Worship or Performance? (Part I)

I’ve had two different conversations lately about dance in church services: is it worship or performance?  It reminded me of a time when a friend told me “that’s not worship” when she was upset about the song choices for our newly begun “contemporary” service.  While I agree the song choices were poor (they were about 20 years out of date and definitely weren’t going to attract anyone looking for something “relevant”), I don’t think it is necessarily accurate to say they weren’t worship.  For some people, they might have been.  For her, they just were not the right type of songs/music.  For her, worship was only about the type of music.
It seems to be common in churches to equate worship and music.  I’m going to make a guess here and propose that the reason we associate “worship” primarily with an event on Sunday morning and with singing is due to Psalm 100:2, which says “Worship the LORD with gladness; come into his presence with singing”.  Most church services begin with music and we sing a few songs throughout the service.

What happens though, if a person doesn’t really relate through music, or even relate to any of the other activities that can happen in a church service (either regularly on Sunday or on a special holiday):  dance, congregational singing, praise band singing, choir singing, soloist singing, instrumental music, Cantatas, Christmas pageants, skits, videos, Christian seder meals, Living Last Supper, Tenebrae, sermon, responsive readings, prayer (add your own ideas in the comments; I am sure I have missed a lot).  I went to a Pentecostal church one time where grown men were sprinting around the room.  Another aspect of worship services is corporate prayer.  What this usually consists of is one person praying on behalf of everyone in the room whose heads are bowed and eyes are closed.  Honestly, this does not feel like prayer to me.  It is not my thoughts or my words; it is the thoughts and words of the person praying.  It is not my prayer.
In a church service, there really is very little an individual sitting in the congregation can do.  Everything is planned out for each person: the songs sung, the prayers prayed, the sermon to be listened to.  Sure, someone can raise his or her hands during a song, but I’ve never seen anyone start dancing.  And while we have people who automatically raise their hands when the line in the song says to, I have never seen anyone fall to their knees during that line.  Worship services are, like dance, choreographed.  We like order and control; the freedom to react differently than expected is really not there.  
Because of my love for ballet, sometimes, as we are singing, I am choreographing in my head what it might look like to dance to a song.  I’ve danced in church once, a couple of Christmases ago, and a local dance studio has a program that they perform in area churches around Easter.  
And even though we see instances of dance in the Bible, such as Miriam and the other women dancing and celebrating after the Exodus from Egypt and David dancing before the Lord when the ark of the covenant is brought back, they aren’t a typical or regular part of worship services.
The situation with David is intriguing.  While he is dancing “with all his might”, not everyone thinks it is such a great display, namely, his wife Michal.  We see in 2 Samuel 6:20 that she considers his dancing to be vulgar and shameless.  Two different reactions to the exact same event.
It would seem, then, that worship has something to do with personal preference and type of participation–whether or not one is an active or passive participant.  If I am participating by dancing in a ballet, it can be an act of worship.  I am actively participating in it and know what I want to express.  For the person watching, it may not be worship at all, because the person is passively sitting there and not directly participating–and may not even be paying attention at all.  I think it is the same with praise bands, choirs, soloists, orchestras, etc.  For those who play the instrument or sing the song, it can be an act of worship.  But for the one watching who may not be able to participate, it may not be worship.  And, often, in some churches, the music is so loud that the voices of the congregation are unheard, and it would be hard to tell if they were singing or not.  And what of the person who has a voice problem and cannot sing or even speak?
I like the story behind Matt Redman’s song “The Heart of Worship”.  
“There was a dynamic missing, so the pastor did a pretty brave thing,” he recalls. “He decided to get rid of the sound system and band for a season, and we gathered together with just our voices. His point was that we’d lost our way in worship, and the way to get back to the heart would be to strip everything away.”
Reminding his church family to be producers in worship, not just consumers, the pastor, Mike Pilavachi, asked, “When you come through the doors on a Sunday, what are you bringing as your offering to God?”
Matt says the question initially led to some embarrassing silence, but eventually people broke into a cappella songs and heartfelt prayers, encountering God in a fresh way.
Encountering God in a fresh way.  I think this is what so many of us are after, and maybe not so much in a new way, but in a way that we can relate.  We want to encounter God and know God’s presence there, and in our lives, but often, it seems just beyond reach.  I wonder, in all our efforts at being relevant or contemporary what we are really after is what Jesus told the woman at the well:
 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.  24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:23-24  
What does this even mean?

