Dying to Live and Love

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Boom. There it is. Plain words not shrouded in parable. Jesus gave the Pharisees what they asked for – a definitive “rule” to follow to be right with God.

I know, I know…we much prefer our Jesus as either a precious mute baby lying in a manger or as the silent slaughtered lamb on the cross, guaranteeing a ticket to heaven for those who will believe and confess just the right things about him. But there’s a lot of stuff he said and did in between that I’m just now seeing and hearing and allowing to infiltrate my being for the first time despite a lifetime in church world, half of that being spent in ministry and leadership myself. WTF have I been doing for the past 20 years and what bible have I NOT been actually reading to understand?


If Jesus is to be believed (which I suspect matters infinitely more than being believed in), loving God with my whole being is intrinsically linked to demonstrating love for my neighbor, and love for my neighbor, regardless if they look, live, or think like me (Luke 10:25-37), is defined by how I love myself.


I confess now to anyone who will listen how horribly I have failed in following this supreme two-fold commandment. It was not for lack of genuine desire to know and love God. It was not for lack of being raised by sincerely-motivated and exceedingly wonderful family (biologic and church) in a life centered around “right” worship of God.

What has been lacking is the ability to perceive the Great Truth – that I AM inherently loved, acceptable, whole, belonging and worthy. My ability to see and live in reality has been obscured and distorted by the Great Lie – that my default position is in no way lovable, acceptable, worthy or belonging untilor unless(fill in the blank with whatever “rule” or “fix” matches your particular brand of dysfunction).

In short, I’ve been duped into hating myself, berating myself, mutilating and debasing myself and trading the truth that God declares me Very Good for the lie that I am never, ever good enough and must exhaust myself to compensate for and mask my inadequacy.

Out of that self loathing comes all manner of resenting, judging, dismissing, degrading, and dehumanizing my neighbor, especially the ones who attempt to cover their shame in different ways than mine. Grape leaves? Psha! Everyone knows you’re supposed to use fig leaves. Cause BIBLE SAYS.

It’s been a hard, hard wean when you’ve been raised on the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil while being told it was the Tree of Life. The girl who has depended on that fruit for her survival and justification and “rightness” must starve and DIE if she wants to truly live.

She’s almost there. Dying is an ugly, desperately lonely business fraught with discouragement and temptation to quit and resume the old life of comfy, shiny deception where there’s plenty of company.

The last few years as I’ve honed in on this eternal Great Truth that IS, and has always been, in plain sight, the Great Lie has shrieked and swirled menacingly in an attempt to intimidate and distract me from the invitation to taste and see that the Lord is Good. “Don’t touch! Don’t taste! Don’t move! You will surely DIE!” So loud and persuasive but ultimately powerless and impotent.

Shut up, Satan (whether you come at me as Peter did to discourage Jesus in the form of pastors, parents, best friend or an entire church community) of COURSE I’m gunna die. That’s the whole point. I’m certain that in most cases you actually do care for me the way you do yourself, but that’s kind of the problem right there. You only have in mind the things of man and not of God. Your “reasonable” ideas of self preservation and success are a stumbling block and a dangerous trap. If you yourself won’t go with me, I understand…but get behind me and let me get to it.

Going all the way – myself – is the only way. The Way, The Truth, and The Life. Whoever wants to follow Jesus must deny their own justification, take up their own cross, and follow him into death. If I want to find my life I have to lose it. Only then do I have the capacity to love myself, my neighbor, and therefore God, in reality with my whole being as a whole person.

The Greatest Commandment on which everything hangs starts with this – I must resist the Great Lie in order to love myself…and the backwards way through requires self sacrifice and suffering. Jesus led the way and walks it again in me now.

The Truth does set us free, but we’ve got to be willing to die to everything else that encompasses the Great Lie first.

After a long season of starvation and death, it’s time for me to nourish and live. Coming up next, a much needed Love Letter to Myself from the only voice that gets to tell me the truth of who I AM. The lies have been allowed to have their way in me for far too long, keeping me from loving others, and therefore God, well.  See ya on the other side.

Dreams of Rejection

My dearest silly little Love, why are you crying now that you are solidly on the path with Me with both feet? I was totally up front with you that this is the straight and narrow road so many ignore in favor of the wide and glitzy one. Why do you grieve and mourn that you were rejected and maligned and abandoned for pointing to and following Me? This has always been exactly the gig I call anyone who can and will to accept…and you did! I’m overjoyed and ridiculously proud of you.

Rejoice, you darling girl! Dance, sing, celebrate on this road together with Me! You are swimming in more gorgeous fruit and abundant life than you’ll ever know what to do with.

Dreams of Rejection

Winter is Coming

Winter is coming. Those damn Starks have been telling us so forever, but we grew tired of hearing it and dismissed them as crying wolf (insert GOT fan groan).

