*I’m a Jesus-follower. As such, my language is that of a “Christian,” although I haven’t called myself that in quite some time. Please feel free to insert the language of your religion, or the lack thereof, throughout my post.
Working in my yard is by far the best free therapy I’ll ever get.
Often I picture scenes from my life, as I work alone outside.
I remember sunny mornings helping my dad fix up our house.
He and my mom were going to live there for the rest of their married lives.
I travel to my grandma’s backyard and the brick patio where she kept beautifully potted plants and a little yellow bistro table.
She was going to pass it down to me some day.
Or the evenings I’d help my boyfriend scale fish after sitting out in a canoe all day doing absolutely nothing.
That boy and I were going to last forever.
I think about afternoons at the lake behind our college, kids jumping off the bridge after a six pack of beers and a super hard college algebra test.
All of us were invincible then.
There were days spent strolling my oldest son in his Jeep Cherokee stroller, all the young girls at the park stopping to ooh and ah over his precious dimples.
He would never grow up.
The lies I told myself back then weren’t lies when I was telling them.
I really thought my parents would stay married for good…until they divorced.
I wanted my grandmother’s table–and my grandmother–to stay young forever…until she died.
That boy and I were going to make it, come hell or highwater…until we broke up.
My college friends and I truly believed nothing bad could ever happen…until I lost two of them in a drunk driving accident.
And that little boy seemed to stay young for so long…until just like that, he was grown.
You find yourself thinking of days gone by a little more each year, the older you get.
When I’m out in my yard, I think of old days even more.
I ponder questions about why this thing or that was allowed to happen.
I often ask God if life is as it’s meant to be.
I tell myself that maybe it’s okay not to have all the answers.
And then I ask the questions all over again.
I pull up the many vines in my yard. They choke the life out of the good things, the beautiful things, that I would like to see blossom and shine.
It’s true in life, too, isn’t it? How often we let those weeds suffocate all that is good.
Regret, envy, comparison, malice, greed, lust. Our hedonistic hearts want all the things, and we want them now.
We think the tender shoots of youth will last forever and the flowers will never fade.
But they do.
The winter comes. Oh yes, it always comes.
With it come long nights.
Then barren days with no growth in sight.
We wonder how long the cold could possibly last.
The first few months of sobriety feels like the cold of winter.
It did for me, anyway. White-knuckling my way through afternoons. Breathing heavy when my husband ordered drinks at dinner. Declining party invitations and beach trips because I wasn’t ready to give up, but I knew I wasn’t strong enough to say no.
And we just about give up during the dark days of winter, don’t we? Trust me, no judgment here.
Then, before we realize it, the trees start to bloom again, the days last a little longer, and all of a sudden, we’re shedding the heavy coat of winter and stepping out in the new.
The sadness of death gives way to the gladness of rebirth.
And all is new again.
Summer arrives, and with it, confidence, freedom, joy.
We savor the long days.
We watch the stars.
We float on the water and listen to God speak in the waves.
Soon enough, the first leaf falls, and a new season begins again.
And like nature, the seasons of my life change the landscape of my heart, and I am still me, but new.
What have you discovered about yourself through nature? How does it speak to you? What are your favorite things to do outside? I’d love to hear from you!
Visit my monmilgoods.com store, where you’ll find some goodies to help you celebrate your journey! And be on the lookout for my Month to Milestone bracelet, coming soon! 🙂
I’m nine episodes in, so I’ve had a good chance to hear many of the incidents that happened at Mars Hill and to discern my own feelings.
Church itself is a bit of a trigger for me, seeing as how it destroyed my parents’ marriage.
So I’ve been interested in what went down at Mars Hill between the lead pastor, Mark Driscoll, and his congregants.
I keep thinking as I listen that I’ll hear something Mark said or did and find it abhorrent, considering that seems to be the point.
However, I have to admit, I haven’t heard anything that Mark said or did that has shocked me.
In fact, I’ve visited/attended a total of ten Southern Baptist Churches, two Methodist, two Catholic, one non-denominational and have listened to more than a dozen preachers on the World Wide Web, and I have yet to hear Mark say anything that sits in stark contrast to anything preached by any man I’ve heard in any of these churches.
