“Full of Grace and Truth”

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Until now, I’ve always read John 1:14 as an argument that Jesus perfectly combined the ability to tell people the truth with grace.  The truth that I thought he was telling was essentially the Law.  It was used as an example for when you need to tell your friend that they’re sinning, but in such a graceful way that it isn’t self-righteous or antagonistic.

I heard John 1:14 read recently, and it struck me that “truth” might be referring to something else entirely.  Maybe Jesus’s truth was the good news.  And I mean the actual good news, the stuff that cuts through the lies of the world.  The kind of truth that IS grace.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

LIE:  I have to work for God’s love.
TRUTH:  God’s love is mine, unconditionally and forever, just as I am.

LIE:  This life, with all its suffering and pain, is as good as it gets.
TRUTH:  God’s kingdom of peace and righteousness IS coming, in small ways now and fully in the next life.

LIE:  God may “love” me, but he doesn’t like me.
TRUTH:  God is DELIGHTED by me, and he is glad that I exist.

LIE:  God wants me to work for him to prove that I am his.
TRUTH:  God wants to show me his vision of the world and of every person so that I will be so captivated by hope that I will use the talents he’s given me to act with his love.

LIE:  When I mess up, God is disappointed in me.
TRUTH:  God is far more patient with me than I am with myself.

LIE:  The thing that matters is being right with God.
TRUTH:  The thing that matters is knowing God.

Happy Easter

What to Do with Privilege?

A sweet coworker gave me a Temporary Goodbye Card today, and its cover read, “I will bless you, and you will be a blessing,” which is taken from Genesis 12:2.  It resonated with me because it touched on something I often feel – guilt about my privilege.

There’s the fundamental guilt I feel about working at a recovery program for women who have been sexually exploited and trafficked.  They’ve been through hell on earth, and that is something I have never experienced.  I can easily lose myself in a spiraling trail of “why not me”s, so I usually avoid the mental topic altogether.

There’s also the daily guilt I feel when I go on weekend trips or go out to a fancy coffee shop.  I have a hard time with self-care, no matter how obvious it is to me that other people should prioritize it.  Why do I deserve to go to Bucharest for the weekend?  Why should I have any extra spending money at all?

It’s very easy for me to believe in the truth of the martyr’s complex.  The only way I can serve God is through suffering, or so I thought for many years.  But this verse in Genesis touches on something more nuanced:  Sometimes God blesses us so that we have the strength, energy, and ability to bless others.

I’m a big baby, unfortunately, and the smallest life misstep can make me fall off the mental ledge, doubting every decision I’ve ever made.  In a lot of ways, I feel like God leads me gently, offering me just enough of the things I find lovely and restorative so that I won’t go crazy.

It’s worth mentioning that the person God is talking to in that verse is Abram.  Sure, Abram was blessed immeasurably, but this is also the guy who was told to leave his hometown forever, who lived without children for most of his life and endured the social scorn of that, who  was tested and failed regularly.  His life was definitely not perfect.

Mine isn’t either.  I love traveling, but giving up the dream of living in my hometown and doing the normal marriage and babies thing with my friends is pretty gut-wrenching.  I don’t know if I’ll even get to the do the abnormal marriage and babies thing, and having a home that could change drastically visa to visa is not my idea of security.

But despite that, I have no doubt that I’m blessed.  I’m privileged.  I’m a white, middle-class, able-bodied, educated woman with many people who love me, and many more who give me their hard-earned money so that I can live in Greece and work with women who have endured the worst life has thrown at them.  I’m so grateful that God has blessed me, because if he hadn’t?  I wouldn’t be here.  And because he has blessed me, I can be a blessing to the women I work with and serve.

So with that in mind, I’m going to start looking eagerly for more blessings.  I want to be full, so that I can fill others.

 

“Be Still and Know Me.” “But That Sounds Scary!” : Two Conversations with God

I’ve been learning a lot about myself in 12 Steps.  I learned that I hugely fear people that threaten my sense of security, and I try to avoid this potential threat by withdrawing from people who might hurt me or else being so competent that no one will ever want to hurt me.  Then I realized that I was playing out this exact pattern with God, and that my distance from him these last few months has largely been because I’m very scared he’s out to hurt me.

