Tag Archives: Christ

Being Present to Black Friday

We don’t call it “Good Friday” here, because, in those moments, there was nothing good about it.  After enjoying dinner, twelve disciples watched their leader get arrested.  Then what happened to them?  All we know is that Peter followed along, likely staying close to hear what was going on but even so, denying knowing Jesus at all.  Judas committed suicide out of remorse for his betrayal of Jesus.  As for the rest?  They probably scattered in fear.  Likely we all would.

As Peter followed Jesus and the crowd as the guards dragged Jesus first to the Sanhedrin, then to Pilate, then to Herod and back to Pilate (in Luke’s account), he was scared to death.  Unsure.  Hesitant.  Too scared even to admit to knowing Jesus.

Then Friday dawns.  Jesus is bruised, beaten, bloody.  He hasn’t slept, opting instead to pray for hours during the long night after dinner.  He’s been betrayed, he’s feeling friendless – he’s alone, for all intents and purposes.  Soon he will be forced to walk the two miles from the Praetorium to Golgotha.  Some gospel accounts have him carrying his cross the whole way, others have the Roman soldiers conscripting Simon of Cyrene to carry it part of the way.  Regardless, he picked up his cross.  He accepted the death sentence.

And now it’s 9 a.m.  The soldiers nail Jesus to the cross.  They laugh and jeer, as do people in the crowd.  They divide Jesus’ things amongst themselves and cast lots for his robe.  For the next six hours, Jesus will hear the taunts and jeers of the soldiers, the religious leaders, and the rest of the crowd.  Even one of the thieves beside him would taunt him.  John tells us that Jesus looked down and saw his mother and his “beloved disciple,” giving them to each other, commissioning John to take care of Mary.  The rest of Jesus’ followers?  Who knows where they are.  Probably hiding out in fear, not wanting to be discovered, not wanting to be found guilty by association.

Noon.  Darkness falls over the land.  Jesus continues to suffer, breath coming harder.  The crowds and soldiers continue to watch and mock.  Crucified people slowly suffocate and die, eventually becoming too weak to push up against the nails or ropes, the weight of the body as it hangs preventing the lungs from taking in enough air.

Three p.m.  Jesus gives a loud cry and dies.  The Roman soldiers don’t need to break his legs to hasten death as they had to to the thieves.  The eleven remaining disciples are nowhere to be found.  Two members of the Council, secret followers of Jesus, now come out and one approaches Pilate, requesting the body of Jesus.  The other helps him take the body down.  They wrap the body in herbs and linens before laying it in a new tomb.  The women who followed Jesus follow the two men, noting where Jesus was before going home for Sabbath rest.

Sunset comes and with it, the Sabbath begins.  We don’t know what the disciples did, but we can imagine how they felt.  They would have felt fear and uncertainly.  They were heartbroken about losing their friend and teacher.  The disciples were crushed with disappointment, because they truly believed that Jesus was heralding a new messianic era, a time when the Israelites would rise up and destroy their Roman oppressors.

In the evangelical church, we grab hold of “Sunday’s coming!”  We want to skip right past the ugly, emotional events of Thursday night and Friday and get to the joy of Sunday.  As I was growing up, we went from Palm Sunday with its Hosannas to Resurrection Sunday with its Hallelujahs.  In fact, there was the unspoken belief that the suffering of cancer, miscarriages, and chronic illnesses was because of one’s sin, so such issues were kept secret and private to avoid judgment.  We didn’t talk about suffering at all, not even the life-changing suffering of Jesus Christ.

However, are we not first followers of Christ?  We need to embrace the pain that Jesus and his followers faced.  We need to understand the pain, sense of betrayal, heartbreak, disappointment, sadness, the mind-melting fatigue, and the fear of those first disciples.  But why?  Why do we want even to visit this place of darkness?  We do so, because we will visit this valley in our lives.  We will feel all of these emotions, and we will experience the paralysis that comes from overwhelming inundation of feeling many of them at the same time.

