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The Church We Leave Behind

1 Mar

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I was gasping for breath as my best friend drove us away.  Maybe it was raining, maybe not.  It felt like it should’ve been raining like tears streaked on the car’s windows.  It was a full snot, screaming, and messy tears kind of crying as we pulled out of the church parking lot for the last time after we were told by church staff if we were leaving anyway, we might as well just leave now.

And so we left the grounds immediate and just like that, over five years of commitment and ministry was over. In an instant, the church and I were now two separate entities.

It felt like how I imagined a divorce would feel.

I realized that I just divorced my church.  And it wasn’t amicable.

Leaving a church under difficult circumstances, whether it is because of a difference of opinions, God’s call elsewhere, or other reasons, is heartbreaking. Even leaving one that wasn’t healthy for me anymore, has been one of the most painful and haunting experiences of my life.  Here’s why:

It’s not just breaking up with a building; it’s breaking up with a whole bunch of other people.  The lady at the welcome desk who’s always in the know, the elderly greeters, and those people who you just say “hi” to in passing—they’re not in your anymore.  Those peripheral friends with who you have a few inside jokes, but nothing more, are gone.  You say goodbye to the safe confines of knowing and being known.

Maybe it’s me, not them.  A lot of self-reflection comes with making a major life change.  Am I doing the right thing?  God, is this really want you want?  I can be the solution to this mounting problem.  Well, maybe I’m not seeking God enough. These questions and thoughts are mentally draining.  But eventually, I came to the point where I just couldn’t do it anymore.  I couldn’t sing on the praise team with mock sincerity.  I could not stomach attending Sunday services.  I was getting spiritually and physically ill because God told me to go and I stayed too long.  Sometimes it’s actually them, not you.

But it isn’t supposed to be like this!  We all love God, for crying out loud! No, it’s not supposed to be like this and it breaks the heart of all involved.  I did not take lightly the issue of leaving my church of five years. It was prayed over for almost 10 months.  There was restlessness, dissatisfaction, and a sense that the church was unhealthy.  And it grew more and more unhealthy despite my best efforts to allow God use me to be the change.  Change can’t happen in hardened hearts, so sometimes we need to dust off our sandals and move on.  It happened to Jesus and the apostles and we can expect the same.  Plus, people can all love God and still make decisions that don’t honor Him.  Other times, it’s just about agreeing to disagree

It causes spiritual and emotional wounds, which we try to hide.  I’m fine, right?  I followed God to a new church and because I’m doing what God wants, I’m fine.  Right?  Right?!?!  I was not and am still not “fine.” I miss things about my old church, like the youth group students and the friends I had and belonging to a community.  I miss being able to just pick a Bible study and lead it and helping with VBS.  But I don’t miss the other parts—the ones that are stuck deep within me, that ones I need to offer up to God and forgive, the ones I dare not write about because the wounds are still too fresh.  So many thoughts and feelings are between my journal, God and me.  It seems wrong to talk about our pain, how church leaders failed us and hurt us, how we feel all washed up and used up, and how we’re not sure if we want to be a part of a community again.

It can be a lonely, misunderstood journey.  It has been for me.  Literally, people just don’t get it unless they’ve been through it.  I run into people who left the old  church as well.  We talk about things that happened at the old church sometimes while standing in the hallways of our new church, not sure if we should laugh or cry at the ridiculousness.   It feels like we all survived this major thing and have become spiritual refugees in a strange, new church.  We were front row Christians, and now we still in the back row hoping no one will notice us, yet desperately hoping someone will reach out to us.

You are brave.  No matter what your old church says, what rumors you may hear, or what takes place, you must not let it destroy you.  You made the difficult decision to walk, maybe run away from a bad, unhealthy, and possibly spiritually abusive church, and that takes a lot of courage.  Walk hand-in-hand with God as He guides you for in Him is your true strength.

I had a plan.  I would slowly fade out, savor the last moments keeping a mental scrapbook, and I would move on to a new church to find rest, to be fed, and to just be.

But it didn’t end like that.

I didn’t ride off in my cosmic gray Hyundai Elantra proud of my work with youth, women’s ministry, praise team, and volunteerism.

Instead, it was harsh and sad and shameful.  Yet I know my God has and is still walking with me through this wilderness.  He knows how He will bind these wounds and use them for His glory.  He will gather these ashes and create beauty.

