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Today I had a conversation with a stark naked stranger.

I was leaving for a luncheon just after 11:00 this morning. I walked down the stairs of our condo complex and just as I turned the corner I immediately made eye contact with a stark naked man in the parking lot. He was a skinny white kid probably in his mid-twenties. About five feet behind him was laying a pile of clothes.

I stopped dead in my tracks, as I was caught extremely off guard. This was our conversation:

“Hi.”

“Hi.”

“Why are you naked?”

“Because God told me to.”

“Ummmm….yeah….why are you naked!”

“I just told you. God told me to.”

I paused for a second wondering if this person was possibly a new neighbor.

“Do you live here?”

“No.”

“Okay, can you please put your clothes back on?”

“Sure.”

“Thanks. Okay. Well, you have a good rest of your day!”

He walked over to his pile of clothes and put his boxers and jeans on. Then he stood there in a total gaze. Just stood there like a statue.

I climbed in my car and picked up the phone to call Brandon who was inside our condo. “Babe! Go look out the window. There’s a guy in his jeans who was just naked!”

“Well, he’s naked again.”

“What! I just drove around the corner. He had to immediately have taken his clothes off again as soon as I drove away.”

I told Brandon about our conversation and then he said, “Well, I’m going to hang up with you and call the police now.”

The crazy part is I completely held my composure together and felt totally relaxed while having a conversation with a naked stranger. But as soon as I closed the door in my vehicle my legs were uncontrollably shaking and it was difficult to change gears because I could hardly control my legs.

I called my BFF Meryl who has a work-from-home job in Denver and I figured would answer the phone. I told her the whole story and we laughed very hard together. Then, she had me rolling laughing in tears to the point that my abs started to hurt when she pointed out a few things that never crossed my mind.

She said, “today I am going to go buy a keychain of pepper spray and mail it to you.” As she pointed out that for my own safety, it probably wasn’t in my best interest to have a conversation with the naked man. Especially considering all I had to do was turn around and in 20 seconds could have gotten my husband to come downstairs for my own protection, but instead I acted like this was no big deal.

Then she said, on top of that, I was much too nice. She said, “once again Sophia, you surprise with how much grace you choose to carry yourself with.” Why on earth were you so friendly with him? You told him to have a nice day? I would have said “what the *** are you doing? Go put your ***ing clothes back on or I will call the police.”

And then, most hilarious of all, she pointed out my constant obsession with the question “why?.” She said I always ask why. I have to try to know and understand everything. She reminded me of battles at on my wedding day with my mom when I insisted she explain to me why she was making certain decisions. And other times that I really go too far asking people about things. I informed her that in the 4th grade I was definitely known as the annoying kid in class who asks way too many questions. And she said “Now Sophia, you have given me the absolute best story to reiterate my point that you are too curious for your own good. When you stumble upon a strange naked man the only thing you can think to say is to ask him is WHY?”

Hahahaha. It’s one of those life situations you just can’t plan or prepare for. Instead, you just laugh and are surprised at how you actually handle yourself with it happens to you.

[Just for you other curious folks out there. Brandon called the police who came pretty quickly. Three of them actually. The guy ran away when he saw them, leaving behind his pile of clothes and his vehicle. The police detained him and then drove back around with him in the back seat of the car to retrieve his clothes and vehicle. Clearly he was on some sort of drugs. If not drugs, then some mental switch flipped in his brain.]

 

[Preface: This post will make much more sense if you read THIS post first that I wrote a couple days ago]

Lexia replied to the post I had made in reply to her expression of frustrations with certain habits in Christianity. Then, she decided in order to fully explain where she was coming from, she needed to share a back story of her past. Once again, because it is a private blog she’s posting on and I don’t have permission to link you straight there, I am going to copy paste her story here because I would love to also open up my heart and share a confession story I too have been sitting on for years:

Lexia’s post:

i was 12 years old and sitting in my home economics class in the small town we had recently moved to a year before.  i was sitting at a table, the long square rectangle table, facing the door, with my best friends, Kelly, Rebecca, Kayla, Jesse, and Ashley.  I think we were sewing pillows, although i cant quite remember now.

I’m not sure how it started.  i dont know if i mentioned something about my brothers, if the topic of Christianity was brought up, or going to church, or what.  but i do remember the moment my skin became flushed, i became hot, my heart started pounding and my legs started to shake.  i do remember Rebecca standing up from her chair and telling me that i was going to go to hell.  i do remember looking at the rest of the class and seeing that they were sitting in their chairs quietly watching this happen.  i remember my home economics teacher sitting in her chair intently watching without interfering as the most pivotal point of my life was occurring.

she just watched it happen.  never.said.a.word.

Rebecca and kayla said that because my brothers choose to be gay, they are going to burn in hell.  i simply stated that of course they didnt CHOOSE to be gay, they just are.  have always been.  i didnt know any different… and was actually confused why anyone would say they had CHOSEN to be the way they are.
Ashley and kelly chimed in, saying that it was because my mom was a terrible mother, her parenting skills lacking for not taking us to church, to exposing us to the word of god.  and for that, we’d all burn in hell.

