Lent – with cake

March 4, 2009

I know. Lent with cake sounds upside down. Lent is a time of penitence, of focusing on what it costs to follow this Jesus person. Each Lent, as I spend forty days in purposeful absention, I learn something new about God and myself. Cake doesn’t sound like purposeful absention. But this year, it is.

In the past, I’ve given up dishonorable speech for Lent (i.e. no gossip). I’ve made committments to pray and sit with God for an hour each day. Once, I spent my Lent praying for forgiveness for all the crap I’d done to people (including myself) in my twenties. Without fail, the leanings of my heart about what to focus on guided me deeper into my relationship with the Living God, so that each Lent, I stepped into the rest of the year spiritually fed and awake.

Gradually, my insights from Lent have been integrated into my day-to-day life. This Lent, I feel very aware of some of those integrations. I made a choice a long time ago to give my life over to Christ. I knew then and I know now that I would do that imperfectly and often sloppily. But when I gave over my vocational life, I put my life in His hands, instead of my own. That has meant, at times, less money, less security, and less clarity.  He has always provided – I’ve never been without a roof or food or friends. The yoke of that decision is light – but not without its accompanying worries.

Those worries have become burdens and even barriers in my faith life. I’ve been so confused and angry at God that I have spent weeks where my only prayers ran along the lines of, “What in YOUR NAME are you DOING?!” or “WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU?” While I think it’s good and fine for me to be honest with God, I’ve often become stuck in those frustrations and fears, which I think are rooted in a lack of lively, creative, childlike trust in Him. I despair at times that He is really with me. I allow the circumstances of my life to determine how I feel about the Spirit. This is backwards. The Spirit has the power to determine how I approach my circumstances.

So this Lent, as my husband and I pray for provision and eat beans and tofu instead of something pricier and tastier, I am giving up despair for Lent. This Lent, I am focusing on the power that can raise the dead. “Resurrection power!” to quote my Pentecostal brothers and sisters. This Lent, G-Whiz and I are making one cake every week, to celebrate the fact that God is a good God – who delivers a delicious, abundant life – no matter what the circumstances may be. This Lent, I am choosing to abstain from despairing that God is good and God is present. With each tasty bite I plan on increasing my faith and setting down my fears.

Pictures of Lenten Cake #1 – Lemon Cake – soon to come.

(Quand meme, Jesu, viens vite!)


The cul-de-sac of faithfulness

February 22, 2009

This past Friday, I was out walking on a suburban street with my eighth grade English group. They come, if you can imagine, from 4-6 pm on a Friday afternoon, to do vocabulary, to read and to discuss literature with me. Oddly, they are all boys, and there are only three of them. On our walk, I asked them to pay attention to details as they looked around the California suburbs, to use those details in a writing we were going to do later.  I’d never walked on that particular street, and it turned out to be a dead end, so our walk was short.  When we got back to class, I wrote about the dead end being a surprise to me.  As I was writing, one of the students asked me how to spell cul-de-sac.  I almost laughed out loud.  He was right, it wasn’t a dead end, but a perfectly tidy, circular cul-de-sac.

When we were out walking, I was once again surprised by my own life. What a strange way to spend Friday afternoon. I finally know what I love to do vocationally, but I am hanging out with three thirteen year olds, walking down a suburban dead end cul-de-sac. This is not chaplaincy.

I do not mind so much, anymore, that it has taken me so long to find the thing that I love to do so much. But waiting to do it, the time that it is taking to equip myself to do it, that wears on me sometimes. The economic realities of my family’s life dictate that I cannot do another full-time un-paid CPE internship right now.  I need to do two more internships.  The possibility exists that I may find a paid internship, but they are rare.  I want nothing more than to be walking through a hospital, meeting people and having the opportunity to accompany them on their walk through difficult times.

Instead, I’m working at an after-school program, teaching English.  I am very grateful for the work, especially given our economy’s downhill nature these days.  My husband has been looking for work for about three months now, which is also dispiriting.  I was laid off from my ESL teaching job in January.  With all my heart, I wish I could be making a living (even a small living!) doing the work that I love.  But, for now, I simply can’t.

This brings me to faithfulness.  These days, when we pray “give us this day our daily bread,” we pray it fervently.  When we give thanks, as we do at every meal, we do it even more reverently.  There is something about being on the edge of poverty (I know we are not nearly as close as many) that makes us even more grateful for what we do have.  We are trying to be faithful, to hold on to just a mustard seed of faith in a time of great unknowing and great need.

