Friday, December 31, 2010

Are "the holidays" over yet?

I hate going out this time of year (the latter half of December), not just because I am insulted by commercialism or annoyed that everything is designed to make single people feel worthless or fiercely irritated by the same 12 Christmas songs (by the same group) get played multiple times a day.  I mostly hate the crowds and the fact that when you concentrate that many stupid drivers in one parking lot, defensive driving is pretty much never enough to guarantee your car's safety. 

Extra points to the guy who parked where there was no parking space because he figured it was dark and if anyone approached him, he could say the snow covered up the lines (even though that was a lie).

Ah, the holidays . . .

Any holiday fun to report?  :)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

5 ways to survive the holiday season alone

I think it's definitely progress that I didn't really get mad when I saw yet another "Holidays are awful if you're not dating/married/surrounded by family, but keep a stiff upper lip" article.  I mean, I guess it's progress that I'm not totally disgusted with it.  I admit that there are people out there who aren't alone by choice, and maybe this article will really help them out.  See?  Progress.  Maturity.

I did laugh though, when all the banner ads were for dating services.  Um . . .  I laughed a lot.

For all those who wish they could be with their various loved ones over the holidays and can't for whatever reason, I'm praying for you.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Requiem for Harold

We compared stories of sliding on the icy roads last week in the elevator. This week, I have to adjust to the fact that no matter how many times I leave the building in the morning, he will never be there to tell me, "Have a good day," with that huge, adorable grin, and I will never be able to say, "You, too," with varying degrees of exhaustion.

It's even harder to go downstairs to go to work knowing we'll never have that conversation again, despite all the times we've already had it. I couldn't make it to his memorial service. He died suddenly at age 65, that's all the obit says.

I haven't even had time to write a letter to his wife telling her how much I appreciated him. I haven't seen her since, which seems right to me. I never saw her without him. I hope I don't just start crying the next time I do see her. I'm sure she's tired of crying.

He was a kind man, and I will miss him.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Is there too much excellence in your church?

I've had a love/hate relationship with excellence since I became much less capable of it, so I was pretty interested in this article when I saw it.  Here are some of my favorite, thought-provoking bits.

"I’m troubled by excellence in churches because—at least in my middle-America leafy suburb—excellence tends to mean we spend a lot of money on it. That we get only the best and the brightest to work on something. Or that we don’t do something until it can be done excellently."

"And that’s the biggest problem. We live in a world—even in smack dab in leafy suburbs—of need. Of people who need help. Now. Who can’t wait for things to be done excellently; they just need things done."

"I think, in fact, that this is how Jesus operated. I don’t picture him sitting around with his disciples talking about how they had to do everything excellently (and they didn’t tell us he did). It seems to me, he just wanted them to do something. While of course he was perfect so therefore did do everything 'excellently,' I suppose, his contemporaries mostly found him shocking. His sort of excellence wouldn’t have been appreciated."
- "The Trouble with Excellence" by Caryn Rivadeneira (June 16, 2010)

Then there was this comment.

'Here are a few insights I have had about this issue. In my workplace, I have attended many many seminars over the past 2 decades about "excellence". Many of them have been extremely valuable for my career. However, the church is not a Fortune 20 company and its purpose for existing is completely different. Too often I have seen in the church excellence used for somone to drive a project, a hiring, a change to the service-etc all under the heading of moving to excellence. I fear we value excellence over loving each other. The songs and books Christian write/sing may NOT be as good as our secular counterparts and that is actually okay. The purpose for singing or writing is to glorify God-and I would go so far to say that God is greatly glorifed by a less than perfect song but a tendar worshipful heart. People are not producing sloppy work-many of them are producing only what they know how to create-and that is good enough. They do it because they love the Lord. I fear our worship services are all about appearence, our meals are all catered, the sermons must be perfect etc. My parents held very high standards-we were held accountable for doing the best they knew we could-but no more. And those things we were not good at-our effort is what brought them joy.'
- trisha on June 16, 2010

Yeah.  It really made me think.  How about you? 

Friday, November 19, 2010

Melodrama for the brokenhearted

I was thinking about a friend I had once.  I saw a show recently and wanted him to see it because he's the only one among that particular group of friends who can really appreciate a good melodrama.  I also thought of him because my employer is hiring people in his field, and I wondered if he was looking for a job.  I got all excited for a moment, thinking how great it would be if he moved out here.

Then I remembered.

Oh, yeah.  He fell in love with me once.  And I had to break his heart.  For some reason, he doesn't keep in touch anymore.

So that's why I can't recommend the show and why I have no idea whether he's looking for a job and why he is a stranger now. 

It doesn't seem fair that I broke his heart, and mine hurts, too.  What separates drama from melodrama?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Standing still (and loving it)

I have come to a decision.  Not a DECISION set-in-stone-here-I-stand-I-can-do-no-other, but a decision like a rest stop along the way.  I have been wearing myself out wrestling with whether my peculiar distance is a problem I should be trying to change or a gift.  For now, I am tired.  I have decided to let it be a gift for now and to be like this person. 

"Just like always, he never stops things that come, or chases things that leave."

Rather than making myself be concerned over relationships where I have to force myself to chase someone reluctant, I will let myself relax and go back to merely observing and not trying to make things "better."  It's kind of refreshing not to be irritated because I'm putting in effort I don't want to for someone who wants but does not want to be seen as wanting. 

Maybe it's okay to just be me.  It worked for years before I got paranoid about it.

I think I feel better already.

Do you know any people (other than me) who could be described with this quote (and seem happy with their lot)?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sometimes I miss me

Sometimes I miss the me I used to be what seems like a long time ago, half a lifetime ago.  I miss the me before I stopped enjoying the fellowship of the moment and started analyzing and looking at motives.  I miss the me who just trusted people, the me who knew all were sinners and not inherently good and still just blindly assumed that of course they would do the right thing!

Is it me I miss or my glorious, blind ignorance?  Hard to tell. 

What happened to that me?  Well, it's hard to determine cause or effect, but the me now hasn't the energy to invest in other people that the me then did.  Too many harsh looks at reality, mixed motives, lust/love/romance, and all that crap.  Too many revelations.  Too many regrets.  Too many betrayals, melodramatic as that sounds.  Too many people who want what I can't give, making me pull back until there isn't much to give, and no inclination to, and I like it that way, thank you very much.

But I still miss that old me sometimes.  She was kind of dumb and too honest, but, I hate to say it, for all that, her purity (again with the blindness) leaves me nostalgic.  All traces of that purity feel burned out of me now, but I still have my memories. 

I remember what it was like to have friendships I took simple joy in, before romantic notions got in the way and made me question my own motives in continuing said friendships when I was never going to provide what they craved.  I hate this new knowledge of good and evil.  I'd like to put that fruit back on the tree, thank you very much, and selfishly enjoy being with people I enjoy being with even if I don't want to ever marry or have sex with them, even if that's the only reason they hang around (hope springing eternal in areas with very low ceilings).  I want to go back to that world where people are friends because they enjoy being with each other, and that's that.

Maybe that world never, ever existed in reality, but it did in my head, and I liked being in my head then and there.  It was so much easier.

Are there any parts of you that you miss from long ago?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Hi, I'm X, and I'm an object of God's wrath!

Lately in our church small group, we've been talking about God's righteous judgement, why we deserve His wrath, and all manner of things that are not cheerful.  However, I don't find these topics to be downers.  I find that they fill me with incredible gratitude, like that prodigal son who came back hoping to be mistreated as a servant and didn't get what he deserved.  This is what God offers all of us, what He loved each of us enough to die for.

This is grace, and it shines so brightly in a world fallen into darkness.

"Where the judgment of God is, that is where the mercy of God abides, and where our hope becomes manifest. We stand before God together in both judgment and grace."  - Mark Galli

Friday, October 15, 2010

When the elderly say Pbtbtbtbtbt

I have been feeling a bit anti-church lately.  Not anti-the-body-of-Christ; more anti-my-specific-church.  We've seen a real need for some intergenerational fellowship, and no one else seems to be doing anything, so we gave it a try.  The response was a hearty, "Go away and leave us alone" from the elderly people in the church.  They are not interested in any kind of relationship that asks anything from them.  It breaks my heart.

