Storied Past

We, some of my friends and readers, have a shared past. After reading today’s post maybe some of the story will resonate with you, as well. The historical highway of Christianity is littered with wounded fellow travelers. A review of ancient Israel tells of abusive activities of the priests against the worshipers in the name of JHWH, the God of Israel. Recalling the account of Jerusalem during the time of the historical Jesus reveals that he, too, witnessed the religious sects of that day using the law and tradition to perpetrate and justify abuses. The priests of that era took advantage of those trying to meet the demands of a God who seemed full of His own harsh religiosity. Religious requirements detailing the worship activity, sacrifice, diet, tithing and other legal strictures belied and clouded God’s prophetic intent to point to covenant relationship, not rules.

Sadly, our institutional church landscape the last many years has not brought much improvement. There does seem to be an awakening from the importance of religious rule-minding and returning to our mission given by Jesus himself, and this is encouraging. We must not live in the past because . . . well, it is in the past. But there are a few friends who still struggle with the various stages of healing and some who have yet to begin the process.

My Doctoral dissertation is on the topic of spiritual abuse but it is an academic piece whose purpose is to meet certain university standards. If you wish to read it, it is at this link: http://catalog.georgefox.edu/search/?searchtype=X&searcharg=spiritual+abuse&searchgo=

With that preface, I offer this piece of fiction in my meager effort to promote healing. The characters do not exist but their story does. You may identify with their experiences, as well.

Storied Past

Coldly held tight by her memories and her guilt, Ramona crouched next to the damp concrete bridge abutment. The dark evening and rocky soil held no promise of comfortable accommodations. Why had she let him so close to her? Perhaps his affirming compliments about her features disarmed her usually impenetrable wall of protection. She didn’t particularly think of herself as beautiful but it did feel good to hear someone tell her nice things. Ramona’s father certainly couldn’t. All he ever did was demand obedience from her and make her feel like she wasn’t good enough. He did talk about love, a kind of detached, theoretical love, especially in church. But now she couldn’t recall ever seeing much of anything that sounded like the kind of love she wanted and needed.

Church! There was a joke if ever she heard one. The way most people acted there she didn’t care if she ever heard another “Amen!” or “Praise the Lord.” Take the worship leader, for instance. Randy was a nice guy and all but Ramona knew he was always hitting on Jenny, the main vocalist. Maybe that’s why she was the main vocalist. And the pastor seemed preoccupied with the Old Testament laws and rules and stuff and kept reminding everyone that God wanted us to be perfect like He was. He suggested that “real” Christians did stuff like fast and pray a lot and read their Bibles every morning. She tried for a while and liked that she was making God happy by obeying what the ministry said but she got tired of doing it and decided it was too much work. She had more fun hanging out with the kids at college. At least they knew how to party!

At first Ramona felt guilty. She recalled being warned that University would destroy her faith because she would be dragged down by sinners. But Ramona enjoyed her imperfect friends. The kids her age in the church would never go to the show or even be seen with their neighbors. The pastor said the evil in this would influence them and cause them to sin so they should stay away from worldly attractions and people who were not Christians.

So that was it. Ramona had tried to be a good girl, she really did. It did seem funny that very few others in church had the same problems with rules that she did. But how could she know? No one ever talked about any struggles they had—maybe they didn’t have any. Maybe she was the only one who couldn’t live like Pastor Marlowe demanded. So she quit going to church and put a wall up to anyone who seemed to be telling her what to do. It seemed like the only one who understood her was Paul. He was the guy across the bar from her who smiled kindly a few weeks ago. It was only the third or fourth time she had gone to The Rock Ness Bar and Grill. The music was fun and kind of like what she listened to anyway.

Paul asked her to dance. Not having much experience with dancing she declined so Paul sat down next to her. “What’s a nice girl like you . . . never mind. And yes, I say that to all the girls I meet.” Ramona laughed. He had a great smile and pretty teeth. A few minutes later they were speeding along on the way to a private party Paul had told her about.