Yes, we have the hope of the resurrection and new life in Christ, but that doesn’t take away the reality of the pain.  Sure, “Sunday is coming,” but the disciples didn’t know that, or, rather, they didn’t believe it.  And Sunday coming two days later does not, in any way, change the reality that today is Friday and today is dark with grief and fear.

So let’s stay here for today – and tomorrow, too.  Let’s understand and feel the richness of the emotions of this day, even when they’re not all pastel, fluffy, cotton-tailed happiness.  Let’s be present to these emotions, realizing that we must have sadness in order to appreciate best the joy of the empty tomb and what that means for our lives.  To do less than this is to cheapen the value of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, ignoring it because it makes us feel uncomfortable.

Yes! On the Right Track!

Events of the weekend brought to mind this passage from Acts 5*:

33 When they [the members of the Sanhedrin] heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. 34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. 35 Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. 36 Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. 37 After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. 38 Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

40 His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.

41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.

When someone who is “religious” tells you that speaking the truth is wrong and that preaching the Word of God is wrong, then that tells me I am totally on the right track.  Satan used someone this weekend to try to undermine the message of love that fills the entire Bible; that came to completeness in the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; and that, paired with “don’t judge others, ’cause your life is just as messy,” exemplifies how we Christians should live.  It’s small in the realm of persecutions, but it lets me know I’m on the right track, that Satan doesn’t like that message.  So I’m gonna just rock on with preaching this word of God’s love and acceptance for all people; it’s beautifully inclusive.

“I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be for all people…” (Luke 2:10)

For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

 

 

*Scripture references are from the New International Version of the Holy Bible.

 

I’m Out

What does that mean?  In gambling, it means, “I’m out of this hand or the game.”  In family life, it could mean, “I’m out of the house running errands.”  In the LGBT community, it refers to being “out of the closet,” being open about one’s sexuality and lifestyle.  I’m not saying any of those things.  I’m saying, I’m out of the box.  I’m outside the box.  I’ve known this for a while; it certainly wasn’t a secret to Dean Cogdill, my Divinity School dean.  To this day, I’m still not sure what he saw in me that had him labeling me his “outside the box thinker.”  I really had never thought my cognitive processes were all that different from other people’s.

It was fall semester, 2004, and I was in my last semester of Divinity school.  The last semester is rather anxiety-provoking, because every student in their last semester has to complete a Senior Synthesis paper, a lengthy (save often!) discourse on his or her entire Divinity school experience – every discovery, every growing edge, every field experience, every mission trip…  Everything!  To accompany this epic tome comes the Senior Panel.  This is a closed-door meeting with two professors and that semester’s Senior Synthesis professor, and each student gets to have a say in his or her choice of professors.  I put my choices in – Drs. Jones and Harmon, my professors of Hebrew and Old Testament, and Theology and Ethics, respectfully.  Soon before the panels were scheduled to begin, the list of panels came out and was passed around the room.

It didn’t take long for the mutterings to start.  “Whoa, Sara!  What did you do?”  “Oh, Sara, you’re gonna get it!”  Oh lordy, I thought, waiting for the list to get around to me, how bad is it?  Finally, the list came to me, and scanning down to my name I discovered that I didn’t get either of my choices on my panel.  Instead, I got both deans.  BOTH.  DEANS!  My professor said, “No one else got both Dr. Cogdill and Dr. Powers.”  “Yea.  Lucky me,” I replied.  Truthfully, I was terrified and humbled and honored, all at the same time.

There was history there.  As a Religion minor in the days before the Div school was chartered, Dr. Cogdill was chairman of that department, and, of course, I’d had some classes with him.  I’d had Dr. Powers for one undergraduate class.  In a lively discussion on the role of women in the home one day in Church and Family, Dr. Cogdill had had to get on me about my comportment during class discussions (I guess heavily insinuating that the guy I was addressing was misogynistic wasn’t very mature of me), an incident that, thankfully, he’d forgotten by the time I had applied for Divinity school.

