“You get a strange feeling when you leave a place, like you’ll not only miss the people you love, but you miss the person you are at this time and place because you’ll never be this way ever again.” Azar Nafasi
I don’t know who said it, but I have heard it said, “All great changes are preceded by chaos.” Chaos – that is a great description for what I have been going through the last couple of weeks and months. I think I am discovering something about myself: as wild of a spirit as I think I have, I have a tough time with change. I have a tough time surrendering the outcome and trusting that, in the end, it all works out!
I am an ordained United Methodist Elder, a position that includes ‘itinerancy.’ What that means is that we are available to go anywhere the Bishop and their cabinet deem a good fit and of benefit to the church connection at large. And yes, it is as nerve-racking as it sounds. Being part of this system takes a great deal of trust. You have to trust your leaders, trust the system and trust the Holy Spirit.
Every year around this time, you begin to hear whether you will be appointed to the same position or take on something new come July 1st. This year, I have been appointed to somewhere new. I am excited and devastated at the same time, and that feels a lot like emotional chaos.
I am excited to think of the possibilities that come with where I am heading. I am heading to a city I have loved for years – Costa Mesa. I am going to be engaging in exciting work doing what is called a ‘New Start,’ working with an existing community but birthing something new. My appointment to Costa Mesa makes sense, and in many ways this is what I have wanted. I have wanted to be in an area where I find affinity, doing exciting work and meeting new people. I get to be creative and industrious. I also find my heart broken, however. So please excuse me if I allow this blog to be a little self-indulgent, but perhaps you too have experienced this odd feeling of chaos when something good comes along. That feeling, if I could name it, is grief.
I am grieving leaving the community that I have loved and has loved me. I am one of the most blessed people to have served Shepherd of the Hills in Rancho Santa Margarita. This is the raddest community (I can say that since I lived some serious years in the 90’s and now live in Southern California); but I know if I stay I would perhaps be in the way of what God has next for this group of amazing humans. And as hard as that is to let go of, every choice requires you to not choose something else. That’s what makes life both beautiful and heartbreaking. I want to share with you the letter that will go out to my church. You can also read the District Superintendent’s letter and our Bishop’s letter here if you are interested. I share all of this to say whatever chaos you may be experiencing, my prayer for you is that what comes out of it is life-giving affirming and reminds you that change is a necessary part of growth.
Dear Church family,
I am more than in awe of the last five years we have spent together. We have been able to do so much in partnership with God and I have seen the Spirit move in huge ways! It has been an honor to serve such a kind, dynamic, spirit-led and diverse community. Thank you for letting me be your Pastor. I am proud of this community and all that it does to connect with each other and connect with Christ; it is truly a unique community.
I am writing to share that beginning July 1st, after a great amount of prayer, planning and conversation, the Bishop and her cabinet have decided to appoint me to an exciting position as the Lead pastor of a church re-start at Costa Mesa First, UMC. As you can imagine, this is going to be a lot of hard work, lots of learning and lots of leaning on God. I am excited but at the same time my heart is deeply grieved to be leaving the church that I love so much! I want to thank you all for your support, kindness and prayers over the last five years. I truly believe I would not be who I am as a Pastor or as a person without the community that you provided for me. I ask that you pray for me during the transition and as I launch into this new beginning. I will never be able to express how much all of you have meant to me. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. We still have several months together and I can’t wait to see what we will do with that time as we prepare for what God has next!
I had just started college as a 17-year old and completed Rush (a recruitment week for sororities). I had pledged a sorority that week but was feeling a little nervous about the decision. As much as I liked the older sorority members I met during Rush, there was one girl that made me wonder if I really fit into the sorority life. She had been in the dorm across the hall from me during Rush week. I kept thinking, “Man she is uninhibited and wild; I hope we don’t end up in the same sorority.” She was loud and abrasive; beautiful but wild and untamed. I have to admit I was a little afraid of her. Of course, she stood beside me in our first pledge photo. I had heard all the cautionary tales of Greek life, which included forced drinking, wild parties, and hazing. I was worried about what I had just gotten myself into by joining one of the ‘cool’ sororities on campus. I wasn’t much of a wild child, although I appreciated it in others, and I wondered if I would be uncomfortable, or worse still, forced to change to remain a part of this group I had pledged myself to.
