Bloom Where You’re Planted

“Bloom where you’re planted.”

I’ve heard that phrase many times, and I generally like it and find it inspirational; it shows that despite the circumstances we face in life, we can still make a difference. We can still matter. We can still thrive.

Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as simply deciding to bloom.

My backyard was once amazing. It was part if the local garden tour and the owners spent at least 20 hours a week taking care if it. I don’t even have houseplants because I can barely keep any plants alive, so this is new territory for me.

When we bought the house a year ago, the yard was neglected and overgrown. We’d rented it for a year and two other families had rented it for a few years before us. I’m guessing there was five to seven years of neglect; the only thing any of us really did was keep up with the mowing.

Once it was ours, though, we needed to get it in shape, and thanks to the invaluable help from our friends Andy and Laura, we made a really good start on cutting out a lot of dead and overgrown stuff. I don’t even know what most of it is or was. I can pretty much only identify the lilacs, peonies, and roses.

Despite not knowing what a lot of the plants are, I have delighted in seeing everything bloom each spring and summer. It was planted with love and well-cared for over the years before the prior owners moved away. I’ve noticed though, that there are some plants in my yard that are not blooming. It could be that the years of neglect have killed them, it could be that they just need to be pruned and they’ll grow; I don’t know for sure.

What I do know is that waiting for something to bloom can take a long time and a lot of care. The plants don’t just thrive on their own. I wrote about how pruning has helped my lilacs sport new growth, and on Instagram I marveled at how pruning helped my roses bloom more this year than last.

In order to bloom where you’re planted it’s not only up to you. You need others around to help with the watering, weeding, and pruning. You need knowledgeable and caring people to come alongside you and help you.

In his book Anam Cara, John O’Donohue writes:

“The soul needs love as urgently as the body needs air. In the warmth of love, the soul can be itself. All the possibilities of your human destiny are asleep in your soul. You are here to realize and honor these possibilities. When loves comes in to your life, unrecognized dimensions of your destiny awaken and blossom and grow.”

We are all like the plants in my yard.

We all need to be loved and cared for in order to bloom and grow.


Do You Know Your Worth?

I love when Andy blogs, because it always gives me something to think about and over the years has inspired a few of my own blog posts. In this post, he wrote about a way in which students at an elementary school are being taught their worth.

It reminded me of another conversation I’d had recently with my friend Yaakov about a difference in theology between Christians and Jews.

We were talking about God’s expectations, and whether or not humans can fulfill them or do them perfectly. I said that I didn’t think we could because even if we even boil everything down to “love God, love your neighbor,” I know that we can always do that 100%. I know I certainly don’t always act loving, even though I know that I want to be loving. So if the expectation is to do it perfectly all the time, we can’t meet that. If the expectation is to try our best and do better when we fail, then I think that is something we can meet.

I’d been thinking about it due to reading Falling Upward, which has helped me look at and learn from painful events and failure and see how to turn them into something positive.

I mentioned that I personally have a hard time admitting my own failings and this surprised him; he tended to think that I am pretty self-critical.

He brought up Proverbs 24:16:

for though [the righteous] fall seven times, they will rise again

He explained that a Jewish perspective on this is that a righteous person is not one who gets it right the first time, but rather, someone who fails and recovers and grows.

It’s such a different perspective than what we have in Christianity where we hear over and over that we are sinners and God can barely stand to look at us. That doesn’t make a person understand their value and worth and how much they are loved by God. It doesn’t make them feel as if they are somebody for whom God could possibly have a purpose.

While I know there could be some criticism about teaching kids this because people will say they will become arrogant, isn’t it better to inspire and encourage than to tear down and make people feel worthless?

Failure can still be taught and understood and learned from but by starting from a point of worth and love it can make people be able to be and accomplish more and even not be afraid if trying

What if we told ourselves this?

What if we actually believed in our worth?

I’m afraid too often we don’t, we are stuck in a death to sinners mindset instead of a resurrection mindset. We spend an inordinate amount of time feeling so badly about ourselves that it’s hard to really understand and accept how God sees us.

I used these verses out of context a few weeks ago in my “Never Good Enough” post and I’m going to use them again here. 

