Tag Archives: Christianity

Wandering with Jesus

As a mom and a teacher of teenagers, I often heard comments and questions from skeptical young people about God, religion, and religious people.  I’m sure you’ve heard them, too:

    • Why would God allow a little kid to get cancer?
    • Why does God allow evil people to get such power?
    • Why did God allow my mom or dad to die when I was a kid?
    • Why does God answer some people’s prayers and not others?
    • Religion is the cause of most of the conflict in the world.
    • If that politician is a Christian, why does he/she treat LGBTQIA people so badly?
    • How can some Christians be so racist?
    • If they are pro-life, why do they only care about what happens to babies before they’re born?

I have to admit that I don’t have clear answers to any of these questions, and if I’m honest, I have to say that I have asked most of those questions myself.  But as a wonderful progressive pastor once said in the first sermon I ever heard outside an evangelical church, “It’s okay to doubt, as long as you keep searching for the answers.  Thomas doubted, and Jesus welcomed that doubt.  He let Thomas touch his wounds for himself.”

Having grown up in the Bible Belt, I attended churches that referred to Thomas as “doubting Thomas,” with more than a little scorn for him and for anyone they knew who admitted to having doubts.  Questions were not welcomed, and because of that, I saw more than a few teenagers reject any kind of belief that there is a Spirit of grace.

When my daughter was born, I remember telling my mom that I was going to take her to church because if I didn’t give her something to believe in, there were all too many people out there who would give her something that wasn’t worthy of her belief.  And when she began to ask these same  questions as a teenager, I began a journey of writing meditations for the day, based on Bible verses, that I taped to her bedroom door in the morning.  For several days she said nothing about them, but when I skipped a day, she asked, “Where’s my thought for the day?”

Ultimately, I realized that she would make her own choices, but I did want her to focus on Jesus, who for me is the best example of how we should treat other people.  In this holiest time of the Christian calendar, I want to share some of those meditations as my way of “taking up something for Lent.”  And so I will offer meditations each day that follow Jesus on his journey through humanity as we look for the hope we so desperately need.

Wandering with Jesus gives us a reason to wonder about Jesus, and so I will share with you some of the meditations I offered my daughter as conversation starters about our doubts and our certainties, which are sometimes one and the same.  I hope you will join me in my wandering and wondering.

Peace be with you!

Advent Also Means a Coming into View

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, and I look back on the first Advent blog I ever wrote—on December 2, 2012—about this watchful time of my faith tradition.  Today this boyfriend is my daughter’s husband and the father of my coming grandchild, which adds a new perspective for me to how we Christians await the coming of a child. But Advent still brings me both joy and an awareness that we could learn much from those whose views of God differ from our own.

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, and I am joyful.  After church my daughter and her boyfriend will join us to cut a live tree, and her friends will join us to decorate the tree and laugh and talk and share a meal and a cup of cheer.  And while I’m mindful of my faith, many of the traditions we share have little to do with the story of that babe’s birth in a manger.  While we share memories of our church filled with the soft light of hundreds of candles on Christmas Eve, many of us would be stumped if asked why we kill a live tree and bring it into the house with such delight or why we leave cookies and milk for the man in the red suit who finds a way into even those houses that don’t have chimneys.

When my siblings and I were children, our mom bought a set of World Book Encyclopedias,adding the annual volume each year, no matter how little money our parents had, to be sure our information never went out of date.  In those white books, embossed with gold print, some of the most worn pages were those that described how people in other countries celebrate Christmas.  So while we grew up in a tiny town in the Appalachian mountains, we knew that we shared this holiday with people in England and Italy and Germany and Denmark—people who seemed far away but close because of our shared enthusiasm for the babe in the manger who promised hope.

Having grown up in a town that was all white and all Protestant, I didn’t encounter a Catholic until I left home for college.  Now I am happily married to a Polish Catholic, and because of those pages in my mom’s beloved encyclopedias, I’ve always had at least a partial understanding of how Catholicism differs from my faith.  The only real stretch of understanding for me was moving from my mom’s and my childhood church’s grape juice tradition to the wine and the bread that embodied the risen Christ.

