Reflecting on Holy Week 2016


I’ve been going through a salty season…“salty” meaning that I’ve been very irritated, angry, and negative.

And since my entire life is wrapped up in the church–it would therefore make sense that some of this hurt has impacted the way I view that, as well.

But Holy Week healed me.

On the Tuesday of the week, I did the Stations of the Cross. As I walked the Labyrinth, I realized it might be the worst prayer practice possible for me. I simply cannot keep my thoughts unclouded for that long of a period of time. Especially since I spent the entire Labyrinth telling God everyone I was mad at.

I kept trying to calm myself down. And when I got to the end of the Labyrinth, I told myself to quit being angry.

Good luck with that, Heather.

Maundy Thursday is my favorite day on the liturgical calendar. This is the one day of the year that I feel completely immersed in the narrative of scripture–we wash one another’s feet and take Communion around a table together just as Jesus did the night before he was betrayed. It’s magical.

Last year I volunteered at my first Maundy Thursday ever by washing feet. The first person whose feet I washed was our senior pastor’s. I remember shaking.

A few people later I washed the feet of a man who is high in leadership at the church, who is one of the manliest yet most thoughtful people I know. He cried. He told me the last person who washed his feet was his daughter, who was in college. His youngest was a month away from moving as well. He wiped his tears on me and moved on.

A few people later a woman I didn’t know asked me my name after I washed her feet. Then she asked to wash my feet…as I wept. Her act of humility blew me away.

This year I chose not to wash feet. I’ve had such a busy year at church that I wanted to attend the service and allow myself to be served. This was kind of a big deal for me, because I’m not always great at saying “no” and allowing myself margin to rest.

But God showed up and did some cool things.

I went to have my feet washed, and the person who washed my feet was the mother of a student who I have an ongoing struggle with. I had to talk to him and his mom a few weeks ago about his behavior issues after he attempted to humiliate me in front of the group. After talking to her, I was softened for probably the first time to consider that there was more going on than I understood. It’s really humbling to realize that the people hurting you are hurting themselves, and I haven’t stopped thinking about their family. Having his mother serve me, when I couldn’t even figure out how to serve her was so humbling.

I sat down in my pew, waiting for my row’s turn to do Communion. I grinned ear-to-ear, weeping because of the view. I saw Small Group Leaders washing their students’ feet, unplanned. I saw students taking Communion around the tables together, awkward yet lovely. I saw pastors beaming as they shared this moment with the congregants.

I sat down to take Communion with a group of people–some who I knew, some who I didn’t. It was so awkward for us to do Communion around the table, but we all knew it was special because it was like the Last Supper. As they fumbled, taking their bread out of turn or spilling the juice, everyone began apologizing. Apologizing for communally doing Communion in community.

I spoke up. Classic Heather. Am I allowed to chat during Communion?

I pointed out: The Last Supper had to have been extremely awkward. When Jesus took the Passover meal and said, “Hey guys, this is my body” the disciples probably didn’t know what to do. They may have dropped the bread. They may have choked. They may have laughed. They may have spoken out of turn. And two of them were traitors.

Nobody responded to me. They just nodded (great for my self-esteem). But I passed the cup to a man who passed the cup to his son, one of my favorite 7th grade boys. In fact, he may be in my top 10 favorite students I’ve ever had. Not that I’m keeping track.

This boy dipped his bread into the cup. Then he decided he took too much juice. So he wrung his bread back in. Then we all laughed way too hard as we popped our bread into our mouth, gasping for air.

I wonder if the Last Supper was that awkward. I wonder if they did it “wrong.”

As I went back to my seat, trying not to laugh anymore, I waited. I was towards the front of the church, so I had another 20 minutes of reflection as everyone else took Communion.

It was time needed. We sang, “I’m watching, I’m waiting” as a chorus for a few minutes, which reminded me that this was why I’m here. I was here to watch. To wait. To be served.

As I watched, I watched a lot of people I was “salty” towards also receive Communion.

Have you ever watched someone you’re mad at receive the Body of Christ?

It’s infuriating.

And humbling.

And as I watched like 5 different people I’m bitter towards receive the sacrament, it also dawned on me: They get the same body of Christ that I do. They get the same blood that I do. The same cup that my 7th grade friend wrung his bread in serves us all.

Maundy Thursday reminds me that just as the student’s bread wrung out the juice, so was Christ’s blood poured out for us.

