Dupification, Bitterness, Mercy, and Love

I was duped. Perhaps you were, too. For years and years, I was led to believe that my behavior, my morality, was not just the barometer of my relationship with God, but actually was to be the focus of my whole spiritual existence.
Accusing-fingerI needed to keep tabs on all areas of my outer life, for so many reasons. God certainly was. It was behavior He was looking at to determine if He could be pleased with me. How many times did I pray, “Lord, may I be pleasing to you in all that I do and say”? It was as if He was just waiting for me to screw up and garner His displeasure.

Worse than my own potential demise, though, was the burden I carried for those in my world. I was taught that, as Christians, we are to be “set apart” from the world. We needed to look, talk, and act differently than those heathens around us. In so doing, we would win others to the Kingdom. The theory was that they would be so attracted by our “light” they would want what we had.

It was a huge burden for a mouthy, short-tempered, habitual sinner like me to try to win over people to Jesus by my goodness. Because, frankly, I’m just not that good. And, there are tons of other people out there, heathens evenwho are way better than me, who aren’t peddling Jesus.

loveIn the last few years, I’ve experienced a huge paradigm shift. I realize that being set apart has so little to do with our behavior and everything to do with our hearts. I understand that Jesus never said they’d know we are His followers by our goodness and adherence to rules, but rather by our radical, ridiculous, uninhibited love.

There is exhilarating freedom in discovery of this magnitude.

Unfortunately, rather than relishing in the freedom, I ruminated on the past. I dredged up all the faulty teachings I sat under for years in a former church. I studied abusive church practices and pastors and realized I was not imagining it and I really had been a victim. As wounds reopened, instead of bringing them to Jesus for healing, I picked at the scabs until they festered and the stench of infectious bitterness took hold. Every new revelation in Scripture, instead of bringing wholeness, just further indicted the church in all its failures and reminded me of all the years I’d lost.

But God…

(Isn’t that how every good story turns?)

But God, in His mercy, in a snippet of a sermon with another point entirely, showed me my bitterness and rebellion and told me to lay it down. 

Bianca Olthoff preached the story of the resurrection of Lazarus in John 11 from the perspective of Martha, early in February at the IF:Gathering. I highly recommend a listen if you can get your hands on it. Almost as an aside, she talked about Mary coming out to meet Jesus after her brother died, and laying at His feet. Mary, whose name means “Bitterness, rebellion, and want (as in a child)” laying at the feet of Jesus. Verse 33 tells us that when she did that, Jesus was deeply moved. Olthoff said, “When we willingly lay our bitterness and rebellion at the feet of Jesus, something changes.”

An arrow pierced my heart.

I wrote in another post that I was ready to swim again. I was ready for change. Something needs to change.15193306-a-man-making-a-confession-to-the-cross-shot-under-dawn-sky-1024x683

So, I laid it down. All of it. The anger, the bitterness, the frustration, the hurt, the resulting rebellion, the hate…and the want, the want to birth something new.

And freedom reigns.

I laugh now at my former crazy ideas of God. I’ve written before I can count on no hands the number of people who’d approached me and asked about Jesus because of my non-alcoholic, G-rated lifestyle.

My biggest opportunities for sharing with those who really want to know, have arisen in the last three years from those who start out asking why in the world we would add a child with Down syndrome to our already ginormous family (Jesus told us to love the least of these), or why we often spend Easter sharing communion and Cadbury eggs with homeless people (they don’t care what we’re wearing, almost everybody likes Easter candy, and see answer #1), or where I got my shirt that says, “I don’t have my sh*t together.” (online, and it’s a relief to admit it and know I’m loved anyway.)

Basking in His amazing love for us and really getting that He could not be more pleased with us as His children is where it sparks. Our love for others is an outflow of His love for us and has absolutely nothing to do with striving, or putting our best foot forward, or pasting on a happy face.

homeless-It is seeing people as Imago Dei, with His eyes, and loving them in all their mess. It is painfully hard and deliriously wonderful, and I’m not very good at it, yet. It’s outside my comfort zone and feels weird much of the time. When I take my eyes off Jesus, I worry I’m not doing it right, a throw back to my religious roots.

But He loves me. He has grace and patience for me in abundance, even when I get it woefully wrong, which is often. He loves us all. 


