Fantasy Football Theology of Unity

You know that obnoxious person on your Fantasy Football team who has absolutely no business being there?  They own an official jersey for their favorite team, but you’re pretty confident they wouldn’t be able to pick out their team’s starting QB in a lineup of three people; they rarely watch any games so they foolishly place all their strategy eggs in the “projected points” basket on any given week; they have the nerve to use an outdated “egg” idiom to describe football.

My name is Carrye, and I’m that obnoxious person.  (Nice to meet you.)

For all the reasons I don’t really belong in my fantasy league, I admit I’m becoming a bit obsessed with it.  I’m tracking player injuries, add/dropping players like a boss, and occasionally staying up way past my bedtime on Monday nights to see if I pulled out ahead of my fantasy opponent.

But here’s my problem- I’m so devoted to the fantasy part of football that I’m completely missing the non-fantasy point.  Let me explain.

Exhibit A- Week 5: Vikings Vs Bears

I was losing by a hair going into Monday night’s game, and had placed my only hope in the questionably capable hands of Minnesota’s Adam Thielen.  I’d read stats that suggested he was performing better than expected.  Then again, I only hear the stats I want to hear.  I was optimistic about pulling ahead until I looked at my opponent’s final player- Stefon Diggs.  Through painstaking research I discovered a little known fact: both players were on the same team.  I know…my powers of observation are keen.

I won’t bore you with how football works, since you probably know the basics: endzones, tight pants, those yard lines that magically appear on the TV aren’t really on the field, and all that jazz.  But the bottom line is that two teams play against each other to see who gets more points. (Call me Captain Obvious but I’m setting up a point I promise.)

In my great desire to win a fantasy game, I changed the goal of the game to “how can my player on the same team beat his fellow teammate?”  Not team vs. team.  No glorious community win.  I pitted brother against brother because my focus was on a fantasy issue- a decoy problem that distracted me from the real-life, larger purpose of football.  The Vikings won (actual goal met) but I sulked over a personal fantasy loss of .4 points.  (My player did score more points, though. So. Yeah.)

Where’s the theology in all this convoluted fantasy football analogy?

It doesn’t take a lot of digging today to find ways to disagree with those around us.  It’s practically an epidemic, and trust me I’ve been infected.  Of all the divisions though, the Christian vs. Christian rifts are the most sobering and appalling for me.  Unlike fantasy football, many of the issues we disagree with aren’t skin deep- they are places we have strong convictions about and strong emotions over.  I’m not suggesting we bury our convictions or stop taking a stand for the justice around us. (Ask for discernment.)

But sometimes in our division we get so focused on where we disagree that we lose sight of the “ultimate purpose” of following God (pursuing peace, justice, love and freedom with God), and instead focus on the “decoy purpose” of being right…or feeling justified…or proving someone else wrong.

(Guilty as charged.)

Colossians 3:12-15 says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.  Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” [Emphasis mine]

There are a million problems with the world, and we are called to step out and make a difference hand in hand with our brothers and sisters. But for myself (maybe you can relate) I need to ask myself what it looks like to pursue the real life goals of peace and justice with brothers and sisters that I don’t always agree with.  What does it look like to bear with others, forgive grievances, and find peace as members of one body or team?  That’s a real life-changing goal.  And unlike the ease of my fantasy click and drag investment, it’s going to require real life sacrifice and sweat.  And it will probably take a lot of practice.

Still… I’d rather stop caring about a .4 point loss striving against a decoy enemy and  instead enjoy the victory of a messy community that disagrees sometimes but chooses to work together to love and serve the world anyway.  In the meantime, my ESPN app is calling…


Your thoughts?  I don’t have many answers here.  Where are the places that we can stand up with our fellow brothers and sisters to give freedom, hope and justice to others?

 

 

Help! Is My Kid Broken or Am I?

Angry little voices broke the veil between reality and whatever vague dream my sleepy mind wandered in.  I yelled one of those pointless things we say as parents when we our plans don’t include dealing with petty and ridiculous now or ever.  “Everyone just work it out!”

I scanned the closest electronic device for the time: 6:30am.  For real, children?  As the arguing escalated, I went into the hall to find all three children awake with books creatively stacked across my daughter’s floor.  My brows went up, which is quite a feat for that hour: “How long have you guys been up?”