Several hours later she slowly came to and felt something was terribly wrong. Her body hurt and her head still pounded like her blood pressure was going crazy. Where was that guy, what was his name, Paul? She slowly sat up and looked around now realizing she was on someone’s lawn; someone’s lawn she didn’t recognize. A few beer bottles were lying here and there. Pushing herself to her feet she went to the front door. She knocked several times but there was no answer.

What happened last night? Why didn’t she remember anything? But this nagging pain below was the scariest. Suddenly she knew what must have happened and a dreadful fear gripped her. Why had she been so stupid? Surely this is what Brother Marlowe predicted.

Now, here in the cold darkness the guilt seemed to smother any hope for a way back home. Her father had thrown her out of the house when he heard about the baby. He was embarrassed. She had made him look bad to the whole church. She deserved it. She was only trying to have fun, something no one in church would understand. But how could she explain that now.

What choices, what kind of life, if any, would there be for a 20 year old who was pregnant, didn’t know her baby’s father and worst of all, she had burned the only bridge of hope when she swore off the church and all those hardcore, hard-hearted perfectionists?

“Anyone here?” Ramona heard a voice. “I thought I heard someone crying. Are you OK?” She looked up as she saw a dim flashlight.

-To Be Continued-

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Get out of the (Fear)Boat

“Fear causes a kind of contraction of the heart. As such, it inhibits godly actions such as love, hospitality, risky mission, and generosity.” Frost and Hirsch; The Faith of Leap.

Fear of rejection, fear of past guilt, fear of incompetence and fear of imperfection enslaves many in a prison of defeat. They (maybe some of us) become paralyzed with doubt, anxiety, self-loathing and others’ expectations and become ineffective quasi-disciples of a disfigured image of Jesus. What ever happened to the bold, courageous, risk taking, adventurous disciples of a risen, victorious Jesus who calls us to live on the edge of life (and in the middle of life) with Jesus-confidence and living faith?

What does this look like? First, a life lived with confident faith requires a character infused with integrity. We cannot advance into faith-full activity with sullied consciences. Deal with your issues honestly and then live in truth.

Second, we must carry the presence and power of the Spirit. This is the only pathway to effective ministry. Words and/or actions alone are not enough.

Thirdly, we must be in community. Life is lived together and after all, we can’t be and make disciples if we are hermits or afraid to mingle and minister in the middle of the pain and joys of others.

Fourthly, we must live large and bold. By large, I mean our minds, hearts and hands must be open, understanding, welcoming and giving. By bold, I mean we must live with proactive initiative (yes, I know that may sound redundant). But “Step into the water, go out a little bit deeper,” as the old song says.

Fifth, expect results (hint . . . faith). I know, I know, our religious culture allows for failure, even if we “pray in faith.” “It must not have been God’s will” we say apologetically and I know God is sovereign and all that. I may have missed something but I can’t recall Jesus in a puzzled quandary about not being able to heal someone. True, the disciples didn’t always return with a positive report, but Jesus patiently (usually) shared how they could bring home the bacon . . . er . . . right, they didn’t eat pork. He taught them how they could triumph over Satan’s activities. The good news is that we are evaluated by our faithfulness, not our “successes.”

Sixth, retell/share the story. There is, I believe, unplumbed power in the fresh, testimonial narraphor. Again, a recall of Jesus’ story telling example confirms the facts. People want to know this stuff works and hear real, not platitudes.

Seventh, (notice the spiritual significance of the number seven. Just kidding, there is no magic about my having seven points). Repeat. Take up the adventure where you left off. Get out there and walk on water, or whatever risk taking activity you engage in. If God confirmed His activity and presence by moving through you and your community He will do it again.

So, I challenge you and me to try, just try this. Take a risk by being bold. The prefaced caveat is Spirit aware direction, of course. But don’t shrink from a divine opportunity by blaming it on not feeling bold or not having an affirming tweet from Jesus. Living in the Spirit is part sensing, part intuitive and part risk taking. Those are not necessarily divided into even thirds but I think those elements should be there. When you have met Jesus and he has forever changed you, you are ready to meet others and forever change them, by the power of His Word and the presence of His Spirit.

