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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. 

This post was edited from the archives. To read the original post, please go here. I’m writing for the 31 days of October as part of Write 31 Days, and this is day 7. If you want to read the whole series, please start here to find all the links. 

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I liked sitting in church. It made me feel close to God, she says to me over a hostel breakfast of muesli and weak coffee. She’s a beautiful, young student from Belarus. She now lives in Paris as a student and is on a student exchange in Geneva. We talk faith at the breakfast table and share a hostel room. My parents were atheists, she goes on, and because of that the priest didn’t let me stay in church. 

Her eyes say one thing.

Shame.

I am unworthy. I can’t get to God. I have no mediator. 

So I look her in the eye, and I tell her the truth.

You don’t need a priest to connect you to God. You don’t need to be in a special building to connect with God. Jesus died on the cross and rose again from the dead, and he intercedes on your behalf before God. He is the one who connects you to God. 

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I have no idea what happened to that Belarusian young woman, our brief breakfast conversation was the last real interaction with her that I remember. But that truth – that there is nothing, nothing – that can pave the way to God other than Jesus, I have to remind myself of this daily.

If only I had been kinder to my kids. 

If only I hadn’t done that. 

If only I was better. 

If only ______. 

No. There is nothing that can make the path toward God smoother or easier to attain. There is nothing that prevents me from his presence. Anything that claims to connect me to God is lying because there is only, always one way in: Jesus. And his hand is always open, he’s the one who bends down and writes in the sand then stands up and says, Let him who has no sin cast the first stone. Neither do I judge you. He’s the one who is standing at our hearts, knocking, waiting for us to open the door. He’s the one walking with us on the road of our lives, giving us understanding, causing our hearts to burn within.

His answer to us was Yes at the cross. His answer to us today is, Yes. 

//

I’m sitting in the Toronto airport lounge, waiting to fly over the Atlantic and back to my beloved family. My heart longs to be with them, and I’m here in a lounge listening to Tamil voices and Caucasian voices and news about Ebola, and I can feel in my heart the anxiety.

What if I die of Ebola, what will happen to my family? 

What if something happens to this plane? 

What if something happens to my family on the drive to pick me up?

But he’s here, knocking on the door of my heart again, walking with me on the road, he’s here in this airport lounge calling me to live church. There’s no bread, no wine, no pastor, no music. But I am living church right here, as Jesus takes me by the hand and leads me into the presence of God.

I am with you always, even unto the end of the earth. 

How about you? Where’s the most unexpected place you’ve “lived” church? 

I’m writing every day in October (except for Sundays) about Living Church , and this is Day 6 of Write 31 Days. Click here if you want to read all the posts. I’m also linking up with Jennifer Dukes Lee and the #TellHisStory community. 

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cranberry

What are your memories of Sunday around the table? My Sundays as a child were one of the busiest days in our week, so lunch wasn’t necessarily fancy, many times there was a church potluck involved or lunch on the go or leftovers. But we were always together. Around the table. With people outside our family sitting with us.

I can’t think of a better way to “live church” than to do it around at table full of food, and as part of this month of writing, I’m hoping to intersperse the storytelling with some practical ideas about eating meals with others, with our family, and how simple yet satisfying the process can be.

There are so many ways to “do” food on Sunday, and I’ve tried a few myself in the past few years depending on our family routine and schedule. Last winter I kept it simple with a chicken soup (you can read more about that here). I could prepare everything the day before in the pot, and all that needed to be done on Sunday morning was pour water over everything, put it on the stove and wait. Our lunch was warm, hearty and simple. And it allowed us to slow down and rest. It was beautiful.

