Saturday, August 21, 2010

Finding Halleluiah- Introduction

It won’t be long now child, there isn’t much in our way. Though life has beaten you down suddenly I have your attention. Before the flames of lesser thought lick your understanding away, I would have you sit in the chair before me. Rest, be quiet and feel the warmth of My love. There is nothing as important as this moment. This space and time were planned just for you. The gift is here.

Everything behind you has had a hand in what and in who you have become. You cannot change that or erase it. Your past explains you, but it does not define who you are destined to be. Your past is only as powerful as you allow. What is important is now, is what is to come.

What if God was nothing like you imagined Him to be? What if He didn’t care about your church attendance, your drinking, smoking and manner of dress? What if you stood before Him naked and afraid and He said, “Perfect, I wouldn’t change a thing”.

And if you could believe that, how would it change your life? If guilt, shame, fear and hurt didn’t weigh you down or influence you in any way, who would be left?

In your biggest dreams, best dreams, what would your life look like?

This book was originally intended to be a rebuttal of the lies we have been told and judged by, as a means to help us feel a little less sting, since for years I churned with an angst inspired by that now lost happy little girl. Many times I climbed up on my soap box to shout at the judgers of the faith to tell them that they were very wrong. But in my own Halleluiah moment, I saw the truth. It just doesn’t matter. Chewing and regurgitating past hurts does not set a better course, but emphasizes the self-pity of a bad one.

What if our past explains us, but it does not define us? If the only power it has is the power we allow?

If we could see our life’s journey on a map, what would that map look like?

Clarity can only be found when we give ourselves time and space alone- and quiet. In a world where we can successfully stimulate every second of every day, being alone and being quiet are two very different things. There is a race going on, and we are told that if we are not in it, we are wrong- somehow. But too often the race is just a big merry-go-round- full of vigorous movement, loud noise and showy costume. If we jump off, we see things differently- we see.

God doesn’t call us to run anyone else’s race, though some may look as if they are the one we want to run. We cannot take a pass and let others choose our journey, though this is just what the evangelical movement created- a host of well meaning people who want to be told how to navigate through life in the way most pleasing to their Creator- a creator whose message they believe in with all their hearts. I do not want to imply that they did not mean well, that some evil trickery was part of their original plan, but instead that in a world of hurry, “have it all and have it right now”, a diet of inspirational messages, beautiful music, programs and rules were used as the tools that made us instantly feel- if not, good, than “less bad” and if not able to hear His voice, than to at least hear someone talk fondly about that someone we love, (not unlike a good funeral).

But what if God really did intend that we could each have our own message- one just for us and not one for a group- and what if today, right now where you are sitting, you could audibly hear His voice say to you, “You are perfect, I wouldn’t change a thing!” Would you accept that, would you believe it or would you try to explain to Him how wrong He is?

For you see- that IS the message. He’s been trying to tell you for a very long time. When you look through your life and find that the map reveals a trail of moments that have all led to This place, this message and this moment, you too will shout, “Halleluiah”.

Finding Halleluiah- Foreward

I have always been drawn to one word, “Halleluiah”. Associated with Big life-changing moments, it announces exuberances- take notice, notice taken! Halleluiah while by definition is a shout of praise, joy or gratitude, is for me, the exclamation of a successful moment of re-birth. When the sky opens up and we can see clearly, profoundly, deeply, we first breathe a sigh of relief born of understanding- and with our second breath we shout, “Halleluiah!”, an acknowledgment of a moment of clear vision, from which one moves forward with new hope and purpose.

While much of life is spent in a fog of auto-pilot living, just trying to put one foot in front of the other successfully so that we can justify indulging our vices at the end of another day, somewhere below this surface is an ever present longing for meaning.

Raised with a belief in a God who loved me unconditionally, I was a happy, little girl. With the advent of college though, I was drawn to a world that called for a deeper commitment to my Creator- the evangelical world of the “born again” belief system.

Navigating this movement for thirty years has left me with one conclusion; there is no red pill/blue pill magic in the life of faith. There is no teacher, preacher, or church community that can gift us with Halleluiah moments. For at the end of the day, Halleluiah is truly hearing from God and understanding what we hear.

