Thursday, December 31, 2009

what do you say?

This video made me think.

I've been brought up in a certain evangelical tradition where you have Bibles and tracts available to give out, and a certain set patter that you go through, the Four Spiritual Laws, the Romans Road, etc.

And those are great, but in light of my mom's readings from Universalism, i've been thinking...

If i had to boil it down to three sentences - what do i say?

And i'm guessing my three sentences might not exactly fit a tract, but like the Bible says:

But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to contradict or resist.

Luke 21:14-15

Anyway, this video made me think about being more *ready* to share my faith. I tend to think about missed opportunities after the fact, and wish that i had done things differently.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Depression and God

Does that sound like a stupid title?
Sitting here on my green pilly office chair, leaning a little forward so the shiatsu balls that were so awesome when i was pregnant but now seem a kind of torture won't inflict themselves on me, keeping one foot on the floor so that when Uly pushes my chair or arm i won't spin out of control, i'm trying to write as honestly as i can.

because i think this is maybe important to my own experience of religion, and i'm going out on a limb here, i bet i'm not the only one who has a/ had these experiences and b/had these thoughts. But i've never seen them in print, never heard them fall from another's lips.

Then again, we don't talk about depression much, do we?

I don't want to depress you with where i'm at, and unless i'm desperately trying to hold on, i will keep it to myself.

In fact, i talk so little about it that i don't notice the slide until i'm in scary territory.

But God has met me in my wrestling with depression, and i guess i'll start here.

This might be more than one post.

But for now, two pictures.

I walk up to my big strong husband, T, and lean into his chest. He stands there. Not putting his arms around me, just letting me lay my head there on his warm chest, put my arms around him.
I know he loves me. So why isn't he putting his arms around me, too?

Another picture:

I come downstairs for my workout, which T is in charge of planning and coaching me through. He's at the computer, downloading music into a playlist from, trying to make sure there's some i love, some he loves.

He picks one new song neither of us has ever heard - says "It's the top downloaded single right now". It's the music of optimism, hope, youth, possibility.

After the workout, i work at the computer, playing it over and over.

That night, after we have everything all packed up to go to my sister's for Christmas, i ask him if i can download the whole album (7.99 for the album, 1.29 for the single, seems like good math).

We download it overnight since we are both so beat, and the next morning, he loads it onto my ipod for me, and when the drive gets long, i put on the headphones, and listen, and start to cry.

The words are :

I can finally see,
That you're right there beside me,
I am my not own,
For I have been made new,
Please don't let me go,
I desperately need you,

(Adam Young)

I've been slowly sliding down, and i don't know how to stop it. I feel like if i close my eyes to the truth of what the world is, i will live a life that is meaningless and that accomplishes nothing. Because living, eating, breathing, reading artifice leads to a shallow life that is in the end revealed as completely hollow. Like a gingerbread house, we can decorate our lives with icing and candies and keep adding things that only get stale, hard, and rot our teeth.

and i want to live a life that nourishes, that heals, that makes the world a better place. I want a life that is fresh, that brings health, life like a loaf of bread, something to share, something homely and every day and life giving.

I struggle sometimes with feeling so helpless.

And this is the truth of it. As dark as the world seems at times, at other times, it seems we live in a vista of incredible opportunity, invention, beauty, almost supernatural beauty through technology, increasingly available to all. It seems that no child has ever been as beautiful as mine, no husband as thoroughly good, no life as whole and well put together. When i'm there, the Bible verse i claim is Psalm 16:6

6 The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places;
Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me.

And the truth is, that that vision is true.

This is also true. That when i read Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan, or even Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace, i saw the heart of man laid bare, and it was something beneath contempt. It made me panic inside to see such depravity, such a heartless, dead eyed cruelty, baseless, meaningless hatred, careless genocide and the tenuous grip that even blood has on us.

It made me despair of living in this world, and despondent thinking of the world my children must inherit that is already too hard, cold, dirty and irreparable for them to be able to overcome.

And my friends, this is a true vision as well.

so it's not a case of "You're depressed, you don't have the right view of the world". It's more a sense of utter desperation, where i am looking for clues to God's nature in view of the depravity of man.

We are made in His image, aren't we?

These are things i find:

Child led families in Africa. A tiny child scoots, dusty and barely clad, to a well, with an even tinier babe clinging to them. We are made to nurture each other. That is the image of God.

