Tuesday, December 28, 2010

In the beginning – God blows our minds.

One of my absolute favorite verses in the Bible is Genesis 1:1. There is so much packed in those ten little words. You could spend a life time pondering their meaning and significance and still leave great depths unexplored. At the risk of giving away a little bit of what we have planned for April 9th, allow me to share.

First off, you need to know who wrote this book. The Bible specifically states that it was Moses. You don’t get to his story until Exodus, but there you learn that he was raised by Pharaoh’s daughter. Now since the Bible was written by men, a lot of the juicy details get left out. Women would have included all the nitty-gritty details about what this life was like, but as it is, we have a few dots to connect.

We can assume that being raised by Pharaoh’s daughter entailed some level of privilege, and obviously education was part of this privilege. How else would he have known how to write?

He was probably trained to be familiar with court documentation and the proper formats for recording and transmitting royal information. And there is evidence within his writing to support this, but we will get back to that.

Moses begins this book with the Hebrew bera’ sheet. It literally means “In the beginning,” but even here we can learn so much more if we stop to ask a couple of questions. Whose beginning? The beginning of what? God is eternal so obviously it can’t be his. So it must be the beginning of this great new creation. It seems like a “well, duh!” statement, but this is one of those things we really need to get sunk deep into our heads. Because if we don’t we will have a tendency to read the rest of this book like it is a book about God, but it’s not. It’s a book about us inspired by God. (Thank You, Abraham Joshua Heschel, for teaching me this.)

God is bigger than any one book, even one he inspired. He cannot be contained with a leather cover and gold embossing, no matter how pretty. He is infinite and that alone is amazing and worthy of our worship – and we are still on the first word!

Now check this out. This is the first recorded statement of linear time, an idea we take for granted. Until now humanity thought of time as something cyclic, a never ending hamster wheel we could never escape. No single event, no single person held any real significance because it was all going to happen over again on the next rotation, but to declare there is a beginning presupposes there must be an end.

With this one word our lives can be significant because there is an end – an end that is the culmination of all history, the sum of all human existence leading to something greater. How cool is that? We are significant!

Moses continues with my favorite Hebrew words ba’rah. A fabulous word, because it has a dual meaning. It is when one word is able to encompass complementary aspects of a single event. In our Bibles it is translated “created” but it also means to “cut out.” It means God brought the good things into being while cutting out the possibility of anything that didn’t align with his vision of what this world was to be. His creation was only what he desired and nothing he did not, because he’s just that good.

The next word is Elohim, or God in your Bible. Literally this means Gods, a plural form. Now there has been a lot of speculation why Moses would chose to use this form, but many scholars agree that he was merely writing as court scribes would. In those days a writer would express the greatness of a king or ruler by referring to him in a plural form, making it known to all who were reading this document that this is not only God, he is a great God, more of a God than can be contained in a trifling title like God. He is more! More amazing, more glorious, more powerful than you can begin to grasp.

All of this and we haven’t even got to what he was creating!

Okay, so I am a bit of a geek, but when you recognize the artistry and beauty of how God crafted this word for us. The economy of words, the layers and depth of meaning, the sheer wonder of what is being said, the Bible takes on a depth of beauty that cannot be denied. It is why the Bible is worthy of study and why we miss so much when we just read through in prescribed dosages without trying to experience the grandeur of its message. And even more it is our story, every bit of it, written with us in the heart and mind of the One who inspired it. How amazing is that?

Saturday, December 25, 2010

How to Begin

I hate trying to figure out how to start things – how to begin a project is often the most daunting part of the task. Like where is the best place to begin cleaning out the kitchen cabinets, organizing the files on my desk, or even how to start a new blog post. Right now I am grappling with how to begin this new life that I have been given.

I had such visions of grandeur and productivity when it was all just a dream, but now that I sit here, alone in my living room, trying to find the jumping off point, the first step seems to escape me. I have paced the floor, talked to the furniture, and even checked my Facebook a dozen times, all to no end. I am reduced to a painful blob of incomplete emotion, not formed enough to wallow in even, just a nagging sense that I had better be doing something because too many people have sacrificed to give me this opportunity.

I reviewed some scripture hoping to be inspired, and actually wound up feeling a little worse. In the beginning God speaks and his will is accomplished. In the beginning was the Word, and what a marvelous thing it was. Now, I sit at this beginning wondering what are the right words to speak, how do I enact this awesome reality in my life. So I speak – I pray, I beg, I cajole, and attempt extortion, all in the hopes that God is going to break my brain wide open with a grand plan.
And nothing happens. And I want to scream, but at what? What should I scream? I don’t even know how to begin at that.

So I work on the things that I am comfortable with. The things that need no divine guidance, the stuff I know to do. Put a load of laundry in the washing machine, pick up some pieces of paper off the carpet, and start tonight’s dinner to marinating. The whole time feeling like I am missing something, that there is something else I need to be doing, but everything is a distraction and my head hurts from trying to sort through the fragments of thought.

I know that if I could just latch hold of one – a single fully formed idea, I could set off on this grand adventure. But for whatever reason God is being silent today and maybe this is what I need to be too.

Maybe that is it. I need to sit at the feet of the Father and just be for a moment.
Stop trying to force it.

But everything within me is screaming that I am being irresponsible if I am not being productive. And I begin to fidget, remember that my husband is hard at work providing for me and our children while I sit at home. I remember that there is so much I could be doing. Nothing that would help me prepare for April’s event, but at least it is one less thing that would be waiting for my attention.

Being still before God isn’t easy. It takes stamina and fortitude of a quality I sometimes lack. It takes more faith to be still before him than it does to be busy for him. After all it is what we have been taught, being productive is being faithful, working shows passion, effort equals worth.

There is a time to work our little butts off, and keep working even when our fingers bleed, but I keep being reminded of those passages that remind us to be still and know that He is God, that in quietness and trust there is strength, those who wait upon Him will rise up with eagle’s wings. And as my head begins to throb with increasing intensity, I am reminded of a friend who said, when we refuse to stop He will stop us, even if means splitting our skulls apart with a migraine.

So I am going to try to find that place. That still and quiet place and hear his heart beat. I am going to quit trying to conjure up the right words, quit avoiding his presence, and seek rest in him until he shows me the next step.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Ugly Truth #573

Okay so let me let you in on a little secret. In this world so festooned with platitudes and clichés about the glories of success, the irony is few people really want you to succeed. Your success is either dangerous to those who are “in charge” or an indictment against those who refuse to reach for success.

I know this sounds harsh and I am probably going to get few vehement denials of this, but I speak from experience. When Nathan and I first started talking about Pagus everyone told us what a great idea it was, and it remained a great idea up until we actually started making progress. At that point, the people who were willing to lament our inability to strike out and do what we believed we were called to do became filled with a new type of woe. We got to hear cautionary tales and were warned about the dangers of pursuing a dream with too much passion.

The truth is, there is no logical reason for us to experience any amount of success in this venture. Nathan and I really are nobodies. We grew up on a farm outside a little town in the middle of nowhere. We aren’t particularly good looking or all that brilliant. We don’t have any extraordinary skills or talents, we just learned how to make the most of what we have.

And therein lies the rub.

What happens when you take a single mom who has little or no income, and see that she managed to find a way to live her dream? You realize there is absolutely no excuse for failure. None. Nada. Zip.

If you truly know me, you know that there were no easy breaks. I had some amazing opportunities that did seem to fall in my lap, but the truth is I was working my tail off to be ready for some of them. The rest I created out of sheer will and lots of prayer. Guess what? We all have access to these tools.

Some might say, well you had a network of friends and family to help you to succeed. Here’s the secret to that – I actively sought out and cultivated these relationships. Not out of any type of manipulation but because I knew that we needed each other. We all need people who value the same things we do in our lives, and I hope I have been a blessing to them as well.

But there is this moment when it comes down to you. When you are the one who has to be willing to step out, even in the face of discouragement, and try. It is a moment that separates you from everyone else, including those people who love you and desire good things for you. And in that moment you can feel the separation, nothing may change on the outside but there is a shift, often small but painful, in the relationship. So the question becomes, what are you willing to do to achieve your goal?

I think that for Jesus this moment occurred in Gethsemane. It was all him from this point on. Sure the others had traveled the dusty roads with him, weathered the storms at sea, withstood the attacks of those who denied who he was, but this was the defining moment. Would he stay with them, fulfill their expectations and continue lamenting the fact that God had not delivered Israel, or would he do what was necessary?

Thankfully, he knew that success was dependent on him risking great things to fulfill his purpose. He knew that he had to step away from the comfortable friendships and support, and he had to be willing to disappoint (even if just momentarily) those who had claimed to believe in his vision. If he had listened to them, been who they wanted him to be, salvation would have never been ours.

I think this is what he means when he said he came to bring a sword, one that divides families and friends. It is painful, but necessary. It means we become dangerous to those who demand that we fulfill the roles we are expected to play. It serves as an example of what God would desire of us all, the courage and faith to step into a destiny that he has prepared for us. It strips away all the excuses for the spectators not to follow the example placed before them.

I challenge you to be a success. God challenges each of us to be a success. He desires that we know the beauty and danger of following the path he has set before us. He wants to share that moment when it all comes down to just the two of you. For it is in that moment you declare to the world, he is your reason for being.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

And the Answer is . . .I think.

