For you cannot serve two masters …
Oct 9th, 2012 by Sonja

This post is part of the October Synchroblog – Faith and Politics: No matter what you believe or don’t believe, “faith in the public square” is something you probably have an opinion about.

Yeah, I have an opinion (because we all know I have an opinion on just about everything). My opinion is that only the very adept can mix faith and politics without some measure of toxicity entering the atmosphere.

I believe that it is a matter of course that a person of faith should take their beliefs into the voting booth.  We all measure candidates using different gauges and people of faith will and should use their beliefs as some part of that.  As a liberal, I believe that helping people should take precedence over enforcing rules and I likely differ with many of my conservative brethren and sistren about how one helps another in need.


I also believe that faith should stay out of politics.  There is something funny that happens when you get a good idea and are able to convince others to join your cause.  It feels really good to have a bunch of people telling you what a great idea you have.  It’s even better when they all work together to implement your idea … wow!!  Check it out … a bunch of people believe the same way you do and they want to help your idea out.  It’s awesome.

But then (in many cases) something weird happens.  That good idea begins to take on a life of it’s own.  It gains traction and grows bigger, until it owns the person.  And what was once a good idea begins to morph into something that is the opposite.  Until something like this happens:

If one could contrive a nation that whole-heartedly followed Jesus, I think that might be a good thing in the world.  Not gonna lie, in a colloquialism of today.  However, I’m not certain that is something that can be legislated.  Rulers of past nations/empires have tried this and ended up killing many of their countrymen in a quest for absolute …. ahhh … power.

I was deeply troubled by the caption my friend gave this link.  It would seem that in the desire for a good thing, many of my brothers and sisters have opted to go the way of power.  And according to my understanding of the faith, Jesus eschewed power and declared that we who follow him ought to as well.

Here is the list of some other writers who shared their thoughts on this subject:

We The People by Wendy McCaig

Pulpit Freedom, Public Faith by Carol Kuniholm

Plumbers and Politicians by Glenn Hager

Conflating Faith and Politics by Maurice Broaddus

Would Jesus Vote by Jeremy Myers

A Kingdom Not Of This World by Jareth Caelum

I am a Christian and I am a Democrat by Liz Dyer

5 ways to make it through the election and still keep your friends by Kathy Escobar

Why There’s No Such Thing As The Christian Vote by Marta Layton

God’s Politics? by Andrew Carmichael

Faith and the Public Square by Leah Sophia

International Women’s Day
Mar 20th, 2012 by Sonja

OxFam International Women's Day

International Women’s Day is every March 8.  It falls within the month of March, a month designated as Women’s History Month.  It’s a day celebrating women and their contributions to our world … and yet.  And yet, I feel like a stranger in a strange land.  I am not comfortable with this feeling and I am angry about its sources.

I am angry because I have a daughter who sits at the edge of adulthood and everything that I know about how to keep her healthy and living up to her potential as a human being is under assault here in my own country.

It is well known world wide, that the primary stumbling block to women’s voices coming to the table is lack of adequate family planning.  The inability to have even modest control over the number of children/pregnancies is an insurmountable hurdle to education, to all but the most menial jobs, and access to government.

How on earth should I celebrate when here in my own country access to family planning and women’s health care are under assault from nearly every corner.  Poor women with 3, 4 and 5 children in Texas are finding their options driven further and further afield (as of this writing, funding has been cut for 90% of Texas’ women’s health care programming)  These women often do not have the ability to drive from one city to another in search of preventative medicine that is affordable.  Because of federal cut backs their oral contraceptives are being priced out of their reach.  These are married women, struggling to feed, clothe and house the children they already have.  The jobs they and their spouses have are inadequate to pay for them to have a car, or reliable transportation between cities.  This is under the guise of refusing to subsidize abortions.

Federal money does not now and it never has subsidized abortion.  There is no insurance policy which covers it.

This fact while true, does not in fact, make providing an abortion illegal.  Nor does it give any governmental agency the right to put women’s health or their health care decisions at risk.  While the number of abortions that Planned Parenthood “provides” in any given year is high, it still only accounts for a little more than a quarter of all abortions performed nation wide (~27% of the approximately 1.2 million abortions were performed by PP in 2007).  It’s not an insignificant statistic, but it does show that (if you’re opposed to allowing women to make their own decisions) PP is not “the root of all evil.”  What it does show is that even in the absence of PP, women are going to avail themselves of a legal, medical procedure.

Every reliable study ever done shows a strong correlation between access to health care & education and women being able to care for themselves (and their families) in an economically viable fashion.  Removing access to health care for poor women is one more brick in the wall enclosing them in their poverty.  Doing it under the guise of loving children is hypocrisy.  The best way to love children is to stop demonizing their mothers, and give them healthy mothers who can provide for them.

