Lines in The Sand

I’ve spent the last several years feeling pulled to pretty wildly different stances than where I started on a number of contentious issues. It was one thing to feel, act or vote a certain way if I could remain anonymous, if I could hide out from the backlash and people who were quick to condemn me for deviating. I could support these causes in secret. I could stay on the sidelines, sit in the pews, around dinner tables and bite my tongue, preferring to only discuss those topics with people I knew were similarly minded.

Because as much as I love this Church, this body, this community of believers – they scare me. There is a limit, a line one cannot cross in activism or in behavior, to the amount that grace can be extended if any kind of esteem is going to survive. Cross that line, err in that way, or come down on the wrong side of any number of these issues and the fall from respect and grace, especially if you’ve got any kind of public platform, is swift, loud and devastating.

You are removed from the nice, safe, warm “us” category you spent a long time taking for granted, and tossed firmly out into “them”. Tossed into those people who “ignore scripture”, to those whose relationship with God is called into question, to those who are “indoctrinated”, “trying to hard to please the world”, “abusing grace”, “going to be in trouble on judgement day”, “false prophet”, “false teacher”, “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and a thousand other barbs that capitalize on my fear that wants to breed in the dark.

This fear I hold is, of course, in direct opposition with the more than 300 admonitions in scripture to Fear Not. I have to repent of it often. We are warned in scripture that the public’s love won’t be ours if we’re trusting Jesus out onto the water – I just never imagined that my test with public opinion would be from many of those who I had always considered to be my people. This, coupled with the fear that I could live, love and write this way only to get to the end of my life and discover that I had all of it completely wrong, kept me completely silent for a long time.

And if the worst happens, if I end this life and Jesus is standing on the other side of death and instead of “Well done, my good and faithful servant”, I hear, “Hannah, how could you?” I can only pray that grace and mercy will intervene and that the desire of my heart is known. That Jesus sees that what I want most is to love like He loves. To throw open the gates and welcome everybody into that love. That I was quick to cry out to Him, to rest in Him, to rely on Him. That I sought to know Him and love like Him, and that I followed where I felt He was leading.

I admit, I worry about that outcome sometimes. When someone I love has discussions about me that they don’t think I can hear, or they post about me on social media, or they lay it all out to my face, I have moments where I am swiftly and cripplingly terrified that I’ve made a huge mistake. That I’ve bared a part of myself to them when I thought I could trust them with it, and now I’m bloodied with only myself to blame. That although I spent months feeling the tug in my spirit to act before I ever stepped a toe out of line, that although I agonized, sometimes for years, before I took a public stance on these issues, that although I’ve spent countless hours in prayer, the word and pouring my heart out on the Altar, that although I’ve seen God’s hand in this learning process, somehow I got it twisted and am dead wrong.

But that fear pales in comparison to the gut feeling I can’t shake that God has called me out onto this water, and that this is exactly where I need to be. That the people I’m speaking for and standing with are worth the heartache and discomfort. That I can’t say, “Here I am Lord, send me” and run the first time that I get my heart broken or someone calls my faith into question. That even in this, my faith needs to be bigger than my fear.

There is still so much I don’t know. So much that is a work in progress – to the point that the list of things I do know is so, so much shorter. I know that I’m commanded to love God and love people, and that if this is where the Spirit has called me to stand, if this is what God asks of me, doing anything else puts me in sin. Even if it gets lonely. Even if I’m a “them”.

I’m not confident in my ability to do any of this well, especially not on the first try.

I am confident that God is pulling me closer to Him, and that He makes beauty from my mess. I am confident that He is at work here, and that nothing can separate me from His love. I am confident in my need for all of the grace I can get, because even on my best day I’m still human and still prone to bumble.

So I’m here doing the best that I can. I certainly do not have it all figured out. I’m trying desperately to trust Jesus even deeper into the scary places, doubting and failing, repenting and starting it all over again. Trying listen more than I speak, and when I do speak, to speak up for people who don’t have a place or a voice when they should.  Trying to be all at once, a part of this church body and one who is on the opposite side of so many of these lines in the sand.

Nothing To Prove

I have had, for about as long as I can remember, a chip on my shoulder. I needed to get the job done perfectly right the first time, and manage to get it done faster than anyone else. I hustled to everything, with everything and for just about everything, and was consistently about 10 minutes behind. I overfilled my schedule to the point of breakdown (or three), and scheduled, down to the minute, what had to be done during my day. I prided myself in the fact that I earned, worked and strived for everything I had. I didn’t see that while tenacity and grit are things to be praised, pride in my refusal to need anything or anyone was not.

I needed to keep the peace in my family and be consistently in the “black” in the grace bank that exists within our family dynamic. I needed to be the best in my classes, and earning A’s in everything so that no one could say I should have done better. I needed to be involved in every ministry I touched, and integrally so, so that I was showing God how much I loved him. I needed to be holy, and consistently improving so that no one could accuse me of abusing grace. I needed to be the friend who would bend completely over backwards to help anyone, so that my place within the friend group was secure. I needed to atone for the teenage mistakes I had made in dating by doggedly avoiding any and all romantic relationships that weren’t with the one, which meant that every single guy I met was immediately examined to see if he could be Him.

I had a running list of things I needed to do and to be to ensure that I was worthy and welcome. And not surprisingly, things got added to that list faster than I could check them off, so it grew and grew and grew. On all sides, there was this pressure to perform. To always be on. To live up to my perceived expectations from the world and the people in it whose opinions I valued. It seemed like I could get one area of my life on track for my constant barrage of to-do lists, and then I’d turn around to discover that I had fallen further and further behind in everything else.

