Category Archives: Faith

What I Believe: What is a Progressive Christian Anyway?

I was raised by Jesus. He was always there in songs and prayers, bible storybooks and Sunday School flannelgraph. He was as real to me as any person I knew in person.

heart handIn fact, he was flesh and blood to me, in the lives of my parents and grandparents and countless aunts and uncles of the church. It was from them I learned about love. The kind of love that gets its hands dirty, that dispenses advice alongside hugs and casseroles, that quietly slips money to those who need it, that faithfully prays and cares and shows up when normal people would give up; that opens up their homes and their hearts to strangers, and keeps doing it again and again, even when they get burned.

The Divide

It’s because of this heritage, and not to spite it, that I find myself in the open waters of a new kind of Christianity. Not just me, but thousands and thousands of others. Not just young people like me (okay fine, young at heart, though middle-aged in body); in fact, our new church has a far better balance of ages/stages than the old one.

The Christian church has been in the throes of growing pains for quite awhile, a polarization of sorts. The Neo-Reformed movement and other conservative trends pulling back, while the emerging church and progressive Christianity (two different, but similar theological movements) are pushing out.

Love it, hate it, or just try to ignore it and hope it goes away – this is the landscape. I’ve sat on both sides of the debates, so I can honestly say, there are wonderful, sincere people I respect on almost every point on the spectrum. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t get nasty.

In fact, both as a Fundamentalist Christian and now as a Progressive one, my feelings have been hurt; I have felt misunderstood and underestimated. Not because of the issues, but because of the assumptions made about my motivations and character. And I’m sad to admit that I’ve done the same to others.

As a conservative I was accused of being a Pharisee; a dark insult for church folks – implying a harsh, arrogant and legalistic attitude which Jesus loathes. Why couldn’t they see how sincerely devoted I was to pleasing God and doing the right thing? How hard I struggled to make myself and the whole world better? I was not this caricature they were painting. I was not the villain.

As a progressive I’ve been accused of taking the easy, immature path. It’s been assumed that I am conforming to the world, selling out, giving in, flirting with sin… even endangering the wellbeing of my children. And still I find myself asking: why can’t they see how sincerely devoted I am to pleasing God and doing the right thing, to making myself and the whole world better?

The truth is, none of us are the caricature-version of ourselves, not even the most belligerent, obnoxious extremists. It’s not that simple, a cast of villains and heroes. That would be easier, simpler, a stroke to the ego, but it’s childish to paint the world in black and white.

We disagree in important ways, about important issues; there’s no way to soft petal that. But the ‘Christian thing to do’ is to assume the best about each other’s intentions as we do it. After all, we struggle with both pride and conformity on both sides of this divide.

What Does “Progressive Christianity” Mean To Me?

After wrestling through this section, I added the “to me” to the subtitle. As labels often are, ‘Progressive Christianity’ is an awkward and frequently misunderstood phrase, with a shadow of political rhetoric behind it. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best I’ve got for now. It also encompasses a wide spectrum of beliefs and practices. As I’ve only begun to dip my toe into these waters, I’m hardly one to speak expertly on such a complicated subject. But, when have I ever let that stop me? 😉

After extensive reading on the subject, I actually like Wikipedia’s summary a lot:

Progressive Christianity is a form of Christianity which is characterized by a willingness to question tradition, acceptance of human diversity, a strong emphasis on social justice and care for the poor and the oppressed, and environmental stewardship of the Earth. Progressive Christians have a deep belief in the centrality of the instruction to “love one another” (John 15:17) within the teaching of Jesus Christ. This leads to a focus on promoting values such as compassion, justice, mercy, tolerance, often through political activism.

shakespeare

As much as the term ‘Progressive Christian’ has gained traction recently, it isn’t a new one; it was first used over 100 years ago. Nor is it confined to any particular denomination: Protestant, Catholic, Evangelical, or even Emergent. It’s often confused with the ideology of Liberal Christianity, which at first glance seems similar, but stems from an entirely different view of Christ and the bible (see: Not Conservative, Not Liberal: Progressive ).

Where conservative theologians see the bible as a timeless, inerrant blueprint upon which every facet of life should be built (with varying degrees of literalism), liberal theologians see it as an interesting ancient document from which we can draw useful and inspiring lessons, but nothing more. On the other hand, progressives (along with many different stripes of Christians throughout history) believe that the bible is a sacred book, divinely inspired by God and written (as well as translated) by men in the context of their particular culture, containing both spiritual power and cultural bias. Unlike most evangelicals, we are not tied to “sola scriptura,” believing that God is revealed also through nature, tradition, experience, common sense, science… et cetera. After all, the Word of God is not really a book, it’s actually a person – Jesus (so says the bible).

So What?

