My Favorite Lie

Holy Saturday is the perfect limbo-day to think about both death and resurrection ... the two sides of the Easter coin .  Pursuant to my previous post about the value of Good Friday, my friend Justine asked if I would share the following lyric.  This is a fairly new song that will be featured on my upcoming cd (to be released this fall) -- more to the point, it's my diary!

As always, I'd be thrilled to hear how it hits you.

MY FAVORITE LIE 

Words (and music you can't hear on a blog) by Carolyn Arends

 

I'm a caterpillar who will not cocoon

Feels like  a tomb

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Hiding What They Seek

My newest CT column is all about Mexico, gastrointestinal distress ... and Jesus. Lemme know what you think!

 

In my desire to be 'seeker-friendly,' I'm often guilty of concealing Jesus.
A friend was involved for years in a weekly service intended to reach out to inner-city kids, the majority of whom had little church experience and no acknowledged relationship with Jesus.

If it had been up to me, I would have made those events "seeker-friendly." I'd have focused on building relationships, avoiding anything too religious or high pressure. But my friend went a different way. Every week, he led worship, one song after another, always unabashedly about—or to—Jesus.

I'm sure some of the kids walked away and never looked back. But hundreds stayed. Many made decisions to follow Christ.

Some ministry leaders were concerned that teens who didn't know Jesus were being asked to participate in worship. My friend would reply, "How else are they supposed to get to know him?"

It's a good question. People come to the Christian faith via many different highways, but the eventual crossroad is always an encounter with Jesus. I wonder if my attempts to keep my witness nonthreatening and accessible sometimes end up shielding the unchurched people around me from their own crossroad. Jesus can certainly meet them without my assistance. But I would rather be a help than a hindrance.

I was definitely a hindrance in Mexico. My husband, Mark, is a public high school counselor. A few years ago, a group of 11th graders asked him to coordinate a humanitarian trip. He contacted one of our favorite Christian organizations, and they agreed to facilitate an excursion to Mexico to build a playground in an impoverished area. Mark was careful to explain that the students participating were unchurched; should there be even a whiff of proselytizing, parents—and the school board—would feel betrayed.

There were 24 students and 4 teachers; my kids and I tagged along. Upon arrival, we discovered that the arranged accommodations at a local Rotary Club house had fallen through. Instead, we would be sleeping on the cement floor of a church basement in downtown Juârez, one of the most dangerous cities in Mexico. Mark could already imagine the parent phone calls he'd receive when word trickled home. Weary from a long day of travel, we set up sleeping bags and tried to ignore the exposed wiring, hole-ridden walls, and scurry of cockroaches.

In the morning, we drove to the site of our project. Jaws dropped and eyes welled as we observed the abject poverty around us. But we also experienced the sweet rush of doing something worthwhile. At the end of the day, we returned to our cement floor feeling good.

All was well until the nausea hit. Sometime around 3 A.M., the first wave of students became ill; by morning, there were clusters of miserable people draped on every available garbage can. Mark held his head and imagined a new wave of parent phone calls. Mostly he threw up.

Around 9 A.M., the two local women who were preparing our food arrived on the scene and surveyed the carnage. Despite the language barrier, their distress and concern were unmistakable. They had followed all the guidelines for cooking for foreigners, and we were still sick. Eventually, one of the women approached the only teacher who could speak Spanish and asked for permission to pray for us. Too ill to object, the teacher nodded yes.

As soon as the woman began to pray, I knew we were in trouble. I thought, Maybe everyone is so ill they won't mind the praying. But my hopes for a low-impact prayer faded quickly as the woman became increasingly emotional. She prayed for five minutes. Ten. Maybe more.

What My Pot-Growing Neighbor Taught Me About Theology

My January Christianity Today column is now online ... and presented here for your perusal. Lemme know what you think!

There Goes The Neighborhood

Do I have to love my neighbor if he breaks the law?

We used to live on a street in Surrey, British Columbia, we called "the Mother of All Cul-De-Sacs." The space between the houses was large enough to accommodate a dozen parked cars or a spirited soccer match. Our daughter learned to walk in that cul-de-sac, and our son shot his first basket into a full-sized hoop there. (Granted, he was on his father's shoulders at the time.) Every night, a dozen kids would spill onto the street with bikes or hockey sticks, and we would congratulate ourselves on having selected the perfect neighborhood.

