Friday, December 18, 2009

Truth Changes Everything

Part of the reason I started this blog and invited my friends to join me on this adventure is that whatever our differences our common bond is that we are seekers of truth. Interestingly enough what the older three among us have found on our journey thus far, and perhaps the younger one as well I just haven't talked to her about this so I'm hoping she'll comment, is that being a seeker of truth is not an easy task. The Bible says in John 8:32 that "You (we) shall know the truth and the truth will make you free." It has been my experience thus far though that before it makes you free, it will first make you thoroughly miserable.

I think this is why Jesus makes those strange statements about turning "a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law a man's enemies will be the members of his own household." That's in Matthew 10 by the way and also in Micah 7. Its not a curse. Its a statement of what happens when one member in a family starts to seek truth and finds that it doesn't match with the traditions in which one has been raised.

Truth changes everything.

Lets take the most immediate example. Christmas. I enjoy Christmas. I cherish our family's Christmas traditions. I grew up reading the first chapter of Luke on Christmas eve before bed and I incorporate much of what I grew up with in my traditions now.

Where I get tripped up and made miserable by the truth of Christmas is in knowing that it is highly unlikely that Jesus was born in the winter, and knowing that the date on which we observe Christmas is a pagan holiday co-opted by the Church. Knowing all this it frustrates me greatly to see people get all upset and start fighting over "keeping Christ in CHRISTmas" or over being told "Happy Holidays" as if Christianity is the only world religion that has a major holiday during this time of year. I hate to see emotional energy that would far better be invested in following Jesus example wasted on untruth. The truth is that Christmas isn't Jesus birthday and He is only the "reason for the season" in the same sense that He is the reason for every other day of the year(In him we live and move and have our being). The truth is that He cares more about how we care for the least among us all the time than about how much pomp and pageantry we can create to celebrate His "birthday" within the walls of our multi-million dollar stained-glass enclaves.

I am coming to the belief that Mega-Churches are a blight on the world. I don't say that to cast aspersion on those who found Jesus through the ministries of a Mega-Church or on those who worship at a Mega-Church. I live in that glass house still so I can't afford to throw stones. Its just that I don't think we were ever supposed to be so consumed with maintaining an array of programs and a physical plant that we no longer seem to care about what happens to the people that actually ARE the church.

I'm less a fan of CCM than I once was but there is a song by a group called Acapella Vocal Band (AVB) on their album "What's Your Tag Say?" that resonates with me more and more as I continue to seek out the truth of how this whole Christian Life thing was probably intended to be done. It was called "U can't Go 2 Church". The chorus makes the point:

You can't go to church as some people say
The common terminology we use everyday
You can go to a building, that is something you can do
But you can't go to church 'cause the church is you
'Cause the church is you

Our traditional understanding would have us believe that those of us who have opted out of going to a designated building are somehow "forsaking the church". The truth is that as long as we haven't stopped spending time with other believers and we haven't stopped working out our own salvation with fear and trembling (to paraphrase Paul) then we haven't forsaken the church. We ARE the church. These buildings and other trappings that we call the church came directly out of Roman paganism. That truth, while setting me free to explore other possibilities for ways and places to worship in spirit and in truth, offends the stuffing out of a lot of people.

The fact is that freedom scares people. Truth leads to freedom and that leads to resistance from people who are afraid to be free. Who prefer the safety of tradition to the risk of seeking truth. Truth changes everything.

So my friends, readers and co-authors, how has seeking truth "rocked your world" recently? Comments?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Proverbs 27:6 - Know who your friends are

Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But the kisses of an enemy are deceitful. - Proverbs 27:6 NKJV

In recovering from the abuse that I have experienced at the hands of people who were supposed to be not only my best friends but also my Christian brothers and sisters I have begun to evaluate the misunderstandings and twisting of certain scriptures that seem to allow and enable this kind of behavior to occur. The one that immediately comes to mind is Proverbs 27:6, referenced above. In my opinion the book of Proverbs is one of the most consistently misapplied portions of all scripture and much of what is extracted from it is abusive and hurtful and misses the point entirely. Such is the case of of Proverbs 27:6.

In my experience only the first half of this verse ever gets quoted. "Faithful are the wounds of a friend" and as far as it goes this is true. One of the gifts of friendship is the ability of those we trust as friends to speak truths into our lives that may at the time be painful to hear but that are necessary for our good. What happens though when we leave off the second half of this verse is that we get a skewed message. "The kisses of an enemy are deceitful" seems obvious enough but if you read the two together the picture that emerges to my eyes is one of needing to discern who are our friends and who are our enemies. Most of us aren't going to let known enemies kiss us but most of us WILL let "brothers and sisters in Christ" wound us because we somewhat automatically assume them to be our friends. It is this assumption that allows this verse to become a weapon in the hands of those in every church body who are wolves in sheep's clothing. I have to wonder if the second half of this verse wasn't intended as a prescriptive reminder to be aware that our enemies sometimes come to us with deceitful kisses pretending to be our friends. That all who claim to be our friends aren't worthy of that title and the trust that accompanies it.

That has been my experience in recent months. Finding that those I thought were my closest friends were not who they appeared to be. Learning that the kisses of an enemy are deceitful and realizing that sometimes the deceit is that the enemy is a friend. And yet too often we are taught a boundary-less Christianity that allows and enables this very thing. Misuse of verses such as this one are a part of that.

Much of this blog, sadly, has been about abuse the various authors have experienced at the hands of the church. It would be very easy to dismiss the whole thing as the ranting of people with issues. I challenge my readers, and my co-authors, not to do that. I believe we are the voice of the silent sufferers that are within every congregation too intimidated to speak of their experiences publicly. I believe this because I hear their stories told in whispers week in and week out. I believe it because I have experienced it first hand this year when my grief over what I was seeing happening at my own church was misinterpreted and twisted to be disrespect for the pastor and the fact that others also saw it as I did was twisted to be the result of my sowing discontent. I still shake my head in shocked horror at how that all transpired. I still wonder weekly why I stick it out and stay when I have other options that would be so much easier.

The long and short of it is that I love my church. I still have hope that it can be turned from the path it is on and I guess someone has to be that voice crying in the wilderness and apparently its my turn. I am wiser now though. I don't presume that everyone who I interact with there is my friend. I know who my friends are. They are the ones who have stood by me and held me up this year and for them I am grateful beyond measure. I think this is the challenge within Proverbs 27:6 not that we accept wounds from everyone who chooses to come against us but that we become wise enough to know who our friends are and to know when we are being deceived by the kisses of an enemy. The wounds of a friend ARE faithful. The kisses of an enemy ARE deceitful. Knowing which is which is wisdom.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Two Weeks Until Christmas Begins

I'm going to make a confession here. Christmas is NOT my favorite time of year. I suffer from seasonal depression and pretty much everything between Halloween and St. Patrick's Day takes effort for me to be fully present in much less enjoy. This used to bother me. Then I found out a few things about myself and about Christmas and now it doesn't bother me so much anymore.

