The God Who is Not Embarrassed

This is another guest post from my beautiful friend, Tara. And it’s definitely one that I needed to hear right now. Growing up as a “good religious girl” I struggle with desire and how to handle my own desires. I struggle with how to honestly and openly journey into desire and invite God into my desires. So, this post hit home for me personally. Tara always has a way of saying things that I need to hear right when I need to hear them and I’m so glad that I got a chance to see her in person and connect with her this past week. Thanks again, my friend!


LGLPMexico34Have you ever been in a public place when somebody blurted something out that made everyone else around turn red with embarrassment? Quite a few years ago, standing in the checkout line at Target, my little son stood up in the cart and, at the top of his lungs, yelled…“Mom…I need to go psssst!!!” and then proceeded to point to those body parts that mothers wish their kids wouldn’t point to in public.

I am not totally sure what I did, but I am sure I wished that I could have looked around bewildered, asking how some strange child (obviously not mine!) had gotten into my cart. Embarrassed, I did not want to claim this one as my own!!

Now, quite a few years later, I am coming to realize that how I felt that day in Target is oftentimes how I feel about the deep desires within my heart. Their strength and volume embarrass and, honestly, scare me.

The “good religious girl” in me is unnerved by the deep rumblings of my soul and asks questions like:

  • what about being selfless and sacrificing?
  • what if this leads you away from God?
  • can you really trust the desires of your heart?
  • aren’t they full of sin and marred by your depravity?
  • what if you name your desire and then realize it can’t be lived?
  • isn’t desiring bad?
  • shouldn’t you just read the Bible and “do”?
  • what if a desire is in opposition to what God wants?

She asks all these questions in rapid fire succession, all while glancing around nervously to be sure nobody actually heard the stated desire out loud.

It is not that those questions are bad, but it is here where I get stuck. Do I stay where I am or do I journey into desire? And what if I lose my way on the journey? Some of the spiritual authors I read – CS Lewis, John Eldridge, Sue Monk Kidd, Ruth Haley Barton – all speak of this journey into exploring our desires. But if I were to be honest, I am afraid at the force of the desires that press against my heart and make me feel like they will undo me. I am afraid to say them out loud for others to hear…for me to hear…for God to hear. I am afraid to want.

As I sit silently with this longing ache, I am reminded of the story of Bartimaeus and Jesus in Mark 10. It is a story of much shouting, and shushing and eventually poignnant question asking.

In the narrative the blind beggar Bartimaeus knows that Jesus is near and does not want to waste the opportunity; he begins to cry out!! Interestingly, his cry is “Jesus, son of God, have mercy on me!!!” It is from this portion of Scripture that we get our orthodox “Jesus Prayer”, and it dawned on me that it is a cry of desperation and longing for Jesus to stop…pay attention…and notice. It is the cry of utter longing mixed with the physical reality of a present state of total blindness. It is the state I find myself in as I take the journey of desire.

If we read on in the passage, we can see that these longing shouts unnerve the crowd. People try to shut Bartimaeus up. His desire and his loud cries are embarrassing them. But Bartimaeus chooses not to listen and cries out all the louder…”Son of David!! Mercy, have mercy on me!!”

Jesus stops. He has noticed. He calls this loud, raw, longing, blind beggar over. And then He asks him the question…”What do you want Me to do for you?…What do you want?…”

At this point Bartimaeus has a choice. Will he actually risk saying out loud what his deepest longing is? Does he have the guts to say to the Son of God what it is he wants? Does he risk looking stupid in front of others and Jesus to name his desire?

These are the questions that we, who journey with desire, must all face. Will we say out loud what is in our hearts and wait for the answer from the Master? For me…I am learning that God is large enough to handle my desire. He is gentle enough to sometimes say no and good enough to sometimes say yes. He is capable enough to transform my wanting into new and surprising desires too. And He is risky enough to not be afraid or embarrassed of it all.

PictureofTaraForSite

Tara Malouf makes her home in the Seattle area with her husband and two kids. She loves images and words, quiet and beauty, walking and prayer. She sees with “connectedness” eyes and thinks life is lived in story. She aspires to be a professional friend.

You can check out her photography at www.redthreadphoto.blogspot.com and her occasional musings at www.stroyformed.wordpress.com

If you'd like to help with medical bills or the other expenses related to Bryan's cancer or Sage's special needs click here. Thank you! We are forever so grateful to so many who have gotten us this far and continue to carry us forward. Grace and peace.

