Love Is Stronger Than Fear with Amy Julia Becker

S3 E9 | How Jesus Overcomes the Barrier of Wealth with Marlena Graves

August 25, 2020 Season 3 Episode 9
Love Is Stronger Than Fear with Amy Julia Becker
S3 E9 | How Jesus Overcomes the Barrier of Wealth with Marlena Graves
Show Notes Transcript

Fear often inhabits both wealth and poverty. How does viewing money and self-sacrifice through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus bring freedom and joy? Writer and speaker Marlena Graves, author of The Way Up Is Down: Becoming Yourself by Forgetting Yourself, talks with Amy Julia about wealth, poverty, faith, and the freedom that comes from being filled up with God’s love.

Marlena Graves received her M.Div. from Northeastern Seminary in Rochester, New York and is pursuing her Ph.D. in American Culture Studies as she researches the influence American culture has on Evangelicals’ view of immigration, race, and poverty. Connect with Marlena:; @marlena.graves on Instagram, @marlena.propergraves on Facebook, and @MarlenaGraves on Twitter.

“Money can’t buy happiness or joy or peace. We can use money that God has given us for God’s ways, but to think that [money by itself] is going to satisfy—it really doesn’t.”

“The way of Jesus is to use whatever God has given us and whatever station of life we are in for God’s Kingdom.”

“The only way I can love people, love my neighbor, is if I am in tune and paying attention to God.”

“Prayer is putting your gaze upon God.”

On the Podcast:

Thank you to Breaking Ground, the co-host for this podcast.

White Picket Fences, Season 3 of Love is Stronger Than Fear, is based on my book White Picket Fences, and today we are talking about chapters 6 and 7. Check out free RESOURCESaction guide, discussion guides—that are designed to help you respond. Learn more about my writing and speaking at

Connect with me:

Thanks for listening!

Note: This transcript is generated using speech recognition software and does contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

0 (6s):
Is love is stronger than fear. A podcast about pursuing hope in the midst of social division. And this season, we're talking about my book, white picket fences, and today's episode takes a look at the themes of chapter six, the rotation of the earth with my guest Marlena Marlena, and I have a chance to talk about wealth and poverty and faith and the freedom that comes from being filled up with God's love. I, I was so encouraged by this conversation, so I really hope the same is true for you.

0 (38s):
I'd love to hear what you think about the show and I'd love for you to share it with other people. If you find the same encouragement as I did. Thanks so much for joining us here today. Welcome to love is stronger than fear. It's really great to have you here. I want to introduce everyone to you a little bit. You are a writer, a teacher, an activists. You're the mother of three young girls. You are so much more than all that I've just said. But specifically, right now you've released a new book called the way up is down, becoming yourself by forgetting yourself.

0 (1m 12s):
And I just finished reading this beautiful book. So thank you for writing it. Congratulations. It is only 150 pages, but it is a rich book. It's one that, although I read it in a week, because I knew I was talking to you, it's when I would recommend that people take some time to just really spend some time just letting it sink in because there's a lot of rich wisdom, but it's also a really easy and fun to read because you are just a really accessible writer. So thank you for writing it. It's really great to have you here. And I would love to begin just by asking you to tell us about yourself.

0 (1m 44s):
Just tell us the broad strokes of your story and specifically your spiritual background, your family situation, both as a child and now, and the way all of those experiences led to this particular book coming out of you. Thank you, Amy. Julia, you know, I'm very happy to be here with you and thank you for the good words on the book, everything you said, I was hoping it would be so, so I don't know if it's because I wrote this book, but I've just, you know, I feel that when I describe my life, I always start with, I grew up very poor and I didn't realize how much of a influence and formational aspect that would have in my life.

0 (2m 25s):
But you know, the older I get, the more I see all the interconnectedness of how that formed me, poverty formed me. And so, you know, I was born in Puerto Rico and my dad was in the military. I lived there for a couple of years, maybe till I was three, then moved to California for a little bit. And then Northwest Pennsylvania, where my dad was from and grew up speaking Spanish in my own household. My dad understood a little bit, but biracial. He did not speak Spanish, but I spoke Spanish first and then English was second.

0 (2m 55s):
And because of where I grew up in Northwestern, Pennsylvania, it's a very impoverished

1 (3m 1s):
Area. And I always wondered why my dad wanted to go there. I'm like, dad, you know, you're really smart. Why would you move here? I asked him that years later, cause what he knew and that's where he was from. It was hard for me to understand, but so where I grew up was the biggest geographical school district in Pennsylvania, meaning we had to travel the furthest to get to school. Like for example, I think my school might've been 17 miles away.

