Toddler Jesus

In addition to this blog, I also contribute to my church’s  blog about every other week. Since this one isn’t based on the sermon, it seemed fitting to share it here as well.

 

As Christmas approaches, I’ve been thinking about Jesus. Sometimes I forget he was human, that he walked around and talked to people and ate food and all the physical, tangible activities that come with being human. Nativities and storybooks portray Jesus as a serene infant held in his mother’s arms, or the more accurate ones might show him as a toddler when the wise men paid their visit.

While these pictures present a snippet of truth, as I imagine Jesus did snuggle with his mom sometimes, I think they only portray a portion of it. 

Because Jesus was human. 100%, sippy-cup-toting, clapping, shrieking, tantrum-throwing, nose-wiping-on-Mary toddler human. 

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In Which I Might Be A Jesus Feminist (But I’m Not Entirely Sure)

{This post is part of a synchroblog celebrating the release of Sarah Bessey’s book Jesus Feminist. While I haven’t read it yet, I am very much looking forward to doing so.}

When I first read Sarah Bessey’s definition of feminism, it seemed so simple:

…if you believe that women are people too, then technically, well, I hate to break it to you, but you are a feminist. After all, at the core, feminism simply means that we champion the dignity, rights, responsibilities, and glories of women as equal in importance to those of men, and we refuse discrimination against women.”

It’s easy for me to agree with those things. I hate the idea of women being told they cannot do things simply because they are a woman. But I can’t ignore that the word “feminist” still carries a bit of baggage for me. In the Christian circles I grew up in, it wasn’t a word that was used often (if it all)—and if it was, I doubt it was in a positive light. And while I’ve done a lot of thinking and reading and writing about what being a Christian means for me individually instead of simply following the way my parents raised me, I don’t have it figured out.

I’ve barely begun to discover what it means to love and follow Jesus, much less to do it well. While I don’t think we ever truly “arrive” as followers of Jesus while we’re on this earth, we do make movements on the path—hopefully forward, but sometimes back as well. And in my right now, where I sit at this very moment, I don’t feel far enough along that path to be striving to be anything other than like Jesus.

So I might be a Jesus feminist, but I’m not entirely sure yet. JesusFem_Quote1

I’d rather cling to who Jesus is as a person than anything else.

I want him to be my genuine aim.

Maybe by the time I get done reading Jesus Feminist, I’ll be ready to don that label. Or maybe in a year or three or ten.

Or maybe I’ll always just cling to Jesus, and leave the rest of the labels on the table.

Because I don’t really think it’s about the labels we choose to don or not—it’s about how we follow Jesus, and how we love because of that.

I’m learning what it means to be a woman who loves, to champion the dignity, rights, responsibilities, and glories of all people.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. For more on Sarah Bessey and Jesus Feminist, I highly recommend this article, this interview, and this page.

“I Love Jesus, But I Hate You.”

Two women stood a few feet away from me, paging through a book. The store had a mishmash of funny and inspiring cards, little knickknacks, and along one wall, a selection of books—most on spirituality, health, and wellness. As they paged through, one woman paused, commenting on perhaps a quote or story.

The other woman spoke, “I love Jesus, but I hate Christians.” “Yea, they’re terrible,” the first woman agreed. They both chuckled a bit and continued on with their browsing, soon moving to another section of the store.

I stood by a card rack, not overly surprised by her comment—it’s a common lament—but I had never heard it spoken out loud, at such close range, and had it sink in so much.

Because I’m a Christian. The comment was a general, broad, sweeping statement, but that day it felt personal.

 

“I love Jesus, but I hate you.”

 

I sort of get it. A lot of terrible things have been, are, and will be done in the name of Christ. Signs held proclaiming hatred, wars waged for the sake of conversion, words of cruelty spoken that bring shame—I hate those things, too. Yet people I associate myself with by proclaiming the label Christian sometimes do not hate those things, but embrace them.

So I understand her statement. Christians can seem quite the unsavory lot, though certainly not all fit that mold.

 

If I were a braver person, if I were better at listening for God in the heat of the moment, perhaps I would have spoken to her.

 

I would have liked to listen to her, to hear her stories of Christians who had hurt her, and maybe cry with her and tell her that I am so, so sorry that anyone, but especially those who claim the label of Christian, treated her that way.