As I sat in the conference room on the day of my panel, I remember the warmth and encouragement flowing from Dr. Hoyle, Dr. Powers, and Dr. Cogdill.  The last question Dr. Cogdill asked me was, “Sara, how will you stay outside the box?”  Um…  Uh…  Duh…  Crickets.  I was outside the box?  Really?  OK, that’s pretty cool, but it’s not something I’d ever done intentionally.  I was still young enough that some parental/family/social approval was a big deal to me.

That was ten-and-a-half years ago, and I am so completely out of the box now with age and maturity that I often forget there is a box filled with so many people.  See, here on the outside, it’s really spacious – not very crowded at all.  It’s great, but getting here can be quite scary.  Sometimes staying here is quite scary.  So how am I staying outside the box?

My heart still yearns to fulfill my ministry calling from so long ago.  As I have encountered more and more people, it has become glaringly apparent to me that we need more love and less judgment in this world.  People don’t need to hear a laundry list of their wrongdoings while we’re thumping our Bibles at them.  They need to hear just a few simple truths:  God loves you.  Jesus has something amazing in store for your life.  I love you.  Focus on that, so sweet, so simple, and the rest will fall into place perfectly.

English: Love Heart rainbow

English: Love Heart rainbow (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Long before the Supreme Court determined that equality for gays and lesbians who wish to marry would be protected under the 14th Amendment, I began to think, Why shouldn’t they marry if they wish?  I mean, so many of them, without marriage, are living together in long-term, committed, monogamous relationships, and isn’t that pretty much what marriage is?  I lose nothing by them having the same civil rights that I do.  It’s not going to negatively impact my faith, my marriage, or my family life.  It simply means that gay and lesbian couples can now be legally happy together instead of illegally (for lack of a better word) happy together.  So…  Since they also have been created in the image of God, just as I have, and since God loves them, just as He does me, shouldn’t they also be welcomed into worship with us and welcomed to join us at the communion table?

Then my thoughts spread to another group, one that a friend of mine is in:  The BDSM group.  In speaking to my friend, he conveyed that “people like [them]” aren’t welcomed into churches, that churches tend to take a hard stand against them coming in.  Yet, this guy misses communal worship.  Years of being married to a Presbyterian minister accustomed him to the liturgy of worship and the inclusion into the family of faith.  If he misses church, would not others in the BDSM community miss it, too?  So why not establish a church where those other churches shun are welcomed?  Maybe being gay or enjoying some consensual kink is a sin; I don’t think so, but then again, I’m not God, and I’m not ever going to presume to put words in the mouth of the Almighty.  What I do know is, the Kingdom of God is for all of these people, just as much as it’s for the straight-laced, buttoned-down, very conservative people who sat on the pews this morning for worship.  I know that God loves them, and I am also called to love them.  And if the people following these lifestyles are sinning, it is not my job to judge them; the Holy Spirit can condemn them and lead them to repentance if that’s the case.  See, at the very least, these folks would hear the gospel message of sacrificial love and sacrificial living; and at the most, they would be convicted of their sins and make a lifestyle change (whatever the sin might be).  That looks like a win-win, whether you’re in the far-right evangelical camp, the left-leaning evangelical camp, or somewhere in the middle.  Who loses out here?  Nobody, by my reckoning.

Staying outside the box means raising children who also think outside the box, but that’s a post for another day.  Stay tuned.

Christmas Gift for a Hater

No H8

No H8 (Photo credit: RussellReno)

The past year – the past two months, actually, – revealed something to me that I did not know.  I have a hater.  To say I was surprised is an understatement.  What multiplied my surprise exponentially was the fact that (1) this hater is my brother-in-law, (2) this hater professes a  personal relationship with Christ, and (3) this hater and I have had the leanest, most bare-bones contact since we saw each other last two Christmases ago.

Yet, Christmas is the season of giving and sharing, and I felt it appropriate, despite everything, to give him a gift.  Three, actually.  Here is what I gave him:

Herein lies your three gifts from me, two of which you’ve already received, though you haven’t realized it.

