Thursday, June 28, 2012

Without Wax

Summer nights. :) Cleaning up house, glass of sweet white, and thunderstorms. In other words, bliss.

I read something beautiful the other day. You might be bracing yourself for my next deep soul search about poverty and the church, but I promise you none of that tonight. In keeping with the loveliness of the evening, I simply have something restful to share.

I learned recently that our English word "sincere" actually comes from Spanish, sincera. Sincera can be broken into two words, sin (without) cera (wax). It comes from ancient pottery, in which dishonest (and clever) potters might cover up cracks and inconsistencies in their work using wax. After glazing, who would be the wiser? But honest artisans who turned out good and reputable work were able to market their pottery as sin cera. Without wax. No cover ups.

Although my friends laughed mischievously when I said we ought to let our cracks show (this one's for you, TBDers), I think the metaphor is deeply valuable. There is something so very restful and enjoyable about authenticity. It's just refreshing. All the more when we get to be the authentic, crackly pots who know we are well-loved nonetheless.

And for me? I am getting more and more disillusioned with faux relationships and clever ways of dodging community. (Not to mention any names, Facebook.) I am feeling a little lackluster about going out for coffees and lunches when half the time I could just invite you over. Heck, we can make our own froo-froo...teas. Or, you know. Clean or something. :) In general, I hope to explore what it is to live life alongside a contingent of people I trust, and am learning how to trust. I do not want to live a life that seeks to impress or be impressed. I am sitting more and more ill-at-ease with a culture that creates trappings around authenticity. I'd really rather just be real friends who live the pieces of real life (on a real budget) together, speak our minds in love, laugh about life, find community in the everyday things and not spend time picking the eggshells out of our shoes.

Amen? One more thing.

Speaking of Fbook, this is a hint that I will probably be changing my Facebook habits in the near future (read, drastically reduce). If you like what you read here and usually learn about new posts from Facebook, I would encourage you to select one of the "follow" options in the sidebar to keep up to date.

Cheers! How are you going to be sin cera in your friendships this week?


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

What Would They Think?

Yet again, I share from Jen Hatmaker's rich wisdom. I wish I could quote the whole book. Please read the book? For me?

Here she discusses the idea of balancing the "feast" and the "fast" - that we feast in those rich growth moments, in God's mercy, His love, His blessing, His grace, and yet we also pursue times of fasting so that we can go with less so that others may have more. Or we go with less so that we may learn and draw nearer to the heart of God. God's nearness envelops us in the fast, in the times of less, in want. This excerpt breaks my heart, and yet it fills it with flame. A flame to change, to not be what we are today. Can we dare to change the world? Can we exchange our dusty ashes for the glory of Christ?

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At some point, the church stopped living the Bible and decided just to study it, culling the feast parts and whitewashing the fast parts. We are addicted to the buffet, skillfully discarding the costly discipleship required after consuming. The feast is supposed to sustain the fast, but we go back for seconds and thirds and fourths, stuffed to the brim and fat with inactivity. All this is for me. My goodness, my blessings, my privileges, my happiness, my success. Just one more plate.

Not so with the early church who stunned their Roman neighbors and leaders with generosity, curbing their own appetites for the mission of Jesus. They constantly practiced self-denial to alleviate human misery. In the Shepard of Hermas, a well-respected Christian literary work in the early 100s, believers were instructed to fast one day a week [to provide a meal for the hungry]...

In the early 200s, Tertullian reported that Christians had a voluntary common fund they contributed to monthly. That fund was used to support widows, the disabled, orphans, the sick, the elderly, shipwrecked sailors, prisoners, teachers, burials for the poor, and even the release of slaves.

The difference between Romans and Christians on charity was widely recognized by unbelievers. The pagan satirist Lucian (130-200 c.e.) mocked Christian kindness: "The earnestness with which the people of this religion help one another in their needs is incredible. They spare themselves nothing for this end. Their first lawgiver put it into their heads that they were all brethren."

These Christians did not limit their assistance to members of their own subculture either. The Emperor Julian, who attempted to lead the Roman Empire back to paganism, was frustrated by the superior compassion shown by the Christians, especially when it came to intervention for the suffering. He famously declared: "The impious Galileans relieve both their own poor and ours...It is shameful that ours should be so destitute of our assistance."

