Inclusion

I had a gentleman named Daryl Hale for two classes in college, and he was one of my favorite professors. Apart from being a great educator, he was a great person. He taught Philosophy and Religion, and he tried to persuade me to switch from a minor in this field to a major. He reminded me a lot of my parents. While he no longer looked like a hippie when I had him, for some reason, one could tell he was a hippie. Maybe it was the fact that his facial hair consisted only of a mustache and it didn’t make me cringe (It usually does). He also had an Eric Clapton concert ticket taped to his office door.

The first class I had with Daryl, who had a doctorate degree but encouraged us to call him by his first name, was a class called “The Historical Jesus.” It looked at Jesus, His life, His teachings from Christian texts, texts from other religions, and secular texts. We looked at scripture from the Bible for probably half the semester, so on all accounts it was clear that Daryl knew about Jesus and the Bible, but he didn’t speak like a typical believer nor a total non-believer.

As it turns out, Daryl doesn’t attend church, but he’ll read his Bible on Sunday morning every now and then.

In Daryl’s hippie days, in the 60s when he was a young man working on his grandfather’s tomato farm, Daryl had long hair. I’ve seen a picture. It wasn’t shaggy or needing a trim or mid-length; it was impressively, way-past-the-shoulders long.

Daryl went to church and was told that he was going to hell because he had long hair.

Untrue and not biblical. Unnecessary and hurtful. It’s hard to blame Daryl or anyone in a similar situation for an aversion to church.

Evidently this awful behavior dates back to the beginning because it’s exactly what Paul warns Timothy about in 1 Timothy 4:1-5. False teachers were saying that it was wrong to do certain things when it wasn’t, making salvation more exclusive than it is.

The truth of it is that everyone won’t get into heaven, but the hope and promise of heaven is available to everyone. There’s nothing you or I or anyone can do that could make God not want to offer us salvation. That would make Him biased and His love conditional, and that simply isn’t God.

Paul goes on to say in verses 6-12, “If you put these instructions before the brothers and sisters, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound teaching that you have followed. Have nothing to do with profane myths and old wives’ tales. Train yourself in godliness, for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. These are the things you must insist on and teach. Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (NRSV).

Training isn’t easy. It’s learning and growing and pushing ourselves past familiar territory.

I worked out for the first time in forever on Monday. Nothing monumental, just some cardio. And you know what? I got a blister on the bottom of my foot. Training my body to get in better physical shape has already been uncomfortable, but that’s the point. Discomfort, in this sense, means improvement.

Paul says here that while being in physical shape is good, being in shape spiritually is far more important because it follows us into our next life, eternal life. And our spiritual training in turn gives us hope because it points beyond our earthly time.

And this training is applicable to everyone, which is why Paul says to teach it to everyone and not to let age (or anything else for that matter) stand in their way. He’s so emphatic about it that he encourages us to be examples of godly attributes, which only come through training.

Paul closes the chapter by writing, “Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders. Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers” (v. 14-16, NRSV).

Throughout the life of this blog, we’ve discussed gifts a fair bit. Everyone has a gift, and God gives us opportunities to use our gifts for Him. I have a gift of writing well, so I write the blog. Some are musically inclined, so they play in the worship band. Some have cheerful, inviting personalities, so they volunteer as greeters. Some have audio/visual skills, so they work in the sound booth and run slides on Sundays. I could go on, but I think you get my point. If you’re good at something, God has a purpose and plan for you to do it for Him.

Despite what false teachers throughout history have taught, God is an inclusive God, giving gifts to all and offering salvation to everyone. No length of hair, marital status, background, or personality type could make Him love you less and shortchange you. This is why we can all use spiritual training. No matter where we are, we’re all striving to get where we need to be, and God wants more than anything to help us all get there.

By Carrie Prevette

Hope in the Caverns

If you want to see my sister and me argue, bring up James Franco.

I love the man. Talented, smart, funny, weird, attractive – what’s not to love? I watch his movies and I’ve seen Freaks and Geeks (the lovely one season it was). I own and have read Actors Anonymous. I even had a Pineapple Express poster hanging up in my room for a while.

My sister, on the other hand, will watch a movie with him in it despite the fact that he is in it. She theorizes that he bought his degrees instead of earning them. She doesn’t even think he’s a little bit cute. (“He’s always squinting! He never opens his eyes!”) She’s who gifted me Actors Anonymous for either my birthday or Christmas one year, and it almost physically pained her to buy the book.

