Quick meals.

“…to the church that meets in your home.” Paul penned those words when writing to Philemon in his letter to encourage the freedom of Onesimus. Philemon is a heartfelt letter to a personal friend for a shared personal friend. It’s about trust and love and acceptance. It’s a short letter from Paul to Philemon and the church that met in his home.

Meeting in a home is not a new thing for the church. It isn’t a trend or even a thing that only happens during pandemics. It isn’t merely what non-conformists or eccentric divisive spirits practice. Churches meeting in homes, sharing a meal, sharing the Lord’s supper, sharing scripture, and spiritual intimacy has been normal for two thousand years. What makes today different is that just our individual families are meeting together and trying to figure this out without much guidance from professionals…until all the prerecorded services hit facebook last week. But there are those who practice this out of necessity, out of a call to do so, out of desperately wanting more out of spiritual relationships.

For now, most of our friends are across town. Our loved ones somewhere else. We are all going at this alone and digitally tuning into other believers around the globe. But good things are happening in this precious time. Good conversations between parents and kids and believers from all over are happening. Questions are being asked. Answers are being pursued.  Prayers are being uttered and heard by those who’ve never spoke nor heard them. Your faith is either being discovered, growing, or revealing that it needs to grow. Good things are happening for believers, likewise good things are happening for the church. Perhaps God is allowing a sabbath where we are called to remember Him. He didn’t cause the virus. Perhaps he is allowing the break. Perhaps he wants us to ask what the point of all this church stuff truly is.

Church was always more than Sunday. Church was never supposed to be a quick meal. The Lord’s Supper was not created to be fast food. It’s now. It’s time. It’s neighbors checking on neighbors. It’s buying groceries for others. It’s making phone calls and sending cards. It’s family learning about one another. It’s brainstorming together how to DO good. It’s the ache in your heart to see and hug the people you love and to look into their eyes again…to be known, absolved, and loved for who you are. It’s waking up and becoming aware that family is seated around the table laughing and sharing and there are no time constraints or quotas to be met.  The church consists of relationships built upon the love of Christ that are so unique and so real and so accepting that you want to include others. I hope you have that. I hope you see that you need that and the world needs that. I hope you feel the call to add more plates when you set your table. 

As you miss your people, as you dive into potentially awkward prayer with your family, as you begin to notice that sweet things happen in tiny moments in tiny groups who know each other inside and out, remember to take that with you when you go back into your congregations. And don’t let this lesson be wasted. Don’t let this call to love better be forgotten. Expect better conversations, pursue closer relationships, live out your faith through the week rather than consuming a fast food Sunday. Make life together more than a quick meal. Make church more than a quick meal.

 

 

Down the Rabbit Hole: What we are missing.

SEVEN

It’s been a week since we were supposed to go back to school following spring break. The outbreak of Covid-19 has shut down the world.  The enormity of this global catastrophe is mind-blowing. We are all on the same team now fighting this virus. Most of us are sitting at home and communicating via Facebook, text, Zoom, and facetime. I am thankful for those mediums. They help life to feel semi-normal and go on in some sort of way. Life changes so swiftly. There truly is very little we have control over besides ourselves and even that is debatable at times.

Many of my friends will attempt worship at home this weekend since most churches have closed their doors to stop the needless spread of illness. It is weird thing to go from pew sitter to preacher, teacher, and prayer leader all at once, I suppose, especially if you are not accustomed to it. I imagine if your personality is one that enjoys playing to a crowd it is intensely awkward. I believe this time trapped at home may change a lot of us church people. I hope it will. Dave and I chose this season of searching and worshiping at home. The world is now being forced into it whether they want to or not. Will it change us?  Will missing a corporate church service make a difference to us at all? Will we worship without the help of the “professionals”? Can we be Christians without a building, without a praise band, without a preacher?

One of my earliest memories is learning the hand-folding rhyme “Here is the church. Here’s the steeple. Open it up, and here’s all the people”.  I remember distinctly my mother saying, but remember, Caryn, the church is the people. It stuck with me. The church IS the people. It’s like having your first child. When it is your first baby you buy every supply out there. You think you need it all from diaper jeanies to bottle warmers to four different bouncy seats and the best diapers on the market. By the third child, you bring them home and let them sleep in a laundry basket if it is nearby because you’ve learned you just don’t need all that stuff. The same is true with the church.

I believe we all have gifts to share (1 Corinthians 12). We are each needed to function as a healthy body of believers. You matter in the church even if you never step foot on a stage in front of people. I have always found it peculiar that we train our kids to do “big” things in our churches, the up-front things. We train them to lead prayers, to preach, to lead songs or sing on praise bands. We often praise those up-in-front talents and gifts. And yet, in scripture, time and again, we see Jesus direct us toward an unseen servitude and sacrifice sans the applause. In times like these, when the applause is missing, what then? We see the church return to a simpler time and discover that we don’t need much at all to keep true faith going. We are forced to ask ourselves, is it true belief if it must be accompanied by lighting, a fog machine, an emotional song, and crowds of people to exist?

I miss having a church family. I am praying for a family of believers that I can love, trust, and serve, and be loved, trusted, and served in return. I don’t really care whether that is down the street or on the other side of the globe. I don’t really care what name is on the sign out front so long as scripture connects them to decision-making, unity is the goal, and serving their fellow man outside the walls of the building is the number one priority. I believe I need a family of believers in my life, and I believe you need that too. I no longer believe that it must look like what it has over the last one hundred years. It can reside within a garage, a pub, a living room, or a seventeenth century stone chapel. The church is where the people are living out the mission and that seldom happens in a building.

