This post is sponsored by Jet Lag Fatigue and a Wicked Head Cold. I’ve tried to spend today sleeping and drinking water as much as possible, so I don’t have much to give by way of a blog post. So instead, I’m going to turn it over to you.
Do you have a journal? Some memories of faith experiences in the past? Grab a pen an see what happens when you answer these questions.
What were you looking for when you went to church (or another place of worship)?
Did you find it?
What did you find in the process of looking?
Church was something I had to attend growing up. My parents worked in ministry, so there was no way to get out of church attendance unless there was sickness involved. So when I think about what I was looking for when I went to church, my mind wanders to university years and life in Melbourne, my first foray into adulthood. And the answer is easy.
I was looking for belonging. Acceptance. Love. I was looking for a place where I could be myself and bring the parts of me that seemed sick or broken, but I would be invited in anyway when people found out, and they would walk with me, life-long bonds would form that were strong, I would get better, we would do life together and make an impact.
Did I find it? Yes and no, and I hope to write more about that in the days and weeks to come.
What I found in the process of looking was God. In my need to find acceptance from people, I found him instead, I found Jesus waiting for me at every turn in the journey.
Thanks for your time and patience, and if you feel like sharing your answers, please do so in the comments.
There are people walking down the tree-lined parking lot toward a building and immediately I’m having flashbacks of my year in Fayetteville High School in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Fake brick buildings. Everything looks the same. SUVs and pickup trucks aplenty. We ate breakfast in the outdoor seating area at Panera Bread before the conference. There were four groups of people, and every conversation – I was listening, obviously – was a Christian-faith conversation.
We enter the building where the Catalyst Pre-Labs were being held (I was there for the IF:Gathering pre lab), and I remarked to my friend, Amy, This is the most number of Christians I’ve been around in four years. It’s not entirely true. We did make it to a mega church once or twice when we were in Australia.
For the past four years, experiencing God and Jesus and church in Switzerland and Sweden meant small, unknown, other, strange. No one I meet asks me where I go to church. Most people presume I don’t. On the odd occasion that my faith comes up, it is usually met with a blank stare before the person who inadvertently found out changes the subject. We talk about the weather, the children, but we won’t be talking about faith again.
And I loved it. The anonymity, the feeling – finally – that no one was watching me and trying to figure out if I was a Calvinist or egalitarian or insert-irritating-category-here, I loved that I could live what I believed instead of talk about it, I loved that the few who were curious asked and that felt precious, costly.
Culture shock, I believe that’s the correct term for what I felt in those first hours at Catalyst. The amount of make up alone was overwhelming, the fair trade jewelry that was uniform and also not, the concert-style worship beamed into an overflow room before a dynamic preacher took the stage (with an excellent sermon), the “y’all”-ing, and to finish off the Bible-beltness of it all, we eat Chick-fil-A for lunch. I’m sitting in a large room shoulder-to-shoulder with women I’ve never met (except for two friends), and I want to disconnect, I want to feel even more other and strange here than I do in Sweden, but this is when I remember.
She turns to me, the one on my right, and we have a long conversation. She asks about my life, I ask about hers. I don’t have to explain to her why I stay at home with my kids, and I don’t have to explain that it’s hard. She tells me about some choices her family has made, to live life outside of their comforts, to push the boundaries of race in their community, the way their relationships have changed, the cost they paid. I’m sure she wasn’t even scratching the surface, but in those minutes, I remember what it’s like to not be alone, I remember that there are those who are walking a road toward faith forming their culture, not the other way around. I remember that living in a way that pushes against popular culture is what I’ve always wanted.
Several hours later, I’m standing in line waiting to talk to someone, and I start talking to the woman next to me. We exchange our basic details, and nod in agreement, one stay at home mom to another, she tells me about her life in a mid-sized town. She tells me about the prayer walking, the people on the margins, the meals given, the dream of community living, her belief that she has one life and she wants to make it count. And I remember that I’m not alone, I remember that there are others – there have always been others – whose dreams and desires have been about the marginalized, the poor, the oppressed. I remember that there are thousands of women who are working out how to live out a calling at home and a calling outside of it.
We finish talking, the tears didn’t just well in my eyes, a few dripped down, I can’t remember the last time I stood in line crying having a conversation with a random woman, but I suppose she wasn’t random. There is a God man and a cross that connects us, his spent life for us asks us to spend our lives for others. We are connected in a way that spans continents and culture and language and background and expectations and categories and differences and beliefs. We are walking on a road, the church alive, living and breathing in us, we link arms across the ocean.
I left stronger. My mind, clearer. My heart, refreshed. My soul, reminded. You are not alone.
How about you, when do you feel most connected to people who share your faith?
