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"But showing a sword doesn’t necessarily mean fighting: it can also suggest a joyful decisiveness."

The “soft” male was able to say, “I can feel your pain, and I consider your life as important as mine, and I will take care of you and comfort you,” but he could not say what he wanted and stick by it. Resolve of that kind was a different matter…

In The Odyssey, Hermes instructs Odysseus that, when he approaches Circe — who stands for a certain kind of matriarchal energy — he is to lift (or show) his sword. In the early sessions, it was difficult for many of the younger men to distinguish between showing the sword and hurting someone. One man [who was] a kind of incarnation of the spiritual attitudes of the sixties — a man who had actually lived in a tree for a year outside Santa Cruz — found himself unable to extend his arm when it held a sword. He had learned so well not to hurt anyone that he couldn’t lift the steel, even to catch the light of the sun on it. But showing a sword doesn’t necessarily mean fighting: it can also suggest a joyful decisiveness.

~ Iron John, by Robert Bly

On the World Vision Reaction: Some Bad News, Some Good News, and Some Ideas

And even when we disagree, there is a  growing desire to drop our weapons, stop waging war (against each other), and start washing feet.

I can’t say I agree with her on everything — though she does bring up some valid points — but that statement alone was worth the read.

"By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love, one to another." (John 13:35)

Love doesn’t mean “acceptance/tolerance of everything someone does,” but it does mean a willingness to serve others — especially our enemies

Musings From A Restless Heart: More Thoughts & Longings

An article a mom from church posted on Facebook provoked some thoughts of mine…

Disclaimer: I don’t have kids; this is mainly my perspective as an (outside) observer from within church.

1. It was never a decision point. We never entertained, discussed, or thought about not going or allowing our kids not to go (to church)…

What I hear is “church is mandatory under all conditions and in all circumstances.” What I fear is that this precludes the possibility of having quiet time (or other spiritual disciplines) in lieu of church attendance. Yes, I know that Hebrews 10:25 says to not give up meeting together, but how we do church now is not how is was done in the apostles’ time. Besides, I can hang out with other believers and still not give up meeting together. Also, it’s possible to have ministry time during church hours but outside the building…

2. Each one has their own personal relationship with Jesus. Jesus did this one. They have encountered His reality at a young age for themselves. So they go to church because they love to worship Him.

This is absolutely mandatory. If you do not have your own personal relationship with God — and also encourage your children to have one, too — then they won’t. What happens then is that church attendance (see #1) becomes an exercise in routine instead of a way to connect deeply with other believers.

3. We talk about real issues, even the tough ones. I find this young generation wants help with the tough issues that are hot buttons. So at our house ….and our church….we talk about the tough stuff. Not just the religious stuff.

I would love to see this one become true in every building that proclaims the name of Jesus. Alas, however, it shall not be so. I’ve heard pastors say from the pulpit that they have no tolerance for people who struggle, and I can imagine someone who struggles a lot saying, “Fine. You don’t tolerate my struggle, then I won’t bother you with it.” I would love for what I referred to as “postmodern Christianity" to become the norm, but until you make room for such questions, they will not surface beyond anyone’s hearts (least of all the kids’).

4. They serve with their own jobs at church. Our kids carry significant responsibilities of servant leadership from a young age. They are not just hanging around. It matters to them… and to others… when they show up.

This is not just about accomplishing things, but also about the relationships you build with people while you’re serving together.

5. It’s an adventure for our family. Passion is contagious. Doug and I find serving Jesus to be the most exciting real life drama ever imaginable!! Kids and teens love adventure. Authentic Kingdom of God participation is exciting, daring, risky, joyful, and challenging. And we love it!

This is a biggie — you have to recover the daring nature of the gospel. God will ask you to do things that seem out of the ordinary or out of your comfort zone. Part of this accomplishes his plans on the Earth, part of it accomplishes his workings in your heart. Never forget, though, that relationship with God always trumps busyness for him.

6. The Bible is a part of our daily life. We have family devotions at least four times a week. Prayer and Bible reading are daily habits for us all. So why wouldn’t we want to be with the other believers on Sunday morning?

This seems like a plug for #1, but I gotta quote Eldredge on this one.