My journey from conservative evangelicalism has included a long process of questioning and rebuilding my faith (see: Breaking Up with my Church, From Certainty to Mystery and Embracing a Bigger Gospel for more on that). It was in reading the parables that I saw my troubles most clearly. I am much more like the older brother than the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). I relate to the religious man thanking God for my superior morality and good life, not the sinner desperately begging for mercy (Luke 18:9-14). I’m the hard worker who is outraged when the lazy drunk shows up at the last minute and gets paid the same wage (Matt 20:1-16). No matter how you slice it, I’m not the hero, I’m the cautionary tale.

It’s us, the religious ones, that have the hardest time accepting complete and undeserved grace. We also have the hardest time giving it freely.

I realized that my practice of Christianity was not nurturing the kind of humility necessary to love like Jesus does. I was deeply entrenched in an Us/Them mentality, and it was no longer ringing true. Somewhere along the way I had simplified what is meant to be complex and mysterious, and complexified what is meant to be simple and straightforward.

What does this look like for me?

For me, this looks like fighting for social justice, against consumerism and for the protection of nature. It stands up for the oppressed, the hungry, the addicted, the hurting and the lonely. It insists on respect for all people, especially those who lack power. It promotes feminism both in and out of the church, affirms LGBT people and gay marriage. It shocks and horrifies my conservative friends and family.

Inevitably these arguments end in a standoff between two sets of priorities: being right vs. doing good. This is not to say that we aren’t able to both be right and do good, but where there is humanity in the mix, life is rarely simple. In the face of complexity, most Christians choose to err either on the side of holiness or on the side of love.

I don’t always get it right. In fact, my biggest struggle is scrutinizing specks in the eyes of evangelicalism, rather than focusing on being healthy myself. I have a long road ahead of me, learning to live without judgment and exclusion. It is a radical, difficult, but ultimately rewarding choice. I draw deeply on the examples of my family and my evangelical heritage, because even as we may disagree, there are many who get this part right.

When we choose to love selflessly without judgment or agenda, we are acting as the hands and feet of Christ, no matter what our label or political position. This much we can agree on.

So here’s me, and I hope to someday address these specific issues on this blog, especially gay rights, which is particularly contentious and confusing for Christians right now. Someday.


I Live In Between

Most of my life is spent in a place of too much and not enough.

Too much to do, and not enough time.
Too much stuff, and not enough space.
Too much eaten, and not enough activity.
Too much spent, and not enough saved.
Too much stress, and not enough rest.

You get the picture. You probably live in this picture too. Most of us internet-trawling, Facebook-posting, smart-phone-clutching, Consumers-and-Users do. We don’t want to. We don’t plan to. We read and write and repost all sorts of things to avoid it. But, it’s the curse of modern life.

I suspect the subsistence-farming, factory-working, drought-surviving, war-enduring, HaveNots-and-MakingDoers are living their own form of too much and not enough. A far grimmer version. Perhaps, it’s the curse of human life.

This morning I gamely wrestled six bags, three children, a dented flute, a half-eaten muffin and a small plastic snailery (hastily fashioned out of an old pop bottle for Mrs Gander’s class) out the front door. We were running late. Again. With even the smallest chance of sunshine, ghostly white people like us must sunscreen before leaving the house. I always forget to account for this extra 5 minutes in my mad dash to all our various schools.

Fortunately we have very good friends who give the highschooler a ride everyday. The elementary schoolers were impatiently buckled into the van, the preschooler was crawling between the seats chasing a bug and I was checking one more time to make sure I had a good copy of my paper for my Creative Non-Fiction class. Even Mom goes to school these days.

As we pulled out, we began our not-so-beloved, but totally neccessary for Mom’s sanity, prayer ritual. Everyone pitches in a couple items, out loud, on the way down the street. And I remember that I actually love these little people and that life, and this day, is bigger than the latest version of yes-you-really-have-to-wear-that (shoe/sock/coat/sunscreen). It’s like a reset, as we face down another day. My favourite was the boy’s prayer:

Ah… God,
School!!!
Ah-mennnnn.

What more needs to be said, really? We arrived at our first stop, flush with success, just as the first bell rang. Of course the snailery was sitting on the porch by the front door. Of course.

Pack it back in, turn around, scoop it up, try again. Even later than ever. Again.

I used to think that this is where life is lived – in the doing: in the tasks accomplished and customers served. The bulk of my life – so  full of too much, so starved by not enough – is not a bad place, not really. I don’t regret it or hate it. I’m not willing to trade it in for another rendition. I’m not looking for a transformation or some fancy new system guarunteed to cure all my woes. Sure, I’ll seek a better balance, but I don’t imagine I’ll ever arrive.

Instead I’m changing my focus. I picked the word “Breathe” as my resolution this year. And it’s a strangely powerful one.

I’m as busy as ever, but that is not how I live. Not anymore. I live in the spaces between too much and not enough.

