Friday, January 31, 2014

More on Proximity

God does not self-destruct.

In the Garden of Eden, His presence filled the earth; the serpent was there, too. In the Book of Job, He sat on the throne, and Satan approached Him for conversation. In the wilderness, Satan tempted Him, and on the cross, I can only imagine the weight of sin and darkness that rested upon Him. But, God does not self-destruct. He stands everlasting and unchanging, resurrected.

I've always been under the impression that God cannot look at sin: that He cannot bear it. And yet, Jesus sought out the unlovable and untouchable, intentionally, and He made His meals with them. He gave them water, He healed them, and He stood between them and their accusers.

Proximity: "nearness in space, time, and relationship."

7 years ago, I asked God why He continued to "use" people I knew who seemed hard-hearted, prideful, and bent on hurting others. How could He bless their work when it was so clear that it would cause others to suffer, deeply? I couldn't understand, at the time, how these people could be reveling in the comfort of God's favor while in such close proximity to sin. Someone told me then, Amber, God used an ass—literally, an ass—to speak to His people. I’ve learned He’ll use any one and any thing to accomplish His plans. And I'll admit, the idea was comforting to me. For whatever reason, I had to believe that God's movement in and through these people was not a way of assigning value to, or validating, or enabling them. I'm embarrassed about these comments, now. Honestly. It's difficult for me to admit how I sometimes classify others in my mind as "them," when I have my own flaws. And I know that I have no right to stand and judge, or even "classify."

Sin is no deterrent for God. If anything, it catches His eye and draws Him near in desperation. He is a God who loves and pursues His children. As His children, we should do the same. We should seek out the unlovable and untouchable, intentionally, and make our meals with them. We should give them water, heal them, and stand between them and their accusers, offering the hope of Jesus.

These things make sense to me. They are a familiar reminder. But here's what is unfamiliar, and what I didn't know before:

Since I believed that God could not bear to look at sin, I believed that the act of sin was what created literal distance from God. That if I sinned there was some sort of "will wear off in 24 hours" type of side-effect. That God could not move within me, could not use me, until the effects of sin wore off. And that this applied to others as well, although I wasn't quite sure if it took 24 hours for sin to wear off, or maybe 24 months. I supposed it depended upon the depravity of the situation, and I am so disappointed with myself for believing these things for so long.

The incredible, unreal, unexplainable truth about the forgiveness and the presence of God is that it is there, within reach, at all times. God can move immediately, and He does. All the time. Sometimes, even, He is moving and speaking through the lips of the hypocrites, the slanderers, and all of us who have no right or merit to His name. Because He is just that near. Sin, or no sin. My sin, or your sin. No matter the depravity.

As I change my perspective, I see Him more.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Recent Rules for the Internet

I'm going to keep this one short, friends. I'm not trying to cut corners, but I have "stacks" of grading to do (can you still call them stacks when they are files on your computer?), and I have a dog to cuddle. 

My mind has been a flurry of thoughts, lately. I read this evening that I should sit back, close my eyes, let my body rest in the comfort of gravity, and allow Jesus to do a bit of sorting, unwinding, connecting, rewiring, and overall sense-making and priority-setting. So, I'm working on that :) Out of the mess that is my mind, however, comes this post: Amber's Recent Rules for the Internet. 

Number One.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21)

Replace the word "evil" with hatred, venom, ignorance, despair, negativity, fear-mongering, anxiety, gossip, bullying, or any other word that causes your stomach to turn, or your fist to clench, or your heart to race, or the dark cloud above you to settle in at eye level. The Internet is full of "evil," as far as I can see it, and it can become a rather hopeless place at times. But I've been reminding myself lately to have eyes for hope even in the darkest of places. I've decided to look in front of me and see darkness fall away. To look again, if I don't see goodness the first time through, or the second, or the third. He has overcome the world, and I have nothing to fear. Nothing to overwhelm me. 

Number Two.

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3)

There are some things people just shouldn't say. They should know better. But they don't. (Myself included, by the way). If I can take a deep breath and remind myself not to "be overcome," I can go one step further in gentleness, in patience, and in love. I can reach out. I can unify. Or, I can hold my tongue with the realization that "this too shall pass," and the understanding that it is not always my battle. Remember, we are all unfolding: each in our own way, at our own pace. 

Number Three. 

She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. (Proverbs 31:25)

Eric and I have been practicing this one. Up ahead, the storm clouds gather and collide. The dark skies seem to be moving towards us quickly, swallowing up the sun. We're tempted to suck in air and hold our breath as we wait, in discomfort, for the storm to pass. 

Instead, we look to one another. In a glance, we remember all that He has done for us: the gift of the marriage between us and the promise of eternity in His Kingdom. The Garden. The City. The grave conquered and every tear wiped away. Darkness fails, and we laugh instead




Sunday, January 26, 2014

I will fail.

When I made the decision to start writing more regularly, there was one major obstacle to overcome. I had to accept this: I will fail.  

Please don’t try to console me, or to “equip” me with hopes that you can prevent it from happening, or to sugar coat it, or deny it. Failure is ugly, for sure. It’s difficult to face, whether you are the one failing, or merely a spectator. And yet, it’s inevitable. If you tell me otherwise, I’ll have to ignore it. I’ve believed for such a long time that hard work, persistence, and an overall commitment to striving and being hard on myself would prevent failure. Or at least, in moments of failure, I would be able to claim success by taking ownership for my failure before anyone else had the chance to perceive me as weak.