What would the early church think if they walked into some of our buildings today, looked through our church Web sites, talked to an average attender? Would they be so confused? Would they wonder why we all had empty bedrooms and uneaten food in our trash cans? Would they regard our hoarded wealth with shock? Would they observe orphan statistics with disbelief since Christians outnumber orphans 7 to 1? Would they be stunned most of us don't feed the hungry, visit the prisoner, care for the sick, or protect the widow? Would they see the spending on church buildings and ourselves as extravagantly wasteful while twenty-five thousand people die every day from starvation?

I think they'd barely recognize us as brothers and sisters. If we told them church is on Sundays and we have an awesome band, this would be perplexing. I believe we'd receive dumbfounded stares if we discussed "church shopping" because enough people don't say hello when we walk in the lobby one hour a week. If they found out one-sixth of the earth's population claimed to be Christians, I'm not sure they could reconcile the suffering happening on our watch while we're living in excess. They'd wonder if we had read the Bible or worry it had been tampered with since their time.

But listen Early Church, we have a monthly event called Mocha Chicks. We have choir practice every Wednesday. We organize retreats with door prizes. We're raising three million dollars for an outdoor amphitheater. We have catchy T-shirts. We don't smoke or say the F word. We go to Bible study every semester. ("And then what, American Church?") Well, we go to another one. We're learning so much.

I think the early church would cover their heads with ashes and grieve over the dilution of Jesus' beautiful church vision. We've taken His Plan A for mercy to an injured lost planet and neutered it to clever sermon series and Stitch-and-Chat in the Fellowship Hall, serving the saved. If the modern church held to its biblical definition, we would become the answer to all that ails society. We wouldn't have to baby-talk and cajole and coax people into our sanctuaries through witty mailers and strategic ads; they'd be running to us. The local church would be the heartbeat of the city, undeniable by our staunchest critics.

(Jen Hatmaker - 7)
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When are we going to be courageous enough to lose our lives in order to find them? How can we say that Jesus is all we need when we cling to so many other things?

Unless I Wash You

Have you let Jesus serve you today?

I am fascinated by a new aspect of Jesus that I have never thought of before. I confess that my bend in the grace dilemma is to be the pharisee. I confess that I generally give more grace than I feel, and less than I should. But even to graceless me, I am incredibly humbled by the servant nature of Jesus Christ.

Let's just think about Jesus for a minute. The crazy thing about our God is His humility. Yes, He is Yahweh, and yes, He is most holy. He has all right and all privilege to demand respect for His name, and He does. But, the most mind-bending thing is that He serves us. Because He chooses to. Because He's good.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in the very nature of God, did not consider equality something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking on the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
-Philippians 2:5-7

Another version says, "...did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage."

So where am I going with this? The part of Jesus' humility that keeps sticking out to me the most is His interaction with Peter when He went to wash His feet. Washing the dusty, calloused, sand and dung-encrusted feet was the job of the lowliest servant in the household. The disciples are getting ready to eat, and Jesus takes off his outer garment and begins to take on this undesirable job for himself.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus replied, "You do not realize what I am doing, but later you will understand." "No," said Peter, "you shall never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me." 
-John 13:6-8

Even though Jesus told Peter he would understand, I for myself never could. But it was this phrase that did the trick: "Jesus came as a humble servant, so you should humbly let Him serve you." And you know what? It is humbling to let Jesus serve me. I would much rather work for it. Deserve it. Be good enough on my own merit. I am astonished that it is not just my crusty feet that Jesus would take in His own hands, but even the most rank hidden pieces of my heart. That He would deign to scrub those dirty corners unblinkingly, with tenderness and compassion.

To quote Mark Driscoll:
Some say that Christianity is the easiest religion in the world - you don't have to do anything to become a Christian. No, it's the hardest, because you can't do anything to become a Christian. There's something in us that wants to participate, to merit our salvation, to make God love us, to be good people, to show we're better than others, to boast in our efforts and attempts, our morality, our spirituality, our holiness; we want to come to God with hands full and say, "Here's what I have to offer you." But God says, "Come with hands empty and receive grace, and love, and mercy, and forgiveness, salvation through my Son." I think the hardest thing of all is the humility it takes to become a Christian. 

So often, I am like Peter: "You shall never wash my feet! (I'll earn it!)" But Jesus' gracious response, His incredible response is, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me." You might say, "Unless you let me serve you, you will never truly understand what it is to be loved and cherished by me." I have to let Jesus serve me, love me, change me, scrub my squalid heart clean with his bare hands, take care of my mess, because that is the only true way to know His incredible grace. And of course, that's the only real way to pass this very same grace on.

