And so the Balance Shifts

Rage

Gentle Reader,

What better way to come back from an unscheduled hiatus than with something that will press the hot button of the day?

#thatshowIroll

The title of this post is taken from “Guns and Ships,” a first-act song from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony award winning Hamilton. The Marquis de Lafayette has just returned from France with money and materials necessary for the very rag-tag Continental forces to engage in (what would be) the climactic battle of the American War of Independence. The balance, the characters sing, has shifted in their favor. A greater arsenal must equal victory.

That idea was imprinted upon the psyche of a young, new nation. We have yet to shake it – to our detriment.

It’s not about political parties. It’s not about philosophies regarding the role and function of government. It’s not about what the Second Amendment does or doesn’t mean.

It’s about us operating out of fear and anger.

I have to protect myself. Nothing and nobody is going to get me. They can’t tell me what to do. I know best. This world is scary.

I’m not here to tell you that you shouldn’t own a gun. While I don’t see the sense in it, I recognize that people have to make that choice on their own. Gun ownership is an issue over which reasonable people can disagree. I am here to implore you to take a step back and consider the frantic rhetoric that crackles through the air – especially if you claim the title “Christian.”

See, I know what it is to wake up and immediately be on the defensive. As soon as my eyes open, my mind begins to wonder what dangers await in the coming hours and attempts to devise plans to keep me safe. When my feet hit the floor, the sense of unease, connected to everything and nothing, pulses through my body. Therapists call this Generalized Anxiety Disorder and there’s nothing rational about it. Of course we must eschew recklessness and keep ourselves safe, i.e. you don’t pick up a rattlesnake for funsies, but there’s a difference between living within logical boundaries and paranoia.

Over the last couple of years I have watched my fellow countrypeople move toward paranoia. Neighbors aren’t simply neighbors anymore; they are potential enemies. Some find it impossible to be in relationship with those who may vote for a different candidate. Everyone is suspicious. Everything is a conspiracy.

Groups like the National Rifle Association fan the spark of fear into full-fledged flames of idiotic anger. Advertisements paint a picture of near civil war, with the “liberals,” whoever they are, out to “take your guns” or “trample your rights.” Their picture appears to be legitimized when some, perhaps well-meaning, perhaps not, call for a ban on all weapons, believing that the Constitution is more flexible than it is. Meanwhile kids get shot at school and cry out, begging the adults in charge to do something, but their voices are drowned out by the sound of large donations spilling into campaign coffers.

Nothing changes.

Fear and anger grow.

We who say we follow Christ have to get off this crazy train. How can we possibly go out into the world and preach the Good News, as we are commanded to do, if we see everyone around us in terms of friend or foe? If we are obsessed with being “right” in political, temporal terms? If we won’t learn how to listen to those with whom we disagree?

Paul tells us in the famous “Armor of God” passage (Ephesians 6:10-20) to put on the shoes of peace. Wherever we go, whatever we do, we are meant to leave footprints of grace. While none of us is perfect, those whom we encounter should have at least some sense of us being different. That there’s something about us at marked contrast with the world at large. More than the things we oppose, more than the things we don’t do. When we come into a room, others should sense the presence of the Holy Spirit.

This is not something we manufacture. This comes about by daily, momently, submitting to His lead. Fact is, He doesn’t lead us to territorialism, tribalism, politicism, or any other -ism you can think of. He doesn’t goad us to anxiety and rage. He doesn’t teach us to see people as obstacles or enemies. The Holy Spirit is the fresh, clean, cool air that untangles the knots in our souls and expands our hearts to love as He does.

This past Sunday my pastor preached on hospitality and how it is so much more than having a nice meal with friends or family. At its root, hospitality is the love of stranger, the willingness to open doors and arms to those who are different – which is exactly what Jesus did.

We have to recognize and accept the role we have played in both creating and furthering divisions in this country. I am under no delusion of utopia. This, right now, is not Eternity. Nothing is as it should be. I am, however, under a strong sense of conviction. We – I – cannot waste time building fortresses, living in echo chambers or believing the lie that one man-made, man-led political party is more “godly” than the other. The world watches us in our pursuit of power and they don’t like what they see.

We can’t blame them for that.

Let’s decide, you and me, today, to remember that people are people. We don’t have to be afraid of or scorn someone because they vote differently, believe differently, dress differently, etc. God loves people, wherever they are in relation to Him, and it’s our job to be about the business of sharing that love. The way we live must align with the words we say, otherwise we truly are blatant hypocrites and can hardly be angry when someone points that out.

In our spheres of influence, however large or small they may be, let’s work to shift the balance toward peace. Toward a living out of “God so loved the world.” Let’s step out from behind our walls and break them down, brick by brick. Let the light shine and the grace flow.

