Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Overcoming my unbelief.

For the last two years, we have not served in a church or participated in a church. My “breakup” with the church was far more personal and painful than I ever expected.  I never expected “my God” to allow such harm to come to us. You see, God was the one who loved me unconditionally.  I was from a rough home, a rough family life that told me I wasn’t good enough, so God was my comforter, my shield. Our breakup from the church was so much more painful than anything I had experienced in my past, because I never believed that God would allow me to enter into that kind of pain in His name.

In these past two years, our views on others and love have changed, and for the better. I believe that. More than that, I have entertained seeds of doubt about God: Does God really exist? Does God really care? Is God the active, intimate Being that we proclaim? Is religion even necessary? Does it do any good?

I’ve felt the pressure to walk away from God.  So many of the intelligent, wonderful people I look up to have done the same. Would I proclaim myself to be foolish and simple for continuing to follow God?  Also, would it align me with the people who say and do terrible and awful things in the name of the Lord? I don’t want to be known as judgmental and angry. Can I love the earth and want to take care of it and still be a believer? Can I care about the “least of these” and be aligned with the American Church?

The truth is: so many terrible, awful things have been done and said in the name of the Lord, and they have been lumped under the term “conservative Evangelicals.”  But the actions of the few (majority) cannot change what I feel in my heart. I cannot walk away from the teachings of Jesus. I feel compelled to follow Him.  I am also entering into this time with my spiritual jargon in disarray. I cannot use the old phrases anymore without needing to know exactly what I am saying. I cannot teach my child blindly.

It’s a disbelieving, agnostic world we live in.  That will not change.

Every day I encounter a thought, a bold word of unbelief, and I have to ask myself, “Will I believe this? Or will I follow what I am not sure of, even if this makes me look like a simpleton?” Perhaps this is real faith — following when you know the other side.

churches and checklists.

Every person has a checklist when they are looking for a new church home. Right? Right?

Being a person who has been on staff more times than just being an “attender,” I haven’t truly been able to compile my own lists.  I have basically been bound to stick with a certain “type” of church, and when I was on track to be hired at a church… well, let’s just say you’re practically raked over the theological coals.

Now we are starting new.  We are able to go anywhere we like.  This has opened us up to some options and questions.  Some are easy to know like:

*We don’t want to be part of a church that has a “traditional” service and a “modern” service.  That usually means there’s a BIG music battle. No thank you.

*We are shy of “Firsts.” (Too much baggage. Both ours and the church’s.)

*We don’t want generic, feel-good, churches where the jargon is far too hip and cool to be truly relevant (which is ironic, considering relevance is their whole goal).  Yeah… no thank you to the “worship experiences,” “doing life together,” etc.

*We don’t want unwilling to reach out, ultra-conservative, and refusal to change churches either.  (Is something in the middle too hard to ask?)

So what do we want? Do we want to switch denomination? Female pastor? House church? Saturday night church? Small? Big? 

Today we began our journey and some clarifications have been made (for me, at least) on what my heart is searching for:

*Post-conversion baptism. (I am so moved by it. That physical representation of what Christ did for us makes me cry in joy every time.  I don’t think I could attend a church that doesn’t have it, simply because it’s important for me.)

*A church that has messages that tend to be more expository than topical.  The church we attended today – his message was out of a book he recently wrote (for sale in the foyer!).  We used 4-5 verses from different spots of the Bible.  I don’t want to be in a place that drones on and on lifelessly, but I also want to feel like I am using the Bible I am holding in my lap.

*A church that doesn’t make me feel like a clueless outsider.  Today we had just one person say hi to us.  We felt lost, and I’ve worked in churches with a similar set-up.  If anything, this place should have felt like home. It didn’t. I worked for a pastor that once said that people who attend a church for a first time should feel like the guest at your home at Thanksgiving.  Would you let that person be clueless or would you be letting them know your silly traditions (ex: helping them prepare to come up with something to say that they are thankful for)? You’d FILL THEM IN.

I’ll probably be adding to this list as the weeks go on, but I’m taking the time to write about this from a newbie’s standpoint.

What are things on your “checklist?”

I am a bus driver.

*alternately titled: The post where I reference a 15+ year old Christian song, highlighting both my age and my failure to evolve with some types of music.

