Possible

I’m reading Abba’s Child by Brennan Manning. There’s a section in here that says so clearly what I used to try to convey so unsuccessfully. I used to frequent what others considered to be the dark corridors of human society; I was part of a community that other Christians I knew wouldn’t go anywhere near. I was really part of that community. I wasn’t there to just share the gospel and then leave. I wasn’t an outsider in their midst. They were my friends, and I was part of their lives as they were part of mine. In the end, I didn’t leave because I fulfilled my mission among them–I never intended to leave at all. I left because my presence there was creating such a severe rift between myself and those who insisted I was wrong to be there that I found myself having to choose between them and my own family.

I find this passage from Brennan Manning to communicate so clearly what I failed to convey to other Christians at that time, that I can’t help but share it here, in this place where I occasionally step out of my shell and reveal a bit of what lies beneath the surface of me.

Brennan writes,

Because the shining sun and the falling rain are given both to those who love God and to those who reject God, the compassion of the Son embraces those who are still living in sin. The Pharisee lurking within all of us shuns sinners. Jesus turns toward them with gracious kindness. He sustains His attention throughout their lives for the sake of their conversion “which is possible to the very last moment.”

God never leaves us, never forsakes us, never gives up hope that we will turn to him and place our trust in his heavenly care. Even when we’re sinning, even when we’re rejecting him, even when we want nothing to do with him, he eagerly awaits our attention like a mother whose baby is just beginning to walk away from her for the first time. Why shouldn’t we, as the baby’s brothers and sisters, dwell with our mother and our sibling in this place? Who knows, maybe if the baby falls, we will be there to pick him or her up and redirect them to the care that awaits them, because of the trust we have earned as people of love and safety. Wouldn’t a parent’s heart rejoice at such love between siblings? Aren’t we all created in God’s image, all descended from the same breath of God as one another, part of the same creation he so lovingly cares for, and doesn’t he ask us to care for it with him?

The Church

On Sunday our associate pastor John Navarro spoke about growing bitter over the loss of the old ways of being the people of God, aka the church. I was more than a little uncomfortable in my seat as he spoke.

He was talking about people who get caught up in using the Bible alone as a means to approaching God and the Christian life. They throw out the Holy Spirit, and interaction with our Lord, and only soak themselves in the printed word. It’s all about knowing the right thing, believing the right thing, saying the right thing, demanding the right thing. But walking with God through his spirit, centering our lives around and through him, letting him move in and have his being within us, all are discarded as extras, or even as dangers.

I did not get to the place of yearning for the early church ways in that way at all, but I did get there. Am here today. Years ago, I had a Matrix moment in which I was offered two pills. One would open my eyes to a far different reality than I had known, and one would keep me seeing the world the way I currently saw it. I shouldn’t have eaten the eye-opener. But I did. And I saw that the church had come a long way.

John said that the early church was an infant, that she has come a long way in maturing into what she is today. He said that to want for infancy (ie, the early church ways) would cause us to be stubborn and religious, which would birth in us bitterness and resentment.

I don’t see it that way at all. I think the church is more like the church at Laodecia than a mature bride. I think the “American” church in general, with exceptions I’ll quickly admit to, has replaced son/daughter-ship for a business model, and love for law. I think she’s lost the potential for deep community through the routines she’s established, and replaced being the family of God for being a group of like-minded gatherers in the name of a God the people don’t necessarily fellowship with outside of Sunday’s four walls.

However, I am bitter and resentful. I didn’t get here the way he described in his sermon, and “here” isn’t exactly the “here” he was referring to, but I am so bitter, so resentful.

I just erased several paragraphs I wrote in the last half hour detailing all I mourn over, because I know the cost of thinking the way I do. Not just the cost which is the pain that comes from my screwed up way of seeing things, but also the cost that comes from people who are the exception, or else just wish to be, who are angry at me for thinking the church has grown lukewarm and disconnected.

So, what should I do? I am trying to form deeper connections and be the change I want to see. Unfortunately, I have suffered a major blow this summer. I am working through it, and what it has revealed to me about myself, in therapy. (My previous, and very hip, pastor used to praise therapy so often, like a cheerleader for the cause, I can’t help but feel a little cool admitting I’m getting help.) I cannot be the change I wish to be, except for in small bursts here and there, which is exactly what I complain the church is doing.

