Releasing Presuppositions

There have been times in my life when I’ve done a better job of releasing stereotypes and presuppositions. One such time was when I first began with RISE and started to understand the importance of story. I realized that each person has a unique, tragic, wonderful story and that we all are part of God’s grand story. During that period in life I could walk down the street and see someone and my first thought was always, “What’s that person’s story?”

Since that time I’ve become a bit more cynical and busy and self-focused and have l greatly lost that skill. Thankfully, I believe this experience in Denver has helped to reshape me toward a stance of wonder, grace and embrace. I’ve encountered so many people here who challenge the status quo and look really different from what most people consider “normal.”

I’ve had the opportunity to hear a lot of stories and thus wonder about the stories of those who receive lunches, those who show up to the bar, those who walk through town in their suits and those who won’t ever look me in the eye.

I believe I can reduce the presuppositions and incorrect/negative attitudes I have toward others by attempting to remember their divine imprints, their God-breathed goodness. I need to remind myself that the person I see has hopes and dreams and short-comings and an intricate story that has caused her/him to be right here, right now.

I don’t need to find commonality with each person right from the beginning, but I must realize our common humanity and common God-ness and common need to be heard, loved, and respected. With such a stance, I believe I can release presuppositions and stereotypes and be better prepared to listen and love and care.

Lessons from the Inappropriate Homeless

While in Denver I’m doing some writing for my cross-cultural experiences course. I plan to post some of my ideas here as well. Here is a response to a question about interpersonal differences..

I’m finding these questions difficult as I attempt to compare my culture and the culture I’m visiting. I keep wanting to ask… which culture that I’m visiting? The people in Denver or the homeless or the church or those I see in the park each day who battle mental illness?

Today, some folks from the General Board of Discipleship (fancy Methodists) came to visit in the park. I’ve learned about the term, church tourism. That’s pretty much why they came. So we had a line of about 75 homeless friends who wanted lunch and a line of about 40 fancy Methodists handing stuff out. We had to go out and get extra stuff so all of the people could participate.

I had many cross-cultural experiences in that short time at the park today. Some of them were with powerful church people, and some of them were with people who don’t have a permanent residence. The conversation I liked the best was with a young woman who is serving on the GBOD board and going to college in Boston. She’s interested in mission and thinks outside of the box. Since her and I are similarly educated and have similar interests and views, our conversation was easy and fun. We both engaged equally.

Otherwise, I found that I was more comfortable with the homeless than with the older, powerful folks from GBOD. I’ve had many conversations with my new homeless friends, and they’ve gone in many directions. I’ve been told entire life stories without being able to get a word in myself and I’ve also received one word answers to my questions. I’ve also been told some pretty strange shit. Many of these friends have what we would consider “poor conversational skills.” However, I appreciate all of these conversations because they hold no judgement and aren’t laced with specific expectations. I tell them I’ve from Virginia and I’m hanging out with them for several weeks and they thank me for being there.

When I said the same things to the church folks I got questions like, “Why only for three weeks?” and “What do you do in Virginia?” and “Where are you going to church while you’re here?” Perhaps appropriate interpersonal dialogue isn’t really appropriate at all.

I’m trying to behave less like the church people and more like my inappropriate homeless friends.

A Note from Denver

Greetings from Denver! I’m a week into my internship with AfterHours and want to give an update on what I’ve been up to.

However, I want to first remind everyone in good ol’ Virginia that the house church is still going strong while I am away. This upcoming Sunday they will be taking a group hike and having dinner, communion and good times in the great outdoors! Meet at the house at 5:30. I’m sad to miss this because it’s sure to be a great time. You should go and tell me all about it! On Aug 11th and 18th they will continue the stories series, sharing personal stories and learning about how our stories are inter-connected with God’s story. And don’t forget EMBARK the Park on Saturday, August 24th! 


