Sunday, December 2, 2012

Pride (soap journal #6)


S) Be friendly with everyone. Don't be proud and feel that you are smarter than others. Make friends with ordinary people. (Romans 12:16)
O) I know I am proud and look down on people I think are foolish. I don't like making friends with 'ordinary' people--I only want to be around people I look up to. This is wrong.
A) I need to look for more opportunities to make friends with people I may otherwise overlook because of my pride.
P) I don't know how to truly feel I am not smarter than others. If you have given me wisdom, then I need to always give you glory and not myself. Help me love others with true humility--it can only come from you.

When I first wrote this, I was really struggling with how much I should hang out with our neighbors and how many of their drinking parties I should attend. "Bad company corrupts good morals" is a principle that is pretty well shoved down your throat if you've grown up Christian, and I certainly wouldn't say there isn't truth in it. But the pride that goes with that--the haughty attitude that your better than someone--that's a killer, and it slips in so easily. So this entry was addressing that when I wrote it 5 years ago. It gave me the freedom to attend the parties and try to make friends, and not to be totally paranoid that I would lose my "good morals" by doing so.

This haughty attitude though, the one I thought I was freed from...well, it came back to stare me in the face when I read this anew today. Whenever I'm transcribing these journal entries, I go back to the chapter in the Bible it came from and read it in context (usually in the Young's Literal Translation) to see if there is a different perspective that comes to light. This is part that struck me so hard it hurt:

Bless those persecuting you; bless, and curse not...become not wise in your own conceit;
giving back to no one evil for evil; providing right things before all men. If possible -- so far as in you -- with all men being in peace; not avenging yourselves, beloved, but give place to the wrath, for it hath been written, `Vengeance [is] Mine, I will recompense again, saith the Lord;' if, then, thine enemy doth hunger, feed him; if he doth thirst, give him drink...

It hurt because, for possibly the first time in my life, I feel like I have enemies...people who I used to trust, who I don't trust anymore. People who are completely against and see as evil ideas that I support and see as good. People who don't have my back...and they are all Christians. And I was telling myself that loving my enemies does not mean I have to hang around with them, thus justifying my desire to avoid contact as much as possible. But this text gives no room for that. When I read it, I knew my refusal to hang around conservative Christians was my way of punishing them for what I saw as arrogance. How ironic. Love is the only way out of this mess--and trust that God can set things right. I can't be the avenger, even when my hurt and pain tells me it's my job.

And so, I come back to square one. Someday I hope true humility will bloom in my heart; I will hang onto that hope.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Mother God?

I remember the first time I went to a UCC church, and in a prayer they referenced God as "our Mother" instead of "our Father". It made me very uneasy. I knew they didn't see God as a woman--I knew they were simply making a point of appreciating the motherly aspects of God--but I couldn't get past how wrong it felt. I understand with my mind that God is not some guy with a long gray beard sitting on a throne and throwing lightning bolts down every once in a while; but somewhere deep in my psyche, I know that image remains somewhat. It's possible that my biggest spiritual struggle is getting rid of that image.

I find it so ironic that the teachings of the apostle Paul help me most in this endeavor, because growing up in church, I always imagined Paul as somewhat of a woman hater. (I was actually told this by a church leader once, to explain all those nasty verses about the fall being Eve's fault) I struggled so much with those verses, but as I explained in my "Set Free" post, I finally found a book that set things straight.

Here are two verses that helped me a lot in believing I was not inferior to men, or under their authority:

  ...there is not here Jew or Greek, there is not here servant nor freeman, there is not here male and female, for all ye are one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28)

 ...and submit to each other out of respect for Christ. (Eph. 5:21)

Although, being able to understand God as neither male or female--that's another story. God is our FATHER, which makes him can that not be imprinted on my brain? Jesus was a MAN, and he is the only image of God, therefore feminine qualities do not reflect the nature of God. And yet, God does describe himself in feminine terms--quite often. God gives birth, God has breasts and nurses, God is like a woman making bread, a woman searching for a coin she lost (and she searches UNTIL she finds it...just sayin)--if we've grown up Christian we are aware of these metaphors. But we understand them as metaphors, of course, and yet we do not see the father images as metaphors, but as literal. Why? Does God have a penis? Of course not! But knowing God as gentle and compassionate--even meek, like a woman...well, I understand why it's so hard to know God in that way.

Back to Jesus being the image of God. Do we really believe this? I think the theology that Jesus came only to be punished in our place so that God could forgive us (as if he couldn't forgive before seems He does a lot of forgiving before Jesus came) really hinders the power of Jesus claim:

Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?  Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I have spoken to you I don’t speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me does his works. Trust me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or at least believe on account of the works themselves. I assure you that whoever believes in me will do the works that I do. They will do even greater works than these because I am going to the Father. (John 14:9-14)

And what kind of man was Jesus? Well, he certainly wasn't a 'manly' man. I bet in his day he was seen as quite effeminate. He treated women as equal to men, he wept, he washed his disciples feet, he didn't fight back. He said we need to learn from him, because of his meekness and humility. Is that a very good picture of who God is? Do we really believe that? I'm trying...but my belief is not anywhere where it should be, because if it was, I would be doing the works Jesus did. Me, going around healing people and raising the dead? Hard to imagine...just about impossible, really. In fact, on my own, I know it is impossible. But with God, (God made known through Jesus--not bearded lightning bolt God) ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE!

