Friday, October 19, 2012

After a Long Absence

Ahhh... I love writing. I love it. Seeing the words and releasing the feelings. I've loved this blog, even when I'm not writing for it. Just knowing it's there with all my truth and thinking of how it's drawn Sara and I close to each other's hearts. This blog has brought me so much peace. I relish it.

I've been gone for awhile because I've been keeping a great, enormous, terrifying wonderful secret and even though I don't think that anyone from my actual immediate life (aside from Sara) reads this, I had to wait to write it until we got over the hump. As of last Wednesday I'm 13 weeks pregnant and basically my entire brain has been taken up with this knowledge since the day two lines showed up on the test. It's amazing I can get anything done.

Along with the joy has come the anxiety, fear, worry, confusion, etc of realizing the enormous responsibility of caring for and teaching another human. A real person, just like me, with a heart and soul, mind and thoughts, just like me. It's astonishing, awe-inspiring, terrifying. A friend asked me the other day, what am I going to teach the baby about God? Will I be angry if she gives them a children's Bible?

I told her bring on the children's Bible, but not the brand with the cartoon people with the bug eyes. I don't cotton to them. Their bug eyes freak me out. Plus they make the Bible look WAY too cheery. Like, "Lala... then happy cartoon David killed scowling cartoon Goliath! Yay!" None of that shenanigans. The illustrated Bible I had growing up had realistic pictures. Goliath had blood spurting off of his face where that stone hit him. I am not making this up.

The other question was just too big to answer. It's going to be complicated with my spouse and I not really seeing eye to eye on who we believe God is and how God interacts with us. I guess it's going to be a case of "Mommy thinks this, Daddy thinks this, what do you think?" The hardest part is going to be church. But that might be another post for another day.

In conclusion for today, if you pray, pray for me. For my growing baby, for my worries, for wisdom. For my wonderful husband who is being a perfect angel to me and baby but is full of worries of his own. We're the typical first time parents, worrying about everything, vowing that WE'RE gonna raise our kids better than THAT and such. Even though it's scary, I love it. This is the most magical experience.

Monday, July 30, 2012

A Thought About "Worship"

I'm a little hesitant to write this post because I'm afraid it's going to come off a lot worse than I mean for it to be. However, I've been thinking about it for awhile and then I saw this on PostSecret:

So. Here I go. 

I always loved worship time at church. The church I grew up in was a little unusual in that we had musicians who took turns playing each Sunday but they didn't prepare "sets" according to the message or according to anything. The idea was instead that they could lead a song but so could anyone else in the church. If the Spirit led you, you would just start singing the song on your heart and the rest of the church would join in as the two teenage boys that ran the projector furiously flipped through overheads until they found the words to the song. I know this sounds chaotic, but it really wasn't. You might think that multiple people would start singing different songs at the same time, but they didn't. You could stand or sit or kneel as you wanted and it (forgive me for this buzz word) all felt organic to me. Most of our songs were scripture set to simple music and I loved it. I've never known anything like it since.

Then I got older and went to a more "hip" church and worship became something different. More like a concert. Somehow, I never noticed until I had been happily participating in the concert vibe for years. Maybe it's because I hadn't been to many concerts or because all the ones I had been to were Christian bands so I had the expectation they should feel similar to worship times. I seriously never had any issue, no crankiness, no cynicism about worship time. It was always when I felt connected and could put down my questions and confusion. 

A couple years later I was at an Arcade Fire concert, my first secular concert and after a year long absence from church I felt the same feelings I used to feel during worship. Euphoria. This could be interpreted 1 of 2 ways: 1. God was making me euphoric via Arcade Fire (and later Death Cab and certain musicals) or 2. Music makes me euphoric. Wonderful, sweeping, emotional music. Now, I'm more inclined to lean toward choice 1 but I had to acknowledge that choice 2 existed. Which made me more conscious of worship times. The words I was singing. The promises I was making. The peer pressure involved. The way worship leaders tell you what to do. 

[That last bit really bothers me. "Lift your hands up! Kneel before God! Feel his presence here! Tell God you love him! Tell him you're sorry! Let's all weep for the nation!" Commands like this leave you in a place where you are forced, if you don't feel what they want you to feel, to either pretend you do or, not participate and have people wondering, "What's up with Sara?" And, don't tell me no one thinks that because they do. I know that they do. Not only have I thought that myself, but I have had people directly confront me about myself and my spouse. "Why didn't you take communion? What's going on?" None yo' business.]

Now, I've never led worship. I have no idea what the "behind the scenes" of creating a worship time is like and I have no idea if the emotional manipulation is intended or it just happens. What I do know is that it definitely happens, to me if to no one else. Also, I think, to whomever wrote in that Postsecret. 

I will not speak for anyone else or any other situation but my own. For me, worship is tricky.  It's all about feelings and feelings are not to be trusted. Worship songs today, they say things that I think aren't always true. They want me to tell God things that might not be true. I don't like that. If there is one thing I try not to do, it's lie to God. When I was a kid, the man who led chapel at my Christian school said that if we could not sing the words of a song honestly, then don't sing. It made sense to me. But now, if I go to church and I wait through a song I don't feel I can sing honestly, I feel like I'm being watched and judged. Maybe someone thinks I'm making a statement that I'm not. I don't like that either. Music stirs up my emotions. It makes me cry, it makes me laugh, it makes me think a lot. It shouldn't be treated lightly, it shouldn't be trite. 

[Two fast songs to get people excited for the message. One slow song to calm us down. [Message] Two more slow ones so we can contemplate the message and feel sad for our sin. One fast song to end church on a happy note! Tell me, does this sound familiar?]

I hate being cynical, I really do. I hate to enter a time I used to really love feeling nothing but wary, but I am. I want honesty in my life so much right now, more than anything. I don't want to be manipulated by fear or emotion. That Postsecret really shook me up. I think it's something to think about. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012


There used to be a post here about the Chick-Fil-A drama. I have since decided I did not want it here so it has gone bye bye.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

You've Got to Be Taught

The spouse and I have been in the serious talks about having kids in the past year so I've tended to think more and more about what's going to happen to our lives when there's a child present. What will we tell them about God? Will we take them to church? What will our parents say if we don't?

Heavy stuff that I guess we're going to mostly play by ear.

I worry a lot about being a parent and all that it entails. I worry about who my kids will be and the ways I'm certain to fail them. I worry about teaching them the right things and making them feel safe and loved. I feel anxious about disciplining them and getting them ready for being adults. I wonder how we'll relate when they're my age and have lives of their own.

I hope I can at least teach them to love and have open arms. To be kind, polite and thoughtful.

This post by Dan Savage has been preying on my mind for weeks since I ran across it. It's quite old and I didn't see it when he originally published it. At that point I had no idea who Savage was. Now, I know that he's kinda obnoxious and very controversial. A lot of people don't like him and I completely understand and wouldn't try to change their mind. But, I like him. I think he's got a temper and he's sometimes a little loose-lipped, but I also think he's intelligent and an excellent writer. He's made me think about things I never could have come up with on my own and given me some understanding of what it can feel like to be discriminated against.

Anyway, back to my point. In this article, Savage says,

"You don't have to explicitly "encourage [your] children to mock, hurt, or intimidate" gay kids. Your encouragement—along with your hatred and fear—is implicit. It's here, it's clear, and we can see the fruits of it."

Now, Savage is talking specifically about teaching children to hate gay kids, but it's true of hating anyone. Feelings about all kinds of things. We are taught.

I grew up watching South Pacific. I could probably sing you almost every word of every song even though it's been years since I last saw it. But, it wasn't until I read that article in which Savage inserts a video clip of the brief and poignant song, You've Got to Be Taught, that I realized how much that musical is trying to teach people. If you're not familiar with the musical, a French man who has lost the love of his life, an American woman, because she is disgusted that he was once married to a Polynesian woman, angrily insists to an American soldier that he doesn't believe that this racism is born into you. And, reluctantly and with a lot of emotion, the American soldier confirms his suspicions with this little song:

You've got to be taught to hate and fear
You've got to be taught from year to year
It's got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught....
You've got to be taught before it's too late
Before you are 6 or 7 or 8
to hate all the people your relatives hate
You've got to be carefully taught

I want to believe that as long as I never say anything to teach my children to hate, I'm safe. But, I'm not. It's beyond not saying something hateful. It's not doing something hateful. Not making a snide comment, getting road rage, being overly sarcastic or just plain uncaring. So it's not just that I need to be careful to NOT teach hate, I have to be care TO teach love. Scary stuff. As another great musical, "Into the Woods" says,

Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see and learn
Children may not obey, but children will listen
Children will look to you for which way to turn
To learn what to be
Careful before you say "Listen to me"
Children will listen

Monday, July 9, 2012


I said it. I have one. I learned this only when I started my period at the tender age of 11, and for the next 15 years was taught nothing about it, only to ignore it. No talks, no classes (my best friend while school offered sex ed classes was a Jehovah's Witness, who was religiously unallowed to attend the classes. I just wanted an excuse to hang out with her in the LIBRARY, where all things wonderful lived), and so I found myself a pseudo-adult, trying desperately to "catch up" on knowledge about my own body, and clinging to my gynecologist like the therapist I only recently found. What's this? What does this mean? How do I? My poor doctor. Mostly her nurse. My nurse is my favorite. Literally hugged her the last time I went in for my annual exam.