"Then, Lord," Simon Peter replied, "not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!" (John 13:9)


Monday, June 11, 2012

Bartimaeus

I have more words today for you that are not my own. This is directly from Jen Hatmaker's 7:

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Bartimaeus: poor, blind, beggar. Probably looked like every homeless person I know. Outcast, shunned from the temple, unclean, discarded in every way - a true societal reject. And here comes Jesus with His entourage, headed to Jerusalem to be "king" (oops, they had a little misunderstanding about what that meant - their bad). Everyone is excited, everyone is cheering. Yay, Jesus! We're getting our king and we'll be free! 
As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, the Son of Timaeus), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"(Mark 10:46-47)
Whoa up. Yikes. This is awkward. This is embarrassing actually. There is nothing dignified here. This reeks of desperation. I mean, Bartimaeus? Poor, blind, Barrmaeus screaming at Jesus? Sheesh. What a mess, Jesus surrounded by normal, decent followers, forced to deal with this sad, sorry homeless guy screaming bloody murder. 
Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" Jesus stopped and said, "Call him." So they called to the blind man, "Cheer up! On your feet! He's calling you." Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. 
"What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus asked him. 
 The blind man said, "Rabbi, I want to see."
       "Go," said Jesus, "your faith has healed you." Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.
(Mark 10:48-52)
..."Rabbi, I want to see." Bartimaeus asked for the most basic human need. In biblical times blindness meant he was considered cursed by God, which made him unclean, which made him an outcast, which made him a beggar. Unlike James and John who nine verses earlier asked to sit at Jesus' right and left hand in glory (predicated by the awesome demand, "Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask"), Bartimaeus only asked for mercy.

This is like the starving asking for food, the orphan asking for parents, the homeless asking for shelter, the sick asking for medicine; basic human needs - food, shelter, care, love. These aren't tangled up in power or position; they aren't born out of entitlement or greed. They are a plea for mercy, the cry of every human heart. 

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The above is an excerpt from 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker. 

Sometimes we read weird things in scripture, and pass over them nonchalantly. The guy convulsing and screaming as a demon was being cast out? Yeah no big. But this mindset also allows us to detach from the things we read that we very well could encounter easily, such as people like Bartimeaus. We figure we probably aren't going to run across too many blind people asking our attention, so we mentally distance ourselves from the story. I would gently suggest that we have to be careful with this mindset. 

Hatmaker tells this story after telling her own story of encountering a very disillusioned, vocal homeless woman, and how her instinct, like so many of ours, was to quiet the woman rather than show mercy. The question of the hour is, what is mercy and what does it look like? And are we prepared to administer it? Are our hearts ready? I ask this next one heavily of myself as much as I ask it of you...Do we really love our neighbors, or do we only pretend to? 

Friday, June 8, 2012

A Barefoot Church

I need to tell something to you. And of course I hope you like it, but more than that I hope you hear it. I am being messed up, in the best way. I am so challenged by my lifestyle and so inspired by what it could be instead. I'm going to share an excerpt from a book called Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker. She is so humorous and delightful to read, but her story also captures the essence of so many of the thoughts that have been going through my head recently. Read and enjoy.

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Easter snuck up on us - the day that changed everything. Deeply moved by Shane Claiborne among others, evidently Brandon sent him an email through dubious channels basically telling him The Irresistible Revolution was messing his wife up, and now he was reading it and didn't know what to do with it in his context. But we were wrestling and asking new questions, so that was probably good. He just wanted Shane to know the this message mattered to a pastor in the suburbs, even if it was driving us crazy. Sent and forgotten.

Ring-ring-ring. "Hi, is this Brandon? This is Shane Claiborne...yes it is..oh, I got your number off your email...no your wife is not involved in this...Anyway, I'm going to be speaking at a small Asian American church in Austin Easter night, and I thought maybe we could have coffee afterward...no, you're not being punked...okay, I'll see you in a couple of days."

Seriously? Who does that? I get emails from strangers all the time, and I was feeling good about responding to them, much less pilfering their numbers off their signature line and scheduling coffees with them when I come to their cities. (As a traveling Bible teacher, Shane also convinced me to imitate the hospitality model of the New Testament and stay in homes when I travel instead of hotels. Best decision I've ever made. Guess what? There are people who actually have the gift of hospitality and are really good at it! Who knew? Paul and Jesus. And Shane.)

