Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Present

A “Yes” Beyond Emotions

By Henri Nouwen

Everything was there to make it a splendid Christmas. But I wasn’t really there. I felt like a sympathetic observer. I couldn’t force myself to feel differently. It just seemed that I wasn’t part of it. At times I even caught myself looking at it all like an unbeliever who wonders what everybody is so busy and excited about. Spiritually, this is a dangerous attitude. It creates a certain sarcasm, cynicism, and depression. But I didn’t want or choose it. I just found myself in a mental state that I could not move out of by my own force.

Still, in the midst of it all I saw - even though I did not feel - that this day may prove to be a grace after all. Somehow I realize that songs, music, good feelings, beautiful liturgies, nice presents, big dinners, and many sweet words do not make Christmas. Christmas is saying “yes” to something beyond all emotions and feelings. Christmas is saying “yes” to a hope based on God’s initiative, which has nothing to do with what I think or feel. Christmas is believing that the salvation of the world is God’s work and not mine. Things will never look just right or feel just right. If they did, someone would be lying. The world is not whole, and today I experience this fact in my own unhappiness. But it is into this broken world that a child is born who is called Son of the Most High, Prince of Peace, Savior.

I look at him and pray, “Thank you, Lord, that you came, independent of my feelings and thoughts. Your heart is greater than mine.” Maybe a “dry” Christmas, a Christmas without much to feel or think, will bring me closer to the true mystery of God-with-us. What it asks is pure, naked faith. (Nouwen, The Road to Daybreak)

and to this add...

~ Because God loved us all soooo much, He was attentive to our need and our pain, and sent His only child to help us ~ so that whoever believes in Him will not live and die in hopelessness, but have life eternal and everlasting. (John 3:16) Read it again, for the first time.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Let's go full speed ahead in the wrong direction.

Once again, I agree with Rick McKinley who says...

"Christians get all bent out of shape over the fact that someone didn't say 'Merry Christmas' when I walked into the store. But why are we expecting the store to tell our story? That's just ridiculous."

Taken from this article about Advent Conspiracy.

I got an email with a website that ranked a store showing how "Christmas-friendly" it was, and encouraging Christians to not shop at stores that weren't "Christmas friendly".

Huh? I can think of a million gazillion other ways to spend our energies as Christians.

I just googled it and apparently this is a Foxnews Bill O Reilly thing.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

my favorite evangelist

Shane Claiborne


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Being the change...?

When I started this blog, I felt this huge burning desire to DO something bigger and more significant with myself. Kept reading these authors who urged the reader to take seriously the role of a Christian to follow Christ... seriously! Books about pilgrims and cheap grace and "the Simple way" all this made me want to realize this.

Its hard not to make fun of this intention, because I am so trained, but there it was.

But before I even started drawing up grand plans, I knew that there were people here, in my house, waking up with me in the morning that needed me more than any orphanage thousands of miles away. And there are even people with whom I don't wake up that for them, the fact we are here is good. I am referring to the daughter of my husband.

But this has led me in this thought circle. I want to serve>overseas>i can do it>but what about ....>okay i will do it soon>I want to serve>overseas...etc.

I walk in this circle mentally wearing ruts in the green shag basement carpet of my mind.

Doesn't it sound tiresome?

Another woman commented to me that I "have so many plans"... I do.

The one thing that has been a thorn in my side for, gee, I don't know, forever, is confidence.

I do not understand this elusive creature. How can someone be so equipped and still have faltering confidence in self even occur to them? I tell you, I have no time for this!

I think any person who as aspired to more in there own lives has run up against those who have told them "they can't do it" or, if they can, it will be as a demonstration in failure, or why bother.

Am rather perpetually in awe that a person would tell another person such a thing, but that circuitously leads into another topic. I mentally note to never ever ever ever ever impart anything but encouragement to my children so they would be equipped should they meet these people.

So when, if I ask, "Being the change...?" it may be a little of a challenge, because sometimes my knees might shake despite my own commitment, i may not jump forward as quickly as I ought, I might not have the resolve in my own voice that should be worn in by now after some of the messes I have weathered.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Bill Maher and Religulous

Last night we watched a documentary called Religulous by Bill Maher. I think I have seen this guy before, but didn't really know what his shtick is. I guess I was hoping someone would mount a real argument against the tenets of faith and see if they could knock them down. I left before it ended.

I was disappointed. Maher himself is more interested in listening to himself feel superior. He interviewed all variety of goofballs and then actually Frances Collins, who is the originator of the Human Genome Project, but edited the interview so ferociously that it basically was just Maher talking. Then on to the goofballs and a bunch of clips of snake oil salespeople (who have existed for all of eternity, but now we can see over and over thanks to TV), disgraced televangelists and movie shorts.

But in no way can I improve on what Frank Shaeffer wrote about Religulous and Bill Maher. Found here, and worth a read because it is also funny.