Beauty in nature. A few weeks now, by Sunday i can't wait to RUN out of the church building. I need to see beauty and order and perfection. We drive out toward Jasper, maybe 45 minutes, maybe more, maybe less, depending on what looks interesting. We find a place to park, and unpack the littles, some chocolate bars and water bottles. I bring my ergo to carry baby, and T brings his backpack for a bigger toddler, and we bring our camera.

Far from other people, or anything manmade, i feel a weight lift from my chest. My children can run and explore, without my hypervigilance. I know they are safe here. And it's like a bath in warm water to be surrounded with beauty, wholeness, something untainted and natural and good.

Beauty in music - the mathematical precision of all music. The way emotion can be channelled like water through the shallow ditches my children dig in the summer, to divert a little of the river's flow through their own mazes. Bad music has an opposite effect, the pointlessness of effort in the face of the absence of the infinite.

Makes me feel alone in the universe, abandoned.

Warm water. Sex. New growth outside. Little babies. Colors in the sky in the morning and evening. Stars like love letters reminding me of His love for me. Huge yellow moon, low on the horizon. Beautiful art. Beginning readers, the first time they read through a story and midway realize that this is easy, this is something they can do. They smile, and speed up, and it comes out smoother and there is a glow at the end of the story/poem. Architecture that required a lot of math, and materials that will not degrade and poison the environment. Tide pools. West coast beaches. Piles of white, soft diapers. Line drying clothes, kissing every collar, so that person will be smooched by me, unbeknownst. Journals, lined and beautifully covered. Antique furniture. antique ideas, books, pamphlets that show a desire for what i love, hundreds of years before i was even a thought or possibility. Improvement. I can learn and grow, and my littles ones can, and even our elected officials occasionally do, too.

But i do hang on, waiting for God to reach out and put His arms around me, and this is my secret - Sometimes He does. And sometimes He stands there and lets me take comfort just in His presence. This week it's a song that reminds me that whatever the larger questions are, the things i can't handle, the things i can't affect except incidentally, as one tiny pebble in an avalanche, He is with me. I matter to Him. He knows how desperately i need Him. He knows my heart is failing, is faltering. I am not the strong woman i would like to be, sleeves rolled up, ultimately practical, pragmatic. I just can't be. I am buffeted by my own strong impressions, passions, bowled over by beauty, drunk on desire for something more, and cast down by the truths i know and wish i didn't.

And instead of telling me all the answers, whispering all His secrets in my ear, He stands close, and tells me "Here i am. I am with you. Always". And if i can trust Him to be with me, i can trust Him to be at work, somehow, in the situations that keep me awake, crying, waiting for the light.

I can walk with Him out of where I've found myself.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Religious Extremism

I recently read Uwem Akpan's book "Say You're One of Them" and it left a permanent ache in my heart, stomach, mind.

I'm processing it, and as i do, it feels like i hold things up to the light and say "What's this?" and magically it goes from something foreign and strange, to something familiar, something, perhaps even a part of me that i've known forever.

In one story, a boy named Jubril is fleeing the religious tension and murders that are happening in his home city of Khamfi. He's Muslim, most of the passengers on the bus are Christian (or animist). The tension is between Christians and Muslims, and he feels that if he can only keep his identity secret until he gets to his father's village, he will be safe. Problem is, he is missing a hand. The passengers are waiting and waiting for the bus driver to get back with black market fuel for their "Luxurious Bus", and meanwhile they are hot, poor, scared, mourning, completely shell shocked.

It's a tightly written story, whose ending comes too quickly. Someone sees his hand, pegs him as a Muslim, and he is taken off the bus and killed.

I am simplifying way too much - but when i read this i thought "What monsters are these who would kill a man for being a different religion? Especially a young boy, already maimed, without parents to protect him?" Actually, every story in this book raises an indignation that anyone would take advantage of children - and as such, i don't recommend moms with little children read this - we are already so sensitive to injustice.

But today i was thinking over that story, and realized this is us. This isn't Africa. No, we don't kill people we disagree with - but here's the tight little truth. In churches, don't we do the same thing to those who make us uncomfortable. We don't maybe spread outright lies about what they believe/do (or maybe we do. I can't say we don't, because i have seen that happen) - but we might make intimations, or "prayer requests" or share "in confidence" (gossip) about someone else, and effectively kill that person in the fellowship.

