Tag Archives: church

Ten Percent?

I’m sprawled out on a cozy bed, the May sun streaming through the blinds. I’ve got nothing more pressing to do on a Saturday afternoon than read a book.

I crack it open (or softly bend it open, ’cause it’s a paperback), and begin to read the book that’s been sitting by my chair for months.

I begin to read Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, and I know that change is afoot.

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Sure, all the stats are off (it was published in 2005), but the heart and soul of the book remains the same. Because it’s the heart and soul of the gospel, really, only in numbers and facts and practice.

Due to overconsumption, small numbers of affluent people strain the earth’s limited resources far more than much larger numbers of poor people (30).

[My junior year of college and I’m watching Justin McRoberts play his music and plead the case for thousands of hungry children. I raise my hand for a packet because I know myself: I will feel bad, maybe cry, have every intention of doing something, then get up and leave. I take a packet and I’ve been supporting a boy in India ever since. One. Only one.]

Is ten percent really enough?

It’s hard enough for me to write that check on Sunday, to drop it in the plate and trust that it will be put to good use. Because that’s what I’m doing: trusting. Trusting God to use the money I give to further His Kingdom. Trusting my deacons and trustees and pastors to look to Him for guidance.

Trusting that I will also pay my bills on time and not overdraw.

I am a fearful person.

Those of us in developed countries make up only one-fifth of the world’s population, yet we consume two-thirds of the planet’s resources (31).

So what am I going to do? Keep putting that ten percent in the offering plate? Keep sending money to India in the hopes that one boy will have a brighter future? Give to my friends who go on missions trips? Support another child in Africa? Egypt? South America?

Today, I didn’t buy a new sweatshirt. I wanted one, a green one that said “Cape Cod” because my old one wore out. I didn’t buy one after all – there wasn’t one exactly like I wanted.

I walked out of the store – sweatshirt-less and annoyed – and thought, Maybe that’s what I have to do.

Buy less stuff.

Eat less food.

Consume less gas.

Be mindful of where the extra goes because there’s more than enough to go around.

Advertisers promise that their products will satisfy our deepest needs and inner longings for love, acceptance, security, and sexual fulfillment (24).

I’m only a quarter of the way through the book, but I’m slowly working towards change. Change in myself is a hard thing to make.

Maundy Thursday

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He spoke of the four cups of wine and their significance, how the Lord used four verbs of redemption in Exodus 6:6-7 when speaking about Israel:

I will bring you out…

I will rescue you…

I will redeem you…

I will take you…

Why is this night different from all other nights?

I wrote a letter to a college friend the other day, and faith came up, the strangeness of it, the constant shifting. I’ve changed more in the three years since college than I ever did when I was there, and my faith has been moving, too. I keep reminding myself that this isn’t something to be afraid of, that wrestling with doctrine and rightness of things and my own inconsistencies is exactly the way it should be.

It does scare me a little.

Why is this night different from all other nights?

God is not stagnant. Many of my friends are packing up and moving. God is not stagnant.

I am not moving house, but I am moving, constantly shaking things up, walking a new rabbit trail, searching and finding and searching again. I use new words to talk to God, but more than that, I find new ways to listen. I thank Him for the sun, and I thank Him for His unending forgiveness that I need daily.

God is not stagnant.

Why is this night different from all other nights?

There was a time last spring. I was in the throes of – I’m not sure what to call it – an emotional upheaval? A spiritual awakening? I’d just read Lauren Winner’s Still, and I wasn’t sure whether to be angry, sad, hopeful, or just realize its honesty. She wrote about the middle-place of faith, how sometimes we dwell in this space far longer than we anticipated. Throughout the whole book, her voice feels monotone, like her soul is weary with this middle-ness.

I sat in church, listening to my pastor’s words over the eucharist, and I was filled with fear.

My palms began to sweat. I stared at the communion table. It was the first time I realized what awe felt like.

The magnitude of what I was about to do, the bread and drink that would pass my lips, filled me with a visceral fear.

I have never had that same experience again, but I long for it.

The silence at the power of God.

