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Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Pair of Windshield Wipers

I slipped into my car, turned the key in the ignition, and peered out my rain-streaked windshield. It was time to put my new windshield wipers to good use as the third rain of the season had finally arrived in Northern California. Seconds later, I could clearly see my way to navigate onto the freeway and speed along to my destination. "Why didn't I replace these wipers sooner?" I thought, remembering the torrential rains last month and how the wipers had smeared and squeaked their way back and forth, failing miserably at their attempt to keep up with the downpour. Now, two drops could fall and the wipers would effortlessly remove them, leaving behind a translucent piece of glass.

I began to think about the lesson behind these windshield wipers. How many times have I noticed that things aren't going well in my life but refused to stop and address the issues that are glaringly obvious? How many times have I attempted to see my direction in life but felt like my emotional baggage created an opaque barrier between my present and my future? The speaker at the women's leadership conference today reminded us that as long as we neglect to deal with the past, we will never see clearly to move forward to the next stage. The windshield will always be streaky and smeared.

The longing of my heart is to know God's will for my life and to make Him proud, in a good way, when He comes to take me home. I'm reminded of the verse in 1 Corinthians 13:12 that says "Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely." This verse compares our spiritual understanding to a reflection in a mirror but it could just as easily compare it to a streaky windshield (they weren't invented back then!). Things are fuzzy, but when the brand new wipers replace those old bended ones, we suddenly see clearly. With perfect clarity. 

I love how Paul says that when we know all things completely, it will be as God knows us completely now. Sometimes I think that just because no one else knows my deep dark secrets, God doesn't know them either. I can hit my funny bone on a desk and swear in my head and no one will hear. God does, though. He knows me completely and yet He loves me completely. For you know, don't you, that this verse comes at the end of the love chapter.

After speaking about all the things that will eventually fade away, after referring to all the things that we only partially understanding, Paul reminds us that one day we will know completion. Just as God knows us and sees us, through Jesus the hope of glory, with the ability to one day to reach full completion. We see Him and we comprehend His kingdom principles, even as best we can, through a streaky windshield. We grasp the value of love and its components for emotional healing but it is still blurry. However, just as we strive to believe that one day we understand God's plan for us in its completion, God sees us as one day being complete in Him. 

A sparkling clean windshield wiped crystal clear by brand new wipers.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Butcher, Baker, Candlestick-maker

Had a crazy thought today. I should just buy a plane ticket to a country, India maybe, or Brazil, the UAE or Morocco. Hop on a plane with a carry on, a one way ticket, and an extra passport photo. Wander the noisy streets, taste the pungent foods, listen to the familiar sounds of unfamiliar languages, and smell the memories that take me home. Experience in 3-D what it means to be lost in a country I've never been but that awakens all my senses and settles me into a welcoming embrace.

I'm facing the possibility of committing myself to 5 more years living in one place with very little extra money which may mean I will not have the luxury of traveling during that time. It frightens me to my very soul. Perhaps it is the restless TCK in me that is best appeased when booking flights and exchanging currency.

I was listlessly scrolling through a series of responses to a post on consumerism when one caught my eye. A fellow classmate earnestly shared a worldview that came from a very different angle than the others were saying. Only one other person caught and responded but I instantly resonated. It was not because we came from similar backgrounds but because I understood him in his difference.

The multicultural kaleidoscope of experience when set against a monocultural background must of necessity clash. A monocultural experience is challenged to stretch beyond its understanding; it finds meaning within strictly delineated guidelines. The multicultural experience, on the other hand, finds meaning best when it is given freedom to explore, to learn, and to allow for understanding between structured worlds. This land of liminality is uncertain yet its foundation is a beautiful heterogeneity of tension, synchronicity, and jarring of worldviews.

I am restless whenever I feel bound to respond, to react, to embrace, and to exemplify a blandly dictated worldview that defines others as "aliens" and is too obtuse to pronounce the word "Iran" correctly. Their priorities are sports cars, revival and reformation, or holding hands and singing Kumbaya. Mine are feeding orphans, educating teenagers, and investing in the lives of those I love.

Maybe I have been a little harsh. After all, each of us are entitled to our worldview and to prioritizing what we value. This is why America works; even if we disagree we must allow freedom to choose for when we start to dictate we lose self-autonomy. I rage against what seems useless yet I am not without fault myself. I will not apologize for my discomfort with prejudiced monoculturalism, however. There is no excuse for ignorance.

