Tag Archives: spiritual

Why Lent is a Good Idea for Everyone

lentIt was the pancakes. That’s what caught my attention. Shrove Tuesday – a sacred day of pancake eating. How awesome is that?

There wasn’t much talk of liturgical calanders in my Evangelical upbringing. Just cautionary tales and the whispered suggestion that they might, POSSIBLY be Real Christians, but just barely. Poor, meaningless automotans with their empty rituals. And then there’s the Catholics. A superstitious bunch, I was taught, barely discernable from the heathens; who prayed to statues, and for some reason, like to eat fish on Friday.

We weren’t very comfortable with anyone who wasn’t Us. Like the Pentecostals. And the United Church. And the Mormons. And the Agnostics. And the very scariest creatures of all: the Atheists (word is, they have an “Agenda” and we should watch out for that).

My world didn’t stay that small. Most Evangelical circles have opened up somewhat in the past decade (or two… or okay fine… three) since I was a child. The popular Mitford book series opened up the strange world of Episcopalians to many. These days, it’s not unusual to hear a discussion on Lectio Divina in a Baptist bible study. Or a more casual Stations of the Cross set up in the local community church.

As I got to know (and love and be related to) actual people who followed liturgical tradition, I began to see the unique beauty of it (and not just the pancakes). It may not be the style of worship I’m used to, but it is deeply meaningful and steeped in history. Ancient traditions so much more powerful that the latest born-again fad at the local Blessings bookstore. Maybe WE are the ones who have been missing out.

Which brings me back to the pancakes. Yesterday was Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent. When you get your house in order both figuratively with confession and literally (by using up rich foods like sugar, dairy and eggs) before a period of fasting or plain eating. Enter: hallowed consumption of pancakes.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. These 40 days (not counting Sundays) are a time for the faithful to prepare themselves for the celebration of Easter Sunday. It is a period of fasting or self denial, prayer, contemplation, examining oneself, and starting over.

For most of us from an Evangelical tradition, or no tradition at all, it is known as: Another-Wednesday-Just-Like-Any-Other. But who’s to say we can’t make it more? Lent is a good idea for EVERYONE and here’s why:

Be part of history.

Hundreds of years ago there was a tired, middle-aged (though still hip and young-at-heart) Mom just like me, who set apart these six weeks to live simply and refocus spiritually. That I might walk alongside her and the women who came before her and women who came after and the women who will come after me is something amazing. The Church (big C) is more than the congregation of my home church or other people in my country who may check the “Christian” box of a questionnaire; it is a family of faith that encircles the globe and stretches back throughout history. When we worship through Lent, we worship together.

We have so much.

More than any people who have ever lived. More than any who celebrated Lent before us. We are a culture and a generation of so much. So much to do. So much to see. So much to know. So much to eat. So much to distract and burden and overwhelm. We need Lent more than ever.

It’s a prelude to the feast.

Lent is not about asceticism (a harsh mentality where deprivation is the ultimate spiritual virtue). It’s preperation for the ultimate celebration. For those of us who worship Jesus, Easter is more than another stat holiday. It’s more than chocolate eggs and pretty dresses and church choirs. But if we don’t put the time and effort into preparing ourselves, even an inspiring sermon and touching music will not soak soul deep.

Lent is a good idea for everyone. The Evangelicals, and the Catholics, and the Pentecostals… and the Agnostics, and even the Athiests. We could ALL use a Spiritual Detox.

Make Lent your own this year.

So here’s me, fasting every night from 7 pm until 7 am (which doesn’t seem like it should be a big deal, but for me it really is).

lentbookLent Resources:

This year I’ll be reading through Show Me the Way by Henri Nouwen

Lent and Dying to Yourself (video with Diana Butler Bass)

Why Evangelicals Need Lent by Tim Suttle

Get Lent by Andrew Santella


2012 In A Word

dream

My new favourite necklace – a gift from the talented Sheri Webb.

In 2012, I went against my instincts and ditched New Year’s Resolutions. I jumped on the One Word bandwagon: instead of an endless list of things to DO, we choose to focus on a single word expressing how and what to BE.