Most Christian churches, at least mainstream ones, preach along this sort of wavelength:
Bible= perfect and literal (unless it’s verses like not gossiping, giving to the poor, or forsaking all for Christ)
Women= less than man and under their headship (also: stay thin and beautiful, be quiet and submissive, and give your man whatever he wants, whenever he wants)
Jesus= our Savior (EXCEPT for those already damned to hell by God because they weren’t part of the “elect,” and those who do not “repent,” i.e., stop being homosexual, liberal, or feminist)
Church and church leaders= always right, always in control, always to be obeyed (not those lgbtq affirming or universal churches, though- Jesus most certainly didn’t die for all and he most definitely didn’t reach out to all)
I’m exaggerating here (or am I?), but it seems to me that nothing Mark Driscoll said or did was outside the boundaries of what almost every preacher across the country, and maybe even the world, has said or done.
Mark discussed sex at length, namely that a woman should please her man in the bedroom. Heard that before. Read that before.
Mark talked about women keeping children and home and making that the first and highest priority of her life. Heard that before. Read that before.
He said that the members of his church should come under the authority of the elders and obey them no matter what. Heard that before. Read that before.
And, according to the episode I’m listening to now, he even went so far as to say he held power and authority to exorcise demons and saw visions of sins that were hidden among his congregation.
The podcaster acted as if that was the craziest thing he’d ever heard- demons? Visions? Spiritual warfare? What?
Except, I just opened a book I’m reading by well-known Christian speaker and leader. And what would you imagine I found before I even arrived at page 30?
An encounter with a demon possessed woman at one of the author’s speaking engagements.
Here’s the deal, my Christian friends. At some point, we have to grapple with the whole Christianity thing, what we really believe and what we’re ready to toss out. But we don’t get to decide what’s true and not true based on whether or not we like someone.
We don’t get to destroy a person because it’s now the cool thing to think progressively about women, when not a short time ago, most, if not all, Christian leaders were thinking just like the Mark Driscolls of the world.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad that we’re finally deep-diving into what it means to be a Christ-follower in the 21st century.
But let’s parse it out. Let’s not just base our fault-finding on a singular person, like Mark Driscoll, because like it or not, he developed his beliefs from someone somewhere long ago, and there are 100,000 Marks just like him.
Last year I began teaching medieval history and literature.
Our school is a classical Christian school, and unbeknownst to me, this movement towards educating classically was bolstered by a man who I find utterly contemptable based on his personality alone.
His theology is questionable (at least, to me–I am so far from Calvinist it’s not funny), his views on women and slavery are detestable, and to be frankly honest, he isn’t even that smart. His curriculum is loaded with poor sentence structure, typos, and questions meant to guide students towards thinking more like him, as opposed to having them think critically. (And that’s when they can answer them. Most questions have no real answer and thus can’t be answered. Makes for interesting grading!)
But even I am forced to admit that this man’s theology and beliefs line up with many of my denomination, and even the Christian religion as a whole. And many of these beliefs use the Bible as reference.
Instead of quitting my job, however, I’ve come to believe that God placed me in the position he did for just such a time as this.
Had I not been reading medieval history and literature, I wouldn’t have known exactly how we began believing the “truths” about scripture, that they were taught to us by human people interpreting them in human ways that they claimed were divine. (Mark Driscoll, anyone?)
I wouldn’t have known just what a stinking hot mess express the Church has always been, how corrupt and shifty and shady the people shepherding us really were and sometimes still are.
And I wouldn’t have come to see that so much of what we believe isn’t based on a solid understanding of scripture, but on tradition, or, the way it’s always been done.
Finally, having also read so many ancient writings in preparation for my classes, I’ve also learned that nearly every religion and people group have stories almost identical to ours, some written many years before the Bible.
But ironically, instead of causing me to lose my faith, uncovering the history of the Christian church has only made it stronger.
