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.

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The Sanitization of Christ: God is Better


There are mountaintop moments in every person’s life.

For me, there was one such moment as I stood on a hill in Mongolia at 5:30 a.m. I’d woken up early to have some time away from the 11 people on my team. For a couple of weeks, I’d been in the introvert’s worst nightmare having trained with 100 people in Colorado, sharing a room, eating meals with all 100 of them, never having a moment for myself. After stateside training, there were several days in airports, on buses, in hotels, and in training rooms in Beijing. Then, our numbers lessened for a few days to 50 when we arrived in U.B. (Ulaanbaatar, the Mongolian capitol). We did a few more days of training there, and finally 12 of us went on to spend the summer in Zuunmod, a town about an hour outside of U.B.

I’d gone for a run through town and impulsively continued to hike across a large field filled with goats, across a road, and to the top of a huge hill with a strange, man-made mound of rocks on top of it, surrounded by the bones of animals sacrificed over the years. I stood there looking out across the open expanse, and the air felt different. That’s what I love the most about international travel. If you pay attention, you can take a place in through your senses the moment you arrive. The air in Zuunmod was unpolluted, crisp, chilled, and, for me, it was pregnant with hope. It was the moment of a lifetime.

And yet, God is better.

As I was thinking about how to write this post, I really struggled, because there’s cliché to saying that God is great or holy or good. Of course Christians believe that about God, right? That’s one of those things that’s a given… except that it’s really not.

Last week, I posted about why Christians believe men are evil. You can get to that post by clicking here.

This week, I’m writing the second post in a series called: The Sanitization of Christ. While the idea that men are evil is sanitized for obvious reasons, it probably seems a bit of a stretch to say that Christians sanitize the idea of God being better than everything. I promise, it isn’t.

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Phillipians 3:7-8

“Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and counted them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…”

I took this a little bit out of context, because Paul is writing here primarily about counting his own righteousness as rubbish, but the thing about Christianity is that Christians are to consider everything in their lives as rubbish in contrast to “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus…”

This is really difficult, and I struggle with it a lot. I am NOT saying that a person who struggles with this is not a Christian. What I AM saying is that a Christian must try to view the most sublime experiences in her life, the closest people in her life, and the achievement of her most secret ambitions as rubbish next to Christ.

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Matthew 10:37

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”

This is one of those verses that aches, because it’s about the love of your life, your family, your friends. It’s about people who have meant the world.

And yet, Jesus, Himself said those people can’t be primary. The most out-spoken Christians take an enormous amount of pride in saying that they put their families first. They judge people around them as less, because they detest the idea of a person putting his job or his hobbies first. And yet, Jesus specifically condemns people who put family first. He said that He has to be more to you than people are.

It is a cheap and false Christianity to believe that any person can be more important than Christ is. Christ claims all (every part of the being) of His followers, not the left-overs after family has had what they want.

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*This last one is a little long, and pulled from context, but it provides some poetic descriptions of God’s greatness. It’s in the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, so the people for whom he gives thanks are the Ephesians.

Ephesians 1:16 – 23

“I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”

The sheer volume of doctrine in that passage is overwhelming, so I want to draw out the idea that God the Father “put all things under his [Jesus’s] feet.”

Mongolia is a footstool to God’s enormity.

The only man I’ve loved is a footstool.

My favorite book is a footstool.

My family is a footstool.

Camping at the foot of an iceberg in Peru is a footstool.

Matt and Ashly are a footstool.

Everything is a footstool. Everything and everyone is rubbish.

That’s what Christianity says and is.

When I look at what the New Testament says about God’s ranking in my life among the most valuable people, belongings, and experiences, I have to either concede that they are a footstool God created for Himself, and therefore, insignificant next to Him OR I have to say that the Bible didn’t mean what it says and isn’t the infallible word of God – that Christianity isn’t based on something that really happened, but is rather something I can invent for myself. And, if I can invent it for myself, it is fiction.

Mongolia was awesome. It really, really was, but Christ requires that my heart love him more than it loves Mongolia. He requires that my love of people/mountaintops exist in the shadow of my love for Him.

That is why people sanitize Christianity… they want to love mountaintops more than they love Christ, which Christ, Himself, said makes men and women unworthy of Him.