Back in the mid 90’s, Caedmon’s Call was an independent band making it onto the “Christian” market.  One of their most popular beginning songs was a track titled “Bus Driver,” sounding like a fun, slightly goofy song to new believers like me (and it didn’t help that I was in junior high).  As I became older, I began to understand the words of the song better. It was about a day in the life of a bus driver, spending his days speculating about the importance of the riders on his route and thinking about his own path. (Very broad explanation, I know.)  Below are the lyrics:

I am a bus driver
and it’s four in the morning
And I’m pressing out my clothes beside my bed
Fourteen years been on the job and with many miles behind
Still I’m up at three thirty to make sure I’m there on time

My car gets me along just fine to and from the station
But my castle is this Houston Metro Bus
My first stop is Ashbury.
And the sign’s been gone for years
but all the same the people wait cause they know that I’ll be there.

What would you say if I told you that I won’t be by today?
Would you say that I’m just a bus driver
and what do I know,
just a bus driver
and what do I know,
just a bus driver
and what do I know?

Well, I’m always there by five fifteen
and lately I’ve been early
’cause Judith likes to be in early to the bank.
And she gives me conversation and a token good for riding.
And she’s happy all alone

And then there’s Charles in retail sales;
and I hope they pay him well
for the work that young man does
Cause I’ve never seen the inside
of a custom refrigerator
but I know he’s the first and last one there

I wonder what they do all day,
and their respective works.
Suppose they give money and take money away.
Still, I’m just orbiting this town
with the post office my sun.
And I’m circling again.

And I wonder how this world would be
if I was never here to drive this bus around from Ashbury to Main.
Suppose this town would be the same
but with one bus’ less exhaust.
But that bank and retail stores,
they just wouldn’t be the same.

But what can I see from the limited confines of my bus driving seat
Only me

Today, I thought about that song.  My heart is constantly pulled in two different directions.  Am I alone? I don’t know.  I want a simple, loving life in my home.  I don’t want all the self-importance and accolades that lead to pride.  When I operate in the quiet, I feel a peace that I know is right.  On the other hand, I want those things I try to avoid.  I want to be known and popular, well-loved and followed.  I see people who are doing it and I feel simultaneous disgust and envy.

I’m just a bus driver, in theory.  I am a wife and mother that spends my days doing the exact same thing: wake, feed, clean, wake, feed, clean, etc.  I write on a couple little blogs that a few people read.  I socialize on the computer with my friends.  My importance is limited to a few people.  There are many who would not consider me twice.  I understand that.

I am not pouting over my existence.  I know God loves me. I know that I ultimately want to take care of “the least of these” and I am trying to be a better person, day by day. Still, I sometimes get the twinge and ache of wanting to be something more.  I suspect it’s pride.  I’m not sure.

I wish I could just keep my head down and be content with what I have, because ultimately, I am content.  Maybe I should remove those that give me those twinges from my mind, but I think that learning to overcome them instead of removing them will build character.

I’m just a bus driver, what do I know?

faith. thoughts. ramblings.

Just some thoughts on my faith I want to put down.

* My relationship with God is radically different now than it was two years ago.  I want to say that God has changed, but that’s not what I know to be true.  I have changed. The God that my brain could conceive has changed.

* The older I get, the less I know anything about God.

* Christianity as a whole scares me.  It’s the impact of individuals that affect me in a positive light toward the church, not the assembly as a whole. There’s so much hate.

* I can’t judge.

* I’ve learned that I am very scarred and sensitive. I know that there are a lot of people at my last place that would consider it to be weakness. The last place damaged me. It did.  I don’t care if I’m considered weak.  I still walk into churches that remind me of a “show” and I still cry. Is that bad? Or does it mean that I still feel?

* I have to believe that God gave me that sensitivity for a reason. I am not the most empathetic/sympathetic person I know, but I know that I like to listen and I pass no judgment. Isn’t that what we’re “supposed” to do? Use what God gave you?

* I’m glad God is patient.  I have a heck of a long way to go.

* I don’t know why God allows bad things to happen to people.  I can’t hear a story of struggle and not feel it deep in my bones.

* I feel like I’m somewhere in the middle.  Where am I supposed to belong?

* I have less answers now than ever.

It was one of those weeks.

This is the first time I have sat down in front of a computer in quite a while.  I honestly can’t remember when, probably when I wrote my last post.  I’ve been thinking of things I have wanted to write down, but now that I have the chance and a few quiet moments, my mind is like a chalkboard that has been erased.  I can see fragments of the words that were originally written, but they are too blurred to make out the complete message.