I was recently asked why God lets us experience pain. It is a legitimate question, after all he says he loves us, and he claims to be all powerful, so if any of that is true shouldn’t he just zap us with pure bliss? Isn’t that what a loving all powerful God would do?

Maybe, if it was all about him, but that sort of negates the whole love thing, in my opinion. Because isn’t love selfless? I know a few of you just felt your heads explode, so after you reassemble the pieces let’s begin again, shall we?

The worst thing in my world is seeing the ones I love in pain. It drives me crazy.

If my kids are sick or Ty has a headache I find myself wishing that I could just be the one who was suffering. It is so much easier to deal with than watching them. It is an expression of my love for them, and I think God feels the same way. It would be so much easier on him if he took it all, so much less painful.

But I know that sometimes the experience of pain is what we need to grow up. We need to know that remaining in our present situation is going to cost us, and we need a chance to make an informed decision. So I find myself sitting back, letting my children make choices that will result in hopefully minor and temporary injury. I do it because I love them.

I do it because I am praying there will come a day when they are wise enough to make choices without having to consult me. That they will be able to look at situation and know what they need to do without being told, and let’s face it, we don’t learn these things if someone is always erasing the consequence of our choices. And I think if I can figure this one out, God was already aware.

Now, I don’t think this explains all pain. Some of it is the result of outside forces that we can’t control and our actions have no bearing on them, but so often pain is the way we learn.

When I read my Bible, I see a God who is all about us growing, maturing, and learning how to be more like his son. I see a God who is not content to let us remain as we are. Yes, he accepts me just as I am, but then he desires more for me and from me.

So often we equate pain with something evil, but strictly speaking it’s not. Pain tells us sitting on the hot stove is a bad idea, that our knees weren’t designed to bend at that particular angle, or that putting a staple through our thumb isn’t the smartest thing we could do. It tells us when we need to move in out of the cold, step into the shade, or find shelter from a storm. Pain keeps us safe if we are willing to listen to it, it minimizes the damages the harsh world would inflict on us when we are unaware.

Spiritually, pain warns of dangerous relationships, bad influences, and the hazards of complacency. It makes us move when we would be content to be still, it draws us closer to God, and awakens our senses to new possibilities. It hurts so that we have incentive to act, even when we don’t want to.

And the truth is the remedy for pain is often more pain. How many of us will endure an aching tooth if we don’t have to face the dentist? We know that a visit to him is going to mean needles and screeching tools. So we put it off, unwilling to face the pain needed for our healing. It is only after the side of our head swells up and Ambusol just doesn’t cut it anymore that we are willing to face the music.

Most of us just aren’t any better when it comes to our spiritual hygiene. We will endure a little ache as long as possible, if it means we can avoid facing God. So he lets the pain grow until we become disfigured with it and no amount of suppressants can touch it. And even then most of us would rather groan in our misery than take the proper steps to be whole. We cringe in fear of what it may cost us to find relief, until it simply becomes too unbearable.

So why do we experience pain? God loves us. I know it seems like the wrong answer, but ultimately it is the only answer to all our questions. God loves us and he will do anything, endure anything, to bring us closer to him including agonizing with us as we learn to listen to his voice.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

He Did WHAT to the Car? or Mistakes You Can't Hide

As I am sure many of you have already seen, I have been painting our logo and website address on Ty’s beat up Corsica which he just gave a new coat of Harley orange paint. As I painted I had three distinct thoughts that kept running through my head, but only two are fit to share here.

1. When you work on a large scale all your mistakes become large scale too.

When I designed the Pagus logo of the winged lion I did it quickly, and relatively small. My hands were able to move fast and with confidence, my pen strokes were effortless because the motions were tight. Painting on the hood of a car meant I had to lengthen the lines and every little tremor showed.

I couldn’t help but think how this act really summed up the season that Pagus is moving into. It is a time when we will be doing more, both in quantity and scope, and all of our wobbles will be visible. It is a scary thought, the idea that we can’t hide behind our smallness anymore. We will be more visible, in both the things we get right and the things we totally flub up.

But it is like that with God. He often requires that we move out of our safe places, stop playing it small so that we can hide our mistakes. He knows that we aren’t always going to get it right, that our hands are going to shake, and the world will see the tremor, but he still wants us to try. He still desires that we pursue him, because somehow, even in the midst of our mistakes, he can still create something beautiful.

2. The last thing on my mind was something my Mimi used to say, “It will
never be noticed on a galloping horse.”

She would say this when the part on our hair, back in the days of pigtails, wasn’t entirely straight, or there was a small spot on our clothes. She meant that if you are moving fast enough no one will notice the flaws, but the trick is you have to keep moving.

So I kept painting, even when the line wasn’t as sharp or crisp as I would like. I just kept painting and reminding myself that my wobbles wouldn’t be noticed as Ty cruises down the highway. (I tried to forget about the parking lots).

And in a way this is also appropriate for this season. Sure we are going to make some mistakes, it is unavoidable, we are human after all and we are going to be doing new and unfamiliar things. But I think my grandmother’s wisdom applies here too, if we just keep going, pushing ahead our mistakes will not be what people notice about us – at least not at first.

In some ways these two thoughts balance each other. They keep either perspective from stealing center stage. As representatives of an amazing God, we need to be careful and alert so as not to make mistakes. I can think of nothing more appalling than I might in some ways misrepresent my King. It humbles me that he would allow someone so prone to mistakes to speak in his name, and it terrifies me to think that any mistakes we could make with Pagus will be so publicly on display. But I don’t think that this type of fear is a bad thing. I believe it is the only right and fitting response to the magnitude of the subject.

However, on its own, that thought could paralyze us into inaction. We could be tempted to justify not trying as humility, but that is not what we were called to either. We were called to share the message of the cross with a dying world, bind up the wounded and feed the hungry. We can’t do that if our false humility is making us cowards. So we will keep moving, pushing on, traveling roads we did not know before, and hopefully people will see not our mistakes but our passion, our dream, and the God who gave it to us. Maybe if we don’t stop, if we keep forging ahead, there won’t be a chance for them to notice our foibles, maybe they will just see Him.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Our Redemption Stories

There are times when we look up and find ourselves in the middle of a mine field. We have no idea how we got there, but circumstance and good intentions take us right back to a place we fought so hard to leave behind.

Yesterday, I was asked to help a friend. It seemed like an innocent enough request, and one I wanted to fulfill. After all, I know what it is like to be young mother taking care of small children on limited funds and not being able to pay the mountain of bills that keeps growing to epic peaks of destruction. So I got in my car and went, with no reservations, no compunction, and no hesitancy.

But soon after I got there I was in a scene all too familiar. One that I fled from over a decade ago, and one that I would like to forget ever played out in my life. It was a painful place, one where I almost lost myself and my children to a special type of hell that is reserved for women who think that they can save the world, or at least one “special” man.

As I sat and talked to the young woman who needed the assistance, I kept having flashbacks that were trying to break to the surface of my mind. Memories that I would quickly put down so that I could focus on the specifics of this situation, but as she talked I knew I really didn’t even need to hear what she said. The script was familiar enough, after all, I felt like I wrote it so many years ago, and frankly, my delivery was better.

I woke up this morning still troubled by what I had witnessed, and in the privacy and safety of my own home I let those suppressed memories play out in my head. The question that kept ringing across them all was why? Why did I need to be the one who went? Why did I need to be reminded in such a blunt way of all the pain I left behind? Worked so hard to be free of?

I know the answer, and it is simple enough. Those who went with me spoke it plainly, “I don’t have your perspective,” “I’ve never been in this situation,” “I can’t imagine what this is like,” “I don’t know what to do to help.” At the time, all I could think was “Thank God you don’t.”

If I believe anything it is this. One, God is sovereign. He is big enough, strong enough, and sometimes even ruthless enough to carry out his purposes. Two, there is redemption for all the things we carry to the throne. Nothing is wasted, nothing is without purpose, not even our pain.

As I walked through yesterday, I had eyes to see what others would have missed. I had the experience to hear between the words, and the hard won wisdom to know what can and can’t be done to help. I am not saying this out of any sort of arrogance. It simply is the result of what I have lived through, and that is the key – I LIVED through it.

I came out on the other side basically whole, with a few scars that still give me trouble when a front moves through. But I am still alive, and I am stronger for what I have endured. It deepened my appreciation for the beautiful things I have in my life now, and it gave me an intimate knowledge of God that so many people in church just do not understand.

The thing is, we all have at least one area of our lives like this. One wilderness that we have walked through that others don’t even have a map to explain. What we have known and what we have done is a mystery to them, and they need us to help them navigate through these unknown lands.

It is one of the redemptive elements of our lives – the power of our story. It gives purpose and meaning to the events we have witnessed that is beyond ourselves. It brings hope to those who are still wandering in the land we managed to escape. Too often we try to avoid confronting our past hurts and wounding, we think that if we ignore it long enough we can forget that it existed, forget that we ever allowed ourselves to be that person.

Sometimes, I think that the world is crying out for those of us brave enough to show them our scars to give them this hope. They need to see that the God we serve is big enough to bring life, even where they are. They need to know that they are not forgotten, and He loves them even in the midst of their pain. And that only happens when we are strong enough to let another see into our past, show them how God saved us, and the power of his healing enacted in our lives.

