Wednesday, September 26, 2018

God is always happy to see you.

Dad and his paper.
God is never too busy, too focused on other people or problems, or too important to be happy to see and be with you.

Randy and I are spending a week with relatives in Tennessee. Seeing my niece’s nearly 3-year-old son and the joy he both portrays and produces reminded me of one of my earliest memories. My dad would sit down with a newspaper after his day of work, holding the paper open over his legs. I remember dipping my head under the paper and then appearing before him, between his legs and the paper. Dad would always smile, and it never even occurred to me that he might not want to see me at that particular moment -- maybe he didn’t want his relaxing time reading the paper after work to be interrupted by a little toddler. Of course, he would prefer to see me.

My granddaughter.
I always imagine she's saying,
"Hey, what about me?!"
God always has time for us, and more than that, he wants to spend time with us. He is happy to see us any time! Just like me as a little girl, we can take that for granted.

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them.
Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?
And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home.
Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says,
‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’” -- Luke 15:4-6







What can I pray for you?

love and blessings,

Mavis
If you would like to send me specific prayer requests and are reading this as an email message, just reply. I will gladly pray with you. If you are reading this in my blog, email me at mavis at moonfamily.cc. I'll keep all communication confidential.



Saturday, September 15, 2018

Jesus has all the feels

Jesus loves you so much, he cries when you cry. He has “all the feels” you do.

We all know the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). He cried when his friend Lazarus’ sisters brought him to Lazarus’ tomb. His friend had died, his friend’s sisters were mourning, and Jesus cried. In another verse (Luke 19:41), Jesus wept over Jerusalem as he thought about the days to come, when Jerusalem would be conquered by her enemies, when God’s beloved people would suffer and die.

Sometimes I’m sad because I’m grieving a loss, like Jesus did for his friend Lazarus. Sometimes I’m sad about a situation with my loved ones, or a hopeless feeling about the resolution of some problems, or sometimes I’m not even sure why I’m sad. It gives me comfort to imagine Jesus’ eyes welling up with tears, knowing he understands and loves me so much that he feels sad when I am sad.

Why does someone else crying with you make you feel comforted? Kind of weird isn’t it? But I know it does. I think it’s because it shows that that person cares so much about you that it makes him or her sad just knowing you are sad. Even if they don’t cry, in whatever way they show their feelings, it is a comfort -- the touch of a hand, a hug, a concerned look, an arm around your shoulder, a kiss, saying, “Awww.”

While I was going to college, I stayed in Lynden, WA, for the summer, where many people in my family live. I sat at the kitchen table with my grandma the day I was leaving, waiting for my cousins to arrive, with whom I was catching a ride back to college. My grandma started crying because it made her so sad we were all leaving. And then I started crying, too. There we sat, both in tears. Sad, but also comforted. Sad, but also knowing how much we each loved the other.

The love of Jesus is even greater than we can experience or imagine.


What can I pray for you?
If you would like to send me specific prayer requests and are reading this as an email message, just reply. I will gladly pray with you. If you are reading this in my blog, email me at mavis at moonfamily.cc. I'll keep all communication confidential.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

How do we know God loves us?

There are times in life where we wonder, where we doubt, where we really can’t see how the love of God -- or God himself -- can be true. How do I know God loves me?

I’ve read various answers to this question in books, sermons, and so on. What I’ve seen as the answer runs along the lines of the list below. But is that enough?
  • He tells you in the Bible. “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Great song, and great truth. There are myriads of verses where God tells us he loves us, and will forever.
  • He sent his son to die for you. What greater love could there be, than to take his son, who loved, who never sinned, and give him to us, to carry our sins and be punished for them as if they were his sins?
It's the Spirit of God that bears witness or validates to our spirit not only that we are His children, but also that He loves us. (Romans 8:10) It's God's Spirit that empowers us, teaches us, guides us, gives us discernment as to how to walk and enables us to commune and fellowship with Him.
We are also cautioned not to trust our emotions, but, even when we don’t feel God’s love, to cling to the Scriptures and knowledge that God does love you. Trust. Billy Graham said:
Don’t trust your emotions; they can deceive you. Instead, trust Christ and what He has done for you. Invite Him to come into your life today, and then thank Him every morning for His unchanging love for you.
As I read these various answers to the question “How do we know God loves us?” I thought they felt kind of circular. Like: Believe it because God says it.

But what about people who don’t believe in God? Or what if I am in a time of doubt and not sure I believe in God?

I don’t know the full answer to that. What do you think is the answer?

Here’s a thought I came up with. People who don’t believe in God don’t know God loves them. For the doubters, and hopefully also for those sure of their disbelief, it’s temporary. At the time, they don’t know God loves them.

But here’s the thing: He does love them. Whether they know it or not.

It reminded me of a scene in C.S. Lewis’ book (and yes, those who know me are probably thinking, What doesn’t remind Mavis of a scene in a Narnia book?), The Last Battle. At the end of Narnia, the characters go through a door into “The Stable.” It turns out that the Stable is actually a new world, with “blue sky overhead, and grassy country spreading as far as [you] could see.” A group of Dwarfs is in that new world and...
They had a very odd look. They weren’t strolling about or enjoying themselves… They were very close together in a little circle facing one another.
They couldn’t see the others in the Stable or the beauty around them. They described it as “this pitch-black, poky, smelly little hole of a stable.” When Lucy tried to give them some flowers, they yelled at her for “shoving a lot of filthy stable-litter in [their] face.” When Aslan gave them a “glorious feast,” they thought they were eating hay, an old turnip, raw cabbage, and other animal feed you might find in a stable.

Surrounded by that beautiful world, they could not see it. Surrounded by God’s love, not all see or know it.

So, yes, the answers are circular. Because we do need to believe in God -- and hang on to that belief even when we can’t feel it -- in order to know God loves us. And regardless of whether we know it or not, he does.

The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis, Collier Books, c. 1980, p. 136

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Jesus is your friend

Jesus is your best friend ever, and he loves you.

When I was growing up, my dad was in the Air Force so we moved a lot (as many of you know). We moved to new, unfamiliar places and I was the new kid in school many times. When we moved to Key West, Florida, we had never been more south than New Jersey, had never seen a real live palm tree. One day, I was walking home from my new school, alone. The world around me seemed weird, almost eerie. The houses were old, Floridian style houses. There had been a recent tropical rain that flooded some of the streets. There were those palm trees, and also other trees with that weird moss on them. The air felt warm and close, a hot moistness pressing on my skin. It was daytime and I wasn’t terrified, but I was kind of freaked out. So I imagined my guardian angel was walking with me. I held my hand out a bit from my side, as if I were holding my angel’s hand as I walked.

I think at that age I couldn’t imagine Jesus walking with me -- he was too holy, too much “above” me, too majestic. It’d be like imagining I was walking with the queen of England or something. Too impossible. But now, I do imagine walking with Jesus. I imagine our feet both walking on a path under trees in a wood (not sure why that image, but it happens). I hear our footsteps, I smell the fresh “tree-y” air. I feel Jesus beside me. While we’re walking, I talk to him. I talk about things that are bothering me or worrying me, and also good things. Sometimes I don’t talk. Sometimes we just walk.

I’m sure that those of you who pray also talk to Jesus like a friend, and I’m sure many of you have images in your mind of being with your friend Jesus. I’d love to hear about them! I share mine because I’ve found they make such a difference to my life, and I pray you, too, have -- or will have -- your life changed by Jesus’ friendship.

I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business.
Instead, I have called you friends,
for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you
-- John 15:15


What can I pray for you?

love and blessings,

Mavis
If you would like to send me specific prayer requests and are reading this as an email message, just reply. I will gladly pray with you. If you are reading this in my blog, email me at mavis at moonfamily.cc. I'll keep all communication confidential.

Monday, September 3, 2018

I am HAUNTED by Flannery O'Connor!

Today, I read this article, "The Heaviness of Hope in Martin McDonagh," and thought, once again, I am haunted -- haunted! -- by Flannery O'Connor. Why does she keep coming up??!

In college, my first English course -- English 101 -- was taught by a professor who must have loved O'Connor. All we read the whole semester was Flannery O'Connor. For essays, we wrote about her short stories. For the term paper, one of her novels. I had not heard of Flannery O'Connor before and this heavy-handed introduction to her writing generated respect, but I did not like her writing at all. I did not, and do not, appreciate her use of the grotesque. In that class, I got really tired of the grotesque. As the author of this article wrote, each story seemed like "a bizarre story, with sour-tasting characters and a seemingly bleak, sharp-edged ending." They did not cause me to feel the way this author did, that she could "breathe easier."

I have a friend who was an English teacher and he also thinks highly of Flannery O'Connor and influenced me some years ago to try reading an O'Connery novel again. I still just could not like it, although, once again, I respected the insights the story revealed.

Many people love Flannery O'Connor's writing -- the author of the article wrote,
I’m probably the eighteen-thousandth person on [this blog's] mailing list to declare that Flannery O’Connor’s short stories played a role in developing my language for this newfound perception of grace and the moments signifying its entry into our lives, the sanctifying it promises or in some cases threatens to do.
So, yeah, I get it, Flannery O'Connor is amazing. And like I said, I respect her writing and all it conveys. I respect her faith. I have read many of her letters and personal journal entries. We read some of the prayers she wrote as part of a recent spiritual writing course I took, and I thought they were wonderful.

In this article, the author, Jane Townsend, compares the playwright Martin McDonagh to Flannery O'Connor.
Not unlike Flannery O’Connor, McDonagh bequeaths his protagonists and antagonists with dysfunctional moral compasses and ample negative or at least questionable qualities so that viewers can’t always be sure who the “good” and “bad” guys are. He sends his (anti)heroes into wayward explorations of themselves, others, the world, the possibility that this world is not where reality stops—he corners them against the hope for hope, although this tends to look more gruesome on screen than it sounds in a sentence. Their crooked stories of growth and decline, sin and forgiveness build with intensity and macabre hilarity, fracturing into sincerity and tenderness sometimes without warning, immediately spiraling into more quips and shootouts and impeccable soundtrack selections. The courses on which his characters find themselves reveal the spaces, in their lives and ours, where grace hangs indomitably overhead before collapsing over our skulls, altering forever the horizon before us and hardly being gentle about it.
I was not familiar with the name Martin McDonagh. I've discovered lately, though, that I am kind of a movie nerd. I saw one of McDonagh's movies, "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" (2017), and I thought it was great. I plan to watch the others Townsend mentioned.

I'm not exactly sure why I don't like Flannery O'Connor's stories but I do like McDonagh's, whose writing is similar, at least according to this author. It will be a fun project to watch the other movies and think that over.

But I'm not that kind of Christian!

I read an article today that seemed like something I could have said, if I'd been in the situation the author was in. Below is the article, "The Wrong Kind of Christian," by Tish Harrison Warren, in Christianity Today, 8/27/2014. Another author, Matthew Lee Anderson, wrote an excellent piece about this article in his Mere Orthodoxy blog, titled "On Disrespectable Christianity."

Several things about the article struck me. The first paragraph felt like me -- how I think of myself:
I thought I was an acceptable kind of Evangelical. I'm not a fundamentalist. My friends and I enjoy art, alcohol, and cultural engagement. We avoid spiritual clichés and buzzwords. We value authenticity, study, racial reconciliation, and social and environmental justice. 
Yes, right. Like Harrison Warren wrote, being a Christian "made me somewhat weird" in many social circles, but does not stop me from being good friends with non-Christians. And although, perhaps strangely, being the kind of Christian I am seems sometimes to threaten friendships with other Christians who disagree with some of my beliefs, it does not stop me from having civil relationships and, within my own family, deep, loving relationships.

Harrison Warren writes about Vanderbilt University's decision not to allow organizations to require their leaders to hold to any particular beliefs -- even the beliefs that define the organization. So, "college Republicans must allow Democrats to seek office; the environmental group had to welcome climate-change skeptics; and a leader of a religious group could not be dismissed if she renounced faith midyear."

Harrison Warren thought that the university just had a misunderstanding, and they would understand, when it was explained to them, that it was necessary to have what she termed "creedal requirements" for leaders. After all, she wrote, her group was not made up of  "homophobic culture warriors but friendly, thoughtful evangelicals committed to a diverse, flourishing campus." Further, "We liked being in pluralistic settings, mining for truth in Nietzsche and St. Benedict alike."

Doesn't that sound like something you would think? Doesn't that describe how you think of yourself? It does me. In the end, the university did not allow Harrison Warren's inter-varsity group to be registered. They could not hold meetings and events on the campus any longer.

Another statement by Harrison Warren was:
I began to realize that inside the church, the territory between Augustine of Hippo and Jerry Falwell seems vast, and miles lie between Ron Sider and Pat Robertson. But in the eyes of the university (and much of the press), subscribers to broad Christian orthodoxy occupy the same square foot of cultural space. 
That struck me as so true! This statement reminds me of how, many times, I feel I am perceived in two opposite ways. Within my Christian, church-related circle, I am a liberal -- even sometimes a wild liberal. Within my non-Christian social circle, I am a conservative -- even sometimes an ultra-conservative.

In the article, Harrison Warren writes that N.T. Wright says belief in the Resurrection "was bound to cause hoots of derision, and, if Acts is to be believed, sometimes did." I had not thought of it that way, but it is true. I think my non-Christian friends, even though they love and respect me, find it absurd that I would belief something like the Resurrection. 

That came to mind the other day as I was reflecting on the gospel story of Jesus and Paul walking on the water. I have no doubt many of my friends believe that's just a crazy, made-up tale. I felt I gained an insight from imagining Jesus catching my hand the way he did Peter's as Peter began to sink. I wonder if the people who think the story is absurd would also think the insight I gained -- the realization that Jesus loves me so much he reaches out to me and it doesn't always have to be me reaching out to him -- is also absurd.

I have a feeling that there are those among my friends who would take this article as proof of how the liberals have taken things to an extreme. And certainly there is some reason to look at it this way. I do feel it is taking things to an extreme. I appreciate, though, Harrison Warren's conclusion.
Our task moving forward is to resist bitterness, cynicism, or retaliation, demonizing the university or the culture. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said, the line between good and evil runs through every human heart, a reality that makes everything more complex. We have to forgive and to look squarely at places in our own heart that require repentance. In community, we must develop the craft of being both bold and irenic, truthful and humble. 
Her student group still works on and now wears T-shirts proclaiming "WE ARE HERE" as a way of making others aware of their group. Harrison Warren writes: 
And though it is more difficult than it was a few years ago, ministry continues on campus, often on the margins and just outside the gates. God is still beautifully at work. And his mercy is relentless.
I like that. Relentless mercy. It is an oxymoron -- and true. Thank you, God, for your relentless mercy.

The Wrong Kind of Christian
by Tish Harrison Warren

I thought I was an acceptable kind of Evangelical. I'm not a fundamentalist. My friends and I enjoy art, alcohol, and cultural engagement. We avoid spiritual clichés and buzzwords. We value authenticity, study, racial reconciliation, and social and environmental justice.

Being a Christian made me somewhat weird in my urban, progressive context, but despite some clear differences, I held a lot in common with unbelieving friends. We could disagree about truth, spirituality, and morality, and remain on the best of terms. The failures of the church often made me more uncomfortable than those in the broader culture.

Then, two years ago, the student organization I worked for at Vanderbilt University got kicked off campus for being the wrong kind of Christians. In May 2011, Vanderbilt's director of religious life told me that the group I'd helped lead for two years, Graduate Christian Fellowship—a chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship—was on probation. We had to drop the requirement that student leaders affirm our doctrinal and purpose statement, or we would lose our status as a registered student organization.

I met with him to understand the change. During the previous school year, a Christian fraternity had expelled several students for violating their behavior policy. One student said he was ousted because he is gay. Vanderbilt responded by forbidding any belief standards for those wanting to join or lead any campus group.

In writing, the new policy refers only to constitutionally protected classes (race, religion, sexual identity, and so on), but Vanderbilt publicly adopted an "all comers policy," which meant that no student could be excluded from a leadership post on ideological grounds. College Republicans must allow Democrats to seek office; the environmental group had to welcome climate-change skeptics; and a leader of a religious group could not be dismissed if she renounced faith midyear. (The administration granted an exception to sororities and fraternities.)

Like most campus groups, InterVarsity welcomes anyone as a member. But it asks key student leaders—the executive council and small group leaders—to affirm its doctrinal statement, which outlines broad Christian orthodoxy and does not mention sexual conduct specifically. But the university saw belief statements themselves as suspect. Any belief—particularly those about the authority of Scripture or the church—could potentially constrain sexual activity or identity. So what began as a concern about sexuality and pluralism quickly became a conversation about whether robustly religious communities would be allowed on campus.

In effect, the new policy privileged certain belief groups and forbade all others. Religious organizations were welcome as long as they were malleable: as long as their leaders didn't need to profess anything in particular; as long as they could be governed by sheer democracy and adjust to popular mores or trends; as long as they didn't prioritize theological stability. Creedal statements were allowed, but as an accessory, a historic document, or a suggested guideline. They could not have binding authority to shape or govern the teaching and practices of a campus religious community.

At first I thought this was all a misunderstanding that could be sorted out between reasonable parties. If I could explain to the administration that doctrinal statements are an important part of religious expression—an ancient, enduring practice that would be a given for respected thinkers like Thomas Aquinas—then surely they'd see that creedal communities are intellectually valid and permissible. If we could show that we weren't homophobic culture warriors but friendly, thoughtful evangelicals committed to a diverse, flourishing campus, then the administration and religious groups could find common ground.

When I met with the assistant dean of students, she welcomed me warmly and seemed surprised that my group would be affected by the new policy. I told her I was a woman in the ordination process, that my husband was a PhD candidate in Vanderbilt's religion department, and that we loved the university. There was an air of hope that we could work things out.

Line in the Sand

But as I met with other administrators, the tone began to change. The word discrimination began to be used—a lot—specifically in regard to creedal requirements. It was lobbed like a grenade to end all argument. Administrators compared Christian students to 1960s segregationists. I once mustered courage to ask them if they truly thought it was fair to equate racial prejudice with asking Bible study leaders to affirm the Resurrection. The vice chancellor replied, "Creedal discrimination is still discrimination."

Feeling battered, I talked with my InterVarsity supervisor. He responded with a wry smile, "But we're moderates!" We thought we were nuanced and reasonable. The university seemed to think of us as a threat.

For me, it was revolutionary, a reorientation of my place in the university and in culture. I began to realize that inside the church, the territory between Augustine of Hippo and Jerry Falwell seems vast, and miles lie between Ron Sider and Pat Robertson. But in the eyes of the university (and much of the press), subscribers to broad Christian orthodoxy occupy the same square foot of cultural space.

The line between good and evil was drawn by two issues: creedal belief and sexual expression. If religious groups required set truths or limited sexual autonomy, they were bad—not just wrong but evil, narrow-minded, and too dangerous to be tolerated on campus.

It didn't matter to them if we were politically or racially diverse, if we cared about the environment or built Habitat homes. It didn't matter if our students were top in their fields and some of the kindest, most thoughtful, most compassionate leaders on campus. There was a line in the sand, and we fell on the wrong side of it.

My husband and I love the idea of the university, a place of libraries and lawns, a space set aside to grapple with the most vital questions of truth, where many different voices gather to engage in respectful conversation. Both of us had invested considerable time and money into pursuing advanced degrees. He was preparing to be a professor.

We liked being in pluralistic settings, mining for truth in Nietzsche and St. Benedict alike. But if Christian orthodoxy was anathema in this purportedly broad-minded university, where did that leave us? What did that mean for our place in the world and how we interacted with culture?

And what did that mean for all the PhD candidates in my student group who were preparing for a life of service in the secular university? Did we need to take a slightly more Amish route of cultural engagement? And what did all this mean for the university?

Facing an Impasse

A culture of fear seemed to be growing on campus. There were power plays and spin. A group of professors penned a thoughtful critique of the new policy, but remained silent when sympathetic department heads warned that going public could be "career damaging."

As a private university, Vanderbilt had the right to adopt particular beliefs and exclude certain religious groups. What bothered me was that they didn't own up to what they were doing. I wanted them to be truthful, to say in their brochure, "If you are a creedal religious person, don't expect to find a campus group here." I wanted intellectual honesty and transparency about their presuppositions.

Instead, top officials seemed blind to their assumptions, insisting all religious groups were welcome while gutting our ability to preserve defining beliefs and practices.

Those of us opposed to the new policy met with everyone we could to plead our case and seek compromise. We published essays and held silent protests with signs calling for pluralism and religious liberty. Hundreds of students and some faculty respectfully objected to the new policy. Catholic and Protestant students, low-church and high-church, met together daily in front of the administration building to pray.

As a writer and pastor, I value words, love careful argument, and believe good ideas prevail. I believed that if we cast a vision of principled pluralism, showed how value-laden presuppositions are inherent in any worldview, and reiterated our commitment to Vanderbilt and avoided the culture wars, the administration would relent.

But as spring semester ended, 14 campus religious communities—comprising about 1,400 Catholic, evangelical, and Mormon students—lost their organizational status.

A year later, my family and I moved to a different state to plant a new InterVarsity chapter. It was painful to leave beloved faculty, students, and ministry colleagues with the campus conflict unresolved. There was no happy ending, no triumphant reconciling moment. After that long and disorienting year, I left not in confident, defiant protest, but in sadness. What I thought was a misunderstanding turned out to be an impasse.

We Are Here

What's happening at Vanderbilt is happening at other universities. Increasingly, orthodox beliefs and practices are forbidden as those in power forfeit a robust understanding of religious pluralism.

Our task moving forward is to resist bitterness, cynicism, or retaliation, demonizing the university or the culture. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said, the line between good and evil runs through every human heart, a reality that makes everything more complex. We have to forgive and to look squarely at places in our own heart that require repentance. In community, we must develop the craft of being both bold and irenic, truthful and humble.

And while we grieve rejection, we should not be shocked or ashamed by it. That probationary year unearthed a hidden assumption that I could be nuanced or articulate or culturally engaged or compassionate enough to make the gospel more acceptable to my neighbors. But that belief is prideful. From its earliest days, the gospel has been both a comfort and an offense.

N. T. Wright points out in Paul: In Fresh Perspective that the unlikely message of a crucified Jew raised from the dead "was bound to cause hoots of derision, and, if Acts is to be believed, sometimes did." Throughout history and even now, Christians in many parts of the world face not only rejection but violent brutality. What they face is incomparably worse than anything we experience on U.S. college campuses, yet they tutor us in compassion, courage, and subversive faithfulness.

We need not be afraid; the gospel is as unstoppable as it is unacceptable. Paul persisted, proclaiming that Jesus was, in fact, the world's true Lord. And, as Wright notes, "people (to their great surprise, no doubt) found this announcement making itself at home in their minds and hearts, generating the belief that it was true, and transforming their lives with a strange new presence and power."

After we lost our registered status, our organization was excluded from new student activity fairs. So our student leaders decided to make T-shirts to let others know about our group. Because we were no longer allowed to use Vanderbilt's name, we struggled to convey that we were a community of Vanderbilt students who met near campus. So the students decided to write a simple phrase on the shirts: WE ARE HERE.

And they are. They're still there in labs and classrooms, researching languages and robotics, reflecting God's creativity through the arts and seeking cures for cancer. They are still loving their neighbors, praying, struggling, and rejoicing. You can find them proclaiming the gospel in word and deed, in daily ordinariness.

And though it is more difficult than it was a few years ago, ministry continues on campus, often on the margins and just outside the gates. God is still beautifully at work. And his mercy is relentless.

Tish Harrison Warren is a priest in the Anglican Church in North America and works with InterVarsity at the University of Texas–Austin. For more, see TishHarrisonWarren.com.

8/27/2014 The Wrong Kind of Christian | Christianity Today
https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/channel/utilities/print.html?type=article&id=121313 2/5