I Wish There Was a Religion that Followed Jesus

My brain freezes when I hear the word “religion”. I hate it.  An immediate psychological wall goes up in my mind when someone wants to talk to me about their religion or asks me about my religious beliefs. This steel door slams shut behind my eyes and I tune them out. Much of the modern world links “religion” to a set of rules and regulations that must be followed in order to stay out of hell or to achieve perfection in the next life. 

We love to label things and those of us who call ourselves Christians are tied inexorably to a religion that reeks of elitism, holier than thou-ness, condemnation for others and unconditional judgment for anyone who doesn’t agree. We follow the rules in the Bible and claim all Scripture to be God breathed and can’t see past that into anyone else’s frame of thought even long enough to listen to them. We stopped talking about Jesus and his teachings and focus on the rules. It is bad to break the rules.

Sadly, followers of Jesus Christ often don’t want the label of Christian anymore because it has turned into a religous belief rather than a faith or way of life. To say you’re a Christian frequently elicits a negative reaction or uncomfortable laughter followed by an equally stupid joke about lightening strikes. My own “non-Christian” friends who know I’m a Christian have voiced their surprise that I don’t make them feel guilty all the time like “other Christians” do.

Sunday News had an interview with a woman named Linda Gort. She is a nurse practitioner here and was the person “in the spotlight” yesterday morning. From my time as a pediatric nurse, I know her reputation as an advocate for women and children. She always had my respect professionally. One of the questions she was asked during her interview was about her faith. She described herself as a “philosophical Buddhist” who isn’t so good at keeping up with meditations, but she’s trying.  Her next sentence hit me really hard and I think she totally nailed how I’ve been feeling about the world’s view of Christians today:

But if there was a religion that followed the teachings of Jesus, I would follow it. I can’t see where people go hungry and churches build new additions.

I think that sums it up perfectly!

Unfortunately much of the world feels the same way.

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Eat, Pray, Love

I just finished reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray, Love.  The story of her year long adventure through Italy, India and Bali.

I wish I had her time, patience, energy, money and scrap paper on which to write this epic journey.  I found myself jealous of her at every turn; she’s my age, dammit….why can’t I go to Bali????

But I think she has it backwards.

My book would be Pray, Love, Eat.

Prayer first. My life would be  nothing without the Divine communication I have with my God and the daily and hourly talks we have. Prayer must come first.  I cannot imagine my life or my existence without the Holy Divine, the Mysterious Spirit or the manifestation of Christ in my life. Prayer first.

Love next.  Without prayer, my love for my life, my family, my children and my husband would not exist.  Let’s get real…my love life with my husband would not exist.  Contraray to Gilbert’s experience, I make love to a man that I’ve been married to for 15 years.  I didn’t go to Bali to meet him (although Bali is an amazing place, my experiences in Penang being close to it).  My love for him and the physical we share gets deeper by the year.

Sex, (yes, people, Mennonite women have sex and like it) would not be the experience that it is.  My husband is the one ONE I have devoted my heart to and the only one to whom I’ll ever give my heart, soul and body.  The communion of two committed people has no comparison.  It might not happen as often as he’d like (I’m a sleepy chick most times) but it’s all very, very good when it does….and the prayer is part of it. God placed us together without question.

Then, the Eat part.

Come on, ladies…are you not hungry at all?  After sex I’m almost always hungry! Gilbert’s book did more for my hunger than anything. Eating Pizza, spaghetti, rotini and drinking a great bottle of Merlot at the same time is my idea of a complete evening!  Eating my way through Italy is a fantasty I’ll entertain for many years!  The first part of her book made me want to run away and just CHOW!!!

All that to say, Gilbert’s book is fantastic.  Her frank and humble admissions of vulnerability were refreshing. Not often does a woman my age admit that perfection is not in her repertoire.  I want everyone I know to read this book.  I can’t say I’d subscribe to her theology or lifestyle, but I do think that her independance and desire for truth are admirable.

I’m jealous she ate her way through Italy.

I wish I had the stamina and persistance to get up at dawn and pray through a yoga session. Her persistance in finding a higher power and spiritual grounding should be applauded.

