Archive for February, 2012

I Never Picture the End of February

I picture spring.  And Easter.  Warm weather and flowers.  And pretty skirts.

I picture summer.  And the pool.  The lake.  The beach.  The heat.  The long days, and the freedom.

I picture fall.  School starting.  Cooler weather.  Colorful leaves.  Halloween and Thanksgiving.

I picture winter.  Christmas, and all that comes with it.  New Year’s Resolutions.  Valentine’s Day.

And after Valentine’s Day, my mental pictures end until spring.

I don’t picture the end of February.

That means I am currently living in un-pictured days.

Days with no expectations, no anticipation, no mental images of what they will be like.

That means I didn’t picture the blessed warmer weather this year.

I didn’t picture the tiny, hopeful blossoms blooming in their best, most optimistic pink, on daring trees on campus.

I didn’t picture the large elephant sauntering past me, in all his rough, saggy glory, at the zoo the other day.

I didn’t picture sitting out on the glider in the warm sunshine, chatting with a dear friend from home about what God has been showing us during Lent.

I didn’t picture enjoying a fabulous story time at the downtown library with my favorite little girl in the world.

There have been so many unanticipated blessings, unforeseen gifts, un-looked for moments of happiness.

And they are nothing like I pictured.

Because I didn’t picture them at all.

Do you have any un-pictured blessings to share?

Top 3 on Tuesday: Internet Monk

Wow–my second week of “Top 3 on Tuesday,” and already I’m hitting a snag.  I’ve known since I first conceived this idea (which is to say, I’ve known for about a week), that I was going to feature “Internet Monk” as my second blog.  I just think it’s a really good resource for Christians: it is updated very regularly, and it is full of posts on current events in Christendom, deep spiritual thoughts, and even many informative historical analyses.  (Plus, it’s got one of those round-up things I was talking about, and those are always fun.)  Apparently, the blog was started by a man named Michael Spencer in November of 2000.  It became really popular:  in fact, “It was recently voted the number 6 blog at ChurchRelevance.com and is rated the #11 blog in the Christian blogosphere,” according to its information page.  Sadly, Spencer died of cancer in 2010; before he died, however, he passed his blog to Michael Mercer, who goes by “Chaplain Mike” on the blog.  Chaplain Mike has kept up with the blog ever since.

Here’s where I ran into my snag, though:  like I said, it seems that Internet Monk is always being updated.  And so, it’s really hard to pick out three posts to serve as highlights, or even to pick out my three “favorite” posts.  So I thought about it, and what I’m going to do instead is to highlight the three posts that really got me interested in the blog.  I initially thought I’d try to put each blog’s best foot forward, but at least two of these three posts are somewhat controversial.  Oh,well.  I figure that they’ll at least let you know if this blog is for you, or if you should run, screaming, in the opposite direction:

1.  iMonk Classic:  Talk Hard II–Defending Dissent

This was the one that really sucked me in.  It’s by the original author, Michael Spencer.  He is a little more “in your face” here than I usually prefer, but despite the occasional burst of vitriol, the overall content of his message was soothing to my soul:

There are thousands of people who don’t buy the kind of flat, literalistic inerrancy that is being sold among conservative evangelicals today, and, sorry to disappoint the gallery, but we don’t have to. Being a Baptist doesn’t force me to buy the search for the ark, young earth creationism, Hamm/Hovind, complementarianism, homeschooling, conspiracy theories, Dobson’s view of politics, bad Christian art, arrogant leaders, bad scholarship or the SBC’s view of itself as compared to other denominations.

Yes, I am critical of some of my brethren. I’ve never lived a day in Protestantism that there wasn’t a critical conversation going on. If the memo has gone out that we’ve stop asking questions and contending for answers, I didn’t get it.

And then he talks about Roger Williams, concluding that, “I may be wrong, but this web site is exercising something Baptist Christians used to care deeply about: DISSENT.”  (Emphasis his.)

Yes, he may be wrong.  I know for sure that I disagree with some of his opinions, even here, but I do believe passionately in critical thinking, which often expresses itself in dissent.  It was a good reminder that disagreeing with the (seeming) majority doesn’t automatically make one a heretic.  Sometimes I need to that reminder.

2.  Open Mic:  Evangelical Voters in SC

I have been ridiculously bad at keeping up with politics this year.  To be honest, I just don’t follow them at all.  So when I heard from Greg that Newt Gingrich won in SC, I was completely shocked.  I just didn’t get how that could happen.  I had just discovered this blog, and lo and behold, they had a discussion in the comments section that I actually found to be helpful.  Yes, most of the response seemed to come from “liberal” readers, but what I liked the most was the conservative response.  See, I honestly could not understand how Gingrich won SC, and hearing the conservative rationales, I felt that I understood it better.  Here is a sample conservative response from “Miguel” in the comments:

 I do believe moral character to be important, I just can’t become a single issue voter over that. We don’t need an incompetent saint in office. And I’m not waiting until somebody “pure” enough comes along in order to vote for him. I will take the lesser of two evils any day of the week, and I will sleep at night guilt free knowing I used what little influence I had for as much good as it could do.

It was actually helpful to me to listen to the conversation.

3.  Stories of Circus Acts Past

This article is a great example of the way the blog highlights the church’s past.  I had never heard about any of this crazy guy, St. Simeon Salus, who lived in the sixth century:

For much of his adult life, Simeon practiced the ascetic life of a hermit in the desert. Then he decided to return to his hometown of Emesa, prompted by the Spirit. His foolish behavior began immediately when he entered the village dragging a dead dog around, attracting attention and contempt. It is said that he then entered the church, extinguished the lights, and began throwing nuts at the women in the congregation. Upon exiting the church, Simeon turned over the tables of food merchants in the streets.

I mean, c’mon.  Don’t you want to know more about that guy?

Okay, hopefully that’s enough information to allow you to determine whether or not this is a blog for you.  I will leave you with this question:  had you heard of Internet Monk before this?  I’m just curious to see if any of my readers were holding out on me:).

The Collectors of Suffering

“He was…a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering.”  Isaiah 53:3

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened…”  Matt. 11:28a

Is there any thing weirder than the prayer request session before Sunday school starts?

