Category Archives: God

Prayer For The Week – Don’t Put God In A Box

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A beautiful prayer to guide us through the week:

A Prayer on “Knowing” God and Humbling Ourselves by Mark Sandlin

Good and gracious God,

There are so many understandings of you
and yet there is only one you.
So many faiths.
So many denominations.
So many differences
even in the Gospels we read about you…
even between theological experts…
even between well read followers…
even between me
and the others who read this prayer.

You are so ineffably difficult
to pin down,
to understand,
to describe,
to know fully.

Yet we sometime become
full of ourselves,
acting as if we
know,
hold,
have,
the “Truth” about you —

Believing that we have done
what thousands of years of history
have not been able to do,
we sometimes think
we have the final truth and understanding
about you.

God of all times and all peoples,
humble our hearts.
Silence our sometimes haughty souls
and lend us perspective.
Guide us closer to you.
Teach us how limited our knowledge is.
Give us spirits which seek more of your truth.
Instill in us
a willingness to admit what we don’t know.
Inspire us
to not only share what we have learned
with others,
but to open ourselves
to what we can learn from them.

Plant within us spirits which revel
in the reality
that there is more to learn
about you,
spirits which celebrate
what we don’t know
because it means we can still
grow closer to you,
spirits which are willing
to toss away
what we once knew
for new understandings
which grow us closer to you
and all of your Creation.

We joyfully give thanks
for all of the possibilities
which lie in front of us
to know you more fully
and to share
your love more abundantly.

Amen.

You can follow Rev. Mark Sandlin on Facebook here.

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Happy Reading: Disquiet Time

(This post is the beginning of what I hope to be an ongoing series on Grace Rules called “Happy Reading” where I write about books I recommend and why.)

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I love to read and for years I read a LOT of “Christian” books – some “Christian” fiction but mostly “Christian” non-fiction. I was always teaching at least one, usually two, women’s bible studies and leading women’s ministry so I was always in need of “new material” as I was in front of people talking a lot about the bible (which I was digging into pretty much everyday – mostly because of needing to prepare lessons and presentations – once I even memorized the whole book of Philippians for a bible study) and what it meant to live a Christian life.

When Nick came out the thing that “stuck” from ALL the bazillion minutes of time and study and prayer and teaching and reading – the thing that seemed to really matter – the thing that seemed to be the answer … was love. God loved me, God loved Nick, I was supposed to love Nick the same way that God loved me and Nick. ALL the other stuff didn’t seem that important anymore.

I did spend about a year or a little longer digging into the clobber verses and ideas and questions that came from studying those verses. I wanted to figure out what scripture really did or did not say about same sex relationships.

As I’ve mentioned before I was surprised that scripture turned out to be so vague on the subject. There just wasn’t anything ironclad in scripture to condemn a loving, committed same sex relationship … the kind of relationship that my son wanted to find with another guy.

At first it was a real shock to me to realize that I couldn’t find “the” answer in scripture that I was looking for. I cried out to God “what in the world do I do without a clear answer about this?” “who do I believe” “how do I go forward?”

Over and over again Micah 6:8 kept coming up … He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?

All the questions I was asking had the word “do” in them and here was Micah 6:8 telling me what to “do” …. I started looking at the different versions … do justly, do justice, do what is right, to act justly, to act with justice, promote justice, do right judgment.

That led to me studying “justice” and how God views justice and what he perceives as justice. And there was plenty in scripture about justice and how passionate God is about justice.

In the end I realized it would be unjust for me to condemn something without sufficient evidence that it should be condemned….if there was no scripture that clearly condemned it and there was no clear evidence that it was harmful then it would be “unjust” for me to condemn it. It would be wrong and God calls me to do right, to do justice.

People often think that I became affirming because my son was gay and I loved him so much that I was willing to disregard what scripture says and go against God. To be honest with you I don’t know what would have happened if I had found evidence that same sex relationships were wrong. I know I would not have quit loving my son or quit being in a relationship with him – that was decided long before I had finished wrestling with the clobber verses. And I don’t think I would have abandoned my faith either. I love God and I love my son. No matter how it turned out I don’t think I would have had to choose between the two. BUT it didn’t even turn out to be a problem. My love for my son did not blind me, it did not make me have to twist anything to fit, my love for my son combined with my love for God sent me on the sincerest search I have ever been on and I am completely at peace with the answers I found.

