Thursday, April 28, 2011


Ambiguous title, no? I found this article by LZ Granderson on CNN's religion blog. In it he writes about a story where he ran into Rob Bell, his pastor. Though the moment was entirely mundane, he made the choice to believe God played a part in that moment happening.

Friday, April 22, 2011

You might wanna see this...

Check out John's post on hope and resurrection here, on the

Parking Spots, and New Beginnings (Beware, only a small reference to parking spots)

I've been gone from the blog for some time, walking through strange events. Conditions at work escalated to the point where I felt compelled to bring my concerns to higher ups. The fallout has been long, gut-aching, and still ongoing. Hopes, or maybe expectations is a better word, I had for my career have been stripped away.

Yesterday, I finally contacted a chaplain. My body has begun suffering the effects of fear and stress--GI problems, tightness of chest, chest pain, hyperventilation. Mentally and physically I was close to snapping yesterday. My chaplain friend has the most soothing voice. She let me talk, validated my hurts and actions, observed my heightened state, and said, "You are being crucified. You feel abandoned, betrayed, rejected. But you're doing the right thing, and you have to remember the Resurrection."

Some of you reading know how tentatively and cautiously I interact with my faith. First and foremost I practice faith, well...practically. I fear blindly accepting certain beliefs. Really, I haven't considered the resurrection in a long time. But when my chaplain said that, I realized my deep need for hope for life following this time. My physical symptoms expressed my trapped and hopeless feelings. But, for the first time, even though I still don't have resolution, I allowed myself to believe this will end.

Rabbit Trail Alert: It swings back around, I swear.

My Dad's been working to keep my hope alive during this adventure as well. The night before I visited Ms. Chaplain, he told me not to forget God's sovereignty. Too bad that word has become so loaded and painful for some (me included). This is one of God's attributes I least understood, and kind of abandoned for a time as I reconsider my faith. Pretty sure Dad wasn't talking about a grand puppet master who has preordained all things. (Anybody else ever wonder if this included bathroom breaks? "I really gotta poop, God. Is this your perfect timing?") Dad wanted to remind me God is, and God knows. Remember, I'm a practical faith girl. I believe God loves people so I just do that. When Dad said that, I honestly started. Like, oh yeah, I forgot about him. I've just been so busy trying to handle this.

I've said that what I believe doesn't change God, it changes me (or something similar, too lazy to read through my own blog to find out). I shy away from too much emphasis on God's sovereignty. Really? You believe God orchestrated that parking spot for your generous behind, but hasn't gotten around to orchestrating world peace? Bully for you. So I don't believe God devotes his time to parking lot management for Christians. But I do believe he intervenes, or brings aid. Choosing to believe this changes me and brings hope.

After choosing hope in God's presence through suffering, and hope in new life/resurrection on the other side of suffering, hope happened in a real way. An individual with power and influence, who I rarely see, literally crossed my path yesterday. I chose to believe the timing more than coincidence and spoke with them. And they listened--actively, openly, compassionately.  Real tangible reason to hope.

This isn't over. And, regardless of the overall outcome, my current career trajectory has altered. But, the timing, coincident with Easter, brings the richness of a faith growing from love, suffering, and new life to new heights for me. The decisions I've made during this time are the hardest, most painful and risky of my life. While I want things to work out well for me, I don't believe that doing the right thing obligates God or the fates to cater to that. This situation is just one death and a new beginning. Already, I feel new life inside me, allowing me to hope, relaxing my body, giving me freedom to think about other things.

As Easter comes, I hope it stirs life in you. Many of us don't recognize our faith any longer. We cling to some rudimentary, innate sense that something is bigger than us, is real, loves us. This, to me, is hopeful. You could abandon that sense to accept nothingness, or relinquish it for hollow conformity to others' expectations. But you don't. We don't. Good for us. In my life, what grows out of this changes me. And I find hope, this season, for the most difficult time in my life.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Open letter to Like A Child

 This is an open letter to Her blogs are so beautifully honest and rich. Stop by her place, and see what I mean.

Dear Like a Child,

I don't even know how to subject this email. Sometimes things resonate too deeply for pithy titles. After you joined my blog, I started reading yours, and even your "About me" almost brought me to tears. I know that heart-aching loneliness that comes from leaving the exclusive teachings you grew up with. With no "church body" around to tell you that you're ok, your teaching rears its ugly head, and says you most certainly are not ok, you are "backslidden," or "out of God's will." Or maybe not "saved" at all. Not only does your fate hang in the balance, the fates of all the people you aren't impacting for the Lord hinge on your disobedience. It's crushing. Maybe, like me, you've even tried to convince yourself to just quit and conform. This liberty I've found offers none of the security of the boxes of the past, and at times, I wonder if I'll drown in it.

I'm beyond the panic attacks. Although, going to church, depending on the church, can wind me up so tight it takes all day to calm down. And I finally found the courage to approach a new church, lay my current "condition" on the line, and let the chips fall. Trying to hide this new evolution of me and faith bothers me most. Because so many people I love and admire still live in that old world, I try to protect them. And, while I am getting to the place where I think this journey is a good and meaningful one, I don't wish it on anyone else. It felt so violent to wake up in the middle of this doubt storm. And life keeps going. You have children needing you, regardless of your condition. I have patients needing me. Like you, I don't think we'll ever go back. It's never going to be the same "faith" for us. But I don't believe that was pure faith back then. Not enough doubt. Living honestly brings its own reward, and I find the molecules of faith that remain mean so much more.

I'm going to follow your journey. Lately, I have been collecting a small coterie of individuals facing their doubts and on this continuum of faith. Each of us different, but believing we all belong. We do need community. I'm glad you're in mine.

chesha in motion

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Paradox: Now and Forever

Honestly, I'm not certain in all my beliefs right now. One of the reasons I want this blog is to push myself into talking. I learned to hide my questions early (though my parents encouraged us to think for ourselves, the religious environment often counteracted that), but seminary reinforced this. So, if you ask me if I believe in heaven and hell, and pinned me down to an answer, I'd say maybe, but with lots of caveats. More likely, I'd run like hell because I'm tired of being pinned down.

I started to lose my belief in a traditional heaven when I started to consider what makes a human being. The big controversy at school divided over tripartite or bipartite (body/soul/spirit or body/soul). Actually, my nursing experience and training led me away from both.

I tried describing my view to my brother George (almost done with his doctorate in psychology!). "I think we're all one thing. Like, God moves us and works with us through the very nerves, hormones, and synapses he created." (I talk like a Valley girl in deep discussions.) "Oh, that's like non-reductive physicalism," he said. Let's keep it real, I had to practice that term for weeks, just to get it right.

Non-reductive physicalism posits that humans are material--but not reducible to parts. Parts work in systems, and systems show levels of complexity that can't be merely boiled back down to parts/chemistry/atoms. Nancy Murphy's book Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism talks a bit about this. She rejects the notion that all things, including behavior, reduce to atoms or chemicals. She quotes Roy Wood Sellars (a smart guy with a sense of humor): "The ontological imagination was stultified at the start by the pictures of microscopic billiard balls." Pithy.

When I owned up to this view in class a girl asked "Haven't you ever been present for a death? Something definitely leaves." She didn't know about my experience with hospice/palliative care nursing. Don't know how many deaths I have attended. While the personality of that person is distinctly gone after death, I never felt a "spirit" leave, or connected with the supernatural. (Perhaps I'm just unlucky. Another book, The Art of Dying, records many supernatural sounding experiences. Not saying they don't happen. Just don't think this is a watershed for proving the existence of the soul.)

Where was I? Oh yeah--not knowing about heaven. So I believe that God created one whole messy package in this body. I don't believe in extra-physical, invisible parts. Rather, God is interested in this matter; enough to make it and talk a whole log about redeeming it. So, how does this body get to heaven? I gave up trying to answer the question as I became convinced that the gospel is not merely a ticket out of this life, but hope for this life.

But, let me tell you two stories that keep me from losing interest in a future beyond death. The first is selfish and mildly embarrassing. So if I bury it in this paragraph, you might not see it... My husband. I like/love this guy so much that I hope I get to know him for every possible moment, temporal or eternal. But there's another story that still breaks me in a million pieces.

A palliative care nurse helps families deal with the reality of death. Sometimes as a future knowable with chronic disease, sometimes imminently. A lady had her first baby, and a few days later experienced unforeseeable complications. She slipped into a type of brain death, held together by burdensome and invasive medical interventions. I held her husband as he told me about his best friend. As he grappled with the pride of fatherhood and intense, life-crushing grief. As he scanned her face for anything that looked like his mischievous Love. It never came.

As a newlywed, I could not set up clinical boundaries to protect me from the flood of this story. I drowned in it. And all of my theorizing, big words, theologizing, and intellectualizing disintegrated.

I called my brother--who just gets me, and thinks so much like me--again. And I shared my ache with him. "What is this body of a person?," I asked. If the person is in the body, then why is what we consider a person--her personality, smile, vivacity--gone? Please help me, because I need to know it's ok to let her go, and I have to, I have to, know that when she does, she's got something better than these tubes and this non-existence.

He talked to Warren Brown, a neuropsychologist at the Travis Research Institute, working with the idea of non-reductive physicalism. And together, their words and thoughtfulness ministered to my real crisis. They didn't try to convince me of simplistic answers, or encourage me to employ denial. I'm not here to proselytize for the philosophy. I don't think it's the answer, and I don't trust my own output, if I go to a subject so invested in the answer I need, that I'll manipulate everything to get it. (Read Cognitive Discopants' post about distrust along these lines here.)

Life is paradox. It's now, and it's forever. It's parts and more than parts. My heart and mind don't believe this life is wasted time and space. Rather, it's imminently important. But, my heart and mind crave hope for the future. Like most things, I think what I believe is most important for how it impacts my behavior, and helps me cope and minister in messy, real life. Focusing too narrowly on now or the future loses the fullness of human experience and meaning.

She passed away, this lady I never met, but whose body and family I lived and breathed with. I saw a picture of her, from before her death. Beautiful. I don't think that workmanship was, or is, wasted.

Sources you might find interesting:
Nancy Murphy: Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism: How Modern and Postmodern Philosophy Set the Theological Agenda.

Nancy Murphy: Bodies and Souls, Or Spirited Bodies.

Nancy Murphy, Warren Brown, H. Newton: Whatever Happened to the Soul?

Rob Moll: The Art of Dying: Living Fully in the the Life to Come.

Cognitive Discopants' discussion of a 3 year old's near-death experience with heaven here and here.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Divine Child Abuse

 Jason and I met with some new friends over the weekend and had one of those conversations that lets you know you are not alone, especially in the community of faith (I need this at a time when my understanding of my faith is constantly changing and conflicted). At one point, as we discussed current conservative perspectives on God, Wade accused the popular stance of condoning “divine child abuse.” And then, I got very excited, which I tend to do when I hear something that resonates with my concerns on a subject. (It’s actually kinda funny—I shake a little bit, and start waving my arms and hands. Almost always derails the excellent direction of the conversation.)

I took a distance theology class a few months ago with all the discussions online. The professor asked controversial questions and let the class go at it. Sadly, he expected mainline/mainstream answers, and the class largely complied. He asked “what about those who never hear?” Meaning, where do people “go” who never hear about Jesus? Almost all the class believed these people go to hell—and hey, who are we to question God? If he believes that’s justice, then his ways are not ours, and he’s right. This made me very uncomfortable. The questions were so designed, that if I answered honestly, I could no longer hide the changes in my faith and beliefs. Plus, they revealed the underbelly of common beliefs, but no one seemed bothered to see it. And this question, or the perspective it stems from, contained flaws, just like the majority of the answers.

            1. Is Christianity only about who escapes hell and wins the heaven lottery?
            2. We are allowed to question God.
            3. We say we get our sense of justice from God, then assign to him what would be considered the worst behavior among ourselves.

On the first point, I work constantly to overcome a fundamentalist background, the majority of whose theology revolves around heaven and hell. This life is most important for picking where we’ll spend eternity, and then wracking up extra mansions as we wait for the “real life” beyond. I no longer consider this life a long tunnel on the path to the true life. And maybe I’ll write further about that later. Too much to put in now.

Job questioned God. So did Moses. And the Psalmist. And Luther. And St. Augustine. And me. Not that I’m classing myself with those guys. My point is that questions are fundamental to how humans learn and grow, from childhood. I don’t trust a religion that nixes questions. I’ve been in a religious environment long enough to see what that squelching accomplishes. It encourages personality cults. It allows abuses, of all types, to continue. At a seminary level, it raises people for “ministry” who are untrained in empathy (basic to understanding why an individual might question your faith), and ill-equipped to handle real challenges.

But let’s talk about this “God’s justice is just, even if the same behavior on our part would not be” idea. My 3 youngest siblings were abused. All three prenatally, and two post. Their parents created, then rejected, neglected, and out-right harmed them. This behavior raises a scalding anger in most of us. When I think back on the earliest, and most important messages my little brother got (You aren’t worthy. You aren’t loved. You are unwanted.) I understand better why he can’t love himself. Essentially, the belief that God “saves” only a tiny handful of his creation, sounds like the same type of abuse. We have to acknowledge this because this is exactly how people outside the faith, and increasingly inside, hear it.

I cannot know how God will actually handle this. Just as I can’t know if heaven and hell are literal. And I do believe the question misses the bigger point of what God may be trying to do for his creation in this life. Ultimately, what I believe makes no difference in what will be found true. But what I believe makes all the difference in how I perceive and interact with God. Is it out of fear? Attraction? Anger? I choose to believe the best and accept that my beliefs have no control over his behavior, only mine.

I know this is something of a hot topic (warning: understatement) right now, with Rob Bell’s book just out. Haven’t read it yet, but I’m going too. With others, I found the furor over the book, before it even reached bookstores, amusing. A blog I follow, has just finished a substantial interaction with the book, if you’re interested. Also, Matthew Paul Turner, at has interacted with the subject quite a bit. I enjoyed his response to Mark Driscoll’s insistence on hell in a post titled, remarkably enough, “My thoughts on Mark Driscoll’s hell…” (it's from March 29).