It's not Africa, it's not Muslims, it's not Christians, it's humanity. Humanity without Jesus.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I wanna hold your hand

sunday hike8 (1 of 1)

I used a picture of my little girl in my last post, and looking through them, two more stuck out for me.

We love getting out of the house - it's supposed to be a mild winter here this year, but the pond is frozen over, and snowsuits seem a sensible option when we go out for a hike on a Sunday afternoon...

My little girl was her biggest brother's darling until her baby brother was born, and even then, she was his tiny princess, until her baby sister was born. Now, most days, her big brother who just turned 14 runs after his baby sister who is 20 months old, cooing at her, doing ridiculous things to make her laugh and yelling at me to get the camera whenever she does something adorable.

Naynay watches from the sidelines, and her thumb sneaks unconciously to her mouth. Watching him loving the little baby makes her want his attention all the more, and so often she only gets his attention when she's being naughty.

Sometimes i am like that. I'd rather be yelled at by God than not hear His voice.

I remember praying when i was young "Please talk loud, God"... I was so amazed to find, finally, at 18, that God was interested in me, cared about me, wanted to talk to me, and was willing to teach me...

Some days i get caught up in what's wrong, why does it hurt, why does it feel so bad - and i let go of His hand to sit down and muse out the world's problems.

When i realize what i've done, i need to run up to Him, catch up, and grab for His hand...

And oh, the joy to find myself back where i belong. Back where i long to be.

sunday hike9 (1 of 1)

Annie Dillard quote

i left a comment on a forum, and ever since i keep getting updates on their thoughts - some i just delete, some make me think... On the whole, it is a forum of Christian ladies who are *opposed* to what i have embraced, thinking it slavery, or less than feminist to choose freely to devote oneself to family and being a good mother - on the other hand, it is a forum that shines with *thought* and i am so hungry for that. Even though i would not find them wholly sympathetic to my choices (most likely), i do enjoy the give and take and the thought that goes into some of the posts

One woman posted this quote today that i loved.

"On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea of what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews." (Annie Dillard)

I love that someone else *gets* what i feel like on Sundays. We skipped church today. I think depression in me turns into paranoia and church is just too painful a place for me to be then. I will go next week...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Tithes and Paying for Services Rendered

Here is one thing that eats at me.
Lately we haven't been going to church.
I feel like... well, i have a lot to say about it.
And the title i guess is prodding me to finish my thought.

So here goes.

I feel like maybe it is a sin for the Western world's version of the Body of Christ to be continually building, buying real estate, making comfortable places for their entertainment, when so many of our brothers and sisters in the rest of the world - far more who are far less blessed materially - suffer for lack of clothes, food, medical attention, Bibles, clean water. They need help just to live.

And instead people like James Dobson (who i like! Whose books i have found very helpful and his shows for children are a fun and safe thing to give to my children) - but there are many people who say the same thing... Anyway, people like JD say "When you tithe, give it all to your local church, and if you have anything else, give *that* to other charities".

To me, it reminds me of the Bible verse where Jesus tells the Pharisees that their regulations are making null and void the word of God:

Mark 7

1The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and 2saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were "unclean," that is, unwashed. 3(The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.a]" style="font-size: 0.75em; line-height: 0.5em; ">[a])

5So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, "Why don't your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with 'unclean' hands?"

6He replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
" 'These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
7They worship me in vain;
their teachings are but rules taught by men.'
b]" style="font-size: 0.75em; line-height: 0.5em; ">[b] 8You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men."

9And he said to them: "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observec]" style="font-size: 0.75em; line-height: 0.5em; ">[c] your own traditions! 10For Moses said, 'Honor your father and your mother,'d]" style="font-size: 0.75em; line-height: 0.5em; ">[d] and, 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.'e]" style="font-size: 0.75em; line-height: 0.5em; ">[e] 11But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: 'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban' (that is, a gift devoted to God), 12then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. 13Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that."

And we might say "Well, we *are* taking care of our own when we build big beautiful airtight buildings, nicely heated and comfortable!"... But are we? When Jesus said:

Mark 3

31Then Jesus' mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, "Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you."

33"Who are my mother and my brothers?" he asked.

34Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, "Here are my mother and my brothers!35Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother."

As long as there are persecuted Christians, hungry Christians, Christians without a home or clothes or citizenship, as long as our brothers and sisters are hurting and crying out for help - we should feel guilty and ashamed of not helping.

