Friday, December 30, 2011

What Worship Is: Formation

'Gloria Choir' photo (c) 2010, bigbirdz - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Toward the beginning of my first semester in seminary at Azusa Pacific, I asked Who and What are Church Services For? 

After a few months of contemplation, I don't have all of my thoughts fully formed yet. But I am sure of one thing:

Church services form us either negatively or positively. 

What do I mean by this?

Of course, our being informs our doing. If we are generous inside, we will act generously. But oddly enough, we are designed so that our doing also forms our being. Even if we are selfish people, performing actions of generosity can form us into a more generous beings. 

In our church services, our actions shape us either into the likeness of the Christ's bride or into our own image. 

For instance, we might come to church ungrateful and faithless. Okay, I'll stop using the royal we. I am often ungrateful and faithless when I get to church. As service starts, I do not mean the words that I pray or the songs that I sing. But, I don't have to mean them. I say and sing those words anyway, and sometime during the service, my heart becomes more grateful and faithful. Going through the motions isn't worthless; in fact, going through the motions is discipleship for my heart.

In my recent paper on Questioning the Ethics of Reproductive Assistance, I addressed how Christian worship shapes us to deal with the dilemma of fertility drugs. While I may share more of the paper later, I will say that it was extremely meaningful for me to contemplate how certain components of my worship service have formed my view of reproductive struggles. Communion has perhaps ministered to me the most: In sharing Christ's broken body and spilt blood, I am reminded that my broken body and spilt blood does not go unnoticed by God. Further, I am reminded that God entered this world and subjected himself to the same brokenness that I am experiencing so that I can have hope that one day all will be made well. Partaking in communion has moved me to tears recently, and it has formed me deeply.

However, it is entirely possible that church services fail to shape us into the image of Christ's bride. If a church service exalts human goodness, legalism, or gossip, it is forming its membership negatively. 

I fear that many of our modernizations of worship services have removed components meant to form us as Christians. But, I am open to hearing from you. Maybe you can convince me that removing communion from weekly worship services (which most churches have done) is a positive change.

So what are the components of your worship service and how might they be forming you? And how do we design church services so that we maximize their discipleship potential? 

Some of the components of church services worth contemplating:

Welcome
Greeting neighbors
Pre/Post Fellowship
Prayer of Invocation
Songs of Confession
Songs of Worship
Prayers of the People
Confession, Silent or Corporate
Reading of the Word
Sermon
Songs of Renewal
Offering
Announcements
Communion
Baptism

Monday, December 19, 2011

Unemployed or Underemployed?

'American Unemployment from Jan 2008 through May 2010' photo (c) 2010, Chuck Simmins - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/When my husband and I moved to California a year and a half ago, we had no jobs lined up, only a spot in grad school. Upon arriving, we settled into our new town and immediately started applying for jobs. After we arrived in California, it was about two months before we found work, although even then I was underemployed and continued looking for work.

But we look back upon those months as some of the best we’ve had. Although money was tight, we decided to make the best out of our situations. Here are some of the things we did that helped us not only survive, but thrive:

Learn to live on very little money. We achieved this mostly through becoming coupon masters. We studied our store circulars, made use of the great resource of Money Saving Mom, and learned how to get many products for free. Now that we’re both in grad school and working, this skill still comes in handy. In addition, it forced me to learn my new city very quickly.

Host a TV or movie marathon party. During our months of unemployment, we planned a fun day for a Lord of the Rings marathon. We didn’t have friends in our new town at this time, but if you do, invite some close friends. If you don’t have the DVDs you need, make use of free trial memberships for Blockbuster, Netflix, or another movie rental company. Or try your local library.

Get healthy. While we were unemployed, my husband lost 40 lbs and I lost 25. We had time to cook fresh, healthy meals and we made use of trial memberships at the local gym. We also went for bike rides, long walks, and played tennis. These activities not only led to physical health, but they lifted our moods. I know that many people gain weight during unemployment, but you can buck the trend. And, to be frank, one of the best ways to save money is to simply eat less.

Become a great cook. Learn to make soups, sauces, and other things that we typically buy canned from scratch. Try to make demanding recipes that you’ve never had time to learn. Beef bourguignon anyone? Learn to make your favorite dishes from your favorite restaurants at home. (I plan to tackle Tikka Masala next summer.) Not only will this save you money, but you will hone your cooking skills and reap the rewards for life.