I do not believe you need a building, though it has its benefits IF used for the greater community.  I do not believe you need a program for every age group, in fact that has divided us more than educated us and has completely neglected the tradition of the older teaching the young (see Titus). I do not believe you need to look like everyone else within popular Christianity and if that is your goal, you are doing it wrong.  Make a goal of looking like Jesus not other Christians. But know this, I do not believe that Jesus attracts most people. I think he offends most people. I don’t believe exponential church growth models are founded upon the principle that we must tell the masses to repent and turn to God (words straight from the Savior -Mark 1:15). The gospel usually offends. I also don’t believe churches can exist without sinners being in attendance; sinners of all kinds, you, me, prostitutes, homosexuals, porn addicts, gamblers, divorcees, democrats, republicans, Patriot fans, Texans, etc. All are welcome even the people you don’t like nor approve (Mark 2:15). I also believe that our influence over this country and the world will not change until we as the global body of Christ can learn to disagree and still worship alongside each other. Trust me when I tell you, the only people who care about your worship preferences and doctrines are you, and you waste time focusing your energy upon it. Unbelievers just see our arrogance and our arguing. These debates are not interpreted as love. This has no place in the universal Church of God, the Way, the Church of Christ, whatever name is on your placard, the community knows you by your service to them and your reputation to play well with others.

What are we missing? We are missing exactly what is happening right now: the simplicity of Jesus in our homes, the generosity of neighbors sitting with neighbors and sharing a beer or tea from six feet away laughing and living life together, good people checking in on each other and buying groceries for the shut-ins. We are missing Jesus lived out on the streets rather than hidden inside our self-congratulated buildings. Here is a moment in time where we can all be completely real without the pretense and facades of a Sunday only faith. Take that back to our churches and change the game and change the conversations. What is your church doing for the community? Are they a comfort or merely a concert?

I have made my peace with institutional religion. I can defend it better than most because I’ve both relied upon it for my income and witnessed what organization can do for the world when used for good. I have also experienced the sharp pang of the sword the institutional church wields. Change is coming to the institution. It is coming faster than many know, and this virus may make the move even more swift. We must change from pews to tables, from being fed to feeding one another, from battling one another to living our God ordained calling to change the world. I am excited to see the change. I can’t wait.

Facing Social Distancing Free time? Read the Bible.

bibleI love the Babylon Bee. I just ran across a recent article entitled“Christian under Quarantine Resigns Self to Read the Bible”.  I chuckled. The Babylon Bee puts out some of the best satire these days. I strongly suggest a follow. At any rate, I realize that many of us do have an abundance of time on our hands right now as we anxiously await the end of the Covid-19 crisis, and for the first time, many of us are not being spoon fed Bible verses once a week at worship gatherings. Hey, I’m not judging you. I’m just keeping it real. Soooo, dust off your Bible and see where it takes you. You don’t need a preacher nor a Bible degree to read, I promise.

I thought I would take a minute to share what I’ve done this year during our searching season in regard to my personal daily bible reading. It is nothing earth shattering and maybe you’ll think I’m lame. But I’m sharing anyway because this is my blog.

Here are three things I have done that have proven helpful and have developed a better understanding of scripture and growth in my faith. First find a good interpretation of scripture that is easy to read and understand. I know some people love the NIV and still others, swear that King James was the last apostle. Fine. For me, I really like the New Living Translation when I do my personal reading. I reference the New American Standard when diving into a study of the text. (We also have some Greek and Hebrew versions around here, but I won’t encourage that unless you get really excited about it.)

1. I lay aside my interpretations of the past.

Because I have been through a season of searching this step was easier for me. Maybe it will be for you too. In the past, I usually just read the Bible to prove what I already believed to be true whether it was my tradition or my doctrine or straight up my opinion. If I wanted a proof text, I’d find it just about anywhere. However, this year I found it helpful, even therapeutic, to read the Bible critically rather than trying to prove my preconceived notions. And guess what, I found some pretty amazing things that I’ve misunderstood my entire life. I began to see why other people come to the conclusions they have. I judged others less. I considered my own character and beliefs more. I had to ask myself a lot of challenging questions. This may be difficult and even painful. Take note of every time you read and think to yourself, “See, why doesn’t so and so get it!” If you find yourself saying that often, you may not be reading to understand. You may be reading to prove your rightness. There’s a difference. Pay attention to how often you treat scripture like a game to win rather than a window into the heart of the Almighty God. (And maybe you ARE right, but that’s still not the point in reading scripture for your own growth, but I’ll move on.)

2. I don’t just read a verse or a chapter.

I now read the Bible like a novel. I pay attention to the characters. I try to understand their personalities and why they matter in the scheme of the story. Take special note of customs that are weird to an American or to anyone living today. Also, ignore headings. Some dude chose those headings, folks. Sometimes they fit. Sometimes they don’t. Ignore. What I’ve found is that I get more invested in the people stories when I pay attention to the heart of the people IN the story. Instead of trying to apply what is said to my life, I apply what is written to them- about them. I’ve found this radically changes my opinion and pre-dispositions toward the people in scripture. For example, I really don’t like Jacob nor Rachel now. I’d share some pretty dark feelings about them, but this isn’t the time or place- and that is for you to determine. You may find villains and heroes in people who were once the opposite in your mind. Minor characters may touch your heart in ways that you’ve never noticed before. This really is OK to have these feelings and opinions about real people. It doesn’t change who God is. In fact, you might appreciate your own spiritual story more as you look into the lives of others written about so long ago.

I start with choosing a book and move on from there. I started in the gospels and after a year, I am on my second time through the whole thing…including Leviticus. Oy.

3. Words and phrases stick out.

I’ve also started color coding certain words. Each time I read through a book, I color code one or two significant words that I read. For example, the first time I read through the Gospel of John I noted that the word “believe” was used over and over, at least in the translation I use. I went back and started highlighting “believe” in green. This helped me to see some significant teachings that I had never truly noted before. Each of these words or phrases in my Bible are highlighted with a different color. This process of selecting a word or phrase really stands out when you read other books in the Bible. Most books have thematic elements. It reveals something about the authors in what they heard, in what meant something to them personally, and perhaps in what we are supposed to take special note. There are remarkable echoes throughout scripture from the beginning to the end.

