Category Archives: God

[lent 2016]

I’m not giving up anything for Lent.

I thought about it but I didn’t think hard enough, and I don’t like doing things just because. I’ve observed Lent before but for some reason this year I couldn’t wrap my brain around exactly what the fasting was for, why we remind ourselves that we are but dust, and what my participation should mean to me. This morning before the service started I even wikipediaed Lent. What am I doing? What should I be doing?

That’s actually a pretty common theme for a lot of my life right now.

An area where I’ve recently realized how hopelessly out of depth I am is reconciliation and intersectional justice. I’ve finally been been hit in the face with the fact that my whiteness matters. It matters because the color of my skin links me to a centuries-long history of oppression. I cannot be blind to it. So here I am and here I believe that black lives matter and our prisons are unjustly filled and our borders are oppressively guarded, but what do I do about it? I cannot be an expert on the experience of lives I have not lived; I do not believe in being a voice for the voiceless, because everyone has a voice, so how do I amplify?

These thoughts all crossed paths this morning for me as I stumbled through Rite I. After being exhorted to bow down before the Lord, these words were spoken over me.

Grant, Almighty God, that thy people may recognize their weakness and put their whole trust in thy strength.

To be honest at first take I was slightly offended, in the same way that I was last night in the IKEA parking lot when a stranger had to help me load my mattress in the car. I can do it myself!  Plus I grew up in a tradition where humility was key, where it was important to die to self and to subjugate the flesh, and I have had to retrain myself to realize that I am worth valuing (and not just when follow God correctly). I am not weak.

But that’s not what this is about. All of my helplessness can turn to hope when I recognize my weakness and stop trying to pit my own tiny introverted strength against the force of evil and oppression. I’d be silly to trust only myself to tackle systemic racism or poverty or transphobia.

So maybe this is the point of Lent. To remind myself that this isn’t about me. Not for the sake of put-upon humility and sackcloth and ashes, but as an honest reminder of who can be trusted when I feel the smallest.

And honestly, I should have known, right?

Isaiah 58:6-7, 9b-10

Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you  offer your food to the hungry, and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.

I didn’t choose a particular vice to give up this year. Instead I think I am giving up on the idea that God’s strength can reach no further than mine.

[See also: my good friend Stephanie’s post about corporate confession for racism.]

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intellectualism + christianity

God is no fonder of intellectual slackers than of any other slackers. If you are thinking of becoming a Christian, I warn you, you are embarking on something which is going to take the whole of you, brains and all.

-C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

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In Defense of the Rumspringa

Rumspringa: A term for adolescence among the Amish. In popular understanding, a time of sowing one’s wild oats.

I’ve learned recently that the view of rumspringa as a time of rebellion is not the general understanding in the Amish community. However, it is understood that adolescents are not held to the same higher standards as adults and that some misbehavior will occur.

Even with the rather apocryphal nature of this  idea, I’d like to stand in support of it. In doing so, I make myself terrifyingly vulnerable, more than I ever have, on the public platform of the internet. But it’s a vulnerability I consider to be worth it, a conversation I want to have (I think).

I’ve grown up in a conservative Christian home. I was homeschooled for five years and then attended a private Christian school. I’ve just graduated from a Christian university and am now attending another Christian university for my master’s. I’ve volunteered at a Christian organization, freelanced for Christian publications, held part-time jobs at a Christian bookstore and in Christian schools. This has been my heritage.

And suddenly, recently, all I’ve historically held dear has been thrown up into one giant Question Mark, and in talking with peers  with similar upbringings, I know I’m not alone. And yet, outside of these select few, this wave of radical questioning that I feel doesn’t seem to be accepted by the general Christian populace. In fact, I saw a church sign the other day that stated outright, “Questioning God? He made the brain cells you think with.”

Perhaps this is because it’s not a conversation I’ve actively pursued. And that is probably due to the fact that I almost neurotically crave the approval of others, and I’ve imagined how those closest to me would react if I ever expressed my real thoughts. “You don’t think you believe what?” “You do what now?” “Sinner.” “You’re dirty.” “I’m judging you.” “Just read your Bible.”

But a professor whose opinion I value has said many times, “I don’t trust a Christian who hasn’t rebelled.” And that’s why I defend some kind of rumspringa, some sort of allowance for the necessity  of doubt, even stepping away from what’s universally accepted to be right and holy and What Everyone Does.

Because I wish it were socially acceptable to be socially unacceptable for a time, that spiritual/moral/intellectual exploration was acknowledged and understood. That it wasn’t taboo to say, “I’m going to take everything I have ever valued and believe the opposite just because I can and I want to see what happens.”