Here's some Schaeffer asserting the well known tenet that Maher's form of Atheism is not only akin, but ostensibly equal to fundametalist thinking.

The New Atheists' books provided a context for Bill Maher's movie Religulous, the most blunt instrument imaginable. Maher's documentary expands what Harris started in his book The End of Faith. Harris begins his book with a scene of a young Islamic terrorist in Jerusalem smiling as he commits suicide while blowing up a bus full of innocent people. In Religulous, Maher gleefully includes many more images of look-how-crazy-God-makes-everyone, religion-inspired violence. The Harris/Maher message is as clear: the world would be better off without religion.

There is another message in the Maher/New Atheist oeuvre: everyone must think in categories stripped of allegory. Forget the idea that perhaps one may hold two contradictory ideas at the same time, say that none of the stories in the Bible happened as written, but that they are true in more subtle ways than mere historicity, or that we're nothing but jumped up chimps, but are also connecting to a deeper reality when we say, "the Lord is my shepherd" and hope that he is.

The New Atheists don't seem to "get" grown up allegory any more than the fundamentalists of the Religious Right do, let alone literary imagination. And both the Religious right and the New Atheists also seems oblivious to serious religious thinkers from Confucius to the Sufi poets, from Reinhold Niebur to one of Reinhold Niebuhr's biggest fans; President elect Obama.

Maher's world contains no Pastor Deitrick Bonhoffer (martyred for trying to assassinate Hitler, and who defined the intellectual and theological terms for resistance to state tyranny based on Christian ethics), or the intellectual man of letters and convert from atheism to the Roman Catholic Church, Malcolm Muggeridge, let alone an awareness of the prayers written by the "atheist" W.E.B. Du Bois for his students, a poignant demonstration that faith is not so easily abandoned.

Read more at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/frank-schaeffer/president-obama-bad-news_b_141342.html

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Surprised by life

A poem I found from Pam Ferguson, who is what I hope to be when I grow up.

A link to her here.

(Confessions of middle age)

I have been surprised by life.

I never thought I would reach middle age
and in the blink of an eye I’m 55.
I still catch glimpses of myself as a 16 year old,
a 20 year old, or a 40 year old.
I see where I came from, where I have been,
people from my past and sometimes
I see my life through their eyes.

And I am surprised.

What an amazing amount of experiences I’ve had in my 55 years,
some good and some bad.

I’ve seen the pygmies dance.
I swam in the Indian Ocean.
I gathered seashells on Zanzibar Island.
I’ve been to the source of the Nile.
I’ve seen the whirling dervishes in Khartoum
and a riot in the middle of Kampala.

I walked where Paul and Silas broke free from prison and I stood at the Acropolis where Paul told the Greeks about “the God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and doesn’t live in temples built by hands”.

I’ve eaten grasshoppers and termites,
rattlesnakes and crocodile.
I’ve smelled the blossoms of a coffee orchard,
incense from sandalwood, frankincense and myrrh
....and open sewers, burning trash, rotting flesh,
drying fish and camel dung.

I’ve awakened to the Muslim call to prayer,
applauded communion with Catholics in Africa,
worshipped in opulence with Greek Orthodox,
and in silence with Quakers on three continents.

I’ve heard the explosions of land mines and
gunshots fired in celebration, in fear,
in anger and in rebellion.
An AK 47 was aimed at me as thieves stole our car
and I was held hostage in my home by an escaped prisoner.

In spite of the good and the bad and the many surprises of life,
I discovered an unexpected peace in middle age.

Of course there are regrets.

I never experienced the joy of childbirth.
I spent too much time in sin and selfishness.
I’ve ignored my creator too many times in too many ways.
And I know there is much in life that I have not experienced
nor that I have lived as fully as I was capable,
loved as much as I could or forgave as much as I know God intended.

I am surprised those regrets aren’t the focus of life now.

Middle age always brings questions of

“who am I?”
“What have I given my life to?”
and “for what (and my whom) will I be remembered?”

I’ve yet to discover many of the answers.
But I am surprised I no longer fear the questions.

I’ve confessed that I never thought I would reach middle age.
I think I’ve always thought I would die before I got this “old”.
Now I am catching glimpses of the rest of my life.

What a joy to realize I’ve learned
material possessions matter less than relationships;
obedience is more satisfying than success;
and the highest calling in life is
to make a difference in the world for Christ.

Middle age is a wake up call to use
the time I have left to love unconditionally,
give unselfishly, make right what I’ve wronged,
cherish what time I have with the man I love,
and to use every waking moment to live and walk with God
and to grow in my love for God with each passing day.

Middle age is a gift. I am surprised.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Missing the ritual a little

Listening to a not overly exciting podcast from NPR's Speaking of Faith on a roadtrip, the speaker was talking on a subject that I am keenly interested in. The spiritual lives of children.