A year after we moved in, the street's complexion changed. Several of the young families moved away, and we had a hard time getting to know our new neighbors.

We heard nasty rumors that certain residents were using their homes to grow marijuana. "Grow-ops" were a rampant problem in our area, but my husband and I doubted we were sharing fences with criminals. Our friendly neighbor to the right, "Van," had recently arrived in Canada but was working hard on his English. Our neighbors to the left, an older couple who gardened relentlessly, seemed reserved but agreeable.

One afternoon, my kids and I noticed a flurry of activity. We watched as our neighbors on both sides were chased and cuffed by police, and truckloads of plants and equipment were pulled out of each of their residences. A sign declaring the area to be the site of a successful drug bust was proudly displayed—in our driveway!

My husband arrived home and intercepted one of the officers walking across our lawn. Our four-year-old eavesdropped on their conversation and ran back to me. "Our neighbors were arrested for throwing dough," he said, confused and troubled. "Why aren't you allowed to throw dough?" I wasn't sure whether to clarify that the officer had actually said "growing dope."

That night, the more I wrestled with how to explain the day's events to our kids, the angrier I got. How dare those people invade our neighborhood and expose our children to dangerous criminal elements?

I was still fuming the next day when I left to perform at an event called "Love Surrey." Area pastors had organized a multidenominational outdoor service in an effort to reach out to the community—just the sort of thing I love to support. But my anger boiled backstage as some friends warned me that grow-op owners are often quickly released and face minimal repercussions.

I returned home to see Van standing in the middle of our formerly kid-friendly cul-de-sac, holding a Coke can and chatting with my husband. I was seething when Mark walked into the house 30 minutes later.

"I can't believe he's a free man," I hissed.

"Yeah," Mark shrugged. "The laws are pretty weak. But …"

"But what?" I asked, incredulous.

"Van feels terrible." Mark sighed. "He's been out there pulling tiny weeds from the cul-de-sac garden, stuffing them into that Coke can. He's trying to show everyone how sorry he is. He keeps promising it will never happen again."

As Mark told me some of Van's story (a sad tale of personal tragedy, poor choices, and exploitation by people higher up the criminal food chain), I had a sudden epiphany.

Van was my neighbor.

Of course I knew he lived next door, but I realized with a start that Van was my neighbor in the "love your neighbor as yourself" sense. It dawned on me that if I had been the lawyer trying to define the law in Luke's gospel, Jesus could have told me a story about a pot grower in Surrey.

I looked down at the new "Love Surrey" T-shirt I was wearing and winced, remembering Charles Schultz's ironic words: "I love mankind; it's just people I can't stand." I had known—preached, even—love of neighbor in the abstract. I had believed that the point of the Good Samaritan parable was that my neighbor is anyone who needs my help. But I had been thinking more of innocent victims in Africa than of drug-producing villains on my street.

I hope the kindness we eventually decided to show Van helped him change half as much as he changed the way we see the people around us. The driven professional with the BMW, the retiree with the yappy dog, the new immigrant too shy to make eye contact—these are our neighbors. And if we love the God who made them, we will love them as we love ourselves.

C. S. Lewisobserves, "There are no ordinary people. You have never met a mere mortal." There are six billion residents on this cul-de-sac we call home, each of them bearing the image of God, each of them a neighbor to be loved. We might as well start with the immortals next door.

Copyright © 2009 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.

It Was a Holy Night (Lyric)

As I've mentioned before on this here blog, my church and I have a mutual tradition of having me write a new Advent song each year for our Christmas Eve service. I think we are 13 or 14 songs into the adventure now. I've spent the day laboring over the newest song, which is not quite ready to endure exposure to the blog elements yet. But I rediscovered last year's song in the process, and thought perhaps I would share it with you. So here it is.