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Finally, I want to deal with one crucial implication of believing that God is better than everything.

If God is better than I am, you are, my friends and family are, Mongolia is, books are, money is… If He is greater than everything, then He can rescue me. If He isn’t, then nothing can rescue me.

I am evil (See previous post) and deserve to be punished for my evil. You are evil and deserve to be punished for your evil. Everyone I know is evil and everyone who exists is evil… If that is true, then I cannot save you and you cannot save me. The Dali Lama, President Obama, and the Pope are all evil. They cannot save themselves, and certainly cannot save me.

We need Someone better. That is the basis of Christianity. Christ entered the world because of our evil and our need for Someone better…

Have a lovely Easter and think on Who Jesus was and is.

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More Resources:

In an effort to focus on only New Testament passages and only three of them, I’ve left out some of the most poignant pieces of scripture that point to how great God truly is, so I want to quickly refer to them here so that we don’t end up in a place where we feel forced into a doctrine that says God is great, rather than being wooed into it. Here are some passages that woo me every time I think on them.

  1. “In the beginning, God…” Genesis 1 is a great place to see the surpassing greatness of God, as He speaks creation into being.
  2. “In the beginning was the Word…” John 1 is a great place to see how Jesus fits into Genesis 1 and to marvel at the idea of a God Who relinquished deity to rescue his murderers.
  3. “Moses said, ‘Please show me your glory.’” Exodus 33:12-23 is one of my favorite passages in all of scripture, because it makes tangible my ever-present plea: God – please show me Your glory.
  4. “…stop and consider the wondrous works of God…” The last ten chapters of Job (32-42) are so difficult and beautiful. They make my entire point for me, because both Elihu and God answer Job’s tragedy by pointing to the greatness of God in comparison to all else.

There are other passages. The Book of Psalms, for instance, is a great place to go to see the greatness of God. The whole Bible proclaims the greatness of God, although it’s more explicit at some times than it is at others.

And lastly, a book that changed my life and revealed God’s greatness to me is called Knowledge of the Holy. It’s by A.W. Tozer.

The Sanitization of Christ Series: Man is Evil


We were asked to go around the room and put a label to our spirituality. While I felt the request was really a bad idea to begin with, the results staggered me a bit.

In a secular setting, everyone claimed Christianity of one sort or another (Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists, etc…) and everyone described Christianity as all-accepting. At first, I was pretty angry. Then, as it’s bled into me a little bit more over the past few days, I started to feel really sad.

In my favorite sermon, Matt Chandler describes unregenerate faith (people who attend church every day, but don’t actually know God) as inoculation to the faith – getting just enough of it never to fully experience it.

That’s really sad.

It’s out of a brokenheartedness over misconceptions about Christ that I thought I’d write a series of posts on what Christians actually believe. I’m not going to go at this in a comprehensive way. That would be impossible. I’m only going to write what I believe it’s necessary to write to combat the god who doesn’t condemn anyone and the christianity in which everyone gets into Heaven.

The basics:

  1. People are evil and deserve Hell.
  2. God is better…
  3. People cannot be good enough.
  4. Jesus died the death humans deserved.
  5. Some people will receive justice, while others receive unmerited grace.

I’m going to try not to go crazy citing all over the place here, but I’m also going to try to support each of these claims with three passages from the New Testament. Although I believe the Old Testament is equally valuable as a source of support for these claims, I don’t want to deal with the argument that God was different in the New Testament.

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On the subject of evil, one of the more commonly cited passages is Romans 3:10-18 (although I’m going to stop at verse 13 for the sake of brevity):

“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”

Although this is New Testament citing Old Testament, I think it’s fair to use just about anything Paul wrote, because he was most definitely after Jesus, and it’s impossible to say that he was writing about pre-Jesus God.

We could also go into John 2:24 & 25:

“But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.”

Although it’s not explicitly stated here, there is an implication that man is evil.

Jesus does explicitly state that man is evil in Luke 11:13:

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children…”

I particularly like this one, because the verse isn’t even about man being evil. It’s a foregone conclusion that man is evil.

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So… if I am a Christian, I either have to concede that Jesus said some things that aren’t true and man isn’t evil, or I have to figure that it must be true if God said it.

