Evolving Faith

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend a two-day conference called Evolving Faith.  It was hosted and curated by some of my favorite Christian writers, Sarah Bessey and Rachel Held Evans.  It took place in Montreat, North Carolina.  The campus was beautiful, nestled in the arms of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Walking around Lake Susan, exploring the streams and trails, there’s a deep sense of peace.  You feel in your bones that you are walking on sacred ground.

Now, what is evolving faith?  Each of the speakers at the conference offered a different definition.  Evolving faith is a faith that changes.  It adapts.  It breaks down.  It reconstructs.  It identifies problematic narratives and strives to imagine new ones.  Jen Hatmaker likened it to the story in Genesis about Jacob wrestling with God.  Evolving faith is a faith that challenges, questions, wrestles and, like Jacob, has the audacity to ask for a blessing anyway.  Jeff Chu introduced us to the “theology of the compost pile” where all the wretched, useless, and discarded things are transformed into rich soil that brings new life.  Evolving faith acknowledges the darkness in ourselves and in the world and chooses to light a candle anyway.

What I loved so much about this conference is that it addressed head-on all the topics that are notoriously avoided in United States’ churches. Things that are whispered in the back of our minds as we sit in sanctuaries were named boldly from the stage.  Speakers called out the idol of white supremacy, the strength, beauty and dignity of minority communities, the evils of the Trump administration, the immediacy of climate change, and the problematic fact that the majority attendees were white. Speakers called us to both “burn shit down” and strive to be peacemakers.  There was rage.  There was hope.  There was the call to live in tension.

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Tis the Season: Light Amid Darkness

In past Tis the Seasons, I’ve shared many, many holiday stories: family traditions, interesting historical tidbits, heartfelt sentiments, favorite songs, and so on.  When faced with writing a post this year, though, writers block hit and it hit HARD.  I had lots of ideas, from sharing new memories to fleshing out older stories, but every time I sat down to write, I ended up staring at a blank page.  The words just wouldn’t come.

Then, I got thinking about what my friend Rachel said in her post earlier this week about Christmas being a time of light in the darkness and hope when all feels lost.  The more I thought about it, the more it felt right.  Light in the darkness… what a timely message.

We live in days of darkness, days of sorrow, days of pain, days of disappointment.  It’s been a rough year for so many both here in America and abroad.  We live in days of horrific war, days of the displacement and death of innocents, days of bombs and destruction.  We live in days of intolerance, of cruelty, of fear.  We live in days where people are massacred and ostracized for their beliefs, for their cultural heritage, for their orientation, and for their gender.  We live in days of doubt and days of deep insecurity where truth and trust cease to exist. Continue reading

The Days After the Election

I think it’s safe to say that, no matter where you lie on the political spectrum, this week has been crazy.

On the day after the presidential election, a progressive Christian magazine I enjoy put out a call for readers to share their stories.  Wednesday was pretty turbulent for me emotionally and putting things into words is usually helps me process things, so I took the time to write about how I felt.

Usually, I keep my head down on social media when it comes to divisive current events.  I try to keep away from politics and anything that will cause division, judgement, or criticism.  I broke that rule on Facebook a few times this fall in outrage over our now president-elect’s words about women.  In the days after the election, though, I found that there was just too much going on inside me and found the words pouring out.  If I were to put my piece in a category, I would call it a lament: an outpouring of emotion that captures the pain of a moment in time.

I submitted my piece and, to my surprise, Sojourners published it on their website.  Before you read this post any further, please take a moment to read the piece, which can be found here. Continue reading

Of Faith and Refugees

My Facebook newsfeed today was filled with opinions this morning.  This isn’t unusual, as I have friends on both sides of the political divide.  I usually don’t like to engage in such things on social media.  I don’t like to associate with a political party.  Such things breed division and strife–so I keep my opinions to myself.

But in lieu of current events and the hate that has risen in their wake, I’m finding it hard to remain silent.

