The Other Brother

I guess it’s time to jump in to James’s letter itself, eh? I’ve been putting it off, because, well, there were other things I’ve been wanting to write about… but as is often the case, wanting to write about too many things leads to my not writing about anything at all. So here goes.

The Other Brother

I don’t know what it is about successful, really good people, who make me feel highly jealous and bordering on the bitter. There you go, the ugly truth about me– I do occasionally feel both jealous and bitter. It’s silly, but I have enough of a perfectionist (and sinful) nature that if I see someone (1) whom I respect a whole lot and (2) who clearly has something more “together” than I do, I  naturally desire to match their perfection. If I can’t, I naturally desire to see that other person as “wrong” in some way or another, so I can be complacent about my imperfections in their presence. Did you follow all that? Ridiculous, disgusting pride and jealousy issues. Really, really normal human failing.

In fact, it’s so normal a sinful flaw that I always wonder if James, the author of this letter, spent a large portion of his life experiencing this same jealous pride issue. Because, you see, while not everyone has agreed over the centuries on which particular “James” it is who’s writing here, many scholars these days will say it is James the half-brother of Jesus.

A little history reminder; Jesus Christ was the Son of God and the human son of Mary. Mary’s husband, Joseph, had no part in this. In fact, he didn’t even come near Mary in an intimate way until after Jesus’ birth. [If this story is foreign and strange-sounding to you, try reading the whole thing in the Gospels-- Matthew and Luke would be good places to start-- or ask me about it for the rest of the story!] But after Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph got married, had lots of babies, and lived happily ever after.

I wish that were truly the case. They did, in fact, get married. And they did, in fact, have many children together. And I like to think that Mary, the young girl who had to grow up awfully fast once she became the scorned bearer of the Son of God and Saviour of the World, had moments of incredible, if unbearably weighty, joy– as she watched that Son grow up in grace and wisdom.

And yet… and yet. Can you imagine being the family of Jesus? And I’m not even talking about the part in their lives when everything fell apart completely– when the smart, talented, kind-hearted young man who, if unpredictable, had at least always been loving, was suddenly gone– the victim of a mob sentencing and a criminal’s brutal death. Even before that– all through His growing up years– can you imagine being the sibling of the little Jesus? I know that with my jealous pride, I would have found it frustrating…. no, infuriating… to have so perfect a brother. I would have constantly seen His goodness, and been angry at myself for not being so good (and I would have become ever so good at making  myself think I was angry at Him). And I would have seen Him making a fool of Himself, as it seemed, going on and on about being the Son of God (what in the world?) and bringing in the Kingdom of God and making people fishers of men and… and… well, for goodness’ sake. I know Mom says He really is all that, but I just don’t see it. And besides, does He always have to draw a crowd like this? It’s just embarrassing.

(Got into the mode there, I guess.)  At any rate. I’m just guessing, but I kind of think it wouldn’t be easy for a purely human young person to be the little brother or little sister of Jesus of Nazareth… for so many reasons, not easy. But let’s not pay attention to Emily’s guessings– the Bible talks a bit about this, too.  There were several occasions when Jesus and His human family did not see entirely eye to eye. Perhaps the most uncomfortable of these occasions was the one talked about in John 7.

After this, Jesus went around in Galilee, purposely staying away from Judea because the Jews there were waiting to take his life. But when the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles was near, Jesus’ brothers said to him, “You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” For even his own brothers did not believe in him. Therefore Jesus told them, “The right time for me has not yet come; for you any time is right. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that what it does is evil. You go to the Feast. I am not yet going up to this Feast, because for me the right time has not yet come.”

“For even his own brothers did not believe in him.” They thought He merely wanted to “become a public figure”– to show off and get famous. They could not have more completely misunderstood His motives. How sad, and how hard that must have been for Jesus… and for His brothers themselves. If they didn’t understand His true motives, how incredibly frustrating, indeed mind-bogglingly angering, must it have been to watch Him– as it must have seemed to them– throw His life away for no reason, make His parents’ lives miserable and impossible, bring a criminal’s shame to the entire family, and ultimately deprive them of His (again) unpredictable but tolerably loveable presence.

And yet, what transformation had to have occured by the time His brother James came to write this letter to the believers? I ask because James did not begin the letter with any disclaimer about Jesus’ motivations, or about his differing views. He didn’t write to the believers to try to convince them to stop the publicity about his poor misguided brother.

Instead… he begins by calling himself that poor misguided Brother’s slave.

 James 1:1

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:
Greetings.

Just so you know, the word “servant” here does not have the dignified-English-butler concept anywhere in it. It means “bond-servant.” “Slave.”

My journal has this “amplified version” of the first part of that verse: “James, humbling myself to the point that I can call myself bond-servant and slave to God and to my own half-brother Jesus… Jesus, merely an older brother, embarrassing and angering me once… but instead, master. I am His slave. Slave of God and of His equal, my brother in human blood but the equal of God… the Lord Jesus Christ… the Sovereign-over-all (Lord), sovereign even over my own soul… the Savior (Jesus), the only one who could rescue me from my sin… the anointed Messiah (Christ) come to rescue and heal us and the world…”

I know many of you are wondering how I can possibly treat this one line by James so pedantically… but… I just can. I can, because I simply have to pause to marvel (and tell myself over and over again) about how Jesus is so worth following and loving that even His own human brother eventually saw, believed, and became a champion for His cause. And because I need the reminder about humility– if I ever thought I had reasons to hold onto my pride, James tells me otherwise. Please don’t think I’m trying to read too much into the story… I know, ten paragraphs of blogging about one verse and another few passages in the Gospels is overkill. But this isn’t me preaching my emotive imaginings as the Word of God; this is me sharing what the Lord has been teaching me lately when I read the Word of God. My goal in this post (and all the others to come) is not that you believe my ideas as gospel truth, but rather that my rather romantic ideas would inspire you to go read James’s letter for yourself, and let God speak to you in ways unique for you, your life, and your heart.