No matter what ending you had planned, remember that God will use this to mold you, grow you.  He has far, far better things ahead than what you leave behind.

Silenced Press Equals Fractured Freedom

25 Feb

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“I’m not teaching you what to think; I’m teaching you how to think,” emphatically stated my professor in class after class. We got it—not what to think, how to think. His assignments—papers mostly—asked us to draw deep from the well of knowledge we gained and discover our own conclusions.

In retrospect, it was one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned—teach people how to think, not what to think.

It carried over into my years of ministry. By teaching the Bible, I asked open-ended questions, presented historical data, and put some “what if’s” into the mix. God offered humanity free will—to choose or not to choose a relationship with Him. He gave us all the information, though we may not understand it, but didn’t force us to believe it.

As I survey the political landscape, I see our right to freely think being slowly taken away. See, it’s not that we can’t think what we want; it’s just that we’re are being told WHAT to think, not HOW to think.

Whenever someone disagrees with our new volatile President Trump, they are called out by the biggest bully in the world. For example, CNN has been repeatedly called “fake news” and The New York Times as “failing” on the Twitter account of the President of the United States. As a former middle school youth leader, I can honestly say I’ve seen more mature language on Instagram between feuding middle school girls.

Most recently, on February 24, “Fake News” and “Failing” along with other media outlets including Politico and BuzzFeed were excluded from Sean Spicer’s press gaggle, while other right wing news outlets were allowed to attend. When I was a college journalism student, CNN and The New York Times were THE STANDARD for televised and print media, yet now they are demonized for printing so-called lies and “making up sources.”

Trump’s repeated criticism of the media sets up a dangerous platform for him to become a dictator-in-chief. One of the first tactics used by dictators is to discredit and silence the opposition. The most troubling part is that many believe Trump as he tells people what to think, not how to think. If someone disagrees with Trump, they are removed or “reassigned” from his staff for “not supporting his agenda.”

But what if CNN, the NY Times, Politico, Fox News, and all the rest of the media are telling the truth? What if we do have a compromised relationship with Russia? What if things are chaotic in the White House? What is there’s a bigger problem in America that Trump just doesn’t what us to see? Smoke and mirrors work just as well for politicians are they do for magicians.

As you read my thoughts, I’m not telling you what to think, I’m asking you to just think. Look at the facts from all the different news organizations, the headlines and stories vary, but the news isn’t all that different. Trump’s Tweets are out there. Read them and think about them. I hear his supporters say that he just tells it like it is. I appreciate honesty, but I also value words and language. They can pull us up or drag us down.

Let me ask you—are Trump’s words elevating our nation or dragging us into civil chaos? Moreover, is Trump telling us what to think by silencing and discrediting the media or is he allowing us to look all all the sources and decide for ourselves?

A nation that cannot think for itself, where free press and free thought are stomped upon, is a nation that is not truly free. It’s a nation of fractured liberty where liberty and justice for all is a slogan of the past, not a right for the future.

When I’m Wordless

19 Jan

writing_zpsrl2zcwbgAs a child, I remember stapling together notebook paper with simple ink drawings, probably of animals, doing some sort of merry little thing together.

My sixth grade language arts teaching told me I had a gift. I thought orchestrating soap opera quality plots with my Barbie dolls and playing, “Let’s pretend…” was just what we kids did. I didn’t know it was a gift.

As I read and wrote, I didn’t know I was developing as a writer. I was just enjoying life—and the the beauty of words. The ebb and flow, the emotion, the meaning, the contrasts. Words had power to evoke emotion, to communicate information, to tell great stories.

I didn’t want to actually BE a writer. I wanted to be a marine biologist, but despite my fascination with the natural world, I’m not scientifically-minded. I thought about being a teacher like my mother or a social worker or even a youth director at a church.

All my paths led me back to writing, even snagging freelance writing gigs at now-defunct Christian music magazine seemed like a divine appointment.

But now… There are no freelance gigs. Print media is becoming obsolete (thought I will always love the feel of paper in my hands) and everyone has a blog. There are so many voices, so many words, so much being communicated and I wonder, did I miss my golden opportunity?

Because I can scribble a few words in my personal journal, but the words don’t come easy. It could be that I’m out of practice. Maybe I’m just lazy. Sometimes I wonder if I just don’t have any more words. Am I REALLY supposed to be a writer?