One thing she brought up was the role that ritual plays for kids. How it can help to organize in their minds important events, how it shows them the importance of these celebrations. They build strong memories around these times with their parents and family.

I can say it is very true in my own experience. I remember the Catholic church my mom took me to with great clarity, mostly because I had no idea what the significance of any rituals meant.

And for a second I lamented the lack of ritual that we currently implement. I wondered if it would just leave all this stuff and amorphous blob of God info in her young mind. Don't laugh.

I had the following conversation with her

Who is God?
He is the Father of Jesus the Christ.
Who is Jesus the Christ?
He loves us.
What is a Christ?
It means God loves me.

Her answers blessed me.

At that moment I realized something else entirely. Another conversation happened maybe.

How do I make ritual for my child?
You don't.
Will it be bad that she doesn't have it?
You aren't the one in charge here, so you need to quit worrying about this.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What my young daughter teaches me about God.

A couple weeks ago a nice guy talked in front of the church. He talked about (let's see if I can reiterate a sermon from 3 weeks ago) how God limits himself for us because he loves us.

The image that he gave that I took away was the pictures that children draw that we put on our fridge. We put them up there not because they are Rembrandt's, but because we love the little people who made them.

I am trying to be brief, but the idea is that there is more to our relationship with God than being perfect in His eyes. Because we never will be. The important thing there is the love.

With my sweet daughter, we go through things. She learns new things at an astonishing rate. Sometimes good, sometimes less than good. Recently she has mostly overcome her fear of getting her face in the pool. For me, seeing her do that was HUGE, because I have never managed to become much of a swimmer and water still inspires a degree of anxiousness for me. For my husband, this is not a problem, he is an easy swimmer. He has conquered the water. We have made a BIG DEAL out of her dunking and her putting her face in the water.

And she has overcome some dawdling things she used to do, she can clean up her room, she works better in the kitchen with me, she can wash the windows (handy for when she has painted them with yogurt)...

But lately we struggle with kindness. Part of the problem is sleep. If she is the least bit tired, it is almost impossible for her to be nice. Visiting grandparents, family members presents a particular problem as there is little to no opportunity for naps. So my family, who seldom gets to see her, often gets the full brunt of her worst side.

It pains me. And her dad.

She makes faces, denies hugs, and has a whole array of ways to show herself to be short, snippy, bratty and generally unpleasant. It makes me want to keep her home.

But surely as she has learned many many other things by sheer perseverance, I am heartened that we will go along and soon she will hear me reiterate this enough that we will have a breakthrough.

And sometimes I feel like it is this way in my spiritual life. A weakness (oh, and there are enough, aren't there?) will show itself eventually, and it will just keep presenting itself. Over, and over, and over...

Until eventually it will slowly, slowly begin to sink in how to supplant a bad thing with a good thing, or at least, a neutral thing. S l o w l y.

And soon, a new habit will emerge.

But like my lovely little daughter, who learns so much faster, it takes time. Luckily, it seems to me that that is one thing that God has.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Hmm, interesting

A christian satire online magazine? I remember reading this for the first time when I had just become a Christian and being relieved that Christians had am irreverent sense of humor.

The Wittenburg Door.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Shane and Dietrich.

This is Shane Claiborne. And more about this fellow.

This is Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

So when was it that I was reading some Shane Claiborne? I just remember that for about a 3 week period it seemed like he was everywhere, on Speaking of Faith, at George Fox, and in my hands as I read the Irresistible Revolution. Bumping in to people who were reading it... and some part of me heard that monastic call.

And another part of me said, "but wait, I have 2 kids and a husband and well, I can sacrifice myself, but kids need a mom,"

And so I stored it in a place in my brain that makes notes of things, things like the call of a Christian is to truly sacrifice what you have and follow Christ. I apologize for not quoting scripture on this one, but it wouldn't be hard to do. The call doesn't say accumulate wealth for retirement, live in a nice house and take your kids to swimming lessons. So there is this fundamental question. How does this all look for the likes of me? Am I like the guy who asks Jesus who his neighbor is in order to try to get out of the "Love your neighbor" command? So turning this over in my head.

Shane points out the parable of the rich man who all but boasts that he has kept all the commandments and now what more should he do.

Jesus tells him to sell all he owns and follow him. Rich man leaves crestfallen. He asked and the answer came. He has only 2 choices now. Obedience, or not.

And this same passage is coming up in Bonhoeffer now, The Cost of Discipleship.

My faith doesn't call me to a life of comfort. And yet, and yet...

Why does this keep coming up? I am at once excited and mortified by the message. I am afraid of the sacrifice. The shakeup. I wonder if it isn't that I do all I can in my current position. I was so pleased this week when a mom I invited to VBS brought her daughter. She was a Latina from El Salvador. I was happy she came. It's so small, but is this it?

