Friday, August 13, 2010

Letting Go?

It seems like wherever I look, I'm being told to let go. I've heard it from the pulpit. I've heard it in movie trailers. My best friend just wrote a blog post on the topic. I've read books on the subject, discussed it many times, and am altogether in favor of it.

Personally, I think it's a brilliant idea, and I would do it if I had any idea how.

The problem, you see, is that letting go is too simple for me. Generally, I only do things that require a great deal of work. And if they don't require work, I create ways to make them difficult. This was why my ballroom dance class didn't work out so well. "Just stop thinking," my instructor told me. Obviously, he did not know me very well.

I like to think that I have inherited a great deal of Reppert tenacity. (People who are not members of my family might use the term "stubbornness," but we'll ignore them.) This means that I cling to things--people, ideas, places, words. Letting them go is not something that I do well.

Awhile ago, I came across Psalm 131:2, where David writes, "But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me." This verse calls to mind a child completely at rest, trusting his mother's arms to hold him.

I am not like that child.

Instead, I'm like a frightened toddler that runs to his mother and clings to her, afraid that she won't hold tight enough and will let him fall.

That's me most of the time. But, if you've had much experience with toddlers, you know that that terrified death-grip doesn't last forever. Once they realize that their mother won't drop them, they relax, their muscles start to unclench, their breathing slows, and they fall asleep. Then they're like the child David wrote about.

I'd like to skip the in-between stage, the one where I'm terrified and holding on for all I'm worth. But it doesn't work that way, at least not for me.

I don't know how to let go, so I'll choose to cling to something better. Then, when I finally relax my grip, I know I won't fall.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day?

I’m not sure if I should be sad or angry when I see Christians bashing Earth Day, purposely wasting plastic bags, or boasting about leaving their lights on.

Don’t get me wrong; I’ve got my computer going, my cell phone charging, and a couple of lights on right now. My carbon footprint is really fairly large. But I believe that this is something I need to work on, to try to minimize my negative impact on the world God gave us.

In the first chapters of Genesis, God put Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to care for it. I think that the fact that we’ve stopped caring for the earth is a sign of our fallenness, not our virtue.

I think that a lot of the reason that a lot of Christians are not enthusiastic about Earth Day and about environmental issues in general is that caring for the environment is a “liberal” issue. But I don’t believe it has to be.

If it is right to take care of our environment, what does it matter whose idea it was?

We, as Christians, are hurting our cause when we refuse to acknowledge that we have been wrong and when we purposely choose the opposite side of an issue, simply because we don’t like the people who support it.

Sometimes, we think that people don’t like our message because of their sin, when, often, the reason they don’t like our message is because of our sin.

I don’t have this all figured out, and I’m not trying to pass judgment here. I just want us to stop and think. What would Jesus do on Earth Day?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Come, Thou Fount

As I sit here typing, Sufjan Stevens’ rendition of “Come,, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” is playing softly in the background. For some reason, this song seems to tie this day together for me.

A couple of you have heard a few of the highlights (or lowlights) of my day. I won’t reprise them here. In summary, for a little while this was looking like a horrible, no good, very bad day. Then I took a nap and things got better. (I think sometimes naps are a manifestation of grace.)

Anyway, in the class I’m taking at church on Sunday mornings, we’re reading Jim Smith’s book The Good and Beautiful Life (which I recommend, by the way). We’ve been discussing the Sermon on the Mount, and how Jesus isn’t trying to get us to be uptight perfectionists (that hits a little too close to home). Instead, he’s telling us that it’s not so much whether you follow the rules externally but whether your heart is right.

This morning, one of my classmates commented on how hard it is to change your heart. You can go through the motions, he pointed out, but, if you don’t really want to be doing ‘the right thing,’ it doesn’t really do much good. So what’s the point of turning the other cheek or going the second mile if we don’t want to do it?

A couple of my classmates pointed out that often changing our behavior helps to change our hearts—that acting “as if” often helps to make it so. This is true, at least in my life; I’ve found gradual changes in my heart when I make an effort to change my behavior.

But I don’t think just acting will ever force a real change. That’s why we need grace.

One of my favorite quotes (by Teresa of Avila, I believe) goes something like this: “God, I don’t love you. I don’t even want to love you. But I want to want to love you.”

So often that is true in my life. I often don’t do what I think I should do. I don’t even want to do it. But I want to want to. And, gradually, God changes me.

I’ve finally forgiven a person I’ve been trying to forgive for years. (Well, half trying, anyway. Really, deep down, I was enjoying holding onto that grudge.) It’s not as if the wound they gave me doesn’t still hurt at times or as if I don’t still sometimes feel anger toward them. But I’ve chosen to forgive them, and I’m beginning to really desire good things for them.

But I couldn’t (and can’t) do it on my own; it’s only God’s grace that gives me grace to extend to anyone else.

Earlier today, I wasn’t feeling like giving much grace to anyone—myself included. But, in the midst of that, I remembered whose I am and how much I am loved.

