Sunday, April 25, 2010
In New Testament class, our last several assignments have involved reading an entire gospel in one sitting (sometimes it is more like 2 or 3 sittings for me, but the idea is large chunks together, all if it in a short period of time). This has been an invaluable experience, but one recurring theme in Matthew and Mark is the faith that spurs miracles. Jesus heals when a miracle is performed often (not always) because of the faith of the person (or of their friends, like in the case of the man lowered through the roof on a mat). When faith is lacking, so are the miracles. This relationship is impossible to avoid, and yet in my own life, I find the correlation much less common. Making sense of this discrepancy is what leads me to title this blog 'crisis.' I am not in a crisis of faith as such, for I know that God exists beyond a shadow of a doubt and that God is love. This can never be shaken from my being. But why has God forsaken me - that is an altogether different question.
Worshiping in my church with this underlying question at the root of my current relationship status with God feels ... dissatisfying, I guess. When I know the songs will be upbeat praise tunes, how can I authentically question and wonder in worship? Certainly affirming God's goodness even while lamenting is biblical and good for the soul. But what is missing is the lamenting part. How do we reintroduce the lament into church (as the Psalmists so wisely did in the Psalter), so that both God's goodness and God's sometimes confusing, undeniable Otherness are both affirmed and so that no one feels the need to be fake in worship? Perhaps the answer lies not so much in song choice as in worshiping with people who care about you, who know where you are at, and who lament with you when you need to lament, and who rejoice with you when you need to rejoice, and who share Eucharist with you regardless. May I learn how to follow Paul's advice, to "rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances" with sincerity of heart, and may we as a church learn how to lament in worship with those who mourn.
Monday, January 11, 2010
In the bathroom, I've been keeping Joan Chittester's book "The Breath of the Soul" on hand (borrowed from a classmate), which is a tiny book with two-page chapters on prayer (much more than this on prayer at a given time, and I have trouble making any of it stick). Just the other day, I read a chapter that really soothed my spirit. Below, I've quoted from the chapter (called "Humility" - something I can always use more of), because not only do I think it may help someone reading this one day, but because I want to come back to this (after I return the book) when my questions grow bigger yet again:
"We spend so much of our lives pretending to be God it is often difficult to remember that we aren't. We proclaim it to the office staff, we remind the family of it by the day, we ply friends with stories of our supernatural victories over small children and store clerks and neighbors. Even early in the process when we go to prayer, we take with us the same attitude of the imperious and the agitated. We order people and things to do our bidding and make our worlds perfect. We secretly expect God to do the same. As Aldous Huxley put it, "the Third Petition of the Lord's Prayer is repeated daily by millions who have not the slightest intention of letting anyone's will be done but their own.
"But then, somewhere in life, we find ourselves facing walls that will not move. We have a child who needs special care now - and will need special care all their lives. We lose the savings of a lifetime and all the retirement plans go with them. We develop a chronic disease that will not end our life but will certainly limit it severely. We watch the business fail through no fault of our own but so far beyond us there's not a thing we can do to save it.
"Now, we find ourselves new people. We have become the spiritual beggars we never before understood. Except that even begging is useless now. And we know it.
"So for what do we pray at a time like this? In fact, why bother?
"The questions are important ones. It is possible that there is nothing that teaches prayer more quickly, more effectively than having nothing to pray for that can possibly happen. We are lost in the land of nowhere to go but God, not to change the circumstances of our lives but to change our whole attitude about what life is really about.
"We learn now in the throes of a heavy heart that the grace simply to be may be one of the greatest graces of life. We discover in the silent arms of God that it is enough to be loved, to be understood, rather than "saved," from the things that are their own kind of salvation.
"Sickness saves us from glorifying the cosmetics of life.
"Need saves us from isolating ourselves from the rest of the world.
"The limitations of others save us from self-centeredness.
"Powerlessness saves us from the sickness of arrogance.
"Then, when we go to prayer we go, not to be given something but to be quiet, to develop a heartbeat of acceptance, to become the calm that is calming. Humility makes listeners of us. And in listening to everything that happens to us, we find God's word for us."
