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Scarcity & the Kingdom of God

One of the many ways of dividing the world into two types of people is the concept of scarcity vs. abundance.  Abundant people hold a worldview that there is enough for everyone…how lovely.  Scarcity folks operate under an assumption that, heck no, there is definitely not enough so I’d better get there first to ensure my share.

I, rather unfortunately, am of the scarcity variety.

The way this practically plays out is usually quite mundane and a bit humorous.  I am acutely aware of the little notices on Amazon that say Only 2 left in stock! Order now!  I have an itching to always get somewhere early enough to “get a decent seat” even though it’s not like I have a desire to actually sit in the front row or anything.  I am usually towards the front of the buffet line, order tickets ahead of time, and try to walk faster than the other people in the parking lot when heading to the entrance of a venue.

This is all rather funny, but the underlying truth is that scarcity mentality causes one to always view the presence of other people as a threat.

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The Great Improvisation of Biblical Womanhood

When I first began learning piano at the age of 6, I learned a very precise method of playing.  Piano lessons are typically rooted in reading sheet music –  a script for how to play the music.  The instructions on a piece of music are very specific – notes, rhythms,  tempo markings, even tiny numbers to inform little Mozarts what fingers should be used to play what notes!   As a young pianist I annually participated in the state music “competition” (that was basically an elaborate exercise in perfectionism). The only thing I competed against was the piece of sheet music in front of me.  Judges listened to me play and followed along with the script, judging how closely and perfectly I followed the instructions.  A perfect score meant perfect execution.

So in the light of the internet hoopla over author Rachel Held Evan’s new book provocatively challenging traditional gender roles in the church, I suggest that when the church talks about “biblical womanhood” there is a tendency to talk about gender roles in this same perfectionist way: as if scripture is a grandiose piece of sheet music whereby we are expected to execute each nuance and note within our part simply “as prescribed.”   I’ve also observed an oversimplication of viewpoints such as Ms Evans,’ – instead saying to question the music is questioning scripture as a whole, and the rest is just “making it up.”

But I question, is sheet music vs. no music the right way to frame the question? I wonder if these critics think the same about jazz pianists, that as their fingers playfully skim across the keyboard with impromtu melodies and no music in front of them that they are simply “making it up.”

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Ministry & Responsibility: What If I Stumble?

When I was a new believer at age 12 and sang along to DC Talk’s What if I Stumble, the question was genuinely and solely about me:  What if I stumble, what if I fall? Will the love continue if my walk becomes a crawl?  It is an honest and genuine prayer reflecting that, although we are free from the chains of sin, we still mess up and fail. But now 15+ years later, as I continue to tread further and further into the depths of ministry and contemplate more and more the weight of responsibility that I have, the fear of “stumbling” has taken on a new meaning.

In the Body of Christ we affirm that all parts are essential and work together.  Everyone is equally important.  But in medicine, there are these things called “vital organs”  that are actually more important than everything else.   A finger needs a functioning heart to be alive, but a heart does not need a finger.  The mutual reliance of various body parts on one another is perhaps not as mutual as we’d think.  It’s the difference between being the one in the harness and the one you don’t see in the picture – the one anchoring rope. As a leader in the church, my vitality strongly affects the vitality of others, in the sense that my stumbling potentially causes a greater chain reaction of sin and failure.

This is a scary thought.

Suddenly, sin and stumbling is not just about me and my own well being, but the people I influence as well.  Lord, forgive me if my own sin destroys other parts of your church and, as the song continues, “leaves a deadly scar!”  Not only that, but am now a prized target of the enemy?  I’ve seen how church scandals wreak havoc on the global body of Christ.  Pride, greed, corruption, sexual immorality, the list goes on.  A sniper knows to go for the vital organs, certainly the enemy does as well.

In answer to my burden, I was lead to Psalm 91, the prayer of  protection.  Ever since I was young I’ve viewed this as a psalm of physical protection, from scary things like tornadoes, orthodontists, and crazy gunmen in movie theaters.  But as I read these words the other day, it struck me for the first time as a spiritual protectionand I actually think it makes more sense read this way.  

Dwell in the shelter of God, cling to him and allow his wings to protect you from the ongoing work of the enemy. Continue reading

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The City is Made of Iron[y]

Come and marvel at what we’ve created,
The mighty works of man
A fortress that keeps us in
Hides the sun and blocks the wind.

