Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Religious Bullies, or, April in Wackoland

My little guy has been watching Mickey Mouse for the past two years. Who can blame him? Mickey is cute and non-threatening. The plots are pointless and the colors are garishly bright. It's got just the right amount of preschool-stuff to appease his attention span.

Somewhere between the fifth and thirty-fifth episodes we've watched together, something started




Pete the Cat is a bully.

And Mickey totally enables him.

With a chuckle and a gosh-gee and a let's-find-a-mousketool, Mickey Mouse cowers to Pete's ridiculous demands every. single. time. Recently, Carter’s attentions have turned to another Disney character, Jake, who actually stands up to his bullies every single time. Thank God for progress in the world of cartoons.

I had an encounter with a bully last week. 

A religious bully.

I was perusing the aisles of Whole Foods, soaking up every ounce of silence while the kids played at Grandma's house. As I pushed my cart towards the baking aisle, a man headed the opposite direction passed by me and would have been totally anonymous but for the fact that he muttered loud enough to be heard:

Read the Bible.  

No eye contact. No pausing. No breaking stride.

Excuse me? I whirled my cart around.

Did you just tell me to read the Bible? 

His whole demeanor softened, changed. He smiled but shrunk into his shoulders a bit as if he'd never been caught before in his game of drive-by-evangelism.

Yes, I did. He walked toward me.

Well, I'm a Christian, I do read the Bible. In fact, my husband is a pastor here in town. And I just want to tell you that your method isn't working. If you truly felt compelled to talk with me, you should have stopped and made the time for conversation, you know, find something you have in common with me and then share what you have to say…

You didn't even make eye contact with me.

He stammered, Well, you know, sometimes you don't have time for that. I figured it couldn't hurt.  

I totally disagree. I said. It does hurt. The way you just did that comes across as judgmental and condemning. It will only push people further away. Jesus gave people a sense of dignity when he interacted with them.

Well, he continued to deflect, I just do what the Holy Spirit tells me to. You know, maybe you were supposed to hear that you should read your Bible. 

I do read my Bible. I did this morning. And the Bible says we are to worship God with our minds, so I want you to consider the fact that your method isn't working. Pray about it, if you have to.

And with that, I was off to find my coconut oil. 

I had a whole 'nother hour to myself, a vacuum of mind-space immediately saturated with wittier, more sarcastic versions of the conversation. I was freaking awesome in my If-Only-I'd-Said-This-Instead conversation. You should have seen me.

But even then, I knew I responded the way I did, restrained, and sprinkled with Christianese to buy myself the street cred, because I thought there may have been a time,

a long time ago

when Bob the Religious Bully really cared about people reading the Bible. The Holy Spirit may have legitimately prompted him to talk with people he didn't know and he may have been entirely moved and motivated by a love for others and a love for God.

Maybe, I considered, he's just gotten pigeon-holed into some hyper-spiritual Christian community that's so out of touch with what's normal that he needed a girl shopping Whole Foods to help him towards a reality check.


It made me wonder about the others to which Bob the Religious Bully has dropped a condescending line or two.

It made me wonder how many of you have been religious-bullied, in one form or another.

And it made me wonder about the times I’ve thrown my spiritual weight around, carelessly knocking people over with my immature and untempered zeal.

I think the reason I gave Bob the time of day is that I was reminded of a younger and more immature version of myself in the [failed] attempt to do something good. Ya’ll, I did some weird stuff in the name of Jesus back in the day.

And while I'm not stuck condemning myself, wisdom teaches me to lean into the regret long enough to learn from it. And I am sorry.

I’d like it if I could apologize on the behalf of all the other religious bullies out there. I’d like it if this post could help heal those of you who have been wounded.

And I’d like it if one less Bob could drop one less line while walking through the grocery store.

May Jesus change our hearts, bullies and bullied alike. The aisle that separates us isn’t as wide as we think it is.

And ten minutes after my conversation with Bob, a John-Wayne-ish older guy walked by me, leaned in and said with a drawl, "You look like Liz Lemon." Not kidding. I promptly headed for the check out. 

And then a wasp bit me as I was getting in my car.

What about you? Have you been religious-bullied? 
How did you work through it in your relationship with God?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

a thousand sorry's

You've known her and you've loved her and you've wondered,

[because of your own brokenness]

if her strong arms and fierce independence have come from pushing back the weight of secret doors


for so many years.

You wait and you pray and you trust your God with his daughter

and then a tipping point is reached

and she decides she no longer wants the fight.




She lets loved ones in, come down the stairs, watch your step in these shadows,

this place,

where no light has shone.

Secret Dwelling. 

And then she says you can come in, too

and you step gingerly [you don't deserve to be trusted like this]

and you turn the corner

and you see it, there.




You weep for the innocence lost. You weep for the years she spent, sentenced to this dungeon, shouldering the atrocities all alone. You weep because you cannot undo it. You weep because a thousand I'm sorry's cannot remove the stench of evil. You weep hot tears whose cries for justice drown out mercy's voice.

For a later time, books and counseling, wisdom from the healing road and prayer will all find their place, will each take their turn. She'll take even bolder steps away from this place, Savior's hand held tight.

For now, Silence and Sadness are the only welcomed friends.