It was so much easier to be a writer when I had assignments and deadlines and topics, where there was a think tank. Now I feel like I write in isolation.

And something in me screams—THIS ISN’T HOW IT IS SUPPOSED TO BE!

Not because I expected other things (I did, but that’s not the point), but because I NEED to write, even if I can’t find the words.

So bear with me as I stumble over atrophied muscles and dusty pages. I can always becomes who I was meant to be…and I trust the words will come.

In the Stretching Moments

17 Nov

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For over three years, I’ve been walking on a broken foot.  Every step towards something or away from something was taken on a foot that wasn’t healed. Because I didn’t know it was broken, I walked on it anyway.

Often times, my foot would was sore and swollen. My podiatrist assured me I was fine, just suffering from tendonitis.  She told me to keep doing my normal activities and gave me a strong painkiller.  So I worked out, jumped, played, drove, shopped, and swam.  I walked on a boardwalk, on a sandy beach, on the sides of beautiful rivers, chased children and puppies, and I stood.  When I stopped taking the painkiller, which masked what was going on in my body, it hurt too much to stand. It hurt so much to walk, at times I would fight back tears.

Right now, it hurts too much to stand.  Sometimes I fight back tears.

So I’m in physical therapy, learning how to stretch my muscles and tendons because my broken foot doesn’t work properly.  It can’t do what it was designed to do—to roll from the heel to the toes—to carry me from place to place.

The muscles in both feet are atrophied. Therefore, they’re learning how to be strong again through stretching and bending and pulling and aching.

And the stretching out hurts.

As stiff muscles are pulled this way and that, they burn and the burning makes me nauseous.  Yet I keep stretching because I know my foot won’t always be broken.  I know that the stretching will provide the healing I need.  I know the muscles will become strong.

My foot isn’t the only thing that’s broken.  In fact, in many ways it has taken a back seat to my broken heart and crushed spirit.

See, I was doing life broken and crushed I didn’t realize it.  From the business (busyness?) of doing ministry and life, my spirit had become atrophied.

And now I’m in the place of the stretching out—finding a new place to belong, putting myself out there to make new friends, healing from wounds that are still bleeding, and pulling on  muscles that are rigid. 

I’m opening my hands before God, for He is the One who gives and takes away

The stretching out is uncomfortable, but I’m trying to see it as a gift.  Everything God gives me or allows to happen in my life is part of the stretching.  He is making the hard places malleable and builds strength in the weak places.

The stretching is necessary if I’m ever going to walk right again…and I don’t just want to walk, I want to run!  I want to run the race He has given me to run.

It is strange how God still allowed me to walk broken and to do ministry so crushed, yet that’s His mercy.  Maybe we’re all broken, but He only makes us aware of the areas of brokenness as we can handle them, as we become ready for Him to heal them in our lives.

I’m walking broken—physically and spiritually and emotionally—but I am still walking.  Isn’t that really the point of this race we call life?  Whether we rest or run a marathon, we keep on going.  Whether we’re warming up for a sprint or drinking Gatorade on the sidelines, we look at what is ahead, not behind

And sometimes we’re in the stretching, the waiting and the trusting for the moment God will let us run loose.  We will be stronger, faster, and more like Him because of the stretching.  The brokenness and the stretching is all part of the life race. 

Unlike other races, It’s not about who wins.  It’s about how we get there.  Because we were made to run.

*This post was heavily inspired by Jennie Allen’s RESTLESS Bible Study and Ann VosKamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts.  I highly recommend both resources!

Me versus Mental Illness

10 Oct

Today is World Mental Health Day-a day to raise awareness for the monsters of mental illness we who suffer battle every single day.

It doesn’t make me less than.

Or crazy. (Most of the time.)

It makes me cleave to God all the more because I desperately need Him to function with the appearance of a somewhat normal person.

But I also think living with anxiety and depression makes me more compassionate, more thoughtful, and maybe a little more interesting than I would be without it.

Oh, I’ve railed at God for creating me like this, begged Him for healing, and groaned prayers that only the Spirit could understand.

I’ve been ashamed to talk about it because I don’t want to face scorn. I don’t want people to see me as incapable, yet I desperately want to be understood in spite of it.

I am me, not in spite of my mental illness, but because of it. It’s a gift that keeps me in the folds of God’s love. I don’t understand it; I accept it.