Failure was a four letter word, and it felt like I spent most of my time narrowly avoiding it being branded across my legacy. Still bigger than a size 10? Failure. Still not employed in a career? Failure. Still not able to love people completely like Jesus loves them? Failure. Still not holy and an ideal Christian? Failure. Still not done with school? Failure. Still uncertain about so many things that seem to be do or die in the faith? Failure. Still not married? Failure. Still not financially secure? Failure. Still not a home owner, buying a new car, paying off student loans, having my 10 year plan figured out, having children, having enough money to confidently buy groceries every month? Failure, failure, failure.

If God helps those who help themselves, then it was no wonder that I was failing at so much and feeling set adrift, because I wasn’t managing much of anything that looked like progress. Even when I was, it was overshadowed by the fact that no matter how far I came, I couldn’t seem to ever feel like I’d arrived.

I remember sitting on my therapist’s couch about 8 months ago, and unloading the stress I couldn’t seem to shake and the worry, fear and anxiety that all I was destined to do was fail and miss the mark. She asked me when I was going just let go, and let life happen. I’m sure I gave her a face that plainly said, “Does not compute” because that made no sense to me. If I wasn’t planning my next move, how on earth could I measure my progress? How on earth could I make sure I wasn’t falling behind? How on earth could I plan to pick myself up from my next plan that didn’t quite work? Everything would fall down around me if I stopped all the panic and stress and worry, I was sure of it. It wasn’t like I was one of those people who didn’t feel like they had anything to prove. I had goals. I had drive. We were two fundamentally different groups of people, those of us who have to earn anything and everything, even if it’s done the hard way, and the people who just feel entitled to be there, even without an explicit invitation.

Except that we aren’t. And though there are people, I’m sure, who feel entitled, what I was seeing as entitlement was actually a confidence in the fact that they had nothing to prove. They didn’t need to hustle to fix, improve and change themselves to be welcome, because at the core of who they are, they know that they’re already enough. It was the one thing I couldn’t ever possibly check off a to-do list, because it comes from the place where the fears are stilled and the striving has ceased.

My process of letting go was ugly. I fought it kicking and screaming, and burned myself out to the point that even my body was showing it. I felt powerless in a way that I’d never experienced before, and wore failure and uncertainty like my own scarlet letter. I came to the end of what I could fix, plan and reframe. I yelled, I wept, I raged. I doubted God (understatement of the decade), I pulled away from every ministry I was a part of, I gave up on things God has called me to stand faithfully in, I quit my job, I fell off of the face of the planet, and attempted to sleep my way to a better season.

And still God persisted.

Persisted in calling me to rest, in calling me to peace. In calling me to trust that He speaks truth. In calling me to trust Him with the details and to come along for the ride. In calling me to let go of needing to control and hustle. In calling me to stop trying to earn things that had always been mine. In calling me to realize that I’d never been anything less than enough.

And though there are significantly less details on this side of things, there is so much more peace. So much more rest. So much more contented security in the knowing that I’ve got nothing to prove, because I’ve never needed to do anything more than follow where the Lord is leading. If He wants big, scary, impressive things for me, He’ll make the doors open when they need to, and all of my planing and frenzied attempts at control won’t help that process along any faster.

And while I may have moments where I forget, I’ll never lose my seat at the table. I’ll never manage to make myself more worthy, or more enough. There’s no shortage of room here, no rationing or reserving of seats for those who are working hard enough to earn a place. I am, and have always been, welcome.

Would you like to sit down?

Take Heart

Sometimes life sucks.

Even considering the numerous things in it that are good and precious, even knowing that the hard parts won’t last forever, even with a bone deep understanding that God is in control and has a plan to make everything work together for our good – even then, sometimes the fear and the heartache are loudest.

I thought that I would graduate from college, with my husband in tow, and have life figured out. There would be this fun montage where we figured out things in a comical way, adopted a bunch of kids, and then I’d hit my stride and help to change the world. And from my last 6 months in undergrad, I have been living what seems like a prolonged season of trial by fire.

It has been hard. There were days where it felt like God was punishing me. Punishing me for not being enough, for not getting this job or that one, for being lazy, for not doing this extra thing in college that would have solved all of my problems now, for not being financially stable, for not being conservative enough, for not being feminine enough, for not being willing enough to toe a line. I think I’ve questioned nearly everything, and come up with far too many answers that made me uncomfortable. All of my soul searching and desperate praying for answers just kept leading me back to this cycle of waiting and doubting. These new revelations that felt like truth in my bones were ostracizing me from the people I wanted approval from the most.

The number of times I’ve wanted to throw in the towel, to not write about things that made waves, to embrace apathy because my only alternative was to do terrifyingly brave things while trusting my gut, to stop opening myself to difficult things, to force myself to fit into a nice, neat, Right box. I’ve agonized. I’ve wept. And I’ve heard the whispers that say that it shouldn’t be this hard. That if I were actually following the Lord – if I were actually going the right way, that I wouldn’t be this out of my element. That maybe I’m wrong about all of this, about this part of Jesus. That maybe they are right…that I need to hang up this hat and go home to do something that actively avoids this kind of conflict.