Really, guys.  I have been in tons of these things–lots of different classes and lots of different churches–and I have to say that from an outside perspective, they must be totally bizarre.  Just picture it from a stranger’s point of view:  people file into class dressed in the spectrum of clothing that constitutes “Sunday best.”  We sit and smile and laugh and joke and make sometimes awkward, often shallow small talk, chit-chatting about the weather and the ball games and the small illnesses that are going around.  The conversations consist of the safe stuff, the type of light banter that suits a group that consists both of lifelong friends and barely-acquaintances that make up a typical Sunday school class.  And then, the class is called to order amidst jokes of never starting on time (always a feature, no matter what class it is).  Next, it is suggested that we open with a prayer, and the class is asked if they have any requests.

It’s a neutral question:  prayer requests can be either happy or sad–or neither.  But generally, the prayer requests break down like this:  5% thanksgiving, 10% neutral concerns (safe travel, etc), and 85% suffering.  In just a few minutes span, the class’ conversation has shifted from breezy analyses of the latest basketball game to detailed descriptions of close friends’ cancer battles.  In a whiplash-inducing shift, the class puts away their happy, small-talk masks, and unearths all the troubles of their world.  News pours forth of terminal diseases, of biopsies and test results, of not knowing how much longer so-and-so has.  Requests are brought forward, sometimes with tears, for marriages that are crumbling, drug addictions that are destroying, job searches that are seemingly unending.  Often, these prayer request sessions go on for fifteen or twenty minutes, as if the dam has broken and more suffering keeps pouring through the breach.  It seems that everyone knows someone who is in some state of crisis–if they are not in the crisis themselves, which is also often the case.   Sympathetic groans and sighs fill the room as the tales of pain, and often death, are shared.  In short, we collect all the suffering that’s willing to be shared; we draw it out and present it all to God.

And then, we start class.

Can you tell me anywhere else, outside of group therapy, where that happens?  Maybe I don’t get out enough, but I can tell you that I never had any other class, or was a part of any other group outside of church where people set aside time to pour out their suffering to each other.  And what’s more, Sunday school classes (and whole congregations) often compile these prayer requests, and the good Christian is expected to revisit this liturgy of pain daily.  It is desired that at some point during our mundane routines of survival, we will pause and rehash this collection of suffering before God.

I think it is a really beautiful thing, perhaps one of the best things about church.

See, no one likes suffering.  We don’t want to suffer, and what’s more, we don’t want to think about suffering.  The human desire is to escape the idea of suffering as much as possible.  I’ve been struck lately by the degree to which even the music we listen to (besides Adele) and the movies and television shows we watch downplay suffering.  Kelly Clarkston thanks the man who broke her heart for making her “Stronger” in a song that assures listeners that they need not mourn even after an intimate relationship implodes.  Mission Impossible 4’s Ethan Hunt (as well as every other action hero in the movies or on television) takes beatings that should land him in the hospital, if not the morgue, but he faithfully emerges, no worse for the wear.  Even the bad guys have supernatural strength!

Because really, we don’t want to see our hero lying on the ground, crying, even if that’s what he should be doing.  We can barely stand the thought of people in real pain, and we don’t want that stuff around us.  I think that it is the human tendency to busily construct little bubbles around ourselves and our family, bubbles that keep all that suffering and misery safely out.  Even though the bubble is always perilously thin, we find its presence strangely reassuring.

Church pops our bubble. 

In church, you can’t escape suffering.  For one thing, we talk about it practically every time we gather.  For another thing, if someone in your church family is suffering, it’s definitely expected that you darn well do something about it.  When you are an active member of a church family, there’s no real option to turn your back on your suffering brother or sister.  I think about my parents’ church right now.  They have been hit with death after tragic death lately.  The news coming out of that beleaguered church is positively grim.  And even though none of the deceased is related to my parents, their lives have been transformed by the suffering of their Body.  Practically speaking, that means that their existence has consisted of way too many hospital visits, way too many meals cooked for grieving families, way too much time sitting and crying with bereaved family members, way too many funerals and visitations, way too many sorrowful Sundays.  And on an interior level, I know it has been hard on them.  After all, when your church suffers, you suffer.  It becomes a part of your life until the suffering passes.

Perhaps this all sounds pretty depressing.  Like I said, it is not our natural tendency to seek out suffering.  On the contrary, our default setting is to seek pleasure and avoid pain.  That’s just how we roll.  But it occurs to me that when we embrace the suffering around us instead of running from it, we are following the very steps of Christ.  He was after all, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering.  Suffering didn’t scare him, which is why he could invite the weary and burdened to come to him and find rest.  To me, that means a disciple of Christ should be able to do the same thing.  We should not let our distaste for suffering cripple us; on the contrary, we should be able to open up our arms to those who are hurting, to carry their burdens alongside them.  Hurting people were drawn to Jesus.  They knew Jesus would not shrink away from them.  They knew he would see them, touch them, help them.  And so they came from everywhere, a parade of suffering, to see this man who could handle it.

And we are the body of Christ now.  And I know, I know we get a bad rap sometimes about how we treat hurting people, and some of it is deserved.  But I also know that I have been blessed my all of my church families, and from my personal, limited experience, I would say that the church is better at this than we have been given credit for.  In my life, church is the one place where people don’t shrink from suffering, where they allow it to flow out into the open, where they face it head on through prayer and tears and hugs and meals and cards.  Yes, we drop the ball sometimes, but we do try.

My time is up for this post, and I haven’t even gotten to the coolest part.  That will have to wait for Thursday, I guess.  Until then, though, I just want to leave you with the image of Jesus opening his arms out to the world, saying, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

He still says that.

And He still does it.

And He does it through the church, the collectors of suffering.

Bleeding-Heart Liberalism and Faith

Before I started this blog, I used to pepper my family blog with random spiritual thoughts that, honestly, did not fit in very well in a venue that existed mainly to inform relatives of the antics of my toddlers.  Since starting Kingdom Civics, I have been slowly transferring these old posts over here where they would be more at home.  This post has nothing to do with the post on conservatism I put up earlier this week, but I thought that the titles made for an interesting contrast.  I wrote this post in 2008.  Even though I’m not in the same place I was then, these ideas still resonate with me:

I’ve always heard that having kids will bring you so much closer to God.

For me, this was not true.

