Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Sunday, April 25, 2010
It’s past 10 pm, and a group of about twelve girls from church have finally arrived, with some herding skillfulness, at Mama’s Mexican Kitchen in Belltown. Sushi bistros that were much too tiny to accomodate a group our size, several pizza joints, and an overpriced tapas bar were bypassed after my persuasive vote for the cheaper Mexican diner finally won the group over. Plus, I was at the head of the herd and I knew how to navigate the distance from our church at 1st and Clay to the restaurant at 2nd and Bell. Mad skills, I’m telling you. We settled down at two adjacent tables in one of the many eclectic rooms at Mama’s, and the group relaxed into the laid back energy of the Belltown joint.
At my table sat five other girls (I call us girls because I just can’t bring myself to call us women; it sounds way too adult for my taste). I hadn’t known any of them longer than a day, but I liked them already. Now, if you’re ever wondering what a small group of unmarried girls who love Jesus and who generally lean more toward a conservative bent (though I admittedly hate labels) talk about in the latter hours of the night, over chips and salsa, when no eligible bachelors are around, I’ll let you in on a little secret. It starts with a B and ends with O-Y-S. I haven’t had one of these conversations for awhile, seeing as most of my friends are married, so I just went with the flow, observing the youthful sparkles in the eyes of my new friends as they talked about their hopes and dreams for the future, about what they want in life, or specifically, in a man.
One of the girls threw this question on the table with a soft giggle: “Ok, so what is the most attractive thing in a guy?”
This elicited a playful, collective sigh and then a groan. “Just one thing? That’s way too hard,” we protested.
“Just choose one,” the girl who initiated this cajoled back at us.
Round robin, we circled the table awaiting everyone’s reply. One of the girls described a guy who is a true gentleman, the kind you can tell by the way he not only treats you but other women, that he is genuine and respectful. The next girl said she wanted the same thing. That he knows how to treat a woman. Heads bobbed in emphatic agreement. Another girl described a guy who is sensitive, more heads bobbing. And another, a man who really fears God, because she said, a man who fears God will treat you well. I saw a theme emerging here.
When it came to my turn, the group fell silent, waiting to hear my answer. I didn’t exactly know what to say, having long since thrown out my “list” of things I wanted in exchange for this sense that I would know what I wanted and needed when I met him. So I talked about the first thing that came to my mind, how I wanted a guy I found interesting and exciting, a guy who wants to live the kind of life I want to live, not the status quo. I think I started rambling at this point. “I don’t meet a lot of guys who capture my interest,” I admitted. “When I hear what they want in life, I often become bored. It’s just like everyone else. And not that it’s bad, but I guess it’s just not what I want. I want to live this life with God on the edge, ready to go anywhere, do anything, not just live comfortably. Maybe I just don’t meet those guys very often.” From here the conversation turned toward the importance of guys who have “a plan” in life and are actually doing something to move toward that plan. At this point my mind trailed off someplace else. Perhaps because I no longer see myself as a person with a “five year plan,” so I can’t really relate. But perhaps because I wasn’t really feeling the conversation to begin with.
My mind trailed off to the message I’d heard that night at church, the one about how those of us who are part of God’s family shouldn’t be uncomfortable entering into anyone else’s world, no matter how different it is from ours. That’s what Jesus modeled for us. It was a good message, but what I was thinking about during the whole talk was my new friend who was seated beside me at church. A few weeks ago, I met Joey, with the pink and yellow and blue hair, the long extensions, the fake eyelashes, the makeup and the sparkly decals on his face. He’s been coming to our church longer than I have, but he said no one really knows him and he doesn’t really know them either. I've been trying to get to know him. Throughout the message, I was troubled, wondering who has really tried to enter into Joey’s world. I’d like to, I’m really curious to hear his story, to listen to him and know who he is and walk beside him as he’s figuring out this stuff with Jesus; however, wisdom tells me a young woman friend isn’t what this lonely, 50-something, former drag queen needs.
