Posts tagged ‘sin’

2014/01/31

Deep waters

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New life can be found in deep water


“Drowning must be a terrible way to die, breath snatched as dark waters cover you, panic rising as you’re claimed by murky coldness.”–
From Confessions of a Big Girl  

When I think of murky cold water, I’m taken back to my childhood and images of the muddy Ohio River. I recall strains of “Shall we gather at the river…” sung loudly and fervently, a thick Kentucky accent wrapped around each note and phrase, as a group of earnest believers made their way to the banks of the river for the sacrament of baptism.

I remember the minister slowly entering the water up to above his waist, finding his footing before those who wanted to be baptized made their way to him. I don’t recall the liturgy in full. But I do remember the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” being said for each person. Then I watched how each one trusted the arms of the pastor, leaning back into that brown seemingly dirty water to profess their faith in Christ.

Water can be a very beautiful and safe thing.

Water sitting in a clear glass is a nourishing beverage. Healthy. Harmless.

An inch or two of standing water outside after a warm summer rain: that’s a puddle perfect for splashing in, running through. Fun. Whimsical.

A crystal blue pool with a deep end, or a community pool with a lifeguard; a pond on a farm or a lake with rippling water ready for water skiing: these places are where the water can get over your head if you don’t know how to swim.

And what about an ocean? You can’t drink the water there. That can be a problem. Especially if you need it, if you are lost at sea that deep water will not help you. In the ocean, the stakes are higher. It takes the proper equipment to survive the waves and the mysteries that swim there.

A few years ago I saw first hand the devastation that water can do when a flood damaged much of the bottom floor of our church and claimed the lives of two of our members. I wrote about that incident, and I learned to respect the power of water like never before.

Sin is like water. We think we can control it. When it is just sitting there in a glass, we know we’ve got it covered. We can swallow it whole, and it won’t be trouble. But what happens when the water gets too deep and murky?

I’m currently reading Dr. Naima Johnston-Bush’s book Confessions of a Big Girl: Reflections on Fat, Faith and Femininity. Even though I grew up a world away from the one Naima did, and we have very different stories of how we came to faith, the book is filled with connection points for any woman. There are few of us who haven’t struggled with body image, self-worth, and believing that God can really love and fulfill us so much.

In her chapter entitled “It Led to My Death,” Naima tells of a time in her life when even with caution signs, she decided to go her own way and before she knew it, it was too late to turn back.

Naima’s deep and dangerous water was the all-too-common destructive relationship with a man who said all of the right things and showed love and respect for a time, but who actually represented a dark and powerful undertow. As the relationship continued, she recognized he was robbing her true beauty and self respect, but it seemed there was no way out.

Fear and desperation led Naima to her dusty Bible for answers. And as her faith slowly strengthened, she began to fight the current. Bravely, she acknowledged the part she played in the real-life drama—how she willingly “held [her] breath and sank.”

Naima’s story could be my own. I have taken part in destructive and confusing relationships covered in sticky sweet layers of deception. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize that I often did not have the discernment skills nor spiritual depth and wisdom to handle those relationships properly.

Looking back results in the classic phrase, “If I had known then, what I know now.” But I believe that sin has an ongoing purpose in our faith journeys. I’m honestly grateful that though forgiven and free, I can still feel a tinge of pain when I think of the times I succumbed to the deep waters of sin.

But as Naima reminds me, and all of us really, it is precisely those times that lead to a death that can save us. As she so skillfully states, “…dying to sin and self-loathing, I drowned and was buried only to rise again because the Lord called me from the depths of the waters to walk upon them and not drown beneath them.”

Sin can be like water. But as He does with so many things, God takes the water meant for our destruction, and He redeems it to give us new life in Him. Thanks be to God.

If you would like to read Confessions of a Big Girl: Reflections on Fat, Faith and Femininity by Dr. Naima Johnston-Bush, it is available now at www.amazon.com. As I am sharing a piece of her story with you, Naima has graciously offered that the first two people to leave a comment on my blog will be entered into a drawing to win a free copy of the book. For more information about Naima and her ministry, visit www.facebook.com/ministryofnaima.

