Without fail, this ONE issue gets me worked up EVERY TIME! Nearly ALL of my soap boxes can be linked directly to this ONE thing. And the ONE thing is... (drum roll please)... terrible Christian Biblical theology!!
Honestly, I feel heated just typing out that string of words: terrible - Christian - Biblical - theology. On their own, separated from the pack, each word is fairly innocent, right?? For me, those rather unassuming words, all heaped together into meaning, reek. They carry the stench of death (spiritual death)!
This weekend I was stirred to dust off my soap box and jump back on top of it. The instigator of my feistiness?? A religious movie (which will remain nameless). The film was loosely based on multiple, compiled, true, present day events (nothing wrong with that). The movie was actually quite interesting, informative and thought provoking. Since I’ve disclosed that this was a religious movie, you might be dying to know one thing...and so to quell your anxious thoughts, the answer to your question is, YES!! In true “religious movie” form, this movie WAS on the corny side. But the corniness didn’t overwhelm me, choke me or swallow me whole, making the film unbearable. I navigated and sidestepped the cheese and was able to carry right on with it.
But I was, however, rather hung up on a couple little (but rather important) lines in this movie. They were so small, in fact, that a normal person would likely have overlooked them or missed them entirely. But I assuredly am NOT a normal person. I’m what you might call a “critical observer”. I’m the type who dissects the romantic scenes (or any scene for that matter) and can smell the B.S. before the writers ever agreed to stick it in the script (not really, but it feels true). I’m notorious for my ability to tell when a character is about to say the following (or some variation of the following), “We don’t know what tomorrow holds…”, translation: “We’ve only known each other for about a minute, but you should DEFINITELY have sex with me RIGHT NOW!”
It’s so sneaky, right?! I mean, honestly, don’t ALL us girls fantasize ALL DAY LONG about being swept off our feet by a handsome(ish) man pressuring us to jump in the sack before the world abruptly ends in a fiery, shark-laden tsunami??? Honestly it’s completely insulting to ALL my senses and to the intelligence of females, young and old alike! So, I’m the audience member who loudly says, “You’ve got to be kidding me!! How stupid does he think she is??” And then she sleeps with him, OF COURSE , and I yell, “Lame!!”
Now mind you, the audience is SMALL. It’s only two people big. My sweet husband is one and I make two. So, don’t go jumping for the lynch as if I’ve just answered a text and illuminated a dark theater. I’m not in an ACTUAL theater...it’s just my house. Either way, this is what we mean when we say “critical observer”, I ruin the scene!
So...I’m going to ruin ONE little scene for you too. My intention isn’t to transfer my burden and frustrations to you and then walk away leaving you to shoulder my load, No, I share for freedom sake! It’s my deepest, purest hope that ALL may have the ability to understand what healthy, authentic Christianity is and why ALL should reject anything that presents itself as less.
Ready?? Here we go!
Here’s the scene: one character is struggling with SERIOUS life issues and seeks out advice from someone she both respects and views as an authority figure. At the end of a heartfelt conversation the struggling character asks the question, “How come nothing ever seems to faze you??” The answer from the authority figure/second character is this: “Because I have Jesus”.
OK, the scene has been set and maybe some of you are thinking, “I don’t see the issue here”. Honestly, I hope NONE of you are thinking that, but in case you are, here’s why I nearly lost my mind and why you should too! The idea that Christians do, can and should, hold it ALL together is a MASSIVE pile of B.S (a completely lie)!! It's flat out, bad theology.
NOWHERE does the Bible say that life will be better, easier, more fun, or more manageable if you have Jesus! It actually promises the opposite including the possibility of an untimely death.
