Socks

I used to think that Christians who said God “spoke to them” were a little nutty. Way too obsessed with their religion, especially when they seemed to think that God cares a rip about their small, everyday decisions. I viewed God as this gigantic, impersonal force that’s so busy dealing with issues like global poverty and keeping world-famous spiritual leaders on message, why on earth would He care about any little thing going on in my insignificant life?

Then, thanks to my sweet husband, I began to consider the possibility that maybe God does, in fact, care about the little things in my life. Really? I slowly began opening up to the idea and, as if to prove the point, God began to let me know His preferences.

Case in point: I have a small, gold necklace that I love, but never wear. I had it specially made by a jeweler years ago, after seeing my friend wear one that she bought on the West Coast. It’s a lunarlingus – a naked woman straddling the face of the moon. I used to wear it a lot, including to work. Most people never noticed it, but those who did would ask me what it was. When I said: “It’s a lunarlingus. It’s a naked woman sitting on the face of the moon!” they would look at me funny, laugh nervously, and change the subject.

I was wearing that necklace in church one day, waiting for the service to begin when out of the blue, I got a strong “nudge” in my mind. It’s hard to explain and it sounds crazy, but in my mind, I heard, “Don’t wear that necklace in my house.” At first, I thought…. is that just my own thinking? Then came, “No, this is Me. Don’t wear that necklace in church.” Yikes. Okay. I took the necklace off and put it in my purse. I don’t think I’ve worn it since. Not to church, not anywhere.

So fast-forward to last week. It was Spirit Week at my gym and Wednesday was “crazy sock” day. I have a pair of socks that I love that have “More Feminism, Less Bullshit” written on them. I really wanted to wear them to yoga class. But on Wednesday morning, I had the strong impression that I shouldn’t wear them. Darn it! I thought, I really want to wear them. God and I went back and forth over this issue. “They’re only socks!” I said. I had told Him before that I wanted to be obedient to Him; now He was asking me to do something incredibly simple and easy and I was arguing. (It’s tough raising stubborn kids, right?)

I have no idea why He didn’t want me to wear the socks. I can’t think He objected to the idea of feminism, since we have so much evidence to the contrary. Women and men were viewed equally in early Christianity, women figured prominently in the early church, and it was a woman who first learned of the resurrection of Jesus and was instructed to go tell the guys. If that doesn’t elevate women to equal status, I’m not sure what does.

But it doesn’t really matter why. When your kids ask why you don’t want them to do something, do you always have a reason that they would deem acceptable and reasonable in their young minds? Hence the birth of the equal parts genius and frustrating “Because I said so!”

Finally, I was ready to get dressed and I said: “If you don’t want me to wear the socks, just say so.”
Silence. (as if He hadn’t been saying so all morning)
I wore the socks.

And for the first time, I was the only person in my yoga class. I’ve been attending yoga classes for years and this was the first time not another soul was there besides the instructor. So nobody saw my cool socks.

On the way home, I realized what had happened. “Fine, go ahead and wear your socks, but I’m going to clear the gym so nobody sees them.”

I had to laugh. Well played, God. Well played.

If you’re still with me and don’t already think I’m nuts, you might be asking: “Oh come on, all this over a silly necklace and a harmless pair of socks? Doesn’t God have better things to do?” Well, as we know, choices — even small ones — have consequences. Obedience starts small, as does faith. And then they grow. My thinking is changing and my faith is growing. I’m learning that my Father does care about the choices I make, and not just about my pornographic necklace or profanity-laced socks, but in all kinds of different things. And I’m appreciating the intimacy, His patience, and His clever sense of humor along the way.

Loving self

Somebody once asked Jesus, of all the commandments, which was the most important? Great question. Here’s what Jesus said:

“The most important commandment is this: You must love the Lord with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. The second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.” — Mark 12:29-31 (NLT)

That seems pretty cut and dried. But did you notice that when He says we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, inherent in that statement is that we are to love ourselves to begin with? Sometimes that’s the hardest part, since we are often taught from a very young age to be our own worst critic, sometimes our own worst enemy. There’s a verse for that, too.

In Matthew 5:43, Jesus tells us not just to love our neighbor, but to love even our enemies!

So it’s pretty simple. Basically, we are just to love everyone. Including, apparently, ourselves.

Try being kinder to yourself. Forgive yourself sooner. Start with that. Eventually it will become easier to be kind, forgiving, and loving toward others. This may take practice. That’s okay. Loving to that extent is a skill just like any other. Keep practicing and ask God to help you. He will. (And forget that nonsense about God helping those who help themselves. You won’t find that anywhere in Scripture. Humans invented that one.)

