Rabbit trails and winding paths…

I think this post should just be called “Random Stream of Consciousness”. All the thoughts flowing through my mind today spilled into my journal. I thought I’d share a sampling, just to give you some insight into the person behind the blog.

When I was in seminary, blogging was a relatively new phenomenon. I loved it; it helped me flesh out all the ideas and concepts I was learning prior to committing them to paper for a grade. My first “digital journal” if you will. Blogging then was much different than blogging now, but I still feel the need to wade into the blogosphere waters. It seems that in my pursuit of seeking understanding, I have lost my way as I try to get myself out of this theological sludge that presently surrounds me. I am tired of living for other people, but I feel trapped in this pattern. What do I do?

This is what I do: I begin to redefine what it means to follow Jesus, incorporating what I have learned, and letting go of things I cling to that I know are not correct. And it is time to own my faith, for better or worse, instead of looking to everyone else in the theological universe to tell me what to believe. The balance is delicate because I am not advocating closing myself off from all voices of influence and wisdom. What I am saying is that those voices of wisdom can come from different corners of the Christian world, and I need not be so dogmatic about it all.

Example from my political life: Although I tend to lean left, I am not a hardcore liberal. In terms of public policy and the definition of government protection of its citizens, I am what would be considered liberal. Protection in this view would be more than just military might, but also programs that provide safety nets for the least and most vulnerable. I find it ironic that organizations that scream the loudest that we need to reclaim our “Christian heritage”, poo-poo such liberal ideas – ideas that Jesus Himself spoke about when talking about separating the sheep and the goats. But, I digress…

Where I depart from liberal ideas are the social issues of marriage and family. In those areas, I am a conservative. I have tried to twist the Bible into a pretzel to justify SSA and marriage and I just can’t. I also cannot countenance the myriad justifications for abortion. None of them hold water for me.

However…I am not a social crusader for either of these issues. What I mean is, I cannot jump on the conservative bandwagon of trying to legislate homosexuality or abortion away. Quite frankly, I don’t think it can be done. More importantly, I don’t think that is what Jesus meant when He commissioned us to go and make disciples. To the contrary, I believe that this combative stance that is constantly railing about what we’re against undermines our true purpose as followers of Jesus, which is to show Christ’s love as He draws people to Himself. This is not a capitulation to the world’s ideas and ideals; it is a bit a realism that laws can only go so far. I am fully convinced that our mission as believers will necessarily clash with the society in which we live. We seek the welfare of that land; but for me, the cause of winning people to Jesus overrides the need for a society that matches my own moral code and is actually a deeper and more fruitful way of seeking its welfare. We simply cannot legislate belief.

And so, to those on the left, I do not go far enough in my liberalism. But to those on the right, I go too far. But for me, my desire is to love people and share God’s truth with them. I don’t need a law to do that, and to some degree, I believe that laws will actually hinder that process, especially when the people behind such laws are fellow believers. Love them into the Kingdom; let God do the hard work of changing them. We can’t do that, and no law ever will.

I digress again…

I use this as an illustration of the grey areas that bridge the distance between black and white answers on so many issues. In theory, things can be clean and neat; but life is not theory, and things are never so clean. Decisions have unintended consequences; lives and hearts and minds and feelings make life messy. Beyond the pages of a blog or a book, or beyond the steps of a platform or a chamber of Congress, life bears out the marks of those consequences, intended or not, in stark relief. We can never know all the consequences of a given decision or action; but we must own them all the same, regardless of intention.

The consequence of my own decisions is the big ball of confusion that is my inner life at the moment. I’ve chased the rabbit trails through winding paths, tossing to and fro with every wind of doctrine, seeking solace in this truth or that system. I want all the answers; I want the systematic categories to perfectly fit together.  If there is a sermon outline, I’m the one who must have all the blanks filled in or I have a breakdown. Doesn’t quite matter as much that I actually understood what was said. How completely backward, right?

I live in my head much of the time. I love figuring things out and systematizing ideas and beliefs. I want to be consistent from one issue to another. I don’t like loose ends and unanswered questions. But faith does not always satisfy the desire for certainty. By its very nature, it cannot – faith is not needed if you know all the things. Never mind the fact that I am a finite created being that can’t possibly know all the things. Minor detail.

Perhaps this current path to wholeness requires that I give up my quest for certainty in all things, answers to all questions. Perhaps this path to wholeness is acceptance of mystery, unanswered question, and paradoxical truth. I find myself in utter dependence on God when I understand the least; I cry out to Him when the questions are the most pressing. I reach and stretch and hope and pray and desire when He is hidden in mysteries.

