Friday, March 13, 2015

A Song and a Season

Music has always been an outlet for me and a place of worship, praise, release, and strength.  Songs minister to me in a way nothing else does.  Currently, there is 1 song that embodies the exact place my faith lives.  
I love their sound, 
but the words of this song. 
They are everything.  
A place of doubt and grief, 
yet a place of reassuring truth.

Never Alone by Barlowgirl

You can watch the video here:

Here are the simple, yet perfect-for-me lyrics:

I waited for You today but You didn't show, no, no, no
I needed You today, so where did You go?
You told me to call, said, You'd be there
And though I haven't seen You are You still there?
I cried out with no reply and I can't feel You by my side
So I'll hold tight to what I know, You're here and I'm never alone
And though I cannot see You and I can't explain why
Such a deep, deep reassurance, yeah You've placed in my life
Oh, oh, we cannot separate, You're part of me
And though You're invisible I'll trust the unseen
I cried out with no reply and I can't feel You by my side
So I'll hold tight to what I know, You're here and I'm never alone
Cannot separate, You're part of me
And though You're invisible I trust the unseen, yeah
I cried out with no reply and I can't feel You by my side
So I'll hold tight to what I know, You're here and I'm never alone
We say people come into our lives for different reasons and some just for a season.  If you live very long, you've experienced this.  It is normal.  It can also be sad. And it can always be a learning, growing experience.  

My friend, Blair Lewis, is someone I've known since our Abilene High days, and can I tell some tales!  (Warbirds forever!)  He was the wild son of 2 professors at Abilene Christian University.  There was a time Blair wanted nothing to do with church or God--and he split ways.  At some point about 3 years ago, I saw on Facebook that he was in seminary and interning at a Methodist Church in Arlington.  I first reached out to Blair wanting to hear his story.  I was interested in it.  Stories are important. I wanted to find a story that was hopeful as I was in the early days of Keith's atheism.  I was reeling, and there was no one to talk to who understood.  Blair did, and he is brilliant and funny, and I knew Keith would connect to him. And he did. We heard Blair preach more than once. We shared meals and conversation--all 4 of us. Blair was talking about seasons quite a bit at that time and the people who enter our lives just for a season.  

The morning that I found Jerica near death when I went to wake her, I had no pastor.  We had not found a church home after our move to Cedar Hill several months before, and I was angry and struggling at having to find one on my own for myself and the kids.  At some point in the flurry of those moments that morning, when the paramedics were all in Jerica's room and made us leave, Keith reminded me to put on clothes.  I picked up yesterdays dirties and put them on.  No teeth were brushed, no hair done, no medicine, no water, no breakfast, etc. The paramedics moved quickly, as my child was so sick.  Her limp body was carried down stairs, already all hooked up to monitors and IV to the waiting stretcher.  Things moved very quickly and I found myself speeding in the front passenger seat of the ambulance, full lights and sirens, willing the school traffic to get the bloody hell out of our way.  I had moments then to send a couple of texts.  Blair was one of the people I texted.  He and his wife, Dawn, met us at the 1st ER and stayed until Jerica was stable and we were transferred to Children's ICU by another ambulance.  He brought:  tooth brushes and tooth pastes, encouraging notes, pen and paper, brush, a prayer shawl prayed over by the women who made it, bottled water, snacks, I can't remember it all.  But I  clearly remember immediately brushing my teeth by Jerica's bed, and alongside Blair, Dawn, the medical staff, friends who showed up, my mom and dad.  Blair was my pastor during that time.  He and Dawn drove all the way down to us in Cedar Hill later on, and sat with us, and brought pizza and wine--$4 buck chuck!  He also prayed over the unfortunate situation we found ourselves in with Keith's family in those early days.

That season has passed. PRAISE THE LORD AND PASS THE BISCUITS. I have had another pastor since then for a time.  Now I have a priest, Father Jim.  I miss Blair and Dawn, they are good people.  It's just not our season now, and that is ok.  

