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

Thanksgiving

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With the occasion of Thanksgiving I had planned to pen a cute and peppy wee list detailing the things for which I am grateful. However, as I pondered this list, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Not because I am not grateful for a million things; I absolutely am. All the usuals; Jesus, family, friends, a lovely home, food on the table, clothes on my back, health etc. But somehow as I considered my list, there was no energy behind it. It would be rote and from my head. Because my heart these days is suffering from what I can only describe as ‘ennui’. (Gilmore Girls super-fans, you’re welcome).

My health turned a corner at about 21 weeks pregnant, and I only face migraines roughly once a fortnight, as opposed to the daily battle that was occurring prior to now. So I’m not as sick as I was. But I’m tired. So tired. I sleep about 10 hours every night and then nap for at least an hour during the day. Doing almost anything requires what feels like a superhuman effort. To add to this, the weather has turned. It is on the verge of snowing on a regular basis, the sky is icy and unfriendly, and my 3 year old has just discovered for the first time that he really doesn’t like going for walks in the cold anymore. I feel housebound, deflated, purposeless and there’s a newborn on the way. Help me Rhonda.

Whilst out for a wee walk (waddle) the other day I was pondering the things for which I am thankful. The train of thought followed something like what I have detailed above; I have a list in my head, but it feels devoid of warmth, so what then do I really feel grateful for in my heart at this moment? And the answer? Redemption.

No matter what craziness happens to us, around us, in us or through us, Jesus is in the most hope-inducing business of making the broken whole, beautiful, purposeful, radiant. I know this to be true, not just because the biblical narrative is predominantly a redemption story, but also because my own life narrative has already taken some stunningly redemptive turns. When I look at the state of my inner and outer world over time, I see formerly painful and dark areas I had just accepted as normal, now peaceful, flourishing and light-filled. This has been purely the result of Jesus’ redeeming work in my world. This gives me such hope.

The thing that fills my heart with joy, is that this journey from death to life is not just for my world, but for the people around me, our societies, cultures, and ultimately for the earth itself. Outside a school down the road, I was struck several months ago at a little plant root that had grown up through the asphalt. Even despite the best efforts of a bunch of hot bitumen, this tiny wee plant had raised its tiny head and cracked through to find the light. And so shall my heart. And yours. Maybe not today, maybe not in the near future, but barring all else, most definitely in eternity. Although, can I just say hurrah and thanks be that Jesus does give us great hope, and often beautiful resolution in the here and now!?

So as I go about the days ahead, as grey and murky as they feel right now, I will continue to look for the small glimmers of redemption that are popping their heads above the clouds. And I will remember that those glimmers represent a tiny portion of what will one day be full restoration. Amen.

Love you,
Deb xx

Wading into the Political Quagmire

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I’ve purposely steered clear away from engaging in any political comment on Facie regarding the coming election. Although, I think I may have mentioned something over a year ago when I genuinely thought it was a joke that Donald Trump was running. The whole thing is making me feel tired on the inside. All the fear-mongering, nay-saying, predictions of certain doom (and its best friend gloom).

I told Caleb recently that although I’m trying to make writing a regular discipline, I only want to blog when I actually have something to say. And today, I really want to say something. I know that I’m only adding my voice to the millions. I’m hoping that this will be a non-anxious voice.

The thing that keeps hitting me in the face, is that as Christ-followers, this changes NOTHING about the way Jesus has called us to live. If anything, it highlights it. Earlier this year when I was having some medical issues, the doctor told me that it looked like I had a mass on the south wall of my bladder (who knew your bladder had a south wall?). It was unusual, and they couldn’t rule out cancer. I had to wait several days before I could get in to see a urologist for what was an unmentionably uncomfortable procedure (except to say that it involved a camera…and my bladder…). We were driving home from church the day after the initial scan, and I just remember saying to Caleb, “This doesn’t change anything. If I do have cancer, it’s gonna suck so much. But it doesn’t change the way Jesus has asked me to live. It doesn’t change his goodness, eternity, or His long term plan. It will change what daily life looks like, but it doesn’t change the fundamentals.”

