It’s been a year since I went a little sideways and decided that this is the perfect time in life to go back to school. And not just school, but seminary, because if I’m doing this thing I am Doing This Thing. I have finally landed on the Master of Divinity program, for various reasons. What do I need an Mdiv for? I still don’t know actually, so when people ask me why I’m taking what I’m taking I have taken to telling them that it’s a surprise. This unsettles those who are always very sure of what they are doing and why they are doing it, which gives me the giggles – though I do keep them to myself.
I wondered all year last year if I’d made the right decision. If it was the right time. If I could do it. If my family would be okay. The answer to those questions is both yes and no.
First, I had to be done with this idea that there is a right time when the stars align, the circumstances lend easily, and there are no obstacles in the way. The right time is not a thing and if we aren’t careful we will spend our lives waiting for something that isn’t coming. All we have is the time we have to do what we can. There was a long stretch of time where going back to school was not possible. It was the wrong time for a long time. Maybe that’s it. The right time implies perfection and that’s never going to happen. The wrong time is often abundantly clear. The rest of the time? May as well give things a shot.
Which leads me to the question of whether I could do it. Not just the work, but the way my life would change as a full-time student stay-at-home mom. Yikes. There are many reasons why the answer is yes and no. Yes I can do the work. I can handle the ridiculous commute through endless construction. I can make time to study and write papers. But no. No I can’t bear the tug-of-war between doing the best thing for us long-term which is so demanding right now. I can’t do every single thing in my life well when there is this much to be done. So. I don’t. I do what I can and I make peace with what I can’t, which I think is what everyone else is doing in life anyway.
There are times where I have to make war though. This is where the question of my family comes in to play. At the end of last year I knew that I had just steamrolled my way through school and I also knew that it had been unfair and too difficult for my children. One of them (who shall remain anonymous) told me, “it felt like I didn’t have a mother this year.” I replied, “well you’re not wrong. I was too busy this year.” I was too busy. They were used to me being home full time; there no matter what. It was too big a change in too short a time. We all felt it. Would my family be okay? No, not if I kept up the pace I was keeping last year. Yes if I slow down and adjust my course load to be more realistic. I made war on my schedule and prioritized better, so that we could all have peace.
I told my kids in August, “when mom goes back to school this year, it’s going to be different.” It’s still not the right time. I still wonder if I can do this. I am still making adjustments so that this education is a blessing not a burden on my family. Embracing the tension in everything I don’t know and can’t do and that isn’t perfect, is where faith comes in. Faith that God has called me and that He knows, He can, and He is sufficient for all of my imperfection. One day I am confident that my children will look back on this time and see God’s work in all of it. I hope it gives them the courage and faith to pursue what He has for them also.
copyright (c) 2019 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved
I was doing my hair in the little bathroom of the basement apartment we were renting at the time. We were taking the young adults at our church on a weekend retreat and I was running late, doing too many things at once, sure I was forgetting something. My son – my only son at the time – was 7.5 months old and he was the reason I was running late, doing too many things at once, sure I was forgetting something. He was mobile and in a hurry about it, and I was feeling glad that he wasn’t walking independently yet.
I heard him near me somewhere so I turned around and there he was, right behind me in the bathroom doorway, pulled up to standing against the wall until he let go, and then just standing there on his own, and then he took a step. So much for being glad he wasn’t walking. He had a funny little look on his face as he plunked down onto his diapered bottom, and it was right then that I knew for sure I was in trouble. 7.5 month olds aren’t supposed to be toddlers but there I was and he was, and there was nothing I could do but chase him around and be tired forever.
I turned around the other day and my son – my oldest son now – was standing on the roof of a garage. He will be 14 in a couple of weeks and I feel like I’m back in the basement apartment again, doing my hair, thinking about everything I need to do, and turning around to see him take his first step too soon. He wants his learner’s license, he wants a job, and he is plotting his departure from under our roof the minute he turns 18. Part of me laughs and the other part me of knows I’ll turn around one day much sooner than I want to think about, and he will not be pulling stunts behind my back because he will be running his own race in his own lane.
I am trying to remember to turn around more now.
copyright (c) 2019 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved
I’ve heard it said that the thing you don’t want to do, is probably the thing you most need to do. When I signed up for seminary this summer, I thought I’d stick with Bible classes and just focus on Jesus. No ministry or leadership classes, no thank you. Well, God took my “no thank you” and raised me a “here you go.” The first class I ended up in was a leadership one. Just the way my schedule worked with what was offered this semester and what I needed to take. I did not want to take this class. I did not want to think about leadership. I did not want to talk about leadership. I was pretty sure I did not want to be a leader of anyone or anything ever again.
