Without Hope or One in Christ?

“We sang “God Bless America” and believed that God wanted us to have life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We saw no conflict between capitalism and Christianity, the American dream and the cost of discipleship. Faith was a correct system of beliefs, and religion was defined by where you spent Sunday morning and whether you avoided certain words and substances. The soul was something that mattered only in terms of its final destination. We were following the course of this world.”

I recently posted an article on Char.is Conversations focused on Ephesians 2.11-22. Check it out here! 

Give Me Some Jesus

She grabbed the communion goblet with both hands, wrestling it awkwardly out of the officiant’s hands, and took a big gulp. Her teenage daughter followed suit.

This happened recently as some friends and I had gathered for a church service before a preaching conference.

After we had lots of laughs over their “mistake” of not practicing intinction (dipping the bread in the juice), it struck me that perhaps they just needed a little more of the cleansing blood that day. A little more Jesus.

In my tradition (Churches of Christ), the time for confessing when you need a little more Jesus has mostly passed. In fact we don’t really confess much other than our beliefs. I wonder sometimes if the lack of confession (of sins) is perhaps less about rejecting priests, and more about maintaining appearances. Because we’ve bought into the notion that our outward appearance is a reflection of our inward disposition. So if we shower, put on our “Sunday best,” and watch our language, people will think we’re strong in our faith and convictions, with just some “minor” sins sprinkled in because, hey—nobody’s perfect.

But if we really wore our sins on the outside, if we were willing to confess the ugliness that lies within, what then? Would we be labeled, judged, and rejected?

Perhaps if everyone was willing, we would come to find that we all have ugliness inside of us that no amount of scrubbing on the outside will cleanse.

And perhaps, if we wore our sins on the outside, we would start behaving as if we really believe that Jesus’s blood is the only thing that can cleanse us. And maybe then we would be the ones grabbing that goblet and gulping down the blood of Christ so that we could be once again washed from the inside out.

May God forgive us for hiding our shortcomings, and judging others who are brave enough to admit theirs. May we cultivate spaces where confession is safe, welcomed, and a means of healing.

Have you experienced confession working in a healthy way? Share here so we can encourage one another and creatively consider how we might cultivate such spaces.

The Sacrament of Cleaning the Kitchen

I love to cook. I haven’t always loved cleaning the kitchen.

Dave and I have an agreement regarding post-dinner time: he takes the kids upstairs for baths and showers, I clean up the kitchen.

For the first few years, this was an efficient and logical arrangement, but not a particularly happy one for me – even though it was my suggestion. Sometimes I resented that I was the one cooking and cleaning. Most days though, I just wanted more time to relax and read or watch a show. But the more I’ve worked on cultivating gratitude, the less resentment I feel. The more I practice seeing the divine in the ordinary, the less ordinary it feels.

I have my post-dinner rituals. First I completely clear the table and cooking/prep surfaces, moving everything next to the sink. I’m grateful for a sturdy table and six healthy bodies (or more!) that enjoy good food and conversation around it each day.

I spray and wipe down the table, cooktop, and counters. I’m grateful to have access to a variety of fresh, local, whole foods and all of these pans and pots and appliances and tools.

I rinse each dish and load it into the dishwasher. I’m grateful for the flexibility in my job that allows me to be home with the kids each afternoon, and to make dinner for our family each evening.

I take one last minute to relocate things that have landed on the counters throughout the day, setting everything back in its proper place. On an evening when the kitchen is unusually messy from extra places at the table or a complicated recipe, these finishing touches are even more satisfying.

This is the place where I feed my family. This is where the girls love to make guacamole and vegan “meatballs,” and the boys love to make energy bites and any variety of bread. This is where Dave and I sometimes have a few moments of quiet before they wake up. This is where we’ve broken bread with dozens of friends and family members from near and far. This is where we’ve experimented with different eating challenges and hundreds of recipes (my sweet family has endured a lot of ahem–variety–in our food choices). This is the room in our home where I spend the most time in any given day, except for sleeping.