A favorite quote of mine is: “Those who are at war with others are not a peace with themselves.”

In our world, it’s so easy to be at war with somebody. Everybody. You no doubt know someone who seems drawn to conflict, almost addicted to it. It’s hard to break that, to turn it around. It can feel like a whirlwind that we get sucked into and can’t get out. Again, it takes practice. Stepping back from the conflict, saying a prayer for those still stuck in it, breaking the habit of constant, cyclical animosity. It starts with caring for self. Not in a selfish way, but self-care that blossoms from the foundation of who created you.

 

Crazy

Last night, the Maryland ACLU held a meeting at our local library to host the executive director, as well as representatives from groups who have partnered with the ACLU in Western Maryland. As a card-carrying member of the ACLU, I had been planning to attend this meeting for weeks.

But as the event drew closer, I began thinking about what a prime target this meeting might represent in the twisted mind of some gun-humping goober who harbors rage toward those who are defending the rights of marginalized people in our society.

This is not a new fear for me. For a couple of years now, anytime I am out in public, I’ve thought about the possibility of a mass shooting. The logicians among us would tell me that, statistically, the chances of that actually happening are infinitesimally small. That may be true. But I’m sure that was also true for the people doing their back-to-school shopping at Walmart in El Paso, the midnight movie-goers in Aurora, the Wednesday evening Bible study group in Charleston… the list is endless. Their chances of getting shot while going about their day were infinitesimally small, too, and look what happened.

It can and does happen anywhere, and I know I’m not alone in my thinking. Other people have said they think about the same things. Where are the exits? Where could I hide from a shooter?

Given that school is back in session around the country, we know it’s only a matter of time before we get the next notification on our phones that another school shooting has taken place. It’s been a couple of weeks since our last mass shooting, we’re about due.

Society is trying to compensate. New school construction around the country now includes hallways that are not straight but zigzag, much as World War I trenches were curved or zigzagged so that the enemy might not have a straight shot. School hallways are also being constructed with cinder block protrusions every so many feet, so that students can hide behind them if someone is shooting. Bulletproof backpacks were a popular back-to-school item this year. Reports of teachers completing their wills over the summer prior to school starting again were particularly poignant because, honestly, we just never know, do we?

No wonder the rest of the world shakes its head and says Americans are crazy. We are.

The Benediction

Earlier this year, we lost Rachel Held Evans, a popular Christian columnist and author. Below is the benediction delivered at her funeral, written by Lutheran minister and theologian Nadia Bolz-Weber. I love the message of hope it offers for those who may feel empty… forgotten… invisible.

“Blessed are the agnostics. Blessed are they who doubt. Blessed are those who have nothing to offer. Blessed are the preschoolers who cut in line at communion. Blessed are the poor in spirit. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.

“Blessed are those whom no one else notices. The kids who sit alone at middle school lunch tables. The laundry guys at the hospital. The sex workers and the night-shift street sweepers. The closeted. The teens who have to figure out ways to hide the new cuts on their arms. Blessed are the meek. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.

“Blessed are they who have loved enough to know what loss feels like. Blessed are the mothers of the miscarried. Blessed are they who can’t fall apart because they have to keep it together for everyone else. Blessed are those who ‘still aren’t over it yet.’ Blessed are those who mourn. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.

“I imagine Jesus standing here blessing us because that is our Lord’s nature. This Jesus cried at his friend’s tomb, turned the other cheek, and forgave those who hung him on a cross. He was God’s Beatitude — God’s blessing to the weak in a world that admires only the strong.

“Jesus invites us into a story bigger than ourselves and our imaginations, yet we all get to tell that story with the scandalous particularity of this moment and this place. We are storytelling creatures because we are fashioned in the image of a storytelling God. May we never neglect that gift. May we never lose our love for telling the story. Amen.”

‘No greater hell’

“There is perhaps no greater hell than living your life in fear of a god who is believed to use punishment to bring about holiness.
To conclude that the use of divine condemnation, shame, and retribution are God’s best ideas for influencing His desires into the lives of people is a troubling notion at best.
Nothing sucks the love out of love more than fear.”
Author Chris Kratzer from Leatherbound Terrorism

Popular among many Christians is the idea of an angry God. Sermons and hymns have mentioned “the wrath of God” and my maternal grandfather, believing he was quoting Scripture, often said: “Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.” As a child, when I heard him say that, I could never understand how I was supposed to love a god I feared. Later, when I heard ministers and other church leaders talk about the importance of having “a personal relationship with God,” it didn’t make sense that I was supposed to have a close relationship with someone I was also supposed to be afraid of. Fear and love cannot co-exist, at least not for me.

