I usually have a reasonable idea of what I’m about to write when I start a blog – but today, I don’t have any anecdotes or well-formed thoughts, just the seed of a thought that’s been sitting with me for a number of months. So here goes.
I, like many of you, have over the past 15 years or so, been on a journey of ‘deconstruction’ (which, sidenote, is a word I’m so ready to be done with…perhaps we could give it a new name, something German sounding like ‘schnarffleffen’) – a process where I have never once questioned Jesus or God, but have unpacked the version of Jesus or God that was presented to me in my formative years.
Over this time, I have pendulumed between more liberal and orthodox views, and in recent years, I feel like I’ve reconstructed my faith in a lot of ways, and have come to a quite settled theological worldview. It is from this place that I am observing a wing of, what I can only call, ex-Christian spirituality. It’s a whole bevy of people that have come up through evangelicalism and have found that reality and their experiences don’t line up with the party line that they were taught. And as a result of this, they have adopted a spirituality that includes aspects of many religions, as well as still thinking Jesus is great.
I actually think I have a fairly open view of God in a lot of ways, in fact some would call me a downright liberal. Do I think that God is found in much more than the four walls of the church and between the two covers of the bible? Absolutely. Do I think that people encounter Jesus all the time but don’t know that it’s him? Yes. Would I be surprised to discover people from other religions and faiths having a relationship with Christ in way that they would describe differently to ‘Christianity’? Not at all. Am I okay with people referring to God as ‘her’? Sure.
But I think the whole ‘all spirituality is good spirituality’ thing sits a little uncomfortably with me for a number of reasons. Firstly, it all just seems so untethered. There’s no anchor. To me, Jesus is always the anchor – he’s the reference point, the bottom line, the litmus test. Does this mean that the teachings of Buddha or Confucius don’t hold some truth? Absolutely not. But everything gets run through the filter of Jesus.
Another thing that I find uncomfortable is the very important distinction between ‘God lives in me’ and ‘I am part-God’; a subtle but very important difference. In ex-Christian spirituality, I have observed a thought that essentially says, ‘I am Divine’. A lot of this is probably a knee-jerk reaction to the teachings of the church that have wrongly hammered into us that we’re all ground-dwelling worms that feed on the excrement of pond-scum. I guess the way that I think of it, is that I am not essentially ‘good’, but I am irrevocably loved and valued. I was created with love, care and intention, but I am also, let’s face it, almost incurably selfish. A lot of the ‘good’ things I do are at heart a mixture of wanting to follow the example of Jesus, and because I have learned that doing good things pays really good dividends…in friendships, reciprocity and good feelings. I am deeply loved and held, and I am also not Jesus.
My heart isn’t to throw anyone under the bus; I recognise that the undertaking of a deconstruction journey often results from the wounds inflicted by our church experiences and is deeply intertwined with our views of self. I also believe that such a journey is a necessary one. I guess what I’m trying to say here, is that I believe it is possible to deconstruct (schnarffleffen) our faith, while still remaining tethered to Jesus, and fully reliant on the pure goodness that only comes from him.
I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts and experiences on this one!!
Love Deb x
(Originally posted on Sheology.co)
If I’m to be honest, I have an ambivalent relationship with dreams. Second only to my dream of being the sixth, only female (and spectacularly mulleted) member of New Kids on the Block, my very greatest childhood dream was to be locked in the local Foodtown Supermarket overnight. While other kiddos were counting sheep, I would lie in bed at night and plot my route from the choccy biscuits, chips, pick’n’mix, fizzy drinks and chocolate bars. Needless to say, neither of these dreams was ever realised, and my childish dreams gave way to the more realistic dreams that maturity brings.
The most heartfelt dream I ever possessed was that of being married. My mum got married at 20, and for some reason I had my heart set on also getting married at 20 (Spoiler alert – I did meet the love of my life and got married one month shy of my 29th birthday). I remember a preacher once saying that the gap between expectation and reality is tension – and each year that passed my ideal age of marriage, the tension and sadness within me grew.
