Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Lines and Gardens: Stories of Slavery

Stateline Rd Nottingham PA
I live a few miles south of the Mason Dixon line, the perimeter that served as a resolution in the border dispute between Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania in the mid 1700’s.  Later the line became the boundary that separated freedom from slavery, the imaginary divider that caused very real division between North and South, between brothers.  Many of the markers originally placed between 1763 and 1767 have disappeared, but in certain places the original stone monument-esque markers remain standing.   Aside from these reminders which were originally placed every 5th mile along the line there was no physical barrier, no wall, that kept anyone or anything from crossing to the other side.  Yet being born on the northern side of the line meant freedom for many.  It meant a different view of humanity. 

In a small settlement, located north of the line, called Nottingham lived two sisters with the last name of Parker.  Their first names were Rachel and Elizabeth.  They were African American and they were free, but a slave catcher, named Thomas McCreary, without an eye for detail and a hunger for money would soon change that.  He would claim that they both were runaway slaves and he would drag them across that imaginary divider, the one that had for the previous two generations before them, kept their family safe. 

Both young ladies were employed as domestic servants for neighboring farmers and their family was known by locals and even the slave catcher knew of them as his primary job had him delivering mail to the area.  Elizabeth was only 10 and with the cooperation of her crooked employer, she was boxed up and sent to Baltimore to be sold into to slavery for the price of $1,000.  In contrast, Rachel, age 16, was defended by her lady employer, Rebecca Miller.   After the mailman/slave catcher requested to speak with Rebecca, McCreary entered the home at Rachel’s invite.  After being welcomed into the home, he forcibly grabbed Rachel as Rebecca tried to fight him off and her four children gathered in the room screaming for the release of the young girl they had most likely known for their entire lives.   Joseph Miller, the man of the house, hearing the screams ran as fast as he could from the other end of the property to see what was going on, but the undoubtedly frightened Rachel was already loaded on the wagon and McCreary was wielding a knife.  Joseph attempted again to rescue the girl with the assistance of a neighbor who blocked their getaway with his farm wagon, but both men backed off when McCreary and his accomplice again brandished weapons.

Joseph and four of his neighbors continued the pursuit on horseback as they rushed to the closest train station, located in Perryville, Maryland, 16 miles away.  The train had already departed before they reached the tracks, but by the sovereign grace of God, two friends of the Millers, Eli Haines and a young man named Wiley, who were on their way to Philadelphia recognized Rachel and quickly switched trains to Baltimore to keep an eye on her and the captors. They knew their neighbors well and that a search party would be on the way to rescue the girl. They planned to keep track of the young lady and assist by giving the rescuers directions to her whereabouts upon their arrival.  I would like to think that the gentleman’s familiar faces and presence on the train was noticed by Rachel and that it brought her a sense of strength and hope for what was to come. The very next train brought the rescue party and with the help of Eli, Wiley, and a local Quaker Friend they quickly formed a plan to rescue her from her newest reality, a slave pen, the temporary holding grounds where slaves were kept before being sold.  The Quaker was well acquainted with Campbell, the owner of the slave pen, and when approached by the team he willingly released Rachel into the hands of her grateful rescuers.  As pragmatic men and believers in justice, they took Rachel to the jail house for her safety and to await the hearing of her case, with hopes her release would be imminent.  With nothing more for the men to do at the jailhouse and with optimism running high they went to the Quaker’s house for a celebratory dinner.  

The Quaker Friend knew the men would be targets for the angry slavery advocates and he devised a route for them to safely arrive at the train station under the cover of darkness.  The rescue team was warned to not leave the group at any moment, but with a false sense of security, Miller left the group before the train pulled out to smoke a cigar on the busy train platform and he disappeared.  The rescue party’s feelings of hope and happiness soon turned to panic and fear.  Young Wiley, being the least known in the matter at hand, ventured throughout the cars in search of Miller but he returned without finding him.  

Grave of Joseph Miller Freemont Rd. Nottingham PA
Joseph Miller was found several days later hanging in a tree, declared suicide by Maryland newspapers.  His friends and family did not believe such a preposterous claim and went to Baltimore to bring his body home.  Upon arrival, they were directed to a 2-foot deep grave where Miller was interred in a primitive box that allowed dirt to fall around his dead body.  His friends had a proper coffin made and traveled home with his body via train.  Miller did not Rest in Peace though, as his body was exhumed several times thereafter to perform autopsies.  Miller’s death was no suicide, his body bore the marks of manacles around his wrists and ankles, he had rope burns around his waist, signs of a torture device being hooked to his nose, he was drenched in arsenic, explaining why his bowels and stomach were completely empty of the earlier celebratory meal; he had retched everything up.  Lastly, he was hung from a tree, a message that spoke loud and clear to the abolitionists of the North. 