The Cost of Discipleship, J and I read some in the car as we drove a long distance. We discussed alot. It was really really wonderful. I appreciate so much when he shares in my inputs.

This is Reinhold Niebuhr.

It isn't an *easy book*. He has been reading Niebuhr and said that was pretty dense and the 2 were on par. It is packed full. One could likely read it several times. It is the kind of book for which I long for a book club.

I am still reading the Madeleine L'Engle, but she is like a sweet easy fluffy candy by contrast.

Talking about the book is easier than talking about the message it contains, which so far is about as subtle as a brick up side my head.

And while I stumbled around to pretty up this post, I found this guys blog which looked moderately interesting.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Finishing the Shack and starting Madeleine L'Engle

Last year at some point I put down the Shack.

It was too much for me. I am wary of popular Christian lit to begin with because it always seems to have the subtlety of a freight train. Anyway, a reliable source told me that I really should finish it. It has taken almost a year, but I did it.

And it was worth it. It was one of those books, however, that if you tell about it, it instantly sounds corny, far fetched, spacy or other slightly undesireable qualities. So I will leave it at "it turned out to be worth it" It was a good book to read before going to bed, it said things that seem like they needed to be said about God.

J and I have been going back and forth about the meanings of the words "doubt" and "wrestling". I say wrestle, he says doubt. When he says doubt to me, initially its no biggie, but when he doubts so much I start to narrow my eyes a little and wonder what's up. So we have the conversation again, about doubt vs. wrestling. And then I go pray for him. Haha, just kidding. But not really.

So as I was leaving the library with my old looking copy of Brothers Karamazov, a book I should have read a Looooooong time ago, I say "Circle of Silence by Madeleine L' Engle. And it pulled me in. And so far, I am so pleased. I was turned on to this author by the same person who recommended The Shack.

I will write about what she says next time when I am a little further along, but it is nice to be reading a female voice again. It is always nice to share a perspective with the author.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Way of a Pilgrim

Every now and then a book changes something about the reader. This is one of those books. I enjoyed Way of a Pilgrim, will likely buy it, might read it again, but have really liked the subject it discusses, which is prayer.

The book talks about the ecstatic experience from certain prayer rituals. I don't know anything about that. It is kind of hard to imagine for me, but am content to say "Well it's out there for some..." and I think it is interesting. I am not there, to that experience.

Before any of you start to tune out about "ecstatic prayer" thinking it's one of those kinds of books I might first mention that he indicates that the prayer he is saying is a simple "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me". That's it.

But the husband and I were talking about how even though we might not express worship that way, it is rather magnificent and beautiful to know that there is so much that we don't know about our God, and the mystical and poetic ways that he can be known. For me, it make me smile and be grateful that there was so much more to God that I had only seen this little drop.

And it introduces a technique of prayer that is so simple and accessible that it has been a nice addition.

I learned that the Philokalia, the book it refers to alot as a wise book in helping to understand the bible, is actually a real book that can be purchased.

And anecdotally, the book is also the book that is referred to in J.D. Salinger's book Franny and Zooey. I was a big Salinger fan in my youth.

Way of a Pilgrim has its roots in Orthodox Russian church. It has been my first glimpse inside that church really. Having visited really alot of orthodox churches, I knew that there were cultural and language barriers, but it really felt altogether like a different religion.

After reading Way of a Pilgrim, I think maybe not so much a different religion. It is hard to gain access though to the heart of a faith, when language and culture stand as barriers, and there is no one there to help bridge the divide.

I am reminded of a young woman I lived with in Vladimir. She and I were talking about missionaries and said she didn't understand why they came to Russia. After all, she said, they have their own church. She had a very good point.

But after living there, and now hearing about how it is there even now, I know that the orthodox church, well, people don't go really, except perhaps in rural areas.

Still it is there, and perhaps things will change in Russia...

But as for the book, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the narrators devotion and pilgrimage. It has its own place but it is a book I would recommend as a sort of devotion.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

This 'n that

Jeff sent me this article that he found on his meanderings at lunch.

It basically is a sort of addition to the attacks between atheists and Christians. I guess I am reluctant in posting because it does nothing to de-escalate the issues really. It might inflame them some, but it does quote some stuff that atheists have said generalizing Christians categorically negatively, at the same time crying "victim".

By and large it seems to me that the right response to atheist rhetoric is general apathy, and this article just really confirms to me that most of this stuff is little more than kids on the playground, name-calling.

But here is something more positive. Shane Claiborne wrote a piece for the Washington Post about the National Day of Prayer. In true Shane fashion, it makes me feel glad to get a drink of the water of his writing. Here is a tidbit.