Worship in spirit and in truth.  It’s really quite broad, isn’t it?  Jesus doesn’t give us an order of worship, a time to worship, a location in which to worship.  He simply says that people will worship in spirit and in truth.  There is much freedom in that statement and it is not a one-size fits all prescription for how to do worship.  It’s a description.

And so, is dance (or anything else) worship or performance?  It depends on the individual, his or her heart, and how he or she relates to God.  Worshiping in spirit and in truth, I suspect, is much more broad than we can imagine, and much more deep than our hour on Sunday mornings. 

Frank Viola’s New Book: Jesus Now

Note: I received a free advance copy of this book from the author but I have not had a chance to read it yet.  I’m promoting it anyway because it will be available to you at a 50% discount for the next few days–and who doesn’t like discounts?
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Cats, Emily Dickinson, & Christian Celebrity Culture

Photo Credit: David Schell
This is the November synchroblog for The Despised Ones, a collective of bloggers.  Leave your link about Christian Celebrity at the linkup at the end of this post.  
I love cats, and I love mysteries, so when a great-aunt Emma gave me my first The Cat Who… mystery, I was hooked.  The series is written by Lilian Jackson Braun and mainly takes place in fictional Pickaxe, likely somewhere in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  In The Cat Who Said Cheese, the protagonist Jim Qwilleran refers to Emily Dickinson’s poem “I’m Nobody, who are you?”  
I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us — don’t tell!
They’d banish — you know!

How dreary to be somebody!
How public like a frog
To tell one’s name the livelong day
To an admiring bog! 

In his newspaper column, he writes that “we crave heroes to admire and emulate, and what do we get?  A parade of errant politicians, mad exhibitionists, wicked heiresses, temperamental artists, silly risk-takers, overpaid athletes, untalented entertainers, non-authors of non-books…” (page 5).
Emily Dickinson was a nobody until after she was dead. So were Vincent Van Gogh, Jane Austen, Dracula, martyrs, and even Jesus (thanks to my Twitter followers for all the suggestions!).  Yet today, we have a lot of Somebodies.  We even have them in Christian culture.  Yes, I know, you’re shocked.  Christians are supposed to be meek and mild and humble and not call any attention to themselves, right?  
We all want to be noticed, to be seen.  In When We Were on Fire, Addie Zierman wrote about how in over a year of attending a house church, she still felt as if she wasn’t seen.  Nobody could really see what she was going through and feeling.  I remember one time a few years ago I emailed a Somebody to thank him for writing his latest book.  He emailed me back–which I was not expecting at all–and I was giddy.  On Twitter, I’ve been excited when a Somebody starts following me, as if their following me gives me worth.  And when they actually respond to a tweet or an email, it’s even better.  And I think we each want some of that celebrity, too.  That’s why we work on “platform building”, so that people will take notice of us so that we can get the message out there that we believe we are called to give.  And we get jealous when someone else has what we want.  Other people get the attention for being a great writer or great speaker and are in high demand.  Well, at least, I do feel jealous at times.  And so, I sometimes stop myself from blogging or commenting on blogs in order to check my motivations.  
I think that there is a difference in how we are seen or how we want to be seen.  And sometimes, we might start off with good intentions and say “I only want to bring glory to God” or “I just want people to see Jesus in me, not myself”.  I think those intentions might be hard to stick with.  The more attention we get, the more we are tempted to make it all about ourselves, despite what we say.  And then the more we get connected with other Somebodies, the more we forget about our past as a Nobody, and the more we forget to look and see the Nobodies out there, because they are invisible to us.  We do not see them.  We do see them because they haven’t become a Somebody.  And yet God is different.  He sees the Nobodies.  In Genesis 16, we have Hagar, who who ran away into the wilderness after Sarai treated her harshly when Hagar acted haughty because she was pregnant and Sarai was not.  She is miserable and sitting by a spring of water, alone, when she encounters God, and God tells her to return.  Throughout her misery, God sees her and she names him The God Who Sees.  The God who sees.  El Roi saw through her pain and heartache.  He saw her when she was scared and lonely and had nowhere to run, nobody to turn to.  
She was a Nobody, but Somebody saw her.  
And we have the story of Jesus meeting the woman at the well.  She’s an outcast, a Nobody, coming to the well in the heat of the day, and Jesus sees her and gives her living water (John 4).  Or the man at Beth-Zatha who was ill for thirty-eight years, and Jesus saw him and made him well (John 5).  Or the man blind from birth, who Jesus sees and then heals so that he can see, too (John 9).  Or when Mary pours expensive perfume on him and Jesus sees beyond the cost of it to look ahead to his burial (John 12).  Or, after his resurrection, he sees the pain and sorrow of Mary Magdalene, and tells her he is there, and then she announces the good news that she has seen the Lord (John 20).
When it comes to Christian celebrity, it can be both a blessing and a curse.  How do we balance all of this?  How do we stay faithful to our callings when attention comes our way?  How can we be like Jesus and see people who the world deems Nobodies?  How can we use Christian celebrity to see others as Jesus did?  


