Angry Jesus

I have such vivid childhod memories of the story of the angry Jesus. FlannelGraph Jesus with a stern brow, overturning tables, letting the coins fly, sending men and animals scattering. Jesus has a temper, we all learned. Don’t make him mad.

In high school, I was selling bags of candy for some fundraiser at school. Giant candy bars, fifty cents each, all to fund the winter formal dance. I took my inventory to youth group on a Wednesday night, knowing this was the great market I needed: hungry teenagers with a couple of quarters in their pockets, all who were off the grid of my high school community where we girls were saturating the market, offering the same students and teachers the same menu day after day.

But my friend John stopped me in the parking lot. “Tricia, don’t you understand that Jesus overturned the tables in the church for a decision like the one you’re about to make? I don’t think you should do it. Don’t sell candy tonight.”

I’m still not sure if I made the right decision, and I truly don’t care anymore. It seems like a legalistic move in retrospect, but I didn’t sell my candy that night.

And I probably claimed some lofty reason, such as I didn’t want to cause someone else to stumble, just in case buying a KitKat coiuld totally compromise one’s worship with idolatry.

Anyway, this is not why I write this story.

I write today because I read the story and noticed something new, which is absolutely my favorite thing about reading the Bible. It’s like it’s somehow always consistent and yet never the same book twice.

Jesus tore through the temple, thrashing his homemade whip all around, setting animals free and letting gold and silver coins fall to the ground in a loud clatter. The indignant salespeople of the temple said to him, “What authority do you have to do all of this?”

And Jesus, ever speaking in riddles, said, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

I picture their response: “Whatever. Clearly he knows nothing. It has taken 46 years to build this place, and we’re not tearing it down on a whim.”

But that’s not what he meant. He wasn’t referring to the temple they had built, but the temple that He is. The temple that is his body. The one that would raise from the grave three days after they were sure he was gone for good.

Here’s the part I noticed for the first time:

“After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.”

After he was raised from the dead, they believed the words he had spoken. Which simply leads me to conclude that they weren’t all in when he was teaching them. They had some questions.

I feel two things I consider this:

I’m okay with my questions. I feel comfortable with them. I’m willing to let them sit here beside me, wander in my mind, and even keep me awake at night.

And I also know that God is planting seeds around me that I won’t even know about until later. Later, I will look back and think, “Yes! It makes sense now! That’s what he was telling me way back then, when something caught my attention but I didn’t know what it meant.”

God, let me not miss the things you want me to see today, even if they don’t make sense to me now. I think you’ll use them later, so that when more of your story is told, I will remember, I will believe, and I will know you are who you are.

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Captain Crunch and Job.

I spilled a bowl of Captain Crunch Berries into my bible this morning.

My elbow came down, right into the bowl, everything toppled over, and just like that, Murphy had a feast of dairy and sugar on the floor, and my delightful disposition had been altered just a few degrees.

I’ve always said that I respect and admire damage to a book. (I am a faithful damager of books.) It breeds character. It tells the story of the story.

I think the swollen pages say, “She took this book to the pool on a summer afternoon, and her fingertips were drippy as she read.”

Or, “The pages are stuck together because she was eating graham crackers and frosting while she read.”

Or, “The black streak on the back cover is some kind of librarian code from the bookstore where she bought it.”

Or, “The scribbles on the inside cover are from her toddler, and she has dozens of such books from that season in her life.”

Or, “She dropped it in a puddle. Give her a freaking break.”

Or, “She was reading while she was fixing dinner, hence the marinara sauce on the binding.”

And now my bible, Job 19-23, is stained, tattered, torn, sticky, and lumpy. The pages are crispy and crunchy.

But on these pages, I had underlined these words Job spoke to his friends, those who meant so well but were really only good for him while they sat quietly without speaking. (Let this be a lesson to us all: silence is not uncaring. It is gracious being.)

Oh, that my words were recorded, that they were written on a scroll, that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead, or engraved in rock forever. I know that my Redeemer lives.

To read this, on the very week when I will hold in my hands the dream come true, the fruition of two years of writing and many years of life, the book I have written.

Today I claimed these words over this book and any other I will write:

If anyone understands anything from my words, may it be this: I know that my Redeemer lives.

Anything else is love and dry wit and thoughtful endings. But at the core, there is that truth: I know that my Redeemer lives.

I know that my Redeemer lives, and Captain Crunch has left his mark in the book of Job.

Marrying Off a ‘Potential.’

Potentials.

A single friend of mine invented this word, and I’m going with it. We agree – it’s the best word to describe this category of people in our lives.

Potentials are people whom we might have shared a future with, we’ve spent time with them, and even more time praying over them, and the most time dreaming of a life together.

And then they marry someone else.

It’s an odd thing to ‘marry off a potential.’ To watch them choose love in another lane, to see the hoopla over their pictures and attire, their entrance and exit, their joy now complete, and to fight the notion that it ‘should have been yours.’ To watch a Potential get married, and incidentally, to know they’re for sure having sex now, regardless of whether they were before… well, it’s a whole other thing to try not to obsess about.

