Tornadoes, Piper and Grace

Well, let’s just jump into this gigantic mess. I’m not a huge fan of John Piper and I’ve slowly stepped away from the “Neo-Reformed” movement (especially given my recent reading and exploration of Jean Calvin who would not be Neo-Reformed). But I’m also not going to land on the side of Zack Hunt, who I enjoy and admire but with whom I was severely disappointed when I read his “Christian Defense of John Piper” today which amounts to a further insult in an already horrible situation.

John Piper, when I heard him preach several years ago, was extremely gifted as a communicator and I almost changed college choices just so I could attend Bethlehem. It was a heady sermon, with words I didn’t know but which I found intriguing and beautiful as a wide eyed high school student. In the end, I stuck with SPU and made the westward trek to Seattle where I (gasp!) attended Mars Hill faithfully for three years, usually hitching a ride, but sometimes walking in the pouring rain. All that to say — I’ve been in the “Acts 29 Tradition,” including a church plant in Denver where I lasted only about a year before stepping away from the Neo Reformed. Both these men are gifted in a number of areas and yet, something is happening, something is going wrong.

I have a sneaking suspicion that it, like everything else, is a rather complicated and nuanced issue with myriad facets. For the sake of length, however, I want to stay on Piper and the current Twitter issue about the OK tornadoes (and no, I’m dealing with the theology at this exact moment).

Piper set off a firestorm with his tweet about Job and the house falling in on his sons and daughters. It was, however, followed by a second tweet wherein Job notably tears his clothes, weeps and worships. Knowing Piper, knowing many in the Reformed movement (many of whom are dear friends), I would submit that this second tweet was meant to be the primary point — that we weep and yet worship despite our circumstances. Maybe it’s something from my childhood spent between cultures (one which acknowledged suffering and one which decidedly refused to do so), but I think that’s a perfectly acceptable response. Hard, poorly timed and even more poorly expressed; but not heretical or some such.

Now there are threads spreading across Twitter and the blogosphere attacking Piper. What saddens me is that these are being constructed and maintained by those who call themselves Christians. Please, hear me out. I think that Piper expressed himself poorly and fairly inappropriately. I don’t think that Piper really understands the medium of Twitter and the concept of only 140 characters (or the power of those 140 characters). When I sat through that church service, Piper gave a long sermon, at least, long for an American sermon. I think that’s what Piper needs: length, to provide for clarity and context. Twitter, however, doesn’t allow that. In my estimation, Piper (and others) need to either learn that, accept it and start to function within said paradigm, or they need to stop using Twitter….

On the other hand, I’m troubled by the ease with which we, as fellow believers, brothers and sisters in Christ, jumped on Piper. E and I were talking last night over a dinner of baked potatoes and salad; and as I was memorizing Greek vocab he looked over and said sadly, “you know, I lost a lot of respect for Piper today.” I nodded in agreement, muttering “hoh, heh, toh; the. Kai; and or–.” But then I looked up and said, “yes, I did too, but I was also disappointed with how everyone reacted.”

Should Piper be called out on his misuse of Twitter and Scripture ripped from context? Yes, of course. It’s a pet peeve of mine, so you bet! I’m on board with holding people accountable to how they use Scripture to fit their various systems. But the manner in which we do so is extremely important.

When Zack Hunt posted that blank defense today, I was so disappointed, saddened, really. Because the thread below doesn’t really help the situation. And it certainly doesn’t help the outside world looking in. This, in my opinion, is the danger of the blogosphere. We are able to launch accusations across the internet at people with whom we disagree and with whom we should be sharing fellowship rather than volleys of harsh words. Again, I don’t agree with Piper’s tweets, I don’t believe his response was appropriate. We should be mourning with those in OK, not offering pithy verses — as if 140characters can heal the wound of a lost child. But I don’t know that how we have called him to account is entirely appropriate either. We are to be people of grace. Truth, yes, but truth and grace; and I  wonder at how easily we have forgotten that when using the internet to brandish swords and fighting words.

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dedication of various sorts

Recently, while starting a new textbook I read through the preface and discovered the book had been dedicated to a friend of mine. She’s a beautiful sweet woman who’s getting married in a few months and I have the privilege to have her dad as a seminary instructor. She has been encouraging and patient and kind with me, excited about my life and my hopes in a way I’ve rarely had with female friends. Needless to say, I read the lines of dedication and nearly burst into tears in my office.

Needless to say, it’s been a long week. It’s been a week of tears and exhaustion and late nights with dinner at 930pm on more than one occasion. There’s been enough discouragement and existential theological crises to go around the seminary and back again. And I’m not even referring to midterms.

