Stepping off my Soapbox

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I love being right. It’s one of my favourite things ever. The allure of things such as quiz nights and games like Pictionary is the chance to be rewarded for rightness. It’s something inherent in my personality, I was always very black and white in my younger days. It’s something that must have made me insufferable at times – you know, that kid that’s raising their hand so high to answer a question that it looks like they’re about to pop a fufu. As with most characteristics, there is both a shadow side, and a strength side to this. Along with my moral policing of my friends, it also meant that I had a hunger for truth and a conviction to live out what I believed to be right.

I recently listened to a podcast called ‘The War is Over, if you Want it to be,’ by Brian Zahnd (Word of Life Church – I highly recommend, btw). Amongst other things, he highlights the current social media climate, pointing out that it seems that for many of us, rightness trumps relationship (no pun intended). Ouch. That got me. Although my black and whiteness of yesteryear has long become much more nuanced, I realised that my mind has been following some really unhealthy tracks in this regard. I often feel genuinely justified in thinking that it’s ok to disregard authentic relationship with people that act in a way that I perceive as wrong. At times I almost convince myself that Jesus stands on my side and would back me up 100%. Which is pretty sick.

It’s not that rightness doesn’t matter; I believe it really does. But things get a bit blurry when the issues we are willing to battle over are often a matter of perception. Do I believe in absolute truth? Yes. Absolutely. However, none of us individually have the all-encompassing global view and insight on any one issue that would constitute complete understanding.The irony that strikes me is that if younger me got the chance to meet me now, we wouldn’t see eye-to-eye on so many things. So many. I was passionately convinced of so many things that I now know were just plain wrong (like my conviction that I had a future as a gymnast – despite the fact I couldn’t do a cartwheel or touch my toes).

My best friend at primary school was from a Mormon family, and I remember us having a conversation one day trying to figure out what the differences between our faiths were. After a short discussion, she said that their bible had Mary Magdalene in it, while I said I thought ours was just Mary. End of discussion. Sorted. And on we went with our merry friendship. I LOVE that! What mattered was not who was right or wrong, despite the fact that we obviously didn’t really have a handle on our respective religions; what mattered was that we were buddies.

When you look at the New Testament, it’s so very clear that Jesus was much more interested in loving people first, and from that place he taught truth. He was happy just hanging out with people, regardless of the fact they were oftentimes societal outcasts, and most certainly not your average pew-dweller. In fact, you only see him getting super shirty with the Pharisees; the people who were obsessed with being right. Let this be a lesson to us all – and a red flag next time we’re tempted to start standing on our righteous soap boxes at the risk of breaking relationship.

Our search for truth is vitally important; but not nearly as important as our quest to live out a Kingdom life by loving people the way Jesus did.

Much love,
Deb x

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Row, Row, Row your Boat

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Some of our very favourite people were in town recently for a conference. They popped in for lunch, and over tomato soup and toasties, we caught up and discussed some of what they had heard at the conference. One of the speakers had just shared a message about seasons of obscurity, which struck a chord for our friends, but also for me. I’ve been thinking about it ever since. It feels like there’s nothing quite so obscure as being a stay-at-home-mum. I don’t get paid. My kid pretty much only says ‘thanks’ because we’re trying teaching him to not be a snotty brat, and he knows he doesn’t get what he wants unless he uses his manners. When I clean the house it takes all of 36.5 seconds for it to get undone again. Nobody gives me high fives for creatively arranging the afternoon-tea plate.

I have to stop myself from longing for the day when my as-yet-unborn son is old enough for kindy and I can get on with some ‘real’ work. Work where I get remunerated for my time, where I get to be part of a team building something valuable, where my ideas count for something and I receive recognition for my efforts.

In a bible study this week, I learned that the Greek translation for the word Paul uses as ‘servant’ in 2 Timothy alludes to the rower of a big ship. You know those big old ships that had a whole heap of slaves at the very bottom of the boat? Now surely THAT is the very picture of obscurity! Stuck in the bowels of a filthy great ship, no windows, no idea which direction you’re going, and breathing the meaty sweat of a shipload of smelly dudes. So unappealing, yet this is the kind of servanthood we’re called to. One in which the work we do is not for our own glory and gratification, but for that of our Captain Jesus. Now mercifully, God does so often give us tasks and work that ARE enjoyable and fulfilling. But we need to be careful that we don’t fall into the trap of using our gifts, abilities and daily tasks to meet inner needs for significance and love.

