A Time to Keep Silence

I’m not sure if the news on racial divides these days is really worse than it was before, or if I’m just paying more attention because it’s happening in my hometown. It’s possible that I just can’t ignore it now because my newsfeed is full of it. I’m ashamed to admit having publicly ignored it before. Beginning with Ferguson, whenever #blacklivesmatter, #bluelivesmatter and #alllivesmatter came across my newsfeed during the last couple of years I just went on a facebook hiding spree of those I found particularly distasteful (sometimes outright racist), hit the “like” button on a few posts or articles I “supported” and moved on. I didn’t want to engage. The thought of posting something of my own and having to talk to someone I disagreed with was too overwhelming. If you are not already aware, this is a prime example of my own white privilege.

But this time… this time it was too close to home. I returned to Baton Rouge after 10 months out of the country on the day Alton Sterling was executed. I sat in front of the television most of the day, tears streaming down my face during every news break. I wept, and I watched as my Facebook newsfeed filled with passion and compassion from friends and writers all over the country… I decided to “like” and “share” without thought to who may disagree. The time for me to keep silent has come to an end. Meanwhile, I couldn’t help noticing that many of my Baton Rouge friends, both black and white, remained silent on the front of racial reconciliation. I engaged with more friends out of state than I did here. And I was so encouraged to see others, like myself, who’d previously been quiet come out in public support of Black Lives. I started a screenshot collection of their posts. I desperately wanted to see a silver lining.

But yesterday morning, something changed. At first, all I saw were postings of news reports on more violence and the deaths of Baton Rouge Police Officers. If I’m being honest, I fought numbness and forced myself to face the sadness of continued loss of life. I’ve grown weary of tragedy. But as the day progressed and I refreshed my newsfeed, I didn’t just feel sad. I started to get angry. People who have been largely silent in the face of tragedies the past few weeks suddenly found their voice, railing against “these people” in all caps. I saw profile pictures light up with blue flames and blue lines, one after another. I was reminded I had facebook connections I’d honestly forgotten were there, it’d been so long since they posted anything. I was annoyed at the convenience of their grief. How is it that they have only just had their hearts broken enough to publicly lament? How have they escaped this tearing, this wound, inflicted by injustice upon injustice, the kind that feels like torture, intended to make you scream?

Rumi-On-Silence

In my disillusionment I briefly entertained the notion of deleting the facebook app from my phone and disengaging, just to curb my growing annoyance at people I otherwise know to be kind and reasonable. But then, among the local support from the silent ones I began to see support and prayers for Baton Rouge from my friends around the country, the same ones who’ve been defending black lives with vigor. I was reminded by them that standing for justice and fighting for love is not something we do only when it is convenient to our pet causes. Lament is worthy of being heard no matter where it’s coming from.

I have to confess that the most telling silence the last few weeks has been that of my black friends here in Baton Rouge. And I know because I’ve checked their pages just to be sure I haven’t missed something. Some of them are people I have had painful, halting conversations with about exactly how it’s different to grow up as a black American – particularly in the South. They are the ones who made my blind eyes see colors as they truly are, not how I wish them to be. And while the rest of the country seems in an uproar over the things taking place in our hometown, they grieve quietly. I know, because I’ve reached out to a few of them. While I want to wail, rend my garments and scream, I watch their eyes fill but refuse to spill, demonstrating a strength that comes from years of practice I have no concept of. I echo their fears. I want to say, “This isn’t my Baton Rouge. This isn’t my city.” But when I listen to them I know that isn’t true. This has been my city for years. I just didn’t want to see it.

I was talking to a black friend last week who said she wants to do something to bring change. Talking doesn’t seem to make enough of a difference. I told her that her story can make a difference. That people like me desperately need to hear voices like hers. I told her about my screenshot collection. I told her that her voice matters. She looked back at my tear filled eyes and said, “Bekah, how are you going to tell me my voice matters when my life doesn’t even matter?”