For now, a thousand sorry's. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Sarah's Story, part one of Stories

I am so excited to welcome you to Stories, a collection of interviews from this past fall with women I know and love. They are beautiful women, each with a unique story of hearing God speak directly into their lives. Put your feet up, lean in closely and hear a story, or two or three, over the next week, of a God who is personal, who challenges and comforts, who leads and loves. 

Here's Sarah's story (and check out the end, for an update):

Sarah, we were in a Bible study two years ago, talking about dreams God’s given us. I remember you saying that you would love to eventually have a house for pregnant teenagers. Tell me more about this dream of yours. 

Yeah, I got pregnant in high school and I had great support from my family. I saw other girls who didn’t have support and I really felt for them. There was this house called Light House for teenage pregnant women that I’d heard about that provided them with a home and prenatal care, also providing them with life skills and that kind of thing. So, I really identified with that.

I really just wanted to, at some point in my life, open a home for girls, providing them with the prenatal care up through getting them into college, or finished with high school, and getting them a job. Over the years, it’s kind of morphed into something larger, like possibly opening a restaurant there to give them business skills.

So, yeah, in my head there’s this giant dream of what my mission work could be-- it’s something I’m passionate about.

So, when you first shared about your dream a couple years ago, how close or far off did it feel?

Very far off. Extremely far off. Because financially, my husband and I just support our household, with two teenagers who still have to go through college-- how am I going to support a household full of girls that don’t have any income whatsoever?? There were other obstacles, too.

So, it was a really far off dream. And I didn’t even know how to take the first steps. I even thought, I know this is so silly, but I thought,

Oh, I’ll write Oprah and tell her what I want to do and she’ll hand me a bunch of money and then I’ll be able to do it! (laughing)

So, this summer you told me that God was really challenging you in certain areas of your life. What’s that about?

Yeah, I guess it was May or June and I was in a leadership Bible study and heard him speak-- what’s his name from Crazy Love?

Francis Chan.

Yeah, Francis Chan. That man turns me inside out every time I hear him speak. I feel overwhelmed every time I hear him speak. And I felt like God kept saying, “you need to be doing mission work, you need to be doing mission work.”

But I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out how to make that work. I have two kids, a husband, a full-time job and I’m supporting the family right now since Josh is in school.

And, to be one hundred percent honest, I wasn’t ready to sell everything I owned and live under a bridge with my family!  So, what do I do? How do I make that work? I couldn’t figure it out. And I was wrestling, and frustrated.

In July, I really felt like God laid it on my heart that I should fast for two days.

So, I was praying about mission work and also felt like God wanted me to pray about selling my car. And I’m like, selling my car?? This was my dream car—my Suburu Outback Turbo, you know, everything I had always wanted in my head.  But, after the 2 days, I felt this total peace about selling my car. I was like, I don’t need it-- we have 2 other functioning cars that are completely paid off, why are we making this other payment on something we don’t need?

If we sold the car, that would mean I could work less one day every 2 weeks, which would mean an extra day for me to do mission work. I could also save the money from the would-be car payment for a mission’s trip overseas, which was something else I wanted to be able to do, but didn’t know how to afford.

The other thing I got out of my fast was that mission work comes in various forms--it didn’t necessarily mean I had to go to overseas. There’s mission work right here where I am. I researched online and found a program called Alpha House, with a program for pregnant teenagers and adults that was almost identical to my written plan at home.

I went to their Lunch and Learn and it was amazing. I was so energized. It was everything I had wanted to see—that’s what they were providing. They have financial classes, how to cut coupons, how to cook, how to change diapers-- they’re not going to let these women fail. I emailed the director and now I volunteer 3 hours a week in their donation shop.

My hope is that, as I show up every week, serving in the background, they’ll see that I’m committed and that they’ll move me into different positions and then I’ll really have some ideas and know-how for when I open my own home.

Now I have this settled in my heart that I’m doing mission work;  I’m going to sell my car;  I’m being obedient to what God’s laid on my heart. I’m much closer to my dream than I ever was before.

How would you encourage friends of yours who are experiencing that tension? They feel like God’s calling them to do more in serving and giving, but they know they can’t sell everything and move to Africa?

So, first identify what you’re good at and what you’re passionate about. Like, if you’re not passionate about feeding homeless people, don’t go feed homeless people—you won’t stick with it, maybe that’s wrong to say, but I don’t think you’ll stick with it. Find out what it is you’re passionate about. Pray about it. Fast about it. Dig in and figure out what you want to do.

And then be obedient about it. You know, there are some days I don’t want to drive all the way down to downtown Tampa and rustle through bags of used clothes, but I know that in the end, I’m helping.  Also, find an encourager, another woman who can listen and help you build on dreams and make them happen, even if it’s little by little.

Something that was hard for me was to let it be God’s plan and not my plan. God’s plan wasn’t for me to uproot my family and move to Haiti, it was that I serve somewhere locally with Alpha House and then go to Haiti with Church at the Bay once a year or so. 

This mission thing was something I felt like I was supposed to be doing, but I didn’t know how to put it into action. Now, I know God’s given me so many answers and I have this new peace in my heart and in my stomach. 

In just a few weeks, on April 28, Sarah and her fifteen year-old son will be going to Haiti to help with the orphanage our church sponsors! SO cool!!!