I’ve begged the Lord to let me go from this. And I’ve tried, and temporarily succeeded, in walking away from this pull that I feel to keep writing. To keep speaking. To keep wrestling with uncomfortable answers, stances and positions. To keep opening myself up to conversations that have the power to wound me. To keep coming back when I want to hide myself away, because my heart and pride have been hurt. To keep teaching, and being taught by, unlikely choices. Despite the frustration, hurt and fear, I can’t seem to stay silent or disengaged for long. Because in those moments, when I have decided to call it quits, I hear the same bit of scripture over and over again.

Take heart.

For those of you who may not be as familiar, this comes from a verse in John 16 in which Jesus is telling His disciples that things are about to get crazy. He is about to be crucified and their work is about to begin in earnest as they spread the gospel. He, being Jesus, knew that these very human and flawed disciples were going to have times in the coming days, months and years where they were scared out of their minds. Where they wanted to hide away and fade into obscurity. Where they wanted to be done with anything remotely involving bravery. Knowing this, He says, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

When you look up the meaning of take heart (because one can safely assume that Jesus was not encouraging the literal stealing or taking of hearts), you find some variation of an instruction to regain courage or bravery. I appreciate this distinction. To me, it feels different than the many, many times that scripture tells us to not be afraid. It feels more like a reminder to stop in the midst of the fear and heartache that are loud and overwhelming and be heartened, be encouraged, in the midst of whatever circumstance you are in.

It’s as if Jesus (if He spoke in 21st century American slang) says to His disciples, “Some parts of this life that I’m calling you to are going to suck. It’s going to be painful, difficult, draining and exhausting. Some of it will be thankless, some of it will be unbelievably discouraging. But regain your courage, be heartened, because I’ve overcome even this. I’m bigger than all of it. I have and continue to call you to this thing, this mission, that is infinitely bigger than you. Though it may feel like it, I’m not abandoning you to the wolves. I’m not expecting perfection from you, and I’m not sitting with your punishment at the ready when you come to me in repentance for failure. I know that sometimes it’s rough, I know that it feels slow going and like I’m not at work here. Trust me. My spirit is here with you. We’ve got this.”

And man if I don’t need to hear that routinely.

I don’t claim to believe that my calling in this is anywhere near as world changing as the Disciples’ were. I’m just trying to love people like Jesus loves them and have conversations that include people that don’t see eye to eye with me on everything. Sometimes it seems like I’m just talking to an empty room, and that everyone else has gone home. Sometimes it seems like all of this is causing significantly more harm than good. Like any heartache I feel is my own fault and that continuing down this path is only pushing me further and further away from the people I love most.

And in those moments, the fear is easily loudest. Because sometimes, even though I know that God is at work in all things, life is hard. Conversations and events in life throw me for a loop, and I lose any and all courage I’ve had, tempting me to write it all off as a loss.

But despite the clamor, despite fear and heartache that threaten to overwhelm anything and everything else – there is a clear but gentle admonition to regain my bravery, to be encouraged. To keep doing what I’ve been called to do. To keep trusting that God is working even the worst of these things together for good. To find peace in the knowing that He has overcome the world.

a willingness to persevere

If you could read through the draft pages on this blog, you would see dozens of rants that I couldn’t emotionally distance myself from enough to make palatable. I have opinions on most things, and many of those opinions are strong and oddly researched, so it stands to reason that I would routinely want to go off on one tangent or another. I try to filter, and to temper the words that get published on this (and any other social media) platform with grace and love to ease the sting that these statements may bring.

I’ve had altogether too many instances of flying off and forgetting grace and love, and hurting people I should have listened to, regardless of the truth of my statements. Plus, when I get preachy, I tend to fall flat on my face within the week, so I try to avoid much in the way of mass-self-righteousness. Honest conversations, where I show the man behind the curtain and share my heart on something that I find troubling – I often see change and results. Distanced soapbox stances, not so much.

That being said, I have one topic in particular that has made its way into the draft rants time and time again. This particular topic is divisive, frustrating and incredibly pervasive. It’s something that is easy to oversimplify and over exaggerate, depending on who is doing the storytelling. It is both a sword to maim and a shield to hide behind when we’ve taken a risky stance and are facing backlash.

I’m talking about the persecution culture in the American church.

Our faith is full of a history of sacrifice and persecution. So much so that our earliest accounts, post-crucifixion, of those who would go on to build the church were of men and women hiding in fear from the Roman Soldiers’ wrath. We teach in Sunday School that all but one of the disciples died in gruesome ways, martyred for their faith. We praise the stories of those who faced certain death for Christianity during Nero’s reign, telling of the ways they would draw part of the “Jesus Fish” in the sand with their foot to determine if the other person was a believer. We follow a Jesus who says that true righteousness is to give up everything and follow Him, and who told stories to rich men about giving away all wealth if they wanted to be a disciple. We have countries in the world today where people  are persecuted – both physically and legally – for observing the Christian faith.

The United States just isn’t one of them. The definition of persecution is “hostility and ill-treatment, especially because of race or political or religious beliefs”. People not agreeing with you, doing things you don’t agree with, or even removing religious insignia from schools and government buildings is not the same as facing open hostility and being in danger of bodily harm because of your race, religion or political beliefs. The loss of some of the privilege we’ve had for centuries can’t be realistically classified as persecution or oppression.

Don’t get me wrong, there is still backlash from any number of outlets for following what we believe in. We may face loss of business, loss of tax benefits and breaks, lost friends on social media and in person, media portrayals that aren’t flattering or even completely honest, loss of reputation and esteem and even position in our professional spheres. That is painful, and is definitely sacrificial, but it’s not persecution. Living in a nation that allows practices you personally disagree with is frustrating. You are more than welcome to vote for elected representatives that you feel best promote your belief system, whatever it may be. You can be frustrated, and even outraged that these behaviors that you don’t agree with are taking place. Your right to freedom of speech means you can even peaceably assemble to protest something you don’t agree with.