These days I hardly read the bible and I don’t read very many Christian books. I still read a lot but I read mostly very good fiction which I think holds a lot of truth that God uses in my life …. but when it comes to “Christian” books I usually feel like I’ve read it before if you know what I mean and I’m still working on trying to live out the stuff in scripture that I do understand … like loving my neighbor as myself, doing justice, loving mercy and being humble before God.

Of course there are a few exceptions – sometimes something sends me running to scripture the way I sometimes need to listen to a certain song or reread a beautiful poem and sometimes a good Christian book comes along that is different enough that I want to read it in hopes that it will show me something new that I am ready to know and I try to keep my eye out for those … which leads me to the reason I started out this post in the first place…

I wanted to tell you about a “Christian” book that I just ordered, one that is being praised by some people that I respect and one I am pretty excited about reading.

It’s a book of essays from a collection of diverse writers who wrestle with the challenges that thoughtful faith provokes.

“Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels” is not your average Christian book and I hear that some of the essays might even make some people mad.

I’m excited about reading it because it sounds like it might be written by people who are sincerely searching for answers, people who have allowed themselves to really delve into how their life and scripture intersect, people who are not afraid to ask questions, or to say something doesn’t make sense or to point out the problems they have with something that scripture says.

I like that kind of honest approach to scripture and I like to listen to others who take that kind of approach.

I like what Steve Beard had to say in a review he wrote about the book:

“With nearly 50 different contributors, this isn’t an authoritative text on biblical interpretation. Instead, it is more like a funky theological jam session – no sheet music, brother riffing off of sister, guitar solos, tooting of the horns, banging of the drums, thumping of the bass – testifying about both estrangement and enduring love for the Bible.”

If you are interested in checking DisQuiet Time out there is a whole site of information here

Happy Reading!

Uncomfortable Love

This post is a contribution to the February Synchroblog “Loving Your Enemies”. Check out the links to all the other contributions to the February Synchroblog listed at end of this piece.

As a follower of Jesus I have to take the instruction to love my enemy seriously.

The biggest problem I have with loving my enemies is that I’m uncomfortable with it.

It doesn’t feel good and it’s hard – really hard – and it’s not fun either.

Sometimes I try to water the instruction down a little and make it more palatable.

I say to myself “loving your enemies doesn’t mean that you feel all warm and fuzzy about them” or “loving your enemies doesn’t mean you have to invite them over for dinner” or “loving your enemies is a process” or “you don’t have to love your enemies the same way you love your friends”

And while all of those things may be true I don’t know that grabbing on to disclaimers gets me any closer to loving my enemies.

Other times I declare, “I don’t have any enemies!” because if I don’t have any enemies I don’t have to worry about loving them – but we all have experienced being hurt by someone and enemies come in many different forms.

And finally, if I get really honest with myself, I want to know how far forgiveness and love have to go.  What does it mean to love my enemy? What does that actively look like? Does that mean I let people take advantage of me? How does my passion for justice co-exist with compassion for my enemy?

I don’t have a lot of answers but over time I have discovered a few things – some good and some not so good …

sometimes understanding my enemy helps me to love them

unfortunately most of the time loving my enemy doesn’t change them

loving my enemy helps me remain free of bitterness and negativity

loving my enemy takes more strength than hating my enemy

hating my enemy takes more energy than loving my enemy

preparing my response in advance can help me love my enemy

loving my enemy does not mean that I don’t oppose what they do or say or believe

loving my enemy is uncomfortable 99% of the time

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Even with what I know I am almost always constantly just at the edge of chucking the whole idea of loving my enemies but something or someone usually seems to come along to give me a little encouragement to keep on trying.

Sometimes it’s a story like the one of 14-year-old Malala who was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman while on a bus in the Swat Valley. She made a full recovery in England, and became a remarkable, brave voice for the rights of women.  When Jon Stewart interviewed her he asked her what her reaction had been when she found out that the Taliban wanted to kill her. Her words have taken up a permanent residence in my heart.

“I used to think that the Talib would come, and he would just kill me. But then I said, if he comes, what would you do Malala?’ then I would reply to myself, ‘Malala, just take a shoe and hit him.’ But then I said, “If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others but through peace and through dialogue and through education. Then I said I will tell him how important education is and that ‘I even want education for your children as well,’ and I will tell him, ‘That’s what I want to tell you, now do what you want.'”

Malala’s story reminds me that loving my enemies is about aspiring to something good and right. That loving my enemies promotes peace and goodness for all.  That loving my enemies does not mean I am weak but takes all of my strength and courage.