Like the aspostle Paul wrote, I choose to see it as a gift to cause me to constantly and wholly rely on God. It’s not a gift I would’ve picked, but it has and is shaping me, molding me, changing me.

Maybe there will be a day without daily medications, therapists, panic attacks, and days I just can’t make it out my front door. Maybe not.

I just trust God to shine through all the broken places so people can see His love in my eyes.

I choose to live because of it, not in spite of it.

This is me

28 Sep

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A year ago, my friend and I met over dinner to catch up.  She told me about the man she had been dating for several months.  As with all things Lizzie* it was a hilarious story that had that makings of a good rom-com movie.

“Do you think he’s the one?” I asked.

She shrugged as she responded.  “I don’t know.  I mean, I think you get to a point in your life where you’re like, this is who I am and this is who you are.  You don’t have to pretend to be something you’re not or play games.  You just figure out if you can live together.”

I nodded.  Notions of romance after age 35 were crushed.  I resolved to get a giant chocolate chip cookie before I left to help me swallow this bitter pill.

“So can you, you know, be who you are together?”

“Yes,” she confidently said.  She took a sip of green tea. “You don’t have to impress each other.  You just are who you are.” She threw her arms out and laughed, “This is me!  This is who I am. Take it or leave it.”

I laughed, too.  I tried to think of any instance in which someone of the opposite sex wanted to “take it.” Maybe I was just a “leave it” kind of woman.  You know, the kind of woman you want as a friend, but not as a girlfriend. 

I used to think I was awkward around men because my father had an affair, which absolutely crushed my 19 year-old heart.  Now, I think, I just never felt pretty enough.  Somehow the idea of the male gaze affected me younger and I was always the fat kid.

I look at old class photos and I’m one of the fattest kids in my class.  As I got older, I was the fattest kid in my grade.  I sift through my college pictures and often times, I was the fattest one pictured.    We’re all known for something, right?  I was known for being fat.

See, I wanted to be known for being smart or funny or kind or godly or a decent singer or a good writer.  For so much of my life, I’ve seen myself as the fattest person in the room. And I hated myself for it.

I mean, do you know what it’s like to carry the weight of that extra weight around?  It’s not just the excess celluloid, but all the judgment and shame that comes with it.  And I’m not talking about the opinions of others.  I’m talking about how I feel about myself.

Once upon a time I was the fattest person in the room.  I had to order most of my clothes online (or from catalogs.)   I tried to eat better and exercise.  I would lose 40 pounds and then gain it back.  Actually I would gain even more weight.  At one point, I weighed almost 400 pounds.

And I thought, this is me.  This is all I’ll ever be.  If a heart attack doesn’t kill me, then diabetes certainly will.  This is me and I am going to die from being too darn fat.  They call it “morbid obesity” for a reason.

My “This is Me” wasn’t who I wanted to me.  There wasn’t a satisfaction that comes with knowing who I am and accepting it.  It was more like, “This is me and I hate myself.  I can’t believe anyone would like me….and maybe if I put on make up, I won’t look as bad.”

But that is not who God created me to be.  At 400 or 300 or 200 pounds, I don’t think God ever looked at me as “the fattest person in the room.” I believe He just saw His beloved daughter, Amy.

Sometimes I’ve railed at heaven, screamed at my ceiling shaking a fist of accusation.  Why did You make me like this?  If I’m fearfully and wonderfully made, then why am I so flawed?  Why can others eat a bag of M&M’s and drink regular soda and eat at fast food places and I have to be so very careful?  Why doesn’t my body make enough insulin?  Why is my metabolism so slow?

WHY AM I SO FAT?!  Why has my life been so sad that I’ve wanted to eat?  And why have I allowed this fat to starve me of a more abundant life?

Really, God, why am I fat?

One day, He gave me an answer.  He didn’t have to, of course, because He is God and God doesn’t need to explain Himself.  I heard it in my heart.  “For My glory.”

And part of me is ashamed to admit that seems mighty unfair—why do I have to suffer for His glory?  I realize, though, that I have no idea what glory or holy or fairness or justice really is apart from God; therefore, His “glory” seems like some abstract concept.  What is the glory of the One whose very name is holy? 

I think about Moses face glowing from seeing the passing of God’s glory as he was protected in the cleft of a rock by the very Hand of God.  To be called to do something for God’s glory is a high calling indeed, even if it is difficult to bear.