So, rather than argue that National Day of Prayer is something that should go away with Jerry Falwell and the Christian Coalition, we say keep it. Let's call Christians (and everyone else) to prayer. But let's also challenge ourselves to become the answer to our prayers. When we pray for the hungry, let's remember to feed them. When we pray for the unborn, let's welcome single mothers and adopt abandoned children. When we give thanks for creation, let's plant a garden and buy local. When we remember the poor, let's re-invest our money in micro-lending programs. When we pray for peace, let's beat our swords into plowshares and turn military budgets into programs of social uplift. When we pray for an end to crime, let's visit those in prison. When we pray for lost souls, let's be gracious to the souls who have done us wrong.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Any ideas?

Okay the GK Chesterton book I got from the library about St. Francis is really hard for me to navigate.

I have heard that this writer is a heavy hitter, but his style of writing is incredibly thick. Like fog.

I am a little baffled how he can take St. Francis and make him so, so...



What's the word here?

So I think I am moving on to another book about Assisi.

And I need a suggestion. I might actually try to read something about Thomas Aquinas, but I don't know where to start. If you know a good place, tell me. I have heard the Penguin Classics route can sometimes not give all that good a snapshot...?

I need to begin reading, I am in a desert here, looking for some water.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Crickets & Lent

Well it would seem that Lent started and I left the building.

I go for long times where I ponder whether blogging is a waste of time. But then I need to sort of process out loud again, and I want to keep the results so the blog goes into service again.

This Lent, as we head up on the 6th week, has been such a blessing. Because I am taking care of my daughter, breastfeeding, I didn't really feel like fasting of food was the right thing to do for Lent. | thought about the computer, but I am just not sure how that would look. I use it for so much, communication with family, recipes, banking and just a gazillion other things that I just couldn't see how it would happen.

So for Lent the Lord has been leading me with a service focus. It has been an amazing blessing. First it makes me do things that I have been thinking I needed to do for a very long time with regard to people in my life or around me, and now they are getting done. It has been wonderful in so many ways. Ask me when you see me.

I have been convicted in a couple areas. Mentally I ruminate on how to extricate myself from these bad cultivated habits. One has to do with parents, another with confidence. I have made a loving change with my daughter.

And I have had something come to light that I needed to eliminate. It has been a busy 6 weeks.

Blessings abound, building friendships, an open door to start tutoring Spanish, a baby dedicated, a birthday and new teeth. Who could not be joyful in this time?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A wonderful guide to working through Lent

Have been very blessed and look forward to pursuing this piece of work on how to mark Lent.

Lent typically hasn't been paid alot of attention in the protestant tradition, which mostly just means that it is hard to know what to do if one were to mark Lent. I can't hardly bring myself to say "celebrate" Lent, since it mirrors the time that Jesus spent in the desert fasting. But it is a substantially significant time for those who follow after Christ.

But without that knowledge of how to pass Lent, one hardly knows where to start.

This prayer guide is a superb start.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Lent, Repentance and Survival Mode

A friend mentioned something about Lent and how to mark it in our lives.

Before even realizing that it was a Lenten tradition, I have lately been moved to repentance.

Most of the things going through my mind are from the past. Largely because this has been a season of the past being tromped up just randomly, over and over again. And so the naturally reflective ruminates and inevitably wonders "What was I thinking?" "Who was that person?"

Tonight I realized. It was because I was largely on survival mode for many years. That survival mode was marked with alot of fear, mainly just about one thing: Rent.

edit: Let me extrapolate. I was single until I was 31. When I say "rent" it is because my main goal was just to get a career under me, and that career was to be teaching overseas. However, God had other plans for me and teaching overseas was to be postponed until I wasn't racked with student debt. It was a stressful time, I put alot of pressure on myself and by extension, did so with others. Decisions I made, while not earth-ending, didn't always reflect the values I sought to cultivate.

And when did it end? Well I guess it ended with marriage. And then it really ended with the birth of a child, and of course fortuitous career circumstances.

So when I am done repenting, it will be time to give thanks. But for now, am grieving and praying the Lord will hurl these as far away as only he can, so they will never undermine a changed heart.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Manly Devotions, part 2

At one point a while ago, I posted a poorly written piece with the same title. I say poorly written because it was hard to tell where I was going.

The post was alot of "Devotions are pointless and not very helpful" which meant "Isn't it just as good to do something else, instead?"

Well, I was misinterpreted, and rightfully so since I rushed through the post.

I think it was interpreted as "Spiritual disciplines are a waste of time," which I don't believe, and hope no one would...

At worst, I sometimes feel like devotionals are part of a way to make money. I get my podcasts for free.

To further complicate the message, I was relaying a message from someone else, not from myself.

I should have said something along the lines of "Devotion books that focus on predigested pieces of "spiritual thoughts" one a day are not very helpful for some people. Other ways of exercising spiritual disciplines are more helpful."

