Enjoying the day in God's cathedral

Once in a while, it's good to take time out and leave familiar surroundings. Mike and I did this on Sunday and took Andrew, Jonathan, Stephen, Michael, and Ethan up to the top of Pikes Peak. At 14,114 feet, the view from the top is really beautiful.

It was a good, relaxing day. A kind of day that feels spiritually healing. There we were in God's cathedral with an endless ceiling and no walls, ornamented by alpine forest and puffy white clouds. The birds and the sounds of the forest are the music.

On the way up we stopped at Crowe's Gulch and hiked on a trail that was flanked by high grass, and sprinkled with many types of wildflowers.

Of course tall, lush pine trees and twinkling aspens were abundant:

Since I am a fool for wildflowers, I carried in a 70 mm macro lens and took a few pictures:

Hairy Clematis

Fairy Trumpet

I have no idea what this flower is. It wasn't in my book and it was the most unusual one we saw. Any ideas?

Mariposa Lily (thanks, Sue!)

I'm not sure what was capturing the boys' interest in this spot, but guess who is the little ham?

From left to right: Michael, Andrew, Jon, Stephen and Ethan, hamming it up in the middle.
 It took most of the day because we stopped a lot, including a good picnic lunch at the Halfway picnic grounds, but we finally ended up at the top. Here, the air is very thin. Once in a while you have to stop walking and catch your breath. The scenery, however, is worth a little oxygen deprivation. It is out of this world gorgeous when it's clear. You can see why Katharine Lee Bates wrote "America the Beautiful" after her visit to Pike's Peak in 1893. "How Great Thou Art" also comes to mind.

From left to right: (front) Mike, Michael, Ethan. Back row: Andrew, Stephen and Jonathan.

On the way down the mountain we found a place to pull over. As you can see, we're just below the clouds:

If you're ever in Colorado, you really should drive up the Peak. The toll road is full of switchbacks, especially near the top, but it's paved all the way up and worth the drive. We had a great time. I'll let you know when Mike publishes our galleries on WritingPlaces.com.

Grace and shalom,

Community: Good article on Relevant

"Relevant" magazine has a good post about making community happen.

"Want a Revolution? Make a Casserole."

Give it a read and tell us what you think.


God and Art Series: Artist seeks to glorify God with talent

If you're looking for clothing, Etsy is a good place to look for the unique, either vintage or handmade. However, if you want to support designers who love Jesus and wants to glorify him through their work, then BglorifiedBoutique is the place for you.

Owned by Cindy, Deb and Dana, Bglorified Boutique has been open since November, 2011. They sell unique heart cut out sweaters, headbands, jewelry, hats and other crocheted items. Since the clothing is designed by Dana, Cindy let her respond to the interview questions. Dana is also the shop's photographer.

YBAL: Tell us a little about yourself and your artwork. When did you start developing your artistic-self?

Dana: I have been in the arts since I was a little girl when I started acting in our amazing church plays. Because of my exposure, at the age of six, I was asked to sing in at Christian Recording Artist, Steve Green’s, concert held at our church. From there, I was in tons of musicals and even figure skated competitively for nine years. At the age of 15, my parents bought me a great digital camera and sowed the seed for my future. I have been a professional photographer specializing in weddings and portraits since 2010.

YBAL: Have you received any awards or other achievements? Where can people find your work? 

Dana: I recently was named “Most-Loved Photographers in 2011” from BridesView magazine. You can find it here.

My wedding and engagement photography has been published in several other prestigious online magazines such as Style Me Pretty and Borrowed and Bleu

YBAL: What attracts you to textiles and clothing? How do you gain inspiration for your work?

Dana: So, I said all that to bring you to how I began creating fashions! I encouraged my Mom and her friend Deb to sell their handiwork on Etsy and I would be their photographer. So they did and opened their Etsy shop in November 2011.

My friend and I started doing a craft session for our own fun each week so for Valentine’s week, we decided to make heart cut-out shirts. Like every proud college girl, I posed in my shirt on Facebook and the rest is history. Within the first two weeks, I sold 47 shirts and my desire to design skyrocketed! I am obsessed with choosing fabrics and I do not make anything I wouldn’t wear myself.

YBAL: How have the events of your life affected your art? How has art affected your life?

My brother almost died when I was nine years old and when he found out my Mom was putting me into school after being home schooled all my life, my brother begged her to let me stay home and school with him.I realized how important home and family are at a young age. Owning my own business and working from home have been a blessing to stay close to family.

Art in many forms has been my life from such an early age that I truly do not know life without it! I know singing and acting out those plays about Jesus and especially beside Jesus, at an early age, has affected my spiritual life. I knew who he was in a most personal way and everything I am able to create or accomplish is to glorify him. That is why we named the shop BglorifiedBoutique. That, and we want every woman to look glorious in our fashions.

YBAL: When did you begin your relationship with God and how? How has your relationship with God affected your art? How has art affected your relationship to God?

Dana: My parents took me to church every Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night. I do not remember ever not knowing Jesus. As I mentioned earlier, I acted out Jesus’ life as a child who was his friend every year for seven years in a magnificent Easter play called 'Behold the Lamb." In my teenage years I was on the worship team. Praising God became so personal through music. Each year I participated in a Fine Arts Festival competing in vocal, human video acting, and photography. The focus on Jesus and how he used thousands of people to communicate his message in dozens of art forms blessed me at a young age to realize every one of us is made different for a glorious reason: to reach the lost where they are in the art forms that speak best to them.I would say the art of creating beautiful things for people whether it be photographic memories of huge milestones in life such as wedding and engagement or fashions to feel pretty allows my God-given talents to shine.

YBAL: Any future goals you'd like to share? Any encouragement for other artists?

