Saturday, December 28, 2013

Pastrix: I Choose To Believe God

I've been reading the book Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber. My phone says I'm on 144 of 206, so I plan to finish it tonight, but I had to stop a few pages back and write out some thoughts. On page 139 Nadia is talking about Matthew 3:17 - 4:1, where God names Jesus "Son" and "Beloved" and then immediately Jesus is tempted by the devil in the wilderness, and she says,
"Maybe demons are defined as anything other than God that tries to tell us who we are. And maybe, just moments after Jesus' baptism, when the devil says to him, 'If you are the Son of God...' he does so because he knows that Jesus is vulnerable to temptation precisely to the degree that he is insecure about his identity and mistrusts his relationship with God.  
"So if God's first move is to give us our identity, then the devil's first move is to throw that identity into question. Identity is like the tip of a spool of thread, which when pulled, can unwind the whole thing." 
The way Nadia puts Scripture together through this book and applies them to life reminds me very much of someone I used to work for named Billie. (Billie happens to be a pastor now, too.) I absolutely love when I get to meet Billie for lunch, which is rare these days since I moved to another town, but used to happen every day. She is very much a "normal," very relatable person and talks about a lot of normal things, but she also usually shares with me what she is thinking about preaching, or what she recently preached. And she loves the Bible. We often joke about how God "changes the words" and "puts Scriptures in there" just for her at just the right moment, because she notices things that go together that I've never heard anyone notice before. And when I was reading Pastrix earlier today, I felt the same way about what Nadia was saying.

Not too long ago Billie was telling me some of her sermon ideas, and she had commented about how Christians often make "salvation" this mysterious thing that is scary and difficult to attain. But the way she reads it in the Bible, all it takes is belief.

In Genesis 3, when the snake tempted Eve, his method was to throw into question the truth of what God had told her. "Did God really say...?" He proceded to tell Eve that God had lied, and threw into question God's motives. Human brokenness (sin) came about because of a failure to believe God.

John 3:16, everyone's favorite verse, says, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

Hebrews 11:6 says, "For without faith it is impossible to please to God. Everyone that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him."

In short, salvation comes through believing God. Sin comes through not believing God.

What Nadia says in the pages following the quote at the top of this post basically echoes what I am about to say, but I did not read it until after I had written these words. This is the truth as revealed in my own heart as I read. God says God loves me. I am God's. No matter how convincing any demon (read that in Nadia's definition) is at trying to persuade me otherwise, my salvation (from self-destruction and from being crushed by a cruel world...or contributing to its cruelty) will come from believing, no matter what, that I am God's and God loves me. I dare say, a person is bound to behave like what they believe themselves to be.

Around 2006 or 2007 I had been dealing for years with waking up in the night and feeling like there were spiritual demons in my room. I was raised Pentecostal, so though this sounds absurd to many people, I believed it anyway. Every. Single. Night. I would wake up and spend the night frozen, terrified to move, knowing that the next breath was probably going to be my last and the darkness was going to "get me." I got very little sleep. What sleep I did get happened with the light on, because it was easier for me to calm down and get back to sleep if the room wasn't pitch black when I awoke.

I shared my struggle with a older, Pentecostal friend, whom I still regard as one of the wisest people I've ever known, even though we believe things a little differently now. Her name is Becky. She told me, "When you wake up, you say out loud, 'I am a child of God, and you have to go in the name of Jesus!" She would always tell me to say things out loud because, "If you're going to believe anyone, you're going to believe yourself." So, I put what she told me into practice. At first, I could not find the strength to speak out of my terror. But slowly, I began to stutter out the words. "I am a child of God," I would whisper, tears drenching my face, body shaking. Before long I could say it with a little more confidence. "I am a child of God, and nothing can hurt me!" After a while, as soon as I would wake up, I would immediately proclaim my identity to whomever or whatever might be plaguing me, and turn over and go back to sleep. Then at last, I wouldn't even wake up afraid anymore.

