Archive for the ‘God’ Category

Conflicted

September 23, 2011

After we left our church, we decided to visit another nearby church. Our attention had been caught by banners proclaiming that the church was in the middle of a series on poverty, so we took our social-justice selves and bruised egos on in through the door.

The service was…eh. The music was painful, and the well-meaning sermon was somewhat lacking in a call to thought or action. But the people were friendly. Even if there was a dearth of young families, no one seemed to mind my daughter’s wiggles.

A few days later, we received a letter in the mail. The new church was hosting something of a prospective member brunch, and we were invited by name.

At this point, I must admit, I was struggling. And grieving. Despite the fact that we had spent more than two years at our old church, despite the fact that I had been in the choir, despite the fact that one of my business partners was a member, despite the fact that it had felt like home…not one single person had called to talk to us. Not my business partner. Not a fellow choir member. Not the head of the children’s ministry.

It was as if we had never been there. As if no one even noticed that we were gone.

I was crushed.

But part of me still wanted to go back.

Why? Michael asked. Why do you want to go back, after how they treated us? When here we have a letter inviting us BY NAME to return to a new church? Why?

The answer, of course, is complicated.

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The Awkward Phase

May 17, 2011

We decided to find a new church in the fall. I wanted to let the pastor and congregation know why we had left, but hadn’t yet figured out the best way to do it. The pastor had only been installed a few weeks previously, and I really didn’t know him at all. Besides, I’m not very good at telling uncomfortable personal truths face-to-face.

I thought a letter would be best. Or maybe an article for the semi-monthly church newsletter. Something.

Before I had a chance to decide, the church called me. Rather, the church secretary–who periodically checked in to see if we were ready to officially join the congregation–called. “We’re welcoming new members in a few weeks,” she began. “I know you weren’t interested before, but we would love to have you if you want to join.”

And I was caught. What could I say? The thought of lying crossed my mind, but I didn’t really want to. But neither did I really want to tell her everything that had happened, because–among other reasons–that would mean crying. Again.

The silence lengthened. “Well…” I began, the high pitch of my voice betraying my emotions. “We’re not really going to church there anymore.”

“You aren’t? Why not?”

Slowly the story came out. About my noisy daughter and the reactions of people around us. About the man who said my child did not belong in church. The secretary is a very sympathetic woman and was much disturbed by what I had to say. She asked if I would tell the pastor, and I reluctantly agreed.

“We don’t all feel that way about kids in church,” she said before transferring me.

With the pastor listening, I hashed through it all again, my stomach tight, my face wet with tears. And he couldn’t say that the people who had rejected us were a minority, because he was new and barely knew anyone at the church. But he did say that they were wrong, and that it bothered him, and that he would address it.

He asked if we would be back at church; I said I didn’t know. I asked that they not call us, that he would know our decision by our presence–or lack thereof–at church.

A Brief Aside

February 15, 2011

From my Simply in Season cookbook:

A shopper’s prayer
Provider God,
Transform this chore, this reluctant shopper.
Journey with me on this expedition of privilege.
I stroll past the breads cooling on the trolley;
yeast-smells proclaim their rising
and invite me to taste and see that they are good.
My hand hovers over the carrots, parsnips, beets….
Thank you for signs of your presence,
for foods and peoples rooted in the soil.
Bless me as I choose.
–Ruth Preston

 

Getting over it

November 19, 2010

I have been attending the same church for, oh, about three years. It’s a biggish church, but not huge. It’s close to our home. I know people there. The theology espoused aligns fairly well with my own, which is to say that the preaching tends to encourage me in the acts I already feel I should do (and challenges me in ways I need to be challenged).

Sometime last year, when we had a generous and loving interim pastor, it started to feel like home. The feeling sort of snuck up on me, as I have spent a great deal of my life seeking a church home, without a lot of success. Plus, the idea of a church “home” is still somewhat alien to my sweetheart, although he understands how important it is to me.