E has been on a deadline. This, of course, is nothing terribly new. We live on deadlines, our culture thrives on them as markers of achievement, accomplishment and success — even personal value and worth. I had deadlines too: papers, midterms, scholarship apps, taxes. But there was something in these lines, these boundary markers this week that made it harder than usual to push ahead and “keep up the good work.” Maybe it’s that in some of our life we’ve been over the deadline lately, in a way that nagged at security, value and worth. Maybe it’s that lent and penitence and realizing sin before the looming cross has just gotten to us.

To be honest, I wish it was the second option; that my sense of sin and unrighteousness, that my failure to to be conformed to the One in whose image I’m created was the reason for the tears in my office.

I cried on Monday because in a few minutes spent on social networking websites I felt undermined, cast aside, forgotten and unnecessary. I almost cried today because of the beauty in seeing my friend be so lavishly loved by her father so as to be remembered in words that many hundreds of people will read — to have work that took years of formation, challenge and perseverance dedicated to her sweet smile and progression from daughter-child to daughter-woman.

This week, I thought about giving up so many things for fear of failure, rejection and wavering purpose. Last week I heard Ethan do the same as he stood in my kitchen and said that work was doing him in, that everything was going wrong and wondering where is God in this? We’re trying so hard, striving, working, scrambling and serving. We’re on deadlines, with plates too full and cups too empty.

But then, last week, on the first day of Spring, the sky clouded over and I felt like the world was slowing down, coming to a halt; and we were finally starting to catch up to the spinning axis. And after class I read that “God was so much, and so intimately concerned with the destiny of man (and precisely with the destiny of every one of ‘the little ones’) as to intervene in person in the chaos and misery of the lost life.” Like the father dedicating his book and work and time to my friend, dedicating the project that had consumed so much of his very life, this is how God is: coming down, kenosis and self humiliation to walk alongside little Ethan and me in the midst of ruined projects, grammatically incorrect papers and mounting bills.

So we’re holding these two things in hand: that God is good and that life right now is hard.

But what if we’re not to hold those in separate hands, but pull them together and realize they aren’t so incompatible as they seemed at first glance?Jean Calvin placed election in such a position within his Institutes to comfort us and give assurance that amidst the travails of life in a fallen world we are saved, called, and promised such vindication beyond the grave that this will seem small and of no account. Nothing separates us from the love of God, even when it feels as if everything separates us from the love of God. And thus we are renewed, restored with value and worth that draws on being created by such a great and gracious Lover, given worth by being held tightly and close despite the mess of this thing that we call life. And we’re given back our purpose, we’re given back our heart to carry on — not because we are striving, but because we are already accepted, known and loved.

Not meeting deadlines or making grades or getting published. Just walking with Him, growing in trust, learning what it means to be like him as we learn who he even is in the first place and then giving all that back to him as glorious praise.

This week, by God’s grace, I’m busy with papers and reading and catching up on day to day work after midterms. It is grace to be so occupied  because Ethan is busy and I’m hardly seeing him but for late night dinners full of exhausted words and tired hands propping up heads and slumped shoulders. I’ve had a few nominal fits of tears, always restricted by the workload before me and the very energy it would take to allow for salty tears.

And somehow, we’re choosing, or learning to choose or choosing to learn that God is here, alongside, walking and speaking and listening. He is good when life is hard. We’re saying thanks for work, pushing control from our own hands and refraining from forcing God to meet our expectations. We’ve come into Holy Week when Jesus was crucified not only for sins but for failing to meet the expectations of those in Jerusalem. What are my expectations? That life should be easy? That work would be life giving despite the curse and hardened ground? That somehow choosing Jesus meant choosing life abundant in terms of the American dream? Are these my expectations of Jesus as saviour messiah? And how must that be recalibrated?

How can I see God, who like my friend’s father, has lavished love and time and effort in order to serve me? to bless me in ways I so quickly fail to recall? And in the midst of remembering his love, his faithfulness, his hesed and hoping in his name, his character rather than circumstance, how must I remember this:

that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We’re exhausted yes, but not ruled or governed in worth, value or purpose by the deadlines and measurements of society. We are governed and given worth by the love of the One who made all things, sustains all things and brings all things to completion.

Why: Laity

Last year, I wanted to take the Bibles out of pews. Have you seen that? At some churches, they have these things on the back of every pew that holds hymnals, Bibles and “get to know you cards.” Some places now have these on the back of each chair, or underneath the chair. As a kid, growing up in churches with chairs that folded up and made room for dozens of events throughout the week, with bare feet on hard cement floors and singing along to the words on an old school projector, I thought chairs or pews with built in book-holders were for the rich and old — probably because I usually saw in the churches that supported my parents which were full of old people and ostensibly rich by default (they were sending us money, weren’t they?).