Contrary to what the "christian world" seems to believe based on the way we carry on about people saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" December 25th is NOT Jesus' Birthday. We don't know precisely when Christ was born but most responsible scholarship agrees that it was not in the middle of December. December 25th is a pagan holiday co-opted by the Catholic Church hundreds of years ago. Which is not to say I think celebrating it is a bad thing. I am all for celebrating the coming of the light of the world, especially in the dark part of the year that makes me so irrationally sad. I simply refuse to get caught up in the guilt machine that has grown up around that celebration. Its just that this preparation time isn't exciting to me. But then again neither are the last few weeks of pregnancy. Perhaps that is the point of Advent. The waiting isn't supposed to be the main event. The waiting is just that. Waiting. Preparing. Nesting. Getting ready. And just as the last few weeks of my pregnancy made me tired and grumpy, well, so does this part of the Holiday season. And I am finally OK with that.

Last year was the first time I consciously slowed down enough to observe these things about myself. What I found was that for me the feelings that I hear others wax poetic about regarding the Christmas season don't seem to come before the day itself. There are exceptions. Hanukkah for one.

A few years ago we added a basic observance of Hanukkah to our holiday celebration. Hanukkah begins at sundown tonight. There is some scholarship that indicates that the Christ was conceived during Hanukkah, the light of the world entering the womb of the virgin during the festival of lights seems to me like the sort of poetic thing that God would do. Adding this observance has helped me a great deal. It brings focus that the light is coming again. The darkness will not last forever. Advent does this as well but sometimes that observance can become as much a burden as a blessing with all the alms calendars and church events that we seem determined to fill up the waiting with. Our Hanukkah observations are simple. We light the candles, we play dreidel, we eat chocolate. We read about the miracle of the lights. I have been criticized for this practice because we are not ethnically or religiously Jewish. I am not attempting to be. I am simply observing a festival that the Christ himself likely observed and allowing it to bring joy to a time that for me is not usually joyful.

Christmas itself is a time of certain obligations. They are family obligations and not burdensome but they are obligations still. We are expected to travel. We are expected to spend the entire day and evening primarily with the extended family. We are expected to exchange gifts. We are expected to juggle the schedules of over 2 dozen people so that no one gets slighted. Its a lot of work. Worth it? Yes of course but it is still work. This year, with finances tighter than they have ever been, it is hard to generate the enthusiasm of previous less lean years. It is two weeks until Christmas and not only is the tree not up but the embroidery machine is in the spot where it is supposed to go. And I have work to be done so moving the machine is not yet an option. There may not be a tree this year. If there is it may not go up until just before we leave for the holiday.

My husband and I commented often over the past decade when most of our Christmas vacations included a 3 day youth trip called "Breakthru" that it really didn't "feel like Christmas" until we arrived at Camp Summatanga. We noticed last year, when Breakthru was no longer on the schedule, that what finally "felt like Christmas" to us was the annual reunion of my classmates from High School that always happens within a day or two after the holiday itself. From that observation came an accidental celebration of the "12 Days of Christmas" that has become hugely meaningful to me and that is what I am truly looking forward to this year.

The 12 days of Christmas isn't just some strange song. Its a period of time in the church year between Christmas Day and Epiphany (January 6th) and it, not the days of Advent which were more for reflection and preparation, is when the holiday part of Christmas was observed. I'm still learning about the associated traditions but for us what it is becoming is the time that we get to celebrate the season free of anyone else's expectations of us. It also helps with the "post Christmas let down" that some of my more conventional friends seem to experience. My husband typically takes vacation for a couple of weeks right here at the end of the year. We have the luxury of time that we don't normally have in his workaday world. Our "bonus children" are usually home from school so it is an ideal time to spend celebrating with them. Most of the holiday stuff in Memphis stays up and open until New Years at least but the crowds are much smaller after the big day than they were before.

Its two weeks until Christmas. We're in the waiting. I don't like waiting. On December 25th the party really begins. On the first day of Christmas.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Days of Infamy

Today is "Pearl Harbor Day", the event in American history that generated the famous quote "a day which will live in infamy". I hope to take nothing from that greatest generation with my ponderings and contemplations today. You see I think there are and have been many days of infamy. I have a few in my own life, that for me personally are days of infamy. Everyone I know does. When we're trying to spiritualize them we call them "attacks from the enemy" or if we want to make ourselves overly responsible for them we can call them "flesh acts" as we did in one of my religion classes in graduate school. When we're trying to capitalize upon them and use them to motivate ourselves or others we call them "defining moments". Sometimes in our desire to "overcome" we do everything in our power to minimize and deny those days. We tell ourselves that we need to get over them and move on. We engage in all kinds of mental gymnastics to deal with these events but like similar events in the larger world ultimately they are the days that we can point to and say that event, that hurt, that betrayal, that pain...that changed everything.

I'd venture to say that each of my co-authors has their own collection of days of infamy, some of which lead are what us to our unconventional brand of Christianity in the first place. I wonder what would happen in our Churches if such days of infamy were not met with cliches and platitudes but rather with validation.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

World AIDS Day - The NAMES Ceremony

Today, December 1, 2009, is World AIDS Day. I was invited by my friend Skip, who I hope will soon be joining us as a contributor, to participate in a new event in conjunction with the Marker Project the first Shelby County World AIDS Day NAMES Ceremony. This was probably the single most powerful memorial for those lost to the battle against HIV/AIDS that I have ever seen.

Standing in the bitter cold with the AIDS markers ever in view, dozens and dozens of readers from every segment of our community, read aloud the first names of all 2,911 children, women and men that Shelby County has lost to AIDS since the epidemic began being tracked in 1983. The diversity of backgrounds, organizations and denominations represented gives me hope that we are finally turning the corner on the dark times when the stigma of HIV/AIDS was such that its victims were often forced into the margins of society and when the fear of it was so great that children could be born and die with it spending their entire brief lives never having known the comfort of being held and loved and touched. We simply didn't know any better in those dark early days.

I started out the day inflating balloons. Nearly 100 red balloons commemorating those who have been lost and a single white one, symbolizing hope. Jessica found herself on the stage, and anyone who knows her knows how far outside her comfort zone that placed her, handing those balloons to each reader as they finished speaking so that each one could be released into the Memphis sky. At some point late in the event Skip invited me to read. I don't know whose absence I filled but I am thankful for the opportunity to have been a part of this both behind the scenes and behind the podium.

When I took the podium I dedicated my portion of the reading to the memory of my four friends, Jeff, Charlie, Mike and Robert who though not from Shelby County also died of AIDS. As I read down the first page I was stunned nearly to tears to encounter each of those four names recorded there was well. When I was done I took the red balloon from Jessica and walked out into the lawn. As I released it I whispered softly, "I love you Jeff. I miss you." and I watched it make its way slowly skyward.

I can't even begin to explain how it feels to be among a congregation of people that understands and has compassion for those who are impacted by HIV/AIDS in this county, in this country. For the first time in nearly 15 years, since I lost Jeff, I didn't feel like I was grieving alone. The difference is astonishing.

We as a family will be continuing to visit First Baptist Memphis and exploring the possibility that God is moving us toward a change of churches. From what I have seen thus far of their spirit of acceptance to some of the most marginalized among us I am hopeful. We knew a year ago that this would be a season change, we are wondering now if this is the change we saw then. We'll keep you posted as we explore this path.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Where are the Voices of Reason?

