Monday, January 2, 2012


I want to share a song- it's not a Christian song, and I don't think Katy Perry was thinking about Jesus when she wrote it.  But I've been obsessed with it lately.

In Bible study, I like to "observe, interpret, apply" by analyzing the words and trying to understand them in how God could be speaking to us. I'd like to share a deeper level I've been seeing in these lyrics.

Do you ever feel like a plastic bag, drifting through the wind wanting to start again?
Do you ever feel, feel so paper thin like a house of cards, one blow from caving in?
Do you ever feel already buried deep? Six feet under screams
but no one seems to hear a thing
Do you know that there's still a chance for you, 'Cause there's a spark in you
You just gotta ignite, the light, and let it shine
Just own the night, like the 4th of July

'Cause baby, you're a firework, Come on, show 'em what you're worth
Make 'em go "Oh, oh, oh," As you shoot across the sky-y-y
Baby, you're a firework, Come on, let your colors burst
Make 'em go "Oh, oh, oh," You're gonna leave 'em all in awe, awe, awe

You don't have to feel like a waste of space, You're original, cannot be replaced
If you only knew what the future holds, after a hurricane comes a rainbow
You just gotta ignite, the light, and let it shine
Just own the night like the 4th of July

'Cause baby, you're a firework, Come on, show 'em what you're worth
Make 'em go "Oh, oh, oh," as you shoot across the sky-y-y
Baby, you're a firework, come on, let your colors burst
Make 'em go "Oh, Oh, Oh," You're gonna leave 'em all in awe, awe, awe

Something is wrong...
Do you ever feel paper thin, one blow from caving in?

Have you ever felt this way? A lot of you have felt sadness, depression, or just disappointment. You aren't living the life you wanted- you aren't the one you were created to be. We even look around at others and see people more dead than alive.

This darkness comes as a separation from God. He is the light, and without light, we're in darkness.

They grope in darkness with no light; he makes them stagger like drunkards. (Job 12:25)
I don't understand what I do. I want to do good, but I don't. I hate what I do. (Romans 7:15, 18b)

They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. (Ephesians 4:18)

Ignite the Light 
You gotta ignite the light and let it shine... you're a firework

I believe that something inside you longs to be re-united with God. Hard work or perfect living won't get you there. Maybe you've already tried everything else.

God's Spirit is a light that wants to ignite inside you. He has a different plan for you, rather than stumbling in darkness, He wants you to be a firework, a beauty display of His glory for everyone to see.

God said, "I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them." (Isaiah 42:16)

God doesn't leave us to our blindness, He doesn't want us to stumble and trip on the road of life. He doesn't even want us to walk down the same old paths- He has a new path to walk!

Jesus said, "I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness." (John 12:46)

God sent His son, Jesus, as a display of His light on Earth. He made the ultimate explosion when He died on the cross to take away the sins and the darkness of the world. In our world, fireworks are short. They explode and are gone. But this light didn't go out- Jesus rose from the dead, and still today, God's spirit is on the earth in the hearts of believers.

God's Promise 
If you only knew what the future holds, after a hurricane comes a rainbow

If you are willing to accept God's Spirit into your heart, there is a hurricane! Awareness of sin, of distance from God- your mind begins to be made new, your lifestyle starts to change. God's light is shined on all the dark places of your soul and it can HURT. But the rainbow is God's promise not to destroy you. He is only destroying the sin in you- the old dirty stuff that was killing you. Now you are a new creation- becoming what God planned for you.

But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. (Ephesians 5:13)

Show 'em what you're worth

Just own the night like the 4th of July

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

When God turns on the light in our heart, we become a firework! We become a light also that others can see and marvel at.

Like little kids sing, "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine" we don't hide our light. Own the night- light up the sky like the 4th of July.

God's forgiveness, love and transformation is so amazing- let all the world see you as God's amazing firework.

Even Christians feel that same exhausted emptiness when we keep our light dim, only giving it enough fuel to stay alive. True life with God is to give everything- to explode across the sky without fear or doubt.

Does that look like your life?

an invitation 

1. come warm yourself by the Fire
Investigate God, come closer and learn more about Him in  community.

2. ignite the Light
Believe Jesus takes away darkness. Invite God's Spirit to live in you.

3. be a Firework
Don't hide the light God gave you. Show it to the world. (Leave people in awe!)

The Secret Life of Bees

My imagination is often captured by the treatment of religion in stories. I just read The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd. It was a well written and thoroughly enjoyable book, although several passages would upset many Christians.
 The story fits in well with the re-popularized concept of Making Your Own Religion. A brief paragraph introduces the concept is a positive way early in the story.

"[Rosaleen] never went to church herself, but… I’d seen her special shelf with a stub of candle, creek rocks, a reddish feather, and a piece of John the Conqueror root, and right in the center a picture of a woman [her mother], propped up without a frame…. Her shelf had to do with a religion she’d made up for herself, a mixture of nature and ancestor worship." (page 29)

The 14-year-old white protagonist Lily and her black nanny Rosaleen escape Lily’s emotionally abusive father and run away to South Carolina in 1964. The story centers on Lily’s search for a mother, the desire to be mothered, and to have female friendship and community. She finds love and guidance from three black bee-keeping sisters and their religion.