And after I listened, I would have liked to apologize, for the ways and the days that I still proclaim Jesus as my Savior but act very little like him.

I would have liked to apologize for careless, graceless words thrown around out of anger or misunderstanding.

I would have liked to apologize for my tendency to squirm but stay silent when I’m in the midst of conversations that don’t reflect the heart of the God I follow.

I would have liked to apologize for lack of compassion, for lack of action, for lack of love.

I would have liked to apologize for thinking and acting like I am better than others, and failing to see the way my God sees them—as valuable, lovable, precious.

 

I would have liked to apologize for not making Christianity look more like Christ.

 

I would have liked to tell her I believe in God and a grace I don’t fully understand, one that tells me I am loved despite my inadequacies and failings, but that grace is not an excuse for me to behave and think the way I do at times.

I would have liked to tell her I understand why she hates some Christians, and that I hate some of the things Christians do in the name of Christ.

I would have liked to tell her that I think it’s awesome she loves Jesus, and that I love him too.

 

But I didn’t tell her anything of these things. Maybe next time I will.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What would you have said to her?

When I Can’t Pray That

The words spewed out of my mouth before I fully realized what I was saying.

I don’t think I can pray that.”

Objectively speaking, I could. I could force my lips to form the words, my pen to write the sentences, my brain to think the thoughts to form a prayer.

But I don’t know that I could truly mean it. Do prayers still count if you don’t mean the words you’re saying? If you pray for something because you know that’s what you’re supposed to, but don’t know that you really want it to be true?

Jesus said to love our enemies. If we truly care about those we love, we pray for them. And so, to love my enemies, it follows suit that I should pray for them. “Enemies” might be strong terminology; anyone who has hurt me or those I love, or who I happen to not like very much that day, or any number of rather invalid reasons…I may not feel like I am able to pray for them.

Praying isn’t about feeling like I want to pray though. It’s a practice, an exercise, a ritual to be done when I feel it and when I don’t–perhaps especially when I don’t.

There is no other way to do something than to simply begin. So when I can’t pray that, I must start somewhere. Praying to be able to pray. It feels foolish, to not pray for that specific something, but to pray to be able to pray for it.

But it is, I imagine, very difficult to dislike someone for whom you are praying good–and meaning it. So by praying to be able to pray, perhaps I will find not only that I am able to mean the words, but to care for the person I was not able to before.

I do not expect this to happen in a day, a week, or maybe even a few months.

This, like the rest of me, is a work in progress.

Praying to be able to pray.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Have you ever had a prayer you felt you couldn’t pray?

Would Jesus Tweet About Gay Marriage?

People like to share their opinions. I imagine it has been this way as long as people have been around, but technology has presented us with endless ways of sharing our thoughts. Scroll through any form of social media during an election, exciting sporting event, or important news story, and you are sure to find opinions. Maybe more than opinions. Quite possibly you will find strong opinions. If the person were to be speaking those same words, it would likely sound a lot like yelling.

So. Much. Yelling.

In my communications classes I learned about the various components of the communication cycle. The biggest components of any form of communication are the sender, message, and receiver. People are very good at sending a communication message via social media.

But social media is not designed very well for receiving messages.

It seems like it is–if people weren’t reading and liking and retweeting statuses and tweets, people would stop posting them. There’s clearly some sort of receiving going on, but truly listening is a different matter. Even slight disagreements that take place on social media quickly, sometimes immediately, descends into a shouting match.

Because social media is not designed for listening well–with grace, understanding, and mercy.

It’s very easy to skim a comment, pick up the key words, and fire back a response.

But real communication shouldn’t work like that.

Especially for people who are aiming to be more like Jesus.

Jesus did a lot of talking, it’s true. He spoke to giant crowds of people, smaller gatherings in houses, to people on the street–he did a lot of message sending.

Yet it’s not hard to imagine that Jesus was also a pretty good listener. He listened when people told them their ailments and asked for healing. Jesus gave thoughtful answers, which are only possible through careful listening. He wasn’t rash or hasty. Though his responses weren’t always what people expected or wanted to hear, they were ultimately what needed to be said–but with very little yelling.