Connecting with others to build relationship, to love them and make disciples is not the only way we take risks and carry the Spirit’s scent. Many live out their call in less obvious ways. They live generously; they live faith-fully and in a daily witness of a life saturated with integrity and congruence. Others simply and graciously do tasks of mercy for and with others in mind. Some extend ministry into their children’s and grand children’s lives with love and mentoring only they can provide. Still others open their hearts and hands in self-giving of time and resources. Countless are the ways we look and smell like Jesus.

I can’t tell you exactly what an encounter will look like because that would quantify and limit your expectations of how God works. A paradigm doesn’t exist. God is so creative it could happen a million different ways and in as many environs. But be assured, you and I are not alone in this adventure. Remember Hebrews 12 and the huge crowd of cheerleaders along the way to a destination certain? They are witnesses and believing users of risky faith. Can you hear them and their now-realized faith-became-sight shouts for you to take that first halting step? They know that just ahead is the potential for explosive, culture altering Kingdom activity in your adventure that will usher in the kind of victory in Jesus we used to sing about.

Get out of the boat. Jesus is waiting.

The Great Re-Quest

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” Helen Keller, The Open Door.

Ever been on an adventure? Remember the beating pulse; the looking forward to some new, as yet unknown thrill? Dictionary.com says an adventure is an exciting or unusual experience. It may also be a bold, usually risky undertaking, with an uncertain outcome.

Yes, there is a huge unknown factor that could bring more than surprise or thrills. It could bring notoriety, personal fulfillment, undiscovered knowledge, education or even wealth. Just as potent a possibility is the opposite experience; embarrassment, personal loss, danger, loss of a dream or even death. What is it about the front end of an adventure that quickens us though? You see, unless there were hope of some positive life change in us, we likely would not risk being thought a fool.

I was visiting recently with some close friends who adopted twins. They stood on the liminal threshold of hope for these new family additions presaging a major change in their family rhythm. They trusted that with God’s help and blessing they could provide love, security and care to a pair who never could have hope without someone’s open heart and a hand up. A few years after winning custody and two beautiful, grateful children the adventure still holds challenging, unanswered issues. They, as all of us do, must remind themselves that they embarked on this adventure full of hope, confident of God’s direction and hearts filled with love for two of His dear children. As an observer can only cite what he sees, I must say that I believe this adventure has served to bring them greater faith, dependence on and relationship with God.

A review of my own story places me both in the middle of an adventure and the not yet of a dynamic narrative still to be written. With hope we all advance into tomorrow, the great unknown, possessing only faith that our story will leave a Jesus legacy that includes trusting Him explicitly for the outcome that brings the most glory to Him.

Everything we read and hear about Jesus in His-story involves a dynamic life. Movement, not a static, congealed existence. At the intersection of crisis and a word or touch from Jesus, amazing, super- (beyond or above) natural adventures were manifested. These occurred wherever Jesus travelled and he was gone from home all the time, on his adventure.

“The church should be one of the most adventurous places on earth–the locus of all quest(s), the . . . Jesus community at the very forefront of what God is doing in the world.” Michael Frost; Alan Hirsch, Faith of Leap. They continue; “When we consider the biblical stories that have inspired the people of God throughout the ages, we find that they are stories involving adventures of the spirit in the context of challenge. In fact, that is exactly why they inspire.”

We must be explorers seeking new venues of Spirit activity. We must continually ask questions, for that is our destiny. When Christianity stops its quest because it is satisfied in the security of the known, it will die. The “known” is that qualified, quantifiable, corralled body of predictability that becomes stagnant and spoils; like the manna hoarded by the Israelites on that great forty-year adventure. Leaving the tamed with the timid, we must press forward to undis-covered joys and unrealized experiences on this adventurous quest; a quest of mission, which is our missio Dei.

