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inspired

“They say art should afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. I think the same is true for Scripture.” – Rachel Held Evans

Rachel Held Evans grew up in a conservative Christian church where her passion for God was encouraged. Her questions, however, often were not. But that didn’t mean the questions went away. In Inspired, she engages the Bible, not as the facts-and-figures literal account she was always taught it was nor as the everything-is-relative figurative interpretations popular with many progressives, but as stories, told in a specific context and powerful enough to unlock truth and hope.

“We may wish for answers, but God rarely gives us answers. Instead, God gathers us up into soft, familiar arms and says, ‘Let me tell you a story.'”

This book would be most useful for Christians who want to love God with their whole hearts, souls, and minds, which probably means not having to switch any of them off when reading scripture. The Bible is full of stories of heroism and kindness and love. The Bible is also full of stories of cowardice and greed and hate. And if you’re reading literally, God doesn’t always end up on what one might consider the right side of the stories.

Take the book of Job, for example. When I was young, Job was my least favorite book. The God in Job is a real jerk, especially if you take a strictly literal reading. God allows this man’s life to be destroyed and completely ignores the pain of Job’s wife who lost everything and everyone he did, just so he can prove he’s better than Satan.

But when read not as an actual retelling of what God did but rather through the lens of instruction – and yes, even hope – it can read more like this:

“…it’s not the learned theologians who get the peek at glory, but the man who said, with candor and courage, ‘I desire to argue with God.'”

I didn’t expect to like this book as much as I did. I expected it to sit heavier on me, but the effect was just the opposite. I enjoyed the descriptions of the different types of stories (my favorites being the resistance stories and the wisdom stories), and the organization into these categories made it easy to follow. I also enjoyed snippets like this:

“…from Proverbs 27:14: ‘If anyone loudly blesses their neighbor early in the morning, it will be taken as a curse.’ As we say in the Episcopal Church, this is the Word of the Lord.

Although it took me a while to get started and to finish, the slow reading is more indicative of the challenges of wrestling with Scripture rather than with Inspired itself. I recommend for anyone who would like to refresh their approach to the Bible.

 

I received a copy of Inspired from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for an honest review.

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What I’m always into is the book stack on my bedside table.

This month is the last month Leigh Kramer will be hosting her What I’m Into link-up. I missed the deadline for linking up, but I wanted to take a moment to mention how much I have enjoyed this community of bloggers. Even on the months I didn’t post, I would read through the posts linked there. I love reading about what other people love. This group has multiplied my to-read list, improved my skin care regimen (whoever recommended Acure’s Brilliantly Brightening Day Cream? I am forever indebted.), added to my recipe repertoire, improved my taste in wine, and given me more movie and television recommendations than I could ever finish in three lifetimes. I’m going to miss it, but I’ll still post monthly(ish) updates on what I’m into and, since I follow a lot of the people who were a part of it, perhaps I will link to their posts so you can reap the same benefits I have (albeit on a smaller scale). I’m so grateful to Leigh for hosting for so long!

Right now, I’m getting back into the swing of things as the regular schedule picks back up. Church is busier because all my groups (choir, writer’s group, book club, etc.) are meeting again and also because this year is our 50th anniversary, so we’re planning shenanigans for that. Our service project got rained out last Saturday, but maybe we’ll reschedule on a weekend I’m free.

Speaking of book clubs, I’ve joined yet another one, this time at work. Tomorrow is our first meeting, and we’re discussing Evicted by Matthew Desmond and Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. I have read Housekeeping before but Evicted is newer. I recommend both, and I’m excited to talk about them tomorrow.

August at work is super busy, but it’s slowing down now. We got the residents moved in and are shuffling them around as we find spaces that aren’t booked and are able to accommodate requests and fill in some off our waitlist. We should be pretty full by the end of September.

I hosted my annual Hemingway party (where the food is good yet simple, like his prose, and the party is alcohol-laden, like the author himself) late this year, so the crowd was smaller. We still had a good time. It’s always fun to catch up with people.

This month, I’m looking forward to the Denton Blues Festival (this weekend!) and having a little time off from work.

