A new tagline; a clarified mission

My best friend and her wife were in town this weekend when we had the happy coincidence of a big, gnarly snowstorm holding us all hostage in our house. This meant we were trapped inside with them, forced to play multiple games of Carcassone and Sequence, eat copious amounts of cookies, cook hearty Southern food, and talk shop about the Enneagram. I know. Rough times, right?

Having them around gives me the chance to have long conversations about topics of interest to me (I love my husband dearly, but he’s more of a doer, not much of a conversationalist…). One realization I had (am having) is the surprisingly little amount of insight I sometimes feel I have into myself. For instance, although I know the Enneagram pretty well, I have the worst time knowing (or staying on) what type I am. I’ve been very good at persuading my listener that I am really a certain type, only to change my mind a couple months later. What that means to me is that sometimes I identify so strongly with an idea of what/who I am, that it is hard to step back and see the stable, unchanging Self that lies underneath all the preconceptions I hold about myself.

In that same vein, this weekend I realized that the tagline I had for my blog is misleading. Not intentionally, of course, but rather because I thought it was what I was about – or what I was supposed to be about. My tagline was “thoughtful explorations of spirituality, psychology, and their intersections,” as you may recall. After all, I’m a counselor, and I feel myself to be spiritually inclined and want to write about it. So that’s what I do, right?

Actually, no. When I take a cursory look at the podcasts I listen to, the books I gravitate to (currently just dived in to Karen Armstrong’s A History of God), and the things I often write about on here, I have a different inclination. I unabashedly enjoy writing about theological issues. I particularly enjoy looking at those issues through a lens of culture: both our modern culture, and the culture in which ancient texts were written.

I have a passion that cannot be extinguished (at least it hasn’t been, yet) for the urgency of not letting constricting theologies and religious views lead society around like a bull on a nose ring. My heart quickens when I think about helping free an enslaved Christendom from its patriarchal, colonial, xenophobic, unbridled capitalistic chains, and help restore it to the justice-for-the-oppressed, freedom-for-the-enslaved, dividing-walls-broken-down, grace-filled emancipator that Christianity was meant to be.

Retrieved from Stock Photos

That is what I feel called to write about here. Sure, I might say things that some perceive as polarizing, or too political, in ways that writing about psychology would not have me do. But look at our world around us. Is the time not an urgent now?

What about you, dear reader? Have you ever felt you were “supposed” to do one thing but realized your heart was drawn toward another? Have you ever realized your conceptions of yourself were really misconceptions – and humbly chose your new way? Have you ever felt you must speak, but were afraid to, but maybe you did it anyway? My heart extends toward you, anonymous you, because I know your struggles to do so are probably greater than mine. This is no easy work. My hope is we push toward truth and emancipation together.

May we courageously step out into the unknown.

Why I specify LGBT friendly on my counseling profile

Once I knew I would be working as a counselor in a Christian counseling center at my pastor husband’s new church, in a new town where we knew no one, I immediately started crafting an online counseling profile in my head. What identity did I want to present to others? And how would I make clear to prospective clients who I am and what I stand for?

I do play therapy; I got my degree from a seminary; I’m psychodynamically trained; I have a heart for the spiritually wounded, questioners, and leavers of the faith. These are all true. But there was something else I needed to convey.

The line that kept standing out in my mind was LGBT friendly. This was a message I felt passionate about.

Now, this may not seem very significant. I’m licensed by the state of Ohio and I follow the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics, which specifies I cannot discriminate on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc etc. I was educated in the importance of this. But a counselor being obligated to not discriminate is a far cry from a counselor being comfortable with and even welcoming diversity across the sexuality spectrum. Furthermore, I know that people too often associate Christianity across the board with a very narrow (and often judgmental) view of what is acceptable sexual practice. Many Christians still think you cannot be a Christian if you accept gay people being gay.

I know this all too well. You see, I grew up in a tradition that believes same-sex relations are an absolute sin. My evangelical / fundamentalist (I differ from Merriam-Webster in describing the jump to fundamentalism as not only interpreting your holy book in a strict, literal way, but actively denouncing and viewing with fear and suspicion the outside world. But that’s a post for another day!) upbringing taught me that the Bible (and therefore God) viewed homosexuality as an abomination. It even went so far as to believe that there is such thing as “the gay agenda” whose sole quest is to bring the world down into debauchery and moral decay. “Conversion therapy” was viewed as a legitimate and effective treatment for gay people to help guide them into a heterosexual way of life.