In many ways, “Come, Thou Fount” could be the theme song for my life. (I’m listening to it again now, for something like the 4th time in the last 30 minutes.) The last verse begins with these words:
Oh, to grace how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be.
Let thy grace now, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to thee.
This is my prayer tonight.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


I’ve always thought that I should like Flannery O’Connor. The only problem is that I have yet to read one of her stories that doesn’t leave me depressed. Being determined to like her, however, I brought her short story collection, Everything That Rises Must Converge, along with me on my trip to Poland and brought very little else by way of reading material.

I began reading while waiting at the airport in Wichita for my plane to Chicago. The story I started with ends with an old man sort of accidentally murdering his granddaughter. Not a good beginning. I made it most of the rest of the way to Poland without reading anything.

On the way back, though, I began to get bored and broke out the book again. This time, I managed to work my way through the rest of the book. I still didn’t find any stories that weren’t depressing. But I did find one that I found compelling.

The story “Revelation” tells of Mrs. Turpin, a self-satisfied, self-righteous woman. When Mrs. Turpin visits the doctor, she is surprised by the presence of a young woman who takes an immediate dislike to her and, seemingly without provocation, attacks her. In what seems to be a prophetic moment, the girl tells her, “Go back to hell where you came from, you old wart hog.”

Mrs. Turpin is shocked. She can’t understand why she, of all people, should deserve such a judgment. She has always lived in a way that she thought was right. In fact, she regularly thanks God that she is not like most of the people around her.

As she rails in anger at God, she has a vision:

She saw the streak as a vast swinging bridge extending upward from the earth through a field of living fire. Upon it a vast horde of souls were rumbling toward heaven. There were whole companies of white-trash, clean for the first time in their lives, and bands of black niggers in white robes, and battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs. And bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who, like herself …, had always had a little of everything and the God-given wit to use it right….They were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They alone were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away.

When O’Connor writes that “even their virtues were being burned away,” I don’t think she’s talking about virtues like kindness, gentleness, and love. I think the “virtues” that are burned away are the things that were never really virtues to begin with. So many of the things that we think are our virtues are really nothing but thin veneers for our pride and selfishness.

Now, it’s kind of popular to complain about the hypocrisy in the church and blame the “Christian” community for being self-righteous, and that seems, to a certain extent, to be what this story is about. I’m all on board with that. Jesus certainly wasn’t a fan of hypocrisy and self-righteousness, from what I can tell.

The only problem is that when I start griping about hypocrisy and self-righteousness, I’m being a bit self-righteous myself. This is a problem that we need to address in the church, but the way we address it is not by complaining about everyone else’s self-righteousness. It is by realizing that we all are living on grace.

I’m not saying this because I want us to all start beating ourselves up. I’m saying this because, until we realize this, we can’t really accept grace.

I’m also not saying that we should stop trying to be virtuous. Instead, we need to realize that any virtue that we actually have is a gift to us. We are just dispensers of God’s grace.

I’m probably not ever going to be one of Flannery O’Connor’s biggest fans, and I probably won’t bring her along as reading material on my next international flight. But she is a brilliant writer, and she does make some valid points, so perhaps I should give her some grace…

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Gonna live what I believe

When I was very young, Amy Grant's music constantly played in my parents' house. (I can still picture her leopard print jacket on that record sleeve.) And now, after many, many years of relatively Amy-Grantless life, the words of this song still go through my head: "I have decided / I'm gonna live like a believer / turn my back on the deceiver / gonna live what I believe." Not a bad idea, really. I'm all for "practicing what we preach," "walking the walk," and all those other cliches.

Because we believe we're saved by grace, we should stop acting like we're not. Because we believe Jesus loves everyone, we should love everyone, too. Or, m0re frequently harped on, because we believe we're not supposed to do certain things, we shouldn't do them.

I'm afraid that by arguing against this idea, it's going to sound like I'm advocating either hypocrisy or license. That's not what I'm saying at all.

Here's the thing. I think that how we live is inextricably tied up with what we believe. Ultimately, I think, we all live what we really believe. That's why what we believe is so incredibly important.

If we really, truly believe that each individual is precious to God, then we'll treat them as if they have incredible value. If we really, truly believe that God loves us, then we'll be more free to love others. When we fail to love others, or when we fail to live like we are loved, I think it really comes down to the fact that we don't really believe everything we claim to believe.

I think that we can tell a great deal about what people actually believe by observing the way they treat those around them. For that matter, we can learn an awful lot about what we believe by paying attention to what we're thinking about ourselves and other people.

Now, I'm not saying that we should give up on trying to believe these things or that we should stop acting on these truths until we've finally become fully convinced of them. But I think that acknowledging our lack of belief is an important first step. In order to counter falsehood with truth, you have to confront the falsehood. As one desperate father told Jesus, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24).