So…. Denver. It’s been an incredible experience thus far. I’ve been downtown in the park everyday handing out lunches, I attended my first AfterHours gathering at the Irish Snug, and I’ve had the opportunity to check out several other churches and organizations. In between these adventures I’ve had time to explore the city and bit of the mountains as well.

Here are a few experience that have struck me and made me ponder…

My first day at the park I was excited and a little unsure of what to expect. I travelled there with AJ, the previous intern, and we got there a bit early. A line had already formed for the lunches and I was able to chat with a few people. I met Tyrone, who used to be homeless and now comes to the park to help out. He told me all about his poetry and how much of a blessing it is to have interns like me helping people who are hungry. Tyrone gave me an incredible first interaction at the park.

That same day I met a woman named Mary Jane who drives over 45 minutes to bring lunches that she makes herself. She heard about AfterHours and really wanted to help out, so she started showing up once a week with a bunch of stuff. She is completely awesome and the moment I loved best was when she started talking to a man named Hill-Billy. She told him her name and he replied with a laugh, “Your name is Mary Jane! I smoke Mary Jane!” He thought it was hilarious, and obviously, I thought it was too. It was a beautiful, awkward moment where two of God’s children connected in an authentic way. That’s the stuff God’s dream is made of.

One afternoon after serving lunch, I was walking down the 16th street mall, which is a fairly popular destination and nice part of town. A man in a wheelchair asked if I had any money. And, I lied. I said that I didn’t have anything for him. Every day that I’ve been here I’ve been asked for money. Sometimes I give a dollar or 25 cents, but that time, I straight-up lied. And it’s been eating at me because I so often don’t know what to do or how to respond. There are so many “Please help” signs and so many stories about losing jobs and feeding children and needing bus fare or medical treatment. And I don’t know what to do. Perhaps I should just stay in that space and listen.

Serving communion to a line of 50-75 homeless people is an incredible, rewarding, holy, slightly terrifying experience. The first day I served I had a man refuse communion and tell me that he himself was communion. After that, a very loud, boisterous, and theatrical man came up to the (folding) table, kneeled, grasped the table, and started shouting about the messiah. We picked up the cup so he wouldn’t spill it. Then, he opened his mouth wide. Yes, I will a little confused and a little hesitant. But I placed the bread on his tongue and reminded him how much God loves him.

One of my first adventures in Denver was to the Inner City Parish, which is an organization that focuses on eradicating hunger and supplying an education for those who need it. I went to a worship service there. It was in an interesting neighborhood that seems to be moving toward gentrification. That’s happening a lot here in Denver. And while I love cute coffee shops, trendy bars and upscale apartments, the poor are being pushed out or crammed together. But back to the Parish. The service was awesome. I loved it because it contained a traditional liturgical design, welcoming and grace-filled theology, Spanish songs of peace, communal sharing of joys and struggles, a laid back worship space and, best of all, banana splits! The people there had lots to mourn and lots to celebrate, but it was obvious that they enjoy being a part of a community that loves them.

I’ve had many other adventures and witnessed a lot of heartache, celebration, courage and hope. Most of all, I think I’m learning that sometimes, less is more. Perhaps God’s dream doesn’t require more meetings, or steering committees, or buildings, or well-designed plans, or even people talking about God. Perhaps it’s about showing up with a smile and a sandwich and saying, “Hey, I’m glad you’re here.”

Strength to Love

Today I find myself wondering if Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. ever desired a simpler, more naive, Christianity. I wonder if he ever daydreamed of a life on the sidelines, one where he could safely wish for progress and attempt to pray away the evils of the world. I wonder what the Civil Rights movement would have looked like if King focused on heavenly, personal salvation instead of practically loving his enemies and risking his life to give a voice to the voiceless. What would our world look if King had preached justice, but stayed snug inside of his church, simply inviting others to come inside of those walls and be cured of all worldly evils?