The story of the Parker sisters’ kidnapping is horrific.  I cried more than I care to admit learning about and imagining this story, not only for the betrayed Elizabeth and the terrified Rachel; children ripped from all they had ever known and taken to a “land” that believed them somehow to be less-than-human.  I also cried for the frightened fighters mustering courage to do what was right in the face of evil; the mama, Rebecca Miller, pounding dainty fists on the post man, the Miller children raising their voices in opposition to their friend being drug from their own home, the neighbor who tried to stop a reckless wagon, the travelers who changed their plans to be the eyes of the rescuers they had faith would come, the Quaker Friend who used his connections and his hospitality which later earned a brutal beating by pro-slavery thugs, Joseph Miller and his friends who didn’t know what to expect but knew they had to do something.  All that God required of every one of them was to do what was right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.  I cried because I wondered if I could do the same.

 Micah 6 asks:

“What can we bring to the Lord?  What kind of offering should we bring him?  Should we bow before God with offerings of yearling calves?  Should we offer him thousands of rams and ten thousand rivers of olive oil?  Should we sacrifice our firstborn children to pay for our sins?  No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this what he requires of you:  to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.” 

He requires it.
This is what is good.

As a believer, this is what I have to do, all other worship and offering is like giving God whipped cream.  It tastes good and looks good, but it’s a topping, not a dessert.   It accentuates the flavor, makes it sweeter, but the good stuff that makes it a dessert for someone other than 5-year-olds, is a big ol’ slice of pie, a large serving of justice, mercy and humility as we walk through life with God.  I’ve been giving God a lot of whipped cream, sometimes I sprinkle colored sugar on top.  Joseph Miller gave God an entire pie with the sacrifice of his life.  My heart says, I want to live beyond myself like the courageous folks surrounding the Parker girls.  There are more slaves in 2016 than any other time in history, an estimated 20.9 million people being forced to work in the sex and labor industries.  I want to be a pie lady for God; I want to not only recognize what is right, I want to do it; I want to ooze compassion and forgiveness; I want a humble God-stride, to give him credit for every step I take.  Yeah, I really want that life, but if I could be transparent for a moment, Joseph Miller’s death scares me.  Like really, really scares me.  I want to think that if I am serving up pie to God that I get a guarantee of safety, that my pie serving days will continue to until I’m old and gray, but with Christ, safety is not guaranteed.  

In fact, Jesus says in Luke 9:23-24, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.  If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it.  But if you give up your life for my sake you will save it.”  

Walking with God does not equate our safety; walking with God equates furthering His Kingdom.  

There is a Mexican proverb that I love, it says, “They tried to bury us, they didn’t know we were seeds.”  Joseph Miller’s death in 1852 was tragic and assuredly devastated his family, but his death sprouted up a garden of bravery in the face of injustice as 79 men and women from his local area traveled more than 50 miles across an imaginary line into a hostile environment to testify on behalf of Elizabeth and Rachel Parker.  Justice prevailed and the girls returned home to their mother.  Miller’s death also spurred the abolitionists of the North to pursue their fight with even more fervor, the stakes were higher than ever and they knew that freedom would not come without a price, they knew that the line dividing freedom and slavery must become a thing of the past, that along with justice, mercy, and a humble walk with God, they needed unity.  They faced fear head on and with courage they took the risk that if they did what was required, no matter the outcome, there would be gardens for the future to enjoy not lines of division. 

This is what is required of us.  

