Author Archives: snesbitt

Being Counter Church Cultural

We believers hear it often:  We must be counter-cultural.  We’re not supposed to follow the popular culture; we’re called to be different.  The problem is, our churches are increasingly co-opting to the popular culture.

First seeker churches burst onto the scene.  Seeker churches can be beneficial starting points for those seeking to know more about the Christian faith.  However, these churches rely greatly on brewing up some neurochemicals to stir people up and not so much on the power of the Holy Spirit.  Those young in the faith don’t have the knowledge and experience to discern between the two.  The worship experience might get some oxytocin going, making worshipers feel deeply emotional.  Think about how you feel when you see baby animals or hear a sad story.  That’s oxy.  Worshipers might feel excited, particularly in response to the drums and guitars.  That’s caused by endorphins.  Certain worship experiences cause people’s brains to produce cortisol and adrenaline, making them feel scared, worried, or fearful.  Hellfire & brimstone preachers rely on those chemicals for “conversions.”  Whatever the emotion is, many believers who are young in the faith interpret these chemical responses as the moving and working of the Spirit.

Alongside seeker churches came what we know today as contemporary Christian music, and this music is a crucial part of many worship services around the world.  (Funny to note here…  When I was a teen, Bill Gaither was considered a contemporary music artist.  Now his songs are in our hymnal.)  We used to attend a worship service that features contemporary Christian music.  I enjoyed the worship experience, but I didn’t always enjoy the music, yet I couldn’t figure out why not.  Then I started focusing on the words.  They were very seldom about God at all.  They were about us.  We were the objects of our worship songs.  I recently looked up the lyrics to “I Can Only Imagine,” which is very hot right now.  If the incidences of the ratio of references to “myself” versus references to Jesus/God indicate their relative importance, then I am more than twice as important as the Messiah (46:20).

A lady I know once shared an incident that happened to her.  She accidentally pulled out in front of a car.  Who hasn’t done this?  Right?  The driver of the other car blew her horn at her.  Who hasn’t also done this?  The teacher remarked, “I thought, How horrible to spend your life being so unforgiving!”  I thought, How horrible to live your life being so judgmental!  The teacher genuinely felt that she was the wronged party and the other driver was an awful person for blowing her horn at her.  But this isn’t the Jesus way.  We’re not called to judge others based on one moment of their lives.  We’re not called to think we’re so much better than others.  To do that makes us no better than the Pharisee in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke’s gospel, self-aggrandizing because of our righteousness and missing the cries for mercy from people around us.

Being self-centered is the world’s way of being.  Being Christ-centered is God’s way of being.  Judging others is the world’s way of being.  Showing mercy is God’s way of being.  Increasingly, the things I see at church are very worldly.  That leader who uses manipulative tactics to get people to help or to draw people to the church.  That’s worldly.  The worship music that talks about us is worldly.  The cliques and exclusive social groups that prevail in every church are worldly.  Clapping for the “entertainers” is worldly.  Oh, sure, people say they’re praising God with their clapping, but if that’s the case, why aren’t they “praising God” when the offering plates go back to the front of the church or after the sermon by one of those preachers who couldn’t preach to save his life?

We have attempted to make the church counter-cultural, but instead, we’ve made the church completely cultural, just with a little God talk thrown in.  I guess that God-talk is supposed to make us stand out?  I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem to be doing the trick.  Thing is, Jesus pretty much never talked about being in church.  He stated that Peter would be the rock on which Jesus would build his church, but that was it.  Jesus did church.  Jesus went to where the people were and entered into their lives.  Jesus didn’t sit in the same building with the same familiar faces week after week.  Jesus went to people where they were, people who often were different – from a different region, Gentile as opposed to Jewish, diseased as opposed to well.  We are called to do likewise.

When our church experiences are truly Christ-centered, Bible-based, and ministry-focused in deed as well as word, then we’ll be truly counter-cultural.  When we dissolve cliques and factions within the church, then we will be separate from the world and stand out from it.  When our worship once more is all about God and not about us, then we will experience revival.  Then and only then will church once more be transformative in the lives of all who enter therein.