They stood up, they started yelling at me…. i shook in my chair.  they said they wouldnt associate with the devil, and evil like me.  they said that they were on God’s side, and that they would no longer be friends with me because i didnt go to church.

they told me that i would be an alcoholic and pregnant by the time i was 15.
Jesse finally said something, told them they were being ridiculous, how could they do this to me?

she was the only.person. who said anything in my defense.

i left the room, i was shaking so hard i couldnt drink from the water fountain.  i was sick… i left school and walked up to the dance studio where my mom was.

i was 12, i had no reference points. i asked her why my brothers were going to hell if they were gay? what in the world? i was so confused!  everyone said they CHOSE to be gay?  my world was literally flipped over, i had no idea how christianity viewed homosexuals.  in my house we were immediately taught acceptance and that everyone is different and that my brothers attraction to men was no different than my attraction to men.  people are attracted to different types of people.  thats it, no big deal, no discussion, no confusion…. it was just as simple as you liking the color red and me the color blue.  so to be thrown in this pit of fire all the sudden, by my best friends in one of the most impressionable years of my life, absolutely ROCKED.MY.WORLD.    to hear someone say that my mother was a horrible parent, the mother that i absolutely adored and loved…. it shook me to the core.

this was the first time i had experienced what Christianity had to offer.  on occassion, i had been to church with one of my friends, and the entire time i had felt scared and totally out of the loop.  they were chanting these things of words i didnt know, talking in weird sentences using phrases and words that were unfamiliar, and there was all this business about kneeling and then sitting, and then standing, and then going up for communion…. which i did…. because i only knew to follow whatever they were doing. i felt on edge and alert the whole time, and felt so excluded because it seemed everyone knew what to do except me.

so, my two experiences with christianity up until that point had been…..  terrifying.  soul shaking, mind altering, gut sinking.

After the episode in home economics, i became a different person.  i no longer had any friends (although Jesse was still nice to me, but from a distance), and my locker was broken into and stuff thrown about the hall.  Kelly started a rumor that i fingered myself (i didnt know what masturbation even was at that point), and when i walked into the gym during a basketball game she got the entire bleachers – at least half the student body- to wave their fingers at me, and yelled out “HEY FINGERS! YOU CAN GO SIT OVER THERE!”  humiliation was her weapon, and she absolutely used it to perfection.

we had to move.  we left the state, and i never looked back.

i know i’m supposed to forgive and forget, and i understand why kayla and rebecca said the things they did.  they were using the teachings of their church to try and better themselves, mistakenly putting someone else down in the process.  they must have just gotten done with the chapter on homosexuals when they turned it on me.

but i have never been able to get over my anxiety around churches or christianity.  it is something i will likely never be able to be comfortable around, or in.  my defenses go up, and the 12 year old me wants to run in the other direction, away from the ‘mean girls’.  Logically, i KNOW that churches arent like that (at least most) and the people aren’t like that (at least most)  but i can not help how i feel.  it is what it is.  i literally feel more comfortable in a muslim moque or a jewish synagogue than in a christian church.  When i’m in a church, i feel like someone is going to quickly figure me out, be able to ‘see’ that i am not a christian, and see that i dont belong. they’re going to see that i have homosexuals in my family, and that my kids dont know who Jesus is.  i’m going to answer a question incorrectly, someone will point and shout “TRAITOR!”  and i will have to run for my life.

panic panic panic.  that is how i feel.

a friend of mine posted the article i wrote below, about Should Christian Women Wear Bikinis, on her blog to further the discussion. many people posted lots of amazing and well put comments, but one really got to me.  i’m going to share it anonymously:

I do believe as Christians we live to a standard set apart from what the general population (those who have not chosen, or choose not to call on Jesus as Lord). If there is no difference, we aren’t following God’s command to be set apart. We DO speak differently, act differently, dress differently, think differently, because CHRIST is our standard and not the world.

Oh my. maybe she didnt think i would read it. or maybe she didnt think there was anything wrong with how she said that.  i’m going to seriously ruffle some feathers here… ready? i’m going to just change the word “christians” to “white” and “the general population” to black, to utilize my same color analogy that i did in my previous article.  see if it reads slightly more different to you now:

I do believe as Whites we live to a standard set apart from what the Blacks (those who have not chosen, or choose not to call on Jesus as Lord). If there is no difference we aren’t following God’s command to be set apart. We DO speak differently, act differently, dress differently, think differently, because CHRIST is our standard and not the world.

do you catch my drift?  does it read………. slightly more…. segregated now? slightly more …. elitist?

If she means she speaks differently because she uses phrases from the bible in her daily speech then YES, she is different from me.  if she means she thinks differently than me because she is thinking about God and Jesus during the day, then yes, she is different from me.

but ACT differently?!  in what way?  please, go into further explanation.  I follow ‘christian’ morals, just like christians do.  i teach my children to follow them too.  we hold kindness and compassion above all else.

And DRESS DIFFERENTLY?!  is there a Christian clothing store i am not aware of?  am i shopping at the Agnostic clothing store without realizing it?  From what i know, non-believers and believers alike shop at Target….

BY THE FREAKING WAY….. I WEAR A ONE PIECE BATHING SUIT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

phew. there i said it.  i do… because i LIKE being modest. not because Jesus tells me to, but because, ITS COMFORTABLE.  because i am a mother.  because i already have a husband and dont need to be parading around in front of other guys in a bikini.  because i’m a mom, and i dress appropriately for a woman of my age.  but if i feel like wearing a bikini, i damn well do it because i want to.

So please… do not evangelize while at the same time use terminology and phrases that exclude more than they include.  that is all that i ask.

we are all the same, we are all…. “God’s children”

Sophia’s Reply:

Lexia, can I just repeat once again how much I absolutely love you. I like to live my life like an open book and really don’t have any secrets hidden away. The one story that’s been a secret for a long time I’m about to share with you.

Thank you so much for opening up your heart and your past in sharing that. I happened to be at Esther’s house when you posted it and we read it together. We were both choked up and honestly speechless (and considering the fact that you know how big of chatterboxes Esther and I are, that’s saying a lot). My heart breaks for your 12 year old self when I read this. I want so badly to give her a hug and tell her it’s all going to be okay.

I wish I could say this never happens and is a fluke of an incident regarding Christianity, but I know it’s not. You’re not the first person to tell me they won’t have anything to do with evangelical Christians because they were once told they were going to burn in hell as a child. Rather than elaborate on how I disagree with this, I will provide you this link to a post I wrote in April that explains very well my thoughts on this type of behavior and theology.

