Re-Inventing Christmas

Re-InventingChristmas

It’s “the season” – the time of all things Christmassy. My house is decorated to an acceptably-low standard, my pants are cutting into my cookie-consumer waist, Nat King Cole is crooning a Yule-tide tune on Pandora. It’s beginning to look a LOT like Christmas.

And yet, people are complaining about “the war against Christmas”. Apparently, materialism and Santa are trying to edge in against Christ’s rightful place in the season. They will know we are Christians by the way we don’t say “Happy Holidays”, and all that. As with many of the culturally “big” holidays, I have some mixed feelings about it.

christmasgiftsPersonally, we have not told our kids about Santa. This decision also means I need to give my 6 year old a “don’t tell the other kids that Santa isn’t real and make them cry” pep talk before she goes for play dates at this time of the year. So far though, we are doing okay. Santa stories and Santa hats are fun, but there are no gifts from Santa under our tree. We do have a tree. We will eat ham. We will sing carols and go to a Christmas Eve service. We will exchange gifts. We will read the story of Jesus’ birth out loud to our children, and thank God for the gift of Emmanuel.

But having said all that, I’m still not willing to “defend” the Christian Christmas, because as far as I understand – we kind of invented it anyway. And rather than fight for Christmas “as it used to be” in the beginning, I want to put my energies into re-inventing it in the present.

Before you throw a candy cane in my direction, let me explain.

Believers have a long history of  ascribing spiritually significant meaning to celebrations. We are by nature people who look for meaning throughout the calendar. We celebrate rites of passage and comings-of-age. There are things we are commanded to remember (like taking communion), but there are also things we have the freedom to commemorate and remember, and to invest such acts with culturally significant meaning. Humanity has a history of creating traditions and turning them into “teachable moments” for the years to come. We do it in families (think of birthdays), in countries (think of Thanksgiving), in politics (think of MLK day). And we do it in spiritual communities too.

In his relationship with Israel, God commanded a number of specific “commemorative” festivals in their calendar to focus their attention and center their community. They were to remember the Exodus over Passover. They were to remember their need for the forgiveness of sin at Yom Kippur with the Day of Atonement. There were feasts for remembrance and celebration, commanded by God and commemorated by his people.

purim Over and above the mandated ones, though, the Hebrews also added festivals of celebration to their calendar. Both Hannukah and Purim were established by Rabbinic decree to commemorate significant times of deliverance.   The feast of Purim (for the Hebrew word “pur”, which means “lot”, as in “the casting of the lots”, as in “it was a risky thing”) celebrates the deliverance of the Jewish people which is recorded in the book of Esther. While God’s name is not mentioned in the book, it is included in the Canon of Scripture and God was clearly and rightly credited for having providentially raised up Esther “for such a time as this” in order to save his people.

Esther 9:20-28 records how Purim was established:

Mordecai recorded these events, and he sent letters to all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerxes, near and far, 21 to have them celebrate annually the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar 22 as the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month when their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration. He wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor.

23 So the Jews agreed to continue the celebration they had begun, doing what Mordecai had written to them. 24 For Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them and had cast the pur (that is, the lot) for their ruin and destruction. 25 But when the plot came to the king’s attention, he issued written orders that the evil scheme Haman had devised against the Jews should come back onto his own head, and that he and his sons should be impaled on poles. 26 (Therefore these days were called Purim, from the word pur.) Because of everything written in this letter and because of what they had seen and what had happened to them, 27 the Jews took it on themselves to establish the custom that they and their descendants and all who join them should without fail observe these two days every year, in the way prescribed and at the time appointed. 28 These days should be remembered and observed in every generation by every family, and in every province and in every city. And these days of Purim should never fail to be celebrated by the Jews—nor should the memory of these days die out among their descendants.

Purim celebrates God’s rescue, but it was believing Jews who took the initiative to remember it.