It also makes me mad for purely selfish reasons.  My utterly immature reaction is something like, "WTH?!  I don't even really like, want, or need relationships.  I'm going out and doing the hard thing here because I know you do want and need these relationships, even if it's highly unpleasant and inconvenient for me, and you say no?!"  Basically, we're both being immature.  (Is it a mark of maturity if I see that, at least?)

Anyway, I know this issue of intergenerational fellowship is a big problem in many churches.  I'm quite happy to give up on it.  (I have a history of trying my hardest, failing, giving up, and then seeing God do amazing things.  Let's hope that's what happens this time.)  However, I never know if adversity is a sign I should give up or an opportunity to learn perseverance.  (I think I usually choose wrong.)

Have you been a part of a local church body where this was not a problem?  What were the demographics of the church?  Why do you think intergenerational fellowship worked for you there and then?

What do you suggest to improve intergenerational fellowship for a too big church with two buildings in different cities, four services, and a seriously country clubby atmosphere?  How far should I push myself (I really don't have the energy for this) before I allow myself to step back and rest and not feel like a failure (or get angry, which I also don't have the energy for)?

Friday, October 8, 2010

And the people rejoiced: a brief lesson in the joys of schadenfreude?

My across the hall neighbors (affectionately nicknamed "The Drug Dealers") are being evicted.  This makes me happy.  I feel a little guilty about how happy it makes me, but not too much because I was starting to get really quite scared. 

Too many strangers (mostly young males) coming freely in and out of the building (including the somewhat closed off exercise room) using their access.  Too many odd scents/tastes/excessive incense/smoke/other substances my lungs don't like that sometimes waft into my apartment.  Too many late night raging domestic arguments outside my door.  Too many drunken (or possibly stoned) accidental, late night attempts to come into my apartment by mistake and some missing decorations from my door have made me even more nervous than the other stuff.  (Who steals a stick-on Christmas ornament off of someone's door? In October?!)  At least they were thorough and took a strip of the fake ribbon to hang them with; otherwise it would just be unidentifiable and tacky.

I am fairly certain I am not being loving at all.  I've prayed for them without any real commitment, mostly because I live alone and was afraid God would ask me to do something friendly, dangerous, and stupid.  That's also problematic. 

How can a single woman living alone who is antisocial anyway be neighborly/behave in a Christ-honoring but smart way to her neighbors?  Any suggestions?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Singular Myths for a Friday Night

Found an interesting short piece on myths about being single.  Of course, single is not the same as celibate, but I think most people assume the same things are true of celibate people because we are usually single.  It's worth a read.
"Have you heard that single people are miserable and lonely and die alone in their empty apartments where they are eaten by their cats? That’s what I heard, too. So I set out to discover the truth of these matters. Guess what? It is not just the cat thing that’s a myth. All of those insulting claims about the lives of single people are wrong, wrong, wrong! Here’s a rundown of the myths I found while looking at the reality of being unattached today." 
- Dr. Bella DePaulo
This author wrote a book I was looking at purchasing a while back when I was really poor and not working two jobs.  It's still on my list, but I have a good one about reinventing celibacy in the church that is definitely ahead on the queue (which I might next be able to start seriously addressing in late December).

Some of the myths they discuss deal with happiness, solitude, isolation, longevity, self-centeredness, health, and finances.  It's hardly a well-supported dissertation, but it's food for thought.

If you pop over to read it, please pop back in and let me know which rebuttals you were most surprised about (and which ones you think were iffy).


Friday, September 10, 2010

It's ALIVE!!!!

So, once again I dropped out of sight.  In honor of my first anniversary of blogging, my computer died.  Eventually a kind friend resuscitated it, and now I am almost caught up enough to get back to blogging.  So you'll likely hear from me for real this weekend.  Until then . . .

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Christianity vs. Niceness, Part XY

Apologies for dropping out of sight (site?) yet again.  The online class that I'm teaching didn't actually get set up until the day before the class started, and I've been scrambling to read all the user guides and instructions and trying to stay ahead of the students' questions.  I am failing.  So imagine how annoying it was when the teacher handbooks made me irritated by once again equating niceness with Christianity.

I have no problem with an institution having policies about not stirring up trouble and such because they don't want to look bad, but I find myself angry when they say that the reason we have to suppress any dissent and avoid discussing things we disagree about and never acknowledge that things aren't perfect because we reflect Christ (and Christ was all about nice and the appearance of getting along). 

Obviously, the policies don't use these words; they use much more calm, neutral, infuriating language.  Let me say it right here: my God is Love, not niceness.  My God is a God of reality, not a god of appearance.  A God of Peace, not pretense.  My God is Truth, not whatever these handbooks are selling.

I guess I can see why people get turned off of institutional Christianity/religion.  Are we really so busy trying to protect ourselves and our reputations that we don't care how hollow it makes us?  I think maybe I'm glad to be teaching online classes because they lessen the chances of me saying something honest and angry and true and getting myself fired.  :)

I thank the Lord again that I got this job.

Am I overreacting?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Celebrating a song I like

I've complained about songs that are theologically irritating to me, so I figured I should praise songs that I find to be theologically excellent.

"No Matter What" by Kerrie Roberts is a great song. It emphasizes something that's important but maybe not emphasized enough. It's best encapsulated by a quote from the chorus.

"I know You can find a way to keep me from the pain,
but if not
I’ll trust you
no matter what."

Amen, sister.

I feel like our prayers are often a tad anemic. Or maybe "incomplete" is a better word. We pray that God will take away the trial, the pain, the difficult or unfair circumstance or situation. And we get angry when He doesn't, as if it's His job to make our lives comfortable and easy.  What kind of love is that?

"Naked I came from my mother's womb, 
and naked I shall return. 
The Lord gave; 
the Lord has taken away. 
Blessed be the name of the Lord." 

(That's from Job, but I remember it because it's from a song by Brent Bourgeois.)

People talk about trusting in the promises of God.  When they said it to me as I was going through a rather long and drawn-out trial, they said it in a way that indicated that the promises of God were for ease and comfort (which they aren't).  And this song really talks about why.

So much of the song is quotable that I just advise you to read all the lyrics.  But I can't resist one more bit.

"Anything I don’t have
You can give it to me,
but it’s OK if You don’t.
I’m not here for those things . . ."

Again, amen. So take a listen, and think about the words and maybe pray them. There's a lot of truth here. I'm so glad God made music.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Down with Rings?

I was moving things around while lamenting to a friend about the fact that men fall in love with me when I allow myself to be friendly and interesting and social. I was a bit worried about what would happen at work since there were no doubt going to be men there, and I couldn't be my preferred, withdrawn, discouraging-to-men self since I had to start building a corporate persona and networking and generally being sociable.
As I tried in vain to move something on an awkward shelf, my friend asked seriously, "You know what you need?"

"A cabana boy to move things around for me?"

"No. He'd just fall in love with you."

(There followed a time of laughter and snorting.)
She had some good suggestions for t-shirts to wear all the time. "Jesus is my boyfriend, and the world is my nunnery," was my personal favorite variation. 

After we were done getting goofy, she ended up suggesting that I wear a fake wedding ring.

Setting aside that I really have no rings and that I don't actually know which hand you wear a wedding ring on (since it seems most of the rest of the world does know that one, and it would be easy to find out), I was kind of intrigued by the idea.
  • It would definitely be less offensive (in a driving the sharks away sort of manner) than introducing myself by name and saying, "I'm happily celibate for life, so please don't fall in love with me ever."
  • It would meet corporate dress code better than the novelty shirt.
  • It would make a clear statement to every decent person who knows what hand a wedding ring is on that I am not available for relationships.

There are a lot of perks, honestly. But that's the rub: honesty. Isn't it a lie to wear a ring that says, "I am married to someone" when you're not and never plan to be?

Technically, it's not a lie; it's just jewelry. But it feels dishonest.

If I made sure to tell anyone who asked about it, "No, I'm not married. I'm just not interested in a relationship," I wonder if my conscience would be assuaged.  

Not quite. At least, not yet. (And it would be hard not to be really honest and yack on about celibacy and stuff that would turn me into an instant weirdo at the office: not the corporate persona I really want to create . . .  Maybe down the road when I get to know people better, and they really want to know what makes me tick, but definitely not now.)

