Finding God in the Waves: A Book Review

I hated listening to people talk on the radio or recordings for a very long time.
I blame my Mother’s love of listening to talk radio when I was a child.
(Can’t we just listen to music please???)

My husband, Ben, on the other hand, puts on a podcast whenever he’s doing any sort of menial task. Dishes, folding laundry, driving home from work, waiting for the microwave popcorn to pop.

About a year ago he finally convinced me that podcasts were a great way to learn things or be entertained, that they really weren’t all about sports or economics and that I could definitely find some that focused on theology or art or storytelling.

It didn’t take very long before I had a steady rotation of 6-10 podcasts I would listen to each morning while running.

One of the podcasts that quickly made its way into my rotation was The Liturgists. 

I had followed Michael Gungor’s work as a musician for years, but the other co-host – Science Mike – was new to me.

Like Science Mike, I also grew up in the south and the lions share of my church experience had been spent in the Southern Baptist Convention. I too had undergone a sizable shift in my faith in recent years.

Unlike Science Mike I have never considered myself an atheist and I can’t talk about quantum physics in casual conversation.

I was intrigued by the way science seemed to make Mike’s faith richer and more nuanced, and soon his other podcast Ask Science Mike was in steady rotation during my morning runs as well.

I’ve always enjoyed science, even though it didn’t fit with my conservative, evangelical upbringing. I never bothered to try to reconcile faith and science though. For a long time, I just accepted that science made fact claims that contradicted what the Bible said, and I was okay living with the knowledge of the mystery and tension. It was the elephant in the room of my consciousness, but I just moved a big armoire in front of the tension and called it a day.  Science Mike helped me unpack some of those unreconciled pieces of faith and science and  bring a whole new level of richness to my faith.

I’d believed in a Creator God for most of my life, but learning to see the science of life not as a contradiction but the means in which God was at work took my vision of Creator from one who colored-by-number to one more along the lines of Picasso.

“The heavens declare the glory of God”
….and the neuroscience proclaims God’s handiwork.

So when Mike announced he was writing a book, I knew it would be at the top of my never-ending list.  As expected, Finding God in the Waves combines vivid, compelling narrative with deep-dives into scientific facts in a way only Science Mike could combine them.

It’s irresistibly fresh and comfortingly familiar, kind of like when salted caramel burst on to the flavor scene. Your pallet for ways we talk about the spiritual will never be the same again.

For those unfamiliar with Mike and his podcast, the first half of the book is memoir. Mike recounts his story of growing up in the church, coming to faith, and then of losing his faith in God and becoming an “undercover atheist” while still attending (and teaching Sunday School) at his Southern Baptist church.

In the second half of the book, Mike dives deep and unpacks the science behind what he calls his “Axioms About Christian Faith.”

Science Mike borrow the term “axiom” from philosophy. In brief, his axioms are “ideas that can be accepted without further inquiry” about the Christian faith. He has axioms for major tenants of the Christian such as  God, prayer, Jesus, sin, the Church, and the Bible – among others.

During the last five chapters of the book, Science Mike walks the reader through the question and the science behind the formation of each of these axioms.  The result is a whirlwind trip through the basics of cosmology, neuroscience, and anthropology with splashes of fine art tossed in for good measure.

Mike describes his axioms as “woefully short” of Christian orthodoxy, but he’s okay with that. Instead of seeking to home in on or prove orthodoxy, he says his axioms are “a life raft for people who can’t get on board with the supernatural claims about God yet still want to be close to God.”

I’ve never been quite in need of a life raft personally, but there have been significant seasons in which I’ve felt as though my boat were dead in the water. Science Mike’s axioms are more like fresh wind in my sails, pushing the bounds on the ways I think about, talk about and view God.

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If you grew up with a faith in God that now seems too small or out of touch with the world you find yourself in now – this book is for you.

If you believed in God at one point, but have long since stopped believing – this book is for you.

If you’ve never believed, but you’re curious about why someone would believe in God – this book is for you.

…Or if you’d just like to know the neuroscience behind why prayer makes you feel more at peace.

I cannot recommend Finding God in the Waves highly enough.

You can find a copy of your own on Amazon, at Barnes and Noble, or wherever books are sold.

 

Searching for Sunday: Confession

My footsteps echoed loudly against the hard wood floor, stained deeply like burnt sienna. The sounds from my high heels against wooden planks bounced from the floor to the rafters to the vast painted dome above and finally back into mine and a dozen other sets of ears around me. I felt like I was invading.  I’ve never been in a Catholic church before, much less a basilica.