“Finding Halleluiah” is my attempt to encourage others to pull back, pull in and sort out the influences in your life. Life is too short to give permission to things and stuff and even people who destroy our ability to be who God created each of us to be. He has given us sign posts along the way, He has whispered to us in the darkest night, held our hand as we ran away, and protected us as we navigated through each day- in His way, in His time. The things we have experienced have no power to break us, but instead they are just part of the path, part of the journey home- home to Halleluiah

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Could Be We Need a Mentor

Aunt Georgie was a mentor to me. She filled the space left when my grandmother, her best friend left us too suddenly and much too young. Gifts for birthdays and Christmas’s were always special from Aunt Georgie, and were very often books. It was Aunt Georgie that introduced me to all the Newberry Award winners for children’s literature, giving us the new one each year. She opened our eyes to Tasha Tudor, Winnie the Pooh, The Velveteen Rabbit, The Secret Garden and Ann of Green Gables. Growing up in the woods, the sun didn’t shine directly into our house from any window, but visits to Aunt Georgie’s house gave us an opportunity to lie in the sun and read in her special spot.

Uncle Jack, a burly, lumberjack of a man had built his tiny, bookish teacher bride a deep bay window one step up from the living room. It was probably six feet deep with floor to ceiling windows to the front and floor to ceiling bookshelves along the sides. There was a little ladies slipper chair with a dainty footstool for her tiny feet (any adult sized chair sat a bit too high and deep for her) and a vintage metal swing arm floor lamp that peeked over her shoulder to light her page. The living room beyond likewise had floor to ceiling bookshelves along one whole wall, giving her ever-expanding collection room to grow. There was a piano with a spectacular mountain scene painting above and cozy sofa and chairs where for many years we would sit together for a visit. In later years Sir Sidney, her giant tabby cat would curl in and out of our legs, talking to us as we humans chatted. The only concession to TV was a small black and white in the back bedroom that had once been their sons. Uncle Jack listened to his sports on the radio if he had an interest, and Aunt Georgie played endless albums on her furniture legged stereo console that always sat beside the piano on the far side of the room.

Aunt Georgie laughingly described herself as the first woman my dad ever slept with. When she was a single young school teacher, she moved to the North woods for her first teaching assignment and lived with my grandparents where she shared a bed with my 7 year old father until meeting Uncle Jack, my grandfather’s friend at the CCC camp. She married Uncle Jack after he successfully swept her off her feet with his tough guy love and devotion. Moving her to their home on White Sand Lake, just down to road from my grandparents, they ran a housekeeping cottage resort until his passing after more that fifty years of marriage.

I learned many things from Aunt Georgie but without a doubt the most important thing was that faith in God, if we learned to understand it best, promised a life of joy and laughter. When I would stop to visit her on my trips home from college, she would meet me at the door with a big hug, which I had to stoop to receive. Then she would pull back and laugh out loud, her eyes glistening with the twinkle that you think is a storybook thing until you know someone who twinkles. She was a four foot eight snorter laugher and her happiness would be full and true as, rubbing her hands together in a gesture of “Oh Goody”, she would pull me to the sunny little reading spot and state, “I want to know what’s new, and don’t leave out a thing!”

It was not until I was in college and my own faith was really blossoming, that she shared her connection to my great grandfather Titus, a man I never knew. Grandpa Titus had been a circuit preacher and farmer in South East Wisconsin. When he was widowed and too old to farm any longer, he came and lived the rest of his years in Northern Wisconsin with my grandfather, grandmother and dad, who by now ran an American Plan Resort on White Birch Lake. Grandpa Titus had mentored Aunt Georgie in her faith and now, she considered it her honor and duty to mentor me in mine.

Throughout college and my young married years, I would receive many books on faith from Aunt Georgie, with the direction to read them and then come visit her to discuss. The conservative, evangelical movement was beginning to pick up steam by then, and with it seemed to come an ever-expanding list of rules. I wanted so badly to practice my faith in the way my Creator wanted from me, that I tried- truly I did try, to be a good little Christian wife and good girl. I noticed though, that just when I thought I was getting the hang of it, Aunt Georgie would seem to disapprove. I actually worried about her faith sometimes, because she didn’t seem to appreciate the value joining goose stepping march of sameness that the movement seemed to imply all Christians should adopt if they truly loved the Lord. (I hadn’t yet learned that one never lets themselves be “should on”.) She didn’t listen with unwavering devotion to the popular radio personalities whose ministries were just beginning to blossom, and she rejected televangelists for the most part. Aunt Georgie preferred instead her little north woods church family, her personal study and a life of unceasing prayer. Above all, she found her faith in God in her faith in people, and people loved her. I know she had many men and women who flocked to her home for one-on-one chats, advice and prayer. This was her ministry and I am sure we could fill several pages with the names of lives she touched.