That's ridiculous. I love my life, I love that I found a doctor and a set of people to help me through my ill-formed adolescence, and BEFORE anything unexpected or terrible happened. BUT. This is my body I'm talking about, something I live with every day. I should know it intimately. Nope.

And to think there are other people out there who most likely had a similar upbringing, that other girls and boys are growing up being taught to ignore or dishonor their bodies. That groups like "1Flesh" are touting falsehoods to scare teenagers and young adults into doing the exact things they're scaring them into not doing. Sara will have beautiful insights into this as she sent it to me this morning to enjoy over my lunch break. This website reads like a horny college boy trying to lure girls into becoming baby mommas: "Condoms ruin my experience", "Birth control will make you pregnant", and my favorite "Condoms don't lower STD rates". Stop lying. Really. It makes you look fat.

But too many people can't step up and think for themselves and that's why this website and others touting its views are abusing power. I can't help thinking it's all about control - if it can scare you enough, you'll follow the rules and become the group so that the group leader will say, I have this much power, look at how many people believe what I say is true. Yuck. Cults went out of style with David Koresh and his push-up bar glasses. Think for yourselves and ask some real doctors, not religious organizations. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A Chance to Rest

So my co-author and I have gotten the amazing opportunity to visit each other in the last month and it was awesome. We couldn't manage to get enough words in; there was so much to share and say and laugh about. So we've been a bit distracted (not to mention the other Sara had a grievous injury she is recovering from) but, fear not! I will not give up on writing at this blog. There's still too much to say.

Something I noticed when Sara and I were talking to each other last was how we both are walking the line between hope and cynicism. I think we both desperately want to be hopeful but we're also both sensitive, especially to harm done to people that we love. Those awful moments send me into a spiral of anger and cynicism, throwing my hope by the wayside. But, once I've calmed and got the chance to see a gorgeous sky or trees lit up by wildly flashing fireflies, hope floods through me and I find myself reaching for a God who loves me, who loves us all, and made these beautiful moments to restore me.

Sometimes, I still want to be simple and naive. I want to ignore all the questions, complexity, translations from Greek and Hebrew, ugliness, contradictions and confusion. I want to just bask in the love of a good Creator who cares and the people I love around me.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Tearing Each Other Apart

The passing of Amendment 1 in North Carolina, which essentially said, "Hey, we know homosexuals can't get married already but we just want to make EXTRA sure they know we are against it," has really stirred up the fires on the issue of marriage equality and the Church is responding. Terribly.

First, there was a sermon in which a pastor told his congregation that he thought all homosexuals should be put in an electrified fence, fed via flyovers and left to die out because they can't reproduce. (Because we all know gay children come from gay parents. Oh... wait....)

Don't get me wrong, the electric fence guy made me feel upset but at least his idea was insane so I just dismissed him as crazy. It was disturbing, but, to be honest, I wrote this guy off immediately. He sounded ignorant. He used terrible grammar. It disgusted me he would suggest something like this, disgusted me that his congregation would applaud and say "amen", but on the whole I thought, "Stupid nut job" and moved on.

But these comments from Curtis Knapp made me sob. I made it about 30 seconds before I completely lost it and started crying my heart out.

"They should be put to death.... it tends to limit people coming out of the closet. 'Oh, so you're saying we should go out and start killing them.' No, but I'm saying the government should. They won't, but they should."

What is wrong with this man? These men?! The people in their churches!?! Did anyone stand up and leave? I want to believe that next Sunday he'd stand before an empty church. Unfortunately, I'm sure that's not true.

I don't, I can't understand how that man could think it would ever be okay or the will of God to say something so terrible. In his reaction to the responses he's received as a result of his sermon, Knapp said, "My hope is for their salvation, not for their death" but did not apologize for or retract what he had said. So, sorry Knapp, I'm going to have to call bullshit on that. And I'm going to have to call bullshit on other Christians who try to pull this same thing, ie, attacking the LGBT community, oppressing them, calling them animals, debased, abominations, etc. and then claiming they are acting in love. That, I'm sorry, is not love.

I know, I know, that many Christians believe they need to stand against the LGBT community and stand for the Bible, but I ask you, is that what they are doing? Is saying hurtful and hate-filled things what Jesus would do? I just can't believe that. Even if you believe that homosexuality is not the way God wants someone to live, you should not threaten that person or do harm to them, whether that be physically or emotionally. Shame on us. Shame on the Church for crushing these people's spirits with hateful speech. Shame on us for claiming we think their sin is the same as ours and yet treating them like lepers. Shame on us for allowing men to stand in positions of authority in the church family and say such horrible things. Shame on us for letting our desire to win trump our desire to love and care for the humans around us. Shame on us all if we don't stand up and tell people that this is not acceptable, these words are not okay, these men do not speak for me.

Friends, don't let this issue of marriage equality divide, destroy and devolve the Church. Whether we all agree about whether or not homosexuality is sinful, whether or not your church wants to allow LGBT members into the fold, we should all be able to agree that we should have one response to them- love. Love like we love ourselves. That is just not happening. These men are not loving these people, they are not even beginning to treat them as they would wish to be treated. I don't believe that these pastors would suggest death or imprisonment for themselves. I believe what they are doing is reacting to the social environment with fear, extremism and hate. They believe there are too many Christians not upholding that "old time religion" and damn it! they are going to fix it by showing that they will obey the Bible no matter what! Be it insane or cruel, no problem!

"My friends, you were chosen to be free... use your freedom as an opportunity to serve each other with love. All that the Law says can be summed up in the command to love each other as you love yourself. If you keep attacking each other like wild animals... you will destroy yourselves." - Galatians 5:13-15

We are destroying ourselves. The Church is becoming synonymous with hate. We are the hate people. And I am grieved. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

Keep Hoping

I had this strange experience a few months ago. But I should give some background.

When I was 14, I met this guy at church who I was immediately smitten by. He was everything I had never known in real life and just my type (I didn't know I had a type back then but I acknowledge it now). He was wounded and jaded, dramatic and loved books. He played guitar and was edgy, with black hair and the bluest eyes I've ever seen in my life.

Over the next 3 years we had sporadic interactions at a local coffee shop that were not really all that impressive, but it was my first step outside of my Christian world so they made a giant impression on me. I had never talked to someone who didn't believe in God or go to church before. I'd never known a non-Christian could be so fascinating or smart. But, this guy was in pain. He was starting out on the first steps of a terrible journey of drug abuse and people who knew him much better than I would warn me away at every turn. I was too stubborn, soft-hearted and naive to care (my dad calls it my "Wendy Complex". He says I'm always looking for lost boys to mother). I believed that God had given him to me for a reason and that I was going to change his life. I told one of my friends who was especially adamant that I distance myself that I could see his potential, I believed that God could change this life and bring healing. God had given me this vision and I would not lose hope, no matter what he did.

Then, one day, he disappeared, never to be seen by me again. I was devastated. He haunted me. I would think about him regularly and pray for him often. Over 10 years passed and I would still think about this person I barely knew. It didn't make sense but I think once I got it into my mind that I was responsible for him, I could never shake it off.

Then, one day, a few months ago, something crazy happened. He came to my mind and I typed his name into Facebook. I'd done this years before with no results so I didn't really expect one now. But, there he was. I was astonished. Completely floored. I was shaking. Here he was, over 10 years later, alive and well. A Christian. A father of two adorable children. He had survived through everything and become a Christian. What did it all mean?

For the first time in years my doubts fell silent and I just sat in awe, whispering to God, "Was it all true? Did I really hear you back then? Did those prayers really matter? Had you really given me a vision of that hurting, confused boy's future? Of who he could be? Did I help? Are you trying to give me back my hope and faith?"

It's been a lot to process. But it's become something of a light to me. A momentary rest. Something I can look at and say, "Wow, my hopes came true."