The problem was that my dream had turned from the proverbial dangling carrot – something providing hope and motivation, to a whip that taunted me with reminders of my inadequacies, failures, and inability to control factors which were outside of my control. I got my priorities out of order, and gave my dream the power to make or break me. In many ways, my dream became an idol and sat in the place in my heart reserved for Jesus.
We live in a cultural climate where oftentimes our hopes and dreams are given the same sort of gravity as the quest for the Holy Grail. In some circumstances it is even considered noble to sacrifice everything – our relationships, obligations and moral code, in the pursuit of our aspirations. Yet, when we allow the pursuit of our dreams to surpass our pursuit of Jesus, they become the breeding ground for dissatisfaction and blind us to the joys of the present. I could kick myself now for allowing myself to waste so many of my child-free, care-free, responsibility-light, and time-rich years wallowing in the misery of my singleness.
Taking a moment to get a little curious about what is driving the pursuit of our dreams is an excellent way to ensure they stay in healthy perspective. The answer to the following question can bring us huge insight: “When this dream has finally been realised, I will feel ____________.” Because when it comes down to it, a lot of the time that we are chasing ‘dreams’, we’re actually chasing a feeling. We want to feel accomplished, vindicated, satisfied, secure, loved, smart, acknowledged, happy, settled, or any combination of a million different feelings. It’s not bad to want these feelings, heck, I certainly do! We just run into trouble when we look for any of these feelings from a source other than the complete love and contentment that is offered to us in Jesus.
The feelings that come to us when a dream is fulfilled are lovely, but ultimately temporary. When we see a dream realised, we enjoy the feelings for a while, but the underlying need in our soul is only temporarily satiated, and it gets hungry again – so off we go in search of a differing feeling/dream in the hope that we will find a more permanent satisfaction.
The beauty of putting our quest for Jesus above our quest for anything else is that He has the resources, ability and desire to meet our deepest needs. When Jesus is meeting the cry of our heart, our dreams are free to become a life-giving, motivating, colourful and enchanting part of our story.
And in fact, I have discovered that when I am chasing first Jesus and His Kingdom, he provides me with the fulfilment of dreams that I never even knew that I had. One beautiful example of this is my job writing for a counselling app – not only would I never have dreamed that a job like that even existed, I also get to work from home, helping people from my kitchen table, while earning enough to pay for lovely little luxuries (like holidays to New Zealand) for my wee family. Jesus, in his kindness, knows better than I do what will feed my soul and light up my life.
It’s best to remember that our dreams are there to serve us, not enslave us. So, friends, let’s put our dreams in the correct place in our priorities, and allow them to put the icing on the cake of our lives of pursuit of Jesus. Because he will never leave us empty, or dissatisfied – He will fill us with the contentment, satisfaction and joy that we are seeking.
Love you friends,
I have been eating up the work of John Mark Comer and Mark Sayers lately. They have a Podcast called, ‘This Cultural Moment’ (I HIGHLY recommend) in which they look at what it takes to be a disciple of Jesus in our current cultural climate. In the episode I listened to this morning (at 6.00am while hiking up our local mountain – which has to be mentioned, because I forgot to take a selfie) they mention that for human flourishing, three ‘tanks’ need to be full; freedom – as in freedom of choice, individuality, expression etc., meaning, and community. I’m sure one could argue for other tanks, like food for example, but at the risk of indulging my contrarian nature, I shall digress.
They go on to say that in our current Western climate, the freedom ‘tank’ is full to overflowing, and as a result, the ‘meaning’ and ‘community’ tanks are suffering. This got me thinking about how true I have found this to be in my own life. Parenting is a prime example; it is, as I often say, the very worst and the very best. In this framework, you could say that this is because while the freedom ‘tank’ is totally plundered by my tiny baboons, the loss is well made-up by the massive deposit in the ‘meaning’ tank…but you can’t have the meaning, without the loss of freedom.