I have become aware recently of a "humorous" Christian product being sold around the internet...its available in shirts and hats and on teddy bears and it reads as follows:

Pray for Obama: Psalm 109:8

How many people know what Psalm 109:8 and its completing couplet Psalm 109:9 actually say? Well, for the edification of our readers here are the two verses from Blue Letter Bible :

Let his days be few; [and] let another take his office. Psalm 109:8 KJV
Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow. Psalm 109:9 KJV

Lest you think it is a quirk of the KJV translation, its not. Every version in BLB's extensive list says basically the same thing. Psalm 109 is one of the genre known as the cursing psalms. Not only is Psalm 109 one of these it is considered as one of the most horrible in the Bible. Don't be deceived, this scripture was chosen specifically and the intent was not to be humorous. There is an element within Right Wing American Christian Culture that is every bit as crazy and dangerous as anything within the Islamic Jihad movement. This passage is their battle cry.

It is because of this that I have been praying for the physical safety of our President ever since I found out that he would be the Democratic candidate. My concern at the time was the potential actions of some deranged racist. That concern unfortunately has expanded to include the potential actions of some deluded religiously motivated individual. I don't think it is that far fetched and I do think it is imperative that the leaders of the Religious Right in particular stand up and denounce this kind of thing when it crops up.

Right now the silence is deafening.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

World AIDS Day and the Marker Project

Marker Project Event Page on Facebook

Sunday I will be gathering with the Church at First Baptist on Poplar and Parkway to participate in a project that has become very dear to my heart. Each year for the last decade, in conjunction with World AIDS Day, the congregations at First Baptist and at Greater Lewis Street Missionary Baptist which sits just across Poplar join together and install thousands of red velvet ribbons on stakes in the yards of the two buildings. Each of those ribbons represents a person with AIDS from Shelby County who has died from the disease.

The focus of the World AIDS Day Marker Project is three-fold:

• COMMEMORATE the lives of those lost to HIV/AIDS
• CELEBRATE the lives of those who are successfully living with HIV/AIDS
• EDUCATE others to prevent further loss of life from HIV/AIDS

For me the focus is much more personal. For me it is about honoring the memory of four men...Jeffery Scott Shepherd, Michael Robinson, Charlie Leonard and Robert Michie. Each of these men were special to me and in a brief five year period in the late 80's/early 90's I lost each of them to AIDS. It is also about Laura Finn, my husbands childhood best friend, who we lost to AIDS less than 3 years ago. And it is about my friends who are HIV positive or living with AIDS. As I hammer markers into the ground, I honor their fight, I remember their lives, I mourn those who are absent and I pray that we as the Church will repent. We seem to have compassion for our brothers and sisters with AIDS in other countries but we show a glaring lack of that same compassion when it comes to our brothers and sisters with AIDS here. In our country. In our city.

This display of red ribbons, simple as it is, gives me hope that at least SOME in the church "get it". That the Fred Phelps of the world are not the voice of the church on the issue. That it is possible to both love God and love our GLBT brothers and sisters who ALSO LOVE GOD but who have been ostracized and marginalized by his church. I don't pretend to have the answers. My GLBT friends would probably tell you that I mess it up on a regular basis in knowing how the details of it all should work out. But I love them and they love me and we love God and try really hard to work out the details together. We have failed our brothers and sisters in the GLBT community in so many ways and one of the most glaring to me is our response to the AIDS epidemic in THIS country.

I have often wondered what kind of message it sends when we raise money to combat AIDS in Africa (a noble cause, don't get me wrong) and yet in this country our so-called leaders of the "religious Right" felt it appropriate to say stuff on national television like:

"AIDS is not just God's punishment for homosexuals; it is God's punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals." - Jerry Falwell

"I know one man who was impotent who gave AIDS to his wife and the only thing they did was kiss." - Pat Robertson

Rantings of whack jobs? Sure. But also the vocalization of the ignorant beliefs of far too many of their followers. And that's just the tip of the iceburg of the ignorance and ugliness that "christians" spew about GLBT people in this country. An ugliness that goes suspiciously silent when it comes to fighting AIDS in Africa.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for fighting AIDS wherever it is ravaging lives and families. I think that dealing with the epidemic in Africa is critical. I just wonder what it says about the American church when our priorities seem so obviously skewed to the foreign mission and our attitudes toward those struggling with the same disease in this country are so condemnatory. So if you want to be a part of something that isn't...something that represents the best of what the Church can be when she is showing her compassionate heart and you're in Memphis on November 22nd at 11 am come to 1st Baptist and worship and then join us in placing the markers and going to lunch afterward. See you there.

Friday, November 13, 2009

To Write Love on Her Arms

Today, and probably for the next several days since I chose to use sharpie markers, I will be going around with the word "LOVE" written on both my wrists. There is a reason for this beyond the little kid fun of writing on myself. Today is "To Write Love on Her Arms" Day. To Write Love on Her Arms is a movement inspired by the kind of action that I believe Unconventional Christians understand as the very purpose of the body of Christ.

The story is available here: TWLOHA My Space

A decade ago I met weekly with a young girl who self injured. I always felt helpless in the face of her pain. A decade ago there were few resources out there and even fewer people who were talking about the reality of the hurt our kids cope with in the best ways they can. We muddled along. I don't know how much I "helped" her but I know that to this day she knows, unquestioningly, that I love her.

Today I have the word "LOVE" on my arms and I am hoping that people will ask why. When they do I will tell them about those who struggle with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide...and I will point them to TWLOHA and to hope. Isn't that what the church is supposed to do in the world? Create a space for people to ask questions about why we do what we do and point them to HOPE?

Unfortunately we seem too often to cause people to wonder the wrong thing. Not why we love...but why we hate. Today I have the word LOVE on my arms because I believe in a God who says he IS love and who tells us to be known in the world by our love. May He forgive us when we are not and help us to change that. One act of love at a time.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Church As Just a Community Center?

I love the church. I love the church with passion. I love the church TOO much. This is a big part of why I don't really go to church anymore.

You see, if I didn't love the church, I wouldn't expect anything of the church. I would not expect the church to be the people of God. I would not expect the church to remain honest in the midst of a political campaign. I would not expect the church to love people instead of labeling them and judging them. I would not expect the people to gather around the wounded and pray for them instead of ridiculing and devouring them.

If I did not love the church, perhaps I could just go... participate in the things that are beneficial, and just be too concerned when the unthinkable and unbelievable is perpetrated on the unsuspecting. I would not be sensitive to truth being sacrificed for tradition or applause.

I haven't been to church much in the past 3-4 years. I miss praying together with other Christians. I miss worshiping with a group of believers. I miss the encouragement and bearing of burdens. But when I look back on it, there wasn't much of that really happening at church, and when I do go to church occasionally, I don't see much of that happening. I get more of that at Kroger or online or right out on the street than I was experiencing at church. I am able to give that to people right out in the neighborhood without violating any programs, agendas or tight schedules or egos.

So, lately, I've been missing church again. I realize it started when I saw all the Halloween party pictures posted online. I miss getting together and decorating and dressing up and eating each other's culinary creations. I really am going to need somewhere to go sing Christmas songs and hang tinsel and see a Christmas play. As these thought go through my mind, I think.... "I got all that in school, as a child. I know some people get that at community centers... where can I be a part of the seasonal fun?"