Going into it, the main reason I watched 127 Hours was that James Franco was in it. While I love and appreciate and try to do my part to preserve nature, I’m not an outdoorsy person, so that didn’t appeal to me. Gore sometimes makes me cringe and curl up in a ball in terror, so that didn’t appeal to me. But I found it at Walmart for, like, five bucks a few years ago, and it’s one of those movies that people seem to refer to in passing more than you’d think, like they’re operating under the assumption that most people have seen that movie, so I wanted to see what all of the fuss was about.

Aron Ralston, played by Franco in the film, is basically an uber human (the term I stole from one of my college professors for someone who’s good at everything). And in his free time, he explores canyons, among other things. He’s off doing this one day when he falls into a crevice/cavern and a boulder falls with him pinning his arm and leaving him stuck for 127 hours.

Aron can see the sky from where he is, so it’s not entirely dark. In fact, he gets about 15 minutes of direct sunlight every day. Aron gets out his camera a few different times and starts recording, so it was at least enough light to make a video. I think if it’d been pure darkness, Aron probably would’ve had a heart attack or had such a problem breathing that he would’ve never caught his breath and would have passed out entirely.

There’s a very tiny part about caverns in Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. Billy Pilgrim is 12 and is on a trip with his family out west. They’re in Carlsbad Caverns and the ranger warns everyone that he’s going to turn the lights off and that they’ll be in total darkness. When the ranger does as he said, “Billy didn’t even know whether he was still alive or not.”

Scott’s sermon on Sunday made me think of both of these scenarios. It also spawned the working theory my brother and I developed that, in addition to being captivated by the One Ring to Rule Them All, Gollum was what Scott would call “cave crazy.”

But what do Franco, Vonnegut, and Tolkien have to do with a twisted Bible verse?

When we read Jeremiah 29:11-13, we read it correctly and often perceive it wrong, and that disconnect has everything to do with dark and light.

“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.’” (Jeremiah 29:11-13, NLT)

So beautiful. Such a bright image of tranquility that you almost feel like you’re looking at the sun. The words “good,” “future,” “hope,” “I will listen,” and “you will find me,” give us this idea and promise of peace and joy that is absolutely real. That is what this scripture means.

But when we zoom out a little and read just one verse before and one verse after, the entirety of the truth is seen.

“This is what the Lord says: ‘You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,’ says the Lord. ‘I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.’” (Jeremiah 29:10-14, NLT)

A darker picture than before by far. One that demonstrates that we will have adversity. It’ll get better, sure. There is some light. But it won’t always be a great time. There will be some darkness in our lives.

It’s a truth that many don’t realize until they experience it: it’s not that our lives contain no darkness; it’s that we have light to make our way through it. Hope doesn’t come from never having problems. Hope comes from knowing fear, stress, failure and knowing that none of those are where you end. The greatest hope comes from knowing it doesn’t come from your own merit but the merit of an all-powerful God with a perfect record.

We’re not Gollum, victim of the darkness. We’re not Billy Pilgrim, unsure of our very lives.

We are like Aron Ralston. We have light to guide us, to see us through. We may be stuck in an immovable situation. Everything we try may fail. Our faith may wane, but God’s faithfulness won’t. We may not know how, but He’ll get us out. That’s enough. We may not have enough light to see every detail, but we’ll have enough light to see a way out.

There’s a song by Switchfoot called “The Shadow Proves the Sunshine.” The chorus goes:

We are crooked souls trying to stay up straight,
Dry eyes in the pouring rain.
The shadow proves the sunshine.
The shadow proves the sunshine.
Two scared little runaways
Hold fast to the break of daylight were
The shadow proves the sunshine.
The shadow proves the sunshine.

It’s a testament to the fact that there is good and bad, light and dark, and we often can’t know one without the other. Were it not for the shadows, we wouldn’t perceive the depth we need to navigate. And if there was no sunshine, we wouldn’t be able to see the area we need to navigate and how we need to move. God is the truest light, and He will fulfill His promises and give us hope, joy, and peace. But it won’t always be easy. We just have to remember that we have access to the Light, and all we need to do is keep reaching for it.

By Carrie Prevette

Psalms: Thirteen

If you’ve ever heard me talk about the book of Psalms, you’ve heard me say that I love the honesty of the psalms, particularly those of David since I’m familiar with his story. David is so transparent in what he writes and how he speaks to God. If he’s happy or mad or worried, it’s as clear as the words on the page.

People often say that it’s bad or even sinful to question God, but I disagree, and evidently, so would David, a man after God’s own heart. Seeking answers, David often petitioned God. And knowing that God knew what was in his heart anyway, why wouldn’t he?

