The Dangers of Chocolate or Vanilla

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It’s the middle of the afternoon on a warm, sunny day and you are feeling hungry. Across the street, you see an old-fashioned ice cream shop that advertises thirty-six flavors of homemade ice cream. You begin to dream of fresh waffle cones and your mouth starts watering. Quickly crossing the street, you open the door to the sweet tinkle of a bell. There, in all their homemade glory, thirty-six beautiful containers of ice cream rest in a case behind a glass window.

The shop is quiet. You don’t really notice the tables of silent people hunched over their bowls of ice cream because your eyes are focused on the menu. How in the world are you going to choose? Maybe they will let you have more than one kind on your cone.

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You approach the case and stare dreamily at the swirls of fudge, raspberry, and peanut butter. You pause to gaze at the creamy green circle of mint chip. Then you hear a voice.

“Would you like chocolate or vanilla?”

You look up from the ice cream case to see the attendant staring at you. Puzzled, you wonder if you heard them right. “Excuse me?”

soda-jerk-713089_1920“Do you want chocolate or vanilla ice cream?” They ask again.

You are confused. There are thirty-six different flavors of ice cream. Why do they want you to chose between chocolate and vanilla?

The attendant is still staring at you. “You should pick chocolate. We all eat chocolate ice cream here. In fact, only bad people choose vanilla.”

Now you are really confused. “But, I was hoping for mint chocolate chip.” you stammer.

“Mint chip is basically vanilla. And you can’t have vanilla. Only stupid people eat vanilla. How about chocolate?”

You don’t really like chocolate ice cream, but you are starting to feel intimidated.

“Mackinaw Island Fudge?” You ask slowly. “It’s got chocolate in it.”

“That’s VANILLA ice cream!” The attendant shrieks. “Vanilla ice cream is BAD! Only terrible people eat vanilla ice cream. What’s wrong with you?”

“Butter pecan?” you whisper.

The attendant glares at you. In a cold voice, they slowly say, “If it’s not chocolate, then it’s vanilla. Vanilla is evil.”

Ice cream has lost it’s appeal and you turn to leave.

“Where are you going? You can’t leave without eating some chocolate ice cream.” The attendant has moved from behind the counter and is blocking your path to the door. The tables of customers stare silently at you, hunched over their bowls of chocolate ice cream.

With a yell, you push past the attendant and make a run for the door. Safely outside, you turn to look back. Your appetite for ice cream has been ruined and it’s doubtful you’ll be heading into any ice cream shop in the near future.

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Believing that there are only two acceptable options or opinions is called Black and White Thinking. In reality, situations, people, and beliefs are rarely black and white. Most of the world is actually a misty gray. Black and white thinking is common within religion. This mindset is also evident in the recent, extreme political divide in our country.

Having grown up in an ultra religious sub-culture of Christianity where black and white was just the way we thought, I’d like to share some reasons why I believe this mindset is dangerous.

Black and White Thinking isolates us. We always think our perspective it correct; its OUR perspective after all! But in reality, our perspective is warped because of our biases, experiences, personalities, etc. By only surrounding ourselves with other people who think like us, our biased perspective is confirmed. We are right and they are wrong.

Honestly, if we are going to have a more accurate understanding of life, we need to get to know and listen to people who are different from us. We need to hear the heart of who they are, the experiences they have had, and the reasons they think and feel the way they do. Reality is found within a combination of different perspectives.

Black and White Thinking creates enemies. If there are only two options, then life quickly becomes us versus them. Supposed truth and safety is found within the comfort of our camp. Anyone who doesn’t think like us is viewed with suspicion. We do not see the complexities of others’ humanity and we ignore their stories and experiences. We are quick to bestow motives on them based on our own opinions and not on their actual intentions. In reality, there are very few truly evil people in the world. Most people have legitimate reasons for their perspectives, whether or not we agree with them.

Black and White Thinking is often based in fear. We are naturally afraid of things we do not understand. This fear can easily be exploited by people who are trying to control us. Most differences are not bad, they are just different. When we are controlled by black and white thinking, our fear keeps us from exploring or pursuing people who have differences. That fear traps us within our own narrow perspective. Fear is not from God! We need to evaluate our fear and discover if it is truly rational or not. Is our enemy Satan, a spiritual leader, or even the media exploiting our fear in an effort to control us? This leads me to my next point.