Our stories of healing and redemption validate God’s power in this life, in their lives, and for many this is the only hope they have to cling to. If God did it for them, maybe he can and will do it for me – how can they have that hope unless we live it out before them? Maybe it is time we put an end to being the victims of our past and declare the victory of a Lord who specializes in redeeming all of history to his glory. Maybe it is time we stopped living in shame over our mistakes and we lived a life celebrating the redemptive power of His story.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Training Wheels - That's MY Man!

There are a few things that make a girl go “That’s MY man!” And Ty does something that never fails to cause that response in me. Now I know for all of you who do ride motorcycles, that it is something that comes second nature, but for us newbies it can be rather impressive.

Ty rides a 1995 Harley Road King. It is a big bike, 900 pounds of steel and chrome, over half a ton when you add our two bodies, and he usually maneuvers it all with the subtlest shift of his hips. A movement that cannot be detected with the naked eye, but has guided us through traffic, curves, and rain without fail.

The other night as we rode, we hit a rough patch of road and I could feel as he efficiently and elegantly responded to the demands of the situation. I could feel how his muscles worked with and against the bike, keeping us upright seemingly without strain or duress. I, on the other hand, fought the overwhelming urge to grip those love handles in white knuckled terror. As I choked back a shriek, he laughed and said “That was fun.” (I hope to God that was sarcasm, because from my seat, it did not remotely resemble anything called fun.)

It was all over in a matter of seconds, and my dear husband never broke a sweat. The only clue I had that he was even aware of the situation was the way his body swayed to the interplay of the road and the bike. A part of me wanted to chastise him for being so calm, so cavalier about his wife’s safety, but the sheer truth of the matter was he got us through it unscathed.

My walk with God is like that. He is up in front and seems completely unruffled by circumstance. He doesn’t make a big commotion about getting things done. Everything is handled in subtleties, efficiently and elegantly. Subtleties I miss if I am not close enough to feel the slight sway of his spirit as he maneuvers me through this life.

And just like with Ty, I find myself wanting to scream out in panic, demand to know why he is so calm when everything is so threatening. I want to see more action. I want to see him be a little more proactive and really show that he is dealing with the problem, but rarely does he do things my way. He calmly sways with and against circumstance, and occasionally laughs over his shoulder, “That was fun.”

It is easy to forget, that he will get me through unscathed if I am able to keep myself in check. If I can resist the urge to reach past him and try to steer myself. I have to trust that even when it doesn’t look like he is doing anything, he really is, and he never fails to respond to the needs of a situation. Riding with Ty has reminded me that I need to stop trying to control and learn to be responsive to how God is leading. And just like my husband, God probably isn’t going to draw much attention to what he is doing, so if I don’t want to miss it I need to be alert to the subtle shifts.

And sometimes, I just need to stop and think about what he is really doing. How all those little motions mean that the world has moved, not just a bike, the world. Lives are changed and destinies determined with a slight sway, and I need to sit back and experience the awe again. The awe that makes a girl go, “That’s MY God.”

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Church and Obsession

Lately, I have been rather obsessed. Obsessed with trying to figure out exactly what this thing we call Church is suppose to look like. So many of us grew up in a Church in transition, steeples that now shadow flashy new signs, pews that gave way to padded chairs, hymnals that gave way to over heads which gave way to power point, music that went from the staid hymns of old to easy pop choruses, and preaching that sometimes sounds more like a philosophy lesson than the word.

Some of the changes I really don’t like, and some I fully support. I have found that many of us who went through these changes in our teens and early twenties like to experience something new when we go to Church, and I have found a lot of us are disappointed when we don’t get it. And I have found that it has left many of us open to the discussion about what we think Church should be.

So often I hear, “I want a New Testament Church.” And to plagiarize a line from one of my former teachers, I ask, “Which one?” Most of the New Testament was written by Paul addressing problems within these infant Churches as they struggled to define themselves inside an adverse culture.

When I talk to people about what Church should look like, more often than not I hear about what it shouldn’t be. After all, we have all experienced churches that fail to meet either our or God’s standards. We have all attended churches devoid of life, bound up in religion and programmed so tightly that if God himself suggested a change it would be rejected by the appropriate committee. We have been in churches who only derive their identity by what they are against, and while there is passion it is usually marked with disdain for anyone who fails to adopt their philosophies.

We have been in churches that are social clubs, filled with good people who like to get together, but forget that sipping coffee with your clique is not the reason we gather. We have been in churches where the Spirit seems to be on the move continuously, but teaching is neglected in favor of an emotional high. We have been to churches where the Bible is taught, but all the lessons are learned by rote and become sterile in the absence of compassion. We have been in churches who confuse compassion with blind acceptance, and churches where no matter how long we attend we are still the outsiders.

Maybe the smorgasbord of options have left us overwhelmed, leaving us to think that somewhere in this myriad of possibilities there has to be one that is right. One where we can find seats that don’t put our butts to sleep, or one with a preacher who doesn’t leave us wishing he would just shut up so we can get to lunch. Maybe we have become too picky and we find ourselves quick to point out the flaws without embracing the good. Or just maybe the Church is broken and has reached a time when we need to completely redefine who we are and why we are here.

A friend of my mine said she sees Jesus and his bride as that really great guy with the horrible girlfriend. The guy you want to slap because he doesn’t seem to realize that she treats him like trash, and the girlfriend you want to kill for treating him so badly. Sometimes, more often than I like, I have to agree.

I don’t think it is a bad thing that we see where we can do better. I don’t think it is horrible to admit that we get it wrong sometimes. I think that it is the only thing that saves us from hypocrisy, but when do we stop complaining and start doing something about it? And how?
Even after having gone through so much transition with Church, many of us still think there is something more waiting to happen. I wonder if we are waiting for God to move, or if He is waiting for us.

Many of us are willing to sit back and complain about the Church, but I have seen far too many of us fail to take an initiative and pursue a solution. A lot of us armchair quarterbacks and back seat drivers will chime in about what others should do, but then blame our hectic lives, finances, kids, and global warming for our lack of involvement. It might just be me, but if you are one of these I think your griping privileges have been revoked.

And I hope that griping is not all I am doing as I work through this latest obsession. I hope that I am seeking answers and actively pursuing what God would want in this situation. I want to know what he desires for and of his Bride. I want to be a part of something larger than myself, and I want to see her operate as a fitting bride for the King.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Why are we afraid of ratings?

It seems like a strange question to ask about Christians. We seem to be the biggest supporters of ratings. We do things that are rated “G” and we shun anything above a “PG-13.” “R” does not stand for restricted and only for mature audiences, it means rejected as too sexual, too violent, too disturbing, or too raw. Pick your adjective, it really does not matter. Ratings make our lives as parents easier, we do not have to monitor what our children watch if we shove “G” rated movie into the player. We do not have to deliberate if a movie is appropriate or not if someone has already made that decision for us.

I do not want to get lost in a debate on whether we have grown lazy in allowing others to make our parenting decisions. I do not want to get caught up in whose responsibility it is to regulate the content of our cultures creative endeavors. What I want to know is, why are we afraid of ratings?

This question strikes at the heart of Christian creativity. We have placed such a high value on being family friendly that we will do anything to keep those family friendly ratings. We have trained our population to avoid those things that might not be kid friendly, and Christian artists operate with the knowledge that to be successful commercially we must retain our “G” rating.

At first this may seem to be a good, even beneficial effect of the rating system, but the problem arises when we fail to recognize the purpose of art. The problem becomes exacerbated when we fail to recognize our own hypocrisy of the rating system.

I would ask each of you ask yourself, is it good that your child read the Bible?

We give them pretty pastel works, with cute pictures and fun little facts in the margins. We have all sorts of clever marketing campaigns, and from this evidence I would conclude that we as whole believe that children having and reading their Bibles is a good thing.

I recently looked through a children’s Bible I had given my daughter, and I noticed something peculiar. On almost every other page there are verses written in a different color, memory verses, or a small commentary on a passage. However, there was nothing in the four pages it took to hold Judges 19-21, or in the Levitical law pertaining to sex. Song of Solomon received some light comments about relationship and glossed over the sexual nature of the book. Large chunks of Ezekiel were completely without anything to draw attention to his warning.

Here’s the thing, if we were to put a rating on the Bible it would have to be “R”. If you don’t believe me go back and read that passage in Judges, examine the words of the prophets, or the laws that deal with sex. You see, God doesn’t flinch when it comes to our sexuality or our tendencies towards violence. He is pretty bold about blood and other bodily fluids. And yet, none of us deny that the Bible is good. We just have to stop insisting that it is “G” or “PG.”
So what does this have to do with books, movies, or music?

The Bible is beautiful because God did not flinch when he looked at us. He saw all the things we do wrong, and he said that he could redeem us any way. He said that no matter how much destruction we caused in arrogance, he could restore those who repented, but he knew that first we had to see our sin as the damning event it is. We had to recognize our depravity, our filth, and our pain. It is never a pretty thing to see.

When we as Christian artist struggle to put form or words to a spiritual reality we should be operating under the mandate for excellence. We should not be diluting the message in order meet the Christian industries demands for nice. God isn’t nice. The Bible isn’t nice. God is real and so is his word.

