Tag Archives: church

Some Days I Go To Westboro.

Westboro Baptist Church.

You just had a gut-level reaction to that, didn’t you?  I sure did.  I try not to swear TOO much, but this not-Baptist not-church seems to bring that side of my vocabulary bubbling up out of sheer frustration with how AWFUL they are.  I saw a quote recently on an atheist’s signature line that read, “Live in such a way that Westboro Baptist Church would want to picket your funeral.”  Since they seem to target the funerals of the innocent and the heroic, I have to say I agree with the basic sentiment.

They have taken good principles and twisted them beyond recognition.  They have contorted themselves into a parody of righteousness that no longer bears any resemblance to the original.  They have listened to their own voices, and shouted so loudly that they can no longer hear the quiet whisper of truth.

I go to Westboro.

I bet you do too.

Not every day, and hopefully fewer and fewer as I grow in years and wisdom, particularly the part of maturity defined as “learning to keep your mouth shut.”  But there’s still a streak of horrible that runs through me – call it sin nature, not walking in the Light, or just generally being a jerk, it’s all the same thing.  There’s a part of me that sits on my backside, reading the news and polishing my halo, and saying, “I would NEVER do THAT.”

I would never … fill in the blank.  Steal a million dollars from a corporation.  Shoot somebody with a gun.  Blow up a building.  Slap my child.  Get wasted on drugs and wreck my car.  I would never do those things, because I am just that awesome.

Or is it because I don’t work somewhere that I could steal a million dollars?  Because I don’t have a gun and I’m not all that angry right now?  Because I managed to quit drinking before I drank myself silly and got in my car?

And what about all those “little things” that I can so easily ignore in myself – chronic lateness, eating seconds when I’m not hungry, spending money on things I don’t need and telling myself I can’t afford to donate money to the homeless shelter?  Rachel Held Evans wrote recently about a subject so near to my heart that I like to pretend I can’t even see it, saying that “everyone’s a Biblical literalist until you bring up gluttony.”

Fine, so I don’t march around being an idiot in public.  (Usually.)  But I’ve got pockets of ignorance and intolerance in my psyche, same as Westboro.  I’ve got the tendency to shout at other people when I really need to be speaking firmly to myself, same as Westboro.  I screw up royally and try to cover it up by complaining about what everybody else is doing wrong … same as Westboro.

All I can do is wake up every day, get out of bed, and mentally tear up my membership card.  I might need to tear it up seventeen more times between breakfast and lunch, but I’ll keep doing it for the rest of my life.  The minute I think I’m inherently better than they are, that I could NEVER be THAT bad, I’m right back in the pews of Westboro Baptist Church – and the only way I’ll ever fight it is to recognize that in myself, get off my butt, throw out my halo, and keep walking toward the Light.

Advertisements

Jesus is My Fishing Buddy

If your childhood religious experience is anything like mine, the words “Sunday morning sermon” bring up images of a pulpit, a congregation, and a pastor or priest speaking from a prepared text.  If you grew up in a church with frequent missionary guest speakers, you may also remember squirming in the seats with your friends and watching the minutes tick past noon and into overtime.  There seemed to be something about spending a few decades in South America (where the congregation was unlikely to be wearing digital watches) that gave our guests a hazy recollection of North American concepts like the ladies imprisoned in the nursery, a roast in the oven at home, or kickoff time for the ball game.

No one would have dared interrupt them, though – the sermon was sacrosanct, or at least its continuity was.  Nobody would have interrupted ANYBODY behind the pulpit (or the music stand, if it was a Sunday night).  That kind of interaction was reserved for Wednesday night Bible study.  Even then, participants in the discussion tended to be the same people, with occasional brave words spoken by quieter adults or the rare teenager.

This, then, is why I nearly dropped my Bible the first time I sat in the wooden pew of my Quaker church and heard a church member casually interrupt the sermon with a related comment.  What was he doing?!  He was talking!  In church!  During the sermon!  Did I need to worry about stray lightning bolts?

No, as it turned out – the Quaker tradition of “that of God”, the belief that each person has in themselves some essential spark that is from God, is simply alive and well at my church.  Sure, the pastor preaches, but that doesn’t mean that somebody else might not have a darn good idea.  And that could be anybody else, regardless of gender, age, speaking ability, or education – they take that “everybody” part seriously.  So if a listener has a relevant thought, they raise their hand (or not) and toss a new idea into the ring.  It’s fascinating, liberating, and to my Baptist sensibilities, it’s the slightest bit rebellious.