Monday, May 14, 2012

Confessions of a Former Homophobe (kinda)

I wish I couldn't apply the word, "homophobe" to myself. I wish I could give myself the grace of a blogger I will discuss today and say I wasn't really afraid of homosexuals but that wouldn't be entirely honest. I was afraid of them. And confused by them. I can say the homophobia was short lived and the majority of my life I was not afraid of gay people, but I felt like they were deceived by Satan and kinda icky. That last bit is something I'm especially not proud of. I'm so sorry.

I was remembering the other day that the first time I was aware gay people existed in the world was when I saw the movie Philadelphia. It was a hugely confusing moment for me because it was explained to me that Tom Hank's being gay was wrong but anyone who has seen that movie knows that Hank's performance rips your heart out. I was so upset by his treatment in that movie, it bothered me for a long time afterwards. However, it didn't really hit home or challenge my thoughts and feelings about gay people. I made it all about AIDs discrimination and left it at that.

The first real confusion I felt about gay people came when I saw The Laramie Project. That play is extremely powerful and for the first time gay people were not sinful and sexually depraved. I saw them, as a character in the play says, as just God's kids. Just like me. And I didn't know what to do with that thought. I was 19 at this time and I was so used to thinking of gay people as strange, unnatural people that I didn't even know where to begin changing that opinion. To my knowledge I had never known a gay person and I was honestly afraid to discuss any of these thoughts with my friends or family. So I just buried them.

Then I made my first openly gay friend and my foundations started to get rocked. Then I made another and I started thinking, this doesn't seem fair. These are good people. Then a guy I had led a Bible study with and greatly admired during my years in college (I still admire you Matt!) revealed that he was gay. That's when everything started falling down around me and I finally got the courage to admit to a friend that I was starting to think maybe being gay was not a sin after all.

However, even though I love these aforementioned people, at this time they were not parts of my everyday life.   Thoughts of them preyed on my mind but the rhetoric of "being gay is a sin, just like every other, but a sin and they chose it" was just too deeply ingrained. After all, man + woman = baby and that was a logic I couldn't dispute. It was all still a somewhat hazy, confusing subject for me. Until I met my friend Scott, one of my most beloved friends in Syracuse who has been a wonderful addition to the Blum's lives. Scott and I share a brain too often and for me that is a rare find, one that I treasure. When I found out this fantastic human was gay I realized my days of sitting on the fence were over, I was going to have to figure this thing out.

I have reached a place in my life where I believe completely that being gay is not a choice, nor a sin. I believe God will bless a committed, loving gay relationship equally. I believe his arms are open to his gay children and I think it's time the rest of his kids caught up. It's not been an easy journey and I don't expect it to be. My family and many of my friends do not agree with me and have made it clear, some more lovingly than others, that they believe I am wrong. But I have to go with my heart. If you're curious how I feel about the scriptures addressing homosexuality I would like to refer you to my friend Matt Roger's blog where he, in "The Gay Posts", very thoughtfully and thoroughly addresses all the scriptures and other issues. I agree with him.

Now, as an "ally" (for some reason I feel funny using that word, maybe because it's so politicized) I want to share a couple things that have surfaced that last couple days in light of that abysmal amendment passing in North Caroline (to me that amendment essentially said, "Hey! It's already illegal for gays to be equal citizens but let's just make sure they understand that we REALLY mean it. No equality for you!") I was pleased President Obama had the guts to support marriage equality publicly. I'm sure it was not an easy decision with the election coming up around the corner. I loved this statement he made:

“The thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the golden rule — you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated. And I think that’s what we try to impart to our kids, and that’s what motivates me as president.”
Thank you, President Obama for this grace-filled statement. Because he is very right, as Christians, even if you believe being gay is a sin, you are still called to love your neighbor as yourself. How would you feel if your neighbor was going out of their way to cripple your family's legal rights?

A great blogger, Justin Lee made this statement that, as someone who formerly did all manner of damage to people in the name of Christ, I sincerely believe:
"I find that most Christians are totally unaware of how mean the church can be to gay people, and so they don't know that they need to do anything to fix it. As long as it's not fixed, it's going to be hard to give gay people a reason to come back to the church."
 I'm pretty sure he doesn't just mean the church building, he means the body of Christ. And, from my point of view, it can be hard both for gay Christians and gay-affirming Christians to be a part of the family these days. This issue is becoming so polarizing, there's so much anger, hurt, slander and fear that I am afraid the followers of Christ have forgotten the love part of their mission. I'm not trying to say that people on the pro-gay side are always right and always accepting. They aren't. I'm not. But I'm striving to be. We must all extend grace. Justin made this other great statement:

"I owe an apology to all the people I've hurt, and I of course offer my unconditional forgiveness to anyone who may have hurt me. We all make mistakes, and we're all trying to stand for what's right. It's just that sometimes we don't have all the facts even when we think we do." 
 It's like he reached into my brain and plucked out this thought. I owe apologies to many people I'm sure. I have been awful sometimes, whether aloud or in my mind. I know from my past that people that don't agree with me, the people who voted for Amendment 1 in North Carolina or who keep overturning marriage equality in California are not bad, evil, heartless people. They are doing what they think is right. Not too long ago I would have agreed with them. Not because I hated gay people or thought they deserved less than me, but because I believed that they were deceived and that by stopping them from marrying I was somehow protecting them and myself. That somehow it would make America a better place and more people would come to know Jesus.

Clearly, I no longer believe this but that's because I had a chance to meet people who changed my mind. Because I have a family that encourages me to question beliefs even if the answers I come up with don't match up with theirs. I have a spouse that loves me through my changes, doubts and fear. I have friends, like the Sara I write this blog with, who have helped me through this journey. These people have given me the courage to doubt, to wholly give myself up to my questions and finally find some closure. If you've never been in the position to doubt your foundational beliefs, I think it's difficult to appreciate just how terrifying it truly is. That's what we're asking people to do when we ask them to vote for and support marriage equality. Keep that in mind when someone on the opposite side of a great divide makes you want to scream. Extend them grace in their journey. I will try to take my own advice.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Brain Worms

Okay, the idea of brain worms is really gross. And they probably exist in nature but I don't want to know. Worms are disgusting, seriously. I hate the idea of them. But I'm titling this post "Brain Worms" because all the time over the past year I keep finding these ideas that are wormed (see?) deep into my mind that I just have accepted as true so not bother to think about again.

One occurred to me randomly in the shower yesterday. I had just gotten back from running, which is a time I do a lot of my deep thinking, so my brain juices were flowing. Suddenly, as I paused to let the conditioner really soak in (my hair has been so rough lately) the thought popped into my head, "Wait. Are all sins the same in the eyes of God?" This is just something I've always believed. I can't remember the first time I heard it and I can't count how many times I've repeated it, but I suddenly realized I have no idea why I should believe that. Where did God say that in the Bible? My 12 years of Christian school leaped into action and my brain began rifling through the Bible. And.... came up with.... nada. Nothing. I could see why some verses might make someone make that leap but none really stated that to God, all sins are equal. And why should they be? Why would it be reasonable, logical or acceptable to think that God looks upon a murderer or someone who has abused a child the same way as he looks upon a kind, generous person who just told a lie for whatever reason? Doesn't really make sense.

This is not to say that I think God's grace can't cover every sin, because I think it can. One of my favorite quotes is, "But all the wickedness in the world which man may do or think is no more to the mercy of God than a live coal dropped in the sea." (William Langland) I also always loved the part in The Hiding Place where Betsy ten Boom is dying in the concentration camp and says to Corrie that she must tell people that there is no pit so deep that God's love is not deeper still and they will believe her because she had been in such a terrible place. (I'm getting choked up just thinking about it) So yes, I believe that God's love extends to the worst of sinners, no matter how uncomfortable that can make me feel. Let's be honest, some people, like Hitler, you want to say do not deserve grace. But that is God's department, not mine and the Bible seems to say that he is always faithful and just to forgive those who seek forgiveness.

The thing I take issue with is sometimes I feel like we only offer a God who seemingly is less caring and logical than us and can only see in black and white. Like there's a checklist and you're either naughty or nice, one or the other, hell or heaven. And if every sin's the same then no matter how you lived or what challenges you faced or anything else, you better have asked for forgiveness or it's hell for you. We would have higher expectations of any other authority figure. We would expect a just judge to examine the case from every angle. We would demand a parent love their child, treat them with compassion and see the big picture. If I  missed curfew when I was in high school because I just stayed out late with my friends I was busted. Grounded for the weekend. That's that. But if I missed it because I got a flat or something similar my mom isn't going to ground me for the weekend. Both times I broke the rules of the household but my parents would examine how and why I broke that rule before punishing me. I believe God does the same.

