Posted in Book Review

Southernmost: Controversial

There are some books that become more than just leisure reads because they open internal dialogue as well as create space for external dialogue. Silas House’s newest novel¬†Southernmost does just that. The novel centers around a country preacher whose estranged brother is openly gay. After a huge flood covers his community, religious people in the community begin to think there is a connection between the legalization of gay marriage and the flood. There is great turmoil within the main character’s church when he speaks out openly in favor of loving the gay couple who have begun attending their church.

As always, House’s writing style is incredible. He creates scenes that are crystal clear by vividly describing the scenario. The plot is developed in such a way that the reader can feel the turmoil within and around the characters, much the way the opening paragraphs describe the flood waters rising. Hints to the culture arise through references to songs, poems, and news create a multi-sensory reading experience. For its literary quality alone, it’s a good book.

The parts that created the most turmoil in me were the beliefs expressed within the book. Now I am a reader who is okay with reading viewpoints that contradict my own, but when a writer expresses clearly controversial topics, it is good to create a space for dialogue. This book obviously expresses the belief that the gay lifestyle is acceptable and a couple of methods that churches tend to use to respond. While I do not think the gay lifestyle is pleasing to God, I can see some valid points in the book about how the church should respond to people living this lifestyle. In the book, the preacher remembers the experience his brother had coming out to his family, which eventually led to the estrangement of his brother from the family. When a gay couple comes to their house during the flood seeking shelter, he feels a conviction to help them while his wife feels strongly that sheltering them would equate with condoning their lifestyle. In this instance, I would lean more toward the preacher’s perspective. There are ways to show love to people who are living with sin, whether it be homosexuality or lying, that don’t require us to condone the sin. The church in this novel wants to throw the men out and shun them, but to me that doesn’t show the love of Christ. Jesus mingled with sinners in order to show them the forgiveness and redemption of God. As a church, we don’t have to condone their sin nor do we have to judge them; our job is to love all people in order to point them to God, the ultimate judge of souls. If we love sinners (because we must admit that we still sin even after being redeemed by Christ), we can point them toward God who can work in their hearts to bring them to righteousness better than our condemning words could ever do. For more on this topic see the book Messy Grace and my accompanying post about the book.

Another more troubling aspect of this book are the spiritual aspects presented through the character of the preacher’s son. There are several chapters entitled The Everything that show the turmoil about the son’s beliefs concerning God. At one point the boy says “Dad I believe in God, but I don’t believe in church.” At another point the book narrates, “The ocean is a mystery and so is God. They are both so big we cannot see all of them at the same time but we can catch pieces of them her and there. Justin believes God is big like the ocean. Even bigger. But lots of people don’t. They think he’s small enough to fit in a church house or an offering plate or an ancient book. He’s not, and his mind is even bigger than him.” At this point it just seems like the boy is trying to figure out who God is in relation to the religious fanatics in his church who turn away his dad for preaching a message they don’t like. At this point, I was standing okay with his turmoil, but then about halfway through the book, the boy begins to think along the lines of what I understand to be pantheism. The most telling quote that demonstrates this belief is “This is the kind of talk that would horrify his mother, but he believes God is in everything and everybody. Pieces of him. He doesn’t just mean the spirit, he means the actual chunks of God… The ocean is God but so are we all.” While God’s nature is expressed in nature and God is omnipresent, the equation does not go the other way. Nature and humans are not God. That leads to worship of things other than God, which is idolatry. For more on this, check out this very short and to the point article.

Finally, there is a part of me that wonders if there is a small commentary on the effect of broken homes. The boy only begins questioning his faith when his parents have such trouble that causes them to split. The young child watches his father question his faith and his mother cling harder to hers and tries to make sense of what he should believe. No one thinks to talk with him about what is really happening in his world, so naturally he starts to try to figure it out on his own. I’m not saying that divorce always leads to losing faith in God, but divorce definitely affects children in all different ways. In this instance, it seems to have led this small child down a path of spiritual ambiguity. If there had been someone to guide him through this process, he might have known the truth about God’s nature rather than the conclusions he came to on his own.

While I respect the writing and opinions of this book, it is not a book I would openly suggest to anyone. If you choose to read it, appreciate the literary value but be cautious of the theological impacts. Be sure to keep your eyes fixed on God while reading. It’s a good book for creating dialogue, but, if you are a believer of God, take caution in your dialogue so as to demonstrate love to those who disagree and maintain your own beliefs.

Posted in Devotion

Cultivating Fruit

It was so good to be back in what I’m starting to call my church after a few weeks of traveling. Expecting a sermon about fathers, I was pleasantly surprised to hear him speak about the fruits of the spirit.

Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, Self-Control. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Often when I think of these fruits that are supposed to be evident in my life, I get self critical because they don’t seem evident enough, but that’s a misconception. Yes, I can always strive to have more of these in my life and work to keep the weeds of my fleshly desires out, but these fruits don’t just pop up.