As my head was processing all of that, I was primed for the speaker that took the stage in my first worship service with the Baptist Student Union (BSU). It was a dark room with really soft lighting and fantastic music. The speaker talked about all the dangers of college and how Jesus had died for our sins and would help us manage and resist the temptation to sin. I was sold – maybe I could be a sorority girl if Jesus could help me manage the temptation. He could be my excuse – “I would love to party, but I am a Christian.” It was just as self-righteous and nerdy as it sounds. As an added bonus, if I should falter, this version of Jesus I was being offered would be incredibly disappointed but would forgive me. This service was the beginning of my journey with what I like to call ‘sin manager’ Jesus or ‘Jiminy Cricket’ Jesus. He would keep me from ruining my reputation with booze and boys. My fear of letting him down meant I would keep the narrow path, or at least do my best to hide it if I should succumb to temptation.
When we moved to the United States, I was beginning high school. Our family had chosen to attend a United Methodist church. Our denomination, the United Church of Canada, isn’t an international denomination as the name suggests. United Methodism fit with our more moderate views and was similar in polity and practice to what I had grown up with. At that point I had a little exposure to ‘sin manager’ Jesus at youth retreats and through my participation in parachurch groups, but it really wasn’t until college that I adopted this view of who Jesus was supposed to be in my life.
As well as enjoying sorority life, I got very involved in two on-campus Christian groups: the United Methodist Wesley Foundation and the BSU. I loved both for different reasons. Truthfully, without both I wouldn’t have gone into ministry, although my call to ministry was not supported by the leaders of the BSU. I went to the Wesley Foundation for the deep Bible study and for the community. The Wesley Foundation was led by a woman named Rev. Karen Koons. She was fantastic at creating community and being present to us. I attended the BSU for the music (they had a full band) and for the size of the community. The BSU was always full during worship and the energy was contagious. My best friend and I attended both, and soon, some friends began to call us “Metho-Baptists.”
I joined the leadership team of both religious groups. Pretty soon after joining the leadership team of the BSU, I found myself called into the BSU director’s office. It was discovered that a group of friends and I had attended a local club and gone dancing. I hadn’t been drinking, just dancing, but they were concerned that it would appear that I was participating in what they deemed inappropriate behavior for a follower of Christ. I wanted to point out that the club wasn’t much different than the worship services that I had attended at the BSU, with fancy lighting and great music, but I knew now wasn’t the time. ‘Sin manager’ Jesus was angry at me, and even though in my eyes I hadn’t sinned, the appearance of it mattered to these leaders.
I look back on those days and I think that I missed the whole point of this Jesus thing. I don’t think Jesus just came to save us from our sins. That equation is a zero equation, one that merely balances the budget: we sin, Jesus takes that away, and we are at a zero balance. I think that Jesus came for what John 10 calls a life of abundance. Jesus doesn’t want us to just survive, making sure to avoid sinning along the way, but to thrive. The word ‘abundance’ from John 10 can be translated as uncommon or uncommonly big. Jesus wants us to live a life that is uncommonly big, and that friends is about way more then sin management. And that doesn’t have time for self-righteousness or fear of getting it wrong. If we are to live these big lives, we have to be ready to not fit in with the religious and be an outlier; but I have found that is a great place to be, with even better company. I don’t think Jesus died to save me from something but to save me for something…
Luke 24: 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel…
For the past week, I was on vacation. Those who know me well know that I am not the best at “going on vacation.” Instead of vacationing, I tend to use my time off to attend conferences, visit family, or take on other productive endeavors, but this time I knew my heart needed an actual vacation. My soul needed some adventure and some serious thinking space. What I didn’t expect is that my personal road trip would become a walk to Emmaus, where I would encounter Jesus in some pretty unexpected places, unexpected faces, and profound moments of awe.
