Sunday, January 28, 2007

Married to the Mob

Loving other members of the “church body” can be a thorny practice filled with complexities. Most of us struggle with this idea of loving other Christians, especially those who are different from ourselves. I’ve certainly had some battles in this area and continue to seek God’s wisdom and answers. Within the last few months an analogy has come to me that has given me a clearer picture as to what it means to be part of the “body of Christ”.

Another term for the body of Christ that is used in 2 Cor.11 is the “bride of Christ”. Being part of the body of Christ is like being a partner in a marriage. When we take our vows to live as followers of Christ we are also taking a vow to love other followers of Christ (unwittingly or otherwise). The apostle Paul said, “I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law,” in Romans 7:25 The implication of the term slave is that we have no choice but to follow Christ’s commands. One of Jesus’ main commands is to “love one another,” or to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

In a marriage there are a great many choices, are there not?

A person can choose to speak solely to their spouse concerning his or her faults rather than complaining about their spouse’s faults to others. A person can choose to forgive their spouse even when their spouse has betrayed them in some way instead of withholding grace. A person can choose to resolve differences quickly rather than holding a grudge. A person can accept their spouse where they are at instead of comparing their spouse to others. A person can make a concerted effort to learn how to deal with conflict in a healthy manner instead of griping or nagging at their spouse. A person can choose to cherish, honor and love their spouse and to find ways to be an encouragement and an ally no matter what. The quality of the relationship is largely dependant upon these choices.

Being part of the body of believers requires that we make those exact same choices as we interact with one another. For the record, no, we do not have to be best friends with everyone but we do have to be loving. Just the same as in a marriage, there are boundaries. Where there is conflict we must work to resolve it. If someone is unrepentantly abusive or consistently unfaithful to Christ, we must separate ourselves from him or her. If someone wants to leave and will not listen to reason, we must let them go. These are the very few exceptions to the rule, however. For all the other times one or the other of us behaves in an unloving manner, we have no excuse. We can’t kick them out of the house for petty reasons. We do have to keep our “vows” to love one another even when things are hard.
I, (Bride/Groom), take you (Groom/Bride), to be my (wife/husband), to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward for all of eternity.

To be able to love like that, for me, requires Christ. I cannot love like that on my own.
I realize that this may sound a little crazy – radical or simplistic – but love really does conquer all. Love never fails. Love NEVER fails. Guess what? Selfishness fails. Hate fails. Indifference fails. Self-protectiveness fails. Impatience and unkindness fail. Unrighteous anger fails. The quest for knowledge and desire to conquer the unknown fails. Self-righteousness, contempt and pride fail. Have any of us ever heard of these things bringing about miraculous good?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Cheesy Love Song Rings True

I have some friends in my life who have been “the wind beneath my wings” lately, to quote a cheesy song. These two, SA and CLA have given me courage and love and grace. CLA sat with me the other night even though she was dead-tired and probably would much rather have been sleeping than trying to draw some stuff out of me. She asked me, “What do you love?” I didn’t really answer so she asked me again after listening to ten minutes of my rambling.

“What do you love?” We needed for me to get to the bottom of this. And it wasn’t a question about what do I love in ministry; it was just about what I love, period. What am I called to in life? What am I passionate about? What am I drawn to?



But how does that fit into ministry? What do I do with that? What is my role???? There isn’t a neat little box that writing fits into. I’m not J.R.R. Tolkien. I’m not Madeleine L’Engle. I’m not Ernest Hemmingway. I’m not John Donne or Milton or Shakespeare…. I’m just me. I have said no to God on this one for a long time. He has presented me with “writing” and I have flat-out refused Him:

“I don’t know what to write.”

“I’m not that great of a writer compared to X, Y or Z.”

“I don’t have time to write.”

“No one is going to want to read it anyway.”

You don’t even know how many times that I have whined these exact sentiments. Somebody call the waaaaaam-bulance!!!!