Dear Square Pegs

I received emails and comments after this post telling me I’m not alone, many from people who have not yet found their way back into the church because of the wounds they’ve received at her hand.

Square-Peg-Round-HoleSo many of us simply do not fit the success mold for the stereotypical church member. We are proverbial square pegs trying to fit into round holes. We ask too many questions, we don’t fail quietly, we can’t keep the mask in place. We doubt, a lot. We examine what we’re fed under different lights. We look to see if it holds weight under changing circumstances or if it measures up against what was served last week or even last year.

Platitudes and christianese answers leave us cold. Tradition without depth and meaning, but just because that’s the way it’s always been, drives us to drink. Clean edges and tidy boxes are our undoing.

We recognize that the gospel is a scandalous miracle. We appreciate that humanity is messy and complicated. We know that if it looks too neat, it’s probably a lie.

We tried legalism and failed. It appeals to many, so, so many, because of its cut and dried nature. It’s something for the accepted masses to cling to in the uncertainty of life.

Do this, and this will happen.

And, maybe we failed at the first part, do this, because of lack of attention span and organizational skills, or because of laziness, or life. Time and time again, we couldn’t quite measure up to the expectations.

Or maybe, this didn’t happen, the second part didn’t materialize and we were blamed. Maybe not overtly, but the suspicion was there. Life knocked the wind out of us through death or disaster or disease or disability and everything changed. Our fellow church goers initially stood with us and believed with us for our circumstances to line back up with normal. When they didn’t, we felt a shift, a distancing. Maybe we didn’t realize it at the time, but our lives challenged the certainty of rule-based theology. Our continued struggles in the face of pat answers, plucky verses, and rules that should’ve protected us from such tragedies, were too confrontational for many.

If you see yourself or your story in these words, fellow square peg, I have good news for you. Even though you have felt the outcast, the prodigal, the barely tolerated, the misunderstood, you are precious in the view of the only One who matters. The church, in their leadership models and hierarchies, may never get you, may never seek to understand. But when Jesus walked this earth, you are exactly who He pursued.

To the consternation of the regular churched, He went after folks like us. We are His people. “I’ve come to call sinners, not those who think they are already good enough.” (Matthew 9:13 NLT) The one thing we know for certain, you and I, is that we are not already good enough.

We have seen who we are. We have glimpsed depravity and we know what is within us. We know of what we’re capable. When people see others and say with pitying eyes and noses high in the air, “There, but for the grace of God, go I,” we look at the same scene with wonder. “Really? Because that has been me…that is me.”

We relate to the broken, the downcast, the hurting because we are them. They are us. We are the woman at the well, amazed He would speak to us. We are the loathsome tax collector, hiding in a tree to watch Him walk by. We are the unclean woman, squeezing through the crowd reaching out just to touch His clothes.

And Jesus sees us and knows us. He looks for us with longing, pushing past those who think they’re already good enough to find square pegs like us.

Maybe you’ve never heard anyone say it. Let me be the first. You are exactly who, you are exactly what, you are exactly right in who you are in Him. You are not too loud; you are not too vulnerable; you are not too full of doubt; you are not too much of a failure.

You are not TOO……anything.

square_peg_in_a_round_hole_by_wolfepawYou are what He wants. You are valued and loved and chosen. And, in spite of the pious, false humility, that oozed out of the pores of those who rejected you, dear square peg, you are the right shape for the job He’s asking you to do. You fit perfectly in His vision for His church, for His body of believers.

We are the folks He had in mind all along. Not the pious, not the pretentious, not the round, accepted masses of those who think themselves already good enough. Just the simple, screwed up, authentic few who can change the world.

Please know, square pegs, there is grace for us.

I Won’t Take a Stand on Gay Marriage

It smells like fear to me. And fear mongering. I try really hard not to make decisions based on fear.

I’m a follower of Christ. I know many of you are not who read my words and the term “Christian” has gotten all kinds of bad press, some of it well-deserved. So you may not grasp what Jesus means to me. He’s the reason that we felt compelled to travel across the world to get our Bo. He’s the reason that, even after two years of sleepless nights, I was determined to learn to love that little guy. He’s the reason, the only reason, I succeeded and feelings finally followed actions. He’s the reason my heart weeps for the unloved and the broken and why I so desire to love the least of these because that is what He taught me to do.