I certainly believe that it is not wrong to pray for our heart's desires (to make the sick well, to mend a broken business, etc), and the Bible is full of examples of this in people of great faith. Sometimes God answers the way they ask, and sometimes God does not. But it is in the "not," that we must find a way to pull through, to return to prayer without returning jaded or cynical. Only in a good measure of humility, of admitting we are not God nor do we know better than God, does this seem possible.
Sunday, January 3, 2010
In a decade, I've graduated from high school and college, and begun graduate school (ha - never thought I'd be saying that!) I've held 8 different jobs, I've moved like 15 times, I have moved back in and then back out of my parents house. I earned my CPA license. I've fallen in love 4 or 5 times. I've had my heart broken. I made three "forever" type friends. I quit a "dream" job to pursue a different kind of dream. I purchased and a car and paid it off. I crossed the Pacific ocean six times. I joined a band. I spent 5 summers at summer camps. I spent at least part of every one of those ten years in ministry with youth. I watched my sister survive an intense surgery and bravely battle emotional demons I can only attempt to imagine. I lost a grandmother and watched Alheimers claim my grandfather. My faith has gone through the ringer and gone through again, and has come out in tact with stronger, more flexible edges.
What does the next decade hold? Only a few items on the above list would have made my "ten-year-plan" as a seventeen year-old ringing in the new Millennium. Shouldn't I know better than to try and plan the next ten years? I think I mostly do. My list of desires and hopes is shorter, more general: I'd like to fall in love and have a family. I'd like to become a pastor or a missionary or a part-time minister of some sort and use my seminary degree in some way. I'd like to continue to travel but I'd also like to put down roots in a community and stay in one spot. Other than that? I want to live a life that honors the one who gave it to me.
All in all, 2009 wasn't exactly a "top of the list" year for me, though looking back a lot of good came out of it. A lot of rough things happened to. But to take the good and forget the bad cheats me out of both a greater appreciation for the times that are good, and allows me to forget that the time I spend in this world is NOT supposed to be perfect. I cannot try so hard to create a perfect life for myself that I forget that joy does not depend on life's circumstances, good or otherwise. My dependence belongs on something much more steadfast, much more reliable than something that can change faster than the wind. My friend Anthony's death this December while climbing on Mt. Hood was quite a shocking reminder of that. Anything I cling to in this life will disappear, change, or disappoint.
So, where does the ultimate steadiness come from? God does not change, disappear, or disappoint, though sometimes He seems to. I have no assurance that anything circumstantial in the coming decades will improve upon the one I just lived. Hell, I have no assurance that I will live through the coming decades. Change (in people, jobs, families, friends) is a reality of life - I would never try to downplay its effect on me. But if I can't hold on to something that does not change, something that is always true no matter what happens around me, no hope is in sight. So this New Year, I am thankful for a God who does not change. I am prayerful that my joy, my constant will always be with that God.
So here's to you, decade of the Aughts. You brought me a lot more than your namesake might suggest. May I now have the grace to look forward and not behind and live the Tens more vibrantly, fearlessly and lovingly because of what I have learned from you.
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Somehow - maybe through my world travels, or discussions with many Midwestern, liberal Lutherans, or just my own growing interest in theology - in the last several months, my understanding of God has grown larger and larger and simultaneously, less and less personal. What was once an incredibly personal relationship has become a much more logically sound, defensible set of doctrines. These doctrines seemed to make sense of intense suffering, of the seemingly great disparity of "blessings" given someone like me and, say, the people in the Tanzanian village in which my friend Brie currently dwells as a Peace Corp Volunteer. How could an intensely personal and involved Creator God pick and choose some to bestow copious amounts of comfort and health upon, and others to orphan and fight hunger and illness? Rather than try to make sense of this, or embrace a strange sort of guilt for my own tremendous privilege, it was easier to remove God from the day-to-day altogether. God still exists as Creator, but not so much on the personal Friend type.
