definitely talking about me

I’ve been reading through the Bible over the past few months, but during the past week of spring break, I took a little hiatus. Galavanting across Europe and changing hostels every night made it hard to find moments alone with the Lord, much less in a state where I was awake enough to pay attention to a text. With the phrase “your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness stretches to the skies” stuck in my head, I decided I’d spend the next week meditating on whatever psalm that was from. It would be a nice change of pace from my four chapters of Old Testament a day (currently in the middle of Numbers) and manageable, given the pace of our travels.

Turns out, that phrase is from Psalm 36.

1 I have a message from God in my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: There is no fear of God before their eyes.

2 In their own eyes they flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their sin.

3 The words of their mouths are wicked and deceitful; they fail to act wisely or do good.

4 Even on their beds they plot evil; they commit themselves to a sinful course and do not reject what is wrong.

5 Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.

6 Your righteousness is like the highest mountains, your justice like the great deep. You, Lord, preserve both people and animals.

7 How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

8 They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights.

9 For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.

10 Continue your love to those who know you, your righteousness to the upright in heart.

11 May the foot of the proud not come against me, nor the hand of the wicked drive me away.

12 See how the evildoers lie fallen— thrown down, not able to rise!

17343015_10203060630033770_8729528025298528495_n
St. Anton, Austria

The first time I read through this psalm, curled up on my borrowed sheets in a Brussels hostel, I found myself skimming down to verse five. After all, what had initially drawn me to this chapter was the call back to the Lord’s unfailing love. As I continued reading, I was captivated by the imagery of the highest mountains and great deep; I found myself re-reading those verses as we literally drove up the mountains of the Alps. How great is His righteousness, a word here which is synonymous with justice – and how meager is my understanding of that!

Yet, I wasn’t five minutes into my exploration of the beauty of this chapter when I was overcome with a sense of conviction. It was gracious, but firm: Maddie, you haven’t even read the first five verses. My eyes had found the word “wicked” and then immediately skipped down to “love.” It wasn’t even a conscious avoidance of the verses; I had unknowingly and subconsciously bypassed them because that wasn’t what I was looking for. I was here to sit in the love of the Lord, not read about His condemnation for the wicked – what relevance did that have to me, enjoying the spoils of a spring break with my best friends? Also, I was reading for personal meditation and communion with Jesus, not exegetical bible study or teaching; skimming over context seemed to matter less.

Imagine my chagrin when scanning back up to the first five verses, I was met with this:

In their own eyes they flatter themselves
    too much to detect or hate their sin

That describes me and the posture of my heart everyday. Not only that, it cut to the heart of why I skipped over those verses in the first place. My ability to flatter myself into thinking that I’m not capable of being a part of the “wicked” people this psalm is describing means that I’m, by definition, living into that. What’s more, I’m assuming that I can jump down to the Lord’s love and righteousness without acknowledging my own sin. Except that I can’t. It leaves me with a skimpy picture of just how deep and pervasive that love and justice is. It puts it on my terms, something that I can control and comprehend. It’s only when I realize just how deeply flawed I am, how quickly I turn from the Lord that I love, and how easily I delude myself into thinking that I have less need for forgiveness, grace, or redemption, that I better understand His steadfast love. It’s only then that I can truly look upon mountains in wonder, knowing His justice spans higher and wider. It’s a convicting reality, one that clearly I’m not always great at leaning into – but such is the nature of this journey.

What a beautiful psalm that gets at the truth of who we are and who He is (even if I was initially a little hesitant about acknowledging it).

Dakota Access Pipeline

I’d say this isn’t inherently political, but even if it were, I don’t know if that would be a bad thing. After all, Scripture proves over and over again just how much God cares about legislation. However, I don’t want this particular space to be political because that sort of rhetoric often becomes divisive. I’m not here to judge who you did or did not vote for, whether you affirm or reject the current administration, or even your particular, nuanced views on certain issues. We’re allowed to hold opinions and even disagree, while upholding a mutual love and respect for one another. We may have forgotten just how to dialogue with any sort of civility, but that’s always been allowed. Perhaps liken this to my posts on things I’ve learned from refugees and about refugees. This is less about a political leaning and more about giving a voice to people who have been stripped of that for centuries.

DaPL-Sacred-Water-PosterYou’re allowed to have your own opinion about how we should and should not go about controversial issues like this. We’re allowed to disagree about what is best for the world, based on utilitarian and deontological arguments. We are all called to think deeply and come to humble, yet well-reasoned opinions.