After an absurd amount of thought and prayer and contemplation (I think OverAnalyze is my default word), I picked my word of the year. I was somewhat embarrassed by it. DREAM seemed too hippy-dippy, rainbows-and-unicorns for a practical gal like me.

In the beginning it was a way to overcome grief, to find a new direction. It became a celebration and an exploration. I learned that the dreams in my heart are not merely selfish flights of fancy, they are clues about the person I was designed to be.

“Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of you heart.” (Psalm 37:4) It’s not a promise. It’s not a backhanded sermon about desiring only spiritual things. It’s a song. a hope. a truism.

DREAM. Trace your joys and passions. Find your calling. Sure, there’s always some silly and some selfish in the mix (we’re only human after all), but when you dream your best dreams, you will see the image of God.

Creative. Loving. Adventurous. Generous. Brave.

I used to think that I should focus on God all the time. That the more one-dimensional I became, the better. Instead I am learning to delight myself in the Lord of laughter and wiggle-y children and rollercoasters and warm breezes. To celebrate with a God who is just as present at the playground and the kitchen table and the mini van as church or bible study.

Some of my most important dreams came true this year. To see my husband happy to go to work; once again in a career that means something to him. To adopt a child from foster care. To become a better mother and a better person.

Some of my icing-on-the-cake dreams came true too. To go back to university. To go on a trip to Hawaii with the family. To eat chocolate cake for breakfast.

So here’s me, a year of hippy-dippy dreaming under my belt, and all the better for it!


The Myth of Us and Them

I watched a documentary about the Amish last night. It reminded me of drives to St. Jacob’s for the farmer’s market and Amish bakery. Sour Northern Spy apples. Giant sugar cookie pigs. Sweet buns and fresh bread. The quaint characters we craned our necks to see as we zipped past in modern convenience. But most of all, it reminded me of me.

The program explored this strange subculture, both good and bad. The ones who left. The ones who stayed. Neither ones the villains. Both the victims, in their own way.

The customs. The secrets. The lines drawn in the sand. Tradition. Conviction. Fear.

And it all sounded so familiar. Not only from family stories of our strict Brethren sect, but from my life here and now. Because we draw lines in the sand too. In different places, but they are still there.

This is something I wrote a few months ago. It is a little different. I usually keep the rambly “poetic” pieces securely hidden in journal pages, but I’m running low on time and energy, and feeling a bit brave today.

How do we separate “us” and “them”?

We try to wrap our skinny arms around it, digging in our nails, gritting our teeth. So we can throw it down and beat it into submission.

We’re the church, we’re big on submission. Not the doing, but the saying.

White knuckled and wide-eyed. You can almost smell the fear. In whispered rumors and wild innuendo… cause that sort of thing is contagious, you know? We have to keep that shit, excuse me, sin out. We cannot let them win.

So we create our own. Our own music. Our own slang. Even our own breath mints.

But we are them.

And they are us.

No matter what brand of candy we chew.

Culture was never the problem. Creating a new one won’t save us. Bullying “them” pleasantly, with our kind intentions, until “we”, happily deluded, feel safe.

But we are them.

And we are as full of shit as anyone.

And it’s clear enough, isn’t it, that we’re sinners, every one of us, in the same sinking boat with everybody else.

Our involvement with God’s revelation doesn’t put us right with God.

What it does is force us to face our complicity in everyone else’s sin.

Romans 3: 20 (MSG)

So here’s me, and yes, I used the word “shit.” If that’s all you can think about, then you probably missed the point anyway.

And I’m not kidding about the breath mints. “Testa-mints” – has anyone tried them? They’re like Certs, with a righteous after taste.


Waiting is a Baked Potato

Last month was an ordeal. Our microwave broke… again.

There was weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth.

I told my husband to suck it up and be a man.

Poor Glen. This is our third microwave. Not the sitting-in-the-middle-of-the-counter, edges-encrusted-in-crumbs, easy-to-replace version. Oh no, not us; we have the fancy schmancy over-the-stove-top-built-in-hood-fan model. Which requires a tricky installation, risking the sanity and daily bliss of anyone who is not married to Bob the Builder.

Glen the Good-at-Everything-Else had trouble facing ANOTHER installation debacle, and who can blame him? In fact, this microwave had been installed amidst many not-suitable-for-young-children outbursts only 7 months ago. Which is when we realized that it fell into that glorious category: Not Our Problem Due To Warranty!