This honesty and need for answers is where we find David in Psalm 13. “O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way? How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day? How long will my enemy have the upper hand? Turn and answer me, O Lord my God! Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die. Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, ‘We have defeated him!’ Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall. But I trust in your unfailing love. I will rejoice because you have rescued me. I will sing to the Lord because he is good to me” (NLT).

The next time you feel bad about feeling bad, revisit this psalm and know that it’s okay. I don’t believe David really believed God had forgotten him, but we can tell from the scripture that he did feel that way.

Last week, we discussed Psalm 11, in which David writes, “But the Lord is in his holy Temple; the Lord still rules from heaven. He watches everyone closely, examining every person on earth” (verse 4, NLT). So David goes from “God knows because He actively watches us” to “God has intentionally turned His back on me” pretty quick. This is the same man but a different mindset.

But that’s so relatable, right? How many times do I flip-flop between God being great and God leaving me to fend for myself? How easy is it to get pulled from one end of the spectrum to the other, from feeling His presence and love to feeling like He just doesn’t care anymore? It’s no fault of God’s. Really, it’s on our end with how we perceive whatever we’re going through, but it happens.

In the next part, David asks for God to answer him and says in verse 3, “Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.” This tells us a lot about where David’s at when he writes this. He doesn’t just have an issue with God or something like that. He isn’t finding joy like he did before. He’s not just displeased or upset. He’s probably depressed.

The word “depressed” sort of gets thrown around a lot, so I want to clarify what I mean. David is beyond sad or mad; he’s deeply upset. So upset that there is seemingly no way to change how he feels. This is relatively common. Everyone gets depressed. When someone feels this way for more than two or three consecutive weeks, that person is considered clinically depressed (or so I was told in my psychology class a few years ago). From what I know of David and from how this psalm ends, I doubt David was clinically depressed, but I do think he was depressed when he wrote Psalm 13.

But let’s look at how David ends this psalm. “But I will trust in your unfailing love. I will rejoice because you have rescued me. I will sing to the Lord because he is good to me” (verses 5-6).

No, you didn’t miss anything. This is actually the same psalm, and this section is exactly how I know David is going through something temporary.

A man resigned to doubt and a man who would’ve seen his current situation as his lasting one would not write what David wrote. He wouldn’t boast of God’s unfailing love or recall his rescue by God’s hand if he truly believed God didn’t care about him. He certainly wouldn’t proclaim God’s goodness through song if he didn’t expect Him to restore his joy. No, David knew how he felt, but he knew who God is just as well. David knew his circumstances wouldn’t last but that the love and provision of God would.

I find David to be one of the most relatable and inspiring people in the Bible, and Psalm 13 is a good example of why that is. He struggled just like us. He felt how we felt and maybe took it out on God like we sometimes do. His spiritual life affected his decisions and emotions. But through it all, David kept his faith. He never gave up on God or God’s plan, even if he felt like he wanted to. So let’s find the hope that David did where David did: in God. And when we struggle as David did, let’s return to his words in Psalm 13 and find comfort there. If misery loves company, it couldn’t find better company than with one you know makes it better days.

By Carrie Prevette

Words

Five or six years ago, Sandra Bullock received awards for her performance in The Blind Side. She also received awards for her performance in All About Steve. The difference was that her awards for the former were because of how great everyone thought it was and the latter because of how terrible everyone thought it was.

I’m one of the only people on this planet that actually really enjoys All About Steve. Truth be told, I don’t understand why people don’t like it. I think it’s funny and smart. And it’s different. It’s about a woman named Mary who isn’t normal (e.g., her bright red boots, her festive vocabulary, her hamster named Carol). Mary goes on a date with a guy named Steve, a camera man on a news team, and obsesses over him. She loses her job as a crossword constructor at a local newspaper and follows Steve and his team around the country. Eventually, Mary realizes that she likes being abnormal and doesn’t need (or maybe even want) Steve.

Part of what I love about this movie is what Mary has to say about words. Mary works with words. They are how she makes her living and are a huge part of her life. When someone says there are no words to describe something, she replies, “Oh, but there are. There are always words.” She talks about how some words are boring while others are fun (“go” vs. “vamoose”). She also says, “There are meaningful words, there are pointless words, and then there are words that hurt.”

Stephen King’s book On Writing is partially a memoir and partially about the craft of writing. In a section about description, he writes:

Description begins with visualization of what it is you want the reader to experience. It ends with your translating what you see in your mind into words on the page. It’s far from easy. As I say, we’ve all heard someone say, “Man, it was so great (or so horrible/strange/funny)…I just can’t describe it!” If you want to be a successful writer, you must be able to describe it, and in a way that will cause your reader to prickle with recognition. If you can do this, you will be paid for your labors, and deservedly so. If you can’t, you’re going to collect a lot of rejection slips and perhaps explore a career in the fascinating world of telemarketing.

