Friday, September 26, 2014

"Food, Glorious Food"

If you've known me very long-- or at all-- you probably know that I love food. Like, I think about it in the morning when I wake up (what's for dinner tonight?) I day-dream about it at the beginning of the week (what should I cook this week?) I talk about it, read blogs about it-- I guess I even write blogs about it!-- and sometimes, I dream about it. (Though admittedly, this isn't always satisfying. Ever wake up right as you were about to cut into a huge stack of hot pancakes in dream-land? I do.) 

And though I might be a little bit on the extreme side, I think it's is pretty much true that across cultures, food is a big deal. We plan our days around it, very few celebrations happen without it, and when people don't get enough of it,   physical and psychological damage can occur. All you have to do is talk to an adoptive parent whose child hoards or overeats out of a deep-seated fear that "I may not get enough" to get a real life, first world example of this.

But I think that this basically universal reality-- that food is a big deal-- is one of the reasons Jesus talks about food so much when telling people about Himself. "I am the bread of life," he says. And He describes what He has come to do as transforming a wasteland into a banquet table; making our emptiness into abundance; turning five loaves and two fish into twelve baskets of leftovers. At the announcement of the birth of Christ, his mother Mary says "He has filled the hungry with good things." And prophetic words describing His ministry say, 

"Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.

In other words, Jesus' own words about Himself aren't just "You need to obey me because I'm God" but "Life with me is like a feast, where the wine never runs out." He says, "Apart from Me you will be hungry; but come to me and I will feed you what is good. I will satisfy you." 

You could read this blog and only take away the fact that I sometimes dream about pancakes. And that would be true. But I hope you'll take away a little bit more. If you've experienced physical or spiritual hunger, I hope you'll consider Jesus' invitation to fill your emptiness. If you've ever wondered if becoming a Christian would mean giving up all the fun in life, I hope you'll consider Jesus' invitation to follow Him as an invitation to join Him at the biggest, best dinner party the world has ever seen.

I hope you'll consider joining the feast! 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Heroes and Villains

True confessions time: this year, Michael and I got into a TV show that's not exactly hipster and cool to mention in posh conversations. Fairly-tale themes mixed with really bad graphics and embarrassing historical reenactments = not exactly the kind of TV show you feel cool recommending. But, for some reason (seminary burnout can lead people to do crazy things) we kept watching through the first season and then, we were hooked.

It's a show that follows the lives of various storybook characters, especially Snow White and her archenemy, the Evil Queen. And for a while I felt a bit annoyed that the characters were so stereotypical, so wooden (sorry Pinocchio! And yes, he's in the show too). But you know, of course Snow White is going to do the right thing and of course the Evil Queen will always try to get revenge, etc. etc. But as the seasons went on, I realized the writers were subtly undermining and challenging those strongly held assumptions about what each character would do in a given situation.

They write the story in such a way that you realize, these people are more complex than they look on the outside. The Evil Queen, for example, has got a history that actually makes you sympathize with her; and Snow White, well, she kinda gets on your nerves sometimes. There are some twists that make you decide the old categories for "hero" and villain" no longer really-- or at least completely-- apply. 

And I really appreciate that, because I think it's easy for us to fall into the same trap-- of categorizing other people, or even ourselves, into flat types-- "hero" or "villain." We want to divide the world into neat and tidy groups of "good people" and "bad people" when in reality, all of us are more complex than that. All of us-- even those of us who come across as "goody two-shoes"-- have  complicated inner lives filled with mixed motives, selfishness, and fear. And all of us-- even those of us whose histories are sordid, filled with broken or cruel responses to the cruelty of the world around us-- are able to be redeemed, can learn to love, are meant for something more. 

At times, I have felt like a villain. I learned certain patterns of relating and coping fairly young, and wondered at one point, "Will I always be this way? Am I stuck in this narrative forever? I don't know anything different, and even if I want out, I don't know if there's hope for me." And at other times, I've felt pressure to be the hero. Especially being a "Christian minister," a person hired to do good on a full-time basis, I've thought, "I'm supposed to always do the right thing here. If I don't make everything better for X person, who will? It's up to me to save the day."  

But the reality is that the Christian story has another character: Jesus. It is He who pursues all humankind as the object of His love and hope, no matter what they've done or for how long they've been hard and hateful; He always offers new life. And it is He who always does the right thing, who "saves the day," who exposes the heroes of storybooks for what they are-- mere signposts for Him. 

In your day to day life-- in the narrative you construct around your world-- which category do you tend to use for yourself? Perhaps you need to be comforted and know that no matter how far you veer from "the right path," you're never too far gone for His rescue. In His eyes, you are never "villain," only "Beloved." His word to you is not "get out" but "Receive my love and be healed." Or maybe, you need to be challenged and remember that no matter how "good" you think you are (or are supposed to be), at the end of the day, you are not the hero. It is He. His word to you is not "thank goodness for you!" or "you better keep it up!" but "Receive my love and be healed."

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Growing into the Gaze

Though I've been in my new job for over a month now, I still sort of feel like I'm playing dress-up; like I've put on Mommy's clothes and am now attempting to walk around in them without falling. In some ways, I feel like I'm pretending. But then I remember, I didn't lie to get here. The people who hired me saw the same resume that I made; they spoke to the same 5'3 pony-tailed person I was six months ago. They saw something in me that they believe in, and I am beginning to believe it too. I am growing into their gaze. 

