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Posts tagged ‘Watershed’

Why The Blog Has Been Neglected…

It’s been an entire 2 months since my last post. It’s not because I’ve stopped seeing God in my days, but that I’ve had a new, exciting writing project on the go.

When I left teaching, a real anxiety came up as I wondered, “What am I supposed to be doing now?” For a while I thought I’d be working 1/2 time in teaching, but when that didn’t work out, a window opened for me with a 1/2 time job at my house church, and a lot of that has involved writing.

how-do-i-write-blog-postsI’ve been hard at work writing entries to a new blog, which is launching today. In 2015, Watershed did a study on the book of Revelation, that wacky book at the end of the New Testament which one author has called “off-the-charts weird”. It was such a helpful study for us that we decided to offer a summary of it in a 10-week “online course” called “Rescuing Revelation”. It became my first job assignment, and it’s been a doozy.

I don’t know what your associations are with this book, but it was a source of terror for me growing up. The idea of that Christian would be suctioned up to heaven (with “non-Christians” being left behind) in an event called the “rapture” was introduced to me as a teenager. (For the record, the word or concept of “rapture” is not ever mentioned in the Bible.) The church of my youth showed a 1972 movie called “Thief in the Night,” which showed people suddenly disappearing when Jesus came to get them.

It terrified me! Every time I came home to an empty house, my heart would start to pound as I thought  the rapture had happened and I was left behind. It led me to “asking Jesus into my heart” over and over again, which if you ask me is not a great way to start being someone’s friend! (Luckily we got through that rough start!)

I know I’m not alone in that experience. My heart grieves for others who were ever terrified or led astray like me from the heart of the gospel. The “left behind” theology is so dangerous because God loves the world, and God will never leave the world behind.

When we began our course in January, 2015, our first assignment was to listen to the book of Revelation straight through. It was like trying to listen to someone’s really long, bizarre and violent dream, and it wasn’t long before I began tuning out. Honestly, I was dreading the course, and I know I wasn’t the only one.

Like any tricky subject, having a good teacher makes all the difference. And Revelation is definitely a tricky book. You need to know what you’re reading and how to read it. A Lutheran theologian named Craig Koester was our main guide through the course. He has made the study of Revelation one focus of his life’s work, and through “The Great Courses” (which offers university-level video courses), he teaches about it in 24 video sessions. He makes the book clear, engaging and meaningful.

What we learned through the video series, the accompanying book and the guidance of our resident teacher and mentor Paul Patterson, is that Revelation is a call to faithfulness for anyone who is struggling or even seduced by the false powers of the dominant culture. Despite our deep initial reservation, Revelation went from being a book we were slightly embarrassed by into one that became hope engendering and profoundly practical.

Whenever someone has experienced a health conundrum, as I have with headaches, you need something greater than the problem to take you through it. Otherwise a person starts to despair. For me, my assignment of writing about Revelation has been that “something greater”. I had the honor of sifting through all the material again. I listened once more to Koester’s lectures and our rich discussions and began to summarize and synthesize the material. It’s largely how I spent my winter, and I’m still not done. The themes of love and healing in the book helped me maintain my focus and give me a deeper source of hope in God. I truly fell in love with this book as I wrote about it.

If you’d like to take a peek, here’s a link and an invite. The writing is mine and my friend Linda did the technical side of things. We’ll post a new blog entry every Monday for the next 10 weeks. And hopefully it won’t be too long before I write on this blog again.

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Revelation is a book many people would rather ignore. With its violent imagery and a sword-wielding, warrior Jesus who seems straight out of a Hollywood movie, it hardly seems to emulate the “Love thine enemies” Jesus of the gospels.

Besides the skewed reading of the violence, Revelation has also been misused as a crystal ball over the centuries, in a (failed) attempt to predict the end of the world. Christians supposedly get suctioned up to heaven in a strange event called the “rapture”.

So, why should we read the book of Revelation? Read more…

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Reflections on 2014

This past year was a year unlike any other as it marked a transition in my work situation. I’ve written far less blogposts during this time because it became difficult to know “what to say” as I underwent a major change in my life circumstances.