Of course, for people who find themselves experiencing same-sex attractions, whether in small degrees or in totality, this can lead to buckets of guilt, shame, and even self-loathing or self-hatred. That, or they have to find a way to make a quick exit from this theology, but it’s hard to leave such baggage behind. 

The path I took to get to where I am from where I was is far too long for this post (but stay tuned for another post in the future, about how to honor Christianity, the Bible, and non-heterosexual relationships at the same time). I have moved so far from that now that it might be easy to think such views are fading from society. In many ways, they are, if we look at the media and newly elected representatives as measuring sticks. But we all know those are far from genuine representations of the beliefs many people across the country hold. The Liturgists gathering that I just attended this month reminds me that there are still so many people – especially Christians – who are wrestling with the question of sexuality and God’s view on their own or others’ sexual orientations.

I was always aware that specifying “LBGT friendly” (and I could have added other letters) is a calculated risk. The pro obviously being that I am being true to myself and my practice, and communicating what may be desperately needed information to people who want a safe place to explore questions around sexuality, or who just want to be accepted for who they are already comfortable being.

The risk being that I am writing my statement on a website I am making for the whole counseling center, not just my own web page. I hope the others are comfortable with it, but I didn’t ask. I also might scare off some people who read the website and decide it’s not “Christian enough” for them (even though I am the only who specifies this). Or, perhaps a parent of a questioning, curious, or just open youth will not allow their child to see a counselor who might affirm their stance. (This, by the way, is not merely a hypothetical situation; it’s just not everyone reads our website thoroughly).

Some of you who come from traditions like mine understand the tension of such an action. I am sure there is at least one church in our small town alone that is being actively divided over the issue of sexuality and what is “acceptable” in Christian doctrine. I love our church’s website and how it describes doctrinal stances, but I am also keenly aware there is nothing on there about sexual orientation. It’s a big, divisive issue to take on, especially in a public setting. It’s easier to not talk about. Many Christians who would be affirming are quiet about it. I think this is even more the case in small towns, though I am still trying to figure this whole small town culture thing out. 🙂

So, I have decided to not be a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” but rather to be out of the closet about what I stand for. This is especially important in the context of a Christian counseling practice, where others might easily assume things about my beliefs. I have decided if I have the welcoming light of love, acceptance, grace, and affirmation to share, then I should not hide it under any bushels, but let it shine so all can see. One little way I can do this, in my little role as one of the counselors at a Christian counseling center, is to specify “LGBT friendly.” Because I want everyone to know there is more than one way to be a Christian. And that God’s love is already for everyone and God loves us exactly the way we were made.

Just to be clear: All are welcome. 
https://goo.gl/images/G658Fd

a beautiful thing happened

imagine from iStockphotos; RyanJLane

It was one of those mornings when I was thinking about my own “whys” of why I go to church. Besides the obvious that my husband is the pastor and I feel duty-bound to show up at least at some point in the morning, what draws me to a church community?

We all have different reasons. Many people, out of habit. Or a guilty conscience if they don’t go. Or because this is the place they see friends and loved ones predictably every Sunday morning. Or to hear a Word from God, maybe in a sermon, prayer, or hymn. Or to sing in the choir. Or because, for some inexplicable reason, they were drawn even though they can’t explain why.

One of my own whys today was because, even though I can be quite content with my spiritual practice of sitting alone with a book, my thoughts, and being quietly with God, I also know that I need to practice the spiritual discipline of being in community. I know that my personality tends toward isolation, and that I need to find contact with – and eventually connection with – other people to help make me whole.

I also have been enjoying the songs of the choir lately, so I decided to go to the later service at church.

In service, I had been thinking too much during the sermon. Seeing things from an outsider perspective. Wondering we need to be doing / saying / bringing that might speak to the needs of the community.

What I didn’t have eyes to see yet was that it is already here.

After the sermon, the choir began the communion anthem sitting in their seats in the pews. It seemed like a mistake at first, as one member rose alone, but one by one, the others intentionally rose too. They made their way to the front, walking slowly. Later I learned this was no one person’s idea, but something that evolved with everyone’s input, shifting and changing and needing everyone’s involvement to be how it was.

