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I read this over at Seth Haines’s blog this morning, how a friend of his was at the hospital bed of his dying daughter and a woman offered the solace of the admonishment, if you just had faith like a mustard seed, all this trouble would go away. And it’s true, scripture has been used this way. It’s been hacked up and thrown about, well-intentioned sound byte offerings of impotency or judgement.

But that’s not scripture’s fault, said Seth, and I like his conclusion. Scripture doesn’t always mean what people says it means, and that’s the sad and happy truth of it.

Yesterday our dear, faithful Servant of Scripture preached on Romans 13, and his thoughts have been mingling with my thoughts since.

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. (Romans 13:8)

And this is beautiful and makes me smile, because it means all the rules we like to emphasize and hammer on are made fulfilled if we love each other. Because if I’m loving you, how can I harm you or steal from you or gossip about you?

Love does no harm to a neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:10)

Let’s go about our days paying our debts of love. Lets love each other as best we can, in Jesus’ name amen, and I bet those mustard seeds of faith will grow like crazy.

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The burden of abstinence. That’s how he said it in the beautiful piece he wrote about being an addict who hadn’t used in ten years.

The burden of abstinence, and the words are stuck in my head.

I’ve only dabbled in the substances, so to speak. A little drink and some grass smoked secondhand, back in the day. Honestly it scared me more than it tempted me and I said no to the magic mushrooms that time they were offered and I watched while they got high and I drove my boyfriend home from the parties when he’d had too much.

I was the good girl in the room and to tell you the truth it was a real drag.

Mostly just wading in up to my knees, and it’s not enough to swim and it’s not enough to stay dry and the waves swirling around are pushing and pulling and getting the hem of my dress wet.

Soggy is no fun, not when everyone else is either skinny dipping in the ocean or singing worship songs around a campfire on the beach.

But I’d been raised the way I’d been raised and there was no way I could get those sermons out of my head.

I’d been raised on the gospel of abstinence and maybe that was what kept me safe during those years. Safe enough, anyway. Let’s just say I wasn’t a saint. Not even close. And the gospel of don’t-do-this can only get you so far and there’s a lot of guilt that goes along with it when you aren’t a saint, like I wasn’t.

But what he was referring to in those words he wrote about his own addiction and his ten years free was that curious nostalgia that creeps in sometimes in the looking back. I was never an addict, not in the way he’s talking. But by times I’d let the waves pull me in, and the swimming was crazy and fun and free.

Some of my friends found their loves early and married them quick, and they look back on those years differently than do I.

I didn’t marry my first love. I didn’t spend my twenties with a childhood sweetheart or a college romance. I traveled and tried my hand at Doing Things For The Lord and dated a guy or two and lost my way for a while. You could say I went swimming more than I praised God on the beach, or at least as often, although mostly I waded wet in the shallows.

Now, I’m a sold out praise-the-Lord-er, yes I am. And maybe that’s because of the abstinence thing, or maybe Jesus found me in the ocean, or maybe I remembered he was there – ocean or sand or wherever I was – all along.

The burden of abstinence is still a thing. I won’t pretend it isn’t, only now I call it grace.

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I read it this morning in Luke. The thing that happened in those days, and how the shepherds heard about it. The angel showing up in the middle of the night in the middle of the field in the middle of all those sheep and the glory of the Lord shining around them, and the multitude of angels appearing with their praise and glorifying, and the shepherds were afraid. No kidding.

Not too afraid, though.

Not too afraid to pack up and go see the thing that had happened.

Not too afraid to make haste, or to share with the stable dwellers the message of the angels, or to return to their real lives, glorifying and praising.

I’m afraid, often, of the glory things.

I don’t want to be too afraid, though. Advent is a new baby, a new hope, and the ushering in of a new year. A year to go and to see and to praise and to glorify.

Amen.

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One boy, stretching tall and skinny in the kitchen after a breakfast of leftovers. The pizza I’d thought we’d have for lunch, but oh well. The youngest headed downstairs to get to the shower first, before his brothers. The oldest still rubbing sleep out of his eyes, a large, bearded version of the firstborn babe he was. The new son bundled and backpacked and bussed away to school. Husband on his way to work, instructions for the boys lingering in the air after he closes the door. Check the water every hour. Make sure the trough heater is submerged.

It’s a cold November day out there.

The first week of the month is almost spent, and every day I read thanksgiving being poured out all over the internet. Thankfulness for amazing husbands or wives and wonderful children and the blessings of these or those things or people in our lives. It’s good, this month of thankful.

I’m thankful, too, for all that makes life sweet.

I’m mindful, though, of those for whom life is very hard. Those for whom a month, thirty whole days, of finding thankful is a challenge. Those for whom the admonitions to take joy in all things grow guilt rather than grace.

This is what I think. I think that sometimes life is wonderful and sometimes life is hard. And it’s not fair or equal or just. There is no balance, not really, and I don’t know why that is. I don’t know why some people seem to have more than their fair share of troubles and heartache and others seem to be especially blessed. I don’t know why some make it and others don’t. I do know it’s not always about trying harder or working longer or being more talented.

I don’t get all preachy very often, here, but when it’s hard, when I don’t understand, I go to Jesus. Because I believe this man lived – that God came from glory to be here on earth with us – had sweet times and very hard times, and this is what scripture tells me to do with that:

Keep your eyes on Jesus, our leader and instructor. He was willing to die a shameful death on the cross because of the joy he knew would be his afterwards; and now he sits in the place of honour by the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)

This man did not dance his way through suffering, he suffered his way through suffering. He endured. His joy was not in the immediate, but in the future.

