How Much of My Sin Can God Handle?


I first felt the fear in 2014 – there was a major, major sin I wanted, and I truly didn’t have it in me to walk away.

I remember thinking, Is this it? Is this the time when God isn’t going to hold onto me? Is He going to let me go?

By the grace of God, I did eventually walk away, but I toyed with that sin. I fantasized about it. I caressed it and fed into it. I nourished and protected an affection for it in my heart.

 

It happened to me again this semester. I longed for sin. Temptation came in the form of lies, selfishness, betrayal, arrogance, envy…

Even as I see those traits within myself, I long to indulge them. I long to have what other people have. I’ve been so good for so long, right? Don’t I deserve a break? Why doesn’t God love me enough to give me the desires of my heart?

Please, Abba. Stop doing this to me. Just hit me with an effing car the next time I go for a run. End this. Please. Your plans for me are too hard. I’m not enough. I don’t want to do this anymore. I hate this place. It would be better to die now. “To live is Christ. To die is gain.”

No, I’m not suicidal. I promise. I know it sounds like I am, but I’m not. I’m not even sad, really.

After about six weeks of caressing and guarding my sin this semester, the other thoughts hit me again: Is this it? Is God about to give up on me? Was this just a temporary grace, dependent on my ability to be a good girl?

In the Bible, there are sort of paradoxical and, dare I say it… conflicting… passages when it comes to the perseverance of the saints. The question is usually posed in the abstract: can a person really, truly be a Christian and eventually lose her salvation?

It isn’t an abstract question to me at all. It is the question that haunts me. Each time I come up against the broken and blackened parts of my heart, I ask that question.

God, is this the time when I’ve gone too far? Am I beyond Your salvation now? Don’t let me walk away. 

I am not a Christian because I want to be one. If my faith was dependent upon me to maintain it, I would have walked away long before now. I am sure of it.

There are really beautiful things about Christianity. There are parts of the Bible that are so shockingly delicate. So rich. So mysterious. So flowing and soft.

However, the beautiful is often obstructed by Fox News and the 2nd Amendment. Also, there’s that grotesque problem that Christianity is ultimately about the murder of God.

Partnering alongside the beautiful and the hideous that are both ever-present aspects of my faith, the honest truth about Christianity is that it’s the hardest thing in the world. Christianity requires me to entrust everything about who I am to a God I can never fully understand. It requires more than I have. More than I can ever give. It requires so much more than anyone can articulate or imagine. It requires the death of God. Yes, His resurrection too.

 

Coming up to the edge of myself is a humbling reminder that I am not a Christian because I have done anything to be one.

I am a Christian because I need Christ.

I am a Christian because I do not have it in me to walk away from sin.

I am a Christian because Christ intervened and intervenes on my behalf.

“Perseverance of the saints” is a nice, sanitized, and intellectual way of trying to figure out what happens when a Christian isn’t enough, within herself, to save herself… and shouldn’t the answer to that question be self-evident within a faith that’s entire canon seeks to answer that question…

 

 

School update: it’s Spring Break… my blood pressure is 142/73. My resting heart rate is 52. I’ve got a ton of reading to do. I’ve got papers to write. I have secured a summer job with the Office of Children’s Counsel (represents kids in custody battles). I continue to lose weight and have days in which I can’t make myself eat even close to a normal number of calories. I’ve admitted to myself that I can’t do all of the things I want to do, and will thus need to tell people no. Yet, I haven’t yet told anyone no. I found out I made the dean’s list last semester. I love two or three of my classes this semester. I hate one of my classes this semester. I continue to build amazing friendships with my peers. I love being surrounded by people who think about everything and engage their community with the hope of making it better.

 

 

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Theology Changes


Dear Readers,

My theology has changed.

I write that with a sense of fear, because it’s hard to let the people we love change.