In the society in which I’ve grown up in, it’s easy to fall into the fast and quick mentality even when I approach spiritual matters. That’s not how God often works though. He calls these fruits because just like fruit on a tree, they take time to cultivate. I have to water and feed them with his word and weed out the fleshly works such as envy and jealousy.

Just before listing these fruits by which Jesus says we can be judged the author reminds us that there is a battle between our fleshly desires and spiritual desires. In my little flower garden there is a battle between the flowers I’ve planted and the weeds that pop up. If I give food and water to the weeds in my life, they’ll quickly take over the fruit, but if I cultivate these fruits, they’ll grow strong and be appealing to God and others.

So what do I do when the fleshly weeds start to sneak into my life? One option is to despair and give them power. Another option is to speak truth to them much like weed killer “speaks” to weeds. I remind myself that Jesus has already defeated these desires and sins. Since I have a relationship with him, they have no power over me unless I let them.

Praise God that through him I can continue to cultivate the fruits that show His Spirit is working in me.

Posted in Devotion, Holidays

Spiritual Hangover Remedy

I’ve never had a hangover, so this analogy will be based upon movies and hearsay. This week has been particularly busy for me with organized “church” events. I attended a church service Sunday that spoke to me, and then at school this week, we have special evening services for Spiritual Emphasis week. I’ve been preparing for a Bible study that I’ll attend this Thursday. Much like many others, I’ll attend Good Friday and Easter services and maybe some other services. I’m feeling very spiritually full; it’s as if I’ve sat down to a Thanksgiving feast this week when, if I’m honest, I’ve been metaphorically eating on the Atkins diet for the past few weeks.

Now I don’t know a whole lot about alcohol, but the general idea seems to be that when people imbibe a lot in a short period of time, there tends to be consequences the next day. Right now if I was comparing my intake of God’s Word with alcoholic intake, I would say that I’m imbibing the amount that could lead to a spiritual hangover.

All too often it seems that churches and Christians have these great revival times or mission moments where people feel full of God and excited, but the next day when they return to “normal life” the high starts to wear off. The excitement lessons, and then they start to feel guilty for losing the high. That’s a spiritual hangover, and I foresee the potential for such an event in my life simply because it’s happened before.

So what happens Monday when all of the Easter holiday is finished? I don’t want a spiritual hangover. I want my relationship and communication with God to remain just as alive and vibrant as it is now. So what do I do now to prevent such a fall?

What did Jesus do? I look to his last few days for answers. He had this awesome sweet time with his disciples at the Last Supper, telling them of things to come and encouraging them. After that, he went to the Garden and prayed. Even until the moments before his death, he was in communication with God the Father. Bam. There’s the answer. If I want to avoid the spiritual hangover, I keep imbibing the spiritual drink. Unlike alcohol, continuing to take in God-time and his Word won’t produce negative effects in my life. It’s okay to keep drinking in his Word, so after this weekend I’ll do my very best to fight against the temptation to slip back into the ordinary. I feel most alive when I’m in communication with God, so I’ll just stay in communication with him.

Happy Easter weekend, folks. Be sure to keep your eyes focused on the true reason for celebration and to keep drinking in the Word of God even after the celebrations die down.

Posted in Life

Church

In the past month, I’ve been in four different churches because of various circumstances such as flooding and travelling. All of them are teaching the Bible, and there are people in each one who are genuinely seeking God. None of them, though, leave me feeling completely content with how I imagine the perfect church to be. The music is too slow or too loud; the lights are too bright or the building too cold; the people are too old or the crowd is too large; the drive is too far or I don’t want to go alone. These are just a few of the complaints that run through my head as I leave a service.

I know being plugged in to one church is what I desire, but the grass looks greener on the other side. Lately it seems as if there’s always something better somewhere else. That’s not normal for me, so I started praying. After some heart-searching, these are the answers that God gave to me. Maybe these thoughts will help someone else in a similar circumstance.

What I need to remember is two-fold. First church is not about all of the frills, which I’m honest is where most of my complaints lie. The most important part of church is God. God can speak with old hymns, new rock, bright lights, a yelling preacher, a long sermon, or a quick devotion. God is not bound by any circumstances. The only thing that binds me from hearing his words is myself.

Secondly, all of these churches are run by people. Granted, I think all of the churches I’ve been at lately are led by people seeking God. Still though, I find myself wanting certain circumstances to worship. Rather than looking for perfection in the man-made aspects of church, I should look for perfection in the God-driven aspects of church. My focus should be on praising God and leaning toward him rather than examining the layout of service.

Lastly, even with all of the imperfections I can find in churches, I still find church to be very important to my faith in God. Yes, all of the answers I need for my relationship with God are found in the Bible and through time with Him, but God made us for fellowship. When Jesus left the Earth, he left a group of believers and told them to stick together. God didn’t design me to navigate this world alone. He intends for me, and others, to meet together regularly to worship Him and study his Word. While I can, and should, worship and study all week long, there’s just something special about gathering with other believers no matter which building I do it in. I have no answers about what the perfect church service or atmosphere looks like, probably because it doesn’t exist, but I do know that no matter where I end up on Sunday, my one focus should be to worship God and learn more about Him.