Even Thomas Edison denied failure, by re-framing it, when he shared his experiences inventing the light bulb: “I have not failed; I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”


I love that quote. I love the feeling of holding failure in my hand, crushing it, transforming it, and shaping it into something new that I am not afraid to hold, proudly, in an open palm.

But I have to ask: what’s so bad about failure, really?

In the “economy of Christ,” He is made strong in my weakness. That’s such a “Christianese” answer, I know. But let me put things into context by explaining what led me to write this entry in the first place:

I’ve been reading other people’s blogs lately, trying to learn more about what is out there and how this whole blog thing works, anyway. (I also think it’s important to support others in their writing if I expect the same in return). It can become quite the time suck, but for now, I’ll say that it has been time well spent. I’ve been inspired, challenged, and generally moved by what I have found, and it feels right to take a break from the sometimes self-absorbed activity of blog writing to admire the talents, gifts, and stories of other people.

But blogs can become battlegrounds. A person, half-realized, commits to the act of writing, to the act of thinking, and as they pour their words out onto the blank canvas—a glimpse into their minds, at the moment—all of their weaknesses, dressed up with the limits of our language, are laid bare. Since it’s public, it’s up for public review, and oh how the anonymous, distant public of the Internet swarm at the chance to criticize.

I haven’t yet faced this. For now, I am grateful for that, as I am learning how to be unafraid as I write. But in the future, I assume I will face it—especially considering the time constraints I have put upon myself—and I am certain it will have its benefits. That it will be part of the beauty that failure can become.

I say it again: I will fail. I will fail in such a way that invites criticism. 

I’m sure that I already have. That I have been wrong. That I have been proud. That I have misunderstood the scriptures. That I will read what I have written one year from now and wonder how I could have missed this or that. That I will open up a can of worms without the qualifications to do so: whatever those may be.

But here is why
I will write anyway:

Because I hope that my writing will encourage more honesty about faith, for believers and non-believers. I hope that I can be a part of a movement of people who are unafraid to ponder the existence and the nature of God, together, despite status or education. And I believe that we will all benefit from it, because I believe that God is near and that He is generous:
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5)
Because I believe that God is a teacher, and I know firsthand that teachers are patient with their students, see failure as a part of the process, and would rather work with a student who is willing to fail in order to gain, than with a student who remains within the boundaries of their own comforts. Haven’t you heard Picasso’s famous words? “Every child is an artist; the problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” Fear of failure suffocates our ability to create and to dream and to speak and to learn. I believe that God reveals Himself, sometimes slowly, and that it is okay to have a developing understanding of who He is. To be an artist, unashamed, growing, expressing, all the way to the grave. 

And because I need only to fear God, and God knows that I will fail. He will not be shocked; He will not be angry. He has already died on the cross, knowing that I am imperfect and in need of His redemption. He will not reply with harsh words of criticism or judge me for the student that I am, but He will have hope for me and the woman that I am becoming. He will meet with me at every step.

Father, Be the leader. Be the lamp unto my feet. Renew my heart and my mind as I read the Bible and write this blog. Correct me, guide me, teach me, forgive me, and keep me humble and alert all the while.


And Father, give my readers eyes to see and ears to hear what You are unfolding in me; give them courage to be unfolding as well.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Job Over Pancakes

Every time I read the book of Job, it feels like the first time. I know the first few chapters well, but for some reason, I can never remember how it ends. I’m trapped in the moment—in the pain, the despair, the confusion, the dreadful whirlwind of unfairness, and pity, and one of the most honest conversations with God that I know of. And every time, the story makes me undone.

I cringe at the thought of Satan, there in the presence of God.

And that’s only the beginning.

Since Eric and I were sitting down together for pancakes this morning, I thought it would be a good idea to invite the Book of Job to join us. I’ve been struggling to write, and I’ve already missed two of my personal deadlines because of it. Now, I’m writing on a Friday—our day of rest—but I feel peaceful about what I have to share and grateful for a husband who helps me to understand my own mind and who gives wise advice.

For over an hour, we sat side by side, talking about some of the most pressing questions of our existence and our faith—about good and evil, the laws of physics, theological tensions, Christian sentiment, creation, rhetorical questions, the capabilities of Satan, the intentions of God, and the limits of our knowing. In the end, I told Eric that I was worried about speaking too soon by writing about Job, now, when all I have to offer is troubling, fragmented, confusing, and intensely personal. But I also told him that I want my writing to be transparent and honest, and that I would never want to withhold my struggles or questions out of fear or censorship.

Job’s friends mourned with him for 7 days before ever speaking a word.

That is one of the most incredible things about Eric. He is a strong and quiet presence, and a friend who will never leave my side. His advice was simple: write about other things until you finish reading Job, and wait for God to speak.


Though I am not ready to write about Job, God has been speaking to me. Yesterday, I could hear Him saying, I am the leader, I am the leader, I am the leader, I am the leader, I am.


I’m not going to write about Job yet, but I hope that God will lead me to do so in time.



Monday, January 20, 2014

This is how you love.

Genesis: check.

Finishing the book feels rewarding, but genuinely different from times in the past. Reading the Bible to be with God is mysterious, thrilling, comforting, and much more worth it. I've never felt so connected to the act of page turning, knowing that I am not alone—that I am in the presence of something much bigger and brighter than anything I've ever imagined, and knowing that I am being invited to come closer. I'll set Genesis aside, now, like a book with notes bursting out of its sides. Something to return to. A place where I can continue to seek answers, and a place for recalling memories, too. 

Rewarding, yes. But these 20 days have also been difficult.

