who loves them... I agree there is something seriously wrong. Starting with how retarded we have gotten that we think some workbook program is going to do anything to fix it. We as the institutional church in America have made God out to look like a self-centered, egotistical tyrant, then we beat people up for not praising him enough. Okay. Praise God that Sunday school really only lasts less than an hour. There.

On another note, the pastor at least took a step in the right direction yesterday to try to get people to come to Sunday evening service. Since the guest speaker had taken his usual Sunday morning time to warn us of hellfire, he tried a different approach. He first asked us to ask ourselves, in our hearts, if we really want to please God. He then urged us to ask God what he wants us to do, if we really do indeed want to please him. Then we were reminded again, Six o'clock. The logic seemed to be, I'll give you people a little leash room to ask God yourselves what he wants you to do, but since I'm the pastor, I already know the answer. If you're serious about him and really want to please him, you'll be here at six o'clock. Well, I was home getting the grill ready for burgers at six o'clock last night and was so tired and sad from the morning that I couldn't even think of going anywhere, let alone back to the building for another lecture.

There's no real point to this blog. I know most people who read this think I'm crazy for even being there. Maybe I am, and barring a miracle we won't be there much longer. I'm just sad and confused; life isn't all black and white. More about that in my next blog. Meanwhile, Jesus held me close as I cried in great sadness yesterday during service, the turmoil in my heart known fully only by him. I leaned my head on his shoulder and just cried. This was my worship yesterday. It surely wasn't good enough for anyone else, but I believe it was good enough for him.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Sin focus... or God focus?

During our time back in the building, I have again been amazed (not in a good way) at how pastors can take a couple of verses out of the Bible and basically make them say anything they want them to say. Usually the end result leaves you feeling considerably less than helped or encouraged.

Yesterday we were given Hebrews 3:12-13, as an opening warning of the deceitfulness of sin. We were then taken to Matthew 7:21-23, a passage we've all heard many times. Jesus tells of the many who will say to him, Lord did we not do this-that-and-the-other in your name? And he will say, Depart from me, you evildoers, for I never knew you.

Based on these two passages, the pastor then proceeded to thunderously lecture us for the next 45 minutes on how our own sin could keep us out of heaven. We were warned that if we have a sin in our life that we're holding onto, we'd better get it out of our life, or else, we will be among those who Jesus turns away at the gate.

Messages like this leave the listener with the feeling that Jesus mainly came to earth to shove the law down our throat, rather than fulfill it himself. I can almost picture a colossal Father (like a giant version of my earthly father) saying to his Son, "Those stupid idiots just aren't getting it. I gave them the rules but they're still sinning. Now go down there and take care of it. I'm gonna show them in gory detail just how pissed off I am about this sin business, and what kind of awfulness will happen to THEM if they don't knock it off!" Thus we have an endless array of gory descriptions of the Cross in sermons, books and movies.

I spent the sermon time trying to read grace passages in proper context such as Romans 6 and 8, but it was hard to tune out the thundering admonishments. When I saw the pastor look around speculatively at the audience and emphasize that the Matthew passage says MANY will be turned away, I stopped reading and listened with a mixture of disgust, sadness and yes, fear.

"Most people won't make it. Will all of us in this sanctuary be there? I don't know. I hope so. A lot of people go to church, and do good things, and teach Sunday school... but many will still be turned away." It's amazing how the enemy works. A coctail of mixed truth and lies is far more potent than just straight lies.

It's true that works won't save us, yet this pastor regularly teaches that we have to work to keep ourselves saved.. I also think it's true that many religious appearing folks won't be in heaven. It's also true that sin is deceitful and can even ruin our lives. But to threaten a group of people trying their best to follow and know God with loss of heaven for their sins... that is saying Jesus came and died... just to show us we might be next if we don't shape up?

First of all, the Hebrews passage says not to be deceived by sin, because sin is deceiving. Period. If you keep reading into chapter 4, the importance of entering into REST (from our own works in effort to save ourselves) is discussed.

Second, Jesus said that MANY will be turned away on the day. He didn't say "MOST." I was able to talk to my friend Darin who pointed out Colossians 2: 13-15 where it describes Jesus' overwhelming triumph on the cross; he made a "public spectacle" of evil powers and authorities. I will paraphrase an allegory told to me by Darin:

If a family with 20 kids had a psycho-murderer break into the house, and the murderer killed 18 of the children before the father could stop the murderer and kill him, the father's role in the incident wouldn't be remembered as having made a "public spectacle" of the murderer. It would be more of a "well, at least two were saved" but what would the people hearing the story on the news remember? The two saved or the eighteen dead? Not too much of a triumph. In this case, it would sound like the enemy made far more of a public spectacle than the loving father. Just some food for thought.

I am really getting disgusted. I realize we are going to have to look for somewhere else to go 'to church.' I have no idea where we COULD go that the power of the cross will be acknowledged fully. But my conscience will not allow me to silently condone hearing the power of the cross nullified week after week.