If I decide the former is true, I end up down the rabbit hole of why-the-hell-do-I-worship-a-god-who-lies? (or possibly doesn’t know the truth)… However, I, myself, get to feel a little bit better about my own heart. God shrinks, and I expand.

The result, however, of believing that man is inherently evil is really interesting, because the rabbit hole I jump down in leads to the realization that I, myself, am evil. There are both humility and excruciating vulnerability in me when I admit I’m evil. Admitting I’m evil leads to admitting that justice would be served if I burned.

I actually think it’s impossible to be one of those severe, Bible-thumping Christians when I spend time thinking on the implications of man’s evil nature. A Christian who believes she, herself, is evil, really can’t stand on a corner holding a sign saying that “God hates fags.” She can’t think she’s better than others are, because her own sin is ever before her. She knows the evil of her own heart.

So, while it’s a cleaner, seemingly gentler thing to say that people are imperfect, but not evil, it ultimately does the opposite of sanitizing the faith and making it accessible to non-believers; it causes Christians to believe their goodness can be measured by comparison to others. It causes me to think I’m better than you are because you use the F-bomb or you watched an R-rated movie last week or you drank three glasses of wine and I only drank one. It causes me to think I’m the best student in the class and God owes me a gold star for a job well-done. It causes me to believe that I don’t need rescue; I’m okay without God…

The more fully I believe I am evil, the more fully I believe I need God, and the more clearly I see His glory and goodness for saving a wretch like me.

 

The Secrecy of Prayer


I’ve been reading a book called Intimacy by Henri Nouwen. I know what the title sounds like, but I promise it isn’t a book about sex and/or romance. It touches on both of those topics, but it’s primarily about intimacy with God and others. It’s worth noting that Henri Nouwen comes from a Catholic ish perspective, which is interesting, because I think he was a priest… i.e. no sex in his life.

On page one of the book, Nouwen sets out his purpose as follows:

“I wrote on different occasions, for different people, with different questions in mind. I wrote not to solve a problem or formulate a theory but to respond to men and women who wanted to share their struggles in trying to find their vocation in this chaotic world.”

With that purpose in mind, I tried to be a good audience and to take Nouwen on his terms rather than my own, and though I disagreed with him on many a point, I was deeply touched by the chapter he wrote on prayer.

Nouwen had the privilege of reading the prayers of various college students during the Vietnam war. Though it irked me that he critiqued excerpts from the various prayers he included in the book, as if there can be a rubric for assessing a person’s conversations with the Almighty, I felt joy and honor in being able to hear/read the deepest longings, fears, joys… of the hearts of others.

In fact, the intimacy I felt with people I’ve never met, many of whom are likely deceased, got me to thinking about my own prayers and what I tend to say (or not to say) to God. I thought about how valuable it would be for each of us to see other people’s prayers, read them, feel them, thinking them… how much better prepared we would be to have our own conversations with God if only we had a sense of how other people talk to Him. And yet, it seems impossible for us not to hold our prayers close to our hearts, secret and safe.

Therefore, though my prayers often feel embarrassing and inadequate to me, I thought it would be interesting for me to go ahead and post some of my most often-repeated prayers.

  1. “Help __________ go smoothly.”
  2. “Be with me and be my Abba.”
  3. “Use me.”
  4. “Why am I still here?”
  5. “Help me stop doing _________.”
  6. “Hold me in the palm of Your hand. Shelter me in the shadow of Your wings.”
  7. “Help me to know You.”
  8. “Help me to communicate _________well to __________.”
  9. “Draw ________ into Yourself and help him/her to know You  more fully.”
  10. “Be glorified in my life so that just one more might be saved, like Shindler’s List.”

 

The thing that struck me as I thought over these prayers, which I lean on as stability in my life, is how often I ask God to do the things that He has promised to do, as if I don’t trust Him to be as good as He says He is. The other thing that struck me is how selfish most of my prayers are. They’re about the insecurities I’m feeling, both in relation to God and in relation to the world.

Also, though I always end by thanking God for Jesus and by saying, “It’s in Jesus’s name I pray. Amen,” Jesus, for the most part, is absent from my prayers.