I submitted my final paper for that leadership class this afternoon. Do you want to know how much I NEEDED to take it despite not wanting to? All the way much. So much. Not because it has radically transformed me into some kind of instant overnight super-leader, but because it has helped shake off the cobwebs surrounding leadership experiences in my life at various times. It has given me clarity and infused some hope, which I badly needed. It also affirmed some of the values I have about leading and leadership, and re-inspired confidence to continue standing up for them – hopefully in more effective ways now. Just one step forward.
So I don’t know what really uncomfortable but ultimately healthy thing some of you may be avoiding like I was avoiding this class, but I urge you to reconsider. Big or small, it is worth it to make a step in the direction of overcoming the thing that makes you want to hide or stops you in your tracks.
My next thing I don’t want to do but need to do is flu shots. Needles make me panic more than leadership does. But I can do hard things. So can you. Go us.
copyright (c) 2018 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved
My husband and I have been talking about church and ministry and all-that-stuff a fair bit lately. The conversations are not always simple and we aren’t really sure what we’re getting at most of the time. You could say we feel a tad thrown off.
This summer I decided to read the New Testament again, but with an eye toward the church. On account of all the “thrown off” feelings. I wanted God to show me WHY He loves the church and WHY it has to be part of the divine plan for humanity’s salvation, because WOW does the church (and I include MY OWN SELF in that generalization) mess it up a lot. God reminded me that we wouldn’t have half the New Testament if the church wasn’t a mess so I guess it’s been this way since Pentecost and it’s not changing. Big sigh. Okay then, but now what? Do I really have to be part of this?
I have a sum total of zero answers but the questions won’t leave me alone, which is a kind of answer isn’t it? I have the following verse taped onto my dresser mirror in case anyone wants to know how my faith is lately:
“Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” Psalm 51:12 (#notfine#itsfinethough)
Anyway. Glenn and I talk about this stuff a lot and it’s helpful to me because he grew up in church and in ministry which I sure as hell-in-a-handbasket did NOT. I appreciate his perspective. This week we got on the topic of the lost sheep. How the shepherd leaves the 99 to go find that 1 sheep who wandered off and bring it home. Often that passage is communicated as being evangelistic. “Go seek the lost” and all that. I’m not saying that’s bad, because evangelism is obviously something I am here for even though the joy in my own salvation is MIA according to my mirror. BUT that passage is about bringing back a lost sheep who was already part of the flock. The shepherd is going after the one who already belonged and got away. Oh hey church, who’s gotten away lately that might need someone to carry them back so they don’t DIE in the wilderness? (Literally people have done this for me this year so I am talking from half-dead experience here. Baaaa)
In the same chapter (Luke 15) is the story of the prodigal son, who also already belonged to his father, but who willfully took off and the father had to let him make that choice. I mean kids growing up and wanting to live their own life thanks anyway? That’s nothing new under the sun. And in other true stories – that father waited expectantly for his son to come home, as fathers and mothers do. I think somehow he knew the whole time that his son would return someday – that’s how he saw him when he was still a long way off. The joy of my salvation is a long way off somewhere communing with pigs probably, but it’s coming back. I’m waiting for it. (Funny story: I have a school retreat this week with the theme of Joy. I’m sure I will fall over and need to be resuscitated. Someone kill the fatted calf or order in pizza for this moment.)
As pastors, ministers, leaders, shepherds, mothers, fathers, friends, people who give a care – whatever role we find ourselves in or however we define it, we have both kinds of people around us. People who get lost and need to be found, rescued, delivered home, and maybe put on a leash or something? (<— that was a joke, but for real someone RESTRAIN ME if I get that wandering look in my eye.) We also have people who leave us no matter how badly we want them to stay, and we keep a place for them in hopes that they’ll return. There is nothing like being welcomed home. It is sometimes a blurry thing to tell which is which.
So I have been pondering how to tell the difference especially because I am all of the people at all of the angles in those stories, and find myself convicted over how much I care or don’t care depending on where I stand. I need some kind of slow-to-get-it special grace for discernment in all this being the church with God’s people. Who needs to be sought after and rescued, and who needs to come home and be rehabbed? Can someone be both or is this an either/or situation? I need discernment to know who is lost or lead astray, and who needs a time out in a pig pen. Discernment to know when to go looking and when to keep a look out. And discernment to see which paths will bring life vs death in whatever circumstances I navigate among the people God surrounds me with.
Apparently asking God to show you His love for the church while you re-read the New Testament is an effective prayer that God wants to answer in your life. The conversations with my husband about church and ministry and stuff are to be continued, I guess.
copyright (c) 2018 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved
We oh so casually describe a great many things as heavenly or divine or simply out of this world. Scrumptious meals, fragrant bouquets of flowers, heart stopping music, gorgeous artwork, intricate craftsmanship, a much needed back massage, or a soak in a hot tub. All of these things experienced by the five basic senses but which move us beyond the sensory and touch on the spiritual.
