I was very proficient at doing the overheads at church. After Sunday school I would dutifully go upstairs while the other kids were eating sugar cubes from the coffee table, to the front row in the church auditorium. There I … Continue reading
Once, when we were support-raising missionaries for a Christian church planting organization, a funder wrote me and warned about our going down a slippery slope. Falling away, going down a slippery slope, turning one’s back and back-sliding–these were the worst … Continue reading
Growing up, a lot of traps were pre-determined for me, and I was a hospitable Type-A place for accepting these immanent perils seamlessly. Through osmosis I gained a robust wariness of other ways of thinking, to both my benefit and my harm. I was a good host to the necessary and superfluous transplants–of right, ordered, and true, and the red, white and blue. There were so many traps to beware of; vigilance found a home in this Enneagram 1. To name a few: The liberal agenda. Those who baptized infants. Immodesty. Gays. Sexuality period. MTV. People who wouldn’t learn English. Feminism. Ferngully. People who wanted to take advantage of the hard work and generosity of others. (I did not grow up in fear of gluten, however, and I devoutly continue in this doctrine.)
When I read Psalm 31 with this sense of Christianity, I understand why the church can become a somewhat bureaucratic enclave of similar-thinking people. The WORLD is out to get US, and the vulgar and sinful traps of the other people are encroaching. The unity births from what is going on on the outside more than what is going on on the inside and the motivation is about safety and adding to the numbers. While a victim mentality is so often hurled as a discrediting insult to those reliant upon public aid or protesting systemic injustice, it also describes a segment of the Christian Church that primarily understands itself as persecuted and, therefore, justifiably and righteously self-protecting.
Of course the whole of scripture, the arc of the Story, warns us that the traps are much sneakier than Us vs. Them. The traps are inside the sanctuary. The snares are inside the postured martyr herself.
As humans, we look inward increasingly as we grow up. I might invite the Divine to show me where I am and what God would have me see, change or grow, as I become more self-aware hopefully. Parts of my defense mechanisms and the distorted lenses I use to view the world and God will hopefully become less required for survival, and less important to my story; those could be considered false parts of self. In exchange for the arms length between limiting but useful mechanisms of protection and performance, I hopefully gain greater value for things that do not rely upon circumstances–the true self God endows us with, that Jesus makes possible. The false self is not to be shunned and ignored as though it never had a purpose or affected the journey and relationships now, but it must have space enough to be examined and dealt with.
So too, as we look inward on this Bride, though our talk of Her is always imperfect, we grow in Self-awareness as its bought in members. We examine it as subparts of the one, holy, apostolic, catholic Self of Church for we are it. Good and bad. False and true. When we take inventory of where we are as Christians, we grow in the ability to peel away parts of the false Self we have collectively adopted and inherited and passed on, and, because our story is redemption, find a truer Self.
As I have looked and considered more of the underpinnings of this polarized time in our one-ness, and thought more about my background and the outspoken evangelical voices of the day, at least one thing has come into focus. One thing about the American Church’s false self has become clear: Whatever unity that comes from a collective sense of Christian-centric persecution has increasingly become a toxic and alienating death sentence.
It’s not that Christianity is in vogue. It’s that it’s not even a part of the conversation (unless you count political exploitation). And therefore, it’s not a band of the persecuted and the hunted. Self-protection limits the adaptability, discernment, compassion, and generosity of its bearer. Adopting this orientation has skewed our identity to a degree that causes us, 100 steps down the line (i.e. Franklin Grahams and Rod Dreher…), to resemble nothing of our Story, our Savior, and our supposed Hope. This false self in our Church has run a muck and instead of being simply irrelevant to our culture, we have become an official mechanism of hate and hypocrisy. It turns out the bunker is very, very deep. Insofar as we allow leaders with this worldview to represent this Church, our meaning will be continuously hijacked by a paranoid and bizarre narcissism. Where did the Good News go? Who is in charge of Our Story?
By placing ourselves as the sympathetic central character of every social and political scenario, we have normalized and prescribed the dismissal of truly vulnerable groups of people and problems that are actually central to our collective identity and creed. Or, in other words, imperative to our true self.
This reckoning time is heart-wrenching and the R-rated times this presidency has brought forth has certainly shed light on places that previously enjoyed a blur. Light, we believe, overcomes darkness. But it is grim to wake up sometimes.
