Reading Scripture Sideways: a new take on a very old book

I’ve been slowly, as in snail’s pace slowly, working my way through Rob Bell’s latest book, What is the Bible. I actually want to read it like the pages are on fire and I have to finish before it consumes them. I want to gorge myself on the clever, gentle, insightful ways of considering an ancient library. Scripture. I used to love it. Even now the word feels so weighty and mysterious when it sits on my tongue. I believe that’s because it is  weighty and mysterious, wrapped in thousands of layers of meaning and interpretation. Yes, I used to love scripture. I was so much more certain of everything then. Now, honestly, I’m afraid of the Bible, and that fear is holding me back from enjoying not only Rob Bell’s book, but scripture itself.

I know what you’re thinking: here comes the crazy again. It’s true. I have all the issues when it comes to church and church business. But through all this great big hairy church mess, somehow, I never believed that God lost her faith in me. Even when I stumble and flail and fall and swear, even when I push her away like an over tired toddler, she loves me still. She’s been faithful in every way and for that I am so deeply and powerfully grateful.

Religious institutions have not been so merciful or forgiving in my experience. Now I’m what old cowboys refer to as ‘gun shy.‘ Churchy words and situations make me anxious. I seldom measure up to expectations, and when I do it’s because I’m not being true to myself. And then there’s the Bible, the weapon most often used against me in religious altercations (also known as rebuking, church discipline and spiritual authority).

It’s true, I’ve used the Bible as a weapon myself, back in the days when together we were infallible. I can accept that about myself even if I don’t like it very much. Had I known how quickly that weapon would turn on me, I might have thumped more gently, perhaps not at all. For as long as I can remember, we’ve elevated scripture with superlatives: inerrant, inspired, ineffable. Words so high, I cannot attain them. I’ve learned to defend it, uphold it, revere it and memorize it, as though tongues of fire straight from Heaven itself licked words upon papyrus scrolls with nary a misprint or mystery in the process.

What I didn’t learn was how slippery millenia old stories of the Divine become as they slip through time. Or how entirely human the men and women who recorded the stories really are. Sometimes a very human agenda superimposes itself over a very divine story. I didn’t learn context, or layers or culture. Truth may be eternal, but the expression of Truth isn’t so easy to nail down in concisely neat terms once and for all.

So I’ve floundered.

My experience of God doesn’t fit so neatly on the pages as it used to. It keeps sliding off, bursting out, growing bigger than the neat little boxes I learned about. The God of my deconstruction is endlessly forgiving, but God out of the box can get you excommunicated (or perhaps even crucified).

I’ve avoided wrestling with scripture for fear it will disappoint me. It has a lot to live up to when you look at it as the very word of God. But recently, I’ve started to see it a bit differently. Jesus, Himself, is the very word of God, and to date, He hasn’t failed me. I think for me it’s time to let the words of the Bible be what they truly are – a very human attempt to describe a very indescribable God.

An immutable, inerrant Word of God is far too dangerous in the hands of someone like me. But a human attempt to unravel the Universal Christ in ways we can understand and embody, with all the mistakes and course correction that entails? That might just be the right fit for a heretic like me. And if it isn’t, I have a God who’s waiting to fill in the gaps. Because that’s the kind of God she is.

Live lightly: When your soul says it’s time to let go

Today I did a wild and crazy thing; I spent almost two hours purging books from my digital library. By purge, I mean delete forever. Go ahead: gasp, faint, recover. Occasionally, I need to lighten the load by whatever means I can find. Honestly, it’s slim pickings around here in the clutter department. After all, I’ve been purging for awhile. Today’s activity is brought about by a need to live lightly. It’s term that’s clanging around in my head recently: live lightly.

I’m considering all the ways that may affect my life. My desire to live more joyfully is one way to live lightly. Also, My on-going minimalism quest constantly reveals things I grasp tightly which only serve to weigh me down.  Even though it seems I should be as minimal as a person can be by now, I can always find new way to consider and evaluate my life. Perhaps that’s the gift of introversion.