But here’s what we aren’t allowed to do: we aren’t allowed to be ignorant or live into our blindspots. That is, we cannot be content in the places where we may not realize marginalization is happening simply because it doesn’t affect us.

Do you know about the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines? Not just in a “I read a news article earlier this morning” sort of way, but in a deeply felt, impactful sort of way. The kind of way that compels us to care because regardless of where we stand politically, this is an issue that affects real people with real emotions, identity, communities, families, hopes, and dreams. It affects a people who have been historically and illegally oppressed, impoverished, and seen as “other.” That’s not political emotionalism; it’s cause for deep lament. It’s not propaganda; it’s true. Up there with scars in our nation’s history like the Dred Scott decision, we can trace the sort of prejudice against Native Americans back to the 15th century Doctrine of Discovery. The doctrine allowed colonialist settlers to take possession of any land they discovered, regardless of who was already there – the epitome of “finders keepers,” despite the fact that someone else had technically already “found” it first. This thing has roots in the church, folks. That’s to say nothing of the revocation of the 1865 treaty of Fort Laramie or that the Indian Citizenship Act wasn’t implemented until 1924. I haven’t even mentioned something like the Trail of Tears. It highlights just how deep seated the prejudice and systemic injustice lie. That’s not to say that people are even consciously living into racist patterns, but often that people just don’t know. The prerequisite for caring is always understanding.

So, it’s time to understand.

In case you don’t know what the DAPL even is, here’s some background: this week, the Dakota Access pipeline ripped through the Native reservation, Standing Rock (home to the Lakota nation), after months of delay and protests. The controversial pipeline will carry tons of crude oil from North Dakota to southern Illinois by the Energy Transfer Partners Company in Texas. The project, originally scheduled to run outside of the capital city of Bismark, was later redirected through the Standing Rock reservation in the name of minimizing casualties if the pipe were to leak (which is more common and life threatening than you might think). That, and it’s a lot easier to force Native Americans off the reservation than it is to fight billion-dollar cooperations in court. More than just a threat to water, the pipeline has ripped up Native land, destroying sacred burial sites and defacing the very thing that gives the Lakota Indians identity (and the one thing they’ve been promised autonomy over by the government) – their land.

980x (1)
photo from ecowatch.com

We should care because these people are made in the image of God. These people have inherent value because the image of God is stamped upon them (Genesis 1:27). This means their bodies, their 60% water-filled bodies, have value. The incarnation of Jesus speaks to their dignity and worth, regardless of any political agenda or hidden racism we have harbored (myself included). They deserve to be heard and seen because they bear the very beauty of our Creator.

We should care because Native spirituality (both Christian and otherwise) understands things about our faith that we often miss. This point deserves much more than a few sentences of  summary and people like Steven Charleston articulate this much better than I can (and from the perspective of Native Christians, which automatically makes it more authoritative). It’s the idea that these people understand the significance of God promising land, vowing to redeem the Israelite’s land, and promising blessing when the people had no land better than we do. They understand the significance of a God who hovers above the waters (Gen. 1:2), who the winds obey (Matt. 8:27), and who is described as being akin to a consuming fire (Deut. 4:24). People who’ve never fallen into the sin of gnosticism because the very fabric of their culture is rooted in a deep sense of embodiment and worship. We need them to help us understand who the Great Spirit, the I Am that I Am, is and how He works in the world.

We should care because the way the First Nations have been treated historically is wrong, unjust, and illegal. Do I need to elaborate? Read any of the aforementioned articles and treaties that have been used, abused, and breached over the centuries of colonialism and settlement. Whatever your feelings are towards the DAPL, these people deserve to be heard because they’ve spent centuries being silenced.

We should care because we should care about environmental issues and the wellbeing of the earth. I hear lots of poking fun and joking at the expense of “eco-friendly” people, but the truth is that they have something right when it comes to our mandate for caring for the earth. There are so many reasons that the sustainability of our planet matters: as a command from God, as a part of the eternal renewal of the “new earth,” as a generational legacy, and ability to sustain life. I may be enjoying the warmer days for February in Chicago, but that’s because melting ice caps doesn’t directly affect me. Just because it doesn’t directly affect me doesn’t mean that it doesn’t matter.

We should care because we should care. At the end of the day, these are people who are being affected by something and that is cause enough for us to lend an ear and listen. We may not get it, understand, or agree but we don’t have to do anything other than listen and advocate on the very basis that these are people. People matter; people should always matter. Their feelings, their homes, their livelihood, their land – it matters because they matter. And we haven’t lived with a perspective that Native bodies matter in a very long time.

