Oct
13
2013
0

Yes, God Still Speaks: A New Testament–aka ‘Some Stuff That Happened’

God still speaks. All of the time. To each of us, in amazingly unexpected and beautiful ways.

Last week, we asked the question, “Does God still speak?” and thought about the ways we still experience God in ways just as miraculous as those mentioned in “The Book” (aka The Bible), only we don’t document these moments anymore in scripture, as the biblical canon was unfortunately and untimely closed off to new stories, a long time ago, in an ancient galaxy far, far away.  ;)

God lives and moves in our own personal lives each day, and we talked about the benefits that come with the spiritual practice of writing this stuff down. If no one else will put it into a sacred text, where these moments belong, it’s up to us to record and document when these things happen in our own lives, so we can remember, and maybe flip back to those times in moments of questioning or struggle, and recall in comfort that God lives with us every hour, and is more deeply involved in our experiences than we can ever imagine.

So I thought I’d do this myself, here, just to give you guys an example. I hope you gain some benefit from reading this, and can apply it to your own moments of spiritual connection.

I’d mentioned in our last blog that God had worked and moved a whole lot in my life over the past month and a half, but didn’t mention how.  Here’s what happened (some of it, anyway).  Bare bones. And we can look into these things more, after I type those moments into this box.

Some brief back story: I’d been experiencing some frustration, recently, over where my life was going. Nothing new. Happens to us all at different times. I was called into the ministry when I was very young and have lived into that call since; but I was plagued by doubts, not too long ago, as to whether or not this was still the right path. I knew I’d been called, and answered that call the best I could; but I just wasn’t sure if where I was heading was still where God wanted me to go.

Overwhelmed with the question, I got down on my knees, in my study. Face-planted to the floor, arms spread long in front of my prostrated body.  Laying it all out on the line. And I talked to God. Deeply. Personally. Sometimes I didn’t even think a word, knowing God knew what was in my mind, already.  But through all, the conversation I had with God started with me asking God (Life) to show me where to go from here.  I asked God to talk to me, and to talk LOUD, so I could hear past all of the clutter in my mind.

Blinking away the darkness of my eyelids, I finally stood from that rug, my early-thirties bones cracking from bending so low. The blood hadn’t even flushed from my face back down to my legs, before my phone rang on the desk. My mind still in that limbo state between prayer and the day-to-day, I staggered over to answer the call.

It was one of my parishioners. One I hadn’t heard from in long, long time. One I’d thought I’d lost from the congregation awhile ago.  One whose recent absence on Sunday mornings had contributed to my sense that maybe I needed to journey on a different way. In that moment, just after I’d asked God to talk loud, his/her voice rang through my ear, telling me how excited he/she was about the ministry I was doing at the church, and about how confident he/she was that beautiful things would come from my working as a minister in the parish. In that conversation, all of the insecurities and doubts which had so heavily plagued my mind—each of the things I’d mentioned to God, only minutes before—were addressed. Spoken to. Eased. In audible words I could hear, and not confuse.

This was the first moment God spoke to me, in response to what I’d just said while my face buried in the floor.  And it was loud, alright. Instantaneous, even. Beautiful, and breathtaking.  I thought this was the end of the conversation, but I was wrong.

Only three days later:

I received another call.  Very similar. Another congregant who I’d never before spoken with on the phone, called me in the middle of the day. Once again reaffirming and repeating what had been said in the last conversation. Once again—as if they’d been eavesdropping on my silent prayer—addressing each of my fears and doubts, like a subtle reminder from God, in case the effect of the first moment had worn off and faded away.

Seven days later, that following Sunday:

Our general church attendance had been another factor causing me worry about the effectiveness of staying this course in God’s ministry.  Dropping numbers, across the board—in every church—had caused me to wonder if there was a different way I could be in ministry. A different way to answer God’s call that might be more effective.

The Sunday after I got down on my knees, our sanctuary *flooded* with people. Now, this is unusual, folks. Our “Little Green Church on the Hill” is a small one—our congregation intimate.  But we had more inside our church walls that day than we had bulletins to hand out. Overwhelmed by the sight of all of these faces,  I stood up to lead the congregation in prayer; and when I looked down at the pulpit, “randomly” splayed beside the prayer I’d written, were the words,  “Don’t worry, He understands all of your frustrations.” I saw those words laid out right there, for me to see, at the pulpit where I’ve worked all of this time, and tears filled my eyes before I snapped myself back into focus to lead the group in prayer.