Wilkens and Sanford (2009) remind us that our identity is "intimately linked with the actual particularities of our lives" (p. 146). My identity is part of my worldview and the linking of reality as I alone have experienced it with who I have become and continue to grow into is a startling thought. Will it become stagnant as I limit myself to a few acres for the next five years? How will I conciliate the yearning to step off a plane into a sensory explosion of wonderment that pulls and stretches my worldview so thin it reflects a myriad of cultural colours?

For now I must be content to remember and wait for encounters of differing worldviews within which a moment of understanding occurs and my passport takes me away once more.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Never a Mistake

I applied to the doctoral program yesterday. It's kind of ironic, 2 years ago when I started the MA I had my sights set on a PhD as the next step on the road. In the past year I've found myself weary of the academic world and itching to travel, experience life, and have my time belong to myself again.

Then I applied to the PhD program. In less than 24 hours, I started the flurry of scholarship requests, recommendations, and all those mundane things that are so necessary yet tedious. I meticulously calculated my finances, created an exhaustive list of pros and cons, and counseled with trusted mentors and family. It seemed like the right thing to do, all of a sudden.

Tonight I re-ran the financials. Something seemed wrong but in the excitement of it all, I hadn't been able to find it. It was no longer hiding though; I'd forgotten to deduct Uncle Sam's portion. Sure enough, I would have to apply for the highest tier of GRE scholarship. I had just barely squeaked in under the old bulletin to qualify for my MA but that was 2 years ago. I was pretty sure they weren't going to honour a 3-year old scholarship for an entirely new program. Or were they?

This is one of those faith building experiences you hear about. The problem is that it can go any number of ways and none of those come with a manual specifying what action to take so I can be sure I'm following God's plan for my life. The easiest parting of the Red Sea would be the highest tier scholarship granted without question. If they chose not to grant that, I would still qualify for the second highest tier but that would require dipping my feet in the Jordan River to see whether God would provide $11,000 in funds I would be short. Or I could have a Moses and the Promised Land experience where I see but am not allowed to touch. I honestly don't know.

When I look back on my life, will I have regret or gratitude? Life here is too brief; I want to make mine count for something more than making photocopies and answering phone calls. I believe what I've said in my purpose statement: my goal in life is to obtain a right understanding of my Creator and share that with others. Right now, only my Father knows whether that includes PhD training or not and until He clearly reveals that to me, I must do what does not come easy to me.

Trust. Wait. Ps. 38:15

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Happy We Hope You're Comfortable Being Second Day

When we start to legislate beyond the commandments, we transgress people's freedom of choice.

My mother and I were having one of our heated discussions. This wasn't one where we disagreed, though. It was one where we fought a common enemy, invisible though he was, with darts fierce and strong. We shouldered on with our toughest protective barrier even as we knew that we were affirming each other but the ones who needed to hear would never listen.

Last night I posted an article on my Facebook page that originated from a controversial site. I think of myself as balanced though I lean slightly to the left and I knew that it wouldn't be long before one of my right-leaning acquaintances felt the need to enlighten the world. Sure enough, it came, and this person not only ripped my comment to shreds, they also intimated that if we were to allow diversity in the church then we may as well ordain Satan as the General Conference president. That tipped me over the edge.

I am a very emotional person. If you ask any of my close friends or my family, they will affirm that I am a melancholy sanguine; I not only feel emotions, I feel them very strongly whether they be highs or lows, anger or ecstasy. Someone who tends away from women's ordination once asked me to listen to their arguments in preparation for a presentation they had to give. I sighed inwardly, then told them that I was afraid I wouldn't do a very good job because I hadn't done all my background studying on the subject yet so I would be reacting emotionally. They said that was just fine, that was what they were looking for. And that made me wonder. Is that how all women are seen? Is that how diversity is swept under the rug? An emotional, affective conflict, type of situation? Will my value be forever discounted because I am not a man? It was not a pretty thought.

I posted the article because it made me think. I don't necessarily agree with every single point in articles I read, but the main point pleased me because the author was advocating for inclusion of diversity. They compared and contrasted two very different movements, both focusing on young people, and proposed that there is a need within the church to allow for diversity of expression of faith. They concluded that a system which does not allow for this, but excludes all and requires everyone to adhere to one standard of expression is a toxic system. I agree. I've done too much studying into toxic systems, such as the FLDS and other religious cults, to see how the mind games twist Scripture so that a little bit of truth is mixed with a lot of error in order to control the setting and the people. This is wrong.

Jesus allowed for freedom. He understood that some freedoms would lead to our death if we chose those freedoms over the ones He offered (an easy yoke and a light burden). Yet He offered us freedom of choice, with clear delineation of the consequences, so we could make the ultimate decision. Like any human being who has a loving friend, family member, or spouse, He does not desire our forced acceptance or reluctant obedience; He desires our whole heart.