Anyway, I decided it was time to stop standing on the sidelines of the church. I have gifts, and I knew God wanted me to use them. So, as an initial step, I joined the choir. The Bean started to go to children’s church (which unfortunately happens during the worship service). As part of a larger group, M, Bean and I visited home-bound church members. We didn’t exactly throw ourselves into every activity the church has to offer, but it was a start.

As time passed, I made friends in the choir. At the end of each rehearsal, we shared our joys and sorrows, and we prayed for each other. We supported one another, bolstered one another, hugged one another. It was a strong group before I joined, but I felt very welcome.

In the summer, however, the choir takes a break. Last summer, my family traveled a lot, so we weren’t around every Sunday. In the meantime, my little Pumpkin grew bigger, more vociferous and more active. Those Sundays when we were at church, I held her in my lap when she started to get wiggly.

Then came the fall. Choir started up again. The first Sunday we sang in church, Pumpkin did not behave like an angel. She behaved like a tired, cranky one-year-old who did not want to sit still and be quiet and who did not understand why her momma wasn’t there to cuddle her. In short, she cried. M took her out of the sanctuary several times–one occasion lasting nearly the entire sermon.

I was mortified, but more than that, I felt sorry for my little girl. When the choir walked back down the aisle, Pumpkin nearly launched herself onto the floor in an effort to get to me. I left the group to hold her and comfort her.

A few moments later, when the service had completely ended, I became aware of some angry words coming from a few pews ahead of me. A furious older man was addressing my husband. I did not hear the entire tirade, but the gist of it was that my daughter did not belong in the sanctuary during worship.

My daughter was not welcome in the church.

My baby was not welcome.

I sat in my choir robe and rocked Pumpkin, but inside I felt as if I were falling. Alternating waves of anger and sadness washed over me. I wanted to hand the baby off to my husband and confront the man. I wanted to remind him that Jesus asked for the little children to come to him. I wanted to ask him why he chose to sit next to a small child if he could not deal with some restlessness. I wanted to hand him the laminated note that resides in each pew to remind people of WHY kids need to be in church. I wondered how many other people felt the way he did. I wanted to cry.

Instead, I rocked my baby and held everything in. Two well-meaning women came over to comfort us and remind me that the church does have a nursery.

Yes, the church has a nursery. But call me crazy; I think kids belong in church. I could list off a dozen reasons, but that isn’t the point. The point is, it’s my choice. Mine and my husband’s. And we have chosen to keep her in the service.

We sit near the back for an easy escape, should one be necessary. We bring toys and snacks and pacifiers. We do what we can to make our kids’ presence tolerable for other churchgoers.

Apparently, that wasn’t enough. When we left church, I exploded. I spent the next three days trying to deal with my anger. M was furious, too, and not inclined to forgive. We debated the merits of leaving the church, but I wasn’t comfortable with that. Perhaps the man been in a bad mood for some unrelated reason. Perhaps he regretted what he had said. I had to find out.

Wednesday was choir rehearsal, and the man whose words had begun this upheaval would be there. I was nervous, but I went. Afterward, I headed outside to confront him, but he ducked out in a hurry.

The following Sunday, we were running late. M and the girls dropped me off so I could get into my robe. While I was hurrying through the vestibule, a woman said to me, “Got your kids in the nursery this morning?”

Not hello. Not good morning. Not nice to see you. Because obviously all of those sentiments were secondary to keeping my girls out of the sanctuary.

I was livid, and I could think of nothing else as I donned my robe, as I walked to the front of the church, as I sat and tried to turn my thoughts to God.

The service began. M and the girls were in the usual pew in the  back. Five minutes later, as usual, Bean and the other school-age kids left for children’s church. A man stood to read scripture, and with a jolt, I realized it was the man who had been so mean to us. Not only was he in the choir, he was a church leader!

I had hardly had a chance to deal with that surprise when Pumpkin began to wail. M picked her up and walked out of the sanctuary and straight on out of the church. I began to cry.

The sermon began. It was Christian Education Sunday. Our new pastor preached about how important it was to teach kids about God. He extolled the efforts of the children’s ministry. I looked around and began to count. How many kids were in the sanctuary, anyway? Exactly one, and he is thirteen years old.