Okay, in some ways it did. I certainly pray a lot more now and beseech God on behalf of my children. I think about my actions so much more, knowing that I have two little souls who are watching and learning from me.

But motherhood also made me realize how different I am from God. When I became a mother, my empathy toward children skyrocketed to the point where the thought of a child being neglected or abused does serious damage to my psyche. It saddens me, horrifies me…I mean, it seriously depresses me. For real, do not talk to me in public about abused children, especially babies, unless you want me to start crying on the spot. I’m tearing up right now, see?

And so while in the past, I was able to reconcile myself with the idea of human suffering through the my own reasoning and the intellectual thoughts of others, it just didn’t work that way any more. And I found myself asking, “God, why would you let some poor, innocent baby be born into the world only to be horribly neglected and abused? What possible good can come from that?” I knew that as a parent, there was NO WAY I would ever let that happen, so how could God, whose love is so much greater than mine, and who has the power to stop it?

Oh, and in regards to the title of this post, these thoughts also apparently made me a bleeding-heart liberal. See, I read somewhere about this study that determined that a big difference between liberals and conservatives is that conservatives are okay with the thought that “life’s not fair,” and they don’t expect, or apparently want, it to be. Liberals, on the other hand, want everything to be fair, and all the unfairness and suffering bothers them. So I guess I’m a liberal. I will say this: the idea that Life Isn’t Fair does not comfort me at all.

So anyway, like I said, God has helped me through this several times in the past through the use of logic and intellect, but this time, I guess He thought I needed a picture. And whaddaya know, He used parenthood to teach me, and, yes, bring me closer to Him:

On Wednesday, through an unforeseen chain of events, I ended up mopping the Family Life Center at church with Anna. She was supposed to be at a friends house/in Greg or Katy’s office/asleep in her carseat, but it didn’t work out, and now here she was awake in her carseat screaming at me. The problem was, not only was she in her carseat, but she was in her carseat in the foyer, while I was ten feet away in the bathroom, quickly sweeping so I could mop. As I hurried, I started to imagine Anna’s feelings, completely bereft and alone, not knowing where her mama was or why she was essentially left to die strapped in her carseat.

And I wanted to talk to her. I wanted to say, “Anna, I’m right here. I’m right on the other side of this door. Why do you cry like I abandoned you? You know I would never leave you. And furthermore, everything that I’m doing, I’m doing for you. The money I make from sweeping and mopping pays for your health insurance. And I know the concepts of sickness, serious injury, hospitals, and medical bills are completely beyond your ability to grasp, but they all play into what I’m doing here. I’m helping you right now, even in the time that it seems like I’ve abandoned you.

And you know what? Furthermore, Anna, this particular situation wasn’t supposed to happen. For one thing, you got too tired to stay at my friend’s house, and then you got woken up by a paper shredder in the church office. Your daddy is out running errands, and so, due to the free will of many different people, including yourself, you are in this particular situation. But frankly, it’s not even that bad of a situation. I know it seems like an eternity to you, but it’s really just a few minutes.”

Now, while you could make many analogies connecting my particular thoughts to Anna to some possible reasons that God lets suffering happen, that wasn’t what struck me. Frankly, none of those reasons hold up in my mind to situations like lifelong abuse or starvation or so many other atrocities that happen. What struck me was the degree to which all these reasons were completely beyond Anna’s grasp. Even if we spoke the same language, which we don’t, her mind is simply not able to understand things like HSA’s and jobs and scheduling breakdowns. And the difference between her mind and my mind is nothing compared to the difference between my mind and God’s mind. He’s told me so himself in Isaiah 55:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the LORD.

“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Again, these ideas are not new to me intellectually, but seeing it so starkly as a picture was really helpful on an emotional level. Another new dimension was the immense love I felt for Anna the entire time that she was wailing to me about my unfairness.

The idea that “life isn’t fair” definitely doesn’t help me sleep at night. But the fact that there is an all-powerful and all-knowing God who loves all of creation…does.

The Cranky Conservatism of Greg and Kim Kirby

On Sunday evening, Greg came back from Winterfest, a huge youth event in Gatlinburg, TN.  We were glad to have him back and immediately celebrated by going out to McAlister’s with one of our gift cards.  On the way there, he was telling me about the weekend, which he very much enjoyed.  His glowingly positive reviews were briefly interrupted, however, when he paused to rant about one of the videos that was shown.  Apparently, this video accused the Bible of being too hard to understand, and placed the blame for its complexity on all the ways we’ve tinkered with it:  adding chapters and verses, for example, or putting Jesus’ words in red letters.  Greg was greatly perplexed throughout the video, and was even more annoyed when he was handed a Bible that was put together to rectify this alleged wrong perpetuated against Scripture.  This New Testament didn’t have chapters or verses, and the books of the Bible were put in a different order:

Greg was downright cranky over this innovation, which inspired me to launch into my diatribe against chronological and/or “harmonized” versions of the Bible.  We both ranted on for awhile, and then Greg summed up both of our viewpoints with the question,

“Why can’t we just let the Bible be the Bible?”

A few minutes later, we both started laughing when he raised the question, “And when did we get to be such cranky conservatives?”

Good question!

I will admit the irony in our viewpoints:  we get annoyed with innovations in the presentation of Scripture, yet our annoyance overlooks the fact that the very order of the Bible that we hold so dear is itself an innovation, put together during the Council of Carthage in 397 and 419*.  And while I found the Winterfest Bible’s order to be unnecessary, I have to admit that the arrangement of books made at least a little sense, according to my brief analysis of the table of contents.  Luke tells the story of Paul, and so Paul’s letters come after Luke/Acts.  Matthew, Hebrews, and James are the “Jewish” books.  Mark’s gospel is thought to be informed by Peter, and so Peter’s letters are listed after that book.  And all of John’s writings are together.  It’s not a totally absurd arrangement.  In contrast, the traditional arrangement of the New Testament lists the gospels first (fair enough), and then groups the epistles by author.  But they place the epistles within each authorial group…wait for it…in order from longest to shortest.  Longest to shortest!  Really?  We couldn’t order them by chronology…or content…or chronology…or theme…or chronology?  We went with longest to shortest?

I say all that to acknowledge that my own preferences for Scriptural presentation are just a little bit arbitrary.

