The Awkward Middle Way

Christy Lynne Wood (1)

When my friend Rachel invited me over to her family’s fall harvest party I had no idea I’d be running into people from my past. Or that there would be an awkward stare down over the bonfire.

Although Rachel and I had both grown up under the influence of the same cultic organization, her family had been on the fringe and missed a lot of the craziness I experienced. Still, we had a bunch of mutual friends. Something I unfortunately forgot. I hadn’t seen these people in at least five years and let’s just say a lot had changed. For me that is; they looked exactly the same from their blue jean jumpers and tennis shoes, to the rolled curl of bangs across their foreheads. It was kind of surreal.

Maybe no one would recognize me. Maybe they would just think I was a worldly soul in need of conversion.

Rachel couldn’t let that happen. I was warming myself by the bonfire when I realized that I knew the woman directly across from me. She didn’t notice me until my dear friend announced, “You remember Christy Mills don’t you?”

Her icy glare swept from from the tips of my jeaned legs to the top of my short hair. I’ve never felt so judged and condemned in my life, but I managed a sheepish smile, “Hello, Mrs. So-n-so. How are you?”

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Sometimes I still feel like I am getting glared at – only this time it’s from two sides of the bonfire. Maybe you do too. We don’t fit in with traditional conservative Christians but we don’t fit with the more progressive groups either. Welcome to the awkward middle way.

I imagine David Bennett, author of A War of Loves: The Unexpected Story of a Gay Activist Discovering Jesus feels this way too. Despite his book being absolutely amazing, (seriously, go on Amazon and buy it) David has gotten flack from both sides. The conservatives are upset because he calls himself a gay Christian and identifies as LGBTQ and the progressives are upset because he affirms an Orthodox Christian view of marriage and sexuality and is choosing to be celibate. He can’t win. And yet, there are many people who have joined David in the middle way and are celebrating his journey with him.

Guys, we are great at choosing sides, but what if truth is actually found in tension?

My church talks a lot about tension theology. That’s the idea that we need to hold onto two seemingly opposing truths to have an accurate understanding of reality. We have to embrace the paradox. I’ll never forget the story our pastor told us about trying to put up a trampoline.

Someone gave his family a used trampoline and he decided to surprise the kids by setting it up. Because it was used, it didn’t come with any instructions. However, my pastor managed to get the frame together and started connecting the springs. But the more springs he connected, the harder it got. Although one side was hooked up, the other side wasn’t even close to connecting. “This trampoline is too small,” he thought to himself. No matter how hard he pulled, my pastor couldn’t get the second side of springs to reach.

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Eventually, he took all the springs off and just connected one. Then he walked around to the opposite side, pulled and connected one. After hooking on a spring in each of the four directions, my pastor was able to get all of the springs to stretch and reach. This is the same with tension theology.

Is God holy and just or loving and merciful? He’s both. Predestination or free will? It’s both. Is God three or one? He’s both. See how this goes? It doesn’t always makes sense to our finite minds, but that’s just it. We are the creation not the Creator. It’s okay if we don’t understand it all. In fact, if we can explain everything about God, then our god probably isn’t the Real One. There is much truth that needs to be held in tension.

I heard the phrase Via Media from my good friend, Alexis. Yes, the same friend who talks theology with me over bagels and coffee. Via Media, or the Middle Way was first used religiously by Anglicans to refer to the Church of England as a middle way between the extremes of Roman Catholicism and Puritanism.

I guess people have always been good at extremes.

I love the Via Media because it’s where I seem to fit best these days. I’m just muddling around somewhere in-between the extremes of the right and left: religiously, politically, socially, etc. I refuse to compromise my orthodox view of the Bible and Christianity. But I also refuse to go along with the religious traditions of cultural evangelicalism. I want to passionately love the people God has created, and I want to hold to the actual truth of His Word at the same time. It’s an awkward place, and kind of messy, and I definitely might get stuff wrong, but I’m okay with that. It’s not that I’m compromising, I’m just choosing to hold truths in tension.

I want to dialogue with people who are different than me. I want to learn from people I disagree with. I want to hold my perspective with an open hand. While at the same time continuing to believe in a very big, very real, incredibly amazing God who knows it all. Grace and truth, that is the goal in my pursuit of the awkward middle way. I want to hold tightly to truth in one hand and grace in the other. I want to be like Jesus.

