Sunday, June 1, 2014

Why Blogs Don't Work...

I've already given my reasons for why I've left Facebook, but I've also taken a break from blogging for a while.  Although with blogging, I'm willing to give it another chance, because from my perspective, I believe it can be more easily redeemed than something such as Facebook.  

Blogs, like Facebook are by nature usually quite narcissistic.  It's usually an attempt to promote self, or some grand idea that really is a masquerade for promoting self.  (i.e. look how smart I am, with this profound advice or experience; let's fill the comment section with how great I am).  It becomes all too easy to promote ideas or experience as gospel truth, and anyone who questions those ideas or experiences is being insensitive at best, intolerant at worst.  

As I've grown as person, I've learned that sometimes, people just have bad advice, and other times, people just give the wrong advice.  Just because it's blogged about doesn't mean it's true, and yet we see it that way.  

Along with this point is the fact that blogs can serve a smoke screen to hide reality from the audience.  I can take a story where I reamed out my kids for something stupid and paint it with words into this beautiful or funny anecdote with a wonderful message, but that doesn't change the fact that I have a real problem yelling at my kids.  Furthermore, I can say I "know" I have a problem getting frustrated with my kids, and by "confessing" it in a blog, I'm being "authentic", but really all I'm doing is using the internet as my priest and I have no real intent on changing.  Frankly, the hard work of change doesn't happen on a blog post, it happens in the shadows of the drudgery of life.  And unfortunately, that's not as glamorous as a blog post that goes viral.  

Another problem with blogs is that the forum validates all experiences.  Frankly, that just logically doesn't work.  All experiences can't be valid.  You can tolerate all experiences, you can hear out all experiences, but they're not all equally healthy valid expressions of life.  Everyone sees themselves as right in their own eyes;  I know I do, and the last thing I want to do is use my blog space on the internet to further ingrain in my head how right I am and how wrong everyone else is.  

So, can blogs be different?  Can I redeem this space?  What would a redeemed blog look like?  

1)Humble attitude:  Yes, it's my blog, but that doesn't mean I'm always right.  I've got to be teachable.  If I provide a piece of parenting advice or a leadership principle or a rehashing of an experience I've had, does that mean I'm necessarily right?  Of course not! I never want to write as if I know everything.  

2)Appropriate authenticity:  On one hand, I don't want to paint myself as having it all together.  That's important.  But like I stated before, the more insidious aspect of inauthenticity on a blog is that idea that by being "real" on our blog, it somehow absolves us of checking back into the drudgery of the real world and working hard at relationships.  A blog better not matter more than loving my child.  A blog better not matter more than my husband.  A blog better not matter more than a hurting student at church.  It's just a blog, and at the end of the day, it's going to always be like priority 15 on my list, because being authentic in real life takes a lot of time and work.  

3)Real conversation:  Oh my gosh.  If you're going to talk about how awesome my post is, just don't waste the time writing a comment.  First of all, I'm an achiever at heart, so telling me how awesome I am doesn't help my cause.  Second of all, I'm only 27, so by definition, I'm not that awesome, because I have like zero life experience.  I don't have the answers to the universe's problems, so let's save the comment section for offering different perspectives, constructive criticism, and the like.  Let's have a genuine conversation, and for goodness sake, let's have the comment section be a safe place to disagree.  

So that's kind of how I imagine a healthy blog functioning.  Humility, "real" authenticity (that should be a redundant phrase, but authenticity is such a hip catch phrase today that it's sadly not redundant), and real conversation (as opposed to butt kissing).  

My vision for blogs that function like that was inspired by Richard Beck's blog  

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Why I left Facebook and went to the the Desert...

Social media for me is like the crisis that early Church Fathers faced when Rome embraced Christianity.  

I know, that doesn't make any sense.  So let me explain.  

For years, Christians were the persecuted by Rome.  Even if you take a liberal view of history, we can all agree that Christians at least weren't the most liked group in ancient Rome.  

And then, one day, everything changed.  Constantine became a Christian and Christianity was no longer marginalized, but celebrated and promoted from the emperor.  

A religion with limited resources now had infinite money at its disposal.  A religion that sat on the sidelines now had copious amounts of power.  And we all know where this is headed...right?  Power, corrupts.  

But there were genuine people still in the ranks.  These genuine Christ followers grappled with the question of how to remain a humble servant of Christ amidst the glorified institution that Christianity had become.  

There were two main schools of thought.  

One group said, "Let's try to make this work.  Let's be a light amidst the glory, power, and corruption. Let's serve our brothers and sisters in love and be a reminder of what the truth is in spite of the glitz."

The other group said, "It can't be redeemed, let's go to the desert.  Our fleeing will be a reminder that God looks down on this perversion of his following."

That's how I look at social media, especially Facebook.  As I watched for months, I tried to be in group A.  "I'll be different," I told myself.  "No passive-aggressive posts from me.  No quizzical status updates that coerce people into asking how I'm doing or what I'm talking about."  If I had a problem, I would either work it out through God, or if necessary talk directly to the person with whom I was in conflict.  

But as I watched, I just got sicker and sicker, angrier and angrier.  I tried to post things that brought light- inspiring quotes, thought provoking articles that I always provided caveats for, fun (because everyone needs more fun in their lives).  But watching everyone else, it was too exhausting to watch.  

It became a medium for people to be angry without having a conversation.  It became a place for people to lie about their lives, painting things as rosy in order to escape reality.  It became a place for people to slam others (in the most professional and sly sort of way).  

And then this picture.  Church Father, or Desert Monk?  Which one was I going to be?  Be a light in the midst of poor relational skills and defensiveness (which usually ends up being plain old sin), or let my absence be an indictment on Facebook?

Interestingly enough, both the Church Fathers and the Desert Monks at this time were largely influential.  I was surprised to learn that God effectively used both groups to accomplish His will.  Because he is a God of infinite resources, whatever conclusion these men and women took, stay or go, He used them.  

And so I could trust that he would use me as long as I walked humbly with Him.  And so I walked away.  I walked away from the desire to paint this great picture of my life to everyone else.  I walked away from the anger and frustration of others and myself.  I walked away from the fear that if I wasn't on Facebook, I'd lose important connections.  

But I learned something through the process.  I was a lot happier without Facebook.  I was excited to learn things from people when they shared news with me face to face rather than learning it outside of their presence.  I learned that I wasn't responsible to micromanage, stalk, or keep up with other people that weren't in my circle.  I'm beginning to let God bring people in and out of my life.  I'm detoxing from unhealthy social media use and unhealthy social media ways of relating.  

Strangely, Desert Monks went to the desert to be alone, but people followed them.  Some of them became frustrated because so many people wanting to learn the ways of Christ followed them into the desert.  I'm not saying that I am anyone to emulate (I'm good at some things but terrible at others), but I do trust that some people will follow me out of this strange world of social media and into deep face-to-face relationships.  

This leads me to one last thought.  I believe in my heart of hearts that technology will be with us forever.  I don't eschew it, and I want to stay ahead of the curve, mainly for ministry's sake.  I work with middle and high schoolers, and one of the deciding factors of why I could confidently leave Facebook is that teens don't use Facebook much at all anymore.  So, I didn't need it to work with my tribe.  Facebook has become a tribe of middle aged people who are desperately seeking connection.  That's not where God has intentionally called me.  And those who are middle aged who need connection, I'm looking to connect with face to face, not via social media.  

So, I'm not going to totally leave technology.  In fact, I think blogs have the potential to be an awesome redeeming space on the internet, and I hope that I can turn this blog into just that.  But, that's going to take some time, and some effort, and some relearning of how we do blogs.  But that is a post for a different day...

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Gospel of Ruth

I hate shopping.  I really do.  I have friends who look at my wardrobe and just shake their head.  Sometimes, I shake my head, too, because the entire thing just looks utterly ridiculous to me most days.  


For those who know me, there is one thing that I will spend hours and hours shopping for...

Put me in a bookstore, and I will stay for a long time.  

Put me in a used bookstore, and well, a search party may be necessary to get me out.  

Needless to say, children don't make my book shopping the easiest activity (which may be a good thing).  But, Matt and I have Kindles, so I frequent the virtual bookstore almost daily, scouring Amazon for whatever deals may be present.  

So, I download a lot of free books.  Here's the cool thing about Christian literature.  I guess it's for publicity's sake, but a lot of times, you can find some pretty good Christian lit for free.  And I download these books.  And they sit, 

and sit

and sit

on my Kindle.  

Waiting to be read.  

Because like anyone who loves shopping for a good deal, it's more the thrill of getting a good deal that makes the shopping so fun, not actually using the purchased item for its intended purpose.  

Anyway, I say all that because I downloaded this book called "The Gospel of Ruth".  It looked kind of cool, and it was free, and there it sat on my Kindle.  

Well, then after Matt's first church history class this semester, he says, "So, my professor's wife is an academic, too.  She wrote a book.  It's about Ruth."  

And me, being the information storehouse that I am, asked, "What's your professor's last name again?"  

And Matt's like, "James."  


Flash forward to today.  I'm 3/4 of the way through the book, and let me tell you, Carolyn Custis James has some quite insightful things to highlight in terms of the book of Ruth.  

I'm just going to bullet point through a few of these for you all (and for me).  I hope that it not only encourages you all to pick up this very approachable scholarly work, but that it also spurs us to critically think about the framework we use to approach the book of Ruth.  

1.  Quote 1:  "Furthermore, my husband, while believing that his work and mine were deeply intertwined, never believed his profession was the answer to questions I was asking about God's calling for me.  So did I have a calling?"  

James writes this in the introduction.  Call it deep entrenchment in gender roles or insecurity or something else entirely, but THIS right is at the crux of my personal struggle of internalizing God's personal call upon my life.  I have lived my entire life thinking of myself as an addendum to someone else (whoever or whatever may be closest to me at the time).  And it's strange, because I don't believe this mentality was actively foisted upon me, but for some strange reason, I have this propensity to have absolutely no passion, drive, or vision of what God could possibly want for my life.  

Now, I personally eschew the idea that God has some exciting adventure planned out for us all and that he's just waiting for us to just hop on board; I think God most deeply works through the mundane.  So I don't think that God hasn't been working through me, or that I've been out of God's will.  But I've always thought it strange that I have no desire to pursue ANYTHING.  Like, that's weird, right?  

Here's the funny thing.  I do believe (to a certain extent-but that's not the point of this post) in gender roles.  But what this quote made me realize like a slap in the face was that I had been hiding behind gender roles to excuse myself from exploring what I genuinely enjoy and how God has uniquely gifted me.

It kind of looks like this: 

"I don't need to really worry about me because we just need to get Matt through his Master's.  We can worry about me later."  

"It just seems logical that I'll stay at home with my kids, because they're young and it's best for our family."

As I write all of this, I think there are two reasons deeply engrained in the core of who I am as to why I do this.  
      1)  Pursuing something specific means that I must face rejection or failure.  I hate both of those things.  
     2)  I hate both of these things because I so deeply define myself by my successes and being accepted by others.  

Well.  This is a problem on so many levels it isn't even funny.  

It shows for one that I have yet to internalize that God has accepted me into his Kingdom regardless of what successes I have under my belt.  

It also shows that I'm paralyzed by fear concerning anything that will show that I'm either not successful or not acceptable because that's how I define my value.  

Oh dear.  This is not the way that Jesus has called us to live.  This is far far far from Sermon on the Mount living.  

So can I just meditate on this truth for a few decades and really internalize the fact that God loves me and likes me just because I'm me?!  If I got this, it would be a good start.

2.  Quote 2:
"Somehow we've convinced ourselves that the more mature we become as Christians-and both Naomi and Job were seasoned believers-the thicker our spiritual skin will become.  We'll be resilient in adversity.  It's a sign of spiritual failure (so we tell ourselves) when suffering gets the better of us and our faith in God gets shaky.  Such notions (which aren't supported by Scripture, certainly not by the legacies of NAomi and Job) get in the way of our spiritual growth and block us from engaging the God who pursues us in our pain.  To tell the truth, when the full force of our sufferings hit us, no matter how long we've walked with God or how much theology we've mastered, faith in God can take an awful beating"

Can we just sit there for a second?  This is so profound.  I think I knew this, but James puts it so plainly.  What in the world does it look like when a church does THIS, instead of awkwardly trying to explain things away?  What does this look like 3, 4, 5 years down the road after someone experiences tragedy and it's still so real and raw for them but we've all but moved on?  I don't know the answer to those questions, but I do know that I want the answer to be framed around the spirit of this idea.  

3.  Quote 3: 
"He [God] isn't interested in tinkering with the existing system of human values so we can say we're doing things "better" than others.  The gospel completely overhauls the human soul and introduces us to a radically new dimension of human relationships."

Sometimes, I feel like Christianity is just a cleaned up way of living.  And I think in high school and college, it's easy to look at Christianity in terms like that.  I felt like Christianity was mainly about the moral decisions I made.  And I thought that by making certain moral choices, I was better.  But as I sit here today, more than ever I'm convinced that while cleaning up my lifestyle has value, the problem still lies within myself.  As Jesus said, the inside of the cup is still dirty.  

This quote for me highlights how far from the truth it is to believe that Christianity is just cleaning up your lifestyle.  It's a complete overhaul from the inside out.  

4.  Quote 4:
"The Sermon on the Mount knocked down the walls that religious living had constructed around God's law and pointed to a way of living that goes beyond the letter of the law to the spirit.  Formal religion only takes us so far-for it is both safe and doable.  Love, however, knows no limits, takes costly risks, and looks for ways to give more."  


"The letter of the law says, 'Let them glean.'  The spirit of the law says, 'Feed them.' Two entirely different concepts.  Ruth's bold proposal [to Boaz for her to glean in his field] exposes the difference."

I seriously get chills every time I read the second quote listed here.  I almost cry every stinking time.  If you're not aware of ancient Israel gleaning laws, the basic idea is that if you had land, you were supposed to leave what fell to the ground and not harvest the corners of your property so that the poor would have food to eat.  The purpose was so that none would go hungry.  

But then it became more and more technical.  How big is a corner?  How much should I leave on the ground for the poor?  And as the law became more and more technical, the spirit of it was lost.  

How often do I feel proud of myself because I'm following the law that modern Christianity has given me today while others go hungry both physically and spiritually?  

How often do I allow myself to be blind to needs around me because I'm so focused on following law to a T?  

5.  Her chapters on the widow and the barren woman

James does a fantastic job of highlighting the role of the barren woman and the widow throughout scripture.  I felt like a complete idiot for never putting all of this together, but it was absolutely fascinating to see the role of the widow and the barren woman throughout the Bible.  What was even more fascinating was the way God invited them into his purposes.  

James not only highlights the implications of being barren and/or a widow in ancient Near Eastern times, but she beautifully ties in the implications for today's modern widows and barren women.  It seriously is some of the better scholarly work I've seen on the study of the widow and the barren woman, and the best part is that it's completely accessible to all of us non-academics out there.  

Those two chapters framed the book of Ruth in a way that I really hadn't seen before.  I was guilty for having glazed over the tragedy of both Naomi and Ruth and the triumph of what God was doing in their lives.  

So seriously, I don't know why this book was ever free.  But it was.  I'd gladly provide a link to it, but I don't do all that coding stuff.  It freaks me out.  But you could type in "The Gospel of Ruth" on the Amazon search engine and buy the book.  It's totally worth it.  

Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Happy Mother’s Day…

At first when I began feeling achy this afternoon, I didn’t think much of it.  As a family, we work pretty hard on Sunday, so it’s normal to feel ready for a nap after lunch.  But I wasn’t just ready for a nap, my body was screaming for a nap. I felt like narcoleptic Mr. Bean in the movie Rat Race (remember that?) and I was just going to fall asleep on my feet.  

Then the shivers started.  

Then I realized I’d been ignoring some serious pain in the risk of saying too much...lactation machines, and being the knowledgable breastfeeding master that I am (much thanks to my mother-in-law), my first thought was the dreaded…



Great.  Happy Mother’s Day to me.  

And that was about all I could think about.  How sick I felt; how frustrated I was with myself because I was the one who allowed myself to get so rundown.  

I made the conscious decisions the past three weeks to eat terribly, sleep little, and just overall not take care of myself.  And I’m not saying that mastitis and unhealthy habits are directly correlated, but I do know from my past experiences that staying healthy and taking care of one’s self goes a long way in the breastfeeding department.  

But something fascinating transpired tonight as I write, so I record this more for my own records than anything else.  I was sick, so I had to make a choice.  

I had to quickly prioritize things in my head and ask myself, “What are the responsibilities that I just can’t hand off?”  “What is most important, and what is least important?”  

I knew right then and there as Hope was having a meltdown on the stairs, that I didn’t have a capacity to listen.  But I can’t hand off parenting.  I can’t hand off really loving my kids.   Matt is there to help, and he really did (dinner, tea in bed, taking the kids to the park after dinner, all while he has a final to study for tomorrow), but I’m still there; I can’t check out from my kids’ lives.  

So I allowed myself to let go.  And I just did what I could do.  And I relaxed because I knew I’d never get to the dishes.  I knew my normal bedtime routine with Hope just wasn’t going to happen.  It was just going to be what it was going to be, and I just gave myself grace.  

And surprisingly, I was able to live in the moment and enjoy with the little energy I did have all the sweet little things that Hope says.  And surprisingly, I was able to give her grace when she began acting up about bedtime.  Not because I possessed this super high capacity strength, but because I wasn’t hurrying through her bedtime so I could get on with the other things I had to do.  I was just going to kick back my feet anyway.  Why not do it in Hope’s bed with her until she calms down a bit?  And then Ian wanted to be rocked, and I somehow found energy to just bounce him indefinitely.  And my body didn’t ache so bad.  And I cherished rocking him.  I ACTUALLY CHERISHED it.  Because I know he’s going to grow up soon.  

I don’t say all this to guilt anyone into cherishing their kids more.  I know stuff has to get done.  Sometimes, mornings are filled with calls to incompetent insurance companies (not that I have any experience with that).  Other times, the dishes just need to be done, and no one else in the house is jumping at the task, and you realize it’s not sustainable to keep pulling cutting boards out of your dirty dishwasher and wiping them down quickly.  WE NEED PLATES TO EAT ON, for goodness sake.  

But what I AM saying is this:  I will never consciously slow down.  I just won’t do it.  It’s in my nature.  I have to achieve things.  And it drives me nuts some days that I’m pouring into these nebulous priorities called children (how do I know if I love my child they will become the person I want them to be?  Answer: I don’t know.  Love is a huge risk.), and some days, to be quite honest, I feel that something inside of me begging for a chance to check something tangible off my list.  

And it doesn’t happen.  

So I get frustrated at myself.  

And then..I get frustrated at my children.  

But here’s the cool part.  I didn’t have to slow me down.  God slowed me down.  He slowed me down with a 101 fever and some severe pain.  And at first, I was frustrated beyond belief.  But as I rocked Ian to sleep, I realized that I was cherishing him and loving him!  And I was enjoying it!  

Don’t get me wrong.  I L.O.V.E my babies.  But the crux of it is that there is a war inside of me.  And no matter what side I take, I always feel guilty (“Great job Rachel.  You’re putting a puzzle together as the toilet bowl continues to collect yuckiness.”  On the other hand, I sometimes get, “How can you care more about the toilet than your daughter pleading for you to do one more puzzle with her?  What kind of complex are you giving her?”).  

So what tonight reminded me of was this:  I have to get stuff done, but IT’S OKAY to stop.  It’s okay to rest.  And because God seems to be relentlessly pursuing me (which is almost comical to me at times), he reminds me of that.  

With that mindset, I can be thankful and enjoy the moment.  And what surprised me was that by not focusing on what HAD to be done, I enjoyed my life better and I enjoyed my community of little children a lot better.  

In some ways, I think I accomplished more than I have in a long time.  

Disclaimer:  I in no way know what it feels like to live in chronic pain.  This is not meant to be some cute little blog post to diminish the physical (and mental) pain that some people live with every day.  It’s not meant to encourage anyone to just pull up their bootstraps and just work harder.  It’s meant to remind me, and anyone else that can relate, that those little inconveniences in the drudgery of everyday life are often the tools God uses to shape us. 

Disclaimer 2:  Some may be wondering why I haven’t blogged lately.   It just wasn’t time.  It got knocked off the priority list for a while (for a few good reasons), and I can’t say that it’s moved up in rank.  Maybe I’ll blog again sometime soon, though.  

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Nail Clippers and the Joys of Failing

I would consider myself a pretty relaxed parent (besides the constant washing of my child's hands, and reading labels on toys to make sure the plastic is BPA free, and still not allowing food, formula, bottles, or pacifiers in her mouth) but there is one thing that sends me into a mild panic attack.

clipping Hope's fingernails.

And because she is growing at the rate of Great Dane puppy, nail clipping is not a once every 10 day excursion.

It's multiple times a week.

So, as I look at her nails getting longer and longer, I have this mental battle within me. "Maybe I should wait...but they're collecting dirt....maybe it's not such a big deal...but she'll scratch herself in the face with them." And finally I give in and get out the nail clippers.

The first time I clipped her nails, I had Matt hold her when I did it. Here's the deal. Babies are small. Thus, they have REALLY small fingernails. It's a really tedious job. It is sort of like that game Operation I used to play as a kid, except instead of getting a red blinking nose when you make the wrong move, you get a screaming baby.

Babies definitely have different cries. There's the "I'm frustrated" cry, and then there's "I'm tired" cry. But then there is the, "I am in pain" cry. And that cry is by far, THE most pitiful cry in the entire world. It makes you want to curl up in fetal position and just give up.

So, you can guess what happened the first time I clipped baby Hope's nails. I got through 9 of them safely. The last nail, the left thumb. She was sleeping like a baby (obviously) and I thought I had it, but it took me about 1.35 milliseconds to realize that something had gone TERRIBLY wrong.

Her eyes shot open and she let out this pitiful cry of agony. I hurt my own child. So now, of course, this sends me into hysterics. So here is poor Matt, trying to console not only Hope, but me as well. It was a mess.

Eventually after Matt telling me about 20 times that I was not the worst mother in the world and that Hope in fact did not hold an everlasting grudge against me, I was able to continue with life.

All too soon, nail clipping came again...and again...

Okay, at 16 weeks, it's a bit easier. I clip her nails when she is on the toilet (yes, my 4 month old uses the toilet; she's been doing it from around 6 weeks), and when I feel like I can only get a good angle on 4 of the 10 fingers, I just let it be. My obsessive compulsive self just has to take a backseat and let go of the fact that my child has 6 super long nails and 4 short nails.

And as with EVERY STINKIN THING in the world of parenting, there is a lesson learned. For me, the lesson is that I am not a perfect parent. Sometimes we mess up when we're clipping fingernails. Sometimes, when we're putting children into car seats, we accidentally bump their heads on the car door frame (yes this has happened too, and yes my child cried, and yes the car guard looked at me like I was the most irresponsible parent in the entire universe).

But it's not going to end there.

When she's 3 or 4 it will be a careless word towards her.

When she is 5, it will be a frustrated look towards her when all she really needs is patience.

When she's a teenager, it will be suspicion when what she needs is confidence and belief.

Being a Christian is so much more real to me now than it ever was before Hope was born. Before she was born, I perceived that I didn't really need God because 9 times out of 10, I created a pretty good life for myself. Sure, I had a relationship with Him. I liked Him. I had no qualms with Him. I believed He was real (it just made sense). And I needed Him in theory.

But I didn't really need Him.

In these early stages of the journey of parenthood, it's more than obvious that I'm not going to be receiving the perfect parent award. And so daily, I have to throw myself at the feet of God and beg Him for mercy and beg Him to work through me. I am utterly dependent on Him to raise my daughter.

I am SO thankful that I don't have this parenting thing down. And I pray that I never deceive myself into thinking that I do. I hope every child I have is so unique and different to the previous ones, so that I can never rely on my own understanding in the world of parenting.

Because in my true neediness for Christ, I've seen Him show up in ways I've never experienced before.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Help! I go to a mediocre church!

Well, I don't really go to a mediocre church. I actually really enjoy my church [I'm not paid to say that], and I really do enjoy waking up and seeing what Southpoint Church has on the cards each morning.

But let's be honest, it's REALLY easy to slip into the mentality that your ministry or your church of your small group or your bible study or WHATEVER just isn't doing it for you.

And then maybe you voice this to your spouse, or your roomie, or whoever will listen to your commentary on how the music was a bit pitchy today or so-and-so is actually just such a know-it-all and you just wish that they weren't in your group anymore or the pastor sort of did a prooftext today and technically that verse was out of context and blah blah blah.

And then it just sort of just becomes this wildfire of complaining and everyone thinks that by complaining the world will be a better place.

I was talking to some friends the other day, and we decided that there definitely IS a place for constructive criticism (I'm not advocating walking around with rose colored glasses when your church is about to implode on itself), but in my case, I tend to criticize for the sake of...well...criticizing.

It's sort of like when you get a tub of Ben and Jerry's ice cream (Phish Food flavor for me) and in certain contexts it would be good to have like a couple of spoonfuls, but you actually just end up sitting there, scooping it into your mouth, bite after bite, until the pint is empty. Then you want to vomit everywhere and you realize, that wasn't a really gratifying decision, but it seemed fun at the time. That's sort of how criticism goes in my life.

I read this quote the other day by A.W. Tozer in the classic "The Pursuit of God" (which everyone in the whole world should read) and it sort of sums up in my mind what makes a great church. And the thing that I realized was that great churches and great small groups and great ministries don't start with the program; they start with the people.

Tozer says the following:
"Someone may fear that we are magnifying private religion out of all proportion, that the "us" of the New Testament is being displaced by a selfish "I". Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshippers met together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be were they to become "unity" conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship. Social religion is perfected when private religion is purified. The body becomes stronger as its members become healthier. The whole Church of God gains when the members that compose it begin to seek a better and higher life."

Wow. It's simple. It's obvious. And yet, it's SO difficult for me to internalize.

So when I wonder, why is [insert Christian event here] so mediocre? I'm going to ask myself first and foremost, "Is it because my relationship with Christ is just...mediocre?"

Second (and secondmost?) I'm going to start to pray for the PEOPLE instead of the program. Imagine if you had a small group of people who were all tuned to God in their private lives...what would that group look like? Or on a bigger scale, what would a church or a ministry look like if everyone was tuned in to God on a regular basis?

I don't actually know what it would look like, but I think it would be a pretty spectacular sight.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

I'm So Sorry

Dear Friends, Family, Acquaintances, and people I don't even know:

I owe you an apology. It's long overdue.

I'm sorry for the way I've talked about you. Chances are, if you are in my close circle of friends or family, I've cast judgement on some decision you've made in the past couple of weeks, and I've probably shared that commentary with my husband in some other circle of friends of which you are not a part. That way, it won't get back to you.

You may have frustrated me recently, but you wouldn't have known it. I would have just smiled and then mouthed off about you either to God, to myself, or to some other friend who won't tell you. Rather than going to you and sharing how I feel, I'd rather just keep the frustration inside because I'm too cowardly to talk to you and be transparent. Rather than believing the best about you when do something upsetting, I am suspicious of your character. Maybe I've shown you that I'm slightly upset by being passive-aggressive, but I probably would deny that there was a problem even if you asked.

If you are a friend from the past or an acquaintance, I pass judgement on you, too. I look at your pictures on Facebook or hear stories through the grapevine and offer a commentary to my close friends about how stupid you are or how I would have done things differently, using your failures to elevate myself and prove to others that I'm better than you.

I've probably told your secret to someone, even if it was just my husband or my mom. Even though my better judgement tells me to keep my mouth shut, I ignore it more often than not. If I haven't told your secrets, it's not because I am a faithful friend, it's probably just because over time, I forgot what you told me in the first place.

To those of you I don't know, I read the news and I pass judgement on you and I talk about your incompetence. I look at the beggar on the street and first assume that he probably deserved to be where he was. I maybe even use my theology to justify what I'm saying and feeling. Maybe there's truth to what I'm saying about you, and maybe there would even be value to speaking that truth in certain contexts, but I mostly speak these "truths" with the hope that people will think I'm articulate, smart, or witty. I use your demise for my own gain.

Of course, I usually pass all of this off as venting or sharing prayer requests or philosophizing. That's how I live with myself every day. I've created a carefully woven paradigm that allows for me to perpetuate the way I speak about you and feel minimal conviction that how I speak is even wrong in the first place.

I just want you to know that I'm sorry. Not only am I sorry, but I am ready to strip my mind and heart of this way of living and thinking and speaking.

I wish I could say that I am turning a new leaf and that is that, but the truth is, I will revert back to my old paradigm. I will talk about you again behind your back. I will cast judgement on your decisions. I will use your own mistakes and failures to elevate myself even if it means dragging your name through the mud. I'm pretty clever and have learned by now how to make sure that none of what I say gets back to you, and I'm too much of a coward to admit to you when I do mess up.

But I am trying.

So when we're sitting together over a latte or talking over Skype or chatting after church in a big group of friends, and when I begin to revert to this way of speaking, just gently nudge me and remind me of what it is that I'm REALLY doing. I'm not just sharing the latest news; I'm not just sharing genuine heartfelt concern for others; I'm not just venting; I'm casting the first stone; I'm removing the piece of sawdust from the eyes of my friends before I remove the plank from my own eye.

And it may be hard for you to remind me. It may feel awkward. You may be younger than me and it may feel strange to bring this to my attention. God forbid, you may be interested in hearing this nugget of information that I'm about to share with you and ready to proverbially stone the person with me. But think about the wellbeing of the people that I'm about to slay with my words, and remind me of my potential sin for their sake. Because tomorrow you may be the person that I target with harsh words, and you'd want want the person listening to me to stop me before I even begin.

Thanks for listening.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. James 3: 7-12