Both are unsettling thoughts. Kind of gross (and one unsanitary).

But God is big enough to handle all of this.

And in that moment, I was forgiven for being salty. And I forgave those who I had been struggling with all week.

But alas, on Good Friday, I was back to being a salty person (I know, I can’t help it).

Our Good Friday service walks you through Jesus’ last 7 statements. With each statement, the lights get dimmer to reflect the darkness entering the world as Jesus was crucified.

But as the room got darker, the stained-glass cross got brighter. I think God makes the sun set this way on purpose.20160325_195310.jpg

You already know where I’m going with this, right?

As the room grows darker, the cross shines brighter.

When my heart is the darkest, the cross is the brightest. At this moment my sin of irreconcilable anger was highlighted, and I earnestly repented.

It has been two weeks since Holy Week. God and I are still wrestling through some things, of course.

But every time I see someone I’m salty with, I’m reminded they receive the same Communion.

Every time I get frustrated, I remember how bright the light of Jesus is.

Every time I feel like I’m lost in a labyrinth with my anxious thoughts, I’m reminded that there is one way out and I can’t get lost.

This post may sound like a mixture of my random thoughts and experiences, but God really healed me of some things. Holy Week did its job (even though I failed at giving things up for Lent).

Holy Week brought me out of the wilderness and to the cross.

Praying like it’s happening


I have a hard time trusting that God will follow through. A really tough time.

Growing up I prayed every night and felt like my prayers were rarely answered. Of course, now, I understand that God answered them in a way that was even better–but it fostered a culture in me that felt like I had to do everything myself.

This fostered anxiety and mistrust, and others could see this. I overworked to compensate for my lack of trust that God could make things happen after I clock out.

Here’s my first example of how I’m learning: 2 years ago, we had 8 Small Group Leaders for all of our Middle School because it was so tough to find dedicated adults, and this year I set the goal of 24 in order to meet the needs of the growing ministry. The school year had already started and I still needed 6 SGLs, but I split them into the appropriate-sized groups anyway, trusting that these people would come out of the woodwork and join the team. And they did. This was one way that God showed me that I could live my life as if he’s already answering my prayers.

Since, I’ve tried to apply this principle in other areas of my ministry, but also my life.

This week my cat got loose when transporting her out of the house and ran off. I couldn’t find her, and I was trying not to become hysterical. A friend came to help me search for her, and they were so surprised that I wasn’t crying or panicking. In fact, it was me who said multiple times that I think we should stop searching. She had a collar, a microchip, and a very fattened body. Even though she’s down one eye and 7 teeth, she’s a good mouser. I just need to trust she will come home.

Now, don’t get me wrong–I still worried. I was sick.

But I went to work the next day, trusting she’d come home.

And when I came home, there she was.

I was living as if that prayer was answered, and once again, it calmed me and the prayer was answered.

I recognize that there’s a tension though, as I write this: How do some prayer requests get answered, and others not so much?

I can’t answer that.

But I can say that there have been times where I’ve practiced the principle of “living as if my prayers are already answered” and when they aren’t answered, it hasn’t hurt as much.

A few weeks ago one of our volunteers asked me “How do you know our prayers are working?” And I stared at the email, mouth agape and dumbfounded. What a silly question.

But I realize that we have this question. We want to know if God hears our prayers.

Statement of Faith & Doubt

Confirmation, lessons, Theology

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.
Hebrews 11:1

What does it mean to have faith? Growing up, this verse in Hebrews comforted me to have confidence even when I’m not sure of what I’m even confident about.

Working with teenagers means that you are working with doubt, and most teenagers feel like their doubt has no place in faith.  The church I grew up in told me that my doubts were normal, but that I also needed to “give my doubts to God.”

That statement basically told me, “Doubts are normal, but good Christians don’t have them.”

But as I read that verse in Hebrews, I’m comforted. The author says that faith is (1) Confidence that what we hope for will actually happen and (2) Assurance about the things we cannot see. Other versions say that we are convicted.

Put together, faith is simply when the acknowledgment of doubt convinces us to press on.

