Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Busy Victims

Nothing jazzes me more than talking big picture ideas - like how to make discipleship a practical reality in our faith community. What does that look like? How do we get there? What would that mean for the people here? The pastor walked up to the white board and I got all happy-clappy. 

The idea of discipleship as a lifestyle became part of my DNA through college, thanks to the vision of @RealBMac. It's a value system. Though I've not been able to enter in a formal relationship at every stage of my life since, I have actively sought out younger women to give time and attention to, usually by meeting up for coffee, ice cream or even going for a run. Though sometimes exhausting (oh, teenagers...), I've come to view it as one of the the most important things I can do to live out my faith.

As we discussed discipleship and the freedom that comes with a campus schedule - oh to be 21 again! - the pastor bravely said, "I think we're too quick to throw out that model simply because people are busy." 


I get that people have jobs and kids and commitments. We do! This is part of life, and a good life. An evening of Two and a Half Men reruns every night would be an obscenely boring way to live. So we invest in schools and clubs and running programs and drinks with a friend. We volunteer with the PTA or join the VBS team at church. These are beautiful things that return us home at 10pm exhausted and wondering why we can't just have dinner as a family anymore. 

This Beautiful Struggle: Stop the glorification of busy
But stop. Seriously. We've glorified these wonderful things to the point where "I"m so busy" has become a badge. Although we all feel we simply cannot take on another thing, we've given honor to the frantic rat race because our society has taught us to believe if we're not SO BUSY than we're not doing something right. Your kids will never get into college, be able to swing a bat in public, or they may just end up in jail if they're not socially awkward freaks. 

I contend that busyness is not a state of the calendar but of the mind. Busy is when your calendar bosses you around, rather than you directing your time and energies wisely (a Fruit of the Spirit, according to Galatians 5 in The Message). Busy comes when you forfeit control for the sake of what you're told is best. 

When a person utters "but we can't just..." then it's a clear sign of the glorification of busy. The events and activities of our lives have begun to control us rather than complement the life we're given. We have been taught we cannot say no to the basketball coach, the church ministry, the overnight or the fundraiser. But it's a lie: we can. And we should. 

My friends, have no shame in saying it: That doesn't fit for what is best for our family right now. 
We love the idea, but have other priorities. 
How about another time? 
We cannot do this, but how can we support you in other ways? 

I can hear the parents of older children already... "just you wait." I get that my non-involved 5-year-old makes this an easy message to preach. But no lobster stays swimming in boiling water - it dies after the pot warms over time. 

After reading The Price of Privilege and  The Overachievers, I'm convinced the mentality of "more is better" and "activity equals success" will continue to crush the spirits of our emerging generations*. They might not learn the sacred gift of knowing what enough looks like. More, better, best will race them through life at the cost of beautiful opportunities to experience goodness, all for the sake of winning an imaginary prize to the top. 

Fill your days with events and activities that grow you. This can even mean the things which are not our favorite, but are best. But live as if you actually have a voice, if not the voice, in deciding how to spend your time. When we begin to live not as victims of an unruly calendar we may find just how much joy these hours will bring us.  

*Hey church. I'm looking right at you, too. The softball team doesn't have a corner on this market. 


Friday, April 11, 2014

The cost of Trident, and following Jesus

A few weeks ago, I calculated the price of a piece of gum before offering it to my friends. I only wish I was being dramatic. Granted, this is no run-of-the-mill Wrigley's. It's a party of Sweet Cherry and Island Lime, almost like chewing on a Sonic Limeade. 

Despite the minty freshness, my attitude left a bad taste in my mouth. Mostly because as I've worked toward this generous spirit thing, I can see what a complete and utter failure I am. I desire to live with hands outstretched, but continuously return to my habits of grasping and reaching. 

In my struggle toward a more generous spirit, I have to wonder what I'm striving for - is it just writing checks to a church or organization? Because I doubt it. I believe it has something to do with my heart. I believe that God wants me to count the costs of following Him, yet I'm not sure He meant the gum I would chew along the way.

This morning I read from Ephesians 5:1-2 (The Message). 
Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn't love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that. (Emphasis mine)

We've been taught this, yes? Christian and secular alike, we've heard the preaching that "it's not just in the getting but the giving." So we're supposed to give. I think Christians tend to believe we have a corner on the giving-market but we're dead wrong. In fact, I think we tend to be living backwards of what Jesus preached. 

Have you ever looked at a church balance sheet? I've seen several. Do you know how many special "funds" exist within the church pocketbooks? Nothing short of 89. Okay, I totally made up that number. But when Great Aunt Edna dies, people firmly believe that money cannot go toward paying the pastor or sending kids to camp but instead needs to be used toward something more noble. Like another plaque. Or banner.  

As the past few weeks have proven, with the Great Compassion International Scandal of 2014, we also believe giving to organizations and charities isn't just about the good work the organization is doing, but also about every viewpoint we carry, even if not expressly written our creeds or preached by Jesus. (For those unfamiliar because you gave up social media for Lent, when Compassion International announced it would begin allowing for the employment of gay persons, over 10,000 monthly supporters dropped their commitments to fund food, education and basic needs for a child oversees. Yup. Way to go, Christians.)  