I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing! - Galatians 2:21

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Burning Hearts

They asked each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?" Luke 24:32

This scripture was given to open yesterday's sermon in the building. It seems that the pastor's key phrase for this season is going to be "fire," or more specifically, "holy fire." We were warned after the Oklahoma campmeeting of what supposedly might happen to us as a result of not keeping the fire going (loss of salvation). Obviously the pastor has more to say on this theme. So do I.

The pastor made some true points. Today's American Christians are, overall, a pretty lukewarm bunch of people. The pastor seems to jump to the conclusion that this is because of laziness, being fleshly, wanting the pleasures of material things more than we want God. I believe this is addressing the symptoms of a people who have never truly walked closely with the living God, rather than the heart issues.

I am going to provide a series of contrasting thoughts and images to give an idea of what was said yesterday (and what I've heard repeated over and over in most of organized Christiandom) with things that are burning in my own heart.

Sunday school and church seemed to be running on parallel tracks. Several key words and phrases were used at least half a dozen times apiece: we must be willing to (fill in the blank), we ought to, we should, we need to, we must, we better be, we need to be.

I hate flying. I get airsick and claustrophobic. But if I get to see my friends, where we can build each other up and be ourselves without fear of failure or criticism, it's worth it. I carry their smiling faces and kind words in my heart. No one will ever have to tell me I 'should' fellowship with them. Through them I feel God's love like warm sunshine. You can't "better be" love or any of its expressions. Nor can you infuse it with guilt, obligation or shame to give it life.

"This week's assignment is to answer this question honestly in your notebook. Do you love God with all your heart, all your soul and all your strength, as God commanded the people in Deuteronomy? Three boxes to check: yes, no, or maybe." The Sunday school teacher looked at the quiet class and said, "Any questions or comments? No? Well, you all have been good listeners today." With a pleasant smile and a closing prayer, class was closed.

I try to understand what a day by day, close, healthy, loving, protective, strengthening relationship with a face-to-face brother would look like. I have no frame of reference, other than stories I've heard from others. I can only imagine Mary on the third day, crying and babbling in shocked amazement and joy, while clinging to Jesus for dear life, probably shaking him back and forth like a rag doll. Does anyone think anyone but Jesus himself could have persuaded her to let go of his robe? If anyone had asked her to check a box saying 'yes,' 'no,' or 'maybe' to whether she loved Him, she might have responded, "Are you freaking kidding me?"

The pastor's stated goal in yesterday's sermon was to have us all "get on fire for God." We were also informed that "Christianity is meant to be a religion of flaming hearts." His frustration at our seeming lack of flaming hearts was causing him to get quite worked up. In a few short minutes, we watched a red-faced, sweating preacher shuck his suit jacket so he wouldn't pass out behind the pulpit. Freed from the extra layer of clothing, he found the strength to continue to shout and gesture excitedly for the next several minutes. He informed us that he knows he tends to repeat himself, but that if he says it enough times, he hopes that maybe around the 10th time it will actually get through!

Somehow, I thought the purpose of Jesus' death and resurrection was supposed to set us free from religion altogether and bring us this amazing, abiding relationship of Love like we'd never imagined. One thing that has never, ever worked for me in any relationship of any kind, no matter whether the person means well, is being shouted at. I still remember my earthly father shouting at me in anger. I also remember the physical abuse that often followed. I shut down like a bank vault when people raise their voices at me. Can't we as parents usually see the futility of shouting at or scolding our children? Sometimes they will do what we've asked just to get us to shut up, but it won't bring our hearts any closer. It's a good thing the Holy Spirit tends to speak in a soul-stirring whisper.

The pastor had made a number of good points, including the lukewarm state of the American church at large, the uselessness of a watered-down gospel, and the fact that the devil has used religion to make people miss out on God (although the irony of this last remark was not lost on me). So far, though, he had gotten through almost an entire sermon without totally sticking in the dagger. This was about to change in the next few seconds.

A few years ago, I sat in my back yard, reading a chapter of Jim Palmer's "Divine Nobodies." I was in tears over an especially touching and poignant essay about Jim's gay friend Richard. Richard had been looking for God in so many places, from church houses to gay bars. I asked Jesus, where do I go to find you? I have the same question! And he answered me gently, right here. Right here.

This business of his flock not making head count in the pen for Sunday evening service really is bothering the pastor. A firm admonishment toward those "not serious enough for God" was given, namely, those not in attendance for Sunday evening and Wednesday evening services. It was suggested that we're just too fleshly. Probably, we're off going to the movies, drinking, or somehow pursuing something else of "the world." We don't want to be inconvenienced to make a sacrifice, said he. Seemingly this passionate, irritated rant was fueled by the underlying belief that God still dwells primarily in the building, and there must we go to worship Him.