I see Christmas as our own kind of “Purim”. God did not command and create Purim – His thankful children did as a way to remember and honor him. And just as Purim was “invented” by the Jews to remember God’s deliverance during the time of Queen Esther, maybe there is space for us to affirm that it is okay to have “invented” Christmas, even though it had Pagan origins. Yes, Christmas has Yule-tide origins around the pagan  winter solstice. Yes, Saturnalia, Juvenalia and Mithra the sun god have longer cultural credentials for the month of December than Jesus, who most certainly was NOT born on December 25th.

But, in a way similar to Mordecai, perhaps, Pope Julius I decreed that once a year, on December 25th, the church should remember and celebrate the wonderful truth that God had come to earth: born of a virgin, born as a baby, born under the law to redeem those who were bound by it.

Christmas celebrates God’s rescue, but believing Christians took the initiative to remember it.

Year by year, following the saints who have gone before us, we choose to invest December with meaning and set aside time to remember the wonder of the incarnation. When we choose a time of year to give gifts (and remember the Gift), to decorate trees (and remember the Shoot from the stump of Jesse), to put up stars (and remember the Star) and hang wreaths – we are not being cheesy cultural plagiarists. Rather, we are doing what people of Faith have done through the ages: using our freedom and creativity to create space for us to remember, to celebrate and to give thanks.

 

(Updated from the archives)

 

What women want

I’m over at Ungrind again this week. Here’s a sneak peek – click over here to read the whole thing 🙂

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I settled down at the table and watched my daughter compose her face in her “now-I-have-something-important-to-say” expression: eyes level, chin down, forehead hopeful.

She paused dramatically and in a butter-cream-smooth tone, said: “Mom, if you just gave us more of the things we want, there would be less crying and being angry with you.”

Reader, I literally snorted with laughter. I laughed, and laughed, and laughed, and laughed until the tears streamed down my cheeks, infuriating my daughter more with each passing second. In hindsight, I probably should have laughed a little less.

I laughed because this was not the first time I was getting advice from my kids on how to do a better job as their mom. Not unlike the young tyrant from Calvin and Hobbes, my children are full of suggestions on how I can “improve my ratings,” or secure better responses from them.

In this particular instance, my 6-year old was angling for me to change my mind about whether or not she could have her ears pierced: a decision we had already said no to. She entreated us daily. For weeks on end. Sometimes with tantrums. Sometimes with stony silences. And on that particular day, she resorted to cool, calm reason. If we would just give her what she wanted, she’d be less angry with us.

Somewhere in the midst of that laughing, I felt the Holy Spirit tap me on the shoulder. Once again, He directed me to consider that panoramic vantage point into God’s parenting of us, His children, which we become privy to when we become parents ourselves.

(continue reading at Ungrind…)

That Time My Pot Got Me In Trouble

That Time My Pot Got Me In Trouble

“There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it.*” We pulled over at the side of the road to admire the handmade pottery of a Zulu craftswoman. Her earthenware was rough: clay scooped by the handful from the earth, shaped into a rustic earthenware pot with a sturdy swell at the base tapering into a gorgeous, distinguished neck. I knew we were flying half way around the world just a few days later and that our luggage allowance was limited, but I had to have it.  It was all the rough beauty of Africa in a single urn.

My brother-in-law constructed a custom box for it: repurposing old computer boxes with tape and tenacity. We stuffed its graceful neck with strips of raggedy, old newspaper. I remember brushing away mouse droppings and wondering if they would cause the sniffer dogs at customs any alarm: animal products, and all that. I found the biggest red marker possible, and stenciled FRAGILE! THIS WAY UP!! in alarmist lettering on every side.

I checked my bags through one, two and then three flights, but kept my cardboard box with me on each. I cradled it baby-like through each security checkpoint; held my breath through every bumpy landing. 11,000 miles later, I exhaled slowly as we taxied down the final runway. I was nearly home.

A long, snaking line at Passport Control. Arrivals forms efficiently scanned. A scurry through baggage claim. And finally: the last stop at customs and excise duty – a checkpoint which had only ever required a polite nod and a wave before the blessed reunions of the arrivals hall.