Black and White Thinking only benefits those in power. This is true in a religious setting, in a political one, and anywhere in between. People in power love to promote black and white thinking because minions who think like this are easier to control. If we went back to the ice cream illustration I started with, who is benefiting in that scenario? The makers of chocolate ice cream! Who benefits in a religious system? The guy in charge of the church, cult, or organization. Who benefits in politics? The media and the people in political power. Black and white thinking is not helpful for the minions. We would be much better off connecting with all sorts of people with various backgrounds and beliefs. Our own opinions might be strengthened or changed as they are challenged, but we will be free to hear from one another.

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And so, I would challenge all of us to take a good look at our own hearts and minds. Do we really think there are only two options? Do we have to be right? Is it possible to live in the tension of misty gray?  Are we willing to see other human beings as valuable whether or not we agree? Can we choose to listen carefully and ask questions as others share their opinions and beliefs? Will we challenge the powers who are encouraging this dangerous mindset?

I’ve experienced the damage that black and white thinking produces first hand. It’s not worth it! The best thing that ever happened to me was learning to listen to people that I didn’t agree with… We don’t all have to be on the same page in order to get along.

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Thoughts About Obscurity

It started with one word.

Number eight on a list of Ten Traits of a Servant. Obscure.

Google’s dictionary defines obscure as “not discovered or known about.” It’s ironic.

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Every writers’ conference I’ve ever attended holds entire sessions on how to build your platform…how to become known…how to be found. If you want a chance at writing a book, you’d better have a couple thousand followers on at least one social media platform. Put yourself out there. Schedule posts that will keep popping up through out the day. Build your tribe! Find your people!!

Be a servant…be willing to be obscure…not discovered…unknown.

I don’t know if I can be both.

I’ve been wrestling with this for months. The pressure to build a platform has always irked me. But obscurity? How does that work? I want to write a book. Isn’t being an author and being obscure two opposite things? Yet, I resonate with obscurity. I hate the rat race of trying to collect followers.

Two weeks ago, I read this really long but incredibly deep blog post by Timothy Willard called “Have We Lost Our Minds?”

It was like Tim took the disjointed thoughts of my heart and put them into words. He talked about the lost art of thinking and the value that it brings to our lives. He reminded me about how much of our modern lives are made up of reacting, blurting, and doing.

“But the more I surveyed social media, where everyone including (especially?) Christians seems hell-bent on screaming their own point of view towards people, the more I concluded: we don’t care what anyone else thinks or says.

We only care for ourselves.

When we fail to look past our own ideas of how things should be, we cease to be people of vision, we cease to really think.” – Timothy Willard

Tim shared five examples of how the Christian community is failing because of “non-thinking.” One of these examples had to do with the Christian publishing industry. In his opinion, the industry is encouraging shoddy theology because so many of the new authors get published based solely on their online popularity and not because they actually have anything to say. Wow!

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My mind was exploding and I had no idea how to express it. It was time to think. 🙂

My thoughts led me back to “Recapturing the Wonder” by Mike Cosper. Seriously, you all need to read that book!

In a disenchanted universe, where God is absent or distant, building a platform makes sense. No one is going to make anything happen for you except you. Fame is the goal…along with getting your ideas out to the public. Therefore, you do whatever is necessary to make that happen.

But, I want to believe that we live in an enchanted Cosmos, with a Creator who is actively present. I want to believe in a mysterious Spirit who is intentionally working out His will. And if His will for me is obscurity, excellent! If His will is a published book that makes the best seller list, great. And if it’s somewhere in between, then fine!

I’m beginning to recognize gifts that God has given me…gifts that don’t always look like gifts. (You have them too!) My story is a gift, even the broken parts. My personality, as much trouble as it gets me in, is a gift…my ability to see truth and communicate it, my boldness, passion, and intensity. All of that is marred by sin and can absolutely be used wrongly…but it’s also still a gift.

I don’t want to treat myself as a commodity to be sold…spending my time worrying about who likes me, and how many followers I have, and if I can get published. I want to recognize the gifts God has given, and out of gratitude to Jesus, share them with you.

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More than anything, I want this blog and my social media posts to be about Jesus regardless of where that gets me in the publishing industry. I’m willing to serve in obscurity.

