It is fascinating to watch God weave the events of our lives so that “coincidences” pop up all over the place. Mind you, I don’t believe in coincidences because, in my mind, our omnipresent Creator already knows every thought before we think it and every action before we move.
You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord .
You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.
I can never escape from your Spirit!
I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
if I go down to the grave, you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning,
if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
even there your hand will guide me,
and your strength will support me.
–from Psalm 139
Lately I’ve been wrestling in my mind over how to live out my faith. I alternate between being disgusted with my materialistic Lexus and praising God for his provision. My husband and I have had discussions about what constitutes a tithe — does it have to go to the church, or are all charitable donations considered tithes in the Lord’s eyes? Why is it that so many in America who claim to be Christians don’t attend church? Somehow something about my bubble life doesn’t seem to resonate with Jesus’ commandments to love my neighbors. I love my family, yes. If I learned of a neighbor in need, I would reach out to help — but that’s kinda difficult when my neighbors and I don’t see each other except to wave as we drive by on our way to another destination or errand.
The Blue Parakeet is a newish book about reading the Bible that my church book club is currently reading. I’m more of a fiction kind of gal, but with an intriguing title like that, I decided to get the book, dig in, and see what all the fuss was about.
And I discovered pretty quickly that the one fussing is me.
This book is going to be difficult to read. It is also going to be intriguing because it addresses so many of the questions I’ve been wrestling with. I am deeply concerned about its premises on several levels.
For starters, the author writes that it is impossible for modern-day Christians to fully literally obey the Bible in today’s world. He writes that we all pick and choose what we focus on. He’s right — at least in my church, we skip over the part where Paul writes that women should have their hair covered and think of that as a “that was then, this was now” kind of thing. Well, some homosexual believers say the same thing about the teachings about them. Isn’t it hypocritical of me to hold up one thing as TRUE while dismissing the other as something that doesn’t apply anymore?
In fact, if I’m honest here, I have to say that I have always had a tendency to “weigh” the words of Jesus more heavily than those of Paul or Peter or John or Luke. Many times Paul wrote commands such as this one, in 1 Timothy 2,
I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.
And yet we have Jesus doing the exact opposite of what Paul “permits.” He appeared directly to Mary Magdalene and then commanded her to go and TELL his brothers a message from him, the Lord, in John 20:
She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”
She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”
“Mary!” Jesus said.
She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).
“Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.
In that instance, Mary provided information to the disciples. Isn’t that teaching?
It’s safe to say that reading this Blue Parakeet book is opening up many skeletons that I have firmly shoved into the dark closets of my mind, the ones labeled “DANGER! Don’t Open!” There are some topics that feel scary to tackle, such as apparent contradictions. If I question these things openly, does that mean I question the bedrock of my faith, that Jesus is the Son of God, born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died on a cross for my sins and rose again on the third day, ascended to heaven? No, I still believe that truth.
The way I reconcile in my own mind the apparent difference between Paul’s teaching and Jesus’ teaching is that Paul was a man, and Jesus is God. Of course I will believe Jesus over Paul. But when I do this, I am, as the author asserts, picking and choosing what to believe.
How about the one about the rich young man who wanted to get into heaven? Apparently this was an outstanding young man who had followed all the commandments. He wanted to know what else he needed to do in order to receive eternal life. Jesus told him:
Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19)
Notice the order of the steps he had to take. Before he could follow Jesus, he had to sell his possessions and give the money to the poor.
That is not the way we do things in our church. Most of us are not homeless, and if we are, it is not by choice. Why do we Christians not live our lives in this way? Why do we increase our standard of living to match (or exceed) our income? I’m including myself in this question because that’s definitely the story of my life. When we moved to Texas, we found that for the exact same amount of money as our Florida house sold for, we could buy nearly double the house here. We COULD have bought the same sized home for nearly half the amount, but chose the bigger house instead. Why did I do that? It’s clear that at that moment in time, I had three choices:
- Purchase a smaller home, giving ourselves an almost-paid-for-house
- Give all our proceeds to the poor
- Purchase a larger home, giving ourselves as much debt as we started with
Now, if we had chosen door number 2, where would we be today? Where would we be living? I don’t know. It would be a scary proposition to find myself homeless and without STUFF, by choice.
Suffice it to say, this is one of those passages that we Americans tend to gloss over. We don’t strive to be perfect, do we? In fact, in The Blue Parakeet, the author goes so far as to say it is impossible to do such a thing in a modern world.
But just think about it. What if fifty Christian families sold everything and gave it all to the poor in YOUR community. What would happen next? How then would they follow Jesus when He himself is bodily in heaven? Would they begin a walking tour, telling everyone the good news, just as Jesus did? How would such a tour be financed? What would the impact be on our world today if we did indeed step into the past and do just as Jesus said we needed to do in order to be perfect? The author says it is impossible. I disagree. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!”
Who said anything about being perfect?
Um, our King did. Look at what he commands in Matthew 5:
If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.
Maybe we can wiggle out of this by focusing on the word perfect. In the above verses, the Greek word is teleios, which means the utmost of human integrity and virtue; being brought to its end without needing anything else to achieve its completion. We are to be finished. Sort of like sending a young woman off to finishing school for some polishing…only much more. Jesus used the same word teleios when he spoke to the young man. And when the young man who had many possessions walked away, shaking his head in defeat, Jesus told his disciples that it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Apparently the rich young man just gave up. He was on his way, but he wasn’t teleios.
