All posts by RaeBear

About RaeBear

I’m as complex (and as simple) as everyone else. Richly blessed, battling depression and anxiety, good days, bad days. I was zapped by God’s amazing love and grace when I was 28, and life has never been the same again. Not always happy. Not a pod person now. And oddly (not-so-oddly?) the love of reading, and especially all thing science fiction, transfuses my reading and understanding of being a Christian. Being a child of an inter-faith marriage transfuses my being a Christian. Being a feminist transfuses my being a Christian. It has been like learning a new language, in a new country. And it has been like coming home. Or falling in love. And there are things that will never, ever, make sense to me. But God’s amazing love and grace, that makes sense. That transforms. My gift will never be to be a “church lady”. My gift will never be talking to strangers. My gift will never be with power tools and mission – trust me when I say things go disastrously badly when I’m involved in mission. Where God can use me, I hope and pray, for the glory of God and the benefit of the people of the God and to build the Kingdom here, at hand and to come, is in biblical storytelling. Not a sweet little blog about how to be a good nice sweet little Christian. A blog that – I hope and pray – opens up and shares the scripture. It isn’t rules. It isn’t sweet. It’s stories. We’re all stories. Stories all the way down.

My Story 9, Halloween

Okay I truly absolutely hate Halloween. I realize that is almost un-American. I hate horror movies, costumes, parties, fireworks, everything about it. My brother and I went through a haunted house when I must have been about 12 and he would have about 10? And we were so scared by the end we held hands and ran out of there. I do like the little tiny trick or treaters of course. But in my last post I mentioned that children, in general, just seem to find me off their radar. I can just never think of anything to say. (Except my own child of course.)

But then last year’s Halloween happened. In the midst of a very very busy year at work, in life, I somehow agreed to tell ghost stories at the brand-new first-ever “Trunk-or-Treat” event that my church held. They found the ghost stories for me, I found a nice quiet spot in the graveyard, managed to hide my jet lag and migraine more or less, and people seemed to enjoy it all.

But in the back of my mind, I had an itch. I knew that I knew an awesome wonderful ghost story and I just couldn’t remember it. I could remember that it was a family camping trip and family friends were also at the campground, there was a campfire, and my dad’s friend, Mr. Somebody, told a story. And it was scary and creepy and at the end we were all rolling around laughing so hard, young and old. And I could not remember the story.

Anyway “Trunk-or-Treat” was wrapping up, and I had two boys show up about 5th or 6th grade? And I told my little ghost stories. The more talkative said, “Well, you did pretty good with that story but next year you need to find some better ones.”

I said, “Okay I’ll work on that.”

He said, “I could tell a story.”

I said, “Okay!”

And he told the story that Mr. Somebody had told! He told me the very story I was trying to remember! And he did a great job.

I’m not going to type it all out — but what a gift! What a wonderful miracle to have a tiny bit of childhood given back to me. And I had a good time chatting with these boys who were very funny. Their mom thanked me as we all stood up to go, but I said to her the thanks were all mine.

And I guess I have one story all ready for next year.

FTGOG

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My Story 8, and Biblical Storytelling

It was about 10 years ago that a miracle happened. I was home alone; my guys were at some sports ball practice and for some reason I didn’t go and didn’t have chores. I was just home. So I got the mail — the snail mail. And a publication called “Faith at Work” was in my mailbox for no reason that I know about. I sat down and skimmed it and got hooked in an article about Tracy Radosevic. She was a professional Biblical storyteller and her story was amazing. And she was going to be teaching a class at a Seminary fairly nearby and in a Friday-Saturday pattern. I could take the class by using just a little vacation! I went to the web site and signed up as an auditing student before my guys were even home. I never did stuff like that. I literally felt a push on my back; this, do this.

My husband has been very supportive about the storytelling from the beginning, which is great because he had to teach me how to drive to the school, in the city, in the dark, in the rain. So the second miracle is that I did learn to drive to the school. (“I meant your other left, honey,” he might have said, perhaps with tiny bit of sharpness in his voice.)

I’ve never had good first-day-of-schools and this was no exception. I drove there just fine and found the parking but then could not find the building and had no idea what to do. I might have been crying a little bit, when an angel appeared and knew where I belonged and got me there. By angel I technically mean a very kind woman, a stranger to me; but I’m pretty sure she was an angel.

The class was wonderful. (The reading, the classmates, all wonderful. The process of learning a story by heart, of imagining the story. The whole thing was wonderful.) On the last day (as best I recall) Tracy had us each tell the scripture of our choice (that we had been prepping all through out the course).

I was so deeply relieved when that was over.

But Tracy said, “That was wonderful! Now do it again! And this time try….”

And honestly I nearly fainted; I had little black spots in my vision. I was completely calm doing it once. I never dreamed I would have to do it again.

Thank God, Thank God, Thank God that she had me do it again. That I could do it again. That the words hadn’t just left my brain instantly. That I could improve. That I could feel some or a lot of stage fright and still do it. That I could do it again, to an audience that had already heard it, and have them again lean forward, listening to the word of God. It wasn’t me.

It was the glory of God.

Maybe I can’t drive very well, maybe I fall asleep during meetings, maybe “mission” always goes wrong around me (don’t even ask), maybe children take one look at me and misbehave but suddenly I had something to give, some spiritual food for others that I could enjoy and share.

For the glory of God.

 

Mark 8:31-38 and suffering

So I’ve been working on learning Mark 8:31-38 by heart, and, if you read my previous post, then you know the huge impact the rhetorical questions here made on me, how they made the passage come alive, in a whole new way.

But another thing is slowly swimming up in my mind about this passage, which is so familiar that it can be hard to hear. Jesus says he must suffer, be rejected, be killed, and rise again.

The order of that strikes me: He is suffering first.

His heart is broken at the brokenness of the world, at this “adulterous and sinful generation” that has not kept faith with God’s rule of love. Out of suffering, everything else will follow, including the redemption.

Was it just chance that he put the order this way? How does the story change if he is rejected, then suffers, then is killed? That’s just the story we would expect isn’t it? Of course you suffer when you are rejected, aren’t listened to, are not believed. And then that escalates to killing. Sure, that’s the proper plot.

But Jesus suffers first, and not perhaps bodily harm, but (I think) because his heart just aches for us, for the widow and the orphan and the sick and the dying and those in chains and those in loneliness and those in madness and those in prison and … everyone.

I’m not eager to suffer, I don’t know what my cross is that I have to take up, but certainly my heart aches when I hear of another school shooting or mass shooting or impulsive suicide and then yet more inaction on commonsense gun laws. My heart aches with the thought of another hurricane season and what might happen to places still not fully recovered from 2017’s season. From violence and wars and heart-breaking stories of refugees. To simple stories of families breaking apart and illness and the ordinary suffering of life. This is only the tip. I limit the news that I take in.

Yet suffering is what happens to Jesus, what happens to him first. Perhaps the suffering heart is the most important thing. Let’s have soft hearts this week, let’s have soft hearts together, as foolish as that may be in this world. That may be a cross we have to carry, in order to fully follow Him. Broken hearts may be what we give in return for the priceless gift of life itself.

Mark 8:31-38 and gifts of God

In a few weeks or so I’m the layreader at church, and so I’ve been working on learning Mark 8:31-38 by heart. Telling the story — feeling the power and witness of the history of storytellers before me — is so much more powerful than reading. Some readers are excellent at putting expression into it and that is a wonderful thing. But going one more and making eye contact makes the story come alive. And learning it by heart enriches the storyteller, and brings the story to life.

As so often I started out pretty bored. This story is so familiar and it doesn’t seem to offer much. Jesus tells the disciples and the crowd who he is and what is going to happen and it doesn’t seem to be good news. There doesn’t seem to be a puzzle to sort out or a misdirection to unveil or anything except truth — I’m going to suffer, they are going to reject me, they are going to kill, says Jesus. Then I’ll rise again.

As anyone would, expecting a savior and getting this bad news, Peter thinks it is time to speak frankly. Unfortunately for Peter, it was Jesus who got to keep talking, seeming to make a bad situation worse. As often as we chuckle about how Peter and the disciples never seem to understand what was going on, in this passage at the beginning I feel that Peter thinks the same of Jesus, something like hey I love you but let’s get the story right. These visionaries. You have to watch them like children or they will just go off script and say anything.

Worse, now it wasn’t just himself Jesus was talking about being killed, but the rest of them. What sort of hope was this? What sort of saving was this?

I’ve spent about five or six weeks with this passage, and reading The Story of Mark  by David Rhoads, Joanna Dewey, and Donald Michie, which break downs this gospel in a narrative analysis. One little passage talks about Mark’s technique of using questions, often rhetorical questions, and often duplicate or double questions asking the same thing in different angles.

Anvil falls.

Suddenly for me (at least for right here-and-now) I have found my center in the story in verses 36 and 37.

“For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?

Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?”

These are rhetorical, double questions, because if you are dead, it does you no good to have all the world’s riches. Of course. And no matter how rich you are, you can give nothing to live longer, to not die, to be alive in the first place.

Life is a gift.

When I do this as a tell, I’m going to deliberately tweak the words just a tiny bit:

“For what will it profit you to gain the whole world, and forfeit your life?”

“Indeed, what can you give in return for your life?”

I want each of my listeners to feel as if they were there, in the crowd, listening to Jesus and going from crossed arms and “I’m not going to follow you if that means dying or even just suffering” to “following you will be the richest and most joyful life I could have, the most alive I could be.”

And how I pray for that joy to fill us up, all of us, with an abundance of love.

 

My story 7 and the resurrection of the body

Recently I have been watching a Netflix show called “Altered Carbon” that, while intriguing, is not really the fun science fiction experience I was hoping for — it is nothing like the Expanse. In the “Altered Carbon”  world (based on books by Richard K. Morgan that I have never read), your brain is “backed up” started at one year old on a disk implanted in the neck. If your body dies, then your disk can be implanted into another body (if you can afford it) — so, for example, your grandmother can come to Halloween dinner in the “sleeve” or meatsuit of a biker dude. Rich people never need to die. While the story is basically a crime noir tale, I found myself thinking about the resurrection of the body.

All my life I have been terrified of dying; among other aspects I don’t want to float around like a ghost. I don’t want to watch this world from “heaven”, like some sad pathetic soap opera. I don’t want to be snuffed out like a candle flame either. I don’t want the “City of God” with the river and the tree of life to just mean more cleaning and more committee meetings…. As a kid, discovering that someday in billions and billions of years our sun will go nova and destroy the Earth (if it isn’t already by then) was rather shattering. The whole multi-verse thing of physics — maybe there’s some hope.

But here’s the thing — we are not just brains. We are not just souls. We are a something like an ecosystem. Our hormones, our nutrition, our gut biology, our brain chemistry, our health, our ancestors, our actions, our attitude — everything plays a role in who I am. Without this specific body, I am no longer me. (Or maybe I am in for a surprise someday!)

As the time ahead of me seems to be less than the time so far, resurrection of the body seems to me a creed that allows for hope. Me, only healed. Me, in my body, fully human. Putting “me” into the body of a biker dude would fundamentally change who I am.

This creed and church tradition had nothing at all to do with my becoming a Christian.

And yet it is increasingly something I think about, that has crept up on me with a strange acceptance. Death is a mystery; afterlife is at best a hope. Yet every time we say the creed at church I increasingly am saying it from my heart: I believe in the resurrection of the body. Whatever the ultimate answers are, I like that this creed is a part of my faith life, like a strange little extra gift, like the gift you have to keep so you put it on a shelf and then one day you pick it up and think, huh, this could be beautiful, couldn’t it?

 

 

My Story part 6

One of the most basic universal human wishes, I think, is for our children — and indeed everyone’s children — to be fundamentally safe and good and well. When my son was little I got a tremendous satisfaction deep inside at knowing that no one at the school bus stop was going to tell him that he was going to hell. My baby was going to be safe, because he was a Christian.

Yeah, a lot of you are laughing right? We should all laugh at that. I was so very afraid.

God calls us to follow him, love him, serve him and our neighbors, and maybe some other stuff. He says not one thing about being safe. In fact, he flat out says in Mark 8 to be his followers we’re to deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and follow him.

Me, I have always put a little asterisk somewhere in there.

I’ll follow you so long as my baby is safe.

And he’s nearly sort of kind of a grown man now. “Make good choices,” I say, all the time. But again, I’ve got my asterisk with God: keep him safe, in the palm of your hand.

When he was about three years old or so I talked to a very dear friend and Christian Educator and said something in passing like “The best thing about being Christian now is that it will make my child safer, plus of course I love God.”

Whoa…

She put down what she was holding, and she reached for my hand, and she looked me in the eyes and she said, “Whatever happens, God will be there for him. And for you. Whether it is safe or not.”

I can’t say that I let go of my asterisk. Theology is complicated when all you want in the middle of the night when the what if’s run through your head is just for your child to be safe.

Sometimes I am able to give my asterisk an asterisk: thank you God for my most precious gifts.

Even so, God, even so.

 

Interrupted by TV

Okay stop reading this and go find somehow via the amazing web the episode of Grey’s Anatomy entitled Personal Jesus.

You’re welcome!

Wasn’t that just heart-breaking and amazing on every level?

Wasn’t April doing biblical battle with the kid just awesome and heart breaking? I think in fact that the kid had a false premise, that “TRUTH” isn’t all yes/no, that things are complicated. But at the same time, the kid’s anguish over not knowing what to trust, what to orientate his life around, how to find answers — that’s a real human cry from the heart. And not even April can easily help or help at all. Maybe hell is just this — fearing that there is no center, that nothing can hold together, nothing is solid.

And the way the episode interwove Job and BLM and everything….

wow!

Now go watch the pilot episode of Black Lightning on CW (http://www.cwtv.com/shows/black-lightning/).

This is heart-breaking and compelling and scary and high quality. A superhero show, a show in the Arrowverse for heaven’s sake, and it’s telling truth to power, with characters I am hoping to like and know.

For those of you in real-life heart break right now, I pray for you, I pray for the Holy Spirit’s strength to be with you, for God’s tears to be dripping down with you, for His heart to break right alongside yours, and for Her arms to be around you.

My story, part 5

Now I seem compelled to share a story about middle school. Did you just shudder? Yes, for anyone not familiar with American school, middle school is about when you are 13, maybe from age 12 to 14, it differs a little for everyone and depending on where you live. But of course that is a terrifying time (was that just me?) because everything is different! And scientifically, I have since learned as a parent, that is when the brain takes a leap. That is when (I think) more “critical thinking skills” can begin.

That is when kids at the bus stop started telling me that I was going to hell for not believing in Jesus.

Telling someone they are going to hell is really not a way to convert anyone, by the way, can we all agree?

Nor is fear, yes?

But I was made of pretty tough stuff.

“There’s no hell,” I said, eyes rolling.

“Jesus was maybe a good teacher, but seriously — God?”

“A God who would put me in Hell for not believing but put a killer in Heaven for believing at the very last minute of life — that’s not a God worthy of faith.”

The poor bus stop kids started leaving me alone about going to hell.

All of those responses are still a part of me, somehow, even though now I would say that yes, Jesus was/is/will be “very God and very Man” and it’s over my pay grade to explain that. It is, after all, the stories about the walking, talking, healing, human Jesus that fascinate me, and stories/parables he told, and, above all, the amazing mysterious willingness to die for us, all of us, even me, even me back in middle school. And you can take the Unitarian out of the girl, but never the Univeralist. God’s got us, each of us, and she won’t let any of us — be nothing?– because ultimately “love wins”.

May you, all of you, feel God-beloved right at this moment — a moment of stillness perhaps, or a moment of joy, or a moment of rest, or a moment in the midst of a busy day. May you feel beloved.

My Story 4

Oddly, I keep remembering the first time I got mad at the church. I have always had a sort of temper, but I rarely remember whatever I was angry about. Honestly, I just don’t. My husband loves this about me.

I do remember the first time I got mad at the church so clearly because I was so eager to learn more about God and had started trying to study the bible. And it was Christmas time. And the adult Sunday school class was about the nativity story. Great, I thought, this is an excellent place to start. I’ll start at the beginning. Isn’t there a song about that?

So it was interesting to learn that there are only two nativity stories, one is in Matthew and one is in Luke and that they are distinctly different.

It was interesting to learn that Matthew’s Joseph plays a large role, and a lot of it in dreams. There’s a sort of mystical quality I liked about Matthew’s version.

It was wonderful to have to more accessible Luke story, and to wonder how uncomfortable the trip to Bethlehem must have been for Mary. I started to imagine the story, imagine the stable — likely attached to a house — being rather cozy and warm.

And I got really angry when the third or fourth class was about pulling it all down. The teachers told us that Jesus is extremely unlikely to have been born in winter. There was a sort of ancient history of creating “birth stories” for beloved people in that era. Politically for Jesus to “compete” with other religions, he had to have a mysterious Godly birth. Nor can the two versions of the story be easily compared. And all the dream stuff in Matthew, so clearly made up! And so on.

I was absolutely furious. None of that was important to me. What was important to me was the story.

And I was scared. I didn’t realize it then or for many years. But I didn’t want my newly found faith to be made frail; I didn’t want to sink back into the despair that had left me open to God’s zapping love.

The gift this anger gave me was my first “Christian” poem. And many many poems thereafter….

 

Here’s my “first” poem:

 

Angel Dreams

It started as a dream for Joseph

No, actually, it started as a deal

He and Mary’s father discussing dowry and dickering

like for a horse.

And then discovery of damaged goods.

 

So, okay, it started, for Joseph, as just business as usual.

It turned into a dream.

A dream with angels, a dream of freedom for Israel.

Imagine being chosen to protect God’s son!

 

Hear what I think:

God picked Joseph because he listened

He listened to angels in a dream. How long had God

searched for a girl willing to say yes and

a man willing to listen?

 

Reality started on a cold night, in a stable,

or maybe not cold or a stable. This I know:

Giving birth hurts.

Turning dreams into reality hurts.

Hear the cries of pain, the pleading for it to be over,

See the blood, the mess, the ugly cord connecting

God’s son to Mary, and there’s Joseph,

holding the knife

carefully, carefully, barely breathing, cutting Him free.

I know, warm or cold, inside or outside, Joseph and Mary shared

a look between them of wonder and amazement.

God big enough to create himself so small inside Mary

and is now helpless before them.

Joseph’s all ready to die to protect Him.

Even though right now he’s so scared he can barely breath, and

with just the tip of his finger he touches God’s soft, warm, helpless red face

gently, gently.

___

The best bible studies are discussions, where all sorts of things get discovered together, and no one’s voice is silenced and no one’s questions are wrong. But no one is left afraid of losing faith either.

The word for where I’ve found myself is “literary” (not “literal”), where I use all my tools of being an English major: themes, characterizations, narrative, motifs, patterns, plot, everything.

Wonderful things arise!

(And perhaps check out stuff I’ve written about Matthew and Luke and so on: for example:

For example: https://rrussell10.wordpress.com/2015/12/26/christmas-luke-2-vs-john-1/)

 

My Story, part 3

I talk about my faith journey as if I was zapped by God’s love and then became a Christian; but of course that is just one way to tell the tale and it was a much slower process. The other way, and it is important too, is to realize that God was a presence in my life always — in beauty, in poetry, in so many little things. I “experimented” with being an atheist in college for about six months; but all the rest of my life I had an innate — and unexamined — belief in God.

I was raised Unitarian Universalist because my parents are of different faith backgrounds and, honestly, they never thought about going to church at all until little kindergartener me started asking questions. What kind of questions, I would ask when the story came up.

“Oh so annoying and strange,” would say my mother, “like about death. So we thought we’d better find a church.”

I always had a wonderful time going to church as a kid. In college, the UU church there/then (I have no idea if it is the same all these years later) had a campus ministry, which was a vespers service followed by a potluck. The main church was an ancient beautiful building with an amazing paster that I was too shy to ever talk to. I did help teach the preschoolers; I loved my kids. I loved vespers and the potlucks. At the time I was always amazed that the service and the potluck would just work out — Kate might bring her flute, I might have found a poem to share, someone would have fussed in the kitchen and made a casserole…. It just always worked out! Now with my adult eyes, I look back and think, the older people were totally adulting, yes! I think, wow I was so young!

I think that in one sense I was always cultivating a spiritual side of life in some sense — or, better, that something inside me was always being worked on by the Holy Spirit.

And then being zapped with the most amazing golden beautiful all-encompassing light and love. Perfectly accepting of me, perfectly loving me, perfectly forgiven.

This was a gift. This was grace. God did not zap me like that because I made a confession, or said some words, or did anything; although that I was turning to God to hear me and forgive me likely did not hurt the process. I would not have had the words at the time to say I was making a prayer of confession; I had never heard of that at the time. I did not earn it, I did not deserve it. It would not be even fair to say that I had faith. The Holy Spirit softened my heart, might be the church words, and gave me the faith I needed, a crumb. Then God poured in, filled the God-shaped hole in my soul. Those might be some words.

Thank God!