Until next time: may I let go of my pride, as James did, and call myself (and live) a bond-servant and slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.

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There is so much more packed into that first verse of James’s letter… but we’ll save it for another day and another mug of cocoa.

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Book: Too Small to Ignore, Wess Stafford (seriously… this is INCREDIBLE)
Music: Chris Medina’s “What Are Words” and Regina Spektor’s “The Call”
Beverage: homemade hot cocoa
On My Mind: “What are words if you really don’t mean them when you say them?”

Sorry, Martin

For years now, James has been one of my top favorites of the books and letters that make up the Protestant Bible. In fact, it has shown up in many of the most meaningful and/or critical moments of my life, and occasionally in very important episodes of my friends’ lives, too. Often I fail to remember these instances until I look back through old emails or journal entries and find that I had previously written about the same Jamesian passages… ten years ago… five years ago… two years ago… a month ago. It just keeps showing up in my life.

For instance, approximately four years ago (and I had forgotten this until today), I read James’s letter aloud to a dear friend who was hurting greatly from a very, very emotionally painful situation in her life. As she lay curled up on her bed late one night crying into her pillow, I (for whatever reason) pulled out the book of James and, with her permission, began reading. I read the whole book that night. I think she fell asleep half-way through.

Several months before that, I had done a similar thing with another friend who was very, very sick with a combination of oncoming flu and a painful chronic illness. We sat in her hotel room in the foreign city we happened to be traveling in, and I read James aloud until her mind (and mine) was quieted and pain-free to the point that she had hope of falling asleep.

These are sweet memories for me, and there are others related to this book. I even wrote an exegetical paper out of James my freshman year (also something I’d forgotten until recently). Most recently, I spent a long weekend at the coast in solitary rest, and found myself one day in a coffee shop reading through the entire letter of James “for fun”– and feeling rather amazed that I could read that much in the Word and really feel like it was a letter to me. It’s not that I don’t generally apply the Word to my own life. It’s just that at some times I get more out-of-touch in my relationship with God than others, and that weekend– or rather, the weeks leading up to that weekend– had been one of those times. But James got me back where I wanted to be.

Where I’m going with all this Jamesist reminiscence is that I’ve spent an incredible amount of time in the book of James over the past few years, and particularly over the past few weeks; and over the past few days I’ve found myself drawn (led) to start a blog series to share what I’ve recently discovered in that book. At first I thought this might be a single blog post. At the moment, having spent much of today studying up on this book and taking notes on the accumulated thoughts of the past few weeks, I’m realizing it may turn out to be a lengthy series that turns into a book of its own someday (but we’ll leave such ideas for their own posts).

The timing here is particularly interesting (and important), because (1) I’m currently on a “James challenge” and challenging several friends to join me (you’ll hear more about this in later posts) and (2) my beloved pastor is about to start a sermon series on… guess what?… the book of James. Tomorrow will be his first sermon in this series. And perhaps you’d think that therefore I would wait until AFTER tomorrow to begin my own mini-series, so that I could hear his thoughts before sharing mine.  But instead I feel it’s important I begin now, so that the current Thoughts of Emily be recorded before they get mixed with and added to by the Thoughts of Pastor. That way, I can accurately keep track of when certain key concepts arrived in my head (for whatever strange reason related to my personality, this is important to me); and that way, if anything I currently believe (and therefore post) turns out, upon further thought and preaching, to be wrong, I can publicly acknowledge the error and the growth opportunity. I don’t know exactly why I find this important, but I do find it so.

All of that said… I hope you will all bear with me as I explore the book of James out loud. And I hope you will feel absolutely free and encouraged to share your own thoughts on the topic as I progress. And I hope you’ll join me in being open to being wrong. :)

 

Introduction: The Book of James

There’s been quite a bit of debate throughout Church history about the book of James. Martin Luther felt strongly that this particular letter was a poor fit in the Protestant Bible because of its emphasis, as he saw it, on our deeds versus our faith. Luther’s frustration is understandable; after all, this is a guy who spent the better part of his lifetime (and life’s blood) fighting a corrupted theology that focused exclusively on a person’s deeds– the money he gave to the church, the indulgences he bought, the relics he kissed, etc.– and kept the Scripture out of the hands of the populace, keeping along with it any kind of personal relationship idea out of the picture. In other words, the Christianity Martin was trained in was an impersonal one, wholly built around following rules. It was with a bit of shock and confusion that the monk Martin stumbled one day upon the verse in Ephesians 2:8-9 which says (rather straightforwardly), “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith– and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast.” There were similarly perplexing words laced all throughout Paul’s letter to the Romans, and Martin Luther found deeply agitating this idea of our salvation being based merely on God’s grace and our faith alone rather than on indulgences, relics, etc. “I pounded at Paul in that place,” Luther said, knowing that there must be a depth behind Paul’s words that the Church of the time was missing out on. And he was right.

Once Martin discovered the freedom of the gospel of Christ– that any man or woman could receive salvation and the forgiveness of sins merely by responding to the message with faith and repentence– he became a man on a mission. His goal: to clean up the Church from its wrong teachings, and failing that, to reach the people of Germany on his own to assure them of the true gospel. The world, and Martin’s life, would literally never be the same. Luther himself was greatly persecuted, stood trial many times, and threatened with death a number of times. And the movement inspired by him turned, as too many efforts involving broken humans do, into a war that would shake up the entire continent.

And so it is really quite unsurprising that a man this passionate about the gospel of faith rather than works would have been taken aback by certain passages in the Biblical letter of James. The entire letter, indeed, focuses on the actions and words of the believer– not his faith–and the second chapter sets off all kinds of martinic alarm bells for us with its questions, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?” (Jas. 2:14).  For Luther then, and some Christians now, the letter seems a tad dangerous in places, even appearing as an “epistle of straw,” as Luther put it, next to more robust and perhaps more trustworthy books like the Pauline epistles and the four Gospels.