Right after Easter services, I did what I have always wanted to do: I packed up my dog in my little mini cooper, grabbed my hiking gear, and went up the coast on the PCH (Highway one). The trip had no agenda other than to go for some hikes and see some sights – the top of that list being Big Sur. After a busy Lent, one of the biggest bonuses was that this trip would require me to be out of cell phone range and force me to have alone time disconnected from the outside world.
For Lent, we preached a series on the seven last sayings of Christ. I shared in a previous post how deeply some of these sayings rocked me and how I had been struck with how distant I felt from God. It isn’t good to have personal crises of faith during one of the busiest pastoral seasons, but my faith journey has never been one of ‘good timing.’ Mid-Lent, I began to ask the question, “Does God love me?” So Lent was a personal challenge as well as a busy pastoral season. The good news for my ministry is that I have never doubted that God loves other people unconditionally, so it is easy to maintain my work schedule. When we got to the “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” week, I was wrecked. As I reflected on Christ’s final hours, I understood in a very personal way what abandonment can feel like. Although Christ is quoting a Psalm that ends with the Psalmist feeling God’s presence, I myself wasn’t feeling God’s presence.
On Easter morning, we tied up the sayings series with the first recorded sayings of Christ following the crucifixion and resurrection. We used Luke’s account on the road to Emmaus. In Luke, the first words the resurrected Christ uttered were shared with disappointed disciples at they journeyed to return to their regular lives. Luke tells us that Jesus was a hidden companion unknown to his traveling companions. As I read the scripture to prepare for the sermon, I kept laughing at the imagery of Jesus listening to the disciples share his story as he is standing right there in front of them. It has that sitcom feel – the gag being that the very person they are grieving is standing right in front of them.
As we prepared for the Easter morning sermon, I chatted with the lead pastor at our other site. He pointed out something that I haven’t been able to get out of my head and kept running through my mind as I hiked the beautiful Big Sur trails. Pastor Karl pointed out that as the disciples shared the story of Christ that day on the road to Emmaus, they paused in the middle to say “21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” The disciples recognized that Christ did amazing things, but as they saw it, he had left before accomplishing the one task they wanted him to accomplish. Karl pointed out that there are many places in our lives where we talk about our faith or the ways that we have been blessed, but when we are honest, for many of us, “But we had hoped…” is where we end up. But we had hoped that life would end up differently. I realized as I began to work on the sermon that I felt like the disciples seeing Christ. I can testify to some amazing things, “But I had hoped” things would go a little differently.
As I hiked, I asked myself the question: what had I hoped Christ would do? I felt a huge knot in my stomach. I am a pretty positive person and it felt negative to list the ways that I hoped life would be different. The biggest one is the deep loneliness this season of my life has held. I talked to God about it and shared my list of disappointments as I began my hike: “God, my life is pretty good, ‘but I had hoped’…” As I hiked, I started to laugh as my dog jumped in the river while still on the leash and I laughed at my mini cooper parked beside all of the serious outdoor vehicles – I realized that this is pretty fitting for me to have the car that doesn’t fit in. I am defiantly a walking dichotomy. I noticed the way that life isn’t perfect by any means, but it continues to be a wild adventure. I noticed that everywhere I stopped, I would get into great conversations with strangers. I noticed that I never once felt lonely on my solo journey. I don’t know how you feel about how your life has turned out, but I think if you are honest with yourself and others, there are “But I had hoped…” places. I think the challenge for us, as it was for the disciples, is to see where the kingdom is present in the midst of that. So where do you see God when things aren’t as you hoped?
I have bad theology. Now that may not surprise some of you – heck you may have always thought that about me – but I have a way of looking at my faith and my relationship to the Divine that is downright destructive, and it took this Lent to help me see how my theology hasn’t just harmed my relationship to God, but has left me damaged in my interpersonal relationships.