Because it means that it’s not about humanity. It’s about the thing that fixes humanity, the Greater Power and trusting that when He said He came down to touch my hurt, die for it, and never remember it again, He meant it.
It’s knowing that if all those people throughout history were trying to figure this out but couldn’t, then maybe we won’t figure it out, either, and that’s okay.
I believe that my religion has a basis in the truth. I also believe that lots of other religions are trying to find their truth, too.
If we’re going to take the Pauls and the Peters and the St. Augustines of the world as solid, infallible, undeniable truth, then we can’t toss out the Mark Driscolls just because we don’t like him.
At some point, we have to acknowledge that all of it might just be a little wrong, at the very least, our interpretation of it, even if that interpretation is centuries old.
And you know what? I think that’s my most favorite thing about Jesus and his religion, after all.
He came to do a new thing. And his Word is alive today.
Living things evolve. They change and stretch and grow.
Thank goodness for that.
Have you listened to The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill? If not, are there any good religious podcasts you would suggest? I’d love to hear from you.
One of my favorite things to do in the morning is to grab my coffee and computer, my Bible and my journal, and watch the sunrise from the second-story deck of my split-level home.
My backyard is full of trees, and the birds and crickets begin their early-morning singing promptly at 5 am.
The sun these days doesn’t rise until 6:15 or so, and in the meantime, I light my citronella candles (to keep those pesky mosquitos away), and I talk to my Creator as I watch my dogs stalk the neighbors’ yard (because to them, my neighbors–some of the nicest people you’ll meet–are the enemy).
The sun rises perfectly every morning, just to the left of my line of vision, through a small clearing in the trees.
In the winter, when the leaves are dead and the trees are bare, I can see the sun more clearly, and it shines more brightly.
But in the summer, I pay less attention to the sun because the rays throw such a brilliance on the greenery around me, I’m stunned by the beauty of my yard and less focused on the sun itself.
This morning it occurred to me that my walk with God is a lot like the sun rising.
When times are good, I seem to be more focused on what I have, what’s going well and what I want more of. I still see God, but I’m not as connected to Him as I am to the gifts He’s giving me.
But when times are bad, when my life feels dead, I see Him more clearly. Even in times when it seems like I’ve lost His vision or I can’t hear Him, my focus on finding Him is larger than my focus on what I have.
The strange thing is, the same sun is there, “rising” or “setting” to us, though in its fixed position, we only call it that. We’re the ones moving, not the sun.
In the same way, I don’t believe God hides. The Creator is always there, always in His fixed position, though we move. We lose our focus, or we gain new insight, we change our mind, or we decide maybe we were okay all along.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about my views on love. How we love, who we love, what love even means.
I believe God is love. Love is creating. Love is remaining. Love is choosing.
One of the biggest objections I have to taking the Bible literally is the idea some people hold that God has created an entire group of people as “vessels of wrath,” which in most of Christianity means people he ordained to burn in hell forever.
I’m sorry, but what man would willingly choose to put his trust or faith in a God who creates human beings just to burn them for eternity?
We should really sit with that. I don’t think Christians give enough thought to their beliefs about an eternal hell.
For example, there’s a statistic somewhere that says something to the effect of, 62% of Americans believe in a literal eternal hell, but only 1% believes they’re going there.
So basically, people who believe in hell, believe it was created for someone else.
And among those people, many of them profess to be Christian.
So here’s what I don’t get: If we call ourselves Christ-followers, then it would flow that our greatest act would be to follow Jesus.
And if Jesus’ greatest commandment was: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, and Love your neighbor as yourself” (which he called equal–in other words, you can’t have one without the other), then…
Are we really following the commandment of God? I mean, if we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, and we truly believe there will be people burning in hell for all eternity…
Then, shouldn’t we be dropping every single thing on earth to make sure this doesn’t happen?
But we don’t.
And I have a theory as to why:
Deep down, none of us really believes in a literal hell.
We want to. It would certainly make sense that the bad people would go to hell and the good people to heaven, right?
Or, when speaking Christianese, those that God chose will go to Heaven, but those that God rejected would go to hell…
Or, those that put their faith in Christ would share in his glory while entire people groups who don’t know Christ will burn for eternity…
It’s easy to surface-level believe those things, right?
