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Facing My Fears

Quick link: Another Chance to Be Afraid – and Trust God

Today I have another piece published (see also Djiboutian Women at the Gym in the Sahan Journal), sometimes they all just fall on the same day. This essay is in Her.meneutics, a branch off of Christianity Today. My last pieces for them include:

The Good Female Samaritan

You Can’t Buy Your Way to Social Justice (or Why I’m Afraid of American Christians)

Today’s piece is about the Garissa attack that took place on Maunday Thursday. I wrote a blog post about it (Whispers in the Dark, Garissa) and this essay branches into another direction, away from grief and into fear.

When I Am Afraid

…I fear a lot of things. Malaria. Loneliness. Physical pain. I can’t sleep the nights my kids are flying between Djibouti and Kenya for school. Easter Sunday after the Garissa attacks I noticed that our church hadn’t placed any armed guards outside like they often do on holidays. During the service, my body was tense and my eyes constantly flicked to the doorway.

If forced to choose between “brave” and “coward” to describe myself, I have to say coward. I am the woman cowering behind Jesus, clinging to the edges of his robes, trembling. I’m the one saying, “I want to be with you. I want to go with you. But are you sure you want to go there? You really want to do that?”…

Click here to read the rest of Another Chance to Be Afraid – and Trust God

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When the Foundation Shakes

Quick link: Is Jesus a Liar

Today I’m writing at A Life Overseas about the foundational convictions I clung to when we moved to Africa. It is a repost, originally published on Relevant.com

Here we are at the airport, leaving. It seems so long ago and not so long ago and I’ve learned some things in the intervening years.

leaving1

Jesus promised some things and I came to Africa expecting, needing him to fulfill those promises. I thought the promises were that life would be fascinating, challenging (but not quite death-defyingly difficult) and meaningful. I thought I would feel reasonably comfortable and useful, that I would be able to mask my weaknesses. But then things got hard. There was an emergency evacuation, a deadly flood, a car accident, a move to my third country in less than a year. Sick childrenloneliness, futility, oppressive heat. And I started to wonder. Had I misunderstood? Or was Jesus a liar?

Click here to read the rest of Is Jesus a Liar?

How Islam Prepared Me For Lent

Ramadan begins this week, the month of fasting for Muslims around the world. Off and on this month I plan on either writing about Ramadan or linking you up to Muslims as they experience this month of physical deprivation and heightened spiritual awareness. To begin the month, I’m reposting this piece from a few months ago…

I grew up Baptist. Not only did I never observe Lent, I thought anyone who did observe Lent put too much emphasis on a man-made tradition. These Catholics and Methodists and Episcopalians didn’t love the Bible as much as I did. They didn’t experience Jesus as deeply as I did.

Ancient, liturgical Church traditions held little meaning. What this translated to were brief religious holidays, one to two days long, preceded by a month of Christmas cookie baking and scouring malls for gifts or a week of purchasing chocolate eggs and fake plastic grass. Consumerism settled in quite nicely, yet I managed to maintain an aura of smug superiority. None of which helped me focus on Jesus or the meaning of these holidays.

easter eggs

Easter, in particular, arrived with the sudden abruptness of a humanoid bunny leaping across my path. The Sunday before Easter, church was filled with children waving palm branches, and then voila, the next Sunday Jesus rose from the dead and we got solid white chocolate bunnies from Grandma. More candy than sorrow or somber reflection.

Nothing is wrong with palm branches or white chocolate bunnies, which will forever remind me of Estée Lauder perfume. But a decade of living in Muslim countries in the Horn of Africa has, equally forever, changed the way I think about liturgical religion.

Of the five major pillars of Islam, only the first one, the Shahaadah, deals explicitly with faith. The others: prayer, giving, fasting, and pilgrimage are actions. Islam emphasizes orthopraxy, the rituals and traditions of faith in contrast to the orthodoxy of evangelical Christians, who emphasize matters of faith and theology over rites.

I watched Muslims in Somalia and in Djibouti pray five times per day and fast for an entire month during daylight hours. I attended parties when friends returned from pilgrimage to Mecca and splashed water from the well of ZamZam on my face. I saw homeless women give coins to blind beggars in the name of Allah. And what I discovered in these traditions was not a weakness of faith but the strength of community, the reinforcing power of continuity, and an intimacy with God achieved through intentional and purposeful action.

Two of the Islamic pillars seemed most enlightening as I considered Lent this year.

easter5

Ramadan is an entire lunar month devoted to fasting and preparation for the Eid holiday when sheep or goats are sacrificed to symbolize forgiveness. The feasting that follows is rich with meaning and celebration. Eating in the middle of a sunny afternoon! Ice cold water whenever one is thirsty! The entire community has been through a month of hunger and thirst and the anticipation of Eid is thick, the rejoicing on the morning of Eid filled with relief and a sense of victory.