It drowns out morning hymns of birds
And taints the heavens’ rain
An endless sea of concrete
Has replaced the rolling plain

At night the lights are shining
But one no longer sees the stars
They say the world is bigger here
But you can’t see quite as far.

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Why We Sing: “I’m Desperate For You”

As a teenager I remember encountering certain types of people, usually female, who so longed to be in a relationship that they would do weird, irrational things to satisfy their lovesick cravings.  Perhaps they would attach themselves to any guy/gal who showed remote interest in them without any other thought.

There were words we used for these types of people: insecure, clingy, desperate.  (For more on this, just read the urban dictionary definitions of the word. You’ll get the general vibe.) The word ‘desperate’ is loaded with negative connotation.

So for a very long time, I could not in the right mind sing the song “Breathe,” in which the chorus simply states:

And I….I’m desperate for you
And I….I’m lost without you.

Certainly, I can acknowledge my need for God without necessarily being clingy and insecure? Why on EARTH would I sing this line? Maybe some of you feel the some way, and are put off by these and other overly emotional metaphors.

As a worship leader, I want to redeem this lyric and this song for you.

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Gender in the Church: Step Out of Line, Ladies

Growing up as a little girl I was always encouraged that I could “do whatever I wanted to do” in life, and that my dreams and goals shouldn’t be limited based on my gender.  My generation is possibly the first where female equality celebrated from the beginning, where girls could be good at math and dream of becoming doctors and architects or whatever their hearts desired.

Giving the welcoming address at my Master's commencement. I, perhaps unfortunately, strongly bit into this notion of pursuing my dreams. Have I been duped this whole time?!

I must have been encouraged a lot, because I ended up pursuing a degree in a field traditionally dominated by men and didn’t think twice about it. Thankfully, that career was architecture, which is a field that continues to be open and encouraging to women, and not something like theology or pastoral ministry.  Because apparently, not all girls are allowed to do “whatever they want to do.”

The basic premise of complementarian theology is that men and women, although “equal”, have different, complementary roles in life, marriage, and the church.  This may sound tame enough to start, but the implications get a little complicated when one starts to draw the exact line between male and female roles.   A major example is whether or not women should “teach,” based on 1 Timothy 2:12.

So lets accept this premise briefly and ponder it a bit.  What does it mean to teach?  Many churches thus do not permit women to preach in church on Sundays, but they are allowed to teach children.  But there are also varying opinions of how old a boy must be before considered a man and therefore not to be taught by a female.   What about a classroom setting?  Most churches would allow women to teach other women.  Some would allow women to teach in a co-ed setting with another male teacher – others not.  I have also heard examples of women discouraged from participating in a Sunday school class setting – because merely participating in conversation may “accidentally” cause a man to learn something from a woman.  In an extreme example, one young woman was forbidden by a pastor to start a blog because a random man might come across it and read it and learn something!

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Gender in the Church: Solving for Values of X and Y

It seems like a majority of people on the street will not only confess, but openly brag about being awful at math.  Very few people will say “I love math! I always looked forward to doing my calculus homework!”  But alas, I am one of those few people.  Another tick for me in the box for “weirdo.”

My analytical mind at work...which way to go? In Stockholm, Sweden.

My prestige at math has served me well in life, from ciphering championships in elementary school to battling structural engineering in college, and hopefully to conquering my architectural licensing exams, but despite all the puzzles I’ve figured out through the years, this is one problem I cannot solve:

   ”For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”  Genesis 2:24

 

Man + woman = One.  xy + xx = 1.  What defines x and what defines y?

And so as the complementarian / egalitarian debate rages on…in the church, in the blogosphere, and in my own soul, I struggle to find the answer.

Even though supposedly many people do not enjoy math, this equation proves to be a popular one. A quick search on google will produce myriads of often hostile arguments trying to define the paramaters of man and woman in the church, of who is in charge and who is not, of who should make money and who should make babies, of who is free to speak and who is called to silence.  Is this a 50/50 equation, or does man have the 51% majority?  How big is each slice of pie, and what flavor is it?  What’s worse is the mixed messages from the pulpit that cross male/female theology with secular gender roles and pop-psychology to create questionable, gurgling stew of “man” and “woman.”

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Patchwork Faith

What’s the value of a quilt?

Is it the appeal of the colors and patterns?  Is it the kitchy country home feel?  Maybe the appreciation of the hands who made it?  Or maybe you think quilts are “nice” but a little too old fashioned for any sort of good?