And Jesus having earnestly beheld, said to them, `With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.' (Matt. 19:25)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Help in our Weakness (soap journal #5)


S) Jesus understands every weakness of ours, because he was tempted in every way that we are. But he did not sin. So whenever we are in need, we should come bravely before the throne of our merciful God. There we will be treated with undeserved kindness, and we will find help. (Heb. 4:15-16)
O) I will believe that Jesus understands what I'm going through, even though he came to earth as a male. He has compassion, and he will help me.
A) I'm going to really try to start memorizing scripture--starting here. I need to fight my thoughts--they are like poison! God has given me hope through His word.
P) I know you will help me--thank you for your promises. You are my salvation, and I put all my trust in you.

When I wrote this, I was really struggling with depression, as I so often did back then. It's hard even now, when I get stuck in that dark cloud, to fight the thoughts about what a failure I am. But something that has changed is how much God has convinced me that He is on my side. I don't feel the shame I used to for struggling with depression, and I am much quicker to "come bravely" to God seeking help. And even when I don't find help...or at least I'm not understanding how to be helped...I do find comfort.

I find it interesting that the above translation says we will find "undeserved kindness".  Isn't it awful to think of ourselves as not even deserving to be treated kindly? It sure is hard to come boldly to God when we think He can just barely stand our disgusting presence. But in the Young's literal translation it simply says, "we may come near, then, with freedom, to the throne of the grace, that we may receive kindness, and find grace -- for seasonable help." 

So many Christians I know have very, very little patience for other people's weaknesses--and they are not ashamed to convey how disgusted they are at people's behavior. This whole passage about Jesus being a high priest on our behalf is pretty tough to wrap the brain around--especially because most people (including myself) do not understand Jewish customs of sacrifice. But look how beautiful the following verses are when Paul is describing what a priest is: (I'm using "The Message", only because the Young's Literal is quite cumbersome at times--especially in this passage)

Every high priest selected to represent men and women before God and offer sacrifices for their sins should be able to deal gently with their failings, since he knows what it’s like from his own experience. But that also means that he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins as well as the peoples’.
No one elects himself to this honored position. He’s called to it by God, as Aaron was. Neither did Christ presume to set himself up as high priest, but was set apart by the One who said to him, “You’re my Son; today I celebrate you!”(Heb 5:1-6)

Jesus--the high priest, as well as the sacrifice. And God, instead of being so angry at people because they are such sinners, chooses only those who can deal gently with their failings--and says they are honored to do so! Such compassion and grace! No wonder we can come with boldness, and have assurance that God is for us no matter what kind of failings we have. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Boasting (soap journal #4)


S) The scriptures say, "if you want to brag, then brag about the Lord." You may brag about yourself, but the only approval that counts is the Lord's approval. (2 Corn. 10: 17-18)
O) Everything about this world urges us to make a name for ourselves. We feel less than nothing if we cannot point to something and boast "this is what I do". I know I long for people's approval in everything I do. I do not need to be a slave to that!
A) I may not always know what God wants me to do--but I have God's approval. And it has nothing to do with what I accomplish...but what He has accomplished. That's all that matters--and I can brag! Brag about how good my God is. He deserves all glory and praise, not me.
P) I get depressed because I'm so focused on myself. I am sick to death of thinking about what a failure I me stop! I will look to you and find contentment. You are all I need--help me live it!

Looking at this now, I want to only point out one thing. I wrote that "the world" urges us to make a name for ourselves, and I still think that is true. But when I looked up this scripture in it's context, Paul is once again at war with religion. All this boasting he's warning of has to do with religious superiority.

I still fight with depression about feeling bad about myself, but not nearly as much as I did when I was a fundamentalist. It seems back then it was a sin to ever feel good about anything. The security I find in God's love for me--this is still what wins that battle in my mind. But I no longer have to worry about feeling guilty over feeling good about accomplishing things (or guilty about not accomplishing things...sheesh, talk about a no win situation)'s more of a freedom knowing that is not where my value lies.

Where does my value lie? "For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God."(Col. 3:3) My life hidden in true self, not yet revealed or known. What a beautiful mystery. 

I'll end with a quote a found on a website I really enjoy:

Instead of striving for significance in titles, honors, and success, as if those might gain us favor with God or man, we enjoy the knowledge that we are simply human beings loved by God. To live as a child is to live free of the self-justifications that adults use to prove their worth, and the heavy burden of self-consciousness about our status. To live like a child, says Jesus, is the only way to enter his kingdom.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Going Forward

I am stuck. Stuck in fear, in anger, in frustration, in despair. This is a place I do not want to stay...who would?  The problem is...well, the stuck part. It seems I am unable to move. I keep making attempts at getting myself out, only to find I'm in deeper than I was before. Getting stuck works that way. Your pulling your foot out of the mud, and it seems like it's coming out...but as soon as your strength gives out, you find now it's not just your foot, but your ankle that's in as well. Or your pulling off your ring, but it's just making the finger swell, until it feels impossible to get it off--and it's getting more painful by the minute.

But when we get stuck, given time, we usually find a way to get unstuck. We figure out what we were doing wrong--someone tells us to use bleach (it really does work well to get a ring off) or we angle our foot differently and we finally ease it out. Sometimes though, all we can hope for is someone to come and help us, because we are in just too deep.

There are a couple things that keep coming to mind, as I sit in this stuck place. Many verses speak of waiting for the Lord, and finding strength in that posture. Obviously, just sitting and doing nothing is usually not very helpful when something needs changing. The thing is, there are so many times we just don't know what to do, or the things we are doing just aren't helping at all. And so, to wait means to hope that an answer will not give up, but keep looking for it. 

