Returning from the dead

backfromthedeadIt’s October and with Halloween just around the corner, it feels like an appropriate time to bring my blog back from the dead. Thank you to those who have come back to read even in the absence of new posts.

So many things that have happened in the last several months. Many of the things that have been staples in my life are now gone. After losing my beloved dog, Lexy, a year ago, my dad followed just a few months later and the community with whom I would typically look for consolation and support is now also gone as I have found it necessary to look for a new church home.

I don’t know about you, but looking for a church is one of my least favorite things to do. I would almost (almost being the key phrase here) rather go to the dentist for major dental work than have to map out new churches to try. I have yet to find the recipe for finding a group of people with whom you feel a sense of community while simultaneously feel spiritually fed and challenged.

binocularsPart of the problem, at least for me, is that places of worship tend to be very “cliquey”. Now, I certainly understand the phenomenon of like-minded people finding one another. After all, that’s what a congregation is, isn’t it? A group of people who gather together to proclaim their belief in the same deity/dieties and who enjoy expressing these beliefs in the same way? This is how I see it, at least, and I don’t find any wrong with this in general. As a person who is an “extroverted introvert”, I absolutely want to find a community of people that make me feel as comfortable as possible when I walk in the door because, dang it, it’s hard to walk in the door all alone!

But the interesting thing about using a sense of comfort as the divining rod of church choice is that we simultaneously make the decision that those in the other groups or churches are “doing it wrong” – or at least not as “right” as we are. The group of people we worship with helps to mold the perspective we on faith as a whole – who God is, what God does, and what we as individuals are called to do under the umbrella of faith. Is that how we are supposed to choose our faith community? What do miss when we do this? It seems to me that by selecting our faith family this way, we quietly draw lines in the sand and define faith based on personal preferences, not theological truth.

Though I cannot guarantee this is the case with everyone, I would venture that many of us define God and faith through the eyes of legalism. We end up feeling good about ourselves and what we are doing “in Faith” because our community is doing everything the same way so we must be doing it right. We feel better about ourselves and the way we behave when compared to what those “other people” do and slowly but surely we become like some people in the Bible that we really don’t want to be associated with…

…the Pharisees.

10-23-cc-home_-moderndayphariseeI know. That’s a really inflammatory – if not heretical – statement, but hear me out.

When I reflect on the traits that I consider to be the defining characteristics of the Pharisees, I think of things such as self-righteousness and judgmentalism (no, it’s not be a word, but I like it so I’m going with it).

Mostly, I think of individuals who primarily seek to find only the wrong in others’ lives as opposed to accepting those around them as individual masterpieces God created. To me, the Pharisees’ primary goals were to ensure all around them knew they were the most learned, most perfect, and most chosen of all.

And as I look around at my own actions and those I encounter both in the houses of worship I have visited and just around me in general, I see those same traits oozing out of all of us. No, we aren’t literally crucifying people for committing what we consider to be heinous crimes, but I would suggest that we do crucify one another symbolically by choosing actions, behaviors, personality types and even careers that we feel are contrary to the narrow view of God and faith that we currently identify with. We do this by cherry-picking Bible passages that support what we want God to be saying and then using those passages as weapons, condemning others actions and, when possible, destroying the life they had that we find so atrocious. We are deciding for ourselves that one action is more deplorable to God than another because we find it personally offensive or contrary to the way we personally interpret the motivation behind the behavior and then use varied interpretations of His Word as the weapon to prove our point.

Now before you all start frantically typing angry messages to me, let me say this. Yes, I do believe that the Bible is God’s Word. I believe that He gave His Word to us via chosen messengers and that through those Words, He has provided us a clear example of how to live a life that is loving and grace-filled. What gets in the way is our desire to be “right”; to be the one that uniquely understands God better, worships Him more fully, forgives more freely. We all want to be God’s chosen and we will often do whatever it takes for us to feel as though we are accomplishing that goal.

biblerulesLet me be clear. I don’t think that wanting to be God’s chosen is a bad thing. My heart aches to hear God say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23).  I long to know that when I depart this world, those who knew me will be able to say that I loved well and lived as God would have wanted me to despite my multitudes of failures. But one of the things that I think is crucial is that we all must find a way to understand that our desires are really no different than those of the Pharisees. They were learned men of the Torah who desired to ensure that all people within their area of influence were living as they had been taught and therefore believed the laws indicated they should be so that God would be pleased with them. In their fanaticism to accomplish their goals, they went to the extreme and while we can point and condemn, we are just as likely to do this as they were and in many cases, we already are.

In the end, I think it comes down to this.

Nothing about God is as simple as the black and white definitions we want to create. There is no right or wrong when it comes to a denomination or a church, congregation or stand-alone group. All there is an instruction from God to love one another. If we can do this, we can break down the cliques that exist and open our hearts and minds to see the world more like God sees it and in so doing, create a community that truly honors Him.

In the meantime, I guess l’ll continue to look for a community that looks more like me.

Hide and Seek with God

christian-singer-sandi-pattyI had the wonderful privilege of attending a Sandi Patty concert last night for the very first time. It is her farewell tour and I knew I would regret not attending so I got 2 tickets and brought a friend from church me to see what I knew would be a wonderful concert.