I do.

Now, here is the really bad part.

I also feel guilty for going to church and taking part of the pageant of Western religion (and trust me, it's not a fancy pageant in our little town, but it is opulent compared to most third world nations). I go there and think, "Well, this is the way we do it - someone has to pay the pastor and keep the lights on, and so long as i am *here* taking part - i should be helping with that end of things."

And so we do pay some or all of our tithe to the church for awhile, till our hearts reproach us too loudly, and then we give to places like Voice of the Martyrs, Love146, or other charities that speak too loudly for us to get them out of our minds.

And then feel guilty that if the church goes under, it will be our fault.

Basically, it feels like friendly blackmail. If you aren't flaky, you will not think about those other brothers and sisters. If you pay a steady sum every month to the church, we know you are steadfast in the faith.

I know my heart, my husband knows my heart (poor man!) and God knows my heart.

(in case you're wondering, i handle the money in our family - it's just the way it goes in our house. I would love to not have that burden, but it is one way i can bless my husband, so i do it.)

To be honest, it feels like buying friends. If you support your church, people treat you differently than if you just show up every once in awhile with your passel of children and never put anything in the plate...

James 2

kind of summarizes two points about this dichotomy that i'd like to make - can you spot what i mean?

Favoritism Forbidden
1My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism. 2Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. 3If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," 4have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

5Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?

8If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself,"a]" style="font-size: 0.75em; line-height: 0.5em; ">[a] you are doing right. 9But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.10For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11For he who said, "Do not commit adultery,"b]" style="font-size: 0.75em; line-height: 0.5em; ">[b] also said, "Do not murder."c]" style="font-size: 0.75em; line-height: 0.5em; ">[c] If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

12Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!

Faith and Deeds
14What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

18But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds."
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.

19You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

20You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is uselessd]" style="font-size: 0.75em; line-height: 0.5em; ">[d]? 21Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,"e]" style="font-size: 0.75em; line-height: 0.5em; ">[e] and he was called God's friend. 24You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.

25In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

I think what's happening is in the absence of any visible way to measure the fruits of the spirit, we end up judging "faith" by "works" - and money donated is a quick shorthand for where your heart is (I agree! Jesus said it!

Matthew 6

21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Jesus talked about money a lot, and i think for good reason. He knows how much we'd like to hold on to it, make plans for it, use it for good but ultimately self serving things. And it's important that we fall into line with His thinking on money.

But is giving it to the local church necessarily the way to follow Jesus' heart for His church? I'm not convinced.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

What i like about church:

i love getting together with other people who love God.
I love praying as a group for others.
I love worshipping together with others in music.
I love knowing others enough to be able to help meet needs, and be helped when i need it.
I love other people's desserts
I love mature teenagers for my children to look up to and emulate
i love parents who are done raising their children that i can ask questions of.
i love being able to work together to do more than we could as a family.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Balance of duties...

And here's the place to put it! ARgh.... I wish i weren't so complainy... but this is my blog, and it's about church/Jesus... so here is where it fits.

Thing is, i have grown very disgusted with *men* in general. After hearing stats that said somewhere between 30-50% of *ministers* struggle with pornography *addiction* - i thought, well what about the guys who aren't even Christians? It made me look at them all as animals and base, bestial creatures - and made me even more impressed with my own (impressive in every way) husband.

but now i'm thinking, there's more to this story than meets the eye. Maybe, being a "professional Christian" isn't the greatest job for a man. My boys need to work out all the time. Even the little (pre puberty) boys need to get outside and run and wrestle, and lift heavy objects. Otherwise, they go a little wonky, get emotional, it just doesn't work.

So what of men who are indoors for the most part, not accountable to anyone, expected to sit in their study and read the Bible and pray all day, and occasionally do a funeral (i know, i know, many Godly men do much more than this, and they are probably not the ones having trouble) - i mean, it just seems to me like a recipe for porn surfers. Nothing better to do... temptation... opportunity....

And then it blows up and is one more bruise on the Body of Christ.

But maybe it's just not the way we are meant to live this life.

My husband and I were talking about something that i felt needed to be done for people we know. T is a Godly man, a righteous man, but he is loathe to get into other people's lives, to hear their pain. If he knows there is trouble, and money can help, he will help. If he knows muscles are needed, he will do muscle-y things. But being a friend, listening... those are harder for him. He has me, who needs friends, right?