I’m starting to realize I’m so much more than a number on a scale or my age or the size of my clothes.  It isn’t about finding “the one,” getting married, and having kids or scoring that perfect job.  It isn’t about buying a house or owning a dog.  Those are all good things.  Great things even.

It’s about being able to say, “This is me.”  This may not always be me because God is constantly refining me into someone who looks more and more like Jesus.  It’s about seeing my flaws and gaps and open spaces and seeing how God’s light shines through and how His strength makes up for all my weakness.  It’s not being about the fattest person in the room, but rather about being the person in the room who is living and loving for His glory.

It’s about me coming to terms with myself.  This is me.  It’s not all I’ll ever be, but it is a result of everything God has done in my life up to this point. I want you to look at me because I want you to see  Jesus.

This is me trying my very best to live for His glory.

This is me.

Bullying: It Never Stops

26 Jul

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Once upon a time—in the late 90’s—I was sitting in math class at my Christian high school.  We had some free time so I was working on homework when a student in the back of the room began harassing me.  “You’re a lesbian, you know that?” he taunted.

One of his smirking friends joined in pointing out that I must be a lesbian because I didn’t have a boyfriend.  At least they didn’t call me ugly or fat—that day.

Finally, unable to stand it anymore, fighting back tears I told them to stop, which just encouraged them to continue their torment.  My teacher was standing at the front of the classroom, no more than 15 feet from where I was being verbally abused.  I looked straight at him and asked, “Aren’t you going to do anything about this?”

I’ll never forget his response.  It’s one I’ve heard used by educators, parents, and adults everywhere when they talk about bullying.  Dismissively, he said, “If you ignore them, they’ll stop.”

If you ignore them, they won’t stop. 

I know because I tried that, too.  The bullies only jeered more loudly.  Other joined in or laughed, while a few girls sometimes giving me pitying glances.

Back in those days I didn’t cry nearly as much as I do now.  I would hold it in knowing that they could never see you cry.  You can never let them see that they got to you.  I knew I would come home and drag a razor across my wrist or thighs or stomach and somehow that would release my pent up rage.  No one called it “cutting” or “self-injury” back then, just para-suicidal behavior.

Sometimes during middle school and high school, I imagined I would stand up and give an impassioned speech, which would change everything, like I was staring in some sort of Hollywood blockbuster.  I would tell them how much it hurt to be called names, to be pushed into my locker, and to be left out.  They would finally understand, apologize, and we’d all become best friends like on “Saved By the Bell” episode where Zack dated the fat chick.

I couldn’t wait to grow up because I thought there wouldn’t be bullies anymore, or at least I wouldn’t have to go to school with them every day.  When I became an adult or at least went to college everything, I assured myself that everything would be OK.

When I went to college, everything was OK.  I met and befriended real lesbians on campus and wondered what those immature high school boys would say about that.  I excelled in my classes, like I usually did, and felt secure in my environment of friends who accepted me.  Finally, I was part of the “in” crowd or maybe just in a crowd.

They (whoever “they” are) say that bullying is just one of those things kids do and the victims will survive.  Students just need to toughen up, educators say, because kids will be kids.

I wish I could say it still didn’t hurt.  I wish I could say the kid who made fun of my voice every single say in sixth grade science class hasn’t affected why I sometimes feel awkward when my voice is amplified over a microphone.  So many of these lies still rattle around in my brain and the lies have become my truth.  It is something God and me are working on together. 

The truth of the matter is that words do hurt.  The far reach of social media has made bullying even worse.  I recently watched a documentary called The Bully Project and I cried through much of it.  I couldn’t even watch the entire thing.  Emotions I thought long dead resurged.

Finally, it occurred to me that no matter where you are, what age you are, or what you do, there will always be bullies.  Work bullies, neighborhood association bullies, church bullies (who do it in the name of God), road rage bullies, mommy group bullies—and you know what?  Ain’t nobody got time for that!

Frankly, I’m sick of bullies.  They’ve taken too much from me and I’ve let them.  I don’t have any deep answers on how to solve the bullying epidemic.  I don’t know how to make teens stop sending stupid text messages or posting ridiculous nonsense on Instagram or Snapchat.  All I know to do is to tell them over and over again the effects of bullying. I can’t change them, but I can change me.  I can stop giving their words meaning and move past the hurt they inflicted.