The other thing that keeps coming to mind is the idea of pressing forward--which seems to contradict waiting. Though, if waiting can be as I just mentioned (hoping and searching and believing that there is an answer to the stuckness) then I think moving forward can still work in that context. Maybe moving forward is asking for help, or trying a new approach. 

In my stuck place (there are many, but in this case it's my lingering anger at 'the church') my new approach is making the decision to return to a weekly Sunday morning worship service. (at a 'reconciling church'...which means they accept gays) I think it's the answer I've gotten to my constant "what do I do now" inquires to God, and it seems I'm finally ready. A big part of going forward is not looking back, and this is still something I struggle with daily. I have to keep reminding myself that looking back in disappointment or bitterness is a sure way to work the foot deeper in the muck. 

Despair is giving up on a better is believing a better future is always possible. I believe God has this better future in mind, and He can see it even when I can't. That vision for a church united and working towards the kingdom of God here on earth is what I need to keep pressing toward, even when there is such deep and hurtful disagreements.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Devil Part 2

Many Christians, including myself, grew up believing "Satan" is a fallen angel who is in charge of hell.  Many of my friends even now would be extremely uncomfortable knowing I don't believe this anymore. Keith Green (a popular Christian singer from the 80's) had a song that warned of this disbelief called "Satan's Boast" with the ominous verse:

And as your life slips by you believe the lie
That you did it on your own but don't worry
I'll be there to help you share
A dark eternal home, a dark eternal home

So I understand the fear of questioning these things.  But I have come to a place where I have to question these things--not because I want to disprove the Bible and destroy people's faith. I want to understand the Bible, and I want a real that can survive deep questions. 

And so, my last post ended with the question, "if Satan isn't a fallen angel, then what is he?"  The Bible explains that the devil and the adversary (satan being the Hebrew word meaning adversary, as explained last time) are the same thing as the great dragon and the old serpent.  All these images are trying to convey the same thing...but what?

The book of Revelation uses imagery for everything--anyone who interprets Revelations as literal (as in a literal star falling to the literal earth) is just nuts in my opinion. (Especially when 'star' is used over and over in the old testament when talking about a person.)  A number of years ago a Christian book series came out that 'explained' Revelations as completely literal. (the "Left Behind" series) It took a verse like this:  

"And the likenesses of the locusts [are] like to horses made ready to battle, and upon their heads as crowns like gold, and their faces as faces of men, and they had hair as hair of women, and their teeth were as [those] of lions, and they had breastplates as breastplates of iron"...  

and told the story of these real locusts that went around tormenting people after all the good Christians got taken up to heaven and out of harms way.  It makes me so angry I can't even discuss it anymore--because I know far too many Christians that take those books as completely legitimate. 

So, moving forward with the idea that everything in the Bible does not need to be taken literally, but can be speaking of truths in more mysterious and poetic language, let's look at the verses about the devil. The first time the word 'devil' is used is in the story of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness. First of all, it says Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Spirit, for the purpose of being tempted. (Where the devil is also called the "Tempter.") Many sermons have been given about the tempting of Jesus--it's certainly rich in meaning.  In Anne Rice's book, Christ the Lord: the Road to Cana, she depicts the Devil as Jesus dressed in fine clothes, coming to himself and trying to convince himself to do it all "his" way--take charge basically, and prove who he is, without all the suffering business.  I found it very interesting, and I'll confess, this is becoming more and more my idea of what the devil really is.  Not a fallen angel...but something in us that needs to be fought and resisted.

In the book of John, Jesus saves an adulteress woman from getting stoned, and subsequently he gets into quite an argument with the religious leaders of his day.  First they are questioning his authority...who the heck does he think he is, anyway?  Jesus basically says his authority comes from his Father, and then he says they don't know his Father, because if they did, they would have loved Jesus.  The religious experts not knowing God?  How dare he!  Jesus tells them he can set them free from sin, and of course they are very insulted and say they are no slaves--they are children of Abraham!  Then Jesus really lets them have it, and says:   "You are of a father -- the devil, and the desires of your father you will to do; he was a man-slayer from the beginning (not an angel?) and in the truth he hath not stood"

In Luke Jesus tells Simon that the Adversary did ask for himself to sift him like wheat. This is at the last supper, when Jesus is instructing them on humility, and how the kingdom of God is not like earthly kingdoms that "exercise lordship" over people. He also tells all 12 they will sit on thrones and judge the 12 tribes of Israel. (even Judas, whom he described as "a devil"?)

Paul warns in his letter to Timothy not to let a new convert become a leader, "lest having been puffed up he may fall to a judgment of the devil" and "into a snare of the devil".  In his second letter to Timothy, Paul instructs, "a servant of the Lord is not to strive, but be gentle unto all, patient under evil, in meekness instructing those opposing, that they (the people opposing) may awake out of the devil's snare"

In 1 Corinthians, Paul advises the people to "deliver up such a one to the Adversary for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (knock on the doors of hell and tell Satan the ex-angel you have a delivery?) 

In 2 Corinthians Paul describes his thorn in the flesh as given to him by a  "messenger of the adversary", so Paul can be buffeted and not exalted too much. 

In 1 Timothy, Paul says he did deliver up Hymenaeus and Alexander to the Adversary, so they "might be instructed not to speak evil".

It seems this adversary has a lot to do...sifting, buffeting, testing...even instructing.  Could it be this adversary is with us for a purpose?  Is he literally sneaking around, as Peter describes, devouring people?  When you look around, and see people's lives destroyed and 'devoured'...what is it that has done that? What battle have they lost?  Is it not their own pride, arrogance, ego...their inability to recognize and admit their own shortcomings?  Their refusal to forgive and give grace to others; their inability to see others as no different than themselves?  I know for myself, these are the things that torment me most, and these are the things I battle with daily. 