Tackle a project you’ve never had time to do. Build a bike, start a garden, or write a book. Pick something that engages the unused parts of your skill set. I tackled a family tree project, and I guarantee that my husband was glad I had something to occupy myself with.

Volunteer your time. You might not have funding to contribute to great causes, but you do have the time. Clean the local park, visit the local nursing home, or email your church’s pastor to ask where they need some hands on deck. Explain your situation so that people realize you might have to reassess your commitment when you find a job.

Foster important relationships. One of the reasons our months of unemployment were some of the best months we’ve had since being married was because my husband and I were able to spend a lot of quality time together. Those months were like a second honeymoon for us. If you are unemployed and your spouse it not, ask him/her how you can serve them and do it. Married or not, seek to serve and love others in your life. Call your grandma and ask her questions about her life. Email an old teacher and thank him for his contribution to your life. Write a snail mail letter to a friend. Pray frequently and spend time listening to God.

Have you ever spent time unemployed or underemployed? What did you do to make the most of that challenging time?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Snow Song

I'll be done with finals in a few days, but in the meantime I am preparing myself for a few weeks of real winter this year. I have not put on my winter coat since we moved to California a year and a half ago, and I have not missed the bone-chilling New England weather, especially the wind.

On Saturday, I'll board a plan for NYC and will spend a couple of weeks with friends and family in NYC, PA, and VA. I'm trying not to dread the cold and snow, so I'm singing this to myself frequently these days. Enjoy! (RSS readers, you'll probably have to click through to see the video.)



White Christmas was one of the only Christmas movies we owned in my family (along with Home Alone 2: Lost in NY and Little House: Christmas at Plum Creek), so I nearly have it memorized.

I hope to post more regularly in the coming weeks. Until then, you can pray for my Greek final on Thursday night.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Miscarriage, Fertility, and my Broken Body

My body is broken. 

I've known that truth for a long time, but the awareness of my physical brokenness had been purely intellectual until this year.

Since the miscarriage, grief has been an unwelcome companion. But this grief is not simple; it is like living near a swarm of bees. Sometimes one bee finds me and brings a quick, sharp pain. Other times, the bees are simply a cloud hanging over the sun. Without a moment's rest, they are always moving, changing shape, dodging in and out from darkness to light. I never know where they're going or what dust they're going to kick up.

This year, I have not simply mourned for our baby or for the difficulty of trying to conceive again, but for the first time I am grieving the brokenness of my body. This formerly-intellectual concept has become real

It has been eight months since the miscarriage. In these eight months I have had six cycles and only ovulated thrice. My body has not gone back to its pre-hormonal-tidal-wave normal. (Before the pregnancy, I had long, anovulatory cycles occasionally, but they were the exception to the rule.)

My persistent hormonal imbalance has caused me a fair amount of guilt. In trying to conceive again, I am the problem. My body is the problem. 

I am doing every reasonable thing I can to fix myself. (I'm in the eat-right-and-exercise-for-health camp in general, so most of what I've been doing can be found at Donielle's fabulous blog, Naturally Knocked Up.) My husband has picked up on my desire to fix my body, and he's called me out on it: "Laura, do you realize that you're expecting your body to act like a machine? It's only frustrating you because that's not what your body is; your body is a flawed system." (Can you tell he's in grad school?)

In trying to fix my hormonal imbalance, I have forgotten that I am dealing with a vessel that always has been and always will be (until That Day) broken.

Yes, I can strive for healing and wholeness. Of course it's wise and responsible to take care of my body as best as I am able, to partner with God in the restoration of creation. But if my goal is to fix myself, to achieve total bodily health, I will fail. 

I admit that I have been grasping for something that is not there. 

So I focus on the Christ-child who took on the form of a human body. If the incarnation was only about God coming down to Earth, it would've simply been called the descension. But the in-carn-ation was also about God taking on human flesh. He entered creation to redeem it, allowing his body to be broken for your body and for mine. 

I breathe deeply, inhaling this truth: My hope does not lie in fixing my own body, but in his resurrected body. My hope does not lie in having a baby of my own, but in Yeshua, the baby of Mary.

Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace! Hail the Son of righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings, risen with healing in His wings;
Mild he lays His glory by, born that man no more may die;
Born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth;
Hark the herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”

'Baby Jesus         Church Donation' photo (c) 2009, maxine1313 - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Redemptive Pursuit: Seepage Issues

Seepage Issues: Grief Uncovered
By Christie Hoos
December 5, 2011

Scripture:

"You have taken account of my wanderings, put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your book?"-Psalm 56:8

Devotional:
A few weeks ago I watched “There Will Be Blood” with my husband: fantastic acting; wretchedly depressing plot. The movie orbits around the search for oil. After an earthquake, puddles of oil bubble up from the ground, evidence of a wealth of black gold just beneath the surface.

I have some seepage problems myself. I can’t always predict it. Sometimes the oddest things will shake it loose. I quite literally start leaking – sneaky tears I can’t hold back. It feels like someone has stuck their fist right down my throat. Evidence of a deep reservoir of grief, just beneath the surface.

It happened again today, in the middle of an important meeting. I don’t usually shy away from discussion about my boys, the two babies that I never took home, but more often than not I get choked up about it – even now, years later, when it is a shadow of the devastation I once felt.

I tell myself to suck it up, to quit being such… a girl. As if that’s a bad thing, to feel things so deeply, to show weakness, to have a heart that is no longer shattered, but still broken in places that matter. And when the embarrassment passes and I finally work out what I should have said or will say next time, I remember that this grief is a precious part of who I am.

Not because I’m some masochistic freak who enjoys the pain. I would much rather laugh than cry. I enjoy life and that mopey schmuck Eeyore has always rubbed me the wrong way. But the broken parts of me are the ones that understand life and faith and joy in a deeper way than I did before.

Psalms 56:8 shows us a startling, beautiful image of God collecting each of our tears in a bottle. Because each one matters. No matter what we are going through, every tear we cry is important to Him.

One of the most helpful moments I had after the stillbirth of our first child, quite ironically, came from a heavily pregnant co-worker. Her husband was alarmed upon getting home to find her sitting on the ground crying her heart out; she could hardly speak to tell him our sad news. It didn’t change a thing knowing this, but I felt a little less alone, because someone shared our grief for that moment in time.

And now, when it is my turn to comfort someone, I don’t always know the right words to say. I don’t feel any less helpless or awkward than anyone else. And I can’t always understand their unique hurt. But I can mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15). I can understand how desperate a dark night of the soul can be, and that sometimes it doesn’t FEEL like God is there, even when we KNOW He is. I know that if you press into that grief and fight your way through it, you can come out the other side a better, though somewhat different person.

Because you never completely outrun the grief. It lurks below the surface. And some days it leaks. But it doesn't ever go unnoticed by God.

Prayer:
Father God, every hurt we feel, you feel too. Every tear we cry is precious to you, because you love us, that much. Give us the strength and perseverance to honestly face the grief in our life. May the brokenness in ourselves become a blessing to others. Fill our hearts with compassion, so we can mourn with the broken hearted. Thank you for walking with us through every season in life, especially the stormy ones. In Jesus Name, Amen.


________________________
Thank you, Christie Hoos, for writing this devotional in my stead for The Redemptive Pursuit this month. This devotional originally appeared as a blog post at Christie's blog, So Here's UsSign up to receive these weekly devotionals via email hereFollow The Redemptive Pursuit on Twitter or like us on Facebook.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Questioning the Ethics of Reproductive Assistance

'Pills 3' photo (c) 2010, e-Magine Art - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/For those of you who read this post in which I asked for feedback about an upcoming paper for my Christian Ethics course, I wanted to provide a short update.

I've chosen to examine reproductive assistance as a subcategory within reproductive ethics. I will be discussing fertility drugs and medical procedures used to correct infertility, but I will not be examining IVF or IUI, simply because those raise a new set of questions that I do not have space to explore.

Of course, this is a predictable topic for me, and I am choosing to embrace it rather than fight it. Perhaps I'll share some of my findings, but for now I welcome any sources you have on the following topics:

Reproductive ethics
Fertility drugs
Fertility nutrition
The intersection of community life and sexuality
Christian community as family
Infertility

Now off to the library I go.
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