The fascinating story of the Parker sisters and Joseph Miller can be found in detail at the links below: 

Also in this book (not an affiliate link):  Stealing Freedom Along the Mason Dixon Line by Milt Diggins

Friday, September 23, 2016

Worshipping Crap gods

bumsI would not claim to be an expert in Scatological studies, or any studies for that matter, but let’s face it with seven kids, one of which is still in diapers, and living on a small farm I deal with fecal matter more than the average person.  Maybe our experience with poop is not the same, but I think we can probably agree that it’s pretty disgusting.  Smell, sight, sound—all very unpleasant.  Makes sense because poop is all the worthless parts of what we have ingested.  We put food in our mouths and as it travels through our bodies, our bodies are intuitive enough to separate and utilize everything that is usable and needed for growth and sustainability.  All the parts it deems non-beneficial is excreted from the body as waste.  Dispersed as no value added. As disgusting as waste matter is, it is a necessary part of our life.   If it were left inside our bodies crazy things would happen; we would become very ill and some extreme cases of non-elimination have led to death. 

Hopefully crap-2you have stuck with me through that first paragraph and I didn’t lose too many of you with such potty talk, but the disgusting nature of poop needs to be addressed in order for us to understand the seriousness of what God is trying to drive home in 2 Kings.  2 Kings is an Old Testament book of the Bible that provides snippets of insight into the royal lives of those ruling over the kingdoms of Israel and Judah.  One such king was Hoshea.  He was the last King of Israel and he did evil in the sight of the Lord. Chapter 17 tells us that King Hoshea was being forced to pay a really oppressive tribute to the rival kingdom of Assyria.  Tired of paying the tribute, Hoshea began to feel a bit bold and decided to partner with the king of Egypt to rebel against the controlling Assyrian king.  When the Assyrian leader figured out the treachery that was occurring, it didn’t end well for Israel.  He imprisoned Hoshea and exiled some of the people of Israel to his country.  2 Kings says, “this disaster came upon the people of Israel because they worshipped other gods.”  Publicly and in their hearts the people of Israel had sinned greatly against the God of their people for years and, well, God was getting tired of it.  Scripture goes on to say in verse 12, “Yes, they worshipped idols* despite the LORD’s specific and repeated warnings.”   Anyone notice the *?  I love to find asterisks when reading the Bible because it usually means that there is something at the bottom of the page that is about to shed some insight on the situation.  In this case it sheds a lot of light.  The word used for idol in this particular verse is “gillulim” which according to the footnotes in the NLT version of the Bible is a Hebrew term which literally means round things and is referencing dung.  It was rarely used in the Old Testament, but when it was it was to evoke a response of repulsion.  The word typically used for idol is the word “atsab” which simply means “image”.  The profit Ezekiel liked to put the word “gillulim” down in his writing to prove a point and even though scholars are uncertain of the authorship of 2 Kings we can be assured that he, like Ezekiel, wasn’t afraid to be contemptuous.  He used this particular word meaning “dung” or “ordure” to drive his point home and offend the hearers of his words.  I’m going to drag this out a bit more and let you think about the true meaning of these words because dung doesn’t carry that much power in this day and age and it’s easy to gloss over. Let’s see if any of these synonyms conjure up a feeling of disgust for you:  manure, muck, excrement, droppings, stools, dump, scat, cow patties, horse apples, ka-ka, sewage, dog logs, crap.  “Gillulim” wasn’t cutesy like, “poopsie in your panties”, rather it grabbed attention like if your pastor stood up in front of the congregation on a Sunday morning and said, “Stop worshipping sh*t”.     Offensive, right?  This is what the Israelites were worshipping according to the author; disgusting worthless waste.  Now ancient god worship was weird and they definitely did freaky stuff to satisfy the false gods of their time, even offering their sons and daughters to carved images, but they weren’t literally worshipping someone or something’s dung.  The author of 2 Kings was laying it out for the people of Israel about how truly foolish and more importantly how sickening their worship of the false gods was to the one REAL God.  The people of Israel knew of the great deeds of their God’s rescuing hand.  They knew who could sustain them and who was beneficial to their lives, yet they chose to hold onto crap gods.  2 Kings 17:15b says, “They worshipped worthless idols, so they became worthless themselves.” 
Ouch.  We take on the characteristics of what we worship!?!
This is what happens when our priorities are wrong.  We forgo the good and elevate crap to god status.  I am only sharing this because when I read it, it hit me like a ton of bricks.  I was reading the words on the thin pages of my duct tape covered Bible and I felt the unmistakable impression that God was saying to my heart, “Erica, you are worshipping some sh*t and despite my warnings you hold onto it like it is life giving.”  I am not a person who cusses. They aren’t my go-to words when hurt or angry and they never pepper my everyday vocabulary.  The only reason I can imagine that I felt God was saying that, was he wanted me to be affronted by my actions and priorities.  God is good and mighty and jealous.  You might be asking, “Jealous?”  Yes, jealous.  Right now, stuff away any images that might creep into your mind of crazy girlfriends keying trucks or ex-boyfriends threatening new handsome beaus.  This is not human jealously.  It is not sinful and self-seeking.  God loves us so much he doesn’t want to see us waste our time on thinchickens-in-yardgs that don’t bring growth.  He knows of our potential and wants us to live up to it.  And unlike immature humans reacting out of pain, he is jealous out of a selfless all-consuming love for us. A love so grand he doesn’t want to see us spend our time and affection on crap.  Also and more importantly God is totally aware of who he is.  He is the Creator, the Supreme, and he knows there is nothing that is in his league—he has no competition.  When we elevate grossly inferior things to a place of honor in our lives it is an insult and his jealousy burns for that place in our hearts.