 

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Before You Speak, THINK!

Shut up for a minute before you dive into the fray.  Before you start repeating the latest chant or the moment’s trendiest #hashtag, just stop and be quiet for a few.

My teen is taking a language arts class with a friend of mine, and this lady has been amazing about teaching the kids in the class the power of words and how to use them for good.  Yesterday, she was talking about the etymology of words used in politics and the discussion, naturally, came around to the previous Saturday’s March for Our Lives in Wilmington.  Thousands of people marched, and even young children – some the age of my younger daughter – spoke out for school safety and against assault rifles.  The instructor went on to empower the students to speak out and to develop an ease of speaking so that, even if put on the spot, they can speak eloquently and confidently.

But there was one thing the instructor left out.  She didn’t tell them to think carefully first.  Friends with school students talked to their kids ahead of a previous Wednesday’s walk-out in protest of school violence.  Some of them had no idea why they were walking out.  They just did it because everyone else was doing it.  I wonder how many of those school children have researched all the facets of this argument?  How many have investigated both sides of the debate?  To argue intelligently against something, one needs to know why they are against it.

What is the actual issue at hand?

Why does this need to change?

What does the other side believe?  Why do they believe that?

What are possible consequences of each side “winning”?

What are possible consequences of each side “losing”?

Only after answering these questions can someone own a clear, convicted voice for their side of the discussion.  It takes more than just blind following and a hashtag to embrace a belief.

I can see both sides of this issue.  I have friends who have assault rifles just because they can.  They’re mentally stable and won’t go into a school and kill people.  Assault rifles aren’t only available at sporting goods stores.  They’re available at pawn shops and the trunks of dark-colored sedans parked on shadowy streets in certain parts of cities.  Sadly, whatever’s banned or restricted is always available on the black market, and banning something won’t keep people who want it from acquiring it.  Ever hear of Prohibition?  Or underground churches in China?  Good or bad, it can be had.

With the news of each school shooting, my girls are grateful to be homeschooled.  When I was in school, we had fire drills and tornado drills.  There were no lock-down drills, no active shooter drills, and no metal detectors.  When the news reports a situation at an area high school, my teen immediately starts mentally scrolling through her friends to see which one might be in the middle of that.  When it’s not one of her best friends, she breathes easily again.

For heaven’s sake, it’s hard enough being a teenager in school without having to worry each and every day if it’s going to be your last!  Freshmen are trying to navigate high school itself.  Sophomores are thinking about getting their licenses.  Juniors are wondering about prom and the first round of SATs or ACTs.  And seniors are fretting about college and scholarships.  These are all important parts of a schooled teen’s life.  The last thing they need to think about is their own personal safety while they’re sitting in a desk trying to learn.

Those students for whom this fear is a living, breathing part of their everyday existence have every right to peaceably protest the ease with which people can get weapons to kill them.  They have the right to feel disgusted when those who are supposed to be representing their rights and best interests instead represent entities who don’t value them as people.  Many people on “the other side” are scoffing at them:  “They’re just kids.  What do they know?”  The seniors in the crowd have studied US Civics and know how government is supposed to work.  And they’ll be voting in November’s mid-term elections.  These teens from Florida know that someone came into their school and killed 17 people who shouldn’t have died that day.  Other teens from other schools know that such senseless violence can happen anywhere and are doing what they can to prevent it.

Before insulting the children for being “too young” or “too immature” or “too stupid” to effect change, take a moment and consider the situation through their lenses.  Imagine every day having to go to school and possibly being killed by some mentally unstable person just because you’re in the right place at the wrong time.  Before jumping on the “take away all the guns!” bandwagon, consider those people who use guns to hunt for food for their families and those private homeowners who own guns responsibly for their own safety and that of their families.  Step into the skin of the other person and see things from their point-of-view.  Then, and only then, can you argue for either side with authority and conviction.

Woman, You’re Forbidden to Come!