This year I added to our Confirmation experience for students to write a Statement of Faith. We had talked about doubts back in October in my favorite lesson of the year. As I studied Statements of Faith, I encountered this article by Fuller Youth Institute:

Another church from one of our Sticky Faith Cohorts is working hard to create space for doubt in the midst of its Confirmation program. At the conclusion of the six-month process, most students write a statement of faith. Last year one student felt safe enough to write a “Statement of Doubt” instead. This allowed her to share openly with the community that her own journey of faith wasn’t yet at the place of trusting Christ. Several months later, she came to the point where she had wrestled through her doubts and decided to be baptized as an expression of her newfound trust. Alongside her were several adults who had supported her, prayed for her, and walked with her through her valley of doubt to the other side of faith.

I talked about the possibility of doing this project with our Family Ministries Pastor, and I shared my doubts with him: that if I talked about doubts with our students, they would only come to realization that they doubt a whole hell of a lot (literally. hell is a huge doubt for all of us).

But he encouraged me to give this a go.

I’m so thankful to work at a church that says both “We believe” and I believe,” meaning that we have a faith that is both universal and connected by tradition, but also that is very personal and varies from our neighbors.

I knew that I wanted to give students space to write their doubts, so I launched the “Statement of Faith & Doubt” project. Here were the steps:

Introducing the Concept

On the day of Confirmation that I introduced the project, I had students take different creeds that I printed out for them, and in groups underline the statements they agree with, and cross out the statements they weren’t so sure about. We had them write a few of the statements on a large piece of butcher paper I had on the wall.

I shared about how when I was in high school, I would always skip saying the part of the Apostle’s Creed where it says Jesus “ascended to the dead.” I thought it was creepy, and I didn’t like it. So I didn’t say it. I shared about how sometimes we don’t like the things in the Bible, or we share different beliefs from others–and that’s okay.

Also–here’s the video of me teaching that lesson.

The Project Itself

Students would, on their own, look in the back of the UMC hymnal at the section where it says “Affirmations of Faith.” There is listed a handful of creeds and statements of faith. They would write down 8 statements they agreed with, and 2 statements they didn’t.

Students would bring these Statements of Faith & Doubt to their small groups on a designated Sunday to discuss.

We sent this home with Confirmands to give to their parents with ways for Parents to plug in. Parents and mentors had questions to discuss with students about these projects on their own time.


Small groups shared these statements of faith and talked about how doubt plays a crucial role in faith. I gave them the following small group questions:

  • Was it difficult to choose things you believed in? What about the things you doubted?
  • What’s the difference between faith and doubt?
  • Read Hebrews 1:1-3 together. How does doubt have a place in our faith?
  • Have confirmands look at their statements. Do you think that there are some things that you aren’t allowed to doubt? Like, can you doubt the virgin birth and still be a Christian?

There were a lot of commonalities in their statements–every single person doubts or dislikes the judgement of sinners. But there were also some unique statements. Here are some of those. Some are funny, others remind me of the life stage middle schoolers are in, and some convict me of what I believe now.

Statements of Faith…

  • Jesus was born of the virgin Mary. (I don’t understand why they underlined virgin, but I found it amusing
  • Jesus was is God’s son.
  • We commit ourselves to the right of…and people with disabilities. (Loved this, since her older brother has a disability)
  • Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God.
  • For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate.
  • We are not alone. (Yes, middle schooler.)
  • Great indeed is the mystery of the Gospel. Amen.

Statements of Doubt (Don’t believe / Not sure about / Don’t understand / Confusing)…

  • And in Jesus Christ his only Son. “I have always been taught that we are God’s children and this sentence contradicts that. It says that he only has one son instead of us being his children.”
  • He was crucified under Pontius Pilate. “What is under Pontius Pilate?” “What is a Pontius Pilate?” “When reading John, I found that Pilate didn’t care, it was the people that crucified him.”  (That last one made my HEART. MELT.)
  • He shall come to join the living and the dead
  • We look for the resurrection of the dead
  • We believe for the forgiveness of sins
  • Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress, or persecution or famine…?
  • …where we are all brothers and sisters
  • Proclaimed among the nations
  • One Catholic church
  • You have to be baptized to go to heaven
  • That he was put in a grave. “Wrong! He was buried in a tomb.”
  • That God was conceived by the Holy Spirit. “What does conceived mean?”

Last, I had two people who ignored the Creeds and made their own Statement of Faith and Doubt. This one was precious:

I believe in God,
that the thoughts in my head are sent from him
I believe he creates feelings of love
but for others, feelings of hate
I believe he puts pain onto others
but he usually spreads love
I believe that he first expected we’d sin
but not this much
I know what he expects,
and that he can only take sin in reasonable doses
I know he’s holy
I know he does love
but I believe,
after so many sins – We get a bad memory in life
He is trying to make us learn,
We just have to accept it

This project is risky–when we talk about doubt, we get vulnerable. We admit that we don’t know everything. We have to say out loud things that we don’t think we are allowed to say.