Eventually I believed I was a child of God and nothing could hurt me. Knowing who I was in God gave me the confidence to overcome the very real fear I had struggled with since I was a little girl. And I think the principle applies to all the self-defeating demons people deal with. To know that I belong to God and God loves me...this is truly Good News. It means I am not subject to anything that can hurt or hate me. It is a Good News I think is worth sharing with others!

Every chapter of this book so far has hit me almost as powerfully. If you cannot abide bad language, don't read it. If you don't think everyone is welcome in the kingdom of God, you might be offended if you read it. But if you think it's possible God is a little bigger and untameable than you or other Christians you've known have ever imagined, you might give this book a shot. It is the best thing I've read in years.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

7QT - Happy Cows, Holidays, and How About That

A Facebook friend posted this video this week. It's pretty brief, do watch it!

Earlier that same day, I had been playing with my puppy, and while I was pondering his sweet and playful personality, I thought of cows and other animals that are raised primarily for food, and wondered how their personalities might "magically" develop if someone were paying attention.

A year or so ago I debated with a friend who argued that animals are just as sentient and "soulful" as humans (I argued that humans have souls/are capable of relationship with God and animals do/are not). Since then I have come to have a little different view of nonhuman life. I still believe humans were created in the image of God, and as such, their lives take precedence over the lives of animals. But I think I consider animal life more precious than I used to. We share a world with them; our bodies operate the same way theirs do; and really, they do a lot for us. I'm not to the point of joining PETA yet, but maybe we should show more respect to our fellow earth-dwellers. Maybe even the vegetarians are onto something....

In thinking about achievements...monuments, memorials, and so forth...I've always regarded them as fairly worthless/meaningless. Like...I remember for one of my jobs, I worked for a national office, and one of the things I did as an administrative assistant there was create certificates for people, either in recognition for service or passing various educational courses, etc. I remember designing the certificate on the computer, making up the fine words on it and checking it for spelling errors and all, and then printing it out right there at my desk, and thinking, "Someone is going to feel so honored to get this piece of paper I just printed off." And I didn't get it. Certificates and other awards lost pretty much all meaning to me at that point.

But you know, it's not the paper or trophy or statue itself that is special. It is the honor it represents. It is the fact that a person is being celebrated for some service or achievement...some contribution to life as someone else knows it here on this planet.

I saw several pictures or announcements for baby showers on Facebook this week. That, too, reminded me how people were getting together to celebrate a life - a life, moreover, that hasn't even arrived yet. The celebration represents the expectation of the joy that life will bring to his or her family and friends in the future, and the potential for, well, anything!

I'll go a little further with this thought.... There are times when I deal with feelings of inadequacy or unworthiness. (I do a lot better with that now; it used to be a huge issue for me.) Celebrations of me used to cause me great embarrassment. I hated being singled out for recognition, whether it be for academic awards ceremonies or birthday parties. I felt like I didn't deserve to be celebrated - it wasn't possible there was anything about me that would give anyone a reason to take a break out of their important, busy day and look my way.

Last week I talked a little bit about each life being equal in value to every other life. But I wonder how many people go through life without ever being recognized for anything good - no birthday celebrations, no awards, no cheap certificates of appreciation, no applause...nothing. Makes me wonder what I can do to bring a little celebration to the uncelebrated.

I'm going to give that some thought.