How hard did King have to suppress the urge to fight fire with fire? Did he ever come close to abandoning his views of peacefulness and love in the face of such sickening hate and violence? I wonder if he ever dreamt of cold, mean retaliation.

How did he refuse the seductive pull of a Christianity that encouraged secure, clean, exclusive piety over dangerous, dirty, inclusive justice? How did he look into the very face of fear and hatred and say, “We will not be kicked down forever but we also will not kick you as we rise. We will stand, and we will love you”?

What did he really want to say to all of those Christians who claimed that people with black skin were created with the animals, and did not come from Adam and Eve as white people had? Did he want to scream at those who insisted that God is white? What about those Christians who desired to save the souls of black people as long as they stayed in separate schools, restaurants and social structures? Did King ever desire to punch those religious people square in the mouth? Or perhaps he felt the urge to just give up in the face of such ridiculous, fear-filled, destructive beliefs.

I stand in awe of this man, who, after being thrown in prison, after watching his sisters and brothers being dragged through the mud and set on fire, after being called sub-human, and after being denied the basic respect deserved by every human being, still possessed the courage, the strength, the compassion and the faith to stand up and demand respect in the most loving, respectful, grace-filled way imaginable.

I don’t think I can do that. In response to the fear-mongers that often dominate mainstream Christianity, I want to fist-fight, I want to scream obscenities, I want to make immature comments on Facebook and I most certainly DO NOT want to accept these people as children of God. I want to prove my superior theology with witty comments and I want to belittle them with statements of shame. I want to fight fire with fire. Or, when I’m feeling tired and hopeless and powerless, I want to give up. I want to forget about the millions of my sisters and brothers who are driven into the ground by systems that are perpetuated by power, greed and status. Systems that are political and very often religious. I want to take the easy road, I want to conform, I want to say “God bless this system that rewards me for being born into Protestant white America!” I want to pray for my own salvation, be as moral as possible, and spend my days resting in the lovely assurance of eternity. I want to chase my own vocational dreams of accumulation, success and stability, giving a little money and one Saturday every three months to my charity of choice. Perhaps if I put on a shiny cloak of piety and convince others to do the same, the world will become a better place.

I want to fight with malicious intent, or give in to a conformity that I know is easy, but is opposite to the truth spelled out by Jesus. Did Reverend King stand in this same place, seduced by two opposite yet well-travelled roads? Did he waver, or cry, or shout to God with the heaviest of laments?

Whatever the case, he got it right. He managed tough-mindedness with soft-heartedness. He was a transformed non-conformist. He succeeded in displaying a Christianity founded in love, while the country around him displayed one founded in fear. He held on to the hope that creation would be mended, and he set his life in action, following that vision.

It is my prayer, my hope, my dream, that I, too, can possess the strength to love.

Let us love.

I’m at a loss for words. Okay, not really. But I’m struggling to find cohesive, grace-filled words. Today, at the United Methodist General Conference, delegates voted to keep discriminatory language within the book of discipline. They voted to keep members of the LGBT community on the margins of the church. They wouldn’t even pass a petition that stated members of the church disagree on the topic of sexuality. To make matters worse, I’ve heard story after story about ungodly behavior: behind-doors negotiating, manipulation of third-world delegates, offensive language, and an exercise of fear-filled power that would cause Jesus to flip over tables during plenary.

How have we gotten here? How has the Jesus story of an upside-down honor system and a radical love for the “other” turned into a hierarchical system that clings to power and control and an exclusive claim on God? Well there’s a long story for that, and it’s called the Christian tradition. It’s a continuing tradition of imperialism, scapegoating, dehumanizing entire populations and harnessing God and the Bible for nationalistic, accumulation-driven fervor.

Sounds pretty hopeless right? But the amazing thing is, even though humans have turned the church into a power scheme that can rival any dictatorship, God still moves. God is still here, and God is manifested to us in many incredible ways. In the midst of fear and anxiety and the train-wreck that we call church, people of God’s love and immense grace are holding tight to the promise of a restored Creation. It’s amazing to me that so many people who have been cast aside by the church still find the courage to stand up and say, “We beg to differ.” That’s God courage.