I made my way cautiously along the aisle by the confessional booths, equally confounded by their need for existence, ashamed of their abuses and desperately wanting to fling myself inside and break my heart open.

Bless me Father, for I have sinned. 

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Confession is unmistakably absent from much of my personal church history.  I got off pretty easy when I repeated the sinners prayer that night after AWANA. I silently repeated the words of the teacher up front. “I confess my sin” I prayed within myself.   No need to be specific about what those sins were. After all, Jesus died to take on all of my sin anyway, so why name them?

Confession lacked by omission, “I have an unspoken prayer request.”
Confession lacked by volition, “You don’t want to hurt our witness, don’t let them see you struggle.”

Confession just…lacked.

I spent many years of faith claiming a rejected, murdered Messiah who routinely welcomed those who were openly hurting and broken, all the while trying to present an polished and perfect appearance to the world around me.

Like so many others, I failed to value confession as a discipline of the faith.  Awkward and painful and time consuming as it is though, confession is vital. When we lose confession as a discipline, we immediately buy into the lie that has pulled humanity away from God since the very beginning: Do this, and you’ll be like God.

Don’t let them see you sweat, and you’ll be like God.
Save face, and you’ll be like God.
Hide your struggles, and you’ll be like God.
Overcommit your wallet…
Over work your life…
Over simplify your arguments…
Over look the faults of your ancestors…

…And you will be like God.

Except, God isn’t looking for people to hide and cover and stitch together facades of life so that they might be “like” God.

“We could not become like God, so God became like us. God showed us how to heal instead of kill, how to mend instead of destroy, how to love instead of hate, how to live instead of long for more. When we nailed God to a tree, God forgave. And when we buried God in the ground, God got up.” (Searching for Sunday)
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I had dinner with a friend last week.

Actually, I had vegan desserts in the middle of the afternoon, but we called it dinner so it was.

“What’s your story?” He asked, and I shimmied around the joys and broken bits of my life like a flamenco dancer.

“How about you?” I ended my dance with a flourish.

Shaking his head, he spun me back to the first bit I had skirted past and asked me to unpack the baggage I had tried hide amidst swirling skirts and flashing lights.

Step, ball change.

And I finally let it pour out in it’s entirety.
The pouring out of hurt and angry and broken matched by the rushing in of grace like salve on my soul.

“‘I’m a Christian,” Rachel writes, “‘because Christianity names and addresses sin. It acknowledges the reality that the evil we observe in the world is also present within ourselves. It tells the truth about the human condition—that we’re not okay.’”

We’re not okay.
I’m not okay.
And I’m even worse when I refuse to let anyone past the facade of “I’m good, how are you?”

I need to come to that place, daily, of not just walking past a monument of confession or muttering prayers written hundreds of years ago (Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you…) I need to allow those words to take root and open up in my soul.

The things I have done.
The things I have left undone.

Just because I can portray my life as perfect doesn’t mean I should.

“Imagine,” Rachel writes, “if every church became a place where everyone is safe, but no one is comfortable.”

Everyone is safe, no one is comfortable, and maybe we all could find the bravery within ourselves to step out from behind the bushes and walk confidently with God and one another in the garden once more.

#Justice: A Peek into Urban Violence w/ Megan Westra

“Do you feel safe?”

Well, not always.
I’m getting used to it now. The wide eyes and once-in-awhile gaping mouth. “Where do you live?”
I live in the inner city. On purpose. And I have no plans of leaving.

I have been robbed five times. I have witnessed a drug deal while sitting on my front porch. My block has been taped off with police line while the cops hunted down an armed assailant.

This is the inner city people think of when I talk about where I live, and they’re right. That is part of it.

There is violence and corruption in the inner city, but that’s not all there is…

Read the rest at A Sista’s Journey. 

That Time I Gave Away Half of My Clothes (and other ideas on how to practice simplicity during Lent)

Photo: beccaberry via Flickr

Photo: beccaberry via Flickr

It was over a year ago now (but it seems like just last week) when I noticed it.  Piles everywhere. Clean clothes, dirty clothes, outfits tried on and off and discarded for a more preferable option before leaving for a morning meeting.

Piles and piles and piles.

And at once, I was over it.

Enough was enough, and I had too much.

It was on that day I legitimately took half of the clothes I owned and put them into garbage bags.
Many of the items I still wore.  Many of the items I still liked.  In fact, I intentionally gave away a few favorites, just to show myself I could – in fact – live without those things.

I stashed the bags in my attic, a little afraid of getting rid of half of my wardrobe flat out.
But after a week or so, I didn’t miss it any more.  In fact, I kind of enjoyed having less laundry to do and more motivation to actually fold it and put it away.

Ben noticed the change and axed half of his wardrobe too.  After a couple months we worked up the guts to fully let go and take our bags of clothing down to the Rescue Mission.

After that, we implemented a “one in one out” rule for clothing.  If we buy a new (which usually means new-to-us) article of clothing, it means either:
A) the one we had was worn beyond being wearable or
B) we are choosing just to update something, so we give the other one away.

We try to only buy what we need, and we buy consignment, vintage or fair trade whenever possible.

Our clothing choices are one of the ways we practice simplicity in our every day lives.

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This week during Lent I’m focusing on the discipline of simplicity, and how I can further practice it in my day to day living.  One idea I saw the other day is to give a small amount of money (quarter or dime) to a church or charity each time you see a commercial on television.  Wow!

I love the thought behind this one. Advertisements are always feeding us the lie that we need more, more, more!  That we are, at our very core, meant to consume.  The discipline of giving something for each commercial reminds us that we are something more than a consumer, it reminds us of the bigger Story – the true Story to which we all belong.

What about you?  What are some ways your practice simplicity in your everyday life?
How can you deepen your practice of simplicity during Lent?

Owned (A Lenten Meditation on Excess and Simplicity)

fashion

Photo: 28 Dreams via Flickr

I’ve found myself altogether discontent lately.

Maybe it’s just that I’m tired of wearing snow boots and my sub-zero parka every day.

Maybe it’s just that the sunlight never seems to come bright enough, for long enough.

Maybe it’s that as I pound out miles on the treadmill, unattainable images of which to measure beauty by flash on the TV in front of me.

I turn it off and toss my sweatshirt over the display, but the images still play through my mind.

Nothing is right.

My clothes seem stained or outdated.  The sole on the toe of my boot is coming undone.  The circles under my eyes hang heavy, despite the amount of sleep I get.  The curve of my body seems altogether not right.

My first thought is to update.

What new product can I buy?  What piece of clothing is my wardrobe missing?  How can I cover and change and contort the curves of my body and lines of my face?

How can I hide?

I am told, over and over as my feet pound on and on that this or that or some other thing will fill the hole, will make it okay.

The treadmill hums beneath me while an immaculate blonde woman explains the trends for this spring.  How eight simple pieces can carry you through the season.

I take mental notes.

hummmmmm. hummmmmm. hummmmmm.

Discontent and dull.

Like the snow stuck on the side of the road for too many months now.

I click and browse after putting Cadence to bed.

New lines, new fits, new colors, all promising what I’m lacking.

I find myself in a store.

I go through and try on shirt after shirt, a dress and new jeans.  I check the stickers and can’t justify it.

Pesky numbers.  I know how many children that sum would feed.  I know that the price would help a woman my age anywhere else start her own business, or send her child to school.

I check the tags and know the way laborers are treated in those factories.  Bangladesh. India. Thailand.  I think of the women and men and children who likely won’t see a cent from the sale of these articles of clothing they – quite literally – slaved over.

I put the items back and leave the store.

Going home, I empty my closet.

Shoes and skirts and pants tossed into paper grocery bags.

I head to the mission immediately, before I can reconsider.

Before I can talk myself back in to “maybe wearing that sweater someday.”

Before I think of an excuse to keep those shoes around “just in case.”

Dropping the bags, the sun seems brighter.  My own parka and snow boots don’t seem so bad.

I find myself thankful for their warmth and protection from the biting wind in late February.

It make me wonder…

If I’m told a million ways each day that what I wear and look like, what I paint my face with and what fills my closet, that these are the things that bring me happiness.  Yet, they leave me empty and only wanting more.  If I’m told that I am worth what I purchase and ultimately what I own, yet feel lost with these things, then who, really, is the owner?

It’s a constant battle.  I work continuously at convincing myself that the discipline it takes to live simply is worth it.  Keeping up with the Jones’s would be much easier in some many respects.

I know this though, that I am worth – we are all worth – more than sparrows and fields of flowers, more than any splendor in nature or made by the hands of humanity.  We have been bought with the highest, greatest price and ascribed worth beyond measure.

Why would I settle to be owned by anything less that the Creator and Sustainer of my very being?

A slightly more empty closet, and a few less knick-knacks about the house, and I find myself seeing things through a mirror slightly less dim.

