It’s Not About Us

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

My second post after the hiatus.

Might as well get controversial.

This article is making the rounds. I’ve read it. More than once. Pondered the words. Considered the meaning behind and in the words. I’m doing that stereotypical INTJ thing of staring off into space, a blank expression (or an intense one, depending on your interpretation) on my face. Seeking to fit the piece into the larger, often confounding pattern that is Western Christianity.

Jen Hatmaker and I parted ways a long time ago. (You can read all about it in my review of her book For the Love, here and here). When she announced her affirmation of homosexual relationships as holy, I shrugged. Saw that one coming a mile away.

This here post today isn’t even about that, though, and that’s not even the primary or only reason why I generally choose to avoid partaking of her work. More important for me is her view and usage of Scripture and all that means in terms of theology and doctrine. For the record, I agree with Hatmaker when she points out that the Church has done an incredibly poor job of reaching out to LGBTQIA people. I am weary of the vilification and done with the idea that “their” sins are somehow “worse” than “ours.” I have friends within the LGBTQIA community (I know, people often say that, but it’s true) and I know how deeply alienating the nastiness is for them.

But, again, this post isn’t about that issue at all. (Nor is this post about the insanity that was the 2016 election and the part that Christians played in the circus, which she references and about which we are also in agreement).

This is about Good Friday. Holy Saturday. Easter.

Jesus. The Cross.

What it all means.

Hatmaker writes (emphasis hers),

I get the death part this year, the Good Friday part. All the memes and quips and quotes floating around the internet are falling on a numb heart. This year, I deeply experienced being on the wrong side of religion, and it was soul-crushing. I suffered the rejection, the fury, the distancing, the punishment, and sometimes worst of all, the silence. …

…this year, it all makes sense: the death, the anger, the man who never took his place in the machine. This day was lonely for Jesus. It was excruciating, physically and emotionally and spiritually. His people left him, even turned on him. God Himself hid his eyes. The sky went dark and life was extinguished. It was all so sad, so dead, so not yet resurrected. This was a day of tears and shock and loss and fear. …

…for those of you hunkered down on Good Friday, identifying with the loss of this day in agonizing ways, ways that you did not want to understand the cross, I am your sister this year. When too many things still feel dead and resurrection feels as unlikely and impossible as it must have on this day all those years ago, I can’t help but believe Jesus has his eye on us specifically. Who can better understand the cross than the man who chose it? Who better to hold us close in our loneliness than the man who was left to suffer all alone? Nobody, not one human being on this earth understands a dark Friday more than Jesus, well before anyone thought to put a “Good” in front of it.

Do you see what’s wrong with this picture?

I won’t deny Hatmaker or anyone else her pain and struggles. I don’t know what, exactly, life has been like for her since coming out on the “wrong side of religion.” I’m sure there have been very hard days. I’m sure that people have been incredibly mean, which is never right, no matter how strong the disagreement. I don’t doubt that she’s experienced confusion and heartbreak. (At the same time – and again this is where my INTJness reveals itself – I do wonder at the strength of a person’s convictions if they can be so shaken by negative responses. But that’s me; I don’t operate out of the heart).

But to identify with Jesus on the Cross?

That’s a step too far.

See, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter – it’s not about is.

Obviously our salvation is completely and utterly wrapped up in Jesus Christ and all that He accomplished. His death and resurrection was the plan – is the plan – the only way for us to be reconciled to and with God. Yet the story of those three days, indeed the entire narrative arc of Scripture, isn’t about us. We aren’t the central characters. It’s not a tale of humanity reaching out to God, but rather God reaching out to humanity. He is the mover, the shaker, the narrator, the director, the star. (This coming from an avowed Arminian. May my Calvinist brethren rejoice).