I love it.

In a traditional Sunday morning sermon where the pastor speaks and the congregation listens, “What is Jesus to you?” is understood to be a rhetorical question.  The pastor would list a few things that Jesus might be, and then answer the question with a sermon on the nature and person of Christ.  But when my pastor asked this question, he actually wanted an answer, and he wasn’t going to start preaching again until we answered it.

The first answers were exactly what you’d expect from a group of seasoned Christians, and nearly everyone in the congregation tossed out an idea or two.  Jesus is my friend.  My hope.  My salvation.  My Lord.  My redeemer.  You could hear the wheels turning as people thought through the Psalms and came up with a few more.  Jesus is my Rock.  My deliverer.  My shield.  My shepherd.  We cast our minds to the New Testament.  Jesus is my Savior.  My intercessor.  My light.  My king.  Words were flying now, and they kept coming.  My joy.  My peace.  My teacher.  My rescuer.  My fishing buddy.

Wait, what?

Yep – it came from the quiet-spoken man over on the left – Jesus is my fishing buddy.  I heard a few chuckles, and I admit I smiled too.  And then I stopped, and I thought about it, and my soul said, YES.  

Sure, He’s my salvation and my hope and my peace.  He is my rock, my shield and (clap) my deliverer, my fortress and my strength.  (OK, so maybe not everybody knows that camp song, but I can’t say “rock” and “shield” without clapping.)  Jesus is all those things, and those things make great singalong tunes.  But I want Jesus to be my fishing buddy too, even though I don’t know how to fish.

I love the image of this taciturn Friend out on the lake in his boat, apparently alone, but actually in constant companionship with his God.  I can’t even call it praying, because you don’t pray to your fishing buddy – you just talk to him.  Or not.  Depends on if you’re in the mood for talking, or if you just want to hang out for a while.

I want that.  I want Jesus to ride around in the passenger seat of my grungy Civic, where I will not have to apologize for all the library books on the front seat because He’s just that good of a friend.  I want Him to sprawl out in the chair next to my sewing machine when I’m on a tear finishing summer jammies for the kids, just because He feels like being around me – we might talk a little, or He might chill out and read whatever novel He’s into right now, just enjoying being with His kid for a while.  When I decide I’m done with my work for the day and I go out on the porch to look at the sunset, I want Him to be there saying “Wow” right next to me.

I think that if Jesus is part of my everyday life like that, it will make Him easier to find in the holy silence of Sunday morning’s open worship.  If I’ve been listening to Him all week, I’ll be more likely to hear Him on Sundays.  Maybe it will make Sunday feel a little less set apart, but maybe, I think, I hope, it will end up making every day holy.

There’s a Girl in the Room.

I don’t usually post about things that get me riled up online.  There are plenty of angry people on the internet already, and since the temptation to be articulately nasty is one of my besetting sins, I do a lot of counting to ten and clicking over to funny cat pictures when I’m reading about the discussions about gender roles in today’s church.

angry cat

Today, though, I’m making an exception.  Dr. John Piper is an author and preacher whose theological writings have blessed and challenged millions, myself included.  However, virtually every time he decides to make pronouncements about the modern application of his theology, I want to beg him to please, please stop talking.

I’ll let you listen for yourself:  http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/ask-pastor-john/do-you-use-bible-commentaries-written-by-women

The first part of the podcast is rife with the usual assumptions and overstatements common to his viewpoint – men are like drill sergeants!  Women are like city planners!  It’s just confusing and wrong when women try to teach and preach like drill sergeants!  (Or something along those lines – I was laughing too hard to remember it verbatim.)

However, toward the end I stopped giggling because my jaw dropped in astonishment when he explained why he is comfortable reading and teaching from Biblical commentaries written by women, but he would not allow the same women to teach the same material from the pulpit.  He says that the book “puts her out of my sight, and in a sense takes away the dimension of her female personhood.”

Takes away the dimension of her female personhood.

This surprised me, coming from the man who teaches that we are intrinsically male or female, and that our roles in family and church life are permanently and irrevocably determined by our maleness and femaleness.