This post is part of the March Syncroblog – All About Eve.  Check out some of the other fabulous writing at the links below:

Michelle Morr Krabill – Why I Love Being a Woman
Marta Layton – The War on Terror and the War on Women
Ellen Haroutounian – March Synchroblog – All About Eve
Jeremy Myers – Women Must Lead the Church
Carol Kuniholm – Rethinking Hupotasso
Wendy McCaig – Fear Letting Junia Fly
Tammy Carter – Pat Summit: Changing the Game & Changing the World
Jeanette Altes – On Being Female
kathy escobar – replacing the f-word with the d-word (no not those ones)
Melody Hanson – Call Me Crazy, But I Talk To Jesus Too
Glenn Hager – Walked Into A Bar
Steve Hayes – St. Christina of Persi
Leah Sophia – March Syncroblog-All About Eve
Liz Dyer – The Problem Is Not That I See Sexism Everywhere…
Sonja Andrews – International Women’s Day
Sonnie Swenston-Forbes – The WomenChristine Sine – It All Begins With Love
K.W. Leslie – Undoing the Subordination of Women
Carie Good – The Math of Mr. Cardinal
Dan Brennan – Ten Women I Want To Honor

My Best of 2007 – A Bakers Dozen
Dec 28th, 2007 by Sonja

Well … the end of another calendar year is in sight. I’m working on some posts right now … but I also got bit by a designing bug and I’ve got quilts coming out of my ears. Not literally, yet. But I have to get the ideas down, or I’ll lose them. So in the meantime, I thought I’d do some best of posts …

Tonight, a list of the most commented posts of the year. I just went through by month and picked the post for each month with the most comments. August was unique because there was a tie that month for most comments and it was a high too … 26 for both posts. So, I’ll begin with January, end with December and see where the road takes us.

January – Comestible Consumption Competition – Day 8
February – Love Them Patriots
March – Leaving Oz
April – The People Known As the Bride of Christ
May – Perspectives On Women
June – 7 Books I’m Reading
July – Losing My Religion
August – The Appearance of Holiness
To Whom Shall I Turn
September – OMG!!!
October – Vampire Protection
November – WWJS …
December – Twaddle and a Confession

Having spent so much time in my own writing this evening, I no longer have any confidence in myself. What am I thinking? Oy … my 7 readers are filled with grace. Thank you from the bottom of my pea-pickin little heart.

Tomorrow, or Sunday, a list of my favorite posts from the year. Maybe a photo of the quilt I’m designing too as a special extra (it’s an art quilt, so it’s small).

Walking With the Camels (November Synchroblog)
Nov 15th, 2007 by Sonja

It’s been in the news lately and creating quite a bit of debate over the status of churches. It was a simple request. A request from Caesar.

So, now then … how does the church respond? How do individuals respond? Are and should those responses be the same? Or, should they be different?

First, though, the request. It came from Senator Charles Grassley, the ranking Republican senator, on the Finance Committee. He wanted to know just how the untaxed money was being spent at six rather large and opulent ministries in the country. It seems like a reasonable question. It’s a question I’ve asked myself. Just what are those ministries doing with all of that money, anyway? And how much money do they have in the first place?

It seems that some of them have purchased some rather lavish toilets ($23,000 a piece). Ministry funds have been used to purchase Rolls Royces and private jets. Sometimes they have all combined funds to give each other lavish gifts on special occasions (a fellow minister’s 40th anniversary, for example). With our faces pressed up against the crystal cathedral, it looks an awful lot like a millionaires club for Christians.

Churches enjoy a special status in this country. They pay no taxes. They are not under many of the obligations to their employees in terms of retirement plans and Social Security taxes that most companies are. They are not obligated in terms of the Employees with Disabilities Act either. In fact, because of the First Amendment, our government has adopted a largely hands off approach to churches. Now, this was, in fact, a calculated risk. It was not done because the framers were so smitten by the concept of religious liberty. Not by a long shot. They and succeeding generations took a very clear-eyed view of the good done in society by the church and considered it part of the social contract to leave churches alone; give them as much room and financial leverage as could be gained to do the work that churches did.

So, what work is it that churches are to do? What are we supposed to be doing in the world? To answer that question, we go to the red words; the words of Jesus. Arguably, our first priority is the first two commandments … love God and love our neighbors. Our second priority is the Great Commission. Everything else comes under these two or three things.

Jesus spent a great deal of his ministry giving us instructions about what loving our neighbor, the other, looks like. It takes some doing, but if we look at his parables and his stories and his sermons and his announcement of his ministry, and put them all together we find a beautiful mosaic of depicting how we are to love our neighbors, the others in our lives.

The short answer is that we are to care for those who have less than we do, for those who are imprisoned and those who are ill. We are to use all of our resources on those things. Jesus said it most succinctly and pithily in this account:

The Sheep and the Goats

31-33“When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.34-36“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’

37-40“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’

41-43“Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—

I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’

44“Then those ‘goats’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?’

45“He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.’

46“Then those ‘goats’ will be herded to their eternal doom, but the ‘sheep’ to their eternal reward.”

So when I read the following in this article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution about one of those six ministers who is being held to account about the excesses of his church:

Eating too much and having a nice car are neither secular sins nor spiritual crimes. But what if people around us have nothing to eat and no mobility beyond their two legs? A 2006 census of the homeless in Atlanta showed almost 5,400 people with no place to lay their heads (a situation the Gospel of Luke tells us Jesus struggled with) — and that’s just within the city limits.

I began to wonder about the separating of the sheep from the goats. I wonder about that in my own life and worry often that I am a goat. I have my own wealth to be concerned with and I am all too aware of that. I don’t lead a multi-million dollar ministry and do what I can to give food to the hungry … so I have no idea how those scales will balance out. That is probably good and keeps me striving to be better. But it all gives me a much better understanding of this formerly obscure teaching of Jesus’:

23Jesus said to his disciples, “It’s terribly hard for rich people to get into the kingdom of heaven! 24In fact, it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to get into God’s kingdom.”