But not this time.

A man in uniform politely waved me to a counter, where I dutifully unpacked all my belongings and watched in fascination as my underwear and toiletries appeared in ghostly X-ray outlines on the screen. My polite chit-chat was interrupted by the customs official.

“What’s in the box?” she asked.

“It’s my pot,” I answered proudly, ready to tell her of the lovely road running from Ixopo into the hills. The expression on her face stopped me short.

What is it?” she snapped.

I pointed to the screen where the graceful outline was clearly visible. “It’s my p…… ”

In slow motion, I realized how incriminating my South African noun sounded to her Californian ears. My scalp prickled.

“It’s my vase! It’s my vase!” I sputtered. “I promise! There is absolutely NO pot in there whatsoever. Just a vase. Made of clay. Nothing else.”

*******

It’s not the only time my words have raised eyebrows. Our first year in the States was replete with moments of social humiliation and hilarity, but slowly our comfort with the local language grew. Our settling into life and community was matched (and facilitated) by a settling into the language of the community. A growing sense of belonging wasn’t just about getting to know people, or being known by them. Grafting into our community included grafting the vernacular into our conversation: once we talked like locals, we began to earn street cred. All our words were still said in a South African accent, but the actual words themselves changed too: diaper, not nappy. Faucet, not tap. Gas, not petrol. Oh for the love: eraser, not rubber.

Accidentally choosing my native words in conversation was like waving an “outsider” flag. Conversation would stall while we awkwardly stumbled to translate our intention. An offer to “fetch someone on my way” was met with suspicion and a shudder of offense. “Fetch” is a verb used for dogs chasing sticks. The more appropriate word here was “to give someone a ride”, or to “pick them up”. We made dozens of these adjustments: taking down linguistic barriers so we could reach across to form deeper friendships.

*******

I noticed it in the church most of all, probably because it was the place I needed to belong most keenly.

The cultural phenomenon of figuring out “who belongs” as defined by their language is a heightened reality within the evangelical church. Aware of theological threats on every side, we parse our words carefully. Some of Christendom’s deepest divides have been chiseled by disagreements over words. Eastern Orthodoxy and Western Christendom parted ways over precise words, because of course it wasn’t just about the words – but rather that the particular words represented very nuanced (and divergent) theological views. Church history is littered with word-wars.

And the church today is no different. We think carefully about whether we describe ourselves as reformed, or evangelical. As a Christian, or a Jesus-follower. We choose those terms because they represent something significant about the way we understand our faith. It means something to be a Baptist rather than a Presbyterian. To be an Anglican rather than an Episcopalian.

Beneath the layer of formal Christian titles, there is the second tier of language, in the way we talk about everyday things. Do we talk about being “born again”, or having “come to Christ”, or “becoming a believer”. To move from a culture where people are “born again” into a culture where people “come to Christ” presents some challenges. When you tell the new group that you were “born again” – instead of initially seeing a similarity (yes! you are one of us! you belong to Christ!), the hearers might at first hear difference (that’s not how I would have put it. I wonder if she’s one of those hellfire and damnation folks. They talk about born again a lot. If she says “the blood of the lamb” in the next sentence, I’m outta here.)

It took nearly a year in the US for me to feel I could really trust my new church theologically. They spoke a different dialect of Christianese: similar enough to mine to understand it, but just different enough for me to be on guard. Just in case. Like the maps of yore, the edges of my theological map contains seas marked “here be dragons”. After a year, I had learned enough to know that even though the expressions of faith were phrased a little differently to where I’d come from – we were still kin, and the bedrock of our faith was common after all.

******

Every new believer we meet, whether we intend it or not, faces new customs when they visit our churches, and not unlike the Customs Official I met, we find ourselves wondering: what’s in your box?