Speaking of the idea that heaven is “the eternal church service in the sky,” John notes that the (accepted) final verse of Amazing Grace alludes to the fact that we will be singing for 10,000 years.

"Church is okay, but a weekend in Maui beats it hands down."

So does watching Braveheart, Gladiator, The Matrix, Fight Club, The Avengers, or any other movie full of adventure. Why? Because it holds more excitement than sitting and listening to someone rehash the same old thing (again).

But if you can find a way to make the Word come alive and relate the absolute truth in it to my life, show me how to apply it and how it leads me to a deeper relationship to Jesus (John 5:39, and not just SOAP — remember, relationship > busyness!), then I’m all in.

Don’t treat it like a rulebook of tips & techniques for “your best life now” because the “good life” is found in a relationship with God — and nowhere else.

7. Our church is not big into entertainment. We don’t tickle ears or entertain. We study hard, play hard, cry hard, and laugh hard. Everyone knows we live in an over-entertained culture. So we don’t even try to “compete” as entertainment.

Entertainment is one thing, but what about cutting loose and just having fun every now and then?

I know people to whom church is everything, and they come across as one-dimensional. I mean, is there anything else that you care about?!

Don’t get me wrong, because Jesus is important, but God didn’t create us to be robots. What are you passionate about? What gets you fired up?

She says she studies, plays, cries, and laughs hard.

Where’s the light-heartedness? Does everything have to be at 100% intensity, or does God want us to shoot for 1st, 2nd, or 3rd gear sometimes instead of 4th, 5th, and 6th?

8. Our relationships are strong. This one is tough but real. Because we have healthy relationships at home, no one is wanting to rebel against us by the one way they know could hurt us the worst. Forsaking God.

I feel as if #8 and #9 are connected. Open, loving relationships (#8) will breed honesty (#9) about tough questions (#3).

And this one is incredibly tough to fake (if that’s even possible). Your words will speak volumes about your actions, especially if the two don’t mesh. I’ve heard of kids struggling with something and not telling their parents for over a year.

If you preach relationships but your family doesn’t have that kind of honesty, what does that say about how you live?

9. We are honest about the dry moments. Doug and I are transparent about our spiritual ups ….and our spiritual downs. Everyone has valleys and mountains.

With either too much emphasis on breakthrough or difficulty, it can be tedious finding just the right balance for how much to focus on the subjective experiences versus the objective truths & realities that are not always so easy to perceive. But like I mentioned in comments to #3, when you have people in leadership telling laymen that there’s no tolerance for struggle — or pastors don’t admit that they have any struggles of their own — expect people to stagnate where they are and have difficulty getting up when they fall.

10. We don’t run church down with our mouths. People mess up sometimes. And sometimes people in our lives abandon us. Learning to handle the messy moments of spiritual warfare and relationship pain as a family is critical. We must help our children process the frailties of our brothers and sisters. But we best not find ourselves gossiping, complaining, backbiting or murmuring. Or why would our children want to come along??

I get to this point where “gossiping, complaining, backbiting, or murmuring” are discussed and I wonder how much of what I’ve done here falls into that category. There are lots of things I would love to see different about churches I’ve been a part of, but leaders have to be open to change (meaning they have to be willing).

This point definitely rings true in the sense of Proverbs 24:17 and Philippians 2:14-15, and in that, I agree.

But at the same time, my heart longs to express what I feel is unaccepted in certain circles, yet I wish to share my thoughts and longings with others (hence this post).

Perhaps someone will read what I have written and it will change how they see things — and if so, great.

But if not, at least I have clarified my thoughts to my diary, and I know that God hears my cries for something more…

When I saw this on Slow Robot, I immediately wanted to comment:

I’ll believe this when both men and women value what’s on the inside more than the outside.

I’d take a plain-looking woman with a heart of gold over any bombshell who has learned to be shallow in order to protect herself from those who only drink from her well — instead of putting water in it.

So yeah, that’s totally not how I thought that comment would play out once it flowed from my heart to my fingers.

It’s true that men are drawn to beauty; Eve was the crescendo of Creation and continues to be the reflection of God’s beauty and tenderness. Even king David stated that the one thing he desired and sought after was to abide in the house of God in order to behold God’s beauty (Psalm 27:4).