Words have power, both to portray how we see something or to explain what we mean. They’re extremely important because they are the main way we express ourselves, declare our thoughts, and communicate.

On top of writing, I do a lot of talking and even more thinking. I have a lot of words flying around, and some of them are directed at myself. The question is, what kind of words am I directing at myself?

If I’d asked that question a year ago, the answer would’ve been alternatingly negative and positive. The words that I used to say to myself and about myself depended on what sort of mood I was in. My self-talk was very circumstantial. If the rest of the world was beating me up, I’d beat myself up too. Like I deserved it. Like if I could hurt myself more than anyone else, nothing else could actually hurt me.

What about language that I don’t speak to myself, but that I direct towards myself? Like the music I choose to listen to or the people I choose to listen to. That’s also important. What’s more important there, though, is not the language itself so much as how the language makes you feel.

For example, take the song “Me” by The 1975. It’s one of my all-time favorite songs, and it’s very negative. What few lyrics are there are not lyrics designed to make you think of sunshine and happiness. Lines in this song include, “You see my face like a heart attack,” “I’m sorry, but I’d rather be getting high than watching my family die,” and “Oh, I was think about killing myself.”

I repeat, this is one of my favorite songs. That’s because when I’m at my lowest, the melancholy music and the sorrowful lyrics sympathize with me. They may sound depressing to someone else, but to me, they tell me I’m not alone. It’s like someone else understands me and is wrapping his arms around my shoulder. It may sound odd, but I find the song comforting.

The beauty is that you could listen to the same song and not like it, and that’s perfectly fine. Music speaks to us all differently. You may want something uplifting when you’re down. That would make you feel better. What makes me feel better is knowing other people are or have been just as far down as me.

And what about the people we surround ourselves with? I would say to surround yourself with those who will comfort you and encourage you in the best ways. Don’t hang around with those who pull you down when you’re trying to stand. Sure, they can sit with you at the bottom, but only if they intend to help you get back up.

And I want you to know, more than anything, what God says about you. The words He chose to direct at you in His Word are only positive and beautiful. He has great plans for you (Jeremiah 29:11). He wants you to live a full, eventful life (John 10:10). He wants to take care of you (Matthew 6:25-34). He wants you to be strong and empowered through Him (Joshua 1:9, Isaiah 40:31). He says we’re not alone (Matthew 28:20). And there is nothing that can stop His love for us (Romans 8:38-39).

The only thing more important than what you say about yourself is what God says about you. God says that you’re loved and that you’re worth it. And He wants you to feel that way about yourself.

That’s incredibly difficult. But I’m a living example that it can happen. Just believe God and turn to Him. Read and reread verses that prove how valued you are. Surround yourself with people who will make you feel loved and encourage you. Listen to things that make you happy you’re here and walking on this earth, whether it’s a tune you like to dance to or words you like to cry to. Let all of the messages and words in your life be positive, loving ones.

By Carrie Prevette

The Chatterbox: The Static of Discouragement

I went through a period every single semester in college when I doubted that I was in the right major.

If you’ve never been through it, it may sound sort of silly. But at least once every semester, I would look at the students within my major and think about how much better they were at English than I was. Whether it was writing a short story or analyzing a book, there always seemed to be some point when I just felt completely inadequate because it felt like people were doing so much better than me.

Then I would start thinking about the most depressing things. I considered how competitive the field I wanted to enter was, how seemingly few jobs there were within it, and I would get so bummed out. I would think, “And I have no backup plan because writing and analyzing are the only things I’m good at, and I’m obviously not even terribly good at that.” I can’t tell you how many times in those four years I asked God why He wanted me to pursue this degree and enter a field when I wouldn’t do well in it.

I’m not telling you this so you’ll shower me with compliments on my writing abilities. I’m telling you this to prove how easy it is for me, and a lot of people, to become discouraged.

In truth, it took a long time for me to even call myself a “writer” because I felt you had to be a good writer in order to be called one at all. A beloved professor of mine, Pamela Duncan, changed my view of that. Even now, I don’t consider myself to be a great writer, but I don’t think I’m horrible at it. I’ll admit that I’m pretty good at it.

Then why is it so easy for me to get discouraged?

Discouragement is born of doubt. When I begin to doubt my abilities, I start to see only the areas and ways that I fall short.