I am not at all envious of her love though.  I have an amazingly committed man who for 15 years has put up with my crap and dealt with my foibles.  He’s watched me be pregnant, give birth and drool on my pillow. He’s watched me succeed and fail. He’s seen me sober and drunk. He’s fluctuated thirty pounds with me and moved house seven times.  I’ve had three babies and he still thinks I’m hot. He knows when my “time of the month” is approaching and he’s figured out how to make me smile.  He puts gas in my car and makes coffee at six.  He’s cut his ponytail and trimmed his beard, but he’s still the man I love. 

Eat Pray Love!  ????

No way!!!

Love, Love and Love.

The rest comes along as a side effect.

The Sign of the Cross

 

I wrote this little blurb for myself about two years ago. (My aforementioned soon to be teenage son was then ten years old).  Sorry, it’s outdated, but still true.

        As I tucked my ten-year-old son in to bed last night, he did a weird thing. With closed eyes and sleepy limbs he seemed to wave his hands over his stomach and chest before he pulled the covers up. There was something very deliberate about it though and it took me a minute to figure out what he was doing. I stood and stared for a minute before I asked him,

“Do you do that every night?”          

“Yes,” he replied. “I always do that. It helps me feel safe.”         

It seems that my most profound moments with this child are when he is half asleep. This is the same boy who sat and talked to God at the foot of his bed when he was yet in diapers. And last night, he did something so simple yet so subconsciously that I wondered how often and how long he had been doing it.  It is apparently part of his bedtime ritual, performed with the fog of sleep closing in, yet so meaningful to him.          

He was crossing himself. Making the sign of the cross over his body to protect him from harm and notify the world that he is the child of God.           

When will I be so entrenched in my relationship with Jesus, that even in my sleep I invite him to be with me? When will it be second nature to me to call out to him, rather than a last resort when all my attempts otherwise fail?            

When will I ever learn?

RePost on Mary, Mother of Christ

The following post was originally written in April. I am reposting it here again as a result of our Sunday School class discussion regarding the birth of Christ and how people were told he was coming. This morning we talked about Simeon with Mary and Joseph at the temple during Mary’s purification sacrifice.

When I originally posted these thoughts I got a few comments. I’d like to hear more of what people have to say. I think Mary is an understudied and underappreciated woman in the scriptures in my own church experience. Traditionally, our children are taught very little about her. It’s fun to delve a little further into what must have been an amazing life.

 Mary, Mother of Christ Resurrected.

 I am amazingly drawn to the life of Mary, mother of Christ. Popular culture paints her as a young woman to whom nothing extraordinary happened. She was young, naive and simple…until the day the angel Gabriel appeared to her.  Until then, we imagine, she had lived a quiet life in Nazareth, doing the things all other girls did. No mention of her immediate family, parents or siblings. But, when this angel showed up, she doesn’t seem afraid of him. Luke describes her as “troubled” and although Gabriel asked her not to “be afraid”, Luke seems to imply that she simply wondered what was up with this?! Luke 1:29 “Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.”

According to the Nativity Gospel of Mary, extraordinary circumstances surrounded this young woman’s life long before this angelic visit and long before she herself was conceived.  Her father, Joachim, was greatly troubled at his barrenness. The high priest at that time belittled him saying he was unworthy of presenting his gifts before God because God had not seen fit to bless him with offspring. Joachim wandered into the pastures of the shepherds to hide himself in his sorrow. While he was there, an angel of the Lord appeared to him and assured him that he would indeed have a child. God had seen fit to “open the womb” of his wife, not to just give them children, but to bring glory to Himself. Sound familiar? This angel then appeared to Anna, his wife, and told her that she would bear a child, name her Mary and that this child would find favor with God. She would be a special child in the temple of the Lord.

According to this writing, Joseph was also called divinely to be the “root of Jesse” through which our Lord Jesus Christ would be born.  It seems that both Mary and Joseph were somewhat accustomed to divine intervention.