I refuse to be like my math teacher, who incorrectly told me they would stop.  They never stop.  Instead, I work with students as they deal with conflicts and teach them about who they are in Christ so the truth can overcome the lies, so the light of God can overcome the darkness

In this work, I have found redemption for my own middle and high school years eaten by the locusts.  There is healing in ministry—something that makes the scars bring forth His light. 

My junior year of high school was more than half a lifetime ago and I still remember the words of the students and my teacher.  I still feel the sting because I am human.  But I don’t let it consume me because I am redeemed.

No Hugs Please

23 Feb

I don’t like being hugged.

Maybe I should clarify that statement a bit.  I don’t like being hugged by strangers and most acquaintances with who I have no real relationship or bond.  When you come at me with outstretched arms, I might obligingly sort of hug you back, but I hate it.  Really, really hate it.

See, I’ve never been one to enjoy being touched.  Sometimes it makes me uncomfortable.  It’s not as if I wasn’t hugged as a child, but we were not overly touchy.  The Pennsylvania German culture—my people—are like that as a community.

That’s not to say I NEVER want to be touched.  As always there are exceptions to this rule—like with children, teenagers, old people, and dogs.  I don’t feel threatened by any of them and therefore, touch is welcome.  Besides, try explaining to a baby why they can’t fall asleep in your arms or a teenager why a game of surprise poking isn’t funny or an old lady who misses the embrace of her deceased husband why a hug isn’t permissible.  My compassion overcomes my discomfort.  I seek opportunities to touch those who most need it.

To me, a hug is an intimate act between two people, which I take seriously.   I may spontaneously hug someone in excitement or because of genuine care or love.  But if you ask me for a hug, I say no, and you hug me anyway—that makes me mad, uncomfortable, and puts distance in our relationship.  You have violated me and my personal space.

It’s not that I can’t offer grace to those huggy types, because I do.  I see the intention of a hug wasn’t to harm, but rather to share a great gift.  I am trying to become more comfortable with hugs because I need physical touch, especially as a single woman.

There are huggers, semi-huggers, and non-huggers.  I’m a semi-hugger, which means I hug with discretion.  Non-huggers would rather not be touched at all and huggers, well, hug everyone and everything.  Here’s what huggers need to understand—not everyone wants to be hugged.

You should never force a hug on a semi- or non- hugger. No means no!

It doesn’t make us frigid people—maybe slightly controlling—but not lacking the full real of human emotion.  Whether it’s how we were raised or personal preference, we need to be respected for the discerning huggers that we are.

And maybe, just maybe, when you enter our inner circle, you’ll get a hug, too.

Until then, don’t force it.  Hugs should be given in love with the feelings of both people in mind.

Movie Review: RISEN Doesn’t Rise to Occasion

22 Feb

Risen starring Joseph Fiennes (Shakespeare in Love, Luther) is the latest in a growing number of faith-based films.  The story is loosely based on the mention of a Roman centurion who after Jesus’ terrible crucifixion exclaimed, “Surely this man was the son of God!” (Matthew 27:54) Fiennes plays Clavius, a Roman tribune, who after investigating the claims of Jesus’ resurrection becomes a believer himself. (Sorry for the spoiler, but you knew it was coming.)

Let’s start with the positive aspects of Risen.  While the plot wasn’t gripping, Joseph Fiennes did a good job as Clavius, especially in those opening battle scenes to help us establish that Clavius was a tough soldier.  It was interesting to see Fiennes transition from the roles of Shakespeare to Luther to Clavius, and he certainly bulked up for this film.  As a fan of Fiennes and his brother, Ralph, I primarily wanted to see Risen because I like Joseph Fiennes.  I was not disappointed as the movie contained plenty of Fiennes goodness and I didn’t have to put up with him kissing other women.

The biblically accurate scenes, such as the depiction of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to the disciples along the Sea of Galilee found in John 21, were good.  Even though there is no mention of a Roman centurion tagging along on their fishing trip, I enjoyed seeing the disciples once again receive fishing advice from a stranger onshore who they later recognize as Jesus.

The costumes, sets, and other imagery seemed very realistic…or at least better than the cheap Roman soldier outfits we use at church during Holy Week.  I found myself interested in the setting, the rooms, the outfits, and even interested in the architecture of the period.  This, to me, was a highlight of the film.