I agree with you that we can’t help the way we feel. It’s out of our control. I was recently filling up my gas tank and somehow got a whiff of something that sent my mind to the streets of New York and for several seconds my brain relived dozens of small memories walking the sidewalks of the busy streets with cars racing by. Of course New York smells like gasoline, and I cannot control my brain to disassociate these thoughts. So for you to say that walking into a church (which considering you’re a wedding photographer, happens on a fairly regular basis) or meeting someone who says they’re a Christian makes you relive those emotions in your past, is completely understandable.

You said yourself you know you need to forgive them, and that is the point I wanted to touch on. As mentioned before, it’s so important to separate God/Jesus from people/religion. SUCH, SUCH, SUCH different things. They are the product of religion, and unfortunately the adults in their life didn’t educate them enough on loving others. They were trying to manipulate them into “good behavior” by scaring them with the consequences of “bad behavior.” But I would imagine that somewhere out there, the adult version of Kelly is sick to her stomach with regret knowing how wrong what she did was.

I know it’s not on as grand of a scale as what you experienced but I spent FIVE years reliving an emotion of guilt and regret EVERY SINGLE DAY until I confessed what I had done to a friend and she helped walk me through the emotions I was feeling and helped me to forgive myself. In the “Christian language” you will hear people say that we are not to judge “the world” for their actions and behaviors because they don’t know any better because they’re not Christians and God will be their judge. But Christian-to-Christian we are supposed to hold each other accountable and point out to our fellow-Christian when they are doing something wrong. (Please don’t misunderstand me, I do believe that if we are a loving friend and we care about them and see them walking down a dangerous path or making a mistake it is our responsibility to talk to them about it, but there are good and bad ways to approach these situations)

Another rule in the Christian religion is that Christians are not to date non-Christians. There is a verse about being “unequally yolked” that you will hear them talk about to explain why they teach this. In high school I held very steadfast to this rule and would not even allow myself to have a crush on a guy who wasn’t a Christian, which made my options very, very limited. There was one “Christian” guy at my school that everyone knew Sophia had a crush on for four years. But what’s really bad is that I really only had a crush on him freshman and some of sophomore year. Then because he didn’t go to the same kind of church I did and wasn’t being taught these crazy restrictions I was, he started to change. The next three years weren’t really a crush. They were an infatuation Sophia had with trying to make this “Christian” person realize the error of his ways and become more “Christian” like me so his life could be straight. (Side note: he was a super nice, great guy who was a completely normal teenager and had a good, solid head on his shoulders and really didn’t need changing)

My obsession with trying to fix him peeked towards the end of senior year when he was in a relationship with a girl who wasn’t Christian and I just saw sin all over this situation. By this time I actually had my eyes on a guy in my youth group and wasn’t even trying to date this guy because he wasn’t Christian enough for me anymore. But wanting him to realize the error of his ways, I created an anonymous email address and sent him an email telling him all the things I wanted to say about how sinful his relationship was. AHHHH!!! I get so mad at myself every single time I think about this! His reply was directed right at me because obviously he knew there was no one else in the world who would do this and he made it very clear that I was not welcome in his life anymore, there was no friendship to speak of, and he had no intentions of every acknowledging my presence in a room again because after years of him tolerating this attitude of mine I had gone way too far. I deserved every word in the email. I cried for hours that night. I knew what I had done was so wrong that I wouldn’t even tell anyone what happened. I was so embarrassed.

To be honest, I don’t even remember what happened in the months to follow, it’s all so cloudy. I remember writing a long apologetic email, but I don’t even remember if he read or replied to it. I remember a month or so after that writing up an apology letter again and printing it out and handing it to him one of the last couple days of high school. I don’t remember a word of what was in either one. Then I remember that when I went up to visit friends at his university he came and hung out with us, which means I guess we became friends again? And then I remember that I invited him to my wedding and he came.

But can I confess something else? On my wedding video there is footage of us dancing together and I remember that very clearly. I remember that I was still so uncomfortable with how much I hated myself and the four years of things I said and did that I dreaded dancing with him. I remember it lasted about 30 seconds and then I saw a friend’s 6 year old little boy and used him as my scapegoat to get out of this awkward moment for me. Then, even though we remained Facebook friends, we haven’t seen each other in person in over five years and until last month because of a random Facebook thread, had not even had a conversation. I intentionally ran away–no idea whether he did or not.

As I matured and realized how small of a box my brain lived in, how big and beautiful the world was, and how amazing all people of all walks of life were, I hated so much about who I once was. I was a Bible-thumping teenager. My friends from high school tell me that yes I was the “Christian-girl” in high school but I was very nice and overall pretty well liked and needed to stop worrying about what I said or did. I guess the reason it’s so much worse in my mind is that they don’t know what went through my brain at all times. They don’t know that on the first day of freshman year I wore a Christian t-shirt about Jesus being a lifeguard here to rescue us from hell and that I took my first step off the bus seeing the school as my mission field and that I was going to “save” everyone. And that for four years I saw the world as “them” and “us.” Christians who “got it” and everyone else who was sinful and needed to be taught the right way of living.

Please understand that my brain doesn’t operate this way anymore. Years ago I started praying that God would help me to see all people the way he sees them, and I still pray this very regularly. I see only beauty in every person I meet. I truly believe everyone is good because we were all created in the image of God, but in this world of good vs evil we are all constantly battling internally. Some good people make really, really bad decisions that hurt lots of people because somehow in their mind they convinced themselves they were doing the right thing. In the story I shared with you, I honestly believed I was doing the right thing, even though it may be the most judgmental decision I have ever made.