Dana: My future goals include finishing my degree and continuing to grow my businesses.I would encourage other artists to do what you love when it is an option and do all to the glory of God!



Rubber stamp designer provides message of hope

I've been looking for a certain stamp for a few months now and I finally found a person who could make it for me. Ann, owner of therubberpress, on Etsy, did a fine job with my stamp. Her service was prompt; plus, she was a good communicator. 

Although my stamp was not religious in nature, Ann has started a line of stamps that have a Christian theme. They would be excellent to use in making stationery, everyday cards, special occasion cards, including Christmas and mixed media designs.

Take a look:





Not only does she make stamps, Ann also makes bookplates:


And candy bar wrappers:


She also designs wonderful "Save the Date" products:

Ann's profile says:

"We love to use the word of God in our creations because it shows us how we can know that we have eternal life. First John 5:13 says 'These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life...' Verse 12 says 'He that hath the Son hath life...' Jesus Christ is the Son of God and he paid for our sins on the cross of Calvary. Our desire is that you too will come to know his forgiveness and love!"

Stop by her shop and take a look!


Athletic training and positive thinking

After spending three Sundays in God's cathedral, our favorite term for the great outdoors, my family attended church in a building. It was a good service. The sermon was particularly good as Pastor Andy Albright touched on things that block spiritual growth.

I didn't take notes, but the ones I remember are sin and troubles with people. However, his example of likening our spiritual walk to athletic training is what I'd like to expound on today.

Pastor Andy said that he wanted to ride his bike to work one day. The ride to the church from his house was great, he said. But ... it's all downhill. On the way back, however, he had to ride up a hill that can seem almost perpendicular. As he tried this his legs burned and about halfway up the hill he got off the bike and walked. Getting on the bike and walking the bike happened a couple of more times before he got home. Then, about a week later he tried again. This time, his mind was set, he was going to get up that hill, and he did. He rode the rest of the way home without stopping

Achieving anything, whether it's athletic prowess, or the Christian life, depends largely on our mindset.

Paul says the same thing in 1 Corinthians 9:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

This was a passage of scripture that took on great meaning for me during my junior year of college at Point Loma Nazarene University. You see, we all had to take a course called Fitness and Movement. I called it Running 101 because that's what we did when there wasn't classroom instruction. This was where I began learning that a large part of success is in the mind.

I'm not a runner and at that time of my life I hated to exercise. But, in order to get out of the class alive - that is, with an "A" -we had to improve on our running time for the mile.

It wasn't like we didn't have a nice place to run:

The track is to the left of the baseball field if my memory serves me correctly, with the Pacific Ocean in full view.

With all this beauty, I still considered it a drag to be out there first thing in the morning and it didn't take me long to realize that if I wanted to improve my time, I had to run. The teachers allowed us to walk but that wasn't going to work. I wanted that "A" because I had gotten a "C" in tennis, of all things - another required elective - and I couldn't stand the fact that my GPA was lowered by a racquet sport that I thought was going to be easy.

I'm not sure when the idea popped in my head, but I figured out that if I concentrated on something completely different from running that I could run longer. I also figured out that if I kept breathing in rhythm running was a lot easier. When my breathing fell out of rhythm I got a pain in my side, something that I wanted to avoid. So I concentrated on the above verse and it really helped. When I couldn't think, I focused on the sound of my breathing and that also helped. I ended the course improving my time and getting an A in the class.

That was a little more that 20 years ago and I have been learning that my mindset is really important when I want to be successful.

However, my mindset is not all that matters. Psalm 147 says: "His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of the warrior (my version, the NRSV, has a foot note that says "the legs of a runner"); the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love." Fear in this case means a reverent attitude, being in awe of God.

We must put our hope in God, otherwise what we accomplish won't mean much.

I think I should define what I mean by "positive thinking." I'm not talking about positive thinking in the sense that those who preach that God wants to bless people with material riches because of their faith. What I'm talking about stems from Proverbs 3: 5 and 6, which says to trust in the Lord with all our hearts and lean not upon our own understanding. Sometimes when I want to get something done, I can think as positively as I want, but if the Lord doesn't want it done, it isn't going to happen. This happens when I use my own understanding and get ahead of God. For example, I have a tendency to volunteer for positions and then find out that I can't stand doing that task or that the Lord didn't want me to do it at all. When I step back and think about something before saying "yes," I usually find that God doesn't want me to do that thing. He has to remind me of the big picture before I realize that volunteering for that thing will take up too much time - time that I need for the task God wants me to accomplish.

Also, when I back up and pray about the activity for which I think I should volunteer, if the Lord says "yes" I feel much better about doing it. I don't have to second guess myself.

It's all in the mind. Our mindset should be to follow Christ

As we learn from athletic pursuits, following the way to fitness is not easy. There is pain and nasty sweat involved, maybe sometimes blood. It's like that in the Christian life. Sometimes there is pain and hard work involved. We cannot follow Christ without sacrifice and that is painful. Like Paul says, we have to discipline ourselves to receive the prize. When our mind is set to do this, God will do the rest.



Leadership and civil disobedience

The other night I heard a short sermon.  Most of the sermon was on target and I admire the speaker for getting up there. However, most times nowadays when I sit through a sermon, I find myself disagreeing with some point. Or thinking of ways to say it better. I guess that's the writer in me.

The point that got me this time was in relation to God's authority. The speaker said that God gives authority to the leaders in power - even leaders like Adolph Hitler, Mussolini, Che Guevara, Saddam Hussein and the like. Really, I thought? Does God really do that? All of these leaders that I have mentioned have committed mass murder and have led their people with a brutal iron fist. Does God really give them their authority? 