And, I just can't bring myself to say much about that, but I'll say this: it feels as if there is a tiny rock wedged in there somewhere. Somewhere in a hidden cavity in my chest, where my heart finds its strength and my breath is made full. That's where the rock is. Undermining the natural order of things. Stealing away my words.

In worship yesterday, I saw Jesus as a teacher, again. I was sitting at a small desk in a one-room school house, and He was moving from the front of the room through the spaces in between us. He was smiling as He looked down at our work, pointing things out, one child at a time. His feedback was gentle, and sweet, and we were eager for His attention. When He made it over to me, I looked down with Him, at the paper in front of me—delicate lines and dark gray sweeps, converging to form each cavity, wall, and valve of a human heart. Of my heart. He moved the pencil over the sketch and said, This is how you love. And we shaped and shaded until the heart seemed so real. This is how you love, He said. Because Jesus teaches me things like that. 

He also taught me, as I read Genesis, that He is the mediator. He is the Spirit that moves beyond the boundaries of our bodies, that binds us together. He is the peace between Jacob and Esau; He is the favor between Egypt and Joseph; He is the forgiveness between Joseph and his brothers. And since most of what hurts in my world, and most of what I fear, is the pain that exists between the boundaries of our bodies—the harm that can be done between people—I am freed to know that when I found myself on my knees yesterday, asking Him to mediate, He is able. He is willing. 


Remember grace, I keep telling myself.

Eyes on me, He keeps saying.

This is how you love.

I wondered later what exactly it was that we had added to my heart. I zoomed in and out of the dream and I realized that the "this" He was referring to was not a part of the drawing itself. It was His attention, His hand, His time, His care. All month long, this word has been on my mind: Proximity"nearness in space, time, or relationship." And now, Emmanuel—"God with us." This is how You love.  



Thank you, God, for Eric. Whose love always makes me think of You. 


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Embodied

I've been stuck with these thoughts, unresolved, but I've decided to share anyways. Here it goes...

"As children grow up, we start to educate them progressively from the waist up. And then we focus on their heads, and slightly to one side," says Ken Robinson, the genius behind one of my favorite TED Talks: "How Schools Kill Creativity." He continues on to criticize, specifically, university professors. He explains, "They live in their heads. They live up there, and slightly to one side. They're disembodied. You know, in a kind of literal way. They look upon their body as a type of transport for their heads. It's a way of getting their head to meetings."

I was watching this video for the fourth or fifth time with some other instructors before I left Longview on Thursday evening and headed for home, and it had me twitching with the need for change, and for movement. The dancer in me was ready to stand up and put my body into shapes, pull beats out of the air, find rhythm, find movement, and color, and lines, and meaning, and words, and align myself with all of it.

The artist within me experiences the world in this way. It's like playing connect the dots with everything sensory. So on the drive home, I turned up "Carry Your Name" and I sang as loud as I could, and I danced as much as I could, and I enjoyed the feeling of being embodiedthe flesh and bone limits that the soul crosses over when a heart bursts in worshipping the Lord.

I think that what Ken Robinson was saying is not isolated to academia; it's rampant in the church as well. I remember one night before the service started I was meeting with friends over coffee and we were talking about the various poses of worshipers and trying to figure out if any of these physical representations mattered. Why do we do what we do anyways? I had to admit, however, that I seem to pay more attention to what we don't do; I mean, it perplexes meif the Lord, the maker of the stars, is literally in our midst, than why do we seem so subdued? So zombified? That night, as we worshiped, I asked God, "Is it okay to dance?" In the secret place between my mind and my eyelids, he appeared, two feet in front of me, smiling, dancing with me as we celebrated all that He has done to conquer death and bring peace and restoration to my soul. It was an intimate momentlighthearted, compassionate, and shattering in terms of my previous perceptions of what the God of the universe might be like.

I realized how much fun it can be to spend time with Jesus.

The scriptures say, "Wisdom is far more valuable than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with it" (Proverbs 8:11). But I am thinking it is important to remember, as Robinson expresses, that intellect is diverse and dynamic. That God is the God of our minds and our bodies, and that He wants all of us. That wisdom, as far as God is concerned, cannot be limited to the intellectual pursuits that we humans have invented. That music can capture God's wisdom; that painting can capture God's wisdom; and poetry, and prose, and dance, and every other creative, embodied outlet that the Creator has given us. Maybe even sports :)

I warn myself today, not to spend the year in my head only. Not to agonize too much over the compatibility between the scriptures and my brain. I have an entire body, and in the presence of the Spirit, it seems to know things about Him that my mind has yet to learn.



Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Looking Beyond Jacob

Esau was born first—hairy. His brother Jacob was born second. Jacob took Esau’s birthright and his blessing, and when Esau threatened his life, Jacob fled.
Eric’s half asleep, but kind enough to mutter words back and forth as I start my day. I tell him that I’m “not that into Jacob," and he surprises me with his agreement, as he begins listing off Jacob’s many offenses. Number one, stealing. I know, right? :)
Jacob fell in love with Rachel, and after working for 7 years with plans to marry her, he ended up married to Leah. He offered 7 more years of service to marry Rachel, and once he finished his work, his family managed to flee from the home of Laban, father of Leah and Rachel. A reunion with Esau awaited Jacob, and he was frightened. He wrestled with God. Then, “Esau ran to meet him, embraced him, hugged his neck, and kissed him. They both wept” (Genesis 33:4). Sigh of relief. 
It’s day 15 of expecting God to speak to me every day this year—of knowing that He wants to, and trusting that He will. But this is an act of faith. The truth is: I worry every day that I will be met with silence, or that the noise of my day will drown out His voice, or that my daily commitment to writing might be too rushed. But as I write these things down, I realize how wrong I must be, and it makes me excited for the year ahead. I realize I’ve been putting a quota on His voice—forgetting that He was the one who asked me to pray without ceasing in the first place, so certainly, He can say more than one thing each month. More than one thing each week. More than one thing each day.