But it is rewarding–because if we can’t admit out loud our doubts to one another, then we’ll never be able to face them on our own. I noticed on a few papers that as small groups shared their doubts with one another, a few students crossed theirs out because they reconciled them just by talking about them out loud.

And that’s what it’s all about, really.

Describing Ash Wednesday

christianity, lent, Theology

I didn’t know what Ash Wednesday was until 2014, when I was in my first Lenten season at my United Methodist church. I may not have even gone to the service, except I was looking for community that evening and being introduced to a small group for the first time.

Ash Wednesday is now one of my favorite traditions. There’s something about a pastor marking a cross on your forehead while looking into your eyes and saying “Repent and believe the Gospel” that shakes you in your winter boots.

I didn’t understand what it was when I first received the ashes, and if I were to be honest, I don’t think I’ll ever understand the eternal significance of the service. Every time I try, I get blown away.

And since I couldn’t explain it well if I tried, here are my three favorite articles about Ash Wednesday.

Why Ashes? Connecting to who we are and who we can be – The United Methodist Church

When we participate in the service of ashes, we confront our sin. We recognize our inability to live up to all God has created us to be, and our need to be forgiven. No matter how often we go to church, how far we have come in our spiritual journeys, how accomplished we may feel, each of us has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

While this may sound fatalistic, it is not the end of the story. Lent leads to Easter, the day we celebrate that though our bodies are temporary and our lives are flawed, a day of resurrection will come when we will live in the presence of God forever.

One Wednesday every year we go to church remembering who we are, and hopeful of who we can be.

A little reading for Fat Tuesday/Ash Wednesday (from Accidental Saints) – Nadia Bolz-Weber

Here’s my image of Ash Wednesday: If our lives were a long piece of fabric with our baptism on one end and our funeral on another, and we don’t know the distance between the two, then Ash Wednesday is a time when that fabric is pinched in the middle and the ends are held up so that our baptism in the past and our funeral in the future meet. The water and words from our baptism plus the earth and words from our funerals have come from the past and future to meet us in the present. And in that meeting we are reminded of the promises of God: That we are God’s, that there is no sin, no darkness, and yes, no grave that God will not come to find us in and love us back to life. That where two or more are gathered, Christ is with us. These promises outlast our earthly bodies and the limits of time.

Ash (from Searching for Sunday) – Rachel Held-Evans

Once a year, on a Wednesday, we mix ashes with oil. We light candles and confess to one another and to God that we have sinned by what we have done and what we have left undone.  We tell the truth. Then we smear the ashes on our foreheads and together acknowledge the single reality upon which every  Catholic and Protestant, believer and atheist, scientist and mystic can agree: “Remember that you are dust and to dust and to dust you will return.” It’s the only thing we know for sure: we will die.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

But a long time ago, a promise was made. A prophet called  Isaiah said a messenger would come to proclaim good news to the poor and brokenhearted, “to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” Those who once repented in dust and ashes “will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor” (Isaiah 61:3).

We could not become like God, so God became like us.  God showed us how to heal instead of kill, how to mend instead of destroy, how to love instead of hate, how to live instead of long for more. When we nailed God to a tree, God forgave. And when we buried God in the ground, God got up.

#ThrowbackThursday: Heather talks about Communion

christianity, Theology

When I was growing up, I didn’t understand Communion at all.

And looking back, it’s kind of adorable. I have four stories:

Heather at 7

We called it “Lord’s Supper” at my church growing up. And even though I really didn’t understand it, I was drawn to it.

In our tradition, you didn’t receive Lord’s Supper until you were saved. At the ripe age of 6, all my friends were getting saved and baptized, so I asked Jesus into my heart too. I loved Jesus, but I also wanted to fit in with my friends. Because my parents didn’t attend church, they moved very slowly to honor their wishes and make sure that I was “serious” about that act.

But who is “serious” about Jesus at 6? Well, maybe I was.

And so…I walked down the aisle about another dozen times.

One Sunday, I walked down the aisle to ask Jesus into my heart again. I filled out the membership card again. And because I was in the front aisle, I missed the Lord’s Supper.

