Saturday, June 22, 2013

What if we were real?

The title is inspired by a song from Mandisa, one of my favorite Contemporary Christian singers, "What If We Were Real?" The lyrics speak of the masks we hide behind, with the thought provoking question, what if we took off the masks and presented our true selves to the world?

I think we all hide behind masks. Some of us have more than one. For some of us, the mask is toughness to hide what is really a soft or tender soul, or to protect us from being hurt. On the other side of that spectrum is a mask of gentility, to hide a rougher person inside that we ourselves don't like very much and believe no one else would either. Most of us fall somewhere in between the two extremes in our real selves. Certainly I am guilty of it. As an example: I am a smoker. I've tried to quit three times in the last year, but still I smoke. Most of the people in my church who know me, know I am a smoker. Surely they can smell it on me. I've mentioned it a few times in asking for prayer support in quitting. But do you think I will smoke in front of someone from my church? Not even. I go out of my way to hide it. I don't smoke on church grounds, and if I smoke in my car while waiting on my daughter to come out of her Youth meeting, I am constantly on watch for someone to come by so they won't see me. You'd think I was a teenager hiding it from her parents. Why? Because I feel guilty about smoking when I am around the Church and congregation. It is a simplistic example but I mean it as an illustration. How many times do we go to church wrapped in pain and guilt and fear, but put on a strong face and pretend nothing is wrong, because we are ashamed of what we perceive as  our own weakness? Because we fear that our fellow brethren in Christ would raise eyebrows or pass judgement or even show pity? When we do this, we cheat ourselves. Sure there are some congregations out there that would pass judgement or wag tongues and eyebrows, and this is very sad, because it defeats those  trying to walk in faith. Yet even in close knit churches where faith is strong and judgement is largely withheld, some of us still wear the mask. I speak from experience there too. When my family was facing really dark times and I found myself back in my church looking for my faith in God and an assurance that everything was going to be okay, I wore that mask. I really didn't want people to know what I was going through. I didn't want to appear weak, I didn't want people to find fault with how we had handled things. I didn't want to wear my fear on my sleeve, though I suspect it was visible more than a time or two. Even now, after I have come to know my congregation better, I still hide my pain. I've gone to church many times, really wanting to throw myself on the altar and cry my eyes out at God's feet, but I can't do it where people will see. I can't take off that mask and show what is really going on inside.

Lets step outside of the church though. How many of us hide our faith from the world? In these days a lot of us are afraid to speak of our faith, or to talk about Jesus because it has become social taboo. Maybe we are afraid our peers will think we are weak, or call us a bible-thumper as a derogatory description. In the career market, it is almost employment-seeking suicide to state that you are Christian and/or that you are involved in your church. There it becomes a mask of self-preservation in our minds. But is it really? For that career you think you want maybe, but if your career dreams require you to hide your faith behind a mask, what does that do to your faith? We have politicians who hide behind the mask of being conservative or liberal, and pundits who make their living with speculation about whats really behind those masks. Entertainers who show the popular culture icon to the world when they are really very different people in private. Those are public masks. With more private masks underneath. How many layers of masks would we need to peel away to get to see who is really underneath?

So, what if there were NO masks? Sure, there would be some pretty unpleasant images revealed. But I wonder if the resulting overall picture would be more beautiful than we could imagine. What if we weren't afraid of being ourselves? What if we weren't afraid of leaning on our faith as publicly as we do privately. What if we were not afraid to show our brokenness as well as our joy? Maybe someone with emotional disabilities wouldn't be so afraid to seek treatment. Maybe lives and souls would be saved. Maybe truth would be something honored instead of something to hide. What if we threw the masks away. What if we were real?

Here is an excerpt of the lyrics to Mandisa's "What if we were Real" and link to the lyric video to hear the song: What If We Were Real?

I'm over hiding my tears I think I'm gonna let 'em go
I'm over acting so strong When I ain't even in control
We make it so complicated But why does it have to be?
Why can't we open our hearts And let everybody see?
We keep trying To make it look so nice.
And we keep hiding What's going on inside
But what if I share my brokenness What if you share how you feel?
And what if we weren't afraid of this crazy mess? What if we were real?
We'd think a little less of ourselves We'd care about somebody else
'Cause we'd know just how they feel
Maybe we could let someone love us
Maybe we'd be a little more like Jesus
Why can't we learn to be real?