Modern day idolatry is all around.  In some cases, we readily recognize its power and control in the lives of others, as in the case of drug or alcohol addiction or Beyonce fandom, but typically we can’t identify idol worship easily because it is such common place.  Here’s what you need to know about idols, they exist if you don’t have God at the center of your worship and you WILL fill his place with something nearby.  You will.  You just will.  We are made to worship and if it’s not God it’s something else.    True story.   The things on their own don’t have to be blatantly evil and maybe their prevalence makes them all the more insidious.  Kyle Idleman wrote a fantastic book entitled, gods at War.  In this book he speaks in depth to the idols of our society; food, sex, entertainment, success, money, achievement, romance, family, and self.  Personally I struggle with elevating a few of those to a position above my Savior.  I look to them for value, affirmation, escape, meaning, and answers.  Sometimes they deliver, but in comparison to where I could be looking for answers, in comparison to God, they are steaming piles I have placed on pedestals.
The god of me is a huge struggle on my part.  I battle insecurity every single time I put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and at times I am so preoccupied with thoughts of what others think of me and my writing that I am paralyzed from pursuing what I want to do or the belief that I am called to do this.  Idleman says, “You can’t help but be self-conscious, because when you’re god, it’s all about you.” If God were in his rightful place above self in my life, then I would recognize that regardless of the opinion of others, despite the fact that people might complain and question my relationship with Christ because I used a four-letter word, would be irrelevant.  I need to push back against my fear, place myself in a position of worship to God and not self and do what I am called to do, because we all know haters gonna hate. 
Another crap god I worship is, embarrassingly, social media.  I love Instagram.  I use it as a personal photo album, it inspires me, I connect with long distance friends, and I use it as a creative and emotional outlet.  However, there are times it consumes me, robbing me of precious time, feeding jealousy, filling my mind with negativity and discontent, and it disconnects me from what is happening in my own home--sometimes for hours a day.  At that point it is taking supremacy over God, his truths and his ways.
crapThere are certain things that we should never put into our mouths, and then there are things that are good and nutritious; things that benefit, grow, and sustain us.  Even these wonderful things though are by God's design stripped by our bodies of the unusable and shed as waste.  There are things in this life that when we consume them physically, mentally, and emotionally can enhance our relationship with Christ.  We take the things that benefit and grow us, notice I didn’t say make us happy because there is a difference, and allow them to nourish our souls. However, when we try to hold onto every piece of whatever it is, we begin to make it into an idol.  When it is so important that we can’t let anything from it pass through and leave, then it is time to check ourselves and see if what we are beginning to worship is a crap god.  If it is, we need to let it pass and flush it away.  Remember that 2 Kings said that our worthless idol worship leaves us worthless too.  I do not know one person who wants their life to be worthless, we want meaning.  We want meaningful things and we want to mean something to others.  God’s intention of one-God worship is to give us that, he is the ultimate and he does not want us wallowing in our own excrement pretending it’s a party.  We need to identify the gods in our lives, whether they are ideas, relationships, objects, or goals.  Begin with prayer, asking God to reveal the priorities that are askew.   
Analyze the answers to these questions:
  • When I need escape, where do I go or turn to?
  • Where does my fulfilment, joy, value, happiness come from?
  • What are my fears?
  • What do I hope for, what are my goals?
  • What do I pray for?
These are meant as a first step.  The answers don’t necessarily mean idolatry, but if something is rising into a place of lordship in our lives it will begin to surface within these questions.  Our next move will be to take a break or at least a step back from said thing or activity and see if its place in our lives is appropriate and what kind of power it has on us.   We need to have grace for ourselves as we begin this process of identifying where our devotion lies because it’s embarrassing to admit that we’ve been worshipping idols.  Listen up though, God’s expansive love covers ALL.  When we set our sights upon Him once again and realign ourselves with his Word we can rest assured that we are no longer worthless like the things we once worshipped and we begin to see the characteristics of the one we serve become evident in our lives. bible