“I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.”

And we can also look at everyone’s favorite billboard and sporting events verse, too:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

Or 1 John 3:1:

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.”

If those kids in that elementary school can understand their worth, so can you.

You are somebody and God loves you. If God believes it about you, maybe you should believe it too.


And if you need a visual explanation, watch this:

Speaking the Truth In Love

A few minutes ago, Rachel Held Evans asked this on Twitter: 

Do you think it’s even possible to “speak the truth in love” to someone you don’t actually know & love but to some general, faceless group?
I don’t really think it is possible, and I also wondered what it would look like to to combine that idea with the definition/description of love we get in 1 Corinthians 13:4-5. To refresh our memories, it is:
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful…
So, speaking the truth in love is…
  • Speaking the truth patiently.
  • Speaking the truth kindly.
  • Speaking the truth without envy.
  • Speaking the truth without boasting.
  • Speaking the truth without being arrogant about it.
  • Speaking the truth politely.
  • Speaking the truth unselfishly.
  • Speaking the truth good-naturedly.
  • Speaking the truth without resent.

When any of us think or claim to be speaking the truth to someone, is this how it is done? Or is it usually done in the opposite way? How can we be better truth-speakers in love?
Edited to add:

An additional thought I just had is that since Jesus says HE is the truth (John 14:6 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.), then how do we speak Jesus to others in love? Do we follow the description of love above, or do we beat people over the head?

Toning it Down (Part II about tone)

This is the second part in a series about tone.  You can read the first part of this series here.

I learned that the right thing said in the wrong way is the wrong thing.  –Brad Lomenick, The Catalyst Leader

A while ago, in a private Facebook group to which I belong, I had a conversation with two women I know pretty much only through that group.  The topic was safe places on blogs, blog comments, anger, abuse, etc.  It was a fairly fluid conversation.  One of the women I was a little familiar with before this group, and the other not at all.  Prior to this group and conversation, my impression of one was semi-negative, due to the tone that I had sensed from reading at her website. 
During part of the conversation, there was some disagreement between people, but I noticed that it was always done in a respectful and caring way.  Nobody’s anger got the better of them.  There were no temper-tantrums or fights.  It was peaceful, loving disagreement, and there was more to it, too.  In part of the conversation, I commented to one person that “When I periodically read [your website], I didn’t really care for it. BUT, I have really, really appreciated getting to know you in this group and knowing more the *person* you are rather than the you as [your website].”  I was really scared to say that, because I didn’t want to come across as criticizing her or the tone of her website, and I didn’t want to come across as having some kind of arrogant or superior tone in saying it.  
What I learned from participating in this group and conversation was that I had probably pre-judged her without really realizing what I was doing.  I didn’t know her past.  I didn’t know her present either, really.  I just formed an opinion from what I read online, much of it due to tone, and assumed I had her figured out.  But I didn’t.  
Throughout the conversation, we engaged with each other and learned about each other and listened to each other. 
And at the end, I was sitting at my computer with a smile on my face, and I felt like we should have a big group hug.  
The conversation stood out to me because there is so much negativity online and it’s very easy to dismiss people when we dislike them, think we dislike them, or make assumptions about them or their writing.  And that is exactly what didn’t happen in this conversation.  
I’m not sure why in some places–yes, even Christian ones–the conversations turn towards anger and disdain and in some places, like this example of mine, they don’t.  Perhaps it was just that in that particular moment in time, we all were willing to set aside our own potential agendas or pronouncements or egos and just listen to what each other had to say.  We didn’t use angry or rude or sarcastic tones with each other.  
I believe that part of the reason this conversation worked so well was because we were not using angry or dismissive tones with each other.   I know that if we had, I would not have been as willing to listen.  Maybe that is a fault on my part.  Maybe I should be willing to dismiss tone.  But when I think about it and how I want to present myself, I know that tone is important to me.  I hope that I don’t ever default to writing in an angry tone, because for me, as a reader and writer, I find that the message is not as well-received.  I still believe tone shouldn’t be dismissed as unimportant, because it does have an effect.  But we can all try a little harder to think of the whole person behind the writing–as I have to often remind myself to do.  
In that conversation, some of the fruits of the spirit that I wrote about in the first part of this series, were present in all of us.  We were loving toward each other.  We were patient with each other.  We were kind and gentle with each other.  We utilized self-control.  
I can’t explain it, but the way our conversation went made me believe it was one of healing, redemption, and understanding.  It made me realize that although we were in different physical locations around the country, we were still in one place together, and it reminded me of Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:20 “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”  Whatever our backgrounds, whatever our present lives are like, whatever our theological or political thoughts are, whatever our futures hold, in that moment in time, Jesus was present with us.  And that, I think, is what all of us in this Christian blogosphere should keep at the forefront of our minds and hearts.  Is Jesus present when we are gathered together this way, or not?  