The other night, I decided to bite the bullet and open myself up to talking with God in a real way for the first time in a long time.  I had this imaginary conversation (some might call it prayer, but I’m a doubting doubter who doubts, so there’s all my cards on the table):

Me:  I TRIED to get close to you, God.  I was going to read through the whole Bible, but Leviticus, God?  It sucks!  You’re awful to your own people!!  What are you going to do to me?  If I make one mistake, are you going to send my family members after me with machetes?  You want too much!  You just want and want and want, and it’s never enough!

God:  …

Me:  Okay, fine.  You tell me.  What DO you want?

God:  Be with me.

Me:  That sounds like a fake thing that I just want you to say.

God:  Be still and know that I am God.

Me:  Just be…and know you?  For what purpose?

God:  This is a relationship, Tricia.

Me:  So knowing and being known is the whole point?  So…who are you?

The next step is about getting to the root of my character flaw (believing that I can prevent myself from harm by either withdrawing or being competent).  I pretty quickly remembered a conversation from childhood in which a person who didn’t usually show me attention DID show me attention because of something smart that I said.  I’ve been chasing people’s attention through being smart ever sense.

Again, this led back to God.

Me:  I just want everyone to love me!  And the only way I know how to do that is to be so smart and useful that they have to.  I don’t think I can have their attention any other way.

God:  …

Me:  …You’re right.  I don’t believe that I can have your attention unless I perform well for you.

God:  Why?

Me:  Because it’s usually true with people!

God:  What if it’s not true with me?

Me:  That feels way too scary to risk, because if I’m right about this and I try another way, then you’re going to hate me and punish me.

God:  Who am I to you?

Me:  Fickle.  Impossible to please.

God:  Is that true?

Me:  I honestly don’t know.

And that’s where I’m at!  I still don’t trust God, but we’re finally talking about it, so that’s major progress.  Ugh, listen to that.  “Progress”?  What an action-oriented word to describe a relationship.  I want everything to be progress and growth and productivity.  What I’m trying to learn is that maybe I can have a loving relationship with God even without all of those things.

It’s a hard habit to kick.

 

Overcoming Doubt with Vulnerability

I’m on Step 5 of the 12 Steps, which says we “admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”  This step is about confession, obviously, but its also about the connections we form with people when we are vulnerable.  Keeping secrets is isolating, and it heightens our shame and our loneliness.  The scariest thing – revealing the worst of ourselves to another person – is our only hope.  If we risk trusting a safe person with our secrets and they still love us, well.  That is simply the best feeling in the world.

I mentioned in a previous blog post that I’ve been going through a faith crisis.  This isn’t new; I’m a doubter by nature, and every couple years I start thinking, “Am I wrong about everything?  Is there a purpose to life, is God good or even real, can anything ever change for the better?”  This time, my faith crisis began with the election of Donald Trump.

It has been so confusing for me to see Christians support a man who is explicitly racist, sexist, and xenophobic.  When people who taught me the Bible as a small child defend his actions and even give Christian defenses of his “safety” measures that seem hateful and fear-mongering to me, I just…I wonder why our beliefs are so different.  The God I believe in is more loving and grace-giving and patient than our wildest dreams.  If other people believe in a God that calls us to hunker down and keep people out in order to stay safe, who’s to say whose God is the real one?

It hasn’t helped that I am reading through the Bible chronologically, and I’m currently wading through the Exodus/Leviticus laws.  It’s a crime to kill a fellow Israelite, but if you beat your slave so badly that he or she dies, you simply have to pay a fine.  That is…God’s law?  That is not something I can stomach, and it’s been eating me inside out that some of these verses seem to support the hateful, elitist God of Trump’s “Christianity.”

I used to be able to see how the God of the Old Testament and Jesus of the New Testament went together, but right now, in the midst of confusion, anger, and sadness, I can’t see it anymore.