So we seem to have two opposing sides here that are claiming the will of God. One says, “I know exactly what God wants. I’m doing it right and you’re doing it wrong. Repent, so that you can be welcomed into the society of God.” The other side says, “I don’t own God. All I know is that God is love and Jesus came to turn this world on its head. I’m called to love with reckless abandon and give up my life of accumulation and power and control in order to serve the lowliest of low. You are a beautiful child of God, no matter what.” I don’t know about you, but I believe in the God of love and hope and full inclusion. I believe in the God who created all of us with a divine spark of imagination. I believe in the God who inspired Scripture and still inspires each of us on a daily basis.

I find it almost comical that we keep repeating the same cycle. In a typical hypergroupism model, we become scared of our own illegitimacy, annihilation and demise and pin our fear on the “other.” We find a group who we believe to be less human and less divine and we use them as a scapegoat. Our own insecurities lead us to attack the “other” in order to survive. We’ve done it over and over: to the American Indians, the African Americans, women and now the LGBT community. Eventually, we realize we’re wrong and reverse our sentiments, but not until we’ve wounded entire populations. When will we stop the cycle? Instead of changing our ideas about a particular group every few decades, we need to change our being.

We need to follow Jesus. We need to give up our lives of power and progress and live in real community where people love each other so much it hurts. Following Jesus is much, much harder than following rules and putting on a nice, shiny mask. Following Jesus involves getting dirty, it involves losing popularity contests and losing face. Living into God’s dream requires recognizing our common humanity, the God-given humanity that is inside each of us. It requires letting go of control and the need for absolute truth. A restored Creation requires admitting that we might not be right and we don’t have all the answers. God’s dream involves us focusing on our work as creatures; planting seeds of hope and love and staring fear straight in the face and saying we have a different view, a different hope.

So let us love. Let us stand in the midst of oppression and injustice and love our little hearts out. Let us continue to follow Jesus, turning the world and its evil systems on their head. Let us beg to differ. Let us stand with the saints who’ve come before us and proclaim God’s beautiful Gospel of resurrection and a love that never, ever quits. Let us love.

a Holy Week confession

It’s Holy Week, so it may be the perfect time for a holy confession:  I’m not sure if I believe the Jesus story in its entirety. And by that I mean I’m not sure I believe in its historical accuracy. If it’s not historically accurate, can it still be true?

You may be wondering, how can this be? How can a person deeply engage in seminary studies and yet call to question the basic understandings of the Christian faith? Well, as I’ve learned a great deal about the Christian tradition, about how the church began and how and why our scriptures were written and collected, I’ve found that I cannot logically believe in the factual faith I’ve held so close. I cannot hold Biblical stories as historical fact. But, is that what they were intended to be? 

I’m not exactly sure what Jesus said. Our gospels are a collection of short oral narratives that were pieced together by amazing story tellers at least 40 years after Jesus died. I’m not exactly sure what Jesus did. Nor do I know exactly what happened as Jesus was murdered. We have different accounts of resurrection in each gospel, so I’m unsure of when Jesus appeared and to whom he appeared and how he appeared. I don’t know the details. I can’t be sure of what really happened.

How can I believe in this Christian tradition if I can’t be positively sure that the stories are true?

I must consider what it is that I do know. I know the Jesus narrative, which fits perfectly into God’s meta-narrative. And what does this Jesus story tell me?

First, let me suggest that the general concept of Christianity has become something drastically divergent from the original narrative. It was with great sorrow and anger that I discovered how we’ve turned the Jesus movement into a hierarchy of personal salvation and unwarranted claims toward a societal construction of heaven and hell. We’ve built an institution upon solid facts, upon black and white, upon right and wrong. We’ve taken a truncated, skewed version of the narrative and built for ourselves a dynasty of religious power.