And then, I don’t even know what happened, but what I believe is we all knew the power this held at the same time.

The eight or so choir members gathered behind the table that holds the Lord’s Supper, singing, lines moving back and forth, voices trading verses, melody flowing sweetly. I didn’t hear the words: I felt the song. All I knew was it was spell-binding. Tears welled up in my eyes. My breath was held. And when I went forward for communion, the same sense of being gathered together remained; that this community of people was being held by something powerful and gracious and loving. When I glanced in the eyes of others, I think they felt it too.

If we were Quaker, I would call it being “gathered” or having a “gathered meeting.” If we were UCC, we might give the pause of a comma and sigh, “God is still speaking.” If we were Pentecostal, the Holy Spirit would probably be speaking through tongues. Some people easily describe it as the presence of God, or Jesus, being in the room with us. I might call it a “mystical moment.” An experience that cannot be adequately described in words, that defies explanation, and is a reality so real that it cannot be proven, but only felt and experienced.

It doesn’t truly matter what words we try and put to the experience, or if we put words at all. We are all getting a taste of this powerful Divine Reality, a reality so powerful it speaks to us however we need to hear it. An experience that sometimes only happens because we are all gathered together in community.

It was only when I got home and re-read the words of the song that I realized what they said: He is Here in the Breaking of the Bread.

Amen.

using our voices

I don’t know about you, but this has felt like a rough week.

Honestly, the last two years have been disheartening (to put it mildly) and soul-crushing (if my feelings speak for themselves), in a way I wouldn’t have guessed political situations could make me feel. There is so much hate, distrust, and lying in our national space that it feels like evil will take us over. The news still tends to infuriate me, but recently, I’ve found myself slipping more often into feelings of despair.

I went on a short, silent retreat this week. It was a wonderful chance to read, write, meditate, and take long walks in the forest. I know I am lucky I get to do such things. My fears about myself still crept up on me (does my voice matter? What meaning will I make of my life? Who do I think I am, anyway, trying to claim a space with my words?). But I moved forward, pushing back the fears, being present, and putting down words anyway.

Then we left the camp and had the news on the radio as we drove home. Real life hit me like a ton of bricks. A president trying to incite fear about Middle Eastern terrorists hiding among people who are trying to take refuge from an unsafe environment in Central America. Tax cuts promised that can’t be passed before election day, but truth doesn’t matter anyway so say what you will. And then, all week long, bombs that don’t detonate arriving to prominent liberals around the country. I don’t need to give you details – you already know them.

What kind of world are we living in?

What can I do?

What can we do?

While on retreat, I brought my good friend Thomas Merton along with me in book form. Reading him inspires and challenges me. Merton was a Catholic monk and prolific writer who died in 1968. Monks take vows of poverty, submission, obedience. But Merton was also compelled to write – and write boldly. He didn’t hide his head in the sand but was acutely aware of what was happening in the world. He called out the violences and injustices of his day (think Cold War and nuclear threats, and the divisiveness both sides were partaking in). Even when the Catholic Church censored him, even when he scandalized people. And he did it all from a deeply spiritual place.

I know I’m no Thomas Merton, but if I could follow just a tiny bit in his footsteps, I would aspire to do that. To speak the truth that needs to be told. To love deeply. To live fully one’s authentic life that they are called to.

What are you called to do?

What voice were you given to speak to the world?

Our voices matter. Trust me, a lot of the time I have trouble believing this. I took my small step today and early voted. I felt grateful to still belong in a democratic republic, with a still-functional news media, and to safely cast my vote without fear of reprisal.

Voting is one way to matter – and an important one. But there are so many ways to raise our voices in support of love and all that is good in the world. It is hard to keep that faith, but if we do it together, maybe somebody will hear it, and believe that this isn’t how it has to be.

We must not stay silent. If we are privileged enough to be comfortable staying silent (i.e. if you believe yourself to be unaffected by all that is happening), but if you are also a person of faith, then let your faith be the motivator to speak. To stay silent and do nothing is to be complicit. Stand up for the vulnerable and the oppressed. Stand up for morals and values. Believe in the power of love over the darkness of hate and terror. Pray. Extend compassion to your neighbor: whether that is your family member or your fellow global citizen.