I felt my heart crack and later, it shattered. What could I say? I could tell her that her life matters, to me. I could start there. I could use my voice of privilege to try to make others see how much her life matters. But it doesn’t seem like enough. I alone cannot make her believe a truth she has seen disputed in the blood of her brothers all her life. That night, I sobbed in the arms of my father over the injustice. Coming to believe I have a voice worth hearing has been one of the most affirming experiences of my life. Knowing that she is unable to believe the same simply because her skin is a different color, broke me. It isn’t fair. It shouldn’t be that way. I want it to be different.

For my black friends I understand if now is a time to keep silence. I understand if the weight is too much. This is a grief you cannot count on all of humanity to share. I wish you could. Like Job, perhaps you must sit in silence. I want to sit with you. But, I want to learn better from the friends of Job. If you will permit me, I will lament for you… And when your time of silence is past, I will do whatever I can to be sure your voice is heard. Because your life matters.

But so does your voice.

 

Lines in the Sand

I drew a line in the sand today — with God.

In my Christian experience I have wrestled with the concepts of grace, love and forgiveness. I have found it difficult to consistently forgive myself and those who have wronged me with any sense of permanence. I have been consoled with the notion that I am imperfect until final redemption and that God is giving me time to “learn to forgive,” even while failure to forgive on my part would supposedly render me unforgiven.

I have spent years striving to fully obtain the grace of God, being careful to eliminate all “roots of bitterness” and any hunger for revenge. However, by following popular Christian teaching all I have really managed to do is defer the bitterness and desire for revenge with the reasoning that God will grant me justice after death. I have imagined redemption in the form of my adversaries getting what is coming to them (assuming they remain evil and unrepentant until the point of death). This so-called redemptive reservation has been used to motivate forgiveness to those who find it difficult.

Of course the command to love ones enemies is also a “motivator” toward forgiveness. But I have been unable to escape how that love feels false, if not impossible in these circumstances. How can I love someone while simultaneously anticipating retribution in the form of their demise? If the justice of God comes primarily in the future sense as many pastors scholars and laymen indicate then this is my only choice. I must live in the tension of already loving and forgiving my enemies and not-yet witnessing the judgment to come to evil in the world.

This is where I draw the line. I cannot serve a god who demands that I love and forgive my enemies while, by the very nature of his so-called sovereignty, he is not held to the same standard. Am I supposed to somehow surpass his goodness and god-ness by loving those who wound me while he reserves judgment and punishment for those who do not repent and confess him? If I am to forgive for my own good, at the least to make myself forgivable, how is it he reserves forgiveness until confession and repentance take place? Is this just a divine privilege we don’t have access to? Is this reservation somehow part of the mystery of his love? I do not understand any longer how this portrayal of God’s heart holds any positive appeal.

However… if God’s heart is truly portrayed from the cross in the suffering, choking words, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”… if His heart is portrayed in a man pleading forgiveness for those who are unrepentant, actively mocking and gambling for his garments… if this is the example we are meant to follow, extending forgiveness even before the sacrifice has been made… then my objections are silenced. In this portrayal of God’s heart there is a radical redefinition of justice, one that exposes evil and violence by the absorption of it, rather than eventual retaliation in apocalyptic fashion.

This portrait of gods heart of forgiveness is an embodiment of love that evaporates my bitterness and inexplicably compels me to drop the weapons of self-protection I have been clinging to. When beholding love like this I am inspired to free myself of every hope for revenge. I want to follow Jesus into death, extending love and forgiveness to those who least deserve it and have not even asked for it – because he first showed me how.

But I cannot serve a god who demands that I love and forgive my enemies while he punishes his eternally. I am finding glimpses of hope that I don’t have to.

As I have encountered various portrayals of god put forth in the current theodicy of consensus, I find myself drawing more lines. I cannot serve a god who will go to any length of coercion and manipulation in order to elicit some form of love from his creation. I cannot serve a god who will then challenge or test that love through the sanctioning of evil and suffering inflicted on those he intends to win. I cannot serve a god who uses my life as a means to fill heavenly trophy cases in his triumph over evil.