 

What are you into these days?

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Not Friday Five

My most recent newsletter (click to subscribe) outlines a little bit about my reasons for being quiet around these parts lately. I’m restructuring some priorities, to put it mildly.

It’s no wonder then that the links in my inbox that catch my eye talk about change and restlessness and anxiety (also, that’s just pretty much the nature of my inbox in general, but I digress).

The words that have resonated recently:

  1. What if the work we see to do isn’t a burden but the way we were meant to be in the world? What If by Austin Channing Brown.
  2. Jenny Lawson is one of my favorite people on the planet. This post makes me out-of-my-mind happy. I want this so bad for her (and the rest of us).
  3. Maybe you’re going through (or thinking about initiating) a major life change. Adjustment disorder is not so rare. Consider talking to someone about it.
  4. The only business plan that matters? Keep going – from Over the Rhine.
  5. Wil Gafney’s sermon on Michal is exactly what I needed to hear. Maybe you do, too.

24in48 is coming up next weekend, so I’ll see you again then, if not before. I hope you’ve had a great weekend!

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perfect

I expected to either love or hate this book. I like good satire, but it is an art. It’s hard to land in that sweet spot between utterly unfunny and abrasively condescending. And when the book is billed as being reminiscent of The Onion, my skepticism kicks in. I’ll be the judge of that, book.

So I was surprised when my general response to The Babylon Bee’s How To Be a Perfect Christian was, “Heh. That was kinda funny.” I expected a more extreme reaction.

Throughout the book, the authors give updates on how you are doing on your journey to become the perfect (tongue-firmly-in-cheek) Christian. It was mildly humorous. I get that continuity is the bedrock of good storytelling, but unless you have somewhere new to go with a joke at every turn, it’s really only funny the first time.

There were a few snarky sucker punches that, in the context of their chapters, were well timed. Of course, I lol-ed at this one:

“The church cafe is like an inferior version of Starbucks, which is already an inferior version of real coffee shops.”

And how many of us who have attended a charismatic missions conference have not at least once thought something like this (if you have been to such a conference and swear this never crossed your mind, I direct you to Revelation 21:8):

“Is the backup singer speaking in tongues or is she just improvising absolute gibberish? That’s between her and Jesus.”

My favorite section was the part on deciphering Christianese:

  • “I’m just waiting on the Lord right now,” is code for “I am still living with my parents.”
  • “I really feel like this is God’s will for my life,” means “I’m sick of people pointing out the glaringly obvious flaws in my life plan, so I’ll just slap the handy ‘God’s will’ label on it to silence the wisdom of my critics.”
  • And my personal favorite – “We just invite your presence into this place now, Father God,” as a subtle message to the congregation: “None of you heathens were clapping during that last song. Get it together, people.”

Overall, this was an enjoyable read for someone whose experience in the Christian church has been mostly not terrible. If you know (and more importantly, have been hurt by) too many people who proselytize the works-based righteousness satirized within, I recommend passing this book by. It’s probably too soon for this to be funny to you now (or maybe ever). I also do not recommend it for those who equate praying with talking to an imaginary friend, because (spoiler alert) the wrap-up at the end might be too Christian-y for you.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review from Blogging for Books.

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Day 19 – Sabbath

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Days when both locks stay locked are the best days.

Yesterday, I posted about small things every day you can do to incorporate some balance into your day; today we are going to go back to full days of rest. Earlier this week, I talked about whole rest days, but I focused on physical rest. I believe that psychological and spiritual rest are equally important.

Enter Sabbath.

The idea of Sabbath rest springs from the creation story where God took the proverbial six days to create the earth and all its critters and then took a day off. But Suzanne, you might be saying. I don’t really look to the Bible as an authority. Fair enough. That’s your choice to make. But there are a lot of texts I don’t consider authoritative from which I can still learn something that is practical and helpful to me, and I propose that this might be one of those situations for you, so hear me out.