Also, feel free to add more examples of Nobodies in the comments!


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When It Is Hard to Trust in God’s Goodness

It’s days like this when I find myself wondering in what my faith lies.
It’s days like this, when the concept of a loving, sovereign God, a concept that is hugely important in the area where I currently live, doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.
It’s days like this, when I am faced with my own selfishness because I think “I’m glad it didn’t happen here.”
***
Many people will be writing, commenting, and tweeting about the Moore, OK tornado.  There’s nothing about this post that may say anything new, or different.  But that’s what writers do–we write.  Some of us will write to comfort others, some of us will write in a feeble attempt to make sense of it all, some of us will write because we arrogantly believe we know why these things happen, some of us will write simply to try to process the thoughts and feelings we have.  Some people will be insensitive and say stupid things.  Some people will ignore it completely.
Many people will bring up the suffering in the book of Job, how he had everything taken away, as if that is somehow supposed to be a comfort.  When I first read Job in college, and learned that his suffering was a result of a bet between God and Satan, I didn’t know what to think.  I still don’t.  And Job never did learn the reason why he suffered; he only knew that he did.  If it was me, what would I think?  Probably something like, “Gee, thanks for having so much confidence in my faith, God, but don’t you think you could have toned it down a bit?”
When tragedies happen that are caused by humans, it’s easier to understand them.  We can blame sin, brokenness, sickness for weaving its way into the strands of our lives.  But when no person is to blame, then who can we blame?  Do we blame God?  Even asking that seems blasphemous.  But that is what I wondered, yesterday, when I cried at the reports that two elementary schools were hit.  That is what I wondered when I saw video and photo of the destruction.  That is what I wondered when I heard it was an F4 tornado with 200+ mph winds.
I was angry.  And I wondered why.  And I was reminded of a troubling verse in Isaiah, in which God’s sovereignty is extended even to the bad things in this world.
  • KJV Isaiah 45:7 I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.
  • NIV Isaiah 45:7 I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things.
  • NRS Isaiah 45:7 I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe; I the LORD do all these things
Evil.  Disaster.  Woe.  And God claims that they all come from Him.  
My friend Yaakov explained to me one time, that in context,  what is happening here is that God is explaining that there are not other, lesser gods for each activity. He is it.  On an exegetical level, I get that.  It is the superiority of the God of Israel to the gods of any surrounding nations.  On a level of having faith in a loving God, I have a very difficult time understanding it.  I want to run to the verses of peace and love and harmony and no tears and no sickness.  I want to just parrot that I trust in God’s goodness, even when that trust falters.  
And yet, mixed in with the disturbing aspect of this verse, there are the good things:  God forming light.  God bringing peace, prosperity, or weal (well-being).  The good and the bad are mixed in together, mixed up together, coexisting.  
We can’t answer why.  We can only grieve and weep and help, and let the goodness shine through, even though they may at first seem like tiny pinpricks of light in the darkness.  We can see the kingdom of heaven spreading through like yeast in dough, coming from unexpected places and people.  
***
It’s days like this, when people of all faiths and no faith will come together to work for the good of humanity.
It’s days like this when Republicans and Democrats will forget, for a moment, their disdain and hatred for one another’s ideals, and seek to help others.
It’s days like this, when differences are put aside, I see this partial verse from Galatians coming into play: “So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all”.  
It’s days like this, when all seems hopeless, that people give each other hope, that love for other human beings can be shown without regard to who they are, where they come from, what their status in life is.  