I realize I am owned by the things I think belong to me.  That more often than not, I am possessed by my possessions.

But this is, of course, what Lent is for; it’s why we are called and commanded to live simply.

And like so many things in this life following the servant Messiah, the way out seems awkward and against every intuition.

Contentment lies not in finally obtaining that which I long for, but in seeing unveiled all I truly have and perhaps (more often than not) sharing much of what has been entrusted to my care.

Because I am the owner of nothing, and it’s only in realizing this that I find freedom from being owned.

Heartbroken, Yet Still in Pursuit of Justice

I am an eternal optimist.

I look for the best in people. Always.

My greatest bent in life is to look for the ways in which things and people, systems and structures may be restored.

I just see hope and potential everywhere.  Brokenhearted people, antique furniture, neighborhoods crumbling under the foreclosure crisis, students who have fallen through the gaps in the education system.

It is through these rose-tinted lenses that I encountered Gary Haugen’s new book The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence. 

In The Locust Effect Haugen paints a sobering picture of the effects of violence on the world’s poorest residents.  As the former director of the United Nations Special Investigations Unit on the Rwandan Genocides and current president of International Justice Mission, Haugen is confronted with heartbreaking stories and harrowing realities as often as I am confronted with the challenge of navigating a two-year-old melting down in the grocery store.

The Locust Effect digs in to the nitty gritty of global development, the decidedly unsexy side of addressing poverty.  There are no no quick fixes or easy answers to be found.

“Indeed, for the global poor in this century, there is no higher-priority need with deeper and broader implications than the provision of basic justice systems that can protect them from the devastating ruin of common violence.  Because as anyone who has tasted it knows, if you’re not safe, nothing else matters.” 

I’ve heard campaigns and bought t-shirts, music albums, pairs of shoes and coffee served in red-colored cups all in the name of doing justice in the developing world.

Buy this shirt and help build a school!

Buy this brand of water and help dig a well!

Your paper-bead necklace supports a small business owned by this widow in Kenya!

This red-colored coffee cup will help cure HIV/AIDS!

It all fit so well in my rose-colored, hope-in-any-circumstance, glass-half-full kind of world.

But then I read about the village of La Union in Peru, where in just one week a medical examiner may see as many as 50 rape victims between the ages of 10-13.

I read about the 27 million slaves kept in bondage in the world today, and how their owners are not lurking in dark alleys.  They are announcing their fierceness and violence toward their slaves unabashedly in the streets.

I read that the most common crime committed against children in South Africa is rape.

I read that, horrifically, schools in the developing world are often places of sexual violence toward the girls who attend them in hopes of gaining an education.

As I read, my half-full-glass began to crack and seep.  A slow, sorrowful trickling from the glass and from the corners of my eyes alike.

I had all but convinced myself that magic bullets exist.

I moved into the inner city of Milwaukee four years ago, and fully believed that if we only moved closer to the pain and suffering of others that our proximity would bring restoration.

I read Half the Sky and believed if we could only educate children – boys and girls equally – around the globe, then our communities would be stronger and our hope for the future would be realized.

But there are no magic bullets.

There are no quick fixes.

Our t-shirts, bottled water choices, paper bead necklaces and red-colored cups of coffee cannot ultimately change the world.

They can help.

But as Haugen points out, unless there is a functioning justice system in place in communities in the developing world, any efforts to improve education or access to water, to jumpstart small businesses for single mothers or address health concerns like HIV/AIDS will ultimately be consumed by violence, like locusts bringing havoc on a field ripe for harvest.

“We need to fundamentally change the conversation.  Whenever we speak of global poverty, we must speak of the violence imbedded in that poverty…
In every forum, conference, classroom, policy discussion, think tank, blog, or dinner table conversation where global poverty is center stage, the problem of violence deserves equal time with hunger, dirty water, disease, illiteracy, unemployment, gender discrimination, housing, or sanitation because for the poor, violence is every bit as devastating and is frequently the hidden force undermining solutions to these other needs.”

WIth such overwhelming statistics and gut-wrenching stories The Locust Effect left me wondering a bit about what I could practically do to engage – and hopefully change – such dire circumstances for people around the world.

I’m all for starting conversations and raising awareness, but what more can I do?
(Since, let’s be real, I’m not going back to law school and moving to Peru anytime soon.)

I was encouraged, though, to hear in an interview discussing The Locust Effect Gary Haugen sighting the influence and importance of Millennials in the fight against injustice.

“I think this actually can be the generation that eliminates this epidemic of slavery that we have in the world. This could be the generation, but that will require their capacity – our capacity – to be committed to the stretch of our lives to see that this problem is dealt with.”

The step right now in the journey toward justice?  Adovocate.  Tell the stories. Make the conversations happen.
This may not seem like much sometimes, but this is our role at this moment and we must be faithful to it.
The journey we’re embarking on is a long one.  Slavery and oppression and the stripping of human dignity have been around for centuries.  But rather than be discouraged by the magnitude of the problem, let us be encouraged in the steps we personally can take today.  To open our eyes, to lean in, to let our hearts ache, to tell our circles of influence what we have seen.
The path to freedom and wholeness for humanity is a marathon, not a sprint.  I’m training for a half-marathon right now, and some days all I can focus on is putting one foot in front of the other mile after tediously long mile.

This is our call, generation.  My millennials, in the house.  That we would be faithful, step after step, mile after mile of this journey.  That we would not grow tired of running the race.  That the stories of the victims and the freed would ever be on our lips.  That we would be “committed to the stretch of our lives.”  Every last breath given in some way to seeing dignity and wholeness granted to each person on earth.

Your turn.

You can start to make an impact on the epidemic of violence against the poor today.  How?
1) Read The Locust Effect and get informed.  If you purchase a copy of the book by tomorrow, February 15th, a partner of IJM will donate $20 to help fight violence against the poor.
2) Spread the word.  Link to this blog and to http://www.thelocusteffect.com to help get the word out and inform other people.
3) Stay engaged.  Let your heart break for this daily.  Do not grow tired of speaking up and getting the word out.  We need you in this for the long haul.

I’m giving away one free copy of The Locust Effect to a reader, just follow the instructions below for your chance to win this paradigm shifting book!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Choosing

My word for 2014 is Joy.

On December 31st though, as Ben and I were out and about eating poutine and visiting friends, a steady, silvery snow fell downy over the city.

I hate snow.

It freaks me out.

I hate driving in it, I hate walking in it, I hate the fact that it’s been cloaking the grass and trees for over a month now.

So 2014 starts covered in a thick and powdery layer of snow.

Roads covered, slushy tracks, threatening drivers “beware.”

“Go ahead and take the RAV,” I told Ben, “I’m not going anywhere today.”

We have two cars.

A ’99 Ford Taurus that has no traction in the snow and a “check engine light” that stays on perpetually at this point in it’s life, and a 2011 Toyota RAV-4 that could carry you to a remote moose-hunting camp in Alaska without batting a wiper blade.

I did it.

I voluntarily stranded myself in the house for a WHOLE DAY.
(which is a very big deal for me.)

I did it out of love.

I did it out of fear.

I hate the snow.

My year of Joy started with me shuffling around the house in my pajamas, drinking coffee till I was jittery and grumpy and being exorbitantly annoyed at Ben, at Cadence, at life generally.

“Try to have a good day, okay?”

I likely replied to his kind sentiments with a glare that would make the Incredible Hulk shrink back down into Bruce Banner.

Joy, joy, joy.

 

I prompted myself.  Fake it till you make it.

I choose joy.

I cleaned the kitchen – like scrub-down-the-walls deep clean.

Joy, joy, joy.

I bundled myself and Cadence and took us out into the snow.

Crawling in bed with the enemy.

Joy, joy, joy.

“HANDS…COLD!!!!!”  she shrieked.

That’s what happens when you take your mittens off and stick your hands in the snow.

I think words about my child I would never say aloud.

Joy, joy, joy.

I rocked and clutched icy hands while she screamed.

Covered in snow and salt, boots dripping on the carpet.

Joy.

And it hit me, that today will never happen again.

And I may hate snow and hate being stranded and hate scrubbing down kitchen walls.

I may be frustrated at life and my child and WHY THE HECK CAN’T YOU JUST LEAVE YOUR MITTENS ON!?

But today will never happen again.

Today is a gift.

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Credit: Jason Meredith via Flickr

Sometimes it may seem like those pink bunny pajama’s in A Christmas Story

It may not fit, it may be the wrong color, it may just be plain wrong

But it’s a gift.

I bet those bunny pajamas were daggone warm.

I can choose to see the undesirable, the putrid, the annoying

or

I can choose joy.

Like any gift, the important thing is less what it is and more if you choose to take it and what you then choose to do with it.

I can see already it isn’t always going to be easy or straightforward.

This year is going to require some creativity

looking over and around and through.

Cosmic hide and seek.

Joy.