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