Christmas Sucks

“But to those who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God,
to those who believe in his name,
who were born not by natural generation
nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision
but of God.”

The Gospel according to John

I got half a mind to scream out loud, I got have half a mind to die-

David Gray

I’ve read the Christmas posts, seen the reindeer pajamas, laughed at myself, then cried. I have always struggled with Christmas, especially as a Jewish person finding her way as a Christian in the world of reds and greens, happy Santas and nativity sets. I have struggled to understand why Christmas lights make Christians so mad, or why they are so upset about Santa. I have never understood in all the years I’ve been a Christian why I don’t feel the Christmas joy at all…

I have struggled with my expectations of Christmas, as I am sure many of you have. Some of us have lost loved ones and traditions are just not the same without them. Or maybe you’re working. Or maybe like me you’re some sort of convert (aren’t we all though?) fumbling their way through the Christmas festivities.

I decorated, bought the gifts, lit advent candles, went to mass as per our usual routine. I tried to anticipate, to see what everyone else was “seeing.” I read the posts about cancelling Christmas for kids who are bad, the posts that talk about Christmas as a pagan holiday, or Christmas trees that are just from the devil. I have read about the uproar of plain red Starbucks cups and C&E Christians and from people who are not Christians at all. For all that I’ve read and all that I’ve seen, (including the perfect family Christmas pictures replete with elves and bells and matching pajamas) I have to say I am completely unimpressed. I’m not the grinch, I’m just a girl who’s looking for the real Christmas.

My kids, they have been fighting for days. Mass, it was filled with standing room only (no strike that, no room at all). I have no family that celebrates Christmas, not one. I sat alone with my husband last night, two Jews eating a Christmas ham and casserole, kids crying upstairs on Christmas Eve, sans Christmas music.

I cried because I tried to plan the perfect Christmas. I tried to decorate the only way a little Jewish girl knows how. I bought the gifts, not many, but ones I knew the kids would enjoy. I filled the house with candles, an advent wreath and sugar cookies in the refrigerator. I got them each those ridiculous looking Christmas pajamas, as I do every year, threw reindeer bells in the backyard. They still fought and hated each other. I was still sitting in my dress from mass, no shoes, tired eyes. 

I imagine many people feel the same way as me in some way, shape or fashion. It’s cliche to comeback and say Christmas is about Jesus so get rid of everything else and send your kids to go do a service project in Africa. My kids are little. I have three of them. I gave up all of my possessions, sold them all, and followed God’s leading to a small house away from where we were. Then I got rid of more extras.

I give money away when I feel prompted; the way I see it it’s just paper with a bunch of dead presidents. I visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament every Wednesday. I pray constantly, and then some more. I make my kids go to mass, AND listen (or at least try). I wear a veil because God called me to. My kids still fight and hate each other, and then love each other and then punch each other in the face. They still believe in Santa Claus. They still can’t quite understand why the rest of the world doesn’t believe in Jesus.

It took me awhile after crying, stuffing my face with the kosherest of hams, having a screamd-filled dinner, an overpacked mass, ungrateful kids (because that’s just kids), more screaming, sitting here while my kids are each in their rooms having their own little Christmas, that life doesn’t stop for our expectations. That Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. That although we celebrate his birth, I celebrate it everyday. That today is special yes, but not more special than the day he found me, then the moment I knew my husband found him, when He saved our marriage, or the moment I realized His calling me home to the Catholic church was the moment I had been waiting for but just didn’t know it. I thought of all those moments, and more, and realized for me I can’t glorify this day above all days, expecting that the day will be filled with perfect Jesus moments and kids who just can’t understand quite yet that the reason their family is together is because of that little baby.

He is an innocent baby, a youth, a rabbi, a  grown man, a mystery. And He exists everyday for me, just as important as the next. On the days I don’t have perfect expectations for myself or my kids, it seems to work out, I just have to let Him in.

So I’ve decided that today is like every other day. The kids will be fighting, ungrateful and well, just being kids. My husband and I will try for the millionth time to understand why every holiday sucks. We’ll threaten to take away presents and try to “cancel” Christmas. The kids will spend some time in their rooms. I’ll read the scripture of the day and pray and thank God that in all my chaos my family is together. And I’ll let my expectations float away with my grief over my unperfect day.

And I hope you will too…

You can read more about Mary at There’s Something about Mary

 

You Are Loved – You Are a Gift

Good Morning Dear Readers.  Here we are, the 14th of December 2015.  This time of year can be so “busy” and “hectic”…….

Take the time to remember Jesus.  He is always with us.  He wants your love and your time……

May this season be full of peace and joy and truth for you all.  You are Loved…… You are a gift…….

Enjoy!