Anyhow, there was a 100 percent chance that coffee was happening, so we cleared Easter evening to spend with the members of Vox Vaniae and Shane. (Check out this cool church at www.voxveniae.com - if I could, I would eat their Web site.)

Easter weekend, we blew the six services out of the water at our big church: big, incredible, fantastic production, guest musicians, "When the Saints Go Marching In," trumpets, lights, gospel singers, rappers, sweet videography, killer. We herded approximately ten billion people in and out of there like cattle, clearing out as fast as possible for the next service. As far as wow-factors go, no one left disappointed. You got it, Jack and Jackie.

Fast forward to a few hours later, and we changed into jeans and drove downtown for Vox Veniae's one little Easter service with their guest speaker, Shane Claiborne. The church rented this crappy space on the University of Texas campus, and we parked in a ramshackle-looking parking lot a block away. As we walked up to the church, we saw a homeless-looking guy with weird hair, wearing what appeared to be a burlap sack in the shape of pants and a tunic. This was, of course, Shane. (He's been "escorted out" of several churches before they realized he was their guest speaker. Claiborne: Making Deacons Feel Awkward Since 1998.) 

Maybe 150 people were at this Easter service, and it was simple and stripped down. There were candles, an unscripted welcome. The worship was so un-self-conscious and pure, maybe three or four guys in the band. It was completely unproduced and humble, all of it. It smacked of regular people and simple church; their only preoccupation was this obsession with Jesus. It was tangible. I loved every molecule of it. I wanted to sell my house and move into this room.

Toward the end of Shane's talk, he mentioned his time that morning with a large homeless community in San Antonio. He had asked their spokesman what their main needs were. Above all else, they needed good shoes. He explained how they were on their feet all day, and the shoes they got from shelters and Goodwill were everyone else's castoffs, worn down, worn out. (The homeless community has chronic leg and back pain from long days standing in inadequate shoes.)

As we were about to take communion, Shane said, "You are under no coercion, but if you want to, you can leave your shoes at the altar when you take communion. Oh! And leave your socks too. We'll wash them and deliver them all to the homeless community in San Antonio tomorrow."

Two significant particulars: One, Easter 2007 in Austin was unseasonably, crazy cold. Like 31 degrees that morning cold. Understand that in April in Austin, we would all typically be wearing shorts and flip flops. Guaranteed. From the youngest to oldest. As it was, every person there had on real, substantial shoes because it was freezing outside.

Two, Brandon and I looked down at our shoes in unison and just started laughing. Why? We were both wearing our brand new cowboy boots we'd given each other for Christmas. By a huge margin, they were the most prized and expensive shoes we'd ever owned. I loved them so much, I gave them their own special box in my closet where moth and rust could not destroy. 

Having thrown myself into this arena for a few months, I thought I would be thrilled to rip those boots off my rich feet and happily give them over to the homeless (who would promptly sell them since they are entirely impractical and worth a pretty penny - I've learned a few things). But I was discouraged to feel the twinge of selfishness rear its head first. Seriously? I'm going to make a deal over boots? Have I come only this far, God? I suck. 

Jesus, unwilling to entertain my melodrama, cut to the chase: "Give them up. I have something to teach you." Evidently, this moment was not about me and my urban cowgirl boots. So I took them off, raised them to my lips for a farewell kiss, oh okay, and an embrace, and Brandon and I left them at the altar along with our socks and the last remaining thread of reluctance.

I'll not do the moment justice, but at the close of the service, I watched all these smiling people gladly walk barefooted out into the cold, and I heard Jesus whisper: This is how I want My church to look. I want her to rip the shoes off her feet for the least every single chance she gets. I want an altar full of socks and shoes right next to the communion table. I want to see solidarity with the poor. I want true community rallied around My gospel. I want a barefooted church.

A barefooted church.

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Excerpt from Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker. This excerpt was quoted in another incredible book by the same author called 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, which I highly recommend. Just beware, it will probably mess you up, too. :) 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Love God? Love God

I think this will be fairly short today. I read something recently about how oftentimes when we think we care about someone, we really only care about ourselves, and how they reflect on us. Instead of genuinely asking ourselves how we can love and serve another person's wants, hopes, dreams, what have you, we tell ourselves that we care about those things while really serving our own. And I can't always argue with that, frankly.

