Navigation

Archive | faith

Famous

Famous :: Sarah Bessey

Famous people make God famous.

Famous people, big stadiums, big churches, big podcasts and inflated book sales. Bestseller lists and headlines in newspapers, stages and webinars. Football arenas for Jesus! Big concerts with jumbo-trons and livestreams. Thin, beautiful, charismatic leaders with hundreds of thousands of followers on social media tweeting and retweeting each other. This actor went to church! This athlete pointed to heaven and bowed his knee when he scored a touchdown! This pop star said the name Jesus once! Put the name “JESUS” in lights – score one for the Kingdom.

And if we want to make Jesus famous, well, what better way than to be famous ourselves?

***

Is God made famous on stages and platforms? Perhaps. Yes. Sometimes. Sure. It’s worth celebrating the good that is done, the people who hear the truth, the wounds that are healed, the Gospel that is preached. You do you, I say. If God has called you there, then be there as a fully engaged disciple, not as a hack using Jesus as your get-on-stage-quickly card. I think the stages and the bestseller lists and whatever have a lot of potential to do good, it’s a resource to be stewarded.

Fame is just a tool, perhaps. Sometimes it’s handled well, sure. But it’s often wielded recklessly, resulting in damage and wounds. not the least of which is inflicted on the soul and life of the famous one themselves. Let’s not pretend there isn’t a price to pay. Even small time fame that exists only in your own twisted heart is dangerous, be wary. The Gen-X kid in me remains suspicious, the line between “making Jesus famous” and “making ourselves famous for Jesus” is whisper thin.

Believe the hype.

***

But here is the question I wonder these days: Is it really fame that God is seeking?

I think God is seeking redemption, restoration, rescue, and reconciliation.

Famous is one thing: resurrection is another.

***

The Apostle Paul’s warning in his first letter to the Corinthians, “God didn’t send me out to collect a following for myself, but to preach the Message of what he has done, collecting a following for him.” (1:17)

***

Love is well-known and easily identified, it needs no stage and no bestseller status. God is famous in the family dinners and protest marches, in the re-reading of a favourite book to small children and in Wednesday night Bible studies open to the public, in the prayers of the unknown and the faith of the uncelebrated.

I wonder if fame is more a construct of our celebrity-obsession, but God isn’t the new celebrity to brand and make palatable for the masses – there is too much complexity and wildness for God; God won’t obey the spreadsheets.

It’s resurrection, resurrection, resurrection. Bringing the dead things to life, life into dry bones, beauty from ashes, sorrow to joy, day after day, choice after choice, step after step towards glory.

I think the greatest sanctification of my life happens far from fame, it’s repetitive and practiced. Making God famous might begin with walking away from our constructs or ideas of fame. Perhaps God is hiding in plain sight, off-stage, in the whispers, in the beauty, in the ride home in the dark after the big event has packed up and moved on like a circus.

***

We can confuse a lack of fame with a lack of blessing, perhaps, when the truth is that a wide open and spacious life is waiting in even the smallest and most obscure of moments, an abundant life, healing, wholeness, courage, love, all hiding in the crucible of everyday life, everyday justice, far from applause.

I don’t think transformation usually happens in a top-down celebrity driven experience. That might be a high, it might be exciting, it might ignite a spark, but the real long work of discipleship and transformation happens far from the stages.

It’s unsexy until you understand: this is it. This life we have right now, as it stands, is an altar, a meeting place, and there is holiness here.

***

Can we really speak of the God of the ordinary miracle of life when our lives are spent in manufactured experiences, curated for branding? Can we really know God in the details of our lives when we are separated from the goodness of our neighbours, our local communities, our families by our schedules and our platforms? I know I can’t and so perhaps this is more of a meditation for me.

Be here, be present in the life God has given to us, find transcendence and transformation and healing here, first, maybe always. Practice love here, in the life where you are. Maybe God doesn’t want to be famous, maybe God yearns to bring the dead to life, justice to the oppressed, wholeness to your body and mind and soul, and bring life more abundant, in the seeds of a right-now life.

