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 clich├ęs 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.