While I had not sorted all of these thoughts out theologically (they don't really sort out very well), I definitely moved away from any prayer that either praised or requested God's interaction in my daily life, or that of those around me. I carefully prayed only for Spiritual gifts (comfort, wisdom, discernment, etc.), as opposed to any physical health, or jobs/financial things, food for the hungry, or heaven-forbid a change in the weather. Operating upon the assumption that it was up to me to find a job, that health is inevitably going to fail, that providing food was up to those of us blessed to have more than enough, and that the weather was going to do whatever it pleased. Why would God interact with these mundane things of life, when God gave us the intellect and ability to deal with them, and also allowed death and destruction to occur in their time? Don't ask me what I thought Jesus' miracles were - just a fluke I suppose (like I said, there were still a lot of holes)...I was close to believing they were perhaps fabricated, certainly not a central part of his message!
Again, much of this was a reaction to the popular right-wing Christian argument that Hurricane Katrina was God's punishment of an evil city, or the more extreme Charismatic belief that if we just pray "in the Spirit", God will take care of it (sickness, unemployment, birthing pains, you name it) - big "Genie in the Sky" style. But, if these things aren't true, as I cannot really believe that they are, then what in the heck IS true of God's interaction with the world? Why are people in pain, hungry, not healed when prayed for (heck, a lot of the time they die), or suicidally-depressed, if we have a God who does interact with the world?
Of course, these questions and shifting beliefs in due course changed much of my interaction with God. I stopped reading the Bible, because I couldn't reconcile it with these new theories, I struggled to pray with any honesty because I had to so carefully craft my prayers around Spiritual concerns alone, and I stopped encountering God in worship in the way I used to.
Then I landed at the Spiritual Formation week-long seminary class at Camp Casey with the 20+ seminarians I will be studying with for the next three years. Not realizing that all of the "shifting" I discuss above had been going on inside of me, I was shocked to hear all their personal testimonies about how personally, and often radically, God had worked in their lives. Their passion and personal view of God combined with intelligent working theologies could not be ignored, and I brokenly had to reevaluate my own beliefs. I found that without realizing, I was profoundly missing God in my life, even as I'd been thinking so much about God and God's world.
None of this has been solved for me. I'm not suddenly a charismatic healer who will pray for any injury that comes my way. However, I also have reaffirmed my belief that miracles DO happen, that God interacts with the world every day, most of the times in ways that are not visible. God holds a MUCH larger picture than I do, and I ultimately trust that though every single person who enters life on earth suffers pain, loss, and ultimately, death - without exception - they also nearly invariably experience joy, love, and some form of hope. And in my limited understanding, I can only hope to glimpse one puzzle piece at a time of a multi-billion piece puzzle, that God continues to put together. God's got the box, the end-of-the-project picture that none of us gets to see. We get clues, maybe, but nothing like the end. Heck, we can't even get our arms around infinity - we are simply stuck in this thing called time.
Too many of us, myself definitely included, presume that the puzzle-pieces we've seen make us experts on the Puzzler and the picture as whole. My friend Brie, the PCV I mentioned above, doesn't believe in God, and her village largely does. Their faith seems simple, and foolish, to her, I think much of the time. It probably would to me also. Yet, they've seen a much different part of the puzzle than I have. Maybe instead, I (and she) should learn from their faith and the ways in which they've seen God interact (and not interact) and attempt to broaden our view rather than change theirs.
Ok, this is a really long post, and most of you have probably stopped reading because I'm rambling and being theological, but all that to say that tonight, in worship, God's intensely personal, life-sustaining love grabbed a hold of me, reminding me of why I am in seminary, of why - at the end of the day - I keep coming back to a God who THANKFULLY is hugely bigger than me, or my very small and narrow brain, and placing my trust in that God's vision for a broken world in need. In the meantime, I will spend my life trying to see that picture a little more clearly, and acting accordingly.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
- New Apartment - check!
- New (must-be-awesome) Roommate - check!
- New Seminary - check!
- New (hideously long) Blogpost - check!