I hope this helps someone out there in digital land. I hope it encourages you to dive into something new or something old in a new way. If you have any questions, message me, and we can talk. Don’t be surprised if you convince yourself of things you’ve never believed and are stretched to have more faith when what you read seems implausible. It’s all faith. I know this because “faith” was one of my words I highlighted in Matthew.

See you on the other side.

 

Down the Rabbit Hole. The Kids.

THREE

The kids were grandma’s greatest concern on our journey across denominational borders. But I don’t really want to start there. I think it’s better that you know our kids and where they were when this journey began. And grandmas worry regardless. (Sorry, Moms.)

My kids all come from the same gene pool. A point I remind myself of almost daily, and a point that Dave has questioned jokingly before stopping short and avoiding a night on the couch.

The Eldest

Our eldest is the stereotypical oldest child. She is an enneagram 8; a fact of which she is greatly proud. She is a born leader but a hesitant joiner. She is an intellectual and one of the most determined people I know. Before the recommended college reading assignments, she was our bibliophile, and her bible was/is the most important in the heap. She scours the pages. She studies and takes the Word very seriously. She doesn’t take it lightly when others take the Bible lightly. She fact checks every sermon. She carries a Greek New Testament or a parallel bible to church. Just because you have letters after your name doesn’t mean she won’t double check that what you say is accurate and not just your schmoozy opinion. It was not rare during this year for her to call out a preacher as heretical. She noticed whether or not the church mentioned caring for the poor.

Our eldest left for college early in our journey and solidified her preferences early on. And now that she is out of the house these are her words as she describes the church with Mennonite roots where she attends now, “I like small, Bible-centered communities of people from diverse backgrounds. The liturgy and other semantic type things don’t matter as much to me as long as they are trying to honor God by being true to his word. “Denomination” is a word I have come to wince at in general. Because any group of people who believe in the will of God and live by scripture are the church, and are all tasked with the same mission: go and make disciples. Care for widows and orphans. Love one another. I do enjoy high church for the reverence and sanctity. But I also like to go into a church building and feel as though I am on the same level as everyone else, and often high church puts priests on pedestals, just like megachurches do with their staff.”

She is a good representation of Gen Z from what I’ve read. They are not brand loyal. They are Jesus loyal. They are not bothered with the lines that generations before them drew. Anything other than doing good, seeking justice and walking humbly is suspect, and they will walk. Our journey did not shatter her faith. It enhanced it. It made it her own. 

The Middle Man

Our middle loves people. He always has. He is a giver by nature. He finds the outcasts and creates a team. He believes in his heart that everyone loves everyone. He’s an includer. He smiles. He hugs. He laughs. He is the joy in my day. Middle man has dreamt of being a minister since he was five years old. He idolizes his daddy. He feels big. He has never met a stranger, as they say, and will be your friend without question or hesitation. And his heart breaks hard when he learns the dirty truth about how people behave toward each other in the church and outside. He has scars.

Our middle was the most wounded when we left our last ministry. He could not fathom that people who claimed to love us would lie or be on a mission other than his own. He lost his friend group and his faith in church leadership even though we told him little details about our leaving in the beginning. He sorted out the ugly on his own. So we filled in the gaps to help him heal. He is still struggling to forgive us and those who hurt us. He is still struggling to want to trust anyone including his parents. And for four months he no longer wanted to go into ministry.  I confess we were relieved for his heart’s sake. He’s been fighting a dark depression for months and is in a good season today as I type this. He told us just a couple months ago that he is still interested in ministry, but he plans to double major in something else as well. We fully support him to have a back up plan. (Please pray for him as he continues to fight this forgiveness battle and depression. Please pray for him as he feels called to join the ranks of minister.)

The journey to him was somewhat boring because he is so relational. Corporate experiences are not particularly relational no matter how excited the praise band is. He has been left wanting. When we started the journey, he wanted whatever was loud and fun, but the more he experienced, the more he saw through the showtime. He realized what he missed was family, church family. And there’s nothing quite so lonely as a concert by yourself.

(My pontification on this point is: if corporate worship is all you offer as church, you are not operating a church, you are running an event center. And if Sunday is all you participate in as a Christian, there is so much more to being a part of a church and to following Christ. You are limiting your spirit and not living into what God has designed you to be as a active part of the family of God. There’s nothing wrong with corporate worship, but it is not necessarily a biblical demonstration of a church at work.)

The Youngest

Our youngest is about as machiavellian as a child can be. He is a skeptic and highly intelligent. He is exceedingly private and introverted. You must win his trust, and he can sense insincerity. Inauthenticity repels and disgusts him. He told me when he was five that he didn’t buy the Noah story. He said it was highly improbable. I didn’t argue. Whether Noah is factual or allegorical really doesn’t matter. I just pray that this kid knows Jesus. So far he does, but he’s watching the church and that has done the most damage to his young faith. And even now, my prayer is that the church will make it on his list of priorities. Once you betray a kid like this, it is difficult to win him back. He will just want to destroy you and light the world ablaze with a sign proclaiming your lies, and you’ll never quite know what hit you. But all that will likely only play out in his head, and in reality, he will walk and never look back.

Our youngest appreciated small church the most especially high church services with liturgy. He appreciated being able to follow along with the order of worship. His introverted nature felt peace during contemplative silences and prayer. Overly zealous greeters made him absolutely squirm which tickled all of us a bit. His preference of speakers were short winded and to the point. Joking did nothing for the kid.