I cried some more. I prayed. I hoped that M and Pumpkin would come back. They didn’t.

The choir stood and sang an anthem. I don’t even remember its name; I sang with tears running down my face. The service ended. I walked to the back of the church with the rest of the choir. A church meeting was beginning, but I gathered the bags and jackets M had left behind. I walked to the choir room and put away my robe. Still crying, I set out to find the Bean.

I found her in a basement classroom, still finishing up children’s church. I took her outside to look for M and Pumpkin, but they were not in sight. We went back inside and made our way to the fellowship hall. They were not there, but I did find three teenagers who had opted to nap rather than attend worship. Obviously the Christian education was working like a charm.

Finally someone stepped in from the patio door and asked if I was Holly. Someone had told her my husband and daughter were sleeping under a tree beside the parking lot. With tears still on my face, I walked past the choir director and his family and headed out to find my own.

We found them. We left. And we decided to start looking for a new church.

insecurity and prayer

August 18, 2010

Lately I have had a hard time praying. It’s weird, because I have always been comfortable talking to God. Maybe because I have always had a good relationship with my parents, and that comfort is easily transferred to the Father.

But lately…lately, no. I still feel great with my parents, but now I feel inferior when it comes to God. Like I don’t think I’m doing a good job, so it’s hard to face the boss. Or like it’s been too long since I’ve called an old friend, and now talking to him is all weird.

Whenever I start to pray, I think, “Is this something I should be praying about? Is it too shallow? Am I offending God with my stupid little request?” Even when I know it isn’t shallow, I think, “What if this is God’s will? What if I’m asking God to do something completely at odds with his greater plan?”

Thus my prayers have been unsatisfactory, awkward and far between.

Am I the only one who struggles with this?

Recently my mom called to tell me that my uncle has cancer and would be in the hospital for surgery. She asked me to pray, and I said I would, even though I was already uncomfortable.

(In my mind, praying is one of those things, like attending weddings and baptisms, that you just DO if someone asks you to. I think Jews call these things mitzvahs, or something along those lines.)

Anyway, I wanted to pray for my uncle. But I couldn’t find the words. I didn’t know what to say, what to ask for. Healing? Comfort? Ease of pain? The cancer to totally and miraculously disappear?

I finally prayed and asked God to be present with my uncle and his family, but I didn’t feel happy about what I had said. Fortunately, at the time, my recently-baptized daughter was riding in the car with me. I glimpsed her in the rearview mirror and thought, “Faith like a child.”

I asked the Bean to pray for her uncle, and I explained why. She said okay, then closed her eyes, folded her hands, and prayed. Simple as that. The prayer was finished in less than a minute. I didn’t hear what she said, but she had talked to God, and she was obviously at peace with the conversation.

That started me thinking. Why is talking to God so hard for me, when talking to other people I love isn’t? So I looked at my attitude toward prayer and compared it with my attitude toward talking to everyone else.

  1. Do I worry about saying the right thing with everyone? Well, yes, to some extent. I more or less speak my mind, but I tend to sprinkle my comments with disclaimers like: “I could be wrong.”
  2. Do I have to be in perfect agreement with everyone I talk to? No. I argue politics with my family all the time. I don’t like disagreements, but they happen. I can accept that.
  3. Does everything I say have to be profound? No. I would hardly talk at all if that were the case. (Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.)

So maybe, maybe I just need to loosen up a little. Stop condemning myself for being imperfect. God is my Father, after all, and he loves me. Maybe prayer needs to be less about saying the right thing and more about just spending time with Dad.

Just a thought.

Sincerity

November 18, 2009

Sincerity is such a tricky wicket.

According to wordnik, sincerity is “the quality or condition of being sincere; genuineness, honesty, and freedom from duplicity.” All good things, right?

Yet in this snarky, self-concious, hipper-than-thou culture of ours, it is cool to mock everything.

I am, I think, a painfully earnest person. (“Marked by or showing deep sincerity or seriousness”–I love you, wordnik.) I take what people say at face value, responding seriously to the most ironic of comments and embarassing myself tremendously in the process.