I live in the slight breeze tickling my face.
I live in the warm press of little bodies beside me at 6 am.
I live in the stretch of my legs on the trampoline during ‘ring-around-the-rosie.’
I live in the laugh shared over a ridiculous inside joke.
I live in the beat of a catchy tune, the blue sky as far as I can see, the smell of rain on the horizon…

I live in these moments that are just right and more than enough. There’s no trick, no equation, no escape needed. Life trickles into the gaps of everyday. It’s a gift. We just have to live it.life

Be still and know that I am God.

Breathe.

So here’s me, the crazy person who thought an intensive May/June writing course (cram 13 weeks of work into 8) would be a great fit for our life. Maybe not, but I’m actually feeling a lot LESS stressed than expected because those technicolour moments of life are powerful. Who knew, I just needed to learn to breathe all these years.


What I Believe: Embracing a Bigger Gospel

This is a record. I have never spent so much time, so much energy, so many words on a single blog post. Thus far, I have written 2 complete drafts, only to scrap them entirely and start again.

I had promised another edition of my What I Believe series (where I broke up with my church and decided I’m not sure of anything), to whoever might still be interested in my post-evangelical philosophies (concerned family and new church friends mostly).

The first one I crafted was full of scripture references, arguments and intellectual debate. Like I’d  been taught. A gospel staked out in careful boundaries, defensible territory against the attack, with a few darts strategically thrown at the theology I once called home. A gospel of knowing.

The second swung the other way entirely – a way we’ve only recently embraced. Apologizing for the years I believed that I (and those like me) cornered the market on truth. Offering questions in place of answers. Exploring a God who reveals himself through a bigger story, defying simplistic outlines and smug certainties. A gospel of not-knowing.

The truth is, I find myself somewhere in the middle. I wish I had the wisdom, ability and time to properly express the flavour and freedom of this knowing-but-not-knowing journey we’re on (no doubt this sounds utterly absurd to many of you – it certainly would’ve to me, until recently). We are Christians, but not the way we used to be.

The gospel I once knew

In this context I’m using the term “gospel” to refer to an overarching central truth, specifically as it relates to the purpose and message of Christianity. It is used interchangeably in many churches with the phrase “the Good News.”

hellThe gospel I have believed most of my life goes something like this: God created humanity, but we rejected him (sin) and are as a result condemned to an eternity of punishment (hell), but God loved his wayward creation, so He sent his own Son (Jesus) to become human and take that punishment on himself (dying on the cross and rising again), now everyone who consciously chooses to believe this gospel (usually praying a prayer or having a spiritual experience) and live a Jesus honouring life (not as a prerequisite for, but as an inevitable proof of your sincerity) will become favoured children of God and eventually escape punishment.

This belief was the filter through which I understood the bible and the world around me. It was the motivation, sometimes inspiration and sometimes guilt, behind most of our life decisions. In theory, all evangelicals consider themselves missionaries. We wanted as many people as possible to know God and escape an eternity of brutal torture (and we would have been evil schmucks if we didn’t). It’s hard for people outside this paradigm to fully appreciate how all consuming this worldview is.

We all filter

A few years ago, a close relative of mine decided that there were only 7 righteous people left in the world (including him). Because that’s what the bible said. To him. He believed it sincerely, and everything he read in scripture and saw in the world only confirmed this further. It was his filter.

It seemed clear to us that he wasn’t thinking straight. This was not logical, nor was it an historically acceptable interpretation. But it seemed evident to him.

It’s entirely human to see what we want, what we expect. This is how we make sense of the world. It’s how our brains work. And we all do it.

Christian Smith describes this phenomenon when it comes to understanding the Bible as putting a puzzle together. Whatever picture you see on the box, that’s how you fit the pieces together. Some pictures (systems of belief) fit better than others and are more widely accepted, but there are always a few pieces that don’t work as well. We filter those through the words and ideas that seem more important, more central to our big picture, whatever that happens to be.

The picture on the box

My own experiences and interpretations of the Bible, of nature, and the still, small voice in my heart give me insight, but as a human being I can be misled, mistaken and willfully obtuse. History shows that the whole of the Christian church has been misled, mistaken and willfully obtuse over the years, on many issues.

But faith is not about perfect understanding or certainty, it’s choosing a confident hope. I still believe. I believe that a loving God created the world and redeemed it through Jesus Christ. I believe this powerful grace stretches farther and wider and deeper than I ever imagined.faith-hope-love

This is the good news I embrace. A gospel where love has the final word; where Christ’s sacrifice to redeem all humanity is powerful enough to do just that. The picture I see is one of “Ultimate Redemption” – that while there will be judgment and may be punishment, in the end, all will have a clear understanding and ultimately be reconciled to God. To me, this picture better reflects the overarching story of a broken world and a loving Messiah than an extremely limited redemption of those who adhere to a certain theology, say the right words in the right order (sinners prayer) or live a certain lifestyle… most of whom are born in a specific time and place where this is a cultural inevitability.