Well, if you weren’t sure before where I stand on this, let me spell it out for you so you’re certain: I, for one, absolutely believe that the letter of James is a critical, beautiful, and God-ordained piece of the Biblical canon. Martin Luther himself didn’t try to get rid of it; he simply thought a bit less of it. I do not. I think it is as important a book as any other in the canon. But I do think it has a different purpose than we are perhaps accustomed to giving it. The book of James is not about telling non-believers the way to find salvation. It is about helping Christians, those whose faith in God’s grace has already brought them salvation and justification, to see what it means to live with that salvation.

Nothing but the astounding grace of God can grant us freedom and forgiveness from our sins. Nothing but our pure, helpless, trusting faith in that grace can allow us to receive it (translation: there’s no possible way for us to EARN it). And once we’ve received it– once our sins are paid for and washed away, and once we are “a new creation”– it is time to live in such a way that we can follow Christ’s last in-person instruction, to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything [He has] commanded” (Matt. 28:19-20).  James’s message is one of maturing in the faith, and maturing in the faith involves actions and words as well as faith itself. It is not unlike the message of Peter: “do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But [now that you are no longer ignorant] just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do” (1 Peter 1:14-15, emph. mine). Nor is it any different from the message I suspect Paul would have wished to write more often: “I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly– merely infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly.” [Emily's translation: "Come on, guys, I should be writing you a message about how to mature in your faith, not still telling you the basics over and over again."] (1 Cor. 3:1-3).

This general introduction and explanation more or less out of the way, I will try to move a bit more methodically through the letter itself. And don’t fret, I’ll point out some of the places I referenced above and all of the elements that I see as showing that this letter is written to help us develop a more mature Christianity.  And so to begin… but not until I’ve had a good cup of tea.

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Book: James (in the Bible)
Music: Rainbow Body, Robert Spano & Atlantic Symphony Orchestra
Beverage: none, but I’m about to make tea… maybe Orange Spice?
On  My Mind: There are buds on the tree outside my window!

Anlosdbofaweinlkf!

So what do I do when I’ve been needing to blog for so long that I’ve got tons of things piled up to say, big and exciting ideas, and now don’t have a clue where to start cuz they all want to come out together?

Book: Too Small to Ignore, Wess Stafford
Music: “Fantine’s Death” from Les Miserables
Beverage: Chai Black
On My Mind: There’s a beautiful moon out tonight!

“Well, I’m back,” she said.

Hello my friends! I’m not even sure how to properly greet you all after a silence (on my part) of three months. Suffice to say that I have greatly missed writing, have greatly missed YOU, hope you will forgive the long absence, and can’t wait to jump back into this thing that I love called sharing the light I’m given from day to day.

I’m going to pretend you and I are meeting up one-on-one after a three-months’ absence. You’ve seen my posts on facebook, so you know a little about what’s been going on, but it’s all been a bit too mysterious to really fill you in on my world. So… you sip your mocha and I’ll try to share a bit. (And then, I’ll sip mine, and YOU share! Ok? Ok.)

It’s been a short, yet long, rather intense, incredibly busy, somewhat scary, entirely hope-filled three months. Don’t quite know how to tell the story of all those weeks, but I suppose over time some parts of it at least will come out. For now, let’s see… I guess there are some key points I could tell ya…

1. Grad school applications. In November, I finished writing my 20-page paper (titled “Problems of Extravagance & Exaggeration in Chaucer’s ‘The Frannklin’s Tale’”) for submittal with some of my grad school applications. The initial review by a beloved and trustworthy professor friend of mine: not good. Honestly he thought the paper I wrote over a year ago was better (not a very encouraging sign!). So, late one night I entirely revamped the paper, discovered a new direction to take it I hadn’t even thought of when I’d first called it ‘finished,’ and had it clean and pretty enough to submit with my first grad school application, due Dec. 15.  Whether or not it was really the best plan, I’ll never know– but they asked for a 20-pager, and that’s the only one I had! And, to be honest, by the time I’d revamped the whole thing, I felt really quite good about it. So, now I have two good papers. I think.

At any rate, between Dec. 15 and Jan. 25 (or thereabouts) I submitted seven applications total (most using the old, ‘better’ paper– just so you know), to the following schools: U. of Connecticut, U. of Tennessee, U. of Pennsylvania, U. of Notre Dame (Indiana), Yale U. (Connecticut), Oxford (England), and St. Andrews (Scotland). That list is rather different from the list I’d had until around Nov. 30, so clearly there was some last-minute changing of plans. (Praise God for good professor friends who help with these decisions.)  The good news is that all seven of those are schools I would LOVE to go to. 

The night I turned  in that last application… my word, did I rejoice. And the following evening I celebrated good and truly with my four best friends, a few bottles of Martinelli’s sparkling apple cider, and several slices of cheesecake. Now… we wait. Most of the schools won’t get back to me until mid March. Having said that, I had the most lovely valentine this morning, an ‘early-bird’ email from St. Andrews to say they ‘thought I’d love to know my application had been accepted.’ Thought right, they did.  Happy day of love to  me!!!  Now we just wait for the other six schools, and then (hopefully) have to make some ‘hard decisions’ between places that all want me… yes? :)

2. My job. After a series of rather interesting (and sometimes frustrating and sometimes amusing) changes of plan and schedule with regard to my temporary job with the state, a highly pleasing opportunity presented itself. Before that, though, I’d like to add that I applied for an unrelated job around Christmastime and was granted a couple of interviews, GREAT experience for a girl who hasn’t done any interviews since her 18th year (and who desperately needed the experience). It would have been a fabulous job, and it required some heavy prayer and thinking to decide where God was leading.