But thing is, if we all, as individual believers, did the things we think the pastor should do (visit the sick, the bereaved, the hurting, organize missions, organize youth events, impromptu worship evenings, and on and on) - Christians would look different to the world. Our communities would be transformed, just by us living what we say we believe....

Instead we delegate all of our Christian activity to one man - and he is supposed to do all the good things that 500 or so people are "too busy" to do. And we don't have the opportunity to grow that doing hard, but God-called things, gives us. We miss out on growth, service, and relationships.

In short, the pastor should probably have some meaningful work to do, and people should do more of what they want the pastor to do. Balance.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

My Ministry

Now, here is part two...

What has God called me to do? And does the church help me to do what God is calling me to do? Or does the church continually, through its members, but also through its organizational structures and very culture, denigrate and demean the good and hard job God has given me?

This is what God has called me to do. And i feel very small writing this down. Because it isn't a big thing. I have a friend who is a midwife in Rwanda, teaching women how to basically save their family's lives. I have another who teaches personal security in Sudan. I have another who works, saving children in Asia from a life on the streets in the sex trade. All of them are women i so admire, and all of their causes are ones that i think are big, just, and good.

But God hasn't called me to go anywhere. He married me to the man i begged from him, a school teacher and vice principal. My husband is a good man, who loves me and takes care of our family. Who is responsible, and a role model for young people who often don't have a parent who is taking responsibility for them. We homeschool, but his ministry is often his job, and he is right where he should be, in the public high school.

My ministry is in a smaller sphere than that. My ministry is to T, my husband, and to my seven children. You see, God told me that this was to be my ministry. How? You ask? A bolt from heaven? A word from the Bible? Well, no not really - but He gave me this man, these children. And His word does say "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your heart" - and "as unto the Lord". So that's what i'm doing in my corner of the world. I'm listening to and supporting my husband as he leads our family, in seasons of homechurch, in ministry to children at risk, in helping people who are falling through the cracks. I hold down the fort so that he can do what God calls him to. And i try to make home a safe haven for him when he is home. This sounds like a very small thing. But how many people do you know who are doing it? Not many. Most of us want the glory of being the hero. But Moses needed two men to hold up his hands in battle, and i am satisfied to be holding up the hands of my man.

And my little children. We are so blessed with these sweet seven little ones. One is now bigger and stronger than me, but so much fun, so smart. Once i read that teenagers need you just as intensely as toddlers do, and i'm finding that to be true.

My mom told me that one of the jobs of being a mother is to help children relate to the world around them, step by step - first as part of the mother/child bond, then as part of their family, then gradually expanding in larger and larger circles. Other wise women have spoken to me about the need children have for security - to know that the one place it is safe to fall, to fail, to try again, is in their own home. To know that one person has their back and will listen, love, help, warn, and laugh with them.

This is what i want to do. To love my husband and disciple my children. There might be more God has for me to do. They might be good things, but right now this is where He's put me, and what He's told me to do. And until further notice, i will obey Him. When I hear Him call me somewhere else, i will listen, but i'm not leaving my post without authorization...

Now, the church (i know, this is getting so long...)
I get there, and they want to take my children from me, to teach them separately from me, and separately from each other

1. i don't know the teachers
2. they will each learn something different from each other and from me in the main sanctuary
3. i have often had to correct bad teaching my children have had from sunday school teachers
4. if we all hear the same thing, we discuss it the rest of the week, and it can help build good discussion times and be helpful to our family's spiritual life

The attitudes that i see/feel (and i may be totally wrong, but this is my perception)

1. children are a burden in/to church - let's get rid of them
2. no one wants to teach sunday school, so there is no permanence, no relationship built in the 8 weeks or so that person is in rotation
3. theology isn't important for kids - they don't "get" God anyway. Better a coloring book and Veggie tales video
4. Anyone can teach a child about spiritual matters.
5. God doesn't care who teaches a child
6. You're not a team player if you won't trust us

Here's the truth. My children are very important to me. I am in the process of discipling them at home, with a consistent, theologically correct approach, aimed at their specific needs as individuals. I care more than strangers do about their souls, and because we have a strong relationship, i can speak to them more frankly than strangers can, and correction from me carries more weight. I don't want to teach anyone else's children. My husband teaches everyone's children all week. When we come to church, we come to worship God as part of the Body of Christ. God has given my husband and I a charge, in Deuteronomy 6, to teach our children continually, and we can't do that if we've shuffled them off to a babysitter so we can be more silently spiritual than if we had them with us.