Let’s not be alarmed if the answer comes out as something like ‘pot’.  It may well be that they really do love Jesus,  but they speak a slightly different Christian dialect. We have eternity to figure out the details – but for now, let’s give some grace to those who speak with a different faith ‘accent’ before we jump to conclusions.

  • The opening lines from Alan Paton’s most beautiful book, Cry, The Beloved Country.

The Fierce, Strong, Wild Heart of God

If my memory was good enough to write a memoir: a story of spiritual significance and coming-of-age, this is the story I would want to write. It has moved me to tears more often than I can think of. I had heard many people say that having children was a blessing… but what I didn’t know was that for me, the greatest blessing of having children would be learning what it meant to be a most beloved child of God myself. 

When my friend Adriel Booker asked me to write for her series on the Motherheart of God, I knew instantly what I wanted to write. I know God as my Father, but Oh! It’s just amazing how becoming a mother has revealed God’s tender heart to me in a way I couldn’t have imagined. Here’s the beginning, and then head over to Adriel’s to read the rest. (And while you’re there, look around. I love Adriel’s blog.)

Exploring-the-Motherheart-of-God-

I went into motherhood with carefully weighed expectations:  I knew there would be fierce joy, thousands of photos too cute to delete, sleep deprivation, tantrum-taming, and way more contact with bodily fluids than I’d ever had before.  I also expected a few years spiritual lethargy.  With less time and energy for church, bible study and ministry, I expected to change gears for a couple of years: from spiritual ‘drive’ to a humming ‘neutral’.

I could not have been more wrong.

Friends, nothing has revealed God’s heart to me like becoming a mother. Nothing.

***

In the early days, there was the taking of pre-natal vitamins, and watching what I ate, of giving up skiing and wine without complaint as I marveled at the tiny being utterly dependent on my welcome. In the minutes of the first ultrasound, tears spilled down my cheeks as I saw a heartbeat flutter on the screen: life within my life, a soul of another already contained within mine. Oh, how I loved! And I shivered when, in that moment, I felt the words settle in deep: If this is how you love the little one dependent on you and completely unaware of it, how much more do I not love you, dependent and unaware and so utterly precious to me? 

(Click over to read the rest, won’t you?)

When What I Desire Is The End of Suffering

teachustowantMy friend Jen Pollock Michel has written a beautiful book called Teach Us To Want: On Longing, Ambition and the Life of Faith. It is exquisitely written, theologically profound, and I am savoring each page. Jen asked a few writers to share their thoughts on desire and what we really, really want. I was honored to guest post over at her blog last month: this here is the more detailed version.

The prayers of my youth were filled with desire. Prayers for a boyfriend, for college scholarships, for permission to go on the sleepover at the popular kids’ house. I wanted those things with a guilty, drenched need, and did not know where else to turn than to the God who gave good gifts. Those were the good gifts, as far as I could understand them.

The prayers of my adulthood still carry echoes of the prayers of my youth. In truth: I still pray about men, opportunities and friendships. However, I find that the life of being a mom and friend in a sin-soaked world are leading me to pray a host of different prayers of desire: “Please, I want it to be better. Please, let it not hurt anymore.”

We have weathered a good number of storms over the years, but I remember clearly the first tsunami of pain which made me pray that prayer most fervently. Our family was devastated by violent crime and we had no answers, no balm.

Instead we had questions, the most oppressive of which was this: “why would a good God let this happen?” We wanted so badly for things to be well with our loved ones, we desired good things from the one who “gives people the desires of their heart” (Psalm 37:4), and wasn’t he supposed to be the one who knew how to give his children good things? If we asked for a fish, would he give us a snake? If we asked for an egg, would he give us a scorpion? (Luke 11:11-12)

And yet there we were: snake-bitten by crime, scorpion-stung by violence.

I would not say that, having endured that trial, that I solved the ‘problem of evil’. That particular suffering challenged my faith significantly, but even in the absence of finding intellectually satisfying answers to my heartbroken questions, I still found myself drawing closer to God rather than pulling away from him.