Whenever I hear this, my first thought is that the person thinks that God approves of murder. Does he? Or, is God "love personified" like John describes in his biblical writings?

If God is indeed love personified, why would he give authority to someone like Adolph Hitler who butchered more than 10 million people in his death camps, including 6 million Jews who are supposed to be God's chosen people? Does this seem right to you?

Romans 13 says that God has put leaders in their place to govern and to punish wrongful acts. It also says that we should respect our leaders and submit to them by paying our taxes and to keep a clear conscience.

But what does this mean? There are examples in the New Testament in which believers disobeyed the government. Peter and John told the Sanhedrin that they would obey God rather than men when they were ordered to quit speaking about Jesus. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew midwives lied right to Pharaoh's face about how the slave women were so vigorous that they gave birth to their babies before the midwives arrived. Because of this they could not kill the Hebrew boy babies. In modern times, we have Martin Luther King, Jr. and other pastors, and citizens, disobeying authorities in order to secure equal rights for African Americans. Throughout our history we have had citizens demonstrating against wars in which our nation has become involved. If God has really placed  leaders in authority, and if we are supposed to obey those leaders, then why does civil disobedience seem to be acceptable in certain situations?

It all starts with what we believe about free will. Do humans have it or not? If humans do not have free will, then God can place someone like Hitler in a position of power, and we are to accept what that leader does as coming directly from God. If you want to see a good theater example of this, you should watch the scene in "Ironclad," when King John, wonderfully played by Paul Giamatti, screams insanely about how he is "... the right hand of God ...". (Reader advisory: the video link depicts a high level of graphic royal violence).

But, if humans have free will, then we realize that God, being love personified, would never put a stamp of approval on someone who is killing and maiming and otherwise brutalizing thousands of people. If we believe that people have free will, then it is easier to realize that the leader is stepping out of God's plan for good and that leader must be stopped.

And what about Martin Luther King Jr.'s civil disobedience to a seemingly "good" American government? To know the answer to this we need to look at the historical situation and assess what was going on. Ever since black people were brought to this country as slaves, they had been denied basic rights that are outlined in the Declaration of Independence (We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are endowed by their Creator certain and unalienable rights. Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness ...) and the Constitution.Yes, there were free black people, but as a whole that cultural group was largely oppressed until the civil rights movement during the 1960s.

Even here in my small western town, there were separate bathrooms and drinking fountains for "whites" and "colored people" at the local train station. These signs were indicative of a much larger problem. In the South, local governments brutalized and segregated black citizens. The Civil Rights Movement came about because black American citizens had no where else to go. They had to get the attention of the federal government because their own local governments refused to treat them on equal footing with whites, and the federal government was unresponsive to "reasoned discussion."

 In this case, I believe King's non-violent movement was clearly in line with scripture. As Christians don't we believe that everyone is equal in God's sight?

Leadership is a God-given authority. The speaker was right in that regard but his thinking was simplistic. A leader can fail miserably in following God's plan and there are times when civil disobedience is definitely in order. If we accept a "Christian world view", then we must believe that whatever God's plan may be, that plan includes treating all people with respect and love as human beings. When a leader or a government fails to do that, then we have a duty to rally against that leader or government. Our Declaration of Independence states this. And, Henri Nouwen, the great Catholic philosopher priest, wrote "You are a Christian only so long as you constantly pose critical questions to the society you live in ... so long as you stay unsatisfied with the status quo and keep saying that a new world is yet to come."

Does that mean that I can disobey the governing authorities just because I disagree with a policy?

In recent months there have been policy changes with which I disagree. For example, I am not fond of the health care bill. I am also firmly pro life and this is expressed mostly by voting for candidates who are also pro life and by donating to Crisis Pregnancy Centers. It angers me that our federal government provides funds for a private organization like Planned Parenthood because I don't want my taxes supporting them. With the passage of the health care law, our Catholic brothers and sisters are upset because the law could force their hospitals to provide abortions, and require their organizational health plans to include birth control prescriptions. Is this fair? Should Catholics or anyone else who is pro life disobey the law just because they disagree with it? They may have to. But since much of the law isn't in effect, they are for now able to deal with this through proper legal channels. 

In other words, civil disobedience should only be considered after all other lawful means of fighting against something ungodly are exhausted. This is how the civil rights movement, the resistance against Nazi Germany, the midwives lying to the the baby-boy-killing Pharaoh and the disciples Peter and John refusing to obey the Sanhedrin's commands become justifiable acts.

As Christians, we need to be careful with our words so that we don't make God sound like he is some tyrant just waiting to thump sinners. That's what it sounds like to me when I hear that God gives authority to people like Hitler, Stalin, Hussein and all the other tyrants that have ruled throughout history. I do believe that God has given government as a means of authority and that we are to respect our leaders, but sometimes leaders can stray from what is good. In this case we should prayerfully consider our options. If we then come to understand that we must act in some way against that leader or government, then that is what we must do.

In the meantime, we need to pray for our leaders. We also need to pray for the election processes and for our country. By doing so we invite God to act. If we are not doing these things, we need not blame the Lord if a chosen leader strays. We need only to look to ourselves, especially if we had freedom to elect that person in the first place.


Quilts represent life at North Carolina museum

In June of this year, my husband Mike and I took a trip to "Down East," North Carolina. This was not our first trip. We've been there several times because Mike is from eastern North Carolina, and his sister and her husband live there. We have a great time visiting them and going to the beach. 

While we were there, we went to the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center, a beautifully coordinated museum filled with artifacts of life in the Down East villages, and around Core Sound. Since we'd been to this museum before, I was geared up to take pictures of the beautiful quilts completed by locals and displayed throughout the museum.