1 (3m 31s):
We lived on the outer edge of the school district. And so, you know, I was on the bus for awhile. And secondly, it was the days of long distance and I wasn't very close to my friend. So I didn't talk on the phone a lot. You know how some kids growing up, they would be on the phone all the time. Huh? I don't, I don't know if I would have been on the phone all the time, but I didn't really have the opportunity to be because it was long distance, you know, no cell phones. And so I'll talk a little bit about my spiritual life. I was baptized Roman Catholic, but because the Catholic church was in town on the opposite side, the opposite direction of my school, my dad didn't, we didn't have a lot of gas and it wasn't in Spanish for my, well, my grandma who lived with us too.

1 (4m 16s):
So she didn't go. So I just walked to a country church that was a mile away and I always wanted to walk to church. Like no one had to send me to church. I just was so interested in, did you walk, like go by yourself? I went by myself. Yes. Like 10 year old. And I wasn't scared of anything except for the German shepherds at this one house, but I didn't, it was out in the country. So I didn't have fear of getting kidnapped or anything. I don't know why maybe it was safer. I don't know. And so, but then I also evangelized as much as a child could my younger brother and sister who are my younger brother's four years younger, my sister two years.

1 (4m 56s):
And so they would walk with me. So it'd be like 10, eight and six walking to church and the church, it was a rule church, a real community church. And they really just embraced us and loved us. And I have fond memories of that church at Chet Mayville community church. But another thing about myself that I didn't realize again until, you know, probably until my thirties is that I think I've just a contemplative and monastic art because I didn't like listening.

1 (5m 28s):
I didn't like watching TV. It was like nails on a chalkboard. But also maybe that I should clarify and say like daytime TV and my mom and I were like, who would live on and off with us, either in our house with us or across the street from us in a trailer, you know, they'd watch like the Spanish Telemundo, the Spanish soap operas and stuff. And I just, and not just that like young and the rest, I just could not listen to it. So I would always be outside helping my dad to cut and split wood and stack wood so that we had enough money for gas so he can get to work.

1 (6m 7s):
And so to summarize, we were geographically isolated, I would say culturally, because out in the country we are poor and sometimes, you know, school lunch would be my only food, my lunch, or until the next paycheck, or there'd be very little in the refrigerator. And I, from about the years of 10 to 14, I read the Bible from two to four hours a day, depending on what I was doing, depending on what homework I had, because I really could identify with the people in scripture, especially the Exodus.

1 (6m 43s):
I would picture myself with them crossing the red sea on dry, you know, on dry land with the towers of, of water on either side of me, the walls of water. And I, I think it's, Lexio Divina just getting right into the story. I just did that naturally in scripture. And I always figured, you know, if God could do the things that he did for people in the old and new testaments, that why couldn't he do it for me? Like, you know, maybe like a child, you know, you talk about that in your book, like God said, you know, asked me or God said, forgive your enemies.

1 (7m 17s):
I'm like, okay, I better do that. I forgot to say that I will, I was a good influence on me cause I would, she only had a third grade education because her mother died in childbirth when she was eight years old in Puerto Rico. And she had like 10 or 11 siblings. And so they had to all work with her father to, you know, just have food and whatever it is they needed to do. And so, so she would struggle to read her Bible in Spanish, out loud. And I would always see her doing it every single day.

1 (7m 49s):
She had the, you know, the rosary next to her. She was faithfully reading scripture. And I think that's what probably just impressed itself on my soul. Not that she said, read your Bible, but I just saw her doing that. And I really loved her, looked up to her. And so I started doing that myself. And so that's kind of the early stories of my life. It was like a, I say it was like a monastic cell or a crucible where I grew up, but I didn't know it at the time.

0 (8m 15s):
Right. Yeah. And you can see so many of those threads in your writing as far as the ways in which you weave in both like Catholic and Orthodox writers, as well as the Protestant tradition and the ways you talk about your family and growing up in poverty. And I really do want to dig in some more to some of those questions, but I want to pause for a minute here because what does this all have to do with the themes of this podcast? For anyone who's been listening to this whole series, we're talking about white picket fences.

0 (8m 47s):
The book that I wrote that came out a couple of years ago, and we have mostly been talking about race for the past couple of weeks because the early chapters in the book talk about my childhood, which was growing up in this functionally segregated town in North Carolina. But then I moved to Connecticut and have continued on to live in the Northeast where my social position as you and I have talked about before is very different than yours, right? Growing up where I grew up with a lot of stability, affluence, educated parents, et cetera, et cetera.

0 (9m 19s):
And so in chapters, six and seven in particular in the book, I started writing about that. What is the role of socioeconomic status in kind of knowing who we are and in finding ourselves divided from one another. And so I want to ask you from your perspective in your own life and even just your own observations, how have you seen socioeconomic status create barriers? And have you ever seen those barriers broken down? What is able to actually break through that realm of division and what keeps those divisions in place?

