What Was Jesus Trying to Undo {Book Club}

If we were meeting in person, this is book club where I would come in, flop down on the couch, sigh, and say, “Y’all, I am here, but I have nothing to offer. Nothing. I’m glad to see you, but you are going to have to carry the conversation.” And because you care about me, you would.

The irony is this week the bird we are considering in Consider the Birds: A Provocative Guide to Birds of the Bible by Debbie Blue is the pelican. I learned in this chapter that the pelican has been associated with Jesus and the idea of sacrifice throughout church history. 

So, this is the mental and emotional context in which I read about pelicans: my dear friend and teammate of 12 years, Mike, died leaving a wife and four kids and hundreds of us in mourning. I boarded a plane last Wednesday with Connection Group registration going on. Wednesday ended up being one of those travel days that will be added to the list of “Worst Trip Ever.” I’ll spare you the details. 

But in the midst of boarding and deboarding the same airplane three times, flights being cancelled, airports closed due to weather, and having to talk to more people as flights, hotels, and rental cars had to be adjusted, I read about pelicans and sacrifice.

I read about love. I read about duty. I read, “We’ve been so inculcated in the church with the idea that sacrifice is good and beautiful and necessary, it’s a little hard to shift perspective–but maybe this is something that Jesus Christ our pelican is trying to get us to do. He isn’t trying to reinforce the system; he is trying to undo it.”

I thought about Mike and how I would not have known him or his family or the hundreds who now live in my heart if we had not all heard the call of our Beloved and followed it.

There is much in our line of work that is too tied to the “dark” side of sacrifice. Of duty. This conversation is a necessary one for our community. Do you feel you have sacrificed out of love or out of duty? Because God loves you or because God needs you to do something.

Caitlin wrote a moving bible study—You can get the bible study here. In response to the first question, “Contemplating the text above by Blue and Hebrews 9:25, what system do you see that Jesus is trying to undo through His sacrifice?” I wrote: The sacrificial system that life must be paid for by death. The sacrificial system seems so “Eden Lost”–In Eden, life didn’t come at the expense of death. Jesus reminds us that in heaven, death will not be a part of the story. He is trying to remind us of who we really are and will be. He is our pelican.

There are many beautiful and thought provoking lines I marked in this chapter. I am glad we are reading this bird-by-bird so that we can savor and think about each bird. Did anyone else laugh when Blue quoted from the chat board, “Pelicans are just jerks.”? I forget that birds can have personalities too. Those big pouches that can hold another bird until it swallows it alive. Ugh!

We’ve seen the Holy Spirit in the dove. And now Jesus in the pelican. I’m sorry this is random and not well thought out. I thought I’d have more nuggets of time to think and have access to the internet, but this is the short window I’ve got so that this can get to our image maker and social media team. So, here I am in our book club living room, flopped out on the couch. Needing you and your thoughts. Needing to hear what you think about this chapter so I can reflect on your thoughts and begin to sort through my own. Sacrifice seems all too in-my-face right now. And too costly and beautiful and horrible.

By the time you read this, Lord willing, I will have just landed back home and will be reflecting even more on the friends I will see that I haven’t seen in years. On the journeys the Lover of Our Souls has us on. On the cost and beauty of a life poured out in love for his Savior. I will be getting my bag, looking for my car, and readying myself for what the week (and weeks) will bring.

Anyone else need to flop on the couch next to me? See you in the comments,

with love, Amy

P.S. Next week we read about the quail :)!

P.P.S. Psalm 84 was read at Mike’s memorial service. The swallow and sparrow are mentioned—I wouldn’t have noticed if I wasn’t tuned into birds!

27 Comments

  1. Ruth September 26, 2016

    I’m still reflecting on the theology of this chapter, because Blue is right–the idea of sacrifice in really prevalent. So these words are challenging to me: “sacrifice is not a sustainable practice. It is not what the life-giving Creator God is after…Sacrifice is essential to the empire of death but not in the kingdom of God. What God gives is always in the form of gift, not exchange. It’s hard to imagine a world without sacrifice, without something having to die in order for something else to live” (pg. 35). There is a lot of dying and rising language in the New Testament. But maybe we can think of that as a gift too? Dying to self isn’t an easy, happy gift, but it is necessary to rising with Christ, and that is a gift.

    1. Regina September 27, 2016

      Yes Ruth!! I hear you on this! This chapter had so much goodness and so many challenging thoughts!

    2. Amy Young October 3, 2016

      I’ve been thinking about the theology — prior to reading this chapter, I hadn’t tuned into just how much the idea of sacrifice is woven to much. When I think of what will still be in heaven (which doesn’t make it theologically more or less sound, what I’m awkwardly saying is I’m trying to ask which parts of sacrifice will not be needed in heaven because it is heaven AND what parts will continue to be a part of active reality.)