It’s easy to lose sight. Just writing this post, I am mocked by the inner voices: who cares about what you say? No one will read this! You’re not saying anything new! You’re not good enough! Do you really think you can make a difference at all?

But maybe you’ve been tormented by those voices too. Maybe sometimes, the anger and despair presses in on all sides. Maybe you feel too small and insignificant to have an impact. Maybe you’re so frustrated by the whole thing that you’ve checked out. Please come back. We need your voice, too.

Maybe if I can be brave enough to put the imperfect and the unoriginal and the vulnerable out there, you will know it’s okay to do it too. Maybe we will start to push back the darkness.

It’s hard work. Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Find the beauty in the world. Remember that the sun rises every morning – regardless if we see it or not. Let yourself be nurtured by relationships. Nurture others. Find something that makes you laugh. Find something that gives you hope.

However it is that your life speaks, I hope we can believe that if we each do our part to speak the truth in our own sphere, it matters.

God, I hope it matters. Let it matter. But we will only find out by trying.

omygourd… SCIENCE!! (why Genesis and science are not enemies)

Omygourd… SCIENCE!!

Recently I heard a brief presentation from a lovely, caring, passionate woman who was speaking about providing Christian religious education to elementary school children. I was on board with what she was talking about (sharing about the love of God to kids whose parents opt in to the program), but then she said something that made my heart sink. A boy informed her that he couldn’t believe in the 6-day Genesis creation because his dad told him the universe started with a big bang. She expressed to us her sense of sadness for him and asked that we pray for his mind to be open to change.

*Deep sigh*

First, let me say that I get it. I come from the tradition where believing in a literal 6-day creation is one of the litmus tests of faith. I felt like my 7th-grade science teacher was personally attacking my faith when she introduced our class to the concept of evolution. The process of trying to figure out how to incorporate modern science into my religion was terrifying, and there is a real sense that “those scientists” are just godless people who are out to destroy Christianity.

I’m on the other side of this divide now. But what I’m becoming increasingly aware of is that even today, the divide is still quite real. I wonder how often people still feel like they have to choose between believing mainstream scientific research versus believing in the religion they hold dear, which they also believe holds eternal implications for their soul.

My concern for the little boy, and the woman teaching large numbers of the kids, is that they will think you have to pick one side or the other. The little boy has clearly been introduced to mainstream science from his dad. The likelihood that he will change his mind about this and believe young-earth theory in the long run (not just for his 3rd and 4th grade years) seems like a long shot, when his family upbringing teaches him differently. What if he thinks Christianity is sold wholesale with believing in young earth, without any big bangs, without any evolution? That someone cannot believe in Christianity, evolution, and the big bang, all at the same time? And then he throws out the whole thing?

There is a third way. The choice is not either / or. The choice can be a resounding “YES!!”

It takes a different way of reading the Bible. There’s so much to say that I can’t even start to cover it in one blog post, but reading Genesis without needing it to square with a literalist view of how creation came to be can be so exciting and inspiring.

Here’s the thing. Genesis was never meant to be a factual record of how the universe, earth, and all the living species came into existence. Ancient peoples just didn’t have that concern. They told stories as representations of how things came to be. Stories that demonstrated values they had and beliefs about where they saw themselves in the universe, what they thought about good and evil, and what it means to be human. The Genesis creation story, when compared with other creation stories written in ancient Mesopotamia, stands out due to its belief in the goodness of creation and the lack of violence with which God creates the world (we just don’t realize that because we are not exposed to other creation myths of the time). That is a beautiful, inspiring thing! Just think about what insights the ancestors of your religion had about the nature of a loving God! It’s enough to make me use too many exclamation points in this one paragraph!

If we can shift our framework for Genesis from literal, factual story to a beautiful, poetic story about how life came into being and what God is like, the whole thing changes. I would say it opens right up. No longer are we trying to figure out how long a “day” in Genesis is, and why Genesis 1 and 2 seem to be describing the same situation but differently, and how both scenes can be literal (huh?? Yes, read Genesis 1 & 2 for yourself and look closely). No longer are we trying to force the Genesis story into a box it was never meant to be in. It is finally allowed to speak for itself as the artful masterpiece it is.