I've always valued community... needed community, wanted community. So, is it possible I could just approach church with a "community center" mind set? Could I just go for the party, but not be heartbroken over the times I see people rejected because they just don't fit in? Could I just go for the pumpkins and not notice the dirty politics? And could I handle the "tick tock" approach to fellowship... move it move it move it people...what's the hold up..." lady, why are you crying, get out of the way we've got important stuff to do here," attitude that seems so pervasive to me when I do enter a church?

The insane thing is... right now, I honestly want it so badly. Why do I feel like an addict confessing to an illicit craving? My family is sure it would not take much to cure me. Still, I keep thinking... "If I could just pretend it doesn't matter... maybe..."

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Micah 6:8 Ramblings

He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

This verse has come up over and over and over again in recent weeks. It was the theme for Youth Encounter Weekend at my church in August. Robyn mentioned it in her intro for this blog. I actually had considered, before I decided not to put a verse in the subtitle, using this verse there. While I was away on vacation I read a staggering variety of things, not all of them remotely religious in nature, yet somehow this verse figured in all of them. I can be a bit thick at times but when God puts something in my path, over and over again, it usually means that He wants me to pay attention to it.

Act Justly

Love Mercy

Walk Humbly

I think those of us here who have been hurt by the institutional church would agree that the failings we have experienced would fall broadly in one of those three areas. By the way, I use the distinctive "institutional church" rather than simply "the church" because I believe with all my heart that there exists a Universal Church, the one spoken of in scripture as "the Bride of Christ" that transcends all denominational lines and quite probably several lines between major religions as well. It is this Universal Church that I am coming to care more about identifying with. I see in the parable of the sheep and the goats that there will be those who have spent their lives believing themselves to be acting on the behalf and in the name of God who will find out that they were not. Interestingly enough in this parable the failures they are specifically called out for are those that would also be failures in light of Micah 6:8. If you don't know the story check out Matthew 23:31-45.

Could it be that it really all boils down to these three? Act Justly (or Do Justice as another version puts it), Love Mercy and Walk Humbly. Jesus said that the two great commandments were to Love the Lord with heart, soul, mind and strength and to love thy neighbor as thyself. Which also looks a lot like what we are told to do in Micah 6:8. Because loving God looks a lot like walking humbly and loving our neighbor looks a lot like doing justice and loving mercy. Seems to me this might be important. What do you think?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I miss saying grace...

College, I must admit, can be delightfully hedonistic. Well, while I have admittedly few vices personally beyond late nights and snuggles, there is something alluring about the decided lack of rules and the general enthusiasm for the unorthodox that looms over college communities (or at least, liberal college communities). It's intoxicating (At times, literally so for many). You get caught up in this whirlwind of fun and learning and friends. It's really the best place I've ever been in my entire life.

But I miss saying grace. I miss having that one moment with a bunch of other people when you just stop and forget about yourselves and your day and simply take the time to be grateful. I miss waking up for church on Sunday mornings. I miss daily prayers. I miss having Bible study time, and I miss people not thinking I'm crazy because I can easily reference certain verses. I miss people understanding things I take for granted and figured everyone could easily comprehend, like communion and Lent. I miss being a part of a community of faith, what the Quran calls the "umma."

It seems silly. These things have always been a fairly substantial part of my life. But here I am, not doing them, and I totally could do a lot of them. I try to explain things to people, and I've kept up a lot of things, but goodness I do so love sleeping in on Sundays. Sure I could say grace in the dining center, but honestly, I get busy talking and scooting chairs, and I forget. I could say my old highschool prayer at the same time, but usually I'm in class.

I know, I know. Excuses, excuses. But I'm doing what I can.

College has really strengthened my beliefs though. I can articulate them, discuss them, and I see now how really important they are to me. I've seen how curious people can be about faith, and I've seen how refreshing it can be to consider things from new perspectives.

But it's kind of hard sometimes to be one of the few believers in a sea of the faithless and to see how much the church has let so many of them down. It hurts. These wonderful people, most only about 19, 20 years old, who have been hurt or disappointed by a centuries old institution that is meant to bring hope, but that they consider an instrument of oppression and an utter sham...

I don't think it's my place to bring people to the church. Honestly, it's not my calling. I'm neither persuasive, nor pushy, nor that specific about my own faith to lead anybody else anywhere. In every freaking spiritual gift assessment I've ever taken at every church I've ever been at, I've never gotten my stupid results back (lazy Methodists for the lose), so goodness knows what my calling actually is.

The one thing I'm decent at in my opinion is loving people. And I guess while I'm here, I'll just stick with that.

God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for my school. Amen.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Beach Reading - "A Million Miles in A Thousand Years" by Donald Miller

If you hang around here long you're going to find that one of my favorite contemporary thinkers and authors is a guy named Donald Miller. He wrote this pretty amazing book called "Blue Like Jazz" that rather revolutionized my thinking a couple of years back. He's done so again with his newest book, "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years".

I heard Donald speak almost exactly a year ago, he was working on this project at the time. I remember wishing desperately that the book was already in print because the way he spoke of life as story resonated so strongly to me as a writer. It is FINALLY done and on the shelves and it does NOT disappoint.

I brought it with me to the beach as a beach read. I read it through the first day we arrived and then I spent half of the evening and today underlining the things that my spirit went "YES!" to as I read it the first time. I don't want to share too many excerpts but so much of what he said hit me right where I live. From the authors note at the very beginning of the book to the afterword at the end this book spoke to my soul.

On page 59 in the middle of the page there is this quote:

If I have a hope, its that God sat over the dark nothing and wrote you and me, specifically, into the story, and put us in with the sunset and the rainstorm as though to say, Enjoy your place in my story. The beauty of it means you matter, and you can create within it even as I have created you.

With the exception of gender, this passage applies directly to me:

"I feel written. My skin feels written, and my desires feel written. My sexuality was a word spoken by God, that I would be(fe)male, and I would have brown hair and brown eyes and come from a womb. It feels literary, doesn't it, as if we are charcters in books.

You can call it God or a conscience you can dismiss it as that intutive knowing we all have as human beings, as living storytellers; but there is a knowing I feel that guides me toward better stories, toward being a better character. I believe there is a writer outside ourselves, plotting a better story for us, interacting with us, even, and whispering a better story into our consciousness."

Those who know the details of my real life this year will understand why I found this quote so incredibly comforting.

"The human body essentially recreates itself every six months. Nearly every cell of hair and skin and bone dies and another is directed into its former place. You are not who you were in February."

I am still absorbing it all. I highly recommend it though. Its on sale for just under $12 at Family Christian Stores. Go get it.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

I Was Born in the Sign of Water

and its there that I feel my best...

I'm taking off for a week and heading to the beach with my family. I'm leaving the blog in the capable hands of my co-authors and I hope to come back refreshed and with maybe some new insights to share.

I've become rather disenchanted with spiritual retreats where other people tell me what they think it is I need to know. I think that perhaps the best model we have for spiritual retreats is Jesus. Big surprise there. Often after an intense period of ministry or testing he retreated alone to collect himself and recharge and reconnect with his purpose and his Father. This year has been an intense period for me, whether it is testing or just life beating me down I don't yet know. I do know that I am nearly desperate for some peace and time to be alone and collect myself and recharge and reconnect with my purpose and my Father. In that sense this trip is a spiritual retreat for me.