I would caution you to remember 1 Corinthians 13 when engaging with people who are hard to love and that you don’t agree with. Even the most kingdom-serving activities don’t count for anything if we do them devoid of love. The new-testament scripture that says that fresh and bitter water cannot come from the same source applies when we claim we love the people that Jesus loves and then are quick to be hateful and bitter towards people – both in person and on the internet.

We are followers of a man who taught that when someone seeks to dishonor you by slapping you across the face, turn your face so that they have access to the other side. Not necessarily because Jesus promoted his followers getting beat up by non-believers, but because our honor doesn’t come from the society we live in. It comes from honoring God in the way we love, live and lead. If that means that we lose esteem of the public or the world remembers us harshly because we followed Jesus further than society deemed excusable, then so be it. How much more precious is this life with Jesus, than a few benefits we may miss out on by choosing Him over public esteem?

We are a people marked by our determination to let our faith and beliefs grow even under pressure. So even if our government says that teachers can’t pray for students or teach the tenants of Christianity (tenants which are still taught in most, if not all, history classes that cover world religions), we can teach our children about God ourselves. We can encourage them to start bible clubs and to bring their bibles to school if they want to – because legally the only restriction is on the employees of the public school, not students attending. Even if our government allows marriages of people that some say shouldn’t get to be married, or medical services we disagree with – we can choose not to partake in those things, and in the case of the medical procedures, do everything we can to improve the foster care system, and the options surrounding women who find themselves considering them. Even if all mention of the ten commandments and the bible are removed from public office, and if all of our churches lose the tax breaks they receive for being classified as non-profit organizations – we can still worship God, and let Him invade the way we encounter the world on a day to day basis.

I don’t think it’s more important to be recognized globally as a Christian nation than to be a faith marked by a willingness to persevere and continue loving like Jesus, regardless of the political climate of our respective countries. God is still sovereign, still in control and still asking us to follow him – even if our government isn’t a Christian one.

As Broken As They Are Beautiful

I was at Upper Room last Sunday and Pastor Joseph said something that resonated with me: He was talking about when people tell him they want to be pastors, the first thing he says to them is “If you can be anything else, you should.” He went on to clarify that if you are able to do any other job, to work in any other field, and not still feel an itch that can’t be scratched that you should be pastoring, get out and do the other thing. Because only that soul-deep pull will keep you afloat when it asks everything you have to give and then some.

A few days later, I am sitting on the couch in therapy and trying to put into words my current frustrations at the feeling like I am a completely different kind of Christian than many of those around me. While I know that foundation in the Lord is the same, nearly every other big issue has been one that I’ve had to revisit and it’s disheartening to feel like you are the only one deciding that way or asking those questions.  My therapist asked me if Christianity was really the best choice for me; since I am having such an issue reconciling my view of God and much of that being presented by the conservative right (especially during this political season), perhaps a different religion or brand of spirituality was a better fit for me.

I cracked a smile and told her about the few times in college that I wanted to make sure that I was really a Christian because I agreed with the doctrine, and not just because I was raised in the church, so I attended several meetings and rallies held by the Davis Atheist and Agnostic club. They were all very nice people, and had very well put-together presentations, but none of what they presented refuted the God I knew. They weren’t asking any questions to the group that I hadn’t already asked God and worked out on my own.

She quirked an eyebrow because, while I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject, that’s not exactly textbook behavior for the daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter of pastors.

The more I mulled this exchange over later, the more I saw that it was my version of coming to realize that if I could have been anything else, I would have been. If I could have found anything, any other religion or organization, that quieted the pull I feel towards this body of believers who are as broken as they are beautiful – I wouldn’t still be here. I’d like to think I would still be following God in illogical ways, because at this point  we’ve walked through too much to doubt His faithfulness to me, but if I could have invested in anything else without still feeling like here is exactly where I need to be, I think I would have cut ties with Christianity a long time ago.

We are a people marked by a history of greed, lust, corruption, ignorance, hatred, fear and oppressing those who we are called to love. We over-exaggerate our own righteousness, whitewash the sin that is still so pervasive, turn a blind eye to the starving, broken and downtrodden, preach hell-fire and brimstone louder than we do grace and salvation, fuel a divisive spirit in that which we don’t understand and allow ourselves to fear, and a thousand other historical snippets that are shining examples of how to not love like Jesus.

But God, we are also so beautiful. We have insane capacity for good, and have been known for our generosity, selflessness, kindness, thoughtfulness, care for those who are less fortunate, joy in times of heartache, and perseverance in times of oppression. We love those who aren’t easy to love, we give from the little that’s left over each month to people who need it more than we do, we fight against human trafficking and work to set captives free, we equip former slaves and prostitutes to be able to make goods that will support their families, we build wells, we fight for international rights, we build schools, we promote education in communities that don’t have it, we are in line to donate blood after disasters and attacks, we drop our regular lives to give aid when people need it and a thousand other every day things that are beautiful, sacrificial examples of being His hands and feet.

I look at our collective body and I see what we can be. I see what we are when we are the best versions of ourselves. That image burns itself into my brain, and I know that I can’t walk away. I admit, I’m often entirely overwhelmed at the magnitude of our brokenness, and how far we have to go to make amends and have true peace. We’ve got a lot to work through; I know this is all so much bigger than me or anything I could ever hope to accomplish and that possibility of failure makes me wonder how I’ll ever begin to make a difference.