My answer-ready daughter filled me in: Her 6 year old brother had come into her room at some point in the night to “sleep”, which apparently translates more closely to “stay up and play”.  Alarmed by the prospect of handling severely sleep deprived children, I pressed further.  “Exactly how long have you been playing?”  She mused that it might have been starting to get light out when he came in.

(Can anyone say espresso please?)

Thus began one of those mornings when I knew exactly which kid would meltdown.  Sure enough, despite a relatively normal morning routine, my middle son was a puddle before 8am.  And by the time the bus rolled through, he decided he’d rather hide than ride.  My eight year old willingly stepped onto the bus but my son?  He threw off his backpack, kicked off his shoes, and retreated under a blanket on the living room couch.  So I mustered my politest smile (the last one of the hour) and sent the driver down the road with just one kid, my mind whirling about how to get my son out the door (for the love) for what was likely a regular day for most kids.

After delivering an ultimatum that should earn me an honorary lawyer’s degree, I convinced him to go to school and we dropped him off miraculously by 9am.  But even though it wasn’t easy, with him it could easily have been a lot worse.

So here’s my thing: am I intentionally raising one of my kids to throw tantrums and hit me when he’s mad?  Have I spent hours teaching one kid to obey authority while letting the others run amok with no direction?  Mm…gonna have to say no.

I have three kids- one who willingly complies and responds well to discipline, one that schmoozed two boxes of Twinkies from a stranger at the store today (not really the point, but still…), and one who is chronically difficult for me to direct.  Discipline and positive motivators alike…they’ve all failed at one point or another.

Don’t get me wrong, he’s an amazing kid: he’s sensitive, thinks of others, and I’m pretty sure he’s going to build rockets or bridges when he grows up.  But he also has bursts of anger that his almost 7 year old self should have kicked to the curb at age 4.  He gets very stuck in a thought pattern and has a hard time unlocking.  Sometimes he’s trying to be difficult, other times you can tell he feels like he’s the victim and he’s lashing out in his own misdirected attempt to right the wrongs he feels.  (And trust me, his episodes aren’t pretty.)

Often I feel like I’m doing something terribly wrong with him.  If I’d just been more consistent…if I’d just set clearer boundaries when he was a three month old.  If only I were more structured and less irritable.  And all of that has left me with guilt that is about as helpful as a hole in my window screen.

We could all be better parents (understatement of the century) but I’m realizing that’s not the only issue.

When it comes to our kids, there are some areas that we expect differences in.  We assume not all children will be equally athletic or artistic.  We understand that some will be amazing dancers and others will trip over their feet fifty times a day.  Some can belt and carry a tune at age three and some, well…bless their heart.

While we wouldn’t look down on all children for lacking the coordination to dribble a ball down the court, we sometimes set more uniform standards for what kids should be doing behaviorally.  We think ALL kids should be able to sit, focus, respond well to discipline.  ALL kids should be able to access words to tell us what’s wrong and deal with it rather than take it out in unhealthy ways.  And because we think ALL kids should be able to comply with our standard behavioral expectations, we either think something is wrong with the kid or with the parents and their discipline.

We say things like, “If that were MY kid…” or “If they just told him no more often…”  We label kids in negative ways.  We act like there’s an obvious, uniform answer for all our kids.  But what if there’s not?

Honestly, in the past I’ve been more judgmental about other people’s parenting or their kids. I probably still am occasionally.  But I’m beginning to realize what I wish I’d known long ago- just like all kids aren’t artistic or athletic equals- not all kids are behavioral equals either.

It’s not that we shouldn’t have healthy limits and goals for our children whatever their DNA and personality.  It’s just that we can’t plug in some easy formula for each of them and expect to get the same neat and tidy results.

Some kids wrestle with anxiety through no fault of their own or their parents.  Some kids throw hour long tantrums over something that other kids would get over in two minutes.  Some kids are naturally compliant and some aren’t.  Some, like mine, have anger bursts that surprise and undo me despite repeated attempts to curb and improve his behavior.

My point is simply this: each kid is so wildly different, and parenting is an all-out exhausting endeavor where you can’t use the same owner’s manual for more than one kid.  In my experience, the owner’s manual is pretty incomplete to begin with.

Certainly we as parents play a huge part in raising up responsible, well-adjusted kids.  But I also know this: each one of my kids processes and responds to direction, discipline, and motivators in irritatingly unique ways.

From missing buses to outbursts on one hand, to high-flung drama and irrational tears for another; from the sheer crazy of a three year old who crashes into everything, to an eight year old that I sometimes have to tell to please put down her book while her friend is over.