Jesus taught His disciples to pray for God’s Kingdom to come on earth as it is in Heaven. As if they knew how it is in Heaven. I mean a lot of people claim to know, but I’m not so sure I believe them. What did his disciples think Jesus meant by that? Politics, most likely. Are we much different? (let’s not answer that)
Even though I didn’t grow up going to church, I had that prayer, the Lord’s own prayer, drilled into my head in Catholic school probably. I don’t even remember for sure. Lately I’ve been thinking about how I’m supposed to pray for earth to be like Heaven when I’ve never been to Heaven and kind of want to stick around here for a good, long while.
What does Heaven on earth look like, sound like, taste like, feel like, smell like, act like, talk like, move like, work like, parent like, care like, live like, love like…
And am I bringing that Kingdom in my prayers? An earth like a Heaven I’ve never seen. Me? In my life? My love?
As if I even know. Jesus knew. He showed us the way, but I’m not so good at imitating that way because it’s hard and it hurts and the gospel of self-actualization is really tempting compared to the Gospel of take up your cross and be like Jesus. #thetruthhurts
Heaven on earth. That’s been my summer devotional pondering that won’t quit, and it’s brought to you by a monumentally horrible year previous to this one. I can’t do anything but laugh about it now and thank God for all of it, because it was in the midst of all the crap that I felt closest to His Kingdom. And I don’t even know how to explain that because if I had a choice I would still not choose any of it again.
I’m a little afraid to keep praying for God to show me what His Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven even is, because everyone in the Bible who encountered anything heavenly went and fell over dead, had their hair go white, melted down in a panic attack, didn’t know what was going on, went mute or blind, or had visions that people 2000 years later still can’t figure out. I’m not feeling those odds.
Maybe that’s why Jesus called us to the cross and the Gospel. Baby steps to the heavenly and we’ll see the Kingdom coming on the way. Sometimes I wonder if we’d pray our casual Jesus prayers so easily if we stopped to think about what we are actually asking God for.
I think I’m hard wired to go for the heavenly things anyway, even on this earth, and maybe especially on this earth because this earth doesn’t even KNOW the goodness and glory of God, and if we did we’d want to see His Kingdom coming in all of the things at all of the times and in all of the places. And in those moments where something feels heavenly, maybe it’s not the sensory touching on the spiritual at all. Maybe it’s the other way around – maybe it’s Heaven on earth for a second and I need to pause to take note of what Heaven sounds like in my kids laughter and questions, or what Heaven tastes like in a meal that someone cooked for me, or what Heaven looks like when I can’t get enough of how gorgeous nature is. And on and on and on. Give me eyes to see, God.
So I will pray the Jesus prayers, but with more intention than I’ve done before. God’s Kingdom on earth as it is Heaven just isn’t a low key casual prayer to be throwing around like that.
copyright (c) 2018 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved
We tend to track our lives in numbers and milestones. Firsts and lasts, birthdays, anniversaries, miles, days, weeks, years. Until and since. Before and after. There and back again.
139 days. Our time spent in Saskatchewan spanned just 139 days, and it’s also how long we’ve been home in Alberta as of yesterday. I counted? Oh, yes. I counted some time ago and have been keeping track, until we’ve been home as long as we were gone. There and back again.
Incidentally, the 139th Psalm counters the worst fears we have about ourselves. That we are alone. That we are not known. That we are not heard. That we exist by chance or by accident. That our lives are random and count for little, if anything. That there is nothing and no one to call us or anyone else to account. That we live in a prison of chaos masquerading as independence. We like to think that we are in control. It helps with all that fear. Because we are made of dust and to it we will return. There and back again.
Where can we go to escape God?
Nowhere. Whether that incites internal relief or despair depends on the individual posture and perspective I suppose.
At the end of July we left everyone and everything that mattered to us. We threw our whole lives in to this risk of believing that God is with us wherever we go. It was beautiful and it was ugly. We encountered the holy and the profane. People changed our lives and we were part of changing some lives. It was a mission which lasted only for a moment. No sooner had we settled in there, than we had to come back again. There were unanswered questions, unfinished conversations, unresolved conflict, unmet needs, and unbelievable miracles.
139 days and we were home. Just like that.
Letting go has felt impossible some days. We aren’t wired to simply disconnect and stop caring about the people in our lives, when we felt such a call to invest ourselves in those relationships. The heart does not operate as quickly or efficiently as a light switch, although it would certainly be nice if that were the case. No. Letting go has meant tucking away our care and concern, putting it into it’s proper place here and now, believing that the call is still there even if it is no longer ours. Letting go has meant forgiveness, over and over. Forgiving others and ourselves and each other.
Something about that 139th day yesterday brought some peace. Time is fleeting and our days are numbered. We may never again take for granted that we have a say in how our time anywhere is going to play out. We do have confidence though, that our time is never wasted. Not here and not there.
Because we are not alone; God is with us. Everywhere and in all things.
Because we are known and we are heard; deeply and to our core by the One who made us.