My father died believing that the debilitating strokes he’d suffered were God’s punishment for the bad things he’d done in his life. Dad not only believed in an angry God, he would become frustrated with ministers who did not preach pulpit-pounding sermons about this furious God who was so filled with wrath against his children that He would throw them into an eternal lake of fire if they didn’t love and obey Him. And yet “God is Love” was a common refrain. Major disconnect, what gives?

It wasn’t until I connected with my sweet husband, a former pastor and life-long Bible scholar, that I learned what I believe to be the truth about God.

Satan has been called “The Father of Lies” and many of us have bought into one of his whoppers about God. That we must be afraid of God, that God will sentence us to an eternity of suffering in a fiery pit unless we love Him, that God inflicts terrible punishments on us when we do something wrong.

It’s easy to buy into this notion because we tend to be fascinated by and obsessed with the idea of punishment. We love the notion of wrong-doers being punished. That’s why we love to hear stories of inmates being horrifically abused in prison, criminals “getting what they deserve” over and over again. As long as it’s not happening to us, or anyone we care about, we love the idea of others suffering punishment we’ve decided they have coming to them. So of course, the idea of a punishing God is easy to get on board with.

But the truth is, the punishment we deserve has already been endured by another. God disciplines his children, yes, just as you discipline your child. He allows consequences of our actions to result, but just like any parent, He loves us the whole time. Just like any parent, He wants only the best for us and yearns to help us, if we’d only ask. He’s our adoring parent, not our vindictive warden.

As for spending eternity in a lake of fire? The natural consequence of sin is death. Eternal life in a lake of fire is still eternal life. You are completely free to decline His gift of salvation; the result is eternal death, eternal separation from a heartbroken God who values your free will so much that He’s willing to risk losing you for eternity, rather than have a fake “love” that’s forced and born of fear.

And the passage about fear of God being the beginning of wisdom? Turns out in the original Hebrew, the word “fear” in this context translates more accurately as “respect” or “awe.” Now that makes more sense.

I am certainly no Bible scholar like my husband. In fact, I grew up in a church that did not focus on the Bible as a tool to learn about God. I received most of my education about the Christian faith from the hymns we sang, from pop culture, and from the environment in which I was raised. Given this foundation in sidewalk theology, it’s a miracle I have any faith at all. It’s been freeing, comforting, encouraging to learn that God is not a short-tempered tyrant who’s waiting for me to screw up so He can zap me with lightning bolts of retribution.

Think of all the joy we miss out on because we find it easier to imagine an angry, vengeful God rather than an affectionate, indulgent one who loves us with abandon beyond our wildest dreams.

I’m (not) a racist

In these bizarre times, social gatherings with people you barely know — or people you’d like to think you know, but really don’t — can be even more perilous than usual.

As a typical introvert, I always want to be invited to events, but I rarely want to go. Encountering someone who understands how important it is to me to be included, yet understands when I decline the invitation is like hitting the introvert jackpot. On those rare occasions when I muster the courage to attend a social event, as a typical introvert would, I do a lot of observing, listening, connecting dots… In my case, silently correcting grammar and even diagnosing. It is fascinating what you learn about people simply by listening to them.

At a recent social gathering I attended, both hosts sat next to me for a time during the event. While the majority of conversation was pleasant enough, they each found occasion to comment on situations involving African Americans, attributing negativity to the situation based solely on the fact that the participants were black.

Here’s a revolutionary idea: Prefacing a statement with the words “I’m not a racist, but…” does not negate the weapons-grade racism that follows. If you truly were not a racist, you wouldn’t make the statement to begin with. You wouldn’t even think it.

I never know how to handle situations like that (except through my writing, which is how I handle a lot of issues). I usually don’t think on my feet very well, so I didn’t say anything in the moment, which I realize was a missed opportunity that I should not have let pass by. Should I have taken a firm stand, called my hosts on the carpet, confronted them about their obvious, offensive racism? Knowing that in that crowd, I’d be vastly outnumbered? Is that any excuse? I complain about not being invited to events, then when somebody does invite me, I preach at them about what they see as inflated, leftist-commie issues that they can’t begin to identify with, much less understand?

And how much do I really understand? Sigh… I don’t know. Even enjoying the luxury of this discussion is the epitome of white privilege, right? I guess I’m just one of those clueless white people who wants to do the right thing, but when confronted with an actual opportunity, I exercise my right to remain silent instead of trying to hack another tiny chip out of the granite wall of racism in America. Sometimes it all feels like way too much.

“The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion.” – Paul Coelho