They’re all so very different.  And we as parents are too.  Parenting is part figuring out who my kids are and part figuring out who I am and uncovering how to meet constructively in the middle.  With discipline.  With goals.  And hopefully always with love.

I’m a mess.  My kids are a mess.  We’re not perfect and both my parenting and their behavior could be a lot better a lot of the time.  But we’re a work in progress and I imagine you are too.

If you have felt judged or incompetent as a parent because your kid didn’t seem to fit neatly into the behavior or discipline “norm”, please share your story!  How have you learned to let go of people’s expectations?  How have you learned to help your child or yourself overcome some difficulties (like anger, anxiety, OCD, etc) that other kids don’t deal with as frequently?

Let’s encourage each other with our stories.

 

Wanted: Failing Moms

I stifled my suffocating emotions as I cuddled the boy I’d reduced to frightened tears only moments before.  It didn’t matter that he had pushed all my buttons.  It didn’t matter that he’d angrily pulled the dresser drawers onto his bed and had plastered the floor with his crumpled clothes.  It didn’t matter that I’d started out as calm-super-mom patiently asking him to make things right.

He pushed.  And he pushed some more.  And I lost it.

Not in the “Christian” way.  Not in the “Oh Honey, we all make mistakes sometimes” way.  In the way that leaves you questioning why God would for a minute trust YOU as a mother.  What kind of mom could not just misplace her temper but lose it like a lego stuck in the van seat.

And for a whole night all I could think was that I wanted two things: one impossible and the other nearly so.  I wanted to rewind and undo my monster moment with my son more than anything.  And I desperately hoped in the basement of my soul that there was even one other Mom who had struggled with anger like I had.  Just one other mom like me that looked sweet and put together in church or the school pick up line but couldn’t always keep her stuff glued when push came to shove.

I scrambled through my list of friends, but fear has a way of isolating our worst broken places from the very people who could help us walk through it.  Sympathize with us.  Cry with us while we trudge slowly towards a better way to love.  And while I knew none of my friends were “perfect moms”, were there any that wouldn’t just listen to my bad mom confession, but silently nod their head and give me a look that said, “You’re not alone”?

Suddenly, I no longer cared whether I “looked bad” to other moms- I was overwhelmingly afraid of my capacity to BE a bad mom.  Not all the time.  Not most of the time maybe.  But in that broken moment when I didn’t have a blessed excuse to stand on for my actions.

So often the church and even school mom circles feels a little like that scene from “Mean Girls”

when Lyndsay Lohan (Cady) first gets invited with the “mean girl” clique to Rachel McAdams’ (Regina’s) home.  Cady looks on, confused, as the three other gorgeous girls take turns looking in the mirror and lamenting over their physical “flaws”.  One girl laments that her “pores are huge” and another decries that her “nailbeds suck”.  They’ve made it a ritual to feel better about themselves by each sharing some superficial shortcoming with the others.  But their bond is as shallow as their confessions.

In the same way, we’re willing to share what we consider our kind-of-bad stuff.  The way we’re hopelessly late because God didn’t bless us with an internal clock.  The way we indulge in a little too much coffee, but doesn’t everyone?  Even the cute little mistakes we make as moms like accidentally driving our kids to school on a national holiday or caving and letting the three year old help himself to a gazillion church doughnuts.  (Yes, I’ve done both.)

But when and where do we talk about the gritty stuff?  The real “bad mom” stuff?  The “I’m pretty sure I’m raising a murderer” stuff.  The “I cried myself to sleep over my mistake” stuff.  The mom fails that go beyond the superficial bad of dessert for breakfast or lying about the whereabouts of their toy when you know good and well you gave it to goodwill.

And while I’m not proud of myself, I figure the conversation has to start somewhere.  So here it is:

I’m not always a good mom.  I’m not always an OK mom, even.  Sometimes I screw up so bad I don’t want to tell any of you about it.  Sometimes I’m afraid if people only really knew… (and I’m afraid to finish that sentence.)

This isn’t a cry for accolades- I really am not looking for someone to tell me “I’m sure you aren’t as bad as you think, Sweetie.”

I want someone who will look me in the eye and tell me that I did screw up.  And then hug me and tell me that they’ve been there too.  Maybe not the same way.  But that parenthood has broken them in ways they’re afraid to tell anyone about too.  That they’re afraid sometimes of their own capacity to squish and scar the little lives they’ve been entrusted with. That some “bad mom” moments can’t be laughed away over coffee or numbed away over wine, but spill out in hot guilty tears in a pillow and linger long after the offense is over.