You no longer have an excuse for not caring because you can no longer claim that you didn’t know. To learn more, visit Stand with Standing Rock.

Am I Loving Something Else More than Jesus?

We know that Christ’s proximity to us never changes, so if I’m walking through a moment, a week, or a season where He feels distant, there’s a chance there’s something going on in my heart. I question my heart when I’m feeling anxious, apathetic, or overwhelmed. If I’m wondering where Jesus is or having trouble hearing Him, I compel my heart to evaluate: Am I loving something else more than Jesus?

 

That’s not to say that His silence or my emotions are always tied to some prioritization, sin-issue. Sometimes we walk through desert seasons, unprompted by our actions, where He is actively silent. Sometimes our emotions just don’t make logical sense. Yet, in asking these questions, I’m able to better identify if something emotional or spiritual is going on that’s causing whatever disconnect my body and soul are feeling, or if it’s something that I’ve consciously or unconsciously stepped myself into.

 

Over the years, I’ve found a couple of good indicators that help me answer this question honestly. If any one of these things is true of my recent habits or thought patterns, it’s often an indication that something has stolen or is in the process of stealing away my first Love.

 

maddie42

 

1.) If I’m not tithing. . .
This is often the first place I can go when it comes to checking the priorities in my heart. Since I was little, giving generously hasn’t been a strong suit of mine. While the Lord has been gracious, patient, and convicting, it’s still one of the first things to go when I’m keeping a tight grip on my life or am needing some semblance of control. If I’m not tithing or have pulled back on the 2 Corinthians 8:2 and Mark 12:44 kind of generosity I so long for, it’s a good indication that I’m loving something else more than Jesus.

 

2.) If I’m planning my future with lots of pragmatism, worry, and details. . .
There’s a tension here, because on one level, I need to be planning my future. I’m graduating undergrad college in less than three months, and in just over a year I’ll be done with my masters program. I’m actively taking steps towards what the Lord has my future and I’d be remiss and unfaithful if I wasn’t. In and of itself, the planning for my future or moving towards open doors isn’t a bad thing. However, there’s a difference between trusting the Lord, walking into the things He’s doing and living in a place of control, surety, and self-assurance that often leads to worry. Oftentimes, the more details I’m including or searching for, the better the indicator of my own desire for control. When the focus of my planning is myself, my ability to manipulate the details, and my sense of ability, there’s a good chance I’m loving something else more than Jesus.

 

3.) If I’m spending lots of time watching TV (especially in leu of other restful things). . .
Another tension one, because there are times when things like watching Netflix or napping are the most restful, spiritual things that I can be doing. There are times where I’ve tried to spend deep time with Jesus and He told me to watch a movie with Him instead – not because studying Scripture, processing what He’s doing, and interceding in prayer aren’t imperatively important but because sometimes I can get so wrapped up in them that I forget to rest. To just be. I’m convinced that anything can be done as an act of worship in the right moments. However, these things of rest can also be a form of escapism if I’m not careful – things to draw me away from dealing with my life, emotions, or relationships. Ways of shutting down because I’m avoiding myself, others, or the Lord. If I’m actively avoiding other things that are restful, such as walks, drawing, working out, writing, or reading, because they might require more introspection and difficulty, there’s a good chance something has taken the Lord’s place in my heart.

 

4.) If I find myself doubting or questioning things that the Lord has said in the past. . .
There’s a place for questioning and testing the work of the Lord in our lives, especially as ongoing maturity lead us to new levels of illumination of who He is. We should approach everything with a level of humility in how capable we are of getting it wrong (that’s the whole point of the Gospel). Yet, when I find myself wondering if things the Lord has done or spoken in the past are trustworthy, it’s usually an indication that something else has slipped into my soul. Because for as capable as I am of missing it, I also know that He is near and who He is can be trusted. Changing views should be a progression of growth and grace, not a sense that the Lord can’t be trusted, and if that’s what it feels like when I think back to His work in my life, then there’s a good chance something else has snuck it’s way in.