I have always been, and remain, more of an Arminian than a Calvinist. I believe God calls all of us as Children of God, and it is up to humanity to partake in that grace. I believe in what is known as prevenient grace. Prevenient grace is that grace which calls to us before we even accept our relationship with God. Oversimplification of the difference in the two theologies would state that Calvinists believe that God predestined some to be saved and pursued. Calvinism professes that humanity is incapable of doing anything worthy of God’s love, and so God’s love is unconditional and salvation not based on any characteristic or action of the believer. I prescribe to the first belief. I believe that God has always been, and will continue, to call all of humanity; but we must take the step to recognize it and step towards our faith. Sounds like a healthy theology until I tell you how much the idea of pursing God has shaped all of my relationships. It is perhaps the reason that, as of yet, I remain what my father calls “an unclaimed treasure.” It took the darkness of Lent to help me bring to light how I have twisted the theology I love.
As a United Methodist pastor, I am part of a church that follows the liturgical calendar. For the last almost six weeks, I have been observing Lent both personally and with my church community in our worship services. For Lent this year, we decided to preach on the seven last statements Christ is reported to have made from the cross. The seven last statements are a mash up of all four gospel accounts of what Christ said as he was crucified. It has been a challenging and fun series based on the work of preacher Adam Hamilton’s work, “The Final Words.”
Recently, I went through a lot of personal disappointment – the content and context of which doesn’t matter. I was processing that disappointment as I was working on my sermon on Christ’s statement, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” As I worked on the sermon, I felt my heart sink deeper and deeper into sadness and melancholy. One day, I could barely get out of bed. Since I am achievement driven and a ‘doer,’ being immobilized in thought and despair isn’t like me. I called a woman who has prayed with me through every life decision and who I trust with even the hardest faith questions and the broken pieces of me. We agreed to meet up in the prayer garden at my church.
As we met in the garden, I began to tell her how everything seemed so hopeless, and how I had been working so hard in personal and professional areas but it didn’t seem to be going anywhere. She listened to me as she always does, with this beautiful, peaceful look on her face. Suddenly she got this look on her face that I have only seen a couple of times. The face usually indicates that something has struck her and she isn’t sure whether I am ready to hear it or not. She looked at me and we had what I can only describe as a “Good Will Hunting” moment. You know the scene – the one where Robin Williams’s character just rocked Matt Damon’s character saying, “It’s not your fault.” Matt Damon’s character, Will, wept as he processed that everything that has happened to him was not his fault. The scene resonates with so many of us because we have had that moment when our paradigm completely shifts, and for a moment, the place that was darkest welcomes a little light, and maybe a little hope. My “Good Will” moment happened that afternoon in the prayer garden. My friend stopped me mid-sentence and said, “Sarah, you do know God loves you and is pursuing you, right?” I nodded, and then I decided to be honest and admitted: “No, actually I don’t know that.” I admitted for the first time that I have always treated my relationship with God as I do with most people in my life. Somehow I learned that I need to work really hard to keep people pleased and therefore wanting to be in my life. I always believed that I had to pursue God. A lot of work I have done has been to feel God’s love, but it has alluded me. I believe in God’s love for others, but when it comes to me, I am not sure I know what unconditional love feels like.
As I made this realization, my prayer partner knelt down in front of me and wrapped her arms around me, whispering in my ear, “He loves you and He is pursuing you.” I lost it. I couldn’t stop crying. I realized that most of my life I felt like I had to work for love and acceptance, which has left me saying, “Why have you forsaken me?” The last couple of weeks something in me is changing, and I am not sure what I will be post-resurrection, but I am aware that, as Brene Brown would say, “It is time for me to stop hustling for my worth.”
Here is a late posting because I wanted to share something special with you. I was blessed to be part of the finale of a web series called “the Committee” if you don’t know it check it out…
The show shares the story of a church making the tough decision of closing its doors, or radically changing in order to remain open. I currently serve on a “planning and strategy committee” for our denomination in this area, and we have to help churches make the same decision. It is never easy. Real change is risky and sometimes the best and most faith-filled option is to close the doors. So I hope you will enjoy a light hearted look at a difficult situation.