At this point, I could barely believe God was still talking to me—and at such mind-blowing volume. I’d thought Life had made Its point pretty clearly, but this still wasn’t the end. God was still speaking to me, even louder than I’d asked.

And I can’t for sure say why, but I think God understood better than I could myself, that even through all of this, my confusion was still with me. Because we’re stubborn people, right?

Even after all of this, about half a week later (I suppose, again, about three days—interesting),  I laid it all out on the table in front of me in the family room, and I stood up, prepared to tell my husband I’d made a final decision. After this appointment, I was going to move on from parish work, into something else. It hurts to even type the words, now… but those were the words that filled me up in that moment, in front of the coffee table; and I’ll admit them.  Ky walked into the kitchen, and I followed him. I breathed deep, and started the sentence. “I’ve made my decision,” I said to him, my voice almost pompous–belligerent—with my confidence in the choice.  “I’m moving on from—-”

Before I could speak another word, the entire room fell pitch black. I kid you not. Every light in the house went away. Every sound disappeared. In that millisecond of shock, I waited for the lights to flicker back on so I could finish the thought. Nothing. Pitch black. I couldn’t even see Ky’s face in front of mine, less than a foot away.  This was a moment of biblical proportions, in my book. I could barely believe it… but just because I couldn’t believe it, didn’t mean it wasn’t the truth, all the same.  In that moment, God stopped me. God interrupted our conversation, like someone jumping in to save a close friend from accidentally playing the fool.

The lights didn’t come back on. Not for the rest of the night. We had no candles in the house (all of ours being burned down to the wick), and the only place we could find light was from inside of the church. There was a big box of candles in the fellowship hall, so with our flashlights, we walked through the dark into the church walls to find the light we needed, then returned home, to the parsonage. All night, our sight and footsteps illuminated only with the light used for Holy Service.

And friends, there was more. So much more. God kept talking with me, still in higher volume than I’d ever asked, through the rest of that month. Each time, the words coming louder, and louder, and louder again.  I haven’t even yet come to the best parts; but this blog box is filling up fast.

I could write a book on what happened. Maybe one that, back in the day, would’ve made it into the canon. But I wanted to share at least those few moments with you, so you can gather a feel for what I’m saying when I mention that God still speaks.

We just don’t write this stuff down anymore, and we unfortunately can’t add them to our scriptures.

These were moments of miracle. Of course, we perceive and communicate things differently, now. If I’d been a biblical author of antiquity, when I first received that phone call after standing up from that prayer,  I might have written:

I fell to my knees, beseeching the Lord, and behold, God’s voice rang from the heavens, saying, “I am the LORD your God. The father of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I have heard your prayers and will answer them with mighty deeds. You have been charged to proclaim the name of the Lord from this day forth, and I command that you live each of the days I have given you, speaking of the truth and love which I have shown you.” (Miracles 1:1-4)

But ya see, we just don’t talk like that anymore. Instead, I say, “I  got down on my knees and talked to God. Then my iPhone rang on my desk, and I heard exactly the words I’d told God I needed to hear, in order to keep going.”

God works in the world today, still, in biblical proportions. Miracle after miracle, God lives and breathes in our lives in moments that stun us to silence and move our hearts in unimaginable ways.

God still speaks. The question is, do we still listen?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aug
03
2013
0

The Ten Commandments of Christian Confession (#10)

There was a bad accident on the road, just ahead. Ambulances and police on the scene, all cars shuffled one-by-one to a single lane to avoid the work and wreckage. As goes the usual etiquette, each of us allowed a single car into the right as traffic inched forward.  On this particular morning, my husband and I sat as passengers, a close friend behind the wheel.  Both of us jerked so hard our seat belts constricted as his palm slammed into the horn and every profanity listed in the Urban Dictionary tumbled from his swelling throat.

“HEY! ONE AT A TIME! What the H**’s WRONG WITH YOU??” He barked at the driver of the second car as she cut her way, out of turn, into the space he opened for the other.  “HA!” His expression fell flat. “Of course.…” Disgusted, our friend flung his hand toward the sticker stuck to the woman’s bumper.

Warning:In case of Rapture, this car will be unmanned!

“We’d be better off!” He shouted, then looked only slightly apologetically in my direction. “See, Laura? This is why I don’t go to church.  Full of hypocritical #%^&*’s,” my friend grumbled. “…No offense.”

None taken, but lesson learned.