I shared this story with you for two reasons. One, you opened up a painful part of your past. I have held this story inside for a very,very long time so felt inspired to also open up a painful part of my past. And two, even though what they did was on such a grander scale, and much more public, the mentality behind it wasn’t that much different. “I know the right way of living and you don’t.” I thought maybe if I opened up and gave you a glimpse into what was possibly going through their mind, it may help you in the process of forgiving them. And something tells me that the adult versions of these girls probably feel the same guilt I did. I wish I was exaggerating when I tell you that I thought about that incident every. single. day. for five years. But I’m not.  That means I felt the emotion of remorse at least 1,825 times. It was a weight on my shoulders every day until I finally opened up and told the story to someone who knew us both and she walked me through my emotions. Just letting it out of the closet (even though I cried the entire time I was telling the story) brought so much healing. You have obviously moved on, but maybe they haven’t. So we should pray for them that they will see how painful their actions were and find a way to forgive themselves knowing that you moved on and turned out pretty damn awesome.

There is only one step left, and probably the hardest. You need to come to a place where you are genuinely thankful for that experience. As hard as it was to live through, it made you who you are. No matter how painful our pasts are, they develop our character. And much more growth comes from the hard times than the good. I believe you will have fully arrived when you can look at that memory and feel gratitude that it happened to you, you overcame it, and it taught you something. Even though it created fear in your life, I bet it taught you to never treat others like that. I bet it taught you the harm in being close-minded. I have no idea what you learned from it, but it certainly impacted your character.

Lexia, you very well may be the only person to read this 3,809 word post, but that’s okay. I wrote it only to share my experience with you like you did with me, and to get something off my chest that sat there way too long. A year ago I was able to finally move on. I pray that you too will figure out how to fully heal from the experience and be able to move on so it is no longer a weight you are carrying on your shoulders.

Love you girlie. And totally loving this conversation we’re having.

Today sent my brain on a lovely journey through the past and present of my spiritual life. An absolutely beautiful, lovely friend of mine posted authentically her impression of Christianity and the offensive aura Christians create for themselves. I tried to reply to her post and blogger said it was too many characters, so I decided to post it here since my reply was pretty much a blog post in and of itself anyway.

In reading my reply, I think it’s important to read what she wrote. She posted her thoughts on her personal blog that I don’t believe she shares publicly, so I didn’t feel comfortable posting a link to her blogpost. Therefore, this is going to be super long blog post because I’m going to put both her words here and my reply. I think it’s a beautiful discussion and has been such an integral part of my journey, that I thought I would share it on my blog:

Lexia’s post:

Should Christian Women Wear Bikinis.  

That’s the question thats going around apparently in the Christian world right now.  I watched the video, not because i care the least about whether christian women should or shouldnt wear bikinis it was because the title was SO.INCREDIBLY.IRITATING. it made steam come out of my ears.  i’m serious…. my windows are fogged up now.

why would this title bother me so much?  it is just the irony of it on so many levels, and i’m going to tell you about them now, because i just dont think i can keep this inside me any longer. i know that i will probably receive quite a bit of backlash on the subject, and i need you to know that i do not mean this to be offensive, but merely to awaken different perspectives, ones you may not have known were injurious.

and you have been injuring.  you’ve been injuring me, and many others like me, for a very.very.very.long.time.

Should Christian Women Wear Bikinis.  if you are a Christian, you will likely not find anything odd, strange, or hurtful in this question.  but, if you are not a Christian….  it absolutely excludes you.  why not instead: “Should Women Wear Bikinis” ?   the speaker begins by reading a scientific documentation about what happens to the male brain when shown pictures of men and women modestly dressed, and then dressed in bikinis.  It makes no mention of Christianity or for that matter any religion at all. So why the ‘Christian’ in the title?  I understand that it was meant to reach a Christian audience, that it was targeting a specific culture of people, and that it was read at a Christian event.  but isn’t that all the more reason then to not have to say the word “Christian” and exclude the rest of us?  You see, the title “Should Christian Women Wear Bikinis” insinuates that Christian women are more modest, more pure, and should not wear something that would attract the sexual attention of men.  but, the rest of you…. well… you can go on wearing bikinis because we know that you dont have “christian’ morals, that you love to attract that kind of sexual attention.  If the title would have just been “should women wear bikinis” it would have not been so offensive or exclusive.  and that really is the question at stake there…. isnt it?  Right?  just regular women… they dont HAVE to be christian, do they?

When people specify ‘christian’ in front of things, like the phrases: “Christian morals” and “christian women” it is meant to exclude.  this is not always a bad thing, and sometimes a very necessary specification.  for example, in the sentence: “christian teachings are different than islamic teachings”  and “Christian Churches are sometimes large and so are NY skyscrapers”  but they can also exclude in a very hurtful way as well “Christian women are good” –  it can insinuate that other women, are not.
This is not always the case…. i mean you can truly mean to just say that all christian women are good and not insinuate anything else, but imagine this scenario.   you are a red flower, amongst a sea of blue flowers.  someone comes in and says “blue flowers smell wonderful”.  you are the only red flower.   how does that make you feel?

yep.  thats what i thought.  if only they would have said “most blue flowers smell wonderful” or  even better “flowers smell wonderful”

Its so odd, because non-christians with no specific affiliation to any other organized religion are constantly being evangelized.  Christians preaching acceptance…  yet they are still using phrases that exclude.  “come join our church… it is so much better here.”  how are we not to feel like Christians are ‘holier than thou’?    i understand it is not meant to be hurtful,  they are so happy and they want me to be happy to by sharing what they have with me. i get that.  but it’s so annoying.