But winter is coming, and it’s coming for me, so I might as well go out with all the drama and flare of a butchered Jon Snow…bleeding out, lying motionless, fading to black.

In my physical world, it is autumn, which in central California means this morning was the first time my kids and I broke out a light sweater to walk to school with a predicted high temp of 79…may the gods, old and new, sustain us.

Autumn, however muted in this part of the country, still retains an element of anticipation and haunting beauty as a prelude to death; a transitional season leading us out of one extreme and into another. There’s a whisper in the (ever so slightly chilled) air saying, “Winter is coming.

Surely I hail from the House of Stark as I’ve known winter was coming for me for a long time. It is now right on my doorstep and there is nothing left but to welcome it in.

THE BEGINNING OF THE END

For once I can’t blame my swollen red eyes on seasonal allergies. I’ve been sobbing intermittently and quite uncontrollably for 3 days. I finally crashed hard last night, dropping at 8:30 and sleeping like a dead person until 6 a.m. I woke up feeling refreshed for a nice change. I had a pleasant morning together with the Banshees, and as we stepped outside to begin our walk to school I thought, “It’s going to be alright. Your life is so good. You’ve got this.”

Then Joseph, our little Random Man, blurted out for no good reason, “I can’t wait for church. How many days until Sunday?” The instant lump in my throat kept me from answering. Liberty did the math for him and said, “Yeah, I love church.”

With that, an icy blast of arctic air just about knocked my spirit on its ass. Winter is coming.

“Guys, would you be really sad if I told you that we were going to have to stop doing church?”

“YES!” they both wailed in unison. JoJo saw a roly poly and immediately lost interest, but Libby honed in, “Why do we have to stop going to church?”

“Well honey, not enough people want to come and we don’t have any more money left.”

Without skipping a beat, “We can just go to another church. How about that big one we’ve gone to before? There’s lots of people there.”

I would have preferred being punched hard in the face at that moment rather than answer her.

BLEEDING OUT

My babies have absolutely no concept of the conflict and hardship we’ve endured, as it should be. Our own church had very little idea as it just wasn’t appropriate for us to burden them that way. That’s why I turned to writing. It was my one and only release to keep me from drowning in the bitterness and resentment.

But what to tell my daughter who was asking me why we couldn’t just go back to what she calls “fun church”? Her only real memory of that place was using the facilities for training groups a few Sunday nights a couple years ago. It was big and had stuff and she got to play (as opposed to small and has stuff and she gets to play at Four Creeks).

How do you tell your child that the man who took her and each of her siblings as infants into his arms to pray over and dedicate them to God had disparaged and disowned her parents? How do you tell her that the congregation who had promised that day to nurture and support her and us as a family had done the same?

All I could think to say was, “Oh no sweetie, I would never go back there. They didn’t like us. They didn’t want us.”

My mind raced ahead trying to think of how I would answer what I thought would be the inevitable next question – why?

Instead, after mulling this new information over for a few seconds, she said, “Well, at least there wasn’t a war.”

My freakishly wise and wonderful 8-year-old made an important observation. There was conflict, but there was no war. We had been purposeful in that from the beginning. We’d initially gone silently like lambs to slaughter. When I eventually did start talking it was in an attempt to salvage relationships and my own sanity. I was spectacularly unsuccessful on both counts.

We’d declined a war out of love for both churches by sacrificing ourselves as the only casualties, and I’ve been severely walking wounded ever since

“You’re so right Libby. There was no war, but I was very hurt and I still hurt very much.”

“What?! Someone hit you?!”

“No, honey. My feelings were hurt.”

“Oh. Well then let’s go find another church that’s fun and doesn’t hurt.”

And I lost it. Done. Stick a fork in me (or a half dozen daggers). Finito. Roll credits.

WINTER HAS COME

With the exception of my college prodigal years (I was wiser than I knew then), for the first time in my life I’m going to be without a church, and I’m not going to try to find one – not as long as we live in this town, anyway. I just can’t fathom any church, as Libby said, that is “fun and doesn’t hurt.” Four Creeks was the type of church that I would have given my right arm to be a part of…and I ended up losing much more than that. I understand why so few would even touch or acknowledge it/us, and it’s OK. It really is. This is a good death and I go into it willingly and without a fight. This part of my life needs to completely die. I’ve been in this process for such a long time, and I’m so very tired and ready for the release.

I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels–a plentiful harvest of new lives.

Winter has come for me. I have no idea what the duration of this season will be, and it really doesn’t matter. It will be what it will be. Spring will come when it comes. New life will come as it is God-breathed. My only task for right now is to die for a little while.

From the beginning, it was always leading up to this –

Father, forgive us because we just don’t understand what we’re doing.

Into your hands I commit my spirit.

It is finished.