As Christians, we identify ourselves and work to share our faith in a lot of strange ways—some a little less effective than others. Passion is essential to letting our beliefs live and breathe, but too often that passion is expressed in suffocating ways which only bring an outcome opposite from what we hope to achieve as we confess our convictions with others. So many times, what we consider evangelism actually acts to turn people off from the spiritual beliefs we hold so dear.

Over the coming weeks, this blog will cover the top ten things to avoid while sharing our soul (today’s listed, below):

The Ten Commandments of Christian Confession

10

Thou Shouldst Not Place Faith-based Bumper Stickers on Thy Car ;)

The highway is a bad place to evangelize. None of us are perfect drivers, and road rage runs rampant not only in others, but ourselves. Even if you’re a saint behind the wheel, never lifting a finger, refusing to surpass the speed limit, and religiously slowing on the yellow, there will always be reason for other drivers to become angry over what you’re doing (or not doing). Even going slow can be viewed as offensive to some; and anytime another driver becomes angry with you, or you become angry with them, your sticker (as well-intended as it may be) will work more often to substantiate people’s feelings of dejection toward the Christian faith and Christians as a whole.

 

Let your faith live; let it breathe; share yourself with care and consideration, always; and remember that evangelism is a conversation, not a one-way act of conversion.  As we let our love for God show, we should be sure to let our love for others be just as apparent by being both respectful and understanding of where we each stand as we talk and open our hearts to one another.


 

May
23
2013
0

Tending the Fire

Our experience of God is one of relationship.  This spiritual connection defines our relationship with Life, and as a result, who and how we are with each little piece of it: the people we meet, the grass and dirt we walk over, the other creatures we make eye contact with as we pass by.

Considering this relationship we share with God, we see to it just as we do with each little piece (romantic relationships, friendships, environmental upkeep, care for those in need)—moment by moment, action by action, word by word.

In short, it takes maintenance. Without repeated contact and care, there is no relationship, only the memory of one. Our relationship with God (with Life) asks our constant connection and focus. It requires the care of our heart, and when we care deep down about something, it’s always in our thoughts. It’s the shadow of all of our movements.  It goes with us to all places, even when we’re away from closest contact.

This week after Pentecost, we’ll be discussing the ways we tend to our relationship with God (with Life), and how that tending is so much like the heat we continuously work to sustain/maintain in a fire.  The ways we can’t just walk away from what’s been built… or it will either die, or spread irresponsibly out of hand. The ways we must always maintain the shape of it, rotating the burning sides in and out, to keep the flame and heat in balance and in a continual burn. The ways we need to add new substance to the heat, so what started it all doesn’t eventually just smolder into cold ash.

We tend to our relationship with God by rendering loving reverence to the Life in all things—in all of those tiny bits that make up the Whole; and this weekend, we’ll explore some of the ways we do this together, as we keep the fire of Pentecost alive in the church, and continue on in our friendship and love with the Spirit of Life in all.

Mar
25
2013
0

The Christian and the Atheist: On Belief

A lot of Christians are hesitant to speak with atheists or agnostics in real conversation, without feeling a frantic need to covert the other, or to justify their own religious beliefs—without feeling attacked and an urgency to defend themselves.  Don’t let these barriers and anxieties hold you back from the invaluable experience of exchanging honest words.  Climb the wall. Build a door, and let it stand open wide.

It’s important for us to be in dialogue with each other—-to share ourselves and connect with the lives around us—regardless of our differences.   Differences in view make it all the more necessary for us to be willing to mention and point out the things we each see in front of our eyes. This sharing of sight from different angles only broadens our perspective and widens our experience of the world.

This post and those to follow, reveal pieces of this kind of sharing between different (anonymous) Atheists and Christians,  with a hope to keep believers and nonbelievers naturally connected, and to help the church stay vitally in touch with the lives, the thoughts, and the issues crowded outside our sanctuary doors.

Some of the Christian perspectives shared here are my own, in response to different conversations; though additional Christian responses will be included  as this thread continues.  Please feel free to share your thoughts and ideas, too! Each one of these posts are absolutely open to more words!

 

Atheist:

Trust me, I wish I was raised with religion and truly believed, and had a church and a pastor and lived within that orb… I just can’t… I can’t buy it… I can’t believe it…

I learned to question things. Even if it’s something as small as a child’s lie. I refuse the open and spontaneous explanation.

 

Christian:

I don’t talk about this stuff too much, because I don’t ever want to come off like I’m trying to persuade the person I’m talking with into seeing life the same way I do. Most of my friends and family being atheists and agnostics, I definitely respect the reason and thought behind those perspectives.