To any moms who feel this way: you. are. not. alone.  I see you and feel for you.  And while you may have made a mistake that isn’t “cute” or excusable- you are human.  And maybe you need to take a step to work towards change.  I know I do.  But don’t forget that your love for your child is so much stronger than that moment of brokenness.  Don’t for a second give up completely.  And whatever you do, don’t hide the shame away- because shame has a way of magnifying itself in secret and maybe our healing begins in pulling back the curtain to our vulnerable moments and letting someone see our real flaws.

So I’m putting out the application to you.. “Wanted: Failing Moms”.  Your brokenness is not too big for this space.  And if you need to vent publicly or through a private message, I’m more than willing to listen.  And I have a feeling we’re not as alone as we think.

To Kill a Brother

“Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.”

(Public Domain)

The last time I felt so sick to my stomach over racism was in a little town in South Carolina where my Memaw used to live.  We’d driven down to visit her and on a whim decided to take a stroll through the quaint, brick buildings at the town center.  If the place were once thriving, you’d never know- there were few people out, and you got the sense that the world around had moved on, or rather out of town.

There we stumbled upon the “Red Neck Store” which innocently advertised itself as a purveyor of southern souvenirs- a unique local gift shop maybe.  We were so wrong.  Though the store was tiny and much too warm, I felt more suffocated by the shocking contents that assaulted me.  It took us longer to process the evil than it should have; oh, there was some light-hearted “red-neck” merchandise, alright… right alongside KKK outfits and other blatantly racist paraphernalia.

As our disgust caught up to our sheer shock, we shuffled uneasily towards the exit.  As we turned to leave, the salesman motioned towards some t-shirts with a picture of Obama, who’d recently been elected for his first term.  “They’re guaranteed to burn!” he called out, hatred glowing in his eyes.  Nail in coffin- we got out of there fast and didn’t look back.

How could such overt racism exist in my modern world?

Fast forward to present.  I don’t watch the news.  Call me irresponsible, call me out on my self-imposed bubble, but my heart can’t usually bench press the weight the news throws at me.

So admittedly I found out about Charlottesville through Lina Abujamra, a blogger I subscribe to.

As her words scrolled through my brain, my heart quickened and I found my fingers typing a search for news that would take my soul and stomach back to the horror of that red neck store and my shattered picture of humanity.  I watched a recap clip of the tragic events that was too short to convey the full story, yet somehow too long a moment to have to stare in the face of evil.

“Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.”

And I cried- not merely for the loss of life- not merely for those hurt and scarred- but because I’d naïvely allowed myself to believe that somehow we’d moved beyond such base actions.  Yes darkness seemed to have a choke-hold on the world, but weren’t we slowly getting better as a people?  As a nation?  Hadn’t the hard fought war for freedom for all changed not just our legislation but at long last our collective hearts?  At least a little?

We weren’t perfect in the “love your neighbor” department- no sir. And truthfully books like The New Jim Crow have opened my eyes to see that socially acceptable racism still exists even if overt racism is declining.  And I lament along with many of my ongoing complicity in such racist structures and beliefs, though I don’t always know how to perpetuate change.

But my stomach feels especially sick at the real-time use of the phrase “white supremacist” because I thought that language was buried deep within the pages of my history book.  Where has all this hatred been hiding? What is its origin?

I think back to the first recorded murder in the Bible, when Cain and his brother Abel walked with God.  Genesis says God was pleased with Abel’s sacrifice, but not with Cain’s.  Such a simple sentence, but it was the catalyst for Cain to draw an irrevocable line. Cain’s pride was assaulted.  His sense of His worth and identity were thrown off and he was filled with anger.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?  If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.”  (Genesis 4:6-8)

Cain didn’t want to look at himself and his issues.  He’d rather draw an imaginary line between himself and his brother and cast the blame on the other side.  His frustrated desire for success? accolades? validation? swelled into lethal anger.

I picture myself for a moment as Eve, the boys’ mother.  Death was still fresh and ghastly, something not yet normal.  Did she crush under the fresh realization of what her disobedience in the Garden had cost her?  Even as she wept over a boy lost to death, did she cry bitter tears over the broken depths of her living son?  Did her own stomach churn at the horrible knowledge that creation from her womb had taken the life of creation…that brother could kill even brother?