So maybe now, you're reading and quietly (or loudly) thinking, "Kristin, you're not making a very strong case for Christianity". Well, honesty is very important, so I want to be clear in saying what knowing God means to me. It means hope. It's the assurance that the struggles of life aren’t all that there is. There's more! There’s better, there's greater than what I'm experiencing in my low. Knowing God gives me strength and courage to push on even in very painful situations, including facing and walking through things I always feared and dreaded the possibility of, because I'm not alone. God is my joy and comfort when I have neither. And in this world where people (friends, family and acquaintances) cast their votes for or against me daily, hourly (sometimes) based on my performance, the truth that God loves me (completely) just as I am, unconditionally...it changes EVERYTHING!
Some days, I feel very certain that without God I might not bother with another day of the pile of… “soup”, that is life, because life equals pain...a lot of pain sometimes. There are amazing and beautiful things about life too, but that’s not the piece we’re discussing right now.
The Bible gives example after example after example (countless examples, really) of God fearing people bearing a full spectrum of emotions, thoughts, fears and doubts, and even boldly expressing all to God himself without fear of punishment or reprimand. David spent 150 chapters in the book of Psalm on his joy, doubt, fear, questioning, trust, anger, praise roller coaster, but for some reason, even with that entire book, FULL of intensity and passion, we (Christians) live under the nasty and burdensome LIE that requires us to be poised, pinched and pious, contained and unwavering in faith, question free (both in speech and mind) and virtually emotionless with exception to a couple specific sentiments. The first is tears. Tears are OK because tears are Christian. The second: Godly displays of anger, more commonly known as, “righteous indignation”. All else beyond these boundaries is a total and complete hand-slapping, stern disapproving look inducing, NO-NO and threatens to tip a Christian into the unfortunate realm of “losing witness” (Christian talk for appearing to have lost faith or severely sinned leaving one incapable of directing anyone to God or in any direction at all, which is a very shameful position to find one’s self in).
So, since we’ve decided amongst ourselves that we mustn't struggle in a way that either A.) makes us appear to have lost faith or B.) makes God look like he’s not in control, we (Christians) have come up with a strategic way of communicating about our struggles. We have...rules. These “rules” require us to adhere to protocol and stick to certain talking points when discussing personal struggles. Without further ado, here are the well known, but rarely acknowledge, rules for “Christian Crisis communication”. For those who aren’t versed, welcome to CCC-101.
Rule #1: When talking about personal struggles, move on to a new subject as quickly as possible.
Rule #2: When discussing a crisis, balance ANY and ALL negative talk or upsetting details regarding "the struggle" with reassuring and God praising phrases like "It’s all good because God is…" or "I'm OK because God is…" (insert positive descriptor).
Rule #3: Never admit any doubt or uncertainty about...anything.
Rule #4: During a struggle, appear to not truly be struggling.
And that’s it really!
Honestly, the one that gets me the worst is when I hear, "...but it’s really OK, because God is..." My heart breaks for us (Christians) and our inability to just BE; good, bad or completely miserable...the lies we’ve believed, forced upon others and fed to our children. The thought that we must defend God in our moment of sorrow rather than allow God to defend us (as God promises he will do), it's heartbreaking. We squander our opportunities for encouragement, spending the time assuring and convincing others that we waiver not, in the nasty face of adversity, instead of bearing our souls and admitting to pain.
I’m always left scratching my head when in response to the question, "How are you?", I’m given a quick peek at a raw wound, oozing with fresh sorrow, but then it’s quickly covered over and hidden beneath praising, reassuring statements about God, before any comfort or sympathy or encouragement can be offered. It's such an injustice for us all and a social slight of hand, as if to say, "Don’t look at that unsightly, uncomfortable, embarrassing thing, but instead focus over here on this glittery, positive thing!"
Not only is it a distraction from the real issue but it feels like an attempt to connect two completely separate truths. To me, it’s the equivalent of someone saying "I stubbed my toe, but it’s OK because cheese tastes amazing!" WHAT?? It just makes NO sense, right?? Yes, cheese is AMAZING and what a bummer about the toe, but why string those two thoughts; those two separate truths together? The fact that God is good, faithful, loving, constant (and whatever other positive adjective we might think of to fill in the blank), doesn’t make the trauma of life nonexistent. It doesn't make it disappear. It doesn't keep us "unfazed".