Another example of this is prayer; I have found a liturgy of prayer to be extremely meaningful and peace-making in my life, however I feel the restraint of sticking with it and am legit tempted to grab my phone at regular intervals. My free time is, by my own choice, being used towards a discipline from which I reap substantial benefits, but it takes the loss of small freedoms in order to achieve the reward of meaning.
The point that I take away from all of this, is the reminder that the constraints we face in life can actually be for our benefit. I know that sounds like some form of heresy given the world in which we live – a world in which unlimited personal freedom is Mecca. The problem is that we so often can’t enjoy the beauty and simplicity that God has provided for in this life, unless we have something with which to contrast it. I have never enjoyed sitting in my back yard, breathing the clean air and watching the trees so much as since I have battled with chronic illness. The restraint of physical symptoms has allowed me to find meaning and beauty in things I once took for granted.
Creativity is another such area which flourishes under constraints. We have a buddy that wrote and produced one of the most creative, intricate and peaceful albums I have ever heard using just his voice and one old electric guitar. The limitation of instrumentation brought his creativity to a remarkable place. Similarly (although not comparing my cooking to the aforementioned album), the elimination of grains, sugar and carbs from my diet due to health, has caused me to get really creative with inventing meals that are within the confines of my diet, but still taste delicious…(well, I think they’re delicious, however getting Caleb to try one of my keto ‘treats’ is like pulling teeth – and I gave Judah some of my keto ice-cream once, to which he responded, “Mum…is this an actual treat?”)
So, let’s be encouraged today friends, that whatever constraints and limitations we find around our lives, it’s possible, just possible, that our lives wouldn’t actually be as meaningful without them.
I have been aware of a nagging sense of discontent in my soul of late. I think it’s probably been there for ages, but as the fog of chronic illness lifts, I am better able to see it. It’s a longing for my life to be different; more full, more productive, more exciting, more fun. I miss my old life when I was younger, was firmly entrenched in a solid crew of friends, and had more invites to events than I cared to attend. Yet, if I am honest with myself, I remember that there was a nagging (sometimes raging) discontent in those times also; I wanted to be married, to own a house and live in America(!). In fact, if I am even more honest with myself, I will come to the conclusion that what I think I need is the free time, energy, health and social status of my younger years, coupled with the current blessings of marriage, family, our own home and a decent education. I want the very best bits of each stage of my life to converge into the present. I want these things because my heart, mind, soul and brain has been tricked into thinking that that is what they need to be content.
When I am in a grotty patch of migraines, I feel strangely more content; resigned to the fact that I can only just barely keep my head above water trying to live and keep two little dudes alive. When my treatment kicks in, the discontent starts squirming and making its presence known. I know that I won’t just be stumbling from day-to-day, waiting until I can stumble into a dark room with an ice-pack on my head. I am aware that I could attend events, I could work a productive job, I could get fitter, I could become more social, and attractive, and popular, and successful. My health would allow me the chance to chase after the things that I so regularly pursue to provide what I think I need for joy and contentment.
Fill in the blank, my life would be more complete/joyous/full if only __________ (I was married/married to someone else/single, I owned a home/boat/car/full head of hair, I was skinnier/stronger/healthier/smarter/prettier/funnier/more popular, I was understood/appreciated/valued, I had a best friend/10,000 followers on Instagram/naturally long and full eyelashes/the magical ability to eat hot chips without gaining weight, I had kids/did not have kids, I had more responsibility/more adventure and less responsibility…).
Unfortunately, when we chase after any of the above and more to fulfil our lives, it’s like sitting down to a meal of lollipops…immediately gratifying and very appealing, but ultimately leaves you with an emptiness within and a longing for something more. The world around us is endlessly whispering to us and enticing us to find life in a million different ways. We get addicted to the sweetness and instant gratification of receiving life from anything other than God, but we end up chasing the proverbial dangling carrot.