I wrote in my journal, The law brings death but the Spirit gives Life! Must we try to make 'church attendance' into a law to get people to come?

The pastor said, "I'll close now" and I seriously doubt I was the only one thinking, Hallelujuah! His closing statement (paraphrased) was one of those take-this-one-home-while-you-try-to-enjoy-your-Sunday-laziness clinchers: "There are two kinds of fire, holy fire and the other kind. Everyone will face fire, either the holy kind that cleanses them from all their sins, or the kind that is the fire of eternal torment."
Thanks for coming everybody! Have a nice afternoon! The alter began to fill up with folks repentant of being lukewarm for God.

Please Jesus... I grasped for his face, his shirt. Please, I need you. The real you. I want, I NEED to know you, ever more, always. Almost immediately I sensed His precious face near mine, kissing me ever so gently. I closed my eyes and breathed in his presence. Just basking in his love, clinging to him. Why, oh why do Christian preachers feel the need to threaten their flock, saved people, your own children, with hellfire? It's okay, said he. It's okay. I'm here.

And so was another morning of some form of Spiritual Kindergarten 101. Must must must. Mustn't mustn't mustn't. We'll give you a few chances to straighten up, and if you don't, guess what? You'll get an eternity of spankings! A spanking that lasts for-e-ver! I didn't hear a significant statement about how very much God loves us and how widespread his Grace is all morning. I guess they think fear and guilt are better motivators. Needless to say, we didn't attend the Sunday evening service. I wonder if his sermon worked on anybody else.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. - 1 John 4:18

I hadn't heard or thought of this song in ages but it popped into my head as the sermon was ending. I think it's perfect for this subject.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Hello Spokane

My butt was cramped and my back was tired from sitting in the narrow airplane seat for so long. As the evening wore on, my eyelids grew heavier with sleep but I resisted the urge. My tiny "in flight beverage" cup was empty again, and I gave up trying to flag down the busy flight attendant for more water even though I was thirsty. The airplane smelled like B.O, which didn't help my tummy, already off kilter from a combination of airsickness and hunger.

Finally, the magic words that made it all worth it came over the intercom. The pilot reminded us to remain seated until the aircraft had completely stopped, gave us a weather report, thanked us for flying Southwest, and said, "Welcome to Spokane."

I could hardly wait for the pokey people in front of me gathering all their stuff to move out of my way as I wiggled in impatience to walk off the airplane. But a few minutes later, I was hugging my pajama-clad friends as we exchanged tired but happy smiles. It had been over a year since we had last seen each other, but they looked exactly the same - beautiful.

It is so good to spend a precious few days around people you can just be yourself with. No religious posturing, no feeling of having to hide our true selves, no need to cover up our incomplete or hurting areas for fear of religious admonishment. We were there to just breathe in each other's company. Sometimes, the conversation naturally drifted to God, other times, we talked about a variety of other things.

I think the sad thing is when people feel the need to draw a sharp line between "things of God" and "things of the world." Many Christians I know are obsessed with "worldy vs. spiritual." Many people would say that since we didn't pull out our Bibles for a group study, the entire weekend was an unspiritual waste of time.

I know that all three of us needed each other's encouragement, each other's thoughts, each other's company. Just knowing I have sisters who I love and who love me gives me enough courage and edification to go another whole year without seeing them, if necessary. And it may be that long and then some, since we all live so far apart.

I know that God was there with us, and in us, as we (*gasp*!) tasted wine together at a winery, and as we sat together eating huckleberry ice cream and talking about child birth, and as we had a loud conversation by the lake that drew the attention of a few people around us. (The conversation was about the wrong of beating people over the head with the Bible).

I know that God was with us when Kim got sick, when Kirsten encountered a troubling situation, when I argued with my husband over the phone. I know God was with us when we had to say goodbye and remind each other that we love one another. Leaving Kirsten at the airport was hard. I managed not to cry, but I felt like I had so much more that I wanted us to talk about while I was there. But the time was gone.

I had the same poignant mixture of happy and sad feelings as I hugged Kim goodbye, crying, in the narrow aisle of the airplane as I left to go board my connecting flight to Dallas. I knew this time I was on my own, both friends were to be left hundreds of miles behind on the west coast. But I know we will see each other again, because we love one another and are spiritually connected, no matter how many miles separate us.

This morning as I sat through another admonishment from the preacher (it seems that some folks' lack of attendance on Sunday evening and Wednesday evening is really sticking in his craw) I thought about Kirsten and I in gales of laughter over a silly YouTube video, and Kim and I eagerly peering out the airplane windows together at the snow-capped mountains. No one would have to admonish me to be sure and spend time with Kirsten and Kim, because well if I don't, my sincerity for God is in question. Please. I spend time with them because I love them and I experience Father's love for me far more with them than I do through a hundred typical church meetings in the building, with the mostly surface level chit chat and admonishments to try harder to please God.