Drawing lines in the sand feels like a scary thing to do, but I can’t seem to stop myself from doing it. I fear that I will be accused of attempting to put god in a different box. Or perhaps I would be called arrogant for insisting that there must be more to him than we see. More than what we have been conditioned to see.

Then again I wonder if I am not the first to draw lines in the sand. The religious leaders of Jesus time dangled a broken woman in front of him, daring him to contradict their so-called god of justice. But instead of following the neatly boxed rules of the god they thought they understood, he challenged them to absorb the violence they were ready to inflict, thereby encountering the true heart of God in revolutionary justice. Jesus bent down and drew lines in the sand. Through these actions he broke out of the box they had constructed for him, for God. Is it possible that the lines he drew confronted their arrogance in assuming they knew how God would act? Is it possible that the lines I am drawing do the same for me?

Perhaps these lines point to the heart of a god who refuses to engage according to the rules of evil any longer. A god who came in flesh to show us how to overcome evil and sin in ways that centuries of prophetic voices could not. Perhaps the heart of God is portrayed in one who has the authority to judge but chooses instead to love and forgive, saying, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”

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Mississippi River Lines in the Sand (photo taken by me in 2012)

This is a God I can serve. This is a God I can follow. Nothing he asked me to do, he has not already done. I don’t have to spend my life waiting for the other shoe of retribution to drop, hoping it doesn’t crush me on the way down. The lines in the sand have fallen for me in pleasant places.

Love That Will Not Let Me Go

11254053_10153406434689261_7435853901037485899_nThe view from my balcony at Chalet Bellevue

When you come to L’Abri there are 4 questions you’ll have to answer over and over:

  • Where are you from?
  • How did you hear about L’Abri?
  • How long will you be here?
  • Why are you here?

The first few are fairly innocuous, but you find out very quickly that there is an expectation of honesty if not outright vulnerability in your response to the latter. It’s rarely one-sided, and it feels safer to speak the truth when you’re not the only one doing it.

After 11 weeks here my response to the last question is well rehearsed. I spent nearly 10 years in a christian cult which I left 3 years ago. I may have prettied up my reasons for coming here in previous writing, but the truth is that I came to L’Abri to immerse myself in community after being alienated from it for several years; to intentionally learn to live with people again and prove to myself that they are safe. I wanted to find a sure foundation to stand on. Those goals are being met, but it doesn’t look the way I thought it would.

Sharing my reason for being here dozens of times has made me reflect a lot on my time with Oikos Ministries. I didn’t see it as a cult until my friends started to leave, 6 months after I did. One of them googled the word and the similarities to our church were eerie. No one wants to believe themselves or their friends and family are deluded enough to be in a cult.

It was the habit of the “apostles” to cyber-stalk people who left the church, looking for clues of their demise. The struggles they confessed in pastoral counseling were made public and any misfortune they experienced subsequently was credited to the fact that they walked away from Jesus; walked away from us, because we represented Jesus in the earth. Tongues were clicked when families experienced trial or tragedy, people divorced or jobs were lost. We shook our heads and said, “That’s what happens…” the implication being that your life would implode when you left our church, when you left the truth.

This practice made me supremely uncomfortable and increasingly mistrusting. I knew that my own online presence was under scrutiny. I analyzed everything I posted from 10 different angles before putting it online, so fearful of a confrontation. When the final confrontation came I expressed to the “apostles” my discomfort with how the stories of those who left were handled. I was told, “If they leave the church, they’re fair game*.” When I confessed that I didn’t feel I could trust them I was summarily dismissed and they moved on to address my sister.

I didn’t leave for another 2 months after that. I was so afraid of losing my family, all of my friends, my apartment with my sister. I was afraid of being struck down by the disciplinary hand of God. I’d seen families torn apart because the loyalty in them was split between church leaders and one another. I didn’t want to take anyone down with me and see my own family destroyed. So I walked out as quietly as I could, holding my breath and waiting for things to blow up in my face.

But they didn’t. At least not for several more months and by that time the explosions were controlled and deliberate. I got my own apartment for the first time. I got a promotion and a raise in my job. I was flourishing in every external way. Inside, I was falling apart and having a massive identity crisis. Nevertheless, I did not fulfill all of the prophecies of destruction spoken over dissenters. I still haven’t.

I’m sure my old church members would read this and think I’ve gone soft, cruising my way along the wide path of love and grace. They might have a point, but I don’t take it as an insult. I am softer.

Finding freedom for me was like walking on ice. With each careful step I let go of legalistic rules about daily bible reading, drinking alcohol, cussing, going to church every Sunday, “regular fellowship”. Is it any wonder that as I unburdened myself of these heavy things I found my weight on the ice still supported?

I thought by coming to L’Abri I would somehow find greater ease in restoring the so-called “Christian disciplines” to my life and thereby experience the love of God to a greater degree, one that is acceptable to all my Christian friends. But love does not come through rules. Love comes from people. The christian cult I was in taught that Gods love is conditional. My experience of His love proved otherwise quite some time ago but it is difficult to make my heart believe.

Here at L’Abri I have encountered love that is not contingent on conditions of success or failure. No one cares what my job was. I can’t earn my way into affections through favors or exchange. This love is not trying to correct my behavior or my theology. It isn’t concerned by the things I believe or scared of the stories I tell. This love sits next to me when I ask pain-filled questions that have no easy answers. It cries the tears I can’t and tells me I am loved until I start to believe it. This love shows me my worth and makes no demands.

Love that does not want to change me, has changed me forever.

In learning to be loved, I am set free to love others in the same way, without condition. My heart is opening up. There’s nothing I can do to stop it, and I don’t want to try.

I plan to spend another term at L’Abri next year. I want to study theodicy and keep asking questions about the nature of God. But when I return home for a few weeks this December, and even when I eventually leave L’Abri on a more permanent basis, it will be with the assurance of a love that has been made real through people – tangibly. Love that isn’t composed of fancy lighting, moving music, an emotional altar call and warm fuzzies. It’s real in shared wine and long conversations, freshly baked bread, kitchen crew choruses, cups of tea and mountain views, touch without fear, tears shed and belly laughs.

This is love that will not let me go. Not ever.

Oh love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in thee; I give thee back the life I owe that in thine ocean depths it’s flow, may richer, fuller be.

Oh joy that seekest me through pain, I cannot close my heart to thee; I trace the rainbow through the rain and feel the promise is not vain that morn shall tearless be.

* I have a witness to this statement.

Finding my Hinds Feet – a Place Prepared

Before I could blink I’d reached my last week at work. It was a bittersweet time: packing to move and training my replacement. Only then did this start to feel real. My lease was over on the 31st of the month so weeks in advance I made arrangements for a place to stay between September 1st and September 13th, the date of my departure. But, only 5 days before I had to be out of my apartment, those plans fell through and I was looking for a place to lay my head.

This came as an unexpected hitch in my plans, but there is nothing that surprised Him about it. He was preparing a place for me.

I reached out to a couple of friends who have large networks in the area to see if they knew anyone who may let me sleep on their couch for a few days. I planned to reach out to the friends I have in town and sleep on as many couches as possible so as not to be an imposition. But, before I could even do that, my friend Maggie connected me with a family she knows that live only a few miles away who had an open guest room. I’d never met them before, they didn’t know me at all, but they were receptive and invited me to their home to meet them.

I stopped by the Cooks’ house after my last day at work. Immediately I felt the warm familiarity that is present with other believers–the witness of the Spirit. Within an hour, this mother of 4 handed me a key to their home and told me I was welcome to stay in their guest room for the full 2 weeks before I leave. I held back tears, in awe of how He was taking care of me.  I was a stranger without a home, and they have welcomed me.

This, this is what Jesus looks like. This is what it is to be a part of the body of Christ. This is amazing grace. Unmerited favor. It was as though He had this arranged all along.