Sometimes I play a goofy head-game with myself: could I pack this room up in an hour or less? We all know my addiction to moving to new living places. When I play this game I also ask myself, would I take this with me when we go. If the answer is no, it’s not likely to live here any longer.

But as I said, I’ve been living minimally for awhile. When I get the urge to purge these days, I have to be even more creative than when I began this journey. In my reality, we don’t even have a junk drawer. I know. It’s crazy.

Usually this urge means I am experiencing a sort of spiritual purge as well. This morning I listened to an amazing podcast. (Yes, I listen to one almost every day. What can I say?). Listening to the story of someone else’s spiritual journey, has me thinking about my own. There are many things I drag along with me spiritually that have outlived their purpose and then some. Basically, my urge to purge physically is a manifestation of something much deeper happening inside me.

Since learning this about myself, I’ve noticed that my emotional and spiritual health often mirror my physical environment. When my house is cluttered, my soul feels cluttered. It’s likely my need to lighten up digitally reflects a deeper need to live lighter emotionally and spiritually.

A few days ago, I shared about my need to make some lifestyle changes. As I think about them now, I realize they also are manifestations of this need to lighten up. Interestingly, they also relate to my digital life. Apparently, my soul is willing to use any means necessary to get this message through.

How will this need continue to manifest itself remains to be discovered. It’s tied up with the Month of No, in ways I can’t see clearly yet. But I’m listening, and purging, and sharing with you as new ideas and concepts reveal themselves. Perhaps God is making room to do something new in my life yet again. I’m so very ready. I think I’ll go purge something else to really prove it.

Love: How I make sense of the world in violent times

Sundays tend to make me thinkful. Often I experience a sort of dissonance between the way I once understood God, and the way I understand God now. Much has changed for me over the last few years, a widening and deepening. I read something this morning that I love:

We must therefore, never underestimate our power to wrong about God, when imagining God –whether in prose or in poetry. – Brian MacLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy

I have been wrong, no doubt about many things I am still wrong. But over the last few years I’ve learned that when God strips everything else away, Love remains. The Spirit of God is love, and it does not change or fail or fall away. When Christ hung on the cross, it was not to appease the wrath of God. We already understood gods as wrathful and bloodthirsty and have for thousands of years. Instead, Christ came to reveal the true nature of God. Even when humanity seeks to put God to death, He loves. He forgives.

This is not the image of God I learned from my childhood. While this concept is not a new revelation, it is a new revelation to me. It is a facet of God I had not yet considered, but now that I have, it has entirely changed how I see the world and the people in it.

But it is a slow reconciliation.

Perhaps the most difficult thing to reconcile is the concept of original blessing. The congregations I have taken part with have always emphasized sin. We are born in sin. We live in sin. Mankind lost to Original sin. This sin is almost, always personal in nature: lies, swearing, greed…you probably know the list. But, there is a reality before Genesis 3. Somehow we forget this, or we’ve simply never considered it this way.

Before there was sin, there was blessing. We were created in communion and for communion. Even before His death, Jesus showed us there is still communion with God. He washed the disciples feet and He broke bread with them. This is the very face of God revealed in a way humanity had seldom imagined.

No other god has ever revealed themselves in this way.

Yet somehow we still miss it. We let our focus settle on our imperfections (for me, those are many) rather than on the One who dwells first with us and then in us. We are not repulsive to God. Not a disappointment; not an abomination. Every single person who has ever lived and ever will live was created by love and in love. Every one.

Created by Love and in love. Created to love.

For so long I missed this. As I understood it, I was born in sin and redeemed to correct and save others. The strength of my belief was under-girded by how many people around me understood God the same way. Numbers meant power and power meant the ability to shape the world in our image.

But I do not need to save the world. The position of Savior is more than adequately filled. He declared His work finished, enough. Furthermore, I do not need to fix the world, since Love is already doing the restoration work. I can even let go of judging the world, God has judged it already and found it very good (He hasn’t changed His mind on this revelation either). My one and only job is to love the world. Love the world and it’s people, it’s features and cultures and forests and fields. Love with my words and my ways and my life.

