I, too, am an Anxious, Sweaty Bad Ass

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Over the last two years, I have had the privilege of meeting many of my theological heroes. Such titans as Brian McLaren, Frank Schaeffer, and Diana Butler Bass have talked with me, signed my books, and even shared a hug. It’s not a competition, of course, but last night, I had the pleasure to meet someone who has impacted me beyond theological concerns–in the realms of mental illness, parenting, marriage, and… life. Last night, sick with anxiety, I met the incomparable Glennon Doyle Melton: truth teller; founder of Momastery and Together Rising; love revolutionary; fellow sweaty, anxious bad ass.

Something you should know about me: I live my life in a near constant state of fear. Along with the lupus (which keeps me in a constant state of pain), I’m a life-long anxious over-thinker. Growing up, I was afraid of almost everything. No one’s fault, it’s just how I’m built. I pushed past it and hid it when I could. Other times, I would just burst into tears seemingly for no reason (elementary school friends may remember this about me). Anxiety runs thick in my veins, it pulses and shoots through me at various inconvenient moments. It’s been manageable and it’s been overwhelming, but it’s always been there.

Anxiety may be the most consistent thing about me.

Fear of social situations is probably the worst of it. I’m almost good meeting with someone one-on-one or with small groups of people I know. I’m okay with going to an event if I have someone to tether me with their presence. I’m semi-comfortable going places I know well (why do you think I’m at Barnes and Noble and Starbucks so much?). And yet, even in these situations, I’m still under a slight haze of anxiety that propels me to, at the very least, pretend to be “normal.” Outside of this, things can get… dicey. From anxiety attacks to all out panic, my fight or flight reflex is usually working overtime when I’m out of the safety of my house.

Such was the situation at Trinity Episcopal Insights series last night. I was sick with worry all week. But Jessie, what’s the WORST that could happen? Well, friends, I. Could. Die. I even tweeted about it Wednesday night, only to get the kindest reply in the history of replies from Glennon, herself. This reply gave me a talking point and allowed me to at least show up, sweaty and scared as I was.

When I got there, my heart was racing and I literally felt like I was going to throw up. This is no exaggeration. Seems overdramatic, maybe, but it’s accurate.

If you want to strike fear into my heart: “reception” or “meet and greet” will suffice. But I did show up. I walked into the room (early, natch) and stood there like the anxious mess I am. A nice man offered to bring me wine (no, thanks) or water (yes, please!). I sat down at an empty table, occasionally glancing up at groups of women, friends who seemed to belong to each other in real life. I was alone, terrified, and intimidated by their effortless ability to exist.

Then Glennon walked in all… Glennon and I just sat there, teary-eyed, terrified, wanting to run the hell out of there, and unable to move. I texted my BFFC–best friend from college (Hi Emma!)–who introduced me to Glennon a few years back. She reassured me as she’s done about a billion times since we met in Psych 100 almost 16 years ago.

I was pretty sure I couldn’t do this. I would just stay at the table. This was too much. I was too scared. I think someone sat down at the table in the meantime. I’m pretty sure she introduced herself. I’m certain I barely got any words out.

Then, a very kind soul from the church approached pitiful looking me and asked, “Are you okay?” (I think that’s what she said, I can’t really remember because: anxious haze).

“I’m just REALLY nervous…”

“Well, would you like to meet her?” Friends, this was mercy. Who was the miraculous angel who saved my life in that moment? I wish I knew. Luckily, the tears had started to dry in my eyes by then. If I’d gone up there teary, I would have bawled. And you guys, I’m an UGLY crier. Seriously. A red-faced, blubbery mess. It’s not pretty.

I don’t remember the walk up to meet Glennon, or even what she first said to me (anxious haze), I just knew I had a talking point: “I’m really nervous. You tweeted me last night. I’m Jessie from Twitter.”

“Are you the girl who was afraid to come tonight?”

“Yes, that’s me.”

Awww. But we’re here! We made it!” she exclaimed. I tried to respond to her exclamation, I don’t know what I said–it was probably words. But then came a hug that made me instantly feel better as hugs tend to do.

Hugs, for me, are grace. I’m a hugger from way back. Hugs comfort and speak volumes in moments when words fail.

We talked like “sisters” do because that is what Glennon does. This is what she does even when she, herself, is anxious. She relates to people. And she did that with everyone in that reception hall. She gave me anxiety advice for these social situations (first, get some food). Then spoke to me about our mutual love for the UCC and my seminary studies (she applied to CTS a year or so ago. My seminary, you guys. I could have had CLASSES with Glennon Doyle Melton. But she can’t go, she’s already doing her important work, obvi). We took a photo together. She signed my book (and the free book I’m giving to my BFFC). The inscription is perfect and reads, “Jessie, Be still, preacher warrior sister…”

Later, when we got to the actual “event” part of the event, Glennon candidly spoke on stage as only she can: with humor, authenticity, wit and wisdom. She told the truths we all know too well about love, life, marriage, parenting, pain, anxiety, Jesus, kindness, and faith. She is exactly who she appears to be online in all her messy, feeling, human-ness. 

I have more to say about the event; it was formative for me in many ways. I want to talk about what she had to say about “hate,” politics, and about how we love, but right now, I just wanted to get the experience out and share some of it with you. Some parts can’t be conveyed in words and I want to keep them for myself.