Furthermore, my preferences for other Bible innovations are riddled with inconsistencies.  For example, here is a brief list of the types of Bibles that are okay according to Kim:

–Bibles geared toward certain ages or gender (i.e. children’s Bibles or men/women’s Bibles).

–Those Bibles that look like teen magazines (whatever gets them reading, amIright?)

–Most standard versions

Here is a brief list of Bibles that induce eye-rolls from Kim:

–Bibles geared toward certain interest groups (i.e. patriots, hunters, soldiers, couponers, etc)

–The Message

–Chronological Bibles

–NIV 2011 version

Now, see if you can spot the inconsistencies here.  Why are age/gender based Bibles, and even magazine Bibles okay, but not Bibles for interest groups?  And what’s with my intolerance with The Message?  It doesn’t even claim to be an interpretation, but a paraphrase!  I can read my kids heavily edited storybook Bibles all day long, but I’m going to turn my nose up to The Message?   Hmmm…let’s just say there’s a fair amount of sheer cantankerousness represented in these views.

But with the NIV 2011 and the chronological/harmonized versions, there is something deeper.**  It seems to me that both of those versions come with an unwillingness to let the Bible be the Bible.  I might be misunderstanding this feature of the new NIV Bible, but my understanding is that many of the pronouns were changed to become gender inclusive.  Now, I’m all for the inclusion of genders, believe me…but that’s not the language in which the Bible was written.  It’s just not.  It seems that in changing those pronouns, we are trying to improve upon the Bible.  To that, I say, let the Bible be the Bible.

Similarly, the Bible wasn’t told in a chronological story.  You can put the books roughly in order, but they will still overlap and retell the same story from different angles.  And that seems to be how God wanted it.  If He wanted to give us one seamless narrative, He would have.  But He didn’t.  And I have to have faith that there are four gospels for a reason.  And furthermore?  They. don’t. harmonize.  (Don’t believe me?  Take all four gospels’ versions of Jesus’ last week and try to put them into one narrative that doesn’t contradict itself or leave anything out.  I dare you.)***

But see, we want the Bible to be this way.  We want it to share our gender sensibilities and our preference for a seamless, coherent narrative.  We are in a period of history that values that things, so we want the Bible to value them, too.  I understand that, I do.  Believe me, there are times I want to get all Thomas Jefferson on the Bible and cut out the parts that offend me, like how women are unclean for longer after they have a girl baby, than a boy.  Or, you know, all the slaughter of whole populations, including women and children.  Or that vexing verse about women being saved through childbirth.  (I mean, really–what’s that about?)  But I can’t cut those things out…because they are in the Bible.

And…say it with me…I have to let the Bible be the Bible.  I have to let go of my desire for the Bible to function as a handy book of rules, or a science textbook, or a seamless narrative, or a Modern document, or a postmodern document, or a politically correct document…or even a book with all the answers.  (Believe me, I am generally full of questions after I read the Bible.)

Instead, I struggle to embrace the Bible for what it is:

The God-breathed story of God’s pursuit of man.

The God-inspired revelation of His Word, which is the person of Jesus.

The messy history of a sinful people who interacted with a God who spoke to their historical context.

The book of all the answers that I need.

I have to let the Bible be the Bible.

So, on a scale of 1-10, how cranky a conservative am I on this Bible thing?  Also, what are your views on what the Bible is or isn’t?  And are you also creeped out by the interest group Bibles, or do you think those are cool?  Inquiring minds want to know!

*Hmm, I always thought it was the Council of Nicaea in 325, but Wikipedia is telling me a different story(only the most intensive research is featured on this blog, folks).  You can do your own thorough research here.

**These thoughts represent my current opinions, but are certainly subject to change.  The first time I read through the Bible was using a chronological version, and I loved it (although even then, the editor’s assertion that he was putting the Bible “in its proper order” grated on me).  So clearly, my views on the presentation of Scripture have been evolving, and I have no doubt that they will continue to evolve.  But this is where I am right now.

***Greg would like it to be known that he has no problem with the 2011 NIV or The Message.  And I would like it to be known that I have no problem with the Winterfest Bible:).

Top 3 on Tuesday: Experimental Theology

Another name for this post could be, “In Which I Kill Two Birds With One Stone.”

See, I have been struggling with two conundrums.  One is that I absolutely love these weekly round-ups that several of my favorite bloggers do, where they give links to all the interesting articles they have read that week.  I always enjoy those posts and have discovered several new blogs that way.  Furthermore, I am forever reading wonderful posts and articles that I eagerly desire to share with you, dear reader.  My desire to share my fabulous finds usually leads me to ponder doing my own weekly round-up, where I give you links to all the fascinating words I have read in the past week.  Here’s the problem with that, though:  I only read about fifteen blogs.  Now, don’t get me wrong:  they are all brilliant.  But any weekly round-up I do will feature those same fifteen blogs, and, after about the second week, I would assume that would get pretty lame.

Here is my second conundrum.  I love my fifteen (or so) wonderful blogs, and I have often considered putting links to them on a sidebar on this blog.  Whenever I start thinking about it, though, I chicken out, mainly because some of the blogs I love are a little…crazy.  And controversial.  Let’s just say that I definitely don’t agree with everything in them.  And to me, putting a blog on a sidebar denotes full acceptance of everything written on that blog.  (On one level, I do know that the sidebar doesn’t actually mean that, but on another level…I still think it kind of does.)  So thus far, I have no list of brilliant blogs on my sidebar.

Both of these issues vex me.  Or at least, they vexed me until I had a “eureka” moment while driving the other day.  Here it is:  I could do a weekly round-up, but use it to highlight various posts from one of my favorite blogs!  After all, I have at least fifteen, so that will last me for awhile.  And this way, I will have a chance to explain the gist of each blog, as well as all the reasons I love it.  That alone will keep me from feeling so guilty about all the internet greatness I’ve been hoarding.  And then at the end, I will share my three favorite posts from that blog:  thus, the “Top 3 on Tuesday.”  Don’t correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure that this plan is brilliant and fool-proof!

Okay, so let’s get started, shall we?

The first blog I want to share with you is Experimental Theology, written by Richard Beck.