But if I’m honest I have to admit that there are days when nothing inspires me.

Some days I just feel tired and weak.

On those days, when I can’t find any sane reason to keep on loving my enemies, when I am crushed by those who seem to be the most unloving and unkind, when I feel the weight of fear and anger becoming heavier than hope and love, when I am wrestling with what it means to stand up for the oppressed and at the same time to love the oppressors … on those days I utter the only line I can remember from a prayer penned by a Serbian priest during World War II …

 “Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.”

The words come from a prayer written by St. Nicolai of Ochrid, a Serbian priest, who was arrested by the Nazi’s during World War II. As the story goes he was betrayed by a fellow priest. As he sat in prison, anger began to consume him, leading him eventually to pen these words:


Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them. Enemies have driven me into your embrace more than friends have. Friends have bound me to earth; enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world.

Enemies have made me a stranger in worldly realms and an extraneous inhabitant of the world.

Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an unhunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath Your tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless and do not curse them.

They, rather than I, have confessed my sins before the world. They have punished me, whenever I have hesitated to punish myself. They have tormented me, whenever I have tried to flee torments. They have scolded me, whenever I have flattered myself. They have spat upon me, whenever I have filled myself with arrogance. Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Whenever I have made myself wise, they have called me foolish. Whenever I have made myself mighty, they have mocked me as though I were a [fly].

Whenever I have wanted to lead people, they have shoved me into the background.

Whenever I have rushed to enrich myself, they have prevented me with an iron hand.

Whenever I thought that I would sleep peacefully, they have wakened me from sleep.

Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long and tranquil life, they have demolished it and driven me out.

Truly, enemies have cut me loose from the world and have stretched out my hands to the hem of your garment.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Bless them and multiply them; multiply them and make them even more bitterly against me:

So that my fleeing will have no return; So that all my hope in men may be scattered like cobwebs; So that absolute serenity may begin to reign in my soul; So that my heart may become the grave of my two evil twins: arrogance and anger;

So that I might amass all my treasure in heaven; Ah, so that I may for once be freed from self-deception, which has entangled me in the dreadful web of illusory life.

Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows, that a person has no enemies in the world except himself. One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends.

It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies. Therefore bless, O Lord, both my friends and my enemies. A slave curses enemies, for he does not understand. But a son blesses them, for he understands.

For a son knows that his enemies cannot touch his life. Therefore he freely steps among them and prays to God for them. Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

What helps you to practice the uncomfortable act of loving your enemies?  

Here are more blog posts about Loving Your Enemies:

Beauty In The Wilderness

I originally posted Beauty In The Wilderness in March 2011 as I prepared for Lent.  I have edited it to eliminate the connection to Lent so I could repost it today as I have recently been connecting to many people who are presently wandering in the wilderness and I wanted to remind them that God is not causing their wilderness but he is with them in the wilderness.

“the wilderness is still one of the most reality-based, spirit-filled, life-changing places a person can be.” Barbara Brown Taylor

I grew up hearing sermons and bible lessons that talked about God leading us into the wilderness in order to teach us something – about Him, about ourselves, about the world we live in. The “wilderness” was another word for suffering and the reason (they said) God led us into suffering was because in the midst of suffering he was able to get our attention, to cause us to trust him and to make us teachable and transformable.

I believed it and it made me very afraid of God.

Whether it was a relationship problem or an illness or unemployment I didn’t just have the anxiety of the problem at hand to deal with – I also had the emotional and spiritual agony of believing that God was making me suffer in order to get my attention so I could be transformed.

I don’t believe that way anymore.

Now don’t get me wrong – I believe there are things I can learn in the wilderness and I believe my wilderness experiences do change me.  I even believe God can bring good out of wilderness situations – I just don’t believe God is causing or orchestrating my suffering. Of course I still battle those beliefs that set God up as my adversary but after I talk myself into remembering God isn’t causing my suffering I can more easily trust God in the midst of my wilderness.  And for as much as I dislike wilderness experiences and spend a fair amount of time and energy avoiding wilderness experiences it is in the wilderness where I have found out the most about who I really am and what my life is really about.  Not so much because of the suffering that takes place in the wilderness but because of the self awareness and self examination it causes, because of the focus it produces, because of the questions it births, because of the humility it generates.

It was during a wilderness experience where I discovered God wasn’t the perpetrator of my suffering – that I didn’t need to be punished for who I was and it was okay for me to be me – in fact, it was better than okay, it was good.