But here’s today’s take away (tl;dr):

I showed up.

I showed up scared.

I showed up scared and alone

I showed up scared and alone and no one died.

Hi, I’m Jessie, and I’m an “anxious, sweaty bad ass.”

I’m also a preacher warrior sister. Glennon said so, so it must be true.

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Thank you, G, for reminding me that I, too, can do hard things.

Grace and peace.

 

Is Your God Big Enough?

Buechner speaks to my soul

Be careful who you associate with (2 Cor 6:14). Don’t listen to your itching ears (2 Tim 4:3). Don’t be one who goes against sound doctrine (1 Tim 1:10, among others).

In a nutshell, be careful what you read, who you hang with, and how you approach new ideas. I’ve been warned of this by many a well-meaning brother and sister in Christ.

This mentality has always puzzled me. It has also frustrated and angered me when it is behind attempts to convince new or curious Christians that there is only one way to follow Christ.

Yet, as a parent, I think I understand the inclination–you would want to help protect your children, not just in body, but in mind and spirit. You want to shield them from evil in whatever form it takes. Children are impressionable and their time hanging with the “wrong” crowd can influence them just as much as the time they spend around the “right” crowd. It’s good to know what is going on and who they hang with. I get it.

On the other hand, if my child were already partaking in misadventures with the “wrong” crowd, I’d be thankful to find someone from the more well-behaved end of the spectrum taking an interest in him.

Building relationships with people from a diversity of experiences, both shared and different than our own, makes for a more well-rounded life and a kinder, gentler world. It develops an understanding that it’s okay for people’s experiences, worldviews, and religious beliefs to differ. This understanding helps us to relate others in an increasingly diverse and connected world.

To wit: If spending time around people with varied life experience is important, why wouldn’t I also spend time with people of varied spiritual perspectives? How does my faith grow and deepen if I remain cloistered in the company of like-minds unwilling to engage with others in our increasingly pluralistic world? The idea that one ought to fear new or out-of-the-box thinking is insidious in nature and, I’d argue, a cancer on the church today. It happens outside of religion, too. Challenging the status quo is a difficult, painful idea to put forth, particularly when the very notion that change might be better and necessary is met with derision from some or all sides.

Working toward understanding by getting to know different people, religions, and ideas is a good thing. Asking questions not just of others, but of ourselves and of God is a good thing. Introducing and challenging our faith communities with radical ideas that allow for a more inclusive, accepting, loving church is a good thing.

Where would we be without such challenges to the norm? Well, religiously speaking–we’d be without Christianity. We’d certainly be without Protestantism. We’d be without 41,000 denominations. We’d all be practicing some strange, perhaps paleolithic form of religion, or perhaps we’d have none. And, I have to tell you, without these “new thinkers,” what we think of as “traditional” Christianity and “family values” would not exist. These are ideas that are relatively young in the history of humankind.

In science, we’d still insist the world was flat. We’d be without medicines to heal ourselves, we may all be clustered on one continent. We might even be without language. Without challenging the status quo, women wouldn’t be able to vote; in fact, no one would. We’d stay mired in patriarchal, monarchical societies subject to the whims of powerful rulers who care not for the poor and suffering of society. There would be no America. Enslaving our fellow human beings would still very much be en vogue and we wouldn’t question it. Our world would be left with little semblance of the justice we are called to do, and we would walk around blindly adhering to these injustices (and yes, I realize that even as I type this, in some ways, we still are).

So perhaps instead of chastising the new thinkers and holding court on the same old doctrinal stances–rigid in our inability to accept that God is still speaking, terrified of even considering the idea that God didn’t STOP communicating with humankind after the final book of the Protestant Bible was written (2 Peter, between 120 and 150 AD)–we might engage these new ideas prayerfully and respectfully. We might consider for a moment that the God who created the folks who concocted our “traditional” doctrine is the same God who created those who are now thinking outside of that box. Perhaps instead of approaching church with an us vs. them exclusivity, we might invite everyone to participate fully in the relational process of knowing God and each other through dialogue and ever growing community.

And yes, I mean everyone. Let’s invite the homeless persons in our communities. Let’s invite in our LGBTQ friends and neighbors. Let’s welcome the marginalized people of other faiths and of no faith. Let’s invite in the doubters and questioners. Let’s invite in people whose races, ethnicities, and cultural backgrounds differ from our own. Let’s invite in those younger than us and those older than us and those just like us. Let’s welcome them all. Let’s display the hospitality we are called to display and let us do so joyfully, with thanksgiving in our hearts and openness in our minds. Let us embrace them fully in the same way we God embraces us. Let us listen and try to relate, accepting that we do not have all the answers, but that a Power greater than us does.

Finally, I ask: what are we so afraid of?

Is it our God who is not big enough for our questions, changes, and diversity, or is it really our doctrine that is too small to embrace people and ideas in the same radical vein of Christ?

Over-Dramatically Controversial: This Straight Christian Gal’s “Coming Out”

Writing has been an itch I haven’t been able to scratch this month, primarily because I haven’t wanted to be over-dramatically controversial in a time when I have a lot of busy-ness happening in my day-to-day. I wanted, however, to write about the conference before I forgot and to address something I’ve been wanting to talk about for a long time.