How’d we end up here? Is this what God revealed through scripture? Were we instructed to claim absolute knowledge and grasp it so tightly that we cast out those who may think or act or look a bit different than us? Is the story of Jesus one of a ruler who takes control, subdues the masses, and creates exclusive communities for those who can put on the best mask and act the most holy? Did God share this story with us so that we could meet for an hour each week, sing some songs, give some money and then go home and continue to climb the ladder in a society that promotes consumerism, sexism, racism and an all-out battle to be the best and most accomplished, no matter the cost? Were we given the scriptures so we could say a special prayer, put on the Christian costume and be carried away to a place with golden streets instead of burning forever in a pit of fiery damnation?

That is not the message of the Jesus story.  No matter what our current religious context may tell us, the narrative wasn’t (and still isn’t) about accumulating power or leading an easy Christian life or being 100% right or being holier than others or being successful or going to a place called heaven.

The story is about a God who desperately loved creation and was therefore willing to come among us, to set things right. The story is about this God who, in human form, was poor and dirty and homeless. The narrative tells us that the religious system wanted a king; a brilliant, powerful king who could rally the kingdom and control the entire world. But God wasn’t about bells and whistles and institutions. Our scriptures tell the story of a Jesus who questioned religious and political authority, who told people to give away their possessions, who told people they would find life (everlasting life!) by serving others. The narrative describes a new age, where exclusive religious clubs no longer exist and all person are free to worship and live and love.

But the story doesn’t end there. You see, the authorities hated this radical Jesus who made claims against the religious and political norms of power and accumulation. Perhaps we need to hear this story because God knows that if we are to live in to this narrative, we also will be hated by the religious and political powers. So the story that continues is one of amazing freedom. This Jesus, this God among us, lived out our story. We are told that Jesus was betrayed, so that we no longer have to hold the many times we’ve been betrayed. We are told that he put up no fight, that the leaders murdered him for his radical ideas of an upside down creation where love and service trump accumulation and control. The story tells us that Jesus (God) assumed this journey so that we have the freedom to release the betrayal and sorrow and inadequacy and fully live into the radical dream of God.

So God’s narrative is all-encompassing. It shows us a new way to live, a way that is backward and upside-down from what the world (and often times the religious institution) tells us is right. The story also explains why and how we have the freedom to do this. We have that ability because God removes from us the things which prohibit us, and puts holy passion and love and courage in their place. The narrative culminates with the promise that God is still moving. Even though Jesus took our grief and failures to the cross, he was not contained there. The resurrection story lets us know that God has the capability to take on our hopelessness and continue to love us. God continues to live and comes to each and every one of us.

Wow. What a completely transformative and life-giving story. What a brilliant way for God to share more about who God is and reveal God’s hope and dream for all of creation.

Do I know the details? No. Can I claim to know exactly what happened or the exact specifics for following Jesus and living into God’s dream? Absolutely not. We weren’t given a set of directions, we were given a story. And the amazing thing about that is that we get to enter into the story ourselves. I can’t enter into a set of directions or a rule book, but God’s story continues, with me and you and all of humanity.

So what do I know, what do I believe? I know that I desperately desire to cling to the Jesus story with my whole life. I need to cling to it, I must.

A Liberation Narrative

So often, we think of the Old Testament as dead words. Especially the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Old Testament), with its laws and codes and genealogies. I remember trying to read parts of Leviticus or Numbers for the first time. I remember being baffled and bored and thinking that those books must not be very important. I had no intent of reading them…. ever.

As Christians we often believe that the Old Testament doesn’t matter so much. We have our New Testament with Jesus and our God of grace and love so we don’t need those texts about wrath and covenant and ancient ideas that don’t make much sense. We are prone to think that our New Testament isn’t very congruent with those prophets of the past and we like to state that Jesus changed everything so those older texts don’t matter.