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Glitter, Fluff and Pink Pages

Heavy

Gentle Reader,

Someone recently asked me what I want my “brand” to be.

Yeah, I’m not in marketing. I don’t know. Maybe “lovable curmudgeon”? Or “tough outer shell hides big gooey center”? Perhaps “read the Bible, people, before I flip this table over”? Or “holy moly, she’s intense and I’d better back away slowly”?

Everything and everyone is a commodity, it seems. Figure out your audience, who you want to reach, and mold yourself to that.

And if you don’t fit any mold?

This is not the first time I’ve written about this topic, so clearly it’s under my skin. I saw something on Twitter the other day – really wish I had taken a screenshot of who said this, but I didn’t, so please direct me to the source if you’ve got it – a few little lines that pointed out that we assume that a man’s perspective is neutral. A man can, and should, write to and for both men and women. If, however, a woman writes, we assume that she’s writing for women only.

That bugged me.

Made me think, too.

How many men have studied the book of Ruth? The book of Esther? Have gone through and carefully picked out the stories of the heroines of the faith, cherishing them as they do the tales of David and the Apostles?

I don’t have answers to those questions. I do wonder, though, how many men subconsciously shrug their shoulders and think, “Nah. Those are chick stories. Nothing there for me.”

Except it’s the word of God.

Of course I’m not claiming that I or any other female writer is on the same level as Holy Scripture. You’d probably find charred ground where my body used to occupy space if I did that. What I am claiming is that this weird divide in the Church runs deep. It’s more than squabbling over whether or not a woman can preach, which solid, orthodox Christians can reasonably disagree on. (For the record, I think complementarians are wrong, but they think I’m wrong, so it’s all good). It’s this bone-deep belief that women don’t have anything of substance to say. That a man can’t possibly learn anything from a woman because “she doesn’t get it.”

But I, a woman, am automatically expected to adjust pronouns and situations in my head when a man preaches or writes. I am expected to “get” what he’s talking about when he relates a theological concept to, I don’t know, a football game or working on a car. (Yes, super broad and stereotypical).

What is that? Why do we do this?

See, my mind is full of more than glitter and fluff. I want to write about, learn about, teach about concepts and stories that are found in other places than the “pink pages” of Scripture. Not that glitter, fluff or pink pages are bad. I’m a fan of glittery shoes and pins, I love me a fluffy blanket and nobody is ever going to convince me that Ruth and Esther are boring or “light.” But I can also discuss theories of the kenosis. I can tell you about the times the Holy Spirit speaks to me when I’m folding laundry. I wrote a book exploring the intersection of suffering and theology. (Shameless plug. Girl’s gotta pay those bills, you know).

In no way do I wish to diminish my brothers. I want to see men functioning in the full freedom and gifting that God has blessed them with. That shouldn’t come at the expense of the sisters, though. I want us to step up and embrace who and what God has made us to be as well (and that really does extend beyond nursery duty).

There’s this chapter in Scripture, Hebrews 11. We call it the “Hall of Faith.” And it is. But it’s also the “Hall of Freaks and Weirdos.” You think Noah let the fact that nobody had ever seen rain keep him from building the boat? You think Joseph was concerned about his branding, how it looked when he told his people to take his bones back to the Promised Land? You think Rahab was worried about losing her clientele when she hid the spies and threw herself into the mercy of God?

We thrill to these stories because they are of people, just like you and me, who dared to follow where God led them. While none of them were perfect (Abraham gets some serious side-eye from me), the overall pattern of their lives was one of focusing on Him. They weren’t worried about an audience, about metrics, about statistics, about who should and shouldn’t be doing what. He said “go,” and they went. As simple as that.

This is what I long for in the Church. How I would love for us to shed the language of “tribe” and “role.” How I ache for us to be still and seek His will. How I wish we would stop trying to put a Jesus veneer on what the world around us is doing and just be what He wants us to be – committed, obedient, loving.

Wouldn’t that be nice? Wouldn’t it be great if we stopped erecting artificial barriers? If we stopped believing, “He/she can’t speak into my life because I only let this type of person do that?” If we stopped crafting articles and sermons based on what we know people want to hear and instead speak and write as God commands?

Sounds wonderful to me.

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Not Your Motivational Writer

Fight

Gentle Reader,

I like to kick-box.

Yes. A Muay Thai elbow-throwing pacifist.

It’s not pretty. Nobody who kick-boxes looks good after a bout. She is drenched from head to toe. Her muscles ache. Her voice is hoarse from grunting and even shouting. Her hair clings to her neck, her face. She stinks. She needs a long shower and a good massage.