 

5.) If it’s becoming easier to justify things that I know are wrong. . .
 Like number 4, there’s a level of growing into maturity and new understandings of what is and isn’t sin, however there are certain things that I’ve established as either universally or personally wrong. Things that I’ve committed to or things that Scripture has previously called me out on are usually a pretty good baseline for what I should and should not be doing. This is less about my ability to slip up or to make mistakes and more about my conviction in justifying things. If I’ve found myself in a place where I’m rationalizing things that I’ve previously committed to not engage with, there’s a pretty good chance I’m avoiding the Lord and something else is competing for His love.

 

6.) If I’m overly critical or praiseworthy of others, in a way that stems from comparison. . .
This is not a sense of encouragement or noticing the work of the Lord in others – this is noticing beauty in them for the sake of putting myself down. Or conversely, this is not a sense of being aware of other’s shortcomings for the sake of growth and care, but rather a sense of hypercritical frustration with who they are. If I’m being judgmental and altogether hateful in my thoughts, actions, or interactions with others, particularly those who’ve seemed to rub against specific insecurities, it’s a pretty good indication that the issue is with me, not them. If it’s proving harder and harder to love others, there’s a good chance the Lord is not #1 in my heart.

 

maddie9
They aren’t end-all-be-all markers of my relationship with the Lord. Sometimes these things come up when I’m walking closely with Jesus. This isn’t to say that all six have to be present for me to acknowledge that I’m avoiding the Lord, nor that if only one is present I’m in a good place spirituality. They manifest with different reasons and different intensities at different times. But in general, they are pretty incongruent when my heart is focused solely on Jesus. Which is what makes them a great, practical, often painful, indicators of my true heart condition.

 

If You Give a Maddie a Cookie

I’m sure you know the children’s book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. It tells the story of a sweet little mouse who is hopelessly trapped in a circular tale of desire. He gets the cookie and realizes he wants milk. The milk makes him need napkin. The napkin reminds him that he wants to color. Coloring reminds him that he’s hungry. And so it goes…

A couple of months ago, I re-read this book inside Minneapolis’ Wild Rumpus Bookstore for Children. As a chicken ran around my feet and a cat nuzzled my leg, I was struck by this bedtime story’s similarity to my twenty-something life. Then again, isn’t that often how it goes with things that were meant for little ones?

Because, for as far as I’d like to imagine that I’ve come, I’m really no better than the mouse. Except we’ve swapped cookies and coloring for larger circumstances, life-related answers, and more adult-sized longings:

If the Lord gives Maddie a cookie, she’ll probably wonder where she’s going to eat the cookie.

When the Lord tells her where she can eat the cookie, she’ll probably wonder who she can share the cookie with.

When the Lord tells her that the people she will share the cookie with aren’t here yet, she’ll probably wonder when they will show up.

In waiting for them to show up, she’ll probably realize she wants some milk to go along with the cookie. So she’ll start praying for milk.

When the Lord gives her a glass of milk, she’ll drink it (probably forgetting to say “thank you”) and then ask for a napkin to wipe her face with.

Waiting for the napkin will remind her that she was also waiting on people to share her cookie with, which was the point of the milk in the first place.

One answer leads to the next, except the answers always seems to perpetuate more questions, more desires, more expectations about what’s next. Questions about today lead into questions about my future which remind me that I have questions about timing and purpose and desire and expectations, and next thing I know I’m searching for more answers than I am enjoying the cookie in front of me.

As much as I want to believe that I don’t fall into patterns like the little mouse, if I’m honest, it’s easier than I’d like to fall into this “giving a mouse her cookie” spirituality. I tell the Lord that if He’ll be clear about this one thing that I’ll be able to fully rest in trusting Him. If only I knew what internship or job to take, where I’m going to live after graduation, what my future community will look like, if I’ll get the scholarship, if I’ll ever end up overseas, who He’s asking me to serve with, etc. then I wouldn’t be so crazy, obsessive, or confused. I say that I’m not looking for answers to everything, just this one thing. Except it’s never just this one thing. As soon as the Lord gives me clarity on step 2, I’ve already begun searching for steps 3 and 4. The next thing I know, my trust in the Lord has gone out the window and I’ve convinced myself that I’ll be satisfied after the next step, but the next step never comes. The hamster wheel never flattens out and so we just keep running and spinning…fretting about what’s next, searching for the next answered prayer, all while missing what’s in the moment and being grateful for what’s passed.

The first step is realizing when we’ve fallen into patterns of running on the wheel and the second step is jumping off. Smelling the flowers. Enjoying our cookie. Sharing with the people around us. Expecting the napkin to come, sure, because God is a God who delights in providing and calls us to depend. But not worrying about the crumbs that are falling while we wait.

cookie