July 28, 2016

That time I saw Harry Potter in the Psalms

FinalHogwartsCrestMonoIt’s a testament to how deeply ingrained the Harry Potter universe has welded into my adult life that I always seem to find a relation to it for most situations. I just got around to reading a little about Ilvermorny, the American wizarding school in the Potterverse, because my life revolves around youtube nursery rhymes these days and things like that tend to become very Last Week by the time I see them.

Maybe it was because I just read about the Ilvermorny school and did the sorting quiz (Thunderbird, if you’re interested) but while I was reading Psalm 107 in my Bible study the other day, I noticed it was arranged in a quad-cycle, four stories ending with an overall summary. And, in the way that the Hogwarts/Ilvermorny houses are set up to describe most anyone who comes to them, I would imagine many people could see themselves in one (or more) of the stories in this psalm.

The first story is about those – “some” – who are wanderers. They are in the desert, hungry, thirsty, looking for a home. Their spirits are withering, their souls are fainting. They are seeking spiritual enlightenment and peace for their souls. They chase mysterious writings like scant trails in the sand, and mystical visions like mirages on the horizon. They never lead to water, or rest, or the deep, soul-satisfying peace they crave. Finally, they cry out to Yahweh, and he hears them, and rescues them from their distress. He leads them on the path out of the desert, the path He created before the world was made, and to the City. Not just a village, but a real City, with the well of Living Water, that whoever drinks it will never be thirsty again. Their thirsts are quenched, and the hungry find all kinds of good food.

The second story is about “others” who are in prison, in chains, in gloom and despair. Their spirits are broken from hard labor. Whether from ritual, regulation, or man-made religion, they have forged more chains around their ankles than Marley carried – by trying to create their own standards of behavior, or by submitting to chains others have locked around them. Instead of freedom, they are captives. Instead of joy, they are depressed. They invest their entire beings into the hard labor of living under these chains, and still they fail. And when they stumble, no one will bend to help them up, for fear of stumbling also. Their spirits have been broken by the hard labor of living in bondage. Finally, they cry out to Yahweh, and He hears them, and rescues them from their distress. His yoke is easy, His burden is light. All the work necessary was finished before they were even born. He brings them out of darkness and gloom, and breaks their chains apart. He breaks down the bronze slavers gates, and he cuts through the iron prison bars. They are free.

The third story is about the ones who are longing for death. Lifetimes of overindulgence lead to self-destruction. They’ve done it all, tried it all, been it all. Seeking fulfillment, they only found stomachache and heartache. The emptiness inside them was never filled, and now it’s all they can see. Even the idea of eating is unappealing, since it might make them live a little longer in this misery. They are staring into the Abyss, and they are ready to get it all over with, and jump. But, oh thank God, they cry out to Yahweh, and He hears them, and he saves them from their distress. His Words are filled with life and hope, and He sends his Word to them and heals their aching souls, and saves them from the Abyss.

The fourth story is about others who have everything they ever wanted. Their dreams are fulfilled, their goals met, their ambitions reached. They look out over everything they own and have accomplished and feel on top of the world. They are the masters of their souls, the captains of their fate. And then the world turns against them. Everything that gave them security suddenly fails, or attacks them. They can’t stand on their own two feet. Their wisdom and talents and skills no longer solve all their problems. Even their bodies betray them. They lose their solid ground. Then, they cry out to Yahweh, and He hears them, and brings them out of their distress. He calms the storm and stops the waves pounding against them. He gives them real safety and security, and guides them to the harbor they longed for.

Do you see yourself in one, or several, of these stories?

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Are you seeking? Are you trying to understand the mysteries of the universe? Do you sense the presence of a Higher Being but you aren’t sure how to relate to Him? Have you tried mystics and gurus and books claiming to unlock the ‘secret’ messages of life, and still find yourself wandering aimlessly in the desert? Cry out to Yahweh, and He will put you on the path of Truth.

Are you in prison? Have religion and tradition broken your spirit? Do you try so hard to be a good person, and yet at the end of the day, are left wondering why it still feels like you haven’t done enough? Is your spirit crying for freedom from the hard labor of being ‘good enough’? Cry out to Yahweh, and he will break your chains and deliver you from gloom.

Are you at the end of your rope? Do you have regret – deep, grieving regret? Do the things you once enjoyed no longer give you pleasure, even simply eating? Does it feel like there’s nowhere to go from here, and oblivion would be better than seeing another sunrise? Cry out to Yahweh, and He WILL heal you and rescue you from the Abyss.

Are you at a loss? Has the solid ground beneath you become a pitching ship, a hostile sea beating you down? Have your investments in property or in people turned to dust in your hands? Are you suddenly faced with your own mortality and realize you’re unprepared? Cry out to Yahweh, and He will bring you security that can never be lost or stolen.