Sometimes, I think we have to just live what we're trying to believe-- and I think that living as if we believe helps us to actually believe. To a certain extent, belief is a choice, and living as if we believe is an important part of that choice.

I don't have everything figured out, but, to borrow Amy Grant's words, "I'm gonna live like a believer." And I believe, by God's grace, one day I'll finally fully be one.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

As I was digging through my closet the other day, I rediscovered the fact that there is a shelf in the back of it, hidden behind my hanging clothes. (Please note, family members: the clothes were hanging, not piled.) Stacked on the shelf were a bunch of my old journals.

Now, I've never been very good at keeping journals, but, for some reason, when I travel, I become somewhat more disciplined about such things. This means that I have a pretty faithful record of my travels in Spain and my year in Guatemala. (The only other time I tend to write in journals is when I'm in a horrible, horrible mood, so, other than records of my travels, my journals consist mostly of hysterical rantings. So, if I die young, burn them.) :)

Rereading things that I wrote years ago is always a half-pleasurable, half-painful experience. Sometimes I laugh at the person that I was then-- so concerned about such silly things, so bad at reading myself and other people. Sometimes my laughter is mixed with embarrassment that I would think--much less write-- such things. Sometimes I'm surprised to remember struggles I had, concerns that seemed to overwhelm me, because they seem so petty now. And sometimes I'm surprised because they seem so relevant to the things I am experiencing right now.

The journal that I wrote in while I lived in Guatemala was a graduation gift. The inscription in the front reads, "May this journal give you a way to always remember how God has blessed you and allow you to watch the growth that is present in your life." I'm not sure that I really paid attention to that inscription before, but the wish it offers has come true. This journal chronicles so much about who I was then, who I had been before, and who I am now. (So I guess this one journal can be exempt from the burn pile.)

While rereading this journal has provided me with enough entertainment to last awhile (see excerpts below), it's mostly been an encouragement to me in seeing how far I've come. So many struggles that I had then seem so unimportant now, so many issues that I thought would never resolve have been resolved. Mostly, it serves as a record of God's faithfulness to me. Things that I wanted that I shouldn't have had, I didn't get. Things that I didn't want but got anyway have truly proved to be blessings.

Sometimes I forget these things. Sometimes my current problems and concerns seem so big that I lose perspective. Sometimes I seem to be moving so slowly that I forget how far I've come. But God is faithful. And, every once in awhile, I'll dig out this journal to remind myself.

A few highlights from my Guatemala journal:

Skippy (7th grade) told me that, for his birthday, he wanted me to swear in Spanish. I didn't comply with his request.

The eighth grade girls told me that they thought I was going through menopause.

My host mom told me I look like a barbie, based solely on my fair skin and curly hair, since I'm pretty sure I'm not proportioned right.

The eighth grade girls attributed my singleness to the fact that I "talk about math all the time."

Monday, August 31, 2009

Loving a Blemished Bride

Sometimes I don’t like the Church very much. Sometimes sermons make me furious, church rules make me want to cry, and churchgoers leave me wondering if they really believe anything Jesus said. Sometimes the “bride of Christ” is just plain ugly.

[Note: This is not written about any one particular church.]

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” I wish this depiction were not true, but, too often, I have found it a painfully accurate portrait.

I heard the environmental movement dismissed as a bunch of “tree huggers” from the pulpit once—and far more frequently from Church members. Recently a friend of mine listened to a sermon in which the priest dismissed, off-hand, the work of a brilliant philosopher, whose work he had clearly not taken the time to understand. Even John Piper, some of whose work I respect very much, pronounced a couple of weeks ago that a tornado that hit a Lutheran church in Minneapolis was a warning from God to the ELCA (even trying to back up his point by using a scripture in which Jesus specifically states that disasters are not necessarily indications of special judgment).

It breaks my heart to see the church so quick to condemn, so unwilling to take the time to listen, so far from showing Christ’s compassion. Sometimes, I think that we would get along better with the Pharisees than with Jesus.

I wish I could say that I, unlike all of these other people, am never judgmental, never cruel, never self-righteous, but I may be the worst of the bunch. While I memorized James 1:19 long ago, I am still slow to listen, quick to speak, and quick to become angry.

I wonder if the reason we are so quick to judge others is that we somehow think that it makes us look better. If we point out the zit on our neighbor’s nose, perhaps no one will notice that we accidentally put on our sweater inside out. Maybe it will make us forget how ridiculous we must look. It feels like junior high all over again.

These reflections used to depress me, and sometimes they still do. But my perception is slowly changing. It’s not that, this time, I remembered to put my sweater on right-side out. It’s that this time I’ve realized that God loves me no matter how my sweater looks. And, not only that, but he doesn’t really mind that zit on my neighbor’s nose.

In Ephesians 5:25-27, Paul writes that Christ, “loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” I am getting to know a God who knows all of my wrinkles and blemishes but who loves me deeply anyway—a God who died to make me beautiful.