Realizing this has caused me to reflect on all the people whose gaze made me believe I could go into this line of work in the first place: teachers, counselors, classmates and friends who saw something in me that was maybe a little bit more than I could see in myself-- people whose voices gave me the audacity to dream. Thinking of them, I am filled with gratitude. They've helped me become who I am by calling it into existence. 

And reflecting on this has brought me back to the very beginning and given me a new way to understand and appreciate what it means to have met Jesus Christ in the first place. It has reminded me that to belong to Him is to grow into His gaze of love. See, when my father passed away from cancer I named myself, "orphan." But the God who created me looked upon me and said, "you're my child." And when the sin of others stole my innocence and my own sinful response only deepened the scars, I named myself "whore." But Jesus looked on me in love and said, "you're my bride." 

It was in His noticing regard-- His love-- that I have been found and re-made. And it is His declaration of my identity that I am beginning to believe more than any other. Now, for the rest of my life, I'm growing into what He has named me. I'm growing into His gaze. 

How has 'the gaze of others' influenced you, positively or negatively? How does that impact the way you live in the world? How do you think God sees you?


Monday, September 1, 2014

Happily Ever After

This weekend, after just about a month of life out east, my husband and I packed our bags and flew BACK to Texas for a few days. As expected, the heat was scalding and the tacos were delicious; this is what we remember about our former home. But what made this time out west unique was that we gathered for a family wedding. 

I say this with youthful exaggeration but also thoughtful sincerity-- it was the most beautiful wedding I've ever seen. Now before you start thinking things like, "wow, must have been a gorgeous couple" or "I wonder what kind of crazy budget they had!" let me clarify: it was so beautiful because it was so obviously not all about them. The couple was gorgeous, and the ceremony and reception were very elegantly done, but what so moved me was that I didn't once get the impression that they were saying, "Look at us!" Aren't we awesome and pretty? Don't we have fancy and impressive stuff at our wedding? Aren't you jealous of how perfect our lives are now?" 

In our world of Facebook, Pinterest, and $15 'Bride' Magazines, weddings so often devolve into little more than a competition. If you've ever attempted to plan a wedding on a budget (ie. everyone who's ever planned a wedding!), or if you've ever felt left out because your life up to this point hasn't involved a wedding (or a ring on your hand to symbolize your having 'arrived' in this world), you know what I mean. In our world, 'weddings' often feel like cold (and expensive!) events that separate the "haves" from the "have-nots"-- either you have what it takes to throw the best party, be the best looking bride, have the most enviable photo-shoot, or you don't; either you have someone who wants to marry you and therefore 'happily ever after,' or you don't. In some ways, it's a competition that nobody can win, and in which everyone asks, in one way or another, "Will I be good enough?" 

But this wedding was structured in such a way that the focus was almost entirely off of them in order to highlight something much greater: the God whose Love theirs merely images. And what's so revolutionary about this emphasis in a contemporary wedding is that it sends exactly the opposite message we've become trained to receive: it tells us, "This is something that everyone can have; you are good enough; there are no have-nots." 

See, the Christian story is the story of a wedding: one to which we are all invited-- and not as bystanders or outside observers-- but as the Bride. It is the story of the wedding of Heaven and Earth, of God and Humanity, of Christ and the Church. It's the story of a Creator who so values and loves His creation that He invites us into His very life, His very family. It's the story of a Man who "leaves His Father to become one flesh with His wife" (Gen. 2:24); of Jesus, who left the comfort and safety of Heaven to unite Himself to you and me. 

So according to the Christian story, human marriages are just pictures illustrating this greater marriage; they are little unions that illustrate the greater union we are all invited to enjoy with God. A historical word for this is icon: a picture that functions like a window into a deeper, realer world. That is why even the best marriages can never ultimately provide the 'happily ever after' we all long for, because their very nature is to point to the only One with whom happily ever after is truly possible. 

But when we forget this, we focus only on what we can see here and now. We believe the lie that human marriage is all there is, and "this wedding" is what it's all about. When we do this, the icon becomes an idol. And suddenly human marriage no longer a gift for everyone, pointing us-- married and single-- to the 'happily ever after' we're all invited to enjoy with God, and it becomes a competition: who has it and who doesn't. Whose dress is the best, ring is the biggest, photo-shoot is the sexiest, reception is the most impressive.   

I'm thankful for the wedding I attended this weekend, because it lifted me upward. It inspired me not just to celebrate the bride and groom in front of me, but to see beyond them to the Heavenly reality their marriage signifies. I can say this without worry of offending them because this, I believe, is exactly what they hoped for as they planned their wedding. 

This focus on the beyond also comforted me that I shouldn't be disappointed because my own wedding hairdo and dress are already so 5 years ago and no longer impressive to people. It challenged me to remember that even my husband sitting next to me is not the one who can ultimately fulfill me. I'm thankful for the wedding I attended this weekend because it reminded me that all human marriage isn't ultimately even about 'me and my happiness,' but a tiny-- albeit imperfect and broken-- picture of God and His spousal love for all of us. 

It reminded me of Happily Ever After.