Category Archives: Holy Living

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.

 

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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.

Sara’s Psalm #2

I originally wrote this 1 December 2001.  There was probably a late night communion with God on the beach involved.

Lord, you made each star.  You make the seas, and you made the sand.

You made each creature that flies through the air, that swims in the sea, and that crawls on the beach.

And you made me.

 

Lord, you set each star in place.  You know the exact coordinates of each one, its name and its age.

And Lord, you know the ocean.  You know every grain of sand and bit of salt in the sea.

You know every creature that lives in the sea, from the smallest microorganism to the largest whale; you know every plant in the sea:  The algae and the seaweed.

You know every grain of sand on the beach.  I cannot count the grains of sand in one handful, yet you, Lord, know not only how many grains of sand are on the beach, but where each one came from.

You know how it was made, and if it came from a hurricane, a bird, a crab, or a bulldozer moving sand from one place to another.  Or even if that grain of sand has been here all along.

And you know me.

 

Lord, you know when each star is going to burn out and when a new star will take its place, and this is your plan.

You know which wave will be the next to crash on the beach.  You have ordered the changing of the tides and the ripple of the waves.

I look out at the ocean, and I cannot see all the waves on the horizon.  I see the waves close to shore and think I know which one will crash first, only to be proven wrong.

I see my life, Lord, and I cannot see what is on the horizon, but you do, and you have a plan for what is there.

I see my life close up, thinking I know what is going to happen next, but often do not.

Just as you have a plan for the stars, the seas, and the sand, you also have a plan for me.

Help me to yield to your plan for my life, Lord, remembering not to worry about tomorrow, but to deal with today.

Help me also to see your plan for my life.  My heart is willing, but my mind keeps worrying and wondering.  Bring comfort to my mind, and help it to accept what my heart already knows.

The Sin of Racism

I’d like to talk a bit about the events in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend. There was a lot of hate in the name of Jesus, and there was a lot of fear in Jesus’ followers who felt that they were going to die, just for their beliefs in justice or their skin color. The sad part is, the events that unfolded over the weekend and are continuing to unfold throughout the week have been fomenting for a long time. I mean, no one learns this deep darkness of hate overnight.

As we usually do, my family and I went to church on Sunday. We visited my parents’ church, and while it’s theologically different from my beliefs, there is no denying that their preacher does a great job with the Word, preaching it faithfully and authentically. Knowing this about him and excited to hear a word in response to the events of Friday night and Saturday, we sat and waited. I was disappointed that the pastor himself wasn’t the one who brought up Charlottesville and our nation during the time of prayer requests. I was further disappointed in the incomplete way the pastor did address it.

You see, it’s so easy to look at ourselves, give ourselves a big ol’ happy pat on the back, and say, “I’m not a racist.” Maybe your best friend in the world is Black. Or Latino. Or Asian. Or Middle Eastern. Or whatever. Their skin is some shade of brown radically different from yours and people like you. You hang out all the time, go to each other’s houses, and have adopted the other’s family as your own. And I love that! That’s wonderful! That sort of stuff is what undermines racism.

But it’s not enough for us to say, “It’s all good. I’m not a racist. I haven’t committed the sin of racism.” And I say to you, “Think again.” So you don’t wear the white hood and burn crosses, or flash a swastika and the “heil” gesture. Maybe you’re from somewhere outside the South where the much-contested Confederate battle flag has no meaning for you – neither heritage nor hate. How vocal have you been in protesting racism? How loudly have you called out the racists – especially those who share your skin color – for their hate, their bigotry, their evil?

Racism is evil. Bigotry is evil. Hate is evil. All these things are so far away from God’s design for humanity! These attitudes and the actions that often follow them are sinful. There’s no getting around that. But also sinful is doing and saying nothing about them.

During this time of prayer, the pastor quoted II Chronicles 7:14: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” That was it. No word further, and that disappointed me. See, everyone so bent to their own complacency could hear those words, repent of their sins (“turn from their wicked ways”), and be forgiven, and voilá! God would heal our land. So close, and yet, so far.

As I said earlier, it’s so easy for us to sit back and smugly say, “Well, I’m not racist, so I have nothing to confess.” First of all, what about those who are racist? I would wager that at least 90% of the white supremacists in our country and around the world confess to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I would go further and say that every single one of those believes in God, reads their Bible, and can tell you chapter and verse where it says they are right in their bigotry and hatred. Now, granted, their Jesus isn’t the Middle Eastern Jewish guy history says he was in his humanity; their Jesus is blue-eyed, blond, strong, powerful – the perfect Aryan specimen.

Now, secondly, if we’re not overtly racist, what do we have to confess? We have to confess to being complicit in the racism. Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”  Doing nothing to stand up against racism, bigotry, and hate is tacitly allowing it to thrive, silently giving assent to it. For this, we must confess. For failing to love our neighbors as ourselves enough to risk the opinions of others, we must confess. For silently giving approval and even our blessing to racism, bigotry, and hate, we must confess. For being so enamored of our own position and privilege in our society and culture that we refuse to see, to understand, and to walk beside the plights of others, we must confess. These are sins. These are sins against God and against those God also created in God’s image. My family and I were driving home from church one Sunday, cruising the left lane up the interstate, and we got behind a car doing 70 miles per hour in a 70 mph zone. The driver got over to the right lane, and my husband groused about this driver (unseen to us as yet) going the speed limit in the passing lane. As we passed the car, I looked over and commented, “She doesn’t want to get pulled for a DWB.” He asked what that is. “Driving while Black.” Understanding that this is a reality for people of color but not of whiteness is part of what it means to begin to walk beside them.

And we are all created in God’s image. Genesis 1: 27 through the beginning of verse 28 tells us that God created humanity in God’s own image – male and female – and that God blessed them. Nowhere does it say that God only made white people. Paul takes this a little further in Galatians 3:28 when he declares, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free, for all are one in Christ Jesus.” This is where our understanding of humanity needs to lie. For all of us who profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we need to see our fellow believers as just as human, just as created, just as loved as we are. For Paul, being a part of the heavenly kingdom was more important than the constructs of racial, gender, or social boundaries that tend to separate us into “they” and “us.” If any of us confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, then we need to make him Lord, and doing that means following his ways. His was the way of love. Jesus tells his disciples (which extends down to us), “Love one another,” a command echoed in I John. There are no conditions or stipulations; it’s a simple command, an expectation of Christ’s followers.

At the same time, we need to be intentionally proactive instead of reactive. Abolishing symbols only addresses the symptoms of the problem. This problem of hate isn’t a matter of flags or statues or gestures; the problem of hate that leads to bigotry and racism is a serious heart problem. We need our hearts to be broken so God can mend them. We need our hearts to be softened, so we can feel for others. And we need our hearts to be emboldened so that we might not fear standing up for peace and justice for all people in our land, not just those the same shade of brown as we.