I don’t know how many of you have seen the movie The Replacements. It’s a movie about a professional football team goes on strike and the team is then made up of (you guessed it) replacements. After a bad game, they’re talking in the locker room, and their wondering why they’ve been playing the way they have. Keanu Reeves (I think) says that it’s like quicksand. They keep focusing on the mistakes they’re making and they keep struggling with that on their minds, which is only making them worse.

It’s the very same way with discouragement. We get down and all we do is focus on what’s wrong, and we start seeing more mistakes and sinking even farther down into the quicksand.

When we’re looking for something or at it, we tend to find or notice it a lot more. For example, in my Postcolonial Literature class last year, we read TransAtlantic by Colum McCann (which is a great book), and my professor pointed out the picture of McCann on the back of the book. It was a black and white image, and he was wearing a scarf in it. Dr. Wright said something along the lines of, “These pictures kill me. He wouldn’t wear something like this in everyday life.” McCann came to speak at the annual Spring Literary Festival, and my class was privileged enough to have McCann come speak to our class, where I got to interview him for a project. When he walked in, he was wearing a scarf of the very same style in his picture. Not only that, but when he spoke at Literary Festival events, he was also wearing a scarf like that. Of course, all of us in the class joked about it. Then I started noticing more of those scarves in general. It wasn’t cold out, so it’s not like a ton of people were wearing them, but I would see one in pictures or something. It was on my mind, so I began finding it, not even intentionally looking for it.

It’s not too surprising that when we focus on disappointment and discouragement, we begin seeing it in abundance. If I only focus about the things I’m doing wrong, those mistakes are going to pop up everywhere, and they’re going to seem massive.

The next thing I know, I don’t enjoy whatever I’m feeling discouraged about as much. When I would feel awful about my writing, I didn’t really look forward to writing. I was overly critical of it and doubting myself. And of course, I thought of all the people who could probably write whatever I was working on a lot better than me. I didn’t want to do it. The enjoyment and passion I felt towards it lessened considerably.

“How did you find encouragement, Carrie?”

I’m so glad you asked!

Every time I felt discouraged about my writing, God would show me that I wasn’t as bad as I thought I was. Sometimes it was through a friend who read a paper of mine or needed help with a paper if their own and sought my assistance. Other times, it was making a great grade on a writing assignment. In truth, there are probably other ways He showed me that I’m not remembering because as I say, it happened every few months.

God would remind me that my abilities are a gift from Him and that He was the one instructing me on how to use them. My focus shifted from looking at how I was doing to looking at what God was doing. The sound of the Chatterbox turned down, and I could clearly hear God encouraging me. But I found more than encouragement in God and what He was saying. I found that He was actually cheering me on. He wasn’t just saying, “Don’t worry, Carrie. I’ve got this. It’ll all work out.” Don’t get me wrong; that was part of it. But He was also saying, “Look at how good you are at this! I gave you a gift; keep using it! You’re doing so well.”

God doesn’t just encourage me like this. He’s cheering for you too. Maybe you can’t hear it over the sounds of the Chatterbox, but He is. And the only way you’re going to hear it is if you can manage to turn down the volume of the Chatterbox or start listening for sounds beyond it, sounds that don’t blend in with what it’s saying.

John the Baptist – cousin to Jesus and the forerunner for the Messiah – even doubted. If you don’t believe me, read Matthew 11. John’s situation was one that the Chatterbox lives for. He was in prison, a bad place he probably never expected to be in, and wasn’t seeing in Jesus’ ministry what he anticipated would happen. So he sent some of his guys to ask Jesus what was up.

Jesus sent word back to John of all the good that was happening in His ministry. (I’d be willing to bet that the good Jesus was doing wasn’t making as many headlines as news of the company He was keeping and places He was going did.) It was to encourage John and let him know that his faith had not been misplaced for a second. Was the reality of Jesus’ ministry what John expected? No, but that didn’t mean that it wasn’t exactly what would change the world.

Not only that, but Jesus then praised John to the people around Him. He said many good things about John, but my favorite among the compliments is by far, “Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist…” (Matthew 11:11, NRSV).

In other words, “That guy that just needed confirmation and encouragement? Out of everyone that’s ever been born, there’s not a single person better than that guy! I love him.”

The next time you begin to doubt and feel disappointed or discouraged, remember that you’re not alone. It really does happen to all of us, yes, even the best of us. More importantly, remember that God’s trying to tell you (and maybe even other people) that it’s okay, that you’re amazing, and it’ll all work out in your favor.

By Carrie Prevette

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