Even for you, and in you.

 

image source

 

Continue Reading · faith · 45

Ron and Hermione

Ron and Hermione :: Sarah Bessey

We don’t have a big yard, its about the size of a couple postage stamps, give or take a few images of the Queen. But we do have a forest just behind the ordinary chain link fence, a dense coastal forest filled with cedars and squirrels, spirea mountain ash and coyotes. Every September, a mama bear and her cub lumber through for a few weeks and we keep our tinies inside or  carefully supervise them instead of what we usually do: open the door, set the boundaries – “this house to this house, our yard and your best friend’s yard” – and let them go. We have salmonberry bushes and blackberry bushes tangled up around a little creek that runs through, we poke our hands through the thickets, braving scratches, for the first berries of the year. By August, we’ll be sick of blackberries, the jam will already be made.

We don’t live in the wilderness, just a quiet little neighbourhood of semi-detached homes on the edge of town in the valley. We’re next to a blueberry farm. We have been thinking seriously about moving this year. We got so far as to buy a house and set our moving dates but then for a few reasons, it all fell apart. Now that it’s been a few weeks since that disappointment, I’ve come to see the grace hiding in that falling apart. It’s a small thing in the scheme of things, I know, but it loomed large for our little family and was the source of much conversation. We continue to weigh our options, should we stay or should we go?

And life continues. I’m in the midst of editing the new book which is slow going in this season. I stop frequently to nurse the baby or to make lunch or to pick up the tinies from the bus stop. I have a babysitter for our preschooler two mornings a week which is an enormous help. My husband takes the three big kids to my parents’ place for the day on a Saturday now and again, giving me the house and the baby to myself as I try to put a chapter to bed. Serendipitously, two weekends ago when he did that, it was a chapter about how discussions of theology need ordinary people to be involved, how well-educated and well-read and well-travelled scholars also need us low church experiential local folks talking about how we see and experience and know God, about how theologians are hiding in every walk of life. I wrote those words at my kitchen table with the youngest of four tinies beside me, snoring. Naptime writing is urgent writing, sometimes I think it might be my best thinking. This isn’t speculation: if theology – how we think about God and then how we live that out – isn’t for all of us, then what is it even for?

Caring for small children, being a homemaker, can be repetitive and ordinary: laundry, cleaning bathtubs, long walks made twice as long by wandering and questions, grocery shopping, nursing, all of it. Life is rarely as exciting as people like for it to appear on Facebook. We go to church, we participate in leadership meetings to shape the conversations of our communities, we pray for our friends, we make meals, I write posts and articles and books about God, we wash our minivans, we set up the sprinkler for the neighbourhood kids and hand out freezies to hopeful hands, we go to work, we talk about the people we know. Sacred and beautiful, sure, I’ll say that, but also slow and daily and sometimes monotonous, too.

But even in that ordinary work, I keep trying to give shape to the new world, to the dangerous possibilities of living our lives right now as if God saved everything, as if it is all redeemed or being redeemed. If what I believe about Love doesn’t find a roost here in my regular and ordinary and unremarkable life where I learn and practice what Eugene Peterson called “the biggest nouns and verbs,” then I have no right to those words in moments of transformation and change and importance. There are chickadees perched on the railings of the deck, just for a few seconds. They fly in, perch, flinch, and depart, over and over. I like to think they’re all checking for the crumbs leftover from the weekend of eating outside. Maybe they know which house has messy eaters.

My husband and I sat outside on Saturday night, watching the sun set. It’s nearly summer solstice and the days are long. We put the tinies to bed in broad daylight and settled onto our back deck, facing the forest. The sun sank behind the house and that last golden light of the day hit the trees. In the morning, the light is cool and white and sharpening; but in the evening, it’s warm and liquid, it softens the forest.