I have some thought provoking reading material (Donald Miller's newest book - A Million Miles in A Thousand Years) as well as some mindless diversions (dominoes, craft projects, tabloid magazines) and I am counting the minutes until my husband gets home and we can pack the van and head south.

I am seriously addicted to the online world so I'm expecting some pretty brutal withdrawal symptoms. I have cut and am continuing to cut my online presence and commitments as a result of conversations with Matt and revelations from my own instincts about things that have contributed to the drain on my time and energy that has me running for the ocean. I am sure there will be more such things pruned away before I return. If I disappear from some of the online places where our lives intersect know that this is likely why. Nothing personal.

"There's one thing in my life that's missing, its the time that I spend alone..." And I'm about to remedy that situation. Have a great week. I'll talk to you when I get back.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

My Online Friend Mary Died Yesterday

And on the mothering board we frequent there is a long thread of people who have had their faith shaken by her death because we were all praying so fervently for her healing. I cannot comment there on the thoughts that are going through my mind for they aren't the happy "Christian" platitudes that people seem to expect and perhaps need to hear in times like these.

Am I sad for the loss my friend's family is experiencing? Of course I am. Death is hard for those of us left behind.

Does it break my mama heart that her 10 surviving children, ages 22 to 2, are going to go through the rest of their time on this earth motherless? Absolutely.

Do I believe that her lack of being healed in this life in any way has anything to do with us not praying enough or believing enough or having enough faith? Absolutely not and the fact that we as a group seem to collectively bear that false guilt infuriates me about the way the church teaches about healing.

Mary had stage 4 lung cancer when she was diagnosed. She was pregnant with her 11th child, a surprise pregnancy in her 42nd year. She was stunned when they found the cancer and by the time they did find it she was very aware that there was very little medical science could do for her or for her baby. She did what any of us would do in that situation. She turned to prayer. And she called on us, her friends, to pray with her. Praying for Mary was a privilege. Of course we prayed for healing. Who wouldn't? This was a friend and her baby. And I believe that Mary drew strength for her battle from knowing she was being lifted 24 hours a day in prayer. Yet the battle didn't end the way we hoped. She and her baby died yesterday within hours of each other.

What makes me angry is that our grief is tainted with a false sense of guilt. An inflated sense of our own power that leads us to blame ourselves for something we truly had less than no control over. It is taught in the churches under various names, "name it, claim it", "claiming your healing", "believing for a miracle"...the thing is, at its core, its a form of witchcraft. Its the idea that if we just say the right words with the right amount of faith then God MUST do what we ask of him. Like Dorothy Gale tapping our red glitter heels together and chanting "There's no place like home, There's no place like home..." we feel cheated when the Wizard doesn't grant our wishes.

Yes, we are told to come boldly before the throne of grace and present our petitions to the Lord. Yes, we are told, and I believe, that our prayers can sometimes move God and change what otherwise would be. But ultimately I think we show a shocking lack of humility when we presume that is the USUAL outcome. Miracles are called miracles because they are rare.

As I prayed for Mary, always in the back of my mind was the awareness that the battle she was fighting was one that most people do not win. Is that a lack of faith or a solid grip on reality? I truly think it is the latter. The outcome is not what I had hoped for. I don't pretend to comprehend the purpose of taking a mother from her children especially when she had children who were still so young. Yet in these times and situations I keep coming back to God's response to Job and I realize that I wasn't there when He laid the foundations of the earth and I don't have sufficient understanding to make sense of these things. I honestly take great comfort in that fact. That it is OK not to understand, not to have to make sense of things like this. I am incapable of understanding.

What I DO know and understand is this, the God I know and serve would not punish my "lack of faith" by taking the life of another person. He just wouldn't. Therefore any thought that such a thing contributed to this is false guilt.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Who We Are

T-Bear – I was raised Southern Baptist, became Methodist in college, married into the Church of Christ and over the last decade and a half followed along as God brought me back through the Southern Baptist Church and to the Methodist Church once again. I attend a Methodist Mega-church in a moderately large Southern City. I was a rather mainstream Methodist looking around though I began to observe some things that seemed consistently to put me at odds with the mainstream. For example: I believe in the radical idea that God actually loves and accepts EVERYONE. That puts me at odds with the "Our Way is RIGHT" mainstream. I also believe that God would have us raise our children with gentleness and reason rather than trying to shape their character through behavioral modification techniques involving pain. That puts me at odds with the "Christian Parenting" mainstream. I have a burden for the GLBT community born of burying 4 friends in 5 years at the height of the AIDS crisis in the early 90’s. That puts me at odds with the "Sanctity of Marriage" mainstream. I am a home-school mama who is also a belly-dancer, that that little hobby put me at odds with my peers really surprised me. Apparently I don't fit into either the "public/private school" or "Christian home-school" mainstream. It was probably about that time that I finally realized I must be a rather Unconventional Christian, hence the title of this blog. So I invited some of my Unconventional Christian friends to join me in this experiment in cooperative blogging. My friends and I don’t pretend to have all the answers. Sometimes we don’t even agree among ourselves. This is a place to contemplate and discuss stuff we encounter along the journey. Welcome. * update *I am currently worshiping with an amazing group of rather Unconventional Christians at First Baptist Church Memphis and I love it!

Matthew - Raised Free Will Baptist, I began to question the marked difference between the way the Bible said people were supposed to act, and the way the members of my dad's church behaved. This dichotomy grew over the years, until I came of age, and dropped out of organized church life altogether. Burned out and saddened by the discovery that yellow bricks sometimes just lead to the bank, I set out to determine for myself exactly why it was that so much of what people claimed were the words of God actually turned out to be misquoted, misunderstood, misused, misogynist, misanthropic, misappropriated and missing from the Bible itself.

RobynHerself - "Eclectic" describes me because I never can squeeze myself into any prescribed mold, whether political, denominational or anything else! When asked to choose my "favorite" of anything, I am overwhelmed by the many possibilities because life is a palette and how could I possibly choose just ONE of anything? I think most of the streams of theology contain bits of the truth and the Christian denominations hold pieces to the puzzle. Politically, I look at each issue on its own merit. I have come to value "consensus" rather than "majority" when it comes to government, in church and in every level of American government. Democracy works best when rooted in the collective wisdom of people seeking to meet needs rather than a "survival of the fittest" mentality. I pray that my opinions and attitudes will be grounded in scripture and God's truth rather than any prepackaged manifesto. God is continually "deprogramming" me and teaching me new things. All my answers seem to lead to more questions. Am I an idealist? Yes... if believing that respecting others and cooperation would bring us to a whole new level spiritually and in society is idealistic. Some call me naive, usually when I bring Jesus' teachings into political or religious discussion! The longer I live, the more "idealistic" and "naive" I become. The more Jesus' teachings merge with my experience of the political and church landscape, the less "at home" I feel among conventional Christians. When I begin to flounder, fearing I'm losing my foundations, this scripture helps me regain my balance: "He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8) Everything else is unnecessary complication. Life is HARD, people. Let's love each other.