"[August] said, 'May and June and I take our mother’s Catholicism and mix in our own ingredients. I’m not sure what you call it, but it suits us.'” (page 90)

At first, this religion seems based on rituals and symbols. The sisters own an old ship figurehead in the shape of a Black Madonna. They practice a nightly recitation of Hail Mary’s before the statue and have a “Daughters of Mary” Sunday service with a few other women in the community. In the first service Lily attended, they read a Bible verse about Mary and told the story of the history and miracles of the statue. While playing “Amazing Grace” each women danced and touched the heart painted on the statue for strength.

Rituals are not inherently evil. Going to church, taking communion, or saying prayers are all types of rituals. An image or a repeated phrase can be a teaching tool or a mediation device to gain focus. As long as the thing is not worshiped, it can direct worship to God. Although, the women's devotion to their statue has gone way beyond that point. It shares too much in common with ancient idol worship. The Apostle Paul criticized those who “exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.” (Romans 1:25a)

I was pleasantly surprised to find that this invented faith was not based on ritual alone. Near the end of the book, August reveals a deeper level of understanding to Lily.

“'Our Lady is not some magical being out there somewhere, like a fairy godmother. She’s not the statue in the parlor. She’s something inside of you. … You don’t have to put your hand on Mary’s heart to get strength and consolation and rescue and all the other things we need to get through life,' [August] said. 'You can place [your hand] right here on your own heart.'” (page 289)

It’s good that August, (who is unofficially the church leader) is not trying to bring back basic idol worship. She recognizes what’s in the heart is important.
Certain truths in this passage, and the following, stand out to me. It is certainly positive and uplifting to read, and I almost dare to ask, Is it the Right Idea with the Wrong Name? Can I place “Jesus” in for “Mary” and make this Biblically acceptable?

One aspect seems to me: has Lily always had Mary in her heart? Was there a turning point? Part of literary analysis is identifying such changing points in the story. I would argue that Lily makes a choice to let divine goodness enter her heart. But this moment is mostly ignored in modern story-telling. It’s too unpopular, like the “Born Again” testimony of Christians. A more palatable suggestion is that Mary has been in Lily’s heart all along, and she is only now realizing it. This is a subtle but important difference.

August’s speech continues:
… “'When you’re unsure of yourself,' she said, 'when you start pulling back into doubt and small living, [Mary’s] the one inside saying, ‘Get up from there and live like the glorious girl you are.’ She’s the power inside you.'” (page 289)

So Mary is a power and a voice. Lily heard a voice encouraging her to run away from her father. But was Lily a “glorious girl” at the beginning of the book? No. Lily clearly recognized herself as a sinner. Although she was distracted by misplaced guilt over her mother’s death, she still knew her feelings, her actions, and her happiness were not what they ought to be.

… “'And whatever it is that keeps widening your heart, that’s Mary, too, not only the power inside you but the love. And when you get down to it, Lily, that’s the only purpose grand enough for a human life. Not just to love- but to persist in love.'” (page 289)

God actually promises a new heart to believers. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26)

How is it accomplished that one can have a new heart and persist in love? “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives [persists] in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us.” (1 John 4:15-17a) (The NKJ uses the word “abides”) Here, Paul teachers that God is Love. August believe Mary is Love. Again, the incomplete theology of this religion leaves me unsatisfied. Does Mary exist somewhere independent of me (as a true goddess with power?) Or is “Mary” just a word to describe good things that are intrinsic to my own nature?

… “'This Mary I’m talking about sits in your heart all day long, saying, ‘Lily, you are my everlasting home. Don’t you ever be afraid. I am enough. We are enough.’” (page 289)

I thought of Paul being comforted by God’s words: “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient [enough] for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9a)

I admit I don’t understand why temporal Lily would be Mary’s everlasting home. (Unless Mary does not exist independently of Lily.) Although Jesus lives in the hearts of Christians on Earth, it’s a temporary deposit for a future in Heaven. “[God] set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” (2 Corinthians 1:22) Because God is all powerful and independent of us, He is capable of making an everlasting home for us. Nothing we do makes a worthwhile home for God.

Sadly, there is a time for these comparisons to end. I enjoy studying other thoughts and continuing to recognize that all true wisdom can already be found in the Bible, but I can’t continue to replace the name of Jesus for Mary.

From the first scene with a Black Madonna, it was clear that the author thought names were not important. In her interview, Kidd explains that Black Madonnas are one type of “archetypal feminine images of the divine” and that “their blackness is purportedly not related to race or ethnic origins, but has to do with obscure symbolic meanings and connections to earlier goddesses.” (page 9 of Penguin interview, back of book) The name “Mary” is simply a replacement for or blend of another belief system: a common religious syncretism that exists beyond this one book.

Without or without the physical idol, this is idol worship. Whether a specific goddess is worshiped, or if we worship some vague divinity found only in ourselves, the worship of the Feminine Divine ultimately leads away from God. There is no confession, no repentance, no accepting of a new heart. Although “The Secret Life of Bees” has several beautiful ideas and truths, I know that Mary is not in my heart, and no goddess can save me. My feminine strength, wisdom and community may be good things, but they are not enough to save me from fear, or help me persist in love. The source of my salvation and my strength is Jesus. In the end, the Name matters.