I know that jumping from a poetic reading of Genesis to believing in the big bang and evolution (however we think of it… intelligent design included) may just be too much. Or maybe you’re disinterested in the whole thing, or maybe none of these questions have ever bothered you. And that’s okay. No one needs to or should deconstruct their faith in a day. Many people never feel the need to.

But in my own experience, I find a much more vibrant, alive, and – dare I say – evolving faith when I trust that God is not confined by our personal interpretation of text on a page, and trust that God is also actively present in science (which is just systematic inquiry into the reality we find ourselves in). When I am open to the mystery of what is and how things happen, my heart quickens and I am moved deep in my being. God will always show up, even if it does not look like how we thought it would.

Amen!

Omygourd! Because gourds are funny. Photo cred Mallory Woodard

“Road to Edmond” review

I recently started listening to the Homebrewed Christianity podcast with Tripp Fuller. I have a lot of time on my hands when painting all the rooms in our house, and I like to engage my brain as well as my arm. For an INSFTPJ (that’s Myers-Briggs for being uncertain about many aspects of my personality but definitely being an introvert, and one who likes to think about matters that matter) like myself, it’s a really interesting podcast. He (like me, maybe you) is a post-evangelical/fundamentalist and does a lot of neat interviews with progressive Christians. And he really likes beer. So with those things in common, I find it’s a podcast worth listening to.

I just watched the movie he produced and acted in called “The Road to Edmond,” which I eagerly jumped on when I had the chance through Speakeasy (the group where I get to receive and read books for free as long as I write reviews about them).

Plot summary: Cleo the committed evangelical youth pastor supports a girl in his youth group who comes out to him, instead of telling her she’s a sinner and has to change her ways. He gets in trouble by the church he works at and has to take a 2-week leave. Cleo immediately packs a very small backpack that somehow contains enough clothes and supplies to last him through the two weeks portrayed in the movie and hits the road on his bike. Larry (acted by Tripp) runs over his bike early on in Cleo’s journey, and ends up taking him on a wild cross country trip where Cleo’s beliefs are challenged and deconstructed, and Larry processes things after the death of his dad.

It’s funny and goofy, unbelievable at times (Tripp is actually a pretty good actor, but Cleo’s character could use some work), and also touching. You will laugh, you will roll your eyes, and you might even well up with tears. My husband (never an evangelical but a mainline Christian pastor) and I really enjoyed it. There’s even some excellent plot twists and surprises that make it worth it to get to the end.

If you can find the movie playing anywhere near you, it’s worth seeing. If you can’t find the movie, just listen to some episodes of Homebrewed Christianity. It’s like The Liturgists but a little bit less angsty, and a little more heady (in some episodes). Podcasts have definitely been my friend lately.

If anyone else has seen this movie, leave me a comment. Or just tell me: what are some of your favorite podcasts?

and Jesus was moved by her faith

There’s no way around it. I am a pastor’s wife. (I suppose I might also say that I have a pastor husband, but either way, my life is becoming deeply intertwined with the church). We have moved from the big city to a small town, to be an integral part of the life of the church. I’ve never lived in a small town. I’ve never been a pastor’s wife in this way. I am finding myself drawn more deeply toward spirituality in general, and Christianity in particular, in this new life phase. (If this seems obvious of a pastor’s wife, read early blog posts and note that I’ve had a long period of deconstruction of faith and have been to many a locale on the theological map). Christianity is calling me, perhaps necessarily (what can one do in a small town besides attend and participate in the life of your husband’s church?); perhaps because it is, itself, compelling.

***

The story of the Syrophoenician, or Canannite, woman is calling to me in particular. Coincidentally, Kevin preached on this very passage (Mark 7:24-30) the same morning I encountered it in the memoir I am reading. My mind continues to mull over it days later. In the story, the woman begs Jesus on behalf of her demon-possessed daughter to heal the child. Jesus is not from the same social group as this woman. His people conquered her people (the Canaanites) long, long ago, and they still look down on the Syrophoenicians with disgust. Jesus – son of God, right? – goes so far as to call this begging woman a “dog.” You filthy, disgusting, scavenging creature. Try to allow yourself to ponder that, Christians. It’s right there in the Bible. The woman is undeterred, however. “Even the dogs eat the children’s crumbs,” she retorts. Andrea Lingle points out, “The Canaanite woman claimed her place at the table or under it.” And Jesus is moved by this. The woman’s child is healed by her faith.