The next time something controversial is happening in the world, I would love to see an empty news feed. Not because people don’t care about what’s going on in the world, but because they’re out listening, engaging in face-to-face conversations, which will always tell us more than words on a screen. All the CAPITAL LETTERS, bold font, and italics in the world can’t convey as much as facial expressions and tone of voice.

This is why it is doubtful you will find posts for or against gay marriage here, impassioned pleas for or against a certain political party, arguments for or against certain theological viewpoints. It’s not because I don’t think these topics are worthy of discussion, or that I don’t hold my own beliefs about them, or that I don’t enjoy discussing them. 

These topics are of the utmost importance–but I don’t need to yell at you about them here. I may offer thoughts, wrestle with things, but I don’t want or need to yell. I want my communication and my listening to always be covered in grace, understanding, and mercy. I want to be able to speak the necessary words, and to truly listen to what others have to say. I want and need to hear others’ stories, because I can learn from their point of view, and perhaps they can learn from mine as well. And when it comes to topics where there are deep emotions, strong opinions, and stories I may not be aware of, all of those things are much more easily done offline.

We could argue for days about whether or not Jesus would even have Twitter or Facebook, much less what he would be posting about. I may not be able to learn about how to communicate from Jesus’ social media postings, but I can learn a lot about my own postings from his words I do have.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What do you think Jesus would tweet?

Living in the Tension of Grace

Lights are dim, the music quiet, almost haunting, the crowd somber and silent as they exit. “It was my sin that held him there, until it was accomplished” rings in people’s ears, rattling in their hearts, stirring up reminders of the harsh, careless words, white lies and withheld forgiveness that made the sacrifice, now declared finished, necessary.

Dark, heavy sin hangs in the air.

We are sent from the service knowing it is our sin, that hides in our hearts and speaks words of malice and wrinkles our noses at those in need, that called to be covered. It is a burdensome reminder, because covered it was, with Jesus’ own blood and love.

Yet in this weighty, somber time, there is a strange sense of goodness.

If I don’t acknowledge the stinking, terrible, all-encompassing mess that is my own sin, I may be tempted to think I can save myself–that somehow my own paltry attempts at “being good” will equate to salvation. It is good to be reminded of my own darkness, my desire to live my own way, as though my human power is enough to save myself.

 

But then, grace.

Beautiful, sweet, obliterating grace steps into the weighty darkness to say I don’t have to think that way, act that way, be that way. Grace says I am drawn to the dark, but have been given light. Grace says my sin, the mess I can never clean up with any amount of mops or bleach, has been more than cleaned–it is forgotten. As though the mess never existed. I am seen as spotless.

 

Remembering my sin, acknowledging I’ve tried to do it on my own and failed, seeing the ever-increasing mess I will never be able to clean…yet accepting the gift of grace, living as an expression of gratitude, knowing my mess is now and forever gone. Reconciling the two is more than my limited mind seems capable of.

So we live in the tension, brought to light more than usual in holy week services and celebrated with finality on Easter. We live in the pull between the whisperings of sin saying, “You can clean up your own mess,” and the melodious shouts of grace, saying, “Your mess has been forgotten, if only you accept it.”

It is good to remember our sin, but we remember from within the loving embrace of grace. There is sorrow for our sin, acceptance that we have and will continue to do wrong…and it pushes us back to grace. The need, the wonder, the beauty of grace.

 

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Have you ever felt the tension between remembering sin and living in grace?

Dear Me: Go To Church

The topic of church has come up a lot lately: in my own blog posts, in other articles I’ve been reading, in a class I’m the teaching assistant for, in conversations, and more. I intended to write about why I think church is so important, until I found something in an old notebook. This is a snippet of an un-eloquent, rambling prayer I wrote my freshman year of college.

Photo Credit: Flickr User Vik Nanda, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Flickr User Vik Nanda, Creative Commons

It’s hard for me to go to church, honestly. Lately I’ve just really been wondering what good it is. Like [we talked about in some of my classes], why have so many Sundays of preaching produced so few spiritually mature Christians? I feel like I’m getting more out of writing all this than I may have gotten out of a sermon. I don’t know that for sure, of course, but I feel more like I’m talking to you. Maybe church is the right thing, and I’m sorry for not doing the right thing.

There’s a few things younger me should hear about church.