All of this felt immense.  I worried that I was losing my faith and that I was hating God (I am, a little).  It was suffocating me.  But then I studied Step 5, and during lunch last week, I poured everything out in front of Luciana.  She tried to encourage me, but I told her, “I’m sorry, but right now nothing you say is going to make me feel better.”  She assured me that she shared my belief in a loving God, and I said, “Maybe you’re a heathen like me.”  Finally, she suggested we share dessert and said, “It’s good to doubt.  It makes our beliefs stronger, even though it’s painful.  You’re in a really good place right now.”

I didn’t believe her, but talking to her DID make the weight on my chest ease up.  I’d told someone that I kinda sorta hated God, and she had shared dark chocolate mochi with me.  So a few days later, during a dinner to get to know my new roommate, I casually mentioned that I was going through a faith crisis.  Two days later, we went out for coffee, and she carefully said, “You know how you said you were going through a faith crisis?  I am too.”  My vulnerability had opened a door that allowed us to complain to and encourage each other.  We might have sat in adjacent bedrooms for months, not knowing that the person next door was also feeling confused and betrayed and scared for the very same reason.

Nothing is necessarily figured out for me, faith-wise.  I’m still in the middle of a period of doubt, but it no longer scares me.  I even believe that God timed things so that I would study Step 5 just when I needed it, that he isn’t annoyed by my “hating” him because he is excited for the moment when I see HIM, the real him, again, and love him even more than before.

Our fears and doubts are scary, but we make them bigger than they need to be when we keep them to ourselves.  Finding the courage to share them with others can bring relief to yourself, and sometimes, for other people who need to know that they are not alone in their own fears and doubts.

We’re not meant to live alone.  It’s only in a community of honesty and acceptance that we can grow and thrive and change, and I’m so glad that I was able to live that this past week.

We Remember: A Ceremony to Lament and Honor Women

One of my least favorite things about the Bible are stories where women are neglected, abused, raped, and chopped into twelve pieces.  Worse than the stories themselves is the way in which God is silent about these stories.  When Abraham sacrificed his son, God saved the day by providing a ram.  When Jephthah sacrificed his daughter…she died.

One of my favorite things about the Bible is that it is full of people screaming at God, desperate to know why things happen and where we can find meaning in the midst of misery.  Although I still don’t understand why these stories are in the Bible, or why God allows so much abuse to continue today, I know that one way I can find meaning in all of this is to remember their stories and tell them again to a world that so often doesn’t want to hear.

“Those who seek to glorify biblical womanhood have forgotten the dark stories.  They have forgotten the concubine of Bethlehem, the raped princess of David’s house, the daughter of Jephthah, and the countless unnamed women who lived and died between the lines of Scripture exploited, neglected, ravaged, and crushed at the hand of patriarchy are as much a part of our shared narrative as Deborah, Esther, Rebekah, and Ruth.  We may not have a ceremony through which to grieve them, but it is our responsibility as women of faith to guard the dark stories for our own daughters, and when they are old enough, to hold their faces and make them promise to remember.”

-Rachel Held Evans’ A Year of Biblical Womanhood, pg 66


After reading Rachel Held Evans’ book, a friend and I decided that we wanted to recreate a ceremony she describes, a ceremony meant to lament the fates of women in the Bible and in present times so that their stories will not be forgotten.  It was an incredibly moving experience, and I encourage anyone interested to consider trying it yourself.

Based largely on the suggestions made by Evans, this is the layout of our ceremony:

Should we remember Hagar, Tamar, Jephthah’s daughter, and Lot’s?
Should we tell of their wretched lives to our daughters?
Should we speak on our lips the tales of torture, misery, abuse, and violence?
Would we do better to consign them to silence?
We will listen, however painful the hearing,
for still there are women the world over
being raped
being whipped
being sold into slavery
being shamed
being silenced
being beaten
being broken
treated as worthless
treated as refuse.
Until there is not one last woman remaining
who is a victim of violence.
We will listen and we will remember.
we will rehearse the stories and we will renounce them.
we will weep and we will work for the coming of the time
when not one baby will be abandoned because of her gender
not one girl will be used against her will for another’s pleasure
not one young woman will be denied the chance of an education
not one mother will be forced to abandon her child
not one woman will have to sell her body
not one crone will be cast off by her people to die alone.
Listen then, in sorrow.
Listen in anger, Listen to the texts of terror.
And let us commit ourselves to working for a world
in which such deeds may never happen again…