The same goes with churches.  Every church I've ever been a part of has served a purpose, has taught and changed me, has opened my eyes to the world, even though some of those situations have had some very, very hard parts. All that serve a purpose.  I am thankful for different things from each of those churches, and there is ALWAYS something to be THANKFUL for.  

I also believe in the idea that Jesus 's church is made of people, not buildings.  Going along in that same vein, we have all probably heard ministers talk about how we can't leave a church.  I know I have!  
But.  I'm here to tell you that you can.  
You can leave Jesus.
Keith has.  
You can also leave the fellowship of any church you attend.  
I've done it.  
More than once.  

I don't see anywhere that God condemns that. I don't know how that idea came to be one of several "catch phrases" we hear from the pulpit.  The cynical side of me believes it's mostly about numbers and growth, which appears to be the goal of most leadership teams in churches from my experiences.  

Just so you know, the following catch phrases are very, very sore spots still:
"Divine Appointment," "Doing Life Together," "You Can't Leave the Church," there are others, but let's move on.

We are fortunate in this country to have choices.  I haven't ever come across a church that had it all together or had everything I've wanted or that I needed or which would use my gifts. That's ok.  I do not expect a perfect church, nor would I fit in to one!  This does not anger me.  I don't see God condemning those churches either.  For right now, I have to find a fellowship that best fits my family's needs and gifts.  We're not leaving over trivial matters or disagreements.  We're not opposed to working things out in relationships with people in churches.  

I also see immense value in experience and learning--actually that is THE VALUE to me.  In education, standards and tests have come to rule in this long, tired season.  Standards and tests focus on outcomes and results.  
This is NOT the most important aspect of learning--by far.  The PROCESS is the important part--no matter the topic. 

Wrestling, struggling, brainstorming, questioning, learning how to ask critical questions, evaluating, synthesizing, applying, having to think inductively and deductively, collaboration and problem solving are what happens in the PROCESS.  

No matter the results, if I, as a teacher, equip my students with the skills, critical thinking and experience to work the PROCESS, they will be successful.  
These are the skills needed in life.  
This is the meat, the maturing, the stuff that makes us.  
It really matters little what the topic or problem or question is.  

Learning other denominations or flavors of church has value.  Don't talk or judge what you don't know, haven't researched, or experienced. Seeing the beauty and unity of other traditions, and finding the unity,  the common,  the solidarity in all of us searching for God. These parts of the PROCESS prepares us in our faith journey as well.  God is going to meet me anywhere He is.  And He's not limited by buildings, labels, or signs on buildings, or even my perceptions and misconceptions. He is not restricted by denominations or non-denominations, a denomination all its own.  And neither am I.  I want my children to see the love, the striving and choices of us all. I want them to have every piece, experience, and opportunity to work through the process so that the faith they come out with is wholly theirs and Holy God's.  It is not my job, or the job of a church, to restrict that process or to deny it or judge it.  If we can think critically for ourselves, and we know how to wrestle and work and struggle through, they/we all will have what it is needed to understand, to make decisions, to evaluate the options.  

To own their faith.  
To own their process.  
To own their choices and consequences.
Life-long skills.

Relationships change.  Faith changes.  My faith is an old one, began in childhood--I do not posses a memory or a story without God.  The longer I live, the less I know.  What was once black and white, is now a muddy gray.  I value my faith, I think, more than young, on fire Christians I see regularly. I remember that faith.  There was a time that was mine.  Life changes that, but I see my faith now as much more valuable.  It has ebbed and flowed, affected by struggles and victories.  It's a history winding back many years, a story and testimony of God.  It has stood the test of time.  
It is a rougher faith, 
not so shiny and bright, 
Forged and sharpened
Steel velvet.  
Think about how strong and amazing relationships become when you struggle through hard things and hard times with someone.  The relationships that survive this stand the test of time and are prepared for the next trial.  These relationship mature, are seasoned beautifully, and provide rich texture in the the music and story that is our lives.  

I want this same relationship with God.  This relationship that has been seasoned, tested, and scarred--this is a stronger relationship, a lasting faith, having weathered the storms together, not run from the hard questions, faced the daunting doubts.  With my God.