As I’ve been following the debates regarding the Syrian refugee crisis, I have been absolutely appalled by the response from Christians.  My Facebook feed is filled with messages along the lines of “Close the boarders because we don’t want terrorists to get in”.  I saw a comment that said, “I’m all for helping the refugees, I just don’t want to let them in.”

Or, in other words, “I’m all for helping people as long as it doesn’t impact my life.”  “I’m all for taking care of the poor and needy, as long as my comfort isn’t threatened.”

This makes my blood boil.

What, then, is more valuable?  Comfort or human life?  The ease of the rich or the despair of the poor?

To make things clear, I understand the fear.  The refugees are people who are very different from us.  They look different, sound different, and follow a different religion. Differences are unknowns and unknowns are scary.  And yes, there is a risk that the wrong people can get in.  Is this a risk we are willing to take?

A couple of my friends posted links to a short piece on Relevant Magazine titled “What the Bible Says About How to Treat Refugees“.  I recommend giving it a read, for it is very good. It is a list of verses with little commentary, letting the Bible speak for itself.  These verses speak of loving the poor, caring for the needy, and putting the needs of others before your own.  They talk about setting aside what is comfortable in favor of preserving human life.

I’d like to add a verse to the list.  1 John 4:18:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. (ESV)

Is allowing refugees into America worth it, despite the risk of letting terrorists in?  Absolutely.  Because perfect love, God’s love, casts out fear.

We, as Christians, are called to love the needy and care for the broken.  It’s not an option.  Loving one’s neighbor as ones self is not only a command, it’s the GREATEST command.  So are we going to obey? Are we going to trust that, even though there are unknowns and even though we are afraid, God is in control?

I realize that I am addressing this from a Christian perspective and you may not share my worldview. This is okay. Biblical rhetoric aside, I think my questions are still valid because this is, ultimately, not only a Christian issue. It is a human issue. These refugees aren’t faceless, soulless drones. They may be different, but they are human beings with just as much right to life as I. They have the same capacity to love, to feel, to dream as you and I do.

Are we, Christians and non Christians alike, going to set aside our comfort, riches, and fears, and care for the refugees?

I honestly don’t know what this looks like in my life.  As an American, I live a life of incredible privilege. There aren’t poor and homeless people lining up at my door. The refugees are on the other side of the world. But with privilege comes responsibility. If and when the time comes to take action, I hope that I am able to do what is RIGHT and not settle for what is EASY.

It’s a complicated issue.  There are a thousand arguments and counterarguments that can be made.  It can be discussed for hours on end.  Your opinion and worldview may be different than mine, and that’s okay. I don’t mind. Differences are not something to be afraid of. They are our greatest strength.

But I’m tired of remaining silent. I’ve been given a voice and am choosing to use it. So this is me, adding my thoughts to the universe.

Thanks for reading.

  

Weekend Coffee Share: The Last Summer Day

If we were having coffee, we’d probably be lounging on a blanket in my backyard basking in the sunshine.  I’d be favoring something cold–an iced mocha or frappuccino–behind my floral sunglasses.  An occasional leaf flutters from the maple tree above us.

In Minnesota, we usually have one last day of summer before the season shifts.  I think it’s today and am very thankful it fell on my one day off.  I’ve been ready for Fall to arrive for the past month, but can’t deny that today is absolutely perfect.  The air is fresh, no humidity whatsoever.  The trees are just starting to change colors.  I actually spent several hours on the aforementioned blanket alternately reading and napping.  It was absolutely glorious.

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you all about the concert I went to last week in Minneapolis with a friend.  Maddie and I met during our semester abroad in London and she recently moved to my area and has been aching to go to a show ever since.  We went to see Ivan & Alyosha and Noah Gundersen.  I wasn’t overly familiar with either band, but it was a wonderful show.  Musically, both bands were a real treat.  Ivan & Alyosha were my favorite act (I’ve been listening to them nonstop ever since).  They’re really peppy with a California vibe.  Noah was much more serious–his whole band wore black and oozed angst.  I like his earlier music, but he mostly played stuff from his most recent album which is really existential.  It was hard not to be depressed after the show as I drove the hour home well-past midnight.  But I cured the overflow angst by listening to peppy pre-pop Taylor Swift songs.