About ten years ago, I fell in love with a gay Christian. I was melty for him, and I told him so… several times. He was kind to me about it. And honest. I watched him through one season of life in which he intended to remain celibate until he died. I watched him through another season, in which he hoped to someday love a woman and have a family. I believe he is now in a committed relationship with a man, although he and I don’t talk much anymore. It’s painful to stay friends with an unrequited love.

I loved him loyally for about five years. I watched him struggle. I struggled. And I did what I usually do when I can’t figure out my life.

I wrote.

In 2007, I began writing a manuscript about a character named Weston Stark who was living a heartbreaking question: If God loves me so much, why did He make me gay?

I thought it was important for Wes to simultaneously hold two truths. The first truth was that God is real. The second truth is that Wes was, and always would be, gay.

I started by doing research. I did interviews, including a gay Christian who dated men, a gay Christian undergoing Reparative Therapy, a lapsed Catholic who was gay and dating men, a bartender at the local gay bar, and a few others. Absent from my research were interviews with women. I wasn’t opposed to interviewing them, but none really popped up conveniently in my life, while it seemed like there was always another man I could ask for an interview.

Next, I dug into resources at the public library. I watched every documentary I could get my hands on, then I finished up my search with the World Wide Web. The one type of research I didn’t do was digging into the debate of whether God actually hates homosexuality. I’m not sure why I didn’t want to go there, but it was the one place I avoided in my research.

Don’t get me wrong; I knew the verses. For a few years of his life, Weston kept a note card taped to the bottom of his sock drawer, where he didn’t think his parents would find it. On it, was Leviticus 18:22. “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.”

I promise, I knew and still know the verses.

Ultimately, my research led me to the ending of Weston’s story: suicide.

I won’t recount the stats or reasoning behind that ending, but suffice it to say that I didn’t believe I could tell his story honestly with any other ending. I tried.

So, I wrote my manuscript. It was mostly completed by year five, but I’ve tinkered with it off-and-on ever since.

Flash forward to 2017.

At the beginning of the year, I felt really torn about homosexuality. After ten years of writing about it, after loving someone for whom it was often the central struggle of his life, and after researching it to death, I was no closer to harmonizing my own heart with what I believed to be the obligatory Christian stance.

My own stance went something like this: nothing in my heart condemns homosexuality. Nothing in my heart believes it’s sinful. I don’t feel any sense of ick about it. No anger or hatred. I have always had lots of gay friends and I adore them. But when I disagree with something I find in the Bible, I yield to God. Because He gets to decide right and wrong. I don’t get to decide.

Then, I started law school.

I met a friend who asked me all of the hard questions, repeatedly.

I started intensely studying the law and how to interpret and understand it, which has an awful lot in common with studying the Bible and how to interpret and understand it.

I decided it was time for me to go where I hadn’t been willing to go previously : Biblical interpretation.

I’ve been reading a lot. Obviously, I have to read for class, which is particularly interesting this semester because I have my first Constitutional Law class… basically I have a class that’s all about interpreting a text written a long time ago, but which we have to apply today. I have also not lost diligence with my Bible, and I’ve read a few Christian non-fiction books about homosexuality, the history of the Bible, and a memoir of a lesbian who converted to Christianity.

And the thing is, the nagging question isn’t whether homosexuality is a sin. It’s a question that’s important. It’s a question that’s relevant. It’s a question for which my answer has changed: I don’t think it’s a sin.

However, the bigger question really is: how do I read the Bible and get out of it what God wants me to get out of it?

I write all of this because I’m afraid that some of you will look on me with eyes of judgment because I no longer see what you see.

I’m still a Christian. I still rely solely on the mercy of a crucified Savior. I still read my Bible and pray on a near-daily basis.

I just think we’ve been reading the Bible wrong.

Here and now doesn’t seem like the time to go into why I think we’ve been reading it wrong. Mostly what I want to do here and now is be lazy. I could wait and have all of these conversations in due time, as they arise with each of you naturally, but it’s far easier for me to just put it out there and let you bring it up if it’s something you want to discuss.

