Friday, October 26, 2012

Deny Youself

I was at a meeting at the monk house the other night, and as we were discussing the Philokalia, a Bible verse popped up that had always bothered me.  It was Matthew 16:24, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me."
In the past I felt that this verse was convicting me to deny and give up parts of myself that didn't fit into societal expectations to better follow Christ.  I took the parts of me that didn't seem acceptable, and tried to hand them back to God.  I ended up damaging myself because the personality traits and quirks that I didn't think I should have really didn't go away, I just began to shove them under the mask of a "good Christian".  Nobody said I had to do this, or that it was best to be a certain way, I was just uncomfortable with me.
I shared this, and then my friend began to share this verse in a way that was brand new to me.  He started at the point, "take up their cross".  Our crosses are the selves that God has gifted to us.  They are our unique personalities and convictions.  They are the people God made us to be.  Jesus didn't die on the cross because he was the perfect model Christian, he died on a cross because he refused to give up the person that God made him to be.  He was authentically himself to the end.  In the same way, we should take up our crosses, refusing to be any less than the people God calls us to be.  We are to remain true to ourselves and our God to the end.
The phrase "deny theirselves" or more personally, "deny yourself" then is not about giving up your personality that was given to you.  It's about stripping off the masks, about releasing those things that hold us back from being kingdom builders for our creator.  It's about refusing to simply try to fit into what society tells us we should be.  We have to look to God and wrestle our demons, we have to fight for our authenticity.  We have to deny the trap of trying to become who we "should" be, and instead strive to become who we were created to be. "For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?" (Matt 16:26)
This was a healing moment for me.  I was brought into a text that I had used to wound myself before and it became a text that I could embrace.  It became something that spoke to my experiences and my hopes.  I have been striving to truly find my authentic self and speak to my truths, and while God has always been a major part of that journey, I didn't have a sense that Jesus had ever really talked about this.  Now I can look to the Gospels and see Jesus speaking these words as well as others to me. It brings me closer to Christ.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Lessons in Community

When I moved to Lincoln, I knew what I wanted.  An education, of course, but more importantly I wanted to reboot my life, to find myself, to become comfortable with who I was and where I was headed in life. I accomplished a lot of that in my three years there.  I left with a new life and a hope that I would not crumble as I stepped out into the unknown territory of Atlanta, Georgia.
I am still not 100% certain why it is that I had to move to Atlanta though.  I don't know exactly what drew me to this place.  It was the silent tug of God that brought me here, and even though I fought it, I'm glad I'm here.  But I've been trying to figure out what it is I'm supposed to learn here.  What great growth spurts do I have to go through?  I know I'm here for an education, but I am in this specific setting for something bigger.
 I'm starting to think that maybe God is teaching me about community.  I laugh now, but I was scared to death when I moved here.  I was afraid I wouldn't find a support system, that I would be alone in a strange land with no one to care for me.  Instead, I have found more support and love than I even thought imaginable.  I am surrounded by people who love me for who I am.  I know I had community like that before, but I was too broken to realize it was there or trust that it would really help me in my time of need.  I had felt like an outsider within my own friend groups before, and now I feel like a full member.
Recently I have been hanging out with a group of Anglican monks and they are teaching me a lot about what it means to be in Christian community.  I see the bonds that have formed through living life together. There is a connectedness in that group.The morning and evening prayers I have experienced in their house have been some of the most intimate moments that I have had with God since I got here.  They have been two or three brothers and myself in the altar room of their house, but I have felt the touch of God in some of those moments, the connection that brings all life together and unifies us as siblings in Christ.  It has begun to help me see the communal identity of the body of Christ.
While the idea of the communal body of Christ might seem high and lofty, something idyllically beautiful, it's really just sharing life together.  It's opening up a little bit when you've had a bad day, it's sitting in silence and studying together, it's laughing and sighing as someone breaks yet another dish.  It's letting everybody be themselves, and letting each person's gifts  bless community as a whole.   That is communal life, and that is a beautiful life.
I can only hope and wait to learn more about community and life together as I grow over the next few years.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Numbers Don't Make You

We got back our Old Testament tests today, and I must say, I'm not used to seeing that low of a score on a test.  It threw me for a bit.  My classmates starting comparing scores and looking over what they can improve on together in community, and I had to step away because it's still a little raw. I started wanting to judge myself based on my other classmates' test scores.  Why didn't I do what this other person did?  What did she do that was so much better than me? I felt compelled to start judging myself based on a number.  So I drew back, and I came into a holy space away from the crowd.  I stopped and just let God embrace me.  I am worth so much more than a number, and truth be told, this number will not kill me, it will not make me lose my scholarship, it's just a number.  I am more than a number, I am a beloved child of God who has come to this school to learn more about how to engage with my creator and with the communities God lovingly places me in.  And when the numbers aren't what I hoped they would be, when I am not a perfect scholar, I just need to step back and remember that numbers don't make you. God makes you.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

My Week

My pastor called me today and made me think about everything that has been going on in my life recently. It's really quite fascinating how my life seems natural and normal, and it's really profound.  Just this week I've hung out with Anglican monks, learned about Hebrew adjectives with my favorite study buddy, done my chaplaincy at a geriatric hospital, read the entire book of Exodus, worked in the community garden, met some really cool students from other seminaries in the city, and relaxed with other friends.  I've laughed, I've sobbed, I've gotten mad at God and I've deepened my love and appreciation for my LORD. I also finally shaved my head. That's a lot of things, and I know that tomorrow and the next week will only bring more.  I am blessed beyond measure.