Jesus is moved by the woman’s faith. Jesus actually moves his position, his beliefs, because of this woman who refused to back down and be seen as undeserving of the graces and healing he had to offer. Christians who need to see Jesus as always, only fully divine, never saying or doing anything questionable, will see this differently. They likely see Jesus as purposely testing the woman to get her to demonstrate her faith. They might downplay the fact that Jesus actually gave this woman a terrible insult. To me, this seems to be a case of making the story fit the pre-existing theology.

But let’s not sugarcoat things. Let the text speak. If we read the story and interpret it based on the context and what it actually seems to be saying – not interpreting it to try and squeeze a particular meaning out of it – Jesus seems to be prejudiced against this woman initially, but is moved by her insistence that she, too, belongs in the realm of grace. It seems that Jesus, a Jewish teacher, believed initially that he was here to minister to the Jews. He is here for the children of Israel. And then the beliefs he thought were certain shift. This woman will settle for crumbs, but she will not settle for less than that. And then Jesus’ eyes are opened and he sees that she too belongs. She receives full healing for her daughter because of her faithful insistence that healing is for her, for them, for everyone.

It is a significant divide we walk here. I am well aware of that. I acknowledge there are multiple ways to interpret this story. You may disagree with how I read it. It is an interpretation that is compelling to me. 

If Jesus is only, fully divine, then he’s either “just testing” her, or he’s not really insulting her, or God thinks it’s okay to insult people like that. A solely divine Jesus would not need to be moved by this woman to give justice to all, would he?

A Jesus who is, who needs to be, moved by others is a Jesus who is also fully human. Catch your theological breath and just play with ideas here. As my pastor husband quoted in his sermon, Karl Barth says we need not try to reconcile two beliefs seemingly at odds to try and make one cohesive belief system. We can just hold them both up together and let the rest be a mystery. Jesus Christ, divine. Jesus Christ, fully human. Jesus, God’s agent, divine, full of mercy and grace. Jesus, human, forgetting sometimes that all meant all. Jesus discovering through an encounter with the “other” that he is here not just for some – for his own people – but to heal and reconcile the whole world together.

I find this to be deeply moving. I generally do not feel full of grace, though I believe grace profoundly belongs to all. I go to the sheriff’s office to get fingerprinted so I can minister and be a counselor to those who are hurting. A man walks in and willingly cuts in front of me and another woman who have been waiting for a ridiculously long time in an empty waiting area so he can get fingerprinted for his concealed carry permit. He reinforces stereotypes I have of people like him. He feels entitled to get what he wants despite the needs or rights of others, and he does not even know it. And I confess: I have some hate for him in my heart.

But I know Jesus’s gospel isn’t just for people like me, the kind do-gooders of the world (who still have secret hate in their hearts). His gospel is for gun-toting Make America Great Again hats, for bleeding heart liberals, for desperate immigrants crossing borders and crossing deserts under cover of night, for families with loved ones killed by illegal immigrant gang members. His gospel of reconciliation and grace is for Jews, Canaanites, and even Romans. His gospel is for Israel, Native Americans, and even the United States. And in this story of the Canaanite / Syrophoenician woman, I see Jesus making the profound discovery of this as well. Perhaps there is hope for all of us.

 

Featured image credit goes to the Junia Project: https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwifiZmYtMXdAhUvUt8KHcF-CdcQjRx6BAgBEAU&url=https%3A%2F%2Fjuniaproject.com%2Fcaring-marginalized-jesus-canaanite-woman%2F&psig=AOvVaw22ej_O-oyaCQ6iAu80yQKJ&ust=1537389314168444 