The knowledge that He is so much more than I think He is, and thank God for that.

What makes this night different from all other nights?

To look forward to the feast of the Lord, when all is made new. To look forward to breaking bread with my Savior. To be shocked into wonder.

Good Things #18: Rolling Out of Bed

There’s nothing better than coming home after a long day at work and realizing: I have nothing else I need to do. All I’m responsible for now is eating dinner, reading a good book, making sure my next day is fully planned, putting the chickens in for the night, and heading to bed sometime before 8:30. I’m kidding. Kind of.

Fall’s always had a melancholyness to it. I go from a sunny summer high to this immediate need for hibernation, and it often includes a good dose of “woe is me” and a tiny bit of anxiety. It doesn’t seem to matter that fall is one of the most beautiful seasons, and even as I walk through the crunchy red leaves in the afternoon sun, I feel a weight of the darkness coming earlier and earlier every day.

This past Monday, as I looked out the window and realized it was almost pitch black already, I forced myself to get back in my car and drive to small group.

It was 6:30 and I wasn’t sure if I would last till after 9:00. I told myself that somehow I’d find the energy, that somehow 6:15AM wouldn’t come as quickly as it seemed and it would all be worth it. There’s something about deep cushy couches after a certain hour that beg me to fall asleep. And warm beverages. And a cozy light against a warm living room wall. Even when roughly ten people surround me talking theology and life and purpose, I still manage to drift off quietly in a corner somewhere.

But I went and I sat and I did not fall asleep. I even engaged in the conversation, offering up my paltry musings and observations. We ended in prayer and I prayed aloud for two friends who sat by me, something I never would’ve done a few years ago.

That’s the thing. My bed is extremely comfortable. My beeswax candles smell like summer and the book I am reading about an uppity twenty-something in the 1940s is quite engaging.

But they aren’t people. They don’t breathe or think or speak. They don’t ask how I’m doing and actually care, and they certainly don’t pray for me.

I have to be careful as the months get colder and the sun gets further away. I have to fight my natural tendency to curl up and shut out the world. There’s a balance between “Oh my gosh I’ve had too much people time and I just need to be alone!” and “I’d be okay with never speaking to another human being again.” I hardly ever consider myself an introvert, but in the months between October and March, it’s hard to see me as anything else.

I wouldn’t say anything earth-shattering happened at small group Monday night. Community happened. Thought happened. Prayer happened.

And none of that would’ve been possible if I hadn’t rolled out of bed.

[Thoughts on Church From a Seasoned Veteran]

I remember sitting in English class in 9th grade and admitting to my teacher that I got most of my ideas for stories while sitting in church. I thought he’d be surprised, maybe shake his head a little, smiling, and tell me that church was for focusing on the Lord.

Instead, he laughed and said, “Me too! There’s just something about being surrounded by the body of Christ that fills me with creativity. Well, that, and when I can’t sleep at night.”

Church has always been a place of mixed emotions. When people ask me about my church life, I think of the little brown church on a busy street where I first encountered God and saw for the first time that God’s love spread even and especially to the disabled. This was also where I discovered music, and I remember counting the rectangular windows while we sang “How Great Thou Art.”

[I was both awed and confused by the extremely heavy vibrato behind me.]

This was also the first place I saw deep relationships destroyed, families betrayed by their own, young children crushed by the meanness of others. I wasn’t exempt from it, either –  I think I may have indeed been one of the mean ones, struggling desperately not to be labeled as “weird” or “different.” There isn’t much worse than this when you’re seven years old.

The next church I think of is the old white church on Main Street, with its green steeple and gravel driveway. I think of Joy Club and youth group and Vacation Bible School. Long Sunday afternoons when we all would play volleyball til our knees were scraped up from diving, and excursions for barbecue down the road when all we thought about was laughing and wiffle ball and perhaps that tiny worry that:

Jesus didn’t mean as much to us as he was supposed to.