0 (9m 56s):
Thank you. I, I do see the divisions and I mean, I realized I was poor at a Christian college when students would like just dump all their like brand new furniture and the dumpsters at the end of semesters and like, like things that were brand new because they couldn't fit it in their cars. And so, you know, even community members would come and dumpster dive from the college, you know, where I was at, I was like, Oh my word, I mean that probably cost five or $600.

0 (10m 30s):
You just, there's nothing wrong with it. It's just, it could fit back in your car or you just didn't want to mess with it. Cause it's too, you know, it's inconvenient to pack up and get rid of your things. And, you know, started to realize, I was like, wow, I just didn't know how poor I was. And you know, just having brand new vehicles, you know, college, you know, and people joke that especially educators that some students drive better cars than our teachers are, you know, our professors.

0 (11m 0s):
But that, wasn't just it. I, I think when it really hit me is that I was really, I think I wasn't just after college, I heard a Senator Rick Santorum from Pennsylvania. Sorry. It wasn't just after college, sometime 2010 or before 20, I heard Rick Santorum who was a Republican Senator just really put down poor people, like say ridiculous things. And a lot of people talk about this Michelle Alexander and the new Jim Crow with Reagan saying welfare Queens, you know, creating a drug problem that wasn't there and African American communities.

0 (11m 40s):
And just all these things, you know, pull yourself by your own bootstraps, you know, do your own job. And I'm like, or poor people as being delinquent immoral. You know, we poor, I'm like, I'm

1 (11m 54s):
Not delinquent or moral. I mean, I've seen, I've said this before. I've seen rich charlatans and poor charlatans and middle-class charlatans. It doesn't matter how much money you have. And, and, and what I've seen is that if you have money connections, you can get away with a lot of garbage that poor people can't, they would either be in jail or, you know, they can't get off stop for, I mean, they can't get off because they don't have lawyers or connections to stuff. And so that's where I saw a lot of, I've seen a lot of barriers, but what's been very hurtful.

1 (12m 28s):
Like, you know, when you hear the church talk like that. And especially because, and I talk about this in my book that Jesus was poor. He came like his mom couldn't even make the normal offering. She gave an offering of turtle doves that it was on her to do it Mary with Joseph when they presented him in the temple. And most of Christians in history of imports, then again, you know, Joseph of Aira Mathenia I also talk about him. He was able to provide the two for Jesus. So I'm not saying that having money is like, you're somehow ungodly.

1 (13m 4s):
If, if you have more income than I do, that's not what I mean at all. It's just, as you know, as you talked about too, and that you could come to depend on money instead of God, for example, I'll give this example true story. When I was in seminary, my mentor was a local pastor during a field experience. And he'd meet with us, you know, to talk about what was going on. And he told us a story. He was preaching through Amos and just go in verse by verse and scripture.

1 (13m 36s):
And one Sunday, a man came up to him and said, you are straying. You need to just stick with what you've been teaching before. And I think it talks about, you know, when justice shall roll down like a river, I don't have my Amos memorized, but basically the man said to this pastor, his name was to pastor ed. If you don't knock it off, I'm going to take my time and go somewhere else, social justice.

1 (14m 7s):
And this was like in 2004. And, and the thing is the guy owned a car dealership. So I'm not sure how much money he taught, but just say it was a amount of money, like $50,000 or something I want to throw out there. And you can just, you know, I'm going to go to a different church. If you don't stop talking about these things in ed, it was like, I'm preaching straight from scripture. This, you know, I'm just, what do they call it? Bible exposition on verses and all the commentaries and, and the, the, the owner of the car dealership.

1 (14m 40s):
Didn't like it. And so he did leave ed like, well, you can take your money with you. And so, you know, I see how money is used to control people. And, and, and people might not even think

0 (14m 52s):
About it, like threatened pastors or other people with withdrawing their ties. If the, if the church doesn't run the way they like it. And I mean, I don't know, I just, I've never had that temptation. Maybe I'd be tempted to do it if I had money. So I can't really speak on that. But like I was, but the, the repercussion is that, you know, that's a big chunk of money. If it were a, you know, it could mean loss of staff, right. Things at a church. So it's not insignificant.

0 (15m 25s):
And, and I've seen, you know, things like that over and over again. And so I think that let me circle around, I am rich compared to most of the world because I live in America. Right. I am so rich. Even, even if I'm like lower middle class or whatever, I, I, yes, I have so many privileges and now, and I was rich when I was poor because I was born in America. Cause poverty in America is nothing compared to the rest of the world, which I've seen with my own eyes.

