Monday, July 21, 2014

Being Bold and Honest

For the second year in a row, and the fourth time overall, we've spent a week at an Evangelical sports camp.  I really enjoy having the week off from cooking: we get to eat every single meal in the cafeteria of the college where the event is hosted.  There is a morning children's program for my kids and optional afternoon activities, chapel each night, and then adult social time after that. 

There's also a study for the female spouses of the coaches working the camp.

That's the part I tend to struggle with the most.  Most, if not all, women's events I have ever attended I have not really enjoyed.  This is probably along the same lines as the reason I rarely enjoy Sunday School or small group type stuff anymore--they just don't have the depth that I am interested in or need.  Last summer, I didn't attend the women's study.  I wanted some time alone to write and I am glad I did that.  This year, I did attend it, with a little trepidation.  Last year's study was one that I read afterwards, and I thought the book that was used was badly written/edited and could actually be very concerning if it was followed the way it was written.  I sent an email to the leader of the study and expressed my concerns, she wrote back, I wrote back again.  It was a cordial conversation but we obviously disagreed and I wasn't too sure I would be welcomed back again this year.

But I was. 

And more than being welcomed, it turns out that people appreciated my being there.  On our last day of the study, we wrote some affirmations for each of the women in the group, and when I got mine back, I was surprised to read some of them because it's not really how I see myself (which should be good evidence that our perceptions of ourselves can get really skewed):
  • I admire you very much in how honest you are and how true to the Word you are!
  • Thanks for sharing your wisdom.
  • Thank you--your sharing and encouragement has been such a gift to us.
  • Thank you for being so real.
  • You remind me to exercise my gifts and be who God created me to be.  Thanks for granting me permission. Inspirational, you are.
  • I so appreciate your heart and security in knowing who you are.
  • Thank you for sharing your passion and wisdom.
  • I have been blessed by your knowledge and insightful contributions this week. Thank you!!
This surprised me because of my comments when we were talking about self-worth.  When the question about what we often base worth on, I said that we often base a person's worth on his or her gender, and I also commented later that we put certain people or "levels" of faith as we perceive them up on pedestals.  The other bold/honest comment I made was that we idolize marriage and motherhood and too often women are discouraged from being and doing anything else and are taught that is all they are made to do, and their passions for anything else are snuffed out.  I didn't think that would go over well at all but it seemed as if there was some agreement in the room, and when I got my affirmation sheet back and saw the comments, I realized that maybe, people have similar thoughts and are too afraid to voice them--I know that I have been afraid in the past, and even was a little fearful to do so this week.

What I learned is that I need to do it more often (and so I did--and wrote an entire page on the back of the evaluation sheet with some concerns I had about one particular event during the week).  There are too many people out there who feel as if they are the only one thinking something.  I know, because I often feel this way.  It never occurred to me that I need to be the one to take that first step and help others see that they are not alone.  This will be an adjustment for me; it is stepping out of my comfort zone.  But in a way, it ties back into my theme for the year of "Alive".  If I am only living in the safe and predictable areas, then am I truly living?  I don't think so.  

In Deuteronomy 31, Moses is telling the people that they are going to cross into the Promised Land...but without him.  He encourages them to "Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the LORD your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you"  (Deuteronomy 31:6).  Too often, I have lived in fear of being bold.  It is not really my nature to be that way and who knows what the reasons are for it; I'm sure there are many.  But I'm going to try to remember this verse when I want to speak up about something and feel myself pulling back from doing so because I'm afraid of the reaction of others or what they will think about me.  Being bold must, of course, be tempered with wisdom and caution too; it's not just recklessly saying or doing something because I feel like it.  It would seem that this is the next part of the journey of faith that God has me on, and if so, I can only trust that He'll guide me through it.

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Friday, July 04, 2014

Labyrinth of the Dancing Christ

This morning, I visited the Labyrinth of the Dancing Christ at the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, NM.  I've been wanting to visit for a few months to start off my yearlong project that I am planning.  While I will write more of the experience at another time, I want to share one train of thought I had while there.