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Working on Goals and Life

In the past I have had a tendency to begin projects and abandon them halfway through when something else “shiny” caught my eye.  I guess some would say I lack discipline.  I guess some would be right.

Shortly after I turned 40, I decided I was going to pursue my dream of writing a book and teaching/speaking with a new fervor.  I had tried many times before, but always with a laidback, if-it’s-meant-to-be-it-will-happen approach.  I knew I needed to be intentional and disciplined.  It was all part of the new mantra I had adopted of, “Screw perfect, I’d rather be brave.”  In my first act of bravery I signed up for a couple online classes with the author of my new life motto, as well as, the bestselling book “If You Find This Letter,” Hannah Brencher.  In her class she suggested that if we wanted to get serious we should secure our name as our web address and start writing.  I asked my lovely and talented friend, Amy, to help me get going.  She graciously obliged.  She had up and running within two weeks while managing her own business, a job, and mothering her two kids.  I told you, crazy talented.  She told me to write my introduction post and then we could launch it to the world.

I was excited, but then I started not feeling that great and I got sidetracked with life.  I didn’t write for three weeks.  Some discipline, huh?  It seemed I had slipped back into my old ways.  On fire one minute and Netflix binge watching the next.

Turns out I wasn’t being a complete loaf as I put all thoughts aside regarding my new site, I was doing something more productive than discovering the "Gilmore Girls" for the first time, I working on creating another tiny human.  That’s right, we’ve got a new little Berge going to join our family the beginning of next year. A family of 10!  As I am approaching full relief from the life-makes-me-want-to-hurl stage of pregnancy I am once again determined to be intentional about my goals and the part this website will play in it.  I hope you will join me and offer constructive feedback, because although it’s not perfect, I will be brave.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Finding Your Homeschooling Path

A few years ago I wrote an article about finding your homeschooling path.  As the school year is about to kick off and mom's everywhere are romanticizing their amazing new curriculums, I wanted to share part of that post here and encourage you to finish reading it in its entirity over at Today's Frugal Mom, because homeschooling is only going to work if you seek God's direction and keep it real.

"Four years ago I took my two school-aged children from public school and began homeschooling. We signed up under a state charter school, and I had romanticized my role as my children’s educator. I had wall calendars, alphabets, space posters, and presidential bios posted on our walls. It was my first day homeschooling and it took exactly one hour to realize this was not matching what I had envisioned. Eight hours later, the night ended with a to-do list and nothing crossed off as I sobbed to my husband over some frozen pizza. I felt like a failure.
I was so wrapped up in what I wanted for my children, that my romanticized vision and academic hopes of early graduations were more important than what my children actually wanted or needed.  I would like to say Red Baron pizza brought me clarity and perspective and that day two was better, but it wasn’t.  I continued to make schedules, jammed curriculum down my children’s throats, iron-fisted education upon them, and “coached” them through the work samples demanded by their charter school.  The times we weren’t homeschooling I enjoyed immensely. I liked being around my children and we laughed a lot. However, as soon as I metaphorically placed my teacher hat on, it happened: I spoke, they didn’t listen; I yelled, they cowered; I learned, they tuned me out.
After a year-and-a-half of hating home educating my children and secretly wishing to send them to a brick-and-mortar school..."  Continue reading here.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Finding the Church Part II