Secondary questions were "Do I have to do it every day at the same time? Do I have to do it in the morning? What if my schedule changes, can I change the time?"

The message I was hearing from the friend was along the lines of: "What if I keep reading these "devotions books" and they just make me feel like "this is something I must do", but I get alot more edification, satisfaction and am more motivated from those other media? Why are those "devotions books" so feminine, or they talk to me about generalities of which I have no interest?"

I wasn't really talking about myself, but I could sympathize with from whom it came.

Not long ago an old teacher of mine said this in his blog.

This morning as I sat, before the family or even the sun rose, with my Bible, my prayer journal, a good book to stretch me, I realized- part of my calm right now is simply a result of having cultivated through the discipline of meeting with God on a daily basis, a trust in Him that actually makes in difference when it comes to dealing with the crap life throws at you.

And I had a eureka moment. I almost jumped up, looking for who I could tell this *new* old important morsel to.

I guess the parting thought here is no 1+1=2 with God. There is no prescription or 12 steps to God, at least not in the bible (correct me if I am wrong, gentle readers).

In a piece by Donald Miller he references Mercutio mocking Romeo for "Loving by Numbers" and talks about America's love for 3 steps to this, or 5 keys to that (though Mercutio was referring to the iambic pentameter that Romeo used to communicate to his beloved). Included in this is our relationship with the Lord. Donald Miller suggests, and I have to say that I agree, that there is no such thing in the bible guaranteeing "closeness with God" or "spirit-filled living" if one does this, that and the other thing. If anyone says so, they are selling something.

Where am I going with this?

Point is that no one has "the key" to how to pursue God, only suggestions of what has worked for others. Sometimes, for me anyway, what works is to just keep trying.

I found it profound that Mother Teresa spent her last twenty or more years desperately seeking the presence of God in her life. She simply suffered because she didn't "feel" Him near, as she had in the past. And there is so much talk about the "spirit filled life" (I get frustrated by this jargon) and yet...

Some might say that you can love God by numbers or by a formula, but something I learned from another teacher is that no one can referee between you and God. For example, I can't admonish my daughter effectively to read her bible daily, I can only live by example and pray. And therein lies the truth, that it all boils down to a relationship between the person and God, between which stands no person. Just as it was at the beginning and will be at the end.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

More Shane

Dear Shane;

So you came to the 'berg! Newberg, that is. Actually, as I write this, you are here (I think!?). And while I was going to the Y, I was listening to you on a podcast...it's starting to seem like you are all over the place, or maybe I am just looking for anything you have to say.

Shane, I am incredibly bummed that I wasn't able to see you here in Newberg. Your message has caught my interest because you are the first one to say things I have wondered about--it seemed like there was a strong message of community in Acts (I think this was the place). My husband and I talk about it, it is a challenging but welcome message. But Shane, it cost 40 bucks to go see you!

EDIT: Holy Cow, Shane Claiborne actually read my poorly written blog post (I am still editing it)! Regrets, I am hearing reports it was free, and he himself assured me that he wouldn't want a person to not attend based on cost and would absorb it his self. Good of him, and apologies, it was not my point to deliver bad press. I assumed the fee was coming from George Fox Univ. who paired him with another guy, also talented.

So your messages have been percolating in my head and my thoughts are all kind of around this idea of selling everything and then following the Lord. I have to admit, that passage I have always read with a "surely there is a contextual consideration there...". With a 4 month old and a 3 year old, doesn't charity begins at home? Am happy to take care of my little ones, aren't they a blessing from the father?

I ponder specifics, how do I live out this Simple Way from where I am?

The Simple Way website give suggestions, like tell your college administrator that he should earn only as much as the janitor and that I should pound a war machine into a plowshare. I can only take those comments as tongue in cheek. They are cute, funny, not particularly realistic. Sorry to be a party pooper.

I do keep hearing the quote though... "We can do no great things, only small things with great love," resounding through my head.

What are those small things? I have ideas, am not clueless, but I want to hear from you, too. I had one idea, it would be a challenge for me. Not insurmountable. Just challenging. Some might be surprised that something so small could be challenging. Some might think i was a bit extremist for trying. But I am going to try, Shane.

I thought to quit buying new stuff. Not a huge deal, but its a decision to make. Have always been perfectly ok with Goodwill, garage sales, consignment etc, but admit to those once or twice a year splurges on something nice.

I always feel kinda uncomfortable about all the garbage we get from China. The factories of questionable ethics. The clothes that come from countries that I know little to nothing about, and the stories of labor practices that are a bit less than humane.

I have been mulling on it, and thinking about how to make this work out, logistics. its exciting, but its so small, its easy to think what difference will that make?

Don't know, but it's so small, and it is doable. And if more people did it then we probably wouldn't need to worry about China's economy overtaking the world. I won't feel complicit in the lack of transparency of how factory workers overseas are treated. I won't feel crummy about being part of the consumer culture of America and right now, it makes sense.

