Rituals of Reticence

“Quiet time” might be one of the most confusing words in the Christanese English Dictionary.  It’s revered, insisted upon, and I’ve always felt vaguely guilty for not doing enough of it, but it’s hard to know what it actually is.  Quiet time involves Bible reading, of course, and definitely some praying.  I hear whispers about worship songs and something about a special chair in a corner with a quilt.  Not to mention #CoffeeAndJesus.  Or should that be #JesusAndCoffee?

I’m an ex-seminary wife, but I’m no theologian so I won’t attempt a dissertation on the means of grace.  However, I think it’s fairly clear from the Bible reading I’ve done that we are called to read God’s Word regularly and come to Him with our prayers, thanksgivings, and worship.

When I think about those activities, they have a common theme of requiring a great deal of attention.  It may or may not be audibly quiet but to be still before God requires, well, being still.  And reading the Bible well requires time, an attention span, and the mental space to reflect.

I still feel like my 5 year-old self who was constantly getting scolded in Sunday School for playing with the Velcro on my shiny patent leather shoes during prayer time. I continually find it a struggle to sit still for long enough to read Scripture well or to place my attention on God instead of myself for more than 10 seconds at a time.

But why should I expect myself to be able to be quiet before God if I’m not quiet any other time of the day?  If I can’t carve out times to think or reflect about anything without obsessively scrolling through my Instagram feed, why would my time with God be any different?

Our attention is so often misplaced, refracted by the prism of technology into infinite beams of distraction–red inboxes, blue newsfeeds, yellow snaps, and rainbows of images–all stealing my ability to focus on just. one. thing.

The habits we allow to rule the majority of our lives will naturally spill over into the times we set aside to intentionally grow in our faith and relationship with God.  If I lose my literacy by skimming online articles and headlines, my ability to read the Bible suffers as well.

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

Luke and I often remind each other of this quote from Blaise Pascal. The bad news is that it’s harder than ever nowadays to be quiet and alone. The good news is that replacing the rituals of distraction with intentional attention will not only make being quiet before God more natural, it will smooth out some other wrinkles in the rhythm of life.

And sure enough, when we begin to prioritize thinking over texting and listening over “liking”, we find our problems smaller, our hearts calmer, and our minds clearer.

Living in Russia without a traditional 9-5 grind has provided me with the opportunity for more mental space.  This fall, I’m going to focus on growing my attention span and creating rituals of reticence throughout my day.

I’ll be sharing my thoughts on misplaced stuff (not the lost luggage variety) next week! Same place, same time.  You can sign-up for an e-mail notification in the box below.

 

Career Counseling Ministry Expands To Include New Earth Job Training For Ministry Workers

 

DISCLAIMER: The following was written in complete jest.  Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Forward-thinking Elm Lane Church expands Career Coaching and Counseling Ministry to include positions in the afterlife for pastors whose services will no longer be in demand in the new heavens and new earth.

“For us, the expansion into New Earth job training for current pastors who are soon to be unemployed in the afterlife was a natural extension of our current mission and ministry,” said Career Coaching and Counseling Ministry Pastor Tim Brownlee.

The inspiration came from a Career Coaching volunteer after some Scripture typography paraphrasing 2 Peter 3:11 caught her eye on Instagram.  

“It hit me as fast as I could double-tap that inspirational quote.  We’ve been training folks for useful vocations in this earth but this earth might be gone tomorrow.  What about all the pastors and parachurch ministry workers?  What are they going to do in the new earth where there is no brokenness to heal and no community groups to organize?  We need to be preparing them for the new heaven and earth where there services are no longer needed.”

The Career Coaching and Counseling Ministry is now offering the following services for any pastors or ministry workers looking to strengthen their afterlife vocational skill set:

  • Resumes After Revelation: Optimize your CV for Eternal Hireability
  • Everlasting Interview Tips: Top 10 Questions Saint Peter Will Ask
  • LinkedUp: Professional Networking Skills To Land Your Dream Job

Of The World, But Not In It

When my husband and I first moved to Southern California from rural Pennsylvania, we suffered from culture shock.  You couldn’t escape the smell of tacos and citrus trees seem to sprout of sidewalk cracks like weeds.  I also noticed the same bumper sticker on most of the cars parked on the street in the neighborhood and in grocery store parking lots.  

2760795Did we just move into a gang neighborhood?  The bumper sticker contained the acronym “N-T-W” and triggered some kind of childhood flashback I just couldn’t put my finger on.