It’s been amazing to find more middle way muddlers lately. Sometimes this journey can be lonely. But together we can be a tribe, a family. Figuring this out together in humility. Giving plenty of grace. Understanding that it’s not really us vs. them and rarely is anything actually black and white. We might get glares from both sides of the bonfire, but that’s okay because Jesus got a lot of glares too.

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You can listen to my corresponding podcast on any of these listening platforms. It’s Episode #15 The Awkward Middle Way.

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The Theology of Me

The Theology of Me (1)

Once a month or so my friend, Alexis, and I meet for breakfast. I don’t have many friends who are up for deep theological conversations at 8am, so Alexis is pretty special. We drink coffee, eat bagels, and ponder God. She’s a decade or so younger than me and her perspective on life is refreshing. Alexis was the one who inspired this blog post and corresponding podcast episode when she mentioned a double-sided theology of God.

We are both taking night classes at our church. I’m taking a Bible Study Methods class (which I’ve been consistently talking about on my Facebook page), and Alexis is taking a Theology class. “In order to have an accurate view of God,” Alexis began, “we must believe in His transcendence and immanence.”

Those are big words and I had to look them up.

Transcendence means that God is above us in every way. He is hidden and we can never know Him fully here on earth. But immanence means that God is also with us. He has revealed a portion of Himself to us and He is able to be known.

One of these beliefs about God without the other creates a god that is out of balance. This theology quickly becomes more about me than anything else.

My brain started to spin. How else we have created a Theology of Me within our versions of Christianity?

Maybe it’s because we can’t see God and don’t have daily physical interactions with Him. Or maybe it’s because we are naturally His enemies. But for whatever reason, we humans are constantly misrepresenting the very Real and Living God of the Universe. And we are pathetically good at extremes

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Jumping to a side comes naturally with a black and white or us vs. them mentality. But I think truth is found in tension, in the Awkward Middle Way (that I’ll be talking more about next time), as we hold onto two seemingly opposing truths.

Here is what I see happening in modern Western Christianity.

There are two extreme versions and neither is accurate. One group focuses on God’s love and goodness (as defined by their own opinions). Their god is nice but he is also kind of wimpy. He cares more about people’s happiness and other positive emotions than he does about what they do or don’t do.

The Bible becomes irrelevant as people pick and choose the parts that seem good to them. Somehow, they seem to believe that they are more advanced than the original authors of Scripture or even God himself. Salvation is vague if even necessary at all.

This kind of theology might seem good because it is kind and loving and hopeful, but people are the real gods here and it’s actually a Theology of Me.

The other side holds tightly to truth (as defined by their opinions). They focus on God’s power and rules. Their god is holy and just, but he’s also kind of a manipulative narcissist. He demands correct behavior and good people who are afraid of him.

The Bible becomes a rule book filled with dos and don’ts. Rather than seeing the Bible as the story of God and people, they see it as a recipe box filled with formulas to get desired results. Salvation is often fear based and focuses on behavior.

This version of unbalanced theology might seem like it’s about God, but if you look closely, it’s actually not. I perform. I follow the rules. I get blessings and success because I am a good person. Under the guise of “righteousness,” it’s still a Theology of Me.

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The Living God is either real or He’s not.

And if He is real, then we must accept that He is unlike us, above us, and incomprehensible to us. However, He has also chosen to be with us, and He allows Himself to be known and experienced by us.

When God is God instead of us, we get to live in this beautiful place of tension and mystery. It’s not all going to make sense because He is so much more than we are. But this amazing Living Being wants an actual relationship with us. We have the capacity to know Him. Our relationship with the Real God is not going to be one where we get to call the shots. But it’s one where our questions and doubts are welcome.

In this place of tension, we find a God who is just and holy, but filled with grace and love. He is all-powerful and yet allows us to choose to reject Him. The Bible becomes His revelation to us. I love this next quote.

“The Bible amounts to baby talk, because God is so much more than He can communicate, but the Bible remains true knowledge because God is not different or other than what we see there” Dr. Mike Wittmer.

Salvation is a needed gift from God to us because we could never get back to Him by ourselves, but the only behavior it is based on is the sacrificial behavior of Jesus Christ.

Making ourselves the gods comes naturally as we create gods in our image. But if the Living God is real, and I believe He is, then it’s not our job to create Him, but instead to find Him.

Whichever side of the Theology of Me you find yourself on, I hope that you will stop to consider the possibility of a tension filled Living God who is both far above us and near enough to be known.