I am in a unique situation because many people view me as Christian.  i look like them, i raise my children with good morals, we sing wholesome songs, we watch wholesome TV, i dont swear (at least… very rarely), dont get drunk, am faithful to my husband, and kind to others.  people mistake me for Christian because i am not Jewish, nor Muslim, or any other religion, so the default is of course, Christian.  People ask me what church i belong to and i say that i dont belong to a church.  I say that i’ve looked into other religions but i have never made a connection with anything.  and the response i get (with a 90% accuracy rating) is:

“well… but you’re Christian…. right?  I mean, you believe in God…. right?”
like other religions dont believe in God.  and also that i would automatically still be Christian, even though i’m not specifically lutheran, or catholic, or protestant.
and if i were to say that i’m “agnostic”  (someone who has no specific faith) i am fair game for being evangelized.  OH! that poor lost soul!  we must SAVE HER!  i will pray for your soul…

I’ve had conversations with my cousin, Laura, who is a devout Christian.  she is one of the few Christians i can actually talk to about my ‘faith’ or lack thereof.  maybe its because i know she cant really cast me off… i am her cousin and we’re connected by blood. i mean, when i’m having a hard day or something and she says ‘i’m praying for you’ i know it’s not like she’s praying for my soul to be brought to God and repented for my sins of non-faith.  it’s her way of saying “hey, i’m thinking about you”  when i have a friend who is having a rough time i tell them i’m sending “love, hugs, and good energy”  which is pretty much exactly the same thing.

but when someone prays for my soul or wants to ‘save’ me…. OH.MY.GOD it makes me want to go into fits of satanic rage.  i have fantasies about pretending to be afflicted by the devil and spin my head 360 degrees and then vomit green goo all over their faces.  i fantasize being the young girl in The Excorcist and seeing their faces as i talk in a satanic voice.   i mean… there is nothing that irritates me more.

not chewing with your mouth open, not dry sand in between my toes, nothing.

Lastly….  you want to know what my opinion is on if women should wear bikinis or not?  I think it starts with teaching our young boys not to view women as tools or objects regardless of what they are wearing.  why are we avoiding the root of the cause and subjecting our girls and women to rules and regulations about their body and attire that dont have anything at all to do with their own SELF image, but the way others (men) see them?  Start at the root, then work up from there.  It starts with our boys, NOT our girls.

And, this is the comment I wanted to leave:

Hey Lexia,

I had a few thoughts after reading this that I wanted to share. Sorry if they come off discombobulated, I’m just writing them as they come to mind:

1. Thank you so much for sharing this. I know it’s out of frustration, but I really, really, really wish everyone lived so openly. I actually found it quite refreshing to read because it’s so authentic

2. Because I love honestly, I would appreciate it times a million if you shared with me personally anytime I pushed one of those sensitivity buttons. Ya know, a simple, “Sophia, I know you had the best of intentions when you said ____ but it offended me because ___” As hard as we try, none of us can see ourselves from the outside. Honest perspective about myself that I can’t see would be priceless.

3. The reason I said what I did in (2) is because I know I’m a work in progress. With the absolute best of intentions and with nothing but love for me, my parents brought me up in a traditional church setting. The discussion of “what should Christians do” and “what should Christians not do” was pumped into my brain by my youth pastors and I don’t think my parents realized it. My mom was furious when my little sister came home from Sunday school with worksheets on how to pray and one showed a little girl with her hands together and her eyes closed and next to it she had her eyes open and they had to draw a red circle with a slash through that one. She was so upset that people would teach her child that there is a procedure to praying as if God wasn’t listening if your eyes were open. Spending ages 10-18 in this environment influenced me during a very moldable time in my life. I developed a mentality that these teachings were equivalent with right vs wrong. I can look back at high school and think of times I said and did things with the best of intentions trying to help people do the “right” thing but I was so damaging and so hurtful with the results. It makes me sick to my stomach. I’ve had to forgive the 17 year old version of myself time and time again, and it was a hard process that took years. In my adulthoodhood I was able to walk out of the bubble I grew up in and experience the entire world as it truly was. I remember the epiphany when my brain finally broke open and I realized there is no “us” and “them.” I was 21. It’s horrible that it’s how my brain once behaved, and for so long. I’ve spent the last 4 years retraining my thought patterns, changing my vocabulary and seeing the world through a completely different lens. I have a mentor who is very spiritual but of no religious affiliation. He’s attended unitarian gatherings more than any other sect of religion. But he has been so helpful in helping to open my mind to the true intentions and teaching of Jesus. He will actually stop me in my tracks and say “why did you say that like that” or “why are you placing that assumption on them.” Therefore, going back to (2), I know I’m a work-in-progress in fully understanding what it means to love all people unconditionally and find my own set of moral beliefs to hold myself accountable to.

4) After I realized the ridiculous bubble that Christianity created for itself, I went through a phase of hatred. Now all of a sudden my new ideas and realizations were better than theirs. I had a hard heart towards traditional Christianity. That’s when my mentor pointed out to me that I actually had not truly changed if I felt that way. I was still seeing “us” and “them” I had just found a new happy place with the “them”s. I was actually no different. I was now placing my “holier than thou” mentality on the “holier than thous.” Haha. Such a mess! lol. I have arrived at a new found happy place where I can respect every person for where they are at in life’s journey. As you said, there are no us and thems. No “Christian women” and “non-Christian women.” haha! What a crazy world we live in that it demands labels. I now just see everyone as people. And some people’s journey is leading them through that stage. I feel empathetic for those people in their chairs of the video you posted. And empathetic for the man with the mic. Their intentions are so good, but they are still missing the big picture. Turn your frustration into “love, hugs and good energy” sending their way because they probably need it more than you do.

You are such an incredible woman, a positive influence on many and inspiration to us all. Don’t stop being exactly who you are. Your life’s journey is already awesome and it’s only going to get better from here. I feel so blessed that our journeys crossed paths and you’re now a part of my life. Thank you for being you.

Before I even realized Rob Bell was releasing another book, I saw my Facebook Newsfeed start filling up with anti-Rob Bell sentiments. Heretic. False Teacher. The comments were not nice. He has drastically influenced me spiritually so I was hesitant to jump on any band wagons. I watched the interviews and read a few, as well as several blog posts from “Christian” leaders. It was obvious that a lot of very religious people hated his book, but I wasn’t going to support it or criticize until I read it, so I immediately went to Amazon.com and had it shipped.