But I didn’t truly know anyone of a non-Christian faith until I moved to the D.C. suburbs, where my school system closed in September for two Jewish holidays that I knew nothing about. And later, our department hired a Muslim of Pakistani descent, a woman who also knew much more about my faith than I knew about hers.  I quickly learned that my colleagues and friends of other faiths often knew more than most Christians about the holidays we celebrate.  And I know that on more than one occasion, my questions and curiosity revealed a complete ignorance of their faith that must have astonished them.  But I was strengthened in my fight against cancer when a young Jewish woman made me a framed hanging with a tiny scroll and a verse our faith traditions shared.  And my life was enriched when the Muslim woman brought a Pakistani meal for our department and explained as she broke bread with us the significance of each dish.

As we begin this month-long, boisterous celebration of our faith tradition, what would happen if each of us took the time to find out something about the traditions of other faiths?  What if I turned to that Buddhist whose quiet strength is often greater than my own and asked about his meditation practices?  What if I asked an atheist—with genuine curiosity instead of skepticism—how she seeks to understand a world that is often vocal in its rejection of her?

As Twain’s character Huck Finn discovered when he floated down the Mississippi River on a raft with the man Tom, who his culture had taught him was only 3/5 of a human being, we cannot possibly hold to stereotypes when we truly get to know another human being in all the complexities that defy the way we’ve been taught to see them.  Every culture and faith has its villains and its heroes.  But once we see someone up close—and even learn to call him a friend—we learn that the complexities of human beings are far more interesting than the extremes in which we paint them from a distance.

And even if we live in areas that never allow us to know those of other cultures, the Internet has made the world a much smaller place.  I can now see videos—and even chat with—those people in far-away places that I could only read about in my mother’s World Book.  The world is now my book.  And isn’t that much more interesting?

Advent—for Christians, the word means the coming of the Christ. But what if it were also advent—a coming into place or view—where we begin to come to a fuller understanding of what’s best in us all?

What have you gained or learned from someone of another faith?

Would Christ Turn Marriage Upside-Down?

RingsGeorgia, North Carolina, Mississippi, and now Oklahoma. Christianity is under assault. But not in the way that the conservatives in these states who’ve introduced discriminatory laws would say it is. Like the Pharisees Jesus condemned, these Christians stand in the marketplace and loudly proclaim their objections to the actions of those whose behavior is far more Christ-like. Their hypocrisy in the name of religion should be obvious to anyone who seeks to follow Christ’s example.

If Christianity means being Christ-like, then it is under assault. And it is up to those of us who desire to live as Christ lived to show the courage of Christ and call out such hypocrisy just as he did. Continue reading Would Christ Turn Marriage Upside-Down?

Terror, Christianity, and Holy Week

Dark Sanctuary

Holy Week this year has much in common with that first Holy Week, over 2000 years ago, when Christ turned his followers’ attention toward the inevitable. His disciples had been filled with hope that he could change the world for the better. After all, they’d seen him turn water into wine, feed thousands with a few loaves and fishes, heal the sick with the touch of a hand, raise the dead with the power of his voice. Continue reading Terror, Christianity, and Holy Week

Is Gay Marriage Compatible with Christianity?


In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing gay marriage this week, my husband and I have found it interesting that the justices on both sides used the Constitution to explain their votes. Much has been said about Anthony Kennedy’s eloquent opinion for the majority and about John Roberts’ first opinion read from the bench, both of which cite the Constitution to justify their stances.

That, of course, is their job as justices on the nation’s highest court—to interpret the laws in light of the Constitution.

Using the same text to come to different conclusions also holds true for religious leaders who have commented on the Supreme Court’s decision. Continue reading Is Gay Marriage Compatible with Christianity?

Can Christians Practice Yoga?

Yoga Mat

My husband and I recently enrolled in our first exercise class together in 22 years of marriage, and on Monday night we drove five minutes to the local community center for a yoga class offered by the county’s Department of Recreation.  That description alone should tell you a lot about the nature of the class.  It was more exercise than spiritual practice, and many of the poses we did were stretches I watch my husband do nearly every night before bed.

The stretching was great, and we laughed a lot.  The instructor couldn’t remember anyone’s name, and she asked my husband again a few minutes into the class what his name was.  “Matt,” he deadpanned, pointing to the mat beneath his feet.  “That should be easy to remember.”

The instructor followed his pointing finger and read the inscription my husband didn’t know was on the mat until he unrolled it for the class.  He had bought it last week for $5 from T.J. Maxx—which again should tell you something about our level of seriousness about the class.  The inscription read:


OTHERWISE YOU WILL MISS YOUR LIFE. Continue reading Can Christians Practice Yoga?

Have Unspeakable Doubt?