During the conference at Open Door Community Church a few weeks ago, several authors and their works were brought to my attention, adding exponentially to my ever-expanding “to read” list. The conference, itself, was refreshing, stimulating, and delightful. I was only able to spend Saturday there, but felt spiritually and emotionally enriched after just one day. Among the memorable moments were hugging and shaking hands with wonderful people, making new friends, hearing incredible lectures, and feeling uplifted by the transcendent musical performances. I hope to go back to Open Door very soon as it is quite a bit closer to our new home than my other church is. I am trying to work out a way where I don’t have to choose between them.

At the conference, I met and spoke with two of my theological heroes (Frank Schaeffer and Brian McLaren), shook the hands of three published authors I knew virtually nothing about (Tim Kurek, Susan Cotrell, and Randy Eddy-McCain–who happens to be the pastor of Open Door), and shared a few moments with one that I had only become familiar with days before (Jay Bakker).

Brian McLaren had received the “Peggy Campolo Carrier Pigeon Award” the night before, so some of the conference was deservedly devoted to praise of this genuinely remarkable human being. Before he spoke, I was blessed to spend several minutes speaking with him one-on-one. He wanted to know about me. When I mentioned my seminary journey and the time I have taken off to care for my children, one of which has ASD, he immediately related to me as a person directly impacted by autism. There is much autism in his family and he was very interested to know if our Weston was receiving the support he needed. Thinking back on my first exposure to Brian McLaren seeing the film “Hellbound?” I remember immediately remarking to my neighbor about how I liked the words and appreciated the perspective of “that guy with the kind eyes.” Then I read some of his work and found out my uncle goes to the church McLaren helped establish in Maryland (How small is our world!). The kind eyes that translated on screen are, in Brian’s case, a direct result of genuine kindness that exudes from his entire being.

During his speech, Brian addressed some issues within the church and culture, specifically regarding LGBTQ issues and the encouraging tidal wave of love, compassion, and genuine acceptance of this formerly marginalized group of people. He expanded on the Ghandi quote, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win,” by adding: “Then you learn to win graciously.” This is such a profoundly important punctuation at the end of that quote and one that so many, in the midst of winning battles (which I assure you, the LGBTQ community is doing in America), forget. Being gracious in victory is a true test of character and a necessary step for those of us who profess that love is the ultimate goal.

After he spoke, we broke out for lunch, but before I ate, I sought out Frank Schaeffer. I locked eyes with him across a group of people chatting, and he asked for them to allow him through so he could speak with me. Frank is one of the most genuine and kind people I have ever met and immediately gave me a hug upon hearing the impact his work has had on my journey. He, too, asked about my seminary studies and was very keen to know if Weston was receiving what he needed to be his very best, unique self. For someone who self-identifies as an “a**hole,” he’s an awfully nice, loving guy. My first exchange with him may have been my favorite moment in the entire conference.

I have never met a personal hero that I was disappointed by. Even in my old conservative days when I met Karl Rove, I found him to be kind and gracious. While I may differ with Republicans more often than not these days, I have a lasting respect for him personally. All this to say that both Brian and Frank surpassed my wildest expectations. When you speak to someone who seems larger than life and they effortlessly connect with you, it’s a special experience. Often, I feel very awkward around large groups of unfamiliar people, and, indeed, I spent much of that Saturday feeling that way. Yet speaking with Brian and Frank was a surprisingly reassuring experience and one that will encourage me to attend similar events during the future of my life-long spiritual journey.

After lunch (during which I sat with the delightful Peggy Campolo), Jay Bakker spent some time addressing the marginalization of the outcast within the church and the need for society to be loving and accepting. Bakker was humorous and charismatic and addressed the issues as, perhaps, only he could. He spent the remainder of his time talking about his relationship with Brian McLaren and his wife. If I had any doubt about the incredible human being McLaren is (I didn’t), Jay’s words would have put all of it to rest. After he spoke, I rushed over to speak to him for just a few moments because I knew I had to get home to do the “mommy thing” before returning for the evening session. Jay was kind when I told him I was only beginning this journey after being somewhat turned-off at Asbury Seminary. He recommended some authors and said he hoped I enjoyed his work.

Perhaps my favorite speaker that day was Frank Schaeffer. At his lecture later that night, he expanded beyond the marginalization of the outcast and said that our problem is bigger than that. The crux of the trouble facing people who honestly strive to follow Jesus is that the mainstream Christian community, who preach against worshiping idols, is inadvertently hypocritical in its own idolatry of the collection of books known as the “Bible.” In these communities (and, it seems, in much of American culture), this literary collection written, translated, and interpreted by man is treated as God. Folks pick and choose which of the sins they find most abhorrent. The “Ten Commandments,” the examples in the scripture, and the Jewish law is seen as much more Godly than following the words and teachings of God (in the form of Jesus Christ). Jesus did not say that heterosexuality was the ideal or that the ten commandments were paramount. In fact, what did Jesus say was the most important commandment multiple times in the gospels? That’s right: loving God with all of your mind, heart, and soul, AND loving your neighbor as yourself.

Rather than love, too many are choosing to marginalize outcasts, while professing to “love the sinner, hate the sin.” They base nearly the entirety of their approach to the world on a misinterpretation of obscure Old Testament stories (such as the reason Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed in Genesis) and Paulian letters rather than on the actual words of Jesus Christ. My favorite quote from Frank Schaeffer (which happens to be in his book Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God) is, “Religion is a neurological disorder. Only faith is the cure.” When religion and worship of a book virtually replaces God as exemplified in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, we have a serious problem. The church has a serious problem. And, I believe, we shroud God in our own insecurities and fears, projecting our own limitations on God, rather than allowing God to be God.