My Story: My Walk with God

I was raised in the church. Some of my first memories are from going to church. My parents were involved in starting a number of churches while I was growing up and my dad now serves on the elder board of their church. They were always close friends with our pastors and I have very vivid and positive memories of my parents (my dad in particular) having theological conversations with my pastor as a young child. I think it’s where my interest and love for theology and philosophy first started.

So, that’s a little bit of my parents and the background I was born into, but what’s my story…well…

I “accepted Christ” when I was 5 years old because they had talked about hell at church. I remember sitting at the top of the stairs with my mom and praying “the sinner’s prayer”. I was terrified of going to hell and my decision to accept Christ was based almost solely on that fear. The fear of hell then haunted me for years; I remember asking Jesus into my heart nearly every night for most of my childhood.

In 8th grade my mom baptized me in a friend’s pool. That was the beginning of what I could call the “God years”. High school was for me a time when I deeply pursued God and felt his presence. I was involved in everything and would spend long hours praying and reading scripture. I was good – I did my devotionals, I obeyed my parents, I didn’t party, I got good grades. Looking back I can recognize that in many ways I thought I could earn my way into God’s favor and out of hell.

It wasn’t until freshman year of college that things started to really fall apart and I had what could classically be called a “crisis of faith”. I think I had always carried a lot of doubt and questions in my mind and heart when it came to God, but there were some things that happened during this time in my life that really brought those questions to the forefront. Suddenly nothing seemed solid and God didn’t seem to fit in the nice neat box I had been told (and had believed) He should fit in.

There are a lot of things that eventually lead to the quieting of those questions (notice I said quieting and not resolving). I think one of the most significant things that brought me through that time in my life were a handful of very dear friends. God surrounded me with people who weren’t afraid to let me really dig into the questions. He brought people into my life, who really listened to me, and spoke truth to me and were willing to share their own struggles with God. I don’t think I had ever before that time seen someone honestly and authentically struggle with God and that made my own struggle seem so terrifying. But, in a few close friends in particular I saw people who struggled openly with God, and people who loved God desperately even while they struggled with him. And that gave me incredible freedom to wrestle with God myself.

This was also when I first began to realize that the narratives and theologies that I had grown up with weren’t the only Christian answers to the questions. I became to discover that Christians had answered theological questions differently throughout history and there was not a consistent theological narrative like I had always thought. But, I also began to see that even with all the diversity in the church throughout history God was still clearly at work and His spirit was clearly moving among his people.

It was also around this time that I began blogging and reading blogs and I discovered that there were other people out there were in the same boat I was in. Knowing that others were asking the same questions, wrestling with God and with his church, was incredibly freeing for me. Knowing that others were also re-thinking what it really means to be a Christian, to walk with Jesus, to love Him and love people was incredibly encouraging to me.

Eventually I came to a place where I could love God for Himself and not what I thought he was or should be. Eventually I came to a place where I could choose to follow him even if I didn’t understand him. Since then God and I have been on a wild journey of discovery. He continues to take me inward, allowing me to ask all the difficult questions that arise in my soul, allowing me to live the questions, and walking through them with me.

There is still so much farther I have to walk with God. He is still so unknown to me. There are still places of my heart that I keep hidden. There are still questions that I haven’t found answers for. There are still places of brokenness in my soul that need to be healed. There are still sins in my life that need to be washed. There are still journeys God and I need to take.

So, I just keep walking, clinging to faith and trusting that God walks beside me.

Rejoicing in the journey –
Bethany Stedman

If you'd like to help with medical bills or the other expenses related to Bryan's cancer or Sage's special needs click here. Thank you! We are forever so grateful to so many who have gotten us this far and continue to carry us forward. Grace and peace.

Returning to Lent

The past few years I have found much encouragement and growth in following the Christian calendar and keeping my thoughts and spiritual journey somewhat in line with the church seasons. The cyclical nature of the seasons, Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Easter and Ordinary Time, have drawn me deeper and deeper into my understanding of and relationship to the Triune God. But, during the past year of pregnancy and the early months of motherhood, I found myself in a season of my own and unable to fully relate to or participate in the church seasons. In fact I didn’t even have a single thought about Advent this year until it was over – really I didn’t have a single thought about much of anything accept my dear difficult child.