Did she fall to the ground and ask God to forgive and to heal, to turn their hearts back to Him?  Did she realize with sobering horror, as I did, that she herself had the capacity for equally grave selfishness?

This week I’ve struggled with fresh revelation of my own brokenness- my own capacity to diminish, overlook, and cause pain.  How sobering to think that I’m simply not so different from the people on the other side of the line that I find myself drawing.  The righteous and unrighteous.  The sinner and the saint.  The peacemaker and the racist. The moral and the killer.  But my lines aren’t any more helpful than the lines others draw.

Because no matter what line we draw, don’t we always end up on the “right” side of it?  Isn’t the line somehow about ourselves?

At its core, racism is about elevating ourselves.  It’s the full-grown sin of seeking our own good and interests, of needing to validate ourselves at the expense of someone else.  It’s the desire to define ourselves AGAINST others- to be on the “right side” of the line of perceived power or beauty or significance.

But no such line exists.  Because God defines us and loves us not comparatively or based on who we are, but unconditionally based on who HE is.

There is no line.

So the powerful, so-called beautiful and self-imposed significant must create that line to maintain their self-worth.  In our insatiable pursuit of our own happiness and meaning we’re willing to diminish, abuse, and even kill their fellow creations…our brothers and sisters.

God fleshes this internal struggle out in His exhortation to Cain: “If you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you but you must rule over it.”

James 1:14-15 puts it this way: “…but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”

Our temptations feed broken desires that incubate sin which, in its ghastly full grown state, produces death of all kinds. We have to address those desires and the broken places they come from.  James 4:1-3 continues this thought:

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.  When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

We’re so focused on ourselves.  Our desires and motives are so skewed by our selfish lens. On our desires and pleasures.  And I’m preaching to myself here, just so you know.

Yet God offers some powerful tools to subdue those very desires that try to destroy us.  Some of the most practical daily advice is simply to talk less and listen more:

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:19-20)

Our anger, even our justified anger, apart from God’s heart simply makes things worse.  It leads to more human lines, more division, and less of the righteousness that God desires.

So what else do we do to find victory over those broken desires and places in our lives? Come to God with humility and acknowledge our broken deeds and desires.

James 4:7-10 says, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

I’m not the first to suggest that this is a time to repent: to acknowledge the broken places of our hearts before God and before our brothers and sisters.  Time to turn inward and realize where our own selfish tendencies, unchecked, have left us to ignore and harm others.  It’s a time to repent of generations of evil perpetuated against whole groups of people.  It’s a time to listen to other people’s stories in such a way that our own hearts break over their struggle.

And it’s time to stop drawing lines that kill our brothers.

All Bible References from:
New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

The Christian Phrase I Hate (Gray Faith Study Ch 4: Gray Sin)

Does the very phrase “gray sin” make you uncomfortable?  Each generation seems to be getting more and more fuzzy about what sin means and how we handle it.  But if we’re going to live and love in God’s kingdom, we need a give-and-take discussion about sin.  And frankly, people, we all have room to grow in how we respond.

Check out my video to find out one Christian phrase I’ve come to hate- then stick around to check out this week’s on-your-own experiment and study questions.  (To follow along with the book, download or purchase here: Gray Faith on Amazon. )

Experiment #4:  

(PART 1) Find a comfortable place to kneel down.  Read through Bible passages that declare God’s holiness and power (Revelation 4:8-11, Job 38, 1Timothy 6:15-16)  Or listen to songs like “Revelation Song” by Kari Jobe, or “The Stand” by Hillsong, “Your Great Name” by Natalie Grant.  (These are suggestions- feel free to play songs you most resonate with.)  The posture of kneeling or bowing sometimes helps us to physically acknowledge who God is. Verbally acknowledge His holiness and that you accept His Lordship in your life.  Consider your smallness and brokenness in relation to who He is.

 

(Part 2) Instead of dwelling on your smallness and brokenness to the point of guilt and despair, now consider the amazing love of the Father who made a way for you to approach His throne with confidence (Hebrews 4:16).  Relish the fact that you’re covered by Jesus’ holiness, that God has removed your sins “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12).  Take a moment to just dwell on how great His love for us is, that covers over our worst sins.  Write any thoughts that come to you during this time.

 

Chapter 4 Study Questions:

 

  1. What did you grow up believing were the “big sins”?  Has your understanding of or reaction to these sins changed over time?

