Monthly Archives: October 2015

S/he Who Struggles

“I don’t like to be told what I should do.”

That’s what Pastor Phil told us on Tuesday night, and it rang true in my ears. In fact, the more I thought on it, the more I realized – not only do I not like being told what I should do, but I really dislike being told what I shouldn’t do, what I must not do, and especially, oooh, I especially dislike being told what I cannot do.

The church has a long history of telling us what we should do – it’s easy, after all, to read the prescription for a holy life straight out of the Bible. (Well, maybe not easy – have you tried to make sense of all the rules in Leviticus, or sort through all the names in the books of Chronicles? – but I digress.) It’s easier, I should say, to read the Bible as a rule book, than to experience it as God’s love letter.

The problem the church is finding, though, is that more and more, people are not responding to what they should do.

The American Christian Persecution Complex [ACPC] (as I like to call it, with credit to Rachel Evans) has an answer to why: Movies like God’s Not Dead pin the problem on atheist teachers and professors brainwashing young people into disbelief.

Yes, brainwashing us with their scientific facts and sound logical arguments. >.>

I can’t speak for my whole generation, but I can certainly tell you why I spent my entire childhood and young adult life as a confused agnostic (at best) and staunch atheist (at worst): It’s because, despite what the ACPC would have us believe, professors and atheists and scientists don’t brainwash – and they also have never told me what I should do or believe.

I admired (and continue to admire) atheists because they aren’t afraid to roll for disbelief (a lil’ D&D analogy there). They aren’t afraid to ask tough questions, to ask – to demand – the answer to the question that eats at the deepest regions of my heart: Why?

I admire scientists because they don’t presume to know or dictate how the world or humanity or even I, as an individual, should be – instead, they look at the way we are, and ask: How? How did this come to be? How does it stay like this? How can it be changed, and what happens if we do change it?

I admire my teachers and professors because they have never made the answers easy by simply giving them to me. They have challenged and encouraged me to question, seek, and above all, decide for myself what I should do and believe.

So you shouldn’t be surprised to discover that the first Bible story to really move me, to really connect to the deepest part of my heart, is the tale of Jacob, who wrestled all night (and truly, all his life) with God, and was blessed because of it. Jacob, who was renamed Israel (“he who struggles with God”) and became the father & namesake of God’s chosen people because of his willingness to truly engage with God.

Jacob didn’t simply ask what he should do. If he had, he would have remained the second son, and his family’s entire inheritance would’ve passed on to his brother. But instead, he questioned, he sought, he struggled, and he demanded the truth & his inheritance from God.

There’s a song that I love, that suddenly springs to mind: “Oh God let us be a generation that seeks, seeks your face, oh God of Jacob”

I believe that we truly are a generation in search of the God of Jacob. The God who challenges us to question, to seek, to struggle, and to find his truth within and for ourselves.

I don’t believe that most churches afford us that credit or opportunity though. And that’s where they lose us.

So give us clean hands
Give us pure hearts
Let us not lift our souls to another
And God let us be
A generation that seeks
Seeks your face
Oh God of Jacob
(Give Us Clean Hands)

I didn’t know that last time would be the last time.

So I didn’t say goodbye. I didn’t cry, or tell you that I love you. I didn’t tell you how you changed me – how you made me strong by believing that I was strong, when all I felt was weak and scared. I didn’t get to hold you tight, or really let you go.
 
You were just gone.
 
But it still felt like you were here. No, it still feels like you are here. Sometimes anyway. Sometimes when I am not thinking and just feeling, I forget that we will never laugh together or play together or steal bread together again.
 
But you’re not.
 
And I missed out on when you were, because I didn’t know what cancer was – that it would kill indiscriminately. Caner was for old people, not the young, the beautiful, the vibrant. So you had cancer – big deal. You were strong, smart and fierce. We would have plenty of time to catch up after you beat this thing – “now” was for the people closest to you; the people I knew would help you beat this thing.
 
If I had known that last time would be the last time, I wouldn’t have let it be. If I had known that even your amazing strength, combined with the strength of those who loved you most, wouldn’t be enough to defeat cancer, I would have given you my strength too, even if I knew that it wasn’t going to be enough either.
 
So why now, Christina? After all these years without you, why do I suddenly NEED to drag myself out of bed in the middle of the night to talk to you?
 
My friend Tracy has stage four colon cancer. This isn’t news though; it’s been over a year since we (she) found out. She’s too young; but you were even younger.
The thing is, I know I screwed up with you. I should’ve been there, and I wasn’t. Who knew that lesson would be applicable to my next friend with terminal cancer though. I don’t want to screw up again. Except, I can’t be there for Tracy. Or, at least, it’s difficult. For starters, we live on opposite sides of the country. For seconds, she’s married to my ex brother in law. Oops. Their whole family kinda doesn’t really like me, and that’s putting it nicely. It makes it awkward (for me & her) when I am there, or if I try to do things to help.
But I know what you’d say. So someone doesn’t like me? Sounds like their problem, not mine, right? Right.
Once upon a time, when I was a little college freshman, you made me stronger by believing that I was stronger than I was. Maybe that’s why I feel like I need you now.