So as we’re sitting at the table talking about boys, I’m thinking about Joey and about how I long for Christian community to be something more than going out to eat after church or hanging out at someone’s house. I love these things, don’t get me wrong - they’re wonderful aspects of community. But they’re not everything. They don’t include people like Joey. And I think if Jesus were hanging out with us, He’d put His arm around Joey and walk with him down the street to the restaurant, sitting beside him at the table and asking him about his life. Or maybe just being in Jesus’ presence, having this unfamiliar sense of being utterly known without having to say a word, would just be enough, like it was for that Samaritan woman who encountered Jesus at the well. Either way I know that, while God’s family (as in the Church) has so many beautiful attributes, we are still very much a work-in-progress until we act and think and love like Jesus. I have no desire to criticize the Church - since I, too, am a living, breathing, imperfect member of it - but I long for the day when I, when we, are living and moving about with the fullness of Christ’s heart pounding in our chests.
So maybe that is my true answer, that is what’s most attractive to me in a man. Someone who, when I observe his life, I see the passionate heart of Christ beating in him as he loves on people. Not in perfection, but in ever-changing growth. I hope that is what he would see in me, too. But the honest to God truth is, I’d rather not talk about it around a dinner table; I’d much rather live it.
Saturday, April 24, 2010
When I was sixteen, I could have sworn I’d be married by twenty one. It’s the perfect age, my friends and I agreed. A mature age. But when I reached that perfect age and the very real possibility of marriage was staring me in the face, something in me freaked. I bolted, leaving the poor guy heartbroken and confused. I’m sure he’s thanked me quietly again and again, however, since he’s now happily married with two kids. Life has a way of working out for the good in the area of love, if we’re willing to wait and navigate the obstacle course. At least I tell myself that, since I’m still in the process of navigation.
I was really particular about the next two guys who came along. And they came along with years separating their season in my life. Very driven, ambitious, intelligent and disciplined guys. I admired them, but it took them awhile to win my heart. I know this will sound arrogant, but I convinced myself it was in my best interest to be with someone like myself, so after some time, I fancied myself in love with them. Perhaps I was mostly in love with myself. It’s possible they, too, were in love with themselves because they both ended up choosing themselves over me. Each guy broke my heart, my first bitter tastes of heartbeak. I grew a lot from this. I learned a great deal about love and myself and the love of God. But I also grew disillusioned with love. I threw myself into my passions and pursuits in life, becoming more and more picky about the “type” of guy I needed and more and more convinced he didn’t actually exist.
Another several years went by, and time stopped, then started over. Experiencing the death of a loved one will do that, or so I’ve found. When my Papa died, it was like starting the calendar back at 1 AD, and time now proceeds from this new point of reference. That is how much his death rocked my world: turned it completely upside down, inside out, and then blew it up for good measure, starting over from square one. At this same time, a new love entered my life. He offered me strength and comfort, joy in the midst of grief, acceptance and companionship, and something to look forward to in the future. I fell deeply in love with him as he walked with me through the darkest time of my life. Strangely, he was nothing like the other guys I’d fallen for. He was almost nothing like me, except we shared a similar goofiness and childlikeness to life. Unlike the others, he did not share my particular (and at the time, former) passions in life, though we shared a love for God. At first this was a major source of tension in me. But over time, I surrendered to the longing to love and be loved, and I laid those passions to rest, beside my Papa. I was a new person, I assured him. He needn’t be intimidated by the kind of life I used to want to live and how he didn’t fit into that life. I would be happy enough in the suburbs with a nice house and a nice car and several kids and a couple of dogs. I would be happy with a nice marriage and a nice ministry together at church. As long as we could travel, just a little. And as long as I wasn’t bound to the house forever in the role of wife and mom, but was free to pursue whatever God laid on my heart. And so, over time, we came to a sort of agreement that we could see ourselves doing life together. I was utterly convinced this is what I wanted; after all, I really loved this guy.
In the year 2 AD, however, things began to quake underneath the surface of our relationship. I can’t speak for what was beneath his heart, only mine. I couldn’t see it at the time, all I could see is that something else I loved - someone else - was about to erupt and possibly die, and I was scared of the potential loss. I thought I was happy, that this eruption came out of the blue and threatened the life of love I had found. I hated this eruption for happening. What I couldn’t see is that the things I thought I’d laid to rest back in 1 AD when Papa died, well, they were beginning to fight back. Quietly at first, but then with a dogged persistence. Apparently they didn’t think it was their time to die. Apparently, I still wanted more in life than I thought.