It’s tempting to joke that all I have to do to be a God-approved preacher is go into the next room, where I’m out of sight of anybody who might be offended – ta-daaa!  My female personhood is balanced out, and I can teach now!  It’s also tempting, as other women have done, to wonder exactly what it is about my female personhood that is a problem when men can see me, but not when I’m on the other side of a book or the internet.  (The answer here is generally “boobs.”)

But the reality isn’t quite that amusing.  In the movie “Erin Brockovich”, a woman diagnosed with cancer asks the poignant question, “Ya think if ya got no breasts … no uterus … you’re still technically a woman?”  The answer, of course, is an unequivocal yes.  Even the staunchest complementarians draw the line at saying that a man who has survived testicular cancer, but at the loss of the relevant body parts, is now disqualified to teach – he is still a man.

We are still men, still women, even when we are sick or old or childless or unmarried or (dare I say it) not all that romantically interested in people of the opposite gender.  We do not stop being men or women for any of these reasons, and we darn well don’t stop being them just because we’re not in the same room as John Piper.

I am a woman.  I love the Lord, and I love His Word.  In earlier seasons of life, I’ve taught and done well at it, by all accounts of the people I’ve taught.  Even though this season of life has me listening and healing instead of talking, I am still intrinsically a teacher – and still intrinsically female.  I don’t believe that combination of traits is an accident.  I think that if God has given me things to say and a woman’s voice to say them in, then it’s because he wants those words spoken in this voice.

We are his hands and feet, but we are his voice too.  These hands are small.  These feet have red nail polish.  This voice is a soprano, and it’s the voice of a mother, a sister, a daughter, an aunt.  If God decides at some point that people need to hear it, then I hope they hear what He wants them to hear.

And on the off chance that Dr. Piper decides to drop by my little Quaker congregation and I’m contributing to the discussion that Sunday, then I will set up a chair for him in the hallway, pray that he will be blessed, and talk loud enough for him to hear.

To Err Is Human

This morning I did not go to church.

I did not read my Bible.

I prayed quite a bit, but I didn’t sing any Christian songs.

Not so many years ago, I would have been pretty sure there was a sin in there somewhere.  Staying home on a Sunday morning when you didn’t have a fever or something gross and contagious was simply not done when I was a kid, at least not in our family.  Granted, my dad didn’t have the option of skipping church for anything less than the most dire circumstances because he was the pastor.  But it wasn’t just being the preacher’s kid – most of the kids in my Sunday School were in the same boat.  No fever?  No vomit?  Quitcher bellyachin’ and put your good shoes on, we’re goin’ to church.

It’s not a bad pattern, all things considered.  There’s even Biblical precedent for it, when we’re reminded not to “forsake our own assembling together, as is the habit of some.”  Or, in modern English, “Don’t skip church, like SOME PEOPLE, you know who you are.”

There are plenty more good patterns where that came from.  “They received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”  Read your Bible every day!

“But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law doth he meditate day and night.”  Twice a day is even better!

As a teenager, I was never quite sure just how much Bible-reading and church-going was enough, so I decided to err on the side of caution and did it ALL.  Somewhere along the line, though, the myriad well-meaning instructions drowned out the true voice of those Scriptures.  There are so many books, so many sermons, so many words about the forms of our faith.  There is immense value in those words, and I love reading about how other people have brought rhythm and structure to their days with their disciplines of faith.  But it’s easy to get so lost in the form that we forget the eagerness and the delight that are meant to be the driving force behind the daily study.  So quickly we fall into going to church because it’s Sunday, instead of going because the Church is going to be there.

When this habit starts being built more of guilt than of joy, I think it’s probably all right to break it now and then.  Today was one of those days.  I had a major musical performance planned for the afternoon, and I found myself gripped with an unexpected attack of nerves.  This was well past queasy-tummy territory and approaching immobilized.  I dropped my children off at church, and then I came home.  I sat in the sunlight and read a book.  I prayed a little.  I had a late breakfast.  I prayed a little more.  I realized that I was useless at the moment, so I set my alarm for 45 minutes and got back in bed and pulled the covers over my head.

Not too surprisingly, God found me under my blankets, and I emerged feeling considerably better about life in general and the upcoming concert in particular.  Was that church?  No.  But was it sin?  I still have to say no.

