Nov
16
2013
0

The Contradictions of Christian Condemnation & Some Thoughts About Love

Christians have a lousy rep these days for being overly judgmental. This is bad for a lot of reasons.  The first reason is, of course, that judgment hurts. It hurts the minds and hearts of those burdened under the weight of the sneers and grumbles, and it also hurts the person judging, as they themselves fall into the darkness surrounding ignorance, and get stuck in that sightless space, blindly doing far more harm than good to the life inside of them and around them.

The second reason this is bad for our faith as Christians is that in feeling puffed up enough to say something negative about the way another person is living, is in direct contradiction to the very foundation of belief which causes some to unjustly feel they have a right to judge.  In short,  it’s the complete opposite of everything Jesus taught and stood for, while he was alive and with us (Ref: Matt7:1-3 , John 8:7, Luke 6:37, and on and on it goes. Basically, just open The Book and you’ll find this truth, there).

As Christians, if we are faithful to our belief, we’re called to do something different. We’re supposed to be the people in the world who accept anyone and everyone, regardless of the countless ways they’re shunned by the rest. And, in fact, if we’re doing our jobs, if we’re living into our belief, the more someone is condemned and pushed away by larger society, the more deeply we should be led to embrace them, and help them find sanctuary inside our doors. When someone faces a sneer, we’re called to smile. When someone is pushed away, we’re called to take them in our arms and show them the real meaning of unconditional love.  That is the heart of the gospels, and the true passion of the life of Christ.

To use Christianity as a justification for judgment is to destroy whatever Christianity dwells inside of us.

But alright—let’s be honest. It’s unfortunately a natural thing to judge. It’s a human thing to judge. This is one of the reasons the teachings of Jesus were so startling to begin with. To hold back from judging someone is entirely awkward to our experience as people. It’s a pushing away of a very natural  urge (as dark as it may be) inside of us.

So it takes a lot of practice. If we’re being honest with ourselves, and hope to truly face that dark stuff inside of us, we have to first acknowledge that it’s there. We have to admit the fact that holding back from judgement against others—whether we’re Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, agnostic, atheist, etc— unfortunately takes a lot of work and attention,  if we hope to one day get it right. Judgement sneaks up on us, in some of the quietest places in our minds and souls.

As a pastor, I’ve been a part  of a lot of conversations with fellow Christians about some horrible thing that had happened to someone else at the hands of another who’d committed a brutal crime against them. Often, the response goes something like this:

“Well, it’s not my place to judge. God will do the judging, and I just hope God will give them the  punishment they deserve.”

Seems simple enough, right? But—youch. Even beneath that very simple statement, the darkness of judgment still bites at each word.

It sneaks up on you.

Mentioning the harsh punishment someone “deserves,” is basically just a deferred judgment, rather than the absence of judgment, itself.  And if we’re trying to reflect from inside of us what we hope to see shine down on our own experience of this life (Ref: Matt 7:12)—our own experience of  God —we can’t hope that God will “punish” those who’ve done wrong, unless we’re hoping God will “punish” us for each of the wrongs we’ve committed in our own lives, right?

And it becomes even sneakier, here.  In mentioning all of this, am I right now being judgmental toward judgmental people? Ugh! Really sends the mind for a loop, doesn’t it?

When we try to stand high enough to look out at the world and see what’s “right” and what’s “wrong,” we’re standing atop a very slippery slope. One which usually sends us tumbling down to fall flat on our asses.

So maybe we can find balance here: Maybe what we’re called to do, is not to try and climb up to a higher place than we belong, but to let ourselves settle into that down-to-earth place that is our home, with everybody else. Knowing that we’re all in this together. Knowing that we all do things which are sometimes okay, and sometimes not. Knowing that we’re all screwed up, just in different ways. Knowing that not one of us lives a perfect life, free from flaw (and what is a “perfect life,” anyway, aside from the Holy Living God?). Knowing that what’s “right” and what’s “wrong” is always, always, always, in the eye of the beholder, changing from mind to mind, experience to experience. Knowing that when we look into the eyes of another, we’re only looking into a different part of ourselves, all being one in God; and that when we condemn others, we’re only condemning ourselves. … And in knowing all of this, letting ourselves love each other—love ourselves—no matter which different imperfect part of us we look into as we walk around.

Living into the heart of Christianity is to live with a heart of acceptance, love, compassion, and care for all parts of the one Life of God, which lives and breathes and moves through each one of us as tiny fragments of the Holy Whole.

So to make a long blog longer with a short, simple thought:  Unconditional love is the way of Christ. Hate over particulars is something else.  If we are Christians, we will love all people, at all times, in all circumstances, and in all places, just as we know we are loved by God.

And as complicated as some of the questions in our minds might sometimes seem, if love is our response, I think we’ve found the answer.

 

 

 

 

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.


 

Jul
22
2013
0

The Funny Thing About Fundamentalists… (The Christian&theAtheist)

Ronelle Adams said:

“If your fundamentalists are faith healers, snake handlers, child abusers, sexist, racist, and anti-gay bigots, then there’s something wrong with your fundamentals.”

Nice job, Ronelle. I can understand entirely where you’re coming from. That is a bit creepy, the way fundamentalists portray themselves so often as ragingly dangerous, closed-minded, single-sighted/sided figures in the world. And I really think we should change the name we give those who exist on the extremes of the far right of the Christian religion; because one thing Ronelle said was a little off. The funny thing about fundamentalists is they are about as far from teaching/living the fundamentals of Christ as you can possibly be, while still standing in the shelter of the umbrella term, “Christian.” Bigotry, sexism, racism, and child abuse–not even in the slightest sense or contortion—reflect the foundational teachings Jesus shared while alive in the world. Jesus, in fact, taught the exact opposite to those who walked with him all of those years ago, and stood strong with the same passion for social justice as Christianity’s harshest modern critics.