I also think that if churches keep treating children as pests and nuisances, of course they will lose children as they get older. Children have the very same Holy Spirit as adults. If children have made a decision to follow Jesus, we should take that very seriously, and our obligations toward them change. Church should be a place where your age doesn't matter - your soul does.

Churches fail children, and i care deeply about mine.

The other thing, and i know this is very small and petty. But have you ever noticed all the stupid jokes about nagging wives, or naughty children, or husbands prone to porn? This isn't encouraging - what it does is reinforce bad behaviour by saying "oh, we all do it". I have found marriage to a truly righteous man to be the second most transformative event in my life. And becoming a mother was the third, and each child brings with it more need for me to get serious about God, His Word, and becoming the woman my husband/children *need* me to be, and God is calling me to be. Calling me from complacency, back to my first love, where i realized that not only was there a God, but He was near to me, He speaks, and He cares what i decided to do...

At church there is no room for me and my experience. Only one person can talk and share, and i think that's a shame. Because if more people shared their hearts, i *could* trust more of them. They would have less camoflage to hide behind, and they would have to get real, or change, or become the family we all want to be, but instead we settle for pretending, and smiling and "see you next week" - ing...

i don't have a blockbuster story, but i can share where i'm at. And if we all did this, we could pray for each other more readily. We could help each other practically. We could correct and encourage, and feed each other. And in the end, maybe it could be about the Body of Christ instead of an hour of sitting there...

Sunday Morning

I have been slow to add posts to this blog.

I don't want it to be just a collection of rambling vents.

But WHERE to start! I've got here through a huge number of tiny, twisting trails, each of them leaving me with a lesson, a principle, a hurt.

But instead of compiling a list of who has hurt me and how they were so wrong, i want to just describe where i'm at with church, and maybe get to the bottom of it all. Find a way i can make peace with a religion that sometimes seems to hate me, and what i stand for. So... here i go.

Sunday morning worship.

I remember being a little girl, and my dad had a music tape with a song with these lyrics "Walkin' to church on a Sunday mornin'... walkin' and hearing the church bells ring..."... the chorus continued "Oh, it's so good to be here, praising the Lord again. When i hear how Jesus loves me, I take heart to live for Him."

And as a little girl, that is just how i felt.

I knew He loved me, and I loved him. I wanted to be a church, because i saw the church as my brothers and sisters, even if i was not always treated as a full sister (for example, when i wanted to be baptized, out of obedience to what i read in my Bible, but i wasn't allowed to for *years* until i was "old enough")

But going to church was a happy thing. And i think for my children, it still is. They look forward to getting out of the house, to the "candy lady" who always has a bag of candy to dole out to the children. To seeing their friends again, even if i am so mean i don't let them go to Sunday School. To sit at the potluck dinners, and sing along, and color in the pews while listening to the sermon.

For me, Sunday this week meant getting music a couple of days before, practicing, then on Sunday morning helping dh get seven children up, fed, hair brushed, clean clothes on, a big bag filled with tricks to entice the children to not feel too bad for not being allowed to be at Sunday school, fill the diaper bag, and grab my bag of music.

To clarify - i do love helping with worship. It's the one part of church that feels right to me, even if it were all songs i don't like... There is something not ruined by the corporate singing/worship, no matter how tuneful or tuneless... Something exuberant. It's the one way all the pew people actually participate for the whole service.

So i get there, and there are the nice ladies who invite my children to Sunday School. I need to be more forceful about this, i guess. Thing is, the Bible is very clear about who is responsible to teach children. And it's parents. One reason i homeschool. One reason i don't ask strangers to teach my children about spiritual things when i have no idea of their spiritual background.

(also, i have heard some of the weird things they have been taught. Also, if the church were actually any different from the "world", their abortion rate would be lower, and there probably wouldn't be any divorce among Christians, right?)

So i sit there with my children, and they are good today. I dole out m&ms to keep baby happy, pass out magnetic trays with pictures and little magnets on them, coloring pages, and trucks and dollies. All to keep the children quiet.

If it had been a perfect Sunday, we would have stayed for the potluck, but dh didn't want to.

It was as good as it gets.

But that was all it was. Getting ready, keeping children quiet (some piano playing), then going home.

I guess what i mean is - is that all there is?