This time last year, I wanted to walk through the aisles of such churches and pluck Bibles out of those holders. I wanted to take Scripture back from uneducated laity. I called a friend — after a hermenuetics class and flipped a lid with her. I was going on about poetry or narrative, about how people misinterpret passages of Scripture that aren’t didactic (such as the 10 Commandments, those are hard to misunderstand). It’s ironic to feel this, given my belief in the “perspicuity” or understandableness of Scripture by everyone (it was a big deal to the Reformers). Eventually, of course, I got over it. I’m even work in youth group now, where kids read their Bibles and misinterpret things all the time — like it’s their whole purpose in life, these kids end up with some weird theologies, trust me.

But last night, I was reminded why we need each other — laity and seminary student.

There’s a food pantry that serves seminary students and “the needy.” E and I go every couple of weeks, it’s good food which is fantastic because sometimes food pantries resort to quantity rather than quality. There’s certain merits to that approach; but it’s nice to have fresh fruit, meat and natural peanut butter. They serve the food in a  way that is incredibly respectful to our dignity, I need this food, seriously. But I never feel I am looked down on for that need. Last night, as they pushed the buggy of groceries out to the car, I had a lovely chat with Sue and Bruce who helped us load the food in the backseat and then asked how they could pray for us in the frosty night air. E, of course, being strong and humble said he couldn’t think of anything specific. I admitted to the woman that I’m struggling to be motivated at school and then I thought I ought to chime in on Ethan’s behalf so I asked her to pray for this house that he’s finishing.

“How should we do that?” she asked me, “I always feel selfish when I pray, you know, because I’m asking for stuff. How should we pray for his house he’s working on?”

I had to think, and think fast because it was frosty cold, my feet were already tingling from the ice beneath my booths and my cheeks were chaffing in the breeze. They were loading the last groceries when I said to her, “Well, I guess it’s more the heart. I mean, we want the house to finish well, and sell well of course. But it’s that I want him to be encouraged, to know that God’s walking with him in this, to know that he’s done a good job. I want him to finish strong, giving thanks, glorifying God. Yeah, I think that’s what we pray for.”

So she did. We held hands, all four of us in that icy parking lot on the windy hill. We bowed heads and that sweet woman prayed over us: for school, for work, for the food they’d just placed in our car.

This is why scholars need laity: to be reminded why we sit in class, research seeming minutiae and scribble our fingers down to the bone.

And this is why laity need scholars: to be reminded of the who, the what, the how we worship and remain in orthodoxy.

Because without one, the other would be lost in endless tracks of unnecessary philosophy and purposeless, too high and mighty to remember what it’s all about. And without the other, the one might fall into error, forget the past, or struggle to pray.

 

Penitence

Well, I’m no Catholic but I have sat in a confessional. The idea of a lone man listening to my sins from behind the partition reminded me of Oz and felt just a little uncomfortable. Thankfully, it was empty and I sat alone in the darkness, the scent of wood smoothed by so many sinful hands filling me with curious warmth despite my discomfort.

We attend a Celtic Christian service and my heritage is from the British Isles, smattered with bits of European continent. There’s a group there that has long intrigued me, a small sect of Scottish, Irish, Welsh and Briton believers that existed outside of the Roman church for a long time called the Celè De or Culdees. One of their practices was to seek out an anam cara or a soul friend, one with whom you shared everything — one to whom you confessed.

As I sat in that French Roman Catholic confessional and heard the whispered convictions of so many brothers and sisters I thought there was something beautiful in the act of bearing one’s soul to a man who vowed to remind you of your forgiveness in Jesus Christ. Though it might become warped and trite, a mere act by which one could go on living the way they always had, there was always the chance that hearing the sin spoken of and seeing it dragged into the light might be good, healing and restorative to the soul.

The anam cara, the soul friend might provide this glimpse of unconditional love, gentle rebuke and restoration.

Each week during our celtic services, the presiding pastor offers us a few moments of silence, to bring our grievances to God — the ways in which we have grieved him. We quietly confess, recite the Lord’s prayer and ask for help in forgiving those around us because it is we who were first forgiven.

Lent is the season of preparation and waiting as we walk with Jesus. He’s set his face to Jerusalem, signaled that nothing will be stopping him from that sacred, painful journey to the cross where the dividing wall is torn down and all nations are bless through Abraham’s seed. Lent is the season of penitence for the sins that drove him towards Jerusalem, towards the cross, the grave and the death of sin.