Lil Spoon - I’m supposed to tell you things I think it’s important for you to know about me. I’m liberal, almost painfully so, although in the past year or so I’ve found myself becoming slightly more conservative on the scale of being liberal. That probably makes no sense, but that’s the next thing you need to know anyways: sometimes I make no sense. I’m in college, and I’m probably going to be a religion major. I’m a strange hybrid of a Methodist and an Episcopalian and a Quaker, and I grew up in a Methodist/Baptist family and went to Episcopal school, though I have a close affiliation with both the Jewish and the Quaker community. Go figure on that one. But at the end of the day, my heart belongs to the Episcopal Church. I love hymns and kneelers, and I simply can’t function without my copy of the Book of Common Prayer. The formality of most Episcopal churches seems to be an odd contrast to my relatively relaxed life views, although their overall liberal attitude makes it a perfect fit, and I actually love the formality and the sense of unity it brings to a congregation. I don’t want to give too much more away though; you can just figure me out as I go, because that’s pretty much what I’m doing myself anyways.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Be The Church

If this blog had a scripture verse in its tagline it would be Micah 6:8 - for those unfamiliar the verse in the NIV reads as follows:

He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

The church, as she was intended to be, was to be a venue for justice and mercy and to be characterized by humility in her walk with God. We've blown it. Badly.

Matthew hit on some of my own pet issues with the church. If the church was BEING the church we wouldn't be in the mess we're in right now. The government wouldn't have to be involved in health care reform or welfare or any other "human services" areas because the church would be filling those roles. Because she is not, the government has to step in. And because she is not and the government has to step in then logically it follows that the government has the right to bill the church for its services.

I hear a lot of hysteria in Christian circles about how "They" are going to take away our ability to preach the whole of Scripture. Too often when I tease it out "They" is the government and the "truth" that the person is referring to is something along the lines of "Abortion is Murder" or something to that affect. Clearly "Love your enemies" isn't the kind of speech that is going to get us on "their" list. Well, if this is what "we" really believe then one answer to the problem is to surrender our precious tax exempt status and disentangle ourselves from the government's pockets and hence from their regulation of what we can and cannot say, what we can and cannot do, who we can and cannot marry.

There is a saying in real life, "Follow the Money". If you want to know who has the control/power then follow the money. If the church wants autonomy to be the church then she needs to cut her ties to the state and pony up her portion of taxes just like any other organization does. We can't have it both ways. A day is coming, and quickly in this economy, where we are going to have to decide whom we are going to serve. Freeing ourselves from our ties to the government coffers is one choice we need to make.

Stop stealing from me!

In cities all across the country, new churches are sprouting, faster than can easily be counted. As I drive through the streets of my small, financially-challenged town in the Rural South, a week never goes by when I don't see at least one being prepared for occupation.

It seems the campaign to win the hearts and minds of the general populace is well underway- and thank goodness, eh? After all, every church helps to provide for the needs of the community, through the tithing of its congregation- I'm so proud of them all, sacrificing a portion of their paychecks for the Greater Glory of God (c)! I'm so glad that those monies, which are already taxed by the Federal Government, go into the coffers of such organizations, dedicated to the purpose of charitable works in the local community. Why, I see soup kitchens, free housing, clothes banks, and volunteers everywhere, from every church around, making sure our poor, our helpless, our infirmed, and our disadvantaged brothers and sisters are well-taken-care-of.

It's certainly a great thing that our Founding Fathers envisioned, this wonderful trade-off of tax-free status, in exchange for the government never having to spend public funds to take care of those among us who have physical, medical, social, and emotional needs. It fills me with joy to see how well it's all worked-out. I mean, really- we don't have to worry about anyone going hungry, or losing everything because of an illness, no sirree, not with these folks on the job, glorifying God with every soul they provide for the needs of. Tireless, really.

Honestly- it's no big deal when a church buys a nearby plot of land that happens to have a successful shopping mall on it, and opens facilities there- it's all in the name of helping others, and who cares if the taxes on some multi-million-dollar property just stop flowing into the government coffers. I'm sure they'll make it up elsewhere- heck- I'll pony up the difference on my own tax bill, cheerfully! It warms my cockles to see how inventive churches have become at generating money for their purposes- I'd never have imagined keeping the tenants in those shopping malls, and charging them rent. It's brilliant, I tell you! Why, the uses for that income are incredible- I'm sure I'll see even more free food, clothing, shelter, and medical care for the needy out of it, just any day, now.

And I don't really even mind that the salaried staff of these glory-filled places don't pay income taxes- they've earned the pensions and college funds the flock gives them. Managing such a complicated, gigantic infrastructure must be stressful. No wonder they need several vacations and getaways per year. And, of course, their children must be educated to the hilt, to ensure that they, too, can continue to build more churches, so that the Divine Calling of Charity (c) is met, all around the world!

Friends and neighbors, we musn't let our own paltry needs weaken our resolve. Our best contribution to the cause, obviously, is our weekly tithes- I daresay none of us would have any idea how to accomplish all these great things for the Almighty! Rejoice! We're serving our fellow man in an awesome way!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

When Good Christians Go Bad - A Response

I know intimately the situation to which Lil Spoon is referring. This has been a rough year for our church as a whole and even worse for some of us as individuals. The level of disillusion is pretty high. People I have thought I knew nearly as well as I knew myself have proven to be broken in ways that I could not begin to have imagined. In some cases I know mitigating circumstances and am able to feel nothing but pity for the people involved despite my anger at the hurt they have caused others. Yet still there is the need to speak truth and say this behavior is wrong. This choice is sinful and hurtful to others. This needs to change. Repentance means changing not just being sorry.

Repentance is one of those big churchy words that has gotten a bad rap lately. Along with sin. We like to pretend that its all sunshine and roses and be "seeker friendly" and all that. And that's a good thing. Jesus does love us just as we are. But He doesn't leave us that way. And thank God for that.

Nash is one of my best friends in the entire world. We have known each other since we were children and he loves me just about as close to unconditionally as it is possible for human beings to love. He also has been far more patient with me over the years than any one human being deserves. Even at that, he's quick to let me know when I'm screwing up my life and particularly when I'm screwing up my life in a way that impacts others. He told me recently after one such incident, "You're better than this."

I think that's how God sees us when we're being self-destructive and hurting others out of our own pain. He created us in his image and He knows how much better we are than we think we are capable of being. If we're open to letting Him help us face our own dark places then over time He grows us into that better self.

Self-help as a genre is one of the largest sellers in the publishing world. Clearly we know that we are screwed up people. We're looking for answers for our problem. The church has those answers to a large degree but because we're suddenly pretending that we don't have problems nothing is getting solved. And the world looks at the church and sees us as being as screwed up as everyone else is and wonders, "what's the point?"

As Yul Brenner used to say in "The King and I"...Is a puzzlement.

Unexpected Support

I am on the board of a rather conservative Christian organization for home-schoolers and for most of my tenure I have flown completely under the radar regarding some of my personal political/religious beliefs particularly those about civil rights for GLBT people because of the nature of my position on that board. In recent weeks I have watched a local issue about job descrimination that I felt very called to become directly involved in but I was very reluctant to do so due to the position I hold on the board. Last night at our monthly board meeting I resolved to "out" myself on this issue and the fact that I am more liberal politically than most of the board generally is and once it was on the table to let the board know I was more than willing to step down. I did this fully expecting to be asked to do precisely that.

And I was stunned by the response.