I could be being my usual silly self here, choosing the hard road because it's the hard road. I mean, the ring solution is a very elegant one. So, if you think it is, please help convince me that it's not lying to wear a wedding ring when you'll never be married. I really want to be convinced . . .

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Making choices about priorities

I don't want to test myself to destruction now that I've finally got real income, but I also don't want to shrivel up into one of those people who just works and then wastes what free time they have relaxing and recovering (even though I surely do need to).  I would love to be able to maintain a crazy schedule like I could before I got hurt--or even before I shrunk due to sleep-deprivation--but I can't.  Realistically, I think I could maybe handle one thing on top of my two jobs this semester.  Here are my choices.  (I talked about them a little bit earlier in the week.) 
  • Monday: I could try to join a classical vocal music group that practices on a Monday. PROS: I love making music.  It's a way I can create art and beauty that doesn't require (much) use of my hands. CONS: Concerts and stress and a lot of work to catch up with the real singers.  Time off work to prepare.
  • Tuesday: I could continue doing publishing research on this night.  PROS: Maybe some day I'll care about getting published, and all that research will come in handy.  Also, this is a time where I really just read literature for an hour, and since I want to keep writing, I should really make time to pour some good content in. CONS: I don't care about publishing, especially now that I have a foot in the door in teaching, which is what I really want to do.  Should I be spending this time on something I don't care about or need just because it's kind of a good thing?
  • Wednesday (and Sunday mornings): I could keep leading a small group and a Sunday school for church.  PROS: I kind of like being in my small group, which is made up of fun, eclectic people driven to be more sensitive to the Holy Spirit and to do what we can to make our local church a better body of believers. CONS: Being honest when dealing with single men is problematic because they start to like me, which leads to crap I really don't want/need/have energy to deal with.  I would prefer a role with invisibility where I can lead from the shadows or (actually more) just follow and support a good leader in a way that doesn't suck my energy away.  NOTE: This commitment could be shifted to Thursday night due to scheduling conflicts with other group members. The thing is, we're the only small group that meets Wednesday nights, and I wanted to keep that as an option for people who want to be in a small group and don't have any other nights free.  If I stuck with Wednesdays, I would likely be freed from leading the Sunday school since our group goes over the material at the small group meeting the week before.  It might be possible that nobody would need Wednesdays this semester, and thus the choice would be taken from me.  If not, I could end up with a group that I have to work really hard at, and it could fail, and that would be unpleasant. It's possible that since everyone else needs to switch nights, this is a way God is telling me it's okay if I bow out right now. Or not.
  • Thursday: I could attend anime club. PROS: No one demands or expects anything of me, and I enjoy the format and content and generally find it entertaining and thought-provoking. CONS: It costs money to park and is far away.  It goes kind of late for my regular schedule.  This is a semester-long commitment because if you miss episodes, you miss a lot.
So, if you had to choose, what would you do?  Try to just pick one (if so, which one)?  Sign up for 'em all and trust that the ones I'm not supposed to do will fall through (what if they don't)?  What advice can you share that isn't just, "Pick the church one because you obviously should!"? :)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

"There are only middles."

". . . You're searching, Joe,
For things that don't exist; I mean beginnings.
Ends and beginnings--there are no such things.
There are only middles."
-"In the Home Stretch" 
by Robert Frost

Preach it, Mr. Frost.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Pop music vs. theology, part x

In the "Kimberly Thinks Too Hard about Song Lyrics" series, we have the Amy Grant single released this year "Better Than A Hallelujah."  It's pretty catchy.  It just has this one troublesome bit that I can't get past.

"We pour out our miseries;
God just hears a melody."

Erm, really?  Is that really what God hears when we pour out of hearts to him?  He doesn't hear what we say, just noise?  No signal, just noise?

I've tried to just not think about that line.  I've tried to get wrapped up in the emotion of the song and what it's trying to say, not what it does say. 

Aaaaaand I just can't.

Any thoughts?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The single temptress

So here's the situation.  A single woman on the staff at a church.  A new, married staff member.  (Both fans of geeky things like cartoons and science fiction.)  Two people geeking out, hanging out together.  (With other people present.)  Rumors starting in the church.  Gossip.  The pastor reprimanding the single woman for tempting the man.

Summary of the situation:
  • The pastor (and all the gossip-mongers) investigating the facts to find out the truth? No.
  • The pastor reprimanding the gossip-mongers? No.
  • The pastor (and all the gossip-mongers) skipping straight to the accusations of impropriety? Yes.
  • Reprimanding the female but not the male?  Yes.

Does anyone see problems here?  (So very many problems.)

First of all, gossip is a sin.  And it's rampant in (I don't hesitate to say this) every church.  Is it addressed or confronted by church leadership?  Seriously, have you ever heard of such a thing happening?  Does it need to be more seriously addressed?  Um, yes.  Yes, I think it does.  Will it be?  Let me be a cynic here and say I doubt it.  That's sad because gossip is so anti-Christian and destructive and pervasive.  On the whole, I think it's way worse than a bunch of people going out to see a movie or watch cartoons together.  So much worse.

Second, if you think one of your brothers or sisters is sinning, there are biblical ways to deal with that.  Basic summary: We confront out of love with a desire to restore fellowship.  There is a procedure/progression in the Bible for us to follow.  Gossip is pretty much the opposite of that loving, biblical process, no matter how much the gossiper claimes to be "concerned" about the people in question.  If you're a Christian, and you're concerned about a brother and(/or) sister, you talk to them, no one else, end of story.  END OF STORY.

Third, truth should be what matters.  Shouldn't it?  Or am I way off base here, and appearance (not reality) is what needs to matter in the church?  Really?

Fourth, are we so obsessed with sex that we see sexual impropriety in every relationship between people of differing genders?  And is it our job to talk that up?

Fifth, I'm hardly a feminist, but come on.  If there is any real tangoing going on, it takes two.  That's also kind of biblical, but since church leadership and gossip-mongers are ignoring biblical in this situation anyway, I suppose it's one of those in for a penny/pound deals.  For shame.

Family discussion when all the women in my family were together.  I defended the woman.  What's wrong with married men fellowshipping with single women (or single men with married women) so long as it isn't alone and behind closed doors?  Aren't single people allowed to fellowship with others of differing genders and marital statuses? 

My older, married sister's response: Her husband had a lot of single, female friends before he married her, and she didn't begrudge him time with them after she married him, but eventually, "He realized he needed to put his limited time and focus elsewhere [on her and his son], so he doesn't spend any time with them anymore."

So single people aren't allowed to spend any time with people of the opposite gender?  Are married Christian folks so spiritually/emotionally parched/narrow that they can't form relationships with single people?  Are all relationships between single and married people improper? 

Is that what the kingdom of God is about?  I thought we were all supposed to relate to each other as family, as brothers and sisters in Christ.  I thought we were structured as a family because we need that kind of interaction between people of different genders/states/ages/etc.  Are single people barred from being part of the family?  (Is that biblical?  Is it healthy?)

"Don't you think that's unfair to the single people?" I asked my sister.

She had the grace to look embarrassed when she answered honestly, "Yes."

I don't NEED that interaction because I'm wired to get along fine without it, but other people do need it.  I don't think it's fair that they're excluded from it.  I've given up and just stopped making friends with/being friendly to men.  It's disappointing that I have to, but there don't seem to be any other options.  For a lot of other people, fellow heirs, brothers and sisters in Christ who need this family, there need to be more options.  For them, I want there to be more options.

Can you suggest any options?

Friday, June 25, 2010


I read or heard somewhere that the goal of Christians is to use their jobs as platforms for ministry. The indication was that good Christians either "witness constantly" or find some other way to bludgeon co-workers over the head with their faith, as if they are not being good Christians unless everyone they work with knows they are Christians, whatever that means.

This irked me.

When I was reading Just Do Something: How to Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, etc., one of the early chapters mentioned asking what older generations think about younger generational obsessing about wanting to know where God wanted them to work so they wouldn't choose wrong and thus be living out of God's will for the rest of their lives. Long sentence (fun book). Anyway, older generations don't understand this obsession at all; work is what you do to stay alive, earn your keep, support your family, etc. It's not necessarily a spiritual life-calling. People who sit around doing nothing and saying they're waiting for God's will while living rent-free in the basement of their parents' houses are being lazy and kind of dumb.