I recall seeing one of the students at the school I taught — a pretty young girl, to be sure — and I remember feeling sorry for her because I had the impression that people would always want to be around her because of her looks, not because of the quality of who she was beneath the surface.

I am, by no means, saying that it’s wrong to be good-looking. We wouldn’t be attracted to people who are (handsome or) beautiful if God hadn’t placed that desire for beauty somewhere deep inside our hearts.

But through repeated attempts at boys — and, later, men — who will try to drink from her well, that pretty girl may learn to offer only part of herself, always on her guard. If that goes on long enough, she may not even be able to “let her hair down” when a genuine man comes to rescue her heart.

"Brainy" is not the new sexy, as Sheldon Cooper wouldn’t make a good husband (besides, his girlfriend, Amy, is chronically dissatisfied with aspects of their relationship, no matter how smart he is).

No, mysterious yet vulnerable is (the classic) sexy. A woman who can be alluring and yet, at the same time, be mysterious, is truly gem to find. She finds a way to keep a man interested and yet on his toes (in a good way). She’s generous with her heart to those who are worthy of her vulnerability, and they recognize her for the treasure she is.

Are all women worthy to be treated in such a way? Yes.

As a gentleman (who emphasizes class & respect above swag & ego), I implore you, men, to treat all women in the same manner you would want someone else to treat your wife, daughter, or mother — worthy of honor for being the “weaker vessel.”

* In scripture a “vessel” is simply a container, such as a bowl or jar. A strong vessel would be difficult to break, such as a modern-day reusable water bottle. A weak one, however, would be likened to porcelain or fine china — prized for it’s beauty and delicacy. Not all women fit into this category in a cookie-cutter type way, but the desire to be beautiful is still there…

…so treat her as if she were already worthy of it.

So, I don’t technically hate Christmas music (or holiday music, for that matter); I just don’t particularly care for it.

You could say it’s because I didn’t grow up with it (I didn’t start following Jesus until college), or that it’s still a hangover from my “too cool” phase in high school.

Whatever.

But it wasn’t until the other day that I figured out why I don’t like it.

And it’s not even the fact that it’s related to Christmas, because there are certain (individual) songs that I do like.

I will be the first person to admit — or, at least, agree with you if you said it — that Jesus’ birth was something to celebrate (reference Luke 2:8-14). I mean, he invaded the kingdom of darkness as a helpless infant…

However — and here’s where my dislikes begin to surface — if it was such a big deal, why not celebrate it all year? Why limit that celebration to an approximate one-month period?

Because let’s face it, Christmas music should never be played until the month of Christmas… #sarcasm

Perhaps it’s the formal/rigid “it’s only acceptable to play it during the Christmas season” kinda thing that bugs me (I don’t deal well with formality).

If celebrating the “Christmas spirit” is so great, why not do it year-round?

“I think we’ll make this whole situation a lot simpler by agreeing not to lie to each other”:

If listening to music puts people in the “Christmas spirit,” and then, when the season is over, they go back to their old ways, how valuable was that music to them in the long run? At best, it covered up the underlying issues deeper down in their hearts, and, at worst, they were actively faking it for a season.

Let’s not forget about those who have lost loved ones or are missing family members during this season; I doubt they will be plastering on smiles just because they are supposed to

It’s almost as if people are expected to be nice and happy to each other because it’s the right thing to do (which it is), but when the season is over, we revert back to our previous ways of handling each others’ hearts.

Shallow.                                        

So if you like Christmas music, then you do your thing and enjoy yourself for the next couple weeks. Really.

For me, however, I’ll go on doing my own thing and enjoying the music that I genuinely enjoy — not because society or others expect it of me — and I’ll try to remember every day of the year that Christ came to this world and gave himself as a sacrifice for me…

* I don’t feel like this is very polished writing (for me), but I wanted to hammer out some thoughts and feelings toward something that I only recently realized. So, thanks for “listening.”

Longing hides like an insect;
While asleep,
you don’t notice that it stings you.