25When the disciples heard this, they were greatly surprised and asked, “How can anyone ever be saved?”

When push comes to shove it may be that most of us in this rich country of ours will be walking with the camels in God’s kingdom. Some of us may be spending a long time with the goats. I don’t know. But I do know that these large ministries are breaking faith with the social contract that is implied in not having to pay taxes and render unto Caesar that which is his. That alone will make it far more difficult for all of us bring water to the thirsty, food to the hungry and set the captives free. I think I will let those folks wander in the desert with their camels, searching for needles. I want to stick close to Jesus and follow his mosaic. It makes more sense to me.


What happens when you put two taboo subjects together and discuss their relationship with each other? Find out by following the links to this month’s SynchroBlog. Money and Church is the topic. Do you think they belong together? or is it a problem when they meet? Follow the links, and watch the fur fly!

Here’s who’s in so far:

Vampire Protection – October Synchroblog
Oct 24th, 2007 by Sonja

The other day I was cleaning the kitchen. It was a long and frustrating task. You’ve heard of people being color-blind? My family is trash-blind. They do not see trash. It is invisible to them; it blends into the flotsam and jetsam of all the stuff surrounding it. So I was tidying up. I found the hotdog rolls in the hotpad basket. I found a hard crumpled roll behind the breadbox. I found two (2) empty papertowel tubes. Yeah, I don’t know why the person who was kind enough to replace them with a full roll of paper towels was unable to take two extra steps and throw the empty tubes away … but there you have it … trash-blind.

Then I found this:

Emergency Vampire Garlic
Emergency Vampire Garlic

Yes, that would be LightGirl’s handwriting.

I almost fell out laughing. I will keep this for a long, long time. Maybe it *will* keep the vampires away. Kinda like clapping your hands keeps the polar bears away.

Later on LightBoy and two FlamingLambs came through giggling and laughing, chattering happily about what Halloween costumes they had planned this year. LightBoy is going to be a dwarf, one FlamingLamb will be a devil, I missed the other descriptions. They all inspected the garlic and agreed that it was an important addition to the kitchen. The conversation continued as they discussed a neighbor girl who does not celebrate Halloween, “… she’s Catholic and thinks Halloween is of Satan. She just follows what her church tells her to do without thinking. But she’s nice anyway.”

Wow. Out of the mouths of babes. We used to not *do* Halloween. We used to go along with the whole Halloween is evil thing. I never quite understood it, because I’ve always known about the real history of Halloween and understood it’s roots as All Hallows Eve … that is the eve for All Saints Day. I’ve always understood that the history behind dressing up in costumes and putting candles in hollowed out pumpkins was in order to frighten evil spirits away, not call them down. In any case, in this day and age, I was always a little confused about the whole evil spirits running rampant on Halloween thing anyway. It seemed a little … well … medieval.

On the other hand, I didn’t want to make waves over something so insignificant. So we went along with all of it. We kept our children safe and sound and went to “Harvest Parties” at church. Truthfully, I never saw what the difference was. All the children got dressed up, ran around getting pumped up on too much sugar, and came home with bags full of candy. The only difference was they’d stayed in one place doing it … and had boring, dorky costumes.

Then I got belligerent. If there truly was something wrong with Halloween, we plain old weren’t going to do anything at all. One year we went out to dinner with friends. Another year we went to the mountains. Then I began to realize … there’s nothing wrong with Halloween. So we decided to celebrate it.

My kids have been pirates and witches and cave people and this year LightGirl wants to skate as a vampire. She is infatuated with vampires this year. There is that last tiny part of my brain that wants to me to be afraid of this. The rest of me is assured that this is a phase. In part it is a phase of exploration of something new and shiny. In part it is to test me and see if I will holler. So I just look at her when it comes up and try not to roll my eyes at the ridiculous makeup.

Here is the other reason I am unconcerned. I know her heart. During the years that we did not do Halloween, I was told that it was important to keep my children safe so that they would grow up to be “Godly.” I’m still wondering what that means. I thought I knew what it meant at the time. At the time, what I did know was that it was important to keep my children separate in order to be safe and thus become “Godly.” If they were not separate they would lose that chance … somehow. It was a weird and strange logic as I began to really think it through. There were some sane underpinnings to it, despite the oddness. But the stark command that I could not get past without bruising my forehead on it, was this:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. ‘There is no commandment greater than these.”

I began to consider that loving God and loving our neighbors included living and being amongst them … including on Halloween. That there was nothing to fear. And so … there is nothing to fear. Including vampires. LightGirl’s heart is wonderful. She is of an age now where she is struggling through who she is and what she believes. She is discovering what her faith is and what it will become. But I rest easy in the fact that she has the heart of a Jesus-follower. She does not know this yet, but she loves God and she loves her neighbor. She has learned and is learning the role of being a light in the world. I see this played out over and over again as she brings her teammates together on her hockey team. It is a remarkable thing to see 11 or 12 eleven, twelve and thirteen year old girls who get along and do not form cliques. The parents all shake their heads in wonder at this … but I know that a very small part of the reason is that LightGirl wanders amongst them with her shepherd’s heart looking for the lost sheep; pulling them back into the flock. And that is the best vampire protection of all.