Thank you Lord, for showing me that walking with you really is about a truly abiding relationship rooted and grounded in Love, with you and with my fellow saints. However that may look. I just hope that someday, you will open doors for abiding relationships with the people I see around me in my daily life as well.

"Hello Seattle" was the closest song I could find to my blog title "Hello Spokane," but I thought the lyrics fit my experience pretty well.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Eternal Insecurity

The delayed posting of this blog is because of a busy schedule and a computer meltdown. However, it is the cherry on top of the 'hot fudge sundae' of the campmeeting I described in my last blog.

Rather predictably, the pastor of the place we attend gave a sermon on making sure we don't lose our 'fire' after such an experience of this camp meeting. A friend recently commented to me on memories of her own youth camps; she remembers her pastor saying the same thing after those meetings in her youth. She also remarked that fire is an emergency or at least high stress state not meant to be sustained for long periods - it's too stressful and will burn us out (or burn us up!)

The worst part of the sermon was that the pastor then took a passage out of Luke 10 where Jesus tells a parable of a man who built bigger barns to store all his 'stuff' and turned it into a warning lecture to make sure we don't 'slack off' spiritually and become lazy. According to the pastor, it matters not if you're tired from 4 days of a campmeeting (or anything else) because no 'spiritual vacations' are allowed for God's people. You have to make sure to study your Bible without fail, and keep following after God, and not sin, and... and... or else, well, you might not make it to heaven. He flat out stated that he believes salvation is conditional on these things.

There are so many problems I have with this theology that I hardly know where to begin. But I will just state here that it is a relationship killer. As "The God's Honest Truth" states and elaborates on, security that is not eternal is really no security at all. While it's true that sanctification is a very necessary part of salvation, eternal insecurity theology is spiritually paralyzing. It's like if I told my kids I'll love them forever, but if they don't make their beds and do their homework every day, I'll douse them with gasoline and light them on fire. This might motivate them to be a lot more punctual with their responsibilities, but it will ensure that I never have their heart. And without our hearts being closely joined their growth and well being will be stunted, at best.

Once people swallow this idea of eternal insecurity, they're set up to 'need' church as we know it for as long as they believe it. They never can know for sure where they really stand with God, so it's better to be safe than sorry. Following someone else's lead who seems to know more and be elevated above them (read: the pastor) and do what they're told, when they're told to do it (read their Bible daily, show up to the building when told) gives people a sense of security they so badly need. If you can't count on God or on yourself, you've got to count on something.

It's one thing to get out of the institution and read lots of good material explaining so well those sick feelings you had all along of something being wrong. It's another thing to go back and see it all again after your eyes have been opened.

What is most baffling of all is how happy most people seem with such theology. Like a bunch of drug addicts, they haven't learned to see it as a poisonous substance. I heard several loud proclamations as we left the sanctuary of what a great sermon that was.

As for me, the eternal insecurity message was like a noxious fume bomb had been set off in the sanctuary. My gas mask was my open Bible, where I read over and over, "He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy..."

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


I found myself spending almost 4 days last week at a ‘camp meeting,’ which means combination youth rally and revival meeting. (To this day I grin when I hear the term ‘revival.’ As The God’s Honest Truth says, Christianity as a religion is like a Harley. It’s the most classic and authentic of all motorcycles, but it also breaks down every few hundred miles and needs to be ‘revived.’ Makes you think about what we’re showing the world… we have a religion that keeps dying on us). Since we’re back in organized church and this denomination is big on camp meetings, my sons and I went to check this one out last week.

The objective for the youth seems to be, feed them and preach the Bible to them and offer alter calls all day long and late into the night, and they will hopefully be touched by the Holy Spirit and saved, or delivered from some sort of bondage. Four services a day, stretching from mid morning to the wee hours of the next morning, ought to have some effect one way or the other. (Sometimes a real experience with God, sometimes an emotional response that looks like salvation, or even just an alter call response as a way of crying ‘uncle.’?)

Like so many other well-meaning religious efforts, I’m sure this approach does the trick for some people (teens and otherwise) but is ineffective, draining, and perhaps even detrimental to others.

Most of the participants in this camp meeting seemed thrilled with all the goings-on. The hosting church was more charismatic than our home church, which brought back a few bad memories for me although they were nice people. There were constant shouts of ‘Praise the Lord’ and ‘Amen!’ I guess this is just some people’s style, but it’s hard to sit through hours and hours of seeing people wear their faith like a flashing neon sign on their sleeve, when being true to myself is to quietly carry mine in my heart.

The theme of this 4 day weekend was ‘Deliverance.’ The idea was to get deliverance from anything that ails or hinders you, whether a speech stutter or a sin problem. Once this deliverance was achieved, we would supposedly be a better witness for Christ. After all, everyone assumes that real Christians have no serious hindrances in their lives that stay around for very long. So once we achieve being happy, ailment, and sin-free, every heathen we meet will want what we have.