If we were having coffee, you would know that I’m frustrated.  For the most part, things are going very well for me right now.  I have a job, a roof over my head, and get to spend lots of time with family.  But a big portion of my life, my Christian faith, hasn’t been doing well.  I’m not struggling, but I’m not thriving either.  One of the problems is that I feel like I have too much history with the churches in my area.  Most people my age go to the church I grew up in, which I no longer attend for some very painful reasons (which I discuss in this post).  My family usually goes to a mega-church in the cities, which was great for in college for weekend visits and long breaks.  But it’s not the kind of church I actually want to go to long-term.  There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s just not the right fit for me.  I’ve looked into trying some other churches, but I either know too many people who go there or have been turned off by hearing about people’s bad experiences.

The thing is, Christian culture tends to be extremely conservative.  And I tend to be more liberal.  When I’m around other Christians, even those I love and admire, I generally keep my opinions to myself.  Usually, this is because it’s not the time or place.  But another factor is that most people will strike up an argument.  I really dislike arguing–it does more harm than good.  In arguments, people tend to spend most of the time defending their own perspective without actually caring about what the other person has to say.  I don’t mind if someone thinks differently than I do, but it bothers me when others don’t respect my perspective in return.   So I don’t go there.

I’m in a bit of a rut, you see.  My relationship with God is one of the most important things I have.  I long for Christian community who will accept me without judging me based on the way I think.  I long for supporters who will spur me on in faith.  I known it exists–I’ve had it before in Morris and at camp.  Here, though, I feel very much alone.

If we were having coffee, though, I hope we don’t argue.  Because I’d love nothing more than to spend the afternoon sipping cool drinks on that blanket with you.  How has your week been?  Anything you’d like to share in return?

This post is part of the Weekend Coffee Share link up at Part Time Monster.

Life and Times of a Small Group Leader: a Conclusion

Three years ago, I turned to my roommate Alli and announced that I felt like God wanted me to start a Bible study.  The only problem was I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.

Alli looked over at me with a sly smile.  “Here’s what we’re doing.  You and I are going to lead a Bible study together, we are going to target it towards single girls, and we are going to talk through our problems.”  (At the time, the both of us were struggling a lot with being single.  When you’re interested in dating good, Christian guys, Morris is not the place to be.)

That, friends, is how I became a small group leader.

That first year, we were known as the Single Ladies Bible Study.  We read the book When God Writes Your Love Story by Eric and Leslie Ludy.  Although we had some good conversations, I really don’t recommend the book.  A lot of the content is really simplistic and cheesy.

Every year, the Bible study has changed significantly.  After year one, we dropped the “Single”, lost Alli to graduation, and our numbers dropped significantly.  I was abroad for half the year and, when I came back, the once bustling group was down to three or four core members.  We had lots of great talks, though, and really got to know each other.

This year, I co-lead with my friend Jourdan and the group changed entirely.  Last fall, when we met to discuss what the study would look like, we had no idea how many people would actually show up.  The core group returned and, to our surprise, so did a boatload of new faces.  It really was a wonderful year.  For the first time, it really felt like a community.  The variety of the group still amazes me–we had freshman to seniors, newspaper lit nerds to athletes, biology to Spanish majors.  Everyone was so different!  But we all got along and learned so much from each other.

Family-style photo of this year's group at Jourdan's house.
Family-style photo of this year’s group at Jourdan’s house.

As leaders, Jourdan and I were pushed and stretched in ways we hadn’t expected.  Before we knew it, we were each meeting one-on-one with several of the girls, mentoring and encouraging them.  We planned Girls Nights once a month and came up with our own lessons every week.  Planning lessons was a big challenge, but also an incredible opportunity.