My first gift to you is forgiveness.  I forgive you for the mean and hateful things you’ve said about me behind my back.  I also forgive you for telling my husband he should divorce me, simply because you don’t like me.  I told you once before that I am willing to forgive you 70 times 7 times, and this is simply one more.   You’ve had this gift for over a year.

My second gift to you is prayer.  When Peter told me you hate me, I was incredulous.  My first thought was, Why?  After all, we haven’t seen each other in two years, nor have we spoken.  My second thought was, Isn’t he supposed to be a Christ-follower?  My Bible tells me not to hate.  It tells me that God created us all in God’s image, and that God is love.  My Jesus tells his disciples – his followers and those who learn from him – to love one another.  Period.  There are no conditions on this love; it’s to be unconditional.  My Bible also says that it’s not possible to hate someone and live in the light of God.  Lastly, my Bible says to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.  For whatever reason, you’ve allowed jealousy and hate to enter your heart, and from there, they have spread their poisons to your soul like thick, black sludge.  Your hate only hurts you and those who love you; you’ve already allowed your hate to severely damage your relationship with your only brother.   I have been praying for you since I learned how strong your feelings for me are, and my prayer for you is that the spirit of God’s love will be the antidote to the poison of hate inside of you.

Lastly, my third gift to you – and this comes from Peter and me! – is gratitude.  Every time you tell Peter all the things you can’t stand about me, it reminds him of how much he appreciates those attributes in me.  He’s known I’m “opinionated and outspoken” from when we were dating, and he knows I get it honestly from the very strong women in my family.  He loves that I’m intelligent enough to form my own thoughts and opinions on matters, and he respects and is proud of the fact that I’m bold enough and confident enough to express those thoughts and feelings.  He knows I can speak openly for myself; I don’t have to play silly games like hiding behind some man, pretending I’m speaking in his voice.  This leads him to love me more deeply and it brings us even closer together.  So we thank you, because, like most couples, we can use moments of renewal, and your words bring that.  How awesome is our God who can bring good out of evil!

I wish you a Merry Christmas, and may God bless you in the New Year.

Returning hate for hate seems easy.  Nurturing “The Poison Tree” takes time, effort and sacrifice.  Forgiveness and offering prayer is much harder, yet only requires the sacrifice of pride.  Once I forgave and committed to praying for my brother-in-law, I became free!  I was free of his hate, free of anger, and free to have the love and compassion for him that God Godself has for him.

I key these words, not to prove anything or to appear any way.  I am a genuine Christ-follower who sins and misses God’s will for my life on a daily basis.  But I give you these words to inspire you, to give you hope, and to show you that there is an alternative to hate.

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Homecoming

An image of a handshake superimposed upon a Gr...

Today was a special treat, as my family and I got to attend my home church’s annual Homecoming service, celebrating that church’s 112th year.  That church has a new pastor, a guy who I’ve known from that church since I was a child; we’re both part of the fabric of this generation of Sorrell’s Grove.  I walked in to hugs – the first two being dear, dear former neighbors of ours, a lovely couple who lived two houses down from my parents and me until I was 23 and we moved to a new town.  In my hand was my favorite church Bible (I have Bibles for home reading, sentimental value, study…  You get the idea), a raggedy, teal Bible inscribed and gifted to me from that church when I graduated from high school.

As I prepared to return to my home church, I thought about how it’s the place where I received many of my spiritual roots.  I learned about Jesus there.  And love.  And discipleship.  And serving others.  My Acteen leaders, Becky and Carol, empowered me to serve through backyard Bible schools and volunteering in the community, activities that took hold and lasted long after I completed my Acteen studies.

