Archive for June 2016

How Questions Lead to Holiness

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      I remember being about 3 or 4 years old, riding in the backseat of my brother's car on the way home from church. I was sitting pondering the world, and looking out the window, when I asked my college aged brother, "What is God?" He looked back a bit perplexed, and so I expanded my question. "I mean, He's not a ghost, and He's not a person, not with skin and a body like us. So what is God? Like, what is God made out of?" I don't remember the answer my brother gave me, but I don't remember him scoffing, or shutting down the conversation either. Whatever his answer was, it satisfied my young mind, but this memory of asking questions, of asking perplexing theological questions, is one of the earliest memories I have.
      As I grew, the questions didn't end. After Sunday morning worship service, I would often walk up to my mom while she was preparing dinner and ask all of the perplexing questions I had from the sermon that morning. "If the devil is a real person with free will, than does the devil have free will to repent and re-enter heaven? Or is it too late? Is there a point where it's too late to repent? What does that tell us about God?" She never shied away from my questions or told me to stop asking them, despite not always having an answer. Sometimes her answer being "won't it be great that someday we can ask Jesus all of our questions!"
       After bombarding her with thousands of questions she finally told me to write them down as I had them, and to ask my pastor prior to the evening church service. I did just that.
      I would walk into church on Sunday nights, and search all over for my pastor, with my list in hand. He took the time to go through each and every question I had, to the best of his ability, at times even reaching for his systematic theology notebook from seminary. Sometimes asking if we could resume the conversation after the service, which of course only lead to more questions.
      He gave me books about world religions, and helped me to delve even more deeply into the scriptures. He never turned away from my questions, but continued to challenge me in my thinking. Those questions often led to other questions, questions I'm still continuing to ask.
     Now I am a pastor myself, and I think at times that people perceive us as the people with the answers. That we sat through classes on Biblical Hermeneutics and Theology 101 to have better answers for our congregation, but I have learned that being a pastor is so very little about having the right answers, and so much more about asking the right questions.
     -Who is God?
     - What should our response to God be?
    -What is Love?
    -Is love even a what, or is love a who?
    - How do we live love in light of what/who love is?
    - What is the church?
    - Is the church a what, or is it a who?
    -What does it mean to be the church?
    - What does it mean to be free from sin?
      This is such a small sampling of questions that I ask, and that we ask as Christians. Our congregation wrestles with these questions on a regular basis, in recent weeks we've wrestled with "What does it mean to love my enemies?", "What does freedom in Christ look like?", and "What should our response to the terrorist attacks in Florida be?".
       However, I have seen people fear questions. As someone who has always asked questions, it is perplexing to me as to why? Which only leads me to more questions. Why are some people afraid of questions? Why are some people afraid of those who ask lots of questions?
       It perplexes me, because I believe that ultimately it is questions that lead us to holiness. A professor of mine used to say "you are never more holy than when you are confessing." It seems that that our questions are what ultimately leads us to confession.
      Someone asks "Who is my neighbor?" Which leads to a story about a man getting robbed and beaten on the side of the road. The religious leaders pass by out of fear of touching a dead body, or blood, making them unclean. Hoping to uphold the law. Then a man, who is by every definition of the word an outcast, an enemy to the man hurting and bleeding, and he is the one who picks him up. Who bandages his wounds and pays for his care. Who goes above and beyond to meet his needs.
     We learn from our questions that it was this man who was truly being a neighbor, which leads us to pray "Oh LORD have mercy on me a sinner! For I walked by on the other side instead of meeting my neighbor's needs. Forgive me, and help me to see those around me as my neighbor!" It is in that moment, that great moment of confession that we are made holy, as God is faithful to hear our cries and forgive us.
     It is this movement, this progression from question to confession to holiness that moves the liturgy of many of our churches. This is part of why we go from the sermon (questions and story), to a prayer of confession, to the Eucharist. It is a progression that reminds us of who we are and whose we are, that ultimately we might better serve the world. That we might ultimately look more like Jesus.
     Shutting down questions does not just shut down conversations that are uncomfortable for us to have, but inevitably it shuts down room for confession which ultimately creates roadblocks on the path of holiness.
     If we truly want to be a holy people, we must first and foremost be a people who ask questions. Who don't shut down conversations, but wrestle in the hard work of moving towards confession together. We must respond like Jesus did to the questions around him, the questions of "who is my neighbor?", "how can I be born again?", and "where can i find this well, so I might drink and never be thirsty?" not with criticism, not with an arrogance that we know all of the answers,  but with the embrace my brother, my mom, and my childhood pastor gave me. We must respond with stories and more questions, that we might confess together "Lord, I need to be a better neighbor", "Lord help me to be born again", and "Lord, I am dry, fill me again with your living water." That we might ultimately be made holy through the grace of the Holy Spirit who is faithful to forgive.
     May we ask more questions. May we listen and embrace those who are asking questions. May these questions ultimately lead us to confession that we do not have all the answers, and that we are so very dependent on the grace of a great God that we are far too small to comprehend. May that confession lead us to be the holy nation of God, a people set apart for God's great work in the world.

Things my Dad Never Said

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     I've written a lot about my mom. She is a wealth of stories of grace, mercy, and love. She is also, a lot like me. We are both extroverts who love to talk, we both love people, we both love to be around our family, and we both get deeply wounded when people don't notice or appreciate us. We drive each other absolutely crazy, and no one shows me how short I fall than her; moving away was probably the single best thing for our relationship. We are very much alike.
     I do not write much about my dad. It is not because there aren't stories of grace, mercy, and love where he is concerned, but rather because he is nothing like me.
     My mom once administered a personality test to my dad and I side by side. With each question we were to answer on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being that the statements sounded most like us, 1 being that the statement didn't sound like us at all. Whenever I would shout out an enthusiastic 10, my dad would say something like "Is there an option lower than a 1." We are opposites.
      Where I am loud and outgoing, he is quiet and reserved. Where I prefer to be the center of attention, he prefers to sink as much into the background as possible. When we would have parties I would seek out the action, and my dad could often be found outside, unless of course the party was outside, then he would be found inside. He is a man of few words, while I am a woman of too many.
      In reflecting on my dad, I often gravitate towards his quiet nature. He isn't one to make bold declarations of love, but I learned in college that his "I got your oil changed and put gas in your car" was just as much a statement of love as a hallmark card.
      Most people reflect a lot on the great things their dads have said to them that have molded them and shaped them, but I really think that I am equally shaped by the many things my dad never said to me. Those silences, whether intentional or not, helped to form and shape me as much as the words did.
       Here are a few of the things my dad never said:
       My dad never told me to go change my clothes. I don't know if he ever wanted to or not, but his silence on this matter gave me a lot of confidence. It taught me that I was a human being, and not just a sexual object to cover. I have a lot less baggage to work through than many of my friends, about body image, because I was never told to "cover up" or change.
      My dad never told me to change my hair. When I walked into the house at 18 with my blonde hair dyed black, my dad didn't say a single thing about it. I had no need to rebel, to push boundaries or limits, because my dad didn't make a big deal out of things like hair and makeup. He let me be my own person with very little commentary, which made me a person who is far less judgmental of the people around me, and a person who didn't need to push the envelope to feel complete.
      My dad never told me who I could and couldn't date. He trusted me enough as a young adult and adult to make good decisions. If I had asked, I'm sure he would have given his opinion, but he never came out guns blazing about needing to protect me, or the type of guy I should be with. I never had to bring a bad boy home just to frustrate my father, I never had to try and impress him, I just had space to learn who I liked without the fear of approval or disapproval from a parent.
      My dad never said "you can't do that, you are a girl". I would talk a lot about my dreams and aspirations in life. I'd talk about crazy things I wanted to do, and to this day I have never once heard my dad say "you can't do that" for any reason at all. My gender, my financial status, my personality, none of that ever came into play. I always believed, and continue to believe I can do things, partly because I was never told I can't.
      My dad never said "ewww" when I asked him to pick up more feminine products from the store. He never made my being female seem like a chore or a burden, or gross, he just did it. (Which is another one of those silent ways he let us know he loves us). One time when I was home sick with horrible menstrual cramps, I vomited all over in my bed (I know, really gross), and when I got up and told my dad, he didn't say anything, he just came in and helped me change the sheets.
      My dad never said "stop talking". I am 100% sure he wanted to a thousand and a half times, maybe he did once or twice, but I don't remember. What I remember are car rides home where I would literally talk his ear off for 20 minutes straight about all the goings on of the day, that I'm sure he cared very little about, and he would just smile and nod, probably partly happy that he didn't have to talk. That helped me find my voice, and to feel like I had something worthwhile to say. That expressing my opinion and thoughts was important enough to take the time to listen to, and if my dad is nothing else, he is a phenomenal listener.
     My dad never said "I wish our lawn was greener/ I wish our house was bigger/ I wish we could go on vacation to _________". Whenever we ask my dad what he wants for his birthday, father's day, or Christmas we usually get a variation of the same answer "nothing." One of my sister's once said "I think Dad is genuinely the most content person on the planet. When he says he doesn't want anything, he really doesn't want anything." We never had a lot, but we always had enough. He is quietly generous with what he has, and he is perfectly content spending hours reading books, playing solitaire, and drinking tea. With my outgoing and constantly trying to do more way, it is helpful to watch someone who is perfectly content to just be.
      He is not perfect by any means, and there are probably times he should speak when he doesn't, but I think as I grow older I am learning to appreciate his quiet ways more and more, especially as the world seems to get increasingly louder and louder. So I am grateful for the things my father taught me when he wasn't talking, because I know I have been shaped by so many things he never said.