Posts Tagged ‘god’

So in one of last month’s posts, I mentioned a youth conference where several classmates and I served as college leaders. It was not exactly a positive experience. We encountered blatant homophobia, as detailed in my previous post. Other messages included prosperity gospel, anti-evolutionism, women’s sexual disinterest and men’s sexual enslavement, and consumerism. It left many of us in the group feeling dejected and agitated. This was not the church as we envisioned it.


In our frustrated conversations that weekend, all the questions boiled down to one: reform from within or abandon ship? In other words, is Christianity worth reclaiming or should we start from square one, uncorrupted? It reminded me of the various Puritan sects in England at the turn of the seventeenth century. Some of them advocated for complete separation from Anglicanism while others said that they were called to heal the church. The way to heal was to stay, to shine as the holy minority within. Separation, the latter group argued, would be akin to chopping off a healthy hand to save it from the body’s infection.


Obviously I’m inclined to heal from within, seeing as how I plan to be ordained as a United Methodist. But I understand my friends’ leanings as well. Sometimes it seems that American Christianity has fallen so far that it can never climb back up. As Walter Brueggemann might say, we’ve been assimilated into the culture instead of standing as its alternative. A very wise professor from Duke Divinity once told me that too many Christians put fish on the back of their cars while living the same as everybody else. I’ve certainly been guilty of that. What else could explain my fear of speaking to the homeless woman camped outside my apartment building? Radical Christianity exists in isolated pockets these days.


Still, I am too much of an optimist to not believe that with God all things are possible. God is remaking the world every day with or without me. I want to be included in His great project. I still believe that God’s grace can redeem the church, restore it to what Christ imagined when he appointed Peter. I’m praying hard.


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From sundown on Sunday until sundown yesterday (Monday), I fasted as a spiritual discipline for Lent. It was a surprising experience, one which I will repeat on every Monday of Lent. It was difficult, but not in the way that I expected. There was also an unanticipated joy. Here are a few of my reflections.

1) Hunger as reminder

Once or twice an hour yesterday, there would be an unpleasant pang of hunger in my stomach. However, those pangs came to represent moments of peace and strength. Whenever I felt weak, I was reminded why I was fasting: to honor God. It’s so easy amidst deadlines and meetings and Facebook for God to slip from our thoughts altogether, only to be remembered when we say our prayers at night. Hunger served as my constant reminder to keep God at the front of my mind. My very body became a devotion to God.


2) Hunger and Communion

I ended my fast by taking Communion at the college’s chapel service. All through worship, that loaf of bread and cup of sweet, rich juice sat on the altar beckoning to my empty belly. I could barely focus on the sermon because I was so desperate for that tiny bite of bread. At first, I scolded myself as a glutton. But mere seconds after taking Communion, my stomach felt satisfied for the first time in 22 hours. The body of Christ was sufficient. He was enough to give me strength.


3) Fasting as solidarity

Food is a huge part of college culture. We’re busy, stressed out students who love to eat. We love cookies, we love cupcakes, we love pizza, we love bacon, we love cheese. Many times throughout the day I was offered food that I couldn’t accept. This recalled a long-lost memory for me of a youth group trip to Heifer International Ranch. As part of a poverty simulation, the members of the group received roughly 800 calories a day each while engaging in physical labor. By day three, it took immense effort even to walk to the afternoon gathering. There, a ranch volunteer wearing Gucci sunglasses held a bowl brimming with chocolate candies. When we asked her to share, she brushed us off. If we tried to trade with or steal from her, the other volunteers thwarted us. We were the global poor, she was the rich West. Fasting was my small way of expressing solidarity with the hungry who the world forgets. I do not pretend to know what true hunger and its accompanying hardships feel like, but at least for once I was a listener instead of a consumer.

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When I interned at Heifer International, one of the first things my supervisor taught me was to tell stories. He said that we could talk about poverty theory, infant mortality rates, and development statistics until we were blue in the face, but until we connected with a donor’s compassion, it was all useless. This wasn’t meant to be a manipulative, money-grubbing tactic; it was a truth about the heart versus the head. If we think in abstractions, our rationality can turn cold and unkind. A human being with a face and a name and a life is necessary to change the discussion. So that’s what I’m going to try to do in this post, except not about poverty or hunger. I am going to try to witness to the look in my friend’s eyes at a youth conference this weekend.


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“In the end, though,” she added hastily. “I’m grateful it happened because it made me who I am.”