As I was driving home, I asked Him to speak to me differently. Not to prove Himself (I’ve done that before). This was new. Here I am, God. Wanting to be with You. Show me what you see. I thought I heard him say, “daughter.” He lifted my chin to add, “I’m proud of you.” But I couldn’t receive it. I couldn’t imagine that the God of All would put His hand on my chin. I asked Him for His eyes—that He would show me what He sees. And as I looked forward, everything was dark. Because it was night, of course, but this was darker. Gray mist rising from dimmed lights, and slick, dark, foggy skies weighing down the rooftops of empty buildings. Are you sad when you look at us, Father? Are we covered in darkness? I turned the corner, and the oncoming lane stretched out dramatically in front of me; strings of bright, white headlights broke through the darkness, pushing forward in my direction. It became clearer to me that this is how He sees us.
"So that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation. Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky" (Phillipians 2:15).


When I got home, I told Eric about my time with God. About how the darkness disappeared as the headlights caught my eye. About how it must delight the heart of God to see us in that way. Moving towards Him. But I also told Eric that I was worried about the Old Testament. Would God reveal anything new to me? It had been three days, and the only thing worth noting was that, “by the way, I kind of like Jacob now, and I don’t know why.”

I was trying to be playful, but saying it out loud exposed something ugly. Something that God had warned Laban about in a dream: “Be careful that you neither bless nor curse Jacob.”

The realization stunned me. I have been judging dead people. 

God's eyes are on us; our eyes are on each other. 

Earlier in the day I had read, "Fix your eyes on me; the One who never changes." But for so long, I have fixed my eyes on Jacob, on Rebekah, on Lot, and on Cane, and eventually this leads me to judge God as well because I call into question His judgements and decisions to bless or to curse the "deserving" and "undeserving," in my mind. It feels less like judgement when I can say that I'm reading the Bible, trying to understand. But it's so clear now: "I don't like Jacob; I like Jacob," as if my opinion matters. As if Jacob belongs to me. I am trying to imagine what might happen if I read the Bible and paid closer attention to God, and God alone. In the story of Jacob, He guides, He speaks, He delivers, He blesses, and He promises. I need to keep my eye on Him; I need to watch Him, and to follow Him through the story, off of the page, and into the world around me. What would happen if all of us, as we lifted our eyes up from the pages and back down again, paid less attention to one another, and more attention to Him? What might we see? 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Not Even Perfectionism

My world is filled with valuable people who make it easy to practice love. They are vibrant, fascinating, talented, precious, quirky, beautiful people, and I have been thanking God for them a lot lately. If you are reading this, you are probably one of thempick the words you like above, any of them, and wear them for as long as you would like :)

One of these wonderful friends advised me wisely on Monday morning: don't forget about grace, Amber. We didn't get a chance to finish, or for her to explain, but I still took the advice.

I thought about grace all day yesterday. And I still can't stop. 

First, I remembered a time when I made a new friend. She joined me in church, and we were sitting side by side when it hit me that she might not understand what we were listening to; I had often helped her translate words. I leaned over and reminded her that I would be happy to help her out if she needed it. She spouted out a few unfamiliar words, and I quickly defined them. We were both having fun with it. But midway through: Amber, what does grace mean?

What does grace mean?

The question amazed me. The opportunity to share humbled me. I assured her that we would talk about it after church was over. Don't forget about it, I said. 

I forget how I defined grace that day after church, but I can remember the way that my words came leaping out of my chest, and how it felt that nothing could contain the joy that I felt in that moment. To define grace, then, was to give it. And to acknowledge it for myself. 

"Don't forget about grace." 

I have been drafting this entry for two days now; I started it on the side of the highway when Eric and I were broken down and waiting for the tow truck. I couldn't think of any words to fill in the spaces, the abstraction of what grace means, but images from the night before rushed into my mind and comforted me. Grace looks like a girl with her palms open. Feeling imperfect. Feeling numb. Listening to words about hunger, about yearnings of the soul, about the need to be in the Father's presence. Feeling numb. Wishing that her stomach would fall down inside of her, or at least move aside, to make room for the God she needs. The presence she craves, whether she can bring herself to show it or not. Feeling numb. And then waiting to hear Him say, Stop striving. Be full.




In the calm at the center of the storm, I have every reason to be filled with joy and to give thanks to God. Because nothing, "neither death nor life, nor angels or rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39)

Not even perfectionism.

So yesterday, I finished this post. And, I left it unpublished. I defied my every desire to become a slave to my own plans and expectations for myself. I rested in the truth that God loves me no matter what I accomplish. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Press On

I've tried reading the entire Bible before. I've made it pretty far, actually. But in the past, if something didn't sit well, or if it did, I'd say a short prayer, chat it over with Eric, shoot a text to a favorite pastor friend, mention it at a coffee date at some point during the week, write it down in my journal, or maybe do a Google search. And then, move on.

I've been skillful, I think, in dealing deeply with the most difficult passages of the Bible, but managing to keep my relationship with God at the surface level. Because whenever I would grow tired of digging, I'd merely take a break and coast along. Skip the Old Testament. Read a Christian novel instead. Ignore the tough stuff for a while. Avoid the time alone. Sometimes, I realize, I'd take vacations from being a Christian. Not the kind of vacations where you abandon your morals for a what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas type of experience. But the kind where you abandon your pursuit for God because you are tired of asking Him tough questions, waiting for answers, agonizing over answers, having to have all of the answers!

