Wednesday, April 26, 2023

In which I ponder what it means to be free... and cuss more than Nadia Bolz-Weber

The Gospel of John ends with this disclaimer: 

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.

That is, “Here’s a bunch of stuff Jesus did, but it’s just a drop in a ginormous ocean.” 

Likewise, if someone were to write down all the things I don’t understand the world couldn’t hold those books either. And lately, without much understanding, I’ve been pondering the way the Bible correlates laws and obedience with freedom. What’s that about? How are we both supposed to follow rules AND be free?

For instance, I’ve been reading Psalm 119—a super long one all about how the writer loves God’s laws—and I stumbled across this tidbit: 

I run in the path of your commandments, for you have set my heart free. (Ps 119:32)

And there’s also this later on:

 I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts. (Psalm 119:45)

In the first one, maybe “I’m free, therefore I obey,” while in the second one, “I’m following the law, therefore, I’m free.” Which one is it? Or are they simultaneous rather than cause and effect?

Whatever the order, personal experience tells me that the law doesn’t FEEL all that free! As a happily married sixty-year-old, I’m not exactly a partier… I’m not likely to kill anyone, or steal anything… but that doesn’t mean I’m walking around sinless! It’s just less…. obvious.


In 2 Timothy, Paul reels off a list of shitty things people do, but instead of having the biggies like killing, adultery, etc., it lists less gaudy sins: being 

lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.

It sounds awful, and the letter says that this is how people will act when the world’s about to end… and that we should avoid these folks. But… I’m not altogether sure it doesn’t describe me! Surely, what we call in Christianese “our Christian walk” should be a move away from these descriptors. But it doesn’t feel like a walk. It’s spring in North Carolina, which means earlier in the week it was 70 degrees and pleasantly balmy, and a walk felt like I was standing still… and the next day it was 40 degrees with a frigid wind cutting right through my coat and my walk was an arctic slog. 

That’s why it’s so confusing—because being all those terrible things our bro Paul lists in 2 Timothy feels kinda natural like a warm-day walk, if I’m honest, and moving away from them would involve a hell of a lot of intention and effort… and require bulky outerwear and snowshoes. And that doesn’t feel very free AT ALL!

Maybe the more you walk in it the freer you feel? Again, not my experience. So if you think I’m going to resolve this conflict in this blog post, you’re going to be disappointed…! The only thing I can think of is that … maybe freedom in the Kingdom of God is, like a lot of things, counterintuitive. Like how Jesus says in Matthew 20 -  

So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” And also “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.

Could it be that what feels like freedom
is actually a trap?
Like the bigger picture of Christ—how the people thought the Messiah would be a king like David and vanquish the Romans, but instead, he was a mellow, lowly dude that let himself get killed. And the church itself—it started with a bunch of nobodies with no power. That’s why when I see a church or leader with a lot of power, it’s a little disturbing. I mean, Jesus did say that the gates of hell wouldn’t prevail against the church, but I don’t think that meant because the church would be a frightening behemoth (Matthew 16:18). I think the Kingdom of God is more … like… subterfuge.

So maybe the freedom advertised in the Bible is an upside-down version. I think our biggest clue is here in John 8 where Jesus says:

Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 


Okay, so I’m not great at interpreting the Bible but it seems like it’s saying that freedom isn’t doing whatever you want, because doing whatever you want is a trap. Like I find it so hard to NOT be the things Paul listed in Timothy because I'm TRAPPED in them. Instead, I should be buddying up to Jesus to learn what He’s about… which is this: 

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)

I think maybe that’s the perfect picture of the upside-down world that He introduced. So maybe THAT’s what it looks like to be free. 

Dang, y'all - this show "The Chosen" is so good. It portrays the Jesus as a down-to-earth Dude and the disciples as a bunch of regular guys just trying to get to know Him.

Thinking all about this sort of recalls to my mind all the crazy shit about masking during the pandemic. Some people—some of them Christians, oddly—were like, “I need to be free and not wear a mask”… but is that really freedom? Maybe they’re trapped by their desire to do whatever they want? Can’t you also be free to DECIDE to wear one? Not out of fear, but because it’s just common sense and shows consideration for your fellow man?

