Mixing Jesus, Palms, and Politics

It’s Holy Week, the final week of Lent. The last 5 Sundays, we’ve taught our students about different places in life that a faith in Jesus takes us–places that are messy, unfamiliar, and scary. But we’ve also talked about how faith in Jesus means that He provides for us when we’re exhausted, intercedes in those scary places to restore peace in our lives, and provides redemption where it’s so desperately needed.

When I studied for my Palm Sunday lesson, I became really intrigued by the crowds. The crowds were really excited about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, but why?  As I read Matthew, I realized that the crowd probably didn’t really know who Jesus was. But because a few amped the crowd up, the entire crowd joined in and laid down their coats and palm branches.

It’s kind of like March Madness–I could care less about basketball. But because everyone else is excited, I’m rubbing my winning bracket in everyone’s faces. I’m just counting down the days until baseball.

But those same crowds who were so for Jesus became so against him just a few days later. And why? Again, I think it was because a few energetically swayed the crowd.

It’s more than that, though–the Jewish believed that the savior of the world was to become a King and save the world through politics. The Messiah would end hatred, oppression, suffering, disease, and bring world peace. All the Jews would be gathered back in Israel, and all of humanity would be united as one with universal knowledge of God.

But Jesus wasn’t playing by those rules–he never became King, but told people it was their responsibility to bring the Kingdom of God. He didn’t bring world peace but told people to become the peacemakers. He didn’t bring universal knowledge of God, but brought the Holy Spirit so that they could have a more personal connection with God.

And because he didn’t fit the Jewish concept of Messiah, He was rejected. The Jews wanted to put the Messiah in a pretty political box, and Jesus wouldn’t fit.

Here’s the troubling part–Christians still do this today.

With many of our hot-button issues, including but not limited to Ferguson and Indiana’s “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” we put Jesus into a political box. We say that if Jesus was here today, he would say (fill in the blank). Both sides of the arguments use Scripture and rationalize how Jesus would defend their arguments. They simplify the issue into a definitive political stance from God. And I think that many tend to influence a crowd into believing the same–rallying against one another with God on their side.

And just like the Jews were split, causing to branch into what we call Christianity, we’re doing the same today.

I think that more than anything, the thing Jesus would take a stance on is using God’s name to oppress one another. Jesus had many words to say to the Pharisees for using God’s name to oppress the poor and brokenhearted.  Jesus lived in the trenches with people, helping them grasp a better understanding of God, rather than rallying against them or using God as a weapon. And as he died on the cross, he cried out to God, “Forgive them, because they don’t know what they’re doing…”

Now, I don’t think protesting or standing up against something is wrong. But I do think that saying, “If Jesus was here, he’d be a Republican/Democrat/LGBTQ Activist/Ferguson Rioter/Pro-Life/Anti-Guns/____” is a bold claim. Especially when there is so much going on in the world–where would Jesus actually be? And, does that mean that Jesus doesn’t care about the people who aren’t where he is?

I think it sets us up for disappointment later, when we realize that maybe Jesus doesn’t fit in that box like we hope. Jesus came to save the world in a way that was different than what generations and generations of Jews thought. What a dissapointment…so why do we assume that we have it right?

So I ask that we invite Jesus into these conversations not to defend our side of the argument, but to help us interact with one another in a way that reflects Him.

Because when I finally meet God, I know that he’s going to say to me, “Silly girl, you were so gung-ho about ____, but you were so wrong. But because you saught me above even that, you are so forgiven.”

The Jews killed Jesus because he didn’t fit into a political mold. Let’s not make the same mistake.

How to Transition Students Effectively

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I am SUPER excited about having the ability to write for Youth Specialties. I’m a huge fan of them, and here is my first article! The biggest part of my position is wrapped around transitioning students into and out of junior high. Read about some of the things we’ve learned!

Click here!

On Demon Pigs

I’m beginning to gain a reputation as the youth minister who tells her tweens really weird stories.

And I’m okay with that.

This week in our Lenton series we told the story of Jesus taking the disciples to Decapolis and curing men there of demons by casting them into pigs that go flailing off the cliff.

I made all of our 5th-7th graders pinky promise me that we wouldn’t get caught up on the “demons” portion of the story, but that instead we would focus on why Jesus would take the disciples to Decapolis (which is the purpose of this particular series–why does Jesus take us these places?). Decapolis was a place Jews weren’t supposed to go, as evidenced by the pigs there. But why would Jesus take them to that place?

Jesus took them to that place because he wanted to show the disciples that they could leave a potential anywhere. That place was unfamilar, a place unlike any place they’ve ever experienced before. But faith with God takes us to those places that were unfamiliar so that on one hand our hearts can be softened for that environment and learn from it…but also so that we can impact those places in the same way that we’ve been impacted.

As I processed this with my small group, I thought about places in my life that were unfamiliar, places that I was unaware of the possibility of potential. I usually jump to when I began college–I was this poor city kid in an affluent rural school, trying to figure out friends who went “mudding” for fun. I put up a wall between myself and others because I didn’t think that we would understand each other. But I learned a lot about community with people who came from all kinds of different backgrounds as me.

But I think I forgot about this. Or at least, didn’t associate it to what I’m experiencing now: Moving my life to Indianapolis has been extremely difficult. It’s been difficult to find community. I thought that was because I was in an environment where I no one could possibly understand me. There’s a lot of affluency in this culture, and I thought that they wouldn’t get me. I thought they wouldn’t understand my background. Or my humor. Or my pain. Or me.

But in a sense, it’s like when I went to college and explored a new culture. The thing that excited me when I moved to Indianapolis was the possibility of doing faith in a brand new way. But I didn’t realize that I was going to have to do community in a brand new way.