0 (15m 56s):
And so I just think that is, and this is preaching to myself and Matthew 13, where Jesus says the cares of this world and wealth can choke out the gospel if we're not careful. And though you'd be in James B where you rich people, how you treat the worker and, you know, they're, they're crying out to you for their wages. And you know, that it's easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than a rich person to get into habit, but I'm talking to myself.

0 (16m 28s):
So it's cause I fall into that category. But of course Jesus had people that supplied his ministry. So I think it's it's whether or not we're owned by our possessions and what we could do about that. One of the stories that your book made me think about again, is from, I think it's in Luke's gospel where he calls Jesus calls, one of the tax collectors named believe I, and it says that he got up left everything and followed Jesus.

0 (16m 59s):
And then the very next verse is the disciples and the Pharisees and the tax collectors at Levi's house for dinner. And so you're like, okay, he just left everything. And then he used his wealth to throw a party like immediately. And what's happening at that party is that he's bringing together his tax collector, friends and Jesus's disciples. And so he's using his wealth to actually connect to these disparate groups of people and to introduce them to Jesus, which yes, but it's really interesting because the way it's talked about is literally he left everything, but that doesn't, it can't mean that he sold everything or he couldn't have gone and had everybody over for dinner.

0 (17m 40s):
So I just, I was thinking about that passage in reading your book and just the, exactly what you're talking about, that what can feel really nuanced, right? It would be easier to either condemn wealth or to celebrate it rather than say, it really depends on how you use it. And to your point here, even if you're living in America and you have what feels like very little, you actually have a lot, even in material terms, you have a lot. But I also think about, and this is a, you talk about Zachias, right about the Kias in your book.

0 (18m 15s):
And he was a rich man who nevertheless felt worthless. And I would love for you to just remind us a little bit of that story for people who don't remember, you know, Sunday school when they were seven or who maybe never went to Sunday school and learned about Zakiah, but I'd love for you to talk about what Jesus offers to wealthy people who still feel an inner longing for more. They feel like the wealth is actually not enough to satisfy the hunger in my soul.

1 (18m 43s):
Yeah. Thank you, Amy Julia. And so, you know, there's a song about him climbing the Sycamore tree and I have one in my yard, a Sycamore tree because he was short and he wanted to see Jesus for himself. You know, and the book I speculate that maybe at seen you,

0 (18m 58s):
It was before or heard of him from John the Baptist, or maybe saw the gentleman.

1 (19m 2s):
So the way that he got his wealth was cunningly because you could use violence as a tax collector to get the money. It's like a debt collector. Like I'm going to get it for you by whatever means necessary without to throw you in jail, use violence. And so, but he was a lot richer than, you know, his peers, his Jewish peers. And they also considered him a trader because, you know, he worked for Rome to collect the taxes from his people and did whatever necessary and use what ever necessary to get it. But he has his money.

1 (19m 34s):
Wasn't enough to quell that emptiness and that loneliness and that, you know, that thorn in his mind about who he was. And so he climbed a tree and a crowd was coming. Jesus was in a crowd, Jesus stopped and looked up to Zacchaeus and said, you know, I'm coming to come down cause I'm coming to your house today. And in the first century for a rabbi, that Jesus was just to even appear in Zacchaeus.

1 (20m 9s):
His home was a great honor. It was a show of hospitality and intimacy. It was a big deal that he chose to go to Zach. He is his home and that kiss was so moved by Jesus's gesture at, you know, and I maintain it started happening before he met with Jesus. But at that point he's like, you know, I'll pay back four times as much, anything that I abroad. And so Zack Houston is an example of repentance, of turning from the lights that he had towards God.

1 (20m 44s):
And I think in that moment as to point, and what we've been talking about is that no matter how much money we have, we can't, or don't have, we can't let money own us because God says you will either serve money or me. And I'm always really fascinated in some way, not fast. I shouldn't use that word. I'm always interested in that. You know, people, you know, that can meet all their bills, go on whatever vacation they want, put their kids in whatever schools they want.

1 (21m 17s):
They don't have to worry about just the day to day problems that, you know, a lot of people on that I've had had to worry about with, you know, just meeting your basic bills, you know, you, cause you're still depressed, commit suicide, your family. I don't say yours, but you know, collect the family's our tour money. Doesn't, you know, like they say, can't buy happiness or joy or peace. I think we can use the money that God's given us for God's ways, but to think that it's going to satisfy it really doesn't.

1 (21m 49s):
And I think the book I, you know, the way up is down, becoming yourself, by forgetting you yourself, is taking the posture of Jesus, not using the money or power or influence influence at our disposal for ourselves to be self absorbed or self-interest the way of Jesus is to use whatever God's given us and whatever station of life that we are for his and for, for God's kingdom. That's why Jesus is not my will, but yours be done. That's a life of self sacrifice.