I was glad to have brought along my mp3 with a few of Darin’s teachings on it. I lay in bed trying to sleep while listening to “The Truth About Pastors” from the “Institutional Mindset” series. Darin told of how deeply depressed he gets, to the point of contemplating suicide if it weren’t for his family. He also talked about how God is with him through it all the time, and about the things God shows him during these depressed times, and because of them – not in spite of them. This, to me, is what witness really is. Someone who shares in the fellowship of sufferings and knows Jesus is with them all the while, who is very human and yet more Christlike to me than all the Healed and Delivered Happy Christian Cheerleaders combined that I’ve ever met.

Sometimes having a sin or hindrance taken away is best. But other times, a mindset is what we need to be ‘delivered’ from. The charismatic approach of ‘power’ and ‘deliverance’ always made God feel like a big, impersonal vending machine to me. If you put in the right coins and pushed the right buttons while praying fervently, your desired snack would appear in the chute. All too often though, I remember being angry feeling that the machine had eaten my money while others around me were happily chugging their cold sodas and shouting, “Praise the Lord!” The big, mysterious, cold and impersonal humming of the God vending machine idea I held could have driven me to insanity, had I not been delivered, if you will, of that mindset.

The camp meeting people did mention the concept of a ‘personal relationship with Jesus’ from time to time, as I’ve heard it mentioned in other organized church settings. If we’re expected to be together in such abundance all doing the same thing in the same way at the same time, compulsively, over the span of a lifetime, I’m not sure how much room this really leaves for a personal relationship with ANYBODY. I guess this is where “making sure you get up at dawn to read your Bible every single day of your life” comes in.

I’m glad now to be in a place where I’m getting free of the mindset that if I don’t get what I want right away (or at all) and if I suffer, or fail to perform in some way, God deeply and steadily loves me and that will never change. To be forever delivered from fearing otherwise is one of the best gifts I’d ever hope for.

After the first two days of a steady diet of endless food, church services and people in my face all day long and late into the evening, I felt so stressed that I was unspeakably relieved to find a little bit of time to sit on a bench alone and talk to Jesus. I closed my eyes and pictured him driving us down a sunny highway on a shiny Harley through quiet countryside. I hung onto his back and rested my face on his shirt. He touched my face and told me he loves me.

The Lord said, "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by."

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. - 1 Kings 19:11-12

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Best

This past Sunday, the “Mother’s Day” sermon basically boiled down to, make sure you give your children The Best, which is, of course, Jesus. The importance of our sharing Jesus with our children can’t be argued. I also appreciate the pastor’s reminder of the importance of praying for our children.

Other than that, the two roads largely diverged. Most of the sermon was on making sure that, as a parent (Mother especially, as Sunday’s theme reflected) you take your children ‘to church,’ preferably every time the doors are open. The pastor gave examples of upstanding Christian families who do this. One was a family who drives two hours each way for Wednesday evening service. Another was a family who had an errant uncle show up on a Sunday morning wanting to visit, only to be told no, this is when we go to church.

The pastor also made a big point of “serving Jesus.” It bothered me to hear this emphazized the way it was. The verse from John 15 came to my mind: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends…”

My parents made sure I was taken (sometimes dragged) to church nearly every time the doors were open. I grew up with the idea that God dwelled in the building (another basic misunderstanding promoted at this organization we’re now attending). My parents did not teach me by word or example about Jesus much at all in the home; he was someone we went to the building to talk about. Certainly the pastor was promoting our teaching our children in the home as well, but I’ve seen that the emphasis on making sure they’re in the building without fail can sometimes end up being detrimental.

Popular creationist teacher Ken Ham advocates the idea that we’re losing our young people from ‘church’ as soon as they graduate high school because we haven’t taught them the facts about their faith. Presumably, as soon as they leave the nest of their parent’s particular doctrine, they go to university where secular professors and heathen fellow students convince them that their Christian faith is a bunch of bunk. Thus, their ‘faith’ goes down the tubes.

I assert that in such cases, the rubber met the road and the tires went flat. There is a big difference between what you believe and what you KNOW. You can have belief in a set of facts and in a book all day long, but until you’ve experienced a Person’s intense interest in and care for you, it isn’t faith. Youth aren’t inclined to settle for duty and commitment the way tired, discouraged adults are. They are looking for the real deal – something that grips their heart irrevocably. They have already spent countless hours in the classroom learning about things they’ve never had hands on experience with at school. I say that the ones who leave, haven’t seen that the church is any different.

I think the best we can give our children (and everyone else for that matter) is to BECOME the message. How can we be Jesus to our child, or to an errant uncle who shows up on the doorstep on Sunday morning?