I think the biggest hurdle isn’t finding people who are like me. It’s finding people who want to do messy community with me. I’ve always been in places where people lay their junk out in the open. We weren’t the same, just people who wanted to live openly. People who knew that diversity didn’t hinder community, but was a symptom of it.

I feel like today is almost a turning point for me. I had my “AHA” moment and realized that I can build community anywhere with anyone, as long as they are willing to build it back. I can continue being my messy, open self as long as others can be messy and open. And that’s difficult to find. But that’s what the Church does.

Words Without Instagram Filters

People who know me and know me well know that I come without a filter.

And I mean, I try really really hard at having a filter. I’ve come a long way! That’s why I can teach 5th and 6th grade without talking about inappropriate things. Well, besides the inappropriate things in the Bible.

Last week our ministry team watched a video on how technology has affected our ability to communicate with one another. Afterwards, we sat in roundtables and talked about it for a few minutes.

I shared how one of my biggest struggles in ministry is knowing how to say things in a way that is more diplomatic, i.e. filtered through the proper lens for the appropriate audience. I shared how I put my foot in my mouth and repeatedly kick myself for how I say things.

But it was pointed out: Why is it seen as a disadvantage if you speak your mind? Why do we have such unrealistic expectations for what a person should be like? Why are people supposed to fit in such a tight box, with no room for personality?

Think about it: With the internet, there are filters. I can put a filter on Instagram so that real life looks better–whether it’s myself, my scenary, or my dinner. You can’t view pictures of arguments I have with family or friends, of what my insides feel like when I hurt (or eat too much salsa), or when I’m having a bad day and am mad at God. You can’t capture that in pictures, nor do I want you to see that. You can also filter who your friends are and who you can date, through social media platforms and dating websites. You don’t like baseball? Then you can’t date me. You posted an article from a different political standpoint? Not worth my time. Lastly, we use filters when we email or use written communication. I am in my element when I write because I have a backspace button. I can control exactly what I say and how I say it.

But when we speak, there is no backspace button. There is no ctrl+a+delete. There’s only the moment and the words that fill it.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t think before you speak.

I’m saying that it’s not always a sign of weakness if you speak your mind. It’s not a weakness to be vulnerable and speak your heart. It’s okay to put passion behind your opinions, as long as you are doing your best to value others. And I’m not weak because I stutter and go off on tangents and have invented my own language on accident.

Real life is not the internet. And that’s okay! Real life is a whole lot messier than the pictures you post online, and that’s beautiful.

On Peter’s Doubt

This week we began the season of Lent. This morning when I asked my students what “Lent” is they either had one of two answers:
1.  Belly gunk
2. When you give up something for 40 days and make everyone around you miserable.

Ha.

We began the series in our church with the story found in Matthew 14:23-32:  Jesus insists that the disciples get onto a boat at sea, even though it is evening. Jewish culture believed that evil was at sea in the nighttime, but Jesus insists they go. Jesus is setting them up to be in a place of vulnerability, because, how else do you learn?  Jesus is away praying, and the storms come. Jesus walks on the water towards the boat, and the disciples think it’s a ghost–after all, they knew it was a bad idea to get on the boat!

Peter, who is my spirit animal disciple, cries out, “Jesus, if it’s really you, I want to walk too.”  This is why Peter is my spirit animal–he sees Jesus doing something, and he immediately wants to emulate it. Not a lot of thought goes into it; he just does.  But Peter gets caught in the waves and begins to sink, so he cries out to Jesus to save him. And Jesus says, “Why do you doubt?” and saves him.

I’ve always heard this story summed up as, “You need to just trust Jesus more.”

But oh, how that misses the point.

Peter didn’t doubt Jesus. Peter knew that Jesus could walk on water, he knew that Jesus could allow Peter to, and he knew that Jesus could save him when he began to sink.

What Peter didn’t trust in was his own ability to follow Jesus.

Again, I resonate with Peter, and I’m sure you do, too: So many times we hop out of the boat, eager to follow Jesus. But as soon as the waves begin to happen in life, we lose faith…not in God himself, but in our own ability to follow him.

But here’s the cool thing: Even when you don’t think you can follow him on your own, Jesus pulls you up and saves you.

The important thing is to just jump out of the boat.

So, what are the waves that keep you distracted?  What are the lies you believe that keep you from believing that you’re capable of being like Christ?

Lessons from my one-eyed cat

I have a cat.

A one-eyed cat.

Most of my friends know this–my Facebook and Instagram were covered with pictures of her for a while, and while I’ve slowed down on snapping every cute thing she does, I post about her regularly.

Iris is very affectionate. She is always begging for love, and it can be pretty annoying. She always wants to be petted and cuddled. She’s also very vocal,, so she mews and mews and does a weird cry so you’ll pet her. And in the middle of the night, when she’s all alone, her cries as she roams my home sound like, “Hewwo, hello???”

I promise it is cute–most of the time.

This morning, Iris interrupted my prayer time meowing, so I held her as I prayed.   I just asked God to use this time to speak to me, when she jumped out of my arms and began crying out. I said, “Iris, I had you in my arms. Why did you jump out? It’s your own fault that you’re upset.”

And that’s when it dawned on me:  God always has room for us, room for affection and love and grace.

We are the ones who reject it, run away from it. And yet, we are the ones complaining loudly., treating God as if he is the one who abandoned us.

We are like my annoying, affectionate, vocal cat.  And just like I love Iris and think she’s the best animal on the planet, God has the feels for us even more.

(PS: When I named Iris, I named her part because of the eye situation, part because I love old lady names, and part because of the Goo Goo Dolls song. The entire song is about a person who feels Isolated, but wants so badly to be loved. I didn’t know Iris the cat well enough to understand how fitting this would be. Ha.)