There was this man.  Well, there is this man.  He’s still alive.  He exists, hence the present tense verb.  I thought I was going to marry him.

And I’m not the only one who thought so – many, many people thought so.  There are pages in my journal, one confirmation after another – through people and Scripture and events – that couldn’t be coincidences.  I practically had our names inscribed in a wedding cake serving set.

But he married someone else.

So there’s that.

Insert: Faith Crisis.  What were all those confirmations?  Who is this voice I was listening to, the one I know, the voice that has been true other times in my life and seemed so on track this time?  What the… what?

I don’t know.  I have no idea.  A whole psalm could be written about me right now, the girl who thought she knew the end of the story.  But here’s the thing about the agency of free will: God could have given me all those arrows pointing in that direction, but the man in question still had his own decision to make.  And that right there is the Game Changer.

The strangest kind of Potential is when he didn’t even know he was one. When it was perhaps all a one-sided love affair in my mind. That’s an odd one to process.

Not even sad, necessarily. Just… odd.

Back to the drawing board.

One Thousand Days Later

I don’t really know how it happened, since I have long loved Chris Tomlin. But somehow, I had never heard that song before.

Three years ago, there were two memorial services for Robb: one in Colorado, and one in Ohio, our home for so many years. The absence of Robb was felt far and wide. On the day we all came together to remember him, both venues were standing room only.

In the Ohio funeral, which took place in the very same chapel where we were married, I heard this song that I had somehow never heard.

Our God is greater.
Our God is stronger.
God, you are higher than any other.
Our God is Healer,
Awesome in power,
Our God, our God.

I sat in the front row, letting these words pour over me. Everyone around me, as far as I could hear, sang and worshipped the God who gives and takes away. That song has become pinnacle to me. Words, melody, lyrics, and truths that I cling to. It always takes me back to the front row of the Memorial Chapel, where I let my friends sing and believe when I could hardly do either.

Now, more than one thousand days later, I sit among the congregation of proud (and digitally equipped) parents listening to the children’s choir. My two sons are standing on the left as I face the stage. Tucker is in the third row, fiercely paying attention and singing his heart out. Tyler is standing in the third row, joyfully making up his own choreography, and sending messages to me through sketchy sign language and words written in the air.

(My favorite: he traced a heart in the air and pointed from his chest to me. I heart you, Mommy.)

And then, my children sang in a choir of voices loud and pure, unashamed and believing:

Our God is greater.
Our God is stronger.
God, you are higher than any other.
Our God is Healer,
Awesome in power,
Our God, our God.

And then my boys stomp their feet in rhythm with the song, because this, my friends, is our favorite part:

And if our God is for us, then who could ever stop us?
And if our God is with us, than what could stand against?

Tears stream down my face as my children sing these words, these truths, that have held my pieces together. One thousand days later, my children lead me in worship.

Our God is greater and stronger. If he is for us, then nothing, nobody, can ever, ever stop us.

 

Christians Suck Sometimes.

“Christians kind of suck sometimes,” I said, holding her hand.

“Oh, I know this.”

“I know you know, because you haven’t been loved well. But here’s what I want you to know: there are many of us who are mean and judging and hurtful. But those are just Christians behaving badly. That’s not God. That’s not his heart for you, or what he wants for you – and it’s not what he wants from us.”

Her eyes filled with tears.

“Oh, my friend,” I whispered.  “He just loves you. He is not the author of shame, confusion, or fear. When you feel those, you can know they are not from God, and they are not what he wants for you. Someone else gave that to you, handed it to you, placed it on you. But not God.”

She cried.

***

“Why do Christians suck so much?” I ask loudly when I can finally speak, because the moment of striking loneliness always brings me back here. To church. To the places where I am most wounded. I look at Miles, angry, my breath a mix of alcohol and dark roast.

“I don’t know,” Miles sighs. “They just sometimes do.”

I put my coffee down and put my head in my hands.

“I know what you’re going through,” he says quietly. “I mean, I’ve been there.”

“Why did you go back?” I mumble into my hands. I mean to the faith. To Church People. To the college on Snelling with the required biblical studies major and the ridiculous visiting hours and the rule about not dancing. To the people who look at you suspiciously, who wait for you to fail.

Miles thinks about it for a moment. “Because some of them don’t suck. Some of them understand what Jesus is all about. Some of them will love you without a thought.”

~ Addie Zierman, When We Were On Fire: 

A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over*

 

*I am in love with this memoir.  Addie writes about her journey of growing up in an evangelical environment, of cliches and guidelines that carry great meaning but are often divorced from the Scripture that they were originally derived from.  She comes of age and realizes that all of these words, cliches, rules, and contracts are not actually directives from God.  And it revolutionizes her thinking.

I would like to send a mass email to everyone from my youth group, summer camp, and college community.  I would say, Please read this and then let’s all meet at a giant Starbucks so we can talk about it.  I totally want to hear your thoughts.  And maybe we can each drop a line to the influencers in our lives who taught us how to think, not what to think.

If you grew up in the evangelical subculture, and you’ve ever questioned if any or all of it is legit, please read this book.  Stat.