The Question that Threw Me


I’ve decided to pursue volunteering with Victim’s Services. From what I can tell, this means that I would go to crime scenes and help victims meet their immediate needs, whatever those may be (a glass of water, a quiet place to sit, phone calls, etc…). Plus, I’d leave behind resources for them in the coming days – pamphlets with phone numbers and information to help them make the next steps.

I like thinking of it as going into the darkest dark of a person’s life, being a soft light next to them for an hour, maybe two, then leaving as quietly as I came, but also putting a flashlight and some batteries in their hands so that they can start finding their way out whenever they’re ready.

There’s a rigor to volunteering with Victim’s Services that’s to be expected, which is why I found myself downtown at 6:30 on a weeknight, in a building with metal detectors and a security guard.

I thought I was going to nail the interview. You see, the volunteer program at Casa de la Luz has a similar rigor to it, and I’ve been interviewing prospective volunteer for the past three weeks.

I answered their questions, but one of them really stuck with me.

Somehow, the question to get to me wasn’t the one about times I’d been victimized in the past. It wasn’t the one about what the most difficult scenario would be for me in volunteering. The question that’s haunting me is: “What did your friends and family say when you told them you wanted to do this?”

I feel a little like Creed in The Office when new HR person Holly asked him what he did at Dunder Mifflin, and he was all, “Who does she think she is, asking questions that are none of her business?”

I know it’s a fair question. And yet… the truth is that Victim’s Services was never much of a conversation with any of my friends or family.

I’m pretty sure I told my mom. I told Danny and Lauren; Danny said he thought I’d be good at it… and that’s about it. I mentioned it to a friend at church, but only because the training was going to prevent me from attending Bible Study for 6 weeks.

I mean, I went to Mongolia without anyone’s permission. I pierced my nose and got tattoos. I bought a house, quit my job, went to Peru, fell in love, adopted two ducks and a dog…Not only did I do those things without anyone’s permission, but I didn’t even really ask for feedback on most of it.

To some extent, I think I may now understand all of the conflicts I’ve had in my entire life.

I know, it’s been quite the week for me.

Steve and Lori, Ashly, the Johnsons… all of the people I’ve been closest with in my life have the unmistakable ability not to take it personally when I tell them they’ve given me great advice, but I’m going to do exactly what they said I shouldn’t do. They also don’t take it personally when I don’t explain why I didn’t take their advice. They also have a pretty wonderful way of never acting like it’s bad for me to take risks or do things differently than most people do them. When I think about it, how they relate to me might boil down to them having the ability to entrust me to God.

All of the people in my life with whom I’ve had major conflict have the unmistakable need for people, items, ideas, and everything in existence to fall in line; they take it as an insult that I don’t communicate my thoughts and reasons for doing the things I do. They have a sense of right and wrong that extends beyond what’s actually in the Bible, and it’s frustrating to them when I discard things on which they place moral significance.

When I think about what those close to me would have said if I’d asked them what they think about me volunteering with Victim’s Services, I think they’d all have probably asked me a lot of questions and said it might end up being really awesome, and if it wasn’t awesome, I’d figure that out, and stop doing it. Also, I think they’d say that I’ll probably learn a lot, and they can see why I want to do it.

Regardless, I may try a little harder to talk with people BEFORE I go running off to foreign countries, changing careers, etc… I may try to make friends and family a part of the decision-making process, rather than just updating them once the decision has been made. That would probably be a good change for me to make in my life.

The New Year


I did not achieve any of last year’s resolutions. I believe I intended to drink better wine and be able to do crow’s pose.

On the one hand, I did drink better wine, that was a resolution that’s primary intent was to get me drinking less wine, and I’m pretty sure that I drank both more and better wine.

Regarding crow’s pose, I actually think I injured my left wrist spending so much time trying to do crow’s pose, so I’ve spent the past three months or so not even able to do push-ups on my wrist… I’ve been having to do weird things in yoga to still get a work out… for instance, downward-facing dog on a fist.

A third, but less official resolution was to read 52 books for the Goodreads Challenge. I did not succeed on that one. I read something like 42 books, and a significant number of those were graphic novels, which don’t fully count in my mind.