Our best Sunday mornings look like this. Husband and I quietly sleeping under the winter duvet until Little Bear starts crying from his room around 5:30am, he’ll end up in our bed where he “sleeps” on top of or next to one of us, his most favourite place in the whole world. His eyes will open and close, baby syllables slipping out from under his paci, eventually he’ll start poking us in the face or the eye, switching from Mommy to Papa to Mommy to Papa. At some point I get out of bed and leave father and son to keep cuddling, or Little Bear goes with me or on the best Sundays of all, he sleeps until 6 or even 6:30.
Ever since Husband and I married and I moved to Geneva (and now Sweden), our churches did not start early in the morning. For three years it was an 11:45am service and for the past year, we leave the house around 3:30pm for a 4pm service. The morning is slow, and we like it this way.
I head down to the kitchen, turn on the oven, pull berries out of the freezer and start mixing up this crumble topping from Shauna Niequist’s beautiful book Bread & Wine. Eventually Big Boy gets up, and we are all in the kitchen together. Children whine about hunger, Husband makes an espresso for himself and sometimes babyccinos for the boys, and it’s holy, all of the noise, the froth of the milk, the ding of the timer, the crunch of the walnuts and toasted oats. We sit around the table and fork mouthfuls of hot blueberries and crumble into our mouths with a dollop of Turkish yoghurt on the side. The boys don’t argue about this breakfast, and neither do I.
Confession: I stay in my pajamas until right before lunch. Husband and the boys usually stay in sleep clothes as well. And yes, this too is holy. Because it takes a level of intimacy with ourselves, with each other, with our Creator to know we can come just as we are, sleep in eyes and all. There are fights on Sunday mornings, disagreements about what needs to be done, coldness from other weekend struggles, some kind of toddler drama, I would be lying if I left this out. But somehow, some way, we find our way back, and this righting of wrongs, it is holy. This is our communion, receiving our daily bread with thankfulness, drinking from a cup of abundance because over 2,000 years ago someone made a way for us be who we are, to not be afraid, to be pajama-ed and unashamed.
The boys drift away from the table, one of us clears it, I’ll start chopping veggies to roast for lunch, perhaps make cranberry and thyme butter for the roast chicken. Often Husband pulls out his guitar, Big Boy strums the ukelele and Little Bear rattles a shaker or hits the table.
And we sing.
Nothing but the Blood of Jesus. Our God. King of Heaven. Beautiful One. Old songs, new songs, whatever Husband can play and feels like playing. Big Boy and I do the singing, I dance around our living room, waving whatever piece of fabric I can find as my flag, and it is so achingly ordinary, the sound of a child’s voice, our amateur musicianship, wrong chords, bad rhythm. But our house is a yellow cathedral reaching arms up to heaven, touching beauty, calling it down. On earth as it is in heaven. The divine reaches down to us again.
A few weeks ago we finished singing, Big Boy sits on our grey sofa, ukelele in his lap, innocence in his eyes, and says, Mommy, can we have church in our house?
I wish I could tell you that I had a clever response. The truth is I can’t even remember what I said because my three-year-old put words to the longing of my heart, the truth we experience in our crumble-encrusted, pajama-wearing, loud-singing Sunday mornings.
Like many of the recipes from this book, I have this one memorized. I stick to the recipe in the book with a few minor deviations. This is the easiest breakfast meal to pull together (or for any time of deal, really). The topping comes together in five minutes if you have all the ingredients, and the oven does the rest of the work. I usually double the topping because I like having a thick layer of crumble (the recipe below is for the doubled topping). Also, I pull it out halfway through the cooking time to stir the topping with a fork so that it all gets brown and crisp.
4 cups berries (I use whatever bag of frozen berries I have, sometimes only blueberries, sometimes a mix of blackberries and blueberries, raspberries and other frozen fruit of the red, blue and black variety)
Topping: 2 cup old fashioned oats
1 cup chopped walnuts (Shauna’s original recipe is for pecans, but I prefer walnuts)
1 cup almond meal
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tsp cardamom powder (totally optional – we love cardamom, so I put it into many oat-related recipes I use)
1. Preheat oven to 180C/350F.
2. Pour fruit into a baking dish.
3. Stir together the topping ingredients until it’s well combined. Then spoon it over the berries.
4. Put it in the oven and set your timer for 20 minutes. When it rings, pull it out and “dig up” the topping with a fork so that all of it gets a chance to get brown and crispy. Put it back in for another 20 minutes or so (depending on your oven of course, so do pay attention). Total cooking time is anywhere from 35-45 minutes.
5. Eat and enjoy! I love mine with some Turkish yoghurt on the side.
I spent last week in North America, in Atlanta as part of the Catalyst conference and in Toronto visiting family. Yesterday was my first day back, today my first day “back to work” with the boys, so to speak. Jet lag isn’t a terrible companion for me, at least not with a six-hour time difference, but it’s still not easy especially with my people who don’t exactly let me take naps during the day.
