We’re all speaking in tongues…

“Denominationally, we have chosen to be at war with one another. We use our words as weapons…words central to our faith.” – Charlie Kaufman

“I’m looking for couples who express the fullness of God’s gifting in their lives to walk along side me in a new work.”

I cocked my head to the side and looked hard at him for a second.  It’s taken me years to learn to say these next words….

“Tell me, exactly, what you mean by that…what does that look like in real life?”

He began again in simple words, but strung together in way that sounded more like poetry than the mathematics I was looking for, and I had to stop him.

“I’m not sure you’re speaking a language that I understand.”

It was his turn to cock his head and look at me quizzically.  We had been serving together in ministry for years, and, I think, misunderstanding each other for about that long.  I watched as that realization broke like dawn over his face.

“I need some couples who are mature and secure enough in their faith to pray with me, to serve in church with me and, most of all, to tell me when I don’t make sense.”

This conversation got me thinking…as a person who began her religious education as a practitioner of Wicca, converted to Christianity and practiced as a Southern Baptist, and now finds herself as an ordained minister in a non-denominational church plant while working on staff at a Lutheran (liturgical) church- I have a fairly ecumenical vocabulary.  But I have noticed that we, the  people of the church, often use the same words to mean vastly different things…or perhaps at times incrementally different things…and either way we use those differences to draw a line in the sand and create a deep sense of disunity.

Some of my most frustrating conversations find their source in these misunderstood words.  I generally have no problem asking about words I have never heard before.  This is a good thing- my work in the Lutheran church has forced me to rub up against a whole new Christian vocabulary, but I do find myself wondering if the words my friends, pastors and other Christians are using mean what I think they mean.

Surely, I am not the only one…so I asked my Facebook community to share with me words they found were commonly misunderstood, particularly across denominations. I found the replies very interesting.  I guess I was fairly certain we would misunderstand the larger theological concepts between denominations (and we do, largely)…but the words folks struggled with the most were words like:

God

Saved

Jesus

Gospel

Holy Spirit

Grace

Words formative to our identity as Christian.  Words that are central to our religion as a whole….these are the words that, by and large, Christians are unsure of in a general ecumenical context. Or, worse yet, we think we are all speaking the same language, but in reality have very different understandings of the these words that we interact with every day as Christians.

Turns out…we are all speaking in tongues…and most of us don’t even realize it…

Perhaps what we need is more folks with the gift of interpreting….

Or religious dictionaries that strictly define these words…

Or better yet, lots of coffee and tea and open discussions about faith, belief and the foundations that form our traditions…

That’s scary business and requires a disciplined insight into your own language and the ability to step into the fire of the question, “what does this word mean to me?”

It’s time though…

to stop drawing lines in the sand and start pulling chairs up to the table…

Coffee, anyone?

AVFM: And Then the Bells Rang…for when you send someone home

This post is part of a series I like to call “A Visit From Mom.”  These posts are written by, well…my mom. I think she kind of rocks! My mom and her mother were the primary inspirations for me to starting writing way back as a little girl.  Now, I share my blog with my mom cause I think she has some things to say that you might really love.

woman-dying-from-cancer

Walking with a loved one in her final days is a sorrowful and daunting experience which brings up age-old questions of faith and fairness.  It tests our beliefs and wrings our spirits.  But in the end, there is always a signal of God’s presence and solace in our pain.  Today, the church bells were mine.

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And Then the Bells Rang

Home, surrounded by my refuge,

I prayed for comfort for my dear one,

Grateful for knowing her

And saddened at her suffering,

Pondering what new dilemmas

Would be faced in coming days.

I questioned what possible good

Could come from this horrendous pain

And why such gracious people

Should have to relinquish every

Remnant of dignity and joy

In this final stretch of the journey.

And then the bells rang

At the church down the street

And the answer was clear.

Heavenly Father says, “Welcome Home.”

© Carlene Welch, 2012

Carlene Welch is the General Manager at Home Instead Senior Care of Northwest Arkansas, and avid writer and poet, and my mom. She serves as a Stephen’s Minister at her church and is one of the wisest women I know. She writes custom poetry and prose for cards and gifts. For more information, contact us at stringsattachedministries@gmail.com.