There was not one visit that all of my children agreed upon. Not one. If one claimed the preacher was a heretic, then the other thought he was hilarious. If the worship made the middle man soar, then it absolutely infuriated our youngest. And every one of them could back up their opinions citing scripture.

I was lucky to stay home with my kids for many years. Part of what I did as a stay home mom is study the bible with them, and I don’t just mean read from a Bible story book. We sat at the kitchen table and went through bible curriculum for about an hour every day. (If you want to know what we used, message me.) My two oldest kids learned Bible not doctrine nor tradition. Our youngest was young enough when I went back to work full time that he barely remembers our time at the table together which breaks my heart.

We’ve questioned whether we failed in being too open with our kids about the church. For better or worse, when the two older kids revealed signs of wanting to work in ministry we both decided to tell the truth rather than paint them rainbows. But the fact of the matter is, all kids are smart, and if you honestly believe that they don’t see through the pretense at your church building, you are the crazy one. What we have is a generation of kids who have friends with gender confusion at school, but they come to churches who still want youth ministries solely providing Veggietales and skating parties. They need clear honest conversations. They need peace. They need a safe place to ask questions.  They need parents who care about their spirituality more than whether or not they fit in with the popular crowd. They don’t need more skating parties.  As a minister’s daughter and a youth minister’s wife, I’ll let you in on a secret, no church and no minister regardless how dynamic will convert your child to Jesus, only you will. And if you are depending on the church or a Christian school to do that job for you, you will be greatly disappointed. Your family doesn’t have to look like mine, but your God given responsibility as a parent is to teach your child about Jesus. You can’t outsource that ministry to the church and every day you wait is wasted time.

So for grandma’s sake, yes, this journey impacted my kids, and it probably could have destroyed their faith after a year of wandering, but we never left them alone. After every visit we openly discussed what we saw. We let them ask questions.  We went back to the bible and sought directives. We let them share what made them uncomfortable and what they liked. And we reminded them over and over that the reason why differences in the church exist is because we are each different just as they are, and humans have a hard time sacrificing for one another to get along. We made a point to tell them that regardless of where we land, we land together and we will worship together as a family. We will live sacrificially as a family and love as a family.

The sweetest and most intimate moments for us have been when we’ve worshiped in our home this year. Most churches do not practice weekly communion which to me is big priority. So we take the Lord’s Supper as a family. We circle up and take turns praying over the bread and the wine and share the memory of our Savior together. This is how we’ve remained grounded in what matters.

Down the Rabbit Hole: Love?

TWO

Love is the interesting thing about visiting different churches. You can see, feel, and witness love, and you can eerily feel the bleak absence of it. There are churches that immediately reach out to you as the visitor with love. There are churches that reach in to each other with love. There are churches that reach up to the Savior with love. And then there are churches that make you wonder if they even know what love is. I found that I prefer a church that can love in and out and up, and while we have much in common in practice and belief, having those three acts of love all at work is one thing that singles some churches out from the host of options out there. 

Most Americans have figured all this commonground out by the way. It’s no secret. I think I’m the last one in on the secret that most of these buildings/churches share more common ground than not. I guess if I didn’t know anything about Christianity at all, and what I did know I learned on facebook ads, then I would choose the most entertaining and positive place I could find because life is hard and celebrity culture drives us to what is popular and pleasurable. Hence the rise of the mega mcchurch. Which is fine in the beginning, but the extravagant entertainment of mcchurch leaves people there in the pleasure zone. And when children die or jobs go away or your spouse cheats on you, that’s when the rubber hits the road and you find out where your people really are. Do the hurting go to the bible for resolution OR do they go to the guy in skinny jeans singing about sloppy wet kisses with Jesus OR do they go to the people in the pew who actually know them? This is what will make your church A church, relationships. And relationships don’t happen during Sunday morning showtime nor Sunday morning traditional fare, but I guarantee your visitors can feel whether or not they exist. We can. We did. 

When my family of five walked into one building, no one spoke to us. No one even turned to look at us. When we walked into the sanctuary, most pews were filled except the back row. (Score one for my introverted youngest.) Upon further inspection was a sign on that empty last row that said “do not sit here, ask the usher for help.” The one problem was, where the heck was the usher? What usher? Dave looked at me, shrugged his shoulders, and gestured to the third row from the back with an empty space in the middle.

We asked a surly looking gentlemen if we could squeeze in with him, he acted disgruntled, rolled his eyes, and huffed. He begrudgingly stood and let our family squeeze by.  Regardless of the poor beginning and lack of reaching out to us, I was determined to find the good. I liked the music of this worship service primarily because it was familiar. Secondly, I liked that a missionary was speaking (reaching out). I was tracking with this sweet man for a while until he noted that his church was one of only four churches in the Philadelphia metropolitan area. My daughter immediately pulled out her phone, and after a quick google search, she found he was way off by the hundreds. And even if we only counted churches with the same denominational name on the sign out front, he was off by more than twenty. In essence, what he was saying was, there are only four congregations of people who believe exactly as he does, using the same bible translation, and the rest of those heathens don’t count. He lost my daughter’s respect and attention immediately. She joined the guy on the end with the eye-rolling.

It’s a good thing Paul didn’t keep track like that as he traveled around between cities. To make a group of Gentiles behave the same way a group of Jewish Christians did?  Imagine explaining to the Greeks, I’m sorry, you can no longer eat shrimp because Larry gets upset. I don’t remember Paul whispering to Larry, “Now those people eat shrimp and they say they are “Christians”, but really they’re not Christians until we tell them to hold off on the crustaceans”. I suppose we can add to scripture that all practices must be identical to be holy, and when you find that particular scripture about which bible to use to be saved let me know. 