1 (22m 21s):
And so I think that, you know, no matter if someone's listening and they're like, yeah, I don't really struggle. I can't identify with Marlena at all because this has never been a problem, but we can both identify and feeling sad or loneliness. And if we just live for ourselves, that's how we're going to be.

0 (22m 38s):
So can you speak because I so resonate with that. And as you know, as someone I have come from that place of stability, as far as economics, and I've also had both personally and very much in my family and in my communities such encounters with, well, what you were just saying about anxiety, depression, and a lack of rich, deep connections. And I very much see that wealth can actually be a barrier to understanding the grace and richness of God.

0 (23m 11s):
I'm curious though, because I think for most people, especially in our like American mentality of, you know, working our way up the ladder and pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps, that sense of choosing to sacrifice, choosing to lay it down, choosing to empty ourselves, that being desirable or like something that we would want to do. Can you give any examples of people who have done that and, or just talk about what would actually motivate us to release our hold on wealth and possessions and

1 (23m 46s):
All the things that we accumulate. Yeah. And so, gosh, you know, why would we do that? Well, it's the way of Jesus. He was had all welfare at his disposal, but he came to earth as a poor man. And he set that aside so he can embody, you know, God's life in the flesh. He has God. And so as he met with people, he didn't have wealth to attract them. He didn't use the wealth that he could have out of his disposal to lure people in France, you know, to win friends and influence people.

1 (24m 17s):
He didn't do that. He chose to set aside his divinity, you know, at one point the disciples were like, you know, this village didn't accept you. Can we call fire down and destroy it? And Jesus was like, no, that is not my way. And so I, I was now that I'm obsessed with why didn't he do that? He didn't use those things that were at his disposal, but he came, you know, my book, the way up is down and in scripture, Jesus says many of the first in this world will be last. And many of the last will be first in the kingdom of God.

1 (24m 48s):
And the greatest person in the kingdom of God is to be the servant of all. And he modeled that by his life. He served. And we think about that in the upper room with the last supper, he, he, you know, bowed and he watched, he took on the role of a servant, not just there, but that was to be symbolic for them. He washed their dirty feet and only servants did that. But Jesus bowing to wash the disciples or anyone's feet and doing that, he put himself in a very vulnerable position and vulnerable to being kicked.

1 (25m 21s):
You know, if you're, if you're, if you're by someone's feet, they can kick you. You can allow them yourselves to be stabbed if hit the back of the head or whatever that is. It's a very vulnerable position to be in because it is, it's just wonderful. And so, you know, Jesus is basically saying, we're not supposed to be, we're not supposed to call the shots in our life. And I even think with the way the world is now, no matter how much money you have, you know, with, like, for example, we're talking during the time of the pandemic. I mean, no matter how much money you have is not going to keep you from getting the virus, if you're exposed to it, right.

1 (25m 56s):
I mean, money can't protect you from everything can't protect you from death or sadness or, or difficulty. It can make some things easier. But I think Jesus was, you know, paradox. That's the title of my book is a paradox. Like he has more wealth and more power than anything. And he laid it aside to do God's will, and he sacrifice. And I don't understand why. I mean, the whole Bible is kind of like that way to live. We have to die, die to ourselves, everything in us, that's not of God.

1 (26m 27s):
And, you know, in order to be raised up, you know, to be lifted up, he says to be uplifted, we have to bow down and let God lift us up. And so why would we want to do that is because this is Jesus's way it's counter-cultural and it can be counter-cultural in churches and Christianity. And so do I know any people that have done that? Yes. I mean, I think of rich Mullins who was, you know, died. I think it was at 1990 or 91, a Christian singer, who he decided that he would only earn what, like the average American earned, which I think was like $40,000.

1 (27m 5s):
So all the rest of the money he made from his concerts and whatever he gave, he took about poverty. And I'm not saying, I guess it's not true poverty if he made $40,000 a year, but enough to live. And, you know, Pope Francis could have lived in an opulent palace, but he's living in the guest quarters. Right. You know, a lot of things in the church and women, they gave up their estates to found monasteries. And I'm not saying that everyone listening, that's what God's calling you to do, but you're in a position if you, you know, depending on your income, but you're in a position to help fund the gospel of life.

1 (27m 44s):
There's enough money in the world and enough food and enough housing that people should not be poor. The only reason it's that way is because people are greedy and you know, only a few are able to get that. And that a lot of that comes, and I'm not saying again, that the listeners are doing this, but it becomes from exploiting the poor and workers, like a lot of money is made on the exploitation on and on the backs of the poor.