But what if the Old Testament is our story? Is God’s story? And what if Jesus is the story, too? Hold on to that thought, and we’ll get back around to it.

As you know, the Bible is big. There’s a whole lot of words in there. And, honestly, we have the opportunity to use those words however we want. Some use scripture to comfort, some use it to condemn, some look for practical living advice, or political ideas. Some people take parts of the Bible to form intricate philosophies, create arguments or to inspire entire communities of people. We usually look for moral guidance, spiritual uplift and sometimes even intellectual challenge. No matter your stance on a certain issue, no matter your argument, you can find some sort of supportive evidence in the Bible. You want support for slavery? You can find that in the bible. You want support that slavery is wrong? That’s in there too. Want to claim that women shouldn’t preach? You could find evidence for that. Want proof that women should preach? You can find that too. The Bible is THAT big, that diverse.

We have the capability of taking individual books, chapters and verses and injecting any meaning that we choose. We have that option, and unfortunately, it’s how that majority of us view and use the Bible. But what if that’s not the purpose of the Bible at all? What if it’s not just about facts and pretty language and a definitive view of God and life? What if it’s not just about answers? What if we looked at the Bible as it was written? In its entirety, as a comprehensive story, an overall narrative? I like how one Biblical scholar, Eugene Peterson, says “The Bible is basically and overall a narrative — an immense, sprawling, capacious narrative.”

We’ve learned, through our schooling and our society, that stories are for children and campfires. We don’t view stories as legitimate. We’ve been taught to soak our brains with information so that we can gain the most knowledge and accomplish the most tasks. We want concrete answers. We want the simplest, easiest route to achieve our goals. We just want the information that will help us succeed and prosper.

But this doesn’t make much sense for us, this way of functioning. Because we don’t live out our lives through information. We, all of us in some way or another, live out our lives in relationship. And stories, stories invite us in. They invite us into the relationship. They invite us to be a part of it. This is why the Bible was written. Not just for facts or doctrine or inspiration, but as an invitation for us to live into this story, to become a part of God’s master narrative of love and grace and liberation.

If we only use the Bible for fragments of insight or to point fingers at those who have different beliefs, we lose sight of this huge, expansive, all-encompassing story of God. We must view the whole narrative. Not only to learn about God but to learn how to live into God’s story, God’s kingdom, God’s dream. The Bible is an invitation to live into God’s reality with every ounce of our being.

Today, I want us to examine one recurring theme in God’s story: the narrative of freedom. From the very beginning of Genesis, to the very end of Revelation, we can witness God’s ultimate promise of liberation.

So, if the entire Bible speaks of us being free, What exactly does that mean? Keep that question in your mind. What does it mean to be free?

Our scripture today is from Exodus 20, verses one and two. It says: Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

The rest of this chapter of Exodus lists the 10 commandments, and people don’t pay too much attention to these first couple of sentences. But they are so important! I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

Now to set a little background for us, the Hebrew people, the descendants of Abraham, the people who God chose to set an example for the world, were enslaved in Egypt for hundreds of years. In a captivating, triumphant story, God pulls them out of Egypt, away from oppression, out of slavery. God liberates them.

The entire Old Testament feeds out of this story, this narrative of God’s promise of awesome freedom. A people of faith were formed around this idea that God delivers. The Exodus story was powerful and meaningful in the time it was written. It made a lot of sense in that ancient context. It’s a bit more tricky for us to connect with slavery in Egypt. That doesn’t really resonate with me. But, luckily for us, God’s story didn’t and doesn’t stop there.

We find enslaved people all through out the Bible. Sometimes though, their slavery isn’t quite as obvious. Perhaps we can relate with them a little more.