I don't advocate for giving to groups expressly created to support causes I don't jive with, like White Supremacist groups for example (omg, I had no idea I would stumble into a list this long. Clearly we have a problem here.) And when Dave Ramsey tells me to "tell your money where to go" I totally get that - let me be in the driver seat rather than materialistic strivings. 

Yet as I look at the teachings of Jesus, my heart begins to break for the larger picture of Christianity and how we just don't get it. At the end of his life, when days on earth were few, Jesus took the opportunity in Matthew 23 to unleash some harsh words for the religious leaders - a series of woes to the Pharisees. One of them in particular (23-24) jumped out at me:
“You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but on the meat of God’s Law, things like fairness and compassion and commitment—the absolute basics!—you carelessly take it or leave it. Careful bookkeeping is commendable, but the basics are required. Do you have any idea how silly you look, writing a life story that’s wrong from start to finish, nitpicking over commas and semicolons?

(Oh, my dear friends. How long will it take us to realize how often we are the religion scholars and Pharisees? If you're a person who studies the Bible, you more likely to be a Pharisee than a fisherman, so perhaps we should pay attention to those words more carefully.) 

I think our American Spirit has infected our Generous Way. We tend to love expecting ROI. We give when it suits us, not when asked. We respond when convenient (like the end of the tax year, perhaps?), not when needed. We live with such control over our lives that we exert it into the people and causes around us, which I believe changes what was intended as a work of love into a conditional transaction. 

And Jesus expressly said to let go of that. Let go of the need to control. Let go of the expectations. In fact, in the sermon on the mountainside (Matthew 5:42), Jesus said to give to the one who asks of us and not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. 

This seems like poor financial advice in terms of setting yourself up for a great retirement plan, but that's what you get for listening to financial advice from a homeless preacher. But this vagabond also reminded us that where your treasure is, there your heart is also. Perhaps he had bigger dreams than a nice house in the suburbs with a full 2-car garage (though those things can still co-exist). He could have been dreaming about a Kingdom come where generous hearts authentically loved others and our giving was an evidence of that.  

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Love & Faithfulness Win: A letter to my children

Dear Children,

I recently wrote some letters - to you, about you - mostly addressing your “someday” relationships. Let me say that I'm praying for these. I never knew how big I had won this prize, but year after year your father blesses me beyond what I imagined. He's my biggest believer, challenger and supporter. I can't imagine doing life without him.

And I don't want you live without such support, challenge and confidence, either. Of course, if it's the calling to which you find yourself, there's nothing wrong with singleness. Stay single! Enjoy your freedom! Travel a bit. Cherish deep friendships. You see a different side of life from a lifelong partnership, but we can't define it as "better" or "worse."

No, my bigger fear is that you live apart from your lifelong partner because you're afraid. Afraid of what your father and I will say. Afraid of being forced from the church. Afraid of sin, afraid of labels, afraid of hell.

I want to be very clear about this: there is no one you could love that would cause us - or your God - to stop loving you. In fact, scripture tells us there is no fear in love but perfect love casts off all fear. Although we try our hardest, your parents are guilty of imperfect love - yet God is not.

One of my many places of privilege in this life and world comes having never questioned my attractions, identity or an inclusion in groups of our society. But my story is not the only story. So, dear children, if you find later in life that you tend to be more attracted to someone who shares your gender, I pray fear is not your first reaction. You might be confused or unsure. But your father and I will do our best to make sure fear and shame aren't part of the equation.

Just to let you know, this might be tough for us. We grew up and live in a culture where the relationships around us tend to be homogeneous in their heterosexual nature. If we appear shaky, blame it on the fact that this is a new experience for us. Even our best intentions could be construed as unsupportive, and we are so very sorry when that hurts.

You don't disappoint us. Living outside of the way God made you - that's reason to be disappointed. No, when we don't know what to say or how to act, it's because we're naive, insecure and unprepared. Those are our sins, not yours.

We have enjoyed a beautiful marriage, not because we adhere to the proper penis ratio, but rather it has given us an experience of God's love and faithfulness. I've read the scriptures over and over and over again. Never once do I hear of God choosing a law over love and faithfulness. You might be bashed with verses about "sexual immorality," but remain clear: living in a committed, faithful relationship reflects God's nature much more than shouts of shame.

No, those passages address a culture hell-bent on getting what it wants, at the expense of the bodies and souls of other people. Prostitution in the temples, rape culture, and sex as a commodity as opposed to an expression of love - these are the immoral sins our God abhors. Look not too far in our contemporary history and we find a "homosexual lifestyle" linked by name to such a way of life. But we're finally arriving at a time and place where those terms are divorced and people are finally free to acknowledge different forms of their monogamous love in honest and open ways. Some states even let you make it public, with legal equality. (Wouldn't it be great if, by the time you read this for real, it was the case for all states? And can we please get on the ball with adoption rights? Because I will want some grandchildren.)

So, my dear child, love, in whatever way that feels truthful to you. Love and faithfulness win every time. And that starts with your parents. We vow to be loving and faithful, no matter what you discover about yourself.

In love and faithfulness,

Mom (& Dad)