Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Review of The Challenge

The Challenge, written by my friend Wendy Everts, is a lovely book with a non-traditional plot. It’s rare to find a book about Christians that isn’t cheesy. This one was sweet, heartwarming, and a story I’ll be mulling over for a while. I believe it would make a great book for teen girls to read in a small group (there is also a separate companion discussion guides). Read if you’re a teen girl, if you work with teen girls, and especially if you are a mother of teen-aged daughters.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Best of the Best: Olympian Perfection

I always feel like I work harder during the season I’m watching the Olympics. I think, “If they can make sacrifices so can I.” I increase my exercise regimen. I spend hours writing during the times I would be watching Netflix. I say no to certain foods and maybe cut back on my social life a little bit. I read more intelegent books. Because on one hand I feel like olympians make my life look mediocre. On the other, I feel inspired to do better. Be better. And better. And better.
These athletes are amazing. Really. They are the point zero, zero, zero one percent of human beings, doing things that very few people ever dream of doing. Yet somehow we’re still disappointed when they wobble on the balance beam, or don’t make the penalty kick, or barely manage to pull off a bronze instead of gold in the swimming pool.
Think about it, when the stellar human being fails to live up to these skyscraper expectations, the reporters don’t say what maybe they should say, like, “That was amazing. You’re such an incredible specimen of human agility. I could never in my life do what you do. By the way, which Greek god is your parent?” No, no. They say things like, “That performance wasn’t your best, what’s going through your mind right now?” Or, “I can tell by the look on your face that you are less than pleased, what do you think you could have done differently?”
There are no ada boys or ada girls for second place. Our hearts sink slightly when our favorites are not on that very tip-top platform of the podium.
A friend of mine posted a video on Facebook of gymnastics at the Olympics in the 1950s compared the 2000s. The difference was astronomical. Because no matter how amazing an athlete is, the goal is to be better. Better. Better. And Better. There may be a world record for one event, until someone breaks it. That’s the goal. Breaking that record and setting a new one.
As I watch the Olympics, I think about the sacrifices these people have made to be the very best. Thinking of Simone Biles saying they gave up prom and normal kid fun and spent 6 days a week all day at the gym. Part of me thinks, no way, not worth it. Another part of me thinks, “I’m a failure as a person.”
Because I’ll never score a gold medal and am likely to never even be related to someone who’s scored a gold medal. I certainly don’t have any friends who will ever score medals because they like to enjoy weekend vacations and eating bread, and cookies and stuff. Just like I do. I’ll likely never be “the best” at anything, really. And then I wonder, is that okay? Am I okay? Or am I just lazy or distracted or accepting mediocre because “the best” feels too far out of my reach.
But how does this striving to be the best line up with the doctrine of grace? Is it wrong to strive for better? To be the best we possibly can be? Is it wrong to work hard at something, make sacrifices for something like swimming or track or pole vaulting? I mean, what does God think of all this athletic prowess in these games that were originally designed to create camaraderie between the countries of the world?
I think the answer lies in the interviews of the athletes who love Jesus (there seem to be more than usual this year). They love the sport, that’s obvious. But they love Jesus and can’t help giving him glory or, at the very least, acknowledging a higher power who gives purpose to what they do.
The Holy Spirit calls us to be the best version of ourselves. That involves character, which involves excellence in whatever we were created to do, whether that’s diving face first in the sand to save your team from a spiked volleyball or being the most encouraging little league coach possible for your child’s team.
It also involves accepting graciously when our best isn’t “the best,” knowing that God is just as delighted with a 4-year-old who is just learning to swim as he is with David Boudia winning silver in synchronized diving.
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31

Monday, August 15, 2016

Learning from Children at Summer Jam

Poking, touching, hitting.
Running noses. Watery eyes.
Awkward questions.
Long drawn out stories that have no ending, seemingly no point, and definitely no plot.
I could have sworn that child had shoes when he came in.
Upstairs, downstairs. Songs with hand motions. Up. Down. Spin around. Music that stays in your head. Hot dogs, mac ‘n cheese, Goldfish snacks.
Bible stories. Not sure they’re paying attention, but I’m sure enjoying it.
There’s a three-year-old crawling into my lap. There´s another one pushing him out and taking his place. Blond haired girl with ringlets decides it’s time for the red-haired boy to share, so she steals the marker from him and hands it to the dark-haired girl with pigtails.
Her sense of justice is admirable.
Then suddenly, amidst the crazy. Amidst the loud laughter and leaders spinning in circles as they chase kids who are running in circles, I remember that story about Jesus. The one where his best friends are trying to protect him, so they shoo the little kids away, blocking their path, barring them from coming to their Savior. Jesus redirects them: “Let the little children come to me,”  he says. Then, as he opens wide his arms, letting as many kids who can fit climb into his lap, he reveals an instruction in wisdom that children have that we grownups often miss and certainly forget as we get older. “Unless you are like a child, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)
Little children have this reckless abandon. They don’t seem to be asking, ¨Do you love me?¨ They seem to assume you do. They haven´t learned the art of hiding their fears, their joys, and their amazing discoveries. They assume you find it as fascinating as they do. They don’t have any qualms about rushing up on stage to tell you their secrets, even if you are in the middle of reading the Bible.
So when little children were coming to Jesus, even though he was a seriously popular guy with lots of people clamoring to hang out with him, the children weren’t thinking, “Why would Jesus want to talk to me?” They assumed he’d care about every bruise, every scrape, every booger, and every pair of sparkly shoes they were wearing.
They knew they weren´t too small for Jesus. They knew Jesus wasn’t too big to see them, to hear them, and to enjoy every moment of spending time with them.
I don’t think it´s a stretch to say hanging out with kids at Summer Jam is learning from them what it means to go to Jesus and let him love you.