 

  1. Can you live in the tension that someone else who loves God may not follow God the same way you do?  Explain.

 

  1.  What is the difference between standing up for what we believe in and arguing with someone over belief?  

 

  1. What does it look like to confront sin in love?

 

  1.  We’re all broken- prone to fail and fall short of God’s glory.  How have honest relationships in your life have helped to break down your judgment towards others?  

 

  1.  The “discomfort of grace” means that God covers our sins, even those we aren’t aware we commit, and he covers others as well.  We’re partly right, partly wrong.  Discuss what implications this has for our moral disagreements and how we interact with others.

 

  1. How does the magnitude of God’s holiness affect the way you view sin?

 

Bible passages for further reading:

Romans 14 (Don’t judge, Disputable issues are between us and God); Matthew 18:15-17 (sin in the Church); 1 Corinthians 13:9-12 (we know in part); Philippian 1:4-11 (God continues a good work in us); Luke 7:36-47 (Those who are forgiven much, love much); Luke 17:1-4 (Causing to sin); John 8:1-11 (A Woman Caught in Adultery); Acts 2:38 (Repent from Sin and be forgiven);Luke 18:9-14 (Humility before God); Revelation 1:9-18 (A Vision of holy Jesus


Tough conversation, but if you care to join, please comment below with your thoughts on anything from your own experience with Christianity and sin, to answers to the study questions. Thanks for joining the online study!

My “Awkward Christian Moment”

Every year our adoption agency hosts a summer picnic with an exotic-to-us playground, food treats galore, and the whimsical highlight for my kids: Derek the magician.  (AMAZING every year)

This year, just before the magical performance, one of the picnic-goers raffled off a couple of truly beautiful miniature fairy gardens.  And I, rare-winner-of-anything, got picked, and wasn’t even paying attention.  My daughter ran over to alert me and proudly skipped up to the table to collect our prize- a mossy, little bowl of life, topped off with a tiny Buddha.

The woman smiled at my daughter, pointing out a little scroll of paper, daintily rolled up near a walnut.  “You write your wish on that paper, and little Buddha here will take care of it for you.”

Conversation Starter
 Spiritual Conversation Starter

 

And I had a moment which I can only refer to as an “awkward Christian moment.”

See, I teach my kids about God.  I explain life to them as I understand it, and I’ve experienced it.  And to some extent, I think we all either raise our kids with the values and beliefs we grew up with, or we branch away from what we’ve grown up with and intentionally teach our kids differently.

But how do we allow our kids to experience other cultures- other religions- other ideas- in a healthy way?  How can we teach them what our heart for them is, without ignoring other beliefs, without breeding a sense of superiority, hatred, or suspicion towards other people and cultures?  Moreover, how to we give them freedom to test what they believe in the crucible of life.

That little Buddha bowl of life spawned a conversation with my daughter later on.  Probably not my most polished moment.  But I hope something positive.

And I talked to her again about God, and prayer- about bringing God all the things we need help with. And I said it out loud, but my heart felt fake just then.  See, at that moment I was struggling with my own encounters with God.  I was waiting on an answer that wasn’t coming and boy was it making me look hard at God and confront once again whether or not I’m holding onto something plastic.

Funny.  I had just spoken at my church about this.  I had just told everyone that often we don’t truly encounter genuine God until “our circumstances contradict our expectations of God.”  I said this because I’ve experienced that.  I’ve gotten mad at God or felt hopeless and He has proven to eclipse even my struggles.  He has shown who He REALLY is when I stop acting like everything is fine.

And, of course, I worked through all that like a champ, and now I can help other people and won’t ever have false expectations of God again.  I’ll never need to doubt the foundation of my belief because me and God have an understanding now…right God?  Wink, wink.  Nudge, nudge.

Or maybe not.  Maybe I’m not one of those people who gets to learn something once.  Maybe none of us gets to be one of those people.  And maybe part of peeling away the plastic beliefs, means I’m going to constantly have to reaffirm whether God is big enough for me- real enough for me- when my diabetes makes me want to kick and shake my fist at God- when depression stalks me and threatens to devour my courage and joy- when I can’t even see where to put my foot next on this climb.

No matter what you believe- the hardest situations in life are what call our deepest beliefs into question.  But I still believe- yes, even through my week of “why?”- that a Presence beyond and inexplicably intermingled with my own fleeting story, emerges from my dark places.