He’s the reason that I hope, when hope is in short supply; why I stand when my knees are quaking; why I say yes when common sense says no. Because He has shown me amazing grace, I am undone. I am not who I once was and I know redemption is sweet.

Because of Jesus, I have a soft spot for the marginalized, those thought to be unequal in our culture. Those with disabilities, racial minorities, those with mental illnesses, and those who are gay.

A few months ago, I read this post about gay marriage by Glennon on Momastery and it resonated with me. I particularly loved this quote, ” I think if people don’t believe in gay marriage, then mostly they should not get gay married.” It made me chuckle and want to put it on a t-shirt. Her ideas on grace were spot on, as well.

It’s like we Christians love the idea of grace, but we don’t want it distributed indiscriminately- we want make rules about it and dole it out carefully and strategically. It’s like we’re worried that if everybody knows that she’s loved and accepted by God – it will be Grace Anarchy! I want that. I want Grace Anarchy. I want people to be free to be who they are. It makes sense to me that the free-er people are, the BETTER people are. I believe in people because I believe in God. I think God knew what God was doing when God made each of us.

I’m not sure what I think of her theology when it comes to homosexuality, though. Truthfully, I’ve been praying about and wrestling it through for months. My poor husband has certainly gotten an earful. I felt like I finally need to figure out what I believe about all of this. Now that SCOTUS issued their ruling, I feel like it’s time to take a stand, either way. I don’t believe that being gay is a sin. But gay sex? I really don’t know. An entire life of evangelicalism, years of Baptist primary school, a year of Bible college, and a childhood as a pastor’s daughter are not so easily shed. I know I’m not alone in my ambivalence and confusion. I want to rightly divide the Word of truth like it says in II Timothy 2:15. Freedom comes with truth. 

I then, as a seeker of truth, proceeded to read all 1,986 comments on the Momastery Facebook page about this post because I am also an idiot. I’ve also read numerous articles on both sides and the comments following since the decision was announced. It’s enough to make your head spin.

A few things jumped out at me. Those that oppose gay marriage, are the least loving in the comments. To be clear, I’m not talking about the trolls. I’m talking about those sincere in their beliefs who disagree. More than just disagreeing, though, they almost always take a slippery slope argument. If Christians support gay marriage then it won’t be long before pedophilia and bestiality will be the norm in the church. Or, they assume that, any Christian who agrees with certain Bible pastors that believe those passages that refer to homosexuality are speaking to non-consensual sex, has decided there is no such thing as sin…like, at all, and what did Jesus die for?!? I can’t tell you how many times I read, “The Bible clearly states…”

The fear is palpable.

And I wonder why. Why are we so afraid? Do we really think the world is going to go to hell in a hand-basket if we reason together? I don’t know.

In Glennon’s post, lots of people pointed out that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality, only Paul did in the New Testament. Those that brought up the Old Testament were rightly squashed as none of us follow Levitical law. It can very successfully be argued that Sodom and Gomorrah was more about gang rape and has no resemblance to our current conundrum of gay marriage.

Those that agreed with the post pointed out that we are all sinners…and were rebutted that most sins are events versus lifestyles. It’s easier to ask for forgiveness for lying when you’re not married to the lie.

So what did Jesus say about marriage?

But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Matthew 5:32

Divorce is very common. People divorce for lots of reasons beyond sexual immorality. Most people who consider divorce a sin believe it’s a one time event that God forgives. But what about that last part? According to that, remarriage is a sin, too. What’s up with that? That doesn’t sound like a one-time thing. That sounds like they are in an adulterous relationship. How come nobody ever talks about that?

So, if you’re divorced, are you supposed to remain single for, like, ever?!? What if it’s too late and you’re already in the adulterous relationship of a second marriage? Do you get another divorce? I Corinthians 6:18 tells us to Flee sexual immorality. Living in adultery seems pretty immoral, to me. But what if the new couple has children together? Obviously, they can be forgiven for entering the remarriage, but then do they need to have a celibate marriage to keep from being adulterous?