Perhaps, in this horrific event, we will see just who does exemplify the fruits of the spirit.  We will be able to identify who is following Jesus’ command to love one another.  We will see God’s goodness still.  

Everyone Has a Past, But More Importantly, Everyone Has a Future

I was thinking recently about the story in John 8 about the woman caught in adultery.

  Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them.   The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them,   they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery.  Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”   They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.  When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground.  When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.  Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”  She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”  –John 8:2-11

 

This is a well-known story in the New Testament.  Many people love it because it exemplifies Jesus’ grace, shows us that nobody is without sin, and makes us wonder what Jesus is writing in the sand.

In the Bible, adultery is sex between a man and a married woman–this is different from our definition of adultery today.  Today, we just think of it as sex with someone who is not the person’s spouse.  But in the Bible, since multiple wives and concubines were normal for men to have, it’s not adultery for a married man to sleep with someone who wasn’t his wife (unless she was someone else’s wife; then it would be adultery).  The concept of biblical adultery all depends on the woman’s marital status.  There are a couple of different penalties for adultery:  a woman who is betrothed and commits adultery the penalty is stoning, and the same goes for the man (Deuteronomy 22:23-24).  A woman who is married and commits adultery would face the penalty of strangulation (this is according to the Mishnah; it is not in the Bible itself.  For further info, please see this article).

Women were essentially property.  When we see the commandment to not commit adultery, we also see in the commandment about coveting that it is forbidden to covet the neighbor’s wife.  Coveting the neighbor’s sister isn’t prohibited.  Coveting the neighbor’s daughter isn’t prohibited.  Coveting the neighbor’s wife is.  (See Exodus 20:14, 17).

Now that we see those penalties, we now more about the story in John.  This woman was going to be stoned, so therefore, she must have been betrothed to a man, but not yet married to him.  So why was she in this situation?  Was she going to be one of a number of wives to some man who saw it only as a business deal?  Who was the man with whom she was caught?  Was it some kind of set-up?  There are so many unanswered questions.

I wonder, also, if Jesus’ hesitation to condemn this engaged woman had to do with another woman he knew about, another woman who had likely been thought to have committed adultery while engaged, another woman who faced possible divorce from her husband.

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.  Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.–Matthew 1:18-19

In condemning this woman, would Jesus have also been passing judgment on his own mother?  What did he know of the circumstances of his birth?  Had growing up with questionable origins made him more sensitive to the plight of others?  Had the rumors of his parentage been known to the people who brought him this woman?  Were they testing him, not only to see what he would do regarding punishment, but also regarding the commandment to honor his mother and father?I also wondered, “what happened next?”  Even though Jesus refused to condemn her, and everyone else had walked away, how was she treated by them after this?  Jesus told her to go and to not sin again.  Let’s assume that’s what happened.  Let’s assume she repented and became a new person.   Did everyone forget about it?  Or was she branded “that woman”, ignored, shamed, and treated badly because of one bad decision in her life?  What happened to her husband?  Did he forgive her or did he divorce her?

Was she able to move on with her life, somehow?  Or did this incident rear its ugly head again, maybe even years later?  Was it distorted and exaggerated, made out to be more than it was?

We just don’t know.

