The Parable of the Leprechaun Gold Coins*

I reflected on the variety of response to my last post over a few cups of coffee this morning. A few brave souls posted their perspectives publicly (thank you, Old Marine and Melanie!), and several others shared through emails and in private conversations. Each perspective was marked by vulnerability and honesty, and was unique in the way they used words to give color to something that ultimately is much more broad, deep and all-encompasing than words are able to paint. It was awesome.

It was awesome because each perspective reflected a piece of the greater truth of the character of God. When we start to put all those pieces together, the result is a more clear understanding of God.

Like I said, awesome.

I noticed, though, that our sharing created a paradox of sorts, an unspoken tension. Some of the ways we understand aspects of God, if taken to an extreme, can appear to contradict other parts. Can we actually hold several different aspects of God together, at the same time? I found myself marveling at the challenge of fully aknowledging our not-enoughness and need for Jesus without devolving into complete self-loathing, demeaning messes.

It was in this state of reflection I found myself as I prepared a mid-morning snack of sweet potatoes for the kids.

My kids and sweet potatoes.

If I say we’re eating sweet potato fries, nary a bite will be taken—it’s as if the children are so offended I am trying to pass off the imposter vegetable as a “fry” they can’t bear to stomach more than a tiny taste. If I call them ‘sweet tater wedges’ to play up the natural sweetness, they are pushed around the plate pityingly before being cast aside altogether. Simply calling them sweet potatoes has no better result, and I might as well be calling them boogers for all they’ll be consumed. (Though, if I’m painfully honest, boogers would probably be eaten much sooner by the discerning panel of my three littles.)

If, however, I slice the sweet potatoes in thick rounds and bake them so they are soft in the middle yet crispy on the edges (you know, exactly the same way as I prepare both the fries and wedges) and call them Leprechaun Gold Coins? They’re gobbled up in seconds. No matter how many I bake, they are gone in the blink of an eye.

It’s not as if the kids believe that the Leprechaun Gold Coins are materially different from the sweet potato fries or wedges. I don’t whip up a batch the night before and pull them out in the morning with a flourish as a surprise, or pull them from a bag or a box that’s been already processed and prepared. I just bring out sweet potatoes—plain, dirty, fresh-from-the-ground sweet potatoes. Then, the kids watch me wash and prepare the sweet potatoes, step by step. (Sometimes they even help.) There are NO surprises. Everytime, without fail, it’s how I talk about the sweet potatoes that guarantee that they’ll either be eaten or sit on the plate, untouched.

All of this made me wonder if  what happens with kids and sweet potatoes is similar to what happens when Christians talk about “the main idea” of Jesus. Some of us more naturally connect with the aspects of God reflected in justice and holiness, while others more naturally connect with parts of God reflected in grace and love. (Even writing that feels a little funny, because I wonder if this is a false paradigm. I wonder if it’s not an either/or situation, but instead a both/and paradigm.) Both of these perspectives seem to give voice to an important part of the character of God. Neither one is more or less ‘God’, just as the Leprechaun Gold Coins and Wedges are no more or less ‘sweet potato’. They’re both the same thing, just presented differently.

To be clear, I’m not advocating changing what actually ‘makes up’ the message of who God is any more than I changed up what ‘made up’ the sweet potato dishes I served. (Which is not at all.) Instead, I’m wondering if increased awareness of how we approach conversation about who God is, together in the Church and with friends who may not hold the same beliefs, might bring about dramatically different results.

If this is true, as I suspect it might be, are we willing to set aside our own strong preference for Leprechaun Gold Coins and see value in the other ways of serving sweet potatoes? Can we work to create space for others to have Wedges without feeling like it devalues our own preference for how sweet potatoes are served?  How can we better focus on the ‘sweet potato’ that ties us all together?

*This parable is not included in the canon of Scripture.  🙂

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Escaping Rabbit Trails

The gray clouds, heavy with rain, should have been my first indication of the day that lay ahead of me. Just days before my surgery to remove a tumor that damaged nerves in my foot, I was barely keeping it together. Jeff, my husband, had left early that morning for work, and already there had been several disasters before 8:15. It was an awful morning after a horrible day following a miserable week.