Great news, after months of searching for a church home, we found one!
Interestingly enough, it has landed us smack dab in the heart of our own home. For the past 8 weeks we have been churching it here on our couches and chairs and around our kitchen table.
Crazy, right?  Don't I know it! It happened within a couple weeks of my original post.
No, we have not resorted to cult tactics to train others to look at the church like we do (although I am fearful others may think we have), rather we have found our tribe! A group of people who were genuinely feeling the same way we were. People who were frustrated by churches with upside down priorities and watered down Gospel messages to attract membership.  This tribe of ours desires Jesus, genuine community, and the opportunity for Kingdom impact.  We even have a couple of friends who join us that don't believe in God.  They come because they like hanging out with us and we love that, because we really like hanging with them too.
We are worshipping, learning, and relearning together (thanks to our church in California, the Desert Vineyard, having a live feed), we are eating (a lot), and we are finding the community we've been seeking (within our families and our neighborhoods).
When I mention eating a lot.  I'm not even joking.  We have pastries and fruit at the beginning of the actual service and then afterward we have Communion like I have never had it before!  Not with flattened bread and juice (although we have done that too) but with lasagna, enchiladas, sandwiches, pizza, and chili.  I realize this is by no means a traditional Communion, and I am not trying to downplay the significance of the ceremonial wafer and plastic cup, but these meals we are sharing are some of the most spiritual-filling Communions I have ever partaken.  Every time. Every. Single. Time. I am reminded of the sacrifice of Christ and I remember what He did for me, this unlikely group gathered around our house, and those outside its doors. We remember Him. It is sweet and I am grateful.
Conversations go on for hours; we've even watched the noonday sun disappear behind the horizon on several occasions.  Laughter fills the rooms, as do screaming and shrieking kids.  This gathering of ours is not for the timid or the easily annoyed, but if you can steel yourself to the fact that after service kids run laps through rooms and a pot-bellied pig might eat the crumbs that fall on the ground by your feet, you will be blessed--it is precious.  Burdens are carried together, and we hang out during the week encouraging and helping one another. We even started Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University this week, can you even get anymore church-like than that?
We don't know what's next for our living room church.  We don't know if it will grow or if it will even last. There are things we need to figure out if it does, like how to make singing in front of the television feel like a spiritual experience in a sun-filled living room instead of an awkward daylight group karaoke sing-a-long.  We need to tighten up the "children's ministry" because kids just want to play in the yard instead of listening to older kids read Bible stories or do crafts. Despite the lack of structured lessons, our young ones are experiencing a new depth to relationships they have never had in a church setting. Right now we take it one step at a time; trying really hard to love each other well, trying even harder to love God with all that we are, hoping that in this process of finding and becoming the church we show others love in a big way while discovering who he created us to be.  
Wanna join us? Push the pig out of the way and grab a chair, there's always room at the table.  

Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Sorting Process

Last night we watched the "The Good Lie" a film based on the true story of children from Sudan; their fleeing from their village after soliders came in and killed nearly everyone they loved and the opportunity to come to America after 13 years in a refugee camp.  It was a good movie with an overwhelming theme of selfless love.  As I watched I got teary-eyed quite a few times.
The tears continued after I got in bed and turned off the lights recounting the day.  I had spent time with my family, enjoyed lunch with a friend, helped Brian work on the chicken coop, ate leftovers for dinner in a warm house, watched a movie with the kids, and here I was in my soft comfortable bed--crying.  I'm glad Brian was asleep because I don't know how to explain my sadness.  As much as I wish everyone had the blessings of my life, my tears weren't for the displaced refugees we had just watched, or those stuck in poverty, as much as they were for me.  Sounds selfish, I know, but I can't figure out the discrepency God allows between the lives of the poor and me.  I don't know what to do with the chasm that spans the materially poor and the life I live, even with my ripped couches, discount groceries, and thrift store clothes, I should call it what it is--a life of luxury.  I have so much.  So very much.
My tears turned to sobbing this morning as I read Psalms that spoke of God's justice and love for the oppressed and the poor.  I am unsure of what I am I supposed to do with this churning in my spirit.   My life of comfort has become uncomfortable as I continue to wrestle with justice and community.  I recognize that gratitude is not enough, that all that I have experienced or possess cannot be simply for me to say, "thanks, God."

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Here Comes the Bride...

BrideCommunity fellowship--I'm not sure if church can be as simple as that, but there is something in my heart that tells me it is; something telling me to stop going to church and start going after the church. I am so intimidated by these feelings, not to mention frustrated and hopeful too. I don't want anyone to think the post I wrote or the ones to come, regardless of rantings, are church-bashing.  My goal in doing these posts is to wrestle out my thoughts and to figure out what my part is in the church. In doing so, I want to make sure that as I discuss church, that although frustrated by the church organizations the western world has created, I am respectful of the church as a whole. Why?  Because, the Bible tells us that the church is Christ's bride and I don't know any groom that likes someone talking smack about his bride.
In case you aren't familiar with the bride/bridegroom imagery, here's the back story:  The church is not a building, rather it is the people that have admitted that they are sinful (have sinned and continue to struggle with sin) and have asked Jesus to be their personal savior (a.k.a., asked him into their heart) and because of this will have eternal life.  In summary, church = people saved by grace (not a building that hosts Sunday services).  2 Corinthians 11:2 says we are made pure by him so that we can be presented as a bride to him.  Ephesians 5:25-27 goes on to tell us that Jesus loved the church and gave himself up for her (died) so that she could be holy and spotless.  Right now, this time in history, we are experiencing a physical separation period from Christ until he returns; it's like the betrothal period from ancient times when the bride and groom were separated before the wedding (kind of like the day of the wedding for us).  When Jesus comes back, the second coming, (the first is when he was born in a manager) is when the church will meet her groom at a fantastic wedding celebration (Revelation 19:7-9).  In the meantime, the church's job is to keep herself pure, church buildings could probably handle that, but unfortunately church people can't.
Despite the church's haggardness, her groom sees through to her beauty.  When you think about it, even with our crazy and our issues, the church is stunning; a group (not like five or six people; rather a ton) of believers; all nationalities, all ages, all sizes, all abilities, all worshiping the creator God, all trying to love like Jesus.  
We Americans, innovators that we are, have introduced the entertainment factor to our church organizations. It's like the bride of Christ getting her makeup done by Barnum & Bailey and hiring Lady Gaga to pick out her gown.  Here's what I mean by that; church should be more simplistic.  The church's beauty shines most when she is not trying to attract people to her, but when she simply seeks the Kingdom of God.  Jesus said #1 love God, #2 love people, #3 love yourself (Mark 12:30-31).  Simple.  Not easy, but simple.  The American church often seems to want to be loved rather than to love.  They dress up and apply make-up in an attempt to attract people to them with: worship experiences comparable to rock concerts; refreshments like a Parisian cafe; over-the-top events, i.e., the biggest egg hunt this side of the Mississippi and come pet the chickens who laid them.  Easy on the ears, delicious in the belly, and fun to attend. Yes!  But where is the love?  The new American church is focused more on Jesus' #3 of love yourself than the top two.  Church organizations feel loved through numbers; attendance for services, number of programs established, money on the offering plate.  If the numbers are high, the bride of Christ is looking in the mirror thinking she is looking good.  Funny thing is, God isn't concerned with our outward appearance.  He is all about the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).  How is the worship, our snacks, and our clucky hens showing love to God or people?  How is it seeking first the Kingdom of God?
Look, these things aren't wrong, but when they become the priority of the bride and they are self-serving it's hard for her to keep herself pure for her coming groom and that's our job as Christ's peeps.  We are going to fail, we are human and we always do, but we still need to try to love Him and others before self.  Seek the Kingdom first, not a church organization's agenda.  Maybe instead special effects just short of pyrotechnics that accompany some worship bands we take that money and use it to love God by loving his people.  Colored lights don't speak love, but paying for the medical needs of kids in third world countries does.  Want to have a cafe that encourages relationship among your parishioners?  Great!  But how about using the money from that endeavor to hire some single mamas from the neighborhood to work it.  Empower them by employing them and let then use the nursery during services as free childcare.  I'm seeing some love!  Event that is gargantuan for the entire community?  Fantastic!  (Not gonna lie, I still struggle with some of these events.)  Make sure you don't have your whole congregation running an activity or executing "the plan,"  but have folks wandering around with the sole intent of talking and connecting with new faces and families.

Have you noticed the anticipation of a man waiting at the alter for his bride?  It always gets me.  When the music changes during the wedding ceremony and the doors are about to open to reveal the bride and everyone turns to see her enter in her splendor, I always look up front at the groom instead.  I love to see him standing there in disbelief that this is his beautiful bride walking to him.  The look of love is intense and no matter what has happened before this very moment is now obselote.  That's what I want...for me...for us,his church. Because of his great love for us I want to do better.  Jesus is coming for his bride and despite our often selfish failings he has made us pure.  And for this reason alone, the wedding celebration is going to be OFF-THE-CHAIN.  (Does anyone even say that anymore?  Regardless, you get the point.)