I’ve come to believe the world doesn’t have a sin problem. If Jesus died once and for all, then sin only has power where there is not love. No, the world suffers from a Love problem. When we worship systems and power instead of God, the world suffers. Placing ourselves, our agendas, our desires above our neighbor, the world suffers. We create division between people groups and ideologies. We always belong to the good guys, and they always belong to the bad guys. And the world suffers.

But we have received a revelation that life doesn’t have to be this way. These systems and powers and principalities are shadows but we can bring the light. That light is Love. It looks different from the rule books, different from systematic theology, breaking down barriers religion has erected. It’s messy and unpredictable, and it’s breaking through. Here and now, all around  us.

We love because we are already loved. We have been since the dawn of time.

Kingdom come.
On earth as it is in Heaven.
For God so loves the world. This world.
He is love, and in Him, we are love.

 

Though I speak all the languages of earth and of angels, if I didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.  If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

 

The box of Re-order: It’s bigger on the inside

If you haven’t already read my take on the three boxes, I encourage you to go back to the beginning. You can read about the box of order here. The box of disorder is here, and also my personal disorder experience. Today, I’ll write about the box of re-order, but it makes more sense if you’ve looked at the other boxes first. But you do you. Here we go.

I know many people are familiar with, even fans of, the Doctor Who reboot on BBC.  There’s so much about it I really enjoy (confession: I have yet to embrace original Who, sorry die-hards), but one of my favorite recurring phrases is, “It’s bigger on the inside!” This exclamation usually uttered when someone new encounters the phone box known as the Tardis.

The Tardis is the Doctor’s magical traveling box. It’s disguised as a simple blue 1940’s phone box. But if you are one of the lucky few admitted behind the doors, the box has a near limitless capacity including a library, a swimming pool and various other spacious treasures.

The box of re-order is a lot like the Tardis. While the order box feels too constricting and binary, it’s difficult to even find the walls sometimes in the re-order box. Unfortunately, there’s no skipping the disorder and going straight to reorder. The boxes must be traversed in order. Until we make peace with all the things we do not know and may never understand while in the box of disorder, the lack of structure in the re-order box is a bit disorienting.

I’m only at the very beginning of my journey after deconstruction. It’s sometimes difficult for me to share the nature of this new place I find myself. For years, I’ve listened to voices who speak with certainty about who belongs and who does not.  I knew who I am and who they were and where we both belonged. It’s easier, being certain where I stand and where that standing is in relation to everyone else on the spiritual hierarchy.

The third box, while it has room for many, many new things and ideas, doesn’t really make room for hierarchy.  Like a wide open gymnasium, the third box places everyone on equal footing. We are we, all in this place together, mostly doing the best we can.

There’s a bit of peacemaking when we enter the re-order box as well. It’s a bit shocking to find that even though there was no room in the box of order for our struggles, the box of re-order makes room even for those “narrow minded” folks. It reminds me they too are understanding God and life and love the best they can. We don’t all travel the same path even when we’re seeking the same destination. Some days, this is still the hardest idea to reconcile.

The more I investigate the re-order box, the more grace I find. Sure, there’s plenty of grace for myself, since I no longer have to be the most right person in the room. There’s also grace for others, who think differently, or live differently, or worship differently. I find myself excited for their passion and their discovery. I’m free to love them as they are, with no agenda to convert them to any other way of living and understanding. They’ll be along by and by.

Perhaps everything I’m saying seems a bit loose and nebulous. If so, then I’m on the right track. While there is room for structure and guidelines in the re-order box, the only “rule” which really matters is Love. How do we love? Who do we love? Have we remembered to love ourselves as well? Love will heal us; teach us and guide us all home.  There’s always more than enough to focus on within ourselves to be too concerned with correcting anyone else. Love has them well in hand, has the whole world well in hand.

When there’s little else I know, of Love I am certain.  And if I am wrong, Love will guide me home by and by.