Except it still was our problem, since we had to track down receipts, visit Home Depot, fax the documents to the manufacturer, connect with a local repair company, book a visit, and then wait 3-weeks-to-forever for the necessary parts.

In the meantime, we found ourselves in the dark ages of food preparation. Not a good place for our family. How to defrost? How to reheat leftovers? How to make popcorn in under 2 minutes?

Never have I been more cognizant of the fact that my culinary life revolves around fast and easy. The most glaring difficulty was my almost daily lunch option – the nuked potato. Throw it in the mic, add some veggies and a bit of meat – et voila, my favourite meal. There is no fast or easy way to cook a whole potato without a microwave.

In the meantime, we were wading hip deep in adoption angst. We’ve found a child we very much want to adopt. The social worker is on board. His foster mom is on board. The guy at the checkout in Safeway seemed to think it was a good idea.

We had asked the questions, heard the stories, explored the issues… We poured over every e-mail and revisited phone conversations late at night in bed. We have prayed about it. We have discussed it as a family. We have painted the pink room green. We’ve figured out a timetable for the transition. We’ve adjusted our plans for the summer.

But, there is no fast and easy way to adopt a child. Social services is not a microwave-esque industry. Nor should it be. The paperwork has been held up a number of times. Glen had a business trip. Meetings are hard to schedule. There are more questions to be asked and even more stories to be heard. And we can’t even see a picture of him, until everything is official.

So, his other family is tucking him into bed at night and singing him songs and teaching him all the important little lessons a toddler learns each day: how to hold his fork, how to pet a dog gently, and a thousand other things I can jealously imagine. And it feels like we are missing out. I’ve never met him. But I miss him.

In the meantime, I discovered something amazing. Potatoes baked in the oven for a long time are the BEST! I suppose I always knew that. I imagined my Mom was just a better cook and Wendy’s had a magical potato machine. Despite the wait, the crispy outer skin and the soft, even, potato-y goodness of a truly baked potato is SO much better than one nuked in the microwave.

How often are the most important things in life easy and convenient? Things like love, and learning, and parenting… They require something of us. Some patience. Some commitment. Some risk.

And maybe it won’t turn out just right. When I throw something in the microwave and it bombs, it’s easy to scrap it and start again. But where I have invested myself in a wait… there is no easy out.

In the meantime, I am learning that waiting is not such a bad place to be. I had braced myself for a great deal of frustration during the uncertainty. And I’ll admit, it’s not easy, but it’s not the waste of time that I had imagined.

Our pastor gave a sermon about “Waiting” just last week. It’s a powerful spiritual concept. Because this time between what is and what is promised is important. It is a time to learn, to trust, to prepare and to dream. And I’m better for it.

But those who WAIT/HOPE/TRUST in the Lord will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

they will run and not grow weary,

they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:31 (from Msg/NIV/NLT)

Waiting is a Baked Potato. No shortcuts. No quick and easy. No fast forwarding the process. But worth it in the end.

So here’s me, in the meantime. Turns out, that’s not a bad place to be.


Good Friday Favourites

Today is the most somber holiday in the Christian calendar. So my usual sarcastic, irreverent Friday post doesn’t seem like the thing to do.

If you are not familiar with the story, here it is in a nutshell.

God creates humanity. Humanity rejects God. God reaches out to humanity over and over and over again. Humanity rejects God over and over and over again. It’s kind of our thing.

God becomes human (Jesus, God the Son, is born. Merry Christmas). Jesus reaches out to humanity. Humanity rejects him. In fact, humanity strips him naked, beats him up, and kills him.

This is the part where you almost expect the giant Hand of God (a la Monty Python) to reach down and smite us all, smite us good. Instead, God the Father lets his Son die, because that was the plan all along. He was the ultimate sacrifice – the blood ransom to free us from a prison of our own making.

The plan was that he give himself as an offering for sin

so that he’d see life come from it

– life, life, and more life.

Isaiah 53:10

Whatever you believe about Jesus or Christianity, this day is for all humanity. Yes, it is serious, but worth celebrating. So, here are some of my Good Friday Favourites.