So many questions! Honestly, it’s difficult to fit these words of Jesus into our current culture, especially if you’re one who claims, “The Bible clearly states…”

Second marriages and blended families are the norm, even in the church. No one bats an eye. I know very godly people who have been married for almost fifty years the second time around. No one refused to bake a cake for them or photograph their wedding, even back then, by the way. How come?

I don’t know what to think about Jesus’s words regarding divorce, second marriages, and adultery. I chose to use them as an example, but I’ve never really studied them in depth or wrestled them through. I’m happily married to my first husband of twenty-two years. That passage doesn’t apply to my circumstance and I don’t feel the need to take a microscope to it to measure someone else’s life.

I’m sure there have been studies and someone will tell me what Jesus really meant in that passage. If we look hard enough, we may discover cultural context or Greek words with different meanings than the current translations. Wait, that sounds familiar. All things those same people are denying others regarding passages on homosexuality, because, you know, “the Bible clearly states…”

Here’s the thing. I worship with people who are in second marriages. Half the time, I have no idea. But even if I do, I don’t care or even ever think about it. I serve with them at church. I go out to dinner with them, watch their kids, pray for them, let them pray for me…do life with them, just like anyone else.

If it ever crossed my mind, I would assume they have wrestled that passage with Jesus and I would trust them to walk in whatever He showed them to do. Because I love them, I’ll let them work out their own faith with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12) and I will work out mine.

And you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to do the same with my gay brothers and sisters. The passages on homosexuality don’t apply to my circumstance. I’m not gay. So, I’m not taking a stand on gay marriage. I’m taking a knee. I will serve those around me. If they want me to bake a cake, I will bake for them two. (If they want me to photograph their wedding, they should reconsider, though. My sisters-in-law can tell you I’m not so good at that.)

So, I will gladly stand next to my gay brothers and sisters in worship or go out to dinner with them or watch their children. I will pray for them and let them pray for me…do life with them, just like anyone else. Because I love them, I’ll trust them to work out their own faith with fear and trembling and I will work out mine.

But I won’t take a stand on somebody else’s life. Because I believe there is grace for us all.

Church Bullies

They say a church hurt is the worst hurt. I think its because our expectations are higher for our fellow believers. We expect them to treat us better than their worldly counterparts. When they don’t, we are wounded.

Sometimes, we are gutted.

The thing is, there are people in the church who are simply bullies. The church can be a breeding ground for them. Most people in churches have been conditioned to be kind and to keep peace. We avoid conflict. Bullies flourish in churches because they are rarely confronted and the stakes are low if, on the off chance, they are exposed.

A bully loves to be a big fish in a small pond. They excel at saying all the right words, at twisting Scripture to appear spiritual, and, when exposed, at sweeping things under the rug in the name of “reconciliation”. They are experts at gaslighting, as well.

Church bullies love legalism, although they have a ton of public grace for themselves. They believe that their circumstances are the exceptions to the rules they have for everyone else.

Dealing with them is disheartening, infuriating, sometimes crushing, and always preoccupying. The reality is that church bullies, because of the niceness in church culture, almost always win. Their victims either cower or, after a brief fight, walk away, misunderstood by others and painted in a bad light.

I’ve mentioned before my lack of pretense. I wear my heart on my sleeve, I say what I mean, and I don’t understand the first thing about playing games. Basically, I make an excellent target for the church bully. So I have been one too many times, as I was recently in a church-like setting.

I was the one walking away, misunderstood. I hate to be misunderstood. As I’ve said before, it’s my kryptonite.

Plus, I want to prove to everyone that I’m right. My pride wants everyone to see how I’ve been wronged, to understand the depths of the wrongness done to me, and to fully know the depravity of the one who did the wronging. I want to give those bullies a taste of their own medicine, I do.

Because in my mind, they are the enemy. They can do no right. They are 100% wrong, black-hat-bad, evil. Beyond redemption.

In Googling this topic, I found some good articles on how to handle the church bully. I Hate Church Bullies by Jeremy Myers explores what motivates them. What To Say To a Church Bully from Ministry Today is an excellent article on our responsibility to confront those commandeering the church.