0 (28m 10s):
Well, I don't disagree with you in terms of greedy, but I think what people often feel is fear. Like then that sense of I am. I just need to make sure that I survive and that my family survived. And I know people who are incredibly wealthy and are still saying, once I have X number of millions of dollars, then I'll know we're going to be okay. And I think there is a sense of fear about survival. That especially if we're not entrusting our lives to God and to the love of God, that really inhibits us from being in that posture of generosity.

0 (28m 49s):
And I'm thinking back to the Kias again, I love the way you tell that story because you at least imagine that the Kia has some knowledge of Jesus. And then that's what prompted him to climb the Sycamore tree. And not only that, he had some knowledge of Jesus, but even some longing to be living a different way, because it had to feel crappy to be a tax collector. Because even though you had all the money, you were exploiting people and you knew that. And anytime we demean the humanity of a fellow human being, we're demeaning ourselves as well, because we're all in our face.

0 (29m 21s):
So I have to imagine that he felt bad about himself, even though he wasn't going to stop what he was doing. And so then he's interested in Jesus. He kinds of the tree. Maybe he's had some thoughts about, maybe I should give some money away. Maybe I should do my practically things differently, but I don't know that he would have, if Jesus hadn't called him out. Right. And like, Hey, I'm eating at your house. You're going to be associated with me now and I'm going to be associated with you now. And then it's there. And so I do think there's a sense of like the grace of God interrupting us.

0 (29m 53s):
But then what I see for the Kia is joy and freedom. And so yes, he had money and like at the end of his encounter with Jesus, he had a lot less money. And that might be a hard reality for many of us to face like, Oh gosh, if I start following God, does that mean that I'm going to have less money? And it's like, well, it really might. But guess what he got in return love, joy, peace, freedom. And I think that some of what you're getting at and some of what even motivated Jesus, I think Jesus was highly motivated by love.

0 (30m 23s):
And that his way of being as sacrificial as it was also was connected so deeply to the love of God and to the love of that, it was incredibly fulfilling for him and obviously incredibly attractive to the people who encountered him and followed along. And for me, a lot of that, I have been able to understand that dynamic of possessions and wealth, not being what satisfies, especially as I have encountered people who love more freely.

0 (31m 0s):
And this leads me to people with intellectual disabilities in particular, that's been a lot of my experience of a freer love. That is not, I mean, it's so funny as you know, our daughter, penny has down syndrome and it's not the penny doesn't love things. She has like, we just repainted her room. And I mean, she has so many opinions about what colors should be on her walls. And like, she really does care about some things, but at the same time, she is like impossible to buy a gift for, because what she wants is people, she wants to have an experience with the person.

0 (31m 36s):
She wants to eat a meal with a person. She, I mean, she just wants to be with and connecting with people. And so all of this brings me to just thinking about, you have this little section about the awesome God group at your church. And I just have to get you to talk about that for a minute to describe the group and describe what it's meant for the entire congregation, but also like why is that group in this book? Like, what does it have to do with these themes is what we're talking about with what you're writing about, because I think they very much are interrelated, but I'd love for you to just tell us a little bit about that.

0 (32m 9s):
I love that

1 (32m 12s):
A group in my church called the awesome God group or the awesome God class. And it was named after rich Mullins.

0 (32m 19s):
Interesting, unlawful

1 (32m 22s):
Some God, but the people, the group chose their name and they wanted to call themselves the awesome God group. And so the awesome God group is made of people with intellectual disabilities and their friends. So it's like a mix of people and it's a Sunday school class, but it's like, they have not now cause of the pandemic, but like they would have bingos once a month on Thursday night, like all sorts of social activities. And there's people in our church that friends that may not have intellectual disabilities, but are in, in the Sunday school class or teaches Sunday school class with them.

1 (32m 59s):
And then there's also prompts and lots, just lots and lots of activities for, for those and led by those in the awesome God class. And the way that our that started was that my past one of my pastors, the assistant pastor, pastor Joni, I should say associate pastor, she, her sister Lynn has intellectual disability. I don't know exactly what, but, and when she was younger, she never felt she'd go from church to church.

1 (33m 30s):
And didn't really feel like Lynn was embraced until she went to a United Methodist church who loved and embraced Lynn and Joanie. And then that's why she decided to go to the United Methodist denominations now United Methodist, pastor Mike, one of my pastors. And so I went, she's been at the church I believe, 18 years. And she wanted, when she came, she wanted a place for Lynn to also be, feel comfortable. And so they, they started with people, the awesome God class and you know, so on different Sundays, they might read part of the scripture or help usher.

1 (34m 10s):
And I won't say date, but the members of the awesome people with intellectual disabilities and one reason to my husband's Sean. And when we saw this, they're so integrated to our church. They're not like a part or just like cast in the corner. They're like an integral part of our church so much so that, you know, like several of them sit right in the front row when the pastors preaching. Cause that's where they want to sit. And sometimes, you know, one in particular that I love, I don't know if she has like a tick or something, but she would like yell and engage in the sermon and we all love it.