Thankfully, He does lead. And He led me to back out of that recruitment process and stick with the other opportunity that had presented itself– which I’ve now settled with. It’s a bit complicated-sounding, so bear with me. I am now a self-employed contractor working for a fantastic group called Transformation Systems International (TSI), the Founding Partner and COO of which I knew from her working alongside my state group quite a lot over the last two years. In this new capacity, I am working on contract with the state– specifically, my old agency– to lead logisitics coordination for my old agency’s Aspiring Leadership Program. In other words, the part of my old job that I loved the most (i.e. coordinating logistics for our leadership programs) I am now focusing on almost exclusively. What do I do all day, you ask? Well, I prep for the classes, mostly, and have fantastic conversations and emails with the people in the classes, their managers, their mentors, and various and sundry others related to the project. What do I do for the class days, you ask? I get to watch people’s lives change– and usually, I get to be part of the changing. It involves a lot of simple concepts that I as a Christian would root for anyway, but seeing people realize the power they have to be their better selves and do huge things in the world and start being passionate is a reward in itself. Basically we’re in the business of helping people understand themselves in order to transform and lead themselves and their organizations and (ultimately) the state/world. And understanding self and transforming are what I’m all about (see Romans 12:2).

Besides the state / leadership program work, in my sub-contractor capacity with TSI there are many thrilling opportunities ahead– opportunities for learning, causing needed change in the world, and working in a capacity that lets me constantly interact with people while continuing to be the logistics/writing/editing perfectionist that I like to be. The word ‘transformation’ is part of the group’s name. And transformation is what I am all about (see Romans 12:2). So, naturally, it’s a great fit.

It’s becoming clear that this job opportunity has been part of God’s design for me all along. And I do mean all along– this is meeting desires I had when I was in junior high, probably even before. It’s not an ending place, but the opportunities it will present are exactly where I know I need and want to be for now. There is a strong possibility I will still have work even once I start grad school in the fall, and it’s entirely possible that my experiences right now with helping lead a leadership program will change my life for good. It’s interesting that a couple of missionary friends of mine, to whom I had always hoped to return in a few years to teach English with them, also lead various leadership training events… This is only one example of how this job is making me pause over and over again and say, “God… what are you up to? This is just too cool.” There are possibilities He’s opening up that make me want to jump up and down for exciting (they have a similar effect on my housemate, as a matter of fact.) We just have to wait and see where this is all leading.

3. Everything else. Honestly it’s a little weird looking back to my last post in November and remembering the ‘me’ of those days. Not that things have really changed all that much, in some ways. But in other ways I feel rather like a different person. Perhaps it’s just the difference of no longer having that grad school application weight on my shoulders, a shadow that honestly had been hanging over me, making me nervous, convincing me that any time spent for myself was ‘illegal,’ since around last July. Yes, truly it is a delicious and wonderful thing to be free of that weight.

That’s not the only change, though. I’d like to describe here the amazing, incredible heart journey I’ve been on over the past month or so, when those grad school applications were just about done and I had time to slow down and draw near to my God again. It wasn’t that I’d been particularly far away from Him, not exactly… but He had a lot of new things for me to try on, 31 journal-pages-worth  to be exact; a lot of new ideas for me to toss around; and a lot of new and exciting experiences waiting for me. The year 2011 in my life is already settled as a year of change, risk, and courage… and a year of grace and mercy. I have yet to see what all of that looks like, of course, but I’m certainly getting an idea of it already.

The other thing that’s true about 2011 is that it is a year of endings and beginnings for me. While it’s wonderful being done with my grad school applications, it’s scary and a little sad (okay, a lot sad) knowing that in only 7 months I’ll be heading off– somewhere– to grad school. And that somewhere won’t be in Oregon. So, that means a lot of goodbyes. A lot of changes. And that means I have to make the most of the next few months, the last few I have here for a while.

What that looks like, I haven’t yet worked out. Between attending two churchs, singing in the choir, attending a singles / young careers group, spending time with my 10-or-so “shortlisted” close friends, working a few extra hours here and there, investing in deeper relationships with some coworkers, leadership program participants, and other special people God has pointedly brought into my life, trying to get out to visit my older bro and his wife and little one, and finally trying to take time for healing and health for myself, there’s not a lot of ‘other’ free time right now. (And yes, all of those things have picked up now that the applications are done. Before that, I didn’t let myself spend time on much else besides work and the holidays.)  I’m trying to be very, very intentional about how I spend the next seven months, but even so I know I will spend much of those months just trying to decide how to spend them if I’m not careful.

The good news is that, at this moment in time, it doesn’t really matter. I’m so chock full of purpose and passion right now, I know God is leading me exactly where He wants me. And that’s all I’m going to focus on for now. What the next 7 months look like is up to Him… but if it’s anything like the picture He’s shown me, I’m going to love it.

More to say, more to catch up on… but it can all wait. We do have deeper things to talk of, though. Another coffee date soon?

Book: Too Small to Ignore, Wess Stafford http://toosmalltoignore.com/
Music: “Come and Worship,” Bebo Norman http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VaHKGNaYcrU
Beverage: Gingerbread Spice tea
On My Mind: I wanna sponsor this guy… maybe you could instead? http://www.compassion.com/sponsor_a_child/waystosponsor/ChildBio.htm?Child=ET8500240

Okay… Apologies & Explanations…

Hello friends,

I know it’s been quite a few days now since I “should” have written the sequel to my last post. I’m sorry. The fact it, I’m in “crunch time” on some huge, huge projects– and blogging, like everything else I do for “fun” (and for calling), has had to go by the wayside for a bit.

I won’t leave you hanging forever.