Hands down, what I love the most about Dr. Beck is that he is not a teacher of theology; instead, he is a psychology professor for Abilene Christian University.  I absolutely love psychology, so much so that I minored in it just for kicks.  And so I love how Dr. Beck regularly brings psychological analysis to bear on his discussions of theology.  For example, in a recent post, he delves into the psychological factors at work in how we determine “professional,” or “church appropriate” dress.  In another post, he gives the best analysis of Mark Driscoll’s accusation of the “feminization of the church” that I have read.  In yet another, he turns his personal predilection for pink into a meditation on the Christian’s “need to become immune to shame.”  And while many people have used the example of Jesus to humble me and make me want to be a better person, I’m not sure that anyone has ever had that same effect on me while using Lady Gaga.  Now that, my friends, is impressive.  And here’s another thing:  all of the posts I’ve just mentioned had me completely riveted, but none of them made it into my “top 3.”  That’s how good this blog is.  It’s a good thing I just really started reading it a few weeks ago, or I would never be able to pin down my three favorites.  As it is, I keep changing them, because I keep finding more and more good ones on Beck’s sidebar.

So here they are, my first

Top 3 on Tuesday

1.  Scooby-Doo, Where are You!:  On Disenchantment and the Demonic

Here, Dr. Beck analyzes my favorite childhood cartoon and clearly shows how a typical episode arc traces Western society’s journey from enchantment to disenchantment with demonic forces…and then shrewdly suggests that we might not be as free from them as we might think.  It rocked my world.

2.  god

In this post, Beck uses his fancy psychological understanding to argue, rather controversially, that nothing we say about God is entirely true.  He uses phrases like cataphatic and apophatic theology (don’t worry–I don’t have a clue what they mean, either) to put into (smart) words something that I have been feeling for quite some time.  And after reading his argument, I can’t say that I disagree.

3.  Seeing Her

This one was simple and poignant.  Beck employs one of the most horrific stories in all of Scripture to reflect on the idea that Christianity conditions us to naturally see situations from the victim’s perspective.  I have found myself mentally revisiting that simple point several times since reading it.

So that’s what I’ve gotten from Richard Beck’s “Experimental Theology.”  I am still fairly desperate to read his book Unclean, but I am currently in a shame spiral because of the books I still haven’t finished.  Thus, I think I’m going to have to put off Unclean until the summer.  So sad.  Thankfully, I have Beck’s blog to tide me over until then…and now, you do, too!

So have you read any good articles this week?  If so, leave a link, and I’d love to check them out!

Guest Post: “Being Targeted”

I’m excited to have my first guest post today.  Tim Fall, a faithful blog reader and commenter, had some thoughts that he wanted to share.  I have enjoyed reading his numerous guests posts on other blogs, and I was glad to give him this platform, however small, to share his ideas.  Enjoy!

Being Targeted

Everyone wants to be wanted, right? We hear this all the time. But there are times when the reality of being wanted isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Target’s Targets

Forbes recently ran an article about some freakily accurate target marketing at – where else – Target. Based on your shopping habits, the store will send advertisements and coupons that – with reasonable accuracy – fit your lifestyle. How accurate? They do such a good job of identifying pregnant mothers, they can get right down to the trimester the mothers are in and the month their babies are due.

The store’s statisticians and marketing team have also discovered that mothers don’t like to feel spied on. Mailing a catalog filled with baby items to the home before the mother has told Target of the pregnancy tends to freak her out. (You think mothers never tell Target they’re pregnant? What’s that baby registry all about, then?)

So Target decided to hide the ball; the catalogs still have all the baby items, but they are alongside unrelated marketing pitches such as lawn mowers. A target employee was quoted saying, “we found out that as long as a pregnant woman thinks she hasn’t been spied on, she’ll use the coupons.” Hmm. “Thinks she hasn’t been spied on.” Who’s wild about being wanted now?

Of course, being wanted, even being targeted, isn’t so bad if it works out well for us. But it’s not always profitable in the end.

A Prowling Lion

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8.) I’ve read that verse a number of times over the years, but this news article has given me new insight to its meaning.

Satan sees us. He watches our actions, discerns our habits, and designs temptations for us. He targets us. He sends us spiritual ads and coupons for discounted ways to please him. He likes nothing more than to steal a shopper away from the storehouse of spiritual gifts our heavenly Father has for us. Satan knows his targets well.

How does Satan target you? Consider what he sees you do with your time, your money, your family and friends. You may be doing things that are perfectly all right in and of themselves, but that doesn’t mean Satan is not taking note to see if there is a way to draw you into temptation and ultimately sin. After all, he “prowls around … looking for someone to devour.” He’s looking for it!

What hope do we have against such a powerful adversary? How can we escape his schemes? How do we keep from becoming his targets? Well Satan may be a prowling lion, but that does not mean that he is the most powerful cat in the jungle.

The Triumphal Lion

“Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed.” (Revelation 5:5.) Who is this Lion? It’s Jesus, the triumphal Lion of the Book of Revelation. And he does some targeting of his own:

            “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” (John 10:14-16.)

Jesus knows his sheep, his people. He knows our habits, what we do with our money, time, family and friends, and frankly he targets us despite those things. In fact, according to Paul, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8.)

You see, it’s not our habits that attract God’s attention to us but rather his own love for us – it’s his very nature – that drives his desire for us. That is the targeted ad he sends our way. And his offer is immeasurably more valuable and eternally better than Satan’s:

            “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:27-30.)

Jesus promises that once his, he will never let you go. We are his target. So what can we say now about wanting to be wanted? When you are Jesus’ target, it’s a good thing.

And he hits his target every time.

[Tim is a California native who changed his major three times, colleges four times, and took six years to get a Bachelor’s degree in a subject he’s never been called on to use professionally. Married for over 24 years with two kids now in college, his family is constant evidence of God’s abundant blessings in his life. He and his wife live in Northern California.]

The Fountain of Life

Your love, O LORD, reaches to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
your justice like the great deep.
O LORD, you preserve both man and beast.
How priceless is your unfailing love!
Both high and low among men
find refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house; 
   you give them drink from your river of delights. 
For with you is the fountain of life; 
   in your light we see light.