For heaven’s sake, perhaps the bride of Christ is just messed up like I am, and I just need to lighten up and give her the same grace I need for myself. Get over what’s missing because even I can’t bring it to the table.

I’ve been spending more time in silence and solitude with God, with and without the printed word, with and without song, with and without prayer, with and without listening for who-knows-what he might say to me, if anything at all. I have been loving my family better. I have been a better school teacher. I have been a better home-maker. And thank God, I have been a better wife, perhaps the hardest task I put myself to, even though my husband’s love apparently knows no bounds.

When people say, “we are the church,” they aren’t kidding. Really, like it or lump it….

I am the church.

The Old Man… Again

A few years ago (when this blog was full of posts that have since been deleted due to a major turn-around in my life), I wrote a post about the “Old Man.” I was stunned at that time to find myself in a position of having to lay down a toxic self, and become renewed once again by God. It wasn’t my first turn-around, and I hadn’t expected to ever make one again after the one that was my first.

In my youth I had had many small turn-arounds, but it wasn’t until I found myself pregnant and abandoned at age 18 that my life took a complete turn from one way of living to another. Naively, I had the feeling at that time that that turn-around was going to be the only one in my life. I never anticipated having to stop in my tracks again, and go through a serious overhaul of my life. I believed that walking with God fervently would prevent such a thing in the future. But it hadn’t. I discovered that walking fervently with God isn’t as easy as I thought it would be when I first set out to do it.

So, back to a few years ago when I first blogged about the “Old Man.” I had thought I was on fire for God and moving along steadily in his will for me, when suddenly I had to turn around and face what my life had become… and a lot of it wasn’t very pretty.

Today, thankfully, I am not making another such overhaul. Yet I am reflecting on the idea of laying down part of myself, the “Old Woman” as it were, as I adjust to some recent changes in my life.

I really thought, when I was young and unseasoned, that unless a person completely backslid away from God and into a life of worldly, or otherwise selfish pursuit, they wouldn’t again have an “Old Man” to lay down. I really thought there was a black and a white, an on and an off, a with-God and a without-God, so that if I chose to walk away from him I’d develop a self to lay down, but otherwise, I wouldn’t.

That has so not been the case with me. I suspect it’s not the case with anyone. After all, they don’t say the church is full of hypocrites for nothing. We know the most gracious, merciful, loving entity in the world, we fill our hearts with him and sing his praises and seek to spend our lives with and for him, and yet we continue to fall on our faces in sin and shame. We hurt people, we say mean things, we drink too much, we swear, we lie, cheat and steal, and we watch rated-R movies (my husband and I rarely do that, but we have seen many… we just watched Gladiator with the kids last month for educational purposes, and we’re not ashamed!).

So, today, as I wonder aloud at having to lay down some pretty large parts of myself, I am thinking about that “Old Woman.” May she rest in peace, and never return. May her corpse fertilize the field she lies in, and bring about beautiful flowers and grasses and seed-bearing fruits to grace all who come near. May the memory of her bring spring rain upon the field, making it grow stronger and more beautiful, even if it is in the form of shed tears. May her memory bring renewed humility and sensitivity to this heart of mine, enabling me to love more carefully and genuinely from here out. And may her sacrifice prove to be the oil that flows over me, anointing me further unto the Lord than ever before, cleansing me and healing me, as I become a more whole woman, and human being in general.

Thank you, God, for never leaving nor forsaking me. You truly have my back, even as you live in my heart. How beautiful are you.

Disciple

I think the concept of discipleship is really foundational to living the life Jesus calls us to live. For years I’ve found myself rather disgruntled at the way Christian culture tends to trivialize really important things like belief, community and following Jesus.

It’s not enough to think the right things. Even Satan believes that Jesus died and rose again so humans can re-connect to the Father, but he won’t have a place in eternity with God at the resurrection for that belief any more than we will for merely thinking the right thing. That’s not Christianity, it’s Gnosticism. We can think the right things all we want, but Jesus asks us to believe in him, and that is much more simple, and much more costly, than an education or a choice alone. Belief in Jesus isn’t only mental. It’s life-changing. Belief in Jesus involves learning to trust him with life and soul and heart and being, in this life as much as the next. It’s certainly not instantaneous the moment we accept him as our God, but true belief brings us into the embrace of the one who will gradually turn us into disciples. If we trust the bus driver to get us to our destination, we’ll at least get on the bus and let him take us there, even if it will take time to get there.