Thinking about the April A to Z blog challenge. It'll be here in a few short months! I still can't believe I successfully completed it last year. I really enjoyed it and gained a LOT of followers through it. Found a lot of blogs to follow, too! So now I'm beginning to think of what I will blog about if I participate this year (which I probably will). Should I have a theme? Last year I tried to blog every day about something related to the theological nature of this blog. I could do that again. I could pre-write some or all of the posts. I could even take the beginnings of the novel I penned out during NaNoWriMo last month (which I did not complete) and work on a new aspect of that each day during April. That might be fun - A to Z from a fictional angle.
Founder's Day.... So when I lived in Joplin, I'm pretty sure there was a Founder's Day parade and festivities. On Gilmore Girls, Stars Hollow had one. In it and another of my favorites, Hart of Dixie, the towns' Founder's Day celebrations commemorated a romantic heritage. It made me wonder about my own "Founder's Day" story. I've always known the gist of how my parents met...or at least that their relationship revolved around church and they were introduced by my great-uncle. But that's about it. So this week I asked my mom to tell me more about it. She told me a couple new details, but didn't respond when I asked her to be more specific (yeah, I was asking her through Facebook messaging). So, I still don't know details. But I know a little more. She said he was always coming up with crazy, off-the-wall things to say, kind-of like I do. They divorced when I was very young and I choose not to have a relationship with him, so I don't know him or his personality. But I wondered this week for the first time about their love story. If I had any details, I could have made this a more interesting take, I'm sure. I may keep trying to get more information out of her....
Oh yeah - there was a holiday this week, wasn't there?! ;) I didn't do too much. My brother who lives in Joplin (Sam) went to Ohio last week for our aunt's funeral, but he made it a point to come back in time to spend Christmas with me. Yeah, he can be pretty thoughtful. My mom sent us both gift certificates to Outback Steakhouse, so we went there for Christmas Eve dinner. He told me the day before that I was to dress up. Normally, he wears a suit when we go out, and I wear jeans and a sweatshirt or something. That's how it was on Thanksgiving. But I made a little bit of effort on Christmas Eve, and we brought my friend along and had a good evening.

My brother and me.
Christmas Day Sam went back to Joplin, and I, being a third-shifter, slept until late afternoon. Then I went to a friend's house. We watched some movies and then...well...I've been kissed. Merry Christmas to me!! :) (And now we'll see if anyone I know actually reads my blog lol.)
A couple friends from work and I are beginning to work out a few times a week after we get off work in the mornings. We had a lot of interruptions in December, with weather and Christmas and all that, but now we plan to get serious about it. The last time was pretty fun. I don't think either of them expected me to be as loud as I am....
Welp, y'all, have a good week. I probably won't post again until next year. ;)
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Thursday, December 12, 2013

7QT - Musicals, Books, and Life Lists!

Well did you see the live production of The Sound of Music starring Carrie Underwood? What did you think? I loved the opening number by the nuns, and really just thought the whole thing was a very well-performed effort. Carrie Underwood is quite the yodeler!! :D

Also I noticed that, except for the part about it being in Austria at the outbreak of World War II and in the midst of nazi infiltration and the characters having to run to another country to save their lives...and except for the part about Maria being a nun and then governess of seven children and falling in love with their millionaire dad...except for all that...the story is completely like my life!! If you're reading this and confused and thinking, "Well, if it's like her life except for all those things...then how, exactly, is it at all like her life?" well, then... pfpfpft...I guess you just don't get it, do you?

No, but really. It is. See...Maria starts out as a nun...novitiate? postulant? (you know, not yet a for-real nun, but more than a mere "wannabe," and wearing the habit and all)...and happy and all in love with Jesus and ready to live a chaste, secluded life in the abbey. But somewhere along the way she realizes that, although she could continue with these plans and be reasonably okay, perhaps she was really made for something else....


I reserve the right to not explain it any more clearly than that. ;) (Except...I wonder what it says about me, exactly, that I can identify so well with a plight fairly heavily dependent on 1930s/40s-era societal culture? Hmmm. Like the whole deal between Liesl and Rolf - "I need someone older and wiser / to te-ELL me wha-AT to do." O.o Yeah right. Whatever. Probably wouldn't listen anyway. Darn kids and their music.)

See?! Except for a FEW, MINOR details...Completely. Like. My. Life. (I knew you'd agree.)

"somethin'somethin'somethin' 'bout a lonely goatherd...."

Oh! [Clears throat] Sorry. Didn't realize you were still listening....

I've always had some inner instinct telling me I would accomplish something great in life. While thinking about it this week, I realized I now have doubts about that... not to say I think my life and its accomplishments will be meaningless,  just not as..." special"... as I had expected. Upon deeper reflection, I wonder if everyone senses that youthful potential that anything is possible and I will be the one who grasps the stars. I will be the hero of this story called "being".

But this realization makes me rethink what it means that no life is more or less important than another. I'm not sure why or how this is true, but I believe it is. How is the life of Mother Teresa no more valuable and precious than the life of Jack the Ripper? I don't know. If I had to choose between saving the five-year-old child of a philanthropist or the five-year-old child of a homeless person from would I do it? I don't know how. But I do believe life is sacred.