But in the meantime– a little “Thursday This ‘n’ That”– this time in the form of an update on my life/world. Most of you probably read this already on facebook, but I figured my readers deserved as much as anyone to know what’s up in my world that’s keeping me from writing!! :)  I had been planning to start including “more of me” in my posts here… and although this is definitely not how I’d planned to do that… it’s the only update I have time to write just at the moment (because I already had to write it!). So– read, be patient, pray for me, leave me comments on how I can pray for you, and I’ll “see” you soon!

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Dear friends,

 I’ve been pondering today how, to some of you, it must surely appear that Emily Slater has dropped off the face of the planet, inexplicably and for no known purpose. To others, while she still exists in your world, there may have occured some thoughts of confusion and/or curiosity as to why she occasionally utters cryptic comments regarding grad school apps, papers, Chaucer, and chaos. For both sets, there must, I suppose, be a feeling of doubt as to how anyone “finally graduated” could possibly be as busy as she seems to  be and/or says she is.

 Allow me, then, as a favor to both of us, explain.  I give you a snapshot of the world of Emily, taken on 11/17/2010. (And if a picture is worth a thousand words– well, I’m afraid here I’ll have to give you the thousand words plus.)

 I’m working 40 hours a week, in the same (temp) job I’ve been in for the past two years. That said, the job itself seems to be constantly evolving. A few weeks ago I began to feel like I was “arriving” in one role. Today I found that I am meant to fill a very different role. I doubt not that two weeks from now ’twill change again. This is purely because my team has one person where they could use three, and their work is changing constantly too– and thus finding a balance for how to fill my 40 hours is taking continual discussions (and a great deal of trial and error).

 Trial’d and error’d as it may occasionally be, there I am (quite happily) for 40 hours of my week. Usually those hours are split over 4 days. This means I leave the house in the dark and return to it in the dark– and see my housemate finally around 7 each night.

Though my job has been stable for two years, it is still temporary. The only problem with that (since they love me and I love them) is that there are laws about how many hours a temporary worker can work for the State without being hired as “permanent” or at least “limited duration” (both come with benefits)… or let go. My “letting-go” hours cap will hit at the end of December. No one on my team wants me to leave– and I certainly don’t want to be without a job. Thus, due to the fact that there will ALWAYS be plenty of work for someone like me to do there, my team has found the money to hire a “limited duration” version of my position. Unfortunately (laws again), they can’t just hire me but have to do a legitimate recruitment. Thus, I am spending a good part of my free time this week applying for my job. The process is far more tricky and therefore time-consuming than it once was, but we persevere in hope of a happy result– me with a job that lasts through the end of June at least, my team with someone who knows the work, doing it well (and all of us happily sticking together).

 Moving on to the next corner of the snapshot. I mentioned my housemate. I have a housemate. Her name is Bonnie, and she is fabulous. Many of you know I returned from a month in England on Sept. 18. I moved to Salem with Bonnie and the also-fabulous Katrina on Oct. 2 (the same day on which I attended a four-hour class and a wedding!). The living situation was always temporary, as Katrina’s lease would be ending late November and we’d have to find something else. Well, Bonnie and I found (were practically handed) a place, and on Nov. 6 we moved again. It’s probably worth saying that I finally hung up all of my closet-requiring clothes on Nov. 11 (yay holiday!). By “finally” I mean for the first time since I left for England (Aug. 24). And I still haven’t completely unpacked my main suitcase since then. There’s been no point– I knew I was moving too soon– and no time– and there was also no point trying to get the wardrobe or other furnitures moved in. Now that I’m settled here for a while, we’ll try again

 Before I move off this bit of the snapshot– a few more words about the place I’m living in. Bonnie and I are the fortunate dwellers in a beautiful, beautiful duplex house. We have the ground floor, and our 93-year-old angelic landlady has the top floor. We’re on a hill, so her door is actually around the side of the house and on the side street over from ours!  Thus, we don’t have any contact with her unless we desire it (though all three of us have found we desire it greatly!).  We are LOVING the space we have. We do plan to add a third girl, to make things more affordable, but at this moment we’re just getting through the busyness first.

 And on to the next bit of the snapshot. You no doubt know I’m interested in beginning my graduate-level studies next fall/autumn. What not all of you know is that to increase my chances of getting to a school I like, at a price I can afford (i.e. scholarships will need to happen), I’m applying to 6-12 schools (and 3 major outside scholarships). What you may also not know (unless you’ve done grad school applications yourself) is that these applications are ridiculously time-consuming. And while “normal” people feel that way, I seem to have especial trouble with these apps, only because I have a terribly time putting MYSELF into words. (So yes, this is a time-consuming snapshot.)  Thus, all the essays about “yourself and why you are interested in graduate work and how you will contribute to the society of ____ and blahdeblahdeblah” cost me a good 4-10 hours each, minimum. And that’s not counting the 4-10 I generally spend staring mindlessly into my computer screen just trying to think of the first sentence. And that’s JUST those particular essays– not the entire applications. Urgh. Nevertheless– we perseverve.

 Now there are two special bits of the applications (and how they relate to my time) that most people really don’t get. Those are (1) coordinating the letters of reference and (2) submitting a writing sample. The first is only a problem because all of my deadlines happen to hit exactly at the time when my referees are entirely unavailable. Thus, the three applications due in mid December? I will need to coordinate with my referees long, long before then– or they’ll be supervising final exams and heading off to Christmas holiday plans and I’ll be left moaning. Not a problem in itself, but very much a problem when combined with the second element mentioned above. That is, the writing samples. Because, you see, many of these grad schools desire one or two writing samples (12-20 pages, depending on the school) in my field of anticipated grad work (Medieval English literature). The problem? I was never asked to write a 20-page paper in my entire time at Corban, AND I was never asked to write more than 2 pages at a time on Medieval English literature. This is why, last January, I wrote “for fun” a 15-page paper to submit with my original application to Oxford… and why, right now, I am attempting to write a 20-page paper for several of my upcoming applications. Now– most of those Corban students who did have to write a 20-page paper had an entire semester to do so. In fact, if it was 20 pages “single spaced” (as opposed to double, which ironically means half as much writing), sometimes that was the main focus of their semester. So, needless to say– this is not an easy task to accomplish on my own, in the space of a month (or less…. and compacted to that because of the moving, working, and other realms of busyness I won’t go into here). Since I can’t submit the applications until the paper is written, but I need to be working on the applications early enough to get my referees on board with writing their letters of recommendation (and critiquing my paper!)– and since several of those apps are due in mid-December– this is where the scheduling difficulties come in.