It finally hit me.  I had a sweatshirt with that symbol on it once, back when it was the cool 7th grade thing to do to wear obscure Christian slogans on your hoodie. N-T-W = Not of This World.  I had no idea the company mass producing those sweatshirts and bumper stickers was still around, let alone infiltrating the the rear view windows of suburban San Diego SUVs.

As Christians, is this the best we can do to engage with our culture in a meaningful manner?  And yes, I mean our culture.  The one we live in.  Not the ambiguous secular culture we love to hate or the Christian culture we pretend to like.  But the culture created by where we live and the people we work with and the neighbors next door.  Are they really going to look at that cryptic bumper sticker and think: “Now that’s someone living with Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior!”

Probably not.  The message is a good one–paraphrased poorly from John 18:36: “Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.’”  But the delivery via bumper sticker falls short.

In his book, All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes, cultural apologist Ken Myers argues that rather than being in the world but not of it, Christians are far more likely to be of the world but not in it.

It has not been uncommon for evangelical Christians to give up trying to come to terms with “secular” popular culture, and to boycott it altogether.  But often they have simultaneously endorsed the creation of an extensive parallel popular culture, complete with Christian rock bands and nightclubs, Christian soap operas and talk shows, Christian spy and romance novels, and Christian exercise videos.  They have thus succeeded in being of the world, but not in the world.  The “Christian” popular culture takes all its cues from its secular counterpart, but sanitizes and customizes it with “Jesus language.”

Traditionally, critics of popular culture have focused on it’s content.  You turn on today’s latest hits for 60 seconds and you’ll hear filthy language, objectification of women, questionable sexual morals, and violence. But is the solution to replace crass bumper stickers with our “Christian” ones?  Perhaps the problem is not only the content of popular culture but the way we’re sending and receiving messages with one another in general?

Back in those hoodie wearing days of 7th grade, I was invited to an older girl’s 13 birthday party.  This was a big deal, because I was only 12.  The popular catch phrase of the day was a sarcastic “whatever,” usually accompanied with an eye roll.

This birthday girl’s well-meaning parents picked up on their daughter’s favorite retort and decided to slap some Jesus on it for her birthday present.  They gave her a t-shirt with “whatever” screen printed on it in size 72 font and the remainder of Philippians 4:8 in tiny letters: “…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” They took a popular culture form of t-shirts with sassy sayings on them and attempted to “Christianize” it.  The result?  The Word of God placed on the same level as “I ❤ New York”

It’s the same reason why those cheesy Christian movies always leave a bad taste in our mouths.  And why when my high school youth group leader encouraged us to cut out all non-Christian music from our lives, another mentor suggested that we start listening to country songs to help us make the transition from secular to Christian music.

Later in his book, Ken Myers goes on to ask, “Are there natural virtues of sympathy, of love, of justice, of mercy, of wisdom that can be encouraged by aesthetic experience?  According to Lewis, learning to ‘receive’ a work of art does encourage habits of the heart that have effects in other areas of life.  And now, to put popular culture on the spot, does it have the same capacities?  No, and few people, even its most ardent fans, would claim that it does,” (Myers 97).

This is why being a critic of form and not just content matters.  Intaking messages that are delivered through media that does pass the Philippians 4:8 test makes us more like Christ.  It’s tempting to make rules like: “No music with 5 or more “yeahs” inserted randomly into the lyrics” or “Only read books that are at least 200 pages long,” but that just teaches us how to check things off a list, not how to value and hunger after the truly beautiful things in this world, explicitly Christian or otherwise.

C.S. Lewis provides a useful guideline for form criticism in his book, An Experiment in Criticism by suggesting we do some self-examination about the way we intake everything (movies, paintings, music, writing, etc..) and ask: Am I receiving this or just using it?  He distinguishes between the two this way:

A work of (whatever) art can be either ‘received’ or ‘used’.  When we ‘receive’ it we exert our senses and imaginations and various other powers according to a pattern invented by the artist.  When we ‘use’ it we treat it as assistance for our own activities….’Using’ is inferior to ‘reception’ because art, if used rather than received, merely facilitates, brightens, relives or palliates our life, and does not add to it.   

Most of the forms chosen by pop and Christian culture leave little room for receiving the message.   As Lewis says, we become “so busy doing things with the work that we give it too little chance to work on us.  Thus increasingly we meet only ourselves.”