I need to be reminded of this often, repeatedly, even daily. I do not mean to suggest that one beat themselves over the head with their sin and their guilt and then dwell in shame. Of course not! The resurrection frees us from that. But I do think in the midst of demanding schedules, screaming children, looming workloads and the daily drudge, it is easy to forget the movement of sin, grace, repentance and forgiveness that consumes our lives. It is easy to forget that I can forgive E because I am forgiven; just as I may bless and love friends because I am loved and am being taught what that love means. It’s this never ending growth towards becoming who we already are in Christ. And it starts with penitence, repentance and constant recognition of our need for Jesus and his work on the cross. This is one thing I love about our church: that each week we are reminded to repent, to reorient towards God and to be forgiven — and then to go out and forgive others! It is a convicting moment for me each week to consider how I have sinned by what I have done, and by what I have left undone.*

This is the reason we fast in Lent: to be penitent and mindful of our sins which drove him to the cross; to prepare for the long night ahead when he is in the ground; to recover our humble position in the divine dance that like a symphony moves from grace over sin, to repentance and culminates in restoration. What a beautiful season and opportunity to relearn and experience this masterpiece of God’s every year!

When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance. {Martin Luther, 95 Theses, 1}

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*Penintential prayer, Anglican Common Book of Prayer

Why: hope and lent

Last week one of my highschoolers told me that hope probably doesn’t deserve to be a stand-alone sort of word. She suggested it isn’t a distinct concept, separate from any other idea we communicate with words. It’s overused, she pointed out, and as I listened to the State of the Union last night — given by a man whom I watched campaign on hope and take office my last year of college when the economy collapsed — I had to agree. To my student, hope is simply another word we use to describe something we really want, a deep and longing desire.

We were outside, amid trees stripped to grey nakedness, with ice under foot and clouded blue sky over head, dotted by geese who’ve flocked to our wide open spaces. She’s a cynic and I’ve only just started my recovery from cynic to hopeful realist. We plodded along after she said all that, each looking to and fro across a landscape seemingly barren and devoid of hope. Between us I could feel the silence grow, soft and fearful as I wrestled for words to speak since I so vehemently disagreed with her.

But how does one explain hope?

It’s Ash Wednesday and there are people wandering the world with grey soot smudged on their faces in the form of a poorly drawn cross made by dirty fallen thumbs looking forward to redemption. But it’s a future redemption and today the ground is still hard and cold. Lent begins and we give things up: meat, sugar, drink or other things upon which we depend instead of finding rest in God. While the practice of fast is certainly formational, it’s also responsive and it’s worth considering in these winter months slowly turning to spring — what we are responding to.

There’s a thing that in seminary we like to call the “grand narrative” or a “controlling narrative” which serves as an interpretive lens for how one reads and interprets Scripture. As a good evangelical seminary, we usually consider this to be the story of Jesus Christ, the story of God coming in to save creation that has fallen down a winding rabbit hole towards greater and greater levels of chaos. We point to his words and the prophecies and the narrative of the seasons to say that Jesus will one day come again to restore and renew all things.

Lent, I think, the season of waiting and going without, is a response in recognition of this redemptive process. Recognizing that Jesus has come, and will come, and learning what it means to wait hopefully in the midst of this present age. Jesus is coming. He’s here, he has come. But I have not only been saved I am still in the process of being saved.* In a similar way, Lent reminds us that we are waiting. With creation we groan and wait and long for the renewal that comes in the end of times. We respond to the Gospel by entering into it; by acknowledging this period of waiting and hoping. Lent shows us we’re waiting, teaches us to long, and forms our hope for the future.

Hope, my friend said rightly, is an intense desire for something. I desperately long for violence to end, for wars to abate, for my family to come home. But there is more than just longing when it comes to the redemption of the world and the many things that make up that redemption. In the way that it’s used in political campaigns and  among high school lovers, hope is cheap and ill used, hardly needed as a word separated from desire and want. We want a better economy in the same way we hope for a job upon college graduation.

But this I’m learning: we don’t put our hopes in humanity and the world. We put it in the One who made those things and we put our faith in the promises handed down to us, the foundation of his faithfulness and the character that says he will fulfill what he has begun. This is what hope is, the faith and trust that God will see His promises through, the patient expectation that the earth will be renewed and the culmination of all things will include a new and distinctively different relationship with the One who is.

Hope is deep and more than simple desire. It pulls from the being of our person and rests on the foundation of previously fulfilled promises and the faith of those gone before us. Lent, the season of waiting helps us refocus that hope: away from created to Creator, towards coming redemption and fulfillment. Because in the liturgical season of waiting we are reminded that we are waiting existentially. We learn to long for renewal. We hang in suspension. This is the tension that Christians live in. Here, oh yes, here! But also not yet. We are expectant, anxiously so. We are waiting. And we know that it will come despite all our impatience! Despite persecutions, failures, and misunderstandings. We’re waiting, but not in empty desire.  We’re waiting in deep, founded, faithful hope.