Is this demand that others see work as ministry even biblical, or is it just more pop-culture Christianity baggage? I have enough to feel guilty about; I really don't need well-meaning legalists pouring on more because I'm not proselytizing in the workplace. Am I just being crabby because I've been leaning anti-"evangelicalism" lately?

Well, let's look at the Bible. Sure, some people in the New Testament were into full time ministry. They were supported by the charity and sacrifice of the average joes working 9-5 (or sunup-sundown or however things were back then). In the gospels, if I'm remembering right, Jesus didn't tell people to change jobs when they believed; He just told them to be faithful.

I think Paul swung that way, too. He told people to be diligent and work hard as unto the Lord and be fair and just and treat others well, etc. I guess when I read the New Testament, I get the impression that they didn't believe that "full-time ministry" was a "higher calling" or anything. We're all part of the team, and we all work to support ourselves and our families and each other, and we all contribute our gifts in the kingdom, is the sort of feeling I get from it.  How do you read it?

I remember this one time when Paul was visiting a church full of people who apparently thought he was just lazy since he was preaching and teaching and being an apostle all the time, so he made sure to work while he was visiting them (he was a tentmaker, as I recall). He didn't seem to consider that work beneath him. Work is work. You do it to the best of your abilities. It's not all hyper-spiritualized. That's the kind of impression I get from him.

So do you think work has to be a ministry? Is that what God requires of us?

Friday, June 11, 2010


I got the job. 

I keep waiting for it to be a joke, to wake up and be disappointed, to have them come back and say, "Just kidding."  I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop.  It feels like a dream, like something unreal.

The other day, when I was talking about how it hadn't sunk in and relieved all my tension, my acupuncturist talked about chronic pain and how funny it is that even when the pain is not there, a lot of times we can't just relax and be content because we're always worried that we'll do something wrong if we're not careful, and it will come back with a vengeance.  It's a mental pattern that's hard to break out of.  We need to enjoy the times when the pain is absent or muted.  Maybe it will come back, but it's gone now.

I look forward to experiencing that absence of pain at some point, and I was nodding at how much her statement made sense when I realized that she was gently telling me to just enjoy the now and be glad that things went well and seem to be moving in a new direction.  I am a little slow sometimes.

Donald Miller said, ". . . I will readily accept a failure, even meditate on it, but I won’t accept an accomplishment.  There’s nothing healthy about that."

Zing.  (Direct hit.)  We'll thank the Lord for the good and assume the bad is our fault.  We'll accept the good from the Lord but not the bad, as Job implied.  Is that the way it's supposed to be? 

While I was in the middle of the increasing-bad, Christians would use language that indicated that God would rescue me from this attack of Satan, that this bad couldn't possibly be from God, etc.  I struggled with that because it smacked of that pesky, unbiblical prosperity gospel to me.  Does our success = God's favor?  I wondered. 

I think that our failures do not = God's displeasure.  We learn and grow from failures as well as successes.  Some lessons can only be learned in one place or the other.   It's how life works in a fallen world full of fallen people with free will.

I wonder if this is part of the secret of being content in all circumstances.

Any thoughts or wisdom you want to share?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Chronological Snobbery in the Church

My small group at church is considered kind of anomalously radical because we have college students, a newly married couple, a couple with two kids, and a happily single woman.  Our age range is all of 12 years, but it's quite unheard of at our church where Sunday fellowship is pretty much segregated by age or life stage.  We all think this is quite silly.

We decided to start up a Sunday school class where we actively invite everyone especially if they aren't in our age group or life stage or whatever.  As one woman in my small group says, "I don't need people to commiserate with at church; I need people to learn from."  Amen.  I want the wisdom of people who didn't grow up in my generation (whatever that is) or even my parents' generation.  I want to know how people are walking the Christian life even if we don't have "life stage" in common.  We need people to learn from.

And people who can learn from us.  We admit we're hardly masters of the faith at our ages, but interacting with college students, high schoolers, and anyone younger than us seems like it could be mutually beneficial.  There has to be something our experience can teach them, such as, "No, really, don't do that because look what happened to me."

"I want to be part of a chain of discipleship."  Isn't that what the family of God is?

Our college student members are enthusiastic about this.  They both live not-so-close to where they attend college, so they don't go home all the time.  They miss, "things like hanging out with grandparents and playing with animals and tripping over children" and other stuff they don't get to do on campus.  They want to belong to a family of believers.  But at our church, where The Way Things Are doesn't change very fast, and we don't have a lot of time (they'll both be seniors next year), we're finding it takes a lot of hard work to make a family.

Here's an interesting article I found by Mollie Ziegler Hemingway about age segregation in churches.  (If the CT site gets up again soon, you might even be able to read it.)  Probably your church isn't as extreme as these examples (and I hope it isn't even as extreme as my church), but the article as a whole did make me think more about the topic.

Anyway, our class starts next Sunday, and we have NO IDEA if anyone is going to show up.  So, if you get the chance, please pray with us that the Spirit will move people into getting out there and learning from and having fellowship with Others Unlike Them (maybe at our class, for example :).  I kind of want to make a Bible study with O.U.T. as the acronym now . . .

I'm curious about how this has worked at churches you've attended.  Is there a natural intermixing of ages/life stages, or do things naturally settle out along ageist lines?  Why?  How do you make sure you interact with your elders and those younger than you?  Do you think this should be a priority?  Should it be something natural, or do you think it necessarily requires work?  Any other thoughts on the subject? (Extra points if you know where the term in the title came from.)

Friday, May 28, 2010

Honest experience

I came across this post before the interview, back when I was prepping during my lunch hour at work and after I got home from work and whenever I had a spare minute.  When you're getting ready for a job interview, you always have to prepare for the questions about your weaknesses, mistakes, and difficulties, and you have to face those and figure out how they have benefited you.  Sometimes, you can really see God's hand at work, but only if you're looking.  Most of the time, you just want to look away from your mistakes, as if acknowledging them makes you weaker, as if working through them doesn't make you stronger.

      "The truth is, though, he could have all the faith in God he wanted, but if he really wanted confidence as a public speaker, he’d need some hours. God wasn’t going to grant him confidence. Even Moses had absolutely no confidence. And God even stopped the mans stutter. It was experience that gave Moses confidence.
      "The funny thing is, if you wanted to be a locksmith or a plumber or a cab driver, you’d never pray and ask God to magically give you the ability. That’s not how God designed life. But in those fuzzy areas of emotions, we suddenly believe God is going to act like a magician.
      . . . "The truth is, if you do the work and gain the experience, you’ll have more confidence because you’ll actually know what you’re doing, and you will have spent some great time with God."  - Donald Miller

I really didn't have a lot of confidence going into this interview.  I don't have the experience they want.  All my skills are rusty.  I'm crippled by pain physically and mentally.  I don't actually know if I have what it takes to do this job.  It will be a miracle if I get the job and an even bigger miracle if I can keep it.  But a job interview is no place to be honest, which is another reason I struggle with them.

I figure interviewers ask questions about your weaknesses and struggles because they genuinely want to know what it will be like to work with you, but that's the last thing you're supposed to tell them.  You're supposed to play judo games with their heads and make them think you're an impossibly positive polyanna.  It's lying.  It's acting a role.  It feels awful.  I'm really good at it.  I've always been able to fake confidence.  It comes from experience.

I would like to take this opportunity to hope that the interviewers are more honest with the job-seekers when replying to their questions because I would hate to go enthusiastically into a job only to find out they were putting a positive spin on everything the same way the job-seekers are supposed to.  Something seems wrong, there.  The people I interviewed with were pretty forthcoming and even-handed, which I appreciated.  I just wish I'd been able to return the favor. 

I wonder, if a miracle happens and I do get this job, if I'll be able to live up to their expectations of me.  The real, daily grind me is much less dazzling.  Turning on the full force of my personality like that is impossibly exhausting and exhilarating at the same time.  I can put on a great show for a short time.