In erring on the side of caution, I have spent over thirty years erring on the side of law.  I think it is time to err on the side of grace.

Hangin’ Out with the Spirit

The Holy Spirit.  I hadn’t given Him a lot of thought in recent years until the summer of 2011 when God said in no uncertain terms, “See this guy you know?  Guess what – you really are the only Jesus he sees.  He wants to know Me.  Start talkin’, honey.”  And in my first really honest prayer in several years, I said, “God, You’ve got to be effing kidding me.”

(I apologize – sincerely –  if the profanity offends you, but that IS the edited version, so let’s call it a compromise.  God didn’t strike me down, so I’m assuming it wasn’t a fatal error to cuss at Him.)  He said He wasn’t kidding, I grumbled and shared the Gospel, and the guy accepted Christ.

So I kind of couldn’t ignore the Spirit, given that He’d just splashed down in the middle of my life and made a big exciting mess, but I also wasn’t quite sure what to do with him.  Can you talk to him?  Pray to him?  Worship him?  What does he DO, exactly?  Get up in your business when somebody needs God, obviously, but what else?  Is He what gives me the heebie-jeebies when I’m driving home from work late, and something in my head says “TAKE A DIFFERENT ROAD TONIGHT” and I say “OKAY I WILL” and feel like I’ve dodged a bullet?

Now, I know I wouldn’t do too well as a full-blown charismatic.  (Somebody will have to tell me some day if you can be introverted and Pentecostal at the same time.)  When people sway too hard during the song service, I’m always thinking, “Steady there.”  People shouting “Preach it!” and “Truth!” during the sermon make me want to thump the back of their heads because I can’t hear the pastor.  The one time I attended an Assemblies of God service, a guy started twirling in circles and hollering in tongues.  It scared the living daylights out of me.  Mostly, though, the service made me sad.  They spent half an hour singing the same songs over and over, begging the Spirit to descend on them / be present there / set them on fire, and I just stood there thinking, “Guys!  He’s ALREADY HERE!”

As time went by, though, I didn’t make a very good Baptist, either.  We talk about the Holy Spirit, and we – funny, that collective pronoun is a hard habit to break.  It’ll do for now … I’ve only been officially non-Baptist for three days, so bear with me.  We believe in the Spirit, no doubt about that – He’s the one who makes all the believing happen, and reminds us to do right when we’re tempted to do wrong.  But we’re just not very comfortable with Him.

I wish I was joking about this, but my just-barely-former church actually made the decision back in the 90’s to not sing the third verse of “Glorify Thy Name”, a simple and lovely modern hymn that mentions all three members of the Trinity.  “Jesus, we love You, we worship and adore You / Glorify Thy name in all the earth.”  That’s fine for Jesus, and it’s fine for the Father.  But they just weren’t sure that it was kosher to worship the Spirit [insert long debate about how the Spirit always directs attention to the other members of the Godhead and there’s no Biblical precedent for worshiping him], so we just sang two verses and skipped to the next song.

That’s an extreme case of literalism run amok, I grant you.  But even on the best days, I always felt like the third member of the Trinity was a little like that one uncle who lives in California.  He’s a great guy, we love him a lot, and it’s a blast when we get to visit him.  We send him pictures and Christmas cards, and sometimes we call him up just for fun.  He loves us, and we love him, but we don’t live together or anything.  Also, he’s a little odd, you know?  Not BAD or anything, don’t get me wrong, but he’s just a little offbeat.

So you can imagine my bemusement when I started my gradual drift into Quaker readings and church services.  They talk about the Spirit a lot, but not like I’ve ever heard him talked about.  No fanfare or excitement, but he’s not the invisible elephant in the room, either.  He’s just … part of things.  Like the air, and water, and food.  When the church I’ve been attending had a business meeting recently, they started it out with a few minutes of silence, in order to open their minds and hearts to whatever the Spirit had in mind for the meeting.  Nothing woo-woo about it, just “Hey God, we’re having a meeting, wanna start us off?  Thanks!”

If I’ve been used to the Holy Spirit as somebody who comes to church just a little overdressed and never stays for the whole service, this view of the Holy Spirit has him in jeans and work boots, getting there early to turn the lights on and staying afterwards in case anybody wants to go to lunch and hang out for a while.  And you know, I think I just might.