 

Those who Journey with me: Voices in my Head Pt 2

Yesterday I wrote about finding the courage to tell my story, and why telling our stories matters.  I’ve been writing about the three boxes: order>disorder>reorder.  Until now, my journey through the box of disorder has been like my dirty little secret.  I don’t often talk about publicly about this because it makes people uncomfortable, or it looks bad, or it’s not what’s expected from someone in my position. Honestly, much of the pressure to not talk is internal. I struggle with a high level fear of rejection, for obvious reasons, but as I said, that’s not the narrative I’m accepting anymore.

Church is a funny sort of creature, both the theological construct and the various local tribes. In order to belong, we have to believe and practice certain things. Over time these things become sacred, unquestionable. They are the way things are, the markers which come to identify who is in the tribe, and who is not in the tribe.  When we start to question these markers, the push-back can be both cruel and severe. Or sometimes it’s more subtle, a quiet and gentle withdrawal, a dismissal delivered congenially behind closed doors. Whatever the method, it hurts, deeply. I’ve seen it happen in multiple ways in my own life and watched it happen publicly and terribly to others.

Which is why I kept my own counsel, mostly.  Fortunately, I’m a reader, so I relied on what came most naturally to me to find support. I went to books. Books turned to podcasts. I found a few lovely, courageous people who were also deconstructing, who could sit with the questions I asked, and who honored me by sharing their own. I may most often wish to be a hermit, but this process of deconstruction is nearly unbearable without some form of community. 

Today I want to share a few voices that have meant the most to me over these last few years. Perhaps you need them too, or maybe you will one day.  

7: an Experimental Mutiny against Excess by Jen Hatmaker and Beauty will Save the world by Brian Zahnd.  I credit these two books as the ones that started it all. Or perhaps it’s better to call them the books which finally gave permission for me to explore a different way of faith.  They gave voice to what had already begun to stir in my soul. They are spiritual catalysts.  Brian Zahnd went on to publish Water to Wine last year, a semi-autobiographical account of his own disorder/reorder journey, which I devoured in two days.

Faith Shift by Kathy Escobar.  This is the book which helped me believe I was not crazy.  All the emotional wreckage I was sorting through, I found in this book. I read story after story of those who also survived the journey. I learned how they did, and that no two journeys are exactly the same. Faith became mysterious, organic and impossible to predict. I learned there are paths for those of us who leave The Path too.

Peter Enns, The Sin of Certainty and The Bible Tells Me So.  I read the Bible Tells me so before I read Sin of Certainty, mainly because the second book wasn’t published yet. When I recommend them to others, I advise reading them the other way around though.  The Sin of Certainty is another journey of disorder story, encompassing faith from many aspects and embracing the idea of mystery, questions and the unknowable. The Bible Tells Me So deals specifically with scripture, introducing alternate perceptions and various accepted theological understandings.  For those of us who have learned there is only one way to look at scripture, this is a doorway to a whole new world, inhabited by more than just heretics and fringe lunatics.

Brian McLaren – A New Kind of Christian and A Generous Orthodoxy.  One thing I appreciate about these new-to-me authors and their stories is their overarching willingness to say, this is what I think, but I might be wrong. I’ve never lived in a spiritual space where the possibility of being wrong was tolerable. Being right has always been very, very important. But Brian’s is a voice willing to speculate, to have a conversation. He makes room.  It’s feels not only refreshing and lovely, but welcoming and safe.

Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans and Out of Sorts by Sarah Bessey. I could write for days and days the way these two brave, beautiful souls have ministered to me through their words and witness. I desperately needed women of faith who’d been on this journey too. Their pain and their passion mirrored my own; their desperation to know God in a way they hadn’t previously even known was possible, made it possible for me as well. Because they shared their story, I believed I, too, could reconstruct a living faith eventually.

There are others, many others, voices I am just discovering or ones that would take me down rabbit trails to a dozen other titles and voices if I listed even one more. 

I want to finish by listing a few podcasts which have also helped my sanity tremendously.

Rob Bell, the Robcast – Far and away the voice I have relied on most heavily in the podcast world.

The Liturgists – generally topical, this podcast provides the voices of several folks as well as guest speakers.

