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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The Wednesday Writers: Stephanie Thompson

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (4)

Gentle Reader,

It’s The Wednesday Writers!

No idea what I’m talking about? Read this.

Today we hear from my friend Stephanie Thompson.

Why Scraping Your Life’s Windshield Affects Your View of the Road

Every January, my husband and I ask each other the same question: “Why do we live here?”

The air stings. Grey skies hover without a slight peek at the sun. The trees bare their nakedness. Sometimes snow; despite it’s nuisance as it mounts, adds a texture of beauty to this somewhat drab palette. This is Winter in the midwest; Chicago to be specific.

Several years ago, my husband worked temporarily in San Diego. On a weekend whim, I flew out to visit. You can eat outside in January? Who knew? And the scenery…..hello ocean and hills!

Though we considered the prospect of God perhaps moving us out there (ok wishing), it was apparent that Chicago is our home.

Scraping the ice off the windshield after the night temperatures have plunged below zero is not my favorite activity. It requires early preparation in the midst of a hectic school morning routine. Even with the defroster at work, the ice hardens and resists the effort of my chilled to the bone fingers.

In my rush and frustration, the temptation to simply scrape off enough ice to provide a small “window” of visibility seduces me. Yet despite the increasing windchill whipping my face, I know that taking the shortcut increases my chances of an accident. If the back window is not clear, I cannot see what’s approaching behind me. Despite my kids thinking that I do indeed possess eyes in the back of my head, it’s simply not true. If my rear vision is incomplete, my abilities to prevent certain collisions is impaired. If the side windows are still frosty, I may not see the car next to me as I attempt to change lanes. And even a small circle of transparency in the front windshield does not allow me to gauge the elements of all that lie in front of me.

How similar I find the act of scraping a windshield to approaching sinful areas of my life.

What is blocking your view?

Fear? At times, it floods the senses; resulting in anxiety as we take in the implications of the journey ahead. The heartbeat escalates, eyes grow big, and hands quiver. Is God really big enough to keep us on track despite detours, pot holes?

Pride? The ever seducing voice in our head lulls us into a false reality. Our wisdom, though faulty and biased to self, rules the world. We know better. Especially when time constraints beckon. But as the sun bears it’s light onto the foggy windshield, we are blinded. As navigation continues, we find ourselves suddenly braking to prevent colliding with a car which was hidden by the glare. Why am I afraid to “trust in the Lord with all my heart? (prov. 3:5)”

Discouragement? Perhaps staggering to the car, while feeling the sting of the air seems like the best you can do. Scraping off the windshield? The task seems too daunting. Confronting the dawn of a new day while deceitful voices whisper words devoid of hope keep us from preparing early. The defroster’s warmth cannot melt the iciness of the morning’s frost quickly. What thoughts can I surrender to God so that the warmth of His light thaws the frost surrounding it?

How are you enlarging your “window” of visibility? Little chisels at a time or engaging in the more arduous process of scraping the covering all at once?

Sin, when not scraped off immediately, becomes a harden base upon which more layers mount. The longer it sits, the more overwhelming the task becomes. The temptation, then, becomes avoiding the removal. Little chisels may provide brief glimpses of the road in front but we find ourselves impaired by the lack of visibility.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

– Hebrews 12:1 (NIV)

Or, In this case, “scrape off” everything that hinders.

Fear, pride, discouragement. Satan wants nothing more than to block our view of the light going before us as we travel. With nothing impeding the view, we can aim clearly toward the destination.

What is hindering yours?

********

mudphotoStephanie is a graduate of North Park Theological Seminary and an ordained pastor of the Evangelical Covenant Church. She writes about sensing the voice of God and encountering the Holy Spirit in the midst of our everyday routines. Her pieces have appeared at Mudroom, The Mighty, Altarwork, as well as other sites. She is a writer for the Redbud Guild. In addition, her passion for those affected by mental illness finds itself woven into her writing. Stephanie lives in Mokena, Illinois with her husband and three teens.   .

A speaker as well as an author, you can connect with Stephanie at her blog and on social media (Twitter  /  Facebook).

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Review: On Edge

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (2)

Gentle Reader,

On December 5, 1989, Andrea Petersen suffered a crippling panic attack. Over the next year, she would be in and out of doctor’s offices, attempting to figure out what was wrong. Finally, sitting in the campus health office of her college, she hears the words that will mark her life forever: anxiety disorder.

Of all the books in the world, I figured that I would relate to and appreciate this one.

Weirdly, I didn’t.

Petersen is a medical reporter for the Wall Street Journal, and this shows in her writing. Instead of straightforward memoir, she fills the chapters with an overload of background information about synapses and chemicals and medications, leading to a denseness that was difficult to get through. Having read many books on this topic, I know that there is such a thing as too much information, especially if one is reading these books in an attempt to understand and therefore battle anxiety in a more effective way.

That, perhaps, seems odd. How can there be too much information? In answer, one word: Overload. Knowledge may be power, but overload is crippling.

Petersen should have written two books: one memoir, one technical. Trying to have both forms in one volume results in a disjointed read.

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I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.

What I Want

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Hello, there. You may have noticed my silence last week. I won’t lie – it was good to be away from the laptop. Much as I enjoy writing, I get tired of the screen and the keys. But we’ve talked about my love/hate relationship with technology before, so no need to cover old ground. Besides, that’s really not the point today.

Today is about getting back on the right path.

Over the last couple of months I’ve had more than one person ask, “When are you going to write a book?” Normally I would brush such an inquiry aside; I dislike talking about such things because I never have a satisfactory answer. But it’s hard not to take notice when people who don’t know each other poke and prod at the same spot. Then the 31 Days Challenge came – and my series was a success. People responded. They enjoyed what I wrote.