“Credulous” is worth the read

Andrea Lingle – mother, writer, lay theologian – has written the book I hoped to write. (Also that I still hope to write). It is a memoir of faith, filled  with personal stories as well as her own theological ponderings that meander through quantum physics as easily as they do the Bible. She believes in expansive, abundant grace. She has managed to hang on to Christianity in a deep way even through her grief, challenges with the church, and faith deconstruction. My favorite parts of the book were her honest and raw descriptions of being human and a mom, particularly around the tensions between our dreams and ambitions versus how our lives end up looking — but how grace and peace are found even in that. I also enjoyed her creative renditions of gospel stories with Jesus interacting with his disciples. Those well-known stories suddenly leapt off the page for me as she imaginatively described the very human interactions among Jesus, Peter, the people begging him for healing. I was so inspired, actually, that I wrote a separate post about it here.
The book is organized along the lines of a church bulletin, as she dives into a different life or theology area with each section of a church bulletin (anthem, children’s moment, sermon, etc). Even though I sometimes found myself annoyed at the theological meanderings and the occasional far-fetched attempts to tie her thoughts in to the chapter she was supposed to be writing about (perhaps that tendency hits too close to home!), I also couldn’t stop reading the book. It was relatable because it was not perfect. Because of that, I also secretly want to be friends with her and “do life” together. I recommend checking it out yourself – you won’t be disappointed you did!

Find it on Amazon here
Learn about Andrea on her website

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Good Friday Longings

 

(written early 2015)

On Good Friday of 2014, my mom and I are vacationing during my spring break in a tourist town of northern Michigan, a town where spring doesn’t arrive until May or June, thus planting us in the middle of winter during our April visit. We spend Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter, in a place that isn’t my home, with churches and people I will never see again. But even though I’m losing my religion, something in me is still drawn to celebrating Easter time. So I Google search “Holy Week Anglican” and “Holy Week Episcopal,” trying to find a church that worships in a style with enough “smells and bells” to bring a touch of holy and sacred back to this holiday that is so rapidly losing its meaning for me.

So it is on Good Friday, sitting in a tiny one-room schoolhouse style church, on a hard white pew, listening to half a dozen laypeople stand up and read passages from their Holy Bibles, that I have this stark thought: “I’m not a Christian anymore…”

The words I hear that day from the other worshippers in the one-room church are dry, lifeless, containing no meaning for me. I know I should feel sad and mournful on this sacred holiday. Instead, I am devoid of emotion, thinking about how I wish I could be feeling something. Is it because this is a story I’ve heard too many times and it no longer has any impact on me? In a religion that barely touches me anymore, my hope is maybe this somber Good Friday service will put a spark in me and enliven my dry bones. But it doesn’t. Maybe the room is too light, the stubborn northern Michigan sun refusing to set on this April day to create the mood of darkness I long to feel. Maybe the selected hymns are too unfamiliar, too thin when sung by only 14 people, too shallow when accompanied by an electric piano instead of a resonant organ. Maybe my soul no longer knows how to take this seriously.

I know the real reason I am giving up my Friday evening on vacation with my mom and sitting anonymously in a church with 13 strangers who I will never see again. It is that I long for a magical moment I had almost exactly three years ago. I was living in Boston at the time, traipsing around flower-child style with my Chaco sandals and art supplies, exploring the distinguished city by foot and by the train system known as the T. Back then I knew little about Holy Week, since evangelicals in my tradition don’t celebrate such high holidays that remind us of the Catholicism we broke apart from in the 1600s. But the dignified Trinity Episcopal Church was on the route I regularly walked, and I saw a sign outside it advertising a week’s worth of “Holy Week” services around Easter. I shyly crept in at the beginning of the week, and after that first day, decided to organize the rest of my week around the other services. The church was expansive – such a contrast to this one-room schoolhouse – with dark wooden pews and tall stained glass windows. It had an organ that pounded out songs, making the body hum. It afforded a pleasant sense of anonymity, as the church welcomed tourists every day, and one could enter, pray, or sit in silence without being bothered by anyone else.

Trinity offered three hours of prayer service on Good Friday, and while I didn’t really want to commit to all 3 hours in a row, I greedily sought an emotional experience. I entered a little late and sat somewhere near the back of the room: easy in, easy out. The format of the service repeated a cycle – a Scripture reading, a short homily, a hymn, and silence – seven times. I remember very little about the service except a gradually darkening room, and approximately one line of a poem that still strikes me straight through my heart. My heart drops into my stomach; I ache at the very sight of the words.

And on the cross, he held me, and I was in the nothingness, and he held me…

The other remnants of the poem only exist because I scribbled them in my journal that afternoon, trying to savor them, their meaning, knowing how profound they were and how quickly they were slipping away from me.