That crown of thorns, that flesh whipped to ribbons, those nails, that cross, the agonizing breaths and sputtered words, the blood-soaked linen perfumed with spices, that still and silent and dark tomb – we can’t identify with that. We cannot say, “Yes, I have experienced something akin to this. I understand.” Whatever pain or sorrow we experience is nothing compared to Christ, the God-Man, choosing to set aside His rightful glory. It is nothing compared to the suffering He experienced. Certainly we cannot even begin to imagine what it meant, how it felt, for Him to literally become sin.

Sin. Not loneliness, not abandonment, not suffering, not being rejected by the cool kids. Loneliness, abandonment and rejection are all results of sin, sure, but they aren’t the reason Jesus hung, suspended by hot, sticky metal pounded through His muscle and out the other side onto rough wood.

In no way am I accusing Hatmaker of equating herself with Jesus, nor am I commenting on her status before God. Not at all. Rather I am stating that Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter – it’s about Jesus. MaryMary sings in Something Big, “Jesus bled, Jesus died, Jesus took the fall – for all your wrong and all my wrong, Jesus paid it all.” As we reflect upon these events, let’s not make the mistake of thinking that they are meant to comfort us in sorrow.

They are meant to confront us with the heinous nature of our sin and drive us to our knees in reverence.

Let’s not cheapen the Atonement.

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Addendum: I realize that many, perhaps even most, will believe that I have read something into the words that aren’t there. I admit that the twist in perspective I find here is subtle, but it is nevertheless present. As always, you, dear reader, are quite free to disagree.

Photo credit: IV Horton

That Speaking Thing I Did

along-the-way-mlsgregg-com

Gentle Reader,

Never open your mouth at a retreat.

This past spring I was able to attend my church’s district women’s retreat. (I am a member of the Church of the Nazarene. A district is just a group of congregations in a particular geographic area, overseen by a superintendent. If you’re interested in what that looks like, here’s a map). I got to stay with friends in a beautiful bunkhouse up in the mountains, surrounded by trees and quiet, with a lake just a few hundred yards away. The speaker’s messages moved me to ponder the Lord and my relationship with Him, the music was deep and soulful and did I mention the quiet? How I needed the time away.

There were also workshops. One of them focused on Bible study and small groups.

That’s my jam.

In my “this chick is far too intense about this” way, I shared how important Bible study is and how, if God has gifted you to serve Him in that way, then that’s exactly what you should do, no matter if you lead a group of 3 or your group is so big you have to break it down into several groups. Two of the district leaders present encouraged me and affirmed my calling, which was incredible. One of them even told me that she thought I should speak at “The Mix,” the district discipleship conference in October.

I pretty much laughed at that.

Never thought it would happen.

Because I’m not a speaker.

Then I stopped being a Resident Assistant at the shelter and moved over to the Chaplaincy Team. Suddenly speaking was expected. Now, of course I’m used to leading a small group. I know how to guide a conversation and keep discussion flowing. But just me? Up front, alone, talking? With people looking at me?

Not my jam.

Just after becoming a chaplain, I received an email. Would I speak at “The Mix?” Would I do two sessions on Bible study, the “why” and the “how” of it?

Wait, what?

God, I think, delights in shoving us outside of our comfort zones, because we have no choice but to rely on Him. I knew immediately that I was supposed to accept the invitation. Definitely flying without a net.

Shortly after that, the pastor who heads the Chaplaincy Team asked me if I would like to teach. I’d been there…maybe four times at that point. This was just before I had surgery, so I asked if it could be a combination of sermon/lesson/testimony/whatever. He was cool with that. I showed up at the shelter an hour before I was to speak, pacing the room, praying. “Um, yeah, Jesus? I don’t know what I’m doing. Would you please just really show up today? Make sure the focus is on You, not me.”

When we seek to glorify Him, God’s answer is always “yes.” My words weren’t polished or amazing or up there with “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” But the Holy Spirit moved and He was strong and the prayers afterward were powerful and something really began to unwind in me that day.

Still, as of 8:00 a.m. on Friday, September 30, I wasn’t sure if I was going to show up for “The Mix” the next morning.