Christianity is not merely a set of beliefs, but a way of being, a way of living, a way of being present in this world. Something I can’t quite grasp apart from living it out with brothers and sisters, no matter how many systematic theology books I digest or Bible translations I read.

This turns everything on its head for me, for my current categories do not fit the direction I’m going…

Monday Randomness…

I now have a group of friends that are holding me accountable to publish a blog post at least once a week. So you’ll be hearing more from me. Yay! I’m grateful for good sister/friends that are seeking to lift each other up. That is so very important.

After a long, arduous journey, I am slowly rediscovering my love of writing. Really my need for it. I process my thoughts through the words I write, and I am doing A LOT of processing right now. Processing and changing.

So let me just be real with you. I am in the midst of a major thought shift. I can’t quite put my finger on the source, and I have no idea the outcome, but I do know my heart and mind are changing about a few things. Where I will land is anyone’s guess, but I thought I’d share with you where I am in the process.

A few weeks ago, I spent some time walking through my foundational beliefs. The question I posed to myself was this: What are those things that are absolutely non-negotiables for you and what are “peripheral” issues that you have beliefs about, but that you hold more loosely. Peripherals can be things where I don’t feel I have enough information, or where I have information and think I know what I believe about the topic, but still feel like there are grey areas that are open for debate.

The litmus test for a non-negotiable is it has to be a belief or doctrine that makes us “wise unto salvation”. This list is surprisingly and delightfully small. Things like the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, Resurrection. While each of these items can branch off onto all sorts of rabbit trails, my goal was not to adjudicate every possible split of every theological hair related to each item. The point is that I believe in the Trinity, in the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, the Inspiration of Scripture and so forth. If I desire to be consistent, I can’t not believe these things and still consider myself “Christian”. These are the biblical and theological hills upon which I will die.

But those peripheral issues…whoa boy. That is where it all got complicated. After three pages worth of discussion about race, and a page and a half about so-called “biblical manhood and womanhood”, I had to take a break. These are easily the biggest topics, at least for me, and it seems for the American church today.

I am not going to get into the discussion about race for the purposes of this post. I’m not even close to a place where I can discuss that. And my mind and attention have been moved to another hot-button issue – womanhood.

What is meant by “biblical womanhood”? How do I know if I am a “biblical woman”? Much of this debate centers around two camps: Complementarians and Egalitarians. Complementarians say that men and women are both created in the image of God, and therefore are equal in worth and dignity. However, there are distinctive roles and functions that are specific to each gender; primarily, the focus is on the headship of the man and the submission of the woman in the church and home. In contrast, Egalitarians focus on the mutual submission of believers to one another and consider gifting to be the determining factor for leadership in the church and home, regardless of gender. These are generalizations and are not intended to bring out the nuances of each position. But these are the nutshell definitions as far as I understand them.

This is a hotly contested subject that shows no signs of abating. And as a woman who is passionate about ministry, theology and the Bible, I have a stake in this conversation. I long to be faithful to the testimony of Scripture, and truthful about the reality of life on the ground. My reality right now: I can’t say that I’m “Complementarian”, but I don’t know if I’m “Egalitarian” either. Are these the only two options? Is there a third way? And how do I find the answer?

This is the crazy thing about it…both sides appeal to Scripture to argue their point and make their stand. Both groups are passionate about their position, and fully convinced they are correct. Some go so far as to question someone’s salvation or commitment to the gospel if they do not fall in line with the “correct” position. These extreme reactions are what I wish to avoid like the plague.

But what is the “correct” position? That is what I seek to explore. And perhaps it will take me my entire life to figure it out, but I want to be free and open about where I am on the journey.

The Pandora’s box has been opened. Let the fun begin…

Oh precious sister…

This post is for those for whom Mother’s Day is either a mixed bag or an altogether yucky one, filled not with joy but sadness or remorse, or mourning.

I totally get that.

The History Channel website has a great history on the origins of Mother’s Day as we know it here in the US. It’s a fascinating read. The basic goal behind this day is to recognize and thank our mothers for the sacrifices they made or make for us.

But for some, it is a bittersweet day – or just bitter – for a variety of reasons…

Perhaps you don’t have a good relationship with your mother…

…or your mother is no longer with you…

…or you never knew who your mother was.

