29 March 2006

Thoughts on God's love

In my Lenten journey this year of disciplining myself to stay away from all that would interpose the opinions of men between me and the God I seem to compulsively fear instead of trust, I've been encouraged and supported along the way by others who are also being led along the same line of reflection. Rick at new life emerging has written some beautiful posts which are right in line with what I'm learning during this forty days. Here's a sample:
How many people who have been abused are convinced that they caused it or deserved it? It is extremely difficult to reverse those imbedded beliefs. The same is true with toxic religious beliefs. God lifts the hand of Love and some flinch in fear; it's a conditioned response.

I think too much of religion is based on the premise that we are bad sinners who deserve to be punished. It further scars our God-given identity. That is sin. We were created in the image of divine love and this love continually reaches toward us but our self-hatred continues to push away at love for we think we don't deserve that love.

It’s not Divine punishment that defeats the toxicity of sin; it’s Divine love that overcomes the damages of sin and brings new life. Huge difference. I think much of the talk in certain church circles about grace stems from a form of religion that has convinced folks that they are bad but God is good. No wonder many people in the church act like abused animals starved for affection—they have been.

The hand of Love that formed you is the hand that continues to reach out to you, not to slap you but to hold you. Rest in that Love. Trust. You are loved. Do not be afraid.

Read the whole thing.

24 March 2006

Gee. What a surprise.

You Should Be a Romance Novelist

You see the world as it should be, and this goes double for all matters of the heart.
You can find the romance in any situation, and you would make a talented romance story writer...
And while you may be a traditional romantic, you're just as likely to be drawn to quirky or dark love stories.
As long as it deals with infatuation, heartbreak, and soulmates - you could write it.

19 March 2006

A fellow traveler

Joe at the Canterbury Trail blog has written a post entitled Sin? which I found helpful, and an echo of the leadings I've experienced so far this Lent.
We talk a lot about sin in the Church, but do we really know what it is? In the Western Church, we have usually looked at sin as any willful lack of conformity to the revealed will of God. This approach, coupled with atonement theology, often leaves us with very legalistic view of sin, and IMHO makes God out to be judge first and Father second.

This has always rubbed me the wrong way, because I just can'’t seem to find this approach in the life and ministry of Jesus. Jesus knew, and I think that it is fair to say, loved the law (in so far as it was an instrument to reach the Father), but he often blatantly broke it and not just the human laws of the Pharisees, but portions of the Law of Moses as well...

Read it all.

Lenten discipline: joy and confidence

As I mentioned in my previous post, I'm a person who likes rules, predictability, and structure in worship. Well, let's put it this way: if you say you're about this and that set of worship rules, then follow them. I get very nervous when, for hundreds of years, the rule has been, "do it this way," and then all of a sudden, we're not any more, and there's no reason except we felt like it.

And yet ...

The problem with rules and a personality like mine is that the anxiety of them tends to wear me down and rob me of joy. I get worried and fretful. I read what other people have written, trying to suss out what's right from the myriad interpretations. I start doing my own clumsy, amateurish research.

What I end up with is feeling very down about myself. I can never be good enough. I can never surrender enough.

That leads me, fortunately, to God, begging Him for forgiveness and knowing He can make up my deficit. But I'm still sad. And it doesn't help when the advisors (of various stripes) say, condescendingly, "we must have joy in our hearts, so celebrate! ...but do it carefully."

That's why the fruits of my fast have been so really astonishing to me over the past couple of weeks. I use A Guide to Prayer from the Upper Room, both the "blue" edition (for ministers) and the "red" (for all God's people). I tend not to study during the week, but do the whole week's study in a gulp on Saturday and/or Sunday. It just seems to work better for me that way.

One of the readings one week was from Psalm 116, 1-2. In the NJB, it reads, "I am filled with love when Yahweh listens to the sound of my prayer, when he bends down to hear me, as I call."

I was struck by the thought that could mean "I am filled with love for Yahweh" - or it could mean - "I am filled with love -- from him loving me."

I rather like the second idea: that, when God listens to the sound of my prayer, I am filled with love. My life is filled with love.

Then a reading from James 2: "Talk and behave like people who are going to be judged by the law of freedom. Whoever acts without mercy will be judged without mercy but mercy can afford to laugh at judgement."

I highlighted that in my journal. It struck me because I've had to make some hard decisions over the last few years. I've had to separate myself from individuals who said they loved me, but who drained my spirit even after I communicated clearly what I needed from them... things appropriate to their role in my life. In making those sometimes terribly difficult choices, I've prayed and acted in the most fair and generous way I could. That has meant monetary hardship for me and, sometimes, humiliation. I felt at peace about it, but that verse from St. James was such a comfort. Even though there are those whose understanding of scripture tells them that what I did was wrong, God knows, and it is to God I will answer. For me, that's a rather brave stance.