Uncle Joe probably won’t be impressed if we tell him we don’t have time to visit on Sunday morning because we’re going to church. Perhaps he wouldn’t think of going because he thinks he’ll be judged (and perhaps he’s right). Maybe we could invite Uncle Joe to church and if he doesn’t want to go, stay home and visit with him. Ask him how he’s doing, really listen to his responses, and ask if we can pray for him while he’s there. If not, be a good host and a friend, then pray for him when he leaves.

We can leave Uncle Joe in the dust and hope he’s impressed by our piety because we chose “church” over him. Or, we can BE the church to him, given the face to face opportunity, and offer him company and support. We can talk about the Message, but it’s more effective to BE the Message.

As for our children, how can we be the message, how can we be Jesus? I was plopped in Sunday school for years. I sat through hundreds of church sermons, mostly doodling on a note pad. I see bored teenagers yawning in this place we’re attending now. I see children doodling on note pads just like I did.

Sometimes, the traditional route works, and adults who love God credit their parents for making sure they were “in church” all those years growing up. I daresay that statistics reflect that most of the time, that isn’t the case.

Could it be that sometimes as parents (the collective whole) we have left out the most important thing, making our children feel deeply loved? If we don’t make them feel loved as parents, we can’t hope to lead them to a true and abiding relationship with God. They don’t just want to hear about Jesus, they want to meet him.

I also believe it is crucial that we straighten out the erroneous thinking that God/Jesus are primarily found in the building. If we don't really understand the magnanimous difference of the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, how can we teach it to our children? God no longer dwells in a building, he dwells in the human heart.

If all they have distilled from their church experience that Christianity is about a bunch of facts, following the rules, being good, trying to quit sinning and showing up to a building religiously to listen to endless admonishments about not sinning and not falling off the straight and narrow, it’s likely they won’t want anything to do with Him, because they’ve never truly met Him. They feel like they’ve been sold a bill of goods, led on a “Where’s Waldo” chase that has left them literally disillusioned. It happens. A lot. As the old Wendy’s commercial says, where’s the beef?

“Jesus?” he whispered as his voice choked. “I feel so lost.”

A hand reached out and squeezed his, and didn’t let go. “I know, Mack. But it’s not true. I am with you and I’m not lost. I’m sorry it feels that way, but hear me clearly. You are not lost.”

“I hope you’re right,” Mack said, his tension lessened by the words of his newfound friend.

“C’mon,” said Jesus, standing up and reaching down for Mack. “You have a big day ahead of you. Let’s get you to bed.” He put his arm around Mack’s shoulder and together they walked back toward the cabin. Mack was suddenly exhausted. Today had been one long day. Maybe he would wake up at home in his own bed after a night of vivid dreaming, but somewhere inside he hoped he was wrong.

- from “The Shack” by William P. Young

Monday, May 3, 2010


Being back “in church” again is already proving to be a real "where the rubber meets the road" experience. I’m trying to remember the things I’ve learned and seen the past 2 ½ years out ‘in the wild’ and apply them as needed, back inside the walls.

I will say, the pastor at this place is one of the most sincere and good-hearted pastors I’ve ever met. I don’t think for a minute that he sits scheming over his sermon notes, wondering how he can make the people a little more afraid. I honestly think even the best of pastors in organized church preach some degree of “hybrid covenant” theology, whether they realize it or not.

This past Sunday’s sermon was on holiness. Early in the message, the pastor quoted the verse that says “Without holiness, no one will see the Lord.” (Heb. 12:14) I didn’t actually keep a tally sheet, but in my subconscious I was ticking off each time he repeated this phrase, and I think it was up to 8 or 9 times by the time he finished his sermon. Even after nearly 3 years of not going “to church” regularly, each time he said this I winced. He raised his voice passionately, whereas my ears were already stressed by over amplification of the microphone in a small sanctuary. I felt like a hamster in a cage being given a little shock jolt.
Image and video hosting by TinyPic

(While we’re on the subject, one big problem area I’ve seen over the years is the tendency for a teacher to start with one or two verses and make a whole sermon out of it, a whole doctrine, or even a whole religion. Other than “God is Love,” this rarely seems to produce a totally balanced and truthful picture).

We were reminded that we can’t go our own way and be holy, or follow the desires of our flesh and be holy. We can’t live a life of sin and say “but the Bible says I’m positionally right with God.” Remember, without holiness, no one will see the Lord!

I see a vicious cycle at work in most sermons I’ve heard inside the walls – the pastor tells the flock that God is grace, but implies that they better watch their step or they might slip out of grace. The people are afraid he’s right, so they keep coming back to hear more preaching on making sure to walk the straight and narrow, or else; which feeds their fear that they might screw up, so they come back for more preaching, so their fears can be fed again…

While the pastor talked, I read through chapter 10 in Hebrews. (The whole book of Hebrews describes what was accomplished by Christ). I think it would have been much better to focus on what has already been done. Like it or not, in God’s sight we ARE holy. We can’t erase this or screw it up by having a bad day or even a bad year. The trouble is, most Christians do not understand or believe this. It’s like we’ve all somehow gotten the message that Christ did not really accomplish too much at the cross, except to show just how angry God really is over this sin business and He had to take it out on Someone.