Sehnsucht (pronounced “zane-zookt”), by Rammstein

"[Sehnsuct] is an unusual (German) word that is hard to translate, for it expresses a deep longing or craving for something that you can’t quite identify and that always feels just out of reach," like "a vague and bittersweet nostalgia and/or longing for a distant country, but one that cannot be found on Earth" or "a quasi-mystical sense that we — and our present world — are incomplete, combined with an unattainable yearning for whatever it is that would complete it.” ~ Gregory Boyd, The Benefit of the Doubt

Divided: An Open Letter to the Disaffected Youth of the Church

This is a response letter that rose up in my heart a few months ago regarding the rule-keeping that I see peddled in churches as “the gospel” instead of the living, breathing, vibrant relationship with God that we were meant to enjoy.

Pastors Need an Attitude Adjustment (New York Times article)

Part of me feels like pouring my heart out right now about how badly I want to see the changes that this article recommends.

I want to subtitle this post My Longing for a Postmodern Christianity, not in the sense of it being relativistic, but that those from a postmodern culture will feel at home with its welcoming vibe and at-home nature when it comes to those difficult questions without answers:

Regarding the four points of complaint —

1. “You judge me — even before you know me.”
2. “You’re not interested in my thoughts or questions. You only want to lecture me.”
3. “The church is filled with posers and know-it-alls.”
4. “I don’t experience God at church.”

— I can definitively say that I’ve felt every one of them from pastors.

1. “You judge me — even before you know me.”

The judging may be implied, but when you constantly talk about how great you are, and how you’re walking in victory and God’s power, those who aren’t sometimes can’t help but feel condemned about how they’re not. Don’t get me started on people being told that “stress is a sin” because they’re not trusting God enough — as if that ever helped anyone…

2. “You’re not interested in my thoughts or questions. You only want to lecture me.”

When you ask for feedback and don’t pay attention to it, the unspoken message is that you don’t really want advice on how to better-reach us because you’re going to do what you want, anyway. I’m slowly learning that you can’t teach old dogs new tricks, though…

3. “The church is filled with posers and know-it-alls.”

The people I’ve seen aren’t necessarily posers, but they’ve acted like know-it-alls. I mean, when you flat-out refuse to read certain books because the people don’t meet a certain spiritual criteria, you judge and dismiss the reality that “God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty” (1 Corinthians 1:27). And these are books you could stand to read, but that’s beside the point.

Icing on the cake: I heard a pastor say once — from the pulpit — that they didn’t have any tolerance for people who struggle (reference #1 above).

4. “I don’t experience God at church.”

For the most part, yeah. There’s a lot of factors that go into that, but it’s not exactly helped by the above three issues. I wish that the encounters were encouraged from a more heart-centered perspective and that it wasn’t always about [a] living like a slave (focusing on what God wants you to do), or [b] physical healing (God works with who we are beneath the surface, too).

It’s been a long time since I’ve heard a message about how to have a closer relationship with God, or how to pray (everyone could benefit from those).

And as for the four recommendations…

1. Radical hospitality.

I’ve mentioned our ridiculously driven church culture before. Even conversing with a friend I’ve known pretty much since I became a believer (and have known through at least 3 churches), he said, “It’s hard to connect in a church with no small groups.” Part of me would love nothing more than for my church to offer small groups because it would give me a chance to dialogue with other members and connect with them in a real way — i.e., not staring at the back of their heads for an hour while we all (silently) listen to someone lecture us.

2. Fearless conversation.

See #1 just above. But also, I’d like the chance to have some brutally honest, no-holds-barred talk about what the unspoken cultural rules are (part of which involves an unusual friendship that I have).

Case-in-point, the guy who does the announcements referenced Hebrews 10:25 as a reason to continue coming to church.

Um, excuse me, but you can fellowship outside church, too!

I also want to feel like my questions will be accepted and answered honestly; don’t resort back to issue #1 when I ask a question that lets on that what I believe under the surface doesn’t match what you’re peddling. I want someone to walk with me and help me find the answer, not give me a generic, “Read the scriptures and quote God’s promises” formula.

I feel so missed as a person when I see that.

3. Genuine humility.

Yes, yes, yes.