People always say "what about fellowship!?!" if you say you didn't go to church that week. But really, let's talk about fellowship. Where? How?

Yes, if we had stayed for the potluck, we would most likely have talked to more people. And i did have a chance to talk to some of the nice people there - but it wasn't sharing life, it was small talk.

It seems mostly church just means going to a building, being quiet, and going home.

I have a hard time seeing how this contributes to my spiritual life, but i'm hoping it does contribute in some way to my children's. But i don't know how. They are learning to sit still. And that's good, but hardly enough to help them lead a holy life.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Monastic Mama

I found a gorgeous post on this blog

I would like to be good and just post a snippet, but it's not very long and every single sentence, every word was like water to me. Just take a minute and go read!

I think as a mom at home, you do get used to people depending on you, to being on several leashes at once (this morning, trying to teach fiddle to a 7 year old while a 5 yo walks on the piano bench behind me, baby complains beside the bench and my 13 yo pops in to ask a question having to do with integers)...

But i learned, maybe nine years ago, a special trick - to just go limp and let God be my sufficiency. So many times when i feel i just *can't* - i don't have what it takes - i have got to just sit down and dissolve in a puddle - those moments are when my strength just evaporates - i can feel the fuel line less and less full, and the fumes, and then... there's no more me. Nothing.

And then something else fills the fuel lines - and i'm going still - and it's not my power, it's the power of God who promised me that i have "the mind of Christ" - the one who "will never leave me, nor forsake me", the one who watches with me through the long night of up every 30 seconds with a seriously ill bleeding child, the one who holds my hands in hospital waiting rooms. All the places where mamas can't make it better, He is there with me.

He's provided a place for me to learn to rest, to lean on Him, to let Him power my day, to fill it with His assignments - His requirement of me is that i love. Nothing else. Not to be smart, to be fashionable, talented, insightful. Just to be love.

Hard enough, that.

Now, go read that blog post

and just in case you are being obstinate... here it is below -

Carlo Carretto, one of the leading spiritual writers of the past half-century, lived for more than a dozen years as a hermit in the Sahara desert. Alone, with only the Blessed Sacrament for company milking a goat for his food, and translating the bible into the local Bedouin language, he prayed for long hours by himself. Returning to Italy one day to visit his mother, he came to a startling realization: His mother, who for more than thirty years of her life had been so busy raising a family that she scarcely ever had a private minute for herself, was more contemplative than he was.

Carretto, though, was careful to draw the right lesson from this. What this taught was not that there was anything wrong with what he had been doing in living as a hermit. The lesson was rather that there was something wonderfully right about what his mother had been doing all these years as she lived the interrupted life amidst the noise and incessant demands of small children. He had been in a monastery, but so had she.

What is a monastery? A monastery is not so much a place set apart for monks and nuns as it is a place set apart (period). It is also a place to learn the value of powerlessness and a place to learn that time is not ours, but God's.

Our home and our duties can, just like a monastery, teach us those things. John of the Cross once described the inner essence of monasticism in these words: "But they, O my God and my life, will see and experience your mild touch, who withdraw from the world and become mild, bringing the mild into harmony with the mild, thus enabling themselves to experience and enjoy you." What John suggests here is that two elements make for a monastery: withdrawal from the world and bringing oneself into harmony with the mild.

Although he was speaking about the vocation of monastic monks and nuns, who physically withdraw from the world, the principle is equally valid for those of us who cannot go off to monasteries and become monks and nuns. Certain vocations offer the same kind of opportunity for contemplation. They too provide a desert for reflection.

For example, the mother who stays home with small children experiences a very real withdrawal from the world. Her existence is definitely monastic. Her tasks and preoccupations remove her from the centres of power and social importance. And she feels it. Moreover her sustained contact with young children (the mildest of the mild) gives her a privileged opportunity to be in harmony with the mild, that is, to attune herself to the powerlessness rather than to the powerful.

Moreover, the demands of young children also provide her with what St. Bernard, one of the great architects of monasticism, called the "monastic bell". All monasteries have a bell. Bernard, in writing his rules for monasticism, told his monks that whenever the monastic bell rang, they were to drop whatever they were doing and go immediately to the particular activity (prayer, meals, work, study, sleep) to which the bell was summoning them. He was adamant that they respond immediately, stating that if they were writing a letter they were to stop in mid-sentence when the bell rang. The idea in his mind was that when the bell called, it called you to the next task and you were to respond immediately, not because you want to, but because it's time for that task and time isn't your time, it's God's time. For him, the monastic bell was intended as a discipline to stretch the heart by always taking you beyond your own agenda to God's agenda.