 A few more highlights, and then I’ll be done. I’m taking French 101 this term from Chemeketa Community College, “for fun” and also because it’s critical for my study of Medieval English lit., I’ll have to be fluent in it a few years from now so may as well begin now, and honestly I don’t want to have to catch up in that, too, when I begin my Master’s. The class is four hours every Saturday. The homework takes 4-8 hours per week. The professor is amazing, and is also in desperate need of friendship.

 Also, until this week, I was involved in two Bible studies, attending two churches (one of them just “for fun” because it’s cool having both the big church / little church experiences since I don’t get Corban chapel anymore), hanging out with the Labish youth group whenever I could, singing in the church choir, hanging out with my old Corban gang whenever I could, blogging, and spending countless hours “relationshipping” with my housemate, my close friends, the friends who aren’t close but should be, my work colleagues, my work colleagues-with-whom-I-really-don’t-work-but-they-like-me-and-they-need-relationship, and any lonely person I happened to run into (which means basically any person I happened to run into). Needless to say, all of these things have been taking up a LOT of time. Hence why the applications and 20-page essay are now forced into a position of taking ALL of my time if they’re going to get done by the deadlines.

 And so… there it is. Emily Slater… passionate as ever, loving life, adoring God, excited to see what the next days bring… And having to cut out, for a time, pretty much everything “fun”, in order to make the “necessaries” fit. That means Bonnie is allowing me to be on a partial “vow of silence” it for the next week, so we don’t distract each other from the work at hand. It means I’m not blogging for a bit. It means I’m not attending church nearly as much as normal. It means I’ve had to quit choir. It means I’m hopelessly behind in correspondence and meeting people for coffee and relationshipping. It means my Bible studies are sliced down to an hour or less per week. It means I don’t technically have time to write this snapshot… but I felt it was only fair.

 And so, my friends, while some of your confusion may remain, I hope that some of it is gone. I don’t expect you all to agree with my priorities…. I can only point out, as my facebook page does, that “I will not always meet your expectations. I may go a direction neither one of us would wish. But I promise you that what I do with the years before me will be to the glory of the One who gave us life and friendship. And that should please us both.”  And I can assure you that this lifestyle is not the one I intend to be living any longer than I have to. Choir buddies– I’ll sing with you again soon. Friends– I owe you coffee (or cocoa) in about one month. Coworkers– forgive the distraction; it will pass. Long-distance friends– I promise we won’t lose touch forever. Just give me time. And prayers. :)

 And let me say again… I am LOVING life right now. It’s crazy, it’s chaotic, it’s painful… but God is incredibly, unutterably awesome. And I hope you can join with me in praising Him for whatever it is He’s up to right now– in ALL of our lives!

Cheers.

The night grows ever colder, Pt 2

Apparently my announcement on facebook and Twitter that I needed to “begin a conversation” I’d been putting off for a while caught some people’s attention, because there was definitely a spike in visits to the blog the day after I posted that. Perhaps, too, my incomplete discussion of the concept of “Whole Gospel” caught attention, because there’s also been a spike in visits the past “in between” day or two– presumably some of you checking back to see if I’d posted any cool new heresy yet! So, here we are… I’ll jump back in. Admittedly, I’m still struggling with the same thing that kept me from beginning this discussion two months ago when I first wanted to: it’s something I feel so passionate about, and it’s something so big, I simply don’t know how to put words together to say what I want to say. But, God willing, something will end up posted here and we’ll run with it. And to start, I’ll need to talk about myself for a while.

This, as far as I can tell, is in fact the gospel presented to us in the Bible, God’s Word. And yet… I think we’re missing something. I know I was missing something until rather recently. And now I’m realizing that it was one of the most crucial pieces.

I’ve grown up in the church. I was born to Christian parents, because a Christian when I was four or five, re-became a Christian a few years later (when it meant a little more to me!), was baptized, went to a Christian college, and currently stay busy attending two churches, two Bible studies, church choir, youth group, etc. So when I recently realized I’d been missing (or misunderstanding) a part of the Christian gospel my whole life… well, needless to say, it startled me a bit.

The Christianity I knew was the one I wrote about a couple days ago (if you missed it, it’s here). Love God, be holy, let His light shine through you, be ready to explain the hope that you have. My first summer in a “real” job, I realized a huge joy in walking around the building with a big smile on my face, actually caring enough about people to ask them how they were and pause to hear their answer, and occasionally being told “You’re always so smiley… there’s something different about you…”

Now I’d better pause here and say– this gospel is NOT wrong. Not at all. In fact I couldn’t be more grateful to have been raised with an understanding of these things. God be praised! I think that, timid as I was in those days, He was able to use me to shine His light.

But the fact is we’re never “arrived”– we’re never done learning. There’s always more of this Truth thing for us to figure out, for the simple reason that it’s God’s and He’s much bigger than we’ll ever be. And so, after living the first 18 years of my life with a certain understanding of His Truth, I found myself on a path of learning and stretching I would not have expected.