But like Jonah, even when I get on a boat in the opposite direction, I can’t escape this pull towards reconciliation, amends and redemption. No matter where I move to, what job I have, which church body I join, which political party I align with, which stance I take on this hot button issue or that one – I can’t shake that this is what I’m here for: To love God, and His people, fiercely. Asking questions that most people wouldn’t ask, finding myself in friendships I wouldn’t have otherwise started, having conversations that wiser people would avoid. Asking myself and those around me to look again, to do better, to be better and to bridge any gap in an effort to be the church we should be.

One More Time

I’m angry.

Like a burning in my bones, tell the world this is not acceptable, can’t believe it took me so long to realize how bad it is, angry.

And I’m suspended in this place where I am simultaneously watching people I love have their own light bulb moments about it all and watching people I love say and do intentional and thoughtless things that are hurting people.

I’m torn between wanting to march in there and rail and rage because continuing this behavior is not acceptable, and recognizing that before I let God and wise council open my eyes to that which I had become exceptionally good at not seeing, I was as bad, if not worse, as they are now.

I don’t think I’ve ever understood the Apostle Paul so well in my life. As one who followed religion to the angriest, most self-righteous stances, I hear these people I love saying these callous, hurtful, detestable things, and I am taken back to when similarly awful words found their way out of my mouth and were typed by my hands.

With that in the forefront of my mind, it channels the anger into something else. Something that keeps me up at night because I have been them, I have stood where they stand, I have hurled those words all without understanding the depths of my own unawareness. I know what it took to bring me to now, and while harsh truths were sometimes involved, it was the people who loved me and continued to show up, asking me to look at it all one more time, that made the biggest difference.

So this is me, unbelievably angry at the lengths to which we as a church and we as a nation will ignore a very real and very immediate problem. This is me, feeling very very humbled as I speak on these topics because I am forced to recognize that it is only by the grace of God, and patient friends, that I now feel differently. That I have a different understanding of the world around me. This is me, refusing to stop engaging (even when I want to go home and hide away from the conflict in it all) asking you to look at it all one more time.

Even if you are inclined to disagree with BLM and the daily experiences that our black brothers and sisters are insisting are still unequal, unjust and those that demand action. Even if you are inclined to believe that all these conversations do is stir up division. Even if you have heard from a handful of people of color that this is just regular life being blown out of proportion. Even then, please please please look at it all one more time.

Not with the purpose in the back of your mind of proving what you already know. Not with the determination that you will stick to your favorite news outlets, or listen only to people who think and act and look just like you. Be willing to research that which may even prove you wrong. If it doesn’t, and if you’ve looked objectively at both sides and come away still not agreeing with me or fully getting what we are so upset about, I’ll still be here. I’ll probably still start these kinds of conversations again, and face down the conflict that comes with them – but know that it is because I love you too much to refuse to engage.

Even if we never see eye to eye, these conversations around tables, in restaurants, in coffee shops, and in living rooms with mugs of coffee in hand are one of the only ways I know how to bring about unity and peace in our homes, our churches and our nations.

My hope, if all of this were happen in my perfect world, is that we would see the ways in which we have knowingly and unknowingly perpetuated injustice, and we would make amends. We would allow those who have been hurt by our actions to say what they need to, and work collectively towards healing the hurt and fighting against inequality. That we would choose to speak out against the actions and behaviors around us (and perhaps, in us) that are hurting other people; that we would choose to bravely navigate conversations that leave us unsure and inexperienced, in the name of voicing our support for those who have been mistreated.

But even if it doesn’t look like that. Even if we don’t ever reach that point – I am better, more compassionate and more aware of my own need for grace for having been here with you.

That likely won’t stop me from finding ways to express my feelings on it in situations where you are also present, or from praying hard that you find yourself in situations where you have to look at it again. I, even though the conflict avoid-er in me begs me to, can’t cut and run because I don’t agree with you, because I don’t think I can love like Jesus and avoid people whose opinions and actions frustrate me.

I’m angry, but I’m rooted right where I’m at: praying for you, friends. Praying for me, and for grace and wisdom to sink deeper than tradition or splashy headlines ever can. Praying that we trust Jesus into hard conversations, that we would trust him to speak out when we see injustice, that we have the grace and patience to let people ask us to make amends and do better moving forward, and that we refuse to stop engaging with people, even when we don’t agree with them.

{If you’d like to start looking again right now, this is a great resource that has links to a lot of other great resources that may be outside of what you would normally encounter. Happy reading, friends.}

Listen To Their Stories

I wonder if much of the yelling that happens – on social media, on soapboxes, in living rooms and across picket lines – happens because most of us have forgotten how to listen. I have no doubt that the majority of the ears in question are perfectly functional, and are capable of hearing plenty of things. But I’m not sure many of them are willing to listen without pretense when someone has something uncomfortable to say.

I know that it is too easy to let people go on and on about things that you aren’t very passionate about, choosing to pretend to listen and instead drift to your happy place. I do it often. When I feel someone is about to spew ignorance, whether it be red, blue or green, I often check out mentally while “Mhmm’ing” at the appropriate spots.

Perhaps worse than even this, I find myself profiling people in my life into two basic categories: people who I can have in depth and potentially controversial conversations with, and people I choose to avoid all controversy and hot button issues around because I worry about the fall out. While not a bad self-preservation technique, I think it drowns a lot of my chances for genuine conversation and unity in those around me, because I’m often afraid to even let things start when they could blow up in my face.