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“Let them give thanks to Yahweh,
for His faithful love
and his wonderful works
for the human race”

May 13, 2016

Stitch Fixes 5&6: Redemption

This post contains affiliate links but I didn’t receive any special favors for writing it. The FCC makes me say this because God forbid blogging happen without federal oversight.

In April I was having a slump, so I decided that I’d order a new Stitch Fix to cheer myself up. It had been a few months since I had gotten styled, and I thought, even if I only get one new thing, it’ll be a nice pick me up. As you might remember from last time, Stitch Fix is usually pretty successful for me in this area.

Unfortunately, the April Stitch Fix didn’t quite work out that way.

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I asked for a box of only dresses. And my stylist (not the same lady as the times before) sent me only dresses, as per my request. And it just…didn’t work. The sizes were off. A couple of the styles were just not me. One dress was made of heavy knitted material (not good for this humidity). That maxi on the end had potential, but it needed tailoring, and I didn’t have the inclination to pursue that. I packed all the items back up and sent them back disappointed, feeling even more blue than before.

I got on the site and reviewed each piece thoroughly. I wasn’t nasty, just honest. This Fix was a hard pass.

A few days later, I received an email from Genevieve at Stitch Fix. Basically, she said that Stitch Fix apologizes that my Fix was so disappointing, and “if you are willing” she offered to send another Fix to me, and to waive the $20 styling fee, just to give it another try. (NOTE: I don’t think this is their SOP. I’ve never heard of this happening to someone else, so this was probably just a one-off. I don’t want to come off as making any assurances or expectations for anyone else, or even for myself again.)

I wasn’t expecting that! It wasn’t like I was writing off the company entirely – I certainly didn’t say anything to that effect on my review. I didn’t even blog about that Fix or spread any “SO disappointed!” vibes across social media. So why I got the Golden Ticket, I don’t know, but I (of course) agreed and took Genevieve up on her offer.

My new Fix arrived the other day, and it was like a night-and-day difference:

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A dress that was way better than any of the last ones. A couple of casual tops that I actually will get good use out of. Some jean shorts that are super comfy (and a size 29, I don’t know what that means, but I find it liberating). Even a necklace, and I normally don’t have them send me jewelry, but this was perfect.

I loved all of it and I kept all of it. With the Buy 5 discount+styling fee deduction, it made the entire box $135, for 3 outfits, basically. (I can provide my own flip flops.) And I didn’t have to drag Baby G to the store to try on clothes, someone else did the thinking for me, I just got to play dress up. That, to me, is worth the slight mark-up on their garments (except the shorts, which came with a tag saying they were “exclusive to Stitch Fix.”)

So, overall, another stellar Stitch Fix experience! If you haven’t tried Stitch Fix yet, use my referral link!

April 23, 2016

Love not the world?

I just put the question mark there to pique your interest. There’s not actually a question mark in the original quote. Also some random pictures just to break up the text.

Any time some new hot topic floats to the top of the internet, it’s like there’s a contest among internet theologians to out-love each other, as publicly as possible.

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And I’m not saying that’s bad. God is love, and to be like God means to be loving. In fact, I just finished reading this book which explored this topic pretty thoroughly. It looks like a stuffy scholarly theology book, but actually it’s an exploration of how God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are who they are because they are love. God’s love is integral, extending, overflowing. You can’t out-love God. You can only try to imitate His love.

Jesus loves His Bride, the Church. And He tells the Church that the world is supposed to hate them, because the world hates Him. The words ‘love’ and ‘hate’ are pretty clear there.

But the world we live in is a complicated, messy place. There are absolutes. Gravity, the sun rising in the East, and God’s definition of what qualifies as sin. But human beings are complicated, messy things. And so life gets complicated and messy, when we abandon the North Star of the absolutes God has created and try to do things our way.

Here’s one of those absolutes: Jesus loves his Bride, the Church. He loves the Church second only to God the Father, and it is Jesus’s love for God the Father that led Him to die for the Church. If we want to be imitators of Jesus, we should love His Church. It’s right up there with familial fidelity. In fact, it is familial fidelity. We’re children of God the Father and co-heirs with Christ. I’ll stop there before becoming even more repetitive.

Here’s another of those absolutes: We’re not supposed to love The World (1 John 2:15), and the world is supposed to hate us. Hate. Do you know what “hate” means? I mean, really? Have you thought about that? An easy extreme example would be the hundreds of Christians murdered – martyred – by IS in the last few years, for being Christians. But what does that mean for us over here? Does The World hate us? Or do we love The World so much that our “The World” doesn’t have a reason to?

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You might be thinking, “Oh here we go, here comes the excuse for the hateful internet preachers and Bible thumpers and such and such.” No, that’s not what I’m talking about.

What I’m talking about is the, probably well-intentioned, reaction that says, “Look here, The World, I’m not with them. I’m not like them, those people who are mean and say things you don’t like to hear. I know you don’t like the Church, and frankly, I don’t like them all the time, either. But I do like you! Like me back, because you can! Really!” It’s a dangerously gray place to be.