I have always felt a kinship with Ms. Patty. I remember clearly the very first time I heard her sing. A college friend brought me a cassette recording of her first concert and as she told her story of learning how to play piano with the red and white John Thompson books, I giggled, smiling and nodding at the memory. As she spoke of beginning to sing after realizing her piano skills were somewhat lacking, my heart warmed as I felt that I, too, had failed in the expectations there. And as she spoke of wanting to be Karen Carpenter,I laughed out loud at the images of me singing into my hairbrush and dreaming of being the one singing on the Johnny Carson show on late night television.

The more Ms. Patty spoke,the closer I felt with her. I even day dreamed that perhaps we were somehow family – that my birth parents were part of her wonderful family and they would find me one day and bring me into the fold so I could be a part of her amazing ministry.

Sandi Patty’s musical legacy is astonishing. With over 40 Dove (Christian Music) Awards, you would never guess that she at one time was ostracized from the Christian musical community.

But she was.

As Ms. Patty spoke about the failure of her marriage and the subsequent fallout, my heart broke for her and her family…

…and I found another sense of kinship.

You see, I too failed at marriage (twice) and I, too, received judgement and criticism from those from whom I had hoped to receive support. Clearly, my divorce was not national news and it didn’t put a tremendously successful career on pause while I recovered, but one of the significant results was the same.

Ms. Patty spoke of going to church one day and hiding on the back corner of the pew not wanting anyone to recognize her, see her or interact with her. She was hiding from everyone and everything including God. Somewhere in her mind, maybe she thought, “if only I tuck myself far enough into the corner of my mind, nobody will see me sitting here in plain sight.” She spoke of this as she relayed a story of her 2 1/2 year old grandchild who plays hide and seek and “hides” essentially in the middle of the room. The child doesn’t want to be hidden from those he loves, he simply wants the joy of being found – of having someone love him enough and care enough about him to want him in their presence. hide-and-seek

Often, however, our pain keeps us from wanting to be in anyone’s presence. We are so focused on our own issues, we truly do want to hide in the deepest, darkest hold imaginable and just wait for the world to pass us by.

As I listened to this story, I couldn’t help feel an immediate connection to the way I felt in the days and months leading up to and immediately after my separation from my 2nd husband.

Though I was recovering from several surgeries on my head and struggling with severe depression, I tried to attend church when I could but found myself desperately trying to make myself invisible sitting in the pew. I wore black, I hung my head and found myself absolutely unable to respond to anyone with anything greater than a nod of my head and a weak smile. I truly didn’t want to be seen let alone found.

Looking back, I know that I probably hurt many people who were trying to reach out – trying to find a way to help, but I was absolutely unable to see that light from where my heart and soul were hiding. As an aside, if any reading this post were there during that time, let me just take time moment to truly apologize to you for any pain I caused you. I know you were trying to help. I was just unable to accept it.

What made it so much more difficult is that I was living in this terrible dichotomy of time and space. On the one hand, I  ached for someone to find me. I wanted friends and family to be able to read my mind somehow and understand how much I was struggling and for them to be able to look inside my heart and see the pain there and find a way to help. I wanted God to reach down and pluck me out of the midst of this pain and put me somewhere else just so I didn’t have to go through this one more second.

On the other hand, I wasCloak-1991 so ashamed that I was failing yet again that I didn’t want anyone to acknowledge my presence at all. I would have been thrilled if the cloak of invisibility from the Harry Potter books was an actuality so I could have hidden myself beneath its spellbound presence and been able to drink in the presence of God from the music, the scripture and the sermon while being able to be completely unseen by anyone including God.

I was, as  Ms Patty stated last night, playing hide and seek with God.

I wanted to stand in the middle of the room and pretend I couldn’t be seen and to have God find me in the depths of my despair and pull me out. To place me in His lap and console me.

Looking back, I realize that God had done this but I was so full of self-loathing and depression I simply couldn’t see it. I also realize now that even holding me in His lap to console me would not in any way mean that I  wouldn’t have gone through the things that were ahead of me.

Like all of us, I was tasked with walking through the mess that I had helped to create. This was not avoidable and the lessons would not come easy, but as the book of Galatians reminded me then and still does today, the end rewards are only seen when we persevere.

Now, I am far from Super Woman and I was most definitely tired during the season of my life, but I can say that I didn’t give up. I fought hard to make it to where I am today. I am no longer hiding from God, but I am continually shouting to Him to come find me.

Come find me in my joy and celebrate with me.

Come find me in my loneliness and hold my hand as I walk through this.

Come find me as I move into a new season of my life and see where it leads.

Now, more than ever, I want to be found. I want to be that 2 1/2 year old standing in the middle of the room crying out to God “Come find me”, secure in knowledge that He knows exactly where I am at all times and He will always long to have me in His presence.

Sandi Patty’s tour is entitled Forever Grateful, a way for her to express her gratefulness both to her audience as they have traveled the last few decades with her as to God as He has allowed her to travel all I havethis road. But I wish to say this to Ms. Patty:

I am forever grateful to her for showing me that being who I am – that precocious little girl who wanted to be Karen Carpenter – is ok; that being a divorced woman is ok; and that being able to lift my voice in song in praise of my Lord is not only acceptable,but reflection of my love to the One who created the fallible human that I am.

Yes, Ms. Patty, I, too am forever grateful.