The Deconstructionists – A great podcast for those who are deconstructing, but who also want to connect and reconstruct in new and exciting ways.

Brian Zahnd – As the voice who started all of this, I seldom miss his weekly sermon. When I need a reminder to inhabit the Kingdom and reject the empire, Brian delivers.

Greg Boyd – Greg is new to my list of voices. I hear his books would probably also make my booklist above, but so far I have only enjoyed his podcast. Challenging, engaging and relevant. He’s currently at the top of my list.

The voices in our head: Why story matters

I relied on many voices to help me through the box of disorder. Of all the voices who share about their experiences, Rob Bell’s is one of the kindest, wittiest and most inspiring in my world, currently. Each week, when I listen to his podcast, I find myself agreeing, stopping to swear (which is apparently how I voice my agreement when it’s too strong to keep inside), or sending quotes and links to anyone who will listen. Most people aren’t as excited as I am, probably. Having felt alone for a very long time, I throw connecting moments out like candy from a parade float and hope it reaches someone who really needs it.

Anyway, I was listening to the Robcast recently, specifically, The Importance of Boredom (weeks later and this is still rolling around in my soul so maybe you would like it too). He tells the story his wife’s experience with pregnancy induced asthma, which was terrifying. After the trauma of daily fearing for her life, she would talk with Rob about her story: how it felt, what happened, what she thought, over and over. She talked about it every day until finally the experience was actually in the past instead of continually happening to her in her mind.

Trauma is like that.

It isn’t only mental. It’s physical. It’s on our cells. Scientists can find it in our hair and our fingernails months after the events themselves. We carry it, and often we carry it silently, pushing it down into deep dark corners and hoping it will just go away.

But trauma is not like that.

Trauma grows in dark places and secrets. It gets bigger, and hairier, and meaner. The only true cure for trauma is light and love. Light and love over time, sometimes a long time. Sometimes days and weeks and months of bringing our trauma out into the light until finally it begins to fade, never leaving us entirely, but certainly becoming more like all the other events that make up who we are instead of THE event which defines us.

Love and light and time.

I listened to this podcast within the first few days of deciding to write for one hundred days. When I heard this part about trauma I wanted to yell, That’s it!!! to anyone who would listen.

Over the last seven years, aside from my messy spiritual disintegration:

  • we’ve been kicked out of church,
  • lost our home,
  • filed for bankruptcy,
  • my brother endured his own trauma of stage 4 colon cancer,
  • my mom had a melanoma on her face,
  • two of my three children have graduated,
  • all three children have started college,
  • we’ve lost two close friends to suicide and
  • endured several episodes of “not the same, but feels the same” as my previous spiritual abuse.

But only some of these things are socially acceptable to talk about, or at least, that’s the message I received. The rest are private, or make other people look bad, or are bad for the church, or so many other reasons why it was simply easier to not tell my story.

So I didn’t. And in the dark spaces it grew teeth, and claws, and these things became who I am instead of just things that happened to me. Because I couldn’t put them in the past where they belong, they jumbled up and piled up, and stacked up, always in my face, always part of my present, always something I had to be afraid and ashamed of. Always.

Every single day.

Until I finally decided that the chips will fall where they will. It’s time to let my story out. Again and again. As many times as I need to share it, until finally, it becomes merely part of me instead of defining me.

So you’ll forgive me if you’ve heard this one before, but I’m not done telling my story yet. Even though it’s no longer happening, I’m still living it inside. I’m still understanding all the ways it broke me and strengthened me and changed me. Stories matter. They are how we heal, how we tell the voices in our head what really happened.

Maybe you have a story too. Maybe it’s big and scary and ugly and all up in your business day after day. I encourage you to find a safe space, a person who loves to hear the same story time after time, a recovery group, a therapist. Tell your story; bring it out into the light. Let someone love you right in the middle of that great, big, hairy-scary mess.

I promise, pinky-swear even, with light and love over time, it really does get better. It never goes away, but we learn to live with it. The weight becomes bearable, and we become ourselves again.

