I use choir music on a lot of my writing playlists, because the joining together of voices evokes so many things—emotion, and mystery among them. I love just about every type of choir. My most favorite is probably the very fancy choirs like King’s Choir at Windsor, followed very closely by the gospel choir. Even though they are very different vibes, both do something to my heart.Continue reading Hymns and Choirs
Happy New Year!
I haven’t been on in a while, and I thought I would drop in to let you know what I’ve been up to as the year draws to a close.Continue reading Happy New Year!
I was sitting in a law school classroom when it first hit me. It was my third year, and I was taking a class titled Law and Literature. We would read a piece of literature and then come to class and discuss the great questions of life and humanity that the readings provoked, much like a college English class (which was bliss to me!). I was surprised when I saw multiple Old Testament readings on the list.
We were a class made up of believers and skeptics, atheists and agnostics, the dormant and the devout. And when I opened my Bible to read the passages, that fact was all I could think about. For the first time in my life, I was having a Bible study with people who hadn’t been taught to think the “right” way. They were from all over the country, from deeply varying backgrounds, and a lot of them were reading those passages for the first time. And suddenly, that was how I was reading the scripture, too. I was stripping away everything, all of my own preconceived notions, every sermon I had heard preached on the passage, and every point I had ever felt compelled to prove, and I was just…reading. Because I knew when I got to class the next day, absolutely no one in that room would carry the same lenses to the table. And that was when it finally struck me: this was what I should have been doing all along.
What does this have to do with Amanda Hope Haley’s latest book, Mary Magdalene Never Wore Blue Eye Shadow: How to Trust the Bible When Truth and Tradition Collide? Everything. God’s revelation to me that I was reading scripture with “lenses” set me on a course of laying aside everything and simply searching for His character in scripture. What I didn’t know was that my cousin (yes, cousin!) was writing a book on that very topic!
Amanda delves deep into the very structure of the Bible, exploring how the holy manuscripts were written, compiled, and translated and teaching us to cherish each passage for its unique literary structure and voice. That contribution alone would have been enough, because she lays out that complicated history in such an easy-to-understand format that the reader leaves enlightened rather than overwhelmed.
But she goes deeper, teaching us how to view science’s relationship with the Bible in a healthy manner (the passages on creation literally made me tear up!), how to look at scripture in context rather than “cherry-picking,” how to read slowly and carefully, and ultimately, how to strip everything away, everything you have ever heard, everything you are “supposed” to read into scripture, and just listen.
Particularly helpful, I thought, was the chapter entitled “Too Many Cookbooks in the Christian Kitchen,” which talks about the problem, not new to our generation, of preferring to follow a doctrine, or a denomination, or legalism, or a man, which is so easy for us to do, isn’t it? I think a lot of times these problems start as we try to boil our beliefs down into a teachable message to take out into the world. But we forget to fluff the stew back up again to learn God in the fullness of His glory. Amanda does a wonderful job reminding us of just how important it is to do that.
Her tone is conversational and easy-to-read. I found that the scripture she used as examples throughout was particularly well-chosen. You feel like you’re in a really fun classroom and she’s the teacher at the front with a blackboard breaking it all down into understandable language. And finally, I will add that what Amanda does is more than just teach hermeneutics (a word we learn in the last chapter!). She presents the beautiful, awe-inspiring picture of God’s plan. It seeps in when you least expect it, moving you to emotion and prodding you to reflect on what an awesome God we serve.
Highly recommended! Mary Magdalene Never Wore Blue Eye Shadow: How to Trust the Bible When Truth and Tradition Collide is now available! See below for a link to your favorite retailer.
All of my life I have been shy. I would be asked, “Would you like to do this?” My response: “Sure, I’d love to do any behind-the-scenes work you have! Cooking, cleaning, crafting – I’m on it!” I never even imagined taking the lead – leading the Bible study, being the group President, deciding the angle for a case in law school – even if I was the most qualified, the most capable, had the best vision. It actually never crossed my mind.
Until I started to grow with God and He began to challenge me. The first way was in baring my soul in a tell-all letter to the class a year junior to mine about my experience with growing with God during the period leading up to taking the bar exam. The words began spilling out of me, raw and real, revealing long-held secrets and things kept private because I felt they were either embarrassing or shameful. It felt wrong to be vocal. It felt un-classy. It felt like I had ripped my heart wide open and laid it on the table for all to see. Only my conviction that God had called me to do it forced me to hand it over. And of course, the response was overwhelming. It helped people. God had planned it. It was meant to be. And it made me wonder what else I had missed out on. What other plans God had for me because I was an under-the-radar kind of gal.
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with being quiet or doing behind-the-scenes work, and I’m certainly not advocating for pushiness. I’m simply saying that there are certain gifts that God has given you, and that, at least in those areas, you are supposed to spread you wings and let the fullness of what He has given you, of what he has called you to be, take root, or so I am learning.
The way this has currently manifested itself in my life is that I am on the brink of publishing my first book and I didn’t even want to advertise. I didn’t want anyone to know I write. It almost kept me from pursuing publishing at all. Bare my soul to the world, reveal my inmost thoughts- bah! I had refused for years even to have a personal Instagram page and had recently deleted my personal Facebook page. And then one night, as clear as anything, I felt that God wanted me to start an Instagram for my writing. Puke. It made me want to puke. Me, promoting my blogs, sharing travel thoughts, literary musings, and news about my books? Never, never, never. Set aside the idea that if I could imagine something I would like to do with my time, it was precisely that. It just wasn’t the way I was hard-wired. But I did it. And it has turned out really great. I’m enjoying it, growing in confidence, and revealing my soul to the world one layer at a time.