I’m not saying the current election won’t have massive ramifications on America and the world. My little knowledge on the inside workings of US Politics largely comes from The West Wing (and on that note, may I just say, ‘Bartlett for President’?) But I do understand that there are implications for the future of the Supreme Court, unborn children, refugees and migrants, and countless other very, very important issues. But does it change the day-to-day example for living that Jesus set? Not at all. Jesus Himself was born into a time of political instability. I think Christians often think of him as apolitical. I can’t get onboard with that – why else would the leading powers want him dead? His politics were subversive. They transcended the political ways of human rule. They pointed people away from the sovereignty of the leaders of the land, and instead to the Leader of the Kingdom.

The same applies today. Regardless of what the rulers of the land dictate, our political mandate is a higher one. One of hope, of love, of caring for the orphan and the widow, of kindness to our neighbour. Christians living under all forms of peaceful or tyrannical government have had the same mandate. It has not changed. Panic about what the future may hold, is not the Kingdom way. Jesus himself said, “Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.” (Jn 14:27).

So perhaps we could see the current political uncertainty as a cool opportunity to put into practice the politics of the Upside-down Kingdom. A chance to be peaceful in a time of anxiety. An opportunity to be kind in the midst of vitriol. A moment to hold hope and joy in the face of an uncertain future. I, for one, intend to (metaphorically) hum the old Sunday School tune at the coming days, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”

And that is the last you’ll hear from me on the subject!!

Over and out friends,
Love you,
Deb x

The Sound of Silence

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I was chatting with a friend the other day about just how busy life can get. I remember thinking how busy I was when I was in high school. And though it was full, for sure, it was just a so much less responsible life. It was busy, but less weighty. I had to take care of school, church and youth stuff, part time work, and friendships. I didn’t have to take care of paying bills, looking after a house, fostering a marriage, raising a tiny human, buying groceries and cooking meals. And did I mention finding matching socks when folding the laundry? Damn you socks.

But it’s not just the stuff we do that makes life busy. It’s the noise. Social media. News. Music. Chitchat. Clutter. Entertainment. Games. Books. Advertisements. Fluorescent lights. The things that fill our senses, minds and souls day in and day out. It’s wearying.

Being relatively new to the country has afforded me a unique opportunity to be more considered about what I decide to add to life. I really don’t want life to be so full of stuff that I don’t have margins. Space for people, energy to play Duplos with Judah, room for spontaneity. I am increasingly aware that if I want life to look this way, then it’s going to have to be intentional.

I’ve always considered peace to be something that kind of falls on you. You know, like the dove when Jesus got baptised. I pray and it just descends, fluttering its sweet comforting wings (but not pooping on my shoulder). I’ve prayed for peace a million times for myself and others, and it always goes something like this; “Lord, let your peace that passes understanding just fall on _____ now.” You know the one. But what if peace is something we have to create space for? What if peace doesn’t so much come to us, but we go to it?

I guess my hope was that peace would imbue whatever I was doing in life. And I’m not saying it can’t, by the way. But I always thought of it as something added to the craziness of life; something to make me feel calm whilst I go about doing whatever. However, what I’m discovering, is that as I’ve become more deliberate with liturgical and contemplative prayer, peace is waiting for me. It’s waiting in a secret garden. It has a bench for me and Jesus to sit on. Beautiful green grass, a big leafy tree and a river running right through the middle of it. My liturgy is like the path leading to the gate, and then I enter the gate and just sit there. It’s so colourful and vibrant, that almost always when I open my eyes again, the world around me looks a little pale in comparison. And it’s completely full of peace.

I’m not gonna lie, I get a bit irritated reading some of the authors that write about this stuff. Not because they’re not amazing, and encouraging, and right. But because they’re often 50 plus male theologians. Likely at a time in life where they don’t have small kiddos and suffer sleep-deprivation. Not tied up with a work week that leaves them physically exhausted at the end of the day. Even Jesus was able to just take off into the wilderness for extended periods of time to pray. I would love that luxury. Please, send me to the wilderness by myself! But, my life is my life. And if I want to experience peace, then it’s my responsibility to create space for it. In small ways, this has meant that I find myself turning the radio off in the car more often. Allowing silence to settle around me. In bigger ways, it has meant carving out half an hour everyday to pray and sit with Jesus.

I read recently that silence restores our souls. And after just experiencing the relentlessness of daily life, my soul gets bedraggled. It feels likes it’s fraying at the edges. It has trouble holding itself up. It needs restoring. Not just for me, but so I am ready and able to be who God’s asking me to be in this world. I need to give from a place of rest and peace, not striving and strain. I may just need to say no to a few things in order to be able to take an intentional journey to a place of peace; to the Person of peace.

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