Though there were things about the evangelical movement that Aunt Georgie embraced, such as the widening of talk about God’s love that drove it in the beginning. As time went on however, the evangelical movement seemed to rob Aunt Georgie of her smile- the beacon of her joy in the Lord. There was so much critical comparison, so much uniformity and judgment beginning to leak into everything spiritual, that I think it made her sad. While there were still books and movies and lectures that inspired her and brought back the twinkle, I could tell that in her later years, discussions on faith exhausted her.

Gone was the time when people could share ideas and walk away from a conversation arm in arm, agreeing that it had been a wonderful debate. Instead, we seemed to be determined to be right- arguing a point to the state of hurtfulness and severed relationship rather than honoring a spirit of love and respect. Aunt Georgie didn’t like this new brand of Christianity; it concerned her.

I owe much of who I have become to Aunt Georgie. She is a guide to all my thoughts of spiritual things. Right after WWJD comes WWAGD. If I pick up a book, after reading it, I mentally assign it to one of two piles- ones Aunt Georgie would have loved and ones Aunt Georgie would have disliked. I don’t need to tell you which ones I hope to model more.

I still have many books that were her gifts to me. My favorite book of all time is the story of Sheldon Vanauken and his wife, and is entitled, “A Severe Mercy”. My husband and I have referred to this book often in our marriage, pondering their relationship- its idealistic point of view and ultimate lessons. A book called, “The Remnant” gives a novel- based account of the Carmelites preparation of the Mary who would become the mother of Jesus. Scandalous as it would be among many born again Bible thumping believers, even amidst its historical liberties can be found the spirit and intent of holy living and divine love. This book taught me that beauty and truth can be found in many unconventional places if we are willing and brave enough to look. I know from Aunt Georgie’s perspective, Buddha and Confucius had some pretty good things to say She would also say the rainbow belongs to everyone.

When I met the man who would become my husband, she scooped him up too, loving to visit with and learn all about him. There were times when he would go to visit her on his own, and I don’t think I will ever know what all was talked about, though I know it drew them close as well. When Aunt Georgie could no longer live on her own, in the midst of moving, she passed many of her Bible Study helps on to my husband- understanding his love of research and scholarship and knowing he would use them.

More than a eulogy though, I tell the story of Aunt Georgie’s life to pose a most important question- where is that joy today? Where is the unconditional welcome of new and different ideas? Aunt Georgie would never tell a woman that God meant for her to be seen and not heard, to be obedient and serve without questioning the decisions of the male leadership around her. Many men, including the pastor, sought out Aunt Georgie for advice. Her wisdom was not restricted by gender, and her joy was not centered in a satisfied martyrdom. Rather she was loved by a Creator she knew well, and she simply let His love flow through her.

Gender was a non-issue in her faith. She never overthrew Him, never became self-important as she easily could have and rather than fighting the changing religious trends, she kept her own counsel and prayed for us all. Aunt Georgie found other ways, like teaching English to Hmong immigrants that lived near her retirement apartment, to show God’s love to people in a way that would not be pigeonholed by a changing church system.

I am convinced that this joy is what is missing from faith today. This snorting, belly-laugh of delight in all spiritual things as we share in the walk of life. I am further convinced, that as women, we are not only permitted, but required to be all that the Creator has called us to be.

I remember hearing that Ann Graham Lott, when questioned about the propriety of her being a woman pastor, responded, “I don’t know why the Lord called me to pastor- you would have to ask Him”.

This is truly what we must do. We must get off the rollercoaster of rules and rituals and ask HIM. And when we have heard His voice, if we follow what He is telling us to do, we cannot help but be in the right place at the right time doing the right thing. Halleluiah. We must look back to our spiritual mentors, our simple beginnings and find the roots of our faith before we can ever expect to go forward.

For some, like my husband, who were forever in raised with the message of “turn or burn”, this is especially hard to sift through. Too many mixed voices shout from their memories to easily discern if it was divine love that ultimately wooed them to a serious life of faith, or if it was fire insurance.
But faith can be found- He can be found. Searching for the people He has given us can help up see where our journey was always meant to go.

As attentive travelers, we can look at the path behind us and see bright streetlights- the people who showed us the Creator’s way. And if as usually is the case, we cannot always see the ones that will walk ahead with us- we gain strength from remembering our mentors. Mentors who are rarely who we expect and who didn’t appear even a moment before they were needed but have been there. We feel anew how much they loved us as God loves us. It gives us reason to believe He always will.