But I think, what we can learn from this story, is that when we hear or read about someone’s failure, someone’s sin, is to be quiet for a time.  Jesus took his time thinking about the situation while everyone else waited to hear what he had to say.  While I think it is an example of Jesus’ teaching in the sermon on the mount about not noticing the log in our own eyes when we see the speck in another’s eyes (Matthew 7:3-5).   I think it’s also an example to realize that in our own lives, there are people we love who may have been in the same situation that we now condemn.  Would we be willing to condemn those closest to us?  Probably not.  When it’s personal, we easily come up with grace.

Jesus loved his mom.  He wouldn’t have wanted to see her condemned to death by stoning.  He knew that she went on to be married to Joseph and to raise him and his siblings.  He knew that she had a new life despite the scandal and gossip that must have come along with how he was conceived.  And, today, we think highly of her.  We read the “Magnificat” and think it is a beautiful piece of poetry.  We read where she says “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) and wonder if our own hearts are so open to fully submit to God.

None of us today think badly of Mary, though I suspect we would’ve been skeptical of her claims then.  None of us today think we would have stoned the woman caught in adultery, but I bet many of us would have been in that group.  We stone people today with our words, with our actions, with how we treat them.

Jesus looked at the woman caught in adultery as someone who had a future ahead of her, not someone who was going to be defined by her past or even her present.

Shouldn’t we do the same for people?

Always Winter and Never Christmas

I know my latest post in my series about loving God should be posted today, but it’s not going to happen.  Sorry.  It’s not finished yet, even though the one scheduled for next week is actually almost complete.  Such is life, right?

Anyway.  Today is April 17, 2013.  It’s supposedly been spring for almost one month now, yet this morning I packed my son’s snow pants in his backpack to take to school with him, because it is snowing.  I’ve heard we could get an accumulation of 5-8 inches. And last week, we had an ice storm one day and snow the next, which caused all kinds of destruction around town–driving around and seeing all of the downed branches made it almost seem as if a tornado had come through.

I’ve seen comments about it being “always winter and never Christmas” and people looking for something positive about this strange cold weather in spring.

Even though I dislike being cold, and I dislike winter the most of all the seasons, I have found myself not minding it.  It is peaceful and pretty.  It makes me feel as if time is standing still or slowing down, even as we have our regular daily activities.  It is, perhaps, a little bit of food for this introvert’s soul.

And, if the snow makes us even mention Christmas, maybe that is good.  While we take a little time to think about the incarnation at the official time of Christmas, most often it is overshadowed by cookies, presents, parties, and Santa Claus.  Maybe, without all of those distractions, this unseasonable snow gives us a good reason to think about the incarnation now.

Why the Incarnation” was a blog challenge Tony Jones issued last year during Advent.  I never managed to get my post done for it, unfortunately (it was turning out to be way too long, and I didn’t know how and what to edit).  But now, with the snow and the thoughts of Christmas, perhaps I’ll think some more on it, because if the incarnation matters, then it doesn’t matter just at Christmas, but all year long.

What does it mean to us in April, just weeks after we have celebrated the resurrection, that God became incarnate?  What does it mean to us on the days we aren’t forced to think about it, those ordinary, non-celebratory days of life, that God chose to dwell among us in the person of Jesus?  Maybe, it is on these ordinary days that the incarnation should matter the most, because we can celebrate that with which we most relate:  the humanity of God.

We can read the words from Paul’s letter to the Philippians in which he explains how we too can experience the incarnation:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.   Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,   who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,   but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,   he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross. –Philippians 2:3-8

We can experience it by having the same mind as Jesus.  The mind that puts our power and privilege aside in order to help others.  The kind that first looks to the interests of others.  The kind that helps us to kill our selfishness and love others.

And, maybe, that is an answer to “Why the Incarnation?”  Without it, would we really and truly understand humility and selflessness?  Would we know how to serve others?

So today, as I look at the unexpected, unanticipated, and unseasonable snow, I will think of Jesus, who came unexpectedly and in an unanticipated way to show us what love really is.

Maybe, today, we should think of it not as “always winter and never Christmas”, but simply “always Christmas”.

The Greatest Commandments

He Is Risen!  And we are a people who will be known as followers of the resurrected Jesus by our love.  And yet, we often seem to be known more by our rules, don’t we?  Despite our best efforts at speaking about grace, we still want to come up with a lot of Christian rules.  I suppose it is only normal.  Rules are black and white and easy to understand, whereas love, and much of what Jesus teaches about how to be his disciple is more difficult to understand and to practice.  
I had a conversation recently that reminded me about a post I wrote a few years ago about the 10 commandments, and how I was confused as to why so many Christians believe that they are mandatory for Christians but the other laws in the Hebrew Scriptures are not.  We place so much importance upon them but we don’t talk as much about the two commandments that Jesus actually says summarize all the others.  

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together,  and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.   “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”   He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’   This is the greatest and first commandment.   And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’   On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”  –Matthew 22:34-40  

Plus, Jesus also gave a new commandment:

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” –John 13:34-35

Love.  Love.  Love.  It’s a word we toss around so carelessly.  I love my husband.  I love my children.  I love coffee.  I love chocolate.  Our English definition of love is partly to blame, because we only have that one word we use, whereas in Greek (which is the language of the New Testament), there are 4 different words (eros–sexual love, philia–brotherly love, agape–self-giving love, I had the 4th one and lost it, sorry). 
The commandment in Matthew, where Jesus sums up the law and the prophets, comes from two places in the Hebrew scriptures.  Loving God comes from Deuteronomy 6:5, which says “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”  This is part of what is known as the shema.  In this part of Deuteronomy, the author is explaining that the law that was given is meant to bring life to the people (days may be long, v 2) as they enter this new land.  But the law is not just an arbitrary bunch of rules, the law here is combined with loving God.  And in the New Testament, when Jesus creates a new people, from two to one in him, the law is love.  
In a recent post, Frank Viola wrote that “People are generally wired to lead with one part of their soul. Some are mostly heady/intellectual (mind), others are mostly emotive/feelers (emotions), and others tend toward being mostly volitional/doers (will).”  While that was about leading, I think that we also tend to pick one of the ways in which we are to love God and elevate it above the others, instead of having them work together.
But what does it mean to love God with our hearts, souls, and minds, and to love our neighbor as ourselves, and how to they fit with each other?  That’s what we’ll explore in this series.  

Resurrection After Easter

He is Risen!  He is Risen Indeed!  (or, the Minnesota version I learned on Sunday, He is Risen, You Betcha) filled my Facebook feed on Easter.

And on this most joyful day of the year, I struggled to find joy, and instead felt sadness.  At church, I almost immediately burst into tears when someone innocently asked me “do you have any family around?” and the answer was no.  And then, a few minutes later, the subject came up again, and I did start to cry.

I’ve never felt so sad and emotional on a holiday before, and I have celebrated many of them far away from family.  Why was this Easter different?  I really can’t answer that.

I remember one time thinking about all of my moves and a verse from the Bible about being a wanderer came to mind.  I thought it would probably make a great part of a blog post until I looked it up and saw that the speaker was Cain.  I mean, really, who wants to identify with the first murderer?  So I used Abraham’s story instead, in “A Wandering Alien” (and also explored the idea of moving in “Reflections on My Past Year”). I still feel as though I am wandering, and I wonder if I ever will not be wandering.  Living in the middle of the country even feels like a metaphor.  We’re a 2-3 day drive from either of our families, and our church here is becoming our family.  But still.  When it comes to holidays, most people think first of their biological family, not their church family.

After church, we came home, I made breakfast, and after that started preparing our afternoon meal (roast chicken, potatoes, gravy, peas, rolls).  Throughout the day, during the cooking, the cleaning up (both the house in general and the food prep), and I think I even started a load of laundry that night, I thought, “this seems like an ordinary day, but it’s supposed to be a special day.”

As I’ve mulled that over in the days since, I have thought about some of Jesus’ teachings about the kingdom.