The October 24th SynchroBlog includes 26 people sharing their thoughts, their experiences, and their expertise on the subject of “A Christian Response to Halloween” (or at least something remotely connected to that idea.) Perhaps not all the writers are Christian, and that is actually even cooler. Please check out these offerings of love, and gore…uh, I mean lore.

The Christians and the Pagans Meet for Samhain at Phil Wyman’s Square No More
Our Own Private Zombie: Death and the Spirit of Fear by Lainie Petersen
Julie Clawson at One Hand Clapping
John Morehead at John Morehead’s Musings
What’s So Bad About Halloween? at Igneous Quill
H-A-double-L-O-double-U-double-E-N Erin Word
Halloween….why all the madness? by Reba Baskett
Steve Hayes at Notes from the Underground
KW Leslie at The Evening of Kent
Hallmark Halloween by John Smulo
Mike Bursell at Mike’s Musings
Sam Norton at Elizaphanian
Removing Christendom from Halloween at On Earth as in Heaven
Vampires or Leeches: A conversation about making the Day of the Dead meaningful by David Fisher
Encountering hallow-tide creatively by Sally Coleman
Kay at Chaotic Spirit
Apples and Razorblades at Johnny Beloved
Steve Hayes at Notes from the Underground
Fall Festivals and Scary Masks at The Assembling of the Church
Why Christians don’t like Zombies at Hollow Again
Peering through the negatives of mission Paul Walker
Sea Raven at Gaia Rising
Halloween: My experiences by Tim Victor’s Musings
Making Space for Halloween by Nic Paton

Heathens and Pagans and Witches … oh my! (September Synchroblog)
Sep 25th, 2007 by Sonja

Fear of Hell

In the movie, the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy has quite a bit to overcome. She is dropped into a strange land, with even stranger occupants and given a truly weird mission. She must find her way, alone at first and then with a couple of really oddball traveling companions: The Scarecrow and the Tin Man. As darkness begins to fall, the forest through which they are walking begins to loom more and more frightening:

They enter a thick forest which immediately spooks and frightens Dorothy: “I don’t like this forest. It’s dark and creepy…Do you suppose we’ll meet any wild animals?” Worried that they will be attacked, the Tin Woodsman predicts the dark forest will be filled mostly with “lions and tigers and bears.”

Dorothy: Lions?
Scarecrow: And tigers?
Tin Man: And bears!
Dorothy: Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

As they march along the twisting road, fearfully repeating the phrase and rapidly gaining speed, a ferocious-looking Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr) with a matted mane and two tiny ears bounds into their path with a strange roar: “Rrowrrrr!” Both the Tin Man and the Scarecrow back away and are cowering on the ground. Then, the lion stands on two feet and challenges them with his two paws, bravado and elongated words:

Lion: Put ’em up, put ’em uuuuuup! Which one of you first? I’ll fight ya both together if you want. I’ll fight ya with one paw tied behind my back. I’ll fight ya standin’ on one foot. I’ll fight ya with my eyes closed. (To the Tin Woodsman) Oh, pulling an axe on me, hey? (To the Scarecrow) Sneakin’ up on me, hey? Why, gnong-gnong!
Tin Man: Here, here. Go away and let us alone!
Lion: Oh, scared, huh? Afraid, huh? (To the Tin Woodsman) How long can you stay fresh in that can? Ha-ha-ha-ha. Come on, get up and fight, ya shivering junkyard. (To the Scarecrow) Put your hands up, ya lopsided bag of hay.
Scarecrow: Now that’s getting personal, Lion!
Tin Man: Yes, get up and teach him a lesson.
Scarecrow: What’s wrong with you teachin’ him?
Tin Man: W-w-w-ell, I hardly know ‘im.

From review by Tim Dirks

It’s a familiar scene to those of us who have seen the movie many times. In actuality, because the movie is a classic the scene has been translated into many other movies across the years and we have seen it again and again with different characters and different backdrops, but a similar lead-in and outcome.

It was a dark and scary night. The hero or heroine could not get their mind off of what was scaring them. So they kept repeating the scary thing over and over to themselves. This makes the scary thing bigger and bigger and bigger. Until what might have been conquered has now become a monster of mythic proportions. There is no getting past this hulking beast.

So what does that have to do with pagans and heathens? Quite a bit I think.

You see, I have this theory. My theory goes like this. People are people. We’re all pretty much alike. We have similar dreams for our lives and our loved ones and our children. We have similar struggles. We overcome similar hurdles.

I first encountered this theory when I was quite young. I read a biography of the Federal Era portrait painter, Gilbert Stuart. He is best known for painting George Washington. I don’t remember very much about the the book except for this. He was once staying in a hotel with an older man. He was nervous about something that was coming up. The older man gave him the advice that he could allay some of his fears by remembering that, “all men put their pants on one leg at at time.” Along with Gilbert, it took me awhile to puzzle that one out. But it has served me well all my life.

All men (and women) put their pants on one leg at a time. We all eat breakfast. We all, at our core, are more similar than we are different. Parents want their children to grow up healthy and happy, fall in love and do well in their chosen field. No parent dreams of their child growing up to become homeless or unhappy when they first hold that tiny baby in their arms. We all want good things for our children, for our schools, our communities, our country.

Yet what I have seen happening in our churches is like the scene from the Wizard of Oz. As we have progressed from modernism to post-modernism in the past 50 years, the church has responded in fear; chanting the things it fears over and over and over again. The people who go to the churches have thus created monsters out of their neighbors. The very people who they are to love as themselves, they grow to fear and hate because the chant every Sunday is …

Heathens …

Pagans …

Witches …

oh my!