We love to quote Paul, Whatever things are true, whatever things are good, whatever things are lovely , think on these things. But we are failing to hear what we are saying. True, not nice. People struggling with addiction is true. Divided families equally true today. Lonely people, bad people, good people in bad situations all truths of our culture. As for good, Jesus says only God is good and he has a heart for those who are trapped in sin, for those who have been hurt by violence. Lovely, full of love worthy of love, in need of love, I cannot think of any one more in need of love than those who are portrayed in today’s media.

They are fictional characters you may argue, perhaps, but they came from the mind and experiences of real people.

And Christian artists must be free to express the truths of our culture, just as the prophets offered up the wounds of the people before God to plead for his mercy upon their culture. That is why a Christian must be able to write the song about addiction, paint a person broken, or write the book about a failed sexual relationship. They are the truths our time, and in fact the truth of many Christians. We need the freedom to be real with God, and with each other through our medium.

I can’t help but think it was a good thing that there was no rating board when the prophets spoke or when the Bible was written. Can you imagine the scandal when millions of good Christians purchased an R rated book?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What do you mean I'm not Superwoman?

Ty and I made a decision Sunday morning. It was not an easy one to come to for us, partially because I was afraid to that if I brought it up he would say no, and partially because Ty is committing to taking on a little more of his wife’s insanity.

Over the past few years I have tried to juggle being a mom, have a job, and organize events for Pagus. I recently realized that I could not do everything. It was a hard thing to admit to myself, because suddenly I found myself hurling down a black hole of what I perceived as failure. It seems like I should be able to do it all, and on paper it looks like my schedule might just hold enough hours of the day to do more. But I am just not one of those people who cram it all into a 24 hour day and do it well, and that is my problem – I want to do it all well, and if I can’t then I hide all evidence that I tried in the first place. I just don’t deal with failure well at all.

So I had to have a talk with my husband, and I had to admit that I am not Superwoman, nor will I ever be. He took it surprisingly well. He did not seem to be the least bit surprised at my deficiencies and he did not threaten to leave me if I didn’t get it all together. He’s great, but I hate being that vulnerable.
We looked at all the things I have on my plate – teaching, the girls, the house keeping, and Pagus. Something had to go. I offered to give up housekeeping with all that it entails, laundry, dishes, cooking, etc. Ty wasn’t in favor of that one, so I have to keep it. I offered to auction off the girls, but he said we would have to pay someone to take them and we don’t have that kind of money.

So that left two things – teaching and Pagus.

This is where the talk got painful. I love teaching. There is something supremely gratifying in watching a person’s face when a new idea takes root in their brain. It is also means that I get paid, not a lot but a good percentage of our income. Not teaching seems like an insane idea, and yet as we talked through our options, it became clear that it is only one aspect of a greater passion –Pagus.

So my extremely brave husband said, “Baby, you do whatever you need to do, and we will make the best of it.” Suddenly, all my fears washed the other way, my husband was giving me carte blanche to do whatever. He was trusting me to make a wise decision, and all my heart kept saying was wisdom is following God’s calling even if it seems crazy. I began to formulate plans on how I could keep juggling, maybe if I started taking vitamins on a regular basis or lived off of coffee (no wait, I already do that), or Red Bull I could do it all. I keep the financial worries of our lives from falling on his shoulders alone, that would be the responsible thing.

The thing is I don’t juggle well. I just don’t operate at the height of my abilities when my heart is divided. I am the sorts of person who needs to be all in or all out, and I knew that I would never be able to do what needs to be done with Pagus if I didn’t commit.

It is a huge leap of faith for us. It means that money is going to be tight, really tight. It means that I am asking my husband to take a risk financially for my dream. It means that I will be finding out whether or not this thing we call Pagus really can be a success or if it was better off just being a nice idea.

Over the past few weeks everywhere I looked God seemed to be intent on showing me how the people who really got to see him, the ones who got to experience his presence were the ones who were willing to take a risk. They were the bold ones and the ones who weren’t content to simply do the smart things in this life. My whole life I have wanted to see him, be where he is, do what he is doing, and I think that he wants me there too. Now that I understand that it is time to jump.

We often look around at the people who are doing the things that God has created them to do and we wonder how they got there. What magical doors opened for them, but when I look at the Bible I find it has nothing to do with things just happening – it has everything to do with us, are we willing to elbow our way past the obstacles, will we stand on the street corner and scream his name, are we willing to leave it all behind just to be near him. Can we risk it all, our finances, our social responsibilities, our reputation, even the other blessings he has given us for a season to be near him?

There are going to be a lot of people who won’t understand why I am making this decision. There are going to be a few with hurt feelings, and I am going to disappoint them in their expectations of me. To tell the truth there is a part of me that is disappointed too. I wanted to do it all, but since I can’t I will do the one thing he has called me to, and I will do it well.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


We are taught from a very early age that structure and order are good. They provide stability and security, unpredictability is bad and leads to fear. Chaos is to be eradicated and peace restored within our lives.

I have been thinking about this concept a lot. Especially since I read Robert Grudin's statement that to walk in creativity is to walk at the edge of chaos. I think in images, each word has its own special picture in my head and when I link them together as they appear on a page, and as the individual words
conjure up their image and combine with each other a new image is made.

Sometime long ago I read that the original Hebrew of Genesis reads, "And the earth became chaos. . ." That became my picture of chaos, a cosmic pool of random color with no solid form, no definition just simply being. Random and beautiful, waiting for something, anything to give it purpose and meaning, and then God spoke and history began.

I do not pretend that this image of chaos is correct scientifically or even theologically, but that is my picture and I like it, so I will keep it. The thing is when I read Grudin's quote I added something to my image. Now instead of a cold distant cosmic mass, God walked at its edges.

Suddenly, the randomness had purpose. It was not simply something lost to the darkness of space, hope was present and life was near. Chaos became not something to fear or cause for despair. Chaos was the substance of possibility.

I thought about what this meant for an artist. All my paints laid out in neat little tubes, carefully arranged so that I can reach out and grab the one I want. My brushes standing at attention with clean bristles and handles not yet smudged by dirty fingers. A canvas pure white and waiting. It all starts out so orderly and almost pretty, and then I begin my work.

I pick up one of my pretty tubes and I smash it squirting pure color onto my once pristine palette. Pretty little pools of paint arranged in the order of the spectrum, separated by enough space so they cannot touch. I then take my palette knife and smear them into long lines of color that still retain the division I have imposed. I chose a brush, and begin to paint.

I select the proper color and then I do the unthinkable. I introduce chaos to the process. I pick up brown with the edge of my brush before I set it into the blue, or a touch of alizeran crimson goes into the cadmium yellow, no longer are my colors pure, they must not be to produce the desired effect.

I make a line or a cloud of color on the canvas, sometimes I paint the canvas black to make the colors more vivid. I have to destroy the clean orderliness of the blank canvas in order to introduce the elements that will allow my image to take shape. The entire process of creation is the introduction and the subduing of chaos.

We have been taught to fear chaos, like it is threat to our well order lives and will possibly destroy us. But chaos is an essential ingredient to creation, and it does not end with painting. My brother assembles chaotic notes and words into an order to create a song and expression of his thoughts. The writer picks from among the many words to create a poem or story, all come from the mass of ideas and images that float chaotically through our psyche. As the artists, we pluck them from the realm of the unknowable and place them in the form that allows the others to see the beauty of the random elements.

An artist introduces hope and possibility to a situation that the others see as overwhelming and impenetrable. Our work signifies the ability to find beauty and truth in an otherwise confusing realm.

There is a reason that people of all cultures have embraced the arts. Whether articulated or simply accepted, the work of the artist helps us make sense of our world. To put words to this idea will strike some as arrogant or baffling, their response will be, "I just like it." This is not uncommon most of us do not think about why we like what we like, we just accept that we do, but think for a moment. Remember that time when an emotion overwhelmed you and that song came on the radio that captured all the things you could not voice before.

In that moment, the chaos of feeling became solidified, clarified, and you could put words to what had escaped you before. It is more difficult with an image because they do not give us the words, but the images we are drawn to reflect some aspect of our hearts that calm us. We recognize that we can give form to some hidden part of us, hidden because we did not have a way to share it before someone captured it for us.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

It's Shake and Bake and I Helped!

Almost the first question everyone asks me is how we came up with the name Pagus? And since that answer is on the home page of our site, I will skip to the second question people always want to ask – and a few are brave enough to actually do it – Who are you to be doing this?

Got me.

It wasn’t exactly something that you just wake up and say “Hey, I think I will live the rest of my life filled with doubt and uncertainty, wondering if people would like to hear what I have to say, never sleep at night due to an overcrowded schedule, pray that there is funding for the next event, and slowly lose any shred of sanity that accidently slipped through the genetic code.”

Okay, so that begs the question why do we do it? But let’s stick to the original question. Who am I to be doing this?

I really wish I knew. I argued with God about it for a long time. I even ran hard and fast the complete and opposite direction. Any good Bible scholar (or attendee at their local Sunday School) can tell you that usually means you wind up swallowed by a big fish, and I did. (Whale vomit, yuck!) I made every obstacle that I could to keep me from this life, but in the end I just had to climb over some and drag the rest along with me waiting for the right time to climb over them.

I could give you the credentials, that is what most people really want, and I have a few. I have a Masters degree in Biblical Literature (that is just the fancy way to say I can read Hebrew and Greek), and two other degrees one in psychology and one in fine art. And a couple of really odd certifications, that still confuse me. Only God can weave together an education like that, and somehow that’s what He did.