 

Dear College Freshman Brianna,

You’re right. Going to church is really, really hard sometimes. You’re busy, and honestly, there may be occasional Sundays when sleeping in is more beneficial to your overall well-being than going to church (but not nearly as many as you might think right now.)

Having the advantage of a few years, you should know this about your church-going experience: It will get worse before it gets better. I wish I could say otherwise, but it’s true.

Yet, even in the “worse” time, you should still go. Even though you will walk into church nervous and scared, coming in through the back entrance because the main one is far too intimidating, you will hear good messages. The style of worship will be different than you grew up with, and it will expand your understanding of the world and Christianity and God. You will attend a really awkward “young people” lunch, feel ignored and overlooked, and wonder why on earth you bother with church.

I’ve yet to find a direct command in the Bible saying, “Thou shalt go to church.” It’s not one of the Ten Commandments, and Jesus doesn’t specifically talk about “church” in the way we know it now.

But, younger me, there’s this: Jesus spent a lot of time with people, which is a large part of what church is about. It’s absolutely important to worship God, and you will do that in church (and elsewhere), but you will meet and experience the body of believers in church as well. Growing up, you’ve seen some of the bad parts of church, as well as some of the beautiful parts, and you will see those in the next few years too, but in new ways. The brokenness, the humanness, the imperfectness of the body; and the beautiful, the divine, the glory in the body.

You wrote, “Maybe church is the right thing, and I’m sorry for not doing the right thing.” I’m not sure God wants us to feel guilty for not going to church, but I think church is his design for how he wants believers to learn and grow together and from each other. Part of going to church isn’t about seeing what you can get from it (though it is important to listen to the sermons), but seeing what you can give to it.

Yup. You.

Even though you feel too young and uneducated and inadequate, you have gifts. Discover them. Use them to serve your fellow church-goers. Just like you have tons of things to learn from them, they can probably learn a few things from you as well.

So get out of bed. Go to church.

And hang in there. There is beauty in the broken, even when the broken is the body of believers.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What would you say to younger you about church?

The Anticipation of Christmas

It’s Christmas Eve.

I’m 22, I have a college degree; by quite a few standards I am now an “adult.”

And I still get antsy on this day.

This year I know several of my presents, because I helped pick them out, so my excitement isn’t primarily over gifts like it might have been when I was younger. I’m looking forward to giving some gifts, particularly to my nieces and nephew, and I can’t wait to see their happy little faces. In ways, these are things worth looking forward to.

But my anticipation shouldn’t be entirely about gifts or food or presents. Because tomorrow, we get to celebrate Christmas. 

We get to celebrate Jesus coming to earth as a tiny, wrinkly baby. Incarnation.

Coming to us, his people, in a way we can understand and relate to. Jesus skinned his knees and had hangnails and calloused feet and maybe dandruff and body odor. These are things we know firsthand, because we’ve experienced them too.

And Jesus, God himself, lived on this same earth we walk on.

So it is fitting that I get antsy to celebrate that.

Christmas is more than a day though. This year I’m trying to not put the actual day of Christmas on a pedestal. It’s only 24 hours, and whatever picture of a perfect Christmas I have in my head will not come entirely true. And that’s ok, because Christmas is more than about celebrating a specific day. My anticipation is directed towards more than tomorrow.

Last year around Christmas, I wrote in Advent: Found:

This is the part of Advent I think I had been missing though: the waiting doesn’t end on Christmas. The eager anticipation of that day is a taste of what I should be anticipating each and every day as I wait for Christ to come again…What happened in a stable as foreshadowing of who will come again…What we already have, but not yet in full.

Christmas isn’t just a day, it’s a state of being. Of being in continual hopeful expectation and longing for the day when Christ will return.

And that is something worth getting antsy about.

Merry Christmas, and til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. How do you celebrate Christmas? How can you keep it as a reminder that Jesus will come again?

Comfort in Mystery

In my life lately, it’s been difficult for me to get used to not knowing what’s going on with…well, pretty much any part of my life. Part-time jobs, living with my parents, my sister, brother-in-law, and nieces living with us for a few months, instability at work, and more–the unknown and I are no strangers to each other.

Yet there is unknown I find appealing, mystery I can appreciate the beauty of. Sure, I’ve taken some classes on the Bible, go to church,  read some books,  attend Bible study, talk to friends about God and Christianity and what it looks like to try to live like Jesus…but there will always be things I don’t know about God.