But it’s quite another to really sit in that belief and picture it in your mind.
Human beings…burning…for eternity.
Where’s the love in that?
Believe what you will. But as for me and my household, we’re going to choose love.
The love that redeems all, conquers all, renews all.
The love that finds the Jewish man on the side of the road, and, even being the bad Samaritan, cares for him, carries him, and pays his debts.
The love that bashes in temples, tears down cathedrals and hangs dead things like sin on a cross.
The love that comes back and says, “I choose you.” Forever.
As I sat and watched my sun rise this morning, I thought, “I could be totally wrong about this, but I’m willing to take my chance on redeeming love.”
I’m willing to love those that certain Christian groups tell me not to.
I’m willing to love those that certain Christian groups support, even when I don’t.
I’m willing to love those who look different, talk different and believe different.
I’m willing to love when I’m tired of loving and don’t really want to love again.
I’m willing to love when I don’t understand, when I need to sit down, when I need to speak.
Before the sun peeked through the trees, I said to God, “I know this house won’t be here someday.”
Because they all fall.
“I know I won’t be here one day.”
Because we all die.
“I know that America might not exist one day.”
Because kingdoms crumble.
“I know that I will be a faded memory to someone, someday.”
Because we forget.
So let me go; let my house go, my people go, my country go, knowing that I left behind a legacy of love.
For love covers over a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8)
How are your views on Christianity and the love of God changing? I’d love to hear from you.
(NOTE- this post contains triggers of religious extreme. As with anything in life, there are goods and evils on both “sides.” In no way do I mean to imply that every person who distrusts the government or is an evangelical is evil or like the Taliban.)
I grew up in a household where being a Christian was confusing.
My father, who had grown up Catholic, left Catholicism around seventeen and lived without faith in the beginning of his marriage to my non-Christian mother (who had endured many years of physical, mental and sexual abuse and hadn’t even been allowed to attend church).
Later, my father was introduced to a man who convinced him the only true religion was the evangelical Southern Baptist religion. And so began the next decade or so of our family’s demise.
I’ve often thought about exactly what caused our family to implode with regards to religion.
I think it was that my father wanted to be this holy-rolling, hardcore, firm-believing Saint, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t.
He was a drinker. Loved a good crown and coke. That, of course, did not fit in with the Southern Baptist narrative.
He was a rock band man. He’d played bass guitar in a group named Shiloh. He traded the lifestyle in for Steven Curtis Chapman (nothing against him- he’s a precious man).
My father and mother were both smokers, until my father put his cigarette down one day and judged my mother for the rest of their marriage.
There were a host of other odds and ends that fit and didn’t fit into this newfound spiritual awakening of my father’s.
We got rid of cable. He wanted my mother and me to wear no makeup and only dress in lady-like clothing.
I vividly remember him telling me once that women should only be “barefoot and pregnant.”
He was a control freak and hated his secular bosses.
He would get angry at us for not conforming to his ultra-conservative ways, scream, punch holes in the wall, throw our Bibles to the curb, and tell us to get the hell out.
For the record, although a simple blog post makes him sound like a monster, my father was so much more complex than that.
He took us to play tennis and didn’t mind when we quit after five minutes.
He came upstairs and watched Full House with us. He loved that show.
He could tell a joke so funny you’d wet your pants.
He always said I love you, and even though he was a horrible apologizer (and still is), I always knew when he was sorry.
And I’m pretty sure my mother drove him absolutely insane, which has a lot to do with some of the problems we had.
I look back on that miserable time in my life and have not one ounce of anger in my heart for my dad.
It’s easy as an adult to see that my father was struggling.
He wanted to be one way– this super good Christian, a pillar of our Church and the community– but he hadn’t been raised that way and couldn’t change, no matter how hard he tried.
The yin and yang of wanting to be one way but knowing you’re another left him confused, frustrated, and, ultimately, bitter.
I’ve been there. Maybe you have, too.
Because of the way I was raised, I never really understood a concept of a good, loving, forgiving Father.