I Missed Communion, But Finally Got It

I like to pray before I take communion.

You see, I got it in my head (and by that, I mean at some point I assumed and then never thought to question) that I have to be RIGHT with Jesus before being welcome at his table: I have to look at the bad things I’ve done, actually feel sorry for them (sometimes I don’t *gasp* !), and then ask for forgiveness. And if I can’t make my heart right, then I should not come to his table.

I think it’s a common belief. Maybe even a liturgically correct one – how should I know? I never bothered to ask.

So tonight, as people started to rise to come to the Lord’s table, I closed my eyes, as I am wont to do…. and I really meant to pray. But instead my mind got distracted: Didn’t I read something about communion this week? Something I really wanted to remember the next time I took communion? I couldn’t remember what though (of course).

I started to backtrack: That book I was reading…. Searching for Sunday. Right. Something she said about communion. Uhhh…. people she doesn’t like. Wait, no. Who make her uncomfortable at communion. Because she doesn’t like them. (Guess I was right the first time.) People! (I’ve got it now.) Who don’t deserve communion, but are welcome at the table anyway, and it boils her blood.

Why the hell would I want to remember that? Oh. Right. Because she concludes with something like “thank God they’re welcome, because I’m one of those people who don’t deserve it.” (Paraphrase, obviously.)

I am one of those people who don’t deserve it. But I am welcome at the Lord’s table. *light bulb*

How foolish of me. To think that I could wash away all the hardness from my heart in a single, hurried prayer. To think that anything I could do (let alone say) could ever make me worthy to come to the Lord’s table. And yet, he invites me anyway. Just as he invited Judas, though he had already made arrangements to turn Jesus over to the chief priests. (I can’t imagine he whispered a quick little prayer of repentance before accepting the bread and the cup.)

I want so badly to MAKE myself RIGHT before coming to the Lord’s table, that I forgot that it is his supper that makes me right. “Do this in remembrance of me,” he said. “Christ’s body, broken for you. Christ’s blood, spilled out for you, Jessica.” They’ve reminded me over and over for years now, but tonight, for the first time (when I wasn’t even listening) – I finally heard and understood.

I can’t make myself right with God. And I don’t need to make myself right with him. Christ made me right when he died for me on the cross. I remember.

I opened my eyes, finally ready to take communion, and got halfway up to the front before realizing – communion was over! Everyone was filing back to their seats. I had sat, eyes closed, contemplating what it truly means to commune with the Lord… and missed my opportunity to do just that.

I turned to go back to my seat, hesitated, then turned around and ran up to the front. “Am I too late? Did I miss communion?”

Of course I didn’t. (Seriously, what kind of pastor would deny a girl communion for being 30 seconds late?) And we (I) may look late (or foolish) to everyone else – but whenever we come to Jesus, we’re always right on time.

To My Abuser, With Love

To My Abuser:

Even though years and miles now separate us, I want you to know that I still think of you often.

I now understand that the way you treated me was not right. Even more, I realize that many of the things I thought were “not okay” were not just “not okay” – they were blatant, obvious verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. I just couldn’t see it at the time because I loved you.

No. That’s not why. Because the truth is – the truth that most will probably cringe to hear is – that I still love you (in a way, at least). The real reason that I couldn’t see how deeply you wronged me at the time is because I didn’t love me.

I want you to know that I don’t blame you for the things you did to me, and (as much as I know some do) I hope that the people who love me don’t blame you either. You see, I’ve discovered that blame doesn’t solve anything. I know now that you were sick and hurting too (just as I was) and that’s why you did those things to me (why I allowed those things to happen to me).

In fact, blame doesn’t just not solve anything. Blame nurtures the cycle of abuse. As long as people point fingers at you, tell you that you are not worthy, a coward, a bad person… how can you be anything else? And as long as people criticize and belittle the abusers that we victims (survivors) so dearly love, how can we possibly trust those people to help us (me and you)?

I don’t know what has happened to you, and I don’t want to know – but I do want to hope. I hope that you have found peace. I hope that you have found acceptance, healing, and forgiveness. I hope that you wake each morning to a beautiful life, better than your wildest imaginings, and that you go to sleep each evening overwhelmed with gratitude for the second chance you’ve been given – just like I do. And I hope that you don’t waste or take a second of it for granted.

With Love,

Your Survivor


October is National Domestic Violence Awareness month. If you, too, are a victim and/or survivor of domestic violence and need assistance (or just a sympathetic ear), I encourage you to call the National Domestic Violence Hotline from a confidential phone line: 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224.