1 (34m 46s):
Like you're not interrupting. It's showing us the joy of the Lord. And yeah, I feel like our church is like a lot of people say our church is really warm and welcoming and Shaun. And I think that our church is so special because of the awesome God class. And we don't really see it as, or the awesome God group, but we don't see it as, Oh, we're administering, we're doing this great deed for that. We're like we are being ministered to, we see the face of Christ and them.

1 (35m 17s):
And we are very humbled. Like we have a lot to learn and I know Henry now and other people talk about this and you Amy, Julia, it's a good and perfect gift to, to us. We are very humbled by them. And what it has to do with everything I'm saying is that in the world's eyes, if we're thinking from non gospel lens is like, these are the lowest people. They don't have like high functioning. Most of them like jobs, they're not making millions of dollars unless their family has left them an inheritance.

1 (35m 50s):
They never talk about money. They just plain love and show us, I think an aspect of God that we definitely wouldn't get not concerned with status or how much money you have or don't have, they don't care. They just are interested in you. And we're interested in that. We love them. They are part of us and we're part of them.

0 (36m 9s):
So beautiful. I want to end with a couple of questions to bring us back somewhat where we started to just spiritual life. One of the things I love you start the book by saying that you're reading the riot act to God because you're really mad. And it feels like you are someone who lives in an ongoing conversation with God. That is not what many people might think of as how prayers would go, right? Where you're like expressing disappointment, anger, frustration, as well as hearing yourself, you know, from God being put in your place, you have this kind of intimate, conversational relationship with God, which I love.

0 (36m 46s):
You also have some very, and you called yourself even in this podcast, like a contemplative monastics, but you also have this very specific call in your own life to social action, like to getting out there. You have one part in the book where you write about how fasting and praying through lent one season led to specific action on behalf of refugee children, essentially. But I wanted to ask you just about how that private and personal intimacy with God and that social and public action in the world, or how do you see those things as being related to each other?

1 (37m 22s):
Yeah, the only way I can love people, love my neighbor as myself. Well, as if I am Intune and paying attention to God. And so some seasons are busier than others, but I need to do whatever it takes. Prayer, fasting, giving, they all are supposed to go together, prayer, fasting, and giving of giving. Then I'm, there are seasons where I'm not active. I know it's interesting. And when people do call me an activist, I'm like, I guess I am, but I'm just putting scripture to practice.

1 (37m 52s):
Like I think we all should be right. Maybe not perfectly. And so, so I've just come off of a season of a lot of activity and I'm kind of closing back in right now, cause I'm starting a school program, but where I, my world gets a little smaller where I focus on, you know, try to focus on God. And what's only right around me, allowing myself to be filled with God's life again through scripture, reading, prayer, whatever fills me up, being out in nature and letting God be at work in me. And I trust that as I'm filled with God and listening to God that that'll give me the energy to be active, to help the refugees or immigrants, asylum seekers and whatever God calls me to do.

1 (38m 34s):
And you know, we cannot do everything. So there's only certain things I can do in my life and my spheres. But I think that some people work for social justice without being filled with God. And you could see the anger and the meanness and the division. But I think if we're going to live as Christians and do what Jesus tells us to do that scripture, you know, Matthew 25 feed the poor, you know, Nate, you can name it. Then we need to do it with a right heart and right spirit.

1 (39m 5s):
And we can't do that if we're only just acting and never being filled by God. So it's like a, it's a back and forth thing, you know, I'm filled with God's life. I go out, I empty myself on behalf offense service. Then I come back in to be filled with God and it could be like mother Teresa did this every single day instead of prayer and then go out and serve. But she always spent time in prayer in the mornings before she went out to serve. And I don't think that we can love people. We can't love our neighbors.

1 (39m 35s):
We can't act in Jesus's name if that's not part of our rhythms, cause we'll burn out and treat people badly.

0 (39m 43s):
Totally. So just as we kind of start wrapping up here, we talk a little bit about sitting in prayer. I'm thinking about a listener who thinks that sounds great. I would love to be filled up with God, but I, and then go out and give that away. But I don't know what that actually involves. I don't know how to pray or I feel like I'm doing it wrong. Or am I allowed to save this or that? Like, how would you offer an invitation to regular prayer for someone who feels hesitant about that?

1 (40m 19s):
Great question. You know, some people think you have, I mean, prayer is physical. You can't, you know, the Orthodox and Catholic talk about it's bodily. You get on your knees or like prostrate. But you know, I'm thinking about someone that's like working has a really tough work schedule, you know? And so anything that can focus your attention on God, I believe is prayer gazing upon God. So let's say you are working in a corporate or real busy environment, or even at a school wherever you're at.