Unglamorous as this may sound, I believe the main reason I stuck with Jesus was that I didn’t have any better alternatives. Again and again I was drawn back to John 6, where the disciples challenge Jesus with his teaching saying “this is hard to accept!” Jesus’ challenged them in reply: “will you leave me also?” Peter’s reply rang in my ears for weeks: “to whom else shall we go? We know and have believed that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:60-69)

In the wake of our trauma, I considered my options: I could deny there was a God (not really an option.) I could opt for a different religion: Islam (but Allah seemed so capricious.) Hinduism (but I really wasn’t persuaded, and the pictures gave me the creeps.) It was looking into Buddhism, though, which finally pointed me back to Christianity.

The four noble truths of Buddhism teach this:

All is suffering (dukkha), and

 Suffering is caused by desire.

 If one can eliminate desire, one can eliminate suffering.

 Finally, the Noble Eight-fold Path can eliminate desire.

My soul rebelled. The notion that the suffering we were experiencing was caused by a (wrongful) desire to not have things hurt seemed unconscionably inhuman. Far from helping me find peace, Buddhism made me angry: it was simply NOT TRUE that we were suffering because we had a wrongful desire not to suffer.

I needed someone to say that the suffering was wrong.

I needed to know that longing for wholeness was good.

I needed someone to say that ‘good’ was, in fact, good; and that ‘evil’ was truly ‘evil’.

I needed to know that my desire for things to be right was not a denial of my truest spiritual self, but in fact a deep expression of my truest spiritual self.

In Jesus, I found someone who did just that. He wept over death. He “set his face” towards the things he wanted to accomplish. He grieved over the bad, and gave his own life “for the joy set before him”. My soul needed to know that both grief and hope were appropriate and full expressions of the human experience.  In Jesus, I found someone who acknowledged and affirmed that both my desires for joy and relationship and my desires for pain and suffering to end were good things. And more than that, they were things he desired for us too.

The timeline in which those desires would be met still needed some negotiation.

But the desires themselves were good and God-given, even in the valley of shadows.

The prayers of my adulthood are filled with such prayers.

 

Immigration: the unforgivable sin?

When I share the story of how brutal the path to citizenship is for us, people are often shocked.

We are not what people have in mind when they think of ‘immigrants.’  We are white. We speak English. We have graduate level degrees. And yet even for us, as documented workers, it sometimes seems nearly impossible that we will be able to gain permanent residency. The path is so much narrower and steeper than people realize, so we speak up.

I speak up because I would love legal residency to be more easily within our reach. As a mom, it would give me so much peace of mind to know we could continue to build a life in the U.S. with our children. But mostly, I speak up because I can. As a legal immigrant, I have a first-hand perspective on just how harsh the current legislation can be, and I also have the freedom to speak about it without fear of being deported.

And so I speak and write in favor of equitable and reasonable immigration reform. I believe it is the right thing to do ethically, and it is the wise thing to do socially and economically. However, whenever I raise the issue I am met with this response: “We’re not objecting to you — because you got here legally and have obeyed all the laws. We are objecting to all the law-breakers who are here illegally: if they disrespected the law, they should not be rewarded for it!”

I am never quite sure how to respond.(Read the rest over at Sojourners….)

A Year Without Seasons

Photo by Joisey Showaa - Four Seasons (Flickr Creative Commons)

Sunday’s church service was warm and welcoming. The music was great, the sermon was rich. Just like the Sunday before that, and the Sunday before that, and the Sunday before that.

In this way, our church is a little like San Diego – a place which weather.com describes as having a “moderate climate, and an endless 70 degree summer.” San Diego is the epitome of “temperate”: always warm, but not hot. Cool at times, but never cold. The people from there carry the happy-go-lucky air of those whose only shoes are a pair of flip-flops. Some say it is the most glorious weather of all.

San Diego is warm and welcoming. But San Diego has no seasons.