Lewis’ distinction helps us find forms that encourage us to receive and interact with the message instead of just using it.  Not only will you find yourself a better reader, appreciator of art, and listener, you will also be developing those “natural virtues of sympathy, of love, of justice, of mercy of wisdom.” Using these same forms to glorify our God and share His Gospel encourages active and thoughtful reception of the best message of all time.  I’d say that beats a bumper sticker or t-shirt any day of the week.

401K vs. Faith

I’m writing this in my favorite corner of our love seat as I will myself to stay awake. I’m exhausted in the worse way, when sleep that brings dreams seems more tiring than simply sitting here staring into space.

It’s in these quiet mental moments that the thoughts from the back of my head finally get to percolate. So now I’m staring into a full mug of brain coffee and I’m trying to see if it’s any good. Here goes!

One of my passions in life is financial literacy. Right after God, my husband, and breakfast baked goods. I’ve been balancing my accounts since age 11 and budgeting since age 5. As I’ve learned more about economics and stewarding money well (and I have a loooong way to go), I’ve also run into a few roadblocks.

From friends, to articles, to the incredible auto-biography of George Muller, I’m constantly reminded of the importance of trusting God with one’s finances. We’ve all heard the stories of the mysterious checks that appear in people’s mailboxes just in the nick of time. These stories humble us and remind us of our ultimate dependence on God. And I believe all of this is very good.

But I also believe God has called us to be wise with our talents and treasure and that means saving for hard times, investing for the future, and living within one’s means.

Friends, I need your help. Have you ever felt like you had to choose between a 401(k) and your faith?What helped you balance complete dependence on God with wise planning?

Goodnight,
Chloe

P.S. Exciting new blog & business updates coming soon! Stay tuned.

Evangelic-who?

Do you remember that point in 11th grade when your English teacher told your class enough already with quoting the dictionary to start every. single. paper! That’s a good principle to follow.

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Oops. Do you forgive me for breaking the cardinal rule of grown-up writing? I hope so, because there really was no other way to start this post. This is the definition Google gave me of the word “evangelical.”

Throughout all my life, when I heard the word “evangelical” I associated it with the word “evangelize” and assumed that this adjective form of the verb must mean “something/someone that evangelizes.” Google seems to agree with me, but every other Christian community I’ve encounter doesn’t.

9870264.jpgAs far as I can deduct, the word “evangelical” in the Christian subculture of colleges, churches, and seminaries means “any type of Christianity that’s not exactly like the Christianity I associate with” For example, here’s a quote from the excellent book, Ordinary: “Whenever a new generation announces its radical and totally unprecedented culture shift, there is an evangelical movement that pressures churches to get on board if they wan to adapt and survive the next wave.” (Horton, 25).

I think “evangelical” has become the catch-all for Christians that are more liberal, more modern, more “relevant”, and more likely to sing Chris Tomlin songs. Yet all these are comparative statements. More liberal than what? What’s the baseline?

Can the evangelical Christian be defined with a certain set of denominations, the year their church was founded, the kind of music their worship includes, or even better, a uniting doctrine or lack thereof? For as much as I hear the word “evangelical” tossed around, I have yet to hear someone concretely set the parameters for who are evangelicals and who are not.**

This blog post is full of question marks because I still have no idea. I’m genuinely curious and inclined to continue to believe evangelical is the adjective form of to evangelize, unless I can be pointed to a robust and generally agreed upon definition. So, my dear readers, comment away! What do you think of when you hear “evangelical”?

As confused as ever,
Chloe

**Disclaimer: I realize that every professor, author, and preacher can’t spend 10 minutes defining all the words they use in their lectures, books, and sermons. However, since the word “evangelical” can both mean “according to the teaching of the gospel” and “Christian churches/movements we don’t agree with” I think it’s worth a footnote.

Divine Prank Calls

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    Back in the archaic days of landline phones, we used to get a lot of solicitors at my house.  Unlike most people trying to eat their dinner in peace, I found great joy after spotting company’s name on the caller id.  “Wallside Windows” it read. “Hello, this is Wallside Windows, how may I help you?” I chirped into the phone.  The confused salesman would mutter something about an extension problem and then hang up on me.  Reverse prank calling was my favorite.

    Going to a Christian college, the word “vocation” was thrown around like candy at a small-town parade.  You don’t need a job, you need a calling.  A divine purpose.  Which is great and definitely makes the job search process just as painful.  4 months out of college, and I’ve started to wonder.  Did God just prank call me?