Nonetheless, there it is before me and I need the courage to take hold of it with both hands which means letting go of my pathetic “need” to grasp at some phony role as Pastor’s Wife Barbie which no one – and I mean no one – is interested in anyway. Heck, I’m not even interested in it so how could anyone else be?!

Enough about me, though. I really wanted to share how much it meant to me that CLA would go out to the stable, hitch up the horses and drag this information out of me. Not only that, but she took this information and told me to go set Pastor’s Wife Barbie on fire with matches or to use her for target practice. OK, not really but she loves me and wants me to be me. She knows how desperately unhappy I have been for so long and she cares. She does. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.

Henry David Thoreau, "Walden", 1854

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Still percolating

I’m still processing all of this information regarding roles and being part of a church body. I wish I could sit and write about it now but it’s late and I have to be somewhere in the morning.

For those of you who are desperately awaiting the next installment of Bats in the Belfry:

Is she crazy? Will she ever make sense of her life? What has she decided to do about all of this stuff?

Yes, the thoughts are still percolating but some of them are coming together. Where will I be six months from now? Will I be sitting in a cafĂ© in Paris, writing a Nobel Prize winning piece of literature? Will I be in Africa? Do I need a sabbatical? These are all possibilities. Suffice it to say, I am feeling less trapped. Less trapped=less depressed I won’t stop taking the SAMe supplements yet though. And the occasional quarter of a tablet of valerian. I do feel a sense of regret that I have allowed my self to be in bondage to a bunch of idiotic expectations all these years. Basically my entire grown life and a few of the teen years have been spent in this misery. What a waste. For any readers who are young, ditch the phony expectations. Do it now. Turn off your computer, go someplace quiet, write them all down and then burn them. Or perform some other ritual that will accomplish the same thing. And if anyone comes at you yakking about expectations, unless it is your boss or something like that… don’t be tempted to morph yourself into something that you are not like I have done over and over and over… ad infinitum.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Pastor's Wife Barbie

Understanding my “roles” in life has often been a source of confusion. For some people it appears to be pretty cut and dried: “I know that I am supposed to be a nurse.” Or, “I know that I am supposed to be a teacher.” These people go to college, graduate, and then become nurses or teachers. It may not always be fun but, for the most part, they give the impression of being fulfilled in these roles. Usually I am somewhat envious of the seeming simplicity these friends have in their life's roles.

I’ve had this role as a pastor’s wife for sometime now. I have to admit that this role is akin to trying on bathing suits in a department store after you’ve had two kids. You’re in there under the glaring fluorescent lights, tugging and pulling, adjusting; wincing as you face your derriere in the mirror… however, the flimsy bit of super strength spandex just cannot perform the miracle of making you look like the Halle Berry Catwoman Barbie Doll. And you want to look like Halle Berry Doll. (Unless, of course you are a blond, which I am not - then you want to look like a Barbie Doll.) Worse, in your pea brained head you’ve decided that the world at large wants you to look like a Halle Berry Catwoman Doll. Short of living at 24 hour fitness this is not going to happen.

It’s taken some time and research, but I have discovered that there is no Pastor’s Wife Barbie. There is a Nurse Barbie and a Teacher Barbie. There is even a Hawaiian Barbie. There are also quite a few Barbies that ought to be called Hoochie Mama Barbie, but maybe I shouldn’t be so judgmental. This information on the different Barbies leads me to believe that there are not enough little girls out there wanting to be a Pastor’s Wife to warrant making a Barbie doll. I suspect that it would be too difficult to decide what she would look like or how dowdy to make her attire. I imagine the Hoochie Mama Barbie is more marketable.