- New Church & volunteer position - (on the schedule for Sunday)
- New Boyfriend - (position open)
Ok, 5 out of 7 not bad! :) I know its been FOREVER since I've done anything with this site, and while I would LOVE to take you all (meaning all 2 of you who are still actually checking this thing) on the "last 5 month's of Jenny's life" tour, I am going to instead try to just pick up where I left off with only a very very brief summary of my amazing summer.
In the coming months, I hope you can expect that I'll be using this as a way to process all that I'm learning in Seminary and how its going actually putting it all into practice in my life.
Adam and I had an awesome roadtrip across the US to Minnesota, but I haven't heard much from him since, which although a bit painful was probably for the best.
Nothing like wearing crazy clothes to help you get over yourself!
Played lots of guitar - and I swear I finally got to a point where I didn't have to look at my fingers, or at the chords, or at anyone but the kids - I loved being "one of the strong ones!" Go chick rockers!
I learned a lot from finding the time to be quiet. Beauty never ceases to open up the communication lines between me and my Creator.
OOPS - DID I MENTION I GOT TO GO TO HONG KONG & MAINLAND CHINA!?
This was an incredible trip. We put on a week of camp in each place, and between playing Mighty Mighty on the beach, having my campers show me the Big Buddha, and generally making wonderful friends, Hong Kong was a blast.
Mainland China, on the other hand, was incredible in a different way. Its beauty, rich history, fascinating and a bit frightening government-rule, and the simply wonderful kids, who face more pressure than we can even describe in English words, made the time fly by. I will always treasure my experience of camp in China. Here are a few pix that show a beautiful hike we took near Xinyang, the way the kids opened up around the campfire our last night, my dear group of girls, etc.
And btw - we got to FEED monkeys! and Ostriches! and it was awesome. And scary - don't look a monkey in the eye - they see it as a sign of aggression. FYI.
And oh yeah - our imprompu layover in Japan was awesome. Here are my male teammates making good use of the hotel robes (one of us decided they were a complimentary present on behalf of the airline and packed it away, but I'm not naming names... the clear imprint of the hotel name inside did not appear to be enough evidence to the contrary).
All in all, I may write more on this trip later. It profoundly moved me in realizing the importance and value in camping ministry, in helping people, esp. kids, to move outside their everyday lives to encounter something bigger, to encounter people who love them independent of their achievements or abilities, and to ultimately, encounter a God who created and loves them. Maybe this is where God is leading me, but more on that later...
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
I have to give a shout-out to both Deloitte (who had me travel so much during my years of working there that I earned ~120,000 points at the Holiday Inn hotels, or up to 12 free nights) and to Northwest Airlines, who provided Adam a returning one-way ticket for less than $70, without which this trip may not have been possible! Old Faithful & Thomas Jefferson, here we come!
It also bears noting that I am equally excited about the destination of the Twin Cities, where some of my dear friends await me. Carly, Dave, Luke, Joshua & I will all be reunited this summer (the former 3 and I working at camp once again), and I cannot wait for vicious rounds of Ui77, Carcassone, Brandy & Banter. I think we are being given a gift of time that I will be thankful for the rest of my life. Who knew we'd get that chance!?
All that said, yesterday's run to Gasworks, a familiar haunt of mine in this city of Seattle reminded me that I love this city, and that spending yet another summer away from it is bittersweet. It is a dear wish of mie that many summers to come will be spent here in this city in this corner of the world which has ultimately captured my heart.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
Here's the thing. I am good at public accounting (here's me tooting my own horn..."TOOT!"). It comes easily, I enjoy the daily challenges of the job, I love the people I get to work with, and it pays really well. And I'm never going to go back to it unless God whacks me over the head and makes me. :) It is all of the above, and yet spending 60 hours a week determining whether other people are tracking their money correctly just does not bring me the same peace as I knew last year, trekking through Filipino villages to sing praises to the Lord, or as telling a Taiwanese high school girl about the freedom that comes in knowing Jesus Christ for the first time. Lately, I have been thinking a lot about how short life on earth is. About how I really only get one crack at it, I have no idea how long my shot at life will be, and I don't get to decide if I die tomorrow or 60 years from now. So what DO I get to decide? TODAY!
