Saturday, December 28, 2019

Surprising Nativity

I love Nativity sets. My family knows this and has given me several over the years. I treasure them and some I keep out all year. I have a favorite set that I call the “chubby nativity” and another the “tall nativity.” There’s something heartwarming about those little figures representing the people who surrounded Jesus when he became a person because he loved us so much.

Recently I learned something surprising about that familiar nativity scene. I already knew that tradition had taken some liberties with the typical Nativity scene -- the wise men came later, not the night of Christ’s birth. I knew sometimes the family’s location was called a cave rather than a stable. But now I read that the whole story is different, or at least it certainly seems so.

I read books and other writing by Sarah Bessey and in her most recent newsletter she wrote about a “deconstruction” of the nativity story, as described by the theologian Kenneth E. Bailey in Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels. Bailey “lived and worked in the Middle East for more than forty years while studying theology and scripture.” As Bessey writes, it turns out the Christmas story is even more beautiful than we thought.
For starters, Jesus wasn't born in a barn. Middle Eastern homes of that time did not have the stable for the animals separate from the home at all. Instead, the home was usually made of two rooms: one for the family and the animals and another one at the back or on the roof for the guests. Joseph wasn't turned away from a hotel; he was told that the guest room was already taken. Even there the text itself has been misinterpreted - it's not that there was no room at "the inn" as we understand a bed and breakfast or a hotel but rather the word is "a place to stay" meaning a guest room as part of an actual home. 
So the story is actually one of hospitality - the place where Mary and Joseph stayed was not a guest room but an actual family room. They were welcomed into the family's quarters. They weren't even in the guest room but in the main room of the home.
In addition, Mary and Joseph were not alone in their journey. They were part of a caravan, “likely part of a travelling community of family members all headed to a place ready to welcome them for the census.....They were well known, well respected and likely well loved.” This reminded me of the story when Jesus was a young boy and they were traveling with a bunch of others -- they didn’t miss Jesus for a day because they thought he was with others (Luke 2:41-52).

Bessey relates that Mary was also not alone at the birth.
She was almost certainly and absolutely attended by skilled and present women, likely even community midwives...She was in a warm home, surrounded by women who had walked the road ahead of her, who were able to care for her.
Is this surprising to you, as it was to me? I like what Bessey writes, “The incarnation is the miracle: it's not Jesus' otherness but his us-ness, his human-ness, his full experience as fully human and fully God together, that is the miracle.”

Whenever I learn or imagine something that makes Jesus more human, it fills me with wonder again, that he would become a little human being when he is this enormous, awesome, unimaginable God. Praise God for his incredible love.
What I call the "chubby nativity"
The "tall nativity"

Thursday, December 26, 2019

This is us.

The other day I ran across a photo of my mom and dad on their 40th anniversary. I can't find it now (of course!) but this one is close. I looked and looked at that picture, thinking "This is us now." We will celebrate 41 years tomorrow. It's so weird to remember how I thought of them then, and that now it's us. I didn't think of them as elderly, but, you know, they were grandparents and had been married 40 years. I didn't even conceive of becoming that. And now, here we are. Weird, but wonderful, too.



Wednesday, December 25, 2019

God bless you.

I heard this blessing on Jen Hatmaker’s podcast. It’s called “Blessed Are the Unemployed, Unimpressive, and Underrepresented” by Nadia Bolz-Weber.

God bless you.

love, Mavis


Blessed Are the Unemployed, Unimpressive, and Underrepresented
by Nadia Bolz-Weber.

Blessed are the agnostics.

Blessed are they who doubt, who aren't sure, who can still be surprised.

Blessed are those who are spiritually impoverished and therefore not so certain about everything that they no longer take in new information.

Blessed are those who have nothing to offer.

Blessed are the pre-schoolers who cut in line at communion.

Blessed are the poor in spirit. You are of heaven, and Jesus blesses you.

Blessed are they for whom death is not an abstraction.

Blessed are they who've buried their loved ones, for whom tears could fill an ocean.

Blessed are they who've loved enough to know what loss feels like.

Blessed are the mothers of the miscarried.

Blessed are they who don't have the luxury of taking things for granted any more.

Blessed are they who can't fall apart because they have to keep it together for everyone else.

Blessed are those who still aren't over it yet.

Blessed are those who mourn. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.

Blessed are those who no one else notices: the kids who sit alone at middle school lunch tables, the laundry guys at the hospital, the sex workers, and the nightshift street sweepers.

Blessed are the forgotten.

Blessed are the closeted.

Blessed are the unemployed, the unimpressive, the under represented.

Blessed are the teens who have to figure out how to hide the new cuts on their arms.

Blessed are the meek. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.

Blessed are the wrongly accused, the ones who never catch a break, the ones for whom life is hard, for Jesus chose to surround himself with people like you.

Blessed are those without documentation.

Blessed are the ones without lobbyists.

Blessed are foster kids and special ed kids and every other kid who just wants to feel safe and loved.

Blessed are those that make terrible business decisions for the sake of people.

Blessed are the burned out social workers and the overworked teachers and the pro bono case takers.

Blessed are kind-hearted football players and fundraising trophy wives.

Blessed are kids who step between the bullies and the weak.

Blessed are those who hear they're forgiven.

Blessed are the merciful, for they totally get it. 

What can I pray about for you?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

What is this?? A while back, I had an idea. I was thinking of some friends I wanted to pray for, but I didn't have a specific thing to pray about on their behalf. I decided to pray that they would feel God's love. I decided to send them an email when I prayed, so they'd know and be encouraged. Then I thought about my many other family and friends who I would like to encourage with prayer, and decided to start this email.
    Two things I try to do:
-- Encourage you with a reminder of God's love. My goal is to avoid anything where the response is "I should..." Just a short reflection of God's love.
-- Pray for you. I'll pray with each email, and please reply to me with anything you'd specifically like me to pray for you. I'll keep it confidential, don't worry..

.     If you would like to send me specific prayer requests. I will gladly pray with you. Email me at mavis at moonfamily.cc. I'll keep all communication confidential.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Christmas letter 2019

Dear family & friends,                     December 2019

At Christmas – and all the time -- it is good to remember that, even though things might sometimes seem hopeless, there are reasons for hope. My greatest reason is what we are celebrating right now -- Jesus becoming a human, showing us the greatest love in the world. As Eugene Peterson put it in The Message, Jesus moved into the neighborhood. Hooray!

Jane Goodall wrote a book titled Reason for Hope, listing as her reasons: “(1) the human brain, (2) the resilience of nature; (3) the energy and enthusiasm [of] young people worldwide; and (4) the indomitable human spirit.” I think her reasons can give us all hope.

This is where you come in. You are examples of that indomitable human spirit, and you are among my reasons for hope. Even though I may not have seen some of you in a long time, when I think of each of you and our times together, I am grateful and my heart fills with hope. Bad things happen. Bad things happen to good people. My hope is in the Lord. He gives me people like you in my life. I feel his presence through your presence, whether it’s acts of kindness, words of encouragement, listening ears, or sympathetic tears, I thank God for you.

A little news about our family -- also great reasons for hope. I feel like the luckiest mom and grandma in the world -- all my “kids” and grandkids are in the Bay Area. As they were growing up, I often thought how great it would be if they all settled in my time zone. And here they all are within a few miles!

Cori is an ER nurse at Stanford Hospital. She loves her job. She also travels quite a bit -- two trips to Italy, a trip to New Zealand and Australia, and quite a few other travels. Luke, Des, Delaney (11) and Lydia (6) live in Pleasanton, just a ways down the highway from us. Luke manages a truck parts and repair shop. Des works for a furniture dealership. Zach, Ashlee, and Violet (3) live with us right now, and it’s such a joy to have them. Zach oversees a warehouse for an audio-visual equipment company, and Ashlee is an amazing at-home mother. The grandchildren are such a blessing, and having them so near is a bonus.

Randy and I are still working, too, but looking forward to retirement in a couple years. I am reducing my workdays to ease my way out. Randy is still full time and his company was just bought out, so right now he is extremely busy. We purchased a little trailer this year and it has been so fun to take trips with it. We’re practicing for retirement. This year we went to Michigan for a visit with the Moon family, then Glacier National Park. Incredible.

In Christmas letters (and social media, and in general), we tend to talk only about how wonderful our lives are, and our lives are wonderful, but they’re not perfect. We have sad times, difficult periods of struggle; we make mistakes and work through them. One of the greatest gifts for me has been my discovery of the Ignatian (or Jesuit) Spiritual Disciplines. It started with a book called The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life by James Martin. I wondered if there was a Jesuit retreat center nearby and was thrilled when Google told me there was one just 20 minutes away! I went to several retreats, learned more and -- I know it sounds overly dramatic but it’s true -- it changed my life. Now I have started a 3-year course called Pierre Favre to deepen my knowledge and prepare me to be a Spiritual Director.

I continue to read quite a bit, one of the joys of my life, and I am trying to write more, too. I write an “email of God’s love” approximately once a week, and do some blogging. If you’re interested, check out www.mavismoon.com.

I would love to hear all about you and your lives. Have a merry Christmas and a joyful new year. I pray that your hearts are filled with hope.

love, Mavis & Randy

Sunday, December 8, 2019

shoulders

I have always had kind of a thing about broad shoulders. Guys with broad shoulders are handsome. When women walk confidently, swinging their shoulders, I love it. I like the saying about Chicago being the city of broad shoulders (the real quote, from Carl Sandberg’s poem, is “City of the Big Shoulders”).

In Isaiah, and in the Messiah, it says about Jesus, “the government will be on his shoulders.”

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
~Isaiah 9:6

Don’t you love that part of the Messiah?



Last Sunday we read the 9th chapter of Isaiah (with “the government will be on his shoulders”) as part of an Advent devotional. As I read it, I got another image -- Jesus with a lamb on his shoulders. We often see that image when listening to Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep in Luke:

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

Statuette of the Good Shepherd. Vatican Museums, Pius-Christian Museum.
Same shoulders. Jesus’ shoulders bearing the government -- being the king and ruler of all -- and Jesus’ shoulders carrying the lost sheep -- loving a tiny, powerless creature. At first I thought how opposite these two images of Jesus are. That powerful leader of all vs. a tender loving caretaker. But thinking more about it, maybe not.

When we think of a king, the leader of the world, we think of power, someone who can do anything he wants to do, and make others do his bidding. The image of the loving Shepherd seems the opposite of that, someone putting the needs of a poor helpless lamb before his own. But the Kingdom of God is often called the “Upside-Down Kingdom.” As this sermon from Len Betterink says:

Over and over we see things getting turned around, turned backwards, turned upside-down. Jesus said that in his kingdom the first will be last and the last will be first (Matt. 20:16).

He said that whoever wanted to be great would have to be a servant (Matt. 20: 26).

The apostle Paul said that God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, that he chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong (1 Cor. 1:27).

According to Paul, Jesus was equal to God, and then he emptied himself and made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant (Phil. 2:6-11).

Jesus was rich, yet for our sake he became poor, so that through his poverty we would become rich (2 Cor. 8:9).

After a while, you get used to the pattern. Things that make a person important in our world become unimportant in the Upside-Down Kingdom. And the things that seem weak and humble and poor — they make us better people and take us closer to the heart of God.

In the Upside-Down Kingdom of God, Jesus with both the government and the lost lamb on his shoulders makes perfect sense.

Thank God for his upside-down amazing love.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

https://belz.blog/2017/11/02/in-heaven-southwest/

In Heaven, Southwest

Thursday, November 2, 2017
In Heaven, Southwest
boards C60-C1, B, families/
extra assistance, then A.

Friday, December 6, 2019

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains


Lydia spent the night last night, and this morning she colored this picture for me. It's from a coloring book of Psalms. I looked up Psalm 121 on my computer and she read it aloud to me. I talked about how she could remember God was always with her when she looked at mountains, and when she looked at her shadow ("your shade at your right hand") and she giggled in delight, especially when she pointed out her shadow right behind her as she stood in the sunlight from the window.

Awesome Grandma moment.

Psalm 121

A song of ascents.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm
    he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Ruby's grace.



When we camped at Glacier National Park, we had no cell signal except at the office building. One day when I was there, a girl came in to use the bathroom. I would guess she was around 9 or 10, and she had some kind of mental challenge. She made guttural noises but she had some speech and she made it clear to Ruby, the office manager, that she needed to use the bathroom.

The campground had some plumbing issues. When I had used the facilities myself, Ruby told me not to flush it, just let her know when I was done and she would take care of it. They kept a bucket of water near the toilet and had some kind of method for manually making it flush.

The girl went into the bathroom through a doorway in the lobby where I was sitting. She stayed there a very long time and I periodically heard yelling and banging noises. After quite some time, water started spreading out from under the door into the lobby. Ruby came and knocked on the door. “Do you need some help?” No response. She tried again, then said something like, “Just come on out, we will take care of it.” Finally the girl came out and left the building.

Ruby and two other workers got mops, buckets, and rags and managed to get the area cleaned up after quite a bit of work. I said to Ruby, “It’s too bad that girl didn’t have a little more supervision.” Ruby agreed and then, almost in concert, we both said, “But no one knows the whole story.” Then Ruby finished with, “And it’s good they brought her to enjoy the outdoors.”

How kind was that? After all the work the little girl caused, Ruby extended grace. Moments like that give me hope.

How about you? Have you seen interactions between people where the grace of God shines through?​

What can I pray about for you?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
What is this?? A while back, I had an idea. I was thinking of some friends I wanted to pray for, but I didn't have a specific thing to pray about on their behalf. I decided to pray that they would feel God's love. I decided to send them an email when I prayed, so they'd know and be encouraged. Then I thought about my many other family and friends who I would like to encourage with prayer, and decided to start this email.
Two things I try to do:
-- Encourage you with a reminder of God's love. My goal is to avoid anything where the response is "I should..." Just a short reflection of God's love.
-- Pray for you. I'll pray with each email, and please reply to me with anything you'd specifically like me to pray for you. I'll keep it confidential, don't worry.
. If you would like to send me specific prayer requests. I will gladly pray with you. Email me at mavis at moonfamily.cc. I'll keep all communication confidential.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Death Decisions on my Mind

That title sounds kind of macabre, but there it is. This morning I listed to this podcast from "Hidden Brain," called "The Ventilator: Life, Death And The Choices We Make At The End." It made me cry. But it wasn't a bad cry. As I was crying, I thought, "I guess this podcast was a 'trigger' for me."

If you listen to it, you'll probably know why it made me cry. It's about a family with a wife/mom who had ALS, Stephanie Rinka. It made me think of my brother Dan, of course, as the mention of ALS always does. This woman had the kind of ALS that starts with your speaking and breathing muscles. It made me thankful again that Dan's had started in his legs and moved up from there.

I thought Shankar Vedantam, the host of the podcast, had a good point that this family's story shows how difficult decisions about how you want to die are. Stephanie and her family spoke about that subject throughout their lives and Stephanie, a nurse who had seen and experienced many different kinds of death, always made the point that she did not want to live without quality of life. When she saw someone living inside a body that didn't function, she told her husband if she ever got to that point, to "just shoot her." But when it came to actually making the decision on the spot, in a kind of crisis, it was not so easy. Listen to the podcast; it's good.

As I think about this family's story, it seems to me that, although they spoke often of not wanting to lose their quality of life, they did not -- from what the story says -- actually talk about or plan for Stephanie's death. When Dan was diagnosed, he and his wife Kathy went to a lawyer and made plans to ensure financial stability for Kathy when he was gone. They faced the fact that Dan was going to die and made all the preparations they could. I think that made a big difference.

It's not easy, though, that's for sure. Coincidentally, this evening in the "Anerica" magazine which I receive in my email, there was another story about a family dealing with ALS, "I was diagnosed with A.L.S. With God’s help, I lived to send my son to Notre Dame." The husband/father has ALS, again the kind that starts with the speaking and breathing muscles, faces the same decisions about getting a feeding tube and a ventilator, and is thankful for having decided to extend his life with both,

One woman says she never wants to live with a non-functioning body, but then decides to do just that, getting a feeding tube first, then a ventilator. Looking back, her family feels the ventilator decision was a wrong one, that caused them all more suffering. A man decides to extend his life so, if possible, he can see his son graduate. He gets a feeding tube and then a ventilator and is still living and has been able to see his son graduate. There are differences, of course, but it still serves to show that the same decisions can turn out wildly different.

Dan decided not to get a ventilator. I know he and Kathy made that decision together and all of us feel it was the right decision. Dan's death was peaceful, as peaceful as it could be anyway. All of my family got to see him one more time before he died. I took several trips to help with his care, and our parents, his wife, kids, grandkids, sister, and many family members and friends visited with and cared for Dan. It was a sad, sad time and we still miss him greatly, yet I am grateful to God for that beautiful time as he was preparing to die. I am grateful that the death of my parents also gave us time to say good bye.

What are your thoughts?

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Romans 14:8

Today's devotional from the Jesuit Society (which I receive in my email each morning) had the passage Romans 14:7-12 (New Revised Standard Version).
We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister?
For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” So then, each of us will be accountable to God.
Ever since I was a kid, whenever I was asked what my favorite Bible verse was, I would say Romans 14:8, "If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s." I've always liked resting in the comfort that I, and those I love, belong to the Lord, whether we're living or dead.

I can remember being aware of the possible death of those I love from when I was quite small. Did you think about that as a child? I remember way back when my little sister and I shared a bed, I used to get quite crabby with her for "hogging my side," but I would make sure that I said "I love you" to her before we went to sleep -- just in case she or I died overnight. I wanted to make sure the last thing I said was nice, and no matter what, she would know I loved her.

Now, the verse still gives me comfort. Life is more complicated. There are more and more things I don't understand. I can think and think, read and read, discuss and discuss, learn and learn, but still I cannot comprehend or understand why such sad or horrible things happen. BUT, "If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s." I'll rest in the Lord.


Saturday, November 2, 2019

Shepherdly Love

Last week I wrote about God’s maternal love, the love he shows us that is like a mother’s love, “a wise, capable, strong, patient, kind, no-nonsense, deeply loving mother.” It started me thinking of other metaphors for God’s love, and the first one that came to mind was the image of a shepherd, his “shepherdly” love.

There are so many verses about Jesus as a shepherd, I could write about them for weeks! The first one I thought of -- and probably you did, too -- is Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” A few others:
  • in John 10: “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.”
  • in 1 Peter 2: “For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”
  • in Luke 12: “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
  • in Isaiah 40: “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.”
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixaby
Years ago I heard a sermon about Psalm 23. The minister noted how at first the psalmist is writing about the Lord his shepherd in 3rd person, using “he”:

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
    he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
Then, when he starts talking about the dark valley, the psalmist switches to 2nd person, using “you”:
Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.
The minister said you could imagine this as if from a little boy’s perspective, on a train ride with his dad. First the boy is a few seats away, perhaps on a different car than his father, talking about his dad to another passenger, saying, “he does this, and that, and that.” Then the train goes through a tunnel. Everything gets dark. The boy hurries to his dad’s seat and says to him, “YOU do this and that and that.” When it gets dark and scary, the child needs the reassurance and closeness of his father.

It’s easy to imagine this from the perspective of sheep or lambs, too. Trotting along on the green grass at the shore of the smooth waters of a stream, feeling good (“feelin’ groovy...”), confident, walking ahead of the shepherd. Then they go into a valley. High hills block the sun. It’s dark and cold, the sheep cannot see what might be ahead. Now the sheep draw closer to the shepherd, perhaps walking beside or behind the shepherd, making sure they see his rod and staff.

Like a shepherd, God guides us. In times of trouble, when we are scared or unsure of the future, we want to be close to God, to listen for his footsteps, see his rod ahead of us, like Gandalf leading the way through the dark mines of Moria (“The Lord of the Rings,” by J.R.R. Tolkien).

Like a shepherd, Jesus cares for us, nourishes us, knows us, loves us. May you be filled with the shepherdly love of God, now and forever.
You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Mines of Moria by Gellihana-art
PS - If you would like to read more about Jesus’ Jewish culture and the Bible from a Hebraic perspective, check out Lois Tverberg’s blog, "Our Rabbi Jesus, His Jewish Life & Teaching," https://ourrabbijesus.com/. She has also written several books -- links in the blog. I thought this was an excellent article, “Discipleship: What Sheep Can Teach Us,” Lois Tverberg, January 14, 2013. There are many more.

What can I pray about for you?

love and blessings,
Mavis

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
What is this?? A while back, I had an idea. I was thinking of some friends I wanted to pray for, but I didn't have a specific thing to pray about on their behalf. I decided to pray that they would feel God's love. I decided to send them an email when I prayed, so they'd know and be encouraged. Then I thought about my many other family and friends who I would like to encourage with prayer, and decided to start this email.
Two things I try to do:
-- Encourage you with a reminder of God's love. My goal is to avoid anything where the response is "I should..." Just a short reflection of God's love.
-- Pray for you. I'll pray with each email, and please reply to me with anything you'd specifically like me to pray for you. I'll keep it confidential, don't worry..
. If you would like to send me specific prayer requests. I will gladly pray with you. Email me at mavis at moonfamily.cc. I'll keep all communication confidential.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Discipleship as a Shepherd

I like the way this article talks about discipleship. I (and I think many of us) tend to think of "doing" discipleship as telling people about Jesus. This author says:
I used to think that Jesus’ command to make disciples simply meant teaching people certain beliefs about God, helping them to accept Christ as Lord, and then educating them in doctrinal truth later on. 
Though all these are important, this way of defining discipleship showed that I, like many westerners, approached the gospel primarily as information.
Not just teaching, not just passing along information, but involving transformation.
God’s goal isn’t to simply fill the world with people who believe the right things. It is to fill the world with people who shine with the brilliance of Christ.
Not just trying to get people into the doors of the church, but walking alongside people as we learn to follow Jesus, to hear his voice and go where he wants us to go, "[living] transparently before others, humbly teaching them the way of Christ."

https://ourrabbijesus.com/articles/discipleship-not-fences-but-following-shepherd/

Discipleship: What Sheep Can Teach Us

I used to think that Jesus’ command to make disciples simply meant teaching people certain beliefs about God, helping them to accept Christ as Lord, and then educating them in doctrinal truth later on.
goatsThough all these are important, this way of defining discipleship showed that I, like many westerners, approached the gospel primarily as information. Unfortunately, such an approach tends to produce efforts at evangelism that are thinly disguised power grabs. We try hard to foist our belief system onto others, debating with people until they declare our way the best.
An eastern view of discipleship seems far more in keeping with the gospel. The eastern view encompasses the understanding that Jesus died for our sins and that belonging to him involves repenting and receiving him as Lord. But it also recognizes that Jesus lived transparently in front of his disciples in order to teach them how to live. They, in turn, were to live transparently before others, humbly teaching them the way of Christ.
This approach involves not just information but transformation. God’s goal isn’t to simply fill the world with people who believe the right things. It is to fill the world with people who shine with the brilliance of Christ.
sheep in pen smlShepherding in Israel is a wonderful metaphor for of this kind of discipleship. In many countries, sheep spend their lives in fenced-in pastures where they spend most of their time grazing and milling about. Many Christians seem to think that the great commission is a matter of getting sheep “into the pen” —inviting people to accept Christ, the high point of their spiritual lives.
In Israel, however, where grass has difficulty growing in the arid soil, sheep must know their shepherd, following him obediently from pasture to pasture. There, shepherding is a much more active task.
Judith Fain is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Durham. As part of her studies, she spends several months each year in Israel. One day while walking on a road near Bethlehem, Judith watched as three shepherds converged with their separate flocks of sheep. The three men hailed each other and then stopped to talk. While they were conversing, their sheep intermingled, melting into one big flock.
Following ShepherdWondering how the three shepherds would ever be able to identify their own sheep, Judith waited until the men were ready to say their goodbyes. She watched, fascinated, as each of the shepherds called out to his sheep. At the sound of their shepherd’s voice, like magic, the sheep separated again into three flocks. Apparently some things in Israel haven’t changed for thousands of years.
Just like these sheep, what distinguishes us is not so much the “pen” we inhabit, but the shepherd we follow. Some sheep come running as soon as their shepherd calls, but some struggle to obey his lead, going astray whenever temptation strikes. It takes a lot more energy to follow a wandering shepherd than to be cooped up in a pen!
But we are called to be disciples of a Rabbi who is always on the move, one who wants us to go with him, making disciples to the ends of the earth. We need to learn how to recognize his voice, to go where he wants us to go, and to serve and imitate him so that we can share his good news with the world.
Many of us see disciple-making as something that only happens at the “fence.” We view our primary job as getting people into the fold. But a lot of sheep are inside the fence, but just milling about munching on grass. They need to be brought closer to Christ by becoming his true disciples.
And what about people who aren’t at all interested in Jesus, or those who are downright angry or hostile toward the church? How are we supposed to relate to them? Perhaps the solution is to live transparently around everyone regardless of their faith or lack of it. We can share openly and sensitively about our own struggles and what Christ is doing in our lives without worrying so much about where people are, relative to the “fence.” Then every bit of our lives will become a source of witness, no matter who our friends are.
shepherdSometimes we’ll open the gate and let someone in. But just as often we may find ourselves helping other believers become more effective disciples. In the process, we will discover ourselves being discipled as well. The key is to stay close to Jesus, living transparently as we seek to follow our rabbi.
—  A couple favorite excerpts from Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus (Zondervan, 2009)

Friday, October 25, 2019

A Rough Day

When my son was small, after a series of ow-ies and mishaps I would say to him, “Oh, are you having a rough day?” As time went on, when things went awry for him, he’d come find me, look up with his sad eyes, and tell me, “Mom, I’m having a rough day.” I’m sitting here with tears in my eyes just remembering the way those words made my heart feel like one of those luscious chocolate molten cakes you get at fancy restaurants. Love oozing out of a soft spongy heart.

I recently read Miracles and Other Reasonable Things by Sarah Bessey.* A passage on page 171 (hardcover, Howard Books, c. 2019), says:

Whenever my children have a fall or catch a cold, I often bundle them up into my arms and say, “Oh, you poor wee lamb.” It was a joke at first--I did it with my big kids when I thought they needed an overexcess of sympathy. I always said it with a thick Scottish accent and grandiose affection, so they would laugh and cheer up. But by the time our youngest was born, it had evolved into a tender phrase (still in a terrible Scottish accent) whispered over them in times of pain or grief...I saw how they melted and exhaled when I said, “poor wee lamb,” in recognition of their suffering, how they leaned in to receive my soft warmth before they could rise again.

One day, when she was only two, Maggie fell and scraped her knee quite badly...When I saw her…, she turned to me, bottom lip quivering, and lifting up her pudgy arms, she said, “Mummy, please call me a poor wee lamb.” There was something about the tender acknowledgement of her pain that she was craving. And in the same way, I feel God as that mother-shepherd whispering acknowledgement of the pain just as well as the path to life.

God loves us and cares for us as a mother would. On the page before the above passage Bessey wrote, “I discovered God’s metaphor as a wise, capable, strong, patient, kind, no-nonsense, deeply loving mother.” I like that description. Although a mother’s heart can turn to mush, as mine did when my son told me he had a rough day, we also need to be strong and no-nonsense. My daughter once told me she felt almost scared as a child when I would give her medicine. I knew when I gave them medicine that the kids would not want it, but I also knew I could not “cave” and let my sympathy dictate my actions. So I was no-nonsense about it, using a firm voice to tell them to take the medicine. Of course, I did not mean to scare them, but I knew there needed to be “no argle-bargle” (another favorite family phrase) about it.

We usually think of God as our Father. My father was one of the most Christ-like persons I knew, and I find it very meaningful and personal to begin my prayers with “Our Father who art in heaven.” I also find it meaningful and personal to think of God as my mother--”Our Mother who art in heaven.” God, who like my mother, loves me in a nurturing, sympathetic, strong, I’ve-got-your-back kind of way. 

May you know the maternal love of God with all your heart, soul, and mind.


*Sarah Bessey also wrote one of my favorite books, Out of Sorts, Making Peace With an Evolving Faith. I recommend it highly!

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What is this?? A while back, I had an idea. I was thinking of some friends I wanted to pray for, but I didn't have a specific thing to pray about on their behalf. I decided to pray that they would feel God's love. I decided to send them an email when I prayed, so they'd know and be encouraged. Then I thought about my many other family and friends who I would like to encourage with prayer, and decided to start this email.
    Two things I try to do:
-- Encourage you with a reminder of God's love. My goal is to avoid anything where the response is "I should..." Just a short reflection of God's love.
-- Pray for you. I'll pray with each email, and please reply to me with anything you'd specifically like me to pray for you. I'll keep it confidential, don't worry..
.     If you would like to be added to the email list or send me specific prayer requests. I will gladly add you and pray with you. Email me at mavis at moonfamily.cc. I'll keep all communication confidential.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Total Depravity

How I learned to love the doctrine of total depravity
When unremitting human sin is something I expect, I can face evil without despair.

October 2, 2019


My great-grandfather, Anthony J. Haverkamp, was a Dutch Reformed minister. At the height of his career, he was senior pastor of First Reformed Church and a board member at Central College—both in Pella, Iowa, and both flagship institutions of his denomination. He helped shepherd both of them through the Depression and the Second World War.


He was a different kind of pastor than I knew as a liberal Protestant kid growing up in a major city in the late 20th century. His parishioners called him Dominie (“Lord Pastor”). He always drove a black Buick. He did not receive a newspaper on Sunday. He mowed his lawn in a suit and tie and declined to play catch in the yard with his son, telling him something to the effect of, “I’m afraid I can’t be that kind of father for you.”

The Lord Pastor did mellow as he got older. When he re­tired, the new Buick he bought was not black but baby blue. His grandson—my dad, then in middle school—had begun a paper route and approached him about his subscription level, and so it was that my great-grandfather finally received a Sunday paper. As an elderly widower, he moved in with his son’s family and was known to play card games and to dry dishes for my grandmother when there were no children around to help.


The Dominie’s six grandchildren all attended his church in Pella for at least a part of their childhoods. Today, however, not one of his descendants is Dutch Reformed. I am the only one who is an ordained minister, and I’m an Episcopalian. Few of my extended family have much to do with church these days. What is left of our ancestral Calvinism is a strict sense that there is a right way to do things, a best way. To fail to choose or discover that way invites quiet but sober judgment—if not from God, then certainly from family and friends. We, like many Americans, believe in a secular way that worthiness is a visible, consistent, and demonstrable trait—a sort of cultural Calvinism.


In the university neighborhood where I grew up, it was well-established orthodoxy that people are basically good and that the best sort of life is lived trying to make the world a better place. The motto of our neighborhood churches could’ve been that familiar phrase, “The question is not why God allows evil to exist in the world, but why human beings do.” This lesson was reaffirmed both in the gentle Pelagianism of my Catholic schooling and in the sunny work ethic of my mainline Protestant Sunday school classes. Being created in God’s image meant we could change the world, that we could be good and happy people who did the right thing, serving and loving one another.


We didn’t talk much about things like sin, atonement, or the crucifixion. (Our liberal parents probably would have complained.) We didn’t talk about how to deal with the enormous weight of evil and suffering in this world, or how insufficient human efforts can seem in their shadow.


As an adult and a Christian, I want to do the right thing. I keep mental lists of how I want to live more responsibly: eat less meat, recycle, call my representatives, buy less plastic, reduce my carbon footprint, speak up about racism, give to charities, show up at community police meetings. But it never seems like enough. Social media is always ready to help me count the ways I could do more, leaving me feeling more guilty than righteous, unable to keep up. As Paul writes, “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it”—at least not consistently or very effectively. No matter what I do or how hard I try to be righteous, the world spins me to my knees at every turn with more evidence of cruelty, catastrophe, and waste.


I do not feel theologically equipped to handle the enormous weight of evil I see in the world. After all, I was raised to believe that humans are capable of stopping it.


In recent years, the doctrine of total depravity has caught my imagination. It’s the first tenet of the notorious “TULIP” acronym, which came into popular use among Calvinists around the time of my great-grandfather’s retirement as a way to summarize the five main points of the faith. If you’ve never heard the term before, “total depravity” might sound like a joke or the name of a high school metal band. It is, in fact, an astoundingly dire theology. Total depravity frames humans not as good people who sometimes mess up but as messed-up people who, with God’s help, can do some good things—but nothing completely free of selfishness or error. We are unable to make a choice that is unquestionably, entirely good. None of our actions, loves, or thoughts can be truly without sin.


I find a surprising grace in the bleak, unflinching outlook of my Calvinist heritage. Total depravity matches the sin-sized hole in my belly in a way that “all people are basically good” never could. Of course the world is full of evil and suffering. Of course people are unjust and cruel to one another. Of course I feel like a completely inadequate Christian. Of course it’s hard to avoid living as a complicit consumer, pollution enabler, and ineffective activist. Of course I feel paralyzed by despair. It’s because of total depravity.

Total depravity speaks to sin in our personal lives. More importantly for me, it also gives theological definition to corporate and societal sins. It’s not just that I am unable to love everyone I meet or to live a life that is plastics-free. I have also found it impossible to untangle my individual life from systems of injustice—institutionalized racism, pollution of the air and land and water, cheap clothing and food supplies that depend on the exploitation of laborers, banks and corporations that bend the economy toward their profit. A contemporary Episcopal prayer of confession includes this line: “We repent of . . . the evil we have done, and the evil done on our behalf.” There is a lot of suffering and a lot of evil in this world, and I find I cannot consider myself entirely innocent of it.


But why go to the extreme of a doctrine like total depravity? Why not just go attend a workshop on community organizing or on setting boundaries?

It’s just that the more I make the salvation of the world a rational, solvable problem, the deeper I seem to sink into futility. But when unreasonable, unremitting human sin is something I expect, then I can face the headwinds of evil without despair. When I believe that human life—including my own—will never be without sin and suffering, I have a greater ability to tolerate pain and horror and to keep on doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly. I can, as Anne Lamott would say, keep singing “Hallelujah!” and looking for grace anyway.

But could this approach numb me to injustice? It may be that numbness is just what I need in order to crawl out of paralysis. I have taken anti-anxiety medication. I find total depravity nearly as effective a remedy for crippling anguish. I can shove my shock and despair at human evil into Calvin’s theological Hefty bag and find more room on my soul’s kitchen table to work on hope and a plan.


I have little evidence of my great-grandfather’s theology in his own words, because his son, my grandfather, threw away the box of handwritten sermons he’d carefully filed after his retirement, not imagining there might someday be a great-granddaughter who’d want to read them. It’s likely, however, that he would have believed in the total depravity of humanity and of himself. Not that his ministry was driven primarily by condemnation or fundamentalism. He was a man of rules and order but also of graciousness and humility. He knew human depravity, and he knew human limits.


He certainly had looked them right in the face in his own life. His first call was to a South Dakota farm town, with a clapboard church that must have groaned and shuddered out in the prairie winds. My grandfather was born there, and my great-grandmother suffered from terrible postpartum depression. She was hospitalized multiple times, which couldn’t have been easy in the 1910s on the northern plains. They left as quickly as they could. After a few years, my great-grandpa took a new call in western Iowa, closer to family.


Years later the Dominie was driving to a meeting with his young adult son (my grandfather and my source for this story) and another clergyman. All of a sudden, the other minister insisted that my great-grandfather pull over to the side of the road, whereupon he jumped out of the car and marched to a nearby telephone pole, ripping down a poster advertising an upcoming dance. (Dancing was not Christian behavior.) The minister crumpled the poster, threw it to the ground, and got back in the car.


For whatever reason, the other minister did not join them for the return trip. So, on the way home, my great-grandfather drove back to that same telephone pole. The Dominie pulled over, got out of the car, and hung that wrinkled dance poster back up. Then he got back in the car, without saying a word to his son, and they drove home.


It’s my favorite story about him. It reminds me that I cannot save the world (or myself) from sin or serve as its judge, jury, or savior. Did my great-grandfather put the dance poster back up because he believed it was wrong, even in the name of correcting sin, to destroy someone else’s property? Was it because he knew his own depravity all too well and believed only Christ could stand as judge? Was it just midwestern politeness? I can’t be sure, but I see him in this story facing a fallen world with humility and integrity—not condemnation, and not despair.
Heidi Haverkamp

Heidi Haverkamp is an Episcopal priest, speaker, and author, including of Holy Solitude: Lenten Reflections with Saints, Hermits, Prophets, and Rebels (Westminster John Knox). Her blog is part of the CCblogs network.