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Phil 1. 6, 2.12

A Church of Theologians

An open letter to SK and all the “non-theologian” folk I know,

I’ve been thinking a lot about our conversation on Friday when we talked about school (before we got onto youth group). You laughed when I told you about my classes and said that you didn’t think you had a head for theology.

I’ve been thinking about that all weekend and I have to disagree! Perhaps you don’t have the practice of studying things like…epistemology or process theology, etc. But I wanted to encourage you that you are theological just by very nature of being a Christian. I’m convinced that it’s the job (and nature) of all Christians to be theologians since theology is simply about getting to know God more and more.

I also think that whether or not we realize it, we’re theologizing all the time. We do this when we prioritize schedules and design lessons for students or counseling methods for clients. We’re asking, what’s the point here? (probably God) and how do we best serve Him or lead others to know Him? When you talk about EMDR and bilateral stimulation in counseling, you have to consider the role of the Holy Spirit in rejuvenating the mind and bringing healing. When we lead games at youth group or I sit on the sidelines, we have to ask, what does that tell our kids about themselves and about God?

When we complain we are saying something about how we view God and His obligations towards us. When we are grateful, we are saying something about Him and ourselves. When we comfort those in rough places, when we challenge those being drawn into sin, when we speak to non-Christians — we are always exploring what it means to know God and to be His followers. That’s all that theology is.

Of course, there’s the academic side of it. But any good theologian will tell you that the point of Academia is not to split hairs. It’s to provide a foundation on which the Church builds her practical, every day life.

So, you may not think you have a mind for the fine nuances of Moltmann or Calvin. But I think that you do have a mind for theology — otherwise you wouldn’t be in youth ministry or becoming a counselor (and certainly not at a seminary).

Of course, there is such a thing as bad theology and bad methodology or conclusions. But that simply means those who fall into faulty patterns and wrong conclusions need to be gently corrected. He’s a big God, after all. So there are plenty of chances for mistakes. Our theology must be grounded in Scripture and what the Church has long considered orthodox. It is not un-anchored, not a freedom to think without commitment.* But it is freedom to explore the One who is so wildly infinite that we will never exhaust the chance of knowing Him. It is freedom and joy to follow and walk in His ways. Further up and further in without a chance of ever being bored.**

Just some thoughts that have been ruminating. Hope it’s encouraging!

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* “Here is no unanchored liberalism—freedom to think without commitment. Here is no encrusted dogmatism—commitment without the freedom to think. Here is vibrant evangelicalism–freedom to think within the bounds laid down in Scripture.” –Vernon Grounds
** C.S. Lewis The Last Battle

Why: the computer and the pulpit

This morning dawned early,  before the actual rising of the sun. I rolled to the sound of my alarm, rising and falling in ecstatic tones, signaling the start of a new day, a new beginning. Forty five minutes passed between the tumble from bed to newly vacuumed floor and my passage out the front door with tortilla, books and water bottle in hand. Smoothing the jersey front of my skirt down against the cotton leggings to ward against cold and chapped white legs. Ethan took my hand, his own worn with callouses and bearing paint from yesterday’s haste and together we set off to work.

The office was empty, the building not even open when I arrived this morning at 7am with the sun just peaked over cloudy mountains. So I set to work and slowly others drifted in, professors, admin, work studies and others. There was little to be updated on our website so I settled in to data entry to the tune of Voyage of the Dawn Treader read in an English tone that helps my mind stay engaged. It’s slow and steady, dragging work — this coding for mailing lists now that we’ve switched massive email communication systems. But it’s necessary and important and there’s no way to do it in this age of technology but to type it in, each name at a time, one by one of near 10,00 records.

Recently I read a Tweet by a prominent pastor who linked to a website that would help or provide resources for those interested in the “most glorious work” of being a pastor.

This morning a professor came in looking for a DVD of our Seminary President’s installation a few  years ago. As he sat down and we chatted for a few minutes. I mentioned farming, theology, biblical studies and he told me to stay in the discipline I landed in last spring. He talked about teaching, accreditation and North Carolina, PhDs and how dating throws a wrench into everyone’s plan. Finally he asked, with a sigh and a sit down at the desk across from me, what I do in the office he had stumbled into still bleary eyed and waking up from yesterday’s late night grading.

Data Entry. Website maintenance. Grunt work.

keyboard

“Couldn’t pay me enough money to do that,” he said with a shake of his head.