And that's why instead of auditing benefit plans this summer, I am going to make my third journey across the Pacific Ocean and lead summer camps in Hong Kong and then in China with my teammate from last year Dave and a bunch of other camp-types. Its why I'm trading in pay checks to work for free to mentor & support college-aged kids who are deciding to spend a summer pouring out their time, energy, and emotions to campers. Its why in the fall, I'm going to go to seminary and spend a few years finding out more about God and people in relation to Him. Do I know that I want to be a paster - I have NO IDEA if I can hack it. I only know that regardless of what lies on the other side, learning more about who God is and about how to communicate that to people through words & actions can only enrich this time I have on earth.
So...good bye public accounting, and all the securities and creature comforts it brought. This next month of unemployment will actually be harder for me than you might expect as I try to remind myself that my worth is not based on productivity. And I will be fighting daily to remind myself of all the reasons I am not crazy (or at least, certifiably crazy) to be giving up a secure, good-paying job in the height of an economic recession to listen and obey the command to not worry about tomorrow but to store up treasure in Heaven instead of on Earth.
Below: My life for the next month - in drawings.
Summary of Maryann's Thoughts: She was basically questioning why Jesus had to die the way he did. Why God would choose such a death as necessary to His master plan. She also said a lot about how we are supposed to feel in church, but especially on Easter/Good Friday (which is tomorrow). Are we supposed to feel guilty for His death, and then super excited for his life? The roller coaster of emotions Easter Weekend tends to take us through I think sound a bit overwhelming and overused. I can't blame her. But I do think there are some answers out there (not necessarily perfect answers, but partial answers at least). Below is my feeble attempt to respond to her post with my own thoughts, largely that came to me this morning as I was thinking about the upcoming "holidays"...
Ok, so I was thinking about what you wrote this morning. I could never begin to have an answer to all your questions, but I have had some of the same ones. Here are just a few thoughts.
I think an "ultimate sacrifice" kind of death was used by God in Jesus at the time because it was what would make the most sense to the Jews and to those Gentiles who understood Jewish law. God originally laid down this law of sacrifice for sins to help Jews (and thereby the whole world) understand their own shortcomings, and come clean before their Creator, who desired better for them. When God confirmed that this law was no longer really accomplishing this goal, I think He knew it was time to fulfill the law. To come and complete what He began with Abraham and Moses.
In fulfilling the law through Jesus, He also showed us the ultimate type of love - a self-sacrificing servant love that provided the sacrifice-to-end-all-sacrifices by basically making himself the lamb... Not only does this show us how loved we are, and our importance to our Creator, but it also shows us how to love in return.
Good Friday should not be about us feeling guilty for making Christ die - no one made him die, or even asked him to, for our sins. The beauty is it is a FREE gift, like you said. I think I become sad when I realize that I have not mirrored the love he came to show in living out my own life. Day to day, I choose myself over others so often, that I ignore the way Jesus showed us love.
My favorite "good friday" song is When I Survey The Wondrous Cross (not the new version, but the old hymn version) because the last lines are "Love so amazing, so divine demands my soul, my life, my all." I cry every single time I sing that, because I know that I am still so far from giving all of that up to God. So...all that to say, Good Friday should not be a time for us to wallow in our sin that hung Jesus on a gruesome cross...but to experience once again the challenge Jesus gives us to live differently. To live sacrificially because its the ultimate way of communicating love, and of responding to the way he loves us.
And Easter? I think Easter is a time to celebrate Life. To celebrate that our collection of earthly experiences, our guest appearance on earth is not the end. That Christ promises us eternal life and showed us physically that this is not the end. It can get really depressing to think that of the millions of years Earth is here, we are here for a tiny fraction of it...we are but a breath. Yet, God says no...you matter more to me than a breath, you are made of stuff that is more lasting than that. I will one day call you home, where you will find your deepest longings fulfilled and your experiences from earth only magnified. Easter is a time to celebrate that we are more than just a passing wind, like Solomon laments in Ecclesiastes. That we, like Jesus, get to rise again. Because of a God who loves us more than we understand or deserve.