As far as the board is concerned there is no conflict of interest, even though my role is as their political representative, because this issue does not have anything to do with home schooling. They want me to stay. I made it very clear that I was going to be publicly involved and that I couldn't guarentee I wouldn't be seen on local news outlets. They still want me to stay. They have said that we will cross the bridge of dealing with member reaction if and when we come to it.

Perhaps there is hope that our home school community is becoming less locked into a certain ultra-right wing conservative position than it has previously held. I don't know. I will take the unexpected support though. It was nice for once to have it.

Monday, October 12, 2009

When Good Christians Go Bad

I'm really personally struggling with this right now. So many people who profess to have such profound faith seem to be such utter screw ups when other people are able to peek into their lives. Now, every one is entitled to some screw ups. We're only human, and we're not perfect. Life and mistakes happen. It's how we learn. But some people just seem to profess the Christian faith and then go happily along their way, hurting people mentally, physically, psychologically, and emotionally and never caring that what they practice is radically different from what they preach.

Jesus is not a get out of hell free card people. Just because he died for your sins doesn't mean you get to do whatever the heck you want to anyone you want. So don't use him that way.

I'm gonna go ahead and quote one of the best television programs ever made (Scrubs) on this one: "Did you just compare my Lord and Savior to a tiny tophat?" Treating Jesus like he's divine fire insurance is rather like comparing him to a tiny tophat - utterly ridiculous. Jesus isn't something you can stick in your pocket and use when you feel bad; he's not a happy pill. He's not that friend you call only when you're down. He's not that weird relative you forget exists, but whom you enthusiastically hug at family Christmas parties like you've been living for the moment when you'd see them again. You owe him something, or more specifically, you owe him a lot on behalf of the world and everyone in it. So how on earth can anyone who believes in Jesus stand to treat their brothes and sisters in Christ like dirt? seems vaguely punny. Anyways, back on topic. Whatever happened to loving your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39)? What happened to caring about not only your neighbors, but your friends and your family, those you are even more deeply connected with?

Joel Osteen, preacher of Lakewood, a megachurch in Houston, rarely preaches on sin. He finds it discouraging for his congregation (NB: he does preach though that homosexuality is a sin apparently. I guess it's his exception to the rule?). This seems to be the attitude of a good bit of the modern church - let's not think about sin. Let's think about how nice God is! Hooray!

But here's the deal people - not everyone views sin the same way. I'm not a fan of hellfire and brimstone preaching at all. But we've taken the opposite stance to the point that pedophiles, incestous creeps, adulterers, stalkers, manipulators, abusers, thieves, sociopaths and all sorts of terrible people aren't hearing AT ALL that their ways need to change and that God wants them to behave better towards their fellow human beings. While Jesus loves everybody just as they are, it doesn't mean he loves how we act all the time, just like you love your dog even when it pees on the floor, but you'll probably still be rather POed and use some pretty interesting words. Heck, an awful lot of people would claim that that applies to a whole lot of how I've lived my life up to this point, and honestly, they'd be right to an extent. Everybody screws up. But that doesn't mean it's okay to ignore that you've screwed up and think it's okay because you're special and Jesus loves you. You have to do better, work harder, love more deeply. It's why we're here, or at least I hope to goodness that's why I'm here.

As you can tell, my opinions of the biggest sins are sins against other people. To hurt another human being is to hurt someone who was made in God's image, whom he personally created and has a plan for. We are meant to love one another, not to harm. But that's just my opinion.

And if nothing is impossible with God (Like 1:37) then why exactly is he letting such bad things happen? Why do the bad people who claim to have him in their lives get away with such awful things?

Faith is belief beyond the scope of reason, and I'm clinging to it and hoping all the crazy stuff going on not only in my corner of the world but in everybody's corners will be okay. Surely at the end of the day, there will be some method to the Lord's apparent madness. (Not that God's crazy. It's a figure of speech. Then again, he did make the platypus, so clearly he's at least a little bit bizarre.)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Not in MY House! - Spinning off of Spoon's most Recent Posting

This issue of predators in the church is one that continues to be a conundrum for me. Something tells me it really should not be because if God's house should be anything it should be a place of safety for his children. What I haven't yet figured out are the practical ways of making that happen while still having God's house also be a place of healing to those most broken. The problem for me is that the church is not my house, its God's house, and I feel presumptuous making rules for someone else's house.

Yet its these poor boundaries within the institutional church that allow things like spiritual, emotional and sexual abuse to occur in the place where you should be the safest from such things. And the expectation of safety paradoxically makes us that much more likely to drop our appropriate boundaries and second guess ourselves when we experience abuse within the church. And around and around it goes.

Statistically speaking one in 25 people is a true sociopath, someone basically born without a conscience, in even a small church that means there will likely be at least three or four such people. Think people without conscience would be likely to avoid church? Not so. These people like power and the church all too often provides them with a modicum of power and a steady supply of victims. To refuse to understand this is to allow it to continue unchecked. I personally think that "The Sociopath Next Door" should be required reading for those responsible for placing people in leadership roles in the church.

Ah but there we go running up against that 80/20 rule again. When only 20% of the people are stepping up to do the work people aren't really placed into leadership, they more or less fall into leadership roles by default. Since sociopaths seek power it isn't unreasonable to presume that at least some of them will be found in prominent leadership positions within the political structure of the local church. Yay! Not!

So what do we do about it? Well for starters we look to the bible and the pattern God lays forth for conflict resolution within the church: Let's head to Matthew 18 shall we?

"15 If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the fault. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. 16 But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. 17 If that person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. If the church decides you are right, but the other person won't accept it, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector."

I have never, in my 40 plus years of life, seen this process take place within the church. Never. Not once. Probably because those who would have to make such a judgment struggle the same way I do wondering if we really have the authority to make someone leave God's house.

But if there is any doubt that there is a time and a place to tell someone they must get out of God's house 1st Corinthians 5 puts it clearly:

"11 are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a Christian yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or a drunkard, or a swindler. Don't even eat with such people. 12 It isn't my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your job to judge those inside the church who are sinning in these ways. 13 God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, "You must remove the evil person from among you.""

In other words, those sins that most harm others. Sexual sins, which harm the vulnerable among the flock, often children. Greed, which prevents needs from being met because resources are being horded among the selfish and powerful. Idolatry, which God has prohibited from the beginning of time and which invariably leads others astray. Abuse, which leaves broken bodies and battered spirits in its wake and which leaves scars that last a lifetime in all too many cases. A drunkard, ask any family of an alcoholic or addict and they will tell you that living with such a person causes long term permanent harm. A swindler, those who fleece the flock. About those people God says "You MUST remove the evil person from among you." In other words...Not in MY House!

Somehow I think it is past time for the church to get over its enabling ways and realize that we have the permission and the authority to say enough is enough. Even "gentle Jesus meek and mild" got ticked off enough to take a whip to those people who were making a mockery of his house. As a friend of mine's recent facebook status said:

"When someone asks you 'think about what Jesus would do', remember that a valid option is to freak out and turn over tables" Unknown author

Maybe its time we "turned the tables" on these folks. What do you think?

No Body Expects the Spanish Inquisition: Church Conflict

It really makes me angry when people use the church as a means to their own ends.