In the end, whatever this devil is or isn't--the more important thing might be to ask; does he win?  If this devil has power over death (Heb. 2:14) then does death win in the end? Not according to Paul, who also writes in Hebrews this promise:
and when this corruptible may have put on incorruption, and this mortal may have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the word that hath been written, `The Death was swallowed up -- to victory;  where, O Death, thy sting? where, O Hades, thy victory?'
and the sting of the death [is] the sin, and the power of the sin the law;
and to God -- thanks, to Him who is giving us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ;

And another promise in 1 Corinthians:
 then -- the end, when he may deliver up the reign to God, even the Father, when he may have made useless all rule, and all authority and power --
 for it behoveth him to reign till he may have put all the enemies under his feet --
the last enemy is done away -- death  

And the best promise of all:
 for even as in Adam all die, so also in the Christ all shall be made alive (1 Corn. 15:22)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Guy in the Red Suit...and it ain't Santa

I often hear Christian's say, "You have to believe in Satan if you're going to believe in God." I don't exactly disagree...but I would add that WHAT you believe about them both is going to effect your life drastically. I've had Christian's tell me Satan is in control of the earth, and so why bother trying to change things or make things better. I know of Christian's who couldn't walk past a clothing store in the mall (too many skulls on the shirts) because demons might posses them. And the theology of an eternal hell, where everyone who doesn't say the sinner's prayer before death will end up, would suggest that ultimately Satan is the victor.  

But what does the Bible really say about Satan? I've mentioned before that I mostly use the Young's Literal Translation now, because of it's accuracy. (Published in 1862) It's just a fact that translators change things to fit what they think it should be saying.  But, I really want to know what the text said originally, even if it doesn't fit or make any sense to me. Granted, even the best translation might not completely convey what the author was trying to originally say. There's a reason people say "lost in translation," because culture differences and language barriers are very real things...not to mention decades of time changing word meanings.

So, back to Satan...that name is not used even once in the Young's Literal. "Adversary" is the word used - satan is just the Hebrew word meaning adversary or opposer, and it's used for anyone or thing that challenges the faith of humans. (Remember Jesus telling Peter to "get behind me satan"?  I've heard quite a few sermons trying to explain this, but it sure makes more sense when you just use the word adversary.) Jews would have understood this - though they had their own fables and such about "Beelzeboul, ruler of the demons." (Who they claimed gave Jesus his power.) Christians are the ones who made satan into "Satan" as a personal name for the fallen angel.

The idea of this ruler of the underworld being the fallen angel who was in charge of music wasn't constructed until probably the 19th century. And the four scriptures used to weave together this tale...well, let's just say there is some embellishment to say the least. I'm only going to address one of the four:

       How you have fallen from heaven,
morning star [KJV: Lucifer], son of the dawn!
       You have been cast down to the earth,
       you who once laid low the nations!(Isaiah 14:12)

Another name for Satan - Lucifer. This is the ONLY time this name is used. Why?  It's not even a name. Again, lucifer is just the Hebrew word meaning shining one or light bringer. And why is this referring to Satan?  It goes on about this "light bringer" a few verses down:

       Those who see you stare at you,
       they ponder your fate:
       "Is this the man who shook the earth
       and made kingdoms tremble,

       the man who made the world a desert,
       who overthrew its cities
       and would not let his captives go home?"

Hummm...maybe if it would have said "the angel," we would have something. I'm going to end here saying I do believe we have an adversary we are fighting against. I really struggle with trying to understand what that is, and what exactly "the devil" is, if he isn't a fallen angel. So much of the Bible and all things spiritual are difficult and a pursuit to understand. I'm glad, because I don't want to settle for believing something just because someone told me I have to. Next time I'll address some of the verses that talk about the devil, so I can ponder them and ask God to help me gain wisdom. 
 Part 2 go to

Monday, June 18, 2012

Forgiveness (soap journal #3)

S) When people sin, you should forgive and comfort them, so they won't give up in despair...yes, for your sake and with Christ as my witness, I have forgiven whatever needed to be forgiven.  I have done this to keep Satan from getting the better of us. (2 Corn. 2: 7,11)
O) Everyone is hurt when we hold on to bitterness.  We cannot function as Christians until we forgive each other.
A) At this point, I am not struggling with this. But I have a friend who is. How can I help her?
P) Lord, help this person forgive. Help her find peace and rest in your love. Please show her it's ok to let go--in fact, it's necessary. Use me if you can. Please give me the courage to speak truth in love.

Well, I may not have needed that then, but I sure need it now.  Relationships are complicated.  I believe in a big way.  I've experienced how powerful and transforming it is to 'let go'--to give the grace you know you need yourself.  But, Christians often take a scripture like this and just plop it right down as something to be obeyed like brushing your teeth at night, and "ta-da", no more relationship problem!  I don't think I need to point out it doesn't work that way. 

I am praying--probably everyday--for things to be better between me and the people I feel so hurt by.  Though, it's not about forgiving sin exactly, but about struggling with having completely different ways of seeing things. (as I explained on my last post) I know Paul had the same kind of struggles in his day with the religious people around him--the ones demanding that believers get circumcised and such. And he didn't seem to make any apologies about not wanting to have anything to do with maybe I'm ok with making some boundaries for the time being.