As far as emotions in church go, I don't think we should base our relationship with God on how we connect or don't connect emotionally in a given church service. I know my sister is a very emotional being, and that its probably impossible to separate her relationship with God from her emotions (and I don't know that she should), but it is dangerous to assume that because we do not feel the sadness of Good Friday or the joy of Easter, that our faith is slipping or somehow less than it should be.
Whether or not we like it, as grown, intellectual human beings, sometimes we get bogged down with the schematics of Holy Week ...the theologies of what what we are mourning & then celebrating. I think this can be both very important and very stifling in our faith journey. It can be much harder to have faith like a child when you are asking questions like "Why did God plan it this way?" or "Should I feel guilty that God sent Jesus to die on a cross when I never asked Him to and he's Omnipotent and I'm not, so He should have figured out a better way if it sucked so much for Jesus?" We can't ignore these questions once they arise...at the same time, we also must learn how to live with some mystery. If mystery wasn't involved, neither would faith be.
There is a song that says "There will be a day where there is no more hope and no more faith" (or something like that)...meaning, we will KNOW and therefore hope and faith will not be needed. Until then, to have faith, we can wrestle with these questions, we can come up with partial answers and theories, but the end of the day brings the same central question: Do you trust the God you claim to believe in? If the answer is yes, you may not understand why or how He did all of what He did, but you can TRUST that it was right, and that we can celebrate Him on Easter, and on Good Friday, and on every other day, because we still have faith that He is ultimately Good.
Thanks for letting me post your post :) I love you sis!
Sunday, January 11, 2009
This makes me wonder if after leading worship for a year on a nearly daily basis, if after immersing myself in an environment of Christian thought and scripture and community, that it now feels that much more like coming home when I am in that environment. If now, my soul longs for worship that much more deeply, and the scarcity (by comparison) of my time spent in worship makes it seem all that much more precious and needed.
All I know is that suddenly, tears that well up from I-don't-know-where leak from my eyes every time I go to church, and I can no more control it than I can my intense focus on the scripture and sermon, or my voice joining along with the songs (whether or not I know them!) I suppose a thirst really is the right word, although its somewhat an overdone analogy, being Scriptural and all. Its deeper than my human brain really understands, and its not the thoughts in my head that cause the tears, its more like my soul trying to express through my simple bodily functions (i.e. tears, not other bodily functions) what it feels to be in worship.
Perhaps this sort of unexplainable longing, more than anything else I can articulate, is part of what is urging me to find a path in this life which will fulfill that need on more than a weekly basis. Perhaps I should see if in these next few months of working insane hours with numbers & memos, I can figure out how to worship God more than just at church in a way that satisfies my soul, so that it doesn't feel the need to soak my shirt every time I walk into a church. Or maybe, I should just appreciate the physical affirmation of the importance of worship & let the tears come.
Saturday, January 10, 2009
All that said, I love the opportunity the end of each year brings to look back and look ahead, which is both important and dangerous. For me, the year 2008 brought more joy, more pain, more challenge, and more adventure than any of the twenty-five and half before it. Looking back I can say with complete confidence that I LIVED in 2008, and I learned and grew more than I thought possible. Now, what do I do with 2009? I get to live 2009 as the person I became last year, and that is how I can look ahead with anticipation to the coming months. I've included a list of the dreams I have, big and small, for 2009 in hopes that the people who read it will gently keep me in line with them should I risk missing the opportunities I have to fulfill any one hope:
Live with joy in every moment, both good and bad
Travel somewhere new
Begin seminary classes
Spend time with the Lord in some way every day
Go on an official date
Take runs as often as possible
Keep my toe nails painted
Live more simply with regard to: clothes, food, gas, & coffee
Read LOTS of books of all kinds
Find a local charity to support consistently
Write new songs
Learn to cook something new
Swim in a lake
Go sailing with your dad
Take more walks with the people you love
Journal whenever you can
Answer your phone whenever possible
Find a great roommate
Love better today than you did yesterday
Thanks to Susan, who suggested our morning walk today. I was so blessed by the time, and look forward to many more!