Below you will find a promotional interview along with the full episode itself. Thank you for all your support! A regular scheduled blog is in the works and set to post at the usual time next Monday.
“Emoji’s are making us cavemen.” I overheard a recent conversation where someone was summarizing something they read on the release of the new Facebook emoticon reactions. I began to laugh to myself as I thought about the new emoticons. Before, we could only ‘like’ something on Facebook. I ‘like’ this photo or I ‘like’ that funny quote; but it got a little awkward when someone posted bad news. I wanted to respond in some way to a post such as a prayer request about losing a pet or close friend, but ‘liking’ it just didn’t seem right. To ‘like’ the comment felt like you were proclaiming “I never liked your grandma anyway.” Okay maybe it wasn’t exactly that, but I hated ‘liking’ bad news posts. A response seemed necessary, but ‘liking’ it wasn’t the right one. Often, I would leave a written comment, but then all day long I would be notified any time someone else commented on the post. A text or phone call would be a better reaction to bad news, but I wanted to respond in the same medium that I had received the news. I even asked out loud: “Why can we only ‘like’ things?” What does this singularity of reaction say about our society (okay that is probably a little too deep for a cartoon hand gesture…)?
Apparently I wasn’t the only one who wanted more out of their cartoon hand gesture, so they released other ‘reactions’ and named them ‘angry,’ ‘sad,’ ‘wow,’ ‘haha’ and ‘love.’ Some of them linguistically make sense, and some of them, as the conversation I overheard suggested, make us sound like cavemen. I ‘love’ this, but I ‘angry’ that; this doesn’t sound like a person that has a grasp on language. Now of course our brains do the hard work of relaying what we are really trying to express. “This makes me angry” or “This makes me sad,” but if you directly translate an emoticon, it becomes really awkward language. And it got me thinking and wondering: are we moving backwards? Not just in the way that we express our emotions, but in the way that we share them as well?
There was a movie made several years ago called Idiocracy. The opening narration set up the premise of the whole movie: at the beginning of the 21st century humanity was at a turning point in evolution. Because we have no natural predator (other than other humans) to ensure that only the smartest and most adept would multiply, people kept multiplying but intelligence was actually going down and not up. A man traveled from the past and discovered that he was now a genius because of this dumbed-down culture. As life became more, so had emotions. The movie had a great premise that it may not have pulled off perfectly, but it had great ideas behind it. One of my favorite lines from the movie took place in Costco. As someone entered the store, they were told “Welcome to Costco, I love you.” The value of emotions and the complexity of love became muted and made convenient. Everything was automated, even love. Now this is deeply exaggerated, but I wonder: are we making our emotions too redility available? With so few reactions, are we training our brains to make emotions cheap? No further than the click of a button, are we too quick to ‘love’ something? In this day and time when everything, including our next date, can be as quick as a click and a swipe away, are we dumbing down our emotional capability? There isn’t much risk to clicking ‘love,’ but there is a lot of risk in saying it, and certainly a great amount in living it out. So what do you think readers?
Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
I would rather not eat grains, dairy, legumes, or drink alcohol for 40 days than take a day off… it’s true and here is why:
Sabbath is meant to be an intentional day of rest. A day set aside for contemplation, rest and reflection upon God and the rhythm of our lives. From the very beginning of scripture we are reminded that we need to slow down, pause and rest. Exodus 20:8 tells us to keep that day set aside. I have always liked the idea of Sabbath, but in reality I hate it. I hate it because I have low self-value… let me explain this one.
As Lent was approaching, I tried to think of something I could do to set the rhythm for the season. Not all of you practice Lent, but it is a forty-day period set aside to prepare for Easter. It is a season of reflection and self-examination. As part of that, many people take on or give up something. In years past, I have given up any beverage that wasn’t water (that one was hard, as I am an ice tea addict and I enjoy a nice glass of wine with dinner), taken on reading a devotional every day, created an art piece for each week, given up sugar, and all sorts of other things to help focus my mind and look at some of the addictions and habits I have in my life. This year as I sat down to do that very thing, I thought about potentially actually doing Sabbath. Taking a day to spend with God – to turn off my cell phone, to stop creating and simply be – but I wasn’t able to do it… I was paralyzed by the very thought.