What I once looked for in a church family has changed dramatically.  I wonder now if it is not the answer to a prayer.  As I have sung and prayed the words of the song Ocean by Hillsong for more than a year. 
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior
The acoustic verson of Oceans is my favorite.

Now I'm jaded, admittedly, by more than one church experience.  These were not one time events, but each a couple of hard years ending with unexpected and very unfortunate consequences for my family. I know this.  I pray daily to forgive and for no bitter root to take hold, while I am cleaning up the collateral damage still. The wake my family was temporarily pulled under water by. 

I am not interested at this time in emotion or services meant specifically to evoke emotion.  Emotion changes, is much too fickle.  Sometimes, emotions cannot be trusted, nor decisions always made on emotions. My emotion with God is a deep well.  I don't need help evoking it or drawing from it.  I also live enough life with so much emotion.  

I need a straight line to God.  
Pared down.  
In unity with others.  

I'm not interested in programs, production, prodding, or persuasion. 

I want something that has stood the test of time.  

Old faith.  
A different kind of community.

I have currently found that, for now, in an Episcopal church.  Centuries of practice, art, beauty, music.  A tradition of inviting and encouraging, struggling, wrestling, and accepting doubt and disbelief.  The PROCESS is the important part, and the shared path no matter where we find ourselves on our faith journey is the unifying part.  The rest is between the individual and God.  This is in Saint Anne's for me at this time.  And it is a stretching experience I am treasuring deeply.

I relish the old hymns, the priests' robes, the beauty, the art, the symbolism, Holy Eucharist every time we meet, the Gospel proclaimed in every service, liturgy, on our knees, the Nicene Creed regularly, the Doxolgy.  Every time.  

In an Episcopal church, the PROCESS is celebrated and encouraged. It is not looked down on. The parishioner is not shut down with judgement or proclamations about who is a true Christian or not, because that is with God alone.  The process of doubt, disbelief, questions, experiences, and study are celebrated as the faith journey.  And it is healthy and liberating, and encourages a life-long process that strengthens the participant and equips him/her with the skills to keep going.  To not lose their faith.

For a quick background, from Questions on the Way:  A catechism based on the Book of Common Prayer by Beverly D. Tucker and William H. Swatos, Jr.

"Far from being a church ruled by an autocratic hierarchy" [as Anglicanism began in England] "the Episcopal Church is one of the most democratic institutions in the world, in which at all levels, the laity and clergy have an equal voice and responsibility.  This is not because we distrust our bishops, but because we believe that the Holy Spirit leads the whole church, and that every sincere and faithful Christian can hear the voice of God, is called to be an apostle for Christ, and to share in the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:9)."  page 130

"Q:  Is the search for truth a part of God's will for us?A. Yes.  God is absolute truth and has given us reason and intelligence, so that we alone in this earthly creation, can know and understand ourselves, the world, and even in part, God.  Thinkers, scholars, explorers and scientists have been searching to discover the truths of God's world, and to help all of us to know them too.  Knowledge and love of the truth are of the essence of humanity.  To seek the truth is, in part, to seek God.  Our use of knowledge must always be in the context of love, for love is the highest truth.  Here on earth we see dimly, but in heaven we shall see the full truth in the glorious light of God's love (Job 28, Prov. 8, John 8:31-32; 14:6; 1 Cor 13:8-13, 2 Cor4:6-7; 1 Tim 2:3-4).  page 105

(P.S. The Book of Common Prayer is taken straight from scripture.)

Friends, there's my love theme again.  Over and over.  God says LOVE.

A Song, A Season and Love

I know some of my friends and family have more questions about my faith and where I am worshiping.  There are many misconceptions about the Episcopal church from the Reformation Evangelical types.  I have found much more in common than not in my study, research, and conversations with Father Jim.  I know there are people who have already condemned me.  We was told years ago we were going to hell and taking our children with us when we left a particular church.  I'm ok with that.  I don't need man's approval.  However, I am always willing to participate in the discussions, to share the road with another traveler, to spend a season together, and always, always to educate those around me.

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