Love the Lord Your God With All Your Mind

This is the fourth in a series about the commandments to love.   The others are:

Love God With All Your Soul

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  

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

This is the post I really wanted to write from when I envisioned the series.  Initially, I only wanted to write this post, but then thought I really shouldn’t leave out the other ways in which we are to love, because then I’d just be picking my favorite and ignoring the rest, and they all really do go together.  
Sometimes, people are derisive towards others who tend to lean towards studying and philosophy.  I’ve heard multiple times that seminary isn’t really that important (usually from people who already have a seminary degree and wouldn’t have their job as a pastor without it), or that the Bible is easy to read and that academics make it more difficult than it is, or that academically-oriented people have only “head knowledge” but no “heart knowledge”.  
But what about if you have no head knowledge?  In “When Bible Study Isn’t Bible Study”  I wrote that if we are not careful to learn, we can get things wrong.  I think there is often a paradox because many Christians insist on the importance of Bible reading and knowing the Bible, but then dismiss the idea that head knowledge can be good.   Why is this?  It’s confusing, because when we listen to a sermon, we expect that the pastor has done her homework and knows what she’s talking about (one problem I wonder about though, is how does a congregation expect their pastor to educate them through sermons if the pastor doesn’t take studying seriously?  Do they think that the knowledge is just imparted to the pastor by God as the sermon is prepared?).  We expect when we read a book or use a small group curriculum, that the author has head knowledge and is passing that on to us.  
And yet, when I have expressed interest in certain topics or have wanted to explore something further, I have, at times, heard comments such as “not everyone is as interested in that as you are”.  Or when someone told me about finishing reading through the gospel of Matthew, and I asked what questions came up.  The answer was “none.”  None?  No questions?  Really?  To this person, it was very straightforward, and I just can’t really wrap my brain around that, because I always have questions.  I wonder when Jesus says he hasn’t come to abolish the law or the prophets, “what about the writings?  Why did he just say two parts of the Tanakh?”  Or I wonder why it’s so easy for us to give grace to divorced people in the church, even though Jesus is pretty strict about it (Matthew 5:31-32),  but so hard to give grace to GLBT people.  I wonder why it’s rare for me to learn so much of the Jewish background in church; I have learned it from Jewish friends and books.  I wonder why we are insistent that there is nobody righteous, yet Joseph is described as a righteous man (Mt 1:19).  I wonder why Jesus warns people to pray that their flight from Judea will not be in winter or on a sabbath (Mt 24:20).  I wonder.  I question.  And usually, I feel alone in doing it.  
When I was in seminary, the classes in which I did the best were “Philosophy of Christian Religion”, “Method and Praxis of Theology”, and “Kingdom, Church, and World” (Remember, I didn’t finish, so that’s why I’m only listing these classes.  Had I finished, I’d have more classes to reflect upon).  The classes I didn’t do as well in were “Vocation of Ministry” and my “Old Testament Introduction” (that kills me, it really does, because I LOVE the Old Testament!).  I’m not going to talk about Greek and Hebrew.  
It’s telling to me that I did well in the classes that were more academic in nature (except the OT class) than the ones that were more practical or applicable (although, “Kingdom, Church, and World” did encompass both, and it was my favorite one).  
I enjoy learning.
I enjoy thinking.
I enjoy using my brain.