Women who are not mothers may feel other things on a day like Mother’s Day.

…the woman who has miscarried…

…the woman who has lost a child…

….the woman who struggles with infertility…

….the woman who cannot have children at all.

I happen to be in that last group. I will never be able to physically bear children. This was what I wanted for my life, the only “career path” I was interested in. Being a wife and mother. One hasn’t happened yet and the other will never happen. A holiday like Mother’s Day tends to remind me of things like that.

I can say this: I love my mother, who I still call “mommy” to this very day. She is the wisest women I know, a woman of strong faith and character. I am grateful to my mommy everyday, and love to celebrate her on Mother’s Day each year.

But in that celebration there is always a mix of sadness, because I will never make her a grandmother. At least not the way I had envisioned and desired. The death of a particular vision you have for your life can sting…badly. It can leave you feeling empty and directionless, as you seek to redefine who you are in this new reality.

But God…

God always shows us a new vision. And He has shown that I am not hollow or barren. I still have a womb, a spiritual womb. He longs to fill me with purpose and meaning and ministry that will bring forth spiritual children. A brood I could not even fathom bringing forth physically.

Oh precious sister – Please know that this is true for you as well. He sees you; He hears your cry. And He answers. Let His love pour over you. He is near to the brokenhearted, and He loves you beyond measure. Let that be your strength.

Grace and peace…

I blinked…

It’s February 28, the last day of Black History Month. Wow. That flew by, as it always does. You blink, you miss it…I guess I blinked.
I started the month with a small lament that we still have a Black History Month, and that there is still a need for one. As I reflect on the month that has passed, this thought came to me:
My mom gave me one of the greatest compliments last night. We were talking about various issues, which is our custom, and I made a statement, “I just don’t like it when people get messed over.” And her response, “You get that from your grandma.”
My grandma was a wonderful woman. She was hard to know, but not hard to respect and admire. Her life was characterized by service: to her family, her church and her community. She was very active in fighting for equality and fairness in housing and education in Champaign, Illinois, and was a faithful servant of the Lord at her church. Her drive: she hated to see injustice. And she was not one who sat idly by on the sidelines and complained. She was a woman of action. My mom inherited that passion and has modeled a life of service and advocacy herself.

To be told I am like her is the highest of compliments. And I pray I will continue this legacy myself.

So…about Black History Month. This month is about more than the achievements of notable African Americans that made “history” in some fashion. This is indeed important, and should be taught – and all year around I might add. But it is also the history of family. My family history is rich and broad. I love the fact that I know so much about their lives and struggles. I have a better understanding of myself as I learn about where I came from. And it helps steer me into the future as I consider the direction of my life from this point forward.

If I were to sum it up, understanding the meaning of my ethnic identity is rooted deeply in my understanding of my own family history. As I get older, that understanding has grown, and I have come to appreciate who I am in within that largetr context. This spurs me on to follow in the footsteps of those who came before me and seek to make a difference, even a small one, in much the same way they did.

That’s the real purpose for Black History Month…at least from my vantage point.

Grace and peace…

I

Random…

I haven’t had the writing itch much this week. I have a lot going on right now: preparing to move your entire life from one state to another is hard work. Trying to make sure you see everyone you want to before you depart is fun and sad all at the same time. I’m ready to be past the moving part and on to the settling in part. My mind is on overload, and I haven’t really had time to sit and meditate and think through things. And it’s not as if I’m not being taught tremendous lessons through this process; I just haven’t had a chance to sit back and ponder much…I like to ponder.

So, here are some random thoughts that have no real connection except they are wandering through my brain at the moment:

  • I tweeted the other day that it is a strange feeling to be excited and sad about something at the same time. I am excited about this move, ready to be near my family again, which is very important to me. But I am so very sad to leave my church family here in Charlotte. Too bad I can’t convince all of them to move to Illinois with me…
  • My journey through Lent this year is teaching me how much I value sharing my own opinion. Not just having my own opinion but sharing it. I am in the midst of 40 days without political talk and commentary, without cable news networks and pundit blogs. And while I love to be “in the know” about things happening in our country, the one thing that is bothering me the most is that I have nothing to be opinionated about right now. No tweets, no blog posts or Facebook posts making my thoughts and fabulous insight known (yes, that last phrase drips with sarcasm…smile). I know there’s much more to say on that…
  • As much as I love my Kindle, I still need a physical book to read. There is something about highlighting text on a page that makes my heart happy.
  • The family of God is messy and beautiful.
  • I am a Midwestern girl through and through, and I love it.
  • My favorite quote from the sermon I heard yesterday: “The best way to keep your foot on the devil’s neck is to stand on the Word.” Love a good old-fashioned Baptist sermon!