Keep your children safe. Bring them here. Do not associate with those evil doers.

But Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves. But if we have locked ourselves away in our churches and made our neighbors into monsters, how can we do that? How can we begin to understand who they are? The things they love, what makes them tick if we don’t begin to know them.

They are NOT heathens and pagans and witches, oh my! They are people … they put their pants on one leg at a time.


Here are the most excellent thoughts of the rest of the Syncrobloggers this month:

Matthew Stone at Journeys in Between
Christianity, Paganism, and Literature at Notes from the Underground
John Smulo at
Sam Norton at Elizaphanian
Erin Word at Decompressing Faith
Chasing the Wild Goose at Eternal Echoes
Visigoths Ahoy! at Mike’s Musings
Belief and Being: The difficulty of communicating faith at Phil Wyman’s Square No More
Steve Hollinghurst at On Earth as in Heaven
Undefined Desire at Igneous Quill
A Walk on the Wild Side at Out of the Cocoon
Observations on Magic in Western Religion at My Contemplations
Tim Abbott at Tim Abbott
Spirituality and the Zodiac: Stories in the Cosmos at Be the Revolution
Rejection, Redemption, and Roots at One Hand Clapping

The Appearance of Holiness
Aug 28th, 2007 by Sonja

Erin (Decompressing Faith) and Lynn (Beyond 4 Walls) have organized a Synchroblog for today about prayer. Lynn asked a question on Emerging Women about how our prayer life has changed or emerged as our faith has morphed and changed. This lead to a conversation and then an invitation and now we’re all writing about how our prayer life.

I will lead with a confession. My prayer life stinks. I have perfected the language of the appearance of holiness in this regard, but the reality is … I suck. I am terrible at maintaining relationships with flesh and blood people so how can I maintain a relationship with an ephemeral God?

Of all the parts of my faith life my prayer life is the most shriveled. I am not constant. I cannot find quiet space. I have lots of excuses for this. I homeschool. My husband works from home. There is no quiet time or space ever in my life (unless I wake up at some unGodly hour). But those are excuses. The truth is … I find excuses. I find rationale. This has always been the case for all of my life. That is what I learned in the evangelical church in which I “grew up;” in which I spent the first 14 years of my faith life.

I learned how to pray spontaneous prayers. I learned about having quiet time. I learned that both are requirements for a thriving life of faith in a Christian community. I had neither. I still have neither. My prayer life is shriveled and barren. I do not pray in public unless the Holy Spirit takes over and gives me words that I must speak.

But …

There are some bright spots on the horizon.

Since leaving the evangelical church I have found some old and different ways of praying that have helped. My favorite is the Lord’s Prayer. Some days I just say that to myself at various times throughout the day. There are days when that is all I have. Some days even that is in tatters and I just have pieces of it.

I’ve discovered that liturgy is a balm for me. I know that this is not true for everyone. But for me repetitive prayers become healing and allow God to speak into my life in ways that I have not found before. My favorite book for these is the Celtic Book of Daily Prayer. When I had my nervous breakdown in Jan. 2006 I asked my family to engage in praying the hours with me. That became a lifeline for me. I loved those prayers every day. My family … not so much. I would love to begin having morning and evening prayers again several times a week. I find that communal/familial engagement is helpful for me.

The other thing that has become helpful for me is to engage with God during the times when my hands are busy but my mind is not. These are times like when I’m sewing, or cleaning or taking a shower. When I’m involved in a repetitive task that doesn’t take any thought (or very little) I find myself engaging in thought prayer and being able to listen/meditate as well. I sometimes have a snippet of a liturgical prayer or song that repeats while I’m thinking or listening. Sometimes I’m having an active conversation. Sometimes I cry out.

So, my prayer life looks nothing like what I was taught and I think it could be better. But … for right now, it’s what it is. I’ll leave you with my favorite prayer from the Northumbrian Community:

Lord, You have always given
bread for the coming day;
and though I am poor,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always given
strength for the coming day;
and though we are weak,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always given
peace for the coming day;
and though of anxious heart,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always kept
me safe in trials;
and now, tried as we are,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always marked
the road for the coming day;
and though it may be hidden,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always lightened
this darkness of mine;
and though the night is here,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always spoken
when time was ripe;
and though you be silent now,
today I believe.

Please visit these other “How Do You Pray” Synchroblog participants.
Cindy Bryan Teach Me to Pray…Again?
Lyn Hallewell God, Prayer and Me
Erin Word Prayer=Sex with God
Rick Meigs Prayer Helps that Get Me Deeper
Alan Knox Pray without Ceasing
Julie Clawson Prayer Synchroblog
Heather Synchroblog Prayer
Alex (Heather’s Husband) Prayer Synchroblog II
Lydia How Do You Pray
Che Vachon My Thoughts…
Paul Mayers Praying and Learning to Pray Again
Sonja Andrews The Appearance of Holiness
Jon Peres How Do I Pray?
Paul Walker One Congregation Experiments with Emerging Prayer
Susan Barnes Synchroblog: How Do You Pray?
Brother Maynard Fear Not the Silence
Nate Peres How Do I Pray?
Barry Taylor Synchroblog:How Do You Pray?
Emerging Grace Clearance Sale on Intercession Books
Jim Lehmer Synchroblog – How Do You Pray?
Lew A How Do You Pray? – Synchroblog
Jon Hallewell When I’m Spoken To
Deb Prayer Synchroblog
Barb Prayer without Throwing Things
Patti Blount How Do I Pray
Doug Jones How I Pray
Glenn Hagar Prayer Phases
Pam Hogeweide The Art of Blue Tape Spirituality
Mary How Do I Pray?
Rhonda Mitchell Prayer SynchroBlog
John Smulo Praying Naturally
Rachel Warwick How Do You Pray?
Barbara Legere How to Not Pray
Jonathan Brink Posture – Sitting With My Daddy
Andy How Do I Pray
Cynthia Clack How Do I Pray
Makeesha Fisher The Mystery of Prayer
Joy Synchroblog:Prayer