In the Old Testament we have King David, who was a slave to his own deceit and shame. He had an affair with a woman and then killed her husband. His shame gripped him tightly. In the New Testament the apostle Paul was a slave to his own hatred and pride. He eventually became one of the most well known followers of Jesus, but spent many years before that killing Christians. He was held captive by his fear. Over and over in the Bible we read stories of people who are bound, tied up by their own inadequacies and short-comings. Their stories are our stories. These narratives invite us in.

What enslaves you? I know for me, I am often bound by a desire to be appreciated, the need to be the best. I’m enslaved by jealousy, selfishness, daily stresses, failures, heart breaks. These things hold me captive. They keep me from fully living in to my potential, to God’s plan for me. I’m going to guess that I’m not alone in this. What enslaves you?

Now, if God delivers the Hebrew people, and King David, and Paul and promises to liberate us from that which holds us captive, what does that mean? What does it mean in my life? In your life?

Remember earlier when I said the Old Testament is God’s story and Jesus is also God’s story?  Well, the God who liberated those Hebrew people, that same God showed up in human suit, with skin on. Pretty cool, right? Jesus didn’t change the overall narrative, Jesus was and is the narrative. We find our freedom in Christ. That was a big statement. We find our freedom in Christ. Now stick with me as I attempt to pull these things together.

In the Book of Luke, chapter 4: Jesus is speaking in a synagogue. And he reads a scroll written by the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. So Jesus reads Isaiah’s words:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Jesus is pretty much saying, here I am! You know, me, God. I came to be with you. I became human, so that you can forever be connected to me. I put skin on, to bridge the gap between me and my creation. So that you can receive MY freedom. So the captives can be set free.

Jesus forever filled the divide between us and God. Between us and God’s promise of freedom.

Often, we think of freedom as individual autonomy, meaning we get to choose what we want, live how we want. We get the good stuff. We picture freedom as choice. But that’s not the freedom that God is talking about. That’s not the freedom we most deeply crave.

Through out scripture, God’s liberation is shown to us over and over again, and then this freedom shows up in human form. The grace and love that we are promised and that Jesus displays over and over again, this grace and love begin to remove the things which bind us, allowing us to become all that we were created to be. Restoring creation. Jesus shows us ,through patience, service and radical love, how to usher God’s freedom into all of creation.

Liberation means mended creation. To be free, is to have the ability to be made whole. To be mended. I’m going to say that again because I think it’s important. To be free, is to have the ability to be made whole. To be mended. And the more we are willing to live like Jesus, and to let this love and grace of God seep into our very core, the more free we can become.

God so desperately wanted to share this freedom, God became a human. God so badly wants us, right here, right now, to be a part of it. To live into God’s dream of what creation should be. We get to play a part in the master narrative. That blows my mind. Like, really God? You want me to be a part of this? Have you met me?

So, we’ve been given this freedom. Which is a pretty sweet gift. Now what do we do with it? What do we do with the ability to be made whole? The ability to help restore creation? What does that look like? For me? For you? What does liberation look like from day to day?

Our buddy Paul had some pretty great words on this in the book of Galatians, chapter five.

He says: For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self–indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Friends, we so often take our freedom for granted or we use it to enslave others. Others we don’t agree with, others who have less power or money than us, others who live different lifestyles than us. We create lots of “others.” We, and that means me too, we act life God’s freedom is just for us. That we, somehow, own it. We try to take control of it.

But Paul tells us something different. He binds together liberation and love. He points us to a messiah, who had complete freedom, complete wholeness and yet chose to become a slave to others. Jesus was a slave, not to his own short-comings and inadequacies, but through love, he became a salve to others. To every single person he met.

So, yes friends, we are liberated. We have the ability to be made whole. An ability to step inside of God’s humongous, ever-lasting narrative. So let us, in love, share our freedom with others. And not just the others who we deem acceptable. Let us be bonded to God, every single one of God’s beloved, and every ounce of God’s creation. God wants to write us in to this incredible story of freedom, life and restoration.

Is pain beauty?