I didn’t intend to change, nor did I change as abruptly as it probably looks like I’ve changed. I’ve been intensely arguing with myself and God for the past few months, but I’ve also been studying and thinking and praying and worrying for years. I’ve worked it out (and will continue to work it out) with much fear and trembling, and I’ve come to a clearing where I think I’m going to land for awhile.

That’s not to say that my theology won’t change again tomorrow. Sometimes that happens. It’s also not to say that I understand Biblical interpretation. I don’t. It’s a big issue and something I’m going to be actively seeking to understand for the foreseeable future.

In addition to my lazy purposes in writing this post, I guess I’m writing this in the hopes that you won’t assume. It’s easy to assume that all Christians hate gays. It’s easy to assume that the only right way to read the Bible is the way you read it.

But the truth of living a life committed to Christ is so much messier than that. The truth of Christianity is a decade of struggle followed by a realization that what I believe is not what I’m “supposed” to believe. What I believe is the kind of thing that makes lots of Christians really mad.

It’s cool if you’re mad… but I honestly doubt I’ll change my mind if you try to persuade me that I’m wrong. I might be wrong… or maybe you’re wrong. We’ll have to wait to find out for sure.

Peace out, friends.

 

 

Thanksgiving 2017


Dear Readers,

I’ve been contemplating writing a post about what law school is like, because that seems to be the question right now. It’s the small-talk question. It’s the part of my life that’s new and wonderful and terrible. It’s the all-consuming, aching, needy monster-robot that’s sucking the life right out of me, and making me question everything I know.

I’m convinced that it is best described as IDENTITY CRISIS!, and in  that spirit, and the spirit of Thanksgiving, here are the deepest thanks built into my heart right now.

I’m thankful for…

Mom & Dad, who made me smart, independent, patient, and athletic. You gave me a (slightly off-beat) sense of humor, and a love of Star Trek and “Dance Band on the Titanic.”

Mr. Morrill, who made me a writer.

Dave and Lisa, who have been chosen instruments of God in my life, softening my stubborn heart and planting seeds of grace.

Steve and Lori, who have voluntarily stuck by me longer than anyone else has, through Sin City, wildfires, and soggy marshmallows.

Shasta, who forced me to dance and have fun.

Matt and Ashly, who were my first holiday benefactors, who taught me to love food and wine.

And Roni, who makes me laugh and seems to only see the best parts of me.

Thank all of you for making me the person I am today. Happy Thanksgiving!

When the Bodies Start Piling Up


I wrote this post about two months ago, but I had a really difficult call yesterday, so it seems appropriate to post it now.

Volunteering for Victim Services is really rewarding, but it’s also really hard.

I’ve written about some of the difficult calls before. However, I think the real struggle is that in recent months, I’ve been on two child death calls, a death notification where a young guy was hit and killed by a train, two drug overdoses – one of which was likely a suicide, one DOA with a lot of HIV positive blood throughout the house, two strangulations, at least four calls where the victim had visible, gruesome wounds, and a death notification for a hiker from out of town.

The bodies start to weigh you down.

Add to that the fact that I work for a hospice and have to do death notifications to volunteers on a near-daily basis, and the pressure I was under studying for the LSAT… and it’s a perfect storm of sadness and stress.

I’m not gonna lie. I started feeling pretty messed up after the hiker death notification. He and his family were from out of town, and were in Tucson because they were attending a funeral. And he died. 150 yds from his vehicle. We did the notification for his wife, who was trying so hard to be kind to everyone in the room, but she was clearly in shock. She repeated the same questions over and over again. She kept blowing her nose into a bandanna, and she was trying to take care of everyone around her. There were seven other family members there, and we worked briefly with all of them.

I went home and honestly just couldn’t get back into my life. Before we left, the deceased’s wife said to me, “God is good.”