As I mentioned earlier, this write-up is bound to ruffle some feathers, yet for too long, I have remained silent in my support of equal rights for all, especially in regards to the LGBTQ community. In a sense, I am having my own informal “coming out.” My support of this community unknowingly began with my love of Ellen DeGenerous’s sitcom and comedy. As a kid, I just knew that she was funny and that I enjoyed her presence in my pop-culture world. It didn’t matter to me what orientation she was and it baffled me that her personal life bothered anyone. Then, as a young adult, I met and became friends with more LGBTQ folks and experienced on a very personal level, that there was really no difference between them and me in any way that really mattered. From a legal and constitutional standpoint, the abolition on same-sex marriage in this country makes absolutely no sense. It became very clear to me during this time that, if Christians do not want their religious practice infringed upon, they cannot force their religious views on anyone, either. The freedom to marry should be extended to all consenting adults.

Until a few years ago I was still struggling with what I had been taught regarding the historical and popular Christian biblical interpretations of homosexuality. In that vein, it was my time at Lancaster Theological Seminary that allowed me to experience this community in a spiritual setting and introduced me to other interpretations of those passages in the bible where homosexuality is addressed. As I am still wading through various perspectives on this (and it is beyond the scope of this post), I will address this more in the future. Suffice to say that rape-culture and promiscuity seem to be the real abomination in a biblical (and cultural) sense. I see no biblical reason to abhor or dismiss committed, loving relationships between consenting adults of any orientation, faith, or believe system.

So that’s it. The Fall Conference at Open Door Community Church was a welcome relief and a joyful time of reflection, love, and learning that I will not ever forget. Conservative Christians say that Progressives Christians are cherry picking. Progressives say the same about Conservatives. While I find myself very much identifying as a progressive Christian (leaving political views completely out of this particular post), I would like to think we can find our common ground in love and acceptance, not merely in tolerance. I’ve said before that my son’s diagnosis was an impetus to re-framing my worldview to one where love is my first consideration, the lens through which I see people in the world. I can no longer conceive of a Divine Being who does not do the same.

I’ll leave you with an image of the shirt my friend Brian C. wore to the conference. I think it sums up my stance quite accurately:

Just love.

Perfection and Humility: Thoughts on the Middle East Conflict

Some drawings from my sons this morning. Perfect in their imperfection.

Some drawings from my sons this morning. Perfect in their imperfection.

 

If there is such a thing as human perfection, it seems to emerge precisely from how we handle the imperfection that is everywhere, especially our own.

RICHARD ROHR

It seems all the world is a mess with warring ideas, tribes, philosophies, theologies, and nations. There are those that cast aspersions on others with whom they differ, and others who cast much more literal weapons. I try to watch and read about world events from a variety of sources so that I get a well-rounded view because bias comes from all sides. Living in Germany for two years forced me into this habit, and it is one I have returned to since. As I prepared delicious vegan sandwiches for my husband and me this evening, an interview on CNN stopped me in my tracks. The three stories most heavily covered by that news channel lately are the Israel/Palestinian conflict, the Ebola outbreak, and the plane crash in Ukraine. This interview happened to be about Israel/Palestine. What gave me pause was a discussion of how different generations differ in their perspective on and approach to this conflict. The “older” generations seem to fall in line with a very Israel-centered view. The anchors interviewed three or four undergraduate students (my memory fails me on the precise number) to get the millennial perspective. The students reflected neither a pro-Israel nor pro-Palestinian view, in the main. Instead, they discussed a third perspective I have been reflecting on lately. A way of a lasting peace for the people of both Israel and Palestine that may not occur in a win-lose scenario. The students seemed to believe that, on their own, neither group of people are inherently evil or even wrong. For what it is worth, I do not believe that anyone is born evil, but that it is human, worldly influence that sways a soul to gravitate toward evil ideas or actions. The point that the students made was very similar to writings from Brian McLaren on this subject. The U.S. designated Hammas as a terrorist organization, and absent evidence to the contrary, I am inclined to agree, but it is very hard to see what is happening in Gaza and feel like this is the best or only way to handle it.

I do not want to wade into a political or theological argument over who has more “right” to that land or who is acting more or less justly in this recent war. I certainly think the people on both sides deserve to live in peace and that Israel has a right to defend itself from incoming threats, but my heart breaks for these sweet, innocent children and their families who have no safe haven to which they can flee. I do not know if one news network or another is covering things fairly or without bias (though I do resonate with this article–it cannot be easy to be objective while writing about dead children). I will not say that sympathy for the Palestinian people makes you less Christian or less American, but I will say it makes you human. It is an impossible situation and I don’t think any of us who have lived our lives in the West truly understand the conflict and all its roots. As my first seminary professor famously proclaimed, “You can only see from where you stand.”