One of my closest friends rarely passes a moment without engaging in heavy sarcasm. I knew her FOR AN ENTIRE YEAR before I decided that yes, she did like me, and she wasn’t just putting up with me for a mutual friend’s sake. She is that snarky.

Therein lies the rub. Like most of my generation, I think sarcasm and irony are funny. I love The Daily Show and Tom Lehrer. I try to be quick-witted and smart-mouthed at parties, because that is entertaining to me and my circle. Sometimes I even feel my face burn when a quip goes awry, especially in the presence of my second-snarkiest friend, whom I have for some reason never stopped trying to impress.

And yet. And yet.

I feel vaguely guilty and hypocritical when I’m sarcastic. Especially when it’s mean sarcasm. (To be honest, when is sarcasm not mean?) It’s hard for me to meet anyone’s eye when I’m snarky.

It’s a vicious circle. I’m not a sarcastic person. But I enjoy sarcasm, or perhaps I just enjoy the company of people who do. So I employ sarcasm. But it doesn’t come naturally to me, so I embarass myself. And the whole time I wonder if I’m doing something wrong, acting so blase and snarky about things and people I really do care about.

Too sincere for sarcasm, I think. Does that make me boring? Does it matter? Perhaps I should stop trying to be something I’m not.

“Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” — Galatians 1:10

Yes Man theology, part 2

October 10, 2009

I started on this topic yesterday (drawing parallels between the movie Yes Man and living as a Christian), but my post grew long before I finished what I wanted to say. So here is part two.

In Yes Man, Carl’s yeses invariably result in good things happening to him. Even when “bad” things happen first, eventually it works out.

Events happen like this in Christian life, too. Except, to quote Dr. Seuss, “when they don’t. ‘Cause sometimes they won’t.”

God’s choices are not always easy to understand. Sometimes bad things happen to us or our loved ones, and we can’t help but ask God why. If you can’t think of an example, I’ve got a whole long list I’m saving up to ask God about, including:

  1. child molestation
  2. war
  3. nuclear holocaust
  4. non-nuclear holocaust
  5. rape
  6. physical abuse
  7. verbal abuse
  8. murder

…and so on. I have specific people in mind when I list many of these topics, but their stories aren’t relevant here. My point is, being a Christian does not exempt you from suffering.

It would be great if it did, right? We would be living the sweet life. We would be rewarded right away for making good choices…which would lead to even more virtuous actions. Unbelievers would see a clear correlation between Christianity and rewards, so they’d be beating down the doors of every church! No more empty pews! Yes!

Well, it doesn’t work that way. Christianity does have its rewards, but they are complex and difficult to see from the outside. Why? Ask Paul Stanley.

“You really like my limousine;
You like the way the wheels roll.
You like my seven inch leather heels
And goin to all of the shows, but
Do you love me, do you love me?
Do you love me, really love me ?

–from “Do You Love Me?” by Kiss

God wants us to choose his way because we love HIM,  not because we love what he can give us. There may be more to it, but for now, that’s answer enough for me.

Yes Man theology

October 9, 2009

Last week, we rented and watched Yes Man, a Jim Carrey movie from 2008. The storyline, in case you are unfamiliar, revolves around Carl (Jim Carrey), a man who has become lonely and closed-off after his divorce. His friends try to bring him out of his shell, but he rebuffs their attempts until he misses his best friend’s engagement party. The resulting confrontation causes Carl to attend the Yes Man self-help program. His experiences there and shortly thereafter convince him to say yes to every opportunity, every question and every offer he receives.

The movie is mostly about his adventures and misadventures following the covenant he makes to say yes. Some are a little scary, some are crude, but mostly they are funny, which of course is the point of the movie. There’s more to the story, but this is where the theology comes in.

Wouldn’t it be nice if being a Christian was as simple as saying yes to every opportunity we have?