Cate B

Love is All You Need

It’s one of those days.  Cloudy outside and inside.  I’ve been reflecting about where I’ve come from and how far I’ve come.  I’m sure God thinks I’ve come farther than I do.  He’s good like that.

I was remembering years ago, when my husband and I were pastoring a church and doing all the “stuff” that is expected of you – from people – I was at a place inside that wanted more.  I love music and how it speaks to me.  All types of music speaks to me.  There was a new type of worship music coming out of California and other places that was welcomed by the church at large.  But after a while I was discontent with it.  Seemed like the same words in a different style.

Don’t misunderstand me, the songs were amazing and full of truthful words.  They touched my heart in many ways.  But I wanted more.

Well, the Lord led me to a conference in North Carolina and a man came on the stage to lead in worship.  I lost it.  Sounds and words came from his heart in a way that I could relate.  He changed my life that day.  I’ve never been the same.  .. Most don’t understand the music I’m touched by.  Some do.  A few like – hearted people that have come into my life over the years.  And I know there are more that will cross my path.

I am so thankful to Jesus for meeting me years ago and continues to speak to me in music and creativity.

Enjoy!

Cate B

 

Prelude and Fugue in Family Major

To what shall I liken the Kingdom?

Well, sometimes it’s like a family of singers who perform a fugue… where one voice begins with a simple melodic theme, and one by one others chime in with variations on that theme, differences, harmonies, counterpoints, echoes, dissonances, only to see the piece climax with grand chords of resolution yielding greater light and beauty in their combination, than in the sum of the parts!

People with preternatural gifts in music (like Beethoven, Mozart, Bill & Gloria Gaither, or Bach) sometimes wrote (or write) such things.

Yesterday, I got to see this happen in “real time” here on Church Set Free.

We talk about diversity. We talk about difference. We talk about the Holy Spirit’s freedom to express His Truth to us in various ways and languages, and our individual histories and temperaments coloring our experience of His presence and inspiration. We talk about refraining from telling one another what to believe, but rather encouraging one another in exploring and embracing the relationships we have with Him and with one another. We encourage dialogue, discourse, and collaborative exploration of what it is to live in and as the Family of God in His Kingdom. We talk about the difference between “unanimity” and “lock-step Christianity”, and the diversity of thought and experiences we see reflected in scripture and the life and encounters of Jesus.

It can be easy just to talk about such things.

It can be easy to encourage the Church to be Set Free enough to embrace diversity of background, ponderings, viewpoints, traditions, and even opinions… without judgment, condemnation, or disrespect.

But when we meet together, these writers in/of Church Set Free, I am often a voice heard to repeat… “The Medium is the Message”. God is doing this really cool “experiment” thing, where we ourselves as a group are apparently not only called to “talk about” these topics, offer our own experiences, advice, learning, to encourage others… but to “experience” them, learn more about these principles, model them, and rejoice in our own growth here.

And yesterday, this incredible thing happened. One of us set out a viewpoint. (Soloed with an opening melodic theme). Another responded with a counterpoint. Another listened, wondered if there was dissonance, disharmony, and offered a further variation. The two initial singers then sang a duo for a bit, reaffirming harmony, establishing that while there may be some syncopation there, there was no atonal clash! It was just glorious!

(I missed the whole show onstage, as I was elsewhere doing otherwise at the time! Drat!)

But it was like being around the dining room table at supper, with the Father at one end, Jesus seated at the other, and watching lively discourse among brothers and sisters. At the close of the performance I was elated as I watched the transcript play out. Two things just filled me with joy, and today this post has just welled up within me.

Thing One:

The Brethren of Church Set Free do NOT have to sing in Unison. We can’t, to be perfectly frank. We come from traditions, lifestyles, histories, worship experiences that are vastly different. For us to agree on a “single melody line” would be for NONE of us to be genuine, authentic, transparent or sincere to one another or before you. We would have to put on a “One Size Fits All” suit, that either bagged some and pinched others, or had such flexibility and resilience that it accomplished nothing. Now, are there some points at which our voices unite? You bet! Like “Jesus is Lord!”, or “God is Love”, or “God loves first, and therefore sent His Son who lived, died, and rose again to live forever!” Lots and lots of themes we are in unison.

But in lots and lots of elements of playing out those themes, individually, relationally, corporately, practically… there’s diversity.

And yesterday, I got to hear this really cool little piece of “Chamber Worship”, where multiple voices cast light of differing perspectives and angles, on love in relationship in different ways.

That was AWESOME!

BUT!!!!! Thing Two:

JUST as awesome (maybe even more so), was watching those same brethren… as their melodic lines varied in volume and dynamics… step back a moment, draw breath, and consider the “meta-question” of… “Is my voice too strident? Is this harmony and counterpoint, or is this dissonance and division?”