I have Fridays off, and I usually jam pack them with everything from gym appointments to my weekly shopping to trips to see friends. I am actually looking at making Friday my ‘adventure day’ – a day that I start going to places that I want to see in California that are within driving distance. Because I am not married and don’t have kids, unless you count my furry best friend, I could potentially set a whole day aside to reflect, study and do the things that bring me closer to God. I know I work for a church, but there is a real danger in letting that be the only connection I have with my faith; letting it become just a job and not something changing and defining my own life. So why can’t I set the day aside?
What I chose to do instead is eat clean for 40 days. That means eating by something known as the Whole 30. It’s not easy and I do take my resurrection day, but for some reason, eating with strict rules is easier for me than slowing down. Why is that? As I prayed about this today, I heard the words “What are you afraid of?” and my answer surprised me: “I am afraid I don’t matter.” There it was – the truth, the reason I hate Sabbath – because in resting I can’t be productive, I can’t provide for others and I can’t perform. I just have to be, and I am afraid in the time that I set apart, I will discover that I don’t matter. I live alone and spend a good deal of time alone, but if I am honest, I fill that time with work and busyness so I don’t answer the pressing question: Is the world okay without me? The answer is of course ‘yes,’ but there is something in taking the time to realize it that is hard for me. I have to realize that I need to connect to my faith or all the busyness and all of the work is for naught. My real work is the work of simply being. And it is hard work! I have to learn to be present in the moment, let go of my fear of missing out and simply be. And that, friends, is harder than skipping nachos and taco Tuesdays!
It was Valentine’s Day this weekend. For some, Valentine’s Day is exciting – filled with romance and reminders that they are valued by someone else; and for others, it is a reminder that things may not be as they wish in the romance department. It can also be a holiday where those in a relationship don’t have their expectations met; or they don’t meet someone else’s expectations. Needless to say, it is a hyped-up day that can bring great joy or great pain. Whatever situation you found yourself in, I hope that you had moments of feeling loved and valued no matter what your relationship status.
What I have realized about pain is that it is often caused by expectations. There have been many times in my life that I have created a scenario or way that I wanted something to work out, and when it doesn’t, I am devastated. I begin to feel angry at God that my expectations weren’t met. I don’t think expectations are always bad, but sometimes romantic expectations blind us to reality. The reverse is true for me as well. I have created negative expectations around certain things, and one of those reared its head this Valentine’s day season – and just changing one word changed it all for me.
I am a singleton, as Valentine’s Day reminds me. I had some amazing friends and an amazing pup to spend the day with, but I still noticed all the couples as I watched the sunset at the beach with my pup. There are days that I would have felt a little bitter. Honestly, I smiled this Valentine’s Day as the couples canoodled and picnicked. It’s hard to be bitter when the sunset blows your mind, you’ve just driven down Highway 1 with the top down and music blaring, and you realize your life is pretty great and anyone who wants to join in this adventure will only add to that.
So on my bad days, what would normally make me feel a little bitter? Seeing happy couples when I am not currently in one makes me ask the question: What is it about other people that makes someone engage in the hard work of a relationship for them? And worse than that, why isn’t someone willing to do the hard work with me? What about me makes the work not worth the benefit? Wow, I just realized how mathematical that sounds. And also how much I make it about me and not about where the other person is emotionally or life stage wise.
I think I have a position that can sometimes be seen as intimidating, and because I love big things in life – lots of friendships, travel, big ideas and adventure – I can feel like my life is too much for someone else. I feel as though my life looks complete and my course set, but truly I want someone to do these adventures with. I don’t need someone, but it would be nice, and has been nice, when there has been someone to enjoy my adventures and big thoughts with. I can adjust the sails to include the course of someone else. I think for so long I have been saying the sentence, “I want to be married or in a relationship, but I haven’t found anyone I want to join this crazy adventure and at the same time is willing to pursue my heart and do the hard work.” My life is just too big, and my dreams are too big. To sum it up: ‘I am too much,’ and at the same time, ‘not enough.’ This wound has been one I have turned over to God again and again, but I still walk with a limp.
