Category Archives: church

Don’t Give Me Man’s Religion; Just Give Me Jesus {An Abstraction on Path}

 

From my perch on the lazy swing, my mom and I watch them play in a hill of red dirt. We smile at one another at how carefree and winsome they are, pushing the red around, not a thought to how caked on it is, how hard it will be to wash off, and how happy they are, just to scratch their hands in dirt and carve paths.

One of my little ones, my six year old, she comes to me and says Mama, you need to come look at something I made. In my new blingy sandals and silk tank, I’m not dressed for playing in dirt, I tell her.

You don’t have to get in it–just come look, her red-lipped mouth moves and I follow its beautiful dance , looking in huge greenish-hazel eyes, her pale brows and milky white skin glowing in the sun. Her adorable lisp just makes me want to giggle . I get up and walk over, following her as she runs, her long golden hair ripping in the wind and caressing her waist.

 

Can you see her?

 

She shows me the miniature road and cave she carved at the tip-top of the sienna-red hill. I grin back at her beaming, proud face. Such an angel.

Sundays in my family are more relaxed nowadays. It used to be come in early on Saturday evening, and get up early on Sunday morning to run around like a chicken with your head cut off to to make it to church early to practice for worship and to teach Sunday School–back when my dad was the pastor. And my parents had to sacrifice a lot of time with my sister and I to make that bustling church life happen.

Now, though, things are slower. We take our time getting up on Sunday morning, and we fellowship over cream soda, chips, and good-smelling turkey feta spinach burgers that make your mouth salivate, the aroma wafting from the kitchen out onto the porch. The outdoor furniture is a communion table of sorts, the swing slowly rocking back and forth– making me a little sleepy– my pew. I smile at three little heads chomping on burgers, their legs tucked under the bar my dad built for them to eat at. We laugh and enjoy simple things.

These are the things that matter–not the rushing, not the pushing, not the running around like crazy to impress and serve. Sometimes serving is in the slowness, the taking time to be with one another. This kind of serving, this kind of love speaks to my soul best. This is where and how I am awake to God. I’ve thought a lot about what it means to carve out my own path with God. What it means to really be awake to life, and Him all around.

This is the first year that it’s April and we haven’t bought flowers or a hammock for the backyard for relaxing and reading. But it’s also the first year that’s been so full of promise. Flowers can go a long way in brightening one’s day, and I certainly recommend gardening for the blues, for the cloudy seasons, but not even pansies and violets, no matter their austere beauty and symbolic joy, can force a change in a desperate time. They, for all their smiles, cannot make the wind blow in a different direction. And they, for all the hope they ensue, cannot keep winter’s last freeze at bay.

In the evenings, in our home, wine is poured and Nora Jones or Allison Krauss croons soft and lulls our heartbeats to a slower pace. Conversation is the meatier portion, as hello-hugs are exchanged and we chop bell peppers and herbs, and talk about our day. There is much love, everyone gathered around, but there are also a lot of sleepy-filled days when we are tired, and we can hardly put one foot in front of the other. We are in what one author coined, The Tired Years. 

Some days we bicker. Some days we all just need our space. Some days the kids scream words at one another that make my insides ache and I think I’ve gone very wrong somewhere along the way. Some days I can’t see the redemption in it all. 

But I see hope just around the bend, and that is a very good feeling.

Isn’t hope like that? A little shrouded, always hiding just beyond our fears and uncertainty, but still shining her light through the cracks of our insecurity?

I often feel restless these days. Like something better is waiting for me just down the road, perhaps slightly obstructed from view, and the Spirit is nudging me to keep pressing forward.

There is no hope or redemption in staying in this place of comfort, my cynicism and pain an excuse to doubt and not step out on that limb of vulnerability He’s called me to.

He’s called me to be brave– I know this. Last year, I wrote here about fear in a 30 day series. It was difficult and painful to visit and re-visit sordid wounds hidden deep within that are happily put away and forgotten. It is no surprise to me that he is whispering now, as I listen, and become awake to Him, the word– brave. Be brave, my love.

In my practice of this new bravery I’m waking up to Him, seeing Him, being aware of Him in all kinds of ways in which I wasn’t before. Everyday seems like an exercise in freedom. The more I learn, the more I realize I’ve been in bondage, and that He came to set me free. He did not die so that I could live a caged-up life.

He has laid out the road before me, and it is marked with steps of courage. Each step is lit with His goodness and audacious love.

Really–let me ask you–does it matter what others think of my dress, or my hair, or my tattoos, my writing, or my home? Should I live my life, in a tight little box, conformed to a religious formula? You know the one I mean–the one that says Christians dress this way, fix their hair like this, only wear this amount of jewelry, don’t drink this or only eat that, and it’s okay if you had a tattoo pre-Jesus, but not after.