Here is one that was sewn around 1900:

I didn't get a close look at what kind of fabric was used, but I'm sure the bright colors added a cheerful tone to any room it graced.

As far back as I can remember, quilts have been part of my family. I still have an old log cabin quilt that my grandmother made for me when I was a baby - sorry, I'm not going to tell you when that was but I will tell you that it's now considered an antique. My grandmother also made some patchwork quilts for our family out of pieces of cloth from our clothing that my mother had saved. I remember looking at these quilts and picking out the pieces I recognized.

People have been combining leftover fabrics for centuries. In earlier times, nothing was wasted because it could be recycled into another useful item. These quilts from the museum have tweed pieces that looked like they belonged to an old suit:

I wonder what other pieces of cloth the quilter used to fashion this?

Here is some more patchwork:

 This one is my favorite:

Aren't the colors lovely? I wonder what memories they evoke from the families by whom they were donated?

Here is a nine patch quilt:

 Many of the quilts hang from the ledge of the second floor:

One thing I really enjoy about this museum is the second floor displays that are put together by representatives of the communities from around the area. Each community has its own section. This quilt is from the Davis exhibit, the village where my sister and brother-in-law live:

I believe this is a mixed pattern. The little triangles look like Flock of Geese. Isn't the mint chair cool?

Here is another quilt with a Dresden Plate pattern. Love those bright colors:

And here is one that makes me wonder about the people behind it:

It reminds me of a quilt that my father's family made for my Aunt Alice. Every member in the family was given a block of muslin upon which to draw a picture of their hobby. We used liquid embroidery markers (are those still in existence??). Since I was around 7 or 8 my mom drew a book with bookworm coming out of the book. The book was "Little House on the Prairie" because Laura Ingalls was my childhood hero.

I think the reason that I enjoy quilts so much is that they evoke memories of things past and keep our spirits warm in their comfort so that we can continue into the future. A lot of time and work goes into a quilt. It is an effort of love and affection for the person who will receive it. Maybe someday I'll learn to make them myself.


We've got to come back together

Rachel Held Evans has a good post over on her blog:

Liberal Christianity, Conservative Christianity and the Caught-in- Between

It's related to my posts on community, which you can read here, here and here.

Evans writes quite a bit on the divide within the church. If you don't believe there is one, take a look at her comment section at the bottom of this post. There are a lot of people who read and agree with her. But then again there are some who don't. She says:

"... but I was disheartened to see my Facebook and Twitter feeds light up with gleeful jeers from conservative evangelicals essentially saying, 'let the liberals die!' followed by defensive responses from more progressive Mainliners reminding them, 'we may be dying but we’re taking you with us!'"

Can you believe that Christians are talking like that? It seems that the relative anonymity on the Internet has given people license to show their true colors - to let the carnal nature take over and use it to the full extent of its nastiness.

The problem isn't just among Christians. If you go over to Fox News you'll find that the ability to comment has been removed from many stories. Before this, however, there were all sorts of nasty remarks, especially if someone dared disagree with the majority. However,  you can still find plenty of viciousness over on their opinion pages and blogs.

Whenever I see this, I am disturbed by the fact that Christians are just the same as prebelievers in these unsavory commentaries. It really gets bad when Christians believe that the government is in some way infringing upon their rights, such as the recent case of a Phoenix man who told the city that he was going to build a gameroom in his garage. Well, the 'gameroom' somehow turned into a 2,000-square-foot building that housed a church. The city of Phoenix told the man that his congregation would have to quit meeting there because of zoning regulations. Then, evangelist Todd Starnes commented on his FoxNews blog, noting that the city of Phoenix was jailing the man for holding 'Bible studies' in his house. Most of the people were going nuts, saying that Phoenix was infringing on this man's rights because he was a Christian.

Never mind the fact that the man lied about his intentions.

The comments by these Christians would lead you to believe that the First Amendment doesn't exist, and that government at all levels is out to 'get' Christians - while allowing Muslims all manner of freedom. When the Founders wrote the Constitution, there weren't many Muslims living in America, and many other religions we now see in our country didn't even exist. Yet the Founders knew that Christians are quite capable of persecuting each other; some of the most egregious examples of religious persecution in our history are Christians persecuting other Christians. I believe the Founders were wise to include freedom of religion, and as broadly as they did. If they hadn't, there would probably be a lot more white-cloaked people running around like the Klan, burning at the stake anyone who didn't attend the approved church that past weekend.

When is it going to end? Like Evans, I feel like I'm somewhere caught in the middle. I'm not liberal and I'm not ultra-conservative. I believe in social justice; I believe that everyone should be welcome in church; I believe that we must address sin; I also want good in-depth Bible studies and I want to be able to debate the issues without feeling like I'm going to be shunned afterward.  I want a sense of community like Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes in "Life Together." When is the body of Christ going to decide that belief in Jesus is the unifying factor and the rest is topics for conversation and godly debate?

When will we get back to allowing the Holy Spirit to work on people rather than shunning them before the Spirit has had a chance to work? What if the Spirit never brings them around to our point of view? Are we going to get rid of everyone who doesn't agree with our opinions? Are we really that important?

Christians in their entirety form what is called "the body of Christ." The Church Universal. One part cannot say to the other "we don't need you." If one part of the body goes down, the other parts are going with it, like the Twitter and Facebook responses on Evans' pages. It isn't a pretty picture. When I think of this, I bring Ephesians 6 to mind and picture the body of Christ as a soldier in a army of those times. With all those edged weapons being brutally wielded, once a soldier was wounded, once he suffered the loss of part of his body, he was done.

I don't want this to happen to the body of Christ. Do you? We've got to do something to come back together. What will you do? What will I do?