There is a surprisingly strong scriptural basis for universal reconciliation (which has many different forms). It’s not simply wishful thinking. It’s not even a stretch. Some of the key bible verses are: Galatians, John 12:32, Acts 3:21, Romans 5:18-21, 1 Cor 3:12-15, 15:22-28, 2 Cor 5:19, Eph 1:10, Phil 2:9-11, Col 1:20, 1 Tim 2:14, Titus 2:11, 2 Peter 3:9, 1 John 2:2 – for a more thorough explanation of this picture: http://pantheon.yale.edu/~kd47/univ.htm.

This is not a new position. Historically it falls within the orthodoxy of Christianity, though some modern evangelicals like to believe otherwise. Even Gregory of Nyssa, who edited the Nicene creed (which is widely accepted as the most basic definition of Christian orthodoxy) taught this, along with several other significant fathers of the early church.

Final word to Jesus

When Jesus taught about the Kingdom of God, he didn’t diagram, or alliterate, or clearly outline the steps to get in – instead he told stories. “The kingdom of God is like this…” he would say. Telling ridiculous stories about a love that defies the rules, that was, and is still today, a scandal to good, moral people.

Jesus declared freedom to the oppressed, an end to the Law and an inclusive grace. This is the picture I see now, and it fits. I’m trading in systems of sin management, a focus on who’s in and who’s out, a fear-driven and defensive perspective – for freedom. To trust that Jesus has both the power and the will to reconcile all things to himself. To extend the same unconditional love to others without agenda (which sounds pretty, but can actually be very uncomfortable). To see that there is more to truth and to life than my own perspective – but all truth is God’s truth, so this is nothing to fear.

The kingdom of God is like this: we need, God provides.

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Jesus],
and through him to reconcile to himself all things,
whether things on earth or things in heaven,
by making peace through his blood,
shed on the cross.
Colossians 1:19-20

So here’s me, embracing a new picture of God and the world around me.

Stay tuned for my final installment:
What is a Progressive Christian Anyway?
Why I support feminists, gays, tree-huggers and other crazy liberals Mark Driscoll has been warning you about.

 


What I Believe: From Certainty to Mystery

Welcome to my second installment of What I Believe. In my last post I broke up with my church, the one I have loved, and been loved by, for a solid decade. The philosophical shifts that have brought us to this point are less about this church in particular and more about our entire understanding of life and truth. Most foundational in these shifts is what modern writers have been calling “embracing the mystery.”

It was a lot less fun to get here than you might think. But in the end, more rewarding than I expected. I’ve never felt so free.

As always, it’s not my intent to offend. This is my journey, mine alone. These are my thoughts and ideas, and for once in my life, I don’t need to convert anyone to it.

I used to live in a world that was black and white with a slim margin of grey. I shook my head at those who didn’t have quite as much grey as I did, and called them Legalists. I worried about those whose black and white was more smudged than mine, and thought them weak.

I remember being frustrated with these smudge-y people, who refused to play the game right. They would duck and weave their way past labels and positions and absolutes. Blithely shrugging their shoulders, as if “I don’t know” were an acceptable answer.

Until my husband – the missionary, the apologist, the solid, unswerving intellect of our operation – began wrestling, questioning and dismantling his theological boxes. Some that had never held water for him anyway; he’d always believed in evolution and women’s equality. But now it was all on the table. Hell. Gay rights. End times. Inerrancy of the Bible. Truth in other religions. Even the existence of God.question It was scary and uncomfortable questioning the foundations of our whole world – in practice, the very opposite of weak.

It was hard for him to say anything, to anyone. He doesn’t like to think out loud. After years of chewing on revolutionary questions, conclusions had yet to emerge for him. Just angst. Layers of irritated, depressing angst. So he opened up to me anyway. Finally. Hesitantly.

As if I would be surprised.

I hadn’t read all the books on all the subjects like he had. I hadn’t agonized over all the issues for years. But I had felt the same restless discomfort. That the Jesus I knew from the Bible didn’t fit within the strictures of our evangelical traditions. That the “us & them” mentality pervading it was toxic and untrue. That the certainties we were expected to maintain at all costs were dishonest and unreasonable.

So I read the books and had the discussions and did my share of agonizing… I was surprised to find that the “other sides” weren’t ignoring the Bible or explaining it away, just filtering it through a different perspective. Sometimes it fit for me, sometimes it didn’t, but nothing was clear anymore. I slayed my sacred cows and the world kept on spinning.