Unfortunately for self preservation, I don’t think that particular method honors God the way I want my life to. And so I keep finding myself in positions of being made uncomfortable because of the ways that I, and the society that has largely been constructive for me, have either thoughtlessly or knowingly hurt people. And if I’m being completely honest, part of me hates it. I want to remain blissfully ignorant, and focus on my career, my life, my worries and dreams. I want those things, but I don’t think I can want that more than I want to love like Jesus.

Jesus calls me out of ignorance, into the conviction and discomfort that comes from being made aware of the way I’ve been doing it wrong. He calls me to listen, to hear the frustration and pain of those who are around me, to not belittle their pain and their suffering. To stand in defense of the woman caught in acts that are damning, to honor the sacrifice of the prostitute as she washes His feet with her tears, to live and serve with those who are considered less than and unworthy of working with the Rabbi, to spend time with tax collectors and criminals, to go beyond the dictates of tradition to come to the aid of the sick, the marginalized, the cultural and religious pariahs, the diseased and the dying.

He calls me to humanize where I have been dehumanizing; to make it about the person and not about the generalization. The best way I know to do that is to listen. To not “mhmm” in just the right place while my mind drifts elsewhere, but to let go of my preconceived notions and let them tell their stories to someone willing to listen.

Stories like that of my friend Jordon, who grew up in a similar church background to me, but faced a completely different world. In a youth church culture full of jokes about all sorts of unkind things, and reducing the conversation of sexuality to a few oversimplified catch phrases, he faced the reality that he was gay. And that if these things the church body had been saying were true, God viewed him as an abomination for it. [If you want to start now, he writes a blog and he posted a spoken word video that is so so good!]

Stories like that of those who face systemic racism and the wrong end of privilege in this country every day. Stories of mothers who have to teach their sons not to wear hoodies after dark, and the exact order of things to say and who to ask to call if they are ever stopped by police. Stories of girlfriends, spouses, mothers, fathers and children of people who faced excessive force by those sworn to protect.

Stories like what Emily Doe (the Stanford rape victim) wrote and read in the courtroom to her attacker. Like the countless women (and men) who are denied justice they deserve because of a culture that perpetuates victim blaming and those in power denying the judgement that a jury of peers decided upon, in a misguided effort to spare a man who made a terrible decision the damage of the prison time he earned for his crimes.

Stories that are hard to listen to, hard to watch, and hard to follow because they don’t have a simple solution. I don’t have to agree with or even understand what fuels them, but I believe I am a better version of myself when I have heard them. For having listened with an open mind and with an awareness of the fact that the world I face and the world others face may not be the same, even if we are in the same zip code. For letting people around me be angry, outraged, devastated, and grief-stricken, without trying to simplify, explain it away or place blame. For giving people the space to bring me the uncomfortable truth that I may have aided in fostering that hurt and pain, and being willing to wrestle with the fact that I can see myself as a good person and still do harmful things.

For conveying, in perhaps the most effective way I am able, to these people that they are people. They are not the faceless masses that lie on the opposite side of the “us and them” line. They are not written off as those who are ignorant or overreacting or less-than. That they are human and are deserving of the right to tell their stories and frustrations regarding the way they have been treated. That they, just like me, are worthy of love and belonging.

So here goes: I want to listen. I want to hear stories that are full of pain, grief, heartache, joy and grace. I want to create space where people can be vulnerable and real and expose to me a different side of my own world that I’ve not seen before. I want to be the kind of friend that can grieve with you when you grieve, and rejoice with you when there are moments worthy of rejoicing.

I see you. I hear you. Please, when you are ready, share your stories.

A Divisive Beast: An Apology

 

I need to apologize. I feel like I have so much that is going to be put down on this keyboard in the coming weeks, but before I get to addressing specks for anyone else, I need to apologize for the beam I’ve been toting around.

 

I have, for many years, fed the divisive beast that has been lurking in the church. I recognized it in the world around me, and failed to see it in the reflection of my own life. Before I went to college, I railed with the best of them against those dang liberal Christians who wanted to say that grace covered everything and that we weren’t responsible for our own actions because grace was the get out of jail free card. How dare they misuse this precious, undeserved gift.

 

In college, I found myself frustrated at those darn baby boomers. They not only complained that those of us living on minimum wage were lazy, while we were balancing 150 things at once and were incredibly grateful any time it went up – but also were part of the reason that the economy was in shambles and that my tuition kept increasing to a point I wasn’t sure I could ever pay for this education I was trudging through. And then at those far left wing Christians who wanted to excuse everything, to those far right wing Christians who said that women shouldn’t preach in churches, or that we needed to eradicate Islam, or that if I died before asking forgiveness for my latest sins I would die separated permanently from the God I’d dedicated my life to.

 

Post college, it was the younger of my generation, and then more increasingly the conservative right one minute and the liberal left the next. I found reasons to be divisive, upset and frustrated because I had let the root of it all build a really expansive and really comfortable home in me. I let it create two categories in my heart and mind: an “us” for those people who agree with me and will not challenge me to think deeper or question why I believe what I do and a “them” for people who are ignorant, or frustrating, or (from my point of view) obviously completely wrong.

 

I am so sorry.