When my husband and I arrived, there was nobody around.  It almost felt as though we were trespassing even though the place was open at the time.  It was still, peaceful, relaxing, quiet, yet with sounds of rooster and other birds nearby.  I felt uneasy; I was expecting to talk to an employee and have him or her give me a brochure or tell me exactly what I was supposed to do in the labyrinth.  I didn't want to do it wrong.  But there was no human being for guidance.  We discussed who would go first and I asked my husband if he wanted to go first and he said no, you can if you want.  With trepidation, I stepped into the labyrinth.  The first few steps I worried: was I walking too fast or too slow?  Was I thinking the right thoughts?  Was I supposed to be praying something specific?  As I walked, I calmed down some and decided to just have the experience of doing it, whatever that experience would bring.

I had known the labyrinth was circular, and had assumed it would be more of a spiral than the way it actually meandered back and forth.  Sometimes, although I was headed in the direction of the center, I was actually further away along the radius.  I would then get closer, and further away--like a dance.  

Too often, we think of faith or our relationship with God as linear.  We think of our life path as linear and Jesus as the way of keeping us on the straight and narrow correct path directly to God or Heaven.  

But it isn't.

If we imagine ourselves in the labyrinth, all journeying together in this faith in Jesus, we are not all in the same exact location, even though we are heading in the same direction.  Sometimes we may appear further away than we are, sometimes we draw closer and then further away.  We can look around the labyrinth and see others on the journey with us, but cannot pinpoint their exact location from God.  

It would do us well to remember this every time we have a disagreement with others in how faith is practiced by each person or group of people.  

We need to remember that God is our guidance.  Just as there was no human to direct me into and around the labyrinth and I had to take that first step in faith, so we should remember that it is God that guides our faith walk too.  We rely too heavily on other humans: pastors, authors, bloggers, to show us their way of believing and acting instead of actually trusting God to guide us each on our own personal journeys.  We travel both individually and together, walking, dancing, in the labyrinth of faith. 

Monday, June 02, 2014

Worship or Performance? (Part I)

I've had two different conversations lately about dance in church services: is it worship or performance?  It reminded me of a time when a friend told me "that's not worship" when she was upset about the song choices for our newly begun "contemporary" service.  While I agree the song choices were poor (they were about 20 years out of date and definitely weren't going to attract anyone looking for something "relevant"), I don't think it is necessarily accurate to say they weren't worship.  For some people, they might have been.  For her, they just were not the right type of songs/music.  For her, worship was only about the type of music.

It seems to be common in churches to equate worship and music.  I'm going to make a guess here and propose that the reason we associate "worship" primarily with an event on Sunday morning and with singing is due to Psalm 100:2, which says "Worship the LORD with gladness; come into his presence with singing".  Most church services begin with music and we sing a few songs throughout the service.

What happens though, if a person doesn't really relate through music, or even relate to any of the other activities that can happen in a church service (either regularly on Sunday or on a special holiday):  dance, congregational singing, praise band singing, choir singing, soloist singing, instrumental music, Cantatas, Christmas pageants, skits, videos, Christian seder meals, Living Last Supper, Tenebrae, sermon, responsive readings, prayer (add your own ideas in the comments; I am sure I have missed a lot).  I went to a Pentecostal church one time where grown men were sprinting around the room.  Another aspect of worship services is corporate prayer.  What this usually consists of is one person praying on behalf of everyone in the room whose heads are bowed and eyes are closed.  Honestly, this does not feel like prayer to me.  It is not my thoughts or my words; it is the thoughts and words of the person praying.  It is not my prayer.

In a church service, there really is very little an individual sitting in the congregation can do.  Everything is planned out for each person: the songs sung, the prayers prayed, the sermon to be listened to.  Sure, someone can raise his or her hands during a song, but I've never seen anyone start dancing.  And while we have people who automatically raise their hands when the line in the song says to, I have never seen anyone fall to their knees during that line.  Worship services are, like dance, choreographed.  We like order and control; the freedom to react differently than expected is really not there.  

Because of my love for ballet, sometimes, as we are singing, I am choreographing in my head what it might look like to dance to a song.  I've danced in church once, a couple of Christmases ago, and a local dance studio has a program that they perform in area churches around Easter.  

And even though we see instances of dance in the Bible, such as Miriam and the other women dancing and celebrating after the Exodus from Egypt and David dancing before the Lord when the ark of the covenant is brought back, they aren't a typical or regular part of worship services.

The situation with David is intriguing.  While he is dancing "with all his might", not everyone thinks it is such a great display, namely, his wife Michal.  We see in 2 Samuel 6:20 that she considers his dancing to be vulgar and shameless.  Two different reactions to the exact same event.