And I think the indicator signal of veering out of the biblical lane of evangelistic love is when we take as a point of pride being loved more by The World than by the Church. When we’d rather have The World – not people seeking Jesus, not people with honest questions – love us and see us a safe enabler for The World, than hate us and think us fools. And we’re okay with openly distancing ourselves from the Bride of Christ, His Church.

lightstock_193674_medium_jaci_That’s not how it’s supposed to look. The World is supposed to hate us and think we’re morons. (Matthew 10:22; John 15:18-19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-27)

Not because we listen to silly Jesus music or wear one-piece swimsuits or even because we only have sex with our husbands, once they are our husbands. I think that’s what I, and others of my generation, grew up thinking that concept meant. Being just a little out of step with what’s “cool.” But no. The World can shrug off most any lifestyle, yes, even ours. It’s not our culture that should be the reason The World hates and ridicules us. It rightfully should be our message and testimony.

This isn’t a cry to be inflammatory or divisive or provocative. The Gospel – that every human being is actively sinning against God and needs to repent and beg God’s forgiveness for their sin – is inflammatory and divisive and provocative enough. (That can’t really be preached “without words,” btw.)

This is just a brief (ha ha) reminder that, when we find ourselves saying “Thank God I’m not like that publican,” and the “publican” in mind is the Church, when we feel more hated and ridiculed by the Church than by The World, it might be time for a recalibration.

Apply as needed.

 

 

And be with The Church tomorrow.

April 4, 2016

It’s Easter! It’s okay to be happy!

I got to participate in our church’s Easter choir last month. It was awesome on multiple levels, at least because it gave me the chance to stretch some old muscles. But also it was exciting because it was Easter. Christmas would be wonderful, too, of course. And I love show choir. But Easter is special. It’s the biggest, most important day of the year. Or, it should be. That’s a thought for another time.

Anyway, so Easter comes and we are singing in both services. And while we were doing the congregational worship, I made an effort to engage in intentional whole-being praise (as Jesus commanded us, btw) not just a recitative declaration because I was standing on a stage, rather than in the anonymity of the crowd.

Sometimes I got distracted, though. Because it is distracting to look out on 150 people and see that maybe 130 of them look like they’d rather be anywhere but there.

And, by the way, this was Easter. We’re singing lyrics such as:

No guilt in life, no fear in death/this is the power of Christ in me

No power of hell, no scheme of man/can ever pluck me from his hand

How sweet the sound of saving Grace: Christ died for me

Death is crushed to death, life is mine to live, won through your selfless love

And as He stands in victory, sin’s curse has lost its grip on me/for I am His, and He is mine, bought with the precious blood of Christ

How do you sing that without cracking the smallest smile? Do you even believe it? Really?

“Oh, she’s being judgmental according to the outward appearance” and no, that’s not what I’m talking about. It’s not about having a particular posture or expression or specific reaction. But when I would glance at that crowd, to be blunt, it reminded me of my pre-salvation self. I was super serious, and making sure I looked serious was very important. Thank God I wasn’t like those Publicans on the other side of town with their smoke machines and belting solos, amirite? It was all about me

“But you can’t know people’s hearts just by observing their behavior.” That’s fair. But at the same time, there’s no piety in boredom. And you know the difference between being reserved and reverent, and just mouthing words in rhythm to some music. That’s what “mindless repetition” really is, whether a refrain is involved or not.

*gasp* Experiential dogma! Yeah, life is made up of experiences. Overcorrecting toward Gnosticism in our practice is just as big an error, y’all.

I’m reminded of a story from back in high school, some well-intentioned young man said that when he grew up and got married one day, he wanted to “make sure his wife knew that he respected her as a person, not as an object” so he wouldn’t actually sleep with her until they had been married a full year. And my reaction was, “Uh, that’s not marriage, dude.” And it’s kinda the same thing. Want to be careful not to praise God too much with your whole mind, heart, strength, and soul? Yeah, sure, you roll with that.

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“Maybe they – all 150 people – were having a bad morning, maybe they recently had received heartbreaking news, had been up all night with a cranky baby (you know I am sympathetic to that) or any other number of reasons why they just weren’t all that into Easter(!) this particular year.” Yeah, that’s fair. At the same time, Psalm 63 says,

“I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will life up my hands…my mouth will praise you with joyful lips…for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.”

And David wrote that while hiding in the wilderness, not while he was comfortable in a palace. I’m just saying.

The message on Easter Sunday was from 1 Corinthians, where Paul writes that if the Resurrection wasn’t true, then we (Christians) are the most pitiful people in all of history. BUT – the implication is – the Resurrection IS true, so therefore there shouldn’t any pitifulness about us. Victory! Life! Gladness! JOY!

The Fruit of the Spirit is joy, springing directly out of the assurance of our salvation, not out of our circumstances. Point is, if someone is chronically disengaged intellectually and emotionally in corporate worship – if you’re bored – maybe it’s time for some self-reflection about who or what is really being worshipped.