–Psalm 36: 5-9

Yesterday, I was driving home from teaching.  I was alone in the car and listening to the radio, and all of a sudden, I heard the most heavenly strumming on a guitar.  I know nothing about music and notes and such, so I can’t tell you how complicated or intricate the notes were.  They sounded pretty simple to me.  And yet, they were just so beautiful.  They spoke straight to my soul.  You know how when things feel so good, they make you want to close your eyes?  Whether it is a soft breeze while you are totally relaxed, a bite of a surprisingly exquisite morsel of food,  the feel of a back rub, or a really good kiss, there is something in your instincts that tells you to close your eyes so that you can enjoy the feeling more.  That’s what I wanted to do when I heard those guitar chords; I just wanted to close my eyes, sigh deeply, and say, “Thank you, God.”  Unfortunately, I was driving, so closing my eyes would be unwise, but I still felt the deep, abiding peace wash over my soul.  And in that second, I was transported from the surface of my day’s tasks to the depths of enjoyment and fulfillment.

I think that the music was a gift from God.

And I think that sometimes we are scared of those gifts.

I know that I am tempted to live in fear:  fear of enjoying this life too much, of being too worldly, of living as a glutton and and a sinner in a lost and dying land.  I desire to be holy;  after all, that’s what God calls me to be.  I long to live for God completely, and not to be distracted by the things that would take my eyes off Him.  And of course, those desires are right and good.  Of course, those desires are God’s will for us.

Here is what I have found, however.  I have found that when I pursue God with all my heart, when I immerse myself in His word, and put my eyes and my heart on things above, I find that despite all of its darkness, the world is absolutely saturated with God.  It is, after all, His creation.  Thus, we can see Him all throughout it.  Because we are each unique in composition and background, different parts of God’s creation speak to us in different ways, but the common ground is that we can experience His presence in basic things, like nature, music, exercise, food, sex, dancing, playing, and being with people.   At their root, all of these things are God’s invention.  They are gifts He chose to give us.  Yes, they can all be distorted; our fallen nature and the “powers of this dark world” are masters at distorting God’s good and perfect gifts.  But I think it is an absolute shame when we allow our fear of distortion to cripple our sense of enjoyment.  When we do that, we allow sin and darkness to take away the good things that God tries to give us in this life.

Truth be told, I believe that a lot of our fear comes from our view of the Bible.  I think we sometimes try to make the Bible into something that it is not.  We make God’s Word to us into a book of rules instead of door that leads us into a life-giving relationship with our Creator.  We act like we still live in the time of Uzzah, and we use his story as a warning against deviating from the narrow way.  I have two thoughts about that.  The first is, we don’t live in the time of Uzzah.  We are not under the Law (and thank God for that, because I am in Leviticus right now in my daily Bible reading, and I cannot imagine having to slaughter that many animals on a regular basis).  And when we put ourselves under that “law of Uzzah,” we become fearful even of our own capacities for enjoyment.  We don’t trust our thoughts and feelings; after all, Uzzah was just trying to help, and look what happened to him!  And so even though we are told that we have God’s Spirit within us, and even though everything in us tells that there’s nothing wrong with fervently enjoying a succulent bite of salmon or a riff on a guitar or a piece of beautiful art, we still worry that somehow that enjoyment makes us worldly.  And to make matters worse, the law of Uzzah tells us that we can’t view those things as worship or a connection to God, because the only way we can worship God are in the ways that He explicitly prescribes.  I have actually heard more than one sermon making that very point!  It’s like we completely skipped the central message of the New Testament and are back under the Law again, like the book of Acts is the sixth book of the Law!  (And again, apart from the theological absurdity of that position, let me tell you as one wading through Leviticus that, on a literary level, there is no way those two books are parallel.  If I learned anything from the Torah, it’s that when God wants to spell out a bunch of rules, He does it very clearly.)  The irony is that in our fear of being worldly, we separate God from the things He uses to reveal Himself to us.  In doing so, we tell ourselves that we can’t experience God in those things.  And because we cut out God from them, we make them worldly.  The result is that we live compartmentalized lives where we “worship” and “commune with God,” in certain contexts, which leaves the rest of our lives–the stuff like eating and running and being outside and kissing and listening to music and playing games– to be experienced apart from Him.  How sad is that?  I don’t want to live one second apart from God!  I want every moment of my life to be lived in worship to Him!

Secondly, though, I don’t even believe that the “time of Uzzah” is what we think it was.  It is so easy to get overwhelmed by all of God’s many laws in the Old Testament, and to be terrified by God’s treatment of those who step out of line.  I am still working through my understanding of all that, but from my understanding of the New Testament, it seems to me that the point of all those rules was to show us that they didn’t work.  And even with all those laws in place, people still communed with God through the normal elements of their lives.  For me, perhaps the best thing to come out of the Old Testament is the example of David.  David messed up all the time (and not just the Bathsheba thing:  when you read his story, there are all sorts of lies and acts of deception mixed in with the good stuff).  And yet, David was called “a man after God’s own heart.”  It’s hard to pin down exactly why he received such a wonderful title, but my running theory is that David was a man after God’s own heart because he saw God in everything.  He saw God in nature, in music, in sorrow, in dancing like a crazy person.

Perhaps that’s why David described God as a fountain of life.  “In your light we see light.”  Even as a sinful man, David was able to see the light in nature and dancing and music and such because he was already immersed in God’s light.  And so perhaps those today who “walk in the light,” as John puts it, are able to see all the sources of light that are already around them.  Perhaps God’s light helps them to test everything, hold onto the good, and avoid every kind of evil.  Maybe the fountain of life that comes from God allows us to connect with Him in everything He gives us.

Thinking about David’s words about the fountain of life reminds me of James’ description of God’s gifts:  “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”  Today, I’m so thankful for the good and perfect gifts of sunrises and good music and homemade tomato soup and my son’s drawings.  I’m thankful that I don’t have to wait for heaven to get a drink from the fountain of life.

How do you experience God in this life?

(In case you were curious, the guitar riff in question was the first thirty seconds here.)

The Baby in the Bathwater

Let me begin with a fictional story:

Thousands of years ago, when the Israelites were enslaved by the Egyptians, Pharoah passed a law that ordered all the Israelite baby boys to be killed upon birth.  One woman, Jochebed, resisted the law and hid her baby son, Moses.  When she realized that she could hide him no longer, she put the baby in the basket and sailed him down the river.  Moses floated along in his basket until he got hung up in a patch of reeds.  It just so happened that Pharoah’s daughter had come down to bathe in the river by that very patch of reeds, and thus, it just so happened that the royal woman saw Moses and took pity on him.  She decided to raise him as her own, and in a fortuitous twist, Moses’s sister convinced the princess to let his mom nurse him until he was old enough to come live in the palace.  