Denver, on the other hand, has seasons. Denver summer days average 90 degrees, with occasional triple-digit spikes. Their winter temperatures shiver up to no more than 45F. Summer is Hot(!), and winter is Cold(!), and as the temperatures plummet during the Fall transition, the leaves burst out in red, yellow and orange songs. Summer has heat, Fall has color, Winter has snow play, and Spring bring the hope of brave bulbs peeking out after their long hibernation. Some say this is the most glorious weather of all.

On Sunday morning, I sat in my church grateful for its San Diego-type climate. But there was a part of me that longed for a little bit of Denver. For Sunday was Pentecost, and not one word was said or sung to acknowledge it. It was a Sunday like any other.

For believers who observe the liturgical calendar, Sunday was celebrated as the church’s birthday: the day when the Holy Spirit was poured out to fill the church as God’s new temple. It was the day when the church was empowered and commissioned to go into the world, when Babel with its one-language-divided was answered with the arrival of the Spirit and many-languages-united in understanding. It was a day to celebrate the unification of the separated families of humanity.

There was a reason that thousands of Jews were gathered at the temple on that first pentecost. It fell on the Jewish holiday of Shavuot: the day when God’s spirit was poured out on Israel at Sinai and the law was written on tablets of stone (Exodus 19). Hundreds of years later, it was at Shavuot that God’s Spirit poured out the Holy Spirit who was to write the new covenant on human hearts (Jeremiah 31:33) – the day we know as Pentecost.

Pentecost is a joyful ‘summer’ celebration, it basks in sonlight after a season of sadness. Following the stripped, autumnal days of Lent’s loss and the wintery shadow of Good Friday, Easter Sunday – with its promise of new life and a new birth – looks and feels like Spring: the joy of bulbs peeking from the snow after it seemed nothing would survive the dead of winter. Pentecost is like summer: the full joy following the hope of Spring.

The church calendar, and the liturgy which accompanies it, take us through spiritual seasons. It leads us through repentance, grief, waiting, enlightenment, and just as those who have endured the winter crave the returning sun all the more, so too the liturgical calendar celebrates joy and renewal and worship with the gratitude of those who have known loss.

My insightful friend Stanford (who also goes to San Diegoesque church), recently observed that in churches where we do not have a formal liturgy, the worship and teaching pastors carry a heavy theological load. Week by week, they bear the weight of incorporating all that needs be said about history and purpose, mission and calling, sin and salvation, suffering and hope.

It is up to them to ensure that the whole counsel of scripture (and not just our most comfortable parts) is read: that we have honored and acknowledged Scriptures’ laments and judgments as much as we have celebrated its deliverance and joy. It is up to them to lead and instruct us in prayer. They alone bear the burden of expanding our rather narrow emotional and theological bandwidth: a weight which, in Denverish churches, is shared by the church fathers.

Liturgy gets a bad rap: to many it seems rote and routine, soulless and stilted. And I daresay, without the Holy Spirit, it is. But non-liturgical churches have their own unspoken liturgy – the same phrases we say, pray and sing, week after week. They just aren’t written down in a book. And without the Holy Spirit, it can be just as soulless and stilted.

I love my church, and I like worshiping in San Diego. I love the people in my San Diego, and I am not looking to move.

But sometimes, I still find my soul longing for seasons.

*thanks to Stanford Gibson, Lois Tverberg, Tim Keller and Alastair Roberts for their helpful thoughts- links are included above*

 

Help, I have a transgender friend

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Dear Bronwyn,

I have a new friend who recently asked if she could share something with me without me judging her. She told me she was actually born a boy and has been living as a girl since she was 14 (now 17). He had wanted to be a girl since a young age, but his mom would not allow it until he almost committed suicide. Questions that followed were in regards to dating, if she should tell the person she is with, what to wear, how do do makeup for the date, etc. I have been struggling with how to respond to such things so that I am not being too involved and encouraging living as a girl, but also not coming off as judgmental while still living out my own christian beliefs and making them clear. How can I continue to build a trusting and positive friendship with her, and lovingly share Gods truths? – P.C.