Because we do not exist by accident or for nothing; our lives are on purpose and for a purpose, set out by Divine will and authority before we had a heartbeat or took a breath.
Because we are accountable and will be called to account; this life is too short to waste.
Because we not in control; only God can order chaos around.
If all of that is true for us, it’s true for the people and circumstances we left behind. 139 days is not a lot of days. Not a lot of days there and not a lot of days back. Circumstances can change so quickly. Plans change. People change. Dreams die. So we find new dreams and choose gratitude.
God gave me a verse when we moved away.
“Keep your eyes open, hold tight to your convictions, give it all you’ve got, be resolute, and love without stopping.” 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 (The Message)
That verse was my anchor and mission for 139 days. Every time I felt confused, homesick, heart sick, lonely, or hurt, I rested in those words. God was not asking me to save the world because He already did that. He was asking me to do 5 simple things where He had called me to be in the world and at that time.
Keeping my eyes open, holding tight to my convictions, giving it all I had, remaining resolute, and loving without stopping are what brought me there and what carried me back again. It was how I fought that battle, because it was a mission but also a battle, for me anyway. My measuring stick was how well I measured up to that verse, one day at a time. It went better on some days than it did on others.
Today though is day 140. We made it there and back again in 139 days each way. Now it’s time to turn the page, and it feels good. I snapped a photo of a tree last night on a walk in the park. Spring is just barely edging out winter here, and so there is not much visible life outside. It was a long winter. It’s taking time for the leaves that were there, to grow back again. So it is sometimes with us in our little lives. New leaves grow back when the season is right, and new life is breathed into us when our time is right. It isn’t an overnight process, nor should it be. Blue skies and warm sunshine replacing all the snow and cold, aren’t hurting though. We’re coming back to life again. It only took 139 days, plus one, to get us here.
copyright (c) 2018 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved
I was thinking yesterday about how things would have been different had the woman who attacked me at church been a man.
Had he caught me off guard shortly after we met, and forced me into a long, aggressive, and uncomfortable hug and had to be told not to hug me (or try to hug my kids) again.
Had he tried to interject himself into a separate situation involving me and had an angry, profane outburst when I told him that it wasn’t his concern.
Had he stalked me around the church for months after that, always seeming to know where I was, huffing past me, muttering, and “accidentally” bumping hard into me or my husband when he brushed past either of us.
Had he been the reason I wouldn’t go to the bathroom alone or let my kids out of my sight at church.
Had it been a man who made me feel like I had to look over my shoulder everywhere I went and keep myself visible at all times to people who knew what going on.
Had it been a man who came at me looking ready to attack, hand raised and screaming profanities in the church foyer.
Had my husband had to put himself in front of me because a man was coming at his wife. (And thank God my husband happened to be coming to check on me at the exact moment this person went off on me.)
Had it been a man who needed half a dozen people to keep him from getting near me, remove him from the building, and prevent him from coming back in, all while he screamed horrendous profanities, threats, and accusations at me (and Glenn by the end).
“But did she hurt you or did she just yell at you?” I was asked later that day.
What a ridiculous question, but it’s the one that made me see the situation for what it is. Abuse.
I have struggled with wondering how I could have handled everything differently. As a leader myself, as a staff pastor’s wife, as a mother, and as a Christian woman. It never should have gotten that bad and as I usually want to grow from experiences just in general, I have done a lot of self-reflection over the last few months to try and understand how I could have done or said anything differently to prevent it from escalating to that point. It’s kept me up at night, wondering, blaming myself, going round and round in circles chasing a way to make sense of this and have peace.
Until that question replayed in my head yesterday.
“But did she hurt you or did she just yell at you?”
Nobody would have asked me that question if she had been a man. I wouldn’t have second guessed my own responses to her if she’d been a man. A light bulb moment if ever I had one.
If she had been a man:
-The leadership of that church would have done me the courtesy of having the conversation about what happened to my face and not on Facebook messenger.
-“He” would have been talked to and dealt with long before things escalated to me being attacked in the first place.
-Nobody would have suggested that Glenn was too aggressive in stepping in front of me to block me.
-The attacker would have been dealt with more seriously after the first woman he targeted in this way. Or the second. Or…you get the idea.
-Someone would have called the police without thinking twice.
-I would not have been told to just pray for “him”, call “him” up, and try to be “his” friend moving forward, after the fact.
-Nobody would have tried to laugh it off as simply being “annoying” behavior.
-My husband would not have been asked what my problem was when I absolutely refused to put up with any more it.
-Nobody would have told me that “he” could still come to church even if I got a restraining order, which I was going to do had my husband not been fired.
-The behavior and attack would not have been minimized on the basis of a possible difference in sexual orientation, which I personally have no issue with for starters, and also find it offensive to insinuate is the kind of behavior inherent in being LGBTQ. It isn’t.
-Had she been a man targeting men in a church, instead of a woman targeting women, the response would have been very different.