I like how the story doesn’t say exactly what God did on the day of rest. Just…God rested. Certainly, it includes resting from work. I’d like to think there was an element of enjoyment as well. After all, boredom is not what comes to mind when I think “restful.” In reading around about this concept before writing this post, I discovered people certainly have detailed opinions on what it means to keep the Sabbath.

I tend to fall in the dissatisfying, vague camp of “whatever God (etc.) tells you it means.” That Sabbath would be different for different people makes sense to me. For example, as a pretty intense introvert, rest happens best when I don’t even walk out my door to get the mail. For an extrovert, however, this could be exhausting and hellish. I try to put aside 16-18 hours a week where I can be at home, taking a break from working and striving and checking things off my beloved to-do list and worrying that they aren’t getting checked off fast enough. There’s no set schedule or demands on any time or attention. I am free to do (or not do) anything that makes me happy.

That might sound like a large amount of time, but really, it’s just the waking hours of one day. If I don’t have a whole Saturday to myself, I find myself looking for hours to steal during weeknights. I definitely notice a difference when I don’t find the time. I become more irritable, less productive, and more stressed out. Not only am I more likely to miss meeting goals, I am more likely to not even try to meet them.

I take a Sabbath because I want to live, and getting stuck in survival mode isn’t living.

How do you recharge?

 

I’m spending 31 days running wild.

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In the Firefly universe, the crew of the Serenity was always trying to avoid Reavers, the ones that had an adverse reaction to their environment and lost their damn minds, giving in to hate and every vile impulse that comes with it.

It’s hard to avoid them in this world, though. They have jobs and pay taxes. They’re raising children. They hold rallies at our universities and on our town squares.

Oh…is that harsh? My bad. Full disclosure – if you need me to be gentle about this, you are not going to like what I have to say here.

I have tried. I have been reading the news and scrolling through social media and racking my brain to find a gentle way to say this, but I have come up empty.

Gentleness is just not an appropriate response.

I would find it curious if an outspoken white supremacist enjoyed reading my blog. Maybe we have the same taste in food? But if you are reading this and are a person who attends white supremacist rallies or sympathizes with those who do, then this post is for you. You wanted attention, and for the next few paragraphs, you have mine. Congratulations, I guess.

I know in my head that you are as fully human as I am, but I have a difficulty seeing any trace of humanity in how you think and act. You may have an endearing characteristic, but I cannot see it through the stinking fog of your white supremacist beliefs. This is not a difference of opinion. I will not agree to disagree. White supremacy is evil and detrimental to the world.

I believe in a God who can redeem anyone, but I also believe that God waits for people to turn their hearts in repentance before doing so. I harbor immense cynicism that you have the willingness or maybe even the capacity to repent.

I agree with Nelson Mandela that no one is born hating whole chunks of humanity. I also know from personal experience that viewpoints that are revealed to be false and bad behavioral habits can be unlearned. In order to have those experiences, however, I have to be open to them, and I don’t see that openness in you.

But just in case I am wrong (and I hope that I am), I have a little advice on how to begin.

[One of my limitations in this conversation is that I don’t know how to fix this without Jesus. So if atheist friends or friends of other faiths want to give advice on where to start, please feel welcome to do so in the comments.]

Since it seems that most outspoken white supremacists, particularly in the southern regions of my country, profess the Christian faith, let’s start there.

That you are wrong about this is not up for discussion. You are wrong. Period. Get on your face before the God you serve and repent. Ask God to help you change. Beg God to help you change. Do not let go until God answers you. Do this every day until you no longer hate the people you hate today.

Next, I know you are really good at being angry. Anger is not wrong, but it needs to be pointed in the right direction. Get angry at white supremacy. Get angry at how it invaded your mind and heart and warped your soul. At some point, were you forced to choose between outwardly embracing white supremacy and being disowned by your family? Doesn’t that make you furious? Lean into that fury. Turn your hate toward this mindset that poisoned your life and every relationship you have. When change seems hopeless – and there will come a time when it does – that anger may be the only fuel that keeps any hope of redemption alive.

I and many others have a lot of ideas on where to go from there, but frankly, I would be surprised if you ever bother to get to this point.