BabyCuddle

Cuddling little ones

…and this is where words begin to fail me. I wish that I could communicate with glistening eyes and a lump in my throat everything that I want to say. But this part is still unfolding. My heart is being healed by holding babies, and watching parents shepherd the hearts of their little ones, and laughter between family members and words of encouragement that never cease. My room even has it’s own little writing nook! It couldn’t be more perfect. I didn’t know I needed this. But He did.

I know that my home is ultimately not on the earth. But I am beginning to find glimpses of it in His people. Someone recently reminded me of Jesus words in John 14:1-3,

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

He has a place prepared for me. My home is where He is.

Read part 1, part 2 and part 3, testimonies of His goodness…

Finding my Hinds Feet – a Dare and a Prayer

I was surprised that the door to L’Abri opened so easily. Cautiously, I started to line things up. I carefully calculated my finances and was surprised to find I could make it work. I bought a plane ticket. I gave nearly a months notice at work. I applied for a passport renewal. I gave notice to vacate on my little studio apartment. Everything that I needed clicked into place with relative ease, providing further confirmation that this is the direction I am meant to go.

But it was still stressful. Because I won’t be returning to Louisiana to live after Switzerland, my preparations have more finality. I’ve been grieving the loss of a way of life that has become familiar and comfortable. The good things to come certainly outweigh the little hardships, but that grief is part of the process and I made up my mind to allow myself to feel it.

I had one particularly hard day at work where it felt like everything was going wrong. I lost count of the number of times I cried. I reapplied my makeup at least twice. And by 3:00 I was done. I’d had enough of the anxiety and the stress and I wanted the day to be over already. So I prayed, halfheartedly, if you could call it that. It was more of a foolish dare than a prayer. I told the Lord, “The only thing that could redeem this day would be going home to find my passport in the mail. Jesus, if you love me, my passport will be waiting for me when I get home.” There was nothing theologically sound about that statement. Deep down, I knew that His love for me could not be measured in mail. I have to think He laughs at us sometimes with good nature.

My passport came that day. A whole week earlier than I was expected to receive it. I breathed a little easier with one more thing checked off my list, and I cried, again. Happy tears this time. I couldn’t help being in awe of the love of God. He didn’t have to answer that prayer. But He did. In that moment, His love was nothing short of extravagant. It may seem a small or coincidental thing to some, but that little booklet in the mail was evidence to me that I am seen, cared for, and reassured. God doesn’t owe us that. He doesn’t owe us anything, yet He showers us with His goodness anyway.

evidence of love

evidence of love

This is only one of the ways I have felt His confirmation. In the last several years I have learned to be so independent and self-reliant. I’m not accustomed to swimming out into unknown waters, relying on faith. While I am learning to swim He has given me these little things to keep me afloat. I need not toil and strain. He is a good Father.

If my passport in the mail were the last thing He did to affirm me, it would’ve been enough. But there are things He has set up and is doing for me that make my head spin. Stay tuned, the story isn’t over yet… 

Catch up on part 1 and part 2.. 

Finding My Hinds Feet – Desire Awakened

Once again, I am debuting my word for the year in September. Unsurprisingly, it plays a large role in this story. The Lord spoke the word “desire” over me in the first few days of the year. I knew the year of naked would be a tough one to follow. As much as I wrestled that word, would you believe me when I tell you that “desire” was more difficult to come to terms with? For as long as I can remember I have killed the hunger in my soul. Desire felt dangerous. It felt like breeding ground for disappointment or at the very least, discontentment.

heart hunger

heart hunger

My only intentions in regard to the word were to find out what the Lord desires for me and in me. I wanted to know His desire. But from the very beginning each time I asked Him what He desires for me He turned the question around on me, asking what I desired. Answering that was much more difficult than I anticipated. It wasn’t until sometime in March, after a frank conversation with some dear friends that I finally reconciled with the word, realizing that to deny my desires is to deny my humanity. When He redeems us, He redeems all of who we are, which includes our desires. There is nothing to fear in them.

