Lectionary Reflections for June 29, 2014

Readings: Genesis 22:1-14, Psalm 13, Romans 6:12-23, Matthew 10:40-42.

I’ve tried many different themes for this blog, and yet when I finally went with the idea I felt like God was giving me, that is, the whole “Edify” theme, and that I could write anything I liked about virtually anything as long as it fit the qualification of edification, the blog started to evolve. After all is said and done, what this blog does is document my personal journey and relationship with God. So with that in mind, these lectionary reflections are going to also relate to my personal journey.

This year, I started using The Voice translation as my translation of choice, after using a mix of the NIV and The Message last year, both of which I love. The reason I have been using a different version every year since I quit being King James only, is that for me, the different styles help me to see different truths in the Bible. The last month and a half has been my first ever experience with the lectionary and I incorporated the lectionary into my life to have some structure which was one basic need I felt I had for my faith.

With all of that being said, I’ve read Romans 6 plenty of times, mostly in the King James Version. Reading in The Voice is very different, but it’s also beautiful. Sometimes the dynamic between right and wrong is difficult, when I left fundamentalism I went into a sort of rebellion against fundamentalist teachings, I traded in things like modesty doctrine for skimpy clothes, which in the end wasn’t the right thing to do either. Basically, it was true that I had the freedom to wear whatever I wanted to wear. But that doesn’t mean that I should have worn whatever I wanted to wear, and that’s kind of the picture that Romans 6 is giving.

Yeah, grace is a free gift, that doesn’t mean that I should take it and then keep living the way I was living. The beautiful thing about grace is that it changes a person, that’s its function, what it’s supposed to do. Instead of living the same dead-end life I used to live, which would only result in death at any rate, I now have life. Life and death are opposites, and a life lived once a person has experienced grace is supposed to reflect that life. Instead of living “deeper in my unruly life” as The Voice phrases it, I now have a different life, one that is supposed to be holy. Grace was a free gift and I can do whatever I want with it, but to do so wouldn’t be living a grace-filled life. Faith requires that I continue to live in this grace that I have been given, which means choosing obedience, choosing allegiance to God above all others. 

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Emerging – Part 5

In emerging, I’m learning so many things about myself, one of the main questions has been “who am I?” and it’s been hard to answer. Until now I’ve been operating on the assumption that I’m a victim. The horror and abuses of the past, those are the things that I have allowed to define me all this time. It’s just in the last week or so that I’ve begun to realize that there is a difference between my identity and my history. Just because things have happened to me doesn’t mean that I need to allow my history to tell me who I am.

As a rape victim, I see rape around every corner, I engage in passionately declaring that everything I ever have to face is due to rape culture and horrible misogynistic attitudes. As an abuse victim, I look at families and see abuse when there may not be any, I am suspicious of friends and neighbors because of the things I have been through. I’ve been hurt by Christians and by the church and so I attribute nefarious and ugly motives to my brothers and sisters in Christ. Being a victim I operate on suspicion, deception, anger, bitterness, and hatred, those feelings coursing through my veins supplying the necessary blood to my spiritual heartbeat. The problem with life giving blood that is made from these things is that it’s anemic at best, and it’s hard to live the full life I was meant to live if I’m tired all the time because of spiritual anemia.

The thing is, I’m not a rape victim, I’m not physical abuse victim, I’m not a victim of spiritual abuse, I’m not the victim of a bad marriage, I’m not the victim of terrible circumstances. That’s a horrible, debilitating, defeating way to live and I’m done living in defeat. Who I am is a woman who is loved by God, who has my identity in him. I’m a woman who has been raped, a woman who was physically abused, a woman who has been mistreated by those who should know better in the church, I was in a crappy marriage, and I’ve had some really terrible and devastating things happen to me. But those things are things that have happened to me, things in my past, in other words they are history. History is a record of things that have happened; history might even look into why or how, and track patterns and provide explanations.

But my history

is not my identity.

My history

does not define me.

 

I can choose

who and what

I allow to define me.

 

I am

a new creation

in Christ.

I can choose

to allow Jesus to define me

I can choose

to take my identity in him.

 

And in doing so

I can emerge.

 

Selah.

Lectionary Reflections for June 22, 2014

Readings: Genesis 21:8-21, Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17, Romans 6:1b-11, Matthew 10:24-39.

In Matthew 10, Jesus is speaking about what a commitment to him will cost. When I became a Christian on March 3, 2008, I knew that I was committing to serve Jesus. I didn’t want to become a Christian just for fire insurance from hell; I knew that it was going to be a defining moment for me, something that would change the course of my life.