I quickly learned in church life that if I could be ‘good’ at doing Christian stuff, I would get plenty of encouragement and admiration. I felt significant if ‘important’ people recognised my hard work, so I got real good at doing what it took to gain that affirmation. When people were falling off the bible-in-a-year bandwagon left, right and centre, there I was still going strong four years in. I was the moral police amongst my group of friends at school, correcting a swear word there, casting disapproving looks at anything that, in my holier-than-thou opinion, may tarnish the good name of the Gospel. In fact, looking back now, the true miracle is that I had any friends at all! (I’ve since thanked some of my old friends for putting up with me. For real.)

This way of looking at the world was unfortunately encouraged by many a sermon and youth conference; where the altar call was all too often given only for those felt called to ‘full time ministry’, or to be a businessperson for the Kingdom, and occasionally, if you were lucky, a full time missionary. There was never a mention of the person who wanted to be a P.E. teacher, chef, artist, builder, bus driver, stay-at-home parent, shopkeeper or accountant. The clear preference of the cultural climate was that one should aspire to something with social prominence. Or in other words, minor Christian celebrity. The upshot of which meant you had people auditioning for the worship team who couldn’t sing to save themselves, and a dearth of volunteers willing to help with the kiddos.

What I’m slowly learning over this season of my life, is that it will never get more significant than a moment spent singing a song to Jesus on my back porch, just the two of us. Or making a meal for a family in need. Or sitting with my son while he takes an inordinately long time to squeeze out a wee treasure on the potty. ‘Cause the thing is, Jesus is the prize. He is it. And we get Him whether we’re manning the oars or captaining the ship. We are significant because He loves us, not because of what we do. And that, my friends, is true joy!!

Love you,
Deb xx

Family Ties

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This pregnancy has been pretty rough. The first one was a total breeze compared to this! I’ve had chronic migraines and a host of other lesser issues, and it’s just been sucky really. People have asked me how my summer was, and I feel like I didn’t really have one! I was a total hermity-hermit. I went underground. I lay in bed with frozen peas on my head/neck, the blinds down, and on the bad days, a tea towel tied around my head to cover my eyes. My saving grace on the bad days was audiobooks downloaded from the library (The Magician’s Nephew is so worth a re-read), and on better days I managed to churn through all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls. For the third time.

Needless to say, it’s been more than a bit dumb. I’ve been the closest to feeling depressed than I ever have before. And it got me thinking about people who live with illness all the time. The silver lining for me has been that I know it’s just a temporary arrangement. For others it’s a lifetime.

After a particularly bad spell, which ended in a trip to the ER, my mum-in-law stayed over, did the grocery shopping and made a bunch of meals for the freezer. I cannot tell you how appreciated that was. Another friend keeps texting me at random intervals and telling me that she’s bringing food around. Others have offered to hang out with Judah. These are the things that represent who Jesus is in such a real way. These are also the things that have challenged me to the core.

I’ve got friends that are amazing cooks and just seem to be able to whip up a meal for another family; blindfolded and with their hands tied behind their backs. Let me just say, I’m not that person. When a text goes out requesting a meal for a family in need, I’m ashamed to admit that my thought process goes though a wee grid. Do I know this family well? Will it be blatantly obvious if I don’t help out? Have they helped me before in the past? How many kids do they have? What can I make that’s big enough to split so I don’t have to cook for my family as well? But I’m realising that this thought process is just not the Kingdom way!! People in the New Testament church went so far as to sell excess land in order to make sure their brothers and sisters didn’t go without. I can’t be bothered going out of my way to make a blimmin meal.

I’m not just talking about food here. I’m talking about helping each other out with whatever needs to be done. Errands, yard work, house projects, childcare, finances. It shouldn’t be something we even have to think about. It’s just what the community of Christ does. At what point did it become just an option? What on earth has ever lead me to the place where it’s an added extra, rather than part of the fabric of life?

The thing about supporting each other in times of need is that it’s not only helpful, but it makes us part of the same family. When we lived in Christchurch we went through the fire. I won’t go into it here, but we lived a lifetime of crazy over those four years. I’ll never forget the outpouring of kindness and practical love after Caleb got impaled. I didn’t have to cook a meal for at least six weeks. People we’d never met kept bringing food over. They skipped their lunch breaks at work in order to spend time with Caleb in hospital. Magazines and HD drives with movies were delivered. Gas vouchers were given. It was incredible. And it marked for us the transition from people that attended that church, to family members that had been adopted.