That’s such a difficult thing to say even in the best of circumstances, because life is horrible and unrelenting. This temporary home of ours really, truly sucks. But within an hour of being told that she’s never going to have another conversation with her husband… never going to hold his hand, argue, or laugh with him again. Within the hour, she said, “God is good.”

And as weird as it is, the fact that she said that effed me up a little bit.

I got up the next morning and listened to a sermon while making breakfast, and, of course, the pastor talked about the story behind the song that says, “It is well with my soul.” It’s a great story, and you should look it up if you haven’t heard about it before… and yet, even having known the story for years, it was as if God was chasing me around with the peace Christians are supposed to feel no matter what. No matter who or what God takes from us, we are supposed to say, “God is good,” and, “It is well with my soul.”

It wasn’t well with my soul.

I could feel the weight of every dead body from the past few months. They were all laying on my chest, restricting the flow of oxygen to my brain.

So what did I do?

I went for a run. Then I went for a walk. Then I drank some wine. Then I did some yoga. Then I wrote. Then, I decided to hell with all of the things nobody would judge me for doing as coping mechanisms… I turned off all of the lights in the house, made a spread for myself on the floor, and pulled out my VHS tape of THE PATRIOT. I popped it in my tape player and spent three straight hours sobbing.

Then I brushed my teeth and went to bed.

Such is the way to set aside the dead bodies and pick up the peace of Christ. God is good. I genuinely hate this place where we live, but God is good.

UPDATE: Yesterday’s call hasn’t sunk into me yet. I know it will. I know it will haunt me for the next few weeks, until it’s replaced with another haunting call.

Yesterday’s call started just before 5:30 am, and didn’t end until 7 pm or so. Then, there was paperwork to do, and I had to return my radio and phone to our office, so I was away from home for something like 16 hours, going non-stop.

During the call, I wasn’t able to eat at all or have any break. Also, because our shift wasn’t supposed to start until 6:00, I hadn’t eaten breakfast or showered or anything. I had gotten up and gone.

The call spanned two different hospitals, a crime scene, and a home. I interacted with tons of people, ranging from the victim and people directly or indirectly related to the crime, hospital staff and people directly or indirectly related to the patient’s medical care, and even a few people at Southwest Airlines. We transported people from a hospital to the crime scene and back, from one hospital to another, and from the second hospital to a home.

Our victim was really, really visibly wounded, which is always difficult to see. She had visible wounds all over her body, and her face was swollen into a misshapen, bruised mess. And she was SUCH a nice girl. Under different circumstances, I could see myself being friends with her. She is nerdy and artsy. She loves steampunk and movies. She hasn’t given up on her dreams yet, like so many people have. She is an extraordinary person, who doesn’t deserve what happened to her – no victim does.

About the Evil Adolf Hitler


I’ve been learning about Hitler. Everyone kept comparing Donald Trump to Hitler, so I decided I wanted to know what Hitler was actually like. I wanted to know the details of his person, especially the things that had no connection to the evils he perpetrated. So I’ve been carting an enormous book to and from work with Hitler’s pic on the front. Such a book tends to start conversations.

Hitler is the epitome of evil. Whenever someone is looking for the most evil example of a human being, she evokes images of the Holocaust and the man who is most responsible.

Funny thing: when you actually study Hitler, you realize he was kind of artsy and adorable. I know he played a major role in the murders of millions, but if you take away everything he did as German Chancellor and Dictator, and only look at his personal life, you end up seeing him really differently. He wanted to be an artist. He loved going to the theater/symphony/museums. He loved his mom and carried a picture of her with him always. He was awkward with the ladies to the extent that people who knew him teased him as being prudish. He didn’t drink or smoke. He loved dogs and teaching them to do tricks. He was a vegetarian. I haven’t gotten far enough in the biography to be sure about this, but I’m pretty sure he only loved one woman in his life and was completely faithful to  her.