Monday, May 30, 2016

On Big Books

           I am terrified of big books. About 325 pages is all I can handle. Any more than that (unless the cover is particularly inviting), I feel the clouds of panic closing in. It starts in my throat and makes its way downward until I have to remind myself to participate in the basic function of breathing, just so I don’t lose consciousness.
            Though my terror of big books has been around for ages, I have found certain books worth risking the onset of panic. For example, I read Victor Hugo’s unabridged Les Miserablés, weighing in about 1,500 pages. This reading was a pilgrimage to pay homage to the musical production of the story. At that time, I’d seen the show 3 times and the 2 movie versions that were available for viewing more times than I could count. I felt I was doing my ardor for the production a disservice by not having read the original novel, so I set forth on this journey with gusto, my love of the story casting out all fear of its length.
            Then there was the time I read Anna Karenina with a group of friends. The copy of the book I owned had the most beautifully designed cover. I also was reading another book where the heroine was reading Anna Karenina. I deeply admired this heroin and thought, “If she can do it, so can I.” I also had the added competition of a deadline and friends who were seeking to meet the deadline at the same speed. It just so happened that I was the only one who finished it by the time we set to meet and discuss. If I’d known this would happen, I might not have been so ambitious.
            Then there is the Bible. I first read this at the age of 14. My purpose in doing so was out of guilt. If I could read so many other books but had never read the Bible, what sort of Christian was I? I also read this because we were reading it as a family and, once again, competition set in and I was determined to read it faster than the others. 
            Once I’d completed the Bible, I decided not to lose the momentum and read it through 3 more times in as many years. It’s not so bad once you do it.
            And finally, the most recent big book I tackled was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Once I began the series, I had to finish. But I must admit, the size of this book induced panic that neither the Bible, Anna Karenina, nor Les Miserablés, had conjured. For months it sat on my shelf, until finally I called myself a “big chicken” and took it up with determination. After all, hundreds of teenagers were reading this book over and over again, there was no reason it should frighten me.
            It took me a month to get through it, but that was a personal record for big books. I am now on my 3rd reading of the Harry Potter Series.
            Upon reflection, I do not regret one moment of conquering the fear and reading these books. But I could not have done it alone. The motivation of love, the companionship of others (both real and fictional) and the aesthetic pleasure of holding a beautifully bound cover in my hands while I read were among the powerful forces that overcame the panic that typically set in.

            And upon further reflection, are these not means to overcoming any fear? Even the most unexplainable?

Sunday, May 15, 2016

To My Secret People, This One's For You

To My Secret People,

Some of you I actually don’t know your names. You secret people who were the Lord’s voice of Love. The secret people who over the past several years were responsible for the checks in the mail when I didn’t know how I would pay for my car insurance. The people who invited me over for dinner, not knowing I had no food in the fridge. The ones who let me live with you, crash on your couch, cry on your shoulder, or called me out of the blue to see if I was okay. The ones who gave seemingly random advice or told a story that was responsible for the next step in the journey. Then there were the prayers uttered in my presence or the secret ones I’ll never know about. The encouragement, the text messages, the cards or goodies in the mail, picking up the check, giving me a discount, helping me with my car—all of it was responsible for any concept I now have of God’s love.

This weekend, I graduated with honors from Covenant Theological Seminary. I dedicate this to you, My Secret People.

This one’s for you.