So...why the urge to achieve greatness or do something meaningful for my fellow humanity? I'm not sure, unless it is rooted in our inability to accept our own death, or else our own feeling that somehow my life is more meaningful than yours.

But really, I don't think memorable accomplishments do add meaning to life. So what if a person remembers my name, if the person doesn't remember me? I think a greater sense of significance comes from really knowing and being known than from anything we do or anything we leave behind.

That being said...perhaps the best thing we can do for our fellow humans is get to know them.

I have never had the ability to remember actors and actresses by name. My high school friends would all goo and gaa over the hottest new celeb, and I'd get horror-stricken looks in response to my innocent repetition of "Who's that?" So I visited a friend last night. She had picked up a couple movies from the Red Box - RIPD and All Is Bright. We watched the Christmas movie first, and kept trying to figure out who the actors were. I thought Paul Giamatti was Daniel Stern. I thought Paul Rudd was John Cusack. And I thought Amy Landecker was Amy Brenneman. I would say at least I got the "Amy" right, but no...I didn't call them by their names. It was more like "That's the guy who played in Martian Child, whose sister is an actress, too" and "that's the guy from Bushwacked and Home Alone" and "Oooh, it's Violet from Private Practice!" Yeah. I remember character names sometimes, and movie names...sure. But not actual people's actual names.

I read The Old Man and the Sea this week for the first time. It was nice to get out a classic - I used to read so many of them! And yeah, I could write a review here and discuss all the deep insights I had from this brief work of fiction - and I did indeed have some - but I figure there are probably many reviews already out there, written by greater thinkers than I. So if you've never read it, go look up somebody's review, and then go read it. It's great! I think whenever I make a transition in life it would be a good book to reread (if I could remember to do so).

Reading Hemingway...and having read through Harry Potter over the last couple months, and a few other books in between HP books...made me realize I've missed reading! I always have piles of books I really want to get to but never seem to do. So this coming year, that is one of my Life List items. Here's the Life List I have come up with so far for 2014:

1. Monster Truck Rally
2. Avett Brothers concert (they're coming to Springfield on February 14th!)
3. Summer in Budapest?
4. Move to MD and start at Hood (M.A. in Thanatology, pending my acceptance)
5. Visit Washington DC and Georgetown Library!
6. Read at least 1 book per 2 weeks (26 for the year)
7. Springfield Cardinals game
8. Hop a train!
9. See Handel's Messiah
10. Do a blog challenge
11. See a play
12. Arkansas diamond mines
13. Go geocaching
14. Refurbish a piece of furniture (desk or dresser)
15. Make something out of a wood pallet!
16. Volunteer at local homeless shelter
17. Get passport (if going to Budapest/overseas)
18. Go deep-sea fishing
19. Get another tattoo? (I have a couple of ideas for ones I want)
20. Willie Nelson concert (coming to the area on March 1!)

I made my first Life List this past year (2013), and with it I accomplished the following (which includes a few extra things that weren't on my list, but happened anyway):

1. Got a tattoo
2. Finished my MDiv
3. Saw the ocean
4. Went to a rodeo (PBR)
5. Participated in 7 Quick Takes!
6. Blog challenge: April A-Z
7. Tried smoking a pipe
8. Tried smoking a cigar
9. Tried champagne
10. Lost and kept off 10 pounds (not as much as I had hoped, but still, an accomplishment!)
11. Bob Dylan concert!
12. Explored several art galleries in Springfield
13. Got a puppy
14. Attempted a container garden (and got 2 vegetables out of it! Talk about self-sufficient!)
15. "Painted" with oil pastels
16. Got my first normal-sized Christmas tree (I think I had a miniature one or two before)
17. Read through the Harry Potter books
18. Had an academic article published
19. There was one other "big thing" on my list that I had hoped would happen this year...and the opportunity did in fact present itself, but when it did I decided it was something I would wait for until another time.

There were a few things on the list I did not accomplish, but look at what all I did do! It was a great year!!