Hence, a mother raising children, perhaps in a more privileged way even than a professional contemplative, is forced, almost against her will, to constantly stretch her heart. For years, while raising children, her time is never her own, her own needs have to be kept in second place, and every time she turns around a hand is reaching out and demanding something. She hears the monastic bell many times during the day and she has to drop things in mid-sentence and respond, not because she wants to, but because it's time for that activity and time isn't her time, but God's time. The rest of us experience the monastic bell each morning when our alarm clock rings and we get out of bed and ready ourselves for the day, not because we want to, but because it's time.

The principles of monasticism are time-tested, saint-sanctioned, and altogether-trustworthy. But there are different kinds of monasteries, different ways of putting ourselves into harmony with the mild, and different kinds of monastic bells. Response to duty can monastic prayer, a needy hand can be a monastic bell, and working without status and power can constitute a withdrawal into a monastery where God can meet us. The domestic can be the monastic.


There. Worth reading, wasn't it?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Regrets, i've had a few...

the internet monk had a great article lately on regrets -

I think what grabbed me so hard by the throat was his talking about his regret for spending so much of his life in what he considered to be the "only way" to have a ministry, which was in a pulpit, or as a youth pastor, instead of accepting that with the gifts God had given him, public education and sharing Jesus as the opportunity arose would have been (in hindsight) a better fit. If he hadn't been so scared to be wrong.

This post really resonated with me. Just the last month i've really felt God tugging at me, saying it really is okay to lay down all the things that entangle me, that discourage, that hold me back from rejoicing in freedom and instead try over and over to tie me up. That maybe going to church out of the "fear of man" is sin, especially if i choose that over faith in who God is, and my ability to hear His voice...

In one part of his post, he wrote:

A healthy Christian person must find a place where they can be themselves, and that place won’t be identical to our definition of “success.” Even if we succeed, the experiences that bring make us who we really are won’t be found in the spotlight of success. They will be found in God’s version of our wilderness.

That place may be a nursing home, or a tiny college, or a farm or a forgotten mission to the poor. It may be in another universe from the latest conference or well known ministry. It may have no potential for anything but small acts done with great love. If that is so, you should embrace it as your place. Yours, and a gift to you.

God has placed me in a life where the soil for growing a good and useful spirituality is plentiful. There is the rich soil of community and relationships, and there is the occasional fertilizer of human failures and disappointment. In this soil, I will grow. I will not be an object to be seen and heard. I will be a person, growing into a human image of the God we know in Jesus.

That's what i want - not to *be* anything, but to be a faithful woman, hearing from God and putting it into practice - no matter what it looks like. I really think God is less about what i do, and way more about who i am becoming...

First Post

Not really something to just get done for the sake of beginning, but here is why i've started yet another blog.

I've actually really resisted having more than one blog - i prize transparency, and i'm pretty open about my life, including my spiritual life and struggles and all the good stuff...

But i do know that for some reason, listening to a Christian honestly talk about what it is to be a believer in Jesus in the 21st century is very distressing for a lot of church people, many of whom are my very good friends.

I want them to be able to go to my happy shiny homeschool blog :) or my paleo eating/exercise blog and not have to be confronted with my frustrated rants, which i am sad to inform you, are all too common, and will likely be a central feature of this blog.

Not that i am dissatisfied with Jesus, God, the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, the Church Universal, any huge theological problems - mostly i just chafe at how we do church now, in the 21st century, here, in the Western world.

I don't think it hurts to say "Look, not only is this not working for me, but it is hurting me - it is making me bleed, it is making me ashamed, it is taking all week to recover from the toxic "fellowship". What can i do to make it change? How can i fulfill my obligations to God, and still encourage and be encouraged by other believers?" Because i feel like maybe i am threatening to some believers, and an object of scorn to other believers, and i definitely do not feel encouraged by most believers (with some beautiful exceptions - and of course, most of my friends/family fall into the second circle of the venn diagram that is "believers that hurt/believers that heal"...

So that is what this is all about. If you feel crawly just reading this, consider yourself part of a tremendously huge majority and move on - if something inside you says "me too" .... then welcome - let's find where God wants us!