Category Archives: strife

[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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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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Pertinent (Perhaps) Ponderings Pertaining to Pacifism and Present Political Powers

I’m not against personal pacifism; as a matter of fact I am all for it. It’s signature of one part of my heritage, so I guess you could say it’s in my blood. But it’s also a deliberate choice I’ve made, a way I’ve decided to orient my life.

But in this world that’s become increasingly restless in the past few months, I have begun thinking of the implications of a more general, national pacifism. What does it look like for a nation to take this stance? Is it even practical or possible?

NPR has interviewed various figureheads recently about the multilateral involvement in Libya. One pundit praised the intervention, and another questioned its needfulness. After all, this is Libya’s own private civil war, so why should the international community get involved? I found myself tending to agree with him, wondering why the US always felt the need to stick its grubby hands in everybody else’s business.

And then they interviewed a Libyan man who used to be high up in Gadhafi’s government but defected to the rebels, a man who could not tell the interviewer his location because Gadhafi currently has a price on his head. His response to the international involvement? “This needed to happen. It prevented a massacre.”

A massacre.

And suddenly my thoughts fell back to a bench outside the Genocide Memorial Centre in Kigali, Rwanda, where I sat weeping. Of all the turmoil in my mind that sunny June day, the one thought that surfaced the most was, “Why did no one care?” From my journal, June 11, 2009:

One part of the museum dealt with genocides that have happened throughout the 20th century … and for every single one, the international community did nothing. There were always individuals who helped, who loved their neighbors, but never the international organizations. The UN? They removed troops from Rwanda. Not that troops would have really implemented peace. …

Why does the world not care? Why do we let it happen? Why have we NEVER DECLARED A GENOCIDE until it’s already passed? Have we so little concern for our brothers? How can we be so selfish? If it’s not happening to us, we look away and ignore countries, ethnicities, religions that are cut with wounds so deep they may never heal.

I shrink from ever advocating violence. But everything within me retches at the thought of allowing a massacre. During the killing days in Rwanda, so many world figures knew the situation, yet so few acted. The majority created loopholes to jump through and excuse themselves from being responsible.

So what can a nation do against angry autocrats who won’t lay down their arms? Is violence the only answer? Are air strikes justified if they prevent a massacre of the innocent? The conscience of nations is still plagued by the lakes of blood spilled in Rwanda. But is the only retaliation to spill more? I can’t believe it is. But I don’t have an answer.

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?

Redefining

“Despair is not just a sin, it is a simple mistake. Despair assumes you know the end of your story, and that end is a bad ending.”

Andrew Peterson
April 26, 2010

In Which I Hurl Myself Off A Succession Of Cliffs And Find I Was On A Very Safe Path All Along

Perhaps I am Eustace? (read: Voyage of the Dawn Treader, in which he stumbles blindly and supernaturally into the Dragon Valley)

Anyways, tonight I had cause to remember that for the past several months, whenever I think I have a sort of plan for myself, it gets uprooted. It’s been disillusioning, disheartening, and daunting for sure. I’ve even thought, why bother trying anymore? I should just give up and eat potato chips all day.

In talking to mom tonight and explaining my woes, she kept telling me how awesome it was that God had such a path laid out for me.

“Where?” I can’t see it. Everything is being upended and shaken about and wiggled all over the place. Nothing seems like a path.

I just can’t wait to get to the end and see what I have come through unscathed.

#12 – God is trustworthy. He will not waste my time, love, dreams, life. He’s not like that song, “Last Christmas, I gave you my heart, but the very next day you gave it away…”

#13 – God’s leading. I honestly can’t see it right now and what appears to others to be His leading looks to me like a freefall down a rocky cliff, but I know He does and I am excited to see what He is doing.

don’t let the sun

frustrated.

annoyed.

lots of work ahead this semester.

cranky.

and the sun is setting faster than I want.