I bring this up because I had a fascinating conversation with my boss about human nature. My boss self-identifies as a Christian who believes that everyone is going to go to Heaven. She believes a lot of things that don’t really fit with the Christian Bible, and I’m not sure she realizes how many tenets of the faith she actually disagrees with… if she were aware, I think she might reconsider the label, or maybe she wouldn’t. She attends church and helps out with the youth group. She’s proud of her Christianity.

Somehow, my boss and I started talking about a documentary I recently watched, called Blindspot: Hitler’s Secretary. It’s a great movie. It’s really just interviews with Traudl Junge, who was one of Hitler’s secretaries, and actually dictated his last will and testament. She was in the bunker when he committed suicide, and she was completely lost to history until about 2001, when she told her story. In 2002, she died.

It’s one of the most engaging interviews I’ve ever watched, because she talks about how hard it was for her to discover the atrocities committed by Hitler, who she’d actually liked.

The weird thing about the conversation with my boss was that she was adamant that Hitler had done horrible things to his secretaries. She interrupted me to claim that he’d slept with them. She even implied that he raped them. And when I told her that wasn’t true, and that men actually teased him for being a prude, she said that he may not have slept with them, but he urinated on them. I told her there wasn’t any evidence of that, but she insisted that her husband had been watching some show that had that on it. I said I would believe it when she showed me a reliable source that corroborated her claim, because everything I’d read said that he was actually a very principled man in his personal life. I told her about his mom, his love of art, his dogs…

And she just wouldn’t believe that he could have been kind to his secretaries.

I said something like, “It must be hard to believe that he could be both kind and evil at the same time,” and she said it wasn’t possible.

This was the moment I probably should’ve turned back. After all, she is my boss. But I saw it as an opportunity, and she talks about Christianity to me nearly every week, telling me what she believes… so I figured it was fair game.

I said something about how all people have both evil and kindness in them; I do both kind and evil things.

She responded by saying that I might do evil things, but I’m not evil.

I told her that I am evil. Everyone is evil.

She acted as if it’s very unChristian of me to say such things and how could I say that? And I said that’s the point of Christianity. The fact that we’re evil is the whole point of salvation… our evil is what we need salvation from…

She said something about how if we look at the big picture like that, then sure… we’re all evil.

It’s difficult for a self-proclaimed Christian to argue that humans don’t need salvation from evil, but it’s hard for me to describe how much it worries me that her day-to-day beliefs suggest that a man can’t murder millions and yet love his mom. It worries me that she thinks murder is a different kind of evil that’s beyond the evil within her.

She and I were talking about infidelity a few months ago. I don’t remember how we got into that conversation either, but she was adamant that she could never forgive a man who cheated on his wife, and she was surprised I was willing to forgive.

It’s always eye-opening to me to talk to people who believe evil is a term that can only be applied to men who’ve done worse than they’ve done. My boss has never murdered or cheated on her spouse, so men who cheat and Adolf Hitler can rightfully be labeled as evil. She wasn’t comfortable labeling me as evil because I’m a victim advocate who helps out at my church. She isn’t comfortable labeling herself as evil… Evil is the slayer of a race, who urinates on his underlings, who was so bad he couldn’t possibly have been kind to anyone in his life. Evil isn’t the vegetarian prude, who dreamed of becoming an artist, loved one woman, loved dogs, and loved his mom… She (and so many self-proclaimed Christians) prefer the narrative where evil has nothing in common with us…

Loving Church


Since I was 19 or so, the church has been a hugely important part of my life, so when church isn’t going well, it wrecks me a little bit. It’s probably the equivalent of family not going well for someone else, partly because I’m a single woman living in a city without family, and partly because I’ve known the church’s potential for both good and evil. I’ve lived my life in the church, intimately connected… I’ve served, attended, hosted and led Bible studies, prayed corporately, eaten dinners, and sang together with the church… it’s hard to describe how much my sense of community and security is attached to the church, regardless of which church I attend or who is a part of that community.

My current church is not wrecking me.