Over the last couple weeks I’ve heard that Christian bookstores have pulled all Rob Bell material calling him a heretic. A Methodist pastor in North Carolina was fired for posting on his Facebook that he supported the book. Wuh Wuh What?!?

If you’re reading this blog, but you aren’t familiar with the Rob Bell controversy, here’s the quick summary. He’s an influential pastor, speaker, author, and teacher whose books and DVDs have sold millions and millions of copies. Small groups have been using his Nooma series for teaching for years now. And then he came out with this book called Love Wins: A book about Heaven, Hell and the fate of every person who ever lived. What’s all the fuss about? Among other ideas he talks about in the book, the controversy is mainly over his Biblical interpretation that there is no Hell as it has been taught in the churches for the last couple hundred years.

So, what did I think of it? I loved it. Absolutely loved it. Probably my favorite Rob Bell book so far. This post is meant to explain why.

Reason Number 1: Above all else, it creates wonderful dialogue that the church needs to be having. It’s not okay to go your whole life believing what you’re told by others without asking yourself “Why do I believe what I believe?” Rob Bell introduces another perspective and in my opinion gives ample explanation as to where he derived these Biblical interpretations. Rather than condemn it, we should talk about it. I firmly believe in always being open-minded to new ideas.

Reason Number 2: What I have always, for years now, loved most about Rob Bell’s teaching is that he always goes back to the original texts. I don’t speak or read Hebrew, Aramaic or any other language for that matter. He has studied these words and the culture of the time. He always teaches what the original words meant, both literally and in the contexts of the cultural period in which they were written. As much as I love the teachings in the Bible, I understand that they are the result of translation and no matter how you slice and dice it, it’s not the same, especially two thousand years later. Jesus didn’t speak English and he certainly wasn’t American so it’s vitally important to understand what the writers of the original texts meant when they wrote those words. I’ve been fascinated by Rob’s previous teachings and they have seriously helped me understand even more about the God that I serve. So now, he does the same thing but about Hell. He talks about it in regards to what the words meant that were being used and in their cultural contexts. Why would I appreciate it any less this time around? NOT TO MENTION….there is no literal translation for the word hell? I’m not here to explain anything, read the book if you want to know what he said about it.

Reason Number 3: Rob Bell never de-emphasizes the power or love of God, nor the importance and significance of Jesus walking this earth and his death/resurrection. What he does is offer a different interpretation of hell. Ummm….I’m sorry but you can’t show me anywhere in the Bible that someone is condemned for what they believe will happen in the afterlife? In fact, no one has experienced it and come back! Why all this fuss when I don’t feel God cares what we think is going to happen in the afterlife? In fact, the Word repeatedly tells us that no one knows, can know nor is capable of understanding. Jesus said the greatest commandments were: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. Rob never takes away from that.

What Rob does do in this book is put the emphasis on the here and now. Bringing Heaven to earth by loving with the unconditional love of Jesus. People do create their own hells. I have a wonderful friend whose son committed suicide a year and a half ago. He brought hell into the lives of the people he loved and they’ve had to experience it, the same with my friend’s father who took his own life. We see it all around us in this world. The world as it is now needs rescuing.

Rob did not introduce to me anything at all that I haven’t already believed for years. I’ve had many conversations with amazing people about these ideas, long before I knew Rob was planning on writing a book about it.

People are saying that if you say there is no hell then you are completely debunking your faith because then what did Jesus die for if not to rescue souls from eternal condemnation?

Sorry guys, but the more and more I grow in my faith, the more I read the teachings of Jesus and the more the Holy Spirit moves in my life, I see an amazing, loving God and it doesn’t add up. Since I began my journey of faith 13 years ago, I’ve never believed that of the 6 billion people on the planet, an unconditionally, loving God would send 4 billion of them to burn in a fire pit for eternity. I just continued to fall in love with the teachings of Jesus, share it with others, and believe that we serve a just God and the afterlife wasn’t for me to understand.

“So then Sophia, if you say you don’t believe God is going to send billions of people to rot in hell, what the point of Christianity? Why even share the Gospel? Isn’t that the point? That Jesus rescues you from hell?”

I do believe that in the spiritual realm there is a place that is absent of God. I believe that all that is good and all that is beautiful is of God. I believe in the spiritual battle of good vs evil and that evil must come from somewhere. Therefore, if a spiritual place exists that is absent of God, it would be absent of all that is beautiful and all that is good. I believe our souls go to an afterlife. I don’t believe that I, nor anyone living on earth, have the afterlife figured out and it’s not our place to decide who we think is going to experience what kind of afterlife.

Everything Jesus taught was always about the here and now. Loving others. Dieing to yourself. Giving abundantly. He talked about the riches in Heaven, but what he came to do was try and show us the amazing Love of God and how to live that in our own lives. People need rescuing. People are living without hope and need to know someone cares about them. If I really believed what I was taught by people growing up in church then this would be the message: Say this prayer to get your fire insurance so you don’t go to hell. Don’t be influenced by “the world” because it’s evil and bad. Everything is only going to get worse so we’re just waiting it out until we die so we can go to Heaven.

Well, I might as well, just pray those ABC’s and then go lock myself in a closet. It would be safer there.

The world is beautiful. I see beauty in every person that I meet. And because of the love of Jesus I have a message of hope to bring to the world. It’s not about rules. It’s not about a system. It’s not about a single prayer. Modern day Christianity is no different than the pharisees of Jesus’ day, so caught up in their rules they’re missing the bigger message. What does this mean for the great commission? Go tell the world of Jesus? It’s no less significant. People were attracted to Jesus and the early church because of the way they loved other people, accepted everyone no matter their baggage, brought hope into their lives, and sacrificed themselves. We have to show people that there is a better way of living than living for themselves. All around us people are dying inside living in their own hells.

