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.

Tradition. The only measure of quality, apparently.

Yesterday at work I had a conversation with a co-worker who is finding herself dissatisfied with her church. The church has a pastor she doesn’t agree with, and who makes decisions she wouldn’t, and she doesn’t respect those decisions. But she hasn’t stopped going. She has decided not to go consistently, but there wasn’t, in the course of our 10 minute conversation, an acknowledgement that she had made the decision to separate from the church. The justification for staying with it was that she had been going for most of her life. I don’t understand the reasoning that something must be good only because it has continued for X number of years. Solely because of the number of years. There’s nothing in that statement that speaks to the quality of the time, it only acknowledges the quantity. If a mechanic is around for 15 years, it doesn’t mean I will take my car there. I will still base my decision for using that mechanic on the quality of work the shop provides.

After listing the multiple reasons why she doesn’t trust this pastor, I simply said, “Do you realize how many red flags you’ve thrown out?” I wanted her to know that she could say No to something she feels is wrong. If there’s ever anything I want people to embrace, it is for them to have confidence in themselves and decisions they make. Not blind decisions, or uninformed decisions, but decisions based on evidence and research. Educated decisions. If you feel something is off or wrong, TRUST the instinct. There is safety in numbers, you feel better when someone listens to what you have to say and agrees. I know, I’m constantly guilty of being absurdly relieved when someone says, “You’re not crazy, that’s a valid point”, and then I’m all confident and swaggery and say, I KNOW!

And it’s not against church. I don’t want her to stop going to church, I want her to find a place where she does trust the pastor, trusts the people in it, have inspirational services and conversations that help her grow in life. What I think is hard for people to balance is, there are villians in the church too. There are people who prove themselves untrustworthy by their words and actions. Dishonesty is, frustratingly, under rated.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Confessions of a Conformist

It's so easy to just agree with things. Thinking for yourself is.... exhausting. It's so much easier to be carried along by group mentality. It's so comforting to have a posse of people who agree with you and tell you what you think is good and right. I love to be a follower. I love to just agree and not think about all of the ramifications. Sometimes I really miss my old life where I was safely ensconced in a group of people that believed everything that I believed and therefore, I knew we were right. This is basic evolution. There is safety in numbers and my brain knows it. Which is why my brain screams panic and red alert all the time when I push away from the safety of my herd.

This time last year I was starting to really move out of the boundaries of our circle of Christian friends. I became vague and distant, holding them at arm's length. As my frustration grew, my rejection of all the beliefs I grew up with become vehement and angry. I didn't even want to call myself a Christian anymore, and not in the trendy, "I'm a follower of Christ" or hip, "I'm a friend of Jesus" kind of way. In the angry "I don't even believe this religion anymore!" kind of way. And then I calmed down and Christmas came and I realized I didn't want to give up all of my beliefs and I started to drift towards just a quiet disgust with religion. And then I read this thought provoking post by Zack Hunt “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus” – The False Dichotomy and I thought to myself, "Sara, you are a major conformist. Way to jump on the bandwagon of blame." Because I had seen that video he talks about before and thought, "Yeah! stupid religion, you ruin everything." Which is just not true.

This is why I sometimes feel scared that I will never arrive at a place of calm or peace in my spiritual life. I don't trust myself, I don't trust religious leaders. I am suspicious, cranky and always looking for signs that I am being emotionally manipulated. I am skeptical and angry, yet I still cry when I read about Mother Teresa or imagine the beauty of true grace.

If you've read any of my other posts you won't be surprised to hear there is only one thing I really believe in right now, and that is love. Call me a hippy, a simpleton, naive or foolish but love, charity, and compassion are the only things that are never wrong. Love is never wrong. Love is always good. There is never too much of it. Everyone needs more. It can and does change the world. And if I believe the Bible at all, and I believe that Jesus did say that the greatest of commands was to love the Lord and love your neighbor, that is something I can get behind. That's something I don't need or want to give up. Because all of the things about the church or Christians or Christianity or whatever that I hate are not the result of love. Being bigots, rejecting  homosexuals and making them second class citizens, judgement and fear are not part of love. We all screw up and I'm guilty of all the things I just listed, but, beloved, let us love one another.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Christmas Time (a bit late)

As usual my husband and I went to our parent's for Christmas. My husband's father is a pastor so every year we attend the Christmas Eve candlelight service and, in spite of the somewhat cranky, skepticism and doubts I have expressed on here, I always enjoy the service. Somehow, everyone holding their candles while we sing "Silent Night" feels holy and peaceful to me. My soul always basks in that moment and I leave feeling soothed.

This year as we sang my favorite Christmas hymn, O Holy Night, I was struck by the lesser-sung line "and in His name all oppression shall cease." As I sang those well-loved words I suddenly had a flood of all of the stories and images of Christians oppressing Muslims, homosexuals and any number of other "sinners" that I have read and seen over the last year. I remembered the hateful vitriol I read posted by many Christians in response to same-sex marriage being legalized in New York and the video I had seen of a gay man crying when a Christian man asked for forgiveness for any hatred the church and other Christians had shown toward him. All of these things and more ran through my mind and I found myself repeating those words again and again in my mind, wondering if it was hope, prayer, a wish or all of the above. That all oppression done in His name would cease. That Christians would cease to be known or thought of as oppressors and instead would be known for emancipation.

When I came home I looked up O Holy Night and came across a literal translation of the French version on Wikipedia (so the accuracy could be suspect) that sent that message home even further. Instead of "in His name all oppression will cease," the original French version said "love unites those that iron had chained." (L'amour unit ceux qu'enchaĆ®nait le fer.)  I read that and the flower child in me smiled.