The Box of Disorder: How I survived when I burned it all down

A few weeks ago, before I lost my brain to whole 30 and fourteen unexpected schedule crises, I wrote a bit about the three boxes: order< disorder< reorder. I learned about these boxes from Richard Rohr. Whether or not he originated the thought, I don’t know. I’m just glad I heard him speak of them. You can read about order here and disorder here. But I want to take a bit longer and talk about my own disorder story.

I believe everyone’s journey is unique; we don’t all walk the same path even when we are headed in the same direction. But I also know there is power in “me too”, and it’s very important for those of us on the disorder journey to hear this, because it can be an extremely lonely time.

I wrote earlier that sometimes the disorder starts with a simple question, and so it did with me. Back when I used to love to study scripture – a feeling it’s hard for me to remember now; the Bible and I approach each other gently now, like lovers who said too many horrible things in a fight and haven’t fully recovered – I read something which contradicted everything I’d been taught about Jewish people. Namely, they missed the boat in Jesus and so were lost to salvation. But what I was reading, didn’t support this idea at all.

Excited by my ‘discovery,’ I began to share with others. Their response is what you probably expect.

No. You’re wrong. God doesn’t work like that.

Their utter refusal to even entertain these, to me, exciting and beautiful revelations left me feeling diminished. Their tone when they rebuked me left me feeling ashamed. Questions open the doors to dangerous ideas; we sure don’t want to go down any slippery slopes.

Except I did.

I could write for days and weeks if I enumerated all the reasons the cracks in my iron-clad theology grew, personal relationships became strained and snapped. The dissonance in the doctrine I knew and what I was actually finding in scripture was too loud. I knew too much of what happens behind closed doors in churches (hint: people I placed unfairly on pedestals acting altogether human). All these things contributed their weight.  I struggled, floundered and pushed back.

Then we were kicked out of church.

I know now, after years of struggling with this huge, suffocating burden, that pushing back against the system was only part of the reason for our eviction. Ego, dysfunction, resentment and jealousy took part in the decision. I was not innocent of some of the uglier motives, but I no longer believe I deserved what I got. For years, I carried the weight of responsibility for this eviscerating event. When I took it upon myself, I also decided I would be the one to fix it and prevent it from ever happening again.

Obviously, the way to prevent pain was to be the best little evangelical pastor wife I could be. You can’t evict perfection, right?

I threw myself into my wifely position at our new church home attending all the services, promoting all the programs, keeping the nursery. I crossed all the t’s, dotted all the i’s and made countless covered dishes. The box of order was my security blanket, the thing that would keep me from ever being hurt again.

Except I kept getting hurt. Human relationships are messy; we can’t avoid hurt in this world unless we remove ourselves to a desert cave. Even then, we may still end up wounded. My wounds only added to the internal pressure I felt from denying all my questions and struggles from before. I couldn’t continue to embrace things I knew weren’t the final Truth and remain true to myself. If I embraced these dissonant doctrines, I was going to lose core pieces of my self entirely, and I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t.

The breakdown was not a lovely time. At all.

It was messy and painful. I ached and wept and railed in fury, isolated and shut down. I wounded people with sharp edges and anger. Honestly, I’m lucky to have anyone still withe me, who knew me before. I lost many along the way. Fortunately, despite all my fear of intimacy and strangers, I knew I needed professional help.  I spent many hours in the office of a therapist, a beautiful, open-minded soul who made space for my disaster and told me again and again and again that there was room in God’s love for even this.

That message, apart from religion or expectations or appearances or all the other things I hated about myself and everything else….Just God and space and LOVE…is the one thing I held, pressed right up against my heart, tight, tight, tight, tight.

Then I razed the rest.

Once I knew, really knew, God’s love held room for my disaster, I wanted nothing else. I wanted to rebuild my self piece by piece: likes, dislikes, theology, philosophy, relationships, dreams, hopes, all of it. Everything. Nothing was sacred, not even the sacred.