 

 

It Was a Holy Night

(Christmas 2007)

O, little town of Bethlehem
I think it is a lie
That you were still or dreamless
On that first Christmas night
‘Cause you had soldiers, and politicians
Over-crowding in your streets
And there was chaos, and human cruelty
And never quite enough to eat
And then the baby came
And when the baby came …

I think he cried the way that babies do
I think his mama might have cried a little too
I bet you Joseph didn’t have a clue what to do
He was new at fatherhood
So I don’t think it was a silent night
I kind of doubt that all was calm that night
But there were those who heard about a light
Saw the sight and they understood
It was a holy … It was a holy
It was a holy night

O, when the herald angels sang
I bet they thought it odd
That such a poor and broken place
Should be a home for God
And did they gasp to see him shiver
Cold and hungry in our skin
Did they tremble, did they wonder
How we deserved a gift like Him
Oh, but just the same
The baby came …

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Tags | Music

Twitter as a Spiritual Discipline

Doest thou Twitter?*

As is my way with internet fads, I greeted the Twitter craze with a world-weary "What's the big deal?" ... only to try it and find myself rather instantly hooked. I particularly like the fact that 3rd party apps allow me to enter a Twitter update and have it appear on my facebook, myspace, and newsblog pages, keeping my presence on the internet fresher than it has been historically.

Doesn't that sound all marketing-ish and sensible? The truth is, it's really fun. Trying to sum up what's going on in your life at any given moment in a pithy 140 characters or less is an entertaining challenge. And watching your friends do likewise is enjoyable too.

I've gotten so into Twitter that I've even read a few blogs on how to do it well, from hardcore tweets like Third Day's Mark Lee and Thomas Nelson's CEO Michael Hyatt. Blogging guru Darren Rowse even has a new blog (TwiTip) entirely devoted to the tweeting art.

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Our Shalom Vocation - A Different Sort of Campaign

My latest Christianity Today column is now online. It's an exploration of what Jesus might of meant when he said "Blessed are the peacemakers", and it's strongly influenced by a course I took on the Sermon on the Mount with Darrell Johnson at Regent College.

Most of the comments the piece has received so far seem to be processed through the filter of the recent US election. The column was in no way a comment on the election -- the editors require me to submit my columns three months ahead of publication so this was written in early August. And as a Canadian I had no dog in the US fight (although Canadian lives are certainly affected by our neighbours.)

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Bigger Than Both of Us (Story of a Marriage)

Recently, Today's Christian Woman asked me to write a piece on marriage in any direction of my chosing. I was stymied for quite a while as to what to focus on, and then realized I was stalling because I was afraid of the vulnerability required to really write what was on my heart. So ... I drank a good, stiff, Diet Pepsi and wrote the following. (It can be found in the November/December issue of TCW or online at their website.)

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Why I Love My Husband, Part Two

In a previous post, I revealed the first of two events (that took place on the same weekend) that help illuminate why I find my husband Mark so darn lovable. I promised to follow up with a depiction of the second incident, but then got distracted by other things. (My districtability is, I hope, one of the things my husband finds lovable about me. Or at least tolerable.)

Anyway, I'm sure you've been holding your breath waiting for Reason Number Two, so here, at long last, it is:

Sunday afternoon, after church, Mark decided we should go for a family bike ride. Now, Mark has been an avid mountain biker for about 15 years. Traditionally, he meets up with several other men of exceptional skill and questionable wisdom, and they measure the success of their ride in mud and blood. I have resolutely avoided riding with him because (a) I enjoy my skin and bones in their present, intact condition and (b) I don't have a hope of keeping up with him, nor do I particularly want to. However, he promised this would be a leisurely family ride, no first aid kit required.

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Pop Songs and Theodicy - Should They Ever Mix? (Wanted: Lyric Input)

Several months ago I took a chance and posted a new lyric called "I Am a Soul" here on Conversantlife. It was scary to go "public" with a baby song, especially when it involved sharing naked words without their accompanying music. Still, folks were kind and the process was useful enough that, well, here I go again.

This is another new song on deck for the project I am currently recording. It is my attempt to articulate some of my struggle with the way we (I) understand God's sovereignty as it relates to the events (monumental and trivial) of our lives. Not everyone is going to agree with my current understanding of things -- I can live with that. But I'm curious to know what the song says to people.

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