And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years.  She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. (Mark 5: 25-26, NIV)

I was sitting in church this morning, preparing my heart and mind for worship in the silence of the full sanctuary.  There was no music playing, and most people were refraining from talking, or at least talking loudly.  Behind us were three middle-aged women sitting together.  Two rows up was a new mom with her baby and mother.  Whisper, whisper, whisper from behind me, and what I heard were some thin judgments against this mother for bringing her baby to church on such a cold, miserable day.  “I wouldn’t have brought a baby out in this weather.”  “I’d have waited until it was at least 65 before bringing a baby out.”  They didn’t know as I did that this baby had come fully dressed and wrapped snugly in a beautiful baby afghan. The woman in the passage from Mark had had an “issue of blood,” as the King James phrases it.  We don’t know what this bleeding looked like, but having this problem went farther than a mere physical ailment. First, the treatment of the discharge had rendered the woman financially broke.  Mark tells us that this woman had gone to many doctors seeking treatment for her hemorrhage to no avail.  In fact, the woman had spent all her money seeking treatment for her bleeding and was not only left broke, but worse physically.  I’m sure that financial worries certainly didn’t help her physical state any! Secondly, the woman’s discharge of blood isolated her from others.  The Jewish law was very strict about bloody discharges, whether from menstruation or other causes, causing someone to be unclean.  If a person touched this woman at all, he or she would be unclean.  Truthfully, most people went around in a state of uncleanness, and students who came before me have figured out when to do certain behaviors whose “unclean” effects would wear off at sunset.  (Timing is everything!)  It’s one thing for her husband, if she had one, to be unclean, but worship was absolutely forbidden for this woman as long as she had this discharge.  (Lev. 15:25-31) I want to make sure what I say is clear:  This woman was forbidden from going to the sanctuary for twelve years because of this physical ailment. It is hard for us to fathom telling someone “You can’t go to church.”  Women have their menstrual cycles privately, so the person sitting in the pew with us doesn’t know we’re “unclean,” unless that person is our husband.  In fact, many ailments that kept ancient Israelites from worship are no big deal today. Yet, let’s take a look at this new mother who was in church.  She brought her baby with her to a lovely Palm Sunday service when it was very chilly out.  That same mother had had to take her baby for checkups when it was cold out, too.  People want to judge the new mothers (never the dad, though he might be right there with them) for taking their newborns out in less-than-optimal conditions.  But do these folks ever consider the isolation of new motherhood? My older daughter was born in the warmth of summer and a month early.  Since she was little and premature, I chose to wait that month before taking her to church, all for her safety.  My husband would go to church, but I ended up staying home with her.  Were it not for visits from friends from church and school in addition to our parents and my aunt, I’d have gone mad with loneliness.  My friends especially brought Christian community to me at a time when I needed it the most. When we judge others for seeking out Christian community and bringing their babies with them into that community, we are telling them, “You’re not allowed to be here.”  We are communicating to them, “It’s dumb of you to do that.”  We’re saying, “You’re unclean.  You’re forbidden from being here.” Instead, we need to celebrate that the new parents are bringing children to church.  We need to fawn over and adore the sweet little one and make sure the mom especially is doing well and is getting what she needs.  Being a new mom is hard, and being a single new mom is overwhelming as she adjusts to a new normal while also taking care of this precious little life.  Instead of dishing out judgment, we need to be dishing up compassion.

Decluttering From Church

I’m sure it’s the trial of many, many parents of kids in church.  They come home with reams of paper announcements about special events and wonderful, fun happenings.  If they’re involved in anything musical, there are stacks of CDs, built gradually over the years, often two or three a year – special programs and VBS.  Multiply that by multiple children, and that stack can be pretty impressive.

My “crafty stuff” board on Pinterest has new additions – things to do with old CDs.  Some of the ideas are incredibly gorgeous, but I know my schedule won’t allow the time to do them.  My teen and I loved the CD mosaic arts – tables, flower pots, and frames.  In fact, I’m thinking if there’s any way I could whip up some of these crafts in time for my next selling event.  Let’s see…  Two children times six years times average 2 weeks of Vacation Bible School each year, plus 2 children’s programs each year…  I could probably mosaic an entire wall of our living room at this point!

pic of CDs

About what this pile of children’s CDs looks like after a combined 15 years of programs.