“I’m not all that sure I believe in the virgin birth.”

“Really,” I said, raising my eyebrows in surprise.  “Why not?”

Not an unusual conversation, certainly.  But close your eyes and picture one of those silhouettes on a news show, speaking in a voice that’s been digitally disguised to protect the identity of the speaker.

“Well,” said the silhouette, “that’s not exactly something you say if you feel called to be God’s minister in the world.”

I smiled a rueful acknowledgment and waited.  I don’t know how many others this minister confided in, but even now, years later, I feel privileged that this person I respect so much was honest enough to admit to questioning the faith we share.  It is one of the dialogues that has shaped my own faith journey.

I thought of this conversation again today when a friend of mine called and asked how I was doing.  She knows that I’ve been wrestling with why God suddenly took a close friend who was making a difference in the world and yet left my mom in a nursing home, trapped and confused inside a body debilitated by two strokes.

Having had the wind knocked out of me by my friend’s death three months ago, I have regained some equilibrium.  For me, it always helps to dump the unanswerable questions on the floor and wade through them with people I trust to understand.  I told my friend that my only certainty sometimes is that the Spirit is in the muck with me.  I study the holy texts of my faith every day, as best I can in my limited understanding.  Ultimately, I’ve decided to leave the details of what happened 2000 years ago and what will happen after I die up to an unfathomable God.  I can’t control either of those things, so I’ve decided that I will live my life as abundantly as I can for as long as I can.

“Funny you should mention control,” my friend responded.  She shared that she heard a sermon at her church recently where the minister explained that we must give up control—and that it’s not in our nature in the modern world to give up control.  She said, “So what am I supposed to do—quit my job and sit on my butt and wait for God to put food on my table?”

I laughed.  We both knew how ridiculous that sounded and that that isn’t what her pastor meant.  And like all human beings, we understand the struggle to find balance in a faith full of contradictions.

She laughed.  “I do struggle with that.  You and I are going to have to sit down over a bottle of wine some time and talk about all the questions.  I just don’t get why things like Sandy Hook happen.  And if God doesn’t answer our prayers to keep that from happening, why do we pray?”

“I know,” I said.  “For me, all I really know is that praying somehow brings me closer to that Spirit that is in us all.  And I know that every single time I’ve cried out, I’ve felt that Presence, and I can’t chalk that up to coincidence.  And when I cry out, I’ve seen the face of God in the people who love and comfort me.”

We both admitted that we pray we are never tested in the way the Sandy Hook parents have been.  It’s hard to breathe when I think about that.  Would I still cling to my faith?  I honestly don’t know, and I pray that I never have to find out.  But I do know with certainty that if the unspeakable happened, I’d see the face of God in people of any faith and no faith who would gather ‘round me and wrap me in their arms, just as they did ten years ago when I had cancer.

Today’s lectionary reading is the passage from the Book of Acts where the apostles choose a replacement for Judas.  And do you know how they do it?  They cast lots.  I’ve read that passage many times, but it is only recently that I really paid attention to that detail.  These men—who have seen Jesus perform miracles, who should understand God better than any of us ever will—ultimately leave the decision up to chance.  I chuckle.  And I suspect I’m not the only one who finds humor in the stories of ordinary human beings in the face of the uncertainty.

I think again of that silhouetted minister, admitting doubts just as Thomas did and spending a lifetime in search of the answers–and along the way, being the face and hands and feet of God in the world in spite of all the personal doubts.

And I wonder what would happen if we allowed our ministers and our leaders and ourselves to voice the unspeakable questions that—if we’re honest—we all ask.

Speak.  Tell me the stories of your own questioning.

Momma, Will You Tell Me a Story?

Ash and Baboo

“Momma, will you read me a story?”

No matter how tired I was at the end of a day, I loved hearing those words from my toddler daughter.  I never tired of reading her favorites—the princess fairy tales, The Paper Bag Princess, Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear? andGoodnight, Moon.  Sitting with her curled up in the curve of my arm, her thumb in her mouth and her Baboo in her arms, was one of my greatest joys of being a young mother.

When she started kindergarten, she loved her teacher, but she really didn’t want to learn to read at first.  I gestured to all the books on her bookshelves and asked, “Don’t you want to be able to read all those books?”

She looked at me with sad eyes and pulled her Baboo to her chest.  “But then you won’t read to me any more,” she said, her eyes brimming with tears.

