Friday, April 27, 2012

Vainglory? Who...Me?

This week I punted, pitch hit, or what ever other athletic phrase you want to use for stepping up to the plate (pun intended) and speaking at Women's Bible Fellowship when our regularly scheduled speaker backed out. No biggie. At this point in my life I'm very comfortable with being upfront. I don't see it as a burden or a frustration, simply a chance to dive a little deeper into the study and see what God brings to my attention. As an added bonus, I get to share my thoughts with a group of women I love. WBF is a safe place. But then I opened the book. Chapter 8 of The Good and Beautiful Life by James Bryan Smith is titled: Learning to Live Without Vainglory.

Vainglory...have you ever heard of that word before? We all know what vanity means. And glory sounds nice. But put them together and it was a bit of a heart check to read the definition: too much pride, especially in what one has done. Remember when kids in grade school would pound you hard on the chest and say, "heart check"? Heart checks hurt, your shoulders slump forward, torso caves in. You want to yell out, "Hey, stop that you big jerk!" But you can't because you're working on breathing normally again. Yeah, well, that's what reading the definition of vainglory in the children's version of Webster's online dictionary felt like. I'm pretty sure God had me punting for a reason. (Hmmm, is God the big jerk in this scenario?)

I've struggled for the last year or so with the questions: What is effective ministry? Am I a successful leader? I have believed and still do to some extent, that they are valid, important questions. Smith says the false narrative, that we often see as truth, is based on our need for affirmation. Smith writes, "The world measures our worth on the basis of our appearance, production, and performance - which seem to be the only things that count. We feel the need to be appreciated, respected, applauded, and affirmed for what we do. Then we feel good about ourselves." Reading these words, I am faced with the ugly truth that sometimes when I ask myself about ministry and leadership, my feelings of wanting to live and work for Jesus are jumbled with my own insecurity and vainglory. The questions really become, "Are people recognizing and appreciating what I'm doing? Why haven't more people taken part in what I have to offer? Aren't I good enough?" Do you see all those disgusting "I's" in there? I do. Heart check.

Just writing those questions makes me queasy. As much as I tout vulnerability and honesty, I would love to be a little further down the spiritual maturity road. I told WBF, "There is nothing uglier and more deceitful than a person who appears, speaks, and acts holy, but is filled with pride inside." Insecurity and vainglory are an evil mix. It can shred a person to pieces. The antidote is finding your value in Christ alone.

Philippians 2:3-4 says it best.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 

Perfectionism often gets a bad rap in our society. The desire to do a job thoroughly, thoughtfully, and with accuracy is often distorted as an illness only afflicting control freaks. The truth is, God invented detail and purpose. Our innate need to create order out of chaos comes from God. I've also found that appreciating and demonstrating affirmation can be poo-pooed. The desire for relationship, to be loved, respected and liked by family and friends is seen as detriment to our character. (Isn't God enough?) We are created in the image of God and our hunger for affirmation is hard-wired. I'm pretty sure Jesus loves affirmation! Of course, our reliance on perfectionism and affirmation can become a place of brokenness, selfishness, and pain if we don't depend on the Source. I disagree with Smith's suggestion that, "Jesus encourages us to do good things with absolutely no concern for what others think of us." I believe that as followers of Christ, we are called to set an example for others. God knitted us together with the desire to be concerned with our work and our words and how they effect others.

1 Timothy 4:12-16
…set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you. Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Memories of Honduras

There are days when I find myself turning in circles and wishing that I was living out love in a place where I could feel the Holy Spirit as intensely as I did here: 

Feel as joyful as I did here:

Feel as thankful as I did here: 

Feel as humbled as I did here:

 Feel what it means to love as I did here:

 And experience true community as I did here:

God has allowed me to see so many beautiful things in the midst of poverty. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Making up the Gospel

People love telling stories. We exaggerate and expound. We like re-telling other people's stories. As well-meaning Christians we find ways to explain the unexplainable in the Bible. I believe we do this to make scripture more entertaining, palatable, or to fit the supernatural into our frame of reference. We want to connect with God's Word and unfortunately we often create stories from the Bible instead of taking them at face value. I am no exception.