Two weeks ago, I wrote this.

Last week, this.

These kinds of posts have, apparently, become a hallmark of mine. If my picture wasn’t displayed just to the right of what you’re now reading, you might think I was some no-nonsense, cigar-chomping, former football coach. “Get out there and quit whining” type stuff. Please know: I don’t want anyone to think that I desire to minimize or make light of suffering. That is, in no way, my goal. We have to talk about the things that hurt.

But I am seeing a “stuckness.”

A glorification of pain.

An entitlement.

Unwillingness to let go of the victim identity.

The therapist that I see has told me, more than once, that healing only comes when we are willing to get “un-stuck.” That, of course, doesn’t mean we will never hurt again, and it doesn’t guarantee the disappearance of illness, mental or physical, but it does mean that we are continually looking to Jesus. Continually going forward, no matter if it’s a crawl.

This way that we travel, this road that we walk? It’s a foot-wide ribbon, winding in and out of mountains and valleys.

Fingernails tear off. Keep going.

Rocks scrape. Keep going.

Dust coats. Keep going.

Sweat mingles with tears. Keep going.

When it’s all about us, all about the constant navel-gazing and self-actualization, we aren’t going. We’re staying. Further, when we decide to ditch the concept of “sin,” we end up throwing out endurance, holiness and love, too. When it’s all fluffy and gushy and about the feels and getting mad at anyone and everyone because how dare they not be as perfect and attuned as we want them to be at all times, we lose an essential element of the Gospel: Jesus loves you, yes He does, and that means He doesn’t want you to stay where you are.

See, we don’t know this, because we don’t know the Bible. We either don’t read it at all or we blithely shrug off words like race, discipline, war and battle. We start and end with “come just as you are,” content with a surface-level doctrine that’s little more than spiritual-sounding self-help. It’s bubblegum. Cotton candy. Fluff.

Useless.

The world spent the last month tuned into the Winter Olympics. We marveled over feats of strength and daring-do. We gasped when an athlete fell and cheered when they got back up. We clapped. We cheered. We became invested in the stories of these people who set their sights on the prize and never wavered in their focus.

A theological lesson disguised as human drama if there ever was one.

When we think of encouragement, we think of gentleness. Whispered words and tender hugs. Sometimes, it is that. Other times, maybe even a lot of the time, it is Joses – a man known for being so encouraging that he came to be known by the name Barnabas, which means “son of encouragement” – squaring off with the Apostle Paul, letting him know in no uncertain terms that he would not be giving up on John Mark (Acts 15:36-41). It is grit and guts and cutting through all the bull.

Real talk: We don’t need more motivational speakers or self-help books. We don’t need listicles that tell us the “10 best ways…” to anything. What we need is to get serious. We need to actually struggle, actually engage in the battle, rather than sit and believe that the world owes us something when it very clearly doesn’t.

Again, I plead with you, dear reader, to not read into this piece an intent or motivation that isn’t here. I am an advocate of therapy and medication and doing what you need to do to work through pain and suffering. But there’s the key word – through. You get to make that choice. You are never without agency in how you respond to and handle whatever it is you’re dealing with.

Be a pusher. Be a fighter.

Because you can. You can. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, then His very Spirit lives within you. His empowerment is available to you every single step of the way. Ask Him to help you, to push you, even if you have to do it a million times in a day. And when you fall – we all do – ask Him to assist you in brushing off the dust. He will.

Every time.

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Heroic

Battle

Gentle Reader,

Oh, the things one sees on the internet.

A few weeks ago, I saw Star Wars: the Last Jedi. At first, I wasn’t sure what I thought about the movie. It is so different from anything else in the franchise. There’s a weird alien milking scene. I couldn’t bring myself to care about two of the secondary characters. Space penguins and space horses roll across the screen. I came away with the sense that this story is all over the place.

Time passed, as it does, and I began to realize just how much I enjoyed The Last Jedi. It is all over the place. Some of the characters needed to be cut. But the basic story – as saga of good vs. evil, mistakes, regrets, temptations, failure – is very good. The interplay between the three people the viewer is meant to be most invested in is fascinating. While there is substance to the argument that one of the heroes, Rey, is a “Mary Sue” (an idealized and seemingly perfect fictional character), her scenes with the villain, Kylo Ren/Ben Solo, crackle with life and energy.

I’m looking forward to 2019 and Episode IX.

Of course, not everyone feels the same. The Last Jedi is a terribly polarizing movie. I won’t get into all of that here, save to highlight these tweets:

Capture

Capture 1

What?