Not long after that particular experience I ran across the poem Wild Geese by Mary Oliver and fell in love with it … not just because it is a beautifully crafted message but because it reminded me of the beautiful truth I had just discovered while wandering in the wilderness with God.

I leave you with Oliver’s poem in hopes that you too will discover something beautiful about yourself, about God and about the world you live in even when you find yourself wandering in the wilderness.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Mary Oliver, Dream Work, 1986

 

The Best Religion

This was originally posted on 9/4/2012.

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There is a story that has been circulated online about a conversation that took place at an interfaith conference between the Dalai Lama and the Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff.*

When recalling the conversation, Leonardo Boff confesses he thought the Dalai Lama would defend oriental religions as being the best, but instead, His Holiness answered, “the best religion is the one that gets you closer to God and makes you a better person.”

Expanding on that, he went on to say, “whatever makes you more compassionate, more sensible, more responsible. The religion that will do that for you is the best religion, for you.”

Clearly inspired by where his thoughts were leading, His Holiness added, “I am not interested, my friend, in your religion, or if you are religious or not. What is important to me is your behavior with your peers, family, work, community and in front of the world.”

I am a Christian and have been all of my life. I was born into a Christian family, as a young girl I chose to be a Christian and many times throughout my life I have chosen to remain a Christian. However, my idea of what it means to be a Christian has changed so dramatically over the last decade that it sometimes feels like I have completely changed religions.

I have changed enough that some Christians have even questioned if I still have the right to call myself a Christian. To them I would say, “the best Christianity is the one that gets you closer to God and makes you a better person.”

I might even add, “whatever makes you more compassionate, more sensible, more loving, more responsible … that’s the kind of Christianity one should pursue. You should not be so concerned with what I believe as how I behave … with my peers, my family and friends, at work, in my community and in front of the world.”

Just as some have reasons to choose a new religion I have reasons to remain a Christian and yet, that doesn’t mean that I am not changing my religion.

I hope I continue to change my religion as I grow and learn more about what it means to be the best kind of Christian – the kind that moves me closer to God and makes me a better person.

*I could not verify that the story is true, however, the ideas presented seem to be harmonious to the Dalai Lama’s philosophy and the teachings of Buddhism.

Turn the other clip, this one is empty

imagesThis post is part of the March Synchroblog “Guns and God” which asks us to explore the controversial subject of gun control from our faith perspective.

First, I should let you know that I am all for stricter gun laws and I believe I could use scripture and my Christian faith to argue my point because my impression of Jesus is he was not only non-violent, but perhaps even a pacifist  However, it seems that those who disagree with me are also comfortable using scripture and their Christian faith to prop up their arguments.

For example, some Christians who oppose stricter gun laws have used Luke 22 to support the idea that Jesus would approve of individuals owning guns to protect themselves and their families because he said, “if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one”. And Wayne LaPierre, the NRA Executive Vice President, said that “No government gave [the right to bear arms] to us and no government can take them away” which in turn caused many Christians (some right from the pulpit) to begin to proclaim that owning guns is a “God-given” right.  It seems that some Christians are hearing a message that sounds more like “turn the other clip, this one is empty” when they read scripture than the one of non-violence that I hear.

Of course I could probably put up a good argument against that kind of logic.

I might bring up that later in Luke 22 Jesus actually rebukes one of his disciples for using a sword for protection and in Matthew 26 (another telling of Jesus’ arrest) he not only rebukes the disciple but adds that “all who draw the sword, will die by the sword”.  Or, I might caution Christians who talk about owning guns as a “God-given” right about confusing constitutional issues with kingdom issues as I don’t think the freedom Jesus talked about had anything to do with the second amendment.

But, I would also be careful about getting caught up in that kind of back and forth as I am not so interested in winning an argument as I am at solving our problem and I believe our problem is bigger than whether we should have stricter gun laws or not.

Don’t get me wrong.  I want stricter gun laws. I think we should ban automatic and semi-automatic weapons and high capacity clips.  I am in favor of stricter registration laws, better background checks and better mental health services.  And although I don’t think those things will solve all of our problems I do believe they would help reduce gun violence and even contribute to changing our culture (I realize it would be a process and wouldn’t happen overnight).

But, what weighs heavy on my mind and keeps me up at night is the question as to why other countries, where lots of individuals own guns, have a significantly lower murder rate than the U.S.