Last week was our final meeting.  The girls all surprised me with a party celebrating my graduation.  Everyone brought treats, one girl made chicken tacos, and Jourdan made a cake.  Their parting gift to me was a little plastic box covered in quotes.  Inside, each girl had written out encouragement notes and shared their favorite Bible verses.  It’s something for me to take with as I move into the future.  Although I was pretty brain-dead the whole time (on account of the library staff party and English major picnic being the same night), their thoughtfulness really means the world to me.

Although it will continue to meet next year, I’m really sad to see it go.  Being a small group leader has been one of my favorite parts of college.  I’ve learned so much about myself and what it means to be a leader and have gotten to know so many wonderful people.  Serving and loving people is hard, but it’s one of the greatest blessings life has to offer.

Go Bold

There are friends.  And then there are friends like Jenny.

We met during my freshman year of college.  Although we became acquaintances in the first month, I didn’t get to know her until spring semester.  I was close (and still am) with her roommate, Julie.  Because the shallow friendships with my floormates began to run their course, I took up the habit of visiting Julie’s dorm in Gay Hall.  It’s then that I got to know Jenny.  After a couple of weeks, it became evident that I was no longer crashing Gay to see Julie.  I was all about hanging out with Jenny.  We’ve been close ever since.

How do I even begin to describe Jenny?

She’s the kind of person you want by your side.  She’s a wonderful listener and is always ready and able to give you encouragement.  She’s smart, insightful, and notices details that often get glossed over.  She’s incredibly funny and can drop puns like nobody’s business.  She’s gifted in hospitality and an expert in how to make an excellent cup of coffee.

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I’d post a nice photo of the two of us, but they kind of don’t exist. They’re all similar to this one. (Yes, I am in the midst of eating cheese. Cheese is glorious.)

 

Most of all, though, she has an incredible heart for God.  It’s been amazing watching Him turn her life around.  When we met, she had her heart set on majoring in biology, running a nursing home, marrying a lumberjack and settling down with kids.  Now, she’s a Morris grad (with an English degree) on the brink of moving to Japan to spend the next two years as a missionary.

Throughout college, I got to see Jenny’s faith grow and evolve.  She had her own plans and dreams, but one day, God spoke to her.  He said: “If I asked you to go, would you?”  She said yes.  The process of being called to a lifetime of missions wasn’t an easy one.  Jenny had to let go of a lot.  She had to face her struggles, her insecurities, her fears.  She says it this way:

While I can hardly believe I felt this way initially anymore, at first I felt utterly dejected. Like I said, I had other plans for myself, filled with good things that I wanted to do in this world. I knew I was going to have to let those go. So I asked God, that if this was really what He wanted for me, to change my heart, to make every other possible career choice and plan for my life be completely unsatisfying and empty. Over the course of that year He did exactly that.  Now there is hardly a thing that excites me more than active ministry and loving people. (Taken from one of her blog posts)

Although she graduated a year early, Jenny has been one of my solid rocks this school year.  She’s been living at home, floating from job to job, and has always been available to talk.  When I’m frustrated, I call Jenny.  When I’m ecstatic, I call Jenny.  When I just need someone to talk to, I call Jenny.  With her, conversation flows from one subject to the next and, before I know it, hours have passed.

Yesterday, I saw Jenny in person for the last time.  We went out for tea and, in true fashion, talked for hours.  I intended on being home for dinner, but it wasn’t long before I realized that wasn’t going to happen.  Why go home when I can be with Jenny one last time?  In a couple of weeks, she’s off for at least two years teaching English in Japan.

It’s hard saying goodbye to someone who has had such a big impact on your life.  But, with Jenny, it’s not as if this goodbye is forever.  Even though we’ll be on the other sides of the planet, it’s not like we won’t talk.  That’s the beauty of the internet.  Yes, staying in touch is challenging and definitely takes work.  But, with Jenny, it’ll happen.

If you’re interested in getting to know Jenny, following her adventures in Japan, and seeing what God does in her life, you can follow her blog, Go Bold.  If you ask me, she’s worth paying attention to.