You often hear people saying that “it’s just what you do for family”. That’s what we need to be doing for our Christ family. And also our human family, but that’s another post for another day.

So consider me challenged. I’m gonna just say ‘yes’ when I hear of a need. It needs to be the default.

Love you,
Deb xx

Let us Pray

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Prayer and I have always had a somewhat ambivalent relationship. Naturally, having been a Christ follower for many years, I have heard a LOT about the subject. I’ve always known one should pray. And I love Jesus so much. I really do. But I’ve always found prayer so boring. In my teen years I did everything a good Christian should do with regards to prayer. I had a wee book with a list of things to pray for everyday, complete with colour coding for each category. Or maybe it was a ranking of importance in case I ran out of steam halfway through. But either way, I found it to be a dry and life-sucking experience. I even timed my prayer times at one point. Because that’s how much I felt like I had to make myself stay in the prayer zone. And it was indicative of how much I didn’t really want to be there. I’m sure it even crossed my mind at some stage to make space amongst the shoes in my wardrobe to literally have a ‘prayer closet’.

As my journey continued, I experienced a freedom from the legalism that had previously marked my faith. I was no longer acting under the compulsion to do a list of things in order to feel like I was achieving status as a Christian. This was, of course, not an overnight thing, but a process over many years. The result of which meant that I no longer felt like I HAD to pray. I remember reading Anne of Green Gables for the 121st time, and one particular part of the story standing out vividly. Marilla has finally decided that Anne is going to be allowed to stay at Green Gables. In order to avoid the rest of the town knowing how much of a heathen she is, Marilla has handed her a card with the Lord’s Prayer on it, and sent her to her room to learn it. To which Anne responds, “Why must people kneel down to pray? If I really wanted to pray I’ll tell you what I’d do. I’d go out into a great big field all alone, or in the deep, deep woods and I’d look up into the sky – up – up – up – into that lovely blue sky that looks as if there was no end to its blueness. And then I’d just feel a prayer.” This was exactly how I felt.

So no-one is more suprised than I am to find myself following a daily liturgy of prayer. What!!? Yes!! I know!! My good friend Joseph recommended a book called ‘Water to Wine’ by Brian Zahnd. I started reading his journey from a hyper-Charismatic faith, to one that is much more eclectic and includes elements from many other expressions of the Christian faith. Much of what Brian speaks of resonates with much of the journey that I’ve already been walking for quite a while now, but not in regards to prayer. He speaks of prayer as soul formation. He points out that the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, and Jesus was like, “Here you go…” Jesus did not say, “Just feel a prayer.” He did not say, “Just let it out, tell God what’s on your heart.” That’s not to say of course that those things are wrong – they’re not. They’re awesome. And needed. But just probably not the fullness of prayer as it’s understood in a biblical context.

As I read this stuff I felt my defences rising. I was thinking, ‘I like what you’re saying Bri-guy, I even respect where you’re coming from, but liturgical prayer is not for me.’ But it nagged at me. Then I thought about it. Lots. I realised that I have been surreptitiously indoctrinated by the Pente theology that is always after the ‘new’ thing. When I was a Worship Pastor, I am embarrassed to admit that I told people we didn’t sing hymns because the bible says to ‘sing a new song to the Lord’. Good one Debs. As I pondered, I realised that there was so much flawed logic in this thinking. There are any number of amazing, invaluable, really old things. Like the bible. Or mountains. God Himself is extraordinarily old.

Another argument against liturgical prayer is that it’s a prayer that someone else has written, and that flies in the face of the thinking that prayer should flow from the heart. However, we sing worship songs every week that other people have written. I, for one, am very grateful that we do. Can you imagine the immense pressure every week if we lead worshippers had to get up and improvise new songs from the heart each week? Train wreck. Even though someone else writes the songs we sing, they are no less heartfelt when I sing them.

The first time I prayed through the liturgy, I was totally floored. I had never experienced the presence of God in prayer like that before. I was flooded with joy. And relief!! I don’t have to make up words anymore. There is a space in the liturgy to pray my own prayers, and to sit with Jesus; it’s just surrounded by Scripture and the prayers of people like St Francis of Assisi. And Jesus. No biggie. Brian Zahnd mentions that people often refer to liturgy as ‘dead’. Which he says is just bad English. Liturgy is either true or false, and the heart of the person praying is either dead or alive. So, he says, pray a true liturgy with an alive heart. So I am. And it’s amazing. I’m adding my voice to the countless other Christians gone before in petitioning God with rich and resoundingly true words.

You know what’s happened since I started praying this way? I look forward to it. Like I need it badly. And I’m not in a rush to leave. And my soul feels anchored in way that I’ve not experienced before. A restlessness within has been quieted. And for that, I’m immeasurably grateful.

Deb xx

Piggy in the Middle

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I’m a wee bit nervous to write this blog, truth be told. I hesitate to wade into the theological world for several reasons; whilst not a complete novice to the field, I am by no means the scholar that some of my dear friends are. Additionally, I don’t really wish to enter into robust debate about weighty issues. I am however aware that this will probably happen. And it will absolutely be of my own doing. So here goes…

My church background is pretty penty. Not the nth degree of cultish cray cray like substituting prayer for medicine, but definitely plenty of flag waving, tongue-speaking, dancing and lots of altar-calls. In my youth going days we had these events called ‘Holy Ghost Explosions’, which was obviously too much of a mouthful, because we ended up calling them ‘HG Explosions’. I’ve no doubt we thought it was pretty clever at the time, but in hindsight it sounds like a lab experiment gone wrong – mercury everywhere. Very dangerous.

Like many things, those days were a mix of the ridiculous and the sublime. There was a span of time when anyone who ended up getting slain in the spirit on an altar-call would be covered with a ‘modesty blanket’ – even if they were wearing jeans. The front of the church would sometimes resemble a makeshift wartime field hospital. And then there was the era of people hunting high and low for wonders such as fillings turned to gold, or sprinklings of gold dust on one’s body. Which is not to say that this didn’t happen sometimes, but the unsettling thing was the way some seemed to chase them with the fervour of winning a holy lotto draw. It just didn’t appear like a healthy kingdom-building way to live.

BUT. Those were the days when I got acquainted with the very real presence of Jesus. And it’s to this day my favourite thing in the whole wide world. I adore being able to experience the overwhelming love, joy, hope, dreamyness, light, comfort, truth and goodness that is God’s manifest presence. And the healing and freedom! I know for sure that so much of the joy and peace evidenced in my life today is a direct result of the beautiful restoration outworked by Jesus in those times.

Over time, like many of my friends, my theology began to shift in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. I began to ask questions. I started reading some more weighty theological books. I had a lot of discussions with people attempting to navigate through similar mazes. I think a lot of us felt a bit disillusioned that the Christianity we were experiencing didn’t seem to have very plausible answers to some of the big questions we had. Stuff about healing, prosperity, suffering, brokenness, eternity.

As the years have passed, there seems to have been a parting of the ways. The more Pentecostal camp, and those that have veered in a more ‘intellectual’ direction, for lack of a better word. The separation is, I think, somewhat fuelled by hurt. I know when I started asking big questions, it felt like I was being subversive. I felt invalidated and shut down. I felt hurt. I wanted to say, “I’m still me. You know me! I still love Jesus. I’ve just got these questions. And I think they’re important.” However, I can only imagine how it would feel on the other side of the fence. Having one’s beliefs and ways of doing things seemingly cast in a light of doubt and suspicion. I could imagine one of my friends on the other side of the fence wanting to say, “I’m still me. You know me! I love Jesus too. I feel happy where I am and attacked by your questions.”

The question I’ve been mulling over lately is this; does it have to be either/or? The ‘Pentecostal’ camp is sometimes painted as a bit mindless and unrealistic. The ‘intellectual’ camp is periodically viewed as highbrow, exclusive and not very joyful. But I want to pitch my tent in both camps! I want to keep studying the historical context of the bible and it’s application to modern day living. And I want to throw my eyes, heart and hands in the air and experience the total wonder of the presence of the Holy Spirit. I want to be a well-read holy-roller. An intelligent hardcore penty. A lover of study and the manifest presence of God. I want to walk into church with my NT Wright tucked under one arm and my modesty blanket under the other. (That was a joke).

I know it can be done. You know how? We have a friend called Sam. He’s a very intelligent and very Spirity dude. He reads, studies and converses with the best of them, and while mercifully we’ve never seen him dancing for Jesus in a loincloth (although Jen may have), he’s about as free and passionate for God’s presence as anyone I’ve met. So shoutout to our friend Sam. Because I want to be like that. How about you?

Until next time,
Deb xx