It would seem, then, that worship has something to do with personal preference and type of participation--whether or not one is an active or passive participant.  If I am participating by dancing in a ballet, it can be an act of worship.  I am actively participating in it and know what I want to express.  For the person watching, it may not be worship at all, because the person is passively sitting there and not directly participating--and may not even be paying attention at all.  I think it is the same with praise bands, choirs, soloists, orchestras, etc.  For those who play the instrument or sing the song, it can be an act of worship.  But for the one watching who may not be able to participate, it may not be worship.  And, often, in some churches, the music is so loud that the voices of the congregation are unheard, and it would be hard to tell if they were singing or not.  And what of the person who has a voice problem and cannot sing or even speak?

I like the story behind Matt Redman's song "The Heart of Worship".  

“There was a dynamic missing, so the pastor did a pretty brave thing,” he recalls. “He decided to get rid of the sound system and band for a season, and we gathered together with just our voices. His point was that we’d lost our way in worship, and the way to get back to the heart would be to strip everything away.”

Reminding his church family to be producers in worship, not just consumers, the pastor, Mike Pilavachi, asked, “When you come through the doors on a Sunday, what are you bringing as your offering to God?”

Matt says the question initially led to some embarrassing silence, but eventually people broke into a cappella songs and heartfelt prayers, encountering God in a fresh way.

Encountering God in a fresh way.  I think this is what so many of us are after, and maybe not so much in a new way, but in a way that we can relate.  We want to encounter God and know God's presence there, and in our lives, but often, it seems just beyond reach.  I wonder, in all our efforts at being relevant or contemporary what we are really after is what Jesus told the woman at the well:

 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.  24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." John 4:23-24  

What does this even mean?

Worship in spirit and in truth.  It's really quite broad, isn't it?  Jesus doesn't give us an order of worship, a time to worship, a location in which to worship.  He simply says that people will worship in spirit and in truth.  There is much freedom in that statement and it is not a one-size fits all prescription for how to do worship.  It's a description.

And so, is dance (or anything else) worship or performance?  It depends on the individual, his or her heart, and how he or she relates to God.  Worshiping in spirit and in truth, I suspect, is much more broad than we can imagine, and much more deep than our hour on Sunday mornings. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

Book Review: Girl at the End of the World by Elizabeth Esther

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through the Blogging for Books program for the purposes of this review.

I'd been intrigued by Elizabeth Esther's book after following her on Twitter for some time and reading her blog.  I was a little concerned that I was interested in it in a voyeuristic kind of way, though, because her experience in fundamentalism is nothing I have ever experienced nor do I (think I) know anyone personally who has experienced this.  

In Girl at the End of the World, Esther writes about growing up in a spiritually abusive cult, The Assembly, started by her grandfather, in which she was  trained to be prepared for the end of the world.  She writes of abusive beatings, being afraid of the Rapture, the courtship process, attending public school for the first time, and growing up in a patriarchal environment in which men have control over their wives and daughters.  

What stood out to me the most, though, was the grace and love with which Esther wrote.  While she does not shy away from relating her experiences and how terrible they were, it is done with care.  It is not a "tell-all" book in the way one would watch a sordid afternoon talk show, but rather a careful analysis of her upbringing, her marriage, her escape, and her journey into Catholicism with her family.  

Esther shows how control and abuse can be pervasive even in--or especially?--environments in which one does not expect it.  For those in this type of environment, this book may feel like an encouragement to get help and leave, a message that the person is not alone.  For those who are not in this type of environment, it is a way to open one's eyes to the realities of abuse that exist where we do not want them to. 

Elizabeth Esther is brave and courageous for writing this book; I encourage anyone to read it.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Finding Life in Sadness and Disappointment

My #ComeAliveSeries has been pretty quiet lately, for a few reasons.  One of them is that about two months ago I applied for a part-time job and I really, really was excited about it.  It was a great fit for me and I kept thinking up all kinds of idea to put in place once I got it.  I kept envisioning how I'd announce it here as part of this series, as something that had happened in my life to help me continue to feel alive because I was using my gifts and listening to God's call.  

And then, in the last few days, as I awaited hearing from Human Resources, I envisioned something else.  What if I had to write "I didn't get the job"?  After I'd initially applied and was waiting to hear about an interview, someone close to me asked me how I'd feel if I didn't get the job.  "Devastated," I replied.  But in the last few days, that feeling of devastation slipped away, and I felt a peace about me that I was ok with whatever happened.