Additional Reading on This Topic

World Vision

I don't want this to be taken the wrong way. It was great the way people rose up in anger when they learned about Joseph Kony via a video that went viral. Anything that sheds light on atrocities is good. However, I think this video is just as important. Yes, there are terrible humans like Kony doing terrible things. But, there are also simple things killing children every day. Any readers, and I know we don't get a ton, consider sponsoring a child. It is so easy and it helps so much. If there's something I know I can believe about being a Christian it is that we are supposed to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and care for the widow, orphan, poor, prisoner, etc.

It's a quiet thing, to sponsor a child. No fanfare, no travel, no stories of God working in your life (probably)- just a monthly check and some letters (if you're a good sponsor, unlike me). But that child will have everything they need. Food, medicine, school. Just something to think about.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

To Church or Not to Church

I was reading this post over at American Jesus in which the author comments about the phenomenon of a high attendance on Easter Sunday that then instantly plummets. He discusses the idea that many people are trying to "pull a fast one over on Jesus" by showing up on Easter but then not making church a priority the rest of the year.

This was something that struck me as a spotty church attender. I think the last time I attended church here was last summer, maybe fall. It's nothing against the church here. I think they do great things and I really enjoy one of the pastors. I still listen to some of his sermons on line. It was just a sense that I didn't feel like I really belonged. I got tired of the people we know there questioning our absence whenever we would come. "We haven't seen you at church for awhile, where have you been?" I know their intentions are good but it's exhausting to feel obligation to go and sit in a room every Sunday. It's supposed to be meaningful but what if it's not?

This year was the first Easter Sunday I didn’t go to church. My husband and I woke up, looked at each other and said, we haven’t been going regularly any other Sunday, it doesn’t feel honest or sincere to go this Sunday so we won’t.

Frankly, our friends and family have made us regret that decision because we’ve gotten so much grief for not attending church on Easter Sunday. No one seemed to be that bothered that we hadn’t gone for the previous 3 months of Sundays but that we didn’t go on Easter Sunday was horrible. Next year we will probably go to church whether we’re attending or not just to avoid the post-Easter fallout. I imagine there are a lot of people like us out there who go on Christmas and Easter to make family members happy, not to try to pull a fast one over on Jesus.

Church and church attendance and the idea that I need that community is something I’m struggling with in my life right now. I have an amazing, supportive, wonderful group of friends, believers and nonbelievers, that challenge and inspire me. Do I need church as well? I spent Easter Sunday praying and thinking over the Great Commission and talking about it with my brother. Would I have gotten more out of my spiritual life that day if I had gone to church?

In my past experience I have found that the church swallows me up and takes over my life to the point that I don’t feel like I am helping a single person in my life who is not a Christian. I’m also anxious about avoiding the propaganda of the Christian culture that often gets presented hand in hand with the gospel. I am wary of trusting a pastor, a fallible human, to tell me something true.

Every Sunday you go to church and you sing some songs and you hear a man (or woman) tell you what they found significant that week. They were struck by a verse or a book they read and now here is your challenge for the week: we should read a Psalm a day, pray for an hour, read this book, make a goal in your spiritual life, find a non-Christian to pray for, ask someone to come with us next Sunday. Every week there's something and it's really easy for me to just try to do my Christian homework each week and let that be my spiritual life. I can hang with the other Christians and we can talk about our struggles sharing our faith or being a submissive wife or having daily quiet times. We'll pray for each other and smile and go about our day. And we'll have real friendships with each other. But what about everyone else?

Maybe this is a personal problem but when I was in college and deeply involved in my church, that was my life. I was a Bible study leader and I had church activities 5-6 days a week. I didn't have other friends. I didn't do other things. I don't really want to regret that because I loved my friends and I loved my time in college. But I think I was very restricted in my understanding of the world around me and of the people I was trying to "save." I don't want to be like that anymore.

I tried to go to church more casually. Attend but not be involved so much. Not be a volunteer or a leader, just go on Sundays. But somehow that feels meaningless to me. And I can't shake that feeling. Sometimes I go and I feel moved and inspired, but most of the time I feel like I'm just fulfilling an obligation. Until I figure out a way to reconcile this I’m not going to go to church out of sense of duty or for that “checklist” of Christianity.

In that post there was the statement, “So, if you don’t want to be a very real part of that community now, you won’t want to be a part of that very real community in heaven for eternity." Do I need to go to church to be a real part of a community? Are only churches real communities? I'm not sure.

Monday, April 16, 2012

On Life and Death

Today is a day I always feel melancholy and introspective. As a Virginia Tech alumni, the terrible, tragic events of this day five years ago still shake my heart. Every year I think of how terrified I was while I waited to hear from friends and family on campus. I remember having my first (and I hope only) panic attack at grad school when people talked badly about my town and called me cold-hearted for coming to class, though I had no choice if I wanted to pass. I remember watching TV with my fellow Hokies in LA while we all talked about how much we wanted to go home.

Blacksburg is my home. Born and raised. It's in my blood and I love that place. And I hate that it is tarnished by tragedy but I love that my Hokie family stood strong under the scrutiny and responded with love, courage and poetry (thank you Nikki Giovanni). So I will also spend this day thinking of love, courage and poetry; celebrating life in the face of death and that I believe we are very eternal, mysterious, amazing beings.

Why, then, do we have to be human
and keep running from the fate
we long for?

Oh, not because of such a thing as happiness—
that fleeting gift before loss begins.
Not from curiosity, or to exercise the heart...
But because simply to be here is so much
and because what is here seems to need us,
this vanishing world that concerns us strangely—
us, the most vanishing of all. Once
for each, only once. Once and no more.
And we too: just once. Never again. But
to have lived even once,
to have been of Earth—that cannot be taken from us.
-Ranier Maria Rilke

(Another translation as Rilke wrote in German and I think each translation is very profound)

Why, then have to be human?
Oh, not because happiness exists,
Nor out of curiosity...
But because being here means so much;
Because everything here,
Vanishing so quickly, seems to need us,
And strangely keeps calling to us…
To have been
Here once, completely, even if only once,
To have been at one with the earth -
This is beyond undoing.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Great Commission?

(A couple disclaimers/confessions. I don't really like the idea of short-term evangelism mission trips. I'm not going to get into the reasons though many of them are discussed on Jamie, the Very Worst Missionary's blog (in a few places). I will also say that I went on 3 evangelism short term mission trips in my teens with Teen Mania. By the third I was to the point of feeling disenchanted with the whole idea but I went for other reasons.)

I received a support email from a friend today asking for money to send him to Nepal for a short term mission trip this summer. I found the second paragraph particularly thought-provoking and I turned it over in my head a bit on my run today (when I was not thinking, "Ow.. oww... my legs... oww... must... breathe...")

"The purpose on the trip is to bring people into a personal relationship with Jesus.  THAT is our ultimate focus.  In a land where its people are deeply religious, the battle for the hearts and minds of the people are won by the leading of the Holy Spirit.  It is not because of our own efforts that people accept Jesus as our redeemer, but because of His working in their heart."

When I first read this I was struck by the way he said this because to me it read, "We are going to Nepal to bring people to Jesus. However, only the Holy Spirit can bring someone to Jesus, we can't do it." Interesting. 

In light of today being Easter, I've been reflecting on the idea of Jesus saving mankind from their sins. My facebook feed is full of my Christian friends thanking Jesus for the gift of life and for his sacrifice. While running today I thought to myself, it's true. As humans we search desperately for hope and meaning in life. To believe that the God who created you and the world around you cared enough about your plight to suffer and give you redemption is great news. It's amazing news. It's the best news. You're loved and cherished. 

However, if you think of all the humans on this planet, about 7 billion of us, and according to the most favorable of statistics only 33% of those are Christians, things get sad. Are 66% of humans really hell bound and is it because of us? People claim that with these words Jesus put the responsibility of people's salvation in our hands: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." (Mt. 28:19) And is that good news? To take something as important as eternal salvation and place it in the hands of stupid, selfish, awful, deceitful, confused, scared, humans? To call that "The Great Commission"? It's the verse that short term missions clings too- we need to go and tell people about Jesus and save them. We might be their only chance.

But, today I wondered, is it salvation Jesus wanted us to bring to people? Or is it just, as Rob Bell says in Velvet Elvis, that a life knowing Jesus, knowing that you are loved and precious, is the best possible life. That we have found the best possible life to live on this planet and we want to share it? We want to invite people to live a life that (also from Mr. Bell) brings heaven to this earth. Whatever brings love, peace, joy, kindness, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control is the best life. That's good news.

Salvation is complicated. Eternity and heaven and our final destinations are murky and confusing if you start poking at them. I'm not entirely convinced that Jesus intended for us to try to "save" people and place their salvation as a responsibility on our checklist. 