Our children are getting to take part in a really fun event this coming week.  Our children’s minister emailed out the flyer for it a couple of weeks ago.  I loved that!  It’s right there in my email until it’s in the past, and it’s so easy to plug those dates into my digital calendar.  Best yet, no paper!  Churches love distributing paper.  In fact, I’ve been offered paper copies of that digital file four times since I received it.  You wouldn’t believe the “you must be the antichrist!” looks I received from some people when I declined it!  When I get paper flyers, I end up having to deal with them later – sort and recycle.  It’s kind of the same with paper bills, which only our utility company sends anymore; all the rest are electronic.  That’s great for me, because less paper means less waste.  Even paper recycling requires fossil fuel to process.  We’re trying our best to eliminate waste in our lives and our environment and working to reduce our carbon footprint as much as possible.  This is a huge part of our family’s environmental ethic as we live it out in our stewardship of God’s creation.

Stacks of CDs and full-color printed flyers that will likely get trashed or recycled…  I look at all this stuff and I look around at our community and can’t help but think, Is this really the best use of our church’s resources?  Posting flyers around the children’s center, an announcement in the bulletin, and an email would more than cover it, I think.  Could the paper/copies line item on that segment of the budget flip to some sort of family crafting event where we make stuff with all those CDs?  Could those be sold to create a scholarship fund for children to go to mission camp?  (I’m just brainstorming here.)  Or maybe that money could go towards one of the fab children’s’ charities we help support in our area.  The potential to create from the clutter is significant.

Take a look at my Crafty board and tell me what you think of the ideas I’ve pinned.  What ideas would you add?  Oh look!  What to do with CDs and 1000+ fish extender gifts.  I think I have time til our next cruise to come up with something brilliant between the two of those.

I Went to Mexico Last Week

A simple vacation changed my life.  My mom treated the girls and me to a week-long cruise last week, with ports-of-call in Key West, Costa Maya, Cozumel, and Castaway Cay.  Costa Maya and Cozumel are in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, and Castaway Cay is Disney’s private island in the Bahamas.  A week ago right now, for example, we were just beginning an excursion to Mayan ruins in Cozumel under the expert leadership of our tour guide, Nico.

This was my first trip to Mexico.  This was my first experience being a minority in a predominantly Hispanic place.  Being there, both in Costa Maya with its gorgeous beaches and in Cozumel with its rich history and environmental initiatives, whetted my appetite to learn more about these areas, the people who live there, and their history.

I’m far from a naive traveler.  I know that tourism is the top industry in these areas, and the natives’ solicitous behavior was in the hopes – rightly so – of good tips.  We learned from Nico that the “high season” is November through April, so what income they earn through tours, excursions, and tips must carry them through the six-month “low season” when cruise ships are not as prevalent in their ports.

We had two days in Mexico, one in Costa Maya, the other in Cozumel.  We had planned to swim and snorkel in Costa Maya, but rough seas made it unsafe for my youngster to snorkel.  Still, we enjoyed the beach break and the hospitality of the islanders.  While we were swimming, I overheard a guide with a group of snorkelers ask his group, “And how do we say <indistinguishable> in Mayan?”  To which the group answered, and I thought, “The Mayan language is still spoken?  Cool!”  My mind immediately began humming with questions and trying to determine how to find the answers – not from books, but from people.  Maybe find random Costa Mayans on Facebook?  Yeah, possibly.

Costa Maya

My first view of Mexico in Costa Maya where guests are greeted in a village setting

The next day saw us in Cozumel.  Truthfully, I liked Costa Maya as a place more than Cozumel; the latter was Americanized touristy.  I get that they must present like that in order to keep the Spring Breakers and tourists happy, but I was desiring a more authentic experience.  Both places have awesome stuff to see, however.  In Cozumel, all those questions found their answers, thanks to Nico.  Unfortunately, those answers just spawned more questions.  (Ahh, the joys of being a lifelong learner.)

Ancient Mayan ruins

The ruins of an ancient Mayan temple. The pillars represent the Sun and Moon.