Quote

This Word played life against death and death against life in tournament on the wood of the most holy cross, so that by his death he destroyed our death, and to give us life he spent his own bodily life. With love, then, he has so drawn us and with his kindness so conquered our malice that every heart should be won over.  Catherine of Siena

Blog

My friend Marc makes an important, spiritually powerful point. “Pontius Pilate is a pylon.” And how! Here is a post about the guy who just stood there and let it all happen: Pilatitus. Definitely worth a read, because sometimes we’re just like him.

Also, Laura Ziesal wrote a post that has stuck with me this week. “We serve a God who is not far from our pain.” Though Good Friday is not the main topic, My Least Favourite Day of the Year speaks to it in a powerful way, especially for anyone who has lost a child.

Liturgical Tradition

Don’t tell my Anabaptist ancestors, but occasionally I have a hankering for liturgy and the rituals of High Church. Yep, I’m pretty sure my Grandpa is spinning in his grave right now.

There is a richness and ancient meaning behind centuries old traditions. If I were going to pick one which appeals to me most, it would be Via Crucis, the Stations of the Cross. Whether it is a series of art displayed throughout a cathedral, an interactive physical experience or simply a devotional guide, each of the stations depicts a different part of the Good Friday story. Usually there are thoughts and prayers to meditate on at each station. Remembering is not something that just happens, it is something we do on purpose.

Pray through the Stations of the Cross online.

Video

It seems kind of douche-y to have a “favourite” part of Good Friday, since it’s all very grim and painful. But the time Jesus spent in the Garden of Gethsemane is what I am finding most meaningful lately. It hits me every time… Jesus did not eagerly skip to the cross with a serene smile on his face and a cheesy hymn on his lips . He struggled, he cried, he felt the bitterness of grief, and he begged for reprieve. Kind of encouraging for those of us who do not always find God’s will easy to stomach. It also makes his ultimate choice that much more meaningful.

Mel Gibson may be an enormous schmuck, but he did a great job dramatizing spiritual agony (not exactly the most visual concept) in Passion of the Christ.

So here’s me, forgiven, because He was forsaken. Take that creepy snake-satan!


Do Unto the Telemarketers…

So, I’m kind of a grump these days. I picked up a head cold then hopped on 3 red-eye flights with my weary kids. My ears very nearly exploded and I didn’t sleep for almost 40 hours. Also, I am no longer a few steps away from a spectacular beach and a poolside bar serving over-priced (but delicious) daquiris. Woe is me.

I blame the crankiness for my snarky post yesterday (Modern Day Torture, aka The Timeshare Presentation). I won’t apologize for everything I said, because timeshare presentations are universally acknowledged as a painful test of financial resolve and politeness. But I feel bad for denigrating the salespeople.

It is honest work and I have to respect that.

In fact, I kind of have a thing about it. I am prepared to drag one of my most dreadful skeletons out of the closet. It’s not something I share with many people (until I got a blog and lost all sense of privacy and self preservation apparently).

Brace yourself.

I once worked as a telemarketer.

I know. Not my finest hour. To be fair, I was only 17. The money was AWESOME and I didn’t actually have to sell anything. I simply called to set up a complimentary lawn assessment from a highly qualified lawn care specialist. It was free of charge and absolutely no obligation.

It was one of the most painful experiences of my life. I had no idea that perfect strangers could be SO mean. I didn’t even mind the hang ups, but I couldn’t understand the bitter, hateful rants. I was just doing my job. Would they prefer I was out there looting convenience stores or stealing car stereos?

If I happened to come across an out of service number, I would call it over and over again, to buy myself sometime to recover. I left in tears every evening.

With my father’s admonitions about work ethic and stick-to-itiveness ringing in my ears, I returned not once, but twice before throwing in the towel. It was the first time I quit something since my nasty piano teacher pushed me too far (my mom thought I was exaggerating until she decided to take lessons in my place and the mean old lady brought her to tears also).

The golden rule applies to everyone, no matter how obnoxious their profession. I need to treat people considerately, even telemarketers, door to door solicitors, timeshare salesmen, mimes, and even squeegee kids.