That’s what my Grammie’s pastor thought, at least, when she posed the same question to him several years ago when he began pastoring at her church.  You see my Grammie was part of her church’s “Quilters’ Group,” something my fellow Christian hipsters might amusingly roll their eyes at.  (Shouldn’t we be, you know, feeding the poor or something?)

She proceeded to show him the painstaking process of making a quilt, taking old, leftover pieces of fabric that have no other use and no one else wants, and stitching them together to make elaborate geometric patterns, garlands of flowers, and overlapping swatches of color.  And in the tone of voice that only a wise grandmother can muster, she concluded:

“It’s basically what God does with each of us.  He takes the old, unwanted scraps of who we are and remakes them into something beautiful.”

I first heard this story last week, at Grammie’s funeral.  She was 94 years young and, by the testimony of those around her most often, loved the Lord until the very end.

Upon hearing this story, my mind instantly wandered to her handmade quilt on my childhood bed, on which I had carelessly spilled an entire jar of rubber cement when I was in high school.  Guiltily, I remembered yet another quilt, her wedding gift to us, that albeit neatly folded in a protective storage bag, was stuffed under our bed none the less.  In a single moment, what was previously irrelevant to me became a treasure to which I clung desperately.

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Gospel or Gimmick?

At least in America, our gimmicks relatively demure. This was snapped in a spice market in Istanbul, Turkey.

As a believer, one of the strangest, most humbling, and eye-opening experiences is being evangelized by a stranger believer. You know…when another believer is street evangelizing and they pick you, not knowing that you’re already spoken for. I’ve been invited to a bible study while riding the CTA, handed tracts while at the laundromat, preached at and approached on the street corner.

And man, it’s weird.

First of all, do I really give off a vibe in public that I need evangelized?  (I like to tell myself that the opposite is true, I look so nice and friendly and approachable that the nervous evangelizers go for me:-))

Secondly, and more importantly, it really causes you to evaluate our methods of evangelism a bit more objectively.   Maybe it’s because I’m introverted and absolutely despise such surprise encounters, but I’ve never emerged from a chance evangelism session feeling encouraged.  Instead, I feel gimmicked, like no one cared for me personally or bothered to listen;  I was just another potential checkmark for “people that heard the gospel today,” left with this nagging question in my mind:

Do we preach the gospel or just a gimmick?

To clarify, by gimmick I’m not talking about gimmicks in the standard sense like giving away free cars on Easter Sunday or free iPods at youth events.   I’m talking about how we risk condensing the gospel into a rehearsed, smooth talking, persuasive boilerplate to be distributed freely to uninterested strangers on the street and half-listening people in the pews.

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No One Cries For the Bad Guy

Anyone under the age of 30 will  fondly remember the epic awesomeness of the movie The Lion King. This movie was released the summer before I started 5th grade (and was filled with hype as the super cute JTT voiced the main character. What ever happened to him?) 

This was also the first movie that made me cry.   It was my generation’s version of Bambi, where we were introduced to the idea of the death of a loved one. The young lion cub, Simba, watched his father Mufasa plunge to his death by a stampede of wildebeest.

However, Mufasa’s death is not the only one in the movie.  In the end, it is revealed that the ‘evil’ Uncle Scar killed Mufasa, and he also plummets off a cliff only to be mauled to death by a pack of hyenas.   (This movie is rated G?)  Two deaths, remarkably similar, but also very different.  When Mufasa dies, we cry. When Scar dies, we cheer. Some deaths are easy, and some are hard.

Because death is easy when it’s the bad guy.

I’ve noticed this same biased attitude of death in Christian culture as well.  In scripture, we are  instructed effectively to “die to ourselves”  and “take up our cross”. (Galatians 2:20 , Luke 9:23Colossians 3:5)  Truly, this includes the sinful nature buried within us.  As Romans says that “the wages of sin is death,” we put to death the things that, in fact, deserve death.  Greed. Malice. Idolatry. However, putting to death the bad guy is sometimes like watching Uncle Scar get mauled to death and get what he deserves.   Is it justified? Yes. But when the bad guy deserves it, death is easy. No tears, no mourning.  We simply…move on. Certainly I don’t say this to belittle the miraculous work God has done in the lives of people.  We must be careful here though, because if we over emphasize the bad guy in us all, we belittle the death of the good guy, the sacrifice of dying to ourselves.

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