Yes, the Mayan language is still spoken.  Forty percent of Mexicans are direct descendants of the Mayans and are distinguished by their short stature, straight hair, and high cheekbones.  (What about the other 60%?)  After the Spaniards conquered the Mayans, only a few dozen remained to preserve their culture, history, traditions, and customs.  The written Mayan language didn’t last, but all other aspects of the people did.  Mexican religion is a hybrid of Christian Catholicism and Mayan paganism.  I still have questions that I’ll hopefully get to pepper some of the soccer parents with.

Something else happened last week that wormed its way into my mind.  On Disney Cruise Lines, there is a room host for small groupings of staterooms.  These hosts make the beds, tidy the room (Jhe, our host, even folded a couple of my older daughter’s clothes that she was going to take care of after dinner), create the towel animals, replenish bath linens, turn down the beds, and leave chocolates.  Another thing that happens on DCL is, your servers at dinner follow you all week from restaurant to restaurant.  This way, they learn your likes, dislikes, and preferences.  After our first night, our little one never again had tomatoes on her salads, though she did have double cucumbers.

Our servers, Charles and Wayan, were from India and the Philippines, respectively.  Jhe, our host, was from Indonesia.  It struck me that the “brown-skinned” cast members had the least desirable, more grunt-service jobs, whereas the lighter skinned cast members from Australia, Europe, and North America were higher up in the hierarchy – just under the captain, for example, or working directly with the kids in the youth clubs.  They often held supervisory positions as well.  Yet, we seldom saw and interacted with those cast members.  It was Jhe who took care of our stateroom all day, every day, and Charles and Wayan were the ones providing us with exceptionally attentive dinner service.  Being a White American lady, I am aware of the glamour – or lack thereof – of service jobs.  I can also see the color and cringe at what seems to be unfairness.

My youngster only saw “people.”  All of us spoke to the room hosts along our hall on our way to the stairs and elevators.  Whether in her Princess Elena dress or tee and shorts, my eight-year-old dropped a curtsey to Jhe every time she saw him.  She doesn’t know that you only curtsey to nobility; to her, he is a noble person and worthy of her honor and respect.  In the simple act of the curtsey, she elevated him above his position of bed-maker and clothes-folder.  That’s beautiful to me.  How often do we elevate people by our actions each day?  Or would we rather they just keep in “their place” to which the White majority has assigned them?

It takes surprisingly little effort to raise someone up.  Let’s all take a moment to lift up someone in the coming week, regardless of who they are.

It’s Just Too Much!

The emails and announcements are beginning to roll in.  VBS at our church is this particular week in June.  The previous week is VBS at my parents’ church.  My younger has already determined that she wants to attend at my parents’ church, because afterward, Grandma will take her to the park and Grandpa will take her fishing.  There may also be ice cream and shopping in there somewhere.

Yet, our own children’s minister will expect her to be present at VBS at our church, and that VBS will likely be the exact same theme as that at our local church – and my little one LOVES that church’s minister.  What all these VBS directors see:  An opportunity for children to come and learn about Jesus and biblical truths through Bible stories, activities, games, crafts, and songs.

For this momma, though, it gets to be way too much!  Don’t get me wrong:  My daughter loves going to VBS.  She has fun and is such a social bug that being around other kids just compounds the fun for her.  Yet, she’s exhausted every afternoon, and with back-to-back VBSes, halfway through the second week, she’ll be tired and cranky, and her behavior will be tanking abysmally.  She is an extrovert and an empath, so being around people drains her emotionally.  The problem is, she doesn’t yet know this about herself, so she doesn’t realize she needs downtime to give herself a chance to recover.  This, then, becomes a battle as I struggle to convince her to take some alone time in her room.

The fun times are great for her, but she often complains she doesn’t learn much.  A pastor friend of mine once said of my daughter when she was six, “She’s smart.  She gives good answers in Sunday school, and not just catechism answers, either.”  When our Bible discussions deal with why Jesus was angry with the moneychangers at the Temple and how Jesus turns the status quo on its head and then how we, too, can do that, a simple story about Joshua or David isn’t going to excite her a whole lot.  Noah filled an ark with animals, but what about the cursing of Ham?  Balaam got mad at his donkey, but when will the lessons cover how boldly he refused a king’s request that he curse the Israelites and, in fact, blessed them, speaking the words of God?