Dear P.C.,

A few years ago, I met someone who had had gender reassignment surgery. She had lived as a man until well into her adult life, had married and had kids, and then in her 30s made the choice to start living as a woman. After a few years, she followed it up with surgery to ‘seal the deal’. It cost her her marriage, her career, her relationship with her kids – and it caused a terrific amount of stress in the extended family: some were accepting, others refused to ever come to a family meeting where she (or ‘he’, as they insisted) was present.

I knew some of this background before meeting her, but I was still a little unprepared when I finally met her and her boyfriend (!!) I did my best to be loving, friendly and attentive – but I confess I was really unnerved when I got up to use the restroom and she got up and accompanied me, “because we girls go to the restroom in pairs.” A few minutes later I was washing my hands and she came up next to me and observed: “You also have big feet – don’t you find it a hassle to find nice shoes that fit?” I didn’t have a clue what to say. Yes, I find it hard to find big shoes – but I have big feet for someone who was born a woman. I mumbled something and skedaddled out of there.

All of this is to say: I can relate to your feeling of confusion, but I don’t feel I have excellent answers for situations like this. What I can say, though, is this:

You are already showing love and friendship to her by being a safe person who listened without judgment. You have shown welcome. I do believe this is the most important thing Jesus would have us do: he welcomed people and did not lecture or judge those who were hurting. It is one of the most wonderful things in all the gospel that Jesus did not require us to change before he loved us or bid us ‘come’ (Romans 5:8).  That you have shown a willingness to love her as she is in itself is a powerful witness to the gospel.

Secondly, your job as a friend is not to be a counselor or psychologist: you cannot possibly untangle all the things going on in her head. But you can listen. You can try to understand. And that is more powerful than you might realize.

Thirdly, your job as a friend is not to be the Holy Spirit. He is the one who prompts and enables real change in us, when it is time for that change. I want you to know you can love her freely without feeling like you need to act as her conscience too.

Fourthly, your job as a friend IS to be honest about who you are, even as she is being honest about who she is. So just as she is entrusting her true self to you, when the time comes – you must honor and respect her enough to entrust your true thoughts to her – but do this with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). Remember: “I don’t know” is often a very useful and honest answer to know you have. If she asks your thoughts about how to apply lipstick or dating, I would say it is okay to answer “I don’t know. I have never been in your situation or had a friend in your situation, and I have no idea what to suggest.” It is okay to say “this is an awkward question for me, and I don’t have an answer but I’m glad you feel safe asking me.”

Fifthly, if she asks about your faith, tell her about Jesus. Tell her about the hope that you have, and what God means to you – she needs that more than she needs a position statement on being LGBT. We are saved by grace, not by keeping the 10 commandments. I know that her sexuality might seem like the “big sin issue” from one perspective – but in truth it is only one of a NUMBER of complex issues which God, in his love and wisdom, cares about.

Finally, I would offer this one piece of advice if she’s wondering whether to disclose her situation to other friends. She is in an awful situation where not telling someone about her identity means that she can never be fully known in that friendship. She will always be afraid of being found out or rejected – and in truth, the longer one keeps that information, the harder it is to disclose it later in a relationship without someone feeling really betrayed. However, telling someone from the get-go  risks a huge amount of rejection and enmity with people who may not have made good friends either. So I would say: she doesn’t have to tell everyone or wear it on a pin – but if there is a relationship which she feels has potential for being a significant friendship, she will have to make the decision to trust them with that information… and I daresay earlier might be less damaging than later.

Unequipped as you may feel to be her friend, you are being a friend right now. I want to encourage you to keep being that friend: be kind, generous, loving. Be honest. And I do believe God will use your friendship to her to show her something of His welcome.

Related posts: Why I Won’t Take a Stand On Gay Marriage, The Parable of the (Gay) Samaritan

Photo Credit: Giulia Cortigiano -Ci piace! La vogliamo in: Friendship never ends (Flickr Creative Commons)

When a Wounded Unicorn Goes Shopping

Unicorn shopping

Unfair. That’s what it is.