After the service, I told the pastor I missed it. He told me it was okay. But I insisted–I was 8 years old and I wanted the wafer and the juice. So, he took the Lord’s Supper with me, individually. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment. He may not, either–it’s when the church realized I was going to be pretty unrelenting about this whole Jesus thing. So a few months later, my entire family came to church (for the first and only time in my life) and I was baptized.

Heather at 11

My dad’s side of the family is Catholic. One time we were visiting my great-grandmother’s church for mass. When it was time to receive the Eucharist, I stepped forward. In a Catholic church, only Catholics can receive the sacrament. My family was trying to tell me, in hushed tones, that I couldn’t go forward. In order to get my attention they were pointing and waving and even physically trying to block me.

I’m sure you’re not surprised: I pitched a fit. Upset, I cried and didn’t understand why I couldn’t receive some bread and juice. I didn’t understand the Eucharist fully, but that didn’t mean I should be denied the elements. How could you tell somebody that they can’t have the body and blood of Christ?

Heather at 18

At 18, I was first introduced to Communion by intinction. Up until this point, I had wafers and cups of juice. At one point my church had switched over to the cups where the juice was at the bottom, then there was a film, then the wafer, then another film (Looking back, I wouldn’t ever do it that way again, personally).

We were at summer camp, where I was a counselor. The camp pastor didn’t explain intinction, and nobody knew how to do it…including the adults. He left it on the altar for anybody to take it as they’d like, at their own pace.

About 12 minutes in, nobody took the Lord’s Supper. In the Southern Baptist tradition, you don’t take Lord’s Supper if you have unrepentant sin. The camp pastor got wise to the fact that this room of teenagers wasn’t that strict…so he explained it. And guess who was first to grab that bread?

Heather Lea Campbell.

Heather at 21

I took a class in college called “God and Humanity” that changed my entire perspective on Communion. For the first time, I got it.

At the end of 30 Hour Famine, they suggest breaking the fast with Communion. At my church where I served as youth director, technically anybody could serve it. But women couldn’t serve as pastors, so it’d be taboo for a woman to serve Communion.

I’m sure you can guess: I served Communion to my students. Without asking leaders of the church. I just did it. And it was fantastic.

Heather at 26

Today, I still love Communion. Since I run programs during church services, I don’t take it often, except with staff once a month.

So the Heather of today tries to sneak over into church on the first Sunday of month and take it with the congregation. We use Hawaiian sweet bread, so you can understand.

I didn’t realize my funny history with Communion until I was writing a lesson on it for Confirmation–we talked about how it’s kind of an awkward act, taking someone’s body and blood and popping it down the hatch.

But for me, I have always been an embracer of awkward and mysterious things (hence why I work with middle schoolers).

My hope is that we can raise up a generation that is desperate for Jesus the way I have been my entire life for the bread that represents the Body and the blood that represents his lifeline.


Doing More?

god, identity

“I feel stuck.”

These are the words one of my precious student leaders pulled me aside a little over a month ago, as she continued to tell me of her eagerness to grow in her faith.  I listened to her, encouraged her, and gave her a few tangible things to “do.”  But I struggled to explain to her the fuzzy line between “faith without works are dead” and the hard truth that doing anything more won’t mean anything more to you without faith.

I talked to my sister today, who explains to me that she doesn’t want to “eat spiritual steak,” because she’s still a “spiritual infant.” Certainly, I’d love to see growth in my sister.  But I find myself again explaining to her that doing more won’t magically grow you more.

The crazy thing is–I think I operate my own life with the belief that I’m never a good-enough Christian, that there is always more to do.  I think of a conversation with a good friend a few weeks ago, who told me that there was “always more ministry to do” as she justified adding more to her plate.

I’m 7 years older than my sister, who is 7 years older than my student leader. Between the three of us, we have the same notion that we must do more in order to grow more in our faith. I asked my sister what she thinks the “goal is” for faith, and she told me to live a life where everything glorifies God. I asked her if she though I was strong in my faith then. She stuttered (jerk).  Point proven.  If the three of us over the course of 14 years all have this same notion, my guess is that this is a feeling that will never go away.

It’s a sucky feeling, to not feel good enough. We get enough of that in our day-to-day life, that when you add not being “good enough” in faith, it all just feels so hard. Faith shouldn’t be this hard, right?  Faith shouldn’t be something that you’re “good” at.

