Monday, April 14, 2014

Jesus reached down....


Isn't this a beautiful picture? I saw it on a friend's Facebook and I have just fallen in love with it. I have been searching for prints to buy, unsuccessfully. If I am not able to find them, I will just have to print a couple. I want to hang one at home, and one over my desk at work, because just looking at this picture makes me feel as though I am not alone. I have help, someone to reach in and pull me up when I start to go under. I know some of my clients could use that feeling as well. There are so many of them who are just so scared.

And yes, I'm accepting the hand reached down. I have to tell you, I have got some really, really strong opposition to my faith going on around me, but I am pretty much just floating above it because my faith is just making me so ever loving joyful! And Lord knows I can use all the joyful I can get, right?

Love you peoples!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Parenting styles ... and, yes, God

I have been thinking about parenting styles lately. One of my co-workers described her upbringing as having been on strict schedules, that even as an infant feeding times were set at this time and this time and this time. She was saying this by way of explanation of her need now for things to be orderly and on schedule.

My first reaction was horror at that kind of strictness. I breastfed all my babies, on demand of course. It wasn't even my idea, but rather the advice of the times in which I had my children. Same with bedtimes and naptimes. When sleepy, sleep. As my children grew I remained pretty relaxed about most things. Safety was an exception. In that I was hypervigilant. It was my preference that they not leave my sight, but if they did it had to be in a safe environment. The kids in our apartment complex would play hide and seek on the grounds, but my kids were forbidden from playing that game. If they were hiding, they were obviously out of sight, but there was no guarantee they could not be seen by a predator who might take advantage of their vulnerable position. Leaving the property alone was forbidden as children, and honestly I was reluctant to let them leave in the company of others. If cell phones had not come along, they may never have been allowed to! But I continued to have a very relaxed attitude towards many things that a lot of parents are very strict over. I didn't pressure them to get good grades, and some did and some didn't but nobody failed. When they dated I welcomed their boyfriends and girlfriends into the family. My own values leaned toward love and happiness, and I wanted my kids to have those. I wanted them to find a place in the world and to be happy, and I didn't try to mold their idea of what that was.

I am also a terrible disciplinarian. Even with my dogs! My dogs all love me and all but one will come when I call, but it is pretty hard to teach dogs not to pee on the carpet when you say, "Oh, honey, we don't do that..." I continue to believe that children and dogs will choose to do what's right if you just explain it to them. Umm, this works somewhat better with children....

I am also very reluctant to judge others. I work as a paralegal, and not surprisingly, many of my clients have committed crimes. They are generally in immigration proceedings because of these crimes, and part of what I do is take their declarations, write down their life stories, how they came to do the things they did, how remorseful they are. It is very rare that I have a client I feel I can judge negatively. Most times the bad things people do come out of their pain, and most times I want to help them and make it better, not to judge them. There are a few exceptions, but for the most part I don't like to see people punished.

So back to my friend and her by-the-clock upbringing, my thought of how terrible that is quickly passed (fortunately before anything managed to sneak out of my mouth), and I thought, why not? The efficacy of a child raising method is in the end product, right? She is very close to her parents. In fact, she acts about her parents like I act about my kids! She herself married late and never had kids, and doesn't want them, but adores othe people's kids, and it is not a reflection on her upbringing because her sisters have kids. She is also a very hard worker. For most of the time I have known her she has not only worked full-time in our office, and also worked one or two additional part-time jobs. There is one thing for sure, and that is she has a whole lot more money than I do. You can't say that being raised on a strict schedule hurt her. Her life is very different from mine, but you couldn't say it's worse. In some ways at least she seems to be doing better than I am.

Okay, I apologize, but this is going to wind back to the G word also,. I was reading an exposition of Ezekiel the other day, and it was pretty blunt in dealing with the question of God's character. God is holy, it said. God judges. We try to remake God in our own image, or better yet in the image of what we think God should be, but God is God, and he loves and creates, but he judges and punishes also.

You might think I would balk at that, but oddly enough instead it gave me a kind of peace. It is true, my difficulties have stemmed from trying to remake God in my image. Once I got over my desire to search out my own image in the Scriptures and to judge what I found by that standard, I was able to relax into it just seeing what's there. It reminds me of the moment my dog Bella discovered that she wasn't the boss. She'd had quite a temperament problem as a young dog. She was downright scary. Finally we hired a dog trainer to come to our house and help. This poor guy was afraid of letting her out of her crate at first. I honestly wish I'd taken a video of it, because the transformation was so dramatic. The training method wasn't positive reinforcement. It was a shock collar. I didn't use it for very long, but the effect was immediate and overwhelmingly positive. She seemed to visibly relax. I could almost hear her thoughts, "Oh, I don't have to be the boss. You are the boss." Her need for vigilance and self protection went down to almost normal dog levels, and she turned into the sweetest, most loving dog.