May we release the traps we set in our sleep and wise up to the ones around our necks. May we listen to the prophets and shut up the liars. May we turn to the leaders who have walked with Jesus in this Church, without enjoying any power or privilege for doing so. May we reach a truer Gospel Self as we re-find our Way.
“…the insight of women whose hearts are attuned to the heart of God are silenced because so much of our ministry endeavors arise from a culturally derived false sense of masculinity…We are forcing a theological famine upon ourselves by ignoring the voices of women.” ~Soong-Chan Rah, Prophetic Lament, p. 64
I see hunger everywhere. And I find the malnourishment especially painful to understand, early in this adult life, as it thrives in this Church, this love of mine. To accept that conferences and services and studies led by men are for men and women, and those led by women are for women (usually ones with a ring on and a mortgage). To hear excuses made for men that would endanger the jobs and influence of women. It’s hard to know that a woman in leadership is still a living, breathing debate, and to constantly live where men and misinformed masculinity are the decision-makers.
Half of God is neglected when half His people are not at the table.
Adopting the roles of wife and mother has both sharpened my appreciation for being a woman and my sensitivity to the ways in which women are ignored and discriminated against, especially if they don’t fall into the privileged hats and stereotypes I happen to possess. I hurt with those who don’t desire to ever have these titles, or do but have not found or pursued them yet; I can see how living in the pressure cooker of churchy society often make both women feel out of place.
In my humble daily, I strive with others to set a different table and divest from such mean, narrow, Bad News culture. I long for the day we don’t have to apologize for being women. I’m encouraged and taught by so many doing similarly, mindful of God’s femininity and motherhood, of the voice and might of women in Scripture. As much as I hold men responsible for perpetuating or breaking down the confines around my gender, I also feel the burden and calling of putting forth a more cohesive and comprehensive image of woman.
We are uniquely qualified to speak as God’s children when we work from the truth of our experience on the sidelines. From the time we are labeled bossy when he is named leader, to the first time we are called a bitch for having a thought threatening to a man, to the observation that men are asked to pray and women to babysit, while the sermons rattling around in our heads have no venue. We remember the debut of our physical figures and the ensuing comments, hollers, and assault. We are aware of brokenness because we have been subject to it, with greater frequency and less recompense than the other gender. Women can be present and affected by another person’s pain because we have faced our own, and brought it before others and Abba God, again and again. The complexity of our bodies and our sexuality, our nuanced intellect and our God-given emotions, are qualifications and indications, not apologies and caveats.
The voice of women implores the Church, the Bride, to greater honesty and empathy. She calls the family to remember, to lament, and to a patient and inglorious resolve that introduces Jesus where we need Him most.
Women, you –we– are necessary to the task of love, the Shalom that calls. We still have the hard work of pushing, gripping one another’s hands, and screaming through the pain of bringing forth a more whole picture of Jesus to the world and one another. Because we have found God as Parent, and Good News in our own experiences, we can offer non-judgmental space for others who are hurting, who have made big mistakes, who are slow and disappointing or just completely different. We are great about embracing the cause. We are half of Christ’s body left here on earth and imperative to the Already and Not Yet.
The women I know have been the bravest and the quietest, the most overlooked and underpaid, the best qualified and the least promoted. Men, I ask you to share the pulpit and agenda, invite women to the team, and defer to their advice. Making space may mean moving aside. Listen. Copy their rhythms, ask God to make you sensitive to language and theology that excludes us. Repent of the assumptions made about us. Women, let’s share the mic. Bring a friend to the opportunity that’s been given you. Maintain vulnerability. Invest in each other’s stuff. Name bravely what is happening. Keep unlearning and repenting of the stereotypes and prejudices we have absorbed against ourselves and each other.
From the dinner table to the conference table, from the pews to the platforms, your womanhood and way of seeing and being, is impactful; do not relent. You are commissioned and seen, encouraged to not neglect the gifts in you, named chosen, royal, holy, beloved.
I take heart in your sisterhood.
There is no shortage of bouncers in the Kingdom of God. If only it were an actual job description in the model of Jesus.
Our stance in the threshold is awkward for He took the cross already, and He incinerated the measuring stick. So what stone is in our hand?
There are many openings in the Kingdom, vacancies galore, but the hyped-up voices seem distracted by those roles that do not exist. I confess that I get too wrapped up in issues and who is wrong, to the detriment of loving others. I am part of the problem of the Church being front and center in culture wars rather than announcing a different culture, resolutely and tenaciously, from the margins in.