With all of the rest of my life in an uproar – moving towards selling my house, taking the LSAT, looking for scholarships for Law School, losing friends, being without roommate Kendra, etc… – the church is an enormous comfort to me.

I’ve been attending Midtown Church for something like two ish (maybe three ish) years. When I landed there, it was after a long stretch of feeling like there might not be a church in the entire city of Tucson that was a good fit.

I’m a firm believer that churches are broken, and no one should expect to find the perfect church, but I’m also a firm believer that there are a few foundational elements that have to be right, and I feel completely blessed to be at a church where those foundational elements are right.

Midtown Church is prepping to merge with another church. Having been through a failed merge previously that sort of thrashed me around in the waves, you’d think I’d be worried, but it’s really nice that I’m not even remotely stirred up over it.

In large part, I’m not worried because I don’t feel like it’s my job to make it work. There’s a wonderful freedom in knowing that there’s someone else whose job it is to make it work, who is well-equipped to make it work. I’ve always struggled with finding the sweet-spot of church involvement, oscillating between over-involvement and under-involvement, but right now, I’m running a nice, sustainable pace.

I think about Mike sometimes (he was my pastor during the previous merge), and I feel a raging sadness at him, because he wasn’t ready, but couldn’t let go of it enough for anyone to help him. I’ve learned from watching my adoptive parents, my cousin, and Mike how difficult it really is to be a pastor. I have a great respect for the position. And as Brandon, Kira, and I were talking about the merge a few months ago, I realized how much peace I feel in entrusting myself to my current pastor.

Strong, humble leadership is a gift of unmeasurable worth

The Status that Can Never be Updated


Something Lori said to me about six weeks ago has stayed on my mind, because it so reflects the gospel. She was talking about her family, and she said that you can be completely, fiercely angry with family and they can be completely, fiercely angry with you, but your status doesn’t change: you’re still family. And the next time you talk, family doesn’t think less of you.

I’ve struggled for what seems like ages with the fact that my status with family changed to the degree that I was no longer welcome at the holidays. I’ve struggled with where the line is that just cannot be crossed without a status update: ___________ is no longer sisters with Katie James…

I almost have a numbness to people saying they don’t want me as around; it feels like it happens all the time. It’s really only a few times that it’s happened, but sometimes I think it’s my fault. I think about how I must’ve really done something terrible… I must be a terrible person for family not to want me.

It’s actually been the absurd responses of people who don’t know me very well that have most steadied my nerves about it. They say things like, “What did you do? Have you been selling drugs?” or “They must’ve found out about that time you shot a guy and had to get the hell out of Reno.” People saying that to me is so incredibly and unexpectedly helpful, because it reminds me that I’m not an uncommonly bad person. It helps me put it into perspective… I was disowned because I wrote a blog post… or because I wasn’t good at being a Maid of Honor… or because I…

Sticking with people is really difficult and painful. There’s no denying it. I get that it’s really stressful to work out conflict, and it’s much simpler to just find a person to replace me. There are endless masses who are looking for a new spouse/friend/sister/etc… at the very same moment someone has decided it’s time to move on from me.

But I wonder how it would change the world if each of us looked at our lives right now, listed the top ten most important people to us, and determined we would stick by them no matter what…

Mom, Dad, Jennifer, Dave, Lisa, Lori, Steve, Ashly, Matt, Lauren, and Danny.

Okay, so I picked 11 – that’s not the point.

What if we looked at our lives and committed unconditionally to however many people…?

I really struggle sometimes to believe that my status before God is consistent – that He adopted me once and for all – that He looks at me like I’m His daughter every single day and every single moment. I struggle to believe that He sees me as righteous, blameless, and pure. It’s honestly the greatest struggle of faith to trust that Jesus took care of it and I’m okay. There’s nothing more I can do to be cleaner and more perfect before God. My status before Him is secure.

I think it would be easier to believe if my status before my friends/sister/coworkers/etc… wasn’t so subject to change. I’m going to try to be better at letting those closest to me know that their status isn’t subject to change.