Rob Bell’s book doesn’t say this, but my opinion is that the Hell preached about is a result of the First Great Awakening in the 1700’s. Christians discovered that through fear if you preached about hell it would make people attracted to Jesus. They had to be rescued. Choose Jesus or rot in hell. But Jesus never preached out of fear. People followed him and he attracted the multitudes because he healed people. He loved the unlovable. His final words were about forgiveness. I don’t think he wants us trying to scare people into being Christians.

I don’t have it down pat. I’m not the best “Christian” in the world, and I’m far from living like Jesus did. But I regularly pray for Him to show me how love everyone unconditionally and walk the path he destined for my life. If anything, Rob Bell’s book inspired me even more to realize the weight of the here and now and how to bring God’s love to earth.

As I said, I believe this book opens the door for great dialogue, and I believe everyone should always remain open-minded to new ideas. Therefore, I believe it’s important to share with you a blog written by someone who read the book and strongly disagreed with it. Here is an opposing view point. Here is an interview with Rob about the book. He actually starts talking around the 13:00 minute mark.

***I finished writing this post and was proof reading it when my cell phone rang. I got a phone call from a dear friend of mine who has lived in a hell of a marriage for almost five years. Bawling in tears she called me because today she left him and is sitting by herself in a hotel right now. We prayed. And I’ll continue praying for her. She’s walking in a hell right now that only Jesus can pull her out of.

[Edit: Adding the below a day after posting]

So, couple more links have come my way. Some comments have been posted on my wall and I wanted to share these additional links:

1. Rob Bell comes clean about what he actually believes. (a minute long)

2. Someone other than Rob Bell giving similar interpretations on hell, also with lots of scripture and history. Link here.

Million Miles

This is a book I read over the Christmas break that I highly recommend to everyone in my life. Meet Don Miller, the author.

(Not to mention, I paid full price in the book store for the hardcopy and you can now get it paperback here.)

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/20593341″>What story are you telling?</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/rhetorikcreative”>Rhetorik Creative</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

(I did share this because by posting this to my blog I become eligible for a free copy of the paperback. However, I did it with no hesitation because I’ve continuously been lending this book out to people in my life. I’d love a spare copy to circulate or give away, so I have no shame in promoting his book ;-) )

Sabbatical Summary

Well, as my sabbatical comes to an end, I have to say, it’s one of the best things I have ever done for myself (see Sabbatibal Update 1 for what I’m talking about). I actually didn’t know why I was doing it other than I felt God was leading me to, and to be honest, I was afraid to do it.

Tomorrow I’m going to church and it will be the end of my week to myself and God alone. Brandon will come back home and life will pick up where it left off just over a week ago, and I’m ready for it. I did some profound thinking this week, and I feel so much more prepared to enter back into day-to-day life.

I shared with you guys the email my former professor sent me. What actually ended up happening when I replied to the email was that we spontaneously decided to meet up. He invited me over to his home and I spent almost the entire day Thursday soaking in his wisdom. He is probably one of the most significant spiritual mentors I’ve ever had in my life and he doesn’t even consider himself a Christian. But his love for God and his love for other people are so inspirational they leave me with a craving to learn from him. Executives of fortune 500 companies pay a lot of money to have 30 minutes of his time a week (he’s  a life coach) and yet he joyfully offered his time to me for about 5 hours Thursday. We talked in great length about meditation, finding your life purpose, connecting with God, showing unconditional love to everyone, and many other life topics. I should have brought a recorder, but I just sat curled up in the recliner of his living room intently listening and asking more questions. That day will probably go down in my life notebook (as if I have one) as one of my favorite life experiences. I am so humbly thankful.

I was left with a myriad of questions to ask myself. Confession: I drove from there to Ikea and spent a couple hours sitting in random furniture just thinking about all kinds of things. And of course walked out $60 poorer, haha. That evening I called my BFF Meryl. I needed to talk to someone and I needed an update on her life anyways. Long phone conversations with Meryl have been food for my soul for years now. Thank you God for blessing my life with her.

Friday I woke up an took care of emails and obligations for about an hour and then shut my phone and laptop off for the rest of the day. I found a quiet place and tried meditation for the first time. It’s going to take me years to develop the skill (if that’s even how you phrase that??) but there’s a first time for everything. I found out that the list I copy pasted in my last update was a list he developed for his personal life over the last 20 years, so mine really shouldn’t look the same. That list is his 21 values. Those are the principles he wants to live by so each morning he asks himself if he is living by those values. I’ve decided to use his example and pick a few of those that are really important to me and start there. I don’t think I’m ready for 21 yet. I also learned what a mantra is. Here’s the wiki for it if you don’t know. I have to work on finding mine.

Also on Friday I was cleaning out some things around the house and found two old copies of Relevant Magazine. I spent my afternoon reading them each cover to cover and it was astounding how much they were full of what I feel I needed right at that moment. I don’t think they put the articles they publish in print on their website, otherwise I’d link you guys to some of my favs.

By the end of the night, I knew two things.

1. For a year I have been talking about making a dream board. I need to do it.

2. I can’t figure anything else out about my life until I find my purpose because all other decisions are dependent on that.

I started writing my dreamboard list. (If you don’t know what a dream board is it’s like taking your goals and making a visual poster of your goals.) I asked myself “If you came to the end of  life, what would you be disappointed that you never accomplished?” It helped me filter through some things that I want and would be nice, but in the end wouldn’t create disappointment. And it also helped me find some really small things that don’t seem like a big deal, but I realized were a big deal for me. Asking myself these questions ultimately started showing me what was really most important to me. Then I realized that I think I do have a purpose. I believe my purpose in life is:

To help others grow

Bam. It may mean absolutely nothing to you, but I realized it meant everything to me. I love helping other people discover themselves, grow in their spiritual walk, do better in school, or simply find confidence in being themselves. We were all created completely different and I love helping other people find themselves and have confidence to go in the right direction for their individual path.