After a lot of thought I’ve come to the conclusion that it might be linked to the individualism that has grown out of pursuing and living the “American Dream”.  The pull yourself up by your own boot straps, every man for himself, I don’t want to pay the way for freeloaders, this is mine, not my problem attitude creates a society where people are alienated and separate from each other.  In that kind of society we see others as a threat to our freedom and well being rather than someone we are together with on the path of life. Most other countries around the world seem to have realized that there is a national benefit to taking care of the sick, elderly and poor but here in the U.S. most people think that everyone should take care of themself. I’m not saying it is perfect anywhere but I do think it is time that we stopped ignoring the fact that something is awry in the U.S. when it comes to gun violence.

Which brings me back to looking at this thing from a Christian perspective and causes this thought to keep going through my mind:

It’s harder to kill someone if there is a sense of connection.

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I hope you’ll check out some of these other great posts for this month’s synchroblog:

Advent 2012 – Sometimes Dreams Do Come True

This post is part of the December Synchroblog “Tell Me A Story” in which we are invited to tell an Advent story from our own life.  I will provide a list of the other contributors at the end of this post as they become available. I hope you will check them all out!

“The hard work of Advent reflection and waiting is mingled with the gift of time and space to dream new dreams, to bathe in pools of hope, and to stretch the canvas of our imagination wide enough for God to paint God’s own visions for our lives. Advent is a season for our imagination to run wild as we contemplate a God who becomes human. We are given a wider glimpse of God when we allow Advent to be an invitation to dream beyond our comfort zones of what we think can happen in our lives and what God can do. In Advent we receive four weeks to dwell on what God’s vision might be for us and for those we touch. Four weeks to dwell on how the courage of expanding our imagination might feed into the growing kingdom of God. Four weeks to gather our wits about us for another year; preparing our bodies, minds and spirits to receive the Christ child and take him out into the world for others to see and praise, worship and obey; the Christ with whom we dream big and imagine wildly.” 

Taken from the Preface of Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent  By Enuma Okoro

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Years ago I had a dream that I was a student at an elite dance academy.  In the dream I was “a dancer” and I loved to dance and I loved the dance class. But I wasn’t just a dancer or someone who loved to dance, I was a very good dancer and I knew it and took great pride in the fact.

There was an important upcoming production that all the students were auditioning for and I was quite certain that I would get a part but I didn’t and I was very disappointed.

Next thing I know I am rehearsing with the dancers who were going to be in the show because one of them got sick, had to drop out and I was chosen to take her place. I was very excited and felt that I was just where I should be. The instructor was giving us direction and correcting us as we were rehearsing and then suddenly the rehearsal was over. As we were all walking out, the instructor asked me to stay behind for a moment. After the other dancers left she told me that I wouldn’t be able to be in the show because I just wasn’t good enough. I was crushed and devastated. I began to cry. I realized that I was not only disappointed about not being in the production but I was also very disappointed that the instructor did not think I was good.  How could this be happening to a good dancer like me?  If my good dancing didn’t make the instructor like me what in the world could I do to earn her approval and affection?

Then the scene suddenly changed, the way it does in dreams, and I was in a huge industrial kitchen.  I had no idea what I was doing there or why I was wearing a chef’s coat. I looked around and found a man preparing some food at one of the nearby steel counters. I walked over to him and asked him what was going on. He told me the Executive Chef was looking for a new Sous Chef and wanted to talk to me. I was completely dumbfounded! I knew I wasn’t much of a cook and certainly not capable of being a chef.  Why in the world would he want to talk to me? Where did I even get the chef’s coat I was wearing?  How did I get here? What in the world was going on?

Then suddenly a tall man all decked out in chef’s attire walked towards me with a huge smile on his face.

“Congratulations, Liz,” he said, “you got the job.”

“What job?” I asked.

He went on to explain that I had been awarded the Sous Chef position.

“But I’m not a good cook,” I exclaimed.

He just looked at me with that smile on his face and said, “I know … It’s because I love you.”

And then I woke up.

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Sometimes dreams do come true.

So go ahead this Advent season and dream big and imagine wildly!

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Here are the links to all the December Synchroblog posts:

Carol Kuniholm writing at Words Half Heard

Jeremy Myers tells us about Santa Clausette

Liz Dyer celebrates Dreams Do Come True

Leah Sophia digs in with Planting Hope

Glen Hager reveals a story of Christmas Surgery

Kathy Escobar wrestles with holiday expectations

Wendy McCaig  ponders storytelling in  Once Upon A Time