Anyway …with this those disclaimers out of the way(!) ;) I’ll just respond in saying that what each individual person believes is very complicated—regardless of the umbrella-term they place over their thoughts—and usually not the same (as much as Christians might often suppose this is true). What you don’t believe in as an atheist (agnostic?), I might not believe in, either.  Same goes for any other Christian who sits down to worship on Sunday.  No anthropomorphic, white-bearded, man-deity sending people callously off to “hell” for loving each other. No flawless book scrolled in magical,  golden ink that contains only historical fact and universally applicable/justifiable thoughts and actions. Slavery exists and is justified in biblical text. Women are marginalized and objectified. Murder, rape, and banishment recur frequently.  Reasonable people understand this text at one moment as isolated in its historical and cultural context, and in another, for its value as a sacred, spiritual guide for the present, realizing that side-by-side on those pages are both beautiful truth, and traces of the past perspectives of the ancients.  A ninety-year old woman—lifelong church-goer, very much devoted to her love of God and the teachings of Jesus—once shared at a bible study that she (like many who identify as Christian) didn’t believe Jesus (the man’s name was actually Yeshua) was born from a virgin, knowing it was a common ancient cultural practice to signify the people who’ve made a great impact on the lives around them, by attributing virginity to stories of their birth—in this, expressing the purity they found in the life of that figure. She pointed out from academic sources that similar birth-stories are told about Alexander the Great, Lao Tzu, The Buddha, etc). Not a stone was thrown. Not a torch set to flame. Not a cruel word shouted. Her thoughts were accepted, considered, appreciated, and absolutely still very much classifiable as Christian.

Anyway … it’s just different for everybody. Really the most dangerous myth is the belief that all belief is the same.  I could list a lot of things many Christians don’t believe,  past all of that stuff up there;  but I don’t want to bore your head into rotting and growing gray like that guy who drank from the wrong cup in Last Crusade! ;D

But just know that when you say you don’t buy it… I understand; and a lot of very deeply devoted and spiritual Christians don’t subscribe to a lot of those same things, either.  What I do believe is that we’re surrounded by life. And that life is a lot bigger than each one of us. The totality of all of that life together—that Whole of the energy of all moving matter—I believe that’s what people call “God.”  After this, how people interpret God…what they imagine of God… what they experience of God… well that changes from religion to religion, person to person.

Having doubts…having different thoughts…having different interpretations… that’s all a part of living as a person in relationship with the Life all around us and inside of us. To be a spiritual person is to question.  And in my opinion, it’s best not to try to limit the Unlimited with definitions using the speck of consciousness contained inside our subatomic skulls. Confining the idea of God to the barriers of our understanding only lessens the awe of the beautiful mystery of Life.

So… anyway, those are some of my long-winded thoughts. lol Sorry to make you scroll down so much! I definitely have a lot of interest in the subject and am always down to get into some good discussions, just as long as you know I’m not doing it as some kind of desperate attempt at trying to convert you…

Your thoughts:

 

Feb
15
2013
0

Keep Riding

Your dad’s hands on the bike handles and the rear of the seat, while you awkwardly wobble.

Your small fingers squeezing tight to the grooves of the rubber grip, your feet peddling harder.

You remember that feeling? So unsure.  But even then, so young, you know it’s got to be done.

So you keep going. You keep your eyes forward. You pick up speed to move you faster and faster ahead.

And soon, you no longer feel that wobble.  You’re really moving! You can feel it! Something is finally carrying you along reliably— smoothly—letting you glide forward into all of those places ahead you strained so desperately to reach, just before.

You look back to the handle bars to make sure you still see those hands holding you tight, and find only your own.  Your face jerks to the left. Nothing but rushing trees and bushes.  Your dad’s not there. In fact, there’s no person there at all! It’s only you! Panic overtakes, until you realize something else is holding you up. Something powerful. Something you can’t see. Something that’s a part of all of the movement you’re now a part of, too. Something that if you trust, and realize is there, and let yourself feel and accept with each turn and each movement of your legs, it will hold you up steady as you go, no doubt.  So you move with whatever that silent, invisible force is. You embrace that fact of the universe, you feel both around you and inside of you. And you go with it. Letting it carry you as far as you’ll go.

How do you feel God in your life? How do you trust God to move you forward to the places far and close ahead?

Where do you find your faith?