Today I woke up to realize that it is Ash Wednesday, and I felt suddenly like I need Lent this year. Need Lent like I have never needed it before. Lent is when we remember the time the Israelites spent wandering in the desert. Lately, I feel like I am wandering unknown territory, my own desert. Lent is also when we remember Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Lately, I feel tempted. I feel tempted to ignore God and focus solely on my immediate physical needs. I feel tempted to escapism instead of being present with where I am and what my life looks like at the moment. I feel tempted to despair and to feel like my life has no broader purpose or vision amidst the mundane of peek-a-boo and dirty dishes.

Lent is also a time of repentance and purification during which we prepare again to celebrate and remember the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I remember learning that for a time in the early church Easter was the only time that they baptized new believers and Lent was for these new believers a time of preparation for baptism. Lent was a time of preparing to enter into the family of God. Eventually “older” believers began to also celebrate Lent as a time to renew their faith and commitment to the resurrection life that God offers. This year I feel this subtle historical significance of Lent. I need this. I need to come to God anew. I need a fresh start with Jesus.

Thanks to Christine Sine I recently read this quote from Joan Chittister’s book The Liturgical Year and it really spoke to me about why I need to participate in Lent yet again:

Lent is not a ritual.  It is time given to think seriously about who Jesus is for us, to renew our faith from the inside out.  It is the moment when, as the baptismal waters flow on every Easter Vigil altar, we return to the baptismal font of the heart to say yes once more to the call of Jesus to the disciples, “Come and see” (John 1:39)  It is the act of beginning our spiritual life all over again refreshed and reoriented.  (111)

I want to begin my “spiritual life all over again refreshed and reoriented.” And so this Ash Wednesday I bow my head and heart and say, “Come, Lord Jesus.” Come and draw me into Lent. Show me once again who you are. Teach me anew who I am. I am thirsty and weak, weary and confused. I don’t know how to listen to you. I don’t know how to speak to you. I don’t know how to follow you. I don’t know how to love you or obey you. Come, Lord. Lead me once again through the desert.

Rejoicing in the journey –
Bethany

If you'd like to help with medical bills or the other expenses related to Bryan's cancer or Sage's special needs click here. Thank you! We are forever so grateful to so many who have gotten us this far and continue to carry us forward. Grace and peace.

Politics and Abortion

This post is a guest post written by Mathias Schwender. Mathias and his wife Carrie (who I wrote about here) are good friends of ours and incredible people. The other night we were having dinner with them and the topic of abortion and politics came up and Mathias shared some interesting insight. I knew at the time that there were others in the blogosphere writing about this topic lately so I invited Mathias to be my first guest blogger as part of this impromptu synchroblog.

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I am not a woman. I cannot pretend I have felt, lived through, experienced, suffered or wrestled with the decision of giving or not giving birth to an unwanted baby. Yet I have compassion for women in this situation and the last thing I wish for them is to be persecuted, punished or being outcast. In a way I think it is not fair that women are way more affected by giving birth or not giving birth than men – regardless how involved men are.

We as a society and fellow humans must respect and acknowledge that women that do not want to give birth to their child are already put on a burden that seems too much to carry. We have the obligation to come and support and help and endure with them.

Nevertheless I want to speak out for those humans that share life with me on this earth. I want to speak out for those that do not have a voice. They are my brothers and sisters and therefore I am qualified to speak out for them.

I strongly feel it is not right to give in to what seems so fair: ‘let her not have the child’. I strongly disagree that one (or more) human beings have the right to end someone else’s life. Why does the most vulnerable, innocent person not have a right to live? Why can it be sent to death because the father or mother or the society as a whole decides so? Since when is a human life only valued as such if it is desired? Where else in our society does someone have the ‘right to choose’ over someone else’s life?

Let’s say my grandmother is sick and I have to take care of her and I cannot afford to look after her or I just simply think this is inconvenient for me. Why can’t I just push her down the staircase? If it is about me and my social or economical situation then this should also be ok to do that, no?

No. I cannot just end someone else’s life because it is not my life and I cannot end it. That’s why.

And this is not because I am a Christian or anything else. This is because I want to live in a society that honors life.

We should really stop making this a religious question anything more than caring for the elders, paying our taxes or coming up with a good health care plan.

I like Obama. I think he would be the better president. And I actually would probably vote for him if I carried the right passport. Yet it bothers me that he is inconsistent. With his health care plan he says: we need to protect every American. We need to protect children. We cannot just let the parents make the choice if they want to ensure the children or not. Health insurance must extend to everybody.