Covenant Relationships: Listen…for when words aren’t enough

This is an excerpt from my 2010 book, Living Life with Strings Attached. It’s a short little guidebook that walks through the Strings Attached Pledge and the development of covenant relationships. Enjoy!

listen to your heart
“I will listen for my friend’s heart more than her talk. I will not be afraid to listen to her struggles.”- Strings Attached Pledge

“As water reflects a face, so a man’s heart reflects the man.”

– Proverbs 27:19

Communication goes well beyond what we say with our words.

We know this well. Research shows that when we are under stress, less than seven percent of our communication comes from our words. The rest of the communication cues we send out come from our tone (38%) and our body language (55%). How often have you had a conversation with someone close to you and, despite the fact that everything she was saying to you was upbeat, you knew something was wrong? Did you know that our brains are set to scan systematically the people we talk with for visual, auditory and tactile cues to establish trustworthiness?  We automatically sense and register when someone’s words don’t match what the rest of that person is saying.

That’s because God created us to communicate through many more avenues than just the spoken word. Much of the meaning of our verbal communication is expressed beyond our words, through body language. Through our bodily posture, motion, countenance, gestures, tone and volume of voice, we express feelings that words may fail to reveal.  Our eyes and ears are constantly scanning situations for incongruity between the words that are being spoken and the message that is being sent by the heart.

When you are listening to your friend, listen with more than your ears. Engage your eyes and other senses, and trust your intuition when you feel something is off. This part is not difficult. God designed us to connect to one another this way. To “click in” with each other and understand one another from a place beyond the physical, from our hearts. We each have this ability and do it every day.

The hard part, the part we run from, is the next step.

Once we sense this incongruity, we must reach beyond our safe cocoon of indifference to extend support to our friend. This can be as simple as asking, “Are you ok?” and being prepared to hold your ground if floodgates open and emotional issues come up.

In her poem, “The Invitation,” Oriah Mountain Dreamer writes:

It doesn’t interest me who you know
Or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
In the center of the fire
With me
And not shrink back.

That sums it up, doesn’t it?

Are you willing to ask the question when you know the answer might take time to wade through, and stand at the center of the fire and not be afraid of what you might see when the mask comes off and someone’s heart is revealed?

Covenant Relationships: The Power of Prayer

This is an excerpt from my 2010 book, Living Life with Strings Attached.  It’s a short little guidebook that walks through the Strings Attached Pledge and the development of covenant relationships.  Enjoy!

job and his friends

“After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before.” – Job 42:10

I love this quote from Job. Let me refresh your memory about the story.  This particular verse actually takes place within the Epilogue of the story of Job. Job has been through (literally) Hell on Earth; he has been faithful, but prideful; he has questioned God; and he has seen the error of his questions and repented before the Lord.  The Lord is angry with Job’s friends for speaking out against Him. He tells them to offer burnt sacrifices and Job will pray for them and that Job’s intercessory prayer will be heard. It is heard and Job’s friends are restored in the eyes of God. Job also, by praying for his friends, is restored.

How many times have you said to someone going through a tough time, or needing a little encouragement, “I’ll pray for you.”

I do it, often multiple times a day. It’s the standard Christian good bye.  “Hi, how are you today?”

“I’m fine, thanks!”

“Oh great…I’ll pray for you!”

That’s wonderful! But the real question is: how often do you REALLY do it? Do you REALLY pray for them?

I will be totally honest – I am preaching to the choir here! I have been really convicted of late to change this part of my Christian walk.

Here’s my challenge to you (and to me, too):

The next time you are confronted with an opportunity to pray for someone…STOP RIGHT THERE and do it! Right then! There are a couple of ways to do this:

First, you could simply say to the person you are talking to, “I would love to pray with you about that. May I pray with you right now?” If the answer is yes, well, then you know what to do.

Sometimes, however, the answer will be no. Prayer is a very intimate experience and some people are simply not ready to share that with you. They may covet your intercessory prayers on their behalf, but they are not ready to be privy to them.  This is ok, and it doesn’t mean that you can’t pray RIGHT THEN.  Just take a moment alone, and lift that person up in prayer. Your moment doesn’t have to be long, but it does need to be intentional. I find that not only does praying for others encourage a life of “praying without ceasing it also helps me to remember the prayer requests of the people who I run across in my daily life.

Thinking of the Book of Job, I often wonder at Job’s friends. They showed great loyalty by sitting with him.  They sat for 7 days and watched their friend suffer. They debated and thought and tried to coach Job through a solution to the problem.  Sometimes, perhaps they were not far from striking the theological truth. Sometimes, they were just plain ole wrong. But never once did they offer to do the one thing that all good friends should do. They never once offered to pray for Job.