I love several things about this passage, the first being that Jesus basically said that even though when everything happened with my separation and divorce and the upheavals there and the gossip and the spreading of lies and rumors, that even if people don’t care to figure out the truth of it all right now, that one day in eternity, God will reveal the truth of the matter, and the things that people have lied about me about, I will be vindicated. Although I tend to think that once we get to eternity I’m not going to be too worried about being vindicated because Jesus will have finished the work he has begun in me by then.

I remember a long time ago, standing in church worshipping, knowing that my marriage was basically down the toilet, and singing “where you go, I’ll go, where you stay I’ll stay, where you move, I’ll move, I will follow you. Who you love, I’ll love, how you serve I’ll serve, if this life I lose, I will follow you, yeah”. I had tears running down my eyes, and I made a commitment to God that day and I sang it instead of the words on the screen and my version went like this “if my husband I lose, I will follow you, yeah”, and at the time I knew it was possible that my following Jesus would cost me my husband, but my marriage was still at the point that it could have gone either way. But I meant what I said and in the end it was something that I had to, although I have to admit I have not done it perfectly and I almost didn’t keep this commitment, the price was too high and the pain was too bad. I have forgotten the date I made that commitment, but I certainly wasn’t able to forget that I’d made it.

Which is why it is comforting for me to read, so soon after my divorce, the words of Jesus when he says that if we love people more than we love him, we are not worthy of him. He’s saying that the only way to live committed to him is to love him above all others, after all he’s the one that will never let go, and I’ve experienced that. Basically my commitment to serve God whether I could keep my husband or not in the process was the right decision, which means that I need to trust him to now work all of this junk together for my good. I’m learning that even when I am unfaithful, he is faithful, and today these words from Matthew 10 have comforted me.

Emerging – Part 4

God, I renewed my commitment to you and I know you know my heart and I mean what I say but you know like that hymn that I’ve known since I was old enough to sing says “prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love” and I know from experience how easy it is to wander from you. In a way I think you understand why I did what I did even though it was wrong, I think that because you are the one who created me with the specific personality and interests that you did. I guess that’s why the Bible tells me to love you with all of my heart, soul, mind and strength, because all four of those are important.
Lately I’ve been struggling with loving you with my mind. You say that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen, in Hebrews 11. I’ve known that Scripture since I was old enough to speak it, and in perfect King James English too. You know that I love intellectual pursuits; you created me to love them. You know that I relate to you in the intellectual but also with feelings and experiences. But right now I’m having a little bit of trouble with it, in knowing how to balance that with my faith, because when it comes down to it, faith cannot be described intellectually because that is what makes it faith: which means that some stuff I just have to believe whether I can explain it in an academic essay or not. The problem is that I’m often better at academic essays than I am at faith.
I’ve had a hunger to learn for as long as I can remember, and that can be a blessing and a curse. It makes me want to learn all I can about you, but sometimes it also makes me want to learn stuff that would draw me away from you, such as all that Witchcraft stuff. I know I’ve said it before, but I’m really, really sorry about the Witchcraft stuff. I tried to justify it academically and from the Bible, because I wanted to do it so badly. Thank-you for never letting go of me, for being there for me even in the darkest of times, even those where I haven’t been able to see you, or have cursed and raged at you, blaming you and being angry when those things weren’t your fault.
But this is just me being honest and real with you about the struggle that I’m having, and I know that you already know this which is why sometimes prayer seems to not make much sense because you know all this crap I’m telling you anyway, but I also know that prayer can cause me to be honest and real with you and with myself. I know that when I write prayers such as this, it gives me more clarity and its part of confession because I’m putting words to the struggles that you already know about, and confession helps me. It’s helping me to emerge.

This has been my most popular series ever, the one that I have had the most personal feedback and discussions on. Those of you who are academics and Christians: how to you balance the wonderful world of academia and Christianity?