This weekend I attended a Young Lives (a Young Life ministry for teen parents and their children) retreat and our speaker read the story of Jesus healing a paralytic from Mark 2. She was a young woman who obviously loves God and wants to share the Good News. But she included in her re-telling of the story a phrase that doesn't appear in Mark, Matthew, and Luke: four friends brought a paralyzed man to Jesus. The gospel of John doesn't include a version of the story from Mark 2:1-12:

A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’?  But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”

The speaker read directly from the Bible and gave her own observations of the story. Then she invited us to a time of discussion. I couldn't stop thinking about those "friends" that she had mentioned. For four faithful friends to find a way to haul a paralyzed man up onto house, through a crowd so large you couldn't even stand near it, to have the gall to dig through a roof (apparently unconcerned with the consequences of destroying property), lower their poor helpless outcast friend through the opening, and plop him on top of Jesus in order to be healed, is pretty amazing. The story speaks of determination, faith, and true love. It's an engaging story told to people of all ages and abilities. Maybe that's why we use it so often in Christian education. 

Often our pictures and our versions of the story from Mark 2 are so "clean" they are watered down versions of  Jesus' power and grace and the rawness of human interactions.

But I have a problem with it. I think we made it up. Where in the Bible does it say that these four men were the paralyzed man's friends? It doesn't. We assume that they were his friends. We like to believe they were his friends. It makes a nicer story if we call them his friends. I'm not convinced they were his friends. We also like to imagine the paralyzed man as meek and helpless from birth, a beggar void of wrongdoing, laying helpless by the side of the road. So in the spirit of make-believe and out of the desire to connect with God's Word in a personal way, here's my version:

There was once a strong man who was so arrogant he thought he could do anything he wanted, regardless of how it affected those around him. Because of his selfish attitude, he had no friends. One day he found a wild horse, grabbed it by the mane, and tried to ride it. He did this in a foolish attempt to impress a beautiful young woman he would soon take as his bride. The horse reared up and threw the man to the ground. The man laid there in agony; his back broken and instantly paralyzed from the waist down. In one moment the man lost everything. No longer could he walk or work. His bride-to-be was given to his younger brother and even his family cast him aside, since he was of no use to them financially. 

The man spent his days sitting by the town gate. His arrogance turned to bitterness and his heart was hard, his tongue venomous. As the townspeople would come and go, the man would yell out, "give me something to eat you pigs, throw me a shekel." He berated the people for not helping him. When they did give him a bite to eat or a small coin, it was not out of pity, but a futile attempt to shut him up for a few minutes. Day-after-day he cursed the wild horse for bucking him, demanded assistance from passersby, and spat at the woman and his brother when he saw them. The townspeople grew to hate the man even more than they did when he was healthy. He was a blight to their community and a real pain in the neck! 

One day, four of the town elders heard that Jesus was coming. They had been told of the miracles that Jesus was working all over Israel. They wondered if this was the answer to their prayers. Finally, a man that could heal...maybe Jesus was The One who could make the angry man walk again. If so, Jesus might be able to get this evil man up and out. They prayed and made a plan to take the man to Jesus. It was worth a try, as they could no longer stand the daily verbal abuse. 

Jesus entered the town and the crowds began to gather. Escaping the beating sun, Jesus went into a home to preach and heal. The four town elders went to the paralytic man and told him about Jesus. The man was indignant and called them stupid. "I'm not going with you...No man can make me walk again. Now get away from me you idiots!" But the four men were determined to bring the paralytic to Jesus. They found a large mat and forced the paralyzed man to lay down while they tied him to it. With the paralyzed man screaming obscenities at them all the way, they walked to the home where Jesus and his followers had gathered. When the townspeople saw who the elders had on the mat, they would not make room them to get into the house. The townspeople despised the bitter angry man and saw no need for Jesus to use his powers to heal such a wretch. 

But the elders were determined. If Jesus could heal the man, perhaps he would be able to get up and leave. With all the trouble they had gone to, the elders knew they must find a way to get the paralyzed man to Jesus. Around the back of the home they found some large stones. Stacking the stones as a way to access the roof, in the miserable heat, they pulled and tugged the man to the top of the house. The elders began to claw at the roof tiles and soon they had made a small opening in the ceiling. One of the elders peered in and saw Jesus healing a sick woman. With renewed strength, the elders ripped open the roof until they had made an opening large enough to drop the paralyzed man at Jesus' feet. Jesus was usually the one doing something shocking. But here Jesus stood amazed and delighted by the elders determination and faith.

Jesus looked at the tortured soul placed before him. The paralyzed man wasn't grateful to be in this place. In fact he was clearly enraged. Jesus saw the man's broken spirit. He looked at him and said, "Son, your sins are forgiven." Immediately the paralytic's countenance changed. In an instant the words that Jesus spoke changed his heart. He felt a peace as never before and he sat their astounded by the rush of love that was washing over him.