I know that I never aspired to be a Pastor’s wife as a girl. Ideas such as ballerina, gymnast, teacher - or even cashier - seemed more appealing. I was already living in the parsonage, and from my inside view it did not seem to be such a great job. There were a lot of responsibilities and too many restrictions. Funny thing though, I did think that being a missionary was a cool job. There is a lot more romance in the idea of being speared by savages; nobly eating sago grubs to be polite; or courageously rescuing little girls from becoming temple prostitutes. So exciting! Plus, you get to travel, wear different types of clothing, learn new languages, provide some medical care, teach people to read and write, and get a good tan since you’ll be living in a hut on a beach… I mean, the perks are nearly endless if you are a missionary! Being a Pastor’s wife doesn’t even begin to compare. Booooor-ing! Moreover, there is a Travel Barbie and there are a number of International Barbies which further reinforces that a Missionary Barbie may not be far off.

As for girls who do aspire to be pastor’s wives, either they know for sure that they are meant to be in this role like the nurse/teacher people or they are completely nuts. It’s possible that they may mistakenly think there is glamour and romance in the role. Again, resting my case that some of these chicks are nuts.

So, was I called to this role but didn’t get the message? Did my phone drop the call? Was my phone disconnected at the time? It could be any of these three. Your guess is as good as mine. I never wanted the job but I have it anyway. Am I really a Troll doll who ended up with a Ken Doll? Possible. Also possible is the Dashboard Hula Doll ending up with Ken Doll. I’ve been asked before, “Didn’t you know that Sean was going to be a pastor?” Are you catching the implication of that question?!? A Dashboard Hula Girl should not marry a Ken Doll. That’s what I’m hearing. I should be thwarted in love since I am not a Barbie doll? How come it’s ok to substitute GI Joe for Ken Doll but not Troll girl for Barbie? Huh? I mean, do I love the man or his job? What if he were a Sanitation Engineer? Would I still go for him?

I’m just going to say that I am the Gold Edition Missionary Barbie but I have been on a semi-permanent furlough due to Ken Doll Safari Edition Outfit not being released yet.

p.s. For the record, no I am not ripping on Sean. I’m writing about roles and their confusion not any confusion about who to marry and why. I married the man I loved (still love) regardless of the confusion down the road. Come on, you know I would have been confused whether he was a pastor or not! Few of you know this embarrassing fact but I did try to join the Armed Forces not long after we were married. Maybe all those grubs I ate as an MK (missionary kid) got to my head.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Flood Survivor

I have been struggling with depression this year. The reason I mention it "out loud" is just sheer desperation. There are so many days when I don’t want to get out of bed and once I do get up, I count the hours until I can go back to bed. Many days I wake up feeling almost as tired as when I went to bed. Most days I am filled with a dull ache; melancholy and hopelessness ruin times that should be good. It is difficult to muster any excitement about anything. Truth be told I am tired of mustering and posturing. I don’t want to wear the Mrs. Potato head smile anymore. I want to put on the angry eyes and the sad mouth and be done with it. Instead, I just sit there wishing the world would come to a screeching halt like when God sent the flood and destroyed all life on earth. And I don’t want to be Noah, the flood survivor. Have you read that story recently? Noah and his family sat on that smelly boat for an entire year. It was not just 40 days, it was an entire year. God must have been there on that boat with them because it would have been mind-numbing without Him.

Anyway, in my current life situation there are a lot of needs, events, responsibilities, etc. It is really hard to invest when I often don’t care if life goes on for another five minutes. Depression is truly horrible. It destroys your life. It steals your life. Sometimes, people do take their lives. Those are the ones who cannot take the pain, suffering, and isolation of depression anymore. I have so much compassion for those people. It’s easy to sit by and talk about how selfish they were. “Oh, how could anyone do such a thing?!?” we gasp. It’s not as if anyone ever wants to grow up and be a depressed person who is trapped in a body that betrays them and a mind that simply cannot overcome the depression by willpower alone. Anyone whose depression gets to that level feels very little quality in life. Not only that, but the person begins to feel like he is nothing more than a burden to others because he cannot function at his normal level and he grasps at encouragement with a frightening level of neediness. How is that so different from an elderly person who has to wear incontinence products; is racked with terrible physical pain and who cannot get up out of his, or her, bed even to get to the bathroom? The quality of that person’s life becomes that of agony. Life becomes a state of “survival mode”. I am NOT saying that the person is not valuable – people are valuable no matter what state they are in. They are precious and loved by God. There is no such thing to God as a loser, or a person who is trash, or a person who has outlived their usefulness. But that is fodder for another blog. I’m simply saying that pain management of any kind, in a long-term situation, is very difficult. It drains the person who is in pain and it also drains those who are caregivers.