Those are my disjointed ponderings today. No conclusive thoughts, just some questions and wonderings. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Neither Jew nor Gentile, neither Republican nor Democrat

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. -Gal. 3: 26-28

I've been thinking a lot about the above verse the last few days. It's an election year here in America and social issues are more prominent this election than in any other I can remember. Sure, we're worried about taxes and budgets but the hot button topics are gay marriage and now, the infamous birth control coverage. The lines are being drawn more and more fiercely between the conservatives and liberals and my fleeting hope that our two political parties could manage to learn compromise has diminished significantly. There's a lot of anger and fear that I've never personally felt before. Maybe because I wasn't so conscious of politics before?

Since the day I could vote and began carefully reading about candidates before making my choice (my government teacher, though a true Republican, impressed upon me the importance of being informed) I knew I could never go with one party or the other. My feelings on social issues were heavily divided so I always vote election by election and have never sided with one party over the other. My husband is the same way and my parents frequently voted for different candidates (especially presidential candidates) when I was growing up so I have never felt the need to take a side.  I'm glad I haven't because, yowsers, the division is something terrifying to behold. I've begun wondering if Paul was an American, writing that letter today he would say, "There is neither Democrat nor Republican, neither gay nor straight, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

Why is it so hard to let our differences of opinion go and just respect and love each other? Because we all think we're right I suppose. Full disclosure, this really isn't something I'm that good at. Just last week one of my friends defended a politician I think is a nutter and my eyes bugged. I was completely baffled. Baffled! I thought to myself, "Seriously? No, really, seriously?!" And later that week I was perusing another friend's massively conservative, pot-stirring facebook statuses thinking, "BAH! How does his wife deal with him!?" Very loving and respectful thoughts, yes?

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.- Col. 3:12-15

For those of us who call ourselves Christians (Christ followers, friends of Jesus, Jesus is my homeboy, whatever), it's especially important to try to learn to show restraint and respect to the opposing side of our viewpoints. And it ain't easy. Nosirree. Especially with social issues that tend to stir up emotions more so than taxes, medicare, what have you. When the argument is about whether or not you and your peer agree that your beloved friend or family member should have equal rights to contractually bind themselves in marriage to someone they love, things can get really hairy. I (and I'm guessing my co-author does too) struggle to see this from their point of view, even though it used to be my own. In the heat of the moment I just see the pain of my gay friends and I think to myself, "you cold-hearted, judgmental, rawr rawr rawr..."

Of course, these people aren't cold-hearted. At least, I hope not since I used to be one of them. They're merely restricted by their own experience and/or beliefs. They sincerely believe they are doing what God would want them to. I think they are wrong and that has ousted me from the club. So I joined another club, the anti-Republican, look-at-me-I'm-liberal-now club, and it felt really nice to be back in a club. I like the people in that club. They play good music there.

Then I started thinking about that first verse and some of the others in this post. As Rob Bell says, Christianity should not be a wall separating "us" from "them" and that's exactly what I was doing, just from the other side. Separating "us" forward thinking, clearly more compassionate, undoubtedly correct members of my club from "them": those silly, blinded, backwards members of the conservative club. (Aren't I an ass? Dear reader, I tried to warn you. I am, indeed, an ass.) No political ideal is perfect. No club is going to be perfect. Extremism is always dangerous and thinking I'm unquestionably right leads nowhere good. I have to keep my mind wide open, ready for anything, open to the option that I'm missing a piece of the puzzle. Because I have been certain of so many things only to later be certain I was wrong. I must err on the side of love and respect, for everyone, even the people who make my eyes bug and my head ache.
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves... Live in harmony with one another....
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. -bits from Romans 12

Monday, March 19, 2012


I think the whole, "What Would Jesus Do?" phenomena was really owned by people of my age group. We were the ones wearing the bracelets in high school and feeling all awesome.

Well, I didn't. I could never wear those bracelets because I was too terrified of either doing something awful and having it linked to Jesus or of frightening away non-Christians I desperately wanted to be friends with. But it's the first bit I want to talk about today and just that question in general- what would Jesus do?

I don't know if many people read In His Steps, the book that inspired the WWJD? movement, but I had it for required reading in high school and it was part of the reason I was far too frightened to wear that bracelet. I was really uncertain as to what Jesus would do in all manner of situations and so wearing the bracelet would just remind me of all that uncertainty. However, it's still a question that hovers around in my mind all the time. What would Jesus do? So often I find myself praying that, asking God to please, just help me see the truth and know the right thing to do. It's not such a simple question really. It's hard to be certain of what Jesus would do in every situation.

My general rule of thumb is to err on the side of love. What would be perceived as most loving, most open-armed? But then, there are situations like Sara was talking about in her last post where you start to wonder, do I have to keep these toxic people in my life? What would Jesus do? My brain has computed the logical side of the situation I find myself in and has concluded that if a human is bringing more ill than good to my life, I should not associate with them. But... that is much easier said than done because the rest of my consciousness is asking, is that really what Jesus would do? Seems unlikely. He would keep loving them right? Keep welcoming them into his life? Keep in mind, it's not like these people are bringing danger to my life or my husband's life. I don't fear physical harm from them, more just emotional exhaustion. Is it ever okay for someone who claims to follow Jesus to cut someone out of their lives? I feel uncertain. It just... doesn't feel right.

So I'm going to ponder this some more.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Christians are just awful

I actually said that out loud one night while meeting couples friends of mine, and I stopped my friend in her tracks. She looked at me, and tears welled up in her eyes and she just said, " I know!" I didn't realize how freeing and honest that was to say until I saw her reaction to my words. She had just been chewed out by a "christian" boss (a job she has since quit), who for various reasons was paying her employees half the amount she was paying her daughter and who was secretly recording meetings with her employees. Great. I thought about this reaction today after emailing another friend, who was honestly divulging how she felt about a particular person. People who call themselves Christians are one of three things: genuine, false and using it the name for their own gain (be it financial or emotional), or legalistic. Of course the latter two are abhorrent to me, that goes without saying.

The legalistic kind are so bent on portraying their picture perfect lives, they have no clue how miserable they are. They are also the first to pretend say how humble they are and that they are no better than anyone else, but their actions and words deny deny deny how they truly feel. They're so transparent it's mostly painful to watch. Even Ghandi said he'd follow Christ, if it weren't for Christians. I'm with you Ghandi. I also hope i'm not misquoting you.

Really, we all just need a healthy dose of Kenneth from 30 rock. "There are only two things I love in this world: Everyone and tv." People don't UNDERSTAND that in order to actually make a difference and to show people Christ, all you have to do is fall madly in love with people. All people. Not just people that look like you, but everyone.

I recently had a conversation with a family member who told me that my attending a drag queen brunch meant I was losing my moorings, that I needed to be aware of danger. For a drag brunch? Following that line of logic, I should also be afraid of clowns, actors, mimes, children dressed in Halloween costume, etc.. I LOVED the drag brunch. I loved that men could look prettier than women, that they were talented and could dance. I loved slipping them $1 bills and telling them how pretty they were, because it was true. And doesn't everyone want to be pretty? Everyone wants to be beautiful and graceful and lovely. Male or female. I replied to my family member that loving people is exactly the mooring I should have. I then subsequently de-friended the person on facebook. Not spitefully, though that sentence implies it, but for that family member's own sake. I disagree with having conversations via electronics, when the person wouldn't say the same thing face-to-face. Forgive them Lord, for they know not what they do. People see someone who looks different from themselves "odd" "trashy" "thug-like" and it's DANGER. Nope. Not true. But this is coming from the same person who saw a family standing too close to her unlocked car and thought, I don't care if you're of the same social demographic as me, I don't trust you. Step away from my vehicle.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The World I Know is Lost in Shadows

I cannot begin to count the times since the release of the 1998 movie Les Miserables that I have seen a pastor show the clip of the priest telling the police who are about to carry Jean Valjean back to jail for having robbed said priest that Valjean is innocent because the silver he is carrying with him was a gift from the priest. The moment reaches it's dramatic peak when, after the police leave, the priest informs Valjean that he must live a good life now because he (the priest) has purchased his soul for God.

It's a great scene and very moving. Jean Valjean is a wonderful character and his struggle to be a good man is beautiful (he's got a few lines in the musical that always choke me up). However, from the moment that I got over my lovesick obsession with Eponine it was not Valjean, Cosette or Marius that fascinated me. It was Javert, the unbending, seemingly cruel police officer that hunts Valjean throughout the years. (Though I also love Fantine. I might talk about her another day.)