Bright boxes

Some things in life are meant to be bright - sunshine, flowers, people, these boxes.

Actually, these boxes have been on my Etsy site for a few weeks. This is the first chance I've had to write about them.

The yellow box is for a baby shower. It's a 3 x 2-1/8 x 7/8 - inch box that will hold several pieces of candy or even small mementos, like a hospital ID tag. They're yellow because yellow is a happy color and baby showers are supposed to be happy events. I also wanted something neutral, but you can get the box in pink, green, blue, orange or purple. All of these colors will match the cute ABC ribbon I found at America's favorite place to shop. Sorry, not Etsy but Walmart. I'm sure Etsy will become that in time - the more people realize that most of the products on the site are handmade, not mass produced in a foreign factory.


The second set of boxes I made are called Flip Flop Boxes. When I made these Flip Flop Boxes, I was ready for summer. In fact, I was getting ready to take a vacation on the eastern shore of North Carolina. I think these boxes would be great for a children or teen party with a beach theme. It does not matter what area of the country you live in. Beach parties are fun for everyone. I remember when I was a teenager, our youth group had a beach party right in the middle of winter in our church's fellowship hall. We played volleyball and different water games. It was really fun. Don't you think that would make a great theme for a kid's party? You could give out these favors with candy or even sea shells. Wouldn't that be fun?

 Each box is 3 x 2-1/8 x 7/8 - inches. In singles, the boxes are $5 each, but you can buy them in groups of 10 for $48 as well. Again, I can make the flip flop boxes different colors - anything that will match the ribbon - pink, orange, purple, yellow, blue. Just convo me and we'll make what you want.

As I've said before, each box is die cut by me from recycled materials. The ribbon and the scrapbook paper are new.

Thanks for stopping by and taking a look!

Grace and shalom,

Lisa :0)


Ways to achieve community

I'm crazy busy this week. That's why I haven't posted anything until now. I've been thinking about the last two posts on community and didn't want to leave them hanging because it's easy to describe what community is and what it isn't. What isn't easy to describe is how to achieve the kind of community that makes everyone feel like they are welcome and important.

Except within the parameters of a family, ideas on how to make a Christian community, like a church, work are beyond me. I've discussed this within my immediate family and none of us are sure.

How can you make people love each other?

Maybe in this case, then the metaphor of a family works for the Christian community. For example, I chose my husband and he chose me. However, I cannot choose my parents, my brothers and sisters or even my children. In this case we are "stuck" together because we belong to the same family whether we like it or not.

It's the same way in the Christian community. I chose Christ, but I do not choose who else will follow him. The beauty of the church environment is that there are a bunch of people "stuck" together who did not choose to be together. Yes, you can leave a local church, but you cannot leave the body of Christ unless you deny Christ. In the same way, I can't leave the Hart, Gossman or Steeves family unless I make that choice. And, even then, these people who I call family are "stuck" with me forever because I am part of their line and we are part of each others' respective memories.

I'm going to depend heavily on theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer for this post because, quite frankly, his book "Life Together" seems to be the difinitive authority on the matter of Christians being together. Of course, there is the "Rule of St. Benedict", but I haven't read that one en total.

In "Life Together," Bonhoeffer says that prayer and self-discipline are of utmost importance for a community of believers. His words are in italics.


A Christian community either lives by the intercessory prayers of its members for one another, or the community will be destroyed. I can no longer condemn or hate other Christians for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble they cause me. In intercessory prayer the face that may have been strange and intolerable to me is transformed into the face of one for whom Christ died, the face of a pardoned sinner. That is a blessed discovery for the Christian who is beginning to offer intercessory prayer for others. As far as we are concerned, there is no dislike, no personal tension, no disunity or strife that cannot be overcome by intercessory prayer. Intercessory prayer is the purifying bath into which the individual and the community must enter every day. 

Praying in this way for a believer who has wronged you (or for someone who is not a believer for that matter) is not easy at first (I say at first because Bonhoeffer seems to say so. I'm learning about this too). For this, I suggest finding what are called the "Imprecatory Psalms, contained within the Ketuvim (wisdom literature) of the Hebrew Bible (תנ"ך). These are the ones that invoke judgment, calamity, or curses, upon one's enemies or those perceived as the enemies of God. Major Imprecatory Psalms include Psalm 69 and Psalm 109, while Psalms 5, 6, 11, 12, 35, 37, 40, 52, 54, 56, 58, 69, 79, 83, 137, 139, and 143 are also considered imprecatory (link to full text of Psalms)." (source: Wikipedia - I know, it's not the best source but this is actually a pretty good list). 

If we are struggling to pray, reciting these Psalms in private may help us get the crud out of our soul so that we can actually begin praying for people with sincerity. Problems with people actually resemble a situation in our bathroom remodel at home. After ripping out the old shower we found that our water pressure problems may have something to do with the cankered shower valve that has been in there for 25 years. We're going to test it out and see, but this is at least part of the problem.

It's the same way with our hearts. Strife with people cankers up our ability to love. Praying the Psalms, which may seem a little harsh to us on the surface, just may serve as the cleaner our valves need. We may even find that some of those valves need to be replaced, like the one in our bathroom.


Every act of self-discipline by a Christian is also a service to the community. Conversely, there is no sin in thought, word, or deed, no matter how personal or secret, that does not harm the whole community. When the cause of an illness gets into one's body, whether or not anyone knows where it comes from, or in what member it has lodged, the body is made ill. This is the appropriate metaphor for the Christian community. Every member serves the whole body, contributing either to its health or to its ruin, for we are members of one body not only when we want to be, but in our whole existence. This is not a theory, but a spiritual reality that is often experienced in the Christian community with shocking clarity, sometimes destructively and sometimes beneficially. 