  • “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field;  32 it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”  (Matthew 13:31-32)
  • He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” (Matthew 13:33)
  • Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  (Matthew 18:4)
Mustard seed.  Yeast.  A child.  These are small, ordinary, everyday things.  
While the Resurrection is of the utmost importance in our faith, how do we see it in light of the everyday?  When we’ve left church on Easter Sunday and the music, flowers, high emotions, and prizes (ugh!) are behind us, when we’ve finished celebrating the Resurrection with our church family, what do we do next?  How do we see new life in our own lives, in those lives that we live every day?  Can we see it when we are cranky about waking up in the morning after sleeping next to a snoring toddler who sneaks into our bed?  Can we see it when we are yelling at our kids?  Can we see it when we just don’t feel like getting dressed and just throw on ratty clothes?  Can we see it when we have to pick kids up at school and make breakfasts and lunches and dinners and clean up and vacuum and dust and then turn around and do it all over again?  Can we see the resurrection when we ache inside for those we can’t be with?
Celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday is important, yes.  But that’s the easiest day of the year to do it.  That’s when it is impossible not to.  
But what about when it is hard?  How do we see new life when all we hear about are people we know getting cancer or getting hurt in car accidents?  That is when it is challenging.  That is when we cling to hope in spite of our doubts.  That is when we need it the most–the times when it seems the furthest away.  The times when we feel more like Good Friday or Holy Saturday than Easter Sunday and hopelessness creeps in.
But it’s not hopeless.  That’s the point.
He is risen.  Yes, He is risen indeed.  
Is he risen in your life?

Book Review: Everything by Mary DeMuth

I received this book for free from Thomas Nelson as a part of their BookSneeze program.  Also, I attempted to write this review while trying to watch my children at the local public library, so if you find it lacking and full of errors, you know why.


I’d been seeing a lot about Everything by Mary DeMuth around the time of its release, and so was glad to be able to select it to review.  First, ignore the cover.  The cutesy font used for the title in a heart gives the impression that it is kind of a “girly” book without much depth.  Had I known nothing about the book and only seen the cover, I would have been less than impressed.  However, the content goes so much deeper and is worthwhile to those who are looking for guidance in deepening their faith.

I was especially impressed by DeMuth’s scholarship with certain Biblical texts, explaining how they are often ripped out of context and giving the context for them (i.e. Jeremiah 29:11).  She also explains how we tend to follow a popular version of a Christianity that tells us God won’t give us more than we can handle or that requires little commitment, or that it is all about our comfort and happiness when that is actually not representative of what Jesus asks of us.  

Some of the great lessons DeMuth teaches in Everything:

  • Let God convict people, not you
  • Be yourself
  • Give up control
  • Allow the Spirit to work in us
Everything is a book that you will want to read slowly and think about, as well as spend time doing the discussion questions included at the end of each chapter.  It’s not a book to rush through, but one to savor.  

A Chance for Unity Not Taken…in the Name of Freedom

 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.  19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.  20 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word,  21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us,(1 )so that the world may believe that you have sent me. –John 17:18-21 

These are just a few of the verses we heard in church yesterday for World Communion Sunday, and the sermon was about oneness among Christians.  While I found it inspiring and hopeful, at the same time, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit sad as I thought of the Christians out there in churches that were not hearing about unity or taking communion in solidarity with Christian brothers and sisters around the world, but instead were being told very pointedly their pastors’ opinions on politics and for whom they should vote in the coming election.

How does preaching specific political opinions add to Christian unity?  In many churches, due to the makeup of the congregation, the location, the denomination, it’s often going to be fairly obvious which way people lean politically.

And what of the minority parties within that congregation?  Will they feel welcomed as part of the body of Christ if they are being told their political views are wrong?  Doesn’t this just become one more divisive way that inhibits our witness as loving to the world?

It seems to me that World Communion Sunday is a much better option.  It is a way to be united despite differences, not a way to be divisive.  Is it so important to feel right about one’s political position that we have to make other Christian brothers and sisters feel less than for not agreeing?

What did your church do yesterday?  World Communion Sunday?  Pulpit Freedom Sunday?  Both?  Neither?  What would you liked your church to have done, had you had a chance to choose?