I recently listened to an excellent sermon by Tim Keller on the wounded spirit (you can find it on YouTube). In it, he parallels the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden with the Cross on which Jesus died. He suggests that the Tree of Life, which is cut off to us by deciding to live life on our own terms, becomes fully accessible to us through the sacrifice of Jesus. That is SUCH good news!! Do you know what this meant to me? On the one hand, it is clear that I am going to have to do some work diverting my thoughts away from the ways I habitually seek contentment, but on the other hand, it gives me GREAT joy!! Because it means that the longings I have within do not need to remain going unmet, my discontent can be fulfilled, I can eat from the Tree of Life. Jesus can, and wants to be, my everything. I can give up the exhausting, relentless and ultimately fruitless pursuit of the intangible. Now, that is great hope indeed!
Bless you friends,
I love being right. It’s one of my favourite things ever. The allure of things such as quiz nights and games like Pictionary is the chance to be rewarded for rightness. It’s something inherent in my personality, I was always very black and white in my younger days. It’s something that must have made me insufferable at times – you know, that kid that’s raising their hand so high to answer a question that it looks like they’re about to pop a fufu. As with most characteristics, there is both a shadow side, and a strength side to this. Along with my moral policing of my friends, it also meant that I had a hunger for truth and a conviction to live out what I believed to be right.
I recently listened to a podcast called ‘The War is Over, if you Want it to be,’ by Brian Zahnd (Word of Life Church – I highly recommend, btw). Amongst other things, he highlights the current social media climate, pointing out that it seems that for many of us, rightness trumps relationship (no pun intended). Ouch. That got me. Although my black and whiteness of yesteryear has long become much more nuanced, I realised that my mind has been following some really unhealthy tracks in this regard. I often feel genuinely justified in thinking that it’s ok to disregard authentic relationship with people that act in a way that I perceive as wrong. At times I almost convince myself that Jesus stands on my side and would back me up 100%. Which is pretty sick.
It’s not that rightness doesn’t matter; I believe it really does. But things get a bit blurry when the issues we are willing to battle over are often a matter of perception. Do I believe in absolute truth? Yes. Absolutely. However, none of us individually have the all-encompassing global view and insight on any one issue that would constitute complete understanding.The irony that strikes me is that if younger me got the chance to meet me now, we wouldn’t see eye-to-eye on so many things. So many. I was passionately convinced of so many things that I now know were just plain wrong (like my conviction that I had a future as a gymnast – despite the fact I couldn’t do a cartwheel or touch my toes).
My best friend at primary school was from a Mormon family, and I remember us having a conversation one day trying to figure out what the differences between our faiths were. After a short discussion, she said that their bible had Mary Magdalene in it, while I said I thought ours was just Mary. End of discussion. Sorted. And on we went with our merry friendship. I LOVE that! What mattered was not who was right or wrong, despite the fact that we obviously didn’t really have a handle on our respective religions; what mattered was that we were buddies.
When you look at the New Testament, it’s so very clear that Jesus was much more interested in loving people first, and from that place he taught truth. He was happy just hanging out with people, regardless of the fact they were oftentimes societal outcasts, and most certainly not your average pew-dweller. In fact, you only see him getting super shirty with the Pharisees; the people who were obsessed with being right. Let this be a lesson to us all – and a red flag next time we’re tempted to start standing on our righteous soap boxes at the risk of breaking relationship.
Our search for truth is vitally important; but not nearly as important as our quest to live out a Kingdom life by loving people the way Jesus did.
With the occasion of Thanksgiving I had planned to pen a cute and peppy wee list detailing the things for which I am grateful. However, as I pondered this list, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Not because I am not grateful for a million things; I absolutely am. All the usuals; Jesus, family, friends, a lovely home, food on the table, clothes on my back, health etc. But somehow as I considered my list, there was no energy behind it. It would be rote and from my head. Because my heart these days is suffering from what I can only describe as ‘ennui’. (Gilmore Girls super-fans, you’re welcome).