I was going to write some thoughts on "keeping Satan from getting the better of us", but I think I'll save it.  But I really wonder if when Christians say this (as my fundamentalist friend did when she announced she forgave me for that very reason--though I can't say I believe she actually does) they really believe "Satan the fallen angel and ruler of the underworld" is the one behind planting these bitter seeds.  I understand they have to believe in a literal Satan in order to make it to heaven...but how can he be tempting everyone on the planet simultaneously as well as torturing the souls in hell all at the same time?  I wonder if they ever really think about it?  Next time maybe I'll discuss the four scriptures that are supposed to 'prove' the whole story about Satan being the best of the angels until he blew it.  You are going to be shocked.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Heart Embraces a Difficulty

"It is not always easy to discriminate between the voice of the ego, and the voice of our beloved. But there is a distinct difference: the words of the ego and mind belong to duality, the words of the heart carry the imprint of oneness. In the heart, there is no argument, no you and me, just an unfolding oneness. The heart embraces a difficulty, while the ego takes sides."

This is a paragraph from a book that teaches about the "Prayer of the Heart".  I write them here, because when I read it, I was really struck to the core.  This is because I am having a difficulty with a friend--and I am certainly taking sides. When it comes to the gay issue, I've just about had it with 'evangelicals'. (it's a broad term, I know, and of course that doesn't entail all evangelicals...just the mean ones ;) ) Honestly, I want nothing to do with them. Oneness seems absolutely impossible. I was so sick of acting like I respected their right to believe homosexuals are choosing to sin against God's law and therefore going to hell...but I felt I had to because if I expected them to respect my right to believe differently from them, I needed to respect their right to believe differently from me. (which meant I was not allowed to get mad about it--as they were always so very quick to point out if I ever challenged them) But like I said--I just couldn't do it anymore, and let one of my fundamentalist friends know exactly how I was feeling. (and I was not feeling nice)

I don't think it was wrong for me to let my friend know my deep hurt. I know I was just being honest about what was really going on inside my heart and mind, because I was sick of faking nicey nice. And yes, part of that hurt is my ego not liking people looking down on me...and yes, that is a hurt that strikes out and is not Godly. But it's more than that; it's also seeing what those beliefs do to people--wonderful, kind, caring people who happen to be gay and who are treated like dirt--and it hurts my heart and it makes me exceedingly mad. The problem is, there is nothing in me that wants to 'embrace' this difficulty, and see it as an opportunity God can use.  I don't want to love this friend as myself--instead I would like to write her off and be done.  Avoid her and run from the pain.  I feel justified, because there is no reasoning with a evangelical, and she could never really listen to what I had to say anyway. Yes, evangelicals would be insulted at that statement, (admittedly, it's a stereotype) but like many stereotypes--there is truth in it...for a great explanation of why there is truth in it:

Whether I'm justified in these feelings or not, it doesn't change that God says she is my sister, and love is not optional. How do I embrace this conflict?  How do I allow it to expose and destroy my ego?  I'm not sure, to tell you the truth.  That's why I go to God in prayer.  I have to trust and believe He can do all things.  Impossible oneness must be possible--why would Jesus pray for us to be one if it was impossible? I can't just throw my arms up and say "I'm done".  Please help me Lord--sometimes it's so hard to love.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Love Makes Us Helpful (soap journal #2)

S) Knowledge makes us proud of ourselves,  but love makes us helpful to others. (1 Corn. 8:1)
O) Paul really understood what it meant to love. He later says, if he knew that eating meat sacrificed to idols--though for himself was not a sin--but if it hurt another Christian who believed it was a sin,  then he would never eat meat again. In other words, he was willing to give up his rights so as not to hurt someone else. That is love.
A) We are all about 'rights' these days--pursuing what will make us happy, regardless of who it hurts in the process. My goal is love, all else is secondary. This will help me in my decision making.
P) Lord, you are love.  All that you do comes from love--that is why we can trust you. Show me how to love.

I must say, I think I have misused this verse and this concept in the past...let me explain. When my daughter first came out to us, we had some friends over who were Christians and didn't know. Amber was giving her girlfriend a backrub on the couch--just trying to help her get out the knots. I was worried--I was embarrassed--what would our guests think? (It's hard not to guess Amber's girlfriend is gay--she looks very masculine) I came over and whispered in Amber's ear to please stop. I'll never forget the way she looked at me; she was just so taken by surprise. (she just couldn't understand why anyone would be upset at a backrub) Later I used this verse to justify my actions.  Even though for Amber, this backrub was not a sin--to our guests it might appear sinful. So, out of respect for our guests, she needed to not show that kind of affection to her girlfriend. But if I'm honest with myself, the only thing I was really worried about was being judged--and my daughter being looked down on.

Looking at 1 Corinthians in it's whole, I don't think Paul was urging Christians to obey the rules about eating meat so as not to offend those who would judge them for doing so. His concern is the conscience, and that the person who thought eating meat was sinful would then actually eat it too, and condemn himself. He is not saying to give up your freedom to eat meat just because someone else will see you as a sinner. He makes this clear later when he says, "I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours. For why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?"

I know, for many the homosexual thing is non-debatable. It's a sin, and that is that. And those that say it isn't will argue over translations and what "list" the old testament had it under--is it an 'abomination' like child sacrifice, or is it an 'abomination' like having sex during your period? How do we know if God's pissed off about it or not? For me, I have to come back to the golden rule...I just really don't think rule lists are the answer.