I try not to despair, to think of all the things that could derail me from the path that I believe God’s asked me to take.   Jesus meant something when he told us that moving a mountain was something we could ask for and expect.  He wasn’t joking, I assume.  My husband keeps moving forward, looking for some kind of job that a former pilot could do well, even if it’s not for much money.  This continual searching without much positive feedback requires the fuel of hope and faith on his part.

Faithfulness for me, right now, means trusting that God’s hand is at work in the midst of our want and confusion, even though I can barely discern what His hand is doing.  Faithfulness is not giving up on a dream of serving His people.  It means that even though I’m walking on what looks like a dead end, as the eighth grader reminded me, it is not a dead end.  It’s a cul-de-sac.  Hopefully this time will be like a cul-de-sac in my life.  I will get to the end of it, turn around and be back out on the road that I want to be travelling.


The Reassurance of the Psalms

March 12, 2008

You know, a place where we can see some real need and some real reassurance expressed is in the Psalms. For some reason this week, Psalm 38 and 39 were really talking to me. The Psalms give us so much freedom to just BE REAL. To be honest about how we are really doing with God.

Take a look at Psalm 38 – this is in verse 9 to 10, “Lord, all that I long for is known to you, my sighing is no secret from you; my heart is throbbing, my strength deserting me, the light of my eyes itself has left me.”

Dang. This is bad. It goes on like this for a while, too – and then look at the end of the Psalm – verse 21, “Lord, do not desert me, do not stand aside, my God./Come quickly to my help, Lord, my savior.” That’s it. That’s the end of the Psalm. Notice that it does not end by saying, Thank you Lord for coming! There ARE Psalms that end like this, but not this one.

It’s the same with Psalm 39, too – look at the end of that one – at verse 12, “Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for help, do not stay deaf to my crying. I am your guest, and only for a time, a nomad like all my ancestors. Look away, let me draw breath, before I go away and am no more.” Nice ending, huh? But you can see, that last bit there, the Psalmist is just crying out from her heart. Listen to me Lord! Hear my prayer! I’m talking to you! Feel that emotion.  It’s intense.
All this EMOTION in the Psalms – like the FEELING of wanting some situation to just DISAPPEAR – or feeling like God has just up and Forgotten you COMPLETELY, all that is all in there. I think there might be some Christians – with good intentions, I’m sure – who might tell us we’re should only be grateful and sweet and good inside, because we’ve been saved, right? but that just isn’t a reality God is holding us to, always being sweet inside. Obviously, we should always be grateful to God, but that doesn’t mean that is the ONLY emotion we are ever going to have towards him, or bring to him. That’s just not a reality we have modeled for us in the Bible.

The Psalms are very honest. They are also full of trust – sometimes in the Psalms, we’re waiting for God to act, but not quite seeing it yet. I hope I can communicate this – that actually DEFINES faith – waiting for God to act, and not quite seeing it yet. That’s what Hebrews 11 is saying when it says that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. This is a HUGE part of walking with God. Just waiting some stuff out. Just trusting that something is going on in heaven on our behalf, even though we can’t see ANYTHING happening at the moment. That’s part of why these Psalms are here. To reassure us again. This is how it is sometimes in life with God. But hold tight. Hold tight. God knows who we are and what we need.


The Reassurance of the Garden Narrative

March 10, 2008

Take a look at this little bit of Genesis 3:

The serpent was the most subtle of all the wild beasts that God had made.  It asked the woman, “Did God really say you were not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?  The woman answered the serpent, ‘We may eat the fruit of the trees in the garden.  But of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden God said, “You must not eat it, nor touch it, under pain of death”.’  Then the serpent said to the woman, “Die? You will not die!  God knows in fact that on the day you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, knowing good and evil.”  The woman saw that the tree was good to eat and pleasing to the eye, and that it was desirable for the knowledge that it could give.  So she took some of its fruit and ate it.  She gave some also to her husband who was with her and he ate it.  Then the eyes of both of them were opened.

Doesn’t it seem like the story of God and man and woman should have started off a little better?  I don’t know, maybe a little more reverent and worshipful, like, Oh, God, you’re so awesome, thank you so much for creating us, we’ll do whatever you say!  But instead, our story starts with us doing something completely wacky and wrong, eating from that tree we weren’t supposed to. I love what Ecclesiasticus says about this:
God made people in the beginning, and then left them free to make their own decisions.
God left us free to make our own decisions.  What a trusting God.  It’s kinda crazy, if you ask me.  Because look what Adam and Eve go and do with that decision making power.   Oops.