This morning, I received an email telling me what I think I knew on some level already.

I did not get the job.

I've spent most of the day going through the ups and downs associated with sadness and disappointment.  I know how comforting it is to tell myself that maybe God has something I'd like even better in store for me, that I need to trust God in everything.  

The emotions have come and gone throughout the day, but I am still struck by what seems to be the dis-congruity of feeling that.  It seems odd, doesn't it?   You'd think that being sad and disappointed would mean not feeling ok with what happened.  I've even tried to make myself get angry about it a couple of times, but I can't.  I did find out who got the job, and think she is a great choice and I can understand the difficult decision that the hiring committee faced.

And so I am left wondering how it fits into my theme of "Alive" for the year.  While yes, I would've felt more alive in a job I would enjoy, I also know that being alive comes in many ways, and maybe I was counting too much on a job helping me to feel that way.  I don't know.  But what I do know is that life doesn't always go the way we hope, and we can wallow in the sadness or we can be positive and look ahead to future possibilities--even if they are unknown. 

I've also written a bit this year about the first few verses of Genesis.  The one that is coming to mind now is verse 2.  There are different ways of translating it, but the way it has been in my head has been from the NIV:

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

There was no light yet, but the Spirit of God was there, hovering, waiting in the darkness.  In those times in our lives when it seems dark, God is still there, whether we recognize it or not.

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Thursday, May 08, 2014

A Year of Renewal (Introductory Post)

I have often felt that much of life seems to be about getting through to the next thing.  Just get through the week to the weekend.  Get through the day and get the kids to bed.  Get through winter in order to have better weather and temperatures.  Get through summer to get ready for school starting.  And on and on and on.  Life is fast-paced for most of us and it is often difficult to take the time to stop, to rest, to appreciate the moments, to write, to pray.  Even the best intentions at scheduling time for these activities can be pushed aside, sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for bad excuses.  We are constantly beginning and ending various activities and time sometimes seems to proceed at a faster and faster pace.

No matter how much I want to set aside "quiet time" or "writing time" or "Bible reading time", for various reasons (or excuses), it doesn't happen.  

And then I wondered about something.  Why not find the time to write about the various normal rhythms of life as they are overlaid with the church calender, Biblical events, the Jewish calender, school calendars, U.S. holidays, events particular to my state or town, etc.?  What would I find as I traveled through a year of being intentional about spiritual growth through the various seasons of life?

I'm not entirely what this project should look like, although I do know it will start in the late summer, because the beginning of college football season is a huge way to mark time in my life.  And since most people associate renewal and beginnings with spring, not summer or fall, the idea of starting it then is more appealing to me, because it is not as expected.

I'm not sure if this should simply be a series of blog posts or if it should be a book.

I just know that the idea of being deliberate about spiritual growth, spiritual disciplines, and finding renewal in many places and activities is speaking to my soul in a way that excites me.  

But I need your help in thinking this through a little more.  What comes to mind as you read my initial thoughts on this project?  What experiences have you had or do you currently have that are similar?  What resources would you recommend I look into using?

Monday, May 05, 2014

Frank Viola's New Book: Jesus Now

Note: I received a free advance copy of this book from the author but I have not had a chance to read it yet.  I'm promoting it anyway because it will be available to you at a 50% discount for the next few days--and who doesn't like discounts?

Len Sweet Calls It a Masterpiece! JESUS NOW - 50% Off & Free Study Guide Until May 8th

Leonard Sweet says this of Frank Viola's just-released book, Jesus Now: Unveiling the Present-Day Ministry of Christ.

"Frank Viola is a master at the discipline of historical context, and Jesus Now is a masterpiece that shows us how to ‘Christify’ our story—to move from an unscripted spirituality to a scripturally scripted identity.” ~ Leonard Sweet

Jesus Now contains 8 months of fresh material on the present-day ministry of Christ, answering the question, "What is Jesus doing NOW . . . since His ascension?"

The book explores every text in the New Testament on the subject, breaking it down into 7 ministries that Jesus has today:

Great High Priest * Chief Shepherd * Heavenly Bridegroom * Author and Finisher of our Faith * Builder of the Ekklesia * Head of the Church * Lord of the World

If you purchase Jesus Now between May 5th and May 8th from, not only will you get the book at a 50% discount (the best price anywhere), but you will also receive the companion Study Guide at no charge.