Is that a form of trust in God or another way I'm lying to myself?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

How to be really neurotic about a job interview

  1. Find out that one of the people you are interviewing with will not hire you if you're not wearing a plain, black suit that is dry-cleaned and neatly ironed.
  2. Be really glad that the one suit you own is plain and black.
  3. Remember that the last time you could afford to have it dry-cleaned, they ironed the seams of the pants in a wonky way and did something strange to one of the shoulder pads.
  4. Panic because what if they don't hire you because of that?!
  5. Consider taking it to the dry-cleaners and asking them to iron it VERY CAREFULLY.
  6. Realize you don't have the money.
  7. Convince yourself that it's an investment, and if you get this job you will have the money.
  8. Wonder what if they screw something up and rip it or put a hole in it or ruin the other shoulder pad, and you can't wear it?! There is no way you can afford a new suit. And this is actually the only suit you have ever worn that makes you look really good! And if it gets ruined, you will be ruined! RUINED!
  9. Decide not to take it to the dry-cleaners you can't afford.
  10. Air it out really thoroughly, and plan to be sitting down, so they can't see the wonky seams during the interview.
  11. Remember that your shoulders are crooked anyway.
  12. Remember that it's your lack of experience that will be more likely to ruin your interview.
  13. Jitter about trying not to get your hopes up because your hope is not in this job. Though this job could save your financial life, health, and other important things, this job cannot really save you.
  14. Try not to expect things to miraculously work out this time in your favor because it's been a rough seven years.
  15. Try to be calm even though the more things seem to be coming together in some visible pattern that seems divinely orchestrated, the more scared you are at how disappointed you'll be if the rug gets pulled out, and this job falls through, too.
  16. Try really hard to be like the person in Psalm 131:2* (NASB).  "Surely I have composed and quieted my soul;/ Like a weaned child rests against his mother,/ My soul is like a weaned child within me."
  17. Really contemplate this. The child is not using the mother as food dispenser anymore. The child is not wanting, craving, desiring, demanding. The child is resting in a place of love and safety and warmth, perhaps remembering what the mother has provided in the past but also simply enjoying the goodness of the present.
  18. Hold on to that as hard as you can, and don't let go, no matter what.

    Friday, May 14, 2010

    (Why) Can't Christians handle the truth?

    I read a book series a while ago that brought the breathtaking power of grace home to me more than anything I could remember reading lately.  It's true I have a poor memory, but since one of the reasons I read is so that I can have those moments of insight again from different places, my shoddy memory is an asset.  If I wait a few years (or a few months), I can read it all again for the first time!  Sort of. 

    The book series was chock-full of "adult content," some of it incredibly vile, making true claims about human depravity in practice: what it does to us, those around us, to our choices, and even to the world around us.  I had to be very careful when recommending it because its content was most certainly going to offend (because that was its purpose, to show what depravity looks like and then what grace looks like sparkling amidst the muck, and you can't talk about that stuff without offending people's sensibilities).  I was sad that a lot of Christians would never read these books (and have these insights in this way) because they would be so busy being offended by the depiction of truth that they would miss the truth itself.

    It frustrated me that we have to sanitize everything for Christian consumption, as if acknowledging the truth of depravity made us more guilty or something.  I love how Donald Miller put it.  Here are some excerpts from yet another of his thought-provoking blog posts.

    "You probably wouldn’t tell the story of Bill Clinton having an affair, Benny Hinn faking healings and getting a divorce or Ted Haggard talking macho and homophobic and then secretly sleeping with men and using drugs. I doubt you’d talk about powerful religious figures being involved in incest, either. But that’s exactly the sort of stories we find in scripture. And not only that, but these are principal characters through which Christ lineage and God’s redemptive message are passed down through."

    "What I love about the Bible is it’s honesty. This is not a book in which authors tried to hide anything. If somebody got drunk and slept with their daughter, it’s in there. If the king of Israel had a man killed and slept with his wife, it’s in there. If somebody doubted God’s love, it’s right there in the book.  So why don’t Christian books read anything like the Bible? Can we handle the truth?"

    Yeah, you should go read the whole post.  Then come back.  :)

    What do you think?  Why is "Christian Literature" so restricted in what it can depict?  Should it be?  Is depicting the same thing as endorsing?  (If so, those Bible writers are in some hot water . . .)  Are Christians really incapable of handling the awful truth of a broken, fallen world full of fallen, broken people, consequences, bad choices, and misery?  Are there other sides to the debate you'd like to bring in?  What does love look at without flinching, and what should it turn its eyes away from?

    Friday, May 7, 2010

    If you're having trouble, join the club!

    "If I make it, I'm a good man. 
    Am I a bad man if I fail?"
    - "Man of God" by Audio Adrenaline

    A family adopted a child, and the child was out of control, and the family had a lot of trouble.  Eventually, the mother came to a conclusion.

    "Looking back," she said, "I see that God
    was not in that adoption.  It was us.  
    We were going against God's will."

    This statement gives me pause for at least a couple of reasons.
    1. God commands us to care for widows and orphans.  This oft-repeated statement (Old Testament and New Testament) would thus seem to be God's will for us.
    2. Just because troubles arose from the decision to do what God commanded, that means it's not God's will?  So unless we have smooth sailing, we aren't in God's will?  So if bad things happen to us, it's because we're not in God's will?  Really?  Is that seriously how we think?
    I don't think God tries to trick us.  If He tells us something is His will, or if He tells us to do something, I would like to believe that if we do it, we are doing His will.  Is that wrong for me to think?

    Job said: "Should I accept the good from God
    and not the ill?"  

    (Let's forget for a moment where he went after that with the help of his friends . . .)

    And here's another one: 

    "The rain falls on the righteous and the wicked." 

    I think that one's about common grace, but the opposite seems true, too.  Bad things happen to all people who live in this broken, fallen world full of broken, fallen people.  That's just how it is.  Just because we're "in God's will" doesn't mean we're in a happy place full of roses, balloons, and bunnies untouchable by the world; it just means that we have the hope that this rotten world full of woes isn't all there is for us.

    What does love say to a person who says what this mother does?  What does love say to a person who says that if your life isn't going well, you're doing something wrong?

    A last word from God:

    "In this world you will have tribulation, 
    but be of good cheer, 
    for I have overcome the world."

    Anyone have any thoughts to add or other ways to look at the situation?

    Saturday, May 1, 2010

    What to pray for

    What am I supposed to be praying for? What am I supposed to be trusting God for?

    I read a really convicting quote in the last chapter of Crazy Love.
    "We try to set our lives up so everything will be fine even if God doesn't come through." 

    It's true for me.

    Right now, my family can help support me financially, but I feel like they shouldn't have to. I feel like I must find a Job that pays a living wage somehow, even though I'm not qualified because of my disability, even if I have to fudge truth about my capabilities or take a Job that will cause me too much physical pain because if I don't, I'll just keep failing more and more financially until I have to declare bankruptcy. I want to get a Job, so I don't have to rely on their help, so they don't have to sacrifice for me anymore. Whenever my situation hits me hard, I find myself praying for that magical Job that will make things right.

    Sometimes I feel like those prayers to God for that magical Job situation are my trust in Him. They are certainly my parents'. "God will provide a Job," they say, "you just have to keep trying." This makes me feel like if the Job doesn't materialize, it's my fault for not trusting enough or something, for not doing the right things.

    Other times, I feel like this insistence we seem to have that God owes us a good job or prosperity of any kind is foolish and arrogant. God does not exist to make me happy and comfortable. God does not have to provide me with a miraculous Job in order to stay God or win my favor and trust. At least, it shouldn't be that way. People who believe in Him are starving to death, being tortured, and dying for Him, and they don't feel that He owes them anything more. So I feel guilty when I pray specifically for the Job, like I'm saying, if you just give me this thing, then I can take care of the rest.

    It's messed up.

    I don't think I can ever go back to that place of worry-freeease and comfort, if I was ever there in the first place. I've never really been in it, now that I think about it. My mom was deathly ill. My Dad lost his job when I was a kid. I struggled to get out of college debt-free; I was always concerned about there not being enough money. It's not like this is new to me. I have always had to rely on "things working out" in order to stay afloat financially. I feel like I already learned that lesson. But if the job never materializes, does it mean I haven't learned the lesson right (or the right lesson)?