It was in reading an article our lead pastor shared with me for our current sermon series that I decided to change that sentence and the thoughts that join it. A Stanford professor, Dr. Bernard Roth suggests that we too often use the word ‘but’ when we should use the word ‘and.’ We too often create dichotomies that get us stuck in a way of thinking and in the way we engage the world. For instance, the sentence “I want to go to a movie, but I have to work” makes us feel as though there is no way to do both. He suggests changing the sentence to “I want to go to a movie and I have to work.” Suddenly, possibility and doors seem to open; all from changing one word. I was thinking about this as the sun set on Valentine’s Day – what if the sentence my heart has been saying has the wrong word in it. What if instead I said: “I want to be married or in a relationship, and I haven’t found anyone who I want to join this crazy adventure and at the same time is willing to pursue my heart and do the hard work.” What hope and possibility does this open? What sentence in your life do you need to change?
I love sports. I love to watch them just as much as I like to play them. I get the same feeling watching sports that most people get eating comfort food. My family bonds over sports and sports analysis. When my dad calls to talk about Duke basketball, I feel cared for and loved; his updates are really him just calling to say he was thinking about me. So you can imagine I love watching national championships, even if my team isn’t playing. I love how excited the fans get and how a championship game can bring a city together. But something didn’t sit right with me the entire time I was watching Super Bowl 50. I couldn’t get into the game and I felt uneasy.
This uneasy feeling began before there was even a ball in play. Before the game, they introduced all 50 winners of the MVP award. Each winner came out and was applauded – even those from opposing teams cheered to honor the talent and ability, even if they hated the team they represented. Each player came out, stood on a mark and received applause – all except one: Tom Brady. He came out to boos and didn’t pause as long as the others did in the champion ring. Instead, he made his way quickly to the back row of those honored. I saw one former player mouth the words “it’s okay” to him. The announcer kept going through the names, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of Brady.
As I read my twitter feed, many people felt that Brady, who is accused of the whole ‘Deflategate’ controversy, looked smug as he stood wearing his expensive sunglasses. Trust me, I understand the critique. I live near LA, where un-needed sunglasses inside are a regular occurrence and a sign of pretentiousness and self-importance. But no one said anything about the other players who wore sunglasses, and as I looked at the players without them, it was clear the sun was blaring down on them. I wonder if Brady’s glasses weren’t about something other than pretentiousness, such as sun avoidance?
I sat the entire football game feeling troubled that Tom Brady was booed, and I am not a Tom Brady fan. I couldn’t figure out why I cared so much until I thought about the Sunday morning message of the woman often labeled as the ‘adulterous woman.’ I have been preaching about that event for two weeks, and the story continues to haunt me. Somehow these stories have connected in my head and I wonder if the same people booing, as they were made anonymous by the super bowl crowd, would have been yelling “stone her.” Worse than that, judging by my sometimes inappropriate yelling at Duke games… I wonder if I would be yelling it as well.
I have a little ‘self-righteousness’ inside of me. I don’t always like to admit it, but when news breaks of another self-prescribed ‘good Christian’ committing some sort of egregious sin… I kind of like it. It makes me feel better about all the ways I have failed. If I can label others by their failings, somehow in the worst version of myself, I can feel better about the ways that I have failed. My inner monologue says “at least I am not as bad as them.”
The story of the ‘woman caught in adultery’ can be found in John 8. If you don’t know the story, it is about how Jesus reacts to a women dragged in front of him who is accused of committing adultery. Jesus is asked what must be done to this ‘sinful’ woman. Mosaic Law suggests stoning for those who commit adultery, and there is high drama as we wait to hear Christ’s judgment. Will he stick with the old law or does he have something new to offer?