Sexuality and Consent

I have major revelations of things that I have been struggling with at the weirdest of times, the most recent one was this morning at 4 am when I should have been sleeping like a normal human being, but instead I was awake in my bed and my brain wouldn’t shut down. I’d picked up my phone to read some stuff off of Facebook to try and pass the time, and I was reading a follow up article in response to Leadership Journal taking down their article written by a prison inmate about going from youth pastor to felon. This article was arguing that Leadership Journal should have left the post up, and his reasons why, several of which were legitimate. The comments, and the original thread I followed, were very interesting.
I totally agree that the church in general has a major sex, abuse, and rape problem. As someone just newly divorced out of a bad marriage, I was struggling with why sex really was such a big deal to God, and why it was supposedly important to not have sex outside of the context of a one man and one woman marriage, and why the church in general had to be so strict on the issue. I was wondering what the heck I was supposed to teach my children about sex, and if I really truly was supposed to teach and expect abstinence until marriage.
I was trying to grapple with some of the points of view towards things such as rape, does a woman who is raped in the legal context of the word ever hold any responsibility for the rape if she flirted or initially gave consent, the age of consent, how to set the age of consent, and the concept of consent itself. And then all of a sudden, it just clicked. God designed for sex to be within the context of a one man and one woman marriage in part because he was trying to make it simple, following what God says about sex actually protects us. If everyone followed what God said and only had sex within marriage, we wouldn’t have to worry about things like the age of consent, etc.
Now I can teach my daughter that it’s important to wait until marriage to have sex because it protects her from having misunderstandings over consent as a teenager, hopefully making her changes of being the victim of statutory rape a little less. I can teach her to guard her sexuality and give it away wisely to a man she is committed to when she is developed enough to understand what she is doing. I’m not naïve enough to think that this will protect my daughter from sexual abuse, but it may help protect her from some bad sexual experiences and ruining her life.
I can teach my sons that it’s important to wait until marriage to have sex because it protects them from believing they had consent from the young woman and then having them arrested for statutory rape because she was underage. Some clear easily understandable guidelines may prevent them from a mistake. Then again, it might not, but I’d like to think that it would help.
It’s easier for me when I understand that God has reasons for the stuff he says, and that it’s not just some outdated rule that someone pulled out of their hat and made up one day and attributed to God. I’m so thankful that God chooses to speak to me in those quiet times, instead of just demanding that I do something because he said so, he lovingly takes time to explain…even though I should do it because he said so.

Emerging – Part 3

Last week I reacted in an entirely different way to a situation than I normally would have. I want to make a disclaimer here stating that I certainly don’t think I’m “better” than anybody else, I think it’s been very well established that I have my own issues, and that’s why I write this post, to talk about my issues and how this turned out differently. I also don’t think those that did advocacy work were wrong, only those who were involved in the situation can tell what their own thoughts and attitudes and motives were. Leadership Journal, part of Christianity Today, published a very controversial article on their website last week, an article titled “From Youth Minister to Felon” an article by a man in prison who had raped a young woman in his youth group. I think Leadership Journal were running the story as a cautionary tale of what can happen if you aren’t careful, I don’t think they had insidious motives.

The article, however, contained language and was written in a way to make it sound like the relationship with the young woman was consensual, even though the law says that she is too young to consent, which means the reason this man is in jail is because he is considered by law to be a sex offender. Many, many people, even Christian people were offended, and I don’t blame anybody for their feelings. As a rape survivor myself, it can be difficult to process what happened and it’s something that tends to stay with you. I wasn’t necessarily offended personally by the article, because I thought that at least they were trying to do something, but I wasn’t surprised nor offended that others would fight so hard to have the post removed because it was hurtful to them.

There was a huge social media campaign, people left comments on the original article that were, sadly, deleted, which I think was a very bad decision on the part of Leadership Journal. It took almost a week, but on Friday evening, the editors of Leadership Journal posted a very genuine sounding apology, taking responsibility for how their actions had hurt others, and even offered some amends. I don’t think there is a lot else they could have done except it would have been nice for them to have addressed the deleted comments and apologize for that as well. However, I was appreciative of the apology and was willing to think the best of Leadership Journal (and I have no ties to either Leadership Journal or Christianity Today, in fact the brief look I have had at any of CT’s stuff makes me kind of nauseous) but I do think they at least tried.

I mean, from my point of view, there are often times that it takes people telling me stuff and explaining stuff to me over and over and over again before I begin to get it. Isn’t that entirely possible that’s what happened here with Leadership Journal and their editors? They apologized and offered amends, and people still descended on them like vultures, waiting to feast. Just a few weeks ago, I’d have been one of those people, because I was in a place where I was burned out, and bitter, and angry, and still trying to process things that have happened to me. But then again just a few weeks ago I was denying Jesus too.

I’ve done so many horrible things that I need forgiveness for, and I know what it’s like to genuinely try to make amends and apologize, just to have people continue to carry on about what happened. It’s natural for people to do that when they’ve been hurt, and I can’t really blame them, but it is discouraging. It was like I saw this situation through completely new eyes. I could have used a lot of time last week campaigning for the take-down of the post, and I could have even been right in doing so, but I’m glad I didn’t because for me, it wouldn’t have been profitable. It would have fed bitterness and anger that I’ve been trying to release.