Mixed Messages

I’m sure everyone can relate to parts of this regardless of gender. It’s not about any specific people or situations, just a composite of mixed messages I’ve received over my lifetime as a female. It’s been quite the task to undo a lifetime of conditioning and learn to listen to the only voice that gets to tell me who I AM. God declares that I am inherently very good.  But in the eyes of most humans (many times myself included), I have to attain and maintain these things in order to be acceptable:

  • Be pretty. No, be prettier, whatever you have to do at all times to be prettier…unless we feel intimidated and want to justify indulging our own insecurities or we’re just not in the mood to exercise any self control or basic kindness, and then it’s on you for showing off too much pretty. Be just attractive enough to where it’s effortless for us to like you without any of the hard work of actually knowing you and respecting you.
  • Be smart, but don’t you dare think. Always work to be smarter, but do not show us just how smart you are ’cause, ya know, that intimidation thing again. You want to be liked, don’t you?  Use your smarts to figure out how to show just enough smarts without being too smart and you’ll be fine. Don’t ever expect us to work to understand you. Dumb it down for us without making it look like you’re dumbing it down for us. Here, we’ll help you by putting you down, then as you’re scraping yourself off the floor everyone can see you having to come up to our level. There’s a smart girl now.
  • Be bold and courageous. Come on honey, come out of your shell and show us the real you…except when it’s challenging in any way, then you’re just a bitch.
  • Be honest. We applaud this wonderful virtue, except when you expose parts of you that aren’t pretty or are (again) too smart or too vulnerable.  Some of that spotlight might accidentally get on the rest of us, threatening to expose our dark and messy places. We can’t have that now, darlin’. Yes, be honest, but learn to recognize when it starts to become inconvenient or uncomfortable for us and then be a good girl and STFU.
  • Work hard. We’re perfectly happy to take every last drop of your soul, just start pouring and don’t ever stop. We’ll dictate to you exactly what and exactly how and when we dump a shovelful of shit on your head, we expect you to smile and accept our criticism like a shower of rose petals. We’ll think you’re wonderful (if we think of you at all) as long as you remain that steady, quiet, compliant worker bee and keep producing for us. But the minute you trip or fall or die and can’t any more? Well, that’s on you, stupid girl. Shame on you for not being enough to meet our expectations for you and not having what it takes to stand up under the weight of all we projected on you.

Challenge us or make us uncomfortable in any way and we can instantly paint you into the ugly, stupid, arrogant, frigid, ungrateful bitch we need you to be. One word. One second. That’s all we need. Remember that.

Now go be the pretty, smart, courageous, industrious woman of integrity God intended you to be!

Or else.

Killing Liberty Grace

Meet my big-thinker Mini Me, Liberty Grace. I’ve never been so in love with a name…almost as much as the girl. As much as I laud reason and practicality in my expressions of faith, there’s always been a significant vein of mysticism and natural contemplative spirituality winding through me too. I truly consider my daughter’s name to be prophetic. It was while I was pregnant with her that the first rumblings began…a stirring within me that God was up to something new for us, something powerful and free. God was indeed going to fulfill my lifelong yearning to experience Them in fullness and abundance, but there was going to be an extreme price to pay. Was I willing?


THE SPIRIT OF LIBERTY GRACE

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

I’d ached and prayed for this since I was 16, but now that my sleepy eyes were adjusting to the brilliant light and my ears finally attuned to reality, in order to maintain any kind of integrity with what I was experiencing, I had to let go of some “absolutes” I’d been taught were nonnegotiable. It was an incredibly difficult and uncomfortable process, long before I let anyone else see me, but on the other side of that wall – Liberty.  

Taste and see that the Lord is good…

Freedom to investigate, smell, touch, taste, take or leave ALL THE THINGS. Freedom through experience to discover what is good, when and how much. Freedom from the fear of eternal damnation should I cross arbitrary lines or peer down a path someone before me had labeled “forbidden.” Freedom to move and view things from different angles. Freedom to change my mind with perspective. Freedom to use all the words (heads up for those who get the vapors over salty language, the end of this post is NSFW). And most definitely the freedom to screw up.

A necessary byproduct of freedom is alarmingly frequent failure, which is why Liberty is lost without her sister, Grace.  

Grace not only incorporates failure as a given, it transforms it into valuable treasure, not wasting a single experience. Grace redeems the wildness of Liberty…but without Liberty, there is absolutely no need for Grace.


THE ABOMINATION OF CERTAINTY

The opposite of faith is not doubt: It is certainty. It is madness. You can tell you have created God in your own image when it turns out that he or she hates all the same people you do.  Anne Lamott

Certainty is the despicable antithesis of freedom and grace.

Certainty is a false construct that chokes out Liberty in favor of conformity and absolute “rightness.” It enslaves. It inhibits. It discourages. It threatens. It controls. It lies.  