But chicken soup during the summer months and even now in the autumn didn’t feel right, it was too warm. We’ve started having a roast chicken lunch instead. It involves a little bit more time on Sunday morning (probably around 20 minutes more), but because the oven is what does most of the work, it’s ok. This is a meal that can easily feed a mid-sized family, and we love sitting down together on a Sunday to eat something a little bit more special, all of us passing food back and forth to each other, Big Boy and Little Bear happily munching along. It’s also a meal that keeps on giving, there are leftovers for Monday’s lunch and sometimes even Tuesday.

chicken 2

Roast Chicken with Cranberry & Thyme Butter

The secret to a good roast chicken is the bird itself. We’ve recently switched to buying organic, free-range meat as much as possible, and we have been amazed at the difference in the quality of the meat and the flavour. We ate this with stuffed and sauteed mushrooms (Big Boy cooked the sauteed mushrooms), and with roasted sweet potatoes using this recipe for sweet potato fries but I cut it into wedges instead, and steamed broccoli. 

70g butter
30g cranberries
1/2 TBSP dried thyme (or fresh if you have it)
1.5kg organic, free-range chicken

1. Preheat oven to 150C/300F. Take butter out of the fridge and let it soften in a warm spot. Take the chicken out of the fridge and allow to start coming to room temperature.

2. Boil water, put the cranberries in a bowl and when the water has boiled, pour over the dried cranberries so that they are covered. Let it stand for 10 minutes.

3. Drain the water, put the berries on a chopping board and chop roughly. Mix it with the butter and thyme until the herbs and the berries are evenly mixed throughout (if the butter is too hard, I put it in the microwave for a few seconds to let it soften some more).

4. Put the chicken in a roasting tray, breast side up. Gently pull the skin away from the breast (near the neck), keep pulling very gently so that you can create a space between the skin and the breast of the chicken. Scoop some of the cranberry butter mixture into your hands and start pushing it under the skin of the chicken. (I do all of this with my hands.) I try to push it as far down as I can, so that the breast is completely covered – under the skin – with the cranberry butter, I also try to get it under the skin covering the thigh and leg.

5. When you’re finished, rub any extra butter over the whole bird or melt a bit more butter to pour over and coat it. Crack salt and pepper over the whole chicken, and put in the oven covered with aluminum foil.

6. Roast for 1.5 hours, but I do take it out around the half-way mark to turn the roasting tray around. After 1.5 hours, take the foil off and roast for anther 30 minutes. Mine was done after 2 hours (check by piercing the joint between the thigh and the leg and see if the juices run clear or use a meat thermometer). Let the chicken rest for 15 minutes before carving. We scraped the juices out of the pan to use as a delicious gravy.

 

What are you eating for Sunday dinner? What are your favourite family recipes? 

This post is day 4 of of Living Church: A 31-Days JourneyClick here to read all posts and head over to Write 31 Days for more great topics in October. 

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The grey-brown bricks on the building zoom by us in the Sri Lankan minivan. I am visiting with Husband and our firstborn son, only three-months-old. My parents are giving us a drive-by tour of the first two years of my childhood in Colombo. We go to my first home, pass the hospital where I was born and speed past the church where I was dedicated.

My mother was born into a Methodist family, my father into an Anglican one. If I understood more about the differences, I would share them, but I don’t. Both of them found their faith in a popular, worldwide youth organization. Bible studies, teen clubs and weekly meetings stoked the early fervor in their hearts. The colonial walls and steeples were hollow on the inside, lifeless in teaching and lacking in truth. They attended on Sunday always, but increasingly found their souls fed during the week with other teenagers and then young adults with slightly older men and women guiding them along the way.

By the time I was born, my father was working full time for this organization and heading full throttle into a life devoted to Christian work – in Christian speak, this is called “joining the ministry” or something like that, it’s been too long since I was neck deep in a religious subculture. But they were still members and involved in an Anglican church.

Babies born to people in Anglican churches are baptized, sprinkled with water, words spoken over them joining them to the church of their parents, bonding them to a building, a tradition.

As the story goes, my father refused to have me sprinkled. They did not believe the process to be truthful to the words of the Bible. Each person must choose their own faith, no parent can make the choice for them. Instead, he persuaded the vicar into a dedication ceremony.