I’m not particularly sad about any of those failures. During the year, I ran a marathon, quit teaching, and gave up ham and beef in my diet (although I did have some ham on Christmas… Lori purchased one that probably couldn’t have been better treated, however, so it’s okay).

So… for 2016, I’ve been trying to think of some good resolutions again, but I’m finding that I don’t really care all that much. Regardless, here are my top goals for the year in no particular order:

  • Goodreads Challenge: 46 books. 52 is a nice, round number, but it’s also a bit too much, I think. It takes some of the fun out of reading.
  • Community: This one is difficult, because I’ve really reinvented my community in the past year or two. I think I’d like to continue growing closer to folks in my church (specifically, my Bible Study), hanging out with Steve and Lori, playing D&D, getting to know my co-workers, and trying to find a third roommate.
  • $: I’d like to be completely credit card free. I’ll keep a card for emergencies, for sure, but I’d like to pay off all of the debt I accumulated while unemployed and cancel at least one of my cards. I’d also like to save up to buy a car.
  • Physical Goals: Make it a habit to run before work one day a week.
  • Writing: Be done with current manuscript… self-publish it, sell it to a publisher, etc… start a new project for NanoWriMo 2016.

What New Year’s Resolutions do all of you have?

An Assault Upon the Flesh


Over the summer, I fasted for the first time. I’m one of those people who’s never really felt like I had a good reason to fast. I felt like fasting was somehow akin to speaking in tongues, and it wasn’t something I felt I ever needed to do in my relationship with God.

Then, I just really struggled.

I struggled with work. I struggled with church. I struggled with friendships. I struggled with family. I struggled with romance. I struggled with reading and writing. Just about the only thing that was going well in my life for awhile was running, so I settled in and trained, and I ran a marathon.

The day I fasted was just about a week after running the marathon.

I felt like God was far away. I felt like I was resistant to Him, even though I didn’t want to be. I felt like everyone around me was falling apart. I felt like I’d never be happy again. I had just quit my job with no prospects for the future. I’d thrown my crap into a rental car days after my last day of teaching, and I drove to San Diego to run a race. And then, after running the race, I just drove.

I planned on driving up the coast and being alone a lot. I planned on walking along the beach, praying, reading, writing, and re-adjusting my attitude.

I thought fasting might be a decent idea.

So, I took one day, and I fasted. I wasn’t sure what the rules are of fasting. I thought about Islam, and I thought fasts in that situation end at sundown or something. I thought about Jews and what they would consider fasting (I didn’t actually know). I thought about whether fasting means no calories at all, or just no solid food… and I decided that I could have a Starbucks and that was it until Midnight.

It was a good day, and I can’t say with any certainty that fasting is what knocked me back into myself. In all honesty, I think it was probably a dozen different things that all contributed to putting me back together.

Then, I was sitting at Starbucks I am sitting at Starbucks, and I just finished reading my daily chapter of Bonhoeffer, and I came to something that I think accurately describes the role fasting played in my life, “As soon as a Christian recognizes that he has failed in his service, that his readiness has become feeble, and that he has sinned against another’s life and become guilty of another’s guilt, that all his joy in God has vanished and that his capacity for prayer has quite gone, it is high time for him to launch an assault upon the flesh, and prepare for better service by fasting and prayer,” (The Cost of Discipleship ch. 16).

Fasting, for me was an assault upon the flesh.

Every time I felt hungry or thought about food, I prayed. I spent a lot of the day thanking God for how much food is available  to me. I live in an abundance of food like the world has never seen throughout its history. I think about food all day, every day, and what I think is, “Should I eat ______, or should I eat ________?” I consider whether or not I want to cook for myself or eat out. I consider how many calories I’m at and whether I can stand putting myself at a calorie deficit for the day. I plan out what times I’m going to eat so that I can exercise, sleep, etc… without feeling uncomfortable. Not eating is interesting, because so many of the decisions I make in a day are about food. With those decisions off my plate (haha!), I found myself feeling really calm and at ease.

And I found myself able to put everything into perspective. All of my struggles seemed less significant in light of how completely secure I feel in God meeting my day-to-day needs. God has never left me hungry. Never. That single fact deserves so much more gratitude than I ever feel or express.