Javert could be called the villain. After all, you kind of hate him. The first time you see him he's releasing Valjean from a 19 year prison sentence while reminding him that he will always be a thief. He doesn't even refer to Valjean by name, instead demeaning him with his number- 24601. Even after Valjean makes good and starts a new life as a benevolent, law abiding owner of a brick shop and mayor of a town, when Javert finds him he ignores all of these things and only sees the thief who broke parole. Back to jail he must go! When he comes to arrest Valjean, he callously ignores Valjean's pleas to let him take care of Fantine's orphaned child, forcing Valjean to attack him and run to find and care for Cosette.

But here's the thing about Javert and his haunting songs in the musical. He absolutely, 100% believes he is the hero of this piece. He's doing exactly what he believes is the right thing and what God would want him to do. He believes he is the hand of the Lord and that justice is a swift and deadly sword because "those that stumble and those that fall must pay the price." In one song he even prays, "Lord, let me find him that I may see him safe behind walls." It's not a personal vendetta for him, he just believes with all his heart that Valjean is a dangerous criminal and he, Javert, must stop him and bring him to justice.

I pity Javert. He tries so hard to be a righteous man that he is blinded to the suffering of the innocent and that things around him are more complex than black and white, right and wrong. He's so trapped in this unbending world of his own creation that when he and Valjean have their final confrontation and Valjean spares his life, Javert cannot cope. In the musical he sings his final, heartrending song:

All my thoughts fly apart, can this man be believed?
Shall his sins be forgiven? Shall his crimes be reprieved?
And must I now begin to doubt, who never doubted all these years?
My heart is stone, but still it trembles.
The world I know is lost in shadows.
Is he from heaven or from hell? And does he know?
That by granting me my life today, that man has killed me even so.....
There is nowhere I can turn, there is no way to go on.

In the light that Javert could be wrong, that Valjean could be a good man and that his sins could be forgiven was more than Javert could handle and he kills himself. It's mind boggling. In the light of mercy, grace and forgiveness, Javert chooses to take his life rather than face a new world.

I know this is getting long but here is the moral of my story. It can be hard, so hard, to love and forgive people who are unbending and judgmental. You just want to smack them or yell at them, or maybe never speak to them again. But these people are likely not trying to hurt you. They are convinced of their truth and they are clinging to it like a life preserver. I've been white-knuckled in my past as well. All you can do is be like Valjean and in spite of all the torture Javert put him through, still show mercy and forgiveness, just as it was shown to you, just as you want it to be shown to others. I'm hoping our stubborn loved ones won't pull a Javert and jump off a bridge, but maybe we can shatter their graceless worlds with mercy and love?

Friday, February 24, 2012

I've Been a Fool and I've Been Blind- Shake it Out Pt 2

Earlier I mentioned my particular affinity for Florence + the Machine's song "Shake it Out" because the lyrics are perfectly suited to where I have found myself in my life of late. One bit says:

I've been a fool and I've been blind
I can never leave the past behind
I can see no way, I can see no way
I'm always dragging that horse around....
Tonight I'm gonna bury that horse in the ground

Since I maintain friendships with both extremely conservative, right-wing Christians and extremely liberal, left-wing whatevers, I'm pretty constantly reminded both of where I've been and where I could go. Right now I think I do a pretty good tight-rope act between the two extremes and, to be fair, I have realized that more of my friends and hanging out in shades of gray than having chosen a black or white side, which has been a great realization. The only sad part is that none of us were able to really admit our "non-Christian" anti-conformity to one another out of fear. Which makes me really sad, because even though I never wanted to be seen as a person who would judge or stand against another human, even if I didn't agree with them, I'm sure that I gave that impression many, many times. My love was conditional and while my willingness to try to embrace and understand people that were different than me never really died, I just couldn't understand those people enough to do anything other than make them feel bad about their "sins" and like they might not be good enough for me.

I see it so clearly now, but in my younger years I was a fool and I've been blind. And I've realized I can't really leave the past behind, it's always in my mind. When my current friends who were not raised in the Christian world ask me in completely baffled tones why a Christian would do X, Y or Z the first thing that comes into my mind is that was me. And even though there are somethings that I regret, I don't really want to forget or leave that Sara behind because I need to remember her so I don't regress. It would be so easy to slip behind that facade and not keep pushing and seeking, trying to understand God, trying to see things from every perspective, trying to become "all things to all men" in the effort to show the true Love that I believe is God.

So I'm not going to be able to leave my past behind. And, really, this is just growing up. In 10 more years maybe I'll look at myself now and think, "Wow, what a blind fool I was!" There's no way to tell. So I'll just keep trying to live and learn and love. But, I can bury that damn horse in the ground because those mistakes are not me and they do not own me. I won't live in regret and beat my dead horse self up. I will be the best I can be and I hope that is enough.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Saras Talking Quietly Amongst Themselves

Hello any followers. Sorry Sara and Sara have not been posting of late. The other Sara leads a busy life fraught with adventure, learning, working and such; whilst this Sara just started a new job and after a week of illogical and ridiculous stress it is only now that I have emerged from a fog of training and uncertainty to remember our beloved blog.

I've been suggesting some of my favorite reads to Sara and I can't wait to see what amazing notions she has. I've gotten some glimpses from emails we've exchanged. So, in lieu of any original thought let me suggest you check out our friend Matt Rogers' blog where he is currently discussing what the Bible does and does not say about homosexuality. Really well thought out and I'm very impressed by his willingness to take his journey public, especially in light of the intense reactivity that accompanies this issue in our country right now. He's being very brave.

I will only say this as my thought for today. I am so immensely, incredibly, unbelievably thankful and blessed to have the life I have. To be so loved by my friends, to be able to share my innermost thoughts and receive understanding and affirmation is amazing. I came home today to my apartment, adorable spouse, food in my fridge to make our dinner (and an awesome rocky road cheesecake my man bought me for Valentine's) and I just looked around and thought, "Sara, you are one lucky sucker." Life can be confusing and people can suck. Things (sorry for the language Mom) can be really fucked up and there are some really fucked up humans out there. Those things can make me angry and upset, and that's okay. It's right to grieve over horrors and abuse. But I want to make sure I never forget to realize how much I have to say thank you for and to see the many beautiful things and people around me. That's all.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

More Confessions, This Time from a Total Hypocrite

I read this fantastic post yesterday and today I am still thinking about it. I've read it three or four times and each time, I think new thoughts. The author, Glennon, has so many wonderful points to make but today I'm going to focus on this one because it goes hand in hand with a comment my favorite blogger Alise made on a post I also read yesterday. Glennon said this:

I don’t know much. But I know that each time I see something heartbreaking on the news, each time I encounter a problem outside, the answer to the problem is inside. The problem is ALWAYS me and the solution is ALWAYS me. If I want my world to be less vicious, then I must become more gentle. If I want my children to embrace other children for who they are, to treat other children with the dignity and respect every child of God deserves, then I had better treat other adults the same way. And I better make sure that my children know beyond a shadow of a doubt that in God’s and their father’s and my eyes, they are okay. They are fine. They are loved as they are. Without a single unless. Because the kids who bully are those who are afraid that a secret part of themselves is not okay.

And Alise said this:

So in Matthew 18, Jesus tells us to treat those under church discipline like tax collectors. And he shows us how to treat tax collectors by inviting them to be his disciples, by eating with them, by loving them just the same.
Not to mention that that verses directly following the church discipline verses are about the ones who refuse to forgive. Not the ones who refuse to ask for forgiveness, but those who refuse to GIVE forgiveness.
This will certainly be my challenge today – to extend forgiveness to those who hurt others in the name of the gospel.

It's too easy to blame everyone and feel so enraged at their shortcomings. Even after reading these two compassionate, grace-filled posts, last night I found myself angrily brandishing a spatula of judgement while making dinner. My friend had just told me some of the ridiculous, obtuse, hurtful comments other teachers had made about gay teens being bullied in their school and I had exclaimed (I paraphrase) "Just when I start thinking the world is an okay place and that we are making steps forward I hear this crap!" And I fumed to myself.

This morning, I was fuming some more as I reread Glennon's post, self-righteously thinking, "Close-minded jerks! Homophobic, hateful, terrible people!" (I know, my threats are childish but I'm not big on swearing) And then I was stopped dead in my tracks by her comment- "The problem is ALWAYS me and the solution is ALWAYS me." Where is my love? "This will certainly be my challenge today – to extend forgiveness to those who hurt others in the name of the gospel." I hadn't even dreamed of forgiving these people. I was way too busy calling them bigots.

I'm a generally calm person. I've spent a lot of my life being chided by my best friend for not showing enough emotion. But, oh buddy, say something to hurt my friends and I will go bat-shit crazy with anger. I will literally see red and just lose it. It's really not a good trait and it's extremely hypocritical. I write all these hippy-sounding posts, "hey man, all you need is love. Let's give peace a chance" and then 10 minutes later I am fuming.