Does the fact that I have not sold all my possessions and given them to the poor mean that I am not entering into the Kingdom of Heaven? Is Christianity as we know it totally messed up?
The author of The Blue Parakeet wrote about our differing interpretations of the Bible, and about what we pick and choose to focus on as:
What we decide is our way for our day.
My warning antennae just went up on high alert. I have been reading in Judges and have been seeing what happens when a group of people begin to do what seems right in their own eyes.
Rape. Murder. Demolishing entire villages in order to capture the virgins. Forcefully giving the virgins as wives to a tribe so they can be made to have children that will continue on the tribe. Stealing young women from another village to take away as wives.
Holy Spirit, I pray for wisdom to know what it is that you want me to do in my lifelong quest to follow Jesus. Do I take Jesus’ words literally? Do I pick and choose?
Paul Coleman has written a song that beautifully captures my angst about these matters. It’s called Last Night In America. These lyrics capture my heart:
I’m afraid to turn my TV on
And I’m hoping what they said is wrong
Can I just live my lifetime here and then move on?
I’ve had a million conversations about
Who is right and who is wrong
And how would Jesus want for us to carry on
I’m praying for God’s will but secretly wanting
Riches and blessings to pour in my hands
Is this my last night in America?
My tendency is to run away
And try to keep my family safe
But tell me how to hide away from all this hate?
The dominos that we see fall
Were set in motion long ago
Fear became a flower and the garden grows
I’m seeing the irony, the battle inside of me
You brought me peace now I’m at war with the world
Tell me is there some way out
Tell me that I’m not alone
Show me the mystery oh cornerstone
Is this my last night in America?
Is this my last night in America?
Or is it my last moment anywhere?
Our breath is a vapor that’s lost in the air
Is this my last night in America?
Well I’ve read about a God of war
And painted blood from door to door
Canonized in scripture and in black and white
And I’ve read about my Jesus Christ
And I’ve received His sacrifice
But is it turn the other cheek or is it stand and fight?
‘Cause I’m just a simple pilgrim I’m not a man with wisdom
What do I do when there’s a thief at my door?
Do I resist him or in silence assist him?
What seemed right isn’t clear anymore
Is it the fall of a nation or the great tribulation
The eve of invasion or the book of revelation
Well I’ll wear my freedom as an invitation
To the God of creation who’s keeping the score
Is this my last night in America?
5 thoughts on “Blue Parakeets and Skeletons in the Closet”
I have always been a question asker when it comes to these type of things, even as a small child. I’ve found that I often have to deliberately numb my mind to the questions, or they begin to separate me from God in a big way…not to mention drive my husband nuts because I come to him for answers he doesn’t have either!
You know what? I hate that. I hate that I feel like I shouldn’t question anything to do with God or the Bible or Christianity in general. I hate that we close our eyes to so much in scripture yet shout others from the rooftops! God and I have had many conversations about this, in fact! Not that I actually hear His side of it, but you know what I mean!
I have no answers but one: I TRULY from the bottom of my heart believe that NO ONE, no religion, no denomination, no church, no preacher, NO ONE has got it 100% right, and no one ever will until God reveals Himself to us. I am convinced that I am personally somehow wrong about what I think of God or what I think it means to serve Him. I ask Him often to clarify my view of it all, but I still struggle.
Now, The Bible. Wow. I can’t begin to tell you how often I have stopped reading in the middle of a study time because of confusion over a contradiction of either another verse or what I’ve been taught. It overwhelms me. Sometimes I even get angry with God for making it so hard to read and understand. Sigh. God and I, we have a complicated relationship. 🙂
All this to say: I get it. It is a constant spiritual battle for me. I might check that book out, but then again it might mess me up, so I don’t know. Let me know if you get any clarification…seriously. 🙂
I agree with you 100% that no one person or denomination has everything 100% right. How could we? How can we possibly understand the mind of God?
I’ll let you know as I read more. Even if my conclusion is that this evangelical author is one of those who give itching ears what they want to hear. I think the main gist of this book is leading up to whether or not women should serve as leaders in the church. But we’ll see.
Last night I took a break and read The Princess Diaries. Talk about a change of pace! :o)
Wish I could sit with you friend and talk…just talk…about this and so many things! My Chris is in Dallas tonight bringing home a red suburban, as our Durango is broken down. He’ll be home tomorrow. Wish you and you rfamily could jump in and come, too!
Love you! And Miss you!
I just learned about your blog tonight – and i am blown away. Your writings convict me – and your thoughts about the rich young man plague me and have for so long in my personal journey, but my concerns in this issue frustrate and anger someone else. After all, I was given a price range/school preference/commute preference and I was the one who signed the contract on this home. And my yuppie car was a surprise birthday gift meant to surpass what I needed. I want to go back in time and take it all back and make a stand, even if no one is listening. But I have not been given the power to do that. So what next? Ugh. I am glad I am not the only woman feeling these confusing thoughts.
I totally understand your position, Angela. It’s nice to know we are searching for the same answers.
I heard a sermon the other day where the pastor said he overheard someone say that the Christian life requires that a person live his or her life in such a way as to demand an explanation.
Does my life look like everyone else’s? What distinguishes me from the world?
Thanks for the comments…let’s get together soon so we can talk about these things! :o)