It was in this church as a youth that I learned about “us versus they,” “they” being everyone who’s not Christian, and barely Baptist.  I learned about premillenial pretribulation dispensationalism.  To put that in lay language, the idea that the world will get worse and worse until Jesus comes in the Rapture, taking all those who believe to Heaven and leaving all the rest to terrible torments and tribulations.  This church taught me that only men are suitable to serve the Lord from the pulpit or in servant leadership positions.  I don’t agree with any of this any longer.  All of us – Christians of all sorts, Muslims, Pagans and Atheists – are human beings created in the image of God, and God loves us all.  Catholic doctrine is no more wrong than Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian or Lutheran doctrine is (despite what last year’s Homecoming speaker proclaimed in the name of God).  If Christ calls us to suffer for him, even being willing to die for him, what makes us think we should be spared that in the end times?  God can call anyone who God wishes to minister.  Even the early Church had female deacons, both the Church ecumenical in the first century and the Baptist church in the early seventeenth century.  The only restriction the Bible places on women leading is that we should not usurp the authority of the church doing so, and God is the only authority in the church.  This is a good lesson for ministers of both genders.

Despite the theological and doctrinal differences, this small, country, loving Southern Baptist church is where my spiritual roots were formed, and nothing can ever change that.  This church has seen recent growth, which is a blessing.  It has taken down its American and Christian flags, for which this Bonhoeffer-loving minister is grateful.  A carved wooden cross graces the front of the church where once hung a lovely picture of Jesus.  There have been some beautiful improvements to the sanctuary itself, but one thing remains constant, and that is the people who love God so whole-heartedly and love people so warmly.

The Grace of God, part 2

Church of the Nativity of Our Lady (in front) ...

Church of the Nativity of Our Lady (in front) – Vitoslavlitsy wooden museum, Novgorod (Photo credit: w0LD)

You can read “The Grace of God, part 1” here.

I was talking to my best friend about the accident and my concerns about my husband driving when the adrenaline crash hits, and he suggested I pick him up.  So, our younger daughter and I drove into Wilmington to get Peter and to take care of the 4 errands Peter had to run after work (stuff for the house and for my business).

We were between stops 3 and 4 with plans to eat lunch before our last stop, and as I was pulling out of the Sam’s parking lot onto the main drag, my car started sounding funny.  Then it started running hot.  Then it hit the red zone, lights came on and chimes sounded.  Peter (God bless him) got out and pushed my car to the side.  It cooled off just enough to pull it into the parking lot of a surf shop about 10′ away as the squirrel runs.  We popped the hood and grabbed lunch while it cooled.  After lunch, my husband put radiator fluid in it, and it stayed cool down to the Exxon station.  He walked across to church, and our friend Mark gave him a ride back to the office to pick up his car.

My daughter and I stayed behind at the Exxon station while I spoke with the mechanic, left my key and so forth.  After a quick look at my engine, the mechanic saw moisture – radiator fluid – sprayed all over my engine.  So, it’s likely – hopefully nothing more than! – a line or a connection.  It was 3:00 when I got it there, so he was not sure if they’d be able to get to it today or Monday.  The mechanic told me I’m a good mom.  I swear, I was barely hanging on!  I knew my little girl was tired, and being four and tired, she was pushing it – so restless because she knew if she stopped, that’d be it.  And in the car coming home, she did, and it was.  But I needed that affirmation today.

We walked across the street to church, hoping to catch Peter and our minister-friend, but we had just missed them.  In the meantime, our children’s minister extended lovely hospitality to my daughter and me, offering this frazzled mom and bone-deep-exhausted little girl the absolute classic definition of hospice care – a still, quiet place to rest and drink to refresh us.  I had a mile-long to-do list today with places where I could stop for a bit, and I’d told my daughter that I’d read her a story when I got to a stopping point.  That was my first stopping point today.  Allison was so incarnational, and God worked through her today in lovely ways.

God worked through my friend who helped me see a way to ease my concerns.  God worked through the mechanic who gave me an affirmation at just the right time.  God worked through our friend.  And God worked through Allison who gave my daughter and me just what we needed when we needed it.

Through whom have you seen God at work today?  What are you willing to do to allow God to work through you for someone else?