The hajj takes place over the course of a month and while not every Muslims goes to Mecca, many know a relative, friend, or coworker who does. The month is a time of increased reflection on the rituals of the hajj which include circling the Ka’ba, symbolically stoning the devil, and running between two hills in remembrance of Hagar and her son searching for water. There is a powerful sense of community, humility, and equality. The month ends with another sacrifice, which Muslims around the world participate in.

After living among these Islamic traditions, these months of anticipation and spiritual emphasis, communal rituals, and the celebrations that come at the end of a period of trial, when I was invited to an Ash Wednesday service, I was eager to attend.

It was only the second Ash Wednesday service of my life, hosted by a US diplomat and his wife who is a Methodist priest. The service was brief and serious and quiet. A sense of reflection and even sorrow permeated the room as we each contemplated our sin and the ways we needed to grow in faith, the ways we needed Jesus.

This service launched me into a 40-day period reminiscent of Ramadan, though considerably less challenging. I merely am trying to limit my intake of sugar and internet but don’t abstain from all food, water, or sex during daylight. I read on-line about others who have made choices to increase their focus on God during this month. I read special prayers. I felt part of a larger community because people around the world were thinking and experiencing similar things those 40 days.

This wasn’t a time of corporate New Year’s resolutions. This was a time of corporate brokenness and dependency and eager anticipation.

These 40 days also end in sacrifice, not the blood of a sheep or a goat. The sacrifice is the shed blood of the perfect lamb of God. What this month of Lent reminded me of every day is that the sacrifice wasn’t once. It is always and every day. It is forgiveness purchased and celebrated for now and forgiveness purchased and celebrated and guaranteed for always.

failed family easter photo

failed family easter photo

I realized, as Djiboutians celebrated Islamic holidays and as the Methodist priest drew an ashy cross on my forehead, that I had been wrong in thinking people of liturgical traditions didn’t love the Bible as much as I did and didn’t experience Jesus like I did. The practice of rituals revealed not the lack of a deep commitment, but the physicality of and a longing for a unique encounter with the divine.

People who practiced Lent didn’t love the Bible the same as I did. They didn’t experience Jesus the same as I did. Which is exactly why I have so much to learn from them and why, this year, I finally observed the season of Lent.

What have you learned from another faith that informed or changed your own?

The Tender Season

This week is what I am calling my tender season.

my grandfather's grave, the day we buried my grandmother last August

my grandfather’s grave, the day we buried my grandmother last August. Another tender season.

The death and resurrection of Jesus is, possibly, one of the more divisive aspects of faith. I believe Jesus died, my Muslim friends believe he did not. I believe he rose from the dead, they believe he didn’t have to because he didn’t die. We both believe he is alive now, in paradise, and that he will return one day to earth and will redeem all broken things.

And so, tenderly, (all the more tenderly as the country searches for dry ground and a solid foundation after the flood) I step into this weekend of Good Friday and Easter fully aware of the differences between me and my Djiboutian friends. But I don’t think it needs to be divisive, even as we disagree. I think we can still love and pray and clean up mud together. On Eid or Mawliid or during the Hajj I enjoy hearing from my friends what the holiday means to them. Here is what Easter means to me.

Sometimes I forget to feel things. Or I’m too busy. Or I choose not to. But now, in this tender season, I can’t seem to forget or lose myself in busyness or make the lazy choice to be callous.

There have been many dark and dying things. Cancerous things and grocery stores burning down things and human trafficking things. Broken marriage things and kidnapping things. Post-election discontent and flooding. Loneliness and rising temperatures (including Lucy’s last night of 104). Suicides and murders and arrests. My family divided. My lack of patience, cruel words, unthinking comments, pride.

These things are what Good Friday is for. These things are what Easter is for. During this tender season when emotions are bubbling over, there is no getting around the feeling of it. Easter is not a familiar, chocolate bunny holiday. It is shocking and scandalous and earth-shattering and I feel my need for Jesus.

These dark things have stripped away the façade of self-dependence. Being all five Joneses under one roof for a month is joyfully raw because it is temporary and every game and meal and prayer and tickle mania bears a subtle weight. Heavy rain brought life in the desert and death in the city. We wait for news of people we love in the hospital and in recovery, or not. And through it all, I need Jesus.

As long as I can remember I believed Easter was about Jesus dying and rising to purchase forgiveness for sin.

But as I get older and love more people and enter more suffering (and from what I hear, this is only the beginning) and read the Bible deeper and learn myself better, Easter is oh, so much more. These are some of the things I need Jesus for, some of the things I can write Easter resurrection power over:

Victory over death.

Reclaiming of hope.

Defiance of injustice.

Promise of his Presence.

Comfort in sorrow.

Honor in place of shame.

Courage in place of fear.

Confidence in place of timidity.

Certainty in place of doubt.

A solid foundation and an unshakeable kingdom.

These are part of what Easter means to me and I’m glad for the tender season of it, even though it does mean I have to make sure there are always Kleenexes in my purse.

Do you have a tender season? What brings it on?

By |March 28th, 2013|Categories: Faith, Jesus|Tags: , , |4 Comments
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