My health turned a corner at about 21 weeks pregnant, and I only face migraines roughly once a fortnight, as opposed to the daily battle that was occurring prior to now. So I’m not as sick as I was. But I’m tired. So tired. I sleep about 10 hours every night and then nap for at least an hour during the day. Doing almost anything requires what feels like a superhuman effort. To add to this, the weather has turned. It is on the verge of snowing on a regular basis, the sky is icy and unfriendly, and my 3 year old has just discovered for the first time that he really doesn’t like going for walks in the cold anymore. I feel housebound, deflated, purposeless and there’s a newborn on the way. Help me Rhonda.
Whilst out for a wee walk (waddle) the other day I was pondering the things for which I am thankful. The train of thought followed something like what I have detailed above; I have a list in my head, but it feels devoid of warmth, so what then do I really feel grateful for in my heart at this moment? And the answer? Redemption.
No matter what craziness happens to us, around us, in us or through us, Jesus is in the most hope-inducing business of making the broken whole, beautiful, purposeful, radiant. I know this to be true, not just because the biblical narrative is predominantly a redemption story, but also because my own life narrative has already taken some stunningly redemptive turns. When I look at the state of my inner and outer world over time, I see formerly painful and dark areas I had just accepted as normal, now peaceful, flourishing and light-filled. This has been purely the result of Jesus’ redeeming work in my world. This gives me such hope.
The thing that fills my heart with joy, is that this journey from death to life is not just for my world, but for the people around me, our societies, cultures, and ultimately for the earth itself. Outside a school down the road, I was struck several months ago at a little plant root that had grown up through the asphalt. Even despite the best efforts of a bunch of hot bitumen, this tiny wee plant had raised its tiny head and cracked through to find the light. And so shall my heart. And yours. Maybe not today, maybe not in the near future, but barring all else, most definitely in eternity. Although, can I just say hurrah and thanks be that Jesus does give us great hope, and often beautiful resolution in the here and now!?
So as I go about the days ahead, as grey and murky as they feel right now, I will continue to look for the small glimmers of redemption that are popping their heads above the clouds. And I will remember that those glimmers represent a tiny portion of what will one day be full restoration. Amen.
I’ve purposely steered clear away from engaging in any political comment on Facie regarding the coming election. Although, I think I may have mentioned something over a year ago when I genuinely thought it was a joke that Donald Trump was running. The whole thing is making me feel tired on the inside. All the fear-mongering, nay-saying, predictions of certain doom (and its best friend gloom).
I told Caleb recently that although I’m trying to make writing a regular discipline, I only want to blog when I actually have something to say. And today, I really want to say something. I know that I’m only adding my voice to the millions. I’m hoping that this will be a non-anxious voice.
The thing that keeps hitting me in the face, is that as Christ-followers, this changes NOTHING about the way Jesus has called us to live. If anything, it highlights it. Earlier this year when I was having some medical issues, the doctor told me that it looked like I had a mass on the south wall of my bladder (who knew your bladder had a south wall?). It was unusual, and they couldn’t rule out cancer. I had to wait several days before I could get in to see a urologist for what was an unmentionably uncomfortable procedure (except to say that it involved a camera…and my bladder…). We were driving home from church the day after the initial scan, and I just remember saying to Caleb, “This doesn’t change anything. If I do have cancer, it’s gonna suck so much. But it doesn’t change the way Jesus has asked me to live. It doesn’t change his goodness, eternity, or His long term plan. It will change what daily life looks like, but it doesn’t change the fundamentals.”
I’m not saying the current election won’t have massive ramifications on America and the world. My little knowledge on the inside workings of US Politics largely comes from The West Wing (and on that note, may I just say, ‘Bartlett for President’?) But I do understand that there are implications for the future of the Supreme Court, unborn children, refugees and migrants, and countless other very, very important issues. But does it change the day-to-day example for living that Jesus set? Not at all. Jesus Himself was born into a time of political instability. I think Christians often think of him as apolitical. I can’t get onboard with that – why else would the leading powers want him dead? His politics were subversive. They transcended the political ways of human rule. They pointed people away from the sovereignty of the leaders of the land, and instead to the Leader of the Kingdom.