It’s hard having a job like that annoys and offends almost everyone, believe me. If nothing else, we can respect their work ethic and value them as people. I’m still figuring out firm, but polite. I don’t need to listen to the whole spiel and I’m not going to buy, just to be nice, but I do need to be nice.

It’s a sneaky way to measure what is really in my heart. How do I treat the JWs who come to my door during dinner? What do I say to the telemarketer who calls in the middle of my favourite show? What is my reaction when people I never have to see again rub me the wrong way?

If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus?

Anybody can do that...

In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up…

Live out your God-created identity.

Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.

Matthew 5:46-48

Was it kind and gracious to mock my timeshare sales friend in blog format, even though I was nice to his face? Probably not. Fail.

So here’s me, still figuring out how to say “shut up and leave me alone” to pushy sales people in the most kind and loving way possible.

Any ideas? How do you deal with these people in a kind, but expedient way?


Love: a Modern Day Remix

It’s one of the greatest love poems in the world. We read it at our wedding. I’ve heard it at a dozen more weddings since. It’s a classic.

It fits well with Valentine’s Day, full of starry eyed wonder and Sappily-Ever-After… But the real life version is more gritty and down to earth than anything printed on frilly wedding programs. It’s more diapers and disagreements than mushy romance. At least in our house…

Love

is changing the 8,647th pull up and repeating one more time that big girls pee on the potty

is laughing at the same joke like it’s the first time, and not the 31st time he’s heard it

…is patient.

Love

is getting out of bed early to scrape the windshield and warm up the car

climbing into bed with your little sister and playing “snoring duck” when she’s having a rough night

…is kind.

Love

says, “Enjoy a weekend away with your friends. You deserve it. I can go to the game another time.”

bakes cookies for her little sister’s sleepover, then stays out of her way for the evening

…does not envy.

Love

harnesses years of “real” writing experience to play editor and cheerleader for his wife’s blog

says nothing about 3 years of perfect spelling tests, but celebrates her sister’s good grade

…does not boast.

Love

makes the first move to apologize and try to understand where he went wrong, even when it probably had more to do with the time of month than anything else

wears a wig and tiara to play the evil princess at his daughter’s birthday party

…is not proud.

Love

listens when she is frustrated with her crazy family, but knows better than to agree too emphatically or say ANYTHING bad about the in-laws

…does not dishonour others.

Love

plays the same silly game with her sister over and over and over and over again, just to make her laugh

makes all the hard calls because his wife has an irrational aversion to talking on the telephone

…is not self seeking.

Love

shrugs her shoulders and sighs, “Oh well” when the baby gets into her stuff, yet again

…is not easily angered.

Love

says, “Honey, I’m just glad that you’re okay. That’s all that really matters.” when she dents the van, AGAIN

also when she gets ANOTHER parking ticket

and when she screws up the budget by charging something to the wrong account, for the THIRD time that month

…keeps no record of wrongs.

Love

says, “Be happy! Mmm-happy!” and encourages hugs and kisses all around when her big sisters are fighting

…does not delight in evil, but rejoices in the truth.

Love

tells their friends, “She’s so smart and doing really well. She has Down Syndrome and that’s hard work.”

checks the locks at least twice before bed each night, just to be sure

puts his wife to bed and takes over when the flu starts winning the fight

…always protects.

Love

hands over the reigns when it’s time to buy school supplies, clothes, Christmas presents, groceries and pretty much anything the family needs, even though his instincts are telling him to hide every penny away for a rainy day

(a rainy day may or may not be code for “a really cool concert”)

…always trusts.

Love

buys a single rose for each of his daughters on Valentine’s Day

takes each of them out for breakfast on their birthday

and treats them with love and respect every day in between, so that one day they will expect the man in their life to do the same

…always hopes.

Love

is 20 years of the good times, the bad fights and the ugly cry… and still going strong

…always perseveres.

Love never fails.

I see it in the four faces that surround me every day. We are not perfect, not even close.

But when we choose to love each other, it’s always seems to work out.

Happy Valentine’s Day to my favourite people!


The Sacrament of Small Talk

‘Tis the season for close-quarters shopping, holiday recitals and office Christmas parties. Extroverts soak it all up – the energy, the excitement and the near constant socializing. For the rest of us, who shall hereafter be referred to as “normal,” the constant pressure to make nice with strangers is exhausting and overwhelming.