  2. Jenilee September 27, 2016

    I loved this quote “To know the surface of something is to barely know it at all, and everything can be seen from different angles… we interpret and we reinterpret constantly. Sometimes an interpretation really settles in – that doesn’t mean it couldn’t stand to be resettled.” This idea of sacrifice is another one of those “resettling” concepts for me and this chapter made for some great thinking material about learning to look at sacrifice in a new way. That with His death, he wasn’t trying to reinforce the system but rather undoing it. I LOVE thinking about it that way!

    1. Regina September 27, 2016

      Jenilee! I have been really wrestling with this language of “re-settling” all week! I feel like there is so much that of what I thought I knew that she been shaken up and resettled since I began living in a new culture! I loved this language!

    2. Amy Young September 27, 2016

      I am sitting on my bedroom floor with my computer on my lap (had to get something on FB at a certain time). My suitcase is open and my clothes are thrown around. And for some reason, really not sure why, your comment Jenilee has me in tears. I think of my friend Anne who is now a widow and raising kids alone and how this idea of “undoing” sacrifice is so much more life-giving than the one that is more bound to “duty” — I don’t think I’m making sense. :). But this is a profound resetting of this concept. And all of you talking about it too, helps it to settle in me.

      1. Jenilee September 27, 2016

        flopping down to sit on the couch with you… wishing that I could for real. Hugs

  3. Regina September 27, 2016

    I really loved this chapter. I didn’t know how I would connect with this book, but I am loving it so far.

    A question from the Bible Study that has been standing out for me all week, is “How can you reconcile working hard for Him, but not sacrificing in a way that keeps your heart from Him or burns you out?” This is such a transformative question for me. I am going to keep mulling over this because I don’t know that I have a great answer, but I think gratitude has a lot to do with this for me.

    These words in this chapter really hit my heart hard.
    “Read and reread the story of Christ. Jesus didn’t die to sustain our noble ideals, but rather to show where our noble ideals can lead: we will kill to maintain our order, to preserve what we think is right. We find some other that stands in the way of our manifest destiny and crucify it.” There is so much going on in the world right now that made this passage sit heavy on my heart. As my social media is filling with hashtags and politics I think these words are becoming more and more relevant to me.

    1. Elizabeth September 27, 2016

      I underlined that section too. Definitely stood out to me.

    2. Amy Young October 3, 2016

      I keep thinking about pelicans and sacrifice and how many of the ideas of this chapter are still bouncing around inside of me days later. Sign of good writing and significant ideas 🙂 (more the later!). Glad to be reading this with you!!

  4. Malia September 27, 2016

    “Sacrifice seems to move people.” She nailed it. It certainly moves ME when I sacrifice. I suddenly have a story, something legit to point to and say, “I did that! I must care.” But Blue points out that we can care in a better way–by “learning to love with a little more passion, learning to give with a little more abandon.” I read this to mean that love often leads to outrageous generosity (aka.sacrifice), but it is the love that matters. It is the love that should move people.

    Your question, Amy (“Do you feel you have sacrificed out of love or out of duty? Because God loves you or because God needs you to do something.”), goes right along with this thought. On both sides, love must dominate. I must act out of love, and God loves me! The sacrifice, then, is secondary.

    1. Elizabeth September 28, 2016

      “It certainly moves ME when I sacrifice.” BOOM. I think you hit a nerve there, Malia, probably for a lot of us!

      1. Amy Young October 3, 2016

        I think so too. Malia, this is a thought to return to — and a good heart check question. Thank you for sharing it!

  5. Emily Smith September 27, 2016

    I was sitting in church last Sunday and the sermon was about happiness…I got tensed up and braced myself for something that would make me want to scream in frustration. If one more person told me to “just be happy and everything won’t seem so bad”, I was going to snap. (Clearly my attitude was great when I walked in that morning. Ha!)
    Instead he talked about Jesus being our source of happiness. An overflowing and limitless source of fulfillment. He used the analogy of the vine and the branches. And when we stay connected to the source of all goodness, then it can flow through us. All we need is to keep going back to the source. He recognized that grief and loss and pain were real and valid. And how often it is the person who can still find enjoyment and beauty even in the depths of their pain that point us to the grace and love of Christ.
    Then to come home and re-read this chapter for the book club…Jesus is giving out of his abundance. It is a gift. He isn’t worrying about running out. It is a gift freely given…he doesn’t need it payed back in order to keep going. What if the answer isn’t to give what I myself don’t have, but simply to find joy and hope and beauty in a life connected with Him? And love others from the outpouring and overflowing extra that brings? I can get behind that view of happiness.

    1. Ellie September 28, 2016

      “Jesus is giving out of his abundance. It is a gift. He isn’t worrying about running out. ”

      That’s such a powerful and helpful thought. Hooray.

    2. Amy Young October 3, 2016

      “If one more person told me to “just be happy and everything won’t seem so bad”, I was going to snap.” — I think most of us can relate to this sentiment at one time or another :). (Which is sad, but true!) And as you said, “I can get behind that view —staying connected to Jesus—of happiness.” Yes, That doesn’t sound like happy – clappy happiness, but true, deep down, non-sappy life flowing reality.