In the photos I am a little brown baby with a full head of dark hair, open eyes, my grandmother is holding me on the front steps of the church. I’m wearing a long white gown. My parents hold me at the front of the church, and the vicar dedicates me to God. No sprinkling. No name in a register. No joining a church or a faith.

I’m on the outside of tradition, baptized into doing things a little differently.

What church traditions or spiritual traditions were you baptized into? What did you skip? 

This post is part of Living Church: A 31-Days JourneyClick here to read all posts and head over to Write 31 Days for more great topics in October. 

 

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It is the rickety tricylcle that takes me there. Motorbike fixed to a sidecar, we squeeze inoto the side car as these little-engines-that-could roar down pot-holed streets and dust billows around. Pink hibiscus flowers bloom on the sidewalk, bougainvillea climbs over walls, the buildling is small on a little hill of sorts near Riverside Subdivision, we are the only foreigners, brown faces with brown faces in a little town a few hours south of Manila, Philippines. The shape of the building is blurred in the cobwebs of my meory, wooden benches, hard floors. I recite Bible verses into a microphone.

It is a car that takes me there, an old station wagon borrowed from friends for the year. There’s a car seat for my almost 2-year-old sister, the middle seat belt is uncomfortable and doesn’t buckly easily. The building is part of a campus, there’s a chapel for services, padded, plush pews in green velvet, red carpeted floors, a building for Sunday school, administration, fellowship meals, an orchestra plays on Sunday mornings, accompanied by a white-robed choir. Lush green trees line the roads, leaves change colour and fall to the ground in October.  I wear dresses and shoes and bows in my hair.

It’s a jeepney that takes me there, this strange, loud truck of the Philippines, with two benches that face each other and people jammed next to each other, odors mingling, bags clutched tightly to our bodies, holding on to the rail as it lurches and brakes and lurches again. We moved to Manila, and the traffic means long stretches of time spent on Marcos Highway. The front is a light pink, wooden benches that are comfortable and in rows, awkward teenage glances around, I can barely look people in the eye, sermons are 45 minutes long, and it’s hard to pay attention. I could draw a line on my arm and the black under my fingernail is the grime that is piling on. Black comes out of my hair when I bathe.

It’s a friend’s car that takes me there, to a country place in a tiny town. It takes five minutes in the car, but we always drive and never walk. It’s a hodge podge of characters and ages, university students, retirees, warm Southerners who like sweet tea and potluck lunches, the kindest old, tall farmer with white hair, a gruff voice and the smile of Jesus. Another older gentleman who plays the saxophone and likes to rap and says my chocolate chip pecan pie is the best thing he’s ever tasted.

It’s my car that takes me there, Goldilocks the 1990 Toyota Corolla with friendly brown seats that kept me warm in the winter and hot in the summer, I sing loud one hand raised to the sky, the other on the steering wheel. We’re on a mission in this place in Burwood, fire burning in our heart and in our hands. We can change the world. I can change the world.

It’s an airplane that takes me there, to nine countries, where I take car and train and tube and taxi and marshrutka and feet at tram and bus to gigantic building with a thousand to tiny group of the hopeful in a university to an auditorium in a hospital to an Ethiopian village to a room with five in Kiev to Anglican pews.

I go week after week after week after week, not quite every Sunday of my life, but almost. I’ve thought every thought from cynical to hopeful, felt every feeling from joy to anger to sadness to love, I’ve sat there hard, I’ve sat there open. I’ve cried my tears in those pews and in those chairs. My shoulders have touched white and brown and black and cream and peach, it’s been a wafer on my tongue, bread torn off by hand, wine and grape juice.

And however new, however strange, however familiar, whatever the place or the person, I sit in the pew, in the chair, in the living room, on the floor, and I am coming home.

This post is part of Living Church: A 31-Days Journey. Click here to read all posts and head over to Write 31 Days for more great topics in October. I’m also linking up with #TellHisStory and Jennifer Dukes Lee