Last year our family visited Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve near Alamosa, Colorado. It was in early fall, but the temperatures were still warm and we were at high altitude. If you ever visit Colorado, someone who lives there, like myself, will tell you to drink a lot of water because the higher altitudes will dehydrate you to the point of illness. You would think that since I know this I would take my own advice - but no. Instead, while everyone was drinking water, I took the opportunity to take pictures since no one was in my way. That afternoon, we left the park and went over to take pictures at a high school football game. Alamosa is at a lower elevation than the Sand Dunes and it was really hot. On the field, with its artificial turf, the heat was even worse. I drank water then, but it was too late. After we arrived home, I started feeling sick and for the next two days my body ached horribly. I had no interest in anything and I had to discipline myself to guzzle liquid when I was awake.

By not disciplining myself to drink water, I had invited high-altitude sickness into my body and it left me miserable. In the same way, like Bonhoeffer says, we have to discipline ourselves to love. We have to discipline ourselves to pray. We have to discipline ourselves to forgive. We also have to discipline ourselves not to sin. If we don't, we invite sin to come in and sicken Christ's body, making it miserable and ineffective. It's the same way in my immediate family. If I act selfishly and demand my own way all the time, my family will resent me and there will be hard feelings all around. How can we live together in peace and spread God's love if this is the case?

The good news, and this is really what I wanted to leave everyone with, is that the Holy Spirit of God will help us. We cannot be, and should not try to be, a community on our own.

I freely admit that without Christ's help, loving people who have hurt me is impossible. My natural self wants to fight back and restore my sense of self-worth. In Christ, however, I already have worth and nothing can change that no matter how I am treated. Because of this, I want to love others because I recognize that Christ thinks they are worthwhile as well.

I found these suggestions from Bonhoeffer helpful. What helps you? In what ways do you encourage community? If you have anymore suggestions, I'd love to hear them.

Grace and shalom,


God and Art Series: God blesses artist with family

Are you looking for whimsical artwork that reflects the loving relationships of family? Then check out PatchworkFamilyArt on Etsy. Ruth-Mary of Sydney, New South Wales, Austrailia, illustrates tender-hearted and warm family relationships in her watercolor art. She also paints vintage items with sayings about home and family.

"I have been into creating since childhood and always loved to draw," Ruth-Mary says. "With the ebb and flow of life's seasons I have done different things at different times but I started doing watercolours when I was first married and loved it! I found it difficult to keep up with when my girls were little and have come back to it over the last few years."


The relationship with her girls inspires much of the artwork Ruth-Mary creates. She has three girls very close in age and has an interesting story about how her family came to be that may explain why it is so prominent in her art. "My family came to be in a slightly different way to normal," she says. "I was unable to conceive for eight years and during that time started the process of adoption. Our first beautiful daughter came from Taiwan and then during the process we also fell pregnant - God's sense of humour! So in the end we flew back from Taiwan with our Jaz then 12-months of age and our Kiki was born six weeks later! A couple of years later we felt led to add one more blossom to the nest and we fostered our third daughter Stell at three months of age. We are in the process of adopting her. This I guess this the long way of saying that my artwork I hope shows the preciousness of family and how we have been blessed."

Ruth-Mary is currently selling her artwork on Etsy and also Madeit, out of Austrailia. "I do only a few markets as time because my family is my top priority," she says. "During the last few months I have been doing more customised artwork for individual clients - I find this fun and exciting! I haven't been selling a full year yet so I still feel very much like I am just starting out!"

Feeling inspiration on a daily basis, Ruth Mary finds that she does not have enough time to paint everything she thinks of. "I paint what I love and so I paint a lot of mother-child artworks," she says. "I am also a vintage lover and so I paint those too! I am attracted to illustration and particularly watercolours because of the way the water does its own thing on the page and so you are never fully in control! I am very visual and love the look of watercolours.


"I have a number of goals that I am working towards. I guess time is my greatest hurdle because I can't do everything fast enough! I am doing a design course at the moment so I will be producing some fabric which I am so excited about and I would also love to be involved in illustrating a book," she says.

Ruth-Mary hopes that her relationship with God shines through her art. She was raised in a "loving Christian family" and made the decision to follow God on her own. "I carried that faith into my marriage," she says. "When I think about my art and my faith I really hope that I am conveying the love that God has shown to me. He carried me through some dark days and I hope my art is positive and a blessing to the people who receive it. God is creator and when I am creating I do see a sense of having some of his attributes - like a family resemblance!"

  Also, find Ruth-Mary at: http://www.patchworkfamilyart.blogspot.com/



Christian Community - What it is not

This post is a difficult one to write because I know what Christian community is not and I don't want to sound bitter or unforgiving.

Believe me. The Lord does not let me get away with an unforgiving attitude. I don't want him to, because unforgiveness kills the spirit. So, I'm letting the Lord deal with the hurts I've received and it's not easy.

I still think the problem needs to be dealt with in a reasonable manner, so that's why I've been writing these posts on community. Today, I am going to deal with the church community ; however, these things can apply to any group where Christians gather, like German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer defines.

An Unhealthy Community Pushes People Away

According to Leadership Journal, here are six reasons why young people are leaving the church (Barna Group says that six out of 10 young people are leaving the church. That's a lot!)

Isolationism. One-fourth of 18- to 29-year-olds say church demonizes everything outside church, including the music, movies, culture, and technology that define their generation.

Shallowness. One-third call church boring, about one-fourth say faith is irrelevant and Bible teaching is unclear. One-fifth say God is absent from their church experience.

Anti-science. Up to one-third say the church is out of step on scientific developments and debate.