It’s not hatred. It’s not antagonism. It’s a lot of malaise with a good portion of “but what if…” thrown in.

The result, in all likelihood, is that in the end I’ll see why I valued it all along. But I wish I could choose not to, with support and without social stigma. I wish I were allowed to be insane, to let things devolve into the question mark, because I will probably get saner later on.

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Embracing the Other

Societies have a tendency to be distrustful of and hostile toward those unlike them, to the other.

Christians, persecuted.
Heretics, burned at the stake.
Slaves, treated as property.
Women, denied civil rights.
Sauerkraut, renamed “Liberty Cabbage.”
Civil rights marchers, set upon by dogs.
Peaceful protesters in every era, attacked violently.
Gay couples, legislated against.

When we look back, these treatments reek of extremism. But at the time, these trends in America were just that, in vogue with the regular populace.

With upstanding Christians.

Gay marriage is by any estimation an enormously controversial topic, but it’s paramount to remember Jesus’ command to “love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44).

I’d rather, of course, that we didn’t have any enemies, even more that the church didn’t consider the gay community an enemy. But because this rift exists, it’s time to apply the charge to love. To love those who believe differently, act differently. To love unconditionally, not requiring others to conform, to change who they are to be accepted. To foster communication and understanding. To love the other.

That’s what’s most important.

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Fear

I can look back now without trembling or anxiety. But at that moment, the Enemy seemed unconquerable.

The back roads of Tennessee had never felt so frightening, but almost exactly one year ago, I couldn’t explain the depths of the fear I felt as we drove down them in the dark. Even more eery was the fact that we all felt something amiss; one of us said the night was reminiscent of a supernatural thriller.

But even when I stepped inside that warmly lit kitchen in the house of my family, I couldn’t shake the fear. It gripped me and I knew this was not ordinary.

We ran through a multitude of verses courageous and I already knew them but they wouldn’t travel from my head to my heart. We prayed and cried out for Jesus’ protection of my heart and soul and mind.

Tonight as I thumbed through pages 510-511 of my Bible, I came across Psalm 118:17, double underlined in black and blue: “I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord.” And written next to it in my handwriting: “April 4, 2010: Yahweh has power over fear!”

And on last year’s April 4 I murmured that promise, that challenge, that choice to myself as I fell asleep in my cousin’s bed. As I laid there, I imagined a huge fortress wall around the bed, and my Father God whispering to me,  “I will fight for you, you need only to be still.” And I claimed Psalm 4:8 over and over: “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, oh Lord, make me dwell in safety.”

As they say, the battle was won, but it was just the beginning of the war. For months afterwards, uncontrollable fear was a constant adversary. The only way I could sleep was to claim the power of Jesus over me, to rest in his strength, to give the fight to him. And finally, on August 10, I wrote: “Recently I was lying in bed and realized that not only did I not have thoughts of fear at that moment, but I had conquered them through Jesus. Fear was gone.”

I don’t particularly know why I share this with you now, but it’s probably because I see myself as only a small part of this story. I am honored to have been given a glimpse into the miraculous power of Jesus Christ.

Radical

I began reading Radical by David Platt this morning, and although I’m only five and a half chapters through, I’m about ready to recommend it as required reading for every Christian. This message is needed and gives me courage. More thoughts later, when I’m more fully informed.

Also, I have been woefully remiss in my gratitudinal posts. I’ve decided I need to keep a gratitudinal journal and keep myself committed to this. Recently, however:

#32 – Provision of part-time job opportunities.

#33 – Opportunities for trust (also known less thankfully as “WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON IN MY LIFE?”)

#34 – Espresso. More specifically, Americanos. However, as I found out just this morning, not particularly from Starbucks. In this regard, I prefer the Lone Star Coffee Bar.

#35 – Unspeakable, unrealistic peace.

#36 – Friends who were given me by an all-merciful God.

My Soul Now to Stand

I sang: “And I’ll stand, with arms high and heart abandoned, in awe of the One who gave it all.”

He said: “I gave it all, and I took it all.”

I sang: “You stood before my failures, carried the cross for my shame. My sin weighed upon your shoulders…”

He said: “It became mine. I took it for you. I love you and I took what you are feeling right now too. I hurt as you hurt; I stewed in unforgiveness as you do now. I became your sin.”

Once again I am in awe of the wretchedness of God’s love, the infinite capacity of His grace, to reach into the lowest places and rescue His children.

1 Samuel 3:8a (Hannah’s translation): [Yahweh] helps up the helpless from the dust, from heaps of manure He lifts up the poor, in order to make them dwell in the company of noblemen, and give them as an inheritance a distinctive seat of honor.

So, what can I say? What can I do, but offer this heart, oh God, completely to You?