    It’s the only logical answer to our little carefully laid plans starting to crumble.  The 5 year-plan just became the plan for only 5 days and the dreams might be clearer but the steps to achieving them just disappeared.

    But I just can’t believe that.  I don’t think God calls us to one place or job just as a joke.  I don’t think that we know our final “vocation” or “calling” at 21 or 22.  It doesn’t mean that the stints before figuring that out (shout out to my non-peers: do you ever figure that out?) are any less valuable, purposeful, or ordained by God.

    The next time we’re tempted to slam down the phone when it feels like “calling” just slid through our fingers again, think again.  God has us here (or in your case, there) for a reason which we may or may not figure out and our God does not want to know if your refrigerator is running.


Gold Stars & Grey Dots

For every sincere congratulations on my upcoming marriage, there’s at least one criticizing remark about the rashness of marrying young or foolishness of not continuing my education.  I don’t think the polar-opposite responses are limited to me, my fiance, or our plans.  The temptation to compare and judge runs rampant at this time of year, especially for graduating seniors.

We compare ourselves to those that are getting married, going to grad school, getting a job at XYZ company, teaching overseas, becoming missionaries, moving back home, taking an extra year to graduate, are in 5 weddings, didn’t get invited to any weddings, are getting a job at IDL company making more money than the person at XYZ company, have 3 interviews lined up, are working at a summer camp, winning this award, volunteering with that non-profit, and the person that has no idea what May 17th will hold.
To justify our own decisions, we line up all of these options, place our plan at the top of the mental measuring stick, and then demonize the rest to assure ourselves that we are wise, weare valued, our four years at college did mean something.
I’ve done it.  I’ve watched my friends do it to themselves, to others, and to me.  As I watch this phenomenon unfold, a children’s book I read when I was 7 or 8 comes to mind.
In Max Lucado’s You Are Special, there is a village of wooden people, each expertly crafted by the Creator.  Each wooden person has a box of gold star and grey dot stickers.  When someone does something impressive, looks attractive, or says something witty, everyone rushes over and showers them in gold stars.  But if you aren’t so good-looking, have a tendency to blunder, or trip over yourself, it’s grey dots for you.
It isn’t until the protagonist, a grey-dot-covered fellow, talks to the Creator and learns that he isn’t a mistake but was carefully crafted by the One that loves him despite earthly successes and failures, is he able to start shedding the stickers.  The more he trusts in the love of his Creator, the less stickers will stick to him.  This confuses the other wooden people.  They rush to cover him with gold stars for not having grey dots, but they fall off.  So they try to cover him with grey dots due to his lack of gold stars, but those don’t stick either because his identity rests not in the comparison of relative achievement or lack of failure, but in his identity as a creation of the Creator.
The story is beautifully illustrated in this 8-minute video below:
The stickers only stick if you let them.  The stickers only stick if they matter to you.
 
While the moral of the story is obviously to rest in your identity as a child of God, I particularly love the point it makes about the foolishness of comparing oneself to others.  People will love you for your lack of grey dots.  They will judge you for your lack of gold stars.  Which means if your worth is wrapped up in grey dots and gold stars, you’ll always be better and worse than someone else and you’ll always be miserable trying to change that.
As peers all transitioning from our undergraduate experiences to something, anything, whatever it may be, I think it’s time to throw away our stickers.

Loving Better

Since May 15th at 7:00 pm, when I triumphantly handed in my last final of my Junior year, I’ve slept in 8 different beds with 2 more to go before I return to my bright raspberry creamsicle room.

I never expected to stay in (multiple) strangers homes, co-author and self-publish a childrens’ book, go to Boston, or take up kickboxing during this past 3 months span.

Through a series of  conversations, packing up and moving out, getting caught in the rain (always), making friends at the Y, learning how to write (again), learning about what makes a family, Skyping Siberia, and waiting tables at barn weddings, I finally picked up on God’s creative ways of teaching me to love better by:

Loving Myself Less
I’ve always had a surplus of confidence, allowing me to walk into almost any situation with the assumption that I will not only learn quickly the necessary skills to thrive, but that I would come up with a better way of doing things.  Being an intern for HOPE International, an excellently run organization with competent leadership and a vision way beyond my overly confident self, was incredibly humbling and refreshing.  I was valued for my skills but expected to stretch myself and learn from those around me.  Not hard to do, when surrounded by some of the most intelligent and faithful servants of God I have ever had the pleasure of working alongside.
Loving Change More
Even though I’m leaving the summer with more to-do lists than I came in with, I’ve learned that plans not only can change on a dime–they will.  It’s part of life and being able to embrace the unpredictability of not having the world under my control (who knew?) has released me from the impossible burden of always arranging everything just so.
[This book helped immensely.]
Loving Others Better
 
It’s only because I am a mere 4 days from seeing my fiance again that I can say that this summer has been a wonderfully growing experience in learning how to one day (soon!) be a godly wife and in the meantime, love and serve to the best of my ability.  Of course, a month ago, I would have just whined about time zones and distance.  Thank you to all who have showed me examples of Christ-centered marriages and shared their candid advice.   More on this to come.
Loving Life Fully
 
Its a crazy adventure, but it’s worth living.

Inadequate.

I have been recently thinking about inadequacy. Not for the purpose of beating myself up, but just a realistic look at who I am. I have come to the conclusion that I am ultimately inadquate in everything. I will never be the friend, roommate, Christ-follower, daughter, student, leader, or sister that I should be. I am very confident in the fact that I will ultimately fail. This thought could be stifling, but it doesn’t have to be.

Which is why I don’t mind posting things like this, thoughts that aren’t just interesting analogies or insightful lists. Letting the realization that my life is be defined by inadequacy stop me from trying to be better is fatal to the person I want to become. Yet lying to myself in thinking that everything is always perfect is equally dangerous.

It’s okay to not understand life sometimes or yourself or why you feel like you want to cry but never can.

What’s not okay is letting that stop you from moving on, looking beyond the meladrama in your mind, and making life better.

Christian Living

I used to read those Christian girl magazines when I was younger.  Pages of tips on boys and make-up and modest dress interwoven with articles on how much you should tithe or Christian musicians and the occassional Bible reading plan.  Eventually, the editor canceled my subscription because I had an issue with some of their content and we got into an e-mail argument over it.
Oops.

Anyways, that pretty much shaped my view of Christianity.  Not that it was run by egotistical overly-defensive editors rather, that it was a Christian life which was filled with normal life stuff like applying eyeshadow and doing “Define the Relationship” talks (so maybe thats not so normal) with a bit of Christianity interwoven.  Not the mainstay of your life by any means, but the 15 minutes in the morning for Bible reading, an hour or two for youth group, and tithing at the Sunday morning worship service.

Because I was a good little homeschooled grew-up-in-the-church girl, I followed the expectations and read my Bible in the mornings.  Its a dangerous thing to give a literalist 12 year old who devoured books a Bible.  I was told to believe it and thats exactly what I did.  Except it didn’t paint the same picture my Christian magazines were painting.  It wasn’t telling me which Christian fiction book series about the Amish to read.  It wasn’t telling me how many inches my shorts were supposed to be above the knee.  It was telling me to love always and to pray continually and live every day, no, every second, for the glory of the God.  Something wasn’t meshing for me.

Throughout highschool, I was content with the Christian life.  I really enjoyed it even.  I was content to believe that what I was doing was enough, because after all, one can’t always be praying can they?

I started reading the Bible again.

After a while, I couldn’t keep lying to myself.  I had to accept the Bible for what it said or not at all.   I started reading these books like Do Hard Things and Crazy Love and I finally found someone else that saw a disconnect between Christian living (it sounds like a Marthat Stewart brand) and what the Bible was saying.

Now, its easier than ever to completely live for God.  I’m surrounded by church, discipleship groups, classes on the Bible, prayer groups, worship nights, prayer partners.  It’s also harder than ever to be authentially living and radical in a bubble where the basics are already being met.  I’m only at college for a season.  God didn’t call me to live completely for Him for four years, He called me for life.

I’m reading another radical Christianity book right now.  I watched the Passion 2012 stream last night.  Yet I was talking to my friend and we both agreed that if we actually tried some of the radical love and trust in God that these people talk about, most Christian adults we know would discourage us.

What do they know that we don’t?  I hear these ideas of living fully for God dismissed as a phase young Christians go through.  Do we turn 30 and suddenly get to ignore those radical parts of the Bible?  Does God stop convicting us to live completely for Him?  I see this generation ready to be different but I think we need some adults too.  Its too easy to be caught up in the hype and we need those are wiser to ground us.

I’m tired of Christian living and not living for Christ.