People, including me, think that it’s so hard to be a Christian. It’s hard to know what God wants us to do. It’s hard to do what we know God wants us to do. There are so many choices we encounter in daily life that aren’t addressed in the Bible, and the Bible is really all we have as far as God’s instructions go. So we spend a lot of time hemming and hawing, and before we know it, another day is gone. And we still have nothing to show for it. Nothing learned, nothing done…nothing.

The thing is, the Bible really does tell us what God wants us to do:

He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8 (emphasis mine)

Is there a situation that verse doesn’t cover? I can’t think of one. If you aren’t sure about how to live that, how about trying this:

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Matthew 7:12 (again, my emphasis)

Obviously there’s a lot more to the Bible, and to Christianity, but my point is this: the problem we have as Christians isn’t knowing what to do; it’s doing it. It’s walking the walk.

In Yes Man, Carl does it. He believes that saying yes to everything is the best way to live, so he does it.

What if we all challenged ourselves to take our faith that seriously? What if we all took a good, long look at our lives, and committed ourselves to justice, mercy and humility? What if we really treated people as we want them to treat us? What if we decided to choose love…and actually lived that choice?

That’s a hard commitment to live up to. But what choice do we have? If I’m going to call myself Christian (“like Christ”), I have to be like Christ. Otherwise, I’m just a liar.

Momma faith

September 18, 2009

And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.’

But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, ‘Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us.’

But He answered and said, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’

But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, ‘Lord, help me!’

And He answered and said, ‘It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’

But she said, ‘Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.’

Then Jesus said to her, ‘O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed at once.”

–Matthew 15:22-28

A few weeks ago, my pastor used this passage as the theme for his weekly sermon. I cried at the end of the service, in part because this is one of my favorite stories, and we arrived so late that I missed nearly all of the sermon. But also because I wish I had faith that strong. Because my daughters deserve a mother with faith strong enough to intercede for them.

I haven’t written about this before, but it’s not a secret. My younger daughter was born without an opening in her right ear. At the moment, we do not know if she even HAS an inner ear, although I’m pretty certain she does. Basically, it could be something as simple as a thick layer of skin cells that didn’t die away in utero when they were supposed to. Or it could be a complete lack of inner ear workings. Or something in between.

Next Friday we will visit Boys Town National Research Hospital for a four-hour evaluation. And, hopefully, we will find out what we don’t know.

I vacillate between utter confidence that her ear is okay except for some excess skin (she hears just fine) and terror that we are in for years of surgery.

So we come back to momma faith. I know that God has the power to make her ear whole and complete, today or yesterday. I believe that He can heal her. I just don’t know if I believe He will.

Retroactive prayer

September 17, 2009

Retroactive prayer is something I do far too often, if one can possibly pray too often. I usually do this when someone has asked me to pray for a specific event, but I forgot to do so until after the event has occurred. Then I pray, “Dear Lord, please let it have gone well.”

Aside from the awkward grammar, I wonder if this practice is theologically questionable. If I didn’t feel it was important enough to remember when the prayer was needed…is it hypocritical to pray afterward? Can my prayers change something after it has happened? Am I only fooling myself that my ignorance of an outcome can spin out the time in which I can affect it through prayer? I don’t know.

But then I encounter a situation like this:

A distant acquaintance is facing trial, accused of molesting his three-year-old daughter. He and his wife are enduring a bitter divorce. His wife filed the complaint…and later recanted. The police are pursuing the case, despite the withdrawn complaint.

There are here two possibilities. 1) The mother may have lied, and as a result, the father is facing public scrutiny, humiliation and possibly jail time. 2) The accusation may be true, and a three-year-old girl has had to endure something much, much worse.

That the father is under suspicion I cannot change. It is what is happening right now, and my faith is, alas, not strong enough to disbelieve what is staring me in the face.

However, I can and do pray to affect the past: “Father God, let the mother have lied.” Because I’d much rather the adult endure pain and suffering than the child.

Is it effective? I don’t know. I have no way of knowing. Only God knows. But I take comfort in this: God is the same today and yesterday and tomorrow. He is outside of time, so it is no challenge for Him to hear my now-prayer and apply it to then-events. And I devoutly pray that He does.