But first, I sat in the ashes. I mourned. I wept. God made space for it and me even as I railed against Him for my own decision. I cursed Him for my lonliness. I turned away from Him in my disappointment. But even in this, I found space. I found love.  Companions sat with me in the ashes, wisely speaking no platitudes, correction or rebuke. Simply bearing witness to the death of so many things.

Not everyone experiences disorder on this scale, but some do. I foolishly built my identity on something which couldn’t last, so when the time for disorder came, as it does for all of us, most of my identity disintegrated with it.

But there’s hope. Always hope. While we are still in the box of disorder hope does not leave us. In fact, it builds the bridge to the box of reorder, which is where we are going next.

My Moving Obsession: Thoughts on changes big and slow

I’ve talked about my obsession with moving before. I’m restless and ready for change. Sometimes the quickest way to change is your environment rather than the slower, less noticeable changes which happen internally. Fortunately, both have their place.
We’ve lived in four different houses in our time in Georgia, each one a little smaller than the one before. When we moved from Florida we packed for weeks, used the largest U-haul you can rent and still needed an extra truck and trailer. Even then, knowing what I know now, I think we owned less than the average American household.
We lived in our first house for two years side-by-side with boxes we never bothered to unpack. Crazy right?  Before we moved into our second house, we looked at a small house located on property our church owns.  It seemed like such a good idea, but the house…as we walked around it, all I could think was, our stuff will never fit. There’s nowhere for our stuff. Eventually, we moved elsewhere.
Moving a second time encouraged me to dispose of a few boxes we had never unpacked, but most of our stuff just moved right along with us.   While living in our second home, two things happened. First, although there was a large master bedroom on the bedroom end of the house, there was also a much smaller bedroom and bath on the opposite end away from the cluster of kid bedrooms. It was tiny but connected to a gorgeous sunroom and offered opposite-side-of-the-house privacy.
Oh yeah.
Then, I joined a thirty day writing challenge. I wrote about organization, because who doesn’t want to be more organized? I bought into the idea that organization was the answer to creating a more meaningful life. If I can make room for everything, I can have it all. True to my nature, I began reading books about organization and prioritization.  Randomly, I chose  The 100 Thing Challenge: How I Got Rid of Almost Everything, Remade My Life, and Regained My Soul by Dave Bruno (I’m a complete sucker for a numbered challenge…I mean, I’m writing this as part of the 100 days project, right?).  This began a pattern of exploration which drastically transformed, and still transforms my life.
I discovered the concept of minimalism.
If you’ve read, or spoken with, or been near me, or know someone who’s known me for more than five minutes, you know I beat the drums of minimalism loudly and often.  I love it for a million reasons. But mostly I love that the closer I lean into it, the better me I become. Minimalism is has opened the door for me to learn to release, to examine my motives, to explore new ways of thinking and being and living. There are other ways to become more yourself, for sure (I’m engaging in one of them for eighty-six more days). Minimalism is mine, and I find excellent company in it.
Moving and writing were the catalysts for huge changes in my life. Some happened quickly, like a van full of stuff to Goodwill, or two, or fifteen. Five years later and I dropped four boxes off today.  The real challenge of minimalism began once I worked past the surface: the closets, desk drawers and garage boxes. Then, I wasn’t just purging and prioritizing; I was engaging in some serious self examination.  I begin to ask myself, “Why do I keep this? Do I use it? Do I love it? Is something deeper going on here?” 
Now I entered the real work, the meaty good stuff. Occasionally it’s intense and I have to step away for awhile, but mostly it is completely, abundantly liberating, like being buried under rocks in a cave and suddenly finding the way out.
This whole journey of self-discovery and recovery is possible because five years ago I embraced a new way of life. I wanted cleaner closets and less maternal melt-down. I had no idea when I started where it would lead. Looking back, the whole experience justifies my belief that a simple thirty challenge just might change your life.  Sometimes change is quick, and sometimes slow, but usually, it jumbles hopelessly together.
Incidentally, that little house the church owns that I said we’d never fit into? Five adults and two dogs comfortably live in it now, and we’re only going smaller from here.