So spoke an African-American college junior at a Christian student conference I attended a few years back. We were seated around a freshly-waxed dining table in the home of a local congregant. The boys were in a separate room. Nine of us and a leader in her late 20s talked about the traumas from our pasts that kept us separated from God. As statistics would predict, three young women at the table had been victims of sexual abuse before age 14. All three believed they were molested for a reason and that was why God “let” them get hurt: to make them stronger.

I suppose they had a biblical basis for believing that way. The God we read about in the Bible killed Job’s children to test their father. Throughout the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, we witness God use suffering as a tool. He is not afraid to inflict – or at least allow – pain upon His followers. And besides, since God is omnipotent if He wanted to stop sexual assault, He could. His inaction indicates, perhaps not approval, but tolerance.

Other books on the shelves don’t provide alternative theologies. Of the books I’ve read on Christianity and sexual trauma, almost all dealt with one of two issues: pastoral counseling or sexual predators in the church. Little is offered in the way of answers, or even better questions. For a religion that has an awful lot to say about sex, we are pretty mute on sex’s ultimate corruption. (more…)

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Why Be a Christian?

This one’s in honor of my dad for Fathers’ Day. Dad helps me contemplate God without letting me forget to revel in the mystery. I love you, Daddy.

Dad and I love to bicker about theology. He prefers the Tradition, Reason, and Scripture quarters of the Wesleyan Quad. I prefer Experience and (Dad would dispute this) Scripture. Our most common debate starts over my belief in universal salvation, but boils down to a fundamental question: why be a Christian?

To hear youth ministers tell it, we should be Christians to feel all warm and fuzzy inside, and have a cosmic therapist to depend on. Good ol’ John Wesley feared a-roasting on Satan’s barbeque. In the middle, there are those like Dad who want to be transformed by Christianity; they recognize that true happiness only comes when we fill the hole in our heart with God. I usually hang out in the middle.

But a part of me is even uncomfortable with that. If I do something because it’s going to benefit my life, aren’t I being selfish? (more…)

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I really may cry. Somehow, my freshman year of college is two weeks from over. I’m so grateful for all of you who have taken the journey with me. I’m not the person I was when I began, but I still have my faith. And what else do you really need to travel life’s road? At the end of last semester, I posted what I had learned so far. All those still apply. I’ve got some to add, though. Thanks to the friends who helped me with the list – and who made my year. I love you all.

  • Can you cook or bake? Meet your 1000 new friends.
  • Sing as much as you can.
  • Dance as much as you can.
  • Laugh more than you can.
  • There is absolutely no way to make slacks look cool.
  • God must really like rain.
  • The Psalms will give you peace.
  • It is what you actually do, not what you know you should do, that makes you a Christian.
  • Pull to the left to open blinds.
  • Life can be measured in wristbands.
  • As the mistakes get bigger, so does His forgiveness. He’s just that awesome.
  • All food is communal.
  • “I’ll do it in the morning” = grade of incomplete
  • The little things, like care packages and birthday balloons, really do matter the most.
  • No one is too good for a day planner.
  • Life’s too short for excuses.
  • People won’t like it when you remind them of the world beyond their door. Do it anyway.
  • One girl’s Snowmagadden is another girl’s inconvenient dusting, but neither is too old to play in it.
  • Never judge someone. They may be your friend one day.
  • Control is not your Savior.
  • Tape with caution.
  • Everything changes. Except His love.

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Long-time readers know that I feel called to empower women in areas of conflict, primarily through education and job training. It’s not a call that I can always get excited about. It will mean sacrifice, trauma, and possibly even death. A part of me wonders why God isn’t content with me becoming a wife and mother, maybe an author. Why don’t I get to have that life and someone else does? But at the same time, I feel humbled that God would use me – a sinner – to do His work. And I know, for better of worse, I can’t turn my back on His bravest of daughters.

A strong sense of call does not help a college freshman. Righteous passion does not write papers, fold laundry, or make flashcards. Filing and data entry pay the bills, not justice. Last semester, my college’s chapter of Amnesty International organized a Death Penalty Abolition Week. One of our leaders was so busy with it that she couldn’t work on her senior thesis. “This,” she motioned to flyers in her hand. “This is real. This is happening. How am I supposed to focus when people are dying?”

Jesus wasn’t college-educated. Neither were most of the saints and certainly not the Apostles. Plenty of change agents have lived and died without tacking a degree on their wall. There are days when I itch to escape the college bubble and do something that is supposedly more real than what I find here. What do Plato and Newton really matter? A woman dies in childbirth every 90 seconds; we can read them later! I don’t care if Melville used the San Dominic as a metaphor for the Union when rape victims are flogged for fornication. The academie is trivial – let’s do something that matters. (more…)

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