THAT’s the REAL message (imho) that Church Set Free seeks to bring.

That as “Family” at the table, with God setting and heading the table, we can have lively animated discussion even of differing views, while still loving, embracing and glorifying. THAT was SO joyful and awesome to witness.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

So…. bottom line here… what makes the difference between “division” or “dissonance”, and “diversity” or “difference”?

Um… gonna sound corny to say, perhaps… but the difference is the “relationship”. Relationship and the love with which we handle one another. Divisions and dissonance happen when the space between two persons becomes polarized into “winner/loser” or “right/wrong” or “better/worse”. When there is a breakdown, a failure, of the two elements of “respect” and “sacredness” of the other… there is now division and dissonance. When our eyes become focused on the “opponent”, and “defeating” him/her… as distinct from being focused on God, Truth, Jesus, Love and saying “hey, bro/sis, but what about this? or that? or this other?” (fill in the blank).

There’s a world of difference between saying, “I disagree with you, you’re wrong, and I shall fix that if you listen to me!”, and saying… “I see what you’re saying. But I see it differently. What if it’s more like… [whatever]?”

We never have lie and say we agree with something we don’t. We never have to lie and say something is right, when we have deep conviction that it is wrong. But we can always bear in mind that different people sometimes understand words in different ways, or have met situations that we have not, or have had experiences that express the grace of God in ways that we have not.

We never have to lie to honor God. We only have to love, to respect, and to treat the other as sacred.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Yup, I was a really happy camper yesterday, proud of my brothers/sisters as I watched God’s happy face nod between courses of the meal.

To what shall I liken the Kingdom? How about a dinner table where God is glorified and discussion is lively? This certainly works for me! The medium is the message. We are all projects in work. Welcome to Church Set Free!

 

I’m over Christianity

It’s Sunday morning and I’m here debating whether or not to shut down this blog. It was originally intended as an online way to journey, to share my life real and honest with others. I did the same with my secular blog except that it was clothed in anonymity and prose. And although people flocked to it, it was mired in pain and sin and God wiped it clean when I came out of the water, when I was free.

As my blog journey has continued, it has taken me so many unexpected places. It has brought people back into my life who I hadn’t spoken to in many years, it has allowed others to reach out to me who have been sexually abused and asked me for prayer. It brought me to the Catholic church and allowed me to free myself from some of the bondage I still suffered from, namely people pleasing. There has been so much refinement and blessing. Honesty will do that- allow God to mold and shape you into who He wants you to be.

But lately as I journey on, I see a sad trend in Christian writers who feel bashing Catholics, posting derogatory articles about Catholics, or making seemingly “harmless” arguments masquerading in “doctrine” about Catholics on the rise. Many of the blogs I used to read, I cannot read anymore. And you might say, well say something! Yes I could do that. But then I would have to quit my job and my family to have the adequate amount of time to lovingly tell people to cease and desist hating Jesus.

The typical arguments I receive are:

“Oh well you’ve only been saved for a little over two years”  (Not sure where Jesus stated a requirement for how long one needs to be saved before talking about Him, help me out here people…)

“You didn’t go to seminary so you don’t know your doctrine” (Ummm, ok well the same bible you’re reading tells me that I actually don’t have to go to seminary to do that. But oh that’s right, Jesus went to your alma mater, forgive me!).

“Look at the sexual abuse that’s occurred in the Catholic Church and you want to go there?” (Oh yeah that’s right, only priests sexually abuse children, duh!)

“Catholics believe in tradition and don’t read the bible like we do.” (Oh yes that’s right. Let’s completely forget the first Christians were Jews who came out of synagogue with ummmm traditions and reading of scripture out loud before the whole congregation. Shhh let’s just flush that and start again our way, the right way!).

There are so many more that if I wrote all of them down this post would become a novel. Suffice it to say I’m over it, way over it. So over it that I am embarrassed for the non-believers out there including militant atheists who read some of this stuff. I am not quite sure in a hurt and dying world why people would feel it is their “job” to proselytize (or their version of it, I call it bashing, but tomato, tomatoe, right?) Catholics. And don’t get me started on about one billion other topics that Christians write about out here which wouldn’t even lead my dog to the Lord.

So as I mull over my decision to leave this blog, I’d say to all of you Christian bloggers who are using your space to hate on Catholics, please in the name of Jesus take that stuff down. Hello, we have work to do out here! And just so you know rather than it “converting” me into another non-Catholic denomination it’s hurting me and making me run the other way, all the way into possibly shutting down this blog. Maybe some other Catholics won’t tell you how they feel, but I will. Because I was one of you before becoming one of them. And what you’re doing is not love, it’s not love at all. And some of you have completely missed what the gospel message is all about.