“You could do it,” I thought, though I declined to say it in my respect and deference of authority. Instead I remarked on the office environment, the sweet staff and the flexibility around my student schedule. He smiled and left, remarking on the attitude and encouraged me for my future. I nodded, thanked him, promised to find the DVD and thought about my job. Couldn’t pay you enough? If you had to put food on the table you could do it.

The pastor said that to be a pastor is glorious work and it’s certainly true. To preach the Word (the Word, the logos, Jesus Christ) would be a great wonder! As well as a great responsibility. To counsel wounded souls, to help them come to healing–what joy!

But does that make it the most glorious work? What of that professor, equipping leaders for youth groups, churches and for-profit companies. He preaches the Word as he preaches what it means to lead like Jesus. He leads wounded souls to Jesus and healing. Joy of joy to work with students and engage them in ways that they will take into the world that so desperately needs Gospel!

These are easy comparisons. From pastor to professor in theological institution.

But what of the job that you couldn’t pay him enough to do? What of data entry, website maintenance and communications? Is it glorious too?

I’d answer yes. In the wee hours of the morning, when I wake before the sun I don’t come to this place only for a paycheck though that is part of the reason to be sure. I have bills to pay, food to buy, rent to make. I have a penchant for caffeine and the occasional dinner out. So I want the paycheck that comes by the internet at each month’s end. But there is also something about this job, this data entry, this web updating.

It makes information easier to access. It helps students get here to learn about God, to take the Kingdom further than it was when they arrived. It drives methods of accruing support to provide for maintenance, salaries and teaching tools. This is my job.

It’s data entry, sure. But it serves the Kingdom. And this is why I crawl out of bed before the dawn, pull the dress over my head, wrap the fancy scarf around my neck and hustle down the street to a job that at times puts me to sleep and crosses my eyes with migraines. It’s data entry, mundane and seemingly menial. But it’s Kingdom work and God honouring.

And so, my dear pastor whom I love and admire, my work of coding for newsletters and emails is as glorious as the work of a pastor. Because without my work, our pastors wouldn’t get trained to do the work.

WHY: Doing Life

This week I’ve been staying with two of my high school students from youth group. It’s amazing how your life disappears when two kids enter the picture. They have homework, school events, friends and youth group. There are guitar lessons, art club and exams. Not to mention emails and junk mail from colleges. They’re out the door at 645 AM after what I hardly consider to be a real breakfast and they’re home again at 235 PM with homework and hungry mouths.

Last night we learned together how to plunge an overflowed toilet.

Tonight we’re probably going out to see a movie.

It’s a wonderful life?

When their parents left, their mother said to me that she hoped I’d have some opportunities to speak into their lives. Well, last night we talked about drinking and college and I told them all the reasons that they shouldn’t drink to excess. But I have a feeling that’s not exactly what mom meant.

What does it mean to teach kids? What does it mean when their lives are so busy? Between guitar lessons and loading the car full of DJ equipment for youth group, I’m not even sure when we’ll eat dinner tomorrow night.

We pray together before they go to bed. I told them I was writing a paper about Jesus and coffee and the importance of work for the human identity and purpose. They stared at me like I’d grown two heads. But it brought up a couple of questions… what does the crema of espresso have to do with expanding the Kingdom? And why did you stop listening to Ke$ha or half a dozen other artists?

I thought how one of my other high schoolers is going for a run with me on Friday. She has questions to ask me, apparently. We’ve just become official as mentor/mentee and I’m freaking out with my own mentor because God knows I talk more than I listen; I am a Franks and Kormick by descent and there’s mistaking that when I open my mouth. I looked  at the coffee cup when she asked me, in the same shop where I found Ethan and my mentor and a new reason to live. I stared at the brown liquid, the soy foam dissolved into sweet joy. I told her the same thing that G told me years ago, before I lived with her and the family, before I learned what it meant to be at peace in the midst of chaos.

The kids aren’t home yet, but they will be soon. I’ll have to turn down Mumford and Sons while we do homework, all jammed into the office together. Tonight, after dinner, Ethan and I will read the daily liturgy and though it isn’t expected of them, I’ll invite the kids to join us. Ethan hasn’t been here, and I’ve missed our times of eating and reading together. This is what we do, after all, this is how we experience God, how we learn of Him, hear from Him and are challenged by the words of the fathers and the movement of the Spirit.

It’s like taking Rebekah running — where I can process and feel the glory of God in the pounding arteries beneath my skin and the bite of the cold winter wind on my face.

It’s like folding laundry with G while she told me about Jesus and peace and suffering.

We do life together. We invite people into our stories, our journeys. We walk alongside one another, holding hands, laughing and crying together and learning together along the way.