Certainty viciously resists and maligns Grace, because to receive Her is to admit inadequacy, which is never an option for Certainty.

Certainty shrieks and shames into submission, “DON’T touch! DON’T taste! DON’T move! NEVER screw up…or you’ll surely DIE!

It’s the flip side of The Great Lie the serpent sold Eve and a sacred metaphorical takeaway from the Genesis creation myth and the Tale of Two Trees <—-(future blog). If you find yourself with doctrinal hackles raised at my honest take of Genesis as an ancient prophetic Hebrew origins myth (it’s a talking snake, for cryin’ out loud!), may I calmly suggest you stop, take a deep breath, and reflect on your defensiveness, anger, and I’d wager if you looked honestly enough – fear – and question from where that might originate…and do you really think it’s from God?

*Hint* Aggressive defensiveness that seeks to inhibit and shut down is the fruit of Certainty, NOT of Liberty and Grace and the clearest indication we’ve been gorging ourselves on the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and not the Tree of Life.


WITCH HUNTERS – THE DISCIPLES OF CERTAINTY

A life of Liberty and Grace is proactive, always looking for what it can do

Certainty is entirely restrictive, focused only on what it can stop.

Certainty’s absolute “rightness” depends on someone else’s absolute “wrongness,” the perfect breeding ground for sanctimonious witch hunters and gate keepers obsessed with silencing the heretics. The wronger you are, the righter I am.

There is absolutely nothing new under the sun. The same Pharisaical spirit of Certainty and repression is alive and well, running rampant and largely encouraged in its destruction and division in the Church today.

Let’s play a little word association, shall we?

What’s your initial reaction to the name “Rob Bell?” How ’bout “Emergent Church?” I’m betting it’s one of these three:

  1. I have no idea what you’re talking about (bless you and I insanely envy you).
  2. *Looks nervously over shoulder and whispers * I kinda resonate with what he’s saying.
  3. HERETIC!! Burn the witch! Drive out the infidel from among us! Set phasers to KILL. 

SLAUGHTERING PROPHETS

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were unwilling.

I first became aware of Rob Bell through the rabid counter-movement to stop all things “Emergent” from infecting the institution from which we (Jimmy and I and Four Creeks) came. Had the witch hunters (which tragically made up half the church board) not whipped themselves up into such an aggressive frenzy, I would have been blissfully unaware there was any such “danger” to be on guard against. Jimmy simply didn’t care (sometimes I really hate how good he is at that). I, as usual, cared way too much. I made a calculated decision not to read or consume anything from Rob Bell, not because I was afraid of what anybody might think, but because I wanted to look people square in the eye when they asked us for the umpteenth time whether anything about our vision for Four Creeks was influenced by the Emergent Church movement and be able to honestly say, “No, Ms. Church Biddy who has the power to make decisions about my family’s livelihood and future, it’s all me and Jimmy and our own conscience and integrity.”

So assume what you will if you recognize any similarities between the Emergent Church movement or Rob Bell’s theology and what you can glean about mine. I really don’t care ’cause I honestly don’t know myself what they are other than what the anti-Rob Bell bandwagon continues to rail against ad nauseam.

What I do know is how much I hate the justification for such murderous division in the name of God. I’ve witnessed (and been on the receiving end of) so much destruction…the killing of reputations, relationships, and livelihoods, all in the name of Certainty and doctrinal purity by people who honestly think they are doing God’s work in being utterly shitty and discouraging, while most others are complicit in their silence and passivity in allowing such evil to go unchallenged.


FTSIO

The bulk of the drama is behind us…or at least I hope to God that’s true. I’m so very, very tired. But honestly, no matter how tough and strong I come off through my writing and Facebook posting, the reality is I’m reeling, still trying to recover from a significant ministry relationship breakup that went down a couple months ago. I felt so traumatized and violated. Add a sprinkling of Facebook encounters with people popping up like ghosts from that past life, never having a word to say to us for years when we most needed it but feeling justified to come out of the shadows to criticize over doctrinal issues and…yeah…I’m at a complete loss. I just don’t know what to say or do with people who actually know me who think my honest expressions of what I see, what I experience, what I believe are a threat to be eliminated.

I think this utter done-ness is very good. It didn’t happen in a way I ever would have chosen and if I’d seen coming would have ran screaming the other direction…but I have lived through it. I have tasted, I have touched, I have seen and I have heard and I will never be the same and I can never go back. The thought of doing so is less appealing to me than a dog licking up its own vomit.

I’d been hanging on to that old life by the barest of threads for a long time, thinking surely something could be salvageable. But I’m coming to the realization that the path forward into abundant life requires a complete letting go of everything that fears and seeks to kill something so precious as Liberty Grace. 

Sometimes the most graceful thing you can do is use your freedom to walk away and say…