This last month on three separate occasions over the course of one month I’ve heard lessons taught on the comparison between the Pharisees and “sinners”: a tax collector, an adulterous woman, and the woman who fell at Jesus’ feet. In all three occasions, it’s proven that there is no distinction between them in terms of sin: They’ve all messed up, no one is without sin.

And in all three stories, Jesus proves that the ones who are “good enough” are the ones who know they’re not.  None of them are saying “Hey Jesus, what more can I do?”  In fact, the ones who do end up hearing answers that turn them away from Jesus (sell all my possessions? who is my neighbor, really?).

At the end of the day, all I want is God.

In every other aspect of life, I have to do something in order to gain something. It’s just the way it is. But what makes Christianity unique is that it’s the only way that doesn’t require more.

I’m not denying the value from spiritual disciplines. But I am denying the belief that doing them or anything else will somehow bring me certain results.

I just want to touch Jesus’ cloak for healing, wipe his feet with my tears, and admit I don’t have it all together. This is far more difficult that doing more, because it’s vulnerable. But that’s where God is–we’re too busy covering ourselves with fig leaves and to-do lists to understand that.

What are You Fishing For?

christianity, church, Culture, Evangelicalism, lessons, lgbtq, politics, Theology

When Jesus first called his disciples, they were fishing. Jesus performed the miracle of filling their nets, proving that he was able to provide for their physical (and even financial) needs. Then Jesus said, “Follow me, and I’ll make you a fisher of men.”

These men followed Jesus on a three-year long journey. During this journey, Jesus performed many more miracles and even equipped the disciples to perform miracles of their own. They fed crowds, healed the sick, partied with the poor, and ate with sinners. Slowly, they discovered that Jesus was the Son of God, and Jesus equipped them to truly be “fishers of men.”

But when Jesus died, what happened?

In John chapter 21, Peter says to the disciples, “I’m going fishing.” And the rest of the disciples go with him. Even though Jesus has appeared to them twice thus far after his resurrection, they go back to life as if the last three years didn’t happen. They go fishing. For fish.

And so Jesus does his classic “Jesus thing,” paralleling that first time he calls them. 100 yards from shore, the fog-hidden Jesus tells them to cast their nets out on the other side. The disciples miraculously fill their nets and are unable to haul it to shore.

And Peter does his classic “Peter thing,” and jumps into the sea because he knows that Jesus is alive indeed. Jesus makes Peter go grab the net (because of course Peter left the disciples to do it), and there are 153 fish inside this net. A net that didn’t break.

Scholars say that at the time, there were only 153 species of fish known in the world.

Biblical scholars say that this net–the net that didn’t break–is representative of the Church. The 153 fish represent the different types of people in the world. When the disciples were trying to go back to just “fishing for fish,” Jesus had bigger plans to show them why they are to continue “fishing for men.”

The net is big enough for everybody. No longer is the net confined to one type of person. Everybody is allowed.

What does this mean for the Church today?

Who are the fish that we are excluding from the net, that perhaps need the safety and comfort of the net? Why are we creating an “insiders vs outsiders” mentality in the church, when all of us were made in the precious image of God? We all deserve the net equally, and the fisherman shouldn’t discriminate from who he allows to be a part of the Church.

What is the baggage that we think will exclude us from the net? You see, the net can hold it all without breaking. It can hold all of your doubts, insecurities, sins, shortcomings, failures, successes, and anything else. Being a certain type of fish doesn’t get you tossed back into the sea.

Why are we not united like the net? One net, 153 fish. This is the Kingdom of God. This is the one net that can hold it all and won’t break. This is the one net that can hold you, me, your crazy uncle, and the person in the office next to you, the rude lady who flipped you off in traffic, your ex-boothang, that person on Facebook who has political views that make you want to hurl, your neighbor whose family looks different from yours, your landlord, and Taco Bell employees at 3am.

I’m so thankful to be a part of a congregation that acknowledges that we are all so incredibly different, but it’s one Kingdom that holds us all.

What are you fishing for? Are you freely fishing for men, all men? Or are you acting as if the resurrection never happened, and you’re back to exclusively fishing for fish?

Lessons from my one-eyed cat

god, love

I have a cat.

A one-eyed cat.

Most of my friends know this–my Facebook and Instagram were covered with pictures of her for a while, and while I’ve slowed down on snapping every cute thing she does, I post about her regularly.