So I'm confessing it here. I suck at loving my enemies. I am terrible at forgiving them. But I want to be better. I am going to get better. I really believe what Glennon wrote about needing to set an example for our kids of who we want them to be and I desperately want to be a good mom. I really want to raise my kids to be kind and loving; much better at it than their mom was. I want our family to be about loving people. Loving every person. Valuing every person. Even the ones we don't really think deserve it. Because every life is precious and every human has amazing, incredible, unknowable potential. I always want to be nudging people towards the best they can be.

All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all love, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal... it is immortals who we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit- immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.
- C.S. Lewis

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sometimes Community Can Suck

I wrote this for my own benefit months ago after seeing Dave Bazan in concert and heard him talk about the effect his switch to agnosticism from Christianity has had on his family relationships and friendships. I thought I'd share it here.

Faith can be such an integral part of one’s life that sharing the same beliefs with someone else seals you into a safe and comforting place like no other. When no one else can understand the decisions you make, where you put your time, etc. someone of the same faith can. If you’re really engrossed in your faith’s culture, the bonding becomes even easier. You and your friends are listening to the same music and reading the same books. You’re privy to the same jokes and you speak the same language. Normal bonds are even deeper because they will stretch into eternity.

When I was deeply involved in church I was attending a church related activity five days a week and generally spending time with people from my church the other two. My world was small, but I felt safe in it, extremely so. I knew everyone, they knew me. Discussing personal matters to the point of utterly exposing your heart was common and even easy most of the time because everyone would understand your struggles to be a better Christian. The community I experienced there felt completely safe, completely open, completely right.

From being on the inside of a community like that I can understand why it’s so hard for someone to hear that a member is leaving. Not physically leaving, that would be no problem -spiritually leaving. This is beyond losing a friend, it’s losing a comrade, an eternal family member. I think it’s the weight of the latter that really plagues Christians-  will you now be separated from someone you love forever?

It’s a horrible feeling, I can speak from experience. When my someone I love told me they didn’t know if they believed in God I agonized over the thought that we would be separated for all eternity. It was the chief thought in my mind, that I just had to be certain their salvation was secure. They could ask any questions they liked so long as I knew that when we died, we would end up in the same place. I can only imagine that would be one of the first thoughts to enter many of my friend’s minds were they to know some of the thoughts I’ve been having.

The only solution is to mount an offensive to get your friend back in the fold ASAP. This loss of faith is just a trick of the devil’s; Josh McDowell and Lee Stroble have proved to the entire Christian world that with the right argument you can reason someone back into belief. And thus, the arguing and reasoning begins- facts about the Bible’s accuracy, questions about good and evil and spiritual revelation.

I can appreciate this reaction, I really can. I had that precise reaction myself. But that’s because I didn’t know then what I know now. For every argument, there’s a counter-argument. For every spiritual revelation there’s a possible explanation. We don’t know anything, we can’t. And faith is defined as “belief that is not based on proof” for a reason. If you want to argue, you can, but it will likely not get you anywhere unless the person is seeking to debate. But if they are just seeking to share with you, their friend, what is on their heart and mind, debates will only serve to say, “you are wrong, I’m not listening.” So many times I wanted to cover my ears and say “lalala- I don’t hear you, I don’t hear you” when my friend was confessing their thoughts to me. I wish I hadn’t. All it did was serve to drive a wedge between us, making them unwilling to share their thoughts and feelings on God, religion, morality, etc for years to come.

So here’s my point, something for the Christian world to ponder. Yes, for those of you in the community it is grievous and terrible when a member leaves the fold. But remember, chances are, that person is much more frightened, confused and upset than you are. For many (for me), I don’t know if it’s true for all, this potential loss of their faith, their community, everything that centered their world is devastating. It’s terrifying. It’s nothing they came to lightly. It’s not easy or comfortable. And while they deal with the terror of losing their faith, ahead looms the very real possibility of losing friends and family as well. Maybe they’ll stay around to view them as a new project that needs to be accomplished. Maybe they’ll hold them at arms length. Maybe the polarization of faith will be too much and they will cut them out completely.

I’ve never felt fear like I feel the moments I let slip a belief that no longer adheres to that of the person I’m speaking to. Confessing these beliefs to someone from my old community terrifies me. Which is why I have rarely done it. I carefully avoid topics that I know I can’t lie about. Usually I’m safe. I know how to speak the language and I’ve always been adept at steering around topics I don’t want to discuss. But, at times, I’m backed into a corner and my heart will literally pound with fear. 

Afterward: I don't consider my faith lost. My fellow blogger made the point my brain has been dancing around for a long time- just because our thoughts are changing or growing, it does not mean God has changed. S.S., you are brilliant and I love you. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Jesus is the rock, not our beliefs. GET IT.

Guess what? I DON'T KNOW EVERYTHING. If in the course of these discussions, I find out something that doesn't jive with my childhood beliefs, it won't shake my belief in God. God isn't changing, it's me. It's me who is growing up and learning things I didn't know before. I've been reading my friend Matt's blog and angered at the emails and comments he's been getting about his beliefs not being God's, and in the same breath, claiming their beliefs ARE God's. Love the irony? Is it irony, S.B.? Or is it ignorance? Quote all the Bible verses you can think of, it doesn't mean you are interpreting them correctly. I finally get to see and read an honest account of someone's search, and it's littered with hateful exhorts of that person's belief system being wrong.

I'm tired of people just saying "WRONG". Just listen. Shut your faces and listen. I have much emotion about this - and let me speak calmly about it, I'm tired of it. If I'm responsible for working through my belief system, I'm going TO WORK THROUGH MY BELIEF SYSTEM. And if I come to a conclusion that is different than yours, so be it. Too much of the "argument" surrounding beliefs is that each of us is personally responsible to "teach" others the "way" and to show them how "wrong" they are when they "disagree" with our "beliefs". What? That's a resounding, NO. Guess what? I think as adults we are capable of making, and hell, RESPONSIBLE to decide what's right. If you can come to that conclusion on your own, so be it. Good job. Stop then forcing what you personally believe is right on everyone else.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Doubt and Rage

From what I can tell, from myself and from others, Christians give lip service to being okay with doubts and questions but they really aren’t. Not most of them. I surely wasn't. Doubting God when something terrible has happened to you is okay because you’re grieving. Questioning things in a philosophical way is okay because it doesn’t really impact your day to day Christian club membership. But real, firm, steady, heavy questions and doubts that aren’t a result of trauma and musing aren’t really acceptable. It’s a sign of not having enough faith.

I can’t decide why Christians, myself included, react so violently to people questioning and doubting. My first thought is that it must be fear. Those doubts and fears intrude on their safe world and that scares them. Also, someone they love might not be “saved” and that scares them. At least, those are the things I was afraid of when people I love expressed doubts and anger at God. I kept feeling like saying, “SH! HE’LL HEAR YOU!” I kept thinking, how can I possibly spend eternity without them? And deep inside I wondered again, are they right? After all, why doesn’t God show himself? How is it fair if unchurched people go straight to hell? And those thoughts fill me with fear.

So I get that. And I know that in this situation I have made a real ass of myself a lot of times and probably said some pretty terrible things ranging from asinine to hateful. I make a really strong effort to not do that anymore though it's bound to happen sometime. But, let me encourage you, dear reader, to think twice before you come barreling in to save the soul of a doubting friend. Let them speak. Try to listen. Try not to let your own fear get the best of you.  Remember it is your job to love someone. Then check 1 Cor. 13 and see if any of those descriptions of love include, "tell them they are very wrong and deceived by Satan."

The Fear Post

Sometimes I feel like my entire life is and has always been (I hope will not always be) defined by fear. When I first read Hind's Feet on High Places, I felt a great kinship with Much-Afraid because I easily saw myself in her place. My prayers from that point on were often confessions to God that I was very much afraid and I needed him to deliver me from that fear. The first verse I voluntarily memorized was 1 John 4:18, "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love." I cannot begin to count the nights that I have lain awake, my heart pounding as I thought of death, while I whispered those words over and over, willing them into my heart.

Why am I so afraid?

I want a scapegoat to point at and blame for all my problems. The church for teaching me to fear hell. Teen Mania for teaching me to fear God's wrath and judgement should I fail to fulfill his call on my life. Myself for always fearing death. My father for making me skeptical and always full of doubt. My grandmother for living in a constant state of worry and passing it on.

But I really suspect it's just who I am. Why am I so afraid?

Terrified of being wrong. Terrified of living wrong. Terrified that I'm letting Satan win and deceive me. Wondering if I'm lazy and should be fighting battles I'm not even engaging in. Should I be going to church? Is my salvation in peril if I don't? Should I be trying to get my friends to convert? Ask them if they want to pray the sinner's prayer?