The above quote from Richard Rohr made me think of this conflict. So many of us freely admit that we are imperfect, but somehow, when it comes to deeply held convictions, we are unwilling to open our minds to the possibility that we may have in the past, or that we might now, be off track–if even slightly. The “Nobody’s perfect,” cliché is only honest in the instances where we believe, accept, and humble ourselves to the certain fact of our imperfection. And if we believe that no one is perfect, we must make room for at least the possibility that our preferred translations and interpretations of our sacred books and those we follow (who are not God) may, in fact, not be the only perspective or the final word on any given subject. I am not advocating some post-modern relativist notion. I firmly believe there is an ultimate truth out there, I just don’t know that I am brazen enough to profess that at 32 (or whatever age you are) I (or you) have found it. The truth lies with the Creator of the heavens “above” and the universe we inhabit. We are not that Supreme Being. I choose to do my best to follow Jesus Christ, but I am not Jesus and therefore, I do not have all the answers. I am at times too presumptuous and feel I have more answers than another. At my best moments, I am humble enough to realize that I don’t and accept that is okay.

For me, I suppose it all comes down to Jesus’ own words in passages like Mark 12:29-31 (NRSV), in which he replied to a scribe’s query regarding which commandment is “first of all:”

Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.

More and more frequently these days, my heart and mind goes back to these commandments, and I look for the perspective of love. I do not have to take sides or proclaim that one is right and one is wrong. If I follow these commands and strive to follow Jesus, knowing I will fail more than I will succeed, I feel like I cannot go too wrong. I just wish more of the world could look to these commands first, rather than continuing down the path of destruction, discord, and death. With so many current generations digging in and mired in sight only from where they currently stand, maybe our hope lies with future generations. Jesus did say, after all, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.

Do We Try to Answer or Respond: 9 Questions for Theological Exploration

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The rear of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris (taken in April 2012), which I have always found more beautiful, spiritual, and wondrous than the front.

As was discussed in my previous post, I am interested in exploring big questions not frequently or adequately “answered” in the Christian faith. I use the term “answered” loosely here because I believe there are many times when questions cannot be answered at all. Too frequently, we endeavor to ask about “big issues” and are unsatisfied, for a variety of reasons, with the “answers” we find. In this life, there are so many questions to which an answer is either not available or so complex that the word “answer” seems a supremely unsuitable descriptor.

Author Brian D. McLaren chooses to approach these queries with a “response” rather than an “answer.” From his book, A New Kind of Christianity, “…question-and-response, rather than question-and-answer times–since many questions aren’t suited for a simple answer.” Too often, I have sat in a room with another person of faith and asked questions only to receive a trite, Christian-ese answer. This has happened both at church, outside-of-church, and at seminary. What if the “answers” are too easy and leave you with more questions than that with which you began? Simply telling someone who is not a Christian, “This is what I believe because it is in the Bible,” is probably not going to win over any converts. Recently, a friend of mine told me that, for her, Christianity and biblical works hold truth because she has found that the wisdom held within its pages and teachings have matched up with her life experiences. This is, perhaps, one of the most sensible and sincere explanations for “faith” that I’ve heard. Yet, I suppose, for many this has not been their experience. Their lives may not have matched up with what they know of the bible or Christianity, and without a compelling reason to put their faith in a deity they cannot see, touch, or otherwise sense, the truth of the gospels is lost on them. Combine their lack of a God-experience with typical Sunday school answers and they are not likely to be convinced that Jesus Christ is the way.

Now, suppose we engaged these friends in conversation rather than set out to convert them with the “same old” answers? Suppose, rather than pipe out the usual Christian-ese, we actually responded, thoughtfully and prayerfully, discussing theological or religious issues with intellectual vigor allowing for growth both in our own hearts, minds, and theologies, and encouraging the same on the part of our friend. What if, rather than shut down well-intentioned and honest inquiry, we sought it out and joined our friend on an unexpected and enriching journey? We should not fear the questions or stifle intellectual examination. We should encourage it and welcome God into the process rather than assume our God is not big enough to handle such brazen exploration. We were given the ability to think, wonder, and question–why not put this wondrous creation to good use?

The point of the above paragraphs is merely to set up an introduction to some questions–many that have been on my mind for years–to which I hope to thoughtfully, prayerfully, and honestly respond in the coming years. I will briefly present them below and expand in a later response as I more fully grasp what it is I am getting at. So here goes:

1. If we accept that there is a loving God and Jesus came to save the world (John 3:17, Luke 19:10), how can we claim that is consistent with the popular Christian notion of Hell?

2. If God is everywhere, we can worship him anywhere, then why do we go to church?

3. If God is so loving, powerful, and knowing, why would God create souls to live on this earth who God knows will perish in eternal torment?

4. Jewish people, God’s “chosen,” do not believe in Christ as the “way, the truth, and the life,” so are they doomed in the afterlife?

5. If the greatest commandment is to love God with all our hearts, souls, and minds and love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31, Matthew 22:39), then why do so many people approach others with anything but love? Do we hate ourselves?

6. If all sin is equal in the sight of God and we believe all people have free-will to make their own decisions, then why are some so invested in limiting the behavior of others based on some human-constructed hierarchy of sin?

7. If the American Constitution provides for freedom of religion and pursuit of happiness (and we agree that Sharia Law as enacted in some countries is wrong), then why do some want the “rules” as laid out by the Christian bible imposed on everyone in America, even non-Christians?

8. Depending on the denomination and the person, the words, “I am a Christian,” can mean a multitude of things. What do we mean when we make this declaration? Which Christ are we following?

9. How did we get from Christ, who railed against the traditional teachings and synagogues of his day, to such a diverse and confusing array of faith traditions, rituals, and Christian denominations? Which one is “right”?