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2013/07/09

Grace

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The favored coconut cake

I cook and bake as often as I can, though not as often as I would like. The thought of having time to leisurely shop at the grocery store for a list of delicious ingredients, only to come home and use those ingredients in a recipe (perhaps from my “Food I want to make and eat” list on Pinterest) sounds to me like luxurious hours well spent. Like other foodies, I don’t really linger on one type of cuisine. I have favorite dishes and restaurants inspired by my international taste buds, a product of getting to travel the world with my parents as a child.

However, during holidays and birthdays, I have come to be somewhat of a cake maker. Some of my favorite cake recipes are in the pages of Giada’s Kitchen and Tessa Kiros’ Apples for Jam. But at the top of the list as voted by friends, family, coworkers and even clergy is absolutely, undeniably my coconut cake.

I once brought two leftover pieces to my church’s music office for our director and associate director of music. I didn’t even have a chance to get the pieces separated on two serving plates. My tasters dug in right there on the paper plate, and one even ate the crumbs off his desk.

Of course, it isn’t my coconut cake. I didn’t develop this recipe of greatness. The recipe is actually in a cookbook by none other than Paula Deen.

Yeah, I know. Paula Deen. I have to say right off that this cake is so good that there is no way that I am boycotting the recipe. It’s actually her son Jamie’s recipe according to the book, not that that makes any difference to me. I’ve been following the story, and this whole Paula Deen thing bothers me. Yes, she is currently being sued for harassment, a case that certainly needs to take it’s course, but the “sin” that has really put her on trial seems to have been almost 30 years old.

I know time may tell a different story, but my point here is not to defend Paula Deen in particular. If we take a look at how people like Bill Clinton and Anthony Weiner have seemingly out lived their own scandals in the public eye, Paula Deen should have a lot of hope for her own career.

Celebrity aside, I’m worried that a situation like this says we are in part, living in a graceless age. Consequences are important, don’t misunderstand me. But when a person cannot be forgiven for something like this that happened in the very distant past, what does that say about our society? Are we inadvertently telling people honesty is not always the best policy? I mean does anyone else feel like we may be witnessing a hefty dose of Pharisaical self-righteousness in all of this?

I used to be a pretty self-righteous person myself. It’s a heavy mantle to wear honestly because when you are self-righteous, you just simply cannot screw up. There’s never a moment where you can let your guard down or appear less than perfect. When you are a Pharisee and you do screw up, you instinctively turn up the heat on someone else’s sins if you feel that you might get burned by your own mistakes.

Thanks be to God, I did make mistakes—major ones—and then other life circumstances turned my world upside down. I was tired of the act, so I took a good look at my Pharisee self. And all of that broke me.

And I’m so glad it did because even now as I type these words, tears well up in my eyes in complete and utter gratitude. That refiner’s fire taught me about grace. Before I didn’t understand anything about it, so of course I couldn’t and wouldn’t extend it. I pray that the Kim of those days is dead and gone though I know I need steady reminders to live out my faith with a grace-covered and grace-offering spirit.

I’m imagining that this Paula Deen story may be scary for some people. Beyond the consequences for poor choices, how many of us live in fear that someday, maybe 10 years, 20 years, or 30 years from now we’ll have to face and confess anew something that was long ago covered in Christ’s blood? Is there fear beyond the comfort of forgiven sins in a world that seems so ready to tear someone down?

As Don Henley helped write in the expertly penned song, “The Heart of the Matter,” 

These times are so uncertain

There’s a yearning undefined

…People filled with rage

We all need a little tenderness

How can love survive in such a graceless age?

I propose it can survive in those of us that understand a little about grace, enough to share it at least. Our forgiven sins and new selves can manifest in grace and show up in the ways we love one another. And when we practice the grace we have experienced, forgiveness and love cease to only be biblical edicts. Grace in practice changes the way we engage with the world around us in the everyday stuff of life.

We show it when we support a friend through a messy divorce; when we give a job to a recovering addict; when we love a pregnant, unmarried teen, and maybe even when we keep making that coconut cake from a star that has fallen from grace in the court of popular opinion.

Dear God, help us to combat the graceless age we live in through the power of your spirit. Help us recognize our own weakness and desperate need for grace and by that recognition extend it to those around us. Amen.

The Heart of the Matter © EMI Music Publishing, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.