But it got me thinking about God. I think that I love God. And at the end of the day, I know that I do. But it is worth asking whether my faith (and yours) is because of the beautiful endless array of things that God has done for us, or whether we would still be around if those things weren't a factor. When I want to worship and be close to Him, how much of that has to do with the way that doing so heals my own heart? Do I (do you) seek God simply for who He is, to commune with Him, to know His character free of our own? Do we serve Him selflessly, or is it even in the range of our capabilities to do so? Perhaps only God can love most truly. And maybe it's tangled somewhere with intimacy, that you can't and/or shouldn't fully separate yourself out of the equation.

I don't know. I am just thinking. I guess it centers around my question, "Does anyone ever seek God for God?"

Monday, June 4, 2012

Cravings

I didn't share this last time, but my confrontation with the excess of my own cravings led me to make some temporary changes to the way I eat. I will say that I love food, especially sweet food. It's so ironic, as I pride myself in all of the vegetables and healthy things I enjoy, and yet I just as easily chase after scones, cookies, pastries, and cakes. Those cookies in the advertisement are just the kind of thing I crave and throw money at for no reason than but to feed the beast. But as I think about the hungry of my city, and of the world, I have been challenged to eat more simply. What does it look like to eat rice and beans and some vegetables, and to avoid purposefully the nutrition-less things I wantonly pursue?

I should not be surprised that I am more of a slave to food than I thought. I am used to giving my body a certain kind of fuel - a more complex and variegated diet that also often includes large amounts of highly processed, palate pleasing carbohydrates of little nutritional value, not the least which are unfortunate for my wallet as well. This is not really about nutrition, it is more about my cravings. The nutritional deficit of these things just adds insult to the injury of my indulgence. What does it look like to eat to live instead of living to eat? What does it look like to eat what I need without worrying so much about what I want? This is about frustrating myself in a very intentional way for a time; about choosing to have no choice to better understand the plight of those who truly don't.

I have not been legalistic about this, really. I want to explain that I think God did make food to enjoy and delight in. There is nothing wrong with a good burger. For me, this is about my heart, because my heart in many ways has displayed a sense of gluttony and entitlement in the area of food that I am growing more and more uncomfortable with. I have no end-goal on the time frame with which I will experiment in this, nor have I laid out any strict guide-lines other than avoiding processed sugar and ideally simple carbs in general. I merely want to take a step to understand and to live daringly, even if in a very small way. I want - I have to - challenge myself.

Yesterday (Sunday) something very interesting happened. I almost never crave meat. It's just not a large part of my diet, nor do I really care for it especially. But in eating so many lean meals that left me largely unsatisfied, I wanted steak more badly than I have wanted anything for a long time. I left church in the afternoon with every intention of driving straight to a local Mexican food joint and getting the beefiest burrito I could lay hands on. I had made an unprecedented amount of tip money at one of my jobs recently, and could certainly afford it, I reasoned. It was a small price to pay next to the colossus of my hunger and craving.

But as I drove, I passed first one, then another of the food places I had plotted to stop at, feeling that the Spirit wanted me to continue on. As I drove deeper into central Tucson, I began to see them: those same people I always drive by, the poor. As I drove around, exceedingly hungry, a still small voice in my spirit reminded me that these people were hungry too, and unlike me they couldn't afford to satisfy their cravings. I even had the opportunity to meet several of them in small interactions - a young couple asking me for bus money at the gas station, and a young woman holding a sign at an intersection. I saw in those beautiful, short interactions something begin to unfold in me that was infinitely more beautiful than any full stomach: the relational beauty of knowing the poor. As I continued to drive, it occurred to me that I would rather give the $6 or so that I would spend on a burrito to something that would allow people like these to eat, to live life, to pay their rent, and to be uplifted. I was still hungry, yes. But somehow the simple unsatisfying meal I had at home began to sound preferable to an endless supply of cravings that would only too-soon be replaced with others like them.

I don't know how long I will continue this experiment, and like I said, I am not legalistic about it. For my rest day, for instance, I allowed myself a sweet coffee drink. A couple days ago, my good friend and I got a dollop of ice cream together and enjoyed good community. I was surprised how quickly I was satisfied with it, not needing the rest of it. But as a lifestyle, I want to persist in understanding what it is to let my resources be challenged by the needs of my neighbors. And I like the change - even the little change - that is beginning to happen in my heart as a result. May God bless the rest.

Love,
Christy