Throughout the gospels (just open a page to any of the four) and Jesus’ teachings are about lifting up inclusivity, embracing the outcast, prizing the importance and sanctity of the lives of children (begging us all to be so beautifully and simply situated in the world), and working endlessly–to death, in fact—for cross cultural/cross-ethnic/cross-gender social respect and equality. Jesus was the ultimate critic of religion, himself, and would have readily taken sides with Ronelle Adams in his statement, along with Bill Maher, George Carlin, Trent Reznor, and all of those other voices we hear so loudly criticize the habits and ways of religion. Again, just open any of the gospels, and Jesus yells just as fervently about these very same things.

So why is it that Christianity, the religion against religion, gets all of the flack?

How do we rightly live up to the fundamentals of Christ, while people wrongly labeled as “fundamentalists” run rampant through the world, spreading hate, greed, corruption, and exclusion throughout a population of people yearning to break away from the barriers of the past and breathe free?

To me, the world is searching—yearning—for what Christianity used to be, while running—fleeing—from what Christianity has become.

As individual Christians and as spiritual seekers together, what do we do about this? Something to examine and think about as we move along each day in the world.

 

 

 

 

Jul
14
2013
0

The Importance of Gathering for God

Let’s face it, we live in an age of isolation.

These days, even when we’re surrounded by people, our heads bend into our palms as we so often prefer typing to distant others, over speaking to the faces in front of our own. Retail outlets are closing down, due to the  ease of buying and receiving at home, verses the strain of sitting in traffic and standing in line behind others in the middle of town.    We don’t even need to sit around a table anymore to play a game of cards or scrabble—the apps are right there in the left column of our facebook homepage! Self checkout lanes.  Online video rentals.  And if you get hungry, King Soopers delivers!

And, friends, we’re even communicating in isolation right now—myself, alone, typing and you, alone, reading.

These trends don’t stop with the ordinary, but mix just as thoroughly with our experience of the extraordinary—with our experience of God—as people lean more and more toward personal spirituality, and away from church membership.

Just recently, I wrote about the benefits of this personal spirituality, and the fact of God being everywhere, leaving anywhere as not only a suitable, but holy place of worship. And my heart still holds true to that fact; but, today, I’d like to touch into the reasons why being personally spiritual during the week, and together in spirit on Sunday, are equally as good for our lives, and our relationship with Life, as a whole. In fact, I do believe that these two things, together, are not only equally good, but equally necessary for the health of our spirit in relationship with the greater soul of God.

This Sunday, we all gathered together outside for our service. The wind blew our readings around, we sang sort of clumsily to songs of praise on a boombox, some were asked to come up and receive recognition for their work, embarrassed to be dragged into the spotlight.  There were definitely some awkward moments for us all as we fumbled around out there, and it didn’t go all that smoothly; but it went well, because we went to that place together. And that fact, alone, is what makes Sunday worship what it is. That’s what makes the time holy.

As a semi-reclusive, slightly dorky writer and reader, I definitely understand the inner-strain of being around people in large groups, and the relief felt when once again alone; but being a pastor and a friend to God, I also understand the overwhelming importance of all of us coming together in one place to stand side-by-side in a moment set apart. Even when those moments don’t flow as smoothly as we hoped. Even when we feel stiff and strange rising to shake hands during greeting time. Even when we feel we surely played a fool in each one of the conversations we shared over food and coffee, afterward.  And I can understand this, not just because it’s my job, but because of the very real and beautiful need that exists inside each one of us to connect with the greater Life around us, and give ourselves up to God, together, to celebrate the holiness which gives breath to our daily lives while we live every other moment off on our own.

It’s a time of commemoration, celebration, recognition. A time of lifting our voices loud with the voices of others to sing in joy for the life we’re blessed to live, and the for the Life that brought us here. I don’t mean to trivialize , but we come together for moments of worship for the same reasons we feel driven to invite people over for a birthday. We might love that person turning 9, or 17, or 49,  and we might be in extraordinarily deep relationship with that person every other day, on our own; but when it comes time to commemorate, recognize, and celebrate that life, we add into this personal relationship by gathering together with others to share in the joy of our experience of that person. And we do the same for God each Sunday.

Gathering sometimes awkwardly with the people around us for this reason not only lifts up our love for God in larger, clearer, longer recognition than we can normally give, but it also keeps us connected with the life around us, and sustains inside of us the knowledge that though we live in isolation in so many other ways, we are never alone—not in our personal lives, and not in that inkling we feel in our soul telling us there’s something more to this life, past our experience of the typical.  When we unite in body, we unite in mind, strengthening the personal urges we feel privately in our soul into something larger, something shared, something moving while alone, and powerful in plurality.

Anyway… I hope that makes some sense. I’m glad we got to talk about in here; but I think I’m going to lift my eyes up from this box, and head outside. There are people waiting for me, past my door.

God bless you, take care, and celebrate the life inside of you with the One who gave it, with all of your heart, all of your strength, all of your soul, and all of your mind, in all ways you can; because that holy Source Of All Things that gifts us with this vital breath we pull into our lungs and let out through our lips is something to commemorate. Something to recognize. Something to celebrate. Something worthy of the worship of our souls.

 

 

 



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