And you know what?  I suspect that God made me this way.  
But it also tends to be a lonely place to be.  When it comes to actually studying the Bible and thinking deeply in a theological sense, I haven’t really had many friends who enjoy it.
We don’t act disdainfully like that with other things, do we?  We appreciate listening to a singer who can sing well over one that doesn’t.  We might enjoy watching the “American Idol” tryouts, but we don’t actually want any of the bad singers to win.  We want the best singer to win, the one that uses his or her voice in a way in which we can’t even imagine possible for ourselves. We appreciate watching an athlete who has talent and who has practiced that talent.  We see the value in beautiful art over the stick figure scribblings of a child (though, that can be beautiful itself, for other reasons).   We appreciate a well-cooked steak by someone who knows how to cook over a hamburger from McDonald’s.  Don’t we?  If we can appreciate these talents, if we can acknowledge that we can use our bodies in these ways, why do we so often stop when it comes to using our minds to the best of our abilities?  Why should we place value on practicing a sport or an instrument to get better and not place value on practicing using our minds to make them better also?  We encourage people to use their vocal talents by joining the choir or praise band.  But do we encourage people to use their minds, too?  In many churches, most Sunday School classes and small groups are not led by “teachers” but, rather, by “facilitators”.  The importance of developing relationships with others and application of the Bible to our own lives is stressed.  This is often because people feel intimidated by the Bible and we don’t want them to feel as if they are dumb if they don’t know the right answer, or we want to assure the facilitator that she doesn’t have to know everything.  And, yes, relationships are important; a person who has a deep and meaningful relationship with God is probably the best person to teach others about that relationship.  But is the deep relationship the qualifier for teaching others how to use their minds, or what the Bible really means in an academic way?  If a person loves to sing but can’t carry a tune, do we want that person to be in charge of the choir or praise band?
A few weeks ago during church we sang “The Power of Your Love” , and it made me smile when we came to these lyrics:
Lord renew my mind
As Your will unfolds in my life
In living every day
by the power of Your love.
I’ve loved Romans 12:2 for a long time, as is probably obvious to any reader here since that verse was the inspiration for naming my blog: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God– what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  We need to be able to use our minds in order to be transformed and discern God’s will for us.  In the song lyrics, what is behind this renewal, is the power of God’s love.  
And really, isn’t that the power that should be behind everything we do?  
Let’s stop assuming that the academics among us don’t have any “heart knowledge”.  Let’s start assuming that, like anyone else, academically-oriented people love God just as anyone else does, and that all of us are works-in-progress.  We are all created in God’s image, with gifts and talents and abilities and interests and passions given to us by God.  We are not all feet, not all hands, not all eyes, not all ears, but are the body, together, made up of our differences.  Some of us are not academically inclined, and that’s ok.  Some of us are academically inclined, and that’s ok too.  But we all still have minds to use, minds that God gave us, and it is through thankfulness to our Creator that we should use them, renew them, and love Him with them.  And in order to love God with our minds, we must use them.  We must practice with them.  We must stretch them and use them for learning.  We must love God with the mind that He gave us.  