And there are some pretty serious consequences to this, if we kept on reading in Genesis 3, we have a list of all those consequences.   But what is AMAZING is that God is not just like, you know what? Forget you.  I gave you this opportunity to please me, make good decisions, and you sucked, so now we are not friends anymore.  Buh-bye.  No. If that’s what had happened, um, there would not be the rest of this book.

I think part of the point of this story is to help us see that this is just part of how we are – we LEAN in this direction that makes keeping God’s instructions something that takes REAL EFFORT.  I know that might sound bad – like – ooh – we are all made sinful and bad – but – even though that’s true – I think there is another piece of this story that gets overlooked.  Because really, this story IS reassuring.  I’m not going to ask for a show of hands or anything – but let me ask you, seriously – Don’t you struggle sometimes to follow God’s heart, God’s instructions?  I know I do.  I’ll gladly raise my hand.  I struggle  A LOT.  This story is here for a lot of reasons, but one of them is to reassure us: It’s not just you.  All your people are like this.  From the beginning.

And guess what?  God still keeps on walking with us.  For an entire life’s worth of stuff.  An entire Bible’s worth of people’s disobediences.

God keeps hoping that we will see that it would be better if we didn’t try to do it our own way.  We’re like Eve, we look, and see that something LOOKS good – after all, it says there right in the Book– she looked, and saw that it was pleasing and desirable – but if God has asked us specifically not to do that thing that looks pleasing and desirable – really – it will go much better for us if we stay away from it.  Whatever it might be.

The other day, I was thinking about doing something totally rotten.  I mean really, really rotten, something totally against God’s heart.   I was super, super mad at someone.  This person was being really horrible to people that I love.  And so, you know, super mature Christian that I am – I wanted them to suffer.  And this was on my mind a lot.  By a lot, I mean, um, all the time.  Nice, huh?  (I know, it’s nice.)

What was I doing?  I was going completely against God’s word.  How many times does God tell us in the Bible not to judge?  HE is the judge.  Of everybody. I was thinking that I was the judge.  But God is the judge.  Not me.  I was just like Eve. I was all backwards.  God knows that what I need in this area is not to punish this person, but to be free from worrying about it.

God knew who Eve and Adam were and what they needed.  And God knows us and what we need.

This is reassurance.


Ashes, ashes . . .

February 8, 2008

This past Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, which begins my favorite season of the year: Lent. Since I’m not an integral member of any liturgical church community at the moment, I just found a local church that had mid-day services and went there.

There is something about the imposition of the ashes that really helps me tap down into the purpose of Lent. Here is my self-portrait that I call “In the car with ashes”:

img_3267.jpg

Ashes we are, and to ashes we shall return. I love that the early church knew it was a good idea to set a portion of the year – especially before Easter – for drawing intentionally nearer to God. Obviously, this is something that we get to/should be doing year-round, but it is helpful to have a set amount of days where this is the communal intent. I need these forty days each year.

Some years, I’ve felt called to let God work on a particular spiritual issue. For example, there was one year where I fasted from gossiping. You can ask my best friend – sometimes our conversations were kinda short that Lent. I have a lot of crap to talk about people, apparently. Other years, I’ve felt pulled to spend more time in worship, or more time just sitting around thinking about Jesus. Each year, when I reach the end of Lent, I’m left with at least one insight into myself and God.

It always bums me out when I meet kids or adults who ask each other, “what are you giving up for Lent?” Lent is not about “giving up.” It is about “going in” – in the sense of going deeper into who God is, and who it is that Jesus sees you can be. Fasting can be an awesome spiritual aid, but giving up chocolate or soda – well – I have yet to hear anyone tell me about how much that shaped them spiritually during Lent.

This year, I feel like the Holy Spirit gave me a word in worship on Sunday about my Lenten journey this year. We were singing Matt Redman’s “The Heart of Worship” (how awesome is that song!), and when we got to the line, “Though I’m weak and poor, all I have is yours/every single breath,” I nearly fell down. I have lived in that place – where I’m aware that all I have and am belongs to God. I have lost some of that intentionality and awareness.  I’ve gotten a little sloppy about my dedication to God’s kingdom over the past years of changes and disappointments. I’ve become more comfortable and more adept at distracting and entertaining myself instead of soaking myself in the Word, worship and prayer. I need to make my way back to that place – for my own spiritual sanity and joy.
So this year, to bless myself and hopefully God’s heart, I’m going to dedicate this Lent to finding my intentionality again. This means cutting down on entertaining and distracting myself. So, I’m going to stay away from the TiVo for forty days, and also bring back a daily practice of reading the Bible. I love it so much when I do it – but I forget to do it nevertheless.