A new perspective on sharing my faith

I loathe being told to share my faith.

I mean, it’s something that we are called directly to do.  Jesus says in Matthew 28:16 to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.”  We’re encouraged to share our faith, to spread the good news, to be lights in the darkness of the world.

But in Christian circles, there’s a lot of guilting that goes on when it comes to evangelism.  So often, I come from those talks feeling like, by not sharing my faith, I’m doing something wrong.  And then I feel guilty.  I feel like I should share my faith out of obligation and duty, not because I want to.  So often, evangelism makes me extremely uncomfortable.  In order to do it, I feel like I must have all the answers, like I have to start going up to my classmates, shoving Bibles in their faces, and taking them through the Romans Road.  It makes me uncomfortable and inadequate. I feel pressured and that, if I don’t present the message well enough, I’ll be a failure.  Sharing faith in these ways sounds just seems unpleasant.  I don’t want to do it.  But then I feel guilty for not wanting to do something God clearly asks of us.

The thing is, I genuinely want to share my faith.  I want to tell people about the joy, the love, the security I have in Christ.  But I don’t want to demean others and I’m afraid of being seen as the Bible-shoving stereotype.

At IVCF last night, an old classmate came and talked about the dreaded topic.  What she said really hit home.

To summarize her message, she talked about talking about faith the same way we talk about things excited about.  We don’t have to have a perfect message.  The outcome of sharing our faith does not depend on us.  We don’t have to worry about how we are received, because God is bigger than that.  He can handle it.  Instead of preaching to people, we should talk about Jesus as if He’s a real person.  We shouldn’t spew off boring facts as if he’s merely a figure in a book.  Instead, we need to be open and honest about what He’s like, what He says, what He does, and what it’s like to hang out with Him.

Boldness is key, but not to belittle.  Not to condescend.  Not to preach.  We need to be bold in sharing our excitement about who He is and what He is doing in our lives.  Because if we’re excited, then it will spread to the people around us.

The other thing that is key is trust.  We need to trust that God is bigger than us.  He’s bigger than us, bigger than our circumstances, bigger than our voices.  We don’t have to defend Him.  He can defend Himself.  He knows what He is doing.

I’m not very good at sharing my faith.  I really struggle with this.  As previously stated, I’ve always felt this sense of obligation, that I should be doing more, saying more, preaching more–and this has always made me REALLY uncomfortable.  But all this time, I’ve been thinking about it the wrong way.  I don’t have to go out and do anything.  I just have to be me.  I simply have to live and not restrict my relationship with God to my personal life.  I have to let the love I have for my savior, my best friend, my beloved show.  I have to be open about Him–open about what He’s doing and willing to tell people about my excitement.

It’s encouraging to know that I don’t need to have it all together.  More than anything, though, it’s wonderful to walk out of a faith-sharing talk without feeling guilty.  For the first time ever, I actually feel good about being open about my faith.  Which is incredibly freeing.

 

Looking to the future and finally having some answers

About a month ago, I wrote a post where I posed the question: What brings you life?

I’ve been thinking about the future a lot lately.  I mean, with only a few months left of college, it’s to be expected.  People keep asking me what’s next.  I keep telling them I don’t know.  Just now, though, I realized that I DO know.

I want to do something that brings me life.  I don’t want a job to pay the bills.   I want my work to be my passion.  I want to feel a sense of fulfillment at the end of a week.  I want to do something I love so much that I can’t imagine doing anything else.

I got lucky with college.  During my final years of high school, I knew exactly what I wanted to major in.  People ask me why I chose to be an English major and I answer them, “I’ve been an English major my entire life.  I just didn’t know that is what it’s called until I got to college.”  I didn’t chose English for the career track.  I became an English major because it’s the only major I imagined myself pursuing.  And, although there have been rough patches (I’m looking at you, Virginia Woolf class), my studies have spurred my passions and brought incredible life.  But it’s not what I want to do forever.