Pack Behavior – August Synchroblog
Aug 14th, 2007 by Sonja

We have a dog. His name is Sam; Samuel Allen when he’s in trouble. He was named after the father of Ethan Allen … not the furniture company. The Vermont Revolutionary War hero. Thank you. Sam is a golden retriever. He is the third golden we’ve had. Our first was named Ethan (Allen), our second was named Zimri Allen (Ethan’s brother). Now we have Sam. Ethan Allen’s wife was named Fanny. LightHusband wants to get a female bassett hound and name her Fanny. I think that might make her neurotic.

When we got Zimri, we stumbled across a dog training book that became invaluable to us. It was written by a group of monks in upstate New York … the monks of New Skete: How To Be Your Dog’s Best Friend. Their theories of dog training are driven by dog psychiatry, an understanding of how dogs think and behave, what drives them and why they do the things they do. Once we understood that a primary driving force behind dog behavior is “the pack” and his place in the pack, we were able to train our dogs much more easily. Based on this, we learned that a disciplinary tool that can be used very effectively with dogs is exclusion. If you separate a dog from the pack and exclude him, he knows very quickly that he is being punished. So, for instance, unless a dog is very accustomed to life in a crate if you suddenly begin to put him in one overnight when he is used to sleeping in your bedroom, he will think he is being excluded from the pack cave (bedroom) and is being punished for something.

Sometime later we had children. Children are messy and difficult. But I observed to LightHusband one day that the methods that one uses on small children are not all that different than those one uses on a dog. That may sound distasteful. However, you must speak clearly, use simple one or two word phrases, don’t string together commands, etc. Now … obviously, children outgrow this sort of training at about age 3 or earlier. But one of the primary disciplinary tools that we continue to use, even now, is separation from the pack. After all … that’s what a grounding is. As in, “You’re grounded.” The child (now a teen) can’t have any connection with his/her pack (other teens) for the specified period of time. Or perhaps the parents merely seek to control the means of access by taking away a cell phone or phone privileges or something of that nature. In some manner, the teen is now excluded from the pack as a means of punishment.

We use exclusion from activities all the time in the adult world as a means of control. I received an e-mail from the hockey club. If dues are not up to date, players would be removed from practice … excluded from the team until the dues are caught up. It’s distasteful but considered the norm. People are cut from the team if they don’t measure up; can’t behave, etc. Think about it … how do things work in an office? There are teams and people are included on them based upon performance, ability to be a “team player,” etc. Or they are excluded … punished.

Those are the overt methods of using exclusion to gain acceptable behavior from people. What about the ways in which we use subversive methods of exclusion to “get someone to behave?” What do we do then? We use body language. We use facial expression. We use tone of voice. But we humans are just like dogs. We use pack behavior to let others know when they have made a misstep and need to get themselves back in line.

On the flip side, we use inclusion to reward people for good behavior. We invite them to parties and dinners and coffee. We phone them. We e-mail them. We “include” them in our social circles. We do this as long as they meet whatever standards we might have (and we all have them) for behavior. If people ever become threatening in any way, we begin to exclude them. Sometimes this is right and necessary. But what about when we just sort of don’t like what they’re doing, or they’re dirtier than we are? Or maybe they make us uncomfortable? What if they just speak more plainly than we are used to? Perhaps in their relationship the woman speaks more often than the man (or vice versa … whatever, it is something that is different than the group), then what?

Here’s the conundrum we are faced with. These problems are not officially problems. The behaviour is not out of bounds egregiously enough for the offender to be spoken to. Everyone simply hopes that s/he will notice that his or her behavior is not quite normal and they will straighten up and fly right. Sometimes that happens. Sometimes it doesn’t and people simply begin to drift away, thinking to themselves, “Yeah, So-and-so, I’m not so sure about him (or her).” The invites dry up and So-and-so begins to feel lonely. Sometimes someone will come along and kindly mention one or two things that s/he could do to help. Maybe things change, maybe they don’t. Often I think they do and suddenly So-and-so has discovered how to make friends and influence people.

Who is So-and-so? Why S/he is the new christian 1st Baptist just brought to Christ last week.

This is part of the August Synchroblog … the rest of the team’s thoughts may be found as follows:

Cobus van Wyngaard is contemplating Inclusivity within claims of heresy
Mike Bursell asks the question Inclusive or exclusive: you mean there’s a choice?”
Steve Hayes is blogging his thoughts “Christianity inclusive or exclusive?
It’s a family affair comes Jenelle D’Alessandro
John Smulo will be adding his thoughts
Erin Word share some thoughts on The Politics of love
Julie Clawson couldn’t resist adding her thoughts
As is Sam Norton.
Mike Bursell,muses on yet another synchro topic
Questions abound with David Fisher
And Sally shares her thoughts here

Til next month then :)

Things I Learned From Church …
Aug 5th, 2007 by Sonja

… and what am I learning lately.