In the past, I’ve allowed my own anger and hurt to so color my thinking, I’ve forgotten that Jesus loves those bullies just as much as He loves me. He treasures them. They are His beloved children. And He had specific instructions for how we deal with our perceived enemies:

But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. (Luke 6:27-28)

But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:35-36)

I will tell you that my pride loathes these Words. “C’mon, Jesus. Let’s bless them with a brick to the backside, instead,” I want to plead (and probably have.) Pray for them, do good, love them, are all I hear in response. And, because I’m no longer around them much, I do the one thing I can from a distance. I pray for them.

And it’s work. My flesh rises up and wants me to do anything but that. But I persist. And soon, more rapidly than if I’d nursed my grudge, my heart softens. Forgiveness reigns. I can see them as Jesus does.

Boundaries are necessary and still in place.

Not gonna lie to you. It’s a struggle at first. I don’t know how to pray for people about which I have nothing good to say. So I start there. I confess my sins in the whole mess (which are legion), and just tell God I don’t know where to start but I want to be obedient to His Word. He reminds me of a small circumstance I know about in one of their lives. I lift it up.

Soon, I can pray with all sincerity for peace and blessing to them. But more amazing to me is the peace it brings in my life.

And I now understand that whether I am the one who has brought the wrong or the one who has been wronged, there is grace for both.

A Polished Turd

I guess it’s because I’m old or maybe just because I haven’t landed anywhere in the church, but lately I’ve been taking stock, reviewing history, wondering how I got here.

And by here, I mean nowhere, sadly. I’m disconnected and adrift. I can’t seem to find my people.

I spent years in a church that was a bad fit. All the signs were there, in neon, yet I allowed myself to be convinced that I was the problem. I was too brash, too confrontational, divisive. Time and time again, I retreated and allowed myself to be silenced in efforts to be a “good girl” or a mature christian woman. The message was clear: Follow the status quo, don’t ask questions, don’t show so much weakness.

I could never strike the balance. I watched other people share just enough vulnerability to appear humble, but still maintain a veneer of control and success. I envied them. They were esteemed as mature. My mask never stayed in place. I was all in, real, raw. My heart was on my sleeve. I asked a lot of questions. I secretly thought of myself whenever I watched the classic The Sound of Music and heard the nuns sing Maria. I always felt like I was a problem to be solved.

I felt tolerated, but never understood.

Being misunderstood is my kryptonite. My feelings were obliterated a lot. Always, the situation was spun in such a way that I was convinced to apologize, in the name of “reconciliation.”

Looking back, I realize that I did a lot of things incorrectly, but sometimes, often even, I was standing up for justice. I was working to right a wrong. I wish now that I hadn’t backed down so often. Mostly, I wish I would’ve walked away long before I finally did.

It’s a strange twist in church when pretense is the norm. Much of my Christian life has been spent rueing the fact that I seem unable to project a false self. You can’t polish a turd, as the saying goes, but I get confused and at times even seem to think playing a better game of pretend is the goal.

It’s not.

Maybe because I’m forty-five and sleep-deprived and have a greatly diminished filter, but I’m over even pretending to pretend. I don’t have my shit together and I’m literally wearing the t-shirt to prove it. t-shirtAnd while my kids are scandalized that I wear this in public, I have the audacity to think it is a greater witness for the cause of Christ than all the sanctimonious memes I see spread around on Facebook. (Like this one:


While Christ absolutely died for you, I promise, no one is saying you take the Jesus thing too seriously. The fact that you think they are is highly arrogant and slightly narcissistic.)

What were we talking about? Oh, yeah. My t-shirt. People need to know they can come just as they are. They are accepted. No pretense here. You be you. I’ll be me. Lacking, off-kilter, loud, overwhelmed, forgetful, tired…me. And when we finally drop the masks, real relationship happens.

In His day, Jesus hung around with sinners and they clearly liked Him. He put them at ease. Church folks didn’t like that too much and complained. He responded, “I’ve come to call sinners, not those who think they are already good enough.” (Matthew 9:13 NLT)

I remember as a young mom admitting to an older, somewhat pious, woman at church that I didn’t care for Jesus much when I read His words in the Bible. I liked the rest of the Bible, but, Jesus made me uncomfortable. (See? No mask.) I don’t remember what she said, but her shocked look with veiled disdain spoke volumes. Clearly, this was not something to be spoken of out loud. (Shut up and drink the kool-aid, Tara.)