I have many more questions, but these are just some that have been at the forefront my mind lately. I am not proposing these questions in hopes that readers will “answer” them. In fact, I do not want “answers,” but I do welcome responses if you’ve given some thought to any or all of this. I also open up the comments section below to new questions, which you may have been pondering or which sprung to mind as you read mine.

Different and Apart, but Not Alone

“That is why the Christian is in a different position from other people who are trying to be good. They hope, by being good, to please God if there is one; or–if they think there is not–at least they hope to deserve approval from good men. But the Christian thinks any good he does comes from the Christ-life inside him. He does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us; just as the roof of a greenhouse does not attract the sun because it is bright, but becomes bright because the sun shines on it.”

As I’ve stated, the one goal I have for this year (aside from working on remaining “calm”), is to read the entire way through A Year with C.S. Lewis. From time to time, I hope to share with you selections that particularly stand out to me. This quote, from Mere Christianity, is part of a larger selection for January 27, but I think it stands well on its own.

Very little of what we do in this life (Christian or not) is wholly the result of individual actions. Certainly, in America, there is great pride in pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps and soldiering on through difficult circumstances. When this happens, it is something to be admired and to which we should all aspire. Yet I do not believe that we do anything completely independently. We have had help, if not from human beings, then certainly with the assistance, guidance, and love of our Creator.

As an introvert, I will admit to having some struggles getting involved in activities that require community involvement. Social anxiety is not just something I struggle with currently, but something with which I have tried to fight against since I was very young. Oddly, however, I do not know if I’ve ever felt truly, completely alone, especially when I am physically alone. The times when I have felt most helpless, most utterly abandoned, have frequently been at those large social functions in which I seem to withdraw most into a feeling of uncomfortable awkwardness and complete social ineptitude. As a teen and younger adult, this fact was a source of great sadness for me. It was something to be medicated or counseled through. It was an obstacle to overcome; deficiency or medical issue to be “healed.” As a slightly older adult, this is just a fact about myself I have come to accept.

You see, I now understand that it is not solitude that I seek. In fact, it is when I sit down to do any of my “solitary” activities (writing, reading, reflecting, even watching television programs), that I often feel most connected. Connected to what, you ask? Well, to me, these are the moments I feel most connected to God (yes, often even while watching the boob tube!). I cannot remember so much as a birthday party in my earliest years during which I felt like I belonged. In many ways, I’ve always felt “apart.” Not special, mind you, just apart.

I have often said that, though I am undeniably a product of my parents by appearance (and by certain other traits), I have always felt that my family is much “cooler” than me (depending, of course, upon how you measure “coolness”). I do not say this to get sympathy, it’s just a matter of fact. My parents and brother make friends with such ease and LOVE social functions and so many other things from which I gradually fell away as I grew more independent. My parents, brother, aunt, and grandparents are probably the coolest people I know. I admire their social boldness, but I have ceased aspiring to it. In the words of the wise Willow Rosenberg, “That way leads to madness… and sweaty palms.” People are just different, and I am a person… who is different.

Even as I write this, however, I recognize that God has called me to do great works and some of these works will be done in community, particularly as I get deeper into my work on my graduate degree in seminary and go forward into whatever ministry God intends for me. I cannot sit here and spell out the terms of my future ministry and dictate to God that I will not become a more social being. I may well do that as I age. For the time-being, however, there is a peace in accepting that, while I may not find peace in a crowded room or social gathering, wherever I am, God is with me. As I seek to walk closer with God, I know I will be formed into precisely the kind of being I am meant to be. Right now, that appears to mean pastoral counseling and writing, but I am in no way limiting my options and closing my mind to the possibilities.

I’ll leave you with one final thought from the same selection from Mere Christianity:

“A live body is not one that never gets hurt, but one that can to some extent repair itself. In the same way a Christian is not a man who never goes wrong, but a man who is enabled to repent and pick himself up and begin over again after each stumble–.”

Time: So Little and So Much

I like time. There’s so little and so much of it.

– from “Angel”

My little family of three is less than three weeks away from becoming a family of four (and even more heavily testosterone laden). At moments during this pregnancy, it felt like these weeks would never arrive and now that they’re here, it seems as though they’ve come around quite suddenly. Pregnancy, like many things in life, feels at once blisteringly fast and painfully slow. I do not wish to wax poetic about the joys and struggles of carrying a child for nine months nor complain about the pleasures and stresses that come along with motherhood. I realize there are multiple perspectives and am fully aware that many do not get to experience these gifts.

As I sit here watching my son play, intermittently happy and then running to me upset when he becomes frustrated (which happens approximately every minute or so at two-and-a-half years of age), it occurs to me that time is an incredibly curious phenomenon. In many respects, it does seem as though it passes more rapidly as we age. It is true that a minute is a minute regardless of how old we get, and yet there’s a relativity to time that shifts dramatically in varying circumstances. Two minutes seem an eternity to a two year old stuck in a time out, but fly by for the student trying to squeeze a few more test answers before the professor announces, “Time’s up!” Waiting at a red light for sixty seconds is incredibly frustrating (especially when running late) and yet those same sixty seconds tick down ever so quickly to the football team desperately trying to score the winning goal at the end of the fourth quarter.