It doesn’t mean that what happened was good or right, but it does mean that when I identify that something could cause an issue for me, and issue to feed bitterness and anger or a choice to leave it be and quietly go on with my life refusing to feed the bitterness and rage, that I have to make a choice. The choice that I make needs to be the one that is the most spiritually healthy for me, and in choosing what I respond to, choosing what I read or focus on, choosing what part of me I want to feed, is the most important thing here. And last week, for the first time that I can really remember, I made a purposeful, conscious choice to feed something apart from bitterness and anger, and I’m hoping that the more I do that, the more it will be eventually starve and die, and I can continue to emerge.

Emerging – Part 2

Well Jesus, you know that I cheated on you, you don’t need me to tell you that, but you never let me go and anyway I just want to say I’m really sorry. I let my pride and my arrogance and my supposed intellect get in the way, things just didn’t make sense but I forgot about faith, and the reason it is called faith is because it’s not based on intellect, faith is belief in things that I cannot see. You know that despite the fact that I swore up and down to the contrary, that I was unfaithful to you, because I pretended to follow you while taking a path I knew you did not want me to take.

I held bitterness and anger and strife in my heart towards my fellow believers, I hurt them, I did damage to your name. I almost left the community of believers you have blessed me with, because of hurt and anger that I didn’t want to deal with. I believed the enemy when he said he had a path that would make me happy. Instead of telling him to go away, I let him hang around and chat for a while, showing me all the supposedly beautiful things that he had to offer me. Those things were attractive and looked like they might offer me all of the things that I longed for, but you didn’t let me go because despite my unfaithfulness, you are faithful. You kept working to get me back, and I’m so thankful that you did.

I think I’ve been mad at you, even though you answered my prayers for a way out of my situation. I was mad because you didn’t answer the prayers the way I thought you ought to answer them, I thought you made the situation worse, but now I see that possibly this was the only way you could answer my prayer, and give me the help that I needed at the same time. I’m really sorry I didn’t trust you and that I let myself be allured away by the false promises of the enemy.

And I know you’ve been waiting for these words from me, that you will forgive me because that is what you promise to do, and I can trust you to do what you promise. I don’t deserve all of the blessings you’ve given me, and yet you choose to give them anyway. I’m here, I’m sorry, and I’m yours. I don’t know how to put all of these pieces back together again, but I know that you do, and I’m asking you if you could do that for me. I’m sort of overwhelmed by all of the pieces right now. I committed my life to you back in 2008, but I haven’t lived for you lately, in fact I’ve lived against you. Please forgive me, please restore me. This is my confession, the public confession I should have been making all along, that I am yours.

Emerging – Part 1

From bitterness…I repent.

From dishonesty…I repent.

From running and hiding…I repent.

At some point in the last few weeks, something changed for me. It crept up on me so slowly that I was unaware, and I think it really began the day that I repented from messing with Paganism and Witchcraft. When I was honest with myself, and with God, and with another person (this is beginning to sound like a 12-step program) about what was really going on, I think it opened a gateway to healing. Which kind of makes sense because the Bible says that we will know the truth and the truth will set us free. So I suppose when I couldn’t be honest about what I was doing, who I was becoming, I couldn’t be free. I had to face myself and the reality of what I was really doing, and I had to quit hiding, hiding from God and from the one friend I knew without a doubt loved me enough to walk through this with me if I would just talk to her about it, but I was too ashamed.

It’s kind of pathetic, but I’m so desperate for respect, that sometimes I’ll sell out to try to get it, which I think is a pretty normal thing humans do when we want something so badly, but that is never the right thing to do. A few weeks ago I cried when my therapist mentioned that I might be bitter about some things, and I got upset when a dear friend said the same thing. I told them that their accusations of bitterness were hurtful because it was just a way of trying to gloss over all the hurtful things that had been done to me and an excuse for nobody having to bother about having offended me because I was also sinning by being bitter. Well, the thing is that they were right. And because I felt like I could use it to leverage respect in some circles, I fed that bitterness and kept it alive, in order to try to win friends and influence people.

Bitterness has always been a struggle for me, it’s something I go round and round and round on, taking one step forward and two steps back. It’s probably going to be something I continue to struggle with again, this time I know better than to think it won’t come up again. I didn’t even own up to the bitterness label right away, but I did start doing something differently…I started taking some real responsibility for myself and my actions and reactions, and focusing on myself makes crap that others have done to me seem kind of trivial. I saw the ugly inside of me, the parts that made me want to war against my brothers and sisters in Christ, the parts that threatened to bind me in darkness if I did not deal with them. The more that I look inward to myself and my responsibility, the more I look at the forgiveness, love and grace that have been granted to me, the more I forgive. And the more I forgive, the more bars on this prison that I have made for myself are torn down, and I can emerge.