What are some things you want to do in 2014?

My Christmas tree. :) Got many/most of my ornaments from various friends over the last several years, and decided I would go with a country-style theme. I love it.

For more Quick Takes visit Conversion Diary, and have a great weekend!!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

7QT - A Perfect Plethora of Ponderosities

Nelson Mandela passed away today. I am embarrassed to admit, I don't know much about him. I know he was a president of South Africa, and I think he had something to do with ending apartheid. I intend to remedy this lack of knowledge!! However, I did come across this awesome quote from him:

I'm on Book 7 of Harry Potter. Early into it, Hermione explains to Harry and Ron what she has discovered about horcruxes and how to destroy them:
"But even if we wreck the thing [horcrux] it [a division of Voldemort's soul] lives in," said Ron, "why can't the bit of soul in it just go and live in something else?" 
"Because a Horcrux is the complete opposite of a human being."  
Seeing that Harry and Ron looked thoroughly confused, Hermione hurried on, "Look, if I picked up a sword right now, Ron, and ran you through with it, I wouldn't damage your soul at all." 
"Which would be a real comfort to me, I'm sure," said Ron. Harry laughed. 
"It should be, actually! But my point is that whatever happens to your body, your soul will survive, untouched," said Hermione. But it's the other way round with a Horcrux. The fragment of soul inside it depends on its container, its enchanted body, for survival. It can't exist without it."  
This discussion naturally made me think of Christian universalism and the biblical text that possibly has given me the most trouble in seeing how it could be both a biblically- and logically-sound theory. Naturally. I'm sure that's what you thought of, too.

The text to which I refer is, of course, Matthew 10:28: "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (NIV).

What gets me is that both are being "destroyed" (because of this terminology, in fact, I have long thought this verse was probably key to any doctrine arguing for conditional immortality). Perhaps Jesus isn't emphasing eternal punishment here at all, but rather the difference between physical and spiritual destruction. You've heard the saying, "There are worse things than death." Psychological anguish is certainly one of them...ask anyone who has ever contemplated suicide. You also are probably aware that evil exists; some people do more than just sin - they do evil things that destroy others. The go-to example for this is Hitler. Cliche, I know, but if there's anyone I can't wrap my mind around going to some sort of Heaven, or being redeemed by God, it's him. I think he provides evidence that some people can reject God's efforts at redemption. Even if hell exists and is purgatorial/temporary in nature...I think someone like Hitler would end up being there for a very long time!

But what would cause someone to do such evil acts? The same sort of woundedness of spirit that causes "everyday" sin in "less-evil" people...? Does spiritual destruction - breaking, if you will, past the point of being fixable - happen in this life? If so, that brings up two further questions: 1) is a spiritually broken person (with or without regard to the extent of brokenness) held responsible for his/her own brokenness? and 2) if the destruction of both body and soul happens as part of this life, then maybe Jesus isn't talking about an eternal pit-of-fire hell...but if not, then what is He talking about? What are the implications of this for practical theology?

This article by Maria Popova provides excerpts of a conversation between Albert Einstein and Rabindranath Tagore regarding the relationship between science and spirituality (basically, whether or not reason supports the idea of God). I found both sides of the argument interesting, and of course sided more closely with Einstein's. The next-to-last quote from Tagore (the really long one) caused me to relate one's search for truth to Maslow's heirarchy of needs:

You might think I mean a person's need for "truth" is in the heirarchy; but, though that might be true to an extent, I rather think it relates to each level of the heirarchy. Followers of specific religions and those who do not follow a particular system of belief differ in what they perceive as "truth" at each level of Maslow's theory. For instance, which is more important - physiological well-being or spiritual? Ask an atheist medical doctor and ask a Hindu, and you will get two different answers. (Ironically, in this context the order of Maslow's heirarchy is itself relative.)