Perhaps there’s another way to teach, to speak into one another’s lives. If there is, I haven’t yet found it. But I’m no parent and so I am years away from knowing. I don’t make any claim to understanding what all this is about though I keep finding myself in the midst of it. There’s so much to learn, so much yet to find and discover. This is what I do know:

walking in the way that Jesus calls always creates reason for talking, reasons for speaking into one another’s lives as we grow into the people he has called us to be.

Why: counseling

Well, cat’s out of the bag now. I’m in counseling, folks. I’ve considered blogging about this, and about my experience in particular, but for now I think I want to just offer some basic thoughts on why counseling is a really good thing — even for Christians.

Time and Intentionality
There’s never enough time for all we need to get accomplished. Trust me, I know this on a very personal level. I’m a full time student, I work three part time jobs to make ends meet, I serve in a youth group, I’m dating someone and I manage a fairly decent social life. I think in our activity obsessed culture (which is a standard mark of our Protestant roots) we are often bereft of deep, authentic relationships. Please don’t misread this. I don’t mean to say that everyone in our culture is “fake” and putting on a show (though certainly true for many). It’s that we simply can’t manage to sit down and have coffee with someone for four hours to discuss our marriages, our struggles with our jobs and our victories that are coupled with defeat. There’s a struggle to find the ability to invest in each other, not because we don’t want to, but because we simply “can’t” make the time.* Our kids play sports, we have small group, Awanas, work parties, gym memberships, work that we bring home with us and — oh yeah– sleep which takes up half of our lifetime. But when we don’t have time for each other to be real, honest and raw, we need to find that elsewhere.

Sometimes, more intentionality can fill this vacancy. I plan my life about a month at a time — not because I like planning but because I have so much to get done and I want to preserve down time with God, with friends and with Ethan. We intentionally pursue certain people who we seek advice from and are honest with. Sometimes, however, this doesn’t seem feasible and one feels like they are drowning amidst obligations and shallow relationships that aren’t providing the ability to seek wisdom and discernment. It takes time to get to that point with someone and then time to maintain it. So, counseling can provide a place where those needs (for discernment, processing, correction, etc) are met. That has certainly been the case in my life.

Generations
Also problematic for finding someone to invest in you (and hopefully you investing in others) is that many of our churches are generationally segregated. Now, I’m going out on a limb here but I’d say this is not only a problem in churches via preference issues (music, clothing, etc) but is a standard issue across American culture where generations since the Boomers have decreasingly seen the importance of the wisdom of the elders. It’s something that needs to be combatted because there is a lack of wisdom for mentoring young folks if everyone is the same age! There’s no difference in life experience if everyone is on the same stage of life (young marrieds, new kids, teenage kids, etc).

I experienced the importance of having older folks in my life when Ethan and I recently snowshoed with a couple from our church who have kids older than the two of us. We took along their hunting dog and their little lap dog. Mathilda (lap dog) was slowing down about half way through so the other couple wrapped her up in a shirt and dropped her into the husband’s backpack with her head and two paws sticking out. Midway through the process, Cindy looked at me and said “this is what you do when you have kids, okay? Your life doesn’t stop. You adjust.” I need that. I need my married friends to wipe away the rose coloured glasses and assure me that arguments are normal, that marriage is compromise, that kids are cute but hard. Ethan and I are blessed to have many older couples around us who have been willing to take time out of their schedules and mentor us in a variety of ways (whether through snowshoeing or working on a house project with E). Unfortunately this isn’t always available to people in churches were the population is primarily made up of a single demographic. In this instance, I think counseling can again fill in a gap by providing wisdom both cerebral and hands on as people work through their issues (and this is especially true in marriages).

Spiritual Depth v Self Help
Finally, I think that as a Christian one ought to seek a Christian counselor. There’s this tendency in America to be obsessively oriented towards “self-help.” We can see this in our sermons, which are three points and commonly directed towards life change/behavioural modification. There’s a difference between self help and spiritual wisdom because self help, frankly, isn’t spiritual at all. It plays at the thought that one can change themselves to be better, healthier, more whole. While I believe one must cooperate with the Holy Spirit, I strongly believe that it is God who changes hearts. I think Christian counselors can make a huge difference here. They are trained to helping people unearth belief systems that cause behavioural issues — rather than putting someone on a diet, they help the person work through why they cope with life through food. A story might suffice here. My counselor and I have often talked about God and how my warped view of the Father has severely impacted my view of myself, E, and all of life (including my inability to rest and say no to people). My counselor and I recently discussed that I have terrible thought patterns (see previous post) and at some point I simply have to stop those thoughts right as they begin. What I didn’t say on Monday was that my counselor has also pointed out my need to memorize Scripture so I can speak truth in those moments of self loathing and doubt. You see? It isn’t self help, though that is what’s offered rather commonly in our churches and bookstores and relationships (a la, have you tried X, or tried Z?). What we need instead is a call to accountability and spiritual direction.