    What this crappy, painful, out-of-control situation (that started with my injury at work and subsequent dumping by the responsible party [US government] and currently disabling chronic pain and basic unemployability) has made me do is rely on God to get me through the day, every day. From the hauling myself out of bed exhausted every morning to the crawling back in and all the sleeplessness therein, the Lord's name is to be praised. Not very chipper and poetic, as Psalms go, but maybe I can make it work.

    I don't think that I will forget this reliance on God just because I get a great job with health insurance and a competent, reasonable boss who appreciates my work and gives me great performance reviews. I don't think I will forget that it is in Him that I live and move and have my being if the pain goes away. I think this lesson is part of me, ingrained in me forever.

    But if getting these things would make this understanding go away, then I have to pray that God won't give me those things. (This is why you shouldn't pray dangerous prayers, like, "God, bring me closer to You no matter what," unless you really understand what they entail. :)

    So what am I supposed to be praying for again? I feel like my standard, "helpmehelpmehelpme" or "pleasegetmeoutofthis" aren't specific and personal enough. Any suggestions?

    Friday, April 9, 2010

    The childless 10%

    When I randomly opened up Gilbert's Committed, the page I landed on talked about how in every society, statistically, 10% of women never have children.  This was somewhat flabergasting to me (and to Gilbert).  1 in 10 women?  Really? 

    Sometimes, the percentage can get as high as 23%, but for some reason, it never falls below 10%, if I'm remembering what I glanced at.  I think Gilbert talks about evolution causing this consistent number or something (can't remember), but as a Christian, I was really intrigued.  Apparently, 10% is a good number, a minimum amount necessary for something.

    Of course, not all of these women lack children because they are lifetime celibates.  Gilbert mentions infertility, war, and other reasons.  I wonder if that 10% takes into account how many people adopt and raise children not biologically theirs.  Probably not.  Maybe that's part of what that 10% is for. 

    Anyway, what are your thoughts about/experiences with that statistic?

    Friday, April 2, 2010

    Liz on discipleship, also other questions

    I was so impressed with Liz's response to last week's post and the way it made me think that I decided it needed to be posted a bit more prominently for those who may not read comments.

    "I think the idea of making disciples is a bit terrifying. I suspect that it is supposed to be like the way I understand draft horses are trained: you take an inexperienced horse, hitch him up alongside a mature, trained one, and then keep them working/moving together until the new one gets the hang of things. If you make disciples that way, you're looking at dedicating yourself to running parallel to somebody else for a long time. You might not even really like the person, but who are you to judge, if you're open to helping whoever needs it, whoever God brings you? Which of course you should be, if you trust him and really want to do his will and work. And think about the people who have put up with you in the past. Think about the people Jesus put up with, even among his closest friends, the twelve. If find it exhausting just to think about it, let alone live it.

    "If you just go someplace for a week and harass people you don't know and will never see again, you can come back and live your life however you please and feel good about yourself for it."

    As a follow-up question to everyone: What is the difference between discipleship and mentorship? 

    If discipleship is partnering up with whoever gets hitched to your harness, is mentorship about seeking out someone of a different age but a like mind?  Is there a place for that in the church, as well?  Is it mandated or just a good idea?  And how do we go about getting hitched into someone else's more experienced harness and get someone less experienced hitched into our slightly more experienced harness?  Any examples, ideas, or suggestions?  How exactly does love go and make disciples?

    Friday, March 26, 2010

    Something important I figured out about why "evangelism" makes my skin crawl

    I have always been uncomfortable with the way the evangelical church defines evangelism. They equate it to the Great Commission and indicate that real Christians are ready and willing to evangelize (do drive-by evangelism, hand out tracts at the drop of a hat, and preach at anyone who breathes and enters their radius). I've never been comfortable with that.

    For a long time, I harbored guilt about my unease. Obviously I wasn't a real Christian if I didn't like participating in these activities. Along with making me uncomfortable, they seemed ineffective.

    I didn't know how ineffective until I was reading The Unlikely Disciple, where the hardest chapter for me to read wasn't the one about masturbation or the one about homosexuality, but the one where the author signed up to do a spring break evangelism trip. I knew the chapter would be mortifyingly embarrassing to me as an evangelical (and it really was). I didn't want to read it, but I knew I couldn't skip it.  I stalled out at that point for two weeks.

    Part of my discomfort came from knowing that this kind of "evangelism" was pointless. Even someone who does not relate to others normally knows that the tactics we teach to evanglize are not the most effective way to tell others about our faith and beliefs.  We are called to love God and our neighbors, and we do that best by having relationships with people and living out our love for God and them among them. However, I wasn't comfortable with the kind of "life-style evangelism" that didn't ever involve telling people why we do what we do and what we believe that motivates us to do what we do. (Another balance issue?!)

    Recently, I figured out that the root of my unease with what evangelicals refer to as evangelism has to do with the meaning of words. Matthew 28:19-20 is called the Great Commission and is used by Evangelicals to describe their mandate to evangelize. Leaving aside concerns about whether Christ was speaking to that specific audience or a broader one (and assuming He was addressing a broader one including all believers), I am not satisfied that we are reading this verse right. My Bible doesn't say, "Go preach at people" or "Go tell them the gospel, get a prayer of confession, and mark them down as a statistic.  My Bible says, "Go therefore and make disciples . . .."

    What we describe as evangelism seems to me to have less in common with biblical discipleship and more in common with historical practices like forced conversions, the Crusades, and the Inquisition. In the past, the church had political authority and power, and we could bludgeon people into doing our will. That's not very biblical, but we did it a lot. For a really long time. Power corrupts and all that.

    I wonder if some of our mindsets about missions and evangelism today still reflect the distortions of past (colonialism, HRE stuff) instead of reflecting a more biblical focus. It wouldn't surprise me if this is a case of not knowing our history and continuing to repeat it ad nauseum.

    So now I'm really curious about what it means to make disciples.  What does the Great Commission really tell us to do?  what does it mean to make disciples?  Any thoughts?

    Friday, March 19, 2010

    Today she told me, "Don't give up."

    Can she somehow tell how much I want to? Maybe it's a good thing I haven't gotten any of those government jobs.

    If I did get offered a good government job, I think I would give up on this dream of teaching college. I would keep writing, I think, because I can't stop, but I wouldn't have to feel guilty about not being published, wouldn't have to keep submitting things or worrying about submitting things because if I'm not trying to get a teaching job by being published (since I can't get any experience), then I don't need to be published. That would be several loads off my mind. Is this laziness?

    I would have more time to read and maybe try to see how I could use my love of reading and writing to help foster kids. I could try other dreams, be open to unexpected, new dreams and opportunities. Of course, I would think of myself as a quitter, but the bills would be paid, and I would be more at peace, so the trade-off would be worth it, right?

    In Bebo Norman's song "Pull Me Out," there's a line I really love about not knowing if your troubles are a test about holding on or letting go. How do you tell the difference between being stubborn and being tenacious?

    I don't think that success is necessarily the criteria because God doesn't promise us success. Is this about my heart? About my attitude? I don't know. Can contentment and ambition live with each other?

    Sometimes, you don't get what you want until you stop reaching. A lot of married couples have said that sort of thing recently. "I stopped looking, and then I found him/her." Other happily ended stories are about dogged pursuit. Some sad stories are about not knowing your own limits; others are about giving up too soon. How do you know which situation you're in?

    Am I getting more comfortable here in limbo, avoiding the smugness of knowing, of clearly seeing in hindsight?

    Today, again, I pray my usual prayer, "Please help me, God." At least, I'm pretty sure that's the right prayer, no matter what the situation.

    Sunday, March 7, 2010

    Love, Judgment

    From a Kirkus Review of Sherman Alexie's The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven:

    ". . . the ability both to judge and to love gives the book its searing yet affectionate honesty."

    It seems like in our culture, love and judgment are certainly not supposed to walk hand in hand. They are treated as mutually exclusive. (I wonder if this has anything to do with the difference between civility and political correctness.)

    "I can't believe a loving God would condemn anyone to hell." You may have heard that one before. In my mind, I follow it with, "A righteous judge couldn't do anything but condemn people to hell."