Monday, February 1, 2016

Finding the Church

Finding the churchThe church has always been a part of my life and I truly love it.  Even before my church-planting great grandparents started hanging out in a basement with some friends to start a church called Community Fellowship in 1943, my "greats" to the nth degree went to church.  It's what our family has done and continues to do.
Jesus lover?  Go to church.
Personally, church is something I have always enjoyed, something I felt gave me purpose, and has been a comforting routine--my touchstone.   For the past two years though, my family and I have been on the search for a church to call our own and we have yet to be successful.  When we first began to look the criteria went something like: an outward-focused congregation; thought-provoking message; seeker sensitive, yet plainly presents the gospel; David Crowder-esque worship music; within a 45-minute drive of our home. Coming from a church similar to this in California we didn't think it would be that difficult and even though we have found a couple places that have come close to the goal list, something hasn't felt right, not only for me but for my husband, Brian, and our kids too.  It seems that God is changing our list and it doesn't include the aforementioned items or even a building, instead God is ironically bringing us back to the name of my great-grandfather's church...Community Fellowship.
Months ago, Brian and I began working with a ministry that wanted to reach out to individuals being trafficked.  Living in a rural area, many don't think that something as horrific as human trafficking could exist here, instead believing that it's reserved for urban areas, but with major routes I-95 and Rte. 40 running through our corn fields and backyards it is more prevalent than we imagined. As we began to raise awareness of the issue I wanted to begin a hands-on ministry that would get us out on the streets to meet those involved and was given the go-ahead by ministry leadership.  After multiple interactions and ride-alongs with law enforcement, a group of men and women from different local churches who were interested in doing contact work at night in a town known for prostitution and drugs was formed.  We set out to meet the girls of the streets equipped with beautiful cosmetic bags filled with personal hygiene items, condoms and lubricant. In our naivety we imagined meeting the girls standing on the corner, we would talk, offer hope....blah, blah, blah.
First wake-up call, you can't walk up to a stranger and ask if they are a prostitute.  Rude!   Secondly, what do you with all the people you encounter on the way to the girl on the corner? So our team of seven tucked our bags away and went out with popsicles instead and talked with everyone we met.  During these outings, which we are currently offering hot chocolate with whipped cream, we have kicked it with lots of different people on stoops and street corners; business owners, mamas, daddies, addicts, construction crews, homeless, and prostitutes.  The ministry we are working with is still focusing on helping abused and trafficked ladies, but my heart has changed and broadened to just meeting people.  All people.
Like, God created you?
Let's be friends!
As we have been out there Brian and I have seen firsthand how relationship deprived people are; to include ourselves.  It seems that loneliness spans race, socioeconomic status, age, and issue.  Our eyes have been open to see that consistency and friendship are a kingdom serving ministry in itself and it's a ministry that many churches are overlooking.  It's not enough to just open your doors to everyone, your demographic and impact broadens when you go out and meet everyone. Twice a month we walk up and down the streets regardless of the weather and we are recognizing faces, able to follow up on stories, praying with folks Christian and non-alike.  It's because of these relationships that are beginning to form that I hear a whisper in my heart saying, "you've found her, you've found church."   There on the streets a bunch of Jesus-loving redeemed sinners (that's my friends and me) are able to encourage other believers, pray for moms with cancer, talk business with a restaurant owner, share chocolate with a group of strung-out addicts, and plan sporting events with a homeless guy.  Take away the "what we do's" and the "what we've done'" labels and there is just a Community of God's creation in Fellowship with one another.
Yup, there it is, Community Fellowship.  We are leaving the building behind; we've found church.

My friend Michele encouraged me to write about the journey of "church" our family is embarking on, because if God is stirring our hearts he is probably stirring others too and right now we feel alone.  She thought it would help me sort through feelings, process thoughts, and find kindred spirits.  So here it is, laying it out there looking for our tribe, hoping for input, insight, and encouragement from friends.  In short a virtual Community Fellowship which will hopefully lead to a physical one.
We have no idea what this is going to look like or where it will take our family.  It's a little bit scary.  I am afraid of failing, of backlash, of feeling foolish, of rejection, but I am more afraid of what I will miss out on if I'm not obedient to what He calls us to do.  The rest of our crew is more than a little uncomfortable too, but they are willing and ready.  (Seriously, is there anything that could make a mama's heart happier than teens pushing through awkward people encounters for Jesus? I didn't think so either.)