Let love be your only debt! If you love others, you have done all that the Law demands. In the Law there are many commands, such as, "Be faithful in marriage. Do not murder. Do not steal. Do not want what belongs to others." But all of these are summed up in the command that says, "Love others as much as you love yourself." No one who loves others will harm them. So love is all that the Law demands. (Romans 13:8-10)

Again, love is the issue. I want to support my daughter in having a loving, committed, relationship with another human being; and I don't want her to condemn herself for doing so. I want her to treat those who would condemn her with respect and love, but I never want her to pretend she's something she's not just to please them. I regret doing so in that moment of fear...and all I can do is pray that I've learned from my mistakes, and keep going forward.

Monday, April 23, 2012

"The World" (soap journal #1)

I've mentioned before my "soap" journal, which stands for scripture, observation, application, and prayer. I'm reading back over my old journal with new eyes, and transcribing them here, along with my thoughts on how things look different to me now.

s) The message about the cross doesn't make any sense to lost people. But for those of us who are being saved, it is God's power at work. As God says in the scriptures; I will destroy the wisdom of all who claim to be wise.  I will confuse those who think they know so much. (1 Corn. 1:18-19)
o) (underlined part) What is this saying?  We know we ARE saved, so how is the message "God's power at work?"  I love this whole chapter though.  God obviously doesn't want us stupid, but He wants us humble.  We have no knowledge that does not come form Him.  Mostly I think of scientists who discredit the glory of God.
a) I always need to look to God for direction and wisdom.  It's foolish of me to think I can find my way myself. And when people are impressed with me, I need to glorify God. Not in that false humility way, but because I love God.
p) I love the humility you showed when you came to earth. Our culture does not get it, but I want it. Let it be the power at work in me.

I cringe a little when I read this now; at my thinking that because of my "correct beliefs," I was saved (from hell) and that scientists who did not believe the correct things were doomed.  (Because of their ironic, right?) It seems to me that the wisdom that God is wanting to destroy is the wisdom of the religious leaders.

Where the wise? Where the scribe? Where a disputer of this age? Did not God make foolish the wisdom of this world?  (vs 20)

When we read "wisdom of this world," what do we think?  "The world" is non-Christians in most Christian's any wisdom that doesn't have the Christian label on it is "of the world". The Bible speaks of "the world" many times, and I think we make a mistake when we think each time it speaks of the same thing.  But I just want to point out one scripture where Jesus speaks of "the world":

if the world hates you, know that it hated me before you...
they would not have been guilty of sin if I had not done among them the things that no one else ever did; as it is, they have seen what I did, and they hate both me and my Father.This, however, was bound to happen so that what is written in their Law may come true:They hated me for no reason at all.(John 15:22-25)

So, at least in this instance, I think it's obvious when Jesus says "the world," he is speaking of a religious mindset. (And you don't get to say "it was the Jewish religion that was bad" because Judaism was the "true" religion--there was no "Christian" religion) And when there is a wisdom that comes from the scribes that needs to be destroyed, I can't help but think it's the wisdom that takes scriptures and laws and rules and excludes and dehumanizes and condemns people to make "us" and "them".  But when people look at humanity and feel disgust, I think God looks and sees something different. I love the next few verses following the ones in my soap journal, and I'll end with those:

God did choose the weak things of the world that He may put to shame the strong; and the base things of the world, and the things despised (like maybe homosexuals?) did God choose, and the things that are not, that He may make useless the things that are--that no flesh may glory before Him. 

P.S. I forgot to add that I have no problem anymore with the idea of "being saved" - now that I see it as transformation instead of "I said the sinner's prayer, so I'm saved from God's wrath." There is A LOT of saving yet to be done in my life. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Prayer of the Heart

I mentioned at the end of my "Religion" post that I would write more about a new type of prayer that I had been learning about...and so here I go.  This prayer has it's roots in Catholicism, (the 'desert monks' and such)...but it's very similar to 'meditation', which is found in all the Eastern religions. (and most likely why most Christians want nothing to do with it)  I'm trying to remember when I first heard about it, but that escapes me.  I do know I was very curious to learn about Teresa of Avila, because her name kept coming up in things I was reading. 

Teresa is a big deal in the Catholic church, (saints always are...and it isn't easy to be 'sainted' should look up the process; it's fascinating) and she had written some books on this kind of prayer. (she said she learned it during a prolonged and painful illness)  I tried to read two of her books, but was utterly lost. (16th century writing that was in Spanish and translated to English tends to be a little hard to follow...that's my excuse anyway)  So I found a book that was considered more "Prayer 101" that I could hopefully get more out of.   (Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, in case anyone's interested.

At the heart of this shift in my reading material was the major shift in my thinking and approach to my spiritual walk. I think the easiest way to describe this shift is:  instead of the foundation of my spirituality being on the authority of church leaders (my church of course--because there are a bazillion churches and none of them agree) and obedience and effort in trying to live a life that pleased God--- my focus instead turned to letting go of 'trying to be good', and instead opening up my heart fully to receive love and grace.  That wasn't really an easy way to describe it, huh?  Ok, maybe this is better: instead of trying to learn to swim, I was trying to learn to float; and trust the river to take me where it wanted. (I stole that analogy from another very good book, Surrender to Love  by David Benner) And this kind of prayer is a reflection of this shift, because this prayer would probably better be described as 'not praying'. 

Typically prayer is giving our requests to God--and there is nothing wrong with that.  But centering prayer is about learning to be trust and surrender and open to God.  It seems that just sitting and doing nothing should be a non-spiritual way I'm quite good at that.   But spiritually, it's extremely difficult. (because of the can look at previous posts to read more of what I'm referring to)  I'll end with some quotes from the book that will hopefully sort of sum all this up.(with much editing by me, as usual)  

"The gospel requires a radical openness and compassion that are beyond the capacity of the anxious, fear-ridden ego.  Developing attention of the heart is all-important, because without it, it is impossible to acquire sufficient inner strength to fulfill the beatitudes.