But, no wonder He made me uncomfortable. I was trying so hard to be already good enough. I thought that’s what I was supposed to be, already good enough.

None of us is.

The playing field is level. “No one is good — not even one.” (Romans 3:10b NLT) And when I realize that, when I can acknowledge that with a humble heart, Jesus doesn’t make me uncomfortable. He welcomes me.

None of us, no matter how long we’ve followed Jesus, has our shit together. If we pretend otherwise, we’re simply polished turds. We are righteous in Him, to be sure, but we’re not good.

I will forever be grateful that there is grace for that.

About Church Criticism

Someone linked this Open Letter to All the People Writing (And Sharing) Open Letters About What’s Wrong with The Church on Facebook and received a lot of positive feedback. I read it and it irritated me. Probably because, while not a Millennial, I am among those who “liked” the original letters to which the author refers and may have even shared them.

She makes some excellent points and her intent is to spur us on to stick it out and to share our frustration with the leadership in our local church and not spew it all over social media. I get that. And, I agree with her that some of the criticism is petty. But, much of it is born out of pain and confusion. A lot of it is spot on. The American church can’t just cop a “suck it up” attitude and tell people to deal. That mentality has left bleeding believers in her wake and scabbed over church members struggling to keep the phony smiles plastered on their faces while they go about business as usual.

Acting like we’ve got it going on when clearly we don’t is unhelpful.

To be clear, I think it needs to be pointed out the author appears confused about what The Church is. Jesus absolutely loves The Church, His Bride, the universal Body of Believers, His followers. I don’t believe, however, that He is as enamored with “the church”, little “c”, as in the American way we choose to worship Him on Sunday mornings, which is what is being criticized in these types of articles.

That church is failing. We are failing our members and we are failing the world. With a divorce rate nearly as high as those outside our doors, and college students leaving the faith in droves, we’re not doing a great job inside. When people feel the need to take their woes to social media because they are not being heard, when expressing any sort of doubt or unrest is frowned upon, and when they so desperately feel the need to connect beyond our walls, all is not well.

When twenty percent of Americans have a disability and yet, rarely is even one person with a disability an active part of any congregation, there is a problem. Let that sink in. If you attend a fairly large congregation, you may be able to think of a few people there who have disabilities, but do their numbers even begin to approach twenty percent?!? Where are those people? Not in church because they feel unwelcome there. It is often physically inaccessible as churches are exempt from the ADA requirements of other public buildings. Or, they are required to sit in a section not of their choosing, away from family and friends. Often, it is emotionally and spiritually crushing as they may hear things from the pulpit like, “It saddens me to see people with disabilities in our church, it is a reminder that we do not have enough faith.”

I cannot tell you how many times we’ve been told we should visit the local mega church with the awesome special needs program. We are blessed that there is one near us. I realize that. And, from all accounts, it is awesome. But it is also eleven miles away. According to Google Maps, there are at least thirty-one churches in a five-mile radius of our house. Given the church’s pro-life stance, we should be able to walk into any of them and be welcomed and comfortable with children who have special needs. I dream of the day that is reality. Today is not that day and kids like mine and their families are being ignored and worse, rejected.

When there is a church on every corner and still over 100,000 children available for adoption via foster care, something is clearly wrong. James 1:27 tells us that true religion is caring for orphans and yet, most states can’t even find enough foster parents and the system is over-run. While not my experience, many adoptive parents tell me that their biggest critics during their adoptions were fellow church members or even pastoral staff. Post-adoption support is little understood and mostly non-existent and families who struggle after an adoption feel isolated and lost.

These are just a few of the myriad of problems the American church is barely acknowledging. The author appears to not want anyone to have hurt feelings, herself included, over church criticism, but sometimes, truth hurts and it is through strong emotions that change is effected. She wants us to settle down and not post on social media, but often, reading someone else’s words can stir something in our own hearts and resonate in our own souls and spur us to action.

It is time that we rectify the wrongs in our church culture.

Injustice is occurring in and all around the American church. I don’t think Jesus, the one who drove the money changers from the temple, is upset with us for calling it out. I think He’s upset that someone had to in the first place.