Brian and I talked about the regular things: should we move? should we stay? We talked about the kids and about work, about the plan for the week ahead. I’m distrustful of people who always seem to be thinking of deep spiritual things, always striving and going-going-going: I think they must be horrible to live with. I think we need the humanity of laughter and Netflix and ordinary life. We poured a glass of white wine each and wrapped ourselves up in blankets. Joe is reading under the covers with a flashlight, I think tonight he’s reading James and the Giant Peach. Anne has left Babysitters Club books littered around the house, Evelynn is devoted to Robert Munsch these days, of course – that slapstick humour perfectly suits her. I secretly love when they sneak-read. Is there any reading more delicious than that sneaky after-bedtime reading when you are a child? The evenings are still cold when the darkness gathers.

We were waiting for our owls. We have two owls out back, I’m not quite sure what kind, perhaps a western screech owl. We have heard that owls mate for life. I don’t know if that’s true or legend, but every year, we see two owls in the summer nights, year after year after year. Our owls come out to hunt. We like to sit there in the near-dark and watch them, swooping down to the forest floor, returning to rest on the branches of the trees with their prizes.

We had a long discussion about what to name our owls, pairs of names are always fun to consider. Romeo and Juliet? Peanut and Butter? Antony and Cleopatra? Nip and Tuck, á la The Blue Castle? Anne and Gilbert? Elizabeth and Darcy? We settled on Ron and Hermione since, well, they are owls and so the Harry Potter books are entirely appropriate.

I don’t think we’re going to move. And it’s entirely the fault of the forest. I live in a tidy little neighbourhood of identical houses, sure, and I don’t have a yard, I get it. But we have the silence of the night and a creek, we have Ron and Hermione, we have the trees, and I don’t think I’m ready to give that up. Maybe I’ll change my mind. A trampoline and a garden would be nice.

When life can feel a bit dull and prosaic, my forest nights somehow keep me grounded in the dense amazement of being alive. I remembered an old Roald Dahl quote I read once, “And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”

I believe in magic.

I believe in ordinary and repetitive and daily boring life and the way magic hides in plain sight.

I believe in church picnics and breastfeeding, I believe books matter and summer nights are for sitting outside while the sun sets. I believe in good coffee and eating berries off the bush. I believe in going for walks with children because they are so slow and perfectly inefficient. I believe our theology is formed in our lives and experiences, and I believe we need to listen to each other. I believe in working hard and loving what we do. I believe in unsupervised children and sidewalk chalk and sprinklers. I believe in kitchen tables and piles of books. I believe in windows being wide open while sun-tanned children go to sleep at a reasonable hour so that they can read under the covers with a flashlight. I believe in heavy blankets for cool summer nights and long conversations over a shared bottle of wine, I believe love lasts a lifetime even if it changes, and I believe in birdsong in the morning. I believe in owls.

image source

Continue Reading · canada, enough, faith, family, journey, love, marriage, moments · 38

Say Her Name

#sayhername (4)

Say her name.

Say it out loud: DaJerria Becton. A beautiful name, let your voice say it out loud.

Scripture tells us that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God – Jesus gives us ears to hear and then faith comes. I think there’s something powerful about our own voices speaking the truth out ahead of ourselves. Our words matter. Our voices matter. What we speak aloud often sinks its way into our soul and our memory and then into our actions.

So here is what we could say today: DaJerria Becton.

I believe that today the crucified and resurrected Christ is saying her name with us: DaJerria Becton.

You are made in the image of God, DaJerria, you are fearfully and wonderfully made. You are valuable. You are beloved.

She is not “Bikini Girl.”

Not “that black girl in the bikini in that video.”

Not “the McKinney girl.”

Not whatever terrible name she was called that day or in the days since as people cast judgment on her and her friends for the way the day ended: a white man’s knees pressed into her young back, forcing her face into the grass while she cried out for someone to call her mama.

“Someone call my mama!”

Her name is DaJerria Becton. 

She is just fourteen years old, someone’s child, yes, but she is her own person, made in the image of God. And she was brutalized, terrified. No matter what lead up to that moment, this was deeply engrained racially-motivated and sexualized violence. That man’s instinct was to throw her by her braids, a slender teenager in a bikini, to scream, to point a gun, to put the full weight of a culture that believes she is a danger because of her skin and disposable because of her sex right into her back.

There are a million reasons to be outraged: as a feminist, as a follower of Jesus who deeply loves the powerless, as a mother.

If anyone could watch that video and not feel the rage, the impotent need to rescue that child, then I have to wonder: how numb have you become to injustice?

Nameless victims are somehow easier for us to forget. But she’s not a nameless victim.  She’s not what she wore or what she said, she’s DaJerria Becton from Texas and she’s fourteen years old.

From the ancient tribal culture of the Bible to Boko Haram and ISIS to our own “civilized” societies, there are stories of the hundreds of nameless victimized women throughout patriarchy’s history. One after another after another, until our sisters somehow blur together. God’s global daughters aren’t a nameless, faceless sex. We have names. History glosses over us, we’re the collateral damage to the wars of men, and so our voices matter: lift them up and remember, we have names. We have stories, we have families.

Every woman matters. Black women matter, too. Aboriginal women matter, too. Poor women, too.

There’s  litany of names. One woman after another who has been murdered or damaged, made even more vulnerable often because of socio-economics or race or location. Here in Canada, our litany includes our aboriginal women – more than 500 murdered or missing as far as we know. We become numb to their faces, to their stories, it’s always one more one more one more one more in the news.

Let her be a person, not a news story or a litany or a victim. We will learn from the marginalized and oppressed, we will believe their stories. We will incline our ears and amplify voices. We will become educated beyond our own narrow context. We will not become numb and we won’t mind our own business, we will let our hearts cry out alongside of our sisters.

Say a name today.

DaJerria Becton.

We see you. We weep for you. We will carry you. We will pray for you and for your community. And we will never stop labouring for God’s dream for humanity to come true. We won’t give up and we won’t lose hope. 

We will be angry with you and for you – and then we will let that righteousness move us further out into redemption. 

Say a name today (there are too many to choose from, so many names, so many women.)

Jesus, be near to the brokenhearted, comfort the afflicted, bring freedom and truth and reconciliation. 

Today, go on, I dare you, say her name: DaJerria Becton. 

And let your heart break.

 

(This post was inspired by the powerful hashtag #SayHerName to raise the visibility of the Black female victims of police brutality.)

Continue Reading · faith, social justice, women · 22

What my parents taught me about parenting :: a new series

The experience of being a parent not only reoriented my entire life, but it has changed and is changing how I experience, know, and understood God, too. Mothering has consistently been a meeting place, or an altar, between me and the Spirit. It’s the hardest work of my life and the best work of my life.

Back in 2011, I wrote a series called My Practices of Mothering. At the time, I had a four year old, a two year old, and a newborn so I began to write through the things I actually do in an attempt to enjoy mothering during those intense years with tinies. (That series is now available as an ebook.)

Four years later, I have grade school kids, a preschooler, and a new baby – and I’m in the thick of my parenting years, or as I’ve taken to calling them: “The Tired Thirties” (with thanks to Madeleine L’Engle for that phrase!).

As I looked back at that ebook recently, I realized afresh just how much I rely on my parents’ wisdom and methods, words and habits. That’s not so different from anyone else: we all tend to repeat what we experienced as children, for better or for worse, often without a lot of thought to it. We often need to figure out which family patterns or generational habits to disrupt or discard and which ones are healthy or helpful.

To be honest, never in a million years would I have identified myself as someone just “wanted to be a mum” or even pictured myself as a mother – I was never the maternal type. I quit baby-sitting at 14 because I figured there had to be a better way to make money than that!

But when I became a mother, I found that the investment of my parents was an abiding deposit in my heart. I had a toolkit right from the start because of my parents: not only the capability for unconditional love and a heritage of faith – so key! – but even practical things or words or habits to pass along to my children or to make the experience of parenting fulfilling, even joyful and delightful, despite the usual struggles, pain, frustrations, sacrifices, and even boredom that also comes with parenting.

Sarah Bessey's Parents

I’ve always been wary of anyone offering up parenting “advice” when their children are not yet grown. It’s like giving out marriage advice when you’ve been married for all of five minutes. So this isn’t necessarily my “advice” because I am just such a great parent. (I’m not. Not yet anyway.) I am still very much in the trenches. I know I have much to learn and a lot of mistakes still to make. I imagine that in the future there will be ways that my children will say that I failed them.

But I have a strong legacy and wise mentors: I can share that freely.

My sister and I were very fortunate: we were raised in a tremendously loving, healthy, stable and godly home. Our parents were very young when they had us and some aspects of their childhoods were difficult, but they began to follow Jesus early in my childhood (if you’ve read Jesus Feminist, you know that story!). They quickly realised that parenting is an exercise in being spirit-led. There are no formulas here. There is no guarantee. What works for one kid, may not work for another. Principles help, but they must come secondary to deep and abiding and unconditional love.

Over the years, my parents have often gathered young people around them, pouring their wisdom into their hearts through relationship in matters of marriage, parenting, leadership, finances, faith, and so on. They are mentors to many in our “real life” already. I’m well aware of how blessed we are to live 10 minutes from them, to do life together on a daily basis.

So I’m starting a new series: What My Parents Taught Me About Parenting.

What My Parents Taught Me About Parenting :: Sarah Bessey

I’ve written occasionally about the stuff my parents taught me – like in that ebook – and then with other posts like Guard Your Gates. After that, I heard from so many readers about how they now use that phrase in their homes. It’s been wonderful to see how God has used that little phrase in so many families!

But I’ve also heard from so many fellow parents both online and in real life who simply don’t have parents that they wish to emulate. The reasons are complex, of course. So many feel alone as parents, trying to find tools for our experience, and yet frustrated or broken-hearted at the toolkit our own parents left to us.

We feel like we are figuring it out alone.

So many of us don’t have a legacy of healthy parenting behind us. And so we are the ones who are paying the price, figuring it out, trying to do it differently, so that our children will hopefully be a bit more free or healthy or loved than we were.

Or perhaps, like me, you’re actually pretty happy with how you were raised but you still love to learn from other people a bit further down the path.

I think that takes guts. And I think it’s the best work you can do as a parent. It’s hard and frustrating and its amazing. Your children will rise and call you blessed for it, I believe. It’s worth it.

And so I began to think, what if I just wrote out some of the things my parents taught me about being a parent? What if I started a series of posts about the way my parents raised us – particularly the habits or phrases or methods that I use myself now? I know that it helps me to write it out and articulate it but perhaps it may also help a few of us, too. It might add a few ideas to your parenting toolkit or perhaps a bit of hope to your soul. 

I have no idea how long it will run because I imagine I’ll exhaust myself before I’ll exhaust the lessons that my parents gave to me as a child and continue to give to me as a parent. But I’ll do my best to stay faithful to it and write a new post every week or so.

First post will be up tomorrow: “Have your own truck.” (That will make sense, I promise.) I’ll update this post with each new post so that you can easily find them all in this place.

Guard Your Gates

Have Your Own Truck :: On Empowering Our Children

 

Continue Reading · faith · 13

Happy-clappy

lightstock_68414_medium_user_5073617
When I was a child, I sat in the front row of the church. I danced while the guitar played three-chord songs, kicking my feet in front of me, hopping from side to side, skinny arms outstretched. I learned to worship at the community centre, surrounded by misfit disciples who were on a first-name basis with resurrection. I sang the old songs about the blood of Jesus making me white as snow.

The church ladies would bring swaths of airy fabric, about two metres long apiece. I held onto one end and swung my flag. This was no banner for a war; this was a a homemade flag for a kid in a homemade church to wave. Sometimes, sure, I spun that flag around, hoping for people to notice me, to think that I was spiritual and holy, to think that I was beautiful and devoted. It was prideful at times, self-centred, but then there were those moments that broke through my own childish yearning to be noticed, to please the grown-ups, the moments when I felt the Spirit rush through my body and out through the fabric, like we were one, and I would spin like a star in the heavens, and I swear to you now that I felt the smile of God on me like wind, like water, like chains were falling off before they were even forged. I learned to pray with my body, relentless and free.

Then slowly, it seemed as if no one really danced in church anymore. Dancing with flags became something we made fun of, like duelling tambourines and long services and “falling out” in the Spirit and daring to pray for healing. We made fun of it to domesticate it, perhaps, or to heal ourselves from the abuse of it, but something in my thumbs still pricked, the Spirit isn’t afraid of being ridiculous, after all.

I wandered through other church traditions, traditional, contemporary, liturgical, meditative, mystic, seeker-sensitive, emerging, ancient-future, denominational, mega-church, old church, new church, basement church, no church for a while there: you name it, I found my way there and I found the people of God in each place, I did.

But my roots belong where I was first planted, I’ve reconciled myself to that now. I used to think I could travel far from where I began, but instead, I travelled only to find myself home again, like Richard Rohr says, as if I am only now seeing it for the first time.

We are so beautiful.

We sit in folding chairs in a school gym, one of the great cathedrals of my life. The pine benches line the walls, electrical tape holds the wires for the mics down, the stage can be broken down and set back up again every Sunday morning and Saturday night. This is my familiar place to encounter God.

On Sundays, decades later, I still stand with my hands raised up, my spine straight, my ribs wide open, letting the music run right through my veins, grounding me to the place where I am right now. I haven’t been able to dance since I was a child, not really, maybe I never will again, it doesn’t feel quite natural anymore. Instead I cry and I sing too loud and I let my hips sway. I tip my face to the ceiling because I want to be seen, I stomp my feet because I am here, and if I had a hankie, oh, I’d wave it and shout. I clap at the wrong place because I want to emphasize what I’m singing to myself: “you’ve never failed” clap clap clap “and you won’t start now” and I shout YASSSSSS! I’m that woman.

I love the sacraments, I love Scripture, and I know that my faith, my understanding of God, is cerebral and it’s strong; in my spirit and it’s awake; in my heart and it’s love, but here in my body it’s all earthy and sensual, it’s the catch in my throat when I sing the words I’ve sung a hundred times, in the creak of my knees when I hit the floor, unable to stand any longer, in the tremor of my hands when I tremble, in the strength of my voice singing out ahead of my own life. I could logic it all away, I know I could, but these moments are too much of a gift for me to look at straight on. It’s a party, it’s a dance, it’s a celebration, it’s communal, it’s holy and an undoing, and the breath of God is among us and we move as one, declaring.

I thought I grew out of the flags and the happy-clappy Jesus-is-my-boyfriend songs, that I was too wise and smart for such sentimental things but in my maturity now I want to shout out hallelujah and fling myself to the ground prostrate, in gratitude for dirt and little boys, for babies and the lines around my eyes, for Johnny Cash and pine trees at dusk, for the taste of cold water and the vineyard, for the piano and the ones from among us who stand to lead us out into the day singing.

Somehow the flags have reappeared in my life along with the old songs, the same ones that I sing in the darkness over my children. A woman in our church brings flags on Sundays for the kids to use, may it be counted unto her as righteousness.

In the corner of the gym, there are a dozen little girls, a couple of boys, a couple of women, each holding a swath of fabric and they are twirling, spinning, snapping their flags in the face of fear and dignity. I belong here just as much as I belong in the north and in the west, in the place where I began and where I will end, in the books and logic, and in the tears and rejoicing.

Now I stand on Sundays and I watch my own tinies dance, twirling and swirling and singing. I don’t know how to raise them in the faith in any other way than this: God is good, God is Love, God is for you, never against you, and when you want to dance, darling, wave your flag and spin, let the wind of the Spirit move through you.

image source

Continue Reading · church, faith · 16