The past several years, God has stretched my heart to a new understanding of this simple gospel. Letting His light shine through me means going to places other people won’t and still smiling, still caring. That’s why the Bulgarian Roma liked me… I actually cared. It also means being open to ever new and greater depths of unselfishness. To doing things that scare me to pieces, and doing them with the absolute certain trust that He’s with me. I suppose there are the makings here of a very powerful warrior for God, if it weren’t for a certain laziness I haven’t been able to shake, which makes some of those “scary things” harder to do, not because they’re scary, but because they require decision and action. But we’re working on this.

This past spring, I began to understand in brand new ways how pathetically limited was my idea of God Himself. I had Him a little too close to Zeus’s proportions, and no where near those belonging to YHWH, Creator-God-ONLY-ONE of the universe. My interactions with Him were proportionately limited and rather casual. With a revamped understanding of Him, I began to gain a new understanding of what it actually means to worship Him and live for Him and love Him. Out of these realizations, part of the idea for this blog was eventually born.

This summer, the learning continued. Thanks to the way friends sometimes share their passions with each other without even meaning to, I suddenly found that my bestie’s compassionate love for children had spread to my own heart (I’d always “loved” kids from a distance, as non-babysitter-types will, and I most definitely have been in love with my little niece since the day she was born. But compassionate love? For anyone under the age of 11? That’s new.)  That led to other little wake-ups, until one day I was at work cutting out pictures from National Geographic magazines (there was a work-related purpose, I promise), and came across a picture of little children in southeast Asia rummaging through trash heaps for metal scraps and wire that they could salvage for some pittance… and there and then I found  myself with tears in my eyes, knowing a part of me that I’d never even recognized before wouldn’t be really living until I had a personal hand in helping children like those. Out of that new-found passion, the other part of the idea for this blog was born. And out of that new-found passion, I began sponsoring a little Thai girl through Compassion International a few weeks later. And out of that new-found passion, part of my cubicle at work became dedicated to “compassion advocacy”– pictures of smiley little ones from countries across the world, all with searching, questioning eyes. Next to the pictures are powerful quotes, such as Dr. Seuss’s, “A person’s a person, no matter how small,” and Patrick McDonald’s, “Why is it that a child’s death amounts to a tragedy, but the death of millions is merely a statistic?” 

In the space of a very few weeks, thanks merely to a strange transferrence of emotion from my close friend and to a profound series of changes in my heart that only God could have manufactured, I changed from being a person passionate about God, passionate about living the love and the light, passionate about following the pursuits I believe He’s placed before me (English literature as a means for teaching as a means for reaching, as well as music and writing and some other hobbies), to being that same person but with a heart consumed by compassion. Suddenly nursing homes didn’t scare me as much. Suddenly those kids left unsponsored over the sea consumed an awful lot of my emotional energy, my plans for the future, and my words. (Did I confuse a lot of friends and coworkers and family members during this time, because of the radically different focus without any explanation. Yes… yes I did. Hurray confusion!)

And suddenly the passage in James 1, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world”– a passage which I had always technically agreed with– I actually felt at a heart level and was ready to do something about. I say I had always “technically agreed with” it because I’ve always seen compassion and holiness as critical parts of the gospel. But not until this summer did the compassion aspect really sink into my brain and heart in a tangible “this is it” kind of way. Compassion, both the feeling and the action that issues from the feeling, is half of what James calls “religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless.”

So far so good. A summer of great progress in the heart and head of Emily. But it wasn’t until mid September that I got the last piece (so far) of the puzzle. All my life I’d seen this compassion thing as a branch of the gospel and/or the church’s mission. Critically important, but not to be confused with the real work of the church– telling people about Christ and His salvation, and bringing them to a saving knowledge of Him (didn’t I word that so perfectly churchily?). I had been taught to be extremely wary of the so-called “social gospel,” i.e. focusing more on clothing and feeding the poor and healing the sick, etc., than on the immediate work of preaching the “repent and be saved” Good News gospel. I had been taught, too, that we SHOULD clothe and feed the poor and heal the sick, so there wasn’t a lack of love– it was just important to keep the right balance. The clothing and feeding should be done in all love and compassion and generousness,  but with the more important view in mind of bringing these people to a place where they could hear and understand the Good News.

Then, this summer, I began to better understand that notion of compassion being actually an important part of “religion that God our Father accepts…” In other words, it’s not just a branch off of the church’s work. Somehow it’s very critically a part of the church’s work, of the gospel. How exactly the parts fit together, I wasn’t certain. But I knew (and preached/wrote here!) that an impassioned, active love for the poor and broken and “least of these” ought (must) flow out of our love for God if it was truly love.

And then, in September, the puzzle pieces fell into place. On September 14th I wrote the Taking in the Bigger Picture post, ending with that line summarizing the duality of our role in the world as Christians, ” Hate the sin and deceit and filth with a consuming passion, as your God does. Love the people with a consuming compassion, as your God does… so you can’t rest until you’ve actually acted out and changed their lives.” I still say this is accurate. But I also admit– I didn’t fully understand my own words that day. It wasn’t til around September 18th that I got it. Compassion doesn’t merely flow out of our love for God as an extension of church/gospel action. It’s not our purpose as resulting from or separate from our calling. It’s not a result of the gospel. Compassion is the gospel.

For those of you currently reeling under the thought that I’m leaving the faith, let me quickly add that salvation (and justification and what I like to call “rejuvenation” and the rest of that path) is also the gospel. We are absolutely, I state without a single reservation, commissioned by Christ Himself to go into the world and tell people about Him, His sacrifical death for us, His power to free us from our broken and sinful prison-lives, and His passionate love that only waits for our acquiesance before He turns our ugliness in glory. This is the Bible’s gospel and I’m proud to preach it.

And…

Compassion is also the Bible’s gospel. It is God’s heart made manifest on earth. It is also, I state again without a single reservation, what He has commissioned us for.

Don’t worry, I have Scripture and lots of thinking to back this up. But… you knew it was coming… not tonight! It’s time for us all to sleep, and me to work on some of the other things He’s got in front of me right now. And then we’ll return to this oh-so-delightful topic.