Time’s fleeting and seemingly bi-polar nature is something wholly out of our control. I suppose the moral of the story is to enjoy every moment of life and try not to worry about those things over which we have no control. My easily frustrated toddler who, at the moment, cannot get enough of Mama’s love and attention (especially at the most inopportune moments) will become a busy young boy soon enough and, let’s face it, I’ll miss these days and that “clingy-ness” that sometimes wears on a tired pregnant mother.

Yet another curious observation about time is how easily some seem to classify it as “wasted.” Priorities in life differ from one person to another. So, too, do our interests and hobbies. People occasionally deride those who spend their leisure time watching television or playing video games. Such time is clumsily classified as frivolous and wasted. It may be true in some cases. Some who enjoy nothing more than the “great-outdoors” find it “sad” that there are those of us who, for one reason or another, do not. Then there are those who enjoy spending their time with their nose in a book and laugh at those who stare “mindlessly” at the “idiot-box” for hours a day (I am a reader and would argue there are plenty of books out there that are doing absolutely nothing to contribute to one’s IQ or knowledge base).

Any number of comparisons can be made regarding what is and is not wasted time. This, I think, is a judgment that is largely relative and best left for each individual to evaluate alone. For my money, I agree with this sentiment:

“Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.”

-Marthe Troly-Curtin

I will leave you with one final thought from C.S. Lewis, as I seem to be turning to his wisdom with increasing frequency even when I do not, necessarily, agree:

“The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.”

– C.S. Lewis

Enjoy whatever time you have, however you choose to spend it.

Blessings!

The Curious Problem of Resolutions

I am of two minds on the subject of resolutions. On the one hand, recognizing a problem and wanting to fix it is certainly nothing to scoff at. I admire a person’s willingness to change. On the other hand, change is seldom easy and so few people actually stick to their resolutions that they are often quite meaningless. I had three goals last year, none to which I strictly adhered. I probably did write something every day, but it was not always the kind of writing I intended. I definitely finished many books in 2012, but most of these were seminary related and hardly amount to all of the books I started in 2012. We did not keep to our “one family PT day per week” goal. We did venture out a lot more in 2012, but hardly to the extent we would have liked. This pregnancy has been hard on all of us and made that whole goal a bit impossible (perhaps after I recover from the birth of our second son, we can get back to this one because it’s incredibly important).

Three 2012 resolutions set, three 2012 resolutions that were less than resounding successes. Apparently, I’m not alone in failing to keep these resolutions. After discussions with many friends and reading the plethora of sarcastic internet memes referencing these seemingly universal failures, I have decided against declarative resolutions this year. I have purposely not even written on the subject until January 7, so powerful is the “dangerous” temptation to set such resolutions.

I have read that New Year’s resolutions are successful only when they’re specific, but such is the nature of any goal, yes? With the impending birth of our second son and my desire to return to seminary after taking just one semester off, I do not wish to set goals so broad or so many that I am doomed to failure. I keep thinking to myself, wouldn’t it be great to sit here around this time next year and write about how I accomplished a goal I set at the beginning of the year? Would that be enough to spur me toward making meaningful year-long goals and keeping them? I know not. At least several times a year, I vow to do something every day and just do not (but, if I had set a goal to get out of bed every day, take care of Weston, and put away the dishes, I’d definitely have succeeded!).

Instead of making resolutions bound for failure, I will simply make myself some promises. First, as most of you know, I am a big fan of C.S. Lewis. Much of his work has significantly shaped my theological thought process. I have a book called A Year with C.S. Lewis in which each day contains a paragraph from one of his brilliant works on religion and theology. So far in 2013, I have read one page (day) per night without ever declaring this as a resolution. It’s not a resolution, in fact, it is merely a new piece of my routine.

Second, I improved significantly in becoming a calmer person last year after the panic over finding a specialist to treat my lupus. When all of that worked out (along with some other, even more personal issues), it finally dawned on me that yes, indeed, things really do always have a way of working out. I am not sure if this came just with my age or if it is one of those lessons that does not sink in until it has been learned many times over. I certainly have not mastered the art of calm, but I have started to approach more of life in the same way that some of my favorite people do: “It will be okay.”

Recently losing a dear friend, Cindy, to cancer on Christmas Eve, helped put things into perspective. I never thought that the last time I spoke to her would be it. As I reflect on our conversations, I can smile with the knowledge that Cindy knew how much she was loved and appreciated. I am relieved to know that we never exchanged a harsh word in our years of friendship. No one expected her recent cancer battle to be such a short one and her passing helped confirm how precious each and every moment of life is. I suspect we each have different reactions to the death of a loved one, but as I went through holiday festivities, I marveled at the outpouring of love I witnessed for such a great lady. I thought to myself, “Could we not all pass on with some peace knowing we were so well loved and fondly remembered?” Reflecting on my own faults, the tendency of my brain to head to the “worry” and my inability to, in many cases, “find the fun” (and I take a beat here to smile thinking of how Cindy would delight at my quoting Faith) leaves me hoping to improve upon these traits. I am never going to be a social butterfly and I am, often, quite a serious person. These are probably not things that will change in any appreciable way, yet I think I could do with some calm and find some peace and, yes, a little more FUN, in something beyond the mundanities of life.

I wish much luck and success to all of those who have actually set resolutions in 2013! May you accomplish your 2013 goals. As for me, I am going to continue to focus on short-term, attainable goals and hope to write to you next year a calmer person, having read all of A Year with C.S. Lewis, and “found the fun” more frequently than not. Of course, a little wine a time or two a week after the new baby’s born may help with at least two of those goals, particularly if I wish to maintain my sanity while raising two boys as a military wife and finishing seminary, eh?