The skin malady of the teen years is acne: those years of blackheads and pock-marked pustules which scream one’s hormonal changes to the the world. And the skin malady of the aged years is wrinkles: the years of crows feet and feathering and (if you’ve lived well), laugh lines.

But here I am, on the business end of my 30s, looking in the mirror and horrified to see BOTH my fair share of wrinkles AS WELL AS a colossus of a pimple on my forehead. And I just wanted to say: it’s not fair. I expected to trade my youthful slender and stay-up-all-night energy (with its acne) for the older, softer body-after-kids (with its wrinkles). To be lumped with both the valleys of wrinkles AND the mountains of peaks of pimples feels a bit like paying double taxes.

Thanks to my grandmothers’ particularly fair genetic skin type, I also have a good sprinkling of moles and nearly forty (40!!) soft, pink scar lines where doctors have decided that some of those moles were wholly unholy and cut a holey in me to excise the risk. So there’s that. The moles and the scars and the laugh lines (yay!) and the wrinkles. But the pimple is just unfair. And it’s the type I haven’t had for a while: the type that’s so inflamed it hurts when I raise my eyebrows in surprise. This morning I will brave the grocery store, taking care when I round the aisle corners not to bash into anyone with my cart or my inflamed unicorn horn. Shoppers, beware.

Of course, this is not the first time I’ve grappled with feelings of betrayal as I’m getting older. My hair is greying too, and so my daily jaunt to the mirror also raises the question “to dye or not to dye?” These were not the 50 shades of grey I had hoped for.

As always, this requires a little self-directed pep-talk before heading out the door. For if nothing else, becoming a Mom has taught me that my body is not just for looking at, it’s for living in. To despise it for not “looking right” is to dishonor a great gift. As such, it is worth ten seconds of my time to check my inner critic and give myself a different script. My face is fearfully and wonderfully made, and my skin is doing its job exactly: providing a flexible, waterproof, self-renewing shield between the germs out-there and my organs in-there. My wrinkly face will wrinkle in laughter today. My moley skin will provide entertainment for my toddler who likes to count the “dots”. My ageing hands will caress little faces.

And, thanks to a sense of humor and a mental picture of a unicorn, my giant pimple will make me laugh this morning as I turn around corners at the grocery aisle.

“Attention all shoppers! Attention all shoppers! There’s a wounded unicorn in aisle 4….”

When My Children Squabble

sibling squabble

When my children squabble, they shout loudly and I tell them they don’t need to shout: I can hear them.

When my children squabble, they point out how well they are doing and how evil the others are by comparison.

When my children squabble, they are so puffed up with their “rightness”, so aggrieved by my slowness to take their side.

When my children squabble, I see how very young they are, and how very little they understand. Their truths are true, but partial.

When my children squabble, there is anger. There are tears.

When my children squabble, I love them and am for them – and yet they seem frustrated. I think sometimes they would rather I were a referee than a refuge.

When my children squabble, I see their hearts, their sense of justice, their longing for fairness and understanding. I also see their pride, their caprice.

When my children squabble, I grieve for the hurt they are experiencing and the hurt they are dishing out in their immaturity.

When my children squabble, I remember that they will not always be children – one day they will see that the issue of who got the blue cup is petty, and that it doesn’t matter who sat in the middle seat or who got to stay up later.

When my children squabble, it makes me long for the day when perspective and maturity will allow them to treasure their siblings for the riches that they are.
And from time to time, when I read about Christians fighting AGAIN and calling names AGAIN and behaving badly AGAIN, each citing reasons why God is more on their side than the others’ side, then I wonder:

Is God looking down on us with a sigh and saying: “Look, my children are squabbling,”?

 

Kathy Escobar is hosting a fabulous synchroblog this month on bridging the divide between believers.  Check out some of the other wonderful posts from this series: