Five Minute Friday: Way

Conversation

Gentle Reader,

Back at the chat tonight for the first time in over a month. How I have missed them. There’s an encouragement that only a writer can give to another writer. She gets it. He knows the struggle. Tonight this community of far-flung wordsmiths affirmed my abilities and told me to keep going. Because, you see, the temptation to quit is always there, but sometimes, on some days, it’s stronger. It’s been a mighty weight for awhile now. Just pack it all in. Fall silent.

I am so grateful for these people. They helped me push against that weight tonight.

Plus, where else can you talk about collecting spit and the joys of curly hair in humid weather?

Kate says: way.

Go.

Dang but do we live in a “my way or no way” culture. Which is odd, because we’re supposed to be all about tolerance and respect. Except the tolerance and respect really only extends to those inside the circle. Those who are the same. Somebody comes in as a challenger and forget it. The tongue-gloves come off. Verbal punches fly fast and thick.

No, this is not me claiming persecution. Christians in the United States haven’t the slightest idea what persecution is.

This is me stepping back and taking stock of the last month. I’ve written about touchy subjects. Spent hours thinking and talking about weighty issues. Reading – always reading – trying to find that place between being informed about current events and becoming utterly overwhelmed. All that, I don’t mind. I like it, in fact. Sign me up.

What I don’t like is hostility.

At this point I believe that all Americans, and especially Christians who live in America, should be made to take a logic and critical thinking class. This was one of the first courses I took during my first semester of college, way back during the time of the dinosaur. We spent hours learning the difference between modus ponens and modus tollens. Got into immediate trouble if we dared allow ad hominem to dance upon our tongues. Were introduced to the No True Scotsman and told to stay away from him. Our professor wrote sentences from news stories on the chalkboard and made us deconstruct them, forcing us to learn to appreciate a good argument or line of thinking, even if we ultimately disagreed with it.

Perhaps a political science class is in order as well. Preferably with a very cranky teacher who rarely gives anyone a grade higher than “B” and requires formal debates. No “because” in his class. You make a statement, you’d better be able to defend that statement, no emotional appeals allowed, and if you can site legal precedent, so much the better.

And definitely, absolutely, certainly theology classes. A lot of them. Staring with hermeneutics.

As I think about the events of the past weeks, I see that, above all, we have to remain teachable. Humble. Open to considering another point of view. Always remembering that none of us knows everything all the time.

Stop.

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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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