Didn’t Paul tell us that if we were going to hold ourselves to the law of circumcision, that we must hold ourselves to the entire law–every letter–every jot and tittle? So let’s be about grace, then.

Let’s not forget the important parts of the law–the ones Jesus said to hold onto– love your neighbor as yourself, and love the Lord your God with all your heart. But for me, I have decided to take Him literally when he said that I no longer need to follow all of the law and that man does not rule over me with his made up version of religion. And this is Him giving life to me.

So, yeah, hope~

The path is laid with hope and the road is stretched before me, and who knows where it will lead with God, the Wild Man, showing me that there are no holds barred, no cage, no do’s and don’ts — only Love, brave and bold, leading into new freedom. A slave to the world no longer. Christ my Redeemer. People my passion. Heaven my goal.

The race is set. Don’t mind me if I zig and zag all over the place, in my own unique pattern, a roving rebel. I’m focused on the prize, over hill and over mountain, through valley and through storm.

 

 

***Will you do this with me, friends? Let’s explore the practice of Awakening to God–this still ties into listening–writing out our story with words that show, not just tell. We’ll connect on twitter and facebook with the hashtag, #concretewords,  #listeningtoyourlife and also #awakeningtoGod if you like. Do me a favor and use these on social media and share with friends–invite them? Writing alone is no fun–but writing in community? Well, THAT is the stuff!

What this link-up is about: We “write out spirit” by practicing writing about the invisible using concrete words. In case you are going “what in the world is a concrete word?!“–this just means (using the prompt to inspire) write out what’s around us–concrete words make the senses come alive, gives place. In every story, there is always an above and beneath, a beside, something tucked away, aromas in the air, something calling in the trees or from the street, notes in our pocket, rocks in our shoes, sand between our toes. Go here to see Amber’s take on this. It was very helpful to me–I think it will be beneficial for you, too.


                                                         A few simple guidelines:

1. Be sure you link up the  URL to your                                                                       Concrete Words post and not just your                                                                      blog home page URL.
2. Put a link to this post on your blog so                                                                    that others can find their way back here.
3. Try to visit one or two others and                                                                               encourage their efforts.
4. Please write along with us, using                                                                                 the prompt.

Today’s prompt is Path. GO!


{**This link-up will run until next Sunday at 11:59 pm, giving you plenty of time to write and link up. Sometime between now and then, I will read your stories and try to highlight one of them on social media! Next week, the prompt will be Rust .}

photo credit: Kelli Woodford

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Bold Enough to Declare It {An Abstraction on Serve}





Last week I wrote about my friend and that conversation–well, when I sat down to write, my intention was to write about listening, and did not know it would go that direction. But that’s what our listening does–it takes us in a direction different from what we expect. It takes us deeper, over, under, and there is really no way of knowing where we will end up next and how we will meet God and this is exciting to me, not because of a feeling, necessarily, but because of a truer knowing about joy and peace. God, out of the box–me, wild and free, and I’m learning He is a very wild God. He won’t be tamed.

God is working His freedom in me, and I don’t know where to start, or to end, and I settle on just staying somewhere in the middle of it all, where Spirit is speaking and shaping.

I step into the shower and try to listen to the Spirit. I had told her, I need to step away, to try to hear God. 

When circumstances are dire, and we don’t know what will happen to our marriage, or what will happen when vices feel they are taking over, or when we feel stuck, we need to hear God. And sometimes our need is rooted in fear. Maybe He’s saying just be still. Listen. Maybe you are here, too.

Maybe there is a vice, maybe there is a stronghold, some bondage in your life you want to be free from? They all look different for each of us. They come in many forms, don’t they? Legalism, bigotry, alcoholism, drug addiction, pain, abuse, chronic illness, a marriage that is falling apart, generational curses, cancer, or maybe we are just on the outside, looking in the stained-glass windows, wondering where the real Christians are. The audacious Jesus-followers, who love black skin, white skin, red skin, yellow skin, who put mud on the eyes of the blind, and revel in them becoming whole, who love the gays and the straights, the outcast and the upper crust. Because yes, even they need God, too, and who are we to tell God’s Spirit how to move?

When He moves, I want to move with Him.

Jesus bent low to wash the feet of those who felt undeserving. I’m starting to believe bending low is what He’s called me to, and to me this means bending over a bathtub when my back is breaking to wash littles’ bodies.

I let the water from the shower-head pour over me, on full-force, hard. It feels like a cleansing, all the cold and the ache of the day slides off, down to the drain.