This is a new synchroblog co-ordinated by Glenn Hager at Re-dreaming the Dream. I learned about it from Erin. The theme resonates with a lot of the thinking I’ve been doing lately, so I thought I’d participate.

So here’s my list … in no particular order other than the order in which I thought of them.

– I learned that women are second class citizens in God’s economy.

– I learned that the Bible can be used like statistics … to prove anything that the user wants it to prove. It’s not a beacon of love; it’s a weapon to bludgeon people with.

– I learned that faith and religion are interchangeable.

– I learned that Jesus is a Republican and I’d better be too or my salvation would be null and void. I also learned that Jesus is a free-market capitalist who looked down on welfare cheats because they leached off the system.

– I learned that America is now God’s promised land and we are God’s new people.

– I learned that church is just like any other social group … only it’s rules are more strict and they’ll exclude you in a flash if you break them.

What I’m learning lately … is there is no second-class … or first-class … in God’s economy. We are all on equal footing, equal creations in the eyes of the Creator. There is no separate but equal to Her. There is just, is. We just are. We are just created. Different, yes. But that does not mean that some get to do some things and others not … that does not mean that all can sin equally but that all cannot serve equally. We are indeed equal … equally loved, equally serving, equally gifted. Anything else is a lie.

I cannot discern how to use the Bible as anything other than a love letter to me. I rarely use it in conversation anymore. There are bits and pieces that are meaningful to me and I might quote those, as people quote poetry or other pieces of literature that are meaningful. But using proof texts and finding pieces that “prove” my point in a legal argument seems to miss the mark of God’s intent with his Word to us.

I’m losing my religion and keeping my faith … in large part because it seems that people in charge of the church lied. They are way more interested in keeping their own patch of turf than in understanding God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit and passing the understanding on.

Well … Jesus and politics or economics just stands on it’s own. He pretty much spoke out against the powers of his age and I’m certain he’d speak out against Republicans AND Democrats now.

God only has one promised land and promised people. Israel. Now. Here’s the kicker. He sent the Israelites out of the Promised Land around 2,000 years ago and He hasn’t brought them back. So a lot of the current troubles that are happening in the Middle East. Yeah. Those are man made. I could write a book … no, several books … on why the current Middle East troubles have nothing whatsoever to do with God bringing the Jews back to Israel and everything to do with men doing it. No, I’m not a conspiracy theorist or anything. It’s just that God was not in that. People were. So there will not be any peace or redemption or reconciliation. There will be war. And as for the US … we are not God’s promised land or promised people despite any songs we might sing or secret ambitions we might have. We’re just lucky. There but for the grace of God go us; we really ought to be a little more grateful, and a little less arrogant.

I learned in the Bible that church is supposed to be Christ’s Bride, His Body here on earth. I learned in church that it’s just another social group with strict social rules that need to be followed in order to be included. It’s part of the faith vs. religion thing. But all churches are social groups. All of them. In order to be part of one, you must follow the rules. The first rule is that they are not really Jesus followers. That’s only part of the show. If you really want to be a Jesus follower, you’d do best to leave the church and do that on your own time. The church is too busy with their own parties … err ministries … to bother with the things that Jesus talks about. Above all … don’t ever ask anyone to talk to God about what they’re doing. Don’t ever suggest that anyone in leadership pray to God about their participation in an issue. Don’t ever suggest that following Jesus might mean stopping and listening sometimes. Don’t think outside the box. Don’t ask questions. Don’t quibble with leaders. Don’t be free. I’m learning that on my own it’s just possible that I might be able to hear God again. Maybe. I hope so. I’ve been missing him.

UPDATE (Aug 5):

Here’s a list of all the folks who participated in this synchroblog … they’ve got a lot of great things to say, but make sure you read Glen’s Summary here … it’s really, really good:

Glenn @ Re-dreaming the Dream: Synchroblog (Introduction)

Erin @ Decompressing Faith: Think Of It As “Agapeology.”

Alan @ The Assembling of the Church: Here I Am To Worship.

Heather @ A Deconstructed Christian: 15 Things I Learned From and Another 15 I Am Learning Lately

Jim @ Lord, I Believe; Help My Unbelief : Some Ecclesiastical Paradoxes

Lew @ The Pursuit: It’s A Grace vs. Works Thing

Lyn @ Beyond the 4 Walls: Learning To be “Proper”

Paul @ One For The Road : A Gracious Voice

Benjamin @ Justice and Compassion: Pithy and Provocative

Julie @ Onehandclapping: Faith, Certainty, and Tom Cruise

Aaron @ Regenerate: Hope

Monte @ Monte Asbury’s Blog: Jesus Doesn’t Matter Much

Rachael @ Justice and Compassion Rachael Stanton

Glenn @ Re-dreaming the Dream: Unsaid Communication

Glenn @ Re-dreaming the Dream: Reflections About Refugees (Summary Reflection)

Bridging the Gap (July Synchroblog)
Jul 12th, 2007 by Sonja

I count myself among the lucky ones. The lucky few. When I was young, certainly this was not on our agenda. It was not going to be our heritage. This became ours rather later in my life. I’m speaking of our summer home on the lake.