The Grace of God, part 1

DTB of Dinner and a Suit #9

DTB of Dinner and a Suit #9 (Photo credit: digitaltourbus)

The call came at around 9:30 yesterday morning while I was in the shower.  My phone rang, and my first two thoughts were, Whoever it is can leave a message, and, This is why I don’t like having my phone in the bathroom.  I got out and saw that I had missed two calls, one from my husband, and it was he who’d left a message.  The message was short and alarmingly blunt:  “I just totaled my [work] van.”  What???  Was he OK?  If he was calling, then he must be fine.  When I finally got back in touch with him, he answered the rest of my questions.  He was OK, just had some abrasion burns from the airbag.  It wasn’t his fault.  No one was hurt.  Then he filled in the details.

He was driving to one of his stops, his van loaded with lawn care chemicals (we did the math, and it was about 1000 pounds of chemicals!).  That doesn’t include the weight of the van, his rider, or the rest of the equipment (the tank itself, the hose, his blower, etc.).  A woman in an SUV pulled out in front of him; she admitted herself that she saw the truck in front of him, but not him.  He had about 20 feet to stop while going 55 mph, which made an accident inevitable, even without the load he was carrying.  He t-boned the SUV, and she did two 360s before hitting the white pickup she’d seen.

I found out after the initial call that the woman had her two children in the SUV with her.  Her vehicle was totaled, too.  Her axle was pushed out the other side and her windows shattered.  She’d wisely put her children in the center and passenger side seats in the back, both secure in their car seats.

It was by the grace of God that no one was hurt.  Not the woman, not the driver of the other truck, not her children and not my husband.  Such a nasty accident with no serious injuries.  Fortuitously, there was an ambulance waiting at the intersection right behind the woman which was able to respond immediately to the accident.

Compassion fills my heart for this woman.  Sure, she was at fault; she failed to yield to oncoming traffic, plus she was driving with an expired license.  Her insurance company will have to pay for three vehicles, and her rates will skyrocket.  I don’t know how her husband handled the news, but I hope he hugged her and said, “I’m just glad that the kids and you are alright.  We’ll deal with the rest.”  At some point, it either has hit her or will hit her that, due to her mistake, one or both of her kids could’ve been killed.  I don’t know about this family’s financial situation.  Maybe they’re living deep in debt, paycheck to paycheck, and this will just be another blow?

But, no matter what damaged occurred, the important thing is, there were no serious injuries.  The children were likely shaken and luckily not stirred.  No lives were lost.  That makes it a good day.

Stay tuned for part 2, in which I’ll share the ways God worked through other people to bless me yesterday as the day wore on.

Mary’s Baptism – A High and Holy Day

It was a "High and Holy Day"!

It was a “High and Holy Day”!

The baptism service began with everyone gathering together on the beach at South Wrightsville.  Many friends from church were there, as were the four of us and my dad.  So many other family members and friends – both real life and online were there with us in spirit as they sent thoughts and prayers for Mary and us during this special time in her life.  What an amazing feeling, that sense of communion in the Spirit, unhindered by physical distance!

Mary opted to wear her bathing suit, and she wanted to wear the traditional white over it.  Our neighbor and top kidsitter Shayna had given Mary some clothes that she was getting rid of.  Shayna’s small enough that Mary can wear some of her stuff, as long as it’s not too grown up.  One of the items she gave her was a tunic top, sort of Grecian goddess in style, and because it’s pretty and longish, Mary opted to wear that.  It was a good choice, because it’s about dress length on her.  Shayna and her husband were two of the ones who were with us in Spirit, as they’re on duty with the National Guard currently.  (Mary’s outfit really doesn’t make a difference, but I wanted to remember it for my own sake.)

Our pastor began with a prayer, then we sang the first and last verses of Amazing Grace.  After that, the family members of the four baptism candidates read their faith stories.  First was Steven’s, a man close to my age.  His wife Sharon read his. She got a little choked up in places, for his story was moving, and it was beautiful to see how she’d helped him along in his faith journey.  Then Peter read Mary’s.  I loved how she included by name some of the people who helped her along her faith journey, too, including her maternal grandparents (with such adjectives as “wonderful” and “marvelous”).  Then there were two teenagers who I don’t really know – Steven and Delaney, brother and sister – who were being baptized.  What an amazing day for them, but also for their mom and grandma with them!