Tagore speaks here of truth being relevant only insofar as it concerns humanity; thus alleged "truth" outside of human experience simply cannot exist in any meaningful way to a human (or at least that is how I very roughly interpret this part of what he says). My thought in relation to his proposition is that a person's understanding of "truth" does indeed begin with subjective experience. For instance - your physical safety needs probably rate second place in my priorities to my own physical safety needs. Perhaps truth could have its own heirarchy...or, putting it another way, perhaps I have moved "up" a level on the pyramid when your safety (or another's - perhaps, for example, my child's) at some point becomes paramount to my own.

I've been watching Once Upon a Time on Netflix. Is it weird that I see all kinds of theological applications in it? For instance, the whole first season revolved around the premise that true love is the only power strong enough to break any curse. There have been several different episodes that have made me think deep thoughts :), and now I am at the end of season two. Snow White is in the woods trying to convince Pinocchio to come back to town. She tells him it is time to stop feeling sorry for himself and just come back and face what he fears; no matter what he has done, he deserves a second chance. He tells her that is easy for her to say - she has never had to worry about forgiveness, redemption...she's never needed it. What he doesn't know is that she only days before had tricked Regina into killing her own mother.

What strikes me about it is that Snow White feels compassion for Pinocchio. He sees himself as a shameful failure, but she simply cannot see him like that. She sees the good in him. But while she is having the conversation with him in the woods, she is struggling to see herself with as much grace. As the episode progresses, she becomes sort of an advocate to get Pinocchio the help he needs to return from his wooden state. The inference is that she clings tenaciously to the hope that there is a remedy for him, because she desperately needs to believe there is a remedy for herself. So then, do like need and experience provoke the deep empathy and compassion required to help others with some measure of selflessness? We believe, after all, that Jesus experiences empathy for us because of the human life He lived.

But He never sinned. So...does He really understand/empathize with the plight of sinful humanity in need of a Savior? He got to see it first hand and witness its devastation in the broken lives He encountered, many of which He healed. But He never needed forgiveness Himself. (Some theologians, though, would argue here that though He never needed redemption, He did indeed feel the weight of the need when He took upon Himself the world's sin while He was on the cross.)

But back to Once Upon a is not fair for me to single out this instance of Snow White advocating for someone else and say she only did it because she needed restoration into grace herself. Before she ever "darkened her heart" through her role in Cora's death, she continually bestowed forgiveness and second Regina especially. So perhaps her advocacy for Pinocchio wasn't intrinsically selfish. Perhaps it wasn't inspired for a desire that someone would look upon her with the same favor. Perhaps God, likewise, can empathize with our need even though He has never Himself stood in need of redemption.

Perhaps I read way too much into fictional storylines....

(Sidenote: as this series unfolds, I am so impressed - the stories are brilliantly woven together!)

I am observing Advent for the first time this year. I don't know much about it. I do know it is a season of hope and expectation, looking forward to the Advent of Christ as represented by Christmas. I downloaded a nifty little liturgical calendar app on my Android phone, and I am reading a brief little blurb on there about a saint each day. I enjoy reading your blogs as I come across them, suggesting easy ways to observe the season, or mentioning new depths of truth you discover along the way. I don't yet have an Advent wreath, but I came up with this for the first week or two:

I think this season as a reminder of hope for me is very timely, and I am making it a point to light my little purple candle and remind myself of that hope whenever I get to feeling a little down or overwhelmed or like a failure, etc. I think it is going well so far. I missed attending church for the
First Sunday of Advent because I was sick, but I am looking forward to a liturgical experience this coming weekend (if they don't cancel because of the weather) at a local Episcopal church.

We've got snow!! As of today. So this evening I sat in my living room beside my pretty little Christmas tree (my first one!),
and my little snowman display,

( no attention to the heaping trash can in the background....)
with my Advent candle lit; made some Southwestern Black Bean Soup (tastes way better than it looks!);
and watched a couple episodes of the 1st season of Gilmore Girls which I got a couple weeks ago at a thrift store for $2.98! It was a nice, cozy evening. Then I went outside and scraped my car,
(See? Snow!!)
rented Monster's University, and came to work. (Thursday nights are my Mondays.)

I thought about putting a video of "Christmas Shoes" here for your viewing pleasure...but instead, how about I hook you up with a link to an article called "5 Best Ways to Survive 'Christmas Shoes'"? You're welcome. 
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