This is how I understood the story of Moses as a child.  I don’t know why I pictured it like this, but I did, and the image of poor baby Moses sailing helplessly down the river stayed with me through most of my childhood and even most of my teen years.  One day, however, I actually read the account in the Bible and realized that it didn’t happen that way at all.  Moses’ mother didn’t sail him down the river.  Instead, here is what she did:

“…she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile.  His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him. Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the river bank” (Exodus 2:3-5).

See?  Clearly, Moses didn’t go for a basket ride down the river.  Instead, his mom put him in a basket and set the basket in a stationary position among the reeds.

That’s weird to me.

The obvious question is, why would someone do that?  I guess it is weird to sail him down the river, too, but at least there is a chance of him arriving somewhere cool…I guess.  But to just set his basket in a place and leave it there–what’s the point?  She can’t stand to drown him, so…she’s going to leave him to the elements?  Does she want him to die of exposure, or what?

I might be wrong (it’s been known to happen before), but I can only think of one explanation.  Moses’ mom knew that Pharoah’s daughter was coming to bathe there.  It’s the only possibility that makes sense to me.  And the more I think about it, the more sense it makes.  Jochebed is desperate.  She can’t bring herself to kill her son, but he is getting too old to hide any more.  Once he is discovered by an Egyptian, he will surely be put to death.

Unless.

Unless she can get him to someone who might have mercy on him, someone powerful enough to spare his life.  Reading the story with fresh eyes, I see Jochebed’s placing of Moses in the princess’ path as a desperate protest.  I theorize that she knew where the princess went to bathe, and she arranged to put her son in the woman’s path.  It’s almost like she was saying, “Here he is:  you kill him.”  It was definitely a gamble.  But maybe she saw it as her only choice:  As risky as it was to reveal the baby’s presence to the ruling class, her only alternative was to kill her son.  Thankfully, in selecting the person to which to appeal, Jochebed chose well:

“[The princess] saw the basket among the reeds and sent her slave girl to get it.  She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. ‘This is one of the Hebrew babies,’she said.”

Whenever I read the story of Moses, I tend to focus on, well, Moses.  After all, he is both the victim and the hero of this tale; clearly, he is the center of the story.  But reading it in my journey through the Bible this year, I found that I was full of questions about the princess.  What was her life like?  How much power did she have?  How much did she know about the oppression that enabled her to retain her position in the ruling class?  Clearly, she knew something.  She knew that the baby was a Hebrew baby, and she didn’t think of returning him to his mother.  That alone tells me that she understood the danger he was in, which meant she knew about the law.  But when the baby was put in her face like that, she just couldn’t kill him.  Instead, she felt sorry for him.  And thus, she decided to make a stand.

To be honest, her stand seems a little…limited.   As one who has dabbled in small stands of “social justice,” I can already hear the objections, and I am tempted to join in the chorus:

“Just one baby?  Are you not aware of the widespread genocide that is occurring all around you?  Are you not aware of how you are even complicit in these human rights violations by maintaining your wealthy lifestyle?  Your wealth and power comes on the backs of slaves, lady!”

And what about that rationale:  She felt sorry for the baby?  How emotional!  How weak!  We are not supposed to be driven my emotions, right?  Logic, firm logic, should guide our steps.  And how is it logical to spare one baby, while so many others die?  She is either unwilling or unable to change the whole crooked system, so what’s the point of feeling sorry for just one child?

Reading the old story yet again, I saw the princess in a new light.  I could even see the similarities between the two of us.  We both live wealthy lives, and sometimes we get hints that our status in our powerful society comes at least in part through the oppression of others.  The princess’ society was maintained by infanticide.  My comfortable life is made possible by cheaply made products that sometimes even depend on slave labor.

But what do you do?  What can one person do?

I’m not saying that the princes was a crusader for social justice, and I understand that I’m projecting onto the text.  Rigorous biblical scholarship this is not; Fee and Stuart would be appalled at me right now.  At the same time, though, I gained some encouragement from the princess’ actions in this case.  I know nothing else about this woman, but I do know that when there was a baby in her bathwater, she didn’t push it to the side.  In this case, at least, when she crossed paths with suffering, she stopped and did what she could.

And you know what?  God used her, emotions and all.  Her limited actions made a difference, to say the least.

I think this story resonates with me this year, because I have a lot of babies in my bathwater, metaphorically speaking.  Yes, there is the whole social justice thing, as I am still trying to buy fair trade chocolate.  But more immediately, it seems that there are several real babies floating in my metaphorical bath water.  For instance, I just delivered dinner tonight to a new mom and saw her adorable baby.  At the same time, I have another friend, a single mom, about to have a baby, and I’m getting progressively more worried about her mental state.  There is also another baby:  her mom is still pregnant with her, and I know the mom from way back.  I haven’t had any contact lately, but a mutual friend reached out to me when the mom learned her daughter’s stomach was on the outside of her body.  Other details emerged:  the mom is on drugs, she is basically homeless, and her boyfriend is in jail.  Lastly, another pregnant woman reached out to me, a single mom-to-be, and invited me to her baby shower.  I’ve been meaning to make contact with this last person, and I didn’t even realize that she was pregnant.

All these babies keep popping up in my life, and they keep bringing my thoughts back to Pharoah’s daughter.  What do you do when you see a needy baby (or four) in your path?  If I’m honest with myself, I admit that a few of those situations are really overwhelming to me, and I don’t even know where to start getting involved.  If I’m being extra honest, I’ll admit that I’m also really busy these days, and I am feeling selfish about my time.  And if I’m being brutally honest, I don’t really think that I can make much of a difference in some of the situations that have been put in front of me.

Reading the story of Moses, though, I am reminded of a simple, time-worn fact:  if there is a baby in your bathwater, you don’t leave it bobbing among the reeds.  That’s not so much to ask, is it?  We don’t have to change the world; we just have to help the people in our paths.  In this era of global technology, sometimes people across the world get thrown in our paths.  But more often, it is our neighbors and their babies who need our help.  And we have the choice to ignore the need, to continue with our routines…or to step in and help.