This was around the time I started writing in church. Usually it was in my head, long, terrible plot-lines that always involved heroic orphan-girls and handsome boys who lived “in town.” One time I scribbled a slightly-scandalous outline for a story on the back of an offertory envelope; it involved two members of the congregation, and I surely should have been more careful. I did try to pay attention. I succeeded, often. But like my English teacher said, “There’s just something about being surrounded by the body of Christ.” I felt a well of anticipation and ideas whirling around.

[I hopped around from church to church, staying a week, a month, a season. College was too complicated and they demanded too much: “Ministries! Use your gifts! Vocation! Sing! Youth Group! Sunday School!”, so I ran away.]

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[St. Peter’s Church in Salzburg]

I worshipped with my new church on Easter Sunday. It wasn’t what I was used to. In order to worship together in one service, we had to move to the local high school, and suddenly it felt more like a show than church. I was surprised because that’s not how Sunday mornings usually feel here, but I closed my eyes and willed myself to be open.

I have so many set ideas of the way things should be and all too often I let those ideas destroy moments that shouldn’t be destroyed.

So I sang with all my might: “Low in the Grave He Lay,” “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” “In Christ Alone.” The hymns were the same, even if there was suddenly a screen above the pastor. The smiling faces around me were the same as most Sundays. I was grateful to have my family with me, to worship alongside them like we did when were little. I was grateful that God has kept me close to Him, even when church has been such a place of mixed things.

I am slowly getting more involved, with my feet only slightly dragging behind me. There is so much history between me and church, but that’s true of anyone who’s stuck it out and been part of the worshipping church. You can’t take Christ and leave the Church, or at least, I can’t justify it, as much as I’ve tried. Christ came to redeem people, and it’s people that make the Church so difficult.

All I can do is try to be one of the people who makes it a better example of the Kingdom.

Christmas Joy at 6:28am

I woke up far too early for a Sunday morning. I was mad.

My alarm was set for 8:00 – the perfect amount of time to shower and get ready for a 9:30 church service. But the clock said 6:28, and there was no hope of falling back to sleep.

So I spent the first moments of Sunday, December 9th, realizing that I am entirely and completely not ready for Christmas.

Yes, our tree is up. Yes, I went to the Christmas concert at my Alma Mater this weekend, and yes, it was “aesthetically pleasing in every way.”

Yes, I went to the first Christmas party of the season last night. Yes, I have already eaten too many cookies.

But did I decorate the tree? No, I was at work.

Did I sing in the concert? Yes, but it annoyed everyone around me. (Just kidding. I contained myself.)

Did I bake the cookies? No, I just consumed them.

Today will be the day I regain some holiday spirit.

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First step: coffee. I am not addicted. It’s half-caff.

Church. I am not really in the mood. But I will say, every time I have dragged myself there, every time I have prayed that God would open my eyes, it has been worth it. (It doesn’t seem worth it now, in my cozy pajamas with the candles burning and the tree lit…)

String popcorn and cranberries. Unnecessary, you say? I think not.

FIGURE OUT WHAT I’M GIVING TO PEOPLE. Oh. my. gosh. I have no idea what I’m gonna do. My little brother is leagues better than I am at gifts – he’s been done for weeks. So annoying. The only gift I have is a sweater I made my other brother (that thing counts as so many gifts, I’m set for years.)

Lesson planning. NOOOOOO!!! But I’m thinking of working mostly on Christmas songs in Latin. The grammar school kids have been begging me, and I have a sneaky idea of making my high schoolers carol around the school. (What’s the point of power if you don’t use it?!)

Music. I’ve had enough of this everyday music junk I’ve been listening to. Bring on Messiah.

Prayer. Scripture. How can I be surprised things feel so harried and “un-Christmas-y” if I haven’t taken the time to soak up the moments?

And, last but not least, family. Working six days a week is okay when you like your job, but that doesn’t mean other things don’t suffer. I can’t wait to sit on the couch with my family and watch a Christmas movie. Maybe a little Bananagrams, if they think they’re up for the challenge.

Is it hard for everyone to take a breather and enjoy this time of year? People have told me for years that it “goes so fast,” they can’t believe it’s Christmas, etc. etc. I just hope I can grab a little bit of the calm and joy.

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