I was struck by the very title: “The woman caught in adultery” or “The adulterous woman.” Most translations of the bible have titles that aren’t original to the text added in to give context for the reader. But as I read John, I don’t think that this scripture is about adultery at all; and in many ways it isn’t even about this woman. As I read John 8, I see a story focused on the Pharisees trying to trap Jesus in a bind where he must choose between stoning a woman (disobeying Roman law) or choosing grace and deeming himself discredited amongst Rabbis. She is in many ways a prop to someone else’s drama. But Jesus makes the story about a third way, as he often does. One that doesn’t absolve her nor condemn her. In an often quoted phrase, Jesus says “anyone without sin cast the first stone.” All the stones are dropped and everyone walks away.
Scholars sometimes discredit this portion of John as being added in later. Even if that is the case, there is something so Jesusy and captivating about it – that even those outside the church know the phrase “throw the first stone.” I think that is why I felt uneasy watching Brady get booed. I mess up all the time, sometimes publicly (my publicly isn’t very big mind you!), and I wonder: do we feel easier throwing stones at those who we can’t imagine as real people because they have attained celebrity? I don’t know if Brady is entirely responsible for the deflating situation, but what I do know is that he is human; and no matter what you think of him, yesterday couldn’t have been easy for him. I think the lesson of John 8 is to look down every day and make sure I don’t have a rock in my hand.
The week I graduated from college, two of my guy friends from Canada came to visit me. Neither one of them had grown up in the church. At the time, I was volunteering with a local youth group and participating in their worship services. I invited my guy friends to come along to a typical Wednesday night gathering. They obliged and got to watch the youth band lead the group as they sang worship music. As we were singing, I began to feel self-conscious. I watched my friends’ faces react to the catchphrases that these young teenagers were singing – phrases like “Blood of the Lamb” and “To see my shame upon that cross.” I spent the dinner following the service explaining to my friends that we weren’t shaming the youth or asking them to be cannibals. Needless to say, I spent a good amount of time trying to explain that I wasn’t in a cult.
I was reminded of that worship service this week as I watched a video my friend posted on Facebook. The video shows ‘non-church’ types trying to interpret churchy sayings. Phrases such as “love offering,” “10/40,” “washed in the blood” and “seeing the fruit.” The video is worth the watch, and it got me thinking: what are phrases we say that have awkward or no meaning in the secular world? So here is my list of the top 5 things we ‘churchy types’ should probably stop saying, or at least recognize their potential misunderstanding.
1) Love on – As in “He really needs someone to love on him” or “we went to Mexico to love on the people there.” Ummm I will just leave it up to you as to why this saying can be problematic. People are trying to express that a person or people group need someone to share love with them in tangible ways. I have found myself saying this phrase, and perhaps I should think about wording it differently.
2) Lean in – As in “We should lean into this” or “He is going through a tough time; he should lean in to this time.” This saying is almost saying nothing at all, or suggesting that the pain should be experienced with thanks for the lesson it may bring. It is a well-meaning phrase, but one that can be confusing to those who hear it.
3) Pour into – As in “I have been pouring into him.” What we mean is that we have been experiencing discipleship together, but this is another confusing statement and seems to suggest a one-sided relationship or friendship. I also wonder: if we pour into people, what do we have left?
4) Intentional – As in “Our group is really intentional about how we do things” or “We are an intentional community.” This is a great word that has just been overused – everything has become intentional. But if everything is intentional, then nothing is intentional
5) We do Life Together – as in “I love the way my small group does life together” or “I am happy my spouse and I do life together.” I actually like this saying a lot, but it has been used again and again to express that you enjoy spending a significant amount of time with other people. The problem with this saying is simply that, outside of the church world, it doesn’t hold much meaning. Of course we do life together – what are the other options?
So those are the top five sayings that I need to rethink the frequency with which I use, but truthfully they serve as a reminder that we need to notice when we are using insider language. We should always be aware of the importance of our words and their meaning. The question becomes: are we using insider language at the exclusion of those who hear what we are saying? Or are we using these phrases so much that they begin to lack meaning? Remember, words matter and people are listening. How are we representing the faith that we are claiming?