The pressure will be on, with various people mentioning VBS right in front of my child, leaving me the choice of either saying, “No, you can’t go” or being the “bad guy” who tells her she needs to spend some peaceful time in her room.  When our summer break is only 6-7 weeks long (and that often feels way too short), the rush and hustle of 3 weeks of VBS is anathema to enjoying the cognitive and physical downtime that is a huge part of break.  So, please, give us parents a break.  For parents who work, I often hear how getting kids to a morning VBS and picking them up puts a strain on their work days.  For us parents who work from home, these hours can be either the blessing of a few hours to work with no kids, or they can be time wasted that we need to be working.  They’re mornings of getting everyone up and out the door when the kids would really rather be sleeping in.

So this year, I’m going to do what I feel is best for my child.  By the time VBS rolls around, she’ll be newly baptized.  In our household, talking about Jesus, the Bible, our faith, living the Christian life, etc., aren’t 180-school-day activities.  They’re not something that happens at church on Sunday mornings, Wednesday nights, and five mornings in the summer.  They’re daily things.  They’re examples, questions, discussions, and applications.  These are things they learn as we go about our daily life.  Two non-consecutive Vacation Bible Schools is fine, but I’m not going to force her to endure two straight weeks of hustle.  After all, she doesn’t have but so much time to be a child.  And if I’m insisting she attend all these VBSes because other people want her to, what message is that sending to her?

 

A Prayer for Christmas Eve^2

Thank you, God…

Thank you for rowdy days and silent nights.

Thank you for peace, though, with two girls alternately fighting, squealing, laughing, and giggling, it’s not terribly peaceful.  There’s peace in my heart, nonetheless.

Thank you for that fall two years ago.  It was a great lesson for my family in all I do, both expensive and invaluable.

Thank you that I seldom have to ask them to work with me anymore.  Thank you that they take that initiative.

As I read and soaked in a not-warm-enough bath and my older came in to talk to me – then apologized and left – thank you that she’s here and excited about the helpful thing she’d done for her sister.

Thank you for time this Advent – time to spend with friends, time to bless people around us, time to hang out with my family, time to play games on the Santa Trackers.

Thank you for all those Jesus moments, especially in the random words of my daughters as they speak the love of you for us.

Thank you for movies that make us cry as they remind us of what’s truly important this season and every season – that You became flesh and dwelt among us, that you love even the smallest and imperfect of us, the importance of putting our fellow humans over our material gain, the importance of family, the wealth found in friends.

Simply put…  Thank you, God.

Where My Loyalties Lie

In the beginning, God created men and women in God’s image.  That’s according to Genesis 1, anyway.  In Genesis 2, a slightly different account, we’re told that God formed the man out of the dust of the ground, then God made the animals.  However, from these animals, no suitable helpmate was available to Adam.  So, short version, God created the woman.

This man and this woman were created to be in relationship with God.  Second to that, the man and the woman were created to be in relationship with each other.  They were family.  Out of this relationship, they had children; the Bible records the names of three boys, though I surmise that that’s not an exhaustive list.  The first couple multiplied and expanded their family.

Skip down several generations and about ten chapters, and we meet Abram.  Abram was an old man of 75, married to Sarai, and they were unfortunately childless.  God called Abram into covenant, a covenant which would extend to all of Abram’s descendents.  Abram and Sarai received new names and the promise of a child.  This small family grew – and would grow exponentially.

Three more generations, and the family of Abraham has grown exponentially, with his son Isaac bringing two sons, and Jacob having twelve sons and a daughter.  For his faithfulness, he received a new name:  Israel.  They acknowledged “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” but otherwise, this god had no name.  The descendants of Jacob would be called in Hebrew ben-Y’isra’el, which means literally, “the sons of Israel,” but which refers to all descendants of Jacob.

