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.

Sing Like You Mean It!

I had to run an errand this evening. Pick up milk and tea. Luckily, the Turkey Hill is close to the Wine and Spirits Shoppe…so I stopped there too. I love Red Truck shiraz.  (And the chardonnay and Stolis I bought.)

Small little outings like these make me want to keep driving and see where I end up landing. It’s a rare occurance that I’m in my car alone.

Those people closest to me know that I like to blast music in my car.

The new Cadillac commercial asks, “When you turn your car on, does it return the favor?”

YES!

With the awesome sound and Bose speakers to match…I’m a wild and crazy cruisin’ Momma!  I picked the random CD option and cranked it.

Accompanied by Alison Krauss I drove and drove. Her duets with Robert Plant are just fantastic. My husband has a secret (NOT) crush on her. 

But, it was the ride home with James Blunt UNCENSORED that made me feel better.  Former British soldier turned magical musician. He ain’t too bad to look at either, ladies. But, I will warn those of you with sensitive ears to pick his censored songs so as not to offend any of your sensibilities. The man can sing and what a poet he is! He ain’t shy and he ain’t dumb…he’s pretty real.  He sings about things people pretend not to know about. There is raw emotion and real life stuff going on in his lyrics.  We all sit around each day hoping that no one actually hears the conversations that take place in our heads and James Blunt sings about them. He does like to use “vulgar language” as some would call it.

(Personally, I think a well placed curse word now and then is cathartic. No, maybe just really really great at making you feel better. I have a favorite one that I use now and then when the time is right. You’ll have to ask my hubby what that is cause I’m never tellin’)

James Blunt, cranked to the top end of the scale, curse words and all makes me feel pretty damn good.

I sang and sang and sang and sang and sang. I’m pretty sure the lady next to me at the red light in Bridgeport thinks I’m a loon. I had the sunroof open and my window down while I belted off key. What’s the point if no one can hear you?!

The reality is that I can sing and I can dance and in my former life before this reincarnation I think I was a rock star. (Just kidding). But…I felt so great driving and singing and blasting those Bose from my big huge truck…therapy.

While I sang, I thought a lot about life, childhood, marriage, motherhood and my world. Only one thing was easily decided:  My kids are amazing.

One is absent and my heart breaks for her.

One is a ball star and amazingly sweet. I want to be like him when I grow up.

One is troubled and beautiful and fragile.

The last one is four going on 10. He’s also ready to take control of Microsoft Corp.

I thought about love.
I thought about how we take all the things we have in this life for granted and then someday someone does something to mess with it…and we’re at a loss to know what to do.
I thought about prayer and that without the privilege of talking with my God, I’d be the loneliest woman on the face of the earth!
I thought about my church and how I really probably know only a handful of people, yet they’re all there with me on Sundays and other days.
I thought about the struggles my parents are going through and how that’s only going to get worse soon.
I thought about me and how I want to be young for a long long time.
I thought, “Crap! I’m going to be forty in a few years!!!”

And I decided that Erin’s okay. She’ll struggle and so will I. We’ve cried a lot this last week together. We talked and laughed. She hugged me a lot. I hugged her back.  We also had a lot of fun. Play therapy is a great thing, ladies and gentlemen.

There is so much I want her to know.  So much I want to shield her from and keep her from doing. I want to make all her choices for her so she won’t screw up.  I want nothing but peace and joy for her and that’s not even remotely possible.
I want her to relax, breathe deep, exhale slowly and enjoy being a kid.

But, I’m going to teach her to let her hair down, crank up the tunes, open the sunroof and slide down the windows. Grab her favorite tunes, turn the key and go!!

Take it to 70 on a country road.

Drive and laugh and Sing Like You Mean It!!

Private Tears

I probably shouldn’t blog this stuff, but I’m not sure where else to put it. Since people we know and are close to read my blog, it’s a little bit unnerving sometimes to bare my soul. But, writing is my therapy and this is my outlet. It’s personal, private stuff put out there for the world, I know that.

My daughter turned 9 years old a few weeks ago. She had been looking forward to this birthday like never before because finally we were giving her a birthday party. I broke my promise last year to let her have a party when she turned 8 and she had never quite forgiven me. Let me tell you, this 9th birthday party was to be the bomb!

This past Saturday, fifteen little third grade girls, my sons and one friend of Liams, three adults and two ice cream cakes were scheduled for a 1:00 pm start to a swim party at an indoor water park.  At 3:00 Saturday morning, Erin came to my room with a belly ache. By 6:30 she couldn’t stop crying and was so exhausted from no sleep. At 9:45 she puked. No fever, no illness, not a sign anywhere of germs or contagions.

By party time, she was “fine.” One small episode of barfing during the party (no one noticed), otherwise she did great and we all had a lot of fun! She scored some awesome presents, including five new Webkinz. I’m a little jealous; I only have three. After the party, she slept for awhile and then went to bed early. Slept all night on the floor of my office so she could be next to our room. The belly pain began again in the wee hours of Sunday, and she stayed home from church with her dad. By lunchtime, she was pink and perky and ready to go.

This hasn’t happened to her for a long time. She has abdominal migraines/cyclic vomiting and there’s no real explanation for what precipitates these episodes. Her belly aches do seem to be worse when she’s worried or if something really exciting is coming up. Like Christmas, dates with mom or…her birthday party.

These cycles, coupled with her violent temper worry us enough that we’re meeting with a counselor this week to see what she says. Play therapy. Erin doesn’t know yet and she won’t be going with us. This is for grown ups to talk. We are actually quite concerned about the road ahead for Erin and what we’re going to find out. She frustrated, angry, worried, overwhelmed and tired. She’s depressed. I was a clinical pediatric nurse long enough to know she’s not behaving “normally” for her age.

We’ve got a few good ideas as to what’s bugging her; we may never know for sure. Nothing is simple.  I know too well what depression’s murkiness feels like.  I also know that we can do nothing to fix this. God is fully in control.

What a long strange trip it’s going to be.

Blissful Quiet

My phone isn’t working. Each year, it seems, we need to buy a new house phone. For some reason, we can’t seem to find one worth anything even though we don’t buy cheapos. Maybe that’s the ticket, buy a cheapo phone and it’ll live forever. One of my friends is having the same problem too (yes, same model phone).

For right now though, the quiet in the house is nice. People can call me, I just won’t hear it ring and I can’t dial out.

It’s almost creepy being alone in the house on a Monday with no noise. I like it. I’ll likely get a whole lot of work done (which is what I’m supposed to do at home on a Monday!).

It occurred to me that God might have taken the phone calls away for a reason. Hmmm…maybe I need a little quiet time with him instead.

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.

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