Finally, of course, I appreciated that it was none other than Tom Felton, who portrayed Draco Malfoy in several of the Harry Potter films, who was Clavius’ attendant.  Harry Potter fans might find this especially amusing since Fiennes’ brother, Ralph, is Lord Voldemort in the same franchise.  Unfortunately, Felton can’t seem to catch a break because he still played a villain.

My biggest complaint about Risen is the departure from biblical narrative.  While some of this is necessary in reimagining a story, I believe Risen took it too far.  I started to squirm in my seat when Clavius discovered Jesus sitting with His disciples and Mary Magdalene in the Upper Room.  My discomfort grew after Clavius followed and befriended the 11 disciples (Judas not among them, obviously).  But when Clauvius was part of Jesus’ reunion with His disciples in Galilee, my stomach did flips and I nearly walked out when Clavius and Jesus had a heart-to-heart in the middle of the night.  While all these things might have happened, there is no biblical evidence to support this whatsoever.  Since I attended the movie with my youth group, I felt the need to lean over to the sixth grader sitting next to me to inform her of the parts that weren’t actually in the Bible.

Also in the realm of scriptural inaccuracies in Risen is one of my pet peeves—the incorrect portrayal of Mary Magdalene as a prostitute.  In fact, Scripture says Jesus drove seven demons out of Mary (Mark 16:9, Luke 8:2).  Could she have displayed promiscuous behavior?  Possibly.  However, there is no evidence in the Bible this was the case.  Risen suggests that Mary did business with half of the Roman army before her life-changing encounter with Jesus.

While Clavius was a character with dimension, everyone else is a caricature of a goofy disciple, born-again radical, or a fool more concerned with power than truth.  While this makes for great comedy relief, high drama, and inspiration, it doesn’t make an award-winning (or even interesting) film.  Even though these characters exist to move the plot forward, they do so at a terribly slow pace.  In fact, when my sixth grade friend dumped her cup of ice on her lap, I was just about to doze off.  It was that boring.

Most of all, I was disappointed in the potential this movie had.  Instead of producing a mediocre tale about Jesus’ resurrection with made-up, feel good stories, it could have told a greater, more realistic story about the centurion, perhaps how his new belief caused great distress in his position, possibly including persecution in the early church.  Understandably, there parallels to Clavius’ search and a believer’s own search for truth and perhaps this is what the movie was trying to portray.  But it just lost me.

Risen starts out strong and loses steam as it continues. While there are some notable scenes, the last half of the movie drags on and on. Joseph Fiennes provided great acting, but it wasn’t enough to keep my attention. It was an interesting depiction of the Roman centurion who believed, but so many artistic liberties were taken I fear people will confuse what is in the Bible and what is not.

Transform: I Can

13 Jan

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My mantra up until yesterday (when I first realized I had this mantra) was “I can’t.”

I can’t write.

I can’t get healthier.

I just can’t do this anymore.  God, why do you push me on to do these things I just can’t do?

Somewhere between my heart and the scribbles in my journal and the intervention of the Holy Spirit, I realized that “I can’t” is just an easy excuse.  “I can’t” means I don’t have to and it would be easier to give up and stay the way I am.  Because status quo can be easier than change, especially for me.

Yet my creative heart yearns for something more…and there’s that part of me, too.  These two selves war within me and I am trapped.

I thought about my mom, who is hooked up to a dialysis machine every night because her kidneys don’t work anymore.  She will spend the rest of her life on dialysis.  I see her life fading because she can’t walk very well.  When she falls, she needs someone to help her up.

When I fell, she was the one who used to help me up.

When she says “I can’t walk up a flight of stairs,” it’s true.  But the thing about my mom is, that she’ll try to walk up those stairs anyway.

So I’m starting with my “I can’t” statements.  There are some things I truly cannot do, but there are others I’m just hiding behind because I’m afraid.  What if…I can?

I can write.  I’m doing it right now.  No one said it has to be good, right?

I can get healthier.  I lost 80 pounds in 2015 and I intend to lose at least 80 more.

I can do this because I don’t have to do it alone.  I have a God who never, ever, ever, ever leaves me and who covers me with His extraordinary love.

Circumstances require us to change and change to push us to transform into someone we never knew we could become—the kind of person that God wants us (wants me) to be.

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