That pretty much sums it up for now. Back to my boxes…

Random and unexpected…

I didn’t think I would go here, but here I am…
So this is the deal.
I just finished watching the Inauguration, and just like last time, I was a pot of simmering and conflicting emotions. I love the pomp and circumstance of our government. The sight of the Marines standing guard over the pathway through which all the dignitaries will make their way to the platform; the sea of flags lining the street leading up to the Capitol Building; the soaring beauty of our patriotic songs. It’s all quite cool and wonderful. That I can actually participate in this pomp and circumstance is something I do not take lightly. My freedom to do so was hard fought on a long, painful road.

It is a sight of utter amazement to watch a Black man take the oath of the highest office in the land. Even the second time around, I find it hard to believe. Again thinking of that hard, long, painful road that has led to this day, and knowing many of my own relatives and others of my race spilled their blood to make it happen, fills me to such emotion I cannot explain. Not to be gross, or a downer, but as a Black American, this is not something I can just casually cast aside because I may not agree with his policies. It is an historic moment; we have all witnessed history. And we should take note of it.

But then there are things that I see or hear that gnaw at my spirit – the invocation of God’s name for things that His Word makes clear are wrong; the pluralistic nature of each prayer that was prayed. As a Christian, these things burn my insides and make me cringe. I am, quite frankly, concerned for our country. I would never classify myself as a Republican or Democrat – I am not truly conservative or truly liberal. I fall somewhere in the middle, in a no-man’s land that is comfortable and uncomfortable on both sides at the same time for vastly different reasons. Thus that simmering pot I mentioned earlier.

If I stay focused on that, my heart and mind will implode and I dissolve in a puddle of anxious thoughts and emotions. But I must not stay in this place; I must move forward to something deeper, something richer. Something that will last long after America passes from the scene.

A conversation with a friend yesterday crystallized this for me. We were talking about a particular pastor that was initially invited to participate in the Inauguration, but after a sermon he preached against homosexuality surfaced was forced to withdraw from the ceremony. This pastor does wonderful work in the area of human sex trafficking; he also takes the Bible seriously and believes all of it is the Word of God, not just the parts we like. It was implied by one pundit that no one in their right mind believes all the Bible has to say. I guess I’m not in my right mind, and neither is this pastor. There was uproar and outrage from some quarters of Christendom; but for me, I was not surprised.

I love my pastor for many reasons, and one of those reasons is his constant reminder that the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of America are not synonyms. I grieve the state of our culture and government, but my hope is not in either of them. I desire to be a light in the darkness that surrounds me, but I have no illusions that all will be drawn to that light. We are called to be faithful to our God, even if it means being rebuffed and rejected by our society – and we should not be surprised, dismayed or indignant when it happens. It is right to grieve; it is right to mourn. But we should expect it. Not because we seek to be martyrs, but because we were promised in scripture that it would be so. The closer we get to the Lord, the less we will look like our culture, and the more they will marginalize us. That’s just as it is.

We live in a country where we have the freedom to go to any church of our choice. We can boldly proclaim the name of Jesus to all who will listen – but let’s not kid ourselves that being faithful to that message is going to score us political points or make us popular. Can we die to the idol of relevancy? That is what I feel must happen. I will make clear – I am not for abortion; and believe the Word of God teaches us that God calls homosexuality sin. And yes – I am in my right mind (wink). And I believe these things because the Bible says so, and I have reasoned and studied it out and can come to no other conclusion. I don’t expect this to make me popular. I expect this to make me hated by some. But I cannot let that stop me from being faithful to my God.

My point in this post is not that we stop proclaiming the Word, but that we not be surprised and dismayed when we are rejected for it. Instead, we ought to rejoice, pray, and continue to share the love of Christ and the truth of scripture, trusting in the Lord for the outcome.

Hola!

It’s hard to decide what to write in your first post. Should I introduce myself? Tell a joke? What to do, what to do??

So, I suppose this post will simply be “filler”, trying to get my feet wet and the writing juices flowing. Since this is probably my 20th foray into blogging (yes, I’m exaggerating, but not by much), I’m hoping this iteration will be more successful. I have no plan (shocking for me), and no “theme”. I’m sure that will change as I go along. We’ll see where this leads…