It’s also not enough to gather once or twice a week in a crowded and controlled environment where only a few end up finding the communal family bond with one another that God offers us through Jesus. Where many are able to enter in to the worship and prayer sessions, but many others aren’t, because they haven’t had a chance to become intimate with the people gathered there enough to step into that zone with them. We have the potential for a rare form of connection as the adopted sons and daughters of God to bond deeply and become a family. I’ve seen it in AA meetings, in therapy groups, in mommies-of-young-ones meetings, and in smaller, tighter settings of faith communities gathering to do life together in celebration and love. Where there is intimacy and safety, there is a rich opportunity for discipleship.

I believe it’s not enough to eat a teeny cracker and drink a teeny tenth of a shot of grape juice in a brief, solemn, although heartfelt, symbolic act, when Jesus said to dine together in celebration of his life and resurrection whenever we get together. We’ve lost a powerful, uniting demonstration of joy by losing the tradition of the love feasts. For me, it’s like the difference between a family gathering for dinner and a family gathering for a tiny snack. There’s a richness that’s missing from the snack table, that can only be found in the more sustaining dinner table–regarding the potential for relationship as much as nutrition.

Noah Stepro pointed out in his recent sermon series on Discipleship that “disciple” isn’t a common word in our culture. It’s not one of those words that everyone just understands upon hearing. It’s something that has largely fallen by the wayside in understanding and use. For example, our educational systems are largely filled with book learning and lectures, as opposed to hands-on learning at a master’s feet. Our religious systems are also largely filled with the same. I’m not berating sermons. I just cited one by Noah above. But they’re supplemental to a life lived in the dust of the one we’re following. We don’t get very dirty in a classroom, but when we walk in the footsteps of a great leader, we end up with dust all over us (especially where I live, where more dust grows than trees).

Brennan Manning writes in the March 25 entry of Reflections for Ragamuffins, “Until I lay my head on Jesus’ breast, listen to his heartbeat, and personally appropriate the Christ-experience of John’s eyewitness, I have only a derivative spirituality. My cunning imposter [the fake self we project] will borrow John’s moment of intimacy and attempt to convey it as if it were my own.”

I would like to see a return to Jesus’ words at the end of Matthew’s gospel, wherein Jesus asks us to make disciples, to teach people how to actually live the life he had just modeled for us. He doesn’t ask us to make sure everyone has right thinking, regardless of right living. He didn’t go through all he went through from his early experiences with his chosen people, to his incarnation, humiliation, torture, and even the worst kind of human death of the day, so we will believe academically that he did it all for us and then live without him anyway.

Much Like the Life Jesus Led

I’m reading through Brennan Manning’s book, Reflections for Ragamuffins. It has an entry for every day of the year. Today’s entry says that Jesus is not like the great thinkers of his day, “speaking with detachment about the Supreme Being.”

He’s the God with spit on his face.

And he tells us not to weep for him, but to join him. He tells us that the life he led is the Christian life he has planned for us to live.

Manning goes on to say that the scandalous cross of Christ comes into our lives through “mental anguish, physical suffering, and wounds of the spirit that will not close,” within which we pray that God will help us stand against the realms of the flesh, the devil and the world.

That got me to thinking about the life Jesus lived, and about the word “world.”

I’m thinking of doing a series of posts about the life that Jesus lived, because I’m certain I’ve not fully embraced that life for myself nearly enough. And as Manning says in this entry, “It is hard to be a Christian, but it is too dull to be anything else.”

If I do create this series of posts, I also want to talk about Jesus being hated by the world, and telling us his followers would be, too. Who was Jesus hated by? The “world” is something I’ve often been told is the embodiment of the values and means of secular systems–greed, lust, pride, selfish ambition and more. To be hated by the world would be to be hated by people who are all about those things, right? I’ve always heard that the world’s people are those who aren’t followers of God. But the people who hated and scorned Jesus, ultimately had him sentenced to death, and harassed his followers just as he said they would, were the religious leaders of the day. Paul himself admitted that when he was part of the faction that was trying to squelch Jesus and his Way, he thought he was on Team God.

I’m not certain I’m bold enough to start writing again. This blog has been quiet for years now. I’ve written many posts in the past three years, only to delete them rather than publish them. Maybe this is enough for now. Maybe it’s not, and I’ll do the series. For today, it’s enough.

If there’s anybody out there, thanks for reading. What do you think about these things? (Not whether or not not I write more, but about the things I’ve written here today.)