This is where with soapy hands my mind settles, thoughts wander, and God sometimes speaks to me. The quiet affords space to reflect on the day, considering what was life-giving and what was life-taking. I offer an unconventional, rambling stream of prayers and silence. I consider moments when I did not choose kindness, and reaffirm my intention to choose kindness tomorrow. These evening rituals have become a sacrament for me, the ground–holy.

And each evening as the kids head upstairs and voices fade away, this sacrament of cleaning and restoring everything to its proper place imparts a sense of peace. I know I can rest deeply and when I wake, the kitchen will be ready for us to make another delicious mess of it all tomorrow.

Bad Kids and Old Ladies

“That kid is bad. And it’s your fault. You’re bad too.”

That’s what she said to me, wagging her finger at me and my child.

It was a dreary day here in Portland, so after some indoor gym time, the kids and I ran to the store for a few things. It was nearing the witching hour and my child was having a hard time being civil. The breaking point came when I said “no” to purchasing a sweatshirt, and things quickly spiraled downward from there. With my child in a full-blown fit, we made our way around the store for the last few items. There my child was, alternating between pushing against the cart, putting feet on the wheels to prevent forward motion, and kicking me, all the while screaming “I wanna buy it!” And there I was, employing every parenting strategy I could remember from the book I had read recently (though it did little to de-escalate the situation). Shoppers from near and far paused, craning their necks to stare at the embarrassing power struggle. A kind employee offered to help, but what could be done? With my patience hanging by a thread and tears at the ready, we made our way to and through the checkout. The finish line was in sight, and with receipt in hand I once again began driving the cart away from the shaming onlookers. But then she intercepted us. An elderly woman with a large hat and missing teeth stepped right into my path and pronounced that painful judgment: “That kid is bad. And it’s your fault. You’re bad too.” She repeated herself a bit and ended with a threat: “You better get that child under control, or I’ll call child services on you.”

It was a gut-punch I couldn’t remember experiencing before. Breaking my five second stunned silence, all I could muster was a weak “Ma’am, he is not bad. And that is probably the least helpful thing you could say right now.” She had already turned and walked away, so she probably didn’t hear me but I said it more for my child’s benefit and for myself. I refused to let her shaming and judgment have the final word. Surely I could have processed criticism of my parenting a smidgen better had I not been so emotionally spent, but the tears came rushing out.

As we reached the exit, the deluge of customers began. “Hey, you’re doing the best you can, and she should not have said that.” “She was way out of line, don’t listen to her–she has no idea.” “I have three of my own and I’ve been right where you are.” Just outside the exit a few more stopped to hug me and even cry with me. My fiery anger and hurt were flooded with the kindness and love from these strangers so thoroughly that I couldn’t discriminate between the two in the emotional overwhelm. It was brutiful.

We, humans, hold the tremendous potential to both harm and heal one another. In moments of emotional fragility in particular, we hold even more power. In these tender moments, empathy is critical. To empathize is to identify with someone in their emotions or thoughts, even experiencing them yourself. The old woman chose to remain at a distance, uttering judgment based on a brief observation. Thank God for those customers who instead drew near to me, choosing empathy, and providing healing.

It’s easier to judge. Criticism sometimes feels safer. But the way of empathy bears fruits of connection, healing, and being heard and seen. As we seek to heal the big problems of the world, the tiny day-to-day struggles are where we begin. How are we treating our neighbor who plays his music loudly? What’s our response to the parents with the crying baby on the airplane? What do we say to the customer service representative who isn’t working to resolve the problem as quickly as we would like?

May we be the neighbor who pauses, notices, and takes a moment to seek understanding, express patience, or offer an encouraging word or a hug.

How have you experienced the kindness of strangers? Share your stories here so we can encourage one another!

Missional Hospitality: A Beautiful Emptying

“…if the church is Jesus’s beloved bride, his partner and mate in this journey, I have to wonder … who are the people we should be eating with, talking with, and showing kindness to? What is God up to in our neighborhoods, schools, cities, states, countries, and world? To what or whom is God nudging us?”

This week I wrote on Char.is, a website that hosts conversations of/about Churches of Christ. Check it out here! 

If you’re interested in any of the resources that shaped the thinking expressed here, check out The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Christopher Wright), Surprise the World: The Five Habits of Highly Missional People (Michael Frost), and The Missional Network.

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