Attention of the heart is achieved not so much by concentration of either the emotions or the mind as by the simple release of all that one is clinging to, the good things as well as the bad things...relinquishing the passions and relaxing the will. It is not 'thinking about' anything, but a direct seeking of the Face of the Invisible, which cannot be found unless we become lost in Him who is invisible.
Every time you are willing to release a thought, to perform the gesture of self-emptying, this gesture is patterned and strengthened within you.  In time it begins to take shape as a deep pull or gravitation that is clearly perceptible, like a tug to center.  This is increasingly recognized as an inner mutual yearning; yours for God and God's for you.
It is indeed your interior compass, the needle of your heart pointing to the magnetic north of God.  When this inner alignment is strong and steady, you find that you are able to follow the course of your own authentic unfolding with a kind of effortless grace."

And so...I hope I'm learning to 'work out my salvation' (my transformation into the image of Christ, not my free ticket to heaven when I die--just to clarify what I believe salvation to be) by means of receiving and living in grace, and learning to hear and respond to the spirit of God that is within me.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

It's All About Love

Back to my question, "Is there a way to change that doesn't have to do with earning?"   I will start with one of my old journal entries:

S) We have everything we need to live a life that pleases God.  It was all given to us by God's own power, when we learned that he had invited us to share in his wonderful goodness. (2 Peter 1:3)
O) God has already given me everything I need to please him.  When I learned he loves me, he accepts me, he wants me to share in His goodness--that understanding pleases Him, and everything that happens as a result of that faith is simply His power at work.
A) I don't need to make things happen.  God is in control.  I need to rest in the knowledge of His great love.  Why is that so hard?
P) Help me always to trust you Lord.  Not my own ability.

It is my firm belief that the church has gotten this all backward.  The church emphases effort...striving to please God with obedience and sacrifice.  This will produce one of two things:

1) guilt for not being able to measure up, or
2) pride in being such a better Christian than everyone else.

The thing that it does not produce, (which is the only thing that matters) is love.  Our love for God should only result from an understanding (with the heart...not the head) of His love for us--NOT a constant worry and striving about what we need to be doing in order to gain God's love and approval.  I ask in my application above, "Why is this so hard?", and I think the answer is, "because of the ego".  Our ego, (which I think is the same thing as the  "old Adam"...see "I'm Not Playing" post) is constantly wanting attention.  Our ego is in competition with everyone--the adoration and praise it seeks has to do with accomplishment. So, when we feel we aren't accomplishing what God wants us to do, we feel depressed, because our ego tells us what failures we are.  (or we become fixated on everyone else's short comings)

We need to learn how to "let go and let God", (ugh, I know...who doesn't hate that saying?) but this is a tremendously difficult thing to do.  How do we 'surrender' to (or feel safe with) a God that, when we take a look around, doesn't seem to have anything under control.  Isn't it our responsibility to be the 'hands and feet' of Jesus--and fix the world's sufferings?  The problem is, hands and feet can only function because of the mind.  If we are not connected to 'the mind of Christ', then we are only going to be making a bigger mess of things. (as much as we so wish we could have everyone around us applauding our great service for Christ)

It starts with love.  If your wondering if your connected with the mind of Christ, then ask yourself, "Do I believe I'm loved?"  I used to hate the saying, "You have to love yourself before you can love others", because it seemed selfish to me. (my Christian upbringing taught me that)  It's true though.  If you can't sit with the assurance you are loved right where you are, you need to let go of everything your doing and ask God to convince you. This is where your 'effort' should be--just spending some alone time with God to try to get to know Him in a real way. (I hate to even say "Him", because God is not male or female--but I can't really say "it" either. Maybe I'll make this the subject of my next post, because relating to God as a gender is a big deal I think, especially for women)

One more old journal entry on this subject:

S) I want you to know all about Christ's love, although it is too wonderful to be measured.  Then your lives will be filled with all that God is...His power at work in us can do far more than we dare ask or imagine. (Eph. 3:19-21)
O) Knowing, understanding, accepting God's love into our lives is the key to change.  He is capable of doing far more than we dare ask--wow!  We can be filled with all that God is when we know His love!
A) I want to seek after Christ's love.  It's there--but so hard to grasp because of all my wrong thinking.
P) Lord, I don't want to settle for having a little of your love.  I want to be filled up--and experience far more than I can imagine of who you are. 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Losing Faith

Someone I love with all my heart has lost her faith in God, because she can't believe in an all powerful God who allows such horrible suffering in this world.  But when I talk to her, she talks about how she can't forgive God (for feeling abandoned and rejected, because she is gay) -- which of course betrays the fact that she really can't stop believing there is a God,  regardless of how hard she's trying.  But trusting Him is a whole nother matter.  She most likely associates God with Christians, (and the horrible, hateful things they say and do in the name of Christ) and she hangs onto these hurts and refuses to forgive...keeping herself in her own prison.  As much as this saddens and troubles me, I understand it.  I also know I can't fix it.  But I do trust in a God of peace, a God who is faithful to draw her to himself somehow--in ways I will probably not understand. (may the God of peace himself cause you to be completely dedicated to him...the one who is calling you is faithful and will do this.)