-My husband would still have his job. (This is not officially why they fired him but as I’ve said before, I will believe that when hell freezes over because his job certainly wasn’t on the line before this happened and firing him 4 days later looks pretty damned shady to anyone paying attention.)
When I started to think about how everything would have been different if she’d been a man, I felt a weight lifted off of me. We’d still be there, talking about how the church had to remove a volatile person for the safety and well-being of its people, if a man had pulled that. We’d be talking about how lucky it was that Glenn stepped in right when he did and that the ushers moved to help so fast. I’d be writing about not being afraid to use your voice and how to say no to people who make you feel threatened or uncomfortable, and nobody would be arguing with me.
At the end of that awful day, my friend gave me this mug as a gift, to make me laugh. Which it did. I posted it on my social media because I found it so fitting for the moment actually, but the same people who were trying to spin the events of that day to minimize what happened or blame myself or Glenn for it, did not like this mug at all. Oh no they did not. In fact, it was used as a way to deflect from what had gone on and became a kind of scapegoat for the whole disaster. Oh my beautiful mug that made the internet laugh on a very bad day, also made some leaders downright apoplectic.
UPDATED EDIT RE: THE MUG People keep asking me if I regret the now infamous “mug-post” and I mean, obviously I do. But I regret it for the sake of my OWN integrity and because it became a point of deflection from the real issues at hand. I might find the mug funny but *usually* when I am *not* having a mental breakdown, I wouldn’t post anything like that for the entire internet to feast their eyes on. Actually, I removed the post shortly after I put it up and replaced it with an apology photo in case I had truly offended anyone. My feelings about how it exposed the hypocrisy going on remain unchanged but my desire now is for ANYTHING ELSE to have achieved that end. I won’t pretend now that it didn’t happen, but I definitely have different thoughts about it as time has gone on. I recently wrapped that mug in an old towel and took a hammer to it, because I was over people talking about it and over the physical reminder it had became of the awful things that had gone on.
The last I heard, nobody is allowed to talk to anyone else about what happened that day. It’s out of my hands whether people want to subject themselves to that, but the larger issue here is that there IS a larger issue here. This situation is minuscule compared to the landslide of stories like mine and much, much, much worse than mine which are coming to light en masse thanks to #metoo.
We are a long ways to go in our culture both in the church out, before people are believed when they say they don’t feel safe at best or have been victimized in awful ways at worst. I was lucky. People saw what happened – a lot of people. It couldn’t be denied although it was swiftly covered up and we were sent packing before we could speak up for ourselves. Now I’m home and I have a voice. I can talk about what happened. She never got to lay a hand on me that day, which was by the grace of God alone I’m sure.
I do wonder though, if maybe it would have been worse, had she been a man.
Maybe I would have been blamed for being too friendly or not friendly enough.
Questioned about what I was wearing that day or how I carried myself.
Doubted for how I interact with men in general, and had my friendships and relationships with the opposite sex scrutinized.
I probably still would have been told I was lucky he didn’t lay a hand on me.
We may still have been sent packing to minimize fallout and keep people from asking questions.
Church. I am begging you to wake up. If we aren’t willing to open our eyes and see how deep and wide the problem is, we have such a long way to go. It’s systemic and the scope of it is only just beginning to come to light. It’s time to get out of the dark, pay attention, and step up to the plate. What does that look like? I’ll have to not get kicked out of a church first to let you know the answer to that, but I think listening is a good first step. Just listen. And call the bloody cops when necessary because not everyone is as lucky as I was that day.
copyright (2018) Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved
When we moved to Regina this past summer, we found ourselves in a landscape experiencing drought. Utility meter boxes were exploding and catching fire because the parched ground below was shifting due to long term lack of precipitation. Everything that grows was tinder dry and many fields and yards were brown instead of the green you’d expect in summer time. The expense of watering everything in sight would have been truly unreasonable. It never would have been enough.
The most peculiar thing though, was what I found at my kids’ school. It was a brand new facility built on the very edge of the city with a view of the open prairie from the school yard. West facing, the sunset filled the entire sky and we stopped more than once to see it. Because the school had just opened, the exterior grounds weren’t complete. All along the front and side street around the school with the beautiful view, there were trees planted lining the sidewalks in dry, open soil.
I wondered why they’d bothered to plant all of those trees in a drought. Why they bothered to have watering trucks come keep the sad little things watered. It must be costing them a small fortune. The sight of it seemed futile, if I’m being honest. Why not wait to plant them until the drought is over?
Except that the reason the school was built on the edge of the city is because that part of the city is growing. A new community will eventually be developed all around it, replacing the prairie view with sidewalks, homes, and streets. In the meantime, there’s nothing blocking the school yard from the elements. The wind blows in so hard and cold that the children stay inside for recess at warmer temperatures than the rest of the city schools. The trees can’t wait. Drought or not, they needed to be planted and watered so that they are rooted and established for the elements as well as the growth coming around them in the future. Some of those trees might not make it but they are being given a shot anyway.