1 (40m 50s):
I'm thinking, what can you do for lunchtime? Can you like step away from your office space or wherever you're at and just be quiet and settled down or maybe listen to scripture on, you know, on a, on an audio thing. Maybe go for a walk outside nature. So prayer, let me say this again. Prayer is whatever you do, I think is contemplation. You put your gaze upon God. You've mentioned that. I just talked to God and tell him how angry or happy I am.

1 (41m 21s):
That's because they did that scripture. If you read the Psalms, the Psalms were like, God, you know, Martin lingo, this sucks. And I'm just telling you, I'm not really happy. We're right with you right now. And God's not afraid of that or God, you very far away.

0 (41m 34s):
I want to follow you. I want to do what's right. But I don't know help. Please help that's prayer. Yep. It does. And yes, there are prescribed prayers of the church, depending if you're at a liturgical search, I think that's beautiful, but any way that you can focus on God. So I'm sitting right here in this podcast. My house was on a corner. I had one window on one street, another window on another. And this corner lot, let's say it was super busy and I just really couldn't get out. I'd like take a moment after this podcast just to sit and look out the window and, and pay attention to the flowers, the birds, the butterfly that goes by and think about God.

0 (42m 15s):
And it could be a song. Maybe music really gets you. You could play music that draws your mind to God. There's a thousand different ways to pay attention to God. And I think that's what prayer is. And God's not going to be upset if you don't know how to pray. Just say, God, I don't know how to pray or talk to someone that can maybe guide you. Or, you know, maybe for you at least mentioned music, playing an instrument or cooking or washing dishes. I don't know anything where you can be led to God. And I honestly have to say, you know, when my even still now I have three daughters, but when they were little, like the only time I got to myself was in the bathtub.

0 (42m 51s):
So that was my time of maybe reading books that toured my mind toward God and just thinking and talking to God. Well, that's actually a perfect place to close because I think that you have given us a book that turns our thinking towards God, where scripture is woven in. But there's also just this real permission for that open conversation. And there are lots of ways I think with any chapter in this book to actually make it into a form of prayer of conversation with God of connection with God and the contemplation of who God is.

0 (43m 25s):
And I really agree with you that if, and as we are being filled up with the love of God, that is what enables us without even sometimes knowing this is what we're doing to empty ourselves, right? Like we're overflowing. So there's no sense of fear that I'm going to be a, I'm not to say. I mean, I often have fear that if I'm giving something over to God, I'm going to lose it forever. But at least theoretically being filled up with God's love, frees me to give of myself to other people without that sense of fear because I'm so, but I've been doing actually, I've been on the water because we're on vacation the past couple of weeks, and I've been watching this sailboat, that's anchored.

0 (44m 9s):
Somebody has a sailboat and it's anchored out in the water in front of the house where I've been staying and I've just been watching it in the morning, kind of rocking back and forth and thinking about that as like a picture of being held in. And that, because of that, I dunno, that picture has been a real gift to me in thinking I need to keep going back to being held in. God's love before I try to go sailing right before I try to move and act and do things in the world. And I think that's the picture you give us as well by that presence and that grace and care before we try to give that to anyone else so that we don't burn out.

0 (44m 47s):
And so that we don't get cynical. And so we don't hurt people in the process. So Marlena, thank you again for taking this time to share your wisdom, your insight, your heart for justice, your heart for peace and your beautiful words and your beautiful story. Thank you for being here. Thank you for writing this down and for anyone who's listening, I do really highly recommend that you check out his book and his other work because it was his guest. Thank you, Amy Julia, and thank you to the listeners. I'm really glad to have been here.

0 (45m 19s):
Thank you for listening to love is stronger than here. We'll be sure to note the references to scripture and to rich Mullins and anything else that came up in the show notes. And if you were encouraged or equipped or empowered or curious because of this episode, I do invite you to share it with other people. I invite you to subscribe to this podcast. So you'll have more conversations like it, feeling your podcast feed in the weeks to come. And of course it is always a help. If you give this podcast a quick rating or review wherever you find these podcasts so that other people can find it.

0 (45m 55s):
I just want to give some thanks. Thanks to our cohost breaking ground. There are more podcasts, articles, videos, all of which reflect a Christian perspective on how to think about the past, understand the present and explore redemptive possibilities for the future. You can find out Thanks also to Jay cantons for editing this podcast to Amber Barry, my social media coordinator, who does more to support this show than anyone will ever know.

0 (46m 25s):
I do hope and pray that as you go into your day today, you will carry with you. The peace that comes from believing that love is stronger than fear.

2 (46m 36s):