If you practice Lent – have an awesome one – and if you don’t – hey! Give it a try!


If only we had a Golden Compass for being unafraid believers

December 4, 2007

I read Phillip Pullman’s trilogy His Dark Materials last year. I bought it because I read a review in The New Yorker that made it sound very compelling. As a seminary graduate with a stinkload of debt and not much income, a review has to be pretty compelling to get me to buy a hardcover book.

But I was not disappointed. The trilogy, which includes The Golden Compass, was a great read. The main characters, especially Lyra, are written with depth. The central characters pursue “the good,” but they are not pastel portraits. They are flawed, real characters with quirks and fears. Because Pullman creates an entire alternate reality, not dissimilar to what Tolkien did with Middle Earth, there are lots of strangely fascinating events in all of the books. The Subtle Knife, the second book of the trilogy, is one of the coolest narrative treatments of alternate realities I’ve ever read.

The books deal directly with Pullman’s bete noir – theocracy. There is an very good interview with Pullman online where he discusses the book with a Christian film reviewer. Mr. Pullman is a materialist. He is terribly sharp. He does not understand or believe in “spirituality.” I love Jesus like a fool. I consider myself Evangelical. For the Love of Heaven, I went to Fuller Seminary. That does not mean I can’t read his book, and enjoy it for what it is, a very thoughtful and well written piece of literature. As my husband pointed out yesterday, Jesus was kind of critical of theocracies himself.

Because The Golden Compass was made into a film (largely geared towards kids), the book and its author have been discussed quite a bit in the public arena of late. I feel some of the stuff I’ve heard on Christian radio and seen on the Internet is the modern equivalent of book burning.

Why do this? What if the whole book really is an indictment of religion, a blueprint for materialists? Are we not capable of reading literature and hearing what it has to say about us without having to tear down the author and the work? If you believe in God and in the risen, glorified Jesus, I think your faith should be resilient enough to withstand and even HEAR frank commentary or criticism. If I could, I would invite Mr. Pullman over for dinner to get to know him, and let him get to know us.

I read the trilogy and enjoyed it. My faith was not shaken by it. Indeed, it was not even stirred by this book. The book had nothing to do with my walk with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. That’s what I read the BIBLE for, people. Or Annie Dillard. Or Henri Nouwen. Or Dallas Willard. Or Larry Crabb. I’m not sure what people who want Christians to stay away from literature and films that portray the church in a negative light are trying to accomplish. But it wears me out.

We serve a savior who died in humiliation on a cross, who washed his disciples’ feet and cried out for justice. Not a savior who asked us to build intellectual walls against those who see things differently than we do, or who asked us not to read certain books. I’d like to remind my brothers and sisters who are “boycotting” this book/film of one teeny, tiny injunction that the Bible mentions once or twice. Don’t be afraid.


Pick up your faith spoon

November 15, 2007

I am at the public library in my town, trying to type as fast as I can, because I just got off work and it is 8:36 and the computer lab shuts at 8:45, but I am a VDB (Very Determined Blogger.) Lack of internet access shall not stop ME from posting.

Over the past few days, as I’ve been living my own little life of faith, I’ve been finding God sending me little postcards, letters and notes through strange little avenues. The day before yesterday, for example, I was watching this pastor preach on TV. I don’t know much about this Pastor Scott, but her Greek kicks ass. She was preaching about how the promises that God makes to all the characters in Biblical history also apply to us, here and now. She was reading a story about Hezekiah. This is how Pastor Scott rolls. She will preach the most beautifully obscure passages, which I totally love about her. I’ve also seen her preach on stuff that people have preached into the ground, and she’ll bring something fresh to it. She is like the poster child for seminarians REALLY learning Greek, not just faking it, like most of them did in my experience.

In any case, God has been keeping my faith fed in the past days with little things like this, but it has been reminding me how much I need to get my own head back into reading the Bible on my own. As my favorite pastor says, people of faith need to learn how to pick up a spoon and feed themselves the word, not rely on others to spoon feed them.

So this is a public reminder to myself that it is hard for God to be speaking to me through His Word (which is ALIVE, peoples) if I never spend no time in that Word. It is time for me to pick up my faith spoon and open up my cute daisy Bible more often.

Amen. (two minutes to spare. . .)