Sex. The church is perceived as simplistic and judgmental. For a fifth or more, a "just say no" philosophy is insufficient in a techno-porno world. Young Christian singles are as sexually active as their non-churched friends, and many say they feel judged.

Exclusivity. Three in 10 young people feel the church is too exclusive in this pluralistic and multicultural age. And the same number feel forced to choose between their faith and their friends.

Doubters. The church is not a safe place to express doubts, say over one-third of young people, and one-fourth have serious doubts they'd like to discuss.

And I wouldn't limit this to 18 to 29 year old people. There are plenty of people in their 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s who won't attend church for these reasons as well.

What does this have to do with being a community? Everything. Did you notice some of the reasons? "The church demonizes", "Faith is irrelevant", the church is "simplistic and judgmental", the church is "not a safe place to discuss doubts". This flies in the face of what we discussed a couple of days ago. Remember? A community shares identity in its faith. Love grows from this faith, at least partly by allowing people to grow. By not being interested in what our young people (and older people too) think and feel, the church is in effect saying that it doesn't care. It seems that in this circumstance, the unhealthy community is simply catering to people with like minds, rather than sharing community because of a common identity in faith. We are uncomfortable with people who think differently so we push them away. So, people who recognize that Christ died for them and are trying to follow him are not comfortable in the "body of Christ" because they have different idea than those who belong (or perhaps give large tithe checks?). That doesn't make sense at all and it's not right.

An Unhealthy Community Gossips

Have you ever walked into a room and knew that you were the subject of discussion before entering? Uncomfortable, isn't it? Or, better yet, have you ever walked into church excited about worshiping God and then realized that the old lady two rows down was giving you a very obvious dirty look? That's really uncomfortable. Both of these things have happened to me and I didn't like it.

No one feels welcome in a community where he or she was greeted warmly at church on Sunday morning and then that afternoon finds out through Facebook or some other Internet posting that he or she is the topic of a hot conversation. The messages are "encrypted" (like on Facebook), or anonymous, like one post that spread vicious lies about my family and was shared with a bunch of people who didn't even know us. This is not conducive to trust, especially in the family of God. In fact, it breeds ill feelings. And, when it's anonymous, the ill feelings have no where to go, so they just flow onto everyone you might think is a gossip.

Like I said, the Lord has worked and is working on me. My intention is to help, not blast anyone.

What gossip does is slowly isolates its victim, like a pack of lionesses do when they hunt. They go for the weakest gazelle, isolate it and then pounce. No other gazelles help the isolated one because they are so busy protecting themselves. They are just glad it wasn't them this time.

The best thing to do about gossip is to not spread it. Another thing to do is check out the story with the one who is being talked about. If you can't do this then you have no business listening. This, unfortunately, is not what happens. We all love to hear little tidbits about each other, especially when we don't like or are jealous of a person. I say "we" because I've done this before myself. Everyone has. It's one of the weaknesses of human nature. The mature Christian, though, knows when to tell the other person to keep his or her mouth shut. He or she also knows when to keep his or her own mouth shut. If you have questions, ask yourself, "Would I want someone to say this about me?" Or, "Can I tell this person what's being said about him or her?" If the answer is "no" then we shouldn't be taking part in that "feeding frenzy".

In his book Life Together, Bonhoeffer described this problem and offers advice to people who may have loose lips:

Often we combat our evil thoughts most effectively if we absolutely refuse to allow them to be verbalized. It is certain that the spirit of self-justification can only be overcome by the spirit of grace; and it is just as certain that the individual judgmental thought can be limited and suppressed by never allowing it to be spoken except as a confession of sin.... Thus it must be a decisive rule of all Christian community life that each individual is prohibited from talking about another Christian in secret. It is clear and will be shown in what follows that this prohibition does not include the word of admonition that is spoken personally to one another. However, talking about others in secret is not allowed even under the pretense of help and goodwill. For it is precisely in this guise that the spirit of hatred between believers always creeps in, seeking to cause trouble.

An Unhealthy Community Does Not Listen

Everything's just peachy in the unhealthy community, and they will tell you so, over and over. They'll even tell you this in response to a hurt, or a criticism, making you feel like you're the one at fault for even thinking such things. Unhealthy communities do not listen to people. They don't listen to constructive criticism, nor do they listen to each other. Unhealthy community members sift through a conversation, listening for things that tell them whether or not they should remain in a conversation; the more negative and hurtful the better. They listen for gossip - negative talk that is okay with them.

Bonhoeffer says:

The first service one owes to others in the community involves listening to them. Just as our love for God begins with listening to God's Word, the beginning of love for other Christians is learning to listen to them. ... We do God's work for our brothers and sisters when we learn to listen to them. So often Christians, especially preachers, think that their only service is always to have to "offer" something when they are together with other people. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking. Many people seek a sympathetic ear and do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking even when they should be listening. But Christians who can no longer listen to one another will soon no longer be listening to God either; they will always be talking even in the presence of God.

If the people in the church would truly listen and respond reasonably with an open mind and heart, I believe that this mass exodus that is taking place in the church wouldn't be happening. We would be able to keep up with the times; get involved with science, make faith alive, help those who doubt, give good reasons to wait for sexual activity and provide programs for those who are outside of its norm (according to research, this includes college students and single people). Instead, many churches are caught up in demonizing the culture, making everything "unchristian" sound as though Satan himself delivered from the coffers of hell that which the culture enjoys . When we demonize the culture, we can't see good in anything and that makes us old sourpusses.

Who wants to be around a bunch of sourpusses?