The night grows ever colder, Pt 1

Hello, dear readers. Ahh… so much to say, so little time for writing it before the wireless shuts off! (Long story).

The other night I wrote a post about “stories”– our own personal stories, to be exact– and how important they are. I emphasized how sometimes we need to tell our stories for our own sakes, and other times for someone else’s sake. I also told the list of all the times and ways the idea of “stories” had come up over the past two weeks or so.

Well, needless to say, it was a little amusing to me the morning after I wrote that post, as I sat with a cup of Starbucks coffee in front of me, to read the thermal sleeve– “What’s your story? Share.” (Note to all Starbucks afficionados: I don’t have a clue whether or not that’s what it actually said. That’s just what registered in my head in that moment while I was listening to someone present a lecture. Don’t blame me.) I chuckled just a little inside. “God,” thought I, “… You’re up to something, aren’t You?”

And up to something He was. This was Saturday– a day on which I felt particularly rushed, since I had a class and then was moving across town (and hadn’ t really had a chance to pack!). But just a few hours after the Starbucks moment, I suddenly discovered myself paused, ignoring the to-do list, simply nodding sympathetically while listening to someone’s story.

She’s a woman who seems to outsiders so perfectly poised, so capable, so ridiculously intelligent, and so outgoing, that you either want to hate her or kneel at her feet and beg wisdom. Her interests and talents are far-ranging and highly fascinating. She speaks four languages. She travels. She can tell a story for every word in our language and every person in our history books. She can make you laugh in a moment. She isn’t afraid to pause in the middle of a conversation and state an undisputable truth.

And yet…. and yet. Apparently after but a few minutes of dialoguing about grammar and languages and other nerdy things, I had so disarmed this woman and so convinced her that I was a friend, not an enemy, that she began to tell her story. She spoke so artlessly I’m not even sure she knew she was talking about herself until a few minutes later, as her eyes filled with tears and she tried to laugh them off… without a hint of success.

“Every day, the moment I leave this group, I start tearing myself apart for all the things I did wrong…” 
“By the time I get home most days I’m in tears…” 
“Why have I worked so hard my whole life to serve other people… and yet never been loved by any of them?”
“I live in terror of the day I’m finally left alone. For now I have my daughter. But she will be married next year. And then I’ll be completely alone.”
“I saved all my money for so long for that trip, and I hated every minute of it. There’s nothing to enjoy about coming back to a dark, cold, hotel room to be all alone.”
“I’m starting to wonder if I’ve had the equations wrong my whole life… and yet I don’t know how to do anything else.”
“I don’t understand life.”
“Being miserable? Is that what this is supposed to be? Can you fix this for me? Because I don’t know how.”

We talked– she mostly shared, I mostly listened– for well over an hour. And never in my life have I seen anyone talk with such desperate thirst to be listened to. It wasn’t a pity party. It wasn’t a confessional. It was just a heart twisted into loneliness and misery yearning for someone– just one person– to take the time to listen, to value, to care. It’s hard to explain, gang, because we’re so used to reading these kinds of stories or seeing them in movies, and we’re so used to hearing about the “power of listening” that we’ve become a bit skeptical about it. But I can tell you for certain that for this woman, having one person that actually cared was the only spark of life she’d felt for a very, very long time.

And you know what? That hour-plus that I lost from packing and moving to listening? Didn’t really hurt  me at all. In fact I can’t think of an hour that’s felt more completely right to me.

Now, I’m not telling you this story because I want your accolades. I’m not telling you just because it’s an interesting story. I’m telling you because it opens a topic I’ve been needing to write about for several months, and just didn’t know where to start. This precious woman can be our beginning.

Some of you have heard me lately use the term “whole gospel” in reference to certain books of the Bible, certain sermons, etc. It probably weirds you out a little bit– since as far as we know and have been taught, our Bible IS the whole gospel (I do believe this!). So what do I mean by “whole gospel?” Well, let’s backtrack a little bit… to the apparently “unwhole” gospel that I’m contrasting with.

If you’ve been in the church a while, you hopefully know the message of God’s Word: man’s sinful nature, our desperate need for redemption, Christ’s (the Son of God’s) coming to earth in human form and ultimate death on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins, our ability to have our sins “washed away” because of His death and our lives renewed through the power of God’s Holy Spirit, and finally our mission to tell others of the hope that is there for them, also, and bring them to a relationship with Christ. And, of course, there’s the part about the promise of eternal life after death– of Heaven, where we will dwell with our own Savior-King.

If you’ve been following this blog long, or have conversed with me in person much during the past nine months, you may know the parts of that gospel that I preach extra loudly (because I find them not emphasized enough in general):  

  • That “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength”– means precisely that. That we should love Him with everything in us, everything we are. That life should be lived passionately. That there shouldn’t be any me left that is not showing Him. (Whew– so much easier said than done!)
  • What it means to really worship the only One worthy of worship.
  • What it means to live “holistically” for Him, instead of compartmentalizing our lives such that Christianity is just a hobby or branch.
  • What it means to be holy, set apart from the world, living according to God’s standards, giving up the things that don’t meet the standards or even sometimes the things that aren’t in themselves bad but do waste our precious time.

You may also remember my summarizing “the gospel according to Emily’s blog” (or something) like this: “Hate the sin and deceit and filth with a consuming passion, as your God does. Love the people with a consuming compassion, as your God does… so you can’t rest until you’ve actually acted out and changed their lives.”

This, as far as I can tell, is in fact the gospel presented to us in the Bible, God’s Word. And yet… I think we’re missing something. I know I was missing something until rather recently. And now I’m realizing that it was one of the most crucial pieces.

Alas… it will have to wait. I’ll let us all get a good night’s sleep, and then I’ll continue the thought.

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