I don’t know how I feel about people noticing my words and wanting more.

Writers are a strange lot. We are compelled to dribble the ink across the page, but most of us are flat-out petrified of others reading the finished product. That’s why blogging is such a great thing. It’s good writing practice and it also helps in getting used to the idea that there is an audience out there. An audience that somehow connects with you through those letters, jots and tittles.

So, on the one hand, it’s encouraging to know that the years plugging away in this little corner begin to produce a harvest. On the other, one or two nasty comments are a whole lot easier to deal with than an honest-to-goodness bad review from someone who matters. Or at least matters in the writing world.

The question remains: When am I going to write a book?

The answer: I’m working on one.

It began in early summer. The big picture came fully-formed. I knew exactly how to start, how to finish and where to go in between. I have chapter titles. I have a document just for notes and ideas. I put an app on my phone just for scribbling little things that come to me at random moments. The first, rough run-through is almost halfway finished.

You think I’d be excited.

I’m not.

I ran away from this project. I deliberately turned away from what I know to be God’s will for me in this season.

There goes any of you thinking that I’ve got it all together.

When we throw our hands up and tell God, “No,” there are always consequences. For me it’s been weeks of discontentment and spiritual “blahness.” Oh, I’ve kept on doing things that I should do. Bible study, church attendance, prayer. But there’s been a block. God knew what it was. I knew what it was. He waited for me to acknowledge it. I tried not to.

Because this project, this little book of mine, is not likely to be well-received.

That’s the other thing I’ve heard more than once lately. “You are never going to be a popular author.” I know what that means. If it’s God’s will that one day this book sits on a shelf in a store and people buy it, a good portion of them won’t respond favorably to what they read. If I could just stay in the funny lane or shift gears into conventional “women’s writing…” But I can’t. That significantly ups the scary factor.

God being God, He decided that this little detente wasn’t going to continue. He pressed on me. Kept bringing it up. We had a moment. Rather literally a come to Jesus meeting. I never win when that happens. (Well, I do, because He’s always good and right and there’s nothing but winning when we submit to Him). In His graciousness, He condescended to hash some things out with me. There was forgiveness and renewal, as there blessedly always is.

This weekend I turned on the computer and called up the book. I didn’t bother going over what I’d already written. That will come later. I started where I left off, all the way back in July.

And it was so, so good.

There was flow. There was logic. I remembered the thesis and how to connect each chapter. I knew right away that this is it. This is what I’m supposed to be doing.

God being God, He knew that the fear would set in once more. He knew that I would lose that sense of rightness as soon as I shut it down and walked away. When cares like making dinner and figuring out what to take to a church chili cook-off took precedence in my mind. I’m shortsighted like that.

I crawled into bed early that night, aching all over. (No, not some divine punishment. Just my body being it’s weird self). I reached for a book on my nightstand, but stopped short when the Holy Spirit very clearly said, “Ezekiel Thirty-Three.” Not audibly. Not with a burning bush. Clear as a bell nevertheless. And utterly, completely random. He’s interesting like that. I read:

God’s Message came to me: “Son of man, speak to your people. Tell them, ‘If I bring war on this land and the people take one of their citizens and make him their watchman, and if the watchman sees war coming and blows the trumpet, warning the people, then if anyone hears the sound of the trumpet and ignores it and war comes and takes him off, it’s his own fault. He heard the alarm, he ignored it—it’s his own fault. If he had listened, he would have saved his life.

“‘But if the watchman sees war coming and doesn’t blow the trumpet, warning the people, and war comes and takes anyone off, I’ll hold the watchman responsible for the bloodshed of any unwarned sinner.’

“You, son of man, are the watchman. I’ve made you a watchman for Israel. The minute you hear a message from me, warn them. If I say to the wicked, ‘Wicked man, wicked woman, you’re on the fast track to death!’ and you don’t speak up and warn the wicked to change their ways, the wicked will die unwarned in their sins and I’ll hold you responsible for their bloodshed. But if you warn the wicked to change their ways and they don’t do it, they’ll die in their sins well-warned and at least you will have saved your own life.” – vs. 1-9 (MSG)

Be chill. I’m not claiming to be either a prophet or a watchman. I’m not predicting the apocalypse. I do know exactly what those verses mean. From the lips of my King to my ear. It’s something we all need to remember.

The Lord commands us to obey Him. It’s both that simple and that hard. (Thanks, Adam and Eve). He tells us to put aside all fear, all distraction, and do what He says. How other people respond – that’s on them. The only thing on us, on me, is to follow where He leads. In my experience, more often than not His leading is decidedly against the current. Against trends and fads. Against accepted norms.

If you’re anything like me and that scares the crud out of you, be encouraged today. God isn’t asking you to save anyone. (Or to control them). He’s not putting the weight of the world on your shoulders. He gives you one assignment at a time, an assignment that only you can complete. A task ordained before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 2:10). He’s not requiring you to swim upstream on your own, either. He is with you every moment, giving you grace, courage and wisdom – even when you don’t have sense to ask for it.

In the end, whatever pain that arises from the strain is absolutely worth it. I would rather see a smile on the face of my Lord and know that I did all that I could to obey Him than have the accolades of a world gone to you-know-where in a you-know-what. He’s given me a job to do (just let that blow your mind; God gives us jobs to do) and I want to be able to say that I did it. Even if there’s a howl and a backlash. Even if the waves crash and beat against me.

A life completely turned over to Him.

That’s what I want.

My journey to faith. (15)