Love God With All Your Soul

This is the third in a series about the commandments to love.  The others are:
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
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
We talk about the soul a lot.  We talk about saved souls, unsaved souls, someone who was “a good soul”.  I’ve even been told I have an “old soul”.  But what is a soul, anyway?  For many of us, the idea of a “soul” is that of something separate from us, something disembodied, something almost ghostlike, floating up to Heaven when we die.
But is that really the image of “soul” that we get from the Bible?
If we look back to the Hebrew Scriptures first, we see the word nefesh (among others, such as neshama and ruach, but we’re just looking at nefesh here):
vp,n< n.f. soul, living being, life, self, person, desire, appetite, emotion, and passion — 1. = that which breathesthe breathing substance or being =yuch,, anima, the soulthe inner being of man  (From BibleWorks)
As always, when it comes to anything to do with the Hebrew Scriptures or language, I consulted my friend Yaakov, an Orthodox Jew, for insight.  He told me that nefesh is the most basic form of the soul that gives the body life and represents the will as well, explaining that if you see the phrase “if you so desire”, in Hebrew it reads “im yesh es nafshecha”, literally meaning “if it is to your nefesh (will/desire)”
Let’s take a look at Genesis 2:7:
“then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.”
I love the translation that Yaakov gave me of this verse.  When God breathed into the nostrils, it’s like saying “he blew into his nose his spirit”; “he blew into his nose a neshama of life”.  The word at the end of the verse, that is here translated as “living being”, has to do with the word nefesh that we are looking at:  linefesh chaya.
So, it looks like what we have here is that God blows a neshama into us through our noses and we become a living nefesh.  God breathes his spirit into us and we become a living soul.  Without that breath from God, what is humankind?
This nefesh that humankind becomes with the breath of God is what gives us life.  If this is what animates our bodies and represents our will, then loving God with our soul means loving God with all of who we are, not just with part of who we are.  The soul is not a part of us; it is integral to our identity.  It’s not something that we can break off and see as separate; we can’t think of our soul as something that is only a part of who we are.
And so, when we ask ourselves, how do we love God with all of our soul, perhaps we should be asking instead
  • How do I love God with all that I am?  
  • How do I love God with what defines my identity?
  • How do I love God with all that I desire or will?
  • How do I love God with all that he created me to be?
There’s a lot more depth to those questions.  They are not quickly or easily answered.  But the one idea that stands out to me is that the soul is a gift from God, and it is with that gift that we must love him back.  It is the gift of life, and in loving God with our soul, we are loving God with all of our life.

Love God With All Your Heart

This is the second in a series about the commandments to love. 
The first is “The Greatest Commandments“.

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  

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
I think that loving God with all of our hearts is probably the easiest and most natural way to love God.  It is our hearts that we most identify with love, because it is in our hearts that we feel love and in our hearts that we feel the pain of lost love.  It is our hearts that overflow with emotion, and our hearts that break.  
Our contemporary worship songs are full of love.  Some of them, without the lyrics that say Jesus or God, could just be another love song (take that however you want to).  More often than not, they evoke some kind of emotion from us that we generally associate as coming from our hearts.  But often, the emotion we feel when we sing those songs is fleeting, or at least it is for me.  I may feel emotional during a song, and then, when the song is done, and we move on to something else, that emotional level is not there.  I’m not saying it isn’t valid, or that it isn’t love.  It is.  But it is only partial.  It is only temporary.
In the first post of this series, I wrote that this commandment from Jesus comes from Deuteronomy 6:5 and I want to try to come back to that in each successive post as well so that we can explore both the Hebrew and Greek meanings of words (as best I can, with the help of BibleWorks; I am not a language scholar by any stretch of the imagination–so if you know more than I do regarding languages, please, leave a comment and educate me!).  
The Hebrew word for heart in this verse is b.b’l, which BibleWorks tells me means inner man, mind, will, and heart.  And in Greek, we have something similar.  The word is kardi,a which means heart, inner self; mind; will, desire, intention; interior (of the earth).  To look at the depth of that, rather than just saying “heart”, shows me that it means so much more than just a “loving feeling”.  There is something more to it, something that is, perhaps, essential and permanent to who we are as people.  If we love God with all of our hearts, that love must be there after the song ends.  It must be there when we do not feel it.  It must be there, woven throughout that inner core of who we are.  If our hearts fail to beat, we are dead.  With every beat of our hearts, then, we should love.  If we fail to love, are we also, in a sense, dead?

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.  

Do You Tear Down or Build Up?

Every Thursday evening, we’ve been feeding groups of college students spaghetti, homemade sauce, and  homemade Italian bread.  It’s been a fun way to get to know them a little bit better, and good for them to not have to eat cafeteria food.  At a recent gathering, one of them noticed a book I had out, The Story, by Randy Frazee and Max Lucado.  He said “hey, Randy Frazee used to be the pastor at my church”.

It was a strange thought.  Typically, to me, I see a published book and the author is very far removed from my daily life.  It is almost as if the person isn’t even real; it’s a name on a page.  That has been changing for me, because I now have met and become friends with a novelist and communicated with authors on Facebook and Twitter and through e-mail.  I even got to have lunch with someone who is kind of a big deal (ok, so there were about 20 people there, not just me, but still!) and then have a conversation with him later in the evening.  In a couple of weeks, I’ll have another chance to meet some other fairly well-known people.