In mid-April, I left school and sat in my car and wept. I was going on medical leave for headaches and while I was (and am) incredibly grateful for the break, I felt torn and sad about leaving my school of 11 years and career of 20+ years. Staying with the decision was very difficult at first, to say the least. How could it be right when it felt so wrong? I felt I was letting many people down, especially my students. As someone who outwardly gave an optimistic face to the world, I’m sure many never guessed the turmoil and soul searching that led to the decision to say yes to what my friends and doctor were telling me.

In the nine months since this decision, I can say it has been a wise one, and probably one of the best of my life. Finding yourself in a “dark wood” (as Dante famously called a difficult time), made me dependent on God like never before, and I’m so grateful that I was not left alone in the impenetrable place of chronic headaches.

I could not have done it without many mercies that came my way. Here’s a list of the many ways God was faithful when I cried out, “Help me!”:

  • Community – God regularly provided the prayers and guidance of many people I have come to see as angels, both in and outside the church. My faith community of Watershed has given invaluable counsel, love and prayers during this time.
  • Faithful friends  – I’m grateful for two angels in particular — my friends, our pastor Paul and his wife Bev. Their counsel, much of it through email since I love writing, got me through many days of uncertainty and lostness. They 4697399154_5bcddffd3fremain an abundant source of wisdom, both in emails and in person in our community life together. As they do with so many, they stood with me and saw God in me when I felt less than human to myself. I hope that I will pass this on to others.
  • Outside help – The MB Teacher’s Society has had my back as well, giving step by step guidance and advice on how to continue, as has my wise doctor.
  • Signs – Along the way, there were also many songs, books, sermons, events, people, dreams, “synchronicities” that came my way — which continued to prove to me that I was being nudged along by an Unseen Hand. Two notable ones were:
    • When I initially went off work, I had a visceral experience in the middle of a bad night of praying “Help me” to God. It is hard to describe. It was more like God prayed it for me, bringing me to a confession that my own efforts on the spiritual journey were inadequate. When I shared this with Paul and Bev the next day, they said they had just read a meditation that morning entitled “Help me”, where a Canaanite woman in scripture begged Jesus to help her and desperately cried out when he ignored her the first time. “She pleaded again, ‘Lord, help me!’” (Matthew 15:25) At the time, it seemed like a sign that God had heard me, and it gave my heart peace. My efforts had taken me only so far on the spiritual journey before their inadequacy showed up. I’ve read that this is the goal of the crisis of faith: total surrender. A knowledge that, like the AA people say, we are completely dependent on a Higher Power. I know surrender is a lifelong process, but this moment was pivotal.
    • I discovered the song “Wasteland” from the group Needtobreathe, which perfectly articulated where I was at.
  • Meditation Room – The advice from Paul to spend each day “writing, reading and praying” in my meditation room was truly the best of all. I’m certainly no saint with a glowing halo. It’s more like I have discovered that a more contemplative life has been restorative, and has helped me take an honest look at the deeper roots of my health issues. For someone who has led a very extroverted life, the meditation room has become a magnet for me. One of the books I read this year was a historical fiction of the life of Julian of Norwich, a 14th century mystic who spent most of her life cloistered in a “cell” (a room)  beside a church as an “anchoress”. I began to see the meditation room as my “cell”, and it remains my favorite place to be every day.
  • Learning to use my inside voice – As I’ve written in the last blogpost, my headaches, while not gone altogether, have been eased by learning how anxious my people-pleasing had made me. Now I’ve just got to keep practicing what I’m oh so slowly learning.
  • St. Aidan’s Christian School – I was resistant at first, but as part of my “rehabilitation”, MTS mandated that I begin to volunteer. From talking to someone at Habitat one summer years ago, I learned about  a small independent school servicing immigrant students called St. Aidan’s, and chose that as my place to volunteer. I’m now up to 4 half days per week (soon to be 5), teaching English as an additional language one on one. I have been so grateful to have found a new home there, somewhere I can continue to work with young people. Grateful because for so long, I didn’t know what kind of future was left for me. I’ve felt a bit like an immigrant myself, having left the “old country” of my former work. The administrator there has been so welcoming to me (as she is to all the students), and being out of the class environment has been helpful in easing the headaches. My Jewish friends Arthur and Debbie have a Hebrew word, “bashert”, which means “meant to be.” I feel that my being led to St. Aidan’s has a “bashert” feel about it.
  • Reading – Besides writing my way through the dark wood, reading has provided another flashlight. Here are my favorite fiction and non-fiction books of the year:

I did many monarch releases in 2014, but one stands out for me. In July, our monarch committee did our annual workshop, and this year had been scheduled to take place in the school I’d just left. It stirred up all kinds of feelings to return. As usual for our workshops, we held a monarch release at the end.

I found myself in the gardens I’d planted, saying good-bye to the monarchs with the

Photo by Holli Webb Hearn

Photo by Holli Webb Hearn

adult workshop participants and children from the daycare. As usual, I invite people to say a prayer, which the monarchs can “wing their way to their Creator”. It’s a speech I’ve given countless times, but this time I could barely get through without getting choked up. I offered up a silent prayer for myself, and for everyone who is searching for a way out of a dark wood.

Those monarchs flew well that day. Just look what kind of a Creator we have. One who answers prayers with such abundance, and with far greater imagination than I ever could have.

Restored Vision

I have been struck lately by how God is with us in dark and light places. Last week God saw me through a dark place where I’d lost my hope amid stomach woes and regular school stress. I was not left alone when I’d lost my way, as I wrote in last week’s blog.

This week something Mysterious happened that is hard to explain. Light broke through the dark place. Hope snapped back into place and I feel changed. One of the songs we sing in our community has a line, “Oh I have been revived.” That’s what I found myself singing. Last week I was talking early retirement and this week I thought, “Nah, I’m good here, in fact, I think I kind of love this job.”

So what changed? A few things happened last weekend that rekindled hope. For one thing, my dear friends Lyle and Bev and Marilyn all offered me words of hope. “Don’t give up.” “You’re not alone.” “This too shall pass.”

They also let me bend their ears. It wasn’t even so much what they said but that they stayed with me when I felt I was at my worst and listened and told me they were praying for me. In fact, I knew others in my community were praying, as we always do for each other.

The scheduling problem that was giving me grief at work got addressed, at least for now, and that helped too. But I rediscovered the “Why” of my job when I found Love and Spirit bubbling back up in me. Scripture says “When there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18), and I think my inner glasses got a bit of a cleaning up. I’ve heard that when we know the “why” of something, we can do any “how”. I can only say that God answered prayers and reminded me why I am a teacher.

My students and I at the zoo

It’s not like every student is easy and without challenges that feel beyond me. It’s not like I am not exhausted and in need of a break and sometimes wonder how I’ll get through another day, especially after the marathons of report writing and parent interviews.

But there’s something else that kicked in again when I started my days with the kids. In the give and take of relating to them and teaching the lessons, I saw that Love flows through all the million interchanges. The same Hope that got rekindled for me is what I pass on, so I know the source is God.

On one day, the Math lesson seemed to come alive and kids began to see the connection between addition and multiplication. Light bulbs were going off and I thought to myself, “Is there a luckier person anywhere than me?” Of course, other light bulbs remained dim, and many lessons are not successful, but even that’s ok. We are all on the spectrum between light and dark in this lifetime and the point is that God doesn’t love any of us less or more. We are all precious. We all belong. God is reaching out for all of us, all the time.

I hesitate to write all this because I know how easy it is for me to lose my way. I know that I will slip back into the darker places again where I’ve lost the vision. I will wonder, “Was I deluded?” Future blog posts will reflect these struggles I am sure, along with God’s answers.

There is a story in the New Testament about someone who finds a treasure hidden in a field. “He is ecstatic – what a find! – and proceeds to sell everything he owns to raise money and buy that field.” (Matthew 13:44, Message translation)

This story came to mind as I noticed my worries of losing the treasure I’ve rediscovered this week. When I lose my way again, I can remember the treasure which not even moths or rust can destroy (says scripture again), and set out again to find it. I am so blessed to have a community in search of that same treasure, which for us is God and the Christian path. And when I am lost and have forgotten even to look, I remember that God is looking for me constantly.

On Wednesday night, our Mark study group reflected on the story of Jesus feeding the 5000 people. Jesus and the disciples were stressed out and in desperate need of a break. Instead of down time, they were faced with a huge crowd. After Jesus taught, the disciples urged him to tell the crowds to disperse and find food for themselves. But Jesus felt compassion for the crowds and decided to feed them like a good host. The disciples thought it wasn’t possible, but Jesus took what little was offered (5 loaves of bread and two fish), and miraculously changed it into

The folks from Watershed

enough food for 5000.

Our community reflected on the many times when a little became a lot, where God provided for us when it didn’t seem possible. Not just in a physical or financial way, but also by the spiritual or emotional empowerment we have often received in our 25+ years of being together.  God is so faithful to us even when we are not entirely faithful to him.

This abundance from God despite meagre human offerings certainly was my experience this week. Faithful friends, prayers heard, restored vision. How else can I explain the revival of my spirit?

Heaven and Hell

Images of heaven and hell were quite vivid in my imagination as a kid growing up in a 1960’s Mennonite church. Becoming “saved” was a big deal and it ensured that we were heaven-bound. I made my “decision” for God as a young child, as did many of my friends and family. It was a a sincere decision and a consolation for my parents, but it also created a problem for me. I worried that I hadn’t done a good enough job of it. Again and again, I would ask Jesus into my heart, trying to be more sincere than the last time. What if God hadn’t really heard me, or worse, accepted me? What if Jesus came back and I wouldn’t be taken? To tell the truth, descriptions of heaven sounded a bit boring to me with everyone living forever. It sounded like I’d have to be in church for a long, long time, but despite this grim future, I still didn’t want to be one of those “left behind”.

I’ve written about discovering the writings of C.S. Lewis in our church library, and it was a huge relief to read The Great Divorce as a teenager. I realized that there was more than one way to understand heaven and hell. Lewis provided a story that gave my imagination (and my worries) room to breathe. I didn’t know it then, but I was embarking on a life-long journey of my understandings becoming broadened. Thank God.

The course in C.S. Lewis that our community is doing got me re-reading this marvelous classic lately. I began reading it at the lake in early July and by now in late August, I’m almost done reading it for the second time. A Lewis scholar wrote that it’s his favorite Lewis book and he makes a point of re-reading it every year and I can understand why. It’s chock full of life-lessons and wisdom.

The Great Divorce is an imaginary telling of people in hell who board a bus to visit heaven and are given a chance to reconsider. The book starts off with the narrator, presumably Lewis himself, in a gray, dismal, rainy city of empty streets. This is hell. There are no flames, devils or torments and that description alone is worth the read. Hell is empty because the inhabitants can’t stand each other! As there is a conflict, people can imagine a different house in a different neighborhood and poof, it happens. No one actually lives together. There are miles, even light years between neighbors. Life in hell is always moving away from core values such as love or cooperation or peace-making. Self-interest is what makes hell so empty and so boring. Sounds pretty accurate to me!

The other thing about hell is that it is very, very tiny, which was a great balm to my vivid childhood imagination. In fact, heaven is described as being very large and hell infinitesimally small, smaller than a grain of sand. Lewis described it like this, “All Hell is smaller than one pebble of your earthly world: but it is smaller than one atom of this world, the Real World.”

The people from hell who visit all have reasons for coming which are mostly about getting their rights or stating their position. However, when they get there, they realize they are phantoms, unlike the “bright, solid people” from heaven. The phantoms have come to argue their rights, but the solid people attempt to explain the grace of God to them. In other words, the phantoms have a chance to gain substance and become real.