That being said, I had to face a serious fear. About 10 years ago I started feeling a calling towards the self-help/motivational speaking world in some realm. (There are THOUSANDS of people who help on ENDLESS subjects). I’ve been afraid to admit that’s what I want because I feel like it’s really easy to fail and not achieve that. I feel like it’s a BIG HAIRY AUDACIOUS GOAL that’s easier to not admit is inside my head. But I’m ready to lay it out there. I’m ready to not be afraid of it anymore and to start making decisions in my life that will lead me in that direction.

If that was the only thing I got out of this week, then it would have all been worth it. But it’s not. I feel like such a stronger version of myself now. I no longer feel spiritually starved. I no longer feel drained and exhausted by the world and life. I feel in control of my own destiny and fully ready to pursue God’s will for my life, whatever it may be.

By the way….after a year and four months of the same item sitting on my to-do list, I finally finished my dreamboard. I posted a pic of it on my 365 blog. I don’t mind sharing the list with you. I put it on a cork board because I wanted the ability to add and take away as I grow and learn. I feel like what we want out of life is always changing, so I didn’t want to create something that was permanent. But I feel REALLY STINKIN’ GOOD about the fact that I finally checked this off my to-do list. Here’s what my dreamboard reads (in no particular order, just typing it from the random order I stuck it to the board):

  • Backpack through Europe
  • Read the entire Bible
  • Read 20 books in one year
  • Take a Key West vacation (I’ve never been…)
  • Find a philanthropic cause to put my heart into
  • Run a 5k in less than 30 minutes (I’ve done 2 around 43-45 min)
  • Become debt free
  • Have a retirement plan
  • Grow old with Brandon
  • Start a family: invest in the next generation
  • Take a photo I’m truly proud of
  • Live somewhere else. MOVE!
  • Have a flat stomach (a.k.a get my butt in shape!)
  • Beat my sprint-triathlon score
  • Help my sister plan her future wedding one day
  • Mentor someone
  • Have a full time job helping others’ enrich their lives (maybe that looks like a full time blogger/speaker/DVD series/life coach?)
  • Get my nose pierced
  • Help Brandon achieve his dreams (Two of the ones I put up there were for him because I know two things he really, really wants are: 1. DP a feature length film and 2. become a member of the American Society of Cinematographers [there's only like 50-ish living people in it at any given time. REALLY REALLY high honor in cinematography])

So yeah. In case you didn’t realize it, I just openly poured my heart out. I have spent a week isolated in my house eating only raw fruits and veggies, reading, seeking, and occasionally taking care of some necessary tasks. At the conclusion of my week’s soul searching, these are the things I discovered about myself. I realize not everyone can take a week off of their lives (actually, I don’t even know how I did and what repercussions I’ll deal with next week), but at least start taking some time to think about who you really are, why you’re doing what you’re doing, and where you’re going in this life. Are you doing it with purpose?

Sabbatical Update 2

Sickness is almost completely gone. Hallelujah!

I was planning on sleeping a full 8 hours but was slightly awoken at 6:45 am when my husband stopped in to grab some stuff he needed from the house for his presentation this morning. But right after that I got a text message and that was it. I was awake. I tried to fall back asleep to no prevail, so crawled out of bed at 7:30 a.m.

My plan was to begin the day with exercise, but some alone time with God sounded better. I ate a grapefruit and mango and decided to start the morning off in prayer and scripture. As I sat on the couch I started dosing in and out of consciousnesses around 8:30. Don’t you hate when that happens! But regardless, it was a very peaceful start to my day.

Brandon got back with my laptop around 10 am and there were a couple emails I was waiting on with some files I desperately needed to get to print asap, so I took an hour or so break to see that project through. The awesome part about checking my email was that my professor had replied. SWEET! Perfect timing as I had spent my morning trying to conquer this prayer thing. Here was his reply:

Re: Meditation Question
Good to hear from you, Sophia. After calming with my mantra, I run through my 21 values 1-3 times in the 30+ minutes I meditate. Each one is kinesthetically anchored to a finger. I hope this helps.

Compassion
Clarity
Creativity
Confidence
Courage

Peace
Abundance
Unconditional love for everyone and everything in my life
Health, Vitality and Energy
Both Happiness and Joy

Meaningful service to those I come in contact with directly and indirectly
A stronger realization of God in my life
Focus to do God’s will
Humility
Gratitude

Generosity
Integrity
Presence to live in the here and now
Forgiveness
Balance

Wisdom

————————-

Needless to say, it definitely helped! (Note to self, I still owe him a thank you reply!)

You see, before my prayers always felt like either a teeny bopper fillin’ my friend in on what was going on in my life, or a child reading Santa Claus his wish list. Of course there have been times I really connected to the Lord in prayer but I hate when it feels like I only go to him for wants and needs. I can certainly say that never in my spiritual life have I connected with God in prayer on a REGULAR basis.

I practiced what he sent me and it was so powerful. I went through the list twice. Praying about each area of my life and turning it over to Him. There’s something so releasing about admitting you have no control over any of these areas and asking for help. It was also humbling to look at areas of my life that are so important yet I was completely neglecting. I hadn’t really stopped to think about what I was doing to live humbly, compassionately, with gratitude and generosity. At certain times I apply those characteristics to my life, but I have never evaluated myself on a daily basis in a lot of these areas.

I started my morning with this soul-searching evaluation, read some scripture, then headed off for some exercise. My afternoon and evening were spent handling some projects and I’m looking forward to what tomorrow shall bring.

Goodnight.

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