Iris is very affectionate. She is always begging for love, and it can be pretty annoying. She always wants to be petted and cuddled. She’s also very vocal,, so she mews and mews and does a weird cry so you’ll pet her. And in the middle of the night, when she’s all alone, her cries as she roams my home sound like, “Hewwo, hello???”

I promise it is cute–most of the time.

This morning, Iris interrupted my prayer time meowing, so I held her as I prayed.   I just asked God to use this time to speak to me, when she jumped out of my arms and began crying out. I said, “Iris, I had you in my arms. Why did you jump out? It’s your own fault that you’re upset.”

And that’s when it dawned on me:  God always has room for us, room for affection and love and grace.

We are the ones who reject it, run away from it. And yet, we are the ones complaining loudly., treating God as if he is the one who abandoned us.

We are like my annoying, affectionate, vocal cat.  And just like I love Iris and think she’s the best animal on the planet, God has the feels for us even more.

(PS: When I named Iris, I named her part because of the eye situation, part because I love old lady names, and part because of the Goo Goo Dolls song. The entire song is about a person who feels Isolated, but wants so badly to be loved. I didn’t know Iris the cat well enough to understand how fitting this would be. Ha.)

On David and Bathsheba

faith, god, lessons, sin

We talked about David and Bathsheba yesterday with 5th and 6th grade…

…no, I don’t have a death wish.

When I heard this story growing up, I don’t think I got it. I think it was honestly told to me as a warning against sexual sin.

But to focus on the sin itself–whether we talk about the adultery, the murder, the lying–that misses the point completely.

And, as always, a sixth grader pointed it out to me.

When David confesses and repents in the 51st Psalm, he says, “You would be just to punish me.” He knows he deserves everything to be taken away from him-after all, it was God who gave it to him.

David also says, “You don’t desire a simple burnt offering as my sacrifice. What you desire is my heart and spirit to be broken for you–you will never turn that away.”

David knows that, although God could punish him and no one could call him unjust, that God can’t turn away a repentant heart. It is outside of his nature.

Sounds pretty simple, eh? God just requires our heart.

But it sounds freaking scary and outside of our nature.

It is really risky to be vulnerable with God.

It is scary to open our hearts up to anybody, but for some reason, it’s even scarier with the one who made our heart in his own image.

We have this tendency to smooth over our actions and admit they never happened. We move on with our life, and if we feel especially bad, do some sort of “penance” to pay for that sin–say something extra-kind, give extra in the offering plate, make sure we attend church that Sunday, pray more.

But God doesn’t want us to do more. He wants us more.

It’s like we’re back in the Garden of Eden, afraid to be vulnerable with God and let him see the “dirty parts” of us, and so we cover ourselves with fig leaves, thinking he won’t notice.

Because bearing our naked soul is scary.

“Jesus Feminist” and the Why We Need Women Theologians

church, Evangelicalism, theology, women

Although John Piper and I would disagree on how this plays out, a quote of his has stood out to me:

Wimpy theology makes wimpy women. Wimpy theology simply does not give a woman a God that is big enough, strong enough, wise enough, and good enough to handle the realities of life in a way that magnifies the infinite worth of Jesus Christ.”

A few months back I read the book “Jesus Feminist” by Sarah Bessey. The book is simply marvelous. A lot of female theologians tend to bullhorn their theology in a way that is counteractive.  Bessey writes in a way that is empathetic and has a way of saying, “You may disagree, but we both love the Lord the same. Neither of us is more right than the other.”

Her book reminds me why we need female theologians:   We need people to express God’s Word in ways that are sensitive, nurturing, and that narrate the stories of our lives. Bessey’s book does that.

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

So may there be grace and kindness, gentleness and love in our hearts, especially for the ones who we believe are profoundly wrong. The Good News is proclaimed when we love each other. I pray for unity beyond conformity, because loving-kindness preaches the gospel more beautifully and truthfully than any satirical blog post or point-by-point dismantling of another disciple’s reputation and teaching. (p5)

Years ago, I practiced anger and cynicism, like a pianist practices scales, over and over. I practiced being defensive —about my choices and my mothering, my theology and my politics. And then I went on the offense. I repeated outrage and anger. I jumped, Pavlovian, to right every wrong and defend every truth, refute every inflammatory blog post, pontificate about every question. Any sniff of disagreement was a dinner bell clanging to my anger: Come and get it! Rally the troops! Like many of us, I called it critical thinking to hide my bitter and critical heart, and I wondered why I had no real joy in this ongoing search for truth. . . I won’t desecrate beauty with cynicism anymore. I won’t confuse critical thinking with a critical spirit, and I will practice, painfully, over and over, patience and peace until my gentle answers turn away even my own wrath (pp. 5-6).