I have some babies in my bathwater.  And now I have to decide what to do about them…

Update on my Love Life: Fighting

In 2012, my major “resolution” was to live a life of love.  I know myself well enough to know that I cannot simply will myself to be loving, and so this resolution is really a request for God to transform me.  I also know, though, that there are some things that I can do to try to realign my life with Jesus’ standards.  Here is a little “update” on my attempt at an Eph. 5:2 style “love life.”

You know that phrase, “I’m a lover, not a fighter?

That phrase doesn’t describe me.

Instead, this is what describes me:

Because I am a lover, I am also a fighter.

I am a lover of God, of my family, of my church, of the people in this world.  And I fight for what I love.  In some ways, my view of the world is…combative.  In some ways, I see life as one big struggle.  A brutiful struggle, mind you, but a struggle nonetheless.  And I guess it is because of that perception that “fighting” metaphors really resonate with me, especially ones where the struggle is against seemingly impossible obstacles.  Lost causes, if you will.

Maybe that’s why my college dorm room was decorated with quotes like this one:

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”  –Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird

Or why I literally tear up when I watch scenes like this:

Or why I get chills when I hear these words, from Winston Churchill:

We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France,
we shall fight on the seas and oceans,
we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be,
we shall fight on the beaches,
we shall fight on the landing grounds,
we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,
we shall fight in the hills;
we shall never surrender…

Maybe that’s why my favorite movies are about gladiators and astronauts and cowboys instead of romances.  I guess those movies just speak more to my understanding of the world.

And maybe that’s why I have such a hard time with Jesus’ words in Matthew 5: 38-48.  I desperately want to follow Jesus and to take His commands seriously, but I just don’t understand commands that seem to tell you not to struggle, not to resist, the darkness around you.

I am coming to see, however, that the Christian life is not about laying one’s weapons down.  Instead, it is about trading in the weapons of the world for better weapons, God’s weapons.  And it is about recognizing our true enemy, and not mistaking our enemy for the civilians among which he hides.  My last post was an attempt to flesh those thoughts out using my understanding of the New Testament.  This post will be an attempt to flesh them out using my recent experience.

Since my recent experience deals with real people, I want to describe it in as general terms as possible.  In fact, the reason it has taken me so long to post it is because I have struggled with just how to portray it.  Here’s what I came up with:

A few weeks ago, a fellow soldier and I were on a mission of reconciliation.  Our goal was to use church resources to help reconcile some teens to God.  For most of our mission, we had what seemed to be success.  Relationships were built; messages of reconciliation were delivered and received; love was poured.  At the very end, however, things went downhill.  As leaders of this mission, we made a decision that we thought was best for the group.  This decision was not well-received, and abruptly, we found ourselves under attack by two people while we were driving home.  The attack was incredibly vitriolic and personal.  Weapons of this world were being hurled at us with bewildering ferocity.  I actually had the image of bombs raining down on us while the attack went on.  My fellow worker and I looked at each other in absolute shock.  Then, we both reached for the only weapon we were mandated to use:  love.

We both tried–oh, how we tried!–to use love the right way.  It is not a weapon that one is used to using in such a harsh attack, and honestly, there was some trial and error in trying to use it effectively.  This particular battle went on for what seemed an interminably long time.  Every kind and peaceful thing we tried to say was immediately dismissed and overpowered.  We really didn’t know what to do.  It almost seemed easier to capitulate, to give in to the rage.  But we both truly believed that it was the wrong thing to do, that it was truly not in the best interest of the people in question.  Since they were in our care, we became more and more convicted that we could not let them think that their strategy of rage and hatred was the way to succeed.  We had to show them a better way.  So we held the line.  Calmly, peaceably, we held the line.

Here is a confession, though:  I was physically shaking throughout the encounter.  Afterwards, my fellow soldier told me that she was, too.  It was as if we had a whole pile of grenades between us that our survival instincts were screaming for us to use.  In this verbal battle, we could win; we could fight fire with fire and demolish our opponents.  We were older, better with words, and frankly, we had the benefit of being right.  But those grenades would have taken out the bridges between us and the people we were trying to reconcile with God.  We would have burned them.  And we weren’t willing to do that, as much as a burned bridge sounded kind of tempting in the moment.  So we didn’t use the grenades, even though every instinct inside me told me to do it.  That’s why I was shaking:  it wasn’t from rage; it was from self-control.  Restraint.  Despite our mutual longing for grenades, we tried our best to use love.  We fumbled, and tried again, and then fumbled again, and then tried again.  In the end, it is even hard to say who won.  I ended it by reasserting my love for my two “opponents,” and sharing with them the good things that I wanted for them.  Both of them softened at the time, and one has since issued a heartfelt apology.  I haven’t seen the other.

I will say this:  I came away from the encounter exhausted, severely shaken…and mentally illuminated.  Finally, in ways that penetrated to the depths of my knowledge, I understood the idea of turning the other cheek.  Turning the other cheek does not mean surrender.  It does not mean that you don’t fight.  On the contrary, I don’t know that I have ever fought as hard as I did that night.  Instead, turning the other cheek is part of fighting with love.  That night, I saw that love didn’t protect my pride and feelings like verbal retaliation would have.  Instead, love left my pride and feelings very vulnerable, and they suffered as a result.  But when I chose to use love, I chose to let my pride and feelings suffer rather than compromise my mission.  And that was turning the other cheek.

I am not going to attempt to universalize that experience right now or to extract principles to apply in every situation.  I just want to let it be what it was:  an experiential lesson in turning the other cheek.  Like I said, I was exhausted when my mission was over…and yet, I also felt very, very…strong.  I felt like I had won the battle, although certainly not the war.  I went home with peace in my heart, and love in my soul.  In a weird way, I am even thankful for the experience.  It definitely served as an important lesson in my year of trying to live a life of love.  God taught me more about love in that one battle than I could have ever learned simply from reading Scripture.  That night, He took the Scriptures I had read and gave me a chance to apply them.  I pray that I did well, that I passed whatever test He might have been giving me.  I pray that I made God proud as a soldier in His army.  And I pray that the love we so clumsily tried to show that night will plant itself in the souls that were present and that it will stay with them as a picture of God’s love for them.

I know it will stay with me…

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