The truth is what makes me the person to do this is the reason everyone else who is part of Pagus is qualified to do this. We love God. We want to see great things for and from His Church. We believe that all of us have a story, some beautiful and some horrifying, but we serve a God of redemption and He is redeeming our past as we move forward with Him. None of us can imagine not participating in the things of the Father.

Oh, we realize that He is much more efficient on His own, and we are a lot like the three year old who is helping make dinner with mom. Mom doesn’t need the “help”, but a good mom can’t resist her child’s smile when the kid proudly declares, “It’s shakin’ bake and I helped.” That’s all we are really doing at Pagus, getting in the way in the kitchen and loving the time we get to spend with the Father, and if I read my Bible right, He likes it too.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

"Stay Together," and Other Stupid Things Moms Say

Since my children were tiny there has been one event that defined their day – if they could go down to Grandma’s house. My mom and dad live next door and the houses are within shouting distance, but just barely. A wide open pasture stands between us and the greatest risk to my children’s safety are the handful of cows who share more in common with lap dogs than their other bovine relatives. When they were smaller I would watch them out the door and call Mom to be expecting them, both of us would stay on the line commenting on their progress from our respective windows. We would only hang up once the gate into Grandma’s yard had been hurdled.

When I was small I did the same thing, my grandma lived next door too. Every day as the door swung closed behind me my mother would call out, “Be careful.” Now if you know me very well at all, you know being careful in no way appeals to me. If I have to be careful, I would just as soon not waste my time. I have raised my children with this mentality and they are fabulous risk takers, but since a mother has to yell something out the door to her children, I had to come up with mine.

Now, there was no cognitive thought put in my selection of words, but this morning as I yelled after them I found myself wondering why I hear myself saying, “Stay together.” There is an inherent risk in my children staying together and it can involve bloodshed and bruises on a good day. The truth is they fight. Not your usual “Did not, Did too” fights, it’s more of the apocalyptic nature which I am convinced is simply preparation for Armageddon. So all wisdom would dictate that I encouraged them to stay as far from each other as the forty acres allows. God knows they are safer facing the cows than each other sometimes.

Even they see this and complain about having to tolerate the other. Lydia could make case that would convince a Supreme Court justice, and Lauren has a way of putting her head down so she can figure out a way to circumvent my command (in a completely defendable manner, of course). What they don’t see is that I have a reason for them sticking together and it is more than one of them might need a kidney one day.

I want them to learn to walk together in the midst of conflict. I want them to face challenges and difficulties with turning to attack the other, and sometimes I catch glimmers of hope. Too often we face a hard situation and our answer is to blame someone else, let our tempers flare, and demand to be vindicated or martyred for our stand. Separation is easier than relationship. Peace at all costs demands we sacrifice friends and loved ones because often they seem to be the source of our problems.

Sometimes they are. Lauren would not have anyone to yell at if Lydia picked up her dirty clothes, and Lydia would not have a reason to be inflamed if Lauren did not try to boss her. In their child minds the answer is simple, remove the offending party.

As adults we know this truth far too well, and so often we simply stop inviting people into our lives. We keep them at arm’s length where they have not opportunity to do anything that might hurt or anger us, and therefore, we never have to deal with conflict. The problem with this approach is we never learn how to truly love someone who remains at this distance. Sure we can have nice thoughts, wish them well, or even share pleasant Sunday afternoon meal, but we will never know them well enough to love.

Paul warns us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. Many people think that this means go to church on Sundays, but I think there is a bit more to it. Church is a great place to start, but how many times is that where it ends? I love to go to concerts, and sit next people at every one I go to, but I am not there with these people. I know nothing about them, their life and habits in no impacts mine, nor does mine theirs. To say our relationship is shallow would be an understatement, nonexistent comes much closer.

In some respects the relationship among concert goers is far superior to other relationships we may have, if we use peace as the criteria. I believe peace is a good thing, but it can’t be everything. Jesus even fought with his disciples, correcting their misconceptions, going to toe to toe with them when they dared disagree, but he never cut them out of his life. He never washed his hands of them and said he was done trying to get along with quarrelsome men. He understood that when you walk with someone there are going to be difficulties, problems, possibly a shouting match or two, and maybe even some punch thrown somewhere along the way.

The quality of the relationship was not defined by the absence of conflict. It was defined by the ability to resolve conflict and build stronger relationship through confronting conflict honestly. Coming to gather as believers should entails conflict, fights even. It means we are really walking together, and if we can stop seeing conflict as the death knell of friendship, we could begin to appreciate the diversity of thought and method that God has equipped his body to use to reveal his desire for relationship to the world.

The girls are growing up, and after over a decade of duking it out, hours of hysteria, they are learning to appreciate the strengths of the other. Strengths they have tested and found to be worthy of their trust through conflict. I don’t worry about them leaving the safety of our house when they are together, because I know that even as they scream at the other, no outside threat better come near.
My hope is that we all have someone yell at and to yell back at us as we work our way through this thing called faith.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Training Wheels - Packing too light?

On our first trip our after our honeymoon, Ty told me I had one saddle bag to carry everything I needed. I packed light. I really did, at least for me. I took one change of clothes, my laptop, my make-up, and an extra pair of shoes. (I put the curling iron inside them). He questioned me with every addition, do you really need that? Why are you taking that? Couldn’t you leave that home? Who are you trying to impress anyways?

Listening to him you would have thought I had tried to load my entire closet on the back of that bike, and I was getting a little irritated with his constant commentary. I finally gave in and left the make-up at home, except for the mascara – I can only sacrifice so much. In the end, everything else barely fit, but we secured our load and took off into the blue.

It wasn’t long until an approaching storm front forced us off the road to dig out some warmer gear, but guess what wasn’t in my saddlebag? I didn’t have a single jacket or even long sleeved shirt, but my husband pulls a hoody from his side and says, “I packed this for you.”

He’s like that. He remembers things I don’t and is prepared for the emergencies I don’t even consider. What’s more, he gave up space in his saddle bag to make sure I really had everything I needed when I wasn’t smart enough to take care of myself. In some ways it would be a beautiful thing to end this story right here, make it all about Ty’s loving provision, but there is more.

The trip home was miserable hot. The sun was blistering and baked us to crisp. My nose peeled for days, and I was completely disfigured for awhile. Ty commented on how I had never burned like that before when I rode with him, and I reminded him of what I had left behind – my make up bag, the one with the moisturizer with sunscreen, and the foundation with sunscreen, and the powder with . . . you guessed it, sunscreen.

Ty never considered that my beauty stuff might also have some practical applications, and I never thought that riding in July would require a jacket. I think that is why God puts us together with other people, to fill in the holes of our knowledge and experience, to teach us the things we need to know. Now I always have a jacket stashed when I ride, and he doesn’t grumble so much when I want to put in my make up bag. I accept that he has all the practical stuff covered, and he is learning there are just some things about “woman stuff” he doesn’t get.

It is in the learning to embrace the other’s strengths that we find unity, and we are having to learn how to strike that balance between perpetual deferment and pig-headness. I did no one any favors when I gave up my make up bag, but I also failed to plan when I didn’t pack a jacket. I needed to Ty to be the man I love, to make up for my lack of insight and understanding, but I should not have surrendered what I needed just because he thought I was being vain.

I am finding that in a marriage, or any other committed relationship, there has to be room for both people to bring their strengths, knowledge and experience to the table. We have to be okay admitting that we might not know as much about a particular topic as the other, but what we do know still has value. And if we can combine forces and not turn it into some sort of perverse competition, we are stronger together than we ever were on our own.

Monday, November 15, 2010

H.G. Wells, Full House, and My Strange Father

Early on in my education my father said something to me that shaped how I learned. He said, “You don’t have to know everything. You just need to know how to find the information you need, that’s why they have books. But it is not enough to know what’s in the books you have to know how to use what they say. Once you understand why something happens or why a person does something then you will be able to use that information in your life.”

Of course like every child my preferred way of gathering information was to ask questions, but my father had sadistic habit of answering my questions with a question. And when I would object, my father would respond with, “So what’s wrong with a question?” or hand me a book.

Once I asked a question about a television show, and he handed me H.G. Wells Outline of History. He told me to ask again when I finished reading the 500 page tome. I was twelve.
And like every child, I let him see me reading it a few times, skipped over the boring parts, and asked again. (The part over the Mongol warriors was pretty cool though.) He answered my question by asking me why the great men in history were considered to be so great. I replied because they won. He agreed and said that was just it, they won. If they had lost they would be discounted as renegades or rebels, but it did not mean that they were always the best men. He asked me what would motivate these men to take such risks, to fight these great fights? He went on to answer his own question that time, which I learned he would often do if I stayed quiet long enough.

I learned a lot from my father, how to look at people and ask these sorts of questions. Why do people do what they do? Answer: because of what they believed. What caused people to take certain courses of action? Answer: because of their environment and heredity. What shaped their environment? What formed their beliefs? Why were they allowed to prevail were better men had failed? How did this apply to my life, what I believe, what I think and ultimately what I will do?

My education was not endless barrage of facts that needed to be memorized. I was taught how to learn, and is something that I am for which I am immensely grateful. It is a skill not often taught to us in our culture. It meant my father spent much more time telling me where to look for answers he could have rattled off without a second thought. It meant that he would have to entertain prolonged conversations with a child when he could have been watching the ball game.