A few things: let’s keep learning, being malleable disciples of the faith, and allowing others the same, God-given luxury. Let’s remember who the real victims of this storm are. And let’s refocus our attention on embracing not excommunicating.
Watching wise older people has shown me first and foremost that age loosens rigidity and judgmental reflexes. The aging whom I admire suggest that God’s invitation is a lot more gentle and wide than was thought of yesterday…and the day before. The Seers I’m taking notes on have roots growing in Grace, for themselves and others, and have less and less invested in who is wrong.
Meanwhile, I’m amazed when people disqualify others from God’s family. Jesus Calling is demon-possessed. Hillsong is a cult. Women leaders in general: suspect. And now the Hatmakers are popularity-crazed, lukewarm (FYI, for the jargon newbies, this is the worst insult) Christians-with-an-asterisk, who will soon deny the resurrection, I’m sure.
I’m very sad for Jen and Brandon Hatmaker, as many brothers and sisters feel infallible liberty to smear them at will. As soon as I heard that a popular Christian voice had lambasted them to Kingdom-come, I knew the source…low-hanging fruit for his brand. They’re not the first. They’re handling it with grace and class. Jen Hatmaker loves Jesus and isn’t morphing Him to be Jen Hatmaker. She loves the Bible and my guess is she’s spending a lot of time there these days. Maybe she’s changed her mind over the years, maybe she hasn’t. Are we honestly going to hold them on a pedestal just to beat the crap out of them? When did it become a spiritual gift and duty to criminalize others?
Our insistence on crucifying Christians is in direct contradiction to the crucified Christ.
But I’m more sad for the observers of this all-too-familiar back and forth–the overlooked whom this is actually about. The observers who have been personally hurt and harmed, bullied and belittled, because of this conversation in which we are soooo cavalier. The LGBTQ community need only the slightest hint of insensitivity or anger to tear open wounds of bigotry and shame inflicted by we people claiming Jesus. Those brothers and sisters who are in the Church and those who were approaching the front steps are first and foremost souls. This, this mailing back of books, name-calling, sexist judgmental pandering, and hell-condemning is about them. It is personal and fragile and the opposite of flippant. The Hatmakers are suffering public scorn for answering hard questions and for engaging in really controversial, complex parts of culture…but I’m confident they have the spiritual resources and community to care for them during this time. The LGBTQ onlookers and overlooked whom they have defended and invited, however, are once again, or more so, made “Other.” To our deep detriment.
I am so sorry for the fits originating from the pews. My heart breaks for my friends and not-yet friends in the LGBTQ categories that are watching the chaos and hurt all over again.
Our faith’s love campaign took a hit, becoming further concealed, further calcified and conditional…far from the places Jesus would be were He walking earth today, I believe. We are fractured and broken, and oh, if we could only abstain from this hell-raising. We’re digging our own grave.
I’m the first to say I don’t know all the things. And I’m liable to change my mind, like I have on many other topics. And I’m liable to be wrong. I don’t know all about the Bible and homosexuality; I’m learning and in a process on this tender topic, again. And, thankfully, I don’t rely on people’s agreement/approval (i.e. support raising) anymore so I can share my own uncertainties and learning process more openly (how bizarre). Check back in if for some reason you’re wanting my personal “answer.”
But regardless of where I land, if I do, my attitude towards those who identify with different lifestyles is not affected. My ability to learn from and love those who are different from me, especially those who are less privileged, should not ebb and flow. I know that in any of these conversations, I try to listen to those with less power, and I’m going to make mistakes, and I’m going to err on the side of love and humility. And I have the privilege of not being asked by Jonathan Merritt, in front of a salivating Matt Walsh, what I think about every hot button issue—as though really, people had buttons, ready to drop the floor out like Edward’s old sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”
The buttons are lies. For the love of everything that is holy, back away from the buttons. It’s easy to become more about removing people from the flock than inviting everyone in. It’s easier to be cloistered and confident than serving and susceptible.
God help me the day I wake up and feel so confident in every doctrine and belief that I am wonderfully justified in spewing vitriol at a fellow person. The day I have so much time and energy to start dissecting devotionals and other churches because my work amongst the orphans, widows, prisoners, hungry, lonely and marginalized is so complete. Why do we have so much energy to kick someone out of the church when we were commissioned to adopt people in?