To be fair, the pastor did preach part 2 of his sermon later in the day, on love. He took us to the book of Jude where we are reminded to keep ourselves in the love of God, and he did preach that in its proper context. I think we listeners would have been better off if the pastor had stuck to part 2 and left it at that. If only pastors (and everyone else) would realize that our focus needs to be on our God, and his love - NOT on our sin, or any potential to sin, real or imagined.

The pastor summed up the main thing we need to know in regards to what holiness is: “Christlikeness.” We’ve all been taught in mainstream Christianity that God wants us to become just like Christ, who is God incarnate. But what is Christlikeness? The pastor described it as abstaining from sin and loving our neighbor. I can’t argue with either of these things, but is there more?

As I listened to the latest Into the Wild podcast, I paid special attention to a couple of comments made on holiness. Darin said that he thinks holiness is not just defined as abstaining from sin, because sin is not even a part of who God is. Holiness is so much more than we can altogether define. Darin thinks that our holiness is becoming more “whole” as in “whole-i-ness.” Fully ourselves, who and how we were meant to be as God created us.

I’ll ponder this one. Many earthly fathers seem to most want that their children not screw up, not get into trouble, to not do anything bad. They are also pleased if Junior is a “chip off the old block.” In other words, like Dad. There are numerous stories of dads who didn’t like Junior anymore once he decided not to become a lawyer or a doctor like Dad. This parenting agenda might produce results of clean-looking Dad clones in some kids, but totally alienate others. And I bet all folks who came out of a household of this parenting mindset have a hunch they missed out on a lot of real love. “Don’t screw up, and become like me” seems to be an incomplete picture of love at best.

Even with a book as good as “The Misunderstood God,” I feel like I’m gleaning great but still largely second hand information. The God described in this book sounds wonderful. But much of the time, it still feels like trying to hook up a seatbelt when the latch is busted. It doesn’t fully connect, it doesn’t click and stay put. Even so, I can imagine it might look something like this:

Image and video hosting by TinyPic
illustration by Pamela Barcita

When a child is safe in her father’s care, she becomes the most beautiful, vibrant, whole and complete person she can be. How much more so with our heavenly Father than with even the best of earthly fathers. I don’t fully know this in my heart yet, but I can imagine.

Meanwhile, I will keep hanging on for dear life to remembering how important it is to focus on being first and foremost, rooted and grounded in love. As the pastor repeated that “without holiness no one will see the Lord” for about the seventh time the other day, I fixed my eyes on 1 John 4:19: “We love because he first loved us.”

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. – 1 John 4:18

Friday, April 16, 2010

Moving On

Life takes turns unexpectedly sometimes. Darin, Aimee and Amy’s recent discussion on Moving On was timely. I can see the truth of it being unhealthy to stay stuck in a place of bashing or being mad at “the institution” forever. However, there is so much more to journeying with God outside the religious box than being mad at ‘the institution.’

There is so much more that I feel like I haven’t gotten to live out, and now don’t know how or if I will get to live it out. The road is taking unwanted turns for me. I feel like life is propelling me to move on in ways I don’t want to. We just don't live in an area that is "free believer" friendly. Because of my children’s needs, we have decided it’s time to go back to organized church. We found one that we like well enough. The pastor seems an exceptionally kind man. The congregation seems friendly enough. Maybe it won’t be the gagged-and-bound experience I remember from the past. I’m not crazy about it, but I don’t hate it.

The timing of going ‘back to church’ is also coinciding with changes in the internet gatherings. People move on when they’re ready, but sometimes I’m not ready for them to move on! Seeing them on Facebook with blurbs about their dead hamster or their broken air conditioner just isn’t the same. I miss the talks we used to have, or seldom get to have. I’ve never had friends I could be so honest with before. The idea that they will become less central in my life makes me sad.

I’m certainly not through with the journey in my heart outside the box of religion. I’m just frustrated because I’m feeling like it has been largely cut short before it has had the chance to change from a new and better set of beliefs to an amazing transformation of both my heart and my life. I feel that if I had the opportunity to wholly follow the non-traditional path wherever it leads, I’d have more revelation than I could ever have sitting in a church service listening to sermons every week.

This time of year is usually a happy time for me, when winter is finally over and spring arrives. I am planting my gardens as always, enjoying the warm air between sneezes, watching the hummingbirds dart past each other, seeing my cats poking around the now-green yard. However, I’m feeling a certain sadness because this time last year was when I attended my first “Free Believer” gathering. I got to meet my friends Cheryl, Kim, Suz, Kirsten and Darin face to face, and meet other new people exploring God in a new way. I miss them very much now, when I think of that wonderful time, almost exactly this time last year.