Four hundred years went by.  The Israelites had moved from Canaan to Goshen, a fertile land under the purview of Egypt.  There they grew and flourished to the point where the Pharoah considered them a viable threat and enslaved them.  Four hundred years of just acknowledging the god of their fathers.  They worshiped at altars, but there was no true worshiping assembly.

After the Exodus, the Lord delivered through Moses detailed how-to instructions for worship, including everything from when, what, and how much to sacrifice.  The sacrifices were all given in gratitude for what the Lord had done, not as a bribe to make God do what they wanted God to do.  (This was different from the pagan deity worship practices.)  Even through the desert wanderings, the Israelites didn’t worship as a community as we understand it, but what is clear is that they are still a huge family – all descended from one ancestor – with separate, individual tribal, clan, and family units.

It would be another millennium (plus a few hundred years) before the church as we know it was established.  The church as a mash-up of people from different backgrounds, different families, and different beliefs wouldn’t emerge until the first century A.D.

The church is a vital part of the believer’s life, and corporate worship is a beautiful part of that life.  I feel bereft of something if I miss more than one Sunday of worship.  However, true to the original design, we were created first to be with God, and second to be in our families.  Someone from our church tried to lay a guilt-trip on me for skipping something at church in order to take my daughters home so they could have dinner with their waiting dad – and so we could be together as a family for the first time that entire day.  We were not created to be a part of an institution; we were created to be a part of our families.

And the church is an institution.  Early in our marriage, Peter and I both spent many Sunday afternoons helping out at our small church and engaged in various local ministry projects.  The problem was, between my two jobs and his job, we barely had any time together the other six days of the week.  We thought we were being “holy” by spending all this time at church, but in reality, we were damaging one of the best gifts God had given us and were failing to be good stewards of that gift.

When someone wants people – whether individuals, parts of families, or whole families – to give up family time for time at church, then the church starts taking on cult-like qualities.  Cults desire their members to sacrifice family loyalty for loyalty to the cult and the leader.  I refuse to go there.  If I have a choice between being home with all my family or at church with just part of it, then I’ll choose to be with my whole family every.  Single.  Time.  Sunday mornings are the exception; if Hubby is sick, then I’m perfectly fine taking the girls to church without him, and vice versa if I’m sick.  But any other time…  At the end of a long day of working and teaching, when all I want is to complete the 35-minute drive home, hug my hubby, and eat dinner, then no.  My first loyalty is to God.  My second loyalty is to my family.  Everything else comes after that.

God in the Box

Our new pastor (he’s a HUGE improvement over the last one) is starting a sermon series on boxes, and he began with talking about the boxes in which we put God.  This led to my affirming his outside-the-box thinking, evident both in his resume and the things I heard about him from a shared Div school professor, and sharing my own thoughts about why we put God in a box.  I’d like to share those with you.

The church (local) and the Church (ecumenical) are the most popular God boxes today.  The God in the box is the God we can control, letting God out when we need God.  For the last 2000 years, the Church has been afraid to allow God outside the box (OTB), because they can’t control that God, nor can they control the populace with God.  Brother Bruno was tortured and torched by the Catholic Church in the 16th century for daring to think and teach that God was too infinite to be contained.  Since God invites us into relationship, when God is out of our boxes, then we must step outside the box to be with God, to close the gap.  When we do so, we start seeing the broken; the hurt; the impoverished; the incarcerated; the sick; and all the other “leasts of these,” and that is uncomfortable to us.  The Spirit compels us to be present to these folks, though.  It feels safer just to stay inside our cozy, predictable little boxes.

Box o' God

The safest God is the one who stays in the box.

I challenge you as I often challenge myself to step outside the box.  It’s not at all crowded out here, so there’s lots of breathing room.  There is a lot of room to grow in faith, too, because God resides here – outside where the broken are – and we are free to take our brokenness outside our God-boxes to heal and be healed.