  • Read the story of Jephthah’s Daughter (Judges 11)
  • Light a candle: “We remember Jephthah’s daughter.”
  • Read the story of the Unnamed Concubine (Judges 19)
  • Light a candle:  “We remember the unnamed concubine.”
  • Read the story of Hagar (Genesis 21)
  • Light a candle:  “We remember Hagar.”
  • Read the story of Tamar (2 Samuel 13)
  • Light a candle:  “We remember Hagar.”
  • Light candles for any other women who you want to remember

We ended our ceremony with discussion.  I felt drained by the horror of the stories we’d read, but also furious.  The male privilege throughout was infuriating – men mourning the death of the son but not the rape of their daughter – men throwing their concubine to a crowd to be repeatedly raped and then using pieces of her body as a spiritual warning – men taking God’s will into their own hands and then discarding a woman when it is clear she is no longer necessary – it is MADDENING.

But I remember their stories.  And I let this despair and outrage fuel my work with HD, reaching out to women who have been sexually exploited and abused.  Their stories are also too often forgotten.  Their actions are explained away, their experiences become statistics, and laws never change.  But each of us can make a difference, beginning today, by giving some of your time to remember the dark stories of women who came before us.

“From this comes the Israelite tradition that each year the young women of Israel go out for four days to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah” (Judges 11:39-40).

Running Away From God is a Good Thing

I was talking to a friend recently about fear, doubt, and faith.  We’ve both come to realize that having and expressing our “shameful” feelings is better than hiding them or trying to conquer them.  But then my friend paused.

“I feel like God is coming closer to me, and I am away.”

“You’re going away from Him?”

“Yes.”  After a half hour of confident expression, she’d finally said something that she was ashamed of.

I’ve gotten to know this friend well over the past several months.  I know that she struggles to be close to people, and that she would prefer to have fortress-like walls around herself to keep herself safe.  So I immediately realized:

“Maybe it’s a good thing.”

“To run away from God??”

“Yeah.  Because that’s how you treat people.  When they get too close, you run away, right?”

“Yes.”

“So if you run away from God when he gets closer, that means you see him as a person.  Otherwise you could just keep going through the motions of “serving” God and assume that he’s some lifeless thing to manipulate.  You’re acting like you’re in a real relationship.  That’s pretty awesome.”

“Is it??”

“I mean, let’s not stop here.  I want you to be in a place where you feel safe with God.  But I do think it’s a really good sign!”

My favorite thing in the whole world is to turn shame into hope.  It’s much easier for me to do this for other people, so I’m writing this here both to encourage others and to remind myself that it’s true.

5 “Worship” Songs That I Can Stand

I don’t like Contemporary Christian Music.  I think this is mostly a knee-jerk reaction against my teenage ALL CHRISTIAN EVERYTHING SEPARATE FROM THE WORLD asshole days, so I am probably throwing some babies out with the bathwater (sorry, babies!).  But there is also a little truth to the fact that a lot of CCM is just…not creative.  Not technically good.  And most importantly to me, they are often too Happy Happy Joy Joy.

I can’t stand a faith that pretends life is good.  I can’t stand a faith that refuses to acknowledge domestic violence, addictions, bad moods, and doubt.  Unfortunately, most of our worship music is “blissfully” free of our uncomfortable reality.  But I want to be uncomfortable!  I want the songs I sing to God to be messy and truthful and desperate, because that is how I am.

So even though I don’t like traditional worship music, I DO love me some songs about faith.  Here are a few of my favorites.

1|  “Jesus, Jesus” by Noah Gundersen Continue reading “5 “Worship” Songs That I Can Stand”