So what does that mean? 

I don’t really know. Maybe I will write less…but maybe I will write more. I want to write without the pressure of needing to share something once a week or once a day, but instead because I have something to share. I want to focus less on my social media presence and more on my real life.

It’s still winter in Michigan, the yucky part where Christmas is long past, but spring is a distant dream. We took the kiddos away for 24 crazy hours at Great Wolf Lodge enjoying 84 degrees and bathing suits.

I’ve been working as a Shipt shopper, buying groceries and delivering them while the kids are in school. It’s a fun and fast paced job, but not very Instagram worthy unless you like pictures of shopping cars and sales receipts. Haha!

We are settling into our new church family…learning to be “normal” Christians instead of being in ministry…learning how to have a relationship with God that has nothing to do with taking care of anyone else. We are slowly healing and growing, and it’s good.

That’s a glimpse of my real life. I want to value and enjoy it. I want to follow the Spirit wherever He leads. And I want to share my questions, frustrations, and God ponderings with you. Because you are also valued and loved. Thanks for being here. 🙂

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Learning from People I Thought I Disagreed with…

About a month ago, I set out on a journey of learning and discovery through reading. You know what I’ve discovered so far? I’m kind of a jerk. Good to know, huh? 😉

When I first started my book proposal a couple of years ago, there were three books somewhat contemporary to mine that totally irritated me. Not that I’d ever read them, mind you. But I knew (or thought I knew) the conclusions the authors came to and I disagreed with them. These women had all become disillusioned with evangelical Christianity and were looking for something different. They had significant followings. It irritated me. Prideful much?

In my last post, I talked about how I bought those books and was looking forward to reading them. Here is what has happened so far!

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I started with Addie Zierman’s When We Were on Fire and was immediately hooked. Addie writes with shockingly brutal honesty. I could hear the subtle cynicism in her voice as she shared about her emotionally charged years in youth group, her disillusionment in Christian college, and her struggle with depression as a young adult. The Church People had Christianese answers that sounded good…but nothing touched the pain or satisfied the searching questions of her heart.

Surprisingly, I didn’t hate Addie’s book. Instead, I loved her. I was captivated by her story, and I needed to know if she ever found the real Jesus. So I immediately bought her second book, Night Driving, and devoured it in a matter of days.

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Addie is incredibly genuine in sharing her doubts, vulnerable about her brokenness. She asks questions for all of us. Points out the flaws in our Christianese…in our formulaic religion. Ironically formulaic for people who claim “it’s not a religion, it’s a relationship.”

I gave myself a few days off, and then I picked up Elizabeth Esther’s, Girl at the End of the World. I knew going in that we had similarities in our childhood, growing up in performance based, legalistic, fundamental, patriarchal Christianity. But I didn’t realize how abused she had been, that her grandparents were the founders of the Christian cult, or that she didn’t escape until she was a married mother of three. Grace, I needed to give Elizabeth grace. Seriously, it was amazing that she was even seeking to know God after all the craziness and abuse!

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The fact that Elizabeth and her husband converted to Catholicism kind of threw me for a loop. But the more I’ve thought about it, the more it makes sense. Isn’t GOD big enough to use anything? She was trying to seek the real God, but kept running into her grandfather’s voice and interpretations of Scripture. She needed something strikingly different…and what is more different than the church she’d been taught was the “whore of Babylon” growing up?

They changed me…these books that I thought I hated. They changed the way I want to write.

I feel like I have a new understanding of my intended audience. If I’m going to reach the broken and searching, it needs to be with hope in an outstretched hand…with grace, and love, and questions instead of answers.

I’m realizing that we are all on our own journey as we try to find God. Thankfully, He’s happy to be found. God knows what we need, knows how to reach us, and how to speak to us individually…how to meet us where we are at. We’ve got to let Him out of our box. And I need to stop judging people before I read their books!

I have one book left, Rachel Held Evan’s, Faith Unraveled. I’ll be honest, I saved it for last because she scares me the most. I know that Rachel is pretty progressive and pretty vocal. But I’m willing to listen to her story, feel her hurt and frustrations, and try to understand where she is coming from. It’s good for me! And who knows, I’ve been wrong twice now…LOL.

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