Taking into account the width and depth of Christian perspectives, it is quickly apparent that sincere, intelligent God-followers – experts, scholars and the earliest church thinkers – have come to radically different conclusions about the same scriptures, the same Christ, the same questions, throughout history. Certain positions that seem foundational, non-negotiable within church tradition are eventually discarded as ridiculous: flat earth, racism, conversion by conquest, slavery… to name just a few.

The oft repeated “the Bible is clear about _______” begins to sound suspicious. Because more often than we like to admit, the Bible is confusing, even alarming, requiring a certain amount of mental gymnastics to harmonize. Because the Bible, set in both an ancient time and a foreign culture, is not easy to understand or apply in a modern context. Because the Bible, as meaningful and important as it is, requires human interpretation, something that is deeply fallible and hardly ever clear.

Could it be that “I don’t know” is the ONLY acceptable answer?

I have emerged from this haze of questions. Not with the conclusions I expected, clear positions and easy-to-read labels for new boxes. With freedom. With peace. That I might be, and most certainly am in some areas, wrong. That I don’t have all the answers. That I don’t have to have all the answers. That when Jesus summed it all up in one sentence: “love God and love others” He meant it.

Can it be that simple? To choose love. Every time. Every issue.

I know that this answer is too smudge-y for many of you, more poetry than equation. But our sacred book is made up of poetry, history, allegory, ancient laws and ultimately grace – not math. Jesus was always more interested in the heart of the matter, in the heart of a person, than in drawing lines and creating policy.

So I’m not sure anymore. About a lot of things. Not like I used to be. But that’s what faith is for.

So here’s my confession, I don’t believe what I used to. I don’t consider myself an evangelical or fit neatly into any denominational box.

But I still believe. In God. In Jesus. In learning from the Bible. In finding a spiritual community. In buying fair trade and wearing sensible shoes. In love, over and above, around and under, as the fabric of who God is and who I am meant to be.

Still to come:
Embracing a Bigger Gospel
and
What is Progressive Christianity Anyway?


Confession Time

I’ve been cheating.

Unfaithful.

Stepping out.

On my church. With another church.

Okay, not exactly scandalous. But it’s a big deal to me. And to my family. Not the flesh and blood ones I inherited, but the ones we chose. The ones who chose us, over and over again, these past 10 years. Chose to feed us, to notice us, to like us and to love us, to teach us and learn from us, to laugh and cry with us, to help us move and paint and fix the thousands of things that have broken beyond what our remedial-level-handiness could bear.

This is the church that once considered us one of their missionary families. The church that once hired me, welcomed me on staff and appreciated me; irreverent humour, socialist politics, feminist rants and all. The church that rearranged itself entirely to support special needs kids and families like ours.

I know, I know, if our church is so awesome…

Why stray?

Don’t get me wrong, they’re not perfect. We’ve had our ups and downs. But the new church, it’s not a perfect fit either. In fact, it might require even more give and take from us. And we have very little left to give these days.

It’s not about that.

So, why trade comfortable, familiar and safe for new, strange and, since we’re both introverts, kinda scary?

It’s a long story.
A very, very long story.

If you come to this blog for Mommy stories about adoption or special needs, anecdotes about the strange thing my kid stuck up his nose last night or how I gave myself a black eye with my own umbrella; or, if you are part of the 99.99% of the world who could care less about my spiritual beliefs…. feel free to scroll past these “What I Believe” posts and return to the blog for regularly scheduled programming. I will continue posting about other things too. FYI, if you can hardly stand the suspense, it was a fork – up his nose (who does that?).

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to also unpack the story of our shift in life philosophies (what church folks often call “theology”) and the reason why this is a good thing for us, and not at all a reason to call my friends/parents/former pastor in a panic. Or do. I’m sure they’d love to hear from you. Who am I to tell you what to think?

To the church family who has loved us well for over a decade, please know that this isn’t a judgment…

It’s not you, it’s me.

I’ve changed. So has my husband.

You’ve been patient. We haven’t felt bullied or disrespected for sharing our questions or concerns, even when you’ve disagreed with us, and wondered when we’d get over this rebellious phase, and ultimately accepted us as the official shit-disturbers of care group.

We just aren’t on the same page anymore.

by michael svigel the christian post siftingpoint.com

by michael svigel siftingpoint.com

We think you’re great. We want only good things for you…

I hope we can still be friends.

That’s why we tried to juggle two churches at once. That’s why we’ve taken so long to officially “break up.” And that’s why we might still visit from time to time (you’re not getting rid of us entirely).

But why make such a big deal about it? Why not just stop showing up and hope no one notices? Is it ridiculously melodramatic, rampant overthinking, to write a letter like this?

Um, ya…
have you met me?

To us, church is not just a place to go; it’s a community, a web of relationships. I don’t expect those relationships to end, but as our affiliation changes, so will they. And that can get messy. Already I’ve heard a few rumors and misconceptions about what we believe.

I guess that’s inevitable. It’s hard for us to put years of intellectual wrangling into a few succinct sentences. It’s confusing.