So anyway, that's how I feel:  Oh! I don't have to be in control here. God can exist, and I don't know who he is, but he is not me. It is not my responsibility to define him. I can read the Bible and say, "God who are you and what do you want to tell me," instead of reading it and saying, here, fit into my box and if you don't then I will have fits over it.

I was raised on bottles and schedules too. I think who I am, for better or worse, was not molded by that fact. My essential lesson is that my preconceived notions are not always correct, and love does not always look exactly like I think it should.





















Sunday, April 6, 2014

In the potter's hands....

First I want to thank all the wonderful, beautiful and amazingly loving people who have taken the time to have conversations with me about my last blog entry. I can't tell you how much I appreciate it, and how much I love you all. Still feeling a little tossed. I just long to come to rest. I know where my heart wants to rest. The song "The Potter's Hands" keeps playing over and over in my head:
I'm captured by your holy calling
Set me apart, I know you're drawing
me to yourself.
Lead me, Lord, I pray.
Feeling that for sure..

It's Sunday today, and I went to church this morning, not to the little house church I have been attending, but to a different church. The youth pastors from our old church recently were called to be senior pastors at their own church, and today was their first Sunday. Many people from the old church came to support them on this first day, so I got to see a lot of people I hadn't seen in a very long time, and that was such a blessing! Pastor Matt is such a dynamic teacher, but the fact is that there were some things he said that made me wonder if he had been reading my blog or something. Well, it's not impossible that he had, but it's unlikely for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that he has been turning over the helm of one ministry and taking up another so he's been pretty busy. Nevertheless, it spoke to me.

Well, I don't have too much more to say. If you are looking for neatly packaged answers to my questions of last week, I don't really have them. Pretty much everyone I have spoken to has agreed that it's a difficult thing to reconcile. One of my friends suggested that perhaps in the siege of Jerusalem, God had just allowed the people to reach the natural conclusion of the course they had followed. Sometimes we parents have to do that with our children, stop saving them from the road down which they insist on traveling -- and that's especially so when the child has been shunning the parent. But I have not settled on a definitive answer. There are things God knows that we don't, especially thousands of years later. The matter is still open, but one of the things I need to do is just finish reading Ezekiel.

I had a short talk with my son about it all. He basically said, "Mom, you know what the answers are. It's just a matter of whether you accept them or not, whether you believe or not." I know this is true. The push and pull I feel are primarily internal, but there is also a lot of external pressure. All that pressure has its effect, but one of my major worries is that I don't want to commit to something and then change my mind later. I am getting really tired of eating my own words. I want to know, to be settled, be at peace in my heart. It's not my business to try to please all the people in the world. That's not even possible. But I remember the blog I posted back on February 24th, the definite calling I felt, that passage from the Bible jumping out at me. I will just have to put myself in the potter's hand, and see what happens.

Enjoy. It's beautiful...

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

And/or/but ... MORE QUESTIONS!!!!!

Right up front I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to everyone who bothers to read this entire blog, and especially, especially, to those who respond to it. As much as we all know I love to talk (well, write, actually), the purpose in this blog is not to hear myself talk, and it is absolutely not in any way to tell anybody anything. I've got questions, and I am very sincerely looking for answers. You can post them as comments here, or please feel free to email me at sharon.murch@gmail.com. I will love you forever.

I have recently embraced the faith that I left some years ago, and I can't tell you how good it felt. I dipped my toe in and it was so warm it took my breath away, and I just slipped into it joyfully. Before I go on here, let me get this straight. I believe in God. And I love God. I want to know God, I want to belong to God, I want to do what God wants me to do. The experience of worshiping God is to me so deep and so purely joyful. This is a heart thing, something my heart calls me to, and has for my entire life....

There exists somewhat of a divide between my mind and my heart that causes me huge distress, however. So while I am bathing in these warm waters of faith I occasionally experience a jolt of terror, like suddenly I think I might fall asleep, slip under and drown, or like someone might turn the heat up so slowly I won't notice it and I will boil like that experimental frog.

Sigh. Where to begin.