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You can listen to my corresponding podcast on any of these listening platforms. It’s Episode #14 The Theology of Me.

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I’m Just Here for the Broken Ones

Christy Lynne Wood

My grandpa loved burnt cookies. That last pan that got forgotten in the oven, the extra crispy ones with the hard brown edges that no one else wanted to eat, those were his favorites. When my grandparents came to visit, he always had the same question for my mom. “Got any burnt cookies?”

At first I thought he was joking or just trying to make my mom feel better if she’d burnt any. But as I grew up, I realized that my grandpa was actually serious. One of thirteen siblings, his mom was just a little busy and burnt cookies were often the result. Strangely, Grandpa not only got used to burnt cookies, he actually preferred them. I recently learned that various relatives would burn a pan for him on purpose. Good old Grandpa!

It makes me think of Jesus. As people, especially in our virtual world of social media, we value having it together. It’s important that we are looking good, behaving well, or at least pretending. But while He was on earth, Jesus seemed to prefer the broken ones, choosing to make rejected people His closest friends. He was always pursuing the outcasts and the obvious sinners. I think He was a little bit like my grandpa.

I love imagining Jesus coming in with outstretched hands and a smile, “I’m just here for the broken ones.”

I’m just here for the broken ones.

We’re all broken. Some of us are just better at hiding it than others. The tax collectors and prostitutes that Jesus befriended weren’t any worse sinners than the Pharisees. Sin isn’t just outward behaviors.

We desperately need a bigger understanding of a lot of things. I think religious Christians often see sin as merely behaviors they need to avoid. Somehow the goal has become outward goodness and our real issues get shoved under the rug and into the closet. Guilt and shame keep them there and as a result many church people never get to fully comprehend grace.

Religion_ I’m too much of a mess. Gotta get it together before I come to God.

Sin isn’t just behavior. It’s the deep self-centeredness that colors everything. It’s in our thoughts, and attitudes, and the motives of our hearts. We cannot get rid of it by ourselves. But we don’t have to!

God doesn’t want good people.

How’s that for a crazy thought? God does not value human effort at goodness. It is utterly impossible for us ever to be good enough on our own. And pride stops grace.

But this is why the gospel is good news. Jesus loves broken people, messed up ones, and total failures. And those are the kinds of people who love Him back. Because they know they need Him, because they know they can’t do it on their own. Because they come humbly to the cross and accept His free gift of forgiveness.

When we are broken, then we are able to be healed. When we are lost, then we are able to be found. When we are a total sinner, then we are able to experience forgiveness. In humility we find abundant grace, and mercy, and love.

Let’s stop trying to cover up our messes. Let’s just be burnt cookies!

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Maybe We Just Weren’t That Special

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“God has big plans for you,” they said.

“You are special; you’ve been chosen,” they declared.

“You are the generation who is going to change the world.”

Our young hearts, full of dreams and hopes, burned with the flame of inspiration. We could do anything through Christ. We were going to change the world!

Twenty or so years later, we are half way through our lives. The world hasn’t been changed. If anything it’s more screwed up than it ever was. Many of us never did anything special and still feel a lingering guilt for conforming to the world. Some of us tried and failed. Maybe it was a quiet failure or possibly a more glorious burning out, but the pain and confusion are still there. Guilt, shame, and disillusionment, we are familiar with these demons. Doubt and questions have long replaced our naive enthusiasm.

If you resonate with any of what I just said, then this blog post is for you. Disillusionment sucks. It really hurts and we can easily start second-guessing so many other things we once believed.

But can I throw out an idea? Maybe we didn’t fail our calling or purpose. Maybe we just weren’t that special to begin with. Maybe we were never supposed to change the world.

 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” Jeremiah 29:11 (ESV).

Recognize this verse? Maybe it’s one of the verses they used to try and motivate you to be awesome and do big things. I’ll be honest, I’ve used it myself as a well-meaning youth leader trying to encourage the next generation. It’s an exciting verse full of possibility. But the problem is that when we use it alone, ripped from it’s context, Jeremiah 29:11 loses it’s richness and depth.

It’s not really a promise about doing amazing things and changing the world.

The LORD is talking to Jeremiah about His people Israel that He sent into exile because they refused to obey Him. Torn from their homes and communities and away from their families, they had been taken into captivity in a strange land. The LORD tells them in verses four through ten that they are going to be in this place of captivity for seventy years. Not good news. But He wants them to accept it, settle down, marry and have children, and seek the peace of the places where they have been exiled. God assures them that even in this place of captivity, He has plans for them and that He will give them a future and a hope. This brokenness is not the end.