Sometimes with God, we find ourselves planting things in a drought, and it costs us dearly to keep watering it and watering it and watering it. Yet we are called to plant and water anyway. We might not get to know why. We might not get to see it grow. Maybe it won’t make it. Maybe we won’t. But when there is an urgency to plant in faith, we go and we plant and we water. We give it a shot. It can’t wait because the friendships or churches or businesses or children or communities that are yet to come, need us to plant with vision now. Even if all we see is an empty, open field. Even if we find ourselves in the middle of a drought, wondering if this couldn’t just wait for healthy soil that isn’t making meter boxes explode for lack of rain. Even if it costs us everything to see it watered, knowing that healthy outcome isn’t guaranteed even then.
Moving away cost us everything but we lost nothing. We didn’t understand what God was doing or asking us to do, but there was an urgency in us that made waiting for rain out of the question. So we went. We did our best even though it ultimately wasn’t good enough. God never guaranteed us a healthy outcome and so we left when the time came, albeit too quickly and weighed down with grief. The cost of staying would have been truly unreasonable and we never would have been enough. Now we are home again and I think about those trees planted in rows on the prairie and the people we had to leave behind. Who will water them?
I’m praying for rain.
copyright (c) 2018 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved
A HOLY RIOT
or, the time Jesus threw down at the temple
by Jenna Pelias
April 18, 2017
There was a lecture I heard once about the time that Jesus made a whip and threw down on the money changers in the temple, declaring that they’d made the house of God a “den of robbers.” I don’t remember most of the lectures I took in during college. Not like this one anyway, and it’s been on my mind almost constantly lately.
Sitting in a stacking chair at a folding table, taking notes by hand as was the custom in the early 2000’s before everyone carried laptops and Starbucks around like status symbols, I found myself unexpectedly riveted. It was a Bible class or I suppose it had to have been. Which class? Which prof? I don’t remember. I just remember the prof explaining this passage out of the Gospels in a way that made it unfold like the opening of a gift, and it’s stuck in my head forever and ever Amen.
So what was going on? It was exactly 5 minutes and 47 seconds after what Christians today know as Palm Sunday – Jesus had just arrived in Jerusalem ahead of the Passover on the back of a donkey to the streets lined with people waving palm branches and praising God. Quite the spectacle, I’m sure. The imagery of this event is similar but also unlike that of his mother Mary arriving the same way into Bethlehem about to birth God made flesh into the world just over thirty years prior. What a parallel with this Jesus arriving on a donkey first to be born with scattered and bewildering fanfare, then later arriving to the praise of the masses oblivious that He’d come to die. Jewish people from everywhere were pouring into the temple ahead of Passover to bring the required sacrifices and offerings to God. That’s where Jesus went first, too. Perhaps He was presenting Himself to the Father quietly as an offering.
This Passover pilgrimage was not taken lightly. Some would bring only the very best of their own animals after careful scrutiny, and others who were coming too far would bring the money to buy the required animals when they arrived. As the people would show their animals to be inspected by the priests to determine suitability for offering, the animals would often be refused for any imperfection the priest could find, forcing business to boom for those selling *pre-approved* animals like credit cards there in the Temple courtyard. But you couldn’t just buy your offering with the silver or gold or copper in your purse. You had to use the Temple currency. The money changers would exchange whatever coin or currency the people had for the Temple currency at such a high exchange rate that they were robbing the people of the ability to bring the appropriate, required offerings to God. Worship was made impossible. Jesus was furious.
This “den of robbers” were the religious leaders who had set up the House of God as a racket, denying the people access to God by putting too many obstacles in their way before they could even get in the door. People who were thrilled, excited, weary, who had waited and saved and brought everything they had to give, who came from near and far – denied. So Jesus braided that whip and unleashed Heaven’s fury, consumed by zeal for the House of God, throwing tables and driving out the sellers and money changers and people who were holding up this corrupt system of selling your soul to the church in order to get saved. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
What happened next is incredible. The blind and lame came to Jesus for healing, unhindered. Children sang out in worship. The chief priests and teachers of the law were indignant. (Matthew 21:14-15) A holy riot turned the temple upside down that day. The next time Jesus showed up at the temple He was questioned about who gave Him the authority, but He shut down their line of questioning faster than they could think of the next rebuttal. By the time Jesus sat down at the table for the Last Supper – the Passover meal – He had exhausted Himself teaching in parables about the second coming, holiness, and salvation. It went right over their heads. The plot against Him thickened.
Jesus knew what He was doing all that time. He called His followers to the cross long before He ended up dying on one, remember. And so as He took His last breath the curtain of the temple He’d just undone, was torn. Heaven was indignant. Worship would never be the same.