 

Jesus,

 

I am so so very sorry that I let differences in opinion and different interpretations of theology fuel a divided church. I am sorry that I chose to be self-righteous and angry over clinging to you. That I didn’t choose to die to the part of my flesh that wants to accept only that which fits in line with my ideology and ignore the rest. Forgive me please for ever putting anything above honoring you and loving the people you love – regardless of how much I agree with them. I chose to use “self-death” as a buzzword, one that proclaimed my own skill at this following Jesus thing we are doing here, rather than seeing it for what it really is: an invitation to get over myself. To love you, and the people you died for, more than my own desire to be right, or honored, or respected. To follow you into friendships and conversations that are rife with things that I don’t think I totally agree with, recognizing that they still love you and are loved by you – and that regardless of how I feel on that topic, your grace is sufficient for them too.

 

I want desperately to reclaim the church. To unite the many denominations that differ on one or two passages of scriptural interpretation, to focus on serving and loving you, even if that looks a little different for each of us. I want to have hard conversations so that we can have real relationship, both with you and each other. I want to foster a community that can respect those they disagree with. I want to be a part of a church that has the wisdom to say that much of what has been such a source of divide over the last 2000 years is largely the way we interpret scripture and grace, but that it doesn’t for a second overshadow the basis of the Gospel. I want to fight through the dysfunction and heartache, creating space for necessary apologies and amends that need to be made, so that true peace can reign. I want to have conversations that encourage confession and vulnerability, because I set my own defensiveness and righteousness aside in favor of letting people speak their hearts. I want to know that the peace we fight for is the kind that can handle truth speaking, messing up and forgiveness. I want to trust you enough to be firm in the knowledge that my liking or disliking of a political candidate, or the likelihood of their election of office, does not for a minute surprise you or hinder the work you are doing.

 

I want to have conversations with people I disagree with in your church. I want to have those conversations without the pretense of converting people to my thinking or me to theirs; I want to have these conversations that involve science and faith, both logic and emotion. I want to grow, learn and trust you more with each conversation, each topic, each stance that loses the battle between loving you and loving it. I want to still be able to recognize abuse and mistreatment and to call it out, even if those that I end up seeing it in are close to me. I want to have every single one of those conversations that involve any level of call-out be fueled by the fact that I love you and them more than I need to avoid confrontation. I want to leave those conversations still having been honest, kind and loving.

 

More than anything Lord, I want to honor you. I want to love like you love. I want to worship and learn with a body of people who want that too, regardless of whether or not we agree on hot button issues or political parties. I want our love for you and each other to be saturated with grace and forgiveness. I want us to use our unique callings and gifts to honor you, and to build a church that changes the divisive culture because we love you infinitely more than we disagree on anything.

 

Forgive me Abba, for the years I have spent choosing any soap box other than this one. For taking a stance that drew a line in the sand on anything other than loving you. I don’t regret feeling strongly about those things, but I am deeply grieved that I let anything speak louder to me than loving you and loving like you.

 

Make me new Lord. Continue to lead me out on this water, and remind me that you are the reason why I’m here.

 

You are the reason why they matter more than my collection of soapboxes and stances. You are the reason why I have no choice but to get over myself and dive headfirst into a selfless, unifying, unrealistic kind of love. You are also the grace that will bring me back when I undoubtedly fail at doing any of that well on the first or fiftieth try.

 

If it’s not your best, I don’t want it. Even if that means no one listens to me, or that I am surrounded with people I disagree with every minute of every day. Lead me into the hard conversations that foster growth in both of us, and shut my mouth when all that is gained is an inflated ego.

 

Let your will be done, in me and on earth, as it is in Heaven.

The stance I’ve wished I could shake

I’m pro choice.

I can’t shake the fact that I keep coming back to being pro choice, and staunchly so. I love Jesus, and I live in one of the most conservative bubbles of California in existence, so I am surrounded by people who also love Jesus but don’t see eye to eye with me on much beyond that. As one who craves harmony and situations that mean that the people I love agree with me and my choices, this has been a painful and often devastating road.

If you know me, you know that my love of babies and dream for a family have been strong and faithful to endure since I was 2 years old. I’ve wanted to be a mom my entire life, to the point that baby dolls, bunnies and random animals were my children and made up a very colorful family. I love kids. I worked with them throughout college and even got paid for it right out of college and while it was definitely difficult, it was the most fun job I’ve ever had. I had to have surgery in college and was warned that I may wake up and not be able to have kids. I had 3 weeks to emotionally prepare myself for the chance that I may never be able to be a mom the traditional way…and pretty quickly decided that God gave me a strong love for other peoples kids too, so if it came down to it, I would willingly adopt and foster in droves. And, thankfully, when I woke up and found that I still had all of the factory parts, the desire to adopt and foster didn’t go anywhere. I want a big family, full of kids from a variety of backgrounds and with a myriad of stories.

I was raised in an extremely conservative family, where abortion was pretty much the worst sin one could commit, and I always quietly wondered if it was one that grace could bring you back from (my understanding of grace has been notoriously poor).

I physically cannot wrap my mind around the concept of having an elective abortion. I’d like to think that I wouldn’t have one under any circumstance, though I recognize that I am so fortunate to not have had to experience any situations in my life that would cause me to question that stance.

I am not pro abortion. But I am most certainly pro choice. And that means that I have to fight for the rights of women to make choices differently than I might.

I want to be pro life, not just pro birth. I want to work wholeheartedly to make this country, this world, a better place to be a woman, man or child, of any color or race or income level. I want to make the foster care system such that it isn’t full of horror stories, full of rampant abuse and neglect. I want to create an environment that makes an unprepared and pregnant woman feel better about making the choice to carry her baby to term and give another family the blessing of raising it. I want to live in a world where abortions never happen because there is a system that benefits everyone involved in the adoption process – but I can’t want that at the expense of trying to take the choice away from the woman who finds herself in the position of growing a human she isn’t capable or willing to care for.