Honesty is something, huh?

(Thanks my friend for the song. Hard to listen to but, I did, and I needed it. And you know, others do to.)

I have tried but I don’t fit

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Politics, religion and money- the three things we are expressly told not to talk about. I talk about all three, all the time. I have had this blog for some time now and it has been the bane of my existence. I’ve begged God to make me more normal in some way, that I could ride off into the sunset in my little Jewish world and forget all this putting myself out there stuff. Until I realize that I have been putting myself out there way before Jesus came on the scene. Like the first time I almost went to jail for defending my client’s right to a hearing. My boss at the time gave me the best advice I’ve ever gotten in my whole career that I have lived and died by. With my tear-stained face he took a hold of me and said, “Melissa, if you are not pissing someone off, you are not doing your job.” I dried my eyes and went back to court ready to go to jail if I had to. Needless to say, I didn’t end up in the clank that night.

I must admit  how apprehensive I have been in so many ways to voice my inner Jesus. It is quite unpopular as many of my views often are. I always seem to find myself on the other end of the argument. A team of angry ones over there and me over here. But I’ve never left the truth. I’ve stood by it, always. And now I know that truth is Jesus.

Recently, God has called me to higher places, to run with horses, to reach farther in my walk of faith than I ever have before. He’s let me play nice for a while, placate people, walk the line. I know I’ve been teetering. The Catholic thing I know got many people who know me or read me off course. People were shocked. I wasn’t. My road has always taken me places that were never in the cards. Well, at least not the cards I had in my hands.

I’ve been successful in keeping my two worlds somewhat separate. It was o.k to be like that, to be me in my secular life, but not in my Christian life. But those two lives were slowly merging. Ok, they were crashing. God warned me, and Kim Davis took the first hit.

I know some of what I write puzzles some of you who are Christians, maybe it bothers you. In my life and in my walk my intention is never to bother anyone. My intention is to tell the truth as I see it, and respect and know that I will have opposition. I experience it everyday in my “real” life. But as the sign on my desk reads, Footprints in history aren’t made sitting down.”

So my secular life, the blog, my walk, my freelancing is all coming to a crashing, mangled, uncomfortable head. This is who God made me. I want to sit in the corner and cry over it, why can’t I just be somewhere in the background? Hey God, why not that stay at home mom thing you and I talked about it? The more I pray for some sort of normalcy, the more he pushes me from behind into an endless ocean. To give Him some credit He warned me, and I told Him I’d rather jump willingly. But I needed a little nudge, and I got it, so here I am.

The two lives I have cannot just co-exist they must co-mingle. That whole separate but equal thing is a lie from the pit of hell. We have to be who we are 100% of the time, and if I can’t be me than I can’t be a follower of Jesus, because to follow Him means to walk in truth twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I’m sick of being afraid of what people, especially Christians think of me. We as a group don’t know how to get along or how to fight fair, and we certainly don’t know how to disagree. When I read something someone else wrote that bothers me, the first thing I think is, well why is that? Usually it has something to do with me, though I don’t of course want to admit that. But as Christians, haven’t we learned by now that it is always about us? 

It is painfully tiring to be someone else, so I’m just going to be me, I have no choice. If I’m not obedient, than I’m not all in. And two years ago I told Him I’d be all in. I told Him if He saved me, I’d serve Him for the rest of my life , and I meant it. And He saved me, He saved my whole life, every part of it. I am alive because of Him, so I owe Him everything, and He’s the only one I have to please.

I hope for those of you out there, whatever you call yourselves, atheist, Christian whatever you are, you stay on the path to find the truth. Be yourself always. People don’t like what you have to say, so what, love them anyway, that’s what Mother Teresa did. It never bothered her, even when people spit in her face. I am far from Mother Teresa, but I’d like to be just like her. I hope if you spit in my face, I can get on my knees and pray for you, right in front of you, or maybe just give you a hug. That is the essence of my savior. And oh, He is the essence of who I want to be.

We don’t need to pretend to be someone we are not or say we’ll pray for someone when we don’t feel moved to do that. We have to live an honest, pure and truthful life, guided by the Holy Spirit and all that God is. How ever will people see God if we are anything else?

I imagine myself sometimes quiet, walking away from everything, living my little life with my little family, punching a clock from 7-3 and doing it again the next day. For some, that’s quite alright. But for me, my insides were just not created like that- pre or post Christ. You may not understand me, but I wouldn’t necessarily expect you too. I’m not trying to be understood, I’m just living the way He’s told me to live. Out loud.

Pass this on to the one that’s struggling to just be themselves.