At times I considered his techniques rather heartless. After all I only wanted to know why I could not watch a sitcom with a laugh track, and I got a college history book shoved in my lap. I know to many of you it seems like an odd way to answer a question, and maybe it is, but thanks to Full House I now know that Mongol warriors were amazing horse men and use human skulls as dinnerware. I also know that I have a responsibility to teach myself, to learn from the people who have lived before me, and not to repeat their mistakes.

Unfortunately, not everyone had a father as committed to their children’s education as I did. And our society has taught us that simply regurgitating facts is a close enough to pass for an education. On the whole, our culture has taught us that we should not ask questions or if we do, keep them simple. As a consequence we often fail to grasp the impact that our world and our history has on our lives. We don’t’ examine how our perceptions are shaped by the nuances, or how we have the power to change our perception through educating ourselves.

And it is okay if we need to dig deeper to gain understanding. Dad finally had to tell me why I could not watch TV with laugh tracks. He did not want anyone to tell me what is funny. He did not want me to grow to think that serious issues were something to laugh at just because of societal dictates. He wanted me to think and form my own opinion based on something a little more authoritative than a sitcom.

Our world is filled with people who are willing to tell us what is and is not important, how to interpret events, and what our values should be. It is our job, especially as Christians, to know our history and know the heroes of our past so that our perceptions are shaped by the light of God’s word and not the latest fads or even by time honored traditions. We have a responsibility to see past the surface and understand what each voice is truly trying to say.

Finally, we need to be okay with seeking out the information. We were given a great source, one that you probably already own – It’s called the Bible, and it is not enough to simply read it. We should read in the purpose of understanding why things happened as they did, why he did what he did, and maybe we will catch a glimmer of how this wonderful history plays out in our lives.

Friday, November 12, 2010

I Don't Know, Maybe Never Will

I guess when you set yourself up as someone who knows something about the Bible people think that you should have the answers for a lot of their questions about God. Usually, you get off with the easy ones, like “How was Jesus both God and man?”, “How did God part the Red Sea?”, or “How does the Trinity exist?”. I say these are easy because the last few days I keep bumping into the hard ones, “Why?” and “Where was God when my life fell apart?”

I am not writing this to say that I know the answers to any of these questions. And the last two, the really important ones, the where the rubber meets the road questions are the hardest. The truth is I don’t know why, and while I believe God is in the midst of our tragedies I don’t know how to point him out to you. I wish I could, maybe then broken faith could be mended and we could begin to make some kind of sense out of the chaos of our world.

Sure I could give some pat Christian answer, “Just have faith and God will get you through this.” But when has that ever been enough for a heart that has been shattered by disappointment and loss? I could remind you that the Bible is true, and that all things work together for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to his purpose, but seeing the good, or even the purpose, of suffering isn’t always possible in the dark.

It is in our darkest moments that we begin to search out some way to make sense of the cruelty of life. We ask ourselves the hard questions, is this because I have sinned? Maybe, I don’t know. Is it because God doesn’t care enough to move on my behalf? Or is He powerful enough to move on my behalf? Maybe I don’t have enough faith or strength or my breath isn’t fresh enough. All of these thoughts we entertain trying to find a reason. In the end we all pretty much end up at the same place, “I don’t know.”

Is it an issue a faith? Absolutely, but the thing about faith it is a tricky substance. Sometimes it is like a hundred dollar bill that has been run through the washing machine a few too many times. The ink is faded almost past the point of recognition, and if you hadn’t known what it was in the first place you might be tempted to toss it out like any other scrap of paper. Other times, faith is so crisp and clear you almost want to frame it.

Lately it seems like everyone I talk to is hanging onto a tattered piece of faith, hoping they haven’t mistaken an old Wal-Mart receipt for what was once a thing of value. People who are wondering if they were fools to believe in the first place.

I could give them a list of facts about how I know that Bible is true, but honestly that isn’t what they need. I could try to console them with trite clichés or even pray for them, which I do, but there is a need that goes beyond all the pretty church answers. There is an ache that no one person is going to satisfy. A place so deep in their heart only they and God can touch. I wish there was an easy answer, a magic wand, a secret word, but if there is I haven’t found it yet.
The other thing about faith is once you have had it, once you have experienced what it is know that gift you can never be content without it.

“Where is God?” “Where is God when I am crying out in pain for him?” “Where is God as people suffer and he seems not to care?” “Why did he allow this happen?” “I don’t think I can believe in a God who does this to his creation.”

These are the questions that have ripped at my heart the past two days. Over and over again I have heard them coming at me from all directions, friends, loved ones, and strangers who speak the questions through tears of brokenness or in defiant rage. And I set there repeating the few words I know to be true, “I don’t know.” I don’t know. At times I wish I did so I could offer an answer to help them through these times of pain and doubt. At times, I am thankful that the mysteries of the universe are not mine to bear.

I have sat with those probing their hearts trying to unearth some hidden sin that prevents them from hearing God’s voice or keeps them from his blessing. I have looked into the scornful eyes who demand why I can so blindly believe the unbelievable. Each time I have found myself at a loss for words, knowing that arguing will win nothing, and empty words will bring no comfort.
All I can say is I have seen his hand at work. I have experienced his presence, and though I may not see him now – I know he is here and he loves you. Experience is all I have to offer, experience that is lost to the day to day struggle, but reclaimed in those moments when life threatens to overwhelm me.

I don’t know why God does what he does. I don’t know why he allows those who have sacrificed to serve him suffer. I don’t know why children die, and I don’t know why dreams must be killed. I don’t know.

All I know is he loves you. He has orchestrated history so that you could know him. For you sake others have suffered and died. For your sake many have been persecuted so that you could hold his word in your hands, speak his name with no fear, and assemble with others who love him. All of history is one big bloody effort for you to be here, for you to have this chance. Perhaps it is your suffering that will pave the way for the next person to hear his voice, maybe this is greater than you.

Because when you strip away all of my conjecture, all my theories, all my hopes, all I truly have to offer is I don’t know, but I will stand beside you until we do.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Spider Solitaire, Chaos, and Our Puny Minds

I have been having some difficulty lately that is becoming more of a problem than it should be, but I find myself obsessed with winning spider solitaire. Why is too great of a question to explore here, but it did start me to thinking. You know that moment when the cards are dealt out by the computer with that simulated shuffling sound, supposedly giving you a randomly dealt hand?

I got to thinking how it isn’t really random at all. Computers run through programs, mathematical algorithms that tell it what to do in response to set of predetermined commands employed by the user to accomplish a task. So in theory every hand is winnable if you know the sequencing and patterns that the computer is using to provide the player with the fake randomness.

The problem is I am not smart enough to determine this pattern, nor is my mind designed to grapple with the complexities of the mathematics that simulate randomness. I just can’t see it, the scope of the problem is too large for my mind. So the effect is good enough to accomplish the desired result. It appears random to me despite the fact that I know that it truly isn’t. As such I am forced to comply with the rules of the games in hopes that I might be able successfully bring order to the supposed chaos of the cards.

In a lot of ways life is like that card game. I look at it and I see randomness, chaos, and confusion. However, I know that behind it all is a program of sorts, running in the background providing order to what I can perceive, and the problem is never that the program isn’t working. The problem is in my inability to see beyond what is placed before me. To make matters worse, the program is so sophisticated that even the best of minds will never be able to unravel its sequencing.

Now some might ask how I could arrive at such a conclusion, that life has meaning and purpose when too often all we witness is chaos. I could tell you that it is simply a matter of faith, and to some degree it is. I could tell you it is because the Bible says so, and once again, to some degree it is. The thing is were given a mind and intellect for reason, we were gift with the ability to consider the mysteries that are laid before us, and when we shut it off simply in the cause of faith we are failing to live up to the potential that our creator placed within us.

He has given us key bits of information and startling revelation that he intended for us to use in a quest to know him better. He expected us to look for the meaning of our existence, why else would so many of us grapple with the question? He wanted us to look into this world and universe to evidence of his hand. Faith does not preclude asking a question, faith means asking even if you are scared of the answer.

And sometimes the answer does frighten me. I don’t like to think that my God is responsible for earthquakes, famine, or disease. I don’t want to believe that chaos that so often surrounds me is something that he is doing, but he tells that he is the one who causes it. But I have found that so many things that seem chaotic up close when emotion skews our perceptions have type of symmetry when viewed from afar. History when seen as a whole, and not disjointed snapshots of the human experience, attests to the planning and care that went into bringing this moment into being. I can see how great tragedy was the fuel for great achievement and triumph.
I can see how not one second is wasted, each event serves a purpose, and we walk in world that was wonderfully crafted with a complexity we may never fully appreciate. And when I can see that, when I can recognize that my God didn’t just allow history to unfold with undirected randomness, I can stop trying to figure it all out and allow myself the privilege of standing in awe of him.

There is sublime beauty in that moment, when I acknowledge him as the all knowing creator. There is freedom from fear and futility. And in it I find that there are answers, more amazing than I could have begun to formulate without his help, and I find that each answer leads me into deeper mystery.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Training Wheels - Curling Irons DO Fit in Harley Saddlebags!