I sat under a pastor for over a year once before I heard him speak of anything that he struggled with. For someone whose life is primarily struggle, that’s how they’re going to relate to you — your stories of overcoming struggles help others to realize that it’s possible.

And admit that your don’t have the formulaic solution to everything (e.g., reading and quoting scripture). I’ll be the first to admit that breakthrough is possible, but it’s not a 100% guarantee.

4. Divine anticipation.

It’s not all about physical healing.

I had a pastor tell me once that telling someone that their heart is good won’t help them get healed.

Well, that’s not the bloody point, now is it?!

It’s about encountering a God who cares about not only who we are underneath, but how we connect with him there.

"In the end, fewer people are drawn to the church as an institution, or a building, or a performance. But they do yearn for God and an authentic community of the faithful."

If you care to share, what has your experience been?

The Father Effect by John Finch. A short film about the tremendously important role that fathers play in the lives of their children.

Highlights:

"A lack of words, a lack of affirmation can be a curse. When dad’s not there, what he’s actually saying to you, that you hear loud and clear — even if he never says it — is you’re not worth it to me to be here.”

"Me not having a dad really excluded me from really believing in anything bigger than me." ~ 24-year-old CJ

"Why couldn’t you tell me (that) you loved me?" ~ what an 84-year-old man stated when prompted for a question he would ask his father.

"Ignore them. Abandon them. Treat them as someone who doesn’t matter. And that child perceives he (or she) doesn’t matter unless they get personalized, one-on-one, independent, uninterrupted time with dad." ~ response of a counselor when asked, "What is the worst thing a father can do to his children?"

"I think fathers make a mistake when they think that things will be a good substitute for themselves."

The hardest, gladdest thing in the world is, to cry Father! from a full heart. ~ George MacDonald

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” ~ Romans 8:15

Handshake Yourself!

So I visited a friend’s church this morning because of an invitation I received. I know this man fairly well, so I had no problem sitting with him and his family during service.

However, when the “meet & greet” time came, I intentionally stayed seated and folded my hands in my lap.

You see, I’m an introvert who hates small talk and shallow interactions with people I don’t know. I loathe meet & greet time with every fiber of my being because the “hellos” and “good mornings” don’t mean anything to me; they seem forced to begin with, and living life from an “ought to” is something I’ve never been a big fan of.

Admittedly, I shook the hands of the three people who offered them to me despite my (I would think) obvious intention to not become involved in this tradition. The woman sitting two seats down from me wasn’t so daring (or, at least she correctly read and respected my body language).

It was the gentleman who held the door for me when I left the building after service that was straw that broke this camel’s back.

Part of it is the fact that I’ve heard that shaking hands spreads more germs than kissing. I’m also particular about my hands and will wash them when they start to feel grungy (this usually happens after 2 or 3 class periods of teaching middle school).

Another part of it is the fact that physical touch is one of my love languages. If you are someone that I know, then you have a certain amount of leeway for invading my personal space.

However, if I don’t know you and you invade my space, I don’t take it too well. This happened recently when someone from church told me happy birthday and tried to hug me. It wasn’t my birthday, and I never speak more than 3 sentences to this person on any given Sunday, so they had no currency to enter my personal space bubble so audaciously.

Back to the handshaking…

I’m starting to wonder if I just need to be a “jerk” and decline people’s unsolicited handshakes. I mean, we’re not at a business meeting, and I’m not interested in networking.

But someone will surely say, “Hey, that would be rude!”

Probably.

But invading my personal space is rude, too: just because you offer me a handshake doesn’t automatically obligate me to give it a friendly wiggle.

As comedian Christian Finnegan pointed out, when someone comes up to you and offers a high five, they become upset if you decline: “Hey, don’t leave me hanging, bro!” (Feel free to read that in your best frat-boy voice.)

Finnegan’s response?

“I’m sorry, but when did this become my responsibility?”

Spurning a hand that I have no desire to shake is like passing up an invitation to a party that I didn’t want to attend in the first place: I’m not going to show up and be miserable the whole time just to placate someone’s social sensibilities.

Perhaps I need to read Adam McHugh’s books, Introverts In The Church (it is on my wishlist already).

Or maybe I need to be more of jerk in this regard. That’s okay, because Christianity has too many nice guys, anyways…

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