“Oh, honey,” I said, hugging her to me.  “I’ll always read to you, as long as you want me to,” I promised.  “And you can read to me, too!”

She smiled, and within days she began to point out the words she knew as I was reading, and she began to “read” with me, at first by reciting the words to the stories she knew word for word.  And eventually the stories became her own.

Stories are our shared heritage, our common ground.  The stories that resonate with one person are not always the stories that speak to another. One need only pull up a bestseller list from 20 years ago to see that the narratives that have great entertainment value are not always the stories that we still tell and read over and over again.  Time has a way of weeding out those stories that don’t help us learn how to be human in a world of other humans.

As an English teacher, I’ve been privileged to read again and again some of the greatest of those stories.  I don’t love them all.  Some speak to me more than others.  But in all of them, I can see why the stories are enticing—the language full of poetry that touches our hearts with both loss and possibility.

And so it is on this eve of Easter that I think about the stories that distinguish my faith from other great faith traditions.  Yes, to those who share my faith, they are the stories of a Savior—a fully human, fully divine being who has helped us glimpse the face of a sometimes unfathomable God.  But if I try to stand outside my faith and look at Christ as those who don’t share my faith might see him, I still see stories worth hearing—stories of a man who challenges everyone he meets to think about our responsibility to love our fellow humans, to minister to those in need, to have compassion for the least among us.

This week I’ve been reading some lost texts that didn’t make the cut for inclusion in the Bible but which have been validated as well-known texts in the time they were written.  I’ve found it interesting that none of these lost texts has a clear or powerful narrative from beginning to end, nor do they have the beauty of the language of the existing New Testament.  And reading those lost texts has reminded me, yet again, of the power of a great story—one that is true to the nature of humanity.

I’m grateful for the difference compelling stories have made in my life, both in literature and in the holy texts of my faith.  Every faith has such stories.  And the stories don’t stop just because a group of committed people decide it’s time to collect them in a book.  God didn’t stop speaking to people when the Bible or any other sacred book went to print.  Stories of goodness and light happen every day, and they only stop when we stop telling them.

So will you tell me a story, too?

Are Our Views Changing?

Oceana Park

The small town where I grew up was—and still is—an anomaly, even in the surrounding county.  Though not everyone looked the same, everyone looked the same.  Some of us had blonde hair and blue eyes, some brown hair and green eyes, some black hair and brown eyes.  But all of us shared the same small range of skin tones, and at the time I graduated from the local high school, not a single African-American had ever attended the school.

The nearest Catholic church is still twelve miles away, in a town that also has some African-American residents.  The nearest synagogue is over 30 miles away.  White and Protestant throughout my childhood, my hometown remains so to the present day.  And yet that town has the same issues that face the rest of the country—unemployment, poverty, and drug addiction that is so pervasive it has become the subject of a documentary chosen to premiere at next month’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York.

In the absence of an intimate relationship with someone who is different, human beings tend to form their opinions by falling back on stereotypes.  As an avid reader in high school, I glimpsed characters whose lives were very different from my own.  I watched the Civil Rights Movement unfold on our television screen, but it seemed far removed from my own life in an all-white town.  And only as an adult did I learn that some of my childhood classmates were gay and lesbian.  That, too, seemed far away.  Though I grew up in evangelical churches, no minister ever felt the need to preach a sermon aimed at homosexuals because no one ever openly acknowledged a sexuality that didn’t conform to the social norms of the community.

This week the United States Supreme Court will take on the issue of same-sex marriage.  Journalists and commentators have speculated for months on the outcome of the justices’ deliberations, and while they disagree about how the justices may rule, they seem almost unanimous on one thing: Americans’ views on this issue are changing.

Just last week Rob Portman, a Republican congressman from Ohio, announced that he had changed his mind and now supports same-sex marriage.  Why?  Like a host of politicians before him, his views are changing because someone he knows and loves—his son—is gay.  It is impossible to hold fast to stereotypes when we know someone intimately who defies that stereotype.

Whatever the Supreme Court’s decision, it will not change the hearts and minds of people who make judgments from a distance—those who know not a single friend or family member who is homosexual.  We know this from history.  Giving women the right to vote and hold office did not lead to a flood of women elected to public office.  Granting African-Americans civil rights did not lead blacks and whites to live in the same neighborhoods or to come together in our houses of worship.  Granting citizenship to immigrants has not led us to understand that a person who is Muslim or Hindi has the common bond of humanity with us.