  6. M'Lynn September 28, 2016

    Amy, So sweet that you included that Psalm 84 was shared at Mike’s memorial. I feel like I was there in spirit and it blesses me because I was led to Psalm 84 this week and camped there and thought about sparrows and I’ve thought about Mike and his family and their sacrifice a lot this week. Even though I’m not reading the book, I’ve been thinking about birds as well!

    1. Amy Young October 3, 2016

      M’Lynn!!! When I read this comment earlier in the week (sorry to be slow in surfacing to comment, but here we are :)) — anyway, your comment brought joy — I added that pps Monday morning before 6 a.m. as i was packing to leave the hotel and start the trek home. The internet was being difficult, but I felt the urge to preserve :). And now I know why :). Do you find that we are in spiritual sync WAY more than I ever would have guessed? I love that 🙂

  7. Sarah Rideout September 28, 2016

    I so wish I was reading this one with you guys but need to take a break since we just returned from furlough and hit the ground running. I am enjoying the comments, though. Amy, any idea yet what the next book is and when we are starting? Just wanted to get a jumpstart on reading since I get behind easily with three kiddos under 5 ;-). Thank you, as always, for doing what you do and providing this group!! You are a blessing!

    1. Amy Young October 3, 2016

      Hi Sarah, three kiddos under 5?! Enough said with what you are investing your time in :). In late November I’ll share a special book we’ll be reading scattered throughout the year. In December I think we will read short stories (linked and free from the internet). January, we plan to read Beautiful Battle (by Mary DeMuth — it’s about sp warfare and was written while she was on the field https://www.amazon.com/Beautiful-Battle-Womans-Spiritual-Warfare-ebook/dp/B00O98QZ9E/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1475531290&sr=8-1-fkmr0&keywords=beautiful+battle+mary+demuth)

      In February I’m think we’ll read a novel that’s also free (Shiloh) — I’ve heard good things about it! Do you have any books you’d like us to read?

  8. Jody Collins September 28, 2016

    Amy, you’ve been in the back of my mind every time I glance at or pick up my ‘Consider the Birds’ book….knowing what the past week has been like for you.
    I neglected to check in with the ‘pigeon’ chapter and here we are on Pelicans…. Blue’s take on all these birds is unorthodox if nothing else. But I will say this, every time I read a Scripture passage with ‘wings’ or ‘feathers’ in it, it sure stands out. And of course there’s Psalm 91 where we dwelt under His wings not too many weeks ago.
    I love and appreciate you and will continue to pray for you as the days and weeks go on….flying on eagles’ wings. Or carried. Yes, carried.

    1. Amy Young October 3, 2016

      Jody, love seeing your comment here :). Yes, she is unorthodox, and I think it’s her coming at a topic slant (who was the famous person who used that language? I forget), that helps me see it afresh :). I keep thinking about pelicans and sacrifice!

  9. M'Lynn October 1, 2016

    So I took the plunge, bought the book and started reading! I had to put down my Kindle right away and write this in my journal as soon as I read it: “The mother pelican doesn’t peck her breast to feed her young. It’s and ancient misinterpretation. People can only guess what it was that propelled this read…Maybe it’s because medieval Christian thinkers were eager to find the moral of the story, and it seemed to them that sacrifice was the highest virtue. We need to read and reread, imagine and re-imagine. Sometimes we need to let go of what we think and go back and look again.” (Location 452)

    This resonated with me because I’ve heard myself saying “I don’t want to over spiritualize this…” lately. Something about medieval Christians misinterpreting the pelican because they were quick to find a moral to the story (aka…over spiritualize) encourages me to continue to sit with my struggles and problems a bit longer than I’d like in the interest of really getting what they’re trying to teach me instead of hastily attaching a “lesson learned” to something, tying a bow ’round it and putting it on the shelf to collect dust.

    1. Amy Young October 3, 2016

      M’Lynn, I love how you are tying ideas from the book into thoughts you’ve been having in your life. —You raise an interesting point: when is it helpful to truly look for a spiritual lesson or insight or convictions AND when is it stretching, manipulating, or reading into a situation and that is NOT the lesson God has for us?

  10. Karen October 2, 2016

    Wow, Amy, I’m sorry to hear about this news and about the type of week you have had. Although I haven’t met you in-person or know the people involved, know that we are listening and that we care.
    I

    1. Amy Young October 3, 2016

      Thanks Karen :). That’s part of the beauty of VA and book club — you’re right :). We do care about each other! Hugs, Amy

  11. Laura r January 3, 2017

    Popping on here to say that I’m finally starting this! It’s been my between semester read!
    Finding it thought provoking – her look at historical readings has been interesting. I’ve also underlined many of the quotes already noted.
    Also thinking on her thoughts on sacrifice. There’s something there for me but I think it needs to percolate for a while longer.
    Love how it is drawing my attention to birds and to seeing God in new ways.

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