 

A thought to meditate on this week:

On Faith and Doubt:
“An act of faith is an act of a finite being who is grasped by and turned to the infinite. It is a finite act with all the limitations of a finite act, and it is an act in which the infinite participates beyond the limitations of a finite act. Faith is certain in so far as it is an experience of the holy. But faith is uncertain in so far as the infinite to which it is related is received by the finite being. This element of uncertainty cannot be removed, it must be accepted. And the element in faith which accepts this is courage.” –Paul Tillich (Dynamics of Faith)

 

 

 

Sep
14
2011
1

Adding by Subtraction: Reflecting on an Experience of God

Life is complicated.

…Nothing new, right?  And it seems too, for us humans, we feel the need to make it more and more complicated as each year passes. Somehow, while we were developing as mammals, we came up with this crazy idea that adding meant we’d get more out of our experience of living. But I think we’ve all found, at different times in our lives, that this existence is strange; and you can’t always count on linear reality being the only reality which guides us, or impacts us. Sometimes life seems to contradict itself; and that’s okay.  Because in the end, what’s happening is our perception or understanding of what living is, is being changed, or contradicted, not the essence of living itself.

I know that sounds kind of strange and vague, but I think it winds around to make sense if we let our minds wander a while.

The point I’m circling around right now is actually a lot simpler than I just made it sound, which brings us back to the point; and that is I believe by doing all of this adding, we often subtract from our quality of living. It’s a strange and paradoxical truth, but a truth all the same.  Sometimes we need to pull ourselves away from the millions of things cluttering our days and our minds. We need to pull ourselves away from our e-mails, and our smartphones, and our lists of the thousands of things we mistakenly believe we need to do in order to keep our lives from falling apart, and just let ourselves be.

I experienced the blessing of doing this tonight, and I can say that I returned home with my chest breathing deeper; my arms, my back, and my muscles resting looser; and my mind and heart moving calmer and more peacefully than I’ve felt in quite a while.

What I was blessed to do tonight, was spend some time with God.

At six o’clock, I sat down with a friend and several strangers in a circle. I was invited to a group in a denomination I’m unfamiliar with, so it was a very cool journey of surprises, and wondering what on earth was going on.  As I seated myself in the circle, almost immediately, we all went from exchanging small talk to quiet. Everyone started settling themselves deeper into the cushions of their chairs, and the minister in charge of this particular gathering looked to me (the only new face), and told me we’d go immediately into meditation.  She held a bell up in her hand, and said, “The bell will ring, and that will start our time of silence. After the twenty minutes has passed, the bell will ring again, and we’ll all regroup.”

My first reaction was a nod, then immediately my brain rewound her words and played them back. The next thought which went through my mind was, “—Jesus Christ! Did she say twenty minutes??”  (We were meditating in a sanctuary, of course, so don’t worry, those words were not spoken in vain!)

The idea of being in quiet for so long was at first daunting, but became quickly enticing. I hadn’t allowed myself to be still for that amount of time in quite a while, and looked forward to the chance to relax.  So I settled back, and stared out for a bit.  At first I was extremely cognizant of the sound of my swallowing.  After this, I noticed my teeth trying to clench, as they clicked against each other on and off while I tilted my head down. At first I believed this to be a sign of mounting stress, then realized it was only because I was unwinding, that I noticed my teeth clenching at all, and that I must often grind them unconsciously. As I realized this, the clicking stopped.

Time went on, and my mind started calming slightly more, though still a thousand thoughts ran.  Being a pastor, I found myself trying to think of the ways I could apply this experience to a spiritual lesson. I found myself actually trying to organize my thoughts for this blog!  Each time this inclination came, I had to stop myself. I had to force myself to let my thoughts go, and to search for God, rather than lose the experience by trying to capture it as a way to help other people search themselves. The thoughts still ran, but over time, I allowed them to get away, instead of trying to catch them; and soon my mind began settling to peace. My breathing slowed and deepened, and I finally saw only the dark, bringing a peaceful, and unfortunately seldom-felt, light to my mind.

In the stillness,  I began to approach the presence of God.

In the silence, I was finally opening myself to hear God speak.

Removing ourselves from the pile of things which bury us each day, and remembering who we are after subtracting all of the extra stuff, adds to our experience and understanding of ourselves. Detaching ourselves from all of the distractions of this complicated world helps us to connect more fully with God (with Life), and pay more attention to the peace of simply being.

I was blessed by God tonight to find a place to let this happen.

Starting at the end of this month, we’ll be gathering together like this each week at Deer Park. The first time will be at 7:00pm on Wednesday, September 28th, if you’d like to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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