They are not just names on a book cover.

They are real people.

They are real people with hopes and dreams and fears and insecurities.

They are real people that God loves every bit as much as he loves anyone else.

We forget that.  We think of them as someone who is open for us to critique, criticize, and even attack.  We let our personal feelings about the person or the topic (either positive or negative, actually) influence our response and yet we don’t think about that person’s personal feelings.  We hold them up to impossible standards of perfection that we don’t hold ourselves up to.  Does every author get everything 100% correct?  No.  But we don’t have to agree with everything a person says to learn something from it.  And yes, this is hard.  There are people that I do not want to bother trying to learn from, but I had that attitude of mine checked the other day when I saw someone re-tweet something with which I wholeheartedly agreed–yet it was from someone towards whom I typically harbor a bad, smug, eye-rolling attitude.

What are we doing?

When we tear someone down, are we treating them as fellow humans created in the image of God?

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he writes:

Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. –Ephesians 4:29

Granted, there are times when evil needs to be addressed and perpetrators of it need to be confronted.  But too often, our reactions may be more explosive than is necessary, and bring condemnation rather than grace.

The next time I think negatively towards something I read or hear, I want to try to remember these things:

  • this is a real person
  • this person is not perfect
  • this person is also made in the image of God
  • this person is loved by God
  • this person expresses his/her faith differently than I do
  • this person has a different relationship with God than I do
  • this person is my brother or sister in Christ
I also want to remember not to fear the person or the message presented.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.  We love because he first loved us.  Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.  The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. –1 John 4:18-21  

What  do you do when you come across a message contrary to your message or your belief?   How do you look at that person?  How do you treat that person?  

When We Fight With Our Christian Family

This morning, I read a post at Frank Viola’s new Patheos Blog that I happen to think is very timely.  Not only because we are nearing the end of a hateful political season and we’ve all failed in loving our fellow Christians who believe differently politically, but also because of something new I’ve gotten involved in:  a book launch team for a book that is getting a lot of publicity:  Rachel Held Evans’ A Year of Biblical Womanhood.

There are a great many supporters and a great many dissenters of Evans’ book.  It is easy for me to interact with others who loved the book as I did, but a great deal more difficult to interact with fellow Christians who are tearing it down (with or without having read it).

There are times when my husband has come home from work and asked me about prominent Christians that coworkers mentioned, and I immediately roll my eyes, get all indignant, and tell him exactly what is wrong with their ideas.  Of course, none of you readers know that because I don’t do it publicly, but does that make it any better?  Or does it make it worse?

In the post I linked to above, Frank Viola writes:

Civil disagreement and even debate, when done in the spirit of Christ, are healthy and helpful.  But when disagreements descend into second-guessing motives, distortions of one another’s words, mischaracterizations of one another’s views, and personal attacks, then we’ve moved into the flesh.

And so I wonder how to interact with and respond to my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ when we disagree about a book.  What is the loving way to respond?  I don’t want to get into petty arguments, but I do want to have helpful and fruitful discussions.  Is it possible?

I can understand that people will not see this particular book in the same way that I will, but it saddens me to see it attacked and described as mocking the Bible.  I know that as I read it, I felt the Bible come alive; I saw an honest and searching approach to understanding how different women view and are viewed in the words of that beautiful book that points us to Jesus.

Will Evans get everything 100% correct?  No.  But who among us will?  I certainly won’t.  Even the greatest theologians in history failed in certain ways (I’m looking at you, Martin Luther, for your “On the Jews and Their Lies” essay), but the good news is that we are called to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves…not to love our favorite theological method with our of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

I have two hopes.  The first is that those who are attacking this book will actually read it with an open mind, and be able to see the good in it.  The second is that when I read articles or posts or books with which I disagree, that I will read them with an open mind and be able to see the good in them, and not be so quick to roll my eyes and get disgusted, and try to see where the writer is coming from.