I agree with him. I think it is a good plan. But then when it comes to abortion he suddenly says: the mother is able to take the best decision for her baby. She is most qualified to decide.

Why can’t the parents decide if their children get health insurance but apparently can decide if the child will live or die? I don’t get it.

What personally woke me up and made me aware of this was statistics I have lately seen. Only in the US more than 1,2 million babies get aborted every single year. Source: http://www.abort73.com/HTML/II-A-abortion_statistics. ( I think this is one out of three conceived babies)This is just so incredible. As a comparison: on 9/11 we had about 3000 people dying on a single day and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq happened as a consequence. With abortions this amount of people die every single (!) day and nothing really seems to happen as a consequence.

What I would propose to do about it on a governmental level:

1. Start with having a restricted abortion policy. In Germany (where I am from) for example, abortions can only legally be done to the 12th week and a medical or social reason must be given and approved by a doctor.

Source: http://www.pro-leben.de/abtr/abtreibung_daten.php

I think it is totally inacceptable and horrifying that in many western European countries and also the USA you can abort a child an hour before it gets born without giving even a reason. I can see how people argue about early abortions but to kill a fully grown baby just because it didn’t yet come out of the mother’s womb is just incredible.

2. Women that go through unwanted pregnancies must get government and financial help to get through and deliver the baby. Economical reasons should get entirely ruled out.

3. To give the child up for adoption must become much easier. Also bureaucratic hurdles in adopting a child must get a lot more straightforward.

4. Change the laws so abortions with some restricted, defined and very limited exceptions (which have to be monitored in a transparent way by an independent institution) should become illegal. When slavery was legal there were only a few people that thought it was a bad thing. Now it’s illegal and people also think it is a bad thing. But it took a while. We shape the conscious of a society if we ok with our laws certain things. Changing the laws will slowly then also change how people feel about abortions. I know for this we need majorities. Every little step helps. The little I can do I want to do for it.

Mathias Schwender

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Check out these links to hear what others are saying:

Abortion Politics and Christianity

The Moral Minefield

Politics and Abortion: Impromptu Synchroblog

Dr. James Howell on the Divisive Issue of Abortion

The Politics of Abortion: The Moral Minefield

Rejoicing in the journey –
Bethany Stedman

If you'd like to help with medical bills or the other expenses related to Bryan's cancer or Sage's special needs click here. Thank you! We are forever so grateful to so many who have gotten us this far and continue to carry us forward. Grace and peace.

Halloween

“When I dressed up as a child for Halloween, I was captivated by the fantasy, and as I have written recently, the fantasy for me served to provide a glimpse of the divine behind creation. Though I respect parents who decide not to allow their children to participate in Halloween activities due to issues of conscience, that’s not a decision I feel comfortable making for my children. I would hate to deprive them of something of the mystery and “magic” of childhood, something that could well provide a step into trusting the Creator.” – Igneous Quill Blog

“At Halloween our modern cultural rituals are a dim reflection of the historical practice of connecting with and honoring those who have come before. We lost the true meaning, but keep the trappings in hopes that we can connect in some way to something bigger than ourselves. We bring out the ghosts, jack-o-lanterns, and black cats not understanding what they mean, but longing nonetheless to grasp hold of a fleeting glimpse of the mysterious. We watch horror movies in hopes that fear, as raw and intense of an emotion as it is, will at least make us feel something beyond ourselves.” – Julie Clawson’s blog

“It is a world of magic and mystery, of deep darkness and flickering starlight. It is a world where terrible things happen and wonderful things too. It is a world where goodness is pitted against evil, love against hate, order against chaos, in a great struggle where often it is hard to be sure who belongs to which side because appearances are endlessly deceptive. Yet for all its confusion and wildness, it is a world where the battle goes ultimately to the good, who live happily ever after, and where in the long run everybody, good and evil alike, becomes known by his true name…That is the fairy tale of the Gospel with, of course, one crucial difference from all other fairy tales, which is that the claim made for it is true, that it not only happened once upon a time but has kept on happening ever since and is happening still.” – Frederick Buechner

So, here’s the deal: I’ve always loved Halloween… That’s right I’ve said it. It’s something I normally don’t admit to. I always felt sort of guilty about it, but it’s the truth. I really have always loved Halloween. And I think that these quotes sort of hint at why I liked it. Because more so than most other holidays Halloween touches on the mysterious, the fanciful, and yes, the dark.