All through Easter this story of Jesus flipping tables in the temple has been weighing on me. Because there are people here and now, waiting just outside the church, weary, uncertain of whether they will be welcome to walk through the doors at all, never mind participate in worshiping God or getting to know the Savior known as Jesus. When the Gospel is safely hidden away behind lifestyle agreements, boycotts, political posturing, push back *against* social justice as if that’s what Jesus would ever do, backbiting, and arguments over the rules for conduct and Christian behavior – well there’s no good news in there left for anyone except for those who probably don’t even need it.
So what? Would they like a pat on the back for keeping the sinners and hypocrites and prisoners and forgotten and abused and condemned and weirdos and strays out of the pews? Let’s also not forget the faithful who are waking up to the needs and groaning and pain outside the walls of the church, but being told to sit down and shut up or lose support, credibility, and relationship. Maybe it’s time for some tables to get flipped again. Maybe it’s time for that zeal for the House of God to consume us because the Gospel isn’t getting any younger over here and people are being both actively and passively robbed of the ability to worship God. For shame.
Maybe that’s you. Maybe you’ve been kept away because you live wrong, love wrong, look wrong, ask the wrong questions, have the wrong afflictions, or know right from wrong but keep messing up anyway. “Come to ME,” Jesus says. He says that. I cannot stand in the gap to apologize for whatever racket robbed you and kept you on the wrong side of the curtain, but I can pour some gas on the curtain and burn it if that would help instead. We can warm our hands around that fire and I can tell you about my Jesus. Or maybe you’re in it. You love Jesus and you want everybody to know the goodness and mercy of God but the church, the “Christian Machine” which is a whole thing that isn’t looking good for any of us long term, is telling you to shut up and sit down. Boycotting you. Pulling support. Cutting off relationship. Indignant. That is robbery too.
To all of that, I know one simple thing to be true. God is good. He is never going to stop being good. Jesus didn’t die on that cross and kick death in the face to live again and make a way for us to know the Father, just for *anyone* to start putting qualifications on that kind of miracle. When the people caught up in rules and requirements are indignant while right in front of their own eyes the prisoners are being set free and the sick are being healed and the children are singing out praises to God, well maybe we need to just know them by their fruit and let the Gospel speak for itself. We can exhaust ourselves arguing with the spiritually deaf, or we can be empowered by the Holy Spirit to let zeal for the Gospel consume us. Because nobody should be required to sell their soul to the church to get saved. And maybe it’s time for a holy riot around here to remind us of that.
copyright (c) 2017 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved
DEVOTION When hindsight breathes life into the New Year.
By Jenna Pelias
We stopped participating in formal church activity for a couple of years once. No attending services or events. Largely disconnected from people and community. Church failures of the highest degree. We were okay with that. You would think that if we were going to stop being part of church at any point in our lives it would have been when Glenn resigned from ministry to deal with issues in his personal life and rebuilding our marriage. That was in 2009. He did in fact stop going for a time, while I continued to attend solo. But it was in 2012/13 that we peaced out of the church altogether.
Rosalie was a baby. Olivier was an extremely busy toddler. Andreas was being formally assessed for autism as we prepared him to start kindergarten that fall. Mateo was 6-7 and a generally easy kid but the needs of his siblings were sometimes hard on him. Our lives were busy and full and exhausting and rewarding and never dull for a single moment ever. 2012 was actually so intense that I need to look at photos to remember what happened and when. I can’t recall most of that year on my own. #momoftheyear
We wanted to be part of church. We really did. We’d go and I would spend the whole time nursing or comforting Rosalie, being called to the nursery to deal with Olivier’s ridiculous separation anxiety, or being called to the preschool room because Andreas could not tolerate church back then – the response from teachers was often an assumption that he just needed to be disciplined more. Mateo didn’t mind Sunday school but with the entire time there spent running between the other three kids to deal with their various needs, we had all come to dread going to church.
The kids didn’t want to go. We didn’t want to take them. Everyone was miserable every time we left. Andreas cried the whole way home and melted down for the rest of the day every Sunday. I think for me one of the “last straws” was going to check on Andreas and finding him sitting in a chair in a corner because he was upset. He wasn’t misbehaving. He was upset. And the teacher couldn’t handle him so she made him go away. I hadn’t yet learned how to advocate for him or even that I needed to. I didn’t expect people to understand or know what to do, as I wasn’t even there yet myself. Why were we doing this to ourselves and our kids? We didn’t even know. So we stopped.
And it was the best thing we ever did for our family.
We started spending our Sundays taking in church services online in our living room. The pressure was off of our kids and we were able to rethink what a healthy spiritual life looks like. We weren’t sure we knew. Glenn had my blessing to do music anytime but I wasn’t dragging my kids along for the ride just to play the part of the smiling, supportive family. There are a lot of ways to support a spouse involved in ministry whether they are paid or volunteer, and for us the best way to support him was to stay home. So that he could focus on being part of the team without worrying about how I was handling the gong show that was our kids and Sunday School. I’m told there were people who had a problem with what they perceived as a “lack of support” for Glenn on my part, but not a one of them ever talked to me about where I was at or how things were going, so to hell with them all was my over-it attitude.
