The Gospel Truth-what a gem

It has taken me over 30 years. But at least it's happening! I am finally starting to clear away the Christianese clutter and uncover a vibrant, real, true, and lasting faith. Much like when folks are treasure-hunting and digging in the ground...they uncover something that looks like it might be valuable...a ruby or emerald...that's been there all along...but has been heretofore covered with dirt, grass, and the like. But it's amazing what the gem can look like when the dirt is washed, the stone is polished and cut just so! It looks like a whole new jewel!!
So, here I am. I've been carrying this dusty, rough-cut jewel around since I was five, but didn't know exactly how beautiful a thing it was. It has at various times been covered in a film of name-it-claim-it vending machine Jesus rhetoric, a heavy coating of left-behind-mark-of-the-beast-cut-my-head-off fear of the Anti-Christ, moral-majority-everyone-should-be-a-Republican dust, be-externally-holy-or-else-you're-excommunicated sludge, you-have-faith-because-of-what-you-don't-do/drink/listen-to grime, etc. (And if none of that hyper-hyphenation made sense to you, thank your Lord!) Likely, in our country, however, at least one of those hyper-hyphenations rings true, whether you've lived smack in the middle of it or been smacked by it in some way. I would go so far as to call it American Evangelical brainwashing, even though some of it is obviously not all bad...most of it does not really look a thing like the Kingdom of God that Jesus describes. The Kingdom of God that is "at hand"...meaning it should be happening in each of us NOW. Not when the clouds split open and we all meet Him in the air on some glad morning.
I can understand how previous generations have had their minds on what is to come, generations of enslaved African-Americans who got through the day by singing about "across the Jordan" and having a "crown up in a that Kingdom." Early Pentecostals, whose lives were transformed by Jesus, yearning for the "sweet Beulah land" and flying away.
So, I'll give you all that. The whole of this American religious conversation and its movements have a root in something real, a real desire to see the world righted through political agendas, increased wealth, "turn or burn" fear factors, a drive toward holiness...Yes, and amen to those who see that the world is turning on an unholy axis! It solidifies the notion of original sin and that we are in need of something or someone to save us.
But we've missed the point. We've been so busy trying to build roads to God that we've missed the fact that there is no need for a road. He's HERE. He came here, and He lives here in the heart of His followers. When we FOLLOW him, rather than try to find a methodical way to get to Him, He will do the work of transforming the world around us. He will draw people to Himself, convict them of their sins, convince them of their need for Him and for His grace. He will extend love through us, heal broken hearts and broken bodies. He will revolutionize the political system, but not the way we think of it.
"But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." (Matt. 6:33) His system is bizarro world to us. My Pastor wrote some modern beatitudes. This is what the Kingdom of God should look like NOW, HERE, on EARTH. This is what we will look like when we follow Him. It's not what we strive for, it's what He will mold us into. It's worth nothing less than everything we have.
My jewel is starting to look less grimy every day! Thank you Lord for revealing YOUR truths, for washing the filth off that has been accumulating...for revealing your beauty and for shining.


If only all the world were a musical...

A recent conversation with Michelle reminded me of my longing to live, even for one day, in a world that operates like a musical. I kind of do this at home, though my musical selections haven't much to do with the moment. I go from singing Heart to Hymns in nanoseconds. One of my most annoying traits (to me) is the fact that I sometimes can only sing about two lines of any given song before I (A) start making up my own lyrics or (B) sing nonsense until I get to words I know again.
In musicals, life can be navigated with a mere song. The poor scarecrow laments his pure stupidity and inability to make any decisions with "If I Only Had a Brain." Sadly, I hum this under my breath when I meet certain people. (shameful, yes) Maria makes it all better when the Von Trapp children pile on her bed during a storm by singing, "My Favorite Things" {extraneous side-bar: this song is NOT a Christmas song, please stop playing it in the Christmas rotation}. Even a rainstorm is made lovely with Gene Kelly's "Singing in the Rain" and accompanying tap dance.
A song about a flat, brown state becomes exciting with "Oooooooook-lahoma, where the wind comes sweeping down the plain..." Life would be easier to live if we could just whip out the perfect song, sing it with gusto and back-up dancers, arms wide open to possibilities.
But we got all post-modern and realized that life was more layered and complicated and cliches are no longer cool or relevant. BUMMER!
Singing out loud is good for the soul. It makes your heart hum along...even if you can't sing, we've learned from American Idol that that is not such a hardship...as long as YOU believe you can sing (and do so in the privacy of your shower or car).
Most people REALLY LOVE or REALLY HATE a good musical. This hate sentiment...I do not understand. What a wonderful world it would be if anytime we felt like it, all time would stand still for a moment, the orchestra would swell, and we could belt out "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" or "I Could Have Danced All Night" or "Can't Help Lovin' dat Man." As long as we all took turns and backed each other up with good backing vocals, what's the harm? Musicals for President, 2008!


One more jumped out of the lifeboat.

I've been reading some Donald Miller along with my chapters of Matthew, and it's as though he knew I'd be reading the Beatitudes (Matt. 5) along with his book. The book of which I speak is Searching for God Knows What. I've had it for quite a while, and just recently finally picked it up. I could go on for days about Miller's spot-on writing style--how he so very casually seems to be able to target the holes in my theology and heart and fill them with God's truths. He is an amazing human. More on that in a moment...
But what strikes me today is yet another story of a probable fractured soul who has taken lives as well as his own in a final statement to the world. After a whirlwind Thursday, we did not have time to turn on the TV and get any news yesterday, so when I awoke, I saw another mass-shooting/suicide unfolding before my eyes, this time in Illinois. And so many would dismiss this fellow as just another "crazy." Notwithstanding the possibility of mental illness, I see him as someone who was likely marginalized and disregarded by his peers and/or family. We will probably see his story unfold much in the way of the Christmas mall shooter, Virginia Tech, YWAM/Colorado, and Columbine scenerios. I feel so sorry for these people who obviously have not had a community who listen to them, support them, and provide direction for them. They feel the need to make a final statement and to get an audience at any cost.
Miller unpacks a "lifeboat" theory in his book...a loose analogy of our living our lives as though we're in a lifeboat with a few too many people to make the lifeboat effective...so someone has to go or be sacrificed in order to keep the whole boat afloat and rescue the remaining ones. We all live in such a way as to secure our "worthiness" to survive. The smart act smarter, the lovely display their beauty, the holy judge and look down upon the less righteous (irony intended), etc. We group ourselves in ways to secure a slightly higher spot in the pecking order. We all have someone that we perceived as less-fill-in-the-blank than we are, and so we feel secure in our position. Or, if we are not getting enough affirmation, we find ways to prove our worth through performance/achievement, beauty creams (or worst-case scenerio plastic surgery that pulls our wrinkles behind our hairlines and draws the skin up from the toes, plumpers that make the smile look forced and the eyes surprised--SCARY!), or we buy things that make us look/feel successful--gadgets, toys, and the like. Of course, I could expound upon this idea ad infinitum, but you get the drift. We are all in a self-worth race and are desperate to prove that we are not the loser, the one who gets thrown over the side and left for the sharks.
My Pastor often refers to God's Kingdom as "a Kingdom upside-down." That is, completely opposite of the earthly kingdoms we understand. It's true...everything about capitalism and every other -ism flies in the face of Scripture. Miller asserts that indeed this is true in the lifeboat. We are all looking around the boat, desperate to prove our own case, when the Scriptural method of finding our self-worth is to let the Creator TELL us who we are. Not who we are in comparison to others, but who we are TO HIM. What HE has created us to accomplish, whom HE has called us to serve. By listening to HIS voice, following HIS word, and reveling in HIS affirmation, we are then able to repair a fractured society instead of participating in the fractured-ness.
Jesus never hung out in the lifeboat. He didn't hang out with the up-and-comers, the religious folks, the beautiful people. He hung out with the marginalized, the sinners, the tax-collectors, the prostitutes...because He didn't have anything to lose. He listened to his Father. His Father told him who He was and what He had to accomplish. He didn't play games for political power, though he certainly could have. He didn't use the crowds of people who followed him around to get rich, though he could have. He was simple and loving. He reminded us that the meek inherit the earth, that the poor in spirit will see the Kingdom of God, that those who mourn will be comforted. He tells us to hunger and thirst for God alone. None of those kinds of people last very long in the lifeboat. Those are the people who are not listened to in our society, whose isolation feeds mental illness, who are not being reached by the light of Christ, by the church--communities that are supposed to be healing and reaching out to the marginalized. We are missing something with our version of Christianity. I think we are missing the real boat in our attempt to cling to the only boat that feels familiar. Even though on that "life"boat (misnomer) we will all eventually sink.


Refine Me-a prayer

a fine and lovely song that popped into my head during Jesus time...you really should hear it sung, but this will do--I suppose.

I come into this place
Burning to receive your peace
I come with my own chains from wars I've fought for my own selfish gain
You're my God and my Father
I've accepted your Son
But my soul feels so empty now
What have I become?
Lord, come with your fire, burn my desires; refine me
Lord, my will has deceived me
Please come and free me
Refine me
My heart can't see when I only look at me
My soul can't hear when I only think of my own fears
They are gone in a moment; You're forever the same
Why did I look away from You?
How can I speak Your name?
Lord, come with Your fire, burn my desires; refine me
Lord, my will has deceived me
Please come and free me
Come rescue this child
For I long to be reconciled to You
It's all I can do to give my heart and soul to You
And pray, and pray, oh I will pray
Lord, come with Your fire, burn my desires; refine me
Lord, my will has deceived me
Please come and free me
Come rescue this child
For I long to be reconciled to You
Refine me, refine me
Refine me, refine me

Words/Music by Kim Bontrager
Recorded by Jennifer Knapp on "Kansas"


Pave Paradise and put up a Parking Lot

In the name of Woods, I beg you! Stop clearing trees for more shopping centers and beige cracker-box vinyl siding houses on postage stamp lots!!!!!!!!!!
Isn't that a lovely reaction to my drive in the "country" today? We wove our way over to Waxhaw (say that sentence three times fast), featuring mostly-enjoyable scenery, some cows, older homes on hills...but my oh me. They have basically sheared the stretch of land between Historic Downtown Waxhaw and Marvin road. Waxhawians (?) certainly should have some amenities, as their ranks threaten to take over the world...but does every corner have to be a Target-RackRoom-Michaels comporium? On a two lane road that's the only way and the only way out? I'm not even a city planner by trade, and I can tell you this is all adding up to be a great big mess. I was ever-so-sad to drive by a friend of mine's road, which used to be hard to find "go over the bridge, pass the murky forest, and turn right at the cupboard shop." Some mean bulldozer has eliminated the murky forest for what I'm assuming will be a Super Target. (for the record...LOVE Target) But the price of growth there seems far too high. I am sad for the people who moved to the sticks over 20 years ago and now find their beautiful Tara-like home overlooking the Harris Teeter/CVS flourescent show.
We will look back on this era of expansion when everyone deserved a Harris Teeter (grocery, in case you don't live around here) within four minutes of his/her home...and be sad that we paved paradise and put up a parking lot. Especially as we gasp for breatheable AIR because the only trees left are in museums!
(rant over, you may now return to your regularly scheduled programming)


I have been a spastic wind-up toy.

It's true. Let me tell you how I know.

We've signed up for a great experiment at church. As a church, we are all covenanting (is that a word) to spend at least 30 minutes in prayer/journaling/Scripture-reading every day. We will fast for one 24-hour period each week, and we will participate in a small group (for many reasons, but not the least of which is to have folks to hold us accountable for above activities).

Our focus Scripturally is the Book of Matthew. I have been reading and digesting it, with the help of Dr. Hauerwas. I am only on Chapter 2, as I am trying my best to digest slowly and not race through like a speed-eating champion. I tend to read fast with momentary comprehension, so I am fighting the good fight to "read deeply."

In Chapter 2, at some point in my life, I underlined all the times Matthew uses the word dream. This chapter is basically about the birth of Christ, his parents, King Herod, and wise men. Obviously something big is going down, so God makes sure everyone understands what should happen by speaking to them in dreams...

...wise men--God warns them in a dream not to return to Herod

...Joseph--he must have slept A LOT! In this chapter alone, he has three distinct directives in dreams...

1. Go to Egypt. Herod is hunting baby boys.

2. Return to Israel. Herod is dead.

3. No, really. It's ok to go back, but settle in Galilee.

And even with all of these specific directives, it mentions that "Joseph is afraid." I mean, this guy has had angels show up in his bedroom! He KNOWS the Lord is real, the Lord is speaking to him, etc. And he still has room for fear. (side note: I wonder how frightening it would be to know that you are parenting the Son of God? Did Jesus need "parenting?" I imagine he never got dragged into a fast food restroom and given the what-for! Were his siblings jealous that he never got in trouble? "Jesus is perfect...he never gets a spanking..." I could go on for hours...)

All of that to say. The Lord is always speaking to us. He is desperate to get through to us, to tell us where to go, what to say, when to do this or that...and that He loves us, he has plans for us...What I have realized in reading just this chapter. I have not rested enough in quiet places to hear God's voice so distinctly. I saw a clear picture of myself as a little wind-up toy, as you might get with a Happy Meal. You wind them 'til you can't wind anymore, and watch them zip around in every direction until they tucker out. Yup. That's me. And while I'm buzzing, I'm rarely listening to God...until I get tuckered out and still...worn out by life and desperate for an answer and clear direction. No more buzzing about. Wind up toys are for kids.

Dear old Donald Miller recounts a story in which a friend tells him reality is like wine...not for children. And the reality is, I cannot continue letting my life live me while squeezing in devotions, short prayers for help, and quiet moments. I need to grow up in the Lord, and discipline my spiritual life, not because I want something...but because He wants me. Not the wind-up toy me, but a real, live, present me...devoted and fueled up for the long haul.

Those wind-up toys always end up breaking anyway.