When Ty and I got married we had a few obstacles to overcome, not the least of which was how I was going to get my curling iron to the honeymoon. I know it doesn’t seem like a big deal, but we were leaving the wedding on his Harley and there is limited room in the saddle bags.

Ty wasn’t even for sure that Harley could function with such a feminine device on board. He hemmed and hawed about the space it would require, studied the layout of the things he had packed, and finally, with a scowl acknowledged that it would fit. However, before I could breathe a sigh of relief, he announced that I really did not need a curling iron so it didn’t matter.

Let us pause for a second and think this through- I had spent the prior three months planning ways that I could be beautiful for this man. I had designed and sewn the perfect wedding dress. I had colored my hair the perfect shade of auburn, had my body painted the perfect shade of tan, and assembled the perfect honeymoon equipment with the help of my friends. And now this MAN, decides I don’t need a curling iron! What was wrong with him? Did he miss all the effort I had put into making sure that everything presented to him was pleasing to his eyes? Not need a curling iron! He might as well have said I didn’t need my left leg.

I think he realized his mistake once the words were out of his mouth, because he immediately recanted with –“Well, we can take it if you think you really need it. You always look beautiful to me, baby.”

Now, I blame him for distracting me with the curling iron debacle and causing me to arrive on scene without a hairbrush, but the curling iron did make it to our cabin. And, no, I never used it.

We are learning how to make room for each other. Ty is learning how to redefine his list of what is and is not allowed in the saddlebags, and I am learning how to take only what I need. And that is really at the heart of the matter, what do I need?

Ty is practical. Limiting his load to the bare essentials, but I am a girl, need I say more? Our list of essentials is wildly different and it means we make space in our lives for different things. He is happy as long as I am with him, but I want to look my windblown best. It is taking some time, but we are learning to appreciate what the other values. And truthfully, it didn’t take me long to appreciate the fact my husband always has an extra jacket in his saddlebag.

Ty is figuring out that it is important to me to look good, and he even made provision for it. Provision that doesn’t require a curling iron in his saddlebags, and is a little more in keeping with the Harley image. He bought me bandannas in girlie colors and a hair glove to lace my hair in while we ride. He stopped laughing when I color coordinate my bandannas to my outfits, and he even helps me snap my hair glove into place.

We are different, and we are finding out that it is okay. I will never understand all the things that my husband knows almost instinctively, and he will never completely get why I still sometimes insist on packing things like a curling iron, but we have found that there is room for each of us to be who we are even as we become one. We are learning that we can make room for curling irons, and maybe even accept that sometimes there are better alternatives.

And I am finding that every time my husband finds a little extra space for “all that girlie stuff”, I feel a little more valued as his wife and as a woman. It means there is space for me in his world, a world I am just beginning to understand but one he desires to share with me.

And yes, there is a lesson from all of this-

God has a great and wonderful adventure he wants to share with you, but are you willing to turn loose of the stuff you thought you needed? Will it turn out just to be a curling iron you won’t use because He provides you with something so much better and suited to the situation? Can you trust that he has exactly what you need hidden away somewhere and it will be given when you need it?

Turning loose of what you think you need is sometimes the only way you can make the journey. And every now and then we all need to sit down and look at our lives to see what we are holding onto and what is holding us back. Every now and then we need to reevaluate what we deem to be important and accept that we are in a new season where yesterday’s needs are today’s wants. Maybe it is time to ask, exactly how attached are we to that stupid curling iron anyway?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Worship in the Bible

At first glance the Bible doesn’t really seem to say a lot about what we call worship. There is the book of Psalms that records the songs of the Hebrew nation, there are few descriptions of people who sing and even dance before the Lord, but there is really very little to tell us about how music was used as worship.

There is no set number of songs, there is no description what the songs were to sound like, and there is no prescribed method that we are to employ when use for proper worship. Now it could just be me, but I don’t believe that I have ever heard anyone acknowledge this little bit of information. We tend to get rather adamant about worship, the proper form, sound, and words are matters of great debate for many Christians. It is something that has led to hurt feelings, heated arguments, even church splits.

What is talked about a lot in the Bible is worship. It just doesn’t look like the way we do worship. There was no four song program, one fast, two slow, and leave them on high note with a closing fast song. The Bible rarely talks about worship in simply terms of music. Music is an aspect of worship, but worship is always presented as something more.

The New Testament makes even fewer references to music than the Old Testament, and those references are vague. So what does the Bible have to say about worship? How does it define worship? And how do we follow the example it gives?

In the Old Testament worship is more than a song. Worship is the real and right response to God. Worship is exemplified through the lives of the men and women who responded to God in an intimate way. Usually their worship is characterized by a life that is devoted to following the word of God. Abraham offering Isaac is an act of worship, Joshua leading his men in war is an act of worship, and Hannah pouring out first her sorrow and then her praise is an act of worship. Music was just a component, worship goes deeper than just a song.

We often find the word worship associated with the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. Okay, fine, but we don’t offer sacrifices any more. Jesus was our sacrifice, and besides the Temple is gone. So even if we wanted we could not offer a sacrifice to God to worship him this way. The question becomes how do we worship God today?

The answer is found in the Bible but to see it we may need to realign what we believe worship to be. We may need to rethink our definition. We would not be the first ones to do this. When the Temple was destroyed, just as Jesus prophesied, the Jewish people had to totally rethink their definition of worship. The Rabbis gathered in place called Yavneh and decided that worship, even the sacrificial kind could be observed through giving. They believed that doing acts of Tzedekah or loving kindness fulfilled the intent of the mosaic covenant. It is a custom observed to this day.
Music is a part of the Jewish holidays, but worship is the doing the acts God would have us do. Music is a joyful response to his presence and provision. Worship was the proper and right response to God in any given situation in whatever means the situation dictated.

It may just be me, but I have a feeling that God is waiting to experience true worship yet again. I think he is wondering when it will cease to be just a four song event once a week and become a way of life for his people. We have portioned it off like it is an isolated event when it was never meant to be just one more thing on a check list. True worship never ceases, it flows throughout lives, dictating and demanding that we move concert with Him. It is the voice of our awe over a wonderous God who loves us and compels us to acknowledge him with our every move. It is something that flows from intimate knowledge of one who created the universe and wraps his arms around us.

The Bible doesn’t seem to say a lot about worship because the whole book is about worship. The message is overwhelming and we need to stop trying to distill it into sound bites or clichés. It just doesn’t work and we miss the forest for the trees. So if you want to know about real worship, study his word, get to know him, and worship will become an irresistible expression of faith.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Grumbling Along the Way

Sometimes there are moments when you know that you are capable of so much more than you dare to attempt. For me these moments come with a headache and a gut wrenching nausea that can leave me paralyzed. It usually happens when God is calling me to move away from a place that is comfortable, a place that seems good enough, and one that others would never fault me for staying in. In fact, many times people question why I would consider making the move at all.

I would like to say that I take these leaps of faith because I see a great and wonderful opportunity. I see a chance to do something greater for the Lord, and I rejoice over the fact that he would allow me the chance to serve in such an audacious manner. The truth is it is usually because I know I will be miserable if I don’t. God has this way of picking at me until I give in, and scream “Enough already.” And then I pick up my knapsack and begin trudging in the general direction he has indicated, all the while grumbling that he would require such a thing of me.

Fortunately, he is used to surly traveling companions and laughs off my grumbling with a certain amount of divine humor. I guess I really don’t have anything on 2 ½ million former Egyptian slaves.

I have heard a lot from people about the irresistible will of the Father, but I really don’t believe that. To me God is so much more than a cosmic bully, pushing me around to suit his whims. I do, however, believe that he extends the chance to walk with him in some pretty scary and amazing places. Places where we have the chance to know him better, to experience the part of him that can only be seen in the wilds of faith. Places where we become even more of who were designed to be, places where we can be more than we thought we could be.

And maybe mostly importantly, places that keep part of us alive. A deep secret part of who we are that can only exist when we are clutching the hand of the Father. I think this is why I go when he calls me, I don’t want that part of me to be extinguished in the drone of the expected. I want that chance to see him do something incredible, and I want the chance to be a part of it. And there a big part of me that is scared to death of missing out on anything he does that is so much bigger than my affinity for comfort and security.

I woke up yesterday with these words in my head. Sometimes you find a safe place and playing it safe will keep you there. The question for me is, is playing it safe what we were called to do?

I have ransacked my Bible looking for just one verse to justify playing it safe. And all I find are stories of audacious daring, people who were willing to deny the demands of their society and culture in order to catch a glimpse of him. Women who elbowed their way through crowds, argued with Jesus himself, all in attempts to hear his words, see his face, feel his touch. Men who weren’t content with the status quo who dared great things, even their lives, to be where he was and do what he was doing.

And in the end the words proclaimed over them were, “Your faith has made you whole.” Whole, what an interesting concept, the idea of shalom, the Hebrew word for peace, but so much more than we usually understand it to be. The reality of “nothing broken, nothing missing.” Shalom, knowing that a piece of us that only lives in his presence, alive and vital.

I sit here this morning lost in the paradox of faith. Wholeness comes through sacrifice, peace in struggle. And I know that I will be at rest only when I begin to move in the direction he is leading. Playing it safe isn’t an option any more, and risk is the pathway to true safety.