Some of the teachers of the law in the house looked at Jesus and condemned him for speaking blasphemously. "Only God has the power to forgive sins." Jesus affirmed that he indeed was the Messiah. He answered the teachers of the law by saying, "Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’?  But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” The man got up and went home with a smile on his face and joy in his heart. The townspeople were amazed. They now stood in awestruck wonder as the man walked out and praised God by saying, "We have never seen anything like this!"

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Vice Vice Baby

Sugar is my vice. I love it, crave it, and if I don't cut it out of my life completely, I find myself with a mouth full of cookie dough and an ache in my gut. We all have vices. You know the list: caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, sex, shopping, gambling, exercise, etc. The list could go on and on because as human beings we are pretty darn good at finding something we enjoy and enjoying it to death.

I write this blog as a place to journal my own thoughts, but since I also post the link on Facebook, I'd be kidding myself if I said I just wanted my writing to go unnoticed. When I write, I hope someone will read, respond, and remember. Because dog gone it, I need people. I need people to keep me accountable. I need people to help me say, "hey, I thought you were off sugar?"

So here I am again... after a few months of being back on the sugar train to Chubbybunsberg, I'm ready to say, "NO" again. Again. With the big 4 0 approaching, my goal of being in the best shape of my life at 40-years-old is going to take some serious work. It probably means saying "no" to more than sugar. Those fries at Burgerville today-yep, that was the last time for fried food. Juanitas chips-gone. Oh stink, no more dip crack. (Dip crack = the amazing concoction that is created by dumping a can of RO-TEL, a block of cream cheese, a giant scoop of sour cream, enchilada soup mix, whatever other cheese I've got on hand, and a handful of spicy sausage crumbles into a crock pot until it is bubbling deliciousness.)

Just typing these words makes me want to curl up in a corner and cry. Detox from yumminess is hard and it makes me hungry. I'm sitting here actually trying to contemplate other vices I can have. In the words of my 11-year-old, "wow, Mom, seriously?" Seriously, because that's what we do. If we say we won't do one thing, we find something else to put in it's place. We are vice-a-holics.

Today I actually gave that advice to a friend of mine. I said, "well if you can't do that you can do this!" For about two seconds I thought I was brilliant. I actually said to someone, "Find a new vice!" Really. Wow, Michelle, seriously? See the problem with someone like me dispensing wisdom is that sometimes I'm not very smart. When you haven't done the spiritual, physical, and emotional work that a situation requires, it's best not to give half-donkeybehinded advice.

So, now I've had some time to think. And the truth is that nature abhors a vacuum. That's why when we see a space we want to fill it. Emptiness and nothingness are not happy words...unless you're a mother of little children who happen to be at the zoo with their grandparents for the day and you are home in an empty house with nothing but peace and quiet. So my suggestion to my friend that she should simply find a new vice wasn't off-base by the world's standards.

As a follower of Christ, I hope for more. I hope for more than healthier alternatives, new vices, and filled space. I hope to be content in the empty places. The places that aren't filled with anything and delight in nothingness. I hope to be so consumed by God's love that I don't need to consume anything else to feel fulfilled. I want to delight in a life not lived in pursuit of the next vice but delighted by the God who pursues me for eternity.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Bikinis, Beer, and Kiddie Yogurt

This week I zipped into my local Safeway for some cheese and a few last minute dinner items. As I was headed to the milk case I noticed this:

Do you see it...right there across the aisle from the kid flavored yogurt? The beer is on the same aisle as the dairy/deli case. As you make your way down, the beer gets cheaper. Tucked up against the crappy beer and some randomly place Capri Sun, a display of the the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition.

When I saw this, I was furious. I made a stink about it. I huffed and puffed my way through the rest of my shopping. After I went through the checkout line, the store manger got a firm but polite earful. I let him know of my disgust and frustration that Safeway would be selling beer and mostly naked women together. The marketing strategy (although probably profitable from a financial standpoint) made me sick. His response was that at least 30% or more of the floorspace in Safeway was sold to vendors. He had "no control" over where the magazines were placed. Apparently, I was, "the only one he had ever heard complain" about such a thing. Feeling pretty agitated I did what any good 30-something-mom does...I updated my Facebook status: 

NOT impressed but the placement of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue by the cheap beer at Safeway. (Get your 24pk of Hamms and enjoy some nude women.) Barf! I made a complaint to the store manager. He says the space is rented by vendors and he can't do anything about it. Maybe if we all complain, corporate will get the message.