I’m not a preacher, not even close. I don’t know all the doctrine or all the definitions and I hate being asked to take stands on things that people have decided are religious issues. Here’s my catechism. If you are gay, I offer love. If you are in jail, I offer love. If you have aborted or stolen or lied or had sex before you got married or told a dirty joke or took the last piece of pie – I offer love.

If you are suffering in the midst of this month of thankful, I offer love.

Not mine, you understand, but his.

It’s not about religion, not for me. It’s about breathing him in, and breathing him out. And the breathing in and out of him, always, is love.

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I should be noticing holy type stuff, because it’s Sunday and all.

I go to church, and it is good. We are late because church is early because of a meeting and it being muffin Sunday, but we are late because there are issues with the goats. And Lyndon is aching with tendonitis and he needs the boys to help him out there, dealing with the goat issues, and so we’re late for the meeting and we have completely missed the muffin and visiting time.

We straggle in, just in time to vote “yes” to the hiring of a part-time interim preacher, and after the all in favour and the obligatory closing prayer, the boys dive into the muffin tray and I join the women at a table to discuss what will we do for ladies class this fall? I like the decision we agree on. We agree to study Jesus, and talk about Him. My kind of bible study.

I’m off to the basement now, to set up my Sunday School classroom, and then upstairs again to sit with my family and some cool teenager friends of theirs and we sing and pray and share bread and wine. The collection basket is being passed and Carter hands it to me, stretching around his dad who doesn’t want to take the basket because, remember, tendonitis, and we drop it. Coins and bills and cheques everywhere and we giggle and gather and pass it on.

Sunday School time and that is fun. The kids are great and we sing the books of the New Testament because we are trying to learn them, and the shy boy answers a question and so does his shy sister, and I feel like that is a victory. We hear them singing the closing hymn upstairs but we are in the middle of a silly game, so we stay and finish and, whew, back upstairs to collect family and say a few hellos and then I’m home again, lunch on the go.

Moose and elk sausage, perogies, baked beans. A fall meal if ever there was one, and we gobble it up, and tidy it up, and oh my goodness, it’s been a busy day already.

I sit down to write these words, and the holy of the day is beyond me. No great study of scripture or meditation comes to mind. There was hardly time to slow, let alone pray, and yet …

Yet, I think, there was holy in there, too. Yes, there was. Not the holy of great ceremony. The holy, instead, of small ordinary. The holy of giving thanks for pancakes, and hugging an away boy who made it home for the day, and preparing food, and teaching babies, and massaging a husband’s sore arm.

These small holies, these are what I’m noticing today.

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Day 6 of 31 Days of Noticing Stuff. To see all the posts in this series, click the link at the top of the page.

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We used to do church at the pig farm.

Our family, their family, and a bunch of boys between us. A gathering, scripture, sharing ideas, sharing a meal … a morning that sometimes stretched to an evening.

We were pretty young then, with the children small and all, and it was a sweet year-and-a-half of fellowship without much obligation. I suppose sometimes it was hard on us, just being us, but mostly it was restful. A church sabbath, in a way.

I remember moving to the new town, and the number of times I was told this: Now you will have a real church to be a part of. I remember the anxiety of those words. I didn’t really want a real church. I liked the simplicity of the pig farm.

I think of it sometimes, in the middle of a busy Sunday.

I don’t know if our pig farm church would have been a long-term option. Maybe, if we’d stayed, we’d have found a “real” church to be part of, eventually. Sunday School and sermons and ladies class.

But, I know the pig farm was what I needed, when I needed it. And it was very, very real.

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All the people I’ve known in my life who have come to the place of living openly as same-sex attracted people, have left their faiths.

There might be some, I’m suspecting, who are living closeted lives and who go to church, but I had never shared a hymnal with anyone who was open until I met Sally.

We were at a Christian Women’s Renewal, about sixty of us, and at our worship time on the first evening, I sat beside her. I stuck out a hand and introduced myself, and we shook, and we started to talk.

She shared her passion for her ministry, Center Peace, which she described as an organization that provides support for men and women who experience same-sex attraction, and which does workshops for churches to help them both better understand and provide healthier environments for same-sex attracted people within their congregations.

And then we were singing and worshipping and that was that.

We ended up in the same prayer group, though, and spent a few moments in conversation here and there, and I came to admire and respect Sally Gary, for her story, for her life, for her honesty, and for her courage to be someone who loves God and likes girls.

A few weeks later, at a big Christian gathering at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Sally launched her new book.

Loves God, Likes Girls is a memoir. It is a beautifully written account of an only girl-child born to older parents and raised in a bible-belt Christian home often marked by anger, secrecy, and emotional abuse. It’s Sally’s journey, her story of growing up in an often confusing environment, and her eventual realization that she was attracted to women.

It’s a sad, poignant, but ultimately hopeful story of one woman’s experience.

What it’s not, is a book that takes either polarizing side of this emotionally charged issue. You won’t find arguments supporting homosexuality, nor will you find arguments against it. Paul isn’t quoted, and neither is Leviticus.

This is a book that is descriptive, not prescriptive. It’s Sally’s story, told honestly and bravely, and it’s beautiful.

Love you, Sally Gary. God bless!

Sally ministers at Center Peace, and blogs at Peace of my Mind…