It seems to be happening a lot these days. I've seen church youth groups be used as a means of spreading gossip in the name of "prayer requests." Heck, I've seen church sunday school groups formed entirely of senior citizens that use their "prayer chain" as a means of completely legitimating their old people grape vine of mindless prattle. I've seen prayer used as a means of accusing someone of doing something wrong. I've recently seen people attempt to use church as a means of ambushing someone to force them into interacting. I've seen churches used as a battle ground between feuding friends, or worse, feuding exes.

What happened to the love people? What happened to wanting to go to church to go to church? Wanting to learn, to pray, to commune with others? What happened to the church as a sacred space? Where is the house of the Lord to be if we continue to profane it in such a manner? Where is the love?

Then again, the church has used itself as a means of conflict, such as in the Crusades and in the Spanish Inquisition. Click the link. It'll be good for your soul. Every soul needs some LOLz sometimes. But conflict that the church performs as a whole is remarkably different from the conflict church members cause with each other. Members of the modern church have really dropped the ball on this one. We're supposed to be helping and supporting each other, not accosting each other in the name of the Lord, or in his house. Not cool.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

sometimes I don't understand it myself...

I live in a world where being "liberal" is the name of the game, church-goers are few and far between, believers even more so. In short, I live in the world of the modern liberal arts college students. And I will confess, I haven't been to church a lot lately, because well, I'm a college student, and I'm just plain lazy sometimes, and I really do enjoy that day of sleeping late. (Although I get to start going to evening church soon, which will be lovely.) But being a college student allows for lots of interesting conversations about such topics as religion and morality, and of course one of the most popular topics is religion in conjunction with homosexuality.

Supposedly, God hates not only homosexuality, but homosexuals, or at least, according to Fred Phelps and many people who share his views to some extent. So why do I keep going to church if so many people seem to contend that God hates me? 

(Fair warning - for all my grammatical training, I'm not going to use complete sentences.)
Because I don't feel like God hates me.
Because I can't bring myself to believe that someone who not only created me but has given me such an incredible life and blessed me in so many ways would hate me.
Because I've studied and continue to study the verses that seem to refer to homosexuality in the Bible, and the translations are so messed up that some of these things people claim the Bible says about homosexuality are ridiculous. (Of course, many things people claim the Bible says are ridiculous.)
Because generally most gay people I've ever met are wonderful combinations of love and compassion.
Because I don't claim to know what God thinks, or how he feels about anything. He's so much bigger than I am, and well, He's been around for a heck of a lot longer, so I don't think I should presume His opinions on anything.
Because I hope that I'm a fairly decent human being most of the time, and I feel like if God really hated me, I would've just fallen apart by now.
Because I at the end of the day, I just plain love God.

Honestly, most of my friends don't understand why I've stuck with the church when it seems as if it has rejected most of the things I believe in, and when at times it's members have been seemingly cruel to me personally.
Sometimes, I don't understand it myself. Sometimes I feel like I'm stupid to cling to an institution that seems to overwhelmingly believe that I'm headed straight to the great big crock-pot of sinners. Sometimes I feel like I'm too optimistic to hope that I'll ever be fully accepted by the modern church.

All I really do understand is that I do love the church, in a way that one might treasure a favorite childhood toy that is broken beyond repair but that one still can't help but find solace in and adore. And I'll stick with it. I'll stick with it for the reassuring words, for the hymns, for the people who really love God and show it through their immense love all others, for the insights you obtain in your quest for spiritual understanding, for those moments when you know everything will be okay.

Because it all will be okay. Eventually.

Friday, October 9, 2009

What's Wrong With this Picture

The conventional church is an organization where it accepted as normal that 20% of the members do 80% of the work. What is wrong with this picture?

In scripture we see a model where EVERYONE is given gifts and EVERYONE is expected to exercise those gifts so how did we get to this crazy unbalanced place where church burnout is rampant and where people constantly operate outside their natural gifting because "someone has to do it"? Enter "Church Burnout" in Google and you'll get an idea of the magnitude of this problem. I see it in the mega-churches I have attended and currently attend and in the tiny start up communities that I visit trying to find a place that is more sane. I came across a blog tonight of a lovely young woman that had this to say about her own experience:

I have both congestive heart failure and BAD fibromyalgia to the point that I was told not to hold a normal job anymore, which is why I work from home now. However, I'm an intern at my church and expected to be there every morning at 8AM and I don't know what time we'll be home but all I'll be doing at home is sleeping.

This resonates with me for reasons of my own struggles with balancing my somewhat fragile health with the endless needs of the church. Somehow work for the church (and other religious groups) is considered so noble, so much more important than anything else, that we don't see the paradox of having a medical condition which prevents us from working outside the home yet placing ourselves in a volunteer job that is every bit as demanding, sometimes more so. At least with a paid job we know what time we'll be home at night.

The blogger above finally reached a burnout point to the degree that she is not doing ANYTHING for the church anymore. This was the THIRD church where she had experienced the exhausting, endless, un-boundaried abuse of her individual talents and gifts. She is, understandably, sucked dry and she is representative of multitudes of us who are still suffering in the trenches wondering where the easy yoke and light burden we were promised went.

The fact is there is something wrong with this picture. From the model of a body where everyone has a role to fulfil and everyone is expected to contribute we have created a Frankenstein's monster, 80% dead, being kept animated by the other 20% and that part is also slowly dying from exhaustion and overwork. We have to stop the monster. We have to muster the strength to stand against the religious peer pressure and say, "NO MORE!" We have to realize that God himself needed a day of rest and that it isn't noble or honoring to him to pretend that we don't.

Our pastoral staffs need to be the shepherds that scripture calls them to be rather than the salesmen and recruiters they have become. They need to look around at the volunteers that they see doing all the work and notice the ones that are there for EVERYTHING. Then rather than applauding them for their dedication they need to help them find balance. They need to encourage them to NOT step up and fill the needs EVEN if it means those needs go unfilled. If the workers aren't there for a particular program then perhaps we should examine if that program is God's will for us to be investing our time, money and energy into.

I'll be revisiting this topic from several angles in the coming months. It is a personal area I need to work out and a burden I have for the dedicated, exhausted, overworked 20% that is carrying the other 80% on their backs. I hope as the team develops they will also share on this issue.

What are your thoughts and experiences? The comments page is open.

Why This Blog?

I've been blogging on one subject or another for years and years but this blog has come about because I am at a place in my spiritual journey where I am finally realizing I am anything but the conventional, conservative, Southern Baptist Christian that I was raised to be and I'm thinking that there must be others on this journey of faith who are realizing they too are "Unconventional Christians".

What is an "Unconventional Christian"? Well, in my experience it's someone who is unwilling to simply accept the tenets of conventional American Christianity in one or more areas even while being quite orthodox and conservative in others. Simply put we are the ones your preachers warn you about. We are the ones who insist on questioning everything and on refusing to be silent when the name of the Lord we Love more than anything else is used as weapon on others. We are the ones so aware of our own brokenness that we dare not assume that others broken in different or more visible ways are beyond the Love of God. To do so calls our own salvation into question as well. Each of us will be Unconventional in our own unique ways because God created us as unique individuals even here we won't always agree with one another. It is my hope that we can dialogue and disagree with respect and Love. There will hopefully be a few others on the team as this blog gets rolling but for now it is just me and my contemplations of life, the universe and everything.