I now stand at the brink of another crossroads.  Where do I go after graduation?  What should I do?  The answer is clear: I need to find what brings me the most life and I need to do that every day until I die.

At this point, I have a good sense of what that is.

Above all else, my time here in Morris has taught me that, although English is something I love, it’s not something I want to do with my life.  When I look back what stands out the most is spiritual growth and involvement in ministry.  Over the past four years, God turned a quiet girl with her identity in a box into a confident, passionate leader.  Being involved in IVCF, prayer ministry, Bible studies, and (of course) working at camp has done more for my career than any professor in any classroom.  He’s given me a taste for service that leaves me longing for more.  All I want to do is serve God with my life.  I can’t imagine doing anything else.

I’ve realized lately that I feel the most fulfillment when I’m pouring into people.  It’s my favorite thing.  There’s nothing that brings me more joy than praying for others or meeting one-on-one and giving encouragement.  I love taking the lessons I’ve learned and the things God has spoken to me and passing them on.  It’s such an amazing experience, helping others draw closer to Him.

That, friends, is what I want to do every day for the rest of my life.

Now I just have to find someone willing to pay me to do it.

 

Tis the Season Day 7: JOY to the World

We’ve come to the final day of Tis the Season.  It’s Christmas Eve, my favorite day of the year.  But instead of decorating cookies with my younger brother, I’m sitting here pondering the meaning of Christmas.

(As I wrote that last sentence, I could hear Sam from the next room go, “How ‘come Amelia’s not helping?”  I really should be helping.  Sam’s decorating takes a violent turn if left alone for too long.  We’ve had a number of bloody snowmen cookies over the years.)

Christmas is many things.  It’s a time for family and friends.  It’s a time for giving.  It’s a time for laughter, for memories, for nostalgia.  More than any of those things, though, it’s a time for JOY.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about happiness and joy.  At first, the two words appear synonymous.  Dictionaries will tell you that they’re the same.  But I disagree.  Happiness great, but it is fleeting.  It’s a state of mind, something that you feel for one moment and then is gone the next.  I can chase happiness and something still falls short.  The thing about joy, though, is that it runs deep.  It sinks into the soul.  Down in the core of who I am is a small, indistinguishable flame.  When the metaphorical storms of life hit and everything seems to fall apart, joy remains.  It is steadfast, unshakable.

Where does this joy come from?  Easy.  It comes from knowing and being known by God.  When it comes down to it, that’s what this holiday is all about.

The creator of the universe, the almighty God entered into His creation as one of His created.  He was born not to the wealth, glory, and splendor He deserves, but is born of a peasant in a barn.  He grew up poor and even during the three years He spent teaching, healing, and performing miracles, He was hated and despised by the very people He created.  By the very nature of who Jesus is, He deserves honor and praise.  But by the people He created, the ones He came to redeem, He received slander, torture, and death.

Despite everything, He still loves us.  He still wants us.  It doesn’t matter how broken we are, He is right there with open arms.  He not only provided salvation from our sins, but adopted us as His children.  He wants to know us and be known by Him.  He doesn’t just want us to know things about Him, to live a life of empty religion, but wants us to know who He is, His character, and His love.  It’s intimate, it’s deep, it’s rich… and there for free even though we deserve none of it.  Woah.

This beautiful intimacy of what we celebrate on Christmas is the essence of JOY.

Peter sums it up perfectly: “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy…” (1 Peter 1:8-9)

One of the most popular Christmas songs out there is “Joy to the World”.  Growing up, I never thought much about the words.  This year, though, they resonated in my heart.  Although they’re associated with the first coming of Jesus, they’re actually about the second.  The words speak of the immense joy that we will have when all is finished and we can physically be with Him once more.  The joy is so great that Heaven and Nature sings–even the rocks cannot help but cry out in adoration.

What better way to end Tis the Season than with inexpressible, glorious, inexhaustible, steadfast JOY?

Merry Christmas, everyone!