So in absence of a “real” blog post today, I give you a challenge instead, a jet lag challenge.
Who is someone you know today who needs some encouragement? Comfort? Presence? Can you call them up or write a note or take a meal? Give something of yourself to build them up.
You won’t regret it and perhaps you’ll even gain something yourself.
Tu donne et tu reprends, tu donne et tu reprends. You give and take away, you give and take away.
Nash Bog tak velik. How great is our God.
Mein Erlöser, kostbarer Jesus. My loving Saviour, precious Jesus.
Those are songs I sang in high school and university chapel services, in the church buildings of the United States and Australia. But when I sang it in a French and English bilingual service or in German at Husband’s home church in Frankfurt or in Russian in a small room with five people in Kiev, Ukraine, something happened to me.
For our French and English bilingual service, we sang songs in both languages, including the classic “Blessed Be Your Name” translated into French “Béni Soit Ton Nom.” I first heard and sang this song during chapel at university in my third year, March 2004; it was our International Week. There were flags on the stage representing the home countries of the students, and the band stood in front of them, a guy who grew up in Uganda was leading the song. My guess is I’ve sung this song at least once a month in a congregational setting for the past eight years, but yesterday was the first time I sang it in a language other than English. When I saw the words in French, I started singing along.
Béni soit Ton nom Sur cette terre de plénitude Où Tes bienfaits se répandent Béni soit Ton nom Et béni soit Ton nom Quand mon existence est un désert Quand je parcoure des chemins inconnus Béni soit Ton nom
It didn’t take long before the tears formed in my eyes, my jaw quivered and my emotions and my spirit went into full-on response mode. I had to stop singing to keep from bursting into tears. This happens to me every Sunday I’m in Germany, singing songs in German. I’m fairly certain I know why singing in a language that is not my own does something to my heart.
It reminds me that I am not the center of the universe, that my way of doing things, my way of seeing things is not right, there are different ways of communication, different ways of talking to God, there are people all over the world who communicate with him in different ways than I do, and this is good. This is right. And my heart is well in these moments because it is reminded of the truth – my way is not the only way.
Something happens to us when we live in a monocultural, monolingual environment. We start to think that our way of living is the only way of living, our way of thinking is the only way of thinking, our human way is the best way. This is a lie – our way of living, however good it may be, is not the only way of living. Our way of thinking, however rational or educated we may be, is not the only way of thinking. Our human way, however well thought out or well prayed out it may be, is not the only way.
This lie does something to us – it turns us against other people who live and believe differently, and it causes a swell of judgment and bitterness to rise up within us. This is what heals inside of me when I sing in a different language, this is what heals when I believe that I am not the centre of the universe, me with my “right” way of doing things, “right” way of thinking, “right” way living.
Speaking a different “language” in church or with a community of like-minded, believing people doesn’t have to mean finding a place where the primary mode of communication is literally in a language not your own. Are you a white person from North America? When was the last time you went to a primarily African American or Hispanic church? Are you an African American or Hispanic in North America? When was the last time you went to a primarily white church? Are you a South Korean and part of a Southeast Asian church or primarily South Korean church? When was the last time you went to a place where you were the odd one out? Are you a Calvinist in your theology? When was the last time you sat down to listen to a non Calvinist? Are you from the emerging church movement? When was the last time you had lunch and an open conversation with a Southern Baptist?
I could go on and on and on with the examples. My point here is a simple one: We do ourselves a huge disservice to spend time only with people who look like us, speak like us, see the world like we do and believe the exact same things that we do. There is something richer for each one of us, and it is red and yellow, black and white, all precious in his sight. Somewhere there is a space for us where we can lay down our theological certainties, reach out to grab another’s hand, tear the bread, drink the wine (or grape juice) and commune.
If you are a Christian and still reading this, can I make a humble suggestion? Go to an African congregation and engage. Don’t sit there and judge. Engage. Worship. Sing. Enjoy. Go to a Hispanic congregation. Don’t sit there and judge. Engage. Worship. Sing. Enjoy. Go to a white church. Don’t sit there and judge. Engage. Worship. Sing. Enjoy. Go to a Chinese church. Don’t just sit there and judge. Engage. Worship. Sing. Enjoy. Go to a Korean church. Don’t just sit there and judge. Engage. Worship. Sing. Enjoy. (And there are so many others, Ethiopian, Russian, Arab, Jewish, find any one of them).
Don’t sit there and judge. Engage. Worship. Sing. Enjoy. And thank God that he made us different, that he understands and hears all languages, that he has no favourites and preferences, and that he loves it when we are together.