I’ve been struggling to find the appropriate analogy to describe my feelings as I anticipate my husband’s staff dinner. Sticking hot pokers in my eye? Getting a pap smear? Painful dental procedure? All three at the same time…

I hate small talk.

I’d like to think that this makes me a person of great depth, integrity and complexity. As if I am simply too busy/intellectual/chock full o’ spiritual insight to discuss unimportant topics with any old Joe Schmo who crosses my path. Of course, I have ample time to peruse pintrest, watch Walking Dead webisodes and google my own name.

The truth is, I am shy in new situations. Most people don’t realize it, but I’m actually chock full o’ insecurities. I care too much what people think of me. I over think everything I say. Then I over analyze what I’ve already said and the tone with which I said it, and my body language, and how it may have come across.

And this is why a simple discussion about the weather, local sports and your pet cat freaks me the heck out! I put on a good show. I am outgoing and friendly when I need to be, but my heart is beating like a hummingbird and my whole body is tensed to flee. Before a party I sit in the car and suck back the nausea.

Does it really matter if I can maintain a steady stream of shallow banter? Although I like people (and talking!) I’m an introvert, so small talk with new people will never be comfortable or easy. So why turn myself inside out to make it happen?

Someone reminded me the other day that every person I meet is made in the image of God, and when I get to know them, I am getting to know God better. Everyone has something to contribute. Those few moments in passing may be my only chance to connect with this completely unique and precious person.

So maybe it won’t change my world to hear about her bunions and his disgust with union politics, but it’s not always about me. I need to stop focusing on my own angsty feelings and make sure they feel comfortable. After all, who doesn’t want to feel heard and valued? Even just for the duration of the elevator ride, or the really awkward office party my husband is dragging me to.

So here’s me, off to check the weather report to make sure I have some good material.

How do you feel about small talk? Are you the silent, mysterious type or the life of the party?


I May Be Biased But…

In the mid 90’s, researchers conducted a study on the connection between sugar and hyperactivity in children… at least that’s what they told the parents they were studying. All the children were given a drink, then parents were asked to rate their behavior. Half the parents were told that their children had been given a high dose of sugar. These parents rated their children as much more hyper than the parents in the control group. Of course, both groups of children had been given the same sugar-free drink.

Expectation alters perception. Those parents were convinced that their children were all hopped up on sugar, so that is what they saw. We almost always see what we expect to see. Everywhere we look, we find evidence to support our existing beliefs.

Tony Campolo once said that ultimately people believe what they want to believe. It’s something I can readily accept about other people, but somehow I prefer to think of myself in another category. Others may be prone to delusion, but I only believe what is true and right and sure.

So, in the spirit of this post and the Christmas season, I decided to debunk some of my own false beliefs. I googled “Christmas myths” and sure enough, I found a few surprises.

Pointsettas are dangerously poisonous, especially to young children. This has been proven false. At worst, they are mildly toxic, causing irritation of the mouth and some vomiting, but 9/10 people experience no negative effects. So chow down, there’s nothing to fear! After years of obsessively moving these flowers up high (even at other people’s houses) I can finally relax.

The suicide rate increases significantly during the Christmas season. Also not true… in fact, it is spring and summer that are most dangerous. That said, I realize that the holidays are a difficult time for many. All those family gatherings can be a huge stress, both for those who are alone and for those who wish they were. Which brings me to the Christmas homicide rate… I wonder?

The abbreviation X-mas is a plot by evil secularists to take “Christ” out of Christmas and a sign of “the times” <-this must be said in a deep, foreboding tone of voice. Now this isn’t a conspiracy I have ever subscribed to, but some in my family do. The truth is, the Greek word for Christ (you know, like in the New Testament, which wasn’t actually written in english btw) starts with an X and has been used as an abbreviation for Christ for centuries.

These are fairly silly beliefs, nothing life-changing, but what about the big things? How can we know anything when our own preconceptions colour how we interpret everything? Lately I’ve realized that I’m living in a world that is a lot less black and white than I once thought it was. Some of these biases I have are not holding up to scrutiny. Faith is a little harder, a little riskier, but I’m convinced it is still worth it. It isn’t supposed to be easy anyway.