    I'm people, and I know what I'm like, and I've had some experience observing people. If you believe (and know) the Bible (all of it, not just pieces), I don't really see how you could think any of us pass muster to be declared innocent.

    When did judgement and love get as far as the east is from the west? I suppose it was when love became niceness and judgment became a bad word.

    Whenever people ask how a loving God could send people to hell, I wonder if they want the legal/justice system in this country to disappear because we need to forgive, not condemn. I'm pretty sure most of them don't because they realize that wouldn't work very well for the law-abiding citizens.

    Also, read some Sherman Alexie. That reviewer was right. Somehow Alexie finds the perfect balance of love and judgment, and the honesty will kick you as hard as the affection. It's amazing.

    In your opinion, when did judgement and love get so far away from each other?

    Sunday, February 28, 2010

    Singing in the old church's choir

    I am a member of a church that emphasizes biblical truth because the convenient, community-oriented church I used to attend taught too many things that conform to the doctrines of political correctness, and I couldn't stay in a place where that was the case.

    That church felt like a real family, complete with lots of middle-aged choir ladies worrying about whether you're dating because they actually know you by name and always want to hear what's going on in your life.  It was a beautiful building, a smallish neo-Gothic cathedral with copious and lovely stained glass, a gorgeous organ, and an acoustic to revel in.

    We just had a concert there, and even though I haven't attended in about 4 years now, they all still know me.  They knew me two years ago during my disastrous attempt to sing their Christmas Eve service with them (my music disappeared while we were getting robed up, and I had it marked up copiously in order to not screw things up, so I had to sing very cautiously, and it was not a lot of fun).  They know me when I help them out at their State Fair booth every summer.  When they stop by my workplace, they say hello.  They asked me at the concert, "So, when are you going to come back and sing in the choir again?"

    The thing I loved most about that church was singing in the chancel choir.  Every single week (except over the summer), we got to make music in a beautiful space that makes every song sound special, even the boring and clunky ones.

    I joined a small group at my church and then started leading one.  I was a real member of my new church.  I even sang in their festival choir but not in the weekly choir because our building has no acoustic, really, and the songs are all in English and not usually lovely.

    I thought that in my maturity, I had gotten over my desire to sing in the old church's choir, but it seems I haven't.  I still want to.  If given the choice at 9:30 between attending an age-segregated "Sunday school" for adults at my Bible-preaching church or singing every week in that lovely space, I know what I want.  I could even be back to my real church for the service at 11.

    But would that be a right thing to do?

    I don't know.  It feels fundamentally disloyal.  You can only serve one master, right?  If you try to serve more than one, you are divided: your heart, your time, your attention, your love.  But we're not talking about loyalty to God here, are we?  Just where my body is on Sundays and Wednesday nights.  And my body will be in the right place at 11.  It will just be elsewhere at 9:30.  There is nothing wrong with that, is there?  So why does it feel like it would be wrong?

    I don't like the way this thinking tears at me, the way it dichotomizes beauty and truth.  I feel like it's a false dichotomy here, like I'm making it something it's not.

    Perhaps I am over-thinking, making things difficult for myself because that's what I do best.  Maybe it's not even an issue to fill up on beauty at one place and truth in another.

    We're going through I Corinthians as a church, and last week we talked about liberty and conscience (chapter 8, if you're curious, and you should go read it right now several times because it's that great).  If the Bible doesn't speak against something, no other Christian can tell us it's wrong.  They're free to disapprove until the cows come home, but that's life.  We live for Christ, not to make other people happy.

    If the Bible doesn't speak against something, but your conscience is uneasy because you think doing that thing is sinful, then you shouldn't do it.  For as long as your conscience tweaks you, you just shouldn't do it, no matter what anyone else says or does.  It is you who will stand before your master and be judged for your actions, not the Joneses or your friends.  Know your weaknesses; listen to your conscience; let the Holy Spirit guide you.

    It also doesn't hurt to be sensitive to the weaknesses of those around you.  Whatever you do, don't try to force someone else to go against conscience because if you do, you become responsible in a way.

    Talking about reasons and whys and convictions is perfectly fine.  As we grow in Christ as people and interact and discuss with others, our thinking changes.  Slowly, we grow in knowledge and understanding and sometimes, when we're not even looking, we change our minds.  Sometimes, things we were once violently opposed to because of conscience become non-issues with our new insights on the situation.  Suddenly we can do things without sinning that would have been sin for us to do once upon a time.  It's kind of breathtaking the way we bounce off each other and make each other different people.

    With that in mind, back to my dilemma. I am not going to go against my conscience here, but I would be interested to hear arguments for and against singing with the old church choir.  What do you think?  What does love do in this situation?

    Saturday, February 20, 2010

    No boys allowed in the Bible studies?

    No matter where you stand on the Egalitarian (every person is created equal and can fill all roles) to Complementarian continuum  (men and women were created for specific roles, and there should be no overlap), I would think it would be important to foster Bible studies that involve men in the church.  So why is it that all I see advertised are women's Bible studies?  Why are men excluded from them completely? 

    Maybe things are different at your church (and I'd be interested in hearing how), but the most I've seen at any church I've ever attended were monthly men's prayer breakfasts.  Why this odd segregation?

    Since I haven't participated in many "women's Bible studies," I can only speculate, but I'm pretty sure men aren't barred from them because of intimate female-only discussions (like sex-segregated health classes).  We just got done with a more-than-mildly embarrassing sequence of messages about sex, and they didn't have us sit in different sanctuaries or put up a wall between us like in the temples of yore.  Since there's no logical reason to segregate, it feels more like that girls club/boys club separation thing.  I'm just not sure that's what it should be.

    Why haven't I participated?  Well, some excuses/explanations that come to mind are as follows:
    • 1) Most of the studies don't interest me since they aren't really about the Bible so much as about books that talk about stuff that's in the Bible in practical and applicable ways for the average, modern woman and her peers.
    • 1a) I am not the average, modern woman or her peers. 
    • 2) There has to be a good reason for me to subject myself to the company of others during my free time.
    • 2a) I would either want to be learning some really great stuff from a gifted teacher or interacting with a lot of interesting folks who would discuss deeply and challenge me intellectually.
    • 2b) I don't get on well with most women.  I am very different from them, and bridging that gap results in me donning a mask and/or exhausting myself beyond my limited capacities right now.
    • 3) I don't understand the gender-segregation thing.  I'd rather hear a slew of perspectives from everywhere on the age, life-stage, experience, and gender range.  If the boys aren't allowed to play, too, then I don't want to, either.
    What are your thoughts on the subject (and on my thoughts)?  Overreacting?  Too sensitive?

    Friday, February 12, 2010

    Talking sex and celibacy in church (or, why I enjoy I Corinthians)

    Things weren't nearly as awkward as they could have been when I lead the small group discussion about sex a couple weeks ago.  I thanked God for that.

    We're studying I Corinthians at church, and I'm having a wonderful time, since I love me some Corinthians.  Some of the best celibacy stuff is in I Corinthians (not that it convinces my mom I'm not a deviant).  I love the fact that my pastor is addressing things most Christians don't even know are in the Bible.  Maybe next week here, I'll talk more about my concerns with the group/church reaction to the celibacy idea.  For now, back to sex.

    Then the closing pray-er earnestly thanked God that a single woman would be brave enough to lead a small group in a talk about sex and lust.  I almost hurt myself not laughing out loud.  Bravery?  Seriously?

    I mean, I suppose if I were a "normal" single Christian desperately longing for a spouse and praying that I hadn't been given the gift of celibacy if it was nonreturnable, maybe it would have been more awkward.  Or maybe if I were younger.  Or if I didn't live in a culture that tries to sell sex to anyone who is not blind, deaf, or sequestered in a far-out nunnery.

    But, come on, they know by now who I am: an observant, thoughtful 30-year-old, informed and willing to choose something else. 

    Sure, we were all a tad embarrassed: newly-marrieds, older-marrieds, and dating couple, along with single woman.  (I think it was a good thing the new guy didn't come this week, either.)  We're embarrassed partly because none of us have much experience talking sex with other people in the church.  It still has that slightly tainted status as a topic incapable of being included in godly conversation, which is silly.  God invented sex.  It's part of who most people are, and it's wrapped up in a lot of current cultural baggage.