After the gut-wrenching realization that I needed to post a picture of myself (and doing it, and surviving) the next thing was the decision about whether I would publish my book under my long-used pen name, Juliet Wilkes, or whether I would use my real name.
You see, there are certain advantages to using a pen name. It’s cool, it’s secretive and…Mark Twain. Need I say more? Most writers struggle with being honest in their writing, and that’s a lot easier to do if no one’s ever going to know it’s you. You can say whatever you like, slip under the radar, lead a secret life.
Only God didn’t want my life to be led in secret. He didn’t want my talents to be hidden. They’re not really mine, you see. He gave them to me to use, for reasons, some of which I know, and some of which are still a mystery to me, but all of which are good.
One day the entire day through, that line from This Little Light of Mine kept playing in my head. Why did I keep hearing “Don’t hide your light under a bushel” over and over in my head? It was really helpful, and I found all sorts of ways it might be applicable to my life, but it never occurred to me until I was discussing the question of the day with my sister (whether to use my pen name) that it was directly applicable to that situation.
And so, as soon as realization struck, my decision was made. The pen name was going to be more of a hindrance than a help, a way to hide when God wanted the piece of him which I can display through my writing to shine.
As for my shyness? I’m just going to have to get over it. And I am, with God’s help. I grow bolder every day. If you struggle similarly, the greatest help is the conviction that this is what He wants, if you feel it. Because there’s no arguing with that feeling. It’s like the adage a child might say: “Mom says.” Once you accept that and put your trust in Him, it gets a little easier, day by day.
Here’s to letting God shine through us and never hiding who He wants us to be.
Rest is something we struggle with, isn’t it. It seems to be one of those Earth-dweller conditions, like fighting sin and enduring suffering. We always feel tired.
I thought when I got out of law school everything would normalize. I’m less stressed, but I’m actually more tired. An eight-to-five schedule plus a two hour daily commute with only three weeks’ vacation takes its toll. I’m sure you can relate. I hear it all the time, from students, teachers, factory workers, truck drivers, doctors, and parents: I’m tired.
There are lots of great books out there on this subject, and I won’t re-cover their ground. And I’m afraid I can’t give you a fix-all solution. But I will show you what the Bible says and offer a few practical solutions that I’ve used in my own life to ease the struggle.
First, let’s go right to the source. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall have labor and do all of your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work…” Exodus 20: 8-10. I never realized until my most recent read-through of the Old Testament how many times God has to say, “REST!” I think he knows that our tendency is to plow, to produce, to keep busy.
Conversely, and ironically, he knows that we long for rest. He had to have felt the yearning in this Psalm: “…Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.” Psalm 55: 6. It was almost, seemingly, in direct answer to this desire that Jesus spoke on so many occasions. “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, and you will find rest in your souls.” Matthew 11: 28-29.
There are two types of rest: physical rest and soul rest, and I think Jesus is speaking to both. The physical reasons you need rest are obvious: pull up any medical article on the dangers of lack of sleep. For the mental side of your health, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that if you don’t take the time to step back, the consequences can be dire. Listen to your body. Watch for signs that you need to slow down. And of course, this is all intimately connected with spiritual rest. If your soul is burdened, if something is weighing heavily on your heart, you can be exhausted and run-down in another way, one that is just as dangerous. And that can spill over into the physical side. And, to complete the circle, the physical side can easily spill over into the spiritual. Happily, the consequences of resting are just as connected as those of not resting. “For anyone who enters into God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his.” Hebrews 4:10.
God wants the best for us. He wants us to be in an optimal condition to serve him and serve others. He wants us to experience rest and utter peace. And so he requires from us a Sabbath. Whatever that day may be, we need a day of rest and rejuvenation, mind, body, and soul. Some of you may be thinking, “Oh, yes! I go to church on Sunday morning and Sunday night and do a thousand acts of service!” No, no, no. That is no Sabbath.
I’m not saying don’t serve your church. I’m saying spend time in prayer about the things you’ve been called to do, about what God thinks you can handle physically and spiritually. And ALWAYS remember that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27. Rest. Your Sabbath is for your rest, for recharging your body, and aligning your soul with God.
We have come to a point where we seem to take how much we can do, how many boxes we can check, as a badge of honor. If you’re having trouble fighting that feeling, think of how many times the Bible says for us to rest. This is not a recommendation, like your mom saying, “Honey, you should really get some sleep.” It is a commandment. And we’re not supposed to break it. Hebrews calls it disobedience if we do.
That’s not to say there are not times when we simply are not able to rest. I’m not disregarding that. I’m also not saying there won’t be times when the Spirit will prompt you to go a little further, do a little more. An example is Jesus’s frustration when the disciples, obviously exhausted, couldn’t stay awake to keep watch with him just before his arrest. That was a time to rise to the occasion, and there will be such times in all of our lives.
But I do know that a lot of things we call impossible are not. We could set them aside if we truly wanted to. We can say no. I also know that Jesus promises that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. He only asked one hour of his disciples that night. He won’t ask more of you than you can physically, mentally, or spiritually bear.
So rest, my friends. And go out and be the person God has called you to be. Do it for yourself, do it for your family, and do it in obedience to a decree as old as time.