The world wasn’t meant to be this way; fallen, hungry, broken, needy and ravaged. Deep inside we all feel the wrongness, the upside downness of it all. The brutal news stories from Syria, Sudan and hundreds of other violated lands and people grips everything inside us with agony over the discrepancy between what our hearts feel (God’s presence) and what our eyes see EVERYWHERE (starving, impoverished, abused and hurting people). Reality is that life is hard. Yes, there is good news (amazing news actually), God has overcome the world! This gives us courage and strength BUT we still have to trudge through the broken bits. Our healing is waiting for us, but we’ve got to ditch our “save face” version of Christianity. The Bible says to confess to one another that we might be healed!! Healing and authenticity (full disclosure) go hand in hand.
Sometimes the answer, “I’m actually OK, because God…”, is 100% honest and appropriate. There are seasons, days and sometimes just moments where beautifully, unexplainably, supernaturally, we are sustained beyond what seems possible for the experience. Emotionally and mentally we almost magically hover above the torrent of destruction, the sensation of trauma, the din of mourners. Those times are precious but they are the exception. So we mustn’t be presenting ourselves as if we live in a perpetual state of hover, as though our shoes are never dirtied by the muck and pain of life. I once had a pastor who described our reality as Christians perfectly; she used to say, “We’re in the now and the not yet”. It’s really the perfect description of Christian life! We’re stuck in the great in between; praying and boldly declaring, “On earth as it is in heaven…”, while trudging through earth’s fallenness and destitution. It's the ultimate paradox!
God sees our struggles and he sees our pain. He knows ALL of our hidden doubts. He sees our fears even when we loudly counter them in that confident, baritone, victorious voice . But we’ve devolved. We’re charading as if we’re one with God in the garden, while hiding behind trees and ducking between bushes, disturbed and threatened by our nakedness. We’re straining ourselves, vigorously sucking it in, attempting to conceal our unsightly bulges, wishing desperately that someone could invent a pair of ‘spiritual Spanx’.
In our efforts to be “faithful”, we sometimes unwittingly furthering the LIE that says, if we allow ourselves to be raw and painfully honest about our true struggles then we are weak and we make God out to be weak, thus failing God and each other. But it's a LIE!!
Let’s reject the old way! Let’s reject the lie. We don’t have to live bound and hidden!! Let’s be free and whole! Let’s get our healing! It’s ours for the taking. Let’s confess to each other. Let’s get honest and vulnerable. Real! Will it be messy?? YES, sooooo messy! Will it be uncomfortable and awkward?? Ummm...ABSOLUTELY! But this is TRUE life. Vulnerability is scary, but if we want healthiness we must be willing to lose our masks and ditch the facade.
Someday, who knows, maybe we (Christians) will be free enough, safe enough and unashamed enough to say to one another (when it’s fitting), “My life is going up in flames and I feel like sh**!”, and the response won’t be a horrified, gasp of judgement but a genuine, empathetic, ecstatic desire to help.
I’ve written about my grandma once before, but it was nearly a year ago. She’s been gone for a while now. She died when I was 18. But I still think about her ALL the time.
Grandma was a tall, slender German woman with a stern disposition. Each year she softened a bit. By the end of her life, nearly all of her harsh edges had entirely worn away. She wasn’t much of talker, more of a pleasant but passive observer. She usually smiled except during those periodic, manipulative occasions when she’d say things like, “Why do you want to go out and play with your friends...don’t you want to stay here with me??” In those instances the smile stretched out across the lower portion of her face into a thin, tight, straight line; not really much of a smile anymore, but still not quite a frown. We never wanted her to feel unwanted but in truth, as kids, we didn’t find grandma to be very much fun.