It’s taken me several months to convince my heart that this eruption, this loss, is a good thing. When you love someone, really love them for them, whether or not it’s the “best” fit for you, it can be a long, painful process of evicting that love from your heart. There is no switch for turning love on and off, not real love. But over time, I’ve found that as the romantic love has left the building, there’s been room in my heart for a different kind of love. I still care for this man, but the love has changed. My heart used to resist this, but now it breathes a sigh of relief. It’s free, and that feels nice. Real nice.
In the wake of this eruption, as the dust settles, I’ve been able to see a few things more clearly, too. I can see that I was willing to exchange parts of me that seemed inconvenient to love - the Unknowns of life that I embraced, the adventurous, artistic, not-fitting-the-mold types of things - for the comfort and security of the Known. I began to believe that this exchange was necessary, that I had to choose between the comfort of love and the fulfillment of a life lived in the ways God designed me to express it. It’s pretty sobering now to look back and see how fatal a mistake that could have been. Fatal, that is, to my heart; and therefore, fatal to the relationship. God was doing us both a favor, I just needed the dust to settle before my eyes adjusted to the change. In the meantime, I’ve learned an awful lot about the unfailing love of Jesus, of my identity as His beloved. You could say I’ve fallen so much more in love with Him since this big messy eruption, and I wouldn’t trade the mess for anything in the world. I don’t know what that means for the future, if I’ll have a love to do life with or not. But I’m learning, day by day, to embrace life and to live it where I’m at. To tread lightly in each day, hold delicately the moments, give fully of myself, and love deeply the ones who are in my life now.
Yeah, I look back and the twenty-one marker hangs back far in the distance. And it’s a strange sensation, being this far in life, how quickly it’s passed and how vastly different it is from how I pictured it to be years ago. I think of how much I’ve experienced, how much I’ve grown into my own skin as a person, as a woman. And I’m thankful, deeply thankful, that I’m not alone in navigating this obstacle course of life. My heart is grateful to have had this time, up to this point, to know Jesus more deeply each year, and in that reflection of Him, to know myself. I am better for it.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Sunday, April 18, 2010
Thursday, April 15, 2010
I was reading today in the sunshine, overlooking the water and the mountains, enjoying what felt like an afternoon out with Jesus. In the book I’m reading, Searching for God knows what, by Donald Miller, I came across these words, which Don paraphrased as being part of the message of Jesus: “Follow Me,” He said. “I have no opinion about what color the paints should be in this prison. Follow Me.” These words stopped me, and I just sat there, chewing on this picture as a cow chews on cud, wanting to digest it. I found myself thinking about all the colors that have been on my paintbrush throughout my life and how they’ve changed and how, regardless of the color, it’s all just murals painted on the walls of a prison. Let me explain.
I feel that, when people ask me “What do you do?” it’s their way of asking, “What color is on your paintbrush?” For years, I dipped my paintbrush in the colors of refugees and Africa, the poor and oppressed, social justice and counseling. Now don’t get me wrong, I have a passion, to some degree, for all these people and ideas and principles. But I painted with a desperation fueled by a need for redemption. I needed something to paint that redeemed my time, that gave meaning to my life, something that expressed to the world, “I am doing something with my life, and therefore, I am valuable.” As if the culture, or the world, were my court of peers, approving of my life or casting their vote of disapproval. I know it sounds like it was something blatant, but it was actually quite subtle, and I would have denied (and did deny) for a long time that this was actually in play. So you see, it was not these things themselves that were amiss - such as caring for justice for the oppressed - but the way they were strangely twisted into a form of validation in my life.
I used to get a lot of satisfaction from telling people who asked what I wanted to do in life, what I was studying and what I cared about. I felt like it was a little advertisement for myself, something that would either capture their interest or not. Since losing my dad and being employed in a job that is largely viewed as a setback for me or a last resort or a detour from my career path, I have on more than one occasion written about how strange and at times frustrating it is to find a new kind of language for authentically communicating with people who I am and what I’m about. To separate myself from my old vocabulary has been very difficult, especially in a culture that places so much value on what people do for a living. And when you have an "advanced degree,” you are seen as a sort of peculiar person, or a person lacking direction or ambition, if you are not pursuing a career path in your field of study. You will receive some sympathy if you have fallen on some hard times, financially or personally, things outside your control. But at some point, that sympathy turns to something else, perhaps even a form of judgment. Why don’t you get off your duff and do something worthwhile with your life, stop wasting your talents?