When Gabriel appeared to Mary, he filled her “chamber” with “great light.”  [Chap 9, vs. 3] “And the virgin, who was already well acquainted with angelic faces, and was not unused to the light from heaven, was neither terrified by the vision of the angel, nor astonished at the greatness of the light, but only perplexed by his words; and she began to consider of what nature a salutation so unusual could be, or what it could portend, or what end it could have. “

It seems to me that God would be mighty picky about the vessel in which his son would be nurtured. If God was to take the form of man and be born of a woman, a virgin, He would likely have groomed her from the moment she was conceived. I imagine Mary must have become quite used to angels checking in on her now and then, and, dare I say…she may have conversed on a more intimate level with YHWH who would ultimately become her son? It seems so fantastic and supernatural…yet she accepts it with such grace as though she always knew it would happen this way.

Christ loved his mother like no other person on earth…as I hope my children love me. As he hung crucified, he beseeched John to love her and asked her to take John as her son. Watching out for both of them as he left them behind. Unbearable heartache enjoined with unending love as the skies opened and God himself took on the pain and sin of the world in complete and utter surrender to love…while this woman who loved Him in all imaginable ways looked on. Her heart must have been bursting and breaking and flying high to be entwined with the unimaginable healing power of grace.

The Nativity Gospel of Mary as a historical account of events was likely handed down orally from generation to generation…much like our own family histories today. It does nothing to diminish the deity of Christ, rather delves into the history of his mother and I read it as a love note on her behalf.  Frederica Matthewes-Green has this wonderful essay on Mary that discusses writings pertaining to the Virgin Mary.  Many of us are afraid of her…we don’t want to fall too deeply into what some fear would be a worship of Mary on par with a worship of Christ…but I think it’s worth looking at this woman as a integral part of the life of Jesus Christ on a deeper level than just that of the birth mother.  Did she live her life waiting for her son to give of his? How much did she know or understand? I wonder, too, how much time Jesus spent with his mother after his resurrection…how could he stay away; how could she?

An amazing woman, to be sure…and one that I am desperately anxious to meet some day.

Easter/Christmas…What On Earth??

I am reposting this since I feel it’s important.  I had surgery right before Christmas 2006, thus the lazy mommy references.

It might be a little late, but Easter’s coming. It’s a blog post from last Christmas (2006). I think that Christmas ought to be a year round kinda thing, so here ya go.  The decorations are down (or they oughta be) and now we’re wondering what the hell the commotion is all about. The swags are pretty and the tree is laden, but why?

And…by the way…I sold my copy of “Jotham’s Journey” on eBay in December for over $65.  Doesn’t that illustrate how much we love “feel good” stuff???

Christmas is only about three days away now. My kids are really antsy, anticipating the fun of Christmas morning and opening presents. They were well prepared ahead of time that this year we would be doing things a little differently now that Mommy will be lying on the couch, recliner or in bed most of the time. But, they still are so excited that it’s almost making them irritable.

We each year want so badly for Christmas celebrations to focus on the joyous birth of Christ and the coming of salvation through Him. We find we must remind ourselves that the holiday is about the virigin birth and not about gifts and eating cookies. As Christians we act almost pious when we say that we are “focusing more on the true meaning of Christmas” instead of the hustle and bustle of the holiday. But there is absolutely no way, short of going to live in a yurt in Mongolia for a month, that we can separate the secular traditions of winter holidays around the world with the celebration of the birth of Christ.

Do you think that God REALLY cares? Do you think that when Christ was born quietly and humbly in a stable with only a few very smart men and lucky shepherds at his side…do you think God was hoping that someday someone would decide we should have this big party and ceremony to celebrate this quiet birth? Do you think he intended for it to be a big deal? I don’t. I don’t think He intended for ceremony to get in the way of what it’s all about. And now, there is no great distinction between the Santa Claus version of Christmas (which is also based on some facts) and the Bible version of Christmas (which is also based in facts.)
However, I sometimes think that God is exceedingly happy that we use Christ’s birth as an excuse for getting together with friends and family. As an excuse for exchanging gifts, putting aside differences, for eating a great big fat meal together. As an excuse to decorate our homes for winter and bring cheer to the bleak winter landscape with our holly and ivy! I don’t think he cares too much that we go overboard on spending for our children (if we can) and spoil each other a little. I don’t think he’s keeping track. After all….Jesus Christ was born to bring LOVE back into the world. If he can do that by giving two “non believers” a reason to go to a party and exchange gifts with each other, then GREAT! If he brought LOVE back by reconciling a daughter with her family over turkey dinner, then, that’s what he wanted to do, right? If a kiss under the mistletoe is what makes my heart full of love for once, then Jesus came for that, didn’t he? I personally think St. Nicholas was a really awesome guy! He had the right idea. He loved people.