Let’s get back to work. Let’s return to the job descriptions and postures of learning and loving that Grace handed us, not the ones our fears inflict. Jesus is not here; He is the living and this is the dead.
Every day I need deliverance. I just forget it, which is the scary thing.
All day I have a scrolling list of shoulds and T-charts and timers. I have the domestic burden and blessing of trying to decide if organic zucchini is worth the price if they won’t eat it anyway and how much screen time is a good reward and how big of a deal is picking up dirty socks and the word “fart.” I have the Enneagram type 1 hat of problem-solving and advocacy and general discontent (my prescribed growing direction is Ryan’s type 7, which carries the motto “I want to have fun!”). Oh YEA!
This time in history is like a warm, moist environment to this bacteria of constant reform and conviction within me. When my breath catches in my throat under the wave of an injustice or a worry, when I see the feeds that starve, and the posts that dismantle, when I feel the weight of responsibility and disappointment over what the margins have to say and what the powerful keep missing, I wring my hands with the rest of them. And I labor…I dream of fixes, simplicity, solutions and revolution.
But well-meaning thoroughness, and honest engagement, are no substitute for deliverance. I do not muster deliverance; I take hold of it. I receive it. I let go because of it.
And it is a time, more than anything else, for deliverance.
Yes, there is advocacy and sacrifice. Yes, there is becoming informed and listening. Yes, there is civil discourse.
But first, and last, I want to pause before the throne, before calvary, and say, “Yes, Lord – please deliver me. Please deliver us. Through all this chaos, all the violence and false narratives, all the fear and greed, and cloudy future…You’re here. You’ve done the work, as irrelevant as it may seem some days. In You I place my hope and I see You in these shambles.”
And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. Daniel 12:1-4
History tells us this isn’t actually the worst of times. I’ve seen people call this election, this anti-everything, binary mode the worst–for Christians, cops, voters, the like. I don’t need that to be convinced things are bad. No, but it is raw, and there is no lapse of evil to take a breath.
But in this very moment is our deliverance, Christian Americans. In this very hour, we might be saved.
Awake, souls. No longer is there an autopilot, and that myth of a Christian nation must be a little tipsy by now. Let it fall. No longer can faith pretend to sleep with a political party in wedded bliss, all the while committing adultery. No longer can righteousness be molded into a political system and a national story that was never capable of holding eternity and never had an edge in God’s economy. No longer can the sleeping American Christian avoid shining awkwardly or owning its shame and contempt. It is a day of reckoning, and in case it hasn’t dawned on us yet, the alarm will undoubtedly keep rising.
Receive your deliverance. Take hold. Let go. Step out.
We have the opportunity to be delivered from mistaking a government’s promises for God’s, and a government’s best interests for our own as His children. We have the opportunity, like Israel so many times in the Old Testament, to be delivered from a sinful apathy and assimilation. To be liberated from a facade of Christianity to our true status as foreigners in this land, meant to engage vigorously but not to enmesh seamlessly. We have the opportunity to re-find ourselves and be delivered from a lack of critical-thinking that has too long forced the Good News into an either-or tug-of-war that cuts the knees off of our Christ and took all our energy and resources. I love and respect this country but I will keep her an important acquaintance. We are not to confuse our way of life what the one–whichever one–she purports.
I am pained by who has fallen and by who we’ve elevated, and all the in-between plaguing our nation right now. But I am comforted by this deliverance. I am hopeful that my children will walk with God and the Church and not have to argue about the connection between abortion and healthcare and racism. I am hoping that they will not find it difficult or unique to attend a local congregation that sings in different languages and has no one ethnicity or gender or class in power, that doesn’t mind talking about a political candidate because everyone is a Christian before they’re an American and the bullying vehicle of political argumentation finds no fuel in the Church. I am hopeful that today’s deliverance means that tomorrow’s Christianity is brave and loving–and incongruous with any one nation’s fears or worldview.
This election, and the constant pitting of souls against souls in the rest of the headlines, could be enough to break up this sham of a marriage between the Christian faith and a great country. Oh, would it! Too long have we looked for Him under a flag and anthem rather than around the eucharist, kneeling beside the footwashing basin. Perhaps His Bride may return–beleaguered, but delivered. Perhaps, in the midst of this cracking we will find missing pieces and our voice again. Shining like stars, delivered.
See you at the table.