The realization I’ve come to, however, is that, while I do desire my life to be lived fully and meaningfully, I'm really not as picky about the color on my paintbrush. It’s true, this life, this world, is like one big prison groaning for redemption. The Bible talks about this in its story, woven throughout the entire narrative. Yet this prison is not one without hope, but with the promise of a loving Creator and Savior Who has and will redeem it. And we can paint it a bunch of beautiful colors, but until it is fully redeemed, it will still remain a beautifully painted prison. So rather than obsessing about the color on my paintbrush, I’d rather obsess about Jesus, the One who left His kingdom and gave up His throne to come live within our prison walls, to set us free so we can know Him and love Him and experience life again in unbroken relationship with Him. If I’m painting a mural on any wall, I want it to be love. I want it to be expressive of the beauty of Jesus. I want it to stir in people a longing to fall in love with this Jesus.
I can’t adequately put into words what I’m about by simply answering what I do for work or how I want to use (or not use) my degree. I’m thankful for my education, and I don’t take that lightly. But whether or not I ever pursue a career of it no longer ranks very high on my list of priorities. I feel less “lost” now, not knowing what I want to do for a career, than I did when I thought I had a clear direction, a clear passion and sense of calling. I guess a better way of putting it is that I don’t feel that sense of desperation to prove my worth in life - to God or others or myself. I feel quite content and fulfilled in loving the people I am with at my job. I am far from perfect at this, at loving people. But if I could be good at anything, that’s what I’d want to be good at. For in loving people, I want them to see Jesus. Not the American version of Jesus, or the evangelical version of Jesus, or the religious Right version of Jesus, or the liberal version of Jesus, or the privileged White version of Jesus, but the real Jesus. And to be frank, I guess I’m still finding out who that is, because He’s so much more than (and in some regards, so very different from) who He’s been painted as in our world and who I’ve thought Him to be. This Jesus that I love, He’s just too good to keep to myself, and to do so would not be very loving of me.
All that to say, I don’t know what color is on my paintbrush. But the One who supplies the paint, He’s much more interesting than whatever it is I’m painting. I’d take a look at Him, because you might not be able to tear your eyes away once you really catch sight of Him. I just want to follow Him.
Sunday, April 11, 2010
Saturday, April 10, 2010
Thursday, April 8, 2010
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Monday, April 5, 2010
A guy saw me reading my bible at work today on my lunch break, as I sat on the floor in a quiet corner of the lobby. “Reading anything good?” he called out. I looked up, “Sure am. My bible.” He looked a little surprised, then laughed good naturedly, “Oh, I always get zapped every time I try to read that thing. It’s like God’s trying to get me back, or something.” I chuckled along with him, but before I could respond, he was onto his next thought. “You know, though, the best kind of ‘book’ I’ve read for that sort of thing - or, well, should I say, spiritual stuff, ‘cuz I’m a spiritual person - is Buddhism. But, you know, they all seem to be pretty much the same thing. All about respect and harmony and doing good. Well, except for Islam... they seem to be stuck in - you know, back in the time when Moses, I think it was him, and the Israelites were going to battle and doing all that killing - yeah, stuck in that.” He continued on with his thoughts on women and Islam, but as quickly as he entered my lunch time, he was on his way out the door. “Well, nice talking with you. God bless you!” And he disappeared outside, to smoke with his buddies.
I looked out the door for awhile, processing our little exchange. Then I looked down at my bible, where I was reading in the book of Romans...
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?...Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?... Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:31-32, 35, 37-39).
And I thought of that guy, whose name I don’t know, and I prayed for him. A nice fellow, I thought. Not unlike many of the nice people I often meet in Seattle who are seeking to know truth. People who probably want little to do with “organized religion,” but are quick to classify themselves as “spiritual.” People who are hungry for God, yet are searching in many different places for that fulfillment. Similar to what Paul is talking about in Romans when he says of Israel, "For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God" (10:2-3). I think many people, to varying degrees, agree with the fellow’s (on my lunch break) rudimentary theology - that all these religions and spiritual movements are, in essence, the same. Just different branches of the same tree. Different tributaries of the same river. You get my drift. I’ve heard many people voice their belief that the “God” worshipped in all the major world faiths is the same, just packaged differently. After all, they say, isn’t it all about the Golden Rule? Isn’t it about doing good to each other, about peace, love, and faith? Why does one have to be right and the others wrong?