Friday, May 6, 2016

Why didn’t I take the blue pill? Waking up in the Matrix after two years of seminary

Seminary. It’s like taking the red pill and realizing you’ve lived your life in the Matrix. Your eyes are opened to a whole new world of wonder. Beauty and light shining from all directions.  Suddenly you’re skipping through fields of poppies and laughing over your shoulder at your friends as they gallivant with you. You flip your hair and laugh some more. How did you ever survive without the knowledge and experience you now have?
Hold the phone. That is not the story of the Matrix. In fact, you wonder if Keanu Reeves actually had a better life before he found out the truth. Before he found out that robots were programing him to think he had a certain life all the while sucking his life-blood while he slept in ignorant bliss. You find yourself wondering, like Keanu, if I could go back to that ignorant bliss of two, three, and four years ago, would I?
It’s a valid question. Before, you participated in church, loving the experience, wanting to be there every time the doors were opened. Sure, you experienced some hard things, some drama, some discrimination. Maybe a pastor neglected to follow through when you needed him or you got left off the email list for a women’s Bible study. But all in all, you loved the church and it was that love for the church and the people who make up this church that stirred your heart to attend seminary in the first place.
Then something began to happen. It takes you a couple years to realize it. The dawning realization hits you when someone asks you why you want to work in the church and suddenly you have trouble finding an answer. You’re stumped. Was this church always this broken? This difficult? This messy and dirty and agonizing? Did you always see the gap between what the church was intended to be and what it actually is? Did you always know what you believe this strongly, and did you always have the vocabulary to articulate it?
The answer is no. Seminary did that to you. It’s seminary’s fault. Blame seminary for all it’s worth. You might as well. Because, no matter how long and hard you blame seminary (and rightly so), as one colleague said to me recently, “You can’t unknow what you now know.”
You can’t unknow the beauty and glory and dignity God intended for the church. You can’t unknow the mission of the church and the purpose it was meant for. You can’t unknow how community and life together are how we are created to grow in our knowledge of Christ.
You can’t unknow that the church will always battle influencing culture and being influenced by it. You can’t unknow that power and politics and policy have always, and will always, be in danger of destroying the message of the gospel.
You can’t unknow that no matter how much you know, the brokenness and pain will always be there. You can’t unknow that Jesus is truly the answer and no matter how much you know, it will never be a substitute. You can’t unknow that no matter how much you know, you will never really know anything.
But would you really take the blue pill? Would you really go back if you could? If you knew what you would know now would you trade it in?
            There is no way you could have prepared for this. Because you don’t know what don’t know until you no longer don’t know it.
            You knew that the lack of women in leadership in the church bothered you, but you didn’t know why.
            You knew that the lack of diversity of cultures in the church bothered you, but you could never explain it.
            You knew that the suppression of conversations about sex couldn’t be right, but you were at a loss of what an alternative might be. You never imagined the destructive repercussions the silence could lead to.
            You knew you loved the arts and that somehow the arts were important, but you didn’t know how to articulate this. You never could have guessed you’d see the value of art even more than you did. 
            You knew emotions were important, but still you couldn’t help subverting them to your thoughts, believing your brain should always come before your heart. Though you still struggle with operating holistically, you understand now that God values the mind, the body, and emotions and all that is wrapped up in these. He created all of them, and never says your brain should govern your heart, only that you should love him with both.
            You knew the mode of evangelism you’d been taught had left a bad taste in your mouth. Now you know it left a bad taste because you didn’t realize evangelism is actually inviting people into a relationship with God. How can you invite someone into a relationship with God, unless you have a relationship with them, first?
And how can you invite people into a relationship with God unless you are aware of your own relationship with God? How can you extend grace, unless you are aware of the grace that has been extended to you?
You knew the Bible was important. You knew it was the word of God. You occasionally discovered encouraging things, but most of the time you were confused because you had no idea what you were doing when you read it.
            Now you know the Bible is a story about Jesus. A story about God and what he has done and what he is doing. You found out that you and the church have a part to play in that story and somehow, the darkness and the brokenness in that story has some sort of purpose, even if you don’t know exactly what it is.
            Because, you discovered a God who wasn’t as distant as you sometimes felt he was. You knew he was there, you just couldn’t explain how. You found out these things about the Holy Spirit and Jesus and God, and even though you still don’t understand the trinity, somehow you understand that what you don’t understand makes God more trustworthy, not less.
The red pill. You took it and swallowed it and jumped down the rabbit hole. You didn’t know what you would find. You didn’t know you’d find tears and you’d find pain. But you’d also discover the courage to embrace the tears and pain, instead of covering it with smiles and “how are you I’m fines.”
And finally, you were surprised by the joy you found. You were surprised by the laughter you discovered in the midst of tears. You were surprised how the pain drew you closer to Christ and how your awareness of your need of Christ actually led to more freedom, rather than the confinement you always feared.
You were surprised that out of all the things you learned and unlearned, the greatest treasure you are taking to the battlefield is a greater love for Jesus. All of it, everything, the learning, the struggling, the exams, the papers, the books, the friends, the not-so-great friends, the professors you loved, the professors you couldn’t stand, the late nights, the early mornings, all of it brought you into a deeper relationship with Christ and caused you to fall more in love with him.
            And you are oh, so glad you didn’t take the blue pill.