And so I pass that on to my kids, even when I don’t have all the answers.  And as friends have wisely suggested, I use even those “awkward Christian moments”- those places where people don’t see eye to eye with me spiritually- as conversation starters- something my kids ultimately need to work through personally when they’re finally confronted with their own places of pain and disappointment.

What about you?  What have your disappointments and struggles taught you about what you believe, and how do you pass that on to others around you?

 

A-N-G-E-R Does Not Spell “LOVE”

I knew “LOVE” wasn’t spelled that way…

A long while ago I was frustrated with someone.  I wasn’t sure I agreed with what they were doing (because cleeeaarly I have all of life’s answers) and I cared enough about them that I really didn’t want to see them do something that (in my only-sometimes-right-opinion) might not have been wise.  I had brought up my concern but this seemed to have no effect on the situation.    

But as I vented to a trusted friend about the issue she brought up a very good point that has stuck with me all these years, and has probably saved a friendship or two.  
Although I will butcher this paraphrase so badly that if my friend reads it she likely won’t realize she said it, here is essentially what she told me:  If you’ve brought up your concern, you can’t keep bringing it up- you have to let it go.  Because if you keep nagging someone, it can only end badly.  Assuming they continue to do what you disagree with, they will either find that their life is just fine despite all your know-it-all hounding and they will consequently resent your presence in their life-because you didn’t believe in them or their decision.  OR you may be totally right and the direction they are going may end up poorly for them…but even in that case, why would they come running back to you when things fall apart if all they experienced from you was negativity and judgement?  If you value this person and their friendship, you can bring up your concern but then you have to let them make their own choice from there and just be a supportive friend.  

Crap, she was right.  Thankfully I took her advice.  

Isn’t it funny- that we can “love” someone all the wrong way- we can love them so much that we want to prevent them from making mistakes by speaking into their life through the lens of our own.  (Spoiler- it’s not going to look the same.)  We think we can argue someone into a better choice- debate someone into a different way of thinking.  And all the while we have the gall to believe they should value us for it?  Come running to us for advice?  Consider us a close friend?  
I think many Christians probably have an especially hard time with this.  Maybe you see someone who doesn’t seem to have their life together, or who is making choices you consider morally questionable, or who doesn’t believe what you do.  And our natural thought is that by sharing what we believe with them, we will make their life better.  
The problem is three-fold: first, we somehow have it in our head that to love someone means to push as hard as we can on them until they buckle and see like we do.  Or to judge and picket someone until they change their mind (and not just when it comes to the publicized issues of same sex marriage or abortion- we do this with people who seem too materialistic, too atheistic, too liberal, too conservative, too whatever doesn’t sit right with us.)  
Honestly, putting aside for a second whether you are even right or wrong, does that work for you?  If someone says they don’t agree with you and rams their disagreement down your throat every time they see you, do you think, “Ooooooooh, I didn’t really want to listen the first 50 times, but now that I hear your angry rant a 51st time I’ve finally seen the light!  Bless you, Saint!” ?? (Or are you plotting an elaborate scheme that involves switching their chapstick with crazy glue.)  Anger and arguing don’t make a very convincing case for anything.
Second, (and I’m so guilty of this), is that it is impossible for us to be angry, argumentative, and self-righteous while simultaneously offering the message of love, peace, and hope that Jesus lived.  Doesn’t matter who you are talking to.  The minute we assume that someone is wrong and it is “our job” to fix them, we have missed the mark already.  There’s this tension…because quite often we think we are doing someone a favor. But the truth is that any good that will ever happen in a person’s life will not be because of us- it will be because of Love- personified.  Assuming we really believe that the love of Jesus is stronger than argument- stronger than anything.
Third- how many times throughout history has someone picked up a sword or a pitchfork or whatever to defend what they believed to be “Biblical”?  I’m a firm believer in the Bible, but I am not so arrogant as to think that I understand the whole thing.  And I also believe that it is easy to misconstrue pieces of the Bible to defend what you want to believe.  If we are too quick to be argumentative- too quick to assume we are always right- then we do not leave room for the possibility that some of what we believe may be wrong- that someone ELSE may be able to speak into OUR lives.  (Because heaven forbid someone who doesn’t even believe what I believe might actually speak truth into my life!)
So go out and relax a little and just love someone- just be their friend.  If nothing else you might find it a whole lot less stressful.  
James 1:19-20
“19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”
1 Peter 3:15-16
“15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (emphasis mine)