Don't you ever get tired?

I'm not afraid to say it. Once, I sat at the edge of my bed with my forehead in my palms, with my lap full of tears. I told Him, I can't do this anymore. I can't understand You, and I can't follow You. But before I could finish my words, He arrived. He lifted my heart in His palms and He felt familiar. I was convinced that I belonged to Him, and that if I was patient, He could give me everything I would need to struggle through the pain I was feeling. To fight through the doubt that was weighing me down. He made Himself undeniable.

Writing this blog is changing me. I'm only twelve days into the year, and there have been too many moments where I have wanted to just give up and take a vacation from believing what I believe. But at the end of every day, I look back, and I see that I have never been so close to Him. In my first post for Undignified, I said that I was writing this blog for me; that makes much more sense tonight.

And because I'm a teacher, I'll end with this:

As I was driving to church tonight, I imagined that God was my teacher. It suddenly made sense to me why I felt the way I did. Why I was staying up late, puzzling over notes, reading more than ever before, writing everything down, and struggling to understand. If God is the Creator of the universe, imagine how magnificent His disciplines, how vast His knowledge, how intricate His wisdom, how beautiful His art, how puzzling His lectures, how intimidating His intellect, how frightening His power, how gracious His guidance, how immense His patience.

I am at the feet of Jesus, learning. And it hurts. But I have no plans to leave. This year, I will run faster and longer, and I will feel what it means to press on toward the goal that is Christ Jesus, because He is the One who sustains me.

video



Saturday, January 11, 2014

Human Sacrifice & "Feelings"

Some days, you can manage to do nothing of seeming significance, and still feel that there is something memorable taking place—that the day is asserting itself as a memory worthy of recall. That’s how my day began yesterday. I hadn’t spent much time with Eric all week because of classes, but Fridays are our day off. And usually we have a plan for the day, but this morning unraveled without much discussion.

We ended up with coffee in our hands, pumpkin bread on our plates, and Bibles and journals on our laps. It felt so good to agree.

As I picked through a few of the things I planned to read for the day, I grew a bit weary. Ever since the writing I did about the flood and regret, I’ve felt spiritually exhausted and the Bible has not let me off the hook. From the flood, to Sodom and Gomorrah, and through various stories about women and their children and jealousy and downright wickedness, I was feeling suffocated by the text. I could see that today would be no exception.

I committed my eyes to the bold words in front of me: “The Sacrifice of Isaac.”



It makes me sick to think of Isaac, walking up the hill alone with his father Abraham, not knowing what was to come. He inventories the things they have carried, and then asks his father where the lamb is for the burnt offering. Abraham responds, “God will provide for himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” I hate being the knowing audience, and I cringe at his reply, for Isaac seems sweet and trusting, a child with little ambition beyond obtaining the approval of his father. Not too many sentences later, Isaac is tied up on a stack of wood with his father holding a knife over his body, prepared to move forward with the sacrifice—until the Lord intervenes: Do not do anything to him. A ram appears, caught in the bushes by its horns. So, father and son prepare the sacrifice of the ram, instead.

I push everything off of my lap. I close my eyes. I breathe slowly. I am well aware that God intervened. But why was He there in the first place? So involved?

Silence.

Pick up the pen, Amber. Write it down.

But by the time I had picked up my pen, something new was surfacing. I was starting to wonder about Abraham. He must have felt like Jesus did on the night before the crucifixion, when He cried out in desperation, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” He asked God to spare His life. Except. God did not take the cup from Jesus. There was no divine intervention. There was no ram in the bushes that could be sacrificed instead. God, the Father, placed His son on the offering table, and Jesus was sacrificed.

I close my journal, and I look up at Eric, waiting for a moment when I might be able to interrupt because I need him to listen and to walk through this with me. “Eric, what if the story about Abraham and his son Isaac is supposed to be upsetting to us? I’ve heard so many Christians explain the story away with comments about how we should be more like Abraham, willing to sacrifice anything for the Lord, but this does nothing to appease the discomfort I have in knowing that God was so actively involved in the near murder of Isaac, by his own father! And I know that it is ‘unreasonable’, perhaps even defiant, for the creation to question the righteousness of the Creator, and all of that, but can we just admit that this story is screwed up?! And Eric, one more thing, and this is what I am really starting to wonder…

What if the weight in my heart is a glimpse into the heart of God, and how He must have felt when we asked Him—by our actions on this planet—to sacrifice His one and only son on our behalf. Because God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, and we hate Him for it, but by our sins and by our hands, we sacrificed God’s one and only son, and our hypocrisy blinds us— we fail to see that how we feel about Isaac is only a fraction of how God must have felt about Jesus, and about Isaac for that matter. We miss the opportunity to assume His posture, and know His heart.”

We agreed that it was possible. It was quiet, again. I let these thoughts weigh on me.

By the afternoon, we were standing in the bookstore. I’d been waiting for the chance to get my hands on One Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans. By the evening, I was five chapters in. But one chapter stood out. Evans was reading about human sacrifice in the Bible as well—a different story, and one that I know is coming up in my reading plan. She was recapping the various interpretations of the scholars, and expressing her disappointment with how these explanations failed to deal wholly with the tension one faces when reading the story. I was twitching with joy at the feeling of being understood, and at the irony of this perfect timing—that I would be reading this book, these words, on this day.

Evans writes, “These are useful insights, I suppose, but sometimes I wish these apologists wouldn’t be in such a hurry to explain these troubling texts away, that they would allow themselves to be bothered by them now and then.”

I wonder, if we took Evans’ advice, if God would start to show up in ways like He did for me yesterday morning. What if we took the sincerity of our raw emotions and allowed that to be the point for revelation, the place for meeting Him, the chance to get a glimpse of who He really is. I wonder if it breaks God’s heart, even, to see us reading these scriptures and stories, refusing to feel out of fear that He might become angry, or worse, that He might not reconcile our reactions to Him. That He might not explain Himself.


What if, instead, to feel as we read—angry and confused and frustrated and bothered—is exactly what it takes to know Him more?

Friday, January 10, 2014

Christ Defiled

One day, a man named Andre Serrano held a perfectly white figurine of the crucified Christ in his hands. He twirled it with his fingers, careful not to smudge the cleanliness and purity of the object—wondering if any such caution was necessary. He squinted his eyes and asked himself: what was this man?

He paused. He lifted it up. A beam of sunlight hit the face of Jesus, causing it to glow yellow and orange. And Serrano knew what he must do. He grabbed a jar, peed in it, and placed the Christ within. He took a photograph. He named it Immersion, or “Piss Christ," and it quickly became an art world sensation.

Or maybe that’s not the story at all. But whatever happened, it amounted to this (and a lot of political and social tension).



I still remember the first day that I saw it. I was taking a course called "Blue Smoke and Mirrors" and we were focusing on Ways of Seeing, looking at different pieces of art and discussing their impact. This one was introduced to us as a "controversial piece”. Some smirked. Some cringed. I paused and admired it—the amber hues that illuminated the hazy Christ, His head bowed, and His right hand in such focus, emphasizing the nail that pinned it there. It’s not that I am indifferent to the defilement of Christ, or the degrading of His image. But something heavier rested on my heart as I allowed myself to truly see what I was looking at.

Perhaps the one who has defiled Christ is not the artist. Sometimes art is not intended to put forth a new idea; sometimes art is intended, merely, to capture and to confront the truth of what already is. Perhaps we, Christians, have defiled the very Christ we claim to know and love. Perhaps we have made Him undesirable to those He loves, and those He seeks.


Immersion reminds me of hypocrisy. I think of it, and pause. I cannot take offense. He has asked me, simply, to be a reflection of His love: to give it freely and without restraint. And the only way to lift Christ from Serrano’s jar, is to do so.  


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Empty

I don't feel sad, or torn, or burdened, or heavy. Just empty. I've poured out all that I have in only three days, and I'm already tired of driving in the dark of morning, as I leave for work, and the dark of night, as I come back home. Friday, be soon. 

I keep thinking that it would be fine if I just called it a night, and that one day off from writing for the blog wouldn't harm anything at all, and that the four minutes remaining of my computer battery should be a sign to call it a rest. But these are the moments when I need Him the most. When I can lean into Him, and find whatever it is that I need for the day, and be reminded that He never fails me. And be reminded that it's okay to fail sometimes too.

Like when I don't have anything eloquent to say. 

had to stay awake long enough, though, to say thank you for this day. Thank you for being the "God who sees" and teaching me to see more clearly, too. I am awed by the reality that you spend time with me. How you never leave my side throughout the day. How I have nothing to fear because of you, and how you push me to become someone better than I could ever be on my own. Thank you for this life, and for this day.

Your Light

It's been a long day, but I don't want to shut my eyes for sleep until I write these things down. I don't want the memory of these things to slip away to some place where I cannot find them later. Before leaving the house this morning, I read these words: let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. 


I know that you are special, Father. I think of this scripture, and I am filled with humility at the thought of your essence, your guiding light, residing in me. As I close my eyes and try to accept what the words mean, I can see that a bright, white light fades away, and that flashes of color begin to pulsate through me instead. It reminds me of what I felt when I read the pages near the back of your book. I used to think you were the most narrow God. Even in color. Even in shape. But your light is like the cosmic bursts that we chase down with our telescopes and satellites in the black of night. Your light is moving, changing, beaming, sparkling, burning, reaching, and much too worthy for me.

Thank you for the pictures you give. The place in my head where you paint things that I'll never be able to put on a page. For intimacy.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Tower Building

After spending two days asking God why He decided to put a halt to the tower building project in Babel, I’m still in conversation with Him. I’m waiting to learn what He meant when He said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them” (Genesis 11:6). Nothing? The consequence of the Tower of Babel is unfortunate, considering that, even within the bounds of a single language, it seems impossible to make sense these days. For now, though, I’m okay with waiting for answers—with leaving some mysteries unsolved and moving forward.   

Mainly because there is a different part of the story that pulled me in: “Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves’” (Genesis 11:4).

I keep thinking about what these words should mean to a person who has been spending her time exposing her private moments with God, writing in an online journal, stacking up the bricks, forming a tower of sorts—or a name for herself? What is my motivation anyways? As I lay brick upon brick, it’s tempting to just keep stacking them up in my mind and to dream of how high they could go. It’s tempting to want the attention for myself. Even if you begin a project with right intentions, there is a fine line that eventually appears between giving the glory to God and keeping it for yourself. Despite the temptations, I try to find myself up against the line, with my feet fully planted on the side where I can remain unseen.

This is why I hesitated in December when I wanted so badly to share the musical project that Eric had worked on all year. Every time I typed up the announcement, I felt I was pushing him over the line, out of the shadow.

Elevating him like an ancient statue.


But I listened to the whole record today, and I can't wait any longer to share it. I overlooked the fact that when Eric was praying about the project, he heard God assuring him that this would be something they would create together. Togetherness is much sweeter than any amount of glory received on the other side of the fine line. 

Follow the link for more information about "Carry Your Name"-
released by A Jesus Church, December 2013:
https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/carry-your-name/id777133884

As I continue to write this blog, I pray that I will have the strength to keep tower building to a minimum, and the opportunity to be with God—perhaps even to write with Him, as He invited Eric to do this past year.  


Sunday, January 5, 2014

Naked Noah

The new quarter begins tomorrow, so I’ve been spending my day typing out last minute ideas, dreaming about first-day-of-class scenarios, tidying up the house, running laundry, and giving Harvard extra snuggles with hopes they will sustain him for the following weeks apart. It’s a bittersweet day.


And in terms of my reading, I stayed awake until 2 am last night, mixing it in with other tasks :)

After the flood, God makes His promise in the form of the rainbow, and then Noah drinks too much wine. He falls asleep naked, and one of his sons discovers him, and shames him; the other two sons walk in backwards to cover their father. It’s a bit odd that this is the first human story since Noah’s family has reached dry land again, but when I look closer, I see parallels to Adam and Eve that might be significant, or maybe I've lost it completely:

  • Eve ate the fruit, and Noah drank the wine—despite the flood, there is still sin, even among the most “righteous”.
  • Adam and Eve were ashamed of their nakedness, and Noah was too—despite the flood, humans still face the shame of their sin.
  • But here comes the subtle difference. In the garden, God created coverings for man and woman; after the flood, Noah’s sons were the ones who covered him.

Is this the first time in the Biblical narrative when mankind has acted in a manner that so clearly echoes the actions of God? Is this the beginning of our journey to become more like Him?

There is a clear split between the son who acted dishonorably towards his father, and the two sons who gave him respect, knowing that Noah had sinned. And I can see now that the actions of these two sons hold more value than just serving to model parental respect. These sons had compassion for their father, and so they covered his shame just as God would have done. At some point along the way, maybe this point, maybe earlier, God’s invitation was accepted, and mankind joined Him in the work of healing and caring for His children. I can hear the voice of God each day—urging me to reach out my heart and my hands to His children, with compassion, no matter the role they have played in their own shame. Reminding me of how cruel it is to say, you made your own bed. Reminding me to forgive my friends and my enemies, and to cover them. Reminding me that sometimes I am the one who is naked and vulnerable and ashamed, in want of compassion. 

In my previous attempts at “finishing” the Bible, I’ve always been annoyed by this story of Noah’s sons. Are you kidding? Why does this matter? Why did the son who saw his naked father become the slave to his other brothers? Sure, he took nudity lightly and dishonored his dad a bit, but come on, is this really the lesson that I’m supposed to learn? How can I keep reading this book and pretend that I like it? I can have such a bad attitude about reading the Bible sometimes, and still, God listens to me rant, waits, leans in, pulls back the veil from my eyes, opens His heart, and starts pointing things out.

I feel lucky to be a part of this story. Tomorrow I will revel in the chances to be compassionate—as God is compassionate.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Why Regret?

(Genesis 6:7) “So the Lord said, ‘I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” 
To read that God, the Father, “regretted” is one of the most painful moments in the reading of the scriptures. It is a violently, troubling idea. It is an opportunity to reject Him or to love Him more. I stirred in this tension all day yesterday. I prayed, skeptically.

Regretting God, how could you possibly be all knowing? Flooding God, how could you possibly be good? But other, quite opposite, questions arose in me too. Regretting God, why continue with us at all? Why spare even one of us? Flooding God, why didn’t you make the water to put an end to us entirely? Why make us in the first place? A part of me can understand completely why God would regret making us, and that part of me doesn’t understand why a regretting God wouldn’t just deal with the regret entirely—wouldn’t just wipe us out.

I find myself agreeing with Robin William’s character in Patch Adams sometimes: “Maybe you should have had just a few more brainstorming sessions prior to creation. You rested on the seventh day, maybe you should have spent that day on compassion.” Maybe you should have instilled in us, without room for error, the ability to resist the fruit. The avoidance of the fall.

I don’t deal well with regret. I am human, and humans are exceptionally versed in avoiding and rejecting regret. Regret nothing—you only live once! Yet, I think we are bit turned around on this matter. Jesus came to clear us of the burden of guilt, but regret is a human emotion that is reflective and compassionate—an emotion that leads us to take ownership for our actions and to make peace with our past. I can imagine that God, for all that He is, would look upon creation and feel tremendously saddened by all that we have become, and that He would regret how His own hand crafted us into being. In fact, when I really think about this, I can’t imagine Him any other way. For if He is good, He feels to the fullest extent. In Genesis, God regretted making us because He felt responsible for what had become of us, because He loved us; in the flood, perhaps He suffered more than any living creature that was consumed by the waves of His wrath.

I think again about the line from Patch Adams and my own questions, and I realize that God did instill in us compassion and the ability to resist the fall. He gave us all of this when He gave us Himself. But He also gave us freedom—because in order to love, truly, we must be free to give it. In our freedom, we are the ones who committed the regrettable act. We traded everything for the only thing He asked us not to take.

To love, we must be free. Regrettably, awfully, beautifully free.

As I wrote earlier, regret leads us to take ownership and to make peace with our past. Perhaps, therefore, the regret of God in Genesis was necessary to set into motion His great plan; perhaps this was the moment when the entire story flashed before Him. He would suffer as He flooded His creation, He would spare Noah, and all of creation would multiply again through the Ark. Then, in time, He would give His most precious of gifts to us—He would give Jesus. And through Him, every bit of regret would be taken away. Something feels right about that. We’ve always wanted to be free from regret, but catchy sayings and quotes won’t do the trick. The hard part to fathom is that we should have been the ones to feel the pain of regret, to feel the weight of our sin, and yet God took this upon Himself.

Regret is a painful awareness of something that we wish were not so, but perhaps must be. I can’t pretend to imagine what the alternative would have been for God—how things would have been if He had not made us at all. Ultimately, I recognize that we humans are not a mistake. If we were, He would not have given us Himself. He would not have given Noah the Ark. He would not have given us Jesus. He would not have sent His Spirit.

I’m not a scholar. I haven’t done much research. I am sure that I still have so much to learn about the story of the flood and the magnitude of God’s decisions and emotions, but tomorrow, I doubt I’ll regret these hours I’ve spent talking with Him about all of this. Don’t take my word for any of it; take it up with God Himself.




Friday, January 3, 2014

On Fridays

On the seventh day of creation, God rested; on Fridays, the Lemiere family rests, too. We've been doing this since we moved to Vancouver at the end of September last year (that would be 2013). At first, we felt guilty to be resting when there was so much we thought we should be doing, and it was a challenge to decide what to do with our time when we weren't scrambling to squeeze in a bit of work here and there. Now it's starting to feel normal: breakfast, coffee, reading, long walks, games, antiques, groceries, movies, and time with friends. This day changes my entire week. I can honestly feel my heart resting in the calm of the storm, learning how to be in the moment. Tomorrow, I'll be finishing up my class prep for the frenzy of a quarter that I have ahead of me, and I'll write another blog too. Until then, make a break everyone.

Don't let his face fool you. Eric loves Fridays, too! :)


Thursday, January 2, 2014

Love & Genealogies


This morning, I woke up with a plan to write about the creativity of God—about how He has the most dynamic landscape of a mind, and how we are reaching for its beauty in every creative, artistic movement we make. I thrive on Genesis because I am reminded of this grand idea of God as an artist: God who painted the skies and engineered the human body. Genesis also gives me a picture of creation beyond humans, as I am reminded of God’s love for all of the creation and the blessing he gives to the animals as well, as he commissions us to care for them—invites us to be creators and shepherds like Him. These are my favorite things to dream about as I read the first book of the Bible.

But something completely unexpected came up this morning when I opened my Bible to read: 


"and if I have faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2 )
I write a lot about faith, and I talk a lot about it too—but Burt Baccarat said that what the world needs is love, not faith. To be more relevant, the scripture above ends with the lovely exclamation that the “greatest of these is: faith, hope, and love,” so surely they are all important. It’s just that love seems to matter more. Jesus told the Pharisees that the greatest commandments were to love your neighbor as yourself and to love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, and mind. I feel pretty convinced, at this point, that I cannot write off love as an overly talked about subject to be avoided, or something “already covered.”

However, I assume that everyone knows about Jesus’ teachings regarding love, and the many famous—often shared at weddings—scriptures that the authors of the Bible penned. This is surely why so many people can love Jesus, even if they have no desire to know Him. But when we read Genesis, where is the love? Can we find it within Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, or the cursing God? Richard Dawkins claims that the God of the Old Testament is a significantly different, darker God than the hippie Jesus, who may or may not be your homeboy.

It’s true that the first book of the Bible lacks glitz and glam, at times—it’s not the parables, the Sermon on the Mount, or the intense writings of Paul the thinker. And yet, I found something in the least likely of places. As I was reading the genealogies, I found love. Yes, I said genealogies. And what is sweet to me is that these are the parts of the Bible that so often challenge me most in my quest to “finish” the Bible, as I read through them with guilt for wasting my time (hold that thought).

After Cain kills Abel out of envy, Abel’s blood cries out from the ground while Cain lies to the Father about what he has done. God looks upon Cain with tremendous grief—His creation has put to death His creation. The wonder of all that He made, and “it was good”, has collapsed. Cain has killed both his own brother and a part of himself as well, and God must withdraw His presence. But as He does, He marks Cain for Cain’s protection—and to protect God’s other children who might kill Cain and suffer seven times over what Cain has suffered.

The story of Cain is rich. My heart aches as I imagine what God must have felt. How easy it is to see the punishment without looking deeper into the heart of God, and I can’t help but wonder about His heart above all things. I wonder if we often overlook the challenge that the Father has to protect so many of us from things we cannot understand. We think vengeance feels good, and He knows it does not. We think we understand the means to the end justice, but we do not. We have a fractured, imperfect, dangerously flawed understanding of all that we acquired with the fruit of the tree. We think that because God sewed us garments in the garden after we realized we were “naked” that we are suddenly equipped, prepared for all that has come as a consequence of that moment in time. Despite our greatest efforts to muster up courage and wisdom, we can be rather pitiful at times. Yet, love is patient, love is kind… it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs… it always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres… Love never fails.

The story of Cain ends, and Adam’s family line begins. I start to feel as if there are other things I should be doing, but then I remember what I wrote about yesterday, and I can feel God sitting with me. The Bible now seems more like a family album. Each name excites the heart of God in a unique way; everything He loves about them rushes to mind, and I can feel that He wants to tell me their stories, or to tell me how He made them and who they are. I imagine that He doesn’t look at me, but at the pages—reminiscing, loving. This is our family. These are His children. My brothers and sisters. I am to love them. My heart feels full as I start to understand, more clearly, how the creator delights in those He has made, each and every one. He is not like me. He does not wander among gravestones in a cemetery with little curiosity for the lives represented. He is burdened as the Father of all, and for each, He gives all of His time and all of His notice. He does not have “better things to do.”