When I was very young, and new in the church, my whole goal was to follow the rules carefully so as not to have regrets when I got older. This applied to everything in my life. When it came to dating, this meant being very careful to dress modestly, not tease the boy, etc. From my grandmother and mother, I learned that it was wrong to be forward - to bring up marriage, for instance. I held to these precepts even when my young man - a dear friend from high school, whom I really, truly loved - told me that he loved me, and I felt a huge need to respond to that and to follow up with something like, "can we please be married?" I couldn't breathe. I couldn't speak. I couldn't do anything in that moment, because all my energy was on not saying those words. That night, as we said good night, I felt so sad. I knew the moment had been lost. I tried to comfort myself that it would come again... he'd ask me later. He didn't. As it turned out, he wasn't thinking about that at all, being young and clueless himself. And my chaste behavior, which he always honored out of love for me, left him vulnerable to a direct attack by a determined young woman to whom I couldn't avoid introducing him. He was gone in weeks. The day he told me he was leaving to go with her, we held each other and sobbed.

Obviously there were more factors than I'm disclosing or can possibly accurately convey. Our parents and their issues, which kept them from inquiring too deeply into what was going on so they could advise us. The young woman's incipient mental problems. His Cleaver-esque upbringing which left him completely unprepared for her tactics. My long experience with my bipolar mother, which let me see the train wreck happening from afar off, helpless to stop it.

I was left with the certain knowledge that, if I had spoken what I was impelled to speak that night, I might not have lost him. Losing him was one of the worst things that could ever have happened to me. The well-meaning rule-makers had inadvertently caused me to let go of my very life. I had bought into their dogma, and, ironically, the very rules I depended on to preserve me from regret left me to deal with it years and years later, after a lifetime of refusing to acknowledge I even felt any. After all, I'd followed the rules, hadn't I?

But I hadn't trusted God, or myself, or him.

In the Daily Guide, there was a quote from James C. Fenhagen's Invitation to Holiness in which he reflects on the many passages in the Psalms and elsewhere where the authors speak of their love for the law of the Lord and their delight in meditating on it. Fenhagen writes,
"Our concern is not to have presented to us a blueprint for life that will allow us to avoid risk, but rather a vision of integrity from which decisions are made and life is lived. Similarly, our concern for the Law and the prophetic insight into the power of evil as it operates in the world is not to win God's acceptance by so-called right behavior, but to know within ourselves the desperate need we have for the Grace offered to us in Jesus Christ."
That quote arrested my thought and led to the vivid teenage memory I related above. I still need to learn that lesson now, as a mature adult.

But God goes with me ...

This Lent, so far

Even before the ... episode ... chronicled below, God had been steering my heart this Lent into a different sort of practice.

1. I am being led to know joy.

Now, this sounds very non-Lent to me. Lent is about sacrifice. Suffering. Uniting with Jesus on the Way of the Cross, etc.

But, in my meditation and prayer, God brought it home to me that Lent is about turning towards Him, and listening, and discipline. And the root of all healthy discipline is accepting God's love, and obeying His will.

I am one of those whose walk with Christ was originally joyous, but who, in recent years, has been sad and downcast. That has led to my second understanding about this Lent - the fast I am to observe.

I'm a person who (obviously) likes predictability and structure in worship. Furthermore, I tended to use a lot of commentaries and annotated Bibles.

2. God's leading this Lent was: let it go. Leave it behind.

I just very clearly knew that I was to set aside all the commentaries and words by people - however well-meaning or educated - and let God speak to me directly from the Word.

There will be those who would read that and react with fear. I certainly have a part of me which does. After all, who am I, a mere mortal, to understand what God says? What about all the layers of meaning? The textual criticism? The ...

Jesus didn't do that.

He sat down, and he preached. The people were saved.

The call has seemed very clear: I am to fast, this Lent, from the explanations, and feed directly on the Word of God.

This hasn't been easy. I've clung to my study Bibles and commentaries and other books. They've gotten me through tough times. But, for this forty days of Lent, I need to put them aside.

I have been obedient. I have used only Bibles with cross-references. The most commentary I will use is that in the New Jerusalem Bible, which is less application-based and more textual.

And God has taught me.

May His Name be praised.

08 March 2006

That's it. I'm done.

This outrage is the last straw.

If Bishop Brown does not want those people, he certainly does not want me. He is a bishop, and speaks for the Church; therefore the Church does not want me, either, because I am very like those poor rebuffed sheep.

"Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers." - John 10:4

I've done this before ... gotten lulled into a sense of "gee, maybe this time" ... and always gotten the door slammed in my face. I need to quit crawling back for more abuse, and go where my soul is fed and my conscience is at peace. My Lenten reflections have been leading me back to my Christian roots, anyway. I shall post about that when I can steal a bit of time from a delightful turn of events in my personal life. More later. ;)