As I got ready for the day, I listened to this and the line about David running at Goliath hit me with all the force of the stone from that sling. David didn’t kill the giant because David was so cool. David killed the giant because God was there, with him, enabling to do what he had been tasked with doing.

Okay.

I heard that.

Yet my heart continued to pound. My palms continued to sweat. I felt like running away. I even asked my mom if she wanted to read what I had written (I am definitely NOT an off-the-cuff speaker, for sure) as we pulled into the parking lot of the church where “The Mix” was held. She just smiled at me.

I was supposed to speak in the afternoon, but of course the schedule changed. Up first. Back-to-back sessions. I don’t mind telling you that sweat trickled down the back of my neck. (That could have been due to the ungodly temperature of the room, but I doubt it).

The person who had asked me to speak opened the session in prayer.

Then…me.

For a second I thought I might have a heart attack and drop dead.

As soon as I opened my mouth, a strange, indescribable peace descended. I may never be asked to speak at anything ever again, but those two hours on that Saturday morning – that’s exactly where I was supposed to be. The Lord filled me with assurance. My voice didn’t crack. I didn’t cry. I was able to make eye contact with each person there.

Only God can do that. Only He can take a person who can’t do the thing and give her all that she needs to do the thing. Only He can empower that way. Only He can provide the necessary boldness, confidence and love for the hearers required to share a message that was, at points, hard. It was no fluffy, feel-good sermon I had. It was, for all intents and purposes, a call to action.

I doubt that I’ll be setting up a speaking tour anytime soon, but next time, if there is a next time, I won’t be quite so afraid. Or maybe I will be. Doesn’t matter. It’s all about God, anyway.

May I remember that.

May you remember that.

Signature

There is no video or audio of my sessions. If you are interested, you can read the text of Session 1 and Session 2.

Five Minute Friday: Protect

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Long days. Little energy.

I press the heat pad against my abdomen. Here, on the couch, battle rages. My head hangs low. Beads of sweat run down my neck. Sleep beckons.

Kate says: protect.

Go.

The good Lord knew what He was doing when He made dogs.

Petey, the mutt, was the first. All of my earliest memories include him. To this day I remember the feel of his curly, black-and-white fur beneath my fingers. He could hear cheese being grated. He slept on an old quilt, in a corner, wedged between two couches. During the night he would get up to check on us.

Murphy, the Papillon, loved to shove her blue rubber bone underneath a big pillow and dig at it. She was beautiful, with her long flowing fur. Except for her rear. That always had to be cut into what we called “turkey butt” to avoid…issues. She loved to sit with me while I read, munching on sunflower seeds. One for me, one for her.

Bugsy, the Shih Tzu, did a dance whenever he wanted a treat. His paws slapped the ground in a beat only he could hear, ending in a little bow. He had a wide smile. My brother would blow in his face and Bugsy would snap at the air, defeating his foe every time.

Blue, the Dachshund, obsessed with playing fetch. From dawn til dusk. His long body snakes around corners, a little bit of belly dragging the ground. Sturdy legs carry him here and there. Sometimes he jumps, suddenly, into my lap, full of happy licks and wiggles.

Benny, the PomChi, all round softness. He is by my side at all times. He grows old and slows down. He doesn’t mind that I have to rest so often. He’s happy to keep my feet warm. His sigh of contentment makes me feel safe.

Other dogs – Patches the puppy who died too soon, Tramp who was a girl so her name never made sense, Bella the super-crank, Rags the nut, Pippa the terror and Fuzzy the handsome Pomeranian who just needed more room to run. Each one has loved me, loved my family, well. (Except maybe for Pippa, who really only loves my mom).

In this harsh world, God gave us a loyal, loving creature. One who supports and accepts us at all times. Dogs are evidences of His constant care.

Stop.

My journey to faith. (15)

Photo Credit: Matthew Wiebe