First Pastor Eric baptized Steven (the older one).  They walked into the water together and dove into the waves before Eric baptized Steven.  Whatever works, because I was quite sure the water was doing its part of following the Didache by being both “living” and “cold.”

Then it was our turn.  Mary had already told me she wanted us to hold hands going into the water.  As we reached the water, she said, “Come on!” and started running, so we ran into the ocean, laughing joyously.  The water was almost Caribbean calm at this low tide and pretty clear for our oceans.  And, as I suspected, cold.  Mary gave a little scream once when a waved lapped us.  I put my back to the sea so I was facing the shore, raised my right hand and said the familiar liturgy:

I baptize you, Mary, my daughter and now my sister in Christ, in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Buried to your old life of sin…  Raised to new life in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yes, I got choked up, but only she could hear it.

Every church-goer has heard the account of Jesus’s baptism at least once.  After Jesus comes up out of the water, the Spirit descends like as a dove, and a voice from Heaven says, “This is my son whom I love.  In him I am well pleased.”  Stop and go back to read that quote again, slowly.  Can you imagine hearing your mom or dad say that  to you or about you?  How incredible and affirming those words would feel!

So, after Mary came up out of the water and brushed her hair back, I hugged her and said, “You are my daughter.  I love you, and I am so proud of you!”  She made a comment about having a little salt water in her mouth as we approached the beach.  I said, “Let it remind you that we are to be the salt of the earth.”

Pastor Eric baptized the last two candidates, pronounced a brief benediction, then all the kids ran to the water – except for my two.  Oh, my poor three-year-old wanted to get in the ocean soooo badly!  It was killing her being that close and yet, so far away.  A beach trip is in our near future.

It was truly, absolutely, completely a “high and holy day.”  It’s one of those days that I will carry and cherish in my heart always.

Death Denying Church

English: Titian's Ancona Crucifiction, 1558.

English: Titian’s Ancona Crucifiction, 1558. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yes, Sunday’s coming–but that’s for another day. Today is Friday, and tomorrow is Saturday. It was so for Jesus, it is so for our world, and if it is not so for us, we might actually be self-serving, world-denying Gnostics.  ~Dr. Steven Harmon

All day today, my Facebook feed had variations of the same message:  “Today is Friday, but Sunday’s coming!”  This simple message anticipated the resurrection of Christ, that moment when the women discovered that Jesus had risen and had been the first to proclaim the Good News.  It anticipates the Christian joyful belief that Christ had defeated death after descending into Hades as the ancient creeds posit.

But before there is Sunday and the Resurrection, there is Friday.  There is betrayal.  Dismay.  Bone-crushing grief.  Anger.  Confusion.  Sadness.  Uncertainty.  Doubt.  Before there is Sunday, there is a flogged, torn and bleeding Messiah nailed to a crude wooden cross.  Before there is Sunday, there is a man who came to save his nation, but who was rejected by those same people.  Before there is Sunday, there is a follower who betrays his Lord and friend.  Before Sunday comes, one of Jesus’ most trusted friends denies even knowing him – because he was so afraid.  Before Sunday comes, there are followers scared and trembling, rightly fearing for their own lives.

Before Sunday comes, a Roman puppet governor gives in to the crowd.  Before Sunday comes, the religious leaders would pat themselves on the back for getting rid of a “problem” in order to save Israel from the Romans, little knowing that Jesus came to save Israel first.  This “problem” would prove to be the least of their worries as the resurrected Messiah would empower his followers to even more boldness in the name of Jesus.  Nor would killing this Messiah be successful at preventing the Romans from defeating Jerusalem; it just delayed the inevitable.