I can't help but hear the voice of my Christian past..."God wishes He could save everyone.  But we have free will.  He made a rock that is just too big for Him to move.  If people reject God's love and grace, that is their choice."  But have people really rejected God's love and grace, or have they just not experienced it yet?  Was Paul given a 'choice' to have Christ revealed to him while he was in complete and utter rebellion against him?  

Yes, we all have choices to make, and there are consequences to these choices.  Eternal consequences though?  How could I live another day believing that if this wounded soul I love so much doesn't repent of her 'unbelief' (or her gayness...they are both tickets to hell, after all) before she dies, God will punish her without end?  How can people believe that?  

One word fixes mistranslated word.  And yet the church won't acknowledge the error.  Or even worse, they acknowledge the word doesn't translate to eternal, (in the ONE* place it refers to punishment..."These people will go away into eternal punishment" Matt. 25:46) but they don't think it matters.  I still can't wrap my head around it...sometimes I really think it's going to drive me crazy.     But I have to hang onto the faith that has been given to me...the belief that God has got it under control and that His mercy NEVER ENDS.  I will end with a very personal letter I wrote to God.

You see my heart.  I see it too, though not very clearly.  So many of my thoughts and attitudes are so very wrong.  The hurt I feel...that seems to be the root of it.  It's so very hard to be alone.  How can I be part of the Christian community, when I see things so very differently?  I don't know how to look at my old beliefs and not feel disgust.  But I cannot look at my brothers and sisters and feel disgust, I need to feel love and oneness.  I can trust you to show your people what you want to show them, when you want to show them.  Somehow I need to be able to live at peace in this lonely place.  Please help me take my defenses down, help me to completely open up my heart.  Guard my mind, and keep the judgmental thoughts from getting in.  Show me how to live in grace, every moment as a gift.  Everything good comes from you, and there is no darkness in you at all.  I can trust it.  It's going to be alright.  Thank you. 

* Ok, I found another place in 1 Samuel 3 " For I have told him that I am about to punish his house for ever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. " But again, in the YLT, "for ever" is translated "to the age".  And it makes sense that Eli understood this, because his response when he found out that his house would be punished 'forever' was ‘It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.’


Friday, January 6, 2012

"How's Your Attitude?"

My mom used to ask me this when I was clearly not in a good mood. And my response was never, "Oh attitude is bad, isn't it? I hadn't noticed. Well, now that you pointed it out, let me just turn this frown upside down!"

I know my mom was just trying to 'snap me out of it'--but really all it did was make me feel angry for being judged, and guilty for feeling angry and ungrateful. I understand though--I don't like it either when people complain...especially my kids. I want their eyes to be 'opened' to just how good they have it, so they can appreciate and enjoy their life--and I get frustrated and angry when they keep whining about everything. But when my daughter was complaining about her eczema, and someone said, "Stop being so negative--God gave you eczema for a reason"...I really wanted to drop kick them.  Similarly, when my best friend told me about someone at church saying to her, "What is God trying to teach you that you are just not learning, that He keeps giving you disabled kids?"--I wished I could have drop kicked them too. But the thing is, I don't exactly disagree with either statement.

I've come full circle from believing God just designed egg and sperm to meet, and after that His hands are tied. (see "predestination" post. Don't worry, it's not so scary) I don't think His hands are tied at all...I think they are active in every second of our lives. I think our lives and all that happens in them is meaningful. But does that mean I think God "gave" my daughter eczema, or that he "meant" for my friend's children to be disabled?

This is where we really have to examine how we imagine God. Do we see an old man sitting on a throne with lightning rods in His hands, deciding who gets blasted and who doesn't? When bad things happen, is it because God doesn't love us anymore? It is because His wrath is being unleashed on our badness, or does He just not care about our suffering?  Because I no longer see God's anger (or wrath) as something separate from His love, (anymore than my own anger at my kids actions changing my love for them), I am more at peace with bad things happening. Maybe it is 'discipline', maybe it's testing--maybe it's can I know? The thing I hang onto is God's love is present, even in our suffering. I don't understand exactly how the physical and spiritual worlds interact, but regardless of how bad things look from our end, it does not mean God has lost control.  

Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  Don’t suppress the Spirit. Don’t brush off Spirit-inspired messages, but examine everything carefully and hang on to what is good. Avoid every kind of evil.  Now, may the God of peace himself cause you to be completely dedicated to him; and may your spirit, soul, and body be kept intact and blameless at our Lord Jesus Christ’s coming. The one who is calling you is faithful and will do this. (1 Thes. 5:18-24)

As far as seeing everything that happens as 'God's will'...I most definitely don't believe that. The above scripture states that God's will is for us to give thanks for everything that happens--it does not say that everything that happens is God's will. Why in the world though, would we give thanks for the things that are bad?  

and be not conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, for your proving what is the will of God -- the good, and acceptable, and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

Giving thanks transforms our minds...I really think so. And when our thoughts are transformed, our souls are transformed. When this is completed, then we will be the example of what God's will is--a physical example, just like Jesus was. We are involved in this process of course--we are to "examine everything" and "hang onto what is good" and "avoid evil"...but who is the one bringing us through it all? The God of peace...and He is faithful, and He will do it. And that's why we can give thanks for everything...good and bad...because it all has potential to help in the transformation. So, I can encourage my daughter to endure her itches, as annoying and painful as they are, and I will tell her that God is with her in her suffering and understands and sympathies, and is loving her through it. It's not the same as saying "you better thank God for making you suffer so you can learn"'s more like, "I believe God, that you can take what is bad and transform it into good if we can trust you, and we will walk this road together". But make her feel guilty for having a bad attitude?  No thanks.