These questions and fears wouldn't have even crossed my mind 10 years ago. I was supremely confident in my place in the world, in my beliefs, in the way I was living my life. I was straight-edge, naive and proud of it. Sure, my life was full of turmoil but it was all boys and tests from the Lord, so I was okay. I knew what I knew. I believed in a truth that I felt perfectly safe in and I had dozens of friends who believed the exact same thing to back me up.

And then the doubt came. And I was so afraid.

I just hid from it. Pushed it aside. Ignored the questions and buried them under as much faith as I could muster. Didn't worry about answers, just set it in God's hands and closed my eyes. Didn't try to understand the "whys"; just put them away. But they kept pushing to the surface and finally I couldn't escape. I could only ignore my heart for so long and even though I know the arguments backward and forwards, my heart was restless.

I'm so afraid.

Am I allowed to just say, "I don't know" and leave it at that? Can I just say that I want to believe in truth and a God that loves us all? Can I just try to work out my faith one step at a time? Maybe I'm wrong but I'm trying to be honest about where I am and I'm not trying to make any grand statements. I just want to live well. Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with my God. Love everyone because God loves everyone and he loves me.

Maybe it's okay to be afraid. Maybe it keeps me humble and on my toes. Prevents me from being apathetic and lazy. Maybe I'm just working out my faith with fear and trembling, like Paul says in Philippians. I do know that right now, I believe I can stand before God and say, I am honestly trying my best. I am doing my best.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Case for Marriage Equality and My Two Minds

I had to link to this post, I Do (Think it Should be Legal) by our friend Matt Rogers because he eloquently says what I have been thinking about marriage equality in regards to Christianity. I especially liked this bit:

If you want to worship the devil, well, I really wish you wouldn’t, but you are free to do so. If you want to burn an American flag, I may think you’re a remarkable ingrate, but you absolutely have the right to burn that flag, and the rest of us should be glad you do because it means we’re also free to express ourselves, to tell you what a dope you are, and then we can all agree to disagree and go have a beer together.

It is possible I liked those particular sentences because for some reason I could hear Matt's voice saying them and that made me smile. Probably my favorite moment is actually this one: 

To Rick Santorum and those of a similar mind, I would simply say that the surest way to make a nation of atheists out of the United States is to continue insisting that people who do not share your faith be forced to live as if they do.

This is a statement I have been trying to make for what feels like a very long time. It is only logical and fair that if one believes in religious freedom, that freedom should apply to all religions. That if one believes in America as "the land of the free" (cue cheering), that everyone should be entitled to equal freedoms.

The crazy part is the other Sara who lives in me (not to be confused with the wonderful other Sara who co-writes this blog with me) is already arguing with me. "Of course we should force people to live like Christians! It's the best way for them to live, they just don't know it. We're helping them by forcing them to live the way God wants them to." 

For years, I've agreed with these thoughts. They were the primary Sara thoughts which is why they still float around in my mind, driving me crazy with internal debates. However, they existed before I realized how many different interpretations of the Bible exist. How many different ideas about "the way God wants us to live" exist. Before I realized that I barely know how to live my life so how and why should I tell someone else how to live theirs? Before I understood what separation of church and state really meant. And, most importantly, before I met people who had been deeply hurt, angered or just disgusted by people like me, who tried to tell them how to live. If the goal is to bring people closer to God and improve their lives, this method was and is failing.

Friday, January 13, 2012

6 years ago....#1

I found all these old journal articles from when I first starting moving away from trying to make church relevant in my life. I’ll post a few for your reading pleasure….I was shocked to remember the things I wrote – it’s one thing to know you thought something, but to see it in print is a little unnerving, as if it’s more real and substantial and must be grappled with. Which I suppose, is true. When you care enough to write it down, it takes on more meaning. It’s the mind’s action.

Here's the first one: ( I mentioned you even back in 2006. We were having these conversations then too, and you didn't know it...or maybe you did :o)

July 9th, 2006

Something is missing and I don’t want to give up hope that one day I’ll figure it out. I have a choice; I can choose not to give up hope.

Because here’s the thing, I went to church today. A different church, partly because I miss community, partly because I think I should and want to belong to a group of Christians, and but I still feel like I’m missing the point. The point is not to attend church in an attempt to “keep my life straight” or to make my life fit some accepted mold of what a Christian is, but the point is to love and be in relationship with Christ. Sara got that – I read it in her last blog – she understands and embraces that despite other peoples’ assumed misgivings or even her own. Because that IS the truth – the truth is Christ, and him crucified. Paul said it.

And I want to see that. I want to know that and rest in that knowledge. I want to rest in who I am, who God made me to be. I read Mark Batterson’s evotional last night, the Neurology of Faith IV, and how God made us each to fit our own niche in HIS world. Not a testament to our own individuality, but a testament to God’s perfect plan for LIFE – all of life, not just our own. And how learning to be me, is really learning how to exhibit God’s creativity, and exhibit God fully. Because no one does a better me than I do.

And today at Bethel United Methodist, where I went, a visiting mother from New York told me I look just like her granddaughter who’s an editor for a newspaper there in New York. And whether it was just being the new visitor there, or feeling like I don’t belong in this county or out here in the country, the odd man out, or entertaining thoughts of being an editor for L.A. magazine or Inform Design magazine, I was really encouraged by the association. That there was this little old lady with a Filipino accent telling me I look like this person with a life completely different from my own, meaning I look like I don’t belong here, but belong elsewhere – I might be taking it out of context based on my own desires, but I was inspired to not give up.

Because I know I’m missing something, and everytime I think I’ve figured it out, it slips just a bit to the right or to the left and I’m back to looking at the clues again and wondering. And I hate being blind, but I also hate a false confidence, or sense of place in this world. I hate being on a false rock of the “Christian” life, one where I listen to the Newsboys, and PAR FM, go to Fishnet, look at my coworkers and classmates as potential conquests and continually try to “fit” God into conversations. It’s arrogance. Arrogance that I’VE figured it all out, and if only you would listen, I could tell you how to have happiness. And I think I’ve always had that opinion, just have squelched it when the time was necessary because I’d always get this heart-skipping fear when it would come time to witness to someone about Jesus, because it’s supposed to be a sale about how great life is, and even if it isn’t, it still is.

Because he isn’t some magical cure-all, or incantation I can chant and summon to get me out of sticky situations; the truth is, life sucks sometimes because we all make stupid decisions that affect the lives around us even when we aren’t trying to or meaning to. WE ruin life – not God. God IS faithful, God HAS and DOES prove himself over and over in my life, he has protected me and guided me with a consistency I only realize a very very small percentage of the time. By saying he’s not a magical cure-all I’m saying that He can’t be controlled, and I would find myself telling people things that would belie that statement. If you do A, then B will happen. And who am I to say what will or won’t happen? We learn to love God out of happiness, then down the road have to learn to re-love Him when something terrible happens.

I remember underlining a passage in my paperback NLT New Testament that I got from LT 2000. It was the opening line to Psalm 23 and the version stated, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need.” That’s what I want to know. Not, the Lord is my shepherd, I attend a great church, have a great creative job and a Christian boyfriend, I have everything I need – but just rest in Christ. There was also another passage in Philippians that I underlined, or at least I think it was Philippians that simply stated “I want Christ”. Wasn’t even a full verse, just that phrase struck me and I knew it as truth.

The times I was content, there was always this sense of a very precarious balance. That if I even breathed too heavy, everything would come crashing down around me. Maybe it was because I knew I was where I was supposed to be, but also realized the frailty of the situation. And that though I was here now, I still couldn’t control it – or know the future, or know what would happen next – there was a knowledge of being with God and knowing God as who He really is – understanding my place with Him in this world. Knowing He gave me the balance, that I didn’t create it, but being able to enjoy it for the time I had it. And knowing HE GIVES joy and peace, but making sure WE know that it’s HIM who gives the joy and peace and not something we can create. The sense of where I belong in conjunction with him. I know I’m repeating myself; I’m just trying to get down in words what I mean in my head.

So the whole point of this Lord is to cry out to you again. I don’t know what I’ll do tomorrow, or even 10 minutes from now, but I know that your faithfulness doesn’t depend on mine. And that I have to trust myself as much as I have to trust you. And that this relationship won’t THRIVE on me coming to you out of guilt, or fear – but as a realization of the truth, of you. You move me, and I want You. You yourself, not people around you, music around you, anything. Just you and me, talking, listening, living in relationship, in community. I want to be ok with you, and I am because YOU declared it to be. And I want to be ok with me. MORE than ok in both actually. I want to be the best me in the best you I can be. That’s it.