The Outcasts

I am continually discovering that, if I was completely honest with myself, Jesus is not a person I would approve of. He turned water into wine. He was called a drunkard. He hung out with prostitutes and tax collectors and the demon-possessed. I agree with his sermons and ideas, and I rejoice at his fulfillment of the covenant, but I hesitate at his choice of acquaintances, his daily life among the ungodly.

The idea that Jesus, if he lived in this era, would associate with alcoholics and sex workers and addicts, the outcasts of our society, forces me to reconsider every notion of religion I have. I am pleased to donate money to widows and orphans; I am warmed by those who love God despite having nothing; I am okay with supporting those who “deserve” my generosity and love. But the call to love those Jesus associated with, the kinds of people that I reject and judge behind the walls of my heart, goes against my natural desire to hold my reputation dear, and this is where it all comes together. I admire my own works more than Christ’s. I choose deeds that impress others, that make me feel good, instead of the denial of self that we are called to. In light of this uncomfortable truth, I can do nothing but assume that Jesus was speaking directly to me when he spoke so harshly to the Pharisees. I am the religious leader who speaks the truth but does not understand it, who proclaims God’s mercy but fails to be merciful in my judgment of others. I am far more self-righteous than I thought possible. I have failed to grasp the very core of Jesus’ message, that we all fall short of his glory despite social standing or sin or secrets.

And having accepted this painful reality, I must now come before Christ in the same manner I mentally preached to others—on my knees before the God of heaven, admitting my continual shortcomings without softening or comparing them, and humbly receiving the mercy I need equally to the alcoholics and sex workers and addicts. I may be religious, and I may preach a doctrine of truth and mercy, but until I can admit my sins, until I confess that I judge and reject the very people Jesus came to save, I cannot move forward.

O, praise the One who sees my hypocrisy and still chooses to love me, just as He loves the ones I reject.

“But to mean it when I say that I want my life to count for His glory is to drive a stake through the heart of self—a painful and determined dying to me that must be a part of every day I live.”

-Louie Giglio

 

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Gone

I can see her

From the corner of my eye

She fidgets with her watch

Checking the time

Countless times

She shakes her head in frustration

Scattering her vision around

Like marbles.

.

I want to reach out to her

Save her

But I am strangely, horribly

Fascinated

By the way she taps her finger

Against her nose

To keep the whole world from

Falling apart in her hands.

.

Her eyes have seen far more

Than reality

They dive into an ocean

With depths of terror and nightmares

And when they surface

There is a little less light

In them.

.

Her ears listen to things

No one else hears

Her feet take her to

Places she doesn’t want to go

Her hands can’t stop moving

Or else everything will go wrong

And no one

No one

Understands.

.

I can see her

From the corner of my eye

But when I turn around

To save her

The mirror moves

And she is gone.

Lost and Found

The early wisps of twilight

Sneak through the screen door

As I stand on the patio

Breathing in the silent air.

.

I face my best friend

And notice the space

Between here and there

Between lost and found

Between now and never—

And I know the words

That will come next,

The words rehearsed in my head

When I know they should come easy.

.

I don’t know why

But the words feel unnatural

Tripping from my lips

Hovering over the stairs

Sandwiched between us—

.

“Will you pray for me?”

.

The atmosphere paints a word for me—

Freedom—

And I realize there has never been anything

As freeing and beautiful

As that question

.

I have never said those words

With such conviction

Such significance.

.

There’s a thin coat of awkward

Still around us

But she breaks through

And delivers her answer.

.

“Of course.” A pause.

“Will you pray for me?”

.

As I watch the moment from afar

I realize I am found

In a friendship I have longed for

All these years.

.

I turn to witness

The growing twilight

This touch of heaven coming down

I want to pause time

Capture this moment in a bottle.

.

But more than any friendship

More than any moment

I am awed by the God of the Cosmos

I am lost to a Being

Who hears my prayers

And welcomes a girl

Who thinks too much

And speaks too little.

.

I am lost and found

In this ever-growing universe

In this newly-found friendship

In this glorious God.

.

My prayers are already in motion

He has already started

Awakening me

Transforming me

Renewing me.

.

I am lost

I am found

I am His.

The Switch

It should’ve been me.

              Those are the haunting words etched into your skull when destinies alter and someone else’s life is cut short. They were sitting in your seat when the bullet was fired. They leapt in the icy waters and pulled you out. They saw the exchange of deaths, they didn’t see—either way, long after the event occurs, the idea lingers. It should’ve been me.

              Or maybe it never happened. You sat in your seat and the trigger was never pulled. The ice never broke through. You go through the motions and see no alternate destiny, so your life leaves no haunting trail of an idea.

Except their was a switching of destinies, wasn’t there? Certainly it was planned from the beginning, but even so, it should’ve, could’ve, and would’ve been you had there not been a most glorious switch between you and the most glorious One. Maybe you’ve known this for years, maybe you haven’t, but it bears the question—does that fact haunt you? Do you go through your day with the words It should’ve been me in the corner of your eye, outlined by thankfulness and joy?

It should’ve been you, but He took your fate and placed it on Himself. He took your punishment—the one you deserved—and died in your place. And suddenly your destiny is full of a future and a hope. Suddenly there is joy beyond the grave, the knowledge of eternal life, all because of the switch of destinies between you and the One who paid it all.

Stardust

I’ve always enjoyed the crisp silence of night. Time is frozen and endless, with a dark coolness settling like fog over the earth, like a shiver of dreams and wonders floating through the air.

Tonight, matching my steps to his, I could feel life’s answers in my skin. I could feel the earth spinning– spinning round and round, a million miles a second– and I could feel the blood pumping to my heart, and all the impossibilities of life became chaotic aspirations. The night was watching, holding its breath, waiting for something to happen.

So I held his hand, not able to tell if the sky was on fire or if it was my heart, and not even caring. When I slipped my hand into his, I thought– thinking over and over about emotions and the universe and this strange idea of love– I thought the stars, burning bright against the contrast of the night, must be hand-crafted specifically for this moment.

In the Alleyway

There was a smell of loneliness in the air tonight. She frowned and turned the idea in her mind. There was a thought. What did loneliness smell like? Like ocean water spraying into her nose. And if you wondered what loneliness sounded like, it sounded like the chatter of a million people when she’s trapped inside a locked, empty room, or screaming at a soundproof wall, or the ringing in her ears after a concert. And going further, what did loneliness look like? It looked like a poem written with invisible ink, or the raw shade of red after a good, long cry. That was how loneliness smelled and looked and sounded. And tonight–she brushed her hand against the dark alley wall–tonight she could almost touch loneliness.

Spirituality on a Different Level

How refreshing it is to sit down with someone and dig into spirituality on a different level. How unexpectedly peaceful, genuine, to see past the surface, to dial into their headspace, to connect among the chaos.

And how much more fulfilling when contrasted with the normality of the setting! No compelling music, tear-stained faces, surrounding emotions—this is purely the Spirit settling in me, only God convicting me. Only God.

I love the music and community and emotion. I love God sweeping through the filled room. But I am fascinated by the normality of the classroom. I am intrigued by the idea that God can work in the regular chatter around us.

I am amazed that God alone can transform me, even though I have been told that since day one.

Human

The torn curtain hangs there. The ground has stopped shaking under my feet and my head has stopped pounding so much—it’s more like a numbing throb now, and I doubt it will ever go away. People are crying, laughing, a stew of mixed emotions in the hot, baking sun. I don’t feel any of it. I mean, if I think about everything that has happened in the past three years, even today alone, wonder and sorrow and joy surge through me, but when I look at Jesus’ body, he looks so… dead.

            Sure, the Son of God could bring back others from the dead and start earthquakes and even make the whole sky turn to night, all as he hung there, but he couldn’t save himself. He wouldn’t save himself, despite everyone needing him. What kind of a—?

            No, I can’t think that. They’re dragging his body away now, the guards, leaving a trail of blood and dirt. They pass by me. They haven’t closed Jesus’ unseeing eyes, and his head flop over and looks at me. I don’t know what I expected, but his eyes are the same as they always were—dark brown, almost black, only this time there’s a lifelessness to them. All signs of godliness, glory, goodness are gone. The Son of God has never looked more human. I turn away.

            I can’t help but think of what he said to us, about coming back to life. I believed him when he said it; everything he said felt true. I believed him the moment he died, with the temple curtain ripping and tombs splitting open and the power of God revealed before my very eyes. But now? I want to, but I can’t get the image of his limp, scarred body out of my head. With the image comes another horrid thought: What if it was all a lie? It doesn’t make sense, I know, based on what I’ve seen and felt and heard, but the question glues to the inside of my skull.

            I look up to see where Jesus’ body is, but the guards are gone now. There’s a few workers cleaning up the filth, masking the torture, and suddenly I want to be anywhere but here. Take me from this hell! I plead. It sounds like a prayer, but who am I praying to? God is dead. He can’t hear me. The tears, the visible anguish, finally come. Snot and dirt mix with them and my feet give way. I am overcome with the sharpest form of grief, and I am helpless and weak and so, so tired. I can’t do this anymore.

            More than anything, I want Jesus to be the truth, like he said he was, but he’s dead now. Nothing’s going to change that, no matter how much I hope.

The Art of Church (Satire)

It was a beautiful Sunday morning as I surveyed the full parking lot at your Typical church. Mountains standing in the distance, blue sky hovering above, bright sun baking each individual car like tea biscuits—it was the perfect morning to appreciate God’s amazing creation and huddle inside the auditorium. All church services have hiccups, of course—not enough coffee, that one baby who cries the entire service, the worship leaders forgetting to play “Good Good Father”—and today was no exception. No one was expecting the sun to appear in Chilliwack until late June, I suppose, so the sun made it impossible to see the song lyrics projected onto the two sides of the church. This wouldn’t have been a problem except for the few newcomers scattered in the congregation who didn’t know the words. No one wanted to tell them, but everyone knows that if you don’t sing during the worship service, you lose three points off your spirituality. Thankfully, that one really tall kid from youth group closed the blinds and the newcomers were able to mumble along, much to everyone’s relief. I personally don’t believe the newcomers were even Christian because they clearly didn’t pass the Christian test of knowing Chris Tomlin lyrics. If I saw correctly, one of them even had a tattoo, and it wasn’t a Bible verse or written in Hebrew. I don’t know what they were thinking.

Of course, the entire thing could have been avoided if I had attended a more Relevant church this week. The modern, windowless look isn’t for everyone, but at least it keeps the sun out. I’m not sure how spiritual these churches are, with their lack of pews and stained-glass windows, but I guess the bright lights and high-tech sound equipment make up for it. Sometimes, I forget I’m in God’s holy sanctuary and assume I’ve wandered into the middle of a music concert—TobyMac or Lecrae, of course, because the Bible clearly forbids any secular music within a ten-foot radius of a Christian. Even without pews, I’m certain the Holy Spirit visits these churches more than other types, based on the youth attendance alone. You know it’s a Relevant church when the youth group sits in the back of the congregation and shouts “Amen!” when the pastor mentions the upcoming youth retreat at Stillwood. When I was still attending kid’s church, I couldn’t wait to go to a youth retreat and add twenty points to my spirituality. They may be overpriced, but God calls all of us to make sacrifices.

The one thing I don’t like about Typical and Relevant churches is their communion. They usually have these dry, gluten-free pieces of cardboard to chew on while the pastor reads from Matthew 26. Don’t get me wrong—I’m all about inclusion and allowing hipsters to participate in communion—but I don’t know how spiritual it really is. Is Jesus’ body made of gluten-free crackers? I don’t think so. Some people haven’t grasped the fact that communion has to please my tastebuds in order for me to truly experience God and his sacrifice on the cross. Traditional churches, on the other hand, serve generous cubes of legitimate bread, along with the usual grape juice. They’re doing it right.

The one thing about Traditional churches is that, in the few times I’ve attended one, I haven’t seen a single child there. My best guess is that they hide them away and let them watch Veggietales during the service (that’s what they did at my previous church, when they were looking for a new kid’s pastor), but I’m not even sure any kids go to these churches. Also, the first time I attended one, I didn’t even know it was a Traditional church and I wore blue jeans—with holes in them, for goodness’ sake! I was so embarrassed when four spiritual points were taken away for not adhering to the dress code.

The best part about living in Chilliwack is that, now that I know the rules and expectations of each type of church, I don’t have to compromise my spirituality! If I want to wear blue jeans one week, I’ll attend a Relevant church. If I’m looking for comfortable seating, I choose a Typical church. And I always schedule my attendance to make sure I land all communion Sundays at a Traditional church. After seventeen years of living here, I’ve finally mastered the art of church.

Dear Grade 10 Me

Dear Grade 10 me,

Stop. Take a breath. I’m here from the future, and I came to tell you a few things.

First of all, I am so proud of you and the young woman you are becoming. You have accomplished so much and there’s so much more in store for you…and me, because my future is still barrelling ahead. Keep challenging yourself. Keep making goals and please don’t get frustrated when you don’t achieve it at first. These things take time, believe me. Sometimes your attempts are simply stepping stones to achieve something different and better.

I know you think it’s silly to cry yourself to sleep, but don’t write it off as if it’s nothing. Don’t give up on the fight to find better friends. It does get better…it gets so much better. You will find better friends and you will have fantastic conversations about morality and faith like you want. I myself am excited with where these friendships are going.

And please don’t stress out. I know that seems like terrible advice, and maybe it is, but this too shall pass. I’ve been hearing a lot of grade 10s freaking out about getting jobs and finishing homework and looking into universities. Please enjoy these years and don’t worry about the future. Leave that to me (and believe me, I don’t have it all figured out either).

Keep adventuring, keep seeking for something deeper, keep writing your heart out. Keep pursuing God with everything you have. Don’t be afraid to do things that scare you; don’t ever make the excuse that you’re shy or quiet. Seize the day. Adventures await. God has great things in store for you.

You are loved.