So that’s what I have to say to you. Change. Start to do so immediately. You want to be a person who deserves to be heard? Become a person who says and does worthwhile things.

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Creed

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I’m eager for Easter this year.

Usually, I’m better at Lent – better at reflection, better at the grieving that ends Holy Week – than I am at celebration. But I’ve had enough of heaviness this year.

Every week, we recite the Apostle’s Creed, and sometimes the words are hard to say. Not so much the part you’re probably thinking about – the creation, the virgin birth, the resurrection. As a born mystic raised Southern Baptist, I clung to these stories. Sometimes the irrational literality of their interpretation of these mysteries was the only thing that kept me tethered to my otherwise small and rigid faith.

So…

I believe in God, the Father almighty,

creator of heaven and earth.

 I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

born of the virgin Mary,

suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, died, and was buried;

he descended to the dead.

On the third day he rose again;

he ascended into heaven,

he is seated at the right hand of the Father,

and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I have no problem saying these words. I believe in the triune God who seems to delight in making rules about how the world works just to have the fun of breaking them. That’s a God who understands us.

It’s the second part that often gives me fits. It starts off fine…

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

But then…

the holy catholic church*,

This one is hard. I hardly believe in the church at all. That is difficult for me to write. I desperately want to believe that the church could be the church. Maybe I’m looking in the wrong places, but I don’t see the church feeding the poor or caring for the other in big enough, consistent enough ways to make an impact. I include myself in this. We tend to give out of our excess rather than out of our sacrifice. I wonder how the world would change if we switched that up.

the communion of saints,

 I often feel like an outsider in my faith. I have adapted to Lutheranism, but I still feel new after being in the church for years. But hearing the talk of some friends I used to go to church with feels absolutely foreign to me. I find it harder and harder to remember what it was like to be in that headspace.

But there is grace here, too. The Lutherans handle me. I’m usually offended by things like that. I’m not fragile (she exclaims in a feral manner)! I won’t break (she whimpers)! But honestly? I’m glad for their gentleness. I’m relieved. I’m still skittish – way more than I would have been able to admit eight years ago when everything fell apart. They meet me there.

And there is grace in the moments when I voice my feelings of otherness, and a friend, visibly relieved, exhales, “Oh…me, too. I thought it was just me.”

the forgiveness of sins,

We are much more apt to look for fault and boast of our deal-breakers. I’m certainly guilty of unforgiveness, and there are cases where I haven’t forgiven myself and don’t necessarily think I deserve it. There are instances where I long to be forgiven, but if I were in their shoes, would I want to forgive me? I’m not sure I would. And yet forgiveness is central – essential – to this faith.

This is not to say that one shouldn’t have deal-breakers. It is important to know what you will not abide in relationships with others.

Nor am I saying we should rush into forgiveness under the guise of holiness. It is unhealthy to project a false peace just so I don’t have to deal with my anger and hurt. It is also useless, because Jesus can see my soul and is not fooled by my cowardly emotional shenanigans.  I suspect that a lot of what I interpret as God’s silence is Jesus sitting beside me – calm, patient, somewhat amused – as I plug my ears and hum, trying to pretend I’m not exactly where I am.

the resurrection of the body,

 The week before Palm Sunday is usually my favorite in Lent. We get the stories of Lazarus and Ezekiel and the dry bones, and hearing them is like being thrown into the rapids of a river. Those are the stories that force me to choose between sink or swim. It’s invigorating. And terrifying. And incredibly wild.

and the life everlasting. Amen.

 This part gives me pause. Everyone told me that my 40s would be better than my 30s. In a few ways, they were right. But mostly, I just feel like I’m running out of time. Like…is this it? Is this abundant life? I mean, mine is a nice, little life. I have only a few major complaints. But is nice enough to make the thought of everlasting appealing at all? If not…then what? What exactly are we asking for here?

 

In true Holy Week fashion, I have more questions than answers. What keeps me saying these words week after week is that I’m becoming more okay with that.

 

Marvia Davidson is hosting a series on Holy Week reflections, and I’m linking up. Join us?

 

*little “c” catholic, meaning the universal church

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