I was thinking about whether I should tell you about my weekend (and my complete lack of graciousness) or my spiritual longing. Since I believe that they intertwine, I’m going to attempt to share both.

Last week, one of my grandpa’s cousins died. Charlie. He was older, late seventies/early eighties, had diabetes, low mobility (yes, he did have one of those power scooters), and was a very sweet man.  He also let everyone mooch off of him for his SS check each month and his prescriptions.  He has two sons: a self-reliant individual who has washed his hands of him because of son #2 – a leech.  I don’t use that term lightly.  I can’t begin to express my feelings of distaste for this individual’s actions.

Since Charlie has passed, we have been in limbo. We don’t know exactly how he died.  Speculation includes: overdosing by one of the moochers that lived in the house with him, a delayed reaction from the accident he had on Monday (and was busted out of the hospital with his hospital gown still on), and old age.  His body was up at the coroner’s office for nearly a week.  His son stole the money out of his wallet after his passing and spent it on who knows what. He has no immediate family members willing and able to take care of arrangements in a timely manner and will have to be cremated.  We can’t put it in a nice urn, because Son #2 would likely hock it.

I’m not joking.

So, on Sunday, we had family from California come in to see Charlie’s body (before we knew about the cremation, although the body had been in the morgue for 5 days already) and to be a part of the funeral.  They parked their camper in our front yard, which I’m totally cool with, and walked in the house.  For two days, all Grandpa, Todd, Belle and I heard was yelling, cussing and extreme ruckus.  Belle didn’t get to nap.  My mom comes over, we get upset with each other, and before we can finish talking it out,  they come knocking on the door wanting to use our showers and take over the kitchen.

I didn’t say anything negative, but inwardly I was done. I wasn’t gracious. For the first time in my life I didn’t want to be welcoming, I wanted peace.  I didn’t care that they had traveled so far and would like a hot shower in something bigger than a camper.  I was tired of listening to yelling. I wanted my baby to nap.  I wanted to be able to do my laundry and sit in silence.

They left Monday.

My week hasn’t really improved so much because it’s been hectic and I’ve been feeling guilty for being selfish.

How do I get to feel entitled?  This isn’t my home.

This morning I decided to read a little from the gospels.  I’m so far from where I should be, and my lack of graciousness is the tip of the iceberg.

Luke 18:9-13 (New International Version, ©2010)

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

For many years, I have been the Pharisee, regardless of whether I intentionally planned to be or not. I justified so much of my own behavior based on what I did as a Christian.  I’m at a point in my life that I don’t believe that I have the justification to act that way, despite of my education or training.

Have mercy on me, a sinner.

That’s my prayer this week.  This lifetime.  I’m in such dire need of grace.

Associating with Job

I’ve been thinking about Job recently. I have a sweet aunt
that is considered the “Job” of our family. She is one of the
sweetest, most cheerful, loving women you will EVER meet and she is
the Godliest woman I know. Every time she and her husband
have obtained something that would be considered “successful,” it
has been taken from them. They have served in numerous
churches, some with some horribly nasty results. She still praises
God for everything and you believe that she believes in Him with
all her heart. How can I explain to you how loving and sweet she
is? Just take my word for it. Watching my aunt made me think.
Everything I think and do now is tinted by a cynicism that I have
never held before. I used to think I was heavily shielded to
the hardships of life — that I could survive like Job — because I
had dealt with blow after blow as a child and teenager. I
would still praise God because He loved me and while He could deal
with the people who have hurt me, He chose to love me and take care
of me. When the place that I associated with love, comfort, and
hope decided to act in a way that was unbefitting to itself — it
crushed me. Legally, a corporation wouldn’t do what the
church did, and it seems so unthinkable and
ungodly that the church acted in this way. In
my mind I had decided, “God, you can allow life to be tough.
You can give me struggles. Please, You cannot take away my comfort
with You.” When that was taken away, my foundation was
shaken. It’s easy to be grateful when your “non-negotiable”
is still intact. Money has always
been tight for me.
I remember welfare and
WIC, my grandparents paying for everything, and secondhand
clothing. While it made for some hard times with other kids, I feel
like I appreciated what I received and that makes me more
appreciative as an adult. I have had a shaky
family.
It doesn’t scare me or break me down if Todd
and I are having a rough time. It makes us stronger and we are a
better couple for it. For some people, that’s a
non-negotiable. I’m always a little scared when I hear of a
female referring to her man as a “knight in shining armor” or their
“prince charming,” placing him on such a pedestal that will surely
get shaky. My kid will break my heart one day. My
family will always be a little too dysfunctional. That’s
life. I don’t have the nicest home, cutest clothes,
or skinny body.
I would like them, don’t get me
wrong. I would love to be in my old jeans again (when did a size 12
become a desire? ha!), I would LOVE to have a home that people want
to go to. Heck, I would just like a home, but the pressure of
meeting those are too much for me. When my comfort with God was
taken — it shook me to the core. My non-negotiable. Job had
EVERYTHING taken away from him, even his comfort. In fact,
that was the thing that struck me most about his story. He
couldn’t feel God, or see or hear Him. He felt abandoned, yet
he didn’t “Curse God and die.” My aunt hasn’t either. She
still praises Him with a gentle passion that makes you want to curl
up in her presence, if only to soak Him in through her. Can I be
that way? Can I get there? I’m trying. I hope
so. My aunt gives me hope. Do you have a
non-negotiable? Are you or have you been in this place in
your life? Can you still praise God if your non-negotiable
was taken away? The baby you always longed for, that church
position, finances, a nice home, a marriage, your family, your
talent/ability… could you still praise Him as you do
now?