Those are good questions, fair points - if you don’t know have a knowledge of Jesus. Last time I checked, Jesus didn’t come preaching zen-like meditation, self-actualization, enlightenment, do-goodism, peace and hand-holding, kumbaya-singing harmony. He didn’t come proclaiming, “I and the Father - oh, wait... and Mohammed, and Buddha, and Joseph Smith, and the Pope, and all the yogis, and the great scientists and philosophers of the ages, and nature, and your inner self, and all the collective good intentions of humanity, and all created things - are One and the same.” Nope, Jesus claimed He was God, that He and the Father are One. Either He was crazy (delusional), He lied (He’s not really God), or He was right (He alone is God). But He cannot be all of the above. Following Christ cannot be boiled down to merely having respect for humanity and creation and being responsible, socially active and conscientious people during our sojourn on this earth. We don’t achieve salvation (or “actualization” or “enlightenment”) through good karma, good works, good religious rituals, or the Golden Rule. In fact, no other religion or faith offers a Savior as the solution to the problem of a fallen, broken humanity. Salvation either depends on what we do or who we are - not on the radical love, mercy and grace of a sovereign God. Only in Jesus do we find life handed to us as a gift, not something we have to work for.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. Following Jesus is not smooth sailing. It costs something, mainly the death of Self. But the truth is, that’s not even the best way of putting it. Because the more you come to know, to really experience, who Jesus is - and the more you fall in love with Him - the less you view this life of following Him as a “cost.” Following Jesus...it’s a reward, a privilege, and a mystery. A deep and lasting joy. An unending source of power and wisdom (not found within self, but within Christ, whose Spirit now abides in us). A comfort beyond all comforts. A rock of unyielding, impenetrable strength. An adventurous path. A life of purpose beyond ourselves. A well that never runs dry. An experience of pure, unadulterated, unfailing and unconditional love. Complete liberation. Healing. Forgiveness. Transformation. It’s challenging, yes. The experience of faith can be like walking with your eyes closed off a steep cliff. But a sacrifice? That it is not.
I just hate to see Jesus reduced to some moral principles, religious or cultural buzz words. He’s so much more than that. Did Jesus come to bring peace on earth - was that His goal? Um, I suppose in a roundabout way. But before peace comes a lot of other non-peaceful things (I believe He mentions bringing “a sword” instead of peace to the earth - Matthew 10:34). Did He come to bring justice and mercy, relief for the poor and oppressed? Yeah, He did - praise God for that. But that wasn’t His main objective. He came to restore us to relationship with God. And to think that we can somehow achieve these things without Him, that we can come together as humanity with our best moral/political/social efforts and right what is wrong in the world, simply by trying harder, educating more, legislating more, warring more or warring less, meditating more, protesting more, creating more... that is foolishness. It’s arrogance. Jesus did not come simply to offer us a ticket to life in some far off future, nor did He come simply to allow us to live good lives here on earth and follow His example to the best of our abilities, with no guarantee of a future with Him.
What does this have to do with the passage I was reading in Romans, you might be asking. Well... not directly (as in verse by verse) much, but mainly this: for any who argue that following Christ is the same as any other religion or faith, I have one question. In what other religion, faith or spirituality does “God”, driven solely by a relentless love, offer himself (or herself) to human beings entirely without condition - withholding nothing good, not even his (her) own life - for the purpose of redemption, salvation, liberation, complete transformation, and relationship? I know of no other God like this, no other but Jesus. He’s no synonym. He’s not a metaphor or a symbol for All that is Good. He’s not a means to an end. He’s a divine Person, the very essence of God Himself, and He desires intimate relationship with all of His creation. For we are tattooed upon His heart, upon His hands, and He wishes that all would know Him as the One, true God and Savior.
For this God, I eagerly devote all my love and passion. And how could I not? He really is irresistible once you get to know Him. I dare you to try, for when you do take a step - even a tentative, doubtful one - toward Him, you'll find He's already running toward you with open arms.
For "whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved..." (Romans 10:13).
I'll close with these thoughts from a book I'm reading, Blue like jazz:
The ability to accept God's unconditional grace and ferocious love is all the fuel we need to obey Him in return. Accepting God's kindness and free love is something the devil does not want us to do. If we hear, in our inner ear, a voice saying we are failures, we are losers, we will never amount to anything, this is the voice of Satan trying to convince the bride that the groom does not love her. This is not the voice of God. God woos us with kindness, He changes our character with the passion of His love.