Studying can teach us a lot about God and his word, his triune nature, the historical and cultural context of the Bible, the attributes of God, and so much more. I find these fascinating, and love to read what others have written and listen to what others think of such things.

But despite all the books that have been written, sermons that have been preached, and arguments have taken place over God and his word, there is much my brain will never be able to fully comprehend, nor will anyone else’s. I don’t think we’re supposed to be able to fully understand everything about God. We are to seek to know him more each day, but no matter how long our lives may extend, there are aspects of God and Christianity that are simply incomprehensible to the human mind.

And I kind of love it.

Perhaps the two most incomprehensible, beautiful, mysterious aspects of God are the Trinity and the incarnation.

Trinity: God, in three persons, yet one. I’ve read about it, studied it, and there are those who have devoted their lives to studying it. Still, it’s a diving mystery. Perhaps that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Incarnation: God in human form; fully human, fully God, living and breathing and walking on earth.

The Message puts John 1:14 this way: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”

Incomprehensible, beautiful, mysterious.

For today, I find comfort in this mystery, that God is not a concept I can wrap my brain around. I’d be leery of a god I felt I could fully understand; if I could understand it, what would stop me from thinking I could do a better job myself? Though I often act this way in regards to God, at my core I know it to be untrue–there is no piece of my life that would be better if I were completely in control of it.

The opposite is true: every piece of my life is better when I’m not trying to be in control of it.

So today, though not always, I am in awe and appreciation of the mystery of God, of the unknown that will never be fully known, and the beauty therein.

 

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Do you find it frustrating or comforting that there are things about God we’ll never understand?

Christmas Socks and Struggle

Christmas is coming. Not even 3 weeks away now.

I often struggle with Christmas a bit. Not because I don’t like it; I love the decorations, the excitement and anticipation, the music, the time with family and friends, the food, the fun…and yes, I kind of like presents, too.

Which is where my struggle lies.

Sometimes I feel like a bad Christian when I say I like presents. 

Photo Credit: Flicrk User RVWithTito, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Flicrk User RVWithTito, Creative Commons

The reality is, I don’t have much money at this point in my life. New things are fairly rare for me. Last week I spent $5 on 2 pairs of Christmas socks and had quite the mental debate over whether or not I should have purchased them (I did, and wore a pair today). Christmas only comes once a year, and it’s about the only time I get any measurable amount of new things. But to say I get them guilt-free? No.

Because although I like getting new things, I know that’s not the point of Christmas. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve tried more and more to be intentional about focusing on the true meaning of Christmas. It’s not only a celebration of Jesus’ birth, but also a hopeful longing for when he returns, when the brokenness will be over and all will be as it should.

How do I reconcile these seemingly conflicting sides of me? The side that appreciates and enjoys new things, and the side that wants to focus on what Christmas is really supposed to be about?

If I figure it out, I’ll let you know.

Until I find a perfect solution, I’m working towards an imperfect one. The past few years I’ve included something on the Christmas list I give my parents that’s not for me. There are so many organizations, from ones in my own city to those across the globe, that do so much good in our world; so I ask for a donation to be made to one of them as one of my gifts.

Whatever you do, please don’t think I’m telling you this to brag. The not-so-pretty truth is that yes, I’ve done this, but not entirely wholeheartedly. The thought has crossed my mind that maybe I’d get another movie, sweater, or book if I didn’t request some of the money be given elsewhere. In the past I’ve asked for TOMS; so yes, I still get a gift, but a child receives a pair of shoes in the process.

Is it a perfect way to keep the focus of Christmas where it belongs? No. If I were truly selfless, I’d ask for no gifts for myself, and instead of giving generic gifts to relatives and friends, maybe I’d make sure I purchase ones that support various organizations. Even when I’m in a different spot financially though, and able to feel less guilty about buying such things as Christmas socks, I don’t know that I’ll request no presents for myself. Maybe; but maybe not.

So here I sit, in the tension of first world Christmas, feeling kind of like a bad Christian for liking presents, but not feeling selfless enough to give them all up.

Do you ever struggle with wanting new things at Christmas and trying to keep the focus where it belongs? How do you keep the focus of Christmas where it should be–on Jesus?

 

Til next time…

~Brianna!~