Why I’m believing in Santa – 2010 edition

Below is a post I made in December 2007.  So much has changed in my life in these last 3 years, but I think that this post still holds much truth to me.  Obviously, I don’t work in a church anymore, but I am trying to embrace the Advent season. 

Thank you, Jesus, for being my hope.

The magic of the holidays are here. The stores glisten in shade of red and green, music plays on every corner, and Santa’s throne is constructed in every shopping mall and department store. There’s a festivity in the local churches, although it’s a significantly different sounding message. The churches are preparing to celebrate the birth of one bouncing, bubbly, baby boy. A boy named Jesus, who came to take away the sins of the world. Once a year, we are allowed and encouraged to breathe in the mystery of the Christmas story. People crack open their leather-bound dusty Bibles to revisit the tale of the child in the manger and the magi with their three gifts.

It is my favorite story.

I can’t help but be transformed by that starlit sky and the ungainly movements of a virgin swollen with child. My favorite tale of it is told in the book of Luke, in the New Testament. “Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” Imagine a girl, no more than a child herself, carrying the salvation of the world in her womb. Picture the first time she felt Jesus’ feet fluttering in her womb. Imagine the overwhelming love she held deep inside. Everything in her life was extreme and confusing at that time. She was a young girl who had never been with a man, yet she’s due to have a child. A girl surrounded by imminent scandal. How did she deal with her family? What about her skeptical beau Joseph? Did anyone doubt her? The only woman she had to talk to was her elderly, formerly barren, now pregnant, cousin, Elizabeth. Surely, she must have felt at times that it was only her and her baby. I imagine she whispered her love for Him many times. Mary didn’t have the normal anxiety of a new mother; she was in charge of the Savior of the world. Imagine the pressure!

Working in a church allows me to dwell on this wonderful truth, but it also keeps me from truly enjoying it as well. Nothing’s so simple anymore. It seems like Christmastime is about having the best program a church can produce. I believe this is standard for the majority of churches and Christian subculture in America. Also, as a Christian, I hear others who criticize our Santa Claus-embracing counterparts. “It’s materialistic,” They miss the Reason for the Season,” “Santa’s not Jesus,” and much more is said this time of year. Are we as Christians any less materialistic? The majority are not.

In regards to Santa—I agree that he doesn’t belong in the church at Christmas. People can potentially miss the central message, and then the Christmas season is done entirely in vain. Separately from the Church—I still believe in Santa. I love to imagine his gingerbread-style mansion in the snowy tundra. I love the joyful faces of the elves and the flying reindeer. I imagine a sparkly aura around the North Pole. It is a place of selfless giving and joyful hope. Isn’t that what Christians are trying to promote? Santa encourages children to behave and sends little minds into a fanciful whirlwind of their imaginations. Let the little children imagine! Give them hope. Sing songs of “Joy to the World” as well as “Here comes Santa Claus.”

The reason we do this is because we are teaching children to use their imaginations. We’re teaching them to believe. We are giving them a happy place to retreat in the inner recesses of their minds and to dream wonderful dreams. Children need their dreams. I need my dreams. Taking that away makes the world a more difficult place to live in, and the world is difficult enough.

That’s why I still believe in Santa.