 

The End of Blissful Ignorance

Sixteen years ago this morning, sixteen years ago right now, four passenger planes wrecked the blissful ignorance in which we Americans had been living since the last time we were attacked, on a Sunday morning in December 1941.  In 2001, we were riding high.  We’d survived Y2K with nary a blink, far from the worldwide technological Armageddon dooms-sayers had predicted.  George W. Bush had taken the oath of office in January, and things were good.  Then September 11th came, and with it, new ideas of terrorism and fear entered the American conscious, and new names became known to us – Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda.  Our innocence was shattered.  Things were no longer good, we were no longer safe, and our fighting men and women soon were going to war.

A view of the Twin Towers under attack on 9/11 2001.

Sometimes in life, we have our own personal ends of blissful ignorance.  Mine came on 11 September last year.  Like the catastrophe that happened in America on that fateful day sixteen years ago, my own end of innocence was brutal and tough, and it taught me to be more cautious.

I had a good friend, a best friend, someone I’d entrusted with much.  He and I had been friends for several years and always enjoyed spending time together.  The night before the end of my blissful innocence, I took the plunge and dared to share something precious and scary with him, the first time I’d shared anything of the sort with someone outside of my own nuclear family.  What I shared isn’t important to relate here, but sharing it opened up an old wound, leaving me feeling raw, vulnerable, and tired.  We were doing this by text, and he texted back his gratitude that I’d shared that and his understanding of how important it was.

I returned home the next day, tired and happy from a weekend trip to the beach.  Along the way, my friend had sent a text that he had something to show me and to let him know when I was home.  When I got home, he told me he’d added something to Dropbox and wanted me to see it.  I opened the file, and my heart plummeted to my toes before shattering with the bitterness of betrayal.  I called him in tears, and he got mad at me for feeling hurt.  Didn’t I love the way he’d rubbed salt in the newly reopened wound I’d showed him?  Didn’t I appreciate his efforts?  He’d worked so hard on it, how could I not love it?  You see, he blamed me for feeling hurt, like I wasn’t a good enough friend.  But to make it better…  “Here, let me just toss a careless apology at you.  Not that I did anything wrong.  Let’s wash that salt away – with some acid.”

This opened my eyes to something I had been reluctant to acknowledge:  I needed to cut this person out of my life.  This friendship had ceased to be healthy for me, and if I were going to grow into my next phase of life wholly, then it was necessary to start with a serious pruning, cutting away the dead parts of my life that weren’t helping the good parts flourish.  With some sadness, admittedly, I severed all ties with this person – everything from phone calls to the more inane Twitter follow.  I was sad for a little while, but once that passed, I felt lighter, fresh, healed, and whole once more.

This happens to all of us at one point or another.  Someone in our lives is more of a burden than a blessing.  Perhaps it’s that grown child who’s always asking for money.  Maybe it’s that sibling who doesn’t like the way you’re caring for Mom and Dad, though they’re always “too busy” to help.  It could be that person at church who keeps asking and asking and asking you to do something, refusing to take “no” for an answer.  It quite possibly could be that family member who hears your “no,” but then pulls out every manipulative trick to guilt you into turning it into a “yes.”  Maybe it’s that friend who takes everything you have to offer, then when you’re tapped out or refuse their demands for more, they claim you never give them anything.  There comes a time when we have to say, “No,” and walk away.

That’s what I did in this situation.  I said “no” to the emotional blackmail, gaslighting, and blame game.  Putting up with that mess just wasn’t worth what was passing for friendship.  Walking away often isn’t to punish the other person, but to save ourselves.

When I started this blog several years ago, it was with the intent of helping other women, especially moms, find their wholeness, to remind them that none of us is alone in this journey we call life, and to help all of us remember that we are God’s masterpieces.  We are fearfully and wonderfully made, and we are responsible for what we do with our createdness.  We are responsible for living full, whole lives, walking with our God in all humility, exercising mercy and practicing justice.  (Sounds like a great lifestyle change regimen!  Spiritual exercises!)

If there is someone in your world who is preventing or hindering you from living into your wholeness and fullness as one of God’s gloriously created beings, it’s time to get out the scissors and cut them out of your life.  It’s time at least to say “No” with meaning and walk away from their soul-sucking behavior.  Live into who you are meant to be.