I replied to the person who left their post. I said I had faith that God was leading our church leadership, that I was offended by his comment, that I believed in diversity of expression of faith, and that I did not prefer to continue in a combative discussion as their comment came across. Then I unfriended them. Perhaps you would have done something differently; I don't know. What I do know is that I have limited emotional energy to invest in people and I prefer to surround myself with those who can build me up and encourage me rather than antagonize me or assume they have all knowledge about all things. If they had simply said they disagreed with my conclusion, that would have been sufficient.

In church today, the speaker talked about women's ordination. Quite a few things were said, many which I have heard before, concluding with a firm affirmation of male spiritual headship. I sat there, silent, as I have so many times before. Those who spoke prefaced their comments with clear statements that they were against women's ordination. It was almost as if we were at an initiation rally with everyone wearing I Heart Male Spiritual Headship stickers. Except some of us didn't, but we didn't dare speak as we knew we'd be ostracized. There was no room for dialogue, for discussion, or for questioning. There was one way and only one way; the narrow way. If we didn't believe in it, well then, we were naturally assumed to be in rebellion against God and part of Babylon. What a very odd way of thinking.

But this is enough for today. It is Valentine's Day, the day of love, and while I've struggled to even catch a glimpse of that in church today, I look at the beautiful tulips, I see the serene blue sky, and I hear the gentle bird call and I know that my Father loves me. Without reserve, without question, without force. Just as He hopes and desires for me to love Him.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Job's Worldview

A little boy with internal bleeding. A woman taken hostage by IS and killed after a year and a half. A plane falling into the sea in a thunderstorm. The news is full of horrible things; people post them on social media sites as glibly as they share what they ate for breakfast.

A close friend is having health issues. Again. When I heard, my instant thought was, "Why, God? Haven't You allowed them to go through enough already? They don't deserve this." The fragility of life scares me every time it seems to crumble. The next thoughts were the usual comforting ones. If we can't praise God in the bad times, when can we praise Him? God didn't promise us no pain; He promised us He would be with us in the pain. And so on.

This morning the thought returned. It was not replaced by comforting ones though, instead I thought of Job. He went through so much more and his "friends" tried to comfort him by assuming he had sinned. Their worldview was vastly different from his for they believed that if you sinned, then God punished you. Job believed that even if God should kill him, he would still have reason to hope in God (Job 13:15). A closer examination of the chapter seems to indicate that Job would welcome death because then he would be able to speak to God face-to-face to defend himself and his blameless life.

Job suffered, yes, but in the end of the book we learn that God restored his fortune twice as much as before and gave him more children (Job 42). That frustrated me because there is no guarantee of reward on this earth. Those stories I began this post with do not have happy endings. My close friend may simply have to struggle along with their health issues rather than find healing. Life is not easy and it's not pretty.

The only way I can read the end of Job and syncretize it with my worldview in a way that makes sense is to believe that it is prophetic. One day, when this difficult life is over and we live in an earth burned clean of sin, we will have the riches exceeding what we have in this life. We will be close to Jesus and able to see Him face-to-face, not to defend ourselves, but to hear Him speak love. We may have lost family and dear friends in this life because they chose not to follow God, but God has an uncounted multitude of family and dear friends waiting for us.

It still doesn't make it easy to accept the horrible. It does, however, give me hope to hold to.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Who Am I?

The tension: There is nothing good in you, you must not dwell on self ---- Share who you are because you're beautifully and wondrously made. 

She leaned back in her chair, assuming the defensive emotional pose that came all too familiarly. He was trying to peg her into a hole which she did not like. On reflection later, she thought perhaps his intent was to include her in the conversation, groups of people drove her to quiet observation, but his manner of doing so irked her.

She flippantly denied his confident statement. "That's not my real name," was her equally confident reply. In a moment's irrational thought, she stated the truth, realizing only too late that now they knew one more thing about her. They had another weapon in their arsenal they could use to attempt entry into a very closed persona. She stuffed another spoonful of potato soup in her mouth and determined not to say another word.

Head bent, she tried to breath against the tears that demanded to be let loose. Another goodbye was imminent; she didn't handle those too well. Oh, she'd learned as a young child that it was necessary to smile, blithely wave them on to their new life, give a cursory nod to the friendship that had formed strong in time, yet now, as an adult, goodbyes seemed to increasingly tear at the fabric of a fraying heart.

Perhaps this was why she still searched. . .even as the bricks went up a level higher.