    Sex and sexual identity are a big part of who people are in America and possibly even more important in more conservative church culture.  We need to know how to talk about it biblically, compassionately, honestly, and rightly.

    But with all this great biblical teaching about the benefits and goodness of celibacy, I can't understand why the church is so marriage- and baby-crazy.  It's absolutely ingrained, to the point where no one ever questions it.  When I asked if they ever considered not getting married, I got seriously blank looks.  They never thought about it as an option even when it was presented last week.  I'll bet other groups discussing this, groups that don't have a thrilled, celibacy-gifted member like me never really even went so far as to entertain the idea that some people actually choose it. 

    Celibacy is not an embarrassment.  Let me rephrase that: a life style of celibacy should not be an embarrassment, especially not in the church.  But it is. 

    Talking about celibacy with someone who is, in fact, celibate for one reason or another makes Christians uncomfortable, possibly more uncomfortable than talking about sex.  Truly it does. 

    I've often thought that the only thing that would have traumatized my mom more about my sexuality would have been if I had told her I was homosexual.  My celibacy seems like a similar blow to her; she simply doesn't know how to react, how to process this ersatz sexual non-orientation.

    It seems so unnatural to most people.  At least the folks in my MFA program were curious.  They asked questions.  Lots of detailed questions.  Their obvious befuddlement was refreshing.  They didn't understand, really, but they didn't pity me; they wanted to understand me as much as they could.  Believers seem to just feel sorry for celibate people.  I find the situation sad.  And, to be honest, pretty irritating.

    For now, I'm just glad that we got through our discussions the last few weeks without anyone being too ashamed to meet anyone's eyes or flipping out too much.  The donuts probably helped.  Maybe the sugar low mellowed us out?

    Have you ever talked sex and celibacy in your church or small group?  How'd that go for you?

    Sunday, February 7, 2010

    Enjoy being single?

    "When I'm not freaking out about dying alone and unloved, I actually really enjoy being single." - anonymous
    I had to share this one; it made my day.

    Does/did this ever describe you?

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010

    What does love do when . . .

    We were friends in junior high and the beginning of high school before he transferred.  He had broken glasses held together by tape and was awkward and bullied.  He thought he was stupid and worthless because he got bad grades and had a complicated home life.  He needed a friend.  He wrote me letters, and I wrote back.  We signed them in this silly way . . . 

    I think I was the only person he'd ever interacted with on this level, which is why he told me some things that make me wish I could go back in time and do what I should have done (told someone else, an adult, an authority, someone who could have helped him and maybe saved him some trouble).

    When he transferred away, I broke school rules to give him a hug.  I heard that he got really good grades at his new, public school, which made sense, since our school was much harder and more advanced.  That gave him some much-needed confidence, and I thought maybe things would turn out okay for him.

    Later, I found out he married one of my other friends from high school, a girl who started attending after he left, a casual, lunch-table friend who told us that she would never believe in Jesus because of all the people at our private Christian school who said they did and treated her and other awkward outsiders like crap.  She always told us that we were an exception (and didn't say we were not enough of an exception to blot out the norms) and that we shouldn't blame ourselves for her Jesus-phobia.  I didn't blame myself.  I understood that logic and arguments can't force anyone to believe in Jesus.

    When I heard they were married, I didn't know what to think.  Years later, they divorced, and it was messy.  Now he's tracked me down online, and he really wants to renew our friendship.  He is lonely and desperate.  He needs friends and help.

    I am hesitant.  I've had some bad luck with adult men pursuing me for ulterior motives, and I don't really want to break any more hearts.  That couldn't possibly help him.  He's hurting enough.  Not to mention that now that I'm an adult, I am more legally responsible for anything he tells me.

    I don't really know what love does in situations like this.  Do you have any advice?

    Saturday, January 16, 2010

    Good, Bad, Ugly (Love)

    I am thinking about dating/marriage, specifically about that bad-good relationship.  It's that "good" girl loves the "bad" boy or the "good" boy loves the "bad" girl.  I've seen it happen before, and it's all over novels and movies.  Have you read Hosea?  These kinds of relationships are really hellish.

    Anyway, it occurred to me that Hosea should make me pay attention more.  God had the prophet marry and be faithful to and try to redeem the kind of woman most people would call hopeless and beyond redemption.  He did this to show us what His relationship to us is like. 

    I know, I know, in context, He's specifically addressing the nation of Israel at the time.  But we're told the church is His bride, and I think we're very much like the ridiculous beloved turning away from all the undeserved love given by the lover and pursuing things that are seriously bad for us in one way or another.  The general story seems to apply.

    Really, these relationships are nightmarish, and they usually don't end well.  But God wants one with every person on this earth.  Just think about that. 

    I mean, yes, He's infinite and all-powerful and such, but I can't even imagine surviving one relationship like Hosea's, and Hosea didn't have the burden of being all-knowing.  I mean, he didn't know everything his wife thought and felt, every sin she committed.  How much heartache and heartbreak can one person's love overcome?

    That's how much He loves us.  Even though these relationships are heart-wrenching to go through, and even though most of them don't end with salvation and redemption, God loves us that much.

    That love is not an emotion.  It can't be.

    "Love one another as I have loved you."

    And the hardest part is that this even this love does not conquer all because when beings with wills collide, there's no guarantee of a happy ending.  We can choose wrong over and over again until we're out of time, and then we pay the price.  Not everyone accepts grace and salvation.  Not every beloved chooses to respond to the lover and be changed.  But our response doesn't change His love for us, as shown by His actions.

    "While we were still sinners, Christ died for the ungodly."

    It really makes me think.

    What about you?

    Friday, January 8, 2010

    This year's obsession: love

    Did you know that in the original Greek, I Corinthians 13:4-7 is a big old list of verbs?  Not love IS but love DOES.  This makes sense to me.

    I wonder why it wasn't translated as a list of adverbs (love acts patiently, etc.), not that they're much better. 

    Love is action.  We show our love by what we do.

    "Love is not emotion.  Love affects the emotions."

    "God commands us to love.  He is not telling us what to feel but what to do."

    I want to love God and others the way I'm supposed to.  It is a lifted burden to hear it confirmed that God is not telling me that I'm always supposed to feel patient, kind, gentle, etc., because I can't. 

    It is, of course, another kind of burden entirely to figure out how to act patiently, gently, kindly, when, say, my incompetent boss is clearly and totally being ridiculous and causing me and others trouble.  And another to figure out where honesty fits in here. 

    I like to be too honest; it cause more pain than it needs to.  How do I reconcile how I feel with how I'm supposed to act, and how do I keep my integrity? 

    As I get older, I find myself even less tolerant of masks.  I prefer blunt honesty (in theory) (possibly because I don't get much of it in practice).  God demands honesty from us, I think.  He knows us better than we know ourselves, so there's absolutely nothing we can hide from Him and much He can reveal to us if we're being honest and open.  Lying just doesn't work.

    So how do I love AND be honest?  There is likely no perfect balance because the world is fallen, and people are broken, and things don't work right here anymore.  How shall we then live? 

    Someone told me that I seem obsessed with the meanings of words, and I'd like to nominate love as this year's obsession.  It's the highest commandment, and the second is like it: love.  In the end, it's what remains.  It's what matters most now.  I should be obsessing about it.  How do I make my actions love?

    I would like it if you'd join me and throw out any thoughts you have on the topic as we go.  Quotes are great, if you come across any good ones.  I love stories, too, so please narrate times you get things right (feel free to tell them as stories you heard from friends or saw someone else do if that's more comfortable for you).  I love good, practical examples of love in action (as opposed to love inaction, I suppose).

    How have you loved or been loved or seen love done right so far this year?

    Friday, January 1, 2010

    "Which is the stronger drive: sex or identity?"

    We're starting off the year with a quote and question to ponder.  

    "When you think someone is beautiful and awesome, is it because you admire them and want to be like them, or because you're attracted to them and want to have sex with them? Which is the stronger drive: sex or identity?"

    I 'd be interested in your answers for this from
    1. childhood
    2. junior high & high school
    3. the present 
    (How) Has your answer changed?  (Why or why not?)