So even if the Supreme Court rules fully in favor of same-sex marriage, we still have a long way to go as humans living in concord and understanding with other human beings.

Since I left that small town to encounter people who have a wider range of differences than my hair and eye color, I’ve found that my life has been enriched almost every time I’ve been open to the colorfully diverse human beings around me.  Yes, sometimes they disappoint me by being very like the stereotypes.  But far more often, when I get past the surface of our differences, I’ve found something of myself in almost every person I’ve met.

Human that I am, I sometimes latch on to my first impression—not so much on appearances, but on the tone and color of the words that come out of a new acquaintance’s mouth.  I’m far more apt to judge that I don’t want to get to know someone whose views, rather than skin color, land far afield from my own.

And even then, when I don’t shut the door and pull down the shade of my mind before looking more deeply, I sometimes find that hearing others’ life stories can make a difference.  I don’t always connect in a way that makes me want to call that person a friend, and at times I still feel I have to oppose that person’s views in order to be true to my own conscience and sense of justice.

But I believe that if anything can make us live together in peace and come together to tackle the issues that face all of us, it is the power of personal narrative.  So invite us now to sit at your feet and hear your story.

How Far Have You Traveled?

Oceana from Porch

The World from the Porch of My Childhood Home in Oceana

I love books.  Books remind me of all the places I’ve been—the places my heart has traveled that I might forget until I read a character who travels to a similar place.  Books take me to places I’ve never been—and even now, when technology can show images and carry voices to me from the other side of the world, I still love it when the words on a printed page can conjure worlds and places that dance across my mind.

For a girl like me, who grew up in a coal mining town in the Appalachian Mountains and never saw the ocean until I had my first teaching job, books were and still are a source of awe to me.  And something in my life has always taken priority over traveling to the places I’d love to go—buying my first house, having children, and even now that I can afford to travel, finding a place close enough to allow me to relax and think.  Though we would love to travel, my husband and I have not yet traveled to a single place that requires a passport.  We only acquired passports after one of our children, who’ve traveled far more than we have, said, “What if I decide I want to get married in Italy?  You won’t be able to come to the wedding.”

Though we constantly put off traveling for something that is more important to us, I’ve probably traveled the world through books more than many people who’ve been around the world and back hundreds of times.  And just as they stop in awe as they see the wonders of the world, I often find that a simple word or phrase can take my breath away and make me pause in awe.

Most recently, my mind lingered over a verse that pulled me in—a verse hidden among far more well known ones from Chapter 14 of the Gospel of John, a verse in the same chapter as the words that a lot of Christians have taken to mean that only they can come to God.  Christ is talking to the disciples in that circular way that sometimes makes them crazy—in a wealth of figurative language that makes it difficult for them to understand the nature of his relationship to God.  And then he tells them this very surprising thing:  “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.”

I was so skeptical that I went to the Web and read the verse in ten different translations before I could believe what I must have read and heard hundreds of times over the course of my life.

As I’ve been looking beyond teaching and working with teachers to consider my next calling in the world, I hope to be able to do sometimes for others what great authors have done for me—to put words together in a way that will make my readers’ minds linger in places they’ve never been.  But do I believe for even one second that I can do works that are greater than the works of the Christ whose birth I’ll celebrate tomorrow?  Words fail me in trying to describe where my brain goes as I think about that.  I want to laugh out loud, to put an exclamation point here, to somehow let you know how much the thought of that boggles my mind.

And then I do laugh out loud, knowing that I’m joyful when even one or two friends or strangers tell me that this blog has helped them or made them think.  But what if I could somehow bring myself to believe the extraordinary promise of that verse?  What if all of us came to believe in the extraordinary power of a single human in a world in so much need?

So while I still hope to use that passport to see places I’ve never seen, I also value going back to the places I’ve been, seeing treasures hidden in the sand of that ocean I didn’t see until I was 22.  And that’s why I’ll continue to travel the holy texts of my faith and the writing of the great authors I treasure.  Perhaps somehow, with all the mind-boggling force of the great thinkers who have come before me, I can somehow build on what they’ve done and make a difference in my world, the way that Christ made a difference in his.

Over and over again, writers speak to me long after I’ve put their books back on the shelf of my library or in the archive of my e-reader.  I hear their words, dancing in my head, and they give me hope.

So tell me a favorite quote of a great prophet or writer or thinker that dances in your head.  Tell me the words that take you to far-away places in search of the awe of a better world.