Thursday, June 20, 2013


I am not new to blogging. But I am new to blogging for a purpose. My purpose in this particular blog is not just to share my faith in God, but to explore that faith, to invite discussion on questions of faith and, hopefully, to reach someone, somewhere who is on the fence or just hasn't had a personal revelation about their own faith. I am not here to preach. Heaven knows I am not qualified nor equipped for that. But I had a conversation with God this morning, and he told me what to write about. See, a friend of mine mentioned on Facebook this morning that she was enjoying her Blog. And I thought, you know, I haven't touched mine in like a year. Maybe I should start blogging. But then that question came up again. What on earth would I write that someone else might even be interested in reading? And as I was getting dressed for work, it hit me, like a voice booming through my head: "Write about God. Write about your beliefs, your testimony, your love of Christ. The journey you have been on through life and continue on." Wow. So I thought about it. I was still thinking about it when I got in my car to drive to work, and throughout the drive. And then, about a block from the office, one of WMHK's ministry minute blurbs came on from The Lighthouse Report, and what did he say? "Write your testimony where others can read it." Sure, he was inviting listeners to write their testimony on the Lighthouse site, but it was like a bell ringing. I don't believe in coincidences, especially ones like this. I am, 12 hours later, writing my first entry in Faith Walking.

Why did I name it Faith Walking? Because that's what it is. I had a few other ideas, all related to songs I listened to throughout the day, but this one stuck. Our lives are one big walk through faith. Faith in God, faith in ourselves, faith in friends or family. Or lack of faith, too. I have been traveling this road for many years now, and not always in the light of God. It took hitting rock bottom and being scared out of my mind about losing everything we had worked so hard to gain, to come to my faith. And in doing so, I realized that all of that didn't matter. My family mattered more than anything material, and God was at the head of that. God answered all of my prayers that year. We ended up not losing anything, but I lost most of that fear. It still rears up and spikes me in the head once in a while, and usually because I have strayed being strong in my faith. I am learning, oh Lord am I learning. Most people who know me, do not realize that I am actually a deeply spiritual person. I have been for most of my life, even when I was away from the Church. I spent a good number of years away from the Church too, declaring I didn't believe in 'organized religion' and a few other declarations. More on that in another post, but here as an introduction.. I am not perfect by any means, and as a Christian I might as well be a brand new Christian because I don't have a lot of that biblical knowledge. I am however exploring and learning, and so I invite readers to join in and to learn and grow with me. Or to help with that growth even. As I said, I am no expert. But I wonder, is ANYONE an expert when it comes to God, Jesus and faith? We have experts in Theology, but even those experts do not know everything there is to know. Only God knows that. :)

Anyway, back to me being Spiritual. As a child, I fought to go to church. My family was Lutheran, but my parents stopped going to church when I was in early elementary school thanks to a falling out with their pastor. A year or three later, a church bus was making the rounds on a Sunday and stopped by my house. I think I had a school friend who was attending that church, and was on the bus. I was invited to join them the following Sunday, and my parents said it was ok. I was going to a Baptist church in the fourth grade or something (I honestly don't remember). I attended that church for a few years actually, until I moved up to 7th grade and my family moved, just a few miles away. And, get this, practically in the back yard of that very church. But I didn't go. I had actually stopped going to church a few months prior, but I don't remember why. We moved into a house next door to a Methodist pastor named RC Warren. Brother Warren. He had two boys a few years older than me, and they invited me to THEIR church several months after we settled in. I rode with the boys (I was in Jr High, they were in High school and college). I fell in love, with the church, the youth group, and with Jesus. I had an incredibly spiritual encounter during a prayer vigil sometime during the first year at Trinity UMC, and it stuck with me for a very long time. Until I became an adult. Funny how things change when you get away from your church. We had moved again, and I was away for about a year. Brother Warren had moved on to another church. So I went to visit, met the new pastor, and then the following week, I got an uncomfortable surprise. After attending this church solidly for about 3 years, and sporadically a year after that, it turns out I was never a 'member'. No one had invited me to become an official member, I had never taken confirmation (it wasn't even offered during those years that I knew of), and no one had never suggested to me that I was anything BUT a member. I was shocked. I was hurt. And I didn't step foot in another church for 15 years. Children HUNGER for knowledge about Jesus. Looking back on my childhood I see that now. Because it was denied to me by my own parents, perhaps I wanted it more, I don't know. But, that hunger was real. And yet, I failed my own children. For reasons I will go into in another post, my children were also denied a church upbringing. Where I had found a way to go to church without my parents, my kids didn't get that opportunity. They were denied God. And now, they are teenagers and that hunger has abated. For my son, it doesn't exist at all. And so I ask myself, where was my faith THEN? WHY did I not at least introduce them to God when they were young enough to hunger for Him? My daughter is a believer and an active member in our church youth, but my son? He is his dad made over. And it is MY fault. That is something I will have to reconcile myself with, in this walk of faith that I am on. Does it make me a bad person? Is it nonredeemable? I don't think so. I believe God forgives, but we have a much harder time of it. Even in forgiving ourselves.

I end this initial post with some song lyrics, from 'Walk by Faith' by Jeremy Camp:
Well I will walk by faith Even when I cannot see
Well because this broken road Prepares Your will for me
Help me to win my endless fears You've been so faithful for all my years
With one breath You make me new Your grace covers all I do