It wasn’t just the kids though. Glenn and I needed time to ourselves. We were still healing and working things out. Church for me had become such a burden. It felt like the walls were closing in on me every time we walked in the door. I needed that time away and to be able to just lay it all down. It was life giving. It probably saved my busted up faith.
A little bit of time passed and we were all ready to try again. We knew that being part of a faith community is important to both of us and something we want for our kids. So in 2014 we joined up with some friends who’d planted a church. Glenn jumped into doing worship with them. I focused all of my energy on getting my kids to go to Sunday School, and stay in their class. It helped that they were together. It helped that Andreas had a couple of years of school under his belt and was comfortable in a classroom. It helped that Olivier had grown out of his separation anxiety. It helped that Mateo and the pastor’s son are best friends. My little firecracker Rosalie wasn’t having one bit of Sunday School and it took a good year or more to get her to stay in that room but I was patient. The whole church was patient with my noisy girl, God bless them every one. She wasn’t used to it and that was fine. We did our best.
We spent 2 years in that church. It was like a hospital where we didn’t have to have it perfectly together and our kids didn’t have to be perfectly behaved and we just had to show up and be part of it. Leaving this past spring wasn’t easy but we had to be obedient to the Lord’s leading so we stepped out. Why? We weren’t 100% sure. It wasn’t for us to know I guess. Glenn still goes back to lead worship for them sometimes and Mateo is still best friends with the pastor’s son, who I am secretly hoping Rosalie grows up and marries one day. So I guess it’s possible to “leave” a church and still be part of it because that’s what we did and it’s weird but it’s fine, somehow.
This year was a year of devotion – to our family. I didn’t see it that way. Hard decisions don’t look or feel like devotion sometimes. When I look back though, everything that has happened and changed since 2009 has been a journey of devotion. Devotion to our marriage and family, in a way that honors God. We have failed so many times in so many ways. But we keep learning from those failures and we keep starting over, every day.
We made a commitment last New Year’s to having a daily time of devotions with our kids. I picked up a devotional book and we read one almost every night before bed. It was so simple. A resolution that actually stuck! When we settled on a church to attend this fall, the decision was based entirely on what our kids need right now for their spiritual formation. Glenn still does music for friends at different churches but our kids need something solid and consistent so we found that for them. I have never had such peace about my kids and church. Everything about our faith lives this year has centered around pouring health and life into our kids. Even when it has involved laying down our own passions and areas of ministry involvement or church preferences.
It has changed them. It has changed us. The way we think about church, ministry, and family life has been totally altered. At the start of this year I wrote down that I felt God was calling us to make hard decisions for our family, that other people wouldn’t understand. That has been more true than I could explain here.
I wonder sometimes, what the future holds. This year and even the last few years, they’ve felt foundational. What we’re laying the foundation for? I don’t know but I do know that this time of being devoted has been purposeful. Devotion is more than reading a passage from a book. Devotion is discipline. It is prioritizing. It is making hard choices that other people don’t always understand. It is not always knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing, but doing it anyway.
Most of all, devotion is worth it. People in this world are devoted to a lot of crazy things. Family is our crazy thing, as it turns out. Nothing else we do or become is worth it if our family isn’t healthy or the kids are getting our leftovers in terms of time and attention. Some years that has meant loving the Lord alone in our living room and other years it has meant showing up and serving just so that we could learn how to function in church again and this year it has meant hard choices and putting the faith of our kids first no matter the cost to us personally.
I don’t care anymore whether people understand or not. The people who do the most judging are usually doing it from afar, making assumptions without ever having a face to face conversation with us. We’ve been through hell over here and spoken about it publicly. It’s not a secret. Answering hard questions doesn’t actually phase us. We aren’t the most eloquent or polished but we are honest. We don’t have time to worry about whether other people understand or not anymore, because we are too busy living well with and for our kids, and that has been freedom.
I am one of those people who prays for a word for each new year. I’ve been doing it since forever, since before it was a ‘thing’ that I was aware of. Some years it has been an actual word. Some years it’s been a picture or metaphor. This year, my word for 2017 is everything I see in hindsight. My word for the new comes from the old. My word is devotion.
Devotion to old things and new ones. Devotion to my people. Devotion to the God who made me, saved me, and gives me grace every morning. I don’t often tell people what my word/picture/focus is from year to year. I’m not sure why I’m sharing it this year. Except that I wonder if there are others who also need to look back at how far they’ve come in order to see hope and life and freedom in whatever is coming next.
It’s a few days early, but Happy New Year. We’ve come a long way. I am willing to bet that you have too.
copyright (c) 2016 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved