A Travelogue of the Interior

faith questions


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“Men want significance and women want security.”

Ella, ever the gadfly in our house, is doing a book report on J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.eowyn-wiki I can’t believe anyone reading my blog does not know the story, but just in case, it traces an epic quest of 9 male characters (4 hobbits, 2 men, 1 dwarf, 1 elf and 1 wizard) through Middle Earth to defeat an overpowering evil. Along the way, Tolkien incorporates a very small number of notable female characters: 2 elven queens and 1 human woman (and an embittered hobbit, but she’s beside the point).

In the movie version of LOTR, the female characters are bold, courageous and determined, but the one that captured Ella’s imagination was Eowyn, a noblewoman who disguises herself as a man so she can ride into battle against the great and growing evil, even at the risk of death.

Ella’s identification with Eowyn got me thinking about a phrase I heard routinely at church as a teenager, this little ditty that, “men want significance and women want security.” This statement was evoked as a way of instructing us girls that since we were created by God to want (and need) security primarily, we would find our deepest satisfaction in marriage and homemaking. Likewise, we were not — and ought not try to be — like men, who had a deep, God-given need and desire to participate in an epic story and struggle valiantly with their fellow brothers-in-arms — to give their lives for something significant. You can see the chalk outline then of the male/female model, where the men engage in epic battle in the public square and the women wait at home for the return of their conquering hero. This idea is illustrated quite clearly in the hugely popular (among Christians) Wild at Heart and Captivating books by John and Stasi Eldredge:

In an interview with Beliefnet, they explain,

“In fact, in “Wild at Heart,” I (John) said every man wants a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue. And in “Captivating” (Stasi) -every woman wants to be romanced; every woman wants to play an irreplaceable role in a heroic adventure, not just to be useful but to be irreplaceable; and every woman longs to have a beauty that’s all her own to unveil, both an external beauty and an internal beauty as well. To be the beauty and to offer beauty.

The woman in this scenario, it should be noted, was part of the man’s spoils, his reward for having fought the good fight, so she had certain essential obligations to look the part. By extension, as I have heard many times in my short, happy life, when women refuse to be the prize, when women take up arms (metaphorically and physically), it demotivates men and deprives them of their masculine prerogative.

Some of my friends loved this narrative and Could Not Wait to fit themselves into it vis a vis marriage.

But me. Oooh no, this narrative made me crazy — C.R.A.Z.Y. Even as a young teenager, I knew deep in my soul I had very little desire for security (as it was conceptualized anyway) and even less desire to be someone’s prize. I was drawn to all the stories of epic questing and never, ever imagined myself in the role of fair maiden. My go-to childhood superpower? Flight. Way better than Spidey sense or a Lasso of Truth.  I wanted wings more than roots. If there was a mountain to be skied, I was at the top of it. If there was a boundary, I pushed it. If God was offering something, I was first in line even if I was uninvited by the powers that be. The edge has always been my comfort zone.

Even as a child I wanted to see the world, and I still do. When I get cranky and irritable my husband starts making travel plans, because he knows how essential it is for me to breathe fresh air and set my sights on something new, set myself against a task yet untested.  I am beyond fortunate that he’s that way too, and so when life throws us lemons we let the lemons mold and rot in the fridge, and we pack up the kids and hit the road.

I see the same hunger in both of my daughters, although scarcely can they identify it yet. What captivates them: challenge, risk, adventure, the open road. Julia will go on epic quests in the interior of her own imagination, and I guarantee you she is the hero in her own story, and rightly so. Of course, we all of us love to come home after our adventures, sleep in our own beds, get reacquainted with the cadences of daily life. It is not either-or for me, for my daughters.  It is both-and.

There are those who would argue (and have) that what feels to me like an innate desire to engage the big wide world and play a part there, to be significant, is a socially conditioned response fomented in the 60s by radical feminists and is (thus) not the way God made me. Who knows, maybe they are right. I guess someday I’ll find out if I became the person God imagined before the foundations of the world, or instead became some silly, deformed cultural cliche. I, for one, have more confidence in God than that, though. I have confidence that He is able to do all He sets out to do, that He is able to complete His work — even in me.

Perhaps it is security that gives us the courage to quest and seek a role in God’s epic adventure. Perhaps it is the desire to contribute in some significant way to a story larger than our own that drives us to form the securest of bonds with kindred spirits, those born of blood and those born of faith and covenant too.

The more I think about it, the less the bifurcation irritates me, and the easier it is to simply dismiss it out of hand. The truly stupid part of this idea, sold to me in those formative teenage years, is that any one of us can be cleanly located, because of our gender, into one or the other little, tiny box. As if God has boxes at all.

God made each of us in His image and called us to wage war against evil and bring heaven to earth — what role could possibly be more significant?

God made each of us for Himself and named us — brother, sister, daughter, son — what relationship could possibly bring greater security?

Let the Owen Strachan’s of the world keep on deriding women like me. I’m sticking with Eowyn.


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“Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin” — On Moving Past Bifurcated Thinking.

Be friends with me long enough and you’ll discover just how deeply I detest Christian-y jargon.

calvinandhobbesWell-meaning, genuinely Jesus-loving people confuse these Christian-y platitudes and bromides with the Gospel of Jesus, and then actually forget the Gospel of Jesus because the platitudes and bromides are simpler to understand. These platitudes and bromides bifurcate the world and people into simple black/white, right/wrong, good/bad, you/me terms which tell us all who’s in and who’s out and, frankly, are much to be preferred to Jesus who was confusing and convoluted and nuance-y, who told parables that made everyone wonder if he was daft and shared table fellowship with the wrong people and had terrible boundaries with sinful, long-haired womenfolk.

I’ve been thinking about bromides because one of the Big Ones made the rounds this week, all because a man kissed another man on television — because OMG people, television, now that is sacred space and who knows what will happen if we start allowing SIN on television, let alone the NFL draft!

Hell, meet hand basket.

But I digress.

This is not a post about gay rights, or about whether homosexuality is a sin. It is a post about the bromide: “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”

As bromides go, it’s quite good. We can say, “I love Mr. Soandso, even though I hate the sinful things he does,” and never actually ponder whether we actually do love Mr. Soandso and what that love would look like should we actually possess it. Plus, we get the added benefit that the bromide functions rhetorically as code and so announces to all the important people we need to be in good standing with that We Are In The Club.

My least favorite mega-church pastor would say something like “I love you enough to tell you that you are going to hell,” and LORD knows I’m tempted to say, “Right back at ya, Preacher Man.” But I don’t, because honestly, I don’t understand love couched in these terms (I love you so much that I will judge your eternal destiny having never actually met you and based only on the actions I see in the present moment?) and I really don’t presume to know what role Mr. Preacher Man has to play in God’s eventual Kingdom, when shalom will cover the whole earth. I hope, like me, he finds compassion in the face of Jesus; he needs it as much as I do.

On the one hand, as Christians, we ought to hate sin because God hates sin. God hates sin because it destroys people and creation, and God loves people and all of His creation so very, very much. So we discover in the pages of the Bible, from word one in Genesis to the final word in Revelation, that God is in the business of destroying sin and its consequence, death, and restoring humanity right along with the rest of creation to a place of shalom, God dwelling among us once again.

On the other hand, usually the people this bromide is launched at don’t see their actions as sin. They see their actions (or choices, emotions, whatever) as normal, or even healthy, and feel “who are you to tell me otherwise?” Too many times this bromide is used as a weapon to whack a non-Christian over the head with their (perceived-by-us) moral failings. This must stop, and this is why the bromide doesn’t work: because nobody — not me or you — and certainly not a bromide, can convince a person of their sin. Only God can do that. Only God has the right to do that, because you and me, we don’t see the heart of any other person and usually we don’t even see our own very well. We do not know what a person’s story is, why they choose the way they do, what it feels like to be in their skin, doing their best with the cards they’ve been dealt.

No, I am not saying that our circumstances affect whether something is actually sin or not; I’m saying Let God Figure That Out.

You and me, Christian, we don’t have to sort everyone out. We especially don’t have to sort out all the good folks out there who do not profess that Jesus Christ is their Lord and Savior the way you and I do. Let the Spirit of God do that, in God’s timing, in God’s way. Our mandate from Scripture is not to convict people of sin or win the culture wars or establish a theocracy. Our mandate is to deliver — in person — the good news that Jesus won, death is dead, God’s kingdom is here, there are already thin places where heaven and earth touch, shalom is spreading, and all are invited to the table.

So, if we break apart the bifurcated thinking of “sinner / sin” where do we land? In a word, compassion. We seek to look deeper, to ask to hear other’s stories. We sit awhile with the person we are tempted to reduce down to meaningless terms and instead hear what their life has been like, forge a wider place for the tension of their lives to expand, not constrict. What moves them? What frightens them? What is their greatest hope? What is the moment of their deepest shame? If you really want to try on compassion, go the extra mile and seek to give them a stage to tell their story and have their experience validated, to experience acceptance no matter what their past, their present or their future portends.

Compassion seeks to make shared space with another, to refuse to let the wreckage of life define us. Compassion insists on rejecting these stupid bifurcations of reality, insists that the Gospel of Jesus is incarnational and can’t be communicated in bromides or platitudes or even Bible verses ripped out of context for the purpose of theological or cultural warmongering.

Instead of bromides, how about something more like this:

“I want neither a terrorist spirituality that keeps me in a perpetual state of fright about being in right relationship with my heavenly Father nor a sappy spirituality that portrays God as such a benign teddy bear that there is no aberrant behavior or desire of mine that he will not condone. I want a relationship with the Abba of Jesus, who is infinitely compassionate with my brokenness and at the same time an awesome, incomprehensible, and unwieldy Mystery. ” ― Brennan Manning


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Servant-Leadership is Unbiblical

[Today’s guest post is by my long-time friend, Tim Fall, who blogs at http://timfall.wordpress.com/. I hung out with Tim when I was a student at UC Davis in the late 80s, and then we lost touch for too many years. About a year ago, I kept seeing this guy, “Tim” commenting on all the sites and blogs I was visiting, and I really liked what he had to say.  I finally decided to figure out who he was, and to my surprise, it was my old friend, and I am delighted to have him here today. Here’s his take on “servant leadership.”]

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Tim Fall, blogger, judge, husband, dad — a genuinely awesome guy!

Servant leader? The Bible talks of servant servants – that is, servants who serve other servants.

They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Mark 9:33-35.)

When I read or hear someone speak of servant-leadership it usually comes across more as an emphasis on the fact the person is the leader, and less of an elevation of a humble servant. Jesus’ teaching in Mark 9 focuses on the latter while his disciples were arguing about the former.

That’s why I am convinced that servant-leadership is unbiblical. Servant-servanthood is what Jesus taught:

  • Stoop down to meet someone else’s need, like Jesus did when he washed his friends’ feet. (John 13:12-17.)
  • Give yourself up for others, just as Jesus gave himself as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:25-28.)
  • Refrain from using your own power to overcome adversaries, even as Jesus did when he allowed himself to be arrested. (Matthew 26:52-54.)

This is what true servanthood looks like. It looks like Jesus.


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Poetry Friday Guest Post … from my DAD!

Friends, let me introduce you to my dad.

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He’s 78, an avid cyclist, mechanical engineer by training, awesome dad and grandfather and (my mom tells me) husband too. He was born in 1935 and grew up fairly stoically during the Depression. For most of my life, emotions — feeling and expressing them — has lets just say not been his strong suit. He has been a Jesus-follower his whole life, but only in the past 10-15 years has his relationship with God taken him toward a more available emotional life. All of us who love him really really love this change — my children most of all, who have only known their Bop Bop as a man who laughs and sings and cries too, and now who writes his own poems and reads them in community! My dad is living proof that the journey of faith is always, always further up and further in.

I asked my dad if I could post his very first sacred poem, and so with his permission, here is the ‘superscript” and poem. He was a little hesitant because he’s no poet laureate and I reminded him duh, none of us are! We write, not because what we produce is necessarily “good” by some professional standard but because the act of writing is an act of faith that creates sacred space for us to develop our own voice with God and be better able to hear God in antiphony.

Part of why I love his poem is that it is subversive of good old fashioned “christian culture” — he takes aim at that poem, Footprints in the Sand (a poem which I truly despise — I’m so sorry if you like it!  Its like Thomas Kincade art to me … wonderful people adore it but, friends, for me “Footprints” and Kincade art are just a huge, giant, um NO).

So without further adieu … I’m proud of you dad!

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About six months ago, a really good friend of mine emailed to me a copy of a poem entitled “Buttprints in the Sand.” As you may have guessed, this poem was a take-off on the original poem “Footprints in the Sand” which expressed the author’s view of the way in which God deals with His children during tough times. He carries them Himself.

By contrast, the poem my friend sent to me posited that God gets tired and annoyed carrying me when I lack the willingness or am too afraid to step-out in faith. He just drops me on my butt in the sand and leaves me there to get my attention. Well, I did not believe that God deals with me, His child, that way nor did my friend. So I wrote a sequel (really a rebuttal, no pun intended) entitled “Faceplant in the Sand.” I know my friend shares this view of our God because she said after reading my attempt at poetry “it’s all of grace, isn’t it”.

Faceplant in  the Sand*

A Fellow Traveler’s  Sequel to “Buttprints in the Sand” (Anon) and what happened to him when the LORD did not leave him there, butt in the sand

 

So then, ere just a moments pause

with butt still in the sand,

I hear You plainly telling me

I’ll not permit you stay.

 

For You had called me long ago

to Follow and Obey,

Not count the cost, or weigh the load,

just walk and talk with You.

 

So off we went, my LORD and I,

on path you chose for me.

It’s narrow, slippery, perilous and steep,

no ease, as I want it be

 

Now weary again, I lose my way

my strength and will too weak

In such a state I fall anew,

My Faceplant in the Sand

 

I’m finished I think, no one to help

just full dirt and grime,

Afraid to move, Fear overcomes

I lie Face Down In The Sand.

 

But then I sense a gentle nudge

and feel You lift me up

With feet again on path You chose

By Grace, my walk renews.

 

I did not stay long with Face in Sand

With sin and self atop

Your Grace was sufficient and Love overcame

My Faceplant in the Sand

 

So when I fail and sink anew

and sin so easily besets,

I have no fear, for now I trust,

Your Grace will see me through.

 

By: A Fellow Traveller

AMAZING GRACE

Third stanza

By John Newton

Through many dangers, toils and snares

I have already come

T’was Grace that brought me safe thus far

And Grace will bring me home

*For those of you that have never experienced the joy of downhill skiing in powder, a “Faceplant” occurs when you fall, head first, and go face down in the snow.  Not pretty!


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World Vision Waffles While the Church Throws a Giant Hissyfit

First came the news that World Vision U.S. was changing its policy and would from here on out allow for the hiring of legally married, gay Christians.

Progressive Christians applauded World Vision’s stance, fist-pumping that this is what Jesus would do too and “take that you Conservative bigots who hate gay people,” while Conservative Christians denounced the decision as an unbiblical, cowardly kowtowing to popular culture and called for World Vision sponsors to prove their commitment to Jesus by withholding food, shelter and education from the poor to advance a political agenda.

Then came the news that World Vision U.S. had reversed it stance, issued an apology for causing global consternation, and would return to it’s previous policy of abstinence for all unmarried Christians, which by definition includes gay Christians because they believe gay marriage is a biblical oxymoron.

Conservative Christians took over the fist-pumping, with “well duh’s” being sung stridently to the choir and “thank God I can keep feeding my World Vision child with a clean conscience” while Progressive Christians threw around a lot of WTFs  and demonized the Christian Establishment as a money-grubbing patriarchy that hates gays more than it loves poor children.

It’s been an awesome couple of days in Christendom, don’t you think?

The irony of course is that the stated reason for World Vision’s inclusion of married gay Christians in their employment ranks was to model Christian unity.

I was awake a lot last night — you know that fatigue that sets in when you are so freakishly tired you can’t even sleep? That’s me these days.

I pondered a lot of mundane things during the dark hours of last night: I need a new title for my book. Does the concussion band my daughter wears in soccer games really protect her noggin, and why oh why does an 8 year old have homework?

But mostly I thought about Jesus and World Vision and I kept picturing this scene in my head where we are all there, standing around in a big dusty circle pointing fingers at each other and loudly making our arguments, all shaky on the inside because the adrenaline is pumping while the camera crews film our Atticus Finch-like epic takedown of the opposition and because this matters and then … then He squats down and draws in the dust.

What is he drawing? We don’t know.  We didn’t know then and we don’t know now. What we do know is that everyone walked away that day from that dusty circle needing to repent. 

The self-righteous needed to repent, and for them Jesus modeled humility and grace.

The sinners needed to repent, and to them Jesus offered forgiveness and healing-in-community.

The religious needed to repent, and to them Jesus offered unfettered freedom to be a blessing to the nations.

In other words, Jesus surprised everyone. He took people where they were and to each He gave an essential vision of His Father’s Kingdom — and that small, incomplete glimpse changed the self-righteous into humble servants, the sinners into bold evangelists, the religious into risk-takers.

How did we come to the place this week where we hurl insults at each other right over the head of our Lord and Savior while he squats in the dust to show us a different way?

I’m guilty too. I have started and then edited and then erased more comments on more blogs on this World Vision fiasco than I care to admit. I have spoken in self-righteous anger. I have felt myself justified by the Bible. I have fist-pumped and shaken with adrenaline and what I most need to repent of is this notion that anything about how I think and behave reflects the face of the One I love most in the world.

Yes, ideas matter. Yes, theology matters. Yes, there is room for a hearty discussion about World Vision’s policies and decisions — even hand waving and hand wringing and disagreements and “OMG you can’t possibly believe that!” with (gasp) even raised voices and red faces. Yes, there is room for all of that. We must learn to trust each other and hold discursive and emotional space for each other along this journey toward shalom.

The question then is, how do we function in the midst of our disagreements, as profound and essential as they are, and live up to our calling as the arms and legs and feet and face of Jesus in this cultural moment? Big question, and I don’t have the answer, but I think part of it is this:

knowing we will be misunderstood, knowing we will be betrayed, knowing the tension will not be resolved, knowing what comes next will hurt, knowing that something far bigger is at stake than our theological framework, we pick up the basin and the towel and we kneel before our brother and even before our betrayer and we wash their feet.

 

 

 

 


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Fred Phelps and Forgivenes

The day after Fred Phelps, controversial leader of the hateful Westboro Baptist Church, passed away last week, a dear and wise friend of mine posted this on his Facebook timeline:

“Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.”

I respectfully disagree.

In my opinion, this smacks more of Nietzsche’s “will to power” than the Gospel of Jesus.

I am not a Bible scholar, and I could be wrong, but the year I spent immersed in the Psalms taught me just the opposite:

Willpower doesn’t mean much in the Kingdom of God.

Jesus isn’t looking for our best effort.

We are not meant to rend emotion from intellect — we are meant to embody both.

Forgiveness is a journey that starts with honest lament and eventually yields an eschatological faith that God is a God of justice and mercy both.

God will set right all that is wrong.

In the meantime, we live with the tension of an already-and-not-yet Kingdom and we are tasked with using our gifts in community to bring the sweet scent of heaven to earth, to be Jesus here.

In the case of Fred Phelps then, pronouncing “we forgive you” misses the point. Instead, we Christians ought to be the first to sit with anyone who was wounded by the likes of Fred Phelps and bear witness to their lament, holding the space so they can take whatever time they need to journey authentically toward healing.


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Christians Need Couples Counseling

Business Insider ran a story last week about a guy named Nate Bagley who wanted to find out what made great relationships, well, great. He apparently interviewed a breathtaking range of couples — gay, straight, rich, poor, old, young, religious, atheistic, those in arranged marriages and polygamous marriages and those who married for love. He then codified the relationship advice he received. You can read the fairly superficial BI story here: http://www.businessinsider.com/nate-bagleys-best-relationship-advice-2014-2#ixzz2tgzw6dC4

From this link you can also find the Reddit thread where he took to discussing his findings.

I found the piece mildly interesting from a Christian perspective because, in the evangelical churches I grew up in, self-love was verboten, the epitome of selfishness. Downright Sinful. To wit, we would mock Whitney Houston’s wildly popular 1985 cover of Greatest Love Of All as being case-closed evidence at how sinful our generation was, how destined for relational failure our secular peers were who believed such nonsense. How ironic, then, to discover that self-love would appear to be among the top qualities for successful interpersonal relationships; it makes me wonder what might happen if, instead of the usual hand-wringing over the prevalence of divorce within the Church, we taught believers more forthrightly how to have healthy boundaries in marriage and how to stave off codependence.

But yet again, I digress.

Friends, it took me years of therapy to undo the damage of self-annihilation I learned to perfect at church and instead to embrace myself as having profound value as one of God’s image bearers. I am a far better and much happier wife (I think David would agree!) when I practice robust self-love and self-care in addition to loving and caring for my family, friends and community.

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So there’s that.

But then I got to the part in the article about conflict resolution and I had a minor epiphany: the ecumenical Church needs couples counseling. We need help with the basic tools of conflict resolution, in particular the second quality that Bagley identifies:

“Seek to Understand: If you’re having a hard time playing on the same team, stop fighting and instead try to understand why your partner is upset. Typically what’s being talked about isn’t the real issue. People are inherently bad at being vulnerable, especially in threatening situations. Be willing to ask sincere questions. Let the answers sink in…” [Note: the exemplar gets a little smarmy at this point IMO so proceed at your own risk).

Christians, we are terrible at this. Just terrible. If you have any doubts, peruse via the Web any of these currently thriving, knock-down drag-out fistfights …

  • creation | evolution
  • biblical gender roles
  • the inerrancy of Scripture
  • ordination of women
  • theological fine-tuning on issues such as justification (Piper | N.T.Wright)
  • this list could go on and on … and on … ad nauseam.

… and you’ll see our egregious failure here immediately. Maybe we are terrible at conflict resolution because too many of us were schooled in apologetics at the expense of compassion. Maybe we are scared of the world as it changes around us, scared of our eroding influence and the world our children are going to inherit. Maybe we genuinely feel we are holding sacred ground from an advancing enemy.

I’m sure there are many other reasons, and I am not suggesting that we ought never to disagree, even passionately. But we need to listen. First. To hear each other not for the purpose of winning an argument or maintaining our theological vantage point but instead to honor the image of God in the Other, in those who see | think | feel | live | faith | question differently than us.  

Their point of view might not change our own, but it ought to expand it. Our discourse ought to school us not in apologetics but in humility, to the point where we can genuinely assert that perhaps there is more than one legitimate point of view, more than one legitimate interpretation of Scripture. Perhaps we can practice making our disagreements the least important thing among us, and our love — first for Jesus and then for each other — the most important thing. Perhaps we can remind ourselves that we all of us see through a mirror dimly. We are all of us wrong about all sorts of things, important things, things about which we are absolutely sure we are right. 

“We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.” — The Message

“Love extravagantly.”  I like that.