All these reasons seem all very, very small. So I think that it will just be a start. We do feel the loss of community and miss it. We have a great community, I wonder if we can put that to work.

Anyway, Shane, we had some conversation about this passage:

The Rich Young Man

17As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

18"Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good—except God alone. 19You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'[a]"

20"Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a boy."

21Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

22At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

23Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!"

24The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, "Children, how hard it is[b] to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

26The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, "Who then can be saved?"

27Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God."

J made the suggestion that we don't necessarily have to sell all our stuff in order to follow Christ, but that this rich young man was proud and his heart wasn't right with God, and that was what separated him from God. The parable before it tells of entering the kingdom like a child, and that is what this rich young man lacked. Christ saying that "all things are possible with God" simply underscores the fact that his works alone could never guarantee him a spot in heaven, but rather God's grace gets us there...

Anyway, just random thoughts Shane. Sorry I missed you, maybe you can ask that they don't charge so much so that the riff raff like J and I can go see you some other time when you are in Portland, your words are welcome here!


Sunday, February 01, 2009

Shane Claiborne: Irresistible Revolution

Before I started to read this book I heard some refreshing stuff from this young man on Speaking of Faith. I have also heard of him in association with and talking about New Monastics and his movement within those who seek to live a life after Christ.

I was excited by what he said!

So I listened more about him when it was convenient.

Eventually after being on hold for his book from the library I got it. But I didn't read it right away because the lustre had already started to fade on what he was saying.

So is my experience so far reading his book.

I recommend the book. It is just such a wonderful breath of fresh air. It is like a window thrown open in a stuffy old church, and it is just, just really needed.

He does advocate a rather radical approach to showing Christ. And thank God for that! He says go feed the poor, help your neighbor, help out in your community and just do it. He doesn't say volunteer at church, although there is nothing wrong with that, but having spent a summer in Calcutta he is coming back preaching some real on the ground Mother Teresa stuff. Love it.

But his audience seems to be largely for um, college kids. For those of us with kids and a house, the idea of moving into a large house with a bunch of other families just seems really, really, well first of all unrealistic. Certainly there is a way to play out what he is talking about without actually "taking a war machine and beating it into a plow" like his website recommends.

And so my thoughts these days are focusing all around how to take this revolutionary and exciting and severe message and make it a reality in our family.

There are things that can be done. Many things. Cutting down on consumption by buying used. Making sure to be proactive in helping out in our communities. Educating our kids about service. Being in ministry in every little aspect of our lives, whether it is in traffic or at the store.

But Shane calls for a much more radical approach. And therein lies the tension. He advocates not giving money to charities but to find the poor and give to them where they are. I think I understand his point which is don't just throw money, but make charity a part of your life, not just a part of your bills. I understand and agree with that. I am still going to give money to local charities.

His book is easy to read, it is inspiring. I am not a 20 something year old college kid anymore, but I think that had I found this book when I was, my choices may have been different. That doesn't mean I regret anything, I have a deeply satisfying life. And now I guess I feel compelled to not just think that if I pay my tithe, I am done, but to figure out other ways I can positively live this out.

He calls it The Simple Way, but in the same way that we can't all move to Calcutta and serve in the Khaligat (The home for dying and destitute that Mother Teresa runs), it gets complicated. I couldn't figure out what to think when recently OPB went to a food bank and interviewed a recently unemployed guy as he was going home after getting food. They asked him about the very fancy truck he was getting into with his food bank food. He said he hoped he wouldn't have to sell it.

In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.

Furthermore, how does one live the Simple Way with very young children? I guess we wait until young Mr. Claiborne has kids (if he does have them) and he writes a book about that.

In the meantime, I am excited, he is coming to Newberg! Bauman Auditorium on February 7 at 10 am.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Silent Betrayal

This is an excellent article from World Magazine about how we exhibit (or don't) exhibit our following Christ.

I enjoy Andree Seu's articles since my Mother in Law turned me on to them, and just recently gifted World magazine to my Sister in Law.

In this article, she points out how she doesn't really wear her faith on her sleeve. She likens this tendency to someone who might be exultant of their lover in private but almost secretive about the relationship in public. A good point.

I don't think she is alone in her tendency to keep her faith to herself. Unless your faith is something that is considered "hip" like Kabbalah, the religion of celebrities, or "deep" like Buddhism... then it is more ok to talk about it. There is more Western tolerance (at least on the West Coast) for Islam than if you are a Christ follower. It doesn't surprise me that there is a general "fatigue" about Christians. Christians with the biggest voices also do the faith the most damage often times. And the ones who are without blame are still in the crosshairs of a culture that views Christian tenets as parochial, quaint or hypocritical.