I want my children to celebrate the birth of Christ right along with me. But, I don’t want to exhaust myself trying to explain what advent is or make myself feel guilt over having a really fun time with the holiday either. I love shopping, baking cookies and wrapping presents. I love bringing greens inside and decorating a tree with silly little sentimental trinkets. I love mistletoe and egg nog and sleigh rides and jingle bells. And I am pretty sure that Christ doesn’t care that I like all that stuff. I think he’s having fun trying to keep up with my swirling thoughts. I think we should have this great winter holiday and call it just that. A “winter holiday” and keep it as wild and crazy and flamboyant as possible.

Then, I think we should solemnly and quietly celebrate the birth of Christ. We should have candlelight services with carols and scripture and prophesy read. We should shout “hallelujah” just as I am sure the angels did. Glory to God in the Highest and Peace on Earth. Then, bring ourselves as gifts to the altar before the Christ. We should talk about nothing else but the birth of Christ around our dinner tables and read the scripture stories over and over to our children for a week. The one from the Bible, not Jotham’s Journey or the story as viewed by the mouse under the hay. Teaching them, and teaching eachother, how great LOVE entered the world that day. How from that humble cry, that nursing baby, came light and hope and love everlasting. That without that baby boy, we would have no reason to live. Pour out our hearts to our kids about the love we know and how we have come to know it. No fluff, no fuss, no gifts, no trees, just celebration in it’s rawest form. Then we should be done and begin to look towards Easter with anticipation.

And I think we should do that in March or some other equally quiet month when no other holidays clutter the calendar! Then, and only then, might it really mean what it should.

Women in Leadership pt 2.

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So, let’s get back to this for a second. I need to preface this by stating most of what I write is merely opinion and personal thought, not backed by real support. For that, I rely on others who actually have the time to think about it deeply.  I don’t spend much time dwelling on this subject as it pertains to the church as a whole. I care about it because it pertains to me as an individual woman and just might affect my life a little. Yes, that’s shallow and selfish. I’m okay with that.

First, we need to differentiate between women in “leadership” and women in “ministry.”  Women have been ministers as long as we have recorded church history. Face it, it took a woman to bring Christ to life in human form, didn’t it? In the early church women were part of the gang.  In England, the queen was head of state, therefore, head of church on some level. We have deaconesses in our church. (No deacons in sight though which is a little puzzling.) We also have a woman elder. No one yet has called her an “elderess”. Good thing too, it sounds like the name for an itch inducing weed on the forest floor.

I have always imagined the deaconess role in our church to be a little bit of a softer, gentler thing. It takes an amazingly special and patient person for this (and we’ve got two of those). From my limited knowledge, she functions much like the pastor’s wife (no offense, mother) in assuming counseling roles and general relationship building things. Driving people to appointments, visiting the sick, praying with people who need that touch. She also gets to assemble and disassemble the communion table and wash all those silly little plastic cups we use. Wahoo! So, would a deacon do those things? I doubt it. He’d be too busy working out why the toilet in the women’s room downstairs is still “out of order” and other more manly things. Or would he?

Then, there’s our woman elder, who is a wise and wonderful lady. Involving herself with lofty and weighty decisions regarding the church. Voting, alongside the men, on churchy stuff that impact everyone.  Along with the deaconesses and the rest of the leadership team, these ladies have just a little bit of influence on what we do.

We also allow a woman to lead worship in our church.  She gets to help decide the tone of the whole service and what people will be singing as they leave. That’s a mighty powerful position to be in.

So, why is it so dang hard to take the leap to allowing a woman to preach? Oh, wait….we have had that happen! I forgot about that. It’s not often, but it does occur.