The same applies today. Regardless of what the rulers of the land dictate, our political mandate is a higher one. One of hope, of love, of caring for the orphan and the widow, of kindness to our neighbour. Christians living under all forms of peaceful or tyrannical government have had the same mandate. It has not changed. Panic about what the future may hold, is not the Kingdom way. Jesus himself said, “Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.” (Jn 14:27).
So perhaps we could see the current political uncertainty as a cool opportunity to put into practice the politics of the Upside-down Kingdom. A chance to be peaceful in a time of anxiety. An opportunity to be kind in the midst of vitriol. A moment to hold hope and joy in the face of an uncertain future. I, for one, intend to (metaphorically) hum the old Sunday School tune at the coming days, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”
And that is the last you’ll hear from me on the subject!!
Over and out friends,
I was chatting with a friend the other day about just how busy life can get. I remember thinking how busy I was when I was in high school. And though it was full, for sure, it was just a so much less responsible life. It was busy, but less weighty. I had to take care of school, church and youth stuff, part time work, and friendships. I didn’t have to take care of paying bills, looking after a house, fostering a marriage, raising a tiny human, buying groceries and cooking meals. And did I mention finding matching socks when folding the laundry? Damn you socks.
But it’s not just the stuff we do that makes life busy. It’s the noise. Social media. News. Music. Chitchat. Clutter. Entertainment. Games. Books. Advertisements. Fluorescent lights. The things that fill our senses, minds and souls day in and day out. It’s wearying.
Being relatively new to the country has afforded me a unique opportunity to be more considered about what I decide to add to life. I really don’t want life to be so full of stuff that I don’t have margins. Space for people, energy to play Duplos with Judah, room for spontaneity. I am increasingly aware that if I want life to look this way, then it’s going to have to be intentional.
I’ve always considered peace to be something that kind of falls on you. You know, like the dove when Jesus got baptised. I pray and it just descends, fluttering its sweet comforting wings (but not pooping on my shoulder). I’ve prayed for peace a million times for myself and others, and it always goes something like this; “Lord, let your peace that passes understanding just fall on _____ now.” You know the one. But what if peace is something we have to create space for? What if peace doesn’t so much come to us, but we go to it?
I guess my hope was that peace would imbue whatever I was doing in life. And I’m not saying it can’t, by the way. But I always thought of it as something added to the craziness of life; something to make me feel calm whilst I go about doing whatever. However, what I’m discovering, is that as I’ve become more deliberate with liturgical and contemplative prayer, peace is waiting for me. It’s waiting in a secret garden. It has a bench for me and Jesus to sit on. Beautiful green grass, a big leafy tree and a river running right through the middle of it. My liturgy is like the path leading to the gate, and then I enter the gate and just sit there. It’s so colourful and vibrant, that almost always when I open my eyes again, the world around me looks a little pale in comparison. And it’s completely full of peace.
I’m not gonna lie, I get a bit irritated reading some of the authors that write about this stuff. Not because they’re not amazing, and encouraging, and right. But because they’re often 50 plus male theologians. Likely at a time in life where they don’t have small kiddos and suffer sleep-deprivation. Not tied up with a work week that leaves them physically exhausted at the end of the day. Even Jesus was able to just take off into the wilderness for extended periods of time to pray. I would love that luxury. Please, send me to the wilderness by myself! But, my life is my life. And if I want to experience peace, then it’s my responsibility to create space for it. In small ways, this has meant that I find myself turning the radio off in the car more often. Allowing silence to settle around me. In bigger ways, it has meant carving out half an hour everyday to pray and sit with Jesus.
I read recently that silence restores our souls. And after just experiencing the relentlessness of daily life, my soul gets bedraggled. It feels likes it’s fraying at the edges. It has trouble holding itself up. It needs restoring. Not just for me, but so I am ready and able to be who God’s asking me to be in this world. I need to give from a place of rest and peace, not striving and strain. I may just need to say no to a few things in order to be able to take an intentional journey to a place of peace; to the Person of peace.