It is time to be whole, wholly his, wholly in his presence, and wholly committed to being who he has called me to be. I don’t know where this new path will lead, but I know that he is already there and that is enough.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

I know a lot of you have been told that this is the most evil holiday invented by man. And maybe that is true, but I am going to invite you into the Spook House of my mind and consider it from a different perspective.

What other holiday can we be whoever and whatever we want?

I typically dress up as a fairy. Something small and unalarming, but packs a big wallop. It is who I wish I could be, complete with wonder working wand and glitter that can make you fly. I would sprinkle it liberally on all my friends, because I would have an endless supply. I could heal wounds, pick locks, and put bullies in their place just by being that dazzling light that zips around
their heads.

What would you be if you could be anything? Take off your limitations, and smash your inhibitions. Dream big, and see what you learn about yourself. Are you a princess, a mutant turtle? Superman? Batman? Wonder Woman? An animal? A concept or idea? (One year Lauren went as a figment of my imagination.) Do you have special powers or just dazzling in your beauty? Are you terrifying and why? What would you wish to scare? There is so much to learn when we let our minds go and let ourselves dream beyond the mundane.

And besides that, what other holiday allows us to ask perfect strangers to give us stuff?

What could be more honest than that?

I want you to give me sweet things, and I will hold out my bag expectantly waiting for your compliance. And why do you give me sweet things, because I had the guts to ask – no matter how many pumpkin lights and fake spider webs you have on your doorstep.

It is a lesson I want my children to learn and learn well. Sometimes we have to face our fears to get what we want, and most of the time the things that scare us the most are just for show.

I don’t do this on Christmas, getting what I want requires more than a request, more than just being there. I have to behave properly, and hope that I get what I want from people I love and claim to love me. I don’t transform into I want to be, I become who I am expected to be all for the sake of bribe wrapped in shiny paper and a red ribbon.

I don’t do this at Thanksgiving. I go and mind my manners around a table loaded with things like yams, cranberry sauce that looks like a can, and mushy squash casserole. No asks me who I want to be, or if I would rather have snack size snickers. It is tradition and all bends before the weight of it.

I don’t do this at Easter. I look for eggs that might give me food poisoning if I ate them. I get cheap chocolate, just because it looks like a rabbit. I wear a frilly dress made of pastel colors, and try to look cute – something I was never good at. If I am really lucky, I might get Reese’s egg, but usually custom dictates Cadbury Cream one – gag. Everything is sugary sweet, and I am expected to be so also.

I can’t deny there are many aspects of this holiday that bother me, but on the flip side, there is so much to learn. It is the one day a year where we are conditioned not to be upset if a stranger knocks on your door and demands us to give them things. Why can’t we be like that all year?

It is the one day when our real lives, responsibilities, or anyone else’s expectations limit what we can be. It is the one time when we are given the permission to envision a different reality, a better one where we truly sparkle and shine. I wish it was a freedom we could experience every day.

So let’s take the good things we can learn from this day, and make them our own. I hope you chose to meet strangers with sweetness, meet a request with ready response. I hope your home is filled with wonder and hope of a reality greater than the one we see. I hope you chose to be something amazing today, and every day. Happy Halloween.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Waiting for God, and Hoping He Doesn’t Show

Lately, I have been talking a lot about taking risks. What it looks like and how I hate it, but it is at times like this I remember a point in my life where God showed up in the middle of freefall.

I was working selling tools and lawn equipment at a major department store. I had been approached about taking some management training, and moving up the food chain. It would have been a nice, safe move, one that would have guaranteed that I could pay my bills, feed my children, and all that trivial stuff. But I kept looking around at others who had chosen that path, listening to their conversations, and all they could talk about was how soon they could retire.

All the while, somewhere in the back of my head was this nagging sensation that I would never be happy unless I was doing something that had to do with my faith. I didn’t know what that would look like, what I could do, but that little voice turned into a scream that could not be ignored – not without killing off a part of who I am.

I woke up one morning and I said enough, and I began making phone calls. The whole time I am grumbling about how stupid it was for me to go back to school. I was going to have to take out loans, drive at least an hour to get to class, and hope to God that I could balance getting an education and taking care of my kids. I kept listing off all the reasons I should not even try. I didn’t drive in Tulsa. I didn’t type. I didn’t even own a computer, nor did I have the funds to purchase one. This was the height of insanity and I knew it all too well.

So I made a deal with God. If he would get me a computer I would go to school. I counted off the days until the classes began, and there seemed to be no sign that he was doing anything to get me what I needed to do what I thought he called me to do.

The first day of class began, and I refused to buy my books because I still didn’t have a computer. But I didn’t see the harm of showing up for class. I reasoned that surely I didn’t need a computer for the first day, but the thing was once I was there, sitting in those seats, hearing what I could learn over the next few months I wanted to be there. I needed to be there. So I went to the bookstore, where I ran into one of the men in one of my classes.

I only intended to say hi, but I heard myself saying, “If you know any place where I could pick up a computer cheap, or even better free, let me know.”

Without missing a beat, he said, “Come by my house Monday morning and pick it up. My wife and I have one we want to give to someone who can use it. We just had the hard drive cleaned and updates installed.”

That computer got me through four years of school without a single glitch. You would think that I would have been thrilled over the fact that God provided for me so abundantly, but no. I even grumbled about that because I could see my excuses for a safe existence slipping over the horizon.

Now, maybe I am projecting just a bit too much, but I think a lot of us are like that. We ask God to show up and then complain when he does. I mean, after all if he is silent than we can justify our cowardice. We can hide behind the excuses of not having what we need to do what we should.

The other lesson from all of this is, sometimes we have to wait until we really need it before God gives us what we need. And that means we have to start down that path even before we are fully outfitted. I never would have gotten that computer if I hadn’t shown up for class. I would have been sitting at home, going to work peddling wrenches, feeling sorta smug as I lamented the fact God hadn’t provided for my needs.

In my desk is a piece of paper. It says, “It is a shame to ask God for help and not be prepared to receive it.” It is my reminder that I have an obligation, not just to ask, but live like I expect God to show up.

And again, maybe it is just me, but isn’t it time that we started living a life that shows we believe that God is out there expectantly waiting for us to make a move towards him? Towards his provision? Isn’t it time that we stopped putting our great ideas of how to serve him on hold, and actually started pursuing his will for us? Sure it’s scary, and yeah, I hate that in between feeling, but faith without works is dead. And I don’t think that James was referring just to the safe acts of going to church and reading our Bible, because after all, how much faith does that really take?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ice Cream Anyone?

The other day a friend of mine got pulled into a bit of a disagreement that ended with the statement, “If you don’t know Hebrew or Greek then you really don’t know what the Bible says.”

In some ways this is an absolutely correct statement. Knowing the Bible in all the glory of the Hebrew and Greek is one of the most incredible things a believer can ever experience. I tell people it is like growing up with a thirteen inch black and white television and then being taken to the IMAX.

In other ways, the argument is amusing beyond belief. It is the logical equivalent of shooting yourself head so the other side doesn’t get the satisfaction, because typically they don’t know Hebrew or Greek either. The only reason to throw the idea out there is to make the typical Christian flinch. It sows a seed of doubt in the believer’s minds that grows into the thought – “I am not qualified to share my faith because I don’t know Hebrew or Greek.”

Since the criteria of knowing the languages has now been set as the only basis for winning the argument the Christian shuts up. The opposing side continues to rattle, and the Christian feels like he/she is a failure before God and man.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind in situations like this:

1. We weren’t called to engage and win every argument about our faith. God is a big God. He can take care of himself. We were called to love, and Paul warned us about foolish debates.
There will be times when we need to be ready to share, but save your breath for people who are really looking for answers. Too often we waste it on people looking for a fight, so don’t engage. Keep your cool. Smile. Bake them cookies. Take them out for ice cream. It is really hard to be ugly to someone you are actively blessing – and it is harder for them to argue with their mouth full.

2. For your own sanity, you need to know that knowing God does not require an advanced degree in the Bible or ancient languages. The people who translated this book are passionate about God’s word, the accuracy of their work, and communicating the Word as effectively as possible. You can trust their work, and not everyone was called to devote years of their lives learning about dead languages and cultures – there can be more important things to do with your life.

The final thing I keep in the back of my mind is – God won’t believe me if I tell him it was an accident, but you probably don’t need that reminder.

God didn’t write his message in some obscure language to keep his true message a mystery. He had it written in the language of the day, one that everyone would understand at the time it was written. Throughout the years it has been the passion of many people, to the point of death, to maintain this great tradition of our faith – God’s word in your language.

If you are called to address the issue, a decision that needs to be made with great discernment, don’t be hesitant to call on those of us who do know the Greek and Hebrew this is why we studied so hard, to share what we have learned. Remember it is not your job to bring conviction, you are only there to share information and God’s love.

Remember it is too easy to get stuck arguing point and counter-point, and in that scenario there rarely is a winner just a lot of hurt feelings. We need to remember that Bible never said we would overcome the enemy through logical, persuasive arguments. It never even promised victory through knowing Greek and Hebrew. It says the enemy is overcome by the word of our testimony, our story, and our experience with God.

No one can argue what you have experienced. No one can discredit those moments you have been in His presence, and no one can deny a faith that truly defines your life. So when all else fails, stick to what you know – a God who has loved you, continues to love you, and will always love you, even if you don’t know Hebrew or Greek.