What adventure lights a fire inside your spirit? Dream a little. Want to tutor some poor kids? Does mentoring men to be great men of The God Adventure and great husbands inspire you? How about joining a skydiving team to share life and Jesus’ love of risk? Get together with a group of senior ladies; listen to their stories and wisdom while you share faith and a skein of yarn. Take some friends with you to help clean up a trashy beach. Doesn’t sound spiritual enough? This generation loves a cause and wants to believe in something greater than petty, polarizing political or spiritual tiffs. They want what they do to matter and make a difference. And, don’t we all?

The adventure begins . . . now get out there, inspire others and really live.

Kiss on the Cheek

Answering a “why” question from my 4 year old granddaughter rarely can be The Final Answer. She always seems to want to know more. Unless in your answers you build dead ends to all possible further questions, it could go on and on.

There is something about the way we are wired. Whether it is a movie, storyline, music or relationship, we need resolution. Don’t you just squirm with anxiety when a TV series stops an episode or season leaving you hanging? And music without a resolving chord seems as unsatisfying as a kiss on the cheek. Why is that? Why does a dangling participle evoke a craving for correction? Why does a story told without ending in justice disturb one’s peace? Why will it tear us up when the one we love walks out seemingly unfazed about how you feel? But there I go down the “why” trail like my granddaughter.

A lasting peace requires a resolution of the initial subject of conflict. You see, we will never have peace in the Middle east until original issues are faced and resolved. We have tried the non-conflict standoff many, many times. But much closer to home are many examples of the same long term clashes. The governed against the government, churches against each other, management vs. the worker bees, straight vs. gay, spouses at odds, you get the picture. Mediation and counseling services are in demand more than ever. Some aim at getting each to respect the other in their right to be who they are. Others are advised to hold their position while giving just enough to pacify the other.

The right to remain polarized rarely results in re-solution (returning to pre-conflict harmony, or a solution). Even if the other side is conquered there remains a latent anger and hatred that can seethe for generations. One day the Hatfields and McCoys, the Arabs and Jews, the war of the Roses or the Repubs and Demos will resurface and the brawl will resume.

What is needed is a spirit of shalom: in our homes, in our communities, in churches in our country and globally. There will be no peace until the Prince of Peace, the Messiah, has brought his Kingdom aroma into the arena. Meanwhile, those who are committed to seeing his Kingdom come bring their piece of peace to bear in everyday life.

Shalom is infectious and satisfying. An atmosphere of gentleness, grace and love, though difficult, is worth the energy and time and will reap a “harvest of righteousness.” (James 3:18) In context, righteousness means justice, a resolution of former conflict. This brings a sigh of joy and fulfillment as peace is re-stored.

However, here is much more to shalom than peace. The historical use of the concept evokes the idea of an environment that closely resembles many biblical descriptions of heaven. Wikipedia shares the following insight; “Shalom, as term and message, seems to encapsulate a reality and hope of wholeness for the individual, within societal relations, and for the whole world. To say joy and peace, meaning a state of affairs where there is no dispute or war, does not begin to describe the sense of the term. Completeness seems to be at the center of shalom.” This idea certainly connotes a happy, satisfying and resolved existence.

In the book Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin, author Cornelius Plantinga described the Old Testament concept of shalom:

“The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight is what the Hebrew prophets call shalom. We call it peace but it means far more than mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness and delight – a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.”

There is, deep within each of us, a knowing/feeling that there should be much more to life than we presently experience. Like there is still another shoe waiting to be dropped. There is a hunger for the “not yet” to arrive when we can finally breathe in and exhale with complete joy. Is it possible before we assume room temperature? I don’t know. I do know that Jesus said the Kingdom is within us so there is a measure of shalom inside. If we could let it out and allow it to spread by building relationships with authentic Jesus character traits, our culture and communities would experience shalom. Know anyone that seems too tightly strung and needs a breath of peace?

The atmosphere and character of shalom is deep and deserves exploring and pursuing. I believe it is the heart of the coming Kingdom. Why? The Bible tells me so.