Grandma had fair skin, harsh features and a large nose. Some days...when I look in the mirror at just the right angle, under just the right light, the reflection I see staring back at me is hers. As a kid I didn’t think I looked at all like grandma! These days, well into adulthood, I’m pretty sure I’ve inherited the “Wood nose”, straight from grandma; a piece of her legacy. I’m ashamed to admit that I never thought grandma was very pretty. But the older I get and the more acutely I assess her, the more beautiful I find her to be.
My Grandma was much older than any of my friends grandmas. And being that she was quite a bit older also meant that she was different. Her life experiences were different and she was funny about certain things. She lived a hard life and endured The Great Depression. Through those years she learned how to live sparingly and she never stopped living sparingly. As a kid, baths at her house consisted of one (maybe two) inches of warm water in the bottom of the bathtub. There was no pleasure in bathing, only freezing. She used and permitted only what was necessary and practical, nothing more. She’d even wash and reuse paper towels and she dried all her clothes on the line in her backyard. I actually loved the clothes line thing. Being that the use of a clothes line was quaintly old-fashioned made it a very endearing practice.
She was a wonderful baker. Her apple pies were amazing. She was an ‘Expert Apple Peeler’ (should such a title exist). The way she’d hold her paring knife...I would have quickly sliced my thumb off, but she could nimbly peel a dozen apples without a single nick.
There were a couple of German dishes that she used to bake regularly for us when she'd invite us to come for dinner. We LOVED them! They were uniquely hers, in a sense; there was no one else in the world, that I knew of, who made them. Those German recipes were our one, thin connection to our seemingly imaginary German heritage. Even though grandma was 100% German, she neither remembered living in Germany nor spoke the language. So those recipes...those 2 dishes were IT! They were all of what we knew about being German. Grandma knew the recipes by memory from her childhood. When she died, we thought her recipes and our heritage did too.
Until a few months back…
One of my cousins posted a recipe on Facebook that she’d found in the abyss that is the internet. She’d happened to find one of the much loved and feared lost forever, recipes. After months of seeing this recipe sitting in my inbox, beckoning me to resurrect grandma, I finally, yesterday, did it! I embarked on the journey of making "bierok" (pronounced bay-ruk). I use the word ‘journey’ not merely for dramatic appeal but because yesterday, making bierok required me to traverse the peaks and valleys of my emotions and memories of my grandma. It was a tender but weepy journey through time.
I didn’t expect that sautéing ground beef, chopped onions and minced garlic would make my throat feel quite so tight. As I simmered and baked my kitchen transformed into a time capsule. The aroma...I was suddenly a little girl again, perched on an aluminum and vinyl kitchen chair, excited to bite into one of my favorite meals at my grandma’s circa 1960’s blue linoleum kitchen table.
Making bierok took a good amount of my time. I had to make dough, from scratch, wait for it to rise a couple of times, roll it out, cut square pieces, fill the dough with the ground meat mixture and then bake. I suddenly realized how much effort my grandma had put into preparing for our visits; how much intention and love she must have had in order to cheerfully create this meal. Plus, the expense of it all. A large amount of flour was needed (8 cups) plus the cost of all the other ingredients and side dishes. And my grandma lived sparingly with intention. she always had just enough but no extra. And let’s not forget, this is the same grandma who allowed no more than two inches of bath water, but when we’d come for dinner, she ALWAYS cheerfully purchased ALL the extra ingredients and spent her time preparing, on us. And she always had a homemade pie with vanilla ice cream ready for dessert too.
As I baked I wondered if grandma ever felt strapped financially preparing for us to come for dinner...if she did, we never knew it.
Making bierok and drowning in the smells of my childhood showed me how much my grandma loved us. She spoiled us the only way she knew. Love stirs up generosity. With love, money is an afterthought and time is an investment not a sacrifice. Love is worth each minute and every penny. I wish I’d understood these things years ago. I wish I’d appreciated more and presumed less about my grandma.
Making this meal allowed me to share some really precious memories with my kids. I love that ALL 4 of my kiddos seem to also share my love for bierok. Bierok is a part of them now...and I am German once again!
Writer and fellow traveler on the road of life.