Oh Jesus, don’t let your hands be bound

Your body hung taut like an arrow on the cross / your heart pierced / your body entombed

I have to, my beloved

To fling you taut like an arrow into heaven / to bleed so you may drink / to resurrect all those from the dead

I have tried to Google the rest of the poem, but to no avail. The poem is gone forever, lost in the space of time, or the imagination of the listener that day.

All I am left with now is the feeling of that afternoon, the profound images those words create. The poem asks Jesus why these things had to happen, and Jesus responds with the most beautiful yet soul-crushing answers I ever heard. Why did you have to go down into the pit, Jesus? Why did your hands have to be pierced by nails? Your side stabbed so water and blood poured forth? And in the moment I heard those words, I was touched by the answers in a way I never had been in 22 years of hearing the Easter story, over and over again.

Good Friday of 2011. The story that had always remained in my head somehow sunk down into my heart. It seemed I suddenly felt a small measure of his pain; that I could, for one brief moment, understand just how shatteringly painful the crucifixion was, not just physically but spiritually. What if… Jesus died so God could understand what it is like to be separated from God. And through it all, the line of the poem echoed:

And on the cross, he held me, and I was in the nothingness, and he held me…

I am in the nothingness, and he holds me.

I am still in the nothingness, and I know not whether I am held. I am in the nothingness every Good Friday since then, my soul dried up once more, the story that permeated my heart for one flash of a moment again escaped to my head. I seek that religious experience on occasion, hoping to feel stirred once more, wondering what it will take to get me there. But I don’t know if I will get there, and I am slowly coming to terms with that. I have mostly accepted that I can simply reminisce of a time gone by, a time when I believed in my very soul, when Jesus was so real, when the stars aligned and I could feel. That moment is gone now, and I am back in nothingness, holding on to something – nothing – or maybe, somehow, being held.

Jihad of Jesus book review

 

Dave Andrews’ The Jihad of Jesus hooks the reader with a seeming paradox, as he suggests you cannot have neither Jesus without jihad, or jihad without Jesus. If you are open enough to not write him off immediately, you can quickly discover that after Andrews finishes walking us through a very sobering journey of all the terrible violence that Christians and Muslims have done to each other in the name of their religion, he is mostly playing with words and ideas to make this title feasible.

Jihad and Jesus, you say? Many Judeo-Christian Westerners are under the impression that it is inherently violent, a holy war, terrorism, killings in the name of Allah. However, Andrews re-examines the meaning of jihad and gives us another – truer – definition: jihad means “struggle” in Arabic, and has two components, the inner and outer struggle. The inner struggle is the greater jihad, and is the struggle to fulfill one’s religious duties. The outer struggle is the lesser jihad, which is a physical struggle against opponents. Some, but not all, Muslims would interpret this as “holy war,” but Andrews takes care to emphasize that there are nonviolent ways to interpret both the lesser and greater jihads.

Ah. Well, with this new definition of jihad, you can probably guess how the rest of the book goes, and if you are willing to go with this definition (as I and probably a good number of you readers are), Andrews is preaching to the interfaith choir.

I am tempted to sum up the rest of the premise of this book with two quick sentences. First, he asks if the construction of these religions is not just an excuse for the terrible violence, but the actual cause of it, a question he daringly answers with yes. Gasp! How can you say that? Well, like his reconstruction of jihad, he defines two “constructions” of religion, the word around which that first sentence pivots. My second summary sentence: One must distinguish between “closed-set” religion, which is boundaried, black-white, insiders-outsiders, right-wrong, and “open-set” religion, which is (as you could guess) open to all, seeking the heart of God and encouraging others to do so as well, instead of defining itself by rules, beliefs, and dogma.

With this wordplay, with new definitions for ideas we had preconceived notions of, jihad and Jesus can fit together much better. Jesus, through his words and actions, took on the struggle (jihad) to fulfill his religious duties, and likewise we need to, or at least can, embody the spirit of Jesus in order to fulfill our own religious duties and quest for nonviolence.

There are other interesting tidbits in this book, including some really fascinating studies about violence and the human capabilities for evil, but the main points of the book are above. I found that Andrews seemed repetitive, which grated on me by the end of the book, but his message is especially important for those not in the interfaith choir… if they are willing to pick up this book and give it some real consideration before throwing it out of their closed-set circle.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.