Blessings to all in 2013!

Back to it!

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The three of us at Notre Dame in April. Just one of the reasons I’ve been a bit MIA.

Hello everyone!

After a lo–ong semester during which I took an unintended break from all things blogging, I’m back. I do not have great insight to impart today. The semester just ended and my brain needs a bit of time to decompress, but I wanted to make sure no one thought I had abandoned this platform. I haven’t, and I’m back to it!

I’m going to take a moment and catch you up briefly and sit down later this week (maybe even tomorrow) to expand on some things or perhaps I’ll become intensely inspired to write about my second seminary semester or our semi-recent trip to Paris. That, however, will have to wait.

Today, I’m simply going to do something quick and informative, inspired by my friend Emma’s blog.

I am:

missing: my girls back in the states. The people I’ve met here are incredibly wonderful people and I’m having fun with them for sure! But I think we can all agree that there’s something about long-time friends, y’know?

needing: to go pick up my referral to an off-base, German specialist (for the lupus stuff). The appointment is in June and it’s after mid-May now!

dreaming: about a good night’s sleep. I’ve been an insomniac lately.

wishing: my husband and I were able to go see The Avengers in theaters. This is just one of the plethora of problems with living so far from family.

hoping: that planning for Weston’s birthday party isn’t nearly as complicated as it seems in my head.

reading: the last half of The Hunger Games. God help me, I needed something fun and leisurely after a semester of intense theological reading. It’s actually quite an interesting story (reminds me of the Asian film Battle Royale, but I like the characters a bit more)!

feeling: much calmer now that my semester is over. It was my most difficult yet and the stress was a bit much to bear with all the other life-stuff over here.

craving: coffee. I’ve been on a sort of cleanse and taking some supplements (Advocare is amahzing!) to help with some general and lupus-related issues and to get some toxins out of my body. I feel great (especially these last two days since the stress of classes is lifted), but I Miss. My. Coffee.

listening: to the newish album by Vanessa Carlton “Rabbits on the Run” – it’s a bit of a departure, but feels more authentically her. Refreshing. Light (and yet full of depth). I’m enjoying it.

watching: episodes of Dollhouse to keep pace with my favorite podcast “Active Architecture” from some of my twitter buddies (hi, Justin and Cindy!). I’m up to “Echoes” again. It’s even better this time around. “You haven’t seen my drawer of inappropriate starches?”

laughing: at the fact that my son will be two in less than two months. I’m laughing to keep from weeping actually, and that’s half sarcasm, half truth. He’s growing up much too fast.

Supposed Former Disorganization Junkie

Another day, another blog post.

I’m searching my brain for something interesting to write. So far, all I’ve got is that I succeeded in cooking new dishes two nights in a row now. Lemon-herbed chicken yesterday and pork loin and sauerkraut in the crockpot today. Both were resounding successes, though I think I’ll put a little less seasoning than called for on the chicken next time I make it. I’m not entirely sure which meal I will be cooking up tomorrow. Last night I sat down and planned meals for the week, but did not decide which day would be which meal. Today’s commissary run was successful (if long, who knew they’d be so understaffed the day after a holiday?). I’ve always found it difficult to determine tomorrow’s meal the day before–how will I know what I’m “in the mood for” a whole 24+ hours in advance? Now, with a family to think about, I have forced myself to plan things out a little bit more so than in the past.

Speaking of planning and organization, throughout the spring/summer of 2011, I’d been periodically reading/referencing a book by Maria Menounos called, The Everygirl’s Guide to Life. I’d heard about it on some news show I was watching on its release day back during hubby’s BMT or tech school phases. You know, it was that time when I was doing the single-mom thing and trying to keep myself busy, while planning ahead for military life. I didn’t know much about Menounos before reading it other than seeing her everywhere on television shows interviewing people. She seemed busy and interested in what was going on with Hollywood, which is a much loved a preoccupation of mine (big-time film and TV geek that I am). So, I picked up here book and used it to find great ideas about organization that might help us as a military family (but really, they could help ANY family or person get it together).

I quickly realized during the whole “packing to PCS overseas process” that I was woefully disorganized. As a result, I’m making every effort to set up our new home in the most organized fashion possible. This brings me around to Menounos’ book and the need to revisit it. We are still buried under boxes here in our bedroom, hallway, and livingroom area. I’m desperately feeling the need to get rid of these boxes and get organized, but finding it difficult to really dive in because the task seems just *so* intimidatingly big. It would seem that revisiting her organization tips might help provide the necessary motivation and direction to get this place where I want it. The biggest problem area is the bedroom/closet issue. Getting that sorted out would make a world of difference, so I think that’s where I’ll begin tomorrow.

Another topic she discusses in her book regards being charitable and giving of one’s time to help out those less fortunate (in whatever way). We made an effort to contribute how we could to charities last year, but I think we could do better this year. My husband and I have discussed volunteering our time in various capacities, and I think that’s a real family goal of ours in the coming year. It’s always a challenge to work in time like that when you have a busy little toddler, but I’m sure we can squeeze it in. After all, what better example to set for children than to model charitable behaviors?

What ways have you gotten involved with helping those in need?