I don’t believe that pain, in itself, is beauty. I do, however, believe that there are beautiful aspects of pain and that pain can sometimes lead to beauty.

I’m interested in the thoughts and ideas of those in the early church who took great joy in being persecuted and martyred. It seems (although not universally) that they found much beauty in their suffering. This begs me to ask, does God want us to suffer? My answer would be no.

I am assuming they believed that their suffering and pain led them to better understand the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Pain also forces us to rely more on God for mercy and salvation.

I have been thinking a lot about asceticism, which is intense self-denial. Many believers in the early church practiced this, in hopes of becoming more holy and connecting with God. I think there is definitely some truth in this. I am trying to find ways in my life to be more disciplined in order to rely more on God and create space to listen. But I don’t think this self-discipline should necessarily lead to pain. Yes, there are surface (and deeper) difficulties that arise in cleaning out our brokenness, but the initial struggle leads to peace and joy.

I think God hopes for all of creation to be in perfect harmony, which in my mind involves lots of smiling. So I suppose I believe pain is unaviodable and ultimately necessary for us, as broken beings, to come to a place of beauty. But pain and beauty are not synonymous in mind.

Song of the Week – Poison and Wine by the Civil Wars

Listen on Posterous

You only know what I want you to
I know everything you don’t want me to
Oh your mouth is poison, your mouth is wine
You think your dreams are the same as mine

Oh I don’t love you but I always will
Oh I don’t love you but I always will
Oh I don’t love you but I always will
I always will

I wish you’d hold me when I turn my back
The less I give the more I get back
Oh your hands can heal, your hands can bruise
I don’t have a choise but I’d still choose you

Oh I don’t love you but I always will
I always will 

How can I sleep?

How can I sleep? How can I close my eyes and not see the face of a 14-year-old boy who was bullied into suicide? How can I rest my head knowing that we deemed it appropriate to take the life of an innocent man? Where is the church? Why are so many “Christians” spewing hate instead of embracing with the universe-mending love of Christ?
I’m wondering, what’s the point? What’s the point in following Jesus? What’s the point in trusting God? So many claims of new life and relentless love and less pain. But I don’t feel any less sad. Some things continue to break my heart. No matter how much I pray and process and worship and give thanks to God, I’m still really sad sometimes. It still really hurts. I still wonder if God really has a plan for me. If Jesus really cares about my heart. What does eternal life mean anyway? And what good does that promise do for my pain right here, right now? So I’ll never be alone, that’s what you say. But I don’t feel alone. I feel sad. Just because there are others here with me, and supposedly God’s here with me, how does that change my pain? It’s still MY hurt. I try to give it up to God, but I still feel it all over me.

Even with all of my questions, I still feel God’s presence. I still believe. But I don’t understand why. Why am I believing when I still hurt? And why do people claim that God takes away hurt and suffering? Have they seen the statistics on child sex slavery and poverty and abuse? Have they seen the number of young people who are so broken that they take their own lives? Hurt and pain run rampant. People celebrate this idea of a personal relationship with Christ, like it fixes sadness, like it transforms the hurt. But I have one of those personal relationships. God and I talk on a daily basis. And I still hurt deep down in the depths of who I am, espcially when I am faced with the misguided hatred of a messed-up world. And particularly when I see the damage that the church and “Christians” have done through self-rightoues claims that are filled with fear and hatred instead of love.

So what’s the point? Is it to learn how to love others? To live as a breathing sacrifice? To bring peace and joy and comfort to God’s creation? Is my faith in God helping me to transform this world? Is God using me to heal brokenness? I don’t think I can answer that question. Sometimes the shattered state of humanity seems like too big of a gash to heal. It’s overwhelming. I’m not sure if my functioning has changed since I made a conscious choice to follow Jesus. I’m not sure if I’m doing any more good now than I was before. I can’t tell if I am loving any better. I surely see plenty who claim God and yet do not love at all.

Where is the church? How can I sleep?