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we cannot see. (Hebrews 11:1)

I think I like Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase the best: “The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see.” So maybe I’m wrong about some things… okay, definitely – no one tell my kids (or my husband). And maybe I don’t have it all figured out, but I’m trusting in a God who does. That’s what I believe… perhaps because that’s what I want to believe.

So here’s me, eating a big helping of humble pie (with a pointsetta garnish).

Whether it is silly or life altering, have you confronted a personal bias lately? Have you ever?


Religion for Dummies

I love the “for Dummies” series. With over 1,600 titles and 200 million books in print, you can find everything from Acupressure for Dummies to Yorkshire Terriers for Dummies. Their tag line is “Making Everything Easier” and it’s definitely a concept I can get behind.

I have begun to question many of the religious traditions I grew up with, but I have no desire to spend my life as a professional skeptic. Cynicism may provide some witty punch lines, but it is those things we embrace and deeply believe that actually matter. Since I have both devout Christians and wouldn’t-be-caught-dead-in-a-church folks reading this blog, I wasn’t sure how to approach this topic. But I’m starting to think it’s easier than we’ve made it.

I’d be hard pressed to find a more powerfully divisive subject than religion. It has gotten a bad rap over the years, even (and at times especially) among those of us who are religious. We wade through layers of doctrine, theology, dogma, hermeneutics, exegesis… and most of us regular schmucks are left feeling like, well, dummies a lot of the time. So instead, some of us leave the thinking to others and focus on familiar tradition as a way to measure our religious worth.

Although it has been used and abused since time began, religion itself is not something to fear. It is simply the outward expression of an inner belief. In practice this ranges from the beautiful to the utterly bizarre. Even those of us who share similar beliefs may have drastically different expressions of our faith. For instance, I have never felt a particular need to handle poisonous snakes in our worship service, nor has the Spirit moved me to whip myself into a bloody frenzy, but I am a big fan of group singing, even the 7-11 choruses my husband hates (7 words, sung 11 times to a catchy beat).

But the one thing that all religion has in common is this: compassion. Good works are a crucial component of all the world’s major religions: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and pretty much every one I can think of (except for hedonism, which is more of an excuse to be a selfish jerk than a true belief system). We may not agree on much, but on this we are on the same page. There is no better way to honour God than to show compassion.

According to the Jewish prophet Micah, it is all that God requires of any of us. (Micah 6:8)

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

Religion at its best is not about whether we sprinkle, dunk or dip in baptism, but whether we show selfless love for those in our path. Lately my “religious heroes” are not great thinkers, but the great DOers. Ordinary people who have bills to pay and chores to do just like me. People who never seem to have enough money or time, but choose to give it away anyway.

Ordinary people like my friend who chose to adopt not one, but four children from foster care. Although she already had three biological children, their family had room for more: more chaos, more noise, more learning issues, more Dr. appointments, more complications… more love. She doesn’t feel like a martyr, although I know she is often overwhelmed. She is just living what she believes.

Ordinary people like my cousin who chooses ethics over convenience in her shopping habits. Avoiding big box stores is not a decision I’m ready to make, but I respect her commitment to doing what she feels is right. Not just for workers here and overseas, but to counter a culture of mindless consumption that is deeply corrupt. She buys organic, grows her own food, and even makes her own toothpaste (for real). Five small children would be plenty of excuse for me to do what is quick and easy, but not her.

Ordinary people like our good friends who took the time to get to know new neighbours from Zimbabwe. They were moved by the stories and fell in love with the people of that country, before they had even seen it themselves. What started as a few piles of donated clothing in their garage has become Hear Africa, an organization committed to partnering with Zimbabweans to overcome poverty and rebuild a thriving economy.

It doesn’t matter if it is orphan care, ethical consumerism or foreign aid, THIS is the religion that best expresses my faith. I’m still finding my way. I’m not sure what this ordinary girl can do, but I’m on the lookout.

So here’s me, making religion easier: love God, love others.

After writing this post I found they actually do have a “Religion for Dummies” book (of course they do). I haven’t read it (yet), and this is my disclaimer that I have nothing to do with the official “for Dummies” brand.


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