Walking into a black church changed my life. I am grateful to have learned what it must feel like to be the only one who looks like you all the time. It feels lonely. It feels scary…until the deacons catch your eye and make a beeline to you to shake your hand. We felt sincerely loved and welcomed at that particular church, but they loved each other as well. They all greeted one another with gregarious handshakes and hugs, and the language was all “brother this” and “sister that”, a Christian tradition largely forgotten in white churches. Our black brethren know how to dress for the Lord, friends, another tradition largely forgotten in white churches in an attempt to welcome the impoverished or is it to keep the fussy people comfortable? Sometimes I wonder if our good intentions make different statements to different people.

By the time the auditorium was full, we were one of three white families in the room. Coincidentally, we were seated next to one of those white couples. We didn’t speak. At the end of the service, the pastor looked directly in our section at the white family beside us and said, “The Phillips have brought family with them today.” The very white Phillips were sitting down the pew from us. We looked at each other confused. Then we all looked back up at the minister and shook our heads. There was a long confused pause as the entire auditorium turned to look at the white confused faces. Booming laughter from the minister broke everyone’s gaze, as he said, “Well, as they say, you all look alike to us any way!” The audience roared. My family sat frozen and afraid to move wondering if it was ok to laugh at his joke or not. Eventually, another deacon walked up grabbed Dave by the shoulder and said, “Brother, laugh! We are SO glad you are here!”

The impassioned and honest worship of our black brothers offers much. They feel big. They believe big. And they show it. I loved the freedom in that, and I regretted how many years I spent angry and glued to my seat in my pious reverence. There is a time to be reverent and there is a time to sing to the Lord because He SAVES. Wisdom is knowing the difference. Love allows us to let David dance to the Lord rather than sit in judgement with Michal. (2 Samuel 6)

Love.

Love is what makes the difference. You can have everything in common, but if you don’t have love, you really have nothing. You can be as different as black and white but be completely equal in the sight of God and be brothers unified in his love. And your visitors, if you get them to walk in the doors, will feel whether or not love is there.

 

Down the Rabbit Hole: The journey begins.

ONE

Once the sour taste of love unrequited starts to fade, and you stop eating gallons of ice cream, you begin to think about slipping a toe into the relationship waters again. But commitment is not the goal. The notion of diving in gives you acid reflux. So, after forty-three years of buying into the belief that there is one way to do church and having been spiritually reared that our brand was the right brand, my family began a journey over the last year of visiting all varieties of the Christian church, all denominations. Because when you’ve been burned in a relationship, the last thing you want to do is jump into another one. And to us, church was about relationships, commitment, and love. A notion that was shattered. So we walked out the door and down a rabbit hole. 

Our roots, the Churches of Christ, have a surprisingly recent history of believing they singularly hold the cards when it comes to biblical interpretation. And while I love my roots and respect my people, my tribe, I no longer adhere to the arrogance that in the 1800s in the hills of Kentucky,  Stone and Campbell’s Restoration movement finally figured it all out. Sadly, what many in the Churches of Christ have forgotten, in their historylessness, is the original intent of the restoration movement “to be Christians only, but not the only Christians.” It was a beautiful, ecumenical, and unifying idea. As a matter of fact, the earliest members of the restoration heritage worshipped with just about anyone. Don’t believe me? I have a book for you regarding Christians on the Oregon Trail. (For now, I personally apologize to anyone who has been maligned by members of the Churches of Christ who have made you feel like less of a Christian because you don’t worship in one of their buildings. May God forgive us. And I pray you do as well. Most Churches of Christ have a rich history of remaining biblical in practice and belief. On that front, I encourage you to give them another chance. I want to. I hope they let us back in after I write this blog.) Back to our journey…

Despite my youthful understanding of Christianity, the core of what Christians believe across denominations is the same, brethren. And here it is:

A perfect Christ, the Son of God, was willingly crucified for our sins and was resurrected for our salvation because we were so loved by God.

After visiting twenty plus churches from the liturgical Catholics to the rocking worship at a predominantly black church, this is a constant.

Every church used the bible.
Every church had some form of musical worship.
Every church prayed in Jesus name.
Every church mentioned the struggle with the surrounding culture and sin.
Every church included deeply committed adherents to their practices and the faith.
Every church responded to the gospel with repentance and some form of baptism.

I have news for you friends, the order of worship is basically the same between all the denominations give or take a few participational variants and incense waves. The biggest difference you ask? Music traditions and prescriptive theology or descriptive theology. But by and large, yes, we are the same. And while some of our baptismal practices and traditions do vary which would be a point of contention with many of my readers, truthfully, we have much more in common than not even in our interpretation of baptism. The fight is always semantic.

If life would allow it, I’d take a piece of each tribe and pull it together to make something amazing; a beautiful conglomeration of Christian faith and practice. Which I pray is what God sees as He looks into our many gatherings. I pray He sees our love for Him amidst the diversity of His creation, rather than our intentional divisions because we don’t play well together. I dream of a fellowship of all believers. We need it. Our country needs it. Our future depends upon it. And Christ prayed for it.

My heart breaks when I think about how merging just two denominations would wreak havoc amongst us, because that is exactly what should happen. But we, the prideful, always right in our way, would disallow it. And we, the pastors and ministers, comfortable in our pulpits would feel threatened and defensive about our own heritage rather than the heritage of Jesus Christ’s plea for unity, His last plea by the way. 

“I am not asking on behalf of them alone, but also on behalf of those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I am in You. May they also be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. I have given them the glory You gave Me, so that they may be one as We are one— I in them and You in Me—that they may be perfectly united, so that the world may know that You sent Me and have loved them just as You have loved Me.” John 17

Somehow the Gentiles and Jews figured it out in the early church, but take a old school Church of Christ kid and put them in a room with a conservative Baptist and it will be a biblical bloodbath…and not in Christian love. Most of you know what I’m talking about. Oh and Catholics, do they count as Christians? Didn’t Luther clear that up for us? On that we can agree with the Baptists- Catholics are all suspect.  Here’s my confession, I’ve learned a whole lot from Catholics over my years, and if we would listen, we all could. In fact, the greatest lesson that I’m taking from this year, is how I feel protective of all these people in these different houses. And I’ll defend them. And I respect them. But that is what happens when you enter a relationship looking for truth, authenticity, and commonground. You make relationships. Lasting relationships sit in the dissonance of disagreement side by side working toward the same goal.