The night that I emailed L’Abri I went before the Lord and just asked, “Is this something that you want me to do?” It was a loaded question. Going to L’Abri required that I quit my job, leave my apartment, give up my independence, temporarily lose touch with all that is familiar.  His reply was simple but immediate, “Is this something that you want to do?” Tears instantly filled my eyes; desire was awakened. I wasn’t aware how badly I wanted it until that moment. I felt His smile then. He is not a fortune teller and I didn’t need Him to be. I just needed Him to be Jesus.

I saw an image of what made Him smile. I was gently holding my desires in the open palm of my left hand. I was not clutching them tightly, choking the life out of them. I was not burying them or pretending they did not exist. For the first time I can remember my desires were allowed to be. And in my right hand was the hand of Jesus, strong and sure. I knew that no matter what happened to my desires, be they fulfilled or dashed, He would not let go of me. I rested in this knowledge.

The next morning I woke to an email from L’Abri. Not only did they have the reservation dates available, they reserved me a spot and told me that they would see me in September. After the toil and stress of the previous months I could hardly believe the door opened so easily. There was nothing left to do but walk through it.

To be continued…For a little more back story, read part 1

Finding my Hinds Feet – The Shore of Decision

I am sitting at a writing desk right now in a little closet office adjoining the guest room I am occupying for nearly two weeks. I’ve been here for three nights already and it’s only just starting to feel real. So I am here to tell the story of how I got here. Because our God is too faithful not to document His goodness.

Writing Nook

Just over six weeks ago I was riding down I-10 with my sister at midnight, listening to the latest album from Jonathan David and Melissa Helser. At the beginning of “Cageless Birds” Melissa recites a poem that grabbed my heart and would not let go.

Standing on the shore of decision

looking into the face of adventure

desire to abandon all I know

what pushes me is rooted somewhere between misunderstanding and knowing

knowing that what I want to understand is not within my reach

so I ponder my escape

not knowing what lies ahead

adventure in theory is full of excitement and bleeds with passion for life

but adventure in reality is full of breathless moments

silent nights, and wounds that leave scars of memory on a heart

can I go the distance?

can I give all my mind to get what the messenger is saying?

can I surrender my knowing?

will I survive the humility of ignorance to obtain a treasure that earthly gold cannot buy?

will I ask the question honestly

even if the answer convicts my soul and sends me to the land of repentance?

All of these thoughts flood my mind…

as I stand on the shore of choosing

in the distance of my wondering I see with clear eyes a flock of wild, beautiful birds

swooping in my direction

as if they see me and are coming for me

how strange it is that their eyes are full of clarity…

Song birds wake up

you’re not in your cage anymore

bound by your shame anymore

the walls that held you in prison

the gate is flung wide open

start singing, start singing, start singing, start singing

cageless birds

I’ve felt for several months like I am in a state of transition, but I wasn’t sure of the exact direction I was to go. All the doors I pushed on seemed firmly shut. I wasn’t sure what to do next, but the restlessness in me was relentless. That night on I-10 a moment of clarity came swiftly. I decided to try to apply for the Helser’s 18 Inch Journey program even though they’d stopped accepting applications months before. My age will disqualify me to apply next year and I at least had to ask if there was any shadow of possibility that would allow me to attend.

Unfortunately, the answer was no, the 18 Inch Journey was not accepting applications. But that moment of clarity was not fruitless. Asking the question was a proving ground, a test to determine if I would seriously consider leaving behind my comfortable life for a period of time before stepping into the next stage of my life, site unseen. There were other options.

I’d read about L’Abri several years ago from a blogger who attended. Studying theology in the shadow of the Swiss Alps seemed too far fetched a dream for anyone without a trust fund. But I visited the site again and after a few quick calculations realized that spending a couple of months there wasn’t as far out of my reach as I assumed. It was comparable to what I was prepared to spend with the 18 Inch Journey. So, after just a week of thinking about it and talking it out with my sister, I sent off an inquiry to L’Abri, just to see if they had a spot available for the dates I was considering. I didn’t want to dream or plan any further until I knew if it was possible. I didn’t want to want it too much.

And this is where the story gets more interesting. To be continued