24 comments and 8 likes helped me process a bit and I was happy to hear others join me in finding the placement of socially acceptable porn next to alcohol as repulsive as I did. My friend Nate posted this:

This is a bit long, I couldn't find a youtube or Mp3. but from John McCutcheon (one of my favorite musicians) written in 1984...
But now, at last, the card's been played
Our hand's been called, the piper paid
A woman's bought and sold once more
And on display down at the store
We shake our heads and curse those crooks
But stand in line to buy a look
Just one thin swimsuit stands between 
The porno star and the beauty queen

Flesh merchants run the magazines
The shops, the books, the movie screens
The beauty pageants, and, God knows,
The ads, commercials, TV shows
Pornographers of every guise
The bad one sells but the worst one buys
Just one thin swimsuit stands between 
The porno star and the beauty queen

My friend Marta came up with a terrific sample letter to send to Mr. Burd, the CEO of Safeway:

Dear Mr. Burd and the Safeway executive team,

Women are not products to be consumed and washed down with a beer. I'm writing to ask you to remove the Sports Illustrated swimsuit displays from your beer and deli aisles. This pairing of alcohol and objectified women is offensive and harmful to both women and men. Please put the magazines back in the magazine aisle where they belong. My children and I shouldn't have to see them when we're shopping for dairy items in your stores.

I am not the only customer who is angry about these displays. Parents are voicing their anger about the on Facebook. Your Facebook page says, "We're proud to be your neighborhood grocery store." Please make us proud by removing these displays. 

I would like to hear from a member of your team as soon as possible about this matter.

Thank you.

I wish I had the time, energy, and determination to see this issue resolved by myself. But the reality is that I won't. Other passions, responsibilities, and activities are my priority. I am not naive enough to believe that a few letters to Mr. Burd, a couple of complaints to my local store manager, or this blog post will do much to change our damaging, objectifying, addictive, and offense culture. But perhaps it will help you be more aware of the insidious messages all around us...even the ones across the aisle from the Danimals. It might not create the change I'm hoping for, but it's always worthwhile to speak truth. I hope you'll join me by checking out the beer aisle at your local Safeway store. If you find the SI swimsuit placed next to alcohol instead of on the magazine aisle, talk to your checker, other shoppers, and the store manager. Use the letter sample or write your own to the CEO of Safeway.

A little "ps" to this post, my mom did email Mr. Burd the sample letter and she received this reply:

Thank you for your recent correspondence regarding the magazines sold at your local Safeway store.

We appreciate the time and effort you have taken to express your concerns about this publication. While we respect all of our customers’ points of view, we would rather not be in a position of trying to determine or dictate what constitutes the mainstream of contemporary readers' tastes. Your comments will be directed to our Public Affairs Department for further review on the matter.

Additionally, please provide us with the exact location of the store you are referring to, so that we may research and assist you in best possible manner. Thank you for your patience.

Should you require further assistance, you may reply to this email or phone us at 1-877-723-3929 and refer to Contact ID 20997060. One of our associates will be happy to assist you.

Thank you for shopping at Safeway.
Safeway Customer Service Team

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Pride or Praise?

It seems to me that we do a lot of contradictory things in this country/culture. One of of them is stating how we feel about ourselves. It can seem almost haughty and prideful to say "I love myself" and yet at the same time our culture is built on entitlement. "I deserve" and "I want" are statements that are reinforced everywhere you look, but glance in the mirror and say, "I like myself," and you'll be called a freak.

I don't want to hesitate or send mixed messages about what it means to promote a "you glow girl" attitude on this blog. It's about knowing that I am a child of God. The Holy Spirit lives, burns, and yes, "glows" inside of me. I want to prick enough holes in my jaded, fearful, conservative, and hypocritical spirit, that God's love can shine brightly through me. If I am a Christian, I should exude the light of Christ. If I'm surrendered to God there will be a radiance about me. All too often my spirit is tempered by the culture of self-hatred, my own insecurities, and the fear of being misunderstood, to actually stand for what I believe.

I love God and I believe he loves us. Let's shine brightly together. Let no person, situation, message, or circumstance diminish the power of Jesus Christ. When the Holy Spirit was put into you, God did not put the Light on a dimmer switch. He did not say, "hide this under a bowl, bushel, basket, or that last 10 pounds you wish you could lose." Nope, God wants us to glow right matter what.