As I said, viewers are split on this movie. Those who hate it, really hate it. They have their reasons, some more valid that others. But for the life of me, I can’t figure out what Denny Burk, president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, is talking about here. The movie I watched highlighted the strengths and weakness of all the characters, male and female. Since his complaint is focused on the women, however, let’s look at them (spoiler alert for those who have yet to see the movie): Rey failed in her mission to rescue Kylo Ren/Ben Solo. General Organa and Admiral Holdo made mistakes in their battle against the First Order. Rose didn’t achieve what she set out to achieve. The Resistance would have been completely wiped out had Luke Skywalker not strolled in to save the day.

The women in The Last Jedi aren’t perfect. (Again, Rey may be an exception, but that is a hotly debated topic).

Burk reaches to make his argument and it shows. Christian men and women – complementarian and egalitarian – took him to task over his statements. None of them labeled him a heretic (as far as I know) and I’m not doing so, either. I simply have a really hard time understanding how a few female heroes peppered across a landscape dominated by men is a sign of anything other than recognizing that women have always been heroes, just as men always have.

Consider Abigail. Her husband, Nabal, isn’t the brightest crayon in the box. David, still on the run from King Saul, is tired and hungry. So, too, his men. David sends some of them up to Nabal’s house to ask for some food. Nabal is like, “Yeah, no.” David goes, “Okay, so I’m gonna kill all you dudes.” Abigail hears about this and:

Then Abigail made haste and took two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five sheep already dressed, five seahs of roasted grain,one hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs, and loaded them on donkeys. And she said to her servants, “Go on before me; see, I am coming after you.” But she did not tell her husband Nabal.

So it was, as she rode on the donkey, that she went down under cover of the hill; and there were David and his men, coming down toward her, and she met them. Now David had said, “Surely in vain I have protected all that this fellow has in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that belongs to him. And he has repaid me evil for good. May God do so, and more also, to the enemies of David, if I leave one male of all who belong to him by morning light.”

Now when Abigail saw David, she dismounted quickly from the donkey, fell on her face before David, and bowed down to the ground. So she fell at his feet and said: “On me, my lord, on me let this iniquity be! And please let your maidservant speak in your ears, and hear the words of your maidservant. Please, let not my lord regard this scoundrel Nabal. For as his name is, so is he: Nabal is his name, and folly is with him! But I, your maidservant, did not see the young men of my lord whom you sent. Now therefore, my lord, as the Lord lives and as your soul lives, since the Lord has held you back from coming to bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hand, now then, let your enemies and those who seek harm for my lord be as Nabal. And now this present which your maidservant has brought to my lord, let it be given to the young men who follow my lord. Please forgive the trespass of your maidservant. For the Lord will certainly make for my lord an enduring house, because my lord fights the battles of the Lord, and evil is not found in you throughout your days. Yet a man has risen to pursue you and seek your life, but the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living with the Lord your God; and the lives of your enemies He shall sling out, as from the pocket of a sling. And it shall come to pass, when the Lord has done for my lord according to all the good that He has spoken concerning you, and has appointed you ruler over Israel, that this will be no grief to you, nor offense of heart to my lord, either that you have shed blood without cause, or that my lord has avenged himself. But when the Lord has dealt well with my lord, then remember your maidservant.”

– 1 Samuel 25:18-31 (NKJV)

Her actions are heroic. She took her life in her hands. David could have slaughtered her on the spot. She had no idea if he would listen to her reasoning. Her quick thinking and bravery saved her husband and all the other males around, as well as preventing David and his men from falling into the sin of murder. (I don’t know everything there is to know about ancient hospitality customs, but I’m fairly certain that one was not supposed to kill anyone who refused to share bread).

This ongoing battle over “authentic femininity” and “real masculinity” is a waste of time. Jesus, the true hero of Scripture, labels believers “the Bride.” No one who submits to God can escape this fact. Jesus’ eschatological discourses in the Gospels and the book of Revelation are rife with wedding imagery. We who call ourselves Christians don’t get to choose our role. We are the Bride, waiting for her Groom.

In a passage many of us know well, we, the Bride, in our waiting, by the power of the Holy Spirit, are commanded to:

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints…

– Ephesians 6:10-18 (NKJV)

Man, woman, child. Doesn’t matter. Put your battle gear on and do the thing. Sweat flying, blood dripping, muscles aching, voices hoarse. Fight.

We must not indulge in delicate sensibilities and fragile egos. The war is here, now, and souls hang in the balance. I want to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with my brothers and sisters. I want to function in the gifts and calling God has given me and I want to do whatever I can to support others as they do the same, for time is short. Not one of us is guaranteed the next breath.

Let’s cease fretting over who can be hero and instead look to the Hero, who empowers and enables us to do heroic things.

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