I want to be a part of a church that recognizes that these women who have had, have nearly had and will have abortions are still very much people with feelings and worth given to her by her creator. With a desire to be loved, valued and accepted, even in the face of things that are deemed by some as unforgivable. I want to be part of a church that recognizes that people on both sides of the aisle on this topic did not come to a decision lightly, and are those that willingly put the mission of reconciliation above their soapboxes. That even after having come up with different answers to the hard questions, we trust the Lord enough to let him make us a community of believers who love and respect each other, fighting together to love and live like Jesus.

 

First I Was Loved

Some days I feel like a really bad Christian. I’ve written before about a few of the ways that I have struggled to shed legalism, and how incredibly difficult it is to retrain your brain to not jump to measures of holiness and worthiness when trying to wrap your mind around the unfathomable gifts that are grace and salvation.

I try really hard to do what I should, and present myself in a way that is not only pleasing to the Lord, but pleasing to those I value and respect. Sometimes I’m so successful, and feel one hundred percent on top of my game. Sometimes, I absolutely suck at it.

I think it’s easy to want to give into the temptation of the idea that once I’m a Christian I don’t have actual struggles anymore, or at least none that I need to talk about. I had past struggles pre-salvation and while I have some things that Jesus is still doing, I won’t truly reveal those unless they benefit me and/or I’ve already fixed them, because otherwise I’d be airing “dirty laundry”. I hate that mentality. I think hate may not be a strong enough word…I loathe that mentality with every fiber of my being. I still struggle with things. Like fear, insecurity, doubt, exaggerating small details on things that genuinely don’t matter, having a sex drive that I’m unfortunately very aware of and wanting to be faithful to Jesus and my future husband by sticking a pin in all of it, picking up shame and fear of public opinion when I’ve spent so long trying to rid myself of it, self-shaming especially about my body, cussing sometimes- especially if I’ve been cut off in traffic, overspending and not always being responsible with my money, trying too hard to make everything work on my own when I know asking for help is better for everyone, taking too much pride in things I do well and looking for someone to blame when it’s things that I don’t.

I love Jesus. I have never loved anything in my whole world as much or as fully as I love Jesus.  I want to follow him into scary places, I want to trust him when things don’t make sense, I want to be intentional about worshipping him when I’ve done everything right and am feeling the spirit AND when I’ve screwed up royally and just want to hide, I want to bring everything to him with prayer and petition – and I’m so grateful for grace when it takes me 10x too long to actually do that.

I love Jesus, but I don’t think I will ever be little-perfect-Susie Christian. Not again. I wish I knew how to say the right thing, be gracious in every situation, not doubt myself, not make up stories about my interactions with people that involve angst, fear and doubt. I wish I knew how to fit into the ideal Christian mold…but honestly I don’t.

And when that mold becomes the standard by which I measure my value and worth, I’m never peaceful. I’m never enough. I never feel one with God, because I’m not using God to evaluate my life and my choices. I’m using standards that are inherently unattainable. Please don’t misunderstand, I want to be made uncomfortable by the things that God and the Word show me aren’t Christlike. I want to struggle in that space, and surrender the parts that don’t live and love like Jesus. My faith would become stagnant and die if I didn’t. But I don’t think I can come to that place with a checklist of things I have to cut out of myself to be able to be worthy to be loved, valued and used by God.

I’m already worthy to be loved, valued and used by God. Even when I fail. Even when I drop the ball, or someone else doesn’t agree with me, or someone I value doesn’t have the same opinions on things that I do, or I cuss in traffic, or I eat dessert when I know I’m not still hungry, or I skip doing yoga in favor of watching something pointless on Netflix, or when I immediately start criticizing my appearance before I remember to sit in truth, or when Jesus asks me to believe things that are scary, or when I’m called to things that seem a million times too big for me, or when I’m laying in bed weeping because some days I can’t imagine having to get up and do it all over again. In my success, in my failure, in my murky in-betweens. In all of it, I am still worthy. Still so loved.

And I think it is only from that place, from knowing that Romans 8 applies to me: that nothing in all of creation can separate me from the Love of God that is in Christ Jesus, only in that place can I actually begin to love and live like Jesus. It’s not shame or fear that motivates me then, it’s the knowledge that at my very best and my very worst, I am seen so intimately by the one who spoke life into being, and nothing I do or the world can throw at me will separate me from His love. That He sees me and speaks life and worth into the depths of my brokenness, that He lovingly guides me out of my own sin and hurt, that He doesn’t abandon me when I fall down or give up on me when I want to quit because healing and chain-breaking can be really hard. That because I first was so loved, I can love. Not because first I was righteous, or first I was holy. Because first I was loved.

That’s where I have to come back to.  Where I find rest. That’s what makes this walk with Jesus undeniably and unbelievably worth it. Not the ticket to heaven at the end, not the miracles I see, the favor and blessings I receive, stories I get to tell or people I get to meet. That exactly who and where I am, I am utterly, ridiculously and completely loved. No strings, no fine print, no clauses. And because I am utterly, ridiculously and completely loved, I have a tangible and insistent need to see other people realize that they are too.

That you are too. Utterly, ridiculously, illogically, completely and totally loved. No strings. Just love that doesn’t make any sense, can’t be earned, can’t be exhausted and has no end. Love that heals the broken places and that makes all things new. Love that changes everything.