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Saturday, March 22, 2014

What I wish I had been taught

I remember sitting in youth group listening to a youth pastor reprimand the general exodus of young girls venturing into the Twilight movies so ecstatic and giddy to see whats-his-name with his shirt off. He wasn't speaking against the people but the act, the "lust"- the sin behind it. As I look back I remember many a similar talks given.

I remember being passionately dissuaded from seeing certain movies, listening to music that wasn't labeled as "Christian" or "worship", for saying certain words, and for various other assumed thoughts and inclinations; to the point of beliving it to be a sin to do so. I remember also feeling shamed for not doing certain things; for not reading my Bible enough, for not memorizing enough of it, for not evangelizing enough, discipling enough, being descipled enough...

Looking back I find so much emphasis put on my actions, be it what I was doing or what I was abstaining from. But we look to the actions to tell us about the heart don't we? Just as we look to the fruit to inform us about the tree. And as a leader, how else are you supposed to measure and asses the "spiritual health" of your young congregation? Emphasizing censorship, boundaries, and rules while promoting activities to do within that given framework is certainly one way of doing it and it's certainly a favored way, but I wish there had been another way offered...not just to me but to all of us, students and leaders alike. And besides, any farmer will tell you that it's not the fruit that you farm, but the soil; for if you have good soil, good fruit will naturally follow.

We were told over and over again what to do and what not to do, but we were never told why. Why should we do this? Why shouldn't we do that? Perhaps "why" seemed like too big a question for such immature minds and hearts to tackle or unravel. But if you ask "Why?" enough you can trace it all the way to the heart of the matter and find with it the true, unadulterated, captivating reasons that inspire and motivate an obedience driven by a personal understanding (a revelation); either that or you'll find reasons to abandon the commands and obligations presented to you- there too lie revelations, truth, and obedience.

But now I want to know, why was it such a big deal that the girls were giddy over a boy's shirtless body? Is that really the bigger issue? Is that really what the minds and hearts of youth need to understand? Is that such a fundamental issue that you would rather spend your efforts battling against that "lust" you see rather than spend your efforts making sure they fully knew they were loved and accepted despite it all?

Why was behavior prioritized over belonging?

Or is it for the youth to behave so that they may belong as adults? Because that is most definitely the message I felt on the receiving end: Let the youth learn how to behave so that when they are adults they will then belong because they know how to behave. But by then the rules have grown so numerous, the restrictions and the duties so many, that you can barely see the God to Whom you belong; if, by then, you still want Him at all.

And so as adults we must spend many a seasons unlearning and deconstructing our fortress, until we can see Him again. And then we must spend many a seasons more learning freedom and grace, love and acceptance perhaps for the first time. We must spend all this time being liberated from the former enforced necessity of performance to finally believe in and trust in a great belonging so freely given.

Why, at our most impressionable state, were we trained for works instead of being molded by grace?

I think maybe many were/are afraid that grace wouldn't get us to where we needed to be. I think many doubted/doubt the strength and ability of grace to shape and mold acceptable Christians out of young wandering souls. But if not grace then what? What, if not grace, binds our wandering hearts to Him? What, if not grace, invites us, strengthens us, compels us, sustains us, nurtures us, and even carries us in this life and living it?

So much time spent instructing a sappling on the fruit it must grow instead of making sure it had everything it needed to grow; that while simply being and receiving the good things laid out for its health and nourishment, it may naturally grow into a thriving living tree.

Why is the evidence of performance a trusted remedy and grace a mystic potion? Love and grace have the power to change all if only we would be allowed to soak in it. If only we trusted it enough to be raised in it.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Offense

In my past, and probably still lingering in my present, I have set a many a bridges on fire with flames of offense. I know I've offended a lot of people in my life. It's been a long journey getting me to accept and embrace the "grays" in myself, let alone in others, when for so long it was all so black and white. That black and white perception combined with my lifelong struggle against holding my tongue, of course, did more than rub people the wrong way, in many cases, it left them scalped and in need of skin-graphs. lol

But, that was a long time ago. Thankfully, I'm not so quick to pass judgement anymore. I take great pride in the fact that it takes a lot to shock me. People tell me they feel safe around me because they know they won't be judged or looked down upon. I can't tell you how wonderful and grateful that makes me feel.

I'm sure I still am offending people. And it really can't be helped. We'll always be offending someone. It's just funny how the tables of offense have turned in my life. Before, I think I was offending everybody; "saved", "unsaved", it didn't matter. But, now it seems the people I offend more often than not are people in the church; or maybe I should say, "the people that are offended by me..."