Kingdom of God

Almost eight years ago, I got rid of an entire apartment’s worth of things, packed my whole life up into two duffle bags, and boarded a plane from Sydney, Australia, to the great unknown of New Orleans, Louisiana. I had a grand total of $400, and a huge sense of optimism as I left to start my new life on the other side of the world with a man I had known for six months. After thirty-six hours of airports and five different flights, I saw New Orleans for the first time at 2 am on October 18th, 2006, which was still devastated from Hurricane Katrina.

My birth into the kingdom of God happened a little bit quicker, as I knelt by my bed on March 3rd, 2008, just nine days before my 23rd birthday, four months pregnant with my second child. There had been no airports or flights, or concerns about money; however the process to get me to the point of actually entering the kingdom of God took, well, 23 years. So I got new life that day in March 2008, entered a new world, was a new creation, although I didn’t have much concept of any of that, even though I’d grown up in a conservative fundamentalist Christian family.

There was, and sometimes still is, culture shock for me as I assimilate into life in America, and the same goes for the kingdom of God. The thing is, it’s supposed to be a culture shock to enter the kingdom of God, life is supposed to be different, it’s supposed to go against the ways I used to do things, because it’s new and it’s a different way of life, just like living in America is vastly different from life in Australia. I didn’t fully realize that day that I knelt and gave my life to Jesus that I was entering the kingdom of God, I wasn’t expecting the culture shock really because I’d been a seeker of God my whole life and had actually thought I was a Christian, with serious doubts on and off for many years.

Lately I have been seeing just how different the kingdom of God is from the world. In the kingdom of God the greatest law is to love the Lord with all of my heart, soul, mind and strength and to love my neighbor as myself. In God’s kingdom I am supposed to walk in the spirit rather than the flesh. While I understood that things changed when I became a Christian, it wasn’t until recently that I began to understand that I had a change of citizenship on this earth also. I knew I was supposed to go to heaven when I die, but I never understood my new citizenship here, and how it was supposed to change how I live in the here and now. I will be exploring the kingdom of God topic a whole lot more hopefully in the upcoming weeks. 

LGBT – Part 1

I have to confess right from the start that I’m in a unique position about my opinions on LGBT issues, and I’m a person that wants desperately to fit in somewhere and be liked, and, knowing that people on all sides of LGBT issues would dislike my opinions, I have been hesitant to write about them. I want you to like me, I want to be popular, I want to have influence. I want to write with passion and I want to be understood and to be influential and to have people out there who just can’t wait for the next thing that I have to write. But all that would be useless if I don’t even be honest about my beliefs, or try to line them up with someone else’s beliefs just so that I will be liked. I’ve spent my whole life doing that and it’s been a waste of time and it’s also been a lie. And because of how often I’ve lived a lie, and had a past reputation for lying, I’ve committed to be as honest as possible about things, even if people won’t like it.

I doubt that I will win any friends here as like I said, I believe things about LGBT issues that will make me unpopular all around. But I also have a unique perspective to offer as someone who majored in sociology and writing in college (in my B.A. program I was required to choose two majors), someone who identifies as bisexual and Christian, but who is committed to dating men, I think I understand the issues from more perspectives than other people may be blessed (or cursed) to have. My book “The Girl With the Grace Tattoo” that I am working on has a chapter that covers LGBT issues from my perspective as a person who fits into that category and feels that I was born that way, and yet believes that it would be sin for me to be in a same sex relationship.

The thing that is going to make me unpopular with the evangelical crowd is that I totally believe that people are born gay. The thing that is going to make me unpopular with the progressive or liberal crowd which I tend to feel I fit into more than the evangelical crowd is that I believe that just because I was born with a tendency to desire intimate relationships with either men or women and have in the past had both, doesn’t mean that I should act upon it, because to act upon it would be sin. Basically, it’s not a sin for me to be who I am, and to recognize who I am. It would be sin for me as a woman to have an intimate relationship with a woman.

And what bothers me the most is that I’m not necessarily comfortable with my beliefs on the  matter, but I’m trying to remain faithful to God which I am not really very good at. For those of you who are willing, please hang out with me as I explore this issue in a series of posts, because this is not even scratching the surface.