The phantoms also experience heaven differently than the solid people. Heaven is bright and beautiful, but because they have no substance, they can not experience the beauty. The blades of grass are as sharp as knives. Raindrops would go through them like bullets from a machine gun. They can’t even pick flowers, because the stems are far too strong for them.

Lewis receives a wise Guide, one of the solid people, by the name of George MacDonaldand together they overhear conversations between other ghosts and their Guides. In real life, MacDonald was a huge

The real George MacDonald in 1901.

influence for Lewis. Lewis wrote after reading one of MacDonald’s books, that his imagination was “converted, even baptized.”

Lewis begins to see that every phantom has a choice to make. My favorite quote in the book describes this freedom that God gives us all – the power of choice. “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’” The first choice points to us putting our trust in God when we can’t understand the way. It’s like the verse that says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5) Invariably, almost every phantom seems to be one of the second kind of people, whom God will allow to have their own way and their own beliefs.

One woman who arrives receives her brother as a Guide, but she is disappointed. She had wanted her son to meet her. She demands that she be united immediately with her son, but her Guide gently tells her that she can’t see him because he would not be able to see or hear her. The mother needs to be “thickened up” so she can gain substance herself. Until she does so, says the Guide, she can not see her son.

What is preventing her from growing solid is her all consuming desire to see her son. In life, the mother became obsessed about her son after his death, keeping his room the same, ignoring the rest of her family and choosing to live in the past. The Guide tells her that she must learn to see God first. Her own feelings for her son seemed holy to her, but because her love never moved beyond her son, she was unable to become solid and love God.

As I re-read this book on my summer break, the effect it had on me was the same as it had on me as a teen. It evoked wonder and a much more evocative, inviting understanding of heaven than I received as a youngster. I realized that God is a God of incredible love who not only gives us an infinite number of second chances on earth, but in the afterlife as well. Even after choosing hell over heaven, the ghosts can always re-board the bus and visit heaven once again (though this choice became more and more remote the more times the ghosts choose their own will). Lewis was insistent that his book was just a fantasy and that readers shouldn’t take his imaginings literally, but I want to hang my hat on his view of the grace that God extends to all, no matter who we are or what we’ve done.

The childhood fear of a frowning God who wouldn’t accept me followed me into adulthood. It wasn’t the only aspect of my faith life, but showed up as a shadow of perfectionism and this feeling that I had to earn my salvation. The Bible calls this “works righteousness”, and I had it bad, but as I grow older, I realize I am being healed of this. Through the persistent and solid teaching in my faith community, my mind and heart have been shown another way and like Lewis himself, my own imagination has been baptized by a God who is incredibly loving and doesn’t expect me to be perfect before being accepted.

Eat this book!

“God comes to us disguised as our life.” -Paula D’Arcy

This week I am going to pull the lens away from my week and look at something God has used to help me over the years. The Bible has become a lifeline for me. It has pulled me away from dead-end ways of thinking and has given me new direction more times than I can count. It has kept me tethered to meaning and purpose, but it certainly wasn’t always that way.

This topic occurred to me this week because I’m one of three people presenting a short book review at Watershed’s next Wednesday night study. Paul Patterson, our pastor, gave many of us a book to read a few month’s back, with the question “How has this book changed your way of reading the Bible?” More on my book later.

I’ve always grown up with the Bible being central in my family and church, but I can’t say I really read it for myself as a kid. I listened to stories in Sunday School and elementary school (yes, they read us a Bible story every morning. That was a different era.) Preachers preached from it every Sunday, but it never occurred to me to read it on my own.

In junior high, a new edition of the New Testament called “The Living Bible” came out, designed just for kids like me. Being a new paraphrase, the language was modern and fresh, and it had lots of photos of young people. I sat through many church services flipping through this book, studying the pictures and reading the intros to each chapter. It was through this edition, called “Reach Out” and later called “The Way” which included both testaments, that I first had the inkling that the Bible could be relevant to a person’s life. The Bible wasn’t just something that was preached from every Sunday.