If you find yourself on a team with believers whose first goal is to disprove the theology of the church down the street, gently remind them that there are people walking this earth who see our divisions as evil. Christ said they would know us by our love for each other. And to the world, Christians all fight for the same team…until they start fighting with each other. Then the world shakes their confused heads, and tweet about us and call us crazy. Get to work, church, and reach out to the people who don’t already know Jesus. Listen more assuming you don’t have all the answers, and refuse to live in fear of people outside your walls who also read the bible.

Finally, I would say, if you haven’t had a chance to take a journey like this, I encourage you to do so– IF you do so to find commonality. If you go in guns blaring for bible blasting, your intentions are not pure. You are a divisive spirit. Jesus is the great equalizer. Make finding Him your goal and you will.

Next time I’ll share our best and worst experiences. Including a hilariously nearly racist moment that will live on in Blanchard lore forever. Then I might share some insights from my kids once I get their permission. Sharing this journey with them has made our family pretty tight.
If you have specific questions about our experiences, please don’t hesitate to message me or leave a comment.
I hope you don’t give up on me. I am a work in progress until my Savior calls me home. Until then, you are loved. 

School Daze: 12 Years later

lilTomorrow my girl begins her senior year. It feels like seconds ago I wrote this note on Facebook about her Kindergarten beginnings. My brain cannot comprehend the swiftness of time and how it steals away dollhouses, pink dresses, ponies, and fairies. Though my bathroom mirror tells a quite a different story. Twelve years ago Kindergarten seemed big, and it was. But I’ve found that while time changes a little girl into a woman, time leaves a mother’s heart much the same.

My baby girl started kindergarten today. Five years swiftly flew by… till now. Some mommies told me I would love “sending one off to school”. Others simply patted me on the back, and suggested I hit a day spa for a massage. I was unable to imagine the surge of emotions that came over me as the big day arrived. Today, the first of my three precious children set off to face the world.

Lily woke herself up bright and early this morning at 6:20 am, and said “I knew I had to get up and go today, mommy”. To start the day on the right foot, I tried to fit in all the food groups for breakfast. She ate blueberry yogurt, a sausage, egg and cheese homemade breakfast sandwich and drank milk. I opted not to grumble when she discarded the biscuit and only ate the sausage, egg, and cheese.

It was a one single day later that getting up early for school lost its luster. Over the years, bright and early, became dark and barely out the door. I’ve tried hard to feed my children well in the morning before they go, but by high school and with 6:20AM bus pick-ups, healthy breakfasts soon became “grab that banana and granola bar before you walk out that door!”

But just like that day twelve years ago, she’s ready to go. She’s ready for this year. She’s ready to move on. And like that day…I’m not so sure I am.

The chosen attire for the big day was a navy blue sailor dress with red trim and a red bow. She was not happy when her well-meaning and nostalgic mommy snapped a big red bow on top of her head. (I am fully aware there will be many days that she chooses her own outfits…today she wears a stinkin’ bow.) If you know Lily well, you are not surprised to learn- there was some negotiating involved in regard to the bow. Needless to say, tomorrow Lily will choose her own outfit and her own hair ornamentation. Today she wears a big red bow.

Her backpack is a two-toned pink Janzport that engulfs her little body. Seeing her swallowed by the supply stuffed backpack– is when I had to fight back the first tears.

And she never wore a bow again, until last week when she wore a black bow because she decided it was “ironic”. Pink also went out the window rather swiftly as our girl slowly became her own person. It has been fascinating to watch her become who she truly is. She wears a lot of black and t-shirts advertising her favorite bands. She’s had her own style and opinions from day one.  Most parents may panic over this. We rarely did. She has always wanted to be taken seriously as her own person and as a female. She’s never been a child in her mind; always the independent one and the individual. I am proud of her for that. I’d rather her be herself than lost in a crowd of plastic followers. She stands on her own two feet, has her own beliefs and opinions, and can stand alone when she needs to. 

Dave took the official “first day” pictures on the front porch meanwhile our two year old, Elijah, adopted Lily’s uneaten biscuit.

Her brother still finishes her unwanted foods sometimes before they are even declared unwanted.

Our family of four, soon to be five, climbed into the car for the delivery. The line to enter the school doors was long. Lily immediately noticed the “big kids” and quickly reached for my hand. She asked, “Why are the kindergarteners so big, mommy?” Of course, I felt terrible that I hadn’t explained that she would be in school with older kids, too. Suddenly, a flood of things I should have said ran through my mind. After explaining the bigger kids, we got into line and started the grand entry. We entered the doors just as the first bell rang. The elementary school aroma of new shoes and gym floor wax brought back so many memories.

There are so many things that I hope I’ve said. So many words that I wish I hadn’t let leave my lips. I have lists of things to tell her over the next 49 weeks, yet I know I can’t cover it all. What will I forget? What will she remember? Will she offer me grace that I don’t deserve for the mistakes I’ve made?

We turned the corner down the Kindergarten wing. She recognized her classroom from last night’s ‘meet & greet’, and her little hand started to sweat. I noticed Dave’s hand latched onto her other little clammy hand. Elijah rode on Dave’s shoulders, still eating the stolen breakfast biscuit blissfully oblivious to all the unfolding drama below.

My hands are sweating now. Time is so short. How do I do this? How do I let go of her hand when we only just walked her to that classroom yesterday? Her hands are now strong and sure. Mine shake.

We walked her into her colorful classroom and found her assigned chair at a little table. She sat quietly and stared at a couple of her classmates who were crying. I hugged her and told her to have a great day. Dave hugged her and said, “Lily we know you are such a good girl, and you will make good decisions, and we are so proud of you. Have a great day!” We both told her we loved her several times. She didn’t respond and simply folded her hands in her lap. Her teacher quickly passed out a coloring page of a gingerbread man to the miniature students and ushered the nervous parents out the door.

We stood outside the door peering in for about five minutes. We took a few deep breaths. We let go together and walked. I let the tears fall.

Tears fall again. But it feels different this time. My heart is full. I have the priveledge of watching God paint this beautiful woman into existence. I am honored that I can be a small part of His grand design in her life. I don’t want to begrudge her of one single joy this year, in this year of jubilee and celebration. One chapter of her life and mine meets an end while another is rushing toward us with a momentum that I can’t slow, and we eagerly await to experience the joy it brings.

Today was the first day I let my little girl face the world all by herself. It was hard. Possibly one of the most difficult things I’ve done. I’ve always been so hard on home schooling families, but now I get it. The temptation to shelter, hide, and protect my sweet little blue eyed innocent from the world is unimaginable.

Letting go of my little girl for something as simple as kindergarten makes me wonder… Does God ache to see us leap out on new endeavors? Does He hope for the best, and reflect on our victories past? Does He consider how much we’ve grown, and anticipate what is to come? Does He long to shelter us and hide us from sin? Or is He eager to see us fight Satan on our own? Does He eagerly wait at the end of each day to hear about our adventures?

I know there will be many more difficult days and times to let go of all my children. I can’t even consider college, and quite frankly, if given the choice today, I would undoubtedly lock them in their bedrooms. Today was our first step in letting go, and the first leap off any new diving board is difficult.

And there have been harder days. Days that brought moves across the country. Days without friends at the lunch table. Days of loss and betrayal. Days in the hospital after an accident. Painful days. But.. many…MANY countless other days of joy. The day she played the piano for the first time, the day she picked up her cello, the day she started middle school, the first day she drove, the days that she laughed at pug dogs and memes so hard she cried, the day she chose Jesus. Those are the days that I carry with me. The days of joy are what I choose to tattoo on my heart and dwell upon. Those are the days that sustain me.

Joy comes easy when I remind myself that all the love I have for my children is miniscule compared to the love God has for them. He knew them before I did. He holds them when I can’t. He blissfully watches their future.

And so we lift our heads and look forward. We wait expectantly for more wonderful days; days of success and joy and triumph and excitement in the planning of what is to come. God has had her back story and he holds her future. Glory to Him.

Senior year here we come!

Across the table from that guy.

beautiful christmas table setting
Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

Today I thought about heaven again. Most of the time when I dream of heaven I dream of a perfectly temperate place full of perfect flora and fauna perfumed with lilac and the occasional whiff of apple pie. I’ve never imagined inheriting a mansion. A cozy cottage happily situated in a wood is more my speed.

But today as I dreamed of the peace place promised to me, I imagined a banquet table loaded with delights like the world has never seen.  Those seated at the table surprised me, and I questioned my thought as one often questions how much grace God can offer sinners who don’t sin exactly like you do. I laughed at my own imagination.  Seated around the feast were the warring politicians of today all smiling and peaceful passing potatoes and the like. Right, Lord. Like those two would be at the same place enjoying each other’s company, here, in heaven. Right. Surely they are stopping that guy at the gate.

As I looked around the table I noted how each guest was a scoundrel while on earth; not one pure heart was represented among the lot.

Then I realized that I was sitting right there with them sharing turkey with the villains.

As I focused in on another face, it was someone who had deeply wounded me in the past. I’ve struggled to forgive this person. Forgiveness is work for some of us. Grudges are easy. But there he was, my adversary, enjoying the ambrosial banquet.

My adversary in heaven was stripped of his failures. His mistakes were no longer visible to my eyes. He was there, as was I, in perfect form whittled down to whom the Savior intended us to be, all love, all joy. And I loved him. And I knew God loved him. And I was humbled.

Back here on earth we have our separate corners. We have our own parties, our own people, our colors, our flags, our precious opinions and hills we die upon. But in the great beyond, there are no corners. There is one shared table, one shared Savior. Will we sit down with those who we’ve hated? Will we share dinner rolls with our murderers? I believe that is more our choice today than theirs.

In heaven, a perfectly normal scene could be an abortionist seated with the man who blew up the clinic.

In heaven, a Nazi sits comfortably with a Jew.

In heaven, your party is nothing. Your Savior is everything.

In heaven, the abusers and the abused share in the same divine helping of grace and a heaping dollop of mercy.

In heaven, forgiveness melts what tore us apart. Oh, how I wish we could share in that banquet now, where all is peace and joy and love. And I suppose if we cannot come to terms to eating with the villains and the saints, then we have another choice altogether.

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. Matthew 6:14

Head verses Heart

All day I’ve been mulling over the contrast between the head and the heart in disputable matters of the church and life in general. It seems the popular and more comfortable choice today is to say that love surpasses all and that the heart should be our sole motivation citing 1 Corinthians 13. Yet, Jeremiah 17:9 says the heart is deceitful above all things. So love must be the solution, but not necessarily the emotional fuzzy squishy comfortable love.

Love stops a toddler from running into a busy street. Love grabs a child’s hand before they touch an iron. Love grounds a teenager from the Xbox. Love in its nature sets boundaries. One could say love employs justice. This tells me that love also uses the head in decision-making.

But a head without a heart would never take a moment to consider the plight of a stranger. A head without the heart would probably rely on past experience or simply the functionality in decision-making. A head may lack hope if the heart is not engaged.