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It actually gets even better. In verses twelve through fourteen, the LORD tells His people that when they seek Him in this broken place, they will find Him. God assures His people that He wants to be found.

In it’s actual context, Jeremiah 29:11 is not exactly the, dream big and go do awesome stuff because God has a great future for you pep talk, is it? It’s more of a life is broken and it’s not gonna go the way you want, but make the best of it and seek Me because I want you to find Me encouragement.

Guess what, friends? We can’t change the world. And we aren’t supposed to.

“…aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12.

Live quietly; mind your own business. It seems like this passage is encouraging obscurity and simple faithfulness rather than awesomeness.

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” Ephesians 2:10.

Paul doesn’t say “big works” or “famous works” or “successful works”. He just says good ones. And we know that most good works are simple, small, and unnoticed.

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If you ever sat in a youth group meeting, or a conference, or at a chapel service at camp and listened to a well-meaning leader tell you that you were special, the chosen ones, or the generation that would change the world…

If you ever went to Bible college full of dreams and “the plans that God had for you” only to be completely disillusioned…

If you have served in Christian ministry, fought with blood, sweat, and tears, and gave it your all, only to be burned out, or maybe even burned by the people you were trying to reach…

Please hear me.

You have not failed. You are not a failure, or a washout, or a reject. This is not a one chance thing. God is not done with you. Those are all lies that you need to reject!

What if you were just on the wrong train? We try so hard to make a difference as though  in our own efforts we can change people. But guess what? No program, or church, or sermon, or camp, or mission agency, or youth pastor, or any other kind of human effort can change anyone.

Human religion might be able to control behavior for a while, but the power to transform hearts belongs to only One – the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ.

So if we aren’t capable of changing the world (and aren’t even supposed to be), what should we be doing?

Getting to know Jesus.

“He has told you, O man, what is good: and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” Micah 6:8.

There is only one person that we can actually change. Ourselves. And even that actual change has to come from Jesus! But we can chose to seek Him by developing habits that bring Him into the front of our mind and lives. We can search the Scriptures to find Who He truly is. We can learn to listen to the quiet whisper of His Spirit.

We can live faithful, simple lives that dig deep into the people around us. We can serve and love and give. We can use the gifts that God has given us without demanding results. Our lives might not be magnificent, world changing, or even Instagram worthy. But these are the real kinds of plans that God has for us in the middle of our broken world. These are the good works that He has prepared for us before hand. This is the humble way of Jesus. Let’s follow in the obscure steps of our Savior.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant” Philippians 2:5-7.

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My Podcast is Here!

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Creating, editing, and  actually launching a podcast are intimidating things. When I first bought my microphone last October, I never suspected that it would sit unused on my desk for the next six months. Yeah… I’m not great at doing uncomfortable things.

Obedience. It’s hard, frightening, and sometime yucky. But it’s also good. Obedience takes us past our own abilities and out of our comfort zones. It allows the Holy Spirit to become real in our lives.

After realizing that publishing my book was going nowhere, I began to pray about what to do next. Every time I asked, God gave me a one word answer, “podcast.” I was initially excited about podcasting (hence the unused microphone) but actually following through with one made me second guess my abilities. Fortunately there is this wonderful thing called Google which helped me to discover a brilliant step-by-step blog post on how to successfully create and launch a podcast.

It took me two-plus hours to initially record five minutes of episode one. And that first episode was so terrible that I ended up re-recording it so I guess now it’s technically episode eleven. LOL

But here we are. The first four episodes of Looking for the Real God have been released and are available for listening or downloading on:

You will also notice a new Podcast Page on my menu with a direct link. Episode five will be coming next week and I plan on releasing one a week after that. I currently have ten episodes recorded. The first five tell my story while asking questions about religious Christianity across the board. And the next five episodes poke holes in some common lies we often believe about God and ourselves. After that, I have a lot of directions I might go.

I imagine that my podcast will continue to follow a similar theme to my blog as I ask questions and try to figure out more about this crazy, big, amazing God that I know is real and far more than the silly Christianese we often experience in His place.

I’d love to hear any subject suggestions or any other platforms you’d like to listen to my podcast on. Also, if you want a follow up episode on anything you feel needs more explanation or questions. Basically, I’d love your feedback. 🙂 Thanks for being a part of my journey!

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