As I grew up, I had several experiences of the Bible being a “living thing”, like the high school Bible study group that met each week through our church. I felt loved and cared for there through our very kind leaders Hans and Lorna Boge. I also studied the Bible while attending Mennonite Brethren Bible College in the 80’s, and I loved understanding the Bible in a deeper way. In both these places, scripture came alive.

But it wasn’t until I experienced failure in later years that I began to embrace the Bible as a lifeline. Separation in my marriage (which wasn’t permanent, thank God), and struggles with depression brought me face to face with the reality that I needed something, Someone, to guide me. Failure becomes a gift when it brings a person to the place of dependence, needing to trust in something higher than themselves.

Individualism and “doing it my way” is so rampant in our society that you don’t often hear about submitting to something outside yourself. But when doing it your own way just gets you in trouble, you become a seeker, and that’s what has happened to me. I began to trust in the Words that come to me through Scripture more than my often faulty ways of thinking.

If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll know that each week’s story is kinda the same – in some way, I’ve gotten lost and God keeps finding me. There’s a famous story about God being like a good shepherd who goes out looking for his lost sheep, and I keep being found like this, week after week.

The book I was given to read is Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading, by Eugene Peterson. Through the fall, I read a chapter each week while exercising on the elliptical machine at the YMCA. When I was done and went to the weight machines, I left the book lying on the floor and often wondered what people thought of the book title’s command: “Eat this book”. The title is a reference to a passage in the New Testament book of Revelation. The writer of the book, John, is having a vision and he goes up to an angel who is holding a scroll. John wanted to read the scroll and asked for it, but he got a strange answer back. He was told that instead of reading it, he was supposed to take it and eat it. “It will be bitter to your stomach, but sweet as honey in your mouth,” the angel told him.

Peterson uses this verse as the basis for his whole book, and like the title suggests, I’ve been chewing on its meaning for months. Eating something means it’s going to enter your bloodstream and your very muscles, giving energy for the day. It’s not something that happens merely in the mind or for a momentary taste sensation in the mouth, but in every part of you. It keeps us alive!

As I crack the Bible open each morning during my prayer time before work, I’ve often asked myself – are these words going to stick, or will they just fall out of my ears the moment the rubber hits the road in the real world? Peterson’s book kept nudging me each day in recent months. Are you eating this as if your life depended on it? Most often I have to confess I don’t.

There’s a verse in the New Testament that comes to mind as I type this morning.  Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like.” – James 1:23-24 (The Message)

As I’ve been getting ready for my book presentation, I’ve been wondering why so often I’m like that person in the mirror, who walks away and totally forgets what I look like in God’s eyes. I forget because I have a mistaken understanding of God. In a way I often come to the reading of scripture hiding my face, thinking I’ve got to have everything together before I’m accepted. No wonder the words often don’t stick. I’m not even listening.

But God isn’t someone I need to hide from. Like the best friend imaginable, God always sees through to our essence, in the midst of our messy and muddy lives. We can bring it all to God, trusting that we are not employees before a critical review board, but beloved children.

When I read scripture with a hidden face, it is merely information. I don’t eat it at all. It’s when this messy life is submitted to hearing a Word from God, often through scripture, that I begin to chew on something that gives me life. I love this quote which Richard Rohr often refers to:

 “God comes to us disguised as our life” – Paula D’Arcy

These words remind me that I don’t need to have it all together. In fact, when I look back, it’s always the mistakes I make which loosen the ground for God to get through to me. It’s a miracle really.  When I have seen myself as forgiven and beloved, the whole world begins to look this way. Who wouldn’t want to eat those words.

Each week, God gives me a feast to chew on. Some words are sweet like honey, bringing words of promise and blessing and consolation. Others are “bitter in the stomach” when they make me uncomfortable with the truths they bring. God’s words are sometimes difficult to digest and hard to obey, usually because my ego wants things to be easy. But my experience is that God’s words, whether sweet or bitter, always always lead to freedom and hope.

May we all enter this week, bringing every part of our lives honestly to God, waiting to hear what God has to say.

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