Considering…
Should everyone be in counseling? Well, at some point, yes. Not because we’re all horribly broken in a melodramatic way. No. But we all have pasts, we are products of the way people have treated us, the way we were picked on as children, manipulated by siblings, hurt by parents who didn’t love perfectly because they aren’t perfect. There’s sin in this world and we’ve all experienced it. I think, at some point, whether it is found in a mentoring relationship or a paid counselor, we’ve all got some ish to work through and we should do that as we pursue becoming who we already are in Christ and who we are constantly being transformed into.

Have you ever been in counseling? What are your thoughts on it — useful, necessary, etc?

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*I will say that sometimes the time excuse is just that, an excuse. I don’t have time for everyone, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have time for some people.

Community and Truth

On Sunday nights I work as a children’s ministry director of sorts. It’s a small role at a big church but it comes with difficulties and joys all its own. Last night, parents were running late and I had a few minutes alone with one of my workers to catch up. She’s recently had a baby born with a developmental disability and a propensity to health issues. It’s been a hard nine months of pregnancy and an exhausting task to have a baby, have him hospitalized for 10 days then put on oxygen and manage to keep up the holiday glamour with her two older boys. The New Year for her is one of hope but also reservation. “I fit back into my jeans!” she exclaimed last night as she arrived, and I can see that things are evening out. But there’s the note of caution – “I can’t put him to bed without oxygen, I won’t sleep if I don’t know he’s alright.”

And sometimes, there’s simply isolation as the family walks through their brave decisions – “I want doctors to stop asking me why I kept him even though I knew he’d have issues. What matters is that he’s been born and I need to know how to care for him.” she sighs and adds, “we’re trying a new pulmonary doctor next week.”

I sit in the rocking chair, holding squalling baby or squirming toddler and I listen to her. I’m often saddened by the long journey they have ahead of them, but I’m always amazed by her grim determination. She hasn’t yet found joy in the undertaking that’s been put on them. But they are determined to see through what God’s entrusted to them in his quite unsearchable providence. We’ve cried together, hugged and traversed the trials of living after the fall. I’ve prayed, on many nights, that God would give me something worthwhile to say – something encouraging and actually helpful (she’s always getting shoddy, shallow encouragement from people in her faith circles—words that mask the fear of not knowing what to say).

Last night she was explaining her anxiety, her concerns about the future of the baby still tiny and hooked up to oxygen each night as he sleeps: oblivious to the world and the sorrows around him. I rocked, back and forth, an eye on the door where we check in children for the evening service. But all my attention was  given to her as she described, in her worry, something that I suddenly realized I knew.

 I asked her, when you’re thinking, is it obsessive? Is it cyclical? Does it wind into downward spiral? She nodded slowly. I have that, I said. I get a tight feeling in my chest, it’s an anxiety issue. I live with it, day in – and day out. Mine always focuses on E, and the fears, the worries, the mounting anxious thoughts.

I told her my story, I asked, is yours like mine? She nodded, amazed, “you too?” and her eyes red rimmed eyes full of emotion.

Me too. I’m in counseling. Every week. It’s getting better, slowly but surely. Because here’s what I was told to do:

When the black thoughts start coming and the anxiety grows at an exponential rate I pull myself up to a stop and I tell myself the truth.

I don’t have to live this way. I don’t have to have these thoughts. I don’t have to go down that path. I don’t have to live in fear, think this way, feel this anxiety. Because the truth is my God is good and he cares and he will not let your foot slip. He watches over you and he will neither slumber nor sleep.

I looked at my friend and I admitted, it isn’t easy and I still have dark days. But you and me, girl, we’re going to live in the truth and we’re not going to be dragged into the mire that is worry and fear. Because Jesus came, he sets us free: from bondage to sin and bondage to decayed thinking.

She nodded, slowly, tearful and I’d have hugged her but at that moment a child came, to play with toys and hear stories about the One who came to set us free while his mom and dad sang in church, songs of gratefulness and praise to that same One.

This is the thing about community. We are never alone in this fight against the way our sin has so permeated our lives, our thoughts, our being. It is crouching at the door and it will come in and eat you alive if you let it. But together we’re holding the door closed and pressing on in the other direction: towards Abba, towards Jesus, towards life in the Spirit of Truth and freedom.

And this is the beauty of truth. It leads us to Him and He is always for us, always for freedom, always for our joy and glory in Him alone.