I didn’t really understand why it was Christians who were so nutty about this. If there’s a way to love people, just do it. If there’s a way to be an asshole, just DON’T do it. Of course, that is all probably a bit too simplistic (not to mention judgmental), and I already revealed above that simply not being an asshole is not that easy… and I’m really not sure what that has to do with freedom, except I think that the overarching theme of being a Christian is love. And freedom is about choosing to do it. Choosing love over power. Like Jesus did.

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Some stuff I maybe should have just googled?

After having been at an Evangelical church for 35 years, it’s quite the novelty to be in a mainstream denomination again. I was raised Methodist, but for some reason, it all seems new and makes me ponder things in a different way… 

At this new church, the service is very, um, structured. Like it’s the exact same things in the exact same order every single week. Of course the songs are different, and the (20-minute!!!) sermon is different, but other than that, it goes the same every time. Maybe that’s why it’s called the “order” of worship? I’m guessing this is why I can feel the timelessness of the Christian faith while I’m at this church… completing the same rituals, over and over… 

Anyway, one of the things that’s ALWAYS a part of the agenda—and the thing that has me thinking right now—is the Lord’s Prayer. You know: 

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever.

It’s how Jesus recommended we talk to God. Simply—hitting all the basics—praising God, praying for the world, asking for food, forgiveness and to be spared from sin and evil… 

It’s in the Bible twice, and if you read it in context, you get two different angles. In the Luke 11 version, the disciples ask Him to teach them to pray, and He gives them an outline of WHAT to pray for. Then he sort of says that God is waiting around to hear and answer prayer. He says, 

As bad as you are, you know how to give good things to your children. How much more, then, will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13 GNT)

Ask for bread—get CAKE!

Which is interesting… because the prayer He taught them didn’t say, “Give us the Holy Spirit”… did it? Maybe… if He gives us the Holy Spirit, we can live out the world described in the Lord’s Prayer? And voila! Prayer answered!

Or maybe… food and such are things it doesn’t hurt to ask for, but the Holy Spirit is what we NEED, and it’s an even better answer!! Like we’re asking for bread, but He knows we need—and gives us—CAKE! In Matthew, He says, 

“ concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God and with what he requires of you, and he will provide you with all these other things.” 

I notice that asking for bread is just one line in the prayer and the rest is spiritual stuff, so maybe He's trying to give us perspective. Sure, ask for bread, but don't forget what's REALLY at stake here.

And in Matthew’s version of the prayer, it’s in the context of teaching HOW to pray—attitude-wise. Like, don’t be a show-off, don’t spew out tons of words… Be private, be short and sweet: 

“When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites! They love to stand up and pray in the houses of worship and on the street corners, so that everyone will see them. I assure you, they have already been paid in full. But when you pray, go to your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. And your Father, who sees what you do in private, will reward you.

“When you pray, do not use a lot of meaningless words, as the pagans do, who think that their gods will hear them because their prayers are long. Do not be like them. Your Father already knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:5-9)

It’s funny that here Jesus says God already knows what we want… but in Luke, He says, ask away! Maybe He just wants to chat? To hang out with us? Maybe when we pray we acknowledge where all the things come from?

Another thing I notice here is that He tells us it’s a private matter, but the prayer itself is PLURAL! OUR Father, give US, forgive US, lead US not… So we’re supposed to pray for everyone, but … by ourselves?

I wonder why somewhere in church history someone decided that we should all say it together? Maybe it’s just a bigger version of the disciples sitting around praying together back at the beginning of the church? 

Maybe it isn’t at all like “praying loudly on the street corners” for all to see… When we do it at our church, everybody’s just being kind of humble and looking down and mumbling it. Not in a reluctant “I don’t care” way—but in a more reflective, thinking about it way. No one’s acting all hammy to call attention to themselves.

Again, I have no idea what any of this is all about or if I’ve said anything new or true. Just kicking some stuff around in my noggin. I supposed I could have googled it before I put it out there, but where’s the fun in that?

Sunday, February 5, 2023

Myself in a Nutshell

I’m baaaaack!! Believe it or not, I’m here once again to disgorge the stuff that’s cluttering my head for your reading pleasure!

Sooo… earlier in the year, my husband went to the movies without me! Not unusual, as sometimes there’s stuff only one of us will like. In this case, though, he went to see Everything, Everywhere, All at Once (hereafter referred to as EEAAO)… which I also wanted to see! Not that I’m mad or anything!! It actually kind of helped me out since I was a little bit in the doghouse since I had watched some stuff on Netflix that he wanted to watch together.

All that is to say, I finally got to see EEAAO last night. I know I could have gone at any time, but Tom’s review had been a resounding, “Meh.” So even though I know our opinions can differ greatly, and he hardly likes anything, I wasn’t in a hurry, and what with one thing and another… I just never got around to it!

If you haven’t gotten around to seeing it either, here’s a brief synopsis: Evelyn, a Chinese-American immigrant is having no end of problems—she’s being audited, her husband keeps trying to give her divorce papers, her daughter is trying to leave the nest, her dad is an a**hole… you get the picture. And then a version of her husband from an alternate universe shows up and tells her how to access the abilities (kung fu, knife skills, sign-spinning) of versions of HERself from alternate universes—and she’s got to do it to save the entire multiverse.

Crazy, right? Late in the movie, I figured out that it might be more about her relationship with her daughter, but what I mostly saw was … myself! And maybe all women? We’ve got so much going on that we need to do and care about and juggle... or hold down? Work and the home and relationships and interests and spiritual life and physical health… 

Our pastor told a story this morning about a time when his family was planning a celebration and his wife took care of everything but asked him to pick up the cake. And he did pick up the cake… but he forgot to bring it to the party! He called it a classic example of the “You had one job!” trope. What I thought while he was telling this was, “it’s never the woman who ‘had one job!’ ”

Early on in EEAAO—maybe the opening scene?—Evelyn is sitting in her super cluttered apartment with all her receipts and papers she’s gathered for the IRS audit in front of her… frustrated and overwhelmed… and it’s just… like… a visual representation for what my life feels like sometimes.

Hold that sucker down!

I remember hearing a story about a little boy who was autistic and went into a room with a carpet that had a big loud pattern on it. It was just too much for him to take in so he flattened himself out face down on the floor and fanned out his arms and legs and tried to hold that busy sucker down! Another good picture of what my life feels like!

Maybe others feel more together and capable than I do, but I often have to summon abilities and perspectives, and power from someplace outside myself. And while I do ask for and receive help from the people around me, the resources of this dimension are not enough to cover all the stuff that (I think) needs to happen. Sometimes I just gotta call on God!

I have no idea if He will help when I ask for the stuff that overwhelms me—like, “Please help me organize this closet.” Or “Please help me meet this work deadline.” But… I ask, because like Paschal and his wager*—I’d rather ask and not be helped than not ask and not get the help that might be available! And maybe asking is just makes me feel better... like that old hymn says: 

Oh, what peace we often forfeit,

Oh, what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!**

French philosopher Blaise Pascal
suggested we all bet on God.
 He also had nice hair!
And maybe God’ll answer, or… maybe He’s more concerned with my soul than my garbage closet or my work deadlines. Maybe being messy or late is what keeps me from getting a big head! Because, in the economy of God, it may actually be that the more inadequate I know myself to be, the more room there is for His help. In Evelyn’s case, she’s told that SHE specifically was chosen to save the multiverse because of her ginormous amount of unfulfilled potential. Her tendency to start projects and never finish them… to never be quite good enough at anything. If I’m going to put myself in a nutshell, that would be the one!

Our bro Paul was talking about this when he said “My [God’s] grace is sufficient for you, for My [God’s] power is perfected in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me.” (2 Cor. 12:9)

So when I’m trying to hold everything down and painfully aware of my inadequacy, it’s helpful to think about all that power… to enjoy the notion that the phrase “everything, everywhere, all at once” can also be used to describe God!

*According to Wikipedia: Pascal argues that a rational person should live as though God exists and seek to believe in God. If God does not exist, such a person will have only a finite loss (some pleasures, luxury, etc.), whereas if God does exist, he stands to receive infinite gains (as represented by eternity in Heaven) and avoid infinite losses (an eternity in Hell).

**What a friend we have in Jesus / Author: Joseph Medlicott Scriven (1855) / Tune: CONVERSE

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Squint your eyes just right and hold your head just so

The book in question
Back in the day I wrote a ton of blog posts… if you keep scrolling down and go to “older posts,” you’ll learn more than you ever wanted to know about my quirky view of God and life and art. And I’d like to jump back into that… reflecting and opining and just generally sharing my low-key life with you. I have stuff to say… is it worth your time? Only you know that, my friend. 

Anyway, I’m kicking this clambake off with a quasi book review. “Quasi” because it’s not so much a review as—“I’ll talk about the book a bit then chew on some other stuff that it stirs up in my crazy brain.” The book in question is All in a Garden Green, by Paul J. Willis. It falls smack dab in the middle of the Young Adult (YA) genre—and although I can’t really guess exactly what age reader it targets, I, an adult, was there for it. 

All in a Garden Green focuses on a young girl called Erica who goes with her family to stay in a manor house in England for a summer and finds herself slipping in and out between her time and 1578. A number of coincidences occur (weirdly, she just happens to be the spitting image of the girl who lives in the house in the past), music is played on a virginal, and things get a little dicey because she doesn't really know how to act.
If you're wondering what a
virginal is—it's a forerunner
of the piano.

It’s far-fetched, but a fun, well-written story with a lot of things I’m a sucker for… 
  1. YA lit - I’m a proud binger of YA stuff like the Twilight and The Hunger Games series… Call it a guilty pleasure, call me immature… Maybe my inner teenager demands an easy, engrossing read every now and then. 
  2. Cameos - I love a famous person dropping in! Like in Doctor Who when they meet Shakespeare or Nikola Tesla? A cool story about a time traveling teenager trying not to be discovered out of time is doubly awesome with Good Queen Bess stopping by. 
  3. England.  
  4. Time Travel - and this is where I’m going to veer off down my own garden path… 
Yeah, I love me some Outlander

There’s a whole slew of fiction that spins yarns about time travel, and I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve had periods of obsession with Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. The “science” that it offers is that there are particular places—in this case, a stone circle—where the veil between time periods is thin, and people can go back and forth into different times. In this case, a lady from the 1940s stumbles into it and ends up in Scotland in 1745. All sorts of adventures ensue, including lots of love and sex and war and treachery and so forth. 

All hallows eve...
a time for haints?
Because I’m slightly obsessed with what it was actually like the past, the idea that there would be places where the veil between time periods is thin fascinates me. Obviously this manor house that Erica summers at in All in a Garden Green is just such a place. She’s loitering in the hall in the present day, then turns a door knob and *poof*—she's in the 16th century, where she struggles to avoid being outed as a time traveler. It's like the premise of the British show Torchwood where there’s a “rift” in time and space at a particular place in Wales where creatures and objects from other times and worlds would come through and the protagonists have to deal with it. 

Pure T creepy!

It’s also a bit like the spooky idea that Halloween is a time when the veil between the spirit world and the physical world is thin and that’s why there might be ghosts about. For ancient Scandinavians, winter solstice was another time with a skimpy veil… and that's why the Brits tell ghost stories at Christmas. Charles Dickens really played it up, and now it’s a tradition that lives on over the pond. He did so much for the season, our Charles. Tom and I spent some time this year watching a series called A Ghost Story for Christmas on BritboxTV. Some of these creepy little vignettes will make the hair on the back of your neck stand straight up! Like the one about the man whose wife is in a dementia ward but also haunting him at a lonely seaside hotel. PURE T creepy!! 

Where time and space bleed together
“Thin” places and seasons where other worlds and times bleed through are, of course, firmly in the realm of fantasy and superstition. I know that. But… then again... isn’t church ACTUALLY just such a place? A scene where both time and the spiritual world bleed through? Hear me out: the Sacraments—like Baptism and Holy Communion—are meant to “impart divine grace.” So… they’re conduits of the spiritual world into the physical. And the old songs we sing... and the ancient God we worship... People have being doing these things since church was a thing. Occasionally, when I’m in church… if I squint my eyes just right and hold my head just so, I can almost see backward and forward through time, as Christians of all the ages that ever were and ever will be invite God into their midst by performing the rites and liturgy of the ancient church. It’s a beautiful thing, and I’m 100% there for it… this meeting of worlds and times… this place of magic and coincidence. 

Anyhoo… now we get to the part of the blog where I have a hard time wrapping it up… If you’re new here, you might be thinking, “Wow, she needs an editor!” Or “She didn’t end anywhere near where she started!” And you’d be right! I mean, what happened to Erica in the garden green? Did she get away with it? Did Queen Elizabeth I call her on her bullsh*t? As we used to say in our 4th grade oral book reports: “Read the book to find out!”