Perhaps, this is why Jesus calls us to love God with everything we’ve got: our heart, our soul, our strength, and our mind. Not making one more important than the other, but expecting each to work together to love completely.

If I wanted to raise a school shooter…

lighted candle
Photo by Rahul on Pexels.com

This morning on her way out the door heading for school my daughter said her usual “see you later”. I responded with my daily “Have a good day. Love you”. Then she reminded me, “I won’t be back tonight”. She’ll be gone all night babysitting for friends. But those words stung my ears. I won’t be back.

Both of my older kids’ schools received threats yesterday. They determined that the threats weren’t credible, and I’m sure they came from an adolescent who thinks making a joke out of the death of children will get classes canceled. Yet when my mother heart read two emails stating that both schools had received threats through social media, emails, and calls, it made my work day feel longer. Because those threats that we think might not be credible might, in fact, be real. And today, I guess I won’t know until I’ve thrown myself at the mercy of God when the Twitter starts screaming that my kids’ schools have an active shooter.

I’ve been a part of the Facebook debates. I’ve seen how irate people can get when you suggest that maybe, just maybe, it’s violent video games that have desensitized our children into warfare. I’ve also seen how Christians who profess to worship the God of ‘turn the other cheek’ hide behind their guns and their so-called God-given rights and freedoms to own them.

I’ve heard the arguments. I’ve been embarrassed of my community. I’m embarrassed of myself as I’ve attempted to come up with a quick solution to all this death and hate. Can we search 300 million homes in the next week? Can we take on a billion dollar industry and win? Can we simply just homeschool?

We politicize the death of children.
We politicize hate.
We politicize too much.

And still, we don’t seem to want to actually discuss the reality of how it could be anything and everything that makes our culture what it is today. It’s us. It’s all of us.

If I wanted to raise a school shooter, first, I would let media raise him instead. From early on, I would let him watch the Disney Channel, and he would rarely see my smiles as he’d be plugged into a screen. And when he would look at me, I’d be glued to my own personal screen as well. Then, as he ages, I’d let him watch tween shows where he would quickly learn that the children are always right and that parents are usually useless and disinterested.

Around age 9, his father and I would grow weary of our relationship and either divorce or go on our own adventures to “find ourselves”. But, no worries, because we will train our son to achieve the greatest dream of becoming a professional athlete, the pinnacle of success. He wouldn’t notice our dissolving familial commitment because he would be shuttled from one sport to another. Kids are resilient after all.

At 10, His still undeveloped brain would start to watch Youtubers from around the globe who may or may not have a moral compass, and he’ll start to play video games that train him that death is temporal before his frontal cortex knows otherwise. But the games keep him occupied, quiet, and still. I try my hand at them when he isn’t home and get a kick out it. My son will see his first porn on his phone in his bedroom at 11:30PM. I try to tell him that it’s a normal interest, but he probably shouldn’t look at it.

At 11, I’ll realize that I’ve neglected his spiritual development, so I’ll drag him to church and try to squeeze in youth group events between soccer, football, piano, and baseball practice. I’m surprised that he doesn’t enjoy church and can’t seem to make friends at youth group when he’s there at least once a month. But I simply don’t enjoy church either, and I complain regularly, in ear-shot of my son, about how the music is so antiquated and the preaching is lame. Why can’t the church be about what I want? We try several other churches to keep it interesting.

At 12, my son will bring home a failing grade. He is frustrated and embarrassed and blames the teacher. I do too. So I call the teacher and give her an earful. While I’m at it, I call the coach and tell him my son has been working harder than all the others so he’d better start in the next game. Of course, I won’t be there because I have a date after a late business meeting, but I’m sure to remind my son to practice so he can be better than the other kids. College recruiters are only six years away! Go ice that shoulder, buddy!

At 13, my son will start to notice girls, and I’ll ask if they are pretty, rather than ask if they are smart. I’ll make jokes about women regularly and laugh at the sexist comedy on HBO. He’s probably heard it on the bus anyway. My son decides to add marching band to his packed schedule to be with a cute girl. I’m relieved at more entertainment for him because he stunk at football, and I’m working now more than ever.

When my son turns 14, I’ll be deep into my career and myself. He is so busy with teen life that family time doesn’t exist. We haven’t had a family meal in months. Church didn’t work out for any of us, and the guilt trips are more than we can take every Sunday. Not to mention that God loves and forgives us anyway so why go? Haven’t you heard of grace? Clearly, those people at church haven’t, but we smile and pretend to like them when we run into them at Walmart.

At 15, I’ll take my son out shooting and rage about my rights to believe what I want and own what I want unwilling to discuss any other options. I’m an American. I have rights, obviously, everyone else doesn’t have their head screwed on straight. I watch a news channel that affirms me in this every day. Those idiots can yank my rights out of my cold, dead hands.

At 16, my son stays in his room whenever he is home. And I don’t check in much, both because I’m busy, and he is practically an adult. The fight to get him to clean is too time consuming. I check in on his grades to make sure he can get to college. He struggles in English, and I hammer him for it. I remind him that he’ll never get into college being so lazy. I guess he has friends at school. Who knows? I’m looking forward to two years, when he is out of my hands and I have the place to myself.

We have systematically abandoned childhood. We have busied the children without giving them time to learn the value of failure. We have taught them to follow their hearts while training them that success is measured in popularity, achievement, and money. We don’t model servitude. We model self-actualization with zero accountability. We have become our own gods and have trained teenagers to bow only to themselves. We dehumanize people of whom we disagree, and we are incapable of self-sacrifice for the good of all. Should we be surprised when a child picks up a gun and shoots up a school as they shockingly discover that they cannot achieve the standards set before them, when they’ve been trained that people are only people when they agree with you, and when they realize that their community never looked deeper into their lives than how many medals they received?