 

Why order is necessary: Breaking down the three boxes

I sat down at my keyboard today and wondered, Is it ok to write about writing? Do people want to read that? Which is a silly question because I have five readers, and obviously you are the five I can’t chase away no matter what I write about. We’re stuck together for life, and I’m very ok with it. But then I considered the layers beneath that seemingly innocent duo of questions and peeked at a familiar theme. What is expected of me? Am I upholding those expectations? That’s the voice of codependency and trauma. What are the rules and how do I follow them perfectly? Those questions tell me instead of writing about writing, it’s time to break down some boxes, starting with order.

I learned about the concept of three boxes from Richard Rohr, a formative voice for me over the last several years. He breaks the universal faith journey into three boxes: order > disorder > reorder.

In the interest of brevity–and because you can read more at the linked article–let’s call the first box the box of immaturity. It holds the foundational tenets which we are taught from the moment we draw breath. Whether or not we are talking about church or religion, we begin with certain rules, ways of explaining how the world works. This is a good thing. In fact, it’s a necessary process enabling us to grow in an emotionally stable environment. One of our most basic needs is security. Foundational rules keep us safe and provide order: the stove is hot; the street is not safe; God loves us; the sun will rise every morning.

These rules create order and provide the framework for reality. Without them, the world is a Salvadore Dali painting, skewed, unstable and unpredictable.

All of us rely on rules daily. But most of us don’t follow them blindly once we gain maturity. For instance, the rule we used to follow about going into the street. It is true streets can be dangerous. But when I take my morning run, I frequently run in the street if the sidewalk is bad because all streets are not dangerous all the time for all people. The principle is true even if the practice isn’t always true.

When I run in the street, I leave the box of order and venture into disorder (the time I went in the street and was nearly wiped out) and eventually reorder (carefully assessing traffic patterns before assuming street safety).

Religion can be a very first box oriented endeavor. We make rules because we want to know and understand God, which is good. A god who is too big or too mysterious to understand is a force of power with which we can never connect. Knowing and understanding are key to a relationship, therefore God makes Himself knowable and comprehensible because He desires relationship. However, there are parts of His being which are not immediately knowable and even those which are essentially unknowable due to the limits of human understanding.

We use these revealed truths as cornerstones on which we build our theology. God is good. God created the universe. Jesus is real. Jesus died to restore humanity. We can be like God, and He desires this for us. He helps form us in His image. These beliefs matter. They create order in our chaotic reality.

The problem is sometimes we see the rules as immovable constructs for all time rather than starting point for a long conversation. Yes, the stove is hot and may burn us. However, the stove also allows us to create an endless variety of food, which may lead to conversation, laughter, togetherness and community. What is true about the stove is not ALL that is true about the stove. It’s a starting point, but there is more to the conversation.

The same is true of our religious beliefs:

God created the universe, but the is more to the conversation.
Jesus died to restore us, but there is more to the conversation.
We can be like God, but there so much more to the conversation.

And honestly, sometimes the more to the conversation is scary. Sometimes, the stove burns your house down; the street proves deadly. Sometimes theology goes horribly, maniacally wrong.

At this point we face a sort of crisis, is it easier to continue the conversation, or do we revert to the basic tenets and never deviate? Do we conform to the rules and reject anyone who does not or cannot conform to them, calling them a heretic and casting them away from us for our own safety? Do we even dare question if the original rule might not be a true rule to begin with?

Now we’re in uncharted territory. It’s not safe, not secure, not popular, and definitely not easy. Which is why so many of us never leave the safety of the rules. If a thing is always true, we always know what to expect. We always know the outcome. We never have to worry about consequences. So we live this way for years. Some of us live this way forever. It isn’t inherently wrong to live our entire lives in the box of order, but it’s an extremely exclusive way to live. If a set of rules is true, then every other set of rules must be wrong. There can be only one set of true rules.

The box of order is safe, but it breeds superiority, contempt and disassociation. At its extreme it is completely anti-community. There can only be us and them, and we are always completely right.

Order is necessary, but there is more to the conversation.

**I didn’t start this as a series, but it has rapidly become one. Stay tuned for further installments.