Thoughts After Charlottesville 

Gentle Reader,

You know I’m a pacifist, but I wonder how we got from Captain America punching Hitler to, “well, Nazis aren’t that big a deal” and, “it’s probably all a conspiracy because Soros and Antifa.”

How did we come to idolize Robert E. Lee, a slave owner who fought against his own country?

Why do we still doubt that the Civil War was about slavery?

Why are people who call themselves Christians saying, “we will not be silenced?” Chanting, “blood and soil?” (That’s a Nazi slogan, if you don’t know).

A woman died and dozens more are injured. All for a statue that shouldn’t have been erected in the first place.

And, yeah, I know. Free speech is a thing we have here. People can assemble and say stupid, ugly things. I support that. Doesn’t mean that I will shy away from labeling that speech “stupid” and “ugly.” 

After sitting with and mourning this for 2 days, I wonder: Could we Christians lead the way here by no longer screaming about our rights? By refusing to see the government – local, state or federal – as an entity meant to protect us? What if we truly rested in the promises of Christ, knowing in our bones that He will see us through whatever happens? What if we decided to esteem others and consider their needs before our own, as Paul admonishes in Philippians 2? What if we recognised that this world is not our home and that the spread of the Gospel is more important than politics? What if we looked to our brothers and sisters in hostile countries and emulated their example? Those of us who are white, what if we took the time to really listen to and empathize with people of color – not to take on false guilt, but so we can understand what they deal with?

I wonder what would happen. I wonder if we’d become agents of healing and shine brightly in dark places.

Meditate on these passages:

2 Corinthans 5:20; 6:4a, 6b

2 Corinthains 5:9

Philippians 2:3-4

Philippians 2:14-15

Philippians 4:5

Colossians 3:8

1 Thessalonians 5:5

James 2:8-9a

Matthew 28:18-20

Romans 12:17-18

Galatians 5:24

1 John 4:9

Revelation 7:9-10

Racism has no place in Christianity. May we be courageous enough to examine our own hearts and repent if needed. May we be brave enough to vocally condemn this evil. May we be loving enough to reach out to those who are different.

Skin is skin.

It doesn’t matter.

Lord, teach us to love as You love. Give us eyes to see and ears to hear. Expose what needs exposing. Help us to prioritize preaching the Gospel over and above all else. Kill the selfish ambitions and vain conceits that strangle our hearts.

Break us and remake us.

Forgive us, Jesus. 

Red, brown, yellow, black and white – all are precious in Your sight.

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Just a Soupcon, It’s Okay

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (1)

Gentle Reader,

In recent days I’ve been told that I am, perhaps, just a bit too intense about this whole Christianity thing. I’m just a little too serious about obeying Jesus. I make people uncomfortable. Maybe I should just back off a little.

Makes me think of Jeremiah:

Then I said, “I will not make mention of Him,

Nor speak anymore in His name.”

But His word was in my heart like a burning fire

Shut up in my bones;

I was weary of holding it back,

And I could not.

– Jeremiah 20:9 (NKJV)

No, I’m not claiming to be a prophet. Calm down.

I am claiming to understand the temptation to hold back. To bite my tongue. To keep silent. To please people and strive for popularity instead of speaking (writing, really) the truth. I know that my words are often strong. You know it, too. What you may not know, however, is that they come from a cracked heart. You do not know about the hours I spend in prayer, begging God to stir up the fires of repentance and revival in our hearts. I believe He hears. I believe He moves.

We don’t hear. We don’t move.

I look around at my fellow believers and I wonder just what it is that we think we’re doing. In other parts of the world, people die for their faith, while we complain if someone prays for too long.

So let’s just go ahead and talk about idolatry, shall we?

Might as well keep the “you write things that I don’t like” streak alive.

Because I really don’t know how we, the Western Church in general, are escaping the lightning bolts that should justifiably incinerate us.

We, who are supposed to know better, waste time worshiping “Christian celebrities,” rising to their defense any time someone dares to question them. (Yes, I know that some people are trolls and they can’t figure out how to argue intelligently so they go for the personal attacks. This is not what I’m talking about). We pat their heads and say, “Oh, poor you,” whenever a dissenting comment gets posted on their blogs or another Christian leader has the audacity to point out where their theology has gone wild.

We waste time worshiping power. Though the primary purpose of my writing isn’t to engage in politics, only a blind and deaf person could have escaped noticing how so-called evangelical leaders slavishly praise every move of the current administration. Because we think, maybe, we can force our vision of society on the country through the people who occupy congressional seats and the person who works in the Oval Office. It’s not like the Holy Spirit has to indwell a person in order for her to live as Christ commands.

We waste time worshiping offense. We relish calling people “snowflakes.” We scream “microaggression!” and, instead of just not going to listen to a certain person speak, we drive them off of campuses and out of stadiums. We get all hot under the collar when – gasp! – we discover that there are different viewpoints, different experiences, different ways of thinking. (All of this is far cry from working for justice, which much of this butthurtedness masquerades as).

We waste time worshiping “the way things used to be.” Don’t change the time we meet for Sunday service. Don’t step on out toes in a sermon. Don’t change the small group curriculum. Don’t paint the wall that color. Don’t dress in a way that we don’t like. Don’t bring snacks that we think are gross. Don’t ask us to do anything that’s even remotely outside of our comfort zone.

We waste time worshiping “the way things should be.” This church sucks. These people suck. Let’s complain about it, but not actually do anything to bring about positive change. Let’s not pray or study Scripture or you know, repent.

We waste time worshiping position. We want everyone to see our good works. We want to get ahead, climb the ladder. We want to be, as Leo DiCaprio so famously shouted in that one movie, “King[s] of the world.”

On and on it goes. We waste time worshiping family.  We waste time worshiping stuff. We waste time worshiping money.

But it’s all okay, we unconsciously rationalize, because it’s just a little bit of idolatry. Just a soupcon. A little dollop on top of the Jesus soup. It’ll mix in just fine. Add a little flavor, a little spice. Nobody will notice. It doesn’t matter.

Except it does.

You shall have no other gods before Me. …

…you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God…

“Now see that I, even I, am He,

And there is no God besides Me;

I kill and I make alive;

I wound and I heal;

Nor is there any who can deliver from My hand.” …

“Tell and bring forth your case;
Yes, let them take counsel together.
Who has declared this from ancient time?
Who has told it from that time?
Have not I, the Lord?
And there is no other God besides Me,
A just God and a Savior;
There is none besides Me.
Look to Me, and be saved,
All you ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.
I have sworn by Myself;
The word has gone out of My mouth in righteousness,
And shall not return,
That to Me every knee shall bow,
Every tongue shall take an oath.” …

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

– Exodus 20:3; 34:14; Deuteronomy 32:39; Isaiah 45:21-23; 1 Timothy 1:17 (NKJV)

There is no other God and God doesn’t share glory. He’s not okay with some side-worship. He’s not cool with those little idols in our hearts. He ruthlessly digs them out and confronts us with them – for our benefit. For there is no life in idols, only death. Only disconnection from the Lord.

I point no fingers at you, dear reader, that I have not already pointed at myself.

The world is watching. They scrutinize our moves in order to ascertain if we walk what we talk. We cannot sing praises to God for a few hours on Sunday and then live out praise to some other little, gross, vile, vain thing every other moment of our lives. It’s deeply, horrendously hypocritical.

God is watching. He knows the motivations of our hearts. He knows if our worship is pure and true. He will keep picking at the raw place, shining light in the dark corner, pushing us to look at what we don’t want to look at. He will keep whispering words of conviction and tender mercy to our souls.

But we get too choose.

He doesn’t force us to do what’s best, what will set us free and make us healthy.

So what will it be?

Idols or God?

Can’t be both.

Signature

Photo credit: Alexis Brown

Review: For the Love, Part 2

Watch your life and doctrine closely.

For the Love: Part 1

Gentle Reader,

This is the part that I didn’t want to write. Allow me to repeat myself: The toughest position I ever held during my time on a college newspaper was that of a reviewer. It is difficult for me to put into practice the instruction of my professor – observe and dissect – knowing how intensely artists labor over their work. They practically bleed onto the page or the canvas. Nevertheless, it is important to strive to be as even-handed and objective as possible. That is my goal in this piece.

Nevertheless I am well aware that what I’m about to publish is going to generate some heat.

QUESTIONS

I wish that I had saved it so that I could give you a specific date, but sometime between Tuesday, July 7, and Friday, July 10, I received an email from Hatmaker (along with other members of her “Email Friends” list). She wrote to tell us about the free goodies we could get with pre-ordering a copy of For the Love. (As part of the launch team, I expected this and wasn’t offended. The point, after all, is to generate buzz and sell books). In the first paragraph of this email (again, I wish I had saved it so I could quote directly) she mentioned being influenced in her spirituality by the fiction work of Sue Monk Kidd.

Update, 8/27/15: A friend had this email and forwarded it to me. It was sent out on July 10, and the line that I referenced above reads, “…I want to know if Sue Monk Kidd read the tweets I sent about how much her storylines affected me spiritually.”

At first, I wasn’t even going to pursue this. I didn’t want to pursue this. I wanted to write a short-and-sweet, stellar review. So I deleted the email.

But I only know of one Sue Monk Kidd:

To embrace Goddess is simply to discover the Divine in yourself as powerfully and vividly feminine. (Dance of the Dissident Daughter, p. 141)

… something inside me was calling on the Goddess of the Dark, even though I didn’t know her name. (The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, p. 93)

I remember a feeling rising up from a place about two inches below my navel. … It was the purest inner knowing I had experienced, and it was shouting in me no, no, no! The ultimate authority of my life is not the Bible; it is not confined between the covers of a book. It is not something written by men and frozen in time. It is not from a source outside myself. My ultimate authority is the divine voice in my own soul. Period. … That day sitting in church, I believed the voice in my belly. … The voice in my belly was the voice of the wise old woman. It was my female soul talking. And it had challenged the assumption that the Baptist Church would get me where I needed to go. (Dance of the Dissident Daughter, p. 76-78)

I knew right then and there that the patriarchal church was no longer working for me. The exclusive image of God as heavenly Father wasn’t working, either. I needed a Power of Being that was also feminine. (Dance of the Dissident Daughter, p. 80)

There’s a bulb of truth buried in the human soul that’s “only God” … the soul is more than something to win or save. It’s the seat and repository of the inner Divine, the God-image, the truest part of us. (When the Heart Waits, p. 47, 48)

When we encounter another person … we should walk as if we were upon holy ground. We should respond as if God dwells there. (God’s Joyful Surprise, p. 233)

I ran my finger around the rim of the circle on the page and prayed my first prayer to a Divine Feminine presence. I said, “Mothergod, I have nothing to hold me. No place to be, inside or out. I need to find a container of support, a space where my journey can unfold. (Dance of the Dissent Daughter, p. 94)

Divine Feminine love came, wiping out all my puny ideas about love in one driving sweep. Today I remember that event for the radiant mystery it was, how I felt myself embraced by Goddess, how I felt myself in touch with the deepest thing I am. It was the moment when, as playwright and poet Ntozake Shange put it, “I found god in myself/ and I loved her/ I loved her fiercely.” (Dance of the Dissident Daughter, p. 136)

I came to know myself as an embodiment of Goddess. (Dance of the Dissident Daughter, p. 163)

When I woke, my thought was that I was finally being reunited with the snake in myself – that lost and defiled symbol of feminine instinct. (Dance of the Dissident Daughter, p. 107)

Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows that I am an egalitarian. I believe in the full equality of men and women. Yet I also believe in the accuracy and inerrancy of Scripture. God chose to reveal Himself in masculine terms. This doesn’t mean that He is masculine; God is transcendent. He is in a category all by Himself and cannot be classified as man or woman. Nevertheless, He chose to relate to us as Father, Son and Spirit. Christian faith simply does not support worshiping the “feminine divine” or the “goddess.” This does not demean women or relegate them to a “second class” space. Men have done that, not God.

I have no idea what Hatmaker means by saying that she’s been influenced by Kidd. I attempted to reach out to her via Facebook and through her website’s contact page, asking for clarification. I have yet to receive an answer. At this point I am not making any hard-and-fast judgments. She could simply mean that something in one of Kidd’s novels touched her. I am unwilling to come to a solid conclusion until I have more information.

Still, this leaves me in an awkward position, especially since my endorsement appears in the book.

Reading through For the Love a second time, with this in mind, I noticed something: Quotes from authors Annie Dillard, Anna Quindlen and Brene Brown are sprinkled throughout. The framework, the worldview, from within which these authors write shows strong threads of panentheism, pop-psychology self-help and a mish-mash of New Age-y, maybe Christian terms that I can make heads nor tails of. I have no problem recognizing the fact that they may well have good and positive things to say, but, as with Kidd, the spiritual content of their works is concerning.

Do not interpret this as an attack on Jen Hatmaker. I don’t know her personally and I don’t wish her any ill. I’m not making a call on whether or not she’s saved, so please don’t go there. I will happily update this post if I receive clarification regarding the statement about Kidd. I can easily accept that she used the quotes from the other authors for very good reasons. As of now, I am left holding a mixed bag. If this were strictly a work of humor, I would have no problem giving it five stars. Due to the muddied nature of the spiritual currents, I cannot give this book the wholehearted recommendation that I initially hoped.

FINAL THOUGHTS

So, where does that leave us? I won’t slap For the Love out of your hands if I see you reading it, but I won’t tell you to rush out and snag a copy, either. I think you can read this book and enjoy it for its message of freedom for women and its humor, but I do encourage you to keep this background information in the forefront of your mind. Be aware of what you are taking in and examine it closely. Ask the Holy Spirit to grant you guidance and sensitivity in this and all reading selections.

Do so for your sanity. Do it for your integrity.

Do it for His love.

This, above all, is the lesson I have learned in being on the launch team.

My journey to faith. (15)

Review, For the Love, Part 1

Watch your life and doctrine closely.

Gentle Reader,

The toughest position I ever held during my time on a college newspaper was that of a reviewer. It is difficult for me to put into practice the instruction of my professor – observe and dissect – knowing how intensely artists labor over their work. They practically bleed onto the page or the canvas. Nevertheless, it is important to strive to be as even-handed and objective as possible. That is my goal in this piece, and the one that follows.

SETTING THE STAGE

When a friend of mine mentioned in early spring that Jen Hatmaker was taking applications for her book launch team, my interest was piqued. I’d never done anything like that. I knew a little about Hatmaker, having heard her speak at different venues a couple of times and through some of her writing, mostly online stuff. Nothing of hers that I’d been exposed to was “out there.”

Mostly, she was funny – and I always appreciate good, clean humor. So I thought, “Why not? I’ll apply.” I didn’t really expect to be chosen. (I also never expected that my brief endorsement would appear in the front of the published book).

Color me surprised when the email arrived in my inbox. Given a link to a pdf download, I began to read.

On my smartphone.

I know.

I betrayed my own non-ebook supporting principles.

THE GOOD

Jen Hatmaker is a warm and witty woman, and that comes through loud and clear in her writing. The Jimmy Fallon-esque “Thank You Notes” sprinkled throughout the book had me laughing out loud. Chapter Four, “Fashion Concerns,” left me tears. Leggings are not pants, tights are not leggings, and tights are DEFINITELY not pants! She hits on female awkwardness and worry in a way that allows us to laugh at ourselves, which all women need.

Chapter 10, “Surviving School,” is one that I would love to photocopy and send to all the parents I know:

They don’t need every advantage skewed their way and every discomfort fluffed with pillows. I bet they don’t even need sandwiches [shaped like] dolphins… Kiddos, make your own lunches, do your own laundry, buy your own replacement ID after you left yours on the bus. Write your teacher an apology for doing the worm across her classroom, even though Dad and I laughed our heads off. You want more clothes than we bought? Save your money. Make your own case to the teacher for a higher score. Relinquish your phone for running that mouth. Endure that class. Work for that grade. Try harder never time. Take your licks and learn from them. Put your plate in the dishwasher, for the love of Palmolive. (p. 62-63)

Chapter 21, “Poverty Tourism,” was a sobering look at the way many American Christians treat short-term missions work. The sincerity of those who take such trips is never in doubt, but it is true that we need to reconsider how we approach the work. Hatmaker writes that we need to,

…look seriously at systemic issues in that community. We [need to] learn about root causes, broken structures and societal breakdowns, such as violence and lack of subsequent justice, poverty orphans, the abuse of women and children, economic disempowerment, environmental degradation, educational disparity, maternal health, and nutrition and healthcare. We [need to] listen to local leaders on long-term sustainable solutions… (p. 145-146)

In essence, when we take the Gospel message anywhere, we need to have an understanding of the situation into which we walk. The Gospel is timeless and never needs to altered, but the way in which it is delivered and the tangible work projects that go along with it – building homes, repairing schools, putting in wells for clean water – should be determined by the particular needs of that community, not our preconceived ideas of how things should be.

THE MIDDLING

Chapter 22, “Dear Church,” and Chapter 25, “Dear Christians, Please Stop Being Crappy,” stand as yet more shots fired from within the Body, at the Body. As with all such essays, there are some valid points. No doubt we have problems. No doubt we have done ourselves no favors by entwining the Gospel with the “American Dream” and structuring our congregations as businesses.

While acknowledging the value in these chapters, I am weary of people within the Church complaining about the Church. That only contributes to its breakdown. Yes, we have issues. Absolutely. No denying it. But let’s not forget that we are the redeemed of the Lord. Let’s not forget that the Church is a good thing. If we have complaints, then we must be willing to do the work of prayer and struggle in order to come to a solution. If we are unhealthy, then we must seek the remedy.

Further, I am equally weary of seeing statistics about people leaving the Church – because I know who’s leaving. It’s my generation. It’s the fickle, entitled, selfish, self-absorbed, immature Millennials. (Yep, I said it). When we were in high school, we whined about relevance. We wanted church to be “cool.” We wanted church to “meet us.” We pushed the “seeker-friendly,” rock-show experience. Now that church leaders have bent over backwards to accommodate our whiny-ness, we leave. We say we want something “more substantial.”

Except that we don’t. We don’t study our Bibles, we don’t spend time discussing doctrine and we won’t unplug from our smartphones if our lives depended on it.

That’s not a Church problem, folks.

That’s our problem.

INITIAL CONCLUSIONS

My first impression of For the Love: A relatively light, funny book that offers women permission to be themselves. Jen Hatmaker invites her fellow females to take our places in Body life while simultaneously inviting us to step off of the hamster wheel of perfectionism. This is a message that should be oft-repeated, and loudly.

I would have liked it if Hatmaker had maintained this focus in the book and avoided making what I would term “bandwagon” comments about the state of the Church. As outlined above, it is popular at the moment to criticize the problems of the Church without recognizing the very real good of the Church. These essays felt out-of-step with the overall tone of the work.

UNSETTLED

I have battled for weeks over whether or not to type these next words. I would prefer to end this review here, as it is. I would prefer to say that I stand one-hundred percent behind my endorsement. I would prefer to tell you that you can read this book without any problems.

Yet I am unsettled, and for what I believe is good reason.

For the Love: Part 2

My journey to faith. (15)