There is ritual in it more so than most other holidays and that ritual is mysterious. And I like that. I think there is something in the human psyche that longs for an experience of the Other, that which is entirely different and unexplainable and mysterious. The church (especially the modern church) doesn’t offer those types of experiences at least not very often. I guess we have a small handful of rituals that get practiced in the church but they have lost most of their meaning and most of their dark mystery and otherness. I think I’m drawn to Halloween because there is something about it that somehow feels mysterious and Other…sure it’s mostly just costumes and candy. But, I think there have been moments where this holiday held something transcendent for me, moments where even in my own life the deeper roots of All Souls day came out.

Also, I think there is something in the human psyche that is curious about death…death scares us AND woos us. We feel deeply that this life can’t be all there is, that we were made for something more. We were created for eternity and somehow whether we admit that or not we feel that… we experience longing. Surely, He did put eternity in the hearts of men.

So, maybe I am drawn to Halloween because somewhere at its core Halloween is also about death. It’s about recognizing death. We fear death and so in our fear we dream up ghouls and goblins and zombies but really we are just acknowledging our ignorance. We are curious so we create and explore. We grieve death, we want to know that our loved ones are still around that they haven’t just disappeared from the earth all together so we (in our somewhat demented way) celebrate spirits and ghosts and at the same time as fearing them sort of secretly hope that they exist…secretly hope that our loved ones aren’t just decaying in the grave but that the most sacred and important part of them, their soul lives on.

The original idea of having a day for the dead doesn’t seem pagan or evil to me, it seems human, natural, and even healthy. To have a day to acknowledge and celebrate and grieve for those who have passed on and to pray and hope that something of them still exists in the world…well, that seems right to me. Maybe dressing up in costumes and passing out candy is a silly way to do that but it’s the closest thing we have in American western society to experiencing the mysterious, dark side of life and death.

You may say, “Well that’s all well and good but what about the evil side of Halloween, isn’t Halloween celebrating evil?” I’ve heard this from Christians before, and while, honestly, I think most people who celebrate Halloween aren’t celebrating evil, I think there are those who celebrate Halloween in a way that can be evil, sick, and deformed (member the razorblades in candy). But, here’s my thinking, and maybe this sounds weird or wrong, but I like being reminded occasionally that there is evil in the world. Yeah, I know it sounds crazy. But, I like knowing that we have an enemy to fight – it’s inspiring. It gives purpose and calling. And no I don’t think that the evil I need to fight is Halloween or my neighbor who may love dressing up as a bloody zombie. But, there ARE great evils in the world, great injustices, great pain, great wrongs, great poverty, and great meanness and these we are called to combat.

Often in this world our enemy seems hidden or covert but in horror movies, or fantasy movies or fairy tales the evil is evident and clear. Good is pitted against evil and good always wins. Love is pitted against Hate and Love wins. God is pitted against the devil and God wins.

Another reason I like Halloween is the same reason I like fantasy stories and fairy tales because it reminds me in very clear black and white, good vs. evil language of the battle we are all a part of. Things get really hazy and unclear and grey in this world we live in and sometimes it’s nice to imagine that it is all a little clearer. Anyway, those are my thoughts on Halloween.

Really, though I feel like there’s a question I’m left with after all these thoughts… is there a way that the church could better step into this holiday – not just avoiding it all together, and not just by making it “safe” like with the Harvest Festivals that are now so common at American Churches…is there a way for us to keep the darkness and mystery, celebrate and grieve the dead, and recognize that we do not live in a perfect-pretty-in-pink-happy-ever-after-world (yet) we live in a fallen, dark world where evil abounds, but we are called to something higher. We are called to combat that which is truly evil. We are called to Love.

Is there a way to embrace the ritual and bring meaning? I’d love to hear your thoughts. And if you disagree with what I’m thinking about or are confused by some of it by all means please push back and tell me why.

PS :

–          Alan Knox at The Assembling of the Church just re-posted his Halloween blog from last year. There are some great thoughts there and it’s well worth the read.

–          Julie Clawson wrote Rejection, Redemption, and Roots: A Dialogue about Christianity and Paganism a little over a year ago, but it’s still a great read.  It isn’t specifically about Halloween but I think it has a lot to say that could relate to how we treat Halloween.

Rejoicing in the journey –

Bethany

If you'd like to help with medical bills or the other expenses related to Bryan's cancer or Sage's special needs click here. Thank you! We are forever so grateful to so many who have gotten us this far and continue to carry us forward. Grace and peace.