Despite these disasters, I made it to a women’s Bible study at my church. Ironically, the discussion was about living devotionally, with a constant awareness of God’s goodness and presence. The author of our study book, The Good and Beautiful Life, shared ways he tried this in his own life, which some people  in our group felt read a bit like a giant spiritual “to do” list (despite the author’s stated hope it wouldn’t be interpreted as such).

The different ways people responded to the reading caught my attention. Some tended toward a “main idea” approach to the chapter (seeing devotional living as  an invitation to joy through awareness of God’s presence and action in our daily, moment-to-moment lives). Others saw a “details” approach (heaping guilt, shame, and frustration on top of other tasks on an already overloaded spiritual checklist).

Our varied responses to the chapter reminded me of my time teaching writing to 3rd graders. The delicate balance between communicating a main idea while breathing life into the story with supporting details is a tall order for students. Many fall victim to the siren’s call of the dreaded “rabbit trail,” derailing a story and casting the main idea aside  in hot pursuit of more interesting details. The scope of the story is lost completely when the focus is on detail alone, becoming a shallow, incomplete representation of the original greater truth.

I was struck by the parallel between the main idea/details paradigm from 3rd- grade writing and my own life. That very morning, I focused on the details of  feeling alone, hurt, and “not enough” rather than the main idea: that God loves and cares for, heals, sustains, and never abandons me

More often than I’d like to admit, I get caught up in the “to dos” on my list instead of focusing on my primary mission to be fully present with my kids (a more challenging task than you might expect). I’ve allowed difficult circumstances to overshadow my awareness of God’s goodness. My focus seems prone to wander in a land of details rather than to hold fast to the main idea.

This led me to think about the places that we might get caught in the same trap as followers of Christ.  Places where our focus somehow shifts from the main idea of radical, unmerited, redeeming grace and rests instead on shame, guilt, or judgment. Have we lost track of our own desperate need for (and receipt of) mercy and instead settled on judgment and condemnation rather than the joy, freedom and welcome we’ve experienced through Jesus?

Like teaching “main idea” in 3rd grade, it’s a tall order to figure out.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a perfect action plan, air-tight theology, or tried-and-true answers. (I suspect that none of us do, though we might portray otherwise.) I wonder if our wrestling through these questions, as a community, might be the first step in drawing closer to the truth.

What about you?  What is your understanding of the ‘main idea’ of Jesus?  How do you work to firmly anchor yourself in that truth?

One step further: how can we faithfully share the ‘main idea’ of Jesus with our gay neighbors?

Naked Faith

Hi there!  Welcome to Listening Down.

And welcome to the much-dreaded first post.  (Much dreaded by me, at least.)

First posts seem a bit like blind dates of sort—people know bits and pieces about the other involved, but have no real idea what the other person is about at their core. Both people are there with hope of getting to know the other, but find it hard to jump into relationship feet first, without reserve. There’s a tentative dance of getting to know each other, revealing carefully selected details here and there, followed by a very gradual move into deeper relationship (if all goes well, and no horrible breach of ettiquette occurs, of course).

Blind dates embody vulnerability. It’s willingly putting the deepest most sensitive parts of yourself out in the open, and waiting for someone else to assess, pick apart, and judge. Like being naked, on a stage, in front of a crowd. Or at the top of the high dive at the Olympics.

Naked, in front of God and everybody.

In many ways, that’s what writing this blog feels like.

Working through faith publicly feels like shining a light on the places that I feel vulnerable. Processing the intersection of seemingly disconnected things like faith, following Jesus, parenting, and homosexuality, and doing so in a public way? Feels even more so.

In the blind date analogy, if things get messy and go badly, or details are revealed that aren’t well received? It’s not the end of the world. Just never call or see the other person again, and be mercifully spared the experience of facing awkward fall out. This blog is different, though. Working through faith here will affect my relationships—family, friendships, church community—for better or worse.

Because of this, I feel incredibly thankful that the call to write and to work through faith in community has been so clear.  Come what may, I’m able to say that I’m responding to what I understand to be Jesus leading, the best I’m able.

So, with that said, welcome! My hope is that this will be a space to reflect on the ways Christ is present each day, and to wrestle with the business of what it means to love the Lord with all our hearts, souls and minds, and to love others as ourselves.  Join me on the vulnerable,exposed journey of working through faith, and in ‘listening down’. I’m glad you’re here, and would love if you let me know that you stopped by.