Chateaugay at big dockWe call it “camp.” This is somewhat of a misnomer. When I speak of camp, as in, “We’re going to camp,” most people think of a camp with bunk houses and mess hall and that sort of thing. Not so much. This is a turn of the last century Victorian summer cottage. There are five bedrooms and we’re right on the waters of Lake Champlain in Vermont. A few 100 feet from our front porch lie the remains of the old concrete dock where the Ticonderoga steam paddlewheeler used to dock. This boat brought people and goods from New York City to the people who summered here. It was quite fashionable back in the day for the wealthy and upper-middle class of the cities to have summer homes on lakes. The men would send their families to those homes for the summer. Often they also sent the wait staff as well. The men would join them for weekends and a week or two of vacation. Hence the necessity of the Ticonderoga and its sister ship the Chateaugay … they ferried men from the end of the railroad that had brought them up from the city to the summer homes on the lake for vacations and weekends, then back to the city at the end of each stay. Women and children stayed for the whole summer. The camps stayed in families for generations, or were given to new families. Each point has it’s own community and character or “feeling.”

It’s interesting being here. There’s a sense of community here that is permeable. Permanent. A sense of permanence that is from another time. We have traditions here that are silly and timeless, but tolerated. The roots here run deep. We come back summer after summer for truncated friendships that last for years.

It’s a funny place too. There is something in the air here. In the photo above, the dock is at the very tip of our point. If you round the point by foot you can’t get very far as the rocks rise high in the air out of the water. But right there, just before the cliffs begin, at the waters edge there is a clear spot. There is a large rock just off the shoreline and across the lake is Split Rock in New York. If you sit very still and quietly you can begin to sense the other world shimmering just over the horizon. You can hear it thrumming in your ears. It is a place where the glass clears briefly. I get the sense sometimes that it is an ancient passage. I wonder if it is because the Abenaki tribe used this spot for their rituals, or did the Abenaki get this sense as well and thus choose the spot?

These camps and our rituals here were established in era when men (humans) gazed into the future triumphantly. It was only a matter of time and trial before the key to utopia was found. The utopian vision of human perfection was fresh, the dream was real and realizable. I wonder sometimes if these little communities were established as a step towards achieving utopia … achieving perfection … at least for a little piece of time. Maybe only during the summer.

It has been a hallmark of the modern era to search for perfection. We have reached for the skies in our buildings, modes of transportation, and even discovery. We have dug down deep into the cellular and molecular level to find medical perfection. Perfect bodies can be sculpted with knives and silicon and other bits. Perfect minds can be created with medication. Perfectly comfortable environments can be created to achieve the desired mood … Do we want people to shop? Create this temperature, this music, that atmosphere. Do we want them to work? Then this temperature, that music, this atmosphere. Whatever we want from people, we have the ability to manufacture the perfect place … utopia. We have even achieved the ability to extend life beyond the time when perhaps it is wise … now we no longer know when death occurs in many cases. Or when it should. We argue over when life begins … and when it ends. May we live forever. Utopia.

I wonder if we’re coming to the beginning of the end of that era. If we are beginning to realize the limits of our human fallibility. The new so-called post-modern era may be the beginning the pendulum swinging back. It is a sea change of how the world works. If we begin to understand that all of life here on earth is not ultimately perfectible, how do we live? That basic assumption has guided western thought for the past 350 years. Search yourself. Think hard about how go about each day and how you think about the future … you will find that your assumptions are that your life is going to slowly but surely get better. We assume that it is a “rule” that each succeeding generation should “do better” than it’s parents. These are utopian ideas at their core. The idea that heaven can be achieved here, without God.

So, as I sit on the porch of this nearly 100 year old cottage, and reflect on the people who built it. I think about them and their dreams. Why they built this place, what they were escaping. Some of the things they were escaping were the same as I … the city heat and stink, cramped space and loud noise. Others are different and yet the same. They came here to get fresh air and so do I. Yet I come here to feel the fresh air, not canned, perfect air. They came here to achieve a little utopia and I come here to escape the modern version. I come here to understand, again, the limits of our human hands and feel, once again, the power of the elements on my skin. And I marvel at how a place from the past can be a bridge to the future. A future that will likely be stripped of utopian thinking, but will be all the more livable because of it.

This month’s SynchroBlog is a series of discussions on Utopian ideas. As is a perfect Utopian concept, we have not mandated the topic on Utopia to be specific to any one concept, or dogma. So please … follow the links to check out what ma peeps’s writ’n ’bout:

Steve Hayes at Notes from the Underground
John Morehead at John Morehead’s Musings
Nudity, Innocence, and Christian Distopia at Phil Wyman’s Square No More
Utopia Today: Living Above Consumerism at Be the Revolution
Nowhere Will Be Here at Igneous Quill
A This-Worldly Faith at Elizaphanian
The Ostrich and the Utopian Myth at Decompressing Faith
Being Content in the Present at One Hand Clapping
Eternity in their Hearts by Tim Abbott
Relationship – The catch-22 of the Internet Utopia at Jeremiah’s Blog
U-topia or My-topia? at On Earth as in Heaven
A SecondLife Utopia at Mike’s Musings
Mrs. Brown and the Kingdom of God at Eternal Echoes

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