I say naughty words. I drink. I smoke cigars and hookah. I make sexual jokes. I watched Magic Mike! And if that wasn't enough to damn me, I unabashedly wrestle with and dissect my religion; asking heretical questions like, "Why?" Clearly I've got a timeshare in Hades right next door to Mephistopheles.

But even though I may hold some decided opinions about why I do what I do and don't do what I don't, it's not put out there to ostracize; it's my life, it's who I am, but even then it's not something I throw out there and force you to accept. I'm not intentionally looking to offend people. Infact, because of my past offenses, I am very careful to try not to. Put simply, if I feel comfortable and safe around you, I'll act comfortable around you and you'll see the me that my folks see, my family sees, and my friends see.

We're all like that. Our souls are like hermit crabs looking for safe places to reveal ourselves and be free. And if we lived in a perfect world, there would only be safe places- there would be no need to hide.

Recently I was around some people that made me go back in my shell. I had started to feel really comfortable around them and then some off-hand comments were made about a certain "swear word" being said (not by me oddly enough). The message that comment sent to me was, "This is not a safe place." All the sudden my mesh filters are up and I'm sifting through thoughts and reactions carefully deciding what should pass through and what I should keep to myself; the TSA invaded my mind. It made me feel incredibly lonely and it lingers still.

And it's not just this one incident, there are countless others and they are happening all the time to all sorts of people. And yes there will always be someone who is offended. And yes, I agree, Jesus did offend people. And yes, I'd agree further that Truth is offensive just as light is offensive to the dark. YES, YES, YES. Okay.

There is so much irony in the things that offend Christian people and how easy it is to do it. A group of passionate evangelist types getting offended at how I talk...A group of zealous advocates against human-trafficking getting offended by vulgarity, nudity, or things of a sexual nature...Another group getting offended by questions...and so on and so on. To myself I think, "God, do they really know what they doing or what they're getting into? You're getting offended at me?? and I'm on your team! How the hell do you intend on "reaching" all us heathens exactly?" Or, "I'm sorry do you have any idea what kind of scene you are entering? You want to go into redlight districts to rescue girls caught in sex-slavery and you are disgusted at the faint sex scene in that movie?! Do you think they'll find your shock and disgust inviting??".....And then sometimes I just think, "Screw you and all your types!"

One of the kindest things God ever revealed to me was that He does not get offended by me. 'He sees me and He knows me and He loves me through and through.' And that makes me feel so safe and warm, so loved and accepted, so free and light. I can just be me and I don't have to worry about bullshit filters with Him because there's no filter that can hide my true thoughts and feelings from Him anyway. And because I don't have the hassle of going through security and customs and x-rays with Him, we can just get right to the point and avoid all the rigmarole. *insert note of praise for the TSA drenched in bitter sarcasm* It is such a comfort to know that I cannot ever shock Him, no matter what I conjur.

And I just think that if God can be so graciously unoffended, why do we (the people of God) line our hearts with offense that only pushes people further away from us and us further away from them? Maybe if we believed in that kind of God more people would feel like they belong with Him afterall.

And maybe I'm totally off. Maybe I've offended you.

At any rate, I'm working on it.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

"We are all of us mad here"

Have you ever read "Alice in Wonderland" by Lewis Carroll? My faith has lead me to that classic tale recently. Of course we've all probably seen the movie, but the movie can be so distracting; the silliness, the songs, the graphics all stealing away from the story. Well surely you remember The Mad Hatter; his story was sadly cheapened, lost amidst the giddiness and whimsy. But read it now:

The poor Mad Hatter, we've had no idea how akin to him we are always having written him off as nonsense when he is infact a mirror.

The Mad Hatter believed that he had, in a way, offended Time and was therefore cursed, doomed, confined, sentenced to remain where he was doing the same thing until Time had decided the Hatter was pardoned.

It drove him mad. It drove them all mad; being stuck in the same place and time, waiting for Time himself to be appeased- waiting to be freed.

Have we not also believed that we have offended Time and thusly we are likewise sentenced to spending this life in a perpetual state of (you can fill in the blank, but I'll fill in mine with servitude and sacrifice.)

How often we damn ourselves to infinite merry-go-rounds of penitence, desperately trying, waiting, and hoping to be pardoned. We think if we slip up, we will offend Time further and possibly increase our vague sentence.

We have made ourselves busy with work that we think we must do and we are going mad for it. We keep moving round, no time to clean up, no freedom to be otherwise occupied or moved.

You may say it is still nonsense, just trifles, but even Lewis Carroll noted, "'Tut, tut, child!' said the Duchess. 'Everythings got a moral if only you can find it.'"