Some things can’t be said out loud. I wish I could tell you, and in the sister-Mennonite fashion I experienced at a retreat a couple years back, you could say, “We hear your story, sister. We acknowledge your pain, and we celebrate your healing.”

But as I said, some things should not be uttered. Not yet. Maybe not ever? When God moves, I want to move with Him.

But I do know this: We are all human, with real struggles, aren’t we? And we all struggle with pain, and we all struggle with bitterness, and we all struggle to serve. I know I do.

Saturday I go on a bike ride with my daughter to the store, because the van is in the shop, and with my hot pink hoodie covering my head, we ride much further than we plan to, and with the sun on our backs, and the cold slicing at our hands on handlebars, the earth and wind licks our faces and hair. And we are soaring. We sing. She tells me about her favorite song. It’s about worship and bowing, that God is God.

The bag from the store swishes against the tire’s tread, and spokes whir. I think about how close God is. She tells me she doesn’t understand what eternity means in heaven, like why we will spend so long there, forever. Will it be boring? And Mama, you know how the generations just keep going on and on–women have babies, and then those babies have babies, and those babies have babies–and then we just all go to heaven–I don’t get it.

I tell her the only thing I know– Well, we’re here for His glory –to make His glory known in the earth– and it really isn’t about us–it’s about God, y’know? What I forget to tell her, caught up in the burn of quadriceps, is that God wants us to be happy, here, in this moment. I will tell her later–there is time. Mental note.

When you talk about listening and serving, don’t expect God to just let you talk about it. He will want you to act. His Spirit will lure you, He is good at this. And, I am tired of just talking.

So Sunday, I’m standing outside, drinking my morning cup of coffee, stroking my huge, black baby of adult male cat, and I think of my sweet neighbor, who gave him to me, and good things come out of her home. I look up, and see her husband, Mr. Joseph*, standing in the yard. I feel pulled, so I go over. And no, the fact that he is black doesn’t keep me from doing so. They are my friends.

Mr. Joseph* and I, I swear we preach to one another, standing there in the yard, Sunday morning sun beaming down on us, his cigar in hand. He says he accidentally drank too much the night before, and so he isn’t going to church. We talk about a lot of things–how we meet God right where we are, and it’s not necessarily within four walls. I tell him I’m not going to church either, and he isn’t alone.

He tells me how his grandfather was a pastor, and his grandmother always told him and his seven siblings, if you gonna come in late on Saturday night and lay your head on my pillow, you best be ready to get up and go to church on Sunday morning. He tells me that color doesn’t matter–he can get just as much from a white preacher as he can a black one. I tell him I agree.

And did I tell you we are in the deep South–in Mississippi? 

The girls play on the playground on Sunday evening, and there is a raucous, a drumming noise as they run and play–all the children, black and white and Mexican too. But the clamor and chaos is a pleasant, beautiful sound. They don’t fight, don’t run over one another, they don’t bully or chide, or make fun. They are playing a game of tag. And it makes me smile. They all place their hands on home base, to pick the first one to be “It”. All their little chubby hands, so innocent, black and white, intertwined, and I exhale–think how grand would it be if adults did this too?

Yeah, everything in God’s earth speak to me, and listening is teaching me to create an altar to worship right where I am.

I go outside late at night, and walk in the dark, the earth sinking under my feet, water bubbling up in its place, and the trees are bare and stark against a late-night sky with surprisingly mauvy-pink glow. I like to think God has drawn a curtain of prayer over me. Jesus is always interceding. I feel as blanketed and peaceful as a sleeping babe. Yes, He speaks to me here.

I just need to be bold enough to declare it.

                                                             *names changed to protect people in the story

***Will you do this with me, friends? Let’s explore the practice of listening! This week, before you write, take a walk, in the woods, at the lake or park, down your neighborhood road, ride a bike, play tag, listen for the wind, watch the trees, the sky, pay attention to the small, seemingly unnecessary details of your day. It is here you will find wholeness, here you will find strength, beauty, brokenness, goodness, joy, pain… Here you will find God. THEN write about it– Our prompt is Serve (next week’s is below), but our focus is on the practice of listening and then writing. Excited? We’ll connect on twitter and facebook with the hashtag, #listeningtoyourlife and of course as always, #concretewords. Do me a favor and use these on social media and share with friends–invite them?

What this link-up is about: We “write out spirit” by practicing writing about the invisible using concrete words. In case you are going “what in the world is a concrete word?!“–this just means (using the prompt to inspire) write out what’s around us–concrete words make the senses come alive, gives place. In every story, there is always an above and beneath, a beside, something tucked away, aromas in the air, something calling in the trees or from the street, notes in our pocket, rocks in our shoes, sand between our toes. Go here to see Amber’s take on this. It was very helpful to me–I think it will be beneficial for you, too.


A few simple guidelines:       1. Be sure you link up the URL to your Concrete Words
                                             post and not just your blog home page URL.
                                         2. Put a link to this post on your blog so that others
                                             can find their way back here.
                                         3. Try to visit one or two others and encourage their efforts
                                         4. Please write along with us, using concrete words–
                                             and the prompt–Please no entries with how-to’s, advertising,
                                             or sponsored posts
                                         5. We connect on twitter with the hashtag #concretewords–
                                               please share so others can join!

Today’s prompt is Serve. GO!


**{This link up will run until next Sunday, the 23rd, 11:59 pm., giving you plenty of time to write and link-up before the next concrete words is posted the following day. Sometime between now & then, I will read your stories and highlight one of them from this link-up on social media. On the 24th, the prompt will be Slippers .}


Kingdom Come:: Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

                       
                                                                                                photo credit


There is a way for us to behold glory, and it looks like reaching across the table and just crying with someone who’s hurting, not saying much.

Sometimes all you can say, your arms around them, is this sucks.

I understand what it means to be angry at God–I’ve been there–it’s okay.

Because really, that’s what God wants to say to them if He could, audibly, but He wants to use us.

Jumping into someone’s life and offering advice is a sacred thing. They’re making room for you in their secret places, their inner chambers, their heart of hearts, letting you see all their dirt and grime, the dust on the furniture, the stack of food-crusted dishes in the sink. And the last thing they want you to do is point it out, or to look embarrassed when they make apologies. It’s best to just give some serious disclosure —girl, look, you don’t even want to see my dishes right now–they are way worse.

There is a way to behold glory and it’s not in pretending we are righteous. It’s not in our walls and our thick layers that protect and our fears that keep others at a distance.

See, I have this huge dream to behold glory, to see Kingdom come here on earth. It’s a scary dream really, because I’ve been burned enough to put my faith right out.

But that’s the thing about hope–it’s stronger than fear. It just keeps enduring, keeps flickering back on and won’t be snuffed out. Satan hates this, I think.

There is a way to behold  glory and this dream is that The Church will trust God to save the millions, and stop marching forward with our crusade in haste, leaving the wounded and the weak in faith falling to the sides in our wake. I hope that we will love well the few right around us, that we will make the time to reach across tables, across pews, across airplane aisles and checkout counters, really see the people behind the eyes we are looking into.

I don’t like conquests just for conquest’s sake, and I don’t think God does either.




{I’m over at Outside the City Gate blog today–will you join us over there for the rest of the story–and discussion?}

***Also–don’t forget to link up your stories all week, HERE, on our prompt for concrete words: DIRT!

The series on writing continues tomorrow with the lovely Kelli Woodford guest-posting, and around the end of Feb/first of March, we’ll host a huge link-up for everyone to share their stories/hardships/journey of writing and blogging! Get your stories ready–we want to hear them–and we will choose one to be featured at our blogs! **

In Which I Invite *All* of us to the Table {The Conundrums of Christian Writing and Blogging: A Series}



You know these lines that seem to sometimes be drawn hard? They make me heart-sick, make me long for Home. I’m talking about up there, in the sky, where there is no camp of beliefs, there is no side, there is no arguing, there is no pushing others out for the sake of our own theology. I think this makes God very small, not that it changes Him, but who He is to us and them almost becomes obsolete, something we so easily discard for the glitz of new-fangled theologies and shoring up our traditional beliefs that have taken a battering.

There, where there is no camp, where He sits on the throne, and His Son, the darling of Heaven, illuminates everything, there will be no darkness in us and we’ll see clearly.

G.K. Chesterson said “Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair”.

If religion really is about the way we love God and people, following the two greatest commandments our Saviour asked of us, how can we live this out?

Do we get too caught up in wrong and right, black and white? Do we divide and separate, hurt people in the pursuit of being right in our own religion?

When it comes to our brothers and sisters who are creating art alongside us, are we judging too harshly what others are bringing to the table because of our own likes, dislikes, beliefs and experience? Are we in actuality, because we believe our highest calling is to honor truth and religion as we see it done correctly, pushing the chair back in, and excusing people from the table, leaving them nowhere to partake in the body of Christ?

Are we making them feel uncomfortable in our piety, or by telling them that the pie on the buffet table they just dug into was special-made by a caterer for a church meeting and cost $20?

Our words, and the way we use them at any given time, can be so damaging to people’s hearts and dreams, and we need to be careful how we use those words on social media.

Have we broadcast a party, off in our secret corners, and made them feel uninvited? Have we made it for the elite only, for the rich, for the clean, for the holy, for the ones like-minded?

Does God want more from us?

There have been times I thought for sure I’d happened upon a community of believers that was for me, a place where it was safe, until I found, of course, that it was not safe, and hurt happens everywhere, and hurting people hurt people. It’s been hard for me to navigate the sometimes treacherous, sometimes loving, but always the very human waters of community.

I don’t know much, but I am sure we spend way too much time scrutinizing one another’s art, words, and lives, and not near enough time just loving.

I’d love to see us read, share and write in such a way that we look at it as exploring the many faces of God, because he has as many as there are on this great, spinning orb at this very moment.

I want to pay attention to every life I come in contact with, because they may not be here tomorrow, and they were the face of God for me, uniquely, in a way I’ll never get the opportunity to see again.

Why do we feel the need to be God, to call someone out, to correct, to criticize, to stifle their creativity? Whatever wrong we are so convinced we see in their art, or their lives, through our own filter, when we question their theology, their motives, their calling, we have become self-important and we take on a role only God was meant to have–the role of just judge. And we ask them to quit, tell them they aren’t good enough. We humiliate them, assault their human dignity in the name of truth telling.

Friends, this is the basest form of love, which really isn’t love at all. It’s more akin to apathy, because we’re serving our own purposes.

All I want to do is bend low and wash feet.

When walls keep getting thicker and higher, and lines keep being drawn hard, sides are taken, it becomes harder to wash feet, doesn’t it? If we’re honest, it becomes impossible.

I can’t help but walk around with this ache, thinking this isn’t what Jesus wanted. And this ache, it has no description.

I don’t have a church because I just don’t know how to anymore. I get online to find some community and I see my people scrutinizing one another, talking in whispers, off somewhere in a seemingly private corner, but oh, we must remember, everyone sees, others hear, and it hurts. It’s painful, y’all.

Let’s not whisper in corners. Let’s be bigger than that.

Can we be people who heal?

Let’s not ask one another to quit asking the hard questions. Let’s not ask one another to change theology in exchange for love and acceptance. Let’s not ask one another to quit writing, or creating, or living life audaciously. No, lets’s tell one another the sky’s the limit, because really, it is.

And please, for all that is holy, let’s not excuse someone from the table. They are the face of God, and we need God at the table. I beg of us, to be reverent, to be kind, to protect one another, to be the face of God for one another.

I beg of us to love.

During the meal, Jesus took and blessed the bread, broke it, and gave it to his disciples: 

Take, eat.

This is my body.

Taking the cup and thanking God, he gave it to them: 

Drink this, all of you.

This is my blood, God’s covenant poured out for many people
for the forgiveness of sins.  

I’ll not be drinking wine from this cup again until that day when I’ll drink with you in the kingdom of my Father.” –Matt. 26:26-29; The Message

The Birthing of A Voice

My voice is somewhere in the deep, somewhere lost,
Somewhere silent.
I pray for words and no words come.
My voice, lost, it lets me know
It echoes from corridors and secret passageways of the heart
Tells me my heart is not still
And yes, my heart is weary, thumps too loudly, drumming in my ear
It paces, roams, back and forth, wary of the fight
Sometimes the cloud is too thick
The weight of glory too massive
Does that mean God is nearer?
Is He heavy on me like a lover?
When everything is pressing,
should I just know that He presses in close,
whispers sweet nothings in my ear?
Oh, to hear,
the deaf ear opened
I’m mute, dumb, and walk around blind
Is God near, calling?
Because I don’t hear Him
Is the church spotless and vigilant?
Because I don’t see her
I see nothing but decay
I need Jesus
His hands,
His touch
Messiah come
I groan with expectation
I howl in birth pains
I moan in quiet travail with all creation
so softly and inwardly no one knows
All this death and religion’s tepid, heavy cloak make me lie still
laid out, legs and arms splayed straight, air so tight, this box made just for me
It’s sealed all the way round
The howling wind sweeps through the cold place, and I scream but nothing comes out
And no one hears
I pant, gasp, pain shooting through spinal cavities
Eyes widen like a wild animal, afraid
I’m not sure what’s happening
And just when I begin to lose hope no one is there
The worst pains come and my hips spread some more
I can’t breathe and I’ve almost given up the ghost
And there it is, the voice lost brought up
to the surface, pressing through the birth canal,
gasping for air, wet-tissued passageways burning
howling and screaming in silent pain
blood vessels’ fragile wall breaking,
the red everywhere.
And I’m a bloodied mess
That red richness that speaks a better word
Covering me.