Before Sunday comes, a thief receives the promise of Paradise.  Before Sunday comes, a heart-broken mother receives a new son.  Before Sunday comes, a member of the religious ruling class would bury this bruised and bleeding body in a new garden tomb.  Before Sunday comes, followers scatter and flee in fear for their lives.

If we ignore Christ’s agony of today as he hung on the cross; if we ignore the fear, sadness and confusion of those early followers; and if we ignore the raw misery of God as God watched God’s own son suffer, bleed and die for God’s creation, then we risk ignoring the suffering and pain in the world around us. We risk fluffing over the incredibly high price that Jesus paid for our sins. We risk minimizing the degree to which that debt was ours that God canceled for us. We risk minimizing the power of the cross for our own comfort.

Genuine Pagans vs. Pharisaic Christians

Pharisee

Pharisee (Photo credit: arartplatform)

I would rather be surrounded by genuine Pagans and authentic atheists than by pharisaic Christians.

In my circles, I have friends from many different faiths and belief systems.  Sure, most of them are fellow Christ-followers, and all of them are genuine, compassionate, loving people.  Otherwise, they wouldn’t be my friends.  But it’s not just the Christ-followers who act this way.  In fact, I’ve found that my Pagan friends tend to be the most accepting and genuine of all my friends.  One – a soap bud and colleague of several years – says, “You can pray for me if I can dance naked in the woods for you.”  Hey, no problem.  After all, if she’s lifting me up to her deities in the way that’s most meaningful to her, then it also means she’s thinking of me and wants good things to happen for me.  At the same time, by praying to YHWH God for her, aren’t I doing the same thing?

So many of my Christian contacts are exactly as they appear.  If they love you, they tell you.  If they think you’re lacking in some way, they’ll point it out (in tactful, respectful ways, of course).  If they don’t like you, they’ll leave you alone.  This is how it should be.  We don’t always like or get along with everyone, and even the first century apostles faced this issue.  As long as we act in love towards all, this is OK.

And yet, in every circle, a Pharisee must appear.  I won’t say “hypocrite,” because we’re all hypocrites to some degree, including the woman I see in the mirror each morning.  I won’t mention the Pharisee in my life by name, but I’ve known him for nearly two decades.  We don’t speak or see each other often, which is the way I personally like it.  We just don’t groove well together, though it’d seem we would.  I found out he told someone close to me that he regrets that he and I didn’t get off on a better foot.  Then I later found out, in that same weekend, he recommended to my husband than he divorce me for being “controlling and manipulative.”  And five years ago, he’d also suggested my husband should divorce me for being “opinionated and outspoken.”  This guy is a leader in his Christian church and facilitates weekly small group Bible studies in their home.

You see my point?  On the outside, he’s holy and pure, a “model” Christ-follower, husband and father.  He’s involved with his community and active within his church.  And he’ll tell everyone who’ll listen how great he is.  He’s a modern-day pharisee, a white-washed tomb – clean, pristine and lovely on the outside, full of decay and rot on the inside.

So, is he right?  Am I controlling and manipulative?  No one in my life has ever said that I am, and my people are brutally honest.  They’ll ascribe such adjectives to me as “bossy” and “high maintenance” (because I know what I want).  And anyone who knows me will tell you I’m opinionated and outspoken, but for a woman CEO who’s raising two strong girls, those are attributes, not faults.

That’s probably his problem with me, though.  I am opinionated, meaning I have thoughts and opinions of my own, not those which parrot the thoughts and opinions of men in my life.  I am outspoken; someone has to be willing to speak out against hate, bigotry, misogyny and injustice while speaking out for love, justice and the right treatment of God’s beloved children.  I am a CEO, smart enough, ambitious enough and hardworking enough to start, run and grow my own business.  And I am raising two strong girls, girls who are bright, compassionate, beautiful and who even now are ambitious and smart enough to grow within my business or strike out on their own.

Yeah, all I am and all I do is definitely his problem, because it’s these things that make me the amazing woman God created me to be.  Give me my “real” pagan, atheist and agnostic friends any day over someone who has no more substance than a Hollywood sound stage.