I'll close here. There is more, I am sure. From my Internet surfing, I've noticed that this is a big problem and the community of believers needs to do something about it. This does not, however, mean that we accept sinful behavior, but we need to be a place where someone caught in a sinful lifestyle will feel God's love and acceptance. I'll close with this quote from Zora Neale Hurston:
Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.

Simple and true.

Many blessings today,



Christian Community - What it is

I've been thinking about the community of believers lately - what it is; what it isn't and how we are supposed to achieve "community" within the church.

"Community" is defined by Merriam-Webster as "a unified body of individuals." Dictionary.com defines "community" as "a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage." These seem pretty formal, but they define church well. In his book "Life Together," German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer defined "community" as any gathering of believers, whether a family, a church, or a group of people living together. Basically, the shared identity is that each person knows Christ and is trying to live the Christian life. This is how I will define community here.

Here are three components that comprise a healthy community of believers.

A healthy community loves

In the church that I attended while growing up, there seemed a real sense of community. People were friendly to one another, groups got together after church in each others' homes or in local restaurants, we had potlucks regularly, there was a huge youth group in which I was involved, and our pastor and his wife were very loving people.

Now that I'm grown up, I realize that this is a rare experience.

Realization slowly came when my fellowship of believers shifted from Sunday school and church to my dorm room and cafeteria buddies in college. I attended church on Sunday mornings and that was it. When my husband and I married and entered Bible College, we thought that our church had good community until we realized that many people didn't like to befriend Bible college students because they were transient. But we did have a small community in our neighborhood where several students lived.

When we graduated and entered the ministry, we led a church that was still very much attached to its former pastor and did not really welcome us. In our second church, two people tried to have my husband removed as pastor because of the way he handled a situation involving the offspring of one of the pillars of the church.

In my adult church experience, I have dealt with many negative situations. But there have also been positive situations in which community was alive in the church:
  • There was the time when one of our parishioners got up early and taught me how to can pickles from the cucumbers that I had grown in my garden.
  • Another parishioner had let us use a sizable plot on their land for a garden. Still, another parishioner taught me how to make bread and another gave me designer clothing when I lost a bunch of weight.
  • There was the time when board members stood up for my husband to keep him from getting voted out
  • Our parishioners have kept my children when I've been sick. One family kept my three kids for two months when my first husband Gordon was sick.
  • Our second church allowed us to stay in the parsonage and made sure that all our needs were met when Gordon was ill with pancreatic cancer.
  • The greater church denomination (Christians from all over the world) donated to a fund that allowed me to put a down payment on a house after Gordon died.
There have been countless situations in which the Church has loved me as Christ loves me. And this is the sign of a healthy community: love. Jesus said it best in John 13: 34 and 35: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Love. Real love is awfully hard to resist. When the people of God love one another, despite all our foibles and opinions, when we realize that each one is a work in progress and love each other regardless, the church will be really attractive. People will be drawn to Christ because of our love for one another.

Healthy communities are bound by faith

Yet, although love promotes experiences in the faith community. Bonhoeffer reminds us that it is not these experiences that keep Christians together. He wrote:

There is probably no Christian to whom God has not given the uplifting and blissful experience of genuine Christian community at least once in her or his life. But in this world such experiences remain nothing but a gracious extra beyond the daily bread of Christian community life. We have no claim to such experiences, and we do not live with other Christians for the sake of gaining such experiences. It is not the experience of Christian community, but firm and certain faith within Christian community that holds us together. We hold fast in faith to God's greatest gift, that God has acted for us all and wants to act for us all. This makes us joyful and happy, but it also makes us ready to forget all such experiences if at times God does not grant them. We are bound together by faith, not by experience.

For Bonhoeffer, the good experiences of community came from God. But there are times, apparently, when God does not grant those good experiences. When this happens, we are supposed to fall back on our faith. Faith in Jesus Christ is what truly binds us together as Christians. Love is an outpouring of faith, as James describes in his New Testament book. When love is not readily apparent, or perhaps not present, we act in faith as individuals by remaining in community.

This does not mean, however, that we stay in abusive situations. There are times when leaving a community is the best thing to do for your spiritual life or your family, but more times than not, simply "riding it out" is the answer. Bad times do pass. It just takes more time to do so in some situations than in others. This is also when love can shine. The community should recognize it when people are not happy and hear them out. A healthy community will not sweep unhappiness under the rug, pretending that all is just perfect.

Healthy communities allow growth

Growth is essential to any person. Just like a child must be allowed room to explore the world and ask questions, so should a growing Christian be able to do the same. I once taught a Sunday school class that was full of young Christians, and also people who were not convinced that Christianity was their way. Our group had wild discussions. I literally never knew what was going to happen from week to week. I would prepare a discussion from a book all of us were reading and then it went from there. We talked about everything - sex, homosexuality, finances, children, the church, Jesus, love creation, evolution. You name it, we discussed it in one way or another.

Apparently, our class was "out of hand" because there was gossip within the larger church "community" that our discussions and readings were not biblical. That was incorrect; our discussions always centered around the Bible; they were just unorthodox. I wanted to do this because I believed that the people in my class needed room to grow. They needed to ask those questions and they also needed someone to listen. This happened and we were very healthy for a while. Then, it fell apart. I'm not sure what happened but I hope that those people will have gained something from the group. I hope it helped improve their spiritual lives in some way.

In the same way, we need to allow the members of our communities room for growth. We need to let our children ask us questions (no matter how embarrassing or how "off" they may be). We need to let people in the church express themselves. We need to love people for who they are rather than promote an idea of who we think people should be. We need to conduct reasonable discussions and step away from name calling and stereotyping. Unless we do this how will people know that we love each other?

That's all for today. Tomorrow I would like to discuss that a which a community is not. That will not be easy for me so shoot up a prayer if you think about it.

Grace and peace,