We can choose to move with God, further into justice and wholeness, or we can choose to prop up the world’s dead systems, baptizing injustice and power in sacred language.  (p. 14).

I’m pretty sure my purpose here on earth isn’t to win arguments or perform hermeneutical gymnastics to impress the wealthiest 2 percent of the world. (p. 16).

Throughout the records of the Gospels, I saw how Jesus didn’t treat women any differently than men, and I liked that. We weren’t too precious for words, dainty like fine china . We received no free pass or delicate worries about our ability to understand or contribute or work. Women were not too sweet or weak for the conviction of the Holy Spirit, or too manipulative and prone to jealousy, insecurity, and deception to push back the kingdom of darkness. Jesus did not patronize, and he did not condescend. (pp. 17-18).

“God bless your mother— the womb from which you came, and the breasts that nursed you!” Yet Jesus replied to this common blessing with “But even more blessed are all who hear the word of God and put it into practice.”  Women aren’t simply or only blessed by giving birth to greatness; no, we are all blessed when we hear the Word of God—Jesus— and put it into practice. We don’t rely on secondhand blessings in Jesus.  (pp. 20-21).

I stopped expecting everyone to experience God or church or life like I thought it should be done. In fact , I stopped using the word should about God altogether, I sought God, and he was faithful to answer me. I came to know him as “Abba”— a Daddy. He set me free from crippling approval addiction, from my Evangelical Hero Complex, from the fear of man. He bathed my feet, bound my wounds, gave rest to my soul, restored the joy of church and community to our lives. I learned the difference between critical thinking and being just plain critical. And I found out that he is more than enough, always will be more than enough— yesterday, today, forever. (pp. 49-50).

Stay there in the questions, in the doubts, in the wonderings and loneliness, the tension of living in the Now and the Not Yet of the Kingdom of God, your wounds and hurts and aches, until you are satisfied that Abba is there too. You will not find your answers by ignoring the cry of your heart or by living a life of intellectual and spiritual dishonesty. (p. 52).

People want black-and-white answers, but Scripture is rainbow arch across a stormy sky. Our sacred book is not an indexed answer book or life manual; it is also a grand story, mystery, invitation, truth and wisdom, and a passionate love letter. (pp. 56-57).

It’s dangerous to cherry-pick a few stand-alone verses, particularly when they are used as a weapon to silence and intimidate, effectively benching half the church in the midst of holy harvest season when the harvest is plentiful and the workers are few. But it is equally dangerous to simply get on with doing what we “feel” is right. We cannot ignore any portions of Scripture simply because they make our (post) modern selves uncomfortable. We can’t simply dismiss the parts of the Bible we don’t like— not if we call ourselves followers of The (whole) Way. Nor should we weigh the desires or practices of our own culture and personal experiences to the exclusion of Scripture or tradition  or reason. Theologian N. T. Wright believes that to affirm the “authority of Scripture” is precisely “not to say, ‘We know what scripture means and don’t need to raise anymore questions.’ It is always a way of saying that the church in each generation must make fresh and rejuvenated efforts to understand scripture more fully and live by it more thoroughly, even if that means cutting across cherished traditions.” (pp. 58-59)

But then who is the spiritual head of your home? Only Jesus. Only ever our Jesus. (p. 74).

No, I am a biblical woman because I live and move and have my being in the daily reality of being a follower of Jesus, living in the reality of being loved, in full trust of my Abba. I am a biblical woman because I follow in the footsteps of all the biblical women who came before me.  (pp. 97-98).

Stop waiting for someone else to say that you count, that you matter, that you have worth, that you have a voice, a place, that you are called. Didn’t you know, darling? The One who knit you together in your mother’s womb is the one singing these words over you, you are chosen. Stop waiting for someone else to validate your created self: that is done. Stop holding your breath, working to earn through your apologetics and memorized arguments, through your quietness, your submission, your home, your children, and your “correct” doctrine that God has already freely given to you. Because, darling , you are valuable. You have worth, not because of your gender or your vocation or your marital status. Not because of your labels or your underlined approved-by-the-gatekeepers books or your accomplishments or your checked-off tick boxes next to the celebration you’ve mistaken as a job description in Proverbs 31. (pp. 192-193).