I wonder what would have happened if they had?

Covenant Relationships: Commitment and Time

The following post is an excerpt from my 2010 book, Living Life with Strings Attached. Enjoy!

photo-two-girls-talking-on-dock-1

Real relationships require a couple of non-negotiables to flourish: commitment and time.

Webster defines “commitment” as: the state or instance of being obligated or emotionally compelled. Of course, it also defines commitment as consignment to a mental
institution, but for now let’s stick to the first definition. 🙂

I like to substitute the word, “covenant” for “commitment.” A covenant is a “binding agreement or pact.” So, in essence, Strings Attached relationships require three things up front.

First, they require COMMITMENT. In order to build deep, trusting, friendships you can count on to help you with everything from plunging your toilet to moving to offering a shoulder to cry on, you have to be emotionally compelled to act for your friend from day one. You have to be committed to caring for your friends.

Secondly, they require COVENANT. Did you ever prick your finger, watch your friend prick hers and then press them together, becoming blood sisters? My best friend’s mom was a bit of germ-o-phobe, so we became “toothpaste” sisters instead. But, I remember clearly the
day we sat in her little playhouse in the backyard, with the sign on the door that said, “NO BOYZ ALLOWED!” – as though that ever kept her little brother out – and pressed our thumbs, slathered with toothpaste, together while boldly declaring that we were, indeed, blood sisters and
would always be there for each other. We were nine and understood the idea of a covenant relationship more clearly than most adults do today. That day we made a pact to stand by one another.

God was clear about the nature of covenant relationships. They are the kind of relationships we were created for –that He created us to have with Him. It is full-fledged commitment. It doesn’t mean just knowing and understanding Him, but caring, loving and fully surrendering to His overarching plan for our lives. Walking with Him, interceding for Him with others, and
fulfilling our active role in the relationship.

He built us to be blood sisters with each other. He wants us to model our heavenly relationship in our physical relationships on earth.

The third thing these relationships require is TIME. All things grow with time, and that includes friendship. Time is one of our most valuable and valued commodities. True relationships are built with time spent together, learning about one another and understanding one another.

So are you willing? Are you ready to form deep and long lasting strings attached relationships?

Break out your toothpaste, sisters, ‘cause here we go!

I wrote this post in originally in December of 2010. Since then, my husband and I are blessed to have found a community of believers who live life alongside us in a way that naturally brings us closer to God. Still, this post sums up the necessity of strong community and God’s desire for us to experience it as part of our walk with Him.

Strings Attached Ministries

“Community is like a large mosaic. Each little piece seems so dull and insignificant.  As individual stones, we can do little with them except compare them and judge their beauty and value. When, however, all these little stones are brought together in one big mosaic portraying the face of Christ, who would ever question the importance of any one of them? Together in the one mosaic, each little stone is indispensable and makes a unique contribution to the glory of god.  That’s community, a fellowship of little people who together make God visible in the world.”- Henri Nouwen

Finding ways to engage the community of believers is the central teaching of Strings Attached Ministries.  Learning to plug into and act as a vital part of the Fellowship of Christ is key to truly deepening your relationship with God.

We have focused in the past weeks on deepening our quest for…

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Covenant Relationships- A Word from Ann Voskamp

From Ann Voskamp, A Holy Experience

From Ann Voskamp, A Holy Experience

I had an entirely different post scheduled for today….

One about being present and listening to a heart rather than a word.  It was a good post (no worries, look for it next Friday!) But then I read my friend Holley’s blog and it was just so perfect.  It so fit my word for the year and so fit how I am seeking to live my life this year (and for many to come), I just had to share it with you….

We can all find ourselves pulled into negative conversations from everything from the weather to politics to what great aunt so-and-so did last week. The start of a new year always feels like the blank page of a new journal so guarding our words and helping others around us do the same is perhaps more important now than ever.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths,
but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs,
that it may benefit those who listen. – Eph. 4:29

So if you find yourself in the middle of gossip or a gripe fest, what can you do?

Here’s my go-to list of three kinds of questions to ask to help the conversation get back on track…will you jump over with me to Holley’s to read the rest?  There’s a free printable download of the graphic above in it for ya :)…

And a little song to drive it all home… 

Words by Hawk Nelson