Last week I was reading some articles about Anne Rice that I found really interesting. The first article was about her conversion to Christianity. You can find the entire article at http://www.coffeehousetheology.com/anne-rice-atheist-christ/, and I do really hope you will read it. It talks about her religious upbringing, and leaving that for atheism as a young adult. It talked about the tremendous amount of research she did and what she found that brought her back to her faith. But for Anne Rice, as for me, there was another dimension that was undoubtedly far more important, and that is some desire in the heart from childhood. For Anne, it may simply have been planted there by her religious upbringing. When she embraced Christianity as an adult, it was to the Catholic Church she returned. For me, it was more of an innate longing, as I was raised in a non-religious home and was totally and completely ignorant of Christianity.

The next article was about Ann the leaving the faith once again. (http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2010/august/anne-rice-today-i-quit-being-christian.html) I don't have any idea what Anne Rice's current spiritual outlook is, but if you do I'd be interested to find out. Her reasons for leaving the faith were very, very close to the reasons I left some years ago, and had a lot to do with social issues. Of course, she had a few issues as a Catholic that I didn't have, and she expressed a venom towards Christians that I certainly never had. The Christians I knew were the loveliest and lovingest people I had ever met. Well, for the most part anyway. At this point, I can personally reconcile the social problems. I can't help but think that the day will come when gay marriage is looked at by Christians as being about as much as a problem as women wearing pants is now. I could be wrong, but that's just kind of how I feel. (And to my gay friends, I just want to tell you that the love Christians say they have for you is genuine. When you meet it with hate and hostility I believe you are only postponing the day when acceptance joins the love.)

As much as I figured I'd have to deal with them with the outside world eventually, I was at least feeling as though I'd passed over the major hurdles in my own mind. Then yesterday I started reading the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel, and I realized there were other hurdles I'd pushed out of the way but had never dealt with. I'd been following some posts by Kaye Warren, who is nearing the one year anniversary of her son's suicide. She said she had been meditating on some scriptures in Ezekiel, so I figured I'd read it myself. I know there is some good stuff there, lots of promises and redemption and love, and I can always use some redemption and love.

But to get to that good stuff, you have to get through the beginning. And the beginning is seriously, seriously horrific. The beginning is about the punishments God is going to unleash on his people. Why? Because they went and followed some other religions, and because God is a jealous God. The description of the horrors goes on for quite some time, but at least part of it involved a siege against Jerusalem which would lead to the food supplies being cut off. There is one descriptive line that keeps repeating itself over and over in my head. You know, I'm not even going to repeat it. You can just take my word for it, it was pretty awful.

I read it, and I told God, this is some pretty awful stuff. And I asked him to please reveal what I needed to know about this. Then I put it aside and went on with life. I watched the season finale of The Walking Dead. I washed the dishes. I went to bed and dreamed, woke up, went to work and focused on my cases. But suddenly as I was leaving work my spirit rose up and said no, this cannot be. I cannot accept this.

All the way home from work today I talked to God about this. Hello, this is me. I go out of my way to save spiders. I pick up worms and snails who have found their way onto the sidewalk and place them back in the lawns and bushes so they will not get stepped on or be baked in the afternoon sun. "God," I said, "I simply cannot believe that the creator of the universe would bring such horrible things on people because he is jealous. I cannot believe that a loving God would actually say that he would cause a father to eat his son, and a son to eat his father, because the food was cut off." (Okay, I said it. That's the line that kept playing in my head all day.) Then I kept going. "When you get right down to it, I cannot believe that the creator of the universe would require the blood of bulls and goats as a sacrifice from the people in payment for their sins."

I'd really like the input of some of my Jewish friends here. I mean, this is your side of the Book after all. And while Christians are often viewed as being out of touch with reality and all that, Jewish people are generally thought of as intelligent and fair minded. And yet you get to keep your faith as well! But how do you do it? How do you reconcile yourself to the Jealous God? I sincerely would like to know, not because I doubt you, but because I am looking for a way to reconcile my own doubts.

I just really don't know what is the answer to this dilemma. That doesn't mean there isn't one, and aside from asking here, I will continue to ask God for answers. And if I get the answers, I will share what I get with you. As I said, I know there is some good stuff in Ezekiel further on. Always God repents of his judgment on his people and longs to bring them back to himself. But still ... I just can't see the creator of the universe even threatening people in this way. And the historic facts are that these things did happen, so God didn't repent enough to spare his people and bless them in spite of their objectionable ways. There have been times when I have felt hurt and betrayed by people I love, and it makes me want to turn away from them, but it doesn't make me want to hurt them.

I feel really awkward publishing this blog. If there is an answer to these questions, I do know that at least part of those answers are based in faith, and by putting this out there I am just putting arrows in the quivers who oppose faith. And believe me, they have quite enough sharp, pointy, and painful things in their artillery already. But this is me.

Anyway, I think I will go hide under my blankie now.

Thank you for bearing with me.

Love you all.