Posted in Book Review

The Debt

Ah, Christmas break is amazing. After finishing the last day of school, I was able to sit down and just read for pleasure for several hours. I finished a very interesting book entitled The Debt by Angela Hunt. 

Set in a fictional Kentucky town, a pastor’s wife must rethink her view of the church when her grown biological son shows up in her life. Her son, whom she never met nor told her husband about, is a minister of a different kind than her husband; he goes to less-than-obvious places to build relationships with people who might never set foot in a church. She begins to see the flaws in the way she and her husband have been doing church.

This book’s purpose wasn’t to condemn church work or even to say that every church member needs to visit bars and impoverished neighborhoods. Rather, it asks us to pause and look at the opportunities God gives to us to be carriers of his word. For some of us that may mean doing work within the church, but for some of us that may mean carrying his work beyond the church walls.

Another main idea of this book was the idea of the church in connection with the world. The church in the book launched a nationwide boycott of a bookstore chain because a book with which they disagreed was being sold there. The pastor’s wife begins to question the effectiveness of such a boycott in spreading God’s love. She begins to see that the church is simply pushing agendas against sin rather than spreading the hope of God’s remedy for sin. One particular quote stands out: “don’t be shocked when sinners sin”. Just like the characters in the book, we need to examine what we’re fighting against. If we spend all of our time telling sinners that their sin is wrong without telling them about Jesus, we’ve missed the call. Remember, God meets us in our sin and then begins to change us, not the other way around. 

If you want a thought-provoking yet easy read, this might be a book to add to you Christmas wish list. 

Happy reading!

Posted in Gratefulness, Life

I’m not superwoman, but I have a super God.

Don’t try to be superwoman: that’s the lesson of the weekend.

I had grand plans of trying to make it back to Oneida for the 11 am service at my church after attending the early service at my brother’s church. I probably could have made it fashionably late if I had been cautious and smart. Instead I was on the side of the road with a defunct car, a policeman, an ambulance, my brother and his girlfriend, and many tears at 11 am on Sunday.

God had his hand on the entire situation though and still does. I wasn’t hurt, and I didn’t hit the car coming towards me. I only spun and hit the ditch a couple of times before I ended up back on the road with a busted tire and quite a bit of damage to the car. Roxie (my car) has been treated kinder, but God used her to shield me from any physical damage.

When I was in high school, I wrote a poem about slowing down. Metaphorically I was speaking of slowing down to enjoy life, but in light of this past weekend, I think slowing down while driving is a good idea as well. If I hadn’t been in such a hurry to be superwoman and fly back to Oneida (good intentions and all), I wouldn’t be driving a rental minivan right now and worrying about Roxie. One lesson I’ve learned is to not rush. If I can’t be part of everything, so be it. God has a plan for each location I’ll be. While I write that last sentence though, I also realize that God has a plan for my accident as well.

It’s hard to say yet what good will come of my accident, but I know God has a plan to take even this unwanted situation and bring glory to his name. Already he’s provided for me through many concerned people and a good insurance company, so I have no doubt he has a plan. For now, I’ll wait on the prognosis, and in the meantime I’ll take life a little slower.

Most of all praise be to God that I am safe and that no one else was involved.

Posted in Education

I AM a teacher…hear me roar.

I AM a teacher…hear me roar.¬†(I am reposting this from the other blog I write with my friends. It’s quite old, but it made me smile to remember just a few months ago.)

“You look like a teacher.”

It may have been my professional work attire or the fact that he remembered me from children’s church, but I chose to believe it was because there was something about my aura that screamed “TEACHER”. That made my heart warm a bit and settled the butterflies in my stomach.

It was the first night of teaching AWANAS. Middle school AWANAS. I think the butterflies were there for good reason. Middle schoolers can eat a person alive if she’s not careful.

AWANAS stands for something that I can’t remember, but basically it’s a Bible study program for elementary and middle school students that runs on Wednesday nights at my church. They eat, play a game, and do a Bible study together.

This first night I had a lesson planned but I didn’t intend to actually need it. I wanted to lay some ground rules and get to know my students. I had them write out three things about themselves on index cards. Rule #1 was created. No flying objects. I then read the cards aloud and asked them to guess who each card was describing. No difficulty in this activity. I should have thrown in my own card to mix it up. I was pleased when the first thing one student listed is that he is a Christian. Pretty cool.

After that, we laid some ground rules. I let them suggest the rules. They are old enough to know how they want to be treated in a classroom. They got all of the major ones that I would have listed, even if they were written a bit differently than I would have said. One rule says “don’t yell at the top of your lungs.” I quickly added to not yell at the bottom of your lungs either. They laughed at my pitiful attempt at a joke. Success!

I almost forgot to pray at the end, but other than that, the meeting went well. They didn’t even complain too much when I gave them homework for next week. I’m excited about this opportunity to teach. I think it flows in my blood because I just feel so much more at ease when I’m in the front of a classroom watching students think.