I feared the ramifications of not being an evangelical Christian, but I knew deep down in my heart that something was terribly wrong with the religion.
It left me with those same confused and bitter emotions my father felt.
A few years ago, I almost lost everything in my life.
My marriage was on the rocks, my kids were unhappy, and I hated my job and my life.
I was drinking more than I drank in college as a single gal with no worries.
My faith had completely faltered and my beliefs were crumbling right before my eyes.
I was ready to throw it all up in the air and run. Running had been my modus operandi for a long time.
But instead of running away, I sat.
Sounds silly, I know, but I decided to check out of my problems and to just be still and silent.
I didn’t change one thing around me except my emotional reaction to those things.
What happened was a season where I felt closer to the Creator than I’d ever felt in my life.
True to what usually happens to human beings when it comes to change, once I started to see the real me, it scared me.
This belief that I could literally be the person I’d always dreamed of felt too good to be true, and too opposite from what I’d been raised to believe about myself, which was that I was not good, unclean, not forgiven except by “repentance” (which in evangelical circles means living by their set of rules and conformity, which they can’t even follow themselves).
I got scared of my value, crazy as that sounds, and I started to return to the comfortable and familiar of what I knew (and hated).
Funny how the thing that’s supposed to look out for us, our brain, can go wonky trying to protect us.
For the next few years, I returned to this crazy back and forth of knowing who I was meant to be, but not being ready to face the change.
Then, on January 6, 2021, I watched the insurrection take place at the Capitol.
It’s a strange sort of thing to explain, but watching that happen was like watching my childhood play out before my eyes.
Everything I’d been raised to believe about being a Christian was storming one of the most sacred buildings of our nation.
I saw Jesus 2020 flags and watched “Christians” smash windows and act like fools.
A lightbulb–bright, brilliant and eye-opening, as opposed to blinding–turned on in my mind, and I wept harder than I’ve ever cried in my life.
I knew in that moment that everything I’d been taught about Christianity was wrong.
And it was the greatest moment of my life.
I began what some would call a “deconstruction.” Although it’s a trendy word right now, I think for me, that’s exactly what it was.
It’s funny that this deconstruction coincided with the new classes I was teaching on medieval literature and history. Because it allowed me to see that the illness of the Church has been happening since the minute Jesus stuck his big-toe into heaven.
The Church went right back to its Jewish synagogue, dog-eat-dog ways. And now it’s up to us to come back to the center, to Jesus.
On that note, I mentioned to a friend the other day that Jesus was the only thing at the moment tying me to Christianity.
She laughed and said, “Wait a minute. Isn’t that the point?”
And then we sat there for a moment, both of us dumbfounded.
Because, at least for American Christianity, Jesus doesn’t seem to be the center anymore.
America, freedom, the right to decide how other people live, that seems to be the point.
Helping the poor? They can help themselves.
Caring for widows and orphans? Let the government do it.
Loving all? Oh, heck no. “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” has become our mantra, as if we even know what that means.
And I guess I’m just a little tired of all that. It’s weary to balance this belief in perfection with a reality that Christ came and gave His life for the very thing we can’t achieve.
We seem to have forgotten than His greatest commandment was “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength,” but that he called the next part just as important.
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Are we doing that, my Christ following friends?
Because if we’re not, if we’re just going to be those “Christians” storming the Capitol, demanding our way is the right way, choosing to not follow the laws of the land, then we might as well call ourselves…
Yes, I went there. And if you really sit with it, my friends, if you really think about all that is happening over there right before our very eyes, and all that we “Christians” believe we are fighting for over here, you might end up coming to the same conclusion, too.
And I hope it scares you as much as it scares me.
*Did you know that fear of the government and belief in conspiracy theories has risen exponentially ever since the advent of social media and the ability to form and pass information at the blink of an eye? Did you know that most information on social media is either blatantly false, not quite accurate, or full of misquotes and lack of vetting? Think about what your life was like before social media existed. If you were more trusting, less likely to get angry and more loving of your neighbor, it might be time to take a break.