While sitting in church listening to a sermon on something I basically already know, I find myself daydreaming about sitting in Kim’s back yard in California, smoking a hookah pipe and talking about how God swings us around in crazy circles like a Daddy with a little girl, delighting in hearing us laugh.

Please God, don’t let this be over when in some ways I feel it’s hardly begun. I'm trying to hang on to faith that when things don't look the way you would like, it's not over. This song came to mind as I brooded over the way things look right now. For those of you who aren't familiar with Stevie Nicks' life, she wrote this song when she and boyfriend Lindsey Buckingham were in financial straits and she had to go back to work doing what she hated, waiting tables and cleaning houses. At the time, it looked like their musical career dreams were washed up. About 4 years later, Fleetwood Mac's best-selling album "Rumours" came out. To date, it was the second best selling rock album of all time.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Alabama part 2: The Word

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:14

One thing I have learned in my journey into the wild is that relationships begun and largely maintained over the internet can be profoundly encouraging and healing. I've also had the privilege of learning that when you finally get to spend time face to face, it will add new and wonderful dimensions to your understanding and experience of the person, no matter how well you thought you knew them from a geographical distance. If I had to name the main impression I got from Huntsville, it was "The Word becoming flesh looks like this."

In “The Shack,” the story tells of Mack’s painful history in his relationship with his earthly father. Wounds like this can truly take a lifetime to heal, and perhaps even then some, as portrayed with Mack’s father later in the book. I laughed when I read that “Papa” Father God was a big black woman cooking dinner in the kitchen when Mack arrived at the shack. This portrayal caused so much controversy, yet I understood it instantly. This was the flesh that Mack needed to see at the time. He couldn’t handle a father. He needed to see someone who looked safe, who was warm and inviting.

I stared at the email as if it was going to bite me. “Call me anytime if you want to talk. I’d love to hear from you.” I had enjoyed emailing with her for a couple of months now, but I knew what happened when you opened your heart to a new friend. I replied that I was sorry, but just coming out of a new ‘friendship’ badly burned and couldn’t find the courage. She didn’t seem put off, she was very kind and understanding.

When I finally got to meet Aida face to face a couple of weeks ago, I thought she looked like an angel (who came up with the idea that they have blonde hair and blue eyes?). The curly hair she complains about in damp weather was snowy white and in perfect soft waves. Her warm brown eyes and dark complexion reminded me of my oldest friend, the only one from years past who has stuck around over time. She is also very warm and friendly, also small and dark-skinned with warm brown eyes. It was like Father was trying to show me, I am safe and kind. I am a friend you can count on, I won’t leave you either. This is what safe and kind looks like.

Aida has commented about the love shared during our weekend in Huntsville. I have thought about what was unique about it. Really, I think the absence of manipulation and self-serving agenda is a primary factor in any group (or pair) of Christians being able to enjoy a real atmosphere of love. Aida has let me know on many occasions that she trusts me to grow, to make good decisions, to do the right thing. She doesn’t want to fix me, she wants to be my friend. Safe and kind is allowing others to be themselves; love trusts.

For years I imagined I needed a spiritual 'mother' in my life. But perhaps, Father is telling me I’m no longer a child, that he trusts me to be an adult. That what I need most is sisters, such as this older sister who is patient and kind, advise me when asked, but never tries to lord over me or make me feel like a child.

“Call me. Here’s my number,” said the email. I looked at it with the same suspicion as if it had said, “You’ve won the sweepstakes! Call this toll free number now!” Why would this “man of God” want to talk to me? Didn’t he have more important things to do? I emailed him back instead, and the reply came back, “Call me. Let’s talk.”

I understand all too well how Mack must have felt about his father. The words ‘safe’ and ‘father’ still don’t feel like they belong in the same sentence. I think Father decided he needed to start me off with a brother. Someone not quite so intimidating, a relationship that doesn’t feel impossibly unsafe.

I still find it uncanny how much Darin reminds me of my earthly brother, and yet he doesn’t. The reminders are there – the sense of humor, the restlessness, the mischievous grin, the adventurous spirit. Yet there is so much difference – Darin’s kindness, his focus on others, his ability to really listen.

Women need men in their family, brothers and fathers and others. Father knew it would take someone unique to get through to me. Someone who would give his phone number to a woman halfway across the country, simply because he wanted to be a friend. Someone who was concerned with reaching out in love, rather than maintaining religious appearances. Someone I could look at and think, “He truly is my brother.” It’s like Father is saying, you are important to me. Brothers and fathers can be safe and kind. This is a good place to start.

Family is not just supposed to be about rituals with people you’re related to by birth. Nor is it supposed to be about rituals with people you go to the same building with on Sundays and Wednesdays, and say “Hey Brother” as a generic catch-phrase of greeting. It’s a sacred word that I hope to have the privilege of fully living out in this lifetime.