In our culture we hear so many things like, “time is money” and about how this person, or that person, has skills to offer, or a great resume. We hear these messages over and over and they are about performance and usefulness. When we find ourselves in a place where we cannot function at our normal level and have little to offer as a result… it’s like being locked in a floating coffin for a year. If God is not in there with us, we would rather have perished in the flood because feeling useless and burdensome only adds to the depression. The solitary solution is to hold tight to God and to set the stupidity of our culture aside with all of its vain notions of what success and personal worth are. I’ve said it before and I will say it again: culture is not sacred. I know. I have lived within cultures and between cultures. There is no culture on this earth that matches God’s. God’s culture, His unchanging culture is the only one that is sacred to me.
I cannot live without it. Especially now.

Friday, January 12, 2007

"Foose-ball" and revelation

Ok, so I just watched a promo for a movie called We Are Marshall. I guess it came out in 2006. It's a movie about a college football team in a small town called Marshall. It's based on a true story about how there was a terrible plane crash; most of the players for the team were on board that plane and lost their lives that night. During the interviews of the actors in the movie they all kept saying that the football was just a backdrop for the human drama of the story. The football is really just a backdrop to everything that the people in that town were going through... Then it hit me - it was one of those moments of personal revelation - that is precisely what all of this "church stuff" is. All of the get-togethers, all of the events, all of the programs, camps, retreats, etc. - all those things are just backdrops for the human drama that continually takes place. I think that sometimes we refer to the inner workings of our lives as the "real world" because we instinctively know that the events aren't where it's at. Ultimately, the events can save no one, but the inner landscape... well, that can change the world. If we can connect with people on a deeper level while we are attending these events that is what will count. Sean told us the other night that the broad brushstrokes at the base layer are what matter - the love, friendship, and connections with others. Even if the event itself fails, when we have loved and connected to others that is what matters in the long run.

I have heard some of these ideas over and over but never quite grasped the concept of the backdrop. Sean has understood this concept for a long time and those who know him can attest to his ability to connect on deeper levels and to encourage, to teach and to be a genuinely caring friend. He is not hung up, like so many of us are, on feverishly continuing to paint the set even though the play has already begun. We should put down our brushes and be part of what is going on, either on the stage or in the audience, so to speak.

Many of us have complained about the [institution of] church and how we dislike the highly programmatic nature of so many churches today and how it just begins to feel like there’s always yet another event to attend or to volunteer for. After awhile it seems like all we are there for is to serve the event. Worse yet is when leadership begins to value the success of the event instead of how well people connected with one another, with God, and whether or not unconditional love was being demonstrated. It is truly frustrating if a group of volunteers receives a tongue-lashing because they didn’t get enough of the set painted even though they know that people came away feeling loved and valued despite how the backdrop turned out. It seems to me that we come away from the church feeling dissatisfied because we know that it is not the set that matters at all. We are struggling, we are hurting, we are seeking some answers, and we are longing for acceptance that goes way beyond a smile and a pat on the back and some trite conversation. We could care less about the backdrop.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

New Year, New Blog

Happy New Year!!
Yes, it's a new blog! Out with the old, in with the new!
I've been thinking of starting a blog for awhile now but could find no direction. Sean gave me some ideas and this is the result: Bats in the Belfry. Yes, I am saying that I feel like a crazy person at times. I am also saying that I am sure I am crazy to even post some of these deep dark thoughts from the domain of Quasimodo's belfry. Or maybe I relate to Quasimodo (a.k.a. The Hunchback of Notre Dame). Until I seek professional help we may never be sure...