Anyway, it's worth a read.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Before I ever knew Him pt. 1

I trot out every now and then to Jeff some stories of my first experiences with religion. We giggle. So I decided to commit them here so I could not forget about them.

When I was growing up, I lived in a cul-de-sac with a couple other girls. They were from Christian families. Mine wasn't really that way so much. Dad drank beer and worked around the yard smoking cigarettes with his shirt off, sweat socks pulled up and bandana around his forehead. We had a big yard and it had no landscaping when we moved in, and over the 15 years we lived there, dad installed basically a small forest in our back yard. It was pretty cool actually, but that was weekends for us alot of the time. My dad, at his heart, was and is a farm boy. A wildly successful farm boy, but that is another story.

Me and Karen and LaVonne played together alot. Karen went to an Assemblies of God church. Karen to this day is one of the sweetest people I can think of. She had a child like wisdom of good behavior and kindness that seemed to be a preternatural part of her character. I thought very highly of her. One day I was over at her house for lunch. Before we could eat, we had to pray. She put her hands together, bowed her head and then in a little bit she stopped and ate her pb and j. I watched this. I thought this was good, like she was.

When I went home that night for supper, as we gathered around the table I announced "We should pray!" My parents looked at me rather quizzically.
"Ok then, pray." I stalled. I had never prayed before I realized at this point, and had no idea what praying really...I just had no idea.
"Ok, well you have to stand up,"
"Because that's how you pray." The family stood up. At this point I am feeling really in trouble because here the same people who usually interrupt me and talk over me at the dinner table are doing what I am telling them to, and I have no clue what I am doing.

"You have to put your hand on your heart"
"What? You do not," says someone.
"Just pray already, I'm hungry," says someone else. So I piously put my hand over my heart and said

"I pledge allegiance to the flag
of the United States of America..."

This was the only thing that I knew that was even remotely close to a prayer. My family laughed at me. But laughing at the dinner table was what we did, and so I laughed too.

Friday, January 23, 2009

My little town

About a year and 3 months ago we uprooted from my home of Portland where I had lived for 16 years and moved to a smaller community snuggled against the large hills that flank the Willamette Valley. We did this because my husband had gotten a very good job that allows him to have very flexible hours with good pay and from Portland his commute was about 4 hours a day.

It was messing up our lives.

We looked around the small communities South of Portland. I was not really excited to leave Portland, but didn't focus on this, rather thought of how nice it would be to settle his commute down to a hour a day, rather than 4. We looked at McMinnville, Canby, LaFayette, Donald, Aurora and even, against my will, Salem (West Salem was nice).

Each seemed to have some fatal flaw.

In Newberg, the homes were not only affordable, but there was relatively an abundance of decent little homes. It had a little downtown. It had alot of desireable things like a private college, lots of parks, coffee shops etc. So we just did it.

And from very early on, I realized that our choice was very good indeed. Thanks be to God.

Driving around Newberg and the outlying areas you cannot go too many places without passing an orchard or a vineyard or at least being able to see them. The sprawl is under control. The people are laid back. There is a fine balance of ages here. While I haven't gone there yet, the rumors of the school system is that it is very good, imbues confidence in the parents.

I am happy my babes will grow up here. I look forward to making some friends, its been so quiet around us since we left PDX.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Christmas conundrum pt. 2

Stuff we do to make Christmas our own particularly enjoyable holiday, rather than a stress-laden consumeristic extravaganza.

J and I were talking about how in other religions there are very specific prescribed rituals to observe on certain festival days. Since Christmas is holiday shared with alot of people who might not believe in the religious significance of the season, it seems like there aren't any "rituals" that must be adhered to. That's all good and fine, but sometimes a ritual lends some structure and can make a festival season easier, because you don't have to wonder what to do to celebrate.

The stuff that is done like putting up a tree and giving gifts are pleasant and done with joy, but they don't really strike any resonance with the actual birth of Christ.

So here are some things that either J's family or our family does to impart to our daughters the significance of Christmas.

The Advent calendar. J's mom gave us one that gives a blow by blow of the christmas story in little books that are then hung on the tree.

An Advent wreath that was given to us by my sister in law, we light the candles throughout the month to remember/remind that Christmas has more meaning than just a mess of new toys.

Reaching out to family and friends. We try to do this all year, but it seems like now more than any other time it is a good time to check in with those who we haven't been in touch with.

Remembering the stories that go along with each of the ornaments on the tree.

Going to the Grotto here in Portland.

A brunch on Christmas Eve morning.

Making special cookies/breads/cakes and certain meals only prepped at Christmas.

Christmas specials and Christmas books for A.

We watch "It's a Wonderful Life"

Christmas Eve services at the church.

Before I post this, it might be important to note that its not for feeling like we are so great that I write this stuff, to an extent it is to remember it. I would be interested to hear about other folks traditions or thoughts about a lack of tradition...