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In which I want to hear the Story all over again

lovedthemrighttotheend

These are the days when I sit down for the morning’s prayers at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. Liturgy and laundry are the work of the people, according to Kathleen Norris, and now I can bear witness: the line between sacred work and secular work doesn’t exist anymore when the Spirit lives and moves within us.

These are the days when ritual and liturgy shape my life but sometimes those rituals are breakfast preparation, bathing tinies, and getting dressed, and the liturgy is in the retelling of “The Three Little Pigs” or the 30th time to say “in-our-family-we-use-our-words-to-love-each-other” to the tinies and to the woman in the mirror.

These are the days when I light a candle to remember to pray, even (or maybe especially) in the midst of the chaos and noise of family life. I’m remembering you, my friends, the votive is flickering on the mantle and I remember to pray as I move.

These are the days when Joe is building legos by the hour, and Evelynn is filling up an old Dora suitcase with everything she finds interesting, and Anne is taking her sweet-fancy-Moses time getting ready for the day ahead, and I want to sit here, in the slow morning light with my hands wrapped around a cuppa tea for just a while longer because the sun is coming through the windows and I took the time to make loose-leaf this morning.

These are the days for bath water on the floor, and laundry waiting to be folded, and a gone-cold cuppa tea and the sacraments of showing up and paying attention every-day life.

These are the days when I try to do a bit of good, and it feels like one small pitiful candle in an overwhelming darkness of never-ending Fridays.

These are the days when I close the night with confession and prayer, with a plea for Jesus to draw us all into His love and deliver us from fear.

These are the days when the dormant is waking up, when the skeleton trees show faint signs of life for the one that is looking through the grey.

These are the days for those of us who know that the desert is cold and grey with hard ground, we incline our ears towards the hardly-believable birds now singing and we want to shriek out loud with joy when the first daffodil pokes through cold earth.

These are the days when the death of winter, the stripping away of it all, is humming towards the renewal of spring and we can feel it, feel it right from the dirt and the water, the trees and the very air – life is coming, blooming, and God, it’s beautiful.

This week is a thin place, isn’t it? Every morning, I read the stories of Holy Week, all over again, and every year, on this day, I reach that line: “Jesus knew that the time had come to leave this world to go to the Father. Having loved his dear companions, he continued to love them right to the end.” And I cry, all over again, right through the stars in my eyes.

These are the days when I think about making homemade bread. If we’re going to read the stories at the supper table, if we’re going to pour out red wine, and if we’re going to remember during the breaking and the tearing and the passing tonight, then I want to remember with bread I’ve made with my own hands, and I want my house to smell like yeast, and I want to hear the Story all over again, in the mouths of the ones I love best.

a repost from the archives

Continue Reading · Easter, faith · 4

In which this is for the ones leaving evangelicalism

For the ones (1)

I walked this path years ago: it is not an easy path. But there are a lot of us out here waiting for you.

Can we ever really leave our mother church? Perhaps not. The complexity of tangled up roots isn’t easily undone. And yes, I think there is a way to reclaim and redeem our traditions with an eye on the future.

But maybe this isn’t your time to do that. Maybe this is your time to let go and walk away.

I know you’re grieving. Let yourself grieve. It’s the end of something, it’s worthwhile to notice the passing of it, to sit in the space and look at the pieces before you head out.

In the early days, when you are first walking away, you might feel afraid. You don’t need to be afraid. It can be confusing to separate from what so-and-so-big-guy-in-the-big-organization says about you or people like you. It can be disorienting to walk out into the wilderness on purpose. It can be lonely. It can be exhilarating. It can be terrifying.

My friend, don’t stay in a religious institution or a religious tradition out of fear. Fear should not drive your decisions: let love motivate you.

Lean into your questions and your doubts until you find that God is out here in the wilderness, too.

I have good news for you, broken-hearted one: God is here in the wandering, too. In fact, you might just find, as Jonathan Martin wrote, that the wilderness is the birthplace of true intimacy with God for you.

Jesus isn’t an evangelical. You get to love Jesus without being an evangelical.

Your pet evangelical gate-keeper isn’t the sole arbitrator of the Christian faith: there is more complexity and beauty and diversity of voices and experiences within followers of the Way than you know. Remember, your view of Christians, your personal experience with Christians is rather small sample size: there are a lot more of us out here than you might think. A lot of us on the other side of that faith shift, eschewing labels and fear-tactics, boundary markers and tribalist thinking.

There are a lot of us out here who aren’t evangelical theologically or politically. There are those of us who are evangelical perhaps in our theology still (I think I am but who can keep track these days of the master list we’re supposed to be checking?) while separating from evangelicalism culturally or politically.

I’m someone who believes that we are in the midst of major shift within the Church – what Phyllis Tickle calls a “rummage sale” – similar to the Great Schism, and the Reformation. The Church is sorting and casting off, renewing and re-establishing in the postmodern age and this is a good thing. The old will remain – it always does – but something new is being born, too. If it is being born in the Church, it is first being born in the hearts and minds and lives of us, the Body.

Maybe evangelicalism as we understand it doesn’t need our defense anymore: maybe we can open our fist, lay down our weapons for the movement or the ideology or the powerful, and simply walk away.

It was helpful when it was helpful. Now, perhaps, it is not. Evangelicalism doesn’t get our loyalty: that fidelity is for our Jesus.

Sometimes we have to cut away the old for the new to grow. We are a resurrection people, darling. God can take our death and ugliness and bitterness, our hurt and our wounds, and make something beautiful and redemptive. For you. In you. With you.

Let something new be born in you. There is never a new life, a new birth, without labour and struggle and patience, but then comes the release.

Care for the new life being born in you with tenderness. It will be tempting to take all the baggage with you – to bring the habits or language or rules with you. That’s okay. You might need to be angry for a while. That’s okay. You might need to stop reading your approved-translation-of-the-Bible and only find Scripture in The Message. That’s okay. You might need to stop praying the way you were taught and learn to pray as you work, as you make love, as you walk at night. That’s okay.

I’m not afraid for you: you are held.  You are loved and you are free. I am hopeful for you.

Nothing has been lost that will not be restored. Be patient and kind with yourself. New life doesn’t come overnight especially after the soil of your life and heart has been burnt down and razed and covered in salt.

Don’t worry about the “should-do” stuff anymore. It might help to cocoon away for a while, far from the performances or the structures or even the habits or thinkers that bring you pain. The Holy Spirit isn’t restricted to only meeting with you in a one-hour-quiet-time or an official 501-3(c) tax approved church building.

Set out, pilgrim. Set out into the freedom and the wandering. Find your people.  God is much bigger, wilder, generous, more wonderful than you imagined.

The funny thing for me is that on the other side of the wilderness, I found myself reclaiming it all – my tradition, the habits, the language. Your path may lead you elsewhere, but I’m back where I began with new eyes, a new heart, a new mind, a new life, and a wry smile.

Now, instead of being an evangelical or whatever label you preferred, perhaps you can simply be a disciple, a pilgrim, out on The Way, following in the footsteps of the man from Nazareth.

You aren’t condemned to wander forever. Remember now: after the wilderness comes deliverance.

 

Related:

In which you’re a pioneer

In which the Spirit inhabits the praises of the people

In which I know, I’m sorry, and I hope I was kind

Lean Into It

Hope is a radical act of faith

 

 

Continue Reading · church, faith, fearless, journey · 153

In which I admit that I didn’t like Paul

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I never liked the Apostle Paul very much.

(Apparently you can type a sentence like that and not be struck by lightening. Who knew?)

Like many Christians, I am drawn towards certain personalities or characters within Scripture. My heart has always aligned itself with the Apostle John. My sister has always had a soft spot for Peter. Someone else identifies with David or Mary or Leah perhaps.

But Paul?

I had Some Big Thoughts and Feelings about the Apostle Paul.

He wrote a lot of the Scripture that is used against women’s full equality. To me, he was a misogynist.  He was narrow-minded and bossy. He was snippy. As a feminist, I was suspicious of Paul. I even avoided his words in Scripture.

I mean, sure he wrote a lot of the New Tesatment but instead I camped out in the Gospels, in John’s epistles, in Hebrews, in the Psalms and Proverbs. Kelley taught me how to love Exodus and Isaiah and the Old Testament prophets.  As I grew in the faith, of course I began to read the whole canon of Scripture but I almost had to forget that Paul had written it – it was easier to receive the words, if I forgot that Paul was the one who dictated or scribed them.

Paul, late have I loved you.

Late, perhaps, but not too late.

As I was writing Jesus Feminist though, the strangest transformation took place: I began to love Paul. Really, truly love him, as a brother.

Yes, it was actually precisely because I was writing about life on the other side of the gender debates, advocating for the full equality of women, that  I rediscovered, appreciated, and began to love my brother, Paul.

It started with those clobber verses – you know the ones, 2 Timothy, Titus 2, Ephesians 5, and so on. I had already done my research long before the day came to write, but as a refresher, I dug out the commentaries and books again. Responsible author, I wanted to make sure I had my hermeneutical ducks in a row.

But as I worked my way through the passages of Scripture that I used to hate, I began to see Paul more clearly, to understand Scripture even better. I began to see his wisdom, his subversion, his heart. When I looked at his full ministry – how he praised and esteemed women in leadership in the Church, how he turned household codes within a patriarchal society on their head, how he used feminine metaphors, how he subverted the systems, how he passionately defended equality – the verses that used to clobber me began to embrace me.

The truth broke through. I wasn’t fighting AGAINST Paul – I was fighting WITH him.

I read Paul’s words in Scripture and I began to realise I had not known him. I had been silenced or shut down by people putting words in his mouth or intent in his words that he never intended and I had missed so much. I had to repent.

Now I think that if Paul knew how a few of his words had been twisted, misinterpreted, and misapplied to be used against women, he would be broken hearted. 

After all, this is the apostle who wrote these words:

I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us (Romans 8:39 MSG)

I’m not going to walk around on eggshells worrying about what small-minded people might say; I’m going to stride free and easy, knowing what our large-minded Master has already said. (1 Corinthians 10:29)

Love never gives up, Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t struct, doesn’t have a swelled head, doesn’t force itself on others, isn’t always “me first,” doesn’t fly off the handle, doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, doesn’t revel when others grovel, takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, puts up with anything, trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back, but keeps going to the end. Love never dies. (1 Corinthians 13:3-7)

I can’t tell you how much I long for you to enter this wide-open, spacious life. We didn’t fence you in. The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren’t small, but you’re living them in a small way. I’m speaking as plainly as I can and with great affection. Open up your lives. Live openly and expansively! (2 Corinthians 6:11-13)

And on and on and on….Galatians has been my home for months now and I will never be the same. Never.

In fact, that is my new assignment for fundamentalists: read Galatians 5 and 6 every day. That should cure it.

Page after page, word by word, the theology of freedom is settling back into my bones again.

Oddly, I began to love Paul for the very humanness of him: his frustrations, his love, his exhaustion, his passion, his intelligence, his impatience. All of it.

I’m so thankful for his unedited self.

He wasn’t perfect. He was complex, yes, but oh, such diamond-like multi-faceted brilliance. Poet theologian, evangelist and pastor, leader and thorn in the side. A radical contradictory shit-disturber, a truth-teller to power and a tender father heart, a broken and humble servant, all Paul.

His crazy beautiful words about freedom with responsibility, about mutual submission, his trust in Christ and not the law, about loving one another, about our Jesus …. he is my brother, indeed. His story is changing me. I love Jesus better because I’m hearing about him from Paul.

Maybe you either love him or you hate him. Either way, this Jesus feminist loves Paul.

 

Continue Reading · faith, Jesus Feminist, scripture · 51

In which the Spirit inhabits the praises of the people

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I stand in the front row of the church – a few dozen of us in a community centre – clapping along to the repetitive and simple praise choruses about the exodus of Israel or the blood of Jesus or repeated proclamation of hosanna. The horse and the rider is thrown into the sea! Three tambourines in a small room make quite a racket. The ladies wave banners, the children dance. (Praise songs are fast, you see, and worship songs are slow, that’s why this part of a Sunday service is called Praise AND Worship.)  I’m overly earnest even for a seven-year-old so I dance when everyone else dances, I know all the words. I throw my skinny child arms into the sky and sing loudly: as the deer panteth for the water, so my soul longeth after you. 

***

I’m sitting on the warm dirt in front of a campfire in Kananaskis Country, I’m surrounded by my friends. I’m leaning back against a boy’s legs, his hand is tracing circles on the back of my neck. We’re all tanned and we smell like sunshine. We are staring into the fire or up into the night sky. One guy is strumming a guitar quietly, without words. My breath is slow, I feel held by the stars and by the Spirit.

***

I’m standing in a gigantic stadium, thousands of people surrounding me. The music is loud, deafening. It’s dazzling – all of this incredible music, all of the noise, all of the anthems. We sing songs of the victorious, the conquering, we are being rallied to a cause greater than ourselves. I am singing along. I feel like crying, feel like jumping, feel like running. I feel alive, every cell thrumming with passion. Look at us, so young and beautiful and blind, testifying to love in three part harmony.

***

The liturgy of the charismatic evangelicals is empty to me now. Dead religion perhaps. Every prayer begins with Father, we just….

Father, I just can’t hear you here anymore. Maybe I never did.

***

I’m laying flat on my back beside a stream, holding hands with the boy I think I’m going to marry. We aren’t talking anymore. My mouth is still filled with his kisses, but my body feels like prayer.

***

I’m standing in my side-yard in Texas, smoking a cigarette and praying in tongues. I’m married to a pastor and every Sunday I want to skip church. I’ll listen to k.d. lang and long for home, I don’t know what to call this season of my life but someday I will know that I was grieving, I was growing, I was evolving. I was worshipping, I was abiding, I was a mess but I was honest at last.

***

I’m heavily pregnant and kneeling at the altar rail in the cathedral. When I couldn’t find my way back to Jesus through the clutter of praise and worship, I found him in the silence.

I light a candle and bow my head. The only sound is the faint noise of traffic from the urban rush and go just outside the narthex. I’m alone here. No one comes here.

I’m alone and I find myself humming, as the deer panteth for the water so my soul longeth after thee. And I raise my hands up in the air and the baby kicks and I cry and cry and cry with relief and longing.

Oh, here you are. I thought I’d lost you. I thought I’d never feel this again.

***

I’m working in an office just down the hall from the multi-purpose room filled with the bravest women I know in my real life. I listen to these beautiful women sing about being redeemed, I know their stories, there is a long road ahead still, and I lay my head down on the cool white Ikea desk and breathe in their faith.

***

I’m standing in church with a toddler on my hip, more children at my feet. I’m distracted, always distracted, during the singing because my life is full of the needs of everyone else. I pass the baby to my husband, hoist a too-big boy up into my arms and sing the songs into his hair. My hands aren’t in the air, my hands are filled with meeting a need. We are the happy-clappy ones singing the Vineyard songs, and I’m so happy I might cry.

***

I’m standing under a canvas roof in the tent city of Port au Prince after the earthquake. Then sings my soul, we cry out, my Saviour God to thee, how great thou art, how great thou art. There is a little girl in a blue gingham dress trimmed in printed strawberries and she is singing. She was sweeping a dirt floor just a few moments ago. I’m out of place but my hands are open.

***

I’m holding a sleepy child, my great ministry. We rock slowly in the midnight hours. We are silent together, a small head pressed up against my breast, listening to my heart beat. I’ve wrapped us in a quilt, the rocker creaks, and a small hoarse voice says, “Mumma, will you sing the song?” I begin to whisper-sing into the darkness: as the deer panteth for the water so my soul longeth after thee. You alone are my heart’s desire and I long to worship thee.

I think, Other children hear songs about mockingbirds, I really need to learn those songs one of these days. The old praise-and-worship songs are the cradle songs of the tinies. When he finally sleeps, I lay him in his bed and stand alone again. I light a candle in the darkness, for the silence, for the other mothers still awake. I stand for a moment. Then I blow it out and go to bed.

***

I catch sight of a woman sitting in the front row of church. She’s old, very old, and she sits in her Sunday clothes and her small hands are raised up in the air, barely. An old Keith Green song. No one behind her would know her hands were up, but I can see her singing quietly with her fists unclenched.

 

Continue Reading · church, community, faith, journey · 32