Gosh, now it’s getting more complicated.

I guess the thing we’re really stuck on is not “leadership” but “authority.”  Yikes! There’s a big difference there, my friends. Many toes could be trampled if we allowed a woman to actually have authority over all of the aforementioned proceedings.

I don’t know yet what I personally feel is the right thing to do.  What I want and what is right are often two entirely different things. Prayerful questioning of God on this one hasn’t actually helped me yet. It has left me more confused. I can’t yet get a clear picture from either my conversations with Him or reading what others think. 

I also can’t let go of the feeling that, as somewhat of an opinionated strong-willed woman, to say “no” to women in authority is to shut myself down a little.

Women in Leadership

This is one topic of discussion that is littered with emotion and the potential for argument from all sides. It is also a topic of discussion uppermost in the thoughts of many in the Mennonite church.  How much responsibility should women have in the church? What should they be allowed to teach and should they ever be allowed to preach? Can they be ordained and remain firmly within what the early church taught about women’s roles?  Should they be quiet or loud? Should they sit in the same pew with men? Should they show up at all? I could go on and on and my personal feelings change about every other minute on this one.

I don’t like the words “Women in Leadership” but this is the “buzz phrase” surrounding women’s roles.  Women have always been in leadership in one place or another. I think the thing people really want to call it is “Women as Ordained Preachers Whom Have Authority and Can Tell Men What God Wants Them to Do.”  Blech!  On one had, who cares?  On the other hand, many people do and I suppose it is important.

I am going to begin discussion on this subject on this blog by just throwing out the arguments I have with myself in my head and then as the weeks go on, I’ll break it down a little bit and add some real concrete theory to it.

For a while I came at this from a purely feminist point of view.  Women and men have equal opportunity in all other areas of life (at least we pretend they do).  Why not allow women the right to be ordained if they are led by God into that role? For so long, women were oppressed by the church, held down and confined to hearing from their husbands what God said rather than learning for themselves. I think this is quite true today in some churches, Amish and Mennonite among others. That angered me and I saw the refusal to ordain women in the Mennonite church as one more way men control what we say and do.

But that’s where my feminist attitude basically ended. I believe women should have equal rights in politics, voting and career opportunities. I believe they should be paid what men are for the same jobs performed. I believe women can and should lead companies, organizations and countries.  I also believe many women lead their families more effectively than men. A cultural shift over the past 50 years has, out of necessity, forced women into roles that they may not have considered before. Men have largely given up on heading households. Some are absent in body, some in spirit and some never were present to begin with. Thus the idea that we are created equal to men; we fill the same shoes they do.

But, I don’t think we should whine and moan anymore.  Those women who hold high the feminist flag and declare war on men and their attitudes are simply grasping for something to make them feel more important.  Women whose credo is “I am woman!” also tend to think they don’t need any help with anything from men. It’s them against the world and men be damned. Although that may be the extreme, the undercurrent of woman against the world runs through all women’s thoughts at one time or another. When a woman is told she can’t be in “leadership” it raises her hackles and in her mind she has no rights at all.  All bad feelings towards male authority suddenly lump together in one single moment.  Think about it. It is not a group of female bishops or elders that are saying we can’t be ordained. It’s a bunch of men.

When we’re done whining, I’d like us women to stop and think for a minute about how equally created we really are.

We are not the same in any way, shape or substance.

Our brains work differently. We talk and talk and focus on words. Men are more focused on images and concrete ideas. We bring entirely different approaches to the discussion table.We are the softer sex. Let’s face it. Let’s enjoy that!

Our physical bodies are completely different, yet we try so hard to look as strong and manly as possible. We get the privilege of giving birth and nursing babies. We have boobs and they don’t. Ha ha!!!  Men, on the other hand, are generally stronger. It has actually occurred to me that if Andy died, I’d have to stop buying Smucker’s jelly in jars since I can’t open them myself. That’s okay. We are made physically to meet each other and mold together. Let’s celebrate that!

Should women preach? I’m still thinking about that one. Today, I say “yes” with a few contingencies thrown in. I am, in fact, related to a woman preacher.  I’ll further pull this one apart laer.

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