I’m not known for my brevity, but I’ll do my best to clarify our understanding in the next few posts. I’m going to pretend that the entire internet wants to know our story. Of course they do. I’ll even answer questions from the comments section. Seriously, anything. Almost anything. Within reason. Use your best judgment.

Stay tuned for posts on:

So here’s us 2.0.


The Grass on the Other Side

It’s one of those subject lines that grabs you by the throat. Time slowed as my mouse hovered over “Baby Died.”

I didn’t breathe at all until I realized it wasn’t my friend’s baby. Except, it sort of was. One of the babies she works with in a Ugandan orphanage. Not family, as are the 7 dependants she claims on tax forms, but close to it, when you know her heart and her view of the world.

As I read about her many kids, her son’s broken arm, the challenges of life in Africa and her husband’s upcoming trip, I couldn’t help but feel small. Small in my scope and my reach and the type of things that seem SO overwhelming to me right now.
grass

I pulled up my calendar in Outlook, adding “letter to Cher” to my task list when the words “Nicaragua trip” caught my eye. I realized that it’s almost time for 32 local high school students to put the rubber of global education to the road of real life experience, working with families living, literally, in a garbage dump in Central America.

Since trips to the grocery store down the street take monumental effort for our family, it seems inconceivable that my friend Ginny and her husband manage to not only plan and lead this annual trip, but build an international aid organization and spend summers exploring Europe with their children. Before reaching double digits, their girls have seen and experienced more of the world than most adults. Extraordinary. Adventurous. So beyond our reach.

It should be a good thing, to be trusted with someone else’s story, a much needed gift of perspective. Instead, too often, I let the comparisons steal from me. Spiriting away my confidence and contentment, making my stories seem less important to my own eyes.

Sighing, I scrolled through the rest of my emails, perking up to see an email from a new friend – one of my English professors. I had been thrilled to connect beyond the classroom and honoured to act as a sounding board for her upcoming blog. Not only does she have a depth of experience as a mentor and academic, she’s already a published author. That she also happens to be stylish, beautiful and eloquent only reinforced my belief that her life must be glamorous.

I braced myself for another dose of envy and insecurity. Somewhere along the way, I cast myself as the frumpy housewife inching towards an undergrad degree at an absurdly glacial pace. But that’s not who she sees.

Our paths have been very different. As she put it, we are “opposite ends of the contemporary women’s spectrum,” yet somehow, kindred spirits.

She sent me a draft she’d written for the new blog about our unexpected, providential friendship. I am the other side of that mirror for her, just as she is for me… a glimpse down the road not taken. Reading it, I was reminded that her life, so glamorous to my eyes, has actually been a hard-fought, often scary journey. But she wouldn’t trade it for anything.

That much we have in common.

I don’t regret my journey. I don’t regret my destination. Even though I caught vomit in my bare hands twice yesterday. Even though I haven’t had 4 consecutive hours of sleep since Thursday. Even though I throw embarrassing, self indulgent pity parties for the whole internet to see. Even though I’m not a saint, or a world traveller, or a ‘real’ writer.

(Yet)

I won’t let comparison steal anymore from me today. I am surrounded by exceptional women with challenging, complex, beautiful stories. Not molds I must pour myself into. Not scales to weigh myself against. Not competition.

Friends.

The grass on our side of the fence is a unique strain. It might not spread as far and wide as some… it might not grow as tall or as quickly or as easily… but it’s home. When I stop filtering my life through everyone else’s story, this messy, noisy, beautiful life comes back into focus. And it’s good – hard, but good. And I can appreciate the view into other lives all the more.

So here’s me, in the ongoing battle to just be. Thank God for my story. And yours.

Breathe.


Standing up to December

December is the giant of the calendar year. It bullies all the other months with it’s frantic, festive persona. Both the fun-loving life of the party and the obnoxious character who sucks all the attention in the room. She’s busier and happier and larger than life.

But she’s also lonelier and sadder and phonier.

December bullies people too. She’s a hard task master. More than any other time of the year we want to do it all, and be it all, and get it all right. Or at least look the part in the family photo.

santa

Not to worry. This isn’t a nihilistic, anti-Christmas post. It’s not another ’embrace the true reason for the season’ sermon. This is just me, trying to make peace with December, the month I anticipate and dread in equal measure.

I love the trimmings and trappings of the holidays. I relish the music and the decorations and the warm, spicy smells. I’m deeply touched by Nativity, and the connotations of Immanuel: ‘God With Us’. I even enjoy rushing around to create those special seasonal moments.

Except when I don’t.

In December, there’s a fine line between ‘have-to’ and ‘want-to.’ Traditions can either comfort or consume, enhance or ensnare, delight or dilute. The question we have to ask ourselves is this: do our rituals serve us, or do we serve them?

Advent is meant to be a time of reflection, of mindfulness, of living with intention. This is both a spiritual discipline and a practical skill, and it doesn’t just happen, no matter how many garlands we hang.

So here’s me, making it clear from the get-go: December is not the boss of me!


Haiku Catchoo Christianity

I’ve been sidelined as a blogger. By winter colds and final school projects and the novel I vowed to write this month, but most of all, by my own overwhelming feeling of so-busy-I-don’t-even-know-where-to-start.

The WordPress Writing Challenge this week is to write a series of 5 Haikus. Of course, I don’t have time to write anything new. But I just happen to have a series of 5 Haikus already written in my journal. Because I’m the kind of person who writes Haikus in her journal… you know… for fun.

I was inspired by Rhoda Janzen’s Haiku about her Mennonite tradition:

“Jesus lived in peace!
Let’s give it a try! It helps
to have hot prune soup.”

There is a clarity that comes when distilling a complex concept into 17 syllables. It’s a good exercise. And fun… really!

I’ve grown up in a handful of faith traditions. Each of these churches have left their mark on me, and I’m grateful for their unique approaches, even if I no longer practice Christianity in the same way.

The Brethren

Wear hats to Meeting.
Breaking bread on Narrow Roads,
holding nothing back.brethren

The Chapel

Teaching feeds the soul,
so handle the Word with care.
Holiness matters.bethany

The Community Church

Grace is in serving.
We’re family more than creed.
There’s no ‘I’ in church.community church

The Baptist

Repent, we tell them
for the Bible tells us so.
Now, it’s time to eat.baptist

The Emergent

God, bigger than us
so join the conversation.
Seek love, not answers.emergent

So here’s me, a devout, Jesus-following, Bible-reading, socialist, feminist, pacifist, environmentalist, sometimes-wrong, often-confused, but always-grateful-for-where-I-come-from woman.

Part of the Haiku Catchoo Challenge:  http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/11/25/challenge-haiku/


Our Halloween Compromise

Have you ever wondered about those religious types that hate Halloween? Or maybe you are the religious type who wonders what on earth people see in this creepy “holiday.” We’ve got both kinds in our family, so we’ve had to find a middle ground. Here’s a post from last year about what works for us…

The "Happy Scarecrow" C made for our front lawn last year.

The “Happy Scarecrow” C made for our front lawn last year.

We didn’t celebrate Halloween in my house growing up. There are a handful of pictures of Preschool Me as Red Riding Hood, but by the time my sisters came around, my parents’ “liberal trick-or-treating” urges had been thoroughly quashed. No carving pumpkins, no “what-are-you-going-as-this-year” discussions, and absolutely no witches, ghosts or monsters. We also didn’t do Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy.

This sounds weird to most of you, right?

I don’t regret my somewhat unusual childhood. I didn’t miss anything important. I learned that I didn’t have to be like everyone else. And I didn’t often feel deprived (also, I snuck out with Jen Mastre to go trick or treating several years in a row… sorry Mom).

But, my husband comes from a very different culture than mine (most North Americans refer to it as Middle Class Normal; we called it “worldly”). When our cultures collided, I was forced to evaluate exactly what I think and believe about Halloween. And what it means to be a Christian.

Christians feel a great responsibility to represent Jesus to the whole world. When you love/admire/respect someone so deeply and feel that your every action reflects on them, well, that’s a lot of pressure. And sometimes, we can get weird about it. Halloween is one area where we as Christians sometimes overreact and freak the hell out (pun intended).

There are belief systems which are repugnant to me. Satanism, Aryan Nation, Rampant Consumerism, “Not Liking” Chocolate… to name just a few. But I’ve come to a point in my life where I am no longer threatened by them. God is not panicked by Halloween, so why should we be?

Whatever position you take on the Origins of Halloween debate (evil demonic ritual or harmless harvest party), at this point in history, right now, it has become a mainstream celebration of masquerade and candy and general creepiness. What matters most is not what it once meant, but what it means now. A lot like that pagan festival at the end of December that we’re all so fond of these days.

Make of it what you will. October is full of teachable moments in our home about what we believe and why we’re weird and how we live and how it’s okay for people to do things differently than us. And there are many good things about Halloween, especially for Christians:

  1. It builds COMMUNITY. It’s a rare chance to spend time with your neighbours. And show off your kids. In really cute costumes.
  2. It’s an opportunity to be GENEROUS. And kind. And neighbourly. And hospitable. And all sorts of Jesus-y things. A unique chance to do all this in a culturally appropriate, non-obnoxious way. Plus, the really cute kids in costumes come right to your door – how convenient is that?
  3. It’s FUN! This seems like the weak post-script at the end of the list. I mean, Christianity isn’t about having fun, right? Except for all the talk of joy and love and endless feasts/celebrations throughout the Bible which paint a different picture. I can’t see Jesus as the disapproving sourpuss with a dark house; more likely he’d be out there high-fiving the neighbour kids and enjoying the cute costumes. I know I will. Well, that and making sure the appropriate Candy Tax is levied on each child.

That said, I still don’t love Halloween. It’s just not my thing. We have friends who absolutely adore it and enjoy every minute. According to some consumer reports, it is second only to Christmas in holiday popularity.

But I find much of it unsettling. Years ago a neighbour strung up the corpse of a child in a tree, noose and all. Of course it was fake and supposed to be a fun decoration, but that year we knew two children who had been murdered. To say this was an upsetting would be an understatement. It gutted me that anyone could make light of it.

So we drew our line in the sand.

We do not celebrate fear and violence. This is our Halloween compromise. We enjoy the good. We avoid the bad. And for us, that means no spooky, scary, gorey, creepy, bloody, or (and this one is the rule throughout the year) slutty.

So here’s me, and this is how we redeem Halloween in our house.

Where do you stand on Halloween? Anything goes… the creepier the better? Or are there limits?

Reposted from Oct. 29, 2012.


Apology from a Recovering Evangelical

waitress “Can I get you anything?” she says with a pleasant smile, warm, but professional.

“I’ve got something for you!” you say, with all the giddy certainty of an As-Seen-On-TV salesman. “GOD has given me a picture of you, and I see… I see…” – pause for dramatic effect – “…YOU standing in a high place. You’re… looking out… over the world, or maybe your own life. This is important. This is a message. What does it mean to you?”

“Um…” Wrinkling her brow. Shifting from one foot to another. The smile firmly fixed in place now.

“Maybe you need to change your viewpoint, so you can see more clearly.” All eyes are on her now, searching, intense, as if, by simply looking, you might unmask her very soul.

“O…Kay…” She’s freaking out now, but far too polite, too Canadian to break. “Refill?”

You sat in the booth behind us at White Spot. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but at least two of you have loud preachy voices and I heard some familiar churchy buzz words sprinkled liberally throughout the discussion. I cringed a little at the tone of your conversation, but I understood…

I came from that world. Although many of my beliefs have evolved, I still visit from time to time. I used to work for one of the most aggressive evangelical organizations in the world. Once upon a time, I was you.

When the pretty server came to your table, you took her hostage. Not with guns or threats, but with words. Loud, preachy, bizarre words. Especially coming from such a large group of young people. You “prophesied” over her. You “spoke God’s encouragement into her life” while she tried to politely back away. You asked intrusive personal questions. You tag-teamed her. It went on and on.

It wasn’t pleasant, seeing it from the outside. I searched my memory for hints that I had ever acted like this. Thankfully, what I came up with wasn’t nearly so obnoxious or odd. But still… embarrassing.

Didn’t you see? The tense smiles, the nervous laughter, the stiff body language… not just hers, but everyone around you. Didn’t you notice? That you were preventing her from doing her job. That there were tables of people waiting impatiently for her attention. That her manager was shooting angry looks her way. Didn’t you care? That she was incredibly uncomfortable. That everyone nearby was also. That the family behind you was falling apart, both littles crying as we waited an extra 20 minutes for both the bill and the ice cream they were promised.

Granted, my personal irritation plays a big part here. With our nice family outing descending into chaos, as Dad hauls one out to the van and I encourage the other to stop crying and hold it, just a few more minutes, until I can pay (she didn’t by the way, but I can’t blame her for this potty training fail). I’d take it on the chin if I knew you’d actually done some good in the world. But all you did was offend and alienate a stranger, and cause a crowd of people to shake their heads and turn up their noses in disgust at “those ridiculous Christians.” You made us all look bad.

The uncharitable part of me assumes that you’re enamoured with the sound of your own voice; that you’re showing off, intentionally or unconsciously. If I give you the benefit of the doubt, then you really did want to encourage her. I remember my own burning desire to truly please God and help others, channelled into the same pushy ethos; strong enough, even, to override polite Canadian reserve.

Whether it was pseudo-spiritual posturing or legitimate reaching out, you didn’t love your neighbour well. As you walked out the restaurant with us, I saw you congratulate each other, certain that you had forced some sort of revelation on that poor girl. I could have shaken you, every one of you.

That’s not what it’s about. You need to REPRESENT. Not just me, though I follow the same God in my own way. Not just your particular brand of Jesus. But the Man himself. The man who said the highest commandment, next to loving God, was to love others.

Love